Here’s To You, Councillor Robinson

June 15, 2015

Last weekend, the weekend before last weekend actually, Councillor Jaye Robinson, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, mrsrobinsonreached out over social media to ask to meet up ahead of the Gardiner east debate at city council to discuss the issue. I’d been jabbing at her, in the virtual sense, over the pro-“hybrid” stance she’d taken during a press conference a few days earlier. I wondered aloud how she could have rushed to the defence of waterfront development when Doug Ford had concocted his ferris wheels-and-monorail plan a few years back but was perfectly willing to plop a newly rebuilt expressway down to inflict similar damage on the area. She also, to my mind, was brushing aside well-researched evidence that suggested the traffic chaos “hybrid” supporters predicted would happen if the Gardiner came down wouldn’t happen.

So we met on Tuesday, the day before the city council meeting began for a very amiable 15 minutes. Councillor Robinson came across as deeply conflicted on the issue, trying to figure out a better solution than was on the table in front of her and colleagues to decide on. scratchmyheadWhy she had chosen to spend time chatting it out with me – whose tear the fucker down preference was up front and centre – remains something of a mystery. While my arrogance might suggest otherwise, I am fully aware of my limited reach and ever so slight standing in the local political scene. It struck me as strange the councillor would waste her time talking to some asshole with a blog.

Despite unhealthy outbursts of political naïvete that catch me by surprise, I had no illusions about the meeting. There was no way Councillor Robinson was going to change her mind, having so publicly come out in favour of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” stance. Still, I thought, maybe, some compromise might be in the works, an attempt to perform a tactical retreat.

You can only imagine my disappointment, let’s call it, over the course of the following few days, watching as Councillor Robinson displayed little propensity toward any sort of compromise on the Gardiner east. When she spoke, she varied little from the “hybrid” hymnbook the mayor was preaching from, the one he used in a speech to the Empire Club, the speech the Torontoist referred to as “full Ford”, full of “at least 36 falsehoods or misleading statements”. whipWhen she wasn’t speaking, Councillor Robinson could be seen with a clipboard, conversing with the mayor’s staff and other councillors, presumably helping out to get the vote count right in favour of the “hybrid” option.

She did. The Gardiner east “hybrid” won out, narrowly, setting in motion a period of uncertainty that often times follows bad decisions. Are we really going to do this? Really? (I remain sceptical. But again, what the fuck do I know?)

Sitting here, a few days on, and I still can’t figure Jaye Robinson out. The cranks and the kooks you get. Vainglorious, idiotic and imbecilic. Dummies gonna be dum, am I right? You can only hope to minimize the damage they try to inflict.

But Councillor Robinson is different. She seems like she wants to do the right thing, to leap toward a more enlightened kind of governance, a better city. ignorefactsYet she can regularly be counted on to come down on the wrong side of important issues like the Gardiner.

And by the ‘wrong’ side, I don’t necessarily mean the ones I disagree with her on. I’m talking about the one like the Gardiner that defy facts, evidence and the future, settling for easy, mindless catch phrases like common sense. “Why have experts if politicians care little for their expertise?” Matt Elliott asks today. There was a deliberate attempt by the pro-“hybrid” council gang to muddy the waters of debate by disparaging and disbelieving city staff and other expert opinion, elevating lone voices of dissent to positions of authority far beyond the reality of the situation, to put opinion before thoughtful reasoning.

Gut feeling prevailed once again at City Hall. Councillor Jon Burnside revealed the height of the “hybrid” hypocrisy when he rose to speak in defence of it, saying that his heart wanted the boulevard but his head told him the “hybrid” was the way to go. thetruthThe fact is, very little thinking went into the “hybrid” argument. It was pure obedience to a mayor who had made his decision known well before the debate had truly begun. Again.

Life’s too short, I concluded over the weekend. Having been at this now for over 5 years, I find myself tired and bored covering the ins-and-outs of a city council that seems determined to work against the best interests of the city. This isn’t one mayor’s problem. It’s endemic to the institution itself, the people constantly returned to office to govern.

I don’t get paid to do what I do. (Most days I don’t think I deserve to be.) There are far better people doing a far better job than I could ever do. I’m contributing largely noise.

I’m not a city councillor. I don’t have to figure out how to deal with such monumental nonsense and duplicity on a daily basis. whyamidoingthisWhy keep inflicting it on myself?

The city works pretty well despite its ill-governance. Not everywhere certainly and not for everyone obviously. We could be, should be doing a whole lot better. It’s not for a lack of tools at our disposal. Just a lack of political will. The DenzilMinnanWongization of City Hall.

Where things work, how they work is an area I’d like to further examine. How do we build a better sense of public good, the public common? One of the aspects I’ve learned about municipal politics is the potential for affecting change is right there not somewhere in the vague distance. Although it doesn’t seem like it at times, your voice can be heard. todolist1We saw it just recently with Desmond Cole and the issue of police carding.

I’ve got a stack of books about yay-high, scattered in piles around the house. Books about cities, how they work, how they don’t work, how to fix those that don’t work, great cities, bad cities, cities on the move, cities bogged down in the past. I want to read those books, learn from them, write about them. I just keep letting myself get interrupted by the terrible goings-on at City Hall.

We also need to figure out a way to elect better local politicians. If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now. It doesn’t happen magically as we learned last October. Deadweight is lying heavily on this city, crushing the breath of life out of it. This is something that can wait until 2018. Organizing must start now.

These are the things I want to explore and write about. The basic nuts and bolts of civic life. I’ve focused far too much on the… a-hem, a-hem… the nuts and dolts. (Thank you. Try the veal.)

Near the end of the Gardiner debate last Thursday, Councillor Robinson, in her role as chair of Public Works and Infrastructure, spoke last on the issue. Using that time, she introduced a series of motions that might offer some workable alternatives to the “hybrid” option as it currently stands. closingdoorWhy this didn’t happen at the beginning of the meeting, or days, weeks before the debate even went to council is the disheartening thing about all this for me.

It was about crass fucking politics, winning optics for the mayor. The exact opposite of good governance, of practical, sensible, common sense governance Mayor Tory is always trying to assure us he’s all about. It’s bullshit and, ultimately, impossible to continue watching without hollowing out your core a little.

Councillor Robinson could’ve taken a different path. She chose instead to play along with the game and diminish the process just a little bit more. I’m tired. I don’t want to write about Councillor Jaye Robinson anymore.

resignedly submitted by Cityslikr

Shame On Us

June 3, 2015

“There are two kinds of statistics. The kind you look up and the kind you make up,” read city councillor, Michelle Berardinetti, during a press conference co-conducted yesterday with the city’s budget chief, Gary Crawford, to advocate for Mayor John Tory’s “hybrid” plan for the Gardiner east.sellingfear

The statement was made during a melange of words being said where the councillor contended that maintaining the elevated expressway was the best course of action, environmentally-wise, to battle carbon emissions. Idling cars, stuck all up in traffic created by the removal of the 1.7 kilometre eastern most stretch of the Gardiner, spewing their noxious fumes into the air. Don’t believe Councillor Berardinetti? Just look it up.

If you did, you’d discover that, according to a city staff report, replacing the elevated bit of the expressway with an at-grade 6 lane roadway would actually reduce carbon emissions by 12% over keeping things pretty much as they are now. So, kind of the exact opposite of the councillor’s assertion. But hey. She did warn us. Some stats you just make up.

Once more, we are left with the question that overhangs almost every one of the Tory administration’s decisions. Why? oppositeWhat are they thinking? What’s the end game here?

The stridency with which the mayor has pursued his preferred option on the Gardiner question, full as it is with obfuscation and blatant dishonesty, remains startling. In the face of mounting evidence against it and very, very soft support for it, he has chosen to side with the likes of the Canadian Automobile Association and its campaign of misinformation. When allies and friends publicly advise him to go in another direction, Mayor Tory brushes them aside. “I have to stand here in 2015 as the Mayor of Toronto.”

I know better.

Sound familiar?

