Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Government That Works: CPP is Healthy Say Actuaries

Every 3 years the Canada Pension Plan is analyzed by professional actuaries (with peer review by independent actuaries picked by the UK government) to analyze its financies against the best practice means of assessing likely future pay outs and revenue.  Once again, the 26th such report finds the CPP is healthy over the "long term" at current contribution rates.  In fact, since the 25th report, the CPP has become mildly healthier in that the minimum contribution rate needed to support it has dropped slightly.

This is government working, and succeeding where markets are generally failing: Some people do very well saving for their own retirements but more do not, and rely either on work provided defined benefit plans (which fewer and fewer employers offer) or the government programs of CPP/OAS and GIS.  Very few people manage to put enough into RRSPs and TFSAs to retire with security, and rather than cluck at them about "personal responsibility" while leaving them to choose between starving or freezing in gutters, we should just acknowledge that this is not about individual irresponsibility but another symptom of growing inequality and accept the public responsibility to ensure retirement security for all.

The only problem with CPP is that it is too small and meagre a program on which to retire.  I hope Premier Wynne manages to get support for increases to CPP's scope and failing that, Ontario should set up a provincial supplimentary pension plan as her government suggests it is considering.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The CBC's Right Wing Personalities Have No Counterparts

For all of the various whining that the CBC is "statist" and left wing biased, I ask, where are the left wing CBC counterparts to these gems:
  • Rex Murphy, seen here writing an absurd polemic attacking Rob Ford's critics using a series of cliched strawman puerile caricatures of his opposition as just a bunch of downtown elitist snobs.  Ford has been seriously unpopular for years now, having left net popularity in mid to late 2011 and never looked back - even after the Scarborough subway victory.
  • Don Cherry, among his many offensive comments and reactionary views (many completely unrelated to hockey, which never stops him), peaked with his sneering and gloating speech at Rob Ford's inauguration where he went out of his way to insult Ford's opponents (also with cliched puerile caricatures)
  • Kevin O'Leary, who makes the evil banker in It's a Wonderful Life seem like a nice guy and takes pro-capitalism to a level of self-parody. He's also just generally a rude host and jerk to guests he disagrees with.
Cherry and O'Leary have their foils Ron McLean and Amanda Lang but neither is anything like as left wing as they are right wing.  That's OK, I really don't want a left wing equivalent to Don Cherry, or Kevin O'Leary (because they suck) but really, for a network supposedly so drowning in left wing bias, these three get a remarkable amount of prime time to spout off.  Rex plays some kind of more measured curmudgeon on TV but that column is grade-A wingnut, guess he can really let the flag fly when writing for the National Post.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mayor Rob Ford Is Headed For Defeat In 2014

Nothing is ever certain, but as it stands, Rob Ford would lose almost any conceivable election for Mayor if held today. It is not useful to cower in fear from the far overblown "Ford Nation" and act like Toronto is doomed to "Ford more years."  It isn't, and Ford should at this point be understood as the underdog.  The fading longshot.

Before I talk numbers, including the infamous Halloween poll which found his approval jumped 5% after the Police confirmed they have the crack video, it's useful to note that Rob Ford effectively campaigns all the time.  Only 2 opponents of his have announced, and neither is "campaigning" except to the extent Stintz can try to claim credit for the Scarborough subway extension.  The point here is that Ford is already doing his utmost to raise his numbers, and even before the crack scandal was barely keeping his head above water.  He hasn't been above 50% approval since his first few months in office. This isn't usual - David Miller had 69% approval as late as 2005, and was said to have "plummetted' to 43% after the garbage strike in 2009.  Way earlier, his approval was in the 80s. Mel Lastman was re-elected with 80% of the vote in 2000.  Municipal politics can be pretty easy, keep basic services running and keep reasonably clean and most voters will be fine with you.  Ford's even arguably done the former, yet failed so badly at the latter that, well, let's see...

The 31 October 44% Approval Poll Revisited

Initially there was some reason to doubt a poll taken on Halloween night when huge demographics are too busy handing out or gathering candy to take pollster calls, but several subsequent Forum polls find approximately the same 43-44% approval.  These same polls showing a 5% increase in Ford's approval to 44% also find 60% want him to resign.  That isn't just people who "disapprove" but actively think he should quit now.  Eric of 308 looks at this and figures that the Oct 30 poll finding Ford's approval at 39% is probably the outlier.

 About Forum's October 30th poll just the day before?  Couple items of interest:

 The key here is that the number of people very firmly negative on Ford is greater than the total number of supporters, even lukewarm ones.  Even if you conclude this poll is an outlier and add 5% to Ford's numbers.  Ford's "base" here is that 18% who think he might be one of Toronto's "best" mayors. 39% go into this election outright unpersuadable and basically no one is truly undecided.  There's nothing for Ford to work with here.

Ford has been pushing this nonsense for months now, and despite only some bloggers challenging it to that point (The Star weighs in since with an excellent effort in the genre), voters are generally rejecting it. Again, not helpful when trying to dig out from a personal scandal when your primary economic/fiscal argument is pre-rejected.

It gets worse, Forum also polled the subway/LRT question again on Oct 30 and this too is a nail in Ford's coffin:

This was supposed to be Ford's other big policy success and at best it's a wash.  It's really amazing that this happened given the almost total lack of an organized pro-LRT advocacy in the face of Ford's camp's, and the Provincial & Federal Tories lying about it.  That video of Matlow embarassing Ford in the May council debate went viral, and probably helped, but I really wonder if voters dislike Ford so much they questioned their own approval of subways in the face of his puerile "subways subways subways" jingoism.  Ford was going to ride his subway success to re-election but voters aren't nearly so keen on it as he thought.

Not Done Yet

Forum has been polling head-to-head matches of various kinds for several years, with various names against Ford, including 3 way and 4 way match ups.  Ford's troubles are much older than a crack tape:


Ford has lost EVERY poll against either Karen Stintz or Olivia Chow going back to early 2012.  He loses almost every match against John Tory too, meaning there are multiple people who can unseat him and one has already announced she's in (Stintz).  What about the dreaded vote-splitting in multi-way races?


Note the dates here - this is the same night as the 44% approval poll, and yet Ford only musters 33% against Stintz - a 7% drop in 24hrs.  Going back to the theory that the Oct 30 poll was an "outlier" in undersampling Ford supporters in some way, it's remarkable that the number of people prepared to vote for Ford is higher than the next night which finds this "jump" in his approval.    

Seven polls of 3-way races and Ford loses all but one.  Chow wins every poll when she's in it.  The news gets a little more ambiguous on the four-way races (though Ford usually doesn't win), I will only show one (lots more here) for discussion:

Again from the same night as the 44% approval and Ford ceilings at 33% support.  Tied with Chow, who as noted above is not actively campaigning. Unlike Ford.  

Four Way Finish Highly Unlikely

The key problem with 3 and particularly 4 way races is that they almost never finish that way.  It's the nature of first-past-the-post voting systems. 3rd and 4th place challengers usually get irrelevant and their support evaporates. They drop out entirely, or maybe limp to the finish with little money.  2010 was quite rare that Pantalone managed a double-digit third place finish.  Rocco Rossi, despite ample coverage dropped under 1% for 4th place. In 2003, 3rd place went to a pre-amalgamation Old Toronto Mayor, Barbara Hall, with under 10% and 4th at 5% to a pretty prominent former Liberal MP & cabinet minister, John Nunziata.  

You really don't find many viable 3-way races, and I didn't find any 4-way ones where 4th place took more than a small chunk of the vote.  Interestingly, 2003's split (with left candiate Hall in 3rd) still elected centre-left "downtown" candidate David Miller, so the idea that a split will re-elect Rob Ford is not some inevitability. 

What If Ford Goes To Rehab?

Forum (I wish someone else would poll Toronto) treated us the breathtaking revelation that "Ford wins races if he goes to rehab" in this November 6th release. 

Again Ford cannot even reach 40% support even if he goes to rehab. This of course is a big "if" and it requires some measure of success - Ford not only has to go to rehab, but he can't have a subsequent episode like the Danforth.  As above, this is the support of a candidate who is already campaigning for months against people who are respecting the laws governing when they can campaign. 

The Usual Anti-Polling Excuses

Of course these are just polls and the usual unthinking anti-empiricism can be thrown at them ("remember BC's election?"  "Tell that to Premier Danielle Smith in Alberta!").  You can ignore polling I guess, but then you have zero basis for predicting elections or even reading current voter opinions.  Polling isn't perfect, but it's what we have.
 
Ford can of course win re-election. Maybe. If the stars align.  If scandal befalls his closest rival.  If the Police suddenly announce his full exoneration in their investigation.  If, if, if.  A set of unlikely things has to happen to get Ford over the finish line.  But with scandals a daily event and no sign of stopping, and his primary policy arguments neutered even before his adversaries attack them, it's difficult to see where he can turn to.  None of this means you have to like Stintz, Tory or Chow but the main point here is that we can defeat Ford resoundingly, and maybe even knock off some of his main council allies & enablers.  That would be a defeat not just for Ford, but Fordism, the politics of urban/suburban division and hatred.  That alone would be a big improvement and worth working for.  It's time to think big and run the score.  Ford is losing and that can be used to make some real change on Council too.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Old Toronto & East York Have Been Shut Out During Ford Mayoralty

Nothing about Ford's substance abuse & possible legal problems has changed the basic problems at the heart of his governing which make him a destructive presence corroding the basic social fabric of the city.  He fundamentally and deliberately seeks to divide the city against itself to win elections.  As he campaigns continuously, it is not just a question of running ugly capaigns and then seeking to heal the rifts once in office, it's what he really wants to do, and has done thus far in his Mayoralty.

To see the most glaring instance of this, which pervades the entire system of Toronto's government let's ask how the Mayor, and this Council have allocated the key committee and commission/board roles during Ford's term.  We'll look at the Executive Committee (closest thing to a cabinet in Council), the Budget Committee, and the Councillor members of the TTC Commission and Police Services Board, which represent the two biggest cost items in Toronto's budget.  These bodies make the most important decisions as to how Toronto governs, funds, transports & Polices itself.  Here's the result, tracked by Council ward (some Councillor are on multiple things, and this includes both past and present members of these bodies):
Major council roles, Dec 2010-Oct 2013

Notice the complete lack of any coloured markers in the wards representing the pre-amalgamation cities of Toronto ("Old Toronto") and East York.  Entirely shut out.  This is what the next Mayor, a new Mayor, has to fix.  We cannot go on like this.
 
Notes/Caveats:
  • I use the "Community Council" groupings to decide what former city a given ward falls under. Some wards, like say 26 span more than 1 of the pre-amalgamation cities.
  • I'm not the first to do this sort of post, but I am trying to extend further that excellent analysis.  I do rely on the information from that post.  
  • In 2012, Council dismissed Ford's original TTC board and put their own up. Those members are not represented in this map, but in fact adding them would not change anything as no one from Old Toronto or East York is amoung the new board.
Not all of this is Ford's fault, but it is clear that this is deliberate on his part.  Council for their part, has not rectified this complete shut out from the committees of greatest import, despite multiple opportunities with even 1 token appointment to anything.  In fact, just recently, to fill a vacant Executive Committee slot, some on Council tried to get downtown Councillor Adam Vaughan appointed but failed to win a majority and instead, Ford put the brand new, unelected "caretaker" Councillor for Ward 3, Peter Leon on his executive.

Maybe pushing an unwelcome adversary onto the executive is not the way to rectify this, but clearly if council wanted to ensure every region of the City was represented, it could have put one on the new TTC board, for example.

So? Miller Snubbed the Suburbs Just the Same!

No, he didn't:

Key council roles, actual or offered, 2006-2010

This is for Miller's second term, where he was confortably re-elected with a strong majority of the electorate.  Yet every region of the city is represented in Council's key posts. In particular, every former city is represented on Miller's executive committee.  Does this mean Miller was a great Mayor and we should just re-elect him?  No. It just means it doesn't have to be like this under Ford.  Winning the Mayor's chair does not require trying to divide the city.  Ford has chosen to be this way.  Here's Miller's 2006 election map:


Ok, that was Miller's re-election when he was quite popular.  What about his initial election, a very competitive race against John Tory?


Yes Miller's support was stronger downtown, but he did pretty good in some other less urban parts of the city.  Now here's Ford's map:

Other than Karen Stintz in ward 16 (a "North York" ward), not a single councillor from a ward won by Smitherman got any of the key council roles.  Far from seeking to heal this rift (one which of course pre-dates Ford) he reinforces it. By all indications, barring his substance problems derailing his 2014 campaign it will be more of this. 

Many focus on Ford's various offensive comments, like blaming cyclists for getting hurt in accidents, or saying that the "downtown people have enough subways" despite the clear and obvious overcrowding problems on the Yonge line south of Eglinton station. These sorts of downtown-bashing comments are representative of his views, but pale in comparison to literally locking out over 30% of the people of the city from any voice in the most important governing bodies.  This is representative democracy and of course the result of this is going to be a disproportionate emphasis on the areas of the city that are overrepresented in decision making bodies at expense of those shut out.

Quantifying the Lock Out

While Ford's map displays obvious regional favouritism, Miller's map would seem to somewhat favour Old Toronto.  It does, but some numbers would be helpful, here's the raw number of key roles alloted to councillors from each former city under Ford and Miller's 2nd term:



That's somewhat helpful, York and East York are quite small compared to others, it's hard to tell which areas are represented proportionately to their populations. Let's compare each former city's percentage of the total population, and the percentage of these key roles they got by Mayor:


So, as you'd expect, Ford has frozen out Old TO and EY, and given the extra spots to the more suburban former cities. How does Miller's chart look?



Ok, Old Toronto is somewhat overrepresented, but the supposed "downtown" mayor was pretty fair to the 3 suburban former cities. Scarborough even comes out a little ahead.

Let's stack these up, each administration saw certain areas over and underrepresented, who does worse?


There's just no contest.  Miller's "most excluded" city, Etobicoke does a hell of a lot better than the two cities Ford locked out completely.  If Miller did favour Old Toronto, he didn't favour them as much as Ford has privileged Etobicoke, Scarborough and York (York is kind of skewed by Frances Nunziata).  

Some of these is just natural.  Miller is on the left so he's going to somewhat prefer Councillors of a similar persuasion on his key committees.  Ford is on the right, and will feel the same. Right leaning councillors will tend to be suburban.  Left leaning ones more urban.  Yet it shouldn't be allowed to go this far.  Stephen Harper put a major city candidate into the Senate and his cabinet just to ensure some kind of urban representation after his party didn't win any seats in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver in 2006.  No Ontario cabinet would skip having a northern or south-western member if the Premier could possibly avoid it.  Yet there's no sign that Ford even had talks with any Old Toronto councillor to see if they could come to an understanding that would let them work together.  Miller had a Scarborough councillor turn him down for a seat on the Executive.  It happens, but it is important he offered it (even though he had other Scarborough Exec members).

There are of course other metrics of inclusiveness than geography. Ford's current executive now infamously doesn't include any female councillors despite this council having record (but still unacceptably low) numbers of them.  But region is a pretty vital one so long as we govern ourselves by a single member district council, instead of say, some kind of proportional representation party system.  Councillors will favour their wards in their decisions.  That's their strong incentive.  Letting this kind of disparity occur is going to lead to unhealthy outcomes.  To the extent that Ford has deliberately allowed and caused this to happen, is all the more reason why he cannot be Toronto's next Mayor. We need a Mayor for the whole city, not just their favourite parts.  

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Deamalgamation Won't Fix Toronto's Problems

Rob Ford has ridden to the Mayor's office by stoking a sense of grievance and alientation in many suburban Toronto voters toward those who live "downtown" (usually meaning the entirety of the pre-amalgamated Old city of Toronto, which is of course much bigger than the downtown core).

While this was forced on Toronto by the Harris government for its own cynical reasons, reversing it now would not cure what ails us.

Most of the big problems we fix are regional in scope, in fact, in some cases, like transit, amalgamated Toronto is not big enough to address them properly (hence, Metrolinx).  But others:
  • The Gardiner is primarily used by suburban 416 and 905 area commuters, do we really want Old Toronto responsible for fixing (or getting rid of it)?
  • The flash flooding is a regional problem - too much pavement and too little green. Want to redivide the city and let various elements have different rules on driveway size & lawn paving?
  • Climate change is going to have big impacts on everyone and cities will need coordinated responses. Flooding is one thing, but things like west nile virus show there's much more.
  • Inequality is at severe levels, and is going to reduce vast areas to slum status unless things are done. I fear this too, needs a bigger, rather than more localized response
Some of this, like transit was previously addressed by moving certain issues to the Metro government, but there, Old Toronto would be again outnumbered by the suburbs should they choose to unite.

The biggest reason against this is that it is unnecessary.  The suburbs are not monoliths.  David Miller did pretty well there in 2003 and won them outright in 2006.  Polling by forum now suggests Olivia Chow would beat Rob Ford not just downtown, but in Scarborough, North York and even Ford's home turf of Etobicoke:
Once Olivia Chow is included, however, Stintz falls away significantly. This suggests that Stintz's support in the first poll is more about not being Rob Ford than it is about being Karen Stintz. Chow wins by a much wider margin with 43% of the decided vote, against 32% for Ford, 18% for Stintz, and 7% for Soknacki. Chow wins every region of the city, with 48% support in old Toronto, 44% in North York, 41% in Scarborough, and 38% in Etobicoke (where Ford comes closest to winning).
 Toronto is going to need to do a better job defusing this suburban/urban tension somehow, but I don't think turning the clock back to 1995 1997 is the answer.  Maybe we can bolster the powers of the community councils to keep the most purely local issues locally decided, or strengthen their voice in, say, things like whether the Island airport should be allowed to use jets - maybe Old Toronto's councillors should have more weight in that decision.  We certainly can't allow more Ford type demagogues to profit from this angst.  A city that regularly elects Mayors who hate the downtown, and encourages flight to the suburbs?  I think that sounds a bit like Detroit, a fate we should hope to avoid.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Senate Scandal's Connection to Harper's Worst Acts

Reading this excellent piece by Shawn Whitney on how the left shouldn't assume great policy will automatically come from the downfall of either Harper or Ford, the author speaks to my own discomfort with the Senate expenses scandal:
At the federal level, Stephen Harper’s troubles have nothing to do with his murder of thousands of Afghans in support of NATO’s attempt to subdue that country. It has nothing to do with his shutdown of the national daycare plan that Paul Martin put in place to try and save his own skin, or his scuppering of the deal he made with first nations people. [...]
It has nothing to do with his unbridled support for big oil and their enthusiastic destruction of the environment of Alberta and, indeed, the whole world with the tar sands. Nothing to do with his support for fracking to recover natural gas.
My own list of Harper's worst misdeeds relate to his contempt for democracy, and specifically the systemic safeguards which help guarantee it continues.  A government which got itself re-elected after making history for being held in actual contempt of Parliament, a leader who authorized an attempt to bribe an independent MP to vote against the previous minority Liberal government's budget, a group that actually gave its MPs a manual on how to disrupt and confuse committee hearings, and then used the ensuing rancor to break at least the spirit of its own fixed election dates law and call a snap election at a politically opportune moment.

As Whitney does, I find it very easy to keep listing these things. Really, the point is that nailing Harper and his crew vicious ideologues over $90,000 in misclaimed expenses feels a lot like putting Al Capone in prison for tax evasion.  Sure, it might get the job done, but it feels hollow and unsatisfying.

Casuistry Is The Connection

My thinking has changed a bit in considering Duffy's claims that the PMO and Senate Majority leader pre-cleared his expenses as being compliant with the rules.  This is entirely believable, and has been signature of Harper's lot their entire time in power: They stretch the meaning of every rule & law to their own benefit well past the point of credulity.  In this case, it is the Senate's internal interpretation of the Constitution's Senatorial residency requirements which external auditor Deloitte found to be "unclear."  It's easy to see what Harper's government did with these "unclear" rules:  Interpret them maximally to their own needs of the moment.  This is what they do with everything else, and they have typically gotten away with it.

The examples of this abound:
  • In-And-Out: Breaking Canada's election financing laws using blatantly contrived specious reasoning about the interpretation of party spending.
  • Coaltion with traitors: Rabble rousing and treason-baiting over the 2008 opposition coaltion deal for including confidence vote support of the BQ when Harper himself had obviously cut a similar deal with the BQ when in the opposition.
  • Using the ordinarily routine practice of proroguation in quiet times to save his premiership from that same opposition deal in the face of a signed letter by a majority of MPs indicating their intent to vote non-confidence against his government.
  • In the case of the previously mentioned contempt of Parliament finding, I'm not even sure Harper's crew bothered with any rationalization for refusing to provide the documents required, they just judged (correctly) that they could get away with this, and it even suited their purposes for the opposition to force an election.
  • They did get slightly burned over Bev Oda having a non-political staff recommendation falsely reversed to give her cover in refusing funding to an organization the Conservatives just don't like. Harper just rode this out with characteristic arrogance.  In a preview of the current troubles, Oda would eventually fall to a personal expenses scandal over charging, among other things a $16 glass of orange juice.
It isn't a coincidence that it is Duffy & Wallin in trouble for expenses either, since their very appointments were constitutionally ludicrous to begin with. Of course Duffy & Wallin needed to rack up unusual travel & housing expenses: they don't actually reside in the provinces they were supposed to represent.  Harper wanted these two famous, charismatic and fairly popular media personalities on his team, working the speech and fundraising circuits and employed his typical level of intellectual sophistry to re-interpret some very clear law so that "residency" doesn't mean what it obviously means to most people by any plain language interpretation. Same link on the actual constitutional requirements for Senators:  
One requirement is that the Senator must own $4,000 worth of property in the province he/she represents.
Another and more basic requirement is that a Senator be a resident in the province he/she represents.
I'd bet the Senate has attempted in its arcane and ordinarily publicly ignored way come up with some set of guidance around what "resident" means to cover some uninteresting snowbird Senators who probably spent significant periods of the year in Florida or other sunny climates. Let's say it is even somehow true that Duffy's living arrangement somehow meets these loose rules - Harper tried to, as usual, drive a barge through this loophole and has ultimately been tripped up on a combination of his own contempt for laws that inhibit him, and the very plain and obvious meaning of the clause in the Constitution.  Nobody cares what the Senate previously decided "resident" means because we know it cannot possibly legitimately include how little Duffy & Wallin were actually "residing" in their Senatorial provinces.  Harper's government got caught in a trap of their own deceit, and their only shield would be the self-serving rules of an undemocratic and poorly respected institution.

This is the core linkage of l'affaire du Sénat to this government's most grievous crimes: Right from the top Harper has set the example of self serving linguistic and legal casuistry.  On arcane but vital matters of democratic institutional survival, he has regularly gotten away with it. When combined with plain old ripping off the treasury, it finally caught up to them, and him.  All the rest, Duffy's inability and unwillingness to repay out of his own pocket, the crooked deal with Wright, the need for Mulcair's excellent prosecutorial style of QP jousting falls from this core ethical failing of Harper's ministry.  They too, like Bush's wrecking crew thought that they can just act and create their own reality no matter what we say.  This, finally, appears to be a wall such gall cannot breach.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Rob Ford's Permanant Campaign

A break from his legal troubles to talk about the fact that Rob Ford basically campaigns for his re-election all the time.

Officially, that's not allowed, the election period starts January 2014, but think about:
  • Weekly no holds barred highly political and opinionated radio program for Rob & Doug
  • Handing out Fridge magnets everywhere (including funerals..)
  • 2 "Ford Fest" campaign rallies this year, held in large parks with free food & drink (advertised by robocalls all over the city, I was called and I have never contacted the Mayor)
  • Spending an inordinate amount of time taking constituent calls & visiting voters to address problems
The last is probably worth a few words because it's the most effective form of continuous campaigning Ford does and the secret to his success. It is true that all local policians should do a certain amount of direct constituent interaction, to keep an "ear to the ground" and stay in touch with actual voter concerns unfiltered by staff or consultants.  However everything we can discern from Ford is that he goes well beyond any reasonable amount of time spent on this.  According to this count from mid 2012, constituent meetings were one-third of his agenda.  He proudly brags that he returns every call, and gives out his personal numbers all the time.  He's known to show up and get that pothole filled or that leaky hydrant tightened or whatever small bore constituent concern he can address.

This is all textbook retail politics. Toronto is a big city, 2.5M people is a lot, but spend 10-20 hours a week (guessing here) on this for four years, and you can visit and interact with several thousand voters, all over the city.  Each will tell the story of the Mayor personally attending to their problem to 5 or 10 people, and suddenly you may be talking about 25-50,000 voters positively moved.  Think, a first person account from a friend will weigh more heavily than any newscast or TV ad.  Ford won in 2010 with 380,000 votes, so yes, this matters a great deal.

Why is this a problem?  In general, the campaign period restrictions provide some level of fairness against the natural advantages incumbent candidates have for precisely these sorts of reasons.  Even if it was legal, almost no opponent is going to campaign for four years, most can't afford it, and it's an absurd investment in time when the chances are the incumbent will be sailing to re-election anway when you get to election year.

So in general you are campaigning with no real opponents - sure, some critics on council, but they are not given the same weight in media time as the Mayor.

In addition to fairness, making re-election too easy for incumbents has obvious negative democratic ramifications for the system.  Quality challengers are not going to jump in when the Incumbent looks unbeatable.  Mel Lastman may have been popular in 2000, but to tune of 80% of the vote?  The lack of a serious challenger did Toronto no favours that year.

What to do about this?  The first and third items are clear violations which should have legal enforcement in some form.  The second is kind of trivial, not really worth a big fuss.  The last I am not prepared to propose any kind of formal ban, but I think we should observe it and understand why Ford is so relentless about serving voters one at a time.  This is obviously not an effective way to really solve the problems of the city, and I'd argue Ford's emphasis on it is counterproductive. Think about the city crews that have to be diverted from scheduled, planned work to address spot problems the Mayor wants fixed right away.  The crew fixing a pothole could be systemically moving through a whole neighbourhood fixing every pothole, but get stopped to drive across town to wherever Ford is to fix just one pothole.

If Ford used these experiences to highlight ill functioning city services at Council and allocate more resources or identify actual inefficiencies in their delivery, that would actually be helpful.  Maybe the pothole teams aren't working smartly and could be better organized.  Maybe there's just not enough of them.  Who knows? Ford doesn't bring these experiences back to City Hall to get them on Council's agenda.  He's just out to win voters one at a time. That his efforts might make potholes and worn out street sign problems more serious is no concern of his.

Yes, I'm sure the individual voters he helps are sincerely grateful, and perhaps had a hard time getting help through normal city channels like 311 (something Ford, by the way, made a point of voting against improving in committee).  But Ford's job is not to pick a couple thousand lucky voters to help while millions might suffer a problem, the Mayor needs to be looking at the big picture more of the time.  A CEO who spent 33% of their time taking customer calls or working the factory floor making product would most likely be less effective for their company than one who put more emphasis on turning those sample experiences into systemic fixes that make the whole organization stronger, rather than fixing a few symptoms.

Some of Ford's illegal campaigning should be addressed through enforcement, as a vital service to municipal democracy.  The endless voter visits is in the realm of politics.  We should judge his governing choices and recognize that what seems like acts of civic service are, when taken too far, really just self serving.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Rot In Toronto Goes Deeper Than Ford

There is a temptation to view Ford as a mere aberration, a statistical anomaly of no greater significance. This is a mistake.  It is true Ford's drug problems are quite exceptional for major politicians, but this is far from the whole story of what makes him an outright awful Mayor.  For comparison, Doug Ford supposedly doesn't drink and is even a vegetarian but he's still a vicious and mendacious operator Toronto would be well rid of, and Ontario had best avoid.  A clean Rob Ford would still be an awful Mayor unworthy of a second term.  Ford's rampant dishonesty on a myriad of subjects should be enough to want the man replaced.  Now today's news makes that event as near a certainty as you get in electoral politics, but let's talk about the deeper systemic problems in Toronto's political system that Ford has exposed:
  • No regular means of Mayoral & administration accountability to the public, the media (our proxies in the halls of power) or even to council itself.  Ford never has to address questions from anyone if he doesn't want to. City Council needs something like "Question Period" where "opposition" Councillors would at least have some chance to put questions to the Mayor and his team. This is a huge part of how Ford is able to just create his own reality, because he almost never has to face it colliding with the actual one (when it does, it is a sight to behold).
  • Weak election regulations, particularly on campaigning outside the defined election period.  This year's Ford Fests are nothing but campaign rallies. Ford and his brother campaign weekly on a radio show they host and use to smear & attack opponents and "address" media questions as they see fit, but without any opportunity for rebuttal or follow up.  They take callers (screened in some way) but have full control rather than a nominally impartial host.  He uses official city numbers as the caller ID for political robocalls.  He threw himself into campaigning "for" Doug Holyday in a provincial by-election.  Sure, Ford spends his own money for all these very campaign like things, but that he's a wealthy man with money to burn on such events is all the more reason to strengthen these rules.
  • No means to remove him short of outright criminal conviction.  Impeachment rules are dangerous and must strike a delicate balance lest they be abused for partisan or ideological persecution, but Ford's disreputable actions make regular business in Council wellnigh impossible.  Impeachment is always a political question, but some form of outlet and possibility of it would do something to keep a future Mayor of his inclinations in some kind of check. At the Provincial and Federal level, the government leaders can always be removed by their own party caucuses or by losing a confidence vote in the legislature.  Ford faces neither. 
  • No automatic enforcement of the City's ethics codes and other regulations of politicians.  Ford's conflict of interest troubles required an ordinary citizen to take the matter to court.  The propriety of his radio show & the Ainslie robocalls could only be reviewed if someone makes formal complaints to the Integrity Commissioner (or bodies like the CBSC/CRTC).  Laws need enforcement that doesn't rely on brave and motivated citizens making a legal stink.  
  • Ford's "cancellation" of Transit city: I don't know how to fix this, but it was a clear abuse of his authority as Mayor.  Transit City was ratified by City Council.  The Mayor alone should not be able to cancel acts of Council.  
  • Weak consequences for most ethical violations.  Items like using city letterhead to write letters of reference for friends are violations but even if someone braves the Ford Nation ragestorm, the most the offending politican faces is non-consequences like a "reprimand." 
  • Weak formal mechanisms of transparency.  The media have to file FOI requests to get even partial versions of Ford's schedules. He shows up at noon most days and leaves at 3.  He claims to be working away from City Hall.  Who knows what he's doing?  Other reports have a major city property developer giving two councillors on Ford's executive committee accepting sub-market rents for prime apartments. What happens with this? Why does it take a media investigation to uncover this?
  • Weak financial controls.  Ford makes a lot of hay paying his own way for official work expenses.  Everything from office supplies to business travel.  Not all politicians are personally wealthy.  Should those that are be able to buy positive press this way?  Doug Ford supposedly doesn't even take his salary.  Ford overspent significantly on his Mayoral campaign, nothing at all was done about this.
I'm really only a latecomer to the Mayor's sad saga and I suspect there's much more that could be said about this.  My main point is that we should view the Ford Mayoralty as an impetus to reform our municipal system and ensure the bar of behaviour is raised, along with the system's ability to respond.  We are damn fortunate to have a weak mayor system, because even this not particularly great council did block many of Ford's most egregious policy ideas.  If he hangs on to run a mayoral campaign, I suspect we will have many new items for this list.  He openly promised a "bloodbath" and his brother, a "dirty" campaign.  These are not people who obey the spirit of the law, or even the letter when they feel they'll get away with it.  The city's rules and enforcement were apparently not made for such, and need to catch up.  The next administration at this level of prevarication & malign indifference to the greater good may well be competent at what they do.

If this really is the end of Ford, Toronto got lucky to escape as lightly as we did.  It could have been a lot worse.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

No, The Senate is Not a Worthwhile Check on the Prime Minister

Far better ones exist.  I really don't get where this idea comes from.  Can you name anything bad, ever that our Senate has prevented?  Did it prevent Trudeau's Martial Law?  Did it stop the internment of Japanese Canadians?  Racist laws like head taxes on Chinese immigrants?  Aboriginal residential schools?  The death penalty? 

You might say that the Senate needs reforms and election of its members to be more effective as a check on tyranny, but the US Senate has an even worse record of preventing injustice and atrocity, in fact spending much more time blocking laws to stop things like lynching and segregation than it did to block anything truly bad.  Even more recently the US Senate was more supportive than the US House of the Bush era abuses, from the Patriot Act, the Iraq War authorization, to the permanent detention without trial of many people at Gitmo. 

A Canadian elected Senate would still be controlled by the party leaders via our strict party discipline system. Elected Senators would have to stand for re-election as independents if they flout their party leader.  They would be relegated to back-bench opposition irrelevancy.  If the PM has a majority in the House, chances are s/he has a majority in the Senate (think how province-wide Senatorial elections would have turned out in 2011).  So even the hope that we have split government in each chamber will not tend to happen. In fact, if things are bad enough that a leader's own legislators are turning, House members are far more powerful in that they can trigger the Prime Minister's resignation by joining the opposition to defeat the government in a confidence vote.  Senators could block bills, but House members can force new elections.

The worst injustices perpetrated by governments tend to be popular in their time, which means politicians are a poor safeguard.  The proven, far more effective safeguard is the Courts, enforcing our Constitutionally embedded Charter of Rights.  Further, Canada, as a federal society leaves significant powers (including administration of justices and most criminal code enforcement) in the hands of the provinces.  Throw in Quebec being never more than 3 or 4 steps from independence (and Alberta not far behind it sometimes seems) and you really have a hard time concocting a viable "runaway Prime Minister" scenario with or without the Senate.

Finally, if by "tyranny" you literally fear Harper setting himself up as a literal dictator via some kind of "Enabling Act" - let's take a closer look at Hitler's rise.  When Weimar Germany's legislature passed the Enabling Act, Hitler had SA thugs all over the building, and had already banned a major opposition party, the Communists, so none of their members were even present to vote against it.  There's simply no basis for believing a Weimar Senate, if it had existed, would have not been equally coerced by intimidation and politics of the day to pass the thing.  Hitler had already seized defacto power.  The real lesson of dictatorships is that by the time the dictator gets around to formalizing powers in actual written laws, it's already too late for legislative opposition to stop him.  You can tell a similar story for the rise of Mussolini, whose rise to power begins by leading a fascist black-shirt army on a march to Rome.

Two thirds of the world's democracies do fine without upper houses.  Canada can too.  Meanwhile Senates often prove unable to prevent (or even contribute to) slides into dictatorship such as in Chile or Argentina.  Voters will have to remove Mr. Harper (assuming his own party doesn't do it first), and if they're waiting for the Senate to do something effective to block him, they'll be waiting a long time. 


Monday, October 28, 2013

Hudak Promises To Incur Massive Project Cancellation Costs As Premier

Update (29 Oct):  A subsequent G&M piece says Hudak would respect signed contracts and would likely leave the Eglinton LRT alone. Also, this site claims Bombardier was paid an extra $68M for the order reduction in cancelling the Scarborough LRT. That brings cancellation costs to $153M.
----

Yes, a Hudak led Ontario government would cancel LRT projects in the Big Move, causing major project cancellation losses to sunk costs (many projects are in-flight in planning or construction) and contract escape penalties to vendors like Bombardier for cancelling or scaling back orders.
"I think GO and our subways are the strengths in our system, and I do not believe in ripping up existing streets to lay down track.” - Tim Hudak
Toronto's decision to cancel the previously agreed and in-flight Scarborough LRT has cost at least $85M in sunk costs, plus a yet to be determined amount in fees by Bombardier for lowering the LRT car order.  Hudak isn't specific, but reading the Globe's synopsis, it seems pretty clear his intent is to cancel all LRT projects, possibly even including the already under construction Eglinton Crosstown line (Hudak was in Mike Harris' government, which filled in the under construction Eglinton subway line in 1995, so the history repeating here would be simply grotesque). In addition, this would almost certainly include the in-progress but not yet under construction Finch and Sheppard East LRTs, then a raft of other projects in the province such as LRTs for Mississauga and Hamilton.
“You set priorities and you make choices. But I think that every dollar we build underground is there not just for a generation, but for potentially a century. It’s a worthy investment. You’re absolutely right: I’ll lay down less track than I would if I did LRTs, but I think I get bigger bang for the buck in helping beat gridlock.” - Tim Hudak
The cancellation costs for all this would easily run into the hundreds of millions.  For someone hoping to ride the gas plant scandal to power, this is just astounding.

Additionally, Hudak showed he intends to use the proven talking points for subways such as the old "100 year" chestnut above.  Yes Mr. Hudak, subway tunnels last 100 years, but the trains, tracks, platforms & switches do not.  By this argument, we should bury all our roads, because hey, 100 year "investment."

The other favourite line of LRT proponents is the old "we cannot rip up roads" bit.  It is true that some LRT projects entail road disruptions & dedicated lanes, but as Seoul found, that can actually result in faster commutes not just for those taking transit, but car drivers as well, as removing the buses from their lanes (and possibly some amount of traffic as some drivers opt for transit) speeds up their commutes too.

The biggest whoppers come here:
“[The money] comes from the same place where the Spadina line came from, where the Bloor-Danforth line came from, where the Yonge line came from. It comes from the treasury,” he said. “We did that without tax increases in the past … You do it by finding efficiencies within government.”
First off, the province did not fund the majority of the existing subway network.  Of 64 existing stations, the first 38 stations (or 60% of the total) were funded by the city/metro governments without funding from the senior levels of government.  More importantly Hudak is hinging all this on the ever failing strategy of "finding efficiencies" in the existing government.

How often will voters fall for this deeply dishonest tactic?  Try and take seriously the idea that Hudak knows of billions of dollars of true "inefficiencies" in the current government, as I joked on twitter, perhaps there is a Ministry of Burning Cash that can be shut down. If so, wouldn't he be bragging about this specifically?  Embarassing the government day after day over the waste in Question Period?

Even as a matter of good public service, if the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition knows of significant areas of taxpayer waste, is he going to sit quietly on them waiting for an election which might be years in coming, letting the government keep wasting money which could be saved?

On the other hand, maybe the claim is true that he plans to "find" these efficiencies, but only once in government.  If so, how can he promise they are there?  He can't know this.  It's a hope, maybe an educated one, but still a gamble.  Even if you think say, 5% of all government spending is true waste (like leaving unused buildings lit at night or whatever example of clear out and out waste you can think up, not talking here about spending you just don't like, which still has a purpose) - it will tend to be a thousand or more little spots of waste.  There isn't really going to be a Minister of Burning Cash that accounts for 80% of the waste.  Finding those unnecessarily lit buildings or other duplication, overpayment & such is going to be tough. Maybe the process for getting someone a driver's license take 14 steps and can be shaved to 13 steps with months of work by the Ministry of Transporation and this saves like $5M a year.  I'm sure such inefficiencies exist in government as they do in every large organization, but wringing them out is tough work.  Complex multi-deparment processes have dozens of stakeholders and usually no one person fully undertands the purpose of everything in there, so spotting the "waste" takes weeks of stakeholder interviews to find the steps that no longer serve useful purposes or are duplicated elsewhere.

The obvious place this is going is that Hudak's idea of "efficiencies" is a set of service cuts for programs he doesn't approve of.  Wage cuts for public sector workers.  Layoffs.  Social assitance payment reductions.  Facility closures.  This is what is glibly hidden in the euphemism of "efficiencies."  Hudak doesn't spell these out because naming specific cuts before you're safely in power with a majority government is harmful to your chances of getting there.  This is an "elect me and then I will tell you my agenda" promise.

Yes, some of this is up on the party's website in a set of lengthy "white papers" which are statistically read by no one at all. The reality is that if Hudak had popular cuts to make in the name of efficiency, he would be bragging about them.  In fact, even Hudak's specific paper on the public sector has vague or small bore promises like a "top to bottom program review" and "a smaller cabinet" - about the only headline cost saver is a public sector wage freeze (which is a cowardly way of implementing a wage cut, since inflation will still increase government revenue, while increasing costs for these workers).

All of this makes me extremely dubious of the one good promise in Hudak's talk with the Globe, to build a relief subway line for the overcrowded Yonge line.  Even just the smallest version of the relief line running a backwards L between Pape on the Danforth line and to King station on the Yonge line will run over $3B in current dollars, while the likely needed version which goes up to the Eglinton LRT (assuming Hudak doesn't cancel it) is $5.5B.

When push comes to shove and the magical efficiencies don't appear, will this really get funded by a party whose fortunes rest on 905 belt voters?  How will Mississauga and Hamilton voters feel about their LRT projects being cancelled to fund a DOWNTOWN RELIEF LINE subway?  This would be the first thing cut. 

All of that in exchange for halting a bunch of viable, funded and shovel ready transit projects in exchange for ones that cost much more, serve fewer people and take years longer to complete with much additional risk. It will be the Scarborough subway but at a province-wide scale.

Here's hoping the Premier hangs on another year or two with Horwath's legislative support, and maybe even accelerates the existing projects to make the political costs for Hudak cancelling them too high to countenance. 

Dedicating Lanes to Transit Speeds Up Cars & Other Seoul Lessons

In a previous post we looked at Seoul's experience with a free market led surface transit "system."  Seoul has several other important lessons to teach Toronto though.  From that excellent paper I was citing:

Removing car lanes and dedicating them to transit can speed up everyone's commute:


In Seoul's case this was done with "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT) where buses operate in dedicated lanes and private traffic is not allowed in those lanes.  But surface LRT on major roads would achieve a similar effect since it would remove the need for buses to operate on those roads (say, Finch Ave W or Sheppard Ave E in Toronto).  Seoul's experience was that bus speeds of course increased tremendously, but so did car speeds:


Private Funding of Transit Infrastructure is No Panacea:


Similar to Mayor Ford's difficulties in finding a for-profit partner to build (or even share costs) on his desired subway expansions, Seoul has found this difficult too.  The above is about LRTs, but even in subways bringing in PPPs is risky, as Seoul has discovered with the privatized "Line 9" subway, constructed in a PPP and where government is required to guarantee revenue to the privatized operators if ridership doesn't meet projections:
if ridership is lower than predicted, the city has had to pay the company tens of millions of dollars each year. MKIF and other investors made 13.1 billion won (US$11.8 million) from the line in 2010, 29.2 billion won (US$26.2 million) in 2011, and 38.4 billion won (US$34.5 million).
As they say of PPPs, the net result is to privatize the profits and socialize the risks.  The experience has already had Seoul nearly come to just buy out the private entities once over a planned fare increase, and as the previous link shows, they are currently changing the structure of the deal due to sustained pubic dissatisfaction with the arrangement.  These changes are causing one of the partners to pull out, poor dears:
But the biggest change is a deep cut in the rate of return guaranteed to private investors, from its current annual level of just over 13% (8.9% after taxes) all the way down to just under 4%.
If it takes a 13% annual ROI to keep free market players in the transit game, this isn't anything like viable. No way running a subway line should be this profitable - it's literally a utility.

World Class Cities Do So Use LRTs In The City:

One of the absurd arguments from subway advocates, led by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly was that "world class" cities don't put LRT in the city proper, they use it in the outer suburbs, which for Kelly & co means the 905 belt, deeming everything in Toronto's legal boundaries to be "urban" regardless of actual density or zoning.  As noted in a previous post, parts of Scarborough and Etobicoke have lower density than Mississauga or even Brampton, but apparently anything less than subways is a grave insult to these "urban" areas of large single family houses on wide lots with plenty of parkland.  Despite the above mentioned problems getting private partners for all of them, they're pushing ahead on a set of up to 10 lines, from here:





That is a map of Seoul the city, proper.  These are not in their equivalent of a 905 belt surrounding the city.

In fact, Seoul's has one LRT line running already, this one is admittedly outside the city proper, but it was built to serve 32 million riders a year at opening, rising to over 50 million/year in years to come, quite comparable to the projected ridership on the planned Scarborough subway extension.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What a Free Market Municipal Transit "System" Looks Like

Former Rob Ford chief of Staff Mark Towhey gained some notoriety in the 2010 mayor's race for a blog post he wrote prior to joining Ford's team where he advocated the city simply shut down the TTC and sell off whatever assets that anyone wants to buy.  For anyone familiar with internet libertarians, it is a familiar refrain of blind ideological faith in the free market to provide for all needs, and that government cannot do so.

Sometimes libertarians are operating in the realm of sheer fantasy with no actual real-world examples of the magical benefits they claim will happen out of their various privatization schemes, but in this case there is a contemporary example of a major city that largely left the free market to determine its surface local transit, Seoul, South Korea prior to 2004:


The likely libertarian excuse for all this will be the government controlling the fares and providing operating subsidies - of course the fact that the government found it necessary to control the fares to keep transit affordable to the people most in need of it, the working class & poor won't register with them.  Instead the price controls & subsidies will be some do-gooder activist government intervening apropo of nothing, lacking adequate faith that eventually the free market will cure all its own self created ills.

Nonetheless, even if we accept that fare controls & subsidies have some negative effects, the multiplicity of coordination problems and unethical competitive behaviour are inescapably the consequences of running transit as a for-profit business.  Each transit company still competes for passengers and has incentive to overcrowd, rush & avoid unprofitable passengers. 

All of this goes into why in 2004 Seoul found it necessary to greatly extend the level of government control over the surface transit system, taking control over schedules & routes in addition to fares (while leaving the private companies to still operate the system).

Some context about Seoul is important here - today it is a (groaning as I type this overused moniker) "World Class City" and biggest city in a prosperous rich-world democracy, but that is quite a recent development.  South Korea's income per capita rose tremendously in recent decades so the fact that its bus system was very nearly fully private is an artifact of a developing world governance structure & capability, it also takes place in the context of a society that mostly couldn't afford cars, and thus most people had no other options than transit, however unsafe & inefficient it was.  Once prosperity rose to the level of mass car attainability, use of this wild west bus system fell precipitiously (ibid):

The alternative is to realize that transit is a natural government function as roads & rails are natural monopolies - there's only so much land to build them on, and use is rivalrous, so each competitor on the network makes the network worse.  Government must govern these things if they are to work for the people who need them (rather than for shareholders).  The actual drivers & operators may not need be government employees but the system as a whole needs to be, well, centrally planned or it will be a disaster.  Public transit is a utility, a necessary and proper function of government.
 
This is really quite common for libertarian fantasies - you usually find that their fantasy system used to exist in the early stages of societal development and the government intrusive/managed systems were introduced to solve the obvious, real and pervasive problems that leaving whatever function to the free market created.  Liberal do-gooders and socialists don't win these arguments to have government intervene unless there are already big problems with the status quo.  That government runs transit in most places is no different from why every rich world society found it necessary to have government manage health care, the US being just the latest (and very late) example:  If you want these things to work, government must be involved. 

As usual libertarians, it has been tried your way, and it failed, which is why the government is in there to begin with.  

Incidentally the article I'm quoting is an excellent look at Seoul's stupendous transit system, and more importantly how it got that way, as opposed to "transit porn" pictures of the subway route maps without any context of how it was all funded and built.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Toronto's Wards By Population Density


These are Toronto's current 44 wards listed in order of decreasing population density, expressed in number of people per square kilometre.  The colours indicate which pre-amalgamation city a given ward is grouped under.  Some wards cross these previous borders, such as ward 26, which covers both North York and East York.  Still, it gives you a pretty good picture of Toronto's population density:
  • The top 5 wards are in the pre-amalgamation version of Toronto ("Old Toronto")
  • All 10 Old Toronto wards are in the top 12 for density
  • The lowest density ward (#2) is also the ward that Rob Ford represented before becoming mayor, and currently represented by his brother Doug.
  • Noted Ford foe Adam Vaughan represents the highest density Ward, #20 with more than 10,000 people per square KM - that these two are such foes does not feel like a coincidence
  • While Etobicoke's 6 wards are all well toward the low end of the scale, North York's wards cover a pretty big spread, and to a lesser extent, so do Scarborough's.  This speaks to the idea that the suburbs are not a monolith irrevocably doomed to vote for Ford and "anti-downtown" divisive politicians like him in perpetuity.
For reference, here's the current densities of the former cities as well as the entire merged City of Toronto:

 With an average density of just over 4000, this gives us just 18 wards below the "average" for entire city, and 26 at or above it.  

The relevance of all this can play into many of our city's raging debates and challenges from subways to bike lanes to social service placement.  I don't believe that demographics are destiny but that we have a Mayor who cut his teeth representing a ward that would be low density even for Mississauga, his obvious and manifest refusal to even try and understand the challenges of dense urban life are among the many reasons we need a new mayor next year.  It's certainly possible that a mayor from a lower density area of the city could do a fair job for the urban core areas, but Rob Ford isn't that person.  His entire agenda largely amounts to an effort to apply surburban governance as a one-size-fits-all solution for the whole city.  His unrealism about the realities of funding the most expensive transit technology in low density areas is just par for the course.  Ditto his expectation that we can dig our way out of gridlock without ever losing a lane of traffic on any road or inconveniencing drivers in any way.  No doubt many voters think this way too, but for those of us who think our elected representatives have an obligation to tell us truths we may not want to hear, this fact is not persuasive that Ford's pandering should be the end of the discussion.

Edit (27 Oct): This post should include the Toronto ward map, so here it is:



Monday, October 21, 2013

Toronto Could Use The Federal Subway Contribution For Other Things

One of the big myths still be pushed by Scarborough Subway proponents is that the Federal government's much touted announcement of $660M (in 2017 dollars, really about ~$450M in today's) is only for subways and in fact only for the Council voted McCowan alignment.  The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee was pushing this line on TVO's The Agenda tonight, and previously I've seen Councillor Pasternak of Ward 10 make the same claim on twitter.

Nope, no federal cash needed here

This is nonsense.  Yes, Minister Flaherty gave the announcement in front of placard that said "Subways For Toronto" but in fact, this money is just part of a previously announced national municipal infrastructure program called the "New Building Canada Plan."  The program was announced in the 2013 Budget, and amounts to $53B to be spent across the nation over 10 years.  The program is not tied to subways nor even to transit.  Toronto, with something like 7% of Canada's population was always going to get a pretty hefty chunk of that cash.

Think about what it would have meant for Ottawa to give Toronto special cash that no other municipality gets.  Most of Canada's opinion of Toronto is already pretty low, and for a government in the polling doldrums, being competitive in a couple Scarborough ridings can't be worth a national "wah Toronto gets special treatment" freakout.  But there was no freak out, because all the other municipalities know that Toronto is just getting an advance on its allowance.  They'll get their share too.

The actual official news release from the Federal government of the money for Toronto makes this all clear:
Under the New Building Canada Plan, public transit will continue to be an eligible project category, and the federal government will continue supporting infrastructure projects that are prioritized by Canadian municipalities, provinces and territories.
 "An eligible project category" means Toronto could have used this money to repair the Gardiner, fix our flood protection, build a relief subway line or any number of other things.  If you really prefer the subway, fine, it is one use for the money and much nicer than the last time Ottawa spent a lot of money in Toronto turning it into a militarized prison camp during the G20, but don't lie and say we had to spend the money on this subway because otherwise mean ol' Flaherty would have taken it away.



Sunday, October 20, 2013

What Might A Finch Subway Look Like?

Rob Ford says he wants to replace the in-flight project to build the Finch Ave West LRT with a subway.  No details of any plan have been released.  What could such a subway look like?

First, here is the planned Finch LRT, running between a yet-to-be-built subway station at Finch & Keele, and Humber college's north campus.


This route is about 11KM long, and Metrolinx has $1B in 2010 dollars budgeted to build it. How much subway does this buy?

Steve Munro suggests a planning figure of $300M/km of subway, assuming stations every 2KM and $350M/KM for stations every KM.  I will take the former, and maybe let's throw in a bit of Federal cash from that same municipal infrastructure program now partly funding the Scarborough subway extension, let's round up to $1.5B in funding (current dollars).  That gives us 5KM of traditional below ground subway with 2 additional stations.



The picture above shows where that gets you.  Basically just past Weston road. Not even half way to Humber college.  For that, we are talking another $1.8B for 6KM more tunnelling.

Steve also noted over twitter that Finch subway enthusiasts seem to favour not a line running west from the Spadina subway line, but instead a line connecting the Spadina and Yonge lines.  What does that look like?



This too, at 6.3KM, is not attainable even at the generously rounded up budget I have suggested.  Here we're only something like $400M short.

Is this what Ford & co have in mind?  I don't know.  Ford's 2010 campaign platform called for BRT on Finch along the hydro corridor running slightly north of it.  You can see it on the third map in particular (the hydro corridor veers south at Weston road in the first two maps, making it an impractical approach for getting transit to Humber college).  Perhaps the subway could run on the surface between the Yonge and Spadina lines.  If so, it might be attainable within something like the $1B (2010) budget for the LRT.  Would the residents adjacent to the hydro corridor like a rail line there?  During the Scarborough transit debate there was considerable angst over the idea that any form of rapid transit wouldn't run below ground, and Ford pushed very hard to bury the whole Eglinton LRT for pretty poor reasons.

Such a route also comes at cost of course of providing actual transit not just to Humber college, but as well the designated low-income "priority neighbourhood" of Jane-Finch, people who could benefit immensely from access to fixed link rapid transit.  Much like the Scarborough Subway expansion passes over two priority neighbourhoods that would have been served by the LRT, there is a social justice aspect to all this not reflected just in raw ridership numbers.  Against that we have some advantage (maybe) of allowing some amount of Yonge line traffic diversion to the underutilized Spadina line (that is, if the amount of traffic from the Spadina line to the Yonge line doesn't make the overcrowding on the Yonge line worse).  Of course, as a rider on the Yonge line, you need to transfer 1-2 extra times in order to move over to the Spadina line, so while I'm sure some people who detest the crowds would do so, it's not clear how many.  Again too, Finch station is the current north terminus of the Yonge line - the people getting on at Finch are not generally facing overcrowding, that happens further down at Eglinton and especially at Bloor stations.

I dearly hope that the TTC puts together some actual mock ups of what options exist for this, with better numbers than this kind of hasty estimate, because absent some official numbers, Ford will be free to demagogue the issue and use highly speculative & unrealistic numbers.  We are talking about a guy who thought he could get the private sector to build him subways despite the lack of any viable business model to do so (especially given the low density areas he wants to build these subways - no for-profit transit company would build subways in the places Ford wants to build them, because the economics wouldn't support it).

Transit surrealism won in Scarborough, but that doesn't mean it has to turn out that way again.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Ford Brothers Radio Show Does Not Belong On Public Airwaves

Recently resigned member of Toronto Mayor Ford's executive committee, Paul Ainslie (voted with Ford 80% during this council term) has written a letter to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council asking that the Ford brothers' radio show "The City" on Newstalk 1010 (CFRB) be taken off the air.  It's about time someone in authority made a stink about this.

Naturally defenders of Ford mostly on the right are howling about "free speech."  This is utter nonsense. Our section 2 Charter guarantee of freedom of speech is not at issue here.  The right of a private corporation to subsidize the political careers of ideologically friendly politicians by donations of the public's airwaves is the issue.

"Free Speech" does not entitle the Fords to their own weekly radio show.  I don't have a radio show, are my free speech rights being trampled?

A few months ago, the Globe and Mail had a good background article on this show, which I think was pretty revealing in terms of the station management's motives.  It starts out explaining that originally the show featured a centrist Councillor named Josh Matlow:

Newstalk 1010 hatched The City in the fall of 2011, with centrist councillor Josh Matlow as host because, according to the station’s program director Mike Bendixen, “a lot of our listeners were fed up with just hearing about all the screaming and yelling and nonsense that was happening at City Hall.” Six months later, after an overture by someone on the mayor’s staff, Mr. Bendixen handed the show over to the Fords.
So listener feedback is they're sick of all the screaming & fights, so the station brings on this middle of the road councillor, then someone from the Mayor asks them for the show, and they just give it to the most histrionic and vitriolic pair of politicians in the city?  What?

Right from the start the Fords made no pretense to doing a civic affairs program, like past mayors have done say on cable access TV or such.  This is not fielding constituent calls about potholes and road closures.  The show has been overtly political in support of the Fords' agenda and a megaphone with which to broadcast their views unfiltered.  The station does not even bother with having a host or moderator, giving full control to the Fords.

The usual excuse about free market entities just seeking to make a buck doesn't seem to apply either, as another bit reveals:

Ratings for the show are fine but not exceptional, especially for a time slot with notoriously low audiences. The City pulled a 3.7 share during the winter 2013 rating period: on average, 3.7 per cent of all radios on in the Toronto area were tuned to Newstalk 1010. But, said Mr. Bendixen, “I’m interested in keeping the show on the air as long as they’re interested in doing the show.”
So, ratings are no matter, station management wants the Fords on the air, no matter who listens.

Now, the law is not utterly toothless about this, apparently the CRTC won't allow officially campaigning politicians to have a radio show (at least without equal time to all opponents), but in Toronto, while candidates for office can register Jan 1, 2014, they are not officially "candidates" until they do:
Once the Fords file their paperwork to run, which they have vowed to do next January for the election in Oct. 2014, they will need to step away from the mic. But if they postpone their registration until the last possible moment, in September, there may be little that opponents can do.
Rob Ford has promised to file his paperwork immediately in January.  Doug on the other hand, is now "98% sure he won't run for council again."  How interesting, and why, if that would say, let the Mayor's older brother keep doing a show that amounts to two hours of free advertising for the Mayor every week, well, wouldn't that just be a fortuitious side effect of not registering in January.  And if Doug say, changes his mind in September, and files then, well...

This has to be stopped.  It's unethical and a violation of the principles of democracy which rely on a level playing field for the battle of political ideas.  Large corporations giving away the airwaves we the public entrust them with is not tolerable.

The show has other corrosive effects on Toronto's democracy, as it distorts the ability of the media to even put direct questions to the Fords.  Most politicians are eager for camera and microphone time that they're willing to endure some adversarial questioning, but the Fords don't have to make that trade off.  They (especially Rob) can dodge the media all week, and know they get two hours of completely unfiltered airtime to mouth off.  In fact, other media have journalists doing show recaps on what the Fords say, so even if you don't listen, you can get Ford's "side" of whatever story via your trusty stenographer.

It's the ultimate stop in the access journalism race to the bottom game that observers of US politics should be familiar with.  The Sun's Joe Warmington is infamous for softball interviews with the Mayor, but that doesn't even compete with just handing over the whole medium to the Mayor like CFRB does. 

Toronto, and hopefully the province needs to give these topics more thought.  Ford is exposing large flaws in our systems of accountability and democratic fairness.  Maybe Council needs a formal Parliament style "question period" so at least the city administration would have to face questions from opposing councillors, so that if the media can't get answers from the Mayor, someone can.  Ainslie's letter is a start, but a larger discussion about these topics must go on.