Oh, It’s You Again

July 31, 2014

I’m happy I’m not over there in Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina and have to pick a new city councillor in October.

For a couple of reasons.pheew

One, my house is actually located in Ward 19. So I’d be voting illegally if I cast a ballot in Ward 20. Although, the consequences to breaking any sort of election law in this city seem to be negligible to none if current cases are anything to go by.

Secondly, I might actually feel a little, I don’t know, badly not voting for Joe Cressy for a second time in less than a year.

Don’t get me wrong. He seems like a nice enough guy with his heart in the right place. He says all the right things for all the right causes. joecressyI mean, I’ve never even been to Africa, let alone, worked with HIV and AIDS projects there.

Credentials?

Joe Cressy’s got the progressive credentials in spades, my friends.

But I’ll tell you something.

When he was running in June for the federal seat in Trinity-Spadina left vacant by Olivia Chow and her bid to become the next mayor of Toronto, and I was able to vote him, I didn’t because I had no clue why it was he wanted to be my M.P. I knew exactly why his opponent, and eventual winner, and the candidate I voted for, Adam Vaughan, wanted to go to Ottawa. Cressy? Frankly, between you and me? It felt like the next entry in his C.V. This is what someone of his pedigree does next.

Now, having been turned down for that job opening, his bid for a city council seat feels like a 2nd thought. cv1A fall back plan. Don’t worry, he assures us when he announces his municipal run, he won’t run federally again in next year’s scheduled general election. Not next year.

It’s still early yet in the municipal campaign, just under 3 months to go, so we may get a better sense of why Joe Cressy wants to a Toronto city councillor. Hopefully it’s something beyond building a progressive city platitudes. Right now it feels like Joe simply wants to be a professional politician.

Am I being too unfair?

It’s probably because it also feels like he’s bringing party baggage to the proceedings. I have grown to loathe the party mechanics at City Hall. Party mechanics? you say. There’s no party politics at the municipal level. What are you talking about? Party mechanics?

Well, there is. Just behind the curtain. Not quite out of sight but far enough away to provide plausible deniability.

Look. Some of my favourite city councillors are eye deep in party affiliations. partymachineI’d like to think it doesn’t cloud their judgement, add a little colour to the way they see things. But you constantly have to ask how complete, 100% independence is possible if you owe at least a little something to the party that helped get you into office.

It’s difficult at times to look at the current council make-up and not see some party standard bearers sitting as city councillors instead of, I don’t know, just really good city councillors.

And I remain convinced that party politics played an integral part in inflicting the Scarborough subway debacle on us. A not so subtle push from Queen’s Park in order to curry favour with Scarborough voters in both provincial by and general elections. An unexpected windfall from Ottawa to put some skin in the game, as they say, for their ‘side’. stinkeyeLoyalty to party before good, rational decision making.

So yeah. I cast a wary eye in the direction of Joe Cressy’s latest candidacy. With all the advantages that come with being a political company man, there’s one pointed, challenging question he needs to answer. Exactly who’s he running to serve? His constituents? His party? His career?

Not that he has to answer me. Like I said, I don’t live in the ward. I’m just an interested observer.

just sayingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch VIII

July 30, 2014

As the municipal campaign begins to gather a little mid-summer momentum of interest, there’s been an uptick in chatter about new faces, new voices challenging incumbents in various city council races. brandnewNOW’s Ben Spurr wrote an article last week, Progressives in the heart of Ford Nation, featuring a group of candidates running up in the city’s northwestern corner. “A group of young, bright candidates are tackling far right politics and voter disaffection in Toronto’s northwest”, he writes.

This is a most encouraging and welcome development. But let me just add that new doesn’t necessarily have to mean young. A challenge to the status quo only needs to be done in spirit and intention. Age has absolutely nothing to do with it.

So it is with Mary Hynes as she has stepped forward to take on the entrenchiest of entrenched incumbents, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, in Ward 34 Don Valley East.

For anyone who’s followed along Toronto politics over the last 4 years, you might recognize Mary as ‘Yelly Granny’ as she was pejoratively dubbed after she gave a blazing deputation at the Executive Committee during the Summer of the Cuts in 2011. Although intended, I think, affectionately, it diminished her impact, enabling those in the mayor’s camp to view her as nothing more than one of the ‘usual suspects’, as I think Giorgio Mammoliti took to saying.

It was unfortunate for another reason as it also undercut what has been a lifetime committed to social justice. An elementary school teacher in Scarborough for twenty-five years, she has also worked on and with a whole lot of community causes. Aside from the ones that pop up regularly at City Hall — Social Planning Toronto, Toronto Environmental Alliance, TTC Riders – Mary’s also a busy part of the Ontario Health Coalition, Older Women’s Network and Fairview Food Security Council.

While no stranger to political campaigns, having run previously at both the provincial and federal levels as well as in a 2012 school board by-election, ward34I wondered what compelled her into this race at this time. It’s all about taking ownership of our communities, Mary tells me. “People don’t know what’s possible.”

At the doors, she’s hearing that, after the condition of the roads which to a car dependent area of the city like Ward 34 is, is a very important local issue, residents tell her there’s a definite lack of communication from their city councillor. As we’re discovering on our travels throughout the suburban areas of Toronto, people don’t really expect municipal politicians to come knocking on their doors. Residence associations, when there are residence associations, tend to focus on keeping property taxes low. There’s not a whole lot of community building going on the part of the city councillor.

So Mary sees big chunks of public space, green public space, going unused. There’s very little sense of connection between neighbourhoods in the ward unless you’re driving. yorkmillsWhile the bus service is adequate, this is not a part of the city easily traversed on foot or by bike.

None of which should come as much of a surprise since this part of the city has been represented at City Hall by Denzil Minnan-Wong for a long time now. He is the stodgy, reactionary, get off my lawn candidate in this race. Regular readers of this blog know the level of contempt I have for the man. He is easily in the top 5 on the worst councillors list, a truly destructive, malignant force at City Hall. davidandgoliathThe skies would be a whole lot bluer, the air much, much sweeter if he was shown the door in October.

Still, this is very much a David versus Goliath battle. At a political level where name recognition means a lot, the current Ward 34 incumbent has a lot of it. As chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, he hogs an awful lot of the spotlight, out grandstanding against almost all sorts of public building and spending outside of roads and bike lanes on roads he doesn’t want to drive on. You might not know why you know his name. You might not even like why you know his name. But you know his name nevertheless.

The one bright spot I’ll take from that, however, is over the past few elections, the councillor’s share of the popular vote has declined noticeably. From nearly 71% in 2003 to just under 54% last time out, it’s a trajectory that might suggest the more Ward 34 residents get to know their councillor, the less they like him. bornoldI know that’s certainly true for me.

Mary Hynes offers up a positive alternative for voters in Ward 34. She is running for city council to build something, to foster a sense of community for every resident not just a select few. She wants to be a councillor who listens first and talks second which is diametrically opposed to the sort of representation the ward has had for nearly 20 years now.

Don’t let the looks fool you. Mary Hynes very much represents the new guard of candidates looking to transform the dynamics at City Hall.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Leadership Starts From The Ground Up

July 25, 2014

4 out of 4 transit experts agree. Toronto needs to start building the [fill in your preferred first name here] Relief Line now yesterday! expertsagreeWhile we can, should talk about other transit modes i.e. GO electrification, the only one that is going to take pressure off our already too tightly squeezed subway system is another subway line moving people to and from the downtown core, “… the fastest growing part of the entire GTA.”

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about a relief line for 30 years now. The necessity for it has been known for that long. It’s not new or news.

The problem is, it will be a messy, disruptive, expensive undertaking. Building a “new subway through the core — underground and with truly urban station frequency” can’t be anything but. subwayconstructionEven if crews started digging today, many of us wouldn’t be around to see the fruits of the labour and money. And, of course, it will be a project assailed on all fronts by parochial interests, convinced that downtowners, once more, are getting more than their fair share of public money and attention.

Despite all that, a Relief Line remains, in the words of our subway loving mayor, a Need to Have rather than a Nice to Have. Unlike say, the Scarborough subway extension?

A couple weeks ago in CityLab, this article headline appeared: “NYC Can’t Afford to Build the Second Avenue Subway, and It Can’t Afford Not To”. Read through the article and replace 2nd Avenue subway with DRL and Toronto and New York are pretty much having the same conversation right except for the fact, New York has at least started building their vital subway.

And yet, the Second Avenue line DRL has become a beacon for New York Toronto’s future and a symbol of the numerous challenges facing a global city that must, in light of massive costs and slow build-outs, expand its transit network to stay competitive. Ask anyone who has to ride the 4, 5, or 6 trains into Manhattan south of 60th Street Yonge Street line during a morning rush hour, and the need for a Second Avenue line DRL becomes clear. These trains aren’t just crowded, they’re packed to the gills. Very often, riders standing on a subway platform…have to let multiple trains go by before they can squeeze on board.

Even the cowering reaction by New York politicians to the enormity of building a needed subway has familiar echoes of leaders here in Toronto and at Queen’s Park.

As a knee-jerk reaction to the issues, leaders have begun to think small. They propose ferries, with ridership that tops a few hundred per day, as opposed to a few hundred thousand per day for a full-length Second Avenue subway. They urge bus rapid transit as a lower-cost option, without discussing how lower costs inevitably lead to lower capacity. Only subway lines can sustain New York’s projected growth, but New York can’t sustain multi-billion-dollar subway lines.

Ringing any bells? Ferries? Where did I hear about ferries recently?

“Thinking big — building more than 750 miles of track in five boroughs,” the CityLab article concludes, 2ndavenuesubway“made this city great, and to keep it great, New Yorkers will have to remember how to think big.”

And in Toronto’s case, ‘thinking big’ doesn’t just mean big projects like a subway. It means planning beyond simply local asks or demands, and looking at the proverbial bigger picture. The city in its entirety. The GTA region as a whole.

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much of that from our elected officials. The non-political make-up of the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, has been hijacked for political purposes by the Liberal government. The only major mayoral candidate really talking serious nuts-and-bolts about transit so far in this campaign is David Soknacki, and he remains stuck in single digit numbers of voter preference.fullfinchbus

So we remain crammed onto subway and streetcars, buses and on the roads while the best possible solutions are picked clean to the bones by opportunistic and do-nothing politicians, driven by their own agendas and the tax-and-spend aversion that has gripped residents.

The end result is not at all surprising.

Allow me a metaphor to point how this all winds up, if indeed it is a metaphor. I’ll have to confirm it with Doug Ford and get back to you.

“Faulty towers: The hidden dangers of low condo maintenance fees” is the headline for a Globe and Mail real estate article back from 2011.

The lack of interest [in a condo unit up for sale] has nothing to do with market conditions, and everything to do with a 30-year history of indifference by the residents who were content to keep condo fees low at the expense of necessary maintenance.

Hmmm. Do go on, Mr. Ladurantaye.

“This is a coming crisis that nobody is talking about”, said Chris Jaglowitz, a lawyer who specializes in condo law for Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP and a member of the Condominium Managers of Ontario. “You have all of these older buildings, and someone needs to pay for long-neglected repairs. And many people won’t be able to cover their share.”

That’s because condo buildings are owned collectively by the residents, and all repair bills are shared equally. Condo boards are able to levy special assessments in addition to condo fees to pay for projects. But the boards are made up of residents, who are sometimes motivated to keep fees low. And they serve short terms, which means long-term planning is often difficult.

Not just condos, is my point here.

thinkbigInfrastructure, transit, the city as a whole, all left in a serious state of disrepair and neglect because we residents, to paraphrase the article, have been content to keep our taxes low at the expense of necessary maintenance and needed expansion to keep up with the continued growth of the population. We’ve come to expect easy (and cheap) solutions to complex (and expensive) problems, succeeding only in making the solutions more complex, more expensive.

But hey. Not on us. Not on our dime.

That’s how you get an infrastructure deficit. That’s how, years, decades later, we find ourselves precipitously and willfully under-served by even the most basic of the necessary amenities. Housing, roads, public transit, all inadequate in dealing with the ever increasing numbers of people choosing to live here.headinsand

That’s the legacy we’ve already passed on to our kids with little expectation it won’t be even worse for our grandchildren. Unless we choose to step up right now and say, enough is enough. It’s time to start accepting a little responsibility and stop clutching our pocket books and narrow self-interest and leaving future generations to make even tougher decisions.

buck stoppingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch VII

July 24, 2014

Normally when I set out to write up something on a city councillor candidate, I like to go and meet them on their home turf, observeget the lay of the land, feel the ground beneath my feet. Observe the species in their own habitat. I’m hands on, if nothing else.

But when it came to writing about Ward 7 York West, I was a little uneasy, if the truth be told. After hearing incessantly for the past 4 years from the long serving incumbent how Ward 7 never gets anything except for the short end of the municipal stick, all I could imagine was this barren wasteland with a mythical tall, tall flag pole and the regular u-turning of transport trucks. Surely only the forlorn and demented would call such a place home. I mean, where’s a guy going to get a latte while up there?

But I was convinced by candidate Keegan Henry-Mathieu to face my fears and head up Jane Street with him on a crowded, rush hour bus run. Squeezed on right from the outset and never really emptying out for the entire ride, we chatted about the campaign. From under one nearby armpit and over another backpack, I asked if transit was an issue for residents in Ward 7.

Spoiler alert: it is.

While we have these high concept transit debates – subways versus LRTs – crowdedbusToronto residents find themselves packed on buses and streetcars, oftentimes with unreliable service and long wait times. This is particularly true in the bus-dependent suburbs of Toronto. Ward 7 will wait a 100 years for subway! declared its local representative, a stranger, I’m assuming, to using public transit to get around the city.

“You think you just got unlucky, getting onto a crowded bus,” Keegan tells me. “But the next one’s exactly the same. And the one after that.” And don’t get him started about waiting for a bus out here in the winter.

In what is becoming a trend for me as I talk to candidates in the suburban areas of the city, they face an uphill battle in engaging residents they meet in their wards. After years, decades, generations of largely being ignored by the people they send to City Hall, ward7it’s difficult convincing them that it can be different, that change can happen. Civic engagement can’t just be flicked on.

So candidates like Mr. Henry-Mathieu knock on the doors of residents who don’t tend to have their doors knocked on by politicians seeking office. People whose connection to the city government is tenuous at best. Those who are usually not part of the wider political discussion.

He tells me he sees it most in the apartment buildings he canvasses, many of them in states of ill-repair, trash tucked away up in the ceilings in some. And property management MIA can be traced back straight to an MIA councillor. Vote for you? Why? What have you ever done for me?

For many residents in many wards of this city, it is a valid question.

After hopping off the bus long north of the 401, officially into Ward 7, Keegan and I continue to walk up Jane Street. janeapartment(Turns out I’m not the first one he’s taken out for a neighbourhood stroll.) There are the usual strip malls and gas stations you would expect to find in these parts. But he points out all the largely unused green space on either side of the street, most of it surrounding apartment buildings.

With even the slightest bit of imagination and initiative, install some benches, tables, bbqs, you could create a real sense of community. Instead, what you have is a whole bunch of fenced in, unused space.

Don’t even get him started on slightly more ambitious ideas. Perfect spots for local farmers markets to bring healthy food into the neighbourhood. What about food trucks? Eye-balling it, I’d say there are plenty of areas 50 metres from the nearest fast food outlet. Why not bring some choice to a part of the city that lacks much of it?

Why not bring all sorts of fresh thinking to a part of the city that’s been lacking it for years now?

Henry-Mathieu is no stranger to talking and pushing policy ideas. timeforchangeHe was part of the Toronto Youth Cabinet at City Hall for the better part of a decade before resigning recently to pursue a council seat. While certainly a natural progression, it stems also from a little bit of frustration.

His activism as a Youth Cabinet member helped deliver incremental change. He now wants to try and push harder, make bigger advances. Starting with improving opportunities for those living in Ward 7.

By all rights, this should be an open ward and a more level playing field for Keegan to take a run at. The sitting councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, has spent much of this past term fending off, let’s just call them, greasy allegations. The latest, a damning report from the city’s Integrity Commissioner, accuses Mammoliti of pocketing some $80,000 from an illegal fundraiser attended by developers and other business types doing business with the city. shirtlessmammolitiAnd that’s just a ‘for example’.

In an ideal world, Giorgio Mammoliti would’ve been barred from seeking office again.

But this being Toronto city council, things don’t work out quite like that. Instead, he’s allowed to run for re-election, backed by questionable money and having delivered nothing of substance for his ward during his nearly 25 years in office, as M.P.P, North York and Toronto city councillor. Over the course of the last 4 years, he’s been nothing but a disruptive and destructive force, doing little more than establishing a name and reputation for himself.

If residents of Ward 7 are disengaged with local politics, it is almost exclusively to do with the fact that their elected representative at City Hall doesn’t care. It works to his advantage. Voter apathy is the key to a bad politician’s success.

Keegan Henry-Mathieu represents everything the man he’s trying to oust doesn’t. Optimism. Enthusiasm. Inclusion. commissoA belief in positive change through both little and big steps. An expectation that things can be better through collective action.

The guy even found me a more than serviceable latte at a place called Commisso’s, located on a side street, in between two tire stores.

There’s no telling what he could do if voters in Ward 7 give him a shot at representing them at City Hall.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


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


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