Carefully Picking Sides

March 19, 2014

Earlier this year I attended a Ward 10 York Centre community town hall meeting hosted by Councillor James Pasternak. townhallIt was just pre-2014 city budget and post-ugly holiday season ice storm. Despite the timing, the atmosphere wasn’t hostile or toxic, at least, not initially.

Unsurprisingly, the hot topic was the storm clean-up which, like in many parts of the city, wasn’t happening quickly enough for most folks in the room. Even more than 3 weeks after the weather bomb, swaths of the local area remained unnavigable because of fallen and uncollected foliage. Some branches still hung dangerously from trees.

Transit, traffic and congestion ran a close second, however. While not evenly split certainly, there was a respectful representation from among the attendees of those asking thoughtful and reasonable questions about public transit. Frequency, capacity and route ideas were part of the discussion. These were offset, of course, by demands to widen Bathurst Street for another lane of cars or the possibility of opening a local cemetery road to make it a neighbourhood thoroughfare.

But things didn’t really get out and out zany until about hour three. No elected official should be expected to endure a 3 hour Q and A session. None of us are made of such hardy stuff. It’s too much. anymorequestionToo, too much.

A lady, who earlier in the evening had been gently subdued after her time at the microphone, waving a 3 year old issue of NOW magazine with a nearly nude Rob Ford Photoshopped on its cover, regained control of the floor and began reading from the provincial health act, I believe it was. I’m sure there was a reason for it but it slips my mind at the moment. Suffice to say, it was beyond the jurisdiction of Councillor Pasternak.

That just kicked open the door to crazy. Without the aid of the mic, a gentleman began berating the councillor, accusing him of hording TTC tokens before a fare increase. The man had been fairly aggressive in questioning Councillor Pasternak a couple hours prior but this was just flat out lunacy, as he ended up yelling at anybody approaching him until a poor young staff member of the community centre had to guide him to the exit. “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me or I’ll have you charged!!”

The meeting petered out after that. I felt compelled to approach the councillor to shake his hand and offer condolences of a sort. Before you run around slagging a city councillor, you really should go to a town hall meeting they hold, see what they have to put up with.

Besides, I personally, as a Ward 10 non-constituent, can think of far bigger issues to yell at Councillor Pasternak about than just making up nutty stuff like token hording.angrymob

Three things stand out for from his time at City Hall since 2010. None of them particularly good or inspiring.

One: re-opening (and opening again) the whole Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid marching at Pride hullaballo. Not only was the councillor on the wrong side of a free speech issue, city staff had firmly held that there was nothing hate speech-y involved in the expression and nothing wrong with the group participating in Pride, he helped provide cover for the homophobia the new mayor and the likes of Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti like to indulge in. Why do you want to defund Pride? Because QUAIA. Why won’t you march in the Pride parade? Because QUAIA (and other things).

Two: He possesses a remarkable tone deafness and ward-ccentric view of public transit. What about the North York Relief Line he asked again, just last week. Wondering why everyone running for mayor was stumping for the DRL. What about the North York Relief Line?

What about it, councillor? I don’t even know what it is. Oh right. Connecting the under-used Sheppard subway, from the Yonge Line west to the University-Spadina line. beatingadeadhorseNobody else thinks it’s necessary at this time, councillor. It’s a parochial distraction. Stop it.

And thirdly, Councillor Pasternak is awfully demanding of city services and programs while towing a fairly fiscal conservative line. By ‘fiscal conservative’, I mean Ford fiscal conservative. Keeping revenues down, low property taxes, eliminate other streams like the VRT, requesting a report for reducing the Land Transfer Tax, all the while not being averse to spending money, most times on very admirable and necessary items. The councillor recently expressed displeasure at possibly losing a priority designation for a neighbourhood in his ward in the proposed staff reshuffling of newly designated Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. “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.”

You gotta pay for the things you want, Councillor Pasternak. A strong city isn’t built on the cheap.

I guess it’s going to depend on what residents of Ward 10 prioritize in the upcoming election that will determine Councillor Paternak’s political fate in October. He was in one of the tightest races in 2010 in an open ward to replace long time council member, pickasideofthefenceMike Feldman, winning by under 400 votes with less than 20% of the popular vote. Will voters see his name as a tax fighter or a protector of services and programs they want in their neighbourhoods?

A jaded eye might view the councillor as making sure all the bases were covered. You have to wonder if that’s spread him out too thinly, made him not enough of anything to really have made much of a lasting impression.

gruelly 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


Can We Have A Conversation About Buses?

January 27, 2014

“Toronto may need to have an urgent conversation about its bus system.”

humantransit

So said Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker at last Thursday’s transit session, Abundant Access: Public Transit As An Instrument of Freedom.

Of course, Toronto won’t, at least, not in the near future. Too caught up are we in the bright and shiny lure of technology porn, parochial resentment and world-classism. It’s a subway or no way in every corner of the city. Scarborough. Finch Avenue West. Some ludicrously titled, the North York Relief Line (Councillor James Pasternak Ward 10 York Centre, take a bow!)

Even those who should know so much better like Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre) set the debate back with his own late to the subway conversion, insisting that residents of Scarborough were somehow entitled to a subway. willywonka1Entitled! As if transit planning is based on nothing more than goodie dealing and score settling. For such a poisonous contribution to what Mr. Walker referred to as a ‘transit toxic landscape’, Councillor De Baeremaeker deserves a serious run for his money in this year’s municipal campaign from someone who challenges his misguided transit priorities.

It’s hard to imagine how a segment of the population who sniffed at LRTs as nothing more than glorified streetcars would be open to any talk of enhancing our bus system. Buses have never really had much cache when it comes to being seen as an acceptable transit alternative. Chopped liver in a environment where people are demanding filet mignon.

But as Mr. Walker suggests, a revamped bus system could provide relatively inexpensive, short term relief to some of the congestion woes we’re are currently face. While we tussle with the logistics of financing and building the big ticket items like a subway or the Eglinton Crosstown, solutions for 5, 10, 20 years down the road, we could also be easily implementing quick fixes right now. All it would take is some paint, road signs and a whole bunch of political will.

The public transit renaissance now happening in the least public transit oriented city in popular imagination, Los Angeles, was kick-started by improvements in its bus networks. anotherwayBy providing more frequency and connectivity with less waiting times, enhanced bus service helped create a positive atmosphere for the idea of real public transit in an oppressively car-oriented region. Remove the theoretical by providing the practical. It doesn’t need to take decades and billions and billions of dollars.

Noted public transit advocate, Councillor Doug Ford, suggested a couple weeks back that we replace the crammed packed King Street streetcars with buses. To which I say, fine. Let’s do that along with providing rush hour bus only lanes while removing on-street parking and left turns during that time. Do we have a deal?

How about along Finch Avenue? Why don’t we give over a lane going in each direction over to buses, create an actual rapid transit lane for that well used route(s)? It wouldn’t cost the city very much money and we could have it up and going over night.

The unpleasant but entirely necessary fact of the matter is, much of the suburban core of this city wasn’t built or designed to support higher order of public transit beyond a bus network. brtSo be it. That’s not something we can change with a flick of a switch to power up a subway extension. But we can provide a better bus service. We should provide a better bus service.

That can only be accomplished though if we stop rating modes of public transit based on how fast it goes or the kind of technology it uses to get there. We also need to establish public transit on a par with the private automobile, and accept the fact that, given an equal footing, it could deliver more people to more place more reliably in many neighbourhoods and communities than cars can.

We could start doing it almost immediately and at a fraction of the cost we’re talking about now with subways and LRTs. We’d have to grow up a little bit for that to actually happen, however. Right now I just don’t see it happening.

At a Ward 10 town hall meeting a couple weeks back, the above mentioned Councillor James Pasternak just shook his head at a suggestion by a resident that maybe a lane of traffic be given over to the Bathurst 7 bus during rush hour gifthorseinthemouth(a trip that took me over an hour to make north from the Bathurst subway station during rush hour to get me to the meeting). It wouldn’t happen, the councillor assured his resident. Impractical. Not even worth considering.

But a North York Relief subway? Now, you’re talking.

We can hardly be expected to have an urgent conservation about our bus network when we continue to be distracted and transfixed by pie in the sky transit planning.

bus(t)-a-movely submitted by Cityslikr


Try And Try Again

July 16, 2013

It may come as something of a surprise to many of you but this week’s city council meeting – surprisedthe last one of the summer – is not a hastily convened, special transit session, called specifically on the eternal question of a Scarborough subway. No. It is a regularly scheduled meeting, in place to deal with the entirety of the city’s business. An agenda that, according to Councillor Janet Davis, is the biggest she’s seen in her 10 years at City Hall.

But you’ll be forgiven if you thought otherwise. The talk’s been almost exclusively about the brewing Scarborough LRT-versus-subway brouhaha leading up to today’s start of council meeting. It’s as if there’s nothing else really going on.

I’m not going to contribute to this transit talk overload. My views are well documented. You’re probably as sick and tired reading about them as I am writing about them.

If you’re a glutton for punishment on this issue, however, and you really want to get down to the nub of this never-ending debate, sotiredI highly suggest reading John Lorinc’s take on it yesterday and Steve Munro’s over the weekend. I’d happily link to any persuasive pro-subway articles but the problem seems to be THERE AREN’T ANY! To see the sorry state of the subway proponents’ case, take a leisurely scroll through the Twitter timelines of councillors Michelle Berardinetti and James Pasternak.

I will say a couple things on the topic though.

Any councillor ultimately voting in favour of re-opening the Master Agreement between the city and Metrolinx in the hopes of building a subway extension rather than an LRT at the current eastern terminus of the Bloor-Danforth line loses any claim to being fiscally prudent or conservative. There is no viable economic argument to make the switch. None. moneybagsIt is nothing less than tossing out an already funded plan (by another level of government, no less) and replacing it with a much riskier, numbers still on a cocktail napkin pipe dream. In no way do any possible benefits outweigh the very considerable costs to the city and city’s taxpayers, both current and future.

Secondly, absolute credit has to go to Mayor Rob Ford for keeping the dream of MOAR SCARBOROUGH SUBWAYS alive through his dogged, single-minded determination (Forditude? Did someone already coined that word? If not, dibs. See? I am getting punchy.) to pander to a bloc of voters he absolutely needs if he has any hope of being re-elected next year. Failing spectacularly earlier this term to get a Sheppard subway extension up and going, he’s hopped aboard the Bloor-Danforth version, looking for sellable talking points to take to the voters taxpayers and his devoted radio listeners. He promised you subways, Scarborough, and he’s delivering you subways. screamingYears late and for billions more but the mayor’s never really been about the fine print.

That’s doing him some disservice. The fact that he’s got a seeming majority of council ready to take this senseless leap, along with a handful of Scarborough Liberal MPPs and two successive Liberal governments at Queen’s Park, is a testimony to the power of his retail politicking. Any sort of subway extension for Scarborough is nothing more than politics for him. So much so that he’s abandoned his core political principle, revenue tools are just taxes and he’s against taxes, for it. In order to build his Scarborough subway, Mayor Rob Ford has had to go on record saying that taxes used to build a subway should be seen as an investment. An investment. Not some onerous reach around into the taxpayers’ pocket.

Yeah, that Rob Ford.

Such naked, hypocritical pandering, rather than being toxic as you might think, seems to be infectious. Everybody’s in on it now, willing to bend over backwards to feed the apparent sense of entitlement felt by Scarborough commuters, generated by the mayor’s constant divisive drum beating. imwithstupid1Once more, transit planning has become a game of chicken, intended only to assist political aspirations at both the provincial and municipal levels of government.

All the key players have descended to the mayor’s level, catering to his ill-thought out and ill-advised transit views instead of challenging them on their merit and feasibility. Despite losing control of the transit file over a year ago now, he’s still dictating the terms of the conversation. Regardless of what happens this week, Mayor Ford’s already won.

tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


Designed For Power Not To Rule

May 31, 2013

As the blood continues to ooze from under the door of Mayor Ford’s office at City Hall, bloodtheshingand the already small circle gets even smaller, it’s still difficult to get your head around the notion of a post-Ford Toronto. All those trees being on fire makes it really hard to see the forest. One can hope and one can dream but visualizing it takes a lot of effort.

There’s no telling how this latest… I don’t have the necessary vocabulary to describe the state of mayoral politics in Toronto at the moment… something something … will play out. An early exit? Certainly not by his own volition, it seems. Stay the course! Everything’s fine! First name on the ballot in the next election!

Removal by ‘external forces’, let’s call them. Your guess is as good as mine. They would have to be extraordinary circumstances, even by these already extraordinary circumstances, to turf the mayor before the next scheduled election. Around these parts mayors appear to be immoveable objects once installed into office.

Thing is, though, time marches on regardless of Mayor Ford’s status. The business of the city is being tended to whether he thinks he’s at the helm or not. handofgodTry and look away from the ongoing political wreckage and focus on the bigger picture. Stop squirming while the international audience looks on at us in wide eyed amazement. We all saw that coming, didn’t we? It’s only surprising it took this long.

One way or the other, this will pass. We must be ready to move on. In preparation, it’s good to remind ourselves of two important points that were brought up earlier this week.

Matt Elliott’s Challenge Accepted and Edward Keenan’s The trouble with Dougie’s people taking over. If you haven’t already read them yet, do it right now. I can wait. In fact, I’ll just switch over to my Twitter feed and see if the mayor’s staff has shrunk any further.

Go ahead. We’ll meet back here when you’re done.

wait

 

OK. First, Mr. Elliott.

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.”

We’ve seen it happening already. What’s left of this administration is trying to shrug off accusations about alleged personal failings by pumping up its governance cred. We said we’d stop the gravy train, and we have. We’ve kept your taxes low. We’ve cut wasteful spending. We’ve turned this fiscal ship of state around in the right direction.

Forgive us our trespasses, folks. But we’ve rocked our campaign promises. pickanumber1Boo-yeah!

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.”

They make up magic numbers. They claim credit for things they really had no hand in. What little policy initiatives they have managed to implement don’t amount to much more than a hill of beans in the scheme of things and have only truly accomplished making things just a little bit worse around the city. Fewer buses running more infrequently and more crowded. Park grass cut and streets cleaned a little less often. Smaller selection of books to borrow from the libraries.

And with no noticeable savings of tax dollars in our pockets. As Mr. Elliott shows, despite flatlining our gross operating budget, our property taxes have still gone up. So have user fees like transit fares. We’re paying more than we did in 2010 but are getting less.

Pretty much the exact opposite of Team Ford’s primary campaign pledge.

Pretty much the exact opposite of what any politician who steps into the fray and attempts to champion those very policy ideas and sideline the mayor. Beware any candidate trying to convince you that the message was sound. It was just delivered by the wrong messenger. pinocchio1The direction city council took early on in this term was misguided, no matter who was leading it.

“Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

This is the second point I want to make, cherry-picked from Edward Keenan’s post in The Grid on Wednesday.

The Ford Administration doesn’t have a leg to stand on at this point. Its very legitimacy is being questioned, and not just by the usual suspects who’ve been skeptical of it from the outset. Once obedient councillors are outspoken in their criticism. James Pasternak. John Parker. Jaye Robinson. The loyalist of the loyal simply keep their heads low.

Staff are jumping ship at a dizzying rate. Two yesterday. Five since the crack allegations surfaced. Some now sit on the sidelines, playfully sniping at the administration they once dutifully served.

How does the mayor and his dwindling number of defenders react?

“Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

inyourfaceI might add Deny to that list of Mr. Keenan’s. Deny. Confront. Attack. Repeat.

It goes something like this:

None of this situation – if there was a situation and there’s definitely not a situation – is our fault. It’s all just lies and rumours spread by our enemies. Enemies like the Toronto Star and all the social elite subscribers to that rag who’ve been out to get us since day one. Put up or shut up, folks. Where’s the video? Do you know the kind of pain you’re causing our families? How would you like it if we went after you like you’re going after us? Huh? Maybe I’ll just follow your wife and kids all around the place. How would you like that, huh? Get your own house in order before sticking your nose in our business. Disgruntled ex-employees. Put up or shut up. Put up or shut up.

They are the words of those who are never willing to accept responsibility for any negative consequences of their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. Question them and their motives and the response is always to push back, to challenge, never to answer or explain. Accuse me? Accuse you.

It’s worked for them so far because up until now the other side has blinked. Turned away and moved on to try and work around them. playingchickenjpgBacking down is an understandable instinct when confronted with such aggressive certainty. Nobody can be that sure of themselves and be so willfully wrong, can they?

Yes they can.

We’ve saved the taxpayers a billion dollars, folks.

An entirely fictitious number Team Ford has picked out of thin air to repeat over and over in response to any and all allegations that are fired at it. Part of an incantation of nebulous claims invoked to help ward of the inevitable reality of it all. A billion dollars. The unelected premier. Social elites who’ve run this city for 50 years. Stir in an eye of newt, click your heels twice and poof, everything’s fine, everything’s good, the wolves are no longer at the door.

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.” “Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

It’s the political calculus that has worked like a charm. It’s transformed a fringe city councillor into an unlikely mayor, and his even fringier brother into a bullying power broker. Unfortunately, it’s also ground the wheels of governance of a big, vibrant, progressive city to a near halt.

Mayor Ford and those choosing to remain defiantly in his camp can continue believing that everything’s fine, everything’s hunky dory, and that all the problems that exist are because of other people. Why wouldn’t they? It’s got them this far.

therewillbeblood

But everybody else at City Hall needs to start operating outside of the mayor’s crank circle. Leave them to burn their little playhouse down. It was inevitable they would anyway. Ford Nation was built for little else.

–  exasperatedly submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Still The Holidays If We Say It’s The Holidays!

January 8, 2013

(Remember back in the olden golden days of 2012 when we posed a couple questions to our city councillors? No? Well we did. Today Councillor James Pasternak, Ward 10 York Centre responds!)

jpasternak

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?

During the 2012 budgetary process,  a number of councillors – including me –  had deep concerns about the service cuts being proposed to Council.  As the concern spread through the corridors at City Hall, a small group of us – the so-called centrist councillors – worked on a motion that would reverse about $15 million in cuts. Our goal was to maintain and expand priority centres, protect community grants, put more money into the TTC, save child care spots and homeless shelters, promote the arts, among other initiatives. In the end my vote certainly mattered. The motion passed 23-21. If one vote have moved over to the “Against” column, the motion to save these programs would have lost on a tie. This was the best early example of why I became a councillor.

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

I am always hopeful that the decorum in the Council chamber will improve. It is vital for the debate to be thoughtful and respectful. We must set a good example at City Hall and if we do the level of civic discourse will certainly improve.

merrychristmas2012

 — still seasonally submitted by Councillor James Pasternak


Room To Grow

May 13, 2012

One of the advantages of this thing I do to while away the hours between when its socially acceptable to drink is that I can not only riff on ideas put forth by others in order to fill up the blank pages – like a jazz musician putting his own notes on a established theme – but I’m allowed to take my ideas and run with them for a subsequent post. Acting as my own source. The ultimate insider ball.

Like say, just this past Thursday. In bemoaning the mayor’s abdication of responsibility… no, not bemoaning, exactly. More pointing it out and realizing that there’s an upside to it, I suggested that in the empty space provided, a handful of first term councillors have taken the opportunity to start exhibiting a little moxy, some chutzpah, a long cool drink of independent mindedness. They’ve thrown themselves a debutante ball.

In retrospect, being elected to City Hall for the first time in 2010 must’ve been like winning the lottery and immediately being held up at knifepoint and told to hand the cheque over. Wait… but I haven’t even cashed it yet.

The 14 newcomers were thrown into what could only be described as a bear pit. Some found their footing fairly quickly and not in the least bit unsurprisingly. There was the mayor’s brother, touting the purest form of Team Ford DNA. Others like councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton were destined to be on the other side, owing to pedigree in Layton’s case and both being elected to represent wards as anti-Ford as they came.

But for the other 11, it has been a strange, strained, tumultuous, uncharted trip.

At the start, Mayor Ford was a force to be reckoned with. Defy him at your peril, mere council mortals. Fear the wrath of Ford Nation!

Sensibly, many neophyte councillors ducked for cover, quietly taking sides and hoping not to be noticed. Councillors Sarah Doucette and Mary Fragedakis usually leaning to the left, Executive Committee members Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson along with councillors Gary Crawford, Vincent Crisanti and James Pasternak lining up behind the mayor. John Tory endorsed Mary-Margaret McMahon, councillors Ana Bailão and Josh Colle made up what was soon termed (mostly derogatorily) the ‘mushy middle’, voting with Mayor Ford as often as not in the early going.

The 14th newbie, Councillor Josh Matlow broke from the pack earliest, trying to stake out a highly visible non-partisan man in a neither black nor white shade of grey suit. His timing was off, however, not to mention coming across as more than a little self serving. For the first year or so of the Ford administration, compromise and negotiation were simply not part of the equation. It was all about His Worship’s way or the highway.

Pressure was applied to play along. Projects were threatened without consultation. It was tough to learn the ropes when you were always coming under assault. Discretion, for many, was the better part of valour at this juncture. Keep heads low until the storm passes.

It started to break late last year. With Councillor Ford’s ill-advised land grab of the Portlands, the pushback began. Soft spoken Councillor Jaye Robinson took a very public stand against the move which, coming from a member of the mayor’s Executive Committee, signalled that dissent was now possible. Mayor Ford backed down on that, forging a rare council consensus that saved some face but his ironclad grip on the majority of rookie councillors had been broken.

Councillor Robinson didn’t jump ship entirely, remaining a reliable mayoral ally or, at least, not a vocal critic of him. That is, until she announced recently that at the end of the year she’ll be leaving her position on the Executive Committee. It seems she’s looking to spend the second half of her first term a little less affiliated with Mayor Ford.

Fellow ExComm member Berardinetti is travelling a similar but slightly rockier path. While maintaining a closer adherence to the Ford agenda than Robinson, Councillor Berardinetti has already bailed out of her position as a member of the Budget Committee, citing a desire to concentrate more on her constituency work as the reason. It probably also had something to do with her not being as down with the cutting and slashing especially in the face of an increased surplus since the original budget showdown in January.

Now she’s in the middle of a tussle with the mayor over the fate of the 5 cent plastic bag fee. He wants to kill it outright. Councillor Berardinetti wants to try and find a way to redirect the money to the tree canopy fund.

“I don’t know how it is going to happen,” Mayor Ford said. “I can’t support that.” I don’t get it. I don’t like it. End of discussion.

“I’m not sure if he fully understands what we’re trying to achieve here,” the councillor said, “and quite possibly he hasn’t read the full report.” Ouch. I’d call that a serious lack of deference now being shown to the mayor by a member of his very own Executive Committee.

“Berardinetti told the Sun she wasn’t surprised by Ford’s position,” Don Peat writes, “but she stressed he won’t be able to get council to scrap the bag fee.”

Yeah, that thing the mayor wants to do? He can huff and puff all he wants. It’s not going to happen.

Just like not reversing the $15 million or so of cuts in the 2012 budget. Another new councillor, Josh Colle, served as the face of that mayoral rebuff. It didn’t need to be a big setback as it was a miniscule fraction of the overall budget but Mayor Ford’s unwillingness to bend even in the slightest turned it into a major PR bomb. Emboldened, council, along with a solid majority of new members, turned its sites on the transit file in March and assumed complete control of it, sidelining the mayor to a state of almost insignificance.

How much so? Take a look at Councillor James Pasternak. A strong Ford loyalist from the get-go he’s now drifted notably from the Ford fold, rankling under the continual pressure to follow marching orders. He broke decisively during the budget debate despite the mayoral squeeze. “I would say it [pressure] was intense. Very intense,” he told the National Post. “I was looking for an opportunity to speak during the [budget] debate, but every time I’d try and get on the speakers’ list, I would be called away for another mini-caucus in the members’ lounge or in the back room.”

Perhaps in order to keep a closer eye on him or to lure him back with a plum post, Mayor Ford put him on the Budget Committee to replace the outgoing Councillor Berardinetti. So far the move hasn’t exactly brought him back into line. With an even bigger surplus than expected announced a couple weeks ago, Councillor Pasternak wants more of the cuts in this year’s budget reversed. Voted down at his inaugural budget committee meeting, the councillor was not deterred.

“There’s going to be a floor fight on council on this item,” he told the Globe and Mail. “We’re going to move it straight up there and that way all 44 councillors and the mayor have a say in what’s important to Torontonians. I think the most important thing is we have to cut through a lot of the histrionics of financial despair that were plaguing the budgetary process into the fall and early 2012.”

In the space of less than a year, one of city council’s most intimidated new councillors has not only abandoned Mayor Ford but done so openly and loudly. Labelling the mayor’s handling of the budget process histrionic and vowing a ‘floor fight’ at council in response to the budget committee’s refusal to defy the mayor, Councillor Pasternak has staked his position and, perhaps, his political future in the wide open political territory of moderation. By clinging so stubbornly to his far right comfort zone, Mayor Ford has inadvertently given plenty of room for the newcomers to stretch their wings and find their own place on the spectrum, free of coercion or bullying from an administration that, with one self-inflicted wound after another, has diminished its power to wield that sort of clout.

submitted by Cityslikr


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