Same Ol’ Song, Same Ol’ Dance

March 12, 2015

“It is the easy way out to say, let’s just have 3.0%, 4.0% more put on to property taxes…”

So began Mayor John Tory’s pitch to city council this week, presenting his maiden budget for their ultimate approval.upisdown

That this was in direct opposition to, well, reality, nobody much noticed. No, Mr. Mayor, in fact the easy way out is to campaign on an anti-tax platform, to assure voters that there were magical ways to fund city’s services and programs with a little left over for special pet projects. TIF. New money pouring in from senior levels of government. Efficiencies.

In other words, just what the previous administration told us minus the crack smoking and drunken stupors.

In my experience, it is far, far easier to pretend there’s no tough decisions to be made than to accept the unpleasant reality staring you directly in the face and deal with it. At least, initially. The bills do eventually come due, however, and very, very rarely do crossed fingers and a wish on a star provide much of a soft landing.

Oh but the sky is not falling, we were assured time and time again by the mayor, his budget chief, and ancient regime dinosaur, Councillor David Shiner, who told us every year that he’s been around (and that’s a lot of years), it’s been the same ol’ song. everythingsfinePredicted shortfalls and terrifying opening pressures amounting to millions and millions of dollars, only to be dutifully wrestled into submission, the operating budget balanced, as it always must be. The sun rises. The sun sets.

Never mind the ever growing state of good repairs elephant in the room, a To Do List backlog of infrastructure needs now somewhere in the neighbourhood of $7 billion. Social housing upkeep that, in some cases, if not done in the next few years will force the closure of units, sending some of our most vulnerable residents looking elsewhere for shelter. Transit. And transit. And transit.

But somehow, there’s no connection between that beast and the fact that since amalgamation, our property tax rate increases have not kept up with inflation meaning, in real dollars, there’s less money going to even core services and programs, let alone the items a municipality should not be paying for like, the aforementioned social housing or major transit infrastructure builds. Yes, cities are expected to do more with less but what do we think is going to happen when our response to that is to try and make do with even less? That’s what insisting on property tax rate increases below the rate of inflation does.

When Councillor Gord Perks introduced a motion on Tuesday to increase the property tax rate an additional 1.59%, bumping the total hike to over 5% in order to pay off the $86 million hole in the operating budget created by yet more provincial downloading, a hole the mayor is papering over by borrowing from the city’s investment portfolio, Councillor Josh Matlow rose to speak in opposition. nothingtoseehereWhile he understood the intentions of Councillor Perks’ motion, he couldn’t support it because that would let the province off the hook for its obligations. Once we established that precedent, what else would Queen’s Park expect us to start paying for?

A fair point, to be sure, but it leaves the lingering question: WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO IN THE MEANTIME? Oh, that’s right. Cross our fingers and wish upon a star.

It also ignores the fact that a 5+% property tax increase is not unheard of except here in amalgamated Toronto. Ask our GTA neighbours about their recent property tax hikes and see if you get any soothing words of comfort. Toronto has been shortchanging itself since 1998. So its demands for the other levels of government to live up to their responsibilities in funding cities, correct as they might be, ring a little hollow.

Rather than face up to that unpleasant truth, Mayor Tory chose instead to take the easy way out, referring to any such proposed tax increase as ‘through the roof’ and, therefore, out of the question. Neither was the mayor in any mood to discuss other forms of revenue at the city’s disposal. notlisteningCouncillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to bring back the vehicle registration tax and dedicate it to fast-tracking accessibility redesigns for the remaining last half of the city’s 69 subway stations in order to comply with provincial legislation (more of those damned state of good repairs) was soundly defeated. Increasing revenue, in a John Tory administration, was simply not prudent.

Unless, of course, you use any of the city’s services, programs or facilities (not including roads). This budget continued to lean on increasing user fees. From garbage bins to sports fields, above the rate of inflation increases were in effect (except for roads). There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that but it does lead to the question: Why there and not property taxes?

The simplest explanation is that Mayor Tory is playing to the same constituency Rob Ford sings for, both administrations deluding them (and themselves) that the city’s fiscal problems are not of their doing, and that somebody else will swoop in, all deus ex machina like, and pay the piper. deusexmachinaWe just need a little discipline and patience, cross our fingers and send our wishes skyward (which totally isn’t falling) and it’ll all work out fine.

Easy peasy.

Making it official in the process.

Toronto didn’t elect John Tory, the civic leader. We elected John Tory, the talk radio show host. So let’s stop expecting any sort of leadership from him and settle in for another 4 years of sound bites and simple solutions that will solve few of this city’s problems.

heard-it-beforely submitted by Cityslikr


We Knew. We All Knew.

January 27, 2015

We did.

bigsurprise

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


Tough To See The Bigger Picture When You’re Always Looking For Change On The Floor

May 9, 2014

I imagine when Councillor Josh Matlow begins canvassing for re-election in earnest around his Ward 22 St. Paul’s, polishhe will present himself as a relentless fighter for sensible transit planning. A consensus seeker who went to City Hall and bravely sought the middle way in a toxic environment of hard, harsh partisanship. A uniter not a divider.

But I think the councillor’s first term in office is more aptly summed up by a little ditty of an amendment he pushed through yesterday at city council, divesting the proposed Photo Laureate post put forth by Councillor Joe Mihevc of any monetary value. Photo Laureate. What a great idea. As long as it doesn’t cost anything. Essentially establishing, as pointed out by a number of people after the amended motion passed, an official City of Toronto unpaid internship.

We’ve come to expect such penury of spirit from the likes of Councillors Mike Del Grande, original holder of the item, and Denzil Minnan-Wong, the item’s mocker in chief. A Photo Laureate, he peeped. execrableWhat next? An Instagram Laureate? A Twitter Laureate?

(Back in the olden days, there’d be a picture of the councillor hung on the walls in the halls of power, painted by the Portrait Laureate. At the bottom, it would read: Denzil the Execrable.)

Such use of public money is inconceivable to the likes of Mike Del Grande and Denzil Minnan-Wong. Their paucity of imagination and civic verve is so stunted, so atrophied that they cannot possibly see past the $10,000 price tag attached to the position to grasp any kind of positive contribution it could make to the well-being of the city. $10,000! Ten thousand dollars!!

To put that into perspective, again, as we always have to do with these things, it’s like having $10 in your pocket and agonizing over purchasing this little trinket you’ve come across that will bring you so much joy. But the cost, you fret. The cost, you agonize. If you buy it, you will only have $9.999999 left over.

Let’s ignore for the moment the crass economic calculation of 44 councillors, each making $400 a day, spending an hour to debate a $10,000 item and cut right to the inevitable rebuttal. $10,000 here. waste$10,000 there. And all of a sudden you’ve built yourself a great big shiny gravy train. You want a Photo Laureate? No problem. When there are no more potholes to fill. When we have subways running underneath all our avenues.

The zero sum game. As long as there’s a need for this, we cannot spend money on that. Haven’t you heard? We’re living in austerity city, baby.

In Austerity City, the roads are always smooth and clear. The garbage always gets picked up. And all those nice to haves you want, the private sector provides, paid for out of your own pocket.

We know all this from the Del Grandes and Minnan-Wongs on council. The Fords. The Shiners. The cost of everything and the value of nothing.

But what’s Councillor Matlow’s deal here? Why would he spend even a moment of his time crafting an amendment like this? miserlySurely he’s smart enough, or at least isn’t soulless enough, to realize any city worth its salt is more than the total of all its filled potholes. That out of a position like a Photo Laureate might burst a little ray of civic pride or engagement. The Toronto Story told in pictures.

I can only think of two explanations for this.

One, the old cynical Matlow has resurfaced, the suck and blow at the same time, the truth is always somewhere in the middle guy. Hey. Photo Laureate! That sounds like a great idea. $10 000?! How about a little respect for the taxpayers. Here’s a thought. A Photo Laureate. For Free. A win-win for everybody. Except maybe, the Photo Laureate.

Or, and probably worse, Councillor Matlow is just one of those guys. He can’t make a case for a funded Photo Laureate because, well, he doesn’t have one. He, in fact, like councillors Del Grande and Minnan-Wong, can’t think of one reason why we would want or need such a thing. potholerepairmanThe thought of having to explain to one of his residents what benefit it would be to them, this post of Photo Laureate, that cost them, this single taxpayer, almost but not even a penny, was simply too daunting to contemplate. It’s a good idea but hardly worth investing in.

There remain potholes to be filled.

