Time To Get Serious. Seriously.

July 7, 2010

If anyone wants to see just how out of touch Toronto’s 5 front running candidates for mayor are on one of the more pressing matters the city faces, they should take a glance through Toronto City Summit Alliance’s recently issued Time To Get Serious: Reliable Funding For GTHA Transit/Transportation Infrastructure report. Seriously. It’s not nearly as dense as the title suggests. Even just a quick read through the 7 page executive summary would do the trick. Wouldn’t hurt the 5 candidates in question to familiarize themselves with the document either.

The first thing that jumps out from the pages is what the report refers to as our glaring lack of a National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy. We are the only OECD country that doesn’t have one. The only country. Let me repeat that because it bears repeated repeating. Canada is the only member country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that has no overarching national strategy for public transit.

That means the Slovak Republic has one and we don’t. Turkey has one and we don’t. The most free market oriented country around, the United States has one and Canada doesn’t.

Without a National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy, there is little hope of securing stable, long term funding for big ticket transit initiatives. What that leaves us with is the present ad hoc, most politically expedient mish mash of projects that get money (or don’t) depending on whim, the weather or some other inconsequential intangible. That’s not a strategy and leads inexorably to the traffic and transit chaos we now have making our lives miserable.

Now wait, wait, I hear you saying. A National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy? So what’s that got to do with our mayoral race? Mayor means municipal, right?

Yes it does. What a National Federal-Provincial Transit Strategy means in terms of the ongoing mayoral race is that candidates running for the office must stop talking about the city going “hat in hand” or “begging” the province for the proper transit funding. “Getting our fiscal house in order” has nothing to do with the province (or Ottawa ultimately) doing its part — no, duty — when it comes to transit. Conflating those two ideas is disingenuous and entirely beside the point.

Demanding that the provincial and federal levels of government participate fully and equally in the development of a city and region wide transit plan and financing is neither begging nor going hat in hand. As the TCSA report shows again and again, this city and greater region cannot address issues of congestion, traffic induced pollution and transit coordination without the province and feds sitting down at the table not on their wallets. Pretending otherwise is simply pandering and short-sighted.

So what’s a would-be mayor to do about recalcitrant senior levels of government?

First, speak truth to power. Stop enabling our Prime Ministers, Premiers, M.P.s, M.P.P.s to walk away from the issue of transit. They are the laggards on this not us, and have been for decades now. We have not dropped the ball, so shouldn’t be apologizing and acting all Oliver Twist-y, asking for please sir, more. It is not begging to demand every level of government own up to its responsibilities. Mr. Rossi? There was a deal in place with Transit City. All the ducks were in order, the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Guess who reneged and pulled a cool 4 bil from the table? The province. Guess why. Their fiscal house wasn’t in order.

Secondly, stop coming up with magical, unrealistic ways that you’re going to build all those subways we apparently want. Selling Toronto Hydro? A fraction of what is needed. And if it were so easy to get the private sector on board to build and/or operate our transit, don’t you think they’d already be at it? We’ll just sell the air rights over new subway statio—zzzzzzzzz.

Try this one on instead, Rob Ford:

As mentioned in Section 2.4, the reliable, long-term revenue streams from such funding sources will make it possible to issue bonds for the up-front investment capital needed…using the revenue streams to make interest payments and repay the borrowed capital over the lifetime of the new rapid transit facilities. Such debt financing not only expedites the construction schedule but also enables the private sector [bolding ours] to participate – along with the public sector – in raising capital. This, in turn, makes it possible to spread the financing risk between the public and private sectors [again, us] and harness more fully the productive capability of the latter public/private partnerships (PPP) [and again] and alternative funding and procurement (AFP) arrangements.

There is no single, silver bullet solution to restoring our transit system back to a working state. According to the TCSA report, “… it seems clear that more than one of the potential [funding] sources will be required – no single source would be sufficient.” In other words, it’s going to be complicated. Not only that, but the TCSA suggested funding sources consist of either tolls, taxes and/or levies. Ouch! That’s going to be hard to gibe with your slashing, burning, union busting and general all-round anti-tax platforms now, isn’t it. Finding efficiencies will not build this city a better transit system.

Near the conclusion of its report the TCSA states that, The local governments in the GTHA have not always been up to the task of engaging residents in a constructive and open dialogue. Take heed, all those vying to be the next mayor of Toronto. If you can’t engage the voters “in a constructive and open dialogue” about transit on the campaign trail, it will inevitably lead to future disappointment and disillusionment once you assume office. Be honest and forthright about your goals and intentions. Start by reading this document and coming to terms with the reality of our transit situation. There are no easy solutions. Stop pretending there are.

badgeringly submitted by Cityslikr

John Tory Doesn’t Want To Be Mayor. Really.

June 23, 2010

With two or three campaigns under his belt, it now seems that John Tory has started to get the hang of all this political…stuff. Pronounce yourself uninterested in any further office seeking, grab a high profile gig that underlines your commitment to public service and talk politics five days a week on your very own AM radio show. Toss in a regular guest debate moderator spot for the handful of actual declared mayoral candidates anyone’s paying a lick of attention to and, presto magico, Tory’s getting all the publicity he needs to not run for mayor until he absolutely has to.

Because let’s face it, the campaign trail has not been an easy road to hoe for John Tory in the past. A multitude of reasons have been bandied about over why that is but the inescapable fact of the matter is he simply cannot light a big enough fire under a critical mass of the voting public to make a very serious go of it. And this very same electorate who won’t give him the time of day when Tory’s actually in a race loves him to pieces when he’s not running for office.

Tory’s finally figured out that dynamic and is now playing coy while maintaining an extremely high profile for someone who supposedly retired to private life after his last thrashing at the polls. The truly odd part of the story is that he’s being allowed to carry out this plan of attack in broad daylight without anyone saying so much as, hello, what’s all this then? If I were one of the leading six candidates who were forced to hash things out in public two, three, four times a week for all those interested to see and judge, I think Monday morning’s Urban Land Institute debate at the Toronto Board of Trade which Tory moderated would be the last one I’d be participating in with him still uncommitted, standing right up there beside me, looking all regal and non-partisan, able to merely ask questions and answer none. Of course he’s the more appealing mayoral prospect. He’s doing the scrutinizing not the one being scrutinized.

And what about the other 24 or so registered candidates for mayor? They can’t buy their way up on stage with the front runners while Tory simply strolls out onto the dais without even having to lay his $200 down. Hasn’t he had more than his fair share of kicks at the can? Step aside, Mr. Tory. You’ve already had your turn. It’s time to let the others play. It’s difficult watching this unfold and not have the notion of ‘entitlement’ enter your mind.

I know, I know. The man isn’t running for anything. He’s told us as much. On a fairly regular basis. Yet he is not shy about sharing the spotlight with the others who have made their intentions clear, remaining squeaky clean in the process while they get filthier and filthier, wallowing around in the muck and goo that comes with a 10 month campaign battle. Then, Richard the Third-like, it’s all “Oh, alright then. If you insist…” to the growing entreaties for him to get into the race.

If John Tory truly is not planning to run for mayor again this time around, instead of using his considerable position and societal weight to increase his own profile, he should be pushing for a widening of choices and for more inclusion of those “other” viable candidates whose voices have been ignored so far.  That’s what someone who was really concerned for the future of his city would do. Is that the kind of citizen John Tory is? I guess we’ll find out come September 10th at around 2pm or so.

submitted by Cityslikr

Better Ballots Town Hall

April 14, 2010

You know, even without any delays it is a long subway ride up the Yonge Street line to North York Centre. I was aroused from my reading material somewhere between Lawrence and York Mills, wondering if I’d read through a stop. You go really fast for a long time which, if my understanding of the physics of motion is solid (and it probably isn’t), means that you are traveling great distances.

Why would you be doing that, you might rightly ask. Heading up to the first Better Ballots Town Hall meeting, I will inform you, held in committee room #3 of the North York Civic Centre, home of the former city hall of the former city of North York. Its empty early evening halls steeped in the history where colossi of the political scene like Mel Lastman once strutted and fretted. The air remains pungent of past power, reeking of… shoe polish. Or maybe it’s the cleaning agent that’s being applied to a floor off down one of the corridors.

Better Ballots, if you don’t know and you should, is an organization committed to increasing voter turnout at the municipal level. The website can give you much better presentation of their mission but in a nutshell: less than 40% of eligible voters voted in the last municipal election in Toronto; 14 of the 44 councillors were elected with less than 50% of ballots cast; only 1 incumbent councillor was defeated while another won his ward with just 20% of the vote; the council make-up is wildly unreflective of the city’s diversity that it claims to represent. Better Ballots wants to change all that.

Local political impresario, Dave Meslin, is the Better Ballots project coordinator and has been toiling away in the margins of election reform for much of the past decade including 2006’s City Idol where 4 candidates were chosen to run for council seats in that year’s election. He chaired last night’s town hall in an amiable but focused manner, promoting inclusiveness with the 25 or so of us there while not allowing things to careen too far off topic. Like any good promoter of a cause, Meslin made sure to surround himself with other smart, articulate advocates.

There was Desmond Cole, one of the winners of the City Idol project, and now an organizer with iVote Toronto. Another Better Ballots representative, Rob Newman, talked about campaign finance reform. Julia Deads from the Toronto City Summit Alliance moderated the town hall portion of the meeting, gently but with the necessary firmness to keep the proceedings flowing. If I had any claim to being an actual journalist, there were a couple other members of the panel whose names I would’ve made note of but didn’t. One was from Fair Vote Canada, a group promoting more proportional representation at all levels of government. I want to say Jeff Peck but, maybe somebody out there who attended the meeting with much better powers of observation could correct me on that. [It was Mark Greenan not Jeff Peck from Fair Vote Canada who were referring to. Thank you to mayoral candidate Sonny Yeung for clearing that up for us. — ed.]

The intent of this town hall meeting (and the 3 others planned at various city locations throughout April) was twofold. The first was to present 14 proposals for discussion about possible reform. These included such things as extending the vote to permanent residents and lowering the voting age to 16, the pros and cons of municipal parties and term limits, several options on ballot structures and districting and the above mentioned campaign finance reforms.

Along with providing information, these town hall gatherings are also about promoting advocacy. Ideas are all well and good but they die on the vine without a movement to take them to a wider audience. The second aim of the meetings is to initiate a grassroots movement to begin pushing for the reform options that garner the most interest from those who attend the meetings and vote on the ballot provided.

Despite what you might think, grassroot movement making ain’t pretty. It’s not all Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockoviches and Meryl Streep’s Karen Silkwoods but rather a long, tough slog through outsider-ville. For every smart, dedicated activist and proponent, there are those who wear their exclusion from the mainstream loudly and proudly, sometimes hijacking the proceedings to grind an axe or to just simply have their voices heard. This manifested itself last night when a handful of mayoral and council candidates took the floor to speak their minds. More campaigning than listening, they mostly took up time and space rather than contributed to the discussion.

Still, the dialogue was far more informative and exciting than any of the claptrap and bullshit that has passed for debate and deliberation so far in campaign 2K10®©. These people truly want to change how things are done in Toronto and to explore the ideas that will ultimately translate into electing those who best represent the widest community views at City Hall. It was time well spent on the subway hearing them talk about it firsthand.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Tory Comes To His Senses

January 11, 2010

Not to come off sounding like some jaded crank but who aside from the precious few wanting to recreate the almost magic of 2003 were the least bit surprised by John Tory’s announcement that he would not be running for mayor this time around? I’d say that after 6 years or so absorbing some fairly grueling political bruising, the man simply came to his senses. Surely there must be a better way to give oneself over to civic duty than going toe-to-toe with mean-spirited pissants and two-bit opportunists.

It seems that the true path to an enlightened public life revealed itself when David Pecault, before succumbing to cancer in December, suggested Tory take over his position as volunteer chair of the Toronto City Summit Alliance. Since Pecault appears destined for sainthood because of his work on this project as well as his general all round Toronto boosterism, it must’ve been an opportunity Tory simply could not pass up. A chance to leave his mark on this city without having to endure the senseless rigours of campaigning. Other than perhaps living in his predecessor’s giant shadow, there really isn’t a downside for Tory in choosing this route.

Besides taking over his position at the TCSA, Tory also appears ready to inherit the mantle of The Greatest Mayor Toronto Never Had that had only just recently been bestowed upon Pecault. What’s not to like about that? It’s certainly better than The Greatest Flop of a Mayor Toronto Ever Had (a phrase being bandied around about our incumbent mayor by those who evidently crawled out from under their respective rocks sometime after 2003). Or The Guy Who Couldn’t Get Elected Mayor of Toronto.

Clearly it was a no-brainer for Tory. My only question? What took him so long to decide?

opined by Urban Sophisticat

You’re Welcome, T.O.

January 8, 2010

Far be it from me to take credit where credit’s not due but 3 days after this site goes public – 3 days! – with a post that openly mocks the prospect of a second John Tory campaign for mayor of Toronto, the man announces he won’t be running again. Really. After months and months of heavy speculation about his candidacy in the wake of Mayor Miller’s surprise move to not seek re-election in 2K10®™©, Tory chooses yesterday, Thursday, to go public with his decision when on Monday it became clear we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would not be endorsing him. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.

But I will say this about Tory. As unsuitable and unappealing as the prospective was of him being mayor, he does seem to be genuinely interested in the well being of this city. Taking over as volunteer chair of the Toronto City Summit Alliance speaks volumes about Tory’s reasons for having left the cushy confines of private life 6 years ago for the ultimately thankless grind of public service. Civic duty. Giving back to society. Contributing to more than just your own well being. Something I’ve not yet seen so far in any of the declared candidates for mayor.

So thanks, John Tory. Thanks for heeding our advice (and warning) and deciding not to run for mayor. Thanks too for your continued commitment to the welfare of this city and to those that live here. There is no shame in working behind the scenes. That’s where some people do their best work.

John Tory. We salute you.

smugly stated by Cityslikr