It would be easy to write off the city’s new budget chief, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio as… ineffectual, let’s call it to keep things on a civil level. It’s difficult to point to a single contribution he’s made during his undistinguished time in office. His one stand out quality seems to be posing the most baffling of questions during council meetings. If there’s a current councillor who elicits more “I’m sorry. I’m not sure what you’re asking.” responses one doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
Yet there he is, a North York and Toronto councillor since 1985 save the first term of the amalgamated city. That’s 25 years for those of you counting at home. He’s got to be delivering the goods in some way, doesn’t he? Otherwise, you’d have to conclude that his residents aren’t really paying that much attention to who represents them at City Hall, and their voting habits consist of nothing more than checking off the most recognizable name on the ballot.
Let’s not travel down that cold, bleak road.
Instead we’ll assume that Councillor Di Giorgio is one savvy political survivor. A canny operator who knows what needs to be known, does what needs to be done to continue getting elected to public office. He has his finger on the pulse of what Ward 12 York South-Weston voters want and expect in a councillor.
Now, after years in the wilderness of obscurity, he has finally ascended the heights of prominence. Clawing his way up over the corpses and cast offs of a once powerful army, he is the last man standing. The chosen one from the dwindling ranks. The few, the proud, the Team Ford.
Being budget chief is a tough, thankless job at the best of times. Arguably, this is not the best of times. The position kicked the stuffing out of his predecessor, Mike Del Grande who seemed to have coveted the job from the time he was first elected as councillor in 2003. Why would Councillor Di Giorgio want to travel down that same grueling path with a crowd not playing at the top of its game and hardly noted for overt displays of loyalty toward those who’ve offered up their services for the cause?
Surely the councillor’s been around the political block enough times to know that he’s not going to make a lick of difference in the direction the budget takes as long as the mayor’s brother sits to his left as the committee’s vice-chair. Sure, there are five other members on the committee but with hyper-Fordian Councillor Frances Nunziata now one of them, it’s hard to see much of a free flow of ideas happening that don’t carry the imprimatur of the councillor-brother. It’s obvious who’s running the show at budget committee in everything but name.
We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were on record for not thinking much of the former budget chief’s job. In our humble opinion, he never fully grasped the nature of public finances, maintaining a very cloistered view that saw debt and taxation as unnecessary profligacies. But Councillor Del Grande was no toady. He possessed an independence of attitude that, more often than not, overlapped with Mayor Ford. When it didn’t? Well, ultimately that’s why he quit the post.
Watching Budget Chief Di Giorgio’s inaugural budget committee meeting as chair last Thursday, independent minded was not the first thing that sprung to mind. He was solicitous and polite and did not commence the meeting with a bang of the gavel. Granted, the meeting was light on business and for the most part, items sailed through with very little fuss or bother. Nobody set about re-inventing the wheel on this particular day.
And then came the last bit of new business.
An item from the February Government Management Committee meeting to purchase a little over a third of an acre of green space from a surplus TDSB school along Dufferin Street in Ward 15.
For most of the committee members in the room, this was the first they’d heard about the item and understandably wanted to get a little more information before giving it a green light. (Councillor Nunziata took the opportunity for her familiar complaint refrain about not getting the parks in her ward cleaned let alone getting a new park.) Due diligence and all that.
But the budget committee vice-chair took the wariness a couple notches higher.
A million bucks for a park?! Who did the math on this? Fair market value, the budget chief assured him.
A park on Dufferin Street?! Who would want their kids playing there? Well, the area is lacking green space, the budget chief told him.
If we buy a park for Ward 15, where’s the park for every other ward in the city? Let’s keep everything at the lowest common denominator, folks. Parks for all or parks for nobody. And it’ll be for nobody since a million dollars for a park is outrageous.
So it went until the committee voted in favour of sending the item onto Executive Committee without recommendation, effectively washing their collective hands of making any decision on it.
While such an excessive outburst is nothing new, this one was something of a head-scratcher even by Councillor Doug Ford standards. Alone among budget committee members, the councillor was not unfamiliar with this particular item. As part of the Government Management committee, not only did Councillor Ford debate the item a month earlier, he actually moved the adoption of the motion.
Now, here he was railing about it.
Whatever was behind such a pronounced flip-flop?
Follow me as I make a wild guess here.
The chair of the Government Management Committee? A certain Councillor Paul Ainslie. What happened in the interim between Councillor Ford’s apparent approval of the purchase of the parkland in February and his about face on it a month later? A little accusation of more questionable public behaviour on the part of Mayor Ford at the Garrison Ball earlier this year by – you guessed it – a certain Councillor Ainslie.
Who did the math on this?!
This is the kind of eradicate, sideshow conduct Councillor Di Giorgio has signed up for in taking the position of budget chief. Entirely extraneous, personality driven politics diverting attention from the task at hand of running the city. As the administration wobbly heads into an election year, completely sidelined on most of the important issues on the municipal docket, is this really the kind of increased profile the councillor is looking for? Budget chief in name only and subject to the turbulence of a populist administration constantly undercut by a lack of realistic policy goals and regular questions about the mayor’s off-field behaviour?
Unsurprisingly, after the conclusion of Thursday’s budget committee meeting, the budget chief was left alone, talking to someone in the public seats as the media chased Councillor Ford out of the room. It’s a scenario Councillor Di Giorgio probably should get used to.
– singularly submitted by Cityslikr