Ward 2’s Family Jewels

July 22, 2014

Look. I’ll cut Mikey Ford, candidate for city council for Ward 2 Etobicoke North, some slack.

mikeyford

Age alone should not be a determinant for holding public office. Mikey Ford is not the only young candidate running in this year’s municipal election. Hell, there’s a high schooler in the mayor’s race and she’s being taken seriously by some folks.

Mikey Ford’s uncle, Rob Ford, wasn’t a whole lot older than his nephew is now when he first ran for city council back in 1997. Like Mikey, Rob hadn’t completed his post-secondary schooling. Like Mikey, Rob had a job title in the family’s business, Deco Labels and Tags. Like Mikey, Rob had some family connections in the business of politics.

And look at all that Uncle Rob’s accomplished during his tenure in office, mikeyford1with just those humble beginnings and an early start at it.

If Rob, why not Mikey?

Give the kid shot. See what he’s got. Maybe there’s more of Uncle Rob’s common touch than the ham-fisted destroyer of all that he lays a finger on of his immediate predecessor, Uncle Doug.

Besides, a Ward 2 Etobicoke North without a Ford would be like, I don’t know. Councillor Vincent Crisanti’s Ward 1 Etobicoke North?

I just wish somewhere in Mikey Ford’s C.V. there was even the slightest whiff of previous political engagement. Something more than simply picking up the SUV from City Hall after one of his uncle’s drunken stupors. A whiff of civic interest.

As it stands right now, I’m seeing… camp counsellor. Oh, and a whole lot of willful, privileged entitlement. Clearly, another inherited trait from his family.

Forget ‘career politician’. What the Fords are trying to perpetuate is generational politicians. A dynastic lineage based on name recognition alone. mikeyford2No wait. Also, inherited wealth.

Even if I admired a politician, thought highly of the contribution they made to the public good, I’d look askance at them trying to unload one of their family members as little more than a placeholder as they moved on (or were moved along) to other pursuits. Hey, folks. Vote for Mikey because he has the same last name as we do.

In fact, I might take offense to such a move.

Why, just last election here in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, I faced a similar situation. Another Mikey, Mike Layton was running to fill a council vacancy created when Joe Pantalone decided to run for mayor. Mike Layton, son of NDP leader and former city councillor, Jack Layton, the  husband to the local MP and also former city councillor, Olivia Chow, who even came knocking at my door, canvassing for Mike.

I was underwhelmed, to tell you the truth. Even though Mike had spent some time prior to entering politics working for an actual public cause, I rankled at the appearance of nepotism. fordnation2For me, there was a more qualified, interesting candidate in the race and that’s the way I voted.

Turns out, Mike Layton is a hell of a city councillor. He’s worked his ass off becoming a solid constituency representative while facing huge development pressures in a ward that is transforming almost daily. There’s no question he has my vote in October.

So maybe the lesson should be, give Mikey Ford a break. Grant him the opportunity to prove himself up to the task of being a city councillor. Or at least, hear him out when he decides to tell us why it is he’s running and why he’s the best choice to represent Ward 2 at City Hall. Which, according to the CBC news this morning, will be in a couple weeks when he starts knocking on doors after… his summer camp session is finished, I guess?

kidprince

Until such time, however, you’ll have to indulge me my scepticism about this whole Ford driven enterprise. I’m not sure what electoral presumption smells like but I hope residents of Ward 2 are able to detect it if a stink cloud of it appears during this campaign.

warily submitted by Cityslikr


Call The Question

July 21, 2014

If they want to make it a campaign issue, I say, bring it on. Let’s have the discussion we should’ve had in 2010. replayAll that talk of gravy and the city’s spending problem. The mayor, his brother, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong all want to put it back on the table again this time around. Fine. Let’s revisit the conversation.

The current object of their fiscal hawk ire is Waterfront Toronto, and its spending practices on a couple projects as part of the wider waterfront revitalization. I’ll try and ape their tone of outrage. $12,000 on umbrellas!! Half a million dollars on rocks!!! $600,000 for a washroom!!!

Resign! Resign!! Resign!!!!

You see, when it comes to the public realm (of the non-road related kind), everything can be done more cheaply. Some parks build public washrooms for 25 grand. Why does Cherry Beach need one for 600 grand? Half a mil for rocks? mockoutrage1Councillor Doug Ford offered some from up at his cottage for a fraction of that cost.

Never mind that Waterfront Toronto has some perfectly legitimate explanations for the cost. The umbrellas at Sugar Beach are permanent, all weather umbrellas intended to last for 25 years. The sports field washroom was installed in a spot away from any sewer infrastructure that needed its own septic system to deal with the large number of people using it.

But as a Toronto Sun editorial warns us, “Too many appear prepared to take whatever Waterfront Toronto says at face value. Bad idea.”

Absolutely. Instead, take at face value what a handful of grandstanding-happy, campaigning politicians tell us.

As Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell points out, the agency is overseen by all 3 levels of government. demagogueWhere are the other outraged voices at all this profligacy? Why are we just hearing the loudest and the crankiest? Or more to the point, why are we giving them any sort of credence?

Even many fellow city council conservatives aren’t onside with this shameless bit of pure self-promotion. Economic Development and Culture Committee Chair Michael Thompson gave one of the best speeches I have seen him give in a fiery defense of Watefront Toronto earlier this month. By investing public money into previously derelict areas of the city’s waterfront, some $2.5 billion in private investment in the area has happened.

“Notwithstanding,” sniffs the Toronto Sun.

Notwithstanding?! That’s the entire fucking point. While not technically a public-private partnership, it’s kind of the theory in practice. Public money used to improve a public asset which, in turn, encourages private investment and development.

notlistening2Not to mention improved public spaces although it’s more difficult to put a price tag on that.

“What taxpayers know is that when it comes to revitalizing the waterfront,” the Sun goes on, undeterred by reason or even simple observation, “politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies from all levels of government have been over-promising and under-delivering for years.”

So when those ‘politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies’ do start delivering, as they have with the steady march of development along the waterfront, as indicated by $2.5 billion in private investment, you stand back, unimpressed, and moan about the cost. Did it have to be so expensive? Couldn’t you have done it cheaper?

Geez, I don’t know, Toronto Sun, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and the Ford Brothers. Could we? Tell us all about how you would’ve done it while saving the taxpayers’ a bundle. neverhappyHow about just slapping up, I don’t know, an outhouse at the Cherry Beach sports field would’ve accomplished the same result.

It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong, who’s been a city councillor for nearly 20 years now, step up and start telling us, not what’s wrong, but how exactly he’d make it right. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong told us about the positive contributions he’s made to the life of this city, how he’s served to make the residents’ lives better. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong start justifying his continued public presence.

And if, in the end, all he can point to are numbers with dollar signs on a ledger sheet and refer to those he represents as ‘taxpayers’, I’ll suggest that’s not enough, not even close. As we have seen with a similarly small-minded, monstrously narrow-focussed, anti-government conservative in our current mayor, big cities need big pictures not just the itty-bitty ones that spark indignation fueled solely on fallacious resentment. texaschainsawmassacreNay-saying is an easy political platform to build. Unfortunately, it collapses under the weight of governance.

So yeah, if Councillor Minnan-Wong, the Fords and the Toronto Sun want to try and re-hash the 2010 campaign, pitting their self-proclaimed record of stinginess against the idea of productive city-building, let them. This time, however, demand they show the results of their actions. Demand a full accounting of the costs and benefits. Demand actual leadership and not just mindless, crowd-pleasing axe wielding.

daringly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch VI

July 16, 2014

I found myself in a part of the city where it’s best taking a GO Train to get to if you’re going there. notinkansasanymoreWhere the roads are wide and the parking lots full. Plenty of green space too. Oh my god! Is that the soon-to-be Rouge National Park?

WE’RE ALMOST IN PICKERING, PEOPLE!!

Tucked away in the further south-east region of the city is Ward 44 Scarborough East. Toronto’s often forgotten ward. Wait. We have 44 wards?

I’m there chatting with city council candidate Jennifer McKelvie on the afternoon of her official campaign launch. She’s been already out canvassing, fitting it in around her full time work schedule, and will continue to do so until throwing all in come September. So, I have to ask what made her decide to take the leap into politics.

She’s always figured there’d be a political run in her future. It took a question from her kids to set it in motion, one probably asked by hundreds, thousands of children (dare I say a billion) around the city of Toronto. Why can Mayor Ford do drugs and still have a job? Good question with no easy answer but, clearly, the time had come to step up and try to help bring a little decorum and G-rated business back to City Hall.running

Aside from good intentions, I asked Jennifer what specifically she wanted to deliver as a municipal representative. Housing was high up on her list. She was worried about affordability being in her children’s future. Would they be able to afford living in the neighbourhood if they chose to?

She expressed particular concern about seniors in Ward 44. Where would they go when they were no longer able to live on their own at home? This isn’t a theoretical exercise for this part of the city.

Ward 44 has a higher than city average of people living there in the 45-74 year-old age ranges and its single detached home ownership is more than double that of the city. Play that scenario out over the next decade and you’ve got yourself something of an exodus from the area if not dealt with fully. How? New development directed at various types of assisted living, I’d imagine.ward44

But here’s the thing.

New, more intense kind of development is not always embraced in Ward 44. Check out 3 of the 4 candidates in the 2010 council campaign (including the current incumbent but not yet registered for 2014, Ron Moeser). “It’s a single-family community and whatever we do, we have to make sure it fits the character of our community.” “I think we should aim for zoning that keeps it as residential as possible. I would resist condo developments in the ward.” “…it fits with the neighbourhood, it keeps in a theme of green and trees and all the things that are really important to this area.”

Even on Ms. McKelvie’s website, she states: “When I see kids on the street playing, couples strolling, and people running, I smile. This tranquil Ward 44 lifestyle, tucked inside a metropolitan city, is why I live here.” I ask her about that because, for me, this tranquil lifestyle ‘tucked inside a metropolitan city’ sets off alarm bells. It’s what I hear, this ‘character of our community’, just before people blast any sort of new development proposal.

McKelvie is protective of that view. Ward 44 isn’t downtown. But she gets that stand alone single use, single house, entirely car-dependent development is no longer sustainable, at least not at the cost we’re currently charging for it.

Many of the people she’s talked to so far during the campaign seem to get it too. They’re not demanding taxes be kept low. holdingthedoorshutThey want to see value for their money. An amorphous concept in many ways. When I look at, I see the tranquil lifestyle and think, well, hey, you get to live out here in your big lots and tree filled neighbourhoods, and isn’t that the lake I’m looking at right now? That’s pretty good value for your money.

But then Jennifer tells me about the flooded basements during last year’s storms, the damage done by the ice storm. And public transit options. Ward 44’s pretty good if you live near the GO Train and can afford to take it every day. But I hopped aboard the Lawrence East bus to come home and let me tell you…

Like much of Scarborough, Ward 44 is a bus dependent area of the city. Whether or not the LRT or subway gets extended out along the Bloor-Danforth line, the ward will remain bus dependent.

So it’s about improving service through frequency and reliability. Maybe an express line or two. Hell, I don’t know if the ridership numbers warrant it but Lawrence Avenue out in this part of Scarborough is plenty wide enough for its own dedicated bus lane. lawrenceeastbus(My opinion not the candidate’s, in case anyone asks.)

Of course, any sort of talk about BRTs or densification in Ward 44 runs smack dab into the wall of obdurate resistance that is its local councillor, Ron Moeser. Jennifer shrugged politely when I brought the incumbent’s name up. She winced slightly in reaction to my question about whether Councillor Moeser’s health should be an issue during the campaign if he chooses to run again. Felt a little bit like “mudslinging” to her.

I’m not so sure, frankly.

The fact is, the councillor was absent for a good chunk of the first 18 months of this term. Eighteen of some of the most tumultuous months this amalgamated city has seen. Even with his return, I wouldn’t consider him reliable or up to speed on the matters in front of him. movearockOn the day last week Jennifer and I were talking, Councillor Moeser went missing for a vote to determine the future of the current Ombudsman.

One way or the other, Ward 44 Scarborough East needs new representation, a new approach to governance, a new, reliable voice at City Hall. One of those now speaking up is Jennifer McKelvie. She deserves to be listened to.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

If nothing else, these past 4 years have taught us an abject lesson about the slow crawl of change in Toronto. slowchangeWhy can’t we have nice things? Because, well, change is scary and must be avoided at all costs.

First, there was Transit City. Three years in the planning and then, boom! Rob Ford’s first official day as mayor, he declares it dead. It is eventually wrestled back from his control but not in its initial shape or name and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a pricey and politically expedient Scarborough subway now attached.

Second, Waterfront TO and the Port Lands. This one underway since 2001, charged with revitalizing the rather sorry state of Toronto’s chunk of Lake Ontario. A slow but now noticeable process building public spaces and economic development. Too slow, however, and not noticeable enough (at least from their car seats, driving along the Gardiner) for the Ford Brothers and their ilk at city council. texaschainsawmassacreUnilaterally, Councillor Ford sought to take control of the situation with monorails, ferris wheels and shopping malls.

This foray, fingers crossed, was stymied without too much delay. But the attacks continue, I-don’t-even-know-where-Sugar Beach-is style. What’s with the pink umbrellas and Quebec rocks?

And remember that environmental assessment (EA) undertaken late in David Miller’s 2nd term to explore options on the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway – repair, rebuild or remove? No? Funny thing, that. After getting started, the report was quietly shelved in the fall of 2010 and the remaining money used for other ‘priority projects’. citybuildingThree years later, the EA was resuscitated and completed just this year. This one with significant delays and additional costs now attached.

Then, at last week’s council meeting, another addition to the do-we-have-to bin. After overwhelming approval just 2 months earlier, the Eglinton Connects plan came back to council for some additional authorization, this time to much less overwhelming-ness. Led by the mayor and one of his electoral challengers, the plans came under assault for being too driver unfriendly.

“City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” the mayor declared during the now semi-infamous shirtless protest. “This does not make sense. It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We can’t afford more gridlock than we already have. We can’t approve things that will bring this city to a standstill.”

Not to be outdone in his aversion to any new type of thinking when it comes to traffic planning, playingtothecrowdJohn Tory issued his own reactionary statement, although, to give him credit, he didn’t actually stop traffic to do it. “I have said all along that any proposal that will add to road congestion by reducing lanes of traffic is a non-starter in my books. EglintonConnects will do exactly that and will increase traffic by ten per cent on adjacent residential streets.”

We can’t change, we won’t change. As it was, so it shall always be. Anything else?

There’s most certainly some crass political pandering at work here. The War on the Car rhetoric was powerful last time around in 2010. Why not try going back to that well? Much fertile ground to plough there (not to mention plenty of metaphors to mix).

It taps into a strange and opposing dynamic in the electorate. We want change. We know we need change. We just don’t want anything to be different.eglintonconnects

So it seems no matter how much the public is consulted, how much input is offered up, in the end, any sort of significant change in pattern will arouse a noisy pushback. It might not represent significant numbers but it is loud, it is persistent, it is threatening. At least threatening enough to catch the attention of some of our local representatives.

But here’s my question.

Is it our elected officials’ sole job to listen to their constituents, and react only to the most vocal? Eglinton Connects did not suddenly emerge, out of the blue, dropping heavily onto everyone’s laps. By all accounts, it was a very public, open process. thanklessjobHere’s what we want to do? Any thoughts or ideas to improve it?

Just like in real life, sometimes councillors need to stand up to the bullies and loudmouths, marshal support for projects and ideas they believe in. This is a good plan. It will benefit the city, community, neighbourhood, street. Take a position, based on an informed decision, and sell it. Risk electoral retribution? Maybe. But that just comes with the territory, I guess.

Of course, that’s easier said from the outside when there’s no actual risk involved.

Even one of the more change-friendly city councillors, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has had to beat a tactical retreat on a plan in her ward. Friends of Chorley Park have succeeded in delaying the implementation of a new path through a portion of the south Rosedale ravine, better connecting it down through to the Brickworks, a major tourist draw, still most easily accessed by car. This, despite the fact, it has been in the works for two years, with plenty of resident notification and invitations for input.demagogue

Once it became a reality earlier this year, well, all hell broke loose. Petitions signed. Demands made. To the tune of roughly one million dollars in delays, according to Councillor Wong-Tam.

“My concern is that people are dug in so deep that they are not able to compromise on design,” she said, although she remains “…optimistic that we’re going to come up with something great. I’m optimistic that this is a community that’s going to come together and find a community-crafted resolution.”

The lesson from all this, I guess, is no matter how effective a city councillor may be, they can’t push progress forward on their own. They need support from their residents and the public at large. Get involved and get loud. You see something the city is doing that you like and want it to go forward, let everybody know. Beat the drum.

Unfortunately, it seems to be far easier to be against something rather than in favour of it. angrymobChange might result in something worse. It might be better! But it could be worse!

It’s a constant battle against human nature, fighting for change. The best place to start in engaging in that struggle is to help expose the politicians who exploit our risk aversion for their own gains. They aren’t looking out for the best interests of the city, its residents or the future. They’re beholden to only one thing and one thing only. Pure and utter self-interest.

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr


Time To Step Up

July 11, 2014

Of all the madcap weeks we’ve seen at City Hall since late-2010, this one just ending probably wouldn’t qualify as the madcappiest.madcap Maybe not even in the top 5. But if there’s a greatest hits compilation ever issued, this week would most definitely be included.

On Monday, two new city councillors were appointed. One of them, by week’s end, had voted against oversight and in favour of councillors being able to pocket money from lobbyists and others doing business with the city. A real keeper, Ward 5. You should definitely urge him to stay on.

On Tuesday, Mayor Ford’s ‘sobriety coach’ kicked a protester.

On Wednesday, the mayor remained seated during a standing ovation for the recently concluded World Pride event here in Toronto. Some serious questions were also raised about his time spent during the two month rehab stint.

On Thursday, weird machinations surrounding the renewal of the Ombudsmen’s contract swirled around council chambers. While rejecting the basic 5 year renewal term, an in camera motion was approved, the details of which we don’t yet fully know. madhatter1We are aware that at least 15 sitting councillors don’t like the current Ombudsman and many of them have failed to explain exactly why.

And what sort of zany week at City Hall would there be without a Doug Ford outburst?

Of course it would be very easy to shrug all the wackiness off onto the mayor and his unpredictable brother-councillor-campaign manager. Change that dynamic and order will be restored. Presto-magico!

If only.

Free of the mayor’s grip for over two years now, city council itself manufactured the Scarborough subway debacle, perhaps the biggest cock-up of the term. It continued to dance with the TPA and Porter Air over the island airport expansion and allowing jets on it. It’s muddled relationship with the city’s accountability officers remains confounding.

So, the idea of changing one member of council, even the titularly most powerful one, and creating a whole new positive, standingonthesidelinesconstructive dynamic amounts to little more than wishful thinking. Worse still. Hoping to achieve even that modest change by yelling over social media or staging PR protests alone amounts to nothing short of a dereliction of civic duty.

The theme we need to take away from this week is pure and simple: get active and really participate in producing the kind of city council you want to see in place.

(Full disclosure before going into full rant mode. I have been working on the Idil Burale campaign in Ward 1 Etobicoke North. This may seem very self-serving, and to some degree it is. But try to focus on the bigger picture. Pick a candidate and get involved.)

As of this writing, July 11th, with just over 100 days before the municipal election, there are 12 open, incumbent free wards. checklist(Wards 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 16, 20, 24, 30, 38, 39, 44.) While that number will drop as we get closer to the vote, this presents an opportunity to help instill new blood into council. The candidate slates in many of those wards are numerous, offering plenty of choice for people to join a team.

In 2010, 13 ward races were, very, very close, determined by mere percentage points and a few hundred votes. (Wards 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 25, 26, 27, 30, 36, 44.) In another 7, the winner got less than 50% of the popular vote. (Wards 7, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 29.) This suggests plenty of fertile ground for change.

Then there’s my very subjective, harder to define wards were the seeming untouchable incumbent needs to be seriously challenged because of their continued contribution to the undermining of good governance of this city. That list would include Ward 11, Councillor Frances Nunziata. Ward 34, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Ward 35, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti. Ward 42, Councillor Raymond Cho because he just doesn’t seem to want to be a City Hall any more.

Of course, alarm bells should be ringing because in 4 of the city’s 44 ward, incumbents are currently sitting unopposed. getcuriousWard 21, Councillor Joe Mihevc. Ward 22, Councillor Josh Matlow. Ward 25, Councillor Jaye Robinson. Ward 40, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.

Nobody, no one, not even the most glorious, munificent politician who’s able to spin gold from straw should be acclaimed into office. Certainly none of these four have track records that have earned unquestioned support. It’s an utter failure of the democratic process if any of them run unopposed. Acclimation is something that happens in small town reeve races not in the biggest, most complex and diverse city in the country.

Hopefully, that scenario will change before the September 12th registration deadline date. If you can’t even drum up enough engagement for a contested election race, it makes the argument for greater participation in the process a little more difficult. It’s hard to imagine anyone watching the last four years at City Hall and coming to the conclusion that they are entirely satisfied with their representation.

For the time being, at least, there are 40 other council races. Many of them will be highly competitive, the outcome in doubt right up until the very end. getinvolved1The difference will come down to who has the resources to get out the most number of voters to the ballot box. That means volunteers and donations.

You really, really want to have your say in the make-up of the next city council? Set aside a couple, few hours a week between now and October 27th to go knock on doors. Shy and don’t like meeting new people? Fair enough. Contribute some time, stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, entering data. More of the manual labour type? Come early October, volunteer your time and effort hammering in lawn signs.

If any and all that is too much, send some money in your chosen candidate’s direction. $5, $10, $20, the whole donation limit enchilada. Every bit helps. Every penny appreciated.

Our politicians can brush off much of the displeasure they’ve generated with their constituents when it’s expressed from a distance. getinvolved3They can log out of Facebook and Twitter or simply not return email and phone messages. It’s a little more difficult when they’re forced to come face-to-face with it.

Disapproval and discontent become impossible to ignore, however, when a credible threat to their office arises come election time. Such a threat is built purely on the back of a movement based on dedicated volunteers and engaged residents. There is no other way, no flash gimmick-y approach that can be pulled off from a distance. Boots on the ground and money in the bank. End stop.

Unless you are prepared to dedicate more than just a voice, to scream and holler and cast a vote in the fall, you cannot call yourself a truly engaged, civic-minded resident of Toronto. You cannot call for change, demand change and not also chip in and work for it. We are where we are with the city council we have because – and only because – too few people put in the effort to make a difference. There’s still time this time around to try and ensure a different outcome.

you

It all starts with the littlest of efforts. Pick a candidate. Make a call, drop them an email. Say you want to help out.

deploringly submitted by Cityslikr


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