Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

King Street. Where T.O. business goes to die.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Did you hear the exciting news? The streetcar pilot project on King Street in Toronto is moving people faster. What for, we are not quite sure. It seems that in the evening rush hour, you can potentially get home for dinner five minutes earlier. For whatever it is worth, you can also get to work up to five minutes earlier.

But this bonanza of time you are now enjoying comes at a cost. It seems others have cottoned to this wealth of time savings and those street cars seem more crowded than usual. If your business is on King Street, you might want to give tips to visitors on where to park on Queen Street. And if they take a taxi, warn them they will have as much as a three-block walk from where ever the taxi manages to deliver them.

That leaves the most serious problem: deliveries. Have you ever counted the number of deliveries your company receives each day? For some firms, it is a constant flow. And you can hardly get everything by bicycle courier. Think of the number of snow days per year that your employees might as well be taking if everything came by bicycle. Here’s a tip: find a delivery service that uses streetcars. You will appreciate those five-minute savings then.

The Toronto Transit folks are as pleased as punch that their service is showing improvement. Who would have thought redirecting all those autos and delivery vehicles was such an easy solution? They still feel challenged though that they have been unable to show any improvement at four am.

Mind you, they would also be showing improvement on the less used Queen Street line if it were not for all the autos and deliver vehicles who now have to use Queen St. and other alternative east-west routes.

The additional police service on King Street has been an unpaid bonus since the experiment started. They only warned drivers who were confused by it all in the first week. In the second week, the police got serious and started ticketing the confusion. More than 500 tickets were given out that week. (Confusion costs $110 and two demerit points.)

It seems to me that this is another example of downtown councillors making decisions that chase businesses out of downtown Toronto.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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A station ghosts have forgotten.

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

As the winds of yet another winter blow through the beautifully restored but empty train station by Kempenfelt Bay, you wonder at the foolishness of Barrie’s city council. In the words of an old television series, they see nothing, they know nothing.

The story of the train station started about 700 years ago when nomadic aboriginals would sometimes camp at the shallows at the south-west corner of Kempenfelt Bay to fish and enjoy the cooling breezes from Lake Simcoe. There might have even been some disputes with other tribes about the right to camp there.

Europeans only started showing up 300 years ago when the area served as a portage point on the way to the head of the lakes. It was about 200 years ago that a village started at the portage on the north side of the bay and a village called Allandale started at the south-west. Trains have been coming to Allandale since 1853.

Today, Allandale is in the centre of the City of Barrie and the train station lands have become the de facto GO Train terminus and bus station. The only problem is that the preserved train station (built in 1905) remains unused. GO Train services are all automated, tickets are in a machine, buses pick up and discharge passengers. The only problem is that nobody knows anything and nobody sees anything. Only ghosts are in residence.

My barber, who has a small shop near the bus entrance, has noticed one problem. People who have to wait for a bus or train have no amenities. There are no snacks or coffee purveyed and there are no washrooms. When in need of a washroom, people sometimes ask her. She does not really have public facilities, but she is not cruel.

When the small business owner asked her local councillor about this problem, he assured her there were facilities. She checked the entire site again and realized that her local councillor did not know squat. So much for him.

When she told me about the problem, I checked with Barrie’s mayor. He acknowledged the problem. But it is Metrolinx’s problem, he told me. They are responsible for the GO Trains, buses and facilities but not the unused train station. It is an historic site, owned by the city. It might be a long time before it is open to the public for any purpose.

It seems nobody is in any rush. With the discovery of some possibly human bone fragments on the site that could be 200 or 700 years old, the Ontario Coalition of Indigenous Peoples (OCIP) has demanded that the land and the station be turned over to them as an aboriginal burial site. Since other local aboriginal tribes and groups seem skeptical of OCIP’s bonafides, there has been no rush for the city to give away a multi-million dollar restored train station and the site.

But nothing more is expected until the Wilfrid Laurier associate professor of Indigenous studies hired by the city gets around to a fourth level study of the site next summer, looking for historical artifacts.

It  seems like a long time to wait for a washroom.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Black on black.

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

It never pays to be pedantic but enough is enough. I try not to sound off on how others write, spell, punctuate or capitalize. I can make my own mistakes. And if I get on my high horse, the wife calls me ‘Anal Alan’ after the role of the brother in “Two and a Half Men.”

But I was reading an article by the Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star the other day and I found he was capitalizing the colour black as though it was a proper name. He even wrote about Barack Obama as the first “Black president.” He capitalized the colour instead of ‘President.’ How far do we go?

The next thing we know, the Toronto Star will be referring to me as “that darn White man.” After all English is a living language. You have to keep up with the times!

I thought the Toronto Star only let writers of colour capitalize on being black.

Though the Star should be pleased with its writers who helped end the very successful program of having police officers in some Toronto’s public schools. Despite majority approval for the program, Star writers complained that some black students felt intimidated. Well, maybe they should be. You would think that we would be smart and find out what is intimidating about the program?

The cops are there to build better relationships with our young people and the empirical evidence is that this has been very successful. If we have the majority of the kids happy with the cops being there, we have a major win on our hands. And to kill the program is colossally stupid.

If we kept one kid from joining a gang today, what is that worth? If we discouraged one kid from thinking of stealing, what is that worth? If we got a few kids to think of becoming a police officer after they have finished school successfully, what is that worth?

And what our kids really need to see is that police can be of any colour, any ethnic background, any sex and lead surprisingly normal lives. That seems to be worth a lot.

And before we take the word of some group saying they represent the black community or this ethnic group or that group, you should check it out. It is amazing how many of these groups are self appointed.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The tiny, tidy minds of reformers.

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

Reading about the recent report on political reform for our cities from the University of Manitoba, reminded me of my old friend David Crombie. It was almost 50 years ago that he was still a nascent conservative and teaching at Ryerson and I was handling communications for the Ontario Liberals. We had some spirited and somewhat sophomoric discussions at the time about how to reform municipal politics. I guess David won. Toronto seems to still be recovering from what he did as mayor.

David got the sobriquet “tiny, perfect mayor” for his reform attempt at restricting any further development in Toronto at the time to a 45-foot height. He was trying to make a point and it certainly stuck—the name, not his height by-law.

David’s Civic Action Party (CIVAC) was also short lived but he went on to three terms as mayor. He and his supporters on Toronto council, such as John Sewell were identified with cities guru Jane Jacobs who urged them on in their fight against developers. What they did was create a delaying action that set the city further and further behind in development, in infrastructure and in progress and prestige.

Remember that the City of Toronto, at the time David was mayor, had a population of less than 700,000. All David did with his height restrictions was to send the developers to the suburbs and that was where the growth was taking place. Toronto is now a city of 2.8 million and its governance is a constant headache for the provincial government.

But more serious than that was the cruel end to talk of some form of party-type politics at city hall. The job of mayor has been a hopeless task since then as a growing city council with more and more councillors usurped the powers and controlled the chief magistrate.

When Premier Mike Harris tried to end the misery by amalgamating the city with its major suburbs, we ended up with 45 councillors who could out gun any mayor who did not treat them with respect. And Torontonians ended up with an on-going war between the inner city and suburban councillors.

David and I had disparate visions of reform those many years ago. I am sure that if any of our reform ideas were enacted, the years between would never have been as much fun.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Cole considers claiming the mayor’s chair.

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Toronto Star’s columnist on city issues, Edward Keenan, thinks black activist Desmond Cole would bring some excitement to the race for mayor next year. He thinks that the race would be a bit of a snooze without Cole. When you consider that the main contenders so far are incumbent Mayor John Tory and wannabe politician Doug Ford, the race certainly needs something to bring it to life.

Keenan reports that Cole is actively considering the possibility of mounting a campaign. He tells Keenan that he has been approached a lot by people urging him to run. He is also asking his friends what they think and he has yet to make up his mind.

Keenan feels that the city can use the “injection of energy, charisma, honesty and ideas” that he believes Cole could bring to what could otherwise be an underwhelming race.

Keenan referenced a recent poll that brought forward Cole’s name as a possible candidate. Keenan was a bit ambiguous as to whether the poll respondents preferred Cole to Ford. The poll also supplied the logical answer that some 65 per cent of people polled said that John Tory deserved to be re-elected. That figure can change given some strong competition.

As you can imagine, the Maple Leaf’s star hockey player would be an odds-on favourite to win the mayoralty if he would just bring the city a Stanley Cup next spring.

But as any politico can tell you, with a year to go before election day in Toronto, anything can happen. There is no denying that a well-planned, well-funded, dramatic campaign could set the city on fire. It is simply too early to pick your winner.

Keenan was basing his forecast on the questions the poll asked about possible names of candidates that voters would or would not consider supporting. Cole was only rejected by 30 per cent while Doug Ford was rejected by 53 per cent.

Keenan says that Cole complains that we have stopped “dreaming in this city.” He also assumes that Ford and Tory would both concentrate on the right-wing vote while Cole could ignite the dreams of the political left.

This writer’s advice is that Toronto voters best wait until next September to place their bets.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Two NDPers on bicycles.

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Reading a fatuous op-ed in the Toronto Star the other morning was funnier than the comics. It was signed by two city councillors who are New Democratic party supporters. And it was not just the superficial treatment of the subject and the bad editing that was funny. This was a highly biased opinion piece by downtown Toronto councillors, Joe Cressy and Mike Layton.

What they were writing about was a test on 2.4 kilometres of Bloor Street in Toronto between Avenue Road and Shaw Street. It now has protected lanes for bicycles. It cost half a million to put in the lane dividers and paint the road. They ignored the loss of about a half a million in city revenue foregone from the on-street parking. This entire exercise is being treated as a skirmish between automobiles and bicycles. It has become a contest between the narrow minded and reality.

The people being left out of the statistics here are the tens of thousands of subway riders who have taken their cars off Bloor Street and chosen the “Better Way.” The ones who are left are the those who likely need their cars for their work and the many thousands of necessary delivery and service vehicles that keep the city going.

And before analyzing this study, you really need a breakdown of the monthly use of these bicycle lanes. In a city with five months of lousy cycling every year, why would you give up valuable road space for 12 months? And how do you clear snow at no cost from bicycle lanes?

I think this test lane should have been on Avenue Road between Davenport Road and St. Clair Avenue. The drivers on that road have been used to constant delays and construction for many years anyway. I would want to see what percentage of northbound cyclists are still in the saddle when they reach the top of the Avenue Road hill?

The study claims that more than a thousand new cyclists actually started using the bicycle lanes every day. Yet, it occurs to me that people going one way would be likely to come back on the other side of the street—doubling the figures. This seems to a sizeable expense for less than 2500 cyclists.

They should have counted the vehicles that needed to use the road.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Hepburn’s humour.

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Columnist Bob Hepburn must be weaning off the writing habit as he continues for his 30th year at the Toronto Star. Luckily, he has not lost his sense of humour. He wrote a couple weeks ago that the media should not ignore former Toronto Councillor Doug Ford. And then he wrote more recently that Toronto Mayor John Tory made his worst decision as mayor when he listened to Doug Ford.

Bob always has marched to a different drummer. Many of us who also follow city hall happenings in Toronto saw the humour in what John Tory did to Doug Ford’s idea. Rather than provide oxygen to the Ford campaign—it served to put Ford where he belonged.

For those who might have missed the manoeuvring, Doug Ford came up with the idea of honouring his late brother Rob by renaming Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke as the Rob Ford Memorial Stadium. He took this idea to Mayor Tory. Instead of insulting the millionaire political blowhard, John Tory said he would see what he could do.

It was masterful. John Tory fed Doug Ford to the jackals on city council. He sent them all a polite letter suggesting that they might consider the renaming of Centennial Stadium along with finding suitable parks or public places to be named for other deceased former council members. The letter to council was also released to the news media.

Public response ranged from a polite “Good God” to “That is the stupidest idea we have heard in a long time!” Bear in mind, John Tory had pointed out that it was Doug Ford’s idea.

But there was a much more visceral reaction among those who had tried to work with Rob Ford during his years on council. The renaming operations were stopped by council.

In his second column, in which he castigated Tory for bringing forward the suggestion to council—Hepburn asked “What, indeed, was he thinking?”

John Tory was obviously thinking “Nobody is going to say I said anything ill of the dead.”


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Toronto’s Tory talks the talk.

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

It was Doug Ford’s challenge. He actually asked Toronto Mayor John Tory to rename Etobicoke’s Centennial Stadium after his late brother Rob. It is very hard to say whether Tory—considering that Doug Ford says he will challenge him for the mayoralty next year—was baiting a trap or just proving Ford is an egotistical ass.

Now the question is whether the Toronto mayor is serious in supporting the idea of renaming the stadium or is just leading likely opponent Doug Ford down the garden path?

It was interesting when the younger Ford brother, who has less than half the political instincts of his late brother, actually belittled the stadium when asking for its renaming. He said it was a small stadium, without a name, that just happened to be located in Centennial Park.

Ford made the plea that it was in this small stadium in Centennial Park where Rob Ford used to play football and even coached there. Whether he used to smoke crack cocaine or meet with gangs there did not come up.

Mayor Tory wisely mentioned a couple of other deceased councillors who might also be recognized in this way, should there be a suitable civic facility to be named.

In his letter to city council members, Tory mentioned former Mayor Rob Ford’s “unique approach to public service.”  It is statements such as that that Mayor Tory might make us wonder how serious the mayor might be?

We should bear in mind that the one term of Rob Ford in the mayor’s office was one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of Toronto politics. If you were honouring the notoriety that he brought to Toronto, council should use his name for Toronto City Hall.

But I, for one, take considerable exception with the practice these days of selling and reselling names for stadiums, arenas, parks and theatres. It is not only crass and vulgar but should hardly be a matter for the mayor of the city to be touting. To me, the Blue Jays are still playing baseball at SkyDome, the O’Keefe Centre is on Front Street and Maple Leaf Gardens is a shrine to hockey. What is your price to dishonour the past?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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In search of leadership.

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

This is not as simple as Diogenes with his lamp, searching for an honest man. There are many possibilities in life for leadership and many who believe they can fill the need. In Canada, we tend to assume that when the need arises, a leader will step forward. We could not be more wrong in our assumptions and our best example of this is our municipalities—where, in most cases, we lack the organizational structures that can support leadership.

I was thinking of this today because of the ongoing complaints of the Toronto news media about where Toronto Mayor John Tory is leading the city. Mind you, the term leading might be inappropriate in this situation. It is a task more like herding.

In Toronto today, the voters elect a mayor citywide and 44 councillors in their individual wards. While most of these people are or become affiliated with this or that political party, there is no party platform or discipline to hold them accountable. They run on their own platform in their own neighbourhood. They are accountable only to their own voters. And if that is more than 35 per cent of the potential voters, it is considered a high turnout.

Watching various mayors put together their coalitions over the years, it seemed to be more of exercise in personality than of politics. They made it personal. It was more a moral persuasion than political party discipline.

A recent report on Toronto City Hall commissioned by the Toronto Sun Newspaper hardly solved the problems. A major recommendation was that council could have more time for the important stuff if it delegated more community problems to the existing community councils. Nobody seems to have pointed out that this would be moving the city backward.

The newspaper’s plan also included somebody having to write consumer-friendly write-ups on issues that the council was bringing up for debate—and here we thought that was the role of the news media!

Actually, nothing is going to improve on the municipal front until a provincial leader realizes that the lack of political accountability in Toronto is the biggest problem. This true leader will liberate the city’s serfs.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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What is the price of one child?

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Children are returning to school at this time of year. In our wisdom, we Canadians have two types of school boards. (In most provinces.) We have a Catholic Board and a public board. The Catholic board must be the junior kindergarten of politics. It is where the wannabe politicians go to make their mistakes.

And they made a lulu of a mistake recently. The Catholic Board in Toronto caved in to unreasonable pressure and blocked the police and their school resource officer program from their schools until they get around to discussing the program at their next meeting. They were caving in to the demands of people with a bias a mile wide, using American statistics and who are not interested in the needs of our children.

These people are claiming that “putting police officers in schools puts vulnerable and ‘racialized’ students in danger…” Oh! What about the vulnerable children it helps? And who is really ‘racializing’ these students?

The only people we know who are forcing racial stereotyping are these writers in Toronto who write ‘black’ with a capital ‘B.’ They are the people who go to the Police Services Board to cause trouble and radicalize the proceedings. They are not there for the children. They are there to make a name for themselves. And they might not like the names they are earning.

These writers, who all seem to be black (without a capital ‘B,’ dear editor), are using American statistics to make their case. When they try to import these statistics, their case fails.

What about the kids we hear saying of the program that “That cop is my friend.”? That is the report that makes the case for the program. For every child who is told he or she should feel threatened by the police in schools, there must be two or three who feel safer. Who are we serving in these cases?

Frankly, if at least one child’s life is saved from getting involved with gangs and guns because of the police program, we should feel strongly about supporting it as citizens.

If we err in this, let us err on the side of the children.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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