No Girls Allowed

May 24, 2012

Can I tell you something?

Sitting in the audience at last night’s decidedly un-sausagefest panel discussion, The Comments Section, brought to fruition by the relatively new to the scene Women in Toronto Politics group (#WiTOpoli), I found myself feeling very much the bystander… bysitter? My Blackberry deliberately stuffed into my back pocket, it wasn’t a discussion for me to participate in. I came to listen.

Not owing to any sense of condescending chivalry or politeness but, frankly, it mostly had to do with my surprise this conversation even needed to be aired. The talk wasn’t directly about the obstinately immoveable low numbers of women actively pursuing a career in politics although that problem certainly bubbled below the surface of much of what was being said. The evening’s main topic was the low percentage of women finding space to have their views on  municipal politics heard, clogged up as it is by those of us possessing penises. (No, that word didn’t come up. I just used it because I don’t get to very often especially in its plural form.)

Come on, I thought to myself. We’re talking about the wide open world of social media here, the Twitter and Facebook, the blog-o-sphere. Why, even I, an outsider to the world of local Toronto politics, just sat down and started to read, watch and write about it, and two and a half years later, here I am, having reached, well, not dizzying heights but I’ve made a name for myself. I mean, Councillor Josh Matlow knows who I am and, apparently, he doesn’t care for my work.

This is as democratic as it gets, ladies. Meritocracy rules. If you can’t make it here, you won’t make it anywhere.

Of course, in the microcosm that is Toronto politics, we now have a mayor, the scion of wealth and privilege casting himself as the underdog during his successful campaign run, the down-to-earth feller who just wanted to be mayor so he could look out for the little guy. (No, not that one. The actual little guy. I mean, I think that’s what he meant.)

If a rich and, arguably, the whitest of white guys can winningly embrace the mantel of the triumphant outsider, what room does that leave for those who are actually on the outside? Guy claiming to be powerless railing against a guy in power. Sort of a variation on cock blocking. Keep it down a bit, girls. Can’t you see we’re fighting amongst ourselves here?

The hyper-testosterone driven aggressiveness of the current administration probably also contributes greatly to the boys’ clubbiness of the political atmosphere. From the get-go, the language and attitude has been confrontational, regularly descending into little more than a pissing match between supporters and opponents. With a War always going on about something or other, it’s hard not to see a men’s game at play.

Now I’m not crazy for the… a-hem… a-hem… broad gender generalizations. I know as many outspoken and feisty women who like a good knock `em down and drag `em out debate as I do soft-spoken and reticent men. So I wouldn’t say that the tenor of the political discourse in Toronto has kept some women on the sidelines. But perhaps the tone has.

I’ve been referred to nastily in various ways over the course of my time at TOpoli. Never, however, has my gender been attacked. You fucking guy doesn’t quite have the same personal sting as you fucking bitch. Too many times have I seen gender become an issue in the heated debates that flame up on social media sites. Gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity.

All problems with which Mayor Ford has stumbled over during his 12 years in public office. So it’s not taking a big leap to suggest his attitude has fostered an antagonistic straight white male mindset into our politics. More malignantly, an aggrieved antagonistic straight white male mindset that lashes out at any demand to think more inclusively.

And his female troubles are especially pronounced. His Executive Committee is heavily male dominated. One of the two females on it, Councillor Jaye Robinson, has announced she’s stepping down at the end of the year and, if she’s not replaced by another women – it’s difficult to see who’d willing step into her spot at this point of time – there will be one woman on the committee.

Not only that, but in the last election the Ford campaign targeted a number of sitting councillors for defeat, three of whom were women. Councillors Maria Augimeri, Gloria Lindsay Luby and former councillor Suzan Hall who they did help unseat and replace with a Ford friendly face Vincent Crisanti. That would be Mister Vincent Crisanti.

I think it’s safe to say that Ford Nation is not terribly female friendly. While that hopefully will inspire some pushback activism, it also creates, I would imagine, something of a hostile work environment for those women willing to step into the fray. It’s one thing to dedicate time and effort into a cause with the expectations of a spirited and vigorous debate but another thing altogether to find ugliness lurking under every bridge you cross.

It would be foolish, however, for me to lay the blame solely at the feet of the Ford administration for the barriers women are feeling in getting heard around these parts. By not recognizing them myself, I help keep the obstacles in place. Even this post I write hesitatingly for fear of appropriating their terrain and horning in on the action Women in Toronto Politics are attempting to generate.

But I do believe there’s plenty of space at the table for new players, lots of ground still to be tilled. Regardless of who’s in the mayor’s office, Toronto is facing problems and opportunities that cannot be solved or taken advantage of using old methods of thinking or ways of seeing things. Putting new wine into new wineskins and all that.

So if you’re out there, reading this, wondering if it’s worth the effort. From my protected harbour of white maleness, let me assure you it is. And I offer you space here if you want to test the waters, see how it feels or just simply want to get something off your chest and have nowhere else to do so at the moment. It is a humble offer, no remuneration and not tons of eyeballs but it is a friendly place. It is a start in the right direction.

manly submitted by Cityslikr


Dreaming Of A True Ford Nation

March 26, 2012

Hey.

Did everybody see that? At the NDP federal leadership convention this weekend, councillors Karen Stintz and John Parker, locked arm in arm, cheering the radical left crowd on, belting out Le Internationale.

Yeah, me neither. But apparently that’s exactly what Councillor Doug Ford and his brother mayor witnessed. “You’re on our side or against us,” Mayor Ford said yesterday on his radio show. “You’re on the taxpayer’s side or against them. There’s no mushy middle. It’s left or right down there.”

In what must be the most ridiculous case of repositioning ever, Team Ford is desperately trying to cast the world of municipal politics here in Toronto as a simple binary system, a black-and-white world of simplistic right-versus-left, us-versus-them. You’re either with us or you’ve been brainwashed by the vile and manipulative NDP. The mushy middle has drunk the koolaid.

Councillor Karen Stintz, a dipper. That must be news to the previous incarnation of Councillor Stintz who stood in strong opposition to former mayor David Miller. She was a chartered member of the Responsible Government Group. The other Councillor Karen Stintz speaking out passionately if misguidedly against a motion to reclaim about $19 million in service and program cuts in the 2012 budget.

And former Progressive Conservative MPP and Mike Harris backbencher, Councillor John Parker. Another member of the anti-David Miller Responsible Government Group, now suddenly a left leaning councillor, his blue hues changed overnight to that bilious orange.

Let’s not forget fellow Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, a long time foe of the Ford family, clearly because of her political stripes. You see, way back in 1999, she had the temerity to oppose Doug Ford Sr. in a political nomination showdown for the… wait for it, wait for it… Progressive Conservative party. Clearly, a lost cause left wing wingnut. So much so that she was a member of Mayor Miller’s Executive Committee before resigning. “I never felt part of that small inner circle”

In the magical world that exists in the Ford family mind, bona fide conservatives become evil socialists the moment disagreement emerges. There is no middle ground, no third way. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, in her 2010 race to unseat David Miller Speaker, Sandra Bussin, endorsed by former provincial Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, is now a left winger. Councillor Ana Bailão ran in the 2003 municipal election against very left leaning Adam Giambrone and then won the ward in 2010 by beating Giambrone EA, Kevin Beaulieu. Councillor Josh Colle, offspring of Liberal MPP Mike Colle, and up until the recent rash of transit votes, sided with the mayor more than 40% of the time. Councillor Chin Lee, another member of the Responsible Government Group back in the day, backed Mayor Ford more than half the time.

Now, because of their disagreement with him over transit plans have all been hopelessly lost to the dark side, left wingers all.

There was a reason some of the more outspoken critics of the mayor and his brother began calling them ‘radical conservatives’. Actually, two. One, because the Fords are radical right wingers. Despite the election promise not to cut services and programs that’s exactly what they’ve done. They want to make government smaller under the banner of efficiencies. They are endeavouring the smash the unions. They want to privatize everything not nailed down.

That is, in fact, a radical right wing agenda.

The other reason to colour them with this label is to differentiate the Fords and their hardcore supporters on council from actual moderate conservatives. Despite what the brothers will try and tell you over the course of the next 2.5 years, city council is made up with a fair rump of moderate conservatives, those who are able to reach out and form a consensus with a majority of council members. That is what occurred on the transit vote. A consensus of 24 councillors from the moderate right to the left (29 when it came to assuming control of the TTC board) to take  the transit file from Mayor Ford when he failed to bring forth a workable plan to build a Sheppard subway that would almost get to Scarborough.

But the mayor and his brother see such cooperation as nothing short of betrayal and treachery. In their us-versus-everyone else who disagrees with us on any issue worldview, true conservatives march in lockstep. Since they are conservatives, you can’t vote against them and still be a conservative.

So now they’ve pledged to run a slate of candidates against any councillor that dares to defy them. This isn’t new. They did it on a limited scale in 2010. They nearly unseated Councillor Lindsay Luby as well as Councillor Maria Augimeri. Councillor Peter Milczyn similarly had to fight for his political life with a Ford backed candidate in the race. He, unlike councillors Lindsay Luby and Augimeri, has largely turtled and become a pliant supporter of the mayor except for some of his recent votes on transit.

In Ward 1, the Fords did manage to boot then councillor Suzan Hall, locking in undying fealty at city council from one Vincent Crisanti. Councillor Crisanti immediately assumed the position as a largely silent deadwood paper weight rubber stamp yes man for the incoming mayor. When he does rise to speak, he invokes the babbling oratory of councillors Frank Di Giorgio and Cesar Palacio. In the debate over transit and the Sheppard subway, Councillor Crisanti insisted busses ran faster than LRTs and endeavoured to ensure Etobicoke would not see improvement in transit in our lifetimes.

That, folks, is the slate of candidates the mayor wants to put together. Team Ford and Vincent Crisantis in 2014.

sirenly submitted by Cityslikr


Slumps Can Be Contagious

March 6, 2012

It feels a little passé to call a major setback for Mayor Rob Ford at city council historic since it’s become fairly routine, but to lose complete and utter control of the TTC, the number 1 operating budget outlay for the city, is well, kinda, sorta historic. Sure, with enough support at council the mayor can dictate the amount of money the city hands over to the TTC, but even that kind of backing should be considered highly tentative in light of yesterday’s vote. How the commission decides to spend the money the city gives it is entirely out of the mayor’s hands. LRTs, subways, bus route cuts, all are now up to a commission he has almost no sway over.

Imagine former mayor, David Miller, flush with provincial government money, claiming a mandate to build Transit City and his TTC commission members say, m’eh. You know what? We’re going a different route.

You can scream mandate, mandate, mandate all you want but it won’t mask the fact you’ve lost control of the agenda.

If the size of victory for ex-but-now-still TTC Chair Karen Stintz’s motion to dissolve the commission’s configuration from an all councillor board of 9 to a 7 councillor plus 4 appointed `civilian’ board, an eye-poppingly large, 29-15, twenty-nine to fifteen — a photo-finish shy of 2/3s of council voting against the mayor, two-thirds, a number that if replicated regularly would render him largely irrelevant in the running of this city – was not bad news enough for Mayor Ford, the composition of the new board made for an iceberg striking catastrophe.

He doesn’t have an ally on it. Of 14 ears, three could be considered sympathetic. Four of the councillors might take a call from him but probably 2 would keep him on hold for a couple minutes.

Politically, the commission is now as balanced as you could get. There are three right-of-centre members, Chair Karen Stintz, former vice-chair Peter Milczyn and Councillor John Parker. All survivors of the previous commission but none, save perhaps Councillor Milczyn, whose relationship with the mayor made it through the last month or so intact, let’s say.

Councillor Maria Augimeri is the other holdover and was never an ally of the mayor. She is now joined in that corner by councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and Raymond Cho, both vocal critics of Mayor Ford and both, not coincidentally, representing Scarborough wards. This has been designated the key battleground by the administration and now it’s represented on the TTC by two non-subway proponents.

And right smack in dab in the middle is first term councillor, Josh Colle. As one of the newcomers on the commission, Councillor Colle doesn’t bring as much baggage to the fray except for that minor budget amendment he brought forth in January that snatched back $19 million in cuts from the mayor’s hands, and we all know that Mayor Ford rarely bears a grudge when it comes to perceived disloyalty and betrayal. If Councillor Colle was looking to grow his profile at council, he probably couldn’t have found himself in a brighter spotlight.

The geographic make up of the new commission is also very telling. As much as the Ford Brothers are trying to depict this transit fight as an urban/suburban one, downtown, subway riding elitists bound and determined to deny the rest of the city their underground transit riding right, there’s nary a corist on the commission. Councillors Colle, Parker and Stintz could be considered midtowners, and all three will see the Eglinton LRT being built through their respective wards. In fact, in Councillor Parker’s case, it will emerge from below about a third of the way through his ward 26 at Laird Drive.

The rest of the 4 are all from the inner suburbs. So if anyone could complain about being left out and ignored, it should be the residents of the old cities of Toronto and East York. But we have our subways and streetcars running down the middle of the street to comfort us.

Lest we get too smug however, this fight is far from over. The Sheppard subway/LRT question is not settled although, given yesterday’s lopsided vote, the wounded Team Ford has quite a formidable climb ahead of it. Seven of the twenty-nine councillors who voted in favour of Councillor Stintz’s motion will have to be peeled away back to the mayor’s camp and in favour of building the subway. Mayor Ford has made that doubly difficult on himself by refusing to come up with a viable plan to pay for it. No new evil taxes or fees to be considered while anything off the top of Councillor Doug Ford’s head including building new toll lanes to raise money for public transit, casinos, lotteries is on the table. In other words, a wing and a prayer that only the ideologically hidebound, power mad sycophants and just the plain ol’ scaredy cats could mindlessly embrace.

It’s almost as if Team Ford wants to be defied, wants to be relegated to the sidelines, wants to be the outsider, once more railing against those politicians down at City Hall, the very ones who’ve taken over according to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. Sound familiar? Mayor Ford morphs into candidate for mayor Ford and plays up the looking out for the little guy schtick, persecution complex on high alert. They didn’t accept my mandate, folks. You need to elect more councillors who respect the taxpayers as much as me, so that I can really turn this city around, stop the gravy train and… more talking points and stunt sloganeering.

The long game, they’re looking at, using the setbacks of 2011 and 2012 as the platforms for a re-election run in 2014. Losing the battles to win a war. Misgoverning in order to campaign.

Yes, we should remain alert to that nakedly obvious ploy but today, after a day like yesterday, it’s hard to give the benefit of the doubt to Mayor Ford and his brain trust in their ability to execute any sort of long game. Besides, lightning seldom strikes twice, and 32 months is a very long time in politics. The question voters may be asking themselves come October 2014 is if Mayor Ford couldn’t/wouldn’t figure how to run council, why he should be trusted in trying to run a city.

on the ballly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Menace

November 25, 2011

There was a time back last fall, either right before the municipal election when the possibility of Rob Ford becoming our mayor solidified into reality or just after the fact when he indeed did just that, a collective exhalation of breath among those who hadn’t voted for him could be heard. Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe the office of the mayor will soften him, draw out his inner statesman. Surely there won’t be 22 councillors willing to risk their political future pandering and aiding his worst instincts.

Well, mark your calendars, folks. November 24th, 2011. If it wasn’t obvious to everyone before then, it has become crystal clear now. Mayor Rob Ford is as bad as our worst fears. He is truly a destructive force, laying waste to Toronto either because he doesn’t understand what makes a 21st-century big city work or he just doesn’t give a fuck. At this point, it doesn’t matter the reason. He has simply become Mayor Menace.

How else to explain yesterday’s announced cuts to 56 TTC routes? And yes, they were cuts. Call them ‘efficiencies’, reductions or whatever euphemism you need to rationalize your continued support for the mayor’s War on the City… actually, it’s more than that…War on Modernity, the simple fact of the matter is, once more, Mayor Ford has broken his campaign promise of ‘No cuts to services. Guaranteed.

You want to shrug it off with a ‘m’eh, all politicians do it’ or ‘we all knew he couldn’t keep that promise and anyone who did was just playing dumb’ and any other intellectually lazy and morally bankrupt games you want to play, ask yourself this. If then candidate for mayor Rob Ford had said out loud that he would be instituting a 10% reduction to the TTC budget and possibly raising fares if elected, would he be mayor right now? I hate hypothesizing but given his precipitous drop in favourable poll numbers even before this frontal assault on public transit, can you honestly respond ‘yes’ to that question? Yeah well, who’s playing dumb now?

Even by the mayor’s own bird-brained rubric of government being run like a business, this move makes zero sense. What business, seeing demand for their services at an all time high, would cut back on those services? Charge higher prices, maybe, but cut back? Only if you’re looking to put your business out of business.

Of course, for a city of 2.5 million people or so, in 2011 public transit should not be regarded as some sort of for-profit enterprise. Mayor Ford spearheaded the drive to have the TTC declared an essential service earlier this year but is treating it as anything but. In an already congested city, diminishing TTC service will inevitably put more cars on the road, only making a bad situation worse, socially and economically.

It comes as no surprise that this idea is lost on the mayor and a handful of his more ardent, antediluvian council supporters. But what’s up with TTC chair Karen Stintz? If she has any thoughts about running for higher office, how is overseeing rollbacks in TTC service going to help her cause? “Hi. I’m Karen Stintz. I’m running for mayor. You might remember me as the TTC chair who helped kneecap public transit in Toronto. Can I count on your support?”

Aside from Councillor Maria Augimeri, none of the other councillors sitting on the TTC board have spoken out against the cuts as far as I know. Perhaps we should ask them to clarify their positions.

Peter Milczyn, TTC vice-chair, Ward 5.

Vincent Crisanti, Ward 1.

Frank Di Giorgio, Ward 12.

Norm Kelly, Ward 40.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, Ward 34.

Cesar Palacio, Ward 17.

John Parker, Ward 26.

When tossing around blame for these TTC cuts, it would be unfair not to mention the role of our provincial legislature in all of this. After 8 years in office, the Dalton McGuinty government has not made good on its promise to re-assume its obligation to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget. It never seemed like the right time, as they continued to deflect criticism by (rightly) pointing out big investment in other parts of transit, both in Toronto and the wider region. But it stood back and allowed the public transit system in its largest city to severely struggle and indulged the mayor in his phantasmagorical scheme to kill Transit City and try to build an ill-thought out subway in its place. Now hunkered down in austerity mode, there appears to be little help coming from our provincial overlords. So here’s a couple other names you might want to have a chat with.

Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Bob Chiarelli, Minster of Transport

Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Municipal Affairs.

Courtesy of Laurence Lui

But the ultimate responsibility falls on Mayor Ford and the council that continues to allow him to rampage over this city. We can sit and talk ourselves blue about partisanship, petty grievances, the urban-suburban divide and tit-fot-tat politics. These cuts to the TTC, however, should transcend all that. This is a serious setback to public transit in this city. Combined with all the other measures the mayor and council has pursued like tearing up bike lanes, burying the Eglinton LRT, they are making a grave situation much, much worse. A situation that’s not only going to affect citizens dependant on the TTC. Roads will fill up. Everyone’s commute times will increase. Toronto’s competitiveness will continue to come under threat from other jurisdictions that place a higher premium on public transit and liveability.

Cutting and slashing your way to prosperity is an illusion like all of the mayor’s other views on governance. We knew it last year but too many of us closed our eyes, crossed our fingers and hoped it wasn’t true. Time to wake up to the reality, admit our mistake and go about defending Toronto from anymore of Mayor Ford’s deluded impulses.

exhortingly submitted by Cityslikr


Redrawing Toronto

May 30, 2011

I chuckled a little bit, reading Patrick White’s Globe article from Friday about Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s next task of ‘redrawing Toronto’s dated electoral boundaries.’ “Now that he’s [Holyday] approaching the home stretch of a months-long effort to slash egregious councillor expenses…”, the piece began. Images bounced around my noggin. Rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Reducing the number of fiddlers as the city burned. Etc., etc.

Even giving inflated figures, say $30 K cuts in ‘egregious’ councillor spending, that amounts to about $1, 320, 000 million, let’s call it $1.5 million in savings to city coffers. But a small fraction of the lost revenue in eliminating the VRT and freezing property taxes that the Deputy Mayor helped push through. The net effect of adding to Toronto’s ever increasing operating budge hole. Well done, fiscal conservatives. Sound management of the city’s finances.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have often been chided, by friends included, of sniffing at Team Ford’s multi-fronted attacks on the Gravy Train. It’s the reason he was elected, we’re told. Cutting taxes and wasteful spending. It’s all about optics, reality be damned.

So, fine. I give the Deputy Mayor and all those slaving away to maintain the mayor’s optics a tip of the hat. Well done, folks. Reality can wait until the fall when the 2012 budget debates begin and you have to struggle to keep up the appearance of Mayor Ford’s other campaign platform of No Major Service Cuts. Guaranteed.

That said if, as the Globe piece also notes, Deputy Mayor Holyday is serious about tackling the thorny issue of ward redistribution, our kudos will be much less facetious. It is a non-partisan concern that cuts to the heart of democracy. Citizens deserve as close to equal representation as is feasible, especially at the municipal level which is so day-to-day service oriented. Wide variations between wards will invariably result in wide variations in how councillors serve their constituents.

And as it stands right now, there are wide variations. Huge, gaping differences in populations between wards, in fact. It’s almost a 35,000 person disparity between the most populous ward (John Filion’s Willowdale 23 at 79,435) and the least (Maria Augimeri’s Ward 9 with just under 45,000 residents). How could Mr. Filion be anywhere near as attentive to the needs of his constituents as Ms. Augimeri is to hers? In fairness, we should really determine councillor’s office budgets on a per head basis.

In the Globe article, Councillor Adam Vaughan suggests that if redistribution were to happen properly, it would swing council to the left. We’d like to see his methodology behind that line of reasoning as many of the suburban ridings (including Ward 23) are the more populous ones. Scarborough especially has more than its share of hugely populated, 60K+ wards. Given that the former municipality is home to some of the current mayor’s most ardent supporters (Councillors Michael Thompson, Norm Kelly, Chin Lee), it’s hard to see how splitting those wards is going to enhance the left at council.

But that’s beside the point. Redrawing ward maps need to transcend political affiliation. Elected officials should have as little hand in the process as possible. If the Deputy Mayor can successfully pull such a feat off, it will be a shiny medal he can rightfully pin to his chest.

A bigger hurdle still will be navigating a new municipal political map with the mayor’s campaign pledge to cut councillor numbers in half. (More meaningless and possibly detrimental optics!) In the Globe article, the Deputy Mayor was already distancing himself from that promise. “That’s the mayor’s office that will have to come up with a plan for that,” Holyday said. “I don’t know that my plan is exactly the same as his.” With some wards already struggling under the weight of a 60, 70K+ population, it’s hard to see how having wards with 100,000 people will be of benefit to anyone.

Except for Mayor Ford’s optics. An ‘I said I would do it. I did it’ claim is an empty boast if the city is the worse for it. And it’s hard to see how it won’t be if we wind up further under-represented even if the pain is more equally shared.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


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