White Privilege, Black Heart

April 17, 2015

It is my experience that when a politician insists they’ve been elected into office to shake up the status quo, they mean the exact opposite. They are in fact ardent status quo embracers, hugging it lovingly to their bosom, caressing it, eye licking it, making sweet, sweet love to the status quo. You are my rock, status quo. Without you, I am lost, bereft, nothing. Oh my, my status quo.

Yesterday, Mayor John Tory voted along with 4 other members of the Police Services Board to approve a revamped police carding policy that has been described as racial profiling and, quite possibly, unconstitutional. It once again allows for police to stop any individual they encounter, demand personal information without informing that individual of their charter rights to tell the police to go fuck themselves and continue on their way, provide no record to that individual of that interaction and to keep that information filed away for some defined period of time. You know, in case something comes up later, something involving concerns for public safety.

That the overwhelming number of these individuals are men of colour should in no way be taken to mean that this policy is in any way racist. Pure coincidence. If it were racist, the mayor would be the first to give the policy the thumbs down. Because the mayor’s not a racist, and he voted in favour of this policy, carding cannot be racist.

Some of the mayor’s best friends, and all that.

Listen to Mayor Tory explain his vote (as relayed by Paisley Rae on the Twitter):

I’d like to put into context my vote. I don’t doubt for a second — *interrupted by shouts of SHAME* — I have no doubt that this kind of thing is going on (racial profiling) and one time is too many. I thought I was likely to vote in favour of this policy last night so I made some notes. It’s patently false that I’m in denial. If we go back to the 2014 policy it would take us back to the same impasse we’re facing now. 2014 policy was not operationalized. Attitudes were hardening, not driven in bad faith. I will say, police leadership was probably moving more slowly than if there’d been whole-hearted agreement. But that’s not insubordination. There was none, no progress at all. So do you provoke a confrontation or do you make one more effort to achieve movement. This policy isn’t operationalized, it’s a statement of principle which I feel is being looked down on today. You can order people to do things and they’ll do them but they’ll be insincere and incomplete. We need buy-in. Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance? I don’t live in that world {the not real world} to me, the choice wasn’t between April 2014 and where we are today. It was an impasse & no policy at all & no oversight OR we could have a quick step forward and a step forward that was subject to a quick review the choice was to take meaningful progress over an impasse [The room is RAPIDLY clearing out as people quietly curse on their way out the door.] I think the time period allowed for, of 6 months, is adequate to see.

After an entire afternoon of hearing impassioned deputations about the dehumanizing effects of carding, being badgered by the police to hand over your personal information with no reason given except for the one that’s silently understood between everyone concerned, the colour of your skin, being black or brown in the wrong place at the wrong time (any time or place, really), or harsh lawyerly words about the possible unconstitutionality of the policy, having been given an option to defer the implementation of the policy in order to ‘get it right’, as TPSB member Shelley Carroll said and voting against that deferral, after all that, our mayor voted to implement this contentious policy, offering only those mealy-mouthed words in his defense.

We’ll re-visit the issue, he said. In 6 months. That’s adequate. The problem being, as the mayor saw it, was there just wasn’t any buy-in for the old board-driven policy by Chief Blair and the police force. Non-compliance not insubordination. “Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance?” Mayor Tory asked.

Remember that new sheriff in town, getting tough on illegal parkers? But faced with a much more dire challenge to the well-being of this city, a police chief openly defying the directives of what is essentially civilian oversight, citing some backroom ‘legal advice’, Mayor Tory caved spectacularly. As the room cleared of disgruntled and dismayed community members, mothers and fathers of targeted children, residents of Toronto who feel marginalized and diminished by this renewed policy, discriminated against and harassed, the mayor spouted words devoid of any real meaning or intent. He simply filled the air, trying to explain himself.

I’ll leave what this all means to the legacy of Chief Bill Blair and police-city relations going forward in much more capable hands. But I want to ask all those John Tory voters still cloaking themselves in the defense that things could be worse, there could be a Ford in the mayor’s chair. Could it? Would it?

As Paisley Rae tweeted a few hours after the meeting, “Last year Michael Thompson, Francis Nunziata and Mike Del Grande [Rob Ford appointed city council police services board members] passed a more progressive carding policy than Tory did today. Take that in.” In fact, Councillor Thompson forwarded a letter, signed by 14 other city councillors (make it 15 since TPSB member Shelley Carroll voted against the new policy) opposing the new carding guidelines. Clearly, they didn’t understand the words the mayor was saying, the status quo he was shaking, the world Mayor Tory lives in where a step back is called a step forward, regression progress.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


A Legacy Left In The Blink Of An Eye

April 15, 2015

It should come as little surprise, given the magnitude of clusterfuckery inflicted on this city for the past 4+ years now, that the defining moments of John Tory’s mayoralty are coming fast and furious at him. junkintheclosetThe chicks have come home to roost as they say. Unfortunately, they hatched from eggs he didn’t lay but, now in charge of the coop, he’s obliged to raise and tend to them.

I’ve extended that analogy as far as I care to. The drift, I imagine, you get.

There’s the matter of the Scarborough subway. A white elephant of a boondoggle waiting to happen that’s going to cost the city billions of dollars unnecessarily and has already shown up on our tax bills for the past two years. During last year’s campaign, John Tory had the opportunity to flash his fiscal bonafides and renounce the scheme as little more than political pandering. He didn’t. He said, what’s done is done, there’s no use opening up that debate again. Mayor John Tory has kept that campaign pledge, steadfastly refusing to reconsider a bad decision despite the fact that all early indications suggest a Scarborough subway will compete for ridership with the south eastern portion of his own signature transit plan, SmartTrack.sweepundertherug

Rather than rise above this parochial politics which will threaten to limit the city’s ability to pay for other big ticket capital projects in the not too distant future, Mayor Tory blinked. Maybe a forthcoming staff report will provide enough cover for him to still scuttle the plans before the worst is done. Even so, that’s not what you’d call sound leadership.

About that gaping budget hole left behind by the previous city council? John Tory assured us during the 2014 campaign that he, and only he, could heal the rift wrought by the Ford administration with the provincial government. He, and only he, could smooth the ruffled feathers and bring Queen’s Park back to the table, pockets bursting with money to ante up for long forgotten obligations they could now get back to funding. Like transit and social housing, just to pick a couple of the more important ones.

In fact, what’s happened since his election is that the city has paid more back to the province than it’s received. $95 million for the Union-Pearson rail link. sweepundertherug2Some $50 million to cover the provincial shortfall on the Spadina subway expansion. And as for that $86 million hole from the withdrawal of the social program pooling compensation? Yeah, no dice.

At which point, Mayor Tory might’ve had the responsible budget conversation with Torontonians, informing us that, for the moment, we were on our own to balance the budget and to do that we needed to talk seriously about additional revenues, higher than hoped for property tax increase for example. This was another of those defining moments, a mess not of his own making that he now had to clean up. The mayor demurred, choosing instead to pretend he’d fixed the problem. Much like his predecessor.

Unlike his predecessor, Mayor Tory decided to directly address the matter of policing in Toronto, assuming a spot on the Police Services Board rather than designate a representative. A bold move, to be sure, with a union contract to be settled, a new chief to be appointed and a number of prickly, outstanding community issues, police carding at the top of that list. This mayor was not going to run and hide from any of it.

The contract was settled quietly and amicably, it seems. sweepundertherug1The wage increase of 8.64% over 4 years isn’t outrageous out of context but it is difficult to see how it’ll bring the overall police budget, the largest single item the city has to deal with, north of $1 billion annually, into the lean machine the mayor is demanding of other city departments. Not to worry, we were assured during the budget process. Money had been set aside for such a pay increase.

The new police chief has yet to be named with the current chief, Bill Blair, set to retire near the end of this month. But at least, the carding issue has been resolved, a happy compromise reached for everyone concerned. A ‘landmark’, the mayor called it. “We cannot live in a city where young black men, for example, feel devalued or disrespected.” Hoo-rah!

Except that it seems we are. Within a matter of days, the so-called compromise unravelled into acrimonious disagreement. It satisfied almost none of the concerns the public had with the procedure, ranging from the ultimate fate of any collected information through to the informing of the public’s right of refusal to simply walk away from any interaction with the police. sweepundertherug3After claiming the compromise struck the right balance, the Police Services Board chair, Alok Mukherjee, now suggests it simply wasn’t worth it “to go to war with the chief.”

“We were getting nowhere,” Mukherjee confessed. “There was a standoff. We were at an impasse.” In short, the police chief refused to accept direction from the board, thumbed his nose at civilian oversight. He was on his way out. Know when to pick your battles, more or less.

So now, the naming of the next police chief looms large for Mayor Tory. The choice will undoubtedly reflect intensely on his mayoralty. As he likes to remind us, he was elected to shake up the status quo. We shall see while not holding our breath.

Up next in the mayor’s legacy making tour, the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway has popped up onto the political radar. Again. This has been years in the making (and delaying) but it seems crunch time has landed right in Mayor Tory’s lap. (That sounded a lot more risqué than I intended.) sweepundertherug4This one’s already been kicked down the road as far as it can be.

The most sensible thing for anyone who isn’t one of the few drivers who uses that part of the Gardiner to get around the city is to tear it down from Jarvis street east. Replace it with a similar kind of boulevard design that happened when a previous part of the expressway was ripped own. Free that area of the city of the blight that comes from elevated thoroughfares. Step fully into the 21st-century.

But, you know, drivers. They’ll get mad. On talk radio yesterday, the mayor said people are always going to drive. So, you know, don’t rule out catering to their every demand. Drivers.

The previous council refused to make a decision. The hybrid plan – rejuvenate and rejig don’t remove the expressway — was offered up as a compromise. John Tory touted it specifically during the campaign. He was, after all, the compromise candidate.

Now that the bill has come in, and the price tag for such a compromise is so astronomical, nearly double the tear down option, nearly another billion dollars simply in order to keep car drivers happy, just how compromised is Mayor Tory?shinethoseshoes

Defining moments aren’t always time based. They happen when they happen, heedless of our orderly sensibilities and reliance on retrospective. Time isn’t on Mayor John Tory’s side. Through previous neglect and avoidance, these weighty, significant issues have piled up, their expiry dates come due. His chances are coming fast and furious. If it hasn’t yet, judgement will arrive early.

judgmentally submitted by Cityslikr


In Praise Of Paul

April 2, 2015

We spend a lot of time railing here at all Fired Up in the Big Smoke, bitching, if you will, agonizingly over the state of affairs of our local politics. notallbadWith good reason, I think it fair to add. Things are terrible, from the state of our public transit, public housing to the repute (illin’, in the vernacular of the kids today) of our local governance, and many points in between.

Grim, dark days indeed.

From all that glum, occasionally the positives appear, brightly alight on the dreary canvas of civic/political life of this city like the spring flowers we should expect to see sometime soon if this cold, heartless winter ever ends. We’re told it will. Honest. It has to.

So I’d like to send a shout out today to one of those positives, one of the proofs that Toronto isn’t necessarily going to hell in a hand basket. It is the Easter holiday season, after all. If the dead can rise again, why not the near dead? (Too much?)

Councillor Paul Ainslie.applaud

At yesterday’s council meeting, he entered the fray of the accountability officers’ debate, putting forth an amendment to a motion that should put the issue to rest at least for a bit, seemingly satisfying a solid majority of the two factions. It was an adept bipartisan move that deflated the hyper-partisanship which had needlessly infected the issue. Such diplomacy, let’s call it, was a far cry from the Paul Ainslie I remember when I first started closely watching City Hall back in the early days of the Ford era.

It struck me then (and I believe with justification) Councillor Ainslie was simply a robotic ‘yes’ vote for whatever crazy idea the Mayor Ford demanded. In fact, I will confess publicly here for the very first time, I had a hand in an obscure Twitter parody account mocking the councillor, mostly for his refusal to get up and defend some of the positions he took. We can all disagree politically, I think it’s safe to say. caterpillarI just want to hear why you’re doing what you’re doing.

To give Councillor Ainslie his due, at the same time, he was plugging away quietly in his position as chair of the low visibility Government Management Committee. Yeah, I know, right? What the hell is the Government Management Committee and how does it impact my life?

Well, OK. I’m not going into the details here but let me say this. If ranked ballots arrive at City Hall for our next municipal election (currently nestled away somewhere in Queen’s Park awaiting provincial approval), Councillor Ainslie should be credited as one of the prime adoptees of the initiative at City Hall in his role as chair of the Government Management Committee. In a time of regressive, backwards thinking embraced by many in the Ford administration, it is a testament to the councillor’s doggedness to the cause that ranked ballots made it through such a mess.

Then came 2013.

Hopefully when a definitive history is written about Toronto’s city politics from 2010-14, Paul Ainslie’s role in pulling one of the many loose threads of Rob Ford’s ratty, tawdry behaviour will be acknowledged. standupA full month before the crack story broke, it was Councillor Ainslie going public about Ford’s drunken, loutish appearance at the Garrison Ball that really teed the ball up for the messy, ugly fall that followed. Few of the mayor’s supporters had broken ranks with him yet. This was big news at the time that got lost in the ensuing crack story.

The Fords, of course, denied it. They wrote the claim off as just bitterness on the part of Councillor Ainslie for not getting the nod as the budget chief to succeed Mike Del Grande. A few months later, they booted Ainslie from his post as chair of Government Management in a display of what spite was really about.

Let me just say here that while there is no need to point out the Ford’s unfamiliarity with the truth, the notion Ainslie, I don’t know, used the incident to get back at them is sort of laughable. Having chatted with the councillor on a few occasions, I have to say, the man comes across as lacking as little guile as I have seen in any other adult I know. You have to have a little bit of the sharp elbows in you to be successful in politics and Ainslie’s city councillor origin story is not without controversy but if there is a more genuine politician at City Hall right now, I haven’t spoken to them.drunkdriving

The feud between Ainslie and the Fords escalated especially when the councillor reversed course on the Scarborough subway extension. Initially supporting the move, he said after looking at all the information that the numbers simply didn’t add up. He was the lone Scarborough councillor to speak out and vote against scrapping the LRT which led to a series of robocalls being placed by the mayor to residents of Ainslie’s Ward 43, a subsequent complaint to the Integrity Commissioner by Ainslie and yet another apology from Rob Ford.

Compare and contrast the principled stand on the issue made by Paul Ainslie with the complete and utter cowering capitulation and 180 made by Glenn De Baeremaeker.

What was really interesting about yesterday’s accountability office motion by Councillor Ainslie wasn’t so much that he made it, and made it stick. There’s every reason to believe that the original motion of Councillor Stephen Holyday’s wasn’t going to pass, so ill-thought out and deliberately divisive as it was. steakthroughtheheartIt was Councillor Ainslie’s response in defending it to some critics who thought the original motion should just be killed outright.

“I’m not trying to salvage it [Holyday’s motion],” the councillor tweeted. “If we defeat it outright it will only leave too much on the table with an axe to grind.”

Ainslie wasn’t aiming at the motion. He was going after those behind it who had ‘an axe to grind’ with the accountability officers and, for their own mysterious reasons, were determined to reduce oversight of city council despite any protestations they made to the contrary. A more thorough review of the offices (as opposed to the very narrow, amalgamation-orientated one asked by Councillor Holyday) would better arm accountability proponents for future attacks.

I understand why councillors like Shelley Carroll opposed any sort of review. It is unnecessary and floats the idea that there’s something amiss with the accountability offices when the reality is, the only thing wrong is they are all chronically underfunded. easterbunnyYet the pipsqueaks on the council, the Stephen Holydays, Michelle Berardinettis, James Pasternaks, Justin Di Cianos and John Campbells were relentless in their fight against the offices. Councillor Paul Ainslie attempted to put an end to their pursuit once and for all, or, maybe even better, expose them for the regressive, anti-democratic types that they are.

For that, and the general all-round geniality and amenability, good natured can-do-ness, we salute Councillor Paul Ainslie. May you find all the easter eggs you search for in the easter egg hunt you will undoubtedly participate in.

positively submitted by Cityslikr


Another Never Ending Story

March 31, 2015

Not having a Plan B, Our Strength.

Mayor John Tory holds yet another press conference to inform us what most of us already know. It’s becoming something of a tiresome pattern, quite frankly. The media gathers. The mayor stands behind a podium that bears a action-denoting placard. He states the obvious. Questions dutifully ensue, invariably winding up with some take on, Yes but, Mayor Tory, what about Plan B?

Or in other words:

anexitstrategy

Yesterday, the mayor told us about the crisis at Toronto Community Housing. Did you hear? There’s a state of good repair backlog, billions of dollars long, threatening to shutter thousands of units in less than a decade and send that many+ of our most vulnerable residents looking for affordable housing in a squeezed environment where there’s already a waiting list, tens of thousands of people long, lined up to get into the very housing that’s in jeopardy of being board up. (See the start of this paragraph.)

Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. This is news only if not new news counts as news. Why, during last year’s municipal election campaign, David Hains raised a red flag in his Torontoist article. Betsy Powell painted a similarly grim picture in the Toronto Star. tellussomethingwedontknowEarlier this year, the mayor established a task force to examine the crisis.

We know all this already. What are you going to do about it, is what we’re waiting to hear. What’s the game plan? What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

To urge the other two levels of government to get back into funding social housing. Mayor Tory has both ‘moral and business’ cases to make why this should be. We can get a return on our investment and feel good about ourselves while doing it. A win-win. What the hell’s everyone waiting for?

He’s not wrong. The problem is, he’s not the first person to make this point, not even the first mayor to make it. As Ed Keenan points out today, this is a thing nearly a quarter of a century in the making. (An irony sidebar: the man named to head the aforementioned TCHC task force, Senator Art Eggleton, a former Toronto mayor and member of the Liberal government that initiated this crisis when it began divesting itself of the social housing file, offloading to the provinces, and as with any shit stream, it continued to make its way downhill to municipalities. The circle remains unbroken.)iffisheswerewishes

If wishes were fishes, and all that. Yes, it would be fantastic if the federal and provincial governments came on board and began pulling their weight on housing, public transit. It’s an easy argument to make, that they should feel morally obligated to do so. Ditto economically prudent, such investments in key factors for better functioning communities and cities.

Unfortunately, here we still are. All the stamping of our feet, holding of our breath, tubthumping, begging, pleading, blustering hasn’t changed the dynamics. We ask. The feds and Queen’s Park shrug.

So, what’s the Plan B, Matt Galloway asked the mayor on Metro Morning.

Ever the savvy negotiator, Mayor Tory said that he’s not going to talk about any ‘Plan B’ because then the other governments would just tell us to get stuffed and proceed with Plan B. A little game of chicken we’re watching play out.

Except that, as Brian Kelcey pointed out on the Twitter, that’s not how things work, there’s no negotiation. Municipalities make demands, or if they are more politely inclined, ‘asks’. asifNot for nothing, Ottawa and Queen’s Park are referred to as ‘senior’ levels of government. “They either give, or they don’t.”

And if our mayor sees some sort of spirit of giving at either level of government, well, he’s got better eyes than most of us. Just yesterday, in fact, Oliver Moore reported in the Globe and Mail that the province has informed Toronto and Vaughan that the money it pledged to build the Spadina subway extension is going be a tiny bit short, by about $85 million or so. You two make up the difference, would you? And make sure that thing opens up on time or else!

It’s difficult to the point of snapping any optimistic streak in half to see the province pulling out a wad of dough to put in the TCHC pot, moral persuasion and sound business case be damned. Right now they seem much more interested in drawing cash from Toronto rather than make a deposit. The quicker Mayor Tory accepts that fact, the better. Pretending otherwise will only deepen the crisis and make the work that has to be done even more expensive.

It must be difficult for him, this early in to his term, to come to the realization that his influence, his ability to work with the other levels of government might not be as awesome as he thought it was, convinced Toronto voters he possessed. anofferyoucantrefuseI’m certainly not blaming him for believing that other politicians, regardless of where they plied their trade, would want to do the right thing, the smart thing, the moral thing. Keep. Hope. Alive.

But surely the scales have fallen from the mayor’s eyes by now. The current state of our politics is a dog-eat-dog fight for every public dollar out there. We, cities, the province, the federal government, are not partners. We’re rivals, at best agreeing to a you-scratch-my back and I’ll-scratch-yours relationship, not collaborating but always trying to get the upper hand. Unless Mayor Tory is engaged in a much more elaborate and veiled dance, he’s wasting valuable time, blue-skying it and wishing a wish upon a star.

The mayor’s painted himself into a corner, and I’m trying really hard not to think it was deliberate. Maybe he just believed in the rightness of his cause. outofideasIf a fine upstanding citizen like himself saw the moral and business case for billions of dollars of reinvestment in the TCHC, who could possibly disagree? It’s simply a question of doing the right thing.

The alternative is more disheartening, with the best case scenario having Mayor Tory claiming his hands are tied, he has no other choice but to raise the necessary revenue for the city to invest in TCHC itself. He’s been pretty adamant that the property tax base can’t afford the hit, and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong except for the fact the property tax base is funding the Scarborough subway extension and somehow the property tax base came up with nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. So yeah, priorities.

Taxes are a necessary evil. Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault.

The darker turn, though, is all this being a pretext for yet another assault on TCHC. A firesale. testedWe can’t afford to maintain these homes anymore, and we’ve been left to our own devices by Queen’s Park and Ottawa. Only the private sector can save us now. By turning the stock over, Mayor Tory can later claim he kept true to the pledge he made to Matt Galloway earlier today that TCHC buildings would not be boarded up under his watch.

Probably sooner rather than later, we’re going to see just how much of a moral issue social housing is to Mayor John Tory.

wearily and warily submitted by Cityslikr


Big Money. Little Love.

March 30, 2015

Many of us, including yours truly, we’re rightly criticised for arrogantly dismissing the bloc of supporters that brought Rob Ford to power 4+ years ago. holdyournoseReactionary, low-information voters who simply didn’t understand what’s good for them, if I can sum up the sentiment pithily. Inchoate ragers, even more pithily.

Sure, Ford Nation also consisted of the fanboy social media types and members of some traditional media organizations on the far right of the political spectrum that supported Rob Ford right down to the bitter, crack and booze fueled end. What flummoxed many of us, however, was the continued allegiance to the Ford brand of a solid segment of the more marginalized communities of the city. Lower income, first and second generation residents, people of colour. Those most adversely affected by the policies Rob Ford pursued during his decade and a half at City Hall. Many held on tightly to a conviction that Rob Ford was always looking out for the little guy, them.

Even when his health forced him from seeking re-election, his brother Doug, a one-term councillor and not nearly the retail politician Rob was, rode the populist wave of dissatisfaction to a 2nd place finish last October, tying up more than a third of the popular vote, a mere 6 points behind the eventual winner, John Tory. acloseoneHoly hell. That was a close one. Imagine if Rob had been able to remain in the race, goes the thinking. He might’ve won.

Standing between that result and what we actually wound up with was John Tory money John Tory, no, money. As the deadline came last week for candidates to file their 2014 campaign financials with the city, we learned “…that John Tory ran the most expensive mayoral race in Toronto’s history, with a list of contributors that reads like a who’s who of the city’s movers and shakers,” according to Oliver Moore of the Globe and Mail. The affluent and influential dug deep into their pockets to quiet the clamour of Ford Nation.

I think it’s safe to assume that this story is far from settled.

Never mind for the moment the ironies running rife through this tale. familycompactBoth John Tory and the Ford brothers are full on rich, white privileged men. It was pretty much a race between old money versus new, the establishment versus the nouveau riche, a question of competing country clubs. (Toronto’s very own version of Caddyshack!)

Or ignore the fact many of these same ‘movers and shakers’ (including then private citizen John Tory) initially supported the Rob Ford experiment at City Hall. Only after he became an international embarrassment on the public stage did this dynamic change. And then, only grudgingly, and when it became politically expedient and/or advantageous to do so.

This scenario of big money buying the election is hardly one to placate any sense of frustrated alienation with City Hall that remains strongly lingering out there. Money’s money, right, regardless of whether it comes from union fat cats or titans of industry. unimpressedWhile it is entirely understandable why Mayor Tory declined the invitation to a fundraiser being held to pay off Doug Ford’s mayoralty practice, it only will help feed into that outsider sense of those who voted for Doug Ford. Personal is personal but this is politics, and this snub certainly isn’t going to help engender any feeling of goodwill toward the mayor from those who have very little of it to start with.

And it’s a sizeable chunk of the population. Three out of five voters didn’t cast a ballot for John Tory last October. His approval ratings have settled into a range only slightly above that. Revel as we might in the calm that has descended upon our local politics, do not mistake it for any sort of widespread contentment. The fact that the well-connected and monied helped reclaim the mayor’s office for one of their own should hardly be cheered and taken as a sign that all is well in Toronto. The restoration of civic order and propriety is not the same as facing the challenges that contributed to the unrest and anger sitting at the base of Ford Nation.closeddoormeeting

We ignored and diminished it the first time a warning flare was fired. Into the reaction space created by our unwillingness or, simply, inability to respond to the legitimate demands made by those disaffected and disenfranchised by the direction the city was headed, stepped the usual suspects. Connected civic players who view Toronto as much of a personal asset as they do a place to live and work. Don’t worry, folks. They’ve got this covered.

We’re in good hands now, warmed by an overweening sense of noblesse oblige, if we want to take a sunny view of it.  I remain unconvinced, however, hearing the quiet not as any sense of calmness but as the future of Toronto being plotted out of earshot. Like it or not, the unruliness of the last 4 years was, among many other things, a sign of heightened civic engagement. When all is said and done, I’d take that over the silence of backroom influence any day of the week.

dancingly submitted by Cityslikr


Shooting The Messengers

March 27, 2015

What the fuck is up with city council?

Just days away from yet another sanctioned apology from Rob Ford by the Integrity Commissioner for yet another ethical lapse on his part while serving as mayor wtf– What for this time? The use of ethnic/racial slurs – and a lobbyist registrar’s report of improper lobbying of then Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, then conuncillor, Doug, by one of their family business’ clients, a couple freshman councillors are bringing a motion to next week’s council meeting that would diminish the oversight of all four accountability offices through amalgamation.

It’s as if, seeing the slime trail left behind by the Fords (and a few other councillors) from last term, the response is to lessen the ooze by checking the investigative process instead of changing the greasy behaviour.

What exactly these new councillors, motion mover, Stephen Holyday, and seconder, Justin Di Ciano have against the accountability officers is difficult to fathom. They’ve been in office for less than four months. Some sort of pre-emptive axe grinding? Who knows. metooBut it is another full frontal attack on the accountability offices that began at the last budget committee meeting with a Councillor Michelle Berardinetti walk on motion to reject all increased funding requests by the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner. A motion supported by Councillor Di Ciano and another rookie Etobicoke councillor, John Campbell (not to mention the budget chief himself, Gary Crawford).

Mayor John Tory managed to walk that one back ever so slightly, pushing a motion at the following council meeting to partially restore the funding request a slight fraction. A gesture which amounted to little more than seeing the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, announce she would not be seeking reappointment, fearing the `divisiveness’ would do long term harm to the office itself. Good job, Creanie, is essentially how the mayor greeted that news, and then his Executive Committee passed a motion to keep future Ombudsman’s gigs to just one, 7 year term, replacing the current 2 term, 5 years each, the 2nd, renewable at council’s pleasure, thereby reducing the politicking of the appointment process to just a one-time thing. Probably pragmatic politics but for the absolute wrong reasons.

I mean, what reason is there to resist strengthening oversight of the operations at City Hall, both the public service and elected officials? There’s been no credible criticism of the job any of the accountability officers have done. Report after report from them has been accepted by city council and city staff, many recommendations implemented. pokeintheeyeThis has never been a question of competence or performance.

So, what then?

There is no good or satisfying answer to that. Various councillors, including one currently under criminal investigation for accepting $80,000 from a fundraiser back in 2013, have seen the accountability investigations as some sort of witch hunt. During the hyper-partisan years of the Ford Administration, the work done by the Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar became characterized as some sort of left-right issue, non-elected bodies trying to undermine the democratic will of the voters of Toronto. These weren’t misdeeds or missteps being committed, but acts running contrary to the sore losers on the left.

Such were dynamics of the day.

Yet these motions seem intent on dragging this past fractiousness forward, keeping the matter alive. The mayor, councillors Campbell, Di Ciano, Holyday had nothing to do with any of it. Now they seem to want to join the fray. (Matt Elliott has his usual excellent insight into the seemingly passive-aggressive role Mayor Tory’s playing in this sad melodrama.) suffocateIt’s not even clear whether the motion will be in order, if it contravenes the City of Toronto Act, which had established the accountability offices or would require changing that act.

With so much else that needs tending to in Toronto, we all know the list: infrastructure, affordable housing, transit, why are councillors wasting their time, as well as ours, and, undoubtedly, threatening to further dig a partisan divide, by attacking and diminishing the accountability offices?

We need to listen very carefully to each and every councillor who rises to speak in favour of this motion next week at city council. They must spell out clearly and concisely why they think folding 4 offices into 2, 4 offices which overlap only in the function of providing oversight, will help to increase transparency and public scrutiny of the job City Hall is doing. Because, right now, I can’t think of one compelling reason to do what councillors Holyday and Di Ciano are proposing to do. Not one.

Moreover, Mayor Tory needs to step up to the plate and lead the charge killing this thing. He is too back-roomed up, too chock full of potential conflicts of interest through his continued affiliation with the likes of Rogers, brooma senior staffer of his and former lobbyist already tsked tsked by the Registrar for a lobbying transgression back in 2012 and raising eyebrows in his current capacity for talking up a Toronto Library Board candidate for the chair, to be seen as anything other than unequivocal in his opposition to any potential weakening of the accountability offices. The mayor cannot shy away from this this time around. Otherwise, he will establish the tone at City Hall that oversight is negotiable.

dubiously submitted by Cityslikr


A Matter Of Accountability

March 24, 2015

If John Tory, upon taking over the mayor’s office, had really wanted to signal a break with his predecessor’s administration, he’d have gone all in in supporting City Hall’s accountability offices. hulksmashSerious breaches of city council’s code of conduct were numerous and investigated by the Integrity Commissioner. Public complaints about ‘the administration of city government’ to the Ombudsman’s office skyrocketed. Both offices were overwhelmed with work and requests without the proper resources to fully respond.

Yet, he didn’t. His support for both offices through his first budget process was tepid, at best, calculated at worst. At the budget committee wrap up meeting, a motion was passed to cut requests for increased staff in the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner’s offices to zero, none, zip. Public pushback resulted in Mayor Tory’s motion at city council the following week to restore, ever so slightly, a fraction of those requests, including 1 new staffer (of the 6 asked for) for the Ombudsman. Just enough to be able to say publicly, We love the work these offices do! while still being able to keep a straight face.

The current Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, was so grateful and impressed by the gesture that she subsequently decided not to seek reappointment to her post in the fall, a reappointment that should’ve happened two years ago, a full reappointment denied her by city councillors not happy with some of her findings. thanksfornothing(That is another sad, sordid story completely.)

“Council is not living up to the commitment of fairness and independent oversight that was promised in the City of Toronto Act,” the Ombudsman said during yesterday’s announcement. “The debate on my reappointment next week promises to be divisive, and I feel this will hurt the office, and its efforts to ensure fairness for the city’s residents.”

Mayor Tory could’ve stepped up and championed the Ombudsman, tried to dampen the divisiveness. He didn’t, only applauding Ms. Crean for a job well done with “gusto and determination”. Don’t let the door hit you… Here’s your hat. What’s your hurry?

Now, I’m not going to impugn the mayor with questionable motives for his lukewarm support of the Ombudsman but I will say, just in terms of optics, you’d think Mayor Tory would want the perception of his defending of the city’s accountability offices rock solid and airtight. whatsyourhurryGiven the number of potential conflicts of interest he might be subject to, largely through his connections to Rogers, (I mean how many votes did he sit out for that very reason at last council meeting?), the last thing he’d want is to appear lackadaisical in his views of the oversight officers. Last term was beset with the tumult such an attitude from the mayor’s office established. Mayor Tory could’ve delivered a real break with that.

He didn’t, and my best guess is that he (or his staff) is listening to all the wrong people on the issue. Councillors with an axe to grind with either or both the Integrity Commissioner or Ombudsman. Councillors unhappy with being under the oversight microscope, and taking their findings personally rather than professionally. Thin-skinned public servants unhappy with public scrutiny of their performance.

The company you keep, am I right?

“I had hoped, following the recent election, that the political climate surrounding the ombudsman’s office would have changed,” the Ombudsman said. stainedshirt“When I saw the divisive nature of the debate at budget committee, I made the decision over the past week that I would not seek reappointment.”

Mayor Tory had an opportunity to change the tone between city council and its accountability officers, from adversarial to a more cooperative one. He didn’t. He merely shrugged, unwilling to spend any political capital on the matter as if it wasn’t really that important to him. Now he gets to wear the Ombudsman’s departure because it’s all on him.

warily submitted by Cityslikr


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