An Olympic Beg

August 20, 2015

Of all the reasons that steer me in the direction of, what would you call it? Fuck An Olympic Bid?, the one most compelling is the cynicism sitting right at the heart of Toronto 2024 proponents. haveigotadealforyouMaybe cynicism is too strong a word. Pure political calculation might be more appropriate.

It’s this.

If we get the Olympics, X piece of infrastructure will get done. The Olympics will bring us new social housing. A forced Olympics deadline will deliver all those things this city has been clamoring for for a generation now.

It seems in this day and age, a wholly adequate 1970s transit system for a city of 2.5 million in 2015 fails to meet the definition of any sort of deadline. 7500 homes boarded up in less than 10 years if more funding is not forthcoming from senior levels of government for Toronto Community Housing does not constitute any firm deadline. No. The only deadline that matters now is the discriminating gaze from the rest of the world as it turns its attention toward the Olympic host city, 20xx.

Our international reputation is on the line here, people. Time to pull up our socks. The clock is ticking!

I’m not about to get into all the nitty gritty about the pluses and minuses of hosting the Olympics.polishthesilverware It’d be generous, I think, for me to call it a wash. Sure, cities get stuff they didn’t have before, some of it necessary even. But the costs for that seem to be very, very steep.

On CBC’s MetroMorning this morning, former Olympic bid… guy, Bob Richardson (but definitely not that thing this time around) blithely assured the radio listening audience that the International Olympic Committee have changed their tune and the body is now more reasonable in its approach. “The IOC is really trying to ratchet down their costs…and making the rules a lot more flexible,” he told host David Common.

Somebody ought to tell officials down in Boston that news. A report that came out after the city decided it wasn’t going to bid on the 2024 Games after all paints a slightly different impressionistic picture of the IOC, the bidding and hosting process.

The report found that the risks it examined are inherent to the bidding process as specified by the International Olympic Committee, calling them “inflexible elements” of any bid. “In requiring these guarantees, the IOC imposes financial risk on the part of those entities providing the guarantees and, ultimately, in the case of Boston, on city and state taxpayers.”

That was just after stating this finding:

The State and Local governments, while having only limited ability to influence and shape the bid, would bear significant financial risks as the ultimate guarantors under the financial Letters of Guarantee. All of the risks associated with public infrastructure spending would fall completely on the Commonwealth. The taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be the ultimate risk bearers.

In my experience, always be wary of those assuring us that this time, it’ll be different.

Even if you can justify an Olympic investment in terms of the benefits accrued, all your t’s are crossed, your i’s dotted, it feels a little like a civic hostage taking. Do the bid or the city gets it. alcaponedeaddeaddeadRather, do the bid or the city doesn’t get it. Affordable housing? Dead. Transit upgrade? Dead. All infrastructure needs? Dead, dead, dead.

And what happens if your city is deemed not Olympic worthy? Sorry, Winnipeg. Nothing for you this decade because the feds are throwing a shitload of money at Olympic Host City X to show the world what a great country we are. Maybe team up with Regina and Saskatoon for a co-bid in 20 years or so.

“We got more done in the last 5 years [leading up to the PanAm/ParaPan Games] than we did in the previous 15 years in terms of infrastructure,” Mr. Richardson told Metro Morning.

Does that mean in order to invest in basic upgrades to the city, we have to be in perpetual bid mode? Bring the world to us and reap the benefits. Otherwise, this is the reality of our situation. “Almost half of Ontario’s municipalities have to hike property taxes by at least one full per cent to raise $50,000,” the Association of Municipalities of Ontario president, Gary McNamara, told the conference this week. olympicgoodies“Policy-makers at Queen’s Park need to understand (it all adds) up to one serious problem faster than they can imagine.”

“There is a strong case for municipal government to be better funded than it is, not just in Ontario, but in other jurisdictions across Canada,” he said, pointing out that “the federal and provincial governments receive 4 or 5 more times revenue than municipalities” which represents more than 90% of every tax dollar collected at every level of government.

Yet increasingly, cities have to gussy up and perform pony tricks to access necessary funds from their ‘partners’ at the senior levels of government in the hopes of keeping things running properly. Local politicians tap into that dynamic, some using it to absolve themselves of responsibility for, you know, governance. You want project X? Well, dance, monkey. Dance. The alternative is to go to war with Ottawa and Queen’s Park or, heaven forbid, start tapping into our own methods of revenue generation to get that project done.dogshow

Instead, we choose to use an Olympic bid as the middle man for major transactions between our elected officials, facilitating the movement of money from public coffers to public good. For their efforts, middle men skim a little of that cash off the top. Nothing underhanded or particularly shady, it’s just the nature of middle manning.

But it does raise the question why, in terms of building necessary infrastructure, a middle man is required?

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


One Step Forward…

April 15, 2014

Listening to veteran transportation planner Ed Levy on Metro Morning today talk about the province’s latest foray sighinto the choppy political waters of transit building in the GTA, I felt for the guy. He and the likes of Steve Munro, and all the others who’ve been following this sorry tale for much longer than I have. How else do you respond to the question, Well, what do you think? A shrug. A sigh. A sad, slow shake of the head.

The equation is remarkably easy.

This region is in desperate need of transit and transportation infrastructure upgrades. It has been woefully neglected for at least 3 decades. We are now paying the economic and social costs for this lack of investment.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this. Time to get busy. The clock is ticking. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to transit building business.

That’s where the consensus all goes to shit. agreetodisagreeThe perpetual sticking point. How do we pay for it?

Nothing about this is going to come cheap. If it did, public transit would be everywhere. We wouldn’t be having this ongoing conversation. Parse it any way you want, it is an expensive proposition, a pricey necessity for the proper functioning of any sizeable city.

It’s going to cost us. All worthwhile investments do. So, pony up, shut up and let’s get on with it.

On the other hand…

Yesterday’s Liberal government announcement of $29 billion in money directed toward transit and transportation building throughout the province, $15 billion of that in the GTA, over the next 10 years is not nothing. It only seems like that because there’s been a long, deliberate build up to this point. There’s something anti-climactic to the announcement. holdonaminuteI’m sorry, what? That’s it?

Part of the problem is that the money’s not new. What did the Minister of Transportation call it? Repurposed revenue. If these guys spent half as much time coming up with smart ways to convince the public to buy into the need to pay for transit as they did polishing up weasel words and phrases to mask their continued ambivalence in confronting this issue head on, we’d already have the Yonge Street relief line built and paid for.

This is $29 billion already coming into the province through gas taxes and the HST paid on gas. The government is simply dedicating that amount in this particular direction. Which is fine and good, a start at least. Where it’s being pulled from is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll cross that bridge (after it’s been retrofitted) when we get to it.

The other glitch in the announcement is that the $1.5 billion coming the GTA’s way annually over the next 10 years is still below the goal of $2 billion a year Metrolinx has said would be needed to fund the capital side of its Big Move build. All in good time, we were assured by the premier and minister of transportation. willywonka1More will be revealed with the upcoming budget.

This is where the politics comes in to play. Unfortunately, politics always comes in to play. The $29 billion was the opening gambit (after what? A 6 year overture?) by the government. How would the opposition parties react? Were they going to sign on or in any other way show their hand on this?

The trouble for the Liberals right now is two-fold. One, they have no spending credibility, lost amidst the scandals plaguing them. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. Trust us to get it right this time, folks.

It’s a scenario that could be easily dealt with if there was a serious alternative being put up on offer. But this is the second problem. Out there on the extreme is the official opposition pretending like building transit is free and easy. You want subways? We’ll give you subways. And it won’t cost you a thing. Just a nip and tuck there. Bob’s your uncle. Remember the last time the Progressive Conservatives were in power and all those subways they buil—No, wait. Strike that.

We have proof negative of exactly higotnothingow this approach to building transit works here in Toronto. It doesn’t. Remember when our current mayor was running for office back in 2010 and he guaranteed us he could deliver subways here, there and everywhere without any additional revenues? Uh huh. That’s the exact bill of goods Tim Hudak’s trying to sell us again.

Unfortunately, the third party at Queen’s Park, the NDP, are tilting heavily toward similar populist pandering. Corporate taxes is their mantra. Rolling back a decade’s worth of corporate tax cuts will pay for everything we want while eliminating the deficit apparently. A different angle on the too good to be true pitch.

And then we all flip the table and walk away from the discussion. Politicians, we bellow! Where have the true leaders gone, we ask? If only Bill Davis. If only… If only.

Until we start punishing those elected representatives who believe that in concocting fairy tales of no money down, whome1no interest until forever as the surest way to secure office, this song will play on repeat. We will still be bitching about the state of our public transit 10 years, 20 years from now. We will still be reading posts like this. We will be explaining to our grandchildren how it was our politicians let us down, how they failed to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

We will still be absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the gridlock that has continued to worsen and the deplorable state of ill-repair our trains and streetcars and buses operate in. Like the generation before us, we will wipe our hands clean and successfully pass the buck to the next to deal with.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


No, You First

March 14, 2014

(A heads up: this one’s going to be particularly swear-y. Those with delicate sensibilities may want to take a pass.)

strutsandfrets

I’m trying to re-jig that old axiom.

We get the politicians the strategists, consultants and pollsters they pay give us.

Yesterday, Premier Kathleen Wynne bravely stood down in the face of opposition intransigence toward new taxes to fund regional transit in the GTA, waving the white flag of political opportunism. After two reports came back, one from the provincial transit body, Metolinx, and another from the premier’s own appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, recommending ways to pay for the ambitious (on paper) Big Move, justsaynoPremier Wynne brushed aside two of the more substantive suggestions, the gas tax and HST.

“We are taking those potential revenue tools off the table,” she told the press. But “make no mistake”, she’s going to get this shit built. She’s just not going to tell anybody how yet.

Well, Premier Wynne, join the party. Behind every other fucking politician who cavalierly promises to tackle the pressing issue of transit in the region but deftly avoids the conversation about how exactly to pay for it. This is the line for the magic beans, right?

This is political brinksmanship at its most loathsome. Mutual assured do-nothingness. Both opposition parties at Queen’s Park have dug into their trenches and refused to so much as engage, really only popping their heads up to take the odd pot shot at the government.

brinksmanshipThe Tories have moved beyond the realm of reprehensible, promising the most expensive option of transit, the subway, with the least likely way to pay for it, finding efficiencies. They might as well just admit that they couldn’t give a flying fuck about public transit. The only reason they really addressed the issue was in order to look busy writing up white papers.

And the NDP? My political home? They’ve carved out some fucking bullshit form of populism that is trying to convince us that this can all be done through corporate taxes and a higher income tax on some miles wide interpretation of the middle class. It’s the flip side of the Conservative’s we can do all this and you won’t feel it a bit mantra.

This seems to be the avenue the government has left open to themselves. They haven’t ruled out more in corporate taxes or from high income earners. Don’t worry, people. Other people will pay for all this.whopaysforlunch

Now look, I have absolutely no problem with a renewed interest in harkening back to the olden days of using a truly progressive form of taxation via income to start addressing our social needs. It’s decades overdue. But why would I believe our politicians are prepared to have that discussion when merely saying the word ‘tax’ makes them blanch and wet themselves?

When one of these parties actually steps forward and stops referring to the middle-class as everybody who makes less than $500k/year, maybe I’ll start to think they’re serious. It’s been a long time since many of us, corporations, individuals, families, have being what we should be paying. It’s why we’re in the transit-infrastructure mess we find ourselves. We all believe somebody else should be paying for it.

But this is a game of who’s going to blink first. Nobody’s willing to take the lead on this for fear of everybody else screeching and pointing their fingers at them. hediditLook! Tax-and-spenders!! Burn them!!!

The situation is so abysmally preposterous that also yesterday, the big name left wing, NDP flavoured candidate for mayor, Olivia Chow, would only commit to property tax increases at the rate of inflation. That’s great, Olivia. That’ll maintain services at the current level. What about all the other stuff you’re going to pledge to do?

When Chow didn’t enthusiastically jump on board the DRL express, the subway build everyone has acknowledged is a priority to relieve pressure from the current lines, citing cost concerns, she was immediately jumped all over by some of the other candidates, led by the John Tory team. Hey, tax-and-spender! Why aren’t you promising to tax-and-spend some?

Now, follow me on this.

On its staff, the John Tory campaign has one Nick Kouvalis. You may remember Mr. Kouvalis from other mayoral campaigns like 2010’s Rob Ford. If you recall, there’s was much talk then of stopping a gravy train and the city government having a spending problem not a revenue problem.

Even this iteration, Kouvalis 2.0, Tory has pledged to keep taxes low. Yet building an expensive subway is priority #1. How? Not to worry. Somebody else will pay for it. You won’t feel a thing.whome1

“The only way you’re going to break this vicious cycle of waiting for public opinion that won’t come,” the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Carol Wilding told Matt Galloway today on Metro Morning, “is to insert leadership.”

Setting aside for the time being the TRBoT’s own contribution to anti-tax fever back in 2010, Ms. Wilding isn’t off the mark. We’ve stopped demanding leadership from our politicians, letting them off the hook, content only to hear them tell us what we want to hear. Yes, things aren’t perfect. Yes, there are ways we can start fixing them. No, you don’t have to do a thing about, though. Carry on. Somebody else will sort it out.

The phrase for that is probably left as is, only slightly modified.

We get the politicians we deserve.

spitting nailsly submitted by Cityslikr