There is an uproar on Parliament Hill about transparency. It’s not the Afghan detainee scandal: it’s a screaming match about MP’s expenses.
Almost no MPs want their expenses to be transparent, but all parties want to appear transparent. The Conservatives are calling for more debate about MP’s expenditures, but won’t release the actual data. The Liberals this week released their member’s expenses to show the Conservatives up—never mind that the data are exactly the same as were released in the annual House of Commons report—and exactly as paltry.
According to the report, Alan Tonks’ office costs taxpayers about $575,000 a year. His office expenditures are $423,035, and the base salary for an MP is $155,400.
Tonks’ expenses do not compare favourably with his colleagues. The Prime Minister’s expenses are only 60% of Tonks’. Stephane Dion’s expenses are 20% less.
Tonks’ leader, Michael Ignatieff, spends only 13% more than Tonks does, as does Gilles Duceppe, the BQ leader. Jack Layton spends 30% more.
Constituents and taxpayers should be concerned with the expenses of a back-bench MP who spends like a leader. Unfortunately, until MPs reveal more detail, we won’t know whether Tonks’ expenditures were justified. His secrecy does not lend confidence.
Other Liberal MPs have released their expenses. Tonks should do the same. He has little to lose and much to gain.
The Etobicoke-York Community Council voted this week to inspect many (but not all) of the payday loan shops in Weston.
Payday loan shops are very common in Weston, but their social value is dubious. Stores such as Money Mart and Cash Money offer small loans at high interest rates for short durations, among other services. Perhaps because of the low average income in Weston, payday loan storefronts are very common.
Council has made several recommendations to put pressure on the loan shops, though direct curbs seem out of reach. The city will ask the province to investigate what can be done to reduce “problems” such stores cause. Council will also investigate whether they can be licenced by the city.
City staff will be asked to bear down on the operations. They are being directed to address “the issues arising from this type of business”.
Finally, licencing staff will also investigate payday loan shops along Weston Road and Jane Street. It is not clear what, if anything, staff will be able to do against the loan shops—or, in fact, if anything should be done until the “problems” and “issues” are more clearly defined.
InsideToronto.com is reporting that speed bumps will be installed along MacDonald Avenue in response to many years of reckless driving along the street.
The vote of the community council was contentious; the councillors overruled city bureaucrats’ recommendations. 40% of residents voted in a survey on the subject. Staff require 50% of residents to respond to give their blessing.
Yesterday Metrolinx affirmed its plan to build a rail link to the airport. But they weren’t endorsing the Blue 22, the private airport train that will run through Weston. Metrolinx will be building competing train line: a light rail link to Pearson.
Metrolinx’s “Big 5” program will complete 5 major transit projects over the next 10 years. One of these is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which will run from Scarborough to the airport. The line will be high capacity (about 5000 passengers an hour), frequent (every 3–6 minutes) and cheap ($3 or so). Light rail isn’t the same as rail-rail; it’s more like a subway crossed with a streetcar.
The LRT will make connections to the Yonge and University subway and to the proposed Jane St LRT. Thus it will serve the same locations as the Blue 22, if less directly. It will also be quite fast, especially for travellers heading midtown and not to Union. For $3, the Eg train will get you to the Yonge subway station in 48 minutes. In contrast, the Blue 22 would save 19 minutes but cost $20 more.
Both will be fast, frequent, and comfortable. But only the Eglinton LRT is cheap, connects directly with the subway, and takes riders midtown.
The private nature of the Blue 22 may yet be its undoing; the Eglinton LRT is the better way.
Some things are great because they’re retro-cool and undiscovered. And then some things are just plain great.
The Grattan Street park used to be great because it was small, unused, and stuck in the 70s, with old, clunky swings and stubby beer bottles lying around. Now it is one of the smallest, cutest parks in all of Toronto. It’s just plain great. Over the past month, this urban gem has been completely renovated, improved, and made modern. The old wood benches and rusty swingsets are gone; new, safe, high-quality play-structures have been brought in and landscaping has been done to remove an ugly concrete water tower base.
Westonian Mark Dos Reis says, “It was a really great park back in the 70s and 80s, but it fell into a state of disrepair.” In consultation with the community and architects, the city of Toronto improved the landscaping by making it more level and removed the decaying concrete and wooden structures around the park.
The neglect had made the park something of a hangout for teens who took to smoking pot and drinking beer. While Dos Reis was generous about the teens, he did say that the effect of the renovations has been positive: “I like it. I’d rather have little kids. There’s a lot of little kids in the neighbourhood and a daycare.” The park will be very nice for them, he noted, as it has only one entrance and exit, so the minders can be sure the kids won’t wander.
Prospective homebuyers will be feeling the pinch as mortgage rates rise, especially as prices in Toronto hit new record highs. Prospective Westonites stand to benefit, though: prices in Weston are still substantially below the district and city averages, and growth in prices is slow.
According to the Toronto Real Estate board, last month the average home in Weston’s district sold for $318,000. This is up only slightly from $313,000 in April of 2009. Weston is still much cheaper than neighbouring areas; in western Toronto (including Weston), the average home sold for $404,000: 27% more than here. The average home in all of Toronto sold for $373,000: 17% more.
In what may be a sign that few people know about Weston, homes here sell more slowly than elsewhere. Local real estate spent an average of 31 days on the market, far more than the average of 22 in the western district and 21 for Toronto as a whole.
Despite homesellers’ wait, many more properties did sell compared to last year. 104 homes changed owners in sector W04, compared to only 54 in April of last year. This is likely due to the terrible economic uncertainty of early 2009.
There is a downside, of course, to the affordable real estate in Weston. Those looking to sell their homes here are unable to capitalize on the large price increases the rest of Toronto has seen.