On Your Left

January 17, 2014

I hesitatingly venture here into provincial territory as it’s not really my thing. dipmytoeinWhich is odd because, regardless of what goes on at City Hall, what degree of self-import we attach to the place, it don’t amount to a hill of beans in the face of the ultimate power wielded by Queen’s Park. The municipal will of the people always bends to that of the provincial government. End stop.

So here goes…

It all started yesterday. Actually, it was the day before. Wednesday.

Mayor Ford foot stomps and waa-waas, demanding a face-to-face meeting with the premier to talk about financial help from the province for the city’s clean-up efforts after last month’s ice storm. A meeting the premier is under absolutely no obligation to have since the mayor’s been stripped of all his powers to be of any importance in the running of the city. tempertantrum3A meeting the premier is under absolutely no obligation to have since city council has already officially asked the province for assistance in paying for the clean-up.

A meeting that is only about one thing and one thing only.

Mayor Ford’s re-election campaign. Mayor Ford’s attempt to look like he’s still the mayor in anything but name only. Mayor Ford’s publicity stunt.

Just ignore him. He’ll get distracted soon. NFL playoffs this weekend!

But for whatever reason, the provincial NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, decides to wade in.

Let me restate that.

For purely political reasons, the provincial NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, decides to wade in. Ms. Horwath sees an opportunity to get a dig in at the premier. Why not? That’s what democracy is all about, right? Getting your shots in?

“I think common courtesy in response to a mayor’s request for a meeting is pretty easy to fulfil,” the NDP leader told reporters benice(and quoted here in a Toronto Sun article by Christina Blizzard. More on that in a moment.)

Come on, Premier Wynne! Why you gotta be so mean to guy when he’s down on his luck? What’s the mayor ever done to earn this kinda discourtesy from you?

I don’t really need to run down that list for you, do I? By the choices he’s made and actions he’s taken, Mayor Ford has made himself irrelevant to the operations and functioning of the city he was elected to lead. City council made it official. This goes beyond the mushy notion of courtesy.

So what’s to be gained for the NDP leader, out there, all sympathetic to Toronto’s disgraced mayor?

Here’s my guess, and it goes back to the Toronto Sun, Christina Blizzard and this seemingly bit of oddity from Trish Hennessy in the fall of 2011, after the last provincial election.

When they talked about Rob Ford, they often spoke in appreciative, glowing terms – in the same way they spoke about another well-loved politician, Jack Layton. In the focus group discussions, they saw little ideological divide between Jack Layton and Rob Ford. Rather, they felt the two men had in common a sincere drive to take on the struggle of the people despite great odds.

Rob Ford-Jack Layton? Wait? We’re NDP like Jack Layton. We’re like Jack Layton. ivegotitWhy not Rob Ford-provincial NDP?

From a left of centre perspective? Aside from the colour orange, I see very little resemblance between Jack Layton and the provincial NDP party. But hey. Have at it, if that’s how you see the way forward.

What I find particularly frustrating is that there’s another strategy possibly working to the NDP’s advantage here.

I see Premier Wynne as something of a throwback, a Pearson-Trudeau sort of Liberal at heart. With the Ontario economy in a serious rut, unemployment discouragingly high, disturbingly high for youth and young adults, the premier’s instinct must be to go all Keynesian on our asses. Damn the deficit! Open up the spigot and get spending. Seriously start addressing our staggering infrastructure deficit, especially in transit.

Screw talk of tax increases at this point of time. Those will come later. antikeynesianKick start the draggy economic engine because waiting for the private sector to step up has proven to be a mug’s game to this point.

The premier’s held back from taking such a bold step on two fronts. Old blue Tory McGuinty Libs remain in place, tutting and fretting about the deficit and debt. If we just buckle down a little more, tighten the belt a little further, things will start to come around. Conservatives assure us of this fact.

Secondly, previous financial spending gaffes (made by those very same blue Tory McGuinty Libs) have reduced the public’s trust in the Liberals’ ability to spend wisely to almost zero. With no credibility, no goodwill from voters, and still in a minority position, it’s tough to pull the trigger on any sort of increased spending. holeontheleftThis time, it’ll be different. Cross our hearts.

All of which opens a gaping hole on the left flank for the NDP to run up through. Government intervention to inject life into an otherwise anemic economy? It should be the party’s bread-and-butter. It’s what the NDP are all about, yes?

Not this current provincial NDP, it seems. This isn’t the party of Jack Layton. Or Stephen Lewis. Or, for that matter, Bob Rae even.

This is a party more concerned with what somebody like Rob Ford would do.

Political calculation, trumping principles and basic economic common sense.

duplicity

Good luck courting new voters with that. You’re going to need it.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto IV

March 7, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7thIdil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

*  *  *countrymousecitymouse2

Toronto: A City Of Disparities – Idil Burale

The more time I have spent thinking, discussing, and researching the urban-suburban divide paradigm, the more I’ve come to realize that the underlying factor in this politics du jour is the growing income inequality in what is now 4th largest city in North America. taleoftwocities1In his groundbreaking 2007 report “The Three Cities Within Toronto“, David Hulchanski highlighted a disturbing trend of concentration of wealth and poverty in different parts of the city for the past 35 years. According to that report, the Toronto core (i.e. downtown) has become an enclave for the ultra rich, whereas the rest of Toronto (the suburbs) has seen a decline in prosperity. Hulchanski is confident that if nothing is done the trend lines will continue and that we will see an emergence of Two Cities Within Toronto by 2025: one rich, one poor.

And yet, instead of dealing with this, most discussions on the development of Toronto lately seem to be centred around casinos, condos, and transit issues. thisiswhereIliveNo one seems to be strategizing a way of curtailing the symptoms of income inequality. For example, dealing with the issues surrounding the prevalence of precarious employment, the dire lack of affordable housing, or the disappearing middle-class. In short, there is no shortage of `wicked problems’ (to coin a Vass Bednar phrase) to solve, but how have these issues been addressed, if at all? Even more importantly, is this the only source of tension between the urban-suburban divide?

I don’t think so.

Since where you live dictates your lifestyle, your neighbourhood influences the way you relate to the city. Our surrounding environment is part of the perceptual process that we use to make sense of the world. Therefore, it is important to note that the framework of the urban-suburban divide is also about how people perceive their political identity and role in municipal politics. In Cityslikr’s post earlier this week, he mentioned Mayor Rob Ford’s comments that people in North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough are conservative voters. hediditI don’t think that’s the case and we only need to look to the last provincial elections to counter that notion. Or David Miller’s sweep of every suburban ward except two in 2006.

However, what Ford is alluding to is a cycle of voting precipitated by a particular circumstance. Ford knew that people in the suburbs did not want their taxes increased. Therefore, he used the perception that most suburbanites have about their place at City Hall, i.e., as second-class citizens, to convince them that any tax increase from liberals, would be used to further develop the infrastructure of the downtown core at the expense of the suburbs. He guaranteed he would put a stop to that. Stopping the Gravy Train.

When we consider that 10 out of the 17 years of post-amalgamation bliss in Toronto have been governed under the leadership of a conservative suburbanite, one must ponder why the right wing is better at exploiting the urban-suburban dynamic than their progressive counterparts? In many ways, the rise of Rob Ford was made possible by the growing sense of urban chauvinism in Toronto politics and facilitated by the recession.

Does this mean that the amalgamation benefits the conservatives more than it does progressives?

I don’t know. helloneighbourBut I know we need to try something different: a conversation.

Its time to think anew and build a system of planning that doesn’t exclude people from the spaces that we create. We need to revisit suburban planning. We need to change certain perceptions that people hold both of themselves and of other people in different neighbourhoods. We need to remind ourselves that a focus on the development of Toronto cannot be successful without addressing the growing trend of income inequality. We need to realize as one city, Toronto must ensure that all of its residents – urban and suburban alike – have equal access to opportunity, mobility and liveability.

To do that, Toronto must first move past the false, political and geographical divisions that we’ve created.

suburbanly submitted by Idil Burale


Councillor Clueless

May 2, 2012

OK. Everybody take a seat. I’m about to write something I’ve never written before.

Ready?

I don’t understand what goes on in the head of Councillor Doug Ford.

No, wait. I always write that. Go back to standing. This is a regular thing I write about when it comes to the councillor-brother.

Yesterday he was in the Globe and Mail, leading the pushback to the mayor’s mild musings about modest property tax increases (which if not maintained at least at the rate of inflation actually constitute a tax cut) and the problem for the city’s coffer with any sort of rescinding of the land transfer tax.

“Councillor Doug Ford, the vice-chair of Toronto’s budget committee,” the Globe’s Kelly Grant wrote, “said Tuesday that he is ‘absolutely, 100 per cent’ in favour of holding the line on property-tax rates in the future.” And as for the LTT? “We have to look at the upcoming budget. And if there’s room to look at a little bit of the land-transfer tax, we’ll look at it,” the councillor said. “Eventually, [it should be] phased out. I don’t think we can afford doing it all in one shot.”

We can’t currently afford to phase out the LTT but sometime in the future we’ll be able to. What will have changed between now and then, I wonder? Oh yeah, further reduction in the role of the municipal government in our lives.

That’s what this is all about. A slow but steady erosion of the services the city provides to the population with an equal measure of tax cuts and elimination. Hell, while we’re at, why stop with the LTT? Instead of freezing property taxes, why not plug away at doing away with them altogether too?

“It’s the taxpayers’ money,” Councillor Ford said. “It’s not our money. We should give it back to the people that gave it to us.”

As usual, neoconservative/libertarians like Councillor Ford conveniently only make half the argument. They claim taxpayers fork over their hard-earned money and receive little in return. Government’s so-called ‘spending problem’ delivers few benefits and usually amounts to what the councillor likes to call a boondoggle.

But as Trish Hennessy highlighted yesterday, government spending actually translates into major benefits for taxpayers. Median households earning $66 000 annually receive $41 000 in public services. That’s what I would call getting a bang for your buck.

More intriguingly, in Councillor Ford’s arena of municipal government, it seems higher income households garner more benefits in public services than lower income households. From the full report:

The pattern of benefit from the spending of local governments is quite different from that of both the federal or provincial governments. The per capita absolute dollar benefit from public services delivered by local governments actually increases as household income increases…For higher-income households, local government is actually more important than it is for households with lower incomes. [bolding mine] In fact, measured benefit from local services for high-income households exceeds the measured benefit from federal government services.

I’d like to think that Councillor Ford rails about municipal taxation from a redistributive standpoint, calling to spread the wealth of public services the city provides a little more evenly. My guess, though, is that it comes from a complete lack of knowledge of the job he was elected to do. Respecting the taxpayer means actively supporting policies that, in fact, diminish the returns they receive for the taxes they pay.

In an Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance paper (page 7) last year, Toronto was compared to 3 other cities in terms of the sources of revenue generation available to them. Only London, England had fewer. By comparison, New York City levelled 13 different kind of local taxes. Toronto now has 3. And Councillor Ford advocates freezing one and the eventual elimination of another.

How exactly does he expect the city to function properly?

My guess is he doesn’t actually care, or doesn’t comprehend the importance in our lives City Hall plays. All taxes are evil. End stop.

I’d probably be less offended if the councillor was more upfront about his intentions than he is. Rather than blowing smoke about giving back money to the taxpayers (we already do in the form of public services), Councillor Ford should just come out and say what he’s really thinking. He wants to reduce government.

Unfortunately, to do so, he’d be advocating reducing the services the government provides to us like transit, libraries, programs, various forms of social innovation. Elect me and I will make your city less liveable and equitable!

That tends not to be a winning campaign platform.

finger to the nosingly submitted by Cityslikr


We Really Going Down This Path?

March 29, 2012

Watching The Bottom Line segment last night on the CBC’s National a day before the federal budget was coming down and one of the panelists Patricia Croft said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the private sector experienced a serious recession a few years back and now it was time for the public sector to face its own recession.

???

So the divide is complete. Those not lapping it up at the public sector trough for these past 3, 4 years, the unlucky sods stuck toiling away heroically in the private sector trenches have seen tough times, buddy. They’ve endured while their lazy counterparts in government, most all unioned up, have been picking the pockets of hardworking taxpayers, living large on our dime.

Now it’s time for a little payback, err, comeuppance, I mean, yeah, OK, payback. Enough is enough. We all know what caused the recession. Wildly inflated public sector wages, benefits, pensions and sick days. Those damn teachers brought us to the edge of financial apocalypse! We demand restitution! We demand a day of reckoning!

It’s remarkable, really, just how effective this bait and switch has been performed. That all this government debt, from the federal right down to the municipal level, has been due to reckless spending out of the public purse. None of it came from a mania for slashing taxes or a lack of oversight of financial institution that believed in their own corrective powers and that greed was indeed good – bankers gone wild!

And here we are, anemically digging ourselves out from under the wreckage, no serious questions asked or answered about how we really got into this particular mess, and now it’s time to gut our way back to prosperity. Trust us, we’re instructed by the same people who led us off the cliff in the first place, this is how it’s done. Have we ever steered you wrong before?

We’ve asked this question more than a few times before but in light of this week’s budget madness it bears repeating. How exactly does it work, this cutting your way to growth? You keep wages stagnant, remove benefits, reduce pensions, making people more vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. They respond either by piling on more personal debt or tucking what money is left under a mattress. That expands the economy how exactly?

I don’t know why I even bother asking, frankly. No actual answer is ever forthcoming. We cut our debt and debt payments and, voila, there’s more money in the bank to spend on those things people really want. Except, point me to an example where that’s actually happened. Don’t talk to me about the Chretien/Martin Mid-90s Miracle where, in fact, the pain wasn’t short but sweet. Instead it was just passed along, downloaded if you will, to the provinces who, if they aren’t resource extracting the shit out of their economies, are mired down in debt and dislocation, themselves having offloaded as much of the fiscal difficulties onto their municipalities.

As Trish Hennessy pointed out earlier this week at Framed in Canada, this austerity model has so far proven to be hypothetical, illusory, nice and neat on the blackboard but not the proven panacea its adherents claim. With each cut and reduction Greece makes, more bailout money is needed to keep it from collapsing. Great Britain is travelling down a similar path. Austerity, along with its philosophical tax cut soul mate, aren’t really driving economies in the direction their proponents tout.

Rahm Emanuel, that staunch fiscal conservative according to Councillor Doug Ford, is looking at “a ‘major new infrastructure program’ to create tens of thousands of jobs across Chicago by ‘coordinating the revitalization of Chicago’s infrastructure.” What? Government spending in Chicago?! But Mayor Rahm. Everybody knows governments don’t create jobs. Governments just get in the way of the real job creators in the private sector. Unless they don’t.

Our friend Matt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto today wrote about how Mayor Ford should be luxuriating in the spotlight (our words not his) with his handling of Toronto’s labour situation. Deals signed with very little disruption so far, ‘phenomenal news’, according to the mayor, that gives the city flexibility. Flexibility to reduce the work force, to outsource jobs to the private sector, to start respecting the taxpayers.

No doubt this is exactly what Mayor Ford campaigned on, probably even more so than his promise to build subways. He was elected to bring unionized city workers to heel. Punch them in the face, bust their unions preferably. So that we would never have to endure the horrors of another summer garbage strike. Ever.

They need to get a taste of what the real world’s like out there. They need their own recession. Recovery starts from the bottom and our public workers haven’t hit there yet.

questioningly submitted by Cityslikr


Austerity. What Is It Good For?

January 29, 2012

Austerity is in the air.

Can you smell it? It’s acrid, like burning hair, with a hint of pungency as if wafting upwards from Satan’s unwashed bum. Unpleasant. Vile. But an absolute necessity in these days of economic uncertainty.

Or so we are being told at the turn of every newspaper page, radio channel, and at every level of government. Prepare for the Big Cut. We’ve been living too high off the hog for too long, living way beyond our means. Poke another hole further along your belt and tighten up.

All a great heaping pile of steaming bullshit, of course, from the root causes right up to the tip of the stiffy we’re being screwed with.

[Don’t believe us? Put Alex Himelfarb, Trish Hennessy and Sol Chrom on your immediate reading list. – ed.]

What I don’t understand about this coming age of austerity is how it’ll help anyone other than those who’ve already benefitted most from the supposed bacchanalian descent into debt that we’ve all been participants in. How will everyone spending less turn things around and grow our economy? I get the whole government cuts reduce deficits pitch but that’s only a part of the whole equation. Those cuts result, usually, in lost jobs and, ultimately, further lost revenue to governments in the form of taxation. Lower revenue means more cuts. A vicious, downward cycle; the snake eating its own tail.

Austerity2Prosperity is another mythical kingdom bordering on the Republic of Debtfreetopia that baffled Urban Sophisticat here earlier this week. Sounding good on paper or up on a blackboard but how exactly does it work in real life? It would be nice if someone could point to an actual occurrence of this theory working in practice. And if you’re about to write ‘Canada in the mid-90s’, don’t bother. You’ve already pounded back the koolaid and are blindly singing along to the set playlist.

We here in Toronto are looking down the barrel of some serious labour disruption next month entirely because we have a mayor who wants to dismantle city workers’ unions in order to contract out city services to private companies that pay their workers less, provide fewer benefits. The goal, we are told, is to save the taxpayers’ money although the case for that in many circumstances is actually quite iffy. For every example of, say, contracted out waste collection, there’s a counter example of municipalities contracting waste collection back in house. It’s a wash.

Instead of busting up unions on the theory that private sector workers can do any job more efficiently for less money, prove it first. Being wrong about that will wind up costing us all much more in the end. Mistakes always do.

Even if a case can be made that contracting out government services does save the said government money with the savings passed along to taxpayers, what is the bigger societal cost that comes with workers making less money? For the sake of pocketing 25, 50 cents per weekly curb side collection, how does a community benefit having workers make half of what they were paid before? I’m catastrophizing, you say? That won’t happen. Fearmonger.

Exhibit A. Caterpillar Inc. A company tax incentivized up the wazoo and how do they pay the economy back? Demand to cut themselves some $30 million in labour costs, thank you very much. Take it or leave it, and by leave it, we mean, the province for a more pro-low wage jurisdiction.

“That’s the game. That’s just the way the game is played,” claimed Metro Morning’s business commentator, Michael Hlinka. [Just a ‘yo’ away from claiming gangsta character status on The Wire. It’s all in the game, yo.— ed.] To Mr. Hlinka’s point of view, organized labour is a monopoly. And poor ol’, put upon free marketers like Caterpillar Inc. with only their 58% 4th quarter earnings increase and record revenues have no choice but to freely move their capital elsewhere if their workers insist on demanding their fair share of the wealth.

That’s the game. That’s just the way the game is played. Which leaves us with this kind of headline on a regular basis: More Canadians in low-paying jobs.

I am old enough to remember and to have voted in the 1988 federal election. It was the Free Trade election, and those standing in opposition who said that it would be the start of a rush to the bottom were labelled knee-jerk, parochial, backward-looking nationalists. [If you say so, old man. – ed.] Free trade was the way of the future. Glorious wealth will be sprinkled on more people. Don’t fight the future. It is inevitable.

Yet here we are, nearly 25 years later and more Canadians in low-paying jobs. Income inequality has grown to a degree that has not been seen here since the 1920s. And now we’re being told to prepare for austerity.

Tell me again, how that’s going to make everything better.

lavishly submitted by Acaphlegmic


Ford Nation Notion

October 19, 2011

The good news, after reading Trish Hennessy’s post over at Framed In Canada, Mythology: Ford Nation, one year later, is that the great urban-suburban, car-bike, conservative-progressive divide that we all presumed existed may be overblown, misunderstood and little more than a scary figment of our collective imagination. Hoo-rah! The bad news? Well, there may be a division much more pernicious and tough to bridge.

Looking on the bright side first, let’s just set aside all that talk about de-amalgamation, shall we? It’s unhelpful, pretty much unrealistic and quite possibly detrimental to our future well being as a city and region. Rather than a Ford Nation, we all are a Leafs Nation, united in quiet pride at almost getting it right and fumbling with what was once a great franchise. Here’s to being in constant rebuilding mode.

“As regionally divisive as the election of Rob Ford might appear,” Ms. Hennessy writes, “most of the Ford voters we listened to identified as being Torontonian first. Most have either lived in different parts of the city or have to cross the city for work and they feel some responsibility for Toronto as a whole.

Rather than wanting to see their city fall into decline, these Ford voters expressed a hope and vision for the city that is positive, united, safe, clean, green, diverse, welcoming, vibrant and easier to get around in. Some even dream of having more bike lanes, as long as they’re safe for both cyclists and drivers.

They want a city that works together, for a common purpose.

They still believe in the value of public services, and many want better public services – especially when it comes to public transit, which is becoming a symbol of a city in need of a fix.”

That those wanting all of that for the city saw in candidate Rob Ford someone who’d deliver such things is, for those of us who didn’t, the crux of the mystery. Green? Diverse? Welcoming? Where did they see that in Ford’s campaign? Wasn’t he the one who said Toronto couldn’t afford any more people? And Mr. War On The Car green?

It’s almost as if we were talking about two completely different candidates for mayor. Those of us seeing Rob Ford as a destructive force for this city and those who, to again quote Trish Hennessy, “…believed he was willing to fight the establishment on behalf of the people…He [Ford] made them feel hopeful that positive change was coming; that he was going to punch a hole into the bubble of the elites.” How was such a gaping cavernous dichotomy of opinion possible?

Bringing us to the bad news I took away from the post. I read and reread it a few times and nowhere did I see the Ford voting participants in the Environics focus group talk about taxes outside of “…a simmering sense that they have been paying more taxes and user fees while getting less or worse public service in return.” Ford’s Gravy Train “…was considered a symbol for city finances in need of restraint, for people at the top of the city hall food chain abusing power – the ones they read about in the newspaper [italics ours]…” All those fat cats, Rob Ford railed against. “In terms of job cuts, their expectation is that Ford would go after the people ‘at the top’ of the scale.”

What I didn’t find in Ms. Hennessy’s post was any talk of if there was no gravy or not anywhere near the amount candidate Ford claimed he could find — like say 10%, in each and every city department — would they be willing to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the ‘simmering sense’ they felt about paying more taxes and user fees ‘while getting less or worse public service in return’ was unfounded? “While participants support the notion of some service and job cuts to balance the budget, they raised several points that indicate most won’t support across-the-board massive cuts.” So would these Ford supporters pay more to avoid ‘across-the-board massive cuts’? If so, how much more? A 30% property tax increase the mayor and his strict adherents are now throwing around?

I don’t know if such a question was asked of this small Ford voting cohort by Environics. How much are the services that they believed the public relies on worth to them? The same? More?

That, I think, is the fundamental divide we’re facing right now. Between those believing we’re paying more or just the right amount for the services we want and demand from the city and those who aren’t as convinced that’s the case. We in the latter camp never, the 53% of Torontonians not casting their ballot for Rob Ford last year, never “… believed Rob Ford when he said he could cut government waste without affecting city services.” Nearly a year later we see the proof of that conviction in the pudding. The KPMG core services review backed that up. The mayor’s slash-and-burn proposals provides further evidence that the city, despite some of the instances of wasteful spending and other seeming excesses that are regularly trotted out as examples of profligacy, is delivering services at very reasonable rates. Perfect? No one ever claimed that. Value for money? Overall, it’s looking more and more like it.

In her post, Ms. Hennessy uses turns of phrases like ‘whether the facts add up or not’ or ‘when in reality’. About cancelling the Vehicle Registration Tax, she suggests “Few [of the focus group participants] associate the cost of that tax cut with the city’s budget woes today.” It suggests a disturbing gap between belief and reality. Even now, a year into Rob Ford’s mayoralty, some of those who voted for him are holding on to the notion that we can have all the amenities our city offers without paying the price necessary to maintain them. They seem to think there’s an easy fix that doesn’t involve having to pay more.

To my mind, that’s the gap needing to be filled. Rob Ford promised gain without pain, a shift of blame from our unrealistic expectations onto manufactured bogeymen who either weren’t real or weren’t sticking it to the honest, hardworking taxpayers to the degree he claimed. Ford voters were duped which is a hard pill to swallow and not a constructive point of departure in reaching out in going forward from here.

The question is, how do we bridge such a chasm of perspective?

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


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