Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An agreement in 'principle'?!

The NDP and Fedfibs have agreement in principle - now that's a good one.

The Globe and Mail: Layton, Martin see eye to eye

The NDP's 'principles' seem to be based on the taxing efficient businesses in order to subsidize inefficient ones where their union supporters are employed. This is also know as the principal of political graft.

The Fedfibs 'principle' is 'Sell your mother to get elected - and if that doesn't work sell your father'.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Seems that Mr. Bono does know ...

...much about Canadian politics!

The Globe and Mail: Bono 'annoyed' with Martin's delay on foreign aid hike

Poor Mr. Bono - oh I forgot, he's a mega-rich pop star who doesn't need to worry about paying a mortgage, saving for the kids' tuition and all that mundane stuff - laments:

"I'm bewildered, really. I'm disappointed...I can't believe that Paul Martin would want to hold up history."

all because Canada won't be meeting a 0.7% of GDP target for foreign aid. Bu-hu!

Mr. Bono is wrong on two counts:

1. The prime minister has just made history: his grovelling in front of voters last night was certainly a moment that will go down in history.
2. Canada's Kyoto blood money is foreign aid - as it helps poorer countries burn fossil fuel and develop their economies on our nickel - er rather our billions.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

TheStar.com - Residents feel railroaded

The powers that be in appear ready to foist another train barrier upon Toronto residents - in this case in the form of a proposal that would cut off a number of local streets in the Weston area.

TheStar.com - Residents feel railroaded

The railway line that will be used for the planned express train service from Union Station to Pearson. Due to the higher speed and greater ferquency, threelevel crossings (=grade crossings) may need to be eliminated for safety reasons.

One alternative is to fence off the crossings. This is less expensive - but would cut off local streets. The other is to build underpasses - which would cost the big $$$.

If the process for "deciding" the course of action is anything like last years Battle of St. Clair Wesr - the decision has already being made. In that case, the "consultation" (under the guise of an Environmental Assessment) was a complete sham. This article captures how things really worked. As reported in the article, and as I can attest from being at the deputations before council:

As the day wore on many councillors got up and left, missing many of the heartfelt testimonials and well-crafted arguments from the affected community.

Mayor Miller drifted in and out of council chambers during the deputations. He seemed to be working on other matters. He didn't ask any questions of the deputants.

Can Weston residents expect the same type of sham? Time will tell.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Light-rail bait and switch

Monday's National Post (April 19th 2005, P A10) has an interesting piece on the possible replacement of the TTC's streetcar's with a light-rail system. This is full of interesting tidbits I haven't seen elsewhere.

I knew that City Councillor/TTC Commissioner Joe Mihevc has been pushing for the TTC to consider buying light-rail equipment instead of following through on current plans to refurbish the CLRV version of the streetcars. Last fall, I emailed Mihevc inquiring as to whether the planned dedicated streetcar lanes on St. Clair West would be built to be able to run light-rail equipent. The councillor was kind enough to respond - but didn't have answers ready at that time.

Well, now answers are becoming available. It seems that - at least as far as light-rail equipment made by Siemens and now running in Houston TX is concerned - there would be serious difficulties in deploying this equipment on the St. Clair line:

- the grade up the hill from Bathhurst to St. Clair is too steep for the heavier LR vehicles
- the turning loops along and at the end of the routes are too tight
- longer platforms would need to be built to accomodate the service
- new carhouses would be needed to support maintenance work

It is not clear if equipment from other suppliers would have the same problems.

Mihevc puts the pricetag at about $1 billion in total - which is a chunk more capital than the $214 million to refurbish the 196 CLRV streetcar models. What the article does not include is any discussion of the operating costs savings that the TTC could garner with the new equipment.

Light rail service would require fewer vehicles and hence fewer operating hours - hence lower costs. Furthermore, the operating costs per hour of light rail equipment is lower than the streetcar. Let's do a quick calculation:

Streetcar total operating hours (2001): 843,000
Number of hours CLRV (2001): 843,000 * 196/248 = 666,242
Number of hours of LRV replacement: 666,242 * 134/196 = 455,492

Steetcar hourly operating cost (2001): $133/hour
Assumed cost growth since 2001: 10%
Estimated current streetcar hourly cost: $146.30 / hour

Average light-rail operting cost (2001) : $88.50 / hour (Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, SRT)
Ratio vs streetcar: $88.50 / $133.00 = 66.5%
Estimated cost for LRV in current $: $146.30 * 66.5% = $97.35

Estimated current cost of CLRV operations: $146.30 / hr * 666,242 hr = $97.47 million
Estimated total operating cost of LRV replacement for CLRV = $97.35 / hr * 455,492 hrs = $44.34 million

POTENTIAL ANNUAL SAVINGS: $97.47 million - $44.34 million = $53.13 million

Now at a 6% rate of return, $53.13 million a year in savings can finance capital of $885 million - which is actually almost $100 million greater than the $786 million gap between the figures mentioned earlier.

