By PAT WATSON
Of the many ways to describe 2011, it could also be called ‘the year of questionable (read: foolish) decisions or statements by politicians’. Right here in Toronto, showing he’s no stranger to excess, the mayor who promised to cut the gravy from city spending allowed for a couple of night-long, seemingly endless meetings for deputations to make representation in regard to the much talked about 2012 budget cuts. Experiencing fatigue, both councillors and concerned citizens became, at times, emotional and, at other times, quite testy.
The Toronto mayor could have scheduled the meetings over a period of days, but chose these marathon sessions in a kind of all-or-nothing mindset. Or maybe he just wanted to get them over with.
More foolishness came when the Rob Ford camp talked as if the public-private funding for a new Sheppard subway line was sure.
“I’m comfortable saying we have an arrangement on the financing that involves private financing… And I’m comfortable saying it involves a subway on Sheppard and an underground LRV on Eglinton,” Ford’s interim chief of staff, Mark Towhey said, way back when. People are now asking, ‘so where is it?’
Not to be outdone, newbie councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s older brother, spontaneously cut a $1000 cheque, so moved was he by City Council plans for budget cuts to feeding programs at elementary schools in the Etobicoke North ward he represents. Mind you, he supports these cuts. Was this gesture an indication that the patrón system is moving north?
Farther afield, after months of distress over the imminent starvation of large numbers in East Africa, including in Somalia, followed by a worldwide appeal by aid organizations for help to feed East Africans facing famine, Somalia’s Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohammed Ali, denies that there is famine in the capital, Mogadishu. The prime minister made the statement at just about the same time that the United Nations was making a US$1.5 billion appeal aimed at aiding a quarter-million Somalis in need. Of course, Ali may not be far off when he observes that relief organizations have become an “entrenched interest group” that overstates the degree of suffering to bring in donations.
The Stephen Harper government’s decision to send in a third-party fiscal manager to the beleaguered Northern Ontario First Nation reserve of Attawapiskat as an initial response to the housing and sanitation crisis facing the community came across as cold as – if not colder than – the far north. Talk about driving a stake through the heart of a people. Even if the government takes issue with the management of the leader of the reserve, to put the lives of these people at risk while playing politics is disturbing, to say the least.
But, back to Rob Ford and Toronto City Council: Only a year after the Jarvis Street bike lanes were installed, the City Council voted for their removal. Under the gravy-cutting mayor, the bike lanes, which cost $59,000 to create, would be removed at a cost of $200,000. This action was apparently a defensive tactic in the “war against cars” as identified by Mayor Ford.
This was decidedly another step backward and away from Toronto’s aspirations to become a world-class city.
Last, but certainly not least, after setting a new benchmark for one-day ridership at 1.71 million on September 15, showing that people increasingly rely on public transit, the mandarins at the Toronto Transit Commission will trim 56 bus routes across the city. Many of the cuts would be made on rush-hour trips. Cuts will come to 30 bus routes and six streetcar routes during off-peak times as well. If you need the Queen and Spadina streetcars or the Finch Avenue West, Don Mills Road and Dufferin Street buses, get ready on January 8 for an even more challenging travel experience. The TTC budget, like the TTC bus timetable, will not hesitate to sacrifice passenger convenience in order to keep looking neat on paper.
Here’s to the politicians and how they manage our world.
A note on ‘the look’…
There is nothing like the look on a public transit user’s face when that person realizes the approaching bus, streetcar or train is already filled to capacity and will not be taking on passengers. It’s a cross between disappointment, disgust and frustration. Especially during the morning rush-hour, there is the certain knowledge that a missed ride is going to affect the start of the workday and, maybe, even colour how the rest of the day unfolds.