Father Knows Best

February 28, 2010

Premier Dalton McGuinty is starting to get on my tits in a big way.

A week ago or so, the Globe and Mail reported that provincial government insiders were musing almost out loud that if the province were to get back into long term co-funding of the TTC in the way they used to in the olden days, there would be strings attached. More money equaled more control of and more say in the operations.

Then this week the premier decides to wade into the city’s election campaign, saying that there needs to be a debate about whether or not the TTC should be made an essential service and barred from striking. What’s that then, Dalton? Is there anything else you’d like us to do? How be you just tell us who to vote for? Fuck that. Why don’t you just install the new mayor and save us all that money, fuss and bother having an election.

We really, really need to reframe the terms of this relationship.

As it stands, the premier of Ontario acts like a disapproving father dealing with a profligate child. Finally forced to put his foot down, he is now insisting on putting his 2 cents in about how the kid spends his allowance and who he’s going to date. There, there, that’s a good boy now. Daddy knows best.

Someone needs to remind Dalton where the money that he is being so sanctimonious with comes from. Us. Here in the cities. PST soon to be HST. Provincial income tax. Etcetera, etcetera. It’s not actually his money to bestow upon us with instructions how to use it.

Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Only an outdated, 19th century constitutional glitch allows the premier of Ontario to pontificate upon and wield unworthy authority over powerless municipalities. It’s a sad state of affairs that is becoming more and more untenable and ultimately detrimental to the well being of cities. Drastic action needs to be seriously contemplated.

Who would’ve thought that here in 2010, we would be wistfully looking back to the enlightened leadership of Bill Davis?

increasingly angrily submitted by Cityslikr


Fun With Numbers

February 27, 2010

With all the talk of Toronto’s looming economic apocalypse, I decided to submerse myself in a little policy wonking. I hunkered down with both the Toronto Board of Trade’s early February report, The Growing Chasm: An Analysis and Forecast of the City of Toronto’s Finances and a CUPE commissioned paper from economist Hugh Mackenzie entitled, Reality Check: Toronto’s Budget Crunch in Perspective. Two opposing points of view; two tales of two cities.

Now, I am no economic whiz. Numbers, pie charts, graphs and stats tend to make me break out into a cold sweat. Like most of us, I can be baffle-gabbed and hoodwinked when set upon by numerical waves. So in no way should this be taken as a valid economic assessment of these reports. Rather, what blinks before you is a general overview of my impression of them.

Firstly and not surprisingly, the conclusions drawn in both papers reflect the opinions and standpoints held by those who contracted, as it were, the reports. As to be expected, I guess. Still it feels a little, how shall I say, unscientific. But that just may be the nature of the beast when it comes to the field of economics as a whole.

In the Board of Trade’s The Growing Chasm, there is no mistaking whatsoever how we must not tackle the city’s dire financial situation and burgeoning structural operating budget deficit. Of their report’s 34 pages, two (#s 21 & 22) are delivered in dark highlighted boxes. Within those boxes is an impassioned plea against commercial property tax increases. According to this study done by Canada’s largest chamber of commerce, businesses in the 416 area code already bear an unfair tax burden and cannot be expected to carry anymore of the load. If future city councils were to try this than businesses would have no choice but to pick up their stakes and move to more tax friendly locations in the GTA.

To the Board of Trade the actual culprit for City Hall’s runaway spending and growing structural deficit are the wages and benefits that are doled out to municipal employees. Of course in his report done at the behest of the Toronto Civic Employees Union Local 416 of CUPE, Hugh Mackenzie strongly disagrees with that notion. His numbers suggest that employee wages and benefits are perfectly reasonable and that, in fact, Toronto’s recent increase in operating expenditures is 4% lower than the increases in municipal expenditures throughout the rest of Ontario.

Again, I can’t decipher the numbers thrown around in these reports well enough to be able to ascertain who’s massaging what figures or who’s cherry picking what data but I am confident enough to say that the Board of Trade’s report contains a methodological blemish that makes me, at least, suspicious about the veracity of their report. Early on in the Growing Chasm it is suggested that the city’s structural operating budget deficit has been around “since at least the start of the decade”. Sounds a little vague. Surely something this important, this ominous structural operating budget deficit, can be traced back a little more accurately than simply “Since at least the start of the decade”?

No matter. The report then bases all its assertions on the numbers gleaned from the 2002-2008 period. The end number, 2008, is reasonable as it is the last year for which the statistics are available. But why start at 2002? Why not begin right at amalgamation with the birth of the megacity before the structural operating budget deficit reared its ugly head in order to give us a full and complete view of the city’s finances from day one? 2002 seems an arbitrary snapshot as if the Board of Trade needed just that time frame to prove their point. It’s analogous to someone trying to establish the fact that the ancient Romans were poor builders of edifices by pointing out the shoddy condition of the structures from, say, 1945 to the present day.

Or maybe I’m just missing something. Clearly everyone in the mainstream press and the front running candidates for mayor have hopped on (the Toronto) board of Trade. There is a Growing Chasm. City Hall has taken part in an unsustainable spending spree! Cuts must be made! Assets sold! Taxes frozen!! Anything less and we will be going to hell in a hand basket while businesses flee the downtown core to the more amenable environs of 905.

No question. No doubt. And no paying attention to that man over there, Hugh Mackenzie, telling you otherwise.

studiously submitted by Acaphlegmic


Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part II

February 26, 2010

Welcome to our second installment of Meet A Mayoral Candidate! The weekly highlighting of one of the unsung candidates for mayor of Toronto in campaign 2K10©™®.

Up this week: George Babula and the Parkdale Party.

Now before you go getting all huffy and start yelling that there can’t be a Party because parties aren’t allowed to overtly participate in municipal politics, the Parkdale Party isn’t a Party party but a party!, as explained to me by spokesman Walter Widla. When the members of the Parkdale Party get together, it’s always a party!

Who are these members of the Parkdale Party including their mayoral candidate George Babula? According to their website, this is “a group of individuals who grew up during the period of time when Toronto was a wonderful place to call home. Doors were not locked through the day and kids played outside until the street lights came on.” It was the halcyon days of the 60s and 70s “and Parkdale was just like most other neighbourhoods throughout the city” where “…immigrants or children of immigrants…” could “…work their way to prosperity and a good life for their family.” The Parkdale Party would endeavour to restore this sense of a secure and prosperous city so that new immigrants are given that exact same opportunity “to find a good quality of life.”

How would this be done? First and foremost, trust must be reestablished between City Hall and the taxpayers. This trust has been eroded because too much is being done behind closed doors. Taxpayers are no longer able to see why and how their taxes are being spent and therefore resent forking over their hard earned money. Mr. Babula vows to swing the doors wide open if elected, shining a light on the inner workings of every department, council meeting and even union negotiations for all to see. That way, the public will give informed and ungrudging consent for their money to be spent.

Such transparency will also lead to much cost savings as it will force efficiencies on departments under the ever vigilant scrutiny of the public eye. Like many of the candidates running for mayor in 2010, Mr. Babula believes the city has more than enough revenue coming in to meet its expenditures. All that is really needed to restore a sense of fiscal sanity is accountability, transparency and trust.

Nice sentiments but as regular readers of these pages will know by now, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke believe that our city’s money woes are a little more complicated than that. It is disconcerting to see that many of the candidates running for mayor, from the frontrunners to those operating out of the spotlight like George Babula and the Parkdale Party, have internalized the idea that we are the sole authors of our money misfortunes and all that is needed to turn things around is discipline and purity of purpose. There are bigger, more pitched battles to be fought in order to regain some sense of sure-footing on Toronto’s part.

Detail disagreements aside, Mr. Babula and his team seem committed to making the city a better place to live. Their platform is much more in depth than anything front runners like Smitherman and Rossi have put forth so far. When asked our lame ass question we’re putting to all the mayoral candidates, “If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Babula like to see his legacy written?”, their response was: “The Mayor who re-built the Trust Bridge between Toronto’s citizens and City Hall“. It reveals something that should be as important as tactical prowess or media savvy in a political candidate: heart. Corny? Sure. But in a campaign for public office, a little compassion and empathy beats divisive calculation hands down.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Say It Ain’t So Joe

February 25, 2010

With his new campaign headquarters open for business, Councilor Joe Pantalone has “officially” announced his intention to become the next mayor of Toronto. Fingers crossed, people will now start to notice his presence in the race because since his actual official entry back in mid-January, nobody really has.

Why would they? The man’s just been Deputy Mayor for the last 6 years and a city councilor for nearly 30 but, as we all know, nobody really pays any attention to municipal politics. At least, not until their taxes go up or another TTC ticket collector is photographed asleep at his post. No, it’s all about name recognition when it comes to City Hall elections and the gorilla in the room this time around is a former MPP, provincial cabinet minister and Deputy Premier which trumps a Deputy Mayor any day of the week. In one early poll, Pantalone’s even trailing a neophyte candidate who has oozed out of federal Liberal backrooms.

But as they say, today is the first day of the rest of your campaign and at this juncture Joe Pantalone should be smiling wide. He is the only perceived legitimate candidate coming from the left side of the political spectrum after fellow councilor Adam Giambrone’s exit a couple weeks back. The progressive field is Joe’s and Joe’s alone. In a race that has been so far leaning hard, hard right with the frontrunners fighting to establish themselves as the meanest, nastiest reactionaries this here town has ever seen, Pantalone can simply spend his time shoring up the solid progressive base and taking aim at the just left of centres that have been largely ignored.

So when this week’s headlines come rolling in off the country’s most read newspaper, the head scratching began. Pantalone Pledges A New Era Of Frugality, says Paul Moloney of the Toronto Star. Joe Pantalone Born Again As Tightwad, opines the Star’s Royson James.

Huh?! What’s that, Joe?

Now to be fair to the candidate, the Star’s election coverage to date seems to be driven through the prism of their columnist James’s virulent anti-David Miller views. Anything and everything to do with our mayor, James loathes with a keenness that borders on the pathological, almost to a Sue-Ann Levy degree. Almost. So their presentation of Pantalone needs to be read in that light.

Still, there he is evoking images of the penny-pinching side of the leftie demi-God (and Greatest Canadian®™©), Tommy Douglas in the Moloney article. “If you don’t have a nickel, you don’t spend a nickel,” Pantalone said, quoting his ‘idol’ who ‘was very prudent’. “Miller’s was the expansionist approach,” the deputy mayor told James last week. “Mine will be a consolidationist approach. It’ll be nip and tuck; it doesn’t give a grand vision of nirvana; it’s not sexy but it’s what you have to do to survive. The times require a middle ground.”

As a campaign strategy, I don’t get it. I mean, I do get it in its very cynical approach. Nipping and tucking at the middle ground in hopes of peeling away some of those squishy moderates who are unimpressed with the alpha chest beating emanating from the other contenders.

Being the lone left dog in the race, perhaps Joe thinks he doesn’t need  to cater to the NOW crowd. They’re already in the bag because where else do they have to go? Joe throws them the odd bone as he did pointing out in today’s National Post that some of the city’s budget goes to provincially mandated services like welfare so his opponents’ slash and burn proposals are easier said than done. Still, taking your constituency for granted is not exactly infusing heart into your campaign.

With Smitherman and Rossi tapping into and exploiting the righteous indignation of voters who see an out of control City Hall that is impervious to their demands, their base is engaged and ready for battle if wildly misdirected. Counting on them to split the vote and opening up the middle for you to sprint to victory is simply cold calculation. It’s less than inspiring and may leave the usual supporters home on election day. At best, they’ll head to the polls with their noses held and tepidly vote for you. If that’s the kind of mandate you’re looking for, Joe, well you’ve got yourself started in the right direction.

miffedly submitted by Cityslikr


I Got The TPA Porter Air Blues

February 24, 2010

I cannot lie. I like to fly as much as the next guy. As well as rhyme unnecessarily.

Aviation fascinates me. The sight of a plane either touching down or taking off still stops me in my tracks and fills me with childlike wonder. No matter how much I understand the science behind flight, there remains a little part of me that sees it as nothing short of a miracle.

In my line of work outside of contributing to these pages, I am often called on short notice to hop a plane and deliver my expertise all over the globe. Air travel is a regular part of my life. I view it as a blessing not a curse.

I live in downtown Toronto, close enough to the island airport to make it convenient to get to but not close enough for its aeronautical comings and goings to bother me if I were the kind of person put off by such things. As stated above, I’m not but the point I’m trying to make is that in terms of the island airport, on most accounts, I am simply an objective, outside observer. I have no vested interest one way or another in it.

Yet, I cannot bring myself to fly from this airport using Porter Air.

It’s not an environmental thing. Hell, I fly a lot. Clearly I’ve rationalized that as a major component of my carbon footprint. So I will not weigh in about the island airport’s impact from a pollution standpoint. I also think that an airport does not have to necessarily be detrimental from a waterfront redevelopment perspective. It could be a signature landmark; its presence felt like the planes from LaGuardia flying overhead Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open tennis.

My aversion to the island airport, Porter Air and the federal agency that oversees both, the Toronto Port Authority (TPA), is purely political. The continued presence of the airport on the island represents the height of backroom cronyism, the influence of money and power, and serves as a prime example of the contempt in which our local government is held by their federal counterparts. Bay Street trumps Main Street to use a hoary cliché. Or should that be whore-y?

Now I’ve never actually seen a poll even from the committed anti-airport group CommunityAIR backing up their claim that a majority of Toronto residents want to see the airport shuttered. My thought is that a majority of residents don’t really think about it at all as it has no effect on their lives. It is the perpetually sneaky and underhanded behaviour of the TPA and Porter Air, however, that makes one wonder if there’s not something to CommunityAIR’s assessment of the situation.

One of the most recent examples of the TPA’s slipperiness was its announcement last Christmas Eve of a major expansion of the island airport. Now, major news releases are not made on Christmas Eve if the news contained within them is targeted for a wide audience. Just the opposite, in fact. This might be referred to as burying the news. Then, this past week with most eyes turned westward to Vancouver, Porter Air unveiled its new $50 million terminal that will greatly expand the number of flights going in and out of the airport. These are the kind of surreptitious PR moves that suggest a fear of an open and honest debate.

But that is just par for the course ever since the inception of the Toronto Port Authority in the 90s. The then federal government of Jean Chretien underwent a re-assessment of the country’s ports, wanting to maintain control only over those that were financial viable. Any that weren’t were to be handed back to the municipalities where they were located. Which is where Toronto’s port was headed until a late minute amendment by two local Liberal MPs, Dennis Mills and Tony Ianno, was added and the TPA was formed and the port and its property remained in federal hands.

No satisfactory reason for the change has ever been provided, adding to the furtive nature of the beast on the lake. One of the first moves the TPA made after it was formed was to sue the city for land that had been given to it by the federal government in the new port act. Take a moment to let that sink in. A federal agency sues a local government over land that the federal government had granted to the local government?!? The TPA backed Porter Airlines suit against the city when Mayor David Miller swept to power and overturned the previous council’s decision to allow a bridge to the airport. It is recalcitrant in paying taxes it owes the city. Basically, the TPA is a bad neighbour.

According to CommunityAIR, since the formation of the TPA in 1999, the city has doled out some $27 million to cover operational losses of the airport. Again, stop and let this sink in. The city is handing over money to a federal agency that was supposed to be financially self-sufficient. In a 2002 report that the TPA commissioned, the only solution to becoming financially self-sufficient was through an expansion of the airport which they have done, little by little, brick by brick, under the cover of darkness.

What it ultimately the most bothersome to me about the whole thing is that some people I know and like and who seem reasonable in every other sort of way, love flying Porter Air. “How can you pass up the convenience?” they’ll ask. “It’s such a pleasant experience compared to going all the way out to Pearson and being treated like cattle.” “They serve free liquor on board!”

It seems that, at least when it comes to flying, our democratic ideals and notions of participatory government can be purchased on the cheap. For a tiny bottle of airplane liquor and a little extra leg room, we’ll happily shrug our shoulders and give a pass to those determined to fleece government coffers and ignore the rule of law. Who knew it would be that easy?

submitted by Urban Sophisticat


To Park Or Not To Park

February 23, 2010

I am not anti-entrepreneurial although I do like saying the phrase out loud. Anti-entrepreneurial. Kind of rolls off the tongue.

Unlike some of my statist, collectivist, ivory tower academian comrades here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, I have dallied in the arena of small business at various times in my life. Import/export. Sales of commemorative bric-a-brac. There was even that time in my youth when I financed a year+ tour of the United States exclusively through sperm donations.

So I am down with my business brethren especially the small variety. They are the backbone of our economic system and the lifeblood of any vital, vibrant community. As go small businesses, so goes society. And to hear a local west end B.I.A. (Business Improvement Area) tell it, as goes parking, so goes small business, etc., etc.

Seems that for the past couple years there has been a tussle going on between the Dundas West B.I.A., the TTC and the city over street parking along a strip of Dundas Street West. Business owners claim that the elimination of almost all parking during rush hour traffic along the drag hurts their businesses. The TTC contends that street parking during the busy times hinders them from delivering quality service. Anybody who’s ever traveled that section of road by whatever mode and at almost any time of day will tell you it’s always a mess.

Still, one has to wonder about the value of a business that is dependant on a customer base that is only willing to patronize it if they can throw out the anchors and park right in front of the establishment in question. Your product might not really possess that strong a draw if customer loyalty is so anemic that when forced to so much as walk around a corner, they can’t be bothered. Make better bread or provide a more interesting circus and customers will find their way to your shop regardless of where they have to park their cars.

helpfully submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Sneering Smitherman

February 22, 2010

OK. So when can we expect to start hearing some positive tones coming from the George Smitherman campaign? Almost from the get-go there’s been nothing but invective spewed forth, denigrating anything and everything to do with City Hall. Yeah, we got it, George. The place is a nest of under-worked and over-paid politicians and bureaucrats alike, and you’re the tough guy who’s going to knock heads and make things fly right. City Hall is Jack Palance. George Smitherman is Shane.

Not that he’s alone wallowing in the bile. Rocco Rossi is no slouch himself when it comes to matching Smitherman in heaping sneering superciliousness upon Toronto’s public servants. Together they are proving to be the Beavis and Butthead of the 2K10©®™ campaign trail, sitting around watching the proceedings and yelling: Fire! Fire!! Burn! Burn!!

As we have said in these pages relatively regularly, criticism’s the easy part. Solutions aren’t so simple. Unless of course you are George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi who have both displayed an easy affinity for right-wing, neoconservative/liberal platitudes and claptrap.

Rossi thinks that if we just sell everything, it’ll be clear sailing ahead. Along with squeezing out ‘efficiencies’, that’s the heart of his multi-year plan to restore fiscal health to the city. It’s like listening to a panicked investment advisor when he hits a rough patch. Sell! Sell! Sell!! And the next thing you know, you’re looking at a Great Depression.

Smitherman, having learned firsthand from his former boss at Queen’s Park, is pitching himself just slightly less fiscally conservative than his opponent. It’s not that he is against selling public assets per se (he couldn’t be, what with Ralph Lean as his chief fundraiser). He just thinks it should be done in a more orderly fashion than Rossi’s willy-nilly, fire sale approach. Aside from that, the two candidates are pretty well marching in campaign lockstep.

Smitherman’s response to the city’s proposed budget is all dismissive snarl, manly chest beating and empty campaign rhetoric. Cuts, slashes, freezes and a general shaking up of the sense of indolent entitlement George perceives City Hall to be full of. No more ‘hobby horses’ under the responsible leadership of a Mayor Smitherman. It’s all about long term thinking replacing stop-gap measures with a dollop of ‘innovative models’ and ‘new approaches’. It’s a campaign strategy of can’t and cant.

To Rossi and Smitherman, it’s as if the last 12, 13 years never happened. For both, Toronto’s fiscal problems are all its own doing. Never mind that structural deficits really started in earnest when the provincial government massively downloaded social services on municipalities in the late-90s without the corresponding money to run them. Never mind that the same government pulled out of the traditional 50-50 funding of operational costs for the TTC at the same time. Never mind that all those annual savings from amalgamation never materialized. I mean, come on. That’s so last century.

Of course this heavy tilt to the right is made possible in the absence of any credible progressive candidate in the race since Adam Giambrone’s flameout. Oh wait. Who’s that over there? Right, right. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and his 30 years of municipal experience. But come on. He’s not really plausible for mayor. I mean, look how short he is and he’s got that funny accent.

Pantlone is either proving to be an ineffective candidate or he’s just being bulldozed past in what, according to the cold, logical analysis of the National Post’s Terence Corcoran, is Toronto’s “… momentous shift to the right”. Either way, until someone is able to step up and be heard above the shrill din of hard conservative blather, Smitherman and Rossi (sounds like the name of an appertif) are going to continue battling it out to prove who can be the meanest, nastiest, slashiest-and-burniest neo-con on the block. Or until Rob Ford enters the race and assumes control of the hardcore spectrum of the right wing, making the other two seem almost reasonable by comparison.

This anti stance by the likes of Smitherman and Rossi with some similar haymakers thrown by Giorgio Mammoliti may sound good to receptive ears but it really amounts to little more than a cancer on the body politic of Toronto. It’s self-immolation and makes it impossible to see how any candidate who gets elected on such a platform could govern properly. Who wants to work with or for someone espousing dismissive, malicious attitudes towards you and what you do? While George Smitherman may think such hard-nosed tough talk exemplifies leadership, it’s nothing but cold calculation and mean-spirited posturing which will repel more voters than it attracts.

City building it’s not and shouldn’t that be the one thing we demand from our mayor?

testily submitted by Cityslikr