Is There A Gaffe The TTC Isn’t Prone To?

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that the Toronto Transit Commission is purposely trying to radicalize community groups throughout the city. Maybe that’s outgoing chair and departing councillor, Adam Giambrone’s secret, socialist plan. To so infuriate Toronto homeowners that they band together in solidarity and eventually rise up to take back the city. The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Otherwise, I’m at a loss to understand what the hell was on their minds as they went public with their Second Exit plans. In the works since 2002 or so, the commission has targeted 14 subway stops as lacking essential 2nd exit locations for use in the case of emergencies. Fair enough. It seems like a no-brainer, really. Imagine the howls of outrage if people died because there was only a single exit in a subway available during a crisis? It’s startling that it’s taken this long to get around to dealing with a situation like that.

But the ham-fisted, imperious manner in which the TTC went about engaging the residents living around the Donlands and Greenwood stations along the Bloor-Danforth subway line on the matter is nothing short of astonishing. Given that this was in the works for about 8 years, the fact that affected homeowners weren’t notified about the plans until 2 weeks ago and a commission vote to proceed was slated for this Wednesday, July 14th (Bastille Day, no less) simply fueled the fire of suspicion that the TTC was up to something behind closed doors. What’s the rush, community members wondered. Where’s the (ah, ha, ha… ha, ha) fire?

More astoundingly, the 2nd exit plans put forward by the commission included the expropriation of homes. Expropriation! You would think that word alone would set off a series of alarm bells up and down the hallways of the Yonge Street headquarters. You would think. Apparently not. The TTC sent out what was essentially a form letter to the proposed houses that they’d need to gobble up, telling them that the de facto decision would be made at a commission vote a couple weeks hence.

It speaks to an institutional idiocy that is so ingrained that it just has to be part of the job description for all prospective management candidates. Must be deaf to outside opinions. A fully functioning foresight capability absolutely unessential.

There was nobody in the planning process that didn’t imagine the likelihood of at least one of the owners of one of the houses they wanted to expropriate having a story that would pull on the heartstrings and attract a whole lot of media attention?! Cue the Calias, Grace and Danny who have lived in their house for 51 years where they raised 5 kids and 8 grandchildren. Husband Danny – wait for it, wait for it – is a retired TTC maintenance worker!!! Wow! Who would’ve seen that coming?

Perhaps an organization that’s been battling bad publicity for most of this past year with sleeping ticket takers and slightly tipsy drivers. Or the same organization still smarting from the fallout of the St. Clair streetcar lane mess where they wound up shouldering much more than their fair share of the blame. To watch TTC chair Giambrone stand up at last night’s public consultation gathering at Danforth Collegiate and try to calm the restive crowd with talk of a process now in motion to review how the commission engages with the public on matter like these only begs the question a reporter on The Simpsons asked when Krusty the Clown announced his retirement: Why now, Krusty? Why not 20 years ago?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against the idea of expropriation. Sometimes the collective good must supersede individual aspiration, hopefully in a fair and equitable manner. That the TTC still so badly mishandles these situations speaks either to gross organizational incompetence or simple disregard bordering on contempt.

At the outset of last night’s session, the commission seemed to understand it had screwed up and sought to make amends. Operating at an additional disadvantage in that the school auditorium where the meeting took place was as hot as a southeast Asian POW camp box, they apologized right off the bat for their lack of true public consultation in the matter, drawing a round of applause. They then seemed to mollify the portion of the crowd that was present to fight for the Greenwood station plans, accepting one of the options the community had submitted to them.

Of course, never an institution to not allow victory to slip from its hands, they let fly with this little gem: Should unseen conditions arise then the TTC will revert to its preferred option and advise the community. What was that again? Instead of saying, should unseen conditions arise then the TTC will return to consult with the community on the next steps to be taken, they just couldn’t help themselves from delivering a little patronizing kick at the crowd. When asked to give some examples of possible unseen conditions that might arise, the response was a masterpiece in offering up nothing. We don’t forsee something unforeen.

But by that time the TTC representatives had long since lost the crowd. Whatever goodwill they had initially generated with its Greenwood decision had dissipated entirely after spitfire Lisa Dymond delivered a public evisceration. While containing more than a hint of nimbyism – “We don’t need a TTC building in the middle of a residential neighbourhood”… ahhhh, Ms. Dymond? You did move to a house on top of a subway line. The TTC is a part of your neighbourhood. – and a whole lot of razzle-dazzle, Ms. Dymond revealed the commission to be doggedly rigid and willfully resistant to community input even at this point, in the face of growing public indignation. Her call for a major shakeup of the organization played right into the hands of outrage vultures like Rob Ford and Rocco Rossi who both skulked around the meeting’s periphery.

How could one woman, regardless of how well prepared and informed, catch an organization like the TTC so flat footed? How did they not see this shit storm developing and do something to contain it? Are they simply incapable of accommodation and adaptation? If I read the room right last night, all the TTC had to do was agree to designate the 2nd exit at Donlands as an emergency exit only (as opposed to a daily use exit) and they might’ve had a deal done. They wouldn’t and with their insistence on pushing for the vote on Wednesday regardless of continued community concerns only served to heighten the suspicion that they were hiding their real intent with the 2nd exits and these so-called ‘consultation’ were nothing but a sham.

It’s as if once a person joins the organization, they are drained of all ability to socially interact constructively and filled instead with myopic, hierarchical, inscrutable thinking. This, and only this. By maintaining such a closed door approach to public consultations, the TTC makes it almost impossible for outsider defenders of the organization to continue defending it.

mystifiedly submitted by Cityslikr

The 5.6% Dissolution

Pondering Toronto’s 2010 mayoral campaign so far, which is something I do with fair regularity given the subject matter on this particular site, I am often left scratching my head as to the approaches and tactics of various candidates. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Who are they trying to reach with that particular line of reasoning or this mode of attack? Is George Smitherman actually gay or is all his talk of having a husband merely a beard to mask the fact the man doesn’t possess a progressive bone in his body?

My latest bafflement arises via deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. Reading through an interview he did earlier this month with blogTO, I was struck by the answer he gave to their question, Why didn’t you do more about these transportation problems as deputy mayor? Councillor Pantalone’s response? In 2008 [the Fraser Institute] analyzed the Province’s tax situation situation and found that out of all the taxes paid in Ontario –put together in one basket, municipal, provincial, and federal — municipalities only got 5.6 percent…


Now, I had no luck in locating the analysis Pantalone was referencing but will shoulder all the blame for that as I started breaking out into hives spending that kind of time on the Fraser Institute website. Preston Manning says this, Mike Harris says that. (A Simpson shudder and intense itching begins all over upper torso.) But taking Joe at his word, I began to wonder why he wasn’t making more hay with this point.

Why wasn’t he channeling voter frustration and outrage at the fact that the city is being severely short-changed by both senior levels of government and forced to annually negotiate dire fiscal straits due to massive imbalances in both governance and revenue structures? As a councillor for almost 3 decades now and having worked with all sides of the political spectrum, Joe Pantalone had arrived at this late juncture in his career finally and reluctantly convinced that Toronto (and every other municipality in Ontario) was being knee-capped by Queen’s Park and until true, unconditional reform was undertaken, nothing was going to change that. No amount of fiddling with numbers, privatization or selling of public assets could alter that reality.

Sure, his opponents would go down the beaten path of telling Joe we need to get our house in order before going to the province with cap in hand, begging for bailouts. They already have, haven’t they, Rocco Rossi. But played right, those kinds of statements could be effectively turned against those using them, showing them to be know-nothings, out of touch with the facts. Or worse still, enablers of a dysfunctional governance structure where too much power and money go to those with the least amount of accountability.

Because one doesn’t need the 5.6% analysis from the Fraser Institute to know that there is a systemic unfairness at the core of our political system. Where one level of government has complete and utter control over another with little recourse or redress on offer. Evidence abounds that this arrangement, which goes back to the birth of this nation in the middle of the 19th-century, is beneficial purely uni-directionally. Municipalities bear the brunt of provincial and federal neglect and mismanagement. Until we can get ourselves out from under the weight of that, there is little to be done to fix our current predicament. Anyone who tries telling you different is either uninformed or lying. Maybe both.

And Joe Pantalone should tell them so. He should tell us that. He should point out that in every city budget, Toronto is forced to spend more on provincially mandated programs than it receives in money from the province. That’s the deficit spending at the centre of our present money woes. It’s not out of control spending at City Hall that is responsible for higher property taxes, increased user fees, underfunded public transit and infrastructure projects. No matter how loudly and often Pantalone’s mayoral rivals spew forth that nonsense. No. This city’s increased expenditures are going directly into the gaping maw of Queen’s Park. Not only are our provincial taxes going to feed that beast but so is a chunk of the taxes we’re supposed to be paying to the city for the services they continue to deliver to us.

That’s what Joe Pantalone should be saying every time he opens his mouth or one of his opponents open theirs.

But maybe Joe’s been at it for too long. He’s too much of the consummate insider and can no longer see the forest for the trees. For now, he’s content to simply counterpunch, rope-a-dope in the hopes that the right of centre contingent around him exhausts itself, flailing as it is at the populist figments of their collective imaginations. He is not the warrior we’re looking for to wage the real battle ahead that needs to be waged.

resignatedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat