Stupidity Not Mendacity

September 12, 2014

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I hate the Scarborough subway plan pacification vote getter plan. hateitNothing more than, what do those politician-hating politicians call it? A boondoggle. If this monstrosity actually comes to be, and there’s no guarantee it will, folks. There’s no deal signed. No money in the bank. Just malleable promises, pandering politicians and one big novelty cheque.

But let’s say the political winds don’t change and sometime down the line, off there on the horizon, at a distant point in the distant future, 3 new stops get slapped onto the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Hurrah! Scarborough gets more of a subway, civic pride is restored and… well, nothing much else will change. It’s all just questions after that. Will the ridership numbers live up to the pie-in-the-sky estimates or will there be more of a drain on the TTC’s operational budget? What about all those other residents of Scarborough who can’t easily walk to one of the three subway stops and are once more relying on bus service for their commutes? How come I’m still paying property taxes for this fucking subway?ooops1

What’s so particularly galling about this nonsense is that it’s all so unnecessary, unnecessary and counter-productive.

In a discussion paper released this week, Build Regional Transit Now, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, among other things, called for an end to political interference in transit planning. This being 2014, it is something of a sad irony such a plea had to be made since the provincial transit planning body, Metrolinx, was established just for that very reason. David Hains does a great job in the Torontoist, running down the rocky not so non-political history of Metrolinx.

I want to take you to page 17 of the TRBOT’s report. Under the subheading, “Decison-Making and Project Execution a Struggle”, it speaks directly to the Scarborough LRT/subway debacle. Or ‘standoff’ as the report calls it.

At the heart of any sound governance structure is accountability and efficient decision-making. These elements were clearly not in place with the on-going Scarborough subway versus LRT standoff. Indeed, it demonstrated much confusion around the roles and responsibilities of Metrolinx and who exactly was accountable for driving regional transportation expansion. Despite Metrolinx’s transportation planners recommending an LRT line, including close to $100 million in sunk costs associated with environmental assessments and other preparatory work, Metrolinx’s advice was, in the end, ignored by both the Province and the City of Toronto. Over the span of several weeks, the agency was compelled to first endorse a subway proposal from the then provincial Transportation Minister and later Toronto Council’s approved subway route.

In a paragraph nutshell. Expert advice was ignored. Money burned. Political pressure brought to bear on an apparently non-political agency.

The question, of course, is why? And the simple answer is politics. whyThe conventional wisdom went that Scarborough residents wanted a subway, so Scarborough politicians bent over backwards to give them a subway, good governance and a cool hundred mil be damned.

But here’s what really burns my ass about that line of non-reasoning. When did that become conventional wisdom? Rob Ford’s election and his Subways Everywhere mantra, perhaps. The minority Liberals, running scared and willing to do anything in order to keep seats in Toronto.

A good theory, I guess. I don’t have a better one. The problem is, I’m not convinced the very premise lying at the heart of all this holds water.

As a Forum poll showed this week, 56% of Scarborough residents asked stated a preference for subways over LRTs. Here’s the catch. It was a completely loaded and skewed question. thisorthatEssentially it went, subway or LRT, “if costs for building both were the same”?

The costs aren’t the same. Not even close. Subways are more expensive. End stop. Moreover, the Scarborough LRT wouldn’t have cost Toronto residents any additional money. The subway has its own property tax increase.

So it was a stupid question, for sure, of the all things being equal type when clearly they’re not but even so, even with a pro-subway angle to the question, only 56% of respondents in Scarborough favoured building a subway.

That is hardly an overwhelming majority. Nowhere near the 100% support the mayor and other subway proponents tout. Given a proper shaping of the question, it would be even less.

In fact, earlier this year, a Leger poll found 56% of Scarborough residents wanted to revert back to the originally planned Scarborough LRT. “I think we’re starting to see a shift now as people become more aware of the cost to build subways,” said a Leger researcher. ontheotherhand1Yet, here we are, being told the exact opposite by the politicians we elected to represent our best interests.

The confounding thing to me is why. If voters can be convinced of the folly of building a subway extension into Scarborough with little more than a money argument, how come politicians aren’t willing to do just that? To recommend the advice of the non-political experts who tell us that a Scarborough LRT is really our best option. How has this debate become so fucking convoluted and divisive?

I have no answer. It’s one thing to chalk up politicians’ motives as doing whatever it is they need to do to get elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. Putting their interests before the interests of the voting public. A time-honoured, tried and true formula.

But the decision-making process for the Scarborough subway doesn’t seem to be that. It’s not about some failure to lead. It’s about the desire to mislead.

steamroll

When all the factors point in the direction of one decision, and the public appears prepared to accept that decision, what politician would opt not to make it? That’s not crass and craven politics. It’s flat-out idiocy.

head-shakingly submitted by Cityslikr


Committed To Talking About Transit

March 17, 2014

What can we do in the face of an overwhelming lack of leadership?powervacuum1

I was thinking that, listening to Premier Kathleen Wynne explain to Matt Galloway on Metro Morning today why she’d announced pulling some possible revenue tools last week to help fund transit building. You could actually hear the political calculus at work. Or maybe it was the sound of transit planning coming to a grinding halt.

No one doubts the premier is in something of a bind here. You could make the argument she’s looking down the wrong end of history’s barrel, with twenty years of anti-tax and small government sensibilities having taken solid root in the political soil, dating back to the rise of the Reform Party in the early 90s. The Chretien/Martin deficit cutting and downloading frenzy. Mike Harris. Mel Lastman. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford.

Taxation not even seen as a necessary evil but simply evil.

Of course, her own party’s recklessness with public funds doesn’t help her cause any. taxesareevilWe all know the names by heart. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. It’s a bit tough at this point for Premier Wynne to step up and ask for more money from Ontario’s residents. Trust us. We’ll spend it all very, very wisely.

And the politicking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The opposition parties at Queen’s Park have constructed their own anti-reality bubbles in terms of revenue sources to dedicate to transit. Everybody’s got some magic beans they’re shilling, ways to get the transit needed at a cost that will come from almost nobody’s pockets. Don’t worry, folks. This won’t hurt a bit.

My guess is, as we head into the provincial budget process, the government has just handed concessions over to the NDP by vowing not to increase the gas tax, the HST or income tax on middle-class families in order to fund the Big Move. Your move now, Andrew Horwath. What does your party suggest? Using exact figures, if you don’t mind.

Who’s going to step forward first and sign their name to a tax increase or new user fee?

Because everybody knows this can’t continue. Public transit in the GTHA has to be built. That fact, at least, cuts across political lines. checkersOnly the supremely delusional Tim Hudak-led Tories are insisting it can be done without raising more revenue.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked.

The Liberal government has been provided with plenty of cover to take the important next step in this debate. From the non-politically realigned Metrolinx and the premier’s very own appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, to organization as disparate as the Toronto Region Board of Trade, CivicAction Alliance, the Pembina Institute, right down to grassroots groups like Code Red TO, all have talked up revenue tools. The pump has been primed, the ground broken.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked. Still.

The ugly truth about this, unfortunately, is that the well being of the party takes precedence over the strength of the idea. We’ve all been told that if party X runs with this and takes a beating in the election because of it, well, we’re right back to square one or so. partyloyaltyThe fate of transit in the GTHA hinges on the party that best touts the least amount of pain necessary to voters in order to build it.

No one’s gutsy or astute enough (both integral components of actual leadership) to step forward and challenge the conventional wisdom that voters summarily oppose taxation and are unwilling to pay more for improved service. Instead it’s just more nibbling around the edges, reframing the debate in the exact same dimensions we’ve heard for the past 20 years. Empty, empty pledges of new stuff free of charge. Promises to deliver the undeliverable.

All of which serves only to make us more cynical, more apathetic and less likely to take anything any of our politicians say seriously. Who wants to go to bat for somebody ducking from the first inside pitch they face? Why waste your time and effort?

At this point, there can be little doubt that the 3 parties representing us at Queen’s Park have failed miserably at displaying anything close to resembling leadership on the transit file. Each have wilfully disregarded the hard work and dedication put in by groups and individuals, goitalonefighting to ensure that we have a robust debate and positive outcome in dealing with an issue that threatens nothing short of our well-being and way of life in this region. We’ve been abandoned by our elected leaders.

If our provincial politicians are unwilling to provide the appropriate leadership for us, we really should start talking about why we continue to finance them and subject ourselves to their inaction and indecisiveness.

dim viewly submitted by Cityslikr


No, You First

March 14, 2014

(A heads up: this one’s going to be particularly swear-y. Those with delicate sensibilities may want to take a pass.)

strutsandfrets

I’m trying to re-jig that old axiom.

We get the politicians the strategists, consultants and pollsters they pay give us.

Yesterday, Premier Kathleen Wynne bravely stood down in the face of opposition intransigence toward new taxes to fund regional transit in the GTA, waving the white flag of political opportunism. After two reports came back, one from the provincial transit body, Metolinx, and another from the premier’s own appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, recommending ways to pay for the ambitious (on paper) Big Move, justsaynoPremier Wynne brushed aside two of the more substantive suggestions, the gas tax and HST.

“We are taking those potential revenue tools off the table,” she told the press. But “make no mistake”, she’s going to get this shit built. She’s just not going to tell anybody how yet.

Well, Premier Wynne, join the party. Behind every other fucking politician who cavalierly promises to tackle the pressing issue of transit in the region but deftly avoids the conversation about how exactly to pay for it. This is the line for the magic beans, right?

This is political brinksmanship at its most loathsome. Mutual assured do-nothingness. Both opposition parties at Queen’s Park have dug into their trenches and refused to so much as engage, really only popping their heads up to take the odd pot shot at the government.

brinksmanshipThe Tories have moved beyond the realm of reprehensible, promising the most expensive option of transit, the subway, with the least likely way to pay for it, finding efficiencies. They might as well just admit that they couldn’t give a flying fuck about public transit. The only reason they really addressed the issue was in order to look busy writing up white papers.

And the NDP? My political home? They’ve carved out some fucking bullshit form of populism that is trying to convince us that this can all be done through corporate taxes and a higher income tax on some miles wide interpretation of the middle class. It’s the flip side of the Conservative’s we can do all this and you won’t feel it a bit mantra.

This seems to be the avenue the government has left open to themselves. They haven’t ruled out more in corporate taxes or from high income earners. Don’t worry, people. Other people will pay for all this.whopaysforlunch

Now look, I have absolutely no problem with a renewed interest in harkening back to the olden days of using a truly progressive form of taxation via income to start addressing our social needs. It’s decades overdue. But why would I believe our politicians are prepared to have that discussion when merely saying the word ‘tax’ makes them blanch and wet themselves?

When one of these parties actually steps forward and stops referring to the middle-class as everybody who makes less than $500k/year, maybe I’ll start to think they’re serious. It’s been a long time since many of us, corporations, individuals, families, have being what we should be paying. It’s why we’re in the transit-infrastructure mess we find ourselves. We all believe somebody else should be paying for it.

But this is a game of who’s going to blink first. Nobody’s willing to take the lead on this for fear of everybody else screeching and pointing their fingers at them. hediditLook! Tax-and-spenders!! Burn them!!!

The situation is so abysmally preposterous that also yesterday, the big name left wing, NDP flavoured candidate for mayor, Olivia Chow, would only commit to property tax increases at the rate of inflation. That’s great, Olivia. That’ll maintain services at the current level. What about all the other stuff you’re going to pledge to do?

When Chow didn’t enthusiastically jump on board the DRL express, the subway build everyone has acknowledged is a priority to relieve pressure from the current lines, citing cost concerns, she was immediately jumped all over by some of the other candidates, led by the John Tory team. Hey, tax-and-spender! Why aren’t you promising to tax-and-spend some?

Now, follow me on this.

On its staff, the John Tory campaign has one Nick Kouvalis. You may remember Mr. Kouvalis from other mayoral campaigns like 2010’s Rob Ford. If you recall, there’s was much talk then of stopping a gravy train and the city government having a spending problem not a revenue problem.

Even this iteration, Kouvalis 2.0, Tory has pledged to keep taxes low. Yet building an expensive subway is priority #1. How? Not to worry. Somebody else will pay for it. You won’t feel a thing.whome1

“The only way you’re going to break this vicious cycle of waiting for public opinion that won’t come,” the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Carol Wilding told Matt Galloway today on Metro Morning, “is to insert leadership.”

Setting aside for the time being the TRBoT’s own contribution to anti-tax fever back in 2010, Ms. Wilding isn’t off the mark. We’ve stopped demanding leadership from our politicians, letting them off the hook, content only to hear them tell us what we want to hear. Yes, things aren’t perfect. Yes, there are ways we can start fixing them. No, you don’t have to do a thing about, though. Carry on. Somebody else will sort it out.

The phrase for that is probably left as is, only slightly modified.

We get the politicians we deserve.

spitting nailsly submitted by Cityslikr