Already Tired Of Tory’s Timid Toryness

February 18, 2015

Two articles written last week underlined the fundamental problem facing this city right now. Simply put, we have a crisis of leadership. neroIt manifests itself in all that isn’t working, people freezing to death in the streets, crumbling infrastructure, substandard public transit. These failures, though, can all be traced back to a consistent failure at the top.

After the spectacular implosion of the radical Rob Ford experiment of misgovernance, Toronto desperately looked around for an upgrade in competence in the mayor’s office. John Tory, we were told, was just the ticket. Competent – no, prudent! – yet bold. He was a successful businessman, top gun at a huge corporation, shortform for possessing a supreme fitness to lead the city from the crack-dazed darkness of the last 4 years.

Career politicians got us into this mess. Only stood to reason that a giant from the private sector was needed to clean it up. Because, that’s how the world works.

Post-election, a flurry of activity signified that business was being tended to, being taken care of. Cars were towed. likeachickenwithitsheadcutoffBus service increased. Mayor Tory got to work early, got down to busy-ness. Hey. Did you hear? The mayor’s having another press conference.

That’s how you run a city, yo.

Correction:

That’s how you look like you run a city.

In comparison to his predecessor, John Tory just had to show up without soup stains on his tie and having not obviously wet himself to immediately earn the mantle of competency. The bar was that low. Policy ideas were secondary to appearances.

Even beauty pageants, however, consist of more than just the swimsuit competition. Stuff needs getting done. Decisions have to be made, some significant. Like say, budgeting.

robforddrunk

As David Hains wrote in the Torontoist Saturday:

There are no good choices in the budget, and it is time to wake up to why that is the case and what that means. There is a much bigger discussion to have here: Toronto needs to talk about the fact that there is a structural deficit, and that it is also willing to acknowledge that things cost money, particularly the cost of making responsible decisions. If we fail that, we will see Toronto go from budget crisis to budget crisis, pulling out its hair until it wonders how it became bald.

Like every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory has numbers to deal with, big numbers. He has to decide what to fund, what to build, what to repair, what programs and services to maintain, expand or cut. Like every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory will be constrained by the fact there’s only so much money to go around, that on the annual operating side of things, he has to balance the books. shellgameLike every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory must make some tough choices.

Turns out, Mayor Tory isn’t like every other previous mayor of the city. He’s going to spare himself the trouble of making tough choices. He’s going to pretend like there’s another way of going about business at City Hall. His choices “represent…a methodical, responsible approach to budgeting.” Carve out some cash from capital expenditures to plug the hole on the operating side. Hike user fees to help pay for some of the increases in services. Keep property taxes ‘at or below the rate of inflation’. Nix talk of any new revenues. Demand 2% in efficiencies from city departments.

Done and done.

Responsible. Methodical. Prudent. Competent.

Except, it is none of those things. In a word, as Mr. Hains suggests in his article, ‘wrong’.

Mayor Tory is ducking a systemic fiscal problem in the hopes of some magical appearance of money from the other two levels of government sometime down the road. sweepundertherugMoney both Queen’s Park and Ottawa should be handing over in the areas of transit and affordable housing at the very least but money they’ve shown little inclination in handing over for years, decades now. Money the mayor should definitely be pushing for but money he should definitely not be counting on.

It’s like planning your life around the expectation of a relative dying and leaving you some money sometime down the road.

Not what you’d classically consider responsible, methodical, prudent or competent.

And then there’s the mayor’s bold transit plan, SmartTrack.

As John Lorinc pointed out in his Spacing article last week, we’re not even close to knowing what the price tag of that thing’s going to be or what portion the city’s going to have to come up with. Tory’s campaign-driven funding scheme, TIF, is another complete mystery, untested as it is on such a scale. Never mind how much the proposed eastern section of it while overlap with the Scarborough subway extension that he has tried to keep clear of. questionsquestionsquestions(Let’s not re-open that debate no matter how dumb and financially onerous it may turn out to be.)

Whatever its merits may be, aside from threatening to blow the city through its debt ceiling limit and, with that, future construction and repairs of, well, pretty much everything else, SmartTrack also looks as if it could further delay much needed transit building in Toronto. What if, in a year’s time when staff reports come back and questions arise about the viability of both SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway, “a kind of supercollider for Toronto’s latest transit ambitions,” Lorinc writes? Imagine that pitched battle at city council.

Subways, subways, subways versus SmartTrack, SmartTrack, SmartTrack!

And the shovels remain firmly unplanted in the ground.

After 4 years of paralytic, farcical uncertainty on the transit file, Mayor Tory has simply upped the ante instead of bringing clarity or even a semblance of sanity to it. magicbeansIn campaigning for the job, he refused to risk any loss of support by coming out against the Scarborough subway while offering up another fanciful transit plan that may well ensure the subway turns out to be nothing more than a costly white elephant. That’s political calculation not leadership.

It isn’t responsible, methodical, competent or prudent either.

In barely under three months, John Tory has fully revealed himself to be nothing more than just another small-time, parochial politician who is using this fiscal crisis (yes, it is a crisis) to diminish the city’s ability to deal with it rather than strengthen its hand. Why? Either he’s a committed small government ideologue or he possesses a steadfast aversion to making hard choices. Probably a healthy dose of both.

Whatever the reason, we need to stop expecting him to be anything other than an obstacle going forward, another failed experiment in the mayor’s office.

hands wipingly submitted by Cityslikr


Subway Ground Down

January 28, 2015

I really don’t want to be writing this. Like the Toronto Star’s Ed Keenan, I’m tired of it, of the Scarborough subway debate. Just as likely, you’re sick of it too. notthisshitagainThere’s gathered a great storm of ennui, a wave of yawn. Just Get On With It has now become the default position. Build Something!

But…but…There’s always the but.

In Keenan’s article today he points to a recent Forum Research poll that shows, given the full options of what Scarborough would get if we spent $3+ billion on transit there, 61% of Torontonians would pick the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. A healthy majority of those living in Scarborough too favoured the LRT option given to them.

Just yesterday, as I was railing about the $75-85 million the city is in the midst of handing over to the province via Metrolinx for the work already underway on the Scarborough LRT that council cancelled, I cited a Leger poll from back in February 2014 that showed similar numbers. 61% of respondents preferred the Scarborough LRT option over the subway. 56% of those living in Scarborough leaned that way also.

So why the fuck are we here, spending billions of dollars building something the majority of Torontonians don’t want?

Public enemy number 1, of course, is Rob Ford. Subways, subways, subways, am I right? scarboroughsubwaybellowThe people want subways.

Not to diminish his role in the mess but let me say this. At the very least, Rob Ford and to a lesser extent, his brother Doug, truly believed that subways were the way to go. As committed car drivers, public transit was something of a puzzle to them. They hated streetcars that blocked up the middle of the roads. Buses they tolerated because they were easier to get around. But underground transit? Out of sight, out mind, out of the way.

Because the folks voted for him, giving him a mandate, they too wanted subways. Subways, subways, subways! Like the classic bullshitter that he is, Rob Ford (and again, to a lesser extent his brother) actually believed the bullshit he spouted. He didn’t need no stinkin’ polls to tell him what he knew in his heart, heard every day from the folks he met in line at Tim Horton’s.

This is not to excuse him. He served as the bullhorn for the subway cause. The self-appointed guardian of the taxpayers’ nickels and dimes stubbornly contributed to throwing away of billions of dollars of their money to further a cause he willfully knew nothing about.notthisshitagain1

The larger question though is, how, with these numbers, 4+ years after the debate started, 4+ years after the People Want Subways campaign slogan metastasized into a corrupted conventional wisdom, we’re determined to plunge ahead into this madness? The villainous list is long. Rob Ford becomes little more than the inciting incident in this story, a preening, comic foil Malvolio.

The true monsters in this sorry-assed tale sit up at Queen’s Park. First in the form of the skittish Dalton McGuinty Liberal government, seemingly dead in the polls and facing an election in 2011. In the face of the first (and only true surge) of Ford Nation, they quickly buckled when the newly elected mayor unilaterally declared Transit City dead. Hey. If you say so. Whatever. They would survive the initial assault, holding on to power but reduced to a minority government.

But imagine if instead they had stood their ground, stood up in the face of what was little more than a noise-making machine. Was subway support really ever as strong as the mayor and other Scarborough politicians came to claim it was? Certainly Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker didn’t think so in 2012 when city council wrestled the transit file from the mayor and re-instated Transit City.

At this point of time, it seemed cooler heads had prevailed. Subways, subways, subways had been revealed to be little more than the dying bluster of a mayor who’d soon be sidelined to little more than a cranky observer. Pheee-ew, right? We narrowly dodged that bullet.

But then…

What the hell happened?

Well, here’s where the story gets nothing short of clusterfuckery.

New leader of the provincial Liberals, new premier, new beginning, we’re told. They start to get their sea legs, win a by-election or two including one in Scarborough-Guildwood with Mitzie “The Subway Champion” Hunter. A by-election where, curiously, her NDP opponent, former TTC chair Adam Giambrone, an early Transit City advocate, docilely nods in a similar subway support direction.

Suddenly everybody loves subways! notthisshitagain2Egged on by Scarborough MPPs, city council lurches once more, agreeing to scrap the Scarborough LRT in favour of a subway. A subway the city will now have to contribute to building and maintaining. Scarborough deserves nothing less than a subway, we are told.

Except, still, with the options laid out for them, residents would opt for the LRT.

Despite that, here we are. The Liberals are back as a majority government. They now have both the city and federal government pitching in to build a Scarborough subway. They have a new mayor who, despite his claim to prudent fiscal management, campaigned on a pledge not to reopen the subway debate and is perfectly content to just piss away 10s of millions of dollars in order for that not to happen. In addition to which, his signature transit plan, SmartTrack, is offering even more city money to help the provincial government build their regional transit system.

And all the Scarborough pro-subway city councillors who ran for re-election last year are back. (Interestingly, so is the one very vocal pro-LRT Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, easily re-elected.) notthisshitagain4The debate is over. The people have spoken. They want subways.

Except, apparently, they don’t. Or more precisely, if given an option, they’d take LRTs. It’s the politicians who want subways.

If there’s a more salient example of why we’ve become so cynical and disengaged, I can’t immediately think of one. It’s little wonder we’re bored of this debate. Our elected representatives aren’t listening to us. What’s the use of continued talking?

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Hallelujah For Somebody

January 23, 2015

“Hallelujah!”

The word of thanks Premier Kathleen Wynne uttered upon hearing John Tory had been elected mayor of Toronto back last October. hallelujahHis win heralded, among other things, a renewal of cordial relations between the city and the province. In fact, Mr. Tory had assured us he was the only one who’d be able to work productively with the other two levels of government. His rolodex and business networking skills and all that.

So this week when city staff delivered their recommended 2015 budget, confidently assuring everyone that gaping $86 million hole created by the provincial government’s unilateral decision to stop paying the long time pooling fund for provincially mandated social services (half of which had been deferred from last year’s city budget), we all assumed Mayor Tory had it covered. He was the one, we were repeatedly told, who’d get everyone to the table to iron out these petty grievances, ramped up largely by the clumsily defiant, confrontational braying of his predecessor’s administration. Hallelujah, right?

Consider that $86 million as good as gone… using a $200 million line of credit at the city’s disposal from the province. Market rate interest charges apply. Hallelujah! dontworryMayor Tory’s on the job.

Wait, what?

A line of credit? With interest?? That’s the result of getting the provincial government to sit down at the table and work things out?

It was only moderately less offensive than the original proposal that had the province offering to buy up land along the Eglinton Crosstown corridor in exchange for the $86 million. Land that was only going to appreciate in value as the LRT got going. An exchange that, by every other measure, would be illegal, owing to the province’s own decree that municipalities cannot sell assets in order to help plug holes in their operating budget.

I mean, holy hell. With friends like these, am I right? Arbitrarily stop making payments that, arguably you should be making because you’ve mandated the city to provide certain services and programs, and when this stopped payment makes it difficult for the city to balance its operating budget which it has to do because of provincial legislation, you offer to help out in return for the city selling off assets to you. takeitorleaveitThere’s a word for that, isn’t there? Not a very flattering one either. A word that rhymes with packet.

It’s difficult to choose the real bad guy in all this. I get the province being stingy with the city as we continue to budget on the cheap, refusing to really explore all our revenue sources except for the user fee route. Property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. Below again this year.

You can’t cry poor but keep your hands in your pockets when it comes time to pay for things and expect other people to make up the difference.

Still, the Liberal government barely could contain their preference for who it wanted to see Toronto elect as its next mayor last fall. Local MPPs and cabinet ministers falling over themselves to be seen endorsing John Tory for the job. They knew what they were getting, at or below the rate of inflation and all.

They continue on, starving the beast and encouraging even more of our tax dollars go to helping build their regional transit system while ignoring their ongoing obligations. Remember when the province used to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget? Remember when the Liberals promised to restore it, I don’t know, a billion dollars or so ago? takeitorleaveit1Got a problem balancing the books, Toronto? Here’s a line of credit for you. Plus interest if you don’t mind. Or… Or… You could sell us some of your sure-to-be valuable property.

There are times when it feels like the provincial government is not really any sort of ally of the municipalities it’s been casually, almost as an after-thought, given oversight of. There’s the obvious examples, Mike Harris and gang, 1995-2003. But have the Liberals done a whole lot more for us in the scheme of things? Now 12 years in, there’s not a lot to show for it. A couple big transit projects underway – underway – state of good repair ballooning every year in our social housing stock and other infrastructure. In asking the quintessential governance question, are we better off as a city than we were 12 years ago?

It could be worse is not an answer. The feds need to start contributing is also a little bit of misdirection. Although true, it deflects from the larger point that cities have been left to sort out the problems largely created by an absence of the other two levels of government. Guilt by disassociation, let’s call it.

Now we have a mayor who’s complicit in the neglect, taking scraps and telling us it’s the best he could do. But wasn’t John Tory going to be different? helpmehelpyouDidn’t he tell us he was the candidate to count on to restore a beneficial and productive working relationship with Queen’s Park and Ottawa?

That’s not what this feels like right now, quite frankly. It feels like we have a mayor who is more concerned with keeping the province happy than he is in fighting for what’s best for the city. Maybe he owes the Liberals for helping to get him elected. That doesn’t mean the rest of us should be paying off his debt.

unpraiseworthily submitted by Cityslikr


A Tory Budget

January 20, 2015

Today kicks-off the official launch of the city’s Budget 2015 process. Day 1 of nearly 40 days of numbers, haggling, debate, deputations, bluster, compromise and, finally, a dead reckoning. kickoffCampaign bullshit walks. Tough decisions talk.

While Mayor Tory and his budget team may be attempting to give him a little working distance with their talk of a ‘staff-generated budget’, what we’ll be hearing this morning will be simply staff recommendations. During the next 6 weeks or so, the mayor and council will be making the ultimate call on what gets paid for and how. When they’re through, make no mistake, it will be Mayor Tory’s budget.

What I’ll be watching for is how the mayor navigates the treacherous waters of fulfilling his campaign promises while coping with the reality of the numbers presented to him. He’s already taken one on the chin yesterday, announcing a TTC fare hike to help pay for serious and much needed service enhancements. On the campaign trail last year, Tory ill-advisedly vowed (along with his two main opponents, it should be added) to freeze TTC fares. Ooops!

The mayor fell back on the old trope of not realizing how bad things were when he made that promise. whoopsAfter all, he was just a radio talk show host commenting on municipal affairs as well the CEO of an organization that made transit and the fight against congestion a priority. How was to possibly know the sorry state of transit in the city?

Look. I’ll cut Mayor Tory some slack and even give him some very reluctant credit for accepting the inevitable and pushing ahead with the transit improvements. Should it come largely on the backs of TTC users? That’s going to be part of the budget debate but it should be pointed out (it has been pointed out) that regular riders on the system, those using a Metropass, will have paid over $500 more by the end of 2015 than they did in 2011 in return for 2010 levels of service. The better way indeed.

Still, the mayor seems unprepared to apply the same logic – improved service means more money — to the overall operating budget as he has to the TTC. At the press conference announcing the TTC news, he remained adamant that any property tax increase would remain at or below the rate of inflation. Without new sources of revenue (and the fare increase does not appear to be enough to cover the service bump), that campaign promise can only result in service reductions elsewhere. addingupIt certainly won’t lead to any type of expansion of services or programs. The numbers don’t add up.

If this is truly a Joe Pennachetti budget, as the Star’s Daniel Dale suggested, new revenue would be flowing into city coffers. For a couple years now, the city manager has been telling anyone and everyone who’s been listening that as it is, Toronto’s future fiscal health is unsustainable if we continue to ignore the need for new revenues. The mayor’s going to keep any property tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation? Barring new money from the other levels of government, expect more user fees and the like or just start expecting less from the city.

Taking the most generous assessment of inflation, 2.7% for the city of Toronto, add an additional .5% for the Scarborough subway, the 2015 property tax increase has to come in at 3.2%. Anything less, anything, will mean cuts somewhere in services and programs. chainofofficeEven at just 3.2%, without other revenue sources, reductions will have to happen in order to pay for the increased spending like on the TTC Mayor Tory has already committed to.

Today’s budget recommendations mark the end of the 2014 municipal campaign. The time for hedging and hair-splitting has ended. The mayor will try his best to convince us that his hands are tied, that he’s just responding to situation not of his making. While there’s a grain of truth to that, come the middle of March, the city budget will be his to wear like the chain of office he also inherited.

watchfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor Of Everyone. Literally.

January 12, 2015

In the end, I think, it’s a positive that Toronto’s new mayor responds to situations on the ground even though they might run contrary to the approach he pitched to voters in last year’s municipal campaign. adapt(We’ll set aside for the time being that some of these situations were glaringly apparent during the election which candidate Tory used as a political cudgel to hammer at his opponents.) But I’d still prefer someone we’ve elected to office who adapts their thinking to what’s actually happening to someone wrapping themselves in a mandate cloak, digging in their heels and telling us, Sorry, folks. I was elected not to do that thing you’re now asking me to do.

So when TTC chair Josh Colle wanted more buses to bolster service, Mayor Tory said, Bring us more, buses! Last week, after two men died on the streets and protesters showed up at his office to demand the city declare a cold weather alert and open up warming centres, the mayor made it happen. At City Hall, ask and ye shall receive seems to have replaced my heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day…

How this’ll play out during the upcoming budget season will be interesting to watch. yougetacarMayor Tory has stuck to his a ‘at or below the rate of inflation’ property tax increase guns so far but how’s he going to pay for all these things? More buses = more money. Warming centres aren’t free. His Public Works Committee wants to OK 24/7 construction on some pressing projects like our major thoroughfares. Where’s the money coming for that?

Perhaps equally curious will be his reaction to the pressure that gets applied for genuinely bad ideas, misguided, boneheaded impulses like, I don’t know, adding a 4th stop to the ill-begotten* Scarborough subway extension. He didn’t exactly stop one of the mess’s main architects, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker’s pre-Christmas musings on the subject in their tracks with a definitive and negative rejoinder. “My position at the moment is to be pushing ahead with the project as it’s presently defined,” the mayor stated in unequivocally equivocal fashion.

That’s a far cry from his firm stance whenever any of his opponents during the campaign promised to return to the original LRT agreement that the debate over the project was done if he was elected mayor. ontheotherhandNow it’s all ‘at the moment’ and “…there’s a city council consisting of 44 people plus me and we have to decide on whether any alternations need to be made to that project…” Alternations? That would require opening the debate again, wouldn’t it?

If any of the pro-subway Scarborough councillors are emboldened to press ahead in light of today’s poll that has a slim majority of residents in favour of putting in a 4th subway stop (but nearly a super-majority of those living in Scarborough), just how vigorously will the mayor defend his stance not to reopen the debate? Will he expend any political capital wrestling the Scarborough contingent (along with the more strident anti-LRT councillors like Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, Vincent Crisanti and David Shiner) into submission? I’m not getting a defiant vibe on the issue from the mayor at the moment, to use his own words.

It is a poll the mayor could, if he were so inclined, use to beat back any attempt at a 4th stop insurgency. As NOW magazine’s Ben Spurr pointed out, with the 2% margin of error, you could look at it as almost an even split. pacifyHow about if the question were asked not merely with the price tag attached but with the attendant hike in property taxes? The support for this is shaky (as I would argue it is for the entire debacle, given any sort of vigorous pushback). With the poll also showing Mayor Tory sitting on top of a big wave of approval – he’s more popular than both the 4th subway stop and the rest of city council – he could nip this in the bud before it had the chance to grow and fester.

A 4th stop will be all the mayor’s. While I’m sure he’ll get oodles of support from the sidelines from Scarborough M.P.P.’s, it’s hard to imagine the Liberal government offering up any more money. It will all be on the city’s taxpayers to build it. What more will we have to sacrifice to keep the voters of Scarborough and their elected representatives happy?showitsteeth

If this crazy notion proceeds in earnest, it will be the first real test of just how much kowtowing Mayor Tory is prepared to engage in in order to maintain support in Scarborough. As presented by Matt Elliott last week, there are a lot of crazy, counter-productive ideas bubbling up from the city’s wards 35-44. Will the mayor put crass political appeasement before good governance, and pander to some of our worst councillors’ worst instincts? Resolute is not a word that has often been attached to John Tory’s political career, making the continued Scarborization of Toronto a very real possibility.

* How is ‘ill-begotten’ not a word?

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Could Be Worse

January 5, 2015

I had hoped to begin the new year on a peppy, upbeat note of resolve, to scan the horizon and spot evidence of a better 2015 than 2014. Look, guys. upbeatWe actually did hit bottom. There is nowhere to go but up.

But somewhere during the search for signs of hope and civic sunshine, it dawned on me that yesterday, January 4th, was the fifth anniversary of the very first post here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. (Don’t ask how those two things intersected. It’s hardly an organized and linear organization we’ve got going on.) Tory! Tory! Tory! was the title. A plea at the outset of the 2010 municipal campaign for a certain John Tory to remain on the sidelines in the mayoral race. “Stick with radio, John,” we advised, “where we can continue to ignore you.”

raspberrySMASH CUT TO: (or maybe a slow dissolve, if I actually knew what that was) January 5th, 2015.

Mayor John Tory in a helicopter, high above the city, on the look out for parking scofflaws and ne’er-do-wells.

*sigh*

I mean, jesus fucking christ.

It occurs to me, nearly half a decade into this enterprise, that maybe it’s just not in this city’s DNA to come to grips with the grind down stuff that currently ails us. Congestion, under-performing public transit, aging and crumbling infrastructure, not to mention matters of housing, poverty and income inequality, summon up a whole bunch of let’s do more of the same and hope for better results. Some time, back in the foggy mists of the past, a workable, functional if not exactly exciting city was built. restingonourlaurelsIt worked. People came. The place thrived.

What Toronto hasn’t done is adapt. Arguably, for the past three decades, we have sat on our hands, looked the other way and hoped for the best. Staring up at all the towers carving out our skyline, we collectively sighed a self-satisfied sigh. World class!

In reaction to easily the most destructive and derelict administration the city had ever foisted onto itself, we settled for some throwback to an earlier era of dysfunction. Our new mayor was very well acquainted with the Mel Lastman years at City Hall. Sure, he’d gussied up his resume with right proper public service works like Civic Action yet put all that behind him in his second quest to be Toronto’s mayor. A moderate progressive, he sold himself as, or something similarly banal.

He won’t embarrass us! A rallying cry to mollify rather than actually rally us. Inspirational? I don’t know. Do you find the repeated use of the word ‘bold’ inspirational?

Not that there was much inspiration on display from any of our leading mayoral candidates in 2014 which, coming in the wake of the unmitigated Ford fiasco, says something of our civic constitution, I fear. sotiredCan we just have a little peace and quiet for a bit? Competence is what we crave. The big issues can wait while we catch our collective breath.

As we press pause, the wheels of dubious governance keep on turning.

Over the weekend, a Toronto Star opinion piece laid out in gory, gory detail the ongoing mess of a debacle that is shaping up to be the Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. ‘Another ‘billion-dollar boondoggle’ author R. Michael Warren asks, pushed forward for nothing other than political reasons by our new mayor, the premier of the province, dutiful Scarborough government MPPs, opportunistic and resentful city councilors. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. hopeforthebestEverything will work out just fine.

It’s not actually going to fix much from a transit prospective, probably make some things worse in fact, but aren’t we all just tuckered out from all the bickering? We’re done here. Let’s move on. No good can come from reopening old arguments. I mean, that’s how we ended up with this Scarborough subway, am I right?

Look. It could be worse. Rob Ford could still be mayor.

Yes, it could be worse. It could be worse should become our new city motto. It Could Be Worse, Our Strength.

It Could Be Worse is a lot easier to maintain than It Could Be Better, takes a lot less effort. I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to say that, with only a couple exceptions, It Could Be Worse has pretty much been Toronto’s approach to running things for 30 years or so now. It’s not great. It’s not innovative or ground breaking. But, it could be worse.couldbeworse Can I get a recorded vote? It could be worse. All in favour?

So we muddle into 2015. It can’t possibly be worse than 2014 or the couple years before that. While some think about tackling the big issues we face like poverty, Mayor Tory makes a spectacle of chasing down illegal parkers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it could be worse, right? The mayor could not be dealing with illegal parking.

Buck up. Granted, it’s not much to hang your cape of hope on, thin gruel with which to build an optimistic, hopeful New Year’s message. Still. It could be worse.

philosophically submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club II

December 19, 2014

thetinyperfectmayor

While I am of that vintage I did not grow up in Toronto during the halcyon days of the David Crombie rein. I came to the city late in his political career, as an MP in the Mulroney administration. For the past 25 years or so, it’s been one honorary position after another, in a steady trajectory toward canonization. St. David, the urban legend.

There are some dissenters or, at least, there were, back in the day, people who probably haven’t taken a crack at editing Crombie’s Wikipedia page. The Tiny Perfect Mayor was a book written by journalist Jon Caulfield in 1974, 18 months into Crombie’s first term in office, and it views the tiny mayor’s contributions to the city in less than perfect light.1972mayoralslate

The book’s subtitle, David Crombie and Toronto’s reform aldermen, points to the author’s actual intent. Crombie is only part of the equation. Caulfield really sets out to examine the rise and ultimate failure to launch of a more widespread, community based reform movement at City Hall.

To be sure, Caulfield holds Crombie partially responsible, asserting from the outset that Crombie was a reform candidate only in his own mind and that of the local media. Members of the real reform group who first were elected to City Hall in 1969, the likes of John Sewell and Karl Jaffary, never regarded David Crombie as one of them. 11wardtorontoHe was young and stood outside of the old guard establishment represented by the two men he defeated in the 1972 mayoral race, Aldermen Anthony O’Donohue and David Rotenberg. But that didn’t necessarily make him reform-minded to many.

Caulfield asserts that Crombie was too beholden to the Progressive Conservative party that had long been in power at Queen’s Park to stick his neck out to much in defense of the city when the two levels of government butted heads. He was also too quiet in his dealings with the Metro Council chair and fellow PCer, Paul Godfrey who makes a villainous cameo in the book. Although a self-proclaimed seeker of consensus, Caulfield maintains that Crombie actually concentrated power in the mayor’s office, making behind closed doors deals on various development projects and announcing the results as the best the city could expect.

davidcrombie(In an early iteration of Matt Elliott’s Council Scorecard, Caulfield tabulates the voting records on a number of key issues during the 1973/74 time span which shows Mayor Crombie voting much more consistently with the old guard of city council than he did with the reformers.)

Rather than reform anything, David Crombie was more interested in refining things, smoothing out rough edges, ensuring in his inaugural address that ‘the haves don’t have less and the have-nots have more’. This, in Caulfield’s opinion, resulted in a mayoralty of half-measures and rearranging of the furniture. Actual reform was too divisive for David Crombie’s constitution.

If the author is dismissive of the idea of David Crombie as a reformer, he’s much more disappointed with the performance of the actual reform candidates. johnsewellIn the end, as we know 40 years down the line, a mayor of Toronto is only one vote at council, and back in Crombie’s time possessed even less executive powers than the mayor has now. Although the reformers were a minority bloc at council, too often they failed to act together on items they could’ve amassed enough votes to win.

Caulfield contends that the reform schism existed largely along socio-economic lines. There were the working class reformers, the Dan Heaps for example, and there were the middle-class activists, represented by the likes of Colin Vaughan who’d been part of the group that had successfully fought off the Spadina Expressway. Their interests didn’t always mesh – rooming house regulations in the Annex, for example – and a suspicion of respective motives factored into various failed attempts at community organization.

I guess the irony in all this is that the consensus-seeking mayor achieved the perception of consensus at City Hall by exploiting the lack of consensus within the reform group of aldermen.crombieshorty

If the reformers elected in 1972 never coalesced into a regular majority at city council, Caulfield sees an even bigger failure in their inability to maintain the kind of grassroots activism that put them in power. It wasn’t all due to a lack of trying. Although some of the aldermen weren’t ever really onboard with the idea of empowering resident controlled ‘ward councils’, established activist organizations kind of melted away after their various ‘victories’. The Spadina Expressway! Reformers at City Hall! What more was there left for them to do?

Turns out, even back in 1974, there’s more to civic engagement than fighting for a single issue or getting involved during an election campaign. (Sound familiar?) The reform movement floundered, according to Caulfield, because it had no stated set of principles for a movement to rally around. “It remains unclear who they [the reformers] are, what they stand for and what sort of city Toronto would be if they had their way,” Caulfield writes in the conclusion of his book.newguardoldguard

Is this simply the nature of progressive activism, a loose coalition of occasionally over-lapping interests that only rarely build into large scale social change or have we just failed to learn any lessons 40 years on? As Caulfield points out, fundamental change at the municipal level is an even tougher haul since cities don’t ultimately control either the legislative powers or the purse strings to enact sweeping transformation even if they wanted. They remain at the whim and mercy of other levels of government. So does that mean the goals of local activism should remain modest and kept to an ad hoc, case-by-case basis?

I’d hazard a guess Jon Caulfield would say no. Purely issues-oriented activism is easily picked off by the political opportunists, as Caulfield views the likes of David Crombie. Reform, such as that is, becomes little more than, to paraphrase the author, compromising what it wants and taking what it can get.

Obviously, it’s a situation that remains relevant today. crombietoryWhile Toronto in no way just elected a reform-minded mayor in John Tory, he comes to office on a self-described wave many of us question. We’re told he’s progressive. He says progressive things, promotes progressive ideas but…doubt remains.

John Tory came David Crombie endorsed. That provided comfort to some. But a read through The Tiny Perfect Mayor would suggest that for those intent on reforming how Toronto goes about its business, it’s not time to put your guard down. If anything, a tougher battle lies ahead.

reviewingly submitted by Cityslikr


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