Show Us The Efficiencies!

June 27, 2016

So, I’m having a quiet conversation the other day with a painter friend of mine, Donald… actually, my friend’s not a painter and his name isn’t Donald. quietconversationBut we were having a quiet conversation the other day.

I bring this up just to establish a time line of my thought process, to let you know I was thinking about this before reading David Nickle’s article yesterday, Toronto’s past public finance practices have experienced its own form of Brexit. It’s this latest broad side fired at the fiscal policies pursued for the better part of a decade at City Hall. “Folly. Pure populist folly,” Nickle calls it.

City councillors have been pretending to practice austerity and delivering at-or-below inflationary property tax increases for about a decade, while roughly maintaining services. They’ve increased some revenues, mostly through fees like transit fares. But otherwise, they’ve relied on the booming real estate market and finite help from the provincial government to keep things going.

Mayor Tory and his council allies are also continuing to trot out the shop worn claim that taxes and other revenue streams are unnecessary or unbecoming, even, until we bear down and squeeze out every last drop of inefficiency there is to be found especially in the operating budget. nostoneunturnedUntil such a time as there is shown to be absolutely no waste, or gravy as the previous guy called it, talk of new revenue will remain theoretical. This, of course, is an impossibly high goal to set which, as we’ve probably suggested before, may well be the whole point of such a futile exercise.

Bringing me to my quiet conversation with my friend the other day.

Of course there are still efficiencies to be found. No one has ever said otherwise. Here’s an example right here in a Toronto Star article from Thursday by David Rider, Audit finds waste in City of Toronto cleaning services. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain a year,” according to the Auditor General.

There you go. Although, I must point out that it’s also not good news for champions of contracting out services, like Mayor Tory, who like to tell us that the private sector, by its very nature, brings about efficiencies and automatically saves us money. Still. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. moarGet ‘er done.

Now, here’s the meat of the conversation between my not-Donald-the-painter friend of mine and me. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Hell, let’s call it a million bucks. Unless the auditor general or whoever else finds 50, 75, 100, 200 of those kind of examples of waste and inefficiencies, we still won’t have enough money to maintain the current services and programs we have, never mind anything new. This is what Mayor Tory’s been told by two consecutive city managers now. Efficiencies for sure but not just efficiencies. It’s not going to be enough.

Moreover, I said to my friend, I said, It’s put up or shut up time for these efficiencies fiends. You claim there’s still lots of efficiencies to be found, find them. Find them and bring them to the budget table. No more vague generalities and focus grouped catchphrases involving sides and dressings.

Anyone who’s followed along with the budget process the last 6 years or so will recognize the approach of the various self-proclaimed fiscal hawks we elect to city council. showmethemoneyPre-determine the property tax rate to give yourself a pretty good idea of what that year’s operating budget will be and then force anyone proposing new spending to make a deduction somewhere else in the budget. An offset, it’s called. This is how much we’re spending. It’s all zero sum after that.

How be this time around, anyone coming to the budget proceedings saying we have to find efficiencies, needs to bring said efficiencies to the table. You don’t want to raise the property tax rate above the rate of inflation? Find the efficiency offset. 1% property tax increase equals roughly $24 million for the city. Before you start talking about 2% or 4% or 5% cuts to budgets, you need to show some $48 or $96 or $120 million in efficiencies found.

Because across the board budget cuts are not the same thing as finding efficiencies. If we’re going to start talking about ‘unprecedented’ and ‘devastating’ cuts, texaschainsawmassacreas Nickle suggests some might be, the onus needs to be placed squarely on those pushing them under the banner of finding efficiencies. We must demand specifics, details down to the penny. Show us the efficiencies found, show us the money.

Otherwise, you’re just proposing cuts for cutting’s sake, and that’s something else entirely. That’s just ideology. That’s a completely different conversation.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


We Pledge Our Allegiance To Ford Nation

June 21, 2016

texaschainsawmassacre

Maybe in order to keep from descending into daily bouts of screaming madness following along with local politics in this burg, one needs to step back and accept the fact that a majority of voters in this city are small c conservatives. They expect very little from City Hall and believe (erroneously in most cases) they make very few demands upon it. Keep our taxes low, streets clean and safe and get the garbage picked up, and we’ll get along just fine.

Rob Ford’s biggest mistake as mayor wasn’t his loutish and illicit behaviour, at least not directly. The faux pas he committed was exposing us as the bumpkins we truly are in supporting such a character in the first place, the miserliness at our civic core. David Miller’s time in office was an outlier. He tried dragging us into the 21st-century and we didn’t care for it one little bit. John Tory has restored us to our natural state, explaining his continued popularity in spite of his continued mishandling of important files. No matter. As our friend John McGrath suggested earlier this year, “Toronto got exactly what it voted for in 2014: 85% of Rob Ford’s policies with 200% more syllables.”

Mayor Tory continues to dig in and boldly adhere to our traditional ways of municipal governance with his letter to the budget committee, laying out his ‘Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget’. Which are? High in aspiration, low in actually delivering anything other than keeping property taxes unsustainably low and further squeezing the life out of many city services and programs.

David Rider in the Toronto Star and David Nickle of Inside Toronto go into much more detail about what happens if the budget committee and, ultimately, city council follow the mayor’s lead with this. While he talks of new revenue discussions and finding savings from the biggest line item in the city’s budget, the police services, it’s hard to imagine any of that will be in place in time for this year. So in the meantime, Mayor Tory gets to shake every other tree at City Hall in the hopes of finding more low-hanging fruit despite the fact he’s been told repeatedly there’s very little left, none in some cases. Any further paring, so to speak, will only end up causing damage.

And we will cheer him on because that’s what we expect of our elected municipal officials to do. As little as possible, costing us as little as possible. If urban planner, Brent Toderian is correct when he says, “The truth about a city’s aspirations in its vision. It’s found in its budget,” what does that say about Toronto and its vision, its expectations, its aspirations? Mayor Tory’s letter to his budget committee would indicate that we remain, deep down, Ford Nation.

What other conclusion can we draw?

Below, is a copy of Mayor Tory’s letter to the budget committee with some editorial work of mine in red.

* * *

June 17, 2016

City Hall, 2nd floor

100 Queen Street West

Toronto, Ontario

M5H 2N2

To: Gary Crawford, Budget Chief, and Members of Budget Committee

Re: Mayor’s Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget

Toronto is a vibrant and growing city, but it is changing quickly. Our population is increasing and our demographics are shifting, bringing new pressures and expectations.

To compete in today’s global economy and maintain Toronto’s character as vibrant, affordable and liveable for all ages and income levels, the City must keep up with the pace of change and think differently about its role in people’s lives.

We must prioritize our investments and spend our money wisely, providing services with a direct, positive impact for the public.

To that end, this letter outlines my expectations of all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices for the 2017 operating and capital budgets:

The City’s tax-supported 2017 net operating budget target is zero percent over the 2016 net operating budget, meaning $3.97 billion; (No new money)

Inflationary pressures and negotiated wage increases should be absorbed within existing budgets; (In fact, even less money than last year)

Any new or enhanced services should be funded from within existing budgets; (You want to try or buy anything new? Get rid of some old stuff first)

Any new or enhanced services with a “net zero” funding impact should be reviewed for impact on staff time and planned service delivery; (Maybe your new or enhanced service isn’t “net zero” if it costs money for the city to implement and deliver. Did you ever think about that?)

Current service levels should be assessed to confirm their value for money and benefit to the public; (A nice-to-have or a need-to-have?)

Opportunities for efficiencies and alternative service delivery models should continue to be pursued, including contracting out; (See Ford, Rob, Mayor, 2010-2014) and,

Any property tax increase should be at or below the rate of inflation. (No new money. In fact, very likely, less.)

City Building Priorities

While our budget is under real strain (Self-imposed), we must continue to build the city we want (In theory). To that end, I have also identified strategic priorities to complete the mandate we have set out over the past two years.

(This following section is a house of cards built on the contradictory impulses expressed in the first sentence. All the stated intentions here are undermined by (a) the faultiness of the intentions themselves i.e. SmartTrack and/or (b) the budgetary constraints stated above. This is a zero sum game here. For any of this to happen, something else will have to be sacrificed somewhere else in the budget.)

It’s time to exert discipline and ramp up our efforts to build a modern city and an efficient, ambitious and effective government, through:

The ongoing planning, design and construction of our transit network expansion, including SmartTrack, the optimized Scarborough network and the Relief Line, which will take cars off the road, reduce overcrowding on existing transit lines and dramatically increase and improve service across the city, while protecting the existing new transit investments. This transit expansion must move forward efficiently, in order to capture the full value of the currently proposed federal infrastructure investments;

Continued investment in Toronto’s mobility network to provide safe, efficient and reliable ways to move around the city for those travelling by car, bike or on foot;

Continued implementation of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy investments provided for in the 2017 work plan;

Further investment in affordable housing, through our Open Door program; and,

Continued investments in building on Toronto’s standing as one of the most liveable cities in the world through support for arts, culture and public realm projects across the city. (Hoo-rah! A whole bunch of empty cheerleading)

Government Modernization

In the last two years, we have taken some long overdue steps to confront the City’s real underlying pressures without just making arbitrary cuts. (Mayor Tory’s previous call for 5% across the board cuts belies this statement)

The real waste and inefficiency in our City government is found in outdated systems and services, unnecessary duplication and a slow embrace of technology. This is why, despite the declarations of victory made by some, I continue to believe there is much work to be done making large government operate much more efficiently. (No one I know has ever said there’s no more efficiencies. As the city manager has made very clear, there are simply not enough to pay for the stuff the mayor says he wants)

And so, to achieve further real progress, I would like to see an increased focus on digital solutions, measurement and analytics, as well as the expedited completion or implementation of the following reports and reviews:

The Real Estate Review, which will provide an up-to-date assessment of the City’s real estate holdings and create important city-building opportunities;

The Toronto Police Transformational Task Force, which will make recommendations to reduce the growing TPS budget through modernization;

Procurement Review, which is examining the City’s procurement process, especially related to technology solutions;

An immediate prioritization of work that transitions the City to a data-driven organization. All work by City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should be measured, tracked and analyzed so the City can make budget decisions based on sound analytics;

City Programs should also work to meet our Open Data Strategy and targets; and,  City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should prioritize work that provides the people of Toronto with mobile friendly, technology enabled services. This efficiency will free up resources to offer direct services to those who cannot access this service on line.

There is no either/or choice between government efficiency and ambitious city building. (Again, nobody has said otherwise) We can and must contain spending and become more efficient while continuing to make strategic investments in transit, housing and vital infrastructure.

We can do this while maintaining the values and character that make Toronto great.

But it will require a new approach. (If by new approach, the mayor means the same one employed by the previous administration, then yes)

For too long, we have relied on property tax and MLTT revenues without introducing new ways to pay for the city building efforts we support. Alongside the 2017 Budget Process, we must have a serious conversation about new ways to raise revenues, especially to finance longer term capital investments like transit and housing, and we will. (Seems here the mayor is willing to talk about new revenue sources for capital spending, leaving the operating side of the equation dwindling under the weight of at or below the rate of inflation property tax increases)

In the meantime, we owe it to the public to spend their money wisely, before we ask them to contribute more. (**cough cough** Scarborough subway **cough cough** Gardiner East hybrid **cough cough** **cough cough**)

I encourage staff from all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices to help us build a truly modern city that is the envy of the world and to do it while keeping the interests of the people we serve, the residents of Toronto, first and foremost in our minds. (Define “interests”)

 

Sincerely,

John Tory

Mayor of Toronto

submitted by Cityslikr


Yapping

June 20, 2016

So twice within the last 2 weeks, Scarborough Centre MPP and Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, has come forward to help bail out Mayor John Tory when bad news kept on coming about the proposed one-stop, “express” subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. “The critics, it’s time for them to take a rest,” yappinghe stated after news about woefully low projected ridership numbers broke earlier this month. Then this weekend, after the mayor took media heat over nearly a billion dollar increase in the project’s price tag, the provincial minister demanded that all the downtown elitists need to stop their yapping.

“I’m very confident the people of Scarborough will get their subway.”

And by ‘the people of Scarborough’, of course, Minister Duguid meant ‘the politicians of Scarborough’.

Ever since the Ford camp blared ‘Subways, Subways, Subways’, local politicians of all stripes and at all levels have basically co-opted the slogan rather than confront it. They have convinced themselves that campaigns have been fought and won on the subway issue as if it were the only variable that mattered to voters, city-wide, province-wide, country-wide. The Scarborough subway. The defining issue of every election since 2010.

So no matter how ridiculous the project gets the more planning that goes into it, no matter how much money the fucking thing’s going to cost, how damaging it’s going to be to the wider transit network, nothing is too good for the politicians people of Scarborough. countmeinThey deserve another subway stop. If you stand opposed, it’s for no other reason than you hate Scarborough and refuse to take your elitist head out of your downtown ass.

Like one of those comic book movies with a cast of thousands of supervillains, it’s hard to pick your favourite bad guy in this sad saga. So many too choose from! The one irony in all this is that the guy who raised the curtain on this shitshow, the late Rob Ford, may have been the least worst offender. While always politically calculating, he seemed to actually believe, owing to his solid grounding in ignorance fed by an extreme disinterest in much to do with public transit, that if you were going to build public transit, subways were the only way to go. He didn’t know any better. Everybody else most surely does. They know, and they don’t care.

For me, the real face of this mess is Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. There is no nonsense he won’t spout, no gratuitous shot he’s unwilling to take, no number too fabtabulist for him to cite in support of a Scarborough subway. He’s the go-to guy to say the questionable things that need to be said in order to push a major infrastructure project that otherwise possesses absolutely no merit. The kind of things that only someone lacking any sense of self-awareness or shame would be able to say with a straight face.

The thing is, Councillor De Baeremaeker wasn’t always a subway champion. crayondrawingHe loved LRTs. He was a big fan of Transit City that promised to deliver more higher order transit to more people in Scarborough than either variation of a subway would.

Unfortunately, when push came to shove, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker decided his political future was more important than the future of public transit in Toronto. He’s not alone. Liberal premiers, ministers, MPPs and MPs all took the easiest, most craven route, as did many of those running election campaigns against them. Mayor John Tory fell into place too.

It’s just Councillor De Baeremaeker’s conversion was so obvious, so unprincipled, so thoroughly… greasy, and he stands so smugly defiant in his posturing as Captain Scarborough that, while he’s certainly not the biggest player in this unfolding scandal, he’s most certainly its chief enabler.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2016

(h/t @JohnToryWatch)

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2012

 (h/t Himy Syed)

sickeningly submitted by Cityslikr


Stumbling Toward Progress

January 22, 2016

Wow!

And what a week it was.whirlwind

Under the steady, competent and business-like stewardship of John Tory, this kind of wild ride at City Hall was supposed to be a thing of the past. Granted, not your garden variety, crack-fueled, more-than-enough-to-eat-at-home sort of melodrama we’ve previously witnessed. Purely political, up and down the daily calendar. But still.

It all began with a fairly standard bit of annual budgeting that’s happened for the past few years. Ix-nay he-tay alk-tay bout-ay ew-na evenue-ray. Pilfer reserve funds. Continue to squeeze a little harder on the stone in the hopes of getting blood this time around. Circle three times, click you heels twice. Declare the budget balanced in the fairest, most reasonable, prudent manner possible.

Then it started to rain staff reports and the going got crazy.

SmartTrack. Redrawn options for the Gardiner East hybrid. The Scarborough subway extension. New numbers and projections. countNew configurations. New realities. New respect for expert staff advice, depending on the project, of course. Proposed compromises that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the original plans. Fewer subways. More LRTs. More developable waterfront land. Tighter turn radii.

Somewhere in the midst of all that doubling and tripling back mayhem, the man who should be chief of police leveled a broadside against his organization, demanding fundamental reform of the way it goes about its policing business. He then went silent or was silenced. The head of the Police Services Association responded with a public pout. The former reform-minded chair of the Police Services Board filed a complaint against the actual chief of police and the Police Services Board for not clarifying statements the police chief made during a year end interview questioning the accuracy of statements the former TPSB chair made about implementation of proposed reforms. joustingWe then learned the police were deploying some 50 combat ready assault rifles for front line officers as tools of de-escalation and in no way was militarizing policing in the city.

Mayor Tory deemed it all to be reasonable. Nothing to be alarmed at. As you were.

You could look at all this and conclude that it was simply the result of an industrious administration dealing with the inevitable array of issues that come from governing a growing and busy metropolis. Shit happens, am I right? Roll up your sleeves and get down into the goo. This city isn’t going to run itself.

But it doesn’t feel like that at all to me. At week’s end, it kind of feels like a reckoning. Bills have come due and need to be paid.

The mayor’s refusal to have a serious discussion about proper revenue streams, holding tight onto his campaign promise of keeping property tax rate hikes to at or below the rate of inflation, continues to hamstring the city for yet another year in dealing with a wall of serious fiscal matters, both on the capital and operating sides of the ledger. madscrambleIt’s even more ridiculous in light of how he’s backtracked on other hare-brained campaign promises, mostly revolving around public transit. He’s insisting on putting off a tax and spend conversation that will only get more difficult the closer we get to another election.

On the policing front, the mayor took his spot on the board rather than designate a council colleague in his place. So he was right there, hands on, to change the culture both on the board and in the services itself. A shot at serious reform, which he keeps talking about, within reach. A new, forward thinking chief waiting in the wings, reports and recommendations for implementation of change on the table in front of him.

But he blinked, retreated, embraced the status quo. More business as usual.

Where there is some brightness, some hope for more positive outcomes is on transit, a file the mayor, and as a candidate before that, made even more problematic and difficult to negotiate, layering on additional fanciful talk and plans in his bid for the job. headlesschickenBut he’s backtracked on SmartTrack. He’s rethought his once adamant support of the Scarborough subway extension. Having joined the crowd in politicizing transit planning, he’s now attempted to hand it back, tattered and somewhat worse for wear, to those who actually know a thing or two about transit planning.

The retreat comes with some potentially good results. The city could end up with an Eglinton Crosstown running from Pearson airport right through to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto. We might build fewer subways in Scarborough and more LRTs. So much new transit could be in the offing that we as a city will have no choice to not only talk about new revenue sources but to actually implement some in order to help pay for and operate it.

This comes, unsurprisingly, with a whole boatload of caveats. The new SmartTrack mock up is still so dependent on unknown variables like capacity and fare pricing as to remain highly theoretical, and yet, is something of a linchpin for the new proposed Scarborough subway alignment to work properly. chaseyourowntailIs $2 billion (or more) for one subway station too steep a price to pay to try and ensure a non-fractious majority of city council buy in? All the delays and false starts have pushed timelines further and further down the road, past upcoming elections cycles, leaving most of today’s proposed projects susceptible to future political interference, still just lines on a map.

Unlike the budget process and the policing news, however, I don’t see this week’s transit resets as steps back or no steps taken at all. At least in the light of recent transit upheavals in Toronto, what’s occurred over the past few days is something akin to progress. If not forward momentum, let’s call it forward motion.

It shouldn’t have to be this fucking hard, and I will not absolve Mayor Tory of any blame for contributing to the ongoing difficulty. fingerscrossed1If he had’ve met the parochial chest-beating of the Ford’s head on, and not derided and sneered at his opponents who did so, none of this would’ve been necessary. We wouldn’t have lost so much time and money while he and his team pretended SmartTrack was actually a thing, that the Scarborough subway had any legitimacy whatsoever.

But, there it is, and here we are.

Try as I might to wrap this up on an optimistic note, I can’t bring myself to do it unless you consider It’s Not All Bad News upbeat. In the flurry that was this week, there may be some cause to be hopeful. Maybe. When it could be worse is not good enough, it will have to do.

Open ended. That’s all I’ve got.

unfinishedly submitted by Cityslikr


Lost In A Forest Full Of Trees

January 15, 2016

It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I have lost perspective on Mayor John Tory. forestforthetreesAfter reading a couple news items on the 2016 budget process and an upcoming SmartTrack report last night and this morning, I let fly with some intemperate Twitter remarks that weren’t particularly well thought out. In my defence, they only contained one swear word in the lot of them.

“Tory hopes to balance Toronto budget by funding less than half of new commitments,” was the headline in a Metro article by Jessica Smith Cross.

My initial reaction?

Indignation, of course.

How hard is it to balance a budget when you decide to fund only 40% of the commitments, promises and pledges that you and your council colleagues have made? blowmylidYou know that thing we all thought was a really good idea? Well, we still think it’s a good idea but I’m not prepared to pay for it. But props to us for thinking it’s a good idea, right?

It’s about picking priorities, came one response to my outburst. That’s pretty much what every budget is about. That’s what City Manager Peter Wallace put before the budget committee with an unbalanced budget of at least $67 million in unfunded council requests and implementations. The mayor and city council have to choose their priorities. Mayor Tory’s simply choosing his.

“John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan for Toronto getting smaller, cheaper,” was the headline in Oliver Moore’s Globe and Mail article this morning.

My initial reaction?

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Millions of dollars on a report that essentially confirms what every critic of SmartTrack thought from the time it was released as a headline grabbing, yellingatcloudsill-thought out plan back during the 2014 campaign. My head exploded, and I fired off some of my own headline grabbing, ill-thought opinions, undercutting possible benefits in the report for Scarborough transit users and overplaying the mayor’s embrace of the report. “The issues you reference are still being studied and staff have not yet provided recommendations,” Amanda Galbraith, Mayor Tory’s spokesperson, told the Globe.

So, there’s plenty of time still for the mayor to ignore expert advice and stubbornly insist on doing SmartTrack his way. It was unfair of me to respond in a way that suggested he’d accepted the findings in this new report yet. If he does, it will be a better SmartTrack project, probably, at least the “new” western spur which would become, essentially, a Transit City proposal from way back when. At least, it can’t be worse than the SmartTrack he used to get elected.

Maybe they have a point. (Except for the ‘love nonetheless’ business. It’s an established fact that Tim Falconer detests me for my youth and rugged good looks.) Maybe I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Better, if not good, policy should always be preferred to bad policy. humbledIt’s amazing to me that I actually find myself writing such a sentence. And the politics of budgeting has always been about trade-offs and prioritizing. None of this is anything John Tory has ushered onto the scene.

I guess the source of my frustration and resentment is that while it’s a political landscape John Tory inherited, he’s chosen instead to navigate it rather than challenge it. In the post-Ford scorched earth environment of low-taxes-at-any-cost and non-reality based transit plans, Mayor Tory has played along. Prioritizing that unfunded $67 million in the budget is a whole lot harder because he’s refused to entertain reasonable discussions about property tax rates and other revenue tools. We’re piecemealing together a more acceptable transit approach not because of Mayor Tory’s reasonableness but because, for nearly two years now, he’s also been playing along with his predecessor’s unrealistic belief that transit comes for free and shouldn’t interfere with our ability to drive around the city.

Is that an improvement? Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, though. What Toronto needs right now is an injection of pure, unadulterated aspiration and methods necessary to achieve that. What we’re getting from Mayor Tory is a placebo.

It might work. There’s scientific evidence suggesting such a positive effect can happen. drinkingaloneAfter 4 years of backsliding on almost every conceivable front, any step forward, no matter how small or circuitous, should be seen as progress. Dampen your expectations and things look a lot less bleak. Always remember. It could be worse, in two words: RobDoug Ford.

I just have to learn that, when drowning my sorrows in a self-pity binge of What Could Bes, my booze filled glass is half full not half empty.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Bully Budgeting

January 14, 2016

It was just a coincidence, I’m sure, that I was reading through Torontoist’s 2015 Heroes and Villains list while listening to the first of the public deputations on the 2016 budget. TPLTorontoist(Truth be told, I’d held out following the annual Torontoist series as, once again, I’d been snubbed despite my unrelenting and uncompromising work covering the politics of this city. Hero or Villain. It didn’t matter to me. Just a little recognition might be nice, Torontoist.) As it so happened, I was just getting to the final reveal – Superhero of the Year – when the library workers union president, Maureen O’Reilly, sat down to speak to the budget committee.

No, really. That’s exactly how it happened. Sometimes life can be that serendipitous.

Read what Eva Hd wrote about the Toronto Public Library, in nominating it as Superhero of the Year:

The individual branches’ lovingly curated and topical displays, whether tying in to contemporary political issues such as Idle No More or featuring mystery Valentine books wrapped in red tissue paper for February 14, always amaze and amuse. On any given day, TPL’s librarians can be heard giving tips to adolescents on how to find books and movies about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, showing seniors how to use the internet, guiding researchers through the archives, and telling homeless people where to find the bathroom with equal amounts of patience and grace, while the security guards interact respectfully with everyone and will often be seen helping out at kids’ story time.

Now here’s David Nickle writing about Maureen O’Reilly’s budget committee deputation:

“It’s 2016. It’s no longer acceptable to underpay the ladies of the library and to continually cut them.”

O’Reilly was referring to the Toronto Public Library Board’s recommendation to save $250,000 by cutting 6.7 full-time equivalent page positions – a move that would mean between 12 and 14 of the minimum-wage pages would lose their jobs.

The pages, said Reilly, are bearing much of the weight of a cut in library staffing that she said amounts to 25 per cent since 1992. The position of page was traditionally a part-time job for high school students, but currently, the average age of a page at Toronto Public Library is 43. They do the work of reshelving materials and helping at checkouts.

That’s what you call working ‘harder and smarter’ with less. It’s just what budget hawks like our mayor (like so many mayors before him) love to hear, love to tout. See, Toronto. texaschainsawmassacreWe continue to nick and cut at library services, and they still keep providing exemplary service to residents of this city. It can be done!

Libraries, and those who work so diligently to make them the key community hubs that they are, represent the kind of soft services line-by-line, always searching for efficiencies, nickel-and-dime politicians love to go after. Easy targets. Libraries don’t directly provide life-or-death support to residents. They aren’t grand infrastructure symbols elected officials can cut ribbons at.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Almost any politician who isn’t a Ford – Doug was convinced there were more libraries than Tim Horton’s in his ward and would’ve slashed them ‘in heartbeat’ — loves to oversee the building of a library. The 100th TPL branch was opened in Scarborough last year. It’s the funding of their operations that’s so tempting to shave, trim and hack at.

So, working at the library for many falls into the precarious employment category. Half of the workers are contracted, meaning benefits, a living wage and the like are but a pipedream. library2At Tuesday’s budget deputations, library worker Tori MacDonald talked about scrambling to branches all over the city in the search of hours. For Ms. MacDonald, the librarian’s lot in Toronto was not one where she could see buying a home, raising a family.

Bully for them, those of us with plenty of space at home to find a quiet spot to work, with easy access to all the internet we need, with that book we want one Amazon click away, with our own communities already carved out, will say. What’s a librarian’s job anyway? Checking out books. Putting them back on the shelves when they’re returned. Why should we pay a premium for that?

But read the Torontoist piece and realize that our library system represents much more than that to many residents of this city. In fundamentally important ways, our libraries and those (wo)manning the desks, counters and stacks – Yes, 75% of library workers are female. Women and precarious employment. Surprise! — serve as, if not gatekeepers, librarythen the welcoming committee of this city for newcomers and other oftentimes marginalized segments of our community. Libraries provide both a physical as well as social shelter for this city.

How much should that be worth to us?

It’s easy to embrace the big gestures, the grand symbols of our civic well-being. The shiny new transit projects and plans, the high rise office towers, the beautiful, “world class”, outside public spaces. What we always overlook, however, in our seemingly perpetual chest-beating, looking out for the taxpayer push to scrimp toward balanced budgets is the vital element of the human scale. “Finally,” Hd writes in the Torontoist, “TPL locations are also some of the last places in Toronto where you can still get a glass of water and use the bathroom for free, a not insignificant attribute in our increasingly precious metropolis.”

Our libraries and the people working to make them cornerstones of neighbourhoods and communities are indeed significant attributes ‘in our increasingly precious metropolis’. libraryWe need to defend them from those intent on only counting costs and ignoring the benefit side of the ledger. A strong library system is not simply a nice-to-have. It is a need-to-have, and we have to start treating it as such, beyond just the easy to spot and promote bricks-and-mortar, to the people inside, working to make it the remarkable enterprise it is.

bookishly submitted by Cityslikr


SDS

December 17, 2015

The holiday season is now fully upon us. With it, comes the spirit of giving. salvationarmyIn a world seemingly gone mad, descended into a cesspool of despair, sadness and disorder, it is difficult, if not near impossible at times, to decide upon where to deliver your dedicated bounty of benevolent compassion.

This year, might I suggest, you bestow your gift of kindness close to home, here in Toronto, to a newly diagnosed local malady. SDS. Or, Subway Derangement Syndrome.

A relatively new ailment of the heart and mind, little is known about SDS, its causes, its pathogenic qualities. Initially, medical professionals thought it to be hypochondriacal in nature, affecting mainly the political class of this city. A mental affliction seeing personal and professional advancement entwined with the building of subways where none were necessary. diagnosisThis belief evolved into something of a persecution complex. Subways weren’t essential. Subways were ‘deserved’. Denying subways to those suffering from SDS was seen as tantamount to denying them civic citizenship.

Manifestations of SDS varied. For some it led to incessant chanting, like football hooligans, of a single word, the single word. Subways, Subways, Subways! (Chant along with us, won’t you?) The people want Subways! Others simply made up words or phrases like Surface Subways. Some even went so far as to see their political future in a sunflower.

Psychological projection is also a symptom of SDS. You see your glaring weaknesses in others, and accuse them of actions which you yourself have partaken in. Your self-serving motivations, say, become their self-serving motivations. sunflowerYour ambitions are laudable. Theirs, dishonest and deceitful, driven only for personal gain.

Darkly and menacingly, SDS has lately been seen seeping into the professional ranks of the city. Those whose work would largely benefit from politically-motivated subways not being built are now exhibiting the same irrational behavioural outbursts as their similarly troubled political counterparts. Numbers are fuzzy to them. New, untested ways of managing reality are sought. Once outspoken, SDS induced professionals withdraw behind an impenetrable bureaucratic wall, never to be seen or heard from in any meaningful way again.

Unchecked, Subway Derangement Syndrome can grow in proportion to a point where an individual embraced in its destructive grip can become unrecognizable to their former self. Only SDS can explain such confusion, such mental to-and-froing in one individual over the course of barely a year!

At such an advanced stage of SDS, these particular victims also begin to display troubling signs of delusions of grandeur, wrapping themselves in flags of local pride and disenfranchisement. Modern day William Wallaces, if you will, defenders of their people, the disaffected, the subway-less. “They can take our lives but they will never take our subways! …. Which we don’t have in the first place … except for two or three stops … But we want more! We deserve more.”

Local Man Searches For Lost Dignity And Ethics

Local Man Searches For Lost Dignity And Ethics

So far gone are such individuals that they no longer even bother to try making rational arguments in favour of their beloved subways. Ridership numbers are totally irrelevant to them. Chosen routes are neither here nor there. Just so long as there is a subway somewhere near them. A subway they can call their own. A subway to make them feel whole again.

Now, where would your generous donation to SDS go? Certainly not to the billions of dollars being asked to deliver that subway. That would be like giving candy to cavity-ravaged children in order to keep them quiet. As soon as it’s gone, they’ll demand more and more and more.

No. Your money and time would go to those prepared to make an intervention in an attempt to stop the downward spiral of budgets and reputations. Organizations holding firm to the fact that there are better options on the table, that an SDS subway would represent a step backward not forward. helpIndividuals standing at the ready to unseat politicians undermined by a disease of their own making, who are no longer making a positive contribution to the public good.

While Subway Derangement Syndrome is an individual ailment, it has proven to be highly contagious, resistant to reason and what was once called common sense before the term became corrupted by misuse. We can no longer idly wish it away, hope it burns out in its own virulent malignancy. Only you, we together, can defeat this threat to our future well-being. By giving generously this holiday season to others, you will be giving yourself a gift. The gift of transit sanity.

pledgingly submitted by Cityslikr