JOHN LORINC: Waiting for the penny to drop

Well, so much for the National Transit Strategy.

When  city council approved the additional $417 million for the streetcar purchase on Friday, it was tacitly delivering the last rites to the campaign — advanced energetically in recent years by Mayor David Miller and other big city mayors — calling on all three levels of government to equally share the cost of major transit projects.

With the death of “the ask,” the Conservative world-view emerged triumphant: municipal transit expenditure is appropriately funded by local taxpayers under the patriarchal guidance of the province. If Ottawa wants to get involved, it can and will, but those are strictly political calls. As for the City of Toronto’s special relationship with the federal government (a fantasy encouraged by Paul Martin), well, don’t even go there.

There was also an element of three-card monte in council’s hasty attempt to make the best of John Baird’s proffered olive branch. The TTC shuffled back some of its capital spending projects to make room for the streetcar buy, while city officials scoured the 2009 capital budget for quick-turnover projects that might pass muster with guardians of the Harper government’s fiscal stimulus package. The fairly explicit message from the mayor and city bureaucrats on Friday was that it’s all going to be a wash.

The question now is whether Miller’s friend Baird will dole out infrastructure grants that are even in the vicinity of $417 million. The right-wingers on council have publicly expressed their doubts, and I’m inclined to agree.

Think about this story from Baird’s perspective: the City of Toronto, invoking its own exceptionalism, decides to flout federal funding guidelines, is then forced to back down, but gets a second chance. Outside Toronto, the Tories will receive no love for that magnanimous gesture. And inside Toronto, well, they still look and act like a party that has no traction with 416 voters.

Does anyone in the Harper inner sanctum think that giving Miller $400 million in infrastructure funding will buy them a riding or two in the next election? Of course not.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the city ended up with scarcely more than half the value of the additional streetcar commitment. After all, as Baird will inevitably say, there were thousands of applications, all worthy. So many municipal tummies to fill, so little time.

And how will Miller respond? “Gimme back my streetcar print!” The right will crow that they predicted all this. But let’s hope the mayor keeps his petulance in check.

After all, the looming re-alignment of Ontario politics could soon affect the tenor of that Miller-Baird connection, such as it is. With Saturday’s ascension of Tim Hudak to the provincial Tory leadership, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals may find themselves meaningfully challenged in 2011 and certainly under attack until then. It’s not hard to imagine that two years from now, a third-term Miller could find himself confronting a newly elected rurally-based provincial government as well as the Harper Conservatives, still clinging to that permanent minority. At which point, urban self-sufficiency, of the sort we witnessed last week, will almost certainly be the only game in town.

photo by Aubrey Arenas

21 comments

  1. I think the biggest issue facing Miller is going to be next years budget shortfall. Projected at $350 million and counting. After the new taxes and fees, to be so far behind and in another ‘crisis’ going to a little “boy who cried wolfish” for his softer supporters.

  2. I’m sorry John, but I don’t think it means any such thing. The fact that the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge Tories fell over each other issuing press releases and comment on shoveling federal money into the K-W LRT means federal assistance to transit is still politically dependent and being made up as it goes along.

    This is entirely separate from the stimulus fiasco, which is where Toronto chose to endrun a program while Calgary and Edmonton took projects intended for 2012+ and ran with them. ( Edmonton: http://www.joconl.com/article/id33938 )

    We absolutely need a transit strategy, but the Liberals – the only party likely to deliver one – have a leader who doesn’t seem sold on the idea. (see http://stevemunro.ca/?p=1708 )

  3. Well described, John. In short, there is no solution for Toronto’s woes, because the only solution is constitutionally impossible: have the independance that American cities like Chicago have.

    I think the federal and provincial Conservatives are losing the long game for playing the short game. Bash on cities, gays, and let the crazies from Alberta in the back bench and you keep your grassroots but create an ugly legacy the rest of us will not forget: like that ugly ‘common sense’ legacy. They might sweep Ontario again (doubt it) with a return to the old game, but thanks to the cities and Quebec they will never sweep the country. The only way to do that is to leave room for what few ‘Red Tories’ have not gone Liberal, or retired in disgust.

    As they have nothing like the magnanimity needed to let the ‘Red Tories’ return (Hudack?!) they should at least try some vote-splitting in the urban ridings they cannot win. If they can bring enough money into urban projects to fool enough right-wing Liberals to vote stupid, then some of those ridings will not have enough votes to stay Liberal: go NDP. Sure, this won’t get them a majority (nor will ‘the Rapture’) but it will stop the Liberals from getting one.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  4. It’s not hard to imagine that two years from now, a third-term Miller could find himself confronting a newly elected rurally-based provincial government as well as the Harper Conservatives, still clinging to that permanent minority.

    God help us.

  5. Well said, John.

    Here’s what’s on my mind…how can Torontonians effect the situation? Our political landscape seems so predetermined (Libs federally/provincially…dorks municipally) that even the parties we support haven’t much new to gain here.

    It’s a stretch, but if there’s no higher level of government that’s willing to take our part 100%…should we go it alone? I completely agree with your assessment that we might be facing an even more hostile future…so what are we to do?

  6. Re: “decides to flaunt federal funding guidelines”. “Flaunt” means to display or show off. “Flout” means to openly disregard.

  7. Well, John,

    it seems to me that McGuinty is on more solid footing than Miller. It is more likely by the time McGuinty wins the next election, Toronto is already under the rule of a right-winger for a year.

  8. Rudeperson, thanks for your eagle eye wIth my language.

  9. 1. If Miller is re-elected, then as jameasmallon said, may God help us all (sorry to disappoint the environmentalists and stoners here, but Toronto does extend beyond Bloor).

    2. McGuinty will have NO problems securing a third term in office. The provincial NDP set themselves back a good 10 years with their position on the York University strike (young voters make up a good percentage of their support, probably more so than the unions they supported to screw them over). And Ontario is the one region in Canada that is keeping Harper from a majority, mostly because he is perceived as a neo-conservative. After 8 years of the Harris/Eves regime, and 8 years of watching Bush south of the border, this province has no love for far right politicians. So what do the PCs do? Elect a neo-conservative to the head of their party, of course.

    In 2011, I’m voting Green as a protest vote.

  10. Yeah, I agree with Ben that the NDP are out of it. The selection of Horwath really clinched it for me that they were not the party best suited to support cities. They seem to mired in the politics of unions for regressive industries.

    I wouldn’t quite rule the PCs out though. If they win, it’ll have more to do with Skinny McGuinty than Hudak.

    As for Davy Mills. I’m a fan. But I’m afraid we may lost him. However, I absolutely cannot understand what Ben’s #1 comment means. How is he particularly a south-of-Bloor mayor? So many of his priorities seem to be to make the inner burbs work and fell better (Transit City, Tower Renewal…). He doesn’t even live south of bloor!

  11. I also don’t understand where Ben is coming from. If anything, I would offer that the Mayor of Toronto needs to be reminded that those people south of Bloor need a thing or two, every once in a while. Transit City is great, but what does it do for downtown? Sweet F.A, really. So how can Miller be accused of being a south of Bloor Mayor??

  12. This is how I see it, Miller is not a south-of-Bloor mayor, but in many ways he is trying to spread south-of-Bloor way-of-life (high density, transit, cycling, etc.) out to across the city. I think in general he is doing the right things, but not everybody likes that and that is why many people label him a south-of-Bloor mayor.

  13. John is all over the place on this article so comment is difficult.
    I disagree that Baird’s position will not help the Conservatives. They are interested in 905 votes not 416 and 905 Mayors and virtually all Mayors in the Province are pissed of with Miller’s arrogance and demands for special treatment.
    As John suggests Miller has caused the City to lose a great portion of the $400 MILLION we might have received if he had played the game properly. This is not the Conservatives’ fault, not the Liberals’ fault but Millers’ fault. He has made Toronto not just a joke in Canada but a joke in Ontario.

  14. David Miller is a class act who understands the different regions of the city quite well and adheres to basic tenets of New Urbanism. That he doesn’t limit those principles to areas south of Bloor is quite positive from a city-building perspective.

  15. McD,

    As the post clearly states, my point was that Baird’s so-called olive branch won’t go over well outside the 416, for all the obvious reason.

  16. One can’t claim to be shocked by the Conservatives rebuke. Even if we’d followed the rules, John hit the nail right on the head…there’s nothing in it for them. And the Harper Conservatives are opportunists…and that’s all they are.

    What’s really unfortunate is that David Miller was so certain of his gambit that he didn’t bother energizing the parties who DO have something to lose in Toronto. Another example of his woeful lack of political savvy.

    Another sad surprise is the absence of the NDP on this issue. As I wrote recently on my own blog (click that link above!), the NDP seem to be willingly ignoring issues which are commonly thought to be in their backyard. To what end? I wish I could say. But the result is that when we really needed some backup on the Hill to put pressure on the Conservatives, we were all alone. And you can’t argue that whether we bungled the application or not, we need the dough.

    OH…and we’ll get it. A fall election will give us a Liberal minority and we’ll get the money. But that will only be a result of circumstance and doesn’t excuse the bungling of David Miller.

  17. This will probably the most morbid comment I’ve ever left on this blog but it’s been on my mind all week: I keep feeling the only way Toronto will get a decent LTR is if some dire worst case scenario will play out to guilt the politicians. If, heaven forbid, some unfortunate soul suffocates to death in a cramped transit vehicle during rush hour, we’d have a “martyr” to do something for transit like what Kimberly Rogers did for the Common Sense Revolution. I feel guilty for thinking so pessimisticly that “it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.” I truly hope that it does not get that bad, like in D.C.

  18. To Anon,

    MorbId perhaps, but not unrealIstIc polItIcally. After the Wells HIll accIdent on the SpadIna lIne In the mId 1990s, the TTC changed Its entIre approach to budgetIng capItal projects, for the better.

  19. “some unfortunate soul suffocates to death in a cramped transit vehicle during rush hour” – oh, the humanity!

  20. “Another sad surprise is the absence of the NDP on this issue.”

    They have been talking about the streetcar funding issue. Here is a press release: http://www.ndp.ca/press/harper-fails-to-fund-streetcars

    They’ve even been quoted in the media on the streetcar funding issue. If you search google news for “Toronto Streetcar NDP” you’ll find a fair number of articles, which have quotes from NDP MPs on this issue. For example: http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2009/06/19/9847716-sun.html

  21. Hi, Anon,

    fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) your scenario is highly improbably. If you have seen subway in somewhere else, say Tokyo, you will realize that human bodies are really resilient. Actually a Washington-style accident is more likely.

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