Tag Archives: david miller

Sick bank

garbage-cityOne of the most publicized sticking points in the ongoing Toronto civic strike is the union leadership’s belief that their members have a “right” to bank unused sick days and cash them in when they retire. This has raised a notable amount of public ire (polls out today suggest 76% disapproval ratings for striking CUPE locals 416 and 79) for obvious reasons that I probably don’t need to detail.

There’s another angle to this, however, that I think is less discussed. The main purpose of providing paid sick days is to ensure that employees are not financially penalized for getting sick. It wouldn’t be fair for an employer to say “you were sick for 7 days this year, therefore we’re docking 7-days-worth of your pay.” Heck, if an employer did that, organized labour would rightly fight against it, wouldn’t they? They might even go on strike!

Except that in Toronto, CUPE has done the exact opposite. They’ve gone on strike to ensure, in part, that if someone is sick for 7 days, they’ll get paid for 7-days less work than someone who doesn’t get sick. They’ve officially taken the position that people who don’t get sick deserve to be financially rewarded for their health, at the expense of people who need—through no fault of their own—to use their sick days.

For someone who believes in economic Darwinism, in free-market-everyone-for-themselves capitalism, maybe this makes sense. But for CUPE? It suggests that they’ve become ideologically confused…that they’ve forgotten their raison d’être.

The current union leadership is doing a disservice not only to their members, but to the reputation of collective bargaining itself. The path we’re on does not end well for organized labour; a course correction would be wise.

(And no, I’m not a fan of how the city’s handling the situation—or, rather, not handling it—either. And according to that same poll, neither is the rest of the city. We need a leader, David, not a scolding parent.)

Illustration by Michael de Adder for Metro Canada

Toronto’s Google Transit embarrassment

Since Google Transit launched in December 2005 it has been adding Canadian cities one at a time. That list has grown to include Hamilton, Ottawa, York Region, Montréal, Vancouver, Fredericton, and now, announced yesterday, Calgary. Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is conspicuously absent. That’s an embarrassment for the City and the TTC.

Google Transit is a service that works with Google Maps to help people plan trips on public transit (instead of just by car, as the first version of Maps did). A visitor to the site enters their start and end points, and Google gives them step by step instructions for reaching their destination (walk to the corner, wait for the 5:00pm bus, transfer to the subway, etc). The system uses schedule data to know when you need to show up at each transfer point, and to estimate how long the total journey will take.

Google reportedly provides this service to municipalities free of charge. All they ask is that those municipalities provide them with their transit schedule, stop and route data. Then Google does the rest of the work. For free.

Back in March 2006, then TTC chair Howard Moscoe gave reporters the impression that Google Transit was coming “soon” to Toronto, but days later a report from Chief General Manager Richard C. Ducharme was seriously lacking in enthusiasm for partnering with Google, even while noting that going it alone would cost the City $2,000,000.

In December 2006 I wrote TTC commissioners urging them to work with Google on transit routing, and suggesting (correctly, I think) that they’d be able to rapidly compile the data for Google using volunteers from Toronto’s enthusiastic transit and web development communities. Adam Giambrone’s office replied to let me know that they were “working on getting the TTC on Google Transit” and that “hopefully it will be up and running soon.” Interim Chief General Manager Gary Webster wrote to say that “the TTC considers the development of its information and communication resources to be a very important item” (try saying that three times fast) and that they had “participated…in some preliminary information gathering sessions with Google Transit project leaders.” Finally, he added that since “TTC staff are involved” he would “respectfully decline” volunteer help.

At the time of that correspondence, there weren’t any other Canadian cities on Google Transit. Now there are seven. When Hamilton was added three months ago, the Hamilton Spectator asked how it was possible that Hamilton had beaten Toronto in the race to get on the service. The answer? The city of Hamilton was “very co-operative” in the partnership, a Google spokesperson said.

After Hamilton was added, Mayor David Miller and TTC chair Adam Giambrone reaffirmed their desire to get Toronto on Google Transit, providing a target date of “mid-2009,” but the experience of the last three years suggests that the City is not taking it seriously and has been incapable of putting together an effective plan for making it happen. (Contrast this with bigger, more organized and resourced cities like, say, Fredericton, New Brunswick.)

Meanwhile, the TTC is still developing their own separate routing system (“Future home of Trip Planner,” ttc.ca currently declares in a randomly orphaned piece of text) which is off-schedule, costing us millions of dollars, and will arguably be redundant with the Google service (though at this point final judgment should be reserved until we can see both services in action).

It didn’t have to be this way. The fact that Google Transit was going to become a great partner was easily predictable, as was the fact that the TTC would ultimately mismanage their own very expensive alternative trip planner. The only silver lining is that we’re now, finally, hopefully, only months away from being able to plan transit routes online.

The First 2006 Toronto Mayoral Debate

I arrived about thirty minutes early for last night’s debate, which was fortunate, since by the time things got going it was standing room only in the Innis College auditorium.

Of the currently thirty people running for Mayor of Toronto, only two were invited to participate in the debate: His Worship (we’ve got to get rid of that title) Mayor David Miller, and Councillor Jane Pitfield. I suppose the thinking was that they’re currently the only two “serious candidates” running. Well, Jane may have tested that assumption.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that everything Jane Pitfield says is crazy, nor do I agree with everything David Miller says or does. But good gosh, is she even listening to herself? Here are some of my personal highlights from last night:

  • Jane opposes the closing of streets for community events. She’d create a designated space in the city where all street fairs and community fairs are to take place. (I’m assuming we’d re-name “Taste of the Danforth” to “Taste of Designated Community Area 29.”)
  • Jane helped create Car-Free Kensington. (Wait…what? Doesn’t that involve closing streets?)
  • Jane knows homelessness is a big problem in this city because of “the look on tourists’ faces.” Also, we need to make homelessness illegal because it inconveniences business people. (Those honestly seemed to be her main concerns.)
  • New York fought homelessness AND was attacked on 9/11. So there.
  • Toronto should be creating local jobs. Also, we should buy our subway cars from China.
  • The city is spending too much money. Also, we need to spend more money.
  • Our surplus is way too high. Also, our debt is way too high.
  • Staff morale is very low and we need to do something about it. Also, staff are a waste of money and aren’t working hard enough.

You can see why, by the end, I had a very hard time following her arguments. The most useful thing she contributed were some ideas on waste management, though if that’s your issue, then Rod Muir is your candidate.

Where David disappointed was when he completely ignored a comment about the secret Gardiner Expressway report that he’s refusing to make public. If you’re going to be keeping reports a secret, the least you can do is explain why.

The highlight of the night, however, came after the debate, when three media outlets (CFRB 1010, 680 News, and The Toronto Star) interviewed me about what I thought of the candidates. “That’s funny,” I thought, “none of them ever interviewed me when I was a candidate.”