The Cost Of Doing Business

May 17, 2013

On Wednesday over at the Toronto Standard, writer Jeff Halperin interviewed Josh Hjartarson, 2BillionQuestionvice president of policy and government relations at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, talking about the organization’s report this week, The $2 Billion Question. Business’s perspective on, you guessed it, funding Metrolinx’s The Big Move. Both are interesting reads and lead to some wider questions.

The first is kind of tangential to the matter of transit itself but one that jumped out at me immediately. In the OCC report [pages 1 & 3, if you’re following along], it was pointed out that for ‘every $100 million invested in public infrastructure, 1670 jobs are created’. The total number of jobs created between 2012-2031 with The Big Move would be in the neighbourhood of 800-900 K. 800,000-900,000 new jobs over the next 19 years.

Remember, these numbers are cited by the Chamber of Commerce, folks. Not a group you normally associate with promoting public sector spending. Numbers that would’ve come in handy during the transit funding debate last week at city council. I’ll give your grossly inflated $1000/year/household in new taxes, Mr. Mayor, and see you some one million jobs created. They shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to round up in their favour.

When talking up the merits of a casino or runway expansion, it’s all about the jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. justsaynototaxesTen thousand of them, apparently, if the casino were to be taken off life-support.

But the jobs created investing in public infrastructure? Not it if means any sort of tax increase. Any whatsoever. No New Taxes trumps Jobs, Jobs, Jobs every time.

Another question is what role businesses as a whole have in contributing financially to the public infrastructure that helps them operate. From the public education that provides a functioning pool of workers to the roads and rails that bring both employees and goods to their doorstep, what should the cost be of doing business? Does the business community pay its share for carrying the freight, so to speak, of the public sphere that it relies on to exist?

The quality of local infrastructure is key to attracting international investment and talent. Effective transit and transportation grows the potential pool of workers which businesses can draw from and the customers that businesses can sell to. Efficient transit reduces the number of cars on the roads, which enables goods to flow faster and more reliably.

Better transit makes for a better business environment, according to these words from the Chamber of Commerce report. If that’s the case, as a group they should be more than willing to do their part and pony up. Yet, that’s not the vibe I’m getting from the report.

Of the 11 revenue tools put forth by Metrolinx and considered by the OCC, only three directly impact businesses – commercial parking levy, land value capture and development charges – and most of the costs of those could and probably would be passed on to consumers. taxationistheftRight out of the gate, an employer payroll tax was deemed a ‘Non-starter’. “The tool would be a drag on competitiveness and job creation…”, the report states, “… the tax would be a disincentive to invest in the GTHA… concerned that there is no direct connection between the input (revenue) and the output (improved transportation).”

There’s a disconnect here between the emphasis on the importance of infrastructure in ‘attracting investment and talent’ and the concern that a payroll tax would ‘be a drag on competitiveness and job creation’. We need solid infrastructure like transit as long as someone else pays for it. Sound familiar?

How is there ‘no direct connection’ between an employer payroll tax and ‘improved transportation’? The ease with which employees get to and from work would surely be related to their overall productivity. Why should it be the employees alone, through transit fares or road tolls, paying for something that will also benefit their employers?

Like the revenue tools debate at city council, there’s too much stress put on the disincentive side of taxation for transit funding. It will chase businesses out of the GTHA.crumblinginfrastructure It’s a job killer.

Where are the voices touting this is a long overdue investment? Certainly the Toronto Board of Trade needs to be commended for its tireless work in keeping this conversation going while all levels of government dither. But there needs to be a buy in from the wider business community like those taking part in the Chamber of Commerce report that revenue tools shouldn’t be seen as a burden but a necessary course of action for our future well-being and economic competitiveness.

For decades, governments of all stripes have under-invested in the GTHA’s transportation infrastructure, the OCC report states. That much is undeniable. The question is why?

Jurisdictional disputes, starting with a near absence of the federal government on the transit file. The cities alone incapable of raising the amount of money needed and a province either not inclined to spend money building transit or overly concerned with being seen focussing on just one locality. Fear of the Toronto Premier knock.crumblinginfrastructure1

But we also can’t ignore the fact that the senior levels of government have been creating huge holes in their respective revenue streams, accepting the common sense ‘wisdom’ that lower taxes translates into a better economy. Personal income taxes cut. Sales tax reduction. Corporate taxes cut.

We can hardly be considered antagonistic to business interests in this country, according to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers study last year. Maybe the timing’s just a coincidence that as governments willingly forgo revenue, investment in the public domain has also gone underfunded. You can try blaming inefficiencies and spending scandals for the lack of money to spend but all told, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to income lost by tax cuts.

That’s not to suggest business pick up the entire tab for The Big Move. crumblinginfrastructure2But I’m not sure why they should get a pass either. Corporate taxes were never put on the table for consideration by Metrolinx or the Board of Trade. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce worries about ‘economic competitiveness’ as much as it does fairness in its consideration of the various revenue tools.

What could be more fair than everyone chipping in, including businesses? Everyone has a reason why they shouldn’t have to pay. Now is the time for someone to step up and say, here’s my x%. Let’s get this thing done.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Fablication

April 3, 2013

fablication

Last week Ivor Tossell wrote about the then latest brouhaha — it was nearly 5 days ago, plenty of time for even newer brouhahas — swirling around our mayor, Rob Ford. In the article, Mr. Tossell summarized the mayor’s approach to the truth, governing and reality.

This is Rob Ford’s truth. The facts will be decided not by reality, but by the people, on election day… It’s a schoolyard view of the world, in which truth flows from popularity and power. He’s used it to run his administration like a radio phone-in show, talking to just one crowd with a mix of pandering and fabulism…

Fabulism.fablication5

What a fantastic word to describe what we’ve been living through for the past three years since Rob Ford became a serious contender for the office of mayor. Fabulism. Fabulist.

Might I offer up a new word for general usage, especially in honour Ivor Tossell’s own contribution to the political lexicon in Toronto, Uncompetence.

The word* is: Fablication.

The generation of a world where whatever you say, if you’re the right thinking kind of person, is treated as hard, cold fact. Where a statement can contradict a previous statement and both statements can still be taken seriously. Fablication creates a magical place that emphasizes simple-mindedness not simplicity. fablication2Where rigour is not de rigueur.

Rob Ford’s fantasy political world is nothing but pure fablication. In it, there are never any negative consequences to your actions. Government has a spending problem not a revenue problem, and any extra dough that might be needed to build a subway (and subways only because streetcars are the root cause of traffic congestion) will flow effusively from a potent combination of a casino and the private sector.

Who wouldn’t want to live in such a land of enchantment?

In the 2010 municipal election, 47% of Toronto voters believed such a locale actually existed. All you needed was to stop a mythical gravy train and hop aboard a boat load of respect for the taxpayer. No fuss, no bother. Only those suffering from an engorged sense of entitlement and just the mildest sense of irony would feel any pain. fablication1Those symptoms largely inflicted denizens living in the old city of Toronto and in East York.

Even today, a solid chunk of those supporters continue to clap their hands in the hopes of keeping that dream alive, encouraging Mayor Ford to further dig in his heels. And he does. As Metrolinx ratchets up the real world conversation about viable revenue options to fund a long overdue transit expansion and the city’s chief planner chairs a roundtable, the Next Generation Suburbs, the mayor talks about graffiti and fake vomits (with accompanying video track) at the idea of new taxes and tolls.

Surely we can build more transit by cutting further finding efficiencies, rolling back public sector wages and benefits, stopping boondoggles. Where the hell do all the gas taxes go? asks a former PC MPP, apparently with a straight face. Stop demanding money, folks. We can just fablicate new transit.

Fablication built Ford Nation.

Listen to it in action every Sunday between 1 and 3 p.m. on 1010 Talk Radio. fablication4Or, for a quick hit, read David Hains’ synopsis of the show. (Check out 2:32 in Monday’s post for what I’m talking about when I talk about fablication.)

While the mayor is a very good practitioner of fablication, his brother is a master.

Witness Councillor Ford’s performance last week at Ryerson’s inappropriately named Law, Business, Politics – The Real World class. (Don’t know if it’s just my internet connection but the video is very, very choppy.) It was an hour and a half of outright fablication, punctuated by moments of actual serious discussion from co-panellist, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

You see, the duly elected councillor is not a politician. He’s a businessman. He and his brother-mayor (elected with the largest mandate in Canadian history [≈ 1’10”] and the most accessible politician in the country, in North America who fields 80-90 phone calls a day and doesn’t spend his time behind a big desk, talking to bureaucrats [≈ 54.30”]) have already saved the taxpayers of Toronto a billion dollars [≈ 57.30”]. fablication3When the councillor hosts visitors to the city, he’s always having to answer the same question. “What is there to do in Toronto, Doug?” [1’1”]. So that’s why we need to build a casino because, while the councillor doesn’t want to throw around wild numbers, he will anyway. Build a casino on city owned property and that’s $30 million in tax revenues, plus $30 million in a land lease agreement and we’re only getting started. Which is why we don’t taxes to build subways, folks. Casino revenue and the private sector who will tunnel across the city for us [1’17”]. apparently, in order to help alleviate our congestion woes.

And on and on it goes in the view of a fablicuist. (Trying on new words to see how they fit). Strawberry fields for-ever.

Why make up a word when there’s already one that might fit the bill? Fabulism. Fabulist. Fabler.

In the traditional definition, fables are supposed to have a meaning, an ‘edifying or cautionary point’. There’s nothing edifying or cautionary in fablication. Fablication is all about self-interest. fablication6Opinion, especially of the uniformed type, passes for truth. Facts are figments of a fablicateur’s imagination. Anything goes, in the world of fablication. Up is down. Black is white. Everything’s relative. The truth is somewhere in the middle. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Fablication is the tool used by those on the wrong side of every issue. It is the creation of a reality unencumbered by the necessity to adhere to any notion of the truth. It’s undemanding, free-floating, amorphous and subject to change at a moment’s notice. Eventually a fablicated world will collapse into itself, but the key for everyone living outside its bubble is to limit the damage inflicted before it does.

* as far as I know ‘fablication’ was first coined by Catherine Soplet

studiously submitted by Cityslikr


Junk Politics

May 10, 2012

Times being what they are, I find occasionally stepping away from it all beneficial to my mental health. To head off and visit somewhere free of the politics of place and simply enjoy the view. I’m just a tourist, taking in the scenery.

It’s been difficult over the last couple years certainly to tear myself away from Toronto politics. Blink for a minute and you may well miss something extraordinary, something you’d never thought you’d see in your lifetime. When you think it couldn’t get any crazier, nothing could top what you’ve just witnessed, those diminished expectations are easily surpassed.

But I’m discovering that such novelty does have its limits. When the incredible becomes simply routine, it loses significance or much of any newsworthiness. The abnormal sinks into the swamp of the new normal.

So it goes with the mayoralty of Rob Ford.

Much has been written in the last few days about the latest antics of His Worship, his aggressive encounter with the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale in a public park outside the mayor’s home in Etobicoke, the controversial appearance of Sun News’ David Menzies on the Ford Brothers’ Sunday radio show and Mayor Ford’s declining to attend the PFLAG flag raising next week. None of it flattering for either our city or the chief magistrate we voted to represent us. “Rob Ford’s stupid and offensive radio show demeans us all” from Matt Elliott. “Send in the clowns” by Edward Keenan. And “Rob Ford and the Banality of Excess” by Michael Kolberg in the Toronto Standard.

There’s not much I can add to the growing canon of Rob Ford is really a bad mayor literature except for a hearty but sad agreement. What was once funny and entertaining has now become just sad and worrisome. Who knew that electing a mayor with destructive anti-urbanist views could adversely affect the city?

I remember way back in 2000 with the election of George W. Bush as president, comedian Richard Belzer saying that while as an American he was sad about the result, as a comedian he couldn’t be happier. The jokes essentially wrote themselves but, 12 years on, America has yet to recover from the debacle.

That’s sort of the feeling that’s developing here. Oh, the fun we are having watching such a sad spectacle but at what cost? In fact, that’s not even quite right. The fun was fleeting. “But a story needs an arc,” Kolberg writes, “and Rob Ford’s administration is a flat line.” Pause.. pause.. pause.. indignant mayoral temper tantrum.. pause.. pause.. pause.. indignant mayoral temper tantrum.. pause.. pause.. pause.. Where’s the new beat to push the story forward?

Actually, that’s being supplied by city council. In the face of Mayor Ford’s inability or interest in leading, a majority of councillors is slowly coalescing to fill the void. Normally unaligned players are now finding common ground in developing an agenda without any positive input from the mayor and city business is being conducted. Perhaps more slowly than it would if a mayor participated but proceeding nonetheless. First time councillors are now finding their footing in the wide open space created by the mayor’s truculent intransigence.

Not all is dark and forlorn.

What is most disturbing about all this, however, is Toronto’s descent into what Benjamin DeMott has called ‘Junk Politics’. It’s the politics of anger, resentment and division that appeals to our worst instincts rather than seeks to inspire our better natures. Watching the risible reactions from the mayor’s supporters in defense of his indefensible actions is increasingly disheartening. There is no wrong in anything he does, no justification that isn’t based on some perceived slight or ulterior motive of those who are not seen as being onside or part of the team. The once vaunted Ford Nation, the mayor’s base, sees only threats not opposing opinions. They thrive in a cesspool of negative catch phrase outrage, unable or unwilling to engage in any semblance of adult discourse.

This is Mayor Ford’s Toronto, his bread and butter and only hope in any sort of political future for himself. They are proud in their obstinance and conviction that the way forward is by looking backwards. It’s a tough nut to crack. One that guarantees a continued war of attrition and a threat to Toronto’s ability to develop into a healthy, productive and fair-minded 21st-century city.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


The Death of Toronto in Toronto Life

August 21, 2011

I’m sneaking this one while Cityslikr is distracted watching Caddyshack. Again. (“So what? So let’s dance!” Cue Journey.)

He wanted no part of the brief brouhaha caused by Philip Preville’s ‘The New Surburbanites’ article in the September issue of Toronto Life. “Doesn’t deserve any more attention,” he told me. “Been suitably slapped upside the head and tossed to the curb far better than any of us could do here. Now shut up. I’m watching Caddyshack.” (“You got a pool up there, right?” “A pool.. pond. The pond would be good for you.”)

He’s right. Edward Keenan wrote a standalone piece at The Grid that is so good, you don’t even have to read the article he takes to task. Same can be said for Bert Archer over at the Toronto Standard. There’s really no need to sully such terrific writing by wasting your time with the source material.

But I did. And all I can say is: Who the fuck are these people?

Not the ones who packed up and headed out of town. To each his own, I say. The lure of small towns may be great for some. Nothing wrong with that although I couldn’t keep the whistling tune to the Andy Griffith Show from my head when reading Mr. Preville’s glowing, there’s-only-a-lack-of-a-critical-mass-of-good-restaurants-that-keeps-us-from-pure-perfection description of places like Peterborough, Cobourg, Dundas and Creemore. Not too boastful there, Philip and Toronto Life, or they won’t be small towns very much longer.

No, what I didn’t recognize was the version of Toronto the article presented (yes, congestion is bad) and the residents dwelling within. The ones who find children an imposition. The cocktail party goers, partaking in genteel adult conversation. All so ‘…busy and overwhelmed…with six o’clock meetings and pinging Black Berrys’ that they forget to pick up their kids at daycare.

Maybe Philip Preville didn’t need to get out of the city. Maybe he just needed to find himself a better circle of friends.

I’m always leery of any argument put forward that relies almost exclusively on vilifying the opposing view. We didn’t want to leave Toronto. Toronto forced us to leave. Toronto left us. We didn’t leave Toronto. I gave you my heart, Toronto. My blood, sweat and tears. And what did you give me in return? Love, marriage, children, a well-paying profession that enabled me to make enough money to go tell you to fuck yourself. (Cue Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. “What have the Romans ever done for us?”)

It’s all about justifying a decision made by presenting it as something foisted upon you. There was no alternative. Rather, the choice to stay put became untenable because the Toronto I once knew and loved was no more. Sure, I could’ve stayed and tried to change that but what about the kids? Think of the children. And apparently, according to one ex-Torontonian, for a kid to truly be a kid, he needs to throw rocks not hang around libraries and restaurants. Another did not know? The only people who will continue ‘living the downtown life’ are educated, well-off ‘arts professionals and university proofs’. Yeah, Preville really needed to get out more.

It all seems a little self-fulfilling if you read Toronto Life regularly and look back at previous articles Mr. Preville’s written for it. Especially good is his Hall of Shame in the January 2008 issue (h/t @goldsbie), a fine example of the mindless screeds that greased the rails for former Mayor Miller’s exit and paved the way into office for Rob Ford. There it was. David Miller should stop squawking for more money from other levels of government and start standing up to the greedy unions who take every last penny we do have. It’s that easy.

Such political simple-mindedness seems to have taken root at Toronto Life if the Editor’s Letters from Sarah Fulford are any indication. We talked about that here last September. A month or so before the municipal election, Ms. Fulford summed up what had gone wrong with Toronto: in 2003 we elected an Ivy League educated mayor. End stop.

She’s back at it again in the Exodus To The Burbs issue. “Not that I’m in favour of bulldozing neighbourhoods to make room for highways. But it would have been nice if at some point in the last 40 years we had implemented a workable transportation plan for Southern Ontario. In my view, the legacy of the Stop the Spadina Expressway movement is this: grand municipal plans are not welcome here.”

Not welcome here by whom, Sarah? Is the city of Toronto now responsible for coming up with a transportation plan for Southern Ontario? Without a strong regional level of government, that’s really the job for Queen’s Park, isn’t it? And once upon a time, we were all ready to go with an Eglinton subway but the kibosh was put on that, not by the vestiges of the Stop the Spadina Expressway movement, but by, that’s right, Queen’s Park. I’d say Waterfront Toronto is quietly going about their business of devising, if not a grand, a pretty darn good municipal plan.

If Sarah Fulford is so despondent about the direction Toronto has been heading and is singularly incapable of discovering the real root causes of our present malaise, maybe it’s time she followed Philip Preville’s lead and buy herself a nice house in a small town somewhere. Jettison her high-flying life as a magazine editor and open up a quaint coffee shop or second-hand bookstore. She certainly doesn’t seem prepared to help pitch in and help out here in any meaningful way.

Evidently, a common trait in some folks over at Toronto Life. When Preville describes himself and his ‘inner asshole’ in the article, he admits to being part of the problem that he now decries. “All my life I’ve been an upbeat person, but when I navigate the city I do it with a frown. I cut people off in my car, and on foot as I go through the TTC turnstile. I jaywalk. I litter.”

He litters? Really?! Who does that?

But you have to understand. It’s not really him littering or cutting people off or jaywalking — as we all know, no one jaywalks in great, livable cities. The city makes him do it. Maybe if we work really hard to fix things around here, smooth out the rough edges and return Toronto to its glory days of Philip Preville’s youth, we could entice him back to the downtown fold, a better man, a better citzen.

Until such time, and with Philip Preville and his ‘inner asshole’ now gone, making things right here in Toronto is one less asshole easier. (Cue ‘I’m Alright’.)

Logginsly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


An Addendum

July 16, 2011

Just a quick additional note that I tried to artfully weave into yesterday’s post but couldn’t pull off in any way that met even our impossibly low standards.

We were talking about the arrival of Councillors Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam into the bigs with their respective battles to save projects in their wards from under the Godzilla steps of Team Ford. The Fort York bridge in Layton’s case and the Jarvis Street bike lanes in Wong-Tam’s. In losing causes both councillors made very favourable impressions.

We failed to make one important point. That is to the ‘why’ these projects came under attack in the first place. Budget overruns were cited with the proposed Fort York bridge. A mix of ideologically thinking and a repackaged election campaign pledge got trotted out in the case of the bike lanes on Jarvis. None of the reasoning actually held up in the light of the day and perhaps it’s just easiest to see it as simply a purge of anything and everything to do with the Mayor David Miller era. (If you’re looking for better analyses of what’s making the mayor tick, you absolutely need to read Ivor Tossell’s piece in the Toronto Standard and Matt Elliott at Ford For Toronto.)

But consider this.

I think it’s safe to say neither Wong-Tam nor Layton could be viewed as reliable allies of Mayor Ford. In fact, opposite camp may be a better descriptor. Downtown pinko left wing kooks. No need expending any political capital trying to woo them.

Instead, they could be used as examples to the other new councillors who are more amenable to the mayor’s way of thinking. Something along the lines of, don’t fuck with us, newbies, or this kind of thing may happen to you too. So, running against unwritten council protocol, in committee a Ford ally blindsides both Layton and Wong-Tam, giving them no real heads-up that the mayor’s aiming to pull the plug on a project in their ward. Grade school, bully boy tactics that has the dual purpose of sticking it to a political foe while warning everyone else who may be getting restless under the mayor’s thumb to stay put and shut up.

Fort York bridge, killed. Jarvis Street bike lanes, removed.

You see what Mayor Ford just did there, Councillor Bailão? Councillor Colle? Councillor Matlow? Councillor McMahon?

It’s instructive to point out that in the lead up to the Jarvis bike lane debate, Mayor Ford went out of his way to hold the Lawrence Heights development item, a big ticket project that Councillor Colle inherited from his predecessor in Ward 15, Howard Moscoe. Yes, the mayor had never been a fan of the development. He’d even campaigned in the neighbourhood last year and vowed to stop it if elected. But note the timeline this week. Mayor Ford holds item, putting a gun to its head. Jarvis Street bike lane debate happens. Councillor Colle remains in deep background during it. When the vote happens, Councillor Colle lines up with the mayor to help tear up the bike lanes.

Recess for lunch. When the meeting resumes, the mayor releases the item and is the only one to vote against it. However, it’s now safe for Councillor Colle to go forward.

That’s some out-and-out gangster shit there. The exact opposite of building consensus. Let’s call it, political extortion, given added oomph that it comes with the very real example of what happens if you don’t play ball with the mayor. Projects just disappear.

That’s just how Mayor Ford rolls, yo.

sippin’ on gin and juicely submitted by Cityslikr