Weston has a Zipcar!

Did you know that Weston has its own (yes, just one) Zipcar. The company has an interesting business model; you can rent a Zipcar for terms as short as an hour or as long as several days. Another difference from a standard car rental is that the company pays for the gas; if the fuel gauge slips below ¼ full, customers are required to fill up the car using a pre-paid card in the vehicle. As you might expect, most of the company’s vehicles are concentrated in the downtown core and Weston’s is one of the most northerly.

To use one of the company’s fleet, there is a one-time application charge of $30 and an annual fee of $35 but if you only need a car occasionally it’s cheaper than paying registration and insurance on a car that is parked for most of the day.

What kind of car do you get for around ten bucks an hour? Well, Weston’s car is a Hyundai Elantra. Where you may ask is Weston’s Zipcar? Its outside the UP Express station (unless someone is using it) in its own permanent parking spot.

Weston's Zipcar parked in the UP Express lot.
Weston’s Zipcar parked in the UP Express lot.
To get inside the Zipcar you hold your member card to the windshield here.
To get inside the Zipcar you hold your member card to the windshield here.

Would you use a Zipcar? Have you used one? Let us know.

By the way, I photographed the Zipcar at around 5pm. on Friday. The UP Express from downtown was just pulling in. A lot of people were getting off; dozens actually and the train was still quite crowded as it left for the Airport. Obviously many people are now finding the train to be cost (and time) effective.

Weston home prices leap 27%

Townhouse under construction on the old Beer Store site on Weston Road.
Townhomes under construction on the old Beer Store site on Weston Road. Units were priced from $399,900 and are all sold out.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail, between the December quarters of 2014 and 2015, Toronto home prices increased by 9.04%. During that same period, the price of homes sold in the Weston M9N postal code jumped from an average of $367,045 in the quarter ending December 2014 to $464,958, a startling increase of 26.7%. The M6M code to the west which includes part of Mount Dennis has done even better with an average increase of 33.2%.

What does this mean? Weston and Mount Dennis are among the last few relatively affordable areas left in Toronto. Compared to the rest of the city, prices are low and people are desperate to get into the housing market. Homes are being snapped up before they become out of reach.

Toronto Star looks at corporate donations across the city.

The Toronto Star has published an in-depth look at corporate election influence across the city. The article has details on every ward in the city.

Some of the ‘notable’ contributors in Ward 11 donate liberally to other councillors’ campaigns and have (as in the case of Robert Deluce of Porter Airlines and Tridel’s Stephen Upton) actually exceeded the legal donation limits. Surprisingly, there are no consequences for wealthy business owners who do this.

The Star agrees that donation limits should be lowered.

Read all about it here.

Election Reform In Toronto

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For a while, there has been a movement to question the way politics is done in Canada – from the federal government to city councils. A major concern is that money from corporations, unions and the rich can move politicians to vote against the interest of ordinary people. It can be expensive to run an election campaign and commonly, federal and provincial parties have charged $5,000 or $10,000, for admission to an intimate soiree with a cabinet minister. It’s hard to justify such access for the rich, even if politicians claim it makes no difference. It looks as if the Wynne Liberals are seeing the light and may ban the practice.

At the Toronto City Council level, lobbying is another contentious matter. Currently all lobbyists must be registered and a list is kept of meetings between lobbyists and councillors. Some lobbyists have now taken to hiring other companies to lobby on their behalf to conceal their activities. It’s a constant cat and mouse game that council needs to address soon.

Donations to candidates’ election campaigns

Cash donations are allowed only from individuals, (and the candidate and their spouse) and may not exceed $750 per person. If a person wishes to donate to several candidates, for the same council, the total they can donate is $5000. The spending limit for a campaign on things like signs, office supplies and paid staff is calculated by the number of eligible voters. In York South-Weston’s ward 11, this was about $36,000 for the 2014 election. Surprisingly, contributions are not limited to Toronto but may come from anywhere in the province.

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Questions about donors and donations:

Why do people donate to candidates?

Probably because they feel that they will be heard. They may like the voting record of that councillor. Politicians are quick to say that their votes are not influenced by individual donations but then one must ask why don’t more ordinary citizens contribute?

What is a typical donation to a Toronto Council candidate?

It’s quite high. Few donations to Toronto councillors seem to be under the $50 threshold which most people would be comfortable with. The only contribution below $200 in Ms. Nunziata’s campaign was one of $20 and that was from the Councillor herself.

Does a contribution affect the voting record of a politician?

All politicians will tell you that lobbying efforts and campaign donations make no difference. If that were true, lobbying and donations would dry up. Lobbying and donations are legal and effective ways to ‘bend the ear’ and possibly the vote of a politician.

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Do contributors get a rebate?

The city will refund 75% of contributions up to $300 and 50% above that. A donor’s payment of $750 would cost him or her only $300 as the city would rebate $450. This means that donors from inside and outside the city have their payments subsidized by Toronto taxpayers.

What happens to money not spent in a campaign?

Unspent campaign money and money over the campaign limit must be donated to the City to assist with the cost of donor rebates (see below). Signs and office supplies may be retained for the next election but their value will be counted towards the next campaign’s expenses.

Can we find out the names of campaign donors?

The process of donations is on the public record and all candidates’ campaign donations and the names of donors are available online. In the case of Ward 11, which has 34,128 eligible voters,136 individuals, most of whom live outside the ward, donated a total of $47,320.

A breakdown of the donations to Councillor Nunziata’s campaign:

  • Only 136 people donated to Ms. Nunziata’s campaign.
  • No person gave less than $200.
  • 45% of donor money comes from outside the City of Toronto.
  • Less than half of the donors were eligible to vote in Ward 11.

Some notable and large contributors of interest (I have attempted to find the commercial or political connections of the donors) include:

  • Rueben Devlin $200 – President & CEO Humber River Hospital
  • Robert Deluce $300 – President of Porter Airlines
  • Karla Ford $750 – Doug Ford’s Wife
  • Alex , Bela and Jack Matrosov $2000 – Checker Taxi
  • Frances Nunziata $20
  • Matthew Pantalone $750 – Developer
  • David Paiva $750 – Luso Canadian Masonry Ltd.
  • Cormac O’Muiri $500 – from Mississauga
  • Dero Sabatini $400 Mississauga – TD Bank VP (Etobicoke)
  • Marvin Sadowski $500 – Former Developer?
  • Stacey Scher $600  – All Canadian Self Storage
  • Bruno Schickedanz $750 – Developer and Woodbine horse owner
  • Conrad Schickedanz $250 – Developer
  • Tony Scianitti $750 – Developer
  • Darryl Simsovic $400 CEO – Trillium College (Private career college)
  • George Seretis $400 – Easy Plastic Containers Vaughan
  • John Ruddy $750 – Ottawa Developer
  • Alan Tonks $200 – Former YSW MP
  • Chris Tonks $300 – TDSB Trustee
  • Alan Tregebov $200 – Architect
  • Steven Upton $600 – Tridel
  • Susan Vavaroutsos $750 – Old Mill Cadillac (Lou)
  • John Ward $500 – Wards Funeral Home
  • Jack Winberg $200 – Weston Hub Developer
  • Hua Yang $500

It should be pointed out that every one of these donations is perfectly legal. What is up for discussion is whether extra influence is obtained by the few people who make donations and whether people from outside the city should be allowed to contribute or even receive a rebate.

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When a tiny number of individuals provide the campaign money, do they have an undue influence? Should council candidates not seek donation money from the tens of thousands of ordinary people in their wards? Are companies able to exert undue influence when CEO’s donate privately? Should the donation limit be lowered so that councillors are forced to seek more individual donations? Should donations from outside the ward or the city be either banned or ineligible for a rebate?

Bottom Line

Very few ordinary voters can afford $750 for a campaign contribution. For business owners, such a donation may be seen as a good investment regardless of the lack of a guarantee. Since there are so few contributors to most councillors’ campaigns, the $750 donors certainly stand out.

It would probably be a good idea to keep donations to a maximum of $50.00 to force a candidate to gather a large base of support.

Another bone of contention for some is the donations to councillors from non residents.

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For a more in-depth look at lobbying at City Hall read this excellent article written last year by Dave Meslin. He is a big proponent of ranked balloting, another movement designed to improve the way elections are run. The Province of Ontario is allowing municipalities to use ranked balloting in their elections from 2018. Unfortunately Council in its wisdom voted to support ranked balloting and then shortly afterwards voted against it.

What do you think? Should the candidate donation limit be lowered from $750?

Are campaign donation limits too high?

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Weston Historical Society seeks artist.

Talented mural artist Mario Noviello’s work can be seen in Weston by Ward’s parking lot and in Lions Park on the old bridge abutment. Weston Historical Society Treasurer Cherri Hurst tells me that they are seeking his assistance in renovating the Lions Park location which serves as a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Hazel.

The main mural as it first appeared.
Part of Mario Noviello’s work on the old bridge abutment when it first appeared.
The same work in 2011. Sadly, the work deteriorated rapidly, due in part to anti-graffitti paint.
Mario Noviello (centre) assisted by Alan Tonks, Julian Fantino and Frances Nunziata.
Mario Noviello (centre) at the official unveiling of the mural in 2004, assisted by Alan Tonks, Julian Fantino and Frances Nunziata.

Unfortunately Mr. Noviello’s contact information has been lost in the intervening years and Ms Hurst was wondering if any of our readers know where he could be located.

Please contact Adam or myself if you know his contact details and we will forward the information.

Postscript: Cherri Hurst tells me they have located Mr. Noviello. WestonWeb will keep readers posted regarding further work on the memorial.

Kathy Haley a scapegoat? Not so much.

Kathy Haley has resigned as head of the Union Pearson Express effective March 31st. She has been employed by Metrolinx since July 2011 and came in with high hopes to run a successful airport express. There are two interesting videos on YouTube that encapsulate the hopes and aspirations of Ms. Haley and they certainly don’t seem to mesh with reality.

Watch this first video taken in Vienna when she confidently announces, “I’m developing and building a new air-rail link for Toronto”. Along with giving the impression of building the train single-handed, she frames herself as a person able to explore and adopt the needed expertise.

In the second video, taken in late 2014, Ms Haley makes some excellent points about marketing and the customer, “If you put the voice of the customer on the table, it’s hard to argue with his or her voice”. Unfortunately those words were uttered just months before the UP Express opened in July 2015 with outrageously high fares. Presumably once the train began running, it became hard to listen to the customers because they were nowhere to be found.

Once the UP Express was up and running, Ms. Haley became its official cheerleader and her new goal was to get more bums on seats. The bean counters in the Ontario Liberal Government had decided that operating costs had to be recouped through passenger revenue and Ms. Haley was given the impossible task of encouraging people to pay exorbitant fares that were devised by and approved by the Ontario Government through the nodding heads of the Metrolinx Board. All this in spite of the Auditor General’s advice (based on Metrolinx’s own figures) that ridership would be low and a fare price over $22.50 would be too high. The Board decided that regardless of the reality, high fares would not be a problem for the target customers (presumably those mythical captains of industry for whom money was no object).

As the months dragged on with no significant change in ridership, Ms. Haley was regularly seen earnestly arguing that despite the awkward facts, passenger numbers really were improving and a breakthrough was imminent. This flew in the face of many anecdotal reports of almost empty trains. Each grudgingly parsimonious fare promotion and discount was greeted with excitement by Ms. Haley and with a yawning indifference by the public. Bums remained off seats.

The final straw came during the most recent Valentine’s Day giveaway when hordes of people waited for hours to try out the service. The glaring gap between the huge interest in UPX and Ms Haley’s declaration that ‘once people know that we’re here, passengers will flock to the service’ simply became untenable. The truth was quite simple. Fares were too high. Their reduction finally came about through a humiliating but necessary intervention by the Premier. Already passenger numbers have doubled as fares have become affordable. Weston residents have a fast portal to downtown for a reasonable cost.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who earns an such an awesome salary ($249,020.54 in 2012). No doubt she has a golden parachute to soften the landing until the next well-endowed gig comes along. While her resignation is understandable, the other players in this debacle (in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo), “Have some ‘splainin’ to do”. These would be the Metrolinx Board of Directors, Metrolinx Chair Robert Pritchard, CEO Bruce McCuaig and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

Last but not least, the Premier was herself Transportation Minister in 2010 when private consortium SNC Lavalin pulled out of building UPX when tit was clear there was no chance of making a profit. She knew the task was impossible from the start. Wouldn’t it be nice if all players acknowledged their individual blame in this sequence of events instead of hoping that Ms Haley’s departure will clear the air? Some more resignations would not go amiss.

York Community Centre delayed again

An artist's concept of the much anticipated Centre.
An artist’s concept of the much anticipated Centre.

The York Community Centre currently under construction at Black Creek and Eglinton is a facility that will contain:

a six lane 25 metre pool with ramp, shallow leisure tot pool with water spray and splash features with ramp and stair access, double sized gymnasium, weight room, indoor running track, fitness studio, universal change rooms, kitchen, and multi-purpose rooms of varying sizes, to provide quality programs for all ages. The building has a green roof and was designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standing. (From Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation).

The location of the new centre.
The location of the new centre at Eglinton Avenue and Black Creek Drive.

The original opening date was scheduled for winter 2014/15 but was pushed back to this June. Now, according to Councillor Nunziata the opening of the much anticipated community centre has been delayed thanks to ‘supply issues with critical components of the project’. The opening is now slated for some time in the fall. As a result, summer camp programs that were to be based there will be moved to Centennial Recreation Centre West (2694 Eglinton Ave. West). All other YRC summer recreation programs included in the Fun Guide will not be available.