Metro Vancouver is facing a critical choice this spring. From March 16 to May 29, 2015 residents of the region will have the chance to decide on future investments in public transit with the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite.

The referendum is a direct result of changes in transportation governance. In June 2014, there were changes to regional transportation authority TransLink’s governance model. Two groups now govern TransLink: the Mayors’ Council and the TransLink Board of Directors.

  • The Mayors’ Council is made up of representatives from the 21 municipalities in the transit service region, Electoral Area A (UBC campus and Musqueam lands), and the Tsawwassen First Nation. The Council appoints the majority of members on the Board of Directors and approves long-term transportation strategies (≥ 30 years), 10-year transportation investment plans, first-time short-term fares and short-term fare increases, changes in customer satisfaction survey processes, changes in customer complaint processes, TransLink’s Executive Compensation Plan and director compensation levels, and oversees sale of major facilities and assets.
  • The Board of Directors includes nine members appointed by the Mayors’ Council and up to two members appointed by the Province, selected on their skills and expertise. The Board appoints the TransLink Chair, Vice Chair, and CEO, supervises the management of the affairs of TransLink, submits long-term transportation strategies and 10-year transportation investment plans to the Mayors’ Council for approval, approves TransLink’s annual operating budgets, proposes to Mayors’ Council changes to customer satisfaction survey processes and conducts surveys annually, proposes to Mayors’ Council changes to customer complaint processes and implements approved processes, publishes annual reports, holds public annual general meetings, and establishes subsidiaries and appoints their Board Chair and members.

The “new and improved” Mayors’ Council represents a fundamental shift in the way regional transportation planning decisions are made, returning a voice to the public through their elected representatives, who have a vested interest in building a collaborative vision and plan for transportation and transit (TransLink’s mandate includes roads, bridges, and public transit). In 2007, Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon said that there was too much in-fighting among the municipalities and little agreement on regional goals. He introduced governance changes that weakened the ability of the Mayors’ Council to determine the regional transportation vision. But a 2013 governance review criticized the lack of accountability to local residents. The 2014 governance changes eliminated the Regional Commissioner of Transportation and the ability of the provincial government to set the regional transportation vision.

As many of my readers know, municipal/regional transportation authorities have an uneasy relationship with their provincial ministries at the best of times–the Province of BC’s decision to prioritize of the Canada Line over the Broadway Line and Falcon’s 2007 governance changes soon afterwards highlighted this power struggle. In Ontario I once overhead a longtime provincial policy analyst say that he “didn’t think the province would ever let go” of its legislative authority over municipalities. The governance issue relates back to the British North America Act, which granted authority to the federal and provincial governments, omitting municipal governments because Canada was largely a rural nation in 1867. Today municipalities, and local/regional bodies such as transit agencies, struggle to fund their services because they lack revenue streams that the upper levels of government have (e.g. the Goods and Services and Provincial Sales Taxes) in a country where over 8% of the population now lives in urban areas.

So it transpired that in February 2014, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure asked the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council to confirm its transportation vision and to clarify the costs, priorities and phasing for investments and actions. The Mayors’ Council established a Subcommittee on Transportation Investment, which worked with TransLink, Metro Vancouver and municipalities to define their vision, establish spending priorities, and recommend new funding mechanisms. For those of my readers in other cities and countries, this kind of collaboration towards a common vision is typical of the Vancouver region, where the first regional plan was articulated over forty years ago. Liberal Premier Christy Clark asked for a referendum on the Mayors’ Council plan.

The actual wording of the ballot is:

The Mayors’ Council has developed a transportation and transit plan called Regional Transportation Investments – A Vision for Metro Vancouver. The plan will:

  • add bus service and new B-Line rapid bus routes
  • increase service on SkyTrain, Canada Line, Seabus, and West Coast Express
  • maintain and upgrade the region’s major roads
  • build a new Patullo bridge
  • build rapid transit connecting Surrey Centre with Guildford, Newton, and Langley
  • build rapid transit along Broadway in Vancouver
  • extend the region’s cycling and pedestrian walkway networks.

A new Metro Vancouver Congestion tax would be applied as a 0.5% sales tax on the majority of goods and services that are subject to the Provincial Sales Tax and are sold or delivered in the region. Revenues would be dedicated to the Mayors’ Council transportation and transit plan. Revenues and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Council transportation and transit plan?

