Queen’s Park Strangers

“Too much time has been wasted,” intoned Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli last week, “and we need shovels in the ground and improvements to public transit starting now. There is no time left to waste.”

All reports suggest he said this with a straight face.

If it wasn’t obvious before, it couldn’t be any clearer now: the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto has been nothing less than manna from heaven for the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. In the havoc Mayor Ford’s wreaked on this city’s transit file (havoc the provincial government could’ve stemmed if it so chose but more on that later), Queen’s Park has been able to cover its tracks, hiding nearly a decade of neglect and indecisive mishandling of such a vital portfolio. So much so, that after TTC Chair Karen Stintz launched what was nothing more than an embryonic idea about further transit expansion in Toronto with One City, Minister Chiarelli was able to condescendingly brush it aside as a ‘future-looking concept’ with ‘a lot of merit’ but – and hold your stitches together with this — “We must not and cannot allow further council debate and delay,” the minister said. “Transit in a city like Toronto isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The stones on these guys. Really.

For the past 17 years, transit in this city has been little more than a political football to successive provincial governments of both red and blue stripes. Kicked and punted this way and that, depending on the direction the winds were blowing, there hasn’t been anything really resembling an overall strategy as much as there’s been basic calculated ad hockery.  While the current transportation minister mouths the word ‘necessity’ in terms of transit, it’s really only been about expediency from Queen’s Park for some time now.

1995.

The newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris decides to bury the already in progress Eglinton subway line. Unaffordable. So we’ll wait a decade and a half when the costs of building transit inevitably come down and we can have this debate all over again in its entirety.

Later on as a sop to then Mayor Mel Lastman, the Tories OK a Sheppard subway line. This little stub of a thing contributes little to alleviating congestion much. In fact, it only seems to be helping load up the Yonge subway line to past capacity. It also serves as a flashpoint to the great subway debate of 2010-12, a key element to the delays the transportation minister bemoans.

And then there was the decision to stop funding the provincial half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, a decision that candidate for premier McGuinty promised to reverse if elected but has yet to get around to nearly 9 years on in his mandate. Taking a very conservative estimate, say $150 million a year, for 17 years now, that adds up to some $2.5 billion that the TTC and taxpayers of Toronto have had to shoulder or simply dispense with for the better part of a generation now. That’s a lot of expansion of services deferred and new technologies ignored.

What Mike Harris taketh away, Dalton McGuinty hath kept tucked away.

And like his predecessor, Premier McGuinty also bestowed upon the city a subway that had more to do with politics than with practicality. The Yonge-University subway line extension up to Vaughan was hardly where a new subway was needed most. Transit? Sure. But a subway? If there, why not Scarborough was a legitimate question asked during this spring’s transit debate. Until you elect a high ranking member of the provincial government, Scarborough, might’ve been the actual answer.

Then there’s Transit City.

Until we elected Mayor Ford in 2010, the main culprit in the delays in implementation of Transit City has been at the provincial level. Originally planned to build 7 new LRT lines and upgrading the Scarborough RT, along with new rapid bus lanes, Queen’s Park blanched in the face of the economic meltdown in 2008 and pulled funding that reduced the plan to 3 new LRT lines and the work on the Scarborough RT. (What’s that again about transit in Toronto being a necessity, Minister Chiarelli?) This reversal signalled that Transit City was subject to change and opened the door for Mayor Ford to crayon in a few alterations of his own.

As our friend David Hains pointed out last week, the Liberal government seems to have a selective memory when it comes to what, who and when modifications to a plan can occur. While brushing aside One City with a pithy ‘the train has already left the station’ bon mot from Minister Chiarelli, they weren’t as decisive when Mayor Ford unilaterally declared Transit City dead in December of 2010. Fearing for their own political future in the face of the supposed might of Ford Nation, Queen’s Park played along with the charade, allowing the debate to drag on until city council itself sorted things out. Now, it’s like, time’s up, folks. The clock is ticking. Time is money.

This is not to absolve Toronto city council of all responsibility for the transit woes it now faces. We elected an obvious anti-public transit mayor in Rob Ford. We demanded our councillors repeal the VRT and put further pressure on our own ability to pay our share of things. The subway-versus-LRT debate revealed a continued parochialism running deep throughout the city.

But, as they say, a fish rots from the head down. (I don’t know if that’s true but the saying comes in handy at the moment). This city and this region have suffered from a provincial leadership vacuum on transit for nearly two decades now. At least. $6 billion in lost productivity due to traffic congestion per year in the GTA and Metrolinx’s report on funding ideas for its Big Move isn’t expected until June of 2013. If still in office then that will be almost 10 years after the McGuinty government took over power. It hardly screams urgent or not a luxury but a necessity for transit from them.

So you’ll have to excuse me, my dismissal of the provincial government as honest or serious brokers on this issue. It reminds me of my favourite line from The Sopranos. “They shit on our heads and want us to thank them for the hat.”

snittily submitted by Cityslikr

Childish Behaviour

I could not disagree with Christopher Hume more if he were, well, Rob Ford.

He’s plea to the province to assume control of Toronto’s transit file is nothing short of madness, an adolescent whine. I want my mommy. Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.

Long has been my stance, if not in these pages than in discussions I’ve had, that the main reason voters in cities including here seem comfortable casting their ballots at the municipal level for, how to say this delicately, clowns, clowns, jokers, the inept and certifiably deranged, is because they believe that it doesn’t really matter. There’s this blind faith that regardless of what happens, no matter what shit we manage to cover ourselves with, there’s a safety net to break our fall. The province would never let us burn our playhouse down.

We are the junior level of government, the farm team if you will, the bush leagues. Expectations are low, so why not have some fun with it? Politics as performance art. Since there are no consequences, we can afford to take a flyer or two, an appliance salesman here, a blustering buffoon there. It’s not like it’ll make any difference to our lives, right?

As we’re slowly beginning to realize, that’s not in the least bit true. In fact, it’s downright misguided from where we’re standing. Municipal politics matters. A lot. But to scream for a lifeline now, to call for the cavalry only reinforces the already hardened preconception that we’re not responsible enough to take care of ourselves. That when push comes to shove, we’re happy to hand over responsibility to the adults in the room and let them sort through the mess we’ve created.

And even that’s more than a little galling. In terms of public transit in Toronto, we are hardly the chief culprits in the bind we’re in currently. Plenty of blame to go around, with Queen’s Park topping the list. I mean, hey. If cities are nothing more than creatures of the province than the province has to bear some of the burden in how we’ve turned out, right?

Imagine if you will, the Mike Harris government (and yeah, I’m looking hard at you, Councillor John Parker) not filling in the hole that had already been dug in Eglinton Avenue back in 1996. This whole above/below ground LRT battle would be moot. We might even already have a Sheppard subway extension! Or what if the McGuinty government had long since made good on its promise to re-upload it’s portion of the annual TTC  operating budget that their predecessors had wiped their hands clean of (again, I’m looking hard at  you, Councillor John Parker)? That’s hundreds of millions of dollars Toronto would’ve had in its coffers or been able to give to the TTC for expansion or state of good repairs. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered back in the spring of 2010 and scaled back on some of the original Transit City plans, then candidate for mayor Rob Ford wouldn’t have seen it as negotiable. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered again, this time in the face of a Mayor Rob Ford, and signed their Memorandum of Understanding, throwing all transit planning back up into the air.

These are the people Mr. Hume wants to take charge? Arguably the very architects of our transit disarray? What on earth will that accomplish?

Despite Mayor Ford’s continued intransigence, city council is getting a handle on the situation. Doddering patrician types like the National Post’s Terence Corcoran sniffs at the February 8th city council meeting that asserted council’s primacy over the mayor, calls a timeout and declares we should just start all over. Well you know what, Mr. Corcoran? Fuck you. Democracy’s messy.

If people would just accept the fact that Mayor Ford lost, that city council (re)approved the Transit City plans for the Eglinton and Finch LRTs, that in a sop thrown to the mayor, a panel will make recommendations about Sheppard Avenue next month, we could just get on with things. Ignore the petulant child jumping up and down, holding his breath and turning red in the face. It doesn’t matter. Paying attention to him only reinforces the grade school view of municipal politics.

