Tag Archives: toronto

In Honour Of Rob Ford and #Fordict, A Song

Major hat tips to @zuzuhaha for starting the gears grinding (and no thanks for making me listen to the original to verify timing as best as possible) and crucial lines, as well as @sirilyan for another amazing couplet of lines…

People of Toronto, allow me to present a song in honour of tomorrow’s appeal ruling for (hopefully soon-to-be-ex-) Mayor Rob Ford.

Fordict (to the tune of Rebecca Black’s “Friday”)
*Wanna sing along? Instrumental of original at bottom!*

Seven a.m., waking up Friday morning
Gotta be fresh, gotta go to court
Gotta have my phone, gotta have my Tweetdeck
Hopin’ that it’s real: Rob’s time is ending
Tickin’ on and on, everybody’s Tweeting
Gotta go catch the TTC
Gotta catch my bus, I see my friends (My friends)

Kickin’ with the audit
Sittin’ with the conflict
Gotta place my bet on
Which trial ends his term!

It’s Fordict, Fordict!
Judges handin’ down the Fordict!
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to vacancy, empty seat!
Fordict, Fordict!
Rulin’ on the Fordict!
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend

Partyin’ partyin’ (Yeah!)
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah!)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin’ forward to the new mayor!

10:25, we’re chattin’ and refreshing
This hour’s too slow, I want time to fly
Ford, Ford, think about Ford
No longer in charge

I know this, you know this
Hackland got it right, hey!
I know this, you know this
Court, don’t blow it!

Clickin’ with the mouse
Cards make up Ford’s house
Gotta have justice
This trial ends his term!

It’s Fordict, Fordict!
Judges handin’ down the Fordict!
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to vacancy, empty seat!
Fordict, Fordict!
Rulin’ on the Fordict!
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend

Partyin’ partyin’ (Yeah!)
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah!)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin’ forward to the new mayor!

Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday
Today i-is Friday, Friday (Partyin’)
We-we-we so excited
We so excited
We better have good news today

Tomorrow is Saturday
A new mayor comes after … wards
I don’t want this weekend to end

Ford’s Rap Cameo:
R-F, Robert Ford

Chillin’ in my SUV (In the front seat)
Drive while I read (In the front seat)
I’m drivin’, cruisin’ (Yeah, yeah)
Flip off drivin’ moms!
Wit’ a bike up on my side (Ew, Pinko!)
Passin’ by is a streetcar in front of me
Makes tick tock, tick tock, wanna scream
Lose my job, I don’t care, it’s a weekend
Gonna coach football, c’mon, c’mon, y’all

It’s Fordict, Fordict!
Judges handin’ down the Fordict!
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to vacancy, empty seat!
Fordict, Fordict!
Rulin’ on the Fordict!
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend

Partyin’ partyin’ (Yeah!)
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah!)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin’ forward to the new mayor!

It’s Fordict, Fordict!
Page’s loading up the Fordict!
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the ruling, ruling!
Fordict, Fordict!
Rulin’ on the Fordict!
Everybody’s hopeful that Toronto’s free now!

Biting nails, biting nails (Yeah!)
We drinkin’ regardless (Yeah!)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Hoping Monday brings a new mayor!

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Take Back The Night: Thoughts On Reclaiming Space For All Survivors

Photo sourced from official Take Back The Night Foundation site

This post may be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.  Please be safe.

Last night, I marched with Take Back The Night, an annual event in the city where women and trans people take to the streets, make a hell of a lot of noise and reclaim the right to walk the streets without fear.  This year was, from the reports of many, one of the biggest turn-outs here in Toronto.  This is no surprise to me, given the recent wave of public sexual assaults concentrated in the Christie Pits vicinity.  Women are angry that while the news media are actually reporting on sexual violence, nothing really seems to be happening on the policing front.  I have to confess that I don’t count on police to help with sexual violence:  I didn’t report my assaults after a Criminology professor I once had implied that women cry rape after leading men on, among other disgusting comments that I knew many survivors had heard from the mouths of law enforcement.  Standing up in solidarity tonight was far more freeing.

I cannot recall how many times I have been sexually assaulted.  I can tell you which incidents left indelible marks on my psyche.  I can tell you which memories haunted my suicide attempts, which images tormented me in flashbacks and destroyed my healthy sexuality for years.

I can tell you about the man whose name I couldn’t even speak aloud after his betrayal of a longstanding friendship and former romance.  I can tell you on dark nights that I look him up on Facebook, that he has two daughters I fear for.  I fear, you see, because as a pre-teen, he watched a male friend violate friend’s younger sister and neither intervened nor spoke up.

I can tell you of the family that took advantage of me, of how they left me ashamed of my body.  I can tell you how seeing their friend requests on, yes, Facebook struck terror in me and made me want to recoil like a child.  I can tell you how they, my peers in age, were sexually interfered with by teenage girls on our block, only to take that out on me.

I can tell you of the time last year where a man sexually assaulted six women in a general admission concert crowd, that five men watched and did nothing as each woman protested and fled until I became number six.  I can recall how I punched him and grabbed him by the throat even as he still tried to touch me, and how my request for help in restraining him for security was ignored by the men behind me.  The women, however, helped, as did my male friend.

I can tell you of the time I was followed down a dark street past midnight and how I approached the doorstep of a lit-up townhouse and faked ringing the bell.  I can still see him lingering on the sidewalk before mercifully giving up and walking away.  I can tell so many stories of my own and so many of the survivors I know.  I can tell you why women and trans people need to take back their right to walk – to live – without fear.

But I could also tell you of the ex-boyfriend who was repeatedly molested by male babysitters from age 10-14, and how that damage lingered.  I can tell you of the male survivor friend I have and how his experiences have dramatically affected him.  I could share with you how isolated he feels, how he doesn’t believe he belongs anywhere as a survivor.

I cannot disagree with his concerns, and it is here that I find myself struggling mentally and emotionally with the mandate that cisgendered men are not invited to the march portion of Take Back The Night (they are welcome to the rally and to stand on the sidewalks and support women).  Women and trans people are unquestionably disproportionately affected by sexual violence.  However, in that understanding of sexual assault as a crime “that happens to women”, male survivors are silenced withing a unique layer of shame.  We are survivors all, but just as my male friend will never understand the experience of walking the streets as a woman, I will never truly understand survivorship as he experiences it, either.

In recent years, those of us involved in the fight for an end to sexual violence have tried to dispel that shame, that emasculation pain that rape culture thrusts down the throats of male survivors.  More men are speaking out and demanding justice for themselves and that is such a good thing.  In opening this space, we have given these men a voice, and with that voice, cisgendered males are asking why they cannot march with Take Back The Night, why men must stand aside or go to a workshop to be better allies.  I noticed several questions along these lines.

I don’t have any answers.

The fact is, the dynamic of this discussion is changing from the year of the event’s inception.  Trans men and women both participate.  On a personal level, I would be comfortable walking with my male survivor friend at my side, in acknowledgement of the pain men have inflicted upon him.  Then again, the fact remains that cisgendered male survivors are still safer than I am at night.

I am torn because I need the space of this march to rage against the fear and oppression I cope with as a woman.  I want that space.  But the friend in me sees how desperately the male survivors I know need a space – and women as allies – as they heal themselves and also combat the gender role bullshit they face in our rape culture.  Maybe it’s because I have been hugely involved in the Tori Amos fandom that I am acutely aware of these silent men; her music draws them in just as much as female survivors.  The why doesn’t matter.  What matters is I hear their voices, too.

What is the answer?  Again, I do not know.  I just see the dialogue between the lines and know that we need to reach out into the ether and address it.  Perhaps instead of only a workshop on allyship for men during the march, a safe space could be offered for male survivors to unify and affirm each other’s experiences.  Maybe we need another annual event where all survivors of all gender identities and walks of life unite together and raise our collective voices.  What I do know is isolation.  I know how it feels to believe you do not belong, that you are somehow branded or tainted as ‘other’.  I know shame.  I don’t wish this on my brothers.

One woman noted feeling unsafe after an anti-psychiatry speaker gave their talk at this year’s rally – that the mentally ill were stripped of a safe space.  Men who ask and are told no, you cannot participate even as a survivor of sexual violence perhaps feel they, too, are stripped of a safe space.  Having had my safe space ripped away so many times, I just want there to be safety for all survivors.  Perhaps this post will open a door to that space for men like my friend, my assailants, my ex.  It need not be the space female-identified survivors claim; perhaps it should not be.  But they, too, have voices.  Maybe it’s time we listen for those whispers.

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Nonjudgmental Judging Has No Place on The TTC

Friday night, en route to a concert I was reviewing for my music blog, I noticed an ad on the TTC subway system that inspired disgust and anger.  The ad promoted JFJ Hope Centre, which also displayed support from the omnipresent Bus Stop Bible Studies.  What is the JFJ Hope Centre?  Let’s ask them:

Formerly known as Jewels For Jesus Mission and Jewels For Jesus Adoption Agency, our organization has been compassionately caring for families and children in the province of Ontario since 1948.

JFJ Hope Centre offers support and education related to unplanned pregnancies and parenting struggles in a caring Christian environment.

This in and of itself is not the problem with the ad.  I fully support the freedom for organizations such as this to advertise on the TTC, with one caveat:  the ad must not make a non-Christian feel judged or “lesser than” in any way.  The ad currently on the system features a sad, young couple and the above information.  Had they stopped there, I would be content.  But then, they had to go that further step:

“Adoption is the loving choice.”

Now I’m pissed.  I look at an ad that touts a “nonjudgmental environment” and point out how sooty-black the pot is from the perspective of this kettle.

Adoption is a choice, and a valid one.  Many unplanned pregnancies end in this choice, and I support it.  A good friend of mine has adopted three children and gives them an incredible amount of love and joy.  She is truly a Supermom and in the case of those families, adoption ended in a very positive way.

However, giving a child up at birth does not always end happily.  Children may enter foster homes that are unfortunately abusive, or group homes with similar misery.  Birth parents may spend their lives regretting their choice.  Young teen girls may be forced by parents via bullying into a choice that is anything but loving.

Abortion is also a valid choice.  For some, it is psychologically impossible to carry a child to term and give it away.  Tokophobia, the fear of pregnancy or childbirth, makes the mere confirmation of a pregnancy a traumatic experience.  Survivors of sexual violence may be further traumatized by carrying an assailant’s child to term.  What is loving for the parents here?

There are parents who choose to abort because of severe birth defects that will make life painful, difficult and/or extremely short for the child if carried to term, or perhaps the child may be stillborn.  It is agonizing, but they may choose out of love to abort.  That may not be the Christian viewpoint of what to do in these cases, but that doesn’t negate the love behind a gesture.

Herein lays my point:  just because a choice is not the preferred resolution that a Christian organization would espouse does not preclude other options from being selected out of love.  To state that adoption unequivocally is the loving choice is judgmental, insulting and potentially painful for a TTC rider that has aborted in the past.  As someone with friends who have aborted with very loving reasons – who live with the pain of that sacrifice – I am extremely upset that the TTC cleared this ad.

The most frustrating part is that the ad would be acceptable with a single word change.  Had the ad stated, “Adoption is a loving choice”, I wouldn’t object.  It is one of the choices, and it can be made out of love.  In a country where abortion is legal and has been for many years, the TTC should know better.

I am more open than some out there.  I am okay with religious and atheist ads alike.  People are allowed to celebrate their diversity of opinions, life choices, histories, religion, race, culture, etc.  That’s what makes Canada great.  But do not make me feel like I am not loving, kind, or a decent person because I would make a different choice than you would.  As a childfree woman by choice, I would abort if all of my many safeguards against pregnancy failed.  I would do so out of love, for I know I am not a suitable mother and carry many heritable ailments I would never wish on an innocent child.  If that’s not loving, I don’t know what is.

Note: comments turned off due to hateful pro-life spam (now that’s ironic).

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Why Crowding The TTC Further Is Cruel And Targets The Disabled

In winter of 2007, I suffered a severe ankle sprain that left me on crutches for several weeks.  If you haven’t had the joy of being a non-driver with no local family hobbling on crutches in the winter, it’s a true delight.  I loved hobbling through improperly cleared sidewalks, tripping in slushy residential roads that the city took its time to clear and balancing my body and a backpack on two wooden sticks.

The absolute highlight of my miserable experience, however, was trying to take the TTC to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments.

First, the bus stops:  seldom adequately cleared for me to navigate safely from sidewalk to bus door.  Once on board, many people refused to offer me a seat when I blatantly needed one, and few TTC drivers cared to demand one on my behalf.  The elevators at Broadview frequently broke down.  Most stations were anything but disabled-friendly.  As a young twenty-something woman, I admittedly had not noticed until this experience just how poorly the TTC treats those of us with mobility issues.  Even escalators were frequently down, or only operated upwards on all units, leaving me to hobble down stairs, certain I was about to fall face-first.

Years later now, I am permanently disabled.  I have early stage arthritis in one knee, and said sprained ankle never fully recovered.  I regularly struggle to walk for long periods, and cannot stand for very long.  In my future, I know I will need services like Wheel Trans.  This is why I am so against worsening the crowded state of the TTC and cutting Wheel Trans under the deluded notion that the disabled somehow use the main system.

I commute daily during the rush hours of morning to school downtown.  I come from the east end.  Despite living a five-minute walk from a subway station, I take instead a bus to a streetcar, and my physical travel time increases ten to fifteen minutes each way.  I do this because I can get a seat on a streetcar this way, but on that subway, just a few stops from the end of the line, it’s debateable if I will get a seat to Bloor-Yonge, where I will wait up to ten minutes to squeeze into standing room to go southbound.  I cannot stand for half an hour, forty minutes each way physically, and due to crowding and apathy, no one will relinquish their seat for me.  I walk without aids, so my disability is not obvious; my age suggests health.

Having taken the TTC at all times of day, being a shift worker, I have experienced how ludicrous it is to suggest that disabled users reliant on an already shoddy Wheel Trans fold onto the main system.  There’s no room for a wheelchair, let alone people willing to give up seats.  Many stations do not have elevators, and many of those we have break down regularly.  We already cannot accommodate those who actually do take the main system, like myself.

Further, in all of these discussions, no one has remotely stopped to consider the impact on those with mental disabilities, such as social anxiety, claustrophobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I have claustrophobia and frequently feel sick and anxious on the TTC at peak times, and my case is minor.  To increase crowding would be to effectively bar my usage of the system.  I shouldn’t have to take cabs or walk because public transit doesn’t give a damn about those in the public with disabilities.

Our population is aging, and mental illness rates are higher than most understand.  We should be working towards alleviating crowding, not worsening it.  We should be reducing wait time, not increasing them.  We should not be cancelling new trains and LRTs that would aid with crowding and be more accessible.  Ontario is currently pushing for more accessibility in voting; perhaps the city should be pushing for them to fund the TTC adequately instead.

I can only speak for myself, but I know that should crowding worsen, my ability to work and live in this city will be dramatically impaired.  I have the right to be treated equally.  Stop targeting me.

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Toronto Budget Cut Blitz 2011

Please imagine a lot of all caps rage here; I’m sparing your eyes in the name of communication.

What did I tell you, Toronto?  Hmm? I warned you, didn’t I?  I told you Mayor Rob Ford’s figures were total bullshit, that he was only interested in things that served him and the wealthy.  What did a large percentage of you do?  You voted him in anyway, believing his nonsensical “stop the gravy train” line and assurances of “I will not cut any services. Guaranteed.”

Which is why today the Executive Committee is hearing deputation after deputation on proposed cuts, after Ford took us from a surplus to a deficit in one budget.  A deficit that is not as large as he claims, nor is it large enough to require a 35% property tax increase, as his cronies have been scaremongering you.

I smell Ford Nation sniffing around the blog, claiming that “Pinko me” is going to just complain about why we shouldn’t cut anything without providing any solutions.  Guess what:  plenty of us opposed to all that Ford is doing to our city have solutions; we just aren’t being asked.  Further, those who’ve shown up to give deputations are being ignored, anyway, by a mayor staring at the countdown clock and his pet bulldog Mammoliti asking irrelevant questions that show his failure at basic statistical math, which in turn makes me feel that being a city councillor should require passing a test on Finite Mathematics before running.

Without further ado, here are a few of my personal criticisms and suggestions on the big ol’ fabricated/constructed budget crisis of 2011:

Ford, why not start with the few things in your platform I could get behind? Or the one thing left, rather: cut councillor perks.

Ford ran on a platform full of hot air, it’s true, and while he got the math and the facts completely wrong about councillor perks (and many other points on the platform), he does have a point.  Why are city councillors, who make about $100K/year, getting free parking, free TTC passes, free access to the zoo, etc.?

Now, do not be fooled by Ford’s claims that the city pays for these things:  they’re not bought by the city, but they are lost revenue.  That said, even though my calculations put the losses at about $425K per year, that’s still almost half a million dollars that could potentially be spent and end up in city coffers.  You can’t ask seniors to pay more property taxes or cut daycare while Ford gets to park his SUV for free.  And yet, discussion of this disappeared right after he was elected.  Why?

Stop wasting money on consultations and pet projects that serve only the rich, on our taxpayer dime

We have budget committees for a reason.  Why did the city spend $300K for KPMG to tell us almost everything was essential and barely funded at acceptable levels?  Why did we hire a firm that has been the source of multiple shady accounting scandals, anyway?  Why did we pay Case Ootes an obnoxious wage on top of his city pension – a pension from, among other things, working on the Toronto Community Housing board as its many financial missteps were made! – to tell us to sell housing?

Why are we paying for new consultations to look at a Sheppard subway when we already spent money approving the LRT that is CHEAPER and better suited to the traffic on that street?  Why are we spending $400K during a purported budget crisis on removing existing bike lanes?  Are these not ‘gravy’ when we can’t even afford to fund daycare and are proposing to close libraries?  Is throwing away $120M to cancel Transit City not foolish right now?  Did Ford not look at the previous costly assessments and see why LRT was chosen?

Don’t even get me started on the Waterfront nonsense.  Not only is the Doug Ford vision ludicrous, but it will cost us more money for consultations, planning asssessments being redone, let alone defaulting on Waterfront Toronto’s vision that is already underway.

If we have such a terrible spending problem, then why are the Fords initiating more spending?

Cutting jobs and leaving people on social assistance will worsen matters – so why do it?

Ford campaigned on reducing staffing costs strictly via attrition.  That is, when people retired, they simply wouldn’t rehire anyone for the positions, meaning lowered wage costs.  It makes sense, I suppose, and is the least painful way to cut jobs.

After being elected, Ford’s done an about face.  Now that his costly asssessment has not found his mythical gravy, he’s claiming city staff are the gravy, and throwing out package deals under the threat of pink slips coming anyway.  Lovely.

Hey, Ford Nation, guess what Mike Harris downloaded onto the city budget?  Welfare.  EI runs out eventually, and when that Federal cash is gone, guess where unemployed city staffers who cannot find a new job (due to the recession that is worsening here no matter what Harper claims) go?  The municipal coffers, for Ontario Works assistance.

In short:  what little we’d save chopping city staff will come back to bite us in the ass later, as social assistance costs rise.  Cut wisely, and sustainably.

Do an actual assessment of library traffic at all branches, and trim hours at slow/underused branches – or hey, trim executive staff who make a lot for doing very little

I’m not against any cuts in the library system.  I just don’t believe in making senseless cuts.  I don’t believe that five or six blocks further is “just fine” for someone to travel to a library.  For seniors, children, and differently-abled or unemployed individuals, libraries are a crucial resource and should be accessible.

That said, each branch should be able to produce an in-house picture of traffic to assess overall usage, peak times of day, etc.  Do that.  Trim hours.  Close on Mondays like in the old days at small branches.  Closing branches entirely is ludicrous.

Chop an exec or two, instead.  What precisely do they get all that money for, if it takes Margaret Atwood and the public to defend our library system?

Improve services to assist homeless and other impoverished individuals who qualify onto ODSP

This is a proposal that came forward a while back from the evil lefties, and it actually makes great fiscal sense for the city.  Many of our city’s homeless or those on Ontario Works suffer from a mental disability and should, by rights, be supported by Ontario Disability Support Plan.  ODSP is funded provincially; OW is funded with a large chunk of municipal dollars.  By transitioning people onto ODSP where they belong, we reduce city spending, help people get into homes (thereby paying property taxes via rent – what, homeowners? You think we’re exempt from taxes? We proportionately pay MORE than our share!), and most importantly, show some basic fucking humanity.  We also reduce the loads on our social programs serving this population.

Compassion and good economics.  Wow, Ford!  They’re not mutually exclusive.  Read the breakdown on how the city could invest $12M to save $100M annually here.

Increase Property Taxes

I’m going to direct you to another blog, which breaks down with figures and diagrams just why our city is financially screwed up to begin with, but here are the two key talking points:  1) 40% of our city revenue is derived from property taxes; in comparable US cities, they derive 18% of their revenue in that fashion, and 2) our property tax rates, in actual dollars and cents, are lower than all surrounding cities.

Services cost money.  You want police to show up when you need them?  You want better transit service?  You want to wait less time for help at a municipal office?  You pay for it.  If we brought our taxes in line, dollar for dollar, with Brampton (leaving us still lower than many cities around us), we’d have a lot more to work with.

If you’re ticked that we have to raise taxes, then blame the Feds, who refuse to give a damn about this city.  Oh, wait:  Ford voters also voted Conservatives into a majority in spite of their continued flipping off of Toronto.  Well, you reap what you sow…

As for one of today’s deputants (Matthew McGuire) who claimed that us impoverished renters can’t afford a property tax increase – I’m unemployed and I can afford it.  A property tax increase does not override laws on legal rent increases; further, the city has recently reduced the rates for renters, as Councillor Perks pointed out.  My rent went up $9 this year.  Oh my.  It’s not going to break me; a lack of social services to help those impoverished WILL hurt a lot more.

Cut everything by 5%, instead of castrating a few services that Ford and his rich pals don’t care about

Makes sense, don’t it?  When I’m making a household budget and the month is tighter than usual, I trim wherever I can.  Obviously, my rent doesn’t change on a whim, but I can call my cell phone provider and drop a perky add-on.  I can reduce my internet speed if I have to save cash for a while.  I can spend a little less on groceries, walk a little more to save TTC tokens…

In short, I can still have almost everything I want – just less of it.

Why has this not been an option discussed, given the vehement public opposition to the targeted programs and areas being cut?  Why wasn’t this costed out?  I’d like to see what could be done in this manner.

Selling money-makers is stupid and short-sighted.  Stop it.

City-owned theatres, zoos and parking lots bring IN revenue streams.  Why are we considering selling them?  Are you kidding me?  Great, we balance the budget for one year.  It’s going to make the problem worse next year and unfortunately, Ford will still be mayor, so the problem will still be his.

I actually support selling Riverdale’s zoo, the one in High Park as well.  They’re nice to have, but not crucial.  Selling the Green P lots and Toronto Zoo are foolish moves.

If a revenue stream isn’t living up to its full potential, then standard business management says to examine what’s not working and make it a more profitable venture if possible.  If the Sony Centre doesn’t make enough money to support its operating budget costs, why not look to Mirvish or Dancap, and say, “How can we make this thing a boon?”  Work with the devil that is LiveNation to fill these theatres more often.  Ford keeps claiming to be running our city like a business, yet even I can see how foolish these proposals are.

Spend more on the TTC, not less, to improve service and bring more riders in; kill/alter the weekday Day Pass; institute road tolls on the Gardiner and DVP

Enough with the claims of a ‘war on cars’; Ford started the only war:  the war on the poor.  Not all of us can drive.  Many rely on the TTC.  Cutting services or making it more expensive are both stupid moves that will only hurt the economic functioning of the city.

All of these moves go together, hence the lumped heading.  Crowding during rush hour is already intolerable and unacceptable at these levels; worsening the crowding standards will drive more people to return to using cars or the GO system, reducing revenues and crowding the streets further.  Many people would return to the TTC system or start using it if service improved further, and riders mean money.  Hell, screw the Sheppard line; the Downtown Relief Line is the only subway we should be thinking of right now.

Cancel the Day Pass during the week; for a single rider, it’s not really useful unless you’re doing a lot of travel in a day, and for the few who do use it, they can pay more.  Keep the weekend Family-friendly version, OR make those rules apply on Weekdays (or some version eg one adult, two kids max).  There’s a potential to bait in new users and/or increase revenue.

Last:  road tolls.  A quarter each way.  We have a lot of people who work in Toronto, drive in and use our services, but pay taxes to Mississauga and other cities.  Make them pay for the privilege.  Hell, give Toronto residents a partial tax rebate for the first 3 years on their spending on the tolls as a transition aid.  The money is needed.  Transit users are endlessly paying more fares on top of more property taxes; why are car drivers getting their vehicle registration taxes cancelled at a time like this?  It leveled the playing field.

Last and Key:  Do NOT make any set in stone moves until after the provincial election!

The NDP has expressed strong interest in helping the cities out.  If Ford were wise, he’d pimp the NDP, sit back, and hope for them to win and bail him out.  They’ve proposed matching municipal funding for TTC in exchange for a 4-year fare freeze on the TTC, as well.

Anyone who understands the finances of all three government levels is well aware that a large part of this budget problem stems from costs being downloaded onto cities that should be a provincial and/or federal responsibility, in the same of our usual Good Ol’ Boy Politicians (Libs and Cons) balancing their own budgets.  It’s time they take some of it back.

Before we punish ourselves, why not wait and see who’s got the reins on October 6th?

These are just a few ideas to bandy around…  Why are they not being considered at all?
Oh wait, because to do so goes against Ford’s mission to make life better for the rich suburbanites… not the city itself.

Coming up:  a further rant on TTC Crowding and its impact on the disabled, like myself.

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Saying Goodbye To A Role Model: Attending Jack Layton’s Funeral

CN Tower lit for Jack Layton, via The Star

Clapping.  Persistent and steady, it surrounded me on all sides as my teary eyes surveyed the tiers of Roy Thomson Hall.  People swayed in rhythm, some singing along loudly.  As I smiled at my brother and rested my head on his shoulder briefly, my heart lifted.

It was exactly what Jack Layton would have wanted:  politicians, friends, family and the everyday citizens, getting together.

The news of Jack Layton’s passing came to me in a sleepy haze, as my fiance called me to ask why I hadn’t told him yet about Jack.  My heart fell as I asked, “What news?” knowing damn well what it was, and yet refusing to speak of it.  I’m not foolish; I watched my beloved Poppy die of cancer a few years ago, and read between the lines of Layton’s final press conference.  I knew it was coming, but adamantly believed Jack’s vow to return to work in September, believed in his ability to beat the odds stacked against him.

That was his greatest gift to me:  the ability to persist in believing in a better Canada, no matter what punches I was expected to roll with in the bleak political climate marring city, province and country.

I never met Jack.  It’s a regret I will carry in the back of my mind now.  I never missed a debate, and voted for him every time.  I canvassed for my local MP, Matthew Kellway, and rejoiced in his victory.  I expected that I would meet him eventually, given the proximity of his home and riding.  All the same, I took the news as if losing an uncle, or teacher.  I made my way to the impromptu vigil at City Hall that same day, watching as the chalk climbed along the wall, adding my own small message.  I left condolences in the book, signed the memorial board.  I shed tears as his beautiful letter was read aloud, my own city councillor weeping too.  I hugged strangers, shared stories of being moved by Jack, echoed the urgent need of us to “Keep Jack’s message alive.”

This was the power Jack Layton possessed:  to unite us, not divide and subjugate us.  He was the shining example of what being Canadian means to me.

Jack championed many causes that are important to me.  He gave us The White Ribbon Campaign, working to unite men against violence touching women’s lives.  He joyfully embraced the LGBTQ community, participating in Pride events and advocating for their rights.  He took on the silence surrounding homelessness, demanded better support for those coping with AIDS, and sought better social system support for our elderly.  He wanted students to be able to afford their educations, wanted better standards of living for the lower classes struggling to survive, and more action to preserve the environment.  As a bisexual woman who lived in poverty as a child and now struggles to repay her student loan debt in any semblance of timely fashion, I felt understood by Jack.  I felt included and heard. As an aspiring social worker, I hold these values as well.

Attending the funeral – not just watching on TV, but being inside Roy Thomson Hall – felt necessary.  In a sense, it seemed to be that meeting I had always longed to have.  I wanted to say goodbye to Jack, surrounded by those of similar mind and heart.  My little brother – the one I taught politics to around the kitchen table a decade ago – came with me Friday night as we descended upon Roy Thomson Hall, steeling ourselves against sleep deprivation.

As he put it, “We’ll do it for Mr. Layton!”

We arrived at 10:30pm, to a line about 50 people deep.  As the night progressed, it grew, and a new little community was fostered.  Brother and I made fast friends with three others in line, playing games and chattering throughout a sleepless night, while many others curled up in blankets, sleeping bags, tents and chairs to rest.  Clubbing men and women repeatedly stopped to ask what we were waiting for.  One man insulted us all, shouting, “What the hell is wrong with you?  Do you not have homes?  Why are so many in Canada living homeless like this?”  When I informed him we were waiting for a beloved politician’s funeral, he sobered up and apologized, saying, “This is my first week here.  I do not know of this man.”  I felt sad that he would never know Jack.

Media snapped photos.  A friendly security officer chatted on his rounds, offering Oasis juice to anyone thirsty in line.  Street sweeper vehicles came by so many times, polishing the look for the streaming video coverage to come.  There were jaunts to Tim Horton’s at King and John, pizza ordered to the line, many digging into backpacks of rations.  My brother and I clinked cans of Orange Crush.  The sun began to rise, and the reporters arrived.  Interviews began; I did three.  I hear the CP24 one looked alright.

The wristband, which I fell asleep with.

Wristbands came just before eight.  We wondered why purple, not orange.  Members of our new group came and went from the line, running home to change or out for breakfast.  Throngs of people began milling about the square, many asking how long we’d waited and staring wide-eyed at our answer. The Steelworkers’ Union gifted us with orange roses, that we clutched tightly.

It was mostly beautiful and peaceful.  There was a line jumper who shoved and threatened people to propel herself in front of us in the ticket queue, despite arriving just before 7 in the morning, then beaming at reporters complimenting her attire.  There were people snapping photos and tweeting inside the hall as if it were a rock concert.  These things seemed so baffling in the face of Layton’s spirit and message, but I decided in the end that Jack would want these people there, in hopes they would grow and love.

Much came across as unusual to those watching at home, from the comments I read wearily last night, but to those of us inside, everything felt pitch-perfect.  This was not a funeral; it was a celebration.  The programs and tickets said so.

The service felt balanced in all ways, which I appreciated immediately.  The man, personal and political, was equally on display, through music and speech – and rightfully so, given it was a celebration of his entire life and his accomplishments.  The three eulogies exemplify this:  Stephen Lewis (English; political); Karl Belanger (French; straddling the line) and Mike & Sarah Layton (personal).  Of four singing performances, two were more mournful or evocative of sorrow, two were meant to lift our hearts, and one was in French.  All blessings were printed in English and French in the program.  Religious readings were Aboriginal (my favourite), Christian, and Muslim in origin.  Rev. Hawkes did a powerful job in his sermon, and while he did “get churchy”, as he quipped to laughter, it never felt like anything more than the loving words of a friend, remembering a man who was larger than life and down to earth all at once.

More than merely a chance to grieve and say farewell, it was a reflection on the journey Layton took, and the path he’d intended us to travel – with him at our side.  The service said, “It’s okay; you know where to go from here.”  And we do.  It could be felt in the singing, swaying, clapping masses in the balcony during Rise Up and Get Together.  It was felt as the thunderous applause greeted each speech.  It was outlined in chalk at City Hall (again) and the sidewalks along Roy Thomson Hall.

The torch has been passed, Rev. Hawkes said.  The masses happily accepted it.

The energy within the walls of the home to many a Christmas event attended by Jack and Olivia was palpable, pulsing in the skin.  There was union, as people wept almost simultaneously at the same moments, clapped at the same times.  For those at home, it was hard to see that every thundering applause was a standing ovation, many beginning in the balcony and joined afterward by those in VIP areas.  We stood as video screens displayed the casket’s departure from City Hall, and remained that way until it joined us on stage. And as his casket departed, I sensed that his spirit lingered, smiling and singing along.  Jack loved to sing; I sang for him, as many did.

I left feeling hopeful, happy in spite of my tears, clinging a can of Orange Crush which was in abundant supply at refreshment stations as we departed. My body was weary, but I didn’t mind it.  I considered it his due, given how tirelessly he worked for all of us for decades.

In the back pages of the program, there is lined space to write, allotted for us to make a promise, something we will do to change the world and make it better.  I’ve given it much thought, and have yet to come up with anything eloquent.  I know I plan to increase my involvement in local politics, to make even more time to benefit others and work with my community.  I plan to work in support of ending violence against women, and fighting the bad turns our political landscape has taken.

Perhaps “Be like Jack” would suffice.

The Service, As Outlined In The Program
(All language notations mine)

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings; G.F. Handel, Pifa from Messiah – Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Into The Mystic (Van Morrison); Magnificat – Richard Underhill with David Restivo, Kevin Barrett, Artie Roth, Larnell Lewis, Colleen Allen

Processional – The Choir of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto

O Canada (French) – Joy Klopp

Aboriginal Blessing – Shawn Atleo

Welcome – Reverend Brent Hawkes
Bienvenue – Anne McGrath

First Reading:  Philippians 2 (French) – Nycole Turmel
Second Reading: Isaiah 57-58 (Mix) – Myer Siemiatycki
Qu’ran 2:153 (English) – Tasleem Riaz

Croire (Marcel Lefebvre; Paul Baillargeon) – Performed by Martin Deschamps with Bernard Quessy

Video:  “Together, we’ll change the world”

Eulogy (English) – Stephen Lewis

Eulogy (French)– Karl Belanger

Eulogy (English)
– Mike and Sarah Layton

Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) – Performed by Steven Page with Kevin Fox and Kevin Hearne

Homily (English) – Rev Brent Hawkes

Rise Up (Parachute Club) – Performed by Lorraine Segato with Colleen Allen, David Gray, Steve Webster, Alana Bridgewater, Tom Jestadt

Benediction (English) – Rev Brent Hawkes

Get Together (Chet Powers) – Performed by Julie Michels with the Choir of the Metropolitian Community Church of Toronto

Hymn To Freedom (Oscar Peterson) – Chris Dawes, organist

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Dictator Mayor Ford and Brother: The Status Update

Just after Toronto made a ghastly mistake on par with buying into Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution and elected Rob Ford, the Gravy-Train guzzling buffoon, I took a serious look at his platform and its feasibility, and just how good of a deal his supporters were really getting.  At the time, I made a list of predictions as to what we’d see happen.  Being as we’re over 100 days in, let’s see how we’re doing. Only predictions that have shown any change are addressed here.

Prediction Two:  The Vehicle Registration Tax Will Die

In my previous post, I pointed out that this would die due to vast unpopularity, while simulatenously noting that it was a necessary evil of a revenue stream that David Miller enacted to try and keep the budgets balanced.  I also pointed out that Ford had yet to explain how he would compensate for the lost revenue stream, other than ‘finding all the gravy.’

Well, as predicted, the tax bit the dust, and the city now faces a $774M shortfall for 2012, with Ford, as yet, finding very little gravy to substantiate his platforms or claims.  Even better, we’re now spending money on consultants to hunt down gravy.  I thought Ford knew, concretely, of tons of it?  I thought the tax money was unnecessary?  Instead, For5d blew the city’s entire surplus to make the 2011 budget work and – surprise! – just as he derided Miller for doing, he went looking to Dalton McGuinty for a handout already.

Predictions Four and Five: The odds of new subway being approved and even started during Ford’s term is next to nil; as Ford as already admitted, don’t go kissing the streetcars goodbye just yet.

I still see streetcars everywhere, and have heard nothing new since Ford reluctantly admitted to the media (after the transit experts weighed in with *gasp* facts and research) that they weren’t such a done deal.  As for Ford’s transit plan, it now includes the Eglinton LRT (O RLY?  Maybe because it was always a good and necessary idea?), although Ford is hedging on the full extension of it to the airport, which would faciliate commuters from the suburbs – you know, the people that currently drive in here and congest our roads for poor people like Ford?  *sniffle, sheds tear*

Ford is pushing ahead, demanding extra billions to convert the planned Sheppard LRT into a subway that connects the Yonge-University loop to the Scarborough RT.  He also claims he is going to somehow find money to revitalize the SRT.  As things stand right now, no money is promised from Metrolinx, Dalton McGuinty has given him a chilly reception, telling him there is no more money to be had, and private financers via billboards etc. are being considered for that corridor now.  Yeah, because private always works out well for the public masses.

Prediction Six:  Slashed councillor budgets will happen, although the financial relevance is minimal compared to overall operations.

Like any councillor in their right mind in a recession would be against this…  That said, there was some quibbling over the exact reduction, but in the end, this easily passed.  Not that it’s helping much with the massive impending shortfall…

Prediction Ten:  The garbage collection for the city will either worsen in quality or be sold for nearly the same costs as the current deal, meaning no astronomical $20 Million in savings per year, only marginal savings.

This, along with his new transit plan, are the next big items on Ford’s list, but they certainly won’t be as easy as the VRT.  According to The Toronto Star, a staff report regarding contracting out garbage will be forthcoming in April, with it reaching city council in May.  CUPE 416 is already gearing up for a fight on this one.  By the way, the TTC Union, faced with essential service legislation even as Kinnear promised no strikes during the next round of negotiations, is also gearing up to trash Ford and his cronies when their contract expires March 31st.  This could be a very long summer, folks… and an expensive one.

That said, I’m wagering that private garbage collection will happen, but it won’t be much of a savings.  The Brothers Ford will claim we are getting more value for the same buck but… well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Other Developments Worth Paying Attention To:

I strongly suggest that voters pay close attention to the situation with the Toronto Community Housing Council as a metaphor for Ford’s entire approach to the city.  In finding overspending, he rebuked the entire council – even though some of the members were on it less than 3 months and had no involvement (Councillors Augimeri and Cho hadn’t even attended a meeting yet since appointment!) – and then proceeded to demand, push, bluster and dodge proper channels as best he could to fire the entire lot.  One of his main City Hall supporters?  Mammoliti, who, by the way, was part of the TCHC for the vast duration of these overspending incidents.  Ford then forces into place retired politician Case Ootes.

Who is Case Ootes?  A retired city politician, and the former deputy mayor during the computer leasing scandal of Lastman’s heyday,  That’s right:  a guy implicitly involved in mismanaged city spending is single-handedly going to be allowed to clean up the TCHC.  He’s also going to receive $25,000 for a few months’ work, while still collecting his city pension and enjoying that $99K severance from leaving council.  And, as NOW Magazine points out, he had a steady track record for voting against repairs to community housing.  This is the man who will hold the interests of our most disadvantaged families and people in his hands?  Are you kidding me?

Now, you would think Ford would be fully in support of a motion to monitor and publicly post all large expenditures for the TCHC, if firing the board and bringing in Case Ootes is indeed to restore confidence after this audit.  Yet he and his brother voted against this public accountability (check the City voting records yourself).  Why?  Easy enough to tell, judging from Ootes’ first days on the job:  Ootes’ role is to force the opinion that city assets – namely, homes housing TCHC’s families – should be sold off for profit, supposedly to repair other units.  Really, Ford’s desperately looking to fill that $774M gap in 2012.  He’s also got Ootes mulling full privatization… which, as most any tenant knows, will make the TCHC about profit, not assistance for those in trouble.

But what does Ford care?  None of his friends or family are poor.  He’s never known poverty.  His constituents of old are predominantly wealthy or upper-middle class – at least, his main supporters are.  Those are the people he answers to, Toronto – not the rest of you.

I almost want to paraphrase the addage about WWII – “When they came for…” – but I’m sure the point will be missed by those allowing the wool to slip over their eyes.  I fear for Toronto, and Ontario, as people continue to vote for slogans and to ‘punish’ people, instead of for the parties with their best interests at heart.

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Mayor *cringe* Rob Ford’s Campaign, and Why Toronto Voters Elected a False Bill Of Goods

Monday night, I quickly dug out the vodka coolers (perhaps in ironic salute of our DUI-holding new mayor) and got drunk, as I realized that I lived in a city where 50% of those who cared to vote were apparently beyond naive.  There is truly no other word to describe people who will endorse, as a representative of one of Canada’s most prominent cities, a man who hits his wife, spews racial insults, blusters his way through without actual research or concrete financial evidence, and is a blatant homophobe and seeming sexist.

Man, I feel comfortable in my city now, as a bisexual woman marrying a man of another race!

Disgust for the personal moraes of one Rob Ford aside, and a night full of jokes of assassination by KFC Double Downs flooding my Twitter stream later, I sit down earnestly to really address this man’s political promises to his supporters, as vague as they are in places, with the ambition of dissecting them.  The purpose is two-fold:  1) to demonstrate to myself that much of what this slogan-spewing buffoon has proposed is nigh impossible, and 2) to blatantly point out what his supporters should have seen for themselves before buying his party line:  that all of you have been sold a tremendous bill of goods.

Promise One:  Rob Ford Vows To Kill The Controversial Land Transfer Tax & $60 Vehicle Registration Fee

From the few souls who actually espouse this man’s platform on Twitter, coupled with the incessant babbling on The Star’s comments section that contains mostly rhetoric and little evidential support, this is one of the main reasons Ford supporters gathered behind him.  I can’t deny that the two fees are somewhat burdensome and borderline ridiculous.  I do, however, understand that the provincial and federal governments have endlessly downloaded onto this city’s budget items that should be provided by higher tiers, even as our province slipped from its perpetual ‘have’ state to its ‘have-not’ designation in terms of government equalization payments.  The only solution offered to the City of Toronto was power to create new revenue streams via fees and taxes.

Imagine yourself in David Miller’s shoes, if you please.  People endlessly bitch about the TTC, about roads, about decaying infrastructure like sewer pipes… The list goes on.  You need money.  You ask for money.  You’re told the only choice you have is to create new fees and taxes.  What do you do?  Do you allow things to get worse on your watch, or do you attempt to find a way to tax people in areas that hopefully won’t decimate the more impoverished members of the city too badly?  It wasn’t a nice situation to be in, and the provincial government screwed us all.  In turn, the provincial government is consistently screwed by Harper at the federal level.  We rage against our municipal representatives, but forget that everything starts at the feds.  Punishing Dalton McGuinty isn’t going to help you at all next election.  Punishing Harper will.  But, I digress.

These two fees that Ford proposes to kill will remove an estimated $250 Million of revenue from the City yearly.  This is in addition to any projected deficits for future years (the current estimate is $500 Million for 2011).  Now, Rob’s promising us that he will keep spending balanced.  When he’s asked how he will compensate for the lost revenue, he vaguely says there is ‘excess spending’ and ‘he will end the gravy train’ and he’s ‘sure he will find things to cut’.  If a politician cannot tell you even an estimated number or concrete strategy to fix something, he is talking out of his ass.  This has been true since the dawn of democracy.

I believe the vehicle registration fee will be axed; I’m certain most of council knows it’s very unpopular.  The land transfer tax, however, remains in doubt; I’m wagering it will be a very split vote, due to the fact it pulls a significant amount of coin from the wealthy and businesses, and isn’t as burdensome to ‘every man’ types.

Now, let’s take a look at one of the ways good ol’ Rob expects to make up for this lost revenue…

Promise Two:  Rob Ford Will Drastically Cut Councillor Petty Cash Budgets and Wants To Kill Perks Like Free TTC/Museum/Golf Passes.

First, let’s look at the free perks, like golf, TTC Metropasses and free admission to city attractions.  In this video, Rob Ford himself describes the perks and privileges that he is offered as a councillor, and how much money could be saved by the City and/or new revenues for the City.  The first striking thing is he spews out estimated numbers.  He doesn’t even know his actual numbers for admission to the zoo.  How hard would this have been to estimate?

There is a huge misrepresentation by Rob in his phrasing.  “The taxpayers are paying for this,” he says, pointing out free trips to the zoo.  In many of these cases, the taxpayers are not paying anything; complimentary passes are not purchased by the City! It may be lost revenue stream to city attractions, but it’s not like the councillors are billing the City’s bank account.  I’ve received coupons for free admission to special exhibits at the ROM from the museum itself, and intentionally gone during periods of free general admission.  I am getting in for free.  The ROM did not give me $5.  The City did not give me free admission from their wallets.  The ROM, for promotion, has decided to forego fees to encourage me to come in, enjoy what they have, and hope that I will return on my dime later.  Do not be fooled by Rob Ford claiming someone has ‘purchased’ all of these perks!

But, for argument’s sake, let’s look at potential lost revenue.  Keep in mind, however, that we don’t know how many councillors actually use all or some of these perks, or how often.  I wouldn’t ever pay to go to Casa Loma, but I might go once a year if it were free.  Rob Ford is also pretty presumptuous in stating that at each attraction, a councillor would park for free.  Maybe he/she wouldn’t drive?  That said, let’s go for broke and see if we can find this “easy” $20-30 Million savings for the perks (even though money isn’t spent and thus, it’s not savings at all, but lost revenue).

Toronto Zoo:  Let’s say that Rob and his family of four opted to visit three times/year.  That’s fairly generous for the average family.  Now, Rob, being a frugal man, would buy a Family Pass (admits two adults and two kids) for the year for $145.  Parking costs $10/go, so $30 total is not spent.  Even if the Ford family went nuts on extras like Stingray Bay, camel rides, etc., the total lost revenue is $467/year.  Let’s now multiply by 45 people on staff:  lost revenue for the zoo is $21,000 roughly.  It’s a lot, but again, it’s assuming people go often and go nuts. Note that Rob almost doubles the actual cost of parking in that video.  Nice.

TTC Passes:  Rob Ford claims that ‘we’ pay $1300/year per councillor for a TTC Metropass for each of them.  Let’s debunk that.  First of all, the ‘at the booth’ price would never apply to any city employees; they would get a reduced group rate or, for those who use the passes regularly, they would order it by mail.  Second of all, aside from Adam Giambrone and David Miller, how many of these people actually take the TTC at all, especially given their free Toronto Parking Authority passes?  Let’s assume, of 45 people, that 30 of them would actually, if forced to do so, buy Metropasses at all.  At $111/month, that’s $39, 960 lost revenue.  Again, the taxpayers do not pay for these passes; they’re given for free.  Your taxes are not directly funding these.  The TTC is losing the money.  Make the distinction.

Casa Loma: Let’s assume, since Casa Loma is kind of dull, that each of these 45 people takes a family of four yearly.  With parking and admission, it’s roughly $80/visit, meaning $3600 lost revenue to the facility.

CNE: Rob Ford also derides the free admission and parking for the annual Exhibition for councillors.  Assuming that each family of four goes three times, and disregarding any group discounts normal employers of this stature would arrange,the free admission and parking works out to $198/family, or $8910.

Toronto Parking: Assuming each councillor clocked the daily maximum 365 days per year, the lost revenue is $7300 by 45, totalling $328, 500.  Of course, this figure is far too high, assuming several would opt to use transit exclusively, and of course, what politician works 365 days per year at the office?

Conservation/Camping Passes:  Assuming each family camps twice per year at $40/pop, that’s $3600.

Free Golf:  The estimate on free Golf for the year for the entire council is $15,000.  Hell, let’s round up to $20,000 for fun.

Total Lost Revenue (NOT expenditures from taxpayer cash):  $425, 570That is nowhere NEAR the ‘easy $20-30 Million’ from Rob Ford’s mouth, on video.

Councillor Budgets: Here’s where we talk actual spent taxpayer dollars.  Now, taking just their spending budgets (not budgeted funds for hiring staff, e.g.), councillors have a total budget of $2.2 Million.  Their hiring budgets for staff total $9.1 Million.  The mayor’s office has a distinct budget for spending and hiring of $2.56 Million. From Rob’s own plans, he aims to slash $2,845,408 from these combined budgets of $13.8 Million.

Given the $250 Million we’re going to lose from Promise One, I don’t quite see Rob Ford balancing the budget and ‘putting Toronto back on track’; I see him derailing the balanced budget train of the last few years.  We also need to consider increased social services costs due to lost jobs as a result of slashed hiring budgets in this mix.

Promise Three:  Rob Ford Will ‘End The War On Cars’ And Trash Transit City In Favour Of Subways And Less Bike Lanes.

This is where I really get my back up with Ford and his suburban-centric view of the city.  I don’t drive – I have no licence to do so.  I am not alone in this state, and therefore, transit is pretty damn crucial to me.  Am I happy with the TTC?  Hell no!  But I am also realistic.

The environment is a mess, and we will, inevitably, run out of oil to fuel our cars.  Trashing bike lane programs and expenditures and funelling that money back into car-happy initiatives is foolish.  Somehow, Rob believes this will ease the war between drivers and cyclists.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It will only get nastier over time, as will gridlock.

Speaking of gridlock, if you think driving with streetcars is bad, how about when we shut down huge stretches of major arteries to build subways where they are least needed?  Transit City, for which we have already paid $120 Million, was designed after extensive research and consideration of the financial and physical feasibility of all possible improvements, including replacing the Scarborough LRT with a subway.  The ‘best solution for all’ that was most affordable for taxpayers (isn’t that what Ford trumpets?) is Transit City.  Eglinton alone is extremely congested with buses and begging for more capacity.  To turn away from plans to develop LRT there – some of which would be underground to aid ground traffic mess – is foolish!  To remove streetcars on Queen – with their far greater capacities – in favour of more buses, while subsequently wasting $125 Million of taxpayer money on defaulting our contract with Bombardier – will only make things worse!  Three buses per streetcar at rush hour, drivers:  imagine that.   Sounds far worse to me.

While a nice idea for the future, the development along Sheppard of an extension connecting the LRT in Scarborough to the existing line makes little sense for the money it will cost.  At most points of day, the Sheppard subway doesn’t have enough ridership to justify its existence, proof that if you build it, they do not always come.  The city desperately needs ideas like a Downtown Relief Line to improve service and encourage more ridership, not a focus on subways for suburbans who are already screaming as if we’re ripping their cars from their hands.   We need the 75 miles of LRT planned, not the scant fraction of miles proposed of subway – miles that will multiply the costs of the project and yield far less gains.  Is this truly giving taxpayers bang for their buck?  Hardly.

What Ford is also neglecting to point out are the 2 new $100 Million bus terminals we’d need to house these extra buses, never mind the fact that Transit City isn’t scrapped as easily as he’d like to think.  Much of the money is provincial, and tied to the fact that Transit City works well with other community plans, as part of a whole that Ontario has agreed to finance.  There’s a reason it’s taken years to begin.  The planning for a new subway alone, if even approved by the Liberals, will outlast Mayor’s term, meaning no gains seen in four years.  Transit City, on the other hand, is already under construction.  Benefits will be seen in Ford’s first term, along Sheppard Avenue, his main target.

Ford is also severely fudging numbers when he proposes that new subway costs $200 Million/km.  Paul Bedford of Metrolinx indicates that the costs are more like $300 Million/km, and that doesn’t take into account needs to expropriate land to widen right of ways for the Scarborough RT conversion, nor does it account for any unexpected/difficult moves of city pipes and infrastracture to dig the tunnels.

As Ford reneges on his vow to ditch streetcars within days of election, it becomes apparent how little he’s thought this through.  In addition to the default fees, Paul Bedford notes that the ridership of the routes is enormous:  “If you add up the number of people who use the King, Queen, Spadina and probably College streetcars – just four routes – that equals more than the number of people who ride the entire GTA GO system every day. Just on four streetcar routes. They’re out of their minds to get rid of that.”

Castrating the TTC will reduce ridership further, resulting in lost revenue.  I already ditched my pass in protest of the massive jump in price recently, opting for tokens, which are less guaranteed/predictable income for the system.  If Queen street went to buses, I can guarantee I’d walk even more often due to crowding (I am both partially disabled and claustrophobic).

Rob Ford’s promises in this regard will drive transit users into cars, cost taxpayers unnecessary money in penalties, and yield less bang for our buck.  It’s all bad news.

Promise Four:  To Increase Reliability, Prevent Strikes and Decrease Costs, Rob Ford Will Contract Garbage Collection To Private Companies and Make TTC an Essential Service.

I can’t deny that being held hostage by TTC strikes blows, and that declaring it an essential service would put an end to the nonsense we’ve suffered since I moved to Toronto in 2004.  That said, one of the key points raised by opponents of declaring it essential is that it forces all contract negotiations to mediators whose deals generally result in MORE money spent overall.  Consider it ‘compensation for losing the right to strike’.  Yikes.  MORE money for the TTC?  Not my cup of tea.  The union is hard enough to fight as it is; wouldn’t Ford be better served hardlining negotiations as they currently go down?  And hey, why does he care if they strike, anyway?  He wants to castrate the lines and stop the war on his precious cars, after all.

As for garbage collection, I believe that Ford means well, but is ultimately underestimating the demands our city’s collection would place on any company.  Toronto is not Etobicoke; it is more suburban, less densely populated and has less businesses to attend to.  The suggested collector, Turtle Island, is… special.  I’ve worked with them as security in a corporate tower employing their services and they were not exactly reliable in their pick-ups.  Metro Waste was equally challenged handling another tower.  The scale of demand of the city’s collection would require so much expansion and time from any company, I doubt that their tendered offers would truly result in millions of savings.  In the past, when these companies have been employed to assist the city, they have fallen behind, according to city employees.  It works for Etobicoke, but Ford, you’re not in Kansas anymore. The only possible way to do this would be to contract out Toronto in chunks – Downtown, East York, North York, etc., and even then, this all feels like a bargaining chip that will see the city union bidding successfully to keep right on going, for slightly less money.

Ford also forgets that unionized workers within a private company can strike… meaning we’re far from safe from strike action from our private collectors.  We’re better keeping them as city employees, where we can approach the courts and force them back to work.

Again, there’s also the trickle-down effects financially of effectively unemploying an entire group of workers.  Many will resist leaving the city’s employ, due to the benefits.  If Ford slashes hiring for basic office staff, wants to castrate council to 22 seats and also hire at half the rate of attrition, where do these people go?  If the new private contractor pays too little, the current collectors may refuse to staff the new company, resulting in serious growing pains.  Unemployed people collect EI and welfare, employ use of the Ontario Second Careers program to attend school for cheap costs as retraining… In short, they cost significant taxpayer money.  Consider the $20 Million in projected savings vastly slashed by these increased costs elsewhere.

Promise Five:  As Another Means of Savings, Ford Plans To Scrap The Fair-Wage Policy.

Total pipe dream claim here.  Notwithstanding the massive litigation and protest, never mind obtaining the necessary permission to ditch this long-standing legislation, the effects will be minimal, when considering how few workers fall under its protection.  Ford insists that the policy causes us to pay inflated wages for construction projects, because non-unionized workers are paid inflated rates.  But when 73% of those hired already are unionized, it seems pretty silly to attack 27% of possible workers, given that the vast majority of construction companies who would be tendering offers are already unionized.

Ford’s full of hot air when he claims he can save $1 Billion this way; he’s probably referring to the $1 Billion in legal fees it’ll cost to kill it.

Promise Six:  City Council Will Be Cut From 44 To 22 Councillors, Higher Customer Service Will Be Offered, And Only Half Of Positions Vacated By Retirement Will Be Re-Filled, Saving Money.

It’s necessary to take these all together as a package, since they’re pretty interconnected.  Will cutting council save money?  Sure; it’s less bodies to pay, fewer budgets to allot.  Will allowing positions to go vacant save money in wages, too?  Absolutely.  Are either of these truly feasible, all while providing great customer service in the city?  Absolutely not.

Rob Ford prides himself on the fact he answers every call he receives and returns all voicemails.  That’s from his time as a councillor in Etobicoke.  Now, double his constituent base, and you begin to see that this becomes a lot more difficult to manage.  Twice as many calls… Twice as many community events demanding your time and attention…  Twice as many people to consider, twice the land as well, when decisions are brought before council.  If your customers doubled, but staff decreased due to slashed hiring budgets and thereby slahed personnel, how well would you fare in your job?  If the people feel ignored in certain ridings now, it will get a hell of a lot worse.

Now, add in the increase proposed in policing – positions that are part of those of which Rob will only half fill after retirement.  Add in the positions lost through outsourcing garbage collection.  Again, we will create disgruntled people as less employees serve more customers on an increasing scale.  Imagine if your local bank branch slashed employees in half on pay day.  See the picture?

Good service does cost money.  The current war on bedbugs in the city is making it apparent that we need more help in public health, to ensure we rid ourselves of this pest.  In Ford’s plan, we would lose 5700 employees through attrition alone, employees in policing, ambulance services, policing and public health.  We would lose librarians to help children and adults find resources for school and work.  Taxes suck, but people in their short-sightedness forget that we have taxes to pay for all of the perks we enjoy and even demand as citizens of this city.  In a recession, where people struggle to find employment, is any measure that chops potential job markets further a wise idea?

I could go on with his other minor talking points, but I think I’ve made my position clear.  So, what can you really expect, Ford supporters, under your elected mayor?

  1. Less accessibility to municipal services due to decreased staffing
  2. The $60 vehicle registration fee will die.
  3. The land transfer tax will possibly die, but will likely survive.
  4. The odds of new subway being approved and even started during Ford’s term is next to nil.
  5. As Ford as already admitted, don’t go kissing the streetcars goodbye just yet.
  6. Slashed councillor budgets will happen, although the financial relevance is minimal compared to overall operations.
  7. Slashing councillor perks will save nothing, and do very little to fund city attractions and the TTC, making it nothing more than a PR stunt.
  8. If the province aided Ford in slashing city council to 22, it would result in less community involvement and concern from council, let alone accessibility, due to dramatic increase of constituent loads.
  9. The Fair Wage Policy will easily survive.
  10. The garbage collection for the city will either worsen in quality or be sold for nearly the same costs as the current deal, meaning no astronomical $20 Million in savings per year, only marginal savings.
  11. Expect an increase in EI/Welfare recipients impacting your taxes far more than a $60 fee ever did.
  12. Expect the recession to worsen in Toronto.
  13. Expect increased animosity among different groups within the city, and a decrease in morale due to slashed events that instill city pride.  Expect further backlash due to the loss of charity events if Ford’s anti-marathon stance builds any steam.

Thanks, Toronto.  Thanks for making us a laughing stock by electing the lovechild of George W Bush and Sarah Palin.  He has told you exactly what you wanted to hear, the majority of which is unattainable or beyond his jurisdiction (i.e., he can’t stop refugees from coming here!).  Moving to Calgary suddenly sounds fantastic…

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