Big Blue Wave’s a coming

From Twitter.

Every four years, election fever grips the land (did I mention we love elections here at Weston Web?). This year, there are two elections and the first (June 7) is to elect a provincial parliament for the next four years.

Before we go any further, as a helpful guide to our readers, here is a 3-point cynical guide to the Canadian political system’s 3 levels of government.

  1. The Federal Government collects most tax money (about $300 billion) and does the least for the average citizen on a day-to-day basis. It takes care of nation-wide things like defence, trade and border controls.
  2. The Provincial Government collects a lot less money (about $140 billion) but does more things that affect our daily lives like build and maintain major transportation links and run health care.
  3. Toronto Council has the biggest impact on our daily lives yet collects the smallest amount (about $36 billion) to serve 23% of Ontario’s population and because it is forbidden by law to run a deficit, has nowhere near enough money. To finance city operations, they must beg for funds from the other two levels. This may be because the other two levels know that on any given day, about one third of councillors are batshit crazy logic impaired and many of their decisions make no sense. To put things into perspective, PC leader Doug Ford was a Toronto councillor for four years and was considered at the time to be mildly eccentric.

Anyway, digression over. About two years ago, just before the last federal election, Weston Web went out on a twig and predicted that a big red wave was coming that would sweep the country. Dutifully, the Liberals under Ahmed Hussen captured York South-Weston from then MP Mike Sullivan.

We’re going to make another equally bold declaration for the upcoming June 7th provincial election. According to several polling companies, the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford are likely to form the next government barring a major upset. We don’t (that’s the royal ‘we’; I shouldn’t speak for Adam) beg to differ.

What does that mean for Laura Albanese, MPP for YSW since 2007? Over the years, she has formed alliances, grown into the job and holds down a cabinet post. She is hard working and well liked with an effective and experienced staff. Will she be swept away and lose her seat to the PC Candidate, Mark DeMontis? Will the animosity towards the Wynne government combine with a blue Ford Nation wave to propel young Mr. DeMontis into office? Then there’s the NDP. Running for the first time is well known community activist, Faisal Hassan. Can the NDP under leader Andrea Horwath mount an opposing Orange Wave between now and June 7? Will York South-Weston’s left of centre voters consolidate under Mr. Hassan’s NDP banner in order to stop PC leader Doug Ford? Let’s not leave out Bonnie Hu and Grad Murray running for the Libertarian and Green parties respectively.

What does it mean for Toronto and in particular YSW? The provincial government is vitally important in steering much needed money towards Toronto’s woefully inadequate transit system, lousy infrastructure, and other neglected projects like public housing. If allocated funds are cut off, or are diverted to projects that align with a new government direction, the city will have to start the laborious planning process from scratch. More on this in later articles.

At the moment, campaigning cannot officially begin until May 9th but leaders and candidates are straining at the leash. Let’s hope they can get the electorate to participate more than they did last time. In 2014’s provincial election, Ms. Albanese won with 15,660 votes – a mere 22% of the 72,000 eligible voters in the riding. Sadly, almost 39,000 eligible voters in YSW didn’t vote for any candidate. Thats 54% of voters!

From TrinbagoViews.com

Engaging those, ‘Who cares?’ non-voters may be the key to winning on June 7.

Income inequality linked to crime.

From Bizarro.com

Here in Weston / Mount Dennis, a significant percentage of our population earns less than the average Toronto resident. In addition, we have more single parent households (30%, compared to the Toronto average of 21%).

How can these statistics be improved? Gentrification is often thought to be the answer. Unfortunately it can force low income people out through higher rents and property prices. This is happening across Toronto and simply shifts the problem to other areas. It does nothing to help people – in fact by forcing them to move, their lives are further disrupted. A better and more humane way is to support individuals so that they can pull themselves out of poverty. It also benefits society as a whole.

A review of studies in 2013 concluded that:

a decrease in income inequality is associated with sizeable reduction in crime. It is evident that a focus on reducing income inequality can be advantageous to reducing property crime, robbery, homicide and murder…

One of the problems with studies and facts is that sometimes they don’t fit the popular narrative. Some politicians find it much easier to blame the victims of poverty as being the cause of their own misfortune. They also look down on efforts to help the poor. Rob Ford’s famous ‘Hug a thug’ comment was made to justify his council vote against participating in a federal gang intervention project.

