The Golden Rule

September 17, 2013

When it was announced last week that Anne Golden had been approached by the Ontario government to head up a panel to look at revenue generation to go toward building transit in the GTHA, hidebehindI joked that we should all be very excited as Queen’s Park has a history of listening to recommendations made by a panel chaired by Ms. Golden. Listening perhaps, then ignoring.

OK, joke may be too strong a word for it. That would suggest the statement was funny. More sagging, really. Under the weight of bitter, disillusioned sarcasm.

But it did get me thinking about the old Golden Report on the governance, competitiveness blah, blah, blah of the GTA, commissioned back in the twilight of the Bob Rae government. Delivered up to the Mike Harris crew in the early days of that government, it was greeted largely with a shrug. It wasn’t something they’d asked for.

That’s not exactly true either. The Harris Tories did use the report as a little bit of cover in the next couple years as they descended into an amalgamation frenzy including the one here in Toronto. Reading through Andrew Sancton’s account of what happened, shrugAmalgamations, Service Realignment, and Property Taxes: Did the Harris Government Have a Plan for Ontario’s Municipalities?, the immediate impression is of the ad hoc nature of it all.

To begin with, the idea of amalgamation wasn’t really on the party’s radar when it sat on the opposition benches at Queen’s Park. It certainly wasn’t a key part of the Common Sense Revolution. Here’s Mike Harris speaking in 1994, less than a year before he took over the reins of power.

There is no cost to a municipality to maintain its name and identity. Why destroy our roots and pride? I disagree with restructuring because it believes that bigger is better. Services always cost more in larger communities. The issue is to find out how to distribute services fairly and equally without duplicating services.

Bigger isn’t better? “Services always cost more in larger communities”? This was the exact opposite of what we were being told by the provincial government when they were ramming the megacity down our throats. aboutfaceHow times changed.

Sixteen years on, water under the bridge aside from pointing out that the 1994 Mike Harris was right about amalgamations while Premier Mike Harris was wrong. The change of heart might be easier to accept if there’d been a straight forward reason why he did what he did but there really didn’t seem to be.

Sure, there was the desire to bury the dissenting voice of the old city of Toronto’s council under the more friendly voices of the suburban municipalities but that seems to be just a small part of it. The Tories also wanted to remove the taxation power of school boards and put them on a tight fiscal leash. Plus, the whole matter of updating the property tax system was also in play.

Perhaps as important as any of these, the provincial government needed to keep a campaign promise of reducing government. Any ol’ government would do, regardless of the consequences. Six municipalities into one, plus Metro council? A double fucking trifecta.

Keeping up appearances, in other words. This anti-government government eliminating levels of government. It would make for good re-election campaign literature.

There are echoes of this jumbled miasma of reasoning currently going on with our whole heave-ho debate on transit. Everybody knows that the region’s public transit system is substandard. decisionsdecisions1Everybody knows that we’re going to have to pay substantially for the necessarily substantial expansion.

That seems to be where the agreement ends. Who pays? Who knows. What gets built where? Another head shaker. There are metrics to quantify the debate just like there were during the era of amalgamation. Unfortunately, few are very politically palatable.

Adding Anne Golden to the mix only serves to fuel the feeling that the provincial government is doing little more than throwing up more obstacles. Decisions aren’t the desirable outcome here. The appearance of process is, due diligence.

What’s weird about the way the Liberals are going about things here is, unlike how the Harris government did an about face on amalgamation, the Liberals are subverting a plan they themselves put into place. The Big Move. A breakdown of transit needs and priorities throughout the region and a smorgasbord of possible revenue tools to access in order to implement the plan.

Already the Eglinton crosstown construction is underway. selfsabotageThe Master Agreement with Toronto has been signed for 3 other LRT lines, one being the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line that the government seems determined to undermine at this point, ably assisted by a majority of city council. The motivation behind such a move is hard to discern.

You could just write it off to pure political pandering, to keep those Scarborough seats red in any upcoming provincial election. Pretty straightforward. But if it’s just that, why not go all in and build an actual subway? You know, at least all the way up to Sheppard? That way, you can put pressure on the proposed Sheppard LRT too. A subway to the west. A subway to the east. Complete the line from Yonge to Kipling with a Sheppard subway loop.

This two stop proposal just seems like a half-measure. How could this government be that invested and find themselves at this point of time so indecisive? To give the Harris government its due, they did a 180 on amalgamation and in the face of fierce political opposition pushed it through, damn the torpedoes. headlesschickenThese Liberals appear to have little inclination to be as bold even when they have the good cause on their side.

Instead of having to pull some clarity (misguided and malevolent as it was in the case of amalgamation) out of a stew of conflicting policy initiatives, the McGuinty-Wynne government seem bound and determined to reduce transit planning in the region to a chaotic mix of parochialism and unfinished business. If you are able to find a coherent narrative as to why, you have much better eyes for this kind of thing than I do. I just see a glaring lacking of leadership and a desperate desire for expediency coalescing into an all familiar puddle of incompetence that has plagued this city and region in transit building for a generation now.

disheartenedly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Or May Not

March 12, 2013

For the record, I think city council is doing a pretty bang up job at this moment. All things considered. statlerandwaldorfAnd by all things I mean, the mayor. Besieged and absent most of the time, he contributes nothing more than an occasional grunt of consent (casino, yes) or dissenting snort (tolls, no way).

Locked into a near submission hold early on in this term by a beast with a mandate, a more passive, compliant group was hard to imagine than our city council. Kill Transit City. Wait, what? Cut the VRT. OK, but how do we replace the reven–Cut office budgets. OK but that’s still not going to replace the revenue from–Privatize waste collection. Can you at least give us proper numbers? Oh, never mind. Whatevs.

Who’s the boss? You’re the boss, boss man.

But then, in a classic dumb wrasslin’ move, Mayor Ford didn’t finish off his opponent when he had the chance. whosthebossHe let up on the choke hold and tagged his partner to take over the beating. But when his partner-brother-councillor got in over his head, his nifty manoeuvre on the Port Lands rebuffed and then used to pummel him, the mayor was too distracted to help out. Oh, look. Football season!

He never really recovered.

And we as a city are the better for it.

City council has stepped up and ably assumed control, as best it can with an obstructionist mayor who, when he’s paying any attention at all, throws nothing more than blocks and hissy fits in order to in any way seem relevant to the civic discourse. Yes, transit plans were delayed by about 18 months but, I’d say, council was third on the list of those responsible for that, after the mayor and the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty who could’ve stopped the assault in its tracks, so to speak, but instead chose to play politics with it. Actually, fourth if you factor in Tim Hudak’s inane blathering about subways, subways, subways.

For sure, this type of unplanned (but not unsurprising) leaderless style of local governance is not optimal. It appears to have opened things wide for outside influencers, let’s call them, on the casino question. The mayor’s inability to build a majority of councillors to approve a casino has now slowed the proceedings to a halt as staff calls for more information from OLG (which is not necessarily a bad thing) tagteamwrestlingand given more time to lobbying efforts. But it’s also just prolonged the time, space and resources this debate takes of the public discourse. Important matters are not dealt with in the most expeditious of manners.

On the other hand, in the absence of a strong mayoral hand, city staff have seized control of the transit file and pushed it to the forefront. In fact, I might argue that led by our Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, along with TTC Chair Karen Stintz, the public discussion about tolls, taxes and fees needed to pay for Metronlinx’s Big Move have outpaced the efforts done by the province. With Mayor Ford bleating ineffectually along the sidelines, there have been forums, town halls and other information sessions that have inserted the topic firmly into the region wide discussion. All of it occurring in spite of the mayor’s adamant disapproval.

Pointing to the possibility that while having a mayor contribute positively to the running of the city is preferable, it isn’t absolutely essential. Order does not break down and chaos reign. Sure, it can be something of a circus but I would argue that’s more a product of this particular administration than it is any sort of proof that the system cannot function if a mayor doesn’t prevail.

What we absolutely don’t need is to bestow more power in the mayor’s hands to make sure this kind of gridlock doesn’t happen, as some have talked about repeatedly, not mentioning any names keepcalmandcarryonbut it’s exactly the same as the mayor’s and rhymes with ‘bored’. No, just the opposite. Until we undertake a radical restructuring of the municipal system here with an emphasis on more city wide representation outside of the mayor’s office while giving more power and say to citizens at the ground level, we might want to harken back to simpler times.

Let’s stop directly electing the mayor of Toronto.

Instead, our mayor will be chosen from the 44 councillors who’ve just been elected. That way, there’s already a momentum toward consensus going forward into the term. There’s a working majority at council from the get-go.

An added bonus would be extra interest in the councillor races because the one elected to be mayor would give up their council seat and be replaced by the candidate coming in second to them in the ward race. Four years down the road, the mayor would have to fight for the ward again, possibly facing the incumbent who’d replaced them. shortleashSo, there’d be none of this petulant sulking, impatiently waiting for the next election to get your way since you’d have someone else trying to contribute positively to the running of the city who you might just have to face off against in your ward in order to be re-elected.

It’s not perfect, no. But if the office of the mayor has not proven to be indispensable to the running of the city, why pretend that it is? Let’s treat it like it is, a first among equals to borrow a phrase. Only as powerful as the individual holding the office can make it or as strong as the rest of council allows.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Politics Of Pandering

February 14, 2011

Half measures. Political legacies, both good and bad, are not made from half measures.

Don’t mistake half measures for compromise or consensus. Half measures represent uncertainty and timidity. They do not generate loyalty or commitment but ultimately build mounds of contempt. Half measures spawn a whole lot of meh.

The Dalton McGuinty Liberal government lives and breaths half measures. It sketches big thoughts and ideas in sand and stands back, content as its opponents wash over it, leaving mere traces of the original from which they’ll try to re-design a coherent whole. Half measures represent a half-hearted attempt at leadership and good governance. We believe in this unless people don’t think it’s a good idea.

The latest McGuinty about-face and cave-in came last Friday when it quietly announced shelving off-shore wind generation plans, burying it deep in the joyous tumult that greeted the news of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. For Further Scientific Study was the reason given, whole-heartedly embracing the skepticism of anti-wind turbinites especially those in politically contentious ridings in this, an election year. Thus, did the government sever an arm from its renewable energy plans and open wide the door to its critics who either think this just proves what they’ve been saying along that the need to find alternative sources of energy is just a bunch of hokum and green energy is actually “green” energy or that the government shouldn’t be in the business of funding new research and technology development ever. Or both.

It’s not as if there isn’t any information out there that couldn’t counter the claims made by the largely NIMBY crowd who view the very sight of the wind turbines as a personal affront to their well-being. Even a cursory web search took me to sites like this and this and this that dispute many of the claims being made by those seeking to kill wind energy in this province. Are they any more valid than the arguments being made by the anti-forces? I don’t know. But they seem strong enough to enable the government to make a principled stand in favour of a continued pursuit of energy through wind generation.

Sadly, principled stands seem to be an anathema to Liberals these days. Not just with the McGuinty government but with their federal brethren in Ottawa. Former Liberal mucky-muck George Smitherman couldn’t make one during his run for the mayoralty of Toronto last year and paid the price with a sound defeat at the polls. Resoluteness, even in the pursuit of destructive ideals, will attract a more passionate following than wishy-washy indecisiveness.

That is not to say what the province needs is another heaping dose of Common Sense. All of McGuinty’s equivocation multiplied cannot match the damage wrought on this province by the cancerous anti-government policies of his immediate Conservative predecessors.  It’s just that, governing on the basis of being slightly less like them is ultimately uninspiring and ineffectual in rebuilding after the swath of disaster created by Hurricane Harris.

Yes, the Liberals have invested more in education although not nearly enough to bring us back up to speed. Ontario is still dead last in per capita funding for post-secondary school education. How’s that going to help push us forward in the knowledge economy? The Big Move was a step in the right direction toward finally bringing about a blueprint for a GTA-wide transit network but it remains woefully under-funded and susceptible to politicking. Witness the government’s willingness to consider the inane attack on Transit City – arguably the beating heart at the centre of The Big Move – by an ideological driven, transit ignoramus all because it’s an election year and some 416 ridings could be up for grabs.

And now an environmental reversal “after years of touting itself as the greenest government in North America” in the face of discouraging poll results 8 months before an election. Plug in your own cliché here as I write You Got To Stand For Something Or You’ll Fall For Anything. It is a move that allows the opposition to frame the debate in a fashion that best fits them. Instead of standing its ground and calling out the Conservatives as knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers with their heads in the sand on environmental issues (take a moment to savour that image) who are jeopardizing future generations to a life of dirty, fossil fuel dependency, the Liberals look weak, opportunistic and dishonest.

Not really the image you want to run with in the anti-political environment that seems to be present in the electorate right now. Although, it may be difficult for the provincial Liberals to let go of it since they’ve been elected to two straight majority governments on just such a platform. It’s tough to argue with success.

strongly submitted by Cityslikr


And In Other News

August 23, 2010

… meanwhile, over at Metrolinx…

Funny how in the midst of a tempestuous election campaign, the business of actual governance gets pushed off deep into the background. So much so that some candidates out there on the hustings go as far as to suggest that elected officials should not be making any decisions that may outlive their time in office. Election year lame ducking, you might call it.

Still, the odd piece of business can pop up that does impose itself on the campaign. Take, for example, the minor brouhaha last week over the almost completed construction of the so-called Dufferin Jog. This is the long overdue reconnecting of Dufferin Street at Queen. For the past century or so, weary travelers making their way along Dufferin Street in either direction had to jut around the railway bridge at Queen to continue their sojourn north or south. This minor diversion has long caused traffic chaos along that section of Queen Street.

But as of sometime in the early fall, we’ll be able to breeze up and down Dufferin Street like it’s PCH 1, zipping effortlessly beneath the rail underpass on our way to the Home and Garden Show or… for whatever reason it is people go north on Dufferin Street.

But wait, not so fast. Metrolinx – the vaguely provincial government transit agency in charge of orchestrating the entire GTA’s Big Move — has asked the city to delay wrapping up construction for a couple months, maybe 4 or 6, so they can lay down another track for trains operating on the Georgetown corridor. Why this is only being brought up now, who knows? For our purposes here, let’s just chalk it up to another example of problematic overlapping governmental jurisdictions.

As of now it seems the city will ignore Metrolinx’s request and go ahead to complete construction, leaving the question of additional tracks for a later date. This decision imposed itself on the council race in Ward 18 where the Dufferin Jog is located and which is the seat of power for outgoing TTC chair, Adam Giambrone. Ana Bailão, a candidate to replace Giambrone as councillor in Ward 18 and whom Giambrone defeated for the spot in 2003, suggests her former opponent is setting common sense aside and proceeding with completion simply in order “… to cut the ribbon for the project” before he leaves office. She contends it would be cheaper and less hassle to finish the whole thing up now rather than having to restart construction at a later date.

Kevin Beaulieu, another candidate competing for the Ward 18 council seat and former Giambrone executive assistant, thinks there’s more to it than that. He contends Metrolinx is trying to covertly expand the railway in order to accommodate their diesel engine technology at the expense of electrifying the corridor, a sentiment shared by at least in part by some at council including Councillor Gord Perks. We leave it to those better informed about transit and that particular issue to try and disentangle it but a couple Metrolinx matters – and the gist of this actual post — did jump to our attention while we were reading through the minutae of the imbroglio.

News filtered out late last month that the Metrolinx-SNC Lavalin private-public partnership deal to build and operate the Union Station-Pearson Airport rail link was dead. According to John Lorinc in the Globe and Mail, “… SNC Lavalin and its lenders pulled out because Ontario refused to provide operating subsidies for the 46-year deal, meaning the private sector consortium would rely only on fare revenues to meet its profit targets.”

Huh. Imagine that. The fearless private sector got cold feet at plunging into the public transit game because the provincial government “refused to provide operating subsidies”.

“Naturally, we are disappointed by the outcome of the Toronto Air Rail Link Project. Given the state of financial markets over the past few years, lenders, both in Canada and elsewhere, are reluctant to lend money for full revenue-risk projects.  As a result, an agreement that met our own standards of risk tolerance could not be reached with interested lenders,” SNC Lavalin said in an official statement [bolding ours].

Attention should be paid, you candidates bellowing about how the private sector will eagerly sign on to build all those subways we want. Apparently a little cost analysis reveals that making money from public transit ain’t that easy. At least not without some stinky government cheese thrown in, and if that’s what it takes to get PPPs up and running, why bother? If the Ontario government isn’t going “to provide operating subsidies” to, say, the TTC, they shouldn’t be expected to do so with private companies.

Of a second Metrolinx related note, outgoing President and CEO of the organization, Robert Pritchard who is moving up to become its chair of the board, will be replaced by Deputy Minster of Transportation, Bruce McCuaig. McCuaig is a veteran bureaucrat and his appointment puts a politician in charge of Metrolinx. That is, if spending 26 years in bureaucracy qualifies him as a politician. And if it does, that means a ‘career politician’ now has his fingers in the pie of public transit planning which appears to be an about-face of professionalization of such matters that the government’s been touting for the last little while.

Again, we’re not well enough informed about public transit policy to debate the merits or lack of them in such moves. We point them out only because they seem to be running contrary to the voices of debate going on during this municipal campaign in Toronto. The private sector should not be counted on to build public transit. SNC Lavalin’s exit from the airport rail link table serves as yet another example of this failed experiment. Secondly, we cannot entirely de-politician the public transit planning. As strong as that appeal is especially when anti-incumbency is as thick in the air as it is this year, it seems neither sensible nor workable.

Anyone running for office who advocates such ideas (Mssrs. Ford and Rossi are merely the most extreme cases) must be vigorously challenged on these points. They are pushing theories and ideas that don’t seem to be viable and certainly are not working out there in the real world. It would be negligent on our part to put such baseless dreamers in a position of power that well might undermine public transit planning into the foreseeable future.