Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


There’s Always A But

December 11, 2013

“I love the trees but…”ilovetrees

Councillor Doug Ford statement started yesterday at day one of the budget committee’s 2014 program review. It echoed similar sentiments that Councillor Vincent Crisanti made earlier in the meeting when he asked city staff when all the tree planting was going to end.

I love the trees but… I love nutritional programs for the kids but… I love extended library hours but…

It’s what follows the but (and my inner 10 year-old boy snickers) that’s important here. I love [fill in your program or service of preference here] but I don’t want to pay for it. Having stuff in the city is all fine and dandy but, please, stop reaching into my pocket where I keep my hard-earned dollars.

This, I think, is what’s referred to as the tragedy of the commons. The demand and use of public services and programs minus a willingness to pay for them. Or, the belief that, in fact, you more than pay your fair share. You want something else? It’s on your dime.

Which explains why, while the budget committee members are relatively comfortable (short a few notable exceptions) with a below the rate of inflation increase in property tax, minemineminethey’re totally cool about user fee increases far exceeding it. A whopping 6% (inflation plus 3.75%) in fact, on the various user fees discussed yesterday. We’re becoming a pay as you go city, folks. That’s respect for the tax not fee payers.

And, you know, if that’s your particular bent, so be it. I’d just say let’s be fair and apply that reasoning across the board. So we can bring back that vehicle registrations tax fee, right? Nickel and diming. Nickel and diming.

As it stands, the proposed budget is pretty much status quo given the last 3 years. Very few enhanced or new services and continued attrition and reductions around the horn. Certainly no noticeable overall improvements and the corrosion continues at an almost imperceptible pace.

Still that’s not enough for some on city council. The mayor and his brother have been very adamant about only wanting a 1.75% property tax increase as opposed to staff’s 2.5%. Seemingly out of the blue, budget committee member Councillor Ron Moeser wanted staff to go back and give him the numbers for a 2% property tax increase. texaschainsawmassacreTo his credit, Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio gently guided his colleague away from that line of questioning by pointing out, that staff had worked very, very hard for many, many months on this particular budget. The time for that kind of drastic ask had passed.

This was the same budget chief, however, who a little while later took a break from the meeting to meet with the mayor in front of the cameras to announce he’d be introducing a motion later on to reduce the Land Transfer Tax by 5% this year. That’s something like $17 million in lost revenue – poof! – just like that. Sorry about that hard working staff. Maybe we need to rethink that $14 million in new and enhanced services.

Because, technically speaking, cutting eliminating not introducing new or enhanced services is not a cut which this administration guaranteed it would not do. candyfromababyWe all love the new and enhanced services but…

For a group of people who spent an inordinate amount of time trying to ferret out the profligacy of providing breakfast and nutritional programs to children who may not actually need it, it’s obvious the only thing a majority of this particular budget committee really love is paying as little money as possible into the pot that we use to build a stronger, more vibrant, equitable and healthy city. The public good is for suckers. You want to make things better? Don’t look at me. I’ll just come along for the ride.

selfishly submitted by Cityslikr


Electoral Reform Gets All Tied Up at Government Management Committee

May 14, 2013

In the end, Government Management Committee item 22.15, Proposed Electoral Reforms, limped forward without recommendation for wider city council consideration deadlocked in a 3-3 tie. alltiedupThose voting against reforming the way we go about casting our ballots municipally? Team Ford. Councillors Vincent Cristanti, Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti, stood firmly in opposition to any change in the status quo, even going as far as putting up a motion to defer the item indefinitely. That salvo was fended off by the rest of the committee, consisting of Chair Paul Ainslie and councillors Mary Fragedakis and Pam McConnell.

At issue was a staff report that proposed four reforms of how we can and who can vote municipally. Any possible changes that might be enacted wouldn’t occur until the 2018 campaign at the mayoral level, 2022 council wide. Nothing too radical or too quickly. Plenty of time to ruminate and consider, and all for a good cause. The promotion of wider civic participation and engagement.

Much of the conversation and most of the deputations revolved around only one of the measures, to rank ballots or not. An alternate way to vote by ranking candidates in order of preference to ensure that the winning candidate gets at least 50%+1 of all votes cast. rankedballotIt’s a pitched battle that has been going on for some time now, not only pitting those in favour of keeping our current First Past the Post system against those proposing the basic 1-2-3 alternate ballot but reformers at odds with each other, arguing the merits of the ranked ballot versus pure proportional representation. That fight is for another post altogether.

But I will say that those speaking under the banner (if not official endorsement) of Fair Vote Canada – the side of proportional representation and against ranked ballots – did themselves no favours. It’s one thing to speak out against a proposal and another thing entirely to positively offer up something in its place. They told the committee members a ranked ballot was not truly proportional and wouldn’t affect the election results all that much. What they didn’t tell us was how their Single Transferable Vote would work at the municipal level.

None seemed really all that familiar with the structure and workings of the local government in fact, intent to graft on an approach to voting much more conducive to a situation with a party system in place and multi-member representation. Not to say that PR and STV couldn’t work in Toronto. singletransferablevoteWe just needed to be shown how.

We weren’t and in reality, the PR deputations seemed to scare off potential committee support from the likes of Councillor Ford to the idea of any sort of electoral reform whatsoever. Which, unfortunately, also threatened other equally important ideas in the item for ways to increase not only voter turnout but civic engagement overall. How our ballots were counted was only part of the solution put forward.

City staff proposed holding elections on one of the weekend days in order to free voters from having to sneak away from work to vote. Staff also suggested extending the right to vote over the internet for those with disabilities. Thirdly (and most importantly to my way of thinking) the report put forward the idea of allowing permanent residents living in Toronto the right to vote in municipal elections.

The chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Paul Ainslie, who has been indefatigable in his support of electoral reform, talked about how when he campaigns a solid majority of the residents in single-family dwellings are eligible to vote. The opposite is true when he knocks on doors in apartment buildings. outsidelookinginYou want better election day turnout and more civic engagement? There’s no better place to start than extending the municipal franchise to those living in Toronto, paying taxes and using the city’s services.

As someone native born to this country, and with my Canadianness dating back a whole two generations now, I don’t feel particularly possessive of my right to vote here. It’s one aspect of citizenship, the cornerstone of it even. But I believe the exclusivity to it decreases as we move down the levels of government, from federal to provincial to municipal.

What I find especially egregious in the anti-permanent resident vote at the local level is that it’s perfectly fine for citizens to vote municipally in Toronto even if they don’t live here as long as they own or rent a property in the city. velevetropeI get the reasoning. If you have some pecuniary interest in city business, you should have a say in how the city is run.

Why give that right to just citizens? All permanent residents have financial as well as social interests in Toronto. Giving them the right to vote acknowledges their contributions to this city, the sacrifices they make to live here and the benefits they receive for doing so. It’s like a democracy starter kit. A welcome mat to anyone wanting to put down stakes in Toronto.

Fortunately, all this will be debated again at council despite Team Ford’s best efforts to smother it at committee. Like the representatives of the proportional representation camp, councillors Cristanti, Ford and Mammoliti were content to emphasize the negative without making any sort of positive contribution. Councillor Mammoliti bemoaned how much harder voting is in the suburbs than it is downtown without offering up any motions to address that claim. He chose instead to try and stop any talk of reforms in its tracks. Councillor Ford was all for strengthening the office of the mayor – putting forth a motion to ask the City Manager what kind of legislative amendments were necessary to do so — while merely providing lip-service to giving more power to community councils.

Trying to bolster our democratic process and extend its reach to promote wider and deeper engagement shouldn’t be a partisan issue. nonpartisanOn a lot of fronts, it isn’t. The proportional representation-ranked ballot dust up is largely being fought between the left. City council’s champion of electoral reform is Councillor Paul Ainslie who usually sits centre-right. At Government Management Committee he was backed by two of the more left of centre councillors.

But we heard loud and clear yesterday from those wanting nothing to do with electoral reform. The self-described Looking-Out-For-The-Little-Guys guys. The hardest of the hardcore supporters of Mayor Ford. They came down firmly against change without really saying why. The mark of true reactionaries.

frustratingly submitted by Cityslikr


Strictly For Wonks

April 9, 2013

Government Management Committee.

Yes, it is as dry as all those words on their own might suggest. bonedryPut together? Well, the Sahara fucking desert.

Yet, this committee deals with the nuts and bolts of how City Hall functions both inside its curved walls and outside. Why, just yesterday the agenda was full of such diverse items as property tax shirkers and parking ticket miscreants to building a bike station at City Hall and TTC pension plan mergers. Most of it isn’t headline grabbing stuff but it’s all got to get done for the place and the institution to function properly.

Or, in short, from the city website: This committee has a focus of government assets and resources, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on the administrative operations of the City.

From a City Hall watcher’s perspective, this Government Management Committee got council chambers and committee rooms wi-fied up and there’s talk of installing more electrical outlets for ease of keeping computing devices charged. nutsandboltsIt just pushed for extending live streaming of all committee and community council meetings before 2014. And word is, they’re pondering granting media accreditation to council social media types which, from our very subjective viewpoint would render the process meaningless. I mean, come on. It’s bloggers we’re talking about. Those people are hacks.

As committee chair, Councillor Paul Ainslie was quick off the mark to embrace many of the electoral and civic reforms that came out of Dave Meslin’s The 4th Wall project including looking at using ranked ballots in municipal elections. Clicking through the committee’s agenda over the last little while, it’s hard to tell exactly where those items are sitting right now and it’d be nice to know that they haven’t simply been buried. But I’ll give Councillor Ainslie the benefit of the doubt because, well, he seems like a sensible guy who knows better than to get on Meslin’s bad side.

Councillor Ainslie also seems to run an affable meeting. He doesn’t huff and puff, is courteous with staff, fellow committee members and deputants. If I were writing copy I’d say something like Committee Chair Ainslie makes boring Government Management stuff fun! fineprintMaybe even with two exclamation marks.

He does get some help from Councillor Doug Ford in the fun department, although the mayor’s brother does provide a different sort of fun. More of the laughing at than laughing with kind of fun. In many ways, the Government Management Committee is the reason the councillor came to City Hall. To Lean Six Sigma his ass all over procurement practices and squeeze out every ounce of gravy he can find.

The committee also offers up Councillor Ford the opportunity to rail about out of control spending like the budget of the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. Or the construction of a bike station at City Hall in place of perfectly unused parking spots, complete with, and get this…”Vince! You gotta come here, they’re building showers!” Showers! For bikers! Can you get any gravier than that?

But with the chair siding with the lefties on the committee, councillors Mary Fragedakis and Pam McConnell, Councillor Ford and his buddy Vince (Crisanti) did not win the day. That may have to wait until the one missing committee member, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, returns from the DL. boringmeetingHis presence at the meetings must change the dynamics somewhat.

Would I recommend a visit to the Government Management Committee to take in the proceedings?

I don’t know. Did I mention it covers a lot of dry terrain? You have to really love watching people cross their t’s and dot their i’s to get caught up in the action of a Government Management Committee meeting.

Theirs are many of the thankless tasks that must get done, and very much subject to the whims of the much higher profile Budget Committee. (Given the overlap of many of the items, it would’ve made perfect sense for Councillor Ainslie to seamlessly transition into the role of budget chief. Alas.) Government Management Committee might not be the place to start your journey through the committee meetings but be secure in the knowledge that six councillors are dedicating their time to getting `er done.

appreciatively submitted by Cityslikr


Give Him The Business

October 17, 2012

Here was the original plan.

Wait a couple days, insert a few typos and some of my very own grammatical idiosyncrasies and then claim Ed Keenan’s Doug Ford doesn’t understand much about the private sector post from yesterday as mine. I mean, I’m no Margaret Wente. It could take everybody years to discover that kind of sleight of hand.

But my conscience (or whatever that thing is that causes me to have second thoughts, stupid second thoughts) got the better of me. So I decided to just harp on the article instead. Get all up in your faces and demand you read it, and read it now. It’s that important.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. Make myself a cup of tea. Fire off a few emails. Maybe play some Bejewelled, depending on how slow a reader some of you are. What are you waiting for? Chop, chop. Get cracking.

*  *  *

Am I right? Huh? Huh?

Keenan quotes Councillor Doug Ford from last Sunday’s radio show, talking about the $700 million of ‘unfunded liability’ for the new streetcars the city ordered a few years back:

I don’t think the average person… they wouldn’t do it. Do you go out and purchase a house, purchase a business, purchase a big capital piece of equipment for your business, and not have the money?

Correct, Councillor Ford. The ‘average person’ might not be able to purchase $700 million worth of streetcars on credit. But a house? A business? A ‘big capital piece of equipment’? As a matter of fact they do. Every day. It’s kind of what makes the business world go around.

Kennan goes on to eviscerate Councillor Ford’s ludicrous stance in much finer detail than I could, so I’ll leave you to that. (Except, I do need to point out that, according to the article, the mayor’s Cadillac Escalade birthday present is actually leased – “…absolutely the highest cost of borrowing in the market place. Hands down, no exceptions.” — through his family business. So, if it is written off as a Deco Label business expense, technically speaking, we the taxpayers are paying for it. In that case, Happy Birthday, Mayor Ford.)

The thing I want to know about all this is what the fuck is Councillor Ford’s m.o.? What’s the frequency, Kenneth? I ask.

As a business man, even one handed that title by his father, Councillor Ford can’t actually see the world as he purports to in his role as a politician. He’s not wealthy enough to simply buy everything he wants, cash on the barrel head. Deco Labels doesn’t operate that way, does it? Obviously not, what with the leasing of the mayor’s SUV. It doesn’t make any economic sense if he did. And that’s what he’s all about, isn’t it? Making economic sense.

He can’t be that dumb, can he?

If he’s not, if Councillor Ford and his colleagues following him in lockstep – the mayor, the deputy mayor, the budget chief, the speaker, councillors Vincent Crisanti, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Giorgio Mammoliti et al – are fully aware of best business practices, let’s call them, and do know all about manageable debt and capital expenditures, blah, blah, blah, how come they’re not applying that thinking to the finances of the city? How come they’re pretending Toronto’s financial situation is worse than it is? How (and why) does Mayor Ford make the bold-faced claim that the city’s ‘financial foundation is crumbling’ as he did last year in a speech at the Empire Club?

Is it because despite all their bluster, all the harrumphing and rhubarbing we hear from them about Toronto needing to be run like a business, the last thing they want to do is run the city like a business, and a successful one at that? Go back to Keenan’s article and note the rough comparison between Toronto’s debt to income numbers and Rogers. $4.4 to $11 billion versus $10.79 to $12.47 billion. That’s pretty healthy. Or how about the low, low percentage of the city’s annual operating budget goes to servicing Toronto’s debt versus, say, the percent you pay in terms of your annual income to mortgage payments.

Toronto is, and has been despite the ugly economic environment out there and the vagaries of assistance coming to us from senior levels of government, running like a very efficient, strong business. That’s what the likes of Councillor Ford either doesn’t understand or, more likely, wants you not to know. Their whole schtick, he and his brother mayor and all the far right, fiscal hawk councillors, is based on the dubious premise that the city’s finances are being driven into the ground by tax-and-spend politicians who have no respect for taxpayers.

Why would they want you to think such nonsense?

To admit otherwise, to come clean that Toronto’s books should be the envy of many businesses, would be admitting the unthinkable idea that government actually works. That the taxes we pay as residents of this city aren’t inherently evil and bad. It would be an admission that their political philosophy and view is nothing more than empty ideology. It is destructive. It is selfish.

Councillor Doug Ford simply hates the idea of government. He doesn’t believe it should be run as a business because, well, it’s not a business. Businesses should be run like businesses. Government? Taken out to the woodshed and cut down to size.

Unfortunately for the councillor, that’s not really a politically sellable idea. So he bluffs and blusters about Six Sigma principles, finding efficiencies, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie hoping that enough people will come to the same dim conclusion of government as he holds. It’s been working for him so far.

We just have to keep calling him on all his bullshit talk and force him out into the open. Make him run not as some sound, sane businessman but as the unhinged, radical, anti-government ideologue he actually is. Right now, he’s getting away with hiding in the tall grass.

prudently submitted by Cityslikr


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