Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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Is this our Biggest Fairy Tale Ever?

REPORT #1,138: The multi-year budget London tabled last week is blank on how we plan to pay for the proposed rapid transit system. Footnotes suggest you ask the federal and provincial governments how much they intend to contribute. Hint: We’d like them to cover a whopping 86 per cent of the cost.

Monday, Jan. 18, 2016 – LondonOntario

Given the ballyhoo about rapid transit recently – Biggest Civic Investment in London’s History! we keep being told – you’d think you would find that front and centre in the city’s four-year budget.

As recently as last week, according to news reports, Mayor Matt Brown was up at Western University extolling the virtues of the hybrid model he and the administration are touting, and promising construction would begin within two years.

And yet, on page 10 of the Multi-Year Budget Book, tabled along with several kilograms of other financial documents last week, the line for the rapid transit implementation strategy is blank. The curious are directed to a footnote at the bottom of that page and further to page 280 for more information.

The footnote first. It says funding for the rapid transit initiative is included in the base growth capital budget – $268 million in 2016-19 and $87 million in the growth capital forecast for 2020-25 for a total $355 million.

On page 192 of the Multi-Year Budget Book is a single line about the rapid transit investment of $355 million over the next 10 years, with this added detail – that the sum also includes road widening and buses. Of that, London has pledged to pay only $125 million.

Somewhat surprisingly, that sum corresponds almost to the penny earlier estimates for the BRT – bus rapid transit – which the city-owned public transportation company has been urging since 2008. More recently, of course, the big hats at City Hall have been pushing their own rapid transit plan which also includes light rail and a price tag of almost $900 million.

So what gives?

There is more detail starting on page 280, under the so-called businesses cases for strategic investments. On the first page, however, is the somewhat startling revelation that the total amount requested beyond the $355 million already in the budget is zero. The total investment requested is listed as TBD*. 

That little asterisk takes you to the bottom of the page and this explanation: “Additional funding is based on the assumption that both and provincial and federal levels of government will fund the additional amount required over and above what is in the existing plan.”

And there begins what we may soon be calling The Biggest Civic Fairy Tale in London’s History. 

In actual fact, city council has committed only $125 million to rapid transit over the next 20 years, most of which will be raised from development charges on new residential and commercial construction. We need rapid transit, the city argues, because we will grow by 77,000 people in the next 20 years, creating a 25 per cent increase in auto trips.

That said, our rapid transit hopes currently seem to rest entirely on the willingness of Queen’s Park and Ottawa to pony up $775 million between them – or 86 per cent of the total cost.

This would allow us to build a system that includes light rail – glorified streetcars in effect – between Masonville and Fanshawe College through the downtown; a BRT route between Oakridge and White Oaks through the downtown; a tunnel for streetcars only under the CPR tracks on Richmond; and new bridges over the Thames River.

But wait, there’s more. To make the entire rapid transit system light rail – and there is a plan for that – would cost almost $1.2 billion. 

In September, Mayor Brown wrote to Brad Duguid, provincial minister of economic development, employment, and infrastructure, asking for $1.1 billion in government funding for rapid transit. (You’ll find the letter at the very end of this long report on our proposed rapid transit system).

“This investment is in line with the commitment which has been made to other communities,” wrote the mayor, apparently with a straight face. (The $1.1 billion ask was described later as a place holder while we refine details of our proposed system). 

At any rate, no money is yet forthcoming, nor even pledged. The federal government’s new Liberal leaders have a rapid transit initiative, as yet not fully formed, and a rapidly growing deficit. The provincial government has a rapid transit policy with vague promises of major donations to Ontario cities outside the Greater Toronto Area. So far only Waterloo Region has seen any money.

Waterloo Region, with a current population of 550,000, expects 200,000 more people in the next two decades. Their light rail system, which will join the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, will cost $881 million, of which the region will pay $253 million. The province has committed $300 million, the feds $265 million – a combined senior government contribution of 69 per cent of the total cost. 

Twenty years after it launched its BRT system, Ottawa (population 1.2 million) is building LRT lines. The federal government paid one-third of the cost of the first line, and has promised to pay one-third the cost of the second, a $1 billion share. The province was in for a third for the first line, hasn’t yet committed to the second.

Last year, Winnipeg (2014 population 709,300) announced plans for a $587.3 million transit expansion – a bus rapid transit system with a total cost of $587.3 million. City taxpayers will pay $225 million of the cost through a 0.5 per cent levy. The province of Manitoba will contribute $225 million and the federal government $137.3 million – a combined senior government contribution of 62 per cent.

From that it’s hard to see how London can justify an argument that senior governments should pay 86 per cent of our system, or even 76 per cent of full BRT network which would include the tunnel and bridges. 

Of course, there is a Fairy God Mother – Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced the province would completely fund the $1.6-billion Hurontario-Main LRT line in Mississauga and Brampton and the $1-billion LRT project in Hamilton.

London does need rapid transit, integrated into the existing London Transit system. But it needs one built on honesty, reality and transparency, not on false hopes and wishful thinking. 

The McLeod Report on radio

Weekday mornings on News / Talk 1290, CJBK, 9  – 10 a.m.   

Comments   

# This is "London" !Sick and tired ! 2016-01-18 01:38
It's incomprehensibl e to even imagine having a LRT service in London given the fact downtown is on life support. Over $100 million of tax money was dumped to improve the core, yet the only success was courtesy of the London Knights and Hunters as the main drawing card. Back to the River is also an idiotic idea with council thinking this will magically draw consumers to the core, and enhance spending. Bus transit is in dire need of an overhaul including management, but rapid transit, not in London. Council should fix or improve the infrastructure that has decayed over time, control our debt then dream about the extras we don't require !
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# Love This CouncilJMAC 2016-01-18 02:56
They love the "spin"
They love the intrigue.
But they dont know what they dont know.
Stand back and watch folks...to quote Bette Davis "Its going to be a rough night" or in our case.. the next three years.
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# Is London serious all?Keith E. Risler 2016-01-18 02:59
The reasonable question all along has been whether the measly London cash commitment has been intended to cause light rail to fail and is really intended to preserve a transit strategy pokey old tech buses that seem "efficient" only because the existing system is built to achieve so very little. This City's leaders need to seriously commit to light rail and its cost. Keep in mind the "high cost" reflects the cost of underpinning a large part of the local civilization. That cost is there in lost opportunity costs as well if you don't spend for the gains of light rail. I plan to caution my federal MP on not wasting money on London unless London gets serious about the London share of the costs.
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# RE: Is this our Biggest Fairy Tale Ever?bill brock 2016-01-18 05:13
Fairy Tale: This rapid transit drive is being driven by need to have a plan (Bought into by Council) for federal and provincial dollars. This plan has nothing to do with a solid business case. As someone mentioned (note LTC trying to build up transit since at least 2008) where did transit all of a sudden become critical to the Official Plan. So far Londoners' are getting a Fuller Brush Home sales call! History population in "REUNION LONDON " 1998 predicted population of London would grow to 370,000 by 2008; reached in 2015,( Back checking this figure) and the Free Press in May 2013 "Sprawling out your money" indicated present population was 370,000 and would grow by 200,000 in 50 years. That is 2013 t0 2063! Light rail shouldn't even be on the radar. Current city projection is 70,000 in next twenty years (440,000). Honesty, integrity and transparency will only come by making public transit; in real terms a number 1 priority in real terms! Perception is strange if one doesn't understand how transit works. Record shows 5 complaints for every one hundred thousand riders. See Edmonton $600 million fiasco 1/8/ 2016!
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# What gainsCynic 2016-01-18 11:19
Do elaborate Keith. What gains over BRT?
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# RealityJ. David Scott 2016-01-18 12:33
This council continues to prove, over and over, that they have their heads stuck where the sun don't shine. If nothing else, they're good for comedic relief...
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# RE: Is this our Biggest Fairy Tale Ever?Scott 2016-01-18 13:24
If one is interested in looking at what detail has been assembled thus far, the latest DC background study is the place to look? [source: https://www.london.ca/business/Resources/Development-Financing/Documents/2014%20DC%20BACKGROUND%20STUDY-Amended.pdf] BRT is all that is contemplated, of course, and it is broken into three buckets - (a) arterial road works -- for a total of 301.6$M (less 201.1$M in future 'capital grants, subsidies, or other contributions anticipated'; (b) North Leg BRT Buses (10 - 40' buses; 9 - 60' buses) at 11.8$M (less 7.9$M) and South Leg BRT Buses (11 - 40' buses; 10 - 60' buses) at 13.0$M (less 8.7$M); (c) a downtown BRT transit terminal at 5.0$M (less 3.35$M).
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# RE: Is this our Biggest Fairy Tale Ever?Scott 2016-01-18 13:26
The background study also notes that, "The costs related to Bus Rapid Transit have been discounted by a factor of 2/3 to account for anticipated provincial and federal funding for municipal rapid transit. Including a grant provides for a more conservative (i.e. lower) development charge. The costs related to these discounts are included in the column titled “Less: future capital grants, subsidies or other contributions”. If these grants do not materialize, a review of the BRT program and revision of the DC rate calculations for this area would be in order."
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# RE: Is this our Biggest Fairy Tale Ever?Gord Drimmie 2016-01-18 14:16
Yes, fairy tale assumptions everywhere! Not just over-estimating the potential contribution from a deep-in-debt higher level of Government; but unrealistic estimates of population growth (unless Canada goes for another million Syrian refugees). Add to that the fact that leadership has not realistically recognized the unsustainable operating cost of any new transit system; and still uses back-of-the-env elope and imaginary inflation numbers (always said with a straight face) to justify tax increases from a citizen base that has its own stresses courtesy of a tough economy and an incompetent, wasteful, fraudulent, and power-hungry Provincial Government..... .no wonder depression looms closer and closer. Meanwhile, a brain drain is underway and will accelerate as the Canadian dollar weakens and unreasonable and punitive marginal tax rates become the latest fad.
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# J David Scott :Sick and tired ! 2016-01-18 15:22
You hit the nail directly on the head ! If nothing else, they're good for comedic relief. Perhaps I'm pessimistic, but judging how the stock markets are volatile and rapidly declining, oil pricing is uncertain, value of our dollar in free fall, employment in London is questionable at best, full time now part time, I openly question if council are looking after our interests ? Let's tackle the homeless and hungry first, the photo ops come later !
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# RE: Is this our Biggest Fairy Tale Ever?Gord Drimmie 2016-01-18 15:39
Mayor Brown has stars in his eyes. Sounds like a carnival barker demanding more and more suckers to pay his taxes. When the Consumer Price Index didn't cooperate with a higher number, mayor Brown went rogue and said that HIS tax promise is based upon the little-known and unpublicized "Construction Price Index".

But maybe he should have checked the numbers a little closer before touting his likely 2.9% tax increase this year? Ontario's Construction Price Index increased by only 1.1% from October 2014 to October 2015....a far cry from Mayor Brown's +2.9% plan! (And FWIW - the Construction Price Index for Housing - House and Land - in London from 2007 to 2015 increased at a compounded rate of 1.85% per year.) Again, nowhere near 2.9%.
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# What happened to calls for "visions"?Leila Paul 2016-01-19 22:18
I recall being all alone and ridiculed for saying exactly what is now being acknowledged.

So I've got only one thing that needs to be said now. YOU CANNOT blame this council for all that is wrong with London's delusions. The multiple problems go back to the incompetent rule - but adoration - of Anne Marie DeCicco and her "old girls club" who ruled from their domain of doll house fairy tales.

Enforced "equity" feel-good promotion of people based on numeric fallacies of gender and visible minority egalitarianism excluded those who had track records demonstrating both competence and REALISM - realism being the primary word I've used for at least 5 years when criticizing the baffle gab of all the leftists in this city.

The high price of castles in the sky - a description I often used in my critiques - has come due and those castles, supported by blue skies have indeed brought down the foundations on which realistic success was once built on.

Too late. The inept old girls club of Kathleen Wynne, locally Deb Matthews, Joni Baechler, Gina Barber and their cohorts have doomed the future.
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# RE: What happened to calls for "visions"?Gord Drimmie 2016-01-19 23:13
[quote name="Leila Paul"]I recall being all alone and ridiculed for saying exactly what is now being acknowledged.

Enforced "equity" feel-good promotion of people based on numeric fallacies of gender and visible minority egalitarianism excluded those who had track records demonstrating both competence and REALISM - realism being the primary word I've used for at least 5 years when criticizing the baffle gab of all the leftists in this city.



You're right Leila. So sad. Wynne's leadership is ruining the future for the younger generation and sadly, nobody gives a damn.

Money is free; don't worry; be happy; ride the Bus and have fun with us! I'm too old to worry about it but it shows the state of our education system when the younger generation is so naive as to tolerate the tax & spend politicians.
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# OvertaxedBronte 2016-01-19 23:53
Scary stuff....
No doubt the same clique that passed out those queens medals a few years back to them selfs like candy.I wonder if this same group also had a hand in stopping readers ability to comment online at the free press website.
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# Free Press newsroom is now paying the priceLeila Paul 2016-01-20 01:06
The LFP editorial board and reporters are not long for this world. The NatPost has already combined newsrooms from various Sun newspapers purchased by NatPost. That's eliminated 90 jobs but many newsrooms were already greatly reduced. If your check the LFP you'll see they rarely have 'real news' but only fill with cartoon photos, brief blurbs that are copy and paste. Most reporters are now working a part-time shift. My guess is that soon the LFP staff will be further reduced as they combine the LFP newsroom with another former Sun/NatPost newsroom nearby, maybe Sarnia's PostMedia holding.

The LFP and the liberal/Liberal s in this town drove away our previous business taxbase by indoctrinating workers with delusions of their power. To preserve their assets, companies just picked up and moved away and the LFP holds a huge degree of responsibility for failing to report REALITY on the streets and of ordinary people. The LFP catered to internal illusions. But the editors prior to the current guys were more guilty of ruining London's investment appeal.
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# Queen's Jubille medalsLeila Paul 2016-01-20 01:18
And, yes, the same group rewarded themselves and their friends. I was stunned to see, when the medals were given away like paper gold stars, the former editor-in-chief of the LFP got a medal. Of course, he catered to the goals of the women-in-chief dishing out the Queen's medals - making them meaningless.

But also check how the Order of Canada has been awarded with minimal merit and serving as a patronage award for those who, like rustlers, corraled voting blocks and delivered them to politicians. The OofC was used as status reward to influence voting blocs and also give them more rewards as effective vote peddlers.

Our economy has suffered from self-serving political merchants and their patronage allies. But even worse is that democracy suffers more and irrevocably - at all levels of govmt.
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# What goes around ,,,,,KARMA RETURNS 2016-01-20 01:33
Leila, I know this is off topic, but I felt compelled to respond. I found it irresponsible for media (print and radio) to utilize their positions to express their hateful comments without repercussions. If Andrew Lawton was released tomorrow, I wouldn't loose any sleep. Nathan Smith was a wimp in suspending Lawton for his homophobic remarks, he should have been fired. Patrick Maloney spews his venum while at the same time, plays his politics. Maloney has crossed the line several times, but the brass at the Free Press remain silent. In all sincerity, I hope and wish NatPost cleans house, and attempts to return credibility back to media .
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# Regret to overstep Phil's hospitalityLeila Paul 2016-01-20 03:21
But I would like to add one more comment. News media today do not care about cleaning house. They're merely cutting costs while maintaining their brands' presence online in hopes to launch more profitable platforms.

Regarding my earlier comment that I'd guess (if I were PostMedia management) they'd combine Sarnia and LFP newsrooms. I think it's possible but that the content for both brands would come out of the Toronto Sun newsroom. If news media had honoured their obligations as the public's "watchdog" rather than as propagandists for their own biases, then news media would remain a respected institution. Instead they've betrayed the public who relied on them and, in tandem, took down the power of an informed electorate.

That makes Phil's blog all the more valued even if I don't always agree with his perspective. Phil represents "old school" journalism and has insights that are more essential than ever in a public dialogue debilitated by self-censorship and fear of leaving the safety of the flock.
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