Here’s Your Coat…

January 18, 2013

I will admit to a slight glitch of feeling, a tiny moment of near compunction when I heard the news on Wednesday night of Budget Chief Mike Del Grande’s resignation. waitasecHuh? That’s… something, I thought.

Then we proceeded to pop the cork on some bubbly.

I write no note of gratitude or appreciation toward our outgoing budget chief. Like in our post last weekend on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, I can find no redeeming qualities in the political life of Councillor Mike Del Grande. There’s nothing to respect or applaud. Even if I were to lie just a little bit.

Given enough time and a couple glasses of wine, I probably could byte a few positive words about Mayor Rob Ford. Probably. In a pinch. But increasingly, I have great difficulty coming up with duly appropriate nods of respect for conservative politicians. thinkingThose propelled into a life of elected office on the wings of anti-government sentiment and the core conviction that it is nothing but a determinant to be neutralized and dismantled.

Michael Del Grande is one of those types of politicians.

Read through yesterday’s perfectly timed feature in The Grid on the then-but-now-ex budget chief and consider this following passage:

“I grew up poor, so I know what it’s like to make a buck. My attitude is, any dime that’s spent out there, I treat it [like] it’s my own.”

There’s no sense of community, no belief in a greater good. I pay my taxes. I expect results. Certifiable, directly benefiting me, bang-for-my-buck results.

It’s almost as if he wanted to become budget chief in order to be able to track every penny he pays in municipal taxes mineminemineand make sure he personally was getting something in return.

Of course, I could just say that being the budget chief of Toronto and overseeing billions of dollars must be one hell of a job, thankless in that you can never please everybody and onerous in terms of demands on your and your family’s time. But I don’t need to. The ex-budget chief reminded us of that fact every time he got in front of a microphone. Here. And here. And here.

Yes. A terrible job which, when push comes to shove, pays a paltry amount. (Owing, ironically, at least in part to the penny-pinching attitude held by the likes of Councillor Del Grande). It is not one for the faint of heart or thin of skin.

But nobody forced him to take or keep the job, did they? If you can’t stand the heat and all of that. It seems nothing short of unanimous and uncritical praise is payment enough for him.

So here goes.

Thanks very much, Councillor Del Grande, theresthedoorfor the sweat and toil you put in coming up with 3 successive budgets I couldn’t agree less with. I thank you. The widows and orphans thank you.

Over-worked and under-appreciated as budget chief, Mike Del Grande still found time to personally respect my tax dollars.

“Del Grande is so committed to efficient service that he occasionally leaves his office to drop in on city employees unannounced. If he catches them slacking off, there’s hell to pay,” writes Rob Duffy in The Grid. “I’m the kind of guy that will call them over, ask them if they know who I am. Most of the time they’ll say no. I tell them who I am, then they crap their pants. And I basically just tell them, Look, the public wants to see value for their money. They’re working for me. I’m the boss. It’s my money.”

No, wait. It gets better.

“My philosophy? You don’t have to fire everybody. You take the biggest bull, the biggest problem, whatever the heck it is, and you gore it publicly. You make it bleed so bad that it scares the shit out of everybody else, to put them in line if things are going bad.”

Not only does he behave that badly, he seems to brag about it, relish it. I mean, it’s like Donald Trump without the bad hair and money. doyouknowwhoiamThese are the words and actions of a petty tyrant not a thoughtful city builder.

“I presented an extraordinary budget, an extraordinary turn around with respect to where the city was going. I’ve done my job, the ship was set in the right direction,” the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba quotes him saying after Wednesday’s vote. “Everybody then wanted to be the budget chair on the floor of council and they extracted their individual peeves.”

The startling self- (*a-hem, a-hem*) -delgrandizing aside, it is the statement of a man seemingly unable to experience the sensation of empathy. Everything he does is selfless, for the betterment of the city. Everyone else? Pet peeves, pet projects.

He is an evidence-based decision maker, as he’d taken to pronouncing in the months leading up to the budget debate and vote, rather than one subject to mere ‘whims and emotions’. Which is a rich claim coming from someone absolutely wrapped up in the frenzied fiction that this city was in some sort of out-of-control dire financial straits before he assumed control of the purse strings. Our debt payments especially compared to other levels of governments and municipalities didn’t indicate that. Our lower than other GTA jurisdictions residential property tax rates suggested otherwise. sailthisshipaloneOnly in the small-minded, small-government views of conservatives was there some sort of monumental problem that needed to be fixed, a ship in need of righting.

A divisive downtown-suburban warrior (such the fiscal hawk, he beat the drum loudly for the financially dubious Scarborough subway), as much a vilifier as the vilified, Council Del Grande represents the absolute worst instincts of this city. As an elected representative he symbolizes all the reasons we don’t build nice things here. I wish I could find one thing about his service to Toronto I might be gracious about. Unfortunately, I’ve come up empty.

nothing nice to sayly submitted by Cityslikr


When Great Budgets Go Bad

January 16, 2013

It was, in the words of Mayor Rob Ford, the greatest budget in the history of budgets, EV-AR! thegreatestForged in the icky cauldron of compromise and consensus, Budget 2013 was without parallel in the annals of city budgeting here in Toronto. A first on almost every level. The firstest, the bestest than all the restest.

So unimpeachable was the document, the third (and perhaps final) budget of this mayoralty, that it withstood the early volleys of tinkerers, looking to mess with perfection. Bids to raise the property tax increases even higher than the reluctantly established 2% were easily brushed aside. Easier still to crush was the motion from former go-to Team Ford QB, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, afunnythingto forgo a property tax increase altogether and an invitation to hop aboard his crazy river boat casino scheme that would fill the city’s coffers up yearly to the tune of half a billion dollars.

But something funny happened with that motion. Mayor Ford was only one of four councillors to vote in favour of Mammoliti’s 0% property tax increase. Why? Who knows. Maybe just instinct. Maybe just a not-so-subtle dog whistle to his supporters that he was but a reluctant tax raisers, only forced into it by a renegade council determined to steal his mandate.

Either way, all bets were now off. If the mayor didn’t see fit to toe the line on his own perfect budget, why should anyone else? Whatever support he had went up in smoke. Many regular right-of-centre allies banded together with their more centrist colleagues around the issue of cuts to the fire department (perhaps swayed by the sea of red shirts in the chambers sported by firefighters) and began bringing forth motions to reverse the proposed cuts, adding money back into the budget. Huddles abounded. whathappenedNew plans hatched. Mayor Ford was left on the sidelines, shaking his head and grumbling to an equally grumpy Deputy Mayor.

The final outcome was delayed when council just barely missed snagging the 2/3s majority needed to extend the meeting time in order to finish the budget last night. But it’s probably not going to alter the end result. There will be some additional spending, pulled from the capital side somewhere. And the only real drama will be whether there’s enough to force Budget Chief Del Grande to make good on his promise to quit his post if council defies his edict to keep the purse zipped. Fingers crossed!

Whatever happens, it’s become glaringly apparent that Mayor Ford can’t catch a break. Perfection is not his to have. His only good days at this point in time are the ones that don’t really, really suck.

almost sympathetically submitted by Cityslikr


These 3 Deputants

December 18, 2012

[courtesy of Matt Elliott]

Yesterday we posted an updated version of Emma Saltmarche’s December 11th Budget Committee deputation. (WordPress informs me that it was “Your best day for likes on All Fired Up In The Big Smoke.” Note to self: Get other writers posting on the site.)

At last week’s Budget Committee meeting, Ms. Saltmarche delivered the final in a run of three remarkable deputations that struck me as both representative of this city and the positive things a city should be doing to help enhance the lives of the people who live in it.deputation

First up was Melissa Lai, a brand new Canadian citizen and a deputant asking for better and increased numbers of recreational programs. “I believe each individual should have the right to use recreational services to stay healthy and be engaged members of their communities. No matter how old we are, how we commute, how much income we make, how well we speak English or which cultural background we’re from, this is especially so for newcomers who are struggling through the settling in process in their new country.”

“I want to be an engaged resident in my new home of Canada,” she says a couple minutes later.

Well, that’s something she can now cross off her bucket list.

Ms. Lai is then followed by William Davis (not the former Ontario premier), speaking up against permit fees for Toronto’s lawn bowling clubs. Yes, lawn bowling, people. An easy target to single out for increases in revenue for the city and not one where the hardship is readily obvious. You don’t want to pay more to lawn bowl? lawnbowloingDon’t lawn bowl. No harm. No foul.

Yet Mr. Davis speaks of a ‘lawn bowl culture’ and of opportunities for seniors to participate in an outdoor activity that will help keep them healthy and less isolated. When Councillor and Budget Committee member John Parker asks him where the closest lawn bowling club is to his club at Moore Park, Davis cites one in the councillor’s own Leaside ward. “I think if we were to close,” Davis opines, “my hunch is that the majority [of members] wouldn’t go anywhere.”

“Their commitment to lawn bowling is that great,” Councillor Parker responds, somewhat snidely to our ears. “Well, there’s a certain ambience,” Mr. Davis replies, “a certain sense of community…”

Ah, yes. What price should you put on a sense of community? $3000 evidently, and cut your own lawns too.

And then comes Emma Saltmarche, asking for a re-investment by the city in affordable housing and Shelter, Support and Housing. It is a poignant three minutes or so that depicts what can happen when someone falls through the cracks, when the social safety net is not strong enough to break that fall. “I am here to ask that you respond to federal and provincial cuts to housing and homelessness services,” Ms. Saltmarche writes in a revised version of her deputation,” by taking ownership over the health and well-being of our city’s homeless and precariously housed.”texaschainsawmassacre

Don’t emulate the other two levels of government in abandoning the most vulnerable. Don’t cry poor in order to avoid the responsibility of taking care of our own. As the government of last resort, cities have to figure out ways to make up for the increasing parsimony from Ottawa and Queen’s Park because it is our streets people die on.

There is an interesting exchange that occurs near the end of Ms. Saltmarche’s deputation. Both the budget chief and Councillor Peter Milczyn seize on a number she has cited to point out that the city isn’t cutting to the degree she suggested it was. While they seemed to focus on an aspect Ms. Saltmarche hadn’t, the number was actually different and somewhat lower due to a few last minute re-analysis of the proposed budget.

Ms. Saltmarche didn’t get defensive. She didn’t summarily wave the questions off or dismiss the councillors’ point. She seemed genuinely concerned that she’d got something wrong and before she sent me a draft of the deputation that I’d asked for, she made sure she got the numbers right.

None of that altered her point. Cuts and reductions were coming if the budget stood as is. Those who could least afford it would be paying that cost.

One of ‘the usual suspects’ Emma Saltmarche was not. Nor Melissa Lai or William Davis. The ‘special interest groups’ they represented were lawn bowlers and the marginalized. organizeThis wasn’t about ‘activists’, as I believe they’ve been derogatively referred to around City Hall. It’s what I’d call civic lobbying.

Engaged residents of this city taking the opportunity to let their local elected officials know what’s important to them and the lives of those around them. The needs are many and diverse. Turning your back on them is essentially turning your back on your city, wasteful negligence that can never be made up for sometime down the road when somehow things will be better.

applaudingly submitted by Cityslikr


Taxing My Patience

December 11, 2012

Just a quick slapdash entry after deputations on the 2013 budget wrapped up this afternoon. madhatterHopefully it will appear entirely different from my regular slapdash efforts.

Mike Del Grande. Councillor Mike Del Grande. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande.

Mike Del Grande, Mike DelGrande, MikeDelGrande, mikedelgrande…

Despite listening to over 200 deputants, none of whom I heard demand their taxes be cut, and a litany of the usual suspect downtown lefty councillors suggesting their constituents would prefer a better city over lower taxes, our budget chief doesn’t buy any of that nonsense. People don’t like paying taxes. End of story. Let’s move on.

How does our budget chief know this? By a rigorous examination of a solid, evidence based study, OK? Voluntary repayment of the Vehicle Registration Tax back to the city. All these people, coming down to plead their case in front of the Budget Committee year after year, all the bleeding hearts the likes of Councillor Janet Davis meets in her ward, all saying they would happily pay more in tax. Well? Where are they, the budget chief wonders. Certainly not filling the city coffers out of the goodness of their hearts, let him tell you.

Now, I don’t have a car, thus don’t pay the VRT but if I did and didn’t have to pay the VRT because the Ford Administration is averse to that kind of revenue generation, nothankyouthe last place I would be returning that money saved is to a City Hall run by a gang of far right, anti-government ideologues. All taxes are evil, as far as the likes of Councillor Doug Ford is concerned. Yeah… sure. Here’s my rebate, Mr. Budget Chief. Please do something nice with it, OK?

Instead, I know a couple people who have diligently used the $60 they saved when renewing their car sticker and donated it to places hurt by recent city cuts – i.e. the library. So, the budget chief’s certainty that people don’t like paying taxes based on a lack of returns back to the city is based on, what do you call it, an inadequate sampling? Nonsense? Pure and utter bullshit?

On top of which, taxation really only works as a collective enterprise. Elective participation in handing over one’s hard earned cash doesn’t tend to fill the coffers like a compulsory obligation. It only fully functions if we’re all in it together, contributing. Some more, some less but none voluntarily.

I’d like to think my willingness to pay taxes is based on an absolute selflessness. That I am constitutionally more inclined to help out the ‘widows and orphans’ than our budget chief is. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.taxation

From an unequivocally selfish perspective, I want to pay more for better transit (which I don’t depend on), for fewer people forced to live on the streets (I have a house), for free recreational programs (which I’ve never taken) because it means the lives of other people (mostly who I don’t know but share this city with) are made just a little bit better, a little more liveable, their prospects of a better life just a little brighter. Why does that matter to me? The possibility of them being able to contribute more significantly and positively will make this a better city for me to live in.

And I can’t do that single-handedly, giving back my VRT or making some other voluntary contribution to the likes of Mike Del Grande. Taxation only works en masse. Everybody pitching in what they can.

It’s disheartening that the person in charge of spending billions and billions of dollars annually either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t believe it.

taxingly submitted by Cityslikr


Stop Me If You’ve Heard This Before

December 5, 2012

I have this recurring nightmare.

jacobmarley

In my death throes, with no turning back from whatever it is that’s oncoming, infinite nothingness I assume, and the last thing I see, my ultimate mortal vision, a Latin verse or two I so wish I could drop in here, my final rite if I were a god fearing sort of person, the light I would not rush headlong toward is the scowling, sullen, angry face of our current budget chief, Mike Del Grande.

Widows and orphans! At the end of the day! These times we live in. These TIMES we live in. At the end of the day. Widows and orphans. At the end of the day.

The burning resentment of that relative wrapped in a slight whiff of burnt butter that even your politically radioactive father didn’t have the time of day for. I may be nuts, sonny jim, but your Uncle Mike, well, he’s, well, how do I say this nicely, more than a little crazy. trembleNo small talk from your Uncle Mike because it cuts into his time to rail at everything. And we do mean everything.

Do you know how much they want for this loaf of bread? A loaf of bread?! Some flour and water! A loaf of bread?!

Mike Del Grande should not be making any sort of important decisions about the course of this city. He is simply incapable of imagining a place that must spend some $10 billion a year to function even close to properly or fairly. Big numbers overwhelm him and confuse him. Such confusion leads to a perpetual state of surliness.

These numbers must be reduced. They do not compute. My pocket calculator cannot contain them. They do not compute. These numbers must be reduced.

In breath-taking post by Karolyn Coorsh at Town Crier Politics, there’s the following exchange between the budget chief and the city’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat.

Keesmaat was quite candid in describing a “honeymoon’s over” moment back in early fall, when she had to defend departmental spending line by line to Budget Chief Mike Del Grande.  

Keesmaat held the line this year, but informed the budget chief that after a previous three years of unilateral cuts, there is no way she’d be able to squeeze or freeze again next year.  

According to Keesmaat, a “hot-under-the-collar” Del Grande responded by saying it’s a pervasive problem he was seeing across departments. “He said, ‘There’s just no money and there’s no fat to trim. We have to find a source of revenue.’

“And I said, ‘Councillor, with all due respect, that’s what property taxes are. They’re a way that residents of this city pay for the services that we provide.’”

“There’s just no money and there’s no fat to trim,” the budget chief laments. “We have to find a source of revenue.”

We had a fucking source of revenue, Mr. Budget Chief! It was called the Vehicle Registration Tax. You and a majority of councillors jettisoned it back in the halcyon days of the city having a spending not a revenue problem. bananastandYou froze property taxes one year and didn’t make up for the resulting revenue shortfall the next.

There are sources of revenues immediately accessible to us. Our budget chief just chooses to ignore them, pretends they don’t exist and then berates anyone who comes before him, asking to be spared the axe. ‘Show me the money,’ is his boringly predictable response. Show him the money.

When someone actually does, pointing to a proper property tax increase, the budget chief just picks a big, unnecessarily large number out of the air. 10%? Is that what you want? 10% Maybe 15. Just say it. Say it!

It would be a lot less galling if he was just honest with us and simply came right out and said that he doesn’t care about the planning department. Widows and orphans? M’eh. Free swimming lessons? Outrageous. In his day, if you couldn’t afford to learn how to swim, you just stayed clear of the water.

Instead, we get this self-pitying tone of a put upon martyr foisted reluctantly into a position in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’d love to help everyone, give out a second helping of gruel to the needy, a chicken in every pot etc., etc. It’s just that, it’s just that his hands are tied, you see. A victim of circumstance and inevitability.

Three years in, the schtick is old and tiresome not to mention detrimental to the well-being of the city and its residents. Budget Chief Del Grande likes to tout how tough it is saying ‘no’. Anybody can say ‘yes’ to every request for money that comes across their desk. texaschainsawmassacreOnly the bold stand their ground, dig in their heels and close their minds.

But if there’s no more fat to trim, as the budget chief apparently admitted, only someone bereft of imagination or spirit would continue to cut away. He just can’t seem to stop. It’s all he knows how to do.

Perhaps it’s time someone takes the knife from his hand before he inflicts any further damage. After all, we don’t expect a butcher to breathe life back into the cow.

slice-and-dicingly submitted by Cityslikr


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