Rules Are For Others

April 23, 2014

Let’s suppose for a moment that the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is a big steaming pile of a mess. fierybuildingsThere is evidence to support such a supposition. Hundreds of millions of dollars in state of good repair needed. An impossibly long waiting list of prospective tenants. Tales of cockroaches, bed bugs and fire inducing hoarding.

Let’s also suppose that the fault for all this lies solely with TCHC management. The rot starts at the head, it is said. There is less evidence to support such an assumption but go with me on this for a bit. There were all those chocolates a few years ago. Spa retreats. Yaddie, yaddie.

Something stinks here. Something’s broken. All the king’s men and all the king’s horses…

So obviously, what the TCHC needs is a good shake-up. An ol’ fashion ass-kickin’. Names will be taken later but right now, all bets are off. These HR rules and regulations are what got us into this pickle in the first place, creating a cushy culture of complacency and cosy comfort. Time to bring the pain. Hello, culture of fear.

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!yosemitesam

Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Even if we’d arrived at such a situation, even if such measures of disregard for protocol and standard operating procedure that the Ombudsman uncovered under TCHC CEO Gene Jones were effective outside of the movies or a flagging sports franchise (and listening to the interview with Schulich School of Business professor Alan Middleton on Metro Morning, it seems highly dubious they are), even if you adhere to some variation of the ends justifying means, what exactly were the ends? Surely Mr. Jones and other members of the TCHC board had a plan, an and then what. We shake this shit up and then..?

If there was some kind of strategy, some method to the madness, to the culture of fear, it hasn’t seemed to have surfaced. The logical follow up to the untendered hirings and firings without cause has yet to make itself evident. shakeitupWe await the appearance of the omelette after the breaking of all those eggs.

Order needs to be restored. Otherwise this just seems like summary executions for the sake of giving the appearance of something being done. Filling the depleted ranks with loyalists and call it The New Team, Under New Management. Fine. So, now what?

Besides, if such a purge was necessary to get the TCHC house in order, as they say, why ignore the rules that were in place to do it? If you have to fire people without cause, maybe you should take a moment to think about it first. Just because is another way of saying without cause. Just because is a pretty flimsy foundation. It’s awfully close to just because I can.

Unless Gene Jones can stand up to public scrutiny and explain why he did what he did since taking over the TCHC, citybuildingand what exactly his plans are going forward because of the course of action he has taken, this simply smacks of petty tyrant shit. A man with no plan except to show up, terrorize the staff into submission, surround himself with loyalists he doesn’t even have the confidence in to subject them to normal hiring practices. Because… well, because… that’s what he was hired to do.

If Gene Jones has no plan other than to wreak havoc on the TCHC, it is simply the sad reflection of the man who remains in his corner, defiantly. Let’s face it. Mayor Rob Ford’s approach to governance is no more extensive or involved than just that. Wreak havoc. Instill a culture of fear and intimidation. Surround himself with friends, allies and toadies to help him out in his righteous indignation with government. The Ford way.

The mayor’s never made much pretense in his attitude toward social housing and City Hall’s involvement in it. Privatize. Sell it off. Vouchers for tenants to contend out there in the free market. Governtexaschainsawmassacrement shouldn’t be in the business of…

You’ve heard that song and dance before.

I imagine in Mayor Ford’s eyes, Gene Jones did absolutely nothing wrong. He’s a doer not a talker. He gets things done, shakes it up a little. And if there’s a mess left behind, it’s hardly the fault of Gene Jones. It’s just further proof that anything government gets involved in just turns to shit. That’s what governments do best. Gene Jones, not unlike the mayor, is simply another victim to the ruinous presence of government in our lives.

obligingly submitted by Cityslikr


(Mis)Governed

April 22, 2014

I’ve been mulling over our state of governance these days. Spurred on by the news of Councillor Adam Vaughan’s planned departure for federal politics, ponderingI kept wondering why anybody would make that particular jump. Sure, there’s the clout and prestige. In theory, the real levers of power are operated from Ottawa.

In theory.

Reading through John Lorinc’s piece today about Vaughan and the role the federal government plays in the running of cities, I have my doubts about the efficacy of delivering effective municipal policies from the federal level. You can offer up money, maybe even ideas. But hands-on tools to contribute directly? That’s a little more complicated.

According to a document that’s nearly 150 years old and a handful of court rulings during that time span, municipalities are nothing more than “creatures of the province” and “exist only if provincial legislation so provides…” dustydocumentCities fall in that place of dark matter between federal and provincial jurisdiction. To propose any sort of strategy, say housing or transit, for municipalities, Ottawa could be seen to be stepping on provincial toes. Why risk antagonism if you can just ignore these issues instead. We’d really love to help but our hands are constitutionally tied.

There have been attempts, for sure. The Liberal government’s New Deal For Cities Municipalities Communities (or whatever it wound up being called) under Paul Martin delivered increased funding that remains in place but little in terms of clarity. Nearly a decade on, cities remain without any sort of national housing or transit strategy. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), cities face more than a $200 billion infrastructure deficit.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how a change in government in Ottawa is going to reverse that. powerlessAt least, not in the short term.

I was boring family and friends over the long weekend, talking about this particular challenge of governance. Citing a certain Paisley Rae who had paraphrased Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi for me, talking about the importance of the various levels of government in our lives. (If I get this wrong, it’s all on me). Imagine if just out of the blue our federal government disappeared. Poof! Suddenly gone. How long would it take you to notice a real impact on your life? A month? Do the similar thought experiment with the provincial government. Poof! Gone. You’d notice in about a week? Now your elected representatives at City Hall. Vanished into thin air. Almost as soon as you step out the door, their absence would be evident.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that simple. It would depend entirely on where you lived and other circumstances. There’s much more overlap than that.

Still.

I think the role of our municipal level of government is highly under-valued and egregiously under-funded. oldendays1They are expected to do things that they have no jurisdictional command of or the fiscal tools to deal with. As the above article points out, the FCM claims that Canadian cities receive only 8% of the country’s tax revenues but are responsible for 60% of the infrastructure.

I’ve long contended that this political mismatch between the responsibilities demanded and the lack of capacity to deal with them has resulted in an increased presence of buffoonery at the local level of representation. Of course, we can elect somebody like Rob Ford because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. There’s no real power invested in that office. When we do dare to elect somebody with ambitious ideas for our cities, David Miller for example, they are destined to disappoint us because, in the end, they lack the real power to fully enact their plans.

What is clearly needed at this point of time is a complete constitutional overhaul. This isn’t 1867. Much, much has changed including where the majority of people live in this country. kickupafussCities. The hierarchy of revenue and power needs to be shuffled and rearranged.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. So politicians like Adam Vaughan with ambition and big ideas gravitate to where positive change is possible even if it hasn’t been much in evidence, well, during our lifetime. All we can do is cross our fingers, wish him well in his endeavours and look for new politicians to represent us at City Hall who aren’t content with the severe limitations that will be placed on them, and who have their own plans to shake up the status quo that serves fewer and fewer of us.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Vaughan Gone

April 19, 2014

We should’ve known something was up when the eye glasses changed, became more bookish.

Aside from the news that Rob Ford had been elected mayor of Toronto, professorpeabodyhearing that Councillor Adam Vaughan was opting for a run at a federal seat comes a close second in terms of a bummer municipal politics turn of events. He provided much of the spark and lightness during this dark term at City Hall, sparing no opportunity to skewer and eviscerate the bumbling, destructive exploits of the Ford administration. Nothing could lift your spirits like an indignant broadside from Vaughan directed at the latest boneheaded malignancy the wrecking crew had cooked up.

He was the poster boy of anti-Fordism, held up as the example of everything that was wrong with the forces of downtown elitism at City Hall. Whippet smart, tart tongued, dismissive and derisive, his detractors, those preferring their politicians dumb and willfully ignorant, labelled Vaughan smug, pompous and arrogant. There’s certainly some truth to that. At times he came across as prickly, impatient with those not keeping up with him. catandmouseThe proverbial inability to suffer fools gladly.

But if his critics were truly honest with themselves they’d admit that what galls them most about Adam Vaughan is that he was right about this mayor and the administration he misruled. Incompetence above all else. How would you say that in Latin? Imperitiam, quod super omnia. The motto emblazoned on the Team Ford crest. Vaughan called them on it regularly and, many times, ill-manneredly.

Should he have been more temperate in his engagement? Maybe. Except, at this juncture, knowing all that we know now, given all that we’ve seen, what would that have accomplished? The Fords brooked no opposition, sought no compromise with anyone who disagreed with them or called them on their bullshit.

It seldom pays to concede to bullies and thugs. Next to incompetence, what the Fords did best was to play the thug card. Councillor Vaughan stood up to that, many times encouraged it, bringing it out into the open for everyone to see.clownthug

During one particularly heated debate, I forget exactly which one of the too many to commit to memory, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti leaning back in his chair and yapping down the aisle at Vaughan. I used to beat up guys like you in high school. Yes, we’re sure you did, Giorgio. We’re sure you did.

Over the past 3 years or so, I was fortunate enough to have some conversations with the councillor outside of the political arena, beyond the political melodrama, to talk about building a city. He knew his shit, and his enthusiasm for transforming streets, neighbourhoods and communities was infectious. It challenged me to try and better understand the nature of what makes cities successfully tick.

I imagine when Councillor Vaughan gets asked what he sees as his biggest accomplishment from his time at City Hall, he will point to the redevelopment of Alexandra Park that is just getting under way. Both in private and publicly, I heard him boast about the process and how it hinged on the input from the residents of the community. This was not going to be his redevelopment or the city’s, but theirs, those who lived there.

manoflamanchaWhich makes his jump to federal politics all the more puzzling.

I get the impetus. Any city councillor worth their salt is going to feel the limitations of municipal governance. There isn’t access to all the necessary tools, especially the fiscal ones, to get the job done on major issues like transit, child care and housing. t must be head-bangingly frustrating to care about these items and know there’s only so much you can do, to battle with colleagues who view such shortcomings as a way not to deal with them.

Councillor Vaughan says he wants to go to Ottawa to finally deliver a national strategy on housing for cities. I truly wish him good luck with that but, frankly, these days, Ottawa is where good intentions and direct, hands on democracy go to die. Olivia Chow, whose vacant federal seat Vaughan is seeking to fill, became an MP with similar purpose in mind, and Jack Layton before her. It’s been some time since the federal government paid much attention to the needs of this country’s cities. Maybe Adam Vaughan can turn that around. I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

I’m guessing the past four years have been a study in frustration for Vaughan. Time spent mostly trying to push against the reactionary, roll back impulses of the Fords and their ilk. He’s done his hitch. robfordbellicoseWhile I’d hoped he’d be around to help pick up the broken pieces of what gets left behind after this messy weather passes through town, he won’t. It’s going to be a pretty big hole that needs to be filled.

When this term is up, Adam Vaughan will have served at City Hall for nearly 8 years. Rob Ford’s time in office there? 14 years. If you are ever trying to figure out why Toronto faces the problems it does, engages in the kind of politics it does, that’s as a good a place to start as any. Fixing that sort of discrepancy will go a long way to sorting our problems out.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Open Streets. Closed Minds.

April 17, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


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