Brood Parasite

June 29, 2016

The cuckoo, it is said, deviously lays its eggs in another bird’s nest to have its young raised and reared by the unsuspecting guest parent. cuckooforcocoapuffsThe cuckoo bird either hatches earlier or grows quicker than its host’s offspring, launching its faux-siblings from the nest in an effort to become the sole mouth to feed. A survival of the fittest tactic known as ‘brood parasitism’.

It strikes me as something too sinisterly perfect to be true. More like a child’s fable. No, not the white-washed ones we heard as kids. The grim ones, told by dour Germans or the icky Brits of the 18th-century, full of impending doom, evil lurking around every corner, stranger danger. The original scared straight, morality tales to keep the children in line. Suspect everyone. Trust no one. Are they really your parents?

In that vein…

The Scarborough subway. A cuckoo’s egg laid by the Ford Administration in the nest of City Hall. cuckoobirdnestIn a bid to grow and flourish, it, in turn, lays waste to everything around it, mainly in the form of reputations of those trying to give it life, even with the best of intentions. Here, I’m thinking city staff who know what’s what, a wink’s as good as a nod, but try anyway to make the best of a bad situation. It’s not a beast of their making. They’ve tried, at times, to set the record straight. To no avail, in the end, their attempt to make it all seem legitimate only succeeds in damaging their own credibility.

For those who actually try to claim parentage of this impersonator, the result is even more unbecoming or, in the extreme case, self-immolating. It derails political aspirations. Karen Stintz. It further mocks those already prone to mocking. This is not that subway. It’s a completely different subway. Which, just so happens, to be in Scarborough like that other subway. Councillor Michelle Holland. It makes some say the kookiest things. “The subway is never going to be cheaper than it is today,” said Councillor Ana Bailão.cuckoobirdbaby

Nobody’s fooled. Everybody’s embarrassed. Maybe if we can just get past the pretense of it all, we can start having a rational discussion again.

Except that no longer seems possible because no one in any position of real power is willing to step forward and admit mistakes were made, bad decisions pursued for all the wrong reasons. At first we thought this was a good idea. Now we don’t. This was an egg that should never have been allowed to hatch.

Mayor John Tory may be in line to take the biggest hit for trying to maintain this fiction. Whatever claims to sound judgment and a sober approach to governance he may have once made are meaningless now, nothing but empty campaign slogans. With his Toronto Star op-ed on Monday, he jettisoned any semblance of good sense or consensus building. Think that’s just me talking, an avowed and self-proclaimed Tory critic? cuckoobirdbaby1Or some other left-wing tongue-wagger in Torontoist?

Flip through the pages covering the transportation beat in the Star. Still not satisfied? How about this editorial in the august Globe and Mail? Both newspapers, by the way, that endorsed John Tory for mayor less than two years ago.

Why he’s taking such a risk to nurture somebody else’s terrible, terrible idea is probably both crassly obvious and backroom murky. Your guess is as good as mine. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter to John Tory because he, and every other politician who’s calculated to make this possible, won’t be around to see it to fruition, to have the scorn heaped directly on them.

In the meantime, we all can get a glimpse at the future. That deliberately misplaced egg has hatched and the cuckoo bird has already started to squawk, demanding we feed it, we love it, respect it. The sound, it sounds just like this:

fosterly submitted by Cityslikr


Show Us The Efficiencies!

June 27, 2016

So, I’m having a quiet conversation the other day with a painter friend of mine, Donald… actually, my friend’s not a painter and his name isn’t Donald. quietconversationBut we were having a quiet conversation the other day.

I bring this up just to establish a time line of my thought process, to let you know I was thinking about this before reading David Nickle’s article yesterday, Toronto’s past public finance practices have experienced its own form of Brexit. It’s this latest broad side fired at the fiscal policies pursued for the better part of a decade at City Hall. “Folly. Pure populist folly,” Nickle calls it.

City councillors have been pretending to practice austerity and delivering at-or-below inflationary property tax increases for about a decade, while roughly maintaining services. They’ve increased some revenues, mostly through fees like transit fares. But otherwise, they’ve relied on the booming real estate market and finite help from the provincial government to keep things going.

Mayor Tory and his council allies are also continuing to trot out the shop worn claim that taxes and other revenue streams are unnecessary or unbecoming, even, until we bear down and squeeze out every last drop of inefficiency there is to be found especially in the operating budget. nostoneunturnedUntil such a time as there is shown to be absolutely no waste, or gravy as the previous guy called it, talk of new revenue will remain theoretical. This, of course, is an impossibly high goal to set which, as we’ve probably suggested before, may well be the whole point of such a futile exercise.

Bringing me to my quiet conversation with my friend the other day.

Of course there are still efficiencies to be found. No one has ever said otherwise. Here’s an example right here in a Toronto Star article from Thursday by David Rider, Audit finds waste in City of Toronto cleaning services. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain a year,” according to the Auditor General.

There you go. Although, I must point out that it’s also not good news for champions of contracting out services, like Mayor Tory, who like to tell us that the private sector, by its very nature, brings about efficiencies and automatically saves us money. Still. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. moarGet ‘er done.

Now, here’s the meat of the conversation between my not-Donald-the-painter friend of mine and me. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Hell, let’s call it a million bucks. Unless the auditor general or whoever else finds 50, 75, 100, 200 of those kind of examples of waste and inefficiencies, we still won’t have enough money to maintain the current services and programs we have, never mind anything new. This is what Mayor Tory’s been told by two consecutive city managers now. Efficiencies for sure but not just efficiencies. It’s not going to be enough.

Moreover, I said to my friend, I said, It’s put up or shut up time for these efficiencies fiends. You claim there’s still lots of efficiencies to be found, find them. Find them and bring them to the budget table. No more vague generalities and focus grouped catchphrases involving sides and dressings.

Anyone who’s followed along with the budget process the last 6 years or so will recognize the approach of the various self-proclaimed fiscal hawks we elect to city council. showmethemoneyPre-determine the property tax rate to give yourself a pretty good idea of what that year’s operating budget will be and then force anyone proposing new spending to make a deduction somewhere else in the budget. An offset, it’s called. This is how much we’re spending. It’s all zero sum after that.

How be this time around, anyone coming to the budget proceedings saying we have to find efficiencies, needs to bring said efficiencies to the table. You don’t want to raise the property tax rate above the rate of inflation? Find the efficiency offset. 1% property tax increase equals roughly $24 million for the city. Before you start talking about 2% or 4% or 5% cuts to budgets, you need to show some $48 or $96 or $120 million in efficiencies found.

Because across the board budget cuts are not the same thing as finding efficiencies. If we’re going to start talking about ‘unprecedented’ and ‘devastating’ cuts, texaschainsawmassacreas Nickle suggests some might be, the onus needs to be placed squarely on those pushing them under the banner of finding efficiencies. We must demand specifics, details down to the penny. Show us the efficiencies found, show us the money.

Otherwise, you’re just proposing cuts for cutting’s sake, and that’s something else entirely. That’s just ideology. That’s a completely different conversation.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


We Pledge Our Allegiance To Ford Nation

June 21, 2016

texaschainsawmassacre

Maybe in order to keep from descending into daily bouts of screaming madness following along with local politics in this burg, one needs to step back and accept the fact that a majority of voters in this city are small c conservatives. They expect very little from City Hall and believe (erroneously in most cases) they make very few demands upon it. Keep our taxes low, streets clean and safe and get the garbage picked up, and we’ll get along just fine.

Rob Ford’s biggest mistake as mayor wasn’t his loutish and illicit behaviour, at least not directly. The faux pas he committed was exposing us as the bumpkins we truly are in supporting such a character in the first place, the miserliness at our civic core. David Miller’s time in office was an outlier. He tried dragging us into the 21st-century and we didn’t care for it one little bit. John Tory has restored us to our natural state, explaining his continued popularity in spite of his continued mishandling of important files. No matter. As our friend John McGrath suggested earlier this year, “Toronto got exactly what it voted for in 2014: 85% of Rob Ford’s policies with 200% more syllables.”

Mayor Tory continues to dig in and boldly adhere to our traditional ways of municipal governance with his letter to the budget committee, laying out his ‘Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget’. Which are? High in aspiration, low in actually delivering anything other than keeping property taxes unsustainably low and further squeezing the life out of many city services and programs.

David Rider in the Toronto Star and David Nickle of Inside Toronto go into much more detail about what happens if the budget committee and, ultimately, city council follow the mayor’s lead with this. While he talks of new revenue discussions and finding savings from the biggest line item in the city’s budget, the police services, it’s hard to imagine any of that will be in place in time for this year. So in the meantime, Mayor Tory gets to shake every other tree at City Hall in the hopes of finding more low-hanging fruit despite the fact he’s been told repeatedly there’s very little left, none in some cases. Any further paring, so to speak, will only end up causing damage.

And we will cheer him on because that’s what we expect of our elected municipal officials to do. As little as possible, costing us as little as possible. If urban planner, Brent Toderian is correct when he says, “The truth about a city’s aspirations in its vision. It’s found in its budget,” what does that say about Toronto and its vision, its expectations, its aspirations? Mayor Tory’s letter to his budget committee would indicate that we remain, deep down, Ford Nation.

What other conclusion can we draw?

Below, is a copy of Mayor Tory’s letter to the budget committee with some editorial work of mine in red.

* * *

June 17, 2016

City Hall, 2nd floor

100 Queen Street West

Toronto, Ontario

M5H 2N2

To: Gary Crawford, Budget Chief, and Members of Budget Committee

Re: Mayor’s Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget

Toronto is a vibrant and growing city, but it is changing quickly. Our population is increasing and our demographics are shifting, bringing new pressures and expectations.

To compete in today’s global economy and maintain Toronto’s character as vibrant, affordable and liveable for all ages and income levels, the City must keep up with the pace of change and think differently about its role in people’s lives.

We must prioritize our investments and spend our money wisely, providing services with a direct, positive impact for the public.

To that end, this letter outlines my expectations of all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices for the 2017 operating and capital budgets:

The City’s tax-supported 2017 net operating budget target is zero percent over the 2016 net operating budget, meaning $3.97 billion; (No new money)

Inflationary pressures and negotiated wage increases should be absorbed within existing budgets; (In fact, even less money than last year)

Any new or enhanced services should be funded from within existing budgets; (You want to try or buy anything new? Get rid of some old stuff first)

Any new or enhanced services with a “net zero” funding impact should be reviewed for impact on staff time and planned service delivery; (Maybe your new or enhanced service isn’t “net zero” if it costs money for the city to implement and deliver. Did you ever think about that?)

Current service levels should be assessed to confirm their value for money and benefit to the public; (A nice-to-have or a need-to-have?)

Opportunities for efficiencies and alternative service delivery models should continue to be pursued, including contracting out; (See Ford, Rob, Mayor, 2010-2014) and,

Any property tax increase should be at or below the rate of inflation. (No new money. In fact, very likely, less.)

City Building Priorities

While our budget is under real strain (Self-imposed), we must continue to build the city we want (In theory). To that end, I have also identified strategic priorities to complete the mandate we have set out over the past two years.

(This following section is a house of cards built on the contradictory impulses expressed in the first sentence. All the stated intentions here are undermined by (a) the faultiness of the intentions themselves i.e. SmartTrack and/or (b) the budgetary constraints stated above. This is a zero sum game here. For any of this to happen, something else will have to be sacrificed somewhere else in the budget.)

It’s time to exert discipline and ramp up our efforts to build a modern city and an efficient, ambitious and effective government, through:

The ongoing planning, design and construction of our transit network expansion, including SmartTrack, the optimized Scarborough network and the Relief Line, which will take cars off the road, reduce overcrowding on existing transit lines and dramatically increase and improve service across the city, while protecting the existing new transit investments. This transit expansion must move forward efficiently, in order to capture the full value of the currently proposed federal infrastructure investments;

Continued investment in Toronto’s mobility network to provide safe, efficient and reliable ways to move around the city for those travelling by car, bike or on foot;

Continued implementation of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy investments provided for in the 2017 work plan;

Further investment in affordable housing, through our Open Door program; and,

Continued investments in building on Toronto’s standing as one of the most liveable cities in the world through support for arts, culture and public realm projects across the city. (Hoo-rah! A whole bunch of empty cheerleading)

Government Modernization

In the last two years, we have taken some long overdue steps to confront the City’s real underlying pressures without just making arbitrary cuts. (Mayor Tory’s previous call for 5% across the board cuts belies this statement)

The real waste and inefficiency in our City government is found in outdated systems and services, unnecessary duplication and a slow embrace of technology. This is why, despite the declarations of victory made by some, I continue to believe there is much work to be done making large government operate much more efficiently. (No one I know has ever said there’s no more efficiencies. As the city manager has made very clear, there are simply not enough to pay for the stuff the mayor says he wants)

And so, to achieve further real progress, I would like to see an increased focus on digital solutions, measurement and analytics, as well as the expedited completion or implementation of the following reports and reviews:

The Real Estate Review, which will provide an up-to-date assessment of the City’s real estate holdings and create important city-building opportunities;

The Toronto Police Transformational Task Force, which will make recommendations to reduce the growing TPS budget through modernization;

Procurement Review, which is examining the City’s procurement process, especially related to technology solutions;

An immediate prioritization of work that transitions the City to a data-driven organization. All work by City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should be measured, tracked and analyzed so the City can make budget decisions based on sound analytics;

City Programs should also work to meet our Open Data Strategy and targets; and,  City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should prioritize work that provides the people of Toronto with mobile friendly, technology enabled services. This efficiency will free up resources to offer direct services to those who cannot access this service on line.

There is no either/or choice between government efficiency and ambitious city building. (Again, nobody has said otherwise) We can and must contain spending and become more efficient while continuing to make strategic investments in transit, housing and vital infrastructure.

We can do this while maintaining the values and character that make Toronto great.

But it will require a new approach. (If by new approach, the mayor means the same one employed by the previous administration, then yes)

For too long, we have relied on property tax and MLTT revenues without introducing new ways to pay for the city building efforts we support. Alongside the 2017 Budget Process, we must have a serious conversation about new ways to raise revenues, especially to finance longer term capital investments like transit and housing, and we will. (Seems here the mayor is willing to talk about new revenue sources for capital spending, leaving the operating side of the equation dwindling under the weight of at or below the rate of inflation property tax increases)

In the meantime, we owe it to the public to spend their money wisely, before we ask them to contribute more. (**cough cough** Scarborough subway **cough cough** Gardiner East hybrid **cough cough** **cough cough**)

I encourage staff from all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices to help us build a truly modern city that is the envy of the world and to do it while keeping the interests of the people we serve, the residents of Toronto, first and foremost in our minds. (Define “interests”)

 

Sincerely,

John Tory

Mayor of Toronto

submitted by Cityslikr


Lost In A Forest Full Of Trees

January 15, 2016

It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I have lost perspective on Mayor John Tory. forestforthetreesAfter reading a couple news items on the 2016 budget process and an upcoming SmartTrack report last night and this morning, I let fly with some intemperate Twitter remarks that weren’t particularly well thought out. In my defence, they only contained one swear word in the lot of them.

“Tory hopes to balance Toronto budget by funding less than half of new commitments,” was the headline in a Metro article by Jessica Smith Cross.

My initial reaction?

Indignation, of course.

How hard is it to balance a budget when you decide to fund only 40% of the commitments, promises and pledges that you and your council colleagues have made? blowmylidYou know that thing we all thought was a really good idea? Well, we still think it’s a good idea but I’m not prepared to pay for it. But props to us for thinking it’s a good idea, right?

It’s about picking priorities, came one response to my outburst. That’s pretty much what every budget is about. That’s what City Manager Peter Wallace put before the budget committee with an unbalanced budget of at least $67 million in unfunded council requests and implementations. The mayor and city council have to choose their priorities. Mayor Tory’s simply choosing his.

“John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan for Toronto getting smaller, cheaper,” was the headline in Oliver Moore’s Globe and Mail article this morning.

My initial reaction?

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Millions of dollars on a report that essentially confirms what every critic of SmartTrack thought from the time it was released as a headline grabbing, yellingatcloudsill-thought out plan back during the 2014 campaign. My head exploded, and I fired off some of my own headline grabbing, ill-thought opinions, undercutting possible benefits in the report for Scarborough transit users and overplaying the mayor’s embrace of the report. “The issues you reference are still being studied and staff have not yet provided recommendations,” Amanda Galbraith, Mayor Tory’s spokesperson, told the Globe.

So, there’s plenty of time still for the mayor to ignore expert advice and stubbornly insist on doing SmartTrack his way. It was unfair of me to respond in a way that suggested he’d accepted the findings in this new report yet. If he does, it will be a better SmartTrack project, probably, at least the “new” western spur which would become, essentially, a Transit City proposal from way back when. At least, it can’t be worse than the SmartTrack he used to get elected.

Maybe they have a point. (Except for the ‘love nonetheless’ business. It’s an established fact that Tim Falconer detests me for my youth and rugged good looks.) Maybe I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Better, if not good, policy should always be preferred to bad policy. humbledIt’s amazing to me that I actually find myself writing such a sentence. And the politics of budgeting has always been about trade-offs and prioritizing. None of this is anything John Tory has ushered onto the scene.

I guess the source of my frustration and resentment is that while it’s a political landscape John Tory inherited, he’s chosen instead to navigate it rather than challenge it. In the post-Ford scorched earth environment of low-taxes-at-any-cost and non-reality based transit plans, Mayor Tory has played along. Prioritizing that unfunded $67 million in the budget is a whole lot harder because he’s refused to entertain reasonable discussions about property tax rates and other revenue tools. We’re piecemealing together a more acceptable transit approach not because of Mayor Tory’s reasonableness but because, for nearly two years now, he’s also been playing along with his predecessor’s unrealistic belief that transit comes for free and shouldn’t interfere with our ability to drive around the city.

Is that an improvement? Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, though. What Toronto needs right now is an injection of pure, unadulterated aspiration and methods necessary to achieve that. What we’re getting from Mayor Tory is a placebo.

It might work. There’s scientific evidence suggesting such a positive effect can happen. drinkingaloneAfter 4 years of backsliding on almost every conceivable front, any step forward, no matter how small or circuitous, should be seen as progress. Dampen your expectations and things look a lot less bleak. Always remember. It could be worse, in two words: RobDoug Ford.

I just have to learn that, when drowning my sorrows in a self-pity binge of What Could Bes, my booze filled glass is half full not half empty.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Bully Budgeting

January 14, 2016

It was just a coincidence, I’m sure, that I was reading through Torontoist’s 2015 Heroes and Villains list while listening to the first of the public deputations on the 2016 budget. TPLTorontoist(Truth be told, I’d held out following the annual Torontoist series as, once again, I’d been snubbed despite my unrelenting and uncompromising work covering the politics of this city. Hero or Villain. It didn’t matter to me. Just a little recognition might be nice, Torontoist.) As it so happened, I was just getting to the final reveal – Superhero of the Year – when the library workers union president, Maureen O’Reilly, sat down to speak to the budget committee.

No, really. That’s exactly how it happened. Sometimes life can be that serendipitous.

Read what Eva Hd wrote about the Toronto Public Library, in nominating it as Superhero of the Year:

The individual branches’ lovingly curated and topical displays, whether tying in to contemporary political issues such as Idle No More or featuring mystery Valentine books wrapped in red tissue paper for February 14, always amaze and amuse. On any given day, TPL’s librarians can be heard giving tips to adolescents on how to find books and movies about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, showing seniors how to use the internet, guiding researchers through the archives, and telling homeless people where to find the bathroom with equal amounts of patience and grace, while the security guards interact respectfully with everyone and will often be seen helping out at kids’ story time.

Now here’s David Nickle writing about Maureen O’Reilly’s budget committee deputation:

“It’s 2016. It’s no longer acceptable to underpay the ladies of the library and to continually cut them.”

O’Reilly was referring to the Toronto Public Library Board’s recommendation to save $250,000 by cutting 6.7 full-time equivalent page positions – a move that would mean between 12 and 14 of the minimum-wage pages would lose their jobs.

The pages, said Reilly, are bearing much of the weight of a cut in library staffing that she said amounts to 25 per cent since 1992. The position of page was traditionally a part-time job for high school students, but currently, the average age of a page at Toronto Public Library is 43. They do the work of reshelving materials and helping at checkouts.

That’s what you call working ‘harder and smarter’ with less. It’s just what budget hawks like our mayor (like so many mayors before him) love to hear, love to tout. See, Toronto. texaschainsawmassacreWe continue to nick and cut at library services, and they still keep providing exemplary service to residents of this city. It can be done!

Libraries, and those who work so diligently to make them the key community hubs that they are, represent the kind of soft services line-by-line, always searching for efficiencies, nickel-and-dime politicians love to go after. Easy targets. Libraries don’t directly provide life-or-death support to residents. They aren’t grand infrastructure symbols elected officials can cut ribbons at.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Almost any politician who isn’t a Ford – Doug was convinced there were more libraries than Tim Horton’s in his ward and would’ve slashed them ‘in heartbeat’ — loves to oversee the building of a library. The 100th TPL branch was opened in Scarborough last year. It’s the funding of their operations that’s so tempting to shave, trim and hack at.

So, working at the library for many falls into the precarious employment category. Half of the workers are contracted, meaning benefits, a living wage and the like are but a pipedream. library2At Tuesday’s budget deputations, library worker Tori MacDonald talked about scrambling to branches all over the city in the search of hours. For Ms. MacDonald, the librarian’s lot in Toronto was not one where she could see buying a home, raising a family.

Bully for them, those of us with plenty of space at home to find a quiet spot to work, with easy access to all the internet we need, with that book we want one Amazon click away, with our own communities already carved out, will say. What’s a librarian’s job anyway? Checking out books. Putting them back on the shelves when they’re returned. Why should we pay a premium for that?

But read the Torontoist piece and realize that our library system represents much more than that to many residents of this city. In fundamentally important ways, our libraries and those (wo)manning the desks, counters and stacks – Yes, 75% of library workers are female. Women and precarious employment. Surprise! — serve as, if not gatekeepers, librarythen the welcoming committee of this city for newcomers and other oftentimes marginalized segments of our community. Libraries provide both a physical as well as social shelter for this city.

How much should that be worth to us?

It’s easy to embrace the big gestures, the grand symbols of our civic well-being. The shiny new transit projects and plans, the high rise office towers, the beautiful, “world class”, outside public spaces. What we always overlook, however, in our seemingly perpetual chest-beating, looking out for the taxpayer push to scrimp toward balanced budgets is the vital element of the human scale. “Finally,” Hd writes in the Torontoist, “TPL locations are also some of the last places in Toronto where you can still get a glass of water and use the bathroom for free, a not insignificant attribute in our increasingly precious metropolis.”

Our libraries and the people working to make them cornerstones of neighbourhoods and communities are indeed significant attributes ‘in our increasingly precious metropolis’. libraryWe need to defend them from those intent on only counting costs and ignoring the benefit side of the ledger. A strong library system is not simply a nice-to-have. It is a need-to-have, and we have to start treating it as such, beyond just the easy to spot and promote bricks-and-mortar, to the people inside, working to make it the remarkable enterprise it is.

bookishly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Busy McBusy

November 30, 2015

johntorybusymayor

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at this Toronto Star file photo of our mayor, John Tory, stepping through the subway turnstiles, all the morning papers in hand. Mayor McBusy. Busy, busy, busy. Off to tend to the city’s business and keeping on top of all necessary and pertinent Toronto information a mayor needs to know.

Relentless PR.

The mayor is everywhere. Mayor Tory is on the job! The era of the absentee mayor is over. Full steam ahead!

But a year into his first term now, what’s really been accomplished? The rollbacks of the previous administration, most specifically on the transit file, have been slowed. The police budget continues to grow. Road repairs have sped up with the corresponding cost increase to getting the job done. lucyinthechocolatefactoryA war on rush hour parking infractions has been waged when Mayor Tory’s needed to look like he’s very serious about combating congestion. Then, back to business as usual.

We have a poverty reduction strategy that, at this juncture, is about as valuable as the paper the report’s written on, all good intentions but, as of yet, lacking any serious funding. And Mayor Tory talks of keeping any sort of property tax increase – the city’s biggest source of revenue — for the 2016 budget ‘at or below the rate of inflation’. So yeah, don’t expect the bucks to be flowing in to start fighting poverty.

A short, permeable list of done deeds, amplified by plenty of do-good rhetoric and posturing. Or, more generously, as David Nickle wrote last week in his The City column, “…baby steps are better than none…a very tiny step in the right direction.” Or, more generous still, as now mayor staffer, director of strategic initiatives, Siri Agrell, put it back in March: “I respect @JohnTory approach to governing and think it should be the model: small, tangible actions that add up over time to real progress.”todolist1

An argument for incrementalism (h/t @JohnTory_) after 4 years of radical reactionism of the Ford era. Keep Calm and Carry On, and all that.

But what if every, say, 3 tiny, incremental steps forward are countered by one massive cock-up clusterfuck? A horrendous policy pursuit which will invariably set the city back decades? What’s the sum total of that calculation?

Mayor Tory’s continued obstinacy in the face of increased pushback on the Scarborough subway threatens to derail proper transit planning in this city. Never mind his own SmartTrack where all signs point to an equally monumental grievous transit planning setback. Those two backward steps alone overwhelm any incremental gains he may’ve made since taking office.

His pursuit of a Gardiner East hybrid solution flies in the face of any progress he hopes to achieve in attending the climate change conference in Paris later this week. As he coddles car drivers in this city, our chief planner points out that 40% of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicle use. Forget incrementalism. goodimpressionThe mayor’s actions are outright counter-productive and working at cross purposes to his public stance.

Besides, a very strong argument could be made that, at this point of time, municipalities need much more than incremental leadership. Not just in terms of environmental issues but on the governance and financial files as well. If Toronto regressed on those fronts while Rob Ford was mayor, less regression isn’t necessarily a step forward. Bold initiatives need to happen. A boldness Mayor Tory proclaims to be driven by but a boldness not much in evidence in the actions he’s taken.

The mayor and his team spend an awful lot of time carefully crafting the image of a dynamic, energetic man of action, wrestling civic matters into a positive submission. A resolved future-facer, boldly (did they mention ‘bold’?) grappling mightily with our 21st-century problems and challenges. Yielding ‘baby steps…in the right direction’, leaving crises looming larger, image is everything, the only thing, in fact.

lookbusy

Look busy and everyone will assume things are getting done.

busily submitted by Cityslikr


Car2Go To Hell

November 17, 2015

“While you may be ready for the city, I’m not sure the city’s ready for you.”notlistening

This is why Toronto can’t have nice things.

A car-driving councillor like Stephen Holyday couldn’t possibly imagine a near future where other car owners willingly give up their auto-dependence if the opportunity arose. Oh sure, people living in other places might give such a change a whirl. But not Torontonians, no way, uh uh. We are a static people, we Torontonians.

At last week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee the car-sharing company, Car2Go, made a request for more parking spots on city streets, to allow people to park the cars closer to home, freeing them up from finding the nearest Green P lot where Car2Go vehicles are currently relegated. car2goGiven an easier option, it was argued, people might sign on to the program and use their own cars less. Less car use might mean less demand for private parking space on public streets.

Unfortunately, the PWI committee members couldn’t get their collective heads around such a concept. People driving their own cars less? People giving up their own cars? Preposterous! Maybe in other places. Not here in Toronto.

Now look, far be it from me to extrapolate my experience to that of the wider city but I think it is slightly more representative of the street parking question than that of Councillor Holyday who lives in Etobicoke Centre where the houses are largely detached, the roadways wide and the driveways are plenty. Curbsides there are used to collect leaves, awaiting vacuum-like collection. Private vehicles don’t vie for precious road space. In fact, in parts of suburban Toronto, overnight parking isn’t even allowed!car2go2

Down in the core where I dwell, it should be first pointed out that public transit is readily, if not always reliably, available. So not using a car is a viable option. Driveways here aren’t the norm. There is a smattering of garages and parking spaces, usually tucked away off back alleys. Many of the older homes are used as multi-residences, so parking spots don’t evenly match up to residents. Throw in in some parts of the older city commercial and retail pressure, with a regular flow of drivers looking for places to throw out the anchors for a quick stopover.

Street parking in these parts of the city represent prime real estate.

You would never know it, however, by the prices we charge for it. On the street I live, for example, if you have one car and “no access to on-site parking” it costs you just under $15 (plus HST) a month for an on-street parking permit. $15 a month. car2go1That’s 50 cents a day. It’s a bit pricier if you have access to on-site parking but want to park out on the street anyway. That’ll set you back just over $50 a month. A month. Roughly two bucks a day. And don’t get me started on residents with more than one vehicle.

Street parking permits for visitors are even more ridiculous. Nine bucks for 24 hours. About $15 for two days. And a whole $20.60 (plus HST) for a week of on street parking. While it may be different in different parts of the city, of the handful of times I’ve wanted a visitor parking permit, it’s never been a problem, never encountered a no availability turn down.

Toronto encourages on street parking. We contribute to the affordability of owning and operating a car in this city. We do little to dissuade visitors from bringing their car to the city. inconceivableParking is treated as a right, one that should not be onerous on the wallet.

The notion of freeing up some of that space for something other than private vehicle use, for something that might even subvert our traditional belief in the primacy of car ownership? Inconceivable. The city, or rather, too many of those we’ve elected to represent the city, simply aren’t ready to entertain such a radical concept.

inconceivably submitted by Cityslikr