Political Posturing Won’t Build Transit

April 21, 2013

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

April 3, 2013

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

March 12, 2013

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


Those Friday Afternoon Transit Blues

September 21, 2012

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate This Week In Transit News at about a 4. The grade’s only that high because I’m trying to put my best foot forward. Smile on the outside when I’m really crying on the inside as I sift through and evaluate all the pertinent information.

It started with our federal government voting down a national transit strategy put forward in the House of Commons by the NDP. National Transit Strategy? Strategy? National? Sounds a little interventionist. The outcome was hardly a surprise.

That element was saved for a day or so later when Queen’s Park announced through their agency, Metrolinx, that the design, construction, building and operation of the Eglinton LRT was going to be outsourced as part of a public-private partnership. Take that, TTC! Who’s yer momma? Huh? Who’s yer momma, TTC? Say it. Say it! Metrolinx, baby! Metrolinx.

Now, I’ve been battling hard for the past couple days to suppress my gut reaction to the news. I don’t want to disappoint my friend Matt Elliott and be one of those on the left giving over to immediate, unthinking nayism. Maybe a viable case can be made for the move. Perhaps it is the first step toward a fully integrated regional transit system and, hopefully, that would be a good thing. Metrolinx’s track record to date in dealing with local concerns gives me pause however.

But for now, I’ll attempt to see the upside. The general consensus seems to be success or failure of the Eglinton LRT P3 will come down to the details of the agreement, how the ‘i’s are dotted and ‘t’s crossed. If the private sector can actually deliver the necessary transit at a lower cost, and if that’s the only element we’re looking for, I’ll hop aboard and go along for the ride.

I’d probably have more confidence in the whole thing if the McGuinty Liberals had any robust credibility on transit. I have long since concluded that Mayor Rob Ford has been nothing but manna from heaven for them, providing cover for a rather lacklustre, wishy-washy approach since they came to power in 2003. Announce big, deliver significantly less. What is now $8.4 billion for 4 LRT lines was once supposed to be 7 lines with an additional $4 billion in funding. Delay has followed delay and we’re now talking decades hence not years.

And remember that initial election promise of restoring provincial funding for half the TTC’s annual operating budget? Nine years on. Tick tock, tick tock.

As if to add insult to injury, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli seems to be suggesting that once the Eglinton LRT is up and going and the TTC no longer runs buses along the street, the money it saves should be handed over to the private company running the LRT. Yeah, really. Of course, our mayor is otherwise occupied and hasn’t weighed in on the matter to defend the city’s interests, leaving that – along with almost all matters dealing with transit — up to the TTC Chair, Karen Stintz.

Defenders of the province will, with much justification certainly, point to our electing of Rob Ford as mayor and the subsequent subway-versus-LRT battle as a prime example of the city not being a serious player in this transit debate. They wouldn’t be wrong. Toronto took a big step backward on many fronts when Rob Ford became mayor.

But I’d argue, at least on the transit file, the city righted itself. The TTC chair took control, sidelined the mayor and his most ardent supporters and got everything back on track. (Yeah. I just wrote that). All of it done without any assistance from the province who, when it mattered most, indulged Mayor Ford’s subways, subways, subways fantasy and further exploited the situation by delaying the start of the Sheppard LRT construction yet again, making it vulnerable to any changes in power at either City Hall or Queen’s Park.

It’s all part of a familiar pattern for the McGuinty Liberals of appearing to be just slightly less worse than the other guy. Think they’re bad on public transit? Look at Toronto and Mayor Ford. We may be outsourcing control of the Eglinton LRT but remember Mike Harris buried the subway there.

I am trying to keep an open mind but the province inspires little confidence. Rather than see the move to a P3 as a cost containment measure, it just smacks of outsourcing responsibility and governance. I’m willing, though, to be convinced otherwise.

forced smiledly submitted by Cityslikr


Where Have You Been?

April 26, 2012

“Time to talk about taking on the Fords” was the headline in a National Post article written by Chris Selley yesterday. “Three times this week,” it opened, “City Hall poured gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers.” He then outlined those three examples: the Metrolinx approval of council’s decision to go ahead with 4 LRT lines, the chief medical officer’s recommendation to lower speed limits in the city and the growing talk of looking at road tolls.

On top of which, Mr. Selley suggests later in the piece that in taking over control of outsourcing practices, city council “…added a weapon to the Mayor’s arsenal.”

There seems to be some inconsistencies in this argument.

For starters, city council has moved beyond talking about taking on the Fords. They’re already doing it by rolling back proposed cuts in the 2012 operating budget, successfully defending the Portlands from Councillor Doug’s incursion, reversing new fees for sports fields along with the examples above. The mayor’s self-proclaimed mandate continues to be challenged.

But to Mr. Selley this is pouring ‘gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers’, intimating that by defying the mayor council is only succeeding in making him stronger. (With a nod to @HULKMAYOR) DON’T MAKE FORD NATION ANGRY! YOU WON’T LIKE FORD NATION WHEN THEY’RE ANGRY!

This argument grates. It pops up every time the mayor suffers a setback. A wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and the wailing of, but we’re just giving him a re-election platform.

What?!

And the alternative? To sit back, let him run rampant, implementing the worst of his policy ideas? When it all goes to shit, we then step up and say, see? We told you so? Then start picking up the pieces.

That’s certainly not what Mr. Selley’s suggesting. He believes the mayor’s opponents need to take control of the narrative and contest the fallacious assertions Team Ford continues to make. Like the St. Clair “disaster” and its mutant spawn, St. Clair-ization of the city with the building of LRTs. Agreed and I think that’s already under way with the work John Lorinc and others have been doing exploring St. Clair Avenue post its St. Clairizing.

“When it comes to subways and LRTs specifically,” Selley writes, “someone needs figure out how to make staying the course look sexy.”

That’s kind of a tall order and perhaps a little bit of overkill. While I know the mayor has pledged to make it a campaign issue and the likes of the Toronto Star’s Royson James worries that the timing of the Sheppard LRT’s commencement of construction in 2014 could be manna from heaven for Mayor Ford’s re-election bid, I’d really like to see him try and run with that frankly. Already having put off the timetable by 18 months with his declaring Transit City dead does he really think promising further delays is going to be a winner for him?

The statement issued from his office yesterday in response to the Metrolinx decision to proceed with LRTs suggests the mayor isn’t looking to go to the mat for a Sheppard subway. It attempts to put the matter fully into the province’s lap, saying that the focus for the TTC should now be solely on “…delivering operational and customer service excellence — and not on capital infrastructure planning and construction.” The mayor’s continued ‘push for subways to form the backbone of Toronto’s future plans for rapid transit expansion’ is vague enough to open the possibility of talk for something as out there as the downtown relief line. Subways are subways, right?

Inadvertently, Mayor Ford has triggered a transit discussion this city has not had this openly in decades. Very few people now disagree that we have fallen woefully behind, to the growing detriment of commuters and businesses alike. A Spacing-Environics poll last week suggested an eye-poppingly large number of the GTA are more than willing to consider a regional sales tax dedicated to building transit.

That’s a tax increase, folks. The polar opposite of what then candidate for mayor Rob Ford ran successfully on in 2010. All the talk of evil taxes now seems to be little more than pissing in the wind, a naked appeal to a narrowing base of support.

So the mayor and his brother want to recreate the conditions that got them elected some 18 months ago? Good luck with that. Like they say, you can’t push toothpaste back into its tube. The agenda has changed, the discussion advanced. Fighting yesterday’s war seldom leads to victory today.

That’s not to say I’m writing the mayor off as one and done. Mr. Selley’s correct in pointing out that then Councillor Rob Ford was severely underestimated. The anger he helped foment and then champion was surprising and misunderstood. He will be helped by the power of incumbency.

But 2014 will be a different political landscape, one the mayor will have contributed to having altered. Last time out, his main rival, George Smitherman, forged the anti-City Hall mindset that Ford ran away with. Every subsequent move Smitherman made to differentiate himself from Ford only seemed to reinforce the argument that Toronto’s government was out of control in every conceivable way. The only main candidate defending the status quo, Joe Pantalone, was simply a bad campaigner. His arguments were closer to the truth but he just couldn’t effectively deliver that message.

It’s hard to imagine how that dynamic will be recreated for the mayor to exploit. Council has already established itself as a viable counter-balance to the worst instincts of the mayor. There is a working majority consensus on most of the important issues the city faces. Whoever rises up from that to take on Mayor Ford in 2014 will be the type of formidable candidate he didn’t face in 2010.

Chris Selley doesn’t seem to realize that and is writing from a few steps behind what’s happening on the ground now.

up to speedly submitted by Cityslikr