Irresponsible Madness at City Hall (Update 2)

Updated May 10, 2013 at 8:45 am:

A consolidated list of Council actions has been added to show the net effect of many overlapping motions and amendments.

Updated May 9, 2013 at 11:00 pm:

After an extremely long debate and complex voting process, the primary outcome of Council’s actions was:

  • “That City Council support the extension of the Bloor Danforth Subway Line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and north to Sheppard Avenue.”
  • “That City Council request that the North York Relief Line (unfinished subway construction between Sheppard Avenue and Allen Road, and Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue) be recognized as a substantive project priority for Phase 2 Metrolinx funding.”
  • That consideration of various other projects such as the Bloor West subway extension be referred to the Chief Planner for analysis and incorporation in the review of the Official Plan now in progress
  • That Council not support any of the proposed “revenue tools” to fund transit expansion or operations, but that if Queen’s Park chooses to implement some, Toronto wants its cut subject to a number of conditions.

The full minutes, for those with the heart to wade through them, are on the City’s website.

From a procedural viewpoint, Council merely offered “support” or a “request” for new subway lines, but did not actually ask that the Scarborough LRT be recast as a subway project.  Speaker Nunziata ruled that Council was not technically reopening the matter of its agreement with Queen’s Park, and therefore only a simple majority of votes was needed for motions regarding changes to the proposed network to pass.

Before the voting even began, Transportation Minister Glen Murray had told the Queen’s Park press gallery that the province was building the already agreed-to network and would not entertain a change to subway technology for the SRT replacement.  This did not deter Council from asking for the change anyhow, no doubt hoping that political winds at the Pink Palace will bring a change in policy.

This on the same day Transportation Minister Glen Murray emphasized that the province will not be giving Toronto a new subway extension in exchange for a deal on revenue streams to build transit. “I want to be very clear so no one misunderstands me: We have 15 projects, we’re not revisiting those projects, we’re continuing to build those projects,” he said. [The Globe And Mail, May 9, 2013]

Over half of the voting time, and a great deal of debate, was wasted on the question of which revenue tools, if any, Council would support.  The staff report recommended a few, but rejected most.  Rather than completely replacing this recommendation with a set of motions to adopt or reject each tool, Council wound up with a rat’s nest of overlapping and contradictory motions proposing new lists, and with some Councillors proposing amendments to others’ motions.  The effect at times was to create double and triple negatives in the effect of some votes rather than simply taking each tool/tax/fee in turn and voting up or down on whether Council supported it.

In the end, Council rejected all of them, a process that could have taken a lot less time with only a modicum of procedural leadership.

Toronto now faces a provincial government that will almost certainly ignore its requests and, in the short term, will proceed with the agreed plan (which Council did not attempt to revoke).

For their parts, Metrolinx and the TTC owe everyone a much more detailed statement of the cost implications of the LRT and subway options to inform any decision to take one or the other path.  Whether we will actually get this, given the vested interests in the fog of misinformation hanging over Council’s debate and Metrolinx planning, is another question.

Update 2 – Decisions taken by Council:

In this section, I have attempted to collect related motions together so that the overall intent of Council (assuming such a thing exists) is clear.  Where an action is included in quotation marks, this is a direct quote from the Council motion.

Council did not explicitly name Sales Taxes or Development Charges in the list of revenue tools it supported.  This has been construed by some Councillors as a backhanded endorsement by omission.  However, a separate motion recommending a 1% province-wide sales tax dedicated to transportation programs throughout Ontario was defeated by a vote of 28:16.

Although Council does not support a parking levy, if one is imposed then:

  • “City Council request the Provincial government to consider no charge for small scale commercial parking and differentiated charges for paid commercial parking lots and other large scale free commercial parking.”

Council indicated general support for regional transit expansion and for dedicated revenues to fund The Big Move’s capital and operating costs.  Any new taxes or fees implemented should follow certain principles:

  • “All project selections be based on a cost/benefit analysis that emphasizes improving transportation capacity, relief from congestion, and is linked to appropriate land-use planning.”
  • Operation of transit expansions should be fully costed.
  • New GTHA fees should be dedicated to GTHA transportation, they should imposed at the same level across the region and they should not “create a disincentive to economic growth in Toronto”.
  • The mix of fees should balance between effects on residents and businesses.  They should take account of affordability for those of low incomes with tax credits to be considered to offset the cost for this group.
  • New revenues should not be used to fund the existing $8.4b provincial commitment to the “phase one” Big Move projects.
  • GO Transit capital and operating costs should be carried by the province separately from new revenues.  This position conflicts with the presence of GO expansion projects in The Big Move.

Council’s support for new fees is conditional on a 25% share of the revenue for incremental funding (ie: net new money) of municipal transit expansion with priorities to be set municipally.  A regional property tax was explicitly rejected because this revenue stream is required to fund local requirements.

Separately, Council asked that Queen’s Park agree to fund 1/2 of transit operating costs, state of good repair programs and rolling stock in Toronto.

Council asked that the Federal government contribute to The Big Move with “equitable and increased” funding.  The Feds were also asked to implement a regional income tax reduction to offset the cost of new taxes to the GTHA.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Council wants the Feds to, in effect, pay for the cost of transit expansion through a tax cut in the GTHA that would be clawed back through new provincial revenues.

Council asked that Metrolinx work with provincial and federal agencies to implement projects through public private partnerships (PPPs) to minimize costs.  Of course, there is no guarantee that this will actually deliver better, cheaper projects over their lifetime, but this is part of current financial orthodoxy.  In a separate motion, Council also asked that Metrolinx issue an international Request for Proposals (RFP) for future subway construction in Toronto.  This is actually already Metrolinx’ practice.

Council asked that capital maintenance costs for any projects built and owned by Metrolinx be borne by that agency.  By implication, municipalities should not be responsible for funding repairs to infrastructure that they do not own.  This could be tricky depending on the wording of operating agreements between Metrolinx and municipalities.

Council asked that all Metrolinx and TTC projects “be aligned with City Building goals including appropriate transit oriented development on Metrolinx properties” and that both agencies “undertake Community Benefit Agreements for all transit lines and local projects funded through new revenue tools”.

Council requested reports from the City Manager on:

  • a revised governance structure for Metrolinx,
  • principles for allocation of the 25% municipal share of new revenues,
  • the “opportunity” to use the municipal share to finance 50% of existing GTHA transit operations.

Council referred the following additional transit lines to the Chief Planner:

  • a Sheppard LRT spur to the Zoo,
  • a Finch West subway from the Spadina subway to Humber College,
  • the Downtown Relief Line,
  • the Sheppard Subway Line from Don Mills Station to Scarborough Town Centre,
  • extension of the Bloor-Danforth Subway Line to the East Mall and Sherway Gardens Mall.

Council also decided that it should:

“not proceed with the proposed Yonge North Subway Extension until improvements have first been made to increase capacity on the existing Yonge University line by an amount at least equal to the increased ridership generated by the Yonge North Subway Extension.”

This is oddly worded because both the Richmond Hill extension and any project to relieve capacity downtown are Metrolinx projects within The Big Move, not Toronto projects.  This appears to be a drafting error, and the motion should have read that Council does not support building the extension until there is capacity to absorb the new riding.

Notwithstanding the report request to the City Manager, Council also made several requests to Queen’s Park related to Metrolinx:

  • “The governance and decision-making processes of Metrolinx must be changed to ensure Toronto has an appropriate degree of control over the use of new transit-related revenue tools applied in Toronto.”
  • “Mechanisms are put in place to insure the accountability of Metrolinx, including the appointment of the Mayor or his designate to the Board of Metrolinx.”
  • That the board revert to its original format with political representation from the regional municipalities on an “equitable basis” between Toronto and the other regions, and that the chair be appointed by the province.  All decisions on the spending of new revenues would be controlled by this board.

Original article from 8:33am May 9:

Toronto Council was supposed to debate the issue of transit “revenue tools” yesterday, May 8, so that it could advise Queen’s Park which were acceptable in Toronto’s eyes, or at least which were the least unacceptable, given that nobody likes new taxes.

The debate, which will continue today, descended into complete chaos of “let’s make a deal” transit planning of the worst kind seen in decades.

The whole affair started simply enough with a move to wrest control of the City Manager’s report on revenue tools from Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee.  That was accomplished by a procedural vote needing a 2/3 majority of councillors present, a move that took took advantage of at least one Ford ally from the meeting.  That was on Tuesday, May 7.  Late Wednesday morning, May 8, the item came up for debate.

The entire scheme started to unravel with a move by Scarborough Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker to make any approval of new funding tools conditional on changing the proposed Scarborough LRT to a full subway line.  As I have discussed in other articles, the arguments for this change are tenuous and include flat out misrepresentations of several aspects of the two options, notably their relative cost.

Not content to stop at one subway, other members of Council have started to chime in with their pet projects including a Bloor West subway, the Sheppard east and west extensions (the latter dubbed the “Pasternak Relief Line” by some), a totally grade-separated line on Finch, and a resurrected Jane LRT.  The combined additions to the network cost are astronomical, but that’s not really what Councillors care about.

Some, like De Baeremaeker, are fighting for their political hides, worried that they be portrayed as less than supportive of their supposedly downtrodden suburban communities.

Some are fighting political battles by proxy for the provincial parties.  The Tories bang the drum on the “no new taxes” front while failing to explain how the mass of high-cost transit proposals will be funded.  The NDP trots out their hobby-horse of corporate taxes arguing that Council should not support increases in regressive, user-based fees such as sales or fuel taxes.  Even some Liberals are up to mischief attempting to create an embarrassing situation where Premier Kathleen Wynne would be forced into a Hobson’s choice of changing her position on The Big Move network, or of overriding Council’s desire for new subway lines.  The Liberals in question are still fighting the lost leadership battle.  None of this serves the debate about funding and building a major expansion of the GTA’s transit network.

What is overwhelmingly evident is the leadership vacuum at City Hall.  Throughout the debate, Mayor Ford wandered in and out of the chamber wearing his Toronto Maple Leaf jersey and clearly was more interested in how the hockey game might play out than a vital debate.  He didn’t really have much to do with De Baeremaeker making a complete fool of himself and compromising both truth and any sense of responsible transit planning.

For her part, Karen Stintz, having launched the whole process, sat silently while the debate drifted further and further from any coherence and, by extension, possible support for any “plan” including her own “One City”.  Rather than letting the genie out of the bottle and getting three well-chosen wishes for her transit scheme, Stintz is revealed as a Sorceror’s Apprentice who cannot control the blind forces she has unleashed.

Procedurally, there is one hope: any formal change to last fall’s LRT-based agreement between Toronto and Metrolinx would require a 2/3 majority of Council to be reopened.  This may block some of the more outrageous schemes for a time, but won’t undo the damage of  a divisive, if-I-don’t-get-a-subway-I-won’t-play attitude on Council.

At Queen’s Park, the Tories must be rubbing their hands with delight at yet another chance to embarrass the Wynne government.  Meanwhile, the NDP, utterly incapable of actually making a decision without weeks of polling and “conversations”, shows no coherent leadership, and the Liberals have to deal with a fifth column of anti-Wynne Scarborough MPPs.

I must not leave out the transit agencies here.  Metrolinx has been notoriously unwilling to actually defend its plan by fleshing out details, providing accurate information about what it will build, how long this will take and how much it will cost.  The TTC produced a report in January 2013 comparing the subway and LRT options that included costs we now know overstate the LRT option by $500m.  Is this incompetence or an underhand attempt to make the subway option look better than it really is?

Amusingly, some Councillors such as Speaker Nunziata are happy to attack the TTC for being incapable of doing anything right, notably the “St. Clair disaster” which also figured in the debate.  However, they are more than happy to cite a bogus comparison of technologies.

As I have written before, there may be an argument for some subway expansion provided that this is based on trustworth projections of costs and benefits (yes, I know, I’m sounding like the Board of Trade here), not on rosy-eyed dreams of development and transit demand in every corner of the city.  None of the debates, including some of the input to The Big Move, rests on such a foundation, and “planning” consists of issuing boxes of crayons to a kindergarten class.

Toronto deserves so much better, but we are unlikely to see it, and a chance to actually build the transit we need may be lost for at least a decade.

50 thoughts on “Irresponsible Madness at City Hall (Update 2)

  1. RishiL said:

    The worry is that Metrolinx is on their way down the same path, so I think it’s reasonable that there be an elected representative from each of the 5-6 municipal regions, on the board as they are stakeholders.

    The former Greater Toronto Services Board had representatives from each municipality and collapsed under its own bureaucratic weight and infighting. Metrolinx was not able to handle having politicians on the board when each municipality had a voice.

    Perhaps the best solution is to move transit up to the “Regional Municipality” level and each Regional Municipality would get one seat for their mayor/chair.

    Toronto and Hamilton are already regional regional municipalities in their own right. York and Durham already have transit at the Regional Municipality level. In Peel, Brampton and Mississauga run transit as city divisions. I’m not sure how Milton, Oakville and Burlington run their services … but I don’t think there would be a huge objection if Metrolinx stepped in to help with the organization and the funds for the transition.

    Of course this assumes that a board with some municipal representatives would not be as dysfunctional as the GTSB or have as many issues as Metrolinx boards. And for the moment I could see Hazel McCallion and Susan Fennell fight the idea tooth and nail … but they won’t be mayors forever.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: Given the current political uncertainty, I think that Metrolinx and Queen’s Park have to get their own houses in order before messing with the governance structure for Metrolinx. Once (if?) Toronto gets a Mayor who believes in transit and can forge a coherent position for Council, we can have this discussion in an environment where we are not trying to Ford-proof the system.


  2. I am very disappointed in the lack of maturity and childish, clownish behaviour on display.

    Rob Ford and his supporters make an easy target with their mythical “gravy” from which we were supposed to have got millions of dollars by now. Except there wasn’t any so it didn’t happen.

    Mr. Ford’s imaginary friends in the “private sector” were supposed to line up to fund subways. Unfortunately, no one else can see his imaginary friends.

    It is easy to make fun of Mr. Ford, but the NDP is doing exactly the same thing with their mythical “Corporate Tax Loopholes” which they decline to actually identify. Newsflash to NDP: The Income Tax Act is not a top-secret classified document which you are not allowed to read until you form the government.

    If these people actually believe what they are saying then they are fools. Rob Ford appears to fall into this category. But I suspect that most of them are not fools but liars who know full well that what they are saying is nonsense.

    Steve: My complaint with the NDP is that the “loopholes” are well-defined, but they have been inconsistent in saying what they would use the extra revenue to fund. It seems to depend on whatever speech they are making. Their policy paper shows more money going to taking HST off of auto fuel than to transit, and a good chunk of the latter is eaten up by funding a fare freeze, not new service or construction. Recent “consultation” by the NDP (the online poll) raises the option of a “Bank Tax” (something Ontario used to have), but the revenue from such a tax has not yet found its way into a published document.


  3. Steve,

    The NDP policy document you link to is a good example of exactly what I mean. For example, on pp 23-24 it complains about corporate tax rate cuts, but nowhere does it say that an NDP government would increase corporate tax rates by so much as one penny. Instead it commits an NDP government to further corporate tax rate cuts for small corporations all the way down to a token 4% tax rate.

    Same thing with loopholes. In this document I do not see one specific loophole that they commit to closing. Instead, we get MORE corporate tax loopholes. On page 24 there are two more corporate tax loopholes in the form of an investment tax credit and a training tax credit. Most companies are doing ongoing training to adapt to changes in technology, markets, etc. Does this mean I can say all my employees are doing on-the-job training all the time? Or are we going to get a whole new bureaucracy to analyze each job in every company every year to decide whether there is enough on-the-job training content to qualify for the tax credit?

    Irresponsible Madness…

    But wait, it gets worse… From page 25:

    “Corn is imported for use in our ethanol plants while local farmers struggle to find a market.”

    The number of corn farmers in Ontario that cannot market their corn is precisely zero. This statement is one of pure ignorance; whoever wrote it simply does not know what he is talking about.

    Steve: Not to mention that the whole ethanol fuel industry is a sop to Big Agro and is of dubious merit environmentally verging on greenwashing.

    But wait, it get worse…

    What really annoys me the most is the policies that are in direct contradiction to the NDP’s professed values. For example, advocating profoundly regressive tax policies such as taking the HST off of gasoline. This NDP tax loophole not only benefits car drivers, but gives the greatest benefit to drivers of gas-guzzling luxury cars.

    Steve: Yes, it is doubly amusing to listen to those who attack increased fuel taxes as being regressive.

    What really bothers me about this sort of thing is that I share the NDP’s professed values. I am on the side of the ordinary guy walking, cycling or taking public transit and I am NOT on the side of rich people driving luxury cars. I think that rich people, particularly luxury car drivers, should pay up to build infrastructure for walking, cycling and public transit.


  4. Steve: My complaint with the NDP is that the “loopholes” are well-defined, but they have been inconsistent in saying what they would use the extra revenue to fund. It seems to depend on whatever speech they are making. Their policy paper shows more money going to taking HST off of auto fuel than to transit, and a good chunk of the latter is eaten up by funding a fare freeze, not new service or construction. Recent “consultation” by the NDP (the online poll) raises the option of a “Bank Tax” (something Ontario used to have), but the revenue from such a tax has not yet found its way into a published document.

    I like the idea of a fare freeze; we’ve needed one for quite a while in Toronto generally-actually what we need is a fare reduction (to about $1.00) so that people can afford transit. A bank transaction tax isn’t a bad idea, either, and has been floating around in progressive circles for a while (although I’m with you about taking the HST off of auto fuel and not really funding transit-what’s up with that?)


  5. Steve wrote:

    “Yes, it is doubly amusing to listen to those who attack increased fuel taxes as being regressive.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    I agree. I am a social justice advocate who is firmly behind the NDP’s professed values. But I shake my head when they come out with cynical policies that are in direct contradiction to those values.

    For example, the 15% cut in car insurance rates. The two groups who benefit the most from that are:

    1) Owners of expensive luxury cars that cost a lot to insure because they are so expensive.

    2) Car drivers with bad driving records who pay high insurance rates because they have criminal convictions for criminal offenses such as “Dangerous Driving” because of their dangerous, reckless or negligent car driving behaviour.

    Are these the people that an NDP government should financially advantage?

    But it gets worse …

    As we all know, even if a car driver is a violent, dangerous criminal who hits, crushes and kills someone through his own recklessness or negligence even a criminal conviction is rarely enough to get a permanent driver’s licence ban. But insurance companies price a lot of these criminals off the road because they can’t afford the car insurance after their convictions. Cheap NDP car insurance could put these criminals back on the road killing more people.


  6. Making transit affordable is not achieved by reducing fares. TTC fares are too low because increases should be annual, but politics interferes with that often. This is especially evident with 905 systems’ fares being higher than TTC’s despite offering a lower service level than the TTC in most cases. Transit affordability is achieved by hiking the minimum wage, which is still lower in real terms than it was 20 years ago.


  7. Kevin Love said:

    But insurance companies price a lot of these criminals off the road because they can’t afford the car insurance after their convictions. Cheap NDP car insurance could put these criminals back on the road killing more people.

    I suppose this is one of those areas where people would say that criminals don’t pay for car insurance (as they apparently don’t register their guns or pay their taxes).

    Populism can go too far … but populism combined with political dithering is really the worst thing.

    I’m starting to think Wynne might pull this off simply by being honest with the public, having a plan, and actually being able to make decisions based on that plan.

    It’s amazingly refreshing …

    Cheers, Moaz


  8. I totally agree with Karl. Except for very poor people, transit fares are irrelevant to their travel mode decision-making. This may be seen by the fact that car driving is vastly more expensive, yet many people engage in that behaviour. To quote CAA (scarcely an unbiased source):

    “Yearly ownership costs for an average compact car are about $9,500”

    Being a professional accountant, I took a look at CAA’s numbers and see that they left a few things out. For example, the cost of car parking. Even in far-flung suburbia, the capital and maintenance costs of building and maintaining a garage and driveway are quite considerable. Paying for car parking in Toronto can be quite expensive. See The Star, for example.

    So it is fair to say that even a small compact car directly costs its owner well over $10,000 per year. Taking into account the 15% tax credit and various deals available, annual Metropass costs are about 10% of this. So why would someone pay ten times as much for transportation?

    The answer is because for far two many destinations from A to B, driving a car is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way to do so. Canada is a wealthy country, so people have no problem squandering an extra $10,000 per year for ease, speed and convenience.

    To fix this, we’ve got to make walking, cycling or public transit the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of going from A to B. The best way to do this tends to be a “sector” or “zone” strategy. This is used in many cities, such as Vienna in Austria and most cities in the Netherlands.

    With a sector strategy, only people walking, cycling or taking public transit can go straight from A to B. Car drivers are forced to drive out of the city along their sector (typically to an outer ring road) drive around the city to the sector they want, and then drive back in again. This makes one of walking, cycling or public transit the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting from A to B and car driving the slowest, hardest and most inconvenient. Details here.

    This strategy would be fairly easy to implement in Toronto, with the 401 acting as the ring road and natural barriers such as the Don and Humber rivers forming the border for the sectors.

    Steve: This ignores the basic point not only is a car more convenient for many trips, it offers a real time saving (and the imputed value of that time) and may be the only way the trip can be undertaken. Unless there is an alternative with capacity available to cover the types of trips you would divert, all your scheme will achieve is to piss off motorists and undermine support for better transit.

    Groningen is tiny compared to Toronto, and the distance involved in diversion to a ring road is much smaller than would be the case in here. Moreover, there are very serious congestion and transit issues outside of the “core” and the GTHA’s problems lie in the many-to-many nature of suburban travel demand.


  9. I was really quite surprised at your comment that some places in Toronto that deserve new subway lines. For the longest time I thought you didn’t think there was much of anywhere in Toronto where a subway was justified. Besides the DRL downtown, where do you think a subway is needed? It’s no secret the Eglinton isn’t one of those places but are there really places in Toronto where a subway might actually be justified?

    Steve: Yonge to Steeles to eliminate the massive jam-up of buses north of Finch. Also, if the TTC is ever going to get the headway down to 1’45”, they will need a split terminal operation. Finch would be hard to get down to just 2’00” because of the long crossover. (On the Spadina side, the full service is not going all the way to Vaughan and so this is not an issue.)

    There is a related issue in that the TTC needs a new yard on the Yonge side of the line to hold the extra trains a 1’45” headway will imply. One proposal was for an underground yard using a three-track section between Finch and Cummer Stations. This has been shifted north to be in Richmond Hill on the extension, but I am speaking in the context of “inside Toronto” subways.

    As for the DRL, at a minimum it must go north to Eglinton. At one time (some decades back), I thought of this line as LRT, but the degree to which surface construction is impractical for most of the route and the demand projections which preclude on street operation make this an underground line regardless of vehicle technology. Operationally it could link in with the Danforth subway at Greenwood Yard if a Donlands alignment is used.


  10. You know, back in 1990 on a Farewell to Gloucester Car excursion trip, I mentioned the need for the Yonge line to go to Steeles Avenue and all I got back was an argument that the subway was for people in the city and that was that. I’ve been 100 per cent for extending it to Steeles but it looks like it’s going to be a case of getting more than I wished for as has been the case at the Spadina. All I wanted there was an extension to York University or Steeles and wound up with more than I should have gotten or needed. All I want at the Yonge end is for it to be extended to Steeles and the same syndrome promises to kick in there.


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