Let’s Just Stop Pretending

September 21, 2015

Behind-the-scenes, staff have been working with a new model being developed in conjunction with the University of Toronto. That model will be used to provide new ridership numbers for the [proposed Scarborough] subway, which is backed by Mayor John Tory.

This should be setting off alarm bells, shouldn’t it?transitmodel

Unless some transit planner can assure me that ridership prediction models are routinely adapted and altered to fit every situation, that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for each and every proposed transit project, this sounds, I don’t know, problematic.

A word the city’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, used back in July.

If the objective here is to parse the planning analysis [for the proposed Scarborough subway] that was on the floor of council as being problematic, I would like to suggest: Yes. We didn’t go through a fulsome process. We were not given the opportunity to go through a fulsome process. We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.

“We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.”

But now, “behind-the-scenes”, a new model to provide ridership numbers for the proposed Scarborough subway – which Mayor Tory fully supports — is being developed. Abacktothedrawingboardnd we’re expected to believe this will be a ‘fulsome process’ not in any way ‘politically driven’?

Can we just admit, right here, right now, that the proposed Scarborough subway extension eastward of the Bloor-Danforth line is nothing but ‘politically driven’? Take that variable from the equation and there is no ridership projection model anybody can design that will justify that subway in any fulsome, rational way. Let’s accept the fact the only reason we’re even still discussing such a prospect is because politicians in Scarborough (backed by a majority of other suburban city councillors) of every stripe and at every level saw it/feared it as a potent wedge issue, one they could stake/save their political careers on. It wasn’t so much Scarborough Deserves A Subway as it was We Deserve To Be Re-Elected.

This way, by being frank about the true motivation behind the Scarborough subway, that it’s nothing but politics, we can stop putting city staff into compromised positions, to paraphrase our chief planner. pinocchioWe can stop wasting their time and our money concocting reports and models for no other reason than to put a smiley face and nice bow on what is nothing more than crass, self-interested politics. Be bold, Scarborough subway supporters. As they say, the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.

Yes, there is a serious projected ridership problem with the proposed subway. Recognize it, solve it. Not with new models and reports, just by accepting it and stating honestly: You don’t care. You want a subway. You deserve a subway. You don’t give a fuck about any implications like costs, the inevitable heavy reliance on operating subsidies, the fact that a subway will barely make a dent in providing better public transit to Scarborough.

Embrace your acceptance of pursuing bad public policy for personal electoral gain. Be honest with us. You’ll get high marks for that, at least.

initforyourself

And, it’ll free up staff time to get on with trying to keep the city functioning in the face of your continued self-interested assault on it.

honestly submitted by Cityslikr


BREAKING: ANOTHER PANDERING POLITICIAN

August 14, 2015

newsflash

—–WE INTERRUPT THIS REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POSTING TO BRING YOU SOME BREAKING NEWS. FEDERAL NDP LEADER THOMAS MULCAIR IS IN TORONTO TO ANNOUNCE THE APPOINTMENT OF A STAR CANDIDATE TO A RIDING NOT LOCATED IN SCARBOROUGH—–

[PRESS]: Scarborough subway. Yea or nay?

[THOMAS MULCAIR]: If elected in October, an NDP government will, working with our provincial and municipal partners, develop a National Transit Strategy which will include delivering more money to cities in order for them to begin rebuilding their transit infrastructure that has been sadly neglected and abandoned by previous federal governments.

[PRESS]: Scarborough subway. Yea or nay?

[TM]: Well, it is hardly in the purview of the federal government to be weighing in on specific, local transit project decisions, to show up with an oversized novelty cheque in order to pander for votes or score political points. As I said, if elected in October, an NDP government will, working with our provincial and municipal partners, develop a National Transit Strategy which will include delivering more money to cities in order for them to begin rebuilding their transit infrastructure that has been sadly neglected and abandoned by previous federal governments.

—–WE NOW SEND YOU BACK TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POSTING—–

You’re welcome, you fucking idiots.

**sigh**

saddrinking

already-fed-upply by Cityslikr


Once Upon A Time There Was A Transit Plan…

August 12, 2015

Transit planning in Toronto is becoming more and more like one of the fables of yore. Tales told to teach children a valuable moral lesson. grimmFailure to absorb said counsel would result in rather… a-hem, a-hem… grim doings like throwing an old blind woman into an oven or cutting off your toe to fit into a shoe. Not so much happy-endings as, can you fucking believe what just happened?!

Read yesterday’s Toronto Star article from Royson James, Politicians ignore disaster coming down the track, and decipher the moral of the story, if you dare. Massaged ridership numbers. Deliberately downplayed costs. Overt political meddling in the planning process. What glimmer of enlightenment do you glean, standing as we do right now in the dark, foreboding forest?

Here, Little Red Riding Hood. Take this basket of goodies to your ailing grandmother. grimm1Take the shortcut to grannie’s house through that wolf-infested thicket of woods.

What could possibly go wrong?

Which is exactly where we’re sitting, waiting for staff reports to come back this fall on the feasibility of Mayor John Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan as well as the alignment of choice for the Scarborough subway. Here, Toronto. Take this basket of goodies to your transit ailing system. Please ignore the wolves at your door.

What could possibly go wrong?

Now, it’s easy to cast the villain in this tale. Emerging from under the bridge, Rob “Subways, Subways, Subways” Ford plays the ogre. Once with the perceived power to do so (what politicians like to call their ‘mandate’) in his grasp, he killed off a perfectly good and provincially funded transit plan with no realistic alternative in place. grimm3Just killed it dead. Because he could.

The fact is, however, Rob Ford is nothing more than the inciting incident of this story. His madness could’ve been stopped in its tracks by people wielding far more power than he did. While city council was probably correct in not forcing him to bring his Transit City Dead motion immediately up for a vote during his brief but impressive ascendancy, and handing him an “official” stamp of approval, others could’ve stood firm in the face of his onslaught.

That is the real moral of this story. Political cravenness and calculation in the face of inchoate populism. Good governance brushed aside for good poll numbers. Doing the right thing? Define the word ‘right’.

Lies added to lies, multiplied by lies to the power of three. Compounded lies, all in the service of expediency and to the detriment of public policy. Everyone became a subway champion (under and above ground). Remember. grimm2Don’t take what you think is the best course possible. Take the one that’s most popular.

That’s the lesson of Toronto’s transit fable. Have no conviction. Disregard facts and evidence. Cater first and foremost to popular opinion. (I mean, come on. It’s not like I’m the only person advocating we burn the witch, am I right? Burn the witch! Burn the witch!!) Never, no matter what, whatever you do, stand up to a bully especially if he really, really popular. No good can come of it.

It’s a morality tale devoid of any morality or ethics. A story with far more villains than heroes. Taking and retaining power is all that matters, kids. If you want to get ahead in this life, best void yourselves of scruples as soon as you can. Integrity and principles are for suckers, boys and girls. Learn that now and save yourself a boatload of anguish and misery later.

The End.

grimly submitted by Cityslikr


Old New Is Still Bad News

July 18, 2015

For anybody following along with the surreal and torturous Scarborough subway debate for the past 5 years, none of this comes as any sort of surprise. The ridership numbers, the cost estimates were all highly suspect, right from the outset.hardofhearing Then mayor Rob Ford was the prime pusher behind the idea for a new Scarborough subway. How could the numbers be anything but questionable?

“Should there have been an extensive due-diligence process before those numbers were quoted and used publicly? Yes,” Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat told the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro. “Was there? No.”

In the post-Gary Webster era at City Hall, it’s not hard to comprehend how staff did their upmost to tell their political masters what they wanted to hear especially when it came to public transit. The former TTC General Manager was forced to walk the plank when he publically expressed an opinion in support of building LRTs instead of subways. It clearly wasn’t safe for staff to be laying their cards on the table.

With the provincial transportation body, Metrolinx, demanding an almost immediate decision from city council on how to proceed with the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (a decision the province itself had its own vested opinion about), city staff had been given a couple weeks to come up with a report, a report that many councillors were going to use by any means necessary to justify their support for a subway extension into Scarborough.

If the objective here is to parse the planning analysis that was on the floor of council as being problematic, I would like to suggest: Yes. We didn’t go through a fulsome process. We were not given the opportunity to go through a fulsome process. We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.

“A politically driven process,” according to the chief planner, that wound up inflating ridership numbers to within the acceptable range for building a subway, 14,000 at peak hours. Where that number came from, nobody quite knows. Somewhere from within the planning department, it seems. fingerscrossedbehindbackA number not “necessarily documented”, according to the city director of transportation planning, Tim Laspa, but a number “discussed in meetings.”

Not that the numbers matter now. “Irrelevant” today, says Keesmaat. Not that they ever mattered during the debate. This story’s prime villain, Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, says he supported the subway regardless of ridership numbers simply on a matter of “fairness”. “Scarborough should have equal access to transit with other areas.”

That’s nonsense, of course.

Scarborough would be better served, more fairly served by implementing the full LRT plan that was part of Transit City. That’s just a plain fact.

But as we’re learning more explicitly now, as many of us have known since 2010, facts have very little to do with this debate. City staff found the environment for reporting facts toxic to their careers. Facts proved to be inconvenient to mayoral ambitions and other political opportunism. notlisteningHell, facts didn’t even have to be factual.

Who knows if this news is coming in too late. Shovels are not yet in the ground but it still feels like the fix is in. What is obvious at this point, though, is it’s going to cost us a lot of money, a lot, a shit tonne of money, stretching out for decades, to go on ignoring the facts as they continue to come to light. An expensive ignoring of facts that won’t, in the end, make much more than a dent in our already woefully under-performing public transit system.

still angrily submitted by Cityslikr


A Terrible Plan Made Even Worse

July 17, 2015

Adding insult to injury that is the oozing sore of transit plans, the Scarborough subway, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reported today that, according city council rules, the vote to revert from the already underway LRT eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to a subway never should have occurred in the first place.

In the end, [Speaker] Nunziata ignored advice from city staff and ruled the motion [to re-open the LRT/subway debate] was properly before council. It passed with a 35-9 vote — opening the door for Ford and others to ultimately cancel plans for the LRT in favour of the more expensive subway option.

This, after a 24 hour scramble that had seen the speaker first stop the motion’s mover, Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaeker, from moving the motion on procedural grounds, then agreeing to rule on it later and seeking help from the mayor’s office in wording the ruling she would subsequently give that ultimately re-opened the debate.

But city clerk Watkiss told the Star the speaker is only permitted to give rulings she herself or the clerk has written. She also said the city’s procedural bylaws set out that the Speaker must give procedural reasons for her ruling.

“The [then mayor Rob Ford’s then chief of staff] Towhey ruling was not a proper procedural ruling, but a policy ruling, and the Speaker needs to give procedural rulings,” Watkiss wrote in an email. “She should not be ruling on the basis of policy as she needs to maintain a measure of independence.”

Still Speaker Nunziata’s response to that?

“Council procedures dictate that while the speaker may consult with the Clerk prior to ruling on a matter, it is ultimately the speaker who decides the way in which he/she will rule.”

Rules? M’eh. Whatever.

While it should not be overlooked that, despite the very questionable manner in which it came about, city council could’ve voted to keep the Scarborough subway debate closed, and chose instead to re-open it , overwhelmingly so, we should perhaps be even more alarmed at how easily rules and procedures at city council can be discarded and ignored.

Is that simply the price that gets paid living in a free-wheeling democracy? gavelOur elected officials are the ultimate decision-makers and the civil service, the bureaucracy, sits in place merely to advise not instruct? When the chips are down, a true democracy cannot be hamstrung by the rules and procedures — not put in place but adjudicated by – unelected officials?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. It seems to me that if rules and procedures are being contravened, those in charge of upholding them, in this case the city clerk staff, should be in a position to, at the very least, make loud noises that the rules and procedures are being violated, if not stop the violations dead in their tracks. You can’t do that, Madam/Mister Speaker.

Does that overstep unspoken boundaries, undercutting the democratic process?

More clear, perhaps, is that the position of Speaker (and Deputy Speaker, natch) at city council ought not to be left in the hands of the mayor’s office to appoint. As it stands now, like chairs of standing committees, the Speaker of city council is put forward by the mayor and pretty much rubber-stamped by a city council vote. It is extremely difficult to remove them once they’re in place.

If, as the current speaker believes, it is the role of the speaker to ultimately decide “the way in which he/she will rule”, maybe their allegiance shouldn’t be owed to the one person who put them in place, the mayor, but to the wider body, city council itself. “In order to maintain a measure of independence,” as city clerk Ulli Watkiss suggested, the speaker needs to answer directly to city council not via the mayor’s office. youcantdothatWhy not have city council truly elect a speaker (and deputy speaker, natch) rather than simply sign off on the mayor’s recommendation?

It’s hard to imagine how anyone in the position of speaker could ‘maintain a measure of independence’ while looking over their shoulder at the mayor who put them in the job, a mayor who can assume the speaker’s chair whenever the fancy strikes them. So it should come as no surprise that, in this particular case, the speaker actually went to the mayor’s office for help in writing a ruling. If your view of the job you’re doing is to act as a mouthpiece, why not get your instructions directly from the horse’s mouth?

Whose interest does the speaker of city council represent, the mayor’s office or city council itself? The answer to that will determine who you think should really be running the city.

searchingly submitted by Cityslikr


Damn The Torpedoes

May 27, 2015

Despite protestations to the contrary, it appears as if the Scarborough subway will be open to further debate. At our mayor’s behest no less. To build more of it.wtf

Good god.

Yesterday the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro wrote about the behind-the-scenes mad scramble of the Team Tory’s increasingly desperate attempt to square the circle of building SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway, two lines of high order transit that threaten to gobble up each others’ ridership numbers, inflicting on one, possibly both of them, a bad case of white elephantitis.

“SmartTrack, which Tory largely staked his election campaign on and which hinges on the use of existing GO rail in the east, can’t be moved,” Pagliaro states. “The subway, which he also promised to build, can. At what cost, however?”moneytoburn

In order to keep what was a questionable from the outset campaign transit pledge (‘bold’, as his team called it), Mayor Tory is prepared to start burning through (more) money, expand an equally dubious transit project and wreak even further havoc on an already havoc-wreaked transit system.

This, at the same time he’s determined to ignore a growing mountain of expert advice recommending against his (again, hastily drawn up) “hybrid” option to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated.

Our mayor, it should by now be apparent, is a big proponent, like his predecessor in the job, of what the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Armine Yalnizyan referred to on MetroMorning today as, “decision based evidence making”.notlistening

Or, politics trump good policy, hands down. Every time. No matter what.

What kind of position does this leave city staff in (which is what I was writing about when the Star transit story broke)? What purpose do they serve a politician determined to only listen to them when there’s agreement? Props, to be used to buttress an argument when it suits or to rail against when not. Bureaucracy! Red tape! A culture of no!

Last week, when the city’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, spoke out unequivocally in favour of removing the Gardiner east, Mayor Tory shrugged, saying she was certainly entitled to her opinion.

“But I’ve sort of set out my own position. She’s set out hers,” the mayor said.squarepeg

As if by merely taking a position, having an opinion makes it valid for no other reason than its existence.

That is not to say politicians are obliged to carry out staff recommendations. We don’t vote for our civil service. It, and our elected representatives, ultimately serves at the people’s pleasure in a democracy.

To simply wave such advice off, however, sum it up as little more than competing points of view undermines the very idea of the civil service. Why bother if you’re simply going to ignore them when it’s politically expedient to do so? Somebody’s got to create the reports we need to show voters we’re not beholden to some unelected body. Come on. Are we going to let some egghead know-it-alls tell us what kind of city we want to live in? Not on my watch.

City staff, filled with expertise, certainly don’t get it right all the time. Anyone can look at a finished development or cite a flawed traffic study and conclude, What were they thinking? Our civil service is not infallible.

Should they be treated as just another opinion, though? Oplottingliver Moore of the Globe and Mail pointed out in the Toronto Star story how the mayor’s staff seemed to be telling the chief planner where subway stops needed to go. Are you fucking kidding me? In Mayor Tory’s Toronto, common sense equals supplanting expertise with political calculation.

Campaign governance. That was the Ford era speciality, now infecting the Tory administration. There is no amount of money too rich, no plan too outrageous that musn’t be pursued to the bitter, ugly end if it’s been slapped on a campaign lawn sign or featured prominently in the campaign literature. Sure, in retrospect that idea I floated while running for office seems misguided and completely unworkable but I said it, so now I have to do it.

Damn your torpedoes, man! Damn them straight to hell!!

Once more, political strategy defeats city building, leadership by poll tracking rather than informed consensus building. Don’t tell me what we need to do. damnthetorpedoesTell me how I get to do what I want to do.

Few should be surprised that’s the territory Mayor Tory’s operating in. The depth to which he’s prepared to wade into it, well, that’s somewhat shocking. He’s proving to be as comfortably shameless as the administration he chased from office, two points converging on the nexus of pure and unadulterated self-interest at the expense of a city that had closed its eyes and crossed its fingers in the hopes of something different.

sinkingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Legacy Left In The Blink Of An Eye

April 15, 2015

It should come as little surprise, given the magnitude of clusterfuckery inflicted on this city for the past 4+ years now, that the defining moments of John Tory’s mayoralty are coming fast and furious at him. junkintheclosetThe chicks have come home to roost as they say. Unfortunately, they hatched from eggs he didn’t lay but, now in charge of the coop, he’s obliged to raise and tend to them.

I’ve extended that analogy as far as I care to. The drift, I imagine, you get.

There’s the matter of the Scarborough subway. A white elephant of a boondoggle waiting to happen that’s going to cost the city billions of dollars unnecessarily and has already shown up on our tax bills for the past two years. During last year’s campaign, John Tory had the opportunity to flash his fiscal bonafides and renounce the scheme as little more than political pandering. He didn’t. He said, what’s done is done, there’s no use opening up that debate again. Mayor John Tory has kept that campaign pledge, steadfastly refusing to reconsider a bad decision despite the fact that all early indications suggest a Scarborough subway will compete for ridership with the south eastern portion of his own signature transit plan, SmartTrack.sweepundertherug

Rather than rise above this parochial politics which will threaten to limit the city’s ability to pay for other big ticket capital projects in the not too distant future, Mayor Tory blinked. Maybe a forthcoming staff report will provide enough cover for him to still scuttle the plans before the worst is done. Even so, that’s not what you’d call sound leadership.

About that gaping budget hole left behind by the previous city council? John Tory assured us during the 2014 campaign that he, and only he, could heal the rift wrought by the Ford administration with the provincial government. He, and only he, could smooth the ruffled feathers and bring Queen’s Park back to the table, pockets bursting with money to ante up for long forgotten obligations they could now get back to funding. Like transit and social housing, just to pick a couple of the more important ones.

In fact, what’s happened since his election is that the city has paid more back to the province than it’s received. $95 million for the Union-Pearson rail link. sweepundertherug2Some $50 million to cover the provincial shortfall on the Spadina subway expansion. And as for that $86 million hole from the withdrawal of the social program pooling compensation? Yeah, no dice.

At which point, Mayor Tory might’ve had the responsible budget conversation with Torontonians, informing us that, for the moment, we were on our own to balance the budget and to do that we needed to talk seriously about additional revenues, higher than hoped for property tax increase for example. This was another of those defining moments, a mess not of his own making that he now had to clean up. The mayor demurred, choosing instead to pretend he’d fixed the problem. Much like his predecessor.

Unlike his predecessor, Mayor Tory decided to directly address the matter of policing in Toronto, assuming a spot on the Police Services Board rather than designate a representative. A bold move, to be sure, with a union contract to be settled, a new chief to be appointed and a number of prickly, outstanding community issues, police carding at the top of that list. This mayor was not going to run and hide from any of it.

The contract was settled quietly and amicably, it seems. sweepundertherug1The wage increase of 8.64% over 4 years isn’t outrageous out of context but it is difficult to see how it’ll bring the overall police budget, the largest single item the city has to deal with, north of $1 billion annually, into the lean machine the mayor is demanding of other city departments. Not to worry, we were assured during the budget process. Money had been set aside for such a pay increase.

The new police chief has yet to be named with the current chief, Bill Blair, set to retire near the end of this month. But at least, the carding issue has been resolved, a happy compromise reached for everyone concerned. A ‘landmark’, the mayor called it. “We cannot live in a city where young black men, for example, feel devalued or disrespected.” Hoo-rah!

Except that it seems we are. Within a matter of days, the so-called compromise unravelled into acrimonious disagreement. It satisfied almost none of the concerns the public had with the procedure, ranging from the ultimate fate of any collected information through to the informing of the public’s right of refusal to simply walk away from any interaction with the police. sweepundertherug3After claiming the compromise struck the right balance, the Police Services Board chair, Alok Mukherjee, now suggests it simply wasn’t worth it “to go to war with the chief.”

“We were getting nowhere,” Mukherjee confessed. “There was a standoff. We were at an impasse.” In short, the police chief refused to accept direction from the board, thumbed his nose at civilian oversight. He was on his way out. Know when to pick your battles, more or less.

So now, the naming of the next police chief looms large for Mayor Tory. The choice will undoubtedly reflect intensely on his mayoralty. As he likes to remind us, he was elected to shake up the status quo. We shall see while not holding our breath.

Up next in the mayor’s legacy making tour, the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway has popped up onto the political radar. Again. This has been years in the making (and delaying) but it seems crunch time has landed right in Mayor Tory’s lap. (That sounded a lot more risqué than I intended.) sweepundertherug4This one’s already been kicked down the road as far as it can be.

The most sensible thing for anyone who isn’t one of the few drivers who uses that part of the Gardiner to get around the city is to tear it down from Jarvis street east. Replace it with a similar kind of boulevard design that happened when a previous part of the expressway was ripped own. Free that area of the city of the blight that comes from elevated thoroughfares. Step fully into the 21st-century.

But, you know, drivers. They’ll get mad. On talk radio yesterday, the mayor said people are always going to drive. So, you know, don’t rule out catering to their every demand. Drivers.

The previous council refused to make a decision. The hybrid plan – rejuvenate and rejig don’t remove the expressway — was offered up as a compromise. John Tory touted it specifically during the campaign. He was, after all, the compromise candidate.

Now that the bill has come in, and the price tag for such a compromise is so astronomical, nearly double the tear down option, nearly another billion dollars simply in order to keep car drivers happy, just how compromised is Mayor Tory?shinethoseshoes

Defining moments aren’t always time based. They happen when they happen, heedless of our orderly sensibilities and reliance on retrospective. Time isn’t on Mayor John Tory’s side. Through previous neglect and avoidance, these weighty, significant issues have piled up, their expiry dates come due. His chances are coming fast and furious. If it hasn’t yet, judgement will arrive early.

judgmentally submitted by Cityslikr