Obstinancy and willful disregard of information that runs contrary to your opinions doesn’t always come dressed up in an ill-fitting suit with the smell of booze on its breath. notlisteningThat kind of small-mindedness gets easy to work around. With this mayor, it’s far more difficult. You think, but he seems so reasonable.

And believe me, Mayor Tory really wants you to think that. He tells us that’s the case every chance he gets. Sensible. Reasonable. Practical. He’s read stuff. Lots of stuff. He has an informed opinion that should be treated equally to that of the professionals who are standing in opposition to him. Let’s just disagree to disagree, shall we. Respectfully. Mayor Tory’s got a city to run.

Because his predecessor took such obvious pride in his anti-intellectual, going with the gut instincts, it was easy to dismiss him. Confronted with someone who assures us he’s put a lot of thought into issues and policy – he’s up early every morning, reading a stack of reports, in case you’ve forgotten – we pause, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. He does seem… How did he put it again? Sensible. Reasonable. Practical. Maybe there’s some merit in what he’s telling us.falseadvertising

If there was merit, Mayor Tory and his surrogates on council wouldn’t be resorting to what Councillor Berardinetti called ‘made up statistics’ and outright fabrications. “Reminder that objectively good policy ideas generally don’t need lots and lots of lies told about them.” The Globe and Mail’s Transportation reporter, Oliver Moore, pointed out that a claim being made by the pro-elevated expressway group, Don’t Cut Me Off, was “simply not true.” In [the] Gardiner East debate,” the Torontoist’s co-editor David Hains wrote, “one side is consistently disingenuous or wrong.”

That’s the side Mayor Tory insists on standing with. Toronto’s just endured 4 years of that kind of obdurate truculence and disregard of sound counsel and best practices. John Tory was supposed to be different. He heralded a return to reasonable, sound, boring governance. Too many of us bought it.

Fool me once…

shamefully submitted by Cityslikr

Shooting The Messengers

March 27, 2015

What the fuck is up with city council?

Just days away from yet another sanctioned apology from Rob Ford by the Integrity Commissioner for yet another ethical lapse on his part while serving as mayor wtf– What for this time? The use of ethnic/racial slurs – and a lobbyist registrar’s report of improper lobbying of then Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, then conuncillor, Doug, by one of their family business’ clients, a couple freshman councillors are bringing a motion to next week’s council meeting that would diminish the oversight of all four accountability offices through amalgamation.

It’s as if, seeing the slime trail left behind by the Fords (and a few other councillors) from last term, the response is to lessen the ooze by checking the investigative process instead of changing the greasy behaviour.

What exactly these new councillors, motion mover, Stephen Holyday, and seconder, Justin Di Ciano have against the accountability officers is difficult to fathom. They’ve been in office for less than four months. Some sort of pre-emptive axe grinding? Who knows. metooBut it is another full frontal attack on the accountability offices that began at the last budget committee meeting with a Councillor Michelle Berardinetti walk on motion to reject all increased funding requests by the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner. A motion supported by Councillor Di Ciano and another rookie Etobicoke councillor, John Campbell (not to mention the budget chief himself, Gary Crawford).

Mayor John Tory managed to walk that one back ever so slightly, pushing a motion at the following council meeting to partially restore the funding request a slight fraction. A gesture which amounted to little more than seeing the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, announce she would not be seeking reappointment, fearing the `divisiveness’ would do long term harm to the office itself. Good job, Creanie, is essentially how the mayor greeted that news, and then his Executive Committee passed a motion to keep future Ombudsman’s gigs to just one, 7 year term, replacing the current 2 term, 5 years each, the 2nd, renewable at council’s pleasure, thereby reducing the politicking of the appointment process to just a one-time thing. Probably pragmatic politics but for the absolute wrong reasons.

I mean, what reason is there to resist strengthening oversight of the operations at City Hall, both the public service and elected officials? There’s been no credible criticism of the job any of the accountability officers have done. Report after report from them has been accepted by city council and city staff, many recommendations implemented. pokeintheeyeThis has never been a question of competence or performance.

So, what then?

There is no good or satisfying answer to that. Various councillors, including one currently under criminal investigation for accepting $80,000 from a fundraiser back in 2013, have seen the accountability investigations as some sort of witch hunt. During the hyper-partisan years of the Ford Administration, the work done by the Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar became characterized as some sort of left-right issue, non-elected bodies trying to undermine the democratic will of the voters of Toronto. These weren’t misdeeds or missteps being committed, but acts running contrary to the sore losers on the left.

Such were dynamics of the day.

Yet these motions seem intent on dragging this past fractiousness forward, keeping the matter alive. The mayor, councillors Campbell, Di Ciano, Holyday had nothing to do with any of it. Now they seem to want to join the fray. (Matt Elliott has his usual excellent insight into the seemingly passive-aggressive role Mayor Tory’s playing in this sad melodrama.) suffocateIt’s not even clear whether the motion will be in order, if it contravenes the City of Toronto Act, which had established the accountability offices or would require changing that act.

With so much else that needs tending to in Toronto, we all know the list: infrastructure, affordable housing, transit, why are councillors wasting their time, as well as ours, and, undoubtedly, threatening to further dig a partisan divide, by attacking and diminishing the accountability offices?

We need to listen very carefully to each and every councillor who rises to speak in favour of this motion next week at city council. They must spell out clearly and concisely why they think folding 4 offices into 2, 4 offices which overlap only in the function of providing oversight, will help to increase transparency and public scrutiny of the job City Hall is doing. Because, right now, I can’t think of one compelling reason to do what councillors Holyday and Di Ciano are proposing to do. Not one.

Moreover, Mayor Tory needs to step up to the plate and lead the charge killing this thing. He is too back-roomed up, too chock full of potential conflicts of interest through his continued affiliation with the likes of Rogers, brooma senior staffer of his and former lobbyist already tsked tsked by the Registrar for a lobbying transgression back in 2012 and raising eyebrows in his current capacity for talking up a Toronto Library Board candidate for the chair, to be seen as anything other than unequivocal in his opposition to any potential weakening of the accountability offices. The mayor cannot shy away from this this time around. Otherwise, he will establish the tone at City Hall that oversight is negotiable.

dubiously submitted by Cityslikr

Everything’s Fine. Ignore All Evidence To The Contrary.

March 3, 2015

I know the drill.nothingtoseehere

Take a deep breath. Rob Ford is no longer the mayor of Toronto. We are in capable hands now. We are in responsible, prudent, capable hands. Inhale, exhale.

Sitting through the morning session of yesterday’s special Executive Committee meeting to discuss, debate and amend the 2015 budget before passing it along to city council next week for a final vote, and I’m not feeling particularly reassured, however.

City staff’s message was clear. Holes have been plugged. Band aids and duct tape liberally applied as stop gap measures to balance the operating budget. But the recent approach to financing the city is not sustainable. A fiscal bullet was dodged again this year. Next year…?

Mayor Tory shrugged. Every year we hear the same doom and gloom tune. Every year things work out. Relax. alfredeTake a deep breath. The city is in capable hands now. Responsible, prudent, capable hands.

No matter the state of good repair backlog, manifested by the creaky condition of our public transit, the long, long repair list in our TCHC housing, the flood of broken watermains under duress from the extremely cold weather last month. What, me worry?

Everything’s fine. There’s no need to panic and start talking about new sources of revenue. An above the rate of inflation property tax increase? “An admission of failure,” according to the mayor.

Toronto does not have a revenue problem.

Sound familiar? It should. Because, no matter how much the appearance of responsible, prudent, capable leadership this administration wants to project, no matter how many times key members of the mayor’s team tell us that’s what they stand for (there’s some inverse proportionality to the number of times they say it to the actual reality of the claim), agenda-wise, Mayor Tory and his executive are little more than extensions of the previous holder of the office.

Think I’m exaggerating?failureisnotanoption

Of the 10 members on Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee who spent at least some of last term serving in the same role under former mayor Rob Ford, they collectively voted with Ford nearly 73% of the time (according to Matt Elliott’s council scorecard). Throw in Councillor Ana Bailão, as she worked with the Fords on the affordable housing file, and that brings this mayor’s Executive Committee overlap with Ford’s numbers down to 69%. Even factoring in the 12th member, the least Ford friendly of Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (she aligned herself with Rob Ford less than 1 in 5 times) and you still have nearly a two-thirds consensus between the two administrations.

Of course, the mayor, his budget chief and other team spokes people point to very obvious differences. Increases in services to the TTC, for example, eventually restored to 2010 levels before Rob Ford took an axe to them. Commendable, for sure, laudatory even if it were still 2010. In the interim, there’s 4 years of ridership growth, now packed onto and into 2010 service standards.

Clawing our way back to running to catch up from behind.

Mayor Tory brushes aside demands to even discuss an above the rate of inflation property tax increase or new revenue tools wolfinsheepsclothing(aside from hikes to user fees, the mayor loves user fees except for car drivers, leave the poor drivers alone, would you) because he believes that the big ticket items Toronto has to deal with must involve getting senior levels of government to the proverbial table. Until such a time, we can trim away here and there at city operations, gently nudge revenue in a way not to piss off too many people. Make the pretense of responsible, prudent, capable governance.

He’s not wrong, at least not in the first part of that equation. Toronto (and every other city in this country) doesn’t have the revenue or governance tools at its disposal to deal with what is essentially a gaping infrastructure deficit. Without those, both the province and federal governments have to step up and chip in.

But just how realistic is that scenario?

Ottawa hasn’t really been involved in municipal matters for a generation now. And how many times already during Mayor Tory’s 3 months in office has the province basically told him to get stuffed when he’s asked for financial help? Why, just yesterday we learned that Toronto got a double-dose of fuck you from Queen’s Park and Ottawa when the city was denied any funding help for cost overruns at Union Station, only one of the major transit hubs for the country’s biggest city and region that generates a fifth of the national GDP.loosechange

Sorry, pal. We’d really like to help but we’re a little strapped right now. In fact, maybe you could spot us a buck or two…

Yeah. Adding insult to snubbery, it also came to light yesterday after a two-hour in camera session that the city is expected to chip in on Metrolinx’s building of the Union-Pearson Express-Georgetown rail link. We’re facing a bill of nearly $100 million from the province for various improvements to their regional rail plans along the lines running through Toronto.

This is the environment Mayor Tory expects to make nice and extract money for the city?

Maybe if he’d have stepped up from the start and stated that there was no way he was going to raise taxes or introduce new revenue tools in order to pad provincial coffers, I’d be right there with him. neroThose demands from the government at Queen’s Park that the city needs to start using the revenue streams it was given back in 2006 sort of ring hollow now. Raise taxes, so we don’t have to.

But Mayor Tory isn’t doing that. He’s pretending like there’s nothing wrong, like this is just a little blip, a rough patch that can be managed with a capable, prudent, responsible approach. We just need to tighten our belts, be more efficient.

If Rob Ford set the city on fire or, at least, tossed gasoline onto the hot spots, Mayor John Tory is just fiddling while we burn, hoping, I guess, for the restorative powers of fire.

consumedly submitted by Cityslikr

Sick of Transit Inglorious Bumbling

February 10, 2015

If someone had said to me back in October 2013 after our city council had just narrowly voted to scuttle the planned Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line in favour a subway that we’d be back debating it in early 2015 even with a new administration in place, my response probably would have been, Fer sure, dude. illbebackNot just because Toronto has a history of protracted, feisty, divisive transit debates. But because this Scarborough subway decision was idiotic, politically cynical, and hostage to the loudest, most ill-informed voice in the room.

So yeah. Let’s keep rehashing this fucker. Keep banging the pans until maybe we get this right. Maybe get it right.

I want the subway defenders up on their feet again, massaging ridership numbers. I want to hear their outraged indignation at the price tag of the sunk costs for cancelling the LRT, numbers we all knew going in. I want city staff to tally up those numbers, line by agonisingly detailed line, publicly, so we can all hear what we’re paying for not to have.

