Speaking Truthfully

March 28, 2014

Much post-1st debate chatter yesterday (well, at least in the circles I run in), topics including: postmortemWho won? What the hell was that I just watched? Was that a hologram of Gord Martineau?

Perhaps there was no subject bigger than Mayor Ford’s liberal use of facts and figures. Yes, that will be the only time you can use the word ‘liberal’ in a sentence with Rob Ford unless it is followed by ‘hater’. He was free-wheeling and free-styling, tossing out numbers every which way, proving to everyone following along that he was Toronto’s greatest mayor ever, and without him, this city would be the hellish shithole it was prior to November 1st 2010.

This is nothing new. Unfortunately, the format of the CityNews debate was such that claims made by candidates couldn’t really be isolated and nailed down for further examination. It was just a whole lot of throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck.

One that did was the mayor’s often heard boast of saving the city a billion dollars during his time in office. This is something that’s been, if not debunked, hotly contested. Matt Elliott took it on back last May. Daniel Dale wrestled with the figures again in November. factcheck1The city manager himself, Joe Pennachetti, seemed to put the matter to rest, raising a bureaucratic eyebrow at the number and suggesting, well, not quite.

But inexplicably, into the mix of yesterday’s discussion, the city’s CFO sent out a memo to councillors, essentially confirming Mayor Ford’s $1 billion assertion.
$972 million if you don’t count the $200 million or so in lost revenue savings from the repeal of the Vehicle Registration Tax. Yeah, so let’s call it a billion. The memo was the source the mayor used to back up the claim during his interview earlier today on Metro Morning.

In a hastily called press conference yesterday afternoon, the city manager tried to pull the reins back on the horse that had already left the barn. “They are not $1-billion of tax savings,” Mr. Pennachetti told the press. “If he calls it budget savings, he’s correct. If he calls it expenditure cuts only, that’s not correct.”factcheck

“Budgeting in the city is very complicated,” the city manager said.

Proving once more, in the words of Mark Twain, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

The Fords go around banging the drum about their billion dollar savings, a billion dollars, a billion dollars, a billion dollars, which is clearly untrue, but to refute it means a more detailed analysis, some nuance. You say it was a billion dollars, Mr. Mayor, but here on line 22 of the CFO’s memo, under reduced capital financing, you have—ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

It is the triumph of jingoistic, slogan-driven politics. Say something loud enough and often enough, something everybody can sing along to, and it becomes its own beast. This creature with legs that just cannot be killed.

I was mulling all this over yesterday afternoon when Councillor Shelley Carroll began tweeting out some of the savings that made up the mayor’s one billion dollars. texaschainsawmassacre$75 million cut from the TTC. ($80 million if you include WheelTrans.) Nearly $14 million in Children Services. Over $15 million for roads. $13 million in Employment Services.

Planning department, cut. Shelter, Support and Housing, cut. Long Term Care and Services, cut. The Intergrity Commissioner, cut. The Lobbyist Registrar, cut. Toronto Public Health, cut. Toronto Public Library, cut. Toronto Zoo, cut.

Cut, cut, cut.

So I’m thinking, what the hell, give the lying motherfucker his one billion dollars, immediately followed by, You guaranteed us no services cuts. What are you lying about? Saving taxpayers money or no services cuts? You can’t have both. It’s right here in the CFO’s memo.

Matt Galloway pursued that angle in his interview with the mayor, forcing Ford to stray into the weeds of weasel words. Not cuts, Matt. Efficiencies. Efficiencies aren’t cuts.factcheck4

Well, tell that to everybody waiting longer for their bus or crammed onto a rush hour subway. Drivers carefully navigating the roads to avoid potholes. Residents with flooded basements.

They’re not cuts. They’re efficiencies.

And this is where you can tie in Mayor Ford’s personal problems with his job performance. You lied about not smoking crack, Mr. Mayor. You lied about a reporter taking pictures of your children. So why should we believe you’re not lying about these numbers?

The mayor will then wave the memo around and accuse you of calling the CFO a liar. No, you respond, I believe the CFO when he says the TTC was cut by $75 million dollars. You, Mayor Ford, say you haven’t cut the TTC one dime. Are you lying again, Mr. Mayor? You have a track record of lying.

Liar, liar, liar.

It’s difficult. As grown-ups we don’t tend to go around calling people names even when those names are appropriate. factcheck2Think about it. When was the last time you stood up and called somebody a liar who wasn’t a family member or co-worker? Most of us were raised better than that. Normally, we politely disengage and change subjects.

But then again, how many of us have to deal with the likes of Mayor Ford and his brother, two men who lie as easily as they breathe? They count on others behaving reasonably and not pushing back hard. When someone does, they cry foul and start working the referee. It gives them the edge.

Treading softly and attempting to stay above the fray has not worked. There is little other recourse at this point other than resorting to the truth. The truth is our mayor is a liar. All he does is lie. Keep it simple and to the point.

killpinocchio

There you go again, Mr. Mayor, telling lies and taking us for fools.

factually submitted by Cityslikr


A New Generation Of Suburban Resentment

March 25, 2014

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

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

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

Yeah. That about sums it up.

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

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

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

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

Or LRTs, for that matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this might play well for her constituents.

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

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

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

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


Still Undecided

March 13, 2014

I know what you’re thinking.

Olivia Chow’s in the race to be mayor of Toronto. She’s got his vote.notsofast

It’s true.

She was my city councillor until 2006. She was my MP until yesterday. I voted for her every time there was an opportunity.

But my vote on October 27th is not a given.

Here’s what Olivia Chow in her campaign to be mayor of Toronto has to do to ensure my vote.

She has to embrace every aspect of her progressivism and repudiate everything that the current mayor, Rob Ford, stands for. There is nothing, nothing, of this mayor’s record that should be embraced or applauded. His 3+ years in office have been an unmitigated disaster for this city. listofmydemandsMs. Chow must not miss any opportunity to point that out.

I do not want to hear hedged talk or cautious goals. I want a full, warm embrace of real city building, an acknowledgment of the responsibilities we have to make Toronto a healthier, more sustainable, more equitable place to live. I don’t want to see any ducking away from the inevitable epithets thrown in her direction, that have already been trotted out in expectation of her entrance into the race. Tax-and-spender. Yeah? What of it? That’s what people elect politicians to do. Tax fairly. Spend wisely.

While I recognize Ms. Chow was only around for a part of David Miller’s tenure in office and she could try and keep her distance from his record, I’ll become suspicious if she does so. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially in light of what’s come later. In fact, now is the time to set that record straight. That we were never on the precipice of fiscal ruin. That we weren’t being nickel-and-dimed to death by overly onerous taxation. whatareyougoingtodo1That the gravy train was nothing more than an effective campaign concoction.

Olivia Chow also needs to come right out of the gate with a realistic transit plan that is not designed to mollify parochial concerns. As the federal transportation critic for the NDP, she was conspicuously silent during the last Scarborough subway debate. Perhaps she felt it wasn’t her fight to fight. Now it is. How she proceeds on this issue will go a long way to how I wind up casting my ballot.

As a left of centre voter my support should not be taken for granted or assumed to have nowhere else to go.

With only one declared major candidate on the left right now, the other contenders realize they have to chip away at that base if any of them have a hope to win this time around. They have to roll out their progressive cred, as it were. allearsWoo those voters who aren’t yet or never will be able to bring themselves to vote for an NDP labeled candidate.

I will be listening to their pitch too.

Truthfully, I’ve already ruled out Mayor Ford and Councillor Karen Stintz. Neither one of them has shown any progressive stripes while in office. John Tory makes a big stink of his red Tory politics but certainly coming out of the gate he’s shown off none of that, relying so far on flying monkey attacks on Chow’s fiscal record and alleged use of public resources to kick off her mayoral campaign. You can’t team up with the dark side and not expect to collect any of that dirt on you.

That leaves David Soknacki so far as the reasonable voice of the centre-right big name contenders. He’s certainly made meaningful announcements about the Scarborough subway and transit file. I’ll wait patiently to see what else he has to say and the policies he rolls out. (I’m even prepared to overlook his first serious gaffe, yesterday uttering some divisive suburban vs. urban nonsense to greet Ms. Chow’s entry into the campaign). It’s a long race. caucusraceThere’s no need to decide on anyone yet.

And don’t forget. I’m not afraid to cast a ballot on a long, long, long shot, doing so in 2010 on Himy Syed. While the stakes seem higher this election, we now know exactly what damage can be done and not what damage may be done, I will not be beholden to voting strategically and settling for a lesser of two evils. I’d really like to go out and vote without holding my nose and believing I was making a positive contribution to Toronto’s future.

That possibility exists currently. Let’s cross our fingers and hope it stays that way.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


We Have Enough

March 12, 2014

“We have enough.”

And with that, Mayor Rob Ford solved the city’s inequality and social disparity. werefinethankyouJust like that. Just three words. We have enough.

The mayor was speaking about the city staff’s report on expanding what used to be referred to as Priority Neighbourhoods and now re-dubbed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. If OK’d by city council, they’d also grow in number from the current 13 to 31. In short, it means increased investment directed at neighbourhoods, targeting various social, economic and infrastructure factors that contribute (or don’t, as the case may be) to inequities throughout the city.

Of course, the mayor was having none of it. Priorities neighbourhoods are where you go to campaign and show that you’re always looking out for the little guy. As an elected official you don’t actually try and solve any of the problems. That’s what the private sector’s for. Government is just there, to sit back, stay out of the way and keep taxes low.

While Mayor Ford is the poster child on city council for this way of thinking, he’s far from alone. offendedMore than a few of his low tax, no spend colleagues represent wards in which these priority neighbourhoods are located and they resent the designation, believing it discourages investment because, I guess, business types don’t care for the poors. Way back in the early days of the Ford administration Matt Elliott summarized the move by the likes of councillors Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziati to try and rid their wards of the stigma of neediness designated by such a distasteful moniker.

End inequality by renaming it.

Even doing that, however, hasn’t placated Mayor Ford. Despite staff’s best intention to make their findings more thorough and robust, more inclusive to the hurdles people face living and working in this city, he shrugs it off in three easy-to-remember words. For him, calling it something else only expanded the numbers, made the problems seem worse.

What he refuses to accept, what every adherent to his low tax, spending not a revenue problem political philosophy refuses to accept is that it is this very approach that has exacerbated the problems. everythingsgreatChronic underfunding in both hard and soft services that go toward enhancing everyone’s ability to make the most of the opportunities available to them living in this city – from transit to housing, parks to daycare – have created the unhealthy and insecure situations giving rise to our ballooning priority neighbourhoods. There is no other alternative.

We’ve gone through the pretty much useless exercise of finding efficiencies that helped sweep Ford into power. Take whatever number he wants to throw at you as the number he’s saved while mayor, $400 million, a billion, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to tap. It’s done. No more juice to squeeze.

Don’t believe me? Ask the fiscal hawk of a city manager who’s obediently followed the mayor’s instruction to stop the gravy train. “I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services,” Joe Pennachetti said in December. While some of us would argue services and programs have already been more than impacted, the statement still stands. We’ve gone as far as we can down this ruinous route of penny-pinching and cheapening of our civic life.

The complaint often heard during Rob Ford’s mayoral run in 2010 was that with all the spending going on under then mayor David Miller (who, it should be noted from the above article, Mr. Pennachetti applauded for beginning the fiscal reforms at City Hall) there was little to show for it. everythingsfineUntrue on a number of points especially with substantial increases in transit services to name one, it was entirely ridiculous to think that 7 years of increased spending was going to immediately reverse decades of under-spending. The first 3 years of property tax freezes under Mel Lastman. The actual costs of amalgamation and provincial downloading. Transformation was not going to happen overnight.

Not to mention the history of low tax and pay-as-you-go services and programs pursued by many of the former municipalities making up Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Now, I know there are multiple factors at play here. The concentration of wealth and businesses in the downtown core. A certain continued disregard emanating from there outward to the city’s perceived hinterlands.

newpriorityneighbourhoods

But look at the map. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the former priority neighbourhoods and many of the new additional Neighbourhood Improvement Areas sit in those former municipalities. Etobicoke, Scarborough, York. Traditional home to many of the city’s most anti-tax, small government zealots. Such zealotry continues to be represented on city council today.

The mayor, his brother, the afore-mentioned trio of Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziata. Throw in the budget chief, Frank Di Giorgio. The former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Budget Committee members, councillors Gary Crawford and Ron Moeser.goodtothelastdrop

Councillor James Pasternak, also a member of the Budget Committee and fiscal hawk, bemoaned the loss of a priority neighbourhood, Westminster-Branson, in his ward in the new configuration. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

Yeah well, Councillor Pasternak. Maybe you should’ve thought about that when you fought to keep our property taxes low, tossed out the vehicle registration tax, put money toward a totally unnecessary subway. Didn’t you ask for a report exploring the possibility of reducing the Land Transfer Tax, another source of city revenue, next year?

So here we are, with the lowest property tax rate in the GTA, under-utilized and always under threat sources of possible revenue, staring at huge infrastructure needs and growing segments of the city woefully under-serviced, isolated and alienated. miserlyWe’ve tried scaling back our efforts and investment in the hopes of somehow, miraculously, turning things around. We haven’t and we won’t until we accept the fact and responsibility that improvement in our city’s physical environment and quality of life doesn’t just happen, doesn’t come for free or even on the cheap.

We have enough? How about, We’ve had enough? Respect for Taxpayers was a real nice, catchy slogan but it’s done fuck all for an increasing number of residents of this city. It’s time to stop pretending and accepting responsibility to make things better for all of us, not just some of us.

finally submitted by Cityslikr


The Not Rob Ford

March 1, 2014

It probably seemed really easy in theory.

Just separate yourself from Rob Ford, the man, the human train wreck, but embrace the policies he’s pursued as mayor. wipeyourhandscleanThat’s what everybody’s telling us, aren’t they? Love the low taxes, increases in (non-car related) user fees, cutbacks in services and programs. All good. If we could roll back on a little of the crack news and police chief baiting, however, everything would be roses.

The wisdom of the latter portion of that analysis of the electorate’s pulse will be put to the test as the mayoral campaign unfolds especially once a left of centre candidate joins the race… an actual left of centre candidate is going to join the race, I trust. We shall see just how enthusiastic the folks have embraced what have been essentially austerity budgets at the municipal level for the past 3 years, and an alternative approach is truly championed. When the snow and ice have receded… the snow and the ice will eventually recede, I trust, and the city strains to keep up with all the pothole fixing and road re-paving. whatdidhejustsayNever mind the water main breaks and basement flooding.

But even the simple aspect of the presumption, the whole distinguishing yourself from Rob Ford, has not been a swift clean break. At least not right out of the blocks. At least not for either Karen Stintz or John Tory.

“We thought we were getting a responsible leader,” Councillor Karen Stintz told the crowd gathered at Tuesday’s Toronto and Region Board of Trade lunch time kick off to her campaign.

OK, look.

You might’ve agreed with the thrust of the Rob Ford’s 2010 campaign. That the city was sitting on a fiscal cliff. That there wasn’t a revenue problem. There was a spending problem. That it was time to Stop the Gravy Train, blah, blah, blah.

Fine. I think posterity, such as it is only 4 years on, has proven that thesis woefully incorrect. But not my point here.shiva

My point is, nobody in their right mind saw Rob Ford as a ‘responsible leader’. There would be no way to come to that conclusion, looking back over his 10 years as a councillor. Perhaps too many of us failed to see just how irresponsible he’d become but Rob Ford never represented responsible leadership.

What he was, and what his ardent supporters wanted him to be, was a radical break with past municipal governance in this city. Not just his immediate predecessor, David Miller, but even the more loveable, incorrigible, softer conservatism of Mel Lastman. Where Lastman wanted smaller government, Rob Ford and his brand of conservatism just outright hated government.

Rob Ford, Etobian Shiva, politico of destruction. His job was to level the place. He didn’t do a whole lot to disguise that fact. If you signed on, you signed up for that. Otherwise, you signed on blind.

So it’s a bit awkward now if you’re John Tory and news breaks during the first few days of your official candidacy that back in 2010, you donated to both Rob’s mayoral campaign as well as brother-Doug’s councillor race. More awkward still, you invite Rob Ford’s former campaign director and first mayoral chief of staff, Nick Kouvalis, on to your campaign team. imwithstupid2The distinction between you and the guy you’re trying not to be gets a little blurry.

Toss in the fact that on his bully pulpit of talk radio, John Tory could hardly be considered the mayor’s harshest critic. Even as a widely acknowledged civic leader as CEO of the Greater TorontoCivic Alliance, where rational public transit policy was promoted, Tory didn’t really push back hard on the grievous assault the mayor inflicted on the city’s transit plans. It’s all well and good to tsk, tsk Rob Ford’s appalling “extra”-curricular behaviour but I’d argue Toronto’s suffering more from the blows inflicted by his malignant policy pushes that Mr. Tory isn’t trying as hard to distance himself from.

At least, Tory’s got some actual, you know, distance between he and the mayor to try and play with. He was never part of the official Team Ford down at City Hall like, say, Councillor Karen Stintz. The mayor’s TTC chair until just a couple weeks ago, responsible for the regular fare hikes and service roll backs. She once wrestled the transit file from him, only to, in perhaps the weirdest twist of crass political pandering imaginable, pretty much hand it right back to him with the Scarborough subway he always wanted. Not exactly in the spot he originally intended but enough in the general vicinity to permit him to triumphantly pound his chest and bellow victory, regardless of how misguided.sunflowerskarenstintz

The twists and contortions Councillor Stintz is currently performing in order to be Not Rob Ford are equally astounding. It’s as if she’s trying to wipe our minds clean of the past 4 years with the soothing sounds of banality. “A better tomorrow does not rely on yesterday’s politics and old-fashioned thinking,” came one tweet. “We need to get past the dysfunction at City Hall and build a better place to live,” intoned another. “Let’s leave the battles behind us. Let’s leave yesterday’s attitudes behind. Moving forward,” sang one in an almost Andy Williams lyrical style.

She brought bags of sunflower seeds to her Board of Trade speech, bearing the title ‘Grow a strong tomorrow’.

AARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

westworldYou can almost hear the gears grinding, smell the oily smoke generated from the calculated effort to be Not Rob Ford. Pick me. I don’t smoke crack. Pick me. I’m congenial not combative. Pick me. I’m just like you.

Team Stintz seems so determined to present a fresh, smiling face of non- belligerence and confrontation that it is scrubbing its candidate clean of anything resembling personality. A computer generated rendering of a perfectly polished aspirant to the mayor’s office, free of controversy or conflict. She is the veritable calm after the storm.

I am not Rob Ford. I am [fill in the blank]. I am whoever you want me to be, bringing subways and change for a better future, free from the nasty pastiness of the past. Vote for me. You will hardly even know I’m here.

blankly submitted by Cityslikr


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