Can We Talk?

April 27, 2015

Reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto, I’m struck by just how much the provincial government of Ontario spent time tinkering on the governance of Toronto and the GTA. governingtorontoStarting near the end of the Second World War, with a regional planning act, Queen’s Park exhibited little shyness in regularly rethinking how its biggest city and region should run. As the 1953 Cumming Report served up Bill 80 that established Metro Council, within 3 years, there would be a Commission of Inquiry to sort through the growing power of the suburban municipalities within Metro. Then came a Royal Commission in 1964. And another one in 1974.

The Mike Harris government had 3 reports and task forces (one of those coming from 4 mayors of 4 Metro municipalities) in front of it as it decided how to proceed with amalgamation. It largely ignored all 3, opting instead in favour of its own commissioned report from KPMG on the financial implications of creating one local government from six. From that point on, however, all examination and reviews of local governance in Toronto has ceased. Once our 44 ward boundaries were mandated in 2000, it’s been pretty much, Bob’s yer uncle.

Isn’t it time we sat down and had an in-depth conversation about things are functioning here?

We’re currently undergoing a ward boundary review that has to be in place for the next election in 2018. That, however, will do nothing to address the political structure, aside from changing the number of wards. tinkerIt’s long past due that we have a meatier discussion about what’s working and what isn’t with how we’ve governed ourselves since 1998.

The megacity’ll be two decades old when we next vote for our local representative, and I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark saying we have more than a few wrinkles we need to iron out. How come we’ve all gone radio silence and continued business as usual like everything’s hunky dory? Why did our provincial government stop being interested in trying to adapt our form of governance to the changes underway with both the city and region?

A cynic might suggest it’s because things are working out nicely for the province with the arrangement we have. By serving as the de facto regional level of government, the ultimate hands-on authority, Queen’s Park faces no serious challenge from a divided and weak set of municipalities. Toronto, the core of the region, is much, much too busy fighting with itself to provide much pushback against the province. Fiefdoms within fiefdoms, squabbling, leaving the monarch unrivalled.

But shouldn’t the provincial government really be concentrating more of its efforts on being, well, a provincial government? puppetmasterIt has the last word on how the cities under its rule do things. Can it really be effective micromanaging at a local level a region of some 6 million people?

I’d argue they can’t, and they haven’t been for some time now. Queen’s Park has proven to be an absentee-landlord, only to be seen when demanding money and/or votes. For too long now, their approach has been self-interest first, and everything else secondary to that.

No actual regional oversight body would’ve stood aside and meekly allowed one elected official, even one of mayoral stature, to try and torpedo much needed transit plans that had been in the works for three years. Worse than that, get involved in the melee, sacrificing fact-based decision making in order to better position itself politically. No, we’re the subway champions.

Last week’s provincial budget further proved Queen’s Park’s regional vision may come at a cost to certain municipalities that fall off the provincial radar. Oddly enough, Toronto seems to be one of those municipalities. Of the $16 billion being spent by the provincial government on public transit, $13.5 billion of that will be dedicated to its regional rail system. Not that that’s a terrible thing. It isn’t. There’s just not much left over for other necessary projects in the pipeline. Let alone helping to rebuild the biggest, arguably most vital component of the regional transit system, the TTC.

For over 20 years now, the provincial government has shirked its obligation to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, billions and billions of dollars it’s pocketed over the last couple decades directly from Toronto’s property tax base. givewithonehandThis has regional implications as a shoddy TTC does little to encourage commuters to use it, bringing more cars into and around the city. A truly regionally inspired government would recognize that fact and work to fix it.

Exerting such pressure on the city’s budget leads to shortfalls elsewhere like, for example, social housing which the provincial government, acknowledging the regional implications of the file, used to help pay for. No more. Once again the budget made no mention of it despite the ‘moral and business case’ Mayor Tory pitched a couple weeks ago.

Raise your property taxes appropriately, critics say. Utilize the other taxing powers granted to Toronto back in 2006 with the City of Toronto Act. A vehicle registration tax, for example.

While not wrong, I believe those enhanced taxing powers should’ve been accompanied by new governance arrangements or, at the very least, discussion about regional government. It’s all well and good to say Toronto should start paying for what was traditionally thought of as regional or even provincial areas of oversight but shouldn’t that come with some bigger say in the matter? takemymoneyRight now, it’s awfully one-sided, more often than not falling in favour of the provincial government.

The case might be made that with such vested interest, Queen’s Park is not the ideal body to be solely in charge of regional governance for the GTA. It’s kind of conflicted, really. What with watching its own bottom line, and playing municipalities in the region off against each other, even encouraging a city to fight with itself, there’s a valid question of leadership here. We as a region are long overdue to have a conversation about how we should be governing ourselves in the 21st-century.

chattily submitted by Cityslikr


Podcast the Third

April 26, 2015

garyowens

Afraid you missed an important debate at City Hall? Never fear. Somebody will always want to bring it up again. And again. And again. And again. Toronto, Talking About Stuff, Our Strength.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


A Repugnant Blight

April 24, 2015

So there I am, minding my own business this week, catching up on my magazine subscriptions, making my way through the June 2014 issue of Harper’s. Second article in, The Civil Rights Act’s Unsung Victory by Randall Kennedy [subscription required unless you’re much better with the internets than I am which is a very real possibility]. The following day Desmond Cole drops this searing piece for Toronto Life, The Skin I’m In [no subscription required].

Mr. Kennedy writes about how his family used to pack food picnic-style for their trips back to South Carolina from Washington D.C. to avoid having to find meals on the road in the few places that served African-Americans. Even the car ride itself was fraught with danger. “My father was particularly burdened by the drive,” Kennedy writes.

He became noticeably nervous at the sight of police officers. Over the years several of them pulled him over. They did not charge him with any infraction. Rather, they stopped him seemingly out of curiosity and a desire to test his willingness to accept the etiquette of white supremacy. Their colloquies went something like this”

“That’s a nice car you’re driving, boy.”

“Thank you, officer. Have I done something wrong?”

“Not from what I can see just yet. I notice you’ve got out-of-town plates. You know, we do things different down here. You do know that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Boy, you do know that, right?”

“Yassuh.”

“Okay. You’re free to go.”

In one of the most dispiriting and gut-punching passages in Desmond Cole’s article, he too describes an encounter with the police, our police, on a highway from Oshawa to Niagra Falls. His cousin throws a Kleenex out the window and police pull the car over immediately. Almost as if they’d been following, waiting for a reason.

A hush came over the car as the stocky officer strode up to the window and asked my dad if he knew why we’d been stopped. “Yes,” my father answered, his voice shaky, like a child in the principal’s office. My dad isn’t a big man, but he always cut an imposing figure in our household. This was the first time I realized he could be afraid of something. “He’s going to pick it up right now,” he assured the officer nervously, as Sana exited the car to retrieve the garbage. The cop seemed casually uninterested, but everyone in the car thrummed with tension, as if they were bracing for something catastrophic. After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. “You realize everyone in this car is black, right?” he thundered at Sana.

We here up in Canada use the ugly, overt, Bull Connor racism of the American south (or apartheid in South Africa) as a smokescreen to hide our own inherent racism. Come on. We’re not that bad, as if a kinder, gentler racism is possible. We have no history of slavery in Canada. Therefore, no racism exists.

Events in the past couple weeks here in Toronto should disabuse us of that notion. Not only is racism a clear and present danger, it has been justified under the banner of effective policing. At its heart, the current practice of ‘carding’ is the assumption that people of colour, young men of colour especially, are more prone to criminal activity, therefore they forfeit their charter rights to lawful engagement with the police.

If Desmond Cole and I were walking down the street together, any street it seems, he would more likely be stopped by the police and asked for his personal information than I would be. Why? For no other reason than the fact Desmond Cole is black and I am white.

That’s racism, pure and simple. Hum and haw all you like, rationalize it, spin it and massage it. But if we condone the current practice of police carding, we are condoning racism.

By doing so, what kind of democracy does it say we live in when people are forced to go about their lives, negotiating how they move around their shared city differently? Take equality and fairness off the table. They don’t exist unless the words mean something other than I thought they did.

Show me your papers! That’s the essence of police carding, isn’t it?

If an appeal to a sense of decency or basic human rights doesn’t move you, what about the fundamental attack on civilian oversight by our police services we’ve been subject to? Recognizing there were some questions of legality with carding as it was being done, the police services board last term demanded that in a non-investigative interaction with the public, the police had to first inform a citizen that the exchange was entirely voluntary, they could walk away if they so desired. Also, the police were required to provide a receipt of the interaction giving, among other things, reasons for the interaction.

Turns out the police didn’t want to do that. So they ignored the request from their civilian oversight board, rendering their demands non-‘operationalized’, to use the term of our mayor who also doesn’t believe such a thing as white privilege exists, thus there’s no such thing as racism. Police dictate the policy they follow. It isn’t dictated to them.

Raising the equally dire specter of who’s exactly running the show here?

Not only does a strong democracy require an unwavering commitment to equality in all its forms, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, law enforcement must be subservient to its political masters. Anything else bends toward authoritarianism. We tried in good faith to negotiate a workable, acceptable form of carding. That failed. Nothing short of a complete abolition of the practice will now do.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Reflection In The Mirror

April 23, 2015

I have been waging a see-saw battle with myself over the type of public servant John Tory believes himself to be ever since he became mayor. Actually, before that, going right back to when he announced his candidacy last year.flipacoin

An obtuse political dullard, tone deaf to life in this city beyond the boardrooms, country clubs and philanthropic organizations or a savvy operator, stone cold Frank Underwood, yo, master manipulator, backroom civic strongman stepping out into the spotlight?

His previous foray into politics at the provincial level would suggest the former. He’s given the benefit of the doubt toward the latter as a private sector titan where family and privileged connections only get you so far. No dummy can successfully navigate those treacherous, shark-infested waters, am I right?

This question arises again now because of more ridiculous shenanigans from Mayor Tory’s appointed deputy mayor, the actual deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong. During yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting (which the deputy mayor vice chairs), Minnan-Wong indignantly tweeted out that he’d been blocked on the Twitter by the city’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. Social media attention ensues, followed by a boo hoo press conference with the deputy mayor. While city business is being conducted elsewhere, it’s worth mentioning again.

No biggie, in and of itself, except to serve as yet another example of a regular pattern from Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong of building a grandstand on a foundation of public servant attacks at City Hall. He seems to take pleasure in sandbagging figures like the chief planner whose views on city building he doesn’t share, and his views on the subject are pretty simple. texaschainsawmassacreCity building = road building.

But this post isn’t about him (and David Hains has already done a great job on the subject of Denzil and the Chief Planner at the Torontoist). This is about Mayor Tory who appointed Minnan-Wong as his deputy mayor, his 2nd in command, his right-hand man. Just what the fuck was he thinking? (An entirely gratuitous curse just to “haunt” the deputy mayor.)

After winning the election in October and casting his glance about over the member of city council to settle upon the person who’d best suit the job of deputy mayor, how did John Tory settle on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong? There’s somebody who’s been around, knows the lay of the land. He’s a rock solid conservative voice and will never veer off political course except to the further right. Done, and done!

Did John Tory realize that his choice for deputy mayor had no real base of support at city council, few natural allies? Minnan-Wong’s history at council showed much more of a flare for making enemies than friends. He loved nothing more than to get his business all up in his colleagues’ wards and make life miserable for them. Antagonizil Minnan-Wong, I’ve just nicknamed him.

Tory had to be aware of this reputation, right? Despite running for mayor back in 2003 and then covering the municipal scene for years after his stint in and around Queen’s Park, he likes to play the role of the city political naïf, willing to admit he was ignorant of the stuff he regularly opined on. goodcopbadcopStill, we’re to believe his people didn’t vet his choice for deputy mayor’s background and standing?

That would be denser than quark-gluon plasma. Team Tory as the gang who couldn’t think straight, unable to collectively put it together to tie one of their shoes. Defies belief.

So is this just a case of, I don’t know, good cop-bad cop? The deputy mayor as henchman – Monsieur Henchman, to you – brass knuckles and sharp elbows, brawling it out in the trenches while the mayor keeps his nose clean and Oxford button down starched? Classic political positioning.

But here’s the thing.

In such a scenario, both the good cop and the bad cop share a common end-game. Busting the criminal. Their approaches are different. Their ultimate goal isn’t.

Last term at city council, while it was more dirty cop-bad cop in terms of Rob Ford and Doug Holyday, there was no question they shared the same vision, sprung from the bowels of our worst instincts. Attack public sector unions, reduce the size of government, keep taxes, low, low, low. Rob Ford may’ve proven to be the wayward political son of Doug Holyday but there was no doubting their shared bond in bringing City Hall to its knees.reflection

What exactly is the vision of the Tory-Minnan-Wong dynamic? Our mayor touts civility, respect, adherence to data-based decision making. His deputy mayor represents small-minded, divisive, petulant undermining of good governance. By unleashing his deputy mayor on the public service, the planning agency like Waterfront Toronto or just in general, Mayor Tory is flashing his own dark underbelly, his simple disregard of his own stated principles.

What’s unclear is whether that proves John Tory to be dumb or cut-throat vicious like a fox.

Neither one is particularly flattering.

judgingly submitted by Cityslikr


Stilled Life With Rot

April 22, 2015

As we have said more than a few times here in these bytes since last fall’s municipal election, the make-up of city council barely budged from the previous term. stuckinthemudI’d use the word ‘glacial’ except in these days it has taken on an entirely different meaning from its traditional usage, the polar opposite in fact. No, wait. Polar? Does that still mean what I think it means?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In 2014, Toronto city council got whiter, more male, lurched even further into paleoconservative territory. What change there was cannot be considered a change for the better. How can you further entrench an already firmly entrenched status quo?

Judging from the proceedings of yesterday’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee whatever reforms (and I’ll use that word loosely) were made last term at City Hall seemed to be under immediate attack of un-reform. Dereform? Change! Change! Chase that change from these chambers! Out, out, damned change.reverse

I have no strong opinions about the taxi industry in this city. Taxis play a very, very tiny role in how I get around, a mobility device of last resort. My main interaction with them centres around being cut off while I’m riding in a bike lane. I’ve no idea if they’re too expensive or deliver terrible service. When I think of cabs, I don’t, really. I seldom think of cabs.

The rules by which the city regulates them strike me as byzantine at best, misshapen by special interests at worst. Back in 2013, Metro’s Jennifer Cross Smith laid out the state of the industry (h/t Glyn Bowerman). A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee pushed to reform last year. A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee is now attempting to revert back to after yesterday’s vote.

Why?

I don’t care. Although I should because at first glance it appears the powerful players in the industry, fighting back last year’s reforms, won the day, to “revive a two-tier model for taxis,” according to Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star. stepbackBig players represented by this thing called the Toronto Taxi Alliance challenged last year’s reforms in court, were rebuffed, so have taken another run at it through city council, successfully for now it seems. Money well spent, you might argue, donating to the likes of Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ city council campaign last year who raised about a tenth of his total donations from the taxi industry, and has proven to be a dogged champion for the industry in fighting the taxi reforms and the Uber infestation.

More eye-rollingly, the Municipal Licensing and Standards chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio, also a beneficiary of the taxi industry’s largesse, is now overseeing the attempted dismantling of the reforms that happened while he was also chair of the exact same committee last term. In effect, his committee is seeking to repeal the reforms of his committee. If that’s not a potent symbol of impotency of city council, I don’t know what is.

Never mind that the committee also revived the food truck issue and came up with a 20 metre compromise. (Yeah, don’t even bother.) todolistThe fact that this is even a thing, remains a thing, a regular thing, a constant fucking reminder of our city council’s ongoing and perpetual war against change shows why on the big ticket items, housing, transit, police reform, this city stands in petrified stillness, unable to face the future because it can’t let go of the past. But…But…We used to know how to run a city.

In my lighter moments, I like to think when voters in 2010 rallied around Rob Ford, they were clamoring for change. Remember, there was also nearly a one-third turnover of city councillors then too. When it became glaringly obvious that Ford didn’t represent change as much as wanton destruction and outright contempt for public service, we retreated to what we perceived as a safe harbour. Dignity. Respectfulness. Diligence and duty.

Above all, we voted to get this city moving again. Moving to a standstill, as it turns out. rottingfruitRunning on the spot, avoiding anything that resembles anything close to substantive change.

In its current make-up, City Hall is where change goes to die. In its defiant embrace of the status quo, progress is impossible. The well-connected and well-served by the way things are, they way things are done, they way things have always been done, will continue to be heard. The rest of us? Well, we’re just going to have to figure out a way to work around the deadwood that continues to prop up the pretense of local, forward-thinking governance.

fed-uply submitted by Cityslikr


A Profile In Courage

April 20, 2015

God bless the politician who stands up for the downtrodden, gives voice to the voiceless, goes to bat for the tiny, puny, infinitesimal, often overlooked 3%. godoggoYou are a testament to daring and guts. A folks hero.

“Minnan-Wong vows to save the Gardiner Expressway” states the headline of Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article from last week.

“I did not get elected to increase congestion, I did not,” the deputy mayor speechified. (He also doesn’t like your hat.) “I was elected to solve congestion problems.”

“Cars are a fundamental reality.”

Finally.

Somebody representing the beleaguered car drivers of this city and beyond.

The proposed downing of a 2.4 kilometre stretch of the easternmost portion of the Gardiner Expressway must not stand. No attempted buying off with a 6 to 8 lane replacement boulevard will suffice. A boulevard?! What is that exactly? Sounds like something the French promenade down.

And as everyone knows, our deputy mayor isn’t really a Renault man. dmw1He’s more a Porsche guy, a Beemer type although, owing to family obligations, he’s now quite content in his Subaru Forester. Driving in from North York, watching the sun glint off those downtown towers, more of which there’d be if the eastern bit of the Gardiner Expressway came down and opened up acres and acres and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in new development opportunities.

Ahhh, irony.

Car enthusiasts are clearly too distracted by shiny objects to appreciate stuff like irony.

What’s getting lost in all these high-minded (and high-handed) plans for the future of Toronto is the convenience of drivers to get around this city. If this part of the Gardiner is brought down, the unlucky 3% of commuters who currently use it during the morning rush hour can expect as much as a 5 minute increase in their commute times. 5 minutes!? Do these politician not realize just how important a car drivers’ time is? You’ve read the numbers. Billions and billions of dollars of productivity lost annually in the GTA due to congestion. Only by continuing to do what we’ve been doing for 50 years now – making room and time for private automobiles – can we start to turn things around.

And if this part of the Gardiner is brought down, where will it end? What happens if the traffic chaos and heavy congestion doesn’t materialize? What if everything works out just fine or, heaven forbid, gets even better? The rest of the Gardiner will not be safe. The radical anti-car types will start agitating for more of its destruction. dmw2A city cannot survive such a grievous assault on its urban expressways.

This is a slippery slope, folks, and all that stands between us and such an unimaginable future are politicians like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

And please, don’t talk to him about the higher cost of building his beloved hybrid replacement option. Can you really put a price on freedom… to drive? Even if you can, even if you say, sure, in this particular case it’s that number between $919 million and $461 million, should you? In the end, it’s only money.

“Our (total) capital budget over 100 years is somewhere around $300 billion,” the deputy mayor said. What’s a half billion or so within that sort of time frame? Chump change.

Unlike those $12,000 umbrellas at Sugar Beach, located not far from the shadows cast by the Gardiner. That’s a spending outrage. $12,000. For an umbrella. Take a moment and let that sink in.

For car loving warriors like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the only public space we should throw insane and unconscionable amounts of cash at are those that allow cars to drive on or over or park on. dmwAs it’s always been (since the 1950s anyway), so it must always be. Everything else is just gravy, to use the parlance of the time.

This issue is of such vital importance to the deputy mayor that back a few years ago, in his then role as chair of the Public Work and Infrastructure Committee, serving under fellow automobile zealot, Rob Ford, he felt the need to sit on the city council requested environmental assessment looking at future options for the Gardiner Expressway, delaying its release until finally this past week, to the tune of some $20 million. Money that would have probably gone to other useless public realm projects. (Denzil Minnan-Wong Googles: How many $12,000 pink umbrellas would $20 million buy?) Now that the EA has been released, there is only one viable option. Build that hybrid! Build that hybrid!

Sure, building the hybrid option of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway will lock out hundreds of millions of dollars in potential development and future property tax income for the city but should the well-being for an overwhelming majority of Torontonians bulldoze the right to drive for the vulnerable 3%? dmw3Somebody’s got to stand up for the minority. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong has a long and established track record of public service doing just that.

Remember that time he… ummm…. did that thing where he definitely defended the… uhhh… boldly fighting for their right to, you know… ummm…

Well anyway, resistance to change and pandering to car drivers has to start somewhere. It’s a thankless task, far from the spotlight and reactionary applause a civic leader like Minnan-Wong normally prefers to operate in. Agree with him or not, you can’t ignore the fact that he is a principled politician representing the best interests of the entire city with every decision he makes.

totally admiringly submitted by Cityslikr


Budget Talk Talk

April 18, 2015

garyowens

No, those aren’t voices in your head, talking. Well, maybe they are. If so they are ours, Two Twits Talking budget matters. Toronto, 2015 budget numbers, that is. For the better part of an hour. All talk. And some humming and hawing. And the occasional burst of birdsong.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 295 other followers