Posts Tagged: karen stintz


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.


6
Mar 12

An organized opposition versus a disorganized mayor: a look at the TTC ballot votes

Commission votes: ballot results for the election of a new TTC board

In addition to today’s City Council Scorecard update, here’s a snapshot look at the results of yesterday’s vote to elect a new TTC board.

The balloting process was a bit muddled and confusing, but essentially — after a quick nomination process — each councillor had to fill out a ballot listing their seven choices for the TTC board. Nominees needed to achieve majority support (23 votes) in order to be named to the board.

Fourteen councillors were nominated but three — Shelley Carroll, Gord Perks and Mary-Margaret McMahon — declined to serve. That mean there were eleven nominees standing for seven open spots.

The thing to note is how organized things look on the bottom half of the chart. From Gloria Lindsay Luby on down, the opposition mostly stuck to an agreed-upon slate of candidates, all of whom ended up winning spots on the board on the first ballot.

The mayor had a slate of his own, of course. It included one councillor who dropped out — Caroll — and six others, a couple of whom were also on the opposition’s list. (Speculation is that Carroll’s nomination was designed to split the vote and/or allow the mayor to stick a presumed mayoral candidate with responsibility for a difficult file.)

But contrary to the discipline shown by the left, Ford’s allies were all over the map with their votes. Many of them didn’t even fill out a complete ballot. Yes, they may have done the math and realized they couldn’t win, but the lack of coordination between the mayor and his councillor supporters is worth noting.

You can view the above chart in google docs as part of this month’s council scorecard.


5
Mar 12

After Ford rejects compromise, Karen Stintz moves to dissolve TTC board

The Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant, on the issue that’s going to keep this week’s council meeting from being boring:

The embattled Toronto Transit Commission is about to undergo a major shakeup with chair Karen Stintz and her allies moving to dissolve the Ford-friendly board and replace it with councillors who support light-rail transit and private citizens.

Ms. Stintz will be putting her own job on the line Monday when she moves a motion to fire all nine current commissioners.

via Stintz readies motion to fire Ford-friendly transit commission | Globe & Mail.

This is shaping up to be yet another significant loss for Rob Ford. By a combination of law and custom, he’s supposed to be the one who sets the composition of boards and committees. Should council have the votes to do this – and every indication is that they do – the mayor of Toronto will have lost influence over the city’s biggest budget item. Major transit decisions will go forward without input from his office.

Some will attempt to spin this as the actions of a bitter and spiteful council that seeks to undermine the mandate of a democratically elected mayor. But that’s crap. What we’ll see this week is no less than Karen Stintz’s last resort after attempts at compromise were roundly rejected or undermined by the mayor and his friends.

There have been at least two major compromise attempts between Stintz and the mayor’s office since this whole transit battle took hold back in January. Both could have seen an outcome where Ford walked away looking like the winner. Instead, he rejected everything.

The First Compromise

The first major compromise is the more obvious one, since it played out in public. With this olive branch, Ford could have agreed to bring the eastern section of the Eglinton LRT above ground, build a two-stop extension of his beloved Sheppard Subway and deliver improved transit to Finch with a new busway project.

Ford probably could have played hardball with this deal, asking for further guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. During talks with the province after he took office, Ford was given an offer that would have seen Eglinton widened to ensure traffic flow wasn’t impeded.

This would have been an easy thing to spin as a victory. Ford gets his subway, along with a trumped up guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. And Finch gets some fancy buses. Everybody wins. Mostly.

The mayor could then spend the next several months talking up Gordon Chong’s report as the magic key that will allow for further construction on Sheppard.

But that’s not what happened, despite Stintz getting an initial assurance from Doug Ford that the mayor was open to the deal. Instead, the mayor flatly rejected the offer, sat through an awkward council meeting where he was overruled – he called it irrelevant – and then proceeded to call his hand-picked TTC chair a back-stabber.

The Second Compromise

This one is murkier, with most of it happening outside of the media.

Shortly after the TTC board fired Gary Webster, the impression I was given by several people is that council would quickly move to remove Ford-allied councillors from the TTC and replace them with people more amenable to council’s approved direction on transit. Also: there was a desire to ensure that the TTC board wouldn’t continue to fire long-time employees for spiteful and/or vindictive reasons.

But things soon changed. As of the middle of last week, stories started to emerge that Stintz and Ford had reached a compromise on the composition of the board. Having already agreed to allow for citizen representation, the two agreed that they would support a board of six councillors and five citizens, with the chair being chosen from the councillors. More importantly, the deal seemed to imply that the current TTC board would stay in place until June.

That was the deal on Wednesday. And still on Thursday. But on Friday, things changed: Stintz announced that she would be making a motion at this week’s council meeting that would call for an immediate change to the make-up of the board, removing all existing members and seeking replacements. Seven councillors will join the board immediately, with four citizens to join later on this summer following an appointment process.

What happened between Wednesday and Friday is anyone’s guess, but a late night Twitter posting by Stintz sheds some light on the situation: “My attempts at compromise with the Mayor were again undermined by Doug Ford & Nick Kouvalis,” she wrote. “The situation became untenable.”

The details of the announcement also point to this being a snap decision following some sort of renewed strife between the mayor and Stintz. Initially, Councillor Josh Matlow told the Globe that there would be a predetermined slate of councillors chosen to replace Ford’s allies on the TTC board. But Stintz quickly backed away from that story, and said it would be an open nomination process. (In the confusion, Matlow was unfairly criticized for what looked like a premature leak – it seems clear now that things were just happening really fast.)

The obvious speculation is that Stintz was hoping to find common ground with the mayor that would have seen him cease his efforts to invalidate council’s February decision on LRT. A compromise may have even included broad support for a Sheppard Subway extension, contingent on the mayor actually presenting a viable plan to pay for it.

Coincidentally, late on Thursday, Doug Ford took part in an extended media scrum in which he rejected the idea of all taxes and tolls as a way to pay for new transit. He called them evil. He also accused Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli of being biased toward LRT and made further claims that the Eglinton LRT plan was similar to the right-of-way project on St. Clair Ave.

What no compromise means

There’s lots to worry about going into this week’s meeting. Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan cautions against a worst-case scenario in which half of council puts their name forward for a seat on the new TTC board, leading to a procedural circus and dozens of votes. I’m hopeful that there’s more organization in the works and that there is a chosen bloc of councillors with broad support ready to step in as commissioners.

But even if not, this is the only play Stintz has left. With every compromise rejected, a recomposition of the TTC board is imperative. Without it, the city goes forward with a situation where the guys controlling the majority votes on the TTC are actively against the council-approved plans for transit expansion. Given the sheer number of items related to these plans that are set to become before the commission, it’d be way too easy for the mayor to use his influence to alter or delay progress, creating procedural snags that would continually require council’s intervention.

That’s no way to build a railroad.


23
Feb 12

City Council Scorecard: Adding up the transit vote

Toronto Council Scorecard

February 23, 2012: Google Docs (Best View) - Download (PDF)  - Download (PNG)

Council has actually met three separate times in February, but only one of those meetings resulted in a vote worth recording on the City Council Scorecard. Aside from a couple of integrity commissioner issues that — while fun to watch — didn’t go anywhere, February’s regular council meeting was fairly quiet. If arguments in the chamber got contentious, it was probably because momentum was building behind-the-scenes for the special council meeting held on February 8 that saw the mayor’s transit vision smashed with a procedural hammer.

From that special February 8 meeting, the vote added to this month’s scorecard represents the most significant defeat of Rob Ford’s administration. I’ve made that claim several times before — and each time it was true! — but this is a serious major-league defeat for Rob Ford. The council he’s supposed to be leading basically told him that he wasn’t allowed to make decisions on transit.

The New Vote

Council Scorecard: February 23, 2012 (New Votes)

The vote added:

  • CC17.1, Motion 3a as moved by TTC Chair Karen Stintz, pushed council to endorse what they had already endorsed in 2009 (and several other times): light rail on Finch West & Eglinton. The second part of her motion, which also passed, will see an expert panel report back to council with options for Sheppard. While no one wanted to say it, this is the vote that brings back Transit City. It passed — after two re-votes because councillors kept hitting the wrong button — by a final and decisive margin of 25-18.

Trend Watch

What’s most notable about the chart is how bad 2012 has been for Rob Ford. Only 20 of 44 councillors have sided with the mayor more than 50% of the time on major items this year. And the gap is only widening: going by the same metrics I was using last year, only three councillors — Gloria Lindsay Luby, James Pasternak and Jaye Robinson — fit the profile of the “mushy middle” based on their 2012 votes, and they were all reliable Ford supporters through the first nine months of this term. Everyone else has either supported the mayor on virtually every item or come out in strong opposition.

Ford has lost most of the sway he had over votes through 2011. Opposition councillors are now able to round up 23 votes without too much hassle. That threshold has been crossed. And there’s no going back unless the mayor starts compromising.

The thing to watch going forward is whether we’ll find a scenario where 30 votes will go against Ford. A consistent bloc of 30 councillors — controlling two-thirds of the chamber  – would effectively neuter any positional power Ford has as mayor. It’d be a whole different ballgame.

The path to 30 isn’t easy. Take the 25 votes who went against Ford on the transit item, then add Gloria Lindsay Luby, who was absent from the vote, to make 26. From there, the best bets would be councillors like Peter Milczyn — who bravely opposed the mayor on the Gary Webster firing –, Gary Crawford, Michael Thompson, and basically anyone else with a Liberal Party membership or a stated interest in the arts, the environment or sensible urban planning.

It’s not straightforward, but it’s doable. And every uncompromising and bullheaded decision made by the mayor’s office only makes it more doable.

Questions

Questions about the Council Scorecard? Read my notes on methodology. Also, you can email me.


22
Feb 12

Without Just Cause: Gary Webster gets fired

As expected, the TTC board formally released General Manager Gary Webster from his contract yesterday after a 5-4 vote. This is widely regarded as a dumb move.

The Globe & Mail’s Marcus Gee:

Mr. Webster is being fired just days after a public meeting in which he spoke his mind, in the most calm and respectful manner, about his views on the best way to expand Toronto’s transit network. Those views differ sharply from the mayor’s.

Firing him now reeks of spite. It confirms what many people already feel about the mayor’s blunderbuss, my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing the city. It conflicts with the mayor’s pledge to cut waste. Firing Mr. Webster only a year and a bit before the end of his contract could cost the city $500,000 and more.

Worse, it sets a dangerous precedent that could intimidate the other leading public servants who advise the mayor and city council on public policy.

via Shameful firing further alienates Mayor Ford | The Globe and Mail.

In addition to the cost and the dangerous precedent this sets, this move is ridiculously hasty and ill-timed. Even Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday has acknowledged that it doesn’t make sense to fire the most important civil servant at the TTC when you have no workable strategy for replacing him. The commission will likely spend a year (or more) trying to find a permanent replacement, through which time management will undoubtedly suffer due to a lack of leadership.

Webster was going to retire in a year anyway. Instead of just waiting that out, the city gets to dole out $500,000 in severance payments, deal with a difficult period of managerial change and — oh yeah — live with the consequences of being a crappy employer with a reputation for firing people without just cause.

There’s no way to sugar-coat that last part. The motion passed at the meeting was clear: Webster was fired without just cause. For no reason.

The timing of this also sucks for Ford’s policy ambitions — assuming he has any left. Had the mayor waited and made a move against Webster later this year, this would have felt a lot less petty and vindictive. He would have been able to retain more support from allies, especially as council as a whole would have moved on from the contentious LRT/subway debate and onto other issues. As it is, Ford’s move to oust Webster has only hardened the conviction of previously “mushy middle” councillors who have spoken out against his agenda in recent months. Worse, it’s also put significant strain on the loyalties of at least three councillors who had been, up until recently, critical and vocal supporters of the mayor’s agenda.

There’s no political calculus that says firing Gary Webster was worth potentially alienating Karen Stintz, John Parker & Peter Milczyn. Without those bedrock supporters in the chamber, Ford can’t even dream of getting to 23 votes on any significant agenda item. Without strategy and without allies, Rob Ford continues to cast himself into irrelevance.

“This mayor is not one that unites people”

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney & Mike Spears, quoting the current budget chief:

“The message is not good,” said Councillor Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt). “This mayor is not one that unites people. He has thin skin. Those that don’t agree with him aren’t going to last very long.”

via Soknacki retiring from politics | Toronto Star.

Sure, Del Grande was speaking about another mayor in another time (in 2006), but stripped of context his point will always be a good one: mayors should unite people. A mayor who fails to unite people is not very good at his job.

Criticize David Miller all you want — despite protests from some, he never saw a civil servant fired like this, without just cause and with such vindictiveness — but he was a hundred times better at uniting councillors in favour of a common agenda than Rob Ford has proven to be.

On the Defensive

In a parallel universe, the same group of citizens who gathered at City Hall yesterday to defend the career of Gary Webster could have easily spent a day criticizing his performance as TTC chair and demanding improvements. They could have made a list of a hundred things that Webster and the TTC should be doing better.

That’s not an indication of hypocrisy or political bias. It’s just one of those weird truths that come about when you’ve got a mayor who takes a damn-the-torpedoes approach to governance. By attempting to tear down and destroy, Ford puts his opponents into a perpetual defensive position. Nuanced viewpoints give way to a simple desire to preserve. Opposing Rob Ford these days generally means working to prevent programs, services and people from being tossed into the trash.

It is a shame, because nuance is important. Transit City isn’t a perfect plan. Gary Webster wasn’t a perfect manager. There’s room for improvement and innovation across every city department. But council hasn’t been able to work on the things that lead to improvement and innovation because they live in a constant state of defensive readiness. The entire political discourse in this city is dominated by strategy designed to preempt and contain the damage coming out of the mayor’s office.

Council wasn’t able to contain the damage yesterday. Webster’s career is over. But this story continues.


20
Feb 12

Down with Webster: Ford to spend half-million dollars because transit GM disagrees with him

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

Rob Ford either doesn’t understand the basic principles of good governance, or he doesn’t care to be guided by them. Neither do Norm Kelly, Cesar Palacio, Frank Di Giorgio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, or Vincent Crisanti—the councillors (and TTC commissioners) who signed a petition yesterday calling for a special meeting to oust TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster.

via In Service to the Public Good, Not Mere Power | Torontoist.

At a special meeting of the TTC on Tuesday, those five councillors — in service to the mayor — will likely endorse spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to release Webster from his contract. The TTC will then presumably spend untold amounts of money and time conducting a search for a replacement.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars — respect-hungry taxpayer dollars! — flushed down the toilet all because Webster refuses to bend facts and figures to placate Rob Ford’s imaginary subway plan.

Webster’s great sin is providing evidence in support of a transit plan adopted by a strong majority of councillors earlier this month.

I’d never argue that Webster has been exemplary in his role as transit manager — the TTC is not without its problems — but he has presided over record ridership growth, new vehicle roll-outs, a vast expansion of new technologies like stop announcements and NextBus and design plans for the largest expansion of rail transit Toronto has seen in several decades. There’s a lot to be proud of.

Former GM David Gunn told the Toronto Star this weekend that Webster will be a hard person to replace:

At some transit agencies, Gunn said, senior management has been “rolled over and over” so many times for political reasons that only political people end up running the agencies, which he says require significant technical and operational expertise in addition to business or administrative acumen.

“They’re creating a situation where it is going to be difficult to have a very serious transit manager,” Gunn said. “Certainly they’re going to have difficulty replacing Gary, somebody of his quality.”

via TTC’s Gary Webster would be tough to replace: David Gunn | Toronto Star.

It’s clear, however, that Ford doesn’t necessarily care about qualifications. In fact, I’m not even sure that the mayor knows what he wants. Strategy coming out of the mayor’s office these days is mostly foolhardy, haphazard and ad-hoc. No one is thinking long-term. There’s no consideration of the three years ahead or the terrible precedents move like this set.

This decision appears to be entirely motivated by spite and cruelty, and not by any desire to improve management at the TTC.  Rob Ford realized he couldn’t fire Karen Stintz from her role as TTC Chair, so he’s firing someone else instead.

No Strategy

It’s hard to see this as part of a cunning plan by the Ford administration. What does the mayor expect to happen? Sure, he can oust Webster and a few other managers, but council can easily respond by dissolving the TTC board and reappointing councillors more agreeable to approved transit plans. Ford can’t expect to maintain any power or influence if he continues pissing everyone off.

If he actually wants to continue to have any influence on the transit file, Ford’s only real strategic move is to strike a conciliatory pose. He should turn back toward a compromise path. But he won’t do that. Even in the face of overwhelming reason, he won’t do that.

As it is, his latest move will serve only to further alienate allies like John Parker, Karen Stintz and maybe even Peter Milczyn. It will plunge council into another episode of procedural chaos where tensions run high and nothing gets done. And after all that, Ford will inevitably end up having little say in choosing Webster’s successor.

And none of this will impact the thing Ford’s really mad about. The light rail plan endorsed by council and accepted by the province will continue to move forward.

Who are the Ford Five on the TTC?

The TTC commission is currently made up of nine councillors. Five of them have signed the petition calling for a special meeting on Tuesday. Assuming that Maria Augimeri, John Parker, Chair Karen Stintz and Vice Chair Peter Milczyn vote against firing Webster, that makes for a 5-4 result.

Ford retains narrow control of the TTC only because these five councillors have seemingly dedicated themselves to following the mayor into the flames:

Vincent Crisanti is a first-term councillor who won his seat in Ward 1 by 509 votes, narrowly beating the incumbent by less than two percentage points. He’s voted with the mayor 97% of the time on major items, deviating only once on a matter relating to Community Environment Days.  Crisanti has distinguished himself by fighting tooth and nail against bringing higher order transit to his ward via the Finch West LRT.

The Finch West LRT has repeatedly been endorsed by the president of  Humber College. In 2008, the Emery Village BIA — located in the ward adjacent to Crisanti’s — indicated that “community response was unanimous in support of the LRT system.”

Frank Di Giorgio is a 90% Rob Ford supporter, though he’s been trending upwards in his support in recent months, while the rest of council has gone the other way. He won his seat, which he’s held on-and-off in various forms since 1985, by 422 votes or 3 percentage points. He voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times.

Di Giorgio has been most outspoken in the lead-up to the special TTC meeting. On Sunday, he told the Star’s Brendan Kennedy that it made sense to fire Webster because the mayor’s mandate matters, implying that the will of council is essentially irrelevant:

Di Giorgio said the responsibility of the city’s bureaucracy is to follow the will of the mayor and achieve the objectives set out by his mandate, which TTC managers have failed to do.

“We’re trying to eliminate some of the problems that surfaced over the last month that should not have surfaced and need not have surfaced.”

via TTC transit chief Gary Webster may not be only one to lose job: Di Giorgio | Toronto Star.

In 2008, the Toronto Environmental Alliance awarded Di Giorgio an A+ grade for his commitment to green initiatives, citing him as their “most improved” councillor. They noted his support for things like studying the teardown of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, implementing the Land Transfer and Vehicle Registration Taxes and beefed up waste diversion targets.

Since then, Di Giorgio has become a Ford-backing councillor who has supported closing libraries, rescinding the ban on the sale of bottled water at city facilities, eliminating bike lanes, backing off on the city’s tree canopy goal and killing Community Environment Days.

Funny how things change.

Norm Kelly has been in various offices since the 1980s, once serving as a Parliamentary Secretary under Pierre Trudeau. Under David Miller, he voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He has since become a 100% supporter of Rob Ford. In the wake of council’s vote on transit, Kelly implied that the province would be justified in ignoring council’s decision and deferring to the mayor.

Denzil Minnan-Wong is another Rob Ford stalwart at 100%. However, he differs slightly from Norm Kelly in that he expressed a desire for the mayor to accept council’s transit decision. “Council spoke and you just move forward,” he told the the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat. It’s unclear how firing the general manager figures into moving forward on this issue. Minnan-Wong supported Transit City at least four times between 2006 and 2010. He was absent for the other recorded votes.

Cesar Palacio is a 95% Rob Ford supporter. He also voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He’s decided that the litany of issues that arose with the St. Clair right-of-way project are reason enough to oppose on-street LRT, apparently working from the assumption that all surface transit projects inevitably go over budget because of scope creep, NIMBYism and nuisance legal cases.

 


16
Feb 12

Memo to the suburbs: pro-subway mayor wanted to cut your bus routes

Buried in a worth-your-time profile of Karen Stintz, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Yang reports this gem, from former Ford Chief of Staff Nick Kouvalis:

Kouvalis said the first crack between Stintz and Ford appeared after she backed down on plans to cut 48 bus routes, a move that would have freed $7 million.

Kouvalis said the bus motion was a “test” to see which TTC commissioners would fall in line and which were “wet noodles.” Stintz was a noodle, he says.

“My advice was: Get rid of her, right there on the spot,” Kouvalis says.

He recently reiterated that point to Ford, he adds. “She’s committed the biggest sin in politics, which is disloyalty,” he charges.

via Toronto News: Karen Stintz reveals her master plan: There is none – thestar.com.

As a quick refresher, Ford started pushing cuts to bus service in January 2011, almost immediately after he took office. He called it a “service reallocation.”

Of the 48 routes impacted by the proposed cuts, most provided service to Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York. Many provided important links to subway stations and other forms of rapid transit.

The cuts drew a backlash. A series of public meetings on the issue did not go well. Transit users took issue with the TTC’s outdated ridership counts. And so the TTC blinked. The service cuts were rolled back. Instead of $7 million in service reductions, the city only saw $4 million.

At the time, it looked like both Ford and Stintz had yielded to the public response, but Kouvalis’ comments paint a different story. According to him, those initial route cuts stood as a twisted way to ensure that the mayor’s chosen TTC chair was, in fact, okay with screwing over transit riders to save a little money.

The truth was that Ford always wanted to cut bus service. It was Stintz that stepped in to preserve what she could.

Ignoring that this seems like an incredibly cruel way to test someone’s loyalty, let’s focus on what the move says about Rob Ford’s attitude toward public transit in the suburbs. He sees it as expendable. For all his talk about sticking up for transit riders in Scarborough, the mayor has now presided over two consecutive budget cycles in which suburban bus service was reduced. If he continues to insist on reductions to the TTC operating subsidy, this pattern will continue: fewer vehicles, wider headways, crappier service.

Even if Ford were able to wave a magic wand and build subways across Sheppard, Eglinton & Finch, most people in the suburbs would still live in areas far removed from subway stations. Bus service provides the local connectivity you need to make rapid transit corridors work. When you start making cuts to that service to save money, the whole network feels the impact.

Ford’s plan seems to be to sell himself as a champion for transit in the suburbs, but his attitude toward suburban bus service tells another story. He talks about building subways while simultaneously cutting service on the bus routes that would feed those subways. And now, via Kouvalis, we’ve got confirmation that Karen Stintz has been serving as the counter-weight to the mayor’s transit cuts. Without her, things would have been worse.

Measuring Stintz

Before I get accused of drinking too much of the Karen Stintz Kool-Aid, I want to note how disappointed I was when she did this:

The Toronto Transit Commission has decided to put an extra $5-million it was awarded by city council to maintaining Wheel-Trans service for dialysis patients – not to reversing some of the bus cuts.

The unexpected money also allows Wheel-Trans to start accepting new dialysis patients and restores overall eligibility criteria to earlier levels for 2012.

via TTC using $5M awarded by council to beef up Wheel-Trans | National Post.

That $5 million was directed to the TTC by council with the intention that it would be used to preserve conventional bus service. Wheel-Trans is a noble and important thing, but the commission had already identified a strategy to work to maintain service for dialysis patients when it was due to run out of funding later this year.

Stintz and other Ford-allies argued that using so-called “one-time” funds for bus service was a bad idea, because, hey, what if the city doesn’t have a surplus next year? We’d have to cut that service anyway. But, by that logic, this Wheel-Trans funding presents a similar risk: are we going to kick dialysis patients off the bus in 2013?

We’re not, of course. Because there will be a surplus next year. And even in the crazy unlikely event that there isn’t, there are always ways to find revenues to maintain the things we value most.


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.


9
Feb 12

LRT for Toronto: Rob Ford loses bid to control Toronto’s transit future

Rob Ford’s unilateral transit planning came to an end today when council voted 25-18 to re-endorse plans for light rail transit on Eglinton, Finch & the SRT route. Back before Rob Ford was elected, we would have called this “Transit City.” Mostly.

There were no major surprises coming out of today’s vote. TTC Chair Karen Stintz did broker a small compromise when she ended up punting on the idea of light rail on Sheppard. As it stands, an “expert panel” will review various options for that corridor — including the mayor’s favoured subway scheme. In addition, Jaye Robinson, who will always be a wildcard and was a major unknown going in to today’s vote, ended up voting in favour of the proposal championed by Stintz. Her vote was important as it gave council the strong majority it needed to convince the province this was a serious  – and unwavering — decision.

It seemed like it worked. Every indication is that the province will accept council’s plan and move forward under this new framework.

Rob Ford is obviously not happy. Over the course of the meeting, his administration tried everything from a deferral motion to spiteful procedural delay in an effort to stave off the inevitable vote. In the end, nothing worked. The mayor went down, losing a major vote on transit.

Afterwards, Ford attempted to save face by declaring today’s meeting irrelevant. On his Facebook page, he promised that the fight for transit is not over. But given the province’s reaction and the nature of today’s vote, it’s hard to see his statements as anything more than a lame duck mayor grasping for relevance in the face of total defeat.


6
Feb 12

Why are some councillors set to vote against transit in their wards?

Councillors Against Transit: How are councillors voting on projects set to pass through their wards?

Councillors Against Transit? Some councillors are set to vote against transit projects that would run through their wards. (The Sheppard East LRT will also skirt the wards of Councillors Del Grande & Moeser.)

Updated Feb 7 2012: The voting chart at the bottom of this post has been updated based on new information. Councillors Moeser and Lindsay Luby are both likely to miss the meeting. Frances Nunziata confirmed which was she was leaning when she called Karen Stintz a ‘traitor’ at council yesterday. And Mark Grimes is Mark Grimes. Jaye Robinson remains the only undecided, and I could see her going either way.

It’s official. As reported by Inside Toronto’s David Nickle:

Toronto Transit Commission Chair Karen Stintz and 22 other city councillors have demanded a special Toronto City Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8, to consider whether to bury the Scarborough-Eglinton Crosstown LRT through Scarborough.

Stintz, who represents Eglinton-Lawrence on council, presented the petition to the city clerk prior to the start of the city’s regular council meeting Monday, Feb. 6.

via TTC chair Stintz calls for special council meeting on Transit City | InsideToronto.com.

Twenty-four councillors signed Stintz’s petition, with James Pasternak and Gloria Lindsay Luby standing as the difference-makers. I expected to see John Parker’s name on the list — he’s been vocal throughout this debate — but he seems to have opted to play it safe. Still, there’s a good chance he’ll vote in favour of the agenda item on Wednesday.

With the majority in place, our attention now turns to the motley crew of councillors who have decided to stick with the Fords even in the face of almost-certain defeat. For some, the motive is easy to understand. Scarborough councillors like Michael Thompson and Michelle Berardinetti have nothing to lose by supporting gold-plated underground transit through Scarborough, even if that support means that other projects lose out. And councillors like Peter Milczyn and Cesar Palacio are so far removed from the projects on the table that they might as well protect their political position and side with the mayor.

But for other councillors, motive is harder to pin down.

Take the councillors in the table above. All of them represent wards that lost out on transit when Rob Ford made his unilateral decision to cancel the Finch West and Sheppard East LRT projects. And yet, even knowing what’s at stake, three of them seem likely to double down on their support for the mayor and vote against bringing improved transit to their constituents on Wednesday.

You can almost excuse Norman Kelly and Giorgio Mammoliti. They’re council veterans unlikely to face electoral consequence no matter what they do. Kelly also has the spectre of a Sheppard Subway to point at. And no one expects Mammoliti make rational decisions.

But for Councillor Vincent Crisanti — still a quiet council newbie with a near-perfect record of Ford support — his vote on Wednesday could easily be seen as a slight against the neighbourhoods he represents in Ward 1. He’s got to know that any talk of underground transit into northwest Etobicoke is pure fantasy. Even the biggest optimist would be hard-pressed to include a Finch subway project in a fifty-year timeframe. He also knows well that the Finch bus route is one of the most crowded and uncomfortable in the city. And he knows that Humber College — a major driver of economic activity in his area — has long advocated for improved transit connections to their campus, something the LRT was set to provide.

Last February, the President of Humber College expressed regret over the mayor’s decision to kill the Finch West LRT project, telling the campus newspaper, “We had a plan in terms of the previous government. Now we don’t have a plan, and we have yet to see one.”

Crisanti has a chance to play a role in bringing that plan to Humber College this week. He’s got a chance to improve transit for the community that elected him. It’s a shame he’s going to pass on it.

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