Don’t Let The Name Fool You

March 22, 2014

I put myself in the middle of a circular conversation a couple days ago with someone who took exception to my incomprehension at the notion of Liberals, circularmazebig L liberals, throwing their support behind John Tory in his bid to become mayor of Toronto.

You see, I am of a vintage that was still in swaddling clothes during the Lester B. Pearson era. I came of age under Pierre Trudeau. I’ve always lived with a national medicare system, brought in from coast to coast to coast by Louis St. Laurent.

This is how I remember Liberals.

I sometimes forget that time has moved on. The current crop was forged in the face of the Mulroney years and the rise to prominence of the Reform movement. Late career Jean Chretien and his arch-nemesis Paul Martin. Bitter rivals but deficit hawks and downloaders both. The Common Sense Revolution wrought a Liberal automaton, series 2.0 Dalton McGuinty.

These are Liberals seemingly more at home with my misty-eyed nostalgic memories of red tory hued Progressive Conservatives like Robert Stanfield, Bill Davis, Peter Lougheed, Joe Clarke, David Crombie.nostalgic

There you go. Blue Liberals for red Tory John Tory. Makes perfect sense. Remember, he was once the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. A perfectly reasonable confederacy in the face of a possible purple and yellow wave forming over on the left.

But here’s my thing.

As much as the centre of the Liberal party has shifted, so too has it with conservatives. The bland greyness has been wiped clean. We no longer have moderate patrician types with a sense of noblesse oblige as our right of centre party. Federally, they’ve even dumped the pretense of progressive. Here in Ontario, the word might as well be in quotes.

Mike Harris. Jim Flaherty. John Baird. Tony Clement. Stephen Harper. Tim Hudak. The Ford brothers.

Snarling, thuggish, mendacious, regressive, government hating and private sector worshipping neo-conservatives in the American Tea Party mold are these men. robfordbellicoseNoblesse oblige, you say? Is that French for Ayn Rand?

In that light, John Tory doesn’t look so bad. He’s almost none of that. A throwback to an earlier time when Liberals and Progressive Conservatives could sit down to dinner together over a nice bottle of wine. During this 2014 municipal race, he offers the appearance of a safe harbour for disaffected, candidate-less Liberals who could never bring themselves to mingle with the NDP horde.

Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.

Avert your eyes from the image being presented and listen to the words being spoken instead.

At his official campaign launch on Wednesday, he derided tax-and-spending politicians who were eyeing the wallets of the beloved taxpayers. fordnationHe vowed to keep taxes low while promising to invest in the city’s infrastructure including a new subway line. How would he pay for that? Finding savings and efficiencies. Plenty of waste still to be found, he assured the crowd (despite opinion to the contrary).

Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar to you, almost word for word? City Hall doesn’t have a revenue problem. City Hall has a spending problem. Subways, subways, subways! It won’t cost you a dime because it’s time to Stop the Gravy Train.

John Tory is simply a pretty face, a soothing voice, the almost featureless presence fronting what sounds like the very same destructive policies that will be the true legacy of the Rob Ford administration. A Trojan horse for an army already inside the compound. He wants to be mayor of this city only in order to change the name on the door and the trashy newspaper headlines.

Liberals getting in under that big tent with him need to stop pretending that anything’s going to change other than the din of discord and the reality show antics now occupying space at City Hall. trojanhorseThe tone may become more civil but if the discourse remains the same – and that’s what I’m hearing so far from the Tory campaign – low taxes and cutting waste as the primary source of revenue, programs and services will still be under threat, growth based investment a pipe dream. That’s what you’re signing up for.

Which may be a-ok with many Liberals. They just need to stop pretending there’s anything progressive about it.

warningly submitted by Cityslikr


A Mayoral Catch-22

March 20, 2014

I was mulling over Edward Keenan’s piece in The Grid yesterday about, well, fringe mayoral candidates, thinkinganddrinkinglet’s call them for lack of a better heuristic when, don’t you just know it, up pops the news that former candidate Sarah Thomson is planning another run at the mayor’s office.

You know Ms. Thomson. Barely cracked double digits in the 2010 race before throwing her lightweight weight behind the eventual 2nd place finisher, George Smitherman. Then ran something of a spirited campaign for the Liberals in the 2011 provincial in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, giving the long time incumbent Rosario Marchese a bit of a scare. Sarah “Transit” Thomson who basically took her one good idea from 2010 – road tolls – and built a platform of self-promotion around it. Yeah. That Sarah Thomson.

As I write this, Thomson showed up at City Hall this morning in a horse drawn red wagon to register. Whatever. But it does provide me a nice little segue into a larger discussion about fringe candidates.

Next Wednesday CityNews will be holding the first televised mayoral debate of the 2014 campaign. cinderellaAll 5 “major” candidates have signed on to participate, according to the announcement. Olivia Chow. Rob Ford. David Soknacki. Karen Stintz. John Tory.

Will a 6th podium be added now for Sarah Thomson? If so, why? Because she ran previously? Because she organized events around regional transit problems? Because she owns a publication? Because all this combines to give her public standing?

On the other hand, if CityNews doesn’t extend an invitation to the debate to Ms. Thomson, why not? Why do they get to make that decision? Who determines which candidacy sits beyond the fringe and which one doesn’t?

Mr. Keenan seems to suggest that’s it’s kind of an organic process. “As with any job — in this case, the CEO of a $10 billion-a-year organization responsible for millions of peoples’ daily necessities,” Keenan writes, cv“the hiring criteria includes significant experience and demonstrated abilities as much as anything else.”

There’s certainly some truth to that. In Toronto, it’s been the case for pretty much forever that the only way to the mayor’s job is through city council. Mayoral hopefuls have traditionally put in time as councillors first. No outsiders need apply.

“Putting together a successful campaign is actually a pretty good proxy for many of the attributes you need to govern,” Keenan continues, “managing a staff and volunteers, inspiring people to work on your behalf, raising funds, and engaging in a public debate that convinces citizens to put their trust in you and your plan. The press will pay close attention to candidates who show they can do that on a citywide scale. And so will voters.”

Again, certainly true, but for me, really only half of the equation. “Managing a staff and volunteers…raising funds…engaging in a public debate” are essential but none of it just appears out of the blue. All that’s easier said than done. Without an established name or easy access to money to buy yourself one, outside candidates have to work doubly hard (at least) to get their name and ideas out there. backroomI am troubled by that notion.

What I see is a slate of candidates that is presented to voters on the basis of money and influence. Prominent, backroom donors, well-worn campaign strategists, political party apparatchiks, all cajoling, tempting and eventually signing on to work for candidates they deem acceptable to run for mayor. These are your candidates, Toronto. Now, vote as you see fit.

And the media, especially media outlets that wind up hosting mayoral debates and forums, are complicit in this heavy-handed winnowing of the field. Only candidates from the given slate are invited to participate. Why? Well, because these are the ones voters want to hear from? Why is that? How does the media determine that? Look at the polling numbers, we’re told. Numbers derived from polls featuring only the non-fringe candidates’ names.

It’s a pre-determined, closed loop. An iterative process with only a handful of appointed variables, ultimately ending up with the choice from pick one of the above. closedopensystemNone of the above is never presented as a viable alternative.

Look. The 2014 campaign is about two and a half months old. Candidates have been registered since January 2nd. Yet, only after Olivia Chow — who everybody knew was running — officially entered the race last week were we informed that the official debates would begin. I’m not alone in finding the timing a little fishy, am I? It feels like the fix is in.

Instead of hashing and rehashing the will he or won’t he/when will she narrative and pursuing the HMS Destructive tour of the current incumbent, maybe a little time could’ve been devoted to listening to some of the other candidates for mayor, suss out their fitness for the job. In early February the U of T Scarborough student union held a mayoral forum that featured the mayor, David Soknacki and 3 of the fringe candidates. footinthedoorThe Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale covered it and, in his opinion, declared that one of the 3, Robb Johannes just might’ve won the debate.

So why hasn’t Mr. Johannes been invited to participate in the CityNews’ debate? Based on the observation of an experienced City Hall reporter giving his candidacy some legitimacy, what must he do to be given a shot at proving himself worthy of further consideration?

In 2010, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke ran some 30 or so Meet A Mayoral Candidate posts throughout the campaign. Admittedly, most, a high percentage of them, rightfully deserved the fringe label. Remember, anybody with $200 to spare can run for mayor. It was hard to tell why many were in the race. A lark. Mere attention seeking. Misguided sense of direction.

But a handful of them were thoughtful, interesting and dedicated to giving their time and energy to the city. Hell, we ended up endorsing one for mayor when all was said and done. Not every fringe candidate should be viewed fringe simply because they don’t yet have money, resources or influence.musicalchairs

And I would argue that this time around, there are even more potentially serious fringe candidates then in 2010. The subject of Mr. Keenan’s article, Ari Goldkind, immediately strikes me as somebody worth listening to. Matt Mernagh. Jeff Billard. Richard Underhill. Morgan Baskin. The above mentioned Robb Johannes.

Are any of these credible mayoral candidates? I don’t know. But who the fuck am I to blithely brush them off before giving them a chance to hear what they have to say, deliver their plans and ideas to a wider audience?

“You don’t need the press to legitimize your candidacy,” Keenan informs the fringers. “Only your campaign can do that.”

That sentiment seems hopelessly and impossibly pollyannish or unaware on Keenan’s part; neither adjective I’d normally attach to him. Yes, we can all look to Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi as living, breathing proof that an unknown entity can come out of seemingly nowhere to score an improbable victory. ignoreOutsider candidates should look to Nenshi to see how exactly he and his team pulled that off. But to point to that very, very rare example and conclude it’s all about a little innovative DIY, and that somehow the media’s exclusionary practices to all but the few anointed candidates doesn’t play into the fringe determination of the many, that only truly viable candidates will earn a place in the spotlight, I think ignores just how a vast majority of the voting public gets their information and processes it in determining what way their support is going to go.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr


Still Undecided

March 13, 2014

I know what you’re thinking.

Olivia Chow’s in the race to be mayor of Toronto. She’s got his vote.notsofast

It’s true.

She was my city councillor until 2006. She was my MP until yesterday. I voted for her every time there was an opportunity.

But my vote on October 27th is not a given.

Here’s what Olivia Chow in her campaign to be mayor of Toronto has to do to ensure my vote.

She has to embrace every aspect of her progressivism and repudiate everything that the current mayor, Rob Ford, stands for. There is nothing, nothing, of this mayor’s record that should be embraced or applauded. His 3+ years in office have been an unmitigated disaster for this city. listofmydemandsMs. Chow must not miss any opportunity to point that out.

I do not want to hear hedged talk or cautious goals. I want a full, warm embrace of real city building, an acknowledgment of the responsibilities we have to make Toronto a healthier, more sustainable, more equitable place to live. I don’t want to see any ducking away from the inevitable epithets thrown in her direction, that have already been trotted out in expectation of her entrance into the race. Tax-and-spender. Yeah? What of it? That’s what people elect politicians to do. Tax fairly. Spend wisely.

While I recognize Ms. Chow was only around for a part of David Miller’s tenure in office and she could try and keep her distance from his record, I’ll become suspicious if she does so. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially in light of what’s come later. In fact, now is the time to set that record straight. That we were never on the precipice of fiscal ruin. That we weren’t being nickel-and-dimed to death by overly onerous taxation. whatareyougoingtodo1That the gravy train was nothing more than an effective campaign concoction.

Olivia Chow also needs to come right out of the gate with a realistic transit plan that is not designed to mollify parochial concerns. As the federal transportation critic for the NDP, she was conspicuously silent during the last Scarborough subway debate. Perhaps she felt it wasn’t her fight to fight. Now it is. How she proceeds on this issue will go a long way to how I wind up casting my ballot.

As a left of centre voter my support should not be taken for granted or assumed to have nowhere else to go.

With only one declared major candidate on the left right now, the other contenders realize they have to chip away at that base if any of them have a hope to win this time around. They have to roll out their progressive cred, as it were. allearsWoo those voters who aren’t yet or never will be able to bring themselves to vote for an NDP labeled candidate.

I will be listening to their pitch too.

Truthfully, I’ve already ruled out Mayor Ford and Councillor Karen Stintz. Neither one of them has shown any progressive stripes while in office. John Tory makes a big stink of his red Tory politics but certainly coming out of the gate he’s shown off none of that, relying so far on flying monkey attacks on Chow’s fiscal record and alleged use of public resources to kick off her mayoral campaign. You can’t team up with the dark side and not expect to collect any of that dirt on you.

That leaves David Soknacki so far as the reasonable voice of the centre-right big name contenders. He’s certainly made meaningful announcements about the Scarborough subway and transit file. I’ll wait patiently to see what else he has to say and the policies he rolls out. (I’m even prepared to overlook his first serious gaffe, yesterday uttering some divisive suburban vs. urban nonsense to greet Ms. Chow’s entry into the campaign). It’s a long race. caucusraceThere’s no need to decide on anyone yet.

And don’t forget. I’m not afraid to cast a ballot on a long, long, long shot, doing so in 2010 on Himy Syed. While the stakes seem higher this election, we now know exactly what damage can be done and not what damage may be done, I will not be beholden to voting strategically and settling for a lesser of two evils. I’d really like to go out and vote without holding my nose and believing I was making a positive contribution to Toronto’s future.

That possibility exists currently. Let’s cross our fingers and hope it stays that way.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


We Have Enough

March 12, 2014

“We have enough.”

And with that, Mayor Rob Ford solved the city’s inequality and social disparity. werefinethankyouJust like that. Just three words. We have enough.

The mayor was speaking about the city staff’s report on expanding what used to be referred to as Priority Neighbourhoods and now re-dubbed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. If OK’d by city council, they’d also grow in number from the current 13 to 31. In short, it means increased investment directed at neighbourhoods, targeting various social, economic and infrastructure factors that contribute (or don’t, as the case may be) to inequities throughout the city.

Of course, the mayor was having none of it. Priorities neighbourhoods are where you go to campaign and show that you’re always looking out for the little guy. As an elected official you don’t actually try and solve any of the problems. That’s what the private sector’s for. Government is just there, to sit back, stay out of the way and keep taxes low.

While Mayor Ford is the poster child on city council for this way of thinking, he’s far from alone. offendedMore than a few of his low tax, no spend colleagues represent wards in which these priority neighbourhoods are located and they resent the designation, believing it discourages investment because, I guess, business types don’t care for the poors. Way back in the early days of the Ford administration Matt Elliott summarized the move by the likes of councillors Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziati to try and rid their wards of the stigma of neediness designated by such a distasteful moniker.

End inequality by renaming it.

Even doing that, however, hasn’t placated Mayor Ford. Despite staff’s best intention to make their findings more thorough and robust, more inclusive to the hurdles people face living and working in this city, he shrugs it off in three easy-to-remember words. For him, calling it something else only expanded the numbers, made the problems seem worse.

What he refuses to accept, what every adherent to his low tax, spending not a revenue problem political philosophy refuses to accept is that it is this very approach that has exacerbated the problems. everythingsgreatChronic underfunding in both hard and soft services that go toward enhancing everyone’s ability to make the most of the opportunities available to them living in this city – from transit to housing, parks to daycare – have created the unhealthy and insecure situations giving rise to our ballooning priority neighbourhoods. There is no other alternative.

We’ve gone through the pretty much useless exercise of finding efficiencies that helped sweep Ford into power. Take whatever number he wants to throw at you as the number he’s saved while mayor, $400 million, a billion, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to tap. It’s done. No more juice to squeeze.

Don’t believe me? Ask the fiscal hawk of a city manager who’s obediently followed the mayor’s instruction to stop the gravy train. “I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services,” Joe Pennachetti said in December. While some of us would argue services and programs have already been more than impacted, the statement still stands. We’ve gone as far as we can down this ruinous route of penny-pinching and cheapening of our civic life.

The complaint often heard during Rob Ford’s mayoral run in 2010 was that with all the spending going on under then mayor David Miller (who, it should be noted from the above article, Mr. Pennachetti applauded for beginning the fiscal reforms at City Hall) there was little to show for it. everythingsfineUntrue on a number of points especially with substantial increases in transit services to name one, it was entirely ridiculous to think that 7 years of increased spending was going to immediately reverse decades of under-spending. The first 3 years of property tax freezes under Mel Lastman. The actual costs of amalgamation and provincial downloading. Transformation was not going to happen overnight.

Not to mention the history of low tax and pay-as-you-go services and programs pursued by many of the former municipalities making up Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Now, I know there are multiple factors at play here. The concentration of wealth and businesses in the downtown core. A certain continued disregard emanating from there outward to the city’s perceived hinterlands.

newpriorityneighbourhoods

But look at the map. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the former priority neighbourhoods and many of the new additional Neighbourhood Improvement Areas sit in those former municipalities. Etobicoke, Scarborough, York. Traditional home to many of the city’s most anti-tax, small government zealots. Such zealotry continues to be represented on city council today.

The mayor, his brother, the afore-mentioned trio of Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziata. Throw in the budget chief, Frank Di Giorgio. The former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Budget Committee members, councillors Gary Crawford and Ron Moeser.goodtothelastdrop

Councillor James Pasternak, also a member of the Budget Committee and fiscal hawk, bemoaned the loss of a priority neighbourhood, Westminster-Branson, in his ward in the new configuration. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

Yeah well, Councillor Pasternak. Maybe you should’ve thought about that when you fought to keep our property taxes low, tossed out the vehicle registration tax, put money toward a totally unnecessary subway. Didn’t you ask for a report exploring the possibility of reducing the Land Transfer Tax, another source of city revenue, next year?

So here we are, with the lowest property tax rate in the GTA, under-utilized and always under threat sources of possible revenue, staring at huge infrastructure needs and growing segments of the city woefully under-serviced, isolated and alienated. miserlyWe’ve tried scaling back our efforts and investment in the hopes of somehow, miraculously, turning things around. We haven’t and we won’t until we accept the fact and responsibility that improvement in our city’s physical environment and quality of life doesn’t just happen, doesn’t come for free or even on the cheap.

We have enough? How about, We’ve had enough? Respect for Taxpayers was a real nice, catchy slogan but it’s done fuck all for an increasing number of residents of this city. It’s time to stop pretending and accepting responsibility to make things better for all of us, not just some of us.

finally submitted by Cityslikr


A Man Of Many Words

March 11, 2014

Not going to lie to you. I am kind of a sucker for the occasional outburst of oratorical thunder that Councillor Anthony Perruzza williamjenningsbryan(Ward 8 York West) unleashes at city council meetings. And by ‘oratorical’ I don’t really mean to suggest any sense of eloquence or particular skills in rhetoric. It’s more to do with the loud noises that come out of his mouth in no discernible pattern or meaning. Most of the time, I have no idea what the councillor’s on about or the point he’s trying to make. It’s just fun to watch him perform.

Which pretty much sums up my impression of his term on council during the Ford administration. I don’t know what he’s been up to or the reason why he’s there. I get no sense of who he represents. It’s a mystery to me who Councillor Perruzza stands up to advocate for when Councillor Perruzza gets up to thunder.

I imagine if he didn’t have such a unique style of delivery, I’d hardly notice Councillor Perruzza at all.

He is (at least according to his Wikipedia page) a member of the New Democratic Party, serving as an MPP for one term as part of the Bob Rae government alongside now Communist defector Giorgio Mammoliti. headscratcherBoth men voted against their own party’s same-sex rights and benefits bill, helping to defeat it. Perruzza was also a North York Separate School Board Trustee and councillor before eventually becoming an amalgamated city councillor.

He seems to have been a long time advocate of affordable housing, tenants’ rights and low property taxes. Throughout much of the past 3+ years, unlike his former NDP MPP colleague Councillor Mammoliti, Perruzza has kept his distance, politically speaking, from Mayor Ford while still managing to eventually snag a chair position of one of the city’s standing committees, Community Development and Recreation. That’s the kind of appointment the mayor usually only grants to his closest allies. Councillor Perruzza was even tapped by the mayor as one of only five councillors worthy of being re-elected this year. “Although he doesn’t vote with us sometimes,” the mayor said, “but he supported me when times were tough.”

This is where the whole Anthony Perruzza enigma gets really unsettling for me.

Somewhere along the line, the councillor softened toward the mayor, going to bat for him on two recent fronts. First, the Scarborough subway. Not only would this transit line provide zero help to transit users in his part of the city, Councillor Perruzza voted in favour of a property tax increase to pay for it (at least, initially he did.) throwalifelineCouncillor Perruzza is not a big fan of property tax increases.

More baffling however was the councillor’s standing up for Mayor Ford in his fight to keep all his powers after the crack scandal broke wide open. The ‘tough times’ the mayor referred to. Perruzza rose to his feet to boom about the political implications of such a move, worrying that it might set a dangerous precedent. The next time a city council and a mayor had a falling out. He even voted against asking the mayor to apologize for lying about smoking crack.

As if smoking crack and lying about it while impugning the reputation of others is in any way political. As if the motion to remove the mayor’s power wasn’t at all a reflection of his job performance and somehow just political posturing. As if the mayor’s behaviour could be categorized as the normal functioning of the office that some of his colleagues simply didn’t agree with.

Matt Elliott later pointed out when Mayor Ford YouTubely endorsed Councillor Perruzza that the worthy list of re-electable councillors consisted of only those who voted against stripping the mayor of his powers. So a cynic might conclude that Councillor Perruzza’s motivation was with an eye on the upcoming election. In order to tell voters in Ward 8 that, while he opposed the mayor on many issues, he wasn’t against the mayor, if you catch the fence straddling there.

Why would not being perceived as too anti-Rob Ford be a goal for Councillor Perruzza?scratchmyback

In the Etobicoke-York-Scarborough axis of… nevermind… that served as the base of support for Ford Nation, Ward 8 ranked at the bottom, with just 47% voting for Rob Ford, almost the same as the average city wide numbers. One would think approval ratings for the mayor haven’t increased there more than anywhere else in the city over the last 18 months or so. Does an unofficial endorsement from Mayor Ford actually help Councillor Perruzza’s re-election chances?

On the other hand, the councillor has been engaged in electoral war in Ward 8 over 4 campaigns since 2000, all with the former incumbent, Peter Li Preti. He lost twice (3 times if you count the pre-current council alignment in 1997) before winning the last two times. All of the elections, save in 2000, have been close. The last three were determined by a combined 1381 votes, less than 500 an election.

Now, in the 2010 election Mr. Li Preti was nailed for various campaign finance violations. Last summer the Compliance Audit Committee voted in favour of proceeding with a prosecution. hedgingSo, there’s a good chance the two men won’t meet in a council race for the first time since the city amalgamated.

But you can never be too sure about these things. Councillor Perruzza may just be hedging his bets, making sure all his bases are covered. That roar you hear when he gets to his feet to bellow could be the sound of someone marking their territory. I am Councillor Anthony Perruzza. I represent Ward 8 York West.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing more than a re-election bid.

cynically submitted by Cityslikr


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