Political Posturing Won’t Build Transit

April 21, 2013

I abhor faux-populism as much as the next Timmy’s loving, hard working, respect demanding little guy. timhortonsMy bullshit detector is acutely tuned to even the slightest judder of pandering. Common sense? Got it in spades. “Common Sense”? I see right through that, Mr. PR Marketing Man.

I’m a straight shooter and that’s what I expect from my elected officials. Give it to me right between the eyes, I say. I can take it. Brain me. Spare me the gut shot.

After decades of it, faux-populists from the right side of the political spectrum are pretty easy to spot. They refer to voters are ‘folks’. They roll up their sleeves. They don’t put the money they’ve saved folks back into the folks’s wallets but into the pockets of the folks’s jeans. Conservative faux-populists are always on the look out for the little guy but phrase it as ‘looking out for the little guy’. A subtle but very important distinction.

Left wing faux-populists are a little more difficult to spot because they’re supposed to be looking out for the little guy not just pretending to, like their counterparts on the right. bobrobertsYou don’t expect any sort of disingenuousness or duplicity on that subject from the left. Fairness, equality and fighting for those who find neither of those things on a daily basis is basically what those on the left are supposed to be doing.

Yet, I’m beginning to smell the stank of faux-ness from them when it comes to the question of transit at the provincial level.

Over at Raise the Hammer on Friday, the NDP Transport Critic (and my local MPP) Rosario Marchese responded to an earlier criticism of his party’s approach to transit funding.  “… the NDP has identified $1.3 billion worth of corporate tax cuts that the Liberals plan on giving away starting in 2015,” Mr. Marchese writes. “That’s $1.3 billion a year that will no longer be available for priorities such as transit.”

I’m all for finally sitting down and having the debate about the efficacy of corporate tax cuts in stimulating our economy. After years of pursuing such a policy, I think there’s lots of evidence pointing to the fact it does nothing of the sort. eattherichDoing more of the same in the hopes of getting a different outcome is the very definition of insanity and all that.

But we need to start hearing more specifics as to the application of new tax revenues coming in due to the cancellation of the proposed corporate tax cuts. “$1.3 billion a year…available for priorities such as transit.” How much exactly of that would go to transit? In his article Marchese admits that even the full amount wouldn’t pay for the Big Move as it is currently structured. And arguably, there are other provincial priorities that are in as desperate a need for an injection of new cash as the GTHA’s transit plans. More details, please.

Adam Giambrone puts some meat on the bones over at NOW this week, pushing the idea of restructuring personal income taxes as part of the transit funding solution. Wealth taxes and surcharges on those earning $350,000 a year and on the sale of properties worth over $3 million. Actual progressive rates of taxation reflective of an individual’s ability to pay.

Even the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson seems in the mood to talk about the need for new taxes. The table is set. There’s really no need to be coy about it as the provincial NDP seems to insist on being.

Besides, while I’m all for talking about a fairer approach to taxation, when it comes to finding funds for expanding transit in the GTHA, there are limits to relying solely on corporate and personal income taxes. emptytalkIt’s hard to imagine how either could be administered at just a regional level. If they can’t, then you’re asking the entire province to pitch in and finance transit in the GTHA and we all know what a political minefield that is. There would probably have to be more of a province wide transportation plan which would obviously slice the pie into smaller pieces.

And before we go getting all redistributive here, let’s keep in mind that there should be some sort of incentive/disincentive type of taxation when it comes to transit funding too. Tolls, congestion fees and parking levies to force drivers to begin paying a more equal share of their road usage, funnelling that money into public transit.

The devil’s in the details as people like to say now with Metrolinx and Toronto’s city staff putting forth proposals for revenue tools. We need to start getting specifics, and stop hiding behind what are essentially cheap slogans. To my ears, the reliance on a ‘No More Corporate Tax Cuts’ mantra sounds as flimsy and faux-populist as finding efficiencies and cutting waste does in terms of this transit funding conversation. Vague, politically palatable pap that suggests your heart really isn’t in it. tenfootpoleTransit as topic you’d really rather avoid, thank you very much.

The Liberal government at Queen’s Park has moved slowly enough on the transit file, glacially slow most of the time, to have allowed the opposition parties plenty of time to claim it for themselves. Instead, both have shied away and handed the hot potato off, making the government appear like the only adults having a grown up conversation with the public. Empty rhetoric and catchphrase platitudes may a faux-populist make but it’s not going to get us any new transit built.

warily submitted by Cityslikr


Our Provincial Endorsement

October 5, 2011

With the importance provincial governments play in municipal life, I’m somewhat bewildered by my lack of engagement with the 2011 election. I should be on top of this, combing through party platforms, tracking down candidate debates or otherwise just staying on top of things. But no. I dithered. I procrastinated. I couldn’t beat back this feeling of caring less.

In trying to avoid the burden of responsibility, I lay the blame squarely on the respective campaigns’ shoulders. It all seemed to be about what we don’t need. We don’t need another 4 years of Dalton McGuinty. We don’t need another neo-conservative at the levers of power, desperately trying to steer the ship of state away from the future. No time for change. Exactly the time for change.

Well, if that’s the case, do I really need to be paying attention?

Snap out of it. Of course you do. Must muster interest. Do your duty as a citizen. Engage! Engage!

So I sat through Rogers’ Trinity-Spadina candidates’ debate minus the incumbent MPP. I went through campaign literature. I scoured party websites. And here’s what I came up with.

Surprise! I won’t be voting Conservative. The last thing we need is another anti-urban leader ignoring the interests of municipalities. Ignoring would be generous to Tim Hudak. It’s more like looking at cities as dumping grounds for the disastrous results of their backward policies. Remember Mike Harris?

As for the government of Dalton McGuinty? Ambivalence is mostly what wells up within me. For every strong initiative it’s made in areas like education or the environment, there’s been two steps back in the face of strong, largely misguided opposition. You don’t like wind turbines in toss-up ridings? They’re gone. Catholic school boards got problems with progressive approaches to sex education in the classrooms? Ignore it and carry on with your discriminatory, pre-Second Vatican Council ways.

Oh yeah. And let’s not forget the trampling of our civil rights, police state approving fiasco that was the G20.

The Liberal Government’s dealing with cities has been wishy-washy. Yes, it’s redone a lot of the damage inflicted by the Harris gang. Uploading many of the services dropped into our laps in the late-90s. They passed the City of Toronto Act which gave more powers and flexibility to the city to deal with its particular issues. There’s been the more than half-hearted Big Move and nod to the importance of public transit in the GTA. We got some of the gas tax. Promises have been made since 2003 of restarting provincial contribution to the annual operating budget of the TTC. Transit City was a signature piece of the transit puzzle here in Toronto. Until it wasn’t.

One might hope that, if given a 3rd majority, McGuinty would become more resolute and less afraid of his own shadow. He has stood firm in the formidable face of opposition to the HST. If Ford Nation fails to dislodge him, the premier might start standing up to the more ridiculous whims of our mayor. Moreover, Premier McGuinty might gracefully approach retirement and the Liberal party could entertain the notion of reclaiming its more liberal leanings.

But what about the Liberal candidate in our riding? One Sarah Thomson. We got a healthy dose of her when she ran for mayor of the city last year before she ran out of gas late in the proceedings. Underwhelming initially, she never really caught fire but she did evolve over the course of the race, the first of the candidates to begin backing away from the city’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket narrative and did seem to be listening to the actual problems we were facing. She adapted an extensive bike lane plan and was the first one to float the idea of road tolls, getting laughed out of the place by her opponents.

Yet, she still has a tendency to talk in sound bites. There’s the air of the high school valedictorian about her. I get the feeling she’s running here because there was no riding closer to home. She may be an ideal McGuinty Liberal which I hold against her. On the other hand, she’s not Rocco Rossi.

Normally, I don’t have to go through such a process of elimination about where I’ll be placing my X on the ballot. Trinity-Spadina is an NDP stronghold. I tend to lean that way most of the time. It should be a no-brainer.

However, maybe it’s the fallout of the lacklustre campaign but I’m just not feeling Andrea Horwath’s vibe. Rather than pick up where the federal NDP left off and run unabashedly with a left of centre platform, I’m feeling nickel and dimed by all the talk of capping gas prices, removing the HST from home heating fuels. On the other hand, they have promised to restart contributing to the TTC operating budget and other transit initiatives. But that feels almost ad hoc, not part of a bigger plan for cities.

Where’s the tapping into the Occupy Wall Street movement? It’s a shitstorm out there, people! Governments should not be retreating in the face scary economic news. We need to be talking Keynesian not deficit reduction. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

And then there’s our incumbent, Rosario Marchese. He may be a very nice man and a crackerjack constituent MPP. But how would I know? I never hear much from or about him until election time. Maybe it’s living in the shadow of MP Olivia Chow who keeps me apprised of everything she’s doing.  (What’s that you say, Olivia? A private member’s bill calling for a national transit strategy?) Marchese pales in comparion. But when he missed most of the Rogers’ candidates’ debate, it just struck me that he’s merely doing time.

Leaving me with the Green Party. Now, truth be told, I’ve never really known what to make of the Green Party. I get the environmental thrust but there’s also been the fiscal conservatism they’ve often touted. Some of the pledges in their platform come with the ‘when the budget’s balanced’ caveat. I’m sorry but with all the grim predictions making the rounds out there about an almost certain double-dip recession, budget balancing should be the last thing we’re talking about now.

That said, the Green Party candidate in Trinity-Spadina, Tim Grant, has caught my fancy. A former teacher who has been involved in the environmental movement since the days when most of us were asking, what’s that? He was a member of the Harbord Village Residents Association. His platform stresses biking and walking as much as public transit. Mr. Grant advocates a Junk Food Tax and a carbon tax. During both the Rogers’ candidates debate and on The Agenda’s Confronting Poverty, he came across as not only knowledgeable but collegial with his opponents.

On top of all that, he’s pictured riding a bicycle on his campaign signs!

I realize that in voting for Tim Grant, I’m doing little more than lodging a protest. There’s no hope in hell he’ll be elected. But I’m alright with that. Let it be known that I’m protesting the Liberal government and it’s too tentative embrace of a green economy in general and a strong, unapologetic public transit strategy. I’m sending out a protest to the provincial NDP. Don’t take my vote for granted. Out with the deadwood and in with new blood.

For all those reasons, tomorrow I will be voting for Tim Grant in the riding of Trinity-Spadina and The Green Party of Ontario.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr