A kinder gentler Ford Nation?

Michael Ford.
Michael Ford. Photo from Twitter.

The death of former Toronto Mayor and Ward 2 councillor Rob Ford created a vacancy which was filled last night by his 22 year-old nephew, the former Michael Stirpe. Last year Mr. Ford legally switched to the more recognizable maiden name of his mother Kathy and hasn’t looked back since. He won a trustee seat in the 2014 civic election and now this.

The by-election wasn’t close; Ford was pitted against an assorted collection of mostly fringe candidates and swatted them aside with almost 70% of the vote. By-election voting numbers are usually low and this was no exception. Ten-thousand fewer people bothered to turn up compared to last time and indeed, in 2014, Rob Ford alone garnered more votes than all candidates combined in 2106.

Mr. Ford campaigning yesterday supported by former Tory MPs Julian Faction (R) and Ted Opitz (L foreground)
Mr. Ford (centre) campaigning yesterday aided by former Tory MPs Julian Fantino (R rear) and Ted Opitz (L centre). Photo from Twitter.

What can we expect from young Mr. Ford? Will he join the ranks of the Mammolitis and Di Cianos to be another right-wing vote on Council? The answer is probably yes. Mr. Ford presents as a thoughtful young man who appears to be in favour of social justice; yet, in spite of huge levels of poverty in Ward 2 that approach those of our adjacent Ward 12, Mr. Ford spouts the same idiotic mantra of lower property taxes. This is precisely the misguided policy that leads to cutting services that benefit poor people the most.

Only time will tell if Mr. Ford will learn the reality of Toronto politics and understand the need for local politicians to focus on maintaining services and providing opportunities for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Other desirable traits, sadly lacking in many councillors are to act for the betterment of the whole city, defer to good planning and help the weak.

Will he become yet another friend of the development industry and an enemy of services that help level the playing field for the less fortunate – or will he realize that keeping property taxes low only helps the rich and reduces social mobility?

There may be hope that he’ll be a thoughtful, progressive and hard-working councillor. Let’s focus on that for now.

Kodak Lands Gas Generator is dead.

Judith Hayes (centre) gets ready to host the residents' meeting.
Judith Hayes (centre) gets ready to host the residents’ meeting.

Mount Dennis Residents’ Association held an information meeting last night at the York Civic Centre. Several speakers were in attendance as well as Provincial Citizenship and Immigration Minister Laura Albanese and Toronto Councillors Frances Nunziata and Frank Di Giorgio. Also of note, in the audience was a small contingent of attentive young people from the For Youth Initiative.

The meeting was held to discuss the 18MW natural gas generator proposed by Metrolinx to be used in power outages on the new Eglinton Crosstown Line as well as a cheaper source of energy during peak periods.

For the first part of the meeting, several speakers discussed greener methods of power generation and conservation.

Once the floor was opened to residents’ questions, the most pertinent comment came in response MDCA’s Rick Ciccarelli. He asked the City’s Fernando Carou (Community Energy Planning) for confirmation that Metrolinx has withdrawn its site plan application for a gas generator on the Kodak Lands. He then asked what is now being planned. Carou replied that the application has indeed been withdrawn and that Metrolinx and Toronto Hydro are currently working on more environmentally acceptable ways of providing back-up power.

According to the politicians present at the meeting, a further announcement will be forthcoming in about a month and that residents will be consulted on any further proposals.

Interestingly, one of the speakers, Jason Rioux, Vice President of NRSTOR, confirmed that battery storage is capable of providing emergency power and that instead of using one site, several smaller battery modules could be installed along the crosstown line. This would provide more efficiency during a power outage and would eliminate the need for a large building on the Kodak lands site. The batteries would be charged at night with cheap electricity while trains weren’t running.

For now, residents can breathe a sigh of relief. The generator is off the table. Well done to all involved who applied political pressure to ensure this option was eliminated and to the politicians who responded to the people’s wishes. It remains to be seen what Metrolinx will come up with next but according to the politicians present, people will be consulted on any new proposals. A further announcement will be forthcoming in about a month.

Province nixes texting ban for street walkers.

Councillor Frances Nunziata’s questionable motion (see Adam’s article) to request a change to the Highway Traffic Act was quickly given the bum’s rush by Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca. Officials at the Ontario Government must find such motions trying (but probably not as trying as the City’s transportation flip-flops over the past few years). Minister Del Duca correctly pointed out that City Council has the power to pass by-laws; something the good councillor may have overlooked in the zeal to take the issue to a higher level.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 4.08.42 PM
From radio times.com

Ms Nunziata’s motion passed by a startling 26 votes to 15 and one can only surmise that during the vote, many councillors were texting and weren’t paying close attention. Council motions and votes these days are as unpredictable and logical as tossing a coin; although citizens can be assured that whenever a council motion is passed, it may well:

  • fly in the face of common sense,
  • appease a vested interest and
  • demonstrate the bizarre thinking powers of its proponents

I believe a proposal to license pedestrians may be coming up soon. Stay tuned.

The Farmers’ Market is wilting

IMG_2790Many vendors at the new location of the Farmers’ Market say that their businesses are suffering. Several people told me that their business is down 1/3 or more, even while the rents have gone up. One vendor said he will be closing; another said he is considering it.

Almost everyone I spoke to was cautious about upsetting the market administrators, so I’m going to quote them all as a group.

  • The market was the heart and soul of Weston. They destroyed it.
  • Sales are down 50%
  • It has slowed down. Sales are down.
  • I’m done.
  • More people gotta come out.
  • This year, they don’t know where we are. [They need] more advertising.
  • It sucks.

Some vendors, however, were more positive.

  • We’ve been doing better here.
  • The area is bigger.
  • It’s better than last year. For the couple of weeks, it’s been good.

Several vendors have come and gone already this year: the hip pie people seem to have left, as did the popcorn company.

There is a lot of blame to go around. Some vendors said it’s too far to walk for those who have limited mobility. Others blamed the administration. And, dear reader, you and I share some responsibility.

Your correspondent, however, believes that the BIA could do more. Certainly, it is hard to see why rents went up; given the disruption, they should have gone down. There should be much more advertising, including along the 401¹. We could have beer tastings², or bring back the live music.

Masum Hossain, the Chair of the BIA, refused to be quoted for this article.

View the responses.

¹ Peter the Barber’s idea.

² Also his idea.

 

UPX’s first birthday

The UP Express celebrated its first anniversary on Sunday, and Metrolinx released some ridership numbers to the CBC.

Moodycamera2

The good news: ridership is up. Way up. The bad news: the train is still losing money.

About 8,200 people ride the train every weekday, Metrolinx says, and sometimes the train is standing-room only. According to my rough calculations, that level of ridership should bring in about $50,000 in revenue per day.

However, the train costs about $160,000 a day to run—so the train is still losing about $110,000 per day, or about $13 a passenger.

Anne Marie Aikins told the CBC that Metrolinx expects to have the line subsidized, but that is a gob-smacking subsidy. Most municipalities recover about 50% of their costs at the farebox. Metrolinx and GO recover about 75%.

The UPX, by contrast, is covering only about 30% of its costs.

In the short term, nothing will change. Metrolinx is very used to hand-waving, procrastinating, and denial. They will assert that ridership is still increasing, and that it’s a premium service.

Bullocks. The math won’t work. Ever. The UPX is losing money because it was massively overbuilt as a premium executive-class line. Everyone knew, long in advance, that it was a dog. Everyone except, perhaps, Metrolinx.

Something will have to change. The UPX just keeps bleeding. Sooner or later, the losses will reach a nice round number—$100 million say—and the media will have a peg to hang their stories on.  Metrolinx should be working in the meantime to staunch the spray.

They could raise fares, but they won’t. They just had an expensive lesson in supply and demand; I don’t expect them to soon forget it. It wouldn’t work if they did.

Instead, they will have to cut costs—and they will be loathe to. They would have to admit that the dopey uniforms, in-flight ride magazines, and complimentary WiFi were very bad ideas. Metrolinx can’t say sorry.

They could cut service. That, though, would offend everyone involved: the public, Metrolinx, and the Liberals, who demanded that this work as a commuter line.

The answer, though, obvious, at least to me. There should be railcar classes. Standing-room trips are lousy, especially if you’ve just arrived off a plane or are departing our beautiful city. Seats should be reserved for our first-class guests, and they should pay a touch more: say $15. In exchange, they can have all the amenities¹ and a cabin all to themselves.

The rest of us can ride in the back, in two of the three-car trains. We’ll stand, if necessary, and be perfectly happy with grumpy staff wearing green golf shirts and only our phones to read.

Honestly, this is a great idea, if I do say so myself. Call it soaking the rich, if that’s what you want. Call it price discrimination, to be a little more neutral. Or, if you are Metrolinx, call it a “reminiscence of the golden age of rail travel”. That too.

Or call it a face- and money-saving idea.


¹ Except for that magazine, which just screams “vanity project!”. That has to go.

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

Screen-Shot-2016-04-07-at-6.07

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.01.23 PM

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.

images

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 6.46.32 PM

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.

123toronto.ca
rabit.ca

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?
[poll id=”3″]