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.

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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Hussen meets with Erdoğan, Turkey’s repugnant autocrat

Ahmed Hussen, our MP, met with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on April 2. Hussen said on Twitter:

“Great mtg w Turkey’s President Erdoğan. Excellent discussion on ways to strengthen Canada-Turkey relationship.  I also lauded his amazing work in rebuilding Somalia.

2Erdoğan is a corrupt autocrat, who

These facts are well established—The Economist had a special issue on Turkey in February, calling it a “sultanate”. Erdoğan’s takeover of Turkey’s biggest newspaper happened in March and drew international condemnation.

I asked Hussen whether he discussed press freedom and human rights with Erdoğan. Hussen did not respond.

News from Mount Dennis

The Mount Dennis newsletter has a lot of great stuff, including, bestill my heart, a disputation on bicycles. The MDCA is asking the city staff to build a “Railpath North” from downtown through the Junction to Mount Dennis, among other things.

The Railpath, if you haven’t had the pleasure, is a bike highway that along the tracks in the downtown west end. It’s fantastic. Extending it would be an enormous benefit to us. Right now, getting to the west end safely is impossible; to ride on Jane is to hate life. Yet,

A dedicated rail‐side multi‐use path [could] be built from Ray Ave. to Rogers Road. This will allow cyclists to avoid the hill as well as the dangerous Weston / Black Creek intersection…  With some creative engineering, it could connect through the Junction to the existing Railpath.

 

The MDCA says they have also got an agreement from Metrolinx that the new bridge over Eglinton will “safely accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians…with full separation from the busy bus‐way”

But why stop there? Weston and Mount Dennis are bike barren, and they needn’t be. York, where I work, is almost an easy bike commute, and our neighbourhood is an ideal community for employees: there’s an express bus to campus (where parking is a fortune) and we nearly have the infrastructure in place; all it would take is a safe route along Wilson—which, according to the city’s plans, we may get.

Tie it together with a safe route along Albion, and we are in business: a bike commuter’s paradise, with a short ride to Humber, York, the Junction and downtown.

Why not

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.

Scotiabank gives Weston one last wedgie.

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Right at the corner of Weston and Lawrence sits a unique wedge shaped building that has been there for decades. On July 22nd, the occupant, Scotiabank, will be pulling out of 1885 Weston Road in an attempt (one presumes) to maximize shareholder value. This in spite of earnings up a healthy 6% over the first quarter of last year.

Our local politicians can blather all they want about the evils of payday loan companies in the area but here is a profitable, successful corporation demonstrating that it cares so little about its customers, they can now do their banking at the next closest branches at Weston and Eglinton or Lawrence and Keele – a hefty hike or a $6.00 round trip by TTC. These are the same compassionate folks who recently cut hundreds of jobs in Alberta.

For those of us who don’t use Scotiabank or who do their banking electronically this is probably not a big deal. For low income folks, this is another push towards payday loan companies. Many seniors are not comfortable banking by computer and will be severely inconvenienced by this closure. In addition, as a sign of confidence in Weston’s emergence from decades of neglect, this is a terrible setback. No doubt yet another payday loan company will open in its place.

If I was Councillor Frances Nunziata, MPP Laura Albanese or our non-resident MP Ahmed Hussen, I would be in front of the branch waving placards protesting the closure – in fact I’ll be happy to be part of any such demonstration should any of these representatives wish to show their displeasure and shame Scotiabank for their vote of non-confidence in our community. Embarrassing Scotiabank is probably the only way to get any reconsideration especially if as a result, people decide to move their money to the remaining banks in the area; TD Canada Trust, RBC and BMO.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada is interested in hearing from customers who will be inconvenienced by this move: 1-866-461-3222.

If you would like to express your displeasure to Scotiabank directly, call 1-888-722-3970.

And finally, a quote from the lovely folks at Scotiabank:

Although our reach is global, our energies are focused on individual customers, employees, and shareholders, and on building a strong community presence.

Yet Another Back Up Power Facility Update

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In MPP Laura Albanese’s latest e-newsletter, she comments on the Kodak Lands back-up generator issue,

Most commuters would agree that power failure such as that which occurred at the TTC recently due to weather conditions is a concern, and that some type of Backup Power for the Eglinton Crosstown would be beneficial in case of power outages. I am advocating together with the community for an alternative energy option, if one is viable.

The TTC power outage definitely is a concern but was caused by a transformer failure in a system built in the 1950s that is starved of funds and basically held together with masking tape and chewing gum. The transformer was the only source of power to that part of the subway. Had there been another connection to the power grid, subway service would have continued smoothly.

The alternative to building a gas fired generator on the Crosstown Line is to have more than one connection to the electrical grid. According to Metrolinx’s Jamie Robinson, it’s as simple as that. Although a battery option would be a quiet, emission-free solution if another connection was impossible, if we don’t need a generator, we don’t need alternative energy or diesel or windmills.

We certainly don’t need another building on the Kodak Lands site.

What happens next? There will no doubt be some expensive consultants’ reports that will declare the unworkability or huge expense of an alternate energy solution. They will then have to reluctantly recommend a gas generator.

The bottom line seems to be that based on faulty logic, someone is determined to sell Metrolinx a gas-fired generating station and it’s going to be built regardless of need or the wishes of the community.

I call BS.