More promises about electification

The UP Express will be the first part of the transit system to be electrified, Bruce McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx, said again last week in a meeting with reporters. Electrification could begin as early as next year.

The Premier and the Minister of Transportation also said that they would be investing hugely into all areas of transit, promising 15-minute service and electrification of all GO trains over the next 10 years. If they are re-elected.

They did not say, however, how much all this will cost or where the money will come from. And the Liberals have for months been filibustering a cross-party committee attempt to reveal how much money the UP Express will lose. I’ve learned from my wife that when someone won’t even lie to you about how much something costs, it cost a lot more than you’d like to hear.

YHC is not a betting man, but I’d lay money on this: after the apologia of the PanAm games has passed, the Liberals (if they remain in power) will announce with great fanfare the electrification and conversion of the UP Express into a regional transit line with more stops and lower fares.

It will remain a mess, and incompatible with the rest of the transit system, but faced with having to justify spending buckets of money on the downtown elite, they will have to do something to appear both more fiscally conservative and populist. And the expensive debacle of the Blue22, Air Rail Link, UP Express Weston Line will be fantastic for Weston. At long last.

Weston to remain a priority neighbourhood

For better or for worse, Weston will remain a “priority neighbourhood” when City Council votes next week. The designation dings our reputation but brings in pots of money for infrastructure, outreach, and youth.

The city’s Community Development Committee approved a report on Monday that renames priority neighbourhoods “neighbourhood improvement areas” and re-evaluates Toronto’s communities according to new criteria. Weston and Mount Dennis are in good company—almost a quarter of the city’s 140 neighbourhoods are now improvement areas.

The new criteria measure economic opportunity, social development, health, political engagement, and physical surroundings; and they confirm what you already know: rich people live downtown and north of the city. Less rich people don’t.

Weston benefits from this report, though—and in unexpected ways. Oddly, the city split Weston into two parts: Weston and Pelmo. The division is unnatural but works to our advantage: Weston qualifies for improvement funding because it is not pulled up by Pelmo, which scores higher.

Toronto neighbourhoods were given grades between 0 and 100. The cutoff for neighbourhood funding is 43.

Our neighbourhoods’ final grades were:

  • 26 for Mount Dennis, the third lowest in the city
  • 36 for Weston
  • 54 for Pelmo

Weston got particularly low marks in:

  • High school and postsecondary graduation rates
  • Social assistance rates
  • Premature mortality

Pelmo Park, bizarrely, gets a red card for walkability. It gets another for post-secondary graduation rates.

Mount Dennis gets red cards for

  • Unemployment
  • Social assistance rates
  • High school and post secondary graduation
  • Municipal voting
  • Meeting places
  • Walkability, bizarrely
  • Preventable hospitalizations

Now, dear reader, before you rend your garments and gnash teeth, ask yourself whether these things matter to you. These are not indicators of how nice a neighbourhood is. That Weston has a high diabetes rate doesn’t make me or you any more likely to get diabetes, nor does it make a bit of difference to walking your dog, having a barbeque, or raising your kids.

Also, the criteria are stacked against us and all suburbs. Walkability, for instance, is measured by how close you are to commercial areas, not how nice your neighbourhood is to actually walk in. Social assistance rates, too, are higher in the burbs because poor people find it hard to pay rent downtown, where housing is scarce and rents are high.

Nor should some other criteria be interpreted as Weston’s failings. I think that WMD is poor because poor people live here, not because we have all become poor. Sure, we don’t have Kodak or CCM, but Toronto is a short train ride away. It’s easy to have a high-paying job and live in Weston.

Our neighbourhoods are poor for another reason—because they are nice places for poor people to live. And I’m going to wager that post secondary graduation rates are likely to be lower where there are poor people and new immigrants who may find it hard to pay for school. That’s a failing, to be sure, but it’s not Weston’s failing.

Finally, some very important things were not considered. There are no marks for good transit or commute times, even in the measurements of infrastructure. Nor are marks deducted for crime—which would have punished downtown, where assaults and robberies are most common.

Happily, there are no grades for restaurants and coffee shops either, probably the only area where Weston has long and truly failed.

I’m sure many people will see our label as a mark. I, for one, don’t. Our label will entitle us to redistributed money from downtown, for which we should be happy, and grateful, not ashamed.

More stalling from Liberals

A provincial request to Metrolinx to hand over information about the business case for the UP Express was once again blocked by Liberal members of the committee that could order it. They likely fear there is no business case, and the report will embarrass the government.

Liberals Mike Colle and Mitzie Hunter clintoned their way into a committee filibuster by saying, more or less, “Define ‘market’ exactly” again and again for 40 minutes when Rosario Marchese asked Metrolinx to produce the market study. A representative sample:

What is a market study? Is it a look at the impact and the reaction and the response by people living in the old town of Weston as relates to the air-rail link and the local BIAs there, the residents and the BIAs and what their uptake will be on the potential ridership etc.? Do you want all the background information undertaken by all the examinations of the impact this would have on Weston? Because there was a very complex situation there where there used to be a net grade crossing, and they have now had to go with a tunnelling alternative. So it’s been a very, very difficult transition in that determination of putting some tunnelling in the old town of Weston that the local residents and the local small businesses wanted. Is that part of the market study? I don’t know….


This kind of grad-school metaphysical crap-talking has been going on for months as the committee tries to block the release of the documents that, we can assume, will embarrass the government right before an election.  Colle and Hunter were helped by the Chair of the committee who ran down the clock so that the motion couldn’t be passed.

The Liberals, having faced the gas plant scandal, must be worried that their plans to build an expensive money-losing train for the 1% will cost them seats. As well it should.

Marchese brought up the committee wheel-spinning at Queen’s Park—and instead of taking the moral high ground, went after Glen Murray, the Minister. Marchese asked what Murray was afraid we would find in the report. Finding that went nowhere, he asked the Minster to crack his whip on the committee—and got a filthy misdirection and character assassination from the Minister instead of an answer.

Your humble correspondent is a civil servant. His wife is a civil servant. YHC knows the good work that government can do. And this is not the good work of government. This is repugnant, unprincipled, cowardly opacity and self-protection. This is the work of an unfit government using process to protect itself from facts.

When it prevents this report—or any report—from public scrutiny, this government is saying that its seats are more important than the truth. The government is saying that it doesn’t trust you, its employer, to judge it by the facts.

Laura Albanese, our MPP, sits on this committee. She has done nothing to further the filibuster—or to end it.

Tory and Liberal tag team destroys electrification hopes.

The second reading of Davenport MPP Jonah Schein’s private members bill to electrify the Union Pearson Express was unable to withstand the combined vote of minority governing Liberals and opposition P.C.s. and was consequently defeated. Precisely what interest the Hudak Tories have in blocking the bill is a mystery because passing a private member’s bill would not have triggered an election. Perhaps they have their own plans for the line if they can form a government after a possible spring election. Besides, anyone looking to the Tories for cleaner air is likely a cock-eyed optimist. The Liberals’ excuse is that they have to wait for the environmental study (a.k.a. delay of game) before acting. The depressing Hansard transcript (including some lovely eye-rolling moments) is on Jonah Schein’s site.

Read more in Oye Times.

Nunziata defends November 18th Ford vote.

On November 15, and November 18th Toronto City Council voted to limit Mayor Rob Ford’s power.

On the 15th, council voted to take away his power to appoint members of the Executive Committee (similar to cabinet positions). That power was given to Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly. Councillor Nunziata supported this move.

On the 18th council voted to cut the Mayor’s budget, remove his power to set the legislative agenda and remove his ability to fill vacancies of the civic appointments committee. Councillor Nunziata did not support this move.

In a statement, Councillor Nunziata defends her vote to support the mayor on the 18th. She likens the decision to one she made in the glory days of 1990, when she blew the whistle on corruption in the City of York.  Her main argument is as follows

I believe that removing the powers of a Mayor who was duly elected, whether we like him or not, is undemocratic.

Unfortunately, this ‘respect for democracy’ is inconsistent with her vote on the 15th November to remove Ford’s power to appoint Executive Committee members.

While Councillor Nunziata seems to be sucking and blowing at the same time, at least she voted; unlike the endlessly amusing Giorgio Mammoliti who abstained on both days.

Let’s hope the councillor in her role as Speaker can do a better job of reining in the Ford boys and their antics in the next few months.

Why we can’t have nice things.

In Weston, the status quo is far from desirable. Change for the better seems to be almost impossible and for decades, long-term planning has been ignored while property developers suck communities dry with minimal consequences. In a city as dynamic as Toronto, it actually takes concerted planning and effort to bring a community down to the same depressing level as Weston. Neglect needs help, even in Weston.

It’s not just Weston that has suffered. Toronto’s infrastructure has barely changed in 50 years while the population of the GTA (Census Metropolitan Area) has almost tripled. Sewage lines are at capacity, roads are potholed, highways are blocked for much of the day while public transportation is inadequate and underfunded.

The problem lies in the political process with which we attempt to run the city. In a nutshell, it’s broken and unfortunately there’s little hope on the horizon. As a result, we have a collection of comfortable incumbents and a mayor whose inability to get fired has amazed (and amused) the rest of the world. Anyone watching a council meeting in progress can only marvel at the sheer stupidity, petulance and inattention that bogs down the important business of running a city; not to mention those voting the wrong way and then requesting a motion calling for a re-vote. While that isn’t bad enough, on the rare occasions that consensus is achieved by council, decisions are routinely ignored by senior levels of government. Canada’s engine of growth and prosperity has to beg for handouts from the other two levels of government.

Let’s start with the rank and file politicians that we send to city hall. Councillors can be confident of a four-year term if they can persuade about 20% of the electorate to vote for them. That bags them a place on the sunshine list plus 100% benefits. There’s even severance money for retirees or those voted out of office but sadly, it’s rarely necessary. Council incumbents range from right-wing strutting buffoons to left-wing rampant egomaniacs and do-nothing placeholders in the middle. Helping each councillor cope with the day-to-day grind of decision-making, $220,000 is provided for four staff to ease the burden. An ability to tolerate long and tedious meetings seems to be one of the few pre-requisite talents.

If you think about the people who vote for our elected officials, there’s a core of support that’s unshakable, regardless of (or perhaps because of) any nefarious and outrageous behaviour. Mayor Ford can point to the stubborn support of Ford Nation as evidence of his hard core followers. There’s no doubt that despite his many flaws, he has connected with people. Just as Mussolini made the trains run on time, Rob returns his calls. There are many who believe that Mayor Ford has an excellent chance of re-election next October. That solid unwavering wedge of support could easily trump the divided votes of other, more worthy candidates. The Ford brothers’ intransigence is bolstered in large part by this unwavering support.

There is a saying that all politics is local. The feds always seem to have billions for tax cuts, partisan spending and military boondoggles but no long term plans for cities. The provincial Liberals spend money like drunken sailors but can’t manage to extend their profligacy to cities. This is the perfect time to ask our federal and provincial political representatives what they propose for the city and when they intend to start doing something for Toronto other than make vague promises. When can we expect some decent money for infrastructure along with a long-term plan of investment that is not subject to the whims of the next self-serving idiot who manages to lie convincingly to the people?

We can also ask Premier Wynne and Prime Minister Harper to encourage the political process by allowing ranked balloting. ‘First past the post‘ voting has failed us as an electoral system and actually discourages good people from running.

I don’t want to go all Russell Brand, because bringing down the system would be very disruptive and destroy many peoples’ lives. However, change is vital if we are to survive as a city, society and yes, even as a country. Politics, in the right hands can be a truly noble pursuit and we need to encourage talented and thoughtful people to put themselves forward and have a decent chance of success. We also need to let our representatives know that we intend to hold them to account. Let’s not be content with the status quo. Ask the questions, ‘What do you intend to do for Toronto in the long, medium and short term?’ and, ‘Since you are an incumbent, what has stopped you until now?’

It truly is time for a change.

Homework assignment: name the best Toronto mayor in recent memory (City, Metro or pre-amalgamation town / township mayor)  and why.

Sullivan: Enough is enough.

Living in Weston, it’s hard to miss the constant reminders of a major construction project under way. The noise of machinery, diesel horns warning track workers, dust, road closures or the plain inconvenience of having to figure out how to get from one place to another have made living in Weston less than ideal. Now it seems that Metrolinx wants to extend work hours up to 18 per day.

As a result of the extended hours, along with other issues around construction of the U.P. Express line, MP Mike Sullivan has initiated a formal complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency and has notified Transportation Minister Glen Murray and Metrolinx President Bruce McCuaig.

Read Sullivan’s letter below.



ARLConsrtruction--MurrayMcCuaig--01NOV13 p2

In the past, the CTA has ruled against excessive community disruption by GO / Metrolinx and federal courts have upheld the ruling. Let’s hope that Metrolinx can be a bit more considerate of residents’ concerns and act quickly on this.