Enemy Of Your Enemy

March 14, 2012

Is it me or is TTC Chair Karen Stintz operating like Michael Corleone these days? And I mean, the good, baptism scene, killing his rivals to assume control and avenge his father’s attempted assassination Michael Corleone, not the hyper-paranoid, soulless murdering machine Michael Corleone who offed his own brother. Yeah, as a matter of fact, there is a difference. It’s all about knowing where to draw the line.

At this point, it’s hard to square the cool, confident Councillor Karen Stintz with the pipsqueak who took voice lessons while contemplating a run at former mayor David Miller back in 2006. But hey. Six years is a long time in politics. And maybe this time, she’s more comfortable with her opponent. A far right ideologue, putting his future electability before good governance, threatening to cause irreparable harm to even Ms. Stintz’s brand of moderate conservatism in the process.

The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Grant reported yesterday that the TTC Chair and her newly appointed commission will move to ice the Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited corporation the mayor revived and drained of money and significance in his bid to come up with a viable Sheppard subway plan. Note how I wrote, ‘her newly appointed commission’ as last week she successfully rid the TTC commission of the five members who’d done the mayor’s bidding and fired then Chief General Manager Gary Webster in reaction to his public expression of support for LRTs. This, during a special council meeting Stintz and twenty-three other councillors called that eventually set aside the mayor’s self-proclaimed transit plans and re-established the more Transit City-like designs on Eglinton, Finch and the Scarborough RT.

It’s a transit file tit-for-tat that is increasingly marginalizing Mayor Ford. So emboldened is the TTC Chair that she walked into a wholly manufactured anti-LRT crowd last Thursday at the Scarborough Civic Centre and calmly, patiently stated her case in the face of shrill shrieking on all sides. Why? She had nothing to gain. There was no way she was going to win over that particular room filled as it was with antipathy rather than curiosity.

She took it on the chin, was heckled mercilessly by not only the audience but by fellow panel members. She got unsurprisingly bad, egregiously biased press coverage. But you know what? A week later, the TTC Chair is busy preparing to close down the last remnants of the mayor’s subway dreams while Mayor Ford… still has no viable plan to build a subway. A fact that Councillor Stintz made over and over again at the Scarborough transit townhall which, despite falling on largely deaf ears, doesn’t make it any less true.

So the councillor faces a hostile crowd as part of her job representing the entire city as TTC Chair while the mayor, in his capacity of city wide representation, retreats to the increasingly no-critics-allowed cocoon of AM talk radio.

This can hardly be the outcome Team Ford foresaw when they handed such a high profile position to someone they must’ve viewed as a mayoral rival in Councillor Stintz. In fact, allow me to hypothesize here for a moment, but this is the exact opposite outcome for them as they probably saw the TTC Chair position as a millstone to anyone’s political aspirations who took it on. Since public transit was not something Team Ford gave a rat’s ass about, if played just right they could fuck with it while taking out any potential suitor to the mayor’s job in 2014.

And up until about October last year, Councillor Stintz played the willing dupe, delivering up the requested 10% departmental budget cut the mayor asked for, the requisite service cuts er, ‘adjustments’ and minimal fare increase. She made the emptily strident call to maintain those service cuts during the budget debate this year in the face of Josh Colle’s motion to take them (along with other services) off the table. According to Ms. Grant’s article, the TTC Chair was even part of the group last year that revived  the TTIL to explore the Sheppard subway option. The TTIL she is now moving to finish off.

Playing along to get along or was the resulting tepid Chong report that emerged the breaking point?

Fissures had surfaced before that, certainly. The TTC Chair was on the vanguard last fall pointing out — what did she call it again? — ‘unresolved technical issues’ with burying the Eglinton crosstown LRT like the mayor wanted. “For one, the change of plans championed by Mayor Ford could trigger a new environmental assessment – a costly and time-consuming proposition,” Councillor Stintz said. “The Don Valley also is a problem. ‘You can’t tunnel there. It’s just not possible.’”

And it’s an issue that still hasn’t been fully addressed by underground fetishists and perhaps is one of the reasons for the TTC Chair’s break with the mayor on the transit file. She certainly gave him enough warning about her unease, raised a warning flag publicly that Team Ford either didn’t see or simply chose to ignore. No one can accuse her of operating by stealth here. She telegraphed this punch months ago. Maybe the mayor believed he couldn’t be knocked on his ass by a girl.

Now that he has been, Councillor Stintz seems determined not to let him back up on his feet. Having been rebuffed on numerous occasions at striking some sort of compromise with Mayor Ford on the Sheppard subway, it looks now as if she’s moving in for the kill come next Wednesday’s council meeting. If the vote goes her way there and LRTs are given the greenlight for Sheppard, she will have, in effect, run the transit table vote, relegated the mayor to the noisy peanut gallery and left the province with very little wiggle room in terms of the ‘will of council’.

It will also mean that Councillor Stintz fully owns the TTC file. Its successes will be hers as will the failures. The chances of the latter are greatly increased since there will be a mayor in office actively pursuing and magnifying her setbacks.

If this were her cunning political plan all along, her Machiavellian strategy to the mayor’s chair in 2014, well, I have to give her a nod, no, a bow of admiration. It is, perhaps, the most perilous route, the one most fraught with possible catastrophes imaginable. Surely to god there has to be an easier way.

But, stranger things have happened. I mean, there was that time just after World War II when nobody believed that war hero Michael would eventually succeed his dad as the Godfather. It was supposed to be Sonny, always Sonny.

admiringly submitted by Cityslikr


Seething In Scarborough

March 9, 2012

About an hour and a half, an hour and three-quarters into last night’s rage fest at the Scarborough Civic Centre – TTC Chair Karen Stintz had been there for roughly half of that and was neck deep in bile and vitriol – a woman across the aisle from me out in the overflow seating in the foyer shouted at the screen that projected the meeting going on inside the chambers. Where’s your plan, Karen!? What’s the plan?!

Rattled like I usually get in the face of such unbridle, inchoate anger, I reflexively turned to the woman and blurted out: Shouldn’t you be asking the mayor that? Where was Mayor Ford? This was his gathering, his town hall. He is the one demanding that Scarborough get a subway. Why was he not here, answering the crowd’s questions?

Yes, Councillor Stintz had recently taken control of the TTC from him. City council had reversed his unilateral declaration to kill Transit City and voted to unbury parts of the Eglinton LRT and put 2 other LRTs on Finch and the Scarborough SRT. But a subway on Sheppard Avenue remained very much in play, perhaps a final decision to be made by council on March 21st. Shouldn’t he be here, pitching his plan to the people? This was his town hall meeting after all.

That’s how these things usually work. Councillor Stintz had held a similar transit meeting a couple weeks back with Councillor Matlow. They brought in a planning expert to explain why we should be going with LRT technology rather than subways. Somebody from the city was present to lay out the proposed implementation. They fielded questions from the audience in a similarly packed room. They made their case.

Mayor Ford conducted his town hall in absentia, leaving others to try and respond to questions there weren’t yet any answers for. It wasn’t so much an information session as it was swatting at the hornet’s nest, stoking the flames of resentment. What do you want? We want subways! When do you want them? When we figure out a tax increment financing scheme and start up a transit lottery… something, something.

Over and over and over again Councillor Stintz tried to explain that she’d very happily vote for a subway on Sheppard if there was a viable plan in place to build it. It’s been more than 15 months since Mayor Ford swept aside Transit City in favour of all underground transit, 16 months since he’d been elected with that as part of his platform. In fact, it’s almost two years since Rob Ford announced his intention to run for mayor of Toronto, and yet he still has no plan how to build a subway on Sheppard Avenue.

So of course the mayor wasn’t going to stand in front of even such a rabidly sympathetic crowd as there was last night and admit that. He wanted them angry. He just didn’t want them angry at him.

Instead there were his proxies in place. The Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy played to the crowd, bashing the TTC, the disaster on St. Clair, former mayor David Miller. Of course we could build subways. How? Because Madrid did.

Former city manager John Morand was a proponent of casinos as a source of revenue for subways. He also uttered what might have been the least recognized bit of irony of the evening when he told the crowd that he had been fired from his position at the city for saying what he believed. Can I get a Gary Webster from the hee-ouse?

Dr. Gordon Chong started out as the voice of reason but when the audience didn’t take to his suggestion of new taxes, tolls, congestion fees, he changed course and turned his guns on the TTC Chair. When she expressed some disagreement with an aspect of his report, he called her ‘thick’ and proceeded to explain that public private partnerships were the way to go. Aren’t they always? A sole reliance on P3s is the last refuge of those without a plan.

Nearly two and a half hours later, we were pretty much right back where we started. People wanted subways. People were owed subways. World class cities have subways. Scarborough demanded their piece of that transit dream.

But there was no one there to tell them how that could happen. It was all vague notions, untested theories and a whole lot pie in the sky projections. I’d be plenty pissed too. I just think the crowd turned their ire on the wrong target.

Which wasn’t their fault in the least. The real target wasn’t in the room. He’d skipped the meeting, encouraging the anger while sidestepping any responsibility for it. Maybe he was busy preparing for his meeting today with the Prime Minister where, it seems, they’ll be announcing plans for a subway. Just not one in Scarborough.

He’ll get around to figuring out that one eventually. Until he does, just stay angry Scarborough. Angry at everyone else but the real culprit, Mayor Rob Ford.

carefully submitted by Cityslikr


From Circus To Freak Sideshow

March 2, 2012

You guys see that too, don’t you? Or I mean, you don’t see it either, right? It’s not just me. It’s not not just me. It’s not just not me. Not just me not. I’m not crazy, am I?

Apparently, there’s this tussle going on between two competing transit plans for the city. One side’s pushing LRT technology that a lot of the world is using, and has full funding in place for 3 new lines and another replacement one. In the other corner sit subway proponents, all juiced about burying any new piece of public transit at the cost of 3 of the LRT lines while still being woefully short of money to complete it.

So you see the problem I’m having here. There really isn’t any sort of battle or war between two equal and viable alternatives. One is currently funded and all ready to go, and was from about 2007 until the plug was pulled a little over a year ago by a mayor who didn’t have a workable alternative as much as he had a mirage, a notion, a flight of fancy untethered to any semblance of reality.

So it’s more of a shadow boxing match. No. It’s like a vampire shadow boxing match. Vampire’s still cast no shadows, right kids? Or is it you can’t see their reflection in a mirror?

What I’m saying is that there is no there there. Mayor Ford is attempting to make something fly that wasn’t designed for flight. And the more he continues to hold out, stamp his feet and demand subways, the more surreal the whole thing becomes.

Yesterday was some sort of esquie-esque combination of Kafka/Fellini/Carnival-esque as Team Ford desperately scrambled around to convince anyone who would listen that everything was good to go. You see, the previous day the mayor, having been rebuffed by city council and let down by his very own Sheppard subway report from Gordon Chong, turned to his much vaunted private sector and huddled together for a little confab with his closest developer peeps, some friendly councillors and sandwiches. Emerging from his office a couple hours later, he announced they were good to go, everybody loves subways, everybody’s going to pony up, problem solved.

Except, as with many of Mayor Ford’s transit claims, there was ample space between the truth and full-fledged fantasy. Newspaper coverage told a slightly different story. “[Toronto Board of Trade president Carol] Wilding indicated support for subways wasn’t unanimous…” On the notion of increased development fees, Councillor Peter Milczyn said “…developers in the meeting weren’t keen on that idea…”

City staff has taken the temperature of private sector interest in laying down some upfront bucks on subways and found it more than a little tepid. “This model doesn’t work. There is a huge (funding) gap,” said one staff. “The private sector want certainties (but) these revenue streams are risky. They are based on a ‘build it and they will come’ view. It’s not a sure thing…And there are huge political risks.”

Gulp.

A more deliberate or reflective politician might take a step back at this point, breathe deeply and go to plan B. But here’s the thing. Mayor Ford doesn’t have a plan B on transit. How can you when your plan A doesn’t even qualify as a plan? It’s nothing more than a loose collection of largely contradictory fleeting thoughts being touted as a mandate based not on a persuasive argument but by some creepy sounding ‘moral authority’ that Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong actually tried floating. His Worship does not need to explain himself to you. He’s the Mayor! He shall clap His hands and there will be subways!

If only, huh? Without any divine intervention of that sort, the mayor and his morally authorized mandate is looking down the barrel of new taxes (and some old… Hello, VRT. Where you been hiding, gorgeous?), levies, tolls to get his subway built, and if there’s one thing Mayor Ford promised more than even subways was…

Sigh.

With glimmers of movement that he was willing to budge on the issue of not completely hating taxes with a passion other people hold toward baby killers, the through the looking glass quotient went through the roof. What? Mayor Rob Ford was actually leading us in having an adult conversation on the necessity of taxation in building a better city? That’s crazy talk. Crazy talk.

And then, of course, by yesterday afternoon we weren’t having that conversation. Brother-Councillor Doug went DEFCON 1, pressing the button on any talk about tax/toll/levy increases or any other instruments of the Devil. “We are against all taxes,” Councillor Ford said. “All taxes are evil as far as I am concerned.” Right then. So, I’ll mark you down as undecided then, shall I? Lotteries, casinos are the way we should be going, according to Councillor Ford, TorontoReno. Except folks at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. aren’t as convinced that was a good idea. “I would have told them right off the bat,” stated Paul Godfrey, OLG’s chairman of the board, “this is a project that has no chance of being successful at all.”

Undeterred, the mayor fell back into line, snuffing out any future tax increase on cars for the rest of his natural life. “I will guarantee that were will never be a tax on cars again,” he told John Tory. Over my dead body, pushing up tulips. Or maybe that was Doug.

The shitshow didn’t feature just the Ford brothers. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said he would send back any money intended to build an LRT along Finch Avenue in his ward, and his constituents would wait 50 years if they had to for subway instead. This, three years after fully embracing the LRT for Finch. The leader of the provincial opposition, Tim Hudak, got in on the act, saying he would disregard any vote by council and build subways. Asked if he would chip in more money to fund that construction, Mr. Hudak demurred, yeah well, no. What do you think? Money grows on trees?

By day’s end, we were right back where we started. The mayor wanting subways he didn’t have the money to build and unwilling to even consider the most logical, straightforward revenue streams to help get the funding in place. And that’s the plan council and its LRT almost Transit City in everything but name was up against.

A couple days ago, we evoked Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta as the movie character our mayor seemed a lot like in his stubborn drive for subways. Today we’re thinking the resemblance is more Elwood P. Dowd with his invisible white rabbit transit plan, Harvey. “Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Evidently, the mayor, his brother and all those still willing to follow them down their transit rabbit hole are hoping to recreate a little bit of that movie magic.

— barkerly submitted by Cityslikr


Childish Behaviour

February 24, 2012

I could not disagree with Christopher Hume more if he were, well, Rob Ford.

He’s plea to the province to assume control of Toronto’s transit file is nothing short of madness, an adolescent whine. I want my mommy. Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.

Long has been my stance, if not in these pages than in discussions I’ve had, that the main reason voters in cities including here seem comfortable casting their ballots at the municipal level for, how to say this delicately, clowns, clowns, jokers, the inept and certifiably deranged, is because they believe that it doesn’t really matter. There’s this blind faith that regardless of what happens, no matter what shit we manage to cover ourselves with, there’s a safety net to break our fall. The province would never let us burn our playhouse down.

We are the junior level of government, the farm team if you will, the bush leagues. Expectations are low, so why not have some fun with it? Politics as performance art. Since there are no consequences, we can afford to take a flyer or two, an appliance salesman here, a blustering buffoon there. It’s not like it’ll make any difference to our lives, right?

As we’re slowly beginning to realize, that’s not in the least bit true. In fact, it’s downright misguided from where we’re standing. Municipal politics matters. A lot. But to scream for a lifeline now, to call for the cavalry only reinforces the already hardened preconception that we’re not responsible enough to take care of ourselves. That when push comes to shove, we’re happy to hand over responsibility to the adults in the room and let them sort through the mess we’ve created.

And even that’s more than a little galling. In terms of public transit in Toronto, we are hardly the chief culprits in the bind we’re in currently. Plenty of blame to go around, with Queen’s Park topping the list. I mean, hey. If cities are nothing more than creatures of the province than the province has to bear some of the burden in how we’ve turned out, right?

Imagine if you will, the Mike Harris government (and yeah, I’m looking hard at you, Councillor John Parker) not filling in the hole that had already been dug in Eglinton Avenue back in 1996. This whole above/below ground LRT battle would be moot. We might even already have a Sheppard subway extension! Or what if the McGuinty government had long since made good on its promise to re-upload it’s portion of the annual TTC  operating budget that their predecessors had wiped their hands clean of (again, I’m looking hard at  you, Councillor John Parker)? That’s hundreds of millions of dollars Toronto would’ve had in its coffers or been able to give to the TTC for expansion or state of good repairs. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered back in the spring of 2010 and scaled back on some of the original Transit City plans, then candidate for mayor Rob Ford wouldn’t have seen it as negotiable. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered again, this time in the face of a Mayor Rob Ford, and signed their Memorandum of Understanding, throwing all transit planning back up into the air.

These are the people Mr. Hume wants to take charge? Arguably the very architects of our transit disarray? What on earth will that accomplish?

Despite Mayor Ford’s continued intransigence, city council is getting a handle on the situation. Doddering patrician types like the National Post’s Terence Corcoran sniffs at the February 8th city council meeting that asserted council’s primacy over the mayor, calls a timeout and declares we should just start all over. Well you know what, Mr. Corcoran? Fuck you. Democracy’s messy.

If people would just accept the fact that Mayor Ford lost, that city council (re)approved the Transit City plans for the Eglinton and Finch LRTs, that in a sop thrown to the mayor, a panel will make recommendations about Sheppard Avenue next month, we could just get on with things. Ignore the petulant child jumping up and down, holding his breath and turning red in the face. It doesn’t matter. Paying attention to him only reinforces the grade school view of municipal politics.

As does asking the province to come in and sort our problems out. Ironically, it also puts the normally fierce critic of the mayor, Christopher Hume, on the same side as the man he so obviously loathes. You don’t think Mayor Ford would love to divest himself of public transit decisions? Here, take it and all the related costs. Then we can just bitch and moan if it doesn’t work out to our liking, blameless. Take our traditional place in the backseat, counting on our parents to get us to where we’re going and only asking over and over, are we there yet? Are we there yet?

We’re not but we also need to realize that dad’s handed us the keys to the car.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr