All So Depressingly Familiar

June 2, 2014

Sadly, none of it comes as much of a surprise. For anyone following along with the disaster of a transit debate since about 2010, screaminginfrustrationsince the then newly elected mayor of Toronto declared Transit City dead, little of John Lorinc’s Spacing series seems at all revelatory or shockingly improbable. But seeing more of the gory details, right there in black and white bytes, makes for some seriously disheartening and infuriating reading.

The sheer arrogance of the principals involved in the Scarborough subway/LRT debate is nothing short of monstrous. From Premier Kathleen Wynne, her Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Glen Murrary, to councillors Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker, all seemed to operate under the presumption that their own personal political survival or advancement trumped good transit planning. Expert advice was ignored or buried. Numbers, in terms of projected costs and ridership, were massaged. shellgameSound arguments and reasoned decision making replaced by stoking the fires of regional resentment.

“It will be over my dead body that Scarborough goes wanting for high speed, rapid transit,” Glen Murray said last summer. Subways, folks. People want subways, subways, subways.

While transit activists and government appointed commissions did their upmost to promote a rational discussion about transit building in this city, elected officials at both Queen’s Park and at Toronto City Hall undercut all that work and goodwill by quietly scheming behind the scenes to push a Scarborough subway plan that made absolutely no sense except for trying to ensure some electoral advantage. friendlyfireIt’s one thing to fight a fight against a known enemy. It’s an entirely different matter when you’re knee-capped from behind by supposedly friendly-fire.

This is the root of political apathy. When good governance is sacrificed at the altar of electoral expediency. It’s not leadership. It’s not public service. It’s the very reason so many people are fed up with politics.

Perhaps what’s most appalling about this entire clusterfuck is how those many of us hoped would stand opposed to the popular fiction that arose around this post-Transit City debate — that the only worthwhile form of transit to build is the underground kind of transit which is nothing more than a car driver’s fantasy – not only cowered in the face of it but did their best to help propagate it. For a by-election seat here, a mayoral run there, in reaction to robo-calls from a spent political force, a city’s desperate and long overdue need for an infusion of public transit has been jeopardized. whackamoleBecause if Scarborough deserves a subway, what about residents along Finch Avenue West or Sheppard Avenue East? Why should they suffer under the ignominy of 2nd-class transit?

Once you pull that thread, you wind up now having to contend with the likes of the Sheppard Subway Action Coalition (h/t CodeRedTO), another campaign spreading false and misleading information about transit choices many of us had thought already decided on. It’s policy whack-a-mole. A game played not just by hack politicians like Rob Ford but every politician prioritizing their career over judicious, fact-based governance.

Back in 2009, the provincial government restructured the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, fictionalicejpgbooting elected officials from the board in order to rid regional transit planning of any whiff of politics. It was a laudable goal in intention made laughable in implementation. Over the past 4 years, transit planning in Toronto has been about nothing but politics. Bad, craven, self-serving politics, at that.

If that old maxim is true, that we get the politicians we deserve, unfortunately what seems to follow, is we also get the transit we deserve. Remember that, the next time you’re waiting for what seems like forever for the next bus or crammed tightly into that subway car. There’s nobody else to blame for that than ourselves.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


Unreliable Narration

April 29, 2014

Bear with me as I venture momentarily into unfamiliar territory here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, baronmunchausenthat of literary theory.

The unreliable narrator is a device used by authors to undercut the legitimacy of the usual authoritative voice of the teller of the tale. Is what we’re being told actually true? If not, why not? It adds a degree of mystery, leaving readers or an audience uncertain about the veracity of the story they’re being given.

Reading through yesterday’s city staff briefing note, 2007 — 2014 Budget Reductions and Other Budget Balancing Strategies, it struck me that for the past 4 years or so we’ve been following along with a story told to us by an unreliable narrator, many unreliable narrators, in fact. The conclusions drawn by the city manager and CFO draw a starkly different picture of the fiscal stewardship of this city than the one that’s been painted for us over the past 4 years. Everything we’ve been told to believe since 2010? Not so much. It’s a little more nuanced than all that.

Let’s go back to the outside workers’ strike in 2009 because I think that’s where much of this story started. throwingmoneyaroundAt its conclusion, the general consensus was that the then mayor, David Miller, had caved in to his union brethren. Handed over the keys to the city vault, out of control spending, disrespecting the taxpayers, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

Our fiscal foundation was crumbling, Rob Ford would then claim, having taken control of the narrative during his successful mayoral run. We needed to tighten our collective belts. What this city had was a spending problem not a revenue problem.

Now, we know why he spun the tale this way without any regard to facts or the truth. It was politically advantageous for him to do so. But I also think he actually believed it. If we’ve learned nothing else from the past 4 years it should be that Rob Ford doesn’t understand how government works. He inherently hates government. He sees it as nothing but a burden, an imposition on our lives. fairytale1Somehow his math works out to less of government=more for us.

According to William Riggan (summarised by Wikipedia for me), Rob Ford had a bit of all 5 of the unreliable narrator traits to him. The Picaro, or the braggart. The Madman, pretty self-explanatory. The Clown, see The Madmen. The Naif, a limited or immature point of view or perspective. The Liar, see The Clown.

Why so many of us took him seriously enough to elect him mayor is equally as apparent. Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale? Yes, the city faced problems and challenges, we were told, but none of them were our fault. Fixing them would be easy and we wouldn’t feel a thing. A happy ending all round!

Here’s what we know now, four years on.

Yes, the Miller administration taxed us at a higher rate than the Ford administration.  areyousure1It dinged us with other revenue streams like the Land Transfer and Vehicle Registration taxes. It collected more from us in user fees including bigger hikes in transit fares.

But the thing is, in terms of an overall budget, spending has increased under Rob Ford. During his time in office, city council has curbed the rate spending increased but not the total amount. The same can be said about property taxes. They may not have gone up at the same percent as they did under David Miller but we still, on average, are paying higher property taxes now than we were in 2010.

Part of the reason for that is that the Ford administration cut and froze other sources of revenues like the VRT. fordnationIf you’re not cutting spending but are reducing revenue, how do you make up the difference? Cut services you’re providing. Have you taken a bus or subway over the last 4 years? You know what I’m talking about.

City council in Rob Ford’s first term as mayor has spent more than it did in the previous term and delivered less. That’s how it patched budgetary holes. That is his legacy.

The real kicker – no, wait. First, the penultimate kicker. According to this briefing note, David Miller, he who caved into the unions back in 2009, saved more money for the city in his 2nd term as mayor through collective bargaining agreements than Rob Ford has during his time in office. I know, right? How is that even possible? Weren’t we told Miller opened the vault and just started tossing around money? fingerscrossedIsn’t taming the union demands an important cornerstone of Rob Ford’s re-election campaign? Now we’re hearing that Miller the Profligate saved the city more money from union deals than Rob Ford?

Which takes us back to the real kicker.

In terms of closing the operating budget gap, from the opening pressure to the final balance, the Miller administration found more “savings” in its last term than the Ford administration did, to the tune of some $432 million over four years. Now, here’s where this gets even trickier and murkier. Using a budget’s opening pressure as the benchmark isn’t exactly what you might call, reliable. Much of it is based on educated calculations and estimates. Both David Miller and Rob Ford used looming opening pressures as political scare tacticsemptypromise (although it is interesting to note the difference in motives. Miller threatened services in order to get revenue increases to pay for those services while Ford threatened higher tax increases in order to cut services to maintain lower taxes.)

Out of all this shaky narrative, however, a couple salient facts need to be noted.

The David Miller administration wasn’t the fiscal laggard popular political fiction made it out to be. It instituted a long term economic strategy that included a broader base of revenue and increased involvement by other levels government. A strategy that helped Rob Ford initially deliver his campaign guarantee of low taxes and no service cuts.

The Rob Ford administration wasn’t the sound fiscal steward it’s claimed to be. While rejecting one time funding sources like the previous year’s surplus and maintaining revenue streams at the rate of inflation, it relied heavily on a regular reduction of services to balance the operating budget. stoppullingmylegIt’s sustainable only as long as residents are willing to put up with getting less and less from City Hall.

It’s that fact that’s made so much of the political story in Toronto so unreliable. Unreliably told by those seeking office on a platform that would be unpalatable to most voters, and believed by those not willing to accept the basic truth of the matter. If you want a great city, David Miller once said, you have to pay for it.

truthfully submitted by Cityslikr


In Your Own Backyard

April 5, 2014

Is anybody else at all weirded out about the fact Toronto’s incumbent mayor is holding his first big re-election fundraiser beyond this city’s limits? suspicious2Or that, back in 2010, more than one-third of his campaign donations came from non-Toronto residents? I don’t know. Maybe it’s standard operating procedure.

In some ways, it makes sense.

As goes Toronto, so goes the region, I’ve heard it said. There’s a wider vested interest in how the city fares, out past the 416 and into 905. Lots of people who don’t call it home have a business, do business, go about their business here in Toronto. It’s only fair that they’re allowed some kind of say as to whom we elect to run things.

I guess.

Maybe I wouldn’t find it so disturbing if this support wasn’t lavished upon such an anti-urban candidate. It comes across as if he’s doing the bidding of the largely suburban area that encircles the city. Reflecting the pre-amalgamated Toronto mindset of many living in both the GTA’s inner and outer suburbs, the Toronto mayor has more in common with the municipalities of Halton, Peel, York and Durham than he does with the one he was elected to represent. surroundedHe’s one of them. An enemy in our midst.

That comes across sounding a little paranoid, doesn’t it. I’ve fallen into that us-versus-them mentality. It could just as well be a case of, I don’t know, going with a winner although, at this point of time, it’s hard to figure out who would shell out $300 a plate in support of Mayor Ford. How is more of the same for another 4 years going to help anyone, anywhere around these parts?

So, I guess it simply comes down to political stripe. A conservative is a conservative is a conservative, good or bad, crack smoking, known to police or not. Their guy is better than the other guy, regardless.

Ultimately I think the thing that bugs me most about this is that it seems anyone residing outside of Toronto can donate to a candidate here and receive the city issued rebate that comes with it. rebateSomething just doesn’t sit right about that. I’m not sure why any city would want to encourage candidate donations from outside its boundaries. You’re just giving money away that, in all likelihood, will be spent outside of the local economy.

My inclination would be to restrict campaign donations to only eligible voters. It just seems clear and easy. But that’s probably too restrictive or exclusive. So how about only residents and those owning a business in the city qualify to donate to municipal candidates? That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

But maybe if you really think it’s important and democratic to be able to donate to the candidate of your choice no matter where they are, donate away. Just don’t expect to be reimbursed or subsidized for it. I already suspect your motives. I certainly don’t want to enable them.

suspicous1

suspiciously submitted by Cityslikr


Ooops! We Did It Again

March 31, 2014

Our bad.ooopsdiditagain

After months and months and months, maybe even a year or so, of harping on about ignoring the mayor’s office as anything to do with the actual governance of this city — Boom! – there we were, right back at it. A full slate of “major” candidates now established, a couple of debates this past week under our belts, and it’s like March 2014 us doesn’t even recognize March 2013 us. It’s now all about the mayor’s race. How did candidate X respond to the accusations made about them by candidate Y? Why is what candidate Z saying now so radically different from what they said 3 months ago?

Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie, am I right?

Don’t get me wrong. The race for mayor is important. Much of how it plays out over the next 7 months will be an indication of where voters are sitting on bigger picture matters. It’ll serve as a civic temperature gauge. Is it still red hot with anger and resentment like it was back in 2010 or has the outlook cooled some, less volatile, making us more open to a larger discussion?

Following the mayoral campaigns is easy, pretty straight forward. It’s focused. distracted1Coloured coded to help all those of us playing along at home.

But as the likes of Jude MacDonald and Paisley Rae patiently continue to point out, that’s not where the big change is ripe for the picking. If we have learned nothing else from the ongoing saga of Rob Ford, the one take away should be, the office of the mayor can be reduced to little more than a figurehead. Without the will of 22 councillors, the mayor is impotent. Sure, the mayor remains capable of stealing the spotlight, having their views echoed by those paid to cover them. That’s it. Any other influence on the actual running of the city is minimal unless they are leading a team consisting of at least half of the 44 councillors.

In many ways, who will be elected mayor of Toronto in October is now largely out of our hands. All the frontrunners, from which we will almost assuredly be choosing one of come election day, have their teams in place, their organizational structure is up and running. Many resources have fallen into place in order to ultimately secure one vote of forty-five in the next term of city council. eyesontheprizeAn important vote to be sure, one that will be given a head-start to influence the debate and set an agenda. But one vote just the same.

It could be argued that your time and effort would be better spent ensuring that your local voice on council best reflects your views and opinions, your civic values. When it comes down to the votes at city council at every meeting, your councillor’s counts equally with the mayor’s. After all the horse-trading and jockeying that goes on leading up to any vote, your councillor is just as likely to influence the outcome as the mayor is.

You put an x on the ballot for mayor to choose a direction you want to see the city go in. You make your choice for city councillor to see that direction is actually implemented. The first vote is a gesture. The second, a directive.

This goes beyond any sort of partisanship.

If you endorse the direction Mayor Ford wants to take the city, with a continued emphasis on low taxes and small government, make sure you have a councillor that’s fighting in that direction. changetacticsOtherwise, they’re working at cross purposes, one vote pretty much cancelling out the other. The flipside of that is your councillor can serve as a bulwark if a mayor starts galloping off on a course you’re not happy with.

Ultimately, you elect a councillor to serve your interests not the interests of the mayor.

The thing about ward level campaigns is that even the slightest change can alter the result. Thirteen of the council races in 2010, nearly a quarter of them, were determined by just a few hundred votes. Twenty councillors were sent to City Hall with less than half their ward’s popular vote.

A slight uptick in turnout or switch in voter preference might’ve meant a different outcome. Residents in one building or on one block coming out to vote or changing who they voted for could well have tipped the balance at City Hall in another direction. Municipal elections are as close to direct democracy as we have right now. It’s a pity we tend to squander the opportunity through disinterest and disengagement.

Even Mayor Ford recognizes the importance of council’s make-up. He’s predicting big changes come October, a sweeping out of councillors not part of his Ford Nation. workingtogetherWhile his motives are entirely self-interested and woefully misguided – he had control of city council throughout the first year of his term; he squandered it through misrule and an errant belief that holding such sway came with the territory, was bestowed not earned – he knows of which he speaks. It would be unfortunate and unwise of us to disregard his words.

Changing the mayor (or re-electing the one we have currently) is only a part of what we should be looking to do in 2014, and a small part at that. If what you really want to do is transform the dynamic or the culture of behaviour at City Hall, it can be done one councillor, one ward at a time. Get involved with a local race. Start here at Dammit Janet!, with a primer of what your councillor’s been up to for the past 3+ years. getinvolved1Then, pick up the phone or click on the volunteer button to find out how you can pitch in and help elect the representative who you believe will best act for, speak for, stand for the things that are most important to you.

A few hours here and there of your time over the next 7 months might just ensure the city runs more smoothly, and moves ahead more enthusiastically with things that need to be done over the course of the next 4 years.

voluntarily submitted by Cityslikr


A New Generation Of Suburban Resentment

March 25, 2014

How would you best sum up Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest) first term in office? is a question nobody’s asked me until now.surprisedbythequestion

Hmmm. Councillor Berardinetti, huh? Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest, eh?

Elephants, bike lane hatred and other terribly misguided public transit views.

Yeah. That about sums it up.

As to the elephants, I can’t offer up much in the way of analysis. Something about moving them from an unhealthy environment at the Toronto Zoo to a nicer place more conducive to the elephant lifestyle. How best to do that. Bob Barker. Different coloured t-shirts in the council chamber.

I remember Councillor Berardinetti being all up in that debate. No judgement from me about it. Wasn’t high on my list of things to be concerned about. bobbarkerKudos to the councillor for making it one of hers.

While she seemed to love the elephants, Councillor Berardinetti had little time for bike lanes. During the 2010 campaign, she claimed that some residents living along Pharmacy Avenue had moved because they could not “get out of their own driveway”, and within a year of taking over as councillor in Ward 35 had the damn bike lanes torn up along with those on Jarvis Street. In fact, run through this list of council votes from July 2011. Councillor Berardinetti pretty much came out against every pro-biking measure.

We get it, councillor. You represent a suburban ward. Everybody likes to drive there. Bikes have no place in your vision of how a city moves people around.

Or LRTs, for that matter.

Between she and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre), they played point for the 7 other Scarborough councillors who eventually helped then TTC Chair Karen Stintz flip the planned Bloor-Danforth LRT extension to a subway. crybabiesNot so much good cop-bad cop, the two traded off on being perpetually outraged and indignant. World class transit! Scarborough is owed! Selfish downtowners!

“You can’t go to residents with revenue tools and not even deliver a subway,” Councillor Berardinetti pronounced. Subways are the only mode of transit worth paying for. Nothing for nothing. Something for subways.

Yeah so, pretty much stamp their feet, whine loudly and hold their collective breath until they got their way.

To give her full marks, at least Councillor Berardinetti had been consistent in her opinion that Scarborough deserved a subway, any subway. She went along with Mayor Ford when he sought to bury the Eglinton crosstown and agreed that his Sheppard subway folly didn’t need any of the Dr. Gordon Chong suggested revenue tools to proceed. The councillor was an early and eager adopter of the Scarborough LRT/subway swap, even voting for an additional property tax increase to fund it, waitingforasubwayan inclination she didn’t show a lot of on almost any other issue so far during her time at City Hall.

Throughout much of this term, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti has proven herself comfortably in line with Mayor Rob Ford, especially on fiscal matters. She’s voted to keep taxes low, freezing and eliminating important sources of revenue. Just this year, as a member of the Budget Committee, she pushed a motion to ignore the staff recommended property tax increase, lowering it by .25% and making up the difference with any surpluses from the projected Land Transfer Tax revenue. Credit where credit’s due, the councillor didn’t then turn around and vote in favour of a report looking at any possible reduction in the LTT rate.

She pretty much reflects the arc of the city council story during the Ford era. As an original member of his powerful Executive Committee, Councillor Berardinetti enabled all his destructive instincts early on. But as he pissed away his power to influence the agenda, she slowly changed course, jumping from the Executive Committee during the mid-term shuffle. berardinettifordShe had also left the Budget Committee for a while from March 2012 until January of the following year. A trendsetter, let’s call her. Totally comfortable with his policies but unhappy with his politicking.

Maybe this might play well for her constituents.

In 2010, she handily beat incumbent Adrian Heaps, concluding a bitter struggle that had gone back to the 2006 election that resulted in lawsuits and all sorts of legal wrangling. Ward 35 went strongly pro-Rob Ford in that election, so maybe she’s tapped into a certain ambivalence toward the mayor amongst her residence, loving the message, just not the messenger. If that’s the case, she may be hard to unseat.

But if anybody were to run against her based on her record, take her to task for her habit of underfunding the city’s ability to pay for programs and services, call her out on her subway love taking priority over common fiscal (not to mention transit) sense, Councillor Berardinetti would have a lot to answer for. She’s been very much at the epicentre of a couple of the city’s most divisive debates over the last three years, nutcrackerand has not provided a particularly cooperative voice, opting instead for the us-versus-them, suburban-versus-downtown tone of anger and resentment that has plagued Toronto since amalgamation. Having been put into a couple positions of leadership as a first time councillor, with an opportunity to change that tone, she failed to provide much leadership at all.

It’s hard to imagine she’ll grow into the role going forward, having adopted the familiar position of Scarborough councillor with a chip on their shoulder that seems to be the commonplace feature with many. Why change? It’s an approach that’s been working since long before Councillor Berardinetti came to Toronto City Hall.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


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