We Knew. We All Knew.

We did.


Anyone following along with the “Great” Scarborough transit debate of Two-Ought-One-Ought to Two-Ought-One-Three couldn’t help but know that once city council reversed course once again and decided on the 3-stop subway plan over the 7-stop LRT, we would be on the hook for some money. Lots of it. Lots and lots of money.

So when news broke late last week that an amount had pretty much been settled on, an amount not far off of what had been bandied around during the aforementioned debate, somewhere likely in the $75-85 million range, it shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. topsecretWe knew. We all knew. We did.

That we found out in the manner we found out, from the city manager, as done and done, it’s already accounted for and in the capital budget, whoah, wait, what?! “Yes, it’s in the capital plan,” Joe Pennachetti stated, perhaps a little too imperiously. “No, you’d not be able to see it.”

I think it’s fair to call that something of a surprise. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said it was news to her, literally. She heard about it the first time everybody else did, in Jennifer Pagliaro’s Toronto Star article. “I think the public should be very concerned about the dearth of accountability and transparency,” Councillor Josh Matlow, perhaps one of the Scarborough subway’s most vociferous critics, said. According to him, city council was never fully briefed on the final costs of deciding to ditch the LRT.

Yet, there it is, now in the city’s capital budget plan, with none of our elected officials (as far as we know) sure of the exact amount.burnmoney

It is a fitting, highly appropriate twist to this sad, sordid tale of malefic governance and shameful political self-preservation. Appropriate too that two of the most shameless proponents of the Scarborough subway, councillors Rob Ford and Glenn De Baeremaeker have gone silent on the issue, not a peep so far from either of them. This despite the fact Councillor Ford’s opinion has been sought out on almost every other matter going on at City Hall.

The fact of the matter is, actual support for the Scarborough subway has never been as deep or clamorous as the noise its supporters on council have made it out to be. Polls that set out the LRT and subway plans for respondents to see regularly came back showing a preference for the LRT. “If you get past all of that rhetoric and you get down to how much is it going to cost,” Dave Scholz of Leger Research said, “who’s going to pay for it and who’s going to be serviced by it, then people have a very realistic view of what they want.” scarboroughsubwaybellowLast February, just as the municipal campaign was kicking into gear, Leger showed that 61% of those asked, including a majority in Scarborough, favoured the LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway.

Just think of what those polls might say if these sunk costs of $75-85 million are run up the flagpole for full public viewing. Which probably explains this attempt to bury them instead. Already putting ambivalent residents on the hook for an annual property tax increase to help pay for the subway, oh yeah, and **cough, cough, cough, cough** an extra $75-85 million. **cough, cough, cough, cough** I’m sorry. What was that again?

Subway supporter and TTC Chair, Josh Colle isn’t prepared to just simply take those numbers at face value. He wants some full accounting. “Absent of any construction happening, where is this supposed money?” he wondered.

A fair enough question from the councillor, and maybe one he should’ve asked before he voted in favour of the subway back in 2013. icouldtellyou“I can show you my notes from City Council Oct 8/9 2013,” Councillor Paul Ainslie, the only Scarborough councillor who voted against the subway, tweeted last week in response to the Toronto Star story. “I wrote answers to my public questions [of city staff]…I wrote “sunk costs est. $85M” I did not make this number up. So I was not surprised by TO Star.”

The numbers were out there. Councillors who ended up voting for the subway did not make their support contingent on a full breakdown of the costs the city should be expected to pay for that decision. They collectively shrugged and pressed the ‘yes’ button. Their sudden demand for fiscal probity rings a little hollow now.

Councillor Paula Fletcher wondered why the city now should be on the hook for the entire amount of cancelling the LRT. “Let’s not forget the provincial government ran a by-election on the Scarborough subway, with their candidate, Mitzie Hunter, named as a subway champ for Scarborough,” the councillor said. “To come back and say the onus is all on the city is a bit disingenuous.” Ahhh, there’s that word again. Disingenuous. If there’s one word to describe this entire fiasco, the entire past 4 years, really. Disingenuous.wishlist

Still, it’s a legitimate question for the councillor, who, it should not be forgotten, helped bring the subway debate back to the floor of council in the convoluted transit vote of May 2013, to ask. A question that should’ve been asked over and over and over again until an actual answer was given before an actual vote with actual repercussions was cast. While Councillor Fletcher eventually wound up opposing the subway, 24 of her then-council colleagues pushed ahead, costs be damned! Scarborough deserves a subway!

And drip, drip, drip goes the money down the drain. At a budget committee meeting yesterday discussing the staff recommended 2015 budget, Councillor Gord Perks listed a bunch of council directives that staff were ignoring. “The budget drops 3 youth lounges from the Council directed 10,” he tweeted. “City turned down climate change and health funding proposal that the Board of Health approved.” “Budget ignored Council vote on playground repair funding. On average we repair once every 80 years. Council said get to 1 in 30. Cost $3M/yr.” “We have been told budget doesn’t achieve Council direction on planting trees. We don’t yet how short.”

We can’t blame all of this nickel and diming on the fact that without any debate on the specifics the city has to come up with some sum of 10s of millions of dollars to pay for the Scarborough subway. A below the rate of inflation property tax increase and a mayoral dictate to all departments to find 2% in “efficiencies” will contribute too. buryingmoneyBut in a largely zero-sum game of a municipal operating budget, money going somewhere has to come from somewhere. So, residents who may soon find themselves paying more to use city services and facilities can rightfully wonder if that Scarborough subway is actually worth it.

Trying to bury the evidence won’t change that fact.

serves us rightly submitted by Cityslikr

Will The Real Josh Colle Please Step Forward

There are more than a few sitting city councillors whose presence on the municipal scene baffles me. headscratcherWhether they seem ill at ease in a public forum or are just complete busts when it comes to understanding policy issues, I scratch my head and wonder what forces brought them to where they’re currently sitting. Accidents of circumstance or just freak electoral accidents?

Curiously, none are more of a mystery to me than Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence). He seems smart and is definitely articulate. No dummy is Councillor Colle. It’s just, I can’t get a handle on the man.

Even before he started sporting a goatee that made him look like the son of Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), he struck me as someone who was up to something. That something, I haven’t been able to figure out. Colle’s like the thinking man’s Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), City Hall’s Machiavellian Prince.

Back during the highly contentious 2012 budget debate, Councillor Colle was the face of the pushback to save some $20 million in cuts that the Ford administration had put on the chopping block. twofacedHe stood defiantly in opposition to the mayor when it wasn’t necessarily politically advantageous to do so. It was probably the first symbolic lump Mayor Ford took.

A little more than a year later, the very same Councillor Colle stood up and gave perhaps one of the most dispiriting defences of city council not doing a single thing when it came to dealing with revenue tools for building transit. He was pushing an amendment to colleague Councillor Josh Matlow’s motion to proceed with some of the revenue recommendations from city staff that essentially struck all the suggested revenue streams out of the motion. In effect, Colle was seeking to turn a pro-tax motion into a non-tax motion. He won.

It was a shrug. An outright rejection of responsible governing. Councillor Colle’s version of Homer Simpson’s I’m not not licking toads denial.

Looking through the councillor’s voting pattern via Matt Elliott’s council scorecard reveals little up about what he represents. lickingtoadsHe sits at just over 40% of agreement with Mayor Ford, almost smack dab in the middle of the pack. That’s not far off the number he was at after year one on council. While support for the mayor from his strongest allies has dropped off precipitously over the last couple years, Councillor Colle has remained fairly steady throughout.

Even in this last budget cycle where the mayor was pretty much abandoned by everybody but the hardest of hardcore, far right on council, Colle punched in at 33% alignment with Mayor Ford. A very small sample size mind you, but it was on par with the usual unthinking mayoral yeah-sayers like councillors Cesar Palacio, Gary Crawford and above even the likes of the normally dependable Councillor Mark Grimes.

This is not necessarily a good or bad thing. Early on in the term, when Councillor Colle had inherited the Lawrence Heights redevelopment in his ward, you could sense he was forced into some horse trading with the mayor who’d campaigned against the redevelopment, in order to protect it. orelseA scenario where he was operating with a gun to his head, as is the mayor’s standard operating procedure.

But Mayor Ford doesn’t swing that kind of pipe any more. Still, Councillor Colle continues to play ball. Maybe he’s comfortable politically aligned with the mayor 40% of the time on the big issues affecting the city. It’s just odd that his predecessor in Ward 15, Howard Moscoe, famously said Rob Ford couldn’t pass gas if a majority of council didn’t let him, and here’s Councillor Colle – who Moscoe endorsed to replace  him – enabling Mayor Ford to pass gas 4 out of 10 times.

It all leaves me cold with ambivalent uncertainty toward Josh Colle.

As the scion of the local MPP and with all the Liberal party election machine operations that entails, it’s hard to see how a candidate could dislodge him in October. In 2010, Colle’s main opponent was the established conservative candidate Rob Davis, so picture him running as the reasonable progressive in the field. beatfromthebushesMaybe it might be worth a try this time around for someone to run against him from the left, challenge the councillor on his progressive credentials. Ask Councillor Colle why he continues to support the Scarborough subway extension while voting against ways to fund it.

Ask him anything that might chase him from the bushes and force him to define who exactly he is and what he stands for. After nearly 4 years in office, we deserve to know that much, I think.

— curiously submitted by Cityslikr

Missed Opportunity

You guys know me. I’m partial to municipal politics and politicians. ballotboxIt’s not that I’m disinterested in the other two levels of government but I approach them with much suspicion. In the end, we’re not even voters to them but just votes. Our interaction comes almost exclusively at the ballot box.

And yet, nearly everything any elected official does ultimately affects us at the local level. Immigration, transportation safety regulations, healthcare decisions, all have an impact where we live. Our streets. Our schools. Our homes.

In spite of that, our municipal governments have the least amount of control over these decisions than either their provincial and federal counterparts. They have limited access to the purse strings. Their jurisdictional reach is likewise stunted. Municipal politicians have all sorts of responsibilities but very little power in conducting their business.

Not surprisingly, local government doesn’t always attract the best and the brightest to its ranks (with exceptions, of course). twitWhy would it? There’s more money to be made, more glory and exposure to be had, for, arguably, less work as an MP or MPP. Even in a big city like Toronto with lots of media swirling around, the lure of the backbenches at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa is considerable for many toiling away in the relative obscurity of City Hall.

This creates one of those chicken-or-egg scenarios where it’s impossible to answer the question: Do municipal politics get the politicians it deserves or do municipal politicians deserve the politics they get?

I mean, how many times have you found yourself in a conversation, bemoaning your city’s inability to bring about some change in your day-to-day life owing to the fact it doesn’t have the proper powers to do so, and the response is always, You want more power in the hands of these jokers?



That’s a discussion I have, like, a couple times a day on average.

Clearly I need to get me some new friends.

It certainly doesn’t help my Up With Municipal Politicians cause when they pass up a golden opportunity to prove their worth, to show those who’ve cast a ballot for them that, in fact, they are competent public officials with the best interests of the city’s residents at heart.

I’m talking about Toronto city council’s most recent Scarborough LRT subway decision / indecision / debacle / clusterfuck, natch. twit2As outlined in last week’s letter from Metrolinx honcho Bruce McQuaig to city manager Joe Pennachetti, all work on the Scarborough LRT will now grind to a halt, pending council’s search for the extra cash needed to convert it to a subway. Money, so far, not evidently forthcoming from either the province or the feds which, according to a flurry of amendments at last month’s council meeting, would be absolutely necessary for the subway dream to remain alive.

Now look, I’m not letting either of the senior levels of government off the hook on this. There’s little question the provincial government, facing the August 1st by-elections, played footsie with city council and didn’t discourage talk of re-opening the Master Agreement with Metrolinx in order to promote a Scarborough subway. Their winning candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood, Mitzie Hunter, proclaimed herself a ‘Subway Champion’ and joined the ranks of the other Scarborough Liberal MPPs who’ve marched in lockstep demanding equality of treatment that can only be provided by a subway.

And the federal government? MIA when it comes to any sort of transit discussion.

But this was a chance for our local politicians to step up and be the adults in the room. To set aside thoughts of political ambition or survival and decline opening up this debate once again. offacliffThanks but no thanks, they could’ve collectively said. We’ve thought long and hard about this and have decided the LRT option is the way we’re going to go. The money’s there. The plan’s in place. Let’s keep those shovels in the ground.

While it’s easy to blame the mayor for this unwelcome turn of events, it wasn’t his fight to win or lose. He’d been relegated to the sidelines on the transit debate over a year ago. Only the echoes of his Scarborough Deserves Its Subway chant remained and council could’ve just plugged their ears and stopped listening, recognizing the mayor’s contribution for nothing more than what it was. A politicized, ill-informed view of public transit planning that has resulted in massive delays and unnecessary costs.

Instead, a majority of council chose to follow him down that particular rabbit hole, succeeding in only more delays, more costs and, most importantly for my purposes here, cementing their reputation as bumbling, inept, dithering, irresponsible local representatives. You want more power in the hands of these jokers?

I know, right?offacliff1

It’s hard to argue with that, listening to Councillor Josh Colle’s interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning. Oleaginous is the word I want to use to describe it. But that’s not quite right. Evasive. Disingenuous. Not exactly forthcoming in a smarmy fashion, if I’m free to use more than one word. In no way contributing in any positive sense to building transit in this city. Pointing the finger rather than stepping up and accepting responsibility to provide leadership for this city on a matter of vital importance.

Unfortunately, there have been too many Josh Colles on city council lately especially on the issue of transit. It’s a willing acceptance of the supplicant role of municipal politicians in our governance framework. Don’t look to us for answers. We’re just here to help further gum up the works. Never seizing the initiative. Only looking to wipe their hands clean of it so they never have to accept the blame for anything.


Misrule by don’t rule.

Making it hard for us municipal politics boosters to continue throwing our support their way.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr