Double Down On Blue

June 24, 2013

If nothing else, this $150 million latest Mayor Rob Ford-Queen’s Park brouhaha should lay wide open the very essence of our mayor’s fundamentally terminal approach to governing. punchyourselfA dullard’s populism that contradicts itself with every policy utterance and eats its own tail without so much a burp of self-awareness. He’s mad as hell but probably only because of who’s making the proposed cuts and the colour of their team’s jackets.

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t trust the province’s numbers one little bit and I’d like to see the work behind Royson James’ math or, at least, some context. It’s particularly galling to read the shiny remembrances of gold-standard fiscal management by the previous administration at City Hall from a guy who had few positive things to say about that matter in real time.

Even if the province is simply playing politics with this announcement, Mayor Ford has put himself in no position to fight back without looking like a massive hypocrite. potkettleThat may be of no consequence to him – he seems quite comfortable wearing that – but it does undercut his legitimacy and, by extension, the city’s.

You can’t claim the government you lead doesn’t have a revenue problem and then cry foul when some of that revenue is cut. Earlier this month the mayor was beating his chest about the $248 million surplus in 2012. So hey. You should be able to take a $50 million hit (the $150 rollback would be over a three year period) and accept a smaller surplus. Mayor Ford is on record hating those one time savings anyway.

You can’t go around cutting your own revenue stream (the VRT), threatening to reduce another (LTT) and keeping the main source impractically low (property taxes) and then stamp your feet and pop off when Queen’s Park does likewise. When the mayor came to power under the banner of getting the city’s financial house in order, he set about to cut spending. He demanded the same from the province. pleasesir1Get their fiscal house in order. Cut spending.

So they cut spending. To the city. Now he’s got a problem with that?

You can’t continually pick fights with your provincial overlords and not expect some pushback. Some pushback that is detrimental to the city you were elected to serve. Oh, it’s on, Mayor Ford declared, when he killed Transit City and demanded the province give him all the money to build his Sheppard subway or else he would unleash the electoral power of Ford Nation on them. They complied. The mayor reneged and got all partisan in the subsequent provincial election. There was no Ford Nation.

Like Junior Soprano told his nephew Tony, if he was going to come at him, he better come at him hard. Our mayor is all bluff, no bite to his bark. By now, everybody but the mayor and his brother realize that fact. juniorsopranoHis threatening gestures ring hollow.

You might actually feel for the guy if he was taking the fight to the province looking out for the best interests of Toronto. Increasingly however, it looks like anything but. Fuck, it isn’t even ideological with him. If it were, there might be some sense to it all, some straight line you could draw from intent to action.

More and more it just seems like nothing but a branding battle. The mayor and his brother are Conservative blue to the bone. Anything to do with Liberal red or NDP orange is automatically bad and must be fought. Both Fords, elected to represent the residents of Toronto, seem far more interested in changing the government at Queen’s Park than they do effectively running City Hall. bluemayorI think they’d happily sacrifice the best interests of the city if it meant the Tim Hudak Conservatives became the next government of Ontario.

In his unflagging support of local sports team, the Argos, the Leafs, the Jays, you might think he’s just doing his job as mayor acting the local booster. I think he just likes the colour blue. As both a sports fan and as the mayor of Toronto.

me-too-bluely submitted by Cityslikr


The Winning Formula

March 3, 2013

Unless they don’t already know that Mayor Ford is out on the campaign trail, anyone who decides to throw down and challenge him for his job next year will not have to battle with the element of surprise. georgchuvaloHe is nothing if not predictable, our mayor. Puts it all out there for everyone to see. TO poli’s very own George Chuvalo.

Fresh from squeaking by on a split decision at the Compliance Audit Committee last week and escaping any further examination of his 2010 campaign financing, the mayor did a media round with Sun News. Touting all the accomplishments from his first year in office, he then outlined what he’d be pushing for throughout the remainder of his term in office. “We’ve got the casino, we’ve got the Gardiner (Expressway) and we’ve got the election,” he said, counting on his fingers. “I think a lot of people are already in that election mode and just wrapping up a few loose ends and we’re going to be on the campaign trail.”

Oh, and don’t forget subways… err, ‘a long term transportation strategy’. No, OK. Just kidding. Subways.

“We’re going to be getting, guaranteed getting, subways,” the mayor said on his TV interview with David Menzies. Or ‘The Menzoid’. As most grown men who aren’t professional athletes or musicians prefer to go by their nickname.

“Everyone is doing polling in their area. We’re doing polling. cocktailnapkinideasI see the numbers and they see the numbers and when you ask about subways and why so and so didn’t support them, they’re not going to win the next election.”

“They realize that they have to support subways to get re-elected, it’s huge. That’s what people want especially out in Scarborough – they need a subway and I’m going to get subways for them.”

So heads-up all you would-be mayors and councillors. If the mayor has his way, 2014 is going to be all about subways. Subways, subways, subways. Deny the people subways at your political peril.

If that all sounds too one-track to sustain a campaign for 18 months or so, Team Ford has drawn up another line of attack. Flouting rules and then thumbing their noses at anyone who protests. Don’t like it? Sue me. Seriously. Sue me. I double dog dare you.

With the mayor away down in Florida, it came to light that his office was still soliciting funds from registered lobbyists for donations to his football foundation. Remember that, just a couple months weeks ago? nyahnyahEssentially the root cause of what lead to his near booting from office due to a conflict of interest over using office letterhead to solicit donations…from lobbyists….

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

According to Daniel Dale and David Rider of the Toronto Star, it appears the mayor (minus his office logo) sent out a donation request to one lobbyist on January 28th of this year. Three days after a winning appeal got him out from under his conflict of interest conviction. Three days, folks. Municipal Code of Conduct rules? What Municipal Code of Conduct rules?

The mayor’s brother-councillor Doug didn’t see the problem, saying the paper might want to focus on “something more interesting”. Although, why would he want them to do that? Toronto Star generated controversy seems to help Mayor Ford, says the conventional wisdom. “You guys are killing yourselves,” the councillor pointed out, “you can write whatever you want; the more you write, the more his (poll) numbers go up. It’s fact.”

Not just a Ford ‘fact’ either. But an actual fact.keeponkeepinon

According to a recent poll put out by Forum Research, despite all the time spent in court and the lack of any serious goals in governance since late-2011 or thereabouts, Mayor Ford’s numbers have ticked upwards, from a 42% approval rating in mid-December to 48% last week. The more people attempt to hold the mayor accountable for his actions, the more popular he seems to become. So instead of learning any sort of lesson about flying right and keeping their noses clean, they’re just keepin’ on keepin’ on.

So solicit lobbyists away! Bring another conflict of interest case against him. It’ll practically guarantee his re-election, we’re told. Hell, they’ll even further help your cause by having the mayor’s chief of staff respond to the allegations of lobbyist soliciting for a private foundation while on city time. There’s another conflict of interest case for you to take to the Integrity Commissioner.

And we all wring our hands, wondering how on earth to stop this seeming defier of common sense and political reckoning. eyeontheballIs there no way to counter his supernatural ability to fail to success?

Let me offer a word of advice in an attempt to soothe our troubled souls.

I know Rob Ford and his mayoralty is something of a conundrum and anomaly. But it’s still worthwhile to look at things from a historical perspective, to the same juncture of time in their first terms in office, his predecessors in amalgamated Toronto. With 18 months to go before re-election both Mel Lastman and David Miller were flying significantly higher than Rob Ford is. Neither man would face a serious contender in the subsequent campaigns. Lastman was re-elected with about 80% of the vote, Miller with 57%.

In the last full year of his second term, before the MFP scandal broke wide and after his handshake with a Hell’s Angel, Mel Lastman’s poll numbers dropped to 47%. While some City Hall watchers marvelled at his lingering popularity, others took it as a sign Mel’s days were numbered. koQualified candidates began lining up to challenge him the following year.

That should be the familiar scenario for us currently.

I’m not writing Mayor Ford’s political obituary here but the idea he can continue to blunder and bluster his way to a second term shouldn’t necessarily vex anyone. There’s some hard rain coming his way over the next few months. The expanding transit debate with the accompanying taxes and tolls. A casino, yes or no. Some tough, city defining slogging. It’s been some time since the mayor’s had a major political victory outside of a courtroom and his roster of council allies to help him out looks mighty thin and ragged at this point.

This is not a scenario that screams winning to me. Don’t give in to the spin. Viewed through a rational lens, this is a troubled administration with the barest of accomplishments to show for itself and a leader disinterested in almost everything else but campaigning. Team Ford might like those long shot odds. That doesn’t mean they’re still not long shot odds.

realistically submitted by Cityslikr


Those Friday Afternoon Transit Blues

September 21, 2012

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate This Week In Transit News at about a 4. The grade’s only that high because I’m trying to put my best foot forward. Smile on the outside when I’m really crying on the inside as I sift through and evaluate all the pertinent information.

It started with our federal government voting down a national transit strategy put forward in the House of Commons by the NDP. National Transit Strategy? Strategy? National? Sounds a little interventionist. The outcome was hardly a surprise.

That element was saved for a day or so later when Queen’s Park announced through their agency, Metrolinx, that the design, construction, building and operation of the Eglinton LRT was going to be outsourced as part of a public-private partnership. Take that, TTC! Who’s yer momma? Huh? Who’s yer momma, TTC? Say it. Say it! Metrolinx, baby! Metrolinx.

Now, I’ve been battling hard for the past couple days to suppress my gut reaction to the news. I don’t want to disappoint my friend Matt Elliott and be one of those on the left giving over to immediate, unthinking nayism. Maybe a viable case can be made for the move. Perhaps it is the first step toward a fully integrated regional transit system and, hopefully, that would be a good thing. Metrolinx’s track record to date in dealing with local concerns gives me pause however.

But for now, I’ll attempt to see the upside. The general consensus seems to be success or failure of the Eglinton LRT P3 will come down to the details of the agreement, how the ‘i’s are dotted and ‘t’s crossed. If the private sector can actually deliver the necessary transit at a lower cost, and if that’s the only element we’re looking for, I’ll hop aboard and go along for the ride.

I’d probably have more confidence in the whole thing if the McGuinty Liberals had any robust credibility on transit. I have long since concluded that Mayor Rob Ford has been nothing but manna from heaven for them, providing cover for a rather lacklustre, wishy-washy approach since they came to power in 2003. Announce big, deliver significantly less. What is now $8.4 billion for 4 LRT lines was once supposed to be 7 lines with an additional $4 billion in funding. Delay has followed delay and we’re now talking decades hence not years.

And remember that initial election promise of restoring provincial funding for half the TTC’s annual operating budget? Nine years on. Tick tock, tick tock.

As if to add insult to injury, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli seems to be suggesting that once the Eglinton LRT is up and going and the TTC no longer runs buses along the street, the money it saves should be handed over to the private company running the LRT. Yeah, really. Of course, our mayor is otherwise occupied and hasn’t weighed in on the matter to defend the city’s interests, leaving that – along with almost all matters dealing with transit — up to the TTC Chair, Karen Stintz.

Defenders of the province will, with much justification certainly, point to our electing of Rob Ford as mayor and the subsequent subway-versus-LRT battle as a prime example of the city not being a serious player in this transit debate. They wouldn’t be wrong. Toronto took a big step backward on many fronts when Rob Ford became mayor.

But I’d argue, at least on the transit file, the city righted itself. The TTC chair took control, sidelined the mayor and his most ardent supporters and got everything back on track. (Yeah. I just wrote that). All of it done without any assistance from the province who, when it mattered most, indulged Mayor Ford’s subways, subways, subways fantasy and further exploited the situation by delaying the start of the Sheppard LRT construction yet again, making it vulnerable to any changes in power at either City Hall or Queen’s Park.

It’s all part of a familiar pattern for the McGuinty Liberals of appearing to be just slightly less worse than the other guy. Think they’re bad on public transit? Look at Toronto and Mayor Ford. We may be outsourcing control of the Eglinton LRT but remember Mike Harris buried the subway there.

I am trying to keep an open mind but the province inspires little confidence. Rather than see the move to a P3 as a cost containment measure, it just smacks of outsourcing responsibility and governance. I’m willing, though, to be convinced otherwise.

forced smiledly submitted by Cityslikr


Queen’s Park Strangers

July 3, 2012

“Too much time has been wasted,” intoned Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli last week, “and we need shovels in the ground and improvements to public transit starting now. There is no time left to waste.”

All reports suggest he said this with a straight face.

If it wasn’t obvious before, it couldn’t be any clearer now: the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto has been nothing less than manna from heaven for the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. In the havoc Mayor Ford’s wreaked on this city’s transit file (havoc the provincial government could’ve stemmed if it so chose but more on that later), Queen’s Park has been able to cover its tracks, hiding nearly a decade of neglect and indecisive mishandling of such a vital portfolio. So much so, that after TTC Chair Karen Stintz launched what was nothing more than an embryonic idea about further transit expansion in Toronto with One City, Minister Chiarelli was able to condescendingly brush it aside as a ‘future-looking concept’ with ‘a lot of merit’ but – and hold your stitches together with this — “We must not and cannot allow further council debate and delay,” the minister said. “Transit in a city like Toronto isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The stones on these guys. Really.

For the past 17 years, transit in this city has been little more than a political football to successive provincial governments of both red and blue stripes. Kicked and punted this way and that, depending on the direction the winds were blowing, there hasn’t been anything really resembling an overall strategy as much as there’s been basic calculated ad hockery.  While the current transportation minister mouths the word ‘necessity’ in terms of transit, it’s really only been about expediency from Queen’s Park for some time now.

1995.

The newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris decides to bury the already in progress Eglinton subway line. Unaffordable. So we’ll wait a decade and a half when the costs of building transit inevitably come down and we can have this debate all over again in its entirety.

Later on as a sop to then Mayor Mel Lastman, the Tories OK a Sheppard subway line. This little stub of a thing contributes little to alleviating congestion much. In fact, it only seems to be helping load up the Yonge subway line to past capacity. It also serves as a flashpoint to the great subway debate of 2010-12, a key element to the delays the transportation minister bemoans.

And then there was the decision to stop funding the provincial half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, a decision that candidate for premier McGuinty promised to reverse if elected but has yet to get around to nearly 9 years on in his mandate. Taking a very conservative estimate, say $150 million a year, for 17 years now, that adds up to some $2.5 billion that the TTC and taxpayers of Toronto have had to shoulder or simply dispense with for the better part of a generation now. That’s a lot of expansion of services deferred and new technologies ignored.

What Mike Harris taketh away, Dalton McGuinty hath kept tucked away.

And like his predecessor, Premier McGuinty also bestowed upon the city a subway that had more to do with politics than with practicality. The Yonge-University subway line extension up to Vaughan was hardly where a new subway was needed most. Transit? Sure. But a subway? If there, why not Scarborough was a legitimate question asked during this spring’s transit debate. Until you elect a high ranking member of the provincial government, Scarborough, might’ve been the actual answer.

Then there’s Transit City.

Until we elected Mayor Ford in 2010, the main culprit in the delays in implementation of Transit City has been at the provincial level. Originally planned to build 7 new LRT lines and upgrading the Scarborough RT, along with new rapid bus lanes, Queen’s Park blanched in the face of the economic meltdown in 2008 and pulled funding that reduced the plan to 3 new LRT lines and the work on the Scarborough RT. (What’s that again about transit in Toronto being a necessity, Minister Chiarelli?) This reversal signalled that Transit City was subject to change and opened the door for Mayor Ford to crayon in a few alterations of his own.

As our friend David Hains pointed out last week, the Liberal government seems to have a selective memory when it comes to what, who and when modifications to a plan can occur. While brushing aside One City with a pithy ‘the train has already left the station’ bon mot from Minister Chiarelli, they weren’t as decisive when Mayor Ford unilaterally declared Transit City dead in December of 2010. Fearing for their own political future in the face of the supposed might of Ford Nation, Queen’s Park played along with the charade, allowing the debate to drag on until city council itself sorted things out. Now, it’s like, time’s up, folks. The clock is ticking. Time is money.

This is not to absolve Toronto city council of all responsibility for the transit woes it now faces. We elected an obvious anti-public transit mayor in Rob Ford. We demanded our councillors repeal the VRT and put further pressure on our own ability to pay our share of things. The subway-versus-LRT debate revealed a continued parochialism running deep throughout the city.

But, as they say, a fish rots from the head down. (I don’t know if that’s true but the saying comes in handy at the moment). This city and this region have suffered from a provincial leadership vacuum on transit for nearly two decades now. At least. $6 billion in lost productivity due to traffic congestion per year in the GTA and Metrolinx’s report on funding ideas for its Big Move isn’t expected until June of 2013. If still in office then that will be almost 10 years after the McGuinty government took over power. It hardly screams urgent or not a luxury but a necessity for transit from them.

So you’ll have to excuse me, my dismissal of the provincial government as honest or serious brokers on this issue. It reminds me of my favourite line from The Sopranos. “They shit on our heads and want us to thank them for the hat.”

snittily submitted by Cityslikr


TTC Capo

June 30, 2012

I often imagine what it was like behind the scenes back in the heady days of the fall of `10, just after Rob Ford’s surprise mayoral victory. Transitioning into power, drawing up their enemies candidates list for positions in the administration. The only absolute condition was a shared visceral antipathy toward the mayor-elect’s predecessor. Also, being yes men toadies a must.

“So, Stintzie wants to run the TTC. What do you think?”

“Ummm… Don’t know. Did she hate Miller as much as I did?”

“Nobody hated Miller as much as you, Robbie.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I fucking hated that guy. But you think she respects the taxpayers enough? Remember those voice lessons she paid for out of her office expenses?”

“As long as she votes with us to cut those expenses, we can let bygones be bygones. But I’ll tell you what. If she’s still thinking about ever running for mayor—”

“I will crush her. Ford Nation will tear her apart. Like LT snapping Theismann’s leg, Crrrr-acckkk!”

“That’s the thing, Robbie. You won’t have to. The shit we’re going to do to the TTC. Cuts… cuts… cuts–”

“You know who else I fucking hate, Dougie? Jerry Webster. Can we so fire that guy?”

“Why not. You’re the mayor now. You can do anything.”

“Yeah… sweet. Can we go home now?”

“It’s like 11 a.m. There’s still stuff to do.”

“Fine.”

“Stop pouting.”

“I’m not. You’re pouting.”

“The thing about being the TTC boss is that we’re going to so mess it up but it’ll be their face attached, you see what I’m saying?”

“… no… not really.”

“Doesn’t matter. Just trust me on this, OK? It’s a good move. We’re going to vote for Stintzie to be TTC Chair.”

“Hey. Whatever you say. You’re the boss.”

“And it’s also good, she’s a girl.”

“Is it?”

“… I think so, yeah. Why wouldn’t it be good?”

“Dunno. Why would it be?”

“… Yo, Adrienne! It’d be good to have a chick run the TTC, right?”

With that scene (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), Councillor Karen Stintz became TTC Chair Karen Stintz and dutifully fulfilled her role as a loyal Team Ford member, standing silently by as the mayor killed Transit City and obediently overseeing a 10% cut to the department’s budget when asked. She pretty much did what the mayor and almost everyone expected her to do.

And then, then she went rogue. No, check that. She went Michael Corleone on Team Ford’s asses.

I’m unprepared to attach motives to the about face. The better angel of my nature, that blackened, wizened, flightless better angel, likes to think she simply grew into her position. Listening to staff and other knowledgeable voices around her, she slowly realized Mayor Ford’s transit plan, such as it was, was unworkable. Way back last October, she raised a red flag of concern about how they were going to tunnel the Eglinton LRT across the Don Valley.

When then TTC General Manager Gary Webster backed her view that LRTs might be the smartest way forward, the mayor and his TTC commissioner boys iced him at the proverbial toll booth. If their goal was to intimidate the TTC Chair back into line, it failed spectacularly. In retaliation, she offs the mayor’s men on the TTC commission, emerging from the fracas in The Limey style.

Tell them I’m coming! I’m fucking coming.

(Yes, municipal politics came be this cinematic.)

It was all downhill for the mayor from that point. In short order, he was pushed, kicking and screaming Subways! Subways! Subways, to the sidelines. Transit City revived in all but name. And then this week, the TTC Chair and her Vice-Chair unveiled a much grander, 30 year transit plan called One City that lit up the switchboards for about 2 days before the province went out of its way to throw cold water on it. (That’s for another post entirely. Suffice to say, the premier and Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation might be well served noting how our TTC Chair dealt with the mayor when he crossed her.)

How One City grew to even see the light of day is, if nothing else, instructive as to how Toronto can actually govern itself in the absence of mayoral leadership. Take a moment to read John McGrath’s account of it at Open File, Don Peat’s in the Toronto Sun and David Rider’s in the Star. It is a microcosm of how council can and should be working together on vital initiatives for the city. A centre-right, centrist and two left wing councillors setting aside ideological differences in order to put forth a discussion paper on how to move forward on building a transit system Toronto so desperately needs. A discussion neither the mayor is capable of conducting and our dark overlords at Queen’s Park are unwilling to consider.

If nothing else, this latest transit saga has shown what is possible in a leadership vacuum when a politician sees that normal operating procedures don’t apply and decides to fill in the void constructively. Karen Stintz, arguably a councillor of little consequence during her first two terms in office, has seized the “opportunity” given her under this malignantly negligent administration and made a mark in a file not usually known for its generosity toward those toiling within its parameters. It’s a lesson others granted positions of power under Mayor Ford could well learn from and act upon.

auteurly submitted by Cityslikr