Shameful events at City Hall.

The current unseemly squabble going on at City Hall surrounding a report from Fiona Crean, City Ombudsman is worthy of examination from a Weston viewpoint.

First, some background. There are 120 city boards and agencies that run the services provided to residents. For example, the Toronto Police Services Board establishes overall guidelines for the running of police services in consultation with the Chief of Police. While the Chief runs the day to day operations, the Board provides a framework but must keep clear of individual matters. On this board, the province picks three members, and the city gets to pick one. Most other Boards are made up of largely city selected citizens, and councillors. In the case of the Toronto Zoo, the current board comprises eight citizens (selected by the city) and six councillors (it should have eight citizens and four politicians).

The role of citizens on these boards is an important one. Applicants should be chosen carefully so that they are truly representative of the population and not with a hidden agenda or beholden to a special interest group. With this in mind, boards are mandated to advertise vacancies widely, outlining qualification requirements, some of which are quite rigorous. Citizens apply for board positions whenever vacancies arise and en masse after the election of a new council. Staff screen applicants checking that they have the required qualifications and are not lobbyists or in any other conflict of interest.

The Ombudsman’s report clearly finds that protocol was not followed in seeking citizen board members. Among other things the Mayor’s Office:

  • shortened candidate screening and evaluation timelines from the usual four weeks to just one.
  • directed staff to remove statements in ads encouraging minorities.
  • directed staff to boycott Toronto’s largest circulation newspaper (the Toronto Star) when placing ads for positions.

The Ombudsman referred to allegations that the Mayor’s Office had drawn up a list of preferred candidates but that this could not be proved.

In the aftermath since the release of the report some councillors have attacked the credibility of the Ombudsman. Our own councillor, Frances Nunziata acting in her role as speaker correctly asked York West councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to apologize after Mammoliti accused Crean of going beyond her mandate, declaring the report to be politically motivated. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Ms Nunziata from taking her own pot-shots at Crean by accusing her of not including comments from right-wingers in her report.

What is to be made of this? Should we be worried that the Mayor’s Office has attempted to substantially alter the process of citizen selection? That the Mayor’s office seems willing to discourage diversity among appointees? That an independent investigator whose job it is to protect the public is attacked and accused of bias? Should we be concerned when our councillor (representing one of the most diverse wards in the city) aligns herself with such behaviour?

Damned straight.

Eglinton LRT to be run privately

NDP MPP for Davenport Jonah Schein revealed a sharp rightward shift by the McGuinty Liberals during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature today. The TTC will not be running the new LRT service along Eglinton through York South-Weston. Instead, a private company (presumably for profit) will be handed the task by Metrolinx. In fact, all the new lines under construction will be privately operated. This marks the beginning of the privatization of Toronto’s transportation – an alarming prospect to many. This month your reporter was charged the equivalent of $6.75 to travel two stops along the privately operated London Underground; not what you would call good value for money.

No doubt the Liberals will be soon telling us that the private sector can do things more efficiently. Unfortunately, the profits for private corporations will likely be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets in the form of higher fares and subsidies. The sale of the 407 in 1999 was a painful example of the dangers of privatizing public assets.

One is left to wonder if the Premier feels his minority government will fare better when aligned with the Tories rather than with the NDP. If so, look for similar announcements in the coming months. Watch the video of MPP Schein’s question here.

TPA opens John Street parking lot to developers.

Quietly advertised in Lennard’s commercial real estate website is a 252 x 245 foot irregular property known as 16 John Street. It was the old GO Station’s parking lot and is currently home to the Weston Farmers Market.

The Toronto Parking Authority wants to sell the development rights to the site and asks that the purchaser build a 70-space parking lot for use by the TPA (and presumably the Farmers Market). The listing says that:

Area Is Undergoing Significant Change With Other High Rise Condominiums Planned In The Immediate Area. The Site Will Also House A Cultural/Creative Hub And Provide For Surface Parking For The Toronto Parking Authority.

It might be nice to know what other condominiums are being planned for the ‘immediate area’. In addition, one can only hope that the bidding process is transparent.

Start saving your pennies; the due date for submissions is 12 noon on October 4th. A PDF of the listing is here.

National Transit Strategy Bill – final vote on September 19th

Wednesday September 19th is the day on which Olivia Chow‘s bill calling for a national transit strategy has its third and final vote in the House of Commons. In this endeavour she is supported by local MP Mike Sullivan who yesterday along with other NDP MPs delivered a petition to Parliament supporting the bill.

For too long, transportation in this country has fallen prey to the whims and squabbles of politicians at all three levels of government. The result is clearly not good. We end up with projects that are one-off (Airport Rail Link for example) and pet projects of politicians rather than an overall strategy. Instead of thoughtful plans, we have chaos, endlessly long commutes, subways to nowhere and airport links that no-one will use (other than for two weeks in 2015).

Cities in this country lack the funds to build transportation and therefore the majority of funding must come from the feds and the province. We have no unified system in place in Weston and instead, we have severely under-funded and un-integrated transportation. For example, in Rome an all-day pass can be purchased which will allow access to local trains, buses and subways. A single trip on the bus / subway system costs under $2.00 and can be purchased from a machine. Tickets have magnetic striping and (as in most cities) open barriers to entry on the subway but are validated on all other transit modes. Rome is currently constructing a third subway line and planning a fourth in addition to the two already existing along with a streetcar, light rail and bus network.

A national transit strategy will provide a long-term strategy of funding and force integration with all forms of transportation and between municipalities. A reasonably priced, fast and comfortable transit network would coax people from their cars, cut down on gridlock (currently estimated to be $6 billion annually) and improve property values in the outer suburbs of the city.

Unfortunately, the bill will likely be voted down by the Conservative majority and the economic engines that are Canada’s major cities will continue to be starved of oxygen. And guess what folks; it’s our fault for getting conned every time politicians at all levels of government come begging for our votes. As we have seen in the recent provincial election, nothing gets a politician’s attention better than the prospect of sudden unemployment. Instead of politicians telling us what we need, we need to tell them what we want. And we’ll vote to back our demands.

When only 60% of the population bothers to vote, this is the result.

Nunziata: Bring TCHC HQ to Weston

Gene Jones, the new chief of Toronto Community Housing Corporation has announced that the organization’s headquarters in the Toronto suburb of Rosedale will be sold. Jones says that by being in such a posh location the wrong message is being given to citizens and TCHC tenants (or should that be customers in the new corporate speak?). As prompted recently by WestonWeb, TCHC Board member Councillor Nunziata is suggesting that TCHC move its head office to the Weston area and has named some suitable locations.

Good for you councillor and you’re welcome.

Squibbs wins York Guardian Awards

Squibbs has been in business in the same location since May 1927 – you can guess that they may be doing something right to have achieved that longevity. York Guardian readers recently voted them into the Diamond Award in the ‘Bookstore’ and ‘Specialty Bookstore’ categories.

No doubt Squibbs will be around for a while longer! Patrons may use this coupon for a 15% discount during the next week.

Weston Treasures: Weston Golf and Country Club

Weston Golf and Country Club’s unobtrusive entrance at 50 St Phillips Road.

If you’re not a golfer, you may have wondered about this famous and highly regarded, private 18-hole course set in the heart of Weston. In a beautiful setting by the Humber River, Weston Golf and Country Club opened in 1915 after four friends began golfing in 1909 on a self-made, four-hole course on the east side of the Humber. Scottish golfer and course designer Willie Park Jr. was responsible for the layout. He designed a number of courses in Canada, the United States and Great Britain, of which the best known is probably Sunningdale on the outskirts of London.

Weston was the site of the Canadian Open in 1955 during which golfing legend Arnold Palmer claimed his first PGA tour victory. Palmer, just getting started in golf was so short of money, he slept in a field behind the superintendent’s shed during the tournament. Weston was the turning point in his career and Palmer retains a great deal of fondness for the course. In 2005, shortly before retiring from the game, he returned to Weston in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his victory.

Weston Golf and Country Club has catering facilities and is available for weddings and other occasions. They also operate a curling rink with 6 sheets. A year’s trial golf membership at the highest (Gold) level is $5470, which (according to those in the know) is very reasonable. Membership includes reciprocal access to several courses in Canada and the U.S. including others designed by Willie Park Jr.

A blogger by the name of Frank Mastro has posted a set of photos of the course here.