Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

If nothing else, these past 4 years have taught us an abject lesson about the slow crawl of change in Toronto. slowchangeWhy can’t we have nice things? Because, well, change is scary and must be avoided at all costs.

First, there was Transit City. Three years in the planning and then, boom! Rob Ford’s first official day as mayor, he declares it dead. It is eventually wrestled back from his control but not in its initial shape or name and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a pricey and politically expedient Scarborough subway now attached.

Second, Waterfront TO and the Port Lands. This one underway since 2001, charged with revitalizing the rather sorry state of Toronto’s chunk of Lake Ontario. A slow but now noticeable process building public spaces and economic development. Too slow, however, and not noticeable enough (at least from their car seats, driving along the Gardiner) for the Ford Brothers and their ilk at city council. texaschainsawmassacreUnilaterally, Councillor Ford sought to take control of the situation with monorails, ferris wheels and shopping malls.

This foray, fingers crossed, was stymied without too much delay. But the attacks continue, I-don’t-even-know-where-Sugar Beach-is style. What’s with the pink umbrellas and Quebec rocks?

And remember that environmental assessment (EA) undertaken late in David Miller’s 2nd term to explore options on the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway – repair, rebuild or remove? No? Funny thing, that. After getting started, the report was quietly shelved in the fall of 2010 and the remaining money used for other ‘priority projects’. citybuildingThree years later, the EA was resuscitated and completed just this year. This one with significant delays and additional costs now attached.

Then, at last week’s council meeting, another addition to the do-we-have-to bin. After overwhelming approval just 2 months earlier, the Eglinton Connects plan came back to council for some additional authorization, this time to much less overwhelming-ness. Led by the mayor and one of his electoral challengers, the plans came under assault for being too driver unfriendly.

“City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” the mayor declared during the now semi-infamous shirtless protest. “This does not make sense. It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We can’t afford more gridlock than we already have. We can’t approve things that will bring this city to a standstill.”

Not to be outdone in his aversion to any new type of thinking when it comes to traffic planning, playingtothecrowdJohn Tory issued his own reactionary statement, although, to give him credit, he didn’t actually stop traffic to do it. “I have said all along that any proposal that will add to road congestion by reducing lanes of traffic is a non-starter in my books. EglintonConnects will do exactly that and will increase traffic by ten per cent on adjacent residential streets.”

We can’t change, we won’t change. As it was, so it shall always be. Anything else?

There’s most certainly some crass political pandering at work here. The War on the Car rhetoric was powerful last time around in 2010. Why not try going back to that well? Much fertile ground to plough there (not to mention plenty of metaphors to mix).

It taps into a strange and opposing dynamic in the electorate. We want change. We know we need change. We just don’t want anything to be different.eglintonconnects

So it seems no matter how much the public is consulted, how much input is offered up, in the end, any sort of significant change in pattern will arouse a noisy pushback. It might not represent significant numbers but it is loud, it is persistent, it is threatening. At least threatening enough to catch the attention of some of our local representatives.

But here’s my question.

Is it our elected officials’ sole job to listen to their constituents, and react only to the most vocal? Eglinton Connects did not suddenly emerge, out of the blue, dropping heavily onto everyone’s laps. By all accounts, it was a very public, open process. thanklessjobHere’s what we want to do? Any thoughts or ideas to improve it?

Just like in real life, sometimes councillors need to stand up to the bullies and loudmouths, marshal support for projects and ideas they believe in. This is a good plan. It will benefit the city, community, neighbourhood, street. Take a position, based on an informed decision, and sell it. Risk electoral retribution? Maybe. But that just comes with the territory, I guess.

Of course, that’s easier said from the outside when there’s no actual risk involved.

Even one of the more change-friendly city councillors, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has had to beat a tactical retreat on a plan in her ward. Friends of Chorley Park have succeeded in delaying the implementation of a new path through a portion of the south Rosedale ravine, better connecting it down through to the Brickworks, a major tourist draw, still most easily accessed by car. This, despite the fact, it has been in the works for two years, with plenty of resident notification and invitations for input.demagogue

Once it became a reality earlier this year, well, all hell broke loose. Petitions signed. Demands made. To the tune of roughly one million dollars in delays, according to Councillor Wong-Tam.

“My concern is that people are dug in so deep that they are not able to compromise on design,” she said, although she remains “…optimistic that we’re going to come up with something great. I’m optimistic that this is a community that’s going to come together and find a community-crafted resolution.”

The lesson from all this, I guess, is no matter how effective a city councillor may be, they can’t push progress forward on their own. They need support from their residents and the public at large. Get involved and get loud. You see something the city is doing that you like and want it to go forward, let everybody know. Beat the drum.

Unfortunately, it seems to be far easier to be against something rather than in favour of it. angrymobChange might result in something worse. It might be better! But it could be worse!

It’s a constant battle against human nature, fighting for change. The best place to start in engaging in that struggle is to help expose the politicians who exploit our risk aversion for their own gains. They aren’t looking out for the best interests of the city, its residents or the future. They’re beholden to only one thing and one thing only. Pure and utter self-interest.

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr


… And Speaking Of Resigning

July 4, 2014

Think there’s no party politics at play at the municipal level? Look around at what’s going on at City Hall right now, folks. pitypartyTell me we aren’t awash in one great big Pity Party.

According to the mayor’s councillor-brother-campaign manager, there’s a “full out jihad” against the Fords now in response to yet another complaint registered with the integrity commissioner, this time about Councillor Ford’s comments made about autistic kids under care at the Griffin Centre. This jihad comes on top of the media jihad that’s been waged upon the mayor since his planned triumphant return from rehab this week.

Happy Ramadan, Muslims. The Fords feel ya.

Not to be outdone in this woe-is-me parade (never to be outdone when it comes to grandstanding), Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti wants everyone to know that he was sick, very, very, gravely ill, so, you know, don’t be pointing the finger at him about some ‘illegal fundraiser’ as alleged by an obviously ‘unfair and biased’ Integrity Commissioner, Janet Leiper, yesterday.

mybrainhurts

How can anyone have done anything wrong that was in a hospital bed with his head carved open?

If there was some improper, shady shit going on in terms of this so-called ‘illegal fundraiser’ – and that’s a big ‘if’ since the integrity commissioner is obviously out to get Councillor Mammoliti as she is always, always ‘breathing down his throat’ – he’s blameless due to medical reasons.  “Some short term memory loss during this period of time.” “I can barely remember any of it.”

The claim, as full of holes and leaky as it is, might hold some water if this was the councillor’s first ethical lapse in judgement. countingfingersI don’t know. The surgeon must have cut out the moral compass of my brain! But it isn’t. Giorgio Mammoliti has come under scrutiny for at least a couple other violations. He’s currently in court facing campaign finance irregularities. There’s the below market value rent he’s received for an apartment owned by a company that does business with the city. Never mind the illegal re-election signs that have popped up.

That’s just this term alone. Let’s not forget the oldie but goodie from way back when the councillor got the city to pay his legal defense against a challenge of his campaign financing in 2006. So either, the thing that was wrong with Councillor Mammoliti’s head was long term and slow growing or the guy simply operates under the premise that The. Rules. Apply. To. Other. People.

Perhaps the most egregious bit of conduct the Integrity Commissioner laid at the councillor’s feet in her report was his accepting of $80,000 from the fundraiser that was attended by lobbyists and companies doing business with city. whome1Even if he was non compos mentis at the time, wasn’t there anybody surrounding the man, family, friends, staff not busy planning the event on the city dime, who thought such a gift might be, I don’t know, a little out of bounds? I’m not a politician, Councillor Mammoliti, but accepting money while you’re in office seems… not quite right. Especially when it’s from people who might benefit from such a transaction with an elected official.

Even when the councillor had seemingly recovered from his brain affliction and returned to his normal state of assholery, he didn’t bother to respond to the integrity commissioner’s offer of allowing him to return the money. Money? What money? Short term memory loss, remember? Remember what? Money? What money? Short term memory loss, remember? Remember what? Money? What money?

And here’s the real kick in the nuts to any and every right-thinking resident of Toronto (and beyond). Even if the integrity commissioner’s recommendations are adopted by city council and Councillor Mammoliti is docked 3 months pay, slaponthewristthe maximum penalty that can be dealt out to him by the city, he’d still walk away with over $50,000 in his pocket. Money paid to him by registered lobbyists and companies doing business with the city.

“This is as offside as you get when you come to a code of conduct violation,” said Brian Iler, the lawyer who brought the original complaint to the integrity commissioner.

Is it any wonder politicians like Giorgio Mammoliti and Rob Ford continue to disregard the rules put in place to ensure ethical behaviour from our elected officials? Why wouldn’t you if you can still come out ahead of the game. It’s a twisted realm of thinking that, if there are no deterrents to your questionable conduct, if there are no tangible repercussions to your actions, like jail time or being chased from office, then clearly, you did nothing wrong. If you did, where’s the appropriate punishment?

getawaywithit

The system as it’s currently set up at the municipal level may not exactly encourage bad behaviour. I can confidently declare that ethical, upstanding councillors heavily outnumber those who aren’t. Those so inclined to disregard the rules, however, are hardly dissuaded from doing exactly that. Ethics preferred but not required should go with the job description. Cheaters sometimes prosper.

cleanly submitted by Cityslikr


The Lads Doth Protest Too Much

July 3, 2014

So what is it with the Ford Bros. goons and their anti-urban henchman, Ccitybuildingouncillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, and Waterfront TO? Following along at Executive Committee yesterday as the 3 of them took turns taking swipes at the agency in charge of redeveloping the city’s long forlorn waterfront, you had to wonder what the hell was in that tree they were all barking up. Get that squirrel, Dougie! Get that squirrel!!

“This is the old hokey-pokey,” said Councillor Ford about the alleged shenanigans down on the waterfront. Hokey-pokey being, I guess, the kissing cousin to the boondoggle, and a safe way to hint at corruption without the worry of having to prove it.

“Councillor Doug Ford has turned a dark shade of purple as he rants about Waterfront Toronto,” Toronto Sun reporter Don Peat tweeted.

“You’re looking at a million dollars for 36 umbrellas and a rock, two rocks, two big rocks,” Mayor Ford pointed out about the design of Sugar Beach. “Two rocks. Where did these rocks come from?” he asked staff, pretty much rhetorically. “A rock is a signature piece?

“This is a cancer we must cut out,” the mayor declared. sugarbeach1The Gravy Train, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie, switching up into campaign stump speech.

“It is emblematic of Waterfront Toronto that they just don’t get the value of a dollar,” Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong stated, as if he alone in his tight-fisted, small-mindedness, understood.

“You’re missing the point in Sugar Beach!” Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly told the Executive Committee.

Ahh, yes. You’re missing the point. Especially you, TweetleDum, TweetleDumber and TweetleDMW.

My initial reaction was to look for deeper meaning or intentions in such intemperate outbursts although with these guys it isn’t an irregular occurrence. sugarbeachThe Fords have a tendency to turn various shades of bluster whenever they open their mouths. Councillor Minnan-Wong, he develops a certain tone of smug petulance.

But you will remember back nearly 3 years ago, Councillor Ford had big plans for some of the waterfront. Such monumentally huge plans that he appeared to have left his brother, the mayor, out of the loop. Ferris wheels. Monorails. Shopping malls.

You know, a place where people would actually want to go to visit and not some high concept, artsy-fartsy park.

With those plans shot down and the first leg pulled out from under the Ford mayoralty, I immediately thought, so what are these guys up to now? What plans had they hatched that were under threat by the slow but steady march of redevelopment by WaterfrontTO? sugarbeach2What were there wanting to build down there?

Of course, at this point, that may be over-thinking things, giving the boys way too much credit. Perhaps Christopher Hume last week summed it up best when he took exception to Councillor Minnan-Wong’s tirade about WaterfrontTO. “The problem is Minnan-Wong’s Toronto is dull, sterile and cheap,” Hume wrote.

Like the Fords, the councillor’s view of the public realm extends only as far as the roads he drives on. You want green space? It’s called a backyard. With a lawn. The suburbs like those his Don Mills ward is located in were intended to do away with the need for the public realm. Public realm? That’s what we have malls for.

I don’t want to get all high-falutin and world class city-ish here but truly great cities are measured by their public spaces. Think London, Paris, Barcelona, Washington DC, New York, Vancouver and what immediately comes to mind? notredameI’ll let you fill in the blanks but chances are it’s all about public spaces.

“That’s all well and good but do we really need all those fancy gargoyles around the place?” asks the medieval French version of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong when looking at the plans for Notre Dame.

But Toronto’s no London, Paris, Barcelona, etc., etc. We’re Toronto. We don’t do public space. We keep our taxes low.

What’s really annoying about all this is, these so-called fiscal conservatives cluck, cluck, cluck over $12,000 umbrellas and $500,000 rocks while steadfastly ignoring the fact that, according to Mr. Hume, projects like Sugar Beach have contributed to bringing some $2.6 billion in private investment to the waterfront. The public sector, working with the private sector, to enhance the quality of life for residents of Toronto. Just like Councillor Ford is always on about.texaschainsawmassacre

Maybe that’s what’s really stuck in their collective craws. The very idea that government can work, that government can actually contribute to the well-being of the city it’s in place to serve. Sure, it might cost some money but it isn’t always about a zero sum equation. We can have roads and beautiful parks too!

Or maybe, it’s all just about crass, retail, low rent politics. As has been stated many times by many people during the course of this administration, it’s about the cost of everything and the value of nothing. A sad reflection of the penurious imagination too many of us bring to table when talking about Toronto.

sow’s ear-ly submitted by Cityslikr


Roads To Nowhere

May 23, 2014

Although never far from the surface, if you ever want to scratch open the drivers’ sense of entitlement, entitledask one How’s it going? during their favourite time of the year, construction season.

2014 is turning out to be doozy.

“This is not how you run a city,” mayoral candidate and noted transportation expert John Tory pronounced in the wake of the news there’d be concurrent construction on both the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. “Torontonians shouldn’t be forced to arrive late for work because of the lack of thought or planning by city officials. Sadly, the situation on our major roads is now once again a world-class mess.”

Ahh, there it is. Always with the world-class, one way or another. And by Torontonians, Mr. Tory means car-driving Torontonians of course.outrageous

“When we should have been planning ahead and making calculated decisions to address congestion, this administration has provided poor judgment by compounding gridlock on our roads,” another mayoral candidate and one with some actual municipal governance under her belt, Councillor Karen Stintz said. “We have a responsibility to ensure residents have options to move in and out of the city. Today, we have created roadblocks.”

They do, Councillor Stintz. It’s called getting out of their cars and using public transit.

Even noted cyclist and alleged car hater, Olivia Chow (also running for mayor) got in on the indignant act. “My traffic plan says you can’t shut a street (Lake Shore) if used to avoid one (Gardiner) under construction,” Ms. Chow stated on the Twitter.

With everyone jumping on the city staff kicking bandwagon over this, obviously somebody screwed up, somebody fell asleep at the switch. The mistake is so glaring, there’s no way anyone who was paying any attention would’ve allowed it to happen. This requires a strongly worded admonishment.

“Believe it or not, I have confirmed that the office running the smaller Lakeshore job did not communicate with the office running the bigger Gardiner job, overreactionwhich is simply unreal,” John Tory said in his e-mail blast blast. “As mayor I will ensure this will never be repeated.”

Simply unreal.

Or “completely untrue”, depending on whom you ask.

“I’m at the table for both of these,” said General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley. “However, the reality is we needed to get the Gardiner work going, and we needed to get the Lake Shore work done. Folks want the infrastructure to be upgraded and put in good condition. Unfortunately these are both in the same location.”

Folks want their infrastructure upgraded, and want it upgraded at their convenience.

Mr. Buckley went on to say that, “The two specific teams carrying out the Gardiner and Lake Shore work were fully aware of what was going on and meeting regularly.”

Between the long harsh winter just past and the upcoming PanAm Games next summer, the city is obviously facing something of a construction crunch. Given there’s going to be work on the Gardiner well into the next decade, chances are, more overlaps in our future. roadconstructionThat just comes with aging infrastructure over-burdened by usage.

Only in car commercials are our roads ever open and maintenance free.

“This drives people crazy,” said Public Works and Infrastructure Chair and automobile nut, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “it drives me crazy and hopefully an important lesson has been learned and will be applied.”

And what lesson would that be, councillor?

“Some disruption with the daytime Lake Shore work,” suggests Mr. Buckley who is being paid to manage road work. Much of the work is being done overnight. No lanes would be closed going in the direction of rush hour traffic. The city, he said, is keeping an eye on the situation. outofmywaySo far, during the day, delays on Lake Shore were “about a minute long.”

“This is probably the worst of it, we’re not seeing significant delays,” Mr. Buckley claims.

Insignificant delays and maximum outrage.

Stirring up driver resentment is a potent political tactic. Just ask Rob Ford. War. On. The. Car.

It feeds into that ingrained sense of privilege that once you’re behind the wheel of your automobile, nothing and no one should obstruct your ease of movement between point A and point B. I pay my taxes, dammit! I shouldn’t be inconvenienced.

The thing is, hundreds of thousands of other drivers believe the exact same thing at the exact same time of day, every day. As that old saying goes, you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

The only way we’re going to actually address the soul-sucking, business-hampering congestion that is plaguing us now is to confront the entitlement of the car driver head-on. We cannot road build our way out of this. punchyourselfThe private automobile is the least efficient and least cost-effective way to move people and goods around this region. Leadership means acknowledging that and offering up real alternatives.

What we’re getting right now is craven opportunism and political posturing. A supreme silly season during peak construction season.

under constructionally submitted by Cityslikr


Will No One Rid Us Of This Turbulent Councillor?

April 27, 2014

I had to laugh. One of those chuckles really, a combination of knowing, disbelief and a dollop of self-loathing. laughAlways a dollop of self-loathing.

“Minnan-Wong not running for mayor,” stated the headline of Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article on Thursday.

HeeHeeHeeHee, I chortled to myself. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong running for mayor. Please. It’s a testament to the era of lowered political expectations we live in that anyone, and I mean anyone, including the councillor himself, actually thought for anything longer than a passing notion or fancy that Denzil Minnan-Wong could be considered a legitimate mayoral candidate.

Now, I know that after electing someone like Rob Ford as mayor, the reasonable response to that view is, well, all bets are off. If Rob Ford, why not, I don’t know, a chia pet? chiapetClearly we’re comfortable scraping from the bottom of the barrel. Whatever else you might say about him, Councillor Minnan-Wong cuts an acceptable figure. His suits aren’t ill-fitting.

The difference is, Rob Ford wears the necessary populism any self-proclaimed far right conservative politician needs to win. I don’t get it either but he’s not trying to appeal to me. Enough of the folks believe he represents their values and views of local governance that a quarter of Toronto voters see him as one of them, always looking out for the little guy. Councillor Minnan-Wong is not that, not even close.

He’s more… ummmm, how would you describe the Minnan-Wong brand of conservatism? It’s most certainly not populist. You wouldn’t consider him a John Tory country club conservative. It’s just, I don’t know, loathsome? Along with the mayor, his brother, the speaker and maybe Councillor Mike Del Grande, loathsomecreatureno one is more divisive, petty and single-minded in their pursuit of small government and low taxes than Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

We’ve already written about Minnan-Wong as councillor in our Wards To Watch series but I think it bears repeating now that he’s officially registered to run for re-election in Ward 34 Don Valley East.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is why we can’t have nice things in Toronto. His view of the city seems to come almost exclusively from behind the wheel of his car, out through the windshield. (Or standing, tending to his lawn, evidently.) It’s very telling that in saying why it was he was running again, the councillor said, “There is a lot to do in this city and I’m clearly engaged in gridlock and congestion and trying to make our roads better.”

Trying to make our roads better.

Now, I know it may seem like I’m playing semantics here. Roads could be seen as just a generic word denoting travel or a commuting route. texaschainsawmassacreBut he didn’t say he was trying to make our commute easier or reduce our travel times in the city. No. The councillor’s attitude toward city building is as auto-centric as our mayor’s and just as stuck in the ‘70s suburban mindset of his youth.

He opposes anything that challenges the supremacy of cars to get around the city. Bike lanes. Open streets. Scrambled intersections. Expressway removal. He loves the view of Toronto from the elevated eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway!

Denzil Minnan-Wong has been a city councillor since amalgamation, having sat on the North York council before that, and I think it’s fair to ask for one positive contribution he’s made to life in Toronto in all that time. citybuildingSince 2010, he’s been the chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, arguably the third most powerful position on council (4th if you count whatever position it is Doug Ford occupies) and I’m hard pressed to think of anything on the plus side of the ledger he’s done. Even if it’s just saving taxpayer’s money, I’m thinking that for every dollar in contracting out waste collection and the collective agreement with other city unions, there’s a bunch of cash burned in torn up and rebuilt bike lanes and buried Environmental Assessments.

“In the interests of the public and the City of Toronto,” the councillor told the press after signing up for re-election, “I thought the interests of the people was best served by returning to city council as a councillor.”

Well, I beg to differ, Councillor Minnan-Wong. This city’s interests would be served a whole lot better, justoneand our political discourse more civil if you took your low tax loving, government hating detrimental act elsewhere. Over the course of the next 6 months those running against the incumbent councillor in Ward 34 should badger him relentlessly with one line of questioning and one line of questioning only. What has he ever done for the residents of his ward or this city? Name one positive contribution he’s made during his time in office. One.

It’s a question Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong would be hard pressed to answer.

– demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


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