A Sad Symmetry

June 1, 2016

I pretty much had the story already written in my head as I was making my way out to the state of T.O. transit planning public meeting at the Scarborough Civic Centre last night. symmetryIt would be full of beautiful symmetry with a healthy dollop of delicious irony. The last time I had made the trek for the same purpose, back in 2012, just after then mayor Rob Ford had lost control of the transit file, the gathering descended into a verbal melee with then TTC chair Karen Stintz the brunt of much yelling and abuse. Gordon Chong, one of the evening’s panelists, asked her (very rhetorically) if she was ‘thick’. A woman near where I was sitting, outside of the council chambers, just kept yelling, “Where is your plan, Karen? Where is your plan?!”

Oh, Councillor Stintz had a plan alright. It just didn’t pan out very well. For anyone concerned.

With the news coming out a couple days ago, just ahead of last night’s meeting, of possible home and property expropriations as part of the emerging preferred staff route for the one-stop Scarborough subway along McCowan Road, I thought, this’ll be perfect. disbandedtheptaSame place, same subject, 4 years later. Only this time around, the crowd will be screaming against subways! Just like a Simpson’s episode.

Alas, reality does not always break like you hope it would. Probably a good thing, in the end. The reality in my head sometimes even scares me.

While last night’s meeting had feisty spikes from the packed crowd, it felt more discouraged and disgruntled than angry. In no way could I describe the vibe as anti-subway. There were just problems with this proposed subway alignment. Why just one stop now? Why not 2? There seemed to be significant support for keeping a Lawrence stop. Or converting the whole thing to an articulated electric bus network since projected ridership for the subway proposal seems to diminish with each iteration.

It would be easy to just throw up your hands and shake your head, writing off such mob mentality. The issue of expropriation only really flared up after the formal staff presentation and questions from the audience when a man start shouting at Councillor Paul Ainslie, demanding to know if he’s ever had his property expropriated. rageYeah, that Councillor Ainslie. The only Scarborough councillor to hold steady against the building of a subway.

The man should’ve been shouting at another Scarborough councillor, Glenn De Baeremaeker, who was holding court just a few feet away, brushing aside questions of the low projected ridership for his pet project with a glib list of subway stops with even lower ridership numbers. Should we close them too? Why do ridership numbers only matter in Scarborough? It’s only fair. North York has X number of subway stops. Scarborough deserves more to even out the score.

We are currently experiencing a catastrophic failure of political leadership with the transit failure. It didn’t start with Rob Ford, or did it end with him. Glenn De Baeremaeker has become an abhorrent local representative with his subway mania. Karen Stintz gambled a mayoral run on championing a Scarborough subway instead of a sensible transit plan. The current mayor, John Tory, tossed in his own little bit of nonsense, SmartTrack, which, as staff admitted last night, shadowpuppetsis pushing the proposed subway alignment further east than it probably should be, possibly contributing to deflated ridership numbers and bringing up the spectre of expropriations.

And the provincial Liberal government, supposedly the adults in the room, have only helped fan the flames of divisiveness, resentment and bad transit planning. Many of their Scarborough MPPs were former city councillors, and they have drawn a line in the sand. Give them a subway or give them death! Mitzi Hunter was elected to Queen’s Park, touting her credentials as the Subway Champion.

The problem is, the numbers don’t support a subway. They never have. The Scarborough subway is purely political. It’s proven to be great policy for getting elected but a terrible one for getting people around.

None of this is news or any sort of revelation. The public hunger for a subway and their anger directed at any public official who seemed to be standing in the way of it was understandable when the debate was still theoretical. notthisagainSubway versus LRT. But as the studies progress and the numbers continue to roll in showing just how bad an idea building the Scarborough subway extension really is, anger turns to frustration and dismay. Why is this taking so long? Just build something already. Wait, not there. That doesn’t make any sense.

That’s a different kind of symmetry than I originally envisioned. It does, however, follow its own logical arc. Hope becoming cynicism with the eventual realization that politicians are pursuing policies that benefit their own self-interests not those of the wider public.

similarly submitted by Cityslikr


The Tory Brand

August 5, 2014

John Tory is a terrible candidate for mayor. Just awful. rottenthingtosayIf he goes on to win in October, and governs like he’s campaigning, he’ll be a terrible mayor.

Here’s how he responded last week to fellow mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind’s proposal to reinstate the Vehcle Registration Tax:

I’m trying to make the city more affordable and I hear every day from people about the taxation overall that they face and I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. I think I’m not going to be doing anybody a favour in terms of the struggle the taxpayers are facing if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.

Throw in a couple folks’s there and exclaim some Respect for Taxpayers, and it might as well be Rob Ford talking.

These are not the words of John Tory CivicAction city-builder. fordnationIt is a.m. radio talk show host John Tory speaking, getting all faux-populist, anti-tax, Rob Ford like. `… I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation…not doing anybody a favour…if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.’

Taxation as a burden. The city does not have a revenue problem. Investment in services and programs will in no way help struggling taxpayers.

What exactly is John Tory putting on the table for anyone to rally around and champion?

Oh. He doesn’t smoke crack and he’ll attend pride events. questionmarkSlow clap. Bravo.

Not that he was alone among the mayoral frontrunners in rejecting the idea of re-introducing the VRT out of hand. “…under no circumstances,” declared Karen Stintz. A VRT is not part of David Soknacki’s budget plan. Rob Ford? See John Tory’s response.

Most disappointingly (at least from my personal political standpoint) is Olivia Chow, once more skittish about casting any shadow from the left. ‘…councillors have already made a decision on the car tax and she wouldn’t bring it back.’ So while Ms. Chow seems perfectly comfortable revisiting the Scarborough subway decision city council has already made, it’s hands off the VRT.

It might’ve been nice to see the Chow campaign use this opportunity to show she isn’t as reflexively anti-tax as the next candidate to her right. In theory, at least, all the main contenders are to Olivia Chow’s right. scaredofhisownshadow“While the VRT may have been poorly implemented,” the Chow camp could’ve said, “and unfairly targeted car drivers for an annual infusion into the city’s general revenue, I think we cannot ideologically reject the city’s need for additional revenue as almost all of my opponents seem to be doing.”

But that’s a conversation the Chow campaign seems hell bent on avoiding, lest it open itself up to a tax-and-spend, NDP candidate attack from the right and, once more, falling into the trap left-of-centre candidates regular fall into of allowing themselves to be defined by their opponents. It concedes ground without putting up a fight. Yeah, you’re right. Taxes are a burden, never giving back anything in return.johntorycricket1

It puts no daylight between Olivia Chow and John Tory, allowing him to undeservedly claim territory he has no right to claim. I can be disappointed in the Chow campaign so far, but that in no way confers on John Tory the status of viable, progressive alternative. He’s done little to distinguish himself from his political past; the distant, as an unofficial advisor in the Mel Lastman administration in the early days of amalgamation, to the very recent past, with his full-throated and open wallet support of Team Ford.

The problems Toronto faces very much have John Tory’s fingerprints all over them. He’s offered no real solutions in addressing them, only more of the same tired rhetoric. johntorycricketLow taxes, finding efficiencies and almost every other chapter from the Rob Ford campaign handbook, slightly warmed-over and spit-polished to give it a fresh sheen of respectability and thoughtfulness.

John Tory seems to think the message is fine. The only problem’s been the messenger. He’ll get lots of support, campaigning that way. Just let’s not pretend he represents anything other than that. Don’t allow him to get away professing he’s something or someone he’s not.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


All So Depressingly Familiar

June 2, 2014

Sadly, none of it comes as much of a surprise. For anyone following along with the disaster of a transit debate since about 2010, screaminginfrustrationsince the then newly elected mayor of Toronto declared Transit City dead, little of John Lorinc’s Spacing series seems at all revelatory or shockingly improbable. But seeing more of the gory details, right there in black and white bytes, makes for some seriously disheartening and infuriating reading.

The sheer arrogance of the principals involved in the Scarborough subway/LRT debate is nothing short of monstrous. From Premier Kathleen Wynne, her Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Glen Murrary, to councillors Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker, all seemed to operate under the presumption that their own personal political survival or advancement trumped good transit planning. Expert advice was ignored or buried. Numbers, in terms of projected costs and ridership, were massaged. shellgameSound arguments and reasoned decision making replaced by stoking the fires of regional resentment.

“It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit,” Glen Murray said last summer. Subways, folks. People want subways, subways, subways.

While transit activists and government appointed commissions did their upmost to promote a rational discussion about transit building in this city, elected officials at both Queen’s Park and at Toronto City Hall undercut all that work and goodwill by quietly scheming behind the scenes to push a Scarborough subway plan that made absolutely no sense except for trying to ensure some electoral advantage. friendlyfireIt’s one thing to fight a fight against a known enemy. It’s an entirely different matter when you’re knee-capped from behind by supposedly friendly-fire.

This is the root of political apathy. When good governance is sacrificed at the altar of electoral expediency. It’s not leadership. It’s not public service. It’s the very reason so many people are fed up with politics.

Perhaps what’s most appalling about this entire clusterfuck is how those many of us hoped would stand opposed to the popular fiction that arose around this post-Transit City debate — that the only worthwhile form of transit to build is the underground kind of transit which is nothing more than a car driver’s fantasy – not only cowered in the face of it but did their best to help propagate it. For a by-election seat here, a mayoral run there, in reaction to robo-calls from a spent political force, a city’s desperate and long overdue need for an infusion of public transit has been jeopardized. whackamoleBecause if Scarborough deserves a subway, what about residents along Finch Avenue West or Sheppard Avenue East? Why should they suffer under the ignominy of 2nd-class transit?

Once you pull that thread, you wind up now having to contend with the likes of the Sheppard Subway Action Coalition (h/t CodeRedTO), another campaign spreading false and misleading information about transit choices many of us had thought already decided on. It’s policy whack-a-mole. A game played not just by hack politicians like Rob Ford but every politician prioritizing their career over judicious, fact-based governance.

Back in 2009, the provincial government restructured the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, fictionalicejpgbooting elected officials from the board in order to rid regional transit planning of any whiff of politics. It was a laudable goal in intention made laughable in implementation. Over the past 4 years, transit planning in Toronto has been about nothing but politics. Bad, craven, self-serving politics, at that.

If that old maxim is true, that we get the politicians we deserve, unfortunately what seems to follow, is we also get the transit we deserve. Remember that, the next time you’re waiting for what seems like forever for the next bus or crammed tightly into that subway car. There’s nobody else to blame for that than ourselves.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


Roads To Nowhere

May 23, 2014

Although never far from the surface, if you ever want to scratch open the drivers’ sense of entitlement, entitledask one How’s it going? during their favourite time of the year, construction season.

2014 is turning out to be doozy.

“This is not how you run a city,” mayoral candidate and noted transportation expert John Tory pronounced in the wake of the news there’d be concurrent construction on both the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. “Torontonians shouldn’t be forced to arrive late for work because of the lack of thought or planning by city officials. Sadly, the situation on our major roads is now once again a world-class mess.”

Ahh, there it is. Always with the world-class, one way or another. And by Torontonians, Mr. Tory means car-driving Torontonians of course.outrageous

“When we should have been planning ahead and making calculated decisions to address congestion, this administration has provided poor judgment by compounding gridlock on our roads,” another mayoral candidate and one with some actual municipal governance under her belt, Councillor Karen Stintz said. “We have a responsibility to ensure residents have options to move in and out of the city. Today, we have created roadblocks.”

They do, Councillor Stintz. It’s called getting out of their cars and using public transit.

