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.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Canada Could Have a Government Shut Down

(Update 1 (19:00 17 Oct) Below)

I won't lay odds on it, but this is entirely possible:
  • Liberals/NDP/coalition wins the 2015 Federal Election
  • Currently the Senate is 60 Conservative out of 105, plus 6 vacancies Harper could fill any time.  The Conservatives will have a safe majority in the Senate for at least several years barring resignations/deaths.
  • Government passes a budget ("supply" of funds for the government to run) in the House of Commons
  • Senate blocks it or pushes unacceptable amendments that the Government cannot accept
  • Government funding runs out without new supply bill passed

In fact, something like this happened in Australia.  The outcome was something known as the Australian "constitutional crisis" because the Governor-General dismissed the sitting Prime Minister despite the latter maintaining confidence of the House.  The GG justified this on the basis that the PM was unable to maintain supply - even though the blockage of supply was in the opposition controlled Senate, he claimed that was sufficient cause for him to intervene and replace the PM.

How likely is this here?  Somewhat less likely since our Senate is mostly appointed minus a couple western Senators who won provincially administered elections and may not be bold enough to do this.  It would also seriously run the risk of Canadians demanding the body's abolition, but as we just saw in the US, right wing political movements are capable of amazing miscalculations of public response to extreme measures.

I don't think this will happen, but I wouldn't put it past them either.

Update 1:

A kind reader challenged me, arguing that in the event a new budget is not passed, the Government just keeps spending at the existing levels in the last budget.  This person even provided this helpful link to a Parliamentary guide book to the budget process.  The section on "borrowing authority" is important because it shows how Canada does not have anything comparably stupid to the US self-destruct button named "debt ceiling."  On the subject of supply as I read it:
  • Footnote 105 states that "The Financial Administration Act states that no payment shall be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund without the authority of Parliament"
  • The section on "interim supply" shows that just to debate and figure out the budget, Parliament has to pass a short term mini-supply bill to give itself time to figure out what the real budget will be
Then there's this useful Huffington Post piece (despite it arguing the exact opposite of my thesis), says:

Alison--But elections or coalition negotiations take time -- often months. What happens if government needs money during such a period and there is no Parliament? Why isn't the threat of service shutdown as severe in Canada?

Jane--I wasn't sure about this at first either, so I asked scholar Mark Jarvis, who told me that Canada fortunately has a back-up decision-maker in the Governor General, who can approve a Special Warrant that allows money to flow to the government without Parliament's approval.

Under law, this can only happen when three conditions are met: First, Parliament is dissolved (not prorogued). Second, a Minister indicates that the expenditure is urgent for the public good. And third, the President of the Treasury Board reports there is no money remaining for government to use. In this situation, the GG gives access to money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. When a new Parliament is formed, it retroactively reviews any Special Warrant and approves them.

In the scenario I am describing where the Senate is holding up supply, this above scenario would not apply.  The above was designed for our responsible government system, where a government has fallen on the budget, and thus must contend an election, leaving the existing cabinet operating under curtailed powers to act in care-taker mode only until a new government is formed.  If the Senate is holding up supply, Parliament is not dissolved.

In fact, all this makes it more likely a Canadian GG would be tempted to follow the Australian model and deem a failure in supply in the Senate to be a government-dismissal moment.  In that event, I suppose we wouldn't have a US style government shut down, but an Australian style run-away Royal appointee.  It still seems to me that a shutdown remains possible, if the GG opts not to intervene.