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


Another Gardiner East Rethink

September 8, 2015

Remember back, oh, I don’t know, 3 months ago, when city council had that prolonged, knock `em down, drag ‘em out battle over the fate of the Gardiner east expressway? goodoldaysThe great hybrid # 2 debate over a replacement option lots of people hated, few loved and Mayor Tory championed? Political capital spent all over the place, resulting in a close 24-21 vote that brought back memories of the Ford era with its downtown-suburban divisiveness and ultimate triumph of resentful emotionalism over sound, reasoned city building.

Well apparently, according to Jennifer Pagliario and David Rider at the Toronto Star, it all may have been for nought. Seems the mayor’s been working behind the scenes to reconfigure the design of the eastern portion of the Gardiner so that it more resembles the original hybrid option, one that city staff had rejected as technically unworkable which lead to the second hybrid proposal. Making this hybrid option 2.1? 1.2.1?

Setting aside the optics of Mayor Tory spending even more of his time out of the public eye doing city business, he’s also been quietly mulling over a 2024 Olympic bid during the summer months, you have to wonder what the hell all the fuss was about back in June? Why did the mayor come on so hard then on an issue he seems so willing to walk back on now? humptydumptyHe waded into the debate before listening to public feedback during deputations at a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, unequivocally planting his flag of support in the ground. He sniffed derisively at Gardiner teardown proponents as something akin to latte-sipping boulevardiers. He muzzled the city’s chief planner after she publicly disagreed with him on which option would be best.

And now he’s all willing to hunker down, even with his ‘opponents’, and bang out a compromise, a compromise that was pretty much on the table back in June?

Only someone unfamiliar with Toronto City Hall would be at all surprised that a major infrastructure project decision is undergoing reconsideration. It’s what we do. In this case it should be especially anticipated since the June vote in favour of the mayor’s option 2 jeopardized a number of other waterfront development plans, setting the city on a possible collision course with some deep-pocketed players.clumsy

None of this information is new or comes out of the blue. All of it was on the table in June. Mayor Tory brushed it aside, brusquely at times, digging in his heels and refusing to budge.

Now it’s all like, “They’ve done a lot of work to make something, as I was confident they could, much better than what appeared in some of the diagrams that took place…very significant improvement.”

As he “was confident they could.” Yet he still opted to pretty much go to war with colleagues and staff in some sort of pipe swinging, PR exercise. Power drunk gives way to sober second thought.

Ah well, at least he’s come to his senses, right? The other guy, the previous guy would’ve just hunkered down and fought any attempt to revisit the decision. Mayor Tory, after using the opportunity to prove who’s boss, quietly retreats to fix a boneheaded outcome that he had loudly pushed for months.headlesschicken

Progress!

I’ve given up attempting to divine tactics and motivations in how this mayor operates. It’s pretty much by the seat-of-his-pants, listening to the bad advice he’s getting or only getting bad advice. He played chief advocate for the wrong side of the Gardiner east debate out of pure political calculation. Somewhere deep in the backrooms he’s conducted his business in over the course of the last 3 months, he’s been forced to reckon with his misstep on this file, and not necessarily by his opponents on city council, I imagine. Like with the carding issue, Mayor Tory isn’t trying to do what is right or just. He’s simply following the bouncing political ball.

And now, with the Gardiner east, he’s had to go retrieve the ball he kicked into the bushes.

One of his opponents in this unnecessary fight the mayor picked, one of his appointed deputy mayors, Councillor Pam McConnell whose ward that section of expressway runs through, has obviously been part of the behind the scenes negotiations and has come to a slightly less glowing conclusion about the compromise. unimpressed“Maybe it’s something everyone can live with,” she effused, if that word meant the opposite of what it does. Maybe it’s something everyone can live with.

Which, I think, pretty much sums up John Tory’s time in the mayor’s office so far. Maybe something everyone can live with. Don’t expect or demand too much. Mistakes will get made. Gaffes will happen. Some stuff will get done too. Just not too much and certainly nothing particularly exciting or groundbreaking or visionary. Just enough that maybe everyone can live with.

still incredulously 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


A Terrible Plan Made Even Worse

July 17, 2015

Adding insult to injury that is the oozing sore of transit plans, the Scarborough subway, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reported today that, according city council rules, the vote to revert from the already underway LRT eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to a subway never should have occurred in the first place.

In the end, [Speaker] Nunziata ignored advice from city staff and ruled the motion [to re-open the LRT/subway debate] was properly before council. It passed with a 35-9 vote — opening the door for Ford and others to ultimately cancel plans for the LRT in favour of the more expensive subway option.

This, after a 24 hour scramble that had seen the speaker first stop the motion’s mover, Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaeker, from moving the motion on procedural grounds, then agreeing to rule on it later and seeking help from the mayor’s office in wording the ruling she would subsequently give that ultimately re-opened the debate.

But city clerk Watkiss told the Star the speaker is only permitted to give rulings she herself or the clerk has written. She also said the city’s procedural bylaws set out that the Speaker must give procedural reasons for her ruling.

“The [then mayor Rob Ford’s then chief of staff] Towhey ruling was not a proper procedural ruling, but a policy ruling, and the Speaker needs to give procedural rulings,” Watkiss wrote in an email. “She should not be ruling on the basis of policy as she needs to maintain a measure of independence.”

Still Speaker Nunziata’s response to that?

“Council procedures dictate that while the speaker may consult with the Clerk prior to ruling on a matter, it is ultimately the speaker who decides the way in which he/she will rule.”

Rules? M’eh. Whatever.

While it should not be overlooked that, despite the very questionable manner in which it came about, city council could’ve voted to keep the Scarborough subway debate closed, and chose instead to re-open it , overwhelmingly so, we should perhaps be even more alarmed at how easily rules and procedures at city council can be discarded and ignored.

Is that simply the price that gets paid living in a free-wheeling democracy? gavelOur elected officials are the ultimate decision-makers and the civil service, the bureaucracy, sits in place merely to advise not instruct? When the chips are down, a true democracy cannot be hamstrung by the rules and procedures — not put in place but adjudicated by – unelected officials?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. It seems to me that if rules and procedures are being contravened, those in charge of upholding them, in this case the city clerk staff, should be in a position to, at the very least, make loud noises that the rules and procedures are being violated, if not stop the violations dead in their tracks. You can’t do that, Madam/Mister Speaker.

Does that overstep unspoken boundaries, undercutting the democratic process?

More clear, perhaps, is that the position of Speaker (and Deputy Speaker, natch) at city council ought not to be left in the hands of the mayor’s office to appoint. As it stands now, like chairs of standing committees, the Speaker of city council is put forward by the mayor and pretty much rubber-stamped by a city council vote. It is extremely difficult to remove them once they’re in place.

If, as the current speaker believes, it is the role of the speaker to ultimately decide “the way in which he/she will rule”, maybe their allegiance shouldn’t be owed to the one person who put them in place, the mayor, but to the wider body, city council itself. “In order to maintain a measure of independence,” as city clerk Ulli Watkiss suggested, the speaker needs to answer directly to city council not via the mayor’s office. youcantdothatWhy not have city council truly elect a speaker (and deputy speaker, natch) rather than simply sign off on the mayor’s recommendation?

It’s hard to imagine how anyone in the position of speaker could ‘maintain a measure of independence’ while looking over their shoulder at the mayor who put them in the job, a mayor who can assume the speaker’s chair whenever the fancy strikes them. So it should come as no surprise that, in this particular case, the speaker actually went to the mayor’s office for help in writing a ruling. If your view of the job you’re doing is to act as a mouthpiece, why not get your instructions directly from the horse’s mouth?

Whose interest does the speaker of city council represent, the mayor’s office or city council itself? The answer to that will determine who you think should really be running the city.

searchingly 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


Damn The Torpedoes

May 27, 2015

Despite protestations to the contrary, it appears as if the Scarborough subway will be open to further debate. At our mayor’s behest no less. To build more of it.wtf

Good god.

Yesterday the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro wrote about the behind-the-scenes mad scramble of the Team Tory’s increasingly desperate attempt to square the circle of building SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway, two lines of high order transit that threaten to gobble up each others’ ridership numbers, inflicting on one, possibly both of them, a bad case of white elephantitis.

“SmartTrack, which Tory largely staked his election campaign on and which hinges on the use of existing GO rail in the east, can’t be moved,” Pagliaro states. “The subway, which he also promised to build, can. At what cost, however?”moneytoburn

In order to keep what was a questionable from the outset campaign transit pledge (‘bold’, as his team called it), Mayor Tory is prepared to start burning through (more) money, expand an equally dubious transit project and wreak even further havoc on an already havoc-wreaked transit system.

This, at the same time he’s determined to ignore a growing mountain of expert advice recommending against his (again, hastily drawn up) “hybrid” option to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated.

Our mayor, it should by now be apparent, is a big proponent, like his predecessor in the job, of what the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Armine Yalnizyan referred to on MetroMorning today as, “decision based evidence making”.notlistening

Or, politics trump good policy, hands down. Every time. No matter what.

What kind of position does this leave city staff in (which is what I was writing about when the Star transit story broke)? What purpose do they serve a politician determined to only listen to them when there’s agreement? Props, to be used to buttress an argument when it suits or to rail against when not. Bureaucracy! Red tape! A culture of no!

Last week, when the city’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, spoke out unequivocally in favour of removing the Gardiner east, Mayor Tory shrugged, saying she was certainly entitled to her opinion.

“But I’ve sort of set out my own position. She’s set out hers,” the mayor said.squarepeg

As if by merely taking a position, having an opinion makes it valid for no other reason than its existence.

That is not to say politicians are obliged to carry out staff recommendations. We don’t vote for our civil service. It, and our elected representatives, ultimately serves at the people’s pleasure in a democracy.

To simply wave such advice off, however, sum it up as little more than competing points of view undermines the very idea of the civil service. Why bother if you’re simply going to ignore them when it’s politically expedient to do so? Somebody’s got to create the reports we need to show voters we’re not beholden to some unelected body. Come on. Are we going to let some egghead know-it-alls tell us what kind of city we want to live in? Not on my watch.

City staff, filled with expertise, certainly don’t get it right all the time. Anyone can look at a finished development or cite a flawed traffic study and conclude, What were they thinking? Our civil service is not infallible.

Should they be treated as just another opinion, though? Oplottingliver Moore of the Globe and Mail pointed out in the Toronto Star story how the mayor’s staff seemed to be telling the chief planner where subway stops needed to go. Are you fucking kidding me? In Mayor Tory’s Toronto, common sense equals supplanting expertise with political calculation.

Campaign governance. That was the Ford era speciality, now infecting the Tory administration. There is no amount of money too rich, no plan too outrageous that musn’t be pursued to the bitter, ugly end if it’s been slapped on a campaign lawn sign or featured prominently in the campaign literature. Sure, in retrospect that idea I floated while running for office seems misguided and completely unworkable but I said it, so now I have to do it.

Damn your torpedoes, man! Damn them straight to hell!!

Once more, political strategy defeats city building, leadership by poll tracking rather than informed consensus building. Don’t tell me what we need to do. damnthetorpedoesTell me how I get to do what I want to do.

Few should be surprised that’s the territory Mayor Tory’s operating in. The depth to which he’s prepared to wade into it, well, that’s somewhat shocking. He’s proving to be as comfortably shameless as the administration he chased from office, two points converging on the nexus of pure and unadulterated self-interest at the expense of a city that had closed its eyes and crossed its fingers in the hopes of something different.

sinkingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Dead Calm After Ford

May 22, 2015

“The universe will unfold as it should.”

I don’t know about anybody else but I don’t find that sentiment all that reassuring coming from an elected official.

Sure. We can debate. We can try and make evidence-based decisions. We can, I don’t know, dance the watusi. But you know what? nonsense1At the end of the day, the universe will unfold as it should. Whaddayagonnado?

After nearly 30 minutes of, I wouldn’t say ‘intense’ grilling but not softballing from Steve Paikin, covering contentious issues like police carding, the Gardiner east expressway, the Scarborough subway, Mayor John Tory essentially gave us the figurative shrug. “The universe will unfold as it should.” Keep calm, folks. Daddy’s got a handle on things.

That the mayor doesn’t was clearly underlined by The Agenda host when asking some pointed questions about the decisions Mayor Tory’s been making lately. “Do you still support carding?” Paikin asked him. “I support the need to reform the policy,” the mayor responded.

Never mind that there had been an attempt to reform the policy in 2014. An attempt the police services under then chief of police Bill Blair simply ignored, essentially thumbing its collective nose at its civilian oversight body, the police services board and creating what Mayor Tory now refers to as a ‘vacuum’. Tomato, tomatoe. Insubordination, vacuum.

“Previously the police service hadn’t been able to agree with the police services board on policy,” Mayor Tory told Paikin. emptytalkJust like that. As if it’s perfectly reasonable for the police services to choose simply not ‘to agree’ with directives from the board that’s in place to oversee their actions. Whaddayagonnado? The universe unfolds as it should.

This was the first example of gaps, let’s call them, that Paikin permitted the mayor. Moments of clarification that, not pursued, allowed Mayor Tory to sound perfectly reasonable. There weren’t many of them, to Paikin’s credit. He was much more assertive than many of us thought he would be although he tended to be more deferential at times than he needed to be.

“Thanks for indulging me.”

“You know I’m just putting you through your paces here.”

“That fine,” replied Mayor Tory.

That’s fine?! Of course, it’s fucking fine. You’re the fucking mayor.

At one point of during the conversation Mayor Tory pushed back at Paikin: “You’ve put me in the position of defending my own decisions. keepcalmandblahblahblahWhich is what you do…” yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. Geez thanks for defining Steve Paikin’s job for us, Mr. Mayor.  Yeah. His job is to put you in the position of defending your decisions. Your job is to defend those decisions.

Which, when he wasn’t doing it flintily, the mayor did opaquely, with a lot of words being said, few in any meaningful way.

The Toronto Star’ Jennifer Pagliaro captured the mayor’s response to Paikin’s question that if reports came back suggesting overlapping transit demands for both the Scarborough subway and his own SmartTrack plan, would he reconsider changing his opinion on the need to still pursue both.

Well, put it this way. One of the reasons they expanded the study area of the current environmental assessment that’s going on is to take account of the fact that SmartTrack was going to be something that would hopefully proceed forward. And so obviously these studies are being done for a reason and I’d be irresponsible if I said we’re going to do them and then ignore what they have to say, but I think on the principle of building a subway, all three government made decisions on that.

Anybody want to try and parse that noise?

All three levels of government have decided to build the Scarborough subway, so, that’s pretty much a done deal. And I promised 22 stations in 7 years with my SmartTrack plan, and I’m not one to break my campaign promises except for that TTC fare increase but free transit for the kids! Look at me. Do I seem like the irresponsible sort? blahblahblah1I certainly wouldn’t ignore any report unless it didn’t jibe with my strongly held opinion like on the Gardiner east hybrid option. In other words… What was the question again, Steve?

In that space in time in which John Tory has sprung up as mayor now referred to as the ‘calm after Ford’, we squee in delight that the city has a mayor who doesn’t merely grunt and exhale heavily into a microphone. Mayor Tory says words! In sentences that form paragraphs!

It’s inconsequential that often times all that verbiage makes little sense, doesn’t directly answer direct questions, simply fills the silence with resounding nothingness. Compared to “I’ve got plenty to eat at home”, our Mayor Tory is simply Churchillian. We shall fight with obfuscation! We shall fight with bafflegab! We shall fight with mumbo jumbo! We will never surrender to forthrightness and candour!whatareyoutalkingabout

I applaud Steve Paikin and The Agenda for politely pushing the mayor out of his obvious comfort zone of unchallenged press releasing and revealing a surprising degree of thin-skinned petulance. Words, well spoken but ultimately meaningless, are no better than farting noises. Bullshit is bullshit, am I right?

“The universe will unfold as it should.”

We need to realize now that John Tory’s version of ‘should’ is much different than the one too many of us bought into during last year’s campaign. While he comes across as more articulate than his predecessor (again, a low bar), it’s obvious this mayor is no less bound and determined to pursue equally detrimental goals, flying in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence and expert advice, if necessary to do so. Should? No soothing words should convince any of us otherwise.

desiderataly submitted by Cityslikr