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


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


Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

If nothing else, these past 4 years have taught us an abject lesson about the slow crawl of change in Toronto. slowchangeWhy can’t we have nice things? Because, well, change is scary and must be avoided at all costs.

First, there was Transit City. Three years in the planning and then, boom! Rob Ford’s first official day as mayor, he declares it dead. It is eventually wrestled back from his control but not in its initial shape or name and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a pricey and politically expedient Scarborough subway now attached.

Second, Waterfront TO and the Port Lands. This one underway since 2001, charged with revitalizing the rather sorry state of Toronto’s chunk of Lake Ontario. A slow but now noticeable process building public spaces and economic development. Too slow, however, and not noticeable enough (at least from their car seats, driving along the Gardiner) for the Ford Brothers and their ilk at city council. texaschainsawmassacreUnilaterally, Councillor Ford sought to take control of the situation with monorails, ferris wheels and shopping malls.

This foray, fingers crossed, was stymied without too much delay. But the attacks continue, I-don’t-even-know-where-Sugar Beach-is style. What’s with the pink umbrellas and Quebec rocks?

And remember that environmental assessment (EA) undertaken late in David Miller’s 2nd term to explore options on the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway – repair, rebuild or remove? No? Funny thing, that. After getting started, the report was quietly shelved in the fall of 2010 and the remaining money used for other ‘priority projects’. citybuildingThree years later, the EA was resuscitated and completed just this year. This one with significant delays and additional costs now attached.

Then, at last week’s council meeting, another addition to the do-we-have-to bin. After overwhelming approval just 2 months earlier, the Eglinton Connects plan came back to council for some additional authorization, this time to much less overwhelming-ness. Led by the mayor and one of his electoral challengers, the plans came under assault for being too driver unfriendly.

“City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” the mayor declared during the now semi-infamous shirtless protest. “This does not make sense. It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We can’t afford more gridlock than we already have. We can’t approve things that will bring this city to a standstill.”

Not to be outdone in his aversion to any new type of thinking when it comes to traffic planning, playingtothecrowdJohn Tory issued his own reactionary statement, although, to give him credit, he didn’t actually stop traffic to do it. “I have said all along that any proposal that will add to road congestion by reducing lanes of traffic is a non-starter in my books. EglintonConnects will do exactly that and will increase traffic by ten per cent on adjacent residential streets.”

We can’t change, we won’t change. As it was, so it shall always be. Anything else?

There’s most certainly some crass political pandering at work here. The War on the Car rhetoric was powerful last time around in 2010. Why not try going back to that well? Much fertile ground to plough there (not to mention plenty of metaphors to mix).

It taps into a strange and opposing dynamic in the electorate. We want change. We know we need change. We just don’t want anything to be different.eglintonconnects

So it seems no matter how much the public is consulted, how much input is offered up, in the end, any sort of significant change in pattern will arouse a noisy pushback. It might not represent significant numbers but it is loud, it is persistent, it is threatening. At least threatening enough to catch the attention of some of our local representatives.

But here’s my question.

Is it our elected officials’ sole job to listen to their constituents, and react only to the most vocal? Eglinton Connects did not suddenly emerge, out of the blue, dropping heavily onto everyone’s laps. By all accounts, it was a very public, open process. thanklessjobHere’s what we want to do? Any thoughts or ideas to improve it?

Just like in real life, sometimes councillors need to stand up to the bullies and loudmouths, marshal support for projects and ideas they believe in. This is a good plan. It will benefit the city, community, neighbourhood, street. Take a position, based on an informed decision, and sell it. Risk electoral retribution? Maybe. But that just comes with the territory, I guess.

Of course, that’s easier said from the outside when there’s no actual risk involved.

Even one of the more change-friendly city councillors, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has had to beat a tactical retreat on a plan in her ward. Friends of Chorley Park have succeeded in delaying the implementation of a new path through a portion of the south Rosedale ravine, better connecting it down through to the Brickworks, a major tourist draw, still most easily accessed by car. This, despite the fact, it has been in the works for two years, with plenty of resident notification and invitations for input.demagogue

Once it became a reality earlier this year, well, all hell broke loose. Petitions signed. Demands made. To the tune of roughly one million dollars in delays, according to Councillor Wong-Tam.

