January 30, 2012 marks the sixth anniversary of this blog. A year ago, I was despondent after the municipal election left a band in control of City Hall whose politics, to put it mildly, do not align with my own.
As that year evolved, embarrassment about the absolute stupidity, the crass insensitivity and the “we’re in charge so fuck you” attitude of the Ford administration made me wonder whether Toronto would ever recover. But this is not a dictatorship, and Toronto voters seem remarkably able to recognize a fraud when they see one. I had hoped for a great fall, but didn’t expect it would come so quickly. Council took a year, but finally has its voice and knows that the real power lies in a working majority, not in the bullies clustered around the Mayor.
In these pages, we have talked about the merits of various transit plans, technologies, funding schemes and the fundamental question of what transit should do. We don’t always agree, but there’s a robust discussion. Among the public at large, there’s a better knowledge of transit issues, if only because they get so much press. A debate can start from a moderately informed basis rather than going back to first principles and explaining the concept of a wheel. That’s what it felt like at times, years ago when citizen activism was just finding its legs for transit and other aspects of city life.
As I write this, the transit file is in total upheaval. Nobody is quite sure whether Transit City, Mayor Ford’s plan, or some hybrid scheme will win out. At Queen’s Park, the real intentions of Metrolinx are never clear. Whether they are dark lords piloting a death star toward the TTC, or brainy bumblers plotting to take over the world, is hard to say.
Over at the TTC, they’re just trying to keep the wheels on in the face of an administration that cries wolf over Toronto’s supposed poverty and strips funding without understanding the real cost of what they do. Transit planning is a political poker game whose players are drunk with the vision of billions on the table, but who plead poor, unable to afford a taxi ride home.
This will pass, and Toronto may actually head off in a new direction that could even resemble what we were doing not so long ago. At least now there is a debate.
My own output in these pages dropped off in 2011 thanks to the complete lack of anything to write about for weeks on end. Transit policy consisted of little more than lectures on how the fat times were over and we would all have to sacrifice something for the common good. That the common good might actually benefit from spending was an utterly foreign concept.
The article count went up from 1,152 to 1,277 (just under 11%), but you, the readers, kept up your end with the comment tally rising from 20,190 to 23,908 (18.4%). This blog was not subject to an arbitrary 10% cut in service.
Where 2012 will take us is still a mystery. At City Council, it’s early days for an alliance of members from diverse political viewpoints. They know they can beat the Mayor on a vote where there’s enough common sense around the table to spur 23 voices, voices that listen to their constituents and to the mood of the city, not just to the sycophantic railings of the gutter press and populist radio hosts. May that number grow, and may Council again be a place where citizens are not dismissed as special interests, layabouts and pinkos.
At Queen’s Park, the challenge is to find some backbone for the funding of transit. The Metrolinx “investment strategy” process drags on and on. The date for a report still lies over a year away, far enough that nothing beyond talk will happen before the next election.
Transit will cost a lot of money, but Queen’s Park refuses to accept responsibility for funding this portfolio at the local level. A small dribble of gas tax is all that keeps transit systems alive, and that won’t pay for transit on the scale needed to make a real change in GTA travel habits. Two trains a day to anywhere is not a transit revolution.
In Ottawa, the government pulls as far away from municipal issues as it can, and prepares to stiff the provinces in order to deal with its own problems. This is not a new idea. There is great irony that we had Paul Martin as Finance Minister turning the screws, while years later, as Prime Minister he had the beginnings of a sensitivity to cities (with the NDP’s encouragement). Any transit funding strategy for the foreseeable future must not count on improved federal participation. “Tripartite” schemes are a recipe for complete inaction, something Toronto has far too much of already.
Is Toronto — the city, the region and its provincial government — prepared to build what is needed to ensure transit actually plays an important role in the region’s future? Will we tax ourselves, however the money might be collected, to built and operate the network of tomorrow, or will the mythology of the private sector and its supposed billions for transit investment win out?
2012 will be an interesting year. I hope to have much more to write about, and to write about positively. You, dear readers, will have your say too. Quiet corners may be hard to find in this café.