Should we expect politicians to look for ways to lower poverty? For example, raise the minimum wage so that people can earn a living wage. As of last month, the minimum wage became $14.00 and will become $15.00 next January. Without wishing to impugn the Premier’s motives, we may have to thank an election year and her attempt to outflank the NDP for that move. In general though, it makes sense to lower inequality as it has the potential to improve everyone’s quality of life.

How else can politicians reduce inequality? They should be spending more on:

  • education
  • public housing,
  • transit
  • bike lanes
  • social services
  • libraries
  • parks
  • addiction support
  • homelessness.

Why should we support this? Another recent study has shown that increasing social spending has a more positive impact on longevity and general health than increasing health care spending.

With the provincial and civic elections coming up in June and October, politicians will be courting our vote through some blunt platforms. There will be some who will promise to reduce spending, find efficiencies and cut taxes. They will talk about taxpayers rather than citizens. They will promise to keep property taxes at or below the level of inflation and reduce income taxes – in effect forcing a funding shortage since costs are always rising. Beware of these people – they have caused our current crises through:

  • A constant focus on austerity
  • Inadequate spending on public housing and repairs
  • Opposing anti-poverty initiatives
  • Prioritizing cars over pedestrians, bicycles and public transit
  • Diversion of money to dogma / re-election driven transportation issues (e.g. Scarborough subway, Gardiner extension).
  • Refusing to adequately subsidize public transportation (Toronto’s subsidy is .78 per ride compared to $1.03 in New York or $2.21 in Mississauga).

In other words, their platform is designed to increase income inequality and therefore higher crime and lower quality of life.

Thinking citizens don’t mind paying taxes because they see the bigger picture. The siren call of lower taxes is a tempting one and popular with unscrupulous politicians. Unfortunately the effects aren’t pretty.

Incidentally, everyone in Canada is a taxpayer. Perhaps politicians should talk about citizens instead.

Metrolinx to VIA: No dice.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 3.18.09 PM
Oh the possibilities! VIA Rail’s route (in blue) from Union to London.

VIA Rail trains pass (without stopping) through Weston twice a day in each direction on their way from London to Toronto’s Union Station. Some passengers from London, Kitchener, Guelph, Stratford and other stations along the route are headed to Pearson and it seemed like a no-brainer for those passengers to simply exit at Weston and hop aboard the airport train thus saving themselves time and money. Another plus, Westonians would have another way to travel westwards along that route and even catch a ride to Union in the other direction twice daily.

Enter Metrolinx. Metrolinx has said no. Apparently the arrangement is too hard to accomplish because of tight scheduling, passengers would only have 60 seconds to get off the train. Compared to regular UPX stops of 30 seconds, this seems like quite a generous allocation; especially since few will likely be getting off.

Why the foot dragging from Metrolinx? Well for starters, that’s a precious revenue loss if passengers can get a cheaper fare to the airport from Weston. Second, it’s an inconvenience to have a tight schedule to worry about. Third, why bother; it’s only Weston.

Bottom line: Laura Albanese, Ahmed Hussen and Frances Nunziata should be screaming from the rooftops for Metrolinx to add this (however small) amenity to Weston. Larger scheduling problems have been solved in the past. According to an article in the Star, this decision is not carved in stone. Let’s hope that our representatives can bring some pressure to bear; soon.

Ontario strategically pushes the reset button.

Much to her own surprise, incumbent Liberal Laura Albanese handily defeated the N.D.P.’s Paul Ferreira and the P.C.’s Andrew Ffrench in what was expected to be a tight race. Across Ontario, the tumultuous events of election night will echo in York South-Weston for years to come. Across the province, voters rejected the P.C.’s confusing promises of harsh austerity, cuts to government jobs and corporate incentives while providing tax cuts for corporations. Andrea Horwath’s bizarre adoption of Tory style policies such as utility H.S.T. refunds, corporate incentives and a Ford-like respect for taxpayers confused voters and infuriated the base. These two odd approaches (which stirred memories of Mike Harris and Bob Rae) gave voters no other safe haven than the Liberals. In addition, only Kathleen Wynne was able to sound sincere when the camera lights were switched on. Wynne’s enthusiasm and confidence allowed voters to trust her messages of contrition for past Liberal wrongs, sound the alarm about the possibility of a P.C. victory and promises of better days to come under a Liberal government.

Across the province, it appeared that to many voters, the only acceptable platform (or the least unacceptable) belonged to the Liberals. In order to ensure the adoption of that platform (which the NDP had rejected), strategic voting was in the minds of many voters when they were marking their X.

One good thing to come of this is that having a clear majority will allow Kathleen Wynne to work on her agenda without needing permission from the opposition. Transportation issues that plague the GTA can get the attention they deserve. Hopefully a new Mayor and refreshed Toronto City Council can work with Wynne to straighten out years of neglect and idiotic council decisions.

Another good thing to come of this is that the P.C.s will choose a new and less extremist leader. Mr. Hudak ably demonstrated that ‘Tea Party Lite’ doesn’t work in Ontario. Ms Horwath, (if she survives as leader in the Fall convention) will no doubt be charged with returning the NDP to its core values.

Premier Wynne seems anxious to hit the ground running and wants to recall the legislature to sit through July. Ms Albanese has been given a large mandate to serve and we can only hope that she will use this to more forcefully represent the electorate in Toronto’s poorest riding. In the past she was able to extract concessions from the premier because of the swing nature of the riding. Now she has four years to demonstrate to electors that she will be a strong and responsive advocate and not simply another whipped government vote.

Why we can’t have nice things.

In Weston, the status quo is far from desirable. Change for the better seems to be almost impossible and for decades, long-term planning has been ignored while property developers suck communities dry with minimal consequences. In a city as dynamic as Toronto, it actually takes concerted planning and effort to bring a community down to the same depressing level as Weston. Neglect needs help, even in Weston.

It’s not just Weston that has suffered. Toronto’s infrastructure has barely changed in 50 years while the population of the GTA (Census Metropolitan Area) has almost tripled. Sewage lines are at capacity, roads are potholed, highways are blocked for much of the day while public transportation is inadequate and underfunded.

The problem lies in the political process with which we attempt to run the city. In a nutshell, it’s broken and unfortunately there’s little hope on the horizon. As a result, we have a collection of comfortable incumbents and a mayor whose inability to get fired has amazed (and amused) the rest of the world. Anyone watching a council meeting in progress can only marvel at the sheer stupidity, petulance and inattention that bogs down the important business of running a city; not to mention those voting the wrong way and then requesting a motion calling for a re-vote. While that isn’t bad enough, on the rare occasions that consensus is achieved by council, decisions are routinely ignored by senior levels of government. Canada’s engine of growth and prosperity has to beg for handouts from the other two levels of government.

Let’s start with the rank and file politicians that we send to city hall. Councillors can be confident of a four-year term if they can persuade about 20% of the electorate to vote for them. That bags them a place on the sunshine list plus 100% benefits. There’s even severance money for retirees or those voted out of office but sadly, it’s rarely necessary. Council incumbents range from right-wing strutting buffoons to left-wing rampant egomaniacs and do-nothing placeholders in the middle. Helping each councillor cope with the day-to-day grind of decision-making, $220,000 is provided for four staff to ease the burden. An ability to tolerate long and tedious meetings seems to be one of the few pre-requisite talents.

If you think about the people who vote for our elected officials, there’s a core of support that’s unshakable, regardless of (or perhaps because of) any nefarious and outrageous behaviour. Mayor Ford can point to the stubborn support of Ford Nation as evidence of his hard core followers. There’s no doubt that despite his many flaws, he has connected with people. Just as Mussolini made the trains run on time, Rob returns his calls. There are many who believe that Mayor Ford has an excellent chance of re-election next October. That solid unwavering wedge of support could easily trump the divided votes of other, more worthy candidates. The Ford brothers’ intransigence is bolstered in large part by this unwavering support.

There is a saying that all politics is local. The feds always seem to have billions for tax cuts, partisan spending and military boondoggles but no long term plans for cities. The provincial Liberals spend money like drunken sailors but can’t manage to extend their profligacy to cities. This is the perfect time to ask our federal and provincial political representatives what they propose for the city and when they intend to start doing something for Toronto other than make vague promises. When can we expect some decent money for infrastructure along with a long-term plan of investment that is not subject to the whims of the next self-serving idiot who manages to lie convincingly to the people?

We can also ask Premier Wynne and Prime Minister Harper to encourage the political process by allowing ranked balloting. ‘First past the post‘ voting has failed us as an electoral system and actually discourages good people from running.

I don’t want to go all Russell Brand, because bringing down the system would be very disruptive and destroy many peoples’ lives. However, change is vital if we are to survive as a city, society and yes, even as a country. Politics, in the right hands can be a truly noble pursuit and we need to encourage talented and thoughtful people to put themselves forward and have a decent chance of success. We also need to let our representatives know that we intend to hold them to account. Let’s not be content with the status quo. Ask the questions, ‘What do you intend to do for Toronto in the long, medium and short term?’ and, ‘Since you are an incumbent, what has stopped you until now?’

It truly is time for a change.

Homework assignment: name the best Toronto mayor in recent memory (City, Metro or pre-amalgamation town / township mayor)  and why.

Politicians, What Have You Done For Weston Lately?

Weston has had a raw deal in the past few decades. Our ‘village’ has lost nearly all of its industry, historic properties have been demolished to make way for unattractive developments, and the area has become depressed. The once attractive main street has been infiltrated by payday loan/cheque cashing companies, dollar stores, and other detritus of hard times.

Weston gets no respect. The airport link as originally proposed was never intended to stop in Weston. When the TTC wants to save money, Weston services are cut. When Metrolinx needed to expropriate properties as part of the airport link, the way they dealt with homeowners was reprehensible and high handed. Drug related gangs of criminals seem to operate freely without much fear of capture. There is apprehension on the part of many people about being a victim of crime. While there are many beautiful homes in Weston, there is a large amount of ugly low-income housing both public and private.

Throughout all of this process, federal, provincial and municipal politicians have collected their generous salaries and tut-tutted about the sad state of affairs: “What a shame and we’re doing all we can; by the way, don’t forget to re-elect me as I’m really concerned about unemployment—mine.”

With one election under our belts and two more on the way, perhaps it’s time that the citizens of Weston asked our politicians: what have you done for Weston lately? Sitting on committees and attending conferences in glamorous places doesn’t count. What really counts are results bringing prosperity and hope back to Weston and eliminating the conditions that encourage crime, namely unemployment and lack of opportunity.

Here are some of the things that Weston could benefit from:

  • Improved education and workforce training
  • Decent housing
  • Help for struggling retailers and small businesses
  • Doing something about empty commercial properties
  • Police on the ground, not in cars
  • Politicians actively working on our behalf.
  • Encouragement and support for local initiatives such as the Farmers’ Market
  • Community facilities such as an indoor pool
  • Better communication by politicians about what they are doing for the community

There is no desire to malign individual politicians by lumping them together as a group. Perhaps everyone is doing the best they can. It would certainly be appreciated if our individual representatives would take the time to outline plans for Weston to their employers, the people.

You may wish to contact them individually, here are their contact details:

Federal MP Alan Tonks,
2534 Keele St
Toronto ON  M6L 2N8
Phone: (416) 656-2526
Fax: (416) 656-9908
Email: [email protected]

Provincial MPP Laura Albanese
Unit 102
2301 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M6M 3Z9
Tel: (416) 243-7984
Fax: (416) 243-0327
Email: [email protected]

Councillor Frances Nunziata
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West, Suite C49
Toronto, ON  M5H 2N2
Phone: (416) 392-4091
Fax: (416) 392-4118
Email: [email protected]

An MRI Machine For HRRH Church Street Site

Humber River Regional Hospital‘s Church Street site will be getting a new MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine later this year. The machine will operate for 40 hours a week and presumably will operate for longer hours if the need increases. The existing machine operates 24/7 and performs 7900 scans annually at the Finch site while the new machine will perform about 3100 and save Weston residents from travelling to the Finch site. It is assumed that the machine will move to the new 1.6 million square foot site at Keele and the 401 in 2015.

This being a provincial election year, no doubt there will be similar announcements coming from other provincial ministries. The press release for this announcement helpfully contains boilerplate quotes from prominent area Liberal MPPs, the Minister of Health and health care executives.