Metropass economics: 2012 edition

NOTE: This post has been updated for 2013 TTC fares. Click here for the newest information.

Two years ago, a coworker asked me about the value of the Toronto Transit Commission’s Metropass for the average commuter. For lots of people like me in Toronto use transit as their primary mode of transportation, the unlimited-use pass is a necessity, but many people only use transit for going back and forth to work, driving their cars or whatever else on weekends. I wrote this article comparing the cost of 40 trips by cash fare versus buying a MetroPass, taking into account the annual Metropass Discount Plan and the federal transit tax credit. It’s been at least a few fare hikes since then, so I thought I’d update the math here.

As of January 2012, buying tokens in bulk has gone up to $2.60 each, and a Metropass is now $126 per month, or $116.50 if you sign up for a full year of the discount plan. In an average month, a full-time commuter will take 40 trips – to and from work 5 days a week for 4 weeks. 40 token fares costs $104. That means the face value of tokens is quite a bit lower than a transit pass. With tokens, you only pay for the trips you take, and tokens have no expiry date. Which means if you have a sick day one month or decide to ride your bike one day or take a vacation, you’re not out any money pre-paid on your transit pass.

Of course, Metropasses are eligible for the federal transit pass tax credit, which rebates the cost of passes at the lowest federal tax rate. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, that rate is staying at 15% for 2012, so the net cost of the Metropass comes down to $107.10, or $99.03 for the discount pass. Buying a Metropass this year is only saving money over tokens if you travel more than 41 times, or 38 if you sign up for a full year of passes.

So for the average commuter, buying a full year of discount Metropasses is ever-so-slightly better value than just buying tokens, but only if you don’t have any days off. The only way a Metropass is better value is if you buy a full year’s worth of discount passes. For most commuters, it’s probably better to just buy tokens and pay-as-you-go.

What about post-secondary students? In 2010, the TTC introduced the Post-Secondary Student Metropass, available to students enrolled full-time in a post-secondary institution within Toronto. For 2012, the Post-Secondary Metropass is available for $104 per month if a student has purchased the $5.25 photo-ID, and no discount plan is offered. There is no other special post-secondary fare offered, so students who choose not to buy the pass must pay the full adult fare.

The Post-Secondary Metropass does qualify for the tax credit, bringing the net cost down to $88.40, but many students enrolled full-time likely won’t see any benefit for this. For 2012, the first $12,000 or so of income is tax free, because of other tax credits that everyone can claim. Unless you earn at least that much, plus the cost of the transit passes ($1,248 for a full year of post-secondary student passes) you won’t gain any benefit for claiming the tax credit. You can claim it, but you’re already not paying income tax so the credit won’t help.

I don’t have stats to back this up, but I’m guessing that students enrolled full-time in a college or university program probably aren’t also working full time, or at least enough to earn $13,248 a year. That works out to about $13.25 per hour for 20 hours a week, or about 26 hours a week at minimum wage. Well, I guess that’s not unreasonable, and if you were pulling off a schedule like that you’d probably want the freedom of a Metropass. Anyway, I’m going to do the math with the tax credit and without, but keep all this math stuff in mind if you’re a student considering a Metropass.

The jist of that ramble is, for a post-secondary student, a Metropass is worth 40 trips by token, or 34 trips if the student earns enough income to benefit from the transit tax credit.

You know what? Here’s a handy chart. The formatting for this isn’t great – apparently I need to work on my CSS skills.

Fare Type Monthly Cost Cost Net of Tax Credit Ticket/Token Fare Cost Equivalent Trips in Tokens
Metropass $126.00 $107.10 $2.60 42
MDP Metropass $116.50 $99.03 $2.60 39
Post-Secondary Metropass (for low-income students) $104.00 n/a $2.60 40
Post-Secondary Metropass (for higher-income students) $104.00 $88.40 $2.60 34
Student1/Senior Metropass $104.00 $88.40 $1.75 51
Student1/Senior MDP Metropass $93.50 $79.48 $1.75 46

1High school students probably can’t benefit from the tax credit themselves, but parents can claim the tax credit for passes for their children under the age of 19.

In this chart, the number of equivalent trips is the number of trips you would have to make in a month before buying the listed Metropass becomes a better value than just buying tokens or tickets instead. As you can see, the TTC has done a good job of making the Metropass only attractive to people who use transit as their main method of transportation. For the average commuter, tokens are now the better deal.

One more note: under certain conditions, fares paid with a PRESTO electronic fare card may be eligible for the transit pass tax credit. If you use a PRESTO card for more than 32 trips in 31 consecutive days, the transit pass tax credit makes your fares $2.21 net of the tax credit, meaning you’d need to use a discounted tax-deducted Metropass 45 times to get the same value. This will be the best value, however, so far, the Presto card has been implemented in so few places in Toronto that it’s practically useless for most TTC commuters. But keep an eye out for PRESTO to replace the Metropass completely in the next few years.

Posted in Finance, Toronto | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Threes and sevens

With a new year comes a new transit fare hike in Toronto. In four years that I’ve lived here, it’s almost a guarantee. And with each fare hike comes a new set of fare token sales combos. Last year, a $2.50 bulk-discounted token could be had in sets of 4 or 8 for $10 or $20, or if you like round numbers, you could get 5 or 10 tokens for $12.50 or $25.00. It made sense if you needed a week’s worth of tokens (10) or just wanted to turn a bill into tokens.

This year, fares rose by ten cents. Cash fare is now $3.10, meaning the discount fare for buying tokens in bulk is now $2.60. It’s not a nice round number. For some logic-defying reason, the TTC has chosen to sell them in groups of 3 ($7.80) and 7 ($18.20). Maybe they did this so that you can still buy combos with $10 or $20, although now you get change with your tokens, and TTC tokens are almost the same size as dimes. Or maybe the folks who came up with these combos are fans of Queens of the Stone Age.

Yesterday, I went to Main Street subway station to buy tokens. I had a $20 bill in my pocket and wanted to get as many tokens as I could. I asked the collector for 7, showing him my bill. He responded by pointing to a handwritten sign: “tokens, 5 for $13, 10 for $26.” Shrugging, I stuffed my $20 bill through the slot and said “this is all I’ve got.”

Down the dispenser came 5 tokens. As the collector handed me back a clean $7 in change, he proudly declared “this way I don’t have to carry nickels!”

This man might be smarter than the entire Toronto Transit Commission.

Posted in Toronto | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Easy service reduction recipe!

For today’s libertarian mayor-on-the-go, I’m posting this recipe for reduced government services, low taxes and reduced spending. It’s similar to the recipe that cooked the budget that Rob Ford will be unveiling in Toronto today, and follows a rich right-wing tradition more than 50 years in the making.

Start by creating a budget crisis. If you’re working with a budget that’s already well balanced, you’ll have to do some work. Freezing property taxes will eventually squeeze your budget into crisis over a few years, but for a quick bang you can try to find some source of revenue that is collected disproportionately from those who can easily afford it, and eliminate that. Call this a tax cut, and make sure to make a big deal about it!

In no time, you’ll have a forecast for a deficit budget. Make sure that whatever the forecast is, you at least double the figures whenever you talk about it. This lets the fear and anger rise, and helps the public forget that it was you that took out all the revenue in the first place.

Next, collect some public opinion polls, the fresher the better. Carefully pick out any opinions that favour government spending on services that you don’t use and don’t want to pay for. You’ll have a lot of those, so you might want to use a big accounting firm to pick these out for you.

By now you’ll have lots of choice service cuts on the table, and people won’t be happy about losing them. Pick one service that lots of people are vocal about but that doesn’t cost much overall, like, say, libraries, and promise that you won’t cut that one service. Demand some nice round and easily repeated number from all the other services, something small like 10%. It’s not important how you come up with that number.

Now you can sit back and wait for a bit. The committees that manage those budgets that you’re demanding to shrink by 10% will be getting the brunt of public scorn while you’re off watching football or something. If anyone complains to you about the cuts, insist that we all have to share the burden to balance the budget.

Be careful though! Some people will have noticed that your recipe started with a tax cut, and might say that you can solve those problems by restoring the revenue streams, or coming up with new ones. If you hear this starting, sprinkle conservatively with the opinion polls you collected earlier. Of course by now you’ve sieved out all the opinions calling for restoring services, and all that’s left is a few people who were demanding lower taxes in line at your local doughnut shop.

Before you know it, all your committees will cook up a budget that’s light on services and won’t be too heavy on your new, lighter budget. Now here’s the best part. Show everyone how fair and balanced you really are by proposing a modest tax hike, say 3% or so, but make sure it’s low enough to keep a deficit for next year’s budget. Then you’ll have less work to do when it’s time to cook next year’s books!

Posted in Politics, Toronto | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To remember a fallen cyclist

I didn’t know Jenna Morrison. I’ve never biked past the corner where she was killed, and save for Google Maps, I would have never known where Sterling was. But something about her tragic, needless, entirely preventable death strikes a chord with every person who has ever set out on two wheels in this city.

I bike in Toronto. Shawnte bikes, and was knocked down by a careless driver this summer (she wasn’t badly hurt, thankfully). My sister bikes, albeit in another city. Nearly all of my closest friends bike, and I have met hundreds more wonderful people who bike,  through the internet and through cycling advocacy groups. Every one of us has stories of near-misses, doorings, needlessly aggressive drivers, and badly lacking infrastructure. Jenna’s death affects us all, not because it could have been us, but because it could have been our loved ones who were killed.

We are surrounded by a society that pays lip service to people who choose to travel by bike, but when it comes to action, little is done. We don’t know why, but Jenna was knocked down by that truck at the corner of Dundas & Sterling, fell beneath the rear wheels, and died. Had there been proper indications at the corner, maybe the driver would have known to look for her. Had the truck been required by law to have side guards, she would have fallen and quite likely been injured, but she would be alive. In the week following her death, a group (not the City) painted the bicycle markings on the road that might have saved her life. It’s not hard to do, but our governments refuse to take action.

It’s easy to think that society doesn’t care when a cyclist is needlessly killed in a collision that could (and should) have been prevented. This November morning, thousands of cyclists gathered for a memorial ride for Jenna and to see the memorial “ghost bike” installed at the corner where she died. These thousands of cyclists came out to show that they care, though our elected leaders do not. Although I wasn’t able to ride this morning, I needed to say that I care too.

My sincerest condolences to Jenna’s family and to everyone who knew and loved her.

Posted in Cycling | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A letter to my City Councillor

I just wrote this letter to my local representative, the “mighty middle” Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon. If you’re angry about what’s happening at City Hall today, I encourage you to write your own letter too.

Dear Councillor McMahon,

My name is Greg, and I am a resident of the Beaches in ward 32. You spoke to my girlfriend, Shawnte, after she was hit by a car on her bike on her way to a council meeting over the summer, and it was a pleasure to meet you in person at a recent 32 Spokes meeting.

I am writing to you today because I am worried about the Mayor’s proposed package of cuts to city services that you and your colleagues are discussing today. I realize that the city is in a poor financial condition, but you must realize that the problem is the Mayor’s own creation. I know that some services will have to be scaled back, savings found, and hard choices made. However, the Mayor’s plan that only includes cuts must be rejected.

It is no coincidence that these cuts affect the most vulnerable residents of our city, while those who could afford to pay a bit more, like you and me, are asked to pay less instead. Mayor Ford is on record saying that he believes that governments’ only responsibilities are roads, police and garbage. By allowing him to pass his tax cuts, you allow him to say that services must be cut too. If he gets his cuts this year, he will be back for more next year, and the next year, until nothing is left.

As a fiscal conservative, you must know that a plan that includes only cuts with no mention of new revenue sources is neither conservative nor liberal, it is merely foolish, or at worst a deliberate attack by a wealthy class against our weakest neighbours. Until the Mayor and his allies are willing to discuss a properly balanced budget that balances efficiencies with new revenues in a fiscally sustainable way, you must vote against it; there is no other prudent choice. Ford’s plan is a disaster, please do not support it.

Thanking you in advance,
your neighbour,

Greg Burrell
Ward 32

Posted in Politics, Toronto | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Beaches East York debate live-blog

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Welcome to my live-blog of tonight’s Beaches-East York all-candidates debate at Beach United Church. This is my first attempt at live-blogging anything and I don’t know how well this is going to work out.

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7:08pm: Moderator introducing candidates.

Helen Burstyn (LIB) works with Dr. Eric Hoskins at Ontario Trillium Foundation. Serves on board of LuminaTO. Vice-chair of CAMH board of trustees. Founding director of Equal Voice. Born in Toronto, proud resident.

Michael Prue (NDP) MPP for 10 years. Proven record of strong leadership. Was last Mayor of East York. Cut city’s debt by 7.8M with no tax increase while investing in infrastructure. Sustainable environment and energy plan; accessible and affordable public transit. Has lived in Beaches-East York for 30 years.

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7:12pm: Opening statements: Burstyn’s mic is too quiet, has to move to front. Thanks everyone for coming & thanks organizers. Running for office because of experience at OTF. Bring understanding of government & work together for this very important community. Choice between cutting & conservative govts at fed & city level. Ensure gov’t at provincial level is investing. Making us the best we can be.

Prue’s mic works. Thanks audience. Profoundly disappointed that two candidates aren’t here. Citizens deserve opportunity to see who wants to represent us at Queen’s Park & make informed decision. Running to put people first. Gov’t record puts wealthy & privileged first. Health care, education, student debt load, poverty, child care, most importantly how city is spiralling downward is causing grief. Need to find solutions, NDP has answers.

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7:15pm: Q: how do you propose to make community age-friendly? How to address needs of aging population?

Prue: we are an aging population. Need to start planning now. Essential to start spending wisely. Spend health care dollars on long-term care facilities, community home-care facilities. Keep people healthy at home longer. More important than hospitals.

Burstyn: Mic works now. Pop’n aging, more seniors than other Toronto ridings in BEY. Keep people who don’t have to go to hospitals in their homes for care.

7:18: Priorities for educational spending.

Burstyn: When students start well they finish well. Ensure JK/SK priority. Reduce size of classes. Full-day kindergarten province wide by 2014. Raise graduation rate, goal is 85%. Post-sec affordable & accessible to all who are qualified to go.

Prue: Greatest need is in post-secondary. School in ontario avg. 6,700 for uni, 6,900 for grad studies. Highest in all of Canada. Debt load of 25% of grads is 25,000 or more. Worst ratio of profs to students in Canada. Largest class sizes. Priority needs to be post-sec. BEY needs a French school at public level.

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7:20: Q: Food share promoting mandatory food education.

Prue: Absolutely, people must learn where their food comes from. People eating too much sugar. Speaks about East Lynn Farmers Market.

Burstyn: Healthy Snack Program helps young people learn about nutrition early. What’s available in schools should be healthy. Trans-fat ban. Make people more aware of their own health.

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7:22pm: Financial meltdown in 2008 – 3yrs later many still concerned. How will you create new jobs?

Burstyn: Ontario fared better than most in recession, have gained back more than we lost. Up 124%. More jobs gained in ON than in rest of Canada combined. But more needs to be done, esp. green jobs.

Prue: Meltdown is not over, markets dropping today. Don’t give away billions to banks & insurance companies who cut jobs. Reward small business & corps that create jobs w/ $5,000 tax bonus for each job created. No tax benefit from NDP for cutting jobs.

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7:24: Questioner will vote for party who will tax rich people most. Prue says “I guess that’s me.”

Prue: Don’t just tax rich people, tax people fairly. Speaks about Buffett’s tax letter. People should pay their fair share, everybody should benefit. End corporate handouts.

Burstyn: Libs want fair taxation too. Not just on ability to pay but also on what society can sustain. People complain about taxes at the doors, but glad to live in society where taxes pay for services, education, health care.

Prue uses card to say more: should be concerned about taxes on homes and properties. Pay highest taxes on homes & properties in the world, because so many services have been downloaded. Must make taxes level with other provinces, cities must be able to raise revenues in other ways, otherwise people driven out of their homes.

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7:27pm: Given that Cdn businesses bear cost of social programs, how can they compete with businesses in China with no such programs? Support tariff to support programs, or …

Burstyn: There is a cost to businesses for social, environmental, other benefits we enjoy. Not competing with China on basis of cheap goods. Other nations look to us for innovation. Health care is huge benefit. Well educated work force is huge benefit. Foreign companies locating here because of them.

Prue: Produce wonderful goods & services in Ontario, depend on exports. Can’t close off markets & expect to leave markets open to us. NDP proposes Buy Ontario policy, when costs are competitive.

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7:30pm: does your party have plans for export development?

Prue: Explain? … Need to export. Of course we need export policy to make Ontario prosperous. Can’t do it alone.

Burstyn: We do have an export development policy, always have. Liberal gov’t looks at most promising markets to export to. Large populations like China, India. Largest partner still USA. Export innovative technologies, not just natural resources.

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7:32pm: Mother of 5 receives midwifery care. Until 6wks after birth, midwives provided on-call care. Pay is significantly less compared to health care providers. Would like to see midwives paid more.

Burstyn: is mother of 4. Midwifery is important service. Underpaid relative to other health professionals, can’t say what she would do about it right now.

Prue: NDP released policy today on midwifery: promising 4 birthing centres in province, pay midwives decent wage. Work with them & women across province to convince that giving birth in those centres is as good or better than hospitals (germs, etc). Will save money, free hospitals for acute care.

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7:35pm: Does your party support or will expand housecalls by doctors?

Prue: remembers when doctors would make housecalls for flu, days long gone. NDP wants emergency centers in communities to take load off hospital emergency rooms. Need options. Waits at ERs too long.

Burstyn: Libs just introduced house calls, first with seniors. Difficult for them to wait in ER or doctor’s office, better to receive care in own home. Make it more convenient & take pressure off existing facilities.

One person claps for Burstyn.

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7:37pm: What are 3 top challenges facing Beaches-East York?

Burstyn: Many challenges, many gifts. Main streets need to be revitalized. Danforth (east) needs to have more buzz, energy, more things happening. Less of a dividing line between north & south riding. Protect waterways & beach in riding. Protect environmentally sensitive areas; appropriate development.

Prue: 3 greatest challenges: rampant deveopment, developers taking over neighbourhoods, destroying streets. Abolish OMB; enough to save neighbourhood. (applause) Next is transit, transit is lifeblood, restore TTC budget & all transit budgets. Toronto only North American city with no subsidy from senior government. Reverse damage done by Harris. (uses extension) Infrastructure has to be updated. Mentions need for new French language schools again.

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7:40pm: What is vision for Beaches East York community?

Prue: would like community to stay as it is, prevent rampant development. Don’t pit neighbour against neighbour. Condos nice but destroys character. People like ambiance of community. Cannot allow that to be destroyed simply for profit. Preserve streetscapes, homes, festivals.

Burstyn: Celebrate diversity through festivals. Special community, one of most diverse in all of Ontario. Some parts don’t know other parts, community should be more connected & cohesive. Bring neighbourhoods together. Brag about community more, draw attention.

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7:43pm: As a resident, questioner doesn’t feel represented at Queen’s Park, current MPP unavailable. If elected, how will you represent us?

Burstyn: people always have representation. BEY hasn’t had as much attention as some other communities. Need to attract attention from government.

Prue: office hours 5 days a week; makes personal house calls. Goes to every festival, is visible on the streets, nobody could do more. Was him who brought attention to get funding for local hospital. Will continue to be a great opposition MPP but would love to be government MPP.

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7:45pm: Journalism student who has only ever voted NDP: why should I vote Liberal?

Prue: Thanks questioner. Jack Layton encouraged people to come out and vote more than ever before. Says Horwath doing a good job without taking cheap shots at other parties. NDP talking about own platform more than other parties, not resorting to cheap attacks. Stand by principles.

Burstyn: Positive progressive plan to move forward together. Health care, education, Green Energy plan that David Suzuki lauded. Proud of many things done over 8 years, but more to be done.

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7:47: Proposal for huge mega quarry will affect water quality. What will you do to protect communities?

Burstyn: Liberals will put hold on mega quarry project until further studies are done. Seek resolution that does not over develop & affect residents negatively.

Prue: Quarry is obscene, should not be built. At headwaters of major rivers, on prime farmland. US firm building is just looking for profit, doesn’t care about people. NDP will not allow it to proceed.

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7:49pm: Private schools accused of selling credits to students, affects university standing for qualified students.

Prue: private schools need to be regulated and violators need to be shut down. Need to provide equivalent education that is available in public system. Looks bad on Ontario.

Burstyn: credit mills need to be investigated. Need to be regulated, practice of giving credits to students who haven’t earned them needs to be stopped. Thanks Toronto Star for uncovering local story.

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What do you have to offer college students?

Burstyn: New spaces. Colleges not “B-team” of post-sec institutions any more. Now enjoy respect of post-secondary system. Increase spaces available.

Prue: Tuition has risen 30% in last 6 years, now want to give grant. Liberals need to make up their mind. NDP will freeze tuition, is frozen in rest of Canada. Post-secondary education is important. Need to cut interest rates on student debt. Must build & staff universities. Mentions prof to student ratio again.

Burstyn adds: Liberals raised tuition to help schools suffering from Harris era, then reduced rates later. Encourage non-profit activity by extending no-payment period for student loans.

7:55pm: How to fix Ashbridge’s Bay? Disgusting, has to affect water quality.

Prue: smells from sewage treatment plant disgusting. On Toronto Council, many studies re: reducing smell. Engineers need to work on that. But sewage facility is necessary, sewage must be treated before it goes into the lake. Water goes out cleaner than it came in. Trust scientists.

Burstyn: no easy fix. Not enough of a priority, need to raise issue with the city & the province to address.

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7:57pm: What is your party’s position on wind farms?

Burstyn: Liberals support wind energy, alternative energy. Can’t make it only energy source but very important to replace dirty coal plants. Promote clean energy. But no wind turbines in residential areas. Location important.

Prue: NDP supports wind energy, even on water if feasible. Some people might not like it. Liberals made people angry by passing legislation that takes away the right of every municipality to have a say where wind farms & other hydro plants are built. Communities must have input.

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8:00pm: Q for Prue: Queen Street rotten with panhandlers. Support legislation to remove them?

Prue: these are people who need help from society. Very few are aggressive, need police presence to deal with aggressive panhandlers, but some panhandlers are ok. Harris legislation has failed.

Burstyn doesn’t answer.

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Q: programs to encourage foreign investment?

Burstyn: Highest level of foreign investment of any jurisdiction in North America because of Liberal programs. Large investment from Samsung, much investment in green economy. Many opportunities for investment for the types of industries we want.

Prue: public has right to know who is coming & when. Nobody knows what’s in $7B Samsung deal. NDP government will get a copy of the deal & make it public, will cancel if it’s not a good deal. Liberals redacted all but 12 words.

Burstyn adds: Samsung deal has been renegotiated, hopes that renegotiated deal is publicly available. Believes in transparency. Terms kept private by request from Samsung, not government.

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8:04pm: How to control rampant development?

Prue: Beach was offered opportunity to be declared heritage district on street-by-street basis; most residents voted against so it didn’t happen. Get rid of OMB that can overrule wishes of residents.

Burstyn: development not “rampant” but pockets of unsatisfactory development. OMB needs to be revamped, maybe not abolished. Membership should be revisited, should be citizen representation on the board.

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8:05pm: If elected, how will you use social media?

Burstyn: experimenting with social media in campaign. Learning from people every day how social media can be used to get message out. Much different from traditional media. Has a Facebook page, is on twitter.

Prue: social media is the way of the future. As older adult, not as adept as younger people on campaign team, they help to get message out. Traditional ways appeal more to older voters, leaflets at subways, door-to-door, phone calls, signs; more in tune with politics of community.

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8:07pm: Why are political campaigns characterized by attack ads & blame? Why not more positive?

Prue: NDP has no attack ads. Running positive campaign only, talking about own platform. Jack Layton left legacy for Canada, how effective positive politics can be.

Burstyn: doesn’t like attack ads, doesn’t use them. Negativity comes from US campaigns. Campaigns on Liberal platform and Liberal record only.

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8:09pm: Given NDP is unlikely to form government, can a third-party critic properly represent riding?

Burstyn: believes in role of opposition. Canada has 3 strong parties. Yes, you can have strong representation from opposition. But better to have experienced representative in government.

Prue: Libs & Cons have said he is best representative of anyone in Legislature. Talks about people of riding, brings forward rational arguments so that Beaches-East York is completely in the picture.

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8:12pm: Question for Prue: You want to freeze tuition. Do you want to freeze taxes too?

Prue: Will take GST off home heating fuel, HST off electricity, reduce HST on gasoline over time. Won’t pay more taxes unless you earn a lot of money, or corporations whose tax breaks harm people.

Burstyn doesn’t answer.

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8:12pm: 17-yr-old injured worker lost job when employer refused to accommodate disability, claim denied by WSIB. How would you change?

Burstyn: doesn’t know specific case; not fair treatment. Did you try appeal process? System in place that works well to deal with injured workers. Can’t answer, needs to look at specific case.

Prue: system is not fair at all. When worker is injured, key goal of WSIB is to get worker back to work. Deeming Provision can deem you able to work even when you’re not, then you’re deemed to have refused and WSIB is cut off. Needs massive overhaul.

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8:15: Recent poll says health care most important issue.

Prue: Nanos also has NDP within 1% of Liberals. They’re right, health care is most important. Feds giving money to province for health care, province must choose how to spend it. Won’t spend on million dollar consultants for e-Health. Will spend on professionals, practitioners, caregivers.

Burstyn: Poll is correct, health care is most important issue we face. Liberals investing, building new hospitals, hired over 11,000 nurses. Creating new opportunities for people to receive care in their communities instead of in hospitals.

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8:17pm: Where does party platform diverge from local riding issues?

Burstyn: No divergence. Platform speaks to needs of people in all parts. Something for everyone. Not intended for only certain issues. Costed by senior economist for (I missed the name of the bank). PC platform to get elected, Lib platform to govern.

Prue: special love for municipalities. Towns & cities must prosper. Need more than 8 cents of tax dollar to go to local government. Must be able to build infrastructure. Needs to be finest place to live.

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That was the last question, now 90 seconds for final statements.

Prue: Thanks organizers, this has been very exciting even though there were only two of us here. Asking for support to go back to Queen’s Park. Skills & abilities well respected on all sides of house. Chosen as Deputy Speaker because fair & balanced. Beaches East York look out & care for neighbours, need to be seen at Queen’s Park. Hoping to bring talents to government. Ran 5 budgets with no tax increases as East York mayor. It can be done, believe I have the skills. (applause)

Burstyn: Thanks organizers & audience. Less debate than community meeting, many important questions, hopefully good answers. Very respectful, constructive, need more of this everywhere. Will bring this sort of leadership to politics. Not fighting – collaborating, working together. Have worked in government since 1982. Can work together if you want to. First-time candidate but brings experience. Bring new dignity, new grace, better meaning to politics. I’m a community builder. (applause)

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End of debate. Moderator thanks organizers, thanks Remarkable Bean for providing coffee, Thomas Breads for providing snacks, Beach United Church for providing space, and Neighbourhood Link for organizing the debate. Also thanks candidates, not an easy job to campaign but it’s an important part of the process. Also thanks people for coming & being informed.

And that’s the end of the debate, folks. Thanks for following along & putting up with my first attempt at a live-blog! Now go get informed and vote on Thursday, October 6!

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Ontario Election 2011: Beaches East York

With the upcoming Ontario provincial election around the corner, and one of a few community all-candidates debates coming up tonight, I thought it might be a good idea tonight to find out who’s running in my riding. After a bit of running around on the internet, I finally found this tiny “Find Your Candidate” link in the fine print at the bottom of Elections Ontario’s We Make Voting Easy website. Actually, I started at Elections Ontario and didn’t find anything. Then I found the candidates on Wikipedia first, then by doing a Google search, and then much later I stumbled across the Find Your Candidate link. Needless to say, “We Make Voting Easy” is an unfortunate misnomer. But I appreciate the sentiment.

There are six candidates competing for my vote in Beaches East York. Of the six, three are eliminated right away:

Chris Menary, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario: the PC party is the party of former Premier Mike Harris, who in the late 90s decimated the province’s social services by slashing funding for almost everything. Hospitals and schools closed. Infrastructure projects were cancelled. Social assistance was taken away from millions who needed help the most. Harris’ reign ended just before the 2003 Blackout, where the underfunded and decaying power grid mishandled a minor routine fault, throwing much of Ontario and the northeast United States into darkness for days. The Harris tax cuts left the province billions of dollars in the hole. Tim Hudak, Menary’s leader, has surrounded himself with former Harris advisers, and most damning of all, is endorsed by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (see Every Mayor Is Better Than Ours!) There is no possible way in hell that I would vote for this party, ever.

Naomi Poley-Fisher, Freedom Party of Ontario: the Freedom Party was founded in London, Ontario in the 1980s by people who thought that the Progressive Conservative Party of the day was not libertarian enough. No thanks.

Joe Ross, The Only Party: while some sources refer to his candidacy as simply “independent,” The Only Party is registered with Elections Ontario. Unfortunately, that’s all the information I could find. They do not have a website (try Googling “only party”), and Ross did not submit any contact information with his nomination papers. Searching Joe Ross on Google brings up many varied results, including a Joe Ross who ran for the Green Party in an eastern Ontario riding in 2003, but none are conclusively the same Joe Ross nominated here. Not having an internet presence at all means no further consideration for this candidate.

The three remaining are the three I will consider voting for.

Shawn Ali, Green Party of Ontario: I’m usually impressed with Green Party candidates. They tend to be younger intellectuals who can seriously debate on the issues, when given the chance. Many seem to be the former conservatives left behind when the Conservative Party was taken over by crazy libertarian reactionaries. However, federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May came out this year as an anti-WiFi nutter, aligning herself with a group opposed to wireless broadband and notably opposed to hydro smart meters because of their wireless technology. Very disheartening coming from the leader of Canada’s environmentalist party.

Michael Prue, New Democratic Party: I have voted NDP in every election ever, without exception, and Prue has held this riding for several elections and is the favourite to win again this time. However, the NDP platform contains such policies as reversing the HST and lowering gas taxes, both of which I’m strongly opposed to and would expect to find in the PC platform if I ever wasted my time looking at it. But they’re also calling for higher corporate and income taxes, both of which the province sorely needs to close the deficit gap. Still, I’m extremely unimpressed that our only real left-wing party is quoting from the Tory playbook.

Helen Burstyn, Ontario Liberal Party: I’ve been more or less satisfied with the Liberal government of the past eight years. They harmonized our sales tax, which will benefit the economy despite the populist whine of the Conservatives. They have opened many new hospitals where Harris closed them. They have committed to some very large and desperately needed infrastructure projects, like creating Metrolinx to manage transportation redevelopment in the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area, which is already having major successes despite the roadblocks Rob Ford has tried to drive into the process. And they seem to be the only party investing in a green energy economy, seemingly including the Greens. These are all important things. But they also gave away billions in handouts to American automakers who destroyed the economy in the province’s southwest. And they were complicit in the breakdown of civil rights and thousands of unlawful detentions at the Toronto G20.

So there’s still much to think about. Tonight I’m going to attend Neighbourhood Link’s all-candidates debate at Beach United Church, and live-blog if my mobile signal is strong enough. I’m excited to learn more about these candidates. And I encourage you to learn more about candidates in your own riding.

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City Hall Slumber Party II: Thumb Harder

Last night, Shawnte & I joined hundreds of our friends & fellow citizens at Toronto City Hall for the second all-night Executive Committee meeting. We listened as deputant after deputant pleaded for Mayor Rob Ford to spare their essential city services from the chopping block, to look instead for more creative ways to solve his manufactured budget crisis. And we watched as Ford and his hand-picked inner circle ignored and ridiculed our fellow citizens of this once-great Toronto.

Many of last night’s deputants advocated for restoring the vehicle registration fee and implementing road tolls and congestion charges. One deputant, Rob Shirkey, read from a Toronto Board of Trade report suggesting the city could raise over a billion dollars in revenues per year by asking drivers to pay their share. A billion dollars would plug the deficit hole, pay for every public service and grant up for a cut, and leave enough left over for Ford to kill his hated Land Transfer Tax and make a hefty property tax cut.

So why aren’t tolls on the budget table?

Wifi networks available in Committee Room 1: on TwitpicCouncillor Giorgio Mammoliti took a stab at that one. During the election, voters told Ford’s people they didn’t want road tolls. A simple answer from a simple man. Of course, if you ask someone in a bubble if they want to pay more, they’ll say no. Ford’s people didn’t ask “would you rather pay a modest vehicle fee, or a 35% property tax hike, or lose your parks and libraries and community programs?” They’d get very different answers to that question.

Balancing a budget is a tricky play, and Ford fumbled right from the very start by slashing revenues as he took office. Even with all of the cuts now on the agenda for next week’s council meeting, only $100 million will be saved. That still leaves a budget hole of over half a billion dollars, if you’re like Councillor Norm Kelly and you “believe” there’s a $774M shortfall. The city must increase revenues somehow. That will eventually mean raising taxes or creating new user fees, no matter how much gravy Ford and his million-dollar consulting firms think they can find.

We can’t count on the private sector to provide homeless shelters, harm reduction programs, quality libraries, effective public transit and sustainable urban development. The people who depend most on those programs are the ones the least capable of bearing the cost. Cutting taxes for the rich while slashing services for the poor isn’t leadership. It’s class warfare.

Taxes and user fees are always unpopular. Even some speakers who spoke in favour of tax hikes struggled to say they would like to pay more. We elect leaders to make those tough decisions for us, not to ask us how much we would like to give. A true leader at City Hall would say, “here’s how much our vision of society costs. And here’s how we’re going to pay for it.” And we would pay for it.

I hope that Council comes together with a vision that is more than Ford’s idea that a city is just roads and police and garbage. Toronto is so much more.

Posted in Living, Politics, Toronto | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Every Mayor is better than ours

Rob Ford has been Mayor of Toronto for just over 8 months now. In just those few short months, he’s set himself apart from his predecessors, in the worst ways possible. His mish-mash of regressive proposals threatens to destroy everything that makes Toronto one of the world’s great cities. His administration has been an insult to democratic process, and rife with corruption and scandal since day one. And by all accounts, that’s just the way he likes it. Indeed, Mayor Rob Ford may already be the worst mayor in the history of our city, but he has three long years left to really cement his legacy as the worst of all time.

What of Mayor Ford’s contemporaries? Many cities around the world are facing the same sorts of budgetary restraints and growth pressures as Canada’s largest city. Tough decisions are being made every day. Yet almost every day, a news story comes out about a big city mayor facing tough circumstances who stood up for progressive city-building policy, and who is making international headlines for all the right reasons.

Not too long ago, I began reposting these stories to my Twitter account, with the tongue-in-cheek proclamation “EVERY MAYOR IS BETTER THAN OURS!” Now I’ve seen enough of these stories that I’m starting to believe it’s true. Along with possibly being the worst mayor in Toronto’s history, could Rob Ford also be the worst mayor currently serving in the world?

Rather than go down that rabbit hole (I find it depressing,frankly) I’ve decided to collect these stories of progressive heavyweight mayors around the world, to celebrate their amazing work. This morning I started the Every Mayor Is Better Tumblr at mayorisbetter.tumblr.com. I’ll be posting stories of mayors doing great things in their cities, in hopes that maybe some of Toronto’s city councillors and other leaders might be inspired. If you know of a great story to post, stay tuned while I come up with a way to submit links. And please feel free to share the links.

Who knows, maybe one day Mayor Ford will do something amazing and I’ll be posting a link to a story about his great vision. But between you and me, I think it’s more likely that I’ll end up with a story about mayors in every other city in the world, and prove that every mayor really is better than ours.

Posted in Living, Politics, Projects, Toronto | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments