Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who to Vote for...

If you live in Ontario Monday is the day of municipal political reckoning.  This is the day that the past four years of municipal politics has come down to.  This is the day the future of municipal government hinges on. Monday is municipal voting day.  

The lead up to the day leaves voters with the main question of "WHO TO VOTE FOR?" 

Also other variations of these questions come up as well with voters including:

"Which idiot do I vote for?"

"Rob Ford: To be or not to be? That is the question"

"If I hold my nose and vote, does it make the entire process of voting smell better?"

But usually the first question ("WHO TO VOTE FOR?") is the one many people struggle with.  Normally the answer to this key question is answered by what issues voters care about and how the candidates for election stand on the issues. Over the past couple of months I've watched the races in a number of municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  From these races I've narrowed down the issues that matter to me in how I'll be voting in Richmond Hill and York Region.

Government Cohesiveness: As recent former resident of Aurora, I'm deeply concerned about the fractious council relationships of this past current council.  Aurora Mayor Phyllis Morris has lead a fractious council over the past four years and was part of the previous council before this this current outgoingoing thone.  Respected Aurora Journalist and former Aurora Mayor Dick Illingworth called the 2003-2006 a  "dysfunctional council" and other such terms on many occasion in his columns in The Auroran.

This past term under Mayor Phyllis Morris has found every single department head of senior staff, except for one, resign and either retire or move onto other opportunities at another municipaltity; a "Code of Conduct" be launched outlining rules on how Aurora's Municipal Politicians should abide by even though there is more than enough rules in Ontario's Municipal Act and the Canadian Constitution (including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms); a lawsuit by one councillor against five councillors and the mayor; an Integrity Comissioner Removed from Office;  a lawsuit against 3 Aurora Citizens launched by the Town of Aurora on the Mayor's behalf over Thanksgiving Day weekend; and Campaigning without a permit at the Aurora GO Station by Phyllis Morris.  All of this fractiousness, dysfunction and lawsuits have left Aurora residents wondering what is going on and if the they have a right to speak out on Aurora politics at all.

Voters need to isolate who on council causes the fractiousness and dysfunction.  In Aurora there were two key players who have been on the past two councils, Phyllis Morris and Evelyn Buck.  Phyllis seems to be up to her eyeballs in the issues in Aurora as she is at the centre of two lawsuits and seems to be a member of the previous council that was labelled "dysfunctional" by members of the community and the media.

Evelyn Buck was also a member of the two previous councils as well.  This term she is well known for her open and frank blog about where she stands on the issues of the day on council. The blog has landed her at the centre of Code of Conduct complaints including this one.  However, at no time in any of the complaints that she was highly critical and/or disparaged senior staff do the complaints isolate any single blog entry or Buck's comments as examples.  In fact the first complaint was totally dismissed by respected ethicist and then Aurora Integrity Commissioner David Nitkin as "wholly political".  Funny enough, Nitkin was dismissed within days of filing his report on this complaint.  Eventually another Integrity Commissioner was hired, David Tsoubouchi who accepted a similar complaint about the blogs and again no defining evidence was brought against her and somehow succeeded.   The result of all these complaints to the Integrety Commissioner?  Nothing more than a written reprimand (read: slap on the wrist) and gobs of lawyers fees paid out. 

What would I like to see of the new council coming soon in both Aurora and Richmond Hill?  One that works cooperatively on the town's business.  This is what used to happen before the previous two terms Aurora council.  It was an era where ideas are brought forth, doesn't matter by who, honestly and positively debated to get the town's business done.  All of the town's business should be done cordially and without petty bickering between members of council. An idea brought forth, the idea studied and amended as requried and then implemented.  This is called good governance and how things get done. This is what I'm looking for in the next term of Richmond Hill, Aurora and York Region Councils.

Transit Improvement: Currently YRT/VIVA operates local municipal bus routes throughout York Region.  Also, YRT contracts some TTC Routes to service some of the southern sections of York Region as well that cross the southern border of Steeles Avenue. 

As things are currently, YRT has some work to do to improve transit.  The small items include poor schedule adherance on some of the TTC Routes that seem to have major issues of showing up on time.  I've laid several complaints about the TTC 107B both to YRT and the TTC.  All you get in return from both transit agencies is:

YRT: We've contacted the TTC about the issue and the TTC controls the schedule and the buses on this route. We just handle the service frequencies.  We can't take over the route with our buses as we do not have enough vehicles to do it right now. 

TTC: We'll take a look at the route and call you back.  Then nothing until the next complaint is returned.

It seems to me neither the TTC or YRT care about fixing the TTC issues in the southern end of YRT territory.  Why should YRT care? Because the Bus Stop posts, the tickets and the passes accepted in the southern part of York Region all say "YRT" on them.  Thus, I'm paying my fare to YRT for service that doesn't seem to come when it is supposed to.  As far as not having enough buses?  Well the TTC doesn't have enough either as it seems most of the busses we get on the north routes are the old TTC GMCs from the 1970s that have been rebuilt ten times over and held together by duct tape.  Perhaps over the next four years we can see YRT take over routes like the TTC 107B with some of those brand spanking new YRT buses or run them in tandem with the TTC like YRT used to do on Route 77 with Brampton Transit. 

YRT/VIVA needs to get back in the game when it comes to customer service.  The Management right down to the agents and drivers need some education. Two things need to be completed, more thought given to Customer Service to Customers calling into the YRT/VIVA Call Centre and YRT/VIVA employees following the rules and/or laws that are enforced on passengers.  

Hopefully with a little Customer Service Education and knowledge of YRT Operations situations like I ran into this past April do not occurr again (as described here and here).  Further the trouble in purchasing YRT fares at authorized ticket locations reared it's ugly head back in November 2009.   Bottom line, YRT/VIVA needs to ensure Customer Service issues are easily resolved and fares easily to obtain from authorized agents. Prospective transit riders do not need uneducated staff (never mind Managers) and out of stock fare media to hamper their ride.  Bottom line, these issues should be easily taken care of and not allowed to fester

YRT/VIVA operates under the By-Laws and Policies duly passed by Regional Council of the Region of York.  An example of this is comes from 2007 when the Region of York Council passed a By-Law stipulating there be No Smoking at all YRT Transit Terminals and properties (Regional Municipality of York By-Law No. R-1415-2005-028).  Soon after proclaiming the new By-Law on, one of YRT/VIVA's finest is found smoking on the platform at the GO Transit Bus Terminal at Finch Station.  Now that was 2007, have things improved at all?  From this past week (starting Sunday October 17th and ending October 23rd) I've made note of YRT Drivers smoking at Bernard Terminal and at Rutherford GO Station.  Both of these I would consider to be YRT Terminals although a case could be made for the Rutherford GO Station bus loop being on GO Transit property and thus not part of YRT Terminal.  But, GO Transit has a By-law stating:

No person shall smoke on Authority property, except in designated areas designated as smoking areas.

and at the Rutherford GO Station bus loop there are at least two No Smoking signs clearly posted on the street lamps that overlook the bus loading platforms.

So if YRT and GO Transit both have duly implented By-laws are these only for GO Transit bus drivers and passengers and not for YRT/VIVA drivers?  Some days is sure seems so, because I've even seen the YRT/VIVA drivers light up with their supervisor around.

Thus from this coming election I'm looking for better operated transit services in terms of Customer Service, on time performance of TTC Bus routing in the southern part of the region and a concentration of having YRT/VIVA Drivers and other employees or contractors to start following the rules or facing the punishment we all must bear for breaking the law.

Proper Tax Dollar Spending: All governments, not just municipal, collect money from taxpayers.  Taxpayers earn their money mainly through working.  In Canada almost half of all workers income is taken by the government via taxation (e.g. property taxes, income taxes, etc.).  Governments, in turn, spend the dollars on various items including roads, defence, garbage collection, health care and other items.

From all governments I expect them to spend tax dollars wisely as well as continue to review how these dollars are spent.  Through implementation and reviews of spending new ways can be found to provide the same or improved services at reasonable costs.  Tax dollars should be spent properly and efficently as possible.  Thus words like "gravy train" and "boondoggle" should never have to be brought forth.  If these words do come forward there is obviously something wrong.  Tax dollars should be considered sacred and spent only as needed and never wasted.  Thus, in this coming election I will be looking for representatives that not only promise to be fiscally accountable but also have they proof they have been fiscally accountable in the past.

This election voters should be looking for people that follow the rules and get along with others, improved transit that actually operates on time as per the posted schedule and ensuring that tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently.   Lawsuits, petty bickering, boondoggles and such do not belong at the council table.  As easy as it seems, this is what I will be looking for in the upcoming election.  Nothing less is simply unsatisfactory.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Good Service Needs to Be Rewarded

Sometimes great Customer Service goes unnoticed, especially at restaurants. Sometimes the kudos go unnoticed. 

Is this because the bad experiences scream louder?  Most people rant and rave about bad customer service or experiences.  I'm guilty of that.  But usually bad customer experiences can be amusing and leave a smile on the face of the reader as to how something so simple ended so badly.  This is not one of those stories.

My Wife and I wondered where to go on Friday night. We hummed and hawed over where to go.  We searched for coupons for inspiration and savings.  We came up empty.  We settled on Swiss Chalet (9350 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill)

Now the local Swiss Chalet, as I have said before, is a hit and miss location.  Sometimes it is a long wait to even get a seat or you walk in and sit down immediately.  Sometimes the service can be sluggish and other times outstanding.  Really it is like going to Vegas and spinning the wheel. 

This past visit though was simply outstanding.  My wife and I were immediately sat at our table.  It took a little while for the waiter to come over, but I don't really blame him.  I first disappeared to the washroom to wash my hands and when I returned my wife did the same.   

As good Swiss Chalet Customers, my wife and I took a quick look at the menu and when our waiter, Ahmad, finally came by, we ordered our drinks and our food order.

The Order: Half Chicken dinner with fries and white roll with a Pepsi and a Quarter Chicken Dinner with a multigrain roll and a refreshing glass of water.

In less than five minutes our food was being brought out from the kitchen!  There were copious amount of fries, the sauce was hot and not watery and the chicken was excellent!   This was truly Swiss Chalet goodness at it's finest. 

Ahmad came by a couple of times and refilled my Pepsi glass in minutes.  He also inquired, while offering to refill my glass if everything was fine and if there was anything he could do.

Complaints?  The only one we have after this Swiss Chalet visit was why can't all Swiss Chalet Visits be like this one?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dropping Some Coin at 3 Coins Restaurant

On this fabulous Thanksgiving Monday holiday my wife and I headed out to downtown Richmond Hill to try out the 3 Coins Open Kitchen Restaurant (10140 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill).   This restuaraunt is considered to be mainly "the greasy spoon" of Richmond Hill. What better way to enjoy a greasy spoon than to venture into this local for a little brunch. 

We arrived shorlty before noon and the small dining room (barely 10 tables) was nearly full.  The friendly waitress wandered over to take our orders.

The Order: 3 egg breakfast with sausages, bacon, toast and coffee.  A BLT Sandwich on White with fries.

The order came within 10 minutes.  The breakast, unlike some other greasy spoons, came all on one plate.  However, this works for my wife as normally I end up eating a lot of what she can't finish.  The best part was the home fries, nice, hot and tasty.  The wrest of the breakfast seemed average for a greesy spoon.

The BLT sandwich was delicious.  I noticed first that the bacon was so well packed into the sandwich it started to fall out.  No worries, scoop it up eat separatly and continue on with what is left.  The fries however were a different story. These weren't anything to write home about.  The fries were thin and stringy and luke warm at best.   The Cole Slaw was decent but could have been a little more creamier for my liking.

Overall for portion size we could have gone to Daybreak.  For better tasting food I would have visited somewhere else.  But for a decent meal at a decent price, 3 Coins Restaurant is a decent place to be.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Duffs a DUD but Menchies is MMMM Good

My wife and I headed out for some chicken wings and frozen yogurt at Duff's Famous Wings and Menchies Frozen Yogurt (both at 9360 Bathurst Street, Vaughan, Ontario).

At Duff's Famous Wings we were seated immediately at a table for two.  The next table over sat about four people.  The seating seemed a little to cosy (i.e. too close to the table next to you with little room to manouvre to get out of your table).  

The service at Duff's was fantastic.  The waitress, who seemed to have a male trainee in tow all night, was fast and efficient.  We ordered our drinks and 20 wings right away and everything arrived at our table within ten minutes of ordering.

The Order:  20 Wings (10 Mild and 10 Honey Garlic) + Lg Fries + Sm Pitcher of Pop (Coke)

The Wings and Fries though were a different story.  The Mild BBQ sauce Wings were luke warm at best and had obviously been out of the oven for a little while.  The Honey Garlic Wings were a little warmer.  Both types of wings seemed rather dry tasting as well.  

The fries were just average for any bar and nothing to write home about. 

Overall Duff's Wings just aren't that famous.  There are only thirteen types of wings and most of them are BBQ or spiced hot.  For those that want neither hot nor BBQ there is Honey Garlic or Hot Honey Garlic (Read:  It's honey garlic or hit the road!).

Over at Menchies (right next door to Duff's Famous Wings) we had a little more luck.  We shared a strawberry frozen yogurt and added some chocolate chips.  The frozen yogurt was quite good in consistancy and taste.  The service? Excellent considering you make your frozen yogurt creation yourself.   The only real worry is that nowhere did I find a list of ingredients on their website or in store as to what is in the yogurt itself.  Considering allergies of everything from milk to gluten to peanuts out there, the ingredients should be better displayed.    But since I do not have any allergies, I'm more than happy to partake in a little frozen yogurt action.

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