Celebrity Mayor

April 14, 2014

Is it possible Rob Ford has always been a celebrity candidate? Even back in 2010 when he was a little known councillor from Etobicoke deciding to take a run at the mayor’s office, celebritybobblehead2it was all about his personality, that everyman in an ill-fitting suit, looking out for the little guy. He wasn’t a politician. He was a brand.

Everywhere he goes, Rob Ford is treated like a rock star, at least according to his councillor-brother-campaign manager, Doug. Wherever he goes everybody wants to get their picture taken with the mayor. Look, guys! It’s me and the mayor! The mayor who’s been on a late night talk show! The mayor who’s admitted to smoking crack!

It’s not necessarily a recent phenomenon, in the wake of his increased notoriety over the last 18 months or so. People always seemed to want to get their pictures taken with him. At the first Ford Fest after he was elected mayor, there was a steady stream of attendees waiting to pose with Mayor Ford. He has always been a larger-than-life figure. His politics ride shotgun with his persona.

So the direction his re-election campaign is taking cannot come as much of surprise to those who’ve been following along for the last 4 years. It is a full on embrace of his celebrity status. Anyone – and they mean anyone – abelincolnbobbleheadswith any sort of name recognition, good or bad, is welcomed aboard Team Ford. Ben Johnson. That guy from the Trailer Park Boys. No, not that one. Not that guy either. The one in that episode where—Does it matter? The Trailer Park Boys!

And as with any sort of celebrity campaign, whether electoral or some product promotional tour, you can never forgot the merchandise. Some swag. With Rob Ford, it’s all about the bobbleheads. Sports stars. Dead presidents. Anybody who’s anybody (or anybody who was anybody) gets their own bobbleheads.

There’s an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star about the tactical approach of these bobbleheads in helping not only with donations but in compiling voters and volunteers lists. Buy one, give us your data in return. “Rob Ford and his brother…are either the smartest people in the room or the dumbest and I don’t know,” says Ralph Lean, celebritybobbleheada long time political bagmen who knows a thing or two about raising money.

I do know that the Fords are smart in using the mayor’s celebrity as the focus for eliciting donations and names for the campaign. Smart, or it’s just the result of a basic process of elimination. It’d be hard to run on his record of accomplishments (spotty) or his time in office (horrific, if you’re not a big fan of your mayor smoking crack in drunken stupors, etc., etc.) So, it’s full on celebrity mayor. Do you like a mayor who puts Toronto on the map of late night American talk shows and international news wires? Re-elect Mayor Rob Ford in 2014!

It’s little wonder then that the latest installment of Ford Nation on YouTube is dedicated solely to bobbleheads and Jimmy Kimmel. Looks, folks. Your celebrity mayor hobknobs with actual, real life celebrities. No talk of policy issues the city the mayor wants to continue to lead faces. Who’s got time to discuss transit? It’s Jimmy Kimmel, folks! A celebrity. Endorsing the mayor. Sort of. He said he might come to town in November for a “fun-raiser” and to celebrate brother Doug’s birthday.

Jimmy Kimmel, folks!

The question now is, have the Fords so degraded public discourse in this city that there’s a big enough audience – and that’s how they view their base of support, as an audience of taxpayers not engaged citizens – to secure them a second term in office? Will boasting that the likes of Jimmy Kimmel had never even heard of Toronto before Rob Ford became mayor activate another winning Ford Nation who see something ‘world class’ about that? It’s a risky road to take, even in the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but the reality is, Team Ford has no other alternative.

star struckly submitted by Cityslikr


You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Live Here But…

April 10, 2014

Ever since our inception, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have found ourselves in a regular state of civic suspension of disbelief. crazysquirrelI know this isn’t actually happening but… but it seems so real. I know it’s just some crazy made-up shit but… but it’s so compelling, so engrossing to follow along with, you know?

Not coincidentally, our appearance came about during the rise of Rob Ford from that goofy, malevolent but largely impotent politician every local government has to contend with to becoming mayor of the largest city in the country. Of course things were going to get nutty. Toronto had elected Rob Ford as its mayor.

Nearly four years on, it has proven to be more than some prolonged nightmare of Dali/Buñuel, eye-slicing proportions. Not even a deranged Truman Show explanation suffices where we’re just the game pieces for a God-like producer with an eye only on the TV ratings. Our story’s taken on biblical dimensions, frankly. The political book of Job. Pushed beyond any sort of reasonable limits, we cry out in anguish. Why, Lord? jobWhy are you doing this? Who can deliver us from your hands? And from the whirlwind comes the response. I don’t have to explain myself to you.

If you’re reading this, I don’t have to recount the whole sad, sordid tale, the multitude of ways we’ve traveled down through the rabbit hole. Municipal governance gone wild! You’d think what with everything that’s gone on, we’d be one and done, talking about what comes next. But no. Our disgraced, discredited mayor cannot be discounted from possibly securing himself another term in office.

Which naturally, as this kind of thing must, can only lead to further fantasy sequences, more outbursts of the bizarre. If his first kick at the can embraced the improbable, the second go-round will be all about the unimaginable. You think that was weird, folks? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

unchienandalouBringing us to two days this week that best encapsulate the thick sticky freakiness we find ourselves in.

The mayor holds a press conference to announce that Ben Johnson and an actor from the TV series/movie franchise The Trailer Park Boys are joining the campaign team in some capacity. What capacity? Nobody’s quite sure. It will all become clear in due time. Or it won’t since forethought and strategic planning are not really what these guys are about. They’re more instinctual than that.

When you think Ben Johnson, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Right. Drugs. Steroids. Gold medal and record setting stripping steroids.

Seems an odd choice then, doesn’t it, for a mayor dogged by stories of personal drug use and outrageous drug-induced behaviour. We’re all mavericks and outlaws here, folks. The all-star Team Nobody’s Perfect. Are you?

But wait, it gets better. It always gets better with these guys. A bottomless pit of ¿¡WTF?!

The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale reported today that the Trailer Park Boy the mayor introduced yesterday, Sam Tarasco, hosts an internet pot smoking show called High Fuckers. That’s right. High Fuckers. druglifeYou pay $4.20 a month to watch guys get high and shoot the shit. High Fuckers.

So instead of trying to distance itself from the heavy cloud of drugs and the drug life, Team Ford seems to be embracing it. Yeah, we do drugs. Yeah, we know people who do drugs. We’re not perfect. Are you?

Counterintuitive? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. Like much of the way they operate, there just isn’t an English word to do it justice. It’s post-verbal.

While all this… whatever you want to call it… was happening, there was also much excitement over the new edition of Mayor Ford bobbleheads. $100 a pop and bearing almost no resemblance to the man himself, we’re told proceeds would be going into the mayor’s campaign war chest. Hmmm, we wondered. Would those purchasing a bobblehead be eligible for the 75% candidate donation rebate the city offers? If so, they’d be a steal at just $25. You could easily make a healthy return on that with an eBay sale.

Talk about your retail politician. Everybody makes a buck when Rob Ford is out on the campaign trail. bobbleheadWin-win-win-win-win!

In case you thought there was no bread with this circus, the mayor took time out of his celebrity tour to announce some serious policy yesterday. Or I should say, to re-announce some serious policy, telling the media that, if re-elected, he will start to phase out streetcar service in Toronto. Just like he promised back in 2010 and immediately didn’t pursue upon taking office. Promises made, promises forgotten.

But this time, he means it, man.

“I know one thing. I won’t get on a streetcar,” the mayor told the press. “If I have an option to drive or take a streetcar, I’m going to get in my car.”

Forget the sheer lunacy of the idea. Buses could never make up the capacity without causing even more congestion that the mayor is supposedly fighting with his no-streetcar idea. And the subways he keeps touting will never be built. Not in his lifetime. Not in his children’s lifetime.

Like the sad spectacle of fluffing a campaign team with D-list celebrities, the streetcar announcement was an empty gesture, intended only to inflame the urban-suburban divide on which the mayor exists. mayordrivingA petulant outburst from a confirmed non-transit user who views the world entirely through his car windows. It doesn’t make any sense because it doesn’t have to. It’s meant solely to excite those unable or unwilling to see through it. Governance based on Dada rules.

The only internal logic to it, probably not even grasped entirely by the mayor or his campaign manager-brother, came through in tweet sent out by the CBC’s Jamie Strashin in the wake of the mayor’s out-with-streetcars declaration. “When someone says, ‘oh I’m going to resolve the issue of gridlock’,” the mayor said. “You’re not going to resolve the problem with gridlock.”

Solve this problem? Are you kidding me? You can’t solve this problem. Just keep on gridlocking. Keep on keeping on.

So deeply held are his anti-government views, so engrained in his sensibilities, Mayor Ford can’t even begin to imagine actually any way anyone could solve a problem like gridlock. Government’s the problem, remember? Never the solution. So, of course he doesn’t take his role as mayor at all seriously. Why would he? It wouldn’t make things better. mayorfordbenderIn fact, it would make things worse.

Government’s a joke, and an expensive joke at that. Acting responsible in his role as mayor, coming up with ideas to help run the city and surrounding himself with people who have even a trace of good will toward public service, would mean Rob Ford might have to take the job seriously. We know he doesn’t. He proves it almost every day when he seems to take delight only in pissing on the carpets.

The joke is on us if we think for even a second that he’s ever going to change.

insanely submitted by Cityslikr


Big Fucking Idiot

April 4, 2014

No, no. This isn’t about that, the term of endearment hurled at Mayor Ford by his crack-buddy, Elena Basso Johnson, and caught for posterity on police wiretap. bfiNo. I was turning the phrase over in my mind while watching the mayor on his feet at city council yesterday during the Great Food Truck Debate of 2014.

Set aside his personal travails. The manner in which he spends his off hours and down time. The affection and loyalty he so clearly engenders, hanging out and just being himself with the drug and gang folks. Pretend for a moment that isn’t what would normally disqualify anyone from continuing to hold public office anywhere in the real democratic world.

Watch Mayor Ford in action (clip via Matt Elliott), ostensibly doing what he was elected to do, what he’s supposedly been doing since 2000 when he first arrived at council. Watch and tell me, within a couple minutes, you don’t sit back in your chair and just think, What a big fucking idiot. Who voted for this guy again?

Look. The mayor’s not even entirely in the wrong on this. I mean, god! Food trucks! Watching this agonizingly prolonged debate, coming at the end of a year and a half process, you’d think we were venturing into uncharted territory here, as if no place else on earth has gone down this road before. It’s like the plastic bag ban or the fight over removing part of an expressway. Careful as she goes, guys! Trailblazing’s tricky!

And given the last big adventure in mobile food slinging, the á La Cart program (spit!), who’s going to disagree with Mayor Ford when he states that he’d “…just like to loosen up the restrictions a bit”? cuttheredtapeIf there’s one thing councillors should’ve learned from that mess of mess providing is that you can be too prescriptive, restrictive, meddlesome and red tape-y.

Fighting all that and the bureaucracy at City Hall is supposed to be his bread and butter. Looking out for the little guy, right? The defender of small businesses and job providers. Scourge of intrusive big government and political man-handling.

Could there be an item before city council more tailor made for Rob Ford to hit out of the park? A bigger and slower softball lobbed tantalizingly into his wheelhouse?

You wouldn’t think so.

Yet, there he was, in typical stumbling and bumbling fashion, unprepared to defend his motion.

foodtruck1If only he’d done even a modicum of homework.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Rob Ford doesn’t do homework. He’s a fly by the seat of his pants, gut feeling, shoot from the hip politician. That’s why the folks love him.

It’s also why he’s a big fucking idiot.

First of all, his motion to delete the proposed stipulation keeping food trucks 50 linear meters from any bricks and mortar restaurant sought to amend an item put forth by his very own Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio. This is a guy loyal to a fault to the mayor, dimming his re-election chances in Ward 17 in the process. As Mayor Ford’s fortunes go, so too will Councillor Palacio’s.

Clearly from the tone of Councillor Palacio’s questions to the mayor, there had been no prior consultation between the two men before the motion was put forth. The councillor asked if the mayor was aware he was amending his item. Mayor Ford shrugged. Councillor Palacio wondered if the mayor knew about the food vending working group that had been hammering out compromises like the linear distance for the past 18 months. cantbebothered
Again, Mayor Ford shrugged.

This followed the same line of reasoning Councillor Raymond Cho pursued when he asked the mayor if he’d attended any of the committee meetings that put the food truck proposals together. The Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. The Executive Committee (which Mayor Ford is a member of). The mayor shrugged. Attended? Not so much. He assured the councillor, however, that he followed along. He is the mayor of this city after all.

Besides, Mayor Ford met with people about the item. In his busy, busy office. ‘They’ told him what ‘they’ wanted.

Were these people lobbyists, Councillor Paula Fletcher asked. Like it’s up to the mayor to know that! The integrity-challenged mayor then went on to explain the rules to the councillor. “It’s up to them to register,” Mayor Ford said. “It’s not up to me to ask.” goitalone1Apparently, in Mayor Ford’s world, a lot of people get offended when you ask them if they’re lobbyists before you sit down to discuss city business with them.

I told you guys from the beginning, he’s a big fucking idiot.

Besides his lack of collaborative interest or acumen, Mayor Ford also displays a fundamental deficit of attention to details. In moving to delete the 50 linear meter regulation, he just simply proposed a ‘not in front of a restaurant’ rule. Exactly how not in front? A meter on other side? Could you set up shop right around the corner from the restaurant at the side of it, in clear view of the front? How about the parking lot? Could a food truck park in the lot of a restaurant as long as it was at the back?

These kind of details matter. In all likelihood, they were discussed in the working group and various committees that hashed all that out leading up to the council debate. Meetings the mayor may or may not have followed in between appointments with people who may or may not have been lobbyists.howshouldiknow

If he’d spent even an hour checking out how other cities manage the food truck-restaurant dynamic (and it’s not like he has much else to do at this point in his busy, busy schedule), he might’ve come up with more specific ideas instead of his half-baked “This is free enterprise! Let them sell what they want! Let the customer decide” motion that emphasized nothing more than his haphazard, governance in isolation mode that serves no constructive purpose aside from burnishing his lone wolf brand.

Forget his monumental personal failings. This is why he’s unfit to be mayor of this city. This is why he’s a big fucking idiot.

frankly 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 Better Business Model

March 30, 2014

Toronto is not, nor should we try to be, the location with the lowest cost. Instead, we must strive to be the location providing the highest value.

moneytimevalue

Thus spoke (actually, wrote) mayoral hopeful David Soknacki, a week or so back during his Reddit AMA. (Embarrassingly, I had to Google to find out what AMA stood for. Ask Me Anything, in case you’re still wondering.) It’s a quiet but very important point that needs emphasis in this municipal era of finding waste and efficiencies, cutting taxes and generally trying to get by with less. It is a statement that warrants continued consideration of the Soknacki campaign.

I am not a business guy. In fact, you might even consider me hostile to the veneration of business as the building block of society. Or is that even a thing? Certainly, simply because someone has excelled in the business-y private sector in no way translates for me into an immediate assumption of possessing a capable hand for governance. creatingvalueIn fact, history throws up plenty of examples of just the opposite being true.

Government in no way operates like a business. Just as I’d imagine business in no way operates like a government. They serve different purposes and provide different needs. The skill sets necessary to function properly within each entity have to be distinct, complimentary perhaps, but not exact.

This does not mean the two should be adversarial. In fact, I’d argue there needs to be more intersection and interaction between the institutions of government and the private sector beyond players in either camp switching sides every now and then. Does that make any sense? Like I said, writing about business feels like I’m skating out on thin ice.

It is my belief that we have operated for too long under the business-friendly mantra of governments just needing to get out of the way and let business do its thing, unencumbered by red tape, regulation and onerous tax rates. We have taken for granted the contributions governments make in order to create business friendly conditions. Governments educate us. Governments endeavour to keep us healthy. betterservicelowercostGovernments pay for the infrastructure that eases the mobility of people and goods in such a way that business is given opportunities to flourish.

Does it always do any of this in the most efficient or best way possible? No. Nobody here’s saying government is perfect. Not even close. There should be constant vigilance in making sure government works to the optimum for the greatest number of people.

We cannot expect that to happen while starving it of its ability to do so.

That’s why taxes are not fundamentally evil. That’s why having the lowest taxes doesn’t automatically translate into the best business environment. Lower taxes will not inevitably lead to a city being more affordable, liveable or functional. Value isn’t determined solely by opting for the guaranteed bargain basement price.

Nobody makes even the most basic decisions based on one variable, do they? You don’t go to a restaurant just because it’s the cheapest, do you? Who buys only remainder bin books? Even the data plan for you phone isn’t determined purely on the price, is it?

So who moves to a city, as an individual or business, for the sole reason that it has the lowest taxes?attraction

Aren’t there a bundle of factors that figure into the calculation? How easy is it to get to where you need to go? How good are the schools? Are there fun things to do within close proximity? Is it, at the end of the day, a positive experience living and/or doing business in a particular city?

Taxes are but a part of that equation.

Or, in the words of David Soknacki, we must strive to be the location providing the highest value. Value, like taxes, shouldn’t be a dirty word.

In the 30 seconds he was given to inspire the city at the end of Tuesday’s Metro Morning, David Soknacki summed up his vision like this:

I want to reform City Hall where we’re going to be making decisions based on consensus and on facts, and make it representative of our voices and priorities. That in turn will enhance our prosperity, and that in turn will enhance our quality of life.

I’m always a little leery of those putting prosperity before the idea of quality of life. I get it. I’m not a complete idiot. You can’t build anything positive with only good intentions and rainbow hopes. Money makes the world go around.

But isn’t it also possible to strive for prosperity by improving our quality of life first? By any measure you take, Toronto is a rich city. Investing now in infrastructure and other fundamentals of the public realm will invariably enhance our quality of life, as Mr. Soknacki wants to do, and attract more people and businesses and investment here, all vital to enhancing our prosperity.

alexanderdumas

A prosperity that isn’t just about having more money in our wallets. A richness more encompassing than adding up the dollars and cents. A value that goes beyond being respected as a taxpayer and puts as least as much emphasis on a way of life as it does a way of doing business.

business friendly-ly submitted by Cityslikr


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