Categories
Ontario Parks Politics

The province’s attack on conservation authorities

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View from the Niagara Escarpment at Mount Nemo Conservation Area towards Mississauga and Toronto

One of Ontario’s greatest success stories has been the development of conservation authorities (CAs). The provincial Conservation Authorities Act was introduced in 1946 to provide for new joint provincial-municipal bodies protect farmland and natural features from deforestation, flooding, and erosion, organized not by political boundaries, but by watersheds. In 1954, south-central Ontario was hit by Hurricane Hazel, which caused extreme and deadly flooding. This highlighted the need for strong local authorities to coordinate flood protection strategies, including dams, floodways and reservoirs, but also land use planning, the protection of headwaters, and the naturalization of important landscapes, such as the Niagara Escarpment and Toronto’s ravines. Planners at CAs help to ensure that any new development is protected from flooding or erosion and will not negatively impact other properties or the watershed as a whole.

Most of Ontario’s 36 CAs also operate conservation areas, open to the public as parklands. These may contain hiking trails, wildlife sanctuaries, campgrounds, lakes and reservoirs for swimming, boating, or fishing, as well as waterfalls, caves, scenic lookouts, or other unique natural features. A few conservation authorities also operate historic sites, including old mills, or even entire pioneer villages, such as Black Creek. Many CAs also hold special events, such as festivals, school tours, and even concerts.

Many of these programs and services are incredibly important, but all are beneficial to the public. And they are under attack by the provincial government.

Earlier this year, the province cut funding for natural hazards planning by 50 percent. Late last week, the minister for Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff
Yurek, sent a letter to all CAs and their partner municipalities to begin to wind down any programs not directly related to their “core mandate.”

Yurek commented that “over the years, conservation authorities have expanded past their core mandate into activities such as zip-lining, maple syrup festivals and photography and wedding permits.”

One such CA, Conservation Halton, operates several conservation areas in Halton Region and the City of Hamilton.

Kelso Conservation Area includes a ski hill, a reservoir that provides for paddle boating, fishing, and a swimming beach, and a campground. There are also outdoor movie nights. At Mountsberg Conservation Area, Conservation Halton operates a Raptor Centre, where injured birds of prey are treated and shown to the public. It also has one of those maple syrup festivals in its sugar bush.

26437885398_1405516057_o.jpgFeeding chickadees at Hilton Falls Conservation Area

Conservation Halton has a $30 million annual budget, but it only gets $145,000 from the province for core programs. The rest of its funds come from municipalities and from park user fees, rentals, and sales. The festivals, event bookings and wedding permits help fund the important conservation work. Offering festivals and other special events also help engage the public, especially children.

Of course, the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government’s attack on conservation authorities isn’t about saving money. Instead it’s about restricting their mandate, reducing their ability to raise funds and engage the public.

Perhaps this all has to do with the influence of the development industry. Ontario Proud, a third-party advertiser connected with the Progressive Conservatives, ran attack ads on social media and on outdoor billboards against the last Liberal government in 2016 and 2017. It was funded by the development and construction industry, with Mattamy Homes being its largest contributor. The province also weakened planning legislation and municipal power to restrict new development through Bill 108, the so-called More Homes, More Choice Act.

If the Ford government gets its way, conservation authorities will have fewer resources to protect watersheds and natural lands and reduce the risk of the effects of climate change. Without maple syrup festivals and other “non-core” programming, there will also be less fun and reduced awareness of Ontario’s wonderful natural landscape. This isn’t about fiscal responsibility. It’s about ideology and payback.

27035683581_ff87c274c6_o.jpgThere are plenty of developers who’d love to pave over the Greenbelt

Categories
Infrastructure Politics Toronto Transit

A “fantastic bonanza:” another transit plan up in smoke?

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On the CBC radio program Metro Morning on March 28, Toronto Mayor John Tory spoke about his concerns regarding Premier Doug Ford’s plans to upload the city’s subway system, as well as Ford’s intentions to build new subway extensions to Richmond Hill and Scarborough Centre, bury the Eglinton West LRT, and start the long-planned Relief Line. Instead of a conventional subway, the Relief Line envisioned by the province would use a “new technology,” despite planning and engineering underway for a subway, using an existing subway yard for Relief Line train storage.

But Tory, who has been passive so far about the province’s plans, was hopeful that the unspecified new technology proposed for the Relief Line would be a “fantastic bonanza” for Toronto, but he added that he didn’t know for sure what would come of the new plan.

It is curious that Tory called this hostile takeover a “fantastic bonanza.” Bonanza was a long-running Western television show, starring Lorne Greene as the patriarch of the Cartwright family, owners of a vast ranch on Lake Tahoe. Bonanza was famous for its theme music and opening credits, which featured a burning map of the Cartwrights’ Ponderosa ranch before introducing the cast.

Opening theme for Bonanza

Bonanza’s burning map is a great metaphor for Toronto’s transit planning. Newly elected mayors and premiers burn the maps left behind by their predecessors, and time is wasted on new feasibility studies and engineering reports, ready just in time for someone else to get elected with yet another idea. Plans come and go, but hardly anything ever gets built.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. After a prolonged spurt of subway construction in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, momentum was lost. In the 1980s, Bill Davis’ Progressive Conservatives insisted on a novel linear-induction rail system for Scarborough, rather than the light rail project already underway. The Liberals, under David Peterson, proposed several subway lines, though it was scaled back under NDP Premier Bob Rae. In 1994, work started on the first phases of the Eglinton and Sheppard subways. When Mike Harris’ government was elected in 1995, they cancelled Eglinton, filling in a hole already dug for the tunnel boring machines.

There was new hope in 2003, when a new Liberal provincial government was elected, and David Miller, an urban progressive, became mayor of Toronto. While the province’s top priority was the extension of the Spadina Subway to York University and Vaughan, it was willing to help fund major improvements to GO Transit, along with new light rail systems in Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, and Mississauga-Brampton. It also committed to Miller’s proposed Transit City LRT network, including a fully grade-separated replacement of the ageing Scarborough RT.

There were valid criticisms of Transit City — there were too many transfers to get around the top of the city, there was no Relief Line, and a few of the proposed lines, like parts of the Jane and Don Mills LRTs, were too difficult to build as surface rail projects. But because of Miller, the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT is well underway, and preliminary work continues on Finch Avenue West.

Work would have also started on the Scarborough RT replacement and expansion and the Sheppard East LRT, had Rob Ford not been elected in 2010, promising “subways, subways, subways” and burning the transit maps for which new projects were planned and being built. Seven funded LRT stops in Scarborough became three unfunded subway stops. Overestimating Rob Ford, and hoping to keep seats in Scarborough, the Liberal government folded to his demands, and work stopped on the LRT replacement.

Rob Ford’s disastrous term was followed by John Tory’s twin obsessions of SmartTrack and an austerity agenda, at a time when the Yonge and Bloor-Danforth subways were overwhelmed by demand caused by a growing population and a booming economy — hardly the conditions that demanded low spending on civic services and infrastructure and yet another half-baked transit plan.

smarttrack_fbSmartTrack map from the 2014 John Tory campaign

Tory promised that it would only take seven years to build SmartTrack, which would mostly use existing railway infrastructure, along with a new section of track in Etobicoke, on land already sold off for development. Tory’s insistence on SmartTrack further delayed momentum on the Relief Line. Though Tory remained committed to the Scarborough subway extension over the approved and funded LRT, it was reduced to a single stop as costs ballooned, while the subway and SmartTrack threatened to cannibalize each other. We don’t hear much about SmartTrack anymore, but at least Tory has come around on the Relief Line.

But Doug Ford’s latest musings make it clear why the planned subway upload is so dangerous.

19817903155_db9d9bb379_o.jpgCanada Line in Richmond, British Columbia

So what now for the Relief Line?

Despite the inevitable Simpsons monorail jokes (Doug Ford did promise a monorail on Toronto’s waterfront when he was a city councillor in 2011), the new technology the province is considering is likely an automated light metro line, similar to the Canada Line in Vancouver. The Canada Line links Vancouver’s city centre with the international airport and the suburb of Richmond. It was built as a private-public partnership (P3) project, in which a private company was contracted to design, build, and operate the line. It’s an attractive option for a conservative government: P3s promise to be cheaper to build and operate than a conventional public project.

But the Canada Line has problems. Though trains are frequent, it was built too small to accommodate growth. The outer terminals at Vancouver airport and Richmond-Brighouse are both single track/single platform. Station platforms are too short — only 40 metres long — to increase train sizes. And as many stations are underground, it’s too expensive to extending platforms to fit larger trains. Some relief is coming, but even then, the maximum capacity of the Canada line is 15,000 persons per direction per hour, far less than Vancouver’s SkyTrain lines or Toronto’s subway. If this is the route Toronto takes, it won’t be long before the Relief Line itself will need relief.

Once again, I fear that Toronto will continue to spin its wheels thanks to the Ford circus. And it’s a shame — though sadly not surprising — that Mayor Tory isn’t fighting back.

Categories
Election Maps Politics Toronto

Why Doug Ford’s plan for 25 Toronto wards is an attack on local democracy

Ridings and 47 Wards.jpgMap of Doug Ford’s proposed 25 wards and the City Council-approved 47 ward boundaries

Late last week, the newly elected Ontario Progressive Conservative government announced that they would be imposing a new electoral map on the City of Toronto, a decision that would eliminate the new 47 wards approved by Toronto City Council, replacing them with the same 25 boundaries used by the federal and provincial governments.

It’s very clear that Premier Doug Ford’s plan, which requires a new piece of legislation, ironically titled the “Better Local Government Act,” is vindictive and mean-spirited because it only affects the City of Toronto, which rejected Doug Ford’s 2014 mayoral bid. It quashes the hopes of many young, racialized, and progressive candidates looking to change the make up of a council that has generally supported Mayor John Tory’s agenda. It is unfair to candidates that ran in good faith, started campaigns, raised funds, and spent money hiring staff, purchasing materials, and renting campaign offices.

But most of all, Ford’s actions are an attack on local democracy because of the haste with which they are being made, at the end of the nomination period for those approved 47 wards. They ignore the years of study by independent experts and several rounds of public consultations. They also benefit Toronto’s suburban areas, which are growing at a far slower rate than downtown Toronto, North York Centre and Etobicoke’s waterfront area, which will be disproportionately affected by this arbitrary decision.

Each new ward was designed to have an average population of 61,000, with a population range of between 51,800 and 72,000 (+/- 15%). They were designed to last for four election cycles, to be re-drawn before the 2034 election.

It is worth noting that the independent experts looked at using the 25 federal/provincial boundaries twice. In the first study, they were rejected early on because they would not “meet the tests of effective representation.” The federal boundaries, which are also adopted by the province of Ontario, are based on population counts from the 2011 Census, and are already seven years out-of-date, while the consultants were tasked with developing new ward boundaries to last 16 years. Even a 50-ward solution (which mimics the old 44 wards based on the 22 federal ridings that were established in 1996 and came into effect with the 1997 federal election) would result in severe variations in population.

Ridings and 2026 pop variation.jpgHow the 25 ridings, if used for Toronto’s ward boundaries, will vary in population by 2026

After Tory’s Executive Committee tasked the Toronto Ward Boundary Review team to re-examine options that would see fewer than 47 councillors elected in 2018, they re-examined using the 25 ward boundaries. They found that in 2026, three of those wards — Toronto Centre, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and Spadina-Fort York — would have populations over 30% higher than the ward average in 2026. Willowdale and University-Rosedale would also have had much larger populations than the city average.

The review team also looked at a 26-ward option that mostly maintained the riding boundaries but added a new ward downtown out of the Toronto Centre and Spadina-Fort York constituencies and adjusted boundaries in southern Etobicoke. Even then, Etobicoke Centre and Etobicoke-Lakeshore would still have populations over 20% higher than the city-wide average. Despite making some adjustments for population growth, this option would have not have corresponded with some ridings, and was also not recommended.

26 Wards and 2026 pop variation.jpgHow the modified 26 ridings, if used for Toronto’s ward boundaries, would have varied in population in 2026

For those reasons, and to support local representation, the 47-ward solution was once again recommended, and was approved by City Council in November 2016. Councillors Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) and Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7) then appealed the new boundaries to the Ontario Municipal Board, but they were dismissed. The 47-ward solution has survived despite it all.

Mayor Tory may have brought back decorum to the mayor’s office after an embarrassing period under Doug Ford’s brother Rob, but he has pushed an austerity agenda, and has failed to show leadership on police reform, wasteful infrastructure spending, and safe streets for pedestrians and cyclists. His initial reaction, to call for a referendum on Ford’s plan to cut Toronto’s council, was a characteristically weak response; he was later pushed into supporting a legal challenge by an angry public. Meanwhile, some of Tory’s allies, like Di Ciano, David Shiner, and Glenn De Baeremaeker, support Ford’s actions.

Ford’s attack on local democracy is an insult to candidates who have already put their names forward for election and launched their campaigns. It undermines the City of Toronto’s legislated responsibility to decide its own ward boundaries. And it will only exasperate existing disparities in council representation.

Categories
Maps Toronto

Mapping the 2014 Toronto election: Wards 3 and 4

Ward 3 and Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre, were both interesting races to watch. Neither ward had an incumbent councillor running for re-election. Mayoral candidates Doug Ford and John Tory were both very competitive in each ward. Tory came first in Ward 3, while Ford came first in Ward 4; both wards showed clear geographic splits in their choice for mayor. Olivia Chow came in a very distant third in both wards. Ward 4 was interesting for another reason; though Rob and Doug Ford have taken turns representing Ward 2, they both live in Ward 4.

The incumbent in Ward 3, Peter Leon, was a caretaker councillor, appointed by council in 2013. When appointed, Leon promised that he would not run for election. The incumbent in Ward 4, Gloria Lindsay Luby, a moderate councillor and a Ford family foe, did not stand for re-election in 2014.

Ward3_Mayor
Poll results of the mayoral race in Ward 3

As already noted in a few suburban wards (such as Ward 10 and Ward 15), there’s a clear distinction between areas where Tory did well and where Ford was the most popular mayoral candidate.

In Ward 3, Doug Ford did best in polls in the north and northwest part of the ward, particularly in the high-rise residential towers and townhouse complexes that line Highway 427. Wealthier neighbourhoods such as Princess-Rosethorn and Markland Wood generally voted for Tory.

Ward4_MayorPoll results of the mayoral race in Ward 4

The same patterns can be found in Ward 4. Polls in affluent Edenbridge-Humber Valley neighbourhood voted for John Tory by wide margins, with one notable exception: Poll 028, Rob Ford’s home poll. Interestingly, mayoral candidate Doug Ford lost his own poll (Poll 027), he was the only top mayoral candidate to do so. Most polls north of Eglinton Avenue voted for Doug Ford by wide margins. Condominium towers, seniors’ residences, and high-end rental buildings (including Polls 015, 019, 020, 021, 022, 038) opted for Tory, while Ford did well in other rental highrises (such as Polls 003, 016, 023, 024, 036).

Categories
Election Maps

Mapping the 2014 Toronto election: Wards 1 and 2

2014 Election - WARD 1 MayorPoll results of the mayoral race in Ward 12014 Election - WARD 2 MayorPoll results of the mayoral race in Ward 2

On this beautiful sunny Friday afternoon, let’s have a quick look at the results of the 2014 Toronto municipal election in Wards 1 and 2, Etobicoke North. Ward 2 is the Ford’s home turf (Rob Ford and Doug Ford now live in Ward 4, but their mother’s home, the venue for many “Ford Fest” backyard parties is located here, as is the family business, Deco Labels and Tags.

Rob Ford represented Ward 2 on city council for ten years before running for mayor in 2010.  In that election, Rob Ford’s brother Doug ran for Rob’s old council seat, and won handily. After being diagnosed with cancer in September of 2014, after a scandal-prone term of office, Rob and Doug traded places. Doug, who did not intend to run for office, took Rob’s place as mayoral candidate. On October 27, 2014, Rob Ford, once again, was elected city councillor for Ward 2. A close ally was re-elected in Ward 1.

Despite disappointing electoral results in Wards 1 and 2, there is hope for the future in northwest Toronto.