Tonks draws three pensions, and that’s OK

Alan Tonks draws three handsome pensions from various levels of the civil service, according to the Canadian Press. Each of the pensions is more than $10,000 annually and in addition to his $157,731 annual salary as an MP. Tonks appears to be triple-dipping, but the appearance is incorrect.

The tone of Elizabeth Thompson’s article invites contempt. The story opens with a quote from a sitting MP:

““I think we earn enough money,” said Mr. Maloway, who estimates he is giving up $30,000 a year. “I don’t think anybody thinks MPs are underpaid.”

After a long name-and-shame list of sitting MPs who also draw pensions (among them Alan Tonks), the article concludes with a quote opposing the pensions:

Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says he doesn’t have a problem with MPs collecting pensions from private companies but is troubled by MPs also getting pension cheques from governments.

“It does smack of problems for taxpayers when elected officials, in effect, end up double-dipping at taxpayer expense.”

Mr. Gaudet said more MPs should follow mr. [sic] Maloway’s example and voluntarily forgo other government pensions while they sit in the Commons.

While I, your humble editor, have never been unduly kind to Tonks, Thompson’s article is unfair. There is no good principle that would require MPs to forgo public pensions. Those pensions were voluntarily agreed to by employer and employee. Nobody objects to private pensions or to personal wealth among MPs; public pensions are no different: they are a part of the total compensation given to public servants.

Asking MPs to return their public pensions is asking for a double standard. It is saying that those in the public sector deserve a lower real salary than those in the private sector. Demanding the money’s return is also unfair. It is asking for money made fairly to be repaid. It is, in short, asking former public servants (and only public servants) to pay for the privilege of serving in the House.

While a $160,000 salary seems to me quite generous, Tonks should not be singled out merely because he has worked in the public sector for decades.

Capitalism is great

Weston doesn’t have a decent coffee shop—and no,  Tim’s does not count. A decent coffee shop has more than one coffee, brewed strong. A decent coffee shop has pastries and muffins made fresh, not tired old donuts rolled frozen down the 401.

Now, however, the old clock-repair and computer shop on John St is being renovated. The inside has been entirely gutted, and a sign on the window says that the Bela Cafe will be opening soon.

The owners have chosen a great location. Their shop is just down the shop from the GO station, where tired commuters gather every day in the snow. With a little luck, the café will serve excellent coffee and treats, not cups merely good enough to keep commuters coming.


Update on the worst buildings in Weston

Plank Road Building
Plank Road Building

Laura Albanese, the MPP for York-South Weston, explained the status of 5 buildings to be ashamed of in Weston. There is much to be hopeful about.

Albanese was able to provide me with information about three of the four properties I asked about (one property had two buildings)—and the fourth was my mistake. (I gave her the wrong address.)

The owners of the Plank Road Building, which I recently visited, were ordered to begin the repairs that I saw. They were told to have an architect and engineer identify the problems with the building; the owners were to then fix those problems. According to Albanese, they have already repaired the floor joists and are to be working on the masonry and foundation. The owners refused to donate the crumbling building to the city, even though the community would have raised the money for repairs and turned it over to community use.

2272 Weston Rd (appx)
2272 Weston Rd (appx)

The houses near collapse between 2270 and 2274 Weston Road were supposed to have been demolished to make way for a 12-storey seniors’ residence. The plan was rejected, however, in late 2009, and the owners have not resubmitted an improved proposal.

The donut shop near the 401 will be demolished to create a Shell gas station. Work appears to have begun on this property.

On the one hand, I find it reassuring that local politicians and bureaucrats work to preserve the heritage and appearance of Toronto. And I must extend a heartfelt thanks to Ms. Albanese; her response to my email was extremely thorough and generous.

2562 Weston Rd
2562 Weston Rd

Yet, on the other hand, I do find it discouraging that properties can sit for years, sometimes decades, and in the case of the Plank Road Building half a century without investment. It may reflect an inability of the government to apply pressure to developers; it certainly reflects developers’ lack of interest in the community. Developers only let a property be destroyed by time because it would cost more for them to improve or sell it.

While real-estate speculation is as old as real estate, it has spillover effects that are obvious in Weston. These abandoned properties do not lose their owners’ money—if they did, the owners would be motivated to sell. But they certainly lose their neighbours’ money. Every neighbour is punished for the laziness, ineptitude, or avarice of the actual owners, but none of the neighbours has enough power to do something about it. And while it may not be illegal to be a bad neighbour, it remains a low-down and rotten thing to be.

Tonks cocky about Liberals’ chances

In an interview with the Hill Times, York-South Weston MP Alan Tonks was rather dismissive of the NDP’s chances in the next federal election. That’s quite odd, especially since his own riding has been vulnerable to the NDP in the past.

In an article about the Liberal leadership, Tonks said he isn’t concerned about the NDP gaining ground.

“My feeling is that the NDP have held around 16 per cent, always have, when it comes to an election,” says Toronto Liberal MP Alan Tonks (York South-Weston, Ont.). “There’s a window at this time, but when it comes to an actual election call and the issues are out, I don’t think that [traditional] percentage is going to change.”

Tonks may not have the right to be so cocky; while Weston has been consistently Liberal for decades, in the last election his own share of the vote slipped dramatically from 57% to 47%. In fact, his popularity has been declining since 2004, when he received 60% of the vote.

All parties benefitted at Tonks’ expense, but none more than the party he criticizes most. In the last election, the NDP took 28% of the vote here—much more than the 16% he says they “always have”.

Alan Tonks’ Salary

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.

Alan Tonks

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.

My data, in OpenOffice format: Tonks’ expenses

Metrolinx wants another (and better) link to the airport

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.

Route of the Eglinton LRT

5 buildings to be ashamed of in Weston

You don’t have to go to New Orleans or Detroit to see urban decay. Weston has some appalling rot right on our main street.

Buildings need people like people need buildings: just as we die without housing, they die without inhabitants. Decay and mould soon ruin empty properties, so abandoned buildings show deep despair in a community—nobody would abandon a building that had a future.

But in Weston, there are several buildings that have been left empty and decaying for years. One building in particular, one of Canada’s oldest, has been abandoned for at least 10 years.

The Plank Road building at 2375 (or 2371) Weston Road was built in 1841, 25 years before Canada existed. Though it is beautiful and historic, it has been empty for at least ten years; photographs from the Ontario Heritage Properties Database show that it was certainly abandoned in June of 2000, and judging from its condition, it looks to have been abandoned years before that.

Plank buildingPlank building

It’s not the only abandoned building on Weston Road, merely the oldest. An old liquor store has been abandoned since at least 2007, when I moved to Weston. It was likely abandoned before that. There is a bright side: behind the store, a very large parcel has returned to nature–it’s completely inaccessible and probably a lovely refuge for wildlife.

The most decrepit buildings are certainly two houses on the west side of the street. While the Plank house has had a new roof put on and the LCBO looks like it could be salvaged, these two houses are completely ruined. Nobody will live in them again, yet nobody will tear them down.

Finally, a burned-out Donut shop at 2562 Weston Rd has the highest visibility. It is right near the highway off-ramp and across from the gigantic grocery store. Its owner has not repaired the store since it was gutted by fire. It, too, has been in this state for many years.

All of these properties are on Weston Road, and all are within a kilometer. They exist because businesspeople, politicians, and residents feel our community is a dump. They would not stand anywhere else in Toronto.