As does asking the province to come in and sort our problems out. Ironically, it also puts the normally fierce critic of the mayor, Christopher Hume, on the same side as the man he so obviously loathes. You don’t think Mayor Ford would love to divest himself of public transit decisions? Here, take it and all the related costs. Then we can just bitch and moan if it doesn’t work out to our liking, blameless. Take our traditional place in the backseat, counting on our parents to get us to where we’re going and only asking over and over, are we there yet? Are we there yet?

We’re not but we also need to realize that dad’s handed us the keys to the car.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr

What’s In A Name?

You know, for a bunch of bona fide name-callers, the radical conservatives marching under the banner of Mayor Rob Ford sure are thin-skinned when it comes to taking what they love to dish out. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I hurt your feelings? Offend your delicate sensibilities? Yeah well, put that in your pipes and smoke it, you right wing zealots, ya.

As the hardest of the hardcore Team Ford members on the budget committee pushed through further proposed cuts to libraries, closed pools, daycares, homeless shelters and TTC service, they managed to find time to take umbrage at the clearly orchestrated use by their councillor opponents of various iterations of the term ‘radical conservative’ thrown in their collective direction. (‘Umbrage’, you say? The dumber of you budget committee lot can ask the more bookish to explain it for you. Councillors Peter Milczyn and John Parker will know… and speaking of Parker. How rich was it, how fucking rich to listen to him mewl defensively about being referred to as a ‘radical conservative’? The very same John Parker who, as a member of the very right wing Mike Harris government, helped impose amalgamation on an unwilling 6 municipalities in Toronto along with an asymmetrical downloading of services, both of which remain root causes of the fiscal squeeze this city is currently experiencing. ‘Radical conservative’? Moi? Nonsense. Oh yes, amidst all the slashing and burning that Councillor Parker referred to as ‘reasonable’, he managed to secure city funding to build a 2nd ice rink in the Leaside neighbourhood of his ward.)

It’s as if they all felt that name calling and labelling those with different political views was their sole domain. Proprietarily they voiced indignation at having the tables turned on them. We’re the ones who take intellectual shortcuts and brand those we disagree with in bumper sticker slogans not you, you teat-sucking, trough swilling silly socialists.

Remember Stop the Gravy Train?

Now, I don’t know where I sit with the ‘radical conservative’ moniker. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have certainly played with variations of it at least since then Councillor Rob Ford announced his candidacy for mayor back in March of 2010. Far right wing. Radical right wing. Neoconservative Ideologue.

The problem is, their actions don’t seem particularly radical for conservatives these days. They are simply doing what conservatives have been doing for over 30 years. Transferring wealth upwards. Using the guise of fiscal responsibility to shrink government in size and efficacy. Privatizing everything not nailed down. Check, check and double check. It’s just what conservatives do. We shouldn’t expect otherwise regardless of what they tell us while campaigning.

Our good friend, Sol Chrom, has argued that what passes as conservative now has nothing in common with the ideals of traditional conservatism as espoused by Edmund Burke back in the days of yore. To attach any version of ‘conservative’ to the likes of Rob Ford and his enablers is to render the word meaningless. From that point of view, a ‘radical conservative’ is actually a radical non-conservative.

But honestly, we haven’t really seen much of traditional conservatives for some time now unless they’re calling themselves Liberals. At the federal level, the last real ‘progressive’ conservative was Joe Clarke. Provincially, the concept died in the wreckage of the Big Blue Machine. In fairness, Toronto has maintained a short supply of these radical non-conservatives and, usually kept them far from the reins of power. And I don’t think it out of line to say the city’s been the better for it.

The one shred of traditional conservatism this gang retains, the one all neo-conservatives in the country and continent maintain in their political DNA, is a distrust and dislike of anything to do with cities and urbanism. They prize individual ease over community comfort. How else to explain their axe wielding at public transit, libraries, daycares, community centres? One of the mayor’s favourite mantras goes something along the lines of ‘The city shouldn’t be in the business of…”, and if it isn’t anything to do with immediate personal safety or clean and wide open streets to drive on, the city shouldn’t be engaged in it.

What the mayor is, and everyone who helps further his agenda as well, is radically anti-urban. Let’s remove the political ideology from the equation. Team Ford is only conservative as far as it has declared a war on a liveable, equitable city. That’s the extent of their traditional conservatism. So, let’s start calling it what it actually is.

Radical anti-urbanism.

Let them try to defend themselves against that label.

elitely submitted by Cityslikr