Politics - Federal

Toronto Streetcars: The Exception Proves the Rule

By Jason Leach
Published June 25, 2009

The ongoing streetcar saga in Toronto appears to be reaching a critical moment as the federal government refuses to join forces with the city and province in seeing this marvelous new streetcar plan move forward.

Apparently, some arbitrarily chosen rules are more important to the government than the creation of thousands of jobs in Ontario. Talk about shortsightedness and infexibility.

In my job we operate with the understanding that basic guidelines and regulations are in place; however, they are not necessarily set in stone. A favourite slogan in our office is "there's always possibility for an exception".

Right about now would be a good time for our federal government to quit micromanaging and also adopt the same mentality. That doesn't mean that rules can be flaunted, but it means that as long as the basic motive and goals are being met, it is possible to arrive at the desired destination in more ways than those concocted up in some government boardroom away from the realities of life in Canada's biggest city.

I would love to see the projects that have been approved in other cities for comparison sake. Odds are pretty good that the number of jobs being created by the TTC-Bombardier deal are not being matched in other cities.

It's easy for most of small-town Canada to whip up a list of meaningful work that can be completed by 2011 - but Toronto is not Tobermory. It's extremely short-sighted for our government to derail such a fabulous project for Toronto.

Most places in Canada don't rely on transit the way Toronto does. To punish that city simply due to the fact that it's a different place than anywhere else in the country is frustrating and smacks of ideology trumping reality.

Of course, there is the behind-the-scenes issue of our transport minister having a track record of blocking light rail projects, but I'll allow other bloggers to tackle that topic.

The fact is, Canada's cities know their own problems and solutions far more intimately than some politician sitting in Ottawa. Toronto has met the objectives of this stimulus plan - creating jobs quickly and stimulating the economy. In fact, their plan will create jobs for many years, beyond the arbitrary 2011 deadline imposed by the government.

Our cities send a ton of money to Ottawa and get a fraction in return. The least our federal leaders can do is recognize the fact that city councils and local politicians understand what their communities need more than the Ottawa clan.

After all, there's always the possibility of an exception to any rule. Let's hope that someone in Ottawa will stand up for the thousands of jobs and real improvements to the TTC being proposed by Toronto.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 13:21:39

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 13:34:25

^Hungry troll is hungry. Resist the urge to feed it, no matter how cute it looks at you.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 13:40:01

What information was missing from their requests? Does anyone know? Was it a missing dot for an 'i'? Missing cross for a 't'? Did they spell John Baird's name wrong? Did someone in Toronto tell John Baird to 'F--K OFF'!? Maybe they should! ...or better yet, maybe his constituents should.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 14:21:07

and yet nobody in Toronto is complaining...

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 15:09:42

I don't think the place of employment is the issue here. The main issue is that the feds wanted projects approved that will be completed by 2011. It just so happens, Toronto has a great, massive project that will extend beyond 2011 and actually many decades into the future as they continue to expand their LRT network and order more streetcars. They are being punished because their stimulus project actually stimulates jobs that will be around for many years to come, instead of just filling some potholes between now and 2011.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 26, 2009 at 11:40:11

As much as it's tempting to make this about the Feds, this is purely a failure of Toronto's leadership. There's no love lost between Toronto and the feds, and for Miller and Co. to expect that John Baird, likely one of the pettiest and meanest politicians in Ottawa, would do anything to facilitate a deficient request from Toronto, is folly.

So is Toronto's leadership failing? The fourth estate thinks so, and how! The Star and Globe both unleashed their Toronto columnists and they've published some pretty scathing views on the city and its governors. I know avowed Milleristas will disagree, but it's not just Royson James in the Star tilting at windmills.

Macus Gee compares the City to a failing General Motors in the Globe and Mail (read it here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opin...

"The workers enjoy perks that others can only dream of. The well-paid executives avoid making tough decisions. The organization has lost touch with those it serves and become a sprawling, self-perpetuating bureaucracy. The whole vast enterprise is drifting toward the rocks.

"All of this was said of General Motors a year or two ago. It could just as easily be said of the City of Toronto today. Toronto is the GM of Canadian governments, heading for ruin, knowing it but lacking any credible plan to save itself."

Meanwhile Christopher Hume in the Star labastes Miller and co. for this screw up of the Bombardier LRT contract (read it here: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/...

"That's another fine mess you've got us into.

"Only this time it's not Ollie wreaking havoc, but His Worship David Miller, mayor of Toronto, aided and abetted by Toronto Transit Commission chair Adam Giambrone.

"In a classic display of civic arrogance verging on stupidity, the two decided they could finesse the federal government's admittedly Byzantine infrastructure funding rules and request $417 million to buy a fleet of state-of-the-art light rail vehicles from Bombardier."

I know as well as anyone how fun the sport of Con-bashing can be, but I think some perspective on this issue is required because Toronto's leadership has to carry at least some (if not most) of the blame on this one.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 26, 2009 at 11:50:33

sorry, but I'm sticking to common sense as my argument. It's time for our politicians - all of them - to grow up and start doing what's best for the country instead of playing these stupid games and acting like a bunch of incompetent morons. This isn't a game of RISK. It's real life.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 26, 2009 at 11:53:14

"In a classic display of civic arrogance verging on stupidity" So Baird is denying the bid out of spite at there arrogance? That's meanspirited policy even for the Cons.

"Not only should such decisions be made coherently and intelligently, but they should have been made 25 or 30 years ago." Of course we all know that but they WEREN'T made when they should've been and now we're stuck behind the 8-ball. That doesn't give the feds a free ride in refusing to help Toronto catch up, since it was everyone who dropped the ball originally.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 26, 2009 at 13:01:43

"That doesn't give the feds a free ride in refusing to help Toronto catch up, since it was everyone who dropped the ball originally."

Given the financial situation of both TO and the federation right now, I'm not sure you can legitimately use the word "refuse" here. Keep in mind that TO refused to play Baird's (complicated) game in filling out the application in the first place, but it's not as though Toronto couldn't do it--every other municipality was able to navigate the process well enough.

Further, the government of Canada is under no obligation to fund every pet mega-project that the City and TTC come up with--the process was set up so that municipalities have to justify their project against various criteria. This issue has been framed as though meanspirited John Baird is turning away Toronto's legitimate request for vehicles, but I think it's pretty clear that John Baird's mean-spiritedness is independent of Toronto's ability to properly fill out an application for stimulus funding (or properly plan and budget over the longer term, etc.).

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By arathbone (anonymous) | Posted June 26, 2009 at 16:49:10

To be completely frank, Toronto screwed up. Regardless of what they wanted, the money wasn't for the streetcars. They could've just as easily taken the money, used it for another infrastructure project that they already had planned, and used the money that was originally for that to buy the streetcars. No need to pick fights.

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