To kick off the new year, this blog will feature regular guest posts by journalist David Hains, who’ll be working here in The Grid office for the next few months. I’m glad to have him aboard, starting with this post. —EK
Guest Post by David Hains
In this era of Rob Ford’s rapid-fire city hall newsmaking it seems like eons ago but, back in July 2012, when Ford was responding to the Danzig Street shooting, he stumbled across an important point. Speaking about whether it was wise to invest in community grants, something he regularly opposes, the mayor argued on Newstalk 1010′s Friendly Fire that more information was needed: “Um, you have to measure, in the private sector, we call it, it’s metrics. Um, you know what? If you invest money, and you don’t see a result, you can’t measure, um, how many jobs they got back.”
However ineloquently Ford may have put it, he has a point. City hall does not do a particularly good job at evaluating its existing programs, and services would be more effective if they did. But this argument shouldn’t just be a crutch when you don’t want to fund a particular program; it should be a governing principle, particularly when it comes to major policy decisions.In the big issues coming up at city hall, we see a different approach being taken. Over the next month, major decisions will be made on the future of the Gardiner Expressway, a potential Toronto casino, and the fire department, each without adequate information to assess their respective value and consequences.
For the Gardiner, city staff shelved the environmental assessment “pending the results of the 2010 election.” This assessment would have provided valuable information on the cost and value of council’s options: to do nothing, maintain the current state of the Gardiner, bring it down or build a new one. Without it, council faces a $505 million decision in two weeks, and only have their opinions to go on (there were also been a few staff departures preceding the Gardiner issue of people who would have been valuable counsellors; one councillor’s executive assistant told me recently that the institutional memory is gone).
For Toronto’s potential casino, there’s not much in the way of tangible data to make an informed decision. It’s true, there’s a hefty Ernst & Young-prepared report (PDF) on potential casino revenue for the city, but this assumes that a casino here would garner per-foot gaming revenue as high as anywhere in the world. There’s the Board of Health report, which argues the costs aren’t worth it, and there will be 10 days of consultations from Jan. 9 to 19. For a major building that could be around for more than 50 years and transform the entire neighbourhood it serves and the climate of the wider city, that’s not much to go on.
While it’s garnered less attention than some other issues, the fire department faces important budget considerations. The plan is to reduce the employee complement in the department by 104 and take five trucks out of service, but this is before the much-delayed insurance underwriter’s survey comes out (which grades fire readiness and affects home insurance rates) and another report on potential overlap between firefighters and paramedics.
We often urge government to act more quickly and respond to issues immediately, but sometimes there’s a good reason to wait. Sometimes it’s better to just say “we’re not sure,” and wait to make the more informed decisions that the issues deserve. Or as Rob Ford might put it, you need the right information to make sure you’re getting what you want.
PHOTO: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star