Our Place Initiative

February 27, 2015

Let me start this with as close an approximation to just-the-facts-ma’am as I can.

Our Place Initiative is a local, grassroots campaign built on the idea of developing and encouraging civic engagement in Etobicoke. ourplaceinitiative“We believe that it is important that decisions are made in the public interest and reflect the needs of the Etobicoke community,” from the group’s mission statement. “Choices that impact our health, our jobs, and our livelihood should be made with community input. But in order for it to happen, a community needs to be engaged on the issues and provided with the opportunity to learn more about them, if they choose.”

Begun in mid-2013, the group became active in 2014 and last night held its first public meeting. There was a surprisingly strong turnout, surprising because this is Etobicoke. (Oops, a little editorial spin snuck out there – more on that later.) Some 40 people filled a committee room at the Etobicoke Civic Centre on a, frankly, numbingly cold Thursday evening, suggesting that OPI just might be tapping into a potent if up until now latent local desire to get engaged.

If there’s a more appropriate symbol of what local engagement can achieve, it was the guest presenter at the meeting, Sabina Ali. sabinaaliChair of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, Ms. Ali’s been active locally pretty much from the moment she moved to Toronto in 2008. The list of quality of life improvements TPWC has worked as a force toward, sometimes in spite of the resistance shown by the city, is nothing short of amazing. She earned a Jane Jacobs Award for her work, work that shows no signs of ebbing. “I work with passion and really love doing that,” Ali told the group near the end of her talk.

A passionate engagement for community building.

The word ‘community’ came up a lot last night. After breaking the crowd up into some 5 working groups to brainstorm ideas on how to improve Etobicoke, something of a general thematic consensus emerged around that word. Community centres, community events, building a sense of community. One participant wanted not to have to always go downtown for entertainment, restaurants, culture, a sense of nightlife. No matter where people are in the city, it’s not just someplace they live or work. communityThey want to be part of it, part of a community.

There were certainly specific thoughts about how to improve Etobicoke from the group. Transit – surprise, surprise – figured prominently in the conversation. What was a surprise (that previous ‘surprise, surprise’ was sarcastic, in case that wasn’t clear), was that, here we were in the middle of the quintessential suburb and there was almost no talk of traffic or congestion. People wanted better public transit.

Residents also wanted more say about the kind of development that was happening in Etobicoke, especially in the southern portion from Bloor Street down to the lake. While I probably heard only one voice speak out against development as a thing, most were concerned that the condo boom was simply being imposed on them. That’s no way to build any sense of community.

If it hadn’t been clear to me before last night, it became obvious that when we talk about Etobicoke, it isn’t just one place, a solid hegemonic mass of sameness. getinvolvedCrudely, you could carve it up into 3 parts. There’s the traditional single-family home residential section where we were in central Etobicoke at the civic centre. Then there’s the booming development third in the south, a place with increasingly as much affinity to the downtown core as it has with the rest of Etobicoke. Then there’s the northern portion, industrial and largely working-class, as diverse an area as any in the city, that has largely been left to fend for itself, little or no official community building tools at its disposal.

Like I said, that’s a really, really rough outline. The lines of demarcation are hardly that stark. Still, there is no one size fix fits all for Etobicoke. Ideas, solutions, opportunities are as plentiful as the people who live there. Which is why residents should be more involved in the issues affecting their families and neighbourhoods. They need to be engaged.

Bringing me to the editorial aspect of this. The views and opinions expressed from here on in no way reflect those of Our Place Initiative. Just observations made by an outsider.robfordebay

Etobicoke suffers from a representation deficit. There is little evidence of wide-scale civic engagement because their local politicians haven’t really sought to engender such a thing. This is Ford country remember. The councillor (and former mayor) wants to hear from his residents only if they have a complaint to make or problem to be solved. It’s kind of a one-way relationship. While he claims this approach is just him looking out for the little guy in reality it has more to do with providing proof that government doesn’t really work.

Etobicoke is also the former fiefdom of Doug Holyday, the anti-tax/small government mentor of the Fords. There wasn’t a dollar of City Hall spending he didn’t suspect unnecessary. It’s not that engagement has to cost money but proactive involvement with residents and communities means staff time and, maybe, the odd pot of coffee. That smacked a little too much of waste.

The 3 incumbent Etobicoke councillors returned to office last October wouldn’t jump to the top of the list of community engagers. Aside from Rob Ford in Ward 2, Mark Grimes in Ward 6 spends time appearing in promotional videos for developers in his ward. Vince Crisanti in Ward 1, he… well, he…I don’t know what he does, actually.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti

Councillor Vincent Crisanti

While I’ll withhold judgement on the 3 new councillors, I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of a new type of representative at City Hall.

Stephen Holyday is the son of aforementioned Doug Holyday and he hasn’t shown any signs of having fallen far from the tree. In fact, last night’s meeting was in his ward and there was no sign of him or his staff. Ward 4’s John Campbell and Ward 5’s Justin DiCiano put in woeful performances last week at the Budget Committee although I will cut Councillor Campbell some slack as an assistant from his office did attend last night’s meeting and participated very enthusiastically.

With such a paucity of leadership (again, in my opinion), it’s going to take a concerted effort from the grassroots up to create an environment of engagement. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen. You can’t wish it into existence.

Based on last night’s meeting, Our Place Initiative has ably accepted the challenge of leading the charge. You don’t have to live in Etobicoke to be excited by that prospect. You should, however, follow along and take notes. It looks to be the start of something truly… ahem, ahem…engaging.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

Left To Their Own Devices

December 9, 2014

From Jon Caulfield’s The Tiny Perfect Mayor (1974):

This fatalism was shared by many reform leaders and candidates themselves. For the press, at fund-raising parties, at rallies and public meetings, they were mostly all capable of bursts of optimism…But pressed privately in ones and twos, they were often unsure, their confidence watery. Because their movement was, at root, a fragile marriage of convenience drawn together only by informal networks of key individuals, communication among them was haphazard, and fragmentary, in some cases nearly non-existent; for the most part they had no way of knowing about the progress of campaigns outside of their own parts of town.

Forty years on, this passage struck me as still wholly relevant when looking back through the ashes of the 2014 municipal election campaign, an election where the old guard of all political stripes ran roughshod over its competition.steamroll

Nobody who seriously throws their hat into the ring to become a political candidate can do so without at least a sliver of belief they can win. No matter how small a sliver, how big the odds, how steep the uphill climb to victory might be, there’s always a chance, remote, outside or not. Otherwise, you wouldn’t dedicate the time and energy necessary to mount even the most basic of campaigns.

In late October, I heard through the grapevine that such-and-such a candidate was, according to internal polls, within striking distance of such-and-such an incumbent. Candidate X had jumped into an improbable lead in Ward Y. In the end, neither rumour of glory came close to being true. A respectable showing would be the best one might claim of the results. Pretty much throughout the entire city.

By their very nature, election campaigns are built on hard work and false hopes. rubbertreeplantThere will always be more losers than winners but for a democracy to remain vibrant, everyone thinking about a run for office has to believe that that this time is their time. You can apply other metrics to what constitutes a successful campaign – increased voter turnout, say, — in the end though? Well, close only counts in horseshoes and grenades. Or, as a springboard to another crack at it four years hence.

Perpetual optimism mixed with battle worn realism.

When I met up with Idil Burale a couple weeks back, pretty much a month after her run for a city council seat in Ward 1 Etobicoke North, there was a lot more realism than optimism in her take on how things had gone. A very promising challenger to one term councillor deadweight, Vincent Crisanti, Burale finished a disappointing 5th place in race where Crisanti increased his plurality from 2010 simply by being the Fordest of Ford supporters in one of the Fordest of wards in the city.

It should’ve been so easy. A terrible, do-nothing incumbent versus a brand new voice of the community. Faced with such a clear option, how could Ward 1 voters not jump at the opportunity to make a change?

Yeah well, funny story…davidandgoliath1

First, a declaration of interest on my part.

I met Idil a couple (three?) years ago, at some event or another that led to us hosting an evening to talk about the urban-suburban divide. I (along with a few hopeful others) gently encouraged her to consider a run in 2014 election. When she finally decided to take the plunge, I was involved early on in the campaign, helping with content, messaging. I even timidly and awkwardly knocked on doors as part of two or three canvasses.

Everybody was cautiously optimistic, I think. Winning the thing wasn’t the be-all. If Idil could even just affect the conversation during the campaign or get out the vote in a ward that had the lowest turnout in 2010, it could still be considered a success.

In the end, I don’t know if even those modest goals were achieved. Like every other ward in the city it seems, the only conversation people wanted to have was about the mayor’s race. rollingrockI’m not alone in asserting that the 2014 campaign was essential a mayoral referendum. Rob/Doug Ford, yes or no? Everything else at city council could be fixed in editing.

That said, I don’t think it’s an unfair assessment of the Burale campaign to suggest that it never really gelled into a smooth running operation. There were personnel problems, mostly of the kind that there were never enough people to do the jobs that needed to get done. In the end, Burale thinks they knocked on about 80% of the doors in the ward which, as impressive as it sounds, isn’t nearly enough.

The general rule of thumb is that a successful campaign needs to hit every door at least 2 times, maybe 3 when all is said and done. Despite our hope and belief in advanced technology, campaigns are still won and lost on the ground, real live bodies going out to meet real live people, once, twice, three times, driving them to the polling station on election day if need be to make sure they vote. Without those troops, there isn’t the necessary voter outreach. Candidates unable to swamp doors in their wards remain unknown entities with no name recognition factor.

This points to perhaps the biggest problem the Burale campaign faced. There simply wasn’t enough community support at the local level at the beginning of the campaign. trekDowntowners (like me) formed a large part of her team in the early going.

It’s an especially acute problem for wards in the inner suburbs. Ward 1 sits in the most north-westerly spot in the city. Without local support, people able to get to a canvass meeting spot in 15 minutes, half an hour rather than an hour and a half, 2 hours, it’s difficult to amass a regular, reliable team of volunteers. Without a regular, reliable team of volunteers, well, you tend to finish in 5th place.

Idil also picked up very little ‘institutional’ help. By this I mean the party and riding association machines that always play an integral part even in officially non-party municipal campaigns. For whatever reasons (and I am certainly privy to none), there was no backing from either the ward’s Liberal MPP or MP thrown her way. Despite receiving the labour council backing, Burale found herself competing against an unofficial NDP candidate.goodluck

There may well have been good reasons for that situation but the fact can’t be ignored if an outsider candidate remains on the outside, the odds of them running successfully remain very long.

No amount of social media adoration is going to change that. Burale was one of a number of challengers, especially out in the suburban wards, who garnered a lot of Twitter attention along with endorsements from both old and new media, only to see it not translate into electoral success. Martyrs to the progressive cause, fueling our sense of wonder at what’s wrong with people out in the suburbs.

Turns out, you can’t just flick on the civic engagement switch come election year. Wards like Etobicoke North aren’t imbued with a history of strong citizen activism in their local governance. What groups there are don’t seem particularly connected or, in the words of Jon Caulfied in describing the early-70s City Hall reformers, ‘informal networks of key individuals’.diy1

There was no fertile grassroots base for a challenger like Idil Burale to draw on. Without enough outside or institutional help to make up for that, she was left to fend for herself against the power of incumbency. Even an incumbency of a second rate city councillor who has subsequently been appointed the deputy mayor of Etobicoke and York.

So pick yourself up, dust yourself off and chalk it up as a valuable learning experience?

Not exactly.

There was certainly something of a personal toll on Burale. Parts of the 7 month run were miserable, not at all fulfilling. So much so, at this juncture, fresh off the loss, she’s not considering another run.

A casualty to an electoral process that promotes the power of insiders and the well-connected? Change or reform doesn’t come about through the sheer strength of individual effort. We can’t pat hopefuls on the head, slap them on the back and send them out into the fight with only our high hopes and fingers crossed. overthetop1Challenging the status quo needs to be a group enterprise, uncoloured by partisan brand or parochial interests.

Candidates like Idil Burale should be applauded and congratulated for trying to roll that rock up the hill. We just have to stop thinking they can do it on their own and then expect a different, a better result in the end. That’s the definition of crazy. Crazy and lazy.

discontentedly submitted by Cityslikr

Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014


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.


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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