The S Word

April 30, 2012

Now, there’s two answers. It’s either there’s corruption down at City Hall or there’s major incompetence at City Hall in budgeting. How do you just find a hundred million dollars?

– Councillor Rob Ford, John Oakley show, March 2010.

Yeah, Mayor Rob Ford! How do you just find almost three hundred million dollars? Corruption or major incompetence? “It’s a great windfall,” claims Team Ford member, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. “It’s a reflection of a new culture.”

Wait. What?

So, surprise surpluses are hunky dory, a-OK, a sign of running a tight ship when they occur in part due to department, service and program cuts. But when there are revenue generating tools involved like property tax increases beyond the rate of inflation? That’s just corrupt incompetence, Johnny. Proof there’s a spending problem.

What I do think we can agree on, though, is that annual budget surpluses, no matter how they come about, cannot be classified as ‘one time savings’. Since municipal governments are legally prohibited from running operating budget deficits, yearly surpluses just come with the territory. As you’ve probably already heard, former mayor David Miller, that roguish, out of control tax-and-spender also delivered annual budget surpluses. In fact, in his last two terms, those surpluses were significantly higher than the one Mayor Ford is touting today. Anyone who insists on calling them ‘one time savings’ should no longer be considered an honest broker in this debate.

The 2011-12 budget surplus also should eliminate the use of the opening pressure number as a bogeyman to scare city council into submitting to the shrill call of arbitrary cutting. Remember last fall and early winter where the mayor and his allies ran around screaming $774 million? We’ve got to slash and burn our way through three-quarter of a billion dollars, folks! So tighten your belts and start throwing excess weight overboard. Women and children first.

By the time the actual budget debate got down to the nitty gritty in January that $774 million red stained hole had magically transformed into a $154 million surplus as it tends to do every year. The opening pressure is merely a starting point made up of all the expenditures the city expects to face in the upcoming budget year. None of the projected revenue streams have been factored in including things like the land transfer tax which has provided a comfortable cushion since its inception due to a continued hot property market in Toronto.

So ignore the man howling about the opening pressure. It’s a tactic meant to scare you. Like the person referring to annual budget surpluses as ‘one time savings’, they should be ignored and dismissed out of hand.

Because of the uncertainty of the exact amount of a surplus in any given year – an uncertainty exacerbated, I believe, by the Ford administration’s insistence on delivering a budget on a calendar year timeline rather than a fiscal year – city council should never blindly allocate where the surplus should go as it did this year in voting to throw it all at capital expenditures. As John Lorinc writes in an article today, spending extra money to pay down capital costs or setting it aside as some sort of rainy day fund is fiscally responsible. The question is, how much, what percentage of any extra cash that appears should be used to pay down debt.

In January, councillors voted to use what they thought was a $154 million surplus this year on capital costs. Throwing the extra $138 million in that pot now comes at the expense of the operating budget. We are cutting services and programs (not just phantom gravy) for the sake of paying down debt without any discussion as to the merits of such a move. Or as Matt Elliot suggested at Ford For Toronto last December, that’s “…trying to work our way out of a capital budget crunch by pruning the operating budget is a losing battle. It’s like trying to dig your way out of a deep hole with a spoon.”

Listening to Budget Chief Del Grande’s interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning today, we’re being offered a glimpse of how the administration plans on going forward from here. Today’s budget surplus announcement will deprive them of the spending’s out of control argument. Having been hoodwinked this year, most reasonable councillors will view that approach skeptically.

So the mayor and his allies will trot out the spectre of looming capital costs. Some of that fear is entirely justified but without serious talk of new and increased revenue sources like road tolls that Mayor Ford has dismissed out of hand, it will come at the expense of further cuts on the operational side. More reductions to services and programs, further squeezing of departments; an all out attempt to shrink the size of government based solely on ideology rather than sound economic principles.

Bringing down the city’s capital debt will be this year’s battle cry. It will be a debate worth having but it must move beyond simply a debt is bad dynamic. That’s just another ploy used by those conducting their war on government, and who are willing to sacrifice the quality of life in this city to further reduce the roll of the public sector in keeping Toronto vibrant, competitive and equitable.

prudently submitted by Cityslikr


Constructive Disengagement

April 29, 2012

I am swearing off futile Twitter fights. Again.

In January, I resolved to do just that. Our friend David Hains wagered I wouldn’t stay quiet more than a couple weeks. His guess was off wildly. I was back at it in a matter of hours, not content to just let stupidity, ill-informed opinions and spinning smears go unanswered.

My rational was a variation of the quote attributed to Mark Twain, A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. Even the most egregious untruth and piece of outright fiction can gain traction if not aggressively contested. Don’t let bullshit lie.

I’m not unaware of the niche market Twitter currently occupies in terms of social media in general and political discourse specifically. Edward Keenan wrote about the divide between the on the ground reality and Twitter bubble in The Grid last month. What may seem of the utmost importance to those of us getting much of our Toronto political news via Twitter is but a passing blip on the radar of a great majority of the city voters.

So don’t sweat the small stuff, I guess I’m saying.

Besides, I’m referring to the mindless, robotic, ideologically rigid wall of nonsense that I no longer think worth engaging with. On Friday I was having some Monty Python back and forth with Sol Chrom and was reminded of the I’d Like to Buy An Argument sketch. “That’s not an argument. That’s contradiction.” “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is.”

This is what I’m attempting to avoid. Why continue a conversation if you already know what the response is going to be? It’s not so much informed discussion where ideas are batted back and forth on the way to forging an agreement. Ironically, that occurs more between those on the left of centre bubble on Twitter than it does across the entrenched partisan divide.

No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t. It is too you, you lying sack of shit. Repeat and escalate.

There were a couple instances over the last few days where a Twitter argument descended into little more than ad hominen nastiness and vituperative outbursts. To what end? Oh guess what? So-and-so is racist/homophobic/misogynist/fill in your hater of choice here. No shit, Sherlock. Tell us something we don’t know.

It’s ultimately not only a time and energy suck. It’s also more than a little soul deflating. There’s always going to be rank odium existing out there, always surprising and always more pronounced and widespread than you ever imagined possible. Why bother giving it a platform? Don’t hand it a louder voice or the impression of legitimacy by continually responding to it. You already know what the answer is going to be. Nothing’s going to change it.

That’s not to say I don’t want an open and lively debate with those I am not politically simpatico with. Yes, please. But I’m simply not getting it on Twitter currently. Hell, at the municipal level, I’m of the opinion that right wing conservatives simply don’t have it in them to put forth a reasoned, fact based case, taking their cue from Team Ford. We Deserve A Subway is an assertion that needs no numbers or facts to back it up. It’s simply an unsubstantiated declarative that has little interest in consensus or compromise.

So I’ll go about my Twitter business with an eye open for those with differing opinions or who take exceptions to mine, hoping to have a civil discussion but willing to shut it down at the first sign of mindless intransigence. Like this one, that came up on Thursday. A name showed up on the #TOpoli feed I didn’t recognize. Their tweet declared a big fat NO! to road tolls with the claim that motorists already pay more than their fair share for the privilege of driving. I replied suggesting I’d like to see some numbers, studies to back that up. (Hint: probably an impossible request.) A day or so later what I got into my feed was No road toll for Toronto Liberals to waste.

Yeah, OK. So we’re done here. What’s the use of pursuing that line of circular reasoning and baseless opinion? It only leads to burning disappointment and befouled discourse that further digs already intractable divisions.

That’s not something I really set out to contribute when I began writing about municipal politics. So, I’m out of the Twitter tit-for-tat. I’d appreciate it if you remind me of this pledge if I break down and stray from the path.

Thanks.

seriously submitted by Cityslikr


Fight For City Hall

April 27, 2012

OK. Here’s an idea.

During Mayor Ford’s unofficial leave of absence, instead of tucking back and sharing the same shell of disengagement, why not expand your municipal politics horizons. Get to know your city councillor, say. Who’s that, you ask? Don’t even know what ward you’re in? Well, now’s the time to do a little brushing up on your civics as I imagine they say in show business.

If you need a little help, David Hains has a series going on over at Open File Toronto, Better Know a Ward, featuring councillor interviews. The Toronto Star’s David Rider works similar terrain with his occasional councillor focussed articles. These are your actual local representatives, folks. The ones addressing your day-to-day concerns at City Hall.

The timing’s also good because it seems the mayor is reaching out to individual councillors even some he wouldn’t have had the time of day for back when he was the king of the castle.  He’s looking for ideas that city council should pursue going forward since apparently he’s done everything he was elected to do already. A small checklist it must be because I’m not needing more than two hands to count off the accomplishments. And I lost 3 fingers in a deep sea fishing accident. (Thank you. Next show at 10. Remember to tip your waitress.)

On top of which, as the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat reported, a group of the more centrist councillors met yesterday in order “…to hash out what issues they want city council to tackle next.” Ranging from TTC Chair Karen Stintz to TCHC task force chair Ana Bailão (an average of 52.5% on the Matt Elliott Ford For Toronto Ford Nation scale), the sit down seems intended to combat the inertia that settles in at City Hall with Mayor Ford’s abdication of authority. “Councillor Colle says agendas are pretty light at City Hall lately,” Peat tweeted, “nine items on four committee agendas.”

Just a whole lot of chin wagging, according to the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy in a screed intended to diminish any attempt at consensus building that Mayor Ford seems unable to build himself. And while the group emerged with no concrete list of ideas they did agree to continue talking and meeting. Rome wasn’t built in a day and to expect a group of politically disparate councillors to deliver a package of working proposals in a matter of hours after 18 months of divisive and contentious battles at City Hall may well be the height of deliberate sabotage.

So the timing of this is favourable to all those who want to get their voices heard, opinions counted. With power in flux on council, chime in to your local councillor, let them know what you think is important and how you’d like them to proceed. If everyone’s looking for ideas, now’s the time to speak up.

The vacuum that has materialized at City Hall is no accident and neither is it the result of some evil cabal of scheming councillors bound and determined to undermine the will of the people and push Mayor Ford to the sidelines. This administration is based on the principle of reducing the size and role of government in our lives. While they will use innocuous sounding terms like ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘culture of entitlement’ and, yeah, ‘stopping the gravy train’, it’s all about putting a hurt on the public sector and roll back its ability to do the job it was it was designed to do.

Mayor Ford, his brother and deputy mayor have made it known on more than one occasion that in order for them to fully implement their anti-government agenda, the people of Toronto need to send councillors to City Hall more attuned to this sensibility. They’ve declared war on dissent and gone as far as to threaten electoral ‘execution’ on those who do not toe their line. Council has stepped up and asserted its power and the administration has petulantly reacted by asserting some sort of divine mayoral right, claiming a mandate to override the will of majority rule.

The mayor is one voice, the loudest voice since the office is the only one elected city wide, but still just one voice of 45. That’s how this is supposed to work. Councillors should adhere to that and continue to assert their authority. This authority comes from the voters, the people of Toronto. Start letting your local elected representatives know that this is what you expect of them, to represent your best interests and those of the city.

Paul Ainslie Ward 43 Paula Fletcher Ward 30 Denzil Minnan-Wong Ward 34
 

Maria Augimeri Ward 9

 

Doug Ford Ward 2

 

Ron Moeser Ward 44

 

Ana Bailão Ward 18

 

Mary Fragedakis Ward 29

 

Frances Nunziata Ward 11

 

Michelle Berardinetti Ward 35

 

Mark Grimes Ward 6

 

Cesar Palacio Ward 17

 

Shelley Carroll Ward 33

 

Doug Holyday Ward 3

 

John Parker Ward 26

 

Raymond Cho Ward 42

 

Norm Kelly Ward 40

 

James Pasternak Ward 10

 

Josh Colle Ward 15

 

Mike Layton Ward 19

 

Gord Perks Ward 14

 

Gary Crawford Ward 36

 

Chin Lee Ward 41

 

Anthony Perruzza Ward 8

 

Vincent Crisanti Ward 1

 

Gloria Lindsay Luby Ward 4

 

Jaye Robinson Ward 25

 

Janet Davis Ward 31

 

Giorgio Mammoliti Ward 7

 

David Shiner Ward 24

 

Glenn De Baeremaeker Ward 38

 

Josh Matlow Ward 22

 

Karen Stintz Ward 16

 

Mike Del Grande Ward 39

 

Pam McConnell Ward 28

 

Michael Thompson Ward 37

 

Frank Di Giorgio Ward 12

 

Mary-Margaret McMahon Ward 32

 

Adam Vaughan Ward 20

 

Sarah Doucette Ward 13

 

Joe Mihevc Ward 21

 

Kristyn Wong-Tam Ward 27

 

John Filion Ward 23

 

Peter Milczyn Ward 5

 – helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Where Have You Been?

April 26, 2012

“Time to talk about taking on the Fords” was the headline in a National Post article written by Chris Selley yesterday. “Three times this week,” it opened, “City Hall poured gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers.” He then outlined those three examples: the Metrolinx approval of council’s decision to go ahead with 4 LRT lines, the chief medical officer’s recommendation to lower speed limits in the city and the growing talk of looking at road tolls.

On top of which, Mr. Selley suggests later in the piece that in taking over control of outsourcing practices, city council “…added a weapon to the Mayor’s arsenal.”

There seems to be some inconsistencies in this argument.

For starters, city council has moved beyond talking about taking on the Fords. They’re already doing it by rolling back proposed cuts in the 2012 operating budget, successfully defending the Portlands from Councillor Doug’s incursion, reversing new fees for sports fields along with the examples above. The mayor’s self-proclaimed mandate continues to be challenged.

But to Mr. Selley this is pouring ‘gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers’, intimating that by defying the mayor council is only succeeding in making him stronger. (With a nod to @HULKMAYOR) DON’T MAKE FORD NATION ANGRY! YOU WON’T LIKE FORD NATION WHEN THEY’RE ANGRY!

This argument grates. It pops up every time the mayor suffers a setback. A wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and the wailing of, but we’re just giving him a re-election platform.

What?!

And the alternative? To sit back, let him run rampant, implementing the worst of his policy ideas? When it all goes to shit, we then step up and say, see? We told you so? Then start picking up the pieces.

That’s certainly not what Mr. Selley’s suggesting. He believes the mayor’s opponents need to take control of the narrative and contest the fallacious assertions Team Ford continues to make. Like the St. Clair “disaster” and its mutant spawn, St. Clair-ization of the city with the building of LRTs. Agreed and I think that’s already under way with the work John Lorinc and others have been doing exploring St. Clair Avenue post its St. Clairizing.

“When it comes to subways and LRTs specifically,” Selley writes, “someone needs figure out how to make staying the course look sexy.”

That’s kind of a tall order and perhaps a little bit of overkill. While I know the mayor has pledged to make it a campaign issue and the likes of the Toronto Star’s Royson James worries that the timing of the Sheppard LRT’s commencement of construction in 2014 could be manna from heaven for Mayor Ford’s re-election bid, I’d really like to see him try and run with that frankly. Already having put off the timetable by 18 months with his declaring Transit City dead does he really think promising further delays is going to be a winner for him?

The statement issued from his office yesterday in response to the Metrolinx decision to proceed with LRTs suggests the mayor isn’t looking to go to the mat for a Sheppard subway. It attempts to put the matter fully into the province’s lap, saying that the focus for the TTC should now be solely on “…delivering operational and customer service excellence — and not on capital infrastructure planning and construction.” The mayor’s continued ‘push for subways to form the backbone of Toronto’s future plans for rapid transit expansion’ is vague enough to open the possibility of talk for something as out there as the downtown relief line. Subways are subways, right?

Inadvertently, Mayor Ford has triggered a transit discussion this city has not had this openly in decades. Very few people now disagree that we have fallen woefully behind, to the growing detriment of commuters and businesses alike. A Spacing-Environics poll last week suggested an eye-poppingly large number of the GTA are more than willing to consider a regional sales tax dedicated to building transit.

That’s a tax increase, folks. The polar opposite of what then candidate for mayor Rob Ford ran successfully on in 2010. All the talk of evil taxes now seems to be little more than pissing in the wind, a naked appeal to a narrowing base of support.

So the mayor and his brother want to recreate the conditions that got them elected some 18 months ago? Good luck with that. Like they say, you can’t push toothpaste back into its tube. The agenda has changed, the discussion advanced. Fighting yesterday’s war seldom leads to victory today.

That’s not to say I’m writing the mayor off as one and done. Mr. Selley’s correct in pointing out that then Councillor Rob Ford was severely underestimated. The anger he helped foment and then champion was surprising and misunderstood. He will be helped by the power of incumbency.

But 2014 will be a different political landscape, one the mayor will have contributed to having altered. Last time out, his main rival, George Smitherman, forged the anti-City Hall mindset that Ford ran away with. Every subsequent move Smitherman made to differentiate himself from Ford only seemed to reinforce the argument that Toronto’s government was out of control in every conceivable way. The only main candidate defending the status quo, Joe Pantalone, was simply a bad campaigner. His arguments were closer to the truth but he just couldn’t effectively deliver that message.

It’s hard to imagine how that dynamic will be recreated for the mayor to exploit. Council has already established itself as a viable counter-balance to the worst instincts of the mayor. There is a working majority consensus on most of the important issues the city faces. Whoever rises up from that to take on Mayor Ford in 2014 will be the type of formidable candidate he didn’t face in 2010.

Chris Selley doesn’t seem to realize that and is writing from a few steps behind what’s happening on the ground now.

up to speedly submitted by Cityslikr


Carcentrism Is Not The Natural State

April 25, 2012

The distant din of battle coming can be heard. A clash of cultures is in the offing. Weary warriors once more strap on their chest plates, pick up their shields and lances in preparation. The war on the car, nay, the crusade on the car again has begun.

Toronto’s chief of medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, has put forth a recommendation to lower speed limits in Toronto, 30 km/h on residential streets and 40 km/h on the main streets, down from the 60-40 km/h range the city now allows. Them’s fighting words to car advocates, protectors of the status quo.

“Slow and Stupid,” the Toronto Sun front page kvetched. Underneath the headline, the photo suggested if such insanity came to pass, we’d be knocked back to 19th-century modes of transportation. Speed=modernity.

“As a general rule, especially on major arterial roadways, I think the speed limit is appropriate,” Public Works and Infrastructure Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong told the Sun’s Don Peat. “It seems the medical officer of health is spitballing 30 km/h, if we were to take him at his word, because it reduces accidents. Why don’t we reduce it to 20 km/h or 10 km/h? Why don’t we all walk? In which other major city do you have 30 km/h as the standard speed limit?”

A quick look on Wikipedia shows that on residential streets, many states in America utilize 15-40 mph speed limits (24-64 km/h range). So, in fact Dr. McKeown’s suggestions aren’t that out of line crazy. At least, not socializing hot dog crazy.

As for reducing speeds to 10, 20 km/h or, heaven forbid, walking even, yes councillor, why not? Where is it written cars, trucks and other private vehicles must, must, must be allowed to drive at a speed that makes them a grievous threat to anyone else using the roads in any other manner? I know the mayor, back in the days when he was a councillor, let it be known that roads were built for busses, cars and trucks. But such Fordian Urbanism is hardly universally accepted.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not that coincidentally) an Atlantic Cities article made the rounds yesterday, The Invention of Jaywalking. In it, author of the book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Peter Norton, asserts cars weren’t immediately granted primacy of the roads upon their appearance a century ago. In fact, many of the same fights that are being waged currently echo the ones fought back in the day.

“Streets back then were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses” (Can you say ‘complete streets?) “When the automobile first showed up, Norton says, it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel. That image persisted well into the 1920s.”

An ‘intruder’ and a ‘menace’ and those behind the wheel were held responsible for any death and destruction their machine might cause. “Norton explains that in the automobile’s earliest years, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes always lay with the driver.”

“The perjury of a murderer,” a 1923 editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thundered about any driver trying to weasel out of responsibility for the carnage inflicted by their automobile. And this, nearly a century before there was any talk of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Where is such righteous indignation these days?

According to Norton, the turning point came in 1925 when the city of Cincinnati moved to bring in a law capping car speeds at 25 km/h. Seeing that as a threat to the marketability of the automobile, auto clubs and dealerships fought back, brining in car manufacturers from Detroit and eventually beating back the speed cap initiative and “…promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of ‘jaywalking’ — a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 — was enshrined in law.”

And we now bear witness to how that’s all played out. Unsustainable cities and communities built and designed for private vehicle use. Public transit relegated to 2nd-class citizenship. Almost no accountability demanded from drivers who destroy property, kill and maim other interlopers on the roads, sucking up vast public resources while they’re at it, freeloading teat-suckers to use the parlance of our times.

But ask drivers to slow the fuck down? Out of the question. An untenable imposition. A declaration of war.

“My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone’s got killed but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

The modern drivers’ creed. My space, my rules. Trespassers beware. There is a license to kill.

It didn’t used to be that way. The idea of complete streets, roads as a shared public space where all modes of traffic share equally, is not a new one, not some airy-fairy, kooky leftwing war on the car. It’s had a much longer history. Cars, in fact, are the intruders and interlopers. Their ascendancy was the result of politicking rather than “… some inevitable organic process.”

There is no natural right of the automobile and their owners and operators. Such a privileged status and pre-eminence on our roads gained through in the trenches PR campaigns and vigilant lobbying. What’s now been termed a war on the car actually began as war on people, public spaces, communities, cities. Car owners are not the victims in this. They are the perpetrators and should be dealt with accordingly.

retributively submitted by Cityslikr


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