The Golden Rule

September 17, 2013

When it was announced last week that Anne Golden had been approached by the Ontario government to head up a panel to look at revenue generation to go toward building transit in the GTHA, hidebehindI joked that we should all be very excited as Queen’s Park has a history of listening to recommendations made by a panel chaired by Ms. Golden. Listening perhaps, then ignoring.

OK, joke may be too strong a word for it. That would suggest the statement was funny. More sagging, really. Under the weight of bitter, disillusioned sarcasm.

But it did get me thinking about the old Golden Report on the governance, competitiveness blah, blah, blah of the GTA, commissioned back in the twilight of the Bob Rae government. Delivered up to the Mike Harris crew in the early days of that government, it was greeted largely with a shrug. It wasn’t something they’d asked for.

That’s not exactly true either. The Harris Tories did use the report as a little bit of cover in the next couple years as they descended into an amalgamation frenzy including the one here in Toronto. Reading through Andrew Sancton’s account of what happened, shrugAmalgamations, Service Realignment, and Property Taxes: Did the Harris Government Have a Plan for Ontario’s Municipalities?, the immediate impression is of the ad hoc nature of it all.

To begin with, the idea of amalgamation wasn’t really on the party’s radar when it sat on the opposition benches at Queen’s Park. It certainly wasn’t a key part of the Common Sense Revolution. Here’s Mike Harris speaking in 1994, less than a year before he took over the reins of power.

There is no cost to a municipality to maintain its name and identity. Why destroy our roots and pride? I disagree with restructuring because it believes that bigger is better. Services always cost more in larger communities. The issue is to find out how to distribute services fairly and equally without duplicating services.

Bigger isn’t better? “Services always cost more in larger communities”? This was the exact opposite of what we were being told by the provincial government when they were ramming the megacity down our throats. aboutfaceHow times changed.

Sixteen years on, water under the bridge aside from pointing out that the 1994 Mike Harris was right about amalgamations while Premier Mike Harris was wrong. The change of heart might be easier to accept if there’d been a straight forward reason why he did what he did but there really didn’t seem to be.

Sure, there was the desire to bury the dissenting voice of the old city of Toronto’s council under the more friendly voices of the suburban municipalities but that seems to be just a small part of it. The Tories also wanted to remove the taxation power of school boards and put them on a tight fiscal leash. Plus, the whole matter of updating the property tax system was also in play.

Perhaps as important as any of these, the provincial government needed to keep a campaign promise of reducing government. Any ol’ government would do, regardless of the consequences. Six municipalities into one, plus Metro council? A double fucking trifecta.

Keeping up appearances, in other words. This anti-government government eliminating levels of government. It would make for good re-election campaign literature.

There are echoes of this jumbled miasma of reasoning currently going on with our whole heave-ho debate on transit. Everybody knows that the region’s public transit system is substandard. decisionsdecisions1Everybody knows that we’re going to have to pay substantially for the necessarily substantial expansion.

That seems to be where the agreement ends. Who pays? Who knows. What gets built where? Another head shaker. There are metrics to quantify the debate just like there were during the era of amalgamation. Unfortunately, few are very politically palatable.

Adding Anne Golden to the mix only serves to fuel the feeling that the provincial government is doing little more than throwing up more obstacles. Decisions aren’t the desirable outcome here. The appearance of process is, due diligence.

What’s weird about the way the Liberals are going about things here is, unlike how the Harris government did an about face on amalgamation, the Liberals are subverting a plan they themselves put into place. The Big Move. A breakdown of transit needs and priorities throughout the region and a smorgasbord of possible revenue tools to access in order to implement the plan.

Already the Eglinton crosstown construction is underway. selfsabotageThe Master Agreement with Toronto has been signed for 3 other LRT lines, one being the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line that the government seems determined to undermine at this point, ably assisted by a majority of city council. The motivation behind such a move is hard to discern.

You could just write it off to pure political pandering, to keep those Scarborough seats red in any upcoming provincial election. Pretty straightforward. But if it’s just that, why not go all in and build an actual subway? You know, at least all the way up to Sheppard? That way, you can put pressure on the proposed Sheppard LRT too. A subway to the west. A subway to the east. Complete the line from Yonge to Kipling with a Sheppard subway loop.

This two stop proposal just seems like a half-measure. How could this government be that invested and find themselves at this point of time so indecisive? To give the Harris government its due, they did a 180 on amalgamation and in the face of fierce political opposition pushed it through, damn the torpedoes. headlesschickenThese Liberals appear to have little inclination to be as bold even when they have the good cause on their side.

Instead of having to pull some clarity (misguided and malevolent as it was in the case of amalgamation) out of a stew of conflicting policy initiatives, the McGuinty-Wynne government seem bound and determined to reduce transit planning in the region to a chaotic mix of parochialism and unfinished business. If you are able to find a coherent narrative as to why, you have much better eyes for this kind of thing than I do. I just see a glaring lacking of leadership and a desperate desire for expediency coalescing into an all familiar puddle of incompetence that has plagued this city and region in transit building for a generation now.

disheartenedly submitted by Cityslikr


Putting Ourselves Between A Rock And A Hard Place

June 25, 2013

On the other hand…

hmmmm

It was gently asked of me yesterday that if the characters in the current $150 million pooling-uploading saga now swirling around City Hall and Queen’s Park were different – like, say, a mayor I didn’t see as a raging incompetent or a provincial government I felt was more Mike Harris-y – would my reaction be the opposite of what it was. Essentially, a variation on the why is he so fucking incompetent theme. A fair question.

Yes indeed, the Liberal government is getting away with some dubious claims in this transaction, using Mayor Ford’s epic inability to get along with absolutely anyone and everyone he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with as cover. letmestopyourightthereAs John McGrath pointed out on Friday, over the course of the 3 year phase out of the $150 million pooling fund, the city will ultimately be short-changed just over $13 million after factoring in the uploading of services back to the province over the same period of time. (The chart is on page 5 of this letter sent to the mayor’s office by Finance Minister Charles Sousa.)

Of course, Mayor Ford muddies the waters with his immediate ballistic response, threatening to cut social programs to the tune of $50 million next year when, in fact, the pooling fund-upload exchange will net the city an additional $700,000. It’s hard to believe there can’t be some financial re-arranging at the city level to mitigate the need for any cuts. It’s also hard to believe the mayor would be willing to go into an election year with the mess of significant cuts to social programs on his hands in the hopes voters follow him in pinning the blame on the provincial government. No service cuts. Guaranteed. Remember?

This is all purely political jostling on everyone’s part. It’s just unfortunate, if not at all surprising, the Liberals decided to play along. pissingmatchA solid majority of Toronto residents know that we’ve elected a child-mayor who only operates through the lens of campaigning. The provincial government is supposed to be the adult in the room. Instead, they’ve started up their engines in a game of chicken.

In order to try and mask that, the finance minister threw into the pot relief from a loan made to the city by the province back when Mike Harris was premier and Mel Lastman mayor. A loan to cover the initial costs of amalgamation with the expectation of being paid back with all the efficiencies that would be found. Efficiencies weren’t found, so the loan has been ignored for most of its life.

So, the finance minister claims that’s about $230 million in savings for the city but it’s actually Ford level accounting. thanksfornothingIf the city hasn’t made a payment in a decade or and wasn’t expected to, it should hardly count as any sort of savings. Thanks for the gesture, Queen’s Park. As empty as it may be.

The politics of this goes beyond just the war with Ford. The Liberals want everyone to know that it’s not giving any municipality preferential treatment even if there are legitimate reasons it might. If the province is fully assuming the costs of the social programs Toronto bears a heavier burden providing than other cities in Ontario, fair enough. I’m yet to be convinced that’s actually the case.

But the Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Toronto MPP, is petrified of being seen as Toronto-centric by the rest of the province. So no special deals on a casino. No special funding treatment. itshisfaultAs it goes in Kenora, so it goes in Toronto.

It would be unfair to suggest that it’s simply back to business as usual since 1995. The Liberals have reclaimed much of the costs their Progressive Conservative predecessors downloaded onto municipalities in the Great Savagery of 1995-2003. (Certainly not all. For one, there remains the outstanding matter of the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating budget they haven’t made good on.) Let’s give credit where credit is due.

It’s sheer big-balled audacity, though, to point to the city’s annual surpluses as proof we’re sitting pretty while Queen’s Park battles heroically with a debt load that’s kept us all afloat. Lest they need reminding, cities can’t run an operating deficit. They’re not allowed as provincially mandated. dirtyhands1Our surpluses come from conservative budgeting that leaves many of our services (some also provincially mandated but not necessarily provincially funded) and residents more than a little frayed around the edges. It’s at moments like this when it’s worth asking if the province is putting back as much into Toronto as it’s taking out. I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to that.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to use our bumbling, stumbling mayor as a convenient punching bag, it would do well for the provincial government to remember that there are real life implications to their political calculations. Implications that will inevitably be borne by those least able to bear them. Mayor Ford won’t be among them.

Perhaps the bigger lesson to be learned from this is for the people of Toronto. Queen’s Park and the governments in power there, first and foremost will be looking out for themselves. We’re just part of their always fluid political equation, little more than polling numbers.responsibility

We need to look after ourselves and have been given some of the tools to do so. In order for that to happen, we have to stop electing politicians who refuse to step up and take on that responsibility. It makes us easy prey for those putting their own interests first.

responsibly submitted by Cityslikr


The Road To Irrelevancy

March 14, 2013

It’s very easy with our 21st-century hindsight (such as it is) to look back through the history books and scream in frustration at the mistakes made by our predecessors. blackdeath“It’s the fleas, you dimwits!” you yell at the poor bastards suffering through the plague. In the sixth century. And again in the fourteenth century. And the seventeenth.

Clear out the rats! Stop living in such squalor! It’s a bacteria! No, flowers in your nose won’t help! Invent antibiotics, already!

Progress is a slow march, sometimes imperceptible. The scientific method was a long time in coming and still hasn’t fully taken hold. Iterative trial-and-error, plugging in acquired knowledge as it becomes available to us. We proceed humbly with the best information we have at the time, knowing it’s not always going to be perfect or even correct.

Educated guesses. Informed assumptions.

Or there’s this.

A Transportation Town Hall for the residents of Councillor Mike Del Grande’s Scarborough Agincourt ward. scientificmethod“Transit And You. Subways. Public Transit. (TTC/GO Transit) Hwy 401. Road.”

The evening’s guest speaker? Put your hands together for Mr. Frank Klees, MPP and the Progressive Conservative Transportation Critic. Yes, folks. That Frank Klees. Member of the Mike Harris government that buried the hole where an Eglinton subway would’ve run and cut the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating subsidy. Mr. Frank Klees, everyone.

(Full disclosure: I did not attend the event and am only relaying the sense I got via social media. Grain of salt not included.)

Mr. Klees pleaded for transit planning to move “beyond politics.” Too many times in the past we have seen incoming administrations simply trash can the work of their outgoing counterparts for little more than partisan reasons. Marking the territory. Male lions, taking over a new pride, killing the offspring of its defeated rival.

Hard to argue with that. I mean, Mayor Rob Ford unilaterally killing Transit City. The aforementioned dispatch by the Harris government of Eglinton subway. filltheholeSuch crass politics should be called out, detrimental as they are to healthy city building.

But strangely if not unsurprisingly, Klees ignored those examples and hopped into his way back machine in order to trot out… wait for it, wait for it… the Spadina Expressway! Yep, folks. The Opposition’s Transportation Critic at Queen’s Park sees everything that’s wrong with transit planning in this city traced back to the ignominious end of the Spadina Expressway at Eglinton Avenue.

Again, I was not in attendance, so can’t be entirely sure of Mr. Klees’ exact point. Was it just the reversal that he believed wrong or the fact that the Expressway would’ve been a boon for transportation? Whatever, but it seemed to establish a tone for the evening where the car needed to reclaim its exalted position atop the transportation hierarchy, all public transit must run underground and, why not more bridges?

Bridges? Yes, bridges. Where there are more bridges, there  is less gridlock.

“Resident says for 50 years roads have been considered dirty words. Same with cars. And trucks. And bridges.”

Look.

Sixty-five years ago or so, there was a different prevailing view. After a Great Depression and World War, after nearly 20 years of selfless sacrifice, there was a little breath of freedom in the air. Land was plentiful. suburbandreamThe energy to get people to those far flung places was cheap. So the approach to designing cities reflected those sensibilities.

Why wouldn’t they? It was based on the best information at hand. Thus, places like Scarborough Agincourt were planned into existence.

More than half a century on, we’ve realized a couple of those key suppositions turned out not to be quite right. Land is plentiful but the sprawl that followed was not really sustainable or economically viable. Energy, or at least a cheap version of it, turned out not be in infinite supply and it also happened to be hazardous to our collective health.

Again, life is not an exact fucking science. Best laid plans and all that. Mistakes happen. You learn from them and seek to correct them with the knowledge you’ve gained from experience.

What you don’t do is insist on repeating them in the hopes of a different outcome. We all know what the definition of that is.

Frank Klees, Mayor Ford and Councillor Del Grande are all conducting a flat out assault on reason when it comes to transit planning. stubborn(It’s especially galling from the councillor who leaves no opportunity wasted to tout how he as the former budget chief removed the “emotion” from the budget process.) They either don’t know or don’t care about any evidence that’s emerged that runs contrary to their strongly held opinions, apparently forged in steel in the 1950s and 60s.

It’s reactionism at its worst and a complete abdication of leadership and responsibility. Leveraging parochial resentment for political opportunism, they insist on spreading mistruths and false hope. No, guys. More roads don’t lead to less congestion. They are deniers of reality and need to be dispatched to the trash heap of irrelevancy.

Just like the experts who blamed the plague on the humid air. Only, let’s not wait as long to see that it happens.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


That’s No Way To Start A Friendship

March 1, 2013

Look.

I’m with Oakville mayor Rob Burton. We here in Toronto need to be paying more in taxes. I’ve been saying that for a while now. agreeDon’t know if I’ve been saying it longer than Mr. Burton has. I don’t really know that much about Mr. Burton, truth be told. Don’t know how long he’s been mayor of Oakville. Not even absolutely sure where Oakville is. That the place beside Port Credit?

But I do know that we’re in complete agreement over taxes. Torontonians have to start shelling out more, especially if we want to build transit for this century not for two centuries back. On that Mr. Rob  Burton, mayor of Oakville, and I concur.

I would, however, like to take exception to his assertion made yesterday on CBC’s Metro Morning and in the Toronto Star about Oakville subsidizing Toronto to the tune of $17 million a year since 1998. “When you remind Toronto that you’ve been subsidizing them,” he tells Tess Kalinowski, “they are: A) blissfully unaware that they’ve been enjoying a lower tax rate on the backs of the 905, and B) they’re singularly ungrateful. holdthephoneThis does not encourage us to want to help them.”

Now, I think I know what Mr. Burton is trying to do here. Shame us Torontonians into isolating Mayor Ford on his anti-tax/toll ice floe and set him adrift out onto the lonely, frigid sea of frugality. Having successfully whitewashed anyone calling for increased taxes as downtown elite, tax-and-spend cyclists, criticism like this from a mayor in the 905 is much tougher to counter. Our mayor loves the 905. His favourite restaurant is somewhere out there. He is very likely the ungrateful type who is blissfully unaware the 905 region pays higher property taxes than Toronto does.

But jesus fucking christ, Rob Burton. There’s a much less divisive way to go about this than beating the drum of suburban versus urban division. The very one Mayor Ford used to get elected in 2010, and we’re all bearing witness to how well that’s turned out for everyone.

Categorizing GTA pooling (or the ‘Toronto Tax’) to pay for the region’s social costs as ‘subsidizing Toronto’ is disingenuous, and I’m being generous calling it that. thefineprintIt’s a far more complicated issue that came about back in the 90s with the provincial Tory government’s Local Services Realignment. Essentially, downloading social services costs onto the municipalities.

Even the Harris Conservatives – never really this city’s best of friends — realized this was going to disproportionally hit Toronto since (I’m using 2004 numbers here) the city was home to 80% of the GTAs social assistance clients and 74% of its social housing stock. So this Toronto Tax wasn’t a subsidy so much as an equalization payment. Providing cash in lieu of services not rendered. Cash that was provincially mandated to go directly to specified social services and programs and not just pocketed for Toronto to spend on whatever whim struck it’s fancy.

Geez, pops. Thanks for the allowance. Can I borrow the car tonight? I got a hot date.

Besides, as we move forward to deal with funding region wide transit, it should be noted that the Toronto Tax has been slowly phased out by the province, beginning in 2007 and ending completely this year. whycantwebefriendsSo it shouldn’t really be a factor in the discussion now. Using it to foment resentment seems a little counter-productive in fact.

We already have a major obstacle in the way of making progress on the transit debate in the form of Mayor Ford. We don’t need to set up more by fanning the fires of geographic division based on a misleading interpretation of a financial arrangement that is no longer in play. By the sounds of it, Mayor Burton is on the same side as a growing number of people in Toronto who want a better transit system throughout the region and are more than willing to pay for it. It just does not help the cause to put up false fences between us.

fence-mendingly 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


No City For Young Children

July 13, 2012

I have seen the urban-suburban divide, and it’s name is Doug Holyday. Councillor Doug Holyday. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday.

If not the political father to the Ford Brothers, he is their political godfather. A lean, mean libertarian and last mayor of pre-amalgamation Etobicoke, Councillor Holyday’s the antiest of anti-government types. There is no aspect of governing (except maybe policing) the man doesn’t believe can be done better and cheaper by the private sector. Government as a source for out-sourcing.

Despite the political and territorial affinity between the Deputy Mayor and the Fords, Councillor Holyday must bear a little ill-will toward their late father, Doug Sr. As a backbench MPP for the Mike Harris government, Ford-pere helped smash the 6 former municipalities of Metro Toronto into one unwieldy beast. This leashed the Deputy Mayor’s beloved ol’ Etobicoke home to the licentious, rapacious, elitist grab all downtown.

Arcadia was under threat. Progress’s shadow drew nearer, bringing darkness ever closer to the perpetual 1950s sunshine of Toronto’s gateway to Mississauga.

Since 1997 Doug Holyday’s picket fenced mind set has been besieged by the onset of the 21st-century. Urbanism. Multiculturalism. Diversity of views and lifestyles that include… wait for it, wait for it… children growing up in downtown highrises with no place to play other than the traffic.

Yesterday’s well-documented dust up between the deputy mayor and Councillor Adam Vaughan (if you want to see it for yourself here’s the link, scroll through to 149:46) over the requirement for 10% of condo units to be 3 bedroom in a King Street West development proposal revealed the deep hostility directed at the downtown core from the suburban leadership elected to represent the entire city. “I personally wouldn’t want to raise my kids on King Street or Yonge Street,” the deputy mayor said. “Some people might, and if they do, that’s fine. … I’m saying I personally wouldn’t want to be on the 47th floor of a condominium building at the corner of King and John with three kids.”

“I can just see it now,” ‘Where’s little Jenny? Well, she’s downstairs playing in the traffic on her way to the park’”.

When the city’s acting chief planner Gregg Lintern suggested that encouraging families to live in every part of the city including right downtown “…makes for a healthier city” the deputy mayor wasn’t buying it.  “It makes for a healthier city to have children out on King Street where there is bumper-to-bumper traffic, people galore all night and day? I just think of raising my own family there. That’s not the place I’d choose.”

Apparently, if you choose a lifestyle contrary to one Doug Holyday deems acceptable, well hey, god bless you, you’re on your own. Briefly stepping back from his Grandpa Simpson mode, the deputy mayor wrapped himself in his comfy libertarian cloak and railed that government shouldn’t be telling the private sector what they can and cannot be building. In putting forward a motion to delete the 10% 3 bedroom requirement for the development proposal, he suggested that it should be left up to the free market to sort out.

“I’m not going to dictate to a developer,” the Deputy Mayor said, “that they must provide 10% of their units in the three bedroom form when there may or may not be a market for it.”

If there’s such a clamour for family condo units downtown, developers will respond. That’s just Economics 101. No matter that bigger units/development mean fewer units/development and less money overall. Developers aren’t concerned about money in the long run. They just want to respond to market demand.

Turns out the Deputy Mayor isn’t as laissez-faire on the matter of planning when it gets closer to home. During the ensuing debate, Councillor Vaughan pointed out that a few years back, when a developer proposed building rowhouses — OMG not townhouses! — in Etobicoke’s single family enclave, Mr. Holyday wasn’t so invisibly handy as he was toward downtown development. So it’s free reign for the private sector when it comes to situations the Deputy Mayor doesn’t approve of but let’s get all state controlled if it imposes on his lifestyle.

I don’t  believe that a majority of those in the suburbs reflect Deputy Mayor Holyday’s cloistered views. People live outside the core for many reasons. Space, affordability, just a preference for that way of life. They don’t judge those who make their homes downtown as dimly as our deputy mayor does.

I agree with writer Shawn Micallef when he referred to Mr. Holyday’s opinions as ‘creaks from the grave of thought.’ They’re shocking because it’s difficult to believe anyone still thinks like that. It’s a dying breed kicking and screaming against modernity.

Unfortunately, Mr. Holyday isn’t just anyone. In theory, he’s the 2nd in command of the largest city in the country. A rapidly evolving metropolis of some 2.5 million residents that has long since outgrown the strictures of sleepy, small town governance. More worrisome is that the mayor, his actual right hand man, Councillor Ford, and a small cadre of similar anti-urban minds now have their hands on the levers of power.

All of them are unfit for the positions they are currently in. They don’t understand the needs of the city they’ve been elected to represent. The only thing they seem determined to accomplish is to roll back any and all evidence of the 21st-century.

The Deputy Mayor’s comments reflected that and underline the need to resist every antediluvian idea he and his cohorts try to inflict on the city.

corely submitted by Cityslikr


Queen’s Park Strangers

July 3, 2012

“Too much time has been wasted,” intoned Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli last week, “and we need shovels in the ground and improvements to public transit starting now. There is no time left to waste.”

All reports suggest he said this with a straight face.

If it wasn’t obvious before, it couldn’t be any clearer now: the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto has been nothing less than manna from heaven for the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. In the havoc Mayor Ford’s wreaked on this city’s transit file (havoc the provincial government could’ve stemmed if it so chose but more on that later), Queen’s Park has been able to cover its tracks, hiding nearly a decade of neglect and indecisive mishandling of such a vital portfolio. So much so, that after TTC Chair Karen Stintz launched what was nothing more than an embryonic idea about further transit expansion in Toronto with One City, Minister Chiarelli was able to condescendingly brush it aside as a ‘future-looking concept’ with ‘a lot of merit’ but – and hold your stitches together with this — “We must not and cannot allow further council debate and delay,” the minister said. “Transit in a city like Toronto isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The stones on these guys. Really.

For the past 17 years, transit in this city has been little more than a political football to successive provincial governments of both red and blue stripes. Kicked and punted this way and that, depending on the direction the winds were blowing, there hasn’t been anything really resembling an overall strategy as much as there’s been basic calculated ad hockery.  While the current transportation minister mouths the word ‘necessity’ in terms of transit, it’s really only been about expediency from Queen’s Park for some time now.

1995.

The newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris decides to bury the already in progress Eglinton subway line. Unaffordable. So we’ll wait a decade and a half when the costs of building transit inevitably come down and we can have this debate all over again in its entirety.

Later on as a sop to then Mayor Mel Lastman, the Tories OK a Sheppard subway line. This little stub of a thing contributes little to alleviating congestion much. In fact, it only seems to be helping load up the Yonge subway line to past capacity. It also serves as a flashpoint to the great subway debate of 2010-12, a key element to the delays the transportation minister bemoans.

And then there was the decision to stop funding the provincial half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, a decision that candidate for premier McGuinty promised to reverse if elected but has yet to get around to nearly 9 years on in his mandate. Taking a very conservative estimate, say $150 million a year, for 17 years now, that adds up to some $2.5 billion that the TTC and taxpayers of Toronto have had to shoulder or simply dispense with for the better part of a generation now. That’s a lot of expansion of services deferred and new technologies ignored.

What Mike Harris taketh away, Dalton McGuinty hath kept tucked away.

And like his predecessor, Premier McGuinty also bestowed upon the city a subway that had more to do with politics than with practicality. The Yonge-University subway line extension up to Vaughan was hardly where a new subway was needed most. Transit? Sure. But a subway? If there, why not Scarborough was a legitimate question asked during this spring’s transit debate. Until you elect a high ranking member of the provincial government, Scarborough, might’ve been the actual answer.

Then there’s Transit City.

Until we elected Mayor Ford in 2010, the main culprit in the delays in implementation of Transit City has been at the provincial level. Originally planned to build 7 new LRT lines and upgrading the Scarborough RT, along with new rapid bus lanes, Queen’s Park blanched in the face of the economic meltdown in 2008 and pulled funding that reduced the plan to 3 new LRT lines and the work on the Scarborough RT. (What’s that again about transit in Toronto being a necessity, Minister Chiarelli?) This reversal signalled that Transit City was subject to change and opened the door for Mayor Ford to crayon in a few alterations of his own.

As our friend David Hains pointed out last week, the Liberal government seems to have a selective memory when it comes to what, who and when modifications to a plan can occur. While brushing aside One City with a pithy ‘the train has already left the station’ bon mot from Minister Chiarelli, they weren’t as decisive when Mayor Ford unilaterally declared Transit City dead in December of 2010. Fearing for their own political future in the face of the supposed might of Ford Nation, Queen’s Park played along with the charade, allowing the debate to drag on until city council itself sorted things out. Now, it’s like, time’s up, folks. The clock is ticking. Time is money.

This is not to absolve Toronto city council of all responsibility for the transit woes it now faces. We elected an obvious anti-public transit mayor in Rob Ford. We demanded our councillors repeal the VRT and put further pressure on our own ability to pay our share of things. The subway-versus-LRT debate revealed a continued parochialism running deep throughout the city.

But, as they say, a fish rots from the head down. (I don’t know if that’s true but the saying comes in handy at the moment). This city and this region have suffered from a provincial leadership vacuum on transit for nearly two decades now. At least. $6 billion in lost productivity due to traffic congestion per year in the GTA and Metrolinx’s report on funding ideas for its Big Move isn’t expected until June of 2013. If still in office then that will be almost 10 years after the McGuinty government took over power. It hardly screams urgent or not a luxury but a necessity for transit from them.

So you’ll have to excuse me, my dismissal of the provincial government as honest or serious brokers on this issue. It reminds me of my favourite line from The Sopranos. “They shit on our heads and want us to thank them for the hat.”

snittily submitted by Cityslikr