The Meddling Public Sector

While governments at every level and of every political stripe spend our money like it’s theirs, threatening to send all us hardworking taxpayers to the proverbial poorhouse, it is the private sector, the merchants of free enterprise, muckingupthewordswho keep the ship of state upright, generating the wealth which floats all our boats. With a laser-like approach to finding efficiencies, customer service and competitive pricing, the profit motive greases the wheels of a functioning society, pretty much as God and Milton Friedman proclaimed. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem,” actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan crowed, “government is the problem.”

Allow me to introduce exhibit A.

Right now in Toronto, City Hall sits guilty of stifling not one, but two heroic businesses, trying their best to make this city a better place to live for all of us. lucyBack in 2009, city council demanded to pay Bombardier nearly a billion dollars in return for 204 new streetcars. Clearly, it was an unreasonable 10 year delivery timeline with 37 of the vehicles expected on the road by the end of 2014, 60 by the time 2016 rolled around. To date, only 8 are up and running along the streets of Toronto.

Obviously the only reasonable explanation for such a delay and overwhelming under-performance on the part of Bombardier is the intrusion of government into the sphere of the private sector. The company has also been forced to delay orders of new subway cars to New York City and Montreal. What’s the common factor in that equation? (Aside from the delays, that is.) Ethrowingmoneyaroundxactly. Cities, and government.

Where the hell are all these public pension bloated fat cats with their hands out full of money, offering to buy planes from Bombardier? Because of this stingy, public transit-oriented attitude of municipal officials, the company’s aviation arm has been hindered in its honest pursuit of an honest day’s capitalism. Reduced to near ‘penny-stock status’, according to the Globe and Mail, Bombardier sits helplessly on its stock of beautiful C-series flying technology, waiting for somebody, anybody, from the public sector to step up and perform as it was meant to do. Write big fat cheques to private companies with as few strings attached as possible.

Here’s the kicker.

Rather than sit around complaining about how Bombardier isn’t living up to its streetcar contract, Toronto city council could be channeling that negative energy into something positive. greasethewheelsSuch as, for example, bulldozing ahead with approval of the island airport expansion. This would allow another valiant private company, Porter Airlines, now obstructed by a pernicious officialdom, bureaucratically hung up on ‘proper environmental assessments’, ‘public input’, ‘people oriented waterfront development’ and other make-work, nonsensical jargon, to green light its order of Bombardier CS-100 whisper jets and expand its reach and, fingers crossed, bottom line.

In turn, flush with cash, Bombardier could ramp up its street and subway car assembly lines, delivering to the politicians what they’re really in the business of: vote getting. That’s what they call, out here in the real world, a win-win-win for everyone. Government keeps spending money in order for the private sector to make money. Wealth is then spread accordingly in the immutable law of Economics 101. lenderoflastresortAs it should be.

We elect our representatives to pay up, step back and observe the miracle of commerce. Nothing more. Until we learn to do that, and that only, we will continue to hinder the real engine of our well-being, leaving us empty-handed with fingers pointed in blame at the wrong people for delays, cost overruns, contract breaches and an underwater tunnel taking too few people to too few places.

If that comes to pass, who will be left holding the bag? In the end, somebody’s got to pay. That’s just the way of the world. Governments need to accept that responsibility, their responsibility, and fall into line, knowing it is always better to be the payer of first resort than it is the lender of last resort.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr

Whose Tune Are We Dancing To?

Set aside the back and forth debate on any and all ramifications of the island airport expansion and possibility of jets flying in and out of there. reasonablepersonThis is not about that. I have opinions for sure. But that’s not what this is about.

Trying not to invoke the language of hyperbole associated with this issue, that’s always seemed to be a part of the discussion surrounding the island airport, I’m searching for more moderate words, less combative declarations and judgments. To state it fair-mindedly and even-handedly. It seems to me… blah, blah, blah Steve Paikin not Christopher Hume sounding.

So, here goes.

It seems to me that at the heart of the island expansion and Porter desire to fly jets out of it debate is nothing less than the hijacking by a small gaggle of special interests of our entire democratic system of governance.


“The clock is ticking for Porter Airlines to get a decision on jets at Toronto’s island airport,” Vanessa Lu wrote in the Toronto Star last Friday, “because the airline must soon put down non-refundable deposits on its Bombardier CSeries order.”

How soon, you might ask?

“Porter was originally scheduled to make non-refundable payments on its conditional order for 12 of Bombardier’s new CSeries jets in December,” Lu answers, “but won an extension to April.”

April, you say. Like this April? The month that starts next week with, well, wouldn’t you know it, a city council meeting where this item will figure prominently on the agenda?

Why, one might wonder, is the city working to a private company’s timetable? Supporters will point to all the new jobs and wonderful boost to the economy a jet flying, expanded island airport would bring to the city. Unfortunately, those claims are as hard to pin down as most of the others. In his interview with Metro Morning this morning, mayoral candidate John Tory manyunansweredquestions(who assured host Matt Galloway and the CBC audience that he had read the staff report) said there were 45 questions he needed to have answered before he’d give the plan the go-ahead.

45 different unanswered questions!

None more important to my mind than the design of the extended runway that would be needed to accommodate the jets. A runway extension right smack dab in the harbour. How would it affect other users of the public space? Boaters, waterfront residents and visitors. How would the new extended runway and the takeoff and landing of the jets affect the water front development further east along the donlands?

Maybe not at all. Maybe we wouldn’t even notice. But how can we decide about these things with so many open-ended questions still to be answered?

What’s the rush?

Well, we know the rush. Porter has to start putting serious cash down on the table, non-refundable cash for its order placed on 12 jets under the assumption, I guess, the airport expansion was a mere formality. Seems there might’ve been some misjudgement of the situation. rushWhy is that the city’s problem?

Under questioning from members of the Executive Committee last night, Deputy City Manager John Livey was as upfront as a bureaucrat can be expressing his view why the city should simply defer the question until next year when a whole bunch of the unanswered questions, including the new proposed runway design, might be available. Don’t do it. “It would be a very big mistake.”

“I lose leverage, I believe, in the negotiations,” the deputy city manager told the committee. “It would be a very big mistake to do a conditional approval. I think you, as council, would regret having made that decision.”

Yet those pushing hardest for the conditional approval are some of the biggest self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives on city council including Mayor Ford. Looking after every single taxpayer dime, he tells us ad nauseum, but there he was, pushing a motion calling for a conditional approval now. Let’s do this thing. Get `er done!

How exactly is putting the city in a weaker negotiating position going forward in any way fiscally prudent or deemed to be minding the store? porterairYou give a conditional approval, Porter hands over money to Bombardier it can no longer get back, come the time when a decision needs to be made and you don’t like the answers you’ve been giving and turn it down, Porter cries foul! But you said yes!

They’re then out millions and millions of dollars. Who are they looking to make reparations? The city’s been down that road before, has had to uncross that bridge, so to speak.

On top of which, as Councillor Peter Milczyn (the lone dissenter on the Executive Committee from pressing forward with the airport discussion) said on Metro Morning earlier today, there could be as much as $300 million worth of infrastructure upgrades required around the airport terminal at Bathurst and Lakeshore intersection in order to accommodate the airport expansion. bugsbunnysquaredanceThe Toronto Port Authority has already asked senior levels of government for up to $100 million of that.

$100 million that could be spent elsewhere. $100 million the city would put toward more pressing infrastructure needs. $100 million to service Porter’s needs, not Toronto’s.

Why would any city councillor put the interests of one private business ahead of those of the city they were elected to represent? That’s what this debate should be about. The rest of it is just shiny baubles and misdirection, intended to deflect from the real and, quite frankly, disturbing reason we’re having this debate at all.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr

Keep It Quiet, Kelly

I’m trying to get inside Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly’s head. beingjohnmalkovichIt’s not easy, what with all that new staff scheduling and numbers crunching going on in there, fighting for space with the massive amounts of climate change skepticism material, much of it from Russian researchers. There’s just not a lot of room.

So I remain stumped as to why it is he, in his new found position of council appointed power, would want to make the island airport expansion a priority. “I’ve always been a strong supporter of the City Centre Airport,” the deputy mayor told the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba. “So, if that comes on the agenda I will do my best to garner support [for Porter’s proposal to lengthen the runway].”

Personally I’ve never been a strong supporter of the island airport, for many of the same reasons laid out early on in All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s existence in a post by then contributor, Urban Sophisticat, I Got The TPA Porter Air Blues. The backroom influence by monied interests. The constant project creep by incremental stealth.youhavetobekiddingme

And nothing about the current expansion plans makes me feel any different.

But I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. It is a debate city council will have to have. Again. Possibly as early as the next council meeting in December.

I just don’t get why the deputy mayor thinks it’s a priority.

Surely he must be cognizant of the trauma, let’s call it, this city’s recently gone through at a political level. He’s supposed to be the steady hand bringing a calming influence in his caretaker role. Why would he squander the opportunity to display all that when Ms. Alcoba asks him, What will be your priorities, policy wise, for this year that we have left?

The deputy mayor could’ve said:

My priority, Natalie, is to continue on with Mayor Ford’s agenda of low taxes, customer service and transparent and open government.

All eye-rolling bullshit, of course, but hardly controversial or divisive at this point of time. bullfightEminently shruggable. Yeah. OK. Steady as she goes. Let’s get on with it.

Instead the deputy mayor takes a stand in front of what might be the most combustible item left on this council’s agenda and begins waving a red cape in front of it. Hey. I know what this council needs right now. A highly contentious, combative debate that’ll really goose the downtown-suburban divide that has been absent from our civic debate for at least 24 hours now.

While he’s at it, Deputy Mayor Kelly might as well revive the Sheppard subway battle too. Summon the private sector! Attention Dr. Gordon Chong!

What’s the man’s angle on this?

Is he looking for something special to mark his time as pseudo/kinda/sorta mayor of Toronto? kilroyA signature piece of infrastructure that will scream, Norm Kelly Was Here! Others said it couldn’t be done but Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly got it done. Jets Now Be Flying From Here.

Or maybe he’s just found a cause where he can thumb his nose at all those climate change extremists who haven’t taken the time the deputy mayor has in thoughtfully reading through all the literature that poos poos the work done by legitimate scientists on the subject. Surely you don’t think jet travel contributes in any way to the change in climate that may or may not be actually happening. I hear the weather’s quite pleasant in Tennessee this time of year.

A more likely explanation is that after, I don’t know, 90 years on the political scene, most of them as a city councillor, Norm Kelly doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what his priorities are in terms of governance. Nobody’s ever asked him that question before. If they had, well, maybe, hopefully, he wouldn’t still be in office. Do you think his constituents in Ward 40 Scarborough-Agincourt, about as far away from the island airport as you can get while still living in the city of Toronto, shhh1consider the runaway expansion to accommodate jet travel from the island to be some sort of priority?

The deputy mayor needs to remember that he’s found himself in this peculiar position not through any sort of merit or exemplary service in the line of duty. He was a second choice by guy running out of choices, with a track record of displaying monumental bad judgement. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement to go out there and give `em hell.

No. Deputy Mayor Kelly needs to do nothing more than speak only when necessary, in that somnolent tone of his that usually signals bathroom break to those in the crowd looking on, and ruffle absolutely no feathers. Be that kindly grandfather we always see in Christmas commercials who, if not wise, at least understands the grandkids have just been dragged through a messy divorce, their warring parents knifing their marriage right there on the kitchen floor. milfordmanThey need nothing more than a little consoling, a little peace and quiet, still prone to startling at loud noises as they are.

Your priority, Mr. Deputy Mayor, is to restore a little sanity at City Hall. Nothing flashy. No sudden moves and certainly no picking at the scabs of recent wounds. The mark of success of your tenure at the helm will be if, come next October, nobody remembers that you were actually there.

soothingly submitted by Cityslikr