Bloodied Cesar (I Just Had To)

April 7, 2014

I will give Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport) credit for this much. Talk about having the stones to bad-mouth a major piece of infrastructure that runs right through the heart of your own ward. citybuildingInfrastructure built under your watch.

That takes some nerve, it does. Stepping up and announcing to anyone listening, hey. Look at this mess I helped create. Vote Palacio!

But this is exactly the route the councillor took after signing on to Team Ford in 2010. Aside from maybe the mayor and his brother, and perhaps Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), nobody beat the drum about the St. Clair Disaster louder than Councillor Palacio. Never mind that most of the claims being made were untrue. Yes, the construction did not go smoothly. There were overruns in both time and money. Businesses along the strip suffered.

Don’t forget, however, Councillor Palacio was in office during all this. It’s not as if he inherited it. By yapping on about some perceived disaster, he’s basically announcing that he’s unfit for office. Almost like he’s daring voters not to support him.

Imagine being a resident up near St. Clair or a business along the strip, idareyou1and your local representative can’t seem to tell enough people about how bad things are there. I hear there’s a really good restaurant on St. Clair. Wanna go try it? I don’t know. I would but I hear it’s a nightmare up there. Or… or… You live near St. Clair? I hear it’s a real disaster. Who’d you hear that from? The guy you elected to represent you at City Hall.

Your councillor, Ward 17. Cesar Palacio. Advocating and fighting for your interests since 2003.

Councillor Palacio has been the closest thing downtown Toronto has to a bona fide member of Team Ford. He has accepted the role with particular relish, garnering himself a seat on the Executive Committee through his position as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. thumbsup3When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s (Ward 7 York West) thumb fell out of favour or into disuse (was never sure which it was), Councillor Palacio, perched as he was directly behind the mayor, enthusiastically filled in, flashing his thumb to let folks know which way the mayor wanted them to vote.

Not that I’d imagine anyone followed his instructions. In fact, I’m not even sure the mayor was ever aware of what Councillor Palacio was doing. The gesture probably had more to do with the councillor signalling to everyone that he was behind Mayor Ford both literally and figuratively.

Despite the mayor’s recent woes, Councillor Palacio has remained a steadfast devotee although he did join the enemy’s list when he voted in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers. The councillor has been firm in his support of a Scarborough subway and against LRTs (because that’s what made St. Clair a disaster, don’t you know). He was part of the gang of 5 TTC commissioners who helped engineer the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster after he had the temerity to publicly suggest it best to stick with the LRT plan that was already in place and paid for by the provincial government. Councillor Palacio was, in turn, thumbsuprobfordunceremoniously dumped when then TTC chair Karen Stintz pulled off her own putsch (curiously however the councillor voted in favour of his own termination), booting those known as Ford loyalists from the board.

Ford loyalist.

I think that would be the most apt and probably only term I’d come up with if asked to describe the councillor’s time in office this term. What else can you say about Cesar Palacio? A Ford loyalist.

And like all Ford loyalists whose last name isn’t Ford, what did the councillor get in return for such fidelity and reliability?

Why just last week in these very virtual pages we reported how the councillor, in his capacity as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee, overseeing the food truck issue, seemed to have been blindsided by the mayor’s motion to eliminate the 50 linear metre from any restaurant rule the councillor was proposing. gotyourback1Councillor Palacio asked the mayor if he realized it was his motion that the mayor was seeking to amend. So obviously there had been no consultation between them. The councillor also wanted to know if the mayor knew just how long it had taken to bang out the sort of compromise he was now seeking to undermine with his off-the-cuff motion.

Mayor Ford appeared indifferent to the councillor’s plaintive tone. That’s just the way he rolls, yo. Loyalty’s a one way street with him, baby.

Still, Councillor Palacio hasn’t come away empty handed with his toadying to the mayor.

Only in a Rob Ford administration could an undistinguished councillor like Cesar Palacio rise to the rank of a standing committee chair, even a lowly regarded one like Municipal Licensing and Standards. But hey. If a Frank Di Giorgio can become budget chief, the sky’s the limit for mediocrity. Chances are Councillor Palacio’s star will never shine as brightly (such as it) as it has for the past 3+ years, although I did spot him at the official launch of John Tory’s mayoral campaign, so his time in the sun may not yet be done.droppedball

The bigger question is, what have Ward 17 residents got in return for their councillor’s brush with power? Used as a political cudgel to fight a transit war across the city in Scarborough. Check. The implementation of the Ford agenda. Check. Fighting to remove a methadone clinic. Check.

Ummm… after that, I’m kind of drawing a blank.

After 10 years in office, you’d think Councillor Palacio and the ward he represents would have a lot more to show for it than that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Give Us The Business… Plan

February 26, 2014

Point 9.

(Here’s point 8, point 7, point 6 and points 1-5).

This is a tough one. It’s not my strong suit.unsteady

Business.

Municipal candidates need a business plan. A roadmap to chart out strategy for maintaining prosperity and spreading the wealth. Some fiscal nuts and bolts, to use the terminology of those clutching at straws on this particular issue.

One of the problems facing local politicians when it comes to steering the economic ship of state is that they’re really only able to operate at the micro level. All the macro tools like interest and currency rates, money supply, trade agreements, immigration policy are in the hands of the higher orders of government. Even the powers of specific, targeted taxation to generate predictable, sustainable flows of revenue aren’t at the easy disposal of most municipalities.

Toronto does have a little more access that way with the increased taxing powers granted it with the City of Toronto Act back in 2006. whatcanidoBut as we have seen over the course of the past 4 years or so, a majority of members of our city council have been loath to exercise this authority, repealing the Vehicle Registration Tax almost right out of the gate in 2010 and another, the Land Transfer Tax under regular siege. And thoughts on revenue tools to build transit? Yeah, we’ll just nudge the property tax rate up a bit. Go with what we know.

Keeping taxes low is not really a robust economic action plan, to steal a phrase from a gang of low tax lovers. Maintaining competitive levels of taxation especially on a regional scale is probably part of a smart approach to municipal fiscal well-being but it’s really just a single aspect. It can’t be the alpha and omega, the be-all and end-all, the whole enchilada.

I pledge to keep taxes low.

That is all.outofideas

Anything else?

Problem is, you have to pay for stuff.

It’s like any enterprise. Money comes in. Money goes out. More of the former than the latter is necessary for any sort of long term sustainability.

So with limited financial tools on hand, municipal politicians must have innovative and strategic ideas about revenue generation. If that’s a dirty phrase to you, revenue generation or revenue tools, you don’t really understand the nature of governance. Tax and spending is exactly what a government does.

It’s just a matter of, to steal a line from a budget committee deputation late last year, taxing fairly and spending wisely.

And it has to go beyond simply arguments of this tax or that tax, increase one, eliminate another. How do you grow a tax/revenue base to match the expanding needs for infrastructure, services and programs which come with the growth of a city? Too often it’s only about approving almost exclusively residential development, in the form of condo towers downtown and sprawl in the outer suburban ring, for an immediate (relatively speaking) hit of tax returns and section 37 money. easymoneyIt’s basic math. More households = more tax revenue.

The inevitable magic of the free market, am I right?

Beware the charlatans pitching you the everlasting miracle of unfettered free markets.

What happens, and I don’t know the proper business jargon for it, but it comes down to too much of a good thing. A land rush. Residential housing going up everywhere. It offers the best return on investment to developers and cash up front to local governments. Win/Win.

But then suddenly, you’ve built a city where lots of people live and with no place to work. At least, no place nearby to work. Leading you into the morass of long commutes and travel times. Congestion. Lost productivity. Low liveability indexes.

From a planning perspective, the dreaded single-use communities that urban minds are desperately trying to fix and overcome.

It’s playing out right now in Toronto at the former location of Mr. Christie’s in south Etobicoke. Industrial land sitting smack dab on prime real estate under pressure to join its immediate surroundings in condo fever. If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now, the inevitable billboard on the side of the nearby Gardiner Expressway might boast. complexproblemsUnless, of course, your job is in Milton or Kitchener or Alabama.

This goes beyond questions of zoning and land-use policy, out of the reach of local politicians. We are being abandoned by much of our manufacturing sector, lured away by the low costs of production opened up over the last 25 years by international trade liberalization. A mayor or city councillor can’t do a whole lot about that. We’ve seen very limited success with tax slashing approaches in efforts to compete on a global scale.

Fortunately, Toronto is home to a more diverse economy than just its manufacturing base. It has all the ingredients that make up both the so-called knowledge economy and service sectors. The country’s beating financial heart. A multitude of internationally regarded post-secondary education institutions and research hubs. People. People, people, people. Who come here looking for the opportunity to prosper and thrive.

To believe, however, that all governments have to do in this situation is to sit back and watch it all work out, just keep taxes low and cut the red tape is some sort of political wishful thinking. createopportunityLazy libertarianism that reveals a deep vein of sociopathy. If you can’t prosper and thrive in these conditions, you’re just not trying hard enough.

Run government like a business, we’re told by too many of our elected representatives. OK well, businesses invest in order to create a successful business climate, don’t they? Councillor Doug Ford crows about taking the bull by the horns and investing his time and money in opening up the Chicago branch of his family’s Deco Labels and Tags business, doesn’t he?

Well, a city too has to invest to create opportunity and positive conditions for its shareholders (everybody who lives there) to succeed. That means investing in ways to move people quickly and efficiently.emptyslogans It means creating conditions for all kinds of work places to be close to home. It means ensuring people can afford to live throughout the city so they don’t have to spend unhealthy amounts of time getting to where they need and want to be.

It means having a plan. Keeping taxes low is not a plan. It’s a fucking slogan. And as we’ve all witnessed over the past 4 years, a slogan doesn’t get transit or affordable housing built. It doesn’t bring jobs to the city. It only serves to get do-nothing politicians elected to office.

We don’t deserve better. We need better.

all businessly submitted by Cityslikr


A Farewell To Mike

February 16, 2014

I just canx.

With the same grace and class he displayed while serving his time on city council, mikedelgrandeMike Del Grande announced he would not be seeking re-election to Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt. Which is to say, he’s basically intent on burning the place to the ground on his way out the door. So long, suckers. You won’t have Mike Del Grande to kick around anymore.

After what will be 11 years in office, the councillor and former budget chief doesn’t seem to have a good word to say about anyone or anything. To accentuate the dyspepsia and kick up the bile and acrimony a notch or four, the Toronto Sun’s tapped their former City Hall scribbler and now on book leave author, Sue-Ann Levy to transcribe Councillor Del Grande’s farewell note. There will be blood, spilt, mixed with the usual bit of meandering, pointless prattling.

“It [the dynamic at City Hall] gets very nasty, very personal and I just don’t want to be part of that anymore,” Councillor Del Grande tells Sue-Ann. “I just detest that.”

This from a man who I can’t remember ever turning on his microphone at council or committee meetings without eventually shouting at somebody, everybody. rageyHis colleagues, deputants, visiting members of the public.

His spiteful adieu is nothing short of pure psychological projection. The gruffest, least cordial member of city council signs off, accusing everyone else of being meanies. Mike Del Grande, an oasis of calm and civility in a desert of nasty.

Usually I could stop and at least applaud a person for the years of dedication to public service. Clearly the man’s time in office did his health no good. As he reminds readers, as budget chief, he worked 75-80 hours a week without help from anyone. Just him, his cross and a handful of nails.

I really can muster no good thing to say about Mike Del Grande as an elected official.

Surprisingly, the one person he sort of holds his fire with is Mayor Ford. Yes, he has his problems with the lying and imagines the substance abuse probably affected the mayor’s professional performance. But no mention of that time during Del Grande’s third and final budget, where he worked 75-80 hours a week all on his own, when the mayor wound up voting against him, instead whimsically getting behind a zero % property tax increase thrown up by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. robfordbellicoseThanks for the effort, Mike. It’s just, there’s optics to think about.

None of these shortcomings, it seems for Councillor Del Grande, were the fault of the mayor. It was the elites who never recouped from Ford’s unexpected rise to power. Or the gutter journalists, with their mob mentality, refusing to cut the guy a break.

No. In fact, the councillor shows a grudging respect for Rob Ford, and his lack of political correctness. “He was a very good Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Del Grande dictates to Sue-Ann, going on to say that he “actually enjoyed watching Rob Ford the councillor ‘go bonkers’”.

Ahhh, yes. Go bonkers.

Remember. The councillor told Sue-Ann that “the ‘level of decorum (and) personality attacks’ at council factored highly into his decision not to run again. In fact,” she continues, “there were times he was so ‘disgusted’ with the conduct of his colleagues, he walked out of council meetings.” ebenezerscroogeEvidently, Councillor Del Grande draws some sort of distinction between a lack of decorum and enjoying watching somebody go bonkers.

What I think Mike Del Grande should be remembered best for, aside from his totally misguided attempts to right the fiscal ship of the city, is his pithy and totally respectful response early on in his tenure as budget chief. “We need firm discipline. I get a little concerned when we start making arguments about the widows and orphans. Negligibles add up. We cannot afford to do everything that everybody wants us to do… the 2011 budget is cupcakes. We tend to spoil everybody. We need to learn to say ‘no.’”

