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EDITORIAL (JULY 2017): Thank you Mr. Asti

August 1st, 2017 · No Comments

Every once in a while, someone gets mad as hell and decides not to accept the status quo. It’s a small act of rebellion that can shake things up, bringing sanity and common sense to a situation that has gotten well out of hand.

Take the case of Etobicoke resident Adi Asti. Frustrated by the city’s apparent refusal to install a small staircase along a dangerous incline in Tom Riley Park, Asti appealed to his local councillor. He discovered that people would have to make do with holding onto a rope, as quotes to install the stairs ranged between $65,000 and $150,000. A cash-strapped city, it seems, was not prepared to go down that slope anytime soon.

“The alarming reality of this situation is that the original $65,000 to $150,000 estimate was based on similar projects that the city has already completed.”

So Asti, engaging the help of a homeless man, decided to take matters into his own hands, building eight steps in just 12 hours at a cost of $550 of his own money. Press outlets promptly lavished him with praise for his resourcefulness. Embarrassed city staff responded quickly, warning Asti to remove the stairs or risk being charged under the municipal code, which prohibits the erection of any unauthorized structures in parks. And Mayor John Tory, supported the staff, warning against copy cat do-gooders, citing liability concerns.

It was an uproar that even attracted the attention of the international press: “Toronto rebukes handyman whose steps save taxpayers $50,000” ran the BBC headline, while CNN noted “City says steps will cost $65,000 – $150,000, man builds them for $550”. It would appear that frustration with bureaucratic nonsense is something that crosses borders.

It didn’t take long for the mayor to change his tune.

He recognized on the one hand that “anything that gets built on city lands must be absolutely safe and has to be able to stand the test of time” (these stairs built by Asti, a retired mechanic, don’t meet that threshold), yet acknowledged that city staff were responsible for generating “outrageous project cost estimates”.

By the end of the week, Tory wisely decided to call Asti and thank him for the well-intentioned effort to make a dangerous situation safer. He also thanked Asti for alerting him to an issue that had not been on his radar. Though Asti’s stairs have now been removed, they will soon be replaced (work has already started) by the city at a cost, according to the mayor’s office, of less than $10,000. The new stairs will have a proper foundation and handholds.

The alarming reality of this situation is that the original $65,000 to $150,000 estimate was based on similar projects that the city has already completed. How much waste are we surrounded by? How much money has gone down the drain? In a statement, Tory said he thanked Asti for “taking a stand”, adding that “his homemade steps sent a message that I know city staff have heard loud and clear…. I’m not happy that these kinds of outrageous project cost estimates are even possible. I’ll be working to identify what changes we can put into place to make sure that doesn’t continue to happen.”

There are thousands of city projects of this magnitude. How many are we overpaying for? Is it a system failure? Are staff incompetent? Is there impropriety in procurement? Is it some lethal combination of all three? This is how “gravy train” theories gain political traction.

It sounds like the mayor may be as mad as hell too. Let’s hope he also stops accepting the status quo. And to Mr. Asti: thank you for doing the right thing.



EDITORIAL: A watershed moment (June 2017)

EDITORIAL: Revoke U of T’s unchecked “licence to build” (May 2017)

EDITORIAL: Westbank’s positive precedent (April 2017)

EDITORIAL: Foreign buyers tax a necessary cliff jump (March 2017)






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