Nunziata dresses down Chief

Lefty pinko cyclists (like me) worried that Rob Ford’s promise to hire 100 more cops showed that he was unwilling to rein in the big budget of the Toronto Police. (It’s nearly a billion dollars.)

But this lefty pinko cyclist, at least, is not above admitting that he was wrong.

The new board, on which our councillor, Frances Nunziata sits, wasted no time before turning up the heat on Chief Bill Blair. On the same day that she was sworn in, Nunziata took the Chief to task for not making the 5% cuts he had been asked to. The board was not pleased, and The Star says,

Councillor Frances Nunziata put forward a motion asking the chief to provide a report with a line-by-line breakdown of the increase, as well as information on contracting-out cleaning at the police stations.

Blair said the previous board had advised against that, to which Nunziata responded: “Well, we have a new board and a new council.”

Rob Ford has, as many media have reported, already backed away from the promise to hire 100 new police officers. Given the crime in Weston, this was one of the few pledges your humble LPC could praise at the time.

Rob Ford, Throw Us A Bone.

Our new mayor was elected by a considerable margin over his rivals, and it’s agreed he has a pretty strong mandate. Rob Ford’s distaste for street cars was no secret during the campaign, and he seems to be following through on his promise to turn the Transit City plan on its head.

Toronto does not compare well to other cosmopolitan areas when it comes to public transportation. Our subway system is limited to selected areas of downtown and the suburbs. Streetcars and buses are slow and prone to traffic delays; if you have a couple of hours to spare, take a bus or streetcar across town.

Yet while Toronto compares badly, Weston is in the basement.

In recent years, some rays of hope were unveiled. In 1994 work began on a subway that would have gone along Eglinton from Dufferin to Renforth with Weston stops at Keele North, York Centre, Jane North and Scarlett. In 1995, the Harris government ‘deferred’ the work and filled in all excavations. So much for the Common Sense Revolution.

Recently, a subway-like train was planned under Transit City. Originally this would have run along Eglinton—underground like a subway from Leaside to Black Creek Drive with limited stops 850m apart,  and then above ground to the Airport with stops 500m apart. This would have given Weston rapid access to the Yonge-University-Spadina subway and other parts of the city. Again it was being eroded by lack of funds—but at least a start would have been made.

Rob Ford is saying that he wants the Eglinton LRT cancelled. Instead, the money (and then some more) is to be spent on completing the white elephant Sheppard subway. While Toronto mayors have only one vote in council, it is likely Mr. Ford will get his way. The Eglinton LRT is probably dead.

Does this mean that Rob Ford has abandoned the people who strongly supported him here in Weston and his old Ward 2? (I can’t think Frances Nunziata supports cancellation.) What will he do to ensure that there is planning in the works for viable rapid transit options for Weston? Isn’t Weston due for a break soon? Do we have to put up with this and noisy diesels too? For heaven’s sake, throw us a bone Rob.

What the Ford victory means for Weston

The public wants change. Rob Ford wants to do the changing. But what will this mean for Weston?

My premises, in a nutshell: City services benefit all residents equally, but the rich pay more for them than the poor do. So cutting taxes (or cutting services) helps the rich and hurts the poor. The rich get their money back. Both the rich and poor lose their services.

There are four pillars to Ford’s campaign:

  • Reducing city staff
  • Reducing city budgets
  • Reducing taxes such as the land transfer tax and the car registration fee
  • Outsourcing union jobs and reducing wages

If you are a middle- or upper-class Westonian, Ford’s victory will leave more money in your wallet. But if you’re poor, (and Weston is one of the poorest ridings in the city) the next four years will sting.

Cutting taxes means cutting programs. Ford has been pretty clear that he doesn’t support the Priority Neighbourhood plan that brought millions of dollars into Weston and other poor areas. Weston arts and social-services groups like UrbanArts, Frontlines, and Northwood Neighbourhood Services will likely see cuts.

City staff will also be cut. Ford says that service will remain the same—which is believable only if you think that city staff are indolent, but not so indolent that they will refuse to work harder when they see the people around them disappearing. Perhaps. I’m willing to bet that the poor use city services more that others; certainly they use more employment services, community housing, TTC, and subsidized daycare. Cuts to staff will hurt the working class the most.

Finally, the poor in Weston will not see much tax relief; poor people generally don’t own cars or real estate.  Changes to the vehicle registration tax, the land transfer tax, and property taxes are going to have only indirect effects, if any. Rent increases may not happen as quickly if property taxes do not grow.

But there are good things ahead. There will be more police.  Ford has promised 100 more across the city, and Weston could use some.

Ford has also campaigned on ending ‘the war on cars’ and improving transit with busses. In an inner-burban riding like ours, this could be beneficial in the short run. New bus routes and improved bus service would reach us sooner than an LRT or subway.

More importantly, our re-elected councillor, Frances Nunziata, was one of Ford’s earliest and most vocal supporters. We should expect her to have the mayor’s ear and to hold a position of power. She has said that she would like to be the Speaker in the council. With luck (and focused community pressure) she could use her position for Weston’s advantage.

Have We Hit Bottom Yet?

The news of the deaths of two men today is depressing. We don’t have all the details yet but there seems to be an entrenched criminal element in Weston that thinks nothing of routinely carrying firearms and using them to settle disputes. These urban terrorists have made people fearful. Our vibrant community here in Weston has been ruined over the years by inept politicians, poor planning and a seeming inability of our police force to contain this mayhem. The question that needs to be asked of planners, politicians and police is, how do you propose to reverse this decline? Surely this is rock bottom?

Tonks supports preventative detention

Alan Tonks, the MP for York South–Weston has had a busy week in Parliament. Most of what he said was good: he spoke out against email spam and in favour of protecting immigrants from predacious ‘consultants’.

It is all the more worrying, then, that he spoke in favour of imprisoning people never found guilty of a crime.

Bill C-17 would allow the police to force people who may have foreknowledge of a terrorist act to appear in a hearing. While this doesn’t sound intimidating, a hearing differs from a trial in two important ways: the individual has no protection from self-incrimination, and he can be sentenced to up to 12 months in prison for refusing to testify.

A twelve-month “preventative” sentence for maintaining the right to silence is appalling. The detainee will have not have even stood trial, let alone been found guilty.

Tonks brought up the Air India trial, in which Inderjit Singh Reyat “lied or, by omission, circumvented the judicial proceedings”. Tonks wondered whether it wasn’t important for “legislators to find a way that would make the law capable of dealing with that kind of deliberate circumvention of judicial process”.

The law has a method for dealing with liars on the stand. It is the charge of perjury. Reyat was found guilty of it, and will be sentenced in November.

Full-time Kindergarten starts in Weston

There aren’t a lot of perks that go with living in the poorest riding in Toronto—but there is one. Full-time Kindergarten.

Only 15% of the elementary schools in Ontario will be getting full-time kindergarten this year. And, as the father of a kindergartener, I can tell you, 85% of parents look at me with envy.

Weston is unusual. Most of the elementary schools here have full-time junior Kindergarten: HJ Alexander, Weston Memorial, and Portage Trail all do. (Pelmo Park and St John the Evangelist do not.)

Weston has this high proportion of full-time kindergartens because the province tried to place them in low-income neighbourhoods.

The provincial Liberals say that

“A full day of learning will provide four- and five-year-olds with the strong foundation they need for future learning…. Students who achieve early success in school are more likely to perform well later in school and go on to postsecondary education.”

On her website, Laura Albanese, the MPP for York-South Weston, says that children

“will learn new skills and have enriching experiences to help prepare them academically and socially for Grade 1 and get them on track for future success.”

This may be, but not all is rosy in Weston’s elementary schools. Most of the schools are not doing as well as the provincial average in grade 3 achievement. Pelmo, Weston Memorial, and Portage were below average in all of the categories measured. HJ Alexander and neighbouring St John were above.

The deficits are sometimes shocking. At Portage, only about a third of the students meet the provincial standards. Three years ago, more than half did. At Weston Memorial, about two-thirds of the students make the grade, but that number is falling rapidly. In 2006, Weston Memorial trounced the provincial tests.

The data whipsaw around, so it may be that the declines in school achievement are nothing to be concerned about. But perhaps they are. It certainly worries me that the province appears to have not paid much attention to the quality of the school when it decided where to place kindergartens. Under-performing Portage got one, but the dog-eared Pelmo did not. Hot shot HJ got a kindergarten, but its Catholic over-achieving brother, St John, did not.

Toronto Crime Down Year-Over-Year; Some Concerns For Weston

In spite of media giving the impression that crime is on the rise in the city, official statistics are painting an interesting picture of crime in the two police divisions that Weston sits astride.

12 Division Neighbourhoods
31 Division Neighbourhoods

Weston south of Lawrence falls into 12 Division; above Lawrence, Weston sits in 31 Division.

Looking at crime indicators year to date, crime is down overall throughout the city of Toronto. Robberies and assaults are down slightly while auto theft and theft over $5000 are down by about 16% compared to last year at this time.

In 12 and 31 divisions, the numbers are slightly different. Because Weston sits in two large police divisions it is difficult to  know the specific crimes that happen in our neighbourhood.

12 Division Crime Indicators
31 Division Crime Indicators

Assault and Break and Enter

The charts show that in 12 Division, assault and break and enter are higher while everything else is lower. Conversely, Break and enter crimes are considerably lower in 31 Division while robberies have increased.

What we can learn from this is unclear. While we can take comfort from a lowering of crime across the city, we should be alert to any upward tendencies such as can be seen here.

The perception and the reality of crime are two different things. These figures from Toronto Police help us understand that.

All charts from http://www.torontopolice.on.ca