Gene Jones has brought the Ford approach to social housing

 

By Edward Keenan

Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug call each other by the same nickname: Jones. It’s an interesting coincidence that they share that name with the bureaucrat they hired and have most stridently defended (and the one they have been most often called on to stridently defend), Toronto Community Housing Corporation CEO Gene Jones. It’s a coincidence that fits nicely into the story of Jones’ rocky term in Toronto, because looking at his record and approach to government work—especially as exposed in today’s report from Toronto’s Ombudsman on TCHC hiring practices, “Unrule(y) behaviour”—he seems almost to be another Ford brother. A man as determined as the mayor to shake things up, a man as outwardly possessed of the “man of the people” touch, and a man as well endowed with the qualities of arrogance, incompetence, and contempt for rules and procedures.

Consider this telling line from Fiona Crean‘s ombudsman investigation: “The CEO believed that his actions were his prerogative and that he had no responsibility for knowing the rules…” That sentence could sum up Rob Ford’s approach to government—indeed, before he became redefined as a crack-smoking gangster last year, that sentence was the signal quality of the Ford administration. You may recall that a judge, who very nearly threw Ford out of office, summed it up in his own ruling on the evidence in an earlier case: “It is difficult to accept an error in judgement defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the Integrity Commissioner and the Code of Conduct. In my opinion, the respondent’s actions were characterized by ignorance of the law and a lack of diligence in securing professional advice, amounting to wilful blindness.”

You see something similar in the evidence presented by Crean of her investigation into Jones:

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Chow clarifies Relief Line position, Tory attacks

By Edward Keenan

Today on my Keenan Wire Radio Program on CIUT, Olivia Chow came on—as have John Tory, Karen Stintz, David Soknacki, and Richard Underhill in the recent past—to talk about her run for mayor. As part of that, I asked her to clarify or elaborate on her position on the Relief Line, since she’s been under attack for appearing to suggest it may not be a priority.

You can listen to her response here, starting at 26:38:

Just a few minutes ago, John Tory’s campaign sent out a press release attacking her for those comments:

Today Olivia Chow confirmed her total disinterest in the Yonge Street Relief Line. This morning, while being interviewed on 89.5 FM, Ms. Chow said, “…the fastest we can build there, according to TTC, is 2031, right, so we’re talking 17 years….But I don’t think it should be an election issue because we’re looking at nothing is going to break ground for another four, five, years, six years, because the study itself will take that long.”

In response, Mayoral Candidate John Tory had the following statement: “Toronto needs a leader. They need a Mayor who will push aggressively to get the Yonge Street Relief Line and Scarborough subway built. 2031 isn’t good enough. We need to get started now. Ms. Chow thinks the present Yonge Street subway line is just fine. I don’t. What is even more incredible, is that by waiting until 2031, as she advocates, Toronto will add between 1.5 and 2 million people in that period of time. Can you imagine the added transit and traffic congestion? Her lack of response to this important issue is totally unacceptable.

I said at my launch I would make the Yonge Street Relief Line priority number one. And I meant it. Torontonians have a very clear choice between Ms. Chow and I. You can wait till 2031 for action from her, or you can get action on Yonge Street Relief Line from me now.”

That’s not exactly what I heard her say—actually, not all I heard her say. She said:

“I support it. I support it, and the environmental assessment is being done right now. In the summer we’ll see the options for which route we should take, and which stops, and will need to look at the funding option, etc. But according to the TTC’s report from a year and a half ago, the fastest we can build there, according to the TTC is 2031, right. So we’re talking about 17 years. Can we do it faster? Maybe. But it’s $8 billion, a lot of money, so we need to negotiate with the federal and provincial government how we’re going to do this. And we need to determine what route and which alignment, which we’ll do this late spring and early summer. So once we have that, then we can begin to negotiate.

But I don’t think it should be an election issue, because we’re looking at, nothing is going to break ground ground for another five years, six years, because the studies will take that long.”

Then I asked her, whether her de-emphasis of it might not risk delaying that timeline further.

“It is identified as a top priority for TTC and Metrolinx. And I take a lot of time—I was just on the Yonge, College subway, and it was at 3:00, it was already packed, it wasn’t even rush hour. I try to get on because I live on the College line, it was impossible. So at 3:00, it was already packed. Of course it is a priority. Of course, TTC have said, you know, we have to do that. In fact, I think Andy Byford said something like “Yeah, that’s a higher priority than the Scarborough one.”

And then we went on to discuss other transit matters, and taxes (where she did not, when I asked, clarify what she meant, exactly, by “increases in line with inflation.” No rival campaigns have pounced on that yet.)

Anyhow, you can listen for yourself and make up your own mind.

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Mayoral debate #1: The triumph of BS

BY EDWARD KEENAN

There are a lot of ways to score a political debate.

The most popular is by looking for “knockout punches”—did anyone land a “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” or a “There you go again” or a “You had an option, sir“? These are the ones post-debate analysts love to talk about, even though almost no one ever finds a way to work in a line that will become a famous pop-culture catchphrase. And even though we learn almost nothing of substance from these schoolyard-style wicked-burns when they do happen (and their knockout power actually may not be clear until long after the debate, when the line comes to sum up something about the theme of how the campaign played out). We all also love what you might call the self-administered knockout punch, in which rival candidates stand aside and watch one contender light himself and his campaign on fire for no apparent reason—a Rick Perry Special. These almost never happen either.

There were none of those in last night’s televised mayoral debate, the first featuring all the big-name candidates (there was one earlier one, not televised) of the long, long 2014 election campaign, though some of the candidates tried. Olivia Chow unpacked a few wild uppercuts against John Tory (“I don’t need to take any lessons from you, we’re not on the golf course now”) and Rob Ford (“You need to pack up that nonsense you’re talking about,” and “It’s time to take down the circus tent at city hall”). And Ford swung hard on Chow (“You sunk the ship”) and Tory (“John, you had your chance at the province and you fell flat on your face—you know and I know it”). But really, none of these punches landed—no one wound up down for the count, and none of the lines really seemed all that memorable.

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About Stintz’s Hydro-for-subways plan under the Carlaw bridge

 

By Edward Keenan

This morning, mayoral candidate Karen Stintz announced, in the words of her press release,  her “Plan to Fund Relief Line.” She made the announcement out at the corner of Gerrard and Carlaw, near where I lived as a young boy, across the street from the Carlaw Bridge that The Lowest of the Low made Toronto-famous in the 1990s in their song “Under the Carlaw Bridge.” I bring the song up because as soon as I saw the images of Stintz out there, I reflexively started singing it to myself and, as I started singing, I noticed some of the lyrics seem appropriate to Stintz’s announcement, and maybe her campaign, too.

 

 

Because it ain’t clear
No it ain’t clear
And what the hell am I doin’ here?
No it ain’t clear
But it rings in my ears
Somewhere under the Carlaw bridge
Somewhere under the Carlaw bridge

Where’re the banners? Where’re the headlines?
Those future planners and hungry deadlines
Those true believers and crazy Fridays
Those sham deceivers, these can’t be my days
Ah, maybe next time…

Well, now my coffee’s gone cold
But my heart’s gone colder
I think I’m reading too much
It feels like twenty below
And it’s a kick in the nuts
When your vision clears up
And you realize you’ve only been playing with change
There’re people more together than you’ll ever be
And it makes you want to ask yourself, “What’s happenin’ to me?”

 

Here’s her idea: sell 51 percent of Toronto Hydro for about $500 million, and use that as a down payment on building the relief subway line (formerly “Downtown Relief Line,” see also: “Yonge Relief Line,” “Don Mills Line,” “Commuter Relief Line”). We hear suggestions to sell off city assets to pay for things all the time, and often the objection would be that if you’re using the revenue to pay for operating costs, it’s a bad idea. But in principle, there’s nothing wrong with selling a capital asset to pay for another asset. But I have a few notes about this plan:

1. Because of tax laws, it’s really impossible—or at least very difficult—to sell more than 10 per cent of a city-owned utility like Hydro. You can read about why here in theFinancial Post. Stintz recognizes this obstacle in her announcement, saying that “we need to modernize this framework.” The problem is that the reason it’s difficult to sell is that city-owned utilities are exempt from federal and provincial taxes and privately-owned ones are not. And the province grabs about 1/3 of the revenue from any sale over 10 per cent, too. So Stintz’s modernization plan would amount—I imagine, in my quick read—to asking the federal and provincial governments to extend a tax break to private corporations and give the city a gift of $100 million+ in transfer fees it would otherwise collect. While this may or may not be a good idea, it’s not really something the city, or a mayor, can have much control over.

2. If—and it’s a big if—Mayor Stintz managed to get this change legislated, the sale of 51 per cent of Hydro would net half a billion dollars. Which is, in a generous scenario, probably less than 7 per cent of the cost of the Relief Line. Which means that even if—and it’s another big if—the city convinces the feds and the province to pick up two thirds of the cost of the new line, the city is still a little north of $2 billion short of our share. Do we have four more similarly large assets like this we can sell off? Is that part of the plan?

3. At the moment, the city earns a profit from Hydro’s operation, to the tune of about $25 million per year. If we were to lose that, we’d need to make it up elsewhere. If we lose of half of it, it will take about a 0.5 per cent increase in property taxes to make up the difference.

I’ll let you mark your own scorecards—and perhaps there’s an angle on this I’m not seeing—but it appears to me that this proposal manages to a) require a doubtful provincial intervention, b) not really get us all that close to funding the subway we want, and c) create a new revenue hole for the city that will need to be filled.

No, it ain’t clear, What the hell are we doin’ here?


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Meet the man who painted those Honest Ed’s signs

 

With people lining up around the block to purchase the hand-painted signs that have long advertised prices at Honest Ed’s, it seems like a good time to revisit a segment that aired a couple months ago on The Keenan Wire Radio Program—in which Doug Kerr, one of the two men who paint the signs, talked about coming to Toronto, his job at Ed’s, and his contribution to the look of our city’s ice cream trucks. The segment was produced by Keenan Wire radio producer Bryan Goman. Just press the orange arrow on the photo above to give it a listen.

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The Rob Ford of Hollywood Blvd.

In his Grid-exclusive behind-the-scenes report from Rob Ford’s Jimmy Kimmel Live appearance, writer Nicholas Hune-Brown spoke to Sean Armstrong, an Alberta man who was hoping to capitalize on the Ford visit by impersonating the mayor for tourist photo-ops on Hollywood Blvd. (Spoiler alert: As of Monday afternoon, business was not exactly booming.)

Here’s a photo of Armstrong in all his Fordness. What do you think—would you let this man in your vacation slideshow?

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Forget it, Jake, it’s Crazy Town: The chief, the mayor, and his brother

By Edward Keenan

Where to even start with the latest round of batshit nonsense to engulf Toronto’s politics?

Well, let’s start with the obvious. The carpet-bomb rambling of Doug Ford and his little brother Mayor Rob is batshit nonsense—its familiar whiff of bizarrely self-righteous accusation now almost overtaken by the overpowering stench of desperation. But you knew that already.

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Doug Ford’s completely “objective” opinion on John Tory

By Edward Keenan

Last night on my Newstalk 1010 radio show—The Edward Keenan Show airs every Sunday night at 10 p.m.—we broke the news that John Tory is running for mayor of Toronto. You’ve no doubt heard that news by now; minutes after we shared the information and news director Kym Geddes’ interview with Tory, virtually every other media outlet in the city had their own scoops on his long-gestating campaign announcement.

I was joined on the air by Ryan Doyle and Geddes for an extended conversation about the announcement. One of the people we spoke to was Doug Ford, brother and campaign manager of the incumbent mayor. He quickly made it clear that in his mind, the talk-radio station where the Ford brothers had for some time hosted their own show was out to get Rob Ford (joining the Toronto Star, the CBC, The Globe and Mail, all of the mayor’s former staff, the city’s staff, and the police department of Toronto). You can listen to him here, as he explains why Newstalk 1010 is essentially part of the Tory campaign team, leading me to wonder about the objective definition of the word “objective.”

 

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The Ford anti-Pride strategy

By Edward Keenan

Rob Ford has never had good relations with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* community in Toronto. Historically, if he hasn’t been saying outrageous things (“If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably”; puzzling over the guys-and-dolls definitions of transgenderism), he’s been doing antagonistic things (like voting against funding for the Pride parade, grants, and local health organizations) or not doing things in an antagonistic way (refusing to attend any events during Pride week). We’ve seen all this, and known all this, and debated this for a long, long time.

But in the past, he has sometimes apologized and often tried to offer cover for the homophobia (or biphobia, or transphobia), arguing that his opposition to grants comes from penny-pinching alone, or that he can’t attend events because of conflicting family traditions. And his brother has always been there to proclaim how the Ford brothers love them some gay community and donate the stickers to prove it.

However, in the past few days, there’s been an explosion of controversial stuff from Ford about LGBTQ-related topics. And it’s starting to appear as if it’s a thought-out strategy rather than just run-of-the-mill failing to conceal bigotry.

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Tear down the Gardiner? It’s about more than just traffic


 

By Edward Keenan


Yesterday, City of Toronto staff and Waterfront Toronto released the results of their Environmental Assessment—essentially a detailed feasibility study—on the options we have for dealing with Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis. The thing is falling apart, and will need to be either significantly rebuilt, replaced, or removed in the next decade. They are holding a public meeting to show the presentation tonight at 6:30 p.m.(You can see the slides from yesterday’s presentation here.)

Based on the “Evaluation results matrix” that shows which of four options—maintain, improve, replace, or remove—are best in a number of areas we’d consider when making a decision, you can see that removing the Gardiner appears “preferred” in most areas. For the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and safety, removal is best. From the point of view of all the planning and design criteria, removal is best. According to most of the environmental and economics categories, removal is best. And removal is the cheapest of the options—and will also free up a bunch of real-estate for development, opening up revenue possibilities of $80-$90 million.

Oddly, the headline on the front of Metro today says ‘Experts warn that gutting Gardiner will doom drivers” and carries the lede, “Tearing down the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis is not the best option for the crumbling structure, despite a new study that seems to favour demolition, experts say.” The story then quotes three experts, only one of whom actually seems to share the opinion expressed in the headline and lede. (It’s an edit of this Star story, which has a softer, more balanced presentation of the point.)

But the expert they do quote is referring to the categories in which maintaining the Gardiner is preferred and tearing it down is least preferred: movement of automobiles, goods, “constructability,” and “cultural resources”—especially the first two on that list. The expert in question, Murtaza Haider, is a “transportation engineer” and says that moving cars and goods are the highest priorities to consider in this decision, which means they trump everything. (This may not be a surprise: this post from a former traffic engineer claims the problem with the field is that it will always consider moving cars to be the absolute number one priority, trumping all else.)

But Haider makes a notable point, in that as much as the colour-coded chart makes one option look best, the chart’s preamble is careful to say that the criteria are not weighted. As the deputy city manager presenting the chart said at the presentation, it is the job of politicians to make decisions about what option to pursue—our elected officials, in our name, are in charge of setting our priorities.

So here’s something: given the assumptions of those conducting the study (and there are some big ones, including the construction of the Downtown Relief subway line and the East Bayfront LRT), removal of the Gardiner would add about 10 minutes to the travel time into downtown from the northeast. (Travel times appear unaffected from the southeast and the west.) Which means a change of 20 minutes a day. We’re talking about approximately 5,600 vehicles during the peak hour every day whose trips will be affected. That’s likely about 6,640 people, given the average Toronto car carries 1.15 people during rush hour. Some of those are coming off the DVP, some from Lakeshore in the east, and a smaller number continuing east from the western section of the Gardiner.

The number of cars coming in and going out on the most dramatically affected route—those coming to and from the Don Valley Parkway, which appears to be the only travel pattern that shows a significant change in drive time—is smaller, about 3,600 cars, or perhaps 4,140 people.

So the commute time of those 4,140 people in cars during the peak of the morning rush is one criteria to consider, as is the effect on traffic on the alternate routes that people will choose if the eastern Gardiner disappears: Lakeshore, Queens Quay, Richmond, and so on.

But that is not the only one. I’ve already briefly mentioned cost, which over the past few years has been a dominant element of every discussion: removing the Gardiner is projected to cost about $240 million, while maintaining it would cost $300 million, improving it $360 million, and replacing it $700 million. So removing it saves at least $60 million (or theoretically, as much as $460 million).

And then there are the things that those conducting the study were actually instructed to consider their priorities—albeit in 2009, by a different city council:

  1. Revitalize the Waterfront
  2. Reconnect the City with the Lake
  3. Balance Modes of Travel
  4. Achieve Sustainability
  5. Create Value

If revitalizing the Waterfront and reconnecting the city with the lake are priorities, there is really no contest: removing the Gardiner and developing the streetscape are hands-down winners.

As a supplement to that, let us finally consider that “Revitalize the Waterfront” contains in it the huge mandate we’ve already given Waterfront Toronto: to take the massive semi-abandoned industrial portion of the port lands and turn them into a thriving downtown neighbourhood. It’s a mandate that is well underway, and one that was fiercely protected from meddling by city council when doug Ford tried to stick his hands in the pot a few years ago, leading to some revisions.

That plan calls for a neighbourhood to be built. We are likely talking about thousands or tens of thousands of residences, as well as hundreds of retail business and offices. If we leave the Gardiner up, those people living and working there will have an elevated highway running through their neighbourhood so that people who live in other parts of the city can save 10 minutes per trip on a commute downtown. If we take it down, they’ll get a broad and likely very busy boulevard on Lake Shore. And there will be an additional 10 acres of land freed up for sale along that boulevard, bringing in $80-ish million in revenue and meaning more stores, offices, and housing.

The people who live in that area are very likely to walk or bicycle to work—like those in other downtown neighbourhoods, including especially CityPlace, where people overwhelmingly travel on motor-free transportation. The neighbourhood is very likely to become a destination—featuring ample parkland—for others from around the city. What will make the experience of it better? Easier car travel to and from the area, or a better neighbourhood and good urban design in the area itself, and a smoother connection to the rest of downtown?

I realize that the way I phrase some of these questions might suggest certain answers—but I think they are legitimate questions without pre-determined answers. Even for those who favour less car travel and more walkable neighbourhoods, the movement of people and goods through the city, and into and out of it, needs to be an important consideration.

All of this means we’ve got some thinking to do about priorities, and it doesn’t strike me that it’s a decision that lends itself well to off-the-cuff knee-jerk reactions, like the ones we saw from longtime proponents of keeping the Gardiner (like Rob Ford and Denzil Minnan-Wong) and longtime opponents of it (like everyone who has long thought it was an eyesore).

We have to decide: are we building city neighbourhoods for the people who live in them and work in them? Or for the people who travel through them? Asking that question two generations ago, we stopped the Spadina Expressway. Asking it again a couple years ago, we ripped out the Jarvis bike lanes.

And we also have to think about costs: is it worth spending tens of millions extra to save a few thousand people 20 minutes a day? How about hundreds of millions? And if so, are we also willing to spend an equivalent amount extra to save commuting time for many more thousands of people taking transit?

We have to make a decision to spend at least a quarter billion dollars on that corridor within the next decade. We’re going to develop the port lands either way. So since all that’s inevitable, we shouldn’t assume there’s a default option. How do we want to invest our money? What kind of city do we want to build?

 

Photo: Rendering of the view looking southwest from Lake Shore and Sherbourne if the Gardiner Expressway is removed, courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

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