Yesterday Councillor Matlow proved he is nothing, if not a filler of potholes.

profligately submitted by Cityslikr


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


Brick By Brick

May 10, 2013

Well, you have to hand it to him.strongmayor

No ifs ands or buts about it, Mayor Ford had his best day at city council yesterday in a long, long time. Not since the honeymoon period of his administration, when he was able to obliterate anything he didn’t like, has the mayor’s limited and dim view of government so thoroughly triumphed. Small wonder he proclaimed it the greatest day in the history of Toronto or some similar variation on the usual Fordian hyperbole.

He stood firm by his principles of not burdening the voters with taxation, and the majority of city council went along with him, outright rejecting almost all of the ‘revenue tools’ city staff had recommended as a way of funding Metrolinx’s Big Move. The mayor threatened all who dared to defy him with certain electoral defeat in next year’s campaign. cowerSome 30 long months into that heavy-handed schtick and with little evidence he’s ever carried that kind of clout, enough of his council colleagues tucked their tails between their legs and rolled over for him.

None more so than Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker who put his political self-interest right out there front and centre. On Wednesday, the councillor boldly stated on council floor that he would only support any revenue tools recommendations if, in return, the proposed Scarborough LRT extension was reverted to a subway. In effect, another demand, yet again, to alter the terms of the master agreement between the city and Metrolinx that’s in place for what is the first wave of the Big Move which includes the Eglinton crosstown LRT that is already under construction.

To bolster support in his Scarborough ward, Councillor De Baeremaeker argued that any other form of rapid transit aside from a subway was inferior, and that his residents and all of the residents of Scarborough were tired of living with inferior rapid transit (long a tactical political argument pushed by Mayor Ford). plottingFellow Scarborough councillor Michelle Berardinetti, bringing along some weird internecine provincial Liberal party baggage, helped prop up the argument with slides and talking points that must’ve brought tears to the eyes of the mayor. I’ve taught them so well. Fly, fly my children.

Of course, such cynical pandering was merely a prelude to the heaping helping of it that was to come. If there’s a more calculating member of city council, someone so utterly devoid of principle whose name isn’t Peter Milczyn, it has to be Josh Colle. His motion which was kinda-sorta an amendment to Councillor Milczyn’s, laid out the proposed revenue tools the city would not be supporting which was almost all of them. Let’s call it a negative motion because it put forward nothing, was big on nots with scant mention of anything positive.

When Councillor Matlow stood to ask Colle what exactly he was seeking to do with an amendment which sought to delete a segment of an earlier motion of Matlow’s supporting a proposed sales tax, fuel tax, parking levy and development charges, Councillor Colle said he was seeking to provide the province with an answer to their questions about revenue tools. faceplantNot answering would be impolite, I guess. But delivering an across the board no and a couple lukewarm shrugs of indifference represents the height of active engagement.

After more than a year of having her way on the transit file while stoking talk of a mayoral run along the way, TTC Chair Karen Stintz has taken her first serious stumble on this. By supporting a motion that essentially throws no support behind any revenue tools to build transit and by openly siding with misguided parochial pro-Scarborough subway councillors, Councillor Stintz positions herself with very little daylight showing between her views and those of Mayor Ford. The only difference, and it’s a very big difference, is that the mayor is upfront expressing his opinions. Councillor Stintz is simply pretending to express her opinions.

That’s a distinction voters pick up on and usual gravitate toward the one that feels more genuine.

One of the discouraging aspects of the outcome of all this is the pure abdication of responsibility shown by a majority of our city councillors. Not only did this overarching decision to avoid getting behind any of the transit building revenue tools simply dismiss the work done by the city manager and staff — that’s not an unusual occurrence — but it disregards the contribution made by thousands of residents who took time out to participate in the town halls and public sessions put on by the likes of Feelingcongested.ca and others. patontheheadSure, we appreciate your opinion, folks. *patpat* Now let us get on with the business of governing.

And by governing, of course, council displayed its preference to not govern. In deciding to sidestep the revenue tools discussion, they left the heavy lifting of persuading a public wary of new taxes that new taxes were necessary up to the provincial government. There is some merit to that since taxation is largely under the control of Queen’s Park. But to so thoroughly disavow any involvement in the funding discussion, to throw up your hands and say, hey, not me, all the while upping your ask for the transit you want built in your part of the city?

It just emphasizes the junior aspect in the junior level of government.

If you don’t want to make any of the difficult decisions in how something as important as transit gets built (all the while demanding your fair share of it), the next logical step is to cede control of the operations of it, isn’t it? busboyWhy should one level of government do all the politically risky work of getting the money together to fund public transit up and not make sure it is properly run and delivered? I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Metrolinx to do one of two things in the wake of Toronto city council’s decisions yesterday: walk away and say, have fun wallowing in your congestion or, thanks for all the help, guys. If you don’t mind stepping aside, we’ll take it from here.

And city council basically turns its attention to the more mundane matters of collecting our garbage, keeping our streets clean and our toilets properly flushed. Exactly the stuff Rob Ford tells us local politicians should be doing. By deciding to remain defiantly on the sidelines in the transit funding debate, city council embraced Rob Ford’s political philosophy of do little, tax little and always keep your cell phones on.

Which is fine if that’s all residents want from their councillors. But you can’t expect that and demand things like fully functioning public transit as well. There’s an additional cost that comes with it. One Mayor Ford and every councillor rejecting the idea of new transit taxes and fees refuses to acknowledge.

Near the end of the debate yesterday, the mayor touted his Subway Plan, and how council had previously rejected his Subway Plan. notnotlickingtoadsThe mayor has no subway plan. He rejected the revenue tools the Chong Report pushed that he cites as the backbone of his Subway Plan. He cannot point to the efficiencies he will find to fund his Subway Plan. The private sector has remained strangely silent on his Subway Plan.

There are no subways without the kinds of revenue tools Mayor Ford and city council refused to get behind. The mayor seems completely comfortable believing that’s not true. As long as we continue to throw our support behind politicians who believe that, we join in on that magical thinking and absolve ourselves of any responsibility for building a better city. We just want our garbage picked up, our street clean of debris and our toilets to flush without incident.

dispiritedly submitted by Cityslikr


A Parking Pass

April 4, 2013

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


Shrug Off A Thug

February 20, 2013

You have to give Mayor Ford marks for honesty. When asked about the recent spike in shootings of young men in Toronto, he said, “If I had an answer for (gun violence), I’d implement it.” shrugAnd then, “We’re trying everything we can and I just don’t have a magic answer right now and if I did, like I said, I’d be the first one to use it…I’m trying my very, very best and I don’t know really what else I can do.”

He’s right in some ways. Crime is a multi-level governmental problem. As the mayor of the city, his jurisdiction is limited. It’s not as if he can just grab the assailants by the scruff the neck and force them to play football. homersimpsonOr deport them from the city.

He can’t deport them, right?

Besides, former mayor David Miller reacted to a spate of shootings during the infamous Summer of the Gun under his watch, and for what? Seven years on and people are still getting shot and killed. Trying is the first step to failure, as Homer Simpson said. So aside from rolling back initiatives and programs of your predecessor, a mayor can only do so much.

Proaction starts with the same three letters as progressive and a fiscally conservative minded politician like Rob Ford has no time for either concept. There’s only one answer to deal with each and every problem society faces. Cut taxes, cut government and let the free market create jobs and opportunities. hediditFailing that, lock up all criminals and throw away the key.

Looking for any other kind of response from him is futile. He knows no other approach. His lingering appeal lies in the simplicity he brings to even the most complex of problems.

He’s not alone.

Watching Councillor Mike Del Grande at yesterday’s Police Services Board meeting, the same kind of thinking was on display. In response to Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle’s deputation [page 9] about the unsolved murders of over 50 men from the Somali community in Alberta and Ontario over the past decade, the recently installed board member intoned the dark spectre of ‘drugs’. “…[news]papers seem to report drug-related causes leading to young people’s deaths”, Councillor Del Grande suggested. As if, unsolved murders, sure. But if we’re talking ‘drug-related causes’, what are you going to do?

Reap what you sow and all that. Just how Jesus would’ve reacted, casting the first stone at any and all sinners. nothingtobedoneOr at least, cast aspersions to absolve yourself of any responsibility.

It’s a collective shrug of indifference from our council’s conservatives. If flat lining spending can’t solve a problem then that problem is simply intractable. Nothing to be done. Certainly talking for five or six hours at council over something like Councillor Josh Matlow’s Taking Action on the Roots of Youth Violence motion won’t solve a thing especially if it leads to any sort of thug hugging.

So stop looking to our mayor and his fellow conservative colleagues to deal with stuff, folks. They’re in over their heads. If they can’t slash and burn their way to a solution, they’re at a loss how to respond. Expect anything more and you simply haven’t been listening to what they’ve been telling us.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr