Friday 10 February 2012

The Real Waste at City Hall

Rob Ford and Karen Stintz, as drawn by Charles Schulz Neville Park.

Throughout the mayoral campaign and his first year in office, Rob Ford reminded anyone who would listened that it was all about waste. City Hall was filled with waste, he claimed, and he would be the one to look after it.

This language characterized his KPMG budget too. It was about finding 'efficiencies,' separating the nice-to-haves from the must-haves and making tough choices to move forward.

But the conversation was limited and the politics were small. The scope of Toronto's budget reform focused on how to cut services rather than the larger question of analyzing the structural relationships that give rise to the underlying issues. So while Ford had the public willingness to do a deep-dive in to how Toronto addresses its finances and the underlying issues, it was more Sue-Ann Levy than John Lorinc.

So it is with Toronto's transit plan. Ford was legitimately elected with a platform to re-visit Toronto's transit plan and specifically the poorly communicated Transit City plan. But instead of addressing the underlying flaws of Transit City- a lot of transfers and increased stress on the at-capacity Yonge-University-Spadina line- he decided to plow ahead with his completely unrealistic Sheppard line, accompanied by no funding and no transit experts who would support the idea.

And so The Mayor's office dithered on transit for a year, and Gordon Chong's much anticipated report was delayed multiple times before an optimistic version was released that still argued Sheppard was not feasible unless tolls, new parking charges or congestion taxes were introduced.

Of course, these suggestions were non-starters and Council's opposition fought to preserve the status quo, a vast improvement over the Mayor's crayola-planned underground.

It is rightly a triumph for Council's opposition; they effectively neutralized the uncompromising delusions of the Mayor to avoid a disastrous policy commitment.

But much like the other two big Mayoral defeats of the budget or the Port Lands, there's a bitter aftertaste to this victory. After all, it's all about preservation of existing policy, not progress. In this way, waste once again rears its ugly head, as the theme of this administration has become wasted opportunity.

In the aftermath of campaigning on criticism of the city's budget, planning and transit, Ford had the chance to lead a conversation of what Toronto has to do in order to achieve its goals. Of course, the populist and intellectually disinterested former Ward 2 councillor was never the man for that job.

Now it's up to Council to lead that conversation and assert its primacy beyond playing defense against a harmfully reactionary Mayor. Until then, in the glow of a historic victory, we have City Hall in the same place as the Mayor's disposition, stuck in arrested development.

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