Can We Talk?

April 27, 2015

Reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto, I’m struck by just how much the provincial government of Ontario spent time tinkering on the governance of Toronto and the GTA. governingtorontoStarting near the end of the Second World War, with a regional planning act, Queen’s Park exhibited little shyness in regularly rethinking how its biggest city and region should run. As the 1953 Cumming Report served up Bill 80 that established Metro Council, within 3 years, there would be a Commission of Inquiry to sort through the growing power of the suburban municipalities within Metro. Then came a Royal Commission in 1964. And another one in 1974.

The Mike Harris government had 3 reports and task forces (one of those coming from 4 mayors of 4 Metro municipalities) in front of it as it decided how to proceed with amalgamation. It largely ignored all 3, opting instead in favour of its own commissioned report from KPMG on the financial implications of creating one local government from six. From that point on, however, all examination and reviews of local governance in Toronto has ceased. Once our 44 ward boundaries were mandated in 2000, it’s been pretty much, Bob’s yer uncle.

Isn’t it time we sat down and had an in-depth conversation about things are functioning here?

We’re currently undergoing a ward boundary review that has to be in place for the next election in 2018. That, however, will do nothing to address the political structure, aside from changing the number of wards. tinkerIt’s long past due that we have a meatier discussion about what’s working and what isn’t with how we’ve governed ourselves since 1998.

The megacity’ll be two decades old when we next vote for our local representative, and I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark saying we have more than a few wrinkles we need to iron out. How come we’ve all gone radio silence and continued business as usual like everything’s hunky dory? Why did our provincial government stop being interested in trying to adapt our form of governance to the changes underway with both the city and region?

A cynic might suggest it’s because things are working out nicely for the province with the arrangement we have. By serving as the de facto regional level of government, the ultimate hands-on authority, Queen’s Park faces no serious challenge from a divided and weak set of municipalities. Toronto, the core of the region, is much, much too busy fighting with itself to provide much pushback against the province. Fiefdoms within fiefdoms, squabbling, leaving the monarch unrivalled.

But shouldn’t the provincial government really be concentrating more of its efforts on being, well, a provincial government? puppetmasterIt has the last word on how the cities under its rule do things. Can it really be effective micromanaging at a local level a region of some 6 million people?

I’d argue they can’t, and they haven’t been for some time now. Queen’s Park has proven to be an absentee-landlord, only to be seen when demanding money and/or votes. For too long now, their approach has been self-interest first, and everything else secondary to that.

No actual regional oversight body would’ve stood aside and meekly allowed one elected official, even one of mayoral stature, to try and torpedo much needed transit plans that had been in the works for three years. Worse than that, get involved in the melee, sacrificing fact-based decision making in order to better position itself politically. No, we’re the subway champions.

Last week’s provincial budget further proved Queen’s Park’s regional vision may come at a cost to certain municipalities that fall off the provincial radar. Oddly enough, Toronto seems to be one of those municipalities. Of the $16 billion being spent by the provincial government on public transit, $13.5 billion of that will be dedicated to its regional rail system. Not that that’s a terrible thing. It isn’t. There’s just not much left over for other necessary projects in the pipeline. Let alone helping to rebuild the biggest, arguably most vital component of the regional transit system, the TTC.

For over 20 years now, the provincial government has shirked its obligation to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, billions and billions of dollars it’s pocketed over the last couple decades directly from Toronto’s property tax base. givewithonehandThis has regional implications as a shoddy TTC does little to encourage commuters to use it, bringing more cars into and around the city. A truly regionally inspired government would recognize that fact and work to fix it.

Exerting such pressure on the city’s budget leads to shortfalls elsewhere like, for example, social housing which the provincial government, acknowledging the regional implications of the file, used to help pay for. No more. Once again the budget made no mention of it despite the ‘moral and business case’ Mayor Tory pitched a couple weeks ago.

Raise your property taxes appropriately, critics say. Utilize the other taxing powers granted to Toronto back in 2006 with the City of Toronto Act. A vehicle registration tax, for example.

While not wrong, I believe those enhanced taxing powers should’ve been accompanied by new governance arrangements or, at the very least, discussion about regional government. It’s all well and good to say Toronto should start paying for what was traditionally thought of as regional or even provincial areas of oversight but shouldn’t that come with some bigger say in the matter? takemymoneyRight now, it’s awfully one-sided, more often than not falling in favour of the provincial government.

The case might be made that with such vested interest, Queen’s Park is not the ideal body to be solely in charge of regional governance for the GTA. It’s kind of conflicted, really. What with watching its own bottom line, and playing municipalities in the region off against each other, even encouraging a city to fight with itself, there’s a valid question of leadership here. We as a region are long overdue to have a conversation about how we should be governing ourselves in the 21st-century.

chattily submitted by Cityslikr


This Toronto Thing

January 29, 2013

I am not a party person. Although I am a big fan of 24 Hour Party People. But politically speaking, in order to less messily gets things done, I reluctantly and grudgingly 24hourpartypeopleaccept that parties are a necessary evil in a parliamentary system while still maintaining they are also the bastion of highly destructive, poo-flinging partisanship.

So I don’t get all caught up with leadership conventions and the like, choosing instead to maintain a safe distance to watch the parade. An interested observer. A conscientious objector. I’ll examine the entrails when the voting’s done and results announced.

And as a Monday morning quarterback reviewing the outcome of this past weekend’s provincial Liberal leadership race, I will tell you I’m pleasantly surprised. For the first time in about 30 years (nearly my entire voting life), I feel that I’m being offered something to consider from the Liberals. So all you party canvassers out there on vigilant minority government election watch, consider this cowboy in play for a change.

Incoming premier Kathleen Wynne strikes me as frank, funny, down-to-earth, smart as a whip. Obviously, to climb such treacherous career heights, she must possess some political chops but, unlike her predecessor, she does not wear her calculating on her sleeve. courtingcoupleWhat I’ve heard from her so far, I like, and I’m willing to listen to more.

“Can we just get this Toronto thing out of the way…” Kathleen Wynne said during her victory speech on Saturday [at about the 6’40” mark].

This Toronto ‘thing’.

Almost as big an obstacle to winning for Wynne as her sexual orientation.

The provincial Liberals seem to have a thing against electing leaders who call the GTA home. When the only non-GTAer in the field, Sandra Pupatello, raised that warning specter during the campaign, I went back to see when it was a Toronto area based politician led the party. Andy Thompson, way back in the 60s — 1964-66 to be exact — if Wikipedia is to be believed.

That’s a whole lot of non-love toward an area that has provided a strong and vital base of support certainly during the McGuinty era. I mean, what don’t they get about this being the centre of the universe? chocolatetownIt’s almost as if they want to hook up with us every 4 years or so and then pretend like they don’t even know us the rest of the time.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the Liberals are using us for our good looks and money.

To be fair, I’d argue that all the provincial political parties over the course of the last 20 years or so have wished Toronto and environs would just be quiet or go away. Leave your votes and tax dollars on the table. Here’s your hat and coat. There’s the door.

Because it seems to be political advantageous to cater to the long held belief outside of the GTA that we’re simply a drain on the well-being of the province, a suck of money and attention. We demand too much and return very little. The generous residents of Not Toronto, Ontario build our subways and feed our homeless.

That’s ‘this Toronto thing’.

A myth based entirely on perception rather than reality.

Unfortunately, a myth eagerly used to exploit divisions. Rural-urban. Suburban-urban. North-south.

Once premier, Kathleen Wynne will be watched closely for any sort of home team advantage. dominoesWhen she speaks of building transit to meet the growing needs of the GTA, she will need to speak of the transit needs of all Ontario municipalities. She won’t be wrong to do so but it would be nice to hear her push the discussion further. That this region’s needs in things like transit are more pressing than those places less dependent on it to function fully. A Toronto bogged down in congestion, bogs down the GTA, bogs down the GTHA. It then reverberates negatively throughout the province as a whole.

By all means, our premier needs to represent and speak for all of Ontario. But it’s time to start speaking truthfully and not out of fear of some parochial regionalism. If you don’t fix what’s ailing Toronto and the GTA, you can’t fix the problems the rest of the province faces. That’s the conversation we’ve been avoiding for a couple decades now. Hopefully, it’s one our incoming premier is up to having and going to an election battle with if need be.

homerly submitted by Cityslikr


Finding The Better Way

November 10, 2011

A political case could probably be made for Premier Dalton McGuinty, his Minister of Municipal Affairs, Kathleen Wynne, and Transportation, Bob Chiarelli, to seize the moment and reframe the transit debate in Toronto. Our mayor has been staggered by a series of largely self-induced setbacks. He no longer commands a vaunted political force (if he ever did) under the banner of Ford Nation. His Transportation City plan is fraying around its already fuzzy edges. While not needing to shore up support in Toronto or the GTA, the Liberal government could lock it down for the foreseeable future by being seen to elevate the transit issue in importance here.

But really, should a political case have to be made stepping up for transit? Look around, listen. It’s not just car-hating, bike riding, downtown pinko elites demanding action. Carol Wilding and the Toronto Board of Trade have been beating the drum for a while now. Transit planning and funding have not kept up pace with the growth of this city and region. It is a situation now past the point of deleteriousness. Not just for Toronto or the GTA but for the province and the country. (Uh oh. Is that an example of the self-importance the rest of Canada hates us for? Ah, fuck `em. Oops. Too smug?)

If a politician wants to leave a positive mark, a legacy if you will, at some point of time they have to step forward and do the right thing and not just the expedient or most popular. Take a stand on an issue that may not curry them favour with a wider swath of the electorate but says, this needs to be done. Fifty years ago, for no discernible reason aside from Cold War fuelled hyper patriotism, President Kennedy exhorted his country to send a man to the moon. Less than a decade later, mission accomplished. Surely to christ we’re capable of building a viable transit system or, at least, a working portion of one in that kind of time.

It’s hard to see how, however, as our functionaries continue to play footsie instead of getting down to serious business. Witness yesterday’s ceremonial breaking of ground for the Eglinton crosstown LRT and the insipid press release it inspired. Jobs! Secure future! Jobs! New global economy! Jobs! Did we mention Jobs!

Unwritten went the fact that under the rejigged plan for the Eglinton LRT that now sees it buried underground for most of its 25 kilometres or so, sinking funds for the previously planned LRTs along Finch and Sheppard along with it, there’s uncertainty about how exactly to cross the Don Valley. Can you say cost overruns and delays? The $650 million in ‘leftover funds’ from building the Eglinton LRT has already dwindled to about $200 million before construction has barely begun, none of which is being fronted by the province to the mayor in order for him to help jump start development of an extension for the Sheppard subway which he promised could be built entirely with private funding. It has now been downgraded to a station by station concept, pay as you go kind of thing that will only succeed in keeping Toronto further and further behind the necessary transit curve.

A brewing monumental clusterfuck is what we’re facing and it’s time for the province to forcefully step in and get this thing back on track. It should be clear by now that Mayor Ford and his team is not up to the task. In fact, a convincing argument could be made the he is now nothing more than an obstacle to transit planning in this city.

At least make the case that before we proceed much further this has to go back to city council for a more serious debate and vote. We’re no longer talking about a simple rearranging of funds that had already been allocated to build transit. There’s going to have to be additional money provided by someone. It’s hard to see how another environmental assessment can be avoided whatever way they come up with as a plan to cross the Don Valley along Eglinton. This is now beyond the scope of simply the mayor and the TTC. The entire city council, and the city itself needs to have a say in how we go forward.

Now I thought that was the case right from the beginning when the mayor declared Transit City dead. I didn’t see how he could do that single-handedly and most of those who sprang to his defence did so with greyish technicalities. I was surprised the Premier played along. In hindsight, I’m glad he did. Mayor Ford’s popularity was higher than it is now, his clout more substantial. He just might’ve been able to bury Transit City for good and we’d be right back to scratch as we seem to find ourselves regularly on the transit portfolio.

Forced to sell his plan to council now, the outcome is nowhere near as foregone. With the bad news keep on a-coming, what councillor in their right mind would stand up to be counted as backing the mayor’s Transportation City plan? It’s going to cost more and deliver less transit to the city. Yes, if we go with Transit City, there’ll be ‘streetcars’ back on the street but that’s his millstone to bear. How many councillors went out on the hustings touting that to voters?

No, Transit City is not perfect. The province made it a little less so when it blinked in the face of a darkening economy a couple years ago and pulled some funding back off the table. But it still delivers reliable transit to parts of the city that will continue to be woefully underserved without it. Let’s call it a reasonable start to an increasingly daunting problem facing us.

An argument could be made to let the mayor dangle further, bluster ahead with his plan and watch it disintegrate further with each successive misstep. That will only squander valuable time and money both of which are at a premium presently with very little prospect of any increased rosiness in the near future. It’s time to stop playing political football with this, push aside the mayor and get on with building proper transit with the serious intent he’s shown no inclination in having.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr


Ford Nation Decimation

October 7, 2011

A fitting end to an uninspiring provincial election campaign. The best one could say is, at least the worst possible outcome did not come to pass. Or as the Toronto Sun put it: Welcome to Hell. OK. Maybe that’s the best thing to emerge from last night. The mucky mucks at the Toronto Sun are totally in a tizzy.

Actually, that’s completely untrue for two reasons. 1) I assume the mucky mucks at the Toronto Sun are always totally in a tizzy for some reason or another. 2) The best thing to emerge from yesterday’s provincial election is the absolute repudiation of any notion of a Ford Nation. As Councillor Adam Vaughan predicted a few weeks back, “Ford Nation is a notion. It’s just a notion. It’s not a factor, it’s not going to be a factor. It does not translate to the province, it won’t translate beyond the last election. Some people voted for Rob Ford, based on some promises of tax cuts with no service cuts. They found out that’s not going to happen. They voted for him to build subways, that’s not going to happen. They voted for him to get rid of the gravy down here, and he’s found no gravy.” Or as Sol Chrom more succinctly put it last night: “Can we officially retire the phrase Ford Nation now? There’s no such fucking thing.”

The complete shut out of the provincial PCs in the 416 area code would point in that direction no matter how much the mayor tries to distance himself from the result. What’s that he said on Metro Morning today? (Yes, Mayor Ford actually stepped into enemy territory at the CBC. All by himself.) “My name wasn’t on the ballot.” He didn’t endorse anyone.

Yeah, but how about this from March, Mr. Mayor? “If he [Premier McGuinty] says no [to the mayor’s request for additional money], obviously there’s a provincial election coming up on October 6 and I want to work with him, not against him, but obviously if he’s not helping out the city I’ll have no choice to work against him.. I’ll have no other choice but to call Ford Nation, and make sure they’re not reelected in the next election. But I do not want to do that.”

So maybe it was a case of the mayor not wanting to unleash Ford Nation as opposed to being unable to.

Either way, Mayor Ford is today facing a somewhat different scenario at the provincial level than he was yesterday. The Liberals are still in power and no longer entirely in election mode although with a minority government, you never can tell. Toronto and much of the GTA, if no less Blue, the Red and Orange are shimmering a little brighter. His own home turf of Etobicoke remained a Liberal stronghold as did neighbouring Mississauga. And, horrors of horrors, right on the doorstep to the north, an NDPer was elected in Bramalea-Gore-Malton!

The political ground beneath his feet may not have shifted drastically but it sure got a whole lot rockier. Will it force him to start playing nice, or as nice as he is capable of, with those he so despises politically? The left wing kooks. The bike riding pinkos.

The answer to that may lie in how the premier chooses to play his cards. Having survived, albeit not unscathed, what was supposed to be another Blue wave here in Ontario will he stop pandering to a more vulnerable mayor here in Fortress Liberal/NDP Toronto? Incoming newcomer, Jonah Schien was a big proponent of Transit City. Will he and the other downtown NDP MPPs use their minority government leverage to put the plan back on the table? I’d be happy just to see the mayor forced to bring it to council for debate. That seems like a very minor demand to make. More importantly, perhaps the timeline for the province resuming their obligation to pay for half the operating costs of the TTC can be pushed up. That’s something the mayor can get on board with.

At council, it’ll be interesting to see if the game’s changed a little bit too. Two fairly solid supporters of Mayor Ford may now be able to stop helplessly toeing the line now that the election’s over and their respective relatives were easily re-elected on the Liberal ticket. Executive Committee member Michelle Berardinetti’s husband, Lorenzo, retained his seat in Scarborough as did Josh Colle’s dad, Mike, in Eglinton Lawrence in what was supposed to be a hotly contested race against former mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi. It wasn’t. So are these two councillors now more free to display an independence of thinking from the mayor?

And what about Ana Bailão? Her ward has been consumed both federally and provincially by the NDP. Looking down the road to her own re-election fortunes, will that change in colour force her to distance herself a little more often from the mayor?

For all the lifelessness of the provincial campaign, a lifelessness that helped contribute to the worst voter turnout in history in Ontario, it has certainly detonated some reverberations here in Toronto. Very, very noticeable cracks in Mayor Ford’s once seemingly bulletproof veneer have been fully exposed. Having endeavoured to make no friends with anyone not possessing similar political stripes, he’s now at the mercy of those he bullied, berated and otherwise alienated while in his briefest of ascendancies. He left himself no wiggle room.

It’s going to be fun to watch him squirm.

not unhappily submitted by Cityslikr


Unreason To Believe

May 5, 2011

We’re trying a new approach here in an attempt to fall in line with a wider swath of our fellow electorate. Clearly we are out of step. So very, very out of step.

Our goal is to stop over-analyzing things. Maybe stop analyzing everything altogether. It only leads to despondency and heavy drinking. Let’s just start pretending to take what our politicians tell us at face value. We know they’re all lying to us, so let’s go with the lies we find most agreeable and beneficial to us. That way, when they fail to deliver, it justifies our anger and disillusionment with the entire system. The politicians are the problem not us.

Cut taxes without cutting services? We like it. Stability and non-accountability above compromise and cooperation? Hells yeah! Putting a majority government in place enables us not to have to think about federal politics again for another 4 years or so. That’s what politics is all about, isn’t it? Divesting ourselves of any and all responsibility.

We’ll also try our best to pay attention to what politicians who pander to our worst instincts have to say about their opponents and we’ll poo-poo what these duly smeared politicians say about any sort of ‘hidden agenda’. That’s just conspiracy minded, we’ll tell them. Besides, what do you know? You once lived outside of the country, didn’t you? Let’s set aside policy and platforms for personality. I’m only going to vote for someone I’d like to have a beer with. It’s a whole lot easier that way.

So we’re going to begin by sharing the joy our mayor and his brother have expressed with the outcome of Monday’s federal election. Finally. After nearly 25 years in exile, we have Conservatives MPs in 416 Toronto. The Liberal Fortress GTA has been breached and this can only mean good things for the city and region.

After years of being neglected and taken for granted by successive Liberal governments in Ottawa, left to our own devices to build transit, affordable housing and upgrade infrastructure, we have elected a party that will listen to our needs and set those things right. It’s true. Technically speaking, the Conservatives have been in power for 5 years now and haven’t really ever talked about any of that except for stimulus spending that the dreaded near-coalition forced them into when the world’s economy was heading off the cliff in 2008.

But you see, their hands were tied in a minority situation. Now freed from those merciless bonds, not with a little help from Toronto and the GTA, they can finally be themselves which, I think, if you didn’t look too closely at how they’ve operated as a government, could be seen as magnanimous. Caring, accommodating, law-abiding and magnanimous.

And since our mayor and his brain trust helped push them over the top, we should expect a little payback in return. Only Liberals ignore those who vote for them. While Conservatives focus mostly on their enemies, they do know who their friends are and reward them accordingly.

What from the mayor’s wish list should we look to be granted first? And by ‘wish list’, I mean not an actual list of priorities that Mayor Ford set down early on in the campaign for the federal politicians to agree or disagree with. That would be getting involved, politically speaking. The mayor didn’t want to get involved. At least, until he publicly endorsed the Conservatives and started sending out robo-calls to voters in various 416 ridings. But now that he’s rolled the dice and come up 7s, what would he wish for if he had any wishes?

There’s money for subways through P3s. So the mayor can finally administer the death blow to Transit City. Check that one off the list. Then there’s… there’s…

For this to work, we’re going to have to ignore the fact that all throughout last year’s municipal campaign, then candidate Rob Ford told us that the city didn’t have a revenue problem. It was all about over-spending and profligate waste. So it makes it a little awkward to go to the federal government now, cap in hand as the mayor referred to it when someone else was doing it, and ask for money that the mayor claims we don’t need.

The difference is, we’re coming at this from a position of strength now. Not only did we help give the Conservatives a majority government, so they owe us, but we don’t really need the money in the first place. If we did, the mayor and his people at City Hall wouldn’t have cut and frozen taxes. So let’s look at it more as a Demand rather than Wish List. We are in the driver’s seat. All it took was electing government MPs. Conservative government MPs. Conservative majority government MPs.

Who knew life could be this simple and easy? Aside from the 40% of voters who cast Conservative ballots on Monday. They’re clearly on to something. Set aside reason and logic and things become very clear, very straight-forward. It’s what we’re all looking for in the long run, isn’t it?

new me-ly submitted by Cityslikr