An Indelicate Balance

December 28, 2015

How to be Rob Ford and not Rob Ford at the same time? This is the quantum politics Mayor John Tory is trying to determine as he enters his 2nd full year in office. quantumphysicsHe misses no opportunity to point out to everyone and anyone who’s listening how he isn’t Rob Ford: the return of civility to City Hall, respect re-bestowed upon Toronto by the international community, no more of the proverbial drunken stupors.

The mayor, however, never wants you to forget that, like Rob Ford, he stands firmly opposed to taxes and waste. Firmly. We can build shiny new things, expand necessary services and programs, world class up Toronto, done and done on high hopes and pure hearts. All we need to do is tighten our belts. Root out efficiencies and dead weight. Like that.

What Mayor Tory needs us to believe and accept is that his predecessor’s mess was manifest purely in the personal not policy realm. Policy failures, such as the cutbacks to TTC service, had nothing to do with revenue shortfalls or fiscal mismanagement but were the direct result of character flaws. The years 2010-2014 projected as tabula rasa on the governance front. disappearNothing but scandal and misconduct.

The problem for the mayor is that he’s not really fooling anybody. Non-Ford supporter critics of Mayor Tory, largely from the left side of the political spectrum, see him fighting for at-or-below inflationary levels of property tax rate increases and fending off talk of new revenue sources and can only conclude that it’s pretty much the same old same old, business as usual. This is what’s got the city in the financial straits it currently sits in.

At the other end, the hardcore Fordists, see through Mayor Tory’s suggested City Building Levy, and scream (rightly) that it’s just a property tax increase by a different name. Like the Scarborough subway levy although, for this camp, that’s another thing entirely. The people want subways. Subways, subways, subways!

So Mayor Tory has certain Toronto Sun columnists and editorialists, who never see a tax hike as anything other than proof positive of government overreach, yipping at him quantumphysics2while those having battled the Ford assault on City Hall coffers and services regard this mayor as just a well-mannered faux-populist who really ought to know better. There’s little room left for him to balance, his base squeezed onto an untenable platform made up largely of wishful thinking and constant thanks that, it could be worse, we could still have a Ford as mayor.

Not to cut the Fords much slack on this but a solid argument could be made that they actually believed their tax-and-spend, stop the gravy train rhetoric. Basic math never really mattered to them. The numbers didn’t have to add up. An obstinate and willful stance in opposition to facts passed for principled politics for the Fords. They didn’t have to be right to be right.

But how can a politician like John Tory, elected to the mayor’s office as a sensible, reasonable, prudent alternative to the madness of the Fords pursue policies with similar reckless abandon? johntoryvisionDuring the start of the 2016 budget process, he is being told by city staff in no uncertain terms that the city has a revenue problem. Its dependency on the property tax base and a still hot real estate market in terms of the land transfer tax is unsustainable. We must look seriously at other sources of revenues.

Mayor Tory’s reaction?

To propose an additional half-percent bump in the property tax rate, call it a ‘levy’, and look for further efficiencies at City Hall. It is as indifferent to staff advice and the reality on the ground as anything Rob Ford displayed. How is that sensible, reasonable or prudent?

Mayor Tory touts his willingness to work with his opponents at council on the Gardiner east hybrid to deliver a better option than the one he championed earlier this year as an example of the improved governance style under his watch.ignore Yet, whatever option finally emerges will be, fingers crossed, the best of the worst option on the table, not to mention, in all likelihood, the most expensive. The obvious choice, the one touted by city staff, the sensible, reasonable, prudent option, was to tear that section of elevated expressway down, rebuild it at-grade. Mayor Tory ignored all that and pushed ahead with what he believed to be the most politically advantageous choice.

In October 2014, nearly 70% of Toronto voters delivered what was almost exclusively an anti-Ford mandate. Picking up a 40% plurality of that vote, John Tory has read those numbers and concluded that it was merely the personal scandals Torontonians rejected, the confrontational and abrasive governance style, too. We were all good with the bad math, the deplorable accounting practices, the complete and utter disregard of expert advice, the detrimental policy choices.

