Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's Change Our Democracy ?

Better Ballots is a non-partisan movement that hopes to make Toronto elections more fair, relevant, participatory and effective. Sponsored by such groups as The Toronto City Summit Alliance, the Maytree Foundation, Fair Vote Toronto and Vote Toronto it is run by activist volunteers who seek a better way of choosing our municipal governments. Not that they expect to see changes for this October 25th's election, but rather that they hope to see changes for 2014.

I attended one of their town halls last Monday, April 26th at City Hall Council Chambers. About 200+ enthusiastic political geeks, many of them candidates and those just wanting to learn more about options were presented with 14 ideas to change the way we elect local representatives.

The Better Ballots website is at:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


  • City Councillor : $ 99,535 plus $ 21, 246 benefits = $ 120,781
  • Mayor : $ 167,627 plus $ 30,941 benefits = $ 198,568
  • School Trustee : $ 26,000 plus ?

+City councillors (44 of them) also get a $53,100 office expenses budget that they can pretty much do what they want with.

+ School trustee politician used to be considered a part time position, but in 2006 they voted themselves a raise from $5,000 to $26,000 a year (a 420% increase). Chair of the TDSB, Bruce Davis, earns $33,000 a year. There are now over a thousand people working for the TDSB earning over $100,000 a year. The TDSB is facing a $12 million shortfall in its budget.

The city is spending $50,000 on a consultant's study to determine whether city politicians should make more or less money after the October 25, 2010 election. This automatic review was set by council in 2006 to try to defuse extreme public anger over the 8.6% plus an annual 2.2% January 1st 'cost of living' (inflation) raise they awarded themselves. Basically, a comparison of politician salaries in 12 Canadian cities is done and Toronto's compensation is set at the 75th percentile.

Comparisons are often made to other jurisdictions, like Mississauga where long-serving Mayor McCallion earns $ 185,835 while Mississauga councillors make $ 130,095 . In Vaughan, many councillors make over $100,00. The provincially mandated 'Sunshine List'* shows that many TTC union operators and Police make over $100,000. (One TTC operator made over $165,000, but that included a lot of overtime; a total of 724 TTC employees made the list).


Political Election Spin: As happened in previous election years, incumbent politicians and many challengers make promises that they will not accept a pay raise, either returning it to the city coffers or donating to a charity of their choice.

THE REALITY: In a $ 9.2 BILLION city budget, the compensation for all politicians amounts to less than one per cent. About 70% of the operating budget goes to TTC, Social Services, Police, Fire, Ambulance and Health. So it could be argued that the cost of democracy is small compared to the overall cost of running the city. As well, a single councillor currently represents about 50,000 constituents. Prior to the forced amalgamation of the city by Mike Harris, there used to be two councillors per ward - a kind of junior and senior councillor. There was also much more duplication of services as there were several cities within what is now the GTA.


  • $100,000 a year is enough for a city councillor and $200,000 is appropriate for the leadership position of Mayor who has much more complex a position.
  • $ 50,000 office expense budgets are appropriate only if they are strictly controlled. That includes a fair market rental payment for a constituency office that should be placed in an easily accessible central area within a ward. (Perhaps it could be city owned property and cost would be an administrative one within city budgets? Perhaps it could be a permanent placement that is not up to the individual who could decide to favour one spot in the ward over others for political reasons?) It would include at most three staff (or a number to be determined so as to ensure equal city-wide representation on a constituent per capita basis ?). I would prohibit individual councillors from using office expenses to curry voting favour by selecting charitable/community endeavours as worthy of a slefish 'grant' and would instead install a system whereby a lottery grant or points system would be made available in each ward.
  • COMMITTEE CHAIRS : Should be selected by council as a whole and not just by the Mayor or his executive. Reason? We want chairs who will forward a collaborative not competitive approach to committee and council work. No additional compensation should be awarded. In particular, the extremely important position of TTC CHAIR should be a separate elected position, much like what happens in the USA with Sheriff or judges. The TTC needs someone who is skilled in urban transportation and available to devote 100% of time to this without penalizing ward constituents.
  • NUMBER OF POLITICIANS: It is ridiculous in my view to advocate cutting our poolitical representation further. True, effective democracy is messy and costs both in dollars, time and effort. We need a new way to ensure citizen engagement ! Many of the ideas being put forward by the Better Ballots group are worthy of discussion and debate:!/group.php?gid=169227078603

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bike Lanes, Complete Streets, War on the Car and Transit City

BICYCLE LANES : City council is to vote on bicycle lanes for the very busy car speedway of University Avenue (and this after all the arguements over bicycle lanes on Jarvis Street)... and it appears to be a hot issue in the mayoral race, with some lining up against bike lanes (Rossi), some dithering about it (Smitherman) and some in favour (Pantalone, Ford). All the media spin seems to repeatedly flog the phrase "War on the Car", as if this is an us versus them situation. Many of us have seen the nearly useless 'bike sharrows' on Lansdowne Avenue which are just painted reminders for drivers to watch for cyclists, while doing little to ensure traffic safety. *** Update: Council passed the proposal, calling it a "tipping point" because there was little public opposition:

COMPLETE STREETS : This is yet another friendly buzz word being bandied about lately (like "Transit City"). What it means is that city planning should design our roadways in such a way that they are safe, attractive, comfortable and provide access to all types of users: bicycles, motorists, pedestrians and public transit users. The idea is that all people can move around the city, no matter what their age, ability or disability. (For more background on this, see: or )

War on the Car?
No - I don't believe that it is that simple. Those claims, usually aimed at the very busy bicyclist (often equates 'leftist') lobby at city hall by people and politicians from the outskirts of the city (ie. not downtown, core Toronto) are made by people who want to preserve their status quo. That is, they want to keep driving single occupant vehicles through traffic gridlock into and out of the city and not be hindered by obstacles like cyclists. It is a very selfish view and completely ignores the fact that we are on a track to kill ourselves and the planet with pollution. However, I do concede that many are diverted to using their cars because of poor public transit and poor design of out city access roadways. Yet fuel is added to the fire by some cyclists who overtly antagonize drivers by their behaviours on the road. This is an unecessary conflict situation that is not helped by people polarizing the debate and hurling insults at each other.

: This is a proposal by the outgoing Mayor Miller administration to build 8 new LRT (Light Rail Transit) lines to areas not now being served by high volume transit (ie subways). The plan is to extend capacity and more frequent service to outlying areas to the east (Scarborough), north (Finch west), south (waterfront) and west (airport). Since subways are terrifically expensive, using electricly powered vehicles is the next best step to attaining service goals. The 8 lines are: Eglinton crosstown, Jane north, Finch west, Waterfront west, Don Mills north, Sheppard east, Scarborough Rapid Transit (a kind of north-east line), and Scarborough-Malvern. Full details can be found here:

Given the perfect storm of traffic gridlock, under-funded public transit, growing population, increasing density and diversity, climate change and a competitive global economy, Toronto needs to dream bigger. We need to collectively collaborate on planning for a unique city of the future where all the complex needs of a densely packed urban environment are met. This would include:
  1. PUBLIC TRANSIT : Robust, fully accessible and 'first choice'. Customer service driven, reliable, frequent and comfortable. This requires very low fares to start with an eventual intent on making public transit completely free to use for the rider. Interconnectivity with all modes of transport is a must: rail, subway, streetcar, bus, cycling, airport, etc. Public transit must reach out to the entire GTA and beyond. Since it is a massive undertaking, it should be administered by an independent regional authority and (eventually) 100% funded from property, business, sales, gas taxes and road tolls. This is ESSENTIAL! ***Update: Someone else thinking about this
  2. Road Tolls. A sensibly defined defined inner city core needs to charge road tolls to discourage automobile use and reduce traffic gridlock and pollution.
  3. Downsize Transport. Prohibit large transport trailer trucks from entering a defined inner city core. Instead, they would have to use smaller sized trucks for goods transport within the core. This requires a radical rethink of how we move goods across country and into the city. I propose advocating significant rail and ship transport to move goods into satellite stations around the city. From there, the smaller truck vehicles would move goods within the city. Such vehicles would be exempt from road tolls.
  4. Parking : We must stop the practice of parking being allowed on every street. Streets are meant to be used in motion. People will still need a place to store their vehicles, so underground parking or, second choice of above ground parking structures needs to be favoured. There will be those with physical disabilities who need transport, but this should be the duty of a robust public transit system.
  5. Multiple Use Roads : As in the opening photo of this blog, we need a "Street of the Future" where there is separated access for pedestrians, cyclists, cars/trucks, public transit. Planting trees, bushes, hedges would contribute to beauty. reducing pollution and safety. More benches, rest stops and water fountains for the traveller and those with disabilities or the elderly would help make roadways truly livable.

Emphasis on COLLABORATIVE EFFORT. We cannot trust any one group to design our living space of the future. Lobby groups, politicians, urban planners, engineers, city bureaucracies, special interest groups all have their own agendas. We need to come together to plan a better city now, because...


Saturday, April 17, 2010


At there is FINALLY a chance for the online public to input recommendations to the so-called 'blue ribbon panel' of people trying to address the numerous and long standing concerns of residents and riders.

(I just input over twenty suggestions and urge everyone to input their ideas to make the system better.)

The plans for this panel were announced January 20, 2010 and yet it is only after the TTC union held their own town halls that the TTC management has responded. This is in my opinion very reflective of the ongoing lack of customer service focus that has been the problem for decades. The TTC and our political deciders still need to be pushed to perform.

Just some of my suggestions:

  • DIRECT ELECTION OF TTC CHAIR: Similar to electing a Sheriff or judges in the USA, direct city wide election of a technologically skilled and proven senior manager to be the elected civilian oversight of the TTC. NOT to be cherry picked as a political favour by the Mayor. Having a wrd councillor double up with this is unfair to local constituents.
  • COORDINATED CUSTOMER SERVICE EFFORT: Instead of the union doing a townhall and piecemeal, poorly coordinated efforts, have ANNUAL townhhalls for citizens with ALL parties present: Union, workers, management, political oversight, media-TTC specialists - including the Mayor! If we are seriouys about the importance of 'Transit City' let's give it the full, comprehensive attention it needs.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE KIOSKS: Located in every subway station, likely at Collector booths, for riders to immediately register compliments or complaints and get transit route information.

TRANSIT CITY - is a nice sound byte phrase. It needs to be much more than that. We are also hearing buzz words like "COMPLETE STREETS" and see a lot of news about the 'War on the Car' in reference to bicycle lanes.

In my view, we need a LOT more public dialogue and sensible planning on the entire issue of how we all get qround in our city. It should not be a piecemeal, short term outlook about cyclist rights versus car rights, or public transit versus traffic gridlock/cars, parking, delivery of goods within the city, etc.

We are at a turning point of opportunity. We need to look at ALL modes of transport, current and future, and come to consensus on a plan to include all forms of transportation in a well thought out vision and long term plan for implementation.

This is one of those city wide issues that affects each and every one of us, including those in our local neighbourhoods. We ALL need to be involved now because...


Thursday, April 15, 2010



Isn't it sad that the media has only noticed what's happening in our ward 18 Davenport based on the singular, negative personality scandals of our present and soon to be former councillor *, Adam Giambrone and now is just getting attention because Adam's executive assistant and chosen successor to his crown, Kevin Beaulieu, has only announced an intention to run?


For far too many years, our ward has been something of an ignored backwater in city politics - NOT because of the excellent quality of residents and their strong desire to be involved in and consulted about local issues - but because there has existed a kind of arrogance of the typical politician who makes sweet sounding promises during an election campaign, wraps themselves in a party colour, gets elected and then proceeds to ignore constituents.

There has been a culture of entitlement about being elected to represent us simply because of political party ties. Strong party machines use the battleground of Davenport to gain political power to advance narrow ideologies, all the while ignoring local voters and their neighbourhood concerns once elected. Where is the democratic concept of representing constituents' concerns?

In an interview with the online news/blog, torontoist, we are introduced to Kevin Beaulieu *, Adam Giambrone's executive assistant, who has acknowledged that there is a history of assistants taking over the reins of power when their boss moves on. Kevin has been quoted as saying his running was "a logical sequence of events" - which to me smacks of "more of the same" entitlement.

There are still only 5 registered candidates running for the ward 18 council seat: Ana Baliao, Le Nha, Jack Triolo, Hema Vyas and Ken Wood - yet Kevin gets all the initial press attention because of his relationship to Adam.

Ana Baliao, for her part, was executive assistant to now Liberal MP Mario Silva and tried unsuccessfully to gain the crown in previous city elections.

In mainstream media we will once again see outsiders trying to decide for the voters of ward 18 who are the frontrunners. in this case LIBERAL Ana Baliao and NDP Kevin Beaulieu.

If the voters in our ward want to avoid 'more of the same', we will all need to learn from our past voting mistakes and make our choices based on the candidates' values, substance and behaviours and not on their spin-charm, name recognition or promises.

We need to make the right choice, because ...