Subway Ground Down

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

From The Archives

fromthearchives

(Today marks a month into the 2014 municipal campaign and, from an election standpoint, it’s been relatively quiet. At the mayoral level, more time has been spent on who’s thinking about getting in than who’s actually already in the race. Only two candidates have received any attention so far. One is the incumbent who is telling us that he’s busy out there campaigning which you can’t deny him, if by campaigning he means making a drunken spectacle of himself every time he appears out in public. The other, former Scarborough councillor David Soknacki, pretty much has the field to himself. With no one else around to lay a glove on him, he’s simply going about his business, delivering policy platforms and getting himself some name recognition in the vacuum that is nobody else being in the ring with him.

It’s a far cry from this point of time in the last campaign in 2010. The presumptive favourite to win it all was already hard at it. Giorgio Mammoliti was pretending he had what it took to be mayor. There was a nobody named Rocco Rossi threatening to come out of nowhere.

And on this day in 2010, with much hoopla, a young, baby faced contender kicked off what looked to be a serious run from the left as the heir apparent to the outgoing mayor, David Miller. Oh, what heady days those were. When anything seemed possible. Nothing was going to stop the Giambrone express!)

*  *  *

Adam Giambrone has a huge set of balls. [No comment. — ed.] They must be so big that he has to leave one at home any time he goes out because it would be impossible to cart around both at the same time for fearing of falling forward onto this face. We’re talking major league cojones.

How else to explain his declaration yesterday to run for mayor of Toronto? Adam Giambrone 2010. It’s a suicide mission. A World War I-like lurch up and out of the trenches onto the muddy, bloody, barbed wire fields of gore where the only realistic expectation is to be cut down in your prime. Giambrone is either deluded, blindly full of himself, youthfully idealistic or ambitious beyond the pale. Quite possibly, it’s a combination of all of the above. [We didn’t know just how right we were. — ed.]

Most rational politicians in his position would scan the political landscape in front of them and decide to sit this one out. There is anti-incumbency in the air; howls for the heads of any elected official held responsible for the abysmal shape of things. Look outside your windows, people! Crime is rampant. Roads are clogged and filled with rage. Rats have overrun the subways cars. And the Leafs, oh the Leafs.

Somebody’s got to pay. So if Giambrone were smart, he’d keep his head low, his ward 18 constituents happy and settle back into council this fall as one of the progressive headliners, standing up to the reactionary element that’s been beating its chest in these early days of the campaign. [Hello! Why was nobody listening to us? — ed.] He bears a double burden this election. As chairman of the TTC, Giambrone is the poster boy for all that’s wrong in the eyes of the media with our public transportation system. A coddler of evil unions, he’s also portrayed as one of Mayor Miller’s minions which is a bad space to be occupying presently.

Yet, there he was in front of a raucous crowd that was packed to the rafters in a bar in Little Italy, going public with his preposterously unlikely bid. So unlikely that cynics have suggested he is simply raising his profile and will retreat back to his ward race by September. [HaHaHa! If only it had been that simple. — ed.] That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as Giambrone’s got a fairly high profile as it is albeit largely negative if our daily papers are to be believed. If he is using this now as a profile raiser it would be for an all out run at the job in 4 years time after he steps away from the partisan rancor of City Hall and is seen to be doing good deeds in a social agency or the private sector. Or with an eye toward provincial [How’d that work out for you, Adam? — ed.] or federal elections in the near future, what with the French and Arabic he was throwing around during his speech.

(proof author was present last night)

Although judging from that speech last night, Giambrone seemed to be in this thing to win. He was passionate, articulate and spelled out the reasons why he wanted to be mayor. Yes, much of it was filled with broad generalities and pep rally platitudes (Better Tomorrows, Brighter Futures and all that). Still, I got a sense of the kind of city he wanted to build. Prosperous, of course, but with an emphasis on an equality of opportunity for everyone living here and not just us downtown fat cats and upscale suburban types. But even for those toiling away in Scarborough!

While short on details, he laid out in broad strokes how he wanted to do this. Ease of access on multiple levels. Opening voting to landed immigrants who have a stake in the city. Continued intensification of community policing in order to not only make neighbourhoods safer but to reduce a siege mentality that has descended on some places. And rather than run and hide from his TTC ties, Giambrone feistily embraced it, fully behind the idea of Transit City [No mention of a Scarborough subway in sight. — ed.], explaining that making it easy to get to work and back home and to all places in between will ultimately connect and bind people, neighbourhoods and communities.

So a full All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorsement, you ask? Hardly. While impressed certainly, the devil will be in the details. Among other things, we most certainly will want to hear from AG [about any sort of monkey business on an office couch. — ed.], how he’s going to deal with the constant fiscal shortfalls that the city faces and the seemingly intractable approach City Hall has in coming up with solutions to that pressing problem.

That said, Giambrone projected a positive, can-do spirit as he entered the race, stating that Toronto is a good place to live. As mayor, he just wants to help make it better. A welcome relief from his opponents who are big on the cut, slash, cracking heads, general all round panic rhetoric that makes great headlines but seldom improves lives. That’s what running for public office should be about, right? [Note to self: ask the Toronto Star’s Royson James what he thinks about the scandal which chased Adam Giambrone from the mayor’s race in light of our subsequent scandal-plagued 4 years. — ed.]

cautiously optimistically submitted by Cityslikr

Political Posturing Won’t Build Transit

I abhor faux-populism as much as the next Timmy’s loving, hard working, respect demanding little guy. timhortonsMy bullshit detector is acutely tuned to even the slightest judder of pandering. Common sense? Got it in spades. “Common Sense”? I see right through that, Mr. PR Marketing Man.

I’m a straight shooter and that’s what I expect from my elected officials. Give it to me right between the eyes, I say. I can take it. Brain me. Spare me the gut shot.

After decades of it, faux-populists from the right side of the political spectrum are pretty easy to spot. They refer to voters are ‘folks’. They roll up their sleeves. They don’t put the money they’ve saved folks back into the folks’s wallets but into the pockets of the folks’s jeans. Conservative faux-populists are always on the look out for the little guy but phrase it as ‘looking out for the little guy’. A subtle but very important distinction.

Left wing faux-populists are a little more difficult to spot because they’re supposed to be looking out for the little guy not just pretending to, like their counterparts on the right. bobrobertsYou don’t expect any sort of disingenuousness or duplicity on that subject from the left. Fairness, equality and fighting for those who find neither of those things on a daily basis is basically what those on the left are supposed to be doing.

Yet, I’m beginning to smell the stank of faux-ness from them when it comes to the question of transit at the provincial level.

Over at Raise the Hammer on Friday, the NDP Transport Critic (and my local MPP) Rosario Marchese responded to an earlier criticism of his party’s approach to transit funding.  “… the NDP has identified $1.3 billion worth of corporate tax cuts that the Liberals plan on giving away starting in 2015,” Mr. Marchese writes. “That’s $1.3 billion a year that will no longer be available for priorities such as transit.”

I’m all for finally sitting down and having the debate about the efficacy of corporate tax cuts in stimulating our economy. After years of pursuing such a policy, I think there’s lots of evidence pointing to the fact it does nothing of the sort. eattherichDoing more of the same in the hopes of getting a different outcome is the very definition of insanity and all that.

But we need to start hearing more specifics as to the application of new tax revenues coming in due to the cancellation of the proposed corporate tax cuts. “$1.3 billion a year…available for priorities such as transit.” How much exactly of that would go to transit? In his article Marchese admits that even the full amount wouldn’t pay for the Big Move as it is currently structured. And arguably, there are other provincial priorities that are in as desperate a need for an injection of new cash as the GTHA’s transit plans. More details, please.

Adam Giambrone puts some meat on the bones over at NOW this week, pushing the idea of restructuring personal income taxes as part of the transit funding solution. Wealth taxes and surcharges on those earning $350,000 a year and on the sale of properties worth over $3 million. Actual progressive rates of taxation reflective of an individual’s ability to pay.

Even the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson seems in the mood to talk about the need for new taxes. The table is set. There’s really no need to be coy about it as the provincial NDP seems to insist on being.

Besides, while I’m all for talking about a fairer approach to taxation, when it comes to finding funds for expanding transit in the GTHA, there are limits to relying solely on corporate and personal income taxes. emptytalkIt’s hard to imagine how either could be administered at just a regional level. If they can’t, then you’re asking the entire province to pitch in and finance transit in the GTHA and we all know what a political minefield that is. There would probably have to be more of a province wide transportation plan which would obviously slice the pie into smaller pieces.

And before we go getting all redistributive here, let’s keep in mind that there should be some sort of incentive/disincentive type of taxation when it comes to transit funding too. Tolls, congestion fees and parking levies to force drivers to begin paying a more equal share of their road usage, funnelling that money into public transit.

The devil’s in the details as people like to say now with Metrolinx and Toronto’s city staff putting forth proposals for revenue tools. We need to start getting specifics, and stop hiding behind what are essentially cheap slogans. To my ears, the reliance on a ‘No More Corporate Tax Cuts’ mantra sounds as flimsy and faux-populist as finding efficiencies and cutting waste does in terms of this transit funding conversation. Vague, politically palatable pap that suggests your heart really isn’t in it. tenfootpoleTransit as topic you’d really rather avoid, thank you very much.

The Liberal government at Queen’s Park has moved slowly enough on the transit file, glacially slow most of the time, to have allowed the opposition parties plenty of time to claim it for themselves. Instead, both have shied away and handed the hot potato off, making the government appear like the only adults having a grown up conversation with the public. Empty rhetoric and catchphrase platitudes may a faux-populist make but it’s not going to get us any new transit built.

warily submitted by Cityslikr