Mea Culpa

July 12, 2012

I’ll take the blame.

My exuberance and enthusiasm for a bold transit plan blinded me to its shortcomings. The lack of a wider consultative process both at the council level as well as with the province and regional partners. A less than ideal funding mechanism proposal. Cost underestimation. All capital, no operating. Yet another politically motivated subway expansion that was only necessary in order to curry voters’ favour.

I was aware of all that but didn’t care. A conversation had been started, a vital conversation with some meat on its bones. Transit, transit, transit not subways, subways, subways.

Turns out,  the plan was fatally flawed, the minuses outweighing the pluses. I hoped when I should’ve thought.

My mistake.

Nothing was really lost, however, in yesterday’s vote except maybe a little sheen from the TTC Chair’s star. But all things considered, she’s had a pretty good year. Her pluses outweighing the minuses.

This spring’s transit vote remains in place. LRT construction is underway.  Any notion that Mayor Ford (who spoke nary a word during the day’s debate) has somehow reclaimed control of the transit file is nothing more than laughable spin.

On top of which, the East Bayfront LRT proposal was underlined as a priority going forward. This will help keep it on the radar as the waterfront redevelopment continues apace. Let’s not use sight of that.

Still, it was all so anti-climatic. Great expectations dashed. Or at least, put off until the fall.

At which time I hope — no, demand — the vigorous debate of the first few days of One City is once again picked up. Taking staff recommendations and getting down to the nitty gritty of how we plan to pay for the transit Toronto desperately needs. Because that’s the one thing that came out of the whirlwind that was One City. There’s plenty to do. We just need to accept the fact it won’t get done for free.

only semi-crushedly submitted by Cityslikr


Swimming With Sharks

July 10, 2012

Is there a term or phrase that refers to the period of time after somebody jumps the shark? That vast pool of ridiculousness when jumping the shark has become the general rule rather than an exception. Suspension of disbelief is simply too, too difficult to maintain; the only proper response: Oh, Come On!

I can’t support taxing the taxpayer.

Seriously.

That’s what Mayor Ford said yesterday in response to the One City transit proposal.

I can’t support taxing the taxpayer.

Oh, Come On!

It’s like we’re witnessing some increasingly deeper, darker performance art piece. Dada Mayor Dada. What he says next will confound and amaze you! I’m half expecting Andy Kaufman to burst from a fat suit and begin singing the Mighty Mouse theme song.

Here I come to save the day/So taxpayers will never pay!

But just in case you think it’s all some sort of stale joke, a sitcom relying solely on stunt casting at this point, the man purporting to be mayor has fired off a written request to City Manager, Joe Pennachetti, angling for a property tax freeze for both 2014 and 2015. Combined with a 2011 property tax freeze and followed by a modest 2.5% increase in 2012 and an even lower proposed one of 1.75% in 2013, that totals a 4.25% increase in property taxes during Mayor Ford’s term, in all likelihood below the rate of inflation during that period. That math basically works out to less money to pay the increased costs of running this city.

Can you say, No Service Cuts, Guaranteed?

The mayor’s road to re-election has him on a collision course with reality. Something’s got to give and pretence ultimately crumbles in the face of the facts on the ground. At least, in the long run it does. As the administration struggles and snorts to the halfway mark of its term, the vacuity of its political philosophy is on full display. It’s irresponsible. It’s petulant. It’s pandering not governing. To suggest all taxes are evil, as the mayor’s brother and councillor-consigliere did earlier this year is to admit you don’t actually know how government works and that you’re wholly unqualified to be in the position you’re in.

By now, none of this should come as a surprise. God knows, we’ve talked endlessly about it here. Still, it’s always surprising to listen to what comes out of the mouths of hardcore right wing ideologues and their steadfast belief that what they’re saying actually makes any sense. More surprising is that there remains any core of support for this monotony of mindless summer reruns. (Albeit, an ever shrinking core of support if the liberal media is to be believed.)

A city does not operate on wishful thinking and a tip jar. Why do people really think they should pay less and get more? I understand residents were angry at something back in 2010 and thought they found a vehicle in Rob Ford that would right the injustices that caused them such misery. It would all be so simple. Find efficiencies here. Restructure there. You wouldn’t feel a thing, folks.

Ooops.

The truth, as it usually does, turned out to be a little more complicated. Toronto faces difficult choices and can’t afford to rest on whatever laurels it once had. A refusal to acknowledge that and pretend the future will happen without us having to contribute anything to it is… how did Councillor David Shiner refer to the original design of the Fort York bridge?… a little fancy, a flight of fancy.

Electing Rob Ford mayor may’ve seemed like a good idea at the time. The comedic sidekick character given a starring role in an exciting new spin off. Not to worry. His one note schtick wouldn’t become quickly tiresome. He’d grow into the role. Really. It would be a huge hit.

Guess the shark jumping happened right at the get-go, back in October 2010.

fonziely submitted by Cityslikr


Be Bold

July 5, 2012

It’s the only way to counteract the lethargy of ill-governance.

Boldness is a form of action not reaction. It steps into the void created by a lockdown of thought, a failure of nerve, an acceptance of some misbegotten notion of inevitability. Boldness requires courage.

What we are currently experiencing is the exact opposite. Ours is the Age of the Great Flinching. We flinch in the face of economic uncertainty. We flinch in the face of climate upheaval. We flinch in the face of societal reconfiguration.

We flinch, retreat, retract and call it conservatism.

I do not think that word means what self-described conservatives think it means.

It’s all a regression to the meanness of a previous era. Everyone for themselves. Winner takes all, losers work retail.

There are days when I’m unsure how we as a species ever managed to climb out of the primordial goo and start to evolve. It’s just so hard. I’m good here. Think I’ll just stay put where I am.

The path of least resistance.

So I think it hardly surprising that such an outpouring of interest was sparked by the announcement of One City last week. Hey! Look at that, would you? An idea, many ideas. A forward looking plan that poses substantial questions and tough challenges. Something we can actually sink our teeth into.

Now, much has been made of the plan already so I won’t add to the discussion except to say that, if nothing else, the proposal and the negative reaction to it on the part of the province and from some on council simply made them look tired and unwilling. Disinterested spouses at the tail end of a lifeless marriage. Don’t kick up a fuss. Think of the children.

But I do hope that unenthusiastic reaction does not dissuade other councillors who find themselves in similar positions of power at City Hall – not just in terms of committee chairs but with powers of persuasion – from observing what the TTC Chair and Vice-Chair and councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc actually accomplished. They activated an agenda. Rather than stand pat and let the chips fall where they may, a larger discussion was initiated. If you really want to talk transit, let’s really talk about transit.

I’m looking at the most unlikely of sources to take a flyer on an issue and make a big splash. Ward 43-Scarborough East councillor and Government Management Committee chair, Paul Ainslie. [Phee-ew. I was worried you were talking about Councillor Frank Di Giorgio for a minute there—ed.] Your time is now. Carpe diem.

Councillor Ainslie, you say? I’m not even sure I know which one he is. [Almost always but never quite ever holding the mayor’s hand—ed.] Are you sure you got the right councillor?

As chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Ainslie has the opportunity to bring about some important voting, ballot and citizen participatory reforms. He’s been a big supporter of Dave Meslin’s 4th Wall Project which is on display in the lobby of City Hall all next week with an opening reception at 6:30 Monday night. (July 9th). Earlier this year, Councillor Ainslie introduced numerous motions – ranging from using ranked ballots to using video for deputations – for further study.

But as anyone who’s followed voting reform initiatives knows, they can die a frustrating, quiet death by neglect. Those who’ve been elected to office in the traditional manner aren’t always prone to change a system that’s worked for them. Entrenched status quo is not the friend of change in any fashion.

In fact two reform motions actually passed city council unanimously recently, one to establish a working group to study the proposals and another calling for a staff report on a ranked ballot initiative. Yet somehow even these two innocuous seeming items never made it out of the meeting intact and were sent back to staff until October. The slow grinding wheel of change.

The thing is, though, civic awareness and participation has spiked here in Toronto during Mayor Ford’s term. People not only want to be engaged, they have realized the absolute necessity of getting engaged. While it may not be in the best interest of some politicians to have an increase in voter activism, those looking beyond their own self-interest know that it would be in the best interest of our local democracy.

So now, Councillor Paul Ainslie, it’s your time to shine. Use this summer interregnum and the mayor’s disinclination to actually lead as an opportunity to make the case for voter reform. Pull a Stintz, as they say, and step outside the mayor’s circle, that ever decreasing sphere of influence. You’ll have a wide and receptive audience. People want what you have to offer.

Be bold.

It’s this season’s colour.

humidly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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


TTC Capo

June 30, 2012

I often imagine what it was like behind the scenes back in the heady days of the fall of `10, just after Rob Ford’s surprise mayoral victory. Transitioning into power, drawing up their enemies candidates list for positions in the administration. The only absolute condition was a shared visceral antipathy toward the mayor-elect’s predecessor. Also, being yes men toadies a must.

“So, Stintzie wants to run the TTC. What do you think?”

“Ummm… Don’t know. Did she hate Miller as much as I did?”

“Nobody hated Miller as much as you, Robbie.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I fucking hated that guy. But you think she respects the taxpayers enough? Remember those voice lessons she paid for out of her office expenses?”

“As long as she votes with us to cut those expenses, we can let bygones be bygones. But I’ll tell you what. If she’s still thinking about ever running for mayor—”

“I will crush her. Ford Nation will tear her apart. Like LT snapping Theismann’s leg, Crrrr-acckkk!”

“That’s the thing, Robbie. You won’t have to. The shit we’re going to do to the TTC. Cuts… cuts… cuts–”

“You know who else I fucking hate, Dougie? Jerry Webster. Can we so fire that guy?”

“Why not. You’re the mayor now. You can do anything.”

“Yeah… sweet. Can we go home now?”

“It’s like 11 a.m. There’s still stuff to do.”

“Fine.”

“Stop pouting.”

“I’m not. You’re pouting.”

“The thing about being the TTC boss is that we’re going to so mess it up but it’ll be their face attached, you see what I’m saying?”

“… no… not really.”

“Doesn’t matter. Just trust me on this, OK? It’s a good move. We’re going to vote for Stintzie to be TTC Chair.”

“Hey. Whatever you say. You’re the boss.”

“And it’s also good, she’s a girl.”

“Is it?”

“… I think so, yeah. Why wouldn’t it be good?”

“Dunno. Why would it be?”

“… Yo, Adrienne! It’d be good to have a chick run the TTC, right?”

With that scene (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), Councillor Karen Stintz became TTC Chair Karen Stintz and dutifully fulfilled her role as a loyal Team Ford member, standing silently by as the mayor killed Transit City and obediently overseeing a 10% cut to the department’s budget when asked. She pretty much did what the mayor and almost everyone expected her to do.

And then, then she went rogue. No, check that. She went Michael Corleone on Team Ford’s asses.

I’m unprepared to attach motives to the about face. The better angel of my nature, that blackened, wizened, flightless better angel, likes to think she simply grew into her position. Listening to staff and other knowledgeable voices around her, she slowly realized Mayor Ford’s transit plan, such as it was, was unworkable. Way back last October, she raised a red flag of concern about how they were going to tunnel the Eglinton LRT across the Don Valley.

When then TTC General Manager Gary Webster backed her view that LRTs might be the smartest way forward, the mayor and his TTC commissioner boys iced him at the proverbial toll booth. If their goal was to intimidate the TTC Chair back into line, it failed spectacularly. In retaliation, she offs the mayor’s men on the TTC commission, emerging from the fracas in The Limey style.

Tell them I’m coming! I’m fucking coming.

(Yes, municipal politics came be this cinematic.)

It was all downhill for the mayor from that point. In short order, he was pushed, kicking and screaming Subways! Subways! Subways, to the sidelines. Transit City revived in all but name. And then this week, the TTC Chair and her Vice-Chair unveiled a much grander, 30 year transit plan called One City that lit up the switchboards for about 2 days before the province went out of its way to throw cold water on it. (That’s for another post entirely. Suffice to say, the premier and Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation might be well served noting how our TTC Chair dealt with the mayor when he crossed her.)

How One City grew to even see the light of day is, if nothing else, instructive as to how Toronto can actually govern itself in the absence of mayoral leadership. Take a moment to read John McGrath’s account of it at Open File, Don Peat’s in the Toronto Sun and David Rider’s in the Star. It is a microcosm of how council can and should be working together on vital initiatives for the city. A centre-right, centrist and two left wing councillors setting aside ideological differences in order to put forth a discussion paper on how to move forward on building a transit system Toronto so desperately needs. A discussion neither the mayor is capable of conducting and our dark overlords at Queen’s Park are unwilling to consider.

If nothing else, this latest transit saga has shown what is possible in a leadership vacuum when a politician sees that normal operating procedures don’t apply and decides to fill in the void constructively. Karen Stintz, arguably a councillor of little consequence during her first two terms in office, has seized the “opportunity” given her under this malignantly negligent administration and made a mark in a file not usually known for its generosity toward those toiling within its parameters. It’s a lesson others granted positions of power under Mayor Ford could well learn from and act upon.

auteurly submitted by Cityslikr