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Thread: Toronto should use referendums to vote on infrastructure projects

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  1. #1

    Default Toronto should use referendums to vote on infrastructure projects

    Many cities in the US have a vote of all the people to approve bond issues that finance a new bridge, highway, or transit project. Toronto and other Canadian cities don't seem to do this. Instead, we leave the decisions to our elected representatives, and the capital financing for the projects gets all lumped together in the overall capital budget, instead of backed by individual bond issues.

    I think we should use the referendum system. If Miller had used a referendum to vote on Transit City, and it had passed (not obvious), then it would have been very hard for Mayor Ford to cancel it and claim that "the people don't want it." Same for the delays to subway train and streetcar orders.

    And, the bond issue would have to state very clearly the level of provincial government funding for the project. So it would have been harder for Premier McGuinty to delay, cancel, or reshuffle his Transit City funding commitments too.

    I guess Toronto used to have these votes - e.g. that's how we got the Yonge Subway I think. I don't know when we stopped voting or why.

    What do people think? My view is that our leaders have shown themselves to be completely untrustworthy for infrastrucutre planning. We need to take it out of their hands and vote on it ourselves.


  2. Default

    I am of two opinions of this, both of them negative.

    The first is that people don't have a clue about what makes a transportation project important, and I don't like the idea of people voting on issues that they have very little understanding about. While this hasn't really applied to transit projects in the US, direct democracy is responsible for such wonderfully progressive things such as recalling gay marriage in California. If gay marriage would have been a referendum issue in Canada, we would not have it today; if civil rights were put to a vote in the US in 1964 it would not have passed either. People are ignorant about a lot of things, and one of the most dangerous forms of government is often democracy in an ignorant/uneducated society.

    My second opinion is that voting for transit projects in the US only pays lip service to democracy. The people who traditionally decide these things - politicians, development interests and planners - actually decide on the alignment, the mode, where stations go, funding, etc. and then the public votes to approve something they had no hand in creating. In other words, there is no more citizen accountability in such a process, and the only gain is that you can "prove" that there is public support because the majority of voters approved of a project. This is, however, by no means secure, because people who oppose a project can put the defeat of an already committed project on the ballot for the next election cycle (I have a feeling that this is what will ultimately kill the California HSR plan next year). In other words, just being able to vote for something does not guarantee that it will get built.

  3. #3
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    Default

    God no.

    Let me try and sum this up as simply as I can: People. Are. Morons.

    All it would take with the system you describe is a really rich person with an axe to grind to run a few anti-'whatever the project is' ads, saying how it will waste your hard earned tax dollars, and poof! There goes the project. Never underestimate the power of lemmings.

    The average person doesn't care enough to actually become knowledgable about what the proposal actually is, but they sure as hell care enough to voice their opinion on how stupid it is.

    I need to look no further than the Ottawa LRT debacle as a perfect example of this. The 2006 Mayoral election was pretty much a referendum on the 1st LRT plan, which called for surface through downtown. One candidate came up and said "surface isn't good enough, we need a tunnel!". People voted for him, and the LRT plan was canned. A new plan took 4 years to develop, one that included a tunnel. The last mayoral election was again very much about the LRT. A lot of the same people that were against the 1st LRT plan raised their eyre again about the new plan. "It costs too much" was a common complaint.

    Watson was initially an anti-tunnel candidate, but he changed his tune when it was shown that a lot of people wanted it. He won by a large margin, but the election shifted mainly to a referendum on O'Brien. If there was a referendum on LRT, it would have been a very close vote, and it probably would have lost, what with all the anti-LRT propaganda and mis-information that was out there.

    So no, I don't trust the citizens to make an informed decision when it comes to something as complicated as a transit project.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by k10ery View Post
    What do people think? My view is that our leaders have shown themselves to be completely untrustworthy for infrastrucutre planning. We need to take it out of their hands and vote on it ourselves.
    Referendums are for critical events unforseen at the previous election. Our leaders are paid to make these decisions. "We" have ample opportunity to change them. If "we" are not competent enough to change them, then "we" are also not compotent enough to vote on individual issues.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonny5 View Post
    Referendums are for critical events unforseen at the previous election. Our leaders are paid to make these decisions. "We" have ample opportunity to change them. If "we" are not competent enough to change them, then "we" are also not compotent enough to vote on individual issues.
    I don't think it's that simple. Ford got elected with 47% of the vote. The next two candidates together got ... 47% of the vote. Plus, a lot of people who voted for Ford were not doing it because they wanted transit underground, no matter the cost. So why does Ford get to be dictator on all that stuff for 4 years?

    So "we" are stuck with a voting system that doesn't let us pick and choose who we support for different issues. A referendum system would give us more control. Let people vote for Ford if they want to poke the centre-left in the eye, or for whatever reason. But let's check with people again in a referendum before we go screwing up a $20 billion transit plan!

    Again, it's not just Ford and it's not just Transit City. A referendum process might give more stability for all kinds of capital projects.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hipster Duck View Post
    In other words, there is no more citizen accountability in such a process, and the only gain is that you can "prove" that there is public support because the majority of voters approved of a project. This is, however, by no means secure, because people who oppose a project can put the defeat of an already committed project on the ballot for the next election cycle (I have a feeling that this is what will ultimately kill the California HSR plan next year). In other words, just being able to vote for something does not guarantee that it will get built.
    Hipster D: Good point. But if HSR is killed in California it will be through a voter-led initiative, not a government-sponsored referendum. I'm saying that government should have to check with the people on infrastructure plans, not that any Joe Schmo should be allowed to put a ballot question on it.
    Last edited by k10ery; 2011-Dec-13 at 15:44.

  6. Default

    In a number of U.S. cities, referenda have been successful in approving dedicated revenue streams for transit expansion. So voting to fund transit, and maybe a particular flavour or vision of transit, seems like a reasonable approach to get funding. But voting yea or nay on specifics seems like a recipe for going nowhere.

  7. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by k10ery View Post
    I don't think it's that simple. Ford got elected with 47% of the vote. The next two candidates together got ... 47% of the vote. Plus, a lot of people who voted for Ford were not doing it because they wanted transit underground, no matter the cost. So why does Ford get to be dictator on all that stuff for 4 years?

    So "we" are stuck with a voting system that doesn't let us pick and choose who we support for different issues. A referendum system would give us more control. Let people vote for Ford if they want to poke the centre-left in the eye, or for whatever reason. But let's check with people again in a referendum before we go screwing up a $20 billion transit plan!
    What about if we went one step in the other direction: from where we are now, to less democracy?

    So, instead of voting a guy like Ford into power to call shots about transit expansion, we made sure that no person elected to political office could ever influence the direction a transit project takes. We would "depoliticize" transit, just like a lot of other influential strategic planning decisions are made, regardless of who is in power, by non-elected technocrats and bureaucrats, whether it is a hospital's decision to buy an MRI machine or the Bank of Canada's decision to lower the interest rate. I think most road expansion projects are similarly depoliticized (no politician tells the engineering department where to put a roundabout, or whether a road needs two left turn lanes, etc.), and I think that is why they have a good track record for implementation while transit languishes.

    If you look at the cities that have built the most successful transit systems, most of them were either built in places with authoritarian governments (Singapore, China, Hong Kong) or were built by authorities that did not have to answer to politicians, nor change their plans when the politicians who supported them were voted out (most European cities, Japan, etc.).

    Democracy is useful for some things, like securing individual rights and freedoms, but it is pretty lousy when it comes to long range strategic planning. The reasons for this are the ones that gweed123 mentioned: people are ignorant, people can see personal costs but can't understand societal benefits, and people can't think long term.

  8. Default

    These discussions often pop up when someone is upsest over the outcome of an election. So, on a transit discussion board it is not too surprising that someone feels that a Mayor who got 47% of the vote and then changed the direction of the city (transit wise) is not doing so with the weight of the city behind them. Of course, conveniently forgotten in that is the time when a Mayor was elected with 43% of the vote and then cancelled a bridge to an airport and a front street extension that had been approved prior to his election and used that 43% mandate to set about creating the very transit plans that we are upset about the 47% guy changing.

    The point is, democracy is messy. It is slow, it sometimes reverses itself and it sometimes produces head-shaking outcomes....but (IMO) it beats the alternative.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by TOareaFan View Post
    ... used that 43% mandate to set about creating the very transit plans that we are upset about the 47% guy changing.
    Why are you distorting history? Switching the focus from subways to surface LRT was part of Miller's 2006 campaign, which he won with 57% of the vote, while Pitfield, who instead supported subway construction got only 32%. Transit City was created in 2007 after the election.

  10. #10

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TOareaFan View Post
    These discussions often pop up when someone is upsest over the outcome of an election. So, on a transit discussion board it is not too surprising that someone feels that a Mayor who got 47% of the vote and then changed the direction of the city (transit wise) is not doing so with the weight of the city behind them. Of course, conveniently forgotten in that is the time when a Mayor was elected with 43% of the vote and then cancelled a bridge to an airport and a front street extension that had been approved prior to his election and used that 43% mandate to set about creating the very transit plans that we are upset about the 47% guy changing.

    The point is, democracy is messy. It is slow, it sometimes reverses itself and it sometimes produces head-shaking outcomes....but (IMO) it beats the alternative.
    No, you didn't read what I wrote. I said that Miller should have taken Transit City to a referendum, and if he had it would have "stuck".

    Democracy will always be messy. We here in Canada mess it up even worse by electing four-year-long dictatorships, in first past the post elections no less.

  11. #11

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TOareaFan View Post
    These discussions often pop up when someone is upsest over the outcome of an election. So, on a transit discussion board it is not too surprising that someone feels that a Mayor who got 47% of the vote and then changed the direction of the city (transit wise) is not doing so with the weight of the city behind them. Of course, conveniently forgotten in that is the time when a Mayor was elected with 43% of the vote and then cancelled a bridge to an airport and a front street extension that had been approved prior to his election and used that 43% mandate to set about creating the very transit plans that we are upset about the 47% guy changing.

    The point is, democracy is messy. It is slow, it sometimes reverses itself and it sometimes produces head-shaking outcomes....but (IMO) it beats the alternative.
    This is so true. It can also be pointed out that Miller cancelled a stand alone project (the bridge) so he essentially paid a 100% penalty. In Fords case, he paid $65M on a multi-billion dollar network, which is maybe 1%.

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