Posts Tagged: david miller


26
Mar 12

The week that was: Ford loses major transit vote as Sheppard gets LRT

Council Scorecard: Transit Votes

While I was out: Rob Ford experienced yet another spectacular defeat on the floor of council. True to form, the mayor refused to endorse any workable revenue plan for building his beloved Sheppard subway – even the one that came from his council allies. Instead, Ford stuck with what the political strategy that has sustained him since he was first elected councillor over a decade ago: yelling and losing.

Here’s how it happened.

SUNDAY

March 18, 2012

Rob Ford devotes much of the time on his crazy boring radio show toward the transit discussion. As recapped by OpenFile Toronto’s David Hains, the mayor and his co-host Councillor Paul Ainslie hit all the same notes you’d expect: people want subways; St. Clair’s a disaster; all glory to the private sector; and the power of repeating the word subways endlessly.

Notably, Ford and stalwart Ainslie agree that the Sheppard Subway should be funded with “creative financing because people don’t like taxes.” This attitude would continue throughout the week, and sink any remaining chance Ford had of winning the council vote.

MONDAY

March 19, 2012

With the special council meeting just two days away, subway advisor and noted dentist Gordon Chong again makes public his opinion that the mayor must support new tolls and taxes if he wants to see a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue. Ford continues to ignore the advice of the man he picked to make the case for subways in Toronto.

Meanwhile, many of the swing vote councillors begin to make their opinions known. Councillor Josh Colle tells reporters he’s just looking for some kind of indication of where the mayor will get the money to build subways. “A pie graph would be nice, just something that would show where the source of funding would come from.”

But the mayor’s “plan,” even presented as a pie chart, would prove unconvincing. It’d end up looking a lot like this:

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)

TUESDAY

March 20, 2012

More mighty middle voices tip their hat toward the LRT plan. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon tells the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat that she’ll be supporting light rail because “Nothing has been concretely brought forward and I don’t see a [subway] plan.” Councillor Ana Bailão also hints that she’ll be a light rail vote.

In a bit of a surprise, Councillor Ron Moeser joins the group of councillors supporting the expert panel’s recommendation for LRT. Moeser has been battling an illness for several months that has caused him to miss virtually all council votes relating to transit. His support for the mayor had been widely assumed, but the mayor may have pushed things too far with the Scarborough councillor.

At this point, a majority of councillors have firmly pledged their support for light rail on Sheppard.

WEDNESDAY

March 21, 2012

Council begins its session by endorsing the use of Skype as a means for Professor Eric Miller to take questions from councillors. Miller was the lead on the expert panel that ultimately recommended the light rail plan. After much debate, Skype finds strong bipartisan support, though the mayor objects.

Soon after, battle lines are drawn. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker moves the motion that will support the panel’s recommendations. As a counter, budget chief and Scarborough Councillor Mike Del Grande proposes what we’ve all been waiting for: new revenue tools to fund transit.

Del Grande’s motion includes a levy on non-residential parking spaces, and seeks to raise $100 million per year for transit funding. The proposal is rightly criticized for being light on detail and short on scope. Those kinds of revenues would only fund about 300 metres of subway construction every year.

But, still, the motion is welcome news, acknowledging that even the most thrifty of suburban councillors have recognized the need to build public transit with public money. Del Grande finds support from most of council’s right-wing, but is stymied when the mayor — stubbornly, foolishly, inexplicably — refuses to lend his support to the plan.

Del Grande would end up attempting to withdraw the motion the next day. Without Rob Ford’s support, he knew it was doomed.

In another bit of procedural pettiness, Ford’s allies end the day with a good old-fashioned filibuster. The plan, which nobody expects to work, is to run out the clock and force a continuation to Thursday, with the hope that they can use the time to convince some councillors to support them.

THURSDAY

March 22, 2012

Having exhausted all his remaining options, Ford pulls out a would-be trump card: a loud and rambling speech in which he uses the word “subways” repeatedly. The point, buried in amongst the repetition, was to convince council to delay any decision until after the release of the federal and provincial budgets. The mayor appears to actually believe that those governments – both of whom are in full-on austerity mode – may announce billions of dollars in transit funding for Toronto.

As has become their custom, council mostly ignores the mayor.

The vote happens shortly after lunch, with the results breaking down mostly as expected. With 24 votes in favour, council supports the recommendations of the expert panel for light rail on Sheppard. Nineteen councillors stand opposed. Notably, Giorgio Mammoliti, who had promised on Wednesday that he would fight against the light rail plan on behalf of his constituents, ends up missing the vote on Thursday.

FRIDAY

March 23, 2012

The fallout from the vote comes quick and looks obvious. The mayor declares, yet again, that his election campaign begins today. The plan is to foster so much support for subways that he gets yet another strong mandate from voters in 2014. By Sunday – on his still-boring radio show – the mayor will even go as far as floating the idea of running a slate of Ford-supporting candidates in wards across the city, in the hopes of ridding council of those who oppose him.

This brings to mind two immediate questions:

  1. Would any legitimate candidate actually want to be part of a slate backed by a mayor with a terrible approval rating and a record of refusing to work with his allies to accomplish anything?
  2. If Ford’s going to be in full-on campaign mode for the next two years, then who the hell is running the city?

Ford’s stubbornness on this issue has made for even more alienation. Councillors like Jaye Robinson, Peter Milczyn and David Shiner went as far as to publicly question the mayor’s leadership on the transit file. Their comments were tinged with the kind of frustration that comes about when a mayor refuses to support a revenue tool that he recently championed in an editorial. It’s the same frustration that comes when someone ignores advice from everyone, even in the face of overwhelming reason and common sense.

It’s the kind of frustration that comes when the guy you’re trying to help ends up spitting in your face.

Despite protests from the mayor and his brother, this chapter of the Rob Ford mayoralty appears to be over. There’s little chance the province will re-open the subways debate and even less chance that more money materializes for subway construction. As was originally endorsed by Mayor David Miller and council, Toronto will see light rail transit built on Sheppard, Eglinton, Finch and the Scarborough RT corridor. Transit City lives again.


8
Mar 12

Playing the long-game: can Rob Ford win reelection in 2014?

The Globe & Mail’s Marcus Gee:

The mayor, never very engaged in the first place, shows signs of checking out. Always more comfortable campaigning from the outside than running the city from within, he is shifting into campaign mode.

Lined up against Mr. Ford, we have a power-drunk left-wing opposition so full of themselves that they are leaping to humiliate the mayor at every turn – an over-reaching that could come back to sting them at the next election in 2014.

via Messy political fighting plunges City Hall into chaos – The Globe and Mail.

Council’s newfound habit of overruling the mayor has got a lot of people thinking about the 2014 municipal race. Terms like ‘over-reaching’ and ‘power-drunk’ don’t make for a pretty picture.

Let’s take a look at how things might go from here.

The Pessimistic View: Rob Ford may be lousy at governing, but he’s amazing at campaigning. By over-reaching on the transit file and sneaking out wins in the chamber, council’s left has thrust the mayor into the role he was born to play: the underdog.

The mayor’s team is now well-positioned to spend the next two-and-a-half years stomping their feet and ranting about all the good they could do, if not for those meddling socialists. In the eyes of the public, council is a natural villain – they’re an amorphous blob of politics-as-usual, whereas Ford is the guy you want to have a beer with. He’s the guy who understands you.

So there’s the story: Ford gets to play the outsider who can’t get his way because of those council bullies and downtown elites that want to screw over the suburbs. Meanwhile, villainous council gets to wear responsibility for all the day-to-day decisions of government. Couple that with some heavy duty transit construction that should kick off around election season, tearing up roads and hurting business owners, and Toronto looks poised to give Ford-label populism another go. They may even take down several left-leaning councillors in the process.

Plus, he’s the incumbent. That’s the municipal politics equivalent of a massive head-start.

The Optimistic View: For a populist, Rob Ford is incredibly unpopular. His poll numbers are terrible. David Miller didn’t sink to an approval rating this low until there were literal piles of garbage strewn about the city.

Less than two years in, Ford’s got a huge knock against him: he’s shown the public that he’s not able to keep his promises and get things done. He’s shown that he’s an ineffective leader.

This is a big issue for Canadian voters. In last spring’s federal election, Stephen Harper was ushered into majority territory with campaign rhetoric built on words like “strong” and “stable.” Dalton McGuinty co-opted the same language in the fall, pulling out an unlikely victory.

Ford’s style of government is the opposite of strength and stability. His City Hall always feels like it’s on the brink of outright chaos and, worse, he’s developed a nasty habit of over-promising and under-delivering. Gravy? Not found. Subways? No plan. His guarantee of no service cuts? Worthless.

And the opposition is ready. Ford has inadvertently sparked a level of engagement with civic issues like this city has never seen before. People are going to be on the ground en masse in 2014. And council, assuming they can continue to find common cause on the important issues, will be poised to make a strong case to the electorate that someone from their ranks is the person that can provide the strong and stable leadership that Toronto needs.

Maybe that someone will come from a peanut-shaped ward in North York.

The Realist View: 2014 is really far away. Do you have any idea how many crazy, totally unpredictable things are going to happen between then and now? Think of all the out-of-nowhere scandals and surprise page-one issues that stuck to the mayor in 2011.

And remember: if you had asked political-watchers in 2007 to predict the 2010 race they probably would have put forward candidates like David Miller, Adam Giambrone, John Tory, Karen Stintz and Michael Bryant. No one would have guessed Rob Ford.

We’re still an eternity away from being able to make conclusive statements about the next municipal election.

There is, of course, a need for strategy. Council’s new majority needs to continue to move forward on an issue-by-issue basis, receiving the mayor’s agenda items with fair consideration. They need to keep in mind that they’re running, at best, a centrist government. This isn’t a time for wild progressive gambits.

Ford, on the other hand, just needs to focus. On every file except transit, he’s still got close to 23 votes in his favour. He can maintain and strengthen that support if he and his allies stop with the petty personal attacks and outright threats. Telling a right-leaning Etobicoke councillor that you will execute her is not a good plan. Ford is far more electable if he can prove himself to be effective, even if that means toning down some of his ambition and finding compromise.

But, right, we’re being realists here, so let’s make it clear: the mayor probably won’t do that. He’s Rob Ford. He doesn’t compromise. He can’t change.


13
Feb 12

Ford in decline: populist mayor is unpopular

The Toronto Star’s Wendy Gillis:

Research and communications firm Stratcom polled 1,300 Torontonians on Thursday and Friday and found that 35 per cent of city residents “strongly disapprove” of Ford’s performance on the job.

The figure represents an 11 per cent jump in the past six months, and double the number from last March, when only 17 per cent of Torontonians voiced their strong disapproval of the mayor.

via Ford’s approval drops after transit defeat | Toronto Star.

The full Stratcom results peg the mayor’s approval rating at 43%. For comparison, Ipsos declared “Miller time is over” when David Miller polled at 43% in June of 2009. (A month later, in the midst of a labour dispute that saw mountains of garbage stack up in public parks, Miller’s approval was 33%.)

These are not good numbers for a municipal leader just a year into his mandate.

For the most part, Ford can’t point to extenuating circumstances (like a strike) or external factors (like a bad economy) to explain his spiking disapproval numbers. His administration dug this hole all by themselves: with obstinate refusal to compromise, a continued inability to play well with others and a series of ridiculous controversies.

The labour victory that wasn’t

Even when Ford does achieve a victory, his ability to capitalize  is limited. Just a week ago, the Ford administration achieved a negotiated settlement with Local 416, averting a labour stoppage and reportedly wringing some significant concessions from its workers.

By all accounts, this should have been a time to celebrate for the mayor and his supporters. Ignoring the particulars of the deal — which we don’t even know yet — this was an easy play for the mayor’s communication team: Toronto elected Rob Ford to deal with out-of-control unions, and now he’s succeeded.

But they couldn’t even get a Toronto Sun cover out of the labour resolution. The mayor bounced so quickly to the next contentious issue — transit — that his strategy on labour barely had a chance to register.

Ford Nation Redux

In the wake of last week’s vote on transit, the mayor and his brother have plunged headlong into campaign mode. They’re at least two years early. Their strategy seems to involve leaning on subways as a wedge issue designed to sow resentment between the suburbs and downtown. From there, I guess, the Fords will achieve such widespread support in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke that they’ll end up unseating a dozen incumbent councillors who oppose them and emerge into a second term with solid control over council.

And then: utopia. Magical budget reductions without service cuts. The Land Transfer Tax tossed into the lake. Subways raining from the sky. Rainbows. But not those kind of rainbows.

I got some flack for calling the mayor a ‘lame duck’ last week, but I’ll stand by it with one added qualifier: Rob Ford is only a lame duck because he insists on quacking. At every turn, council has offered the mayor a face-saving compromise. In almost every case, the mayor has rejected the compromise. Then he’s publicly attacked the compromise.

In today’s political panel, the National Post’s Jonathan Goldsbie sums up the situation:

Ford sells portions of the public on impossible solutions to real problems, and then tries to lead his disaffected followers in a full-on charge against reality, hopefully to eventually beat it into submission. The only thing keeping this from being deceitful is that the mayor himself is too dim to understand that the things he is promising are wholly made-up.

via Posted Toronto Political Panel: Rob Ford derailed by subway debate | National Post.

If Rob Ford insists on continuing down this course — rejecting compromise, alienating allies — he’ll never have the votes he needs to effectively move his agenda forward. Without council’s support, all he can be as a lame duck.


10
Feb 12

Notes on a Transit Plan

An April 2010 photo shows David Miller distributing "Save Transit City" buttons at Eglinton station. That woman on the left sure looks familiar. (Photo by Brad Pritchard / InsideToronto)

An April 2010 photo shows David Miller distributing "Save Transit City" flyers at Eglinton station. The woman pictured at far left sure looks familiar. (Photo by Brad Pritchard / InsideToronto)

1. We probably should have seen this coming

In April 2010, Karen Stintz spent a morning at Eglinton station with then-mayor David Miller. In the wake of provincial cuts to funding, the two of them distributed “Save Transit City” flyers to commuters. “I fully support Mayor Miller and his initiative and I’m proud to stand here beside him and get the message out,” she told the National Post.

That was a big statement. Stintz and Miller rarely saw eye-to-eye. It’s probably fair to describe her as a perpetual thorn in his side. She once dismissed his agenda as “bags, bottles and bicycles.” But when it came to funded and realistic transit planning, she was willing to work with the guy in the mayor’s chair. She was willing to be an advocate.

So what did we really learn about Karen Stintz this week? That she’s willing to stand up for achievable and realistic transit planning? That she’s open to working with people across the political spectrum to ensure those plans move forward? That she believes in Light Rail Transit?

We already knew these things about Karen Stintz.

2. Unavoidable truth: Transit City’s back

The light rail plan endorsed by council on Wednesday has got all sorts of names. Some called it the “Stintz plan.” Others called it the “Council plan.” The mayor, as is his way, called it “streetcar city.”

But whatever. Ignoring the politics of it — and maybe it’s not wise to point this out — it’s impossible to ignore that this plan is, essentially, a direct continuation of Transit City. It’s pretty well the same plan we would have seen go forward had David Miller remained in office for another term.

No bones about it: David Miller’s legacy got a shot in the arm on Wednesday.

3. Will the mayor get his Sheppard Subway anyway?

An interesting twist at this week’s meeting came from a Stintz motion that called for an “expert panel” brought together over the next month to discuss what to do with transit on Sheppard Avenue. The light rail plan — currently on the books as part of Transit City — has faced opposition because it’ll force an inconvenient transfer at Don Mills station on the Sheppard Subway line.

My first thought was that this panel was just an attempt to throw a bone toward Scarborough councillors, and that they’d ultimately conclude that light rail was the way to go. But during an appearance on NewsTalk 1010 Thursday morning, Councillor Adam Vaughan gave the impression that he expected the experts to support a one- or two-stop subway extension to Victoria Park.

A small subway extension would be an interesting outcome, serving two purposes: first, it shoves the question of what to do on Sheppard in the long-term off to the far-flung future. Another council and another mayor can figure it out. Second, it gives the mayor — even after all of his bitching and hyperbole and dirty tricks — a chance to deliver on a campaign promise.

4. Dirty Tricks & Pettiness

I mentioned dirty tricks: it’s worth noting how desperate and petty Ford and his allies got as yesterday’s council meeting rolled forward. Coming back from the lunch break, rumour was that the Ford allies were going to attempt the procedural equivalent of  taking the ball and going home. The talk was that the mayor would try to force a halt to the meeting by intentionally breaking quorum in the council chamber.

After a tense delay, Ford and a handful of allies did return to the chamber so the meeting could resume. There weren’t enough of them to break quorum.

They followed that up with further petty procedural meddling. When it came time to excuse councillors who were absent from the meeting, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong insisted on separating the vote into two parts. He wanted to vote against excusing Gloria Lindsay Luby, who had booked a vacation before talk of this special council meeting got started.

In a show of macho pride made completely bizarre because all it does is further alienate a councillor who is ideologically aligned with Rob Ford on most issues, Minnan-Wong voted against excusing her. So did Paul Ainslie, Mike Del Grande, Frank Di Giorgio, Doug Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, Frances Nunziata and the mayor.

This is not how you win friends and influence people.

5. What happens next? 

As expected, the province was quick to lend legitimacy to council’s decision. In fact, we learned today that Dalton McGuinty told Rob Ford days before the meeting that he would not support the mayor’s subway plan without council’s endorsement.

The remaining piece of the puzzle is Sheppard. Council will come back for another special meeting on March 21, at which time we’ll know whether we’re looking at subway or light rail in that corridor. That should be another fun meeting for the mayor to sit through.

Meanwhile, Rob Ford’s doing his best to make himself relevant to this debate. He’s spent damn near every hour since the vote attempting to spark public outcry over council’s decision, but there’s no real indication that he’s going to get anywhere with this plan. Yeah, the average person on the street will tell you that subways are awesome and we should have more of them, but that same person might also tell you that we should have libraries that are open 24 hours a day, free recreation programs, no property taxes and a fully-developed waterfront built by 2015.

Politics is about balancing what people want with fiscal reality — you can’t give people services you can’t pay for. You have to accept trade-offs to ensure public money is spent to maximum public benefit. You’ve got to be efficient and realistic. It’s weird that Rob Ford doesn’t understand this.


30
Jan 12

Council Scorecard: Did council ever vote on Transit City? Yes, at least seven times

Retro Council Scorecard: Transit City

A retro City Council Scorecard: occasions where the 2006-2010 council voted on Transit City. Click for bigger.

On Twitter Sunday night, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong charmingly asked if it’s “a good time to mention that Transit City was never brought before Council for approval?”

He posed his smug question, I guess, because of this news story, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski:

A report by a respected Toronto law firm says Mayor Rob Ford exceeded his legal authority when he cancelled Transit City without city council approval.

Councillor Joe Mihevc, who solicited the legal opinion, will release it publicly on Monday.

It says the mayor had no business entering into a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the province that authorized a new transit plan, including a Sheppard subway and a longer tunnel on the Eglinton light rail line. It says he further overstepped his powers when he told TTC chief general manager Gary Webster to stop work on Transit City.

via Mayor Rob Ford had no authority to cancel Transit City, lawyers say | Toronto Star.

The sad thing is that a legal opinion really wasn’t needed. Anyone with the ability to read sentences would come to the same conclusion that the lawyers did. The Memorandum of Understanding that set the new direction for transit in Toronto, as signed by the mayor and Metrolinx last March, was explicitly a non-binding agreement designed to “provide a framework for the negotiation of agreements to be approved by [the mayor and Metrolinx's] governing bodies.” In the mayor’s case, that governing body is council.

Further, the City Manager wrote, in a response to an Administrative Inquiry by Councillor Janet Davis, that “any agreements to implement the Memorandum will require Council approval.”

So Ford clearly violated the limits of his power when he went and started implementing his transit plans. And don’t forget: his decision to kill Transit City cost the city more than $200 million in cancellation fees and wasted work by staff and consultants.

That $200 million stands as a bigger example of government waste than anything Ford has identified as ‘gravy’ at City Hall thus far. It’s a figure that exceeds the entire budget of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way project.

But council was at least somewhat complicit in letting him get away with it. On his radio show yesterday, Councillor Josh Matlow asked Mihevc why he only commissioned this legal opinion now and not, say, a year ago — when most everybody knew Ford had overstepped his bounds. Mihevc was polite in his answer, but his real reasoning seems obvious: it didn’t make sense to make any noise about the mayor’s transit plan at the time because, had a vote on the subject actually come to council, guys like Matlow — and the other middle-aligned councillors — might have supported the mayor.

Things are different now.

But back to Minnan-Wong. He’s not just wrong in his claim that council never voted on Transit City. He is wrong in at least seven different ways.

How council endorsed Transit City at least seven times

I guess the implication when Minnan-Wong and others claim Transit City was never put to a vote is that never did David Miller bring an item to council asking for endorsement on the “Transit City” brand. And it’s true: council never approved the bundling of a number of suburban light rail projects together under that name, nor did they specifically endorse, in advance, Miller and Adam Giambrone’s decision to work with the province to get Transit City included as part of Dalton McGuinty’s MoveOntario 2020 funding announcement.

But council did approve — often overwhelmingly — every element of the Transit City plan that moved beyond early planning stages. Beginning in 2007, they unanimously approved the direction of Transit City as part of a Climate Change action plan. In 2009, as projects really started moving, Council approved capital expenditures of more than $134 million to work on Transit City. That same year, they approved  Environment Assessments for the Sheppard East LRT (no recorded vote), the Eglinton LRT — which at that point was running on the surface at both ends — and the Finch West LRT. They also okayed the acquisition of land from private owners to support various parts of Transit City. In 2010, council opted to make the Scarborough RT rebuild part of Transit City, converting it from a proprietary technology to the same light rail planned for Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard East. (Council also endorsed Transit City as part of a debate on an extension of the Yonge subway into Richmond Hill.)

Lastly, council gave authority to actually begin work on the light rail project on Sheppard East. Only three councillors opposed, including the mayor. This grade separation work was underway at Agincourt when Rob Ford cancelled the project.

No one denies that Ford has the ability to set priorities and direction on the transit file. He’s the mayor. But he is not allowed to move forward with decisions that impact the finances of this city without council’s endorsement.

Council had numerous opportunities to alter or stop forward movement on Transit City. They’ve have had no such opportunity with Rob Ford’s so-called “Transportation City.” It’s moved forward like a runaway train.


24
Jan 12

That damn streetcar purchase: how Rob Ford made transit a budget scapegoat

The mayor, in his “Weekly Update” message, sent out the Friday before last week’s budget vote:

We are also going to take this year’s $154 million surplus and invest it vehicles for the TTC.

As I have said – the previous administration placed a $700 million order for TTC vehicles [new streetcars] with no money set aside to pay for them. That was irresponsible.

The $154 million surplus must go towards paying that $700 million debt as the bills come in. This is the responsible thing to do.

via My Weekly Report – week ending January 13, 2012 | Rob Ford’s Facebook.

This streetcar gambit was the second strategy the mayor’s team tried as part of their attempt to take back control of the 2012 budget narrative. In the face of an almost $200 million surplus, the whole “we’ve got to make a lot of cuts!” thing required some finesse. Their first idea was to frame any notion of using one-time “windfall” funds to maintain programs as totally and completely irresponsible. The kind of thing dumb consumers do.

That quickly fell apart, though, because the 2012 operating budget was always going to include so-called “one-time” funds. From the very moment Rob Ford stood at the podium and endorsed the staff-recommended budget, there was $80 million in non-sustainable reserve funds built right in. What became challenging for the mayor and his allies, then, was defending using some one-time funding but not any more than that.

They set an arbitrary line at $80 million but quickly realized they weren’t standing on solid ground. And so: streetcars.

Pointing to the streetcar purchase as part of the budget process was actually a shrewd move. It took something a lot of Ford opponents are passionate about — transit infrastructure — and dangled it precariously over a fiscal edge. The notion that the city might not be able to pay for its new transit vehicles if it didn’t devote more money to its capital budget at least had some logic to it. It gave proposed service cuts more legitimacy than they would have had otherwise in a budgetary surplus environment. We’re not cutting because we love cutting, they could say. We’re cutting to save transit.

All of this, of course, was mostly baseless scaremongering.

A brief history of Toronto’s streetcar purchase

Council Scorecard: New Streetcar Purcahse

David Miller's council voted to buy new streetcars twice. The first time, it was with the understanding that the federal government would cover a third of the costs. The second vote came after the federal government said no.

PART ONE: Having looked at various options for rebuilding the current fleet of Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs), the TTC decides that the best course of action is to replace the entire fleet with new streetcars. As an added bonus, the new vehicles can be made low-floor so they’re more accessible, theoretically lessening some of the demand on WheelTrans.

Leading into a design and tender process, the TTC includes 204 new streetcars in their capital budget request to council in 2008. The full cost is about $1.2 billion and the wording in the budget indicates that council’s approval is contingent on both the provincial and federal governments each paying one-third of that figure — about $400 million each. The City’s portion is to be funded with debt.

No one passes any amendments objecting to the purchase of new streetcars. (Though Rob Ford does attempt to pass amendments eliminating both 311 and Toronto’s bike plan.) The capital budget as a whole passes 29-11.

PART TWO: There’s no delicate way to say this: the federal government — through Conservative MP John Baird –, upon receiving Toronto’s request for streetcar funding as part of the 2009 federal stimulus package, literally tells Toronto to “fuck off.”

Yes, despite the province tabling no objections to funding its share of the vehicle purchase under its stimulus program, the federal government objects to paying for the purchase on a technicality and sends Toronto scrambling. At this point, the contract for the new vehicles has already been awarded to Bombardier and the clock is ticking before their bid — significantly lower than a comparable bid from Siemens — is to expire.

PART THREE: Council holds another vote to preserve Bombardier’s streetcar bid and keep things on schedule. The plan is to cover the federal government’s portion of the purchase price through debt financing. Room is made in the capital budget by deferring items like the Eglinton Bus Terminal replacement, the station modernization program and other capital projects. By doing things this way, the City is able to finance the purchase without increasing its net debt beyond what was originally planned and approved.

Council votes overwhelmingly to continue with the streetcar purchase, making the necessary changes to the TTC’s capital budget. The contract is signed with the first new streetcar set to debut in the city sometime in the next year or so.

Where we are today

As of this year’s capital budget, the streetcar purchase is still on the books, part of the ongoing capital plan that was approved by council last week. The only change is that the number of streetcars ordered was reduced from 204 to 189 as part of some cost-saving measures this past summer. The plan to use debt to finance the purchase won’t result in any kind of doom scenario, as the capital plan on the books keeps debt service charges below council’s self-mandated 15% limit. Even working from the almost stupidly conservative assumption that there will be no future surplus money or revenue from asset sales to devote to capital payments, the city has a fiscal strategy to meet its capital obligations.

That’s not to pretend that there aren’t serious issues related to TTC funding, however. Yes, the TTC has many capital needs beyond the limits of the approved capital budget. And, yes, they could absolutely use more funding to provide infrastructure to improve service across the city. There continues to be a need for all levels of government to sit down and figure out a long-term solution for transit infrastructure in this city.

But never in this budget process  – or in any other — was the city’s ability to pay for its new streetcars threatened. Following tales of $774 million deficits and 35% property tax increases, this was just yet another example of a mayor who tends to use fear as a means to build support for his agenda.

The streetcars we desire roll on.


3
Nov 11

Sorry Mr. Budget Chief, Rob Ford doesn’t have a mandate for a ‘tough medicine’ budget

Writing for his pals at the Toronto Sun, here’s city budget chief and Scarborough councillor Mike Del Grande:

Our mayor was elected because voters perceived him as a simple guy, the people’s mayor, who would clean up City Hall.

But last year’s election is clearly not over for news outlets like the Star and CBC.

Apparently they cannot stand to think changes in the way City Hall operates are imminent, and they will do all they can, not to offer any alternative, but to derail them, simply for the pleasure of saying, “I told you so”.

We have a “tough medicine” budget coming and I expect more of the same conduct from them.

via Anti-Mayor Ford agenda is clear | Columnists | Opinion | Toronto Sun.

I praised Del Grande last week for taking the right stand on the shark fin soup issue. His vote came packaged with a nice speech that I thought showed a sincere commitment to the environment. I also praised the budget chief earlier this year when he took a bit of a stand — albeit by excusing himself, instead of voting ‘no’ — when his allies at council attempted to repeal a ban on the sale of bottled water at city facilities.

Unlike some Ford allies who seem driven by a gleeful desire to spitefully tear down all things associated with David Miller, Del Grande strikes me as a rather back-to-basics fiscal conservative. His attitude toward the 2012 budget has been relatively consistent: he thinks we should take the pain of significant cuts, fix the structural deficit, and move on from there.

I disagree with him, of course. Trying to fix a structural shortfall — one that we’ve had to deal with for more than a decade — in a single budget cycle is insane and also unnecessary. It’s insanely unnecessary. There’s no reason to do things this way.

But that’s my perspective. The budget chief has his. We disagree. That’s okay.

But here’s what gets me about his editorial, and it’s something I see from a lot of the crowd that still clings to the Rob Ford steamship: Rob Ford is not some paragon of austerity and old school conservative thinking. That wasn’t his platform last year and it doesn’t seem to be his position now. Instead, the mayor clings to some rather dubious magical thinking about gravy and how he’ll cut it and save us billions of dollars.

If Mike Del Grande wanted a mayor with a mandate to pass ‘tough medicine’ budgets, he should have run for the office himself. As much as he might want to project his principles onto the guy in the mayor’s chair, it doesn’t hold up. Because the guy in the mayor’s chair said there would be no cuts.

He assured us.

Del Grande’s Budget Notes

While we’re on the subject, Del Grande’s office recently posted some “budget notes in brief” on the councillor’s appropriately austere blog. They also were included in the fall newsletter.

I’d take issue with a couple of his points.

The first is the off-hand reference to capital debt “caused by the previous mayor’s spending.” Capital spending did increase over the David Miller years, but I would challenge people to look at that spending and identify high-ticket items that shouldn’t have been bought. Like it or not, this municipality bears responsibility for one of the largest transit systems in North America. Replacing end-of-life subway trains and streetcars, coupled with a continued emphasis on state of good repair projects after that incident where people died in a train crash, make for the brunt of our capital debt challenge.

Second, there’s the continued spectre of large property tax increases. Simplifying this complex budget debate down to alarmist concerns about 30+% tax increases is a dumb strategy. It just ends up making Del Grande and company look like they have no strategy, no ideas and no direction. The city has had years where they faced much larger opening pressures — bigger, yes, than $774 million — and council was able to find a way to balance them without double-digit increases in residential property tax rates.

Enough with the fear mongering. Show us your plan.


28
Sep 11

Six Years of Budget Balancing Strategies: Rob Ford’s 2012 approach presents false choice

For the last six years, City Council has dealt with each budget shortfall with a mixture of surplus funds, new revenue projections, property tax increases, investment income and spending cuts/efficiencies. The 2012 approach under Mayor Rob Ford has been different.

Update: I’ve made a minor edit to the chart above to clarify how the implementation of the Land Transfer Tax & Vehicle Registration Tax changed the city’s financial situation. Quick summary: in 2008, both new taxes combined to take about $175 million in budget pressure off the city’s books. That new money was folded into expected revenues for future years, but LTT revenues tend to surpass staff estimates, resulting in extra cash in 2009, 2010 and especially 2011.

Through this Core Service Review process, the (growing) group of councillors opposed to Mayor Rob Ford’s fiscal strategy has continuously complained about a lack of information. While Budget Chief Mike Del Grande and assorted hangers-on have been quick to cite a figure of $774 million as the opening “pressure” for 2012, they’ve been less forthcoming with revenue figures that will significantly reduce that pressure.

Increased revenues from the Land Transfer Tax in 2011 alone look to total almost $80 million. And remaining surplus dollars from the 2010 and 2011 budget years could total another $100 million or more. Add in potential investment revenues, dividends from Toronto Hydro, assessment growth and other miscellaneous revenue lines and that big scary $774 million figure looks to drop down to something a lot more manageable.

The chart above reveals why this revenue information is so critical: each year, that opening pressure figure — which, it should be noted, was bigger in 2010 than it is this year — is brought down through a variety of strategies. Yes, there are spending cuts and efficiencies — Rob Ford’s favourite things — but also other revenues. Each year — until this one — the budget has been balanced without apocalyptic talk of slashing childcare, closing libraries and decimating public services or else raising property taxes by 35%.

That’s a false choice. It’s one that ignores the balancing strategies used over the past five years that have kept the city moving forward.

A note on sustainability

Critics would point to the chart above and say that the budget balancing strategies employed by Mayor David Miller, Budget Chief Shelley Carroll and the rest of the the left on council were largely unsustainable, short-term fixes, relying too heavily on reserves and other one-time funding sources.

And, for the most part, that’s true.

That said, if you believe — as even right-leaning councillors like Giorgio Mammoliti and Doug Ford seem to these days — that the city’s structural deficit is due in part to the province, who reneged on its responsibilities for supporting things like transit, child care and welfare, then one-time strategies tend to be the best Toronto can hope for these days. Unless the province comes to the table and commits to uploading more transit costs, a truly sustainable 2012 budget — one that doesn’t completely destroy the kind of public services that contribute to the economic viability of our city — is nearly impossible to achieve.

An Alternate Path

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t paths Toronto can take toward fiscal independence.

  • A service review process and efficiency study — like the one we’ve just been through — was a good idea, but the timeline needed to be longer. Set annual goals to increase across-the-board efficiency and work with management to achieve them. You’ll save more money this way than you will with layoffs.
  • Set a long-term path forward for residential and commercial property tax rates. A multi-year strategy to put the average residential tax levy on par with, say, Markham would bring in vastly more revenue. Commercial rates should continue to decrease relative to residential. Review tax increase deferral and cancellation policies for seniors and disabled residents to ensure we’re not kicking anyone out on the street.
  • Consult with Metrolinx on their upcoming revenue strategy to ensure that a fair percentage of revenue from road tolls — an inevitability in this province — go toward transit operating costs, in addition to capital.
  • Review parking rates and increase them in downtown, high demand areas. Think like the private sector.
  • Look at new revenue sources, including a City of Toronto sales tax. Big cities across the world have one, and they’re not dying because of it. We keep hearing about the necessity of hard choices: here’s one.

The key is to think long-term and not to rush toward slash-and-burn fixes. More than any other level of government, municipal public services are directly tied to economic success. We can’t afford to risk that.


26
Sep 11

No “Car Free Day” proclamation from Mayor Ford

Due to either a lapse in protocol or simple ideological objection, Rob Ford’s office opted not to sign the mayor’s name to a proclamation declaring “Car Free Day” in Toronto this year.

Beginning in 2005 and continuing through to last year, the mayor of Toronto has proclaimed every September 22 as Car Free Day — a day in which people try to avoid using their cars and stick to walking, cycling or taking public transit. In doing so, this city aligned itself with a bunch of other cities around the world who also celebrate a Car Free Day. The 2010 proclamation proclaims that Toronto celebrates Car Free Day because it is a city “committed to improving the health and quality of life of its residents, with cleaner air and [recognizing] the importance of alternative transportation options.”

The proclamation text also indicates that “[an] increase in TTC ridership and a shift towards active commuting by walking and cycling to work indicates that residents are … doing their part to fight air pollution and traffic congestion.”

Car Free Day is missing from the list of Rob Ford’s Mayoral proclamations for 2011. When I asked Dan McDermott of the Ontario Chapter of the Sierra Club — the organization behind Car Free Days in this province — about the missing endorsement, he indicated that at least two councillors approached the mayor’s office about a proclamation, and an official application was made, but that ultimately the request was denied. (McDermott also told me that the formal application-for-proclamation was not made a full six weeks in advance, which gave the mayor’s office a reason to deny beyond the obvious “we like cars” rationale.)

Does this matter? Not really. Even the biggest enviro-booster has to admit that Car Free Day is little more than a token. A well-meaning token, but a token all the same. It’s never noticeably impacted the number of vehicles on the road and the sad reality is that, for a good percentage of this city, giving up their cars for a day and still making it to work on time are opposing forces. The kicker: with cuts to bus routes and changes to the standards that govern crowding on transit vehicles, things are getting worse for those outside the core who may want to ditch their cars, not better.

Still, I would submit that this story, like the change to the city’s press release boilerplate after Ford took office, stands as an interesting example of how the sitting mayor sets the values of our city. For David Miller, signing his name to a document that declares “Toronto is recognized as a world leader in the fight against climate change and prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in the world” was as natural as putting his shoes on in the morning.

For Rob Ford, it’s not. He wears different shoes.

The Proclaimers

By the end of September last year, David Miller had issued 103 mayoral proclamations. In his first full calendar year as mayor, Rob Ford is close behind that pace, having issued 102. The majority of these proclamations are the same from year-to-year, with a few exceptions:

Proclamations made by David Miller in 2010 that were not made by Rob Ford in 2011: Best Buddies Month; Beta Sigma Phi Week; BIA Week; Black Music Month; Car Free Day; Creativity & Innovation Week; Data Privacy Day;  Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda; Emancipation Day; Football Week in Toronto; Girl Guides of Canada Day; International Day in Support of Victims of Torture; International Literacy Month; Jazz Week;  Khalsa Day; Magazine Week; Malaria Day; Marathon Week in Toronto; March of Dimes Month; Missing Children’s Month; Mobile Innovation Week; Mois de la santé bucco-dentaire; Naval Day; Ontario Coaches Week; Oral Health Month; Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week; Parental Alienation Awareness Day; School Crossing Guard Appreciation Day; Set Sail for Hope Day; Sickle Cell Day; St Lawrence Centre for the Arts Day; Stop Brain Disorders Week; The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada Day; Toronto Tourism Day; Vimy Ridge Day; Wiphala Festival

Proclamations Made by Rob Ford in 2011 that were not made by David Miller in 2010: Administrative Professionals Week; Basketball & Hip-Hop Culture Month; Bike Month; Community Health Week; Companies and Communities for Kids Day; Congential Heart Defects Awareness Day; DAVM Awareness Month; Elder Abuse Awareness Month; Foot Health Month; Foursquare City Day; GTA Minor Hockey Week; Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company Day; Histiocytosis Awareness Day; Injured Workers’ Day; International Mother Language Day; Italian Heritage Month; National Biotechnology Week; Neil Young Day; Oral Health Day; Police Week; Primary Immonodeficiency Day; RED Day; Red Tape Awareness Week; Rugby Week in Toronto; Scout-Guide Week; Sears Drama Festival Week; Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Awareness Month; Storytelling Week; Toronto BIG SAVE Blood Donor Day; Toronto Outdoor Art Day; Veterinary Week; Vision Health Month; World Hepatitis Day

I’ve left out some that are obviously one-time-only proclamations, like “2010 Celebration Day” or “Juno Week.”

This isn’t really useful or meaningful data as it’s impossible to determine if any of the same groups that were awarded proclamations in 2010 applied again in 2011. (Or vice versa.) This should only be regarded as an information exercise. An incredibly nerdy information exercise.


15
Sep 11

Toronto’s unpopular mayor

A new Forum Research poll has the mayor’s approval rating at 42%. This is crazy low for a municipal politician, especially one who is not even a year into his term of office.

I’ve thrown together a quick chart which shows his previous favourability numbers as also reported by Forum Research along with some comparisons to former mayors David Miller and Mel Lastman, compiled via a variety of sources. In summary: his numbers don’t compare very well. Ford’s about as popular right now as a guy who had been in office six years, had pushed through two unpopular new taxes and was staring into the face of a municipal workers strike that would see garbage pile up in public parks for a month.

And Ford hasn’t even got to the big cuts yet.

The Toronto Star’s David Rider looks at the steep drop for Ford support in the suburbs:

Half of Etobicoke-York respondents approve of “the job Ford is doing,” down from 58 per cent in June. In Scarborough, his support is 49 per cent (down from 59 per cent); 43 per cent in North York (down from 69 per cent) and only 30 per cent in Toronto-East York (down from 44).

via Toronto News: Ford support plummeting, poll suggests – thestar.com.

That 26 point drop in North York is crazy.

The obvious retort to this kind of thing is just to fold your arms and say polls don’t matter. Which, sure, is true. As the mayor said yesterday, the only poll he cares about is the one on election day. But behind the scenes, this is a mayor who has built his political power on the premise that he is a very popular and well-liked guy in suburban Toronto. With that premise looking shaky if not shattered, there’s no compelling reason for certain councillors to always look so intently to Giorgio Mammoliti’s thumb when items come to a vote at council.

It’s probably no surprise that the release of this poll coincidences with news that certain councillors will oppose the mayor on key items related to waterfront development and the upcoming budget process.