Keeping Up With The Joneses

January 18, 2016

It’s odd to wake up on a Monday morning, read through your local news and information and realize there’s a lot of change in the air. goodnewseveryoneDeputy Chief Peter Sloly suggests a complete overhaul of our approach to policing. Former city council candidate and Better Budget TO co-founder Alex Mazer raises the possibility of some ‘fiscal honesty’. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has plans on completely re-imagining King Street from Dufferin all the way east to River.

Oh my. I think I just gave myself a case of the dizzies. So much… possibilities!

This comes after a weekend of occasional contemplation on what seems to be the inevitable strategic retreat by Mayor Tory on his heavily touted (by he and his team, at least) SmartTrack transit plan. On Friday stories began to emerge about scaling back and spending less on it. The always dubious ‘western spur’ dropped and replaced (Fingers Crossed!) by the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport. The eastern branch north of the Kennedy subway station quietly binned. stepbackLeaving some sort of expanded GO train-like service tracing the much more desirable Relief Line route, the slightest impression acknowledging SmartTrack even once existed as a concept.

I wondered what the campaign architects of SmartTrack were thinking now. Was this pretty much how the saw things happening? They knew, along with a solid majority of everybody else, that the plan was wholly unworkable. Just get their guy elected, go through the motions, not to mention millions, pretending he was serious about building SmartTrack. When it hit smack dab into the wall of reality, revealed to be the sham it was, stitching together a couple good ideas into an ill-fitting and grotesquely expensive cloth, walk it back, on the advice of the experts that weren’t, apparently, available during the 10 month long campaign.lipstickonapig

SmartTrack was an election scheme in no way meant to refute the heavy-rail, off-road transit vision of John Tory’s main rival for the job, Rob-then-Doug Ford. That’s why it was referred to as ‘Surface Subway’. That’s why John Tory backed the Scarborough subway. John Tory refused to confront the political pandering that sat deep in the heart of the Ford approach to transit planning. Instead, he chose to wrestle it into his own image.

So, I look at today’s news, the transformative opportunities, and temper my immediate enthusiasm. Just how willing is John Tory, essentially, to buck the status quo, to grapple with the ghost of the Ford administration? Little so far would indicate his willingness to do so. Every restoration of TTC service he announces is more than equaled by expedited expressway repairs, Gardiner hybrids and traffic flow announcements. Do we really expect him to stand strong in the face of the inevitable outrage at the chief planner’s plans to de-emphasis car travel along King Street and in the downtown core?

Fiscal honesty? I write this as I’m following along with the budget chief’s lunchtime presser. “We did not have to use revenue tools on this budget,” Councillor Crawford told reporters. putalidonit1All the while keeping property tax rate increases impossibly low, raiding reserve funds and insisting on line-by-lines cuts to office supplies and travel costs in order to try and plug the inevitable holes in the operating budget. Sound familiar? It should. That’s what’s been passing as ‘fiscal honesty’ at City Hall for the past 5 years or so.

And as mayor, John Tory sits on the Police Services Board that passed over the opportunity to appoint reformer Peter Sloly as Chief of Police, all the while holding the door open for the similarly reform-minded chair, Alok Mukherjee, to make an early exit. He’s already had the chance to help affect much needed change and dropped the ball. Well into his second year in office, it’s difficult not to see Mayor Tory as anything but an obstacle, no less than his predecessor.

Of course, it’s hard to look forward when you’re constantly checking back over your shoulder to see what your competition’s up to. Ultimately, it’s of cold comfort that John Tory defeated Doug Ford to become mayor if, in the end, there’s little to differentiate between the two in matters of policy. kipMaintaining the status quo is maintaining the status quo even if you can’t see the gold chain around somebody’s neck.

If John Tory really wants to establish an enduring legacy during his time in office, he could do so by challenging the Ford city building and governance mystique head on, bury it six feet under the ground where it belongs. The possibilities in doing so are in evidence in today’s news. But, for me, the mayor’s motivations remain opaque. Like with SmartTrack, he seems more intent on a simple redesign, keeping a uninterrupted message, only delivered by a different messenger.

not anticipatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Half Measures

December 3, 2015

Earlier this week, I wrote a little something something about the “incrementalism” of Mayor Tory, as mostly supporters of his might call it. babysteps“Small, tangible actions that add up over time to real progress,” according to Siri Agrell, director of strategic initiatives in the mayor’s office.

Yesterday, in his State of the City speech at the Economic Club of Canada, Mayor Tory unleashed some of that incrementalling with a surprise announcement of a .5% Capital Building Fund levy to be added to our municipal tax bills beginning in 2017. Additional money that will be dedicated to alleviating some of our much needed capital infrastructure in transit and housing. Capital investment, currently unfunded to the tune of $20 billion or so, portrayed as a menacing iceberg in City Manager Peter Wallace’s powerful presentation to the Executive Committee on Tuesday.

Woah!

Could it be, might it be this mayor finally gets it? The news from the new city manager that the city is, in fact, revenue starved got through his low-tax mantra haze? capitalicebergFrequent critics of the mayor, Metro’s Matt Elliott and the Toronto Star’s Edward Keenan, folks I rarely have policy issue beefs with, were more than cautiously optimistic about Mayor Tory’s seeming about-face. A new era of forward-thinking might just have been ushered in at City Hall.

I don’t know, though. Call me skeptical.

Incrementalism or a half measure?

In presenting staff’s 2016 budget, the city manager forcefully opened the door to a much needed, larger discussion about how Toronto funds the kind of city it wants. Let’s talk first about the things we want to do, want to build and then proceed to the way we plan on paying for it. For too long, it’s been done the other way around. Here’s what we’re going to spend and here’s what we’re going to spend it on. (Steve Munro does a much more thorough job explaining the process than I could.) emptypocketsMoney for our civic aspirations has remained in short supply.

To my mind, rather than seizing the opportunity presented to him to lead that vital conversation, Mayor Tory’s sudden jerk in the right direction, nipped it in the bud. See? I listen. I respond. I am doing something.

But just how much exactly is he doing by floating this .5% capital building fund levy? Concluding a lengthy Twitter essay (yes, such a thing does exist), Councillor Gord Perks suggested that at its height in 2022, after a 5 year roll out, the levy will bring in about $65 million a year. “The $65 miillion tax increase proposed by @JohnTory will only cover 1/20th or 5% of our unfunded capital.”

Is that somehow supposed to show the other levels of government that the city has finally put on its adult breeches and is prepared to pony up and pay its way? Here’s a nickel on the dollar. We’re good?

Underwhelming, I’d call it. Mostly for show. It’s hard to imagine it really addressing the city manager’s call for a serious discussion.

While applauding the mayor for proposing the levy, Sheila Bock of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives urged council to think bigger, revisit the revenue toolbox it has at its disposal. comingupshort“These untapped powers provide the city with a menu of options that could raise more than $400 million annually,” she wrote. Remember that Vehicle Registration Tax that got repealed a few years back? Generated about roughly the same annual amount as the mayor’s levy will in 2022.

Too rich for Mayor Tory’s taste, it seems. Little steps instead. Walk before running. “Small, tangible actions,” like his director of strategic initiatives might call them.

Or, as some of us less persuaded might see it, blunting any chance at forward progress or real change. The fact that the mayor vigorously denied the levy was actually a property tax increase in order to keep his campaign pledge of maintaining property taxes at or below the rate of inflation suggests that he’s not really prepared to take on the hobgoblin of misguided, small-minded Fordian penny-pinching ways at city council. babyfalldownHis initial attempt at implying his levy was simply replacing the Scarborough subway tax that was set to end in 2017 (spoiler alert: It isn’t) also doesn’t augur well for the strength of his convictions on revenue generation.

So yeah, I continue to see the glass half empty in terms of Mayor Tory’s motives with this move, half empty like the gesture it is, a mere token. Should he be applauded for giving the impression of being almost, kinda decisive? I don’t know. It’s been pretty much his approach to governance since day 1. Nothing about this strikes me as new or encouraging. A small step when what’s required is a big, bold leap.

unconvincedly submitted by Cityslikr


Thanks! … I Guess

November 21, 2015

Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, and yeah, the specs for Project: Under Gardiner look pretty nice indeed but you’ll have to excuse my hesitancy in lavishly embracing the idea. projectundergardinerIt’s still public space under a fucking urban expressway. Lipstick on a pig, and all that. Making the best of a bad situation, Our Strength.

And you’ll also have to excuse me a certain, I don’t know, dubiousness about the timing of all this. Remember back earlier this year when Mayor Tory was fighting tooth-and-nail for his hybrid option to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated. While pooh-poohing the notion of a grand boulevard if that part of the freeway was brought down and rebuilt at grade, he extolled the virtues of the glorious urban life that could be had under expressways. Granville Island in Vancouver, for example, thrives under an expressway.

London, England — one of the greatest and oldest cities in the world — has developed one of the most expansive animated expressways in the world. Today underneath the Westway Expressway there are tennis courts, rock climbing walls, skateboard parks, riding stables and sports fields. It’s incredible. It’s what we can do here in Toronto: imaginative, animated public space without increasing congestion and damaging the economy.

The mayor won the day. The Gardiner from Jarvis Street east will remain elevated, probably, depending on just how expensive it will ultimately wind up being, projectundergardiner1which is still to be decided, by the way, and, to use Mayor Tory’s own words, “… lo and behold, two months later, in come the Matthews, and they want to do this incredible philanthropic city-building thing.” Imagine that! Suddenly, we’re all ga-ga over the possibilities of what can happen under those elevated expressway slicing through the downtown core of this city.

It’s hardly surprising then that the mayor ‘leaned on staff’ and ‘moved mountains’ to get this done, and get it done quickly. What better way to deflect from keeping an under-used segment of elevated expressway propped up for cheap political posturing than a well-timed example of philanthropic private sector largesse manifest in near sublime urban design? Lo and behold indeed.

Not to mention my purely ideological opposition to a single person dictating how the city prioritizes providing public space. gardinerexpressway“The Matthews’ only conditions were that Under Gardiner, as it’s called, be completed by 2017 and that the city agree to maintain it. Failure to do so meant the deal was off.” That’s what I’d call butting in line. For his part, Mayor Tory affectionately referred to it as a ‘bulldog’ approach. “‘We want to do this, but we’re not going to do it if it doesn’t get done quickly, if it doesn’t get done in a way that the city gets behind it,’ and so on.”

Well then. Who are we to get our collective backs up at being dictated to like that? Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say.

And yes, no question, what’s being proposed for that under-Gardiner strip from basically Fort York to Spadina is preferable to the dead zone there currently. I stood on the fort’s grounds in September, entranced by the odd juxtaposition of layered eras of city life on display, emphasized really, by the monstrous intrusion of the Gardiner, a relic of its time. gardinerfortyorkProject: Under Gardiner can only further highlight that fact, underline the folly of our automotive era.

And yes, it isn’t like the Gardiner is going anywhere anytime soon. What with hundreds and millions of dollars being literally poured into its upkeep at this very moment, we’ve insured its presence in our lives for a few decades at least. (But where will the cars go! Where will the car goes?! Oh, the humanity!) Lemon, meet lemonade.

Perhaps there’s a positive take away from this. Rather than focus on what could be considered the coward’s way out, yet another concession to the irrepressible domination of this car-first way of thinking that continues to mar our quality of life, Project: Under Gardiner should be chalked up to a little victory. gardinerexpressway1We’re reclaiming, at a barely perceptible creeping pace, some of the damaging fallout of past mistakes, mistakes we continue to make, mistakes that can’t be fully erased, only modified and made less worse.

That’s something, I guess, just not enough, in my opinion, to celebrate as much of a victory for 21st-century urbanism. It will inevitably suggest to many, including our current mayor, that automobile ascendancy is compatible with city life. What we’re left with is scraps. Scraps provided by a couple enlightened individuals and championed by a politician desperate to show that he’s in any way forward thinking.

ungratefully submitted by Cityslikr


A Sober (Almost) Second Thought

July 13, 2015

It may not be immediately apparent to the naked eye but I am not an expert on all things. In fact, it could be argued, there are times I might not know what I’m talking about. thoughtfulYet, that doesn’t always stop me from talking about them.

Somewhere in between those two points on a curve, I wrote about the newly designed, rebuilt and unveiled Queens Quay. In the post, I suggested Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star was, how did I put it again? “Wildly off the mark” in his early assessment of the roadway. In hindsight, it would probably have been better stated: I disagree rather emphatically with Mr. Keenan, suggesting more that our opinions on the subject differed rather than I was right and he was wrong.

Last Wednesday, I travelled back down to Queens Quay for a couple hours to supplement my original take on it registered by a quick bike through there and back on the previous weekend. I talked for a few minutes with a TTC worker, queensquay4standing at the Lower Spadina intersection, manually realigning streetcar tracks as the newly installed on-board switch mechanism wasn’t functioning properly. I chatted for a few more minutes with a couple motorcycle traffic enforcement police officers, taking a quick snack break.

Their general take on the new Queens Quay, a couple weeks into the new era, was a general bemused bewilderment. There were spots along the way people, whether on foot, on bike or behind the wheel of a car, were genuinely confused. Hell, one of the cops told me on his first run along it, he’d made an improper turn. The layout was confusing at times. Right of ways weren’t always clearly marked and obvious. Tweaks and rejigs would be necessary to avoid a serious accident at some point of time. Up to now it had been fender-benders and heated exchange of words.

Which was Ed Keenan’s point in his articles. Queens Quay was good but it could be better, it needed to be better. One of the motorcycle cops suggested for advanced turn signals, use arrows instead of solid colours so that drivers would realize that signal was directed at them and not simply some helpful suggestion to take or leave. queensquay7At points of possible conflict, make it obvious not merely intuitive.

In my defense, however, after parking myself with a coffee at one of the street’s flashpoints, Queens Quay and Lower Simcoe, to take in the proceedings, there was a lot more going on than simply confusion especially on many drivers’ parts. Despite a sort of new quirky layout especially with the streetcar right of way positioned along the side of the street (counter to the established in Toronto right down the middle alignment), some pretty straight-forward things were either willfully ignored or absent-mindedly overlooked, let’s say. Clearly marked – with accompanying bright new neon coloured NEW signs — No Right Turns went regularly unnoticed, resulting in cars either scattering pedestrians or stopping street cars. The aforementioned advance turn signals were oftentimes run while red, resulting in [see previous sentence].

As for the frequently assailed streetcar right of way, let me just say this. With its ever so slight but still unmistakable ramp up onto it, drivers have to be either completely unaware of their surroundings or entirely determined to miss the fact that they’re not supposed to be driving there. queensquay5Neither option is particularly assuring. I saw a driver wind up on the streetcar tracks as she looked up from a phone in her hand. Another one deliberately used the right of way to jump out ahead of pedestrians crossing to make the left turn.

Painting the right of way a different colour or installing more obvious signage wasn’t going to alter that kind of behaviour. Simple enforcement of basic traffic laws would. A changing of the mindset that the power balance of road usage here was different than elsewhere in the city. That’s what was ultimately going to be needed for the new Queens Quay to work.

I guess my real beef with Ed Keenan’s view was my resentment that drivers needed more help understanding the concept. Fuck them, am I right? queensquay6If more assistance was necessary, maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car in the first place or, at least, maybe you should be driving better.

In retrospect though, maybe I’m the one needing an attitude adjustment. Change doesn’t happen just because you want it to and not everyone welcomes the same kind of change you do. The new Queens Quay represents a definite change of approach to moving people through and along a very small but important part of the city. Why not do whatever you can to help people get comfortable with the change? Even the ones, both literally and figuratively, in the driver’s seat.

(almost) humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Drivers Not Wanted

July 6, 2015

Perhaps some of the signage and cues had been updated along the new Queens Quay before I finally made it down there on Saturday, queensquayafter Ed Keenan wrote his first article on the street last week. As I rode and strode along the strip east from Bathurst to Sherbourne and back, there was little of the ‘potentially lethal’ chaos Keenan had witnessed there. One wide left turn and some willful pushiness on the part of three cars intent on making that light were pretty much it for me. Outside of that, perhaps not serenity now, but a pretty pleasant run, all in all.

That said, I still think Ed Keenan is wildly off-the-mark on his assessment of the street, and the need to mollify and coddle car drivers. “This is a new kind of street,” Keenan writes. “It takes intuitive signals about how streets work, patterns people have spent a lifetime learning, and up-ends them. That can be a good thing, but there have to be some instructions.”queensquay3

If Queens Quay is a ‘new kind of street’ here in Toronto, don’t you simply undercut that attempted innovation by catering to old ways of going about our business? The old way being about putting cars atop our transportation hierarchy. The whole point of the new Queens Quay is not to put drivers at ease with their traditional ways of driving.

This is the problem the city faces currently. Designing and building roads with the emphasis on car drivers not driving like they should. The result is wider than necessary streets and avenues, to safely accommodate drivers not obeying speed limits. Streets unfriendly to most other non-vehicular traffic.

I think the new Queens Quay should be disorienting to drivers, unwelcoming even. Aside from living down along that run of the waterfront, why on earth would you want to drive there? It’s the lake, folks, with the kind of public access we’ve been clamoring decades for. Now we should be concerned for those who want to cruise the strip in their cars?queensquay1

If you’re going to insist on doing that, you do it by the new rules. Slow the fuck down. Figure out what the fuck you’re doing. Fall the fuck in line behind the other modes of transport operating there. Streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians. Consider yourself an unwelcome but obligatory guest, like an obnoxious uncle, invited to a wedding purely out of family protocol.

Keenan’s not wrong in pointing out that a distracted, disoriented (and frustrated) driver is a dangerous one. Rather than hold their hands, though, and calm them with soothing, familiar signs, arrows and blinking lights, I’d prefer more of a New York Mayor de Blasio approach. Fall in line. Drive carefully. Suffer real consequences for not doing so. Vision Zero.

Driving along Queens Quay should be a nightmare. It shouldn’t be easy. It shouldn’t be intuitive in the traditional way of, as a matter of fact, I do own the road.

Frankly, in this writer’s opinion, there’s still too much of the space given over to car traffic especially as you head east past Yonge Street. Bikes and pedestrians vie for increasingly smaller amounts of the road while 4 lanes remain for cars, much of it underused on this particular Saturday at least. queensquay2Hopefully with more development in the area, that ratio will be readjusted in favour of non-car traffic.

If the new Queens Quay is truly about upending “lifelong habits and assumptions about Toronto streets”, let’s start with the biggest assumption and habit of all. Car drivers gonna car drive, and everyone else needs to adjust their behaviour and attitude accordingly because, well, car drivers couldn’t possibly change theirs.

stridently submitted by Cityslikr


Our Ongoing Sorry State Of Civic Affairs

June 6, 2015

stinkupthejoint

On a side trip from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Edmonton down to the San Francisco Bay area to meet with somebody or other from Cisco systems to talk about—actually, at this point in the story it doesn’t matter, Mayor Tory’s chief of staff, Chris Eby, tweeted this from a cab on the way in from the airport:

Enroute from SFO to San Jose with [Mayor Tory]. Asked the driver what happened when the Embarcadero was torn down. “Traffic is much worse.” This guy makes his living driving. So I tend to believe him not the mythology that traffic just disappears.

The Embarcadero was an elevated expressway in San Francisco that came down in the 1989 earthquake. It was replaced by an at-grade roadway. You can read about it in a Toronto Star article by Edward Keenan, San Francisco’s waterfront freeway was removed 25 years ago. No one misses it. No one except the mayor’s driver, apparently.

The “mythology” the mayor’s chief of staff referred to is the heavily studied, real-life phenomenon referred to as, disappearing traffic. It suggests that traffic levels drop as road space decreases. The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore details it in his article about the West Side expressway in New York. If you think he’s just some biased, lying journalist, there’s an academic study about it that looked at cases in some 70 cities that pretty much confirms the thinking.

For the mayor’s chief of staff, however, it’s simply “mythology”. Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, simply stated she didn’t believe it when questioned during her press conference this week, called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east. My opinion is set. Keep your facts away from me.

I don’t know if it’s too strong a statement but, I’ve come to believe, that even this early in his administration, Mayor Tory has lost any and all moral authority the voters of this city gave him last October to lead this city. On this particular debate, along with the issue of police carding, he’s simply stood in the way of reform and good governance. He’s proven as resistant to change as his predecessor and, more alarmingly, equally as comfortable engaging in orchestrated campaigns of outright misinformation. Misleading rather than leading.

At every opportunity, he spouts the words ‘practical’, ‘sensible’, ‘prudent’, ‘rational’, almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that’s what he’s engaged in. But clearly they’re being used as words of incantation in an attempt to create the illusion of all those things. If the words are spoken out loud enough, it creates the appearance of reality.

And for the city councillors insisting on following him down these crooked paths back to the past, they’re proving themselves unfit to govern. For many, we already knew that. For others, we suspected. A few, however, we held out a little hope for. But that door’s now closed.

Your job as a city councillor (or any elected official) is to look at all the information set out in front of you and make the best decision possible. For your constituents. For your community. For the city at large. Hopefully, that decision will align with the mayor. If it doesn’t, a city councillor is not indebted to the mayor’s office, the job description is not to punch the mayor’s ticket. It’s to do the right thing for those who put you in office.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Gardiner east debate, doing the right thing flies in the face of the term Mayor Tory has hijacked for his own purposes, ‘common sense’. Less road space naturally leads to more congestions and traffic ‘chaos’, as the “hybrid” supporters claim. That’s just common sense.

Yet, it isn’t. Anyone who’s spent even an hour reading up on the issue would know that. If they were open to ideas and facts that challenged their beliefs and biases.

Obviously, Mayor Tory and his merry band of “hybrid” supporters don’t possess such capacity. Rather than going out and explaining to sceptics about the upside and benefits to bringing down the 1.7 kilometre stretch of the Gardiner east, alleviating the fears of ‘traffic chaos’, they’ve chosen instead to ramp up the fear-mongering, ignore the facts and evidence in front of them, and cling desperately to dated thinking about city building.

Toronto may be saved from these worst instincts if city council does go with Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option next week. There’s plenty of reason to think cooler, more rational heads will prevail. The provincial government could nix the “hybrid” option if it’s determined to deviate too far from the 2009 environmental assessment’s terms of reference. A new federal government in the fall might view the “hybrid” option as a breach of the tripartite agreement on waterfront development. Possible litigation against the city from developers of waterfront properties negatively impacted by the “hybrid” solution.

Deux ex machine-like, the city could be rescued from the sheer incompetence of its city council, if the Mayor Tory led ineptitude wins out next week. That shouldn’t blind us to the fact that, once again, we’ve elected a mayor and a large percentage of city councillors who are not up to the task of leading this city with any sense of vision, bravery or forward-thinking insight. We seem to have a knack for that. We need to start figuring out why.

deusexmachina

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Disobedience

April 7, 2015

Much of the debate during last year’s mayoral campaign revolved around the notion of a return to sanity or, at least, a small sense of normalcy. serenitynowAfter 4 years of Mr. Ford’s wild ride, Toronto needed calm, some peace and serenity. Can we please have a slice of that good ol’ bland boring that should be the centerpiece of municipal politics?

Enter John Tory, bland as bland can be, scion of the establishment, Mr. Sharp Fitting Suit himself. Who better to still our choppy civic waters? There, there, T.O. Everything’ll be alright. Uncle John’s here now. Shhh…Shhhh… Go back to sleep. Everything’s under control.

“Shower of bricks reveals TCHC’s ruined façade,” states the headline of Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star editorial from yesterday in response to a weekend Toronto Star story about “four storeys of brick facing fall from TCHC building in Scarborough”. Ooops! Mash this up with today’s latest TTC breakdown at the St. Clair subway station that stranded thousands and thousands of commuters, waiting for relief lines of buses to get them to work on time.TTChaos

Can we just admit that our troubles run deeper, a whole lot deeper, than the simple matter of who’s running the show? It’s the ideas that matter not the politician. Putting lipstick on a pig and all that.

If the mayor of Toronto isn’t prepared to stare long and hard into the abyss that is this city’s chronic underfunding of, well, pretty much everything, to look up and admit that, yes, in fact we do have a revenue rather than a spending problem, then it really doesn’t matter who’s wearing the chains of office. It’s simply degrees of failure. It could be worse really shouldn’t be a viable option.

During the campaign, John Tory assured Toronto that, as well as restoring a sense of respect and decorum to the office of mayor, he would also improve the city’s rapport with the senior levels of government. wellrespectedmanMr. Tory was well-connected, if nothing else, an acknowledged civic leader of the private sector. How could his relationship be any worse than his predecessors with Queen’s Park, our provincial overlords? The feds, as the feds do, kept a certain non-malevolent distance which could certainly be improved upon with a more delicate but still Tory touch.

It was pretty much an open secret the provincial Liberal government, with a fresh new majority restored, wanted to see John Tory as the next mayor of Toronto. That certainly boded well for improved interaction between the two. I mean, the outgoing mayor and his brother-designate long advocated for the Liberals removal from office. How could we not see an uptick in the relationship?

Now, I’m willing to cut the mayor some slack, agreeing that it takes time to build those kinds of relationships. Still… So far, Queen’s Park has said ‘no’ to any and all requests the city’s made for additional funds for transit, housing, pretty much everything. In fact, we’ve received bills in return for those asks. $95 million as part of the Union-Pearson Express, for example. Oh yeah, and the provincial funding shortfall for the Spadina subway expansion? Toronto and Vaughan need to pick that up. $86 million for the GTA social service pooling fund? eviloverlordYou want a line of credit to deal with that?

This is not something that is new, provincial off-loading of money onto municipalities. The Harris government started it and the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals have not done nearly enough to alleviate it. That’s just a straight-up fact, a thing now 20 years-old.

To continue demanding provincial and federal money as the single plank in your platform of revenue generation is not only stubborn wishful thinking, it is, as walls continue to tumble and subways catch on fire, nothing less than a dereliction of duty. It’s not a plan. It’s avoidance. Why moral persuasion is any more feasible now than it was back when David Miller was going ‘cap in hand’ to the other levels of government isn’t at all clear.

Perhaps John Tory was the farthest thing from being the right mayor at the right time. That’s not to say Doug Ford would’ve been preferable. Both he and his brother looked upon every TCHC repair that needed to be done, every TTC breakdown that occurred, as proof positive of the unsuitability of government to help with folks’ lives.

But John Tory is too conventional in his thinking, too much part of the status quo to be of much use to us right now. (Why else do you think he rails incessantly against the ‘status quo’?) He can’t even stomach the idea of a conversation about tax increases. disobeyRadical is not part of the man’s lexicon and Toronto needs a radical approach.

I don’t know how exactly an orchestrated campaign of intra-governmental civil disobedience would work but that’s where we’re at. As was pointed out last week, Toronto (along with other municipalities) doesn’t have much negotiating power when it comes to dealing with the province. But if it’s true as the mayor likes to tell us that this city is the economic engine of both the province and the country, we could probably start causing some disruptions in order to make some noise.

What form that would take is hard to say. Let’s Big Data it and see if we can’t come up with something. What I do know is that meekly handing over millions and millions of dollars whenever the province asks, and going in camera if need be in order to keep the details from the public, in some sort of self-defeating gesture of good faith or will is probably counter-productive. Hey. The province wants the UPX up and going before some of the world arrives in Toronto for the PanAm Games? Maybe that’s their problem. Queen’s Park wants the subway arriving in Vaughan? Maybe they ought not renege on the money they owe. More to the point, maybe the city shouldn’t be picking up their portion of the tab.

Since John Tory has no real vested interested in the Scarborough subway, perhaps it’s time to hold a gun to that beast’s head. fightbackYou know what Queen’s Park? Maybe we’ll just stick to the LRT after all. That Master Agreement hasn’t been reopened has it? I think that money’s better spent on our billions of dollars of state of good repair.

I’ve often mused that with one budget cycle the city should threaten not to balance its operating budget. With no additional provincial money coming in, in fact with such a regular of outflow going from the city’s coffers to Queen’s Park, we just can’t possibly invest enough in our communities while balancing the operating budget. It’s no longer tenable. If the province demands that municipalities balance their operating budget, then the province needs to come in and do it themselves, either pony up the cash they owe or make the cuts to services and programs such legislation demands of Toronto.

But it’s clear by now that John Tory isn’t the type of politician to upset the applecart. It’s just not in his established, status quo nature. Neither is the make up of the current city council up to that fight, the battle we need to wage.

On the other hand, none of us should breathe some sigh of relief and relax in the false comfort that it could be worse. Could it? And what exactly would that look like? upsettheapplecartWe are best served, I think, remembering that Rob Ford and Ford Nation was not just some anomaly, now quietly placated by the bromide assurances of John Tory. While the messenger was damaged, the message remains defiantly there with every building façade collapse and public transit failure.

This shit, it isn’t working. We need to fix it. By and with any means necessary.

militantly submitted by Cityslikr


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