Don’t cut the TTC budget

Dear Mayor Tory:
I just spoke to an assistant in the Mayor’s office. I was asking that the TTC budget not be cut by the Mayor’s proposed 2.6% but that it be increased to encourage all of us to get out of our cars which is the only way to decrease the road gridlock in Toronto.
The major concern which I expressed to the staff person is that this cut will harm the most vulnerable of our citizens with increased fares, elimination of all fare discounts and elimination of some routes. I also said that these cuts represent Toronto going backwards when we consider the pollution cars produce and that we all breathe as well as the car’s contribution to CO2 emissions that are causing climate change (how about this heat – with 2016 set to be the warmest year on record, with each year hotter than the last).
I also mentjoned the article in yesterday’s paper, “Blame it on the billionaires” which describes Toronto as the city in North America with the fourth largest gap between the haves and have-nots. We need the mayor to have an adult conversation with the citizens of Toronto and say as many of us are saying – that we are not over taxed and that we can afford to have a better balanced city in terms of inequality. In fact the studies done indicate that everyone, including the rich, are better off with increased equality. So there is no real need to be cutting programs for the public when most of us have the ability to pay more using revenue tools which are being considered but apparently not implemented. I said that I am a renter; therefore I pay proportionally more in property taxes than home owners, many of whom are now millionaires in terms of their property values.
I am sharing the graphic below, sent to me by Commitment to Community – C2C, a citizens group I have worked with, during the Poverty Reduction Strategy of last spring – that the Mayor held as a priority in City Council. Too bad that Council was unwilling to vote the budget necessary to implement very much of the Initiative.
The graphic shows that in real dollars, property owners and car owners are actually paying less while lower-income families are paying more – including the cost of public transit. This is unjust!
Please do not cut the TTC budget; but in fact increase the subsidy to the TTC  and demand that the upper levels of government restore the operating funding to transit that they once paid.
Sincerely,
Murray Lumley, East York, M4C 1J4
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Rage and Racism on the TTC, letter to NOW Weekly

See: https://nowtoronto.com/news/racism-and-rage-on-the-ttc/   for Alok Mukherjee’s article

Dear Editor:

Alok Mukherjee has hit the nail on the head. He has described possible reasons why transit riding has recently declined. Mayor Tory and his followers on City Council have postponed help for today’s riders by deciding to spend $ billions on projects like the Gardiner Expressway and holes in the ground for subways. The first will shave a couple of minutes off the commute times of a handful of drivers while the unpaid for subways will not materialize for decades. Toronto’s transit riders need relief right now. If City Council is serious about getting people out of their cars and increasing transit ridership then why not make a couple of bold first steps. Make King Street and Yonge Street car free and a dedicated right of way for streetcars on King and buses on Yonge. Buses on Yonge would represent an immediate ‘relief line’ for the congested Bloor-Yonge station and a dedicated right of way for King Street would eliminate the frustration riders feel being passed by full streetcars. Why stop there. Start constructing dedicated bus lanes all over the city wherever buses are regularly full. If City Council, staff and the TTC are serious about providing useful transit to all of its citizens then bold steps are required rather than the half measures we are getting.

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Scarborough one stop subway extension decision vs. 24 stop LRTs unacceptable!

I have read both Councillor Josh Matlow’s and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon’s reports to their constituents regarding the Toronto City Council’s decision to go ahead with a subway extension to the Scarborough Town Centre at a cost of at least $3.2 billion and rising vs. up to 7 plus 17 stop LRTs in Scarborough for about the same price.

I must agree with Councillor Matlow’s reasoning over that of Councillor McMahon’s because of the sheer logic supporting 24 stops versus one. That one stop would replace the present SRT to the Town Centre which has 5 stops. All but one will be gone with the proposed subway; no progress for Scarborough there!

Councillor McMahon tells us that it is impossible to look back, that  we must move on because of the expense of further delays. But the issue is that Torontonians have been denied a perfectly good, affordable Transit City LRT plan since 2010 when Rob Ford took over as mayor. Really, any transit is now more expensive because of the 6 years of delay brought on by Mr. Ford’s irrational hatred of streetcars because they block car traffic. They do not – LRT’s are built on their own separate rights of way (and they  are very accessible due to floor heights equalling station platform heights).

Social justice and the environment are at stake. Revenues we so far are unwilling to raise will be sucked away (by the $ billions for a one stop subway extension) from residents of the inner suburbs who will now have to wait another generation for high speed transit. Needed cycling infrastructure – for health, reduced gridlock and improved environment – which I applaud Councillor McMahon for leading on, will be delayed even more by revenues going to a one stop subway. Even the ‘Road Safety Plan’ which was approved by Council last week is at risk of saving very few lives as the ‘car-nage’ continues because viable transit will not replace car driving for another generation.

This decision is fundamentally political. It is not about what is best for ‘the common good’. Mayor Tory, some Scarborough Councillors and at least one Scarborough Liberal MPP and now cabinet minister may have gotten elected by favouring a subway and they and a small majority of other Councillors were willing to hold their noses and vote for a one stop subway that defies ‘evidence based decision making’. This is just unacceptable!

I question Councillor McMahon’s statement that says the subway has the support of City staff. I was at City Council in 2012 when former TTC head Gary Webster was grilled about subways vs the Transit City plan and his honest answers in favour of LRTs cost him his job.

I would ask that prominent Toronto citizens come forward and say to the Mayor and Council that Torontonians do not accept this ‘political’ decision for a one stop subway extension vs. possible 24 stop LRTs for Scarborough.

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Climate Change and the Fort McMurray Wildfires

To: CBC Radio’s The House:

You asked listeners to write in regarding their opinion about whether the Fort McMurray disaster is related to climate Change. I agree with Premier Christy Clark of B.C. that there is a connection. First though I do not in any way blame the victims of this terrible tragedy, some of whom work in extracting bitumen to be used as a fossil fuel. My local newspaper tells me that spring came a month early this year in the west (and has been doing so) largely due to the warm water of the Pacific Ocean. Along with the early warming, there has been little or no rain, so the boreal forest is  tinder for fire. Along with that came the high winds which fanned and fed the fires. However I do think that the Earth’s climate is warming, with consequent disasters like Fort McMurray due to around 250 years of carbon dioxide emissions, from the burning of fossil fuels, into the Earth’s atmosphere from the industrial revolution. The carbon emissions have accelerated perhaps close to exponentially over the past 30 to 50 years, which of course has alarmed climate scientists and the U.N. panel on Climate Change. So the people of Fort McMurray are suffering due to 250 years worth of carbon emissions. Scientists and writers like David Suzuki and Bill McKibben have warned us repeatedly that the northern hemisphere will suffer greater temperature changes than more southern regions with consequent drying and more wildfires. We are seeing this as the north is warming already far more than the 2° C ceiling agreed to at COP21, so we are going to see more of these wildfires as Christy Clark agreed is happening in B.C. I also agree with Premier Clark that the Federal government (and we as taxpayers) are going to have to greatly increase funding for adaptation procedures such as clearing brush ahead of the dry season to slow down fire danger. I disagree with Premier Clark about her wish to build LNG plants in B.C. to liquify natural gas to sell to China and other places. The liquification process itself is carbon intensive as will be the burning of the natural gas at the end markets. We as Canadians have to come to grips with the fact that we can no longer dig up or drill for fossil fuels that are only going to add to the burden of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we need to stop using and building pipelines that are only going to continue  increasing carbon emissions for at least another generation. We must move to renewables and conservation. Bill McKibben and others have already described the scenario that seems to be what Christy Clark described. Wildfires and floods are no longer 100 year events; they are happening every few years. Predictions of the insurance costs for the Fort McMurray disaster have reached $9 billion. Civilization will eventually be unable to cope with the string of disasters that are going to occur due to Climate Change. We must reduce our use of fossil fuels by 80 to 90 % starting now.

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My Response to CBC The Current Interview of MacDonald Scott & Stockwell Day

Hello Anna Maria:

While listening to your story this morning I realized I needed to set the record straight about some of what was said by former Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day.

I do know MacDonald Scott, mostly from being with him at many street protests and having heard him speak passionately and tirelessly about injustices to migrants. Congratulations on your interview with ‘Mac’ as he is more commonly known. I agree with Mac’s assessment of CBSA’s promise to investigate itself with respect to migrants who are held for indefinite periods, with some dying while in custody – that it is like having the fox who guards the henhouse investigating itself.

I can also apply this metaphor to the statements made by Mr. Day. I have at least second hand knowledge that some of what he said is untrue. My friend Mohammed Mahjoub, one of the Muslim refugee claimants held under a Security Certificate, elected to leave his family in Toronto in 2009 and go back to the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre – KIHC (a specially constructed place at Millhaven Penitentiary just for four or five of the ‘Security Certificate Five, all Muslim men) where he had been held with the others up to 2007 when they were released to supervision due to the Supreme Court’s striking down the Security Certificate provisions (which were re-established one year later). Mr. Mahjoub elected to do this after being released to his family, myself and one other man as his supervisors, in 2007. Mr. Mahjoub said his reason for returning to KIHC was the unbearable harassment by CBSA agents of all members of his family, not just him. I visited him at the Centre two times and spoke with him by phone many times over the year. He was the only inmate there for that year.
When he returned to KIHC for that one year, he was allowed to engage in his religious practices such as listening to the Koran on a portable CD player as well as to pray five times per day on a special prayer rug. But it was not long until at least one of the guards assigned to him began to harass Mr. Mahjoub, deliberately entering Mr. Mahjoub’s cell/room and walking on his prayer rug – which is a violation of Mr. Mahjoub’s practices. Eventually guards complained about Mr. Mahjoub’s CD, saying it was too loud and it was eventually removed from him or broken, I can’t remember which. Mr. Mahjoub appealed to the KIHC Commander, a woman, but she refused to act by removing the offending guard. Mr. Mahjoub, who by then had been incarcerated since 2000, had learned that the only power he had was to start hunger strikes which he did in this case. He lived for several months on water and juice and lost nearly 100 pounds. He is a large man but his weight loss was very apparent. He and I were on the phone weekly as I tried to ascertain how he was doing. I even visited him when he was taken to a Kingston hospital for observation for his health, but under what I thought was extreme guarding. During the hunger strike, I and many friends and members of parliament who were sympathetic – such as Bill Siksay – made appeals to the government to take some action to save Mr. Mahjoub’s life. It was during this time that Minister Stockwell Day visited KIHC without interviewing my friend. He reported to the House of Commons that he had looked in the refrigerator and cupboards and that there was plenty of food and drink. This was seen at the time in the House and the media as completely insensitive to a man who might be dying. The issue was not one of food availability but of an inmate who was being denied his Charter rights to practice his religion. Mr. Day did not exhibit any care at all about Mr. Mahjoub’s health or his Charter rights and just made a joke of Mr. Mahjoub’s suffering. So Mr. Day’s statement regarding providing freedom of religion for all immigrants being held, is in practical terms – false and his other statements about how well immigration inmates are treated is worth little.

The other part of Mr. Day’s comments that are objectionable were his negative statements about the organization, ‘No One Is Illegal’. With the dramatic increase of migrating people in the world due to environmental disasters such as widespread droughts, we will be seeing more and more people on the move. The Syrian war and resulting fleeing of refugees was at least partially brought on by several years of drought in Syria and surrounding areas.

Nations such as Canada cannot continue to treat these people who arrive on our shores unsponsored, as criminals and lock them up indefinitely. ‘No One Is Illegal’ is far ahead of people like Mr. Day in recommending humane treatment and freedom for undocumented people or those with no nationality. I think it is criminal of our government to continue to lock up families and incarcerating children which would not be allowed under criminal law, but is permitted as Mr. Scott said, because Immigration law has a much lower standard – which is the reason for how badly my friend Mr. Mahjoub has been treated for 16 years now. He now lives under a kind of house arrest, unable to work, in a limbo that is hard to understand. He cannot go back to his home country for fear of being tortured and/or killed and he has no decent life in Canada up to the present.

I hope you will set straight some of the untruths expressed by Mr. Day.

Sincerely,
Murray Lumley, Toronto

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Bring Peace, Not War to the Middle East

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:

As you have announced new plans for waging war with a different face, it remains what it is: war. Refueling and aerial reconnaissance are simply bombing by proxy. Training to kill in a nation that has known nothing but killing for more than a quarter century serves no purpose whatsoever, except for investors in weapons manufacturing.

This past weekend, Canadian bombers dropped 500-lb bombs on the devastated town of Ramadi, similar in size to Kitchener Ontario. It was the 57th bombing run since the election. Since you came to power, as many as 70 civilians have been killed by bombing runs in which Canadian aircraft took part. The blood of each of them is on your hands. And ours.

After all this bombing, rebuilding Ramadi alone will cost $12 billion ($12 thousand million). But the UN fund for Iraqi reconstruction only has approximately $50 million, or only one-tenth of what Canada has officially spent since 2014 to bomb Iraq and Syria. In addition to the scores of civilians murdered by bombing runs in which Canadian bombers have taken part, the ongoing toll on subsequent generations of Iraqis trying to rebuild their lives in incalculable. Diverting Canadian funds that could have built affordable homes in Canada to blowing them up in Iraq has equally lethal consequences for those freezing to death on Canada’s streets.

Nothing you have announced in this so-called “wholistic” approach to warfighting will change the circumstances. The only positive contribution right now is to pull out all Canadian military forces, including bombers, refueling and spying aircraft, and those on the ground who train to kill.

Irvin Studin, president of the Institute for 21st Century Questions and editor-in-chief and publisher of Global Brief recently stated on TVO’s The Agenda, that the Middle East is in such a mess that it will take 100 years for people to be able to live there in peace with one another. Please begin peaceful processes now and end all war-making activities.

 

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My Support of TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy

Deputation to City of Toronto City Council Budget Committee, January 14, 2016

Dear Budget Committee Members, City Councillors and members of the audience.

My name is Murray Lumley and I am from Ward 31, Beaches-East York. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you about one of the most important Budget items you are considering.

I speak in support of Toronto City Council’s 20 year TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy, promoted as a priority by Mayor Tory and Deputy Mayor McConnell and unanimously voted in by City Council in 2015.

I and several members of Danforth Mennonite Church, here in the East End, contributed ideas to the Strategy along with many other churches and grassroots organizations and we have attended discussions and votes at City Council Committee meetings and its final unanimous passage at City Council in 2015. I also support the recommendations contained in a December 2015 “letter (addressed to Mayor Tory) signed by over  50 Civic leaders  and endorsed by the Toronto Region Board of Trade, to move on 49 recommendations that will advance the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.” I have also participated in educational meetings of the network of 75 community groups known as Commitment 2 Community. These meetings included many of my Toronto Neighbours who are adversely affected by poverty.

Some poverty statistics presented in the TO Prosperity document and in the Civic Leaders letter can be illustrated in the lives of some members of my church. We have examples of both poverty and actions to alleviate poverty. For example the organization ‘Lazarus Rising’ supported by Mennonite Central Committee and board members from several Mennonite congregations and individuals, pays for a full time street pastor who does street outreach for homeless people, assists with drop-in programs at Sanctuary Ministries, hospital visits and other kinds of assistance for homeless people.

Our congregation at this time is taking part in a Mennonite church multi-congregational effort to settle a 5 member Eritrean refugee family who arrived on November 3, 2015 and lived at our church for nearly a month until their apartment was ready in East Toronto. Those of us on the resettlement team have had direct experience with wonderful services, provided by agencies and Boards located in the City of Toronto, such as schools, LINK language training, Public Health medical and dental as well as dental specialties paid for by Social Services. We appreciate these services very much. At the same time, statistics indicate that 46% of recent immigrants live in poverty. Will that be the future of our newcomer family?

At our church as is the case throughout Toronto we have people who become unemployed or are chronically underemployed or employed in precarious work. Statistics indicate that “more than half of  workers in Toronto and Hamilton are in precarious jobs and that is negatively impacting their wellbeing and that of their families and neighbourhoods.” The TO Prosperity document says that “43% of workers are precariously employed” but only 20% of unemployed Toronto residents qualify for employment insurance.” TO Prosperity has plans to address this through “Quality Jobs and Living Wages” as well as through “Transportation proposals.”  Statistics indicate a “36% TTC fare increase in the last six years, adversely affecting low income people who need to take the TTC. City Council and the Ontario government together need to provide long term stable funding to the TTC operating budget, not cut it by 2%.

Transit also needs to be quickly extended to the inner suburbs where some of our people live.”

Canada’s recent commitments to COP21 in Paris demand that Toronto invest heavily in transit construction now and discourage driving in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

Another issue for some is living in areas known as “Food Deserts”, neighbourhoods that have no major food stores or fruit & vegetable markets within reasonable walking or cycling distance or poor transit availability. TO Prosperity addresses this with solutions under “Food Access” and “Transportation”.

Some other concerns expressed by the Civic Leaders and TO Prosperity are:

“ Nearly 1 in 4 of Toronto’s children aged 14 and under live in poverty and over 16,000 children are on the waitlist for subsidized childcare.” I believe that the current violent attacks on citizens with knives and guns are directly related to the poverty the perpetrators have experienced throughout their lives. “Research has also shown that for every dollar invested in affordable childcare, $2 is returned to the overall tax-base due to the increased employment of the parents and reduced use of other social supports.” This many fold return on early investment in peoples’ lives is typical but apparently seldom used.

Housing stability is addressed in TO Prosperity. The question is asked:Do we want to fund the high cost of homelessness (emergency shelters, hospitals, jails) or the lower cost of stable housing? Michael Shapcott, long term housing and homelessness advocate said that the backlog for affordable housing in Toronto is 95,608 households or 174,489 individuals. It will take at least 25 years to clear this backlog at current rates of finding affordable housing.

“United Way research shows Toronto is at risk of becoming the income inequality capital of Canada. Inequality is growing faster here than in other major Canadian cities and outpacing provincial and national averages. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket in their heavily researched book, The Spirit Level indicate that the happiest societies in the world are those where inequality is lowest. Not only the poor in those societies do better but the well off economically also benefit through living in less violent, safer communities with health outcomes and life spans better for everyone. Action is needed to address this important issue.

“ Let’s make 2016 the year of #payingforstuff” was a headline in a Metro Toronto article by City Hall journalist Matt Elliott.” He expresses well what is needed. My City Councillor Janet Davis in her latest report indicates that there are ten service enhancement improvements approved by Council, including the Poverty Reduction Strategy, that are unfunded. The TO Prosperity : Poverty Reduction Strategy requires new investment of $75 million to implement it for 2016. The budget indicates only $6 million in new investment, a shortfall of $69 million. No one seems to want to increase property taxes, though Councillor Layton expressed in a talk last week, that Toronto property tax bills (not rate) are the lowest of all the municipalities around Toronto. I also understand that the Ontario government passed the City of Toronto Act ten years ago, giving Toronto a variety of revenue tools to pay for services that 13,000 citizens of Toronto (I was one) overwhelmingly said they wanted to keep. This was at the spring 2011 KPMG meetings to examine city services. Those same citizens also said they were willing to invest more to pay for those services. The only revenue tool that has been used is the Land Transfer Tax and City Manager Peter Wallace has already warned Council that it is fiscally dangerous to rely on that one tool. Several Councillors have already publicly advocated for one or more of these tools to pay for approved service enhancements.

Revenue tools and potential investment:

5% Tobacco tax – $30 million

5% Alcoholic beverage tax – $77 million

5% Entertainment tax – $18 million

.10 peak & .05 non-peak Road Tolls, Gardiner & Don Valley – $78 million

Tax on non-residential parking spaces – $175 million

Vehicle Registration tax at $60/vehicle – $66 million

1% Toronto Sales tax – unable to find estimated revenue

https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Ontario%20Office/2015/01/Torontos_Taxing_Question.pdf

For example, my son and I share one car, so the $60 vehicle registration would mean no more than 2 weeks of Starbucks coffees once per day. The $66 million raised would almost take care of the TO Prosperity cost for 2016.

Please don’t tell me that these tools are unaffordable. An article in NOW Weekly, December 17, 2015 by Mike Balkwill, provincial organizer for ‘Put Food in the Budget’ Campaign, pointed out that representatives of the five big banks made it look like they were being generous at the CBC’s annual Sounds of the Season on December 4 when they each contributed $10,000 to the charity drive. Balkwill says in fact, the $10,000 represented less than one millionth of the banks’ bottom line given that collectively the five banks raked in $40 billion in profits last year. Another huge loss of revenue for services is the documented illegal offshore banking used by some wealthy Canadians to avoid making their investments to a fairer city and country. As well, some of our favourite corporations like Starbucks and Apple have been shown to shift their profits to low tax jurisdictions to avoid paying their fair share of the services where they operate and sell their products. Some estimates have it that Canada is losing $10 to $20 billion in lost tax revenue per year, leaving middle class Canadians to pay for necessary services for all. http://globalnews.ca/news/976581/tax-dodge/ Of course these two examples of lost revenues require action at the provincial and federal levels but I expect City Council to request that the upper levels of government demand that banks, corporations and rich individuals who have benefited from Toronto’s and Canada’s infrastructure pay their share.

Now that Council has unanimously approved TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy I hope you will vote to fully fund it as an investment, keeping in mind the huge return in living potential. You will be doing what is absolutely essential to build a more just and livable thriving city.

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