Saturday, January 25, 2014

The top 5 unbuilt mega projects in Toronto

toronto metro centreIn an parallel universe, Toronto is home to a pioneering offshore community with canals instead of streets. The CN Tower looks weird - it's probably not even called that - and most of the central waterfront is consumed by a complex that includes a massive CBC headquarters and a reworked Front Street.
There are grand avenues and wide European-style traffic circles, the Eaton Centre doesn't exist, and the tallest building in the city is a bizarre semi-transparent affair at College and Yonge. A commemorative plaque at its base recalls the long lost Eaton's College Street store, which was knocked down to make way for the massive structure.
Oh, and there might just have been a few more downtown subway stations.
None of these wonders came to pass, of course, but they all came tantalizingly close. With David Mirvish and Frank Gehry's King West mega condos currently going through the approval process (or dis-approval, as the case may be), here's a look back at several massive Toronto projects that never made it past the concept phase.
METRO CENTREtoronto metro centreIn the 1960s, faced with hundreds of acres of surplus railway lines, sidings, and train sheds, two of Canada's biggest rail companies were keen to cash in and develop their massive and increasingly valuable holdings.
The Metro Centre proposal, the brainchild of Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, would have created a "city-within-a-city" between the Gardiner, Bathurst, Front, and Yonge. "4.5 million square feet of office space, 600,000 square feet of commercial space, and 9,300 residential units," Mark Osbaldeston says in his book Unbuilt Toronto.
The subway bend at Union Station would have been shifted south to Queens Quay, creating three new stops, a new transit hub for buses and trains would be built over the tracks, and there would be a new convention centre and English-language CBC broadcast centre.
Metro Centre got remarkably far: Metro Toronto, the now defunct senior level of government, gave its approval, as did the City of Toronto and its planners, but a group of concerned citizens successfully appealed the decisions at the Ontario Municipal Board, resulting in demands for additional parkland and smaller towers.
The mega project - the biggest ever pitched in North America - fizzled when the 1972 municipal election delivered a major idealogical shake-up at city council. The CN Tower, Roy Thomson Hall, and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre were the only pieces ever realized, albeit to different designs.
HARBOUR CITYtoronto harbour cityImagine living on the Toronto Islands. No, not those - the ones made out of infill just west of the disused airport runway.
Harbour City, the brainchild of the Toronto Harbour Commission, would have been an offshore community stitched together by canals and lagoons. The low-rise, mixed-use buildings, arranged in clusters, would provide living space for 60,000 people from a range of financial backgrounds. Urbanist Jane Jacobs was on board: "Harbour City is probably the most important advance in planning for cities that has been made this century," she said. What could go wrong?
The proposal would have closed Billy Bishop airport and moved it to the Port Lands (where it could handle extra capacity) and likely turned the Toronto Islands into a park. Harbour City wouldn't have been Venice North - a ring road would have provided vehicular access to the community from the foot of Bathurst Street.
Like Metro Centre and the Spadina Expressway, both still real prospects at the time, Harbour City was sunk by local opposition and a fortuitous change of government. In 1972, the feds decided its new international airport would be built in Pickering instead (still waiting) and the plans faded forever, which was probably for the best. The winters would have been hell.
JOHN MARYON TOWERtoronto john maryonFor several years, Eaton's management was earnestly devoted to knocking down its beautiful, historic Toronto stores for faceless office complexes. Case in point: John Maryon Tower, a proto-CN Tower that could have erased the company's College Street store in the early '70s.
Had it been built, the roof of the triangular concrete, steel, and glass tower would have been higher than New York's original World Trade Centre. At its core - literally - would have been a giant radio and TV antenna; tall downtown buildings were deflecting signals, which was one of the reasons the CN Tower became a necessity.
The eponymous Maryon was an expert in tall buildings and he confidently predicted his design would deflect winds of up to 200 km/h and stand for "1,000 years."
Eaton's was forced to back off when things began to go awry down on Queen Street. The company had been unable to build another much-desired office complex (more on that later) and declining sales later in the decade ensured Maryon's mega tower died and stayed dead.
CAMBRAI AVENUE AND VIMY CIRCLEtoronto cambrai avenueFor the most part, Toronto's street grid has remained relatively untouched by mass reconfiguration. Unlike Paris, which had its famous avenues carved out en masse by Baron Haussmann in the 19th century, Toronto has never been significantly made over, though proponents of the various downtown expressway concepts tried.
Cambrai Avenue, Vimy Circle, Passchendaele Road, the principal features in Toronto's ill-fated make-over plan, would have carved through the area between Front, Spadina, Queen, and Yonge to create a large traffic circle (Vimy) just south of where Osgoode station is now, and two broad streets, one running north from Union Station to Queen (Cambrai), and another winding from Wellington and Spadina to Queen and University (Passchendaele.)
The principal features of the plan, a revised and distilled version of an earlier scheme, all took their name from key battles of the first world war. St. Julien Place, a small public garden, was imagined in the centre of Cambrai Avenue, just south of Queen.
The project was halted (for the most part) by the will of the people in January 1930. A question on the municipal ballot sought authorization to finance the project just months after the stock market crash and, not surprisingly, the "no" voters prevailed by about six per cent.
That said, the now lost Registry of Deeds and Land Titles office and the extension of University Ave. to Front St., both pieces of the plan, were built.
EATON CENTRE TOWERStoronto eaton centreBefore Eaton's conceived of its downtown shopping mall, an entirely different scheme was in the works for Queen and Yonge that involved the destruction of Old City Hall for, you guessed it, office towers.
Eaton's wasn't erasing itself, far from it. A new flagship store and shopping atrium - the largest in the world, no less - was planned for the northwest corner of Queen and Yonge. Behind it, at the expense of the recently defunct Old City Hall, would rise a whopping 69-storey central tower, three office buildings (two 57-storeys, one 32,) and a 20-storey cylindrical hotel, a nod to the new City Hall building just to the west.
The collection of matching towers would be set in a large swath of open space, similar to Mies van der Rohe's TD Centre.
The original Eaton Centre seemed destined to become reality when Eaton's abruptly pulled the plug amid discussions about retaining Old City Hall in May 1967. The company said the proposed stipulations and limitations had made the project unsustainable and its executives refused to meet with officials from Metro Toronto who were keen to reach a deal.
The blueprints went in the garbage for good in 1967. In 1968, the Eaton Centre mall as we know it was proposed.
For more unbuilt delights and greater detail on several of these mega projects, Mark Osbaldeston's Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that Might Have Been and Unbuilt Toronto 2: More of the City That Might Have Been, both of which provided details included in this post, are well worth a read.
Please share this

Friday, January 24, 2014

GO Transit orders new train cars

TORONTO - GO Transit will roll out 65 new bi-level rail coaches by 2017.

The province's transit agency, Metrolinx, placed an order for the coaches with Bombardier in Thunder Bay.

Metrolinx spokesman Anne-Marie Aikins said the new coaches will be similar to those already in the fleet.

“We'll order them in our new colours, which aren't significantly different,” Aikins said.
The real change will be the interior: the seats will be cushier, carpeting will have more padding and the upholstery will change from blue to GO Transit's official green colour.
Since some passengers travel on their trains for as long as two hours at a time, they “really appreciate a quiet ride,” Aikins said.

The order includes an option for an additional 75 coaches, with a total cost of $481 million.

The first batch will be delivered between June 2016 and July 2017 and are expected to ease crowded rush hour commutes.

“It will help deal with congestion,” Aikins said.

GO Transit has been running the unique Bombardier bi-levels since 1978. The cars have become a staple of commuter rail systems across North America.

GO's order will support about 250 local jobs, increase GO Transit's fleet to 743 coaches, and is a step in their long-term plan to introduce “two-way, all-day service on all seven GO rail lines,” the province said in a statement.
Please share this

David Letterman devotes Top 10 list to latest toronto Mayor Rob Ford video

Letterman Rob FordAlthough Rob Ford got short shrift on the Daily Show last night, his return to the late night talk show spotlight continued with some air-time on Letterman last night in the form of the Top Ten list. The subject is appropriate if not altogether that creative, namely the "Top Ten Things Rob Ford Might Be Saying in This Video."

As was the case on Kimmel, Letterman leads into the bit by noting that things have been relatively quiet on the Ford front for the past while (he even erroneously suggests that Ford was in rehab), and bemoans the lack of entertainment being provided our crack loving mayor before dropping the list. It won't knock you off your chair, but there's a few funny ones here.

Please share this

Toronto's Gardiner Expressway at the crossroads

Like it or not, some time in the next three of four months Toronto must decide what to do with Gardiner Expressway. The aging structure has reached the point where just keeping it upright will cost as much as $505 million over the next decade.

On the other hand; are Torontonians prepared to take it down? And if they were, what would replace it?

No decision has been made one way or the other, but the issue will come up yet again on Feb 6, when Waterfront Toronto and city will hold the third public meeting about the future of the elevated highway.

Officially, three options will be on the table, but only for the stretch that extends east of Jarvis: leave it up, tart it up or blow it up.

As Michael Kirkland argues, however, there is a fourth; demolish the whole thing east of York St. Having spent years consulting to Waterfront Toronto, with many of those years devoted to the Gardiner, the respected architect/urban designer is adamant that the city would be better off without the Gardiner.

“It should come down,” Kirkland insists,” because it condemns the most important precinct of the city to permanent disorder, dysfunction and unpleasantness.”

He’s right, though that may not have much to do with the decision that finally gets made. Despite the fact its disappearance might add a minute or two to the daily commute, the gains would be huge.

“The Gardiner doesn’t need to go east of York,” he explains. “You could ramp it down between Spadina and York and bifurcate it into two east/west avenues along Lake Shore and Harbour St. That would eliminate the problems of all those squirrely ramps that cause much of the congestion.”

Most of the traffic comes from the west and exits before York. Traffic coming from the east would use the two new boulevards. Only 20 percent of rides go through the city, which means most usage is local. Don’t forget, the Gardiner already operates at capacity, which means the only solution to congestion is transit, i.e. the GO system.

The best reason for removing the expressway, however, is that it would free up a vast swath of land for redevelopment, thus increasing property taxes and generating wealth. That wouldn’t happen immediately, but given what has happened north and south of the Gardiner, it could clearly become prime real estate.

“If you keep it up,” Kirkland says, “you suppress land values. Take it down east of York and all that land will be worth more. Increased taxes would soon pay for the roughly $250 million it would cost to demolish it. Considering that the annual cost of maintaining the Gardiner is $25 million, it’s obvious there are better ways to spend city money.

When the easternmost portion of the Gardiner was torn down in 2001, after a decade of debate, many feared the worst. So when the sky didn’t fall, there was widespread relief. Sadly, the opportunity was squandered and all the city got for its efforts was big-box retail.

A reason was the low expectations Torontonians had for that part of town. It is viewed as a wasteland, largely because that’s what it has been for so long. Ironically, the Gardiner is at least responsible for that.

But as the waterfront comes back to life, it’s time to demand more. People now live in neighbourhoods that until recently were industrial. As the economy of Toronto evolves, land use must evolve with it. And so the Gardiner must go.
Please share this

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Toronto’s density plan is working, so keep it going

A spectre is haunting Toronto – the spectre of hyperdensity. Jennifer Keesmaat, the city’s dynamic chief planner, worries about it. So does one of Toronto’s smartest local politicians, city councillor Adam Vaughan.

What is this thing and why are they so frightened of it? For years, after all, city planners have been preaching the virtues of density. After decades of seeing cities sprawl, creating vast, car-dependent, expensive-to-maintain suburbs, they came to see that dense, bustling cities work better.

Transit becomes more efficient when there are enough riders to justify frequent service. Streets are safer with lots of people on them day and night. The environment wins when people can walk instead of drive and don’t need to heat big suburban houses.

With all that in mind, the city’s Official Plan seeks to direct new development – office buildings, condo towers and so on – to key areas of the city, fostering the process known in planners’ jargon as intensification. The aim is to put new buildings on about a quarter of the city’s geographical area, keeping the three-quarters that is left – residential neighbourhoods, quiet, smaller streets – free from runaway growth.

As anyone can see from the thickets of development around nodes like Union Station or Yonge and Eglinton, it has been remarkably successful – too successful for some. “We have reached this exciting and terrifying tipping point where we are starting to question whether it could be there is something called too much density,” Ms. Keesmaat said. “There are some areas of the city where we are seeing too much density – hyperdensity – and there are other areas of the city where we are seeing no growth at all.”

She worries that transit, parks and other necessities of city living won’t keep up with the growth. Mr. Vaughan, who represents a downtown district where new buildings are rising left and right, says he shares the concern. He drops another word for it: vertical sprawl.

In a little-noticed move in October with potential to change the future shape of the city, he persuaded city council’s planning and growth-management committee to ask city staff to find a way of sounding the alarm when an area approaches hyperdensity. At that point, the city could tell developers, “This neighbourhood is at capacity. Go somewhere else,” Mr. Vaughan said at the time.

“Take a look at the bones of a neighbourhood. What’s the body mass it can support?” he said. “If you just add people for the sake of people or buildings for the sake of buildings, are you in fact building a livable city?”

Worries about hyperdensity may strike a chord in a city where condo hatred and fear of height is on the rise. But, as both Mr. Vaughan and Ms. Keesmaat readily concede, this is a nice problem to have. Many other cities would kill for the downtown building boom that Toronto has enjoyed.

In the second quarter of this year, 92 per cent of the office construction in Greater Toronto was in downtown Toronto – a sharp turnaround from the days when businesses fled to the cheaper rents and lower taxes of the suburbs. City planners report that downtown is living through an office-construction rush reminiscent of the late 1980s. People are thronging to live downtown, too, attracting new businesses to serve them and bringing new vitality to the streets.

This should be cause for celebration. The city’s plans for smart density are working. Since the Official Plan took effect in 2006, 82 per cent of proposed residential units have been going just where planners want them: in the downtown; in other designated growth nodes such as Yonge-Eglinton and North York Centre; in mixed-use areas; and along the so-called Avenues – big, main streets such as Bay or Queen that can absorb growth.

If you fear that Toronto is overbuilt, just ride the elevator to the top of the CN Tower and look down. The dense, high-rise parts of the city are only small woodlots in the vast plain of low-density and small buildings that is modern Toronto. Even downtown, seen from this height, still has lots of gaps – underused space taken up by parking lots or small buildings.

If the hyperdensity tag catches on, it could become a useful tool for downtown councillors who want to appease their constituents by blocking new development or for suburban councillors who want to steer more development to their wards even if there is no call for it there. It could also help kill exciting projects like the Frank Gehry-designed proposal by David Mirvish for King Street West. Ms. Keesmaat’s planning staff oppose the plan for three towers of more than 80 storeys each – too tall, too dense – and city council backed her up in a vote on Dec. 18.

It is reasonable to worry that new development will cause overcrowding on transit or overtax other city infrastructure. But if that is the concern, let’s build better transit to keep up with the growth, not halt the growth for fear of the future. Central Toronto is still far less dense than it could or should be. Hyperdensity should be a goal, not a thing to fear.
Please share this

What this west-end bidding war says about Toronto’s housing market

It’s a simple semi, not that much different from all the others lined up along Perth Ave. in the up-and-coming Junction Triangle, except that now it’s got all the neighbours — and Toronto real estate watchers — talking.

It was considered one of the first “good listings” of 2014 in a shockingly tight market for lowrise houses where, since the recession, demand has far outstripped supply: A tastefully renovated house in an up-and-coming neighbourhood, priced under the magic threshold of $800,000.

More than 400 people, some of them battle-scarred bidding war veterans, lined up during open houses last weekend to dutifully check off all the boxes that now drive the decision to buy in the highly sought-after 416: Renovated kitchen and bathroom, stainless steel appliances, close to schools, transit, the city core.

By the 7 p.m. deadline for offers Tuesday night there were 32 of them. The house, which had been listed at $639,900 sold for $848,625 — almost $210,000 more.

“Overwhelmed” Keller Williams co-listing agent Mike Gryspeerdt — who actually owns the house and has raised his family there over the last 12 years — is still apologizing for the bidding frenzy.

“I’m genuinely, 100 per cent shocked by this. I did not expect this to happen — nor did I want this to happen. I’m not comfortable with this at all,” said Gryspeerdt in an interview Wednesday.

He’s now being, he believes, unfairly “vilified” by frustrated house hunters and real-estate watchers.

But even fellow realtors — who are prohibited by the Real Estate Council of Ontario’s own code of ethics from speaking out publicly against a competitor — are outraged by how low Perth Ave. was priced, given similar properties nearby went for well over $700,000.

Maggie Lind, the realtor for the buyers, who declined to talk to the Star, acknowledged that the house was priced low considering a similar one on Perth Avenue sold for $730,000 last spring.

Gryspeerdt points out it had a designer kitchen, a basement music studio and “high-efficiency everything.”

“I don’t think it was about price. It was about winning,” Gryspeerdt says of the bids, believed to be a record number for Toronto. “Also, the Junction Triangle is a great neighbourhood.”

In fact, realtors say, Perth Avenue is a perfect example of problems plaguing a market that just won’t cool down, despite Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s best efforts.

Most pressing is the lack of inventory: The Toronto Real Estate Board has seen a dramatic drop in the number of homes listed for sale, especially since the 2008 recession.

Listing that used to average about 16,000 even in the slow December period were down to 13,241 in 2012 and dropped a further 14 per cent just from 2012 to 2013, says TREB.

“A lot of it is about where do you go next — (moving up) is drastic,” says Lind. “A lot of people are getting discouraged by that next step up and how high it is and they are staying put and renovating. It can easily cost $100,000 just to make the move.”

TREB cites Toronto’s double land transfer tax, but realtors may be at least partly to blame as well: Most have fought hard to keep commissions at five per cent as house prices have skyrocketed, pushing fees sky-high right along with house prices.

Flaherty’s own moves to tighten mortgage lending rules may also be contributing to the frenzy: It’s now so much harder to buy a $1 million-plus home with anything below a 20 per cent down payment, it’s now boosting competition for lower-priced homes, says mortgage broker Steve Garganis.

Add on top of that all those buyers who’ve been waiting for prices to drop the last two years and now realize they aren’t. (Condos are another matter, that market has more supply than demand.)

Sales may have slipped in the latter part of 2013, but prices haven’t: The average transaction price for a detached house in the City of Toronto hit $894,654 in mid-January, up 21.1 per cent year-over year, according to TREB figures.

Semis were up almost 14 per cent, to an average of $581,475.

The sheer number of realtors — some 37,000 in the Toronto board, many with less than five years’ experience — may also be an issue. They tend to have less sense of the market or strength to rein in would-buyers.

Veteran realtors stress that every bid contributes to escalating house prices overall: That Perth Avenue home will now become the new high-water benchmark comparable for realtors looking to price new listings in the area.

“The public wants to blame agents for underlisting, but I blame some of my colleagues for not always doing a good job of informing their buyers,” says outspoken realtor David Fleming.

“The first words out of any agent’s mouth walking in the door (of Perth) should have been ‘This is going to push $800,000.’”

And they were, says Lind. She refuses to discuss her clients’ winning bid at all, other than to say they are “ecstatic.”

“It’s a fabulous house. They really don’t have to do a thing.”
Please share this

More Torontonians die this way than by homicide. So where’s the outrage?

Here’s a statistic: Last year, 63 people died in traffic accidents in Toronto. That’s more than the number of people who died by homicide.

Here are a few more numbers for context: In 2005, when we lived through the “Summer of the Gun,” 52 people were killed in gun murders. During the SARS crisis of 2002–2003, a total of 44 Canadians died from the respiratory infection. In the old days, before we erected a suicide barrier, about nine people per year fell or jumped to their deaths from the Bloor Viaduct. You may remember the public concern—sometimes bordering on panic—about those events, as well as the various responses: the massive overhaul in policing methods and social-service delivery that followed the gun deaths; the entire city outfitted in masks and hand-sanitizing stations during and after SARS; the erection of the $5.5-million “luminous veil” on the bridge over the Don.

In a recent post on Torontoist, David Hains charts how, in 2013, we saw the deaths of 40 pedestrians, 12 motor-vehicle passengers or drivers, seven motorcyclists, and four cyclists on Toronto’s roads. Where is the panic? Where is the outrage? Where is the public resolve that this is a situation we must address?

But other than Hains’s piece and an op-ed by Benjamin Gillies in the Toronto Star, I haven’t heard a peep about the death toll.

Perhaps we panic more about deaths from things that seem insensible, or useless—criminals and diseases (mental and physical) that appear to kill for no reason that we can fathom. But when it comes to traffic, we appreciate the social purpose. People need to get around, to work and play and live their lives. Cars and trucks and buses make that task easier. In many cases, they make it possible, period. So, perhaps we think traffic fatalities are the price we pay for the social good of transportation. They’re sad, but inevitable.

Mayor Rob Ford has certainly hinted at that opinion. He once claimed that cyclists who were struck by vehicles were basically asking for it, because they are “swimming with the sharks” by traveling on roads he thinks are meant for cars and trucks. When Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, David McKeown, suggested in 2012 that speed limits across the city should be lowered to 30 kilometres per hour on residential streets and 40 kilometres per hour on standard arterial roads because his research indicated this would save lives, Ford and his brother deemed the good doc’s $294,000 salary “an embarrassment” and suggested he should be fired.

But while some accidents may be unavoidable, we don’t need to accept such a high number of fatalities. There are things we can do as a city—starting with reviving McKeown’s suggestion—to save lives on our streets. That’s especially true in the case of the 40 pedestrian deaths, where we can see that many were entirely preventable through better road design. Most pedestrian deaths happened in intersections, and in the suburbs, many victims were hit by cars making left turns across wide roads. Advocates suggest longer crossing times for pedestrian signals, more widespread “zebra” stripes painted on crosswalks, and changing the curb structure to make drivers turn slower and “more deliberately,” as Hains puts it. It’s a lot of little things that add up to more awareness among drivers that they are sharing the road with vulnerable fellow travellers.

As the percentage of people relying on public transit and walking continues to go up dramatically in inner suburban areas designed for cars, we need to think carefully about how to make those streets safer for those who use them.

Can we do it? Absolutely, we can. The question is whether we will. This is a city that will remodel entire bridges, implement widespread health practices, and spend millions of extra dollars on policing individual neighbourhoods to save dozens of lives if and when the public is concerned and afraid and angry enough to demand it. More people died in traffic than in homicides last year. Are we ready to do something about it?
Please share this

Do voters really care about Mayor Rob Ford's personal problems?

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford is counting on Torontonians being more concerned about their growing expenses than his occasional late-night antics sneakily caught on cellphones.

"I am going to win this election," he vowed Wednesday night, just as new poll results showed his approval rating was holding at 45%.

He says his opponents can pick apart his personal life, "but they can't pick apart my record or agenda."

The question in October's election will be what poison do voters prefer: Massive tax increases? Or someone who fights them but is known to generate an occasional sideshow?

Whoever is on the ballot, Ford says, voters know he's not perfect but someone who's "looking out for them."

Through the melee of cameras at City Hall Wednesday, the mayor could be heard yelling: "It's absolutely ridiculous."

He wasn't talking about the swarm around him, even though one could make that argument since he's hardly Charles Manson or Beyonce.

What he was talking about was the staff-recommended 3.2% tax increase.

It's like David Miller is still the mayor. It's ridiculous.

"And it keeps going up," an angry Ford said.

It was almost a full percentage point over what was earlier agreed on. At a time when people are paying so much for transit, sitting in rush-hour gridlock, facing enormous energy bills and an extra land transfer tax, it was a punch in the gut.

And only one man--one in the middle of yet another scandal--stood up and coherently said what needed to be said.

"I am not going to stand for it," Ford insisted.

The rest seem to be stuck in this in-the-box thinking of a time when people received annual wage increases and didn't have $400,000-plus mortgages.

Even with the ice storm cleanup costs, and funding for the Scarborough subway project, Ford says a 1.75% increase "will provide more than enough money from taxpayers to run this city."

If not, cuts need to be made just like in a home budget.

"We can start by dealing with the hiring at the city," Ford said. "They're always hiring. There's 800 being hired right now. And 400 by the TTC. There are heritage people being hired."

He's a skunk at a party of people used to passing off their failures on to the taxpayers. Even if it was said in slurred Jamaican Patois, fiscally minded voters get it.

"The administration costs of this city are enormous," Ford said. "There are four workers for every one manager."

To pay for all of this "waste," Ford says, the budget committee and tax-and- spend councillors are "diving into the surplus" and saddling taxpayers with a large increase that far exceeds inflation and reason.

"It's not how you run a business. It's not what the taxpayers voted us in for. We've got to stop it," he said. "We've got to look for efficiencies."

It isn't lost on those in the shrinking private sector that the only workers seemingly receiving wage hikes are those in the public sector.

What's more crucial? What a mayor does in his own time or politicians wasting billions on cancellations or failed programs who don't have the guts to stand up to strong special-interest groups?

Ford's mantra of belt tightening is something voters will have the opportunity to consider, along with his less-than-flattering recorded performances.

Ford also believes Torontonians will remember Premier Kathleen Wynne cutting tens of millions in funding in Toronto, not offering an appropriate amount of compensation for flood and storm damage, the cancellation of a lucrative, job-creating casino project, thrusting on Toronto an expensive Pan Am Games, a proposed $50-billion transit dig and an up to seven-cents-a- liter gas tax to pay for it.

It's far nuttier than any of Ford's stupid behaviour caught on video.

It's going to be a good campaign that'll come down to what matters to you more: A man's personal failings that you wouldn't know about if not for smartphone spying, or your shrinking pocketbook?
Please share this

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Increased parking fines in Toronto go into effect Thursday

TORONTO - Drivers better watch where they park starting Thursday.

Public Works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong announced that new $150 parking fines will be going into effect to try to crack down on curb hogs on key rush-hour routes.

Minnan-Wong said the changes were meant to stop “jackasses” from stopping their vehicles in curb lanes and tying up traffic.

“Illegally parked and stopped vehicles significantly contribute to traffic congestion and are costing motorists money in travel delays, vehicle operating costs and accidents,” Minnan-Wong said Tuesday. “We’ve all experienced it, the flagrant behaviour of a few thoughtless individuals.”

Up until Thursday, the ticket for getting caught in a no standing or no parking zone on a rush -hour route only cost between $40 and $60. The $150 ticket only applies during rush hour — between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The city also now has a fixed fine for parking tickets — meaning they can’t be lowered by a judge — to try to discourage residents from fighting them in court to try to get a reduced fine.

In an effort to get motorists to pay their tickets, the city will also start to tow your car if you’re caught illegally parked with three or more parking tickets that haven’t been paid in 120 days.

The city calls the measure the “Habitual Offender Towing Initiative.” Drivers have a two-week window to settle outstanding tickets before the city will actually start towing vehicles.

On Monday, Mayor Rob Ford called the ticket hike a “cash grab.”

“That’s not true,” Minnan-Wong said Tuesday. “I would not support changing the fine structure just to raise more money.

“This is first and foremost an initiative to ease congestion.”
Please share this

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Premier Kathleen Wynne didn't heed her own ice storm advice: Neighbour

TORONTO - She issued a Dec. 22 statement — just after the ice storm hit Toronto with a vengeance — inviting those with power to take in friends and neighbours who were stuck without power.

“There is no greater gift you could give at this time of year in these circumstances,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said in her statement.

At that point the power in her own north Toronto home had yet to go off. But, she was soon to be plunged into darkness, which lasted until 2 a.m. Christmas Day.

In another photo-op on Christmas Day at a Scarborough warming centre, Wynne yet again asked people “to reach out to neighbours” who were going into their third or fourth night without power — that she understood the discomfort after having slept in her own 13C house for three nights.

But, evidently, that helping hand didn’t apply to neighbours on her very own street.

Lois Winstock, her husband and their seven-year-old dachsie Heidi were among at least a dozen and as many as 17 households living on the same street as Wynne who were without power for nine days because their own equipment was “compromised.”

Winstock, a solicitor and PhD candidate, said they toughed it out for two nights until it became too cold and then stayed at a hotel until New Year’s Day.

“Even though she’s (Wynne’s) so encouraging of everyone helping each other, I didn’t see any extension cables coming from her house,” said Winstock.

The way the story goes, the houses that were left without power until New Year’s Eve either suffered damage to the masts connecting power to their homes or to the lines themselves.

People in that situation had to arrange to have the damage repaired at their own expense first before power would be restored to their homes.

Winstock said they found out quite by chance and had their mast fixed right away. Nevertheless, she contends that Toronto Hydro seemed to forget for days on end that the up to 17 compromised homes on the street needed to be reconnected to the power grid.

There were signs up on the street in front of people’s houses saying “no power” and replacement lines “curled up unattached against Hydro poles,” she said.

Winstock claimed Wynne could not possibly miss seeing any of this either as she went by in her chauffeur-driven car or when she ran along the street with her security detail in close pursuit.

“Everybody knew because the houses were dark,” she said.

Winstock said she e-mailed the premier’s constituency office and got a lovely computer-generated message in return, but no help. She said she called her Queen’s Park office, only to be informed everyone was on holidays.

She said she called Hydro many times but when she couldn’t get through, she made an application online to have her service reinstated.

Winstock, who admits to not being a Wynne supporter, said she found it “repugnant” to see the premier running around giving out $1 million in food vouchers for those who lost perishables during the blackout, doing photo-ops with Hydro officials dressed in orange Hydro gear and urging people to reach out to their neighbours still without power -- when her own neighbours had to abandon their homes for days.

“She didn’t worry about neighbours on her own damn street for nine days,” said Winstock. “She certainly wasn’t climbing hydro poles on this street.”

She adds her councillor Jaye Robinson didn’t respond to her many e-mails before Christmas and when they did get hold of someone in her office, she was assured they’d get on it. But, that never happened, Winstock said.

Wynne’s spokeswoman Zita Astravas confirmed the premier stayed in her midtown Toronto house throughout the entire Christmas-New Year’s period — before and after power was restored to the home — spending her time doing daily briefings, visiting warming centers, meeting with hydro officials and, of course, giving out those controversial food hampers and gift cards.

Asked about what happened on the premier’s street, Astravas responded: “If you are suggesting that premier Wynne could have, or should have, gotten certain homes connected faster than others you’re sadly mistaken.”

Robinson said every single e-mail and phone call she or her office received was forwarded to senior Toronto Hydro staff, who were asked to “prioritize repairs.” She said she worked around the clock and through both Christmas and New Year’s Day until power was completely restored in her ward.

“I also received 16 thank you e-mails from residents (on Winstock’s street) as well as a number of very gracious tweets,” she said.

Tanya Bruckmueller-Wilson, spokesman for Toronto Hydro, insisted people on Winstock’s street were not forgotten.

But, they needed to repair the primary issues in the neighbourhood first and then work on the medium-sized wires, Bruckmueller-Wilson said.

“Then we started doing the secondary or home attachments,” she said, noting the single connections “just fell into the queue.

“They weren’t forgotten,” she added. “The calls were just being triaged as part of the overall connection process.”
Please share this

Friday, January 17, 2014

GTA mayors to ask for millions in ice storm costs

MISSISSAUGA - The GTA’s mayors and regional chairs voted unanimously Friday to ask the province and the feds to help fund the estimated $275 million cost of last month’s ice storm.

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion emerged from the three-hour meeting flanked by 19 mayors and three regional chairs with the resolution that asked the Ontario government and the federal government to each pay one-third of the full cost of the ice storm response and ongoing recovery. The resolution also asked the senior levels of government to respond to the request by March 1 and to treat all municipalities “equally and equitably.” 

McCallion said there is a “great fear” among them that they won’t get provincial and federal funds.

“And we will be left on our own to deal with the financial aftermath of the storm,” she said. “We all agree that the property tax cannot bear that burden.”

Although provincial officials say an answer on any funding could take months, McCallion hoped the March 1 deadline would give them a “guideline.”

“We believe that if we didn’t set a date we would maybe never know when an answer would come forth,” she said.

So far, the total estimated cost of the storm from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area municipalities is around $275 million. Toronto estimates the cost of the storm was $106 million but council has also asked the feds and the province to help fund the $65 million from last July’s rain storm.

Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey attended Friday’s meeting to hear from the municipalities and outline the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program. She confirmed provincial officials have already been sent to Toronto to assess damage.

After the meeting, Ford complained the province “didn’t really give us any answers today.”

“We can’t wait many, many months,” Ford said. “The taxpayers need an answer immediately.”

McCallion added that they won’t let the province miss the deadline.

“You can rest assured, we’ll be following up on March 1 if there isn’t an answer,” she said.

Deputy mayor Norm Kelly — who also attended Friday’s meeting — described it as a “very productive meeting.

“The residents of Toronto should feel happy that their interests were promoted and defended,” Kelly said.

Jeffrey reached out officially to the Stephen Harper government Friday for federal help with the massive ice storm bill.

In a letter to federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, Jeffrey said she has received 27 requests from affected municipalities for access to the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program for clean up, response and recovery costs.

“I want to inform the Government of Canada of Ontario’s interest in securing federal assistance,” Jeffrey said. “I am interested in any options that you may have in assisting Ontario with its disaster response and mitigation costs. I would appreciate your thoughts on the best process to commence discussions in order to move quickly to support Ontario’s recovery.”
Please share this

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Olivia Chow 'seriously considering' Toronto mayoral run

TORONTO - Olivia Chow is “seriously considering” a run for mayor of Toronto.

The Trinity-Spadina MP confirmed she hasn’t ruled out challenging Mayor Rob Ford in this year’s election but she isn’t ready to give a campaign the green light.

“I am seriously considering running for mayor, but I have not made a decision,” Chow said in a statement to the Toronto Sun on Thursday night. “I love Toronto. It’s where I grew up when I immigrated from Hong Kong, and it’s my home.”

Chow and several Toronto-area MPs held a press conference in Ottawa Thursday urging the federal government to ante up cash to help cover the city’s ice storm costs. Toronto city council has asked the federal and provincial governments to pitch in $57 million each to help cover the costs of last month’s ice storm and July’s massive rain storm.

“Throughout the ice storm, when our neighbours need help, we offered it,” Chow said in an e-mail statement to the Sun. “Now it’s time for Stephen Harper to do the same.

“All parties — Liberal, Conservative, NDP — should come together and do what it takes to protect Toronto taxpayers from costs beyond their control.”

Chow argued that “acts of nature aren’t the fault of taxpayers.”

“That’s why we have disaster relief and Toronto qualifies. Our taxpayers can’t afford a 5% property tax hike to clean up a mess they didn’t create,” she said. “Calgary got help during the flood, so should Toronto as we battle the ice storm. It’s time for (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper to show fairness, act now and help Toronto.”

Scarborough Centre Conservative MP Roxanne James fired back at Chow and the NDP’s presser.

“It’s unfortunate that the NDP didn’t take the time to understand the independent process of the DFAA (Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements) program before going out with a photo-op to help Mrs. Chow with her bid to become mayor,” James said in a statement Thursday. “Contrary to what the NDP has said, I would like to assure everyone that there is a non-political, proven process in place for the provision of financial assistance to provinces and territories in the event of a large scale disaster.

“We have not received any request from Ontario for assistance related to the ice storm in Toronto and other parts of southern Ontario, however we always stand ready to assist provinces for eligible expenses under the agreement,” James said.
Please share this

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

$11M Mississauga mansion can be yours for half the price on the auction block

MISSISSAUGA - If you have an extra $5.5 million lying around, there is a real estate steal for you in Mississauga.

A 23-room mansion on Saxony Ct., along Multimillionaires’ Row, goes on the auction block later this month for half-off its market value price of $11 million.

The 18,000-square-foot, four-storey, seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom palatial home backs onto the Mississauga Golf and Country Club, which can be seen by the balconies in almost every room.

Dubbed the most expensive home in Mississauga, the new owner will live among local and international professional elites.

Billionaires from Pakistan and South Asia as well as a Saskatchewan businessman have eyed the property, said Kashif Khan, managing director of Ritchies Auctioneers.

“This is a five-star trophy property,” Khan said Wednesday. “Real estate deals like this come once in a blue moon. A lucky customer is going to get a great deal on a house, worth double than its list price.”

Potential buyers know the type of home they are looking at just by walking through the oversized front doors, said Michal Cerny, the CEO of Ambassador Fine Custom Homes, who has been living in the home.

The foyer entrance spans the first two-levels of the house, complete with floor to ceiling plaster mouldings created by a Hungarian sculptor, as well as hand-made church-size railings and iron rails for the spiral staircase.

“This is a showcase of what can be built when you are using the best,” said Cerny, who builds such high-end investment properties for clients from around the world — clients with whom he has strict confidentiality agreements. “(The auction) is an opportunity to show international clients what we can offer.”

The home will be sold to the highest bidder on Jan. 26 and bids will be accepted by proxy, in person or by phone.

It is hoped the bidding for the $11-million home will go as high as $7 million.

Almost $4 million of the mansion’s contents will also be auctioned off, including an 18-carat yellow diamond appraised at $1 million, a 21-carat sapphire valued at $500,000, and a Hermes Birkin crocodile handbag worth more than $80,000.
Please share this

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bring on Toronto's Armageddon of sin

TORONTO - The gates of hell are opening for social conservatives in Toronto.

There’s talk of bordellos in every nook and cannabis in every cranny of the city.

Sex, drugs ... and we already got rock ‘n’ roll.

The NIMBYs will go nuts. They might even go BANANAs. (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.)

Will they demand the province declare Toronto a moral disaster zone?

Not that there is anything wrong with NIMBYs. In my hairy youth, I was a soldier in People Or Planes, the NIMBY army that blocked the Pickering airport in the 1970s.

That was before comedian George Carlin made NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) part of our lingo.

Back then, we weren’t NIMBYs, we were hippy freaks.

Now, the barbarians are really bangin’ on the door.

City Hall is rewriting zoning bylaws for medical marijuana crops — while polls show growing approval for full legalization or decriminalization, including among Conservative voters.

Our mayor is an acclaimed aficionado of the leaf, among other substances, and Prime Minister Harper has even hinted at simple tickets for pot possession.

On the sex front, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti met Monday with strip club owners who want to expand into the bordello business.

If the Supreme Court’s move last month to strike down Canada’s prostitution law as unsafe for women holds up — if the Harper government doesn’t wriggle out of it — the GTA’s 26 club owners propose a one-year pilot project.

They’ll add brothels to their sin joints, with separate rooms and entrances, and we’ll see if the world ends.

Also, Dennis Hof, who runs Nevada’s notorious Bunny Ranch, told me he’ll scout locations in Toronto if laws change for good.

So hippity hop, NIMBYs, you’d better get ready.

On the other hand, I’m in the YIMBY camp on this. Yes, In My Back Yard. My adopted neighbourhood east of Dundas Square is perfect for the looming Armageddon of sin.

For eons it had no name, but now some smoothie at City Hall has dubbed it the Garden District, presumably because of Allan Gardens and the locals’ copious consumption of certain herbs.

We already boast two strip joints — Filmores and Zanzibar — with others nearby. There’s our friendly neighbourhood sex club, Oasis Aqualounge, with its outdoor pool and bondage room, and a slew of adult toy shops along Yonge.

Not to mention the hookah cafe at my corner, the streetwalkers of Jarvis St., the splashy Gay Village on our northern border, and more colourful cats and kooks than you can shake a stick at.

Speaking of which, we have even more well-fed rats than Rosedale. Sometimes they walk me home along back alleys.

We are the groin of the city and proud of it, though, frankly, sometimes I miss the serenity of dear old Scarborough.

So we’re perfect for Toronto’s version of De Wallen, Amsterdam’s biggest tourism draw, or Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, where the young Beatles played.

Let it be, let it be.

Meanwhile, the old taboos are falling. Gay marriage, soft drugs, prostitution.

I hope we stop short of cannibalism and wearing Habs tuques.

We libertarians are all for firing governments as moral dictators and for dropping curbs on personal freedoms — as long as no one gets hurt. We favour Pride parades, ethnic diversity, free speech, all those nice things — so long as taxpayers aren’t forced to pay the tab. (We’re to the right of Attila the Hun on tax-and-spend.)

My dear social conservatives, moral thaw is inevitable. Change that once evolved over centuries, now happens in a blink.

Not long ago, Denver was home to ruthless and reactionary Blake Carrington, fictional head of the Dynasty clan.

This month, Denver opened America’s first recreational pot shops. Washington State is next. Can we be far behind?

When my dad finally got an experimental licence to grow 10 acres of hemp near Tillsonburg in the 1990s, it was the first legal cannabis patch in North America since the Second World War. Now hemp pipes $100 million into the Canadian economy and is growing like a weed. There’s hemp beer, hemp soap, hemp paper, hemp pants...

Which reminds me, the Garden District has at least one hemp shop.

Bring it on. YIMBY, baby!
Please share this

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Toronto Meeting address plan for new sports facility at Central Tech

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford pledged his support Thursday to a $6-million sports complex planned for a downtown high school .

Before leaving a public meeting on the facility at Central Tech near Bathurst and Bloor Sts., Ford told reporters this is for the kids.

They, and the downtown community, need the project which could be paid for by a private company, he said.

“I’ve personally played on it, I’ve coached kids on it, that field is not safe,” Ford said of the current condition of the high school’s field.

The project would install a seasonal dome, a FIFA-grade soccer field, an Olympic-sized track and upgraded change rooms.

Ford downplayed concerns some neighbours voiced about an increase in traffic expected if the plan moves ahead.

Building more subways is part of the solution, but traffic is projected to get worse across the city and that can’t stop projects like this, he said.

“The only solution is ban cars in the city,” he said. “I’m not in favour of that.”

Councillor Adam Vaughan, who represents the ward, said he is frustrated because the developer, Razor Management, has done little to address a number of concerns including congestion that will be caused by the project.

“Promising to address (traffic issues) when it’s already a done deal doesn’t give us much comfort,” Vaughan said.

Central Tech grad and former Toronto Argonaut Adriano Belli spoke up in support of the project to the standing room only crowd in the school’s library. Sports can put students on a positive path in life and this facility will help the kids do that, he said.

“Is this whole thing perfect, probably not,” Belli said. “But I’m here to tell you it’s headed in the right direction.”

The project would see Razor Management build and operate the complex for 20 years. The Toronto District School Board would retain ownership.

One recent grad said he blew out his knee playing football on the field and challenged opponents at the meeting for a show of hands for those who did not support the project.

Another student said to play rugby on the field they have to put gym mats down.

“It’s pretty bad when you have to put mats down to keep from getting hurt,” she told the gathering.
Please share this

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ice storm cost Toronto $106 million

TORONTO - City staff have slapped a $106 million price tag on last month’s ice storm, which knocked out power for thousands of Toronto Hydro customers and wreaked havoc on Toronto’s trees.

Coupled with the estimated $65 million cost of the massive July rain storm, bureaucrats estimate the City of Toronto got hit with $171 million in storm-related costs last year. Now they want council to ask the federal and provincial governments to provide financial aid.

Council meets Friday to debate asking for an unspecified amount of storm-related financial assistance.

Along with the request for cash, city staff also recommended that council urge the province to declare Toronto a “disaster area.” The move would make the city eligible for the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program.

City Manager Joe Pennachetti said the city is working with other GTA municipalities hit by the ice storm to ask the province for help. He estimated the whole region could be looking at shouldering up to $250 million in ice storm costs.

“We all feel strongly that there needs to be something that assists us in regards to this,” Pennachetti said.

“As a group of municipalities, we’re arguing that we need assistance — this is very big for us. We can’t afford it.”

City staff included the cost of the July storm, as well, because those costs weren’t covered by the province’s disaster relief program.

“We believe that we’ve got a strong argument now with the combination of both storms,” Pennachetti said. “We really hope the province and the federal governments will look at this now and say, ‘This is big.’”

Among the costs from the ice storm, the city has a $25 million bill for its eight-week debris clean-up program, $52 million to deal with tree damage, $8.8 million in costs to Transportation Services and $1.5 million in costs for Toronto Water.

According to the staff report released late Wednesday, Toronto Hydro’s preliminary cost estimate from the ice storm is $13.9 million while Toronto Community Housing is looking at $2.1 million in costs and the TTC had $700,000 in costs.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly called the ice storm cost estimate “a whack of money.”

“The province has cooperated with us all through the crisis and I’m hoping they’ll continue to do so and give us a helping hand,” he said.

“What you ask for and what you get are two different things. I’m sure we’ll ask for what is feasible.”

Kelly wouldn’t speculate on how the city would cover a shortfall if other governments don’t ride to the rescue.

Please share this

Poll shows majority of Toronto residents want hydro lines buried

In the wake of the ice storm, most Toronto residents think Toronto Hydro should bury its power lines, according to a new poll.

A Forum Research poll provided exclusively to the Sun found 59% of residents polled agree that power lines should be buried to prevent future outages.

The poll asked residents on Monday night, “Do you agree or disagree Toronto Hydro should bury power lines to prevent them coming down in future ice storms?”

Around 59% said they agreed, 20% said they disagreed and 21% said they didn’t know.

Around 46% of those polled felt budget cuts to tree-trimming contributed to damage from the ice storm that struck the city on Dec. 21 and 22. Around 33% disagreed and 21% said they didn’t have an opinion.
Please share this

Toronto budget committee approves 2.25% tax hike

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford is promising a budget battle at city council.

Councillors on the budget committee finalized the 2014 budget on Wednesday — agreeing to a 2.25% tax hike rather than the proposed 2.5% increase. The committee also refused to tinker with the city’s land transfer tax.

A 2.25% increase, if approved by city council later this month, would add $57.50 to the property tax bill imposed on a typical home — one assessed at $498,000.

Ford said he can support the budget and wants spending cuts to lower the tax increase to 1.75% and at least a 5% reduction in the city’s land transfer tax.

“It’s not me, this is what the people want,” Ford said after making a brief appearance at the budget committee.

The mayor — who has been stripped of most of his powers and no longer steers the budget process — promised to propose at least $50 million in savings to city council during the budget debate planned for the end of the month.

“If they support it, we’ll have 1.75% (tax hike) and services will be better, they won’t be touched,” Ford said. He refused to give specifics about the savings or what he might propose contracting out.

“I will show you on the floor of council,” he said

The budget committee’s recommended 2.25% tax increase includes a 0.5% hike to help finance the Scarborough subway.

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti said a 1.75% total tax hike was “not achievable.”

She stressed that “unless you’re going to have major cuts” the tax hike couldn’t be limited to just 1.75%.

Ford also unsuccessfully urged the budget committee to start to cut the land transfer tax.

The committee voted 4-2 to leave the land transfer tax alone.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said he’ll spend the next few weeks urging councillors to support the budget.

“I think that this is a reasonable, balanced, win-win budget,” Kelly said.

Councillor Doug Ford — the budget committee vice-chairman — argued the tax hike could be lower.

“I’m disappointed with the committee,” he said.

The committee also voted to have the city start funding the High Park Zoo once again and standardize library hours across the city.


What does the property tax hike mean for residents?

n A 2.25% increase (which was approved by the budget committee) would mean the average home would pay $57.50 more this year.

n If Mayor Rob Ford gets his way and the tax hike is limited to 1.75%, the average home would pay $44.50 more.

n City staff had proposed a 2.5% tax hike which would have added $64 to the average home’s tax bill.

n And just in case you’re wondering, the Scarborough subway property tax hike of 0.5% (which is included in all the hypothetical tax hikes) means the average home is paying $13 more on its property tax bill.

Note: The city bases the tax hike impact on a house assessed at $498,000.

 Please share this

High time for term limits at Toronto City Hall

TORONTO - Politics are like heroin. The longer you’re into it, the more you need.

You get twitchy, even at budget meetings, and snap such niceties as “shut your f---ing mouth.”

This isn’t healthy. Clearly, you get hooked, strung out. You might even drool.

So it is high time to cap how long our leaders can lead us.

Before you howl, “anti-democratic!” let me point out term limits began in ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, to keep politicians from growing fat and lazy.

In the U.S., Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson championed term limits as checks on power-hungry pols. Such curbs are common down there, from president to the mayors of New York and L.A.

So, usually, American presidents, mayors and dogcatchers aren’t in power long enough to get really dirty, though many try and a few succeed.

You need time to work up to a good scandal — from Watergate, to Sponsorgate to the gas plant disgrace. Mostly, scandals happen when the culprit has been in power too long.

Our parliaments are tougher to impose caps on, since a “term” can vary wildly, especially in a minority.

As a libertarian, I think John Turner’s reign was about right — 79 days. We’d be better off if all our “leaders” strutted about a few days, then buggered off and left us alone. I can but dream.

But term limits are a natural at city hall, with its every-four-years council and mayoral elections.

I doubt they would quash such exchanges as the gem at Wednesday’s budget committee meeting.

Councillor Janet Davis (to penny-pinching Councillor Doug Ford): “Shut your f---ing mouth!”

Councillor Ford (jumping up): “You call yourself a lady!? Gimme a break.”

(Davis apologizes).

Still, term limits are worth thinking about, as the mind-boggling marathon to Oct. 27 begins, and as “temp” councillor Peter Leon ponders breaking his promise not to run, surprise, surprise. Leon must look at his colleagues and murmur, “hey, this could be a good, looooong gig!”

Many of the current crop have been around since before Confederation, I mean amalgamation.

Nothing personal against Pam McConnell or Norm Kelly, but they’re like the eggnog still in my fridge.

God bless it, that eggnog served me well, but the stale date was last week. Give me something fresh, like a nice pomegranate shake.

Pammy’s political career launched in 1982, at school board, and she has been a councillor since 1994. Deputy mayor Kelly has hung around since 1974, in one form or another, including a stint as a Trudeau MP.

Paula Fletcher’s political odyssey has included four years in the 1980s as leader of the Communist Party of Manitoba.

Of 44 councillors, 25 are into their third terms or longer, and a whopping 14 have roosted since sometime in the last century.

Officially, Gloria Lindsay Luby and Maria Augimeri have lasted longest as city councillors, included pre-amalgamation. What, were they in diapers?

Their council careers began in 1985, the year Dion Phaneuf was born and the first-ever mobile phone call was made.

Lindsay Luby, for instance has four terms in Etobicoke and four in Toronto under her belt.

Nothing against her, but that’s too damn long on the teat, as Grandma Strobel used to say.

Last spring, two first-time councillors Jaye Robinson and Mary-Margaret McMahon proposed capping terms at three — 12 years. Hardly draconian, but councillors blanched, and buried the motion pronto. The pair will try again after next October’s election, assuming they’re re-elected.

“Too many people see this as a career,” Robinson tells me. “It’s not. It’s a calling.

“Come to city hall, roll up your sleeves, contribute, then move on.”

But what of democracy, councillor? Should voters not decide terms?

“Democracy is about levelling the playing field and letting new people into the mix. It seems to work well in the States.

“Our council would be more functional with more turnover. When people run term after term after term, you see deep trenches and ruts form, alliances based on ideology, not research, and they stop looking at things objectively.

“It’s not healthy for council or for the city.”

Think of it as the flu. We’re overdue for our shot.
Please share this

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Big interest in family living like it's the '80s

A family’s decision to live like it’s 1986 turned out to be a big modern-day attention grabber.

The Toronto Sun put the spotlight late last summer on members of a Guelph family who have shunned post-1986 electronics and other conveniences.

The story went viral and became the 11th-most read article on

“The week after you published the story, the phone was literally ringing off the hook,” father Blair McMillan, 26, told the Sun.

Newspapers from around the world frantically called his old-fashioned landline for an interview. Some contacted the Toronto Sun with the impossible request for an e-mail address to reach the family. Others asked McMillan to e-mail them, obviously forgetting that such a form of communication did not exist in 1986.

Of those who did reach McMillan, “75% of people would either say ‘look us up on this’ or ‘what’s your e-mail?’ I’d be, like, I only have the phone,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s like they don’t even realize how different it was.”

Agents for reality shows also saw the opportunity in televising the strange experiment.

But for now, McMillan said, the family is weighing its options.

“It has been hard because obviously we’re not familiar with anything and you have pressure from, like, agents and companies from Los Angeles to New York to Vancouver to Montreal,” he said.

He also has no idea who the agents are because — in keeping with the family’s pact — McMillans cannot Google anyone’s name to find out more information.

“That’s one of the funny things, that’s what so hard,” McMillan said. “Because you don’t know who’s calling you and you know nothing about them ... obviously not having that advantage is hard.”

When the Toronto Sun visited the family, the two sons — Trey and Denton — were happily playing on the front lawn instead of pushing buttons on an iPad.

It was exactly what McMillan had in mind when he proposed the life-altering plan to his 27-year-old girlfriend, Morgan Patey, last spring.

Running a household as if it were still 1986 meant the family has more quality time.

Unable to access Facebook, Patey focused on reading books. McMillan realized he wasn’t chained to his cellphone anymore.

They conduct their financial business at the bank, instead of online. Family members snapped pictures using rolls of film. The McMillans took a road trip in which they relied on paper maps.

“It’s definitely made us closer,” Patey told the Queen Latifah Show during their appearance in November.

The show provided them with a gift of a 1980s answering machine because “they couldn’t get a hold of us,” McMillan said with a laughed.

“They want us to come back the day that we go back into 2014 and they want to give us complete makeovers and technology,” he added.

The family has also been featured on the Today show, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, The Telegraph, and The Atlantic.

“It’s a catch-22, I guess, because the thing that we’re not using is the thing that blew us up,” he said.

They’ll return to their iPhones, flat-screen TVs, and modern gadgets at some point. They’re just not sure when.

“As of right now, we still want to keep it going as it is and kind of see what happens,” McMillan said.
Please share this

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Food gift card campaign thrown together to make Wynne look good

TORONTO - There are two kinds of math at work in the chaotic gift card program thrown together by Premier Kathleen Wynne and the brain trust in her office.

As a math-challenged journalist, I’ll hand over the calculations to an accountant reader, who e-mailed me some startling numbers.

Those who lost power and food in the pre-Christmas ice storm were promised gift cards to the value of either $100 per family or $50 for an individual. Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Shoppers Drug Mart are among the supporters of the program. They’ll donate $25,000 each — to be matched by the province.

“I’m not sure how a situation where two or more unrelated individuals sharing a house/apartment is being handled,” my reader pointed out.

“There was a report that 300,000 households were impacted by the power outages resulting from the ice storm,” he said.

“If 66% of those households affected claim, and they’re evenly split between family and individual, that will mean 200,000 gift cards at an average of $75 per card — that will amount to $15 million.”

The government states that it will match donations up to $100,000.

“We are short approximately $14.8 million. Will we expect to see this on our hydro bill in the coming months?” he asked.

He said, and I agree, that this is another example of the Liberal Party campaigning on our dollar.

And it’s shameful.

The political calculus in this is quite simple.

This campaign was thrown together on the back of a napkin to make Wynne look good.

Frankly, I found the photo-op of her going door-to-door with baskets of food extremely distasteful.

Canadians used to be hardy, resilient people who overcame ice storms and other natural disasters with moxie — and a little help from their friends.

Not anymore. Now we look to Premier Mom to solve every problem.

This gift card program was rolled out so quickly and with such little thought it was bound to fail.

The government told people they could get money for free — and then were surprised when droves of people showed up to fight their way to the front of the line.

Those most in need didn’t have a chance of getting the money.

How could a frail senior line up for hours? Most of them can’t even get out of their houses in this -20C weather. How could a mother with children in tow elbow her way through the crowds?

The gift cards should have gone to the working poor. People on welfare or disability allowances should have had the money tacked on to their government cheque at the end of the month.

Or the government should have used agencies that do this for a living — like the Salvation Army or Daily Bread Food Bank — to deliver the help.

Why didn’t they? Because they wanted Wynne front and centre — food baskets in hand — as the saviour of the people. When it went pear-shaped, she rolled out Public Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur to take the blame.

Only a Liberal government could turn peaceable citizens into marauding hordes.

Shopping malls became shopping mauls.

It became survival of the fittest — our very own Lord of the Flies.

How disgusting is it to watch people scrambling over each other for cash? Next time, let’s make it truly entertaining and have them wrestle in Jell-O.

Then again, if the government were really smart they’d give out LCBO gift cards.

I’d like to see an accounting at the end of this. I’m sure those stores can track what was bought with the gift cards. I want to know if they paid for cigarettes. Or makeup.

Where’s Piggy when you need him?
Please share this

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The time Toronto was buried under half a metre of snow

toronto snowstormThe snow started to fall Monday afternoon, as promised. A winter storm whipped up from the Gulf of Mexico was drifting north over upstate New York dumping fresh powder on the the Finger Lakes as wartime Toronto headed home from work. The Toronto Star weather forecast - "fresh to strong winds; snow, part sleet" - betrayed nothing of what was in store.
The snow picked up and was falling in sheets by late evening. It didn't ease up. Fat flakes driven on the razor wind caused whiteout conditions from Niagara Falls through Toronto and into the Quinte region. With each passing hour the drifts grew higher and more difficult to manage.
The last flight to leave Malton escaped at 1:12 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 12, 1944, moments before the airport abandoned its runways to the deluge. Meanwhile, downtown, TTC crews were working in vain to clear the tracks ahead of morning rush hour.
toronto snowstormAs soon as the tracks were clear blowing snow would flood the void. "Between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. we figured we had it licked but high winds and drifting snow backed up on the tracks and slowed things up by plugging switches," a TTC spokesman said.
As dawn broke, the extent of the snowfall became apparent to those trying to make their way to work or school, and still it continued to fall. With many streets impassible, some turned to the horse and cart. One woman used a pair of stilts to traverse the drifts at King and Bay. Many just stayed home.
Metre high drifts were reported on Eglinton and in parts of downtown. Prisoners couldn't make their court dates, funerals were put on hold, and 2,000 people waited in the swirling blizzard at Pape and Danforth for streetcars that would never come.
Eaton's and Simpson's, the rival adjacent department stores at Queen and Yonge, were both closed due to the weather for the first time in their histories. More importantly for Canada's war effort, several munitions factories and two aircraft manufacturers, DeHavilland and Victory, had shifts interrupted or cancelled entirely.
toronto snowstormIt wasn't until the late morning that the heavy snowfall turned from novelty to tragedy.
The bodies lay crumpled in the snow, shovels still in hand. Men expired from the exertion of hauling powder off walks and drives lay undiscovered for hours. Others collapsed in doorways and in office coatrooms.
The evening edition of the Toronto Star reported nine dead in Toronto. "One suffered a fatal heart seizure while shovelling his snow and seven others died struggling through four-foot drifts."
"Some of the victims lay for considerable time before they were noticed in the blinding blizzard," the paper said. Lorne Grazzanio dropped 10 minutes after he arrived for work at the Canadian Ornamental Iron Works on River St; Samuel Bawden, a manager at T. Eaton Co., expired as he neared his office; a man no-one could immediately recognize died on Carlaw Ave.
"The six telephones in the coroners building, which is also headquarters of the city ambulance service, were ringing incessantly with Herbert Landsborough the only member of staff able to get to the office to answer them."
"The frightening aspect of the death toll is the fear that under the piles of snow, or in the thousands of cars buried under the avalanche on streets and side roads may be more dead, caught inexorably in the blizzard as they might have been on an open prairie."
toronto snowstormMeanwhile the snow continued to be a major concern on the roads. In a public radio address, Mayor Frederick J. Conboy urged workers to stay home unless their jobs were essential. "We want all available transportation facilities to bring war workers and others to their jobs," he told the huddled city over crackling airwaves.
All private and non-essential motor traffic was ordered off streetcar routes by the city's transit controller. Milk, bread, and other deliveries were re-routed to fire stations, which became makeshift distribution points. On College St., a line of customers clutched dimes in freezing hands waiting for loaves of bread.
Downtown, restaurants, cafes, and movie theatres did brisk business as freezing workers who had trudged through the snow only to find the city shuttered and silent were forced to find somewhere obliging.
toronto snowstormBy morning of Dec. 13, 1944 the situation had only marginally improved. The Ontario death toll had climbed to 18 with incidents in Hamilton, Campbellford, Brantford, and Richmond Hill. At Queen and Mutual a streetcar lay on its side with 170 people trapped inside.
The eastbound car had jumped the rails and tipped onto its doors, sealing a crowd inside. One person was killed and 43 were injured but surprisingly little was made of the incident. A photo and a few lines of copy in both the Star and the Globe and Mail, nothing more.
In fact, despite the unfolding drama, there's little evidence of fear or anger from the people of Toronto in the papers. 1,400 volunteers, some of them boys drafted from local schools, some of them repurposed garbage crews, helped shovel snow from TTC tracks. People were "singing and wise-cracking" as they waited on delayed or cancelled public transit.
A few skiied to work, including one Stanley Todrow who was photographed outside City Hall. It's "just like a sight-seeing tour," he said before toppling over in front of the cameras.
Over at Bell Telephone Co., which was snarled "beyond the capacity of both humans and mechanical equipment" by the volume of phone calls (connections were still made manually at the time,) 310 army cots complete with nightgowns, lipstick, soap, and toothpaste were delivered to the tireless girls working the switchboards at the downtown exchange.
Few went home - they couldn't - so the army brought what they needed to take a nap and return to work. "We're prepared to carry on indefinitely," said a Bell official. If the girls were upset, they didn't show it. The photos are full of smiling faces and goofy poses with ill-fitting army gear.
toronto snowstormThe snow stopped on Dec. 14, giving way to clearer skies and scattered flurries. The city was "50 per cent of normal" by the end of the week and the city lifted its auto ban on Dec. 15., but it would take days for many side roads to become passable.
21 people died in Ontario as a result of the storm and its monster deluge. The snowfall, a whopping half metre in little over 24 hours, wouldn't be beaten until the storms of 1999.
Please share this