Compare And Contrast

October 14, 2010

As Toronto’s mayoral race is being forcibly shoehorned into an ill-fitting two man race, leaving anyone who usually sits happily left of centre with the distasteful choice between worse, worser or simply making a defiant gesture, the time has come to turn our attentions more fully to the council races. To protect the city’s progressive spirit from the nasty onslaught of a His Honour SmitherFord™®© (FordMan®™©?), a council needs to be in place that will resist the worst impulses of such a short-sighted, small thinking regime. Barring some wacky turn of events between now and October 25th, no one is going to assume the mayoralty with a sweeping mandate. So a strong, purposeful council needs to be in place.

We here in Ward 19 (Joe Pantalone’s former stronghold) have already endorsed Karen Sun as our councillor of choice. But a post in yesterday’s Torontoist caught our attention as it featured our particular council race. It interviewed the three perceived front runners and the thoughts and opinions expressed by two of them struck us as typifying the stark divisions at work in the city at the moment. Whoever prevails will go a long way to determining the direction Toronto takes over the next few years.

Karen Sun versus Sean McCormick.

A quick look at their respective backgrounds and experience reflects an important distinction between the two. Sun has worked with the city as part of its Urban Forestry Services and Water and Wastewater Division. She’s the Toronto chapter executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council and serves on the boards of several extra-governmental community organizations, including Heritage Toronto. McCormick is a media personality who founded the annual summer Queen West Musicfest.

Karen Sun has made a career of active civic engagement with the community. Sean McCormick has a single resume padder. I know throughout this campaign we’ve heard much antagonism toward “career politicians” but it’s safe to assume which one of these candidates will hit the ground running if elected.

Sun and McCormick’s responses to the questions posed by Torontoist also reveal a large gap in knowledge about the issues at work in Ward 19. Simple-minded, misguided ideology informs one while an open, informed, flexible approach is the basis of the other.

When asked about development in Liberty Village, McCormick is generally in favour of it but “…concedes that developers require a certain amount of oversight.” He then focuses on one issue, the pedestrian bridge that is in the works, as if that alone will solve the problems and concerns of increasing density in the area. Like the mayoral candidate he’s fashioning his campaign after, McCormick offers little in the form of insightful ideas that he would bring to the table as councillor.

Same question asked of Karen Sun? “I think there will be more pressure to build denser, and to build towers. And I think that’s fine,” she said. “But if we are going to be building up, I think we need to go to some of those other cities and see how they build tower communities well.”

“Because right now [Toronto is] zoning them as mixed-use, and then building twenty, thirty-storey towers with a Rabba and a Blockbuster on the first floor, and calling that mixed-use. When you’re putting another thousand residents into an area that used to be zoned as employment lands and the only employment opportunities are retail at a couple of stores, I mean, that’s not a community, right?”

On that response alone it’s clear who the more qualified candidate is but it continues for 6 more questions, all of which reveal Mr. McCormick to be as unfit for elected office as Rob Ford is. The Ossington bar/restaurant moratorium? Sun isn’t in favour of it but largely due to the lack of public consultation that was involved. She believes much of the business-resident friction could be alleviated by proper enforcement of current noise by-laws and that the city should work with the province in changing the liquor law licensing to make explicit distinctions between bars and restaurants. Moratorium bad, development good, according to McCormick. He then proceeds to paint the scene on Ossington in its pre-hip days as a hotbed of criminality that suggests he spent more time watching Law & Order at home on TV than he did in the vicinity. And really, Sean? “Ne’er-do-wells”? How old are you anyway? 90?

How about transit expansion? Sun wants to proceed with Transit City because it’s this first massive transit plan for Toronto in decades that has all 3 levels of government on board. McCormick? Subways please and then he goes on to applaud former candidate, Rocco Rossi’s largely discredited plans for selling city assets to finance them. Same theme for the idea of electrification of the Georgetown corridor and Union-Pearson airport link. Sun yes, McCormick no, as it’ll place too much burden on the tax payer, as increased expense automatically translates into increased taxes in Sean’s world. This, despite the fact that, an electrified Georgetown corridor would be highly beneficial to residents of Liberty Village not only environmentally but electric train technology would allow for a stop near the Village which diesel wouldn’t. But, no matter to likes of Sean McCormick and his empty posturing as Angry Taxpayer Man.

While the die may, may, be cast for our disagreeable choice of mayor, we can counteract that by diligently keeping the likes of Sean McCormick out of City Hall. If a healthy majority of Toronto wards elect councillors as intelligent, well-versed and hardworking as Karen Sun, the situation will not be nearly as dire. We can endure a SmitherFord/FordMan®™© as our mayor if we surround them with a council consisting of the likes Karen Sun.

positively submitted by Cityslikr


And In Other News

August 23, 2010

… meanwhile, over at Metrolinx…

Funny how in the midst of a tempestuous election campaign, the business of actual governance gets pushed off deep into the background. So much so that some candidates out there on the hustings go as far as to suggest that elected officials should not be making any decisions that may outlive their time in office. Election year lame ducking, you might call it.

Still, the odd piece of business can pop up that does impose itself on the campaign. Take, for example, the minor brouhaha last week over the almost completed construction of the so-called Dufferin Jog. This is the long overdue reconnecting of Dufferin Street at Queen. For the past century or so, weary travelers making their way along Dufferin Street in either direction had to jut around the railway bridge at Queen to continue their sojourn north or south. This minor diversion has long caused traffic chaos along that section of Queen Street.

But as of sometime in the early fall, we’ll be able to breeze up and down Dufferin Street like it’s PCH 1, zipping effortlessly beneath the rail underpass on our way to the Home and Garden Show or… for whatever reason it is people go north on Dufferin Street.

But wait, not so fast. Metrolinx – the vaguely provincial government transit agency in charge of orchestrating the entire GTA’s Big Move — has asked the city to delay wrapping up construction for a couple months, maybe 4 or 6, so they can lay down another track for trains operating on the Georgetown corridor. Why this is only being brought up now, who knows? For our purposes here, let’s just chalk it up to another example of problematic overlapping governmental jurisdictions.

As of now it seems the city will ignore Metrolinx’s request and go ahead to complete construction, leaving the question of additional tracks for a later date. This decision imposed itself on the council race in Ward 18 where the Dufferin Jog is located and which is the seat of power for outgoing TTC chair, Adam Giambrone. Ana Bailão, a candidate to replace Giambrone as councillor in Ward 18 and whom Giambrone defeated for the spot in 2003, suggests her former opponent is setting common sense aside and proceeding with completion simply in order “… to cut the ribbon for the project” before he leaves office. She contends it would be cheaper and less hassle to finish the whole thing up now rather than having to restart construction at a later date.

Kevin Beaulieu, another candidate competing for the Ward 18 council seat and former Giambrone executive assistant, thinks there’s more to it than that. He contends Metrolinx is trying to covertly expand the railway in order to accommodate their diesel engine technology at the expense of electrifying the corridor, a sentiment shared by at least in part by some at council including Councillor Gord Perks. We leave it to those better informed about transit and that particular issue to try and disentangle it but a couple Metrolinx matters – and the gist of this actual post — did jump to our attention while we were reading through the minutae of the imbroglio.

News filtered out late last month that the Metrolinx-SNC Lavalin private-public partnership deal to build and operate the Union Station-Pearson Airport rail link was dead. According to John Lorinc in the Globe and Mail, “… SNC Lavalin and its lenders pulled out because Ontario refused to provide operating subsidies for the 46-year deal, meaning the private sector consortium would rely only on fare revenues to meet its profit targets.”

Huh. Imagine that. The fearless private sector got cold feet at plunging into the public transit game because the provincial government “refused to provide operating subsidies”.

“Naturally, we are disappointed by the outcome of the Toronto Air Rail Link Project. Given the state of financial markets over the past few years, lenders, both in Canada and elsewhere, are reluctant to lend money for full revenue-risk projects.  As a result, an agreement that met our own standards of risk tolerance could not be reached with interested lenders,” SNC Lavalin said in an official statement [bolding ours].

Attention should be paid, you candidates bellowing about how the private sector will eagerly sign on to build all those subways we want. Apparently a little cost analysis reveals that making money from public transit ain’t that easy. At least not without some stinky government cheese thrown in, and if that’s what it takes to get PPPs up and running, why bother? If the Ontario government isn’t going “to provide operating subsidies” to, say, the TTC, they shouldn’t be expected to do so with private companies.

Of a second Metrolinx related note, outgoing President and CEO of the organization, Robert Pritchard who is moving up to become its chair of the board, will be replaced by Deputy Minster of Transportation, Bruce McCuaig. McCuaig is a veteran bureaucrat and his appointment puts a politician in charge of Metrolinx. That is, if spending 26 years in bureaucracy qualifies him as a politician. And if it does, that means a ‘career politician’ now has his fingers in the pie of public transit planning which appears to be an about-face of professionalization of such matters that the government’s been touting for the last little while.

Again, we’re not well enough informed about public transit policy to debate the merits or lack of them in such moves. We point them out only because they seem to be running contrary to the voices of debate going on during this municipal campaign in Toronto. The private sector should not be counted on to build public transit. SNC Lavalin’s exit from the airport rail link table serves as yet another example of this failed experiment. Secondly, we cannot entirely de-politician the public transit planning. As strong as that appeal is especially when anti-incumbency is as thick in the air as it is this year, it seems neither sensible nor workable.

Anyone running for office who advocates such ideas (Mssrs. Ford and Rossi are merely the most extreme cases) must be vigorously challenged on these points. They are pushing theories and ideas that don’t seem to be viable and certainly are not working out there in the real world. It would be negligent on our part to put such baseless dreamers in a position of power that well might undermine public transit planning into the foreseeable future.


We Gonna Rock Down To Electric Avenue

March 24, 2010

I hesitate to wade into this particular fray, ill-equipped as I am with the raw data necessary to fend off a wave of readers who will invariably deem me to be a pampered downtown Toronto know-nothing partisan hack. Exactly what happened when I innocently got caught up in the ongoing TPA-Porter Air-Community Air saga at the island airport. Just minding my own business, throwing a few thoughts out there…

Yet, the more I look at this whole Metrolinx-Georgetown Corridor-Fixed Link to Pearson contretemps, the less I can stay silent on the matter. The main sticking point, the only sticking point, the entire enchilada is the matter of diesel. I mean, WHAT?!?!? How backward thinking is the brain trust at Metrolinx and its overseers at Queen’s Park? Diesel?! Really!!? Why not just swing for the fences on this and step right into the way back machine and decree that we’re going to de-mothball the old Iron Horses?

Has no one at Metrolinx taken a moment to look around the world and see what’s going on in terms of train travel? China, that old emission spewing, polluting boogeyman that’s still technically speaking a developing country, just unveiled the world’s fastest passenger train that runs basically off the electrical grid. Nevermind their electromagnetic Maglev trains they use for shorter hauls. Japan and Europe have been operating high speed electrical trains for decades now.

Cue the start of the second decade of the 21st-century and we here in Ontario, unveiling our biggest public transportation expansion in decades, are hitching our wagons to diesel. It is more than mystifying. Nonsensical doesn’t describe it. Unconscionable barely does it justice. Flat-headed, myopic, lily-livered, atavistic, primitive beyond the pale only begins to scratch the surface.

Money, they say. We don’t have enough of it to electrify the corridor. The people at the Clean Train Coalition disagree. Using Metrolinx’s own numbers, they contend that going electric from Union Station to Brampton will cost only 17% more than the present plan, some extra $150 million. On top of which, electric trains are cheaper to operate than diesel and the extra money it’ll cost to set up an electric system would be recouped in 10 years from operational savings alone. Not so fast, say those at Metrolinx. We’re going to spend $4 million to crunch the numbers and we’ll get back to you at the end of the year.

And frankly, I don’t buy into the assertion that it’ll be diesel initially and then electric down the rails sometime, let’s say 15 years. First off, once you’ve fully entrenched one system, the sheer weight of inertia will make it that much more difficult to jump tracks (the puns are almost involuntary). I mean it’s taken 30 years just to get around to this kind of talk about transportation infrastructure expansion. Secondly, what’s the economic sense to be spending some $1 billion on diesel only to pledge to redo it all a decade and a half later?

Financial jockeying aside, it’s just seems like further proof that our leaders have their heads firmly planted up their asses while sitting down in the sand when it comes to looking into the future. We’re coming to the end of cheap oil, gentleman. We should be weaning ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels. Building a system powered by electricity opens up the possibilities to alternative sources of energy like wind and sun.

Without even getting into to the health and noise pollution arguments – we’re talking a substantial increase in train traffic affecting some 300, 000 people – there’s other mitigating factors as well. Electric trains are faster. They can stop more often than their diesel counterparts. And, for a train buff such as myself, they are far more aesthetically pleasing. They look cool and have better names.

So what exactly are the benefits of the diesel train aside from a lower initial cost? They already exist? Well, sort of. The highly touted (at least by Metrolinx and the provincial government) Tier 4 clean diesel technology is very new and not yet thoroughly tested. So its air quality claims cannot be viewed as rock solid. Furthermore Steve Munro, as unbiased a public transit advocate as you might find, questions the passenger load numbers that Metrolinx is throwing around in terms of exactly how many cars the Georgetown expansion will remove from the road as drivers start to take the trains.

The unfortunate fact of the matter seems to be that after years of inaction that has allowed this region’s public transportation system to fall behind those of some 2nd world countries, we are now scrambling to simply catch up to where we should’ve been two decades ago. Exhibiting a continued lack of boldness, initiative and vision, those at the helm of the transportation expansion are threatening to leave us at that exact spot. Twenty years behind the time.

mystifiedly submitted by Cityslikr