My Conservatism’s 4 Realz!

January 23, 2014

This one’s a long shot.

longshot

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East).

As divisive and stridently ideological as the mayor and his councillor-brother are and have been, in terms of divisiveness and hidebound anti-tax, small/anti-government sentiment, Councillor Minnan-Wong has matched them step for step. Set aside his new found abhorrence of the mayor’s personal behaviour over the past year or so — their ‘personal’ politics couldn’t be more different – when it comes to politics politics, Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Fords are soul mates.

Yes, the councillor called the mayor out on his cowardice yesterday at Executive Committee for failing to put the money where his mouth is especially when it came to the Scarborough subway. peasinapodHe is positioning himself as a more reasonable conservative than the mayor. Well, good for him. Who isn’t and still maintains the ability to walk upright?

But don’t be fooled by this attempt at political relativity. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is second to only one in his hatred of taxation and the attempts of government to have a positive effect in people’s lives. He was as anti-David Miller as they come, being part of the right wing Responsible Government Group established in opposition to the Miller administration. He lustily embraced the role of henchman for Mayor Ford during the early years, using his powerful position as chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to roll back a number of key initiatives the previous council enacted.

Jarvis bike lanes? Gone. Rebuilt a few intersections over along Sherbourne Street. texaschainsawmassacreThe environmental assessment in progress to study various options of what to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway? Quietly shelved, work on it stopped. Hey. What’s going on in Kristyn Wong-Tam’s ward? Let’s fuck some of that shit up, shall we?

Councillor Minnan-Wong may tout himself as a devout fiscal conservative but what he really is is a destructive conservative. None of the actions in the previous paragraph saved the city any money. In fact, the delay caused by ignoring council’s request for the Gardiner EA will wind up costing the city more in the long run as we have to ad hoc patch and maintain parts of the expressway while waiting longer than we needed to for EA to be finished.

Respect and all that blah, blah, blah.

Even the councillor’s righteous indignation at the Scarborough subway Mayor Ford’s unwilling to pay for is, what would you call it? Rich? henchmanCouncillor Minnan-Wong was in the majority of TTC commissioners who engineered the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster at the mayor’s behest for having the temerity to oversee a report that recommended maintaining the course of LRT building rather than throwing money at a phantom subway. So, he sort of helped set fire to transit plans already in place and ushered us into the next phase of uncertainty and delay.

More respect!

Hold on, you might be saying at this point. Maybe we won’t have to worry about Denzil Minnan-Wong creating havoc as a councillor at City Hall for much longer. He’s rumoured to be looking at a run for mayor.

Well, maybe. I just don’t see it happening, though. For a couple reasons.

With the news this week of John Tory definitely maybe jumping into the race, joining Mayor Ford, David Soknacki and (soon) Karen Stintz, all to the right of centre, there’s precious little room left on that perch for Minnan-Wong. Unless he has something up his sleeve, the big back room guns and money will have already found a place elsewhere. And how exactly is he going to position himself? More conservative than the others, less outrageously unpredictable than the mayor. noroomIt’s the sound of the slicing and dicing of the centre-right vote into smaller and smaller bits.

Besides, ignoring political differences for the moment, Councillor Minnan-Wong just doesn’t strike me as an overly appealing candidate. Whatever the populist appeal is that Mayor Ford has (and I’m told he has it although it remains a mystery to me), Councillor Minnan-Wong ain’t got it. Watching him work council chambers, he seems ill at ease with anyone not wearing a suit and lobbying some issue or another. He’s like that guy we all know who isn’t nearly as clever or funny as he thinks he is.

It’s impossible to imagine him making much of a dent into the loyalist Ford base which leave him trying to capture the rest of the conservative vote as he’s certainly dead to anyone sitting centre-left. Just don’t see the numbers breaking his way.

So that leaves us with the prospect of another term of a Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

As entrenched an incumbent as he is, I mean, the guy’s been at City Hall, some city hall, since 1994 and he captured over 50% of the popular vote in 2010, there is a slight glimmer of opportunity. unimpressedIn the last 3 elections, the councillor’s share of the popular vote has declined each campaign from a high of over 70% in 2003 to 53% last time out. Perhaps the longer voters in Ward 34 see Councillor Minnan-Wong, the less they take to him.

And they have seen a lot of him in the past 3+ years, doing what he’s good at. Gutting the city from the inside out under the banner of faux fiscal conservatism. Responsible government? Hardly. A small-minded bean counter with little regard for healthy city building.

He’s kept your taxes low, Ward 34, but at what cost?

Somebody really should take a crack at forcing him to answer that question in 2014.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Roadies

April 12, 2013

Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

Public works; private moments.publicworks

Apropos of nothing. Felt it had to be said. Movie tagline smooth.

Aside from the Budget Committee, Public Works and Infrastructure may be the most important committee at City Hall*. This is where big decisions about big stuff get made. Transportation and streetscapes. The delivery of water and the collection of waste. None of it necessarily pretty but all of it absolutely vital. Properly done, public works and infrastructure is the difference between a successful, well run city and one that is neither of those things.

“The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee’s primary focus is on infrastructure, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on Toronto’s infrastructure needs and services.”

Public Works and Infrastructure offers up politicians and municipal civil servants the opportunity for greatness and lasting contributions to the city they serve long after they’re dead and gone. bloorstreetaquaductRead John Lorinc’s Globe and Mail article from last year about R.C. Harris, Toronto’s long serving Public Works Commissioner from 1912-45, and marvel at what can be done with some vision and fortitude. The R.C. Harris Water-Treatment Plant and Bloor Street Viaduct are the obvious example but as Lorinc points out:

Harris..left his civic fingerprints all over Toronto, building hundreds of kilometres of sidewalks, sewers, paved roads, streetcar tracks, public baths and washrooms, landmark bridges and even the precursor plans to the GO commuter rail network.

Of course, Harris wasn’t a politician and subject to the whims of the electorate. In fact, his contributions may’ve been the product of his time, impossible to duplicate outside of those particular circumstances. “…it’s unlikely a towering and outspoken figure like Mr. Harris…,” Lorinc quoting Professor Steven Mannell in his article, “would thrive in public service today, given years of political attacks on civil servants at all three levels of government.”

While I hardly mean to equate R.C. Harris with the ex-TTC CEO Gary Webster, it’s useful in underlining Professor Mannell’s point.  rcharriswtpMr. Webster expressed an opinion about transit options our mayor disagreed with, and Mr. Webster was ousted. In such a politically volatile environment – a toxic mix of ‘parsimonious politicians’ elected on ‘narrow mandates’ to paraphrase Professor Mannell , and our dimly held view of bureaucrats —  it’s hard to see how anything gets built, let alone anything on the grand scale that R.C. Harris imagined.

In fact, it could be argued that getting things built is the exact opposite goal of our current Public Works and Infrastructure big cheese, committee chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.  Unless it has something to do with road maintenance, he might be better referred to as Cap’n Tear Up. Jarvis bike lanes, gone, expensively re-replaced by that reversible 5th lane. Proposed Fort York pedestrian bridge scaled back for being too fancy. Scrambled intersections? I don’t know. hulksmashWe need to look at those just in case cars are having to wait too long at red lights.

And that Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment ordered up to examine the various options for the eastern portion of the roadway? Mysteriously disappeared upon the councillor’s appointment as PWIC chair, only to be revived last year when over half a billion dollars was budgeted for the Gardiner revitalization starting with its eastern portion. Wait? What did the EA recommend? What do you mean, what EA? Where the hell did the EA go? Den-ZILLLLL!

Like the administration it represents, the current Public Works and Infrastructure Committee reflects its mandate by doing the exact opposite of what it should be doing. Tearing down instead of building up (unless, of course, we’re referring to roads). Looking back instead looking forward. Status quo instead of adaptation.

Or as Rowan Caister so succinctly put it: …money that we could spend on public space and innovative infrastructure is being clawed back in order to dismantle inexpensive infrastructure (Jarvis) and keep expensive infrastructure on life support (Gardiner).

At Wednesday’s meeting the committee chair and one of the newest members, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, both indulged their colleagues by voting to receive the report update on the Gardiner EA while knowing full well what the outcome must/will be. There will/must not be any removal of any part of the Gardiner. sewersDrivers depend on it. Any alternative will result in chaos.

As it was and has been, so it shall always be.

It isn’t the motto a Public Works and Infrastructure committee should try to uphold. Cities flounder when they do. That’s just how important this committee is to our well-being. We need to treat with the respect and attention it deserves.

*  *  *

(*Not including the Executive Committee which is made up of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chairs of the 7 Standing Committees and 4 at-large members.)

diggingly submitted by Cityslikr


Denzil The Despicable

January 13, 2013

I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due, and hand it to Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

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As loathsome a politician as I think he is — How to measure Political Loathsomeness? Take a politician’s positive contributions and divide them by their negative impact. – the man is nothing else if not a brazen piece of work. And when all is said and done, he is nothing else.

Lost amidst this week’s budget and casino kerfuffles, caught dead to rights trying to smother in its infancy a Mayor David Miller council endorsed environmental assessment of the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway, the dude not only didn’t deny it, he mustered a reasonable facsimile of outrage at the time and cost it would take to restart the EA and allow it to play out to its conclusion. mockoutrage“Six to nine years?!” he thundered at city staff at last Monday’s Budget Committee meeting. “Fifteen million dollars?! Fifteen million dollars!?”

Yeah, seriously.

“Denzil Minnan-Wong says it was his original intention to kill the Gardiner EA,” NOW magazine’s Ben Spurr tweeted, “but he then decided to shelve the letter about it.”

Just like that, the councillor as chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee simply disregarded the will of city council and set a new course for transportation spending all on his own. Of course, a skilled politician never leaves his ass totally exposed. snidelywhiplash‘A number of parties’ were involved in the decision to shelve the EA, Councillor Minnan-Wong later clarified.

“It was suggested by the public service and Waterfront Toronto, and the mayor’s office agreed to it as well as the chair of public works,” he said, according to Elizabeth Church of the Globe and Mail. “My intention when I asked for the letter was to bring it forward to executive to kill it. We had a number of discussions about this and it was decided to put it on the back burner.”

A number of discussions with everybody but city council, it seems. And now that the EA is on the verge of being revived, ‘the chair of public works’ as the councillor refers to himself in the 3rd person is indignant at such a waste of time and money. “It’s like a bad horror movie,” he says, as if he’s simply just some passive audience member.

Follow the bouncing ball on this. (From the 2013 Capital Budget Briefing Note, Page 2, bolding mine).

  • On September 16, 2010, the Gardiner EA Steering Committee, co-chaired by the former Deputy City Manager whose responsibilities include Waterfront Revitalization, and the President and Chief Executive Officer of Waterfront Toronto, agreed that minimal work would proceed on the EA in order to manage study costs until the new administration and Council could be properly briefed.
  • In mid-November, 2010, the Steering Committee co-chairs jointly agreed to delay the next step in the EA, which was release of the design concepts, pending direction from the new Council and administration. About $3.28 million of the total $7.69 million budget had been spent.
  • On March 2, 2011, the former Deputy City Manager whose responsibilities include Waterfront Revitalization was requested by the Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to draft a letter for him to table at Executive Committee requesting a report on the contractual, financial, regulatory, process and other implications of cancelling or modifying the Gardiner EA study.
  • On March 31, 2011, the Waterfront Secretariat, in consultation with City Planning and Transportation Services, provided the Chair with the draft letter for him to table at Executive Committee. The letter was not subsequently tabled at Executive Committee.

Given the time frame of this, early on in 2011, Mayor Ford was at the height of his power wielding at city council. His Public Works and Infrastructure Chair in all likelihood could’ve brought the EA back to council and officially put it out of its misery. sneakInstead, he sneakily knocked it off desk, out of sight against the wall, suggesting one of two things, perhaps a combination of both. A shocking lack of political acuity or a full sense of just how flimsy a construct the notion of a Ford Nation really was. They gleefully came out of the gate manhandling all the easy pickin’s: the VRT, councillor office budgets but steadfastly ignored the more contentious issues which might threaten their support.

Like offing the Gardiner EA.

It’s conceivable that had it not been quietly suppressed, the EA might’ve been completed by now. Council could proceed with the 2013 capital budget, knowing the best course of action to take in regards to repairing, rehabilitating or replacing the Gardiner. Instead, they’ll be pressed into deciding whether or not to waste money maintaining a section of it, pending the completion of the ill-advised delayed EA.

And is the man responsible for the delay repentant? Hardly. He carries on as if he had nothing to do with it, as if it was just another example of the bumbling ineffectiveness of a government he so despises.

He’s got moxie, I’ll give him that.

What he doesn’t have is any sense of city building. Denzil the Destroyer. He serves to tear things up. Not so much a public servant as he is a public nuisance.texaschainsawmassacre

Yet he continues to be elected to office, since 1997, returned 3 times although it is worth noting his share of votes shrinks every time his constituents go to the ballot box. In 2003 when the city went to one councillor/one ward, he scooped up 70.0% of Ward 34 votes. In 2006, 60.7%. In 2010, 53.4%. (Interesting comparison: Councillor Minnan-Wong’s Don Valley East council mate, Shelley Carroll has watched her percentages climb from 36.6% in 2003 to 57.7% in 2010.)

So maybe we should take heart. It seems the more the people of Ward 34 see of their councillor, the less they like him. As a high profile member of Team Ford, there’s never been more attention on him than there is now. We should take every opportunity to shine the spotlight on him and his antics, in the hopes of finally ridding the city of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s destructive approach to governance.

fingers crossedly submitted by Cityslikr


Gardiner Conundrum

December 19, 2012

Deep down in my bones, at the most visceral of visceral levels, I stand opposed to the selling of public assets to private interests. It always seems like some desperate measure and seldom turns out very well at the public end. justnotrightOf course, that may just be the confirmation bias punching its way to the surface.

But then, Councillor Adam Vaughan, whom I nearly always agree with, floats the notion of selling off or leasing out the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. What?! Yesterday on Metro Morning, the councillor went full on Ford and touted mysterious ‘telephone calls’ he’d been getting from ‘major investment firms’ and ‘consortiums’, apparently drooling over the prospect of gobbling up some crumbling infrastructure. What next, Adam? Folks in line at Timmies, telling you to go for it?

During the interview, Councillor Shelley Carroll, whom I nearly always agree with, calls Vaughan’s idea an ‘insane fantasy’. Exactly, Shelley. If we’re going to start tolling the roads, why not keep the profits instead of handing them to the private sector to make off with like bandits. An insane fantasy indeed.waitwhat

Which is probably why Councillor Doug Ford agrees with Councillor Vaughan about it. Wait. What?! Get out of town! Those two guys?

“I’m glad that Councillor Vaughan is taking a page out of my playbook that I’ve been preaching for the last two years,” said the councillor and Mayor-brother, “maybe he got hit over the head over the weekend.”

For that reason alone, I now want to sell the roads to the private sector and watch as Councillor Ford slowly and inevitably realizes to his horror exactly how P3s work in the real world. Nothing comes for free. One way or another we will pay for the use of the Gardiner. I’m not sure the councillor fully understands that concept yet.

Of course, that’s not really all that constructive and might simply be cutting off my nose to spite my face. And when it comes to being spiteful, let’s leave that up to the master on the matter, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. From Robyn Doolittle of the Toronto Star:

Public works and infrastructure chair Denzil Minnan-Wong said [Chief Planner Jennifer] Keesmaat needs to get on board with a staff recommendation to carry about $505 million of rehabilitation work over the next decade on two sections of the Gardiner.

darkhelmet“She’s in favour of spending the tens of millions that’s required to keep the Gardiner up while we could wait for six, seven, eight years to get an environmental assessment done, then flushing all that money down the toilet and maybe tearing the Gardiner down,” he said.

Ms. Keesmaat’s transgression? Suggesting before throwing a half billion dollars blindly at the problem of the Gardiner, how be we go back to that Environmental Assessment that we were already $3 million into before Mayor Ford came to power and Councillor Minnan-Wong took over at Public Works. You know, that one that got mysteriously shelved. The one that might’ve already been completed and on the table to give us some educated direction going forward.

If you could indict someone for disingenuous douchery, the Public Works and Infrastructure chair would be up to his eyes in legal paperwork. Unfortunately, that’s not illegal behaviour. Just terrible, destructive politics.

Not only was Ms. Keesmaat being quite reasonable in her suggestion that we think before we spend but she said out loud what road warriors like councillors Ford and Minnan-Wong refuse to accept and those like Vaughan and Carroll can only nibble around the edges of. According to Robyn Doolittle again, Toronto’s chief planner said she is opposed to spending massive sums on infrastructure focused on “moving more cars.”completelynuts

That’s what this all comes down to.

The future of transportation services in this city.

Single rider, private vehicle use is the least efficient, most expensive way of moving the biggest number of people. We’ve been heavily subsidizing it for over half a century now. Now’s the time to pay the piper. That bill’s come due.

The best way to go about achieving that? I guess that’s what this current tussle is about, at least among the politicians who are looking ahead and not back. Councillor Minnan-Wong is fighting yesterday’s war and should be treated accordingly.

It’s all well and good to think that if tolls are the way to go, why don’t we just start tolling and reap the profits. But in governments’ hands, it’s always political and subject to the whim of the day.nowisthetime Just like Rob Ford came to power vowing to kill the Vehicle Registration Tax, it’s easy to imagine another candidate pledging to kill tolls.

So sell it smartly to the private sector and be done with it. Let those who want to drive, bitch and moan at the major investment firms and consortiums not City Hall. And if you think you’re going to avoid paying by taking another, ‘free’ route? We’ll keep that congestion fee option tucked in our back pocket.

And hey, if Councillor Vaughan is right and engaging in a P3 will kick in federal infrastructure funds and ‘regionalize the cost’ of maintenance, why not? Cities should not be solely responsible for roads that serve the greater area.

Still… there’s that nagging feeling, deep in my bones. Lost revenue. Loss of control. Enriching the private sector while draining the public purse.

But this is a conversation and decision we need to have right now and not some time after we’ve thrown half a billion dollars at a problem that will do nothing more than handcuff another generation.

discombobulatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Pretty Straightforward Until It Wasn’t

December 14, 2012

Can I make what should be a pretty innocuous, perhaps even vapid statement, but may come across as something almost audacious, given the political times we live in?idodeclare

No single one is to blame for the crumbling pile that is the Gardiner Expressway.

There. I said it. I stand by it even two seconds after writing it.

The current state of disrepair we find our southern most arterial thoroughfare in is the result of a confluence of neglect, disinterest and pusillanimity, traversing decades now. Senior levels of government never really answering why a municipality should be responsible for the maintenance of a thoroughfare that serves a significantly wider regional interest. A municipality trying to put off the hard decision and hard cash of keeping the thing properly functional as the battle rages over its ultimate fate. Restore? Demolish? Bury?

Still…

This most recent dust up pitting the current administration in power at City Hall – let’s call them Team Ford – against the previous one – Miller’s Minions – hediditis a wholly manufactured in Toronto melodrama. Replete with finger pointing, name calling, innuendo insinuating, answer evading that more resembles… well, a political pissing match which is what it is. There are no good guys in this tale. Only those dedicated to not having an open and honest discussion on a spectacularly important matter affecting this city for the next generation or so.

The saga (at least this chapter of it) can be traced back to July 2008. Recommendation 1 of an Executive Committee item that went to city council that read as follows:

Council authorize the City to act as co-proponent with Waterfront Toronto to undertake an individual environmental assessment (EA) of Waterfront Toronto’s (WT) proposal that the elevated Gardiner Expressway from approximately Jarvis Street to east of the Don Valley Parkway including the remaining Lake Shore Boulevard East ramp be removed and an at-grade waterfront boulevard be created.

Ground zero in this tear down-keep up debate. The call for an environmental assessment Team Ford now cites as proof of the Miller’s Minions’ anti-car agenda. Never mind the fact that by the time people got around to assessing, the scope got somewhat broader. Quoting from Waterfront Toronto’s Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference (approved by city council in 2009):takealook In contrast to some EA studies, which limit the number of alternatives to be considered, the Gardiner EA will bring the following broad but defined range of options forward for study… Including three options to keep the most eastern part of the expressway up and going, As Is, Enhanced and Replaced.

A car killer? Hard to come to such a conclusion reading, you know, the words. So people really need to stop saying that if they expect to be considered, you know, a serious part of this conversation.

Further down the 2008 Executive Committee item list, another couple highly relevant recommendations that are now playing out before our very eyes. Recommendation # 3 (as pointed out by Matt Elliott):

Council defer the total rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expressway east from Jarvis Street, except for essential works required to provide safe operating conditions, and direct the General Manager, Transportation Services to adjust the 2009 Capital Program submission and 2010 to 2013 Capital Works Plan accordingly.

butwaittheresmoreAnd Recommendation #4 (as pointed out to me by Hamutal Dotan):

Council direct the Executive Director, Technical Services to conduct annual, detailed condition surveys of the Gardiner Expressway east from Jarvis Street to identify the minimum maintenance required to maintain safe operating conditions, and to make appropriate adjustments to the annual maintenance spending, until such time as City Council makes its decision on the future of this section of the Expressway.

My terms of reference on these two paragraphs.

We’re only talking about, and have always only been talking about, the most easterly section of the Gardiner, the least travelled on portion, from Jarvis to the Don Roadway.

Any unspent money for maintenance on it had more to do with a sound fiscal decision – why pour money into something that might just be pulled down in a couple years, pending the EA? – than deliberate neglect. I mean, ask yourself. What would any member of Team Ford be saying now if boatloads of cash had been spent restoring the eastern Gardiner only to have council decide to now tear it down? Waste! Gravy!

The decision of what to spend and what not to spend seems to have been given over to the discretion of city staff, the Executive Director of Technical Services specifically followthebouncingball“…until such time as City Council makes its decision on the future of this section of the Expressway.” We can hurl accusations of the quiet nefariousness of Miller’s Minions to strangle the concrete life from the Gardiner but until there’s a smoking gun providing some evidence of that, it’s all just hearsay and narrative spinning.

That we now have to spend oodles of cash to either totally redo or tear down some or all of the Gardiner should hardly be surprising. It was inevitable. The decision of what to do and how to do it is the key point here.

And it’s where it got awfully fucking murky.

At some point of time over the course of the past two years the Environmental Assessment got shelved, leaving the city staff’s discretionary spending on the Gardiner open ended. Who was the impetus behind that decision is a mystery. Although, the Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong was surprisingly frank about it with NOW’s Ben Spurr.

[Councillor] Minnan-Wong said that Waterfront Toronto staff decided to suspend the assessment “in consultation with the city of Toronto” after Rob Ford won the 2010 election. 

“Given that there was a new mayor elected who was committed to keeping the Gardiner Expressway up – because he spoke about it quite publicly in his platform – Waterfront Toronto was no longer making that a priority,” he said.

“In consultation with the city of Toronto”? Who? The Mayor? gettothebottomofthisThe Mayor’s brother? The Public Works and Infrastructure chair?

On those questions, the councillor is a little more hedge-y.

What we do know is that it wasn’t city council that was consulted before the EA was put “on the far back burner”. For that somebody has to answer. Certainly before anybody hands over a half-billion dollars to get the expressway back into ship-shape including the eastern section where a decision has never been made to keep it standing or tear it down. Proper democratic process was circumvented. That is one fact that cannot be lost amidst the finger pointing and name blaming which has swallowed up the debate so far.

not donely submitted by Cityslikr