Railroaded by Metrolinx: Playing with Team Ford

“It is clear that there is a program to eliminate the public from our great city.”

– Kim Fry, the 11th deputant during the Core Service Review at Toronto’s City Hall on Thursday July 28

For a penny-pinching populist, Mayor Rob Ford’s policies are very expensive. Since his October 25th election, he has spent over $533 million in a strange sibling rivalry against his arch nemesis, ex-Mayor David Miller. During Miller’s time in office, Rob Ford was the least respected councillor, and was relegated to the benches during Miller’s confabs with his handpicked, executive council. In retaliation, cribbing from his tactics as high school football coach, Ford has crafted his defensive lineup – an executive council of six strong ‘yes’ men to systematically take apart Toronto’s public infrastructure – which Miller intended to be his legacy – through cutting core services. Ford is like a younger kid brother knocking down the carefully placed building blocks of his brother’s toy castle because he does not know how to build a city of his own design or imagination.

Select items from a spreadsheet itemizing Mayor Ford’s expenses to the City of Toronto? Canceling Transit City, initial penalties of $179 million, removing bike lanes, $469,000, bailing out an under-used arena, $43.4 million, subsidizing an underused ski lift in the ward of his ally, Councillor James Pasternak, $2 million, and the loss of revenue from the Land Transfer Tax and Vehicle Registration Tax, $204 million and $50 million respectively. Another $100,000 was spent to hire a TTC consultant, and $3 million to hire KPMG, an external consulting firm- both of these expenses are part of city councillor’s jobs, and so are redundant.

While ex-Mayor Miller left a $375 million surplus, Mayor Ford is dangerously close to spending money equivalent to the $774 million budget deficit he wanted to balance by 2012. Left unchecked, these expenditures will almost double the projected 2011 deficit within his first year of office, showing the true cost of privatization. With over three years left in his term, he huddles with his brother, Doug, as his closest advisor, quietly strategizing during City Council meetings, cautioned by his rightwing consultants to remain tightlipped with the media.

Ford’s first agenda item was to hire consultancy firm, KPMG, to perform a core service review. When KPMG’s results were made public, the results backfired for Team Ford. 96% of services are mandated by the federal government, there was no gravy, and the report unintentionally highlighted that the previous surplus left by ex-Mayor Miller was an act of financial wizardry. Apparently, the left can be bean counters, too.

On July 28th, there were over 300 deputations at City Hall on the agenda, with irate citizens decrying these cuts, and police at the council chamber’s door; the new executive council will make the final decision regarding these core service cuts in September. Bowing under thousands of emails of public pressure to attend the deputations- Mayor Ford did not sit in for the first round – he decreed that they take place over a marathon 20 hours. The deputations have become a kangaroo court, a sham procedure, to get them out of the way of his city fire sale, as ‘efficiencies’ are found, cutting core services from the elderly, children, those with HIV, caretakers, bicyclists, and at risk youth, including a program that funds 685 student nutrition programs, 42 AIDS prevention projects and 38 community drug prevention programs. Although police refused access to City Hall’s green roof for his picnic, activist Dave Meslin is part of hundreds attending a City Hall slumber party tonight; internationally, other cities are taking over squares to protest similar austerity measures.

By pitting the KPMG report against community deputations, Team Ford has deliberately polarized the downtown core against suburbanites. Call it ‘wedge politics’, ‘culture wars’ or ‘divide and conquer’, it is a tactic used to distract GTA citizens as hard won public assets are sold off to invisible bidders. Think of the Canadian version of Koch Brothers as high school football coaches, rather than democratic mayors, with transit at the center of the debate.

Ex-Mayor Miller’s legacy was to be Transit City, a light rail network designed to add street level connectivity and make workplaces accessible for outer neighbourhoods; Team Ford proposes to bring another football team and football stadium to downtown Toronto, and extend a Sheppard subway line to nowhere. ‘Austerity will not be pretty’, read a sign at the KPMG protest, but for Team Ford, stadiums, subways and athletes are certainly more important than transit, bicycle lanes, and ‘bike people’, as we are called by Councillor Doug Holyday. For the right, bike lanes are easily sacrificed on the altar of the Almighty Car, and traffic lanes and parking lots are held to be places of worship.

On July 12th, over three hundred bicyclists converged on City Hall, to ask that the newly installed Jarvis bicycle paths remain in place. Used by 890 riders daily, the bike paths connected the east end of the city with the west. Wearing bicycle helmets, and raising silently waving ‘jazz hands’ to show support for councilors arguing for their right to share lanes of traffic, a heated discussion in City Council raged over two days. Central to the debate were these questions- are bicyclists considered worthy of protection? Is Jarvis Street a cultural corridor or highway? And can a lane on Sherbourne Street, 400 m away, be considered sufficient, or do bicyclists have the right to be integrated as part of a citywide network with multiple options of bike routes?

Councillor Shelley Carroll argued that bicyclists will use Jarvis Street anyway, and modes of transport cannot be forbidden under the Highway Transport Act. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said, “I think cyclists should start suing the city when struck by cars given this council’s recorded indifference to our safety.” Every seven hours a bicyclist is hit in the City of Toronto.

Finally, in procedural chaos, City Council voted that the Jarvis lanes were slated to be removed in two years upon the completion of the segregated Sherbourne lanes. A calculated, last minute motion by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti re-added the reverse fifth lane, to render the prior Environmental Assessment and consultations null and void. Feisty Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam objected to the last minute amendment by Mammoliti about the lanes in her Ward; rightwing partisan Speaker Nunziata allowed the motion, and eight left leaning councillors walked out upon learning that they will be unable to vote upon the bike plan item by item in the future. The final blow – City staff told Wong-Tam, who is lesbian, that returning the reversible centre lane to Jarvis would cost $570,000, more than 4 times the city grant to Pride, an event which also takes place in her Ward, and is next on the chopping block. (For a detailed discussion of the vote, link here.)

Upon hearing this verdict, ever-ingenious Dave Meslin, the founder of the Toronto Bicyclist’s Union, posted a Facebook call out for riders to take back Jarvis. Two days later, 1100 respectful bicyclists, ringing their bells, circled Jarvis Street to Church Street and rode to City Hall chanting “We just want to share.” As I rode my bike down Queen Street West, an onlooker called out “Pay some taxes”, a byproduct of the new nastiness now made publicly permissible by Torontonians modeling the behaviour of our Mayor, and his allies, toward bicyclists.

In his nine months in office, Mayor Ford has shown preferential treatment for his constituents. He prefers car-drivers over bicyclists, the suburban elite over the downtown intelligentsia, the very wealthy over the marginalized, and corporations over unions. He cannot walk several minutes from his office to a podium to read a brief speech for the flag raising ceremony of Pride; he attends Caribana instead to show that while he may be homophobic, he is not racist. He makes his preferences known by picking and choosing which events to attend, and which deputations to listen to, and when frustrated by community consultation, changes access to democratic process by changing the date of motions, or by running an all-night deputation session, so that the public cannot attend, or hand signaling a councillor to add a last minute motion to stymie progressive motions.

Inappropriately, Mayor Ford has used his office to discriminate against those who are most defenseless, and in need of defense- whether bicyclists or marginalized groups. Ford as a football coach, if not as a democratic mayor, should rise to the challenge of inclusive policymaking, if he wishes to remain in his position. So should his brother, Doug. Going forward, we need to be Team Toronto, not Team Ford.

With special thanks to the blog ‘Driving the Porcelain Bus’ for the expense breakdown of Mayor Ford.

‘Driving the Porcelain Bus’ at http://drivingtheporcelainbus.blogspot.com
Robyn Doolittle, Toronto Star, Urban Affairs Reporter, ‘Critics see KPMG report as ‘smoke and mirrors’ at http://www.thestar.com/news/torontocouncil/article/1028588–critics-see-kpmg-report-as-smoke-and-mirrors
Matt Elliott, ‘Ford for Toronto’, ‘The Jarvis vote: What the hell happened?’ at

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Railroaded by Metrolinx: Stiffed with the Bill: A Private Banquet at Civil Society’s Expense

“With a stroke of the pen, a government can destroy the social safety net built carefully by generations.”
– John Hilary, Executive Director of the War on Want
Left: A trade union picnic banquet before the G20 Rally on Saturday, June 26th

An untendered contract for $16 billion for unneeded fighter jets. $1.3 billion spent on security for the G8 and G20 Summits. 116 votes passed quickly by Premier McGuinty – time for consideration approximately 8.2 minutes each – to pass unheard of laws to criminalize dissent, days before the G20 Summit. A federal Conservative Party which filibustered the vote for a full public inquiry into police conduct during the Summits, calling all 25,000 protesters ‘pro-violent’.

The provincial Liberal government’s MacDonald Block offices raided on July 15th by the OPP – specifically, Ministries of Transportation, Economic Development and Trade and Community and Social Services – launching an investigation into “irregular financial transactions” between the provincial government and outside vendors. And the only good news – on July 30th, there was the sudden withdrawal of SNC-Lavalin from the $1 right of way contract for the Air Rail Link. The full responsibility for the ARL has been transferred to Metrolinx, whose Chief Operating Officer Rob Prichard is being replaced by Bruce McCuaig, with the possibility now of the ARL becoming electric. Preemptive?

Canada’s national deficit stands at $54 billion, yet there were $6 billion in corporate tax cuts this year. A 13% HST has been imposed which means that the average wage earner will have even less discretionary income to spend, so that companies can have even greater tax cuts, ostensibly to invest in new jobs. New austerity measures, recommended by a right wing think-tank, the Conference Board of Canada, to cut many thousands of public sector jobs in health care, education and social services in the next three years, while testing an unproven job creation scheme subsidized by the HST.

Have you ever felt that someone else has held a private banquet at your expense, and stiffed you with the bill, and tip? A bill which now has the Harmonized, also known as the Hated, Sales Tax added? Is any of this HST going toward maintaining public services? No. It is an additional tax to enable banks, corporations and the military to fortify themselves at civil society’s expense, and the public sector’s demise. As someone pointed out, a wartime levy.

Canada is becoming militarized, and as we witnessed during the G20, this military state can work against its citizens as well as its aggressors. Provincially, the HST is streaming more funds into the pockets of corporations, with a tax deduction to them as they ransack Canada for its resources, and externalize the cost of destruction of our environment, and no one is fighting to defend the imperative civil right for the full environmental assessment process. On June 8th, Bill C-9, the Budget Implementation Act was passed, which contained several provisions enabling the National Energy Board to conduct their own environmental assessments for oil and gas developments – which is like asking my students to mark themselves. This bill was passed during the BP oil spill, with minimal outcry by the Liberal Party.

And what does it mean when 11,000 jobs from the public sector will be cut by 2013?

A close friend of mine told me that when his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his family thought it prudent that she was placed into a private, rather than public, nursing home, assuming that the care was better. A few months later, they found that she was terribly neglected, and moved her into a public home. Surprisingly, they found that public sector care was much better than private, because the public nursing home was regulated by the government.

These are the public sector jobs – in nursing homes, schools, hospitals, transit, municipal services – which will be slashed to feed the bailout by the government for financial mismanagement incurred by the banks, which, incidentally, are making quite a healthy profit this quarter. The banks rebounded quickly, but our public sector, subjected to this drummed up, specious logic of emergency bill austerity measures, will not. Rather than requesting that the banks repay the debt they owe taxpayers by instituting a novel, and effective, infinitesimally small Robin Hood tax on bank transactions to tackle poverty and climate change, we will pay for these cuts with our society’s health. PM Harper opposed the imposition of the Robin Hood tax before the G20 to ensure his illusory future job as CEO of an American corporation, with Canada as a subsidiary, specializing in natural resources.

Of course, there is no interest in a long census form by the Conservative Party. They have stopped representing Canadians, particularly lower income Canadians, long ago. Their goal is to have corporate taxes cut down to 15% by 2012. What does this mean? As the social safety net is eroded, the federal government is anticipating growing dissent from those they are contesting the need to collect data about – those who are lower income, disabled and on a fixed income- to justify building a larger military-industrial complex to suppress those who are disenfranchised. Part of this Orwellian speech model is to publicly conflate protesters with vandals in the public mind so that they ramp up their expenditure on weapons of war, as opposed to building public transit infrastructure for the rabble. Sustainable, electric rail transit throughout Ontario could have been handily built with this promised contractual money for fighter jets, but was not deemed worthy. No explanation needed.

We can look forward to much more violence in our cities as basic needs are no longer met, as they have robbed Peter to pay Paul, and the Pauls are a tiny fraction of the population, secure behind a costly fence which cost $9.4 million, almost double the quoted $5.5 million by SNC-Lavalin. During the G20, the Toronto police were handed a blank cheque by the federal government, enabling the purchase of a substantial arsenal for a police state, so that the military has been fortified to quell growing dissent. It is not a coincidence that this police arsenal will be kept in Toronto, one of the hot spots of the thinking left, but it is a pity that Mayor Miller, who has felt the brunt of this G20 fiasco on police credibility, did not defend the protesters who were speaking in his best interests for the environment, transit and social justice.

Historically, when a society’s parliamentary process is suspended and disrupted, trade unions undermined, and people of property, such as the right wing press, banks and big business, are privileged, these policies are the precursors to a fascist state. I use this term with full cognizance of its weight and implication. Parliament has been prorogued twice by PM Harper within thirteen months, and the formal request by over 50,000 citizens, including lawyers, Amnesty International, and the Civil Liberties Association, for the full, public inquiry into the tactics and cost of the G20 and G8 Summit has been denied by PM Harper and Premier McGuinty. The Liberals stood up against the census, but did not speak out for a public G20 inquiry, which shows implicit support for the military apparatus being put in place. Spines, please.

In Journey to a Revolution, Michael Korda writes of the Hungarian Revolution:

“the general object of fascism was to stifle dissent, and bolster the existing establishment, while producing much drama in the way of rallies, parades, and propoganda, and the occasional foreign adventure to siphon off the energy of the lower middle class and the working class, who might otherwise have moved towards radical social reform”.

The Olympics? The G8 and the G20? The Pan Am Games? Bread not circuses, anyone? In addition to ceaseless pageantry, PM Harper deliberately prorogued parliament a second time to enact a bill, more powerful than NAFTA to undercut our sovereignty, the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). This far reaching bill will provide sub-national access to municipal services, and undermine the public sector even further, losing thousands of good, Canadian jobs to international outsourcing.

Put it together. Civil society is no longer is prioritized by our government, our country is being sold off to corporations and banks, enabled by a newly armed police state, and expanding prison system, and jobs in our public sector are about to be slashed for international corporations to profit through CETA. This is a Conservative agenda campaign, military in execution, orchestrated by PM Harper, against local economies and the right to self-determination. Provincially, Premier McGuinty is designing his own policies through corporate gladhanding of governmental contracts.

Meanwhile, all over the Internet, discussion postings on news articles are polarized – are we allowed to protest, or not? And I think- for those who are Conservative – your rights are next. Although your values have been upheld by this minority government, I have noticed your online responses can only discredit the protesters by saying that they do not know what they are talking about, and labeling them as unemployed and shiftless. Name calling. Ad hominem attacks. And when you call someone names, all discussion ends. A primary school tactic used by bullies on the playground, undercutting fundamental rights upheld by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the right to assembly, and free speech, which you are using to discredit serious concerns about the democratic process, and silence those who are brave, engaged, and well-versed in international policy.

I have never been so concerned about the future of Canada, and I am hearing this from many of those who lived through the events of the past seven weeks in Toronto. Nowhere is the civil society being served or protected – by our police, by our elected representatives, by our city councilors, our Mayor, or by our media. When I read letters on the editorial page ranting about the public sector salaries, I compare these costs to the multi-billion dollar bailouts given to the banks, the golden parachutes given to bank executives, and the inflationary pageantry, and corporate contracts, for the Vancouver Olympic Games and G8 and G20 Summits. Compare these taxpayers’ expenses to those supporting our civil society, and quality of life. At least the public sector provides essential services, and is forced to be accountable.

I am an ethical citizen, yet my voice no longer matters. The moral and financial costs arising from all this pomp and circumstance, and the insidious HST, have already deeply hurt me. I have no government representation – not in Premier McGuinty, or Prime Minister Harper – and neither do the vast majority of Canadians. I cannot afford, and do not want to pay, for cuts to the public sector under these new, jerry-rigged austerity measures so that a self-selected corporate elite can pad their pockets, banks can prosper again, and a military empire, outfitted with new, massive $10.65 billion prisons, can arise from the ashes, and I am not sure I can. I am too busy counting my pocket change to pay the HST on my electricity, gas, transit and groceries to join the banquet, while predicting that I will be stiffed with the tab as the more important guests flee the table.

I ardently believe, though, if you held a poll of Canadians and asked them if they wanted to live in a country which valued the military, corporations and banks more than our health care system, social services, education, transit system and environment, even the most deeply Conservative Canadian would say ‘no’.

Shout for Global Justice, John Hilary speaks at 30:00, link to
The War on Want, link to http://www.waronwant.org/
Jeffrey Simpson, ‘Just what we need: a $16-billion fighter jet’, link to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/just-what-we-need-a-16-billion-fighter-jet/article1641373/
Robert Benzie, ‘Cabinet rushed secret G20 change, documents show’, link at
Steven Chase,’Tory filibuster seeks to block hearings on G20 policing’, link to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tory-filibuster-seeks-to-block-hearings-on-g20-policing/article1637756/
Keith Leslie,’Questions linger over OPP raids Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne confirms Transport Ministry was a target’, link to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario/questions-linger-over-opp-raids/article1652761/
Tess Kalinowski, ‘Province vows rapid rail link to Pearson by 2015 Pan Ams’, link to http://www.thestar.com/article/842240–province-to-run-rail-link-to-pearson-airport
Michael Korda, ‘Journey to a Revolution: A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956’, HarperCollins; 2006. page 54. Link to http://www.amazon.com/Journey-Revolution-Personal-History-Hungarian/dp/0060772611 More at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/29/books/Heilbrunn.t.html
The Robin Hood Tax, link to http://robinhoodtax.org.uk/how-it-works/ and http://robinhoodtax.ca/
David J. Climenga, Bill C-9: ‘Earmarks’ have no place in Canadian legislation, link to http://www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/djclimenhaga/2010/05/earmarks-have-no-place-canadian-legislation
Heather Scoffield, ‘Canada says no to ‘Robin Hood’ tax at http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/canada-says-no-to-robin-hood-tax-91683444.html
Stephen Hui, ‘Statistics Canada head resigns over long-form census controversy’, link to http://www.straight.com/article-335208/vancouver/statistics-canada-head-resigns-over-longform-census-controversy
Lauren O’Neill, ‘G20 fence costs $9.4M, nearly double original estimate’, link to http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/torontog20summit/article/833495–g20-fence-costs-9-4m-nearly-double-original-estimate?bn=1
Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, link to http://www.canadians.org/trade/issues/EU/index.html

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