The Source Of The Problem

August 1, 2014

So, I’m catching up on my magazine subscriptions and I come across this interesting article, toomanymagazinesCanada’s Infrastructure Gap: Funds missing to repair our deteriorating public utilities, in the June 2013 issue of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Monitor. That’s right. June 2013. I’m a little behind. Stop me if you’ve read all this before.

Not to come across the fatalist here but it’s hard to read this report and see how all the plans and platforms we’re hearing during this campaign from mayoral and city council candidates for making Toronto a better place to live are going to make a lick of difference.

You see, there’s one reason, and one reason only this city, along with every other city in the country, is facing the kind of fiscal crunch they’re facing in terms of increased congestion, affordable housing, crumbling, aging and crumbling infrastructure: the near absence of the federal government. crumblinginfrastructure3Ottawa’s where the money is and they’re not rushing to hand much of it over.

And it’s not just a Harper government thing either. For decades now, Ottawa has backed away from its traditional commitments to contributing to municipal capital projects. Liberal red or Tory blue, both have stepped away from the funding table, offering up little more than what is politically beneficial to them.

Here’s the situation, summed up in one paragraph:

In 1955, the federal government accounted for 34% of capital investment. By 2003, it had declined to 13%, the provincial share remained constant at 39%, and the municipal share increased from 27% to 48%.

Even with the bump up of federal infrastructure spending in the face of the 2008 economic crisis, it remains below the necessary level, as a percentage of the GDP, to even help maintain a state of good repair. crumblinginfrastructureThat shortfall has almost exclusively fallen onto the shoulders of cities to deal with as the provinces haven’t really picked up any of the slack left by federal neglect.

While the majority of our tax dollars are bundled up and sent to Ottawa and (in the case of Ontario) Queen’s Park, the level of government with the least ability to generate the revenue now has the most responsibility to pay for the needed infrastructure. Bit by bit, things get put off, ignored, upgrades and expansion are delayed until the work has to be done or even more drastic measures taken. Sell off public housing stock to help pay for upkeep on the rest anyone?

For many people, they make little distinction between the jurisdictional powers of our 3 levels of government. crumblinginfrastructure1For them, they pay all these taxes and watch as things get worse around them. The roads suck. The city’s a little grubbier, more garbage on the streets. Their basement’s flood when it rains. Where’s all our money going? they demand.

And the ground is made fertile for the likes of Rob Ford and his merry band of anti-government tax-haters.

The city doesn’t have a revenue problem. The city has a spending problem.

Truthfully, there’s every reason to think Rob Ford doesn’t make the distinction between levels of government, and who taxes what and where that money goes. He has proven himself to be grossly uninformed about the job he’s been elected to do for nearly 14 years now. crumblinginfrastructure2Don’t rule out the possibility that when he asks the province and Ottawa for more money to fund things like his Scarborough subway pet project, he still adamantly believes the city doesn’t have a revenue problem.

Those damn councillors’ office budgets! $12 000 for umbrellas?!

Unfortunately, cutting all those nice-to-haves won’t build all the need-to-haves to put this city back together again.

We end up fighting amongst ourselves over dollars made scarce by successive absent federal governments. We can’t afford that. And people die, homeless on the street. That’s the federal government’s job. crowdedbusAnd parents are forced to put their kids in unlicensed day-care centres. We need to find efficiencies. And people are crammed tightly together on buses and streetcars.

The fact is, even with the modest types of revenue tools Toronto was given back in 2006 — the ones many of us still rail against — the city alone cannot plug the holes that need plugging, never mind build and expand the things we need to build and expand. Even the province can’t play the white knight and slay the infrastructure deficit dragon we face although, they could be a whole lot more helpful. The federal government needs to re-assume the level of investment in cities it did 50 years or so ago. crisiswhatcrisisProbably even more so, given the level of neglect it’s allowed to happen.

Easier said than done, obviously.

Municipalities remain at the mercy of the provincial governments. Ottawa is in another stratosphere entirely. Where’s the leverage cities have to start making demands of the federal government?

But a good first step might be to recognize our commonalities rather than emphasize our differences. The problems all cities have right now in coming up with the funding to build better, stronger communities and neighbourhoods, to bring our infrastructure from somewhere back in the mid-20th century, notmyproblemstems from one source and one source only. The negligent disregard with which we are treated by our federal elected representatives.

It’s time we started to use our numbers to make our demands better heard in Ottawa. The fact of the matter is, as goes Toronto (or Montreal or Winnipeg or Calgary or Vancouver), so goes Vancouver (or Calgary or Winnipeg or Montreal or Toronto). As go our cities, so goes the country.

unitedly submitted by Cityslikr


Oh, It’s You Again

July 31, 2014

I’m happy I’m not over there in Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina and have to pick a new city councillor in October.

For a couple of reasons.pheew

One, my house is actually located in Ward 19. So I’d be voting illegally if I cast a ballot in Ward 20. Although, the consequences to breaking any sort of election law in this city seem to be negligible to none if current cases are anything to go by.

Secondly, I might actually feel a little, I don’t know, badly not voting for Joe Cressy for a second time in less than a year.

Don’t get me wrong. He seems like a nice enough guy with his heart in the right place. He says all the right things for all the right causes. joecressyI mean, I’ve never even been to Africa, let alone, worked with HIV and AIDS projects there.

Credentials?

Joe Cressy’s got the progressive credentials in spades, my friends.

But I’ll tell you something.

When he was running in June for the federal seat in Trinity-Spadina left vacant by Olivia Chow and her bid to become the next mayor of Toronto, and I was able to vote him, I didn’t because I had no clue why it was he wanted to be my M.P. I knew exactly why his opponent, and eventual winner, and the candidate I voted for, Adam Vaughan, wanted to go to Ottawa. Cressy? Frankly, between you and me? It felt like the next entry in his C.V. This is what someone of his pedigree does next.

Now, having been turned down for that job opening, his bid for a city council seat feels like a 2nd thought. cv1A fall back plan. Don’t worry, he assures us when he announces his municipal run, he won’t run federally again in next year’s scheduled general election. Not next year.

It’s still early yet in the municipal campaign, just under 3 months to go, so we may get a better sense of why Joe Cressy wants to a Toronto city councillor. Hopefully it’s something beyond building a progressive city platitudes. Right now it feels like Joe simply wants to be a professional politician.

Am I being too unfair?

It’s probably because it also feels like he’s bringing party baggage to the proceedings. I have grown to loathe the party mechanics at City Hall. Party mechanics? you say. There’s no party politics at the municipal level. What are you talking about? Party mechanics?

Well, there is. Just behind the curtain. Not quite out of sight but far enough away to provide plausible deniability.

Look. Some of my favourite city councillors are eye deep in party affiliations. partymachineI’d like to think it doesn’t cloud their judgement, add a little colour to the way they see things. But you constantly have to ask how complete, 100% independence is possible if you owe at least a little something to the party that helped get you into office.

It’s difficult at times to look at the current council make-up and not see some party standard bearers sitting as city councillors instead of, I don’t know, just really good city councillors.

And I remain convinced that party politics played an integral part in inflicting the Scarborough subway debacle on us. A not so subtle push from Queen’s Park in order to curry favour with Scarborough voters in both provincial by and general elections. An unexpected windfall from Ottawa to put some skin in the game, as they say, for their ‘side’. stinkeyeLoyalty to party before good, rational decision making.

So yeah. I cast a wary eye in the direction of Joe Cressy’s latest candidacy. With all the advantages that come with being a political company man, there’s one pointed, challenging question he needs to answer. Exactly who’s he running to serve? His constituents? His party? His career?

Not that he has to answer me. Like I said, I don’t live in the ward. I’m just an interested observer.

just sayingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch VIII

July 30, 2014

As the municipal campaign begins to gather a little mid-summer momentum of interest, there’s been an uptick in chatter about new faces, new voices challenging incumbents in various city council races. brandnewNOW’s Ben Spurr wrote an article last week, Progressives in the heart of Ford Nation, featuring a group of candidates running up in the city’s northwestern corner. “A group of young, bright candidates are tackling far right politics and voter disaffection in Toronto’s northwest”, he writes.

This is a most encouraging and welcome development. But let me just add that new doesn’t necessarily have to mean young. A challenge to the status quo only needs to be done in spirit and intention. Age has absolutely nothing to do with it.

So it is with Mary Hynes as she has stepped forward to take on the entrenchiest of entrenched incumbents, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, in Ward 34 Don Valley East.

For anyone who’s followed along Toronto politics over the last 4 years, you might recognize Mary as ‘Yelly Granny’ as she was pejoratively dubbed after she gave a blazing deputation at the Executive Committee during the Summer of the Cuts in 2011. Although intended, I think, affectionately, it diminished her impact, enabling those in the mayor’s camp to view her as nothing more than one of the ‘usual suspects’, as I think Giorgio Mammoliti took to saying.

It was unfortunate for another reason as it also undercut what has been a lifetime committed to social justice. An elementary school teacher in Scarborough for twenty-five years, she has also worked on and with a whole lot of community causes. Aside from the ones that pop up regularly at City Hall — Social Planning Toronto, Toronto Environmental Alliance, TTC Riders – Mary’s also a busy part of the Ontario Health Coalition, Older Women’s Network and Fairview Food Security Council.

While no stranger to political campaigns, having run previously at both the provincial and federal levels as well as in a 2012 school board by-election, ward34I wondered what compelled her into this race at this time. It’s all about taking ownership of our communities, Mary tells me. “People don’t know what’s possible.”

At the doors, she’s hearing that, after the condition of the roads which to a car dependent area of the city like Ward 34 is, is a very important local issue, residents tell her there’s a definite lack of communication from their city councillor. As we’re discovering on our travels throughout the suburban areas of Toronto, people don’t really expect municipal politicians to come knocking on their doors. Residence associations, when there are residence associations, tend to focus on keeping property taxes low. There’s not a whole lot of community building going on the part of the city councillor.

So Mary sees big chunks of public space, green public space, going unused. There’s very little sense of connection between neighbourhoods in the ward unless you’re driving. yorkmillsWhile the bus service is adequate, this is not a part of the city easily traversed on foot or by bike.

None of which should come as much of a surprise since this part of the city has been represented at City Hall by Denzil Minnan-Wong for a long time now. He is the stodgy, reactionary, get off my lawn candidate in this race. Regular readers of this blog know the level of contempt I have for the man. He is easily in the top 5 on the worst councillors list, a truly destructive, malignant force at City Hall. davidandgoliathThe skies would be a whole lot bluer, the air much, much sweeter if he was shown the door in October.

Still, this is very much a David versus Goliath battle. At a political level where name recognition means a lot, the current Ward 34 incumbent has a lot of it. As chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, he hogs an awful lot of the spotlight, out grandstanding against almost all sorts of public building and spending outside of roads and bike lanes on roads he doesn’t want to drive on. You might not know why you know his name. You might not even like why you know his name. But you know his name nevertheless.

The one bright spot I’ll take from that, however, is over the past few elections, the councillor’s share of the popular vote has declined noticeably. From nearly 71% in 2003 to just under 54% last time out, it’s a trajectory that might suggest the more Ward 34 residents get to know their councillor, the less they like him. bornoldI know that’s certainly true for me.

Mary Hynes offers up a positive alternative for voters in Ward 34. She is running for city council to build something, to foster a sense of community for every resident not just a select few. She wants to be a councillor who listens first and talks second which is diametrically opposed to the sort of representation the ward has had for nearly 20 years now.

Don’t let the looks fool you. Mary Hynes very much represents the new guard of candidates looking to transform the dynamics at City Hall.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Anger Runneth Over

July 29, 2014

Another Ford Fest, another round of ‘What the hell is up with these people?!’

whatareyousaying

In his Globe and Mail article yesterday about the semi-annual campaign non-campaign event, Ivor Tossell gives it a go at answering that perplexing question.

But Mr. Ford’s core constituency is not a group of any given colour or creed, but a coalition of people who feel they’re on the outside of a booming, changing city. There are lots of different ways to feel alienated — geographically, economically, culturally, ideologically — and Mr. Ford appeals to all of them.

This is not a particularly new notion. Since Rob Ford’s unlikely rise to power at City Hall back in 2010, a chastened rump of non-believers, who’d stood by in growing incredulity throughout the campaign, slowly shaking their collective heads as the election’s outcome hardened into reality, fordnationhave circled that same territory of what makes a Ford supporter tick. Disengagement through alienation and disenfranchisement. The anger of the outsider. The voiceless given a voice.

Message received. But how is it Rob Ford continues to be the messenger? Given the last four years, nothing of much substance has happened at City Hall that would’ve made anyone’s life appreciably better, anyone angry in 2010 would still have reason to be angry now. Rob Ford has done nothing to change that. Yet he remains the vessel in which people’s frustration and resentment are poured.

Why?

I’m wondering if it’s just as simple an explanation as since he’s always angry, the angry identify with him. angrymobIt doesn’t matter if they’re angry about the same thing. The important fact is they’re angry together. Brothers in Ire.

Whenever we see the mayor or his brother-campaign manager-councillor these days they’re both angrily denouncing something or other. Debate rules. Apparent conflict of interest rules. Rocks and umbrellas. Yelling at cloud angry.

If the Fords are still mad as hell, then something must be wrong down at City Hall. Denounce. Denounce!

His Worship, Our Anger-in-Chief, Rob Ford.

But here’s the thing.

What remains of the Ford base of support, that unbudging 25-30% who show up in every poll, is driven solely by spite and anger. There’s nothing else that fuels them. I don’t know, resentment maybe. angryvotersThat anger is diffuse. To use Mr. Tossel’s 4 categories, geographic – downtown hating suburbanites; economic – cost of living in the city continues to rise; cultural – homophobic bigots, racists, misogynist; ideological – hate government.

The anger is broad and deep.

I would argue at this point, however, that it was not anger, not anger alone, that put Rob Ford in the mayor’s office. His soft support in 2010, the 15-25% or so who put him up over the top, weren’t motivated purely by anger. There was hope too. angryHope that Rob Ford would change the culture at City Hall and make it start working for them. Hope that Rob Ford was on the level when he said he would be looking out for the little guy. Hope that Rob Ford would make a positive difference in their lives.

But hope is in short supply these days at Team Ford camp. So you get what you got at Ford Fest last Friday. Yelling, badgering, the laying on of hands, and not in the biblical way.

These are no-hopers, burn it to the grounders. Look at me, ma! (We were once) Top of the Worlders!

What it isn’t is a winning coalition.

Candidates vying to replace Rob Ford need to look beyond this base of discontent. They’ve got their man. whiteheatNo amount of pandering will entice them from him. It’s just a question of how many will continue to fight for a losing cause or just simply walk away, even more disillusioned and fed up than they were going in.

What we need to start hearing is some hope. A full and frank admission that governance in this city has been ground to a halt and that it’s in nobody’s best interest that it continue, and the only way forward is with good ideas and a collaborative spirit. Hope that, in the words of Ivor Tossell, fewer and fewer of us will be left “on the outside of a booming, changing city.”

Most of us know what’s wrong with this city. Transit, lack of diverse sources of revenue, opportunity inequality, regional parochialism, to name a few. How we approach solving those problems is what we should be hearing now. texaschainsawmassacreHopeful solutions, based on reasoned, civil discourse and debate, not indignant shrieks and howls of outrage.

For four years now, we’ve mistaken loudness for soundness. It isn’t. We need to plug our ears to the Ford manufactured din and get on with fixing this thing they’ve tried their best to break into pieces.

calmly submitted by Cityslikr


(Open) Street Fighting Man

July 28, 2014

robfordsuv

This is Rob Ford’s view of Toronto. Through the windshield of his SUV. It’s the way he sees the city he was elected to lead. The only way.

His instinctive opposition to next month’s Open Streets initiative is as unsurprising as it is shameful. Two Sundays, 4 hours each, from 8 a.m. to noon, pedestrianized for stretches along Bloor and Yonge Streets. An automatic ‘nope’ from the mayor. An indignant nope and a demand for city staff to explain themselves. Streets are meant for the things the mayor sees while driving around the city.

It’s the gross incuriosity in someone purporting to lead a cosmopolitan city of 2.5 million people that is so fundamentally troubling. Imagine if Mayor Ford had the same proclivity toward experimentation in terms of city building as he does drug and alcohol use. Hey sure. Let’s try that. It might be fun!

robfordsuvrearviewmirror

Unfortunately for the residents of Toronto, the mayor’s civic leadership skills pale in comparison to his incautious lifestyle. You’d call them pedestrian almost but that would be too confusing. Rob Ford’s Toronto is motorized. All of us, behind the wheel of our cars, just trying to get from point A to point B, as fast as we can with as few road blocks as possible.

street-wisely submitted by Cityslikr


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