Keeping Up With The Joneses

January 18, 2016

It’s odd to wake up on a Monday morning, read through your local news and information and realize there’s a lot of change in the air. goodnewseveryoneDeputy Chief Peter Sloly suggests a complete overhaul of our approach to policing. Former city council candidate and Better Budget TO co-founder Alex Mazer raises the possibility of some ‘fiscal honesty’. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has plans on completely re-imagining King Street from Dufferin all the way east to River.

Oh my. I think I just gave myself a case of the dizzies. So much… possibilities!

This comes after a weekend of occasional contemplation on what seems to be the inevitable strategic retreat by Mayor Tory on his heavily touted (by he and his team, at least) SmartTrack transit plan. On Friday stories began to emerge about scaling back and spending less on it. The always dubious ‘western spur’ dropped and replaced (Fingers Crossed!) by the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport. The eastern branch north of the Kennedy subway station quietly binned. stepbackLeaving some sort of expanded GO train-like service tracing the much more desirable Relief Line route, the slightest impression acknowledging SmartTrack even once existed as a concept.

I wondered what the campaign architects of SmartTrack were thinking now. Was this pretty much how the saw things happening? They knew, along with a solid majority of everybody else, that the plan was wholly unworkable. Just get their guy elected, go through the motions, not to mention millions, pretending he was serious about building SmartTrack. When it hit smack dab into the wall of reality, revealed to be the sham it was, stitching together a couple good ideas into an ill-fitting and grotesquely expensive cloth, walk it back, on the advice of the experts that weren’t, apparently, available during the 10 month long campaign.lipstickonapig

SmartTrack was an election scheme in no way meant to refute the heavy-rail, off-road transit vision of John Tory’s main rival for the job, Rob-then-Doug Ford. That’s why it was referred to as ‘Surface Subway’. That’s why John Tory backed the Scarborough subway. John Tory refused to confront the political pandering that sat deep in the heart of the Ford approach to transit planning. Instead, he chose to wrestle it into his own image.

So, I look at today’s news, the transformative opportunities, and temper my immediate enthusiasm. Just how willing is John Tory, essentially, to buck the status quo, to grapple with the ghost of the Ford administration? Little so far would indicate his willingness to do so. Every restoration of TTC service he announces is more than equaled by expedited expressway repairs, Gardiner hybrids and traffic flow announcements. Do we really expect him to stand strong in the face of the inevitable outrage at the chief planner’s plans to de-emphasis car travel along King Street and in the downtown core?

Fiscal honesty? I write this as I’m following along with the budget chief’s lunchtime presser. “We did not have to use revenue tools on this budget,” Councillor Crawford told reporters. putalidonit1All the while keeping property tax rate increases impossibly low, raiding reserve funds and insisting on line-by-lines cuts to office supplies and travel costs in order to try and plug the inevitable holes in the operating budget. Sound familiar? It should. That’s what’s been passing as ‘fiscal honesty’ at City Hall for the past 5 years or so.

And as mayor, John Tory sits on the Police Services Board that passed over the opportunity to appoint reformer Peter Sloly as Chief of Police, all the while holding the door open for the similarly reform-minded chair, Alok Mukherjee, to make an early exit. He’s already had the chance to help affect much needed change and dropped the ball. Well into his second year in office, it’s difficult not to see Mayor Tory as anything but an obstacle, no less than his predecessor.

Of course, it’s hard to look forward when you’re constantly checking back over your shoulder to see what your competition’s up to. Ultimately, it’s of cold comfort that John Tory defeated Doug Ford to become mayor if, in the end, there’s little to differentiate between the two in matters of policy. kipMaintaining the status quo is maintaining the status quo even if you can’t see the gold chain around somebody’s neck.

If John Tory really wants to establish an enduring legacy during his time in office, he could do so by challenging the Ford city building and governance mystique head on, bury it six feet under the ground where it belongs. The possibilities in doing so are in evidence in today’s news. But, for me, the mayor’s motivations remain opaque. Like with SmartTrack, he seems more intent on a simple redesign, keeping a uninterrupted message, only delivered by a different messenger.

not anticipatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Let’s Just Stop Pretending

September 21, 2015

Behind-the-scenes, staff have been working with a new model being developed in conjunction with the University of Toronto. That model will be used to provide new ridership numbers for the [proposed Scarborough] subway, which is backed by Mayor John Tory.

This should be setting off alarm bells, shouldn’t it?transitmodel

Unless some transit planner can assure me that ridership prediction models are routinely adapted and altered to fit every situation, that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for each and every proposed transit project, this sounds, I don’t know, problematic.

A word the city’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, used back in July.

If the objective here is to parse the planning analysis [for the proposed Scarborough subway] that was on the floor of council as being problematic, I would like to suggest: Yes. We didn’t go through a fulsome process. We were not given the opportunity to go through a fulsome process. We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.

“We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.”

But now, “behind-the-scenes”, a new model to provide ridership numbers for the proposed Scarborough subway – which Mayor Tory fully supports — is being developed. Abacktothedrawingboardnd we’re expected to believe this will be a ‘fulsome process’ not in any way ‘politically driven’?

Can we just admit, right here, right now, that the proposed Scarborough subway extension eastward of the Bloor-Danforth line is nothing but ‘politically driven’? Take that variable from the equation and there is no ridership projection model anybody can design that will justify that subway in any fulsome, rational way. Let’s accept the fact the only reason we’re even still discussing such a prospect is because politicians in Scarborough (backed by a majority of other suburban city councillors) of every stripe and at every level saw it/feared it as a potent wedge issue, one they could stake/save their political careers on. It wasn’t so much Scarborough Deserves A Subway as it was We Deserve To Be Re-Elected.

This way, by being frank about the true motivation behind the Scarborough subway, that it’s nothing but politics, we can stop putting city staff into compromised positions, to paraphrase our chief planner. pinocchioWe can stop wasting their time and our money concocting reports and models for no other reason than to put a smiley face and nice bow on what is nothing more than crass, self-interested politics. Be bold, Scarborough subway supporters. As they say, the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.

Yes, there is a serious projected ridership problem with the proposed subway. Recognize it, solve it. Not with new models and reports, just by accepting it and stating honestly: You don’t care. You want a subway. You deserve a subway. You don’t give a fuck about any implications like costs, the inevitable heavy reliance on operating subsidies, the fact that a subway will barely make a dent in providing better public transit to Scarborough.

Embrace your acceptance of pursuing bad public policy for personal electoral gain. Be honest with us. You’ll get high marks for that, at least.

initforyourself

And, it’ll free up staff time to get on with trying to keep the city functioning in the face of your continued self-interested assault on it.

honestly submitted by Cityslikr


Old New Is Still Bad News

July 18, 2015

For anybody following along with the surreal and torturous Scarborough subway debate for the past 5 years, none of this comes as any sort of surprise. The ridership numbers, the cost estimates were all highly suspect, right from the outset.hardofhearing Then mayor Rob Ford was the prime pusher behind the idea for a new Scarborough subway. How could the numbers be anything but questionable?

“Should there have been an extensive due-diligence process before those numbers were quoted and used publicly? Yes,” Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat told the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro. “Was there? No.”

In the post-Gary Webster era at City Hall, it’s not hard to comprehend how staff did their upmost to tell their political masters what they wanted to hear especially when it came to public transit. The former TTC General Manager was forced to walk the plank when he publically expressed an opinion in support of building LRTs instead of subways. It clearly wasn’t safe for staff to be laying their cards on the table.

With the provincial transportation body, Metrolinx, demanding an almost immediate decision from city council on how to proceed with the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (a decision the province itself had its own vested opinion about), city staff had been given a couple weeks to come up with a report, a report that many councillors were going to use by any means necessary to justify their support for a subway extension into Scarborough.

If the objective here is to parse the planning analysis that was on the floor of council as being problematic, I would like to suggest: Yes. We didn’t go through a fulsome process. We were not given the opportunity to go through a fulsome process. We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.

“A politically driven process,” according to the chief planner, that wound up inflating ridership numbers to within the acceptable range for building a subway, 14,000 at peak hours. Where that number came from, nobody quite knows. Somewhere from within the planning department, it seems. fingerscrossedbehindbackA number not “necessarily documented”, according to the city director of transportation planning, Tim Laspa, but a number “discussed in meetings.”

Not that the numbers matter now. “Irrelevant” today, says Keesmaat. Not that they ever mattered during the debate. This story’s prime villain, Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, says he supported the subway regardless of ridership numbers simply on a matter of “fairness”. “Scarborough should have equal access to transit with other areas.”

That’s nonsense, of course.

Scarborough would be better served, more fairly served by implementing the full LRT plan that was part of Transit City. That’s just a plain fact.

But as we’re learning more explicitly now, as many of us have known since 2010, facts have very little to do with this debate. City staff found the environment for reporting facts toxic to their careers. Facts proved to be inconvenient to mayoral ambitions and other political opportunism. notlisteningHell, facts didn’t even have to be factual.

Who knows if this news is coming in too late. Shovels are not yet in the ground but it still feels like the fix is in. What is obvious at this point, though, is it’s going to cost us a lot of money, a lot, a shit tonne of money, stretching out for decades, to go on ignoring the facts as they continue to come to light. An expensive ignoring of facts that won’t, in the end, make much more than a dent in our already woefully under-performing public transit system.

still angrily submitted by Cityslikr


The Reflection In The Mirror

April 23, 2015

I have been waging a see-saw battle with myself over the type of public servant John Tory believes himself to be ever since he became mayor. Actually, before that, going right back to when he announced his candidacy last year.flipacoin

An obtuse political dullard, tone deaf to life in this city beyond the boardrooms, country clubs and philanthropic organizations or a savvy operator, stone cold Frank Underwood, yo, master manipulator, backroom civic strongman stepping out into the spotlight?

His previous foray into politics at the provincial level would suggest the former. He’s given the benefit of the doubt toward the latter as a private sector titan where family and privileged connections only get you so far. No dummy can successfully navigate those treacherous, shark-infested waters, am I right?

This question arises again now because of more ridiculous shenanigans from Mayor Tory’s appointed deputy mayor, the actual deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong. During yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting (which the deputy mayor vice chairs), Minnan-Wong indignantly tweeted out that he’d been blocked on the Twitter by the city’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. Social media attention ensues, followed by a boo hoo press conference with the deputy mayor. While city business is being conducted elsewhere, it’s worth mentioning again.

No biggie, in and of itself, except to serve as yet another example of a regular pattern from Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong of building a grandstand on a foundation of public servant attacks at City Hall. He seems to take pleasure in sandbagging figures like the chief planner whose views on city building he doesn’t share, and his views on the subject are pretty simple. texaschainsawmassacreCity building = road building.

But this post isn’t about him (and David Hains has already done a great job on the subject of Denzil and the Chief Planner at the Torontoist). This is about Mayor Tory who appointed Minnan-Wong as his deputy mayor, his 2nd in command, his right-hand man. Just what the fuck was he thinking? (An entirely gratuitous curse just to “haunt” the deputy mayor.)

After winning the election in October and casting his glance about over the member of city council to settle upon the person who’d best suit the job of deputy mayor, how did John Tory settle on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong? There’s somebody who’s been around, knows the lay of the land. He’s a rock solid conservative voice and will never veer off political course except to the further right. Done, and done!

Did John Tory realize that his choice for deputy mayor had no real base of support at city council, few natural allies? Minnan-Wong’s history at council showed much more of a flare for making enemies than friends. He loved nothing more than to get his business all up in his colleagues’ wards and make life miserable for them. Antagonizil Minnan-Wong, I’ve just nicknamed him.

Tory had to be aware of this reputation, right? Despite running for mayor back in 2003 and then covering the municipal scene for years after his stint in and around Queen’s Park, he likes to play the role of the city political naïf, willing to admit he was ignorant of the stuff he regularly opined on. goodcopbadcopStill, we’re to believe his people didn’t vet his choice for deputy mayor’s background and standing?

That would be denser than quark-gluon plasma. Team Tory as the gang who couldn’t think straight, unable to collectively put it together to tie one of their shoes. Defies belief.

So is this just a case of, I don’t know, good cop-bad cop? The deputy mayor as henchman – Monsieur Henchman, to you – brass knuckles and sharp elbows, brawling it out in the trenches while the mayor keeps his nose clean and Oxford button down starched? Classic political positioning.

But here’s the thing.

In such a scenario, both the good cop and the bad cop share a common end-game. Busting the criminal. Their approaches are different. Their ultimate goal isn’t.

Last term at city council, while it was more dirty cop-bad cop in terms of Rob Ford and Doug Holyday, there was no question they shared the same vision, sprung from the bowels of our worst instincts. Attack public sector unions, reduce the size of government, keep taxes, low, low, low. Rob Ford may’ve proven to be the wayward political son of Doug Holyday but there was no doubting their shared bond in bringing City Hall to its knees.reflection

What exactly is the vision of the Tory-Minnan-Wong dynamic? Our mayor touts civility, respect, adherence to data-based decision making. His deputy mayor represents small-minded, divisive, petulant undermining of good governance. By unleashing his deputy mayor on the public service, the planning agency like Waterfront Toronto or just in general, Mayor Tory is flashing his own dark underbelly, his simple disregard of his own stated principles.

What’s unclear is whether that proves John Tory to be dumb or cut-throat vicious like a fox.

Neither one is particularly flattering.

judgingly submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Part One Billion)

May 13, 2014

I’m sorry I have to go back to this well but I think the point is well worth repeating and remembering.repeatmyself

As important as the mayor’s race is to the future proper functioning of the city, the direction it ultimately goes will be determined by the make up of the 44 councillors. And as long as the likes of Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby and Denzil Minnan-Wong remain in the mix, we should expect a rocky road going forward. These two are why we can’t have nice things in Toronto, to paraphrase the old lament.

“Why is it when tolls are proposed in this city, they always end up targeting those who live in Etobicoke?” Councillor Lindsay Luby tweeted. “Of course we get nothing in return.”

Nothing in return, save the roads that move you back and forth to your detached homes with their big yards and green lawns. nonono4How dare we even bring up the subject of finally getting around to start charging for the actual cost of building and maintaining the system that allows those behind the wheel of a car to move about the city and region from great distances. Why must we always be so anti-Etobicoke?

Why indeed.

It’s a marvel to me that someone who has served in public office for as long as Councillor Lindsay Luby continues to see the city through such a fundamentally skewed lens. Why Etobicoke? Perhaps because the very skeleton of its existence is built on 3 major thoroughfares running through it. The 401. The 427. The Gardiner Expressway. Why’s the man always got to stick it to poor ol’ E with his road tolls? It just might have to do with you living in a car-dependent, highway heavy area of the city, councillor.

While Councillor Lindsay Luby may be misguided, even woefully so, I don’t think she is trying to be willfully destructive or dismissive. nonono2That would be the domain of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong who seems to have slithered out more into the sun since the shadow of Rob Ford has receded somewhat.

In response to an intriguing article written by the city’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, in the Globe and Mail, Here’s how to change Canada from a suburban to an urban nation, Councillor DMW fired off a couple tweets. “We love our gardens and lawns in Don Mills. We are proud of our neighbourhood in the suburbs.” A couple minutes later, this. “Not everyone wants to live in a little box in the sky.”

Never mind the chief planner didn’t suggest anything of the sort. There was no talk of razing detached suburban homes or pulling up their manicured lawns and fancy gardens, and replacing it all with 80 story monstrosities, devoid of windows, air and sunshine. nononoThat’s just what the councillor wants you to think, wants you to believe is part of the urbanism espoused by our chief planner. There’s no in-between with this extreme. Only unholy, enforced communal living in tiny little boxes in the sky versus the clean open spaces (and lawns and gardens) preferred by right thinking people.

The suburban-urban divide. You might recognize that tune having been sung before.

In the second sentence of her Globe article, Ms. Keesmaat writes “…it is unlikely that our next wave of development will resemble the last.” This echoes a sentiment I heard from Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker earlier this year when he suggested people always assume (incorrectly, it turns out) the future is going to be just like the past. You grow up and live in a leafy suburb, driving everywhere you go, so it is, so it will always be.

For the likes of councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Gloria Lindsay Luby, they refuse to comprehend any other approach to going about business aside from the way it’s always been done during their respective lifetimes. Back in October 2012, nonono5Councillor Lindsay Luby led the charge against a development proposal in her ward’s Humbertown (since settled to everyone’s relative satisfaction without going to the OMB). Railing against the idea of affordable forms of housing like, what do you call them, apartments being built in the neighbourhood, she said famously: “That’s never been the demographic for that area.”

Change? My family didn’t settle here back in the 1950s in order to have things be different sixty years later. You will get road tolls from me when you drag the coins from my cold, dead hand.

It’s the blanket incuriosity that is most infuriating. Everybody knows that there’s a serious problem with mobility in this city and region. Getting around, to work, to school, to errands, has become a burden to many, an unnecessary burden.

But when it comes to offering up solutions? Led by politicians like councillors Minnan-Wong and Lindsay Luby, it’s all about, don’t be looking at me. nonperpetualmotionThere’s no sacrifice they’re willing to make, no change in lifestyle they’re prepared to undergo to contribute in order to begin fixing anything. Low taxes. No user fees. No little boxes in the sky. Only wide, green lawns and brightly flowered gardens for now and forever.

Steady as she goes. Never change course. Always looking back, never forward.

As long as city council is infused with this way of thinking, Toronto will be doomed to repeating past mistakes, and coming to grips with the problems we face will always be an uphill battle.

sick and tiredly submitted by Cityslikr