The big unknown is whether the TTC could achieve cost / hour comparable to other light-rail systems. In my view, most of the current streetcar lines would not be suitable to achive the costs. St. Clair W. might be the only current route with a good chance of successful LR operations. The Spadina line's underground terminal loops would seem to me to be too tight for light-rail equipment.

My suggestion would be for the TTC to abandon most of its current streetcar lines. Any new LR equipment would be used on new arterial routes - in locations to be determined. Wellington and Adelaide - as they are one way in opposing directions - could be used as the downtown collector for the LR system.

The annoying part is that the TTC's PR campaign for the St. Clair ROW (a.k.a. the sham environmental assessment) practically promised residents that they would be getting light rail. The promo material was full of pictures of the light-rail vehicles from Houston, Strasbourg and the like. This seems unlikely at this point.

The Globe and Mail: Martin addresses foreign policy needs

The Martin regime's long-awaited policy paper on foreign affairs is out. Since I never have too much trouble getting to sleep, I'm not likely to print this out and read it. Martin's introductory remarks were reported by the Globe:

The Globe and Mail: Martin addresses foreign policy needs

Per Martin:

You cannot engage in the kind of robust foreign policy (I'm hoping for) if all you are going to do is empty moralizing.

It seems to me that this may not be the best thing. There is widely-held view that a business is best to 'stick to the knitting', in other words, to keep doing what it is good at. Since Canada is a world leader in empty moralizing, should we be so hasty to disavow the practice?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Those dirty capitalists?

The City of Toronto is putting more of an effort into reducing significant litter problems.

Toronto Sun Columnist: Sue-Ann Levy - Cleaning up a Hogtown

Of course, we could afford more cleaning were it not for the platinum-plated union contracts we are stuck with.

Isn't it curious that Toronto - with the highest proportion of leftists of various shades - has by far the worst litter problem of Canadian major cities. In contrast, Calgary, with the highest concentration of right-wingers and capitalists, has been ranked the cleanest city in the world. Dirty capitalists eh!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

"Buzzing" with puzzlement

The Financial Post's Monday comment section is often one of the best reads of the week. CAW head honcho Buzz Hargrove is among the regular contributors. Yesterday's FP Comment included a Hargrove column extolling the virtues of working less: shorter hours, longer vacations and all that.

Heck, I'm all in favour of working less. My plan is to work my 40 hours a week or so, earn a good living, save some money and retire early. To me that's preferable to working part-time into my 80's. That's my choice. "Buzz", however, feels that I shouldn't have the choice. His few grey cells have been hard at work dreaming up new ways for the government to make the choice for me. Thanks Buzz, but no thanks.

Buzz writes:

"I've always found these 'longer working time is better' arguments puzzling. Just how is it that workers are better off if they get 20% more pay but work 20% more hours?"

Well - Buzz probably finds the daily task of tying his shoelaces equally puzzling. He needs to be introduced to the concept of a bank account. I'm sure I don't need to explain the concept here. Unlike Hargrove, many CAW and other union members don't have the same fear of getting paid more. They certainly never object to getting more for doing less - but are equally eager to pile on the overtime hours.

I don' t see much hope of Buzz escaping his state of confusion. I'm sure he could not absorb the fact that Europe's curtailed work weeks have done little to cure raging unemployment levels in countries such as Germany and France.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

TheStar.com - Canada 'complicating' Kazemi probe, Iran says

I think that's Iran's 'diplomatic' way of saying 'Buzz off Canada - You soft-power pedalling pib-squeak'.

TheStar.com - Canada 'complicating' Kazemi probe, Iran says

The great sucking sound at the TTC

Per reports, the TTC and its largest union are at the bargaining table somewhere in the GTA. The union is claiming that they've been short-changed over the last few years. Union chief Bob Kinnear is obviously holding to the theory that if you are going to lie, you might as well lie big.

The truth is that since 2000, wage and benefit increases above the rate of inflation have consumed every penny of the increased subsidies various governments have made to the TTC. Of the $188 million in cost increase from 2000 to 2004, only $68 million can be accounted for by normal inflation and ridership change. This means that the $120 extra increase has completely consumed the $106.5 million increase in operating subsidies.

Cost control at the TTC - Sort of! Posted by Hello

Based on what Howard Moscoe and minions have already promised the union (and been turned down) the next three or four years will see the union wolf down all of the gas tax money that will be flowing from senior levels of government.

The only train being funded by these subsidies is the union gravy train - which is certainly cannot be considered light-rail. Snarf, gobble, grunt - can you hear the great sucking sound?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Checking in with Europe's Old Guard

In a recent purge of the old magazine stack, I came across an article on the Euro in The Economist. It really hasn't been that long since the Euro officially replaced national currencies in Germany, France and a number of other EU countries. This group has become known as the Euro-zone.

I remember many North American leftists trumpeting the Euro as a harbinger of Europe beginning to replace North America as the world's economic driver. However, as The Economist pointed out in this article (Jan 5 2002 - p 39):

"It's a glittering new currency, no doubt. But behind the glitter there is no glittering economy"

- and quite correctly so. The Euro's keystone economies - those of Germany and France - were not healthy. German unemployment was approaching 4 million. It's budget defecit was close to the Euro-zone's required 3 percent of GDP limit. Quarterly GDP growth was alternating between negative territory and neglibibly positive.

France's economic picture was not nearly as gruesome - but unemployment was at about 9% and rising again.

Since then, look what's happenned - the French and German economies have been duds. The United States has outperformed each by a wide margin:


2001 2.1%
2002 1.2%
2003 0.2%
2004 2.1%


2001 0.8%
2002 0.2%
2003 -0.1%
2004 1.6%

United States: (Department or Commerce)

2001 0.8%
2002 1.9%
2003 3.0%
2004 4.4%

Bear Stearns' economist David Brown stated the problems succintly:

"The German recovery is dead in the water right now and the French recovery looks like it has hit a brick wall as well." (Nov 12 2004)

France, Germany and the US all have budget deficits in the 4% of GDP range - but the US seems to get economic growth as a result. Despite efforts to deossify their economies, the Euro-zone's non-dynamic duo have at best spun their wheels. Perhaps after decades of convincing their citizens that there is a free lunch, it may take a decade or so for the reality to sink in.

Friday, April 08, 2005

It's not about "need", it's about "can"

I'm not sure whether Mayor David Miller is being purposely coy in his reaction to the implending TTC strike:

TheStar.com - TTC workers set to walk out Monday

Says Miller:

“We don’t need a strike, a strike isn’t necessary"

Surely he should know that a strike isn't about "need", it's about "can". The ATU have weak and compliant prey in the form of the City and the TTC. They feel that they can get more $$$$ by striking, and they are probably right. Even though the TTC has already offered outrageously generous terms, the ATU don't want to leave any money on the table.

If I were in there shoes - i.e. negotiating will the likes of Moscoe, Miller and minions - with a mealy-mouthed McGuinty at the provincial level unlikely to force a roll-back to a sensible 2% increase - I'd be doing exactly the same thing.

Day of decision in TTC talks

Today is the TTC main union's stated deadline for an 'acceptable' offer. It's impossible to know what will happen. I'm guessing we'll have a strike. The TTC and City have rendered themselves defenseless against the unions by swearing off contracting out. A strike of up to a week is likely, as the union has little to lose. My projection is that the eventual settlement will push up the TTC's cost by a rate of 1.5% a year greater than inflation over the next five years.

As shown by this graph, this has been the pattern over the last four or five years.

With pension top-ups, other benefits and an annual increase of about 2.5%, TTC real costs (i.e. adjusted for inflation) will grow about 8-10% over five years. This will consume most of the gas tax money so graciously provded by the province. Voters in Peel and York can watch millions of their tax dollars fatten TTC employees wallets - while doing nothing to improve transit

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

TheStar.com - New Pearson Airport's first birthday

The new Terminal I at Pearson Airport here in Toronto is perhaps the most overhyped piece of architecture around.

TheStar.com - New Pearson Airport's first birthday

I'll admit that it's new, light and pleasant inside - but in no way much of a standout. Many US Airports are just as good. Newark International has very nice light - but it has many more amenities for those on layovers. T-1 is pretty sparse - but perhaps things will improve once construction is completed.

My main beef with T-1 is the horrendously long walk from the terminal parking to the entrance. Not only is the walk long, the layout is confusing - and at $21.75/day the parking is outrageously expensive. For short business trips, parking at the airport is still cheaper than the cab/limo option - but not by much. The parking experience with Air Canada at T-1 is just another reason to take WestJet out of T-2. In T-2, one can park pretty near the crosswalk over to the terminal - and it is far less confusing.

I'd prefer an airport similar to Philadelphia International. It's well organized for the customer - and there are many amenities. A SEPTA commuter train runs every half hour to 30th Street Station and Suburban Station downtown - for $5.50 US. The train line and platform run between the arrival and departures zones.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

TheStar.com - T.O. set for a power surge

Mayor Miller and his minions are working with the Province to create a new 'City of Toronto' act - a classic example of the inmates running the asylum.

TheStar.com - T.O. set for a power surge

None can be certain what will come of this. Speculation is that the City will be allowed to decide more matters on its own - without oversight from provincial mandarins. Today, as an example, the city must have provincial permission before installing speed bumps.

Well - I'm all for removing useless bureaucratic steps. However, it hardly seems that the current act has in any way constrained the City's ability to install speed bumps and speed humps. We must have the highest density of these traffic calming devices anywhere. These humps and bumps have rather perverse effects:

1. The bad/aggressive drivers speed up to get extra elevation going over them
2. Pizza delivery drivers do a high speed swerve to the side of the road so that at least one axle stays on the level. This scares the heck out of pedestrians - and is not to mention very dangerous.
3. Responsible drivers - the ones who were already obeying the speed limits - drive even more slowly.
4. Emergency response is delayed - and who knows what damage these humps are doing to our fire engines.

However, since the province rubber stumps the installation of these humps - it might as well not be involved.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Globe and Mail: Light-rail cars for TTC might be the better way

TTC vice-chair/Toronto City councilor Joe Mihevc discusses the possibility that the TTC may replace its streetcars with a light-rail service.

The Globe and Mail: Light-rail cars for TTC might be the better way

I agree with many of the councilor's remarks about the streetcars. Although these vehicles have fans - many of them ardent - one couldn't purposely invent a less effect mode of public transit. The streetcars are costing $50 million extra a year to operate - not including vehicle replacement/deprecation.

The CLRVs and ALRVs require massive amounts of maintenance, yet break down more than twice as often as buses. They are purported to provide higher capacity than lowly 40 foot bus - but in reality are achieving roughly the same capacity (per service hour) at a much higher cost. If there is any one factor pushing Toronto towards bankruptcy, this is surely it.

Says Mihevc:

"If we really want to bring Toronto into the 21st century, to become a transit city, I can't see us keeping the old ones," he said. "I just can't see it."

The TTC's current plan is to refurbish the streetcars (the small ones) at about $1.2 million a pop. Replacing the streetcars with light rail would require about $300 million extra in total. The light rail service would be less costly to operate - and could move passengers at higher speeds.

My question is why this type of analysis was not carried out before last year's battle over the streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair West. If the TTC decides it can't afford the switch, then St. Clair West will be stuck with an ineffective transit system hogging two lanes of traffic. Buses would be better.

Friday, April 01, 2005

TheStar.com - Loud, troubling ruling on rights

A Ron Laffin from Toronto has hit the nail on the head in his letter to The Star:

TheStar.com - Loud, troubling ruling on rights

Writes laffin:

We should all be very concerned with this message from our Supreme Court. But we should also feel a certain measure of empathy for it. After all, as a group of political and social activists posing as judges, it has a tough row to hoe.

The criticism is well-deserved: our esteemed justices have just confirmed that the principal of 'separate by equal' is something Canadians must live with. This allows the state to discriminate between people on the basis of origin: Canadians are divided into arbitrary groups - and have different rights based upon the group each falls into.

Let's not be too hard on the Justices, however. They didn't appoint themselves - for this we can thank a succession of Liberal prime ministers.

Now where is the Liberal government on this issue? This is the government that has raised such a ruckus over the right to same-sex marriages. Over and over again, the Fedfibs have stressed that the impetus behind their legislation to allow same-sex marriage is based on the need to protect equality rights:

Irwin Cotler: "My view is that this is an issue of minority rights and equality rights.'' (CP - Jan 11 2005)
Paul Martin: "I rise today in support of Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act. I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law. " (Feb 16 2005 in The House of Commons)

So far we haven't heard a peep from these gentlemen in regards to the Supreme Court rulings. I'm not holding my breath either. Obviously, some rights are less important to the Fedfibs that others. It seems to all boil down to votes.