Political Posturing Won’t Build Transit

I abhor faux-populism as much as the next Timmy’s loving, hard working, respect demanding little guy. timhortonsMy bullshit detector is acutely tuned to even the slightest judder of pandering. Common sense? Got it in spades. “Common Sense”? I see right through that, Mr. PR Marketing Man.

I’m a straight shooter and that’s what I expect from my elected officials. Give it to me right between the eyes, I say. I can take it. Brain me. Spare me the gut shot.

After decades of it, faux-populists from the right side of the political spectrum are pretty easy to spot. They refer to voters are ‘folks’. They roll up their sleeves. They don’t put the money they’ve saved folks back into the folks’s wallets but into the pockets of the folks’s jeans. Conservative faux-populists are always on the look out for the little guy but phrase it as ‘looking out for the little guy’. A subtle but very important distinction.

Left wing faux-populists are a little more difficult to spot because they’re supposed to be looking out for the little guy not just pretending to, like their counterparts on the right. bobrobertsYou don’t expect any sort of disingenuousness or duplicity on that subject from the left. Fairness, equality and fighting for those who find neither of those things on a daily basis is basically what those on the left are supposed to be doing.

Yet, I’m beginning to smell the stank of faux-ness from them when it comes to the question of transit at the provincial level.

Over at Raise the Hammer on Friday, the NDP Transport Critic (and my local MPP) Rosario Marchese responded to an earlier criticism of his party’s approach to transit funding.  “… the NDP has identified $1.3 billion worth of corporate tax cuts that the Liberals plan on giving away starting in 2015,” Mr. Marchese writes. “That’s $1.3 billion a year that will no longer be available for priorities such as transit.”

I’m all for finally sitting down and having the debate about the efficacy of corporate tax cuts in stimulating our economy. After years of pursuing such a policy, I think there’s lots of evidence pointing to the fact it does nothing of the sort. eattherichDoing more of the same in the hopes of getting a different outcome is the very definition of insanity and all that.

But we need to start hearing more specifics as to the application of new tax revenues coming in due to the cancellation of the proposed corporate tax cuts. “$1.3 billion a year…available for priorities such as transit.” How much exactly of that would go to transit? In his article Marchese admits that even the full amount wouldn’t pay for the Big Move as it is currently structured. And arguably, there are other provincial priorities that are in as desperate a need for an injection of new cash as the GTHA’s transit plans. More details, please.

Adam Giambrone puts some meat on the bones over at NOW this week, pushing the idea of restructuring personal income taxes as part of the transit funding solution. Wealth taxes and surcharges on those earning $350,000 a year and on the sale of properties worth over $3 million. Actual progressive rates of taxation reflective of an individual’s ability to pay.

Even the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson seems in the mood to talk about the need for new taxes. The table is set. There’s really no need to be coy about it as the provincial NDP seems to insist on being.

Besides, while I’m all for talking about a fairer approach to taxation, when it comes to finding funds for expanding transit in the GTHA, there are limits to relying solely on corporate and personal income taxes. emptytalkIt’s hard to imagine how either could be administered at just a regional level. If they can’t, then you’re asking the entire province to pitch in and finance transit in the GTHA and we all know what a political minefield that is. There would probably have to be more of a province wide transportation plan which would obviously slice the pie into smaller pieces.

And before we go getting all redistributive here, let’s keep in mind that there should be some sort of incentive/disincentive type of taxation when it comes to transit funding too. Tolls, congestion fees and parking levies to force drivers to begin paying a more equal share of their road usage, funnelling that money into public transit.

The devil’s in the details as people like to say now with Metrolinx and Toronto’s city staff putting forth proposals for revenue tools. We need to start getting specifics, and stop hiding behind what are essentially cheap slogans. To my ears, the reliance on a ‘No More Corporate Tax Cuts’ mantra sounds as flimsy and faux-populist as finding efficiencies and cutting waste does in terms of this transit funding conversation. Vague, politically palatable pap that suggests your heart really isn’t in it. tenfootpoleTransit as topic you’d really rather avoid, thank you very much.

The Liberal government at Queen’s Park has moved slowly enough on the transit file, glacially slow most of the time, to have allowed the opposition parties plenty of time to claim it for themselves. Instead, both have shied away and handed the hot potato off, making the government appear like the only adults having a grown up conversation with the public. Empty rhetoric and catchphrase platitudes may a faux-populist make but it’s not going to get us any new transit built.

warily submitted by Cityslikr

Fablication

fablication

Last week Ivor Tossell wrote about the then latest brouhaha — it was nearly 5 days ago, plenty of time for even newer brouhahas — swirling around our mayor, Rob Ford. In the article, Mr. Tossell summarized the mayor’s approach to the truth, governing and reality.

This is Rob Ford’s truth. The facts will be decided not by reality, but by the people, on election day… It’s a schoolyard view of the world, in which truth flows from popularity and power. He’s used it to run his administration like a radio phone-in show, talking to just one crowd with a mix of pandering and fabulism…

Fabulism.fablication5

What a fantastic word to describe what we’ve been living through for the past three years since Rob Ford became a serious contender for the office of mayor. Fabulism. Fabulist.

Might I offer up a new word for general usage, especially in honour Ivor Tossell’s own contribution to the political lexicon in Toronto, Uncompetence.

The word* is: Fablication.

The generation of a world where whatever you say, if you’re the right thinking kind of person, is treated as hard, cold fact. Where a statement can contradict a previous statement and both statements can still be taken seriously. Fablication creates a magical place that emphasizes simple-mindedness not simplicity. fablication2Where rigour is not de rigueur.

Rob Ford’s fantasy political world is nothing but pure fablication. In it, there are never any negative consequences to your actions. Government has a spending problem not a revenue problem, and any extra dough that might be needed to build a subway (and subways only because streetcars are the root cause of traffic congestion) will flow effusively from a potent combination of a casino and the private sector.

Who wouldn’t want to live in such a land of enchantment?

In the 2010 municipal election, 47% of Toronto voters believed such a locale actually existed. All you needed was to stop a mythical gravy train and hop aboard a boat load of respect for the taxpayer. No fuss, no bother. Only those suffering from an engorged sense of entitlement and just the mildest sense of irony would feel any pain. fablication1Those symptoms largely inflicted denizens living in the old city of Toronto and in East York.

Even today, a solid chunk of those supporters continue to clap their hands in the hopes of keeping that dream alive, encouraging Mayor Ford to further dig in his heels. And he does. As Metrolinx ratchets up the real world conversation about viable revenue options to fund a long overdue transit expansion and the city’s chief planner chairs a roundtable, the Next Generation Suburbs, the mayor talks about graffiti and fake vomits (with accompanying video track) at the idea of new taxes and tolls.

Surely we can build more transit by cutting further finding efficiencies, rolling back public sector wages and benefits, stopping boondoggles. Where the hell do all the gas taxes go? asks a former PC MPP, apparently with a straight face. Stop demanding money, folks. We can just fablicate new transit.

Fablication built Ford Nation.

Listen to it in action every Sunday between 1 and 3 p.m. on 1010 Talk Radio. fablication4Or, for a quick hit, read David Hains’ synopsis of the show. (Check out 2:32 in Monday’s post for what I’m talking about when I talk about fablication.)

While the mayor is a very good practitioner of fablication, his brother is a master.

Witness Councillor Ford’s performance last week at Ryerson’s inappropriately named Law, Business, Politics – The Real World class. (Don’t know if it’s just my internet connection but the video is very, very choppy.) It was an hour and a half of outright fablication, punctuated by moments of actual serious discussion from co-panellist, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

You see, the duly elected councillor is not a politician. He’s a businessman. He and his brother-mayor (elected with the largest mandate in Canadian history [≈ 1’10”] and the most accessible politician in the country, in North America who fields 80-90 phone calls a day and doesn’t spend his time behind a big desk, talking to bureaucrats [≈ 54.30”]) have already saved the taxpayers of Toronto a billion dollars [≈ 57.30”]. fablication3When the councillor hosts visitors to the city, he’s always having to answer the same question. “What is there to do in Toronto, Doug?” [1’1”]. So that’s why we need to build a casino because, while the councillor doesn’t want to throw around wild numbers, he will anyway. Build a casino on city owned property and that’s $30 million in tax revenues, plus $30 million in a land lease agreement and we’re only getting started. Which is why we don’t taxes to build subways, folks. Casino revenue and the private sector who will tunnel across the city for us [1’17”]. apparently, in order to help alleviate our congestion woes.

And on and on it goes in the view of a fablicuist. (Trying on new words to see how they fit). Strawberry fields for-ever.

Why make up a word when there’s already one that might fit the bill? Fabulism. Fabulist. Fabler.

In the traditional definition, fables are supposed to have a meaning, an ‘edifying or cautionary point’. There’s nothing edifying or cautionary in fablication. Fablication is all about self-interest. fablication6Opinion, especially of the uniformed type, passes for truth. Facts are figments of a fablicateur’s imagination. Anything goes, in the world of fablication. Up is down. Black is white. Everything’s relative. The truth is somewhere in the middle. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Fablication is the tool used by those on the wrong side of every issue. It is the creation of a reality unencumbered by the necessity to adhere to any notion of the truth. It’s undemanding, free-floating, amorphous and subject to change at a moment’s notice. Eventually a fablicated world will collapse into itself, but the key for everyone living outside its bubble is to limit the damage inflicted before it does.

