Challengers To Watch XI

August 21, 2014

We’ve spent the last 4 years looking at costs and ignoring the benefits.

This is pointed out to me over dim sum by Franco Ng, city councillor candidate for Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt. ward39It’s a sentiment that comes as something of a relief to me because I had no idea what to except from somebody who’d worked in Mike Del Grande’s office for 4 years. Mike Del Grande, the penny-pinchingest, grumpiest and one of our least favourite city councillors.

Franco Ng is nothing at all like that.

This is not to say that during the two hours spent together, we agreed on everything. We certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye on LRTs in the suburbs (although Mr. Ng had no strong feelings about the Scarborough subway – he told me nobody was talking about it at the doors he’d knocked at either) or the right for permanent residents to vote but there was certainly a strong basis of understanding between us about what this city needs to do going forward in order to remain prosperous and a desirable place to live.

Franco Ng is what I’d call a post-amalgamation Torontonian. While having very strong ties to the ward, he’s been a north Scarborough resident for 15 years, there’s no sense of us-versus-them, suburb-versus-downtown, we get nothing-they get everything from him. bridlewoodmallHe wants to put Ward 39 on the map, make it a place people want to visit, move to, stay and raise families while working to make the city as a whole a truly global city. A place that isn’t just somewhere up there.

It will be a daunting task in many ways.

The ward is a typical single-use suburban ward, built around private vehicle use, now entering a phase where that’s no longer economically viable. I met Franco at the Bridlewood Mall, at the corner of Warden and Finch. Getting off the bus, I walked through a vacant part of the parking lot which was being used exclusively as a warming spot for seagulls. The mall had seen better days, for sure. Franco walked me through the inside, full of vacant stores. More modern malls, with better amenities were a drive away in nearby Ward 40 and up a bit in the city of Markham.

Plans were afoot for Bridlewood. Condominium developments were going up. There was a new library branch in the mall. Bright and busy for a Tuesday afternoon. You should see it during the school year or at night, Franco tells me. It already may be too small a space to accommodate the people who want to use it.bridlewoodmalllibrary

This was the kind of pressure places like Scarborough-Agincourt were facing these days. Competing with not only surrounding communities to attract residents, businesses, visitors, but the wider world around us. Huge tracks of land designated for heavy industry, much of which has departed to cheaper territories. What to do with it? The tension is playing out right now with the battle over building a TTC bus garage near a seniors’ residence that has encroached onto industrial land.

How can a local councillor deal with such macroeconomic and citywide issues?

Franco Ng proposes starting street by street, developing and promoting a pride in place in order to bring about better neighbourhood integration. He tells me there are few residents associations in the ward and no BIAs. None. Without those, there’s very little engagement within the ward or with the city as a whole.

This is a frequent point made by many of the council candidates I’ve met out in the inner suburban parts of the city. A noticeable lack of civic engagement. They are not participants in governance. bridlewoodmallcondoThey are spectators.

“There’s no sense of ownership,” Ng tells me. You don’t really know what you have until you take part in getting it, I guess. This is what happens when you treat residents as taxpayers and not hands-on contributors to the process of community building.

It’s unfortunate too because, despite my downtowner view of places like Ward 39 being car strewn hellscapes (I mean, there are a lot of cars, lots of wide, wide roads and parking lots, interminable bus rides to get places by public transit), there’s a lot of green, public spaces there. The ward has 16 parks, Ng informs me, with the jewel being L’Amoreaux. The hydro corridor is beginning to fill up with soccer leagues and the like.

The elements are in place to build on all that. It’s just going to take a new approach to local politics. Less insular and backward-looking and more embracing new possibilities.

It’s about seeing the residents of Ward 39 as resources not, well again, just taxpayers. Franco says that taxes aren’t really a hot topic with the residents he’s met. wardenbusPeople seem to get the difference between spending money and simply throwing money away.

When the Steeles-L’Amoreaux neighbourhood was ‘de-prioritized’ earlier this term and some of the services offered there scaled back, people wanted to know why. They get investment in the community, in people of the community. Taking us right back to the beginning of this. Costs versus benefits.

After 4 years of inflammatory, divisive in-fighting at City Hall, the easiest way to combat it going forward is to elect city councillors who aren’t entrenched in old approaches, old ways of thinking. Franco Ng has bigger fish to fry than simply nursing old grudges or championing empty political platitudes. He wants to kick start a real sense of community in Ward 39, put it on the map as somewhere people want to visit and move to. lamoreuxparkThere’s a whole new world of regional discourse and planning he wants to move on, a dynamic that’s very much in play for parts of Toronto where you simply cross a street to get to another municipality.

There are real choices and alternatives for voters in wards like Scarborough-Agincourt. Franco Ng is one of them. 2014 is shaping up to be an important race between the past and the future in Ward 39. Let’s hope (and work toward) it chooses to go forward.

encouragingly submitted by Cityslikr


Building A True Sense Of Community

August 20, 2014

On Friday Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway interviewed Roger Cattell about the slow down campaign that emerged in response to slowdown3last month’s death of Georgia Walsh, a 7 year-old who was struck and killed by a car in the Leaside area of the city.

If you haven’t heard the entire interview, I suggest you click on the above link. For the purposes of this post, I just want to excerpt a few quotes from Mr. Cattell (except where noted), hopefully without de-contextualizing them.

You’ll find a community that’s ready to engage in a conversation, not just about what should be done but what could be done and how they can help…

I’m not a social activist. I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a neighbour, and I’m a guy who was affected by events that, in retrospect, maybe I could’ve been more active in my neighbourhood making sure something like this never happened in the first place…

There’s great conversation and great dialogue in the neighbourhood. Out of that can only come good things…

We’re seeing local businesses come together. We’re seeing the principal in our school engage with politicians in ways they haven’t before…

I’m not fully prepared to comment on that only because I do find local politics a bit too embedded in administrivia. Things become motions and ideas become things. But nothing ever seems to get done. I know there’s a process…but until these become tangible changes they remain good ideas…

Matt Galloway: This has come out of something terrible, and yet has led to a larger conversation, and a sense of true community in this neighbourhood.

We would always finish our statements when complaining about traffic and complaining about things with What’s It Going To Take? This is our What’s It Going To Take moment…

Now’s the time to do something about it…

This shouldn’t be seen as any sort of criticism of the grassroots activism that seems to be emerging from this incident, particularly with Roger Cattell and his neighbours. slowdown2It’s more of an instructive assessment, let’s call it. In the hopes that it won’t take another terrible situation to spur more of us into civic action.

“I’m not a social activist,” says Mr. Cattell. “… I’m a guy who was affected by events that, in retrospect, maybe I could’ve been more active… making sure something like this never happened in the first place…”

We really need to cease designating people for the role of ‘social activists’. In a vibrant democracy, all of us would be ‘social activists’. That’s not to say everyone needs to get involved with every issue that arises. But for this issues that truly matter to you? Don’t expect someone else to do the legwork for you, including your elected representatives.

The fact is, Toronto’s Board of Health raised the issue of reducing speed limits a couple years ago, receiving something of a chilly reception to the idea from the likes of Mayor Ford and Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Their report took a backseat, if you’ll pardon the pun. What might happen to it if a group of determined ‘social activists’ started making noise and demanding action?

“… I do find local politics a bit too embedded in administrivia,” Mr. Cattell states later. What exactly is ‘administrivia’? slowdown1I mean, I get it, a funny little made-up word that denotes boring and useless tasks of administration. But city government is nothing if not ‘adminstrivia’. It is about the mundane, day-to-day slog of trying to make sure the city functions properly, including the determination of speed limits on city streets. It ain’t pretty but somebody’s got to do it.

“But nothing ever seems to get done.”

This is where I’ll take the most exception to Mr. Cattell. Flush your toilet, step out your door, hop in your car and drive to work. None of this is possible if nothing gets done. Much gets done, each and every day. We just sometimes stop noticing because we take many of those things for granted.

“Things become motions and ideas become things…but until these become tangible changes they remain good ideas…”slowdown

Politicians, especially local ones, do not operate in a vacuum. It is their job to try and keep as many people as happy as possible. Some of it is self-serving. Happy residents make for content voters. But it’s also the nature of democracy, creating a consensus based on competing interests and the best evidence available.

If you remain on the sidelines, finding the ‘social activist’ dress ill-fitting, you forgo any influence. A voice heard only every four years is listened to only that often.

From the large buffet of damage done to governance in Toronto by Rob Ford, the customer service item is a pretty hefty one. This idea of voting for a politician and then only getting involved with a phone call when something’s not working for you is a smiley face on dysfunctional civic engagement. It’s reactive democracy, a one-stop runt of resident participation.

You got a problem, folks? Give me a call. I’ll pretend to sort it out and we can all pretend that’s how democracy is supposed to work.

“This is our What’s It Going To Take moment…Now’s the time to do something about it…”getinvolved

If we all took that challenge and accepted the responsibility on matters that are really important to us, there’d no longer be any distinction between social activists and, I don’t know, hard working taxpayers. We’d all be social activists. None of us would be social activists.  We’d have in the words of Matt Galloway, ‘a sense of true community.’

helpfully and hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Now It’s A War On The Raccoon

August 19, 2014

You know we must be in full-fledged municipal campaign season when right wing candidates are turning up the volume and frequency on their Outrage, denzilminnanwongan Outrage inversely proportional to both its importance and reality itself.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s invective against the cost of umbrellas and rocks paid by Waterfront TO to build Sugar Beach. A cost almost entirely all borne by upper levels of government on a project that is succeeding in its goal of generating private sector development in a long underused and undervalued area of the city. Outrageous!

Now Councillor David Shiner is up in arms about an alleged explosion in the city’s raccoon population. “There is an increasing population and they are out there and they are getting more aggressive”, Councillor Shiner claimed at yesterday’s Licensing and Standards committee. raccoonhorde“They are breaking into people’s houses and ripping up people’s lawns and getting into their garbage.” Something must be done. Outrageous!

It is a claim city staff aren’t on board with. At least, not yet. There’s a report being done on Toronto’s wildlife population and is due next year but there’s no indication that the number of raccoons has ballooned. Still, who amongst us hasn’t seen a raccoon this year? So you do the math.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to deliver a public display of über-outrage (not to mention pad a rather skeletal looking re-election campaign), Mayor Ford hopped on both the incensed wagons of Sugar Beach and anti-raccoonness with outbursts that ratcheted up the nonsense into the realm of performance art.

“It’s a severe problem,” the mayor told a media scrum yesterday. “They’re getting braver and braver.” He told of “standoffs” with raccoons. Raccoons popping out of recycling bins. The kids and wife refuse to take the garbage out at night out fear of the raccoons lurking, waiting. outrageous1We are under siege, folks, from an implacable and growing procyonid army, intent on taking control of our curbside garbage placement routines.

It would be funny – it is funny as you can tell by the media snickers elicited by the mayor’s raccoon comments – if it wasn’t the elected leader of a city of 2.5+ people making such ridiculous and (as usual) unsubstantiated remarks about what is, essentially, an inconsequential matter. But that’s just how he rolls, making mountains out of molehills that, of course, being omnivores like they are, raccoons will inevitably destroy in order to satiate their ravenous appetites. Get the people riled up and indignant. Light the flame of anger and outrage under their collective butts. Lash out, people! Lash out.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the mayor offered zero solutions to the pretend problem he was creating. “We have to do something with the raccoons. I don’t have the answer but…” There’s always a ‘but’ followed by silence. The mayor and right wing cohorts like councillors Minnan-Wong and Shiner rarely provide answers because manufacturing outrage is just easier. hornetsnestIt validates their dimly held view of the role of government in our lives. Give the government an inch, it’ll take a mile. Give it a buck, it’ll buy $12 000 umbrellas. And when a problem pops up from behind the garbage bin like this rise of the raccoon horde, government is powerless to help us.

Anger rather than inspiration is their stock and trade. That’s all they know how to do. Pick a fight, stir the pot, move on. Create endless points of outrage in order to keep your name in the press. It’s so much simpler than actually contributing in any positive way to the operations of this city.

racc0onteurly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch IX

August 7, 2014

Tucked away at bottom in the very southwest corner of Toronto, Ward 6 may officially be part of Etobicoke but it feels quite a bit like much of the city’s downtown core. ward6There are serious development pressures especially along the waterfront that make up its southern border. Public transit has not kept up with the area’s population growth. Congestion is part of the daily commute. Employment lands in this once industrial part of the city are being squeezed by the lure of big bucks from residential expansion. Likewise, affordable housing is under threat from the enticement of upscale condos moving in a westward wave from downtown. The expansion of the island airport and the use of jets there is a highly contentious issue.

While city council candidate Russ Ford (no relation) hears about these issues when he’s out knocking on doors, what he’s getting more than an earful of, however, is the M.I.A. status of the ward’s incumbent, Councillor Mark Grimes.whereswaldo2

This is a recurring theme that’s playing out with many of the candidates we’ve been talking to, especially in the more suburban areas of the city. Out of touch, out of contact city councillors not in the habit of engaging with residents on the issues that directly affect them. This lack of visibility, Ford (no relation) tells me, leads to a lack of trust. It’s a feedback loop that plays into the anti-City Hall sentiment that’s the cornerstone of Mayor Ford’s populism.

Russ Ford (no relation) is seeking to change all that. He is a fixture on the Etobicoke-Lakeshore scene, engaged with the communities and neighbourhoods on the ground for 30 years now. For the past 14 years, he has been the Executive Director of LAMP, a local community health centre that promotes preventive measures to maintaining good health through access to secure housing and nutritious, healthy food, improved literacy. texaschainsawmassacreBefore that, Ford (no relation) was the founding Executive Director of another south Etobicoke health centre, Stonegate.

Of course, such involvement at the street level brought Ford (no relation) into direct conflict with the Ford (the other, non-related one) administration during the 2012 budget process that threatened many of the community programs and services Ford (no relation) represented. A budget, like so much of the administration’s agenda, avidly supported by Councillor Grimes who even voted against the $15 million pushback that saved some of these programs and services from the chopping block.

Penny pinching over any sort of vision, Russ Ford (no relation) tells me. Just negligent cutting to meet some arbitrary budget number, consequences to those affected be damned. My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day…

It is crass politics at its worst. Since many of the people hurt by such an austerity approach, many of whom Russ Ford lockstep(no relation) has spent his career working with and advocating for, don’t tend to vote, there is little consequence for a politician not looking out for their interests. Russ Ford (no relation) believes he can help change that equation, make Councillor Grimes have to answer for his almost unwavering support for the mayor’s agenda.

The real threat to the incumbent’s decade+ plus reign in Ward 6, however, is what Ford (no relation) refers to as a group politicized by bad development. Specifically what comes to mind is the Mimico 20/20 plan along the waterfront. This energized a very vocal group — some driven by, undoubtedly, more than a little nimbyism — but for many, there was inadequate community consultation, a feeling that the project was a done deal and presented to them as is. mineminemineTake it or… well, just take it.

Ford (no relation) takes comfort in the fact that, in the end, no residents of any affordable housing would be displaced by the development. Still, there is a sense that the best interests of residents took a back seat to those of the developers and even now, some of the community benefits of the project through Section 37 funds are not being handled in any sort of democratic fashion. Ford (no relation) wants to change the dynamic of that relationship, bring about a sense of inclusion and participation.

He’s got a bit of a mountain to climb. grassrootsDespite the sense of antipathy toward Councillor Grimes Ford (no relation) is hearing from many residents, the councillor was elected with a healthy majority of the popular vote in 2010, building on each successive election since he first won in 2003. If he decides to run (and that’s not an absolute certainty as he has not registered as of this writing), Mark Grimes will be a formidable entrenched incumbent to oust.

But Russ Ford (no relation) has a few things going in his favour. He has a very strong team in place and growing resources to help overcome the name recognition factor which always plays as an incumbent’s strength. He has an established, long term presence in Ward 6, active in the community there, carrying a certain degree of name recognition in his own right. Ford (no relation) also brings a certain enthusiasm to the prospect of becoming city councillor. An enthusiasm seldom on display from the current incumbent.

Perhaps most importantly, Russ Ford (he’s in no way related to the mayor, OK?) is running for city council in order to spark a wider citizen engagement in Ward 6 with City Hall. turnthepageHe wants to bring residents with him not have them send him alone to represent their interests. There’s too much that needs addressing, too many significant changes in the offing for just one person to contend with on their own. This is going to take a group effort.

Russ Ford (unlike his in no way related namesake) has a long history of working well with others. It will be a fresh and much needed dynamic he’ll bring to City Hall. If we’re hoping to see a change for the better come October 27th, let’s hope Russ Ford will be the only Ford on the scene, a new and improved and better Ford.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Tory Brand

August 5, 2014

John Tory is a terrible candidate for mayor. Just awful. rottenthingtosayIf he goes on to win in October, and governs like he’s campaigning, he’ll be a terrible mayor.

Here’s how he responded last week to fellow mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind’s proposal to reinstate the Vehcle Registration Tax:

I’m trying to make the city more affordable and I hear every day from people about the taxation overall that they face and I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. I think I’m not going to be doing anybody a favour in terms of the struggle the taxpayers are facing if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.

Throw in a couple folks’s there and exclaim some Respect for Taxpayers, and it might as well be Rob Ford talking.

These are not the words of John Tory CivicAction city-builder. fordnationIt is a.m. radio talk show host John Tory speaking, getting all faux-populist, anti-tax, Rob Ford like. `… I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation…not doing anybody a favour…if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.’

Taxation as a burden. The city does not have a revenue problem. Investment in services and programs will in no way help struggling taxpayers.

What exactly is John Tory putting on the table for anyone to rally around and champion?

Oh. He doesn’t smoke crack and he’ll attend pride events. questionmarkSlow clap. Bravo.

Not that he was alone among the mayoral frontrunners in rejecting the idea of re-introducing the VRT out of hand. “…under no circumstances,” declared Karen Stintz. A VRT is not part of David Soknacki’s budget plan. Rob Ford? See John Tory’s response.

Most disappointingly (at least from my personal political standpoint) is Olivia Chow, once more skittish about casting any shadow from the left. ‘…councillors have already made a decision on the car tax and she wouldn’t bring it back.’ So while Ms. Chow seems perfectly comfortable revisiting the Scarborough subway decision city council has already made, it’s hands off the VRT.

It might’ve been nice to see the Chow campaign use this opportunity to show she isn’t as reflexively anti-tax as the next candidate to her right. In theory, at least, all the main contenders are to Olivia Chow’s right. scaredofhisownshadow“While the VRT may have been poorly implemented,” the Chow camp could’ve said, “and unfairly targeted car drivers for an annual infusion into the city’s general revenue, I think we cannot ideologically reject the city’s need for additional revenue as almost all of my opponents seem to be doing.”

But that’s a conversation the Chow campaign seems hell bent on avoiding, lest it open itself up to a tax-and-spend, NDP candidate attack from the right and, once more, falling into the trap left-of-centre candidates regular fall into of allowing themselves to be defined by their opponents. It concedes ground without putting up a fight. Yeah, you’re right. Taxes are a burden, never giving back anything in return.johntorycricket1

It puts no daylight between Olivia Chow and John Tory, allowing him to undeservedly claim territory he has no right to claim. I can be disappointed in the Chow campaign so far, but that in no way confers on John Tory the status of viable, progressive alternative. He’s done little to distinguish himself from his political past; the distant, as an unofficial advisor in the Mel Lastman administration in the early days of amalgamation, to the very recent past, with his full-throated and open wallet support of Team Ford.

The problems Toronto faces very much have John Tory’s fingerprints all over them. He’s offered no real solutions in addressing them, only more of the same tired rhetoric. johntorycricketLow taxes, finding efficiencies and almost every other chapter from the Rob Ford campaign handbook, slightly warmed-over and spit-polished to give it a fresh sheen of respectability and thoughtfulness.

John Tory seems to think the message is fine. The only problem’s been the messenger. He’ll get lots of support, campaigning that way. Just let’s not pretend he represents anything other than that. Don’t allow him to get away professing he’s something or someone he’s not.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


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