Scarborough Subway Debate, Part ??

In an election that has boiled down to essentially restoring order back at City Hall, a return to civility and decorum, one city united, this explosive deuce got dropped into the proceedings. notagain1“Fate of Sheppard East LRT depends on results of city election” goes the headline of Mike Adler’s article in the York Guardian. Hey Toronto. Enjoy the quiet while it lasts because Scarborough subway, Part 3 is coming soon to a public debate near you.

While other incumbent councillors have been busy seeking re-election for the past few months, it seems the outgoing Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly, has been hard at it concocting a new way to wreak havoc on the city’s already havoc wreaked transit planning.

“The plot against the LRT line is being quietly led by Norm Kelly,” Adler writes, “Toronto’s deputy mayor, who hasn’t talked to Tory about his plans.”

“We’ve not had a tete-a-tete on this matter,” Kelly said in an interview, suggesting it may not matter if Tory, as mayor, chooses to fight for the LRT line or another planned for Finch Avenue West.

“The last chat I had with John, I tried to get across to him the nature of political life at Toronto council,” where members aren’t bound by caucus discipline, and a mayor’s position on issues “will be tested just like that of any other member,” Kelly said.

Talk about setting the agenda. I thought that was the mayor’s job? Kill the Sheppard LRT or your mandate gets it.

Now, you might chalk this up as little more than the babbling of a city councillor with too much time on his hands and too much time spent in public office doing a whole lot of nothing but it would seem Kelly’s not alone in his thinking. hatchingaplanA couple more Scarborough incumbents spoke out in favour of stopping the LRT as well as the new M.P.P. in the area, Soo Wong.

“As your M.P.P. I have listened to the community, and heard that the vast majority of you want a subway, and that is what I will continue to work for,” Wong told a crowd during last spring’s provincial election.

The provincial Transportation Minister, Stephen Del Duca, certainly didn’t rule out the possibility in a conversation this morning with Metro Morning’s host, Matt Galloway. When asked about the government’s plan on proceeding with the LRT along Sheppard Avenue, Del Duca said:

Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words…

Pressed further by Galloway on his government’s support of the Sheppard LRT, the minister continued filling the space with words.

Well the bottom line is that we ran on an election platform, of course, throughout May and June, and we passed a budget, and there are a number of public transit projects for Toronto and elsewhere that were contained including the Scarborough subway… the Sheppard LRT is in our plan and it’s the mandate we were given by the people of Ontario, and my focus is on going forward with implementation.

Now, a whole lot of shit jumped out at me from that paragraph.readbetweenthelines

According to the minister, the Scarborough subway was included in the recent budget. If so, does that mean the Master Agreement with Metrolinx has been altered to make official the change from the planned LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line into Scarborough to a subway? I certainly heard no news about that.

And while the minister claims the people of Ontario gave the Liberal government a mandate to proceed with the Sheppard LRT, the M.P.P. in the area certainly doesn’t seem to see it that way. Soo Wong, as you might remember from a few paragraphs ago, is committed to building a subway along Sheppard, mandate from the people of Ontario be damned.

But don’t get yourself too tied up in knots about it. The minister’s ‘focus is on going forward with implementation.’ Implementation of what, the LRT or the subway? He conveniently didn’t say.smarttrack

So once more, provincial politics and internal Liberal party machinations land smack dab in the middle of City Hall and threaten the progress of transit building in Toronto.

All this, of course, should renew questions being asked a few months back of John Tory’s decision not to include either the Sheppard or the Finch LRTs on his SmartTrack transit maps. “I want the LRTs to proceed,” Tory assured skeptics of his commitment to the LRT plan. “I will move them forward. I have no problem with them proceeding.”

Sounds… definitive, I guess, in a way that also leaves an opening for Tory having no problem if things change in a more subway-like direction. SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway will be his priorities. The Finch and Sheppard LRTs can fend for themselves.

“Things that are on track (e.g.: the Finch and Sheppard LRTs),” Team Tory spokes person, Amanda Galbraith assured us, “don’t need the full force of the mayor behind them to keep them on schedule.”falseassurances

Is that right, Ms. Galbraith? Norm Kelly seems to think otherwise. ‘A mayor’s position on issues’, as we quoted earlier, “will be tested…”

As stated here countless times before, the mess our transit plans have descended into is not to be blamed solely by the noisy know-nothingness of the Ford boys. There’s been too much internal party politics at play, too many other politicians cravenly pandering for votes and not standing firm with expert advice on the matter, for this to have been nothing more than a two-man shit show. John Tory’s expressed ambivalence has helped feed the beast, and now he faces a real dilemma if he’s elected the next mayor.

He’s vowed to proceed with the Scarborough subway because re-opening up the debate will only cause further delays. stopfightingNow there’s a new eastern front, demanding we re-open that debate on the Sheppard LRT. Again. How’s a self-proclaimed uniter and get along facilitator going to delicately balance those competing interests?

So if you’re hoping to see a more consensus minded city council in the next term, a kinder gentler dynamic, I’d suggest not holding your breath. Politicians of all stripes and from all levels in Scarborough are already pounding the drumbeat of discord over transit. Recent history has shown us we should expect no quiet resolution.

sick-and-tiredly submitted by Cityslikr

With Equal Conviction

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

— attributed in some variation to Daniel Patrick Moynihan

What a quaint notion, put severely to the test earlier today on CBC radio’s Metro Morning. Perpetually cloying Mary Wiens took to the streets to talk to a couple regular folks about the pronounced death of Transit City. First up, Odessa who faces a daily 3 hour round trip commute from the hinterlands of the inner suburbs to the downtown core. Transit City was planned with her in mind, it could be safely argued, to reduce her commute time. She tells Wiens that she’s looking forward to the new LRTs.

But alas, Odessa voted for Rob Ford. Why? His outspokenness. When Wiens informs her that the mayor was angling to kill Transit City and replace it with subways, Odessa was all over it, never asking a pertinent question or two, like is the mayor’s plan better than Transit City or would subways help her commute more than Transit City.

Next came Denis Lanoue, a much more politically active individual than Odessa but no less factually challenged. Lanoue, president of the Heathwood Ratepayers Association in Scarborough, is also active as part of the Save Our Sheppard group. He just so happened to turn up in the parking lot of a local Tim Hortons to give the CBC a piece of his mind an interview.

Like our new mayor, Lanoue and his group (S.O.S.) hates LRTs (or streetcars as he calls them), convinced with precious little evidence to back it up that LRTs on Sheppard Ave. will end life as we know it there, bringing wrack and ruin just as they did along St. Clair West. “A modest subway expansion is all we need,” Lanoue writes on the S.O.S manifesto. No fuss. No bother. Details to follow.

But Lanoue isn’t just interested in having his say on Transit City for Metro Morning. He wants to inform the audience exactly why there is that downtown-inner suburb divide. Two words: David Miller. According to Lanoue, all was hunky-dory under Mel Lastman but something changed late in Miller’s 1st term or early in the 2nd. What exactly? Lanoue doesn’t really say except that, residents of the inner suburbs just got fed up with handing all their taxes over to pay for things downtown.

Which would be grounds for anger and outrage if it were true but as we have written previously here and here, no one has ever pointed to any evidence or studies that show the downtown core being subsidized by the inner suburbs. In fact, Scarborough councillor Norm Kelly commissioned a report to look at the numbers and come up empty. Yet, Denis Lanoue grabs the mic on the CBC and pronounces it to be true, anecdotally pointing to the proposed 5 story ice rink down on the waterfront as proof positive.

So why does the CBC grant 6 minutes of airtime to the uninformed or deliberately disingenuous? Just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean they have to be heard. We already know they’re out there, muddying the debate and discourse, and getting their man elected mayor. Shouldn’t the media be providing more pushback and disputation and less a simple platform for anyone and everyone to air it out? The pursuit of uncovering truth and revealing facts and all that kind of high-minded sense of purpose.

Now, maybe I should view Wiens’ piece this morning not so much as investigative journalism as it is an exposé into The Minds Of Rob Ford Supporters. She did question a couple of the claims made by the interviewees but not directly. Only in gentle asides to the listeners that struck me like she was talking behind her subjects’ backs. Hey. If people are willing to give their opinions a wider voice, then we should at least be solicitous enough to publicly tell them that they’re full of shit when they are especially if their views, opinions or beliefs could possibly have an adverse impact.

So sure, everyone’s allowed to have an opinion. The question is, does that mean every opinion should be accorded equal weight and value? Chances are, if they were, we wouldn’t be having this discussion about public transit because we’d still be living in caves, arguing over how exactly to build that fire again.

submitted by Cityslikr

Budget Surplus. What?!

Truthfully, I don’t know what to make of this week’s announcement by the city of their $275 million surplus. At first glance it’s like, whoah! (Keanu Reeves reference #1.) That’s a big number. More than half of what the council needs to cover its $500+ million budget ‘gap’ next year. Although, just how much credence we should give to that projected number, I’m not sure, given the regular ‘surprise’ surplus announcements over the course of the past year, $100 million, $180 million, $275 million.

Then again, I try not to be swayed too much by the power of big numbers. Yes, 275 million is substantial. It could fund a lot of programs, maybe build one subway stop, pay down some debt. But in the scheme of a $9.2 billion budget, well, it comes out to about 3% of it, .03.* In fact, the latest adjustment from $180 million up to $275 million represents a little over 1% of the total operating budget. So not an unreasonable accounting revision when talking billions of dollars.

At which point I realize that we’re talking about a fucking budget surplus! Why did we just throw away the last 10 months or so on an election campaign railing about out of control spending, gravy trains, retirement parties, plant watering, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah? It seems that, in fact, just the opposite was true. That in these dire economic times, our City Hall was fiscally managing matters very, very competently. Prudently, even.

Yet, over the course of the past 10 day post-election period, we’ve attempted to explain away this discrepancy, pointing at maps and opining that the campaign as it played out was merely the manifestation of the anger out there, especially in the inner suburbs at their feelings of exclusion within the amalgamated city. OK, so why weren’t we talking about that directly then? Why was the election narrative railroaded into a simplistic, simple-minded package, easily spewed out by our simpleton mayor-elect and his zombie horde of followers? (Yeah, I called Rob Ford a ‘simpleton’. Winning this election doesn’t erase the past 10 years of buffoonery.) If we elected our mayor and council based on a lie, a mirage, what hope do we have of real issues and concerns being addressed by them?

Perception is reality, I keep reading. Tell the people what they want, and then give it to them. Yeah well, I’m just wondering when it was we took the blue pill and started living in the Matrix. (And the 2nd Keanu reference.) The reality is, our outgoing council and mayor were not fiscally irresponsible. Sputtering out tired examples of bunny suits and shifty sole-sourcing doesn’t change that fact. The inner suburbs think all their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent on the downtown core? Show me the numbers. Nothing I’ve seen so far indicate that. Scarborough councillor Norm Kelly commissioned a study to examine that claim. The numbers were inconclusive at best.

Just because we elected a new mayor and councillors based on lies and misinformation does not mean we have to allow them to govern likewise. Rather than looking for common ground and areas of compromise, those readying to stand in opposition (and those in the middle waiting to see which way the winds are blowing) to the new administration and its handful of allies need to remain firm in the face of what will clearly be a continued distortion of facts and reality. Letting them bullshit their way to power was a misstep. Enabling them to do so while in office will be tantamount to collaboration in their ongoing battle to keep this city divided and detrimentally parochial.

* My math is always suspect but, if anything, I’m over-estimating the surplus’s percentage of the operating budget. I think.

— dutifully submitted by Cityslikr