translink29nw1

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 (www.mayorscouncil.ca). 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!

Planning transportation and land use at a regional level is something that very few urban areas have done well. It’s recognized in The Netherlands that this type of collaboration among municipalities, land use and transportation authorities, regional and provincial governments is difficult, but needs to be done to achieve sustainable, compact urban growth. On November 27, the Province of North Holland launched a new program called Maak Plaats! (or, “Make Way!”) which will attempt to develop a provincial strategy for public transit and the areas within 1200 meters of railway stations. Click here to download a copy of the report (the only English text appears on p230-231, “English Summary”).

No doubt inspired by StedenbaanPlus, the integrated regional strategy and co-operative agreement between TOD actors in the Rotterdam-Den Haag region, Maak Plaats! has integrated the plethora of transportation and spatial analysis provided by Deltametropolis. Deltametropolis has done detailed analysis of each node in the North and South Wings of the Randstad which make it easier for the various levels of government to visualize which areas would be the best for future TOD. Below is some of their work for the South Wing.

StedenbaanPlus analysis of station areas

Deltametropolis analysis of station areas for StedenbaanPlus showing the potential for each node

For detailed analysis of each node in North Holland, see p235-363 in the Maak Plaats! report.

North Holland corridoroverzicht

The eight designated corridors in North Holland

In North Holland, eight corridors have been designated:

  • Heerhugowaard-Amsterdam (pilot)
  • Enkhuizen – Amsterdam
  • Daman – Alkmaar
  • Amsterdam – Leiden
  • Amsterdam – Amersfoort / Utrecht
  • Amsterdam – Utrecht
  • Amsterdam – Uitgeest / Zandvoort / Leiden
  • Amsterdam – Lelystad

The goals are to locate at least 50% of new housing around public transit nodes, prioritize plans that occur within the built-up area, reduce surplus office space in areas that are not transit-accessible, locate regional services in transit-accessible locations, and improve trip-chaining facilities. These are not surprising considering the previous policies such as A-B-C location policy (introduced in 1989), which aimed to concentrate employment growth at station locations but had disappointing results.

Starting in 2014, the province will monitor urban development around public transit nodes, prioritize location of new housing within station areas, and facilitate regional consultations and alliances between public and private actors. Specific grants or investment programs may be used to develop key Provincial Nodes. Partners include municipal and city-regional governments, regional bus provider Connexxion, national rail agency NS, rail infrastructure provider ProRail, the OV office, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Universities of Amsterdam and Nijmegen, and Deltametropolis.

As StedenbaanPlus was the first regional collaboration and agreement between transportation and land use actors in The Netherlands, Maak Plaats! can be seen as building upon this success. Deltametropolis has also done a lot to familiarize planners with TOD concepts, mainly through their SprintCity gaming sessions.

So far, the willingness to collaborate on regional TOD strategies has been developed through informal cooperation networks, but not a lot has actually been implemented. Rotterdam-Den Haag is making some progress with the RandstadRail corridor and projects, which include integrated LRT and BRT linking Rotterdam, Den Haag and Zoetermeer.

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 www.talkvancouver.com/Budget 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).

“Rumours of the death of Transit City have been greatly exaggerated.” –Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc, former vice-chair of the TTC

According to lawyer Freya Kristjanson, an expert in municipal governance, Mayor Rob Ford did not have the right to cancel the Transit City plan without council approval. In an article in today’s Toronto Star, Kristjanson says that generally, executive and legislative powers rest with full council, in a “weak mayor-strong council” system. The City of Toronto Act (2007) requires that any act approved by council must be rescinded or amended by a subsequent vote of council. That includes Transit City. The legal firm of Cavalluzzo, Hayes, Shilton, McIntyre & Cornish, who produced the report, says Transit City was approved by council in 2007 as part of the Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Energy Action Plan. “After that, City Council considered and voted on the necessary elements of the program as they came before council.” So when Mayor Ford signed an MOU with the province pursuing his “subways only” alternative plan, he was acting without legal authority. The lawyers’ report says that council must vote on the MOU for it to be valid; until then, it is only an agreement in principle.

The legal ramifications of Ford’s decision, made on his first day of office in December 2010, are yet to be seen, as are the economic costs (the unofficial estimate is $65 million). When Ford announced his intention to cancel Transit City, city councillors asked the Mayor to put the matter before council, but he refused, denying that the plan ever had council approval. My Toronto readers surely remember that Ford rode a wave of local support to victory, and a provincial election was to be held a mere 10 months after the municipal election; there was significant momentum, legal issues notwithstanding, propelling Ford’s rash decision.

Transit advocates like myself are interested in any policy or procedure that might restore a more balanced transit plan to the City of Toronto (kudos to Marcus Gee at The Globe and Mail, whose frustration at the City of Toronto’s lack of transit infrastructure foresight was unmistakable in “Toronto’s transit planning: No way to run a railway”, Saturday, January 27, 2012).

“Transit planning in Toronto is a colossal, humiliating failure. It is hard to imagine how any city could make a better hash of it…A city cannot act like this and expect to build a decent transit system. Rapid transit requires long-term planning, firm, consistent leadership and huge amounts of money. Cities that do it properly come up with a plan looking decades into the future and stick to it. Toronto? Toronto plays politics, cancels projects in midstream, draws up plans only to rip them up and delays, delays, delays.”–Marcus Gee, The Globe and Mail

But at the heart of this procedural debate is how little most of us know about municipal governance in Canadian cities. All of us, whether we are city councillors, planners, electricians, teachers, service workers, or students, need to familiarize ourselves with municipal and regional governance as it concerns service provision, local by-laws, and local budgetary decisions. Without a certain level of ignorance of our most basic legal principles (or an unwilingness to defend them, take your pick) Ford would never have been able to sign the fated MOU. Yes, legal principles on governance seem dry and uninteresting, and to be fair, the City of Toronto Act is only a few years old, so residents might be forgiven for not knowing all the details. But almost every aspect of our lives, from whether we can get our children into day care centres to whether our snow gets plowed on schedule, depends upon the division of powers between municipalities, the provinces, and the federal government. While Ford’s supporters allege that the defense of weak policy is a reliance on legal procedure, the office of Mayor compels adherence to specific legal procedures. Ford knows that, which is why his decision to cancel the Transit City plan hinged on his denial of its approval by council. Presumably, provincial Premier Dalton McGuinty is also familiar with these procedures from his career as a lawyer; yet, the MOU remains.

Maybe we need a new CBC series on the soap opera that has ensued since Ford took office. “…after DaVinci’s City Hall, tune in for Ford Twinmayor: Riding the Gravy Train.”

Update: Toronto City Council will vote at a special meeting on Wednesday, February 8th on whether to tunnel the entire Eglington line or bring the eastern end to the surface, using the savings to introduce light rail on Finch and Sheppard Avenues.

We can all rest easy. Despite many studies showing increased income inequality and a shrinking middle class in Canada, a rags-to-riches story is more likely to happen here than in the “land of opportunity.”

University of Ottawa professor Miles Corak, a social policy economist and former director of family and labour research at Statistics Canada, and his co-authors Lori Curtis (Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo) and Shelley Phipps (Professor of Economics, Dalhousie University) found that Canadians are three times more economically mobile than those in the US. The difference is largely due to those at the very top and the very bottom of the income distribution. In Economic Mobility, Family Background, and the Well-Being of Children in the United States and Canada, the three researchers found that social supports such as the Child Tax Credit, paid parental leave benefits, and schools funded through provincial income taxes help ensure that children receive better care and schooling than in the US, where these supports are absent and schools are funded through local property taxes, leaving poor neighbourhoods with failing schools. With sky-high tuition fees at universities, the richest Americans can buy their children the best educations and tutors. These differences between rich and poor mean that if you’re born poor in the US, you tend to stay poor; this also applies to the 1%–the very top of the income pyramid. For example, although “the average Canadian child is not as affluent as the average American, the poorest Canadian is not as poor in an absolute sense as Americans at the bottom of the income distribution.” This may help explain why discussions of class are more prevalent in the American literature and popular press.

The authors caution that rising income inequality rates in Canada could erode the high rate of economic mobility that we see now. Indeed, a look at their graphs shows that we still have issues: 15% our poorest children may still grow up to have incomes in the lowest decile (Figure 3, p7), but they have a better chance at the 7th, 8th, and 9th deciles than they do in the US. More Canadian children are born in the lower income deciles than American children (Figure 8, p33). But Table 1 (p21) shows some clear differences in the characteristics of families and parents. In Canada, 2.1% of children are born to teenage mothers; in the US, it’s 8.3%. In Canada, 14.9% of mothers are single compared to 22.1% in the US. Far more mothers and lone mothers in Canada have completed some post-secondary education or a post-secondary certificate (but oddly, more American mothers have completed degrees). Health problems among the poorest mothers are also more prevalent in the US, likely due to the cost of health care. As the authors suggest, Canadians must protect policies such as paid parental leave, the right to return to their jobs after the birth of a child, tax-transfer programs that help reduce the severity of poverty, and funding for schools through provincial income tax, ensuring a more equal distribution of resources across municipalities and neighbourhoods. Although we have fewer barriers to health care, we need to ensure the lower-income population has sufficient knowledge on navigating the health care system and can pay for prescription medication.

Corak, Curtis and Phipps write that “The citizens of both countries have a similar understanding of a successful life, one that is rooted in individual aspirations and freedom. They also have similar views on how these goals should be attained, but with one important exception: Americans differ in that they are more likely to see the State hindering rather than helping the attainment of these goals. Yet, at the same time the citizens of both countries recognize the need for public policy to contribute to reaching this ideal, with Americans believing more than Canadians that a whole host of interventions would be effective in improving the prospects for economic mobility. One interpretation of these findings – an interpretation that only becomes evident in a comparative context – is that in some sense this need is going unmet in the United States.”

Talk about timing. A few weeks ago, in time for provincial elections in Ontario, Manitoba, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released a report urging the federal government to support public transit and affordable housing in cities. This in itself is nothing new: FCM has long advocated stable funding for public transit and affordable housing in municipalities, who have been struggling to pay for new infrastructure and operating costs. The twist: FCM maintains that better transit and affordable housing can actually help immigrants integrate, and that municipalities should offer them along with services such as English language training (download their report: Starting on Solid Ground: The Municipal Role in Immigrant Integration). This echoes the findings of my Ph.D. dissertation, which found that flexible approaches to housing and transportation increased community resiliency.

This week, FCM and the Canadian Urban Transit Association met with members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to discuss the idea of a National Public Transit Strategy. They argued that fast and efficient transportation connections through public transit are crucial to strengthening the economy. MP Olivia Chow, NDP critic for transport and infrastructure, introduced a private member’s bill on September 30th (Bill C-615, An Act to Create a National Public Transit Strategy) calling for the federal government to work with municipalities in the creation of a national transit strategy and create a stable source of funding for municipalities. She noted the economic benefits and the disadvantages of long commute times: Canada’s big city mayors have been pushing for a national strategy since 2007. In the CBC’s unofficial poll on this topic, 88% of readers agreed that Canada needs a national transit strategy. I needn’t go into this issue here in Vancouver: this week, an Angus Reid poll of 504 Vancouver residents showed that 85% want improvements to transit service and 75% felt those improvements should be funded by the provincial government. As I wrote in my last post, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation votes today on the adoption of the Moving Forward strategic plan, which includes a 2% hike in property taxes and the beginnings of a new provincial-municipal funding agreement to help pay for transit improvements.

It looks like public transit is becoming a hot issue among cities of all sizes. The Regional Municipal of Waterloo is in the process of constructing an LRT line (currently in the planning process) funded by the provincial and federal governments. A strong motivation for the Region, which includes the municipalities of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo, was increased immigration to the area, a point they raised at this year’s Metropolis Conference on Immigration and Migration in Vancouver. It’s very humbling to see the recommendations I made in my Ph.D. dissertation being echoed at the municipal, regional and federal levels. Considering the numbers of immigrants settling in Canadian cities every year (approximately 250,000 Permanent Residents and 200,000 Temporary Workers), governments need to do a better job of helping them integrate, and that includes more housing and transportation options. Maybe after decades of research and policy innovation in municipalities, we’re finally reaching the tipping point: let’s keep a close watch on Bill C-615 and Bill C-400, the bill creating a national affordable housing strategy (Bill C-304, the former private member’s bill of the same title and wording, was scrapped after the May 2011 election).

In an article in today’s Vancouver Sun (“Seven mayors weigh in–The case for funding public transit”, October 4, 2011), seven regional mayors weighed in on the importance of public transit infrastructure to the Metro Vancouver region: Dianne Watts (Surrey), Peter Fassbender (Langley), Richard Walton (District of North Vancouver), Gregor Robertson (Vancouver), Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (West Vancouver), Greg Moore (Port Coquitlam), and Richard Stewart (Coquitlam). This Friday, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, made up of 22 elected officials from around the region, votes on TransLink’s Moving Forward Supplemental Plan. The proposal includes a 2 cent-per-litre gas tax that will require provincial approval, a new joint long-term funding proposal approved by the Mayor’s Council and the province, and a temporary property tax increase that will cost about $23 per household for 2013-2014. Transit improvements include the Evergreen Line construction, improvements to existing SkyTrain stations, and service improvements in Langley and Surrey. If the plan passes, Minister of Transportation Blair Lekstrom has said that he will introduce legislation this fall enabling the gas tax by April 2012.

The mayors cite increased traffic levels and the 19.6 percent jump in transit ridership from June 2010 to July 2011 (due to transportation mode shifts during the Olympics) as proof that the region is overdue for transit improvements. 2011-2012 is shaping up to be another record year. They also reflect on the vision of previous leaders, who in 1980 struggled with the concept of rapid transit lines but eventually decided in favour of them. Clearly, they see themselves in sync with the region’s early strides towards sustainability.

“We have had the debate. Now we must move from words to deeds. The decision we make on Friday will forge the path Greater Vancouver so badly needs. Passing the 2012 Supplemental Plan is the right decision for Metro Vancouver’s transportation system, economy, and future livability.” –Dianne Watts, Peter Fassbender, Richard Walton, Gregor Robertson, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Greg Moore, and Richard Stewart

However, the municipalities of Burnaby, Richmond, the City of North Vancouver, Delta, and Langley Township have said they will probably vote against the plan. This is surprising considering TransLink’s extensive public consultation during the creation of Moving Forward showed that 80% of those consulted agreed with the proposed improvements and 75% said the Evergreen Line was important in reaching the goals outlined in Transport 2040, the regional transportation strategy. It’s also surprising considering Burnaby and Richmond have both been big winners in terms of transit infrastructure: the three existing LRT lines have paid off for them. With municipal elections a mere five weeks away (November 16th), the stakes are high; yet the stakes for the region have never been higher.

Update: The Mayors’ Council voted to support the Moving Forward Plan with 70% support from its 22 members.