20 August 2010

TRANSIT CITY: More Broken Promises – McGuinty Fails Toronto Transit this Time

Mayor Miller is correct when he refers to the Ontario government’s recent budget decision to postpone $4 billion in
GTA transit expansion as “disgraceful,” “thoughtless” and “beyond short-sighted,” a decision that makes “absolutely no economic sense” and “it makes no sense from a social policy perspective.”

This most recent broken promise, however, should not be a surprise.

The Ontario Liberal party, ever since the inexperienced dark horse candidate for leader surprised even himself in not only winning his party’s leadership but winning majority governments with a minority of the vote, promises anything at anytime to anyone if it serves the moment. This is an easy and even natural outcome of a broken electoral system – untouchable majority governments put in place by a minority of voters. Decisions don’t have to make sense from an economic or social policy perspective.

The greatest concentration of the greatest contributors to the future of Toronto's and Ontario's prosperity live in the poorest 40% of Toronto's neighbourhoods. Very few of these 1.1 million people live near rapid transit. This is close to 10% of the province’s population.

Many are starting their lives, and raising their families as new Canadians. All are struggling to make ends meet in this expensive city, filling most of the low-paying jobs that are essential, but not appreciated. They clean our offices, maintain our hotels, stock the shelves in our stores, and prepare the food and clean the dishes in our restaurants, in order to raise themselves and their children as good and productive citizens.

Commuting times on busses that are overstuffed in rush hour and infrequent the rest of the day take a huge toll on both family time and employment opportunities. Fostering resentment in this and the next generation is not a good way to build a great city.

In Toronto, all you need in order to have easy access to our subway and streetcar system, and many other important public services, is enough money to live in the expensive housing in the well served neighbourhoods.

The 1.1 million of the city's 2.5 million people who do not have the range of neighbourhood choices that money buys, live in the parts of the city that are left over. These areas were generally built after the 1940s on the assumption that all families would have a good paying job and a car, if not two cars.

In the last census, the average household income in that 40% of the city was one third below the GTA average household income. About one in five households have after-tax incomes that are below the statistics Canada low income cut-off. Only one third of the population is white in “that” part of the city, compared to 82% in the high income and best serviced 20% of the city’s neighbourhoods.

The continued failure to adequately serve 40% of the city and about 10% of the province’s population is a bold statement by our political leaders as to who matters and who does not.

That 40% gets promises when it serves some short-term political situation, including a poverty reduction strategy that is going nowhere. They also get some excellent reports that take a long time to produce and then are ignored.

First and foremost among these reports is the five volumes produced by the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence, a commission Premier McGuinty appointed a few months prior to the last election to get that issue of the election agenda.

“Today, there is simply no reason to accept that poverty should mean fewer and poorer parks, recreation facilities, community centres, arts opportunities, local stores or public services, nor should it mean inferior public transit service.”

Who can disagree with this statement from McGuinty’s commissioned review, ably led by Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling? Yet, what is being done? Very little. And now the promised improved transit will be delayed indefinitely.

“Transit planners should take into account the impacts of isolation on youth and the impacts of long and difficult commutes on parents struggling to find time to spend with their children.” Well, transit planners have done this. We have the Transit City plan and, until Thursday, the promise to fund it.

“When services are scattered and transit options few, people with limited resources, many needs and little time are actively discouraged from accessing them, whether for themselves or their families.” None of this is rocket science.

Our 19th century electoral system, called first past the post, allows a minority of voters to put in place majority governments. This is not democracy.

Mike Harris, elected by a minority of voters, unfortunately for many, kept his promises. Dalton McGuinty, also in majority power by a minority of voters, unfortunately for many, does not keep his promises.

Both know how to work the undemocratic electoral system in ways that allow for significant needs to be left unaddressed, something proportional representation, used by most democratic countries, makes difficult. More voices are at the table and they have a greater opportunity to be listened to. Fairer compromises can be reached.

Our problem, affecting the future prosperity and great potential of Toronto, is the lack of effective democracy which results in the lack of leaders who will serve all residents. One of the world’s great cities is unable to make and finance decisions it knows are in the best interest of all its residents. A system that allows one politician to promise anything and then at anytime to ignore the needs of so many with no input, negotiation or recourse, is broken.