Smoke Them Out

December 20, 2015

Here’s the original, less gooder edited version of the 2016 budget launch post I wrote for the Torontoist earlier this week.

Speaking of which, while I recognize plenty of worthy causes out there for your consideration this holiday season, you would be making a very substantive contribution to the life of this city by sending some cash the Torontoist’s way. Councillor Shelley Carroll, a former budget chair at City Hall, gave her Best Budget Coverage nod to the Torontoist’s work this week. This can’t happen over the long run without help from readers and everyone else who wants to truly be in the know about the city they live and go about their business in.

So do yourself a favour. Contribute now.

raccoonnation

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As the 2016 budget launch wrapped up at a special Budget Committee meeting today, I said to a fellow council watcher as we left the room, “Well, the chicks have come home to roost.” The piper was now demanding his payment. [Insert another cliché here for an imminent moment of decision.]

In what’s being referred to this year as a “Preliminary Budget” instead of what I believe has been called in recent years, “Staff Recommended Budget”, city staff crunched the numbers on both the operating and capital sides of the ledger and delivered up a document that, at first glance, didn’t scare the hell out of everybody. shortfallThe opening pressure on the operating side seemed highly manageable. $57 million, and bringing in Mayor Tory’s proposed at the rate of inflation property tax rate increase of 1.3%, drops it down to just $23 million. A relatively meagre 2.17% bump in the rate would eliminate the opening pressure altogether.

But here’s where the budget qualified as only ‘preliminary’ and not ‘staff recommended’.

City staff did not eliminate the operating deficit as it has done previously, recommending a property tax rate increase for city council to essentially rubber stamp (after much back and forthing during the next couple months). This year, staff threw down the gauntlet, as City Manager Peter Wallace said they would do earlier this month at his fiscal foundation presentation at Executive Committee. closethegapHere’s the revenue you have. Here are the things you said you want to have. You, city council, decide on how and what gets funded. You balance the books, not staff.

Oh, and one last thing: there’s an additional $67 million of requests and directives from council that staff have yet to find any funding for. TTC service improvements like early Sunday openings. Much of the mayor’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Unfunded. In reality that makes for a $124 million opening pressure before you start factoring in property tax rate increases.

And hey. Let’s not even get started on the unfunded capital expenditures city council has thought would be nice but conveniently forgot to find funding for.

Lest you think I’m all gloom and doom here, that is not my intention.

This approach by staff to starting the budget process in the hole, negatively unbalanced, forces city council to start putting its collective money where its mouth is. nowwhatFor too long, too many of our local representatives have drawn up grand Wish Lists, amassing proverbial castles in the sky (and subways in the ground) without ponying up the cash to pay for it. Worse yet, strangling off sources of revenue in the name of Respecting The Taxpayers.

Well, not this year, not if city staff has their way. With this year’s preliminary budget introduced not balanced, staff is attempting to smoke out councillors from their respective hiding spots. You want to keep taxes low and refuse talk of any other new sources of revenue? What are you going to cut? What services are you going to deny or take from city’s residents? You want to help people lift themselves out of poverty? You want the trains to run on time and not over-capacity? How much do you want to increase taxes (above the rate of inflation, by the way)? chickcomehometoroostDo you want to have another discussion about new revenue tools?

City councillors can no longer have it both ways. That is exactly how Toronto has found itself with a mountain or two of unfunded liabilities and projects waiting in the wings. False promises of grand services, a world class city and low, low taxes. Efficiencies will pay for that, with a little dose of current from capital. All good.

As city staff made clear today, it wasn’t all good. If they have their way, 2016 will be the year city council will finally have to either put up or shut up. There is no longer anyplace they can hide for cover.

resubmittingly submitted by Cityslikr


Tolling Smoke And Mirrors

May 21, 2015

hammeragoodideaOut of the fog of debate over the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway, Budget Committee member James Pasternak floated the idea of imposing a toll on non-residents using the city owned and maintained Don Valley and Gardiner expressways. “I think the mayor’s hybrid selection is the way to go, but at the same time, you really do need a secure, reliable source to fund it,” the councillor mused publicly yesterday.

While any talk of tolling roads should be warmly welcomed into the conversation, coming as this does in the service of the willfully misguided effort of Mayor Tory to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated, we have to simply shrug. It’s feels like little more than a dodge, frankly. An attempt to offset the cost argument against the hybrid option, and serving to deflect from the real issue at hand: the hybrid option is a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

Besides, the mayor has no time for toll talk. Att least, ever since re-running for mayor. There was time when he held a different view. Of course.

Now as mayor of Toronto, money is no object for John Tory when it comes to dealing with his beloved Gardiner expressway. There’s just a secret stash of it, tucked away somewhere apparently, whenever he’s looking to gussy or speed it up and burnish his pro-car image.

Without mayoral support for the idea, it’s hard to imagine Councillor Pasternak’s toll item garnering much support, consigned surely to the trash bin at the next Executive Committee if it gets even that far along. The right place for it, if for the wrong reason. I mean, why would the councillor stop at tolling non-residents, aside from the fact they can’t vote in a municipal election in Toronto, freeing him of facing any electoral ire? It can’t be just that crass an idea, can it?

No, no. It’s a question of fairness. trashbinCouncillor Pasternak told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning yesterday [segment not yet archived] that Toronto residents pay to maintain the Gardiner and DVP from their property taxes. Why should outsiders get to freeload on our roads, paid for by our hard-earned property taxes?

But how about extending that sense of fairness a little further? Why should I, a resident of Toronto who helps pay for those expressways I rarely use, be forking over the same amount of cash as someone using them on a daily basis? That hardly seems fair, if we’re introducing the concept of road use/pay fairness.

Another member of the Budget Committee, Councillor John Campbell agrees. “I don’t see why all residents and all users of the highway shouldn’t be paying for it. Basically the TTC is a user-pay system. 80% of the funding for the TTC comes out of the fare box. Why shouldn’t our roads be the same?”

That’s just the tip of the inane iceberg of Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea, a half-baked measure with a full on helping of self-interest. letmecorrectitThe expense of co-ordinating the whole thing would immediately bite into any money made to throw at road maintenance. Fellow Budget Committee member (and former Budget Chief) Shelley Carroll said tolls had been discussed extensively, back in 2006 and the introduction of the City of Toronto Act. “What my colleague is proposing is ridiculously expensive,” she tweeted in response to Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea.

“You can’t collect from ‘outsiders only’ without use of transponder system or Tech ‘Road Pricing’ technology of some sort. Would need to be GTA wide, therefore, not just Gardiner. Would cost minimum $300/400 million to install. $30+million a year to operate. All of this would earn about $20/30 million net to Toronto because we would have to partner with GTA & Province.

Despite the fact the Gardiner and DVP are ours to pay for and maintain, in yet another example of the paternalistic relationship we have with Queen’s Park, we’d have to go to the province for permission to toll them even if it was economically feasible which it isn’t. In other words, Councillor Pasternak is just making noise in an attempt to sound as if he’s put a lick of thought into his idea.

But wait. There’s more from the councillor.

Maybe we should just upload responsibilities for these two expressways to the province, as if it were as easy as wishing. toshredsCiting a ‘historical imbalance’, Councillor Pasternak pointed out that other GTA municipalities don’t have to directly financially support their expressways, the QEW, 401, 404, 407. (Did I miss any?) Why should Torontonians have to bear the burden of the Gardiner and DVP alone?

I hate to break it to him but the Gardiner and DVP have always been ours. Aside from the strip of the Gardiner from the Humber to the 427 which the Harris government downloaded onto the city (h/t to Sean Marshall for that bit of info), these 2 urban expressways were Toronto’s from the outset, birthed and raised into being by the 1st chair of Metro council, Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, inspired as he was by the city building prowess of New York City “construction coordinator” Robert Moses. We’ve been maintaining them for some 50 years now. Why suddenly should the province feel compelled to start bearing that burden?

There’s nothing wrong with having a discussion about utilizing road tolls in order to raise revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure. facethemusicIt’s being done throughout the world. We wouldn’t be breaking any new ground there.

But let’s have a realistic discussion on the subject instead of something floated like a lead balloon for no other reason than to divert attention away from an equally politically loaded topic like what to do with the crumbling eastern section of the Gardiner expressway. Councillor Pasternak should be working on answering why we need to throw money to ‘retain and drag’ such an antiquated beast, why exactly is the hybrid option the way to go, not how do we pay to do that. The answer would be much simpler.

We don’t. It’s time to bring the fucker down.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Inexplicable Intransigence Of Mayor Tory

May 15, 2015

astutebusinessman

John Tory came into the mayor’s office touting his serious business and private sector credentials, remember? He saw fit to vilify one of his campaign opponents, Olivia Chow, as ‘that NDP candidate’, just another ‘tax-and-spender’ who didn’t understand the value of our hard-earned tax dollars. Tough fiscal times called for someone with prudent fiscal sensibilities. John Tory, he assured us, possessed that in spades.

Yet here we are, having to square this circle. Mayor Tory’s headlong rush into supporting a much more expensive “hybrid” (everybody’s using quotes for that word now) re-build of the 2 kilometres or so of the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street. It’s an option that puts severe limits on future development (and future revenue for the city) of the waterfront area outside of the Unilever site. It’s an option that leaves an elevated expressway running through the downtown core of the city. It’s an option that caters almost exclusively to some 3% of morning car commuters to the CBD and a recent organization calling itself the Gardiner Industry Coalition (or, as I like to think of them, Drivers Inc.)

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It’s an option that makes fundamentally little sense for more than a few reasons but none so pointedly as its fiscal recklessness. Something candidate John Tory assured us he would, could never be. Corporate titan, astute businessman, private sector player, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

Clocking in just under 20 minutes during a deputation given to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday, Alfredo Romano of Castlepoint Numa, the largest private sector landholder of waterfront properties, dismantled each and every argument Mayor Tory and other “hybrid” proponents have made to keep this portion of the Gardiner, save for that tattered flag of, Won’t somebody think of the poor drivers. Watching this [h/t @_JohnTory, no relation], it’s difficult not to conclude that our mayor is less a savvy businessman and more a crass, ham-fisted, self-interested politician.

I especially love this next bit. Mr. Romano points out that the city is also a major property owner down at the waterfront. In his view, maintaining the Gardiner east which essentially the “hybrid” option does, serves to shoot ourselves in the foot. The hybrid option will “take away the value of your own asset”, he told the committee. Reading between those lines, I can’t see any reference to fiscal prudence or sound management practices.

They’re calling this a 100 year decision, laying it on a bit thick, in my opinion. The Gardiner Expressway is barely 60 years old and has been falling apart for a decade or so now. Still, it is a very important decision, one that will affect the future development of the waterfront. Until recently, this city hasn’t been very good at that. So I don’t think it too over-the-top to suggest that how Mayor Tory comes down on this will go a long way to determining how posterity will view his time in office. He’d be wise to reconsider his options on this.

prognosticatingly submitted by Cityslikr


More Casino Dreams And Other Long Shot Gambles

March 26, 2015

I am agnostic, in the noncommittal kind of way, about a casino project going in at Woodbine Racetrack. whateverBack last debate on the issue – what? 1, 2, 3 years ago now? – I was fairly adamant in my opposition to a waterfront/downtown casino as something that would bring no value with it. In fact, it might even detract from the new development going on from the Ontario Place site east through the Don and beyond.

With Woodbine? I don’t know. Gambling’s bare bones are already there. I haven’t heard any other ideas for enhancing the area. Reasonable people are making reasonable sounds about a casino helping to bring about jobs to an area hammered hard by lack of opportunities.

So, with the Executive Committee requesting a report on the prospects of a casino at Woodbine expect to hear renewed debate about the quality of those jobs, the positive and negative effects a casino will have on the area, new revenue windfall pouring into city coffers. Pretty much, the same old, same old. Essentially the same cast of characters, saying the same words only about a different location.

“This is not a pot of gold for Toronto,” Councillor Shelley Carroll said during the meeting (in all likelihood a refrain she made at the last casino debate). rollthedice“It’s a sustainability strategy for the province.”

That’s one absolute we can make about a casino in Toronto. The city’s cut of casino money will not build us affordable housing. It will not build SmartTrack. It won’t even make much of a dent into the $86 million operating budget shortfall we’ve borrowed money to pay.

Whatever leverage Toronto had with the province to up the percentage take for hosting a casino somewhere downtown will not be in place for Woodbine. Location, location, location, am I right? We will take what the province offers and, if recent interactions are any indication, somehow the city will wind up owing Queen’s Park money in return for hosting a casino at Woodbine.

At best, I imagine, if a Woodbine casino does comes to pass, we’ll be left debating whether or not the revenue it generates for the city covers the social costs inherent in expanding gambling.

Similarly, such fiscal pros and cons will be front and centre with the TTC Chair Josh Colle’s Executive Committee motion about going the public-private partnership route when it comes to building the Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. “It is our basic responsibility to look at other ways to manage these,” Mayor Tory said, as part of the administration’s scrambling response to the reports earlier this month about cost overruns and delays with the Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. rouletteThe TTC, it has been concluded, is no longer up to the task of managing and overseeing these big capital builds.

Maybe…Maybe…

Another way to look at this particular situation is that maybe the city should shy away from building subways where subways aren’t warranted, building subways for purely political reasons. Let’s stop pursuing bad ideas with similarly bad ideas. Start following best practices and expert advice instead of the ideology of ‘deserve’.

If Mayor Tory and TTC Chair Colle were truly worried about money and excessive costs to the city, the latter would never have supported replacing the LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway in the first place and the first thing the former would’ve done after becoming mayor is reopen that debate and reverse the outcome. Colle did and Tory didn’t, so neither really is in any sort of position to caution us about fiscal responsibility or whatever reasons they’re touting for pushing the P3 model to finance subway construction that shouldn’t even be on the table.

So, whatever. Go nuts. Pursue the P3 dream. Everything else about the Scarborough subway is based on a finger-crossed wing and a prayer. nomoneydownWhy not throw P3s onto that particular vanity bonfire.

But please don’t tell us it’s a sure bet. The jury is still out on the efficacy of the P3 model, just like it is on the benefits a casino delivers to municipalities.

The only thing we should know for certain is that politicians championing casinos and P3s are pitching us the lure of easy money and easy answers. We can have whatever it is we want and not pay the full freight. Nothing upfront, interest to be paid eventually, by somebody else.

feeling luckily submitted by Cityslikr


How High Sir?

February 19, 2015

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 17 million times.

You want to fix City Hall? Start electing better city councillors. upthehillEasier said than done, for sure, given the disheartening results of last year’s municipal campaign. Thirty-seven of thirty-eight incumbents returned to office including one still under the cloud of a police investigation. Another, Frank Di Giorgio in Ward 12 York South Weston.

The councillor was on Metro Morning today along with another former budget chief, Shelley Carroll, to talk about the city’s need for more revenue, new revenue tools. “Do you think we need new taxes, Frank Di Giorgio?” asked the show’s host, Matt Galloway. Here’s how the councillor responded:

Not at this point. I think certainly, I think the one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor…

Say what?

That’s what’s important in the immediate future? City council needs to support the mayor? [Begins flipping frantically through the city’s Code of Conduct for Members of Council. Must support the mayor…Must support the mayor….] fealtyNope. Not seeing that stipulation.

Councillor Di Giorgio has been a local representative for almost 30 years now, at City Hall in amalgamated Toronto since 2000. This is the sum of all his civic wisdom. “I think one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor.”

If the councillor actually believes that — and he’s not alone in that way of thinking, sadly, in talking to a candidate during last year’s election who was running against another deadweight incumbent, I was told that a few years earlier in discussing with the councillor why he had voted a certain way, he was told that, You gotta support the boss — why bother with city council races in the first place? Just elect a mayor, be done with it. No messy debates to deal with, rubber stamp city council meetings, items all passed with a waxed red royal seal.

Parsing Councillor Di Giorgio’s go along to get along logic a little further, consider his 2014 re-election. At Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall has done fantastic work breaking down the numbers October’s election. waxsealA look at the results in Ward 12 shows that less than one in five voters there voted for John Tory. The councillor fared little better, garnering under 30% of the popular vote where just over 1300 ballots separated him from the 4th place challenger.

So, less than one in three voters gave Councillor Di Giorgio a mandate to unwaveringly support a mayor who fewer than one in five Ward 12 voters backed? It’s how first-past-the-post elections work, I get it, but it’s almost as if the councillor thinks we have some sort of presidential system at City Hall, though. The Big Guy wins. You fall in line behind the Big Guy.

Councillor Di Giorgio’s views on such ring-kissing fealty to the mayor also extends to city staff. As Jude MacDonald reminded me, back during the last administration when the councillor was still TTC commissioner and voted to fire then-CEO Gary Webster, he had his reasons. “Excellence in bureaucracy means the ability to perform tasks that are consistent with leaders of a corporation, the leaders of a city,” he declared. “It’s the ability to put forward positions that are consistent with positions adopted by the mayor.”

Your councillor for Ward 12 York South Weston, folks.  Frank Di Giorgio.

So, city councillors are elected to merely to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Such passiveness from Di Giorgio extends to the city’s dealings with the province evidently. jumphighhowDuring the Metro Morning discussion, he said exploring the idea of more revenue tools will simply let the province off the hook for paying their share of stuff like social housing. They’ve already stopped paying, Councillor Carroll pointed out. That’s why the city’s scrambling to plug the hole in its operating budget. That’s why we need to a discussion about new revenues. It’s all on us now.

The councillor was having none of it. No need to rush. We already have revenue tools in the arsenal, like the Land Transfer Tax which is bringing in substantial amounts of money to the city coffers. Maybe we could milk some more from that cash cow. If not, the City of Toronto Act is coming up for renewal in a few years, 2018 or so. Let’s revisit this discussion then. In the meantime, don’t ‘undermine the mayor’s initiatives’ because that would be ‘dangerous’. Loose lips sink ships, I guess.

Councillors like Frank Di Giorgio are throwbacks to an era when municipalities were little more than wards of the province, where we were given the property tax to play with, to largely pay for local initiatives, roads, sewers, maybe a portion of public transit. A time when the province contributed substantially more to the overall operations of this city than it sees fit to now. As Councillor Carroll (as well as the city manager, Joe Pennachetti) pointed out, Toronto is a big boy now, closing in on 3 million people. asleeponthejobIt’s time we put on our big boy pants and realize we’ve been pushed out of the nest.

Provincial contributions to the well-being of this city will be grudging and probably when it is only politically advantageous for them to do so. We can act like two year-olds and hold our breath until we turn blue in the face in hopes of changing their attitude but, well, umm, I wouldn’t…hold my breath. But that’s what Mayor Tory has in mind, and loyal foot soldiers like Councillor Di Giorgio see it as his job to follow the mayor’s marching orders.

After all, that’s what he’s been doing for three decades now. That’s what he was elected to do.

at your servicely submitted by Cityslikr


One Bright Spot

December 4, 2014

It’s my contention that twice now Toronto has missed the opportunity to elect truly progressive leadership when Shelley Carroll was droppedballoverlooked as a mayoral candidate in successive elections. In 2010, she was in the best position to campaign on the Miller administration mandate yet got squeezed out between Liberal and NDP party machinations. This year, she sidestepped the stampede to support Olivia Chow’s anointment as the left of centre representative on the ballot. Both times, a low recognition factor as well as, I speculate, internal party politics deep sixed any aspirations she might have had for the position of mayor.

So, it’s interesting to note that in the scramble for committee, agency and board appointments, her name has emerged for several key positions in the John Tory administration. The Police Services Board, the TTC, the Budget Committee, Economic Development Committee, the Disabilities Issue Committee, Toronto Arts Council, (am I missing anything?), as well as the Deputy Speaker of City Council. Granted, in many of the more high profile spots – budget and TTC, say – she will not form the majority opinion but it is a far cry from how frozen out she was by the administration last term. friendscloseFrozen out by the Fords only to emerge as one of its most effective critics.

Has the Tory administration realized this and calculated that it’s probably more prudent to bring her in closer to the power centre? Friends close, enemies closer and all that. No matter. It offers Councillor Carroll a bigger platform to push her ideas and policies.

Let’s not lose sight of that opportunity especially over on Budget Committee where the councillor has been a huge proponent of the notion of participatory budgeting. She might not have the clout to institute the idea this time around (the committee is also populated by a number of perfunctory councillors as well, starting with the chair, Gary Crawford, along with the likes of Michelle Berardinetti, James Pasternak and two unknowns, John Campbell and Justin Di Ciano) but we certainly should expect to hear discussion of it going forward.

Regardless of any calculations at work, the new mayor should be applauded for acknowledging Councillor Carroll’s serious credentials and vast knowledge of how the city works, and at least putting her in the room and at the table where important decisions will be made. handsoffClearly, during the campaign, Tory made friends in high provincial places with the Liberal government. The fact Carroll is an avowed big L liberal probably helped ease any concerns the incoming administration at City Hall might have had with her designation by the Fords and their cadre as being some sort of enemy combatant.

For her part, Councillor Carroll stayed out of the mayoral fray this year, just going about her business getting re-elected as Ward 33 councillor, not picking sides. She gave a barnburner of a speech at a fundraiser I attended late in the campaign where she expressed some annoyance that the idea of progressivism had somehow become synonymous with the NDP brand. Her work at city council over the course of an 11 year (and counting) career there easily puts to rest the claim that your politics can be defined solely by the party you’re part of. I mean, both Carroll and her council colleagues Mark Grimes and Cesar Palacio are active in or have been members of the Liberal party. One of these is not like the others.

The fact John Tory was not willing to give any power to Councillor Shelley Carroll tells me all I need to know about the limitations he’s put on his administration. It will be more than curious how their relationship develops. I doubt she intends on becoming a head-nodding yes man, going along to get along. There’s little to be gained for her currying favour with the Tory crowd. brightspotBut she has been given something of an inside voice now to question the direction the mayor intends to take on such big ticket matters like the budget, the TTC, the Toronto Police Services.

It’s not much for those feeling sidelined right now by Team Tory. Still, there are few other councilors I’d be as confident in to remain independent and outspoken as I expect Councillor Carroll will be. If we search really hard for the silver lining in this dark cloud, maybe it might be that the councillor’s upcoming adventures in Torytown will serve as a map for building a better progressive movement.

ever hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch IV

June 26, 2014

Walking along Bloor Street West in Ward 18 Davenport with Alex Mazer, I was struck by a thought. This is like strolling in my own backyard. railpathWhich it kind of is since I live right next door in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina. I have played baseball in the parks in Ward 18. I have drunk in a few of the bars in Ward 18. I have cycled Ward 18’s railpath.

Su warda, mi warda.

(I hope that totally made-up Spanish on my part doesn’t actually mean anything rude or derogatory.)

I met Alex last year when he hosted a Better Budget TO event. It’s a group advocating for participatory budgeting, a more open process of determining how local governments spend money that actually includes not only community involvement but community decision making. (See what Councillor Shelley Carroll’s doing with Section 37 money in Ward 33.) participatorybudgetThe movement has gained traction in cities like New York and Chicago.

Participatory budgeting is also something more conducive to local governments than either the provincial or federal levels, both where Alex has spent some time working previously. Their budgets are dropped, fully formed, take it or leave it, folks. Municipal budgets, while dense and arcane, go through a few stages including one where the public gets to express its opinion, before being finalized by city council.

It’s this relative openness that has drawn Alex toward municipal politics. An ability to interact and work with constituents on issues that directly affect their quality of lives on a daily basis. Budgets, schools, public spaces, transit, the state of our roads and the constant construction. Oh, the construction.

Like many of us, Alex would like to figure out a way to better co-ordinate construction throughout the city in order to avoid what seems like a regular tear up and rebuild along his ward’s stretch of Bloor Street.

bloorstreetwestWhile not as intense as some neighbouring wards to the east or south of it, Ward 18 is experiencing similar kinds of pressures that come from growth and intensification, beginning with the need to deliver new infrastructure and maintain the old. The development along Queen Street on the edge of Parkdale is already in place. There’s a mixed used plan on what is now derelict land running beside the railpath right next to the Nestle chocolate factory near Dundas Street West and Lansdowne that’s been years in the making and looks ready to go. The Union-to-Pearson rail link will have a stop in Ward 18.

It’s going to be a serious hub, Ward 18, bringing with it all the opportunities and conflicts inherent in that. Continued pressure on employment lands. Cars versus transit versus biking. Like the old days versus new density. Electrification versus diesel.

You might think, why put all that into the lap of a newcomer? The current councillor, while only finishing up her first term, has worked in the ward for a while now, dating back to her time as Executive Assistant to longtime former councillor, Mario Silva. nestleLet’s just stick with the steady hand of experience.

The thing is, from my perch watching city council over the past 4 years, Councillor Ana Bailão has not shown herself up to the task. While not a destructive force certainly, she has regularly landed on the side of issues that truly mystify. Sure, there was voting to rescind the Vehicle Registration Tax which, while politically popular, hasn’t done much for the city’s revenue stream. She also voted to freeze property taxes in 2011, contract out waste collection west of Yonge (but against awarding that contract to Green 4 Life), eliminate the plastic bag fee, initially voted to keep the bike lanes on Jarvis but then voted to re-confirm the vote she’d voted against to tear them up (??) The councillor voted for the Scarborough subway.

Little rhyme nor reason or pattern. There doesn’t seem to be a there, there.

Even on her signature item, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, nothing much happened. It might’ve contained the fire but certainly hasn’t put it out. TCHC management remains a mess. The state of good repair continues to grow. No recommendations have been put forth to deal with what is a pressing, pressing situation.

In truth, Councillor Bailão has been something of a disappointment. Not at all dependable on the important issues facing the city. dupontbusMaybe a change in tone and function at City Hall would reveal a different Ana Bailão but it’s hard to see much evidence of that possibility.

And if Ward 18 is counting on change for better representation, why not go whole hog and elect a new councillor?

Alex Mazer?

He’s certainly bringing a lot to the table. Clearly engaged and on top of the issues directly affecting the ward and the wider city, Mazer wants to open up that engagement further, bringing the public into the decision-making process sooner, whether it’s the budget or local development plans. Anyone who ‘deeply disagrees with the Ford agenda’, as Mazer stated a week or so ago on Reddit, would be a step in the right direction from the ward’s current representation.

But I’ll let you decide for yourself, leaving you with candidate Mazer’s own words:

Change is happening — there’s no question about it. There are a lot of good things about this change — I think that most residents in the area that I talk to feel optimistic about the future of their neighbourhoods.

But despite this optimism, I also hear from renters, artists, newcomers, middle class families, and more, who feel that they can no longer afford to live downtown — who feel that they will never be able to afford to buy a home in the area. This is part of a broader challenge that our city faces — that people’s opportunities are increasingly shaped by their postal code (U of T’s David Hulchanski, among others, has done some great work on this).

City government can’t stop this change, but we can manage it better I believe. One of my priorities is to take a more proactive approach to managing development in the ward, working with communities to identify the types of growth and change they want before the ‘development application’ signs go up and they’re left scrambling to have their voices heard. A good example of this is the need to work with the community and other levels of government to preserve public space at Dufferin and Bloor.

A better affordable housing policy can also help. See some of my thoughts on this.

I think we need to focus more on the growing inequality in our city. It’s troubling that inequality has taken on a more prominent place in the American political discourse but remains a relatively minor part of the public debate here in Toronto.

gotrain

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr