Civic Disobedience

April 7, 2015

Much of the debate during last year’s mayoral campaign revolved around the notion of a return to sanity or, at least, a small sense of normalcy. serenitynowAfter 4 years of Mr. Ford’s wild ride, Toronto needed calm, some peace and serenity. Can we please have a slice of that good ol’ bland boring that should be the centerpiece of municipal politics?

Enter John Tory, bland as bland can be, scion of the establishment, Mr. Sharp Fitting Suit himself. Who better to still our choppy civic waters? There, there, T.O. Everything’ll be alright. Uncle John’s here now. Shhh…Shhhh… Go back to sleep. Everything’s under control.

“Shower of bricks reveals TCHC’s ruined façade,” states the headline of Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star editorial from yesterday in response to a weekend Toronto Star story about “four storeys of brick facing fall from TCHC building in Scarborough”. Ooops! Mash this up with today’s latest TTC breakdown at the St. Clair subway station that stranded thousands and thousands of commuters, waiting for relief lines of buses to get them to work on time.TTChaos

Can we just admit that our troubles run deeper, a whole lot deeper, than the simple matter of who’s running the show? It’s the ideas that matter not the politician. Putting lipstick on a pig and all that.

If the mayor of Toronto isn’t prepared to stare long and hard into the abyss that is this city’s chronic underfunding of, well, pretty much everything, to look up and admit that, yes, in fact we do have a revenue rather than a spending problem, then it really doesn’t matter who’s wearing the chains of office. It’s simply degrees of failure. It could be worse really shouldn’t be a viable option.

During the campaign, John Tory assured Toronto that, as well as restoring a sense of respect and decorum to the office of mayor, he would also improve the city’s rapport with the senior levels of government. wellrespectedmanMr. Tory was well-connected, if nothing else, an acknowledged civic leader of the private sector. How could his relationship be any worse than his predecessors with Queen’s Park, our provincial overlords? The feds, as the feds do, kept a certain non-malevolent distance which could certainly be improved upon with a more delicate but still Tory touch.

It was pretty much an open secret the provincial Liberal government, with a fresh new majority restored, wanted to see John Tory as the next mayor of Toronto. That certainly boded well for improved interaction between the two. I mean, the outgoing mayor and his brother-designate long advocated for the Liberals removal from office. How could we not see an uptick in the relationship?

Now, I’m willing to cut the mayor some slack, agreeing that it takes time to build those kinds of relationships. Still… So far, Queen’s Park has said ‘no’ to any and all requests the city’s made for additional funds for transit, housing, pretty much everything. In fact, we’ve received bills in return for those asks. $95 million as part of the Union-Pearson Express, for example. Oh yeah, and the provincial funding shortfall for the Spadina subway expansion? Toronto and Vaughan need to pick that up. $86 million for the GTA social service pooling fund? eviloverlordYou want a line of credit to deal with that?

This is not something that is new, provincial off-loading of money onto municipalities. The Harris government started it and the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals have not done nearly enough to alleviate it. That’s just a straight-up fact, a thing now 20 years-old.

To continue demanding provincial and federal money as the single plank in your platform of revenue generation is not only stubborn wishful thinking, it is, as walls continue to tumble and subways catch on fire, nothing less than a dereliction of duty. It’s not a plan. It’s avoidance. Why moral persuasion is any more feasible now than it was back when David Miller was going ‘cap in hand’ to the other levels of government isn’t at all clear.

Perhaps John Tory was the farthest thing from being the right mayor at the right time. That’s not to say Doug Ford would’ve been preferable. Both he and his brother looked upon every TCHC repair that needed to be done, every TTC breakdown that occurred, as proof positive of the unsuitability of government to help with folks’ lives.

But John Tory is too conventional in his thinking, too much part of the status quo to be of much use to us right now. (Why else do you think he rails incessantly against the ‘status quo’?) He can’t even stomach the idea of a conversation about tax increases. disobeyRadical is not part of the man’s lexicon and Toronto needs a radical approach.

I don’t know how exactly an orchestrated campaign of intra-governmental civil disobedience would work but that’s where we’re at. As was pointed out last week, Toronto (along with other municipalities) doesn’t have much negotiating power when it comes to dealing with the province. But if it’s true as the mayor likes to tell us that this city is the economic engine of both the province and the country, we could probably start causing some disruptions in order to make some noise.

What form that would take is hard to say. Let’s Big Data it and see if we can’t come up with something. What I do know is that meekly handing over millions and millions of dollars whenever the province asks, and going in camera if need be in order to keep the details from the public, in some sort of self-defeating gesture of good faith or will is probably counter-productive. Hey. The province wants the UPX up and going before some of the world arrives in Toronto for the PanAm Games? Maybe that’s their problem. Queen’s Park wants the subway arriving in Vaughan? Maybe they ought not renege on the money they owe. More to the point, maybe the city shouldn’t be picking up their portion of the tab.

Since John Tory has no real vested interested in the Scarborough subway, perhaps it’s time to hold a gun to that beast’s head. fightbackYou know what Queen’s Park? Maybe we’ll just stick to the LRT after all. That Master Agreement hasn’t been reopened has it? I think that money’s better spent on our billions of dollars of state of good repair.

I’ve often mused that with one budget cycle the city should threaten not to balance its operating budget. With no additional provincial money coming in, in fact with such a regular of outflow going from the city’s coffers to Queen’s Park, we just can’t possibly invest enough in our communities while balancing the operating budget. It’s no longer tenable. If the province demands that municipalities balance their operating budget, then the province needs to come in and do it themselves, either pony up the cash they owe or make the cuts to services and programs such legislation demands of Toronto.

But it’s clear by now that John Tory isn’t the type of politician to upset the applecart. It’s just not in his established, status quo nature. Neither is the make up of the current city council up to that fight, the battle we need to wage.

On the other hand, none of us should breathe some sigh of relief and relax in the false comfort that it could be worse. Could it? And what exactly would that look like? upsettheapplecartWe are best served, I think, remembering that Rob Ford and Ford Nation was not just some anomaly, now quietly placated by the bromide assurances of John Tory. While the messenger was damaged, the message remains defiantly there with every building façade collapse and public transit failure.

This shit, it isn’t working. We need to fix it. By and with any means necessary.

militantly submitted by Cityslikr


Transit Treachery

March 4, 2015

Our list of municipally elected transit villains is well known. Why, just in the past 4+ years alone, names fly off the top of your head. villainRob Ford, Karen Stintz, Glenn De Baeremaeker, and all the subway lovers who enabled them. We elected them. We re-elected them. They are our responsibility, our bad.

Yet, I am going to make a bold, perhaps controversial assertion here.

They are but bit players in this sad, sad drama we call transit planning here in Toronto. Supporting actors in our mad tragi-farce, farcedy. Wilfully self-unaware fall guys, the lot of them. Patsies. Patsies, not pasties. Mmmmmmm… pasties.

The real culprits here, the progenitors of this city’s — the region’s — diseased public transit, Ian McShane’s Teddy Bass to Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, is undoubtedly the provincial government. Ultimately, Queen’s Park pulls all the strings, fiscally, jurisdictionally. Theirs is the final yea or no although they would demur, preferring to project an image of sage partnership with its municipalities. Who us? We’re just sitting here minding our business, happily signing the cheques. Are you sure you don’t want a subway with that?

Follow the timeline with me on our current misadventure.benkingsley

In 2007, the city and province announced a grand plan, Transit City, as a step in the right direction to dealing with Toronto’s increasingly problematic congestion. We often forget that the project was more than just new LRT lines, 7 of those in total, running some 120 kilometres. New bus rapid transit routes were also in the mix along with increases to existing services. Looking at the original Transit City map, what is immediately apparent is the plan’s scope of bringing better transit into the long under-served inner suburban areas of the city.

Back then, the provincial government was picking up the tab for Transit City as part of their bigger regional transit vision, MoveOntario 2020. Unfortunately, the economic crisis and meltdown got in the way and, more attentive to politics than good governance, it scaled back Transit City to just 4 LRT lines. villain7Argue as we might about if the move made any economic sense but what we can say with a fair degree of certainty is that this change of plans instilled in Transit City a sense impermanence, assailability. Just more lines drawn on a map.

December 10th, 2010. Newly elected mayor, Rob Ford, unilaterally declares Transit City dead. That noise you heard coming from Queen’s Park? **Crickets**

Again, we can debate in hindsight whether or not city council should’ve stepped in and demanded the mayor bring the matter to a vote. Ford was as popular as he would ever be at this point. Had city council pushed, he may well have received the go-ahead to rip up the master agreement with Metrolinx and officially bury Transit City. Whether through wisdom or pure shocked inertia, city council stood pat, allowing the mayor enough time and rope to leave himself dangling.

The inaction on Queen’s Park in defense of Transit City is equally opaque and open to question. Remember though, they are the big bosses, the final arbiters, the holders of transit plans in their hands. They could’ve stepped in and stopped the insanity in its tracks. That power was theirs.villain1

Instead, they blinked. Deeply unpopular in the polls and facing almost certain defeat in the general election to be held the following year and not looking to have to face down the self-proclaimed Ford Nation flank in Toronto, the Liberal government shrugged and told the mayor and city council, Whatever you want to do. (It probably also didn’t hurt that any delays to the transit plan formerly known as Transit City would save the deeply indebted Liberals from immediately having to spend any money.)

Unsurprisingly, Rob Ford stumbled and fell flat on his face. City council seized control of the transit file from him. With only a 2 year delay to show for it, some semblance of order seemed to be on the horizon. Of course, it wasn’t. City council, led by a TTC commissioner eyeing the mayor’s office in a couple years, began dialogue on another transit plan, mostly pie-in-the-sky, unfunded schemes called One City. More lines on a map including – what the hell was that? – another Scarborough subway, this one a replacement for the proposed Transit City LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line.

It bears repeating at this point that, once more, the Liberal government could’ve put their foot down and put an end to the discussion. villain3They have the power to do that, rule by fiat pretty much. That is the nature of our municipal-provincial relationship. They didn’t, thereby perpetuating the farcical shitshow.

They’d been reduced to a minority status and their grip on power was tenuous. No false moves that might embolden the opposition to trigger an election. So just more of the, Whatevs.

But this is where the provincial government’s motives get really, really murky. During a by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, the Liberals dubbed their candidate, Mitzi Hunter, the ‘subway champion’. Sorry, what?! Increasingly, Scarborough MPPs (many of whom were former Toronto city councillors) went public with their preference for extending the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway rather than LRT. Everybody now had picked up the Rob Ford chant of Subways! Subways! Subways! Scarborough deserves a subway!

It’s like the boss, when you ask if you can cut out early to take your kid to soccer practice, tells you ‘no’ while winking and nodding his head ‘yes’. villain2No. *wink, wink, wink, wink* Quitting time is 5pm. *wink, wink, wink, wink* You cannot take your kid to soccer practice. *Nodding ‘yes’*

So it went. City council took the bait, cancelled plans for the fully funded by the province Scarborough LRT, taking upon itself all the risks and liabilities of building a subway instead, beginning with about $75 million it was on the hook for for cancelling the LRT plan, the plan the province covertly encouraged them to cancel. The Liberals scored a majority government last June and then pretty openly expressed its preference for who Toronto should elect as its next mayor, John Tory, a candidate with transit plans of his own, SmartTrack which, just so coincidentally, meshed nicely with the province’s own regional rail plans, and a candidate with no plans to reopen the Scarborough subway debate if elected.villain4

Why do I feel the need to revisit this recent, sordid history now?

On Monday at the Executive Committee’s budget meeting, buried oddly near the bottom of the 2015 Water and Waste Water Rate Supported Budget, a budget that doesn’t usually get the same spotlight its operating and capital budget brethren receive, a report surfaced revealing that the city and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) had been negotiating a $95 million bill Toronto was expected to pay for infrastructure upgrades that were happening along the Union-Pearson-Georgetown rail link. Hey! You want out-of-town visitors and commuters moving smoothly around your city? Pay up. That shit don’t come for free.

So, a city struggling to balance its operating budget (which it is provincially mandated to do) and with limited access to revenue to do that (and an even more limited propensity to access the tools it does have, admittedly) villain5is being told to come up with nearly $100 million to help pay for infrastructure improvements that will ultimately more directly benefit another level of government with increased taxation through economic growth. Oh, and the cost overruns on the main terminal of that rail link? You’re on your own, Toronto.

It is clearly evident that this city is more than capable of fucking itself. What’s becoming less apparent is why we have to continue putting up with a second fucking from a senior level of government more concerned about its own well-being than the municipalities it is purportedly looking out for. As my good friend MookieG77 said on the Twitter yesterday, this is just another form of provincial downloading onto cities.

While the idea of pushing for provincial status for the GTA remains quixotically out on the fringes of political discourse, it’s just not seeming that crazy an idea currently. For 20 years now, Queen’s Park has not acted much like a partner, albeit a senior partner in its relationship with Toronto. The dynamic is more like an occupier. villain6Happy to take our money but less interested in providing sound oversight or reasonable leadership unless it provides some tangible gain for them in return.

If we’re going to go down in some sort of ignominious flame out, let it at least be one of our own making and not imposed by a government who views us as little more than a liability, a vote rich and money laden liability.

rebelliously submitted by Cityslikr


Everything’s Fine. Ignore All Evidence To The Contrary.

March 3, 2015

I know the drill.nothingtoseehere

Take a deep breath. Rob Ford is no longer the mayor of Toronto. We are in capable hands now. We are in responsible, prudent, capable hands. Inhale, exhale.

Sitting through the morning session of yesterday’s special Executive Committee meeting to discuss, debate and amend the 2015 budget before passing it along to city council next week for a final vote, and I’m not feeling particularly reassured, however.

City staff’s message was clear. Holes have been plugged. Band aids and duct tape liberally applied as stop gap measures to balance the operating budget. But the recent approach to financing the city is not sustainable. A fiscal bullet was dodged again this year. Next year…?

Mayor Tory shrugged. Every year we hear the same doom and gloom tune. Every year things work out. Relax. alfredeTake a deep breath. The city is in capable hands now. Responsible, prudent, capable hands.

No matter the state of good repair backlog, manifested by the creaky condition of our public transit, the long, long repair list in our TCHC housing, the flood of broken watermains under duress from the extremely cold weather last month. What, me worry?

Everything’s fine. There’s no need to panic and start talking about new sources of revenue. An above the rate of inflation property tax increase? “An admission of failure,” according to the mayor.

Toronto does not have a revenue problem.

Sound familiar? It should. Because, no matter how much the appearance of responsible, prudent, capable leadership this administration wants to project, no matter how many times key members of the mayor’s team tell us that’s what they stand for (there’s some inverse proportionality to the number of times they say it to the actual reality of the claim), agenda-wise, Mayor Tory and his executive are little more than extensions of the previous holder of the office.

Think I’m exaggerating?failureisnotanoption

Of the 10 members on Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee who spent at least some of last term serving in the same role under former mayor Rob Ford, they collectively voted with Ford nearly 73% of the time (according to Matt Elliott’s council scorecard). Throw in Councillor Ana Bailão, as she worked with the Fords on the affordable housing file, and that brings this mayor’s Executive Committee overlap with Ford’s numbers down to 69%. Even factoring in the 12th member, the least Ford friendly of Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (she aligned herself with Rob Ford less than 1 in 5 times) and you still have nearly a two-thirds consensus between the two administrations.

Of course, the mayor, his budget chief and other team spokes people point to very obvious differences. Increases in services to the TTC, for example, eventually restored to 2010 levels before Rob Ford took an axe to them. Commendable, for sure, laudatory even if it were still 2010. In the interim, there’s 4 years of ridership growth, now packed onto and into 2010 service standards.

Clawing our way back to running to catch up from behind.

Mayor Tory brushes aside demands to even discuss an above the rate of inflation property tax increase or new revenue tools wolfinsheepsclothing(aside from hikes to user fees, the mayor loves user fees except for car drivers, leave the poor drivers alone, would you) because he believes that the big ticket items Toronto has to deal with must involve getting senior levels of government to the proverbial table. Until such a time, we can trim away here and there at city operations, gently nudge revenue in a way not to piss off too many people. Make the pretense of responsible, prudent, capable governance.

He’s not wrong, at least not in the first part of that equation. Toronto (and every other city in this country) doesn’t have the revenue or governance tools at its disposal to deal with what is essentially a gaping infrastructure deficit. Without those, both the province and federal governments have to step up and chip in.

But just how realistic is that scenario?

Ottawa hasn’t really been involved in municipal matters for a generation now. And how many times already during Mayor Tory’s 3 months in office has the province basically told him to get stuffed when he’s asked for financial help? Why, just yesterday we learned that Toronto got a double-dose of fuck you from Queen’s Park and Ottawa when the city was denied any funding help for cost overruns at Union Station, only one of the major transit hubs for the country’s biggest city and region that generates a fifth of the national GDP.loosechange

Sorry, pal. We’d really like to help but we’re a little strapped right now. In fact, maybe you could spot us a buck or two…

Yeah. Adding insult to snubbery, it also came to light yesterday after a two-hour in camera session that the city is expected to chip in on Metrolinx’s building of the Union-Pearson Express-Georgetown rail link. We’re facing a bill of nearly $100 million from the province for various improvements to their regional rail plans along the lines running through Toronto.

This is the environment Mayor Tory expects to make nice and extract money for the city?

Maybe if he’d have stepped up from the start and stated that there was no way he was going to raise taxes or introduce new revenue tools in order to pad provincial coffers, I’d be right there with him. neroThose demands from the government at Queen’s Park that the city needs to start using the revenue streams it was given back in 2006 sort of ring hollow now. Raise taxes, so we don’t have to.

But Mayor Tory isn’t doing that. He’s pretending like there’s nothing wrong, like this is just a little blip, a rough patch that can be managed with a capable, prudent, responsible approach. We just need to tighten our belts, be more efficient.

If Rob Ford set the city on fire or, at least, tossed gasoline onto the hot spots, Mayor John Tory is just fiddling while we burn, hoping, I guess, for the restorative powers of fire.

consumedly submitted by Cityslikr


His Master’s Voice

January 26, 2015

At a party Saturday night, the conversation inevitably turned to local politics as it tends to do when I find myself at a public gathering. cantshutuupSure, I can be a shout-y bore on the subject but, in my defense, I rarely am the instigator. If somebody’s going to ask me what I think of our new mayor, am I supposed to demur and pretend to admit that I don’t really follow what goes on at City Hall, that I don’t have an opinion?

I’ll spare you all the details, since you’re reading this you’ve probably heard them all before, only to tell you that the conversation’s conclusion ended with a mutual marveling at the fact that Toronto is somehow still functioning. Frequently finding itself near the top of Best Of lists and not some smoldering Rust Belt crater, it is something of a wonder how the city escapes the clutches of oftentimes terrible, terrible governance. It is what it is despite not because of the elected leadership that purports to be looking after the city’s best interests.

That is, for those of us in comfortable enough positions to enjoy the benefits on offer here. If we aren’t spending disproportionate amounts of our income to keep a roof over our heads. If we’re not trapped in a single mode of transport in order to get around. If you’re not dependent on the soft services – the nice-to-haves rather than the need-to-haves — the city provides. If living here isn’t just some daily grind that leaves us looking longingly for any possibility to pack up and move to greener, more livable pastures.livinglarge

Those are the signs of neglectful governance, of course, the loose threads of poverty and inequality concentrated throughout the city. All those shiny skyscrapers are certainly one way (and not an unimportant way) to measure civic well-being but ultimately meaningless while we ignore the homeless deaths and children going to school hungry. A city working exclusively for the Haves is just another gated community.

Reading Royson James’ article yesterday in the Toronto Star, Exploring the murky depths of Toronto’s budget making, it’s painfully clear that neglectful governance has been par for the course for this city for a couple decades now. Not just the startlingly low caliber of local representation we seem content with, almost willfully excited to put into office, no, no. Where the real power resides, at Queen’s Park, Toronto’s had to battle, at times, a deliberate attack on City Hall’s ability to serve as an effective manager of the city’s affairs.

Look at the numbers. $2 billion of the $10 billion or so operating budget goes toward provincial and federal services and programs delivered by the city. hismastersvoiceSome are voluntary while others are legislated. Some get actual funding from the senior levels of governments, some don’t. For the stuff the city either chooses or is mandated to provide that doesn’t come with money from Queen’s Park or Ottawa, the choice is both stark and unpleasant: cuts elsewhere in the budget and/or higher than desired tax and revenue increases.

For most of the amalgamated city’s history, we’ve leant more heavily on scaling back and putting off than actually doling out more in taxes. Our infrastructure suffers as a result. Our transit system can’t keep up with demand. Our social housing stock becomes more and more unlivable.

So here we are again with this $86 million operating gap created by the downloading of a bunch of social services as part of our amalgamation-warming gift from the Mike Harris government that has only been partially undone by the Liberal government that’s been in place since 2003. fightingoverthebillIt’s a depressing case of petty hot potato-kicking the can down the road where no side has been particularly responsible. The province looks to balance its budget and not appear to be too Toronto-centric in the eyes of the rest of Ontario (it’s never obvious which is most important to Queen’s Park), rightfully if greasily pointing to the fact the city is negligent in using its taxing revenue resources more robustly.

It’s all political fun-and-games until the operating budget has to be balanced, and people waiting for a bus or affordable housing and daycare see little improvement in their daily lives. “Hey soldier,” Willard asks, “do you know who’s in command here?” “Ain’t you?”

We’ve arrived at that point in this conversation when I ask if it’s not well past time we start to pose the question, What about a Province of Toronto? Ask people elsewhere in Ontario if they think it’s an idea worth pursuing. If your out-of-town relatives are anything like mine, you’ll probably get a whole lot of Good Riddance and Don’t let the door hit you…

The other common riposte to that line of thinking is a derisive shrug. You want the like of Rob Ford or Mel Lastman to be your premier? That’s a concern, for sure. aintyouOn the other hand, we endured Mike Harris, didn’t we?

Could it be that we get, not so much the municipal government we deserve but more the municipal government we think is appropriate to the responsibilities it has? As we have learned from our recent past, the ultimate authority for the functioning of this city, any city in Ontario, lies with the province. It can do anything it wants and we are pretty much powerless to challenge it. So who cares who the mayor is, our city councillor?

As it stands, most of our municipal decision-making is fraught with almost adolescent angst-filled nihilism. What’s it matter what we do? The province can just come in and scuttle everything. We’re told what we have to do, unsure if there’s any allowance coming to us as part of the deal. While you’re living under my roof… blah, blah, blah.

itsyou

As long as we have to answer to a level of government that places this city’s best interests secondary to its own, there can be no satisfactory outcome with this relationship. For 20 years now, Toronto has had to endure the vicissitudes of provincial attitudes toward us, some of it malicious, some of it benign, occasionally beneficial. There’s no way in a scenario rife with such uncertainty that we can possibly plan and build a better future. If the province can’t treat us with respect as their “junior partners” maybe the time has come to demand a more equal footing.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


The Bastards Keep Grinding

September 3, 2014

“I’m beginning to think politicians aren’t really looking out for the best interests of this city,” wide-eyed, naïve me writes. wideeyed(Yes. Such an aspect of this person exists.)

Jaded, cynical adult me turns and gives wide-eyed, naïve me a withering look.

“You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

This is a thing that happens, early on in the process most days. An ongoing battle between my cheery ingenuousness and the hardened pessimism about what passes as politics in these parts. Lately, it’s been a one-sided affair, and not in favour of the good guy.

“So who’s disappointed you this morning?” meany me asks.

Well, for starters, John Tory called a transit related press conference yesterday. Goodie, goodie, goodie, I thought. staringcontestMaybe now he’ll explain how his Smart Track funding will really work, because lately, some people, well, they’ve expressed some reservations about it. Mr. Gee and Mr. Barber.

“And what actually happened, sunshine?”

Well, not what I expected, OK?

It turned out to be an out-and-out endorsement for John Tory’s mayoral candidacy by the province’s Economic Development and Infrastructure minister and Scarborough MPP/subway lover, Brad Duguid.

“My Liberal colleagues at Queen’s Park are almost unanimously enthusiastic about John’s candidacy,” Duguid said. really“We see him as the guy… to provide the stable leadership to ensure that Toronto is the partner that we need.”

“Holy shit, eh?” nasty me exclaims, bursting out into a disturbingly cackle-like noise. “Imagine that!”

“Can they do that? Should they do that?”

The cackling gets louder and even more harsh on my sensitive ears.

I mean, it’s still nearly two months until the election and the provincial government essentially just came out and told voters in this city that John Tory is the mayor it wants, the candidate it’s willing to work with. Is that normal? Blatantly meddling in a municipal election is something that’s done regularly? Why not just cut to the chase and use its legislative powers to just appoint the next mayor of Toronto?

“I know, right?”

Even the soft-headed, big-hearted me can see the gears in motion, the politics at work. Pick the candidate who’s vowed not to re-open the Scarborough subway debate. Get somebody who isn’t Rob Ford into the mayor’s office to officially close up the Metrolinx master agreement on the previous LRT and sign off on the new subway plan. bodyblowFait accompli.

“Sure. That’s one way of looking at it,” cynical me says. “Don’t forget to factor in though that, above all else, Liberals hate the NDP. More than unfunded transit plans. More than nut job, far right conservatives, more than former opponent and rival, John Tory. John Tory, Tory leader, bad. John Tory, mayor of Toronto, good. How does that even work?”

No. No. I am not going to buy into such soul-crushing, naked cynicism. Cynicism? Fatalism.

Good me, hopeful me, sanguine me refuses to accept the fact that there are politicians out there so corrupted by power that they will sacrifice the interests of the people and places they were elected to serve purely for political gain. Partisan hackery above good, sound policy. I can’t. I won’t.toomuch

“Well, run these numbers around the daisy maypole of your mind, see what conclusion you can continue to ignore.” Meany me’s just taunting happy me now.

“The province gets its subway in Scarborough with both the feds and city kicking in some money instead of having to pull the full freight for an LRT. The province has already been working on its own version of Smart Track. Now here’s this guy volunteering to put up some city money to help them do it. A guy who’s spent the entire campaign deriding an opponent as ‘the NDP candidate’. The question isn’t why or how could the Liberal government endorse John Tory. The question is, what took them so fucking long?”

No. No. Nope. No, no, no. I’m not giving into this. Not again. There’s only one proper response now. drinking1Plug my ears and walk away until jaded, cynical adult me gets bored and goes out and gets drunk somewhere.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!

[Pulls bottle and glass from desk drawer, pours a nice, stiff drink] Look. It’s not like I enjoy being cynical and bitter. It’s not because it’s easy. It’s just… It’s just… [takes a drink]… Hope needs to toughen up, to smarten up. Hope needs to stop being taken for a sucker. Hope needs to start realizing who the real cynics in this equation are. It ain’t me. Not by a long shot. [Finishes the drink, pours another.] Not by a long shot.

dually submitted by Cityslikr


(Mis)Governed

April 22, 2014

I’ve been mulling over our state of governance these days. Spurred on by the news of Councillor Adam Vaughan’s planned departure for federal politics, ponderingI kept wondering why anybody would make that particular jump. Sure, there’s the clout and prestige. In theory, the real levers of power are operated from Ottawa.

In theory.

Reading through John Lorinc’s piece today about Vaughan and the role the federal government plays in the running of cities, I have my doubts about the efficacy of delivering effective municipal policies from the federal level. You can offer up money, maybe even ideas. But hands-on tools to contribute directly? That’s a little more complicated.

According to a document that’s nearly 150 years old and a handful of court rulings during that time span, municipalities are nothing more than “creatures of the province” and “exist only if provincial legislation so provides…” dustydocumentCities fall in that place of dark matter between federal and provincial jurisdiction. To propose any sort of strategy, say housing or transit, for municipalities, Ottawa could be seen to be stepping on provincial toes. Why risk antagonism if you can just ignore these issues instead. We’d really love to help but our hands are constitutionally tied.

There have been attempts, for sure. The Liberal government’s New Deal For Cities Municipalities Communities (or whatever it wound up being called) under Paul Martin delivered increased funding that remains in place but little in terms of clarity. Nearly a decade on, cities remain without any sort of national housing or transit strategy. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), cities face more than a $200 billion infrastructure deficit.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how a change in government in Ottawa is going to reverse that. powerlessAt least, not in the short term.

I was boring family and friends over the long weekend, talking about this particular challenge of governance. Citing a certain Paisley Rae who had paraphrased Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi for me, talking about the importance of the various levels of government in our lives. (If I get this wrong, it’s all on me). Imagine if just out of the blue our federal government disappeared. Poof! Suddenly gone. How long would it take you to notice a real impact on your life? A month? Do the similar thought experiment with the provincial government. Poof! Gone. You’d notice in about a week? Now your elected representatives at City Hall. Vanished into thin air. Almost as soon as you step out the door, their absence would be evident.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that simple. It would depend entirely on where you lived and other circumstances. There’s much more overlap than that.

Still.

I think the role of our municipal level of government is highly under-valued and egregiously under-funded. oldendays1They are expected to do things that they have no jurisdictional command of or the fiscal tools to deal with. As the above article points out, the FCM claims that Canadian cities receive only 8% of the country’s tax revenues but are responsible for 60% of the infrastructure.

I’ve long contended that this political mismatch between the responsibilities demanded and the lack of capacity to deal with them has resulted in an increased presence of buffoonery at the local level of representation. Of course, we can elect somebody like Rob Ford because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. There’s no real power invested in that office. When we do dare to elect somebody with ambitious ideas for our cities, David Miller for example, they are destined to disappoint us because, in the end, they lack the real power to fully enact their plans.

What is clearly needed at this point of time is a complete constitutional overhaul. This isn’t 1867. Much, much has changed including where the majority of people live in this country. kickupafussCities. The hierarchy of revenue and power needs to be shuffled and rearranged.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. So politicians like Adam Vaughan with ambition and big ideas gravitate to where positive change is possible even if it hasn’t been much in evidence, well, during our lifetime. All we can do is cross our fingers, wish him well in his endeavours and look for new politicians to represent us at City Hall who aren’t content with the severe limitations that will be placed on them, and who have their own plans to shake up the status quo that serves fewer and fewer of us.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Committed To Talking About Transit

March 17, 2014

What can we do in the face of an overwhelming lack of leadership?powervacuum1

I was thinking that, listening to Premier Kathleen Wynne explain to Matt Galloway on Metro Morning today why she’d announced pulling some possible revenue tools last week to help fund transit building. You could actually hear the political calculus at work. Or maybe it was the sound of transit planning coming to a grinding halt.

No one doubts the premier is in something of a bind here. You could make the argument she’s looking down the wrong end of history’s barrel, with twenty years of anti-tax and small government sensibilities having taken solid root in the political soil, dating back to the rise of the Reform Party in the early 90s. The Chretien/Martin deficit cutting and downloading frenzy. Mike Harris. Mel Lastman. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford.

Taxation not even seen as a necessary evil but simply evil.

Of course, her own party’s recklessness with public funds doesn’t help her cause any. taxesareevilWe all know the names by heart. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. It’s a bit tough at this point for Premier Wynne to step up and ask for more money from Ontario’s residents. Trust us. We’ll spend it all very, very wisely.

And the politicking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The opposition parties at Queen’s Park have constructed their own anti-reality bubbles in terms of revenue sources to dedicate to transit. Everybody’s got some magic beans they’re shilling, ways to get the transit needed at a cost that will come from almost nobody’s pockets. Don’t worry, folks. This won’t hurt a bit.

My guess is, as we head into the provincial budget process, the government has just handed concessions over to the NDP by vowing not to increase the gas tax, the HST or income tax on middle-class families in order to fund the Big Move. Your move now, Andrew Horwath. What does your party suggest? Using exact figures, if you don’t mind.

Who’s going to step forward first and sign their name to a tax increase or new user fee?

Because everybody knows this can’t continue. Public transit in the GTHA has to be built. That fact, at least, cuts across political lines. checkersOnly the supremely delusional Tim Hudak-led Tories are insisting it can be done without raising more revenue.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked.

The Liberal government has been provided with plenty of cover to take the important next step in this debate. From the non-politically realigned Metrolinx and the premier’s very own appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, to organization as disparate as the Toronto Region Board of Trade, CivicAction Alliance, the Pembina Institute, right down to grassroots groups like Code Red TO, all have talked up revenue tools. The pump has been primed, the ground broken.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked. Still.

The ugly truth about this, unfortunately, is that the well being of the party takes precedence over the strength of the idea. We’ve all been told that if party X runs with this and takes a beating in the election because of it, well, we’re right back to square one or so. partyloyaltyThe fate of transit in the GTHA hinges on the party that best touts the least amount of pain necessary to voters in order to build it.

No one’s gutsy or astute enough (both integral components of actual leadership) to step forward and challenge the conventional wisdom that voters summarily oppose taxation and are unwilling to pay more for improved service. Instead it’s just more nibbling around the edges, reframing the debate in the exact same dimensions we’ve heard for the past 20 years. Empty, empty pledges of new stuff free of charge. Promises to deliver the undeliverable.

All of which serves only to make us more cynical, more apathetic and less likely to take anything any of our politicians say seriously. Who wants to go to bat for somebody ducking from the first inside pitch they face? Why waste your time and effort?

At this point, there can be little doubt that the 3 parties representing us at Queen’s Park have failed miserably at displaying anything close to resembling leadership on the transit file. Each have wilfully disregarded the hard work and dedication put in by groups and individuals, goitalonefighting to ensure that we have a robust debate and positive outcome in dealing with an issue that threatens nothing short of our well-being and way of life in this region. We’ve been abandoned by our elected leaders.

If our provincial politicians are unwilling to provide the appropriate leadership for us, we really should start talking about why we continue to finance them and subject ourselves to their inaction and indecisiveness.

dim viewly submitted by Cityslikr