Oh, the poor widows and orphans, always wanting their cupcakes. And I suppose they want to take off work early on Christmas Eve!

If Mike Del Grande possesses a decorous or generous bone in his body, I never saw it on display. His demeanour and the tenor he brought to City Hall never much wavered from pure vitriol and mean-spiritedness. goodriddanceHe was the exact problem he bemoaned of in others but somehow everybody else was to blame, never Mike Del Grande.

I wish the man well in whatever future endeavours he pursues and hope he finds some sort of peace and well-being. But, I for one, feel free to say that his malignant presence at City Hall won’t be missed. He represented the worst, most penurious of our civic instincts. Our municipal government will be better off in his absence.

grudgingly submitted by Cityslikr


Rightward Ho!

December 15, 2013

As someone not a stranger to undercutting my own arguments with grand overstatement – overreactionRemember that doozy of mine when I criticized our mayor by stating that the guy must be on crack or something? – I’m not prepared to write off the entire premise of Matthew Hays’ Guardian article because he suggested Canada has ‘devolved into some rightwing hellhole’. I imagine the state of Mississippi to be the model of a righwing hellhole. We’ve crept closer to that fiery crevasse than I would’ve imagined a few years ago but we’ve still got a ways to go in my estimation.

Still, I believe Mr. Hays offers up a useful mirror to peer into especially those of us of a certain age who grew up basking in the beneficent warmth of the Pearson Peace Prize-Trudeau Just Society. We were peacekeepers not warriors. Reasonable stewards of the earth. Beloved by all nations. We proudly attached maple leafs on our backpacks as we roamed the planet, spreading the gospel of hockey and our tolerant non-judgement all over the world.goodolddays1

It was never all that, of course, but it’s hard to dispute that there’s been a drift away from what we believed were Canadian ideals of fairness, justice, compassion and collective cooperation. Hardly the ‘welfare state in the worst sense’, our current Prime Minister once claimed it was, we have though tilted a fair bit rightward from the days when our Tory blue glowed a little redder. It’s worth noting on this day when Nelson Mandella is laid to rest that it was our then Progressive Conservative prime minister who broke ranks with many of the rightwing luminaries of the time in his calling for an end to apartheid in South Africa.

Maybe, I don’t know, it’s just a case of youthful rebellion. Children, growing up to petulantly reject the beliefs of their parents, spreading their wings to cover new territory. It’s not so much that we disagree in principle with what we were taught. We just need our own space to evolve, grow.

So in electing the likes of Stephen Harper and Rob Ford we’re doing nothing more than acting out, establishing our own personalities distinct from our predecessors. It’s a phase. We’ll grow out of it.

If we have become, as Mr. Hays asserts, “…crude, swaggering, bungling, irrational and mendacious”, who else would those adjectives describe? ignoramusAmericans. Yeah, sure. Remind you of anybody else? Teenagers! Exactly. Self-indulgent know-it-alls prone to exuberant mood swings of wild proportions. We’re still developing, trying out different personas to see which one fits us best.

As any good parent or guardian should be, I think Mr. Hays is rightly concerned at some of our more excessive outbursts of anti-social behaviour. We have embraced a love of irrationality, eliminating from our diet anything that might challenge our firmly held beliefs. The long form census? TMI. We’ve rejected the notion of consensus-building in favour combativeness. It’s now a black-and-white world out there, populated by potential enemies not allies. Israel, good. Iran, evil. The country’s maintained a teenager’s love of a messy bedroom, however, comfortably promoting a dirty agenda of fossil fuel exploitation and ignoring pleas to try and clean up, just a little, like we promised to back in the day.

These are worrisome inclinations on our part if a loss of what some of us believe to be positive Canadian ideals matters at all. crudeandswaggeringWhile Matthew Hays might be a little over the top in his reaction to our current pattern of bad manners, there’s nothing wrong in sitting us down and trying to get some sort of explanation about why it is we’re doing what we’re doing. The warning signs are all there.

I mean, if Rob Ford and Conrad Black are the type of people others think about when they think about Canadians, there can be little question that this place has become unrecognizable to many of us.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Shut It Down Frank

December 3, 2013

There was a certain lack of urgency in the air in committee room 1 for the public deputations ahead of the 2014 budget, grityourteetchandcarryonboth perplexing as well as unsurprising.

Clearly there’s a crush of need in many sectors of city services and programs after years of cutbacks, flat lining and neglect by all three levels of government. Where that fact was on stark display these past two days was in child care and children’s nutritional programs. Oh, and the TTC. Always the TTC.

It is astounding to me the number of people out there filling in the gaps left by governments that, regardless of political stripe, seem to believe we are taxed enough. You can’t get blood from a stone, we’re told. Don’t look at us to be the heavies here. DIY. Do it yourself.

Many do, setting up things like breakfast programs with and/or without assistance from both the public and private sectors along with a healthy dose of volunteerism. And then they manage to take the time to come down to City Hall to express (almost exclusively) a discontent, let’s call it, with the contributions city council is making. For at least some 150 people or so who signed up to make deputations over the last couple days, democracy is much more than simply voting on election day.

I’m hoping what I perceived to be the deputants’ collective tone of quiet resolve wasn’t instead resignation in the face of just 3 years of constant beat down. admirationIt might be a product of sideshow freak fatigue, civic efforts in the face of a leaderless political entity trying to get back to business as usual. Who is it I’m addressing here?

Perhaps (and I could very well be projecting my own views onto this) there’s a sense out there that this is also very much a do nothing drastic, it’s an election year budget. Don’t rock the boat with any sudden change in direction and just get on with campaigning. Grit your teeth. Grin and bear it. Register your concern but no outrage. Next year will be an entirely different year.

The lack of, I don’t know, pressing engagement also might have been the result of the prevailing attitude from the budget committee members. With the exception of Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, it felt like the whole deputation process was an imposition upon the rest of them. disengagedAfter quickly passing a motion to reduce speaking time to 3 minutes, they followed up with a 1 minute limit for councillor’s questions that succeeded in impeding any sort of actual dialogue between residents and their elected representatives.

Then, the committee wanted to cut short Monday’s meeting back from its 930 p.m. scheduled end to 6 p.m., effectively eliminating any possibility for those who couldn’t make it to the meeting during work hours from deputing. Councillor Berardinetti initially beat back the motion but Councillor Doug Ford managed to have it pushed through later in the afternoon. Talk about your customer service.

Say what you will about former budget chief Mike Del Grande (and we said a lot, almost none of which was positive) but he at least seemed to revel in rubbing his opponents’ nose in the fact he was in charge of the city’s purse strings. Cupcake this, widows and orphans and he’d bang the gavel with relish. foghornleghornI want to listen to you beg and make a point of ignoring you.

This gang (again, I exclude Councillor Berardinetti from this broadside) couldn’t even bother mustering the pretense of interest. Councillor Ford, flitting in and out of the meeting, started almost every ‘question’ to deputants with a “Do you realize that…” before launching into whatever dubious claim or numbers he thought appropriate. Private sector this, find efficiencies that. Unsurprisingly, it was the lack of outdoor skating rinks IN SCARBOROUGH that grabbed his attention the most.

As for Councillor Frances Nunziata, if there is a more contemptible, less respectful councillor currently representing residents of Toronto, their name is Mike Del Grande and, well, see above. Nunziata wears a permanent sneer and spent more time on Monday watching the clock than listening to the deputations. “Frank! Frank!” she’d snap at the committee chair when he absent-mindedly or graciously allowed deputants to wrap up beyond the 3 minute mark. Her only interaction with the speakers who’d made the effort to come out was to ask if they’d looked elsewhere for help.

h/t Paisley Rae

h/t Paisley Rae

But there’d be problems with the deputation process even with a more crowd friendly committee. Unless you’re among the first 10 or so listed deputants, there’s too much uncertainty in your timing. People need to be assigned a block of time in which they know they’ll be speaking and the committee needs to stick to that. Otherwise, people just drift off, having to get back to work, to home, to pick up their kids from school. This usually precipitates a run of no-shows, leading to more no-shows by people who had been following along but hadn’t expected to be called on so soon.

More than that, the public needs to be invited to take part in the budget making decisions much earlier in the process. It’s hard not to conclude, as it works right now, that once we get to the staff proposed budget release it’s all a done deal. Months in the works, behind closed doors, it’s delivered up. A fait accompli. Here it is, boys and girls. What do you think of it?

In quick succession, just before Christmas, the public is offered a glimpse of what to expect, nowrunalonghave their say over the course of a couple days, and then it’s off to council to be voted on in late-January. Thanks for playing along. See you next year.

It gives the impression that we’re offered the chance to be heard but not listened to. This budget committee, this week, simply made what was a matter of fact painfully obvious.

openly submitted by Cityslikr


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