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

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

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

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