Feb 11

Ford sought $150 million from province to fix city with “spending problem, not revenue problem”

David Rider with the Toronto Star:

Mayor Rob Ford, who campaigned on the city having a spending — not a revenue — problem, is asking the Ontario government for an injection of more than $150 million in the provincial budget expected in late March, the Star has learned.

In a four-page letter dated Jan. 25 sent by Ford to Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, and obtained by the Star, the mayor asks for money for road construction and repair, public transit projects, a Fort York visitor centre and the renewal of programs to fund subsidized child care, housing and services for immigrants.

via Ford asks province for more than $150M – thestar.com.

That the letter was dated January 25th indicates that Team Ford realized early on the depth of the city’s revenue problems. Funny that they haven’t really acknowledged these problems at all throughout the budget debate.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than an admission that Ford was entirely wrong about the fiscal state of the city during his campaign.

Feb 11

We need to talk about 2012

Megan O’Toole with the National Post details the totally bizarre part of yesterday’s council meeting, wherein any discussion about the implications of the 2011 budget on 2012 was ruled out of order:

At one point, Speaker Frances Nunziata (York South-Weston) opted to shut down discussion on the 2012 outlook, spurring a furious outburst from Councillor Janet Davis (Beaches-East York).

“That has never happened in this chamber,” Ms. Davis fumed later, noting the 2011 budget documents are rife with references to the following year’s outlook, meaning the topic should be free for discussion.

“If this Mayor thinks that this budget that’s passed today has no impact on next year, he is misleading the people of this city, and it’s totally outrageous,” she said.

via Fantastic day for taxpayers, mayor says | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Enough to make your head explode.

Here’s the thing about 2012 — I’ve written about this before — it’s become incredibly clear that there are very few ways for the mayor to handle next year’s budget and still maintain his populist, good-guy, I’m-saving-you-money image. The reports could not be more clear: either we see significant property tax increases — bigger than we saw in any of the David Miller years, I’d suspect — or incredibly painful service cuts.

There are other options, of course, and we’ll probably see a combination of games played to make things work. (Selling stuff is on the table, though not Toronto Hydro apparently.)

This report from city staff is clear that the real answer comes from improving relationships with the provincial government. Page 26 refers to “Sustainable provincial funding (50% transit operating funding)”, while Page 35 notes that the capital budget through to 2020 is manageable except for the TTC.

Real fiscal responsibility would call for the mayor to address this need head-on. But, again, under his direction council has essentially denied itself achievable revenues (property taxes, vehicle registration taxes) this year, putting itself in probably the worst possible position to negotiate with other levels of government.

David Miller was often derided by those in the media for going after new funds from the provincial government. He was “crying poor.” There were many CFRB-types who called for the city to go on a quixotic quest to get its own “fiscal house in order” before asking the provincial government for funding.

This always bothered me because it ignores recent history. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that the province shirked its responsibilities for funding transit in Toronto. And since that time, for a ton of different reasons, the city has never been able to find a way to stabilize its year-to-year finances. Is it so crazy to wonder if it’s simply impossible?

I don’t think it is. And I’d speculate that that is the same realization the mayor and those around him are coming to. They’d simply rather avoid that reality than talk about it.

Feb 11

Doug Ford might be provincial

Anna Mehler Paperny with the Globe & Mail:

Doug Ford won’t rule out a provincial run in 2011 – and he says the Etobicoke North residents he has represented as councillor for barely four months shouldn’t be worried he’s considering jumping ship to run for the Progressive Conservatives.

“The residents, I represent them if I run provincially or if I’m a city councillor. But I’m going to focus as a city councillor right now.”

via Mayor’s right hand Doug Ford hints at bid for Ontario Tories – The Globe and Mail.

I don’t think he’ll do it, but I suppose stranger things have happened. It’s hard to imagine Mayor Rob Ford without Nick Kouvalis and his brother. I’m not sure he’d know what to do with himself.

Some people are really pushing the idea that the 416 is totally ripe for the Conservative Party, both provincially and federally. I’m not sure I buy that. The problem with pure populism — the kind that promises better services at a lower cost, and also cheaper beer while we’re at it — is that it inevitably blows up. Promises can’t hold. I think Ford supporters are already starting to see the true face of Ford’s populism, and I think it will get even worse as we approach the 2012 budget.

Feb 11

Province won’t ask for council vote on new transit plan?

John Michael McGrath over at Toronto Life’s blog does some digging and gets some new information on the province’s attitude toward transit negotiations:

The alpha and omega for city planning is “what the province will let us do.” So LRT loyalists were happy when Queen’s Park, through Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, said she wanted a full council vote on Ford’s proposal, contradicting the mayor. However, more recent conversations with Wynne’s office show a softening on what had been a hard line. Wynne’s press secretary Kelly Baker told The Informer that while the Province would still hope for a full council vote, “we will respect the local decision-making process” at the city.

via Rob Ford’s Transit City II: how will the mayor get it from campaign promise to reality? | In Transit | torontolife.com.

Councillors allied with Ford have already starting banging the “Council never voted on Transit City” drum (Here’s Peter Milczyn doing just that), something which is only true if you ignore all the times Council did vote on various aspects of it.

That the province is playing softball on this one is disappointing but understandable. They don’t have much to lose, and I’ve never got the impression that anyone in McGuinty’s cabinet has a particular passion for transit in Toronto. In an election year, staying at arm’s length and giving Toronto what they want seems like the right strategy.

Still, though, as much as I think McGrath does a great job with his article, tearing down the arguments Milczyn is making with gusto, I think (and hope) he might be oversimplifying the direction this new transit plan will take. It’s far from a done deal. The funding levels available just don’t lend themselves to an easy solution, unless you take Eglinton off the table completely. And that still feels suicidal to me.

Jan 11

TTC essential service designation benefits no one

Karen Howlett with the Globe:

Ontario Labour Minister Charles Sousa said in a letter to Mr. Ford on Friday that his staff will begin consultations with Toronto Transit Commission management and union leaders as well as city staff on whether the provincial government should introduce legislation banning strikes.

via Province to begin consultations over proposed TTC essential service legislation – The Globe and Mail.

Ultimately, the mayor’s push to make the TTC an essential service was motivated by two things. The first has to do with semantics: the word ‘essential’ makes this a popular move because people see it as a government acknowledging the importance of transit. The second reason is that essential service designation lets the government off the hook. Whereas past governments had to face the public and wear the outcome of labour negotiations, going forward the mayor and council will be able to shrug their shoulders and blame the province when the union gets a pay increase.

The big concern — and this won’t get anywhere near the coverage it should — is the specifics of the legislation the province will introduce. Will it declare all service offered by the TTC essential, or will only core weekday service be protected?

Jan 11

GO goes electric

Today’s other big news, via an article in the Globe by Kelly Grant:

The long-awaited express rail line between Toronto’s Union station and Pearson airport should be electrified, but not in time for its opening before the 2015 Pan Am Games, according to Metrolinx.

The province’s regional transportation agency is recommending Queen’s Park spend $1.6-$1.8-billion to upgrade GO Transit’s Lakeshore and Georgetown corridors from diesel to electric trains, with the air-rail link being switched over first.

via Electrify Pearson rail link after Pan Am Games: Metrolinx – The Globe and Mail.

I’ve been a bit concerned that the Clean Train Coalition, who have really played up the whole diesel-trains-will-kill-our-children thing, is too much of a NIMBY group to take seriously, but there’s no doubt that electrifying the GO lines will be a good thing for everyone. Faster trains, better service, and better for the environment.

The slow implementation timeline is concerning, though. Metrolinx and the province are far too reluctant to push for necessary investments in transit infrastructure.

Jan 11

Trading transit for highways

The 407 is a toll highway owned by a private conglomerate. There are plans on the books to expand the highway. Expansion is necessary, one Oshawa resident quoted in an article by The Star’s Carola Vyhnak says, to give Oshawa “a kick start to get back on its feet.” Sure.

But okay. This is not a Toronto issue and I am nothing if not a Toronto-centric blogger. The relevant part comes as a result of the recent news from Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne that the highway would be built in phases, with the second phase currently unfunded.

This has prompted a firestorm of protest. And this bit of craziness, from Oshawa Mayor John Henry, a steel driving man, in a letter he wrote to the premier in December:

A two-phased approach [to 407 construction] will have crippling impacts on Durham and Peterborough. Furthermore, if government expenditures are a concern, we request you consider the reallocation of the $8.15 billion that may not be used for Toronto’s LRT to extend the 407 project to 35/115 as planned.

via Oshawa Mayor John Henry’s Open Letter to Dalton McGuinty.

I’m not suggesting there’s any chance we’d see a wholesale transfer of currently committed funding for transit onto a highway project, but I did think it important to point out that there are numerous people in high-ranking places in this province who don’t see the value of transit. They care about highways.

Case in point: this comment from Conservative MPP Christine Elliott, who promises to make the 407 construction one of the biggest issues of this fall’s provincial election:

“It’s not just the people of Columbus who are affected, it’s a widespread concern,” she said. “We need the 407 for our economic growth and our ability to travel.”

via Durham residents fuming over plan to build ‘half a highway’ – thestar.com.

The vast majority of planned provincial transit money doesn’t come into effect until 2015. Keep that in mind as the provincial election rhetoric kicks up this year.