The Fault, Dear Brutus

March 9, 2015

Look, I’m not going to shrug off some $400 million cost overruns in a $2.5 billion project. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of money. moneymoneymoneyMoney, in tight budgetary times like ours, that could be put to better use. Another $400 million and those repairs on the Gardiner Expressway would be done in no time.

Nor am I going to defend the TTC’s oversight. Maybe as an organization they aren’t up to the task of managing major infrastructure builds like a subway. Hell, there are days the TTC doesn’t seem capable of simple route management, so yeah. Questions need to be asked about the role the TTC played.

But I’m not going to sit here and listen to easy solutions offered up about how all this could’ve been avoided, the budget blow throughs, the delayed completion time lines. “An entrenched culture of nonaccountability at city hall,” according to Mayor John Tory. You should’ve used an Alternative Financing and Procurement, Premier Kathleen Wynne said. Ahhh, P3s. Is there no problem they can’t solve?

Perhaps both are right. Each has an element that may’ve factored into the mess. Not only are the cost overruns and delays problematic but timely reporting on them seems to be lacking. Who knew what and when? fingerpointingDid the mayor and TTC chair Josh Colle only find out about them when the public did last week?

And as was pointed out by Trevor Heywood at Metroscapes, there is currently another transit project being done here in the city, the Union-Pearson rail link, using an AFP model with no talk of overruns or delays. Was an AFP contemplated for the Spadina subway extension? If so, why wasn’t it implemented? If not, why not?

Still, I don’t think either of these ideas fully explains what’s happened with the TTC and the Spadina subway extension. Both offer up easy explanations for what is clearly a complicated situation. Digging and building underground always will be fraught with unknowns and unexpected problems. You can work in contingencies (as contingencies are in budgeting big public work projects) but, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are known unknowns and then there are unknown unknowns.

In other words, shit happens, yo.

No, I think there are bigger questions and concerns to address with this, especially as we go forward to build more public transit.wantwhatnow

That this happened should really come as no surprise to anyone. The Spadina subway extension was a political transit decision from the outset. The province wanted it, the city less so. As lore has it, the subway was the price the city had to pay to get Queen’s Park to play ball with other transit projects it deemed more pressing. Without the Spadina subway extension, would there ever have been Transit City?

Certainly Toronto couldn’t have been all that happy about the extension of the extension, up 2 stops past York Univeristy into Vaughan. No question that York was in need of some form of rapid transit (whether or not it should be a subway is a good point of conjecture) but the decision to carry on, north past there wasn’t really in the city’s best interests. Yet, here we are.

If the city was so reluctant for this subway, forget the construction costs, concerns about the operational costs of it were present from the outset, how it was going to have to be subsidized like the Sheppard line, taking money from the rest the system to its detriment, why did it agree to build it? Was the option on the table for the city to step back and say to the province, Have at it? You want it? thanksnothanksYou use your precious AFPs to build it.

So was this miscalculation on the TTC’s part or coercion from the province? Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the political (rather than a transit) oriented nature of the Spadina subway extension created the opportunity for unpleasantly unexpected turn of events. A scenario we should acknowledge as we proceed down the profoundly political path of the Scarborough subway extension.

The larger concern, however, goes to what the mayor called ‘an entrenched culture of nonacountability at city hall.’ While we know who the target was in the mayor’s mind — city staff — I think we should try to cut a wider swath in this. Let’s call it, the nonaccountability of unrealistic expectations. You want a subway? I can get you subway. You want to pay how much for that subway? … Sure, I can get you a subway for that much money. No problem. Sure.

We elect politicians who tell us we can have the infrastructure of our dreams for no money down, no interest ever. The private sector will build it for us. lessonslearnedHave you ever heard of something called Tax Increment Financing? Seriously. It won’t cost you a dime.

The notion we could build a subway, first for $1.5, then $2.5 billion for what became 6 stops, 8.6 kilometres was never going to be a slam dunk. Even if it comes in at $2.9 billion, about $337+ million per kilometre, it wouldn’t be some grotesque outlier in terms of international costs for building subways. For every Barcelona, Helsinki and Sao Paulo, there’s New York’s 2nd Avenue subway or London or Amersterdam.

The Spadina subway extension is not out of whack in an international comparison. While we most certainly should examine ways it could have been completed less expensively, this indignant outburst at the news of cost overruns stems more from our entitled belief that cheaper is better and somebody else should pay for the things we want than it does any systemic failure on the part our public sector to be able to build infrastructure. cheapSure, let’s point out all the examples of cost overruns on projects throughout the city in addition to the Spadina subway extension. Nathan Phillipps Square. Union Station.

But in an environment where the bottom line often means the bottom dollar, the lowest bid, city staff must find themselves in the uncomfortable position of speaking forthright versus being painted as naysayers and no-can-doers. An extreme case would be former TTC CEO, Gary Webster, delivering an opinion on the LRT-subway debate that ran contrary to the administration and finding himself quickly relieved of duty. A politician gets elected telling voters this won’t hurt a bit and then expects city staff to conform to that way of doing things. It’s called a mandate.subwaystop

Maybe the problems start with voters who demand the impossible from politicians and the bureaucracy. If you want a great city, a former mayor once said, you have to pay for it. Seems we’ve chosen to go another route, insisting more on a OK-is-good-enough and can’t-somebody-else-foot-the-bill-for-us trajectory. When reality rears its ugly head, somebody’s got to pay. Again, not us. Somebody else.

money-for-nothingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challenger Endorsements I

October 1, 2014

So, let me begin this, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first non-incumbent city councillor endorsement post, as a plea for ranked ballots by the time the next municipal campaign rolls around. (Looking good! Fingers still crossed.) rabitVoting should not be a tactical game, a compromise that rarely amounts to anything inspiring. Settling because, well, it could be a whole lot worse.

Take Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, for instance. Of some 19 candidates or so, 5 are very interesting or, at least, palatable (says hello to Joe Cressy). It would be easy to list off your favourite 3 and be quite content with whatever the outcome instead of pitting them against one another in the hopes of one of them not winning. Or, whatever the mindset is in a first past the post mindset. It isn’t particularly positive.

That said. Here we are. In an imperfect system, we begin our imperfect endorsements.

endorsement3

Ward 2 Etobicoke North

Back in early June, before any sort of Ford entered this race, we talked to Luke LaRoque. We liked Luke LaRoque. We still like Luke LaRoque. He’s chock full of good ideas about how to re-engage with residents of the ward. He’s got a real grasp of municipal politics. Luke LaRoque is an ideal candidate for city council.

There’s just one hitch.

The air’s been sucked out of the race by the Fords, in particular the outgoing mayor and former ward councillor, the ailing Rob Ford. What little space is left over has been occupied by Andray Domise. He’s got the media’s attention. He is articulate and passionate about the ward. He presents the perfect foil to the Fords’ dynastic pretensions.

Having not talked in detail with Mr. Domise, I can only assess his campaign based on reading through his website and his entries on WiTOpoli’s Position Primer. I was happy to see things being fleshed out yesterday, starting with his transit platform because until then I wasn’t seeing many robust ideas. There were good, positive initiatives framed in vague generalities and rhetorical platitudes. That seems to be changing.

Andray Domise does, however, speak up for those who haven’t had much of a voice at City Hall under the Ford regime, those they claim to have done more for than anybody else in the world.

In an ideal world, one where we have ranked ballots, at this point, Andray Domise would be my second choice for Ward 2 city councillor. That’s not 2014, unfortunately. We have to deal with the situation at hand.

Andray Domise looks like the sort of positive change that could actually defeat Rob Ford at the polls. For the city to turn the page on this turbulent past 4 years, Rob Ford needs to be defeated at the polls. For that reason alone, we endorse Andray Domise for Ward 2 Etobicoke North city councillor.

endorsement1

Ward 17 Davenport

This one’s another toss up for me. It was in May when we sat down with Saeed Selvam and while he is a very impressive candidate by almost every other measure, he would still be our second choice in Ward 17. We endorse Alejandra Bravo.

Why?

Electability, in a word. She is well positioned to defeat a terrible incumbent. The stars finally seem aligned for her.

Ms. Bravo is seasoned and ready to assume her role as city councillor. She’s taken a run at this office a couple times before, in 2003 and 2006, and has a long history of community activism, most recently working on the Board of Health and with the Maytree Foundation. Mr. Selvam is a very, very worthy contender with a detailed platform that puts most other candidates to shame. Unfortunately, this just isn’t his time.

It sucks that this is how such important decisions get made. It feels cheap and shallow. But there it is. Politics in Toronto in 2014.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Giving Ourselves A Wedgie

September 14, 2013

I was watching the National’s At Issue panel Thursday night – I believe it behooves me to occasionally seek out what white people are saying about current events, talkingheadsespecially the ones who only have regular recourse to a national newspaper once or twice a week – when the topic of the charter of Quebec values came up.

As a godless heathen, it’s a subject I’ve largely avoided paying much attention to. People and their religious symbolism is something of a mystery to me. But live and let live, I say. As long as no one is forcing me into a garment I have no interest in wearing, have at it. I will keep my views to myself except to note that if a crucifix is regarded as a cultural object maybe so too is a hijab.

But anyhoo…

My interest in the chat was peaked when the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert suggested the whole thing was little more than a wedge issue for the Parti Québécois. A way to galvanize the sovereigntist vote, largely outside of Montreal, in order to form a majority government. wedgeissuDivide and conquer, and all that.

Again, I don’t know enough about that particular issue to weigh in further than I already have but wedge politics, am I right? The surest sign a politician or party has run out of positive ideas. As was stated on the show last night, wedge politics is the evil twin of good policy. It benefits a few at the expense of the majority.

We’re watching it right now a province away here in Toronto with the never-ending saga of the Scarborough subway. This has been a wedge issue used by Mayor Ford to keep suburban and downtown voters at each others’ throats. When the words ‘deserves’ and ‘2nd class’ are bandied about in favour of something, you know you’re dealing with a wedge issue. There’s no rational or logical reason behind it. It doesn’t stand up to the light of day yet you can’t put a stake through its heart to kill it for good.

Like any effective wedge issue, the Scarborough subway is not good policy. robfordstreetcarsIt’s good politics in the sense of a useful tool to maintain a faithful base of support but terrible long term public policy.

It ultimately wouldn’t matter if the mayor was left to his own devices to try and use suburban subways for re-election. If everybody recognized it for what he was doing and just went ahead with the business of carrying out good policy. Unfortunately, too many politicians have reared up in fright, trembling at the prospect of being painted as anti-subway, anti-Scarborough, anti-suburb.

And it’s not just councillors looking out for their own best interests. The provincial government too has scrambled desperately to get on side, even to the point of turning their back on a transit plan years in the making. So determined are they to be seen as Scarborough subway proponents champions that even the premier is sabre-rattling her intention to ignore whatever city council decides and disregard the signed Master Agreement that’s still in place stating that a LRT line is to be built from the Kennedy subway station up to Sheppard Avenue. Replacing that with a shorter, 2 stop subway makes absolutely no sense, fiscally or transit wise.

“We will keep our commitment to the people of Scarborough to build the subway in Scarborough…,” the premier proclaimed on Thursday.wedgeshot

Whether or not it makes any sense. We said we would (at least as far back as the August 1st by-election campaign). The people of Scarborough said we should. That’s good enough for us.

Is it a surprise to anyone that voters have grown cynical and apathetic? Our politicians can’t even be bothered pretending that it’s not self-interest driving them rather than leadership or good governance. Who needs bold ideas when you can just exploit differences and divvy up just enough of the electoral spoils to maintain power?

I’d be much more indignant if the tactic didn’t work so well. Politicians wouldn’t do it if it didn’t, right? The question is, why do we so easily allow ourselves to be put into warring camps and exploited for political gain? In Quebec, I guess there’s a certain degree of tribalism at work. wedgiePure lainism and all that. But even that’s showing some serious cracks in it.

How did we become so tribal over an ill-advised subway extension?

It really doesn’t seem like something to circle the wagons over especially when there’s a much better alternative in place. Yet here we are, ready to plunge forward because enough of the potential electorate has been persuaded they’re being short-changed and are deserving of better, whatever that means. I guess if we’re simply looking out for number one, if we can’t see past our own little shires, there’s no reason to expect better instincts from our politicians.

splitly submitted by Cityslikr


A Taxing Problem

May 3, 2013

What if we took the most recent Fraser Institute tax attack report, taxmanThe Canadian Consumer Tax Index, and its claim of a 1787% tax increase since 1961 at face value and simply shrugged? Not for the reasons Matt Elliott did yesterday when he challenged the robustness of the report’s methodology but from an angle of nonchalance. Yeah, so? Big deal. I’m with Oliver Wendell Holmes. I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.

Or in other words, would I rather be living now in 2013 than back in 1961?

Infant mortality rate in 1961 was 27.1/1000. In 2011? 4.9/1000. Canadians lived 10 years less on average in 1961 than they do now. GDP per capita… well this.

chartupupup

Of course taxes aren’t the sole reason for those positive changes but neither did taxation roll us back to the dark ages. We are hardly taxed to death, as some like to say. In fact, the stats point to just the opposite.

So let’s stop operating from the premise that taxation is inherently bad. Politicians like Councillor Doug Ford should be derided and dismissed outright when they state something as glaringly asinine as “All taxes are evil as far as I’m concerned.” taxesareevilThe subtext of such a sentiment is that the person expressing it is not to be taken at all seriously. It is a mind-numbingly idiotic thing to say that only a certified crank would believe.

The negative economic effects of taxation have long been exaggerated while the benefits have been methodically downplayed. Every time you go to see your doctor and don’t have to open your cheque book is your tax dollars at work. You drive to work today? Your tax dollars paved the road you used. Whatever you kid learned in school comes from a portion of your property taxes.

Without taxes, there is no public sphere or common wealth. Everything’s for sale and anything deemed of worth usually goes to the highest bidder. Taxation is one way we seek to mitigate the damages inflicted by the laissez-faire, everybody-for-themselves workings of our free market system.

And now comes the great debate about paying for a long overdue public transit expansion throughout the GTHA region. How to fund The Big Move. No taxes, no way, no how says our mayor and his ardent supporters. Government’s already got its boots on the neck of the taxpayers and emptied our pockets. That well’s been tapped dry. emptypockets2Read the Fraser Institute report if you don’t believe Mayor Ford.

OK. So, well. How do you propose to build and run the transit network we really needed about a decade ago, oh haters of taxes and respecters of taxpayers? You got $50 billion or so kicking around, easily accessible?

*crickets, crickets*

With no credible plan to pay for any new transit (and with three years to come up with one), the mayor and his allies have switched tacks and now seek to undermine the trustworthiness of the governing Liberals, citing scandal after scandal as proof that they shouldn’t be allowed further access to the taxpayer money tree. ORNGE! EHEALTH!! GAS PLANTS!!! GAS PLANTS, FOLKS!!!!

Now I don’t want to sound as if I could care less about accountability. The mismanagement and dedication to evading responsibility for it is deplorable. I’d be more than happy to turf this government from power and start with a clean slate if I saw I viable alternative, at least on this particular issue of transit.

So far, I don’t. It’s all populist pandering from both left and right with nothing much more on offer than change for change’s sake. distractionThe Liberals are tired and fresh out of ideas. Vote for us, for a different kind of tired and lack of new ideas.

And in terms of transit building, I’ll go even one step further. Add these scandals up, right up, generously to the top. Call it $3 billion of ill-spent money and let’s pretend it was a single year outlay. What was the total spending in yesterday’s provincial budget? $127.6 billion? That represents a little over 2% of the total 2013 expenditure. Statistically, a rounding error.

Before you go all off and start labelling me a Liberal apologist, my point is, all that money, the entire $3 billion would make but a dent in the Big Move. It would pay for just over a year of the proposed 25 year timeline. Where’s the rest going to come from?

We can bitch and moan, mumble and grumble, huff and puff and threaten to blow the shaky credibility house down but we’ve still got a shitload of transit to build. Until someone comes up with a better plan* to pay for it, our taxes are going to have to do the trick. Just like they have always done when it comes to paying for the public good.

well

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr

 

* There won’t be a better plan. If there was a better plan, we would’ve heard about it by now.


Don’t Look At Me. It’s Not My Mess.

January 30, 2013

Our premier to be says ungridlocking the GTA by investing in new transit is one of her first priorities. To do that we must generate new revenue streams. madhatter1Our Toronto mayor says he’s not really a tax-and-spend kind of politician. The ROO screams ‘favouritism’. (Seriously. Read through the comments in the linked Toronto Star piece.)

Over at the city’s Parks and Environment Committee, chair Norm Kelly wonders out loud about the expensive necessity of preparing for the fallout of climate change. What if it’s not a thing? Can scientists’ models be trusted? Why the rush to judgement? Besides, if some of the stuff he’s read is to be believed, it could end up being like Tennessee here. How great would that be?! (It should be pointed out to the councillor that climate change alarmist Al Gore hails from Tennessee. Just so the facts are all out there on the table for him.)

It’s days like yesterday when I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for all concerned if we as a species aren’t simply wiped off the face of the earth by one rogue tidal wave created when a big chunk of Arctic ice sheers off and plops into the ocean. Or some mammoth solar flare fries us all to dust. redqueen2Or God simply claps his hands and starts all over again.

I’ve written often of our lack of resolve to tackle important issues that might possibly involve any degree of personal sacrifice. Is that what happens when you see yourself as a consumer or taxpayer instead of an engaged citizen? You can have my money when you take this wallet from my cold, dead hands!

Yes. We’ve become a society of grumpy Charlton Hestons, unwilling to look at the bigger picture beyond our own backyards. Every penny in tax we pay is a penny stolen. Inconvenient truths that threaten our lifestyle need further study. We’re sick of the country asking what we can do for it. What’s it going to do for us for a change?

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Businesses sit on more than half a trillion dollars, yet government boondoggles and outrageous union demands drain our coffers and our patience. There is an easy solution to all our financial and infrastructure problems that don’t involve us giving up anything especially more money because… well, because… eHealth! ORNGE! We already gave at the office, OK?

Build us a casino. One that will pay for everything we need. So simple, it’s a wonder no one’s ever thought of it before.

I don’t want to get too cranky here and sound like some bitter old drunk in a divey bar bending everybody’s ear about the ill-state of the world today. aliceontherun Because in my time, in my time, youngsters, progress has been made on many fronts. Matters of equality in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation have evolved in a positive direction over the past four decades. An African-American president of the United States? A gay, female premier in Ontario? Not during my lifetime, sonny jim. Yet, here we are.

But those are historical inequities and injustices that are far from being leveled and while we’ve been battling on those fronts, new pressing problems have emerged. These are legacy issues as well which will fit nicely under the environmental umbrella. Climate change. Infrastructure to both help cope with the implications of climate change and to mitigate possible worse case scenarios from playing out.

Shrugging it off with pejorative terms like ‘alarmist’ is the easy way out. alfredenewmanAs a late onset boomer, I think my generation’s lasting contribution is fighting to get governments off our backs, to keep taxes as low as possible and minimize our civic engagement. Good for us who got in while the going was good. Not so much for those coming after us. We’re like the anti-social picnickers, enjoying our time out in the sun and leaving all our garbage behind.

We aren’t the first era ever to face seemingly insurmountable challenges. What era has been spared such a dilemma? As of now, we’ve avoided stepping up to accept the responsibility. What, me worry? is our official motto, Alfred E. Neuman our spokeman.

Not sure who that is, kids? Ask your parents. They can tell you.

responsibly submitted by Cityslikr