Challengers To Watch IV

June 26, 2014

Walking along Bloor Street West in Ward 18 Davenport with Alex Mazer, I was struck by a thought. This is like strolling in my own backyard. railpathWhich it kind of is since I live right next door in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina. I have played baseball in the parks in Ward 18. I have drunk in a few of the bars in Ward 18. I have cycled Ward 18’s railpath.

Su warda, mi warda.

(I hope that totally made-up Spanish on my part doesn’t actually mean anything rude or derogatory.)

I met Alex last year when he hosted a Better Budget TO event. It’s a group advocating for participatory budgeting, a more open process of determining how local governments spend money that actually includes not only community involvement but community decision making. (See what Councillor Shelley Carroll’s doing with Section 37 money in Ward 33.) participatorybudgetThe movement has gained traction in cities like New York and Chicago.

Participatory budgeting is also something more conducive to local governments than either the provincial or federal levels, both where Alex has spent some time working previously. Their budgets are dropped, fully formed, take it or leave it, folks. Municipal budgets, while dense and arcane, go through a few stages including one where the public gets to express its opinion, before being finalized by city council.

It’s this relative openness that has drawn Alex toward municipal politics. An ability to interact and work with constituents on issues that directly affect their quality of lives on a daily basis. Budgets, schools, public spaces, transit, the state of our roads and the constant construction. Oh, the construction.

Like many of us, Alex would like to figure out a way to better co-ordinate construction throughout the city in order to avoid what seems like a regular tear up and rebuild along his ward’s stretch of Bloor Street.

bloorstreetwestWhile not as intense as some neighbouring wards to the east or south of it, Ward 18 is experiencing similar kinds of pressures that come from growth and intensification, beginning with the need to deliver new infrastructure and maintain the old. The development along Queen Street on the edge of Parkdale is already in place. There’s a mixed used plan on what is now derelict land running beside the railpath right next to the Nestle chocolate factory near Dundas Street West and Lansdowne that’s been years in the making and looks ready to go. The Union-to-Pearson rail link will have a stop in Ward 18.

It’s going to be a serious hub, Ward 18, bringing with it all the opportunities and conflicts inherent in that. Continued pressure on employment lands. Cars versus transit versus biking. Like the old days versus new density. Electrification versus diesel.

You might think, why put all that into the lap of a newcomer? The current councillor, while only finishing up her first term, has worked in the ward for a while now, dating back to her time as Executive Assistant to longtime former councillor, Mario Silva. nestleLet’s just stick with the steady hand of experience.

The thing is, from my perch watching city council over the past 4 years, Councillor Ana Bailão has not shown herself up to the task. While not a destructive force certainly, she has regularly landed on the side of issues that truly mystify. Sure, there was voting to rescind the Vehicle Registration Tax which, while politically popular, hasn’t done much for the city’s revenue stream. She also voted to freeze property taxes in 2011, contract out waste collection west of Yonge (but against awarding that contract to Green 4 Life), eliminate the plastic bag fee, initially voted to keep the bike lanes on Jarvis but then voted to re-confirm the vote she’d voted against to tear them up (??) The councillor voted for the Scarborough subway.

Little rhyme nor reason or pattern. There doesn’t seem to be a there, there.

Even on her signature item, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, nothing much happened. It might’ve contained the fire but certainly hasn’t put it out. TCHC management remains a mess. The state of good repair continues to grow. No recommendations have been put forth to deal with what is a pressing, pressing situation.

In truth, Councillor Bailão has been something of a disappointment. Not at all dependable on the important issues facing the city. dupontbusMaybe a change in tone and function at City Hall would reveal a different Ana Bailão but it’s hard to see much evidence of that possibility.

And if Ward 18 is counting on change for better representation, why not go whole hog and elect a new councillor?

Alex Mazer?

He’s certainly bringing a lot to the table. Clearly engaged and on top of the issues directly affecting the ward and the wider city, Mazer wants to open up that engagement further, bringing the public into the decision-making process sooner, whether it’s the budget or local development plans. Anyone who ‘deeply disagrees with the Ford agenda’, as Mazer stated a week or so ago on Reddit, would be a step in the right direction from the ward’s current representation.

But I’ll let you decide for yourself, leaving you with candidate Mazer’s own words:

Change is happening — there’s no question about it. There are a lot of good things about this change — I think that most residents in the area that I talk to feel optimistic about the future of their neighbourhoods.

But despite this optimism, I also hear from renters, artists, newcomers, middle class families, and more, who feel that they can no longer afford to live downtown — who feel that they will never be able to afford to buy a home in the area. This is part of a broader challenge that our city faces — that people’s opportunities are increasingly shaped by their postal code (U of T’s David Hulchanski, among others, has done some great work on this).

City government can’t stop this change, but we can manage it better I believe. One of my priorities is to take a more proactive approach to managing development in the ward, working with communities to identify the types of growth and change they want before the ‘development application’ signs go up and they’re left scrambling to have their voices heard. A good example of this is the need to work with the community and other levels of government to preserve public space at Dufferin and Bloor.

A better affordable housing policy can also help. See some of my thoughts on this.

I think we need to focus more on the growing inequality in our city. It’s troubling that inequality has taken on a more prominent place in the American political discourse but remains a relatively minor part of the public debate here in Toronto.

gotrain

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Ana-igma

February 5, 2014

Let me state this again before proceeding.runforyourlife

I do not envy any of the first term councillors whose introduction to municipal governance was essentially a drop from a helicopter into a burning hellfire of partisanship and concerted efforts to city strip. I don’t envy any councillors subjected to it. 2010-2014. Non-stop anni horribiles.

Having said that…

Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18 Davenport), am I right?

For the life of me, I cannot get a handle on her. What makes her tick politically? While most of her rookie colleagues scampered toward the respective ideological corners that were quickly drawn when Rob Ford became mayor, Councillor Bailão seemed to get caught flat-footed and wide-eyed somewhere out in the middle, in no-man’s land, flapping like a ragged flag.deerintheheadlights

Sure, she took carriage of the TCHC file in an effort to help fend off the charging conservatives on council just itching to sell of the entire operations if they could. She’s nursed it through the storm. But as chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, Councillor Bailão has essentially served in the role of protectorate. There’s been little advancement made, no decrease in the capital repair backlog at TCHC. Pretty much status quo.

That said, the councillor’s done little to help the city’s revenues with votes in favour of repealing the vehicle registration tax and to freeze property taxes back in 2011. Oh, and the Scarborough subway. The Scarborough subway, diverting millions of tax dollars to a questionable transit project.

This one’s a total mystery to me.headscratcher

At last week’s budget meeting, Councillor Bailão was spared the necessity of publicly choosing between more money for TCHC capital repairs and the Scarborough subway when a motion to do just that was questionably ruled out of order by Speaker Frances Nunziata. When she was forced to stand up and make a defense of the Scarborough subway, Councillor Bailão came up with the 2nd weakest argument after the They Deserve one. Skin in the Game, baby. City council needs to show their willingness to spend money on any old politically motivated transit plan to prove they’re just as unprincipled as other levels of government.

*shrug*

Looking through her voting record as presented in Matt Elliott’s council scorecard leads to a lot of such head scratching. Stop funding the Christmas bureau. Confirming council decision to tear up the Jarvis bike lanes (which she initially voted against). Not factoring in the school year when moving tenants in the case of the sale of TCHC homes. No additional property tax increase to help maintain city services. No additional funds to the Tenant Defense Fund. Reduce funding for AIDS programs. trippedupNo endorsement for any of the proposed Metrolinx revenue tools to pay for public transit expansion.

All mixed in with a majority of more progressive votes, let’s call them, that leaves one’s head a-spinning.

Maybe Councillor Bailão’s just more open-minded than most, not stuck in any sort of partisan rut. Fair enough. But there’s got to be some sort of logic to it. A reasoned pattern of voting. Social liberal, fiscal conservative?

I just can’t make her time in office bend into any sort of coherent narrative.

As Mr. Elliott points out in his 2013 wrap up, in a year when the mayor`s sway over council completely evaporated, Councillor Bailão pro-Ford backing actually increased. While her Ford Nation percentage remains low, she has come through for the mayor on some key items over the course of the past 3+ years. Items that, arguably, bring zero benefit to the residents of her own ward.

Truth be told, the councillor has seemed a bit lost in the jungle of city council during her time there. Maybe if things had been normal, the atmosphere less toxic and threatening, she would’ve found her footing and settled in more easily. roadkillUnfortunately, it wasn’t and she didn’t.

Should Councillor Bailão be rewarded with a second term simply because she made it through alive? That’s pretty weak an endorsement. It could be argued that she made things worse, not taking a stand against divisiveness and city dismantling when the chips were down. She was simply not up to the task of being a city councillor when the city needed her most.

baffledly submitted by Cityslikr


January 5th. It’s Almost Christmas Somewhere

January 5, 2013

(Hey, hey, hey! Before you take down all those holiday decorations, there’s still some seasonal cheer coming from City Hall. Today, Councillor Ana Bailão, Ward 18, Davenport answers our two questions about looking back on the year that was and forward to the year ahead.)

*  *  *

abailao

1) The Gift of Councilling: What is the one moment in 2012 that struck you as the best example of why it was you became a councillor?

Both March 5, 2012 and October 30, 2012 stand out as very important days as my mind – the day Council approved the creation of a Special Housing Working Group to investigate alternatives to the mass sell-off of Toronto Community Housing scattered homes, and the day that Council approved this group’s report.

The overwhelming approval of the Special Working Group’s Report by Council was an important chapter in our City’s life; it reconfirmed our role in providing equitable living standards, mixed-income communities, and affordable living spaces.

It also recognized that, by reaching out to existing partners, and forming new relationships, we were able to find ‘in-house’ solutions to the big problems we face. While never forgetting the critical responsibilities of other levels of government, the recommendations of this Working Group guaranteed 90% of our scattered housing stock will remain affordable.

Of course, the recommendations are not the only benefit, the process – the numerous meetings, long briefing sessions, tenant feedback, and stakeholder sessions – was just as important. Throughout the many months of this process, I came to learn of the incredible complexities regarding the TCH repair backlog, how systematic the challenges were, and made me keenly aware: there are no one-word answers.

The one-word wasn’t “Sell”, and it wasn’t “Upload”, it was recognising that we are a complex city, and so too should the issues we face be seen as equally complex – and be given the respect, the time, and the resources necessary to be considered carefully.

When a problem is so large, and presents so many challenges, it is incredibly intimidating. It is the kind of intimidation that humbles any policy maker, that challenges us, as we realize how immense and far-reaching our positions are.

But even humbled, it reminded me why we began this exercise, the desire to be a public official and to champion and lead issues fuelled by our passions and sense of justice. I look forward to implementing the recommendations of the Special Working Group’s report and continuing to work hard to increase the quantity and quality of Toronto’s affordable housing. I also look forward to future challenges, asking difficult questions, and listening closely to the residents of this City.

2) Going Forward: In 2013, what is the one aspect you would like to see happen that would help develop better civic discourse?

The partisanship demonstrated at recent Council meetings must absolutely be repaired if the next two years are to offer any promise of progress. The level of discussion at Council must rise to a higher standard, one that the people of Toronto expect of us.

The localized partisanship of North vs. South or East vs. West serve no end goal of a better city, only a divided one, and continue to be a barrier against city-wide vision, city-wide investment, and city-wide prosperity.

I have also seen many positive changes of the last two years which I would like to see continue. Among them, community consultation plays a much larger role than any time in our amalgamated City’s history. We have longer deputation lists, greater amounts of feedback and more active and organized resident groups than ever in recent memory. Residents are also becoming more informed and aware of what Council discusses.

More and more often city representatives are reaching out to the public to ask for opinions, ideas and solutions about the important issues that face us; and by participating in this consultation we face these issues not as a collection of separate neighbourhoods, but as a City.

Every citizen of Toronto has a stake – and a responsibility – in these decisions and I will continue to work in ensuring that an opinion voiced is an opinion heard.

merrychristmas2012

seasonally submitted by Councillor Ana Bailão


Compromised

October 31, 2012

If you’ve ever wondered why this city council moves at such a (pre-climate change) glacial pace and never seems to get much done, you need not look any further than yesterday’s meeting. Yes, there was the usual procedural wrangling in setting up the order paper. That’s just a thing. And a longer than necessary debate over whether or not to cut out early tonight for Halloween. (For the record. Why not? They’ll make up the lost time by going longer on Thursday. Their job isn’t a standard 9-5 one. Flexible working hours shouldn’t be begrudged).

No, what really ground the proceedings to the halt were two items, both of which amounted to cleaning up the mess created by the mayor’s previous intemperate and ideological outbursts.

First up was the passing of Councillor Ana Bailão’s working group report on the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Putting People First. This all came about due to Mayor Ford’s open hostility to the idea of public housing and his orchestrated attack on it during his initial swell of support in the early days of his administration. Manufacturing a crisis over some perceived excessive spending by the board, he ousted the lot and replaced them with another TCHC hater, former councillor Case Oootes.

Their plan for a massive sell-off of homes — ostensibly to help put a dent in the corporation’s massive backlog of capital repairs — met fierce resistance from a majority of council. Instead of unloading 675 single family homes that the Executive Committee had recommended back in January (Ootes had suggested 900 on his way out in June 2011), council went with just 55. Added to the 56 sold earlier, that’s but a fraction of what the mayor was hoping to accomplish and we should view with much suspicion his statement that the report “was a good start”.

But nonetheless, it was proclaimed a compromise victory for Mayor Ford, proof that he was learning to work with council and was growing into his role. Never mind that it took nearly two years to accomplish because of the extreme approach he adopted at the very beginning. It is a one-time fix, a band-aid solution to a growing problem the city’s going to have tackle again, probably sooner than later.

Of course, that process looked like the very model of nuanced governance compared to what followed.

The renewal of the city’s Ombudsman’s contract for a second 5 year term should’ve been effortless. A quick item dealt with, bing, bang, boom. Why would there be a fuss? No one had any complaints about the job Fiona Crean was doing.

Oh wait.

The mayor did.

After her office issued a report citing his office’s interference with the Civic Appointments process, he declared war. Unable to refute any of the report’s findings, he decided to kill the messenger and threw a contract renewal after her first term was up next fall into question. It was pettiness and score settling at its worst.

Now, you would think that a majority of councillors would be able to nip such vindictiveness in the bud like they had on the TCHC file. But here’s a good example of the modest powers bestowed on the mayor’s office being put to ill use. According to provincial legislation, council requires 30 votes to renew the Ombudsman’s contract and there was enough concern that 15 councillors might be craven enough to do the mayor’s bidding on this.

Thus, the 2 year extension “compromise”.

Hours after the matter should’ve been settled, 41 councillors voted in favour of the extension, almost all of them with high praise for the job Ms. Crean was doing. Nice work. There’s no reason whatsoever you shouldn’t be getting a 5 year extension but… you know… the mayor… we had to throw him a bone… you know how it is when the chief magistrate hasn’t a clue about the job he’s supposed to be doing… We’ll talk again in 2014, OK?

Compromise!

It wasn’t.

It was just another example of finding some sort of way for Mayor Ford to save face after he, yet again, stepped into it. A huge time suck spent to placate a mayor who threatened to overturn the applecart if he didn’t get his way. With over 100 items on their agenda, once more council pissed away the better part of a day mending fences the mayor had impulsively ripped up for no apparent reason other than he could.

Respect for the taxpayers indeed.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Is This A David Simon Project?

October 4, 2012

The Rob Ford Story was starting to play out like a classic Hollywood narrative.

Underdog outsider, derided by all the cool kids, defies the odds and becomes student council president mayor of Toronto. The heady heights go straight to his ego, hubris rising, he nearly throws it all away, forgetting where it was he came from and alienating all those who believed in him when nobody else did. He wallows in self-pity, mistakes piling on mistakes, looking very much like he’ll fall back into the little man obscurity he’d just escaped.

That part where Rocky, having achieved international fame after the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, has tapped him to be his next an opponent, slacks off, distracted by adoring fans and all the temptations of celebrity. Burgess Meredith is always yelling at him and makes him chase a chicken. I think that’s in Rocky, right? Maybe Rocky II. I just know it’s not the one with the Russian robot.

Redemption awaits.

Or as former campaign director and chief of staff, now unofficial Fordian gadfly, Nick Kouvalis exclaimed: Rob 2.0 He gets his shit together, bounds up the set of stairs and dances/shadow boxes triumphantly. Flying high now! Flying high now!

At the fall city council meeting, the first after his summer of deep discontent, Mayor Ford promises and delivers to beat back those angling to keep the Jarvis bike lanes, one of his early shows of power in Act One. “It’s what the people want,” the mayor pronounced, embracing the populism that got him elected. The foul weather now behind him, it was playing out like a blockbuster storybook tale. Eye of the Tiger and all that.

Except that there seemed to be some genre busting going on. It wasn’t really the mayor who trumped his adversaries on the bike lane issue but, instead, his diabolical evil henchman, Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He seemed to do all the heavy lifting while Mayor Ford basked in the accolades.

And then there was the addition of a mystery element.

Three middle of the road councillors inexplicably flip-flopped and swung the vote in the mayor’s favour. Why? As Matt Elliott pointed out yesterday, councillors Ana Bailão, Michelle Berardinetti and Josh Colle had all expressed their intention to keep the Jarvis bike lanes and had they all voted that way the result wouldn’t have been a 24-19 win for the mayor but a 22-21 loss. What happened?

Probably some horse trading. One of the amendments was to pay for the removal of the bike lanes not from the biking infrastructure budget as has been floated earlier. Some good ol’ tit for tat. But there was little other glaringly obvious swapping in evidence.

Surely none of these shifty three were still intimidated by the mayor or the power he didn’t really yield. Maybe back in the day when his power was absolute and they were greenhorn rookies. Not now. They were in control, the decision in their hands. Such capitulation seemed more than a bit baffling.

We had now entered Sidney Lumet territory.

Everybody but Mayor Ford, that is.

He continued on his rag-to-riches-to rags-to riches arc. With victory secured, redemption was now at hand. Reaching out to his enemies as represented by the downtown elitists at CBC, the mayor would admit to his own failings, how he’d learned from them and would now rise above the fray to secure his rightful place as the mayor of all people. Everyone hugs (or in the Bollywood DVD only version for increased global sales, dance and sing together), credits roll, The End.

But again, Mayor Ford went off script.

As John McGrath beautifully detailed at the Torontoist this feel good ending did not come to pass. The mayor blustered, made up facts and figures, disputed staff numbers, spouted platitudes and empty rhetoric. Basically reverted back to his desultory Act Two behaviour.

This is what happens when your script is written by committee.

Mayor Ford returned to council to slay the dragon of the much hated plastic bag ban but there was no deus ex machine in sight, the cavalry did not ride in over the hill. The mayor did not have the 30 votes needed to re-open the ban debate. It ended just like that. A whimper. Wait, what? It’s over? Where’s the twist? The surprise plan B that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat?

Worse still for Mayor Ford, he faded into the background, became a bit player. Yesterday’s news was not about him, not about his ignominious defeat but about the Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti-Gord Perks face off. City Hall Brawl, the Toronto Sun screamed.

Earlier in the day, before the plastic bag ban showdown, Councillor Mammoliti rose in chambers and harrumphed something about the Ombudsman’s Report that was to be debated later in the meeting being ‘politically motivated’. Chastised by council and told by Speaker Frances Nunziata to retract his statement and apologize. He refused, stomping from the council floor before being forced out, and up to the media gallery, the councillor continued his tirade in front of the cameras.

Enter our shaggy anti-hero, Councillor Perks. He gets all up in his colleagues face, demanding he apologize or leave the chambers. Back off, out my face. Get out. Stand back. Get out.

Conflict. The key ingredient of any good drama.

In what then appears as a reversal of fortune, Councillor Perks is forced to apologize for his outburst at council while Councillor Mammoliti issues a typical non-apology apology. The mayor’s foes have over-stepped and succeeded only in embarrassing themselves. They hand him the public opinion victory he could not secure himself.

Except the story’s not done yet.

It could be seen that our seemingly reckless anti-hero, Councillor Perks, tactically fell on his sword. In making his confrontation today’s headline, it left people wondering what the two councillors fighting about. What indeed? The Ombudsman’s Report damning the mayor’s office’s involvement in the civic appointments process.

As I sit writing this, I’m listening to city council’s debate over the report. No good can come of this for the mayor. It’s bad news about bad conduct and that’s what everyone’s going to be talking about. This council meeting, the first of what was supposed to be his comeback, will be remembered only for a report highlighting his failure of governance as mayor.

Hardly the Hollywood ending he needed. In fact, this isn’t a movie at all with its interminable requisite sequels. It’s a sprawling miniseries saga that continues to defy expectations. A cautionary tale where the hero does not triumph.

cinematically submitted by Cityslikr


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