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 2.02.05 PM

You can get more details on the Mayors’ Council, and their plan, on their website ( If you live in Metro Vancouver, and are a registered voter, you can vote by mail between March 16 and May 29th. If you’re not registered, and you are 18 or over, a Canadian citizen, a resident of Metro Vancouver and a BC resident for at least 6 months, click here to go to Election BC’s website.

I’m also supporting Moving In a Livable Region, a consortium of businesses, organizations, local governments, and transportation leaders working together to create a long-term sustainable funding regime for transportation in the Metro Vancouver region, in their efforts to get information out to the public. Click here to read my guest post. Transportation referendums are exceedingly rare in Canada, so don’t miss your chance to have your say!

Election maps are hot, but this one shows what happened in a lot more detail. Web developer and designer Pete Smaluck and policy analyst Tom Weatherburn have developed a map that disaggregates ward results in Toronto down to the neighbourhood level. The map allows the user to scan subdivisions based on three key characteristics at a time (from education, income, occupation, transportation to work, religion, immigration, and visible minorities) to see the percentage of votes John Tory, Doug Ford, and Olivia Chow got in last month’s election. The map shows a much more nuanced picture than the “divided Toronto” we’re always hearing about.

Here’s what the map and analytics look like if you choose mode of transportation taken to work, immigration, and visible minorities–hover over the riding to see the trends broken down by neighbourhood.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.08.12 PM

Passengers line up for the bus at St. Catharines' Brock University

Passengers line up for the bus at St. Catharines’ Brock University

In this era of public spending scrutiny, transit construction cost overruns, pilot projects have become an ideal way for municipalities and regions around the world to experiment with a desirable planning alternative. In 2009, the City of Vancouver experimented with installing bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge, which became permanent a year later after one million cyclists had crossed the bridge. Toronto is currently experimenting with bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide Streets.

Just over an hour south of Toronto in wine country, Niagara Region initiated an intermunicipal transit pilot project back in 2011, granting $3.7 million to the municipalities of Welland, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls to connect to each other with new buses. The Region also provided additional funding to the program annually. The pilot program has been successful–though it was due to end this fall, the Region has extended it until September 2015. Last week, Niagara’s public works committee approved guiding principles for intermunicipal transit developed in consultation with the Region’s 12 cities and towns, and agreed to remove the words “pilot project” from any reference to an intermunicipal transit system linking the cities. Regional councillors also approved route improvements of $1.34 million in 2015–pending approval of the 2015 budget to support a system linking Welland, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln.

Regional councillors say the project would also be key in convincing the province to extend daily GO Rail service to Niagara. A survey of 4,700 Niagara residents showed that 48% would be willing to support intermunicipal transit with higher taxes. Support was highest in St. Catharines at 60%.

Municipal elections are still over a month away, so voters have plenty of time for a little light reading. I thought it important to highlight a few key resources for Torontonians caught up in the Ford-Tory-Chow- race for mayor. This past month has yielded a wealth of information that should inform your political choices for the largest city in the country.

  1. The City of Toronto is very financially healthy. To quote a report released a couple of weeks ago from the University of Toronto Institute for Municipal Finance and Governance, “Toronto does not have a spending problem.” For those who don’t remember, in his bid to “stop the gravy train” Mayor Ford commissioned independent audits of the city’s services. Internationally recognized firm KPMG found that most city services were mandatory or essential, and there were few opportunities to cut costs without cutting services. The rhetoric that we must constantly cut costs and avoid spending on essential services or projects has had a damaging effect: it has caused us to delay spending on important infrastructure, services, and projects necessary to the city’s functioning. All voters should check out IMPG’s report, Is Toronto Fiscally Healthy? A Check-up on the City’s Finances, an excellent primer on municipal governance and finance, answering questions like “How much influence do politicians have on the economy?” (Answer: Not much).
  2. Toronto Star comparison of the candidates' transit plans

    Toronto Star comparison of the candidates’ transit plans

    Public transit has emerged as the leading issue in this mayoral race. Every newspaper has spelled out, in mind-numbing detail, the plans of each candidate: here’s a summary from the Toronto Star. The Toronto Sun went so far as to break down each of Rob Ford’s campaign promises in “10 problems with Rob Ford’s transit plan.” Yeah, that’s right–the Sun, people. Voters need to be informed on what are realistic plans versus empty promises. Do your homework and don’t be distracted by the beautiful technology.

  3. What this city needs is a long-term vision. If you want to see what a transportation vision might look like, check out TTC’s August 19th report Opportunities to Improve Transit Service in Toronto, which outlines their futuristic vision for Toronto. Read about The Big Move at Metrolinx. Think about your own needs, and those of your family members, ten or twenty years in the future. Check out the Toronto Board of Trade’s discussion paper, Build Regional Transportation Now, to get some ideas of how municipalities could work together to achieve common goals. Among the more revolutionary of their suggestions are: reviewing governance options for improved coordination and integration of transportation related planning, management and operational functions; integrating transit route planning and creating one regional network, fare system, schedule and public transportation brand; depoliticizing transportation decision-making; applying dedicated revenue tools to manage transportation demand; and including fairness and equity in the application of revenue tools. In terms of a housing vision, most candidates haven’t gone into much detail: Toronto Life examined Olivia Chow’s affordable housing plan in “Would Olivia Chow’s affordable housing plan work as advertised?”, particularly the concept of inclusionary zoning.
  4. Don’t read too much into opinion polls: they are often inaccurate. Polls did not accurately predict Kathleen Wynne’s majority win in June, as the media often portrayed the difference between Wynne and Tim Hudak as merely in the single digits (the result: Wynne won 48 seats, Hudak 28). The same thing happened in Alberta two years ago, when the race between Conservative Alison Redford and Wildrose Party’s Danielle Smith was considered too close to call (the result: Redford won a majority with 62 seats compared to Smith’s 17 seats). Vote for the candidate who has the best chance of fulfilling your vision for Toronto.
  5. Look for overlapping goals. Canada doesn’t have an Obama, a leader whose 2008 election strategy focused on pointing out shared ideas and beliefs, and suggested “yes we can”. Increasingly, Canadian politics are divisive, pitting owners against renters, old against young, the native-born against immigrants. Voters have to look for common goals themselves, e.g. the fact that even Rob Ford, a poster-boy for conservativism, is spending his final weeks before the election coming up with plans for public transit tells you something about this city. The fact that the city has needs far greater than it can address with its own paltry revenue streams (e.g. infrastructure, housing) says something about the division of powers between municipalities, provinces, and the federal government. Voters need to be reminded that we do have common struggles, ideals, and aspirations: politicians are extremely skilled in wiping these commonalities from our memories as they try to define themselves and their platforms.


I urge all who are able to vote to register or just bring identification with your local address on voting day, October 27th. Students, you can vote in the city where you live as a student, or in your hometown.

2013-09-20 09.21.25

I’m live blogging again from the seminar and today we’ve had a tour of the redevelopment of Arnhem Centraal Station, and heard about Arnhem City-Region’s efforts to integrate land use and transportation planning. Arnhem’s station area includes local and regional bus stations and regional and international trains. It works on four levels (including underground car and parking) and is expected to be complete by the end of 2014. As you can see, there is medium-density development around the station, since there has been a rail station in this location since the mid-1800s. The current redevelopment includes office towers, but given the glut of office space in The Netherlands these may take a while to fill up.

2013-09-20 10.26.13

We also heard about TOD from our international experts, e.g. value capture tools for municipalities from Rachelle Alterman and rail developments in Armitière, and Lille from Alain l’Hostis. Alain told us about a new attempt in this area to target new development within 500m of rail stations, including specific goals for housing described in the Housing Plan. The quality criteria for TOD in this case is attractive regional railway supply, a transit-oriented urban development, high quality neighbourhood networks, quality links to the corridor, integrated planning processes, and commitment to a common future. While Lille is an internationally-known case, changes in Armitière are more recent. His work overlaps with that of Gebhart Wulfhorst, who discussed ten years of French-German collaboration through the Bahn Ville program: the first stage produced recommendations (2005) and the second focused on implementation. This was one of the few presentations to discuss combining the slower local modes with the faster regional modes: there was a focus on walking and neighbourhood mobility in Friedrichsdorf, something we never hear about in Amsterdam. Minor changes in the slow, neighbourhood network, if they were targeted in key areas, could have huge impacts on the broader regional network: Gebhart even referred to walking/walkability/neighbourhood mobility “as one of the most important success factors for TOD.”

Carey Curtis talked about overcoming implementation barriers in TOD through strong planning systems (defined roles for centers and networks), distinct policy to define TOD areas and densities, and prioritizing specific station areas. Carey’s and Jan Scheurer’s SNAMUTS tool measures accessibility of the various areas in Australian cities to determine where investment should be focused: do we focus on areas that already have good accessibility or try to improve areas with poorer accessibility? The governance model that seems to work the best at achieving TOD across cities is public-private coordination, e.g. redevelopment authorities in Australia. In Perth, Carey talked about how retailers had no experience of rail before recent TOD such as Subiaco, so they didn’t even understand that customers or employees might come to their stores by rail. But among planners, TOD has gone from specialized to generalized planning practice through mechanisms like Perth’s TOD Coordinating Committee (2001-2011).

Finally, in Zaandaam we had a tour of the rail station (about 10 minutes by train to Amsterdam) from the Municipality, which has relocated right beside the station in a new building. The station and retail street leading into the city have been redesigned following a modern take on traditional Zaanstad wood architecture; the crazy Innhotel has become iconic of the region.

2013-09-20 17.04.45

2013-09-21 09.32.54

On the other side of the station, there are still problems occupying the older existing office buildings due to the economic crisis, but the municipality has gotten the provincial environmental agency to locate there. Hermann Gelissen then presented the innovative StedenbaanPlus partnership between municipalities, regions, and other stakeholders (which is not yet legally binding) to develop an integrated regional-local transportation system. Today, David Levinson talked about the interrelationship between transportation and land use using London as an example (including both induced demand and induced supply), Tax Increment Financing, impact fees, air rights, and joint development between transportation authorities and developers. Michael Neuman posed some questions about TOD, including whether the term is inspirational, what image it invokes, and how it guides good design. His problem with the term is how everything is directed towards infrastructure, rather than people, cities, livability, or design. Paul Chorus discussed the Province of North Holland Strategic Plan, which has focused on maximizing efficiency of existing infrastructure. They have had some success in concentrating 38% of residential and 49% of employment within 1200m of rail stations, and the municipalities have now the interest and willingness to move forward with this ambition (the goal is to build 50% of new homes within these areas). The province has done some really in-depth analysis of the types of transportation flows, activities, and population at each node, categorizing each as “present”, “possible”, and “promising”.

It’s been a great seminar overall, with many connections made and a really interesting mix of people from practice and research. Seeing TOD examples that aren’t perfect, and are still in a state of construction, has been really useful for those of us who aren’t from The Netherlands.

Update: today’s and yesterday’s posts have been summarized for the University of Amsterdam’s new urban planning blog:

2013-09-19 14.07.02I’m live blogging today from an international seminar organized by GO-SPOOR, a community of research and practice that brings together the main payers in TOD in The Netherlands. GO-SPOOR is the overarching framework within which my postdoc project, iTOD (implementing TOD), is located. Today’s program includes presentations by researchers on the North Wing (Amsterdam-Utrecht) part of the project, the South Wing (Rotterdam-Den Haag) part, as well as discussions led by international experts:

But what makes this seminar different is that we’ll be travelling to different cities to see their TOD approaches: starting in Arnhem, then off to Den Haag tomorrow and Zaandam on Saturday.

Karst Geurs (University of Twente) introduced the South Wing iTOD project by discussing StedenbaanPlus, a major agreement between regional and local authorities (municipalities, transportation planners, regional governments) to improve the accessibility through development around transit. The idea is to generate development around stations to generate more passengers on the rail network. StedenbaanPlus is unique in The Netherlands because it takes a regional approach to TOD–other projects in the country have been very focused on the areas immediately around railway station, and development was in a sporadic pattern. The project will add about 750,000 square meters of office space and from 25000 residential units, as well as increasing the quality and frequency of train service (these figures reflect major reductions due to the economic crisis and persistent oversupply of office space). One major problem in The Netherlands is that areas designated for new housing are often in suburban areas outside the reach of transit (the VINEX locations I’ve written about in earlier posts). Another area of uncertainty is that Netherlands Rail has not yet agreed to the increased rail frequencies. At this point rail ridership has increased while bus ridership has decreased. Karst’s postdocs Lissy la Paix Puello, Christa Hubers, and Martijn Droes gave more in-depth presentations on the economic effects of TOD. Christa is trying to determine whether two-person households who live near TOD actually use transit, and we had a lively discussion about the low rate of public transit by the Dutch (9% compared to the European average of 17%) and whether the built environment in newer residential developments is desirable.

Luca Bertolini (University of Amsterdam, my supervisor) gave an overview of the North Wing iTOD project, highlighting the fact that while TOD isn’t new in The Netherlands, Amsterdam doesn’t take a regional approach to the integration of land use and transportation. Erwin van der Krabben (Radboud University Nijmegen) gave the Arnhem-Nijmegen context. The project examines “smart governance” and finance strategies in TOD, including urban land readjustment which he discussed in more detail. The postdocs on the North Wing iTOD project (me, Dorina Pojani, and Sander Lenferink) presented our work to date on the project, mine on transferrable lessons from a meta-analysis of case studies in 11 cities, Dorina focusing on policy transfer between countries/cities and government officials and Sander discussing whether value capture tools in TOD can be transferred to The Netherlands. Dorina has done extensive interviews with Amsterdam and international TOD planners to ask them how they learned from other cases and what types of policy transfer happens. Sander has found that Tax Increment Financing, for example, is legally and financially possible in The Netherlands, but the application involves political choice (e.g. at the expense of other services); the consequences of these strategies are still unknown in this country. Ary Samsura also presented on applying gaming approaches to land and property development; this is part of the work on value capture. Sander, Dorina, and I recently presented our work at the ACSP/AESOP conference in Dublin.

We’re looking forward to seeing the real-world examples in the next couple of days!

In what is possibly the biggest municipal story this year, Toronto mayor Rob Ford will be removed from office by December 14th–two weeks from now. Over a measly $3,150, which Ford himself referred to as “an insignificant sum”, the mayor of Canada’s largest city has been ordered out of office. Justice Charles Hackland issued the verdict: that Ford had contravened the City of Toronto Code of Conduct in using city resources (including letters sent using official letterheads) to raise money for his football foundation. Even though Ford refused to reimburse the money, as recommended by the Integrity Commissioner and City Council, this alone was not enough to topple him from office. The crux of the matter was that in any member of council faced with a violation of the Code of Conduct is disqualified from speaking or voting on the matter when it is discussed at council, since council has the right to levy a financial sanction. However, Ford voted on the issue at a February 7, 2012 council meeting. This puts him in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, for which the penalty is immediate removal from office. The judge declared that Ford’s seat is now vacant, but he suspended the operation of his declaration for 14 days to allow the city to make the necessary administrative changes. This leaves Ford 14 days to file an appeal, which he is certain to do (“Rob Ford’s appeal will be filed ‘in the next couple of days'”, Toronto Star, November 27, 2012).

While many feel that Ford “got what he deserved”, Rosie DiManno writes that it may have been better if Ford had lost in a re-election, rather than the courts (“Little to celebrate in way Ford got the boot”, Toronto Star, November 27, 2012). She feels that Ford’s supporters will reinforce efforts to have him re-elected. Adam Goldenberg agrees (“Rob Ford lost the batle, not the war”, Ottawa Citizen, November 26, 2012), saying that Ford won the mayoral race as an outsider, and the ruling makes him an outsider once more. It certainly puts Toronto into uncharted territory as a rush of candidates prepares to run for mayor in a by-election. But the mayor of the country’s largest city has a major impact: Justice Hackland wrote that such an influential mayor has first and foremost a responsibility to act with integrity; news of Ford’s removal from office trended on Twitter around the world on Monday. And it wasn’t the first time Ford’s opponents have resorted to the letter of the law in exposing the man’s errors: just a few short months ago, an emergency council vote was held following the issuance of a legal opinion on the matter of Ford’s cancellation of the Transit City plan.

As for Ford, as he put it,”This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they’ll do anything in their power to.” We didn’t hear much about the “right wing” supporting him in his successful bid for mayor, and we rarely heard Ford describe himself as a right-wing politician. Rather, his campaign promise to “trim the fat from city hall” fell flat, and the fiscal conservative finds himself in the ironic position of being removed from office over a few thousand dollars. Adam Goldenberg of the Ottawa Citizen characterizes Justice Hackland’s decision as “a model of judicial modesty, which conservatives like Ford are supposed to love.”

Several writers have addressed the difficulties in governing Canada’s largest city; undoubtedly councillors face some major challenges in the weeks ahead (“Toronto councillors critical of Rob Ford’s defiance”, CBC News, November 27, 2012). In “What kind of mayor does Toronto need?” Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume says that the city needs a mayor that understands transportation solutions, who can lead other Canadian cities towards more equitable fiscal arrangements for cities, who will celebrate the city’s diversity, and who will lead it towards planning for climate change. It needs a mayor who understands rules and is able to abide by them, but can unite people from polarizing viewpoints and make compromises.

“Toronto is a hugely complicated, even contradictory, organism, beyond the control of any one person or institution.” –Christopher Hume, Toronto Star, November 28, 2012

Ford will be absent while Toronto scrambles for a new mayor (“Rob Ford out: Mayor can’t run in by-election, city lawyer says”, Toronto Star, November 27, 2012), but nothing will stop him from running again in 2014.

Update: Ford appealed Hackland’s decision and won on January 25, 2013.

After weeks of predicting a tight race in Alberta’s provincial election, pollsters are scratching their heads. Articles such as “Wildrose on track for majority with a week to go in Alberta” (The Globe and Mail, April 18th) were widespread just a few days ago. Yet somehow, Premier Alison Redford led her Progressive Conservative party to its 12th consecutive majority government with 62 seats, while Danielle Smith’s upstart Wildrose Party has become the Official Opposition party with 17 seats. The popular vote was closer: Redford captured 44% of the popular vote and Smith 34.5%. So what happened in the battle of conservatives?

Premier Alison Redford. Photo: John Lehmann, The Globe and Mail

Some sources report that strategic voting played a major role: those who may have voted Liberal or NDP may have voted PC to keep Wildrose from power. Albertans seem to have shown a healthy skepticism for the Wildrose party, particularly issues of gay rights and racism raised by two Wildrose candidates (Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech, neither of whom was elected). Other centrist and left voters may have disapproved of the party’s stance on the fundamental right to refuse a medical service–such as abortion–based on religious objections, and their refutation of climate change. But another interesting factor has emerged: the polls weren’t really that accurate. Only a few polls, such as that by Leger Marketing, asked voters whether they were undecided: they found that up to one-fifth of voters were undecided in the final week of the campaign. Despite technological advances, polling has not become more precise, and the margins of error are significant: lest we forget, not a single poll predicted Stephen Harper’s majority government in last year’s federal election.

Wildrose also had poor support in Alberta’s cities. PC support was strong in Edmonton and Calgary: the province’s two largest cities hold half of its seats, 44 in total. In Calgary, the Wildrose party took only 3 of 25 ridings while in Edmonton Wildrose failed to win a single one. Lethbridge, Red Deer, and Fort McMurray were also overwhelmingly PC. It seems that urban Albertans preferred Redford’s Joe Clark-style conservatism, while many rural residents considered the PCs too centrist. But many journalists are saying that the values, views and opinions of Alberta voters may have been too complex to capture using polls.

Alberta’s election pitting Redford and Smith against each other would have had a historic result no matter who won. Only nine women in Canadian history have ever served as provincial/territorial premier: five were elected leader of their party while it was in power, and four were elected premier in a general election. Redford became premier in October when she was elected leader of the party, and this win makes her the first female premier elected in Alberta. BC’s Christy Clark is in a similar position: she became premier after Gordon Campbell resigned in 2010 and narrowly won his seat in a by-election. If she were to win the general election next May, she would become the province’s first elected female premier (Rita Johnson briefly held the position of premier in 1991 after Bill Vander Zalm resigned and she was elected leader of the Social Credit Party, but she was defeated in the 1991 BC election). With this win, Redford also marks a second milestone: the PCs will become the longest-standing provincial government in Canadian history by the end of this term.

After a special council meeting that lasted all day, Toronto City Council voted yesterday to restore proposed LRT lines to Finch Avenue and part of Eglington, and convert the aging Scarborough line to an LRT. As Marcus Gee at The Globe and Mail writes, “City hall veterans are struggling to remember a time when a mayor of Toronto suffered such a humiliating and public setback.” Oft-maligned TTC chair Councillor Karen Stintz emerged with a major victory: she petitioned for the council vote, mobilized a group of supporters, and even proposed an option that would have allowed the mayor to save face (the Sheppard line could still be a subway if an outside panel of experts approves). She needed 22 votes: the motion passed 25-18. Council also voted 28:15 to strike an advisory panel to report back on the best solution for Sheppard.

Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, and other supporters like Councillor George Mammoliti have been saying for a year that “people want subways.” But consider the momentum on this issue in the past year, from shock and confusion when Ford cancelled Transit City on his first day in office, to hope this January 29th when Councillor Joe Mihevc produced a lawyers’ report saying Ford overstepped his legal rights and council would have to vote on the issue. Last Sunday 120 prominent academics, transportation planners and civic leaders sent a letter to city councillors urging them to overturn the Mayor’s transportation plan or risk impeding transit initiatives in Toronto for the next century. Cities Centre director Eric Miller, planning consultant Ken Greenberg, former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford and former Mayor David Crombie, among others, called for an end to “the war on common sense.” The Pembina Institute weighed in on the issue, also in favour of LRT construction. And yesterday, while councillors debated and decided the issue, The Toronto Star conducted a [statistically questionable] public opinion poll asking what they thought council should do: 87 voted for “build more subways”, 332 for “build a Light Rapid Transit system”, 2 for “don’t do anything” and 15 had other ideas.

Just over a week ago, I intimated that most of us needed to learn more about municipal governance, and that without this ignorance Ford could never have cancelled transit city or signed an MOU with the province based on his own Sheppard subway strategy. I assumed that Ford knew exactly what his legal rights were, but was banking on councillors and the public being unsure that the Transit City issue had been approved by council and therefore had to be voted on. But last night at the end of the council meeting, Ford expressed his frustration with the results, saying, “Technically speaking, that whole meeting was irrelevant. The premier, I’m very confident, is going to continue building subways.” While it is true that the Transit City plan (like any major transit infrastructure in Canada) hinges upon provincial funding, the MOU that Ford and Premier McGuinty signed was only an agreement in principle until council voted on the issue. Indeed, the Premier confirmed this today: “I’ve also been very clear with the mayor from day one. At the time the memorandum of understanding was entered into, there was a specific provision that he’s got to seek the support of the council.” (“Premier Dalton McGuinty says he is obligated to consider council’s transit decision”, The Toronto Star, February 9, 2012). McGuinty said he reiterated this to Ford last week.

It is telling that it was the legal argument, not the transit experts’ advice or the cost projections, that allowed Transit City’s resurrection. Kudos to Stintz for putting her job on the line: she went public with her opposition to Ford’s transit plan two weeks ago and could easily be unseated a few months from now by the Mayor’s allies on the TTC board, along with TTC chief general manager Gary Webster. And to those who fought the legal battle, including Mihevc and the legal firm of Cavalluzzo, Hayes, Shilton, McIntyre & Cornish. That is one legal report that will go down in history.

In my previous post, I wrote that many Canadians don’t know much about municipal planning processes, the implications of the legal division of powers in Canada, and what this means for service provision in our cities. In this vein, readers might be interested in some examples of municipal efforts at citizen engagement that go beyond the often-uninspired public meeting.

Participatory budgeting originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. It’s driven by core principles such as democracy, equity, community, education, and transparency. Thousands of citizens assemble in Porto Alegre each year to elect delegates to represent each city district, prioritize demands, serve on the Municipal Council of the Budget, and produce a binding municipal budget. Proponents of participatory budgeting say that because people with the greatest needs play a larger role in the decision-making process, spending decisions tend to redistribute resources to communities in need. In Porto Alegre, for example, there has been a marked increase in funding for badly-needed sanitary sewer projects and schools. Participatory budgeting is used in about 140 municipalities in Brazil as well as towns and cities in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, India and Africa. It is used for municipal school, university, and public housing budgets.

The process has also been used in several Canadian municipalities: Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) allows its tenants to participate in decision-making on local, neighbourhood and city-wide spending priorities. TCHC’s participatory budgeting process first took place in 2001, when tenants were asked to help decide how to spend $9 million per year (13.5% of TCHC’s budget); 237 local capital projects were funded. In Guelph, residents allocate a small portion of the City’s budget through the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. Since 1999, neighbourhood groups have been sharing and redistributing resources for local community projects, including recreation programs, youth centres, and physical improvements to community facilities. In 2005 some 10,000 people participated in the process and 460 events and programs were funded.

In a review of participatory budgeting efforts in Canadian cities, Josh Lerner and Estair Van Wagner outline several challenges for participatory budgeting in Canada: the fact that Canadians are extremely diverse in language and culture, the small scale of these efforts so far, the limited power of citizens in the process, the fact that none of them have fundamentally changed their cities’ political systems or created a more progressive social agenda, and the potential for the process to become co-opted by politicians.

City of Calgary "Our City. Our Budget. Our Future."

Other efforts at participatory processes in budget planning have included the Cities of Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. In each case municipal officials encouraged citizens to get involved in the City’s budget planning. For the 2004 City of Toronto budget, Mayor David Miller initiated the Listening to Toronto consultations. A City Budget Community Workbook was posted on the website and seven public sessions were held. This wasn’t participatory budgeting (participants didn’t help formulate priorities that were then adopted); in a process similar to integrating feedback from public meetings, participants’ ideas were used to guide City Council during the drafting of the budget.

In February 2011, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nehshi opened up the budget planning process to the public through a citywide engagement process. In “Our City. Our Budget. Our Future.” the City aimed to help people feel like they were part of the process, make the budgetary process clearer by simplifying communication from city staff, and gather ideas on the budget. Their online budgeting tool allowed users to see how much each department currently spent, and what an increase or decrease in areas like transportation or safety would look like. The City heard from 24,000 people during this process. Again, citizens’ ideas were considered in drafting the budget, which was adopted in November 2011. The new three-year budget resulted in property tax rate increases of 6.0% in 2012, 5.7% in 2013 and 6.1% in 2014 and included (among other things) additional funding of $1 million for Calgary Transit, a reserve fund of $3.5 million for snow clearing in 2013 and 2014, a $225,000 increase to the Calgary Arts Development Authority.

“We used to do things like open houses and town halls when we had those discussions. And what we learned this time around is that the open houses and the town halls are the most expensive and least successful part of the process.”– Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

A screen shot from the City of Vancouver Budget Allocator

The City of Vancouver followed suit this year, encouraging citizens to get involved in the 2012 budget process. In addition to attending public meetings and completing an online survey on budget priorities, a section of the City’s website lets users to download a primer explaining how the budget works (how the city raises funds, what percentage of taxes goes to pay for utilities, fire and police services, etc.). The interactive tool lets them “be Councillor for a day, see what it costs to run a city.” This simple tool gives you options to remain at the current level of funding or to increase or decrease funding levels in each area. When you’ve finished making your budget, the Budget Allocator tells you whether you have a surplus or a deficit, and how much you would have to raise taxes to cover the increased costs. You can submit your budget, along with the reasons for your choices, directly to city staff: if you’re a local, go to 2012 before February 10th to have your say.

In short, there are varying levels of participation in budget processes, from consultation to surveys to participatory budgeting. In addition to various levels of power for the participants, the educational aspects differ as well: one could argue that while Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver have made strides in educating the public on the budgetary process, they stop short of allowing residents to learn how to prioritize spending objectives and vote on them. Nevertheless, Canadians in other municipalities might want to find out how their budget works, when their budget is up for adoption and what the process is for citizen involvement. With so many online and interactive ways to get involved, there seem to be many opportunities to inform and involve communities that may not participate otherwise: young adults, immigrant groups, seniors living in facilities, etc. High school teachers, college and university professor could use the online budgeting tools in civics, planning, political science, or urban studies courses. Immigrant groups could organize online participation at a community event. Residents and health care support workers could help seniors participate. If your municipality doesn’t currently encourage participation in the city budget process, ask your councillor to suggest the idea.

Update: check out the latest national issue of Spacing magazine for integrated approaches to public engagement in Saskatoon, Vancouver, and Halifax (“Speaking with Your City” by Rachel Caroline Derrah).