Yapping

June 20, 2016

So twice within the last 2 weeks, Scarborough Centre MPP and Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, has come forward to help bail out Mayor John Tory when bad news kept on coming about the proposed one-stop, “express” subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. “The critics, it’s time for them to take a rest,” yappinghe stated after news about woefully low projected ridership numbers broke earlier this month. Then this weekend, after the mayor took media heat over nearly a billion dollar increase in the project’s price tag, the provincial minister demanded that all the downtown elitists need to stop their yapping.

“I’m very confident the people of Scarborough will get their subway.”

And by ‘the people of Scarborough’, of course, Minister Duguid meant ‘the politicians of Scarborough’.

Ever since the Ford camp blared ‘Subways, Subways, Subways’, local politicians of all stripes and at all levels have basically co-opted the slogan rather than confront it. They have convinced themselves that campaigns have been fought and won on the subway issue as if it were the only variable that mattered to voters, city-wide, province-wide, country-wide. The Scarborough subway. The defining issue of every election since 2010.

So no matter how ridiculous the project gets the more planning that goes into it, no matter how much money the fucking thing’s going to cost, how damaging it’s going to be to the wider transit network, nothing is too good for the politicians people of Scarborough. countmeinThey deserve another subway stop. If you stand opposed, it’s for no other reason than you hate Scarborough and refuse to take your elitist head out of your downtown ass.

Like one of those comic book movies with a cast of thousands of supervillains, it’s hard to pick your favourite bad guy in this sad saga. So many too choose from! The one irony in all this is that the guy who raised the curtain on this shitshow, the late Rob Ford, may have been the least worst offender. While always politically calculating, he seemed to actually believe, owing to his solid grounding in ignorance fed by an extreme disinterest in much to do with public transit, that if you were going to build public transit, subways were the only way to go. He didn’t know any better. Everybody else most surely does. They know, and they don’t care.

For me, the real face of this mess is Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. There is no nonsense he won’t spout, no gratuitous shot he’s unwilling to take, no number too fabtabulist for him to cite in support of a Scarborough subway. He’s the go-to guy to say the questionable things that need to be said in order to push a major infrastructure project that otherwise possesses absolutely no merit. The kind of things that only someone lacking any sense of self-awareness or shame would be able to say with a straight face.

The thing is, Councillor De Baeremaeker wasn’t always a subway champion. crayondrawingHe loved LRTs. He was a big fan of Transit City that promised to deliver more higher order transit to more people in Scarborough than either variation of a subway would.

Unfortunately, when push came to shove, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker decided his political future was more important than the future of public transit in Toronto. He’s not alone. Liberal premiers, ministers, MPPs and MPs all took the easiest, most craven route, as did many of those running election campaigns against them. Mayor John Tory fell into place too.

It’s just Councillor De Baeremaeker’s conversion was so obvious, so unprincipled, so thoroughly… greasy, and he stands so smugly defiant in his posturing as Captain Scarborough that, while he’s certainly not the biggest player in this unfolding scandal, he’s most certainly its chief enabler.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2016

(h/t @JohnToryWatch)

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2012

 (h/t Himy Syed)

sickeningly submitted by Cityslikr


Who’s Got The Wheel?

December 8, 2015

Yesterday, after the provincial government floated their rather tepid and, perhaps even, cosmetically driven tolls proposal, the following observation was floated on Twitter:

“We have government leaders who have no idea how an urban economy works. And most of this country is part of an urban economy.”

We are now a 21st-century, urban nation with a leadership class still firmly entrenched in the (generously) mid-20th-century. As former NYC Department of Transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan put it last week, “when you push on the status quo, it pushes back at you.” rolltherock1Or, as our old favourites The Libertines once sang: “…the boy kicked out at the world/the world kicked back alot fuckin’ harder now.”

We have a new federal government that might get it, they might understand the needs of cities, cities making up this urban nation. But, legislatively, Ottawa’s a long way from the ground. Whatever largesse and/or expertise the feds have to offer will inevitably come filtered through provincial and local distortions. So what if we get enhanced federal money for transit infrastructure if it goes to building Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack or the provincially backed and city council approved Scarborough subway? Good money after bad and all that.

Later yesterday, Queen’s Park released a report from the David Crombie led Advisory Panel looking at and making recommendations for the provincial government’s 4 growth plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The region’s been growing, grown significantly since the end of World War II, and will continue growing significantly over the next 25 years. The population looks to almost double in that time, from 9 million to nearly 13.5 million. Here’s the concern, and some of what the 4 growth plans were brought in to combat:

The extent of settlement has also grown. For example, between 1971 and 2006, the region’s urban footprint more than doubled. Much of the recent urban growth has been in the form of low-density, car-dependent suburbs, providing many residents with affordable, single-detached homes. However, this form of development, often known as urban sprawl, has resulted in loss of farmland, traffic congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, impacts on human health, and the loss of green space, habitats and biodiversity. The changing climate and increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events create additional pressures on the region’s communities, agricultural production, infrastructure and natural systems.

The Advisory Panel’s recommendations are unsurprising, really. Encouraging intensification through use of “existing urban areas” (while protecting employment lands), greater public transit-based initiatives “to support complete communities” and “greater integration of infrastructure planning with land use planning”, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. rolltherock3We already know this. None of it is particularly new or noteworthy. I guess it’s worthwhile to repeat and underline these ideas of healthy growth but still…

How many Advisory Panels have we had, telling us the things we have to do to improve this region’s quality of life as it continues to grow? I mean, if Anne Golden had a nickel for every panel she’s chaired to advise government policy, she’d have, what? A dime? Fifteen cents?

Remember her last outing, as chair of the provincially appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel? Yeah, it took 3 months to make 20 recommendations for raising revenue to fund the Big Move, leaning heavily on increased gas taxes while rejecting tolls in the short term as “too difficult to implement”. That was 2 years ago. The provincial government’s response to date? Its weak sauce toll announcement yesterday.

The fundamental problem with all these panels is that they tend to come back after studying a policy issue with recommendations that challenge the status quo. Complete communities? What’ll happen to my backyard? Pay for using the roads?! I already pay more than my fair share! I deserve a subway! Subways, subways, subways!!

Pushback from the status quo. Leaders with their ears to the ground can only hear the stamping of feet. Politicians love the word ‘change’ on their campaign signs but blanch in the face of bringing it about, all those red, outraged faces to contend with? rolltherock6Where angels fear to tread, amirite?

Sure, things are bad now but what if these changes you’re talking about makes things worse? Nothing’s 100% guaranteed. Despite all data, information and examples to the contrary, from where I’m standing, the grass over there doesn’t look all that much greener.

Our propensity to fearfully embrace what-we-know so tightly makes for an uphill battle to enact the changes we need. The grade’s made steeper still when our elected officials not only fail to directly address this tentativeness but, in fact, give in to it for even just the slightest step forward. That’s why for every bid our government’s pitch for increased public transit funding and investment, we see assurances of road and highway expansion. Despite working at cross purposes, to attempt to even slightly modify the status quo, we must show that the status quo won’t change that much.

Speaking at Simon Fraser University just a month or so after submitting the report and recommendations of the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, Anne Golden talked about a government’s need for trust from the public in order to pursue new measures like revenue generation for transit building. rolltherock‘Tax grab’ is an almost immediate reaction from a skeptical public, digging in their heels further against any sort of change. There has to be buy in based on a belief that it’s not only going to be money well spent but be beneficial to everyone. What’s in it for me?

When you have a reputation of not spending money wisely which the Liberal government at Queen’s Park has certainly earned, or when your transit plans appear to be politically motivated and easily subject to the whims of parochialism – Hello, Scarborough subway! – public trust is in even shorter supply. Resistance to change grows stronger.

You can point all you want to places that have turned the corner, embraced changed and a new approach to mobility and city building. Look! New York’s doing it! Don’t you want to be like New York? You always want to be like New York! But we look around closer to home and see what all needs to be done, what we’ve done so far and conclude such change is beyond our reach. The Sheppard subway remains a glaring white elephant with the Union-Pearson Express set to join it. We can’t even muster the will to clear road space for our busiest transit routes like the Finch bus or King streetcar. rolltherock4How on earth can we expect to meet the challenges of the 21st-century?

I’m sure plenty of our government leaders are well aware of how a modern urban economy works. What they don’t know is how to convince enough of us that we need to move in that direction. Too many flinch at the slightest sign of resistance, retreat in the face of loud, blustery noises.

It’d be great to leave off on that note. Place the blame elsewhere and carry on, absolved. But, you know, that old saw nags, a variation on getting the leadership we deserve. Not enough of us have been pushed from our comfort zone. Things are bad but they’re not that bad. They could always be worse.

Until such time, when enough of us conclude that, in fact, it is that bad (never an easily determined point on the scale), we’ll hum and haw, rail at the ineffectualness of our elected officials and uncaring bureaucracy, wonder about why we’re not those other places, doing exceptional, exciting things and hope that it won’t be too late to make those changes we were urged to make years, decades earlier.

rolltherock5

rocknrollingly submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club XI

June 19, 2015

There are times while reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto where it’s difficult to dismiss that niggling voice chirping away in your head. Alright already, Mr. Crankypants! governingtorontoMr. Back In My Day Everything Was Better! We need to get back to the garden of Metro Council.

Yes, our current form of government in Toronto is not functioning properly. Yes, we need an overhaul. Yes, amalgamation, as implemented, has failed us by almost every measure. Yes, yes, yes.

But simply turning back the clock is rarely the solution to circumstances going forward. So called Golden Ages seldom shone as brightly as supporters remember. The idea that returning to an earlier form of government – Metro council, perhaps not directly elected, as part of a wider set of separate municipalities – would restore our lost luster strikes me as hopeful rather than practical. It suggests that many of the intractable problems the city faces now, affordable housing and transit to name two, came packaged up with amalgamation. They didn’t. A restoration of a form of pre-amalgamated governance in Toronto alone ignores the other variables at play the city’s faced since the mid-90s or so. The sharp decrease in funding by both the provincial and federal governments for many of the services we provide for one, funding which was integral to our earlier Golden Age.

This is not to dismiss Governing Toronto. It is a good read for at least 3 reasons. One is the history it provides especially for a non-native Torontonian like myself, toting around all my ignorance. fredgardinerAlan Redway served for 6 years as mayor of the pre-amalgamated borough of East York, which put him also as a member of the Executive Committee on Metro Council. He later became Member of Parliament as part of the Mulroney Progressive Conservative government.

So the city’s politics run deep with Mr. Redway. He tells the history of Toronto governance with the passion of someone who lived it. Governing Toronto is full of the personal partiality you would expect from a participant in the proceedings. Rather than off-putting, it brings the story to life.

The book serves up two other very important points that are definitely worth exploring.

The Ontario government used to study and tinker with governance models of Toronto and the region on a very regular and, quite possibly, intrusive basis. “When the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was established on January 1, 1954,” Redway writes, “the provincial government of then Premier Leslie Frost promised to review its experience within five years.” lesliefrostIn fact, it was back at it 3 years later. And then again 5 years after that. And again in 1975. And in 1986. 1995 brought us the Greater Toronto Area Task Force. In 1996, Mike Harris commissioned his own report plus a study, ‘Who Does What’ with David Crombie at the helm.

Since amalagamation? Nada, unless you count the reduction of councillor numbers from 56 to 44 in 2000. So this unwieldy and, at times, dysfunctional form of government gets imposed on Toronto in 1997, and there’s not so much as an official follow-up to see what’s working, what’s not, how we might iron out the kinks?

Just simple neglect or is there something more at work here?

The cynic in me looks askance and says, Of course there’s something at work here. A divided, squabbling Toronto is like a circular firing squad. Too busy shooting itself rather than aiming their fire at Queen’s Park. Whether or not we’re talking just 416 or on a wider, GTA regional level, the idea of a united Toronto area, “an emergent political jurisdiction” as the 1995 Golden report called it, has to be an uncomfortable scenario for a provincial government. johnrobartsAs far back as the mid-60s, when the exploration of establishing a borough system for Toronto was entertained, it was sent back for further study because it “would stir up too much opposition to the government which would not be desirable at this time.”

Bringing us to Redway’s third and (arguably) most important point. Regional governance. Hey, Queen’s Park! You’re not the boss of me!

Well, yes they are. Creatures of the province and all that. In the absence of any other organized body, as it stands right now the provincial government represents is the GTA regional government. And there’s lots to be concerned with about that. This, from the Golden Report in 1996:

The Task Force believes that, regardless of how the government of Ontario is structured, it is inherently unable to meet Greater Toronto’s co-ordination needs effectively. The region must develop its own identity and focus as a city-region if it is to compete with other city-regions internationally. The provincial government, by definition, cannot achieve this focus because it defines its constituency Ontario-wide. It also lacks the capacity to advocate freely and effectively on behalf of the city-region, a function that is essential to the GTA’s ability to influence federal and provincial policies affecting the region.

You might even argue that the province as a regional government has a fundamental conflict at its core. Whether or not it’s playing off the 905 against the 416 or meddling with the plans of its own regional transit body – Metrolinx — like it did with the Scarborough subway for its naked political interests, there is a perception of not being an honest broker. nathanphillipsWhat’s more, regardless of party stripe, any government at Queen’s Park has to maintain a credible anti-Toronto bias to keep some semblance of support in other parts of the province. That’s an unhealthy dynamic to have as a governance model.

If you want to see that funky relationship in all its fraught action, just follow along with the proceedings of the Ontario Municipal Board [OMB] in the politics of Toronto. It is very much a can’t-live-with-it-can’t-live-without-it state of affairs. Imagine this city without any sort of OMB oversight. You came up with a quick, pleasing picture? You probably weren’t looking closely enough.

Aaron A. Moore’s Planning Politics in Toronto examines the influence the provincial body plays on urban planning in very, very dry, academic detail. It is a policy wonk’s book, for sure, but accessible enough for the likes of me to establish some thought-provoking ideas. Covering a handful of cases between 2000-2006, Moore lays out how the presence of the OMB affects developers, city politicians and staff, residents’ associations positioning around development.

Some of the conclusions he draws may surprise a few of you.

Moore’s research suggests that the OMB is not the land of Mordor ruled by developer Saurons (I hope I have that right. I really don’t now Tolkien at all.) planningpoliticsinTO“The OMB significantly contributes to a politics in the city that simultaneously pushes actors towards compromise while fanning conflict,” he writes. Often times, the mere threat of an OMB appeal will compel those involved in a development process toward an acceptable compromise.

Undoubtedly, this will favour those with the deepest pockets. OMB appeals don’t come cheap. Yet, Moore suggests that isn’t the usual outcome in. Conflict looms. Peaceable resolutions tend to prevail.

One of the reasons Moore suggests this may happen is that the OMB seems inclined to favour expert opinion in making its decisions. Advice, a thumbs-up or thumbs down from city planning staff is crucial in building an appealable case for or against a development in front of the OMB. Which is why it’s ludicrous for a city, any city, but especially a city like Toronto under extreme development pressure, to leave a planning department understaffed. Any developer or city councillor worth their salt will do the utmost to figure out how to bring city planning staff on board. A city can really strengthen its hand when it comes to development by having a top-notch, non-desiccated planning department.

The emphasis on expert opinion at the OMB also takes away what could be the petty power of a local politician which is both bad and good, I guess. Should planning a city be left exclusively in unpredictable, political hands? stopspadinaWe can’t build sensible, proper public transit because of that. Can you imagine trying to build an entire city that way? Moore points out that Ontario municipalities have a greater freedom than many jurisdictions to regularly change and amend official plans and zoning bylaws. The OMB’s presence helps to insure there’s some “rhyme or reason to planning decisions…beyond municipal councillors’ political calculations.”

So our local politicians will tend to use the OMB as either a shield to protect themselves from their constituents when unpopular developments arise, punt blame over onto the OMB, or a gentle cudgel to tap away at their residents’ resistance to said development. Let’s take what we can now or we might get nothing at an OMB hearing. If you aren’t given ultimate authority over planning and development decisions, why assume the responsibility when they get made?

Still, beware the city councillor decrying the undemocratic nature of the OMB and demanding its abolition. mordorIf you think developers have undue influence over city council now, imagine if final decisions lay in their hands? On the other side, we all know about the density creeps and the village atmosphere maintainers amongst us. City councillors bound to the demands of their local residents and neighbourhood associations – “agents against change” in Moore’s words — in terms of city planning are not city builders.

“The neighbourhoods most involved with City Council [on planning and development issues] are those with the most to protect; that is those in areas with higher median incomes… higher home values… and higher proportions of professionals,” Moore writes. This winds up “enforcing a conservative stance towards neighbourhood change.” NIMBYs, in other words, attempting to keep the future at bay.

Ridding cities of the OMB would leave city planning to the tug of war between developers and the more affluent residents and neighbourhoods, attempting to keep their communities exactly as they found them. That would make for an uneven future, let’s call it, an unhealthy check and balance between unfettered greed and reactionary time stoppers. nimbyNo city could prosper under those conditions.

Reform the OMB? Sure. Moore questions the “vagueness and ambiguity of [its] powers.” That might be a place to start but, like Alan Redway’s demand to de-amalgamate in his book Governing Toronto, a call to get rid of the OMB is an easy and annoyingly populist reaction that ignores the complexity of how Toronto really functions. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater and all that. Let’s sit down and figure out how to make it better, how to govern ourselves better. That’s a conversation we need to have.

bookishly submitted by Cityslikr


Metrolinx

June 14, 2015

garyowens

Today we talk transit with insidetoronto.com’s Rahul Gupta. And it’s not all about the Scarborough subway!

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Can We Talk?

April 27, 2015

Reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto, I’m struck by just how much the provincial government of Ontario spent time tinkering on the governance of Toronto and the GTA. governingtorontoStarting near the end of the Second World War, with a regional planning act, Queen’s Park exhibited little shyness in regularly rethinking how its biggest city and region should run. As the 1953 Cumming Report served up Bill 80 that established Metro Council, within 3 years, there would be a Commission of Inquiry to sort through the growing power of the suburban municipalities within Metro. Then came a Royal Commission in 1964. And another one in 1974.

The Mike Harris government had 3 reports and task forces (one of those coming from 4 mayors of 4 Metro municipalities) in front of it as it decided how to proceed with amalgamation. It largely ignored all 3, opting instead in favour of its own commissioned report from KPMG on the financial implications of creating one local government from six. From that point on, however, all examination and reviews of local governance in Toronto has ceased. Once our 44 ward boundaries were mandated in 2000, it’s been pretty much, Bob’s yer uncle.

Isn’t it time we sat down and had an in-depth conversation about things are functioning here?

We’re currently undergoing a ward boundary review that has to be in place for the next election in 2018. That, however, will do nothing to address the political structure, aside from changing the number of wards. tinkerIt’s long past due that we have a meatier discussion about what’s working and what isn’t with how we’ve governed ourselves since 1998.

The megacity’ll be two decades old when we next vote for our local representative, and I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark saying we have more than a few wrinkles we need to iron out. How come we’ve all gone radio silence and continued business as usual like everything’s hunky dory? Why did our provincial government stop being interested in trying to adapt our form of governance to the changes underway with both the city and region?

A cynic might suggest it’s because things are working out nicely for the province with the arrangement we have. By serving as the de facto regional level of government, the ultimate hands-on authority, Queen’s Park faces no serious challenge from a divided and weak set of municipalities. Toronto, the core of the region, is much, much too busy fighting with itself to provide much pushback against the province. Fiefdoms within fiefdoms, squabbling, leaving the monarch unrivalled.

But shouldn’t the provincial government really be concentrating more of its efforts on being, well, a provincial government? puppetmasterIt has the last word on how the cities under its rule do things. Can it really be effective micromanaging at a local level a region of some 6 million people?

I’d argue they can’t, and they haven’t been for some time now. Queen’s Park has proven to be an absentee-landlord, only to be seen when demanding money and/or votes. For too long now, their approach has been self-interest first, and everything else secondary to that.

No actual regional oversight body would’ve stood aside and meekly allowed one elected official, even one of mayoral stature, to try and torpedo much needed transit plans that had been in the works for three years. Worse than that, get involved in the melee, sacrificing fact-based decision making in order to better position itself politically. No, we’re the subway champions.

Last week’s provincial budget further proved Queen’s Park’s regional vision may come at a cost to certain municipalities that fall off the provincial radar. Oddly enough, Toronto seems to be one of those municipalities. Of the $16 billion being spent by the provincial government on public transit, $13.5 billion of that will be dedicated to its regional rail system. Not that that’s a terrible thing. It isn’t. There’s just not much left over for other necessary projects in the pipeline. Let alone helping to rebuild the biggest, arguably most vital component of the regional transit system, the TTC.

For over 20 years now, the provincial government has shirked its obligation to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, billions and billions of dollars it’s pocketed over the last couple decades directly from Toronto’s property tax base. givewithonehandThis has regional implications as a shoddy TTC does little to encourage commuters to use it, bringing more cars into and around the city. A truly regionally inspired government would recognize that fact and work to fix it.

Exerting such pressure on the city’s budget leads to shortfalls elsewhere like, for example, social housing which the provincial government, acknowledging the regional implications of the file, used to help pay for. No more. Once again the budget made no mention of it despite the ‘moral and business case’ Mayor Tory pitched a couple weeks ago.

Raise your property taxes appropriately, critics say. Utilize the other taxing powers granted to Toronto back in 2006 with the City of Toronto Act. A vehicle registration tax, for example.

While not wrong, I believe those enhanced taxing powers should’ve been accompanied by new governance arrangements or, at the very least, discussion about regional government. It’s all well and good to say Toronto should start paying for what was traditionally thought of as regional or even provincial areas of oversight but shouldn’t that come with some bigger say in the matter? takemymoneyRight now, it’s awfully one-sided, more often than not falling in favour of the provincial government.

The case might be made that with such vested interest, Queen’s Park is not the ideal body to be solely in charge of regional governance for the GTA. It’s kind of conflicted, really. What with watching its own bottom line, and playing municipalities in the region off against each other, even encouraging a city to fight with itself, there’s a valid question of leadership here. We as a region are long overdue to have a conversation about how we should be governing ourselves in the 21st-century.

chattily submitted by Cityslikr


The Art Of The Deal

April 13, 2015

This shouldn’t be considered some nyah, nyah, nyah, I-told-you-so. hahaWhile I remain sceptical about the magical powers of public-private partnerships to heal our infrastructure deficit, pending a definitive study to prove/disprove their rationale beyond simply a case-by-case basis, I’ll keep my mind as open as I ideologically can toward the possibility that an argument can be made for the P3s’ merits. After all, the private sector blah, blah, blah, am I right?

But this, this, “First-of-its-kind condo deal…mired in financial troubles”, does little to engender much feeling of goodwill toward the concept. I know, I know. Why emphasize the one deal gone wrong when so many have gone right but the same thing might be said about those purely public projects that make so much noise when they go over budget and/or face significant delays. This one’s significant because Metrolinx, the provincial agency directed to get Ontario moving with a proposed massive public transit build over the next quarter century, has stressed the importance of P3s as an integral component of a successful implementation of that plan.

The lack of one being in place was cited as a reason for the recent and ongoing woes of the Yonge-Univesity-Spadina subway extension. The premier wagged her finger at the city. toogoodtobetrureThe TTC chair put forth a motion to ensure P3s were on the table going forward with future transit projects. No more opportunities would be lost in accruing the obvious benefits that come with bringing private sector expertise into building better public facilities.

Yet, it’s hard not to look at this particular deal, an attempt to integrate the concept of intensification with transit hubs, and not come away with the sense that the real expertise the private sector provides is assuring its own best outcomes. In a nutshell, a developer of some property near the Mimico GO station got official approval and rezoning for additional height of a condo project which would be directly connected to the GO station in return for building additional parking spaces specifically for the use of the GO station. Things went south, financially speaking, the development company had a little solvency problem, it seems, and Metrolinx had second thoughts.

“Some information had come to our attention that made this a less than desirable agreement to enter so we pulled out of that agreement,” a Metrolinx spokesperson told the CBC. This was back in 2012. No harm, no foul. Live and learn. Onward and upward. Metrolinx will renovate the GO station and build the extra parking spaces on its own.

But here’s the real kicker, in my opinion.ripupcontract

Despite the cancelling of the agreement, and no connection between the proposed condo development and the Mimico GO station, no additional GO parking provided, the developer still gets to keep the increased height for the project. Rebuffed by the city’s Committee of Adjustment after the deal went sour, the OMB swopped in to save the day, OKing the 7 extra stories. Private sector benefits 1, obligations nil.

This is where my dubious disposition toward P3s stems from. Private enterprise looks out for number one. That is the foundation it is built on, is it not? Self-interest. Emerging with a net gain is the key to survival.

How the public sector arrives at a win-win situation in a relationship with a private partner is therefore tricky at best. Is it possible to maximize profits at the same time as maximizing the public good? That’s the pounding sound of constantly trying to square a circle.

Governments just have to make sure contracts are signed tightly, all the eyes are dotted and tees crossed, risk fully and properly assessed, managed and allocated. Make the right deal and watch the magic happen. It all just makes such sound, intuitive, fiscal sense for everyone involved.

Except that there’s one fundamental disparity in this relationship that makes it ultimately unequal. The private sector can just walk away from any deal that becomes unworkable for them. leftholdingthebagContract signed? So, sue me. To think that any P3 agreement doesn’t include that kind of assessment built into it is probably naïve, the definitive out clause.

Public projects are ultimately the responsibility of the public sector. Failure to deliver a transit stop, for example, is not an option for them. One way or another, over budget or not, on time or not, it must come to pass. It’s the key bargaining chip a private sector partner always has in its back pocket, moral hazard a friend.

It’s difficult to imagine any cost or efficiency savings enough to trump that advantage the private sector always brings to the negotiating table.

side-eyely submitted by Cityslikr


Another Never Ending Story

March 31, 2015

Not having a Plan B, Our Strength.

Mayor John Tory holds yet another press conference to inform us what most of us already know. It’s becoming something of a tiresome pattern, quite frankly. The media gathers. The mayor stands behind a podium that bears a action-denoting placard. He states the obvious. Questions dutifully ensue, invariably winding up with some take on, Yes but, Mayor Tory, what about Plan B?

Or in other words:

anexitstrategy

Yesterday, the mayor told us about the crisis at Toronto Community Housing. Did you hear? There’s a state of good repair backlog, billions of dollars long, threatening to shutter thousands of units in less than a decade and send that many+ of our most vulnerable residents looking for affordable housing in a squeezed environment where there’s already a waiting list, tens of thousands of people long, lined up to get into the very housing that’s in jeopardy of being board up. (See the start of this paragraph.)

Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. This is news only if not new news counts as news. Why, during last year’s municipal election campaign, David Hains raised a red flag in his Torontoist article. Betsy Powell painted a similarly grim picture in the Toronto Star. tellussomethingwedontknowEarlier this year, the mayor established a task force to examine the crisis.

We know all this already. What are you going to do about it, is what we’re waiting to hear. What’s the game plan? What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

To urge the other two levels of government to get back into funding social housing. Mayor Tory has both ‘moral and business’ cases to make why this should be. We can get a return on our investment and feel good about ourselves while doing it. A win-win. What the hell’s everyone waiting for?

He’s not wrong. The problem is, he’s not the first person to make this point, not even the first mayor to make it. As Ed Keenan points out today, this is a thing nearly a quarter of a century in the making. (An irony sidebar: the man named to head the aforementioned TCHC task force, Senator Art Eggleton, a former Toronto mayor and member of the Liberal government that initiated this crisis when it began divesting itself of the social housing file, offloading to the provinces, and as with any shit stream, it continued to make its way downhill to municipalities. The circle remains unbroken.)iffisheswerewishes

If wishes were fishes, and all that. Yes, it would be fantastic if the federal and provincial governments came on board and began pulling their weight on housing, public transit. It’s an easy argument to make, that they should feel morally obligated to do so. Ditto economically prudent, such investments in key factors for better functioning communities and cities.

Unfortunately, here we still are. All the stamping of our feet, holding of our breath, tubthumping, begging, pleading, blustering hasn’t changed the dynamics. We ask. The feds and Queen’s Park shrug.

So, what’s the Plan B, Matt Galloway asked the mayor on Metro Morning.

Ever the savvy negotiator, Mayor Tory said that he’s not going to talk about any ‘Plan B’ because then the other governments would just tell us to get stuffed and proceed with Plan B. A little game of chicken we’re watching play out.

Except that, as Brian Kelcey pointed out on the Twitter, that’s not how things work, there’s no negotiation. Municipalities make demands, or if they are more politely inclined, ‘asks’. asifNot for nothing, Ottawa and Queen’s Park are referred to as ‘senior’ levels of government. “They either give, or they don’t.”

And if our mayor sees some sort of spirit of giving at either level of government, well, he’s got better eyes than most of us. Just yesterday, in fact, Oliver Moore reported in the Globe and Mail that the province has informed Toronto and Vaughan that the money it pledged to build the Spadina subway extension is going be a tiny bit short, by about $85 million or so. You two make up the difference, would you? And make sure that thing opens up on time or else!

It’s difficult to the point of snapping any optimistic streak in half to see the province pulling out a wad of dough to put in the TCHC pot, moral persuasion and sound business case be damned. Right now they seem much more interested in drawing cash from Toronto rather than make a deposit. The quicker Mayor Tory accepts that fact, the better. Pretending otherwise will only deepen the crisis and make the work that has to be done even more expensive.

It must be difficult for him, this early in to his term, to come to the realization that his influence, his ability to work with the other levels of government might not be as awesome as he thought it was, convinced Toronto voters he possessed. anofferyoucantrefuseI’m certainly not blaming him for believing that other politicians, regardless of where they plied their trade, would want to do the right thing, the smart thing, the moral thing. Keep. Hope. Alive.

But surely the scales have fallen from the mayor’s eyes by now. The current state of our politics is a dog-eat-dog fight for every public dollar out there. We, cities, the province, the federal government, are not partners. We’re rivals, at best agreeing to a you-scratch-my back and I’ll-scratch-yours relationship, not collaborating but always trying to get the upper hand. Unless Mayor Tory is engaged in a much more elaborate and veiled dance, he’s wasting valuable time, blue-skying it and wishing a wish upon a star.

The mayor’s painted himself into a corner, and I’m trying really hard not to think it was deliberate. Maybe he just believed in the rightness of his cause. outofideasIf a fine upstanding citizen like himself saw the moral and business case for billions of dollars of reinvestment in the TCHC, who could possibly disagree? It’s simply a question of doing the right thing.

The alternative is more disheartening, with the best case scenario having Mayor Tory claiming his hands are tied, he has no other choice but to raise the necessary revenue for the city to invest in TCHC itself. He’s been pretty adamant that the property tax base can’t afford the hit, and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong except for the fact the property tax base is funding the Scarborough subway extension and somehow the property tax base came up with nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. So yeah, priorities.

Taxes are a necessary evil. Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault.

The darker turn, though, is all this being a pretext for yet another assault on TCHC. A firesale. testedWe can’t afford to maintain these homes anymore, and we’ve been left to our own devices by Queen’s Park and Ottawa. Only the private sector can save us now. By turning the stock over, Mayor Tory can later claim he kept true to the pledge he made to Matt Galloway earlier today that TCHC buildings would not be boarded up under his watch.

Probably sooner rather than later, we’re going to see just how much of a moral issue social housing is to Mayor John Tory.

wearily and warily submitted by Cityslikr