* as far as I know ‘fablication’ was first coined by Catherine Soplet

studiously submitted by Cityslikr

Mayor Or May Not

For the record, I think city council is doing a pretty bang up job at this moment. All things considered. statlerandwaldorfAnd by all things I mean, the mayor. Besieged and absent most of the time, he contributes nothing more than an occasional grunt of consent (casino, yes) or dissenting snort (tolls, no way).

Locked into a near submission hold early on in this term by a beast with a mandate, a more passive, compliant group was hard to imagine than our city council. Kill Transit City. Wait, what? Cut the VRT. OK, but how do we replace the reven–Cut office budgets. OK but that’s still not going to replace the revenue from–Privatize waste collection. Can you at least give us proper numbers? Oh, never mind. Whatevs.

Who’s the boss? You’re the boss, boss man.

But then, in a classic dumb wrasslin’ move, Mayor Ford didn’t finish off his opponent when he had the chance. whosthebossHe let up on the choke hold and tagged his partner to take over the beating. But when his partner-brother-councillor got in over his head, his nifty manoeuvre on the Port Lands rebuffed and then used to pummel him, the mayor was too distracted to help out. Oh, look. Football season!

He never really recovered.

And we as a city are the better for it.

City council has stepped up and ably assumed control, as best it can with an obstructionist mayor who, when he’s paying any attention at all, throws nothing more than blocks and hissy fits in order to in any way seem relevant to the civic discourse. Yes, transit plans were delayed by about 18 months but, I’d say, council was third on the list of those responsible for that, after the mayor and the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty who could’ve stopped the assault in its tracks, so to speak, but instead chose to play politics with it. Actually, fourth if you factor in Tim Hudak’s inane blathering about subways, subways, subways.

For sure, this type of unplanned (but not unsurprising) leaderless style of local governance is not optimal. It appears to have opened things wide for outside influencers, let’s call them, on the casino question. The mayor’s inability to build a majority of councillors to approve a casino has now slowed the proceedings to a halt as staff calls for more information from OLG (which is not necessarily a bad thing) tagteamwrestlingand given more time to lobbying efforts. But it’s also just prolonged the time, space and resources this debate takes of the public discourse. Important matters are not dealt with in the most expeditious of manners.

On the other hand, in the absence of a strong mayoral hand, city staff have seized control of the transit file and pushed it to the forefront. In fact, I might argue that led by our Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, along with TTC Chair Karen Stintz, the public discussion about tolls, taxes and fees needed to pay for Metronlinx’s Big Move have outpaced the efforts done by the province. With Mayor Ford bleating ineffectually along the sidelines, there have been forums, town halls and other information sessions that have inserted the topic firmly into the region wide discussion. All of it occurring in spite of the mayor’s adamant disapproval.

Pointing to the possibility that while having a mayor contribute positively to the running of the city is preferable, it isn’t absolutely essential. Order does not break down and chaos reign. Sure, it can be something of a circus but I would argue that’s more a product of this particular administration than it is any sort of proof that the system cannot function if a mayor doesn’t prevail.

What we absolutely don’t need is to bestow more power in the mayor’s hands to make sure this kind of gridlock doesn’t happen, as some have talked about repeatedly, not mentioning any names keepcalmandcarryonbut it’s exactly the same as the mayor’s and rhymes with ‘bored’. No, just the opposite. Until we undertake a radical restructuring of the municipal system here with an emphasis on more city wide representation outside of the mayor’s office while giving more power and say to citizens at the ground level, we might want to harken back to simpler times.

Let’s stop directly electing the mayor of Toronto.

Instead, our mayor will be chosen from the 44 councillors who’ve just been elected. That way, there’s already a momentum toward consensus going forward into the term. There’s a working majority at council from the get-go.

An added bonus would be extra interest in the councillor races because the one elected to be mayor would give up their council seat and be replaced by the candidate coming in second to them in the ward race. Four years down the road, the mayor would have to fight for the ward again, possibly facing the incumbent who’d replaced them. shortleashSo, there’d be none of this petulant sulking, impatiently waiting for the next election to get your way since you’d have someone else trying to contribute positively to the running of the city who you might just have to face off against in your ward in order to be re-elected.

It’s not perfect, no. But if the office of the mayor has not proven to be indispensable to the running of the city, why pretend that it is? Let’s treat it like it is, a first among equals to borrow a phrase. Only as powerful as the individual holding the office can make it or as strong as the rest of council allows.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr