Subways It Is

July 18, 2013

Hats off to Toronto city council’s subway warriors, for they won the hearts and minds of a majority of their colleagues and have earned the right to finally deliver more subways to our Scarborough brethren. robfordstreetcarsLet us take a break in the seemingly never-ending transit battles and allow them room to manoeuvre, to bring their subway dreams to fruition. This is, after all, a democracy, and that’s how democracy works.

After 3 years or so of Sisyphean struggles, Mayor Rob Ford can now claim to have delivered on his campaign promise of subways, subways, subways. On paper, at least. The devil, as they say, is in the details and having watched the mayor this week during the transit debate we were reminded that he is not really a details kind of guy.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the mayor attempts to square the circle of higher than promised dedicated property tax increases to pay for his Scarborough subway. Or, to put ‘skin in the game’ as he liked to say over and over and over again. Since the city manager’s report on the LRT-to-subway conversion came out last week, Mayor Ford has held firm on his no more than a .25% increase. rollingrockWell, yesterday he wound up voting in favour of the city manager’s recommendation of anywhere between 1.1 – 2.4% over 3 years, beginning with .5% in next year’s budget.

But as we have seen in the past, the mayor seems unperturbed by logical inconsistencies and operates under the assumption that normal rules of reasoning and accountability don’t really apply to him.

It’s a knack the TTC chair appears to want to hone and develop.

Councillor Karen Stintz, having a Scarborough subway road to Damascus moment sometime during the course of the past year, loved LRTs (after she didn’t) when she pulled the carpet from under the mayor’s bid to build a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue. roadtodamascusShe thought they were just great running along Sheppard, east of the subway. And along Eglinton and Finch avenues.

But apparently not as an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Why the change of heart? Some chalk it up to mayoral ambitions but there’s no way of knowing that for sure. Until next year’s campaign, at any rate. For now, let’s just take her at her word that there’s a funding plan in place, based on a whole lot of contingencies and variables which, if they don’t all fall neatly into place, we will simply revert back to the original LRT plan.

But no one will be able to accuse Councillor Karen Stintz of denying Scarborough residents their long overdue subway. Especially not Mayor Ford if it just so happens they meet on the 2014 campaign trail.

Ditto Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, another late convert to the need for a subway in Scarborough. glenndebaeremaekerLike the TTC chair, he extolled the beauty and sleekness of LRTs during last year’s Sheppard subway debate but now finds them something less than perfect when proposed to run through his neighbourhood. He expertly tapped into the vein of entitlement, resentment and divisiveness in Mayor Ford-like style this week in demanding his residents in Scarborough get the respect and subway they deserve. LRTs may be just fine for other Torontonians but his tribe, well, they actually vote in Councillor De Baeremaeker’s ward.

As a confirmed and noted tax-and-spender, the councillor won’t have to contort and convulse having to explain the billion dollar+ extra expense for building the subway. Unlike some of his more “fiscally conservative” colleagues who gave the project a thumbs-up. Take Councillor Mike Del Grande, for instance. whome1During his time as budget chief in the first few years of the Ford Administration, no one was more vocal about the profligacy of the David Miller regime and its love of taking on debt to buy cupcakes for the widows and orphans.

But for a subway in Scarborough that will actually have little effect for transit users in his ward? Completely different story. Our debt is better than their debt, I guess.

But at least such naked parochial pandering on the part of the mayor, the TTC chair, Councillor De Baeremaeker and a bevy of council fiscal hawks that supported the subway plan could be visible to the jaded eye that chose to look at things through that sort of lens.

How the likes of councillors Joe Mihevc and Paula Fletcher got all caught up in these proceedings is more of a mystery, their motivations more opaque. Was it just to come to the rescue of their fellow leftie colleague from Scarborough? iminchargeIt’s one thing to compromise and juggle your integrity for the sake of your own political career but for another councillor? The nice word for that is loyalty. I’m sure the good people of Scarborough will find that devotion commendable if it amounts to any sort of delay in expanding rapid transit for them.

We have been assured no such thing will happen. Many of the amendments brought to the motion yesterday were safeguards against things like unforeseen delays, lack of funding from other levels of government and a multitude of variables, any of which could amount to an actual decrease in rapid transit expansion throughout the city. There’s even a drop-dead deadline, we’re told, September 30th, for the provincial and federal governments to shit or get off the pot. If this isn’t sorted out in full, all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, well, then an LRT it would be. No harm, no foul.

I will take them at their word on all that.

I will believe that city council is in full control of the situation, able to negotiate multiple competing agendum and put the brakes on any situation that arises that in any way threatens the plans we already had in place or risks any sort of significant delays in building rapid transit. stayquietThis is what we were told. At this point, I have no reason to not believe it and only my healthy skepticism whispering negatively in my ear.

I’ll try my best to ignore my concerns and take the next few months to think of other things than dismal transit arguments and dubious transit plans. It’s a big city, our Toronto. Plenty of stuff to focus on. Subway advocates won the day. They’ve earned the right to step forward and see this through.

That’ll be me, quietly standing on the sidelines, enjoying the sultry summer.

chill-ly submitted by Cityslikr


On A Need To Know Basis

January 14, 2013

I don’t think it much hyperbole to suggest that budgeting is the most important aspect of governance, especially so at the municipal level. alookatthebudgetIt pretty much determines a city’s quality of life. The number of police and firefighters on the street. The state of good repair for important pieces of infrastructure. How many people will die on the streets in any given year.

The budgets here in Toronto are complex and complicated, no question. It just sort of comes with the territory when the annual operating budget comes in and around $10 billion and the capital at roughly $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of moolah that needs to be found and services that need to be funded adequately.

So it’s curious to me when councillors fail to reach out to their constituents in any meaningful way during the lead up to the council budget debate and vote. Hey, everyone. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s how I’m going to vote. Any questions? Concerns? Opinions as to what you think is and isn’t important?

Running down the list compiled earlier this month by Social Planning Toronto shows that less than half of our councillors organized any sort of budget forum for their constituents although that may’ve changed in the last few days. (We are happy to be corrected and updated to any omissions we make.) publicconsultationsAm I over-reacting to think there’s something wrong and neglectful about that?

By my estimation, some twenty of the councillors I’d expect to vote along the fiscal lines of Mayor Ford (yes, I’m including Councillor Karen Stintz in that group) had no public consultation on the budget process. There were six councillors on the other side of the political fence who didn’t although I’ll give Councillor Joe Mihevc a pass on his ‘maybe’ as he doesn’t seem averse to public consultations. And I’ve thrown Councillor Raymond Cho into the latter category despite having no idea where he’s going to come down on budget votes since seeking the provincial Progressive Conservative nomination in the next election.

Now, I could rush to the ideological conclusion that right wing politicians, once in office, don’t care to fraternize with the hoi polloi. Don’t bug me in between elections, folks. We’ll talk again in 2014.

But I won’t. Let’s just chalk that discrepancy up to the nature of being in power versus not. This is Mayor Ford and his supporters’ budget. They don’t need to consult the public’s opinions or fully inform them because a ‘mandate’ is why. shhhI’m sure the roles were reversed back in the day David Miller was in power.

But what I will note is the urban-suburban, geographic divide.

In Scarborough, only Councillor Chin Lee held a budget town hall. Councillor Gary Crawford was planning on attending one while also offering to meet up with groups at City Hall. Up in North York, 4 councillors either held formal sessions or met in for smaller budget get-togethers. In York, Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette was alone in holding a public meeting. None of the elected representatives in Etobicoke deigned to put together a budget town hall for their constituents.

In fact, in Ward 6, Councillor Mark Grimes declined to attend last week’s community organized budget session. Why? Your guess is as good as mine if you read through a statement he issued.

patronizing“Every year the capital and operating Budget seems to be the most contentious issue we deal with at City Hall,” he said.

“It’s difficult to comment on any one item without looking at its context as part of the whole. I’ve been gathering feedback from around the ward, meeting with city staff and I’m looking forward to the (budget) meeting. There is going to have to be a give and take from all sides of the debate, but I think at the end of the day we’ll find ourselves with a budget everyone can be proud of.”

It seems Councillor Grimes believes the budget’s too ‘contentious’ to be discussed in a public forum outside of a city council meeting. Leave the ‘give and take’ up to the councillors, folks. That’s what they’re elected to do. You can’t possibly expect a councillor to give any sort of budgetary context in just two or three hours, am I right? Next thing you know, people’ll be standing up on chairs and the like.

Meanwhile downtown, in the former cities of Toronto and East York, only the above mentioned Councillor Joe Mihevc and Councillor Paula Fletcher didn’t hold public budget sessions (again, all this is subject to updates and corrections). Setting aside the left-right politics for the moment, it shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice the wildly divergent degrees of engagement based on location. letmefinishThe broad strokes suggest politicians in the core engage with their constituents. Those in the suburbs don’t.

Which leads me to ask one very pertinent question.

When we talk of political alienation as a part of the rise of what we once referred to as Ford Nation – suburbanites being left out of the conversation, neglected, ignored – should we really be pointing the finger at out-of-touch, downtown elitists? Overwhelmingly it seems councillors from the suburbs failed to consult their own constituents on such an integral matter as the budget. Perhaps political disengagement begins much closer to home.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr


Season’s Greeting From City Hall

December 21, 2012

(In case you missed it here yesterday, throughout the next couple weeks we’ll be posting responses we’ve received from city councillors who answered two questions we floated by them. First up! Ward 21 St. Paul’s, Councillor Joe Mihevc!)

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jmihevc

1) The Gift of Councilling: What is the one moment in 2012 that struck you as the best example of why it was you became a councillor?

Two events and highlights stand out for me: the victory in returning to the Transit City plans in the early part of the year is probably the biggest shift in public policy this term of Council. It has saved millions of dollars and will build the transit system that we had been planning for years before Mayor Ford made his “subways only” announcement.

The opening of the new Cedarvale Skating Rink at the rear of Phil White arena is my local highlight. We had been working on this for about 4 years. Every time I go by now it is packed with skaters and hockey players. In the end good local politics is about facilitating this kind of local neighbourhood improvements.

2) Going Forward: In 2013, what is the one aspect you would like to see happen that would help develop better civic discourse going forward?

If I could dictate a policy at city Council, it would be that each member of Council, before making our own speech, would have to summarize the previous speaker’s points in less than a minute to the satisfaction of the previous speaker. This would help on the active listening side of things and help us all to see the best in our political opponents’ perspective. We need to better appreciate the good reasons that stand behind some of the bad choices and votes that each one of us makes.

merrychristmas2012

1st day of winterly submitted by Councillor Joe Mihevc


Be Bold

July 5, 2012

It’s the only way to counteract the lethargy of ill-governance.

Boldness is a form of action not reaction. It steps into the void created by a lockdown of thought, a failure of nerve, an acceptance of some misbegotten notion of inevitability. Boldness requires courage.

What we are currently experiencing is the exact opposite. Ours is the Age of the Great Flinching. We flinch in the face of economic uncertainty. We flinch in the face of climate upheaval. We flinch in the face of societal reconfiguration.

We flinch, retreat, retract and call it conservatism.

I do not think that word means what self-described conservatives think it means.

It’s all a regression to the meanness of a previous era. Everyone for themselves. Winner takes all, losers work retail.

There are days when I’m unsure how we as a species ever managed to climb out of the primordial goo and start to evolve. It’s just so hard. I’m good here. Think I’ll just stay put where I am.

The path of least resistance.

So I think it hardly surprising that such an outpouring of interest was sparked by the announcement of One City last week. Hey! Look at that, would you? An idea, many ideas. A forward looking plan that poses substantial questions and tough challenges. Something we can actually sink our teeth into.

Now, much has been made of the plan already so I won’t add to the discussion except to say that, if nothing else, the proposal and the negative reaction to it on the part of the province and from some on council simply made them look tired and unwilling. Disinterested spouses at the tail end of a lifeless marriage. Don’t kick up a fuss. Think of the children.

But I do hope that unenthusiastic reaction does not dissuade other councillors who find themselves in similar positions of power at City Hall – not just in terms of committee chairs but with powers of persuasion – from observing what the TTC Chair and Vice-Chair and councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc actually accomplished. They activated an agenda. Rather than stand pat and let the chips fall where they may, a larger discussion was initiated. If you really want to talk transit, let’s really talk about transit.

I’m looking at the most unlikely of sources to take a flyer on an issue and make a big splash. Ward 43-Scarborough East councillor and Government Management Committee chair, Paul Ainslie. [Phee-ew. I was worried you were talking about Councillor Frank Di Giorgio for a minute there—ed.] Your time is now. Carpe diem.

Councillor Ainslie, you say? I’m not even sure I know which one he is. [Almost always but never quite ever holding the mayor’s hand—ed.] Are you sure you got the right councillor?

As chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Ainslie has the opportunity to bring about some important voting, ballot and citizen participatory reforms. He’s been a big supporter of Dave Meslin’s 4th Wall Project which is on display in the lobby of City Hall all next week with an opening reception at 6:30 Monday night. (July 9th). Earlier this year, Councillor Ainslie introduced numerous motions – ranging from using ranked ballots to using video for deputations – for further study.

But as anyone who’s followed voting reform initiatives knows, they can die a frustrating, quiet death by neglect. Those who’ve been elected to office in the traditional manner aren’t always prone to change a system that’s worked for them. Entrenched status quo is not the friend of change in any fashion.

In fact two reform motions actually passed city council unanimously recently, one to establish a working group to study the proposals and another calling for a staff report on a ranked ballot initiative. Yet somehow even these two innocuous seeming items never made it out of the meeting intact and were sent back to staff until October. The slow grinding wheel of change.

The thing is, though, civic awareness and participation has spiked here in Toronto during Mayor Ford’s term. People not only want to be engaged, they have realized the absolute necessity of getting engaged. While it may not be in the best interest of some politicians to have an increase in voter activism, those looking beyond their own self-interest know that it would be in the best interest of our local democracy.

So now, Councillor Paul Ainslie, it’s your time to shine. Use this summer interregnum and the mayor’s disinclination to actually lead as an opportunity to make the case for voter reform. Pull a Stintz, as they say, and step outside the mayor’s circle, that ever decreasing sphere of influence. You’ll have a wide and receptive audience. People want what you have to offer.

Be bold.

It’s this season’s colour.

humidly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Why One City’s Flaws Are OK

June 28, 2012

(Our 2nd favourite City Hall watcher — come on, seriously, who can top the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy? — David Hains deigns to grace our pages with his thoughts on the new proposed transit plan, One City. Every now and then we do like to offer up some actual clear-headed analysis. Thanks, David.)

* * *

When it came time to discuss how to fund the Sheppard subway plan, Doug Ford knew how he felt. As is his talent, he put it simply, “All taxes are evil, as far as I’m concerned.”

With this statement, the councillor for Ward Two made it clear that there was no discussion to be had. His was an absolutist belief, and it is one which says nothing is worth having unless it is free.

Of course, that is not the world most of us live in, the one called ‘reality’.

The reality of the situation is Toronto needs massive investment in transportation to be economically competitive and make the city more livable. With an average commute found to be the worst in North America, the current ‘Big Move’ strategy is projected to only maintain current levels of congestion, and focusing on a cars-only strategy won’t deliver the progress that’s needed.

Which brings us to One City, the supposed antidote for Toronto’s transit ills. It’s massive in every dimension: investment, scope, and ambition. And for a city that is preternaturally risk-averse and provincial when it comes to realizing its stated visions, this actually seems to have political support.

Council’s newfound pluralism, as left-leaning councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) put it, is the direct result of the necessity of leadership created by a mayor lacking vision, moral authority or a solid attendance record at city hall.

Into that void steps Stintz, fulfilling her role as TTC chair with a plan and some staggering numbers. $30 billion. Six subway lines. 10 LRT lines. 5 bus and streetcar lines. $180 per year in property taxes for the average household over the next 26 years (phased in over four years).

Naturally, there are flaws and this process will have immense obstacles.

It needs equal investment from the federal and provincial governments, hardly sure things when their word of the year is ‘austerity’.

The map, already a very political document (of course) will have councillors try to graft on further squiggles that will lead to further squabbles.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby (Etobicoke Centre, Ward 4) will insist on the Eglinton Crosstown to be underground from Scarlett Rd. to Martingrove. Councillor Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ward 5) asked today where the western leg of the downtown relief line and western Bloor-Danforth extension were, adding that he prefers to wait until October to hear from staff.

Councillors Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre) will wonder whether too much of this is an expensive sop to suburban councillors.

Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) will use the occasion to advocate for a sales tax, and Norm Kelly (Scarborough-Agincourt, Ward 40) might even join her.

People will worry about all sorts of things: paying for the unfunded operating costs, the most effective funding methods (like parking taxes), the wisdom of building a subway between Yonge and Spadina along Sheppard when geologists say that’s not possible and how Toronto can pull all this off without the mayor’s support.

While these concerns are well placed, One City is not meant to be immutable. Like a constitution, it speaks more to a framework of aspirations than a detailed model going forward. In this case dissent to that plan is the entropy of progress; the healthy and messy part that demonstrates why the process is worthwhile.

Despite all this, the key is Toronto has something to talk and get excited about. It finally has a holistic vision for the TTC that has an attached funding model (albeit just for capital). And it got to this point in spite of the mayor, not because of him (Yesterday the mayor toured a beer factory, looked at a caterpillar, and didn’t go to Pride’s police reception.)

So here we are, at the start of a transit journey and not entirely sure what the destination will be. And that’s OK, because unlike Doug Ford’s earlier statement, we finally have a conversation on how to get there.

guestily submitted by David Hains