Quotulatiousness

August 17, 2017

Safe injection sites go rogue … to save lives

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the National Post, Chris Selley wonders why the federal government has been so slow to come around to accepting the overall harm reduction offered by legal safe injection sites:

I suspect this generation of policymakers, and the previous one especially, will struggle to explain to their grandchildren just what on earth they thought they were doing about opioid addiction. I don’t mean the likes of Donald Trump, who seems to think a get-tough policing approach — a “war on drugs,” perhaps — might get the job done. I mean smart, reasonably compassionate Canadians, by no means all conservatives, whose worries about safe injection sites in particular look bizarre even today, when people are still using them.

“It’ll attract rubadubs” — as if Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was a middle-class utopia before Insite set up shop. “There’ll be needles in the streets” — more than if the safe injection site weren’t there, you mean? And, of course: “Addicts should go to treatment instead” — as if people haven’t been trying and failing to get and stay clean this whole time; as if the alternative, on a day to day basis, might be not waking up the next morning to go get treatment.

To its credit, the Liberal government in Ottawa has loosened the regulatory reins. There are nine approved “supervised consumption sites” up and running across the country: five on the Lower Mainland, one in Kamloops, and three in Montreal. Six more, in Victoria, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, are approved and awaiting inspections. An additional 10 are in the approval process; four in Edmonton applied more than three months ago; one in Ottawa has been in the works, officially, since February.

This looks like progress, and to a great extent it is. But on Sunday, a group of activists in Toronto implicitly asked another trenchant question: why does it take so bloody long to set up a supervised injection site? Why are we waiting? It’s just clean needles, chairs and tables, overdose treatment medication, a nurse and a phone.

August 2, 2017

Ontario has scared off foreign home-buyers, but bureaucratic delays still make housing more expensive

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Josef Filipowicz and Steve Lafleur explain why Ontario’s recent crack-down on foreign home-buyers in the Greater Toronto Area still leaves one of the biggest barriers to affordable housing untouched:

The Ontario Legislature in Queen’s Park, Toronto. (via Wikimedia)

According to a recent announcement from Queen’s Park, 4.7 per cent of properties purchased in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe (between April 24 and May 26) were acquired by foreign individuals or corporations. This in the wake of the raft of measures announced in April including a 15 per cent “Non-Resident Speculation Tax” ostensibly aimed at improving housing affordability.

It’s difficult to say how this portion of the housing market — foreign buyers — ultimately impacts the cost of buying or renting in Canada’s biggest urban region, and it’s far too soon to estimate the effects of the myriad of policy changes the Ontario government is introducing. But what we do know is that the laws of supply and demand apply to housing, and it’s hard to believe that a small percentage of buyers are responsible for the massive appreciation of housing prices in the GTA over the past decade. Rather than focus on a small tranche of buyers, we should focus on ensuring that regulations don’t prevent the supply of new housing from meeting demand.

[…]

So what’s preventing cities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe from issuing more building permits?

In short, red tape at city hall. Between 2014 and 2016, Fraser Institute researchers surveyed hundreds of homebuilders across Canada to better understand how government regulation affects their ability to obtain permits. In the Greater Golden Horseshoe, it typically takes one-and-a-half years to obtain a permit in this region, and per-unit costs to comply with regulation amount to almost $50,000. Approval timelines can also be affected by the need to rezone property. Approximately two-thirds of new homes in the region require this procedure, which adds 4.3 months (on average) before builders can obtain permits.

Another deterrent to more supply is local opposition to new homes. Survey results show that council and community groups in Toronto, King Township and Oakville are more likely to resist the addition of new units in their neighbourhoods, effectively preventing newcomers from moving in.

Update, 3 August: Mission accomplished. Toronto home sales plummeted 40 percent in July.

July 11, 2017

The 905’ers – “the bridge-and-tunnel barbarians at the city’s gate”

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Sniffy Torontonians have apparently adopted the NYC snobs’ favourite term for out-of-towners:

Not satisfied by the socioeconomic barriers to fine dining, downtown gourmands imagine any behaviour not matching their arbitrary standards of etiquette to be uncouth, going so far as to label outsiders to their tribe with a distinct pejorative: “the bridge-and-tunnel crowd.”

Originally a derisive description for commuters to Manhattan (the earliest known instance of its use is found in the December 13th, 1977 edition of the New York Times), the term has been adopted by the inhabitants of urban centres across North America to further alienate outsiders. In Toronto, it is used interchangeably with “905er,” a reference to the common area code for the suburbs surrounding the city.

To fully grasp the classism and snobbishness inherent in the term’s use, one is best advised to revisit an episode of the second season of The Sopranos, in which an annoying bar patron in Manhattan refers to the well-meaning, but simple-minded Christopher as a “bridge-and-tunnel boy.”

There is much sense, but little grace, to the formulation of such a descriptor. The self-absorbed downtown-dweller, you see, requires constant justification for their choice of domicile. The idea that one could escape the claustrophobic propinquity of the city and its higher cost of living while still enjoying its cultural amenities and nightlife on occasion is an affront – a threat that undermines not only the urbanite’s domestic decision-making, but to some extent, their very identity.

[…]

That an expectation of sustenance from ordering food at a restaurant would be scoffed at represents, at least on some level, a misappropriation of values. Oh, yes: It’s definitely the suburbanite who balks at the $35 plate of deconstructed spaghetti who is the fool. Believe it or not, you can live in a home with a dual car garage and still watch Chef’s Table on Netflix – and even understand why one might travel to Chicago to experience a meal at Alinea. However, if a chef is offering a Saturday night prix fixe, they’re probably not Grant Achatz.

Furthermore, it seems that if only one side of the urban versus suburban divide must be labelled ill-mannered, it should be the allotment who greets the other for an economic infusion in their service sector with disdainful mockery. The summer is littered with festivals and three- to five-course restaurant specials purposely constructed as an invitation for out-of-towners to come and open their wallets, and yet, the derisiveness projected toward them suggests a suffix should be attached to the Field of Dreams axiom: if you build it, they will come … for you to disparage them.

July 8, 2017

Renaming Ryerson

Filed under: Cancon, Education, History, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

There’s apparently a demand from the usual suspects to change the name of Ryerson University in Toronto, because the man the university is named after was a key figure in the establishment of the hated aboriginal residential school system. Colby Cosh discusses the man, his history, and the issue:

The name of “Ryerson University” self-evidently exists to honour Egerton Ryerson, rather than merely to perpetuate the words or the sound of his name as a semantic object. Ontario, as a society, is free to reconsider this decision and, in a sense, put Ryerson on trial.

Which he might, after all, win. Egerton Ryerson was alive from 1803 to 1882; his place in the history of residential schools is based on activity he engaged in between 1837, when he was involved with Indian education as a member of the missionary Aborigines Protection Society, and 1847, when he wrote a report outlining future principles for aboriginal “industrial education.” For most of his life these ideas were never implemented. In the 1880s, by which time Ryerson was recognized as a Canadian founder, he had become more influential — and so the younger Ryerson was a central posthumous author of a system he never lived to see.

As an influence, nearly anyone would now judge him very harmful. He thought it was important that education should be provided to Indian children through boarding schools, and by the churches, with a strong religious element. Like many theorists of the 19th century, he believed in frogmarching aboriginal peoples through an accelerated agricultural-pastoral phase of cultural evolution, as part of their progress toward equality and their emergence from state “tutelage.”

The effects of these principles, once applied, were beyond disastrous. But Ryerson’s advice was not predicated on harming or punishing First Nations. He was opposed in his own time by malign quietists who preferred to plan for Canadian Indians to literally die off in out-of-sight places. He worked with aboriginal colleagues in developing his ideas, spoke Ojibwe, and modelled his vision of Indian education on outstanding European schools for the (European) poor.

This would be a strange approach if his goal had been genocide. Which is not to say that he or anyone else ought to be judged mostly on his intentions.

The Canadian state lies under remarkably heavy obligations to Egerton Ryerson for both its development and its current form. He is an important reason that religious tests for political participation never gained a foothold in our country. He is the father of secular public schooling here, though he would hate to hear that. As a bureaucrat, he stood for a non-partisan public service when that was a weird new idea, and did as much as anybody to show it could work.

Gerry Bowler discusses similar cases down to Hector-Louis Langevin:

If you go to the Doge’s Palace in Venice and consider the portraits of the city’s rulers, you will find them all in chronological order until you come to the place where you would expect to see that of Marino Faliero, elected in 1354. Instead of his likeness, you will behold only a black pall and the words “Hic est locus Marini Falethri decapitati pro criminibus” (This is the spot for Marino Faliero, beheaded for his crimes).

