Mayor Busy McBusy

November 30, 2015

johntorybusymayor

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at this Toronto Star file photo of our mayor, John Tory, stepping through the subway turnstiles, all the morning papers in hand. Mayor McBusy. Busy, busy, busy. Off to tend to the city’s business and keeping on top of all necessary and pertinent Toronto information a mayor needs to know.

Relentless PR.

The mayor is everywhere. Mayor Tory is on the job! The era of the absentee mayor is over. Full steam ahead!

But a year into his first term now, what’s really been accomplished? The rollbacks of the previous administration, most specifically on the transit file, have been slowed. The police budget continues to grow. Road repairs have sped up with the corresponding cost increase to getting the job done. lucyinthechocolatefactoryA war on rush hour parking infractions has been waged when Mayor Tory’s needed to look like he’s very serious about combating congestion. Then, back to business as usual.

We have a poverty reduction strategy that, at this juncture, is about as valuable as the paper the report’s written on, all good intentions but, as of yet, lacking any serious funding. And Mayor Tory talks of keeping any sort of property tax increase – the city’s biggest source of revenue — for the 2016 budget ‘at or below the rate of inflation’. So yeah, don’t expect the bucks to be flowing in to start fighting poverty.

A short, permeable list of done deeds, amplified by plenty of do-good rhetoric and posturing. Or, more generously, as David Nickle wrote last week in his The City column, “…baby steps are better than none…a very tiny step in the right direction.” Or, more generous still, as now mayor staffer, director of strategic initiatives, Siri Agrell, put it back in March: “I respect @JohnTory approach to governing and think it should be the model: small, tangible actions that add up over time to real progress.”todolist1

An argument for incrementalism (h/t @JohnTory_) after 4 years of radical reactionism of the Ford era. Keep Calm and Carry On, and all that.

But what if every, say, 3 tiny, incremental steps forward are countered by one massive cock-up clusterfuck? A horrendous policy pursuit which will invariably set the city back decades? What’s the sum total of that calculation?

Mayor Tory’s continued obstinacy in the face of increased pushback on the Scarborough subway threatens to derail proper transit planning in this city. Never mind his own SmartTrack where all signs point to an equally monumental grievous transit planning setback. Those two backward steps alone overwhelm any incremental gains he may’ve made since taking office.

His pursuit of a Gardiner East hybrid solution flies in the face of any progress he hopes to achieve in attending the climate change conference in Paris later this week. As he coddles car drivers in this city, our chief planner points out that 40% of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicle use. Forget incrementalism. goodimpressionThe mayor’s actions are outright counter-productive and working at cross purposes to his public stance.

Besides, a very strong argument could be made that, at this point of time, municipalities need much more than incremental leadership. Not just in terms of environmental issues but on the governance and financial files as well. If Toronto regressed on those fronts while Rob Ford was mayor, less regression isn’t necessarily a step forward. Bold initiatives need to happen. A boldness Mayor Tory proclaims to be driven by but a boldness not much in evidence in the actions he’s taken.

The mayor and his team spend an awful lot of time carefully crafting the image of a dynamic, energetic man of action, wrestling civic matters into a positive submission. A resolved future-facer, boldly (did they mention ‘bold’?) grappling mightily with our 21st-century problems and challenges. Yielding ‘baby steps…in the right direction’, leaving crises looming larger, image is everything, the only thing, in fact.

lookbusy

Look busy and everyone will assume things are getting done.

busily submitted by Cityslikr


Car2Go To Hell

November 17, 2015

“While you may be ready for the city, I’m not sure the city’s ready for you.”notlistening

This is why Toronto can’t have nice things.

A car-driving councillor like Stephen Holyday couldn’t possibly imagine a near future where other car owners willingly give up their auto-dependence if the opportunity arose. Oh sure, people living in other places might give such a change a whirl. But not Torontonians, no way, uh uh. We are a static people, we Torontonians.

At last week’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee the car-sharing company, Car2Go, made a request for more parking spots on city streets, to allow people to park the cars closer to home, freeing them up from finding the nearest Green P lot where Car2Go vehicles are currently relegated. car2goGiven an easier option, it was argued, people might sign on to the program and use their own cars less. Less car use might mean less demand for private parking space on public streets.

Unfortunately, the PWI committee members couldn’t get their collective heads around such a concept. People driving their own cars less? People giving up their own cars? Preposterous! Maybe in other places. Not here in Toronto.

Now look, far be it from me to extrapolate my experience to that of the wider city but I think it is slightly more representative of the street parking question than that of Councillor Holyday who lives in Etobicoke Centre where the houses are largely detached, the roadways wide and the driveways are plenty. Curbsides there are used to collect leaves, awaiting vacuum-like collection. Private vehicles don’t vie for precious road space. In fact, in parts of suburban Toronto, overnight parking isn’t even allowed!car2go2

Down in the core where I dwell, it should be first pointed out that public transit is readily, if not always reliably, available. So not using a car is a viable option. Driveways here aren’t the norm. There is a smattering of garages and parking spaces, usually tucked away off back alleys. Many of the older homes are used as multi-residences, so parking spots don’t evenly match up to residents. Throw in in some parts of the older city commercial and retail pressure, with a regular flow of drivers looking for places to throw out the anchors for a quick stopover.

Street parking in these parts of the city represent prime real estate.

You would never know it, however, by the prices we charge for it. On the street I live, for example, if you have one car and “no access to on-site parking” it costs you just under $15 (plus HST) a month for an on-street parking permit. $15 a month. car2go1That’s 50 cents a day. It’s a bit pricier if you have access to on-site parking but want to park out on the street anyway. That’ll set you back just over $50 a month. A month. Roughly two bucks a day. And don’t get me started on residents with more than one vehicle.

Street parking permits for visitors are even more ridiculous. Nine bucks for 24 hours. About $15 for two days. And a whole $20.60 (plus HST) for a week of on street parking. While it may be different in different parts of the city, of the handful of times I’ve wanted a visitor parking permit, it’s never been a problem, never encountered a no availability turn down.

Toronto encourages on street parking. We contribute to the affordability of owning and operating a car in this city. We do little to dissuade visitors from bringing their car to the city. inconceivableParking is treated as a right, one that should not be onerous on the wallet.

The notion of freeing up some of that space for something other than private vehicle use, for something that might even subvert our traditional belief in the primacy of car ownership? Inconceivable. The city, or rather, too many of those we’ve elected to represent the city, simply aren’t ready to entertain such a radical concept.

inconceivably submitted by Cityslikr


How Not To Be A City Councillor

October 13, 2015

Recently, a Scarborough community of about 12 households took their fight to City Hall over plans to install sidewalks along their street. Yes, you read that correctly. protestagainstResidents have been fighting the city over plans to install sidewalks.

This item, let us call it, first came to my notice when the local city councillor, Gary Crawford, tried to ix-nay hetay idewalksay at September’s Public Works and Infrastructure meeting. Rebuffed, it came back this month before finally being subdued and, hopefully, deep sixed for good last week after much commiserative mumbling from a few of the committee members. “I’m not a big fan of pavement myself,” said PWIC chair, Jaye Robinson.

How so very Joni Mitchell of her.

That the pushback even got this far along in the process is truly an abject lesson in pandering and How Not To Be A City Councillor. Listen to Councillor Crawford speaking up for his aggrieved dozen of households.

I fully support the construction of sidewalks, especially in my ward. I really do support sidewalks. But what I support is sidewalks that make sense. When you look at this particular little section, the community looked at the foot traffic and how busy that road is. They’ve indicated there’s very little foot traffic.

‘Sidewalks that make sense’.

Looking at this photo of Ramona Drive from the Scarborough Mirror, it’s hard not to conclude that, of course, there’s very little foot traffic. Who the hell would want to travel by foot along here? It basically screams, Stay Off My Lawn and Get In Your Car! RamonaDriveAfter the committee vote, the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore asked Councillor Crawford why he thought the sidewalk issue was so ‘divisive’. “It’s partly because people have become accustomed to having/using the road allowance,” the councillor responded.

In other words, the residents of Ramona Drive don’t need sidewalks because they use the road to walk on. But it’s not really that pleasant walking on the road, so, unsurprisingly, there’s very little foot traffic. Therefore, we don’t need no stinkin’ sidewalks!

Never mind the fact that the sidewalks would be put in on city property, so it’s not really up to residents to say yes or no to them. The installation is being coordinated with the replacement of watermains in order to keep construction time to a minimum and, hopefully, save some money in the process. Like it or not, this is just something that comes with living in a city. You want untouched bucolic where you collect your water from a stream and shit in an outhouse? There are places you can move to for that even without building a time machine to travel back to. Toronto, even Scarborough, isn’t one of them.johndenver

Another complaint from the residents was that the city didn’t consult enough with them beforehand, to come up with some sort of compromise, a more sensible sidewalk, I guess. This is often a legitimate complaint from people in dealing with the city about city plans but I do get the sense that on this one that from staff’s position what was there to consult about? They’re putting in a sidewalk, for fuck’s sake. Who’s going to have a problem with that?

Apparently, residents of Ramona Drive, Scarborough, Toronto. That’s who.

Interceding with and navigating the often times antagonistic dynamic between City Hall and city residents is part of the job of being a city councillor. That doesn’t mean always siding with the public because it’s the politically expedient thing to do. An angry constituent means a hostile voter. If people living on Ramona Drive weren’t notified in a timely fashion, the blame ultimately should lie with their councillor, and this whole ridiculous business feels like a councillor scrambling to the defense of his residents in order to keep up appearances. Councillor Crawford wants people to know he isn’t against sidewalks, in theory. gotyourbackHe’s just against this sidewalk, in practice, because these 12 households are against it.

Hedges have been built, Councillor Crawford points out. We can’t just bulldoze over front yards because people have been operating under the misconception that their property was their property even when it isn’t. People must be indulged, in other words, not enlightened or guided in the right direction. By doing just that, Councillor Crawford helps to exacerbate the animosity and feeling of alienation residents can feel toward City Hall rather than do his best to try and smooth over the relationship.

That wasn’t what he was elected to do.

submitted by Cityslikr


Metrolinx

June 14, 2015

garyowens

Today we talk transit with insidetoronto.com’s Rahul Gupta. And it’s not all about the Scarborough subway!

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


A Vision Of Toronto From The 50s

June 2, 2015

As the Gardiner east debate makes its way to city council chambers next week, I find myself increasingly obsessed with this video. From 2013, let’s call it CivicAction John Tory.

Thoughtful, reasonable, sensible John Tory. The John Tory progressive-leaning voters, scared shitless at the prospect of another Ford mayoralty, were assured was their only real alternative to stop that from happening. See? Lookit CivicAction John Tory. He’s progressive. Enough.

The CivicAction John Tory former mayor David Crombie endorsed late in the campaign last year.

“I am here just to underline one really strong reason why we need John Tory and that is that this city, city council need to be brought together,” Crombie told the press on the last weekend before election day.

Whatever happened to that CivicAction John Tory, many are now wondering just 6 months into his first term in office.polishedturd

Non-CivicAction John Tory was against removing the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway before CivicAction John Tory was in favour of it. Now again, non-CivicAction Mayor John Tory is against it.

A person should be allowed to change their mind. Even multiple times, as evidence and details emerge or adjust. Most reasonable people would do so, you’d hope. Previous opinions or stances were held based on the best accessible information.

Non-CivicAction Mayor Tory misses no opportunity to assure us he is reasonable and sensible. He reads all the reports, all of them, some going back even a decade. It’s all about evidence-based decision-making, he informs us.

Yet, here he is, “tragically wrong,” according to Crombie, poised to push city council into making a terrible mistake with the so-called “hybrid” option on the Gardiner east. Why? How has he arrived at such a position?wolfinsheepsclothing

My safest bet is that CivicAction John Tory was never an actual thing. It was all a put-on, a PR exercise to give the man a coating of progressiveness. John Tory was always and continues to be a.m. talk radio show host John Tory. A Bill Davis-touting, Mike Harris-doing Tory.

In the face of overwhelming and increasing expert support for removing the section of the Gardiner east of Jarvis Street, Mayor Tory stands defiant. They’ve got their opinion and I have mine. Let’s agree to disagree. He is the mayor of Toronto in 2015, making decisions about the future based on numbers and thinking firmly entrenched in the past.

CivicAction John Tory fooled just enough voters in Toronto into thinking he was something he wasn’t to enable Mayor John Tory to be who he always planned on being. The real John Tory. The John Tory David Crombie endorsed. The John Tory David Crombie is left scratching his head at, hoping against hope, isn’t the real John Tory. All evidence to the contrary.

ruefully submitted by Cityslikr


More Casino Dreams And Other Long Shot Gambles

March 26, 2015

I am agnostic, in the noncommittal kind of way, about a casino project going in at Woodbine Racetrack. whateverBack last debate on the issue – what? 1, 2, 3 years ago now? – I was fairly adamant in my opposition to a waterfront/downtown casino as something that would bring no value with it. In fact, it might even detract from the new development going on from the Ontario Place site east through the Don and beyond.

With Woodbine? I don’t know. Gambling’s bare bones are already there. I haven’t heard any other ideas for enhancing the area. Reasonable people are making reasonable sounds about a casino helping to bring about jobs to an area hammered hard by lack of opportunities.

So, with the Executive Committee requesting a report on the prospects of a casino at Woodbine expect to hear renewed debate about the quality of those jobs, the positive and negative effects a casino will have on the area, new revenue windfall pouring into city coffers. Pretty much, the same old, same old. Essentially the same cast of characters, saying the same words only about a different location.

“This is not a pot of gold for Toronto,” Councillor Shelley Carroll said during the meeting (in all likelihood a refrain she made at the last casino debate). rollthedice“It’s a sustainability strategy for the province.”

That’s one absolute we can make about a casino in Toronto. The city’s cut of casino money will not build us affordable housing. It will not build SmartTrack. It won’t even make much of a dent into the $86 million operating budget shortfall we’ve borrowed money to pay.

Whatever leverage Toronto had with the province to up the percentage take for hosting a casino somewhere downtown will not be in place for Woodbine. Location, location, location, am I right? We will take what the province offers and, if recent interactions are any indication, somehow the city will wind up owing Queen’s Park money in return for hosting a casino at Woodbine.

At best, I imagine, if a Woodbine casino does comes to pass, we’ll be left debating whether or not the revenue it generates for the city covers the social costs inherent in expanding gambling.

Similarly, such fiscal pros and cons will be front and centre with the TTC Chair Josh Colle’s Executive Committee motion about going the public-private partnership route when it comes to building the Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. “It is our basic responsibility to look at other ways to manage these,” Mayor Tory said, as part of the administration’s scrambling response to the reports earlier this month about cost overruns and delays with the Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. rouletteThe TTC, it has been concluded, is no longer up to the task of managing and overseeing these big capital builds.

Maybe…Maybe…

Another way to look at this particular situation is that maybe the city should shy away from building subways where subways aren’t warranted, building subways for purely political reasons. Let’s stop pursuing bad ideas with similarly bad ideas. Start following best practices and expert advice instead of the ideology of ‘deserve’.

If Mayor Tory and TTC Chair Colle were truly worried about money and excessive costs to the city, the latter would never have supported replacing the LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway in the first place and the first thing the former would’ve done after becoming mayor is reopen that debate and reverse the outcome. Colle did and Tory didn’t, so neither really is in any sort of position to caution us about fiscal responsibility or whatever reasons they’re touting for pushing the P3 model to finance subway construction that shouldn’t even be on the table.

So, whatever. Go nuts. Pursue the P3 dream. Everything else about the Scarborough subway is based on a finger-crossed wing and a prayer. nomoneydownWhy not throw P3s onto that particular vanity bonfire.

But please don’t tell us it’s a sure bet. The jury is still out on the efficacy of the P3 model, just like it is on the benefits a casino delivers to municipalities.

The only thing we should know for certain is that politicians championing casinos and P3s are pitching us the lure of easy money and easy answers. We can have whatever it is we want and not pay the full freight. Nothing upfront, interest to be paid eventually, by somebody else.

feeling luckily submitted by Cityslikr


The Unbearable Lightweightedness of Glenn De Baeremaeker

December 30, 2014

Not to step on any Torontoist toes with our own year-end summary of local villainy but I cannot let 2014 go without commenting on what may be the pure essence of terrible, terrible governance. The very reason we cannot have nice things. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, Ward 38 Scarborough Centre.

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Now, I realize that may be something of outrageous claim in an environment where the likes of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has been elevated to a position of second in command at City Hall. Where Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti still roams free to be Giorgio. Where Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt actually downgraded from Mike Del Grande to Jim Karygiannis. Where a Councillor Ron Moeser is still a thing.

For me though, we have a handle on all of them. They represent the worst aspect of do-nothing, maintain the status quo municipal representation that is something of a legacy in these parts. Keep taxes low, roads clean and clear and let’s all pretend it’s the happy days of the 1950s. We get it.

Glenn De Baeremaeker, on the other hand, maintains the fresh-faced appearance of someone who just wants to help make everybody’s life better. From animals of all shapes and sizes to people of all ages and colours, he comes across as an impossibly more squeaky clean, naïve version of Howdy Doody. Wide-eyed. Congenial. All cowboy hale and hearty. Hey boys and girls! Who wants a subway?! We all want a subway!!

howdydoody

But by now we should know that Glenn De Baeremaeker is about nothing more than Glenn De Baeremaeker. He’s in it for himself first and foremost. Everything else is, well, collateral damage.

His latest assault on the proper functioning of City Hall came last week when he publicly mused about wanting another stop in his already unnecessary and entirely self-serving Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. What’s the sense of having a new subway that many people can’t directly access, he wondered out loud, repeating a line of questioning most LRT proponents posed back during our last great transit debate. Or was it the second last? I honestly can’t remember.

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Back then, you might recall, Councillor De Baeremaeker brushed aside the argument about building the best option for rapid transit in Scarborough for the most amount of people which clearly was the 7 stop LRT plan that the very same councillor fought for just 18 months earlier. No, no, no, he moaned. An LRT was 2nd-class transit being foisted on Scarborough by greedy downtowners luxuriating in their 1st-class subway rides. Ridership numbers could be massaged. Questionable route alignments justified. The point was, Scarborough deserved more subways. Deserved. Anything less would be a civic slap in the face.

It is at this point in the conversation when we pause and ask you to take two minutes and six seconds (via Himy Syed) to watch De Baeremaeker earnestly defend the choice of LRT for Scarborough transit users. Just to fully grasp how craven and bold-faced his pivot has been. How utterly despicable and unprincipled.

Of course, the councillor could not have performed such a feat of purely political machination solo. A Scarborough subway was also intended as the springboard to the mayor’s office for then TTC chair Karen Stintz. The provincial Liberals used the debate to shore up their eastern Toronto flank with a slew of pro-subway Scarborough MPPs and subway champion candidates heading into last spring’s general election.

The manoeuvre turned out particularly well for the governing Liberals. Not only were they returned to power with a healthy majority but they got the city to pitch in with money for capital spending on not one but two transit projects, the Scarborough subway and the new mayor’s campaign pet project, SmartTrack. What did the Liberal government give back in return? Absolutely nothing.

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Councillor De Baeremaeker too was returned to office, easily re-elected to a 4th term, in a race nobody except the councillor and the Ford brothers thought he might lose. This mutual assured delusion served as the basis of De Baeremaeker’s cynical transformation from ardent LRT supporter to avid subway fanboy. He blanched in the face of their threatening bluster back when they were pushing for another Scarborough subway, this along Sheppard Avenue, took their robocalls to his residents seriously and instead of standing up for the right thing, he folded up his cards for the wrong reasons. His personal political self-interest.

Now, he wants more. Another station for his subway. Another $150-200 million dollars of capital costs, further increasing the city’s long term debt levels and jeopardizing the viability of other big ticket items like housing, say, or other transit projects in other areas of the city that are truly under-served by rapid transit. It’s as parochially pork planning as you can get, the very definition of it in fact. The councillor has nakedly utilised the politics of divisiveness, pitting one section of the city against another, ignoring the exigencies of built form while emphasizing unwarranted grievances, for no other reason than his own continued existence as a councillor.

cowardlylion

It’s one thing to boldly revel in your disregard for your job as city councillor, to ignore the job of serving the most people to the best of your ability. Take a bow Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong and Councillor Mammoliti. It just seems that much worse to mask your indifference to the concept with a contemptuous gesture of community building that is only really about a community of one, yourself.

How else to explain Councillor Glenn De Baeremaker’s 180-degree change of heart in just a matter of months, from LRT lover to subway demander with nothing more than a blink of political calculation? A builder of regional resentment instead of sound transit plans. For the sake of another 4 years in office, the councillor’s helped put a chokehold on the city’s capital expenditure budget for decades to come. A master stroke of self-interested posturing, an abject display of elected representation. Well done, Councillor De Baeremaeker. You are truly the worst.

— year endingly submitted by Cityslikr