I want to hear again how world class cities make monumentally bone-headed infrastructure decisions purely to placate a handful of self-interested politicians who are willing to sacrifice the good of the wider city for nothing more than parochial pandering. notpossibleWorse yet, misguided pandering it would seem.

And let’s hear from our new mayor who, during last year’s campaign, blithely shrugged off Scarborough subway-vrs-LRT questions with an unconcerned We’ll Not Reopen That Debate Again. Uh huh. That debate, she be reopened again, Mr. Mayor.

Since it is, what will the mayor say when it’s pointed out (and it will be pointed out) that his own signature transit plan, SmartTrack, puts further stress on the already dubious viability of a Scarborough subway extension, the southeastern section of it possibly eating into ridership?

Or maybe he’ll address the lost money in sunk costs, some $75-85 million, coming out of this year’s budget, roughly the same amount he needs to balance that budget. That really worth not reopening this debate, I wonder? Just going along to get along is what passes for fiscal prudence these days, I guess.

It’s never too late tnotlisteningo rewrite a mistake, especially this early in the process. As far as I know, the signed Master Agreement between the city and Metrolinx remains in place. We already know what’s going to happen if it gets opened up. Subways for everybody! This madness could be stopped.

Do I expect it too?

Not really. There’s too much vested interest in place, beyond just at City Hall to see at least the subway extension happen. It’s hard to imagine a mass Paul on the road to Damascus moment with this.

Still, stranger things have happened on the floor of council when things heat up. The October 2013 vote was a close one, some of the prime subway supporters have moved on or seen their status diminished. onemoretimeThere may be a big enough opening on hand for one or two of the fence-sitters to change their minds without losing face. Maybe a few of the council newcomers might want to make their mark by not joining in on the stupidity, not falling into line and shouldering the burden of cleaning up the mess they weren’t responsible for creating.

It may be the height of insanity to demand another transit do-over with the expectation of a different outcome. Magical subway thinking has taken a strong hold on common sense in this debate. But given the costs at stake in pursuing this ridiculous blunder, it’s worth a try.

smooth sailingly submitted by Cityslikr



January 29, 2015

I detest hypotheticals. (Also, I defy you to say that out loud and not almost say ‘testicles’.) But indulge me this, and hypothetical away with me for a moment.


Imagine, if you will, a campaign stop during last year’s municipal election. Candidate Olivia Chow is asked how she’s going to pay for some expensive promise she’s just made, what she’s going to cut or how much she’s going to increase taxes in order to balance the city’s operating budget. Ms. Chow responds, Easy. Imma take a line of credit out from the province, use it to plug the gap. Won’t that just cost us more, an incredulous media asks? With interest charges and all that? Putting off dealing with the shortfall for later? Not to worry, the candidate shrugs.hypocrit What’s a couple of dollars for people in the long run?

Imagine, if you will, her opponent, John Tory, his team’s response to that. Just imagine. The shrieks of outraged joy. TAX-AND-SPENDER!! PROFLIGATE NDP CANDIDATE!!

Just like we heard back last year when Chow proposed increasing buses and bus service. How much will that cost, Olivia? Where you going to get the money, Olivia? If only she had come up with the bright idea of borrowing money from Queen’s Park. Like Mayor John Tory is now to help paper over his increases in spending on things like – I know, right? – increased bus service.

The depths of hypocrisy to which his administration has dug itself into in just 60 days in office is spectacularly audacious. I can’t come close to summoning up the appropriate broadside Christopher Byrd did a couple days ago at the Torontoist. It boils the blood.

John Tory was supposed to be a sober fiscal steward. The municipal budget represented his first real opportunity to make a tough decision, take a tough fiscal stand. He could have decided that City services aren’t worth paying money for; we might sharply disagree with that, but cutting services is at least an honest choice. He could have decided that we all need to pony up for the services we want the City to have. Both of these options would have been unpopular with part of the electorate, but they would have been fiscally responsible.

But Tory didn’t do either of those things; instead, he’s creating additional debt that the City simply did not need to take on—and doing so only to avoid making a difficult call. It’s a cowardly, weak decision, and bodes poorly for his mayoralty.

Yesterday, Matt Elliott laid out 6 ways the mayor could balance the operating budget without resorting to a provincial interest bearing bail out line of credit. reallyWhile time travelling would be lots of fun (and so many problems we could fix without, hopefully, changing the future), I’d say a combination of 1) raising property taxes a little more than the rate of inflation, with a smidge of 2) using some of the 2014 operating surplus might get us over the hump for this year at least. It also might contribute indirectly to 4) convincing the provincial government to reverse the funding cut. Maybe not this time around but in future negotiations. Show the province we’re willing to reasonably tap our revenue sources. In return, maybe they might start looking seriously at other ways they’re putting undue financial pressure on the city. Their half of the TTC operating budget perhaps?

Instead, Mayor Tory took the easy (for now) way out. He goes to the province, cap in hand, and comes back not with chump change, but with an even bigger debt load the city now has to bear. Prudent. I do not think that word means what our mayor thinks it means.

As terrible a mayor as Rob Ford was, even he didn’t try to take out a loan to balance our operating budget. dealwiththedevilHe got up to a lot of tricks, made certifiably outrageous claims, called things by different names to make it seem as if they weren’t what they were, like ‘service adjustments’ instead of ‘service cuts’. But he never took out a loan.

He couldn’t even if he’d thought of it. Can you imagine, with the toxic relationship he had with the provincial government, Rob Ford broaching them for a line of credit to balance the city’s operating budget? They’d laughed in his face. They wouldn’t even have to make up an excuse why not because, as was pointed out this week, the province’s very own law makes it illegal for municipalities to borrow money to balance their operating budgets. Municipal Act, Section 17, subsection C, I believe it is.

Unless… I’m now guessing… you borrow that money from the province?

No, cities can’t go to a financial institution for a loan in order to fund their ongoing expenses. Neither can cities sell of any assets to do that. This restriction does not apply, it seems, if the province is doing the lending or fire sale purchasing.masteroftheuniverse

Leading me to wonder if the Liberal government has come up with a novel approach to assist them in their own current fiscal struggles. Bankrolling municipalities. It’s an effective if ethically dubious strategy. Keep us financially dependent and then cash in loaning us money when we find ourselves strapped. Deliciously IMF-ish.

This presents nothing but upside for the province. The question is, what’s in the deal for cities? Why would Mayor Tory want Toronto more beholden to the province, the senior partner in this relationship, already pulling so many of our governance and fiscal strings?

Three theories spring immediately to mind.

The mayor’s in over his head. While it’s great political rhetoric to demand government operates like a business, the reality is much more complicated. suspicious“Shareholder value” means entirely different things in the two realms. Even balancing public sector books is counterintuitive to self-proclaimed businessmen like our mayor. If Rogers needs more revenue, it just bumps up the price of delivering in their services. The city? More revenue requires tax increases. But tax increases are bad. Square peg meets round hole.

Another possibility is that Mayor Tory is as ideologically hell bent on downsizing the city as his predecessor was. Shrink it into shape and size. Speak of efficiencies and doing more with less. Don’t say as much but all your actions suggest you believe the city has a spending not a revenue problem. Taking on more debt is as good a way to apply downward pressures as any.

The third option might be even more unsettling. Given the mayor’s insistence on deeply entangling the city’s transit plans with the province’s using SmartTrack (Steve Munro provides some examples of that in his interview with Matt Galloway this morning), maybe there’s an even wider convergence, let’s call it, at work here. Further reduce what little independence the city of Toronto currently has in an attempt to wrestle Toronto into a more manageable package as part of an integrated regional form of governance. emptyhandedRather than use the enhanced powers the province granted Toronto back in 2006 to sort out some fiscal sustainability, Mayor Tory chooses to further indebt us to Queen’s Park. Beggars can’t be choosers. Fall into line or we’ll tighten the purse strings.

That one may be too, I don’t know, House of Cards. Sometimes the best explanation is the simplest one which, in this case, would be the mayor’s flying by the seat of his pants, making it up as he goes along. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t bode well for Toronto.

uncertainly submitted by Cityslikr

The Mayor Of Everyone. Literally.

January 12, 2015

In the end, I think, it’s a positive that Toronto’s new mayor responds to situations on the ground even though they might run contrary to the approach he pitched to voters in last year’s municipal campaign. adapt(We’ll set aside for the time being that some of these situations were glaringly apparent during the election which candidate Tory used as a political cudgel to hammer at his opponents.) But I’d still prefer someone we’ve elected to office who adapts their thinking to what’s actually happening to someone wrapping themselves in a mandate cloak, digging in their heels and telling us, Sorry, folks. I was elected not to do that thing you’re now asking me to do.

So when TTC chair Josh Colle wanted more buses to bolster service, Mayor Tory said, Bring us more, buses! Last week, after two men died on the streets and protesters showed up at his office to demand the city declare a cold weather alert and open up warming centres, the mayor made it happen. At City Hall, ask and ye shall receive seems to have replaced my heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day…

How this’ll play out during the upcoming budget season will be interesting to watch. yougetacarMayor Tory has stuck to his a ‘at or below the rate of inflation’ property tax increase guns so far but how’s he going to pay for all these things? More buses = more money. Warming centres aren’t free. His Public Works Committee wants to OK 24/7 construction on some pressing projects like our major thoroughfares. Where’s the money coming for that?

Perhaps equally curious will be his reaction to the pressure that gets applied for genuinely bad ideas, misguided, boneheaded impulses like, I don’t know, adding a 4th stop to the ill-begotten* Scarborough subway extension. He didn’t exactly stop one of the mess’s main architects, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker’s pre-Christmas musings on the subject in their tracks with a definitive and negative rejoinder. “My position at the moment is to be pushing ahead with the project as it’s presently defined,” the mayor stated in unequivocally equivocal fashion.

That’s a far cry from his firm stance whenever any of his opponents during the campaign promised to return to the original LRT agreement that the debate over the project was done if he was elected mayor. ontheotherhandNow it’s all ‘at the moment’ and “…there’s a city council consisting of 44 people plus me and we have to decide on whether any alternations need to be made to that project…” Alternations? That would require opening the debate again, wouldn’t it?

If any of the pro-subway Scarborough councillors are emboldened to press ahead in light of today’s poll that has a slim majority of residents in favour of putting in a 4th subway stop (but nearly a super-majority of those living in Scarborough), just how vigorously will the mayor defend his stance not to reopen the debate? Will he expend any political capital wrestling the Scarborough contingent (along with the more strident anti-LRT councillors like Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, Vincent Crisanti and David Shiner) into submission? I’m not getting a defiant vibe on the issue from the mayor at the moment, to use his own words.

It is a poll the mayor could, if he were so inclined, use to beat back any attempt at a 4th stop insurgency. As NOW magazine’s Ben Spurr pointed out, with the 2% margin of error, you could look at it as almost an even split. pacifyHow about if the question were asked not merely with the price tag attached but with the attendant hike in property taxes? The support for this is shaky (as I would argue it is for the entire debacle, given any sort of vigorous pushback). With the poll also showing Mayor Tory sitting on top of a big wave of approval – he’s more popular than both the 4th subway stop and the rest of city council – he could nip this in the bud before it had the chance to grow and fester.

A 4th stop will be all the mayor’s. While I’m sure he’ll get oodles of support from the sidelines from Scarborough M.P.P.’s, it’s hard to imagine the Liberal government offering up any more money. It will all be on the city’s taxpayers to build it. What more will we have to sacrifice to keep the voters of Scarborough and their elected representatives happy?showitsteeth

If this crazy notion proceeds in earnest, it will be the first real test of just how much kowtowing Mayor Tory is prepared to engage in in order to maintain support in Scarborough. As presented by Matt Elliott last week, there are a lot of crazy, counter-productive ideas bubbling up from the city’s wards 35-44. Will the mayor put crass political appeasement before good governance, and pander to some of our worst councillors’ worst instincts? Resolute is not a word that has often been attached to John Tory’s political career, making the continued Scarborization of Toronto a very real possibility.

* How is ‘ill-begotten’ not a word?

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


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