Saturday, June 20, 2009

John Baird Starring in No Streetcars of Your Desire

Last month with much to do, Stephen Harper annouced a press conference in Toronto, and city officials thought they might be getting the $1.22 billion they were seeking for a project to replace their aging fleet of streetcars.

Instead, the show turned out to be a re-run, with the PM flapping about money promised two years, that had already been budgeted for. He then did a little soft shoe and whisked off to other venues scheduled for his re-union tour with Dalton McGuinty.

Earlier this month, John Baird gave Toronto the verbal finger, and today drove the message home, when he said nada on the on the project.

Baird says no to stimulus money for T.O. streetcars
June 20 2009
CTV Toronto

Transportation Minister John Baird has sent a letter to Toronto Mayor David Miller indicating that he will not be granting the city's application to use stimulus funds to purchase streetcars because it does not fit the criteria laid out by the government.

In the letter, Baird spells out exactly what he believes is wrong with the city's request for funds from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, to help pay for 204 next-generation streetcars that will be built in northern Ontario.

"The project that your officials tried to submit clearly did not meet the criteria and so could not be submitted," Baird says in the two-page letter, addressed to Miller but also sent to Toronto councilors on the weekend.

Specifically, all stimulus-funded projects must be completed by March 31, 2011 and the money must be spent building infrastructure in the municipality where the application is granted.
Because the streetcars Toronto intends to purchase "will not even be delivered until late 2012 at the earliest and the project will not be complete until 2018," Baird said they do not qualify for stimulus funding.

Additionally, the streetcars won't even be built in Toronto, meaning the stimulus money would end up "re-tooling a Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay," Baird said.

"This fund was created to build public infrastructure, not modernize factories," he added.

Toronto had planned to use federal stimulus money to pay for one-third of the $1.2 billion cost of building 204 new streetcars, even going as far as to announce the purchase of the streetcars on Friday, despite the fact that the federal money had not yet come through.

So far, Toronto and the province of Ontario have each agreed to fund one-third of the costs of the streetcars, hoping that the federal government would pick up the remaining cost, as part of a tentative deal that may fall apart if the money does not come together before a June 27 deadline.

The city had also planned to use the federal money to help build a new carhouse for incoming streetcars.

While the transportation minister admits that "the proposed project may well be an excellent project of great benefit to the people of Toronto," Baird said it cannot be funded using infrastructure stimulus money.

Baird suggests to Miller that Toronto likely has "many other worthwhile projects ready to go today to improve and renew Toronto's infrastructure," and that he hopes the mayor will be able to find other projects that fit the criteria for stimulus money.

"It would be a tragedy if the federal government spent $4 billion on infrastructure stimulus across the country but was unable to spend any of this on projects in Toronto," Baird closes in the last paragraph of his letter. "I will not let this happen. I hope that the federal government will have a co-operative partner in the City of Toronto."

Baird's frustration with Toronto's request for stimulus funding was evident earlier this month, when a reporter overheard him saying the city was the only one out of 2,700 applicants that didn't meet the eligibility criteria.

I don't really think that the Toronto mayor expected the money because it didn't translate into Conservative votes.

Those f - - - ing Tories
June 10, 2009 04:30 AM
Toronto Star
Thomas Walkom

Sometimes, political scandals are meaningless and meaningful at the same time. So it is with the latest eruptions from Ottawa. At one level, the furor over gaffes by Transport Minister John Baird and Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt is silly. At another, it is indicative.

Baird first. In suggesting that Toronto should (as we so quaintly put it in the Star) "f--- off," Baird was probably articulating the general view of many Canadians.

Indeed, it could be argued that Baird's frustration with Toronto – expressed during what he thought was a private moment at a municipal convention in Whistler, B.C. – is entirely justified.

The federal government, after all, is willing to give cities wads of infrastructure cash. The only proviso is that city councils must spend their share within their own urban boundaries during the next two years.

The fiscal theory behind this is that the economy needs a boost right now.

The political imperative is that the governing Conservatives want credit for creating jobs in cities like Toronto so that they can win more seats in an election that could come as early as this fall.

Toronto's obdurate city council, however, wants the estimated $312 million Ottawa is offering spent on subway cars built in Thunder Bay.

That may a reasonable use for the money. But, as Baird pointed out, it doesn't fit federal criteria.

In fact, there would probably be more jobs (and Conservative votes) created if the entire $312 million were used to dig – and then refill – holes throughout the 416 area.

So, in one sense, the transport minister can be excused for suggesting that Toronto engage in sexual congress elsewhere.

But at another, we in Toronto know – we just know – that this particular remark reflects exactly what Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives think about the city.

Any many of us reciprocate.

Second, Lisa Raitt. Here too, the comments of the federal natural resources minister – while impolitic – are not substantively important.

She's heard on tape taking a sly dig at Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq for failing to take political advantage of a national shortage of the radioactive isotopes used to diagnose heart and cancer ailments.

Raitt then boasts about how she will use this "sexy" cancer issue to raise her own political profile.

Again, at one level, Raitt is simply being honest. Her dismissal of a cabinet colleague reflects the conventional wisdom about Harper's entire ministry – that it is filled with duds.
Even Harper seems to believe this, which is why he insists on micromanaging his hapless ministers.

But at the same time, the sheer callowness of Raitt's ambition reminds Canadians already suspicious of the Harper government just why they don't entirely trust this Prime Minister.

The rap on the Harper Conservatives is that they are cold and unfeeling. Raitt's obvious glee about a looming health problem feeds right into that perception.

Or, as John Baird might say, her comments suggest that this government really doesn't give a flying fornicatory moment about other people's problems.


  1. My first impression is that there is more 'bitter grapes' here than substance. The government laid out the rules for the federal dollars and it was only David Miller that ignored the process. If Toronto loses a construction season then it is plainly Miller to blame.

    In reality governments get the credit or the blame for the success or failure of their programs.

    The Raitt affair was as the CBC's press forum said just the opposition wasting a week of Parliaments' time. A real non-event and we wonder why never more than 60% of Canadians vote. Talk about no value for the money.

    Perhaps party politics in Canada is no longer relevant. The system designed for two parties is dysfunctional with five. Reform of the voting system and the Senate is long over due. I no longer have party allegiance because of the aforementioned problems. I vote on a platform and the best representation I can get at the time.

    The Liberals did not bring the government down last week for two reasons. They do not think a majority is possible at the moment and secondly, the Liberals do not have a better plan to get us through this down turn. Canada lacks a poster boy/girl but then what we need is leadership and business savvy and that is definitely lacking at the moment on the opposition benches!

    P.S. Hey David. The bridge to the island airport is ready to go. That project would get speedy approval by the feds. Oh, I forgot that project is at odds with the mayor's pet interests.

  2. I agree with you that partisan poltics are destroying the process, but never has Parliament been so partisan as when the Conservatives came to power. They rarely answer a question, preferring a cheap shot to substance.

    I'm only a recent Liberal supporter. But to suggest that they don't have a plan is not true. I recently attended a townhall meeting with Scott Brison, and they are on the right track.

    However, they are hardly going to announce point by point measures that will only be twisted and spun in Harper's cherry picking machine.

    Remember he himself last election didn't divulge a platform until the final week. It gave us Jack Layton's famous line. "Where's your platform, under your sweater?"

    The Liberal record speaks for itself. They cleaned up Mulroney's huge deficit and left a 13 billion dollar surplus. They'll do it again, but will probably have to take measures that will be harsh in the short term but beneficial to all in the long term.

    We need courage and vision during difficult times and the Conservatives have neither.

    As to the streetcars, I think it was a worthwhile endeavour and a win-win for Toronto. If it didn't meet the criteria then so be it. I do know how John Baird works though, so have little reason to trust his judgement.

  3. Ah yes, the Liberal surplus. The Liberals cut the federal contribution for health care from I think about 54% to about 16%.The Liberals changed the EI rules so less was paid out hence the current EI problems. Mr. Ignatieff was out of the country (still) so he is clean. The Liberals stole billions from the pension fund of retired federal civil servants and the suit to recover the money is slowly working its way to the Supreme Court.

    You may have a hate for the Conservatives because of the demise of the Progressive Conservative Party but that was a personal gift from Brian Mulroney. It would appear the Alliance & Reform arose when the PCs left a vacuum by their demise as they no longer represented the aspirations of western Canadians.

    It is the nature of politics that it should evolve hence the five main parties we have now.

    The history of the long gun registry and the Firearms Act is one of deceit, deception, lies, propaganda, fear mongering and public manipulation that is unprecedented in modern times. That is the record. You can deny the Auditor Generals Reports and the facts but it does not change the reality..

    Face it. The Liberals may have a new figurehead but he is wearing the same tired old coat. The weakness of being a Liberal today is that you have to have a tolerance for graft and leave your ethics at the door while you hold your nose to vote the party line.

    The Liberal line may sell well to a Town Hall (how American!) composed of the faithful but the rest of the country is still waiting to hear the Liberal vision. So far Ignatieff is long on rhetoric but short on substance!

  4. All political parties hold town hall meetings. They are very common.

    Cambridge Town Hall Meeting With Stephen Harper

    The Liberals did have to make some tough choices, but even Mulroney reduced transfer payments to provinces to try to get back on track. Unfortunately he did not reduce spending. Even with the GST he still left a massive deficit.

    Read my posting 'Much of Our Success we Owe to Paul Martin...' that includes an article entitled 'Paul Martin, Man of the Year'.

    I wasn't voting Liberal then and never voted for Paul Martin because I hate attack ads, but will still give the man his due.

    I don't hate Conservatives, I hate what this current quasi conservative party stands for.

    Stealing billions from pension funds is a little far fetched, but let's not forget the "In and Out", Airbus, the Cadman affair, Jason Kenney buying silence, Stockwell Day buying his seat ...

    And of course Stephen Harper now holds the record for the most lies told my any politician.

    As to Ignatieff, he is a brillaint man, who is having trouble understanding neo-partisan politics. As a journalist and university professor, he had to always look at both sides of an issue, and not just the spin.

    He has the capacity to bring integrity and intelligence back to politics. As Prime Minister, I don't think we'll see the same kind of parliament as we see now, which is turning people off.