Whose Tune Are We Dancing To?

March 26, 2014

Set aside the back and forth debate on any and all ramifications of the island airport expansion and possibility of jets flying in and out of there. reasonablepersonThis is not about that. I have opinions for sure. But that’s not what this is about.

Trying not to invoke the language of hyperbole associated with this issue, that’s always seemed to be a part of the discussion surrounding the island airport, I’m searching for more moderate words, less combative declarations and judgments. To state it fair-mindedly and even-handedly. It seems to me… blah, blah, blah Steve Paikin not Christopher Hume sounding.

So, here goes.

It seems to me that at the heart of the island expansion and Porter desire to fly jets out of it debate is nothing less than the hijacking by a small gaggle of special interests of our entire democratic system of governance.

Hmmm….cutloose

“The clock is ticking for Porter Airlines to get a decision on jets at Toronto’s island airport,” Vanessa Lu wrote in the Toronto Star last Friday, “because the airline must soon put down non-refundable deposits on its Bombardier CSeries order.”

How soon, you might ask?

“Porter was originally scheduled to make non-refundable payments on its conditional order for 12 of Bombardier’s new CSeries jets in December,” Lu answers, “but won an extension to April.”

April, you say. Like this April? The month that starts next week with, well, wouldn’t you know it, a city council meeting where this item will figure prominently on the agenda?

Why, one might wonder, is the city working to a private company’s timetable? Supporters will point to all the new jobs and wonderful boost to the economy a jet flying, expanded island airport would bring to the city. Unfortunately, those claims are as hard to pin down as most of the others. In his interview with Metro Morning this morning, mayoral candidate John Tory manyunansweredquestions(who assured host Matt Galloway and the CBC audience that he had read the staff report) said there were 45 questions he needed to have answered before he’d give the plan the go-ahead.

45 different unanswered questions!

None more important to my mind than the design of the extended runway that would be needed to accommodate the jets. A runway extension right smack dab in the harbour. How would it affect other users of the public space? Boaters, waterfront residents and visitors. How would the new extended runway and the takeoff and landing of the jets affect the water front development further east along the donlands?

Maybe not at all. Maybe we wouldn’t even notice. But how can we decide about these things with so many open-ended questions still to be answered?

What’s the rush?

Well, we know the rush. Porter has to start putting serious cash down on the table, non-refundable cash for its order placed on 12 jets under the assumption, I guess, the airport expansion was a mere formality. Seems there might’ve been some misjudgement of the situation. rushWhy is that the city’s problem?

Under questioning from members of the Executive Committee last night, Deputy City Manager John Livey was as upfront as a bureaucrat can be expressing his view why the city should simply defer the question until next year when a whole bunch of the unanswered questions, including the new proposed runway design, might be available. Don’t do it. “It would be a very big mistake.”

“I lose leverage, I believe, in the negotiations,” the deputy city manager told the committee. “It would be a very big mistake to do a conditional approval. I think you, as council, would regret having made that decision.”

Yet those pushing hardest for the conditional approval are some of the biggest self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives on city council including Mayor Ford. Looking after every single taxpayer dime, he tells us ad nauseum, but there he was, pushing a motion calling for a conditional approval now. Let’s do this thing. Get `er done!

How exactly is putting the city in a weaker negotiating position going forward in any way fiscally prudent or deemed to be minding the store? porterairYou give a conditional approval, Porter hands over money to Bombardier it can no longer get back, come the time when a decision needs to be made and you don’t like the answers you’ve been giving and turn it down, Porter cries foul! But you said yes!

They’re then out millions and millions of dollars. Who are they looking to make reparations? The city’s been down that road before, has had to uncross that bridge, so to speak.

On top of which, as Councillor Peter Milczyn (the lone dissenter on the Executive Committee from pressing forward with the airport discussion) said on Metro Morning earlier today, there could be as much as $300 million worth of infrastructure upgrades required around the airport terminal at Bathurst and Lakeshore intersection in order to accommodate the airport expansion. bugsbunnysquaredanceThe Toronto Port Authority has already asked senior levels of government for up to $100 million of that.

$100 million that could be spent elsewhere. $100 million the city would put toward more pressing infrastructure needs. $100 million to service Porter’s needs, not Toronto’s.

Why would any city councillor put the interests of one private business ahead of those of the city they were elected to represent? That’s what this debate should be about. The rest of it is just shiny baubles and misdirection, intended to deflect from the real and, quite frankly, disturbing reason we’re having this debate at all.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Toronto The Doing OK

February 15, 2013

One could almost feel sorry for Ontario’s opposition leader, Tim Hudak, if such a human emotion existed, so I’ll try as best I can to fake it.

quizzical

A day after he swings by Toronto’s Board of Trade to bash the city as a place in decline where something has gone off the rails, the Conference Board of Canada releases its 2013 Metropolitan Outlook report that doesn’t paint as bleak a picture of Toronto’s economic situation as Mr. Hudak would like us to believe. But maybe that kind of bad timing happens regularly to him. If you travel around just talking nonsense and shit all the time, you probably get used to the egg on your face.

Besides, in all likelihood Hudak’s speech Wednesday afternoon wasn’t really targeting the local audience. divideandconquerWith no 416 MPPs in his caucus and very little promise of scoring one any time soon, the goal was to come to town, piss on the furniture and get your sound bites in place to use in the rest of the province in a desperate bid to divide and conquer. Yeah. That Toronto, man. A living hellhole. We give and give and give and give, and it still sucks. Sucks and is ungrateful. Elect me, Tim Hudak, as your premier and I will go to Queen’s Park and put Toronto in its place!

We’re not talking the rosiest of rosy forecasts here. The Conference Board’s report predicts Toronto’s economic growth at a very modest 2.8% but it still would be the biggest bump east of the prairies and a bounce from last year’s dip. And despite Mr. Hudak’s rhetoric that people and businesses are taking a pass on setting up shop here, the facts suggest otherwise.

“[Peter Viducis, manager of economic research at the city of Toronto] also pointed to recent growth in demand for office space in downtown Toronto,” Vanessa Lu writes in the Toronto Star, “including companies like Telus, Google, and SNC Lavalin, wanting to set up operations here. chickenlittleIn the past, Toronto was losing out to office complexes in the 905, but more companies are seeking out the downtown.”

Apparently, the reports of Toronto’s economic decline have been greatly exaggerated by politicians looking to stir up discord, anger and resentment.

This relatively positive outlook is also of little help to the Ford administration not only because it can’t claim much credit for it – which is true generally at the municipal level – but it also kind of undercuts their whole duck-and-cover strategy for budgeting. All their cutting operating costs and paying down capital debt in order to build some sort of rainy day slush fund seems Chicken Little-ish. The sky isn’t falling, is it.

If Ford & Co were truly interested in running City Hall like a business, now would be something of a go-time. Credit’s still remarkably cheap. Unemployment rates locally are still stubbornly high. Stuff needs to be fixed, expanded. The time seems ripe to bolster those aspects of this city that continue to draw people and businesses to it. Increase mobility. Increase affordability. Increase liveability.

But we know running this place like a business is nothing more than empty rhetoric. fingerscrossedIt’s always been about cutting government down to size. So we are spun speculative fiction, much like the opposition leader’s Board of Trade speech, that is ultimately exposed as having little relationship to the facts on the ground.

It takes a special kind of person to consistently fly in the face of reality. A gaggle of them are at the helm currently at City Hall, misguiding the local ship of state. Tim Hudak wants to operate likewise at Queen’s Park but, unfortunately for him, he seems unable to outrun the truth.

sceptically submitted by Cityslikr


The Gig’s Up

January 24, 2013

It’s impossible to accurately predict a turning point of an era, let’s call it, while still living in that particular time. seethefutureUnless of course you have planes flying into buildings. That kind of catastrophic plot point writes itself. But in a period of relative normalcy on a scale of one for placid calm and ten for, Run For Your Lives, Jesus Has Returned!, you can never be certain when things have taken a most definite turn.

But allow me to go on record as saying I think yesterday, January 23rd 2013, was a turning point of the Mayor Ford Era here in Toronto. Now, now. I know lots of you will quickly jump in and claim that there have been so many turning points over the course of the last couple years, how could I pick just this one. You would not be wrong. I just think yesterday all the air that remained came out of the hot air balloon that once carried Rob Ford aloft.behindthecurtain2

The prick (ha, ha) that did it?

Matt Elliott at Metro’s Ford For Toronto, Debunking Ford Nation’s favourite budget chart. I will take it one step further. Mr. Elliott’s article debunks the very platform upon which the Ford Nation was constructed. City Hall’s fiscal foundations were crumbling due to out-of-control spending by the Miller Administration. The Gravy Trains must be stopped. Councillor Rob Ford was the man to do it.

It was the flimsiest of canards, and not one used only by then candidate Ford. He just perfected it. Coincidentally, this week is the 3rd anniversary of Rocco Rossi announcing his mayoral run chickenlittle(h/t to the Toronto Star’s David Rider for sending a reminder out). He too was full of municipal spending/debt alarmism based on little more than pronouncements of big, scary numbers. “He [Rossi] is prepared to sell off assets such as Toronto Hydro,” Vanessa Lu wrote, “to put the city on a better financial footing by cutting the city’s debt, now hovering near $2.5 billion.”

George Smitherman wasn’t above such cheap politicking, talking about how the city was nickel and diming residents to death and ‘restoring Toronto’s financial credibility’. Not for nothing, Mayor Ford recently claimed (albeit in typical Fordian hyperbole) that 80% of voters in the 2010 election backed his mandate. Meaning, I guess, everyone who didn’t vote for Joe Pantalone.

And all of it was nonsense, baseless assertions that opened the door for the Ford administration to run amok and slash and burn which was their intention all along, notwithstanding a rock solid pledge that there’d be “No Cuts To Services, Guaranteed”. texaschainsawmassacreAn easy line to follow that fit perfectly on a t-shirt and bumper sticker. It doesn’t have to be true if it’s snappy.

This isn’t to say that all’s pollyannishly well and good. Toronto does face some financial hurdles. Reeling in overspending just doesn’t happen to be one of them. As Matt (and most other reasonable political minds around these parts) has pointed out over and over again, we can’t fix major problems like congestion and crumbling infrastructure by slicing away at our annual operating budgets or attacking unions or contracting out services or selling off assets or a combination of all those things. Those numbers simply don’t add up.

Reducing revenues won’t help out either. This Team Ford’s done by not only getting rid of the Vehicle Registration Tax but by also ensuring we keep our residential property taxes insufficiently low. A clear-eyed examination of the facts will reveal the mayor’s claim of over-zealous tax-and-spending of the previous administration to be outright misinformation based on de-contextualized charts and misleading graphs.

We haven’t been having a truthful conversation about this city’s finances for over three years now. All to our detriment. As we head into more uncertain territory over the next few months – Tnot just in terms of the outcome of Mayor Ford’s legal ups-and-downs but the Metrolinx forthcoming report on future transit funding – we really need to start dealing honestly and in an informed way with our current circumstances.

Hopefully Matt Elliott has finally put a stake through the heart of the Legend of Toronto’s Profligacy. It was never a thing. We need to get past it now and start working on the real problems we’re facing.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr