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Toronto City Council – rudderless, erratic and irresponsible

After spending the past week at city council I have come away disappointed and disgusted by some of the self-aggrandizing, weak-kneed opportunists the city has elected to council. Many councillors, who have claimed to support revenue tools for transit, withdrew their support, choosing to protect their political derrieres.

Here’s the background: Toronto has spent 40 years quibbling over subway and transit expansion – mostly due to the lack of funds to build anything. It’s easier for councillors to debate over the lines than to take a stand on funding tools. Over the past few years Mayor Ford has claimed that “efficiencies” and “developers” would pay for the subway expansion. However the efficiencies he found added up to very little and should properly go to balancing the budget with any surplus going to paying down the debt. Developers informed the Mayor that they could not sell condos above subway stations for the $4 to $5 million price tag required to cover the $200 million cost of building the subway stations below. The value of the “air rights” Mayor Ford claimed would more than pay for subway expansion was completely bogus.

Thank gracious we still have Metrolinx, the transit organization set up by the Province to build and expand transit across the GTHA. After years of consultation with transit experts, policy wonks and politicians, they created a 25 year transit expansion plan. But the plan needs to be funded and will cost approximately $50 billion – this works out to  $2 billion per year needed to get transit in the Toronto region caught up after 40 years of neglect. On May 27, Metrolinx will announce the funding tools they believe the Province should use.

This opened the door for Toronto to present direction on revenue tools to Metrolinx and so council instructed city manager, Joe Pennnachetti, to do extensive consultations with the public and create a report summing up what transit revenue tools Toronto residents wanted to support. The report was extensive and the top four revenue tools chosen through public consultations were:

  1. Sales Tax
  2. Fuel Tax
  3. Parking Levy
  4. Development Charges

However, the Mayor and his executive tried to block the city from submitting any revenue options to Metrolinx, in a bid to push responsibility for any “taxation” to the provincial level, where the Mayor’s brother Councillor Doug Ford is planning to run for the provincial Conservatives and could use the issue to further define his anti-tax campaign.

Council over-ruled the brothers Ford insisting a “mature” conversation was needed. Unfortunately nothing even coming close to a mature conversation could be found at last week’s debate, which saw councillors ignore all the research and instead fly off with their own funding ideas and digress into soap box campaign speeches on the need for particular subway lines in each of their wards.

Councillor Josh Matlow – one of the few brave councillors in the bunch – proposed Motion 1.b suggesting council support the revenue tools outlined in the city manager’s report. Unfortunately this led to heated debate that carried on for three days.

The debate was divisive and provided the perfect  opportunity for councillors vying for the Mayor’s chair to demonstrate their leadership skills. But leadership did not appear, and unfortunately the anti-tax chants coming from brothers Ford worked to eventually push councillors away from backing any of the funding tools the city manager put forward.

Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker tried to score points with his constituents by refusing to consent to any transit revenue tools if plans did not change to include a subway in his ward.

Councillor Stintz, who had originally claimed to want an “adult” conversation on revenue tools, yet again compromised her credibility by ignoring her prior support for the Big Move transit plan and endorsing Councillor De Baeremaeker’s demand for a subway line. Not only did she support a new transit map (that seemed to be drawn on the back of a napkin) but she also backed out of supporting the revenue tools that the City Manager, the Toronto Regional Board of Trade, Civic Action and the Toronto Transit Alliance have all endorsed.

At one point Councillor Ford announced to the press “that if subways required transit revenue tools then there wouldn’t be any subways for Toronto.”

Councillor Vaughn created a motion asking city council to support “a surcharge on vinyl labels as a new tax dedicated to fund subways.” This caused quite a reaction from Councillor Ford (who is also the CEO of Deco labels) and Vaughan eventually withdrew it.

But it was Councillor Josh Colle who announced the most conniving and devious motion of the week: to amend the original motion (supporting the city manager’s revenue tools recommendations) and delete all revenue tool recommendations.  On a side note I wonder if the arrival of MPP Mike Colle (father of Councillor Josh Colle) into city council chambers had anything to do with the younger Councillor’s subsequent motion to delete all revenue tool recommendations? His motion’s main agenda was to push responsibility for revenue tools up to the Provincial level, and it would seem that those who voted for it are more concerned about appearances than doing what is right for Toronto.

Such strategic political maneuvering allows Councillors who supported Councillor Colle’s motion to circumvent their duty to the city without being too suspect while at the same time allowing them to honestly claim they didn’t back any revenue tools for transit. So instead of directing the province with recommendations on the transit revenue tools the city manager compiled from weeks of consultations with the public, these councillors simply supplied the province with a list of tools each one of them personally would not support, ignoring the will of their constituents and the research provided to them by the city manager.

This pathetic political posturing was supported by:

Ana Bailåo, Michelle Berardinetti, Raymond Cho, Josh Colle, Gary Crawford, Vince Crisanti, Glen De Bearemaeker, Mike Del Grande, Fran Di Giorgio, Doug Ford, Rob Ford, Mark Grimes, Doug Holiday, Norm Kelly, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Giorgio Mammoliti, Peter Milczyn, Frances Nunziata (Chair), Cesar Palacio, James Pasternak, Anthony Perruzza, Jaye Robinson, David Shiner, Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson, Krystin Wong-Tam

The councillors who stood firm in their commitment to transit revenue tools were:

Paul Ainslie, Maria Augimeri, Shelley Carroll, Janet Davis, Sarah Doucette, John Fillion, Paula Fletcher, Mary Fragedakis, Mike Layton, Chin Lee, Josh Matlow, Pam McConnell, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Joe Mihevc, Ron Moser, John Parker, Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan

These councillors deserve a hefty pat on the back for not putting their political careers ahead of doing what is needed for the Toronto. I tip my hat to each and every one of them.

City Council debates new revenue tools

It should have been a simple discussion. Toronto City Councillors were asked to debate the validity of looking at implementing new revenue tools as a means to generate dedicated funding toward the expansion of Toronto’s transit system. However, councillors took the long road there. A three-day debate that required multiple votes is what ensued.

Let us be clear. Councillors were not debating whether or not to implement new taxes, or specific taxes, or what exactly would be built using this newly generated revenue. This debate was to settle a matter as to whether or not examining the use of transit tools would be advisable going forward. In the interest of democracy and public discourse this should have been a short debate. But the lack of leadership from Mayor Rob Ford (who did not attend the entire duration of the debate) and his inner circle took the debate in a direction that could only be described as school yard antics. However, it should be acknowledged that the lowest point of the marathon debate came from outside the Mayor’s circle when Adam Vaughan, Councillor for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), put forward a childish motion proposing a new tax on vinyl labels to personally attack the Ford’s private business Deco Labels and Tags.

Childishness aside, this debate comes down one fact: Torontonians want subways. A longstanding refrain from the Mayor, his promises of new subways during the previous municipal general election has yet to be realized. Councillors from across the political spectrum must come around to the understanding that transit expansion requires funding.

Central to the debate was the rhetoric of ‘revenue tools’. The Mayor’s inner circle felt this was a misleading statement. To be fair, they are correct. These are taxes. That word has a tendency to scare some. But this is a discussion of either-or. Either the City accepts new methods of taxation or it sits on the status quo: the best transportation system 1980 can buy.

There are a number of options to fund the expansion of the subway system of which the City is in desperate need. However, I want to delve into the option that I believe is most appropriate. That would be the proposal of Sarah Thomson, publisher of Women’s Post and Chair of the Toronto Transit Authority, that Toronto implement a 1% regional sales tax. For what it is worth, Councillor Vaughan put forward his own motion that outlined the implementation of a similar province-wide sales tax of 1%.

Small regional sales taxes are widely used to fund regional transportation plans. For example, Seattle, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles County and Denver have dedicated regional sales taxes. Many of these taxes were brought in by ballot referenda that clearly communicated the funds would be dedicated to build transit, including majority public support for these measures. Recent polling demonstrates there is public support in the GTA. A referendum in conjunction with the 2014 general election could settle this matter once and for all.

Transit-dedicated sales taxes in many United States cities of note had significant negative impact on local retail. Given that the 2008 GST reduction dropped total sales tax levels in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Region, there is certainly room for an increase of as little as 1%. Such a low rate minimizes the impact on retailers and consumers.

When voting on the matter was decided, Councillor Vaughan’s motion was amended to include the following:

  • “That City Council support the extension of the Bloor Danforth Subway Line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and north to Sheppard Avenue.” (Proposed by Councillor Glenn De Baermaeker, Ward 36 – Scarborough Centre.)
  • “That City Council request that the North York Relief Line (unfinished subway construction between Sheppard Avenue and Allen Road, and Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue) be recognized as substantive project priority for Phase 2 Metrolinx funding. (Proposed by Councillor James Pasternak, Ward 10 – York Centre.)

It should be noted, however, that City Council quickly chose to not support the 1% sales tax on the very next vote on a motion by Josh Colle, Councillor for Ward 15 (Eglinton-Lawrence). That motion carried to reject seven different revenue tools, including a sales tax.

At the end of the day, this council dropped the proverbial ball. Torontonians have been waiting far too long for the transit system we so desperately need and deserve. For the time being it appears we will continue to wait.

NEW SUMMER TUNE: We love the new Jennifer Lopez/Pitbull summer song

We’re ready for summer, and what better way to say “hello sunshine” than to crank a new beach tune from Ms. Lopez and Pitbull. Throw in producer RedOne (you know, the guy who is responsible for every great Gaga hook) and you’ve got #LIVEITUP, an easily-to-hashtag summer dance party anthem we can certainly get into.

Be warned, there are a couple swears in the song.

If you need me I’ll be at the beach with my good friend JLo.

‘Toronto Stronger’ sign rightfully upsets Bostonians — and everyone else

Last night’s game between Boston and Toronto was a tragedy of its own kind for fans of the Leafs, but for one fan the line between the world of hockey-mania and real world tragedy went out the window in favour of bad taste.

The fan in question was spotted outside the Air Canada Centre holding a sign reading ‘Toronto Stronger’ — a tacky playoff slogan if there ever was one, considering that ‘Boston Strong’ is the phrase Bostonians used to express their community, grief, and fear last month when a terrorist bombing tore through the Boston Marathon killing three and wounding hundreds.

The Toronto fan’s sign is even complete with a ribbon, a symbol generally reserved for tragedies or diseases.

Toronto fans, has it really been that long since the Leafs made the playoffs that you have forgotten decency? Of course, it was only one man in a crowd, but one would expect, in a world of common decency and reverence, that this photo would show this man getting a tongue-lashing from a fen beside him.

The Toronto fan did later get his due for brainlessness from Boston fans when his photo hit Twitter:

And Toronto fans alike:

Hopefully the young man in the photo has learned a lesson that, apparently, no one else needed to learn: Making fun of national tragedies, especially one month after the fact, won’t go over too well with pretty much anyone.

Patio etiquette 101

Despite winter’s desperation to survive, it finally happened: spring has broken through. In celebration of this glorious event and me being a living stereotype (actor/waiter), please let me remind the general populace about a simple forgotten code: patio etiquette.

When dining upon a patio, please do your best to encourage the following:

1) Please do not sit until at least three-quarters of your party has arrived.
Toronto is a crammed city; green space and patio space are among the first to be consumed when nicer weather is upon us. I’m serious, try setting a blanket down at Trinity Bellwoods in June. It is a cruel joke when someone sits at the last patio table, occupying it for hours, as other poor souls develop shin splints standing in line with their full parties present.

2) It is illegal to smoke while sitting on an enclosed or partially enclosed patio.
Don’t get me wrong, I too love a drag when I’ve had a few G & Ts, but the law says no.

3) For the greater good and all that is holy, if you have a fungal infection or mangled hobbit feet, please wear closed-toe shoes.
They are sensible, stylish and inoffensive. On this note, I must confess, I wrap my hairy French feet up for the summer. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s appetite.

4) If it begins to rain, please remember: it is not your server’s fault.
They do not possess any voodoo mama juju powers. And even if they do, do you think they’d use it to spoil their chance at making money? Servers have other things to worry about, like gaining Patrick Dempsey’s love or solving world hunger.

5) Sadly, and as much as everyone loves them, dogs are not allowed on patios.
I wish I could change this one, but I can’t.

6 )Please pay your bill.
This one sounds ridiculous to have to mention, but all too often and a few pitchers in, a party may get up to leave. Let me put this into perspective: as a server you tip out, so a percentage of your tips goes to tipping the wonderful kitchen staff and bar staff. (We work together as a great team.) If a party forgets to pay their bill, the server has to pay for it. All of it. Sometimes this forces him or her to have to go to an ATM to take out money, as all of the tips earned that day have to go to paying that very bill.

7) Control your volume.
I am 100% guilty of this one, but I like to think it’s because I’m a stage actor and I accidentally slip into my “stage voice.” Please be aware of Toronto’s patio shortage (see point i) and try your best to be courteous of other diners around you.

8) Have fun.
You’ve worked a long week. We’ve had a long winter. Enjoy every second of it. Don’t forget sunscreen and/or hats for prolonged visits. Stay as long as you’d like, you deserve to soak up this beautiful sunshine. Hope to see you around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shave my feet.

Women of the week: Kathy Cheng

Do you “buy local”? With the ever-increasing globalization of the market and the growing awareness of the unstable working conditions of overseas factories, the buy local movement is gaining a strong presence in the marketplace.

Kathy Cheng, president of WS & Co., strongly believes in supporting this movement.

“Each time a Canadian buys something that is Made in Canada, they are supporting not only their local economy, but also contributing to the continuation of a skilled workforce – that’s located on our very own soil rather than across the Atlantic.”

One of Canada’s leading apparel manufacturers, WS & Co. maintain a factory here in the Toronto area. As “crusaders for Canadian garment manufacturing,” the company has rejected the potential of increased profit through outsourcing, choosing instead to ensure that their employees are working in an environment protected by the rules and regulations of the Canadian government.

Started by Kathy’s father, Chak Wai Cheng, in 1988, WS & Co was originally a much smaller operation, employing only five seamstresses. Business improved and the company expanded; at its peak, it employed 500 people.

Growing up, Kathy spent a great deal of time in the factory, learning about the various steps of the production process. Then, in 2000, Kathy officially joined the team. It was a change from her previous role in financial consulting, but she feels it was the right thing to do.

“The factory and those who make it successful have allowed me to experience many privileges over the course of my life. So when my dad asked me to join in the family business, I believed this was my opportunity to give back,” she says.

In 2009, after surviving two recessions, the company went through a re-structuring process. Debra Tse and Gary Cheng, Kathy’s aunt and uncle and co-founders of the company, retired and Kathy became her father’s new business partner.

Her role was “to put a North American spin on a traditionally Chinese company and explore a new revenue stream for the factory.” It was at this point that Redwood Classics Apparel, WS & Co.’s in-stock apparel line, was created. The website for this division has proven to be very successful, increasing its search engine presence by 650% since its launch in 2009.

But Kathy’s pride and joy is a new division of Redwoods Classics, the Heritage Collection.

“Featuring a limited-edition lineup of classic fits, vintage colours and retro styles for men and women, the collection is proudly designed and manufactured in Canada with principles rooted in quality and integrity. The line is really a tribute to the preservation of our country’ craftsmen.”

The collection is being launched at an apt time. Given recent world events in the manufacturing industry and the increasing awareness of consumers as to where their products come from, WS & Co. is in the position to “expand and thrive” with their socially-conscious collection.

But expansion is about more than just the product, and Kathy is quick to point this out.  Redwood Classics chose to partner with the Pay It Forward movement, giving a white bracelet to those who purchase a PIF x RW Kangaroo Hoody.

“[It] is a physical reminder to do good. It’s that simple: give someone the bracelet and ask them to pay it forward,” she explains.

As the market changes in the coming years, Kathy and WS & Co. will adapt and thrive, thanks to her clear understanding of the new world order.

“Business is no longer just about the bottom line. It’s about people first, the planet second and profit third. For a positive and fruitful business environment, all three of these components must be present.”

Win a Tilley Weekender bag

Women’s Post is offering one lucky reader the chance to win a Tilley Weekender Bag. Stylish and functional, this bag features leather handles, a detachable leather shoulder strap and zippered interior pockets. Enter today for your chance to win.

 

Contest Rules & Regulations:
Contestants must reside in Canada (excluding Quebec) to be eligible to win
Contestants must be 18 or older
Contestants are eligible to enter 1x daily (further entries will not be counted)
Contest closes on Wednesday, May 22nd, at 4 p.m.

CONTEST CLOSED

Toronto Transit Alliance host symposium on the Big Move

Think big. That was the message being put forward by the Toronto Transit Alliance (TTA), their panel of guests and a room full of self-professed transit geeks. On the panel were Bruce McQuaig, President and Chief Executive Officer of Metrolinx, Richard Joy of the Toronto Board of Trade, Mitsy Hunter of Civic Action and Cherise Borda of the Pembina Institute. The Big Move is a transportation plan for the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA) being put forward by the provincial government agency Metrolinx. At 25 years and $50 billion, the Big Move is the first plan of its kind. The potential is here to have a drastically positive impact on the GTHA. Everything from community connection to employment could be impacted. There is only one problem: How are we going to pay for it?

Sarah Thomson, Chair of the TTA and Publisher of Women’s Post, has been adamant about pushing for a 1% regional sales tax. Such a method would get those living and working in the region to share in the cost while raising more than $800 million per year toward municipal revenue. Is this the answer? Possibly.

There are a number of other tools that cannot be discounted. A recent report from Metrolinx advised the region look at a number of option revenue options; chief among them connecting expansion to property tax and tolling roads.

Whatever revenue tool the region chooses to utilize, this is an issue that needs to be resolved. As things stand currently, the region is losing $6 billion annually to gridlock. That number is only expecting to balloon to $15 billion by 2031. But Richard Joy made it clear that we have an opportunity if an early provincial election is called. He is calling on Ontarians to make this the ‘transportation election.’ Put transportation on the map during the coming election cycle. Transportation consistently ranks among health and education as the most important issues to Ontarians. It is time we responded to it as such by calling on the government to create a dedicated stream of funding specific to transportation.

One thing is certain: if governments and citizens do not address this now, the issue will get away from them. Transportation has already become a generational issue. If we act now we can make sure the next generation is not saying the same thing to us. So, as Thomson said to close the symposium, “Tell everyone you know about the need for revenue tools.”

 

For more information on the TTA’s proposals to ‘unlock gridlock,’ take a look at their website and follow them on Twitter at @TransitAlly and #UnlockGridlock.

Women of the Week: Erin Deviney

Many people can cite exact moments in their lives that caused them to reevaluate their lives. When she was 20, Erin Deviney went on an Outward Bound Trip to Central America. According to her, it “profoundly changed how I see the world.”

“It opened my eyes to the difficult realities faced daily by so many people across the globe. Ultimately, I learned that poverty is such a complex issue and it is not about a single thing. It is about the environment, about education, about governance, about health and so many other factors.”

Initially, after graduating from Queen’s University in 2001 with a degree in Economics, Erin found work as a global market researcher, helping companies discover the best way to access potential customers.

“I found it fascinating to understand what drives people to make the decisions they do,” she says. “But ultimately, I struggled because while I was intellectually satisfied, I was emotionally empty. I wanted to use my skills to benefit people not companies.”

A decision to move to Australia in 2008 would prove to be the turning point in her career. “I saw this as an opportunity to make the shift to the not for profit sector that I had always dreamed of doing.”

After working overseas in Cambodia and Grenada—“Being given the privilege to work in other cultures, particularly one where language is a barrier is truly a remarkable experience,” she says—Erin retuned to Canada.

Now, back home, her primary focus is serving as campaign manager for the Canadian branch of the global movement Live Below The Line.

“Live Below the Line is a campaign that’s changing the way Canadians think about extreme poverty. We are challenging Canadians to step outside their comfort zones by living on just $1.75 a day for all of their food and drink for five days. Why $1.75? There are 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty who have less than $1.75 a day to spend to all of their needs in life from health, to transit, to food. “

The project, which is being taken on by people of every age group across the country, is a creative way to get people engaged in the poverty eradication movement by getting them to experience the daily struggles faced by a large portion of the people on this planet.

Her new focus in Canada is radically different from her former corporate life, but there are no regrets.

“Personally, the biggest difference is passion. When you do something that you love in a field that you deeply care about – it doesn’t feel like work anymore,” Erin says.

Although the initial shift was shocking, Erin adapted and learned from it. As she explains it, “that difference in resources has actually proven to be engaging – in that you have to be creative and resourceful. I think that makes work in the not for profit sector exciting in that there is room for new ideas.”

Not afraid to take chances, Erin has proven that she is willing to stand up for what she believes in. This, she believes, is what sets her apart from her competitors.

“You can’t ignore me,” she says.

30 disturbing and disgusting tweets about Jason Collins coming out

 

Jason Collins shocked the world this week by becoming the first openly gay pro athlete (besides baseball player and inventor of the high-five Glenn Burke who was out to his teammates) and has been met with hate from ignorant people along with the praise he has received.

The hate being spewed at him is sadly not a surprise.

This collection is not intended to change any minds. The people who wrote these tweets think that what they are doing is okay and right, and it would take a lot more than simply holding up a mirror to them to get them to change their minds.

This collection of tweets is intended to open the eyes of anyone who is passively indifferent to gay causes or may be on the fence about vocalising their support for gay people in their lives.

Gay people wake up every day knowing that there are millions of people in the world who hate them for what they are. Gay people in other countries wake up every day unsure if they will be alive at the end of it. Kids here in Canada are bullied to death with words like these.

After reading these please do your part to let your friends and family know that you support gay people and gay rights. Send a positive tweet to Jason Collins, for example, or just do something simple as update your Facebook status to say that you love and care about the gay people in your life.

These are 30 disturbing and disgusting tweets about Jason Collins coming out.

Jason Collins should die

Jason Collins is a Faggot

Jason Collins is disgusting, certainly not a hero

 

Jason Collins will burn in hell

It is attitudes like these that make his coming out all the more important.

Hopefully someday soon a gay athlete, actor, politician, or person won’t require the fanfare, but until then every single gay person needs the reassurance of your love and support. Their life could depend on it.

@travmyers