The Union-Pearson Express: Liberal Blinders and What Could Be

There’s one issue on almost everyone’s mind in the riding of Davenport, and that’s the Union-Pearson Express, also known as the UPX. Number one, it will send hundreds of diesel-powered trains through our community, raising serious health concerns.

Number two though, the UPX is another example of Liberal mismanagement on a hugely important file, in this case, rapid transit. Think of what they’ve done with this potential game-changer:

  • They built an express train that will pass through very communities it should serve, in a race to get to Union Station.
  • It will cost a projected $20 or more per trip which, for a family, will mean the same or more that it costs for a taxi right to their doorstep.
  • The Liberals chose a foreign supplier of diesel locomotives instead of made-in-Canada electric trains.
  • The Liberals also chose diesel, which across the board performs worse than electric on the most important criteria that matter, such as pollution, cost to maintain and operate, journey time, and ability to start and stop quickly.

And they knew all this from a 2010 Metrolinx report. You could not ask for a greater amount of incompetence.

Now, after committing half a billion dollars to complete the UPX, the Liberals have promised to convert to electric at some unspecified point in the future.

This means millions of wasted dollars in an attempt to satisfy an interesting demographic: the people running the Pan Am Games. This is the reason diesel was chosen in the first place. Delayed decision-making made it the only option that could be done by 2015, on time to service the tourists expected for that event.

The Pan Am Games. The Liberals placed the interests of people who will come and leave the GTA in a week or so over the needs of its residents and put off a solution to the gridlock that is choking this city.

And, believe it or not, but the UPX platforms at Union Station may not even be ready for the games.

It’s hard to downplay the transformation that could take place with electrification. First of all, if the Liberals had acted on Metrolinx’s report, the UPX would have been done by now.

More importantly, a rail link to Pearson on the GO corridor could provide rapid transit to more than a million people in Toronto. Electrified, fast, two-way service with stations up and down the line, at places like Queen West, Brockton, the Junction, St. Clair and Keele, joining up with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (the “Mt. Dennis” station), and onwards through Etobicoke.

You can see the kind of change that could happen by looking at this mock-up of a Union-Pearson line that actually serves the community. You can click on it for a larger version.UP proposed line enhanced

Instead of something like this, the Liberal-executed UPX will have two stations, Weston and Dundas West. Why? Because diesel trains can’t start and stop quickly.

Great express line, Premier Wynne. A great waste of our time, money, and opportunity.

Over in NDP-land, Andrea Horwath is just as responsible for the present situation as the premier. For two and a half years, she had a veto over Liberal policy. The Liberals bent over backwards to give in to NDP demands.

For two consecutive budgets, NDP representatives at Queen’s Park propped up the Liberals without getting action on the UPX, an issue that the they campaigned on here in Davenport.

Then, in 2014, Andrea Horwath and her colleagues walked out on a budget that finally offered electrification.

By doing so, they abandoned Davenport residents and may hand the government over to the Tories who, under Tim Hudak, have ruled out electrification.

I won’t do the same thing to the people in my riding. If they send me to Queen’s Park, electrification of the Union-Pearson line will be a minimum cost for my support.

It’s not an empty promise. Last time around, the Liberals were one MPP short of a majority.

Time to get real and shake things up at Queen’s Park.

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Hudak, Wynne and Horwath and The Value of Nothing

nothingWelcome to the campaign about nothing. Nothing for anyone who innocently believes that the three big parties have something real to offer this election.

This isn’t Green, partisan politics talking here. Take it from Andrew Coyne, a right-leaning columnist for the National Post. He likes Tim Hudak’s platform but calls his one million jobs’ plan, “ridiculous, even by the standards of most such job-creation claims.”

Hudak’s plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs? Just words. Whether he ends up doing so or not, “is not important….its value is mostly for what it signals of his resolve.” 

In other words, Hudak’s platform is a kabuki act. This, from one of its smartest and biggest admirers. Sure, he says he’ll balance the budget in two years, but whether he actually does so – or could do so, I might add – is “irrelevant in economic terms”. 

It’s tough to pay down the debt when you’re cutting jobs and cutting taxes. Mike Harris added more than $40 billion to Ontario’s debt when he tried that last time around.

And this is the heart of Hudak’s platform. Much of the rest Coyne calls “blandly conventional”. 

Politics, the Dreamy Edition 

On the left side of the spectrum, Martin Regg Cohn slices up Hudak’s promises and those of the NDP and Liberals. He calls the Tory’s million jobs’ plan a “lottery game” and a “marketing pitch”.

Then Cohn turns his guns on the Liberals and the NDP. The Liberals’ budget is a “shell game”. They promise to balance the books by 2017 but offer no plan to get there, only “a leap of faith”. Cohn notes that Ontario has become the biggest “sub-national borrower in the world.”

Austerity, here we come. Greece, Portugal, Ontario. An economic glee club managed by our creditors.

As for the NDP, Cohn accuses them of trying to “bribe” voters with $100 cheques on hydro. He says that Andrea Horwath’s promise to remove the HST from hydro bills is a “discredited” pledge. He criticizes her tax reduction policy on small business as running counter to what actually stimulates the economy.

Like Coyne’s conclusion on Hudak, Cohn says that the leaders of our most popular political parties are running “make-believe campaigns”. What can a voter do?

Raise the Standards on Political Promises

Well, for one, it’d be nice if the standards on what passes for resolve were higher than phony numbers that “signal” a direction. I say this with all due respect for Mr. Coyne, who takes our fiscal situation seriously and doesn’t resort to mud-slinging to make his point.

But actual integrity and courage should be a bare minimum for political leadership in this province. Hudak has shown none, no matter what might be the posture of his campaign.

Secondly, the mirage of fakery noted by Mr. Cohn is countered by the Greens and yet omitted in his survey of the dreamy landscape of the three other parties. They all act as if money is going to fall from the skies.

On the other hand, government could merge the school boards and re-invest $1.5 billion in education without cutting programs or raising taxes. We could increase levies on mining and thereby reduce our dependence on debt.

How about a dedicated fund to build new transit lines through congestion fees, gas taxes, or road tolls? Measures like that would have a triple effect: they’d help solve traffic gridlock, reduce pollution, and they wouldn’t increase our debt.

Instead, we’ve got fake promises and a fake campaign.

There’s also only one platform that deals with scientifically proven climate change. We’ve got a serious situation on our hands that will radically change Toronto and Ontario’s climate. The Globe and Mail recently printed a graph on what’s happened already in our lifetimes.

Time to get off the fence on this issue and demand action from our mainstream politicians. You don’t have to a died in the wool environmentalist to consider the Greens this time around.

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Vote Green this Time Round. It’s the Right Time.

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As of today, I’m officially the Green party candidate in the Toronto riding of Davenport. It’s where I live, along with my three year-old son, my wife and thousand of others.

When Ontario votes on June 12, we will re-elect the Liberals or replace them with the NDP or Conservatives. And then we’ll turn to the page on that sorry piece of news.

The Liberals may stay in power but they’ve taken a bad fiscal situation and made it much worse.

It’s hard to imagine but government debt used to be a temporary measure. For 40 years, the Liberals, Tories and NDP have spent money the way a person does when they’re drunk and using someone else’s tab.

Think about it; here in Toronto, politicians rack their brains with how to pay for a $7 billion relief line. Up at Queen’s Park, Ontario will pay $10 billion this year in interest on the debt, then borrows another $12.5 billion to pay for the shortfall in what they’ve purchased.

Numbers like these could easily solve Toronto’s transit problems in one short year.

That’s Liberal economics. They don’t deserve your vote. They don’t have the courage to ask us to pay for what they promise. They need to leave or be held accountable. Ontario, like Toronto, can pay for what we think is important. We’re a wealthy, first world country.

The Greens say we should raise corporate income taxes up to a rate that’s still less than the North American average. Put in a carbon tax that discourages harmful emissions and also deals with the deficit. Bring in a closed loop source of revenue to fund civic transit.

We’ll get a cleaner environment and a better balance sheet.

Don’t let politicians scare you that companies and families will leave Toronto or places like Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo if we raise taxes to the same rates as most North American cities. Make them tell you the truth.

This is the best place to live in the world. We don’t have to give away the store to convince people to set up shop and raise their families.

Don’t look to the NDP for solutions. They don’t like the NDP-style budget that Premier Wynne delivered and Andrea Horvath is opposed to the use of new revenue tools to pay for Toronto’s badly needed transit lines. That’s an anti-Toronto position. They don’t deserve your vote if you come from this city.

And don’t look to Tim Hudak. There is a good reason no-one knows what he stands for. His ideas are vague and he has no plan.

We are entitled to expect a balanced budget, a transit system that flows in all four directions, and a clean environment.

Enough of the broken promises. Let’s set the course for healthy cities and normal temperatures. The Green party will build a transit that gets you out of your car if that’s what you’d like. Life’s better on the ground.

Vote Green this time. It’s the right time.

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Rob Ford won’t get charged. And so it goes.

Five months ago, I took pen to paper, keypad to screen, and started a blog on what, I wasn’t sure.

It was a neat time to be blogging and turned on to the sights and sounds of Toronto politics. It was easy to became immersed into the world of Rob Ford’s Toronto. ITO’s, Sandro Lisi, Chief Bill Blair, and the inanities of city council.

The gradual release of court documents showed what looked to be an earnest police attempt to figure out what kind of illegal acts were being committed by our chief magistrate. My antennae were tweaked.

I picked up the criminal law cleats that I had dropped about two years ago and applied my experience to Project Brazen II.

My intuition was that there was nothing there. Nothing to get upset about as far as the police were concerned, and little chance that the mayor would be charged with a serious offence.

And none of that was really all that bad. The system was working. Politics was working.

Mayor Ford had been given a fair chance to run this city and, like him or not, hadn’t achieve much, in large part due to his polarizing style. But aside from a frank and somewhat offensive manner, he wasn’t the worst mayor Toronto had ever seen.

But these court documents had, in my opinion, demonstrated that he wasn’t a nice or healthy person and that alone was enough to justify a change at city hall.

Democratically. In October of 2014.

Now it seems like the police investigation has come to a self-described dead end.

And that’s not a bad thing.

If there’s no evidence that Rob Ford was involved in an attempt to extort the return of a video showing him smoking crack cocaine, there’s no evidence. You may doubt, like Clayton Ruby, that the police exhibited smarts or good faith when they observed the mayor from afar in what looked like classic drug trafficking behaviour with Sandro Lisi.

But then again, you weren’t on the ground. And if you think that a bust for simple possession of marijuana outweighed concerns about the destruction of other evidence that could could have led to a more serious charge, become a police officer.

Don’t spend your life as a defence lawyer, sniping from the sidelines. And when you’ve spent a huge effort trying to oust the mayor from office over a case that you ultimately lose, like Clayton Ruby, or if you’re like the swaths of journalists who despise the mayor, don’t pretend that your criticisms are objective. They’re not.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Chief Blair did the city an enormous good deed when he green lit the investigation into the mayor, no matter where it led.

I’m no fan of “carding”. I think that there’s a lot to be said about disarming a good portion of Toronto’s police to deter incidents like Sammy Yatim’s alleged murder last year. And the G20 holding cells on Eastern Avenue looked like an egregious suspension of basic human rights and totalitarianism-lite.

But credit where credit is due. Without Brazen II, Mayor Ford could still be the emperor who was wearing his clothes in this election season.

But that’s it for me as far as Toronto political writing goes. I think I’ve had enough of political candidates for the time being. My next post will not mention the words Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, and the like.

I truly appreciate all those who found my voice on this subject matter to be interesting and engaged with the blog either by reading it, responding or reposting it on Twitter, or making comments on these pages. If I continue to write, it’ll be with you in mind, and I’ll try to make your time worth spending.

 

 

 

 

Campaign notebook: Team Soknacki Goes Long

“There are 209 days until the election.”

I’m sitting in Saving Gigi, a laid back coffee shop at Bloor and Ossington, near Toronto’s urban core. It’s a hipster hangout that typifies the hybrid appeal that the Scarborough-based David Soknacki hopes to project as he runs for for mayor. Brian Kelcey, David’s campaign manager, is explaining to me how his boss hopes to reach the finish line in October.

“The goal is to peak on election day,” Brian says. That may sound like a tall order at this point. Based on the CityTV debate last Wednesday and recent polls, it’s not clear that Soknacki has what it takes to overtake John Tory or Olivia Chow for that matter. He seemed over-reliant on his notes and was not an effective communicator.

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Rob Ford was crowned the winner of that debate, as incredulous as that may sound, and Karen Stintz, currently running fourth in the polls, pulled in a respectable performance, if merely based on the fact that she projected strength.

To top that off, the next night at Ryerson, at a right-wingers only debate moderated by Olivia Chow antagonist David Lean, Lean started into Soknacki by asking, “Why are you here?”

Indeed. Soknacki sometimes seems like Toronto’s equivalent of George McGovern, or Adlai Stevenson. The smart guy who should win but won’t, whom you secretly hope will run things behind the scenes.

Brian Kelcey counters that image by painting a compelling picture of what, ideally, will happen over the next six months to set into motion a dynamic that could lead to an October surprise. Part of that involves relying heavily on a ground game of motivated volunteers, a growing voter list, and plain old elbow grease. Knocking on doors, both literally and in cyber space. Kelcey and the rest of his team are active on Twitter and have a motivated base of people online who testify to their candidate’s ability to motivate folks.

Kelcey acknowledges that Soknacki has room to grow in terms of his debate performance, but says that he has already improved from where he started. Soknacki spent the last number of years thinking about what the right policies are for the city of Toronto, but he hasn’t spent that time preparing to be a candidate. He needs to connect with audiences and deal more effectively with his rivals, but the next debate is not until the end of April. Kelcey says that no-one inside the campaign has any illusions about what Soknacki needs to do, including David himself.

But that, as Kelcey frames it, is only half of the picture. The other half is what he likes to describe as the air game. This is where Soknacki’s true strength lies – smart policies that will set him apart from people like John Tory and Rob Ford. Four years of “subways, subways, subways,” have delivered a stalled plan to build a three-stop subway that will cost the taxpayers of the city $1 billion in extra debt.

Soknacki is the one who called Rob Ford out on his transit record by starting his campaign with a promise to scrap the Scarborough subway in favour of a fully funded LRT. At first, that may have seemed daring and politically dangerous. Royson James called it a “risky move” in his Toronto Star column. It was an unlikely way to begin a campaign, but it immediately set Soknacki apart from Ford and his closest right wing rivals, Karen Stintz and John Tory.

Then, Olivia Chow surprised everyone by adopting the same platform, something that she repeated with Sokacki’s promise to reduce business taxes. Although this certainly surprised Soknacki’s campaign and now represents a huge challenge to them to further differentiate their candidate, there were positives too. For one, given her current place riding high in the polls, it is obvious that the LRT is not dead in the water. Soknacki gets credit for that.

He now has to flesh out more of his policies, including a platform that, as Kelcey puts it, Chow can’t steal.

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“We want to give voters something to vote for, not just against,” says Kelcey. If this campaign ultimately turns on transit and who has the best shot at putting shovels in the ground to relieve gridlock, Soknacki could pull ahead. It’s a big if, but that would depend not just on putting forward a bold plan but also on voters voting for a candidate who promises things such as higher taxes. At this point, Soknacki has not committed, as Chow and Tory have, to keep property taxes in line with inflation. He has also raised other revenue tools, such as increasing the HST.

But with the “anybody but Ford” movement gaining steam, it’s not sure that this will resonate. If that evolves into settling on a person who looks like the winning-most candidate, that likely will not be Soknacki. But if at some point the anti-Fords feel confident that the mayor is truly on his way out, the focus could rest on ballot issues like what candidates will actually get done.

For now, it is arguable that a good part of both Olivia Chow and John Tory’s appeal sails on the polarizing force that is Rob Ford. Soknacki is playing a long game in what at this point seems like a hostile climate. But as Kelcey likes to point out, less than two months before Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi was elected, he polled at 8%.

He ended up with 40% of the vote, beating his closest rival by eight points.

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Is Mayor Ford a Criminal?

If you look up criminal on Google, you’ll get the following definition:

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Over on page three of your search, you’ll also come across a link to Matt Galloway’s interview with Rob Ford last week, where the mayor famously quipped, “I’m not a criminal”. It begs the question – is he?

Well, to counter the mayor, the question doesn’t hinge on whether he’s been convicted or not. But to call the mayor a criminal, you really have to think of what your referring to. And in Ford’s case, there’s more than meets the eye.

For example, last week Tim Hudak showed just how easy it can be to get hauled into court over the use of language. He tarnished the entire provincial government as criminals, when, in point of fact, the police investigation is into former Premier McGuinty’s chief of staff, not Premier Wynne, before she officially took office. That didn’t stop Hudak from bringing her into fold, saying, “We now know that the coverup and criminal destruction of documents and emails took place in Kathleen Wynne’s office under her watch as premier.” Premier Wynne has threatened to sue Hudak over his comments.

For good measure, Doug Ford smeared Wynne’s administration as, “a corrupt Liberal government that have stolen billions of dollars off the taxpayer”.

Going those standards, you would think that Mayor Ford would be fair game. After all, he’s been the subject of a criminal investigation for almost a year.

But since Mayor Ford’s admissions related to his own use of crack, the question is whether he actually committed a crime. And with Rob, that is where it gets little more complicated.

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Ford has tangled with defamation law more than once. He came within a razor’s edge of paying damages to some folks who run a pub in the Toronto beaches when he labelled them as corrupt. He was only given some rope in that case because he loaded his comments with caveats. With Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, Ford pretty well knew that he had gone over the line and was quick to offer a full and complete apology once Dale filed a libel notice.

But Rob Ford admitted that he smoked crack cocaine. He did so in the company of alleged gangsters. He was photographed in the company of a man who was shot down in a hail of bullets. He hung out at what the police describe as a known crack house. He is best friends with a man who has been charged with trafficking and extortion.

When you think about Doug Ford’s standard, it looks like a no brainer.

But let’s not use Doug’s standard. After all, brains are a good thing.

None of the statements in police documents that impute wrongdoing have been subjected to cross-examination. The strongest case rests on the mayor’s own admission that he smoked crack cocaine. Yet, even from a theoretical legal point of view, there are questions that chip away at the mayor’s guilt.

The biggest comes from the his own words, which is the idea that he smoked crack in a “drunken stupor”.

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If this is true, that would mean that on the night of February 17, 2013, the date of the crack video, he had gotten himself so drunk that he pushed  himself into a state of self-induced automatism. It is like he was sleep walking. He might have looked like he was acting and doing, but there was no-one upstairs. He was like a person acting without any conscious thought. In a state of oblivion.

For possession of a narcotic, that is a full defence. Criminal law 101 states that, to wit: “The essence of that crime is the possession of the forbidden substance and in a criminal case there is in law no possession without knowledge of the character of the forbidden substance.”

QED, as they say in the business.

The mayor is the kind of guy who would make a criminal lawyer very happy, if he was ever charged. A lot of smoke, but not enough fire to extinguish the presumption of innocence. In a court of law.

The court of public opinion, however, has an entirely different set of rules.

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