Business as usual at City Hall

In spite of the nice shine that Mayor John Tory is putting on the work of running Toronto, for lobbyists and the councillors who meet with them and accept their money, it’s business as usual.

A typical example is the sad story of how eight massive highway billboards were imposed on the people of this city by councillors acting against the public good. Sadly, our own councillor, Frances Nunziata appears to be part of the problem. According to influential blogger and Toronto activist, Dave Meslin, Nunziata, met with billboard lobbyists Paul Sutherland (twice) and David Bordonali (three times), accepting campaign contributions from them both. By mere coincidence, Ms Nunziata then thought she knew better than City Staffers and the citizen Sign Advisory Committee (both of whom rejected the signs) and voted to impose these eyesore traffic distractions onto our landscape.

Apparently this is quite normal – if you’re ever puzzled by the voting patterns of councillors, and why they seem to vote against the public interest, lobbyists might be the answer to your question.

Read the awful details of this depressing story here.

UPX given bye on environmental assessment

You may be able to see the UP Express train over the next few days. Metrolinx will be conducting “extensive” testing as the train is readied for service in the spring.

Also, the provincial Liberals announced yesterday that they would not require Metrolinx to get environmental assessments for some stages of the electrification construction. This means that electrification may happen faster than it would have otherwise, perhaps starting in 2017.  (The funding, however, has not yet been approved.)

On the one hand, this is a positive development. It was treated as such by Laura Albanese our MPP, who told The Star,

“This is great news for our communities,” said MPP Laura Albanese (York-South Weston). “I will continue to advocate on behalf of all residents in Weston and along the Georgetown South Corridor for electrification to begin as soon as possible.”

By 2017, not starting in 2017 

On the other hand, this is later than had been promised by Glen Murray, the former Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, and the announcement was criticized by MP Mike Sullivan’s office, who said pointed out that electrification was supposed to have been by 2017, not beginning in 2017.

Sullivan’s office also said Metrolinx  had promised that “the [passenger] trains using this corridor would be Tier 4 diesel at service launch in 2015. Now only the UP Express trains are supposed to be; the GO trains will not.”

 

Sullivan calls for rail safety. The Conservatives lie.

Mike Sullivan spoke in the House last week to draw attention the dangerous state of railway operations in Canada even after the Lac Mégantic disaster.

Sullivan said, poignantly, that railways were once the drivers of growth. “That economic driver has long since left my community”, he said “but the railroad tracks remain, and they are perilously close.”

Railways, he says, only began shipping crude oil in 2009, and it  has increased “500 fold” since then. In the space of five years there have been three explosive crashes in North America and 47 people killed. The dangerous DOT-111 railcars involved in that disaster remain in service and unimproved, despite almost 25 years of warnings about their safety. So while much has changed in the business, little has changed in regulation.

That makes me worry.

Do the DOT-111 cars, which are prone to rupture and derailment, carry crude? Dangerous chemicals? Poisons? Nobody’s talking. The Conservatives have protected the rail companies, who release information to the city only every three months. Even then, the city is forbidden to share that information with residents. We simply don’t know–can’t know—how dangerous the railway is.

But since Lac Mégantic disaster, there have been two other explosions and one near-miss. The cars, which have a “high incidence of tank integrity failure” (according to the TSB), remain unimproved because doing so would cost $3000 per car. (CN’s stock price, mind, has quadrupled since the disaster, and their dividend has doubled. Had they waited just three months to double their dividend, they could have paid cash to fix all their railcars.)

The cars are dangerous. The companies won’t fix them. The government is not just asleep at the switch–it’s passed out on CN’s rye.

So yes, we should worry a lot.

But it gets worse.

Sullivan raised a number of reasonable questions about sensible, changeable things. Why won’t Transport Canada answer the questions of parliamentarians? Who screwed that up? Why can’t ordinary people know about the chemicals being pulled through their neighbourhood? These are the sort of questions a populist Conservative government would get behind, from a philosophy that Conservatives love: civil servants must be brought to heel and the little guy knows best.

So Jeff Watson’s answer was particularly disappointing. Of course, he ignored the questions. Politicians do that, and it’s despicable but the custom. But then Watson lied. He said

the cause of the accident in Lac-Mégantic was that an employee did not follow the established rules… with respect to the application of hand brakes.

This vile. This is depraved. This is an insult to the tormented engineer and to the dead. The crash was caused by 18 different things ranging from money-grubbing to government failure. Those causes are only a Wiki away.

Had Watson wikied the answer, he would have seen that much of the blame is on Transport Canada. the same Transport Canada that Watson is now shading from any examiner’s light.

You have to ask why he’s trying to protect the guilty.

Nunziata Spanks Ford.

After four years of being accused of being too gentle with the rambunctious Mayor Rob Ford, today Council speaker and our councillor, Frances Nunziata finally tossed (now Councillor) Ford from the council chamber. Ford’s sin was to make unwarranted accusations against defenceless members of council staff. Regardless, he stamped his feet and insisted on a council vote before he could be persuaded to take the hint. Kindred spirit Giorgio Mammoliti exiled himself in sympathy as Ford left the chamber.

Ever the master of the put down, Mammoliti declared afterwards that ‘Nunziata should get off her high horse and start riding a donkey for a while’.

While it’s unclear what Councillor Mammolliti was referring to, the rest of us can only hope that she heeds the advice and continues to ride both donkeys.

Nunziata unintentionally funny

Frances Nunziata made a bit of a slip up yesterday; she called our new mayor “Mayor Ford”. She smiled, apologized, and Tory graciously said “Old habits die hard, they say, Madam Speaker”. Some wag off to the side said, “Well, she was the Speaker.”

The Sun called it a Fordian slip.

Mulcair Visiting Weston Wednesday.

MP Mike Sullivan and Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair will be appearing in Weston Wednesday February 11 to host a small business round table at Wiff Restaurant on 1804 Weston Road (just south of Lawrence). The half-hour event begins at 3:00.

Sullivan will also be hosting two free community events this coming long weekend.

On Sunday, Sullivan will mark the 50th anniversary of Canada’s Maple Leaf flag with a special flag-raising ceremony and reception at the Mount Dennis Legion, 1050 Weston Rd. The event starts at 1:00 p.m. Attendees will receive flag lapel pins. The reception will include light refreshments.

On Monday, Sullivan will host a Family Day Skating Party at the outdoor community rink in Pearen Park starting at 10:30 a.m. Pearen Park is located on the north side of Eglinton Ave., just west of Weston Rd. There will be free hot chocolate and skates can be borrowed for free on a first-come, first-served basis.

“I’m inviting everyone to come to these two special events. Our flag is an important national symbol that unites Canadians. And skating is pretty much a national pastime for Canadians of all ages. These two events give us an opportunity to celebrate Canada and what it means to be Canadian,” said Sullivan.

Best Place To Live in the World? Toronto – we have proof!

Most of us believe we live in a great city but now we have corroborating evidence. Influential British magazine The Economist has proclaimed Toronto the world’s best place to live based on a number of factors covering things such as personal safety, infrastructure, democracy and food security. While Toronto isn’t number one in any of these indexes, because it ranks consistently high on most of them, it is considered to be the best overall. For example it ranks #70 in cost of living but #4 in both liveability and business environment. As for personal safety, Toronto at #7 is safer than anywhere in North America or Europe except for Stockholm.

OK, Toronto, don’t let it go to your head; now go clean your room. Read the full survey here.