“My concern is that people are dug in so deep that they are not able to compromise on design,” she said, although she remains “…optimistic that we’re going to come up with something great. I’m optimistic that this is a community that’s going to come together and find a community-crafted resolution.”

The lesson from all this, I guess, is no matter how effective a city councillor may be, they can’t push progress forward on their own. They need support from their residents and the public at large. Get involved and get loud. You see something the city is doing that you like and want it to go forward, let everybody know. Beat the drum.

Unfortunately, it seems to be far easier to be against something rather than in favour of it. angrymobChange might result in something worse. It might be better! But it could be worse!

It’s a constant battle against human nature, fighting for change. The best place to start in engaging in that struggle is to help expose the politicians who exploit our risk aversion for their own gains. They aren’t looking out for the best interests of the city, its residents or the future. They’re beholden to only one thing and one thing only. Pure and utter self-interest.

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr


An Appointment With Destiny

July 8, 2014

I get it. It’s supposed to be a mindful, deliberate process, disorderlyorderlythe appointment of an interim city councillor to fill a vacancy left behind when the duly elected councillor resigns the position during a term. The will of voters must be observed and, as best as humanly possible, adhered to.

But wouldn’t it be great if everybody threw caution to the wind and instead took a flyer on protocol and just said: This one’s a real crackerjack. Came in, gave a blockbuster of a speech, has a dynamite CV. Here, Ward [Whatever], try this one on for size. Especially this late in the term. What harm could an appointed councillor possibly do in a few short months?

Alas, no. Order (or whatever passes for order at Toronto’s City Hall these days) businessasusualmust be maintained.

So it was yesterday (as it was last year with replacement of Doug Holyday) with the appointment of new councillors in Wards 5 and 20. No fireworks. Very little surprise or suspense. Just a quiet passing of the torch to caretakers, essentially, until the start of the next term in December, to a couple of established figures. Ward 20 got a long time city staffer and social activist while a political backroomer on the south Etobicoke scene became the new Ward 5 councillor.

The only bit of intrigue during the procedure – no, wait. There were two. – came when a couple former staffers applied for the position of Ward 5 councillor. One, Nico Fidani-Diker, worked in Mayor Rob Ford’s office for a time and is on record expressing some reservations about the role Sandro Lisi played in the mayor’s life. Totally coincidentally, I’m sure, there were problems with the clock in the council chambers during his deputation which he felt got cut short by the speaker, Frances Nunziata.fingerscrossed

The other was the fate of Kinga Surma, an ex-assistant in the former city Ward 5 councillor, Peter Milczyn’s office up until last year’s provincial by-election when she went to work on the campaign of Milczyn’s rival in that race, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. A supposed amicable arrangement between Mr. Milczyn and Ms. Shurma that didn’t actually wind up that way. She was given her marching orders just a few days after Milczyn returned to the office, having lost the by-election.

Yesterday, she placed a distant 3rd in the appointment race to succeed him, providing a lesson to all political neophytes. Never, ever, publically piss on your boss’s shoes. sinkorswimOther bosses don’t look kindly on it, and won’t really extend a hand to help, given an opportunity down the road.

Unfazed by the outcome, Ms. Shurma almost immediately registered to run for the Ward 5 council seat in October’s municipal election. It was not an entirely surprising move, and one that may’ve also contributed to her lack of support by an overwhelming majority of councillors who had little interest in giving her a running start in the campaign. Hopefully for Ms. Shurma, democracy won’t be as office politics minded as the appointment process appeared to be.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


… And Speaking Of Resigning

July 4, 2014

Think there’s no party politics at play at the municipal level? Look around at what’s going on at City Hall right now, folks. pitypartyTell me we aren’t awash in one great big Pity Party.

According to the mayor’s councillor-brother-campaign manager, there’s a “full out jihad” against the Fords now in response to yet another complaint registered with the integrity commissioner, this time about Councillor Ford’s comments made about autistic kids under care at the Griffin Centre. This jihad comes on top of the media jihad that’s been waged upon the mayor since his planned triumphant return from rehab this week.

Happy Ramadan, Muslims. The Fords feel ya.

Not to be outdone in this woe-is-me parade (never to be outdone when it comes to grandstanding), Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti wants everyone to know that he was sick, very, very, gravely ill, so, you know, don’t be pointing the finger at him about some ‘illegal fundraiser’ as alleged by an obviously ‘unfair and biased’ Integrity Commissioner, Janet Leiper, yesterday.

mybrainhurts

How can anyone have done anything wrong that was in a hospital bed with his head carved open?

If there was some improper, shady shit going on in terms of this so-called ‘illegal fundraiser’ – and that’s a big ‘if’ since the integrity commissioner is obviously out to get Councillor Mammoliti as she is always, always ‘breathing down his throat’ – he’s blameless due to medical reasons.  “Some short term memory loss during this period of time.” “I can barely remember any of it.”

The claim, as full of holes and leaky as it is, might hold some water if this was the councillor’s first ethical lapse in judgement. countingfingersI don’t know. The surgeon must have cut out the moral compass of my brain! But it isn’t. Giorgio Mammoliti has come under scrutiny for at least a couple other violations. He’s currently in court facing campaign finance irregularities. There’s the below market value rent he’s received for an apartment owned by a company that does business with the city. Never mind the illegal re-election signs that have popped up.

That’s just this term alone. Let’s not forget the oldie but goodie from way back when the councillor got the city to pay his legal defense against a challenge of his campaign financing in 2006. So either, the thing that was wrong with Councillor Mammoliti’s head was long term and slow growing or the guy simply operates under the premise that The. Rules. Apply. To. Other. People.

Perhaps the most egregious bit of conduct the Integrity Commissioner laid at the councillor’s feet in her report was his accepting of $80,000 from the fundraiser that was attended by lobbyists and companies doing business with city. whome1Even if he was non compos mentis at the time, wasn’t there anybody surrounding the man, family, friends, staff not busy planning the event on the city dime, who thought such a gift might be, I don’t know, a little out of bounds? I’m not a politician, Councillor Mammoliti, but accepting money while you’re in office seems… not quite right. Especially when it’s from people who might benefit from such a transaction with an elected official.

Even when the councillor had seemingly recovered from his brain affliction and returned to his normal state of assholery, he didn’t bother to respond to the integrity commissioner’s offer of allowing him to return the money. Money? What money? Short term memory loss, remember? Remember what? Money? What money? Short term memory loss, remember? Remember what? Money? What money?

And here’s the real kick in the nuts to any and every right-thinking resident of Toronto (and beyond). Even if the integrity commissioner’s recommendations are adopted by city council and Councillor Mammoliti is docked 3 months pay, slaponthewristthe maximum penalty that can be dealt out to him by the city, he’d still walk away with over $50,000 in his pocket. Money paid to him by registered lobbyists and companies doing business with the city.

“This is as offside as you get when you come to a code of conduct violation,” said Brian Iler, the lawyer who brought the original complaint to the integrity commissioner.

Is it any wonder politicians like Giorgio Mammoliti and Rob Ford continue to disregard the rules put in place to ensure ethical behaviour from our elected officials? Why wouldn’t you if you can still come out ahead of the game. It’s a twisted realm of thinking that, if there are no deterrents to your questionable conduct, if there are no tangible repercussions to your actions, like jail time or being chased from office, then clearly, you did nothing wrong. If you did, where’s the appropriate punishment?

getawaywithit

The system as it’s currently set up at the municipal level may not exactly encourage bad behaviour. I can confidently declare that ethical, upstanding councillors heavily outnumber those who aren’t. Those so inclined to disregard the rules, however, are hardly dissuaded from doing exactly that. Ethics preferred but not required should go with the job description. Cheaters sometimes prosper.

cleanly submitted by Cityslikr


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