Even noted cyclist and alleged car hater, Olivia Chow (also running for mayor) got in on the indignant act. “My traffic plan says you can’t shut a street (Lake Shore) if used to avoid one (Gardiner) under construction,” Ms. Chow stated on the Twitter.

With everyone jumping on the city staff kicking bandwagon over this, obviously somebody screwed up, somebody fell asleep at the switch. The mistake is so glaring, there’s no way anyone who was paying any attention would’ve allowed it to happen. This requires a strongly worded admonishment.

“Believe it or not, I have confirmed that the office running the smaller Lakeshore job did not communicate with the office running the bigger Gardiner job, overreactionwhich is simply unreal,” John Tory said in his e-mail blast blast. “As mayor I will ensure this will never be repeated.”

Simply unreal.

Or “completely untrue”, depending on whom you ask.

“I’m at the table for both of these,” said General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley. “However, the reality is we needed to get the Gardiner work going, and we needed to get the Lake Shore work done. Folks want the infrastructure to be upgraded and put in good condition. Unfortunately these are both in the same location.”

Folks want their infrastructure upgraded, and want it upgraded at their convenience.

Mr. Buckley went on to say that, “The two specific teams carrying out the Gardiner and Lake Shore work were fully aware of what was going on and meeting regularly.”

Between the long harsh winter just past and the upcoming PanAm Games next summer, the city is obviously facing something of a construction crunch. Given there’s going to be work on the Gardiner well into the next decade, chances are, more overlaps in our future. roadconstructionThat just comes with aging infrastructure over-burdened by usage.

Only in car commercials are our roads ever open and maintenance free.

“This drives people crazy,” said Public Works and Infrastructure Chair and automobile nut, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “it drives me crazy and hopefully an important lesson has been learned and will be applied.”

And what lesson would that be, councillor?

“Some disruption with the daytime Lake Shore work,” suggests Mr. Buckley who is being paid to manage road work. Much of the work is being done overnight. No lanes would be closed going in the direction of rush hour traffic. The city, he said, is keeping an eye on the situation. outofmywaySo far, during the day, delays on Lake Shore were “about a minute long.”

“This is probably the worst of it, we’re not seeing significant delays,” Mr. Buckley claims.

Insignificant delays and maximum outrage.

Stirring up driver resentment is a potent political tactic. Just ask Rob Ford. War. On. The. Car.

It feeds into that ingrained sense of privilege that once you’re behind the wheel of your automobile, nothing and no one should obstruct your ease of movement between point A and point B. I pay my taxes, dammit! I shouldn’t be inconvenienced.

The thing is, hundreds of thousands of other drivers believe the exact same thing at the exact same time of day, every day. As that old saying goes, you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

The only way we’re going to actually address the soul-sucking, business-hampering congestion that is plaguing us now is to confront the entitlement of the car driver head-on. We cannot road build our way out of this. punchyourselfThe private automobile is the least efficient and least cost-effective way to move people and goods around this region. Leadership means acknowledging that and offering up real alternatives.

What we’re getting right now is craven opportunism and political posturing. A supreme silly season during peak construction season.

under constructionally submitted by Cityslikr


A Dark Gloomy Day

April 30, 2014

Maybe it was just the rain and the relentless reminder that we’ve been forsaken gloomydayby pleasant weather. Everybody’s lost a little grip on their senses. Or maybe it was the void of idiocy left behind by Mayor Ford after he went all radio silent, having dared the city’s top bureaucrat to run in the election so they could debate the $1.1 billion in savings claim the mayor makes and the city manager disputes. Quick! Say something dumb before a reasonable conversation breaks out.

Or maybe, just maybe, politicians and their handlers all now just assume we’re prepared to put aside critical thought to fall happily for any snappy slogan or nonsensical notion that involves us not having to actually contribute anything to the future well-being of this city. Let’s call it the Ford Factor. No problem too big to pretend there’s not an easy fix for it. And it won’t cost you a single dime, folks!

Whatever the reason, yesterday had to be about the most dispiriting day in the 2014 mayoral campaign so far. stunt1And it hasn’t exactly been an embarrassment of riches to date. Just kind of embarrassing.

It started with Karen Stintz’s transit announ—

No wait.

First it was Team Tory’s PR grab. Olivia Twister (at least, that’s what I’m calling it in the spirit of fun. A pun. Olivia Twister. Oliver Twist?) The classic party game Twister played to highlight Olivia Chow’s apparent policy changes. The Relief Line isn’t a priority. The Relief Line is a priority. The Scarborough subway. No. The Scarborough LRT.

It was hilarious. Actually, it was as hilarious as you’d imagine a John Tory campaign stunt to be. Which is to say, no, it wasn’t hilarious.

As for Karen Stintz’s announcement, she fleshed out how she planned to pay for the city’s portion of the relief line. Sell off a majority of the city’s share of Toronto Hydro. Bring in a parking levy in city owned downtown Green P lots and use some of the revenue from enforcement fees – parking tickets. All things considered, it wasn’t completely and utterly mad. One terrible idea. One intriguing idea. One debatable idea. seeifitsticksNot a bad percentage, coming as it was from the Stintz campaign.

This was followed by Olivia Chow’s speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Pretty much old news. She’d revert back to the original Scarborough LRT instead of the subway, re-directing the already agreed on property tax increase for the proposed subway to start on the Relief Line which, according to transit planning timelines, still wouldn’t be done until 2031. Ms. Chow was also going to lean on the provincial and federal governments to chip in with their fair share… More infrastructure spending… Increased bus service… Nothing new. Nothing particularly exciting or scandalous.

Nothing we hadn’t already heard.

But it was more than enough for some.

Setting aside any credibility she might have garnered from her transit announcement, Karen Stintz fired off an indignant tweet. Today I proposed a war on congestion, while Olivia Chow proposed a war on taxpayers. twisterFollow this if you can… a property tax increase to pay for a subway in Scarborough is a war on congestion. That very same property tax increase to pay for the Relief Line is—Don’t bother. It’s not even supposed to make any sense.

Untangling themselves from Twister, Team Tory was not to be outdone in its outrage and incredulity at the Chow speech. Of course, the NDP candidate for mayor would resort to taxation as a way to pay for a subway. Of course. And in 2031?! Just because it’s part of Metrolinx’s 25 year plan!? We need the relief line now!!

John Tory has officially been in the race for about two months now. From the very beginning he’s made the Relief Line his number one issue. Yet, he still hasn’t told us how he’s going to pay for it. He still hasn’t told us how he’s going to get it built any sooner than 2031. But well, Olivia Chow’s an NDP candidate. That’s the thing to remember right now. Not how John Tory’s going to pay to build a subway on an expedited time line. Hey. emptypromiseDid you see us playing Twister earlier today?

And if that ain’t all underwhelming enough for you, with a provincial election quite possibly looking down the barrel at us as early as mid-June, and the fate of many of these transit plans in the balance, pending the outcome, the opposition leader, Tim Hudak waded neck deep into the dumb with a promise to kill the Hamiliton LRT proposal and replace it with… wait for it, wait for it… a new highway! You can’t load pipes onto a bus, harrumph, harrumph, harrumph…

As we all know, the best way to relieve congestion on our roads is to build more roads. Don’t believe Tim Hudak? Ask Atlanta.

What’s truly amazing about this parade of the ridiculous is that our mayor played no part in it. Not so much as a peep from him during the sad spectacle. He’s just established the route. John Tory, Karen Stintz and Tim Hudak are simply following in his footsteps, hoping it ends up just like it did for Rob Ford in 2010. sadparadeWith them first past the finishing line.

As long as the cheap stunts, empty rhetoric and painless promises prove effective, politicians will return to that well. Why wouldn’t they if we continue to reward them for doing so. We keep acting like chumps, they’ll keep treating us like chumps.

That’s as sure as another gloomy grey day in April.

soggily submitted by Cityslikr