Sullivan: Metrolinx and Transit Implications

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that we will roll out over the next four days;

Already published:

1. Fallout from the election

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

The third issue that we discussed was Metrolinx and transit implications for Weston.

3. Metrolinx

Prior to winning a seat in the House of Commons in 2011, Sullivan was co-chair of the Clean Train Coalition, a grass roots community group dedicated to electrification of the rail lines that run through what used to be known as the Georgetown Corridor. He was a vocal critic of the Airport Rail Link before it became known as the UP Express. For a flashback to the past, this interview with Sullivan is a good refresher on the issues back in 2010.

Sullivan is still keenly interested in transit as it pertains to Weston. We started with the new GO Station parking lot and and its role as host to the Weston Farmers Market for the foreseeable future.

Metrolinx is giving the farmers market (the GO Station Parking lot) for free for the next couple of years because there are no GO Trains on Saturdays and because you’re not allowed to park overnight on that (GO Train) lot. No one will use that lot to take the Airport connection. When Metrolinx was first talking about the quantities of parking that they were going to need, I got the impression that because they were going to market the link as an alternative to parking at the airport so you would pay $16 each way for the ride and park for free. And so that’s why they’re building that massive lot at the south end for the GO patrons and the North end will be potentially long term although Metrolinx told me that they have no intention of doing that they’re so desperate for ridership and ours is the only station where there is any possibility of parking.

Between Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack and the new LRT line, many have been wondering what will happen to Weston’s GO and UP Express stations once the LRT is complete. A new Mount Dennis station will be located uncomfortably close to Weston.

Watch this dream-like video. Notice the connections to GO and UP Express marked on the station entrance. Read more about the station here.

Sullivan spoke briefly about the way the New Eglinton LRT line will disrupt everything.

When the Eglinton LRT is opened, the UP Express and GO train will stop at Eglinton. That’s not good if you live in Weston.

The implication being that having two stations so close together will be mean that one will have to go. In other words, the least useful will become redundant and that could be Weston because it’s not a major transfer point as a triple rail intersection would be. The Mount Dennis Station will allow a transfer between GO, the UP Express, the Eglinton LRT not to mention the hastily planned election promise that was SmartTrack.

Weston may have another fight on its hands if it is to keep its two stations.

Sullivan moved on to the expensive and barely used UP Express and is sceptical about the latest Metrolinx UP Express ridership numbers.

UP Express claimed October ridership was higher in October but they didn’t take into account the fact that October has an extra day.

 

When asked to comment on the ticket prices charged by UP Express, Sullivan claims that the cost of running UPX is about $5 per fare. If this is the case, Metrolinx has lots of room to manoeuvre. Rumblings have already started about a really competitive fare that would boost ridership numbers. No doubt the New Year will bring a sober second look at prices.

Tomorrow: The Church Street, former Humber River Regional Hospital Site.

Sullivan: The Weston Cultural Hub

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that are being published over a four day period. The first topic was Fallout from the election.

The second issue that we discussed is the Weston Cultural Hub.

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

On the Hub itself and the political processes involved:

I’m of two minds (about the Hub).

There are several things that make me nervous about it. One is the extent that the councillor is trying to get local buy-in from community organizations. There are secret meetings between community organizations and the developer and they’re happening outside the public eye. The essence of what I can gather from this scheme is that Rockport gets to build a 30 storey tower without a parking garage so it’s significantly cheaper for them on city land that they’re essentially being given; and they’re getting money.

On the neglect of this corner of Toronto:

The current and former municipal administrations have not paid a whole lot of attention to Weston and Mount Dennis.

This part of the City of Toronto has very few if any city services such as community centres such as city offices -anything that is a community service.

In response to those who claim that the York Community Centre being built on Black Creek and Eglinton will meet Weston’s needs, Sullivan points out its remote and car oriented location.

The York Community Centre
The soon to be opened York Community Centre

The new community centre is not here (in Weston) – that’s a regional recreation centre – you have to have a car to get there – you can’t get there as a pedestrian.

There’s nothing up here and there hasn’t been and there needs to be. There are 10,000 people already who live in the various buildings along Weston road who have no city facilities and we’re going to add another thousand people or more to that already under-serviced group. Where are the city services that come along with this? We’re getting 8000 square feet of community space but what will be its purpose? We don’t know and it will be gone after 50 years.

Sullivan calls 33 King, ‘Weston’s long-term eyesore’ and says that it should never have been put where it was.

“(33 King) is getting the $10million in benefit – they’re getting to make their ground floor into public storage which was never said until late into the game – it is not an appropriate use for a residential neighbourhood despite what Jennifer Keesmaat says. In addition to getting redevelopment of live-work spaces paid for by somebody else that they’ll collect the rent on and city officials are bending over backwards to make it happen. There is absolutely no resistance from any city department or organization despite many perceived and real flaws in this project.”

Sullivan also worries about the increased levels of traffic produced by an extra thousand people who will live in the new 30-storey tower. Residents will park in the existing parking garage that empties onto King Street. He claims that traffic studies of the new Hub ignore the fact that a new 650 student school will be built nearby.

I asked (at the meeting) how it was that transportation services accepted completely without question (the report) provided by the developer which ignored an entire school. St John The Evangelist School apparently no longer exists according to that traffic study. So the answer that came from Transportation Services parroted the report from the developer which was that 33 King has the right to that many vehicles and ignored that there will be 650 kids where before there used to be 200 who will be coming and going at rush hour. …the ramp empties directly onto the street with no signalling whatsoever. I hate to say this but it’s only a matter of time before some young person  is injured or killed because of the dramatic increase in traffic that will come as the result of 370 units having parking in that building that they didn’t have before.

He is concerned that while John Street has been designated a place for Farmers Market vehicles to be parked, it is also a designated fire route.

(at the public meeting) I asked what’s going to happen to the Farmers market vehicles because Frances’ (Councillor Nunziata) plan is to turn the Farmers Market into a street market and so that the vehicles will be on John Street. But in one of the newest incarnations of the site plan, John Street will become a fire route. And therefore you cannot park vehicles on the fire route and that question’s not answered.

Another important issue for Sullivan is the lack of an easement to guarantee that pedestrian access will not be cut off by the owners of 33 King Street.

…the city is planning to make the laneways on the east side of 33 King into a pedestrian passageway. (Dan Harris asked) on several occasions if (the city) would require that to be an easement and the answer from the city is that the owners of 33 King will not give us that – well we’re giving the owners of 33 King $10 million – you’d think you could get an easement out of that, which would then make that walkway a permanent feature. But f they wanted to, the owners could put a fence up and block access at certain times of day. So there needs to be an easement and a re-think of whether we need 30 storeys.

Sullivan is also concerned about the precedent of such a tall building causing other, similar applications that will use a token ‘community benefit‘ to justify breaking the City’s planning controls.

Already other developers have put in feelers to the city about raising their proposed buildings to 30 storeys – Cruickshank apparently started asking the city about 30 storeys and and the owners  at 1775 and 1765 Weston Road who were talking about building low rise commercial in the front are now asking about 30 storey towers. Ms Keesmaat claimed that there would be no precedent as a result of the public amenities that were being provided – you can bet your boots that every developer worth his salt is going to say, “I want 30 storeys too”.  We’re going to have another 4 or 5, 30-storey towers with no services. I’m not opposed to the notion that an art community might be an interesting concept but I think you don’t sell your soul to get it. But I’m afraid that this notion of the 30 storey building and the loss of the Farmers Market is like selling our soul.

Tomorrow: Sullivan comments on Metrolinx

Sullivan: I’m (probably) back.

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that we will roll out over the next four days;

1. Fallout from the election

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

3. Metrolinx

4. The Church Street, former Humber River Regional Hospital Site.

Mike Sullivan in April 2013 as an MP campaigning for protection of the Humber.
Mike Sullivan in April 2013 as an MP campaigning for protection of the Humber.

1. Fallout from the election

We started with his experiences during the last election. Sullivan claims that he would not have done anything differently during the campaign that was the longest in modern history. He believes that the shifting of votes away from the New Democratic Party happened very suddenly during the last weekend of the campaign.

“People in the riding weren’t paying attention to the local situation They were also voting against Harper and choosing Liberals to be the ones to beat him. None of the Toronto area NDP MPs were re-elected as the Liberals captured all 25 Toronto seats. I lost a lot of friends in other ridings (who were also Toronto area MPs). It’s politics though and if you can’t take that, don’t run. You can kick yourself afterwards over things we should and shouldn’t have done but I don’t think we did anything wrong locally.”

It’s not all bad though; Sullivan is now able to see a lot more of his five beloved grandchildren, three of whom live in Mississauga and the other two in Edmonton. Last year, Sullivan and his wife spent Christmas in Edmonton and this year there will be celebrations in his home in Toronto and in Mississauga. The Sullivan family’s holiday fare is traditional and includes lots of turkey and ham.

I asked if he was thinking about staying in politics and setting himself up as the opposition to the new MP. He pondered that for a minute, smiled and said,

“Probably. Time will tell how long it will last. It’s (the next election) four years away and I’m not necessarily setting myself up in opposition to the local MP but when I see something that is unfair or not helpful then I’ll be unafraid of saying it.”

Remembering that Sullivan had a constituency office on South Station Road, and not being able to find much information about Mr. Hussen’s constituency office, I asked Sullivan if he knew where it was. Sullivan replied that it is not set up yet but that it will be in the same vicinity as MPP Laura Albanese’s. He suggested that having an office in an industrial area is, “Not helpful”.

The complex where MPP Laura Albanese has her constituency office.
The complex where MPP Laura Albanese has her constituency office.

On Monday, I checked the address, 85 Ingram Drive from where Mr Hussen will be operating. There was nothing to indicate that he has a presence in that building although a sign on a sports equipment store in the same building seemed to indicate that a number of people have been trying to contact the new MP.

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MPP Laura Albanese and Councillor Frank DiGiorgio already have offices in that same complex. The location may not be handy for constituents who walk but perhaps communications between those particular politicians will be made somewhat easier.

To ensure that he stays in the public consciousness, Sullivan has begun writing about issues of concern to York South-Weston residents once more. His first since the election deals with the Liberal tax cut plans.

Postscript: I had a call this afternoon from Christine Whitten who will be working in Ahmed Hussen’s constituency office. She explained the delay in setting up new parliamentary offices because, for example incoming MPs inherit their furniture from the previous incumbent. In addition, the furniture, previously used in Mike Sullivan’s Constituency Office could not move directly but had to be delivered to a storage location before being forwarded to the new MP. Things like internet and phone lines likewise cannot be arranged directly but have to be ordered through the House of Commons. Christine says that as soon as the office opens (hopefully early in the New Year), Mr. Hussen will be holding an open house so that constituents can drop by and meet their new M.P. In the meantime, York South-Weston residents are invited to contact Ms. Whitten at 416-432-2974 should they require further information or assistance.

Tomorrow: Sullivan’s thoughts on the Weston Cultural Hub.

Big Red Wave – Epilogue

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The official results from last night’s election are:

  • Apathetic non-voters: 26,743
  • Ahmed Hussen: 20,091
  • Mike Sullivan: 13,203
  • James Robinson: 8,394
  • Stephen Lepone: 1043
  • John Johnson: 887

Sixty two percent of the York South-Weston electorate voted which is an improvement on the 53% who voted in 2011. As can be seen, the largest group of people in the riding were the ones who couldn’t be bothered to vote. Whether it was ever possible to interest any of those thousands of non-voters in supporting Mike Sullivan is something that we can only speculate on. As Sullivan himself will attest, it’s hard to stand against a wave. Alan Tonks couldn’t do it in 2011 against Sullivan when Jack Layton powered an NDP surge that swept the country and now, with change being the operating word, the Liberals have roared back and astonishingly swept the NDP from all Toronto ridings.

Mike Sullivan was warned in WestonWeb over a year ago that the Liberals would be coming on strong for yesterday’s election. This was even before the selection of Ahmed Hussen as the Liberal Party nominee. Three Hundred Eight, the website that kept a running average of the polls consistently predicted a Sullivan loss throughout the campaign. No doubt, many in Weston will be saddened by Sullivan’s departure from Ottawa – after all, we had an MP living in the neighbourhood who knew local issues well and had earlier played a large part in promoting Weston’s causes when the UP Express was first proposed. Even though he wasn’t part of the government, he was a voice for Weston and York South-Weston as part of the Official Opposition. When floods struck the area in 2013, Sullivan organized events to support residents whose homes had been devastated. Mike has always been an approachable and friendly presence at local events and provided a welcome foil to the partisan activities of the other levels of government.

We wish Mike well as he packs his things and returns full-time to Weston. He will now be able to take a well earned rest and spend more time with his beloved grandchildren. We can only hope that our next MP will, as part of the new government make it his first priority to introduce himself to residents and be an effective and forceful representative of the people in his riding.

That is of course until the next wave comes along.

Vote – Canada depends on you.

Image: Wikipedia.
Image: Wikipedia.

Every four years or so voters get a chance to make their collective wishes known. It’s a privilege that the people of many other countries don’t share. Some citizens may think that their vote makes a difference but for example, in the United States and Cuba (to name but two), the choice is limited to a very narrow field and even a turnover of personnel often makes little difference to government policies and actions.

In York South-Weston we have two candidates from parties with a chance to unseat the current Conservative government – or the Harper Government as it likes to be known. Mike Sullivan is the NDP incumbent and Ahmed Hussen the Liberal challenger. Other parties are running but it is more than likely that one of these candidates will be elected.

Anyone with an impartial eye could probably see that over the past few years, the Conservatives have brought real change to the Canadian political process. It’s not just the nastier tone but a willingness to cheat and upset the democratic process far beyond anything that has happened in the past. Readers with the desire to read the gory details may read this long but excellent summation in The Guardian. Good luck staying calm after that article.

Along with the cheating goes a whole other raft of divisiveness and fear mongering but t’s the cheating that has allowed the Conservatives to be insensitive to voter reaction so it remains (in the minds of many) their most egregious behaviour.

There is, therefore only one possible action for citizens of this country and that is to get out and vote. You have a choice of two parties that, should they gain power, will not cheat you out of your future hard won votes. Whether the Liberals or New Democrats form a government after this election, we can be reasonably assured that politics will be conducted in a more equitable fashion. The same, unfortunately cannot be said if the Conservatives win.

It’s time for the citizens of York South-Weston (and indeed ridings all across this great country) to let the the Conservative Party, its members and even its volunteers know that cheating will not be tolerated by Canadians. The best way to do this is to deliver an overwhelming mandate to as many non-Conservative candidates as possible.

Get out and vote – it’s never been more important.

Hussen blows it.

The Federal election campaign has been running for, well, a whole campaign now and some strange things have been happening on the road to Ottawa.

Ahmed Hussen was the surprise nomination of the York South-Weston Liberals back in December last year. Many had expected YSW Liberal Riding executive Jules Kerlinger to be a nominee but he inexplicably withdrew from the race quite early and wouldn’t talk about it. Rumours were that he’d been invited to step aside by the Liberal Party but confirming those rumours proved elusive. Riding Association President, Ryan Ward was unable or unwilling to open up on the subject, referring me to Ottawa functionaries. Jules himself declined to respond.

Former Toronto councillor Bill Saundercook was then expected to get the nod but during the voting process, a strange turn of events took place. Large numbers of people came by the busload to vote and somehow, a bottleneck occurred at the membership and credential checking process. Late in the afternoon, with time pressing, organizers decided to close the polls before everyone was able to reach the voting booths. Outsiders shrugged and thought that this was simply business as usual for the Liberals.

Bill Saundercook.
Bill Saundercook confidently awaits the result at the nomination meeting.

The result of the vote that fateful day was a shock, not merely because a seeming long-shot had won but also because of the surprisingly small number of votes cast when compared to the huge numbers lined up – no doubt a result of the glacial pace of the voting line. The winner was a relative unknown, Ahmed Hussen but he had a well known local backer, George Smitherman.

As 2015 progressed, Mr. Hussen was seen at various events in York South-Weston and it was thought that his campaign was shaping up nicely. With a good tail wind from Justin Trudeau, he had a reasonable chance of winning the seat.

Moderator Judith Hayes listens to the candidates.
John Johnson (Green) and Mike Sullivan (NDP) tackle the issues.

There is usually one major debate in York South-Weston before an election. This is meticulously organized by an army of hard-working volunteers from one or more organizations in the riding who do what is necessary to hold a fair debate. Many of these people are politically active but not exclusively for any one party. On September 16, Mr. Hussen announced to organizers that he would not attend the debate. More recently, the candidate allegedly let it be known that he considered the debate to be partisan; skewed in favour of the NDP.

Moderator Judith Hayes listens to the candidates.
Moderator Judith Hayes listens to the candidates.

Knowing the scrupulous lengths to which organizers of these events go makes it clear that no party owns or controls these debates. To make the allegation even more fatuous, Liberal riding executive Jules Kerlinger was part of the proceedings and read audience questions to the candidates. Witnessing the event were former YSW Liberal MP, Alan Tonks and Liberal MPP Laura Albanese who would have quite correctly blown the whistle had anything underhanded been transpiring.

Jules Berlinger reads audience questions at last night's debate.
Jules Kerlinger reads audience questions at last night’s debate.

At this stage it should be mentioned that the Conservative Party candidate also failed to show up at the debate. This was neither a surprise nor much of a disappointment as it seems to be Party policy, especially in York South-Weston where the right-wing vote along with Tory candidates’ speaking skills are generally on the marginal side.

York South-Weston's democratic deficit.
York South-Weston’s democratic deficit.

One can only surmise that Mr Hussen’s sudden attack of shyness was not from a fear of entering some sort of NDP stronghold where he would be ambushed by frothing hordes of rabid lefties. The only conclusion that the public can come to is that he was woefully unprepared to respond to audience questions and decided to bolt. That alone is telling.

So much for the Big Red Wave. Thanks to Mr. Hussen, its now likely to be a trickle in this riding and YSW federal Liberals are facing four more years in the political wilderness. Perhaps the geniuses at Party HQ should have gone with Mr. Kerlinger after all.