A Blatant Disregard

April 18, 2016

The plan, before taking down the ‘Goes Hollywood’ banner, was to write up some sort of insightful synopsis of this past winter spent in Los Angeles and the U.S. southwest. Aspringdancelmost 3 months spent blithely paying little to no heed to the weather, aside from constantly thinking, It’s quite nice out today, isn’t it? Oh! Look! Flowers!

There was going to be more edge to it, of course. Hopefully, with some depth of perception and originality, touching upon something that no one had ever noticed or written about Los Angeles before. Warren Zevon would figure prominently in the post.

But, as happens, actual, real time events, in the here and now, put scupper to my intentions. Los Angeles and Warren Zevon would have to wait. There were more immediate, pressing matters to expound upon.

I will say this, though, about Los Angeles. Despite enormous strides in the last 20 years to get out from under the deadweight of automobile dependency, it is still a car town. Far and away, from almost anywhere in the city, if you have the means, it is easier and faster to get to where you’re going and back, driving. lafreeway2Regardless of all those photographs showing unremitting gridlock, freeways jammed as far as the eye can see, carmageddon, day in and day out, you’ll still arrive at your destination sooner in your car than any other form of transport.

While this is true also for many parts of Toronto and the GTA region, it felt, at least to this downtowner’s mind, that we weren’t as far gone down that path road of car-centricity as a place like L.A. The incline wasn’t going to be as steep a climb to pull our collective selves back up and out from under it. Despite the eruptions of exuberant transportation irrationality like we have witnessed recently, sanity on the file didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. Enough smart people with enough decision-making clout knew what had to be done. The only question was how to best go about doing it.

And then came black freaky Friday, and frankly, all bets are off.

Ontario is widening the four-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 from Hurontario Street to the Credit River in Mississauga from six to 12 lanes.

What in the holy hell?! Widening a fucking highway!? From 6 to 12 lanes?!?! In the GTA!?!?! Who’s authorized this??

From the Office of the Premier.

Of Ontario, I presume. Not the premier of Fuckity Fuck Fuck Stan. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s gobsmacked babble.)

Unbelievable.

You don’t increase road space to relieve congestion. hahahanoYou increase road space to give the impression you’re relieving congestion. That’s just basic transportation planning 101. Unless you’re Wendell Cox or Randal O’Toole. Or, unless it’s 1954. (Or the governor of Illinois, it seems.)

This is so wrong-headed and standing in defiance of every smart growth, green belt measure that this government is purported to support, it defies comprehension. Think that’s just me, some anti-car zealot railing? Listen to the mayor of Houston, something of a sprawl town itself, give a speech to the Texas Transportation Commission.

 If there’s one message that I’d like to convey, it’s that we’re seeing clear evidence that the transportation strategies that the Houston region has looked to in the past are increasingly inadequate to sustain regional growth.

This example [Katy freeway, Interstate 10] , and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.

The Katy freeway (as explained here in Streetsblog), “A Monument To Texas Transportation Futility”, was expanded from 8 lanes to a staggering 23 – 23 lanes! – with a result, seemingly, to be increased car travel times along it. katyAlmost immediately. Let me italicise that for you. Increased car travel times.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Provide more road space, more people will use it to drive. Rinse and repeat.

Last Thursday, I attended the Students Retrofit the Suburbs event where planning students from Ryerson’s City Building Institute presented, well, plans for 3 spots in the suburban areas in and around Toronto that had been ravaged by the single-use built form design footprint used to accommodate car use, and car use only. One of the panelists asked them how they would deal with the community pushback and resistance that inevitably crops up when fundamental change is proposed in their neighbourhoods. Good question.

An even bigger one, however, is how to deal with political intransigence in the face of necessary change. A knowing, willful disregard for hard truths and expert advice from our elected officials who should be showing leadership, and making decisions about the future rather than simply trying to maintain the past. notlisteningDon’t think that’s the case? Then why did the premier’s office try and slip this news by everyone with a Friday morning announcement?

They knew. They know. They just don’t care about anything except for the long term health of their party.

When the press release surfaced, our friend John McGrath tweeted, “24 lane-kilometres of highway and the government just pays for it, no muss no fuss. 26 lane-klilometres of LRT along Sheppard East? haha no.” We are all familiar with the torturous pace and process of building transit in the GTA. The drawing and redrawing and drawing again of lines on maps, accompanied, of course, by the game of pass the buck when it comes to who pays for it. But when it comes to building roads? Everybody can’t open the public purse quick enough to throw money around without so much as a second thought. $81 million on this particular project.

The kicker is, the Liberal government is the urban party at Queen’s Park right now. That’s how they patched together another majority in 2014. The city vote. They’ll get no fight from the opposition on this. yougetacarJust like they got no fight from them on the Subway Champions banner the Liberals waved during the by and general elections in Scarborough. As long as highways are widened, road capacity is added, infrastructure money thrown around in their neck of the woods, everyone will agree that widening highways is a proper and wise use of scarce public dollars.

Facts be damned. Reality get stuffed.

That’s not governance. It’s pure and utter negligence.

unhappy returningly submitted by Cityslikr


Once Upon A Time There Was A Transit Plan…

August 12, 2015

Transit planning in Toronto is becoming more and more like one of the fables of yore. Tales told to teach children a valuable moral lesson. grimmFailure to absorb said counsel would result in rather… a-hem, a-hem… grim doings like throwing an old blind woman into an oven or cutting off your toe to fit into a shoe. Not so much happy-endings as, can you fucking believe what just happened?!

Read yesterday’s Toronto Star article from Royson James, Politicians ignore disaster coming down the track, and decipher the moral of the story, if you dare. Massaged ridership numbers. Deliberately downplayed costs. Overt political meddling in the planning process. What glimmer of enlightenment do you glean, standing as we do right now in the dark, foreboding forest?

Here, Little Red Riding Hood. Take this basket of goodies to your ailing grandmother. grimm1Take the shortcut to grannie’s house through that wolf-infested thicket of woods.

What could possibly go wrong?

Which is exactly where we’re sitting, waiting for staff reports to come back this fall on the feasibility of Mayor John Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan as well as the alignment of choice for the Scarborough subway. Here, Toronto. Take this basket of goodies to your transit ailing system. Please ignore the wolves at your door.

What could possibly go wrong?

Now, it’s easy to cast the villain in this tale. Emerging from under the bridge, Rob “Subways, Subways, Subways” Ford plays the ogre. Once with the perceived power to do so (what politicians like to call their ‘mandate’) in his grasp, he killed off a perfectly good and provincially funded transit plan with no realistic alternative in place. grimm3Just killed it dead. Because he could.

The fact is, however, Rob Ford is nothing more than the inciting incident of this story. His madness could’ve been stopped in its tracks by people wielding far more power than he did. While city council was probably correct in not forcing him to bring his Transit City Dead motion immediately up for a vote during his brief but impressive ascendancy, and handing him an “official” stamp of approval, others could’ve stood firm in the face of his onslaught.

That is the real moral of this story. Political cravenness and calculation in the face of inchoate populism. Good governance brushed aside for good poll numbers. Doing the right thing? Define the word ‘right’.

Lies added to lies, multiplied by lies to the power of three. Compounded lies, all in the service of expediency and to the detriment of public policy. Everyone became a subway champion (under and above ground). Remember. grimm2Don’t take what you think is the best course possible. Take the one that’s most popular.

That’s the lesson of Toronto’s transit fable. Have no conviction. Disregard facts and evidence. Cater first and foremost to popular opinion. (I mean, come on. It’s not like I’m the only person advocating we burn the witch, am I right? Burn the witch! Burn the witch!!) Never, no matter what, whatever you do, stand up to a bully especially if he really, really popular. No good can come of it.

It’s a morality tale devoid of any morality or ethics. A story with far more villains than heroes. Taking and retaining power is all that matters, kids. If you want to get ahead in this life, best void yourselves of scruples as soon as you can. Integrity and principles are for suckers, boys and girls. Learn that now and save yourself a boatload of anguish and misery later.

The End.

grimly 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


Subway Ground Down

January 28, 2015

I really don’t want to be writing this. Like the Toronto Star’s Ed Keenan, I’m tired of it, of the Scarborough subway debate. Just as likely, you’re sick of it too. notthisshitagainThere’s gathered a great storm of ennui, a wave of yawn. Just Get On With It has now become the default position. Build Something!

But…but…There’s always the but.

In Keenan’s article today he points to a recent Forum Research poll that shows, given the full options of what Scarborough would get if we spent $3+ billion on transit there, 61% of Torontonians would pick the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. A healthy majority of those living in Scarborough too favoured the LRT option given to them.

Just yesterday, as I was railing about the $75-85 million the city is in the midst of handing over to the province via Metrolinx for the work already underway on the Scarborough LRT that council cancelled, I cited a Leger poll from back in February 2014 that showed similar numbers. 61% of respondents preferred the Scarborough LRT option over the subway. 56% of those living in Scarborough leaned that way also.

So why the fuck are we here, spending billions of dollars building something the majority of Torontonians don’t want?

Public enemy number 1, of course, is Rob Ford. Subways, subways, subways, am I right? scarboroughsubwaybellowThe people want subways.

Not to diminish his role in the mess but let me say this. At the very least, Rob Ford and to a lesser extent, his brother Doug, truly believed that subways were the way to go. As committed car drivers, public transit was something of a puzzle to them. They hated streetcars that blocked up the middle of the roads. Buses they tolerated because they were easier to get around. But underground transit? Out of sight, out mind, out of the way.

Because the folks voted for him, giving him a mandate, they too wanted subways. Subways, subways, subways! Like the classic bullshitter that he is, Rob Ford (and again, to a lesser extent his brother) actually believed the bullshit he spouted. He didn’t need no stinkin’ polls to tell him what he knew in his heart, heard every day from the folks he met in line at Tim Horton’s.

This is not to excuse him. He served as the bullhorn for the subway cause. The self-appointed guardian of the taxpayers’ nickels and dimes stubbornly contributed to throwing away of billions of dollars of their money to further a cause he willfully knew nothing about.notthisshitagain1

The larger question though is, how, with these numbers, 4+ years after the debate started, 4+ years after the People Want Subways campaign slogan metastasized into a corrupted conventional wisdom, we’re determined to plunge ahead into this madness? The villainous list is long. Rob Ford becomes little more than the inciting incident in this story, a preening, comic foil Malvolio.

The true monsters in this sorry-assed tale sit up at Queen’s Park. First in the form of the skittish Dalton McGuinty Liberal government, seemingly dead in the polls and facing an election in 2011. In the face of the first (and only true surge) of Ford Nation, they quickly buckled when the newly elected mayor unilaterally declared Transit City dead. Hey. If you say so. Whatever. They would survive the initial assault, holding on to power but reduced to a minority government.

But imagine if instead they had stood their ground, stood up in the face of what was little more than a noise-making machine. Was subway support really ever as strong as the mayor and other Scarborough politicians came to claim it was? Certainly Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker didn’t think so in 2012 when city council wrestled the transit file from the mayor and re-instated Transit City.

At this point of time, it seemed cooler heads had prevailed. Subways, subways, subways had been revealed to be little more than the dying bluster of a mayor who’d soon be sidelined to little more than a cranky observer. Pheee-ew, right? We narrowly dodged that bullet.

But then…

What the hell happened?

Well, here’s where the story gets nothing short of clusterfuckery.

New leader of the provincial Liberals, new premier, new beginning, we’re told. They start to get their sea legs, win a by-election or two including one in Scarborough-Guildwood with Mitzie “The Subway Champion” Hunter. A by-election where, curiously, her NDP opponent, former TTC chair Adam Giambrone, an early Transit City advocate, docilely nods in a similar subway support direction.

Suddenly everybody loves subways! notthisshitagain2Egged on by Scarborough MPPs, city council lurches once more, agreeing to scrap the Scarborough LRT in favour of a subway. A subway the city will now have to contribute to building and maintaining. Scarborough deserves nothing less than a subway, we are told.

Except, still, with the options laid out for them, residents would opt for the LRT.

Despite that, here we are. The Liberals are back as a majority government. They now have both the city and federal government pitching in to build a Scarborough subway. They have a new mayor who, despite his claim to prudent fiscal management, campaigned on a pledge not to reopen the subway debate and is perfectly content to just piss away 10s of millions of dollars in order for that not to happen. In addition to which, his signature transit plan, SmartTrack, is offering even more city money to help the provincial government build their regional transit system.

And all the Scarborough pro-subway city councillors who ran for re-election last year are back. (Interestingly, so is the one very vocal pro-LRT Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, easily re-elected.) notthisshitagain4The debate is over. The people have spoken. They want subways.

Except, apparently, they don’t. Or more precisely, if given an option, they’d take LRTs. It’s the politicians who want subways.

If there’s a more salient example of why we’ve become so cynical and disengaged, I can’t immediately think of one. It’s little wonder we’re bored of this debate. Our elected representatives aren’t listening to us. What’s the use of continued talking?

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Stupidity Not Mendacity

September 12, 2014

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I hate the Scarborough subway plan pacification vote getter plan. hateitNothing more than, what do those politician-hating politicians call it? A boondoggle. If this monstrosity actually comes to be, and there’s no guarantee it will, folks. There’s no deal signed. No money in the bank. Just malleable promises, pandering politicians and one big novelty cheque.

But let’s say the political winds don’t change and sometime down the line, off there on the horizon, at a distant point in the distant future, 3 new stops get slapped onto the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Hurrah! Scarborough gets more of a subway, civic pride is restored and… well, nothing much else will change. It’s all just questions after that. Will the ridership numbers live up to the pie-in-the-sky estimates or will there be more of a drain on the TTC’s operational budget? What about all those other residents of Scarborough who can’t easily walk to one of the three subway stops and are once more relying on bus service for their commutes? How come I’m still paying property taxes for this fucking subway?ooops1

What’s so particularly galling about this nonsense is that it’s all so unnecessary, unnecessary and counter-productive.

In a discussion paper released this week, Build Regional Transit Now, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, among other things, called for an end to political interference in transit planning. This being 2014, it is something of a sad irony such a plea had to be made since the provincial transit planning body, Metrolinx, was established just for that very reason. David Hains does a great job in the Torontoist, running down the rocky not so non-political history of Metrolinx.

I want to take you to page 17 of the TRBOT’s report. Under the subheading, “Decison-Making and Project Execution a Struggle”, it speaks directly to the Scarborough LRT/subway debacle. Or ‘standoff’ as the report calls it.

At the heart of any sound governance structure is accountability and efficient decision-making. These elements were clearly not in place with the on-going Scarborough subway versus LRT standoff. Indeed, it demonstrated much confusion around the roles and responsibilities of Metrolinx and who exactly was accountable for driving regional transportation expansion. Despite Metrolinx’s transportation planners recommending an LRT line, including close to $100 million in sunk costs associated with environmental assessments and other preparatory work, Metrolinx’s advice was, in the end, ignored by both the Province and the City of Toronto. Over the span of several weeks, the agency was compelled to first endorse a subway proposal from the then provincial Transportation Minister and later Toronto Council’s approved subway route.

In a paragraph nutshell. Expert advice was ignored. Money burned. Political pressure brought to bear on an apparently non-political agency.

The question, of course, is why? And the simple answer is politics. whyThe conventional wisdom went that Scarborough residents wanted a subway, so Scarborough politicians bent over backwards to give them a subway, good governance and a cool hundred mil be damned.

But here’s what really burns my ass about that line of non-reasoning. When did that become conventional wisdom? Rob Ford’s election and his Subways Everywhere mantra, perhaps. The minority Liberals, running scared and willing to do anything in order to keep seats in Toronto.

A good theory, I guess. I don’t have a better one. The problem is, I’m not convinced the very premise lying at the heart of all this holds water.

As a Forum poll showed this week, 56% of Scarborough residents asked stated a preference for subways over LRTs. Here’s the catch. It was a completely loaded and skewed question. thisorthatEssentially it went, subway or LRT, “if costs for building both were the same”?

The costs aren’t the same. Not even close. Subways are more expensive. End stop. Moreover, the Scarborough LRT wouldn’t have cost Toronto residents any additional money. The subway has its own property tax increase.

So it was a stupid question, for sure, of the all things being equal type when clearly they’re not but even so, even with a pro-subway angle to the question, only 56% of respondents in Scarborough favoured building a subway.

That is hardly an overwhelming majority. Nowhere near the 100% support the mayor and other subway proponents tout. Given a proper shaping of the question, it would be even less.

In fact, earlier this year, a Leger poll found 56% of Scarborough residents wanted to revert back to the originally planned Scarborough LRT. “I think we’re starting to see a shift now as people become more aware of the cost to build subways,” said a Leger researcher. ontheotherhand1Yet, here we are, being told the exact opposite by the politicians we elected to represent our best interests.

The confounding thing to me is why. If voters can be convinced of the folly of building a subway extension into Scarborough with little more than a money argument, how come politicians aren’t willing to do just that? To recommend the advice of the non-political experts who tell us that a Scarborough LRT is really our best option. How has this debate become so fucking convoluted and divisive?

I have no answer. It’s one thing to chalk up politicians’ motives as doing whatever it is they need to do to get elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. Putting their interests before the interests of the voting public. A time-honoured, tried and true formula.

But the decision-making process for the Scarborough subway doesn’t seem to be that. It’s not about some failure to lead. It’s about the desire to mislead.

steamroll

When all the factors point in the direction of one decision, and the public appears prepared to accept that decision, what politician would opt not to make it? That’s not crass and craven politics. It’s flat-out idiocy.

head-shakingly submitted by Cityslikr


Career Politicians

June 25, 2014

Anybody who’s thrown so much as a passing glance toward us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke knows that we kind of rankle at the hurled derision of the ‘career politician’ taunt. tryingmypatienceWe happen to think, done well, politics can be a noble profession, and one which need not be subject to some arbitrary time line. New blood does not inherently mean good or better blood. It’s just new.

But I will tell you that Councillor Raymond Cho is severely testing our laissez-faire attitude on this issue.

One day – ONE DAY! – after coming in 3rd in the June 12th provincial vote, Councillor Cho registered to run for re-election in October’s municipal election. Looking at the councillor’s history, you might conclude that he’s spent a lot of his career trying to get out of City Hall. He ran federally for the New Democratic Party in 1988 and then federally again in 2004 as an independent Liberal candidate. This time around, he took a stab at it as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

Having now run under the banner of a party with perhaps one of the most anti-urban agendas in recent memory, escapeplanCouncillor Cho blithely intends to return to municipal office as Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River incumbent. No hard feelings, eh guys? It’s not like I was a conservative in anything but name only, OK?

I’d probably be more forgiving if the councillor had done much of any significance this past term. At the start, just after Rob Ford became mayor, Cho was a bit of a thorn in Team Ford’s side. More like a pesky annoyance, really. But as the province lumbered toward a general election, Councillor Cho saw another exit opportunity and after securing the riding nomination, he just sort of faded into the woodwork. His most notable achievement ended up being to join with 8 other Scarborough councillors and derail plans to bring the LRT to their part of the city.

With a federal election on the horizon for 2015, you’d be crazy not to think that Councillor Cho isn’t ruling out one last kick at that can. sixofoneIt’s not like he’s getting any younger!

At least one of his opponents in the recent provincial campaign, the NDP’s Neethan Shan, had the decency to wait a week before throwing his name into the municipal campaign, registering to also run in Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River against Councillor Cho.

Frankly, that news doesn’t sit much better with me.

I know that there’s a lot of overlap between the provincial and municipal governments. In many ways, they are inter-dependent. It’s not unusual to see the same names vying for a position at both levels. Hell, 3 of Scarborough’s 5 Liberal MPPs are former Toronto city councillors and a fourth was a school board trustee in the city.

Still, Mr. Shan’s quick entry into the municipal race strikes me as something a budding politician might do in search of public office. Doesn’t care where, Queen’s Park or City Hall, as long as it’s an office. And public. pickadoorI’ll be very surprised if he’s the only unelected, unsuccessful provincial candidate who tosses his hat into the municipal campaign ring before its September deadline.

This kind of campaign juggling strikes me as lacking a certain commitment to, I don’t know, a cause. A passion for politics, maybe, but generalized, unfocussed. The thing that motivates you should dictate the level of government you aim for. International affairs or development? Federal. As a school board trustee, Kathleen Wynne has said it was the Mike Harris attacks on education that pushed her into provincial politics.

That might be too harsh or over-simplified. One of my favourite city councillors, Gord Perks, first ran for public office at the federal level. careerpoliticianThere’s obviously something to be said about learning the ropes of the campaign trail, taking it on the chin a few times before getting it right.

But, in the end, if a candidate is fortunate enough to win an election, there should be some passion for the office they step into. I’d be much more content with a city councillor who’s something of a lifer because they love the job they do and are good at it than someone just passing through municipal politics as a stepping stone to where the real power lies. That’s self-serving not public serving.

And it’s the kind of thing that gives career politicians a bad name.

testily submitted by Cityslikr


What Becomes A Fiscal Conservative Most

June 19, 2014

With the provincial election in our rear view mirror and the new majority Liberal government ready to get down to the business of governing, haveachatperhaps it’s time to press the reset button on the conversation of fiscal policy. Especially once we kick into municipal campaign gear and everyone starts chattering away again about billion dollar savings, previous year’s surpluses and out of control government spending. Let’s re-examine the conversation on what constitutes good fiscal sense.

Last week David Dodge, former Bank of Canada governor and a Finance Department mucky muck from Pierre Trudeau through to Jean Chretien, suggested that maybe high-octane deficit reduction isn’t necessarily the way governments should be going right now. Yes, that David Dodge. Not some wild-eyed, socialist leaning, CCPA economist, David Dodge. Inflation-hating, deficit fighting, David Dodge.

“It is thus important to realize that in the current environment of low long-term interest rates, fiscal prudence does not require bringing the annual budget balance to zero almost immediately. Small increases in borrowing requirements to finance infrastructure investment would still lead to declines in the debt-to-GDP ratio.”

“Governments should expand their investment in infrastructure while restraining growth in their operating expenditures so as to gradually reduce their public debt-to-GDP ratio.”

That analysis is very different than Diagnosis: Austerity which every self-proclaimed fiscal conservative is demanding and touting texaschainsawmassacreas inevitable these days. Take on some additional debt, start spending money on much needed infrastructure (a deficit estimated in 2012 at $123 billion at the municipal level), hold the line on other operational expenditures and try to grow the economy rather than cut, cut, cutting into shape.

I didn’t see any pitch for lowering taxes. No drastic reduction in the civil service. Reasonable suggestions devoid of tough talk about tough choices.

The irony is not lost on me that the source of our current infrastructure needs can be traced back, at least in part, to the war waged on the federal deficit back in the mid-90s featuring none other than David Dodge, then a senior level Finance department bureaucrat. Downloads to the provinces, cuts in transfer payments, all managed to trickle down to cutbacks in spending on new infrastructure projects and the neglect of that already built and in place. There’s a little bit of the inflictor of damage stepping forward with his trowel and pail of cement, whome1offering to help repair the shit he knocked over.

Hell, I don’t even know if David Dodge is right but he’s presenting an alternative to what’s being sold to us as the only way to get ourselves back into the black. Austerity. An approach implemented elsewhere without any satisfactory results to show for it yet. If we just cut a little bit deeper, a little faster, we can stop this ship from sinking, this ship is sinking…

So when the federal government gets all sanctimonious about Ontario’s out-of-control deficit, and the need to introduce harsh measures to rein it in, we can just respond, But David Dodge said… Or if the provincial Liberals cite budgetary concerns for not, say, electrifying the GO corridor or building a particular LRT line, we can respond, But David Dodge said…

This is important to remember at the municipal level too. Although cities can’t run annual operating budget deficits (as per legislation from another, deficit-plagued level of government), there’s always the question of what to do with the inevitable operating surpluses that arise. If a municipal government is budgeting properly, there should always be an operating surplus.

Our current administration at City Hall has proudly puffed out its chest at the fact it’s used its operating surpluses to pay down capital debt and keep taxes low. areyousure2Meanwhile, the state of good repair for the TTC and TCHC continues to grow. The roads and parks are just a little worse for wear. And the city’s credit rating remains unchanged from the so-called profligate days of David Miller.

Fiscal responsibility doesn’t mean being cheap or simply hating the concept of government spending money. It means making smart decisions, decisions based on the reality of the day and not some theoretical exercise that looks great on a blackboard and fits neatly into an ideology. There’s no one way to be a fiscal conservative except for, maybe, a right and wrong way.

sensibly submitted by Cityslikr