Mayor Tory Went To Asia And All We Got Was This Terrible Transit Idea

April 25, 2016

Can we agree on a format going forward?

If I accept the inevitability of the introduction of the private sector involvement in the providing of public transit line of reasoning into the debate, quidproquocan we move beyond the blanket statements and off the top of my head ideas about how it’ll work?

As you probably know by now, Mayor John Tory went on a trip to Asia and came away wowed by the state of public transit in the region. How couldn’t he be? Hong Kong. Shanghai. Beijing. A Toronto transit user can only look on at those systems and weep.

And what was the mayor’s transit takeaway from the trip?

We probably can no longer, and should not, close our minds to the possibility that either alongside the public sector, or in some cases instead of the public sector, that you would look at having somebody else run some of these things.

That ‘somebody else’? The private sector, of course.spitballing

This shouldn’t be surprising. We elected a mayor who sees the world through the lens of Bay Street-tinted, pro-business, free market glasses. If there’s a problem that needs fixing, the private sector can do it. That’s his thing. Fine.

But he, and all those advocating for more private sector involvement in delivering up more public transit, really need to start putting some meat on those bones. “Private-sector involvement in transit operations is not, in itself, unusual,” writes Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail. “London’s fleet of iconic red buses is actually run by a variety of private firms. Hong Kong’s MTR is listed on the stock exchange, with the government as majority shareholder.”

Alright then. How are these examples applicable to Toronto? Do we need Hong Kong like density to attract private sector involvement? jitneybusShould we put a second deck on our buses? Provide some details, please.

It’s not enough to say ‘the private sector’ like it’s some magic charm that will summon new subway lines from a puff of smoke. We’ve been down that road before, just recently in fact. Ahhh, memories.

So far, this mayor’s thoughts are no less vague. ‘Air rights’ to develop over rapid transit stops that the private sector builds. “…expanding transit-building contracts to include long-term operational responsibility,” is another idea cited in the Globe article. “He [Mayor Tory] mused also about private firms providing small-bus service, perhaps in suburban areas,” Moore writes.

Jitneys! Why doesn’t Toronto have more jitney service like they do in developing countries like… the Hamptons? Unleash the wonders of free enterprise, with small-bus operators competing for precious suburban commuter dollars, keeping fares low and service levels high in the process.

Look, my views on this are pretty firm. I regard public transit as a public asset not a commodity. showmethemoneyIt should not be reliant on the profit-motive to justify its existence. In fact, I truly believe those two things are in direct conflict with each other.

But hey, that’s me. My thinking on this could be too rigid. I will admit to that. I am willing to open my ears and my heart and my head to opposing views.

Tell me exactly how it would work. Give me concrete proposals. Show me how this would be a win-win situation for both public transit and the private sector.

I’m tired of generalities. From this mayor, just like the previous administration, touting the possible role of the private sector comes across as little more than an attempt to avoid the dreaded revenue tools conversation. Public transit for free! yougetacarYou get a subway! You get a subway! Everybody gets SmartTrack!!

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If Mayor Tory wants to convince us otherwise, he needs to deliver up real ideas, full of the practical nuts and bolts of how the private sector will provide a public service in a way that benefits everybody. Otherwise, it’s just more noise, more wishful thinking, more delays and less transit.

Missourily submitted by Cityslikr

A City Is Public Domain

January 9, 2014

Point 2.happycity

(Point 1 being from Monday that began our search for a 2014 campaign manifesto creed. A document to move us beyond talk of taxpayers, to find words or ideas that encompass the complexity of our relationship with each other and the city we live in. In his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery cites Henri Lefebvre who talks of citizens and denizens. Citadin, he says. Citident? Resizen? We’ll keep working on it.)

We have been pitched a faulty narrative over the course of the last few years, decades really, if we go back to Margaret Thatcher’s claim that there is no such thing as society. Here in Toronto since 2010, it’s all been about the taxpayer. That hardworking, heroic figure who just wants to make a few bucks, put food on the table for his family, maybe have a coupla pops on a Friday night. The little guy.

The only thing standing in the way — like a streetcar hogging up two perfectly good lanes of road — taxesof this simple, common sense approach to life, is the government. All greedy, grabby hands, reaching deep into our pockets, taking our hard-earned money to spend on their sketchy (and probably corrupt) boondoggles and international excursions. Everything would be so much better if governments would just get off our backs and let us do our thing!

Picture this.

A house on a street. Not one of those European semi-detached ones or row houses. An actual house. On its own. A nice front yard. A driveway to the side.

A home. A castle, am I right? A haven from the rough and tumble world going on outside of it.

The urban homestead. Pitched by self-sufficient pioneers come to the city despite its purse-snatchers and perverts, jaywalkers and bus riders, to seize the opportunity from petty bureaucrats and political bagmen. Look out world! Here I am, twirling on a street corner, tossing my hat in the air. homesteader[Note to self: rework that last image. It comes across as a little too girlie.]

It’s a myth, of course. Pure bullshit. Always has been.

Underneath that detached house on the street, pipes and drains and mains. Overhead, wires. All conveying some sort of public utility. Let me state that again. Public utility. Potable water in, treated first somewhere, a city service. Sewage out, again, treated somewhere, a city service. Electricity. Gas. Likely some combination of public-private partnership, depending on where it is you live.

That street out front of that house?

Built and maintained, if not directly by the city, by tax dollars brought into and paid out by the city. Cleared of snow and ice in the winter by the city. Cleaned of refuse the rest of the year by the city. On many of those streets, the city provides space for private vehicles to park at rates far below what the market would demand.

Any notion that any of us live or work in this city free of assistance and cooperation from everybody else is simply delusional. A taxpayer alone lives in a shack in the woods at the end of dirt path. complexsystemHe fends for himself.

Even the mighty industrialists among us depend on the kindness of strangers to chip in and pay for the infrastructure business needs to deliver its goods and services to succeed. Who did our mayor turn to in order to gussy up the surroundings of his family business in time for its 50th anniversary? Why, the city of course.

Look at our most recent run in with crazy inclement weather. No, not the outer space-like cold snap. Before that. The ice storm, and the toll it took on this city’s trees.

We all know trees, and how beneficial a healthy tree canopy is to a city. So much so that City Hall exerts a mighty control over their well-being. It spends a lot of money maintaining a healthy stock of trees.

You might have a tree in your yard. It is rooted in your property but overhangs a neighbour’s house or a neighbour’s car parked on the street. The ice storms blows through, bringing down huge branches of your tree, crashing down on top of that car, taking out the wires that provide electricity to a couple of your other neighbours’ houses. pitchinPower’s not restored for days. A lot of the food in their fridges and freezers goes bad.


Just because that tree is in your yard, you can hardly be expected to pay for all that damage. Such an expectation would just be silly and dumb. That tree in your yard contributes positively to all of our lives even those of us who don’t live in your neighbourhood or community. It makes sense that we all pitch in to help when things take a turn for the worse for that tree in your yard.

That’s not just a real life example. It works as a metaphor too, I think. A city cannot function on the self-interested efforts of individuals. While there is an ‘i’ in city (and community and neighbourhood), it is only just one letter among many. It can make its own word but isn’t much of a stand alone read.

In Happy City, Charles Montgomery refers to a city as a “social machine”. A place that provides opportunities to connect and engage others on an infinite number of levels. Friendship. Romantic. Business. Shared interests.

As diverse and complex as the inhabitants who dwell there.

pacmanIf you only see yourself as a taxpayer in your relationship to the place you live, the opportunities for engagement with those around you are limited. Those outside of this limited social circle are little more than rivals for the resources you’ve paid for. Get off my lawn! Get out of my way! Get moving!

At its very core, it’s adversarial. Cities are a collaborative project. Living in one as just a taxpayer is nothing more than a shirking of your responsibilities to everyone else who helps make your life a whole lot easier.

collectively submitted by Cityslikr

Just A Phone Call Away

February 11, 2013

“I don’t know what I can really do but—“

Let me stop you right there, Mayor Ford.holdonasec

There’s nothing you can do by taking residents’ phone calls at home that couldn’t be better accomplished if you simply directed their concerns to the appropriate city department.

Oh wait.

That’s not entirely true.

By encouraging taxpayers – to use the mayor’s vernacular – to call him any time of day, at his home or office, if they have a problem they need fixed, Mayor Ford succeeds only in burnishing his looking out for the little guy image. The municipal politics Energizer Bunny, tirelessly working for you, the taxpayers of Toronto, one complaint at a time. energizerbunnyHe’d wear a superhero cape but it keeps getting caught in his car door.

This point has been made countless times about the mayor but I think it bears repeating in light of his non-performance performance during last week’s snow storm. Stuck in a snow drift? Call DA-MAYOR.

Pick a comparable situation.

Your GE fridge goes on the fritz. Who you gonna call? Company CEO and Chairman Jack Welch? Hey, Jack! Your company’s fridge is a piece of shit. What are you going to do about it?

Well, that would be dumb and inefficient on a couple fronts. Jack Welch hasn’t been with the company for over ten years now, plus… plus, you want your fridge fixed, you call a repairman or the store that sold it to you directly. That’s just common sense and the shortest distance between point A and point B.

Now I get how, back in the day, as city councillor, it seemed sensible to residents of Ward 2 to call Rob Ford if they were having problems with city related issues. Their garbage didn’t get picked up? Call Rob. A tree limb crashed down into their yard? Call Rob. robfordgrafittiremoverA mysterious pile of dirt? Call Rob.

Of course, it isn’t the most efficient use of city resources. 53, 660 residents in 18, 140 homes covering a distance 32 square kilometres, all tended to by one person. Representation is not about making house calls. It only gives the impression of solid constituency work, one complaint at a time.

Better to strengthen the services the city delivers and its ability to deal with individual situations when they arise rather than relying on singular feats of councillor crusading. But that runs contrary to the small government, libertarian impulses of Rob Ford where tax dollars are robbery and city staff are wayward children not able to compete in the private sector. Taxpayer problems he personally handles provide proof of the failure of government.

It also provided his fledgling mayoral campaign with a tantalizing voter base to ignite with righteous indignation. “He [deputy campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis] took the tens of thousands of phone numbers Mr. Ford had scrawled down over the years as a councillor and stuffed in bankers’ boxes,” the Globe and Mail’s Kelly Grant wrote in October 2010 before the election, “and had them entered into a database.” Pissed off at City Hall? Rob is too. Remember when he came out and fixed that leak in your kitchen sink? fordnationJoin Ford Nation!

Now nominally in charge of more than 2.5 million people, the mayor has brought that personal touch citywide as if battling the forces of Mother Nature is as simple as one finger speed dialling.

“We’re trying to do the best we can and if there is severe problems call us. People can call me at home if they want it is 233-6934 – that’s my direct number at home,” the mayor said in a radio interview on Friday.

Severe problems? Call the mayor. He’ll pass along the message to somebody who might be able to actually do something about it.

That’s much more efficient during the biggest snow storm to hit the city in five years than say, Mayor Ford declaring a snow emergency that would’ve enabled plowing to be done more quickly by banning car parking along transit routes. robfordsuperheroA collective response that must just be too activist for the mayor, too reliant on the notion of the great good. How can he maintain and update a voter’s list ahead of the 2014 campaign if he simply utilizes the powers he’s been given as mayor without fielding taxpayers’ phone calls?

Mayor Ford and his supporters may look to his hands-on, 24/7 access as proof of some catch-phrasey concept of ‘improved customer service’ but, in reality and in a pinch, it contributes significantly less to the smooth running of the city than it does to the self-aggrandizement of one person, and one person only. Mayor Rob Ford.

non-superfanly submitted by Cityslikr

Too Far Gone

December 7, 2012

Another Friday, another less than flattering photo making the social media rounds showing fingerinthedikeMayor Ford painting the town red. And then there are rumblings that one of the city’s newspapers is sitting on another mayoral scandal. A non-contested stay granted for the mayor on his conflict of interest conviction pending an appeal; an appeal John McGrath exhaustively assesses and concludes does not look overly strong. News from the Ford For Mayor 2010 campaign finance audit waits ominously in the wings.

Such bad boy/cowboy behaviour would all be so riveting if Rob Ford was, I don’t know, the professional football player he always wanted to be, or a rock star. It would be gripping fodder for the yellow pages of tabloids if he was a member of the royal family. Right proper grist for the infotainment mill.

Unfortunately, he’s the mayor of our city. His Worship and all that. Instead of providing leadership, he’s simply proving to be a major distraction.

And hey, that might not be too great a blow to his own cause, given the news trickling out of this week’s Budget Committee review of the staff’s proposed 2013 operating and capital budgets. badnewseveryoneWhy just today, word emerges of the cuts to the city’s Fire Services. A Swansea Runnymede Road firehouse closed, reduction in trucks to others. It can’t possibly help already worrisome response times in the city. I wonder if Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong plans on alerting insurance companies to that fact, see if they can scare council straight like he did with the plastics lobby and the bag ban.

Councillor Janet Davis has suggested this is the year the city will eliminate some 41,000 shelter beds. A fight is a-brewing over budget reductions for the Toronto Police Services. The Planning Department remains woefully under-staffed. TTC rider subsidies shrink again with another fare increase and a flat-lined budget from council.

This is nothing like the easy finding of efficiencies and gravy that the mayor promised during the campaign in 2010. It is the slash and burn scenario all his opponents promised. No service cuts, guaranteed is a broken pledge much harder to dismiss than any onslaught of personal foibles.

Especially if you can blame those kind of setbacks on others, that ever growing list of far left enemies who’ve spent nearly 3 years now trying to discredit the mayor and nullify his election victory. Mayor Ford’s just trying to do his job, looking out for the little guy and respecting the taxpayers, hediditif only bullies like Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks, Shelley Carroll and their cabal of sore loser whingers in league with unelected and activist judges would stop trying to subvert democracy. Who hasn’t occasionally slipped up and fallen afoul of the rules and regulations? Everybody knows everybody does it. Buried bodies will be unearthed.

The amazing thing is, we wouldn’t accept such shirking of responsibility from a wayward teenager, trying to blame their failing grades on the distraction of classmates. Yet plenty of voices are still willing to give Mayor Ford a pass on his growing pile of transgressions. It’s not his fault but the fault of the fault finders. If a mayor breaks the rules but there’s no one around to see him do it, does he really break the rules?

Every time he digs himself out from under some sad spectacle or sideshow he’s served up, he vows to forge ahead, get on with the job he was elected to do and [fill in meaningless campaign slogan here]. But increasingly, there’s nowhere for him to go. He’s the kid at the back of the room, disrupting class. Teacher! Teacher! Look at me! I don’t have the answer but let me crack wise and make fart noises!

Whatever happens with his appeal in January and a possible by-election as a result of it, it already seems as if we’ve passed the point of no return where redemption seems even beyond a faint hope. Rob Ford has become a punch line not a mayor. overthefallsHis edict from afar to hold the budget line at 0 and keep taxes low is making him no new friends while even once steadfast allies are lining up behind each other to keep their distance from the toxic cloud billowing from his office. It’s hard to see how he can take control back of the wheel at this point.

The question at the end of another roller coaster week is why does Rob Ford even want to try?

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr

Oh Yeah. The Budget. We Almost Forgot.

December 3, 2012

Largely lost this week in the most recent mayoral tumult was the release of city staff’s recommended 2013 operating and capital budgets. lostintheshuffleIs there a better manifestation of how the mayor’s ongoing circus sideshow stifles political discussions on any important issue? And no, that is a rhetorical question. This is the inevitable result of electing a maverick candidate with a sketchy history both personally and politically to office.

What also shouldn’t be surprising, given such a tenuous grasp on his job, is how little of an impact Mayor Ford seems to have had on the 2013 budgets. Overall gross expenditure is up, albeit modestly. There’s a slight property tax increase with no sign of any sort of rollback on an item like the Land Transfer Tax. The mayor’s biggest contribution so far seems to be in getting his budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande, put on the Toronto Police Services board in order to try and cut away of its numbers.

Which is a necessity this year since balancing the city’s operating budget hinges currently on a $21 million reduction in the police budget. That road already seems somewhat rocky with news that the police union is threatening legal action if budget cuts result in any layoffs. Administrations with much stronger support have difficulty facing off against the TPS. It’s hard to see how such a rudderless one can.

There are, though, Fordian echoes of budgets past in the 2013 documents. woundedpreyThe 0%, across the board freeze edict to all departments acts most certainly as a de facto cut since any sort of inflationary increase will result in less available money this year. And to be sure, there are some notable outright cuts. Staff reductions at Fire Services and a cut to the TCHC subsidy. There’s an increasing reliance on user fees, $30 million in all including the TTC fare hike.

Budget 2013 also maintains the far-right fiscal view Mayor Ford possesses of financing governance mainly through reduction. That is, cutting your way to smaller government. The only real revenue growth to this way of thinking can come through user fees. You want it? You pay for it unless of course we’re talking about road ways as public space.

Like the Ford administration, the city budget abhors debt. Despite the infrastructure needs the city faces, the 2013 budget is driven to reduce the cost of debt Toronto pays out as if somehow this is a fiscally irresponsible course of action only the most desperate or financially dissolute would take. Manageable debt? Never heard of it.

The argument goes something like this: (from the pie chart on page 27 of the Operating Budget) Imagine the services and programs we could save if we eliminated the $415.4 million in debt charges we’ll be racking up next year. Pay down some of that backlog of much needed TCHC repairs. Hire more fire fighters and EMS workers not fewer. Eliminate forever that damned Emerald Ash Boer.

No debt, no problems.

The idea’s so fucking crazy it just might not work.

Because if we don’t take on debt, how are we supposed to deal with all the massive capital costs to build and buy the things we need or to keep the things we already have in a state of good repair? goodebtbadebtEven if we eliminated the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend to service the debt by, well, eliminating the debt we’ve taken on, it’s not enough to cover capital costs. This administration would have you believe a combination of two things. Savings and efficiencies and lowering our expectations will put us over the top, folks. Easy peasy. It’s amazing no one else has ever thought of it before.

The fact is, Toronto’s debt load is not onerous. Despite a recent uptick in capital expenditures owing to TTC expansion, population growth and just old, creaking infrastructure, the city will only nose up close to its arbitrary, self-imposed 15% of property tax levy debt ceiling in around 2017 before heading back down. With rates of borrowing currently at a historic low and no big spikes foreseeable in the near future, why the debt reduction fixation? texaschainsawmassacreIt only sounds fiscally sound.

And that pretty much sums up Team Ford’s approach to governance. The appearance of fiscal prudence while in reality little more than a ruinous attack on healthy city building. If increasing revenues and taking on debt are both ruled out of order, what other options are available? It’s elimination through the process of elimination.

Despite our focus elsewhere on the mayor’s shortcomings, this is the one that’s hurting us most.

discountingly submitted by Cityslikr