Category Archives: Editorials

Toronto loses when Wynne, Tory play politics with road tolls

Facing a growing transit deficit and a dearth of funding in Ontario’s biggest city, Toronto’s city council and the Ontario provincial government combined to deliver a solution that should satisfy nobody. Toronto mayor John Tory, who spoke out against road tolls in his days as an aspiring public servant, saw tolling two stretches of highway under city management as a way to raise some desperately needed transit funds, but Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne stepped in to override Toronto and instead offer another morsel of annual funding from the gas tax to all municipalities in the province.

It’s the kind of back-and-forth undercutting Ontario citizens have come to expect from our various levels of government. Toronto is billions behind in infrastructure improvements alone, thanks in no small part to a mayor who spent plenty of time bragging about saving billions without considering the consequences of his cutbacks, and a council that is gutless when it comes to implementing more-practical but less-popular revenue tools like taxes. The province is arguably worse off, saddled with a Liberal government that is still in power due to the incompetence of its opposition despite handling the energy file so poorly that provincial hydro bills are indistinguishable from mob-level extortion.

I don’t think Tory ever really wanted road tolls, just like I don’t believe Wynne’s concern about the finances of Ontario families. Tory’s boardroom background helped him see tolls as a way to leverage the province into giving Toronto more money, because the Liberal government is too afraid of losing votes in the Toronto suburbs next year. Sure enough, Liberal MPPs in ridings surrounding Toronto made the most noise about the potential tolls, forcing Wynne to pull the plug and spin it as a cost-of-living issue. If Wynne truly cared about that, reining in hydro bills (and giving back some of that $37 billion in overcharges) would go a lot further than quashing a small fee people would only have to pay on the Gardiner or the DVP. While many commuters use those roads on a daily basis, everyone uses electricity, and the personal financial benefits would be much more universal.

This isn’t to say that tolls and other user fees are the right way for Toronto to overcome its many financial shortfalls. Toronto is an obscenely wealthy city, in that it is home to the headquarters of many obscenely wealthy Canadian businesses and contains some of the country’s most luxurious neighbourhoods, from Forest Hill and Rosedale to the Bridle Path. Rather than tapping into that wealth, usage fees like road tolls will disproportionately affect people who live in less-affluent neighbourhoods further from downtown. And tolls don’t do much to incentivise alternative forms of transit, especially in corners of the suburbs where non-car transportation isn’t an option.

If Tory’s original toll plan seemed like a half-baked way to stir up some headlines and force the province to act, that’s because it was. If the response from Wynne’s Liberals comes off as a naked and impractical vote grab, that’s because it is. Other mayors in the province are laughing because of the extra money they will receive as a result of Tory and Wynne’s political maneuvering. Tory will likely cruise to reelection on the strength of his pragmatism being mistaken for genius following the disastrous Ford years, while Wynne and the Liberals have successfully dodged an electoral bullet the Conservatives would have probably misfired anyway in 2018.

And the only people who end up losing in all this are the citizens of Toronto. As usual.

Cody Hodgson and the Fallacy of Don Cherry

Don Cherry

Don Cherry loves good Canadian boys, especially good Ontario boys because he’s from Ontario and… it honestly doesn’t seem to go any deeper than that. Cherry routinely chides the Toronto Maple Leafs for not acquiring more local talent, and he did so again in a pair of Twitter rants about last week’s draft, where he calls professional leagues in Sweden and Switzerland “ice follies” and suggests the Leafs disappointed 40,000 kids who play in the GTHL by overlooking Ontario prospects.

But the most interesting part about Cherry’s rant isn’t what he’s saying, which is the same kind of illogical dog-whistle xenophobia he’s been pitching to ignorant hockey fans long before he started making his suits out of your grandmother’s curtains. Most Canadians are painfully familiar with his wrongheaded views about French-Canadians and European players. What made this rant truly interesting was how he avoided mentioning any draft-eligible Ontario players by name, and I think I know why.

Good Ontario boy Steven Stamkos was the consensus first-overall selection in 2008, and he has more than fulfilled expectations by maturing into one of the game’s top goal-scorers, but Cherry had his eyes on another Ontario product that year: Cody Hodgson. Granted, Cherry wasn’t the only one high on Hodgson, who was selected 10th overall by the Vancouver Canucks, but no one went as high as Cherry did when he was asked which player from the 2008 class would have the most impact.

“The guy I’m in love with is Cody Hodgson for Vancouver. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been a captain. I will say that he will be the captain of Vancouver Canucks someday. I’ve watched the kid. He’s got that I don’t know what it is about a captain, a leader. He will be the guy. Stamkos is automatic, don’t get me wrong. But Cody Hodgson, I hope to keep him. This kid’s going to be in the National Hockey League, sort of like a Steve Yzerman. I can’t say anything higher than that.”

Cherry’s effusive praise takes us on so many tangents: He’s watched the kid play! Future captain of the Canucks! YZERMAN! It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Hodgson as some sort of hockey demigod after reading that. So, how did those lofty expectations pan out?

A nagging back injury delayed the start of Hodgson’s NHL career, but he produced 41 points in his rookie season and finished eighth in Calder voting. A trade to the Buffalo Sabres led to two more promising years and a fat contract extension (six years, $25.5 million) before his production dropped off a cliff. Buffalo bought out the final four years of Hodgson’s deal after a disastrous 2014-15 season and he only made it halfway through the season with the Nashville Predators last year before they placed him on waivers.

Predators general manager David Poile offered the most frank and damning assessment of Hodgson:

“We signed him to enhance our (offence) and it didn’t happen,” Poile said. “You look for other areas that maybe a player can help you — checking or penalty killing or some other area. Really, I think we were pretty honest with Cody and told him that he had to produce offensively, and he hasn’t.”

Poile is essentially saying Hodgson is not reliable on defense, can’t hit, and his offensive production is too inconsistent – the exact same kind of criticism Cherry leans on to stereotype Swedes and Russians. The only difference here is birthplace, which explains why Cherry has been eerily silent about Hodgson (a.k.a. the next Steve Yzerman) as unrestricted free agency approaches.

Hodgson had everything: a birth certificate with “Toronto” on it, the jawline of Liev Schreiber…

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…if only any of those things had any bearing on hockey talent or future success. Alas, they don’t, and neither does the opinion of Don Cherry.