In the 20th century, Kremlinologists had a hard time keeping up with the Soviet personalities who achieved high office but somehow earned the wrath of Josef Stalin. One day, they’re a member of the Politburo, a famous poet or a marshal of the Red Army; the next day, they’re given a bullet in the back of the head and their names are erased from Communist Party publications, with photographs altered to show that they had never – despite what witnesses might remember – reviewed the troops in Red Square, been acclaimed a Hero of Socialist Labour or stood beside Vladimir Lenin during the revolution.

Unfortunately, Canadians are not above this sort of thing. Now is the turn for Hector-Louis Langevin. For the crime of being associated with the Indian residential school system, his name is to be stripped from one of the buildings on Parliament Hill. Although he was a Father of Confederation, an architect of a nation spanning half a continent, the political class of today deems him unworthy of being remembered. Never mind that his ideas were utterly respectable in his day and shared by those who are, for the moment at least, still allowed to be memorialized – Sir John A. Macdonald, Archbishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché or Sara Riel, for example – they are now considered shameful.

The irony is that this brouhaha will not obliterate Langevin from public memory; thousands now know more about his life and works than they did a month ago.

But oblivion is not enough for today’s signallers of their virtue. They want to go beyond Orwell’s novel 1984, past amnesia into disgrace. They want to dishonour Langevin and those who were of his opinion – and by extension, anyone today who opposes current aboriginal policies.

As Orwell told us: “You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.”

So long, Langevin!

May 26, 2017

Toronto-London high speed train plan – “many Ontarians wouldn’t trust the Liberals to see an HO-scale model of this plan to fruition on time or on budget”

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Chris Selley discusses the weak-but-barely-plausible high speed train plans announced by the Ontario government the other day:

High-speed rail is expensive — to build, certainly, and more on that shortly, but just as importantly to ride. It’s 202 kilometres from Le Mans to Gare Montparnasse in Paris. The first TGV of the morning takes 58 minutes — total average speed, 208 km/h — and will set you back €45. It’s 180 kilometres from Frankfurt’s Hauptbanhof to Cologne’s Hauptbanhof. The 7:27 a.m. ICE train takes 65 minutes — average speed: 167 km/h — and Deutsche Bahn wants €60 for the privilege. Brussels to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is 195 kilometres. The Thalys will get you there in 92 minutes tomorrow morning, at a relatively modest average speed of 127 km/h and for the eye-watering sum of €82.

This is the sort of distance Ontario’s Liberal government says it plans to cover with high-speed rail — from Union Station in Toronto to London via Pearson Airport, Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. A report and “preliminary business case” by former federal transport minister David Collenette, released Friday, envisions 185 kilometres of track with a maximum speed of 300 km/h in one scenario and 250 km/h in the other, and by 2025.

The London-to-Toronto trip would take 66 minutes in the faster scenario and 73 in the slower, for a total average speed of between 152 and 168 km/h. Either would represent genuine high-speed rail, and it would come at genuine high-speed rail prices: somewhere between $4 billion and $11 billion under the 250 km/h scenario; somewhere between $15 billion and $44 billion at 300 km/h.

[…]

So it’s a bit of a conundrum for the Liberals. This is a big offer — just the sort of thing people in the GTA say they want when they come back from Cologne, Paris and Amsterdam. It ought to be a reasonably compelling plank of an election platform.

But many Ontarians wouldn’t trust the Liberals to see an HO-scale model of this plan to fruition on time or on budget. It’s vulnerable to the sort of grievance-mongering and populism that sometimes makes it hard to tell a New Democrat from a Tory these days. We haven’t even gotten into the technical details. And ultimately, I’m just not really convinced people want this to happen as much as they say they do — not unless it’s free, and stops just the right distance from their back yards.

On the technical details, here’s a very brief overview from a post I wrote several years back, at the time California was beginning their insane high speed rail project:

The best place to build a high speed rail system for the US would be the Boston-New York-Washington corridor (aka “Bosnywash”, for the assumed urban agglomeration that would occur as the cities reach toward one another). It has the necessary population density to potentially turn an HSR system into a practical, possibly even profitable, part of the transportation solution. The problem is that without an enormous eminent domain land-grab to cheat every land-owner of the fair value of their property, it just can’t be done. Buying enough contiguous sections of land to connect these cities would be so expensive that scrapping and replacing the entire navy every year would be a bargain in comparison.

The American railway system is built around freight: passenger traffic is a tiny sliver of the whole picture. Ordinary passenger trains cause traffic and scheduling difficulties because they travel at higher speeds, but require more frequent stops than freight trains, and their schedules have to be adjusted to passenger needs (passenger traffic peaks early to mid-morning and early to mid-evening). The frequency of passenger trains can “crowd out” the freight traffic the railway actually earns money on.

Most railway companies prefer to avoid having the complications of carrying passengers at all — that’s why Amtrak (and VIA Rail in Canada) was set up in the first place, to take the burden of money-losing passenger services off the shoulders of deeply indebted railways. Even after the new entity lopped off huge numbers of passenger trains from its schedule, it couldn’t turn a profit on the scaled-down services it was offering.

Ordinary passenger trains can, at a stretch, share rail with freight traffic, but high speed trains cannot. At higher speeds, the actual construction of the track has to change to deal with the physical problem of safely guiding the fast passenger trains along the rail. Signalling must also change to suit the far-higher speeds — and the matching far-longer safe braking distances. High speed rail lines cannot be interrupted with grade crossings, for the safety of passengers and bystanders, so additional bridges and tunnels must be built to avoid bringing road vehicles and pedestrians too close to the trains.

In other words, a high speed railway line is far from being just a faster version of what we already have: it would have to be built separately, to much higher standards of construction.

May 15, 2017

Chorley Park, Ontario’s lost viceregal mansion

Filed under: Cancon, Government, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Bateman on the odd history of Ontario’s fourth official home of the Lieutenant Governor:

Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell is one of four Canadian viceregal representatives to be (officially) homeless. Toronto pulled down its last government house, an astonishingly opulent mansion even among its Rosedale neighbours, in 1959 in the name of cost saving.

Just over a century ago, on 15 November 1915, the first official guests were welcomed inside the grand hall of Ontario’s million dollar palace. Twenty years later it was be derelict. Chorley Park is now largely forgotten, save for the small piece of it that remains on the edge of the Don Valley.

[…]

The province, however, had other ideas. It rejected Gage’s offer and forged ahead with the Rosedale site, known as Chorley Park, after the town of Chorley in Lancashire, England, the birthplace of Toronto alderman John Hallam.

The final design for the grand residence was drawn up by Francis R. Heakes – the province’s official architect also responsible for the Whitney Block on Queen’s Park Crescent – in the style of a French Loire Valley château.

Heakes’ blueprint borrowed heavily from submissions to the 1911 design competition, including many of the exterior details and the floor plan, and was limited to a budget of $215,000.

Chorley Park in Rosedale

[…]

The ongoing cost of maintaining the ostentatious mansion proved to be its eventual undoing. The Conservative provincial government found the cost even harder to justify as the Depression began to take hold in the 1920s.

Despite voices calling for the house to be abandoned, it lingered on as the official home of Ontario’s lieutenant-governor until 1937 when the fine furnishings and fixtures were stripped out and sold at auction.

When world war two began, the gutted interior was converted into a military hospital for wounded soldiers.

Chorley Park met its eventual end in 1959 when, with the last of the patients gone and a brief period as a refuge for Hungarian immigrants fleeing the revolution over, the Metro government under Fred Gardiner ordered the building torn down.

April 27, 2017

“Richard Florida has a new book [that] advises cities on what to do about problems that result from advice he gave them in his previous books”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley hits this one out of the ballpark:

Gadabout urbanist Richard Florida has a new book: The New Urban Crisis. It advises cities on what to do about problems that result from advice he gave them in his previous books, notably The Rise of the Creative Class. Stuff your downtown core full of creative types and you shall prosper, the University of Toronto professor advised, and many cities listened. Now some face a “crisis of their own success,” he told a Toronto breakfast crowd at the Urban Land Institute’s Electric Cities Symposium: the blue-collar types who make the creative class’s artisanal baked goods and mind their children have been “pushed” ever further into the suburbs. Economic and geographic inequality results, and Rob Ford/Donald Trump/Brexit-style resentment can build.

Florida’s many critics have long warned this was a flaw in his vision. But now Florida says he finds it “terrifying,” so he’s off on another book tour.

If I sound a bit peevish, it’s because I find him rather insufferable. Critics have poked holes in much of his research, but much more of it strikes me as overly complex analysis and measurement of fairly basic, intuitive phenomena that are common to dynamic and not-so-dynamic cities. While the remarkable urban revivals in recent decades in New York and Pittsburgh, and nascent ones in Detroit and Newark, are all very interesting, I’ve never understood what they have to teach us about Canadian cities. Their cores never “hollowed out” in the first place, necessitating wholesale renewal. When I listen to Florida talk, I hear Lyle Lanley trying to sell Springfield a monorail.

In any event, his prescriptions for the GTA are not exactly visionary: more transit, more affordable housing, densification over NIMBYism and more decision-making autonomy for cities. “The key today is shifting power from provinces to cities,” Florida writes in a Canadian-focused paper linked to the new book. That made it all the more galling to watch his post-speech “fireside chat” with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose tires he pumped well beyond their recommended PSI.

“You know this. It’s in your blood,” Florida gushed of her urbanist bona fides.

Well, let’s see. Wynne can certainly claim to have committed many billions in taxpayer money to transit projects. But if there were awards for NIMBYism, Wynne would have one for the nine-figure cancellation of two unpopular gas-fired power plants, during an election campaign of which she was co-chair; and perhaps another for her party’s shameless politicking on transit in Scarborough.

March 23, 2017

The rent is too damned high? I know – let’s kill the rental market!

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Toronto’s real estate market has been insane for years, with prices for utter wrecks still approaching a million dollars. This has a knock-on effect for rental housing, with insufficient supply guaranteeing that rents will also go higher and higher. The Ontario NDP thinks they’ve got a silver bullet to fix the rental market: rent control! Chris Selley explains why this won’t work out the way eager would-be renters in Toronto might hope:

The NDP’s solution: rent control. MPP Peter Tabuns tabled a private member’s bill Monday that would extend limits on annual rent increases to units built after 1991 — thus closing a so-called “loophole” the Mike Harris Tories introduced in hopes people would build more new units. The Liberals followed quickly behind, with Housing Minister Chris Ballard promising “substantive rent control reform” — details to come.

You can see the attraction, politically. Robber baron landlords swoop in, cackling, forcing families onto the streets and auctioning off their homes, literally, to the highest bidder. The government can stop it. Why won’t the government stop it?

No doubt there are some very sympathetic stories out there. But we in the media tend to be very good at finding those, and it’s hard not to notice the preponderance of “victims” who could afford very high rent in the first place, and didn’t do their homework with respect to rent control or the lack thereof. A typical example: CBC introduced us to a 32-year-old who was paying $1,650 a month for a tiny one-bedroom condo, only to be sent couchsurfing by a whopping $950 increase.

[…]

The fact is, rent control would largely help high-end renters in a high-end market. The vast majority of units that aren’t rent controlled are condos. In October, CMHC pegged the condo-over-apartment rental premium in the GTA at 46 per cent for one-bedrooms, 54 per cent for two-bedrooms and 65 per cent for three-bedrooms.

The real challenge these days is finding an apartment, period: the vacancy rate in October was 1.3 per cent. Critics say the “loophole” didn’t actually incentivize building rental apartments, but closing the “loophole” certainly won’t. Indeed, it’s tough to see how it would accomplish much except transferring money from unit owners to their tenants. Many will like that idea on principle — but if owners can’t rent to the highest bidder, they are unlikely to suddenly rent for less to the youngest, most disadvantaged and most vulnerable people rent control ostensibly helps.

If you want central Toronto to be a more affordable place to live, you need to figure out how to boost supply. There are lots of different ideas out there. It’s a topic of constant discussion at City Hall and Queen’s Park alike. Rent control is nothing but a political distraction.

February 11, 2017

Chris Selley boldly defends John Tory’s latest media mis-step

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While I have no particular affection for Toronto mayor John Tory, I have to agree that he doesn’t actually deserve the rough ride he’s gotten from the Toronto media and grandstanding local politicians for his “broken promise” on municipal swimming pools. Chris Selley detailed the “story” and the facts on the ground and pointed out the non-obvious:

In short, this is a bog-standard managerial decision the likes of which gets made every day in every big city that’s trying to keep costs under control: reducing a library’s hours for lack of demand; altering swimming pool or ice rink seasons based on recent years’ weather; raising the price of greens fees or tennis court bookings; not clearing little-used pathways in parks in winter. Of course people are going to raise a fuss; you manage the fuss as best you can and soldier on.

But in Toronto, especially when a celebrity gets involved, these minor decisions inform a sort of battle-of-civilizations narrative in which the mayor of the day seeks the ruination of all things good about the city — and they all end up on the floor of council.

Even in apocalyptic times for media, City Hall is relatively well covered; council meetings in particular will bring out the cameras, in certain knowledge some elected officials will make hairy asses of themselves and others will burst into tears over the smallest things, let alone the largest.

You could hardly do any worse for entertainment value, but if you wonder why city councillors can’t seem to make any big decisions properly, tune in next Wednesday for budget deliberations and watch them try to make a bunch of small ones. You will wonder no more.

December 17, 2016

These are TTC souvenirs I would buy

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:06

Amy Grief links to a fake Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) merchandise website:

How often do you get frustrated with the TTC? If you take it regularly, you probably have a love-hate relationship with the Toronto transit system. And two Torontonians captured that feeling perfectly with their new website NotInService.ca.

The site riffs on the TTC’s new online shop, but instead of celebrating the Red Rocket, the fake merch depicts all of our biggest transit woes. For instance, there’s a mug that says, “ongoing fire investigation at eastbound at Pape Station,” and a t-shirt that reads, “due to an earlier delay, you may experience longer than normal travel times.”

According to the site’s creators, who posted about it on Reddit, they were inspired by subway ads for real TTC merch and wondered who would actually buy it.

Update, 19 December: BlogTO is reporting that the fake merchandise store has miraculously turned into an actual merchandise store.

When the TTC parody shop launched on Friday, many regular transit users went nuts because the merch accurately captured their (not-so-pleasant) experience riding the Red Rocket.

NotInService.ca began as a joke, but after the founders shared their site on Reddit, it took on a life of its own.

That’s why the site’s now live and you can actually buy the alternative TTC merchandise. The site says it’s “open just in time to be late for the holidays,” which really reflects the whole spirit of this enterprise.

December 13, 2016

“Canadian National was using Metrolinx as an automated teller machine”

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The two big Canadian railway corporations have taken full advantage of the weak internal financial controls at Metrolinx:

For much of the past two decades Canadian National Railway Co. has been credited with revolutionizing the North American railroad industry.

The company’s former chief executive E. Hunter Harrison’s theory of “precision railroading” — a data-driven focus on charging customers a premium for superior on-time performance — made him an industry icon and his shareholders very happy.

But in railroading, as in life, how you get there matters.

Acting on a tip, the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation began investigating Canadian National in the fall of 2014. Here’s what our reporting uncovered:

  • For over 15 years Canadian National earned hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by marking up rail construction costs up more than 900 percent to a public-sector client.
  • Canadian National regularly engaged in questionable business practices like charging internal capital maintenance and expansion projects to the same taxpayer-funded client and billing millions of dollars for work that was never done.
  • A just-released auditor general investigation suggested a series of reforms that will reduce these profits.
  • For years, train yard personnel, under intense pressure from management, have intentionally misreported on-time performance, helping it boost revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars.

[…]

Long before the Ontario auditor general’s office began its investigation, Canadian National was using Metrolinx as an automated teller machine, albeit one with no deposits required. Over 15 years executive teams have come and gone at Canadian National but the one constant has been the river of profit that its Toronto construction unit has been able to reliably wring from Metrolinx.

Determining how much Canadian National has billed Metrolinx over the past two decades is difficult but since 2010, adding up four separate land sales, the Lakeshore West construction discussed below and ongoing maintenance contracts it’s at least $1.1 billion, the majority of which likely went straight to operating income. In other words, Metrolinx’s long-running failure to properly scrutinize Canadian National emboldened it to charge prices so high that many of the construction and maintenance contracts amounted to almost pure profit.

The most audacious episode occurred from 2004 to 2008 when Canadian National’s construction managers developed a billing scheme that reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and benefits by wildly inflating the cost of construction, according to documents obtained by the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation and attached to ongoing litigation.

The project involved a track expansion project that Canadian National performed for Metrolinx’s Lakeshore West line, on a route that stretched about 40 miles from Hamilton, Ontario, to Toronto’s Union Station. The work was completed in 2012.

Windfall profits and bonus payouts weren’t the half of it. In numerous instances Canadian National billed Metrolinx for work that Canadian National did for its own capital maintenance and expansion projects, saving itself many millions of dollars in expenses.

From 2004 to 2008, Canadian National did track construction work for Metrolinx on a 4.5-mile stretch between the Burlington and Hamilton stations, referred to by Canadian National as Lakeshore West/West. On a separate stretch of the same track in late 2009, crews began adding track to the 9.1-mile stretch from the Port Credit station to Kerr Street, or the Lakeshore West/East line. (The Ontario auditor general’s annual report discussed an unnamed 9-mile track extension that cost $95 million to construct “on the Lakeshore West corridor” but did not identify the project’s location or its date of completion.)

The Lakeshore West/West project’s cost is unclear.

Based on this email, Metrolinx had originally approved a construction price tag of $45 million, but in short order the project’s chief engineer Daryl Barnett, in a bid to reduce costs, noted the price tag had quickly ballooned past $70 million. Metrolinx’s spokeswoman Aikins did not answer repeated questions on the matter but the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation obtained an April 2015 internal audit Metrolinx conducted at the auditor general’s request that put the final tab for Canadian National’s 2004 to 2008 work on that stretch at “over $200 million.”

GO Transit operates bus and rail service in the Greater Toronto Area as part of Metrolinx

December 11, 2016

QotD: Muzzling the comment section, for its own good

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

For some time now the trend du jour among many media outlets has been to ban news comments — then insult reader intelligence by proclaiming this is being done out of a deep-rooted love of “conversation” and “relationships.” You see, these websites aren’t banning comments because they’re too lazy or cheap to weed out spam and trolls, but because they love you. These sites aren’t outsourcing all human interactivity to Facebook because bean counters can’t monetize quality on-site discourse in a pie chart, they’re doing it because they care so very deeply about their community.

Why, oh, why can’t you people understand that giving the middle finger and a shiny new muzzle to your entire readership is an act of love?

Karl Bode, “The Globe And Mail Tries Something Revolutionary: Actually Giving A Damn About User Comments & Conversation”, Techdirt, 2016-11-30.

May 17, 2016

QotD: Iron, steel, and “stainless” steel

Filed under: Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As my father the industrial designer used to say, “Stainless steel is so called because it stains less than some other steels.” But give me, by preference, wrought iron from a puddling furnace, for I don’t like shiny. Unfortunately it is not made any more except on a small craft scale: but I have, in the kitchen of the High Doganate, a pair of Chinese scissors that I’ve owned nearly forever, which have never rusted and whose blades stay frightfully sharp (they were only once sharpened). They cost me some fraction of a dollar, back when forever began (some time in the 1970s).

Too, I have an ancient French chef’s knife, nearly ditto, made I think from exactly the steel that went into the Eiffel Tower. It holds an edge like nothing else in my cutlery drawer, and has a weight and balance that triggers the desire to chop vegetables and slice meat.

And there are nails in the wooden hulls of ships from past centuries which have not rusted, after generations of exposure to salt sea and storm. Craft, not technology, went into their composition: there were many stages of piling and rolling, each requiring practised human skill. (The monks in Yorkshire were making fine steels in the Middle Ages; and had also anticipated, by the fourteenth century, all the particulars of a modern blast furnace. But they gave up on that process because it did not yield the quality they demanded.)

What is sold today as “wrought iron” in garden fixtures, fences and gates, is fake: cheap steel with a “weatherproof” finish (a term like “stainless”) painted on. These vicious things are made by people who would never survive in a craft guild. (Though to be fair, they are wage slaves, and therefore each was “only following orders.”)

However, in the Greater Parkdale Area, on my walks, I can still visit with magnificent examples of the old craft, around certain public buildings — for it was lost to us only a couple of generations ago. These lift one’s heart. I can stand before the trolley stop at Osgoode Hall (the real one, not the Marxist-feminist law school named after it). Its fence and the old cow-gates warm the spirit, and raise the mind: if the makers sinned, I have prayed for them.

Almost everywhere else one looks in one’s modern urban environment, one sees fake. This, conversely, leaves the spirit cold, and lowers every moral, aesthetic, and intellectual expectation. To my mind it is sinful to call something what it is not — as is done in every “lifestyle” advertisement — and to my essentially mediaeval mind, the perpetrators ought to be punished in this world, as an act of charity. This could spare them retribution in the next.

David Warren, “For a Godly materialism”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-01-31.

January 23, 2016

QotD: The Canadian Broadcorping Castration

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is the CBC that exists in reality, the CBC that no one watches or really cares much about. Then there is the CBC that exists in the mind of its defenders. The CBC that may have at some point existed, albeit briefly, but never quite as anyone remembers it. The Mother Corp’s dwindling band of supporters think of it as they think of Canada; a bundle of vaguely patriotic abstractions carefully divorced from the frigid realities of daily life.

There is little point in reminding the reader that the CBC is a government subsidized anachronism that, so far as it ever made sense, made sense when men still walked around wearing fedoras and chain smoked at office desks. Though in fairness it’s unlikely Don Draper would have ever watched anything quite so lame.

If a thing lacks either beauty or utility the sensible thing is to get rid of it. Yet the Mother Corp survives. The seemingly indestructible zombie of the Canadian media landscape. The CBC continues to exist not because it’s relevant but because it’s too much trouble to kill. The Conservatives are afraid of pulling the plug because they’ll be attacked for silencing their critics, the Liberals are afraid of firing their most loyal supporters and the NDP has an ingrained resistance to cutting things loose, however useless. See Chow, Olivia.

Take the frequently used line by the CBC’s defenders and erstwhile allies: We need the state broadcaster to ensure a national conversation. Thing about conversations is that at least two people are required. Otherwise you’re just talking to yourself in a dimly lit room. There are terms to describe people like that and defender of the Canadian nationalist faith isn’t one of them.

This is more than just beating a dead public policy horse. The CBC’s absurdity is not as fascinating as what it reveals about the Canadian Left’s mindset. As a life-long resident of the Imperial Capital I can attest to the prevalence of the CBC Friend. This Friend will wear CBC buttons, buy CBC apparel and speak passionately about the value the CBC provides to Canadians of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and regional localities. About once a week they’ll muster up their patriotism and spend twenty minutes slogging through whatever’s on Radio One before switching back to classic rock.

The CBC Friend is to the CBC as Sunday Catholics are to Christianity. Piety bleeding into righteous hypocrisy. Which would be fine really. Except that Sunday Catholics don’t dip into my pockets. Messers Baldwin and Lafontaine mostly separately Church and State in Canada. Unfortunately Mackenzie King made a point of not separating Broadcasting and State. The basic conceit remains the same in either case: My Truth is so True and so Right that everyone else must pay for it.

But the Truths that the CBC promotes go far beyond whatever Peter Mansbridge is grumbling about tomorrow night. They are a vision of Canadian society that most Canadians find unrecognizable. It’s been joked for years that the CBC doesn’t tell Canada’s story to Canadians, it tells Canada’s story from Torontonians. This explains the special smugness about the reporting that simply isn’t found elsewhere in the country. Not even in Ottawa.

Richard Anderson, “A Platonic Relationship”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-12-10.

January 20, 2016

Toronto gets mentioned in the New York Times … and there’s not a dry seat in the house

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh discusses the sudden appearance of Canadian content in the Grey Lady’s pages:

No evidence is presented that Canadian access to the world’s pop consciousness has changed recently, much less that it has anything to do with Justin Trudeau. Given that Trudeau was the leader of the third party in the House of Commons 14 weeks ago, and was struggling badly in the polls another 14 weeks before that, perhaps the Times’ Hip Canada should be read as a tribute to the Stephen Harper decade.

What I notice about the list, in comparison with ones that might have been drawn up in the past, is how Ontario-dominated it is — Toronto-dominated, really. The Times, blind to the intricacies of the country it is celebrating, pays passing tribute to older Canadian icons Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen — which is to say, two refugees from the west and the Pope of anglo Montreal.

[…]

The meaning of Justin Trudeau in this context may also be different from the one suggested by The New York Times. It is natural for us to contrast Justin with his father, and the stylistic contrast is strong: Justin is often said to be his mother’s son. Pierre Trudeau represented a culmination of the French-Canadian destiny. Americans found him hard to fathom, and he found them hugely uncongenial. His dress and his ideas were taken from Western Europe, a precise balance of Paris and London: he was a deux-nations beau idéal.

One has to say that Justin Trudeau seems less rooted: he has a worldview but no intellectual heroes to speak of, no battlescars from a life of disputation and reading. He belongs to a generation more than to any particular place: he has never lived anywhere for too long, and even his spoken French has come under some fire, perhaps unfairly. Americans adore him on sight. He is above all earnest, and there are hints his emerging role as a head of government will be mostly to convey earnestness, to serve as a sort of emotional mascot, while his ministers do the work. The Liberal Party may be quite happy to see him in the style section of the newspaper, where he belongs.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress