A Sad Symmetry

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

In Praise Of Paul

We spend a lot of time railing here at all Fired Up in the Big Smoke, bitching, if you will, agonizingly over the state of affairs of our local politics. notallbadWith good reason, I think it fair to add. Things are terrible, from the state of our public transit, public housing to the repute (illin’, in the vernacular of the kids today) of our local governance, and many points in between.

Grim, dark days indeed.

From all that glum, occasionally the positives appear, brightly alight on the dreary canvas of civic/political life of this city like the spring flowers we should expect to see sometime soon if this cold, heartless winter ever ends. We’re told it will. Honest. It has to.

So I’d like to send a shout out today to one of those positives, one of the proofs that Toronto isn’t necessarily going to hell in a hand basket. It is the Easter holiday season, after all. If the dead can rise again, why not the near dead? (Too much?)

Councillor Paul Ainslie.applaud

At yesterday’s council meeting, he entered the fray of the accountability officers’ debate, putting forth an amendment to a motion that should put the issue to rest at least for a bit, seemingly satisfying a solid majority of the two factions. It was an adept bipartisan move that deflated the hyper-partisanship which had needlessly infected the issue. Such diplomacy, let’s call it, was a far cry from the Paul Ainslie I remember when I first started closely watching City Hall back in the early days of the Ford era.

It struck me then (and I believe with justification) Councillor Ainslie was simply a robotic ‘yes’ vote for whatever crazy idea the Mayor Ford demanded. In fact, I will confess publicly here for the very first time, I had a hand in an obscure Twitter parody account mocking the councillor, mostly for his refusal to get up and defend some of the positions he took. We can all disagree politically, I think it’s safe to say. caterpillarI just want to hear why you’re doing what you’re doing.

To give Councillor Ainslie his due, at the same time, he was plugging away quietly in his position as chair of the low visibility Government Management Committee. Yeah, I know, right? What the hell is the Government Management Committee and how does it impact my life?

Well, OK. I’m not going into the details here but let me say this. If ranked ballots arrive at City Hall for our next municipal election (currently nestled away somewhere in Queen’s Park awaiting provincial approval), Councillor Ainslie should be credited as one of the prime adoptees of the initiative at City Hall in his role as chair of the Government Management Committee. In a time of regressive, backwards thinking embraced by many in the Ford administration, it is a testament to the councillor’s doggedness to the cause that ranked ballots made it through such a mess.

Then came 2013.

Hopefully when a definitive history is written about Toronto’s city politics from 2010-14, Paul Ainslie’s role in pulling one of the many loose threads of Rob Ford’s ratty, tawdry behaviour will be acknowledged. standupA full month before the crack story broke, it was Councillor Ainslie going public about Ford’s drunken, loutish appearance at the Garrison Ball that really teed the ball up for the messy, ugly fall that followed. Few of the mayor’s supporters had broken ranks with him yet. This was big news at the time that got lost in the ensuing crack story.

The Fords, of course, denied it. They wrote the claim off as just bitterness on the part of Councillor Ainslie for not getting the nod as the budget chief to succeed Mike Del Grande. A few months later, they booted Ainslie from his post as chair of Government Management in a display of what spite was really about.

Let me just say here that while there is no need to point out the Ford’s unfamiliarity with the truth, the notion Ainslie, I don’t know, used the incident to get back at them is sort of laughable. Having chatted with the councillor on a few occasions, I have to say, the man comes across as lacking as little guile as I have seen in any other adult I know. You have to have a little bit of the sharp elbows in you to be successful in politics and Ainslie’s city councillor origin story is not without controversy but if there is a more genuine politician at City Hall right now, I haven’t spoken to them.drunkdriving

The feud between Ainslie and the Fords escalated especially when the councillor reversed course on the Scarborough subway extension. Initially supporting the move, he said after looking at all the information that the numbers simply didn’t add up. He was the lone Scarborough councillor to speak out and vote against scrapping the LRT which led to a series of robocalls being placed by the mayor to residents of Ainslie’s Ward 43, a subsequent complaint to the Integrity Commissioner by Ainslie and yet another apology from Rob Ford.

Compare and contrast the principled stand on the issue made by Paul Ainslie with the complete and utter cowering capitulation and 180 made by Glenn De Baeremaeker.

What was really interesting about yesterday’s accountability office motion by Councillor Ainslie wasn’t so much that he made it, and made it stick. There’s every reason to believe that the original motion of Councillor Stephen Holyday’s wasn’t going to pass, so ill-thought out and deliberately divisive as it was. steakthroughtheheartIt was Councillor Ainslie’s response in defending it to some critics who thought the original motion should just be killed outright.

“I’m not trying to salvage it [Holyday’s motion],” the councillor tweeted. “If we defeat it outright it will only leave too much on the table with an axe to grind.”

Ainslie wasn’t aiming at the motion. He was going after those behind it who had ‘an axe to grind’ with the accountability officers and, for their own mysterious reasons, were determined to reduce oversight of city council despite any protestations they made to the contrary. A more thorough review of the offices (as opposed to the very narrow, amalgamation-orientated one asked by Councillor Holyday) would better arm accountability proponents for future attacks.

I understand why councillors like Shelley Carroll opposed any sort of review. It is unnecessary and floats the idea that there’s something amiss with the accountability offices when the reality is, the only thing wrong is they are all chronically underfunded. easterbunnyYet the pipsqueaks on the council, the Stephen Holydays, Michelle Berardinettis, James Pasternaks, Justin Di Cianos and John Campbells were relentless in their fight against the offices. Councillor Paul Ainslie attempted to put an end to their pursuit once and for all, or, maybe even better, expose them for the regressive, anti-democratic types that they are.

For that, and the general all-round geniality and amenability, good natured can-do-ness, we salute Councillor Paul Ainslie. May you find all the easter eggs you search for in the easter egg hunt you will undoubtedly participate in.

positively submitted by Cityslikr

We Knew. We All Knew.

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