All of which Mayor Tory now vigorously pursues if in slightly different guises. Attritional and limited levels of tax rates and revenue sources. schrodingerscatQuixotic cost savings quests. Ruinous public transit projects. Just like happened during the Ford administration. But somehow different with Mayor Tory at the helm, he wants us all to believe.

He’s got away with it for his first year. With reports due early in the new year on things like the Scarborough subway and SmartTrack, an impending budgetary shortfall forcing some tough choices out into the open, 2016 looks to provide a somewhat rockier road for Mayor Tory. How much longer can he continue trying to be not Rob Ford and Rob Ford simultaneously? Even the smallest of particles has to ultimately become one thing or the other.

summarily submitted by Cityslikr


A View From Along Eglinton Ave West

November 23, 2015

smarttrack1It’s hard to believe that during last year’s municipal campaign someone from Team Tory didn’t take the time to drive the length of Eglinton Avenue, west from Mount Dennis to Pearson airport, the western spur of what became the concoction known as SmartTrack, to get the lay of the land, so to speak. More incredible still, how anyone claiming to be a transit planner looked at the plan and gave it their imprimatur, shrugging off the bit about running heavy rail, “surface subway” along that route without tunneling. “Criticisms [of SmartTrack] have, instead, focused on the line’s ‘constructability’ where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme,” wrote Eric J. Miller, director at the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute. “As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot.”

A tempest in a teapot…scribbling

I drove that stretch of the SmartTrack western spur and back last week. The notion you could run any sort of heavy rail (electrified or not) along it without tunneling is immediately laughable. As for tunneling? The rumblings we’ve been hearing about the forthcoming staff reports, and the price for going underground, suggests that SmartTrack’s “$8 billion price tag and seven-year timeline are based on considerable analysis,” as Miller wrote in the October 2014 Toronto Star article, weren’t, in fact, ever subject to ‘considerable analysis’. Or much of any sort of analysis, it turns out.

No, what should happen, what those really concerned with connecting people to places in this city should be concentrating on now, is building that western leg of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Black Creek (its current western terminus) out to the airport. Fuck SmartTrack. changecourseOr, at least, stop pretending it’s anything more than some enhanced regional rail that might contribute some to alleviating this city’s congestion and commuter woes but isn’t the silver bullet solution supporters are hyping it as.

Extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westward, young man.

I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for that penny to drop, however. In making SmartTrack a priority signature item of his mayoralty, John Tory will have a tough time walking this one back. He painted himself into a corner, his campaign too clever by half, in attempting to be seen as a subway proponent, promising to deliver up ‘subway like service’ with SmartTrack. Now leading the charge to push ‘fancy streetcars’ directly through the heart of Ford country? Hard to imagine.

Even if he were so inclined, the mayor shouldn’t expect to get any help from local councillors on re-establishing the LRT idea on Eglinton West. “People do not want to see an LRT,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell stated. “If you’re going to put a subway or rail, it’s far better for the neighbourhood if it’s buried. But is it feasible to bury it?”

He thinks a busway might be more appropriate to cut congestion. But the population density doesn’t justify laying tracks, said Campbell.

It’s difficult to see how the councillor arrived at that conclusion. A 2010 ridership projection for the entire proposed Eglinton Crosstown from Kennedy station to the airport pegged the numbers at 170,000 daily, 5000-5400 at peak hours by 2031 (h/t Matt Elliott and Ev Delen). eraseWhile the section of Eglinton West running through his ward may not justify laying tracks, Councillor Campbell is missing the bigger network picture. Never mind the major transit node that is the airport but the rest of Eglinton is peppered with high and mid-rise buildings and growing communities with schools and shopping centres. Places not everybody can or wants to drive to.

In addition to which, how exactly will a busway preserve the green spaces the councillor says he wants to protect from the scourge of an LRT? Never mind the added transfer riders would have to take moving from the busway to the Crosstown at Black Creek. A busway just makes absolutely no sense in this situation. It is parochial and short-sighted.

Which pretty much sums up transit planning in Toronto. Anti-LRT nimbyism begat subways everywhere begat SmartTrack. Transit solutions gave way to political calculations. pointofnoreturnPolitical calculations gave way to transit slogans, leaving consequences for others to deal with.

There was a viable transit plan in place for this city. Bit by bit, we’ve chipped away at it for no other reason than short term political gain. Travelling west along Eglinton, it becomes apparent that if SmartTrack somehow comes into being (or Councillor Campbell’s ridiculous busway gains any traction outside of his own mind), the final nail will be put in the coffin of that transit plan. The damage that will inflict will be near impossible to repair.

dismally submitted by Cityslikr


Railroaded

November 13, 2015

The good news just keeps rolling in for SmartTrack.

And by good news, I mean bad news. And by rolling in, I mean like pulling teeth.notagain

Delayed reports, ridership modelling problems, notices of being ‘unaffordable and unworkable’. That’s not a stroke you’re having. It’s the acrid smell of desperation.

Yesterday in the Toronto Star, Jennifer Pagliaro reported that there’s a number floating around City Hall that represents the price tag for the so-called western spur of the SmartTrack plan. The part of the plan that very likely calls for the dreaded ‘tunneling’ word, digging up stretches of Eglinton Avenue. An aspect of the plan that, as a candidate for mayor, John Tory first said wouldn’t be necessary but as time went on, and he transformed from candidate to frontrunner, admitted to, yeah, probably, they’d have to dig but that had been accounted for in the $8 billion cost.

Well now, apparently, there’s an actual number but those in the know at City Hall are either pretending there isn’t or that we’ll be told what that number is when the time comes for us to be told.

It’s hard not to read this as just another setback in the making for the mayor and his signature transit plan. Ismarttrack1f the number being held back was favourable to SmartTrack’s cause, you’d think the mayor and his supporters would be shouting it loud and proud. He certainly needs some positive spin on this that isn’t just his. Unless, of course, he’s going all Henry the IVth on us, piling on the disappointment and dim expectations in order to amplify the success when it all turns out to be exactly like he said it would. “…he may be more wondered at/By breaking through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”

Maybe.

But maybe not.

The question is, just how far down dug in is Mayor Tory on pursuing SmartTrack if it does indeed turn out to be the lemon every indication is suggesting it is right now? Does he ride it, Slim Pickens-like, right into a fiery explosion, taking a whole lot of shit with it? drstrangeloveIn typical fashion, he’s left himself with very little wiggle room to step back. Just like he did on police carding. Just like he did on the Gardiner East.

How badly off the mark do the reports and whatever numbers they contain have to be before Mayor Tory is willing to about-face, admit it was a bad idea, his intentions were good and noble but… let’s move on, shall we? He’s said almost from the start that they hadn’t done any engineering studies or the like when the pitched the plan on the campaign trail. There were bound to be some mistakes in calculation. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Who wouldn’t love 53 kilometres and 22 stations of surface subway all up and ready to go in just 7 years? Just 7 years!

Even if the mayor remains undeterred in the face of mounting evidence that SmartTrack isn’t all that, plus a bag of 3 day old, stale donuts, are there really 22 councillors willing to follow his transit folly? hidenumberI know, I know. Much of this is the same council who wound up dancing the Scarborough subway jig that Rob Ford beat out time to. Let’s not rule out any dire possibility because these people, a majority of them at any rate, are clearly capable of doing anything, absolutely anything.

But it just seems to me SmartTrack doesn’t carry the same visceral, emotional baggage a subway in Scarborough did/does. Nobody’s picked up the mantle of deserving SmartTrack. This is John Tory’s baby, fully, completely. Bully pulpit or not, he’s got to sell it to his council colleagues and if there’s a stink attached, how much political capital does the mayor still have to use?

If you want to get a sense of just how tough a sell SmartTrack is shaping up to be, re-read Pagliaro’s article and remember, it isn’t an editorial, an opinion piece. It’s a news report and I don’t recall reading such a pointed newspaper article, at least not since the frenzied crack period of the Ford administration. The article oozes testiness and impatience.

Pagliaro refers to SmartTrack as something ‘dreamed up by Mayor John Tory’s campaign team’. keepawayShe points out that a staffer in the city manager’s office stopped communicating with her. The mayor seems to be obfuscating, saying the report isn’t finished, there are no numbers or he hasn’t seen any numbers or document.

Pagliaro sums up what we do know so far about the SmartTrack reports city staff have delivered.

What’s noticeably absent are the costs.

But it’s not because they’re not available.

I spoke to chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat this week, who confirmed the actual HDR report submitted to the city contains “high-level” costs for the western spur options.

So, what are they?

Keesmaat won’t tell.

She told me to take it up with the city manager’s office.

Colour Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star SmartTrack skeptical. It’s feeling more and more like we’re being dicked around here. It was a plan that from the very beginning was full of holes (not the good kind you could drive a subway train through), and nothing that’s happened over the course of the past 18 months has done anything to begin filling them. skepticalIn fact, Mayor Tory continues to dig more holes, creating an even bigger hill he has to push this thing up.

After the Scarborough subway debacle, there are very few bridges left for this mayor to burn on the transit file. Unrealistic cost estimates, questionable alignments, dubious ridership numbers. We’ve heard it all before, just recently, in fact. It’s hard to imagine there’s enough political will to suck another one up, not now, not again.

So, just how persuasive does Mayor Tory believe he is? Just how gullible does he think we are? Just how gullible are we?

still smartingly submitted by Cityslikr


1 Year Down, 7 To Go

October 27, 2015

Hey!

Here’s an idea nobody’s thought about until this very moment.brightidea

How about today, on the first anniversary of John Tory’s election as mayor of Toronto, I assess his job performance, by issuing a, what would you call it, a report card of sorts? So obvious. It’s amazing to me nobody’s come up with it before I did.

I kid. I kid.

While children throughout the province may not be receiving report cards this term, Mayor Tory has been inundated with them. So don’t mind me while I just pile on here for a second. I’m sure I’ve got something to say about his time in office somebody else hasn’t said already.

A+s all round, it seems, for Mayor Tory’s restoring of civility to City Hall. Out with the shit show. In with decorum. Toronto’s reputation in the eyes of the nation and the world has been salvaged and revived.

Make no mistake. This is important. While it’s tough to wholly quantify, local governance had been worn down to a slow grind even after the previous administration crashed and burned. oneyearanniversaryThe appearance of serious-minded competence is a vital first step in realizing serious-minded competence.

So, with absolutely no facetiousness intended, well done. Mayor Tory has largely succeeded in relegating the lunacy to the fringes where it belongs. At the local level, this is no small feat.

But this should come as no surprise, really. It’s pretty much as advertised. John Tory campaigned heavily on being the anti-Ford. That’s what the city voted for. That’s what the city got.

But is it enough? Going forward, is simple peace-and-quiet all we can demand and expect from this mayoralty? One year in, what other accomplishments can this administration point to?

I ask because, over the weekend, I was involved in a discussion on social media about the long term electoral prospects of Mayor Tory. It stemmed from a Toronto Star article by David Rider, outlining how the mayor seems to be operating with his attention focused on a rematch with Rob Ford in 2018, catering to the issues perceived to be important to the Nation: cars and low taxes. notthatguyAn unnamed councillor suggested the mayor doesn’t want to be perceived as ‘downtown-ist or urbanist’, and that his staff isn’t concerned with any sort of unrest from the ‘left flank’.

Essentially, as long as Rob Ford remains a viable contender (or the perception exists that he’s a viable contender), Mayor Tory can just waltz toward re-election, scaring left-of-centre voters into supporting him for no other reason than simply to keep Rob Ford from being mayor again.

I questioned the wisdom of that, and heard from some very non-Tory types that, yeah, as long as Rob Ford is in the electoral picture, nobody serious from the left would challenge the mayor, let alone win. This had been a sentiment expressed to me by more than a few voices on the left almost immediately after election night last year. Plan for two terms of Mayor Tory.

That’s 7 more years, folks. All this administration can point to by way of accomplishments is not being Rob Ford and we’ve resigned ourselves to expecting nothing more? For 7 more years?

What happens to a city presided over by a mayor who defines himself by something or someone he isn’t? Where exactly is the aspiration in that? Come 2022, at the end of Mayor Tory’s presumed 2nd term, what does that Toronto look like, aside from being Rob Ford-free for nearly a decade?yoursforlife

Nothing the mayor has done over the past 12 months can point to anything transformative taking place during his tenure. He’ll tell you SmartTrack despite every indication suggesting otherwise. He’s got a report on a plan to tackle the city’s poverty and growing income inequality. But so far, it’s just that, a report on a plan. In the words of the mayor’s chosen right-hand man, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “When the rubber hits the road, it all comes down to money.” Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but, ultimately, show me the money. “There are going to be competing priorities,” Mayor Tory concurred.

As much as he’s relied on differentiating himself from his predecessor for the goodwill he’s generated from Torontonians, policy-wise, there’s little sunlight to be seen between the two men. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has solidly aligned himself with the suburban, conservative rump of city council, filling his Executive Committee with them almost to the exclusion of downtown councillors. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has rejected any discussion about property tax increases above the rate of inflation. foggytoLike Rob Ford, Mayor Tory grudgingly accepts public transit fare increases but will not so much as consider user fees on other types of commuters (*cough, cough *drivers* cough, cough * cough, cough*). Both Rob Ford and Mayor John Tory euphemistically talk efficiencies when they actually mean cuts. Rob Ford uses the low-brow terminology, ‘gravy’, while Mayor Tory goes all Michelin Guide, 5-star rating, ‘marbling’.

Mayor Tory talks a much bigger, brighter picture than Rob Ford ever did but he steadfastly refuses to discuss the grim reality of how we achieve such things. We might have to pay more. We might have to re-prioritize how we go about doing things, how we go about getting about the city, say. We might have to accept the fact it’s 2015 not 1975.

In no way do I see Mayor Tory willing to accept that challenge. He’s an agent of change from the Rob Ford way of doing things but he seems risk averse to much of any other sort of change. He’s returned us to the pre-Ford status quo, one chock full of intractable problems and structural concerns he seems no more prepared to face than Rob Ford was.unsure

Lest you think I’m just some Douglas Downer, on a positive note, I do think Mayor John Tory is both amiable and pliant enough to establish good working relationships with the other levels of government which, when all is said and done, will be vital for the city to deal effectively with those intractable problems and structural concerns. We’ve seen hints of it in his first year in office despite some setbacks. (You want us to pay how much for our portion of UPX?!) I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But is that enough to feel good about the prospect of 7 more John Tory as mayor anniversaries, to simply concede to him certain re-election because he’s proven little more to us than he’s not Rob Ford? We get it already. Who exactly Mayor Tory is and what he represents remains a mystery. One he needs to start unwrapping before we give him the keys to the office for as long as he wants.

notthatguy1

anniversararily submitted by Cityslikr


No Service Cuts Guaranteed

October 26, 2015

Can we finally put to rest the still simmering notion of Rob Ford’s sound economic stewardship of this city while he was mayor? mythsfactsThis delusional belief that, his personal problems aside, he turned Toronto around, establishing a firm fiscal foundation. He stopped the gravy train, cut our taxes, all without reducing services whatsoever.

It seems, for the second year in a row now, that TTC ridership numbers did not reach projections, 6 million fewer this year after falling short by 5 million last. While no one thing can be specifically attributable to these shortfalls, it seems that cuts in service back in 2012 may have played a significant part. Cuts in service then Mayor Ford claimed (and Councillor Ford still claims) never actually happened.

I cannot comment on a reduction in service I have not seen or does not exist.

“I don’t think anybody can be very surprised if you don’t put more transit on the street that your ridership doesn’t grow with it,” TTC deputy CEO Chris Upfold said. “We are just reaching the stage where we are not leading transit growth anymore.”crowdedttc

Yes, TTC ridership has continued to increase. The city continues to grow. But ridership has been curbed due to a lack of added service to accommodate the population growth and demand. “We’re full and our customers know that,” Upfold claimed.

How does a city allow its public transit system to become “full” or, as anyone who’s squeezed onto a packed subway, streetcar or bus might see it, over-capacity?

Again, there are no simple answers to that question. Certainly a lack of funding from higher orders of government, especially at the operational level, contribute to service inadequacies. Toss in unsatisfactory management practices, if you want. Don’t forget our political fixation on big, shiny projects at the expense of the more mundane task of ensuring proper and functional access to public transit to all areas of the city. A combination of these factors (and more, no doubt) created a scenario where supply fails to meet demand.

But, back in 2012, city council decided to cut TTC service, especially along low ridership routes, thereby making transit a less viable option to move around the city. crowdedttc1Service that Mayor Tory began to restore not long after coming to office, but also not long after he mocked his opponent in the mayor’s race, Olivia Chow, for proposing a similar service restoration. He also reversed his campaign pledge to freeze TTC fares with a bump in them to help offset the cost of the service improvements.

A hike Mayor Tory, like his predecessor, has yet to contemplate when it comes to helping improve drivers’ travel times. Speed up Gardiner repairs? How about bringing back the Vehicle Registration Tax to help pay for it? Off the table. Increase property taxes above the rate of inflation? Get the hell out of here.

And look, this is simply bringing back transit service to 2012 levels. In case you haven’t looked at a calendar recently, it’s 2015. Forget ‘leading transit growth’, like the TTC deputy CEO suggests we’re not doing, we’re falling behind. What city of this size, with the kind of dependence we have on public transit to keep people moving, would allow that to happen?crowdedttc1

Mayor Tory wants to give the impression that his SmartTrack plan is a solution to this problem. It isn’t, certainly not immediately, if ever. He’s got nothing else to offer that we didn’t already hear from Rob Ford. Inflationary property tax increases at most. Elimination of gravy marble across City Hall departments with 2% budget cuts. Something, something efficiencies, something, something.

As we’re learning now from previous experience, that’s no way to build a 21st-century transit system.

cram-packedly submitted by Cityslikr


I Prefer ‘Doubting Thomas’

October 21, 2015

There’s a certain childlike candor, a terrible beauty, in a politician matching the simplicity of messaging to the simple-mindedness of a policy platform. “Subways! Subways! Subways! The people want Subways!” Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I want! I want! I want! No justification, no rational, no cost-benefit pitch to it. Just a need identified and demand made.

And then, there’s this hot mess of pure obfuscation and tangential meandering of campaign tinged tired talking points.

Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack is no more a solution to this city’s transit woes than Rob Ford’s SubwaysEverywhere chant was, yet he wants us to think otherwise, and spends a lot of words and money trying to convince us of that. Assailing critics of the project as ‘Douglas and Debbie Downers’, legitimate questions are fine, as far as they go, but what’s really needed here, the mayor stated, is for us “to start finding ways to get to Yes on things instead of finding ways to get to No.”downer

Take that, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig who, in a letter earlier this month to the city manager, Peter Wallace, called SmartTrack (an “independent and parallel service” of the province’s improved RER plans) “unaffordable and unworkable.” That’s no way to start out on a path toward Yes, Mr. McCuaig. Although Metrolinx quickly tried to smooth over that bump in the road with a subsequent media release to say that everybody’s still “continuing to work together on how to integrate key elements of the SmartTrack proposal with the Province’s GO Regional Express Rail (RER) program.”

Integrating “key elements of the SmartTrack proposal” isn’t anywhere near the same as providing an “independent and parallel service”, something that doesn’t just help move GTA commuters around the region but also contributes to the alleviation of transit congestion within the city. fineprintFor SmartTrack to work and be worth the money spent on it, it has to deliver local service as part of an express framework. So far, 11 months into the process (more like 18 if you count back to its appearance on the campaign trail) that sticky dynamic has not been worked out, not even close, judging by the staff presentation at Executive Committee yesterday.

Mayor Tory told the room that what they were reading, what staff had delivered was just “an interim report.” No need to rush to any hasty conclusions and get all Douglas Downer-ish. All would be revealed as assuredly as the sun would rise in the morning. If the route to Yes was an easy one, it would be as clogged with foot traffic as Bloor-Yonge subway platform on your average workday rush hour.

Despite his flurry of words in defense of SmartTrack and the diligent process it is currently enduring, none of the concerns critics have expressed have yet to addressed, despite the extensive work being done between the city, the province and Metrolinx, despite the millions of dollars having been spent. None. The ridership projection model still isn’t in place. emptytalkFeasibility studies are still to come. Funding sources? Yep. TBD.

Mayor Tory is the one who set the clock ticking on SmartTrack. 7 years. “Admittedly in an election campaign,” he confesses, “where I didn’t have access to squads of engineers and ridership experts and various other people. I had what I had.” Which was bupkis, it turns out, other than a craven campaign team that ran with an empty slogan it passed off as a well-thought out plan. Even now, a year later, with none of the concerns addressed, the mayor triumphantly crows about having opened both federal and provincial government cheque books wide to fund SmartTrack even with its viability still very much in question.

In your face, doubters. Douglas and Debbie Downer-Doubters.

At least the Fords, in their crass politicization of transit planning, ceased trying to con us that they had anything more than a catchy chant, an earworm, a few words to slap on an election sign. elephantintheroomMayor Tory’s insisting on wasting our time and money in an effort to prove his scheme is much more serious and worthy of consideration, and not just some campaign gimmick run up the flagpole in a successful effort to become mayor. Suggesting such a thing is simply throwing up a roadblock on the way to Yes.

Bad transit plans are not the enemy of proper city building. Doubting is.

certainly submitted by Cityslikr


Rank Anti-Ranked Ballot Arguments

October 6, 2015

There are good arguments against ranked ballots. Valid reasons in which they are not optimal, mostly revolving around the question of true proportional representation. goodpointIt is not a perfect system.

Unfortunately, these are not the arguments being made currently, especially by those on city council who voted in favour last week of requesting the province not to give cities the option of introducing ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. Motion 6(a) from Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore): “That the Province should not proceed with amendments to the Municipal Elections Act to provide for Ranked Choice Voting.” There’s nothing more to this than not wanting to have the debate at all. It’s essentially trying to kneecap a decision council made last term. No discussion. Just cheap political thuggery.

If you want to hear really bad, woefully inadequate, pure and utter fuckwad nitwittery arguments against ranked ballots, take 5 minutes and listen to this segment on Mark Towhey’s Sunday 1010 talk radio show from three first term councillors, all, interestingly enough, close allies of Mayor John Tory. He voted against the motion. With friends like these, am I right?

I’ll refrain from taking the most obvious snark shot here. Larry, Curly and Moe. Because, really, that’s the first thing that sprang to your mind too, isn’t it.

No. I’m going with Dopey, Doc and Sully. A coterie of dumb. Exemplars of why we here in Toronto can’t have nice things.

When Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence) opens her mouth to speak, you realize why she doesn’t do so very often. It does her no favours. You know why she supported the motion to bury ranked ballots? She’s never been a fan of them. That’s why. She doesn’t like them.

You can hardly blame her, from an entirely selfish perspective. As Mr. Towhey pointed out, she was elected last year with only 17% of the popular vote. tempertantrumWith ranked ballots, the outcome might’ve been different, depending on the makeup of her challengers and other variables. Councillor Carmichael Greb simply doesn’t ‘believe it’.

Besides, she told listeners, she worked really hard for over a year to ensure that fewer than 1 in 5 voters in her ward put an X beside her name. She earned that 17%, dammit! With 16 candidates on the ballot in Ward 16, it was already confusing for the voters, she claimed. Having to choose 1, 2, 3 would’ve been even more so and, ultimately, not made any difference as far as the candidate who got into office with just 17% of the vote was concerned.

In explaining his opposition to ranked ballots, Councillor Stephen ‘Doc’ (yeah, I went there) Holyday (Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre) continued his impressive display of seemingly sound, rational reasoning always taking him into the reeds of illogical reactionism. It is a step forward, I guess, from the frequent unhinged rantings of his father, the sire of the Holyday dynasty in Etobicoke, (L’il Ginny, anyone?), but if it lands us in the same nonsensical soft spot, what’s it matter? The journey is a lot less fun to watch.

Councillor Holyday informed us that, under the current system, there’s quite a diversity at city council. A diversity along the political spectrum, that is, left, right and centre, and please, don’t look at the overwhelmingly white, largely male elephant in the room. longrouteSuch diversity, according to the councillor, leads to vigorous debate and discussion which, it can hardly be argued, is a good thing.

The problem with ranked ballots, says Councillor Holyday, is that they will ‘flatten’ that diversity. How? Because – and this is where he goes truly Holydian in his thinking – the second or third choice candidates on a ranked ballots will, and I’m quoting here with italics to emphasize the outrageousness of the statement, “…naturally be that centre, centre-left candidate that’s very neutral, very unexciting…”

Where the fuck does he come up with that?! Was he talking to his dad over Sunday brunch before coming in to the studio to do the show? Councillor Holyday proceeds to pile it on, suggesting such a fantasy scenario will lead to boring debates at city council as if the sole purpose of municipal government is to keep us entertained with some gruesome spectacle.

What’s truly amazing about the councillor’s performance here is that he actually brings up an interesting point before taking it and driving it through his eye into the intelligence centre of his brain, thereby killing any possibility of thoughtful discourse. on2ndthoughtBingham Powell, in his 2000 book, Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions, suggested that our current system, first past the post, let’s call it, which requires a simple plurality of votes to determine election outcomes, may lead “to governments that are more extreme than the voters”. Or, less boring, as Councillor Holyday might sum up.

By making his particular argument against ranked ballots, basically smoothing off the extreme edges of the democratic process, Holyday winds up actually arguing in favour of the hyper-partisan, divisive dynamic that has been paralyzing this city for at least 5 years now.

As egregious an assault on our intelligence as that was, Councillor Jon Burnside (Ward 26 Don Valley West) took home the bullshit prize on this particular day. I nicknamed him Sully because, honestly, I failed to come up with a better word ending in ‘y’ for him. Dicky? Pricky? I even briefly contemplated transgressing the c-bomb stratosphere before settling on Sully.

Why?

Councillor Burnside’s anti-ranked ballot justification just drips of condescension toward the voting public. The ‘complication factor’, he stated, despite the fact that host Towhey had perfectly explained how ranked ballots worked in about 45 seconds.idiot Ranked ballots are a lot more complicated than putting down one X, Burnside said, as if counting to 3 gets most of us all fuzzy-headed.

He then goes on to say that when he was out knocking on doors during last year’s campaign, a lot of voters didn’t know the difference between federal, provincial and municipal levels of government as if that somehow proves that we can’t be trusted to mentally multitask. Nope. We’re simple folk. We like to mark our ballots like we like to sign our names. With just one X.

It is hard to refute his argument about the idiocy of the electorate, I guess, at least in Ward 26. After all, voters there voted Jon Burnside into office to represent their interests at City Hall.

In less time than it took Mark Towhey to inform listeners about the nuts and bolts of ranked ballots, Councillor Burnside sullied the reputation of voters and revealed a real patronizing side toward his constituency. I’d suggest anyone wanting to challenge him in 2018 simply print up flyers saying in big bold letters: COUNCILLOR JON BURNSIDE THINKS YOU’RE STUPID, WARD 26! No, wait. KOWNSILER JON BERNSID THINK WERE STOOPID WORD ??WEAR EVER WE LIV!!!

If you’re opposed to ranked ballots, so be it. We do still live in a democracy. idiot1This isn’t Russia. This isn’t Russia, is it, Danny?

Just be honest, is all we can ask. Don’t come up with bogus rationalizations. It’s obvious, listening to these 3 city councillor, Burnside, Carmichael Greb and Holyday, they don’t like change. The won, fair and square, with the current system in place. Why would they possibly want to change that?

But please stop insulting our, albeit limited, intelligence pretending it’s about anything else. You just wind up embarrassing yourselves.

dumbly submitted by Cityslikr