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Another chunk of concrete fell onto the Lake Shore from the Gardiner's underbelly on Friday night, December 14. TV news crews were on the scene like stink on shit.
The local press can't get enough of the Gardiner. Can we call it a scandal yet?
To hear the Ford administration tell it, the behemoth is about to come crashing down. City staff contend otherwise. But few these days seem to be heeding the professional advice of the public service.
Not to be too flip about it. Perhaps it's my own peculiar relationship to cement - my youth was spent on construction sites - that's causing me to be more cynical than most on this one.
But why are some so surprised that the steel holding up the Gardiner is getting rusty or that concrete is falling more often? The structure is five decades old. I'm left to wonder if the Ford camp isn't playing some deft politics here.
One thing that doesn't fit neatly into the Gardiner-is-falling narrative is this: how could the guy who's supposed to be in charge of the file, Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong, be so out of the loop on needed repairs to the elevated highway?
Is it even plausible to think city staff, as Minnan-Wong has suggested, kept the administration in the dark about the status of one of its most important pieces of infrastructure?
It's easy to attack the civil service, who can't respond in public; the Ford admin has made a habit of that. But what possible motive could there be for the bureaucrats to mislead their political masters, especially if public safety is involved?
Transportation Department bureaucrats released hundreds of FOIed documents to the Star, including internal emails, on the state of repairs on the Gardiner. So why the info gap where the Fordists were concerned?
Minnan-Wong gave the appearance of being on the job last summer, when, with the mayor in tow, he inspected work crews dispatched to fill holes after a spate of incidents involving falling concrete. There was a very public show of concern back then. A good committee chair would have been all over it, no? Making sure any outstanding issues were being dutifully handled?
Actually, staff are in frequent communication with committee chairs, on a daily basis, or more often when it comes to matters of import.
The administration would also have seen capital budget numbers related to Gardiner repairs as far back as July. They would have know then that repairs were going to be a financial challenge. Memos would have been sent to the Finance Department. Budget chief Mike Del Grande would have been copied on the matter.
Yet the fellow who's supposed to know most about the file, Minnan-Wong, is professing ignorance, knowing only as much as what's being reported in the papers.
Everything seems to happen mysteriously with this administration.
Case in point: the two senior staff in the Transportation Department who've been walked out the door over the Gardiner file. Councillors still haven't been told why.
The theory making the rounds is that they were axed because they were telling the administration what it didn't want to hear: repairs on the section of the highway east of Jarvis cannot be undertaken until an Environmental Assessment - a holdover from the Miller era - determines what to do next. That EA was inexplicably shelved.
It's not clear who made that decision. Minnan-Wong says it was Waterfront Toronto "in consultation with the city."
Sources at Waterfront Toronto tell a different story. They say they were waiting for direction from the new administration on how to proceed after Ford made the EA an election issue by stating he opposed tearing down any part of the Gardiner. That direction never came.
Was there a directive from Minnan-Wong to kill the EA?
His eyes seemed to go big when asked about it during a scrum last week in which he admitted to meeting with staff on the subject of "keeping the Gardiner up and keeping it elevated."
The Works chair is a little hazy, however, on the money spent on Gardiner repairs over the years. He's claimed that the Gardiner was "starved" of needed funding and that repairs to the highway were neglected during the David Miller regime.
In fact, $116 million of the $150 million budgeted since 1999 for the expressway's upkeep has been spent, some $46 million of it since 2006.
But score one for the Fordists: all the Gardiner hoopla has conveniently provided a rationale for the death-by-a-thousand-cuts budget the admin is pushing for 2013. On that score, Budget Committee sessions wrapped up this week, and instead of talking increased fire and ambulance wait times and fights with the police, we're discussing - thanks to widespread media compliance - the "Miller legacy" of letting the Gardiner fall down.
Just as conveniently, this admin is using the Gardiner narrative to justify spending oodles on burying or otherwise remaking the highway instead of, say, on public transit or the hundreds of other services we need.
The Gardiner makes an opportune scapegoat for an administration loath to raise taxes.
This faux scandal has pre-empted the conversation we should be having about the future of the costly, hulking mass and how it fits, or doesn't, into waterfront planning. That killed EA was supposed to be the beginning of a grander plan to take down the Gardiner piecemeal and create greened avenues to the lakeshore. The plan was starting to take shape for the areas where the Gardiner's already been taken down east of Don Valley Parkway.
But now, the discussion is veering toward selling the behemoth to the private sector, and perhaps off-loading the DVP while we're at it.
Do we really want to go there?
The silver lining is that we've reached the point where we're beginning to at least talk seriously about road tolls. These could not only cover the costs of road repairs, but fund other infrastructure improvements as well. Maybe we can still have that conversation - and a Gardiner-less waterfront.