Municipal Election Viewpoint

Voting will take place in a few days and the campaigns for Council and Mayor will soon be history. The endless campaigning has produced a few surprises, one of which was the collapse of the Olivia Chow campaign. Before nominations opened, the Mayor’s job was waiting for her and the campaign seemed a formality that would end with an inevitable coronation. At the end of last year, my wife and I saw Ms. Chow lose a crowd of ardent supporters after speaking for only a couple of minutes. As she rambled on, the crowd began to murmur and my wife (who has an annoying habit of being correct) confidently predicted that Ms. Chow’s charisma shortfall would result in an unsuccessful campaign. The collapse of support for Ms. Chow has disappointed many who are leery of John Tory and more particularly, Doug Ford. While Mr Tory is undoubtedly a decent man, his natural inclination leans towards business interests and his ideas on transit and transportation are poorly thought out. It seems likely he will win as the alternative spectre of Doug Ford makes a vote for Olivia too risky for many. The Provincial Liberals have committed themselves to implementing ranked balloting which will finally eliminate the need for strategic voting in the future. For now, John Tory is probably the safest candidate to choose.

In Ward 11, WestonWeb was despairing that any candidates would step forward to oppose longtime incumbent Frances Nunziata. Eventually a couple signed up, Jose Garcia and Dory Chalhoub. These two unknowns were seen as incredible long shots against the veteran of several successful campaigns stretching back decades. One candidate has used the long period of campaigning to his advantage; Dory Chaloub, whose confidence has grown as his talking points have resonated with voters. In particular, Mr Chaloub is articulate and has been able to connect the dismal state of the ward directly to the inability of Ms. Nunziata to lift York South-Weston out of its deep and decades-long malaise. In addition, Ms. Nunziata’s increased profile as Council Speaker has exposed her flaws to a wider audience. Although there is not much to choose from politically between the two, Mr. Chalhoub understands that York South-Weston needs change and is not stuck in denial about the status quo. He has a background in business and seems intelligent and assertive enough to deserve a chance. Ms. Nunziata sees no problems and therefore seeks no solutions. Her political ambitions lie in city hall; focussing on improving York South-Weston only gets in the way. It’s time for a change.

Nunziata: Weston is a good, vibrant community.

This is a summary of the October 16 debate at Mount Dennis Legion held in front of about 50 spectators.

Only two candidates were present, contender Dory Chalhoub and 26-year incumbent Frances Nunziata. The debate started with a bit of gamesmanship from Nunziata who delayed her opening statement to ask for a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Hazel. A more sincere approach might have been to involve the other candidate rather than using the anniversary to score points.

Dory Chalhoub (centre) and Frances Nunziata

Dory Chalhoub (centre) and Frances Nunziata

With the tone set, Ms. Nunziata proceeded with her opening statement. She feels that the ward deserves a dedicated councillor who puts the needs of constituents first. She has consulted on issues with residents over her 26 years of service. “There are lots of good things happening and it bothers me that all this negativity is there”. “York South-Weston is a good community and vibrant”.

Dory Chalhoub thanked his supporters and said his candidacy gives voters an option. He feels the area is neglected and dilapidated and the person responsible over the past quarter century has been Councillor Nunziata. It is time for a change – the abysmal status quo cannot go on with crime, the business exodus and so on.

Audience questions then explored further differences between the candidates. One obvious area is that of experience. This is Chalhoub’s first run at the job and naturally he’s vulnerable to the criticism that he’s not up to speed on local politics. The first question addressed to both candidates about the naming of and familiarity with resident groups seemed designed to trap the challenger and expose his novice status. While Nunziata was able to name them, Chalhoub confidently turned it around and said, “That’s her job and it’s expected of her”.

Both candidates did agree on the need for subways rather than other forms of transportation – Nunziata would find money through development charges while Chalhoub would find efficiencies. Both are coy about their choice for mayor, would have liked to have seen a casino; both like privatization within limits and are opposed to tax increases.

Another bone of contention between the two was the lighting art installation at Weston Road and Dennis Avenue. Chalhoub feels the money could have been spent more wisely while Nunziata defended the project.

With regard to priorities, Chalhoub would like to see the area cleaned up and aesthetics improved. He would like to see incentives for businesses to open and create jobs; access grants and put the money back into the community. In response to criticism of him being negative, his answer was, “Step outside and see what’s going on. I don’t see this ‘vibrant community'”.

Nunziata outlined a number of projects that are ongoing thanks to her involvement – the Humber Hospital Church Street site, the mobility hub at Eglinton and Weston – “Once the mobility hub comes in, stores will open”. “How can you be negative about our community?” On the subject of a YMCA at Weston and Lawrence, unlike during the televised debate where she claimed it was happening, now she says that negotiations are taking place with YMCA and the church (Weston Park Baptist). (I could be wrong but I believe those negotiations fell through a couple of years ago.)

In closing, Chalhoub stated that his decision to run is personal rather than political. He will work hard to provide better direction and leadership. He said that if insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the results to be different, that’s similar to people who think somehow the next four years are going to be better with more of the same.

Nunziata ended by saying that she represents all of Ward 11. In the past 26 years and in particular the last four, she has spearheaded projects such as the York Recreation Centre, obtained $1.5 million from Metrolinx to go towards a cultural Hub on the site of the Farmers Market and is working to change the proposed use of the Kodak Lands from a rail yard to a more mixed use. She has established an off-leash dog park in the Hydro corridor in the south of the Ward and is working towards another on King Street. She feels she has gained the respect of her constituents.

While there is no love lost between these two candidates, their platforms are both quite similar and somewhat on the right of the political spectrum. Where they differ is in their perception of what is happening in Ward 11 and in particular the Weston / Mount Dennis / Rockcliffe Smythe communities. Ms Nunziata would have us believe that things aren’t so bad under her leadership and tomorrow will be better. Mr. Chalhoub thinks a lot more work needs to be done; it’s time for a change and he can do better.

We’ll find out on October 27. Let’s hope for a good turnout.

YMCA at Weston and Lawrence?

Democracy is still in its infancy here in Ward 11. Another election has rolled around and with only three candidates running for Toronto City Council, it looks likely that incumbent Councillor Frances Nunziata will be handily re-elected. During a recent all-candidates debate held at Rogers TV, only Dory Chalhoub and Ms. Nunziata showed up. Candidate Jose Garcia did not attend.

The two candidates seem to share a right-wing viewpoint with the two of them expressing on the one hand a grim determination to keep taxes and tax increases to a bare minimum and on the other, bewilderment at the lack of infrastructure and transportation spending over the last forty years. On many occasions, Ms. Nunziata was able to handily swat down Mr. Chalhoub by exploiting his inexperience and absence at meetings of concern to the ward. With regard to their Mayoral preference, Nunziata is keeping her options open by cannily staying ‘neutral’ although she did allow that John Tory will be continuing the Ford agenda (unlike Doug presumably). John Tory is the choice of Dory Chalhoub.

One quote that stuck out from the back and forth came from Ms. Nunziata, who while citing her achievements declared that, “…at Weston and Lawrence we will be getting a YMCA.” This is the second time WestonWeb has heard the councillor mention this and we note she did not mention the word ‘might’ but used ‘will’. Perhaps readers can ask Ms. Nunziata for more details at the next debate on October 15th at the Mount Dennis Legion.

Ageless moderator Gord Martineau had an easy time keeping order throughout. The debate can be viewed here but Rogers seems to be restricting access to subscribers (login required).

 

A tale of two cafes.

For two years, not a few Westonians have been tormented by the promise of a new coffee shop and bakery coming to our part of the world, namely 1971 Weston Road. Month after month the same view of the exterior with little sign of progress is a bit of a metaphor for what Weston is – lots of promise but no action.

Future Coffee Shop?

Future Coffee Shop?

The thought of a casual stroll and entering a coffee shop to the smell of coffee and freshly baked croissants has kept me going (sad, I know). Two years on and while activity seems to have been ongoing inside the shop, little information other than ‘soon’ is forthcoming.

Interior view.

Interior view through a gap in the paper.

Contrast that with rumours a month ago that a Starbucks was coming to the (almost) neighbourhood. This location at Lawrence and Royal York had previously been the headquarters of the late lamented Blockbuster Video (who saw that coming?). One month later and voila, the place began serving this Wednesday. When WestonWeb visited on Friday the large outlet was occupied with plenty of people checking emails and ordering Starbucks fare.

New Starbucks location.

New Starbucks location.

The good news is that it’s only a brisk 16 minute walk to the new Starbucks from Weston and King. One can only hope that this will generate some action at number 1971.

If readers have any information about opening dates, please let us know.

Transit Plans – 1. John Tory

The top four Mayoralty candidates have released their transit plans. This is the first of a four-part series assessing these plans.

In a nutshell, current front-runner John Tory believes that above-ground subway lines are the best way to go. He proposes a line following GO train tracks where possible that will run across the city from east to west, passing through Union Station.

London has many of these – in fact 52% of London’s subway network is above ground. London has been building subways since the early 1860s – nearly a century before Toronto opened its first line.

Unlike London where new above-ground subways have been able to take over existing but unused railway lines, Toronto has no such advantage. New tracks must be added to current ones and, where none exist (along Eglinton for example), carved out of the existing landscape. Think of the disruption we are enduring here in the comparatively simple task of adding GO tracks to the existing line and right-of-way through Weston – imagine what carving out a rail corridor from scratch will involve. Unfortunately, the corridor along the north side of Eglinton (that Mr. Tory appears to think still exists) was sold off as surplus by the city in 2010 and is now a construction site for hundreds of new homes. Where Mr. Tory’s SmartTrack will fit along this route is anyone’s guess. And all of this will allegedly come to pass in 2021.

John Tory's Transit Plan

John Tory’s Transit Plan – click for larger image.

At its western end, Mr Tory’s SmartTrack line begins at the Matheson / Airport Corporate Centre (not the airport) – which connects to Mississauga Transit. It travels along Eglinton – until a few years ago, the planned route of the Richview Expressway. Once it hits Mount Dennis, the SmartTrack joins and heads down the GO / U.P. Express tracks towards Union. No mention is made of the U.P. Express or what his plans are to retain or modify the service.

Mr. Tory claims that the billions needed for SmartTrack will come from tax increment financing. This is the financial wizardry in which extra money is provided in the future by additional tax revenue generated by higher property values and therefore higher tax assessments along the new lines. Tax increment financing is how Rob Ford proposes to pay for his subways subways and more subways. ‘Nuff said.

John Tory's anticipated flow of passengers.

John Tory’s anticipated flow of passengers.

The Tory plan theorizes that passengers will be diverted from the east west and north-south subways and buses and use the SmartTrack trains from the west and east ends of the city to get to Union. This will provide, “congestion relief on the Yonge line for someone who lives in Lawrence Park or Leaside”.

Unfortunately, most commuters don’t want to go to Union Station. Only 260,000 do so daily and that’s using GO Train, GO Bus and subway combined. Bloor-Yonge is already straining with 420,000 daily passenger movements. Mr. Tory’s plan will simply add more pressure on this station from passengers hopping off SmartTrack and onto the Bloor Line in the West or East. Yes, the people of Lawrence Park and Leaside may be more comfortable but SmartTrack will add even more congestion to an already congested area. A downtown relief line is seen by experts as the only answer to this rapidly growing demand and Mr. Tory does not adequately explain how his SmartTrack will be an effective substitute.

It’s one thing to think outside the box and come up with a concept such as an above-ground subway. It’s another to believe that you and a group of your political advisors can ignore expert opinion and sit down with a map of the city and magically determine the fate of transit in this city for decades to come. The experts say that a downtown relief line is needed. SmartTrack is not an effective substitute.

With regard to finances, tax increment financing is fraught with peril. Extra revenue generated by such accounting sleight of hand is not guaranteed. This windfall would normally be taken into account to maintain and upgrade the city’s infrastructure so it’s not just free money.

Mr. Tory should defer to the experts (who spend whole careers immersed in the topic) before launching Toronto in yet another whimsical transportation direction with magical financing. The incumbent Mayor’s floundering has cost us dearly and set transportation in this city back by several years. Let’s not add even more delays and band-aids to an increasingly desperate situation. SmartTrack is the wrong track.

Federal Building apartments are ready.

Weston’s old post office, also once known as the Federal Building has had its upper floor renovated by developer Jack Morelli of First Avenue Properties and is now seeking tenants. Readers may remember that across the street, Mr. Morelli is building low-rise condominiums on the old beer store site so these renovations might be some clue as to how he views the neighbourhood’s potential. Readers may also remember that the ground floor of the building will be a medical centre opening next year. WestonWeb took a ‘stickybeak‘ on Tuesday morning during an open house.

Arriving a leisurely half-hour after the event had begun, WestonWeb’s south media team (Roy and Roy) found the front access doors to the apartments were still locked. Since a previous visit in July, even more windows at ground level have been broken. Not an auspicious start. Unable to cool off in a tantalizingly unopened fabulous new coffee shop, a quick scout around the back of the building revealed a door left ajar. A set of terrazzo stairs that have seen better days led to the top floor where a pair of startled agents sprang to their feet and introduced themselves.

First Avenue has gutted the top floor and installed 15 apartments in place of the old offices. There is a choice of one, two or three bedrooms averaging 800 square feet. All apartments and hallways have the same tiled flooring throughout and flat (not textured) 9-foot ceilings. A variety of layouts is available but unfortunately, First Avenue’s definition of a bedroom is sometimes an enclosed space with a door but no window. In one apartment, one of the alleged bedrooms was simply a windowless alcove – a feature described by the agent as flexible. When asked if a windowless bedroom was legal in Toronto, the agent went quiet. When pressed, another awkward silence ensued.

The entrance to Apartment 203

The entrance to Apartment 203

Kitchens are small with formica countertops. The appliances had not yet arrived yet but range hoods appear to be vented to the outside. Bathrooms are standard toilet sink and bath/shower combinations.

The kitchen alcove in Apartment 203.

The kitchen alcove in Apartment 203.

Prices for the apartments range from $900 for a one-bedroom $1050 for a two and $1200 for a three-bedroom. Water is included but heat and hydro are billed extra; heat being supplied via individual apartment furnaces through ceiling vents. Although no laundry facilities are provided in the apartments, a coin laundry room will be available. The lack of air-conditioning could be a problem in summer as windows are quite small. Each unit comes with one parking space.

A windowless bedroom.

A windowless bedroom in Apt 203.

Living room (L) and a bedroom.

The living room (L) and a bedroom of Apt 203.

While no-one will accuse First Avenue Properties of gentrifying Weston, it’s nice to see any reasonable development coming to a formerly empty space in a significant Weston building. Residents will occupy brand new walk-up apartments and have access to a variety of amenities within easy walking distance at an affordable price. The developer might however want to do something about the state of the ground floor exterior which continues to deteriorate.

UP Express fares continue to draw fire

While the downtown media is hammering on the as-yet-undisclosed UP Express fares, they continue to miss a larger issue.

A union representative for airport workers told The Star that the airport train “isn’t public transit, this is transit for the 1 per cent”. The editorial board wrote “Fares should be priced to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take the train, not discourage them from using something they’ve already paid almost half a billion dollars to build.” An online survey they conducted found that about 75% of respondents thought that fares should be less than $20; half thought $10 was reasonable.

We should be glad that The Star, Spacing, and other media continue to push for more information. It is long overdue. The real news, though, is this: Metrolinx will be running an unaffordable and unprofitable service. Even though we’ve already spend $500 million and fares will be unaffordable, you and I will pay for Metrolinx to shuttle the elite around.

This is madness.

The Liberal government hid Metrolinx’s ‘business case’ from critics before the provincial election. Critics like Rosario Marchese called on them to release the details, but the Liberals filibustered in committee to hide the bad news.

They had good reason to bury the body: the Auditor General of Ontario had already said that there is no business case. “If the goal was for the ARL to break even in its first year… Metrolinx would have to charge about $28″ for each trip, according to the AG. But 75% of Torontonians said they wouldn’t take it if it cost more than $22.50. Nor would 60% of visitors.

In other words, it looks like Metrolinx needs to charge more than the market will bear to pay for the service.

The Star has noticed that the UP Express is going to cost riders. They should now notice the cost to taxpayers.