Putting Ourselves Between A Rock And A Hard Place

On the other hand…

hmmmm

It was gently asked of me yesterday that if the characters in the current $150 million pooling-uploading saga now swirling around City Hall and Queen’s Park were different – like, say, a mayor I didn’t see as a raging incompetent or a provincial government I felt was more Mike Harris-y – would my reaction be the opposite of what it was. Essentially, a variation on the why is he so fucking incompetent theme. A fair question.

Yes indeed, the Liberal government is getting away with some dubious claims in this transaction, using Mayor Ford’s epic inability to get along with absolutely anyone and everyone he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with as cover. letmestopyourightthereAs John McGrath pointed out on Friday, over the course of the 3 year phase out of the $150 million pooling fund, the city will ultimately be short-changed just over $13 million after factoring in the uploading of services back to the province over the same period of time. (The chart is on page 5 of this letter sent to the mayor’s office by Finance Minister Charles Sousa.)

Of course, Mayor Ford muddies the waters with his immediate ballistic response, threatening to cut social programs to the tune of $50 million next year when, in fact, the pooling fund-upload exchange will net the city an additional $700,000. It’s hard to believe there can’t be some financial re-arranging at the city level to mitigate the need for any cuts. It’s also hard to believe the mayor would be willing to go into an election year with the mess of significant cuts to social programs on his hands in the hopes voters follow him in pinning the blame on the provincial government. No service cuts. Guaranteed. Remember?

This is all purely political jostling on everyone’s part. It’s just unfortunate, if not at all surprising, the Liberals decided to play along. pissingmatchA solid majority of Toronto residents know that we’ve elected a child-mayor who only operates through the lens of campaigning. The provincial government is supposed to be the adult in the room. Instead, they’ve started up their engines in a game of chicken.

In order to try and mask that, the finance minister threw into the pot relief from a loan made to the city by the province back when Mike Harris was premier and Mel Lastman mayor. A loan to cover the initial costs of amalgamation with the expectation of being paid back with all the efficiencies that would be found. Efficiencies weren’t found, so the loan has been ignored for most of its life.

So, the finance minister claims that’s about $230 million in savings for the city but it’s actually Ford level accounting. thanksfornothingIf the city hasn’t made a payment in a decade or and wasn’t expected to, it should hardly count as any sort of savings. Thanks for the gesture, Queen’s Park. As empty as it may be.

The politics of this goes beyond just the war with Ford. The Liberals want everyone to know that it’s not giving any municipality preferential treatment even if there are legitimate reasons it might. If the province is fully assuming the costs of the social programs Toronto bears a heavier burden providing than other cities in Ontario, fair enough. I’m yet to be convinced that’s actually the case.

But the Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Toronto MPP, is petrified of being seen as Toronto-centric by the rest of the province. So no special deals on a casino. No special funding treatment. itshisfaultAs it goes in Kenora, so it goes in Toronto.

It would be unfair to suggest that it’s simply back to business as usual since 1995. The Liberals have reclaimed much of the costs their Progressive Conservative predecessors downloaded onto municipalities in the Great Savagery of 1995-2003. (Certainly not all. For one, there remains the outstanding matter of the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating budget they haven’t made good on.) Let’s give credit where credit is due.

It’s sheer big-balled audacity, though, to point to the city’s annual surpluses as proof we’re sitting pretty while Queen’s Park battles heroically with a debt load that’s kept us all afloat. Lest they need reminding, cities can’t run an operating deficit. They’re not allowed as provincially mandated. dirtyhands1Our surpluses come from conservative budgeting that leaves many of our services (some also provincially mandated but not necessarily provincially funded) and residents more than a little frayed around the edges. It’s at moments like this when it’s worth asking if the province is putting back as much into Toronto as it’s taking out. I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to that.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to use our bumbling, stumbling mayor as a convenient punching bag, it would do well for the provincial government to remember that there are real life implications to their political calculations. Implications that will inevitably be borne by those least able to bear them. Mayor Ford won’t be among them.

Perhaps the bigger lesson to be learned from this is for the people of Toronto. Queen’s Park and the governments in power there, first and foremost will be looking out for themselves. We’re just part of their always fluid political equation, little more than polling numbers.responsibility

We need to look after ourselves and have been given some of the tools to do so. In order for that to happen, we have to stop electing politicians who refuse to step up and take on that responsibility. It makes us easy prey for those putting their own interests first.

responsibly submitted by Cityslikr

A Parking Pass

Sixteen years after amalgamation, city council took a big step toward by-law harmonization yesterday which, while as boring as it might sound, is an important milestone. Not everyone was happy about the outcome and, certainly, everything isn’t now all ironed out. ballonanimalQuirks remain. (Seriously? Rooming houses still can only be built in certain parts of the city? Seriously?) But hey. What city doesn’t have its quirky by-laws? I hear tell of some places where buskers aren’t allowed to give children balloon animals.

As expected, it wasn’t a quick and easy debate. Change never is quick or easy. What did surprise me, and that surprise is all on me because, well, how could I not see it coming, was that the biggest subject of debate on the issue of by-law harmonization involved parking.

Nothing highlights just how car-centric this city still actually is than the passion displayed for parking. Where, how much of it and keeping the cost absolutely negligible were all matters of very intense discussion on the council floor. parkinglot1Parking as some sort of  inalienable right bestowed upon anyone as soon as they purchase an automobile.

I’ll believe Councillor Josh Matlow when he says his motion to maintain free visitor parking at all multi-residential and apartment buildings comes from a place of protecting tenants’ rights. That there’s a time for the bigger discussion on parking but yesterday wasn’t it. And he may believe that I referred to his motion as ‘parking pandering’ only because I like to take shots.

But the fact is that there’s no such thing as free parking and we really need to stop pretending there is. It is not an amenity to be used as a bargaining chip. We all pay in some way for tenants to have free visitor’s parking, for “free” parking of any kind. parkinglotAnd if Councillor Matlow and the 34 other councillors who voted in favour of his motion think I’m being hyperbolic, might I suggest they take some time and read through Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. (Or, here’s a 20 page paper on the subject from the professor.) Part II, section 3, Getting the Parking Right, in Jeff Speck’s Walkable City is also a very good primer on the subject.

The emphasis on cheap, plentiful parking warps our ability to properly plan a healthier, more liveable city. Any notion of “free” parking encourages people to drive to destinations that have it. It maintains the private automobile’s top notch in our transportation hierarchy and continues to push every other mode of transit to second, third and fourth class status. Don’t believe me? parkinglot2At your next dinner party, express the view that public transit should be a free amenity for everybody. Gauge the feedback you get in comparison to stating the opinion drivers really ought to be paying more of their fair share for parking.

Any positive efforts a councillor makes in the direction of furthering public transit or cycling or walking is simply undone by their insistence on maintaining the illusion of free or cheap parking. Rationalize it all you want, cower in the face of voter-driver wrath but it only stalls the realistic conversation we need to have. You can have a vibrant, dynamic city, full of all sorts of ways to get around or you can have oodles of “free” parking for anyone and everyone who asks. You just can’t have both.

scoldingly submitted by Cityslikr

Family Feud

Attended a casino information session last night in Liberty Village — @GiveMeLibertyTO, such a great Twitter handle – givemelibertywhich, honestly, wasn’t an information session so much as a citizens’ how-to on resisting a casino development. And frankly, why not? From the outset, this has been a futile exercise in getting the specifics. How much will the city receive in hosting fees? Hundreds of millions of dollars! OK, maybe $168 million? No no, we’re told by OLG. More in the range of $50-$100 million. A degree of magnitudes larger than Windsor receives from its casino.

Months and months into this discussion, we’re still hearing essentially, trust us, we’re in the business of gambling. We’ll treat you right. Listen to OLG’s President and CEO Rod Phillips today on CBC’s Metro Morning. Would you buy a casino from this man and plunk it right down on our waterfront?

I just can’t run down the pros (many still very questionable) and cons (many still unanswered) of this issue again. I canx.

But I was struck by something Michael Cruikshank of York Heritage said at last night’s gathering. That the city’s lack of a plan for the CNE grounds, which could be viewed as little more than a historic parking lot for much of the year, has left it vulnerable to this casino move. hucksterWhy not a casino? It’s not like you’re doing anything else with it.

That’s not a fair assessment. There’s the Allstream Conference Centre. The Ricoh Coliseum and BMO Field are in the vicinity. A new 26 storey hotel is slated to begin construction there sometime soon, which I don’t know how it fits into MGM’s proposed plans at this point.

In fact, I don’t know much about anything that’s going on down on the CNE grounds. Ditto, Ontario Place. What’s up with Ontario Place? I know John Tory headed some planning process for it. Whatever happened to that?

Being an engaged resident takes constant vigilance, I tells you. There’s never enough time in the day to keep informed. You elect people you hope have your best interests at heart, or at least, the city’s best interests. You hope. Fingers crossed.

Is that enough?

And then to hear from members of No Casino Toronto, a certifiable grassroots campaign created to fight the casino plans, talk about heading out into communities like Ward 37 where many of the residents hadn’t heard about the city organized casino town halls and the discussions going on about the issue. keepontopofthingsHuh? How is that possible? Ward 37 is the home to Councillor Michael Thompson, the chair of the Economic Development and Culture Committee. The one committee along with Planning and Growth that has the biggest stake in the debate, some serious skin in the game. How could his residents be unaware of what’s going on?

Fifteen some odd years into this project called amalgamation, we continue to live separate lives it seems. And hey. I’m not pointing fingers here. I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on in Ward 37 Scarborough Centre, along with probably 40 other wards in Toronto. That’s on me. But how can we act as one entity if many of the residents aren’t part of a city defining moment like hosting a casino, something that will contribute substantially — negatively or positively, we still don’t know yet – to our economic and social well being?

Such a continued divide makes us easy prey to easy exploitation by calculating politicians who thrive on regional tribalism. Nobody benefits when they succeed, not even said politicians. Because nothing substantive or constructive ever gets accomplished under that kind of civic conflict.disengaged

We will simply stumble along, unable to give ourselves nice things.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr