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politics

Irresponsible Madness at City Hall

A kindergarten class of city councillors is trying to remake transit by drawing a map with crayons.

Left to right: councillor James Pasternak; Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig; TTC CEO Andy Byford; councillors Paula Fletcher, Joe Mihevc, Mary-Margaret McMahon, and Josh Colle; TTC Chair Karen Stintz; councillor Maria Augimeri; then-Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli; MP Peter Van Loan; and councillor Mike Del Grande at the preview for the TTC’s new streetcars last fall.

Toronto City Council was supposed to debate the issue of transit “revenue tools” on Wednesday, so that it could advise Queen’s Park which are acceptable in Toronto’s eyes—or at least which are the least unacceptable, given that nobody likes new taxes.

The debate, which continues today, descended into complete chaos of “let’s make a deal” transit planning of the worst kind seen in decades.

The whole affair started simply enough, with a move to wrest control of the City Manager’s report on revenue tools from Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee, which voted recently to defer the debate—they’d resume discussions, the committee decided, the day after Metrolinx (the regional agency in charge of transit planning) issued their recommendations, rendering municipal input into that process useless. This first step was accomplished with a procedural vote—one which needed a strong consensus of a two-thirds majority of councillors present.

That was on Tuesday. Late Wednesday morning, the item came up for debate.

The entire scheme started to unravel with a move by Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) to make any approval of new funding tools conditional on changing the signed agreement to build a Scarborough light rail line, instead calling for a full subway line. The arguments for this change are tenuous and include flat out misrepresentations of several aspects of the two options, notably their relative costs. Contrary to political talking points yesterday, a subway will be one billion dollars more expensive than LRT, not “just” the $500 million some councillors cited. (This was confirmed by TTC CEO Andy Byford during the meeting.)

Not content to stop at one subway, other members of council then started to chime in with their pet projects, including a Bloor West subway; not one but two Sheppard extensions (one dubbed the “Pasternak Relief Line” by some, after the councillor who moved it); a subway on Finch; and a resurrected Jane LRT. The combined additions to the network cost are astronomical, but that’s not really what councillors care about.

Some, like De Baeremaeker, are fighting for their political hides, worried about being portrayed as less than supportive of their supposedly downtrodden suburban communities.

Some are fighting political battles by proxy for the provincial parties. The Tories bang the drum on the “no new taxes” front while failing to explain how high-cost transit proposals will be funded. The NDP trots out their hobby-horse of corporate taxes, arguing that council should not support increases in regressive, user-based fees, such as sales or fuel taxes. Even some Liberals are up to mischief, attempting to create an embarrassing situation whereby Premier Kathleen Wynne would be forced into a Hobson’s choice of changing her position on the existing round of planned transit expansions (a set of projects collectively called The Big Move), or of overriding council’s desire for new subway lines. The Liberals in question are still fighting the lost leadership battle.

None of this serves the debate about funding and building a major expansion of the GTA’s transit network.

What is overwhelmingly evident is the leadership vacuum at City Hall. Throughout the debate, Mayor Ford wandered in and out of the chamber wearing his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, and seemingly more interested in how the hockey game might play out than a vital debate. (At one point the debate paused momentarily to the sound of whooping—it was the mayor, behind the scenes, responding to the Leafs’ first goal.) But he didn’t even have much to do with De Baeremaeker making a complete fool of himself, and compromising both truth and any sense of responsible transit planning (though he certainly is glad to trumpet subways any time anyone mentions them).

For her part, TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), having launched the whole process by backing De Baeremaeker’s pipe dreams, sat silently while the debate drifted further and further from any coherence and, by extension, possible support for any “plan” including her own ill-fated One City scheme from a few months ago. Rather than controlling the genie she let out of the bottle and getting three well-chosen wishes for her transit efforts, Stintz is revealed as a sorcerer’s apprentice who cannot control the blind forces she has unleashed.

Procedurally, there is one hope: any formal change to last fall’s LRT-based agreement between Toronto and Metrolinx would require a two-thirds majority of council to be reopened. This may block some of the more outrageous schemes for a time, but won’t undo the damage of a divisive, if-I-don’t-get-a-subway-I-won’t-play attitude on council, and on the residents across Toronto who are watching them spin out of control.

At Queen’s Park, the Tories must be rubbing their hands with delight at yet another chance to embarrass the Wynne government. Meanwhile, the NDP, utterly incapable of actually making a decision without weeks of polling and “conversation,” shows no coherent leadership, and the Liberals have to deal with a fifth column of anti-Wynne Scarborough MPPs.

We must not leave out the transit agencies here. Metrolinx has been notoriously unwilling to actually defend its plan by fleshing out details, providing accurate information about what it will build, how long this will take, and how much it will cost. The TTC, meanwhile, produced a report in January, 2013 comparing the subway and LRT options for Scarborough that we now know overstate the cost of light rail by $500 million. Is this incompetence or an underhanded attempt to make the subway option look better than it really is?

Amusingly, some councillors, such as speaker Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), are happy to attack the TTC for being incapable of doing anything right, notably citing the “St. Clair disaster,” which also figured in the debate yesterday. Those same councillors, however, are more than happy to cite a bogus comparison of technologies coming from the TTC when it suits them.

As I have written before, there may be an argument for some subway expansion provided that this is based on trustworthy projections of costs and benefits, not on rose-tinted dreams of development and transit demand in every corner of the city. None of the debates we’re currently having rest on such a foundation, and “planning” right now consists of issuing boxes of crayons to a kindergarten class of politicians.

Toronto deserves so much better, but we are unlikely to see it, and a chance to actually build the transit we need may be lost for at least a decade.

A version of this post originally appeared on stevemunro.ca.

Comments

  • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

    In another thread (http://torontoist.com/2013/05/duly-quoted-metrolinx-on-a-scarborough-subway-vs-lrt/#comments ), I was told Cllr. De Baeremaeker’s position was “strategy.” I wish I could say I now feel smug, but I don’t.

    Those who can afford to, please help everyone by going to the Council chamber and shouting “PASS THE F&$#ING TOOLS / SHOVELS IN THE GROUND” until you are ejected.

    • Lee Zamparo

      In that same thread, I posted similar Cassandra like fears. Sadly borne out. We all lose when councillors behave like children.

    • IB

      I admit I was wrong. I had thought Stintz knew what she was doing here and that this could be isolated to a single change. On the other hand, even if this can of worms hadn’t been opened I think the plan would have been scrapped in a year or so when the government falls. Still, this is obviously worse.

  • andrew97

    Remember when people said we should not worry and vote for Pantalone because council would do the right thing?

    • dsmithhfx

      I never heard it. What’s it got to do with?

  • http://www.facebook.com/roy.schulze Roy Schulze

    An excellent, if depressing, analysis.

    • dsmithhfx

      If a tad overwrought and unrealistic…

      • tomwest

        Which bits, exactly, are “unrealistic”?

        • dsmithhfx

          The implied expectation that it would turn out any different, and a double-barreled load of blame buckshot and petty (as in childish) name-calling. Not his best work, by any stretch.

          • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

            He’s probably plenty pissed.

          • dsmithhfx

            Sure, and who can blame him?

          • Lee Zamparo

            I’m sure he’s pissed. It must be excruciating to have been intimately involved with Toronto transit and planning for decades as a civil servant, and now to observe the latest batch of political dilettantes fumble around and f*(k it up.

            Heck, I’ve only been following transit planning in passing for 3 years and *I’m* plenty pissed.

          • dsmithhfx

            That reminds me of the definition of insanity…

          • Steve Munro

            I did not work as a civil servant on transit matters, but as an IT manager for the TDSB. The transit side of my life is a vocation.

          • Lee Zamparo

            My apologies, I was mistaken.

          • Kivi Shapiro

            “an avocation”…

  • DavidPylyp

    There is a core group that would like to see a 1% HST tax increase. This would impact the entire province of Ontario to Fund Toronto Transit. Bicycles are a great idea if you are ZIPPING around the city Core but bundling the kids into the car seat then daycare, and driving your spouse to work makes those dreams unrealistic.

    Grodlock is not only into the 416 but also those that exit to the 905 on a daily basis. You need only to look at the Gardiner Traffic in the morning.

    Funding the #TTC alone is not the issue; Its creating an integrated REGIONAL transit plan than moves people efficiently. Other Cities manage. New York, Paris, London. Why not Toronto?

    Why do we keep electing the same people then pray for different results?

    • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

      From the big bold “NEW FUNDING TOOLS FOR TRANSIT” heading on this page, many resources are available. One is http://www.bigmove.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/RPT-2013-03-12-Revenue-Tool-Profiles.pdf . On p.186: “This sales tax will be applied uniformly to all goods sold in the GTHA.”

      This would indeed affect the entire province (the whole country!), but only indirectly and, I suspect, not very much.

      • DavidPylyp

        The additional HST would increase maintenance costs to every condo unit owner and tenant thru their landlord expenses.
        All these arguments about US and THEM are ridiculous when WE all live here and need to use a system

        • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

          I really don’t follow. First you don’t want an HST increase because you thought the entire province (THEM) would be paying for transit in the GTHA (US); now that’s “ridiculous.”

          Additional HST would, indeed, make those things cost more. It would actually make *everything* on which HST is currently paid cost more. That’s what “sales tax increase” *means.* In return we would get better transit, decreased congestion etc. which would raise property values and quality of life, making us better off.

          The point of this debate is that WE are currently losing $6b, headed to $11b, per year in lost productivity due to poor transportation (according to the estimates of the TRBOT). If WE can use $2b/year to lower that constant heavy cost by even a THIRD, WE will all be better off.

          At this point, as I see it, people can either support this simple logic, or choose to quibble about details/fail to support it. You are doing the latter. The author points out that many councillors are, too.

        • You fucking idiot

          >The additional HST would increase maintenance costs to every condo unit owner and tenant thru their landlord expenses.

          That’s what a sales tax is, you dumbfuck.

          >All these arguments about US and THEM are ridiculous when WE all live here and need to use a system

          What is this even supposed to mean? Do you do anything other than spout meaningless, context-free cliches?

        • vampchick21

          Listen, you really don’t make much sense in your arguement. It’s as if you aren’t actually paying attention.

    • matthewfabb

      The Big Move plan is about more than just Toronto, but improving transit across southern Ontario. Look up the list of projects that Metrolinx would like to fund and it includes not just a Downtown Relief Line in the 416, but an LRT across the busy Hurontario connecting Mississauga to Brampton, all sorts of improvements on GO Transit, a rapid transit system in Hamilton and more.

      As what do other cities have that Toronto doesn’t? The biggest thing has been steady funding to keep these projects going. Government switching plans mid-way has also been a problem, but funding for any of these projects have been piece-meal. Steady funding should provide a bit of a way forward although governments changing the plan of the previous government mid-way during it’s implementation will still be problem (an expensive one at that).

    • Rob

      The sales tax is separate from the HST and, as pointed out below, will be applied uniformly across the GTA. I’m not sure how you are mixing up the two. The only time I’ve ever heard the two taxes together is when the suggestion comes up that this sales tax cover the 2 per cent cut to the GST all those years ago to bring the total tax back up to 15 per cent.

      • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

        Returning that 2% would pay for The Big Move and lots of other backlogged projects.

        That extra 500 million Stintz wants could keep the Gardiner up in the air for another 20 years … or at least preserve it until it is rightly placed in a tunnel.

        Frankly, rather than adding a regional transportation tax on sales, just make the tax province wide and spend the money province wide. Then you avoid leakage problems and administrative costs too.

        • Lee Zamparo

          To be fair, I think this is De Baeremaeker, Pasternak, Crawford and Stintz, in that order.

          DeB might just be the worst of the lot, judging by my aural understanding of the discussion yesterday, though hardly any councilor resisted the opportunity to score cheap political points at the expense of our collective sanity.

          The usual suspects of the bozo squad (Doug Ford, Nunziata, Grimes, Moeser, Palacio, Crisanti, Kelly) all failed at thinking spectacularly, but that’s not a surprise, and so not much to be excited about.

    • You fucking idiot

      >This would impact the entire province of Ontario to Fund Toronto Transit.

      What the fuck is wrong with you, you idiot? Can you even fucking read?

      >Funding the #TTC alone is not the issue; Its creating an integrated REGIONAL transit plan than moves people efficiently.

      Do you even know what Metrolinx is, you dumbass?

    • vampchick21

      Did you miss the part where Metrolinx, the parent group actually doing everything, is provincial, and that this particular project, which Council is debating/fighting in the sandbox, is for the GTHA? GTHA, btw, stands for Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, and is for public transportation and roads from Hamilton through to far reaches of Durham. And that’s just the begining. Since Metrolinx is Provincial, logic would dictate that they would handle this sort of thing across the province. There are other cities in Ontario that can and will benefit from improved transit, it’s just that the first step is, well, the biggest area….GTHA. Which has the highest population, the most highways and the largets oncentration of transit that is connected to move people through.

    • TorontoComment

      Lots of parents cycle with their children in cities where there’s safe cycling infrastructure.

  • Tired

    As stated, the major issue is the fact that there is no leadership right now. The Mayor is a joke, the rest of council spends their time shouting their own ideas as loudly as possible over each other.

    I can only hope that we get a capable leader in the next election that can create consensus in council and actually get something done on transit. We have a pathetic system for a city of this size and prominence, it should have been fixed decades ago.

    • dsmithhfx

      Well, yeah, this is the rather predictable outcome of a badly divided city (and indeed, province and nation), with Councillors of varying competence and motives responding to pressure from constituents and other, unseen forces that we may only guess at. But who elected these idiots? Why it was us!

      • Polyp

        >But who elected these idiots? Why it was us!

        The dumbasses in the suburbs are the ones who elected the worst ones – bright lights like de Baeremaker, Grimes, Ford, Ford.

  • Mark

    *head-desk*

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28110435 Kate Roberts

      repeat. repeat. repeat.

      • Mark

        Seriously. I want to send all of city hall a truck of angry badgers. Or bees, or dogs with bees in their mouth and when they bark they shoot bees at you.

        • torontothegreat

          Best comment evar!

  • vampchick21

    I don’t care anymore. Just raise the money and build something goddamnit! Sick and tired of this bs round and round and round. Everyone on council just shut the hell up about your little precious snowflake constituants and JUST GET GOING ON THIS

  • OgtheDim

    Maps with crayons and pixie dust applied with white glue.

  • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

    Elsewhere: http://torontoist.com/2013/05/a-history-of-expansion-schemes-for-the-island-airport/20130508_cartoon1937/

    Local media tired of the political bickering. As the Globe and Mail observed in a July 6, 1937 editorial, Toronto should have prepared for an airport years earlier. “Yet backward as she is, her officials continue to waste time.”

    • dsmithhfx

      Plus ça change!

      (sips latte)

  • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

    Steve said: Rather than letting the genie out of the bottle and getting three well-chosen wishes for her transit scheme, Stintz is revealed as a Sorceror’s Apprentice who cannot control the blind forces she has unleashed.

    That is a great analogy. I’m now waiting for the Sorcerer to return (hoping in my heart that the Sorcerer is truly a sorcerer rather than a fraudulent “man behind the curtain”). Stintz did make a statement suggesting that she understands the damage done and would accept it if the province and Metrolinx choose against reopening the LRT agreement. It’s a cop-out but better than nothing.

    Steve writes: “What is overwhelmingly evident is the leadership vacuum at City Hall.”

    And borrowing from Steve’s crayon box to kindergarteners analogy, there is a reason why teachers are an important factor in education and leadership and why the best education systems (Finland for one) demand the best of their teachers. It’s quite clear from this embarrassing display at council that we truly do not demand enough of our political “leaders” … at least in Toronto and the GTHA.

    I can see from all the tweets that there are some young people who are shocked and disappointed by council today. Maybe some will be motivated to take action.
    Cheers, Moaz

    • dsmithhfx

      Everyone who is carrying on about how council is dysfunctional and act like a bunch of children is just providing election fodder to the incumbent, do-nothing mayor and slate of toadies he has vowed to run. We’re way past needing some constructive dialog to defeat the divide-and-rule crowd. That’s kind of where I was hoping this could go. It still could, so everyone take a chill pill and stop fanning the flames.

      • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

        It’s fine to let it go after the point has been made. Stintz screwed up this time and made it clear that she’s not as up for leadership as she and others might think.

        Ford’s lack of leadership and presence will only help him as long as we continue to elect councillors who make a show of council meetings, repeatedly display arrogance and ignorance, and care less about the city than their own personal political interests.

        I think the biggest takeaway from this series of council meetings is that (and I have no problem saying this) many of our councillors are past their “best before” dates and need to be replaced.

        Cheers, Moaz

        • dsmithhfx

          Welcome to Disneyland!

          • http://twitter.com/GTAMOVEnetwork GTA MOVE Network

            More like Anti-Disneyland. Toronto Council; it’s the ‘crappiest place on earth’