Policy vs Politics on Gardiner East
I asked on Monday if John Tory was a Chessmaster; with the Gardiner East vote finalized supporting his preference of "hybrid" it can be assumed temporarily yes.
How did council get to its decision on the Gardiner decision? For those who watched the council meeting over two days regarding the Gardiner, it would be hard to understand the solid fundamental support by some members of council. The peer tested reports presented that laid a foundation supporting the removal/boulevard option were basically ignored. The findings by Toronto city staff broke down the comparative benefits but allowed council to make up its own decision.
Let's examine how this council burdened Toronto with an option that may not be in its best interest through a series of points that helped council decide that the hybrid was the best option for Toronto.
Point 1: Defer
The recent decision has been in the process for over a decade. Last year council has asked staff to complete a study and report back their preferred decision on the Gardiner. As a result of the study, city staff concluded that the removal (boulevard) option was the best choice. Listed below is their conclusion; click on the photo to be taken to the entire report.
After this report was released, council does what it does best - waffle on making a decision during election years. Can councillors justify to voters how they made a decision and hope to keep their seats based on the 'spin' of their opponents. How can council defer a decision that seemed supported by staff... allow someone else to have another option.
First Gulf brought forth a concept of a realigned connection that many residents and councillors wondering if it was viable. The benefit of this new option was to allow councillors that were not willing to support the removal of any part of highway around Toronto a reprieve. I agreed last year that it was an out-of-the-box idea brought forth by someone other than staff or council. Click on the photo below to read a Toronto Star article on the concept.
During the mayoral campaign, both John Tory & Olivia Chow supported the First Gulf proposal while Doug Ford just didn't want the Gardiner removed. This has been used as fodder recently to justify why it was the 'option supported by the residents of Toronto'. Unfortunately the version of the 'hybrid' brought to council was not the proposal during the election.
Point 2: Confuse residents of what is being built
City staff looked at the First Gulf proposal but it was not a viable solution based on several criteria.
Click on Staff report here - First Gulf starts on page 26
- Speed travelling between Gardiner to Don Valley would need to be reduced to 50 KM/Hr which was deemed unsafe given 70 KM/Hr is required
- An elevated expressway could not be placed on top of the stormwater quality management facility
- Aligning the ramps through the sediment management facility of the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection project would compromise the ability to operate
The First Gulf proposal was deemed the hybrid proposal. When it had been rejected by the staff report, another option also was called 'hybrid'. This is where point 2 begins; two different options being called the same and no one knows the difference.
Point 3: Undermine reports
There is always the question if when staff are given a request for a report, what should their 'direction' be? Given Tory's support for the hybrid, should the reports attempt to find a way to conclude that is the best option? The staff report on which option either: remove (boulevard) or modify/maintain (hybrid), did not give a preference. The report didn't know which criteria would be weighted higher, as although remove had more support, the value of transportation may be a determining factor.
Tory likely having access to reports before they are presented to council or boards would have known that Toronto Public Health was heavily recommending the removal option. How can this be brought forward and presented to council and then vote against it?
Before the Board of Health was to listen to deputations from the public and decide to recommend the Rapid Health Impact Assessment on the Alternative Solutions for the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard East Reconfiguration, Mayor John Tory felt it appropriate to let the city know what plan he would support. Tory held a press conference to state his support for the hybrid option before the meeting by the Board of Health. Given that Jon Burnside and Christin Carmichael Greb were endorsed during the municipal election and were both on the board; Tory's support for the hybrid had a definite influence.
Above is a breakdown provided of which option would be best from a public health standpoint. The ability to count shows that the Remove had been the preferred option. Eight criterion that were greater for Remove, only one for the Hybrid...
The board did not adopt the assessment and would not be presented to council.
Point 4: Undermine city staff
The posturing by Tory before the council meeting to determine the fate of the Gardiner East also put Toronto's Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat in a difficult position. Jennifer had preferred the removal of the Gardiner East and have it replaced with the boulevard option. Click below to access a Torontoist article on why Toronto's Chief Planner recommends the boulevard option.
Jennifer was then attacked by Duputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong about being blocked on twitter. He was among many who questioned the Chief Planner leading up to the vote that were supporters of John Tory. I would compare the treatment of Jennifer to that of a military personnel; put them in place when they step out of line. Staff is there to support council, having an professional opinion different than council or the mayor is within their rights. Tory put his view on the hybrid ahead of the health assessment and the findings of the city report. I view that as an overstep in order to begin the next point to win... media.
Point 5: Control the media
Leading up to council there was a very interesting pattern in the media. John Tory took over a radio show for a few hours. It allowed him to have a few hour commercial to promote his agenda regarding the Gardiner East Hybrid. Supposedly there weren't callers that wanted to call to support the boulevard. He had an independent planner on as a guest that supported the hybrid.
Despite the reporters from several news organizations writing that the politics of council is neglecting the facts before them, their editoral boards supported the hybrid. Had Tory and his staff been able to influence an opinion of the editors? Media has an important influence on residents of the city. If the front page of several news organizations were supporting the hybrid, why would they question it? The fact that there is a lack of social engagement is another problem that is only exacerbated by the influence of media opinion rather than a medium of facts.
Tory went to Edmonton with a number of councillors that were participating in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference. The councillors that attended the conference would eventually vote 9 to 1 in favour of the boulevard option for the Gardiner. This is significant because as soon as everyone was at the conference, the pro-hybrid councillors began to hold press conferences to show their support. The move was strategic in attempting to induce councillors who had yet to decide that the numbers were beginning to stack up. All the while Tory was in Edmonton representing the city about:
“Next week the mayors of over 20 of Canada’s largest cities will meet to set their agenda for the federal election year and representatives from all three federal parties will be there to discuss how they plan to invest in key priorities for Toronto — transit, infrastructure and housing,” Galbraith told the Toronto Sun.“Next week the mayors of over 20 of Canada’s largest cities will meet to set their agenda for the federal election year and representatives from all three federal parties will be there to discuss how they plan to invest in key priorities for Toronto — transit, infrastructure and housing,” Galbraith told the Toronto Sun."Next week the mayors of over 20 of Canada's largest cities will meet to set their agenda for the federal election year and representatives from all three federal parties will be there to discuss how they plan to invest in key priorities for Toronto - transit, infrastructure and housing" Galbraith told the Toronto Sun
I do wonder if Tory can justify spending extra money on a proposal for the Gardiner East while wanting to discuss with the federal parties about infrastructure and transit. Spending on a road that could be better used for transit makes no sense... optics I guess.
Point 6: Spin events
On June 8th the TTC announced that all subway lines were not operational due to a communications issue. The backbone of transit for Toronto was halted, stranding over 125,000 people left to find alternative ways to commute. It was a very telling event that should have been a catalyst on the need to be investing on transit rather than extra funds on a road proposal that wasn't supported by staff or the Chief Planner. Councillor Josh Colle is the TTC Chair as appointed by John Tory should have become a vocal advocate for transit.
Josh Colle wondered if the Gardiner could be sold to pay for transit, seeing that his position as TTC Chair should be paramount over any assumed loyalty to Tory. The decision to support an entire city that needs a working transit system versus the support of one man. Josh also put forth the need to understand what would happen to an important part of Toronto's necessary transit system the East Bayfront LRT. In the end, Josh fell in line and voted for the hybrid; much to the dismay of all TTC users.
Point 7: Influence the wards that drive
How do most commuters get downtown?
Read a great post by Steve Munro about the commute to downtown. Click on the photo below to be directed to his post.
The fundamental aspect of travelling to the downtown core is just how little the Gardiner East is used. With the expansion of transit (TTC, GO and eventually SmartTrack) the number of residents commuting on transit will only increase. I can go deeper but there is really no point since Steve did a great job.
I can however speak to the fact of where those drivers are coming from... Scarborough, Etobicoke and regions outside of Toronto. This is a major aspect of how councillors will vote. Those councillors that had residents calling because of the influence of the media and Tory were going to make a decision that may be best for their wards. This is their duty, in part, although their role also needs to be about the needs of the entire city of Toronto. With every downtown councillor voting for the Remove while the majority of the suburban councillors voting for a hybrid, how is this the best option for the city?
Stephen Holyday is my councillor in Ward 3. He got up to make a presentation about why he is supporting the hybrid. I can give him credit to at least using visuals that showed why he had a problem with the remove. Given that he would be considered a 'fiscal conservative' the spending on the more expensive option that removed the ability to sell land, increase residents and businesses to get property taxes from seems counter-intuitive. The best part of his presentation was the use of the photo below that used the famous line of "mind the gap". It is a statement about the gap in the London subway system between the platform and the vehicles. Ironic to use a transit statement to promote a car-centric option.
Point 8: Win by any means necessary
Leading up to the council debate there was those councillors that believe Toronto should tunnel the Gardiner East. It has never been the opinion of city staff that this option was valid given its costs of $2.5 Billion to complete. The idea of selling the Gardiner was brought up or even putting tolls on the Gardiner and Don Valley to pay for the Hybrid or tunnel options. Many wondered why it garnered so much attention when the possibilities were all but mute.... leverage.
Tory allowed the conversation to go on about the tunnel and even seemed to encourage it. A tunnel option no matter how obtuse it was would likely help convince undecided councillors to support his hybrid. I thought one of my amusing commentaries on the whole tunnel discussion involved the whole 'carrot on a stick' analogy. Those led to support the hybrid may eventually regret their decision.
In the end council voted 24 - 21 in support of the hybrid. Now the process moves along which will likely be held up with lawsuits brought upon the city as well as other legal proceedings by community groups and developers. This is not the end of the debate, rather a sad crescendo of the power of politics and the ability to influence it has on shaping Toronto.