The Short Drive From Etobicoke To Brampton

April 30, 2011

Fealty to ideology above all else.

What other explanation is there for Mayor Rob Ford finally wading into the federal campaign to endorse Stephen Harper?

“Folks, so many people said: ‘Rob, why are you getting involved, you’re supposed to be non-political,’” said Ford at a Tory rally in Brampton last night. Umm, what? Who ever told the mayor he should be non-political during the federal campaign? In fact, there was an early push to get him to speak up for urban issues like the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, was doing. I think what Mayor Ford is mixing up is political with partisan. But that’s pretty well par for the course.

The bigger question though is what the fuck the mayor was doing endorsing Harper in Brampton? I know that in his part of Etobicoke area codes may be 416 but hearts and minds pine for the 905. As Matt Elliott pointed yesterday in Ford For Toronto, Conservatives in 905 “… seem crazy for Rob Ford and the “stop the gravy train” stuff…”. (Think the line in Sweet Home Alabama, ‘In Birmingham they love the guv-ner’ and sing ‘In 905 they love the may-yore’. Kind of creepily fits, doesn’t it?) And federal Conservative hopes are pinned in ridings in that part of the GTA, so it makes sense from their end to have Mayor Ford pimping for them. What exactly does the mayor get in return, though?

So the Conservatives snag some suburban seats, enough even to secure a majority government, and if Mayor Ford is seen to have assisted in it, how is that going to help the city of Toronto? Newly installed 905 MPs, working for a government that has no urban agenda, are going to expend political capital fighting to help an NDP orange/Liberal red Toronto? I see a whole world of animosity not co-operation.

Maybe the mayor does too and that’s part of the motivation on his part to get involved. More anti-government crusading conservatives at the levers of power help create a wave of anti-tax and spending. Hey. If the federal government isn’t going to help out with social housing or immigration settlement costs, there’s nothing we can do. My heart bleeds for you but my hands are tied, folks.

Ideological thinking 1, city issues 0.

And if the mayor’s magic doesn’t work in the 905 like it did last fall in 416, and Ford Nation fails to sweep through the greater GTA? Well, no harm, no foul. I’m mean, he’s the mayor of Toronto after all not Brampton or Mississauga. He pitched in to help, even in the face of giving his own city the finger. So you can’t say he didn’t try.

Which may explain why the mayor didn’t insist on the Conservative leader coming right into town, at least once during the campaign. (A sidebar, yer honour? Wouldn’t you be a little offended if, as a mayor of a city, either offering up help or being asked for help during an election, and you didn’t even get the courtesy of a visit to your city? Might you not take that as a slight?) With apparently a couple seats in play here in Toronto, including Eglinton-Lawrence and right on the mayor’s turf of Etobicoke Centre, you’d think Mayor Ford would rally the troops there, in the alleged heart of Ford Nation. Imagine the coup of handing even one 416 seat to the Conservatives. How could that not count as a solid with expectations for an I Owe You One?

That’s the best case scenario for the mayor however, although perhaps not for the citizens of Toronto. Imagine the possible horror that might be inflicted upon us with a newly elected Stephen Harper owing Mayor Ford a favour. But what if the mayor threw his support for Harper at a gathering in his own backyard and didn’t deliver the goods on election day? The vaunted Ford Nation was powerless to turn the town Conservative blue. Might that be a sign that the Nation is no longer so vaunted? That maybe the mayor’s victory last fall wasn’t so much a trend as it was a one-off; a fluke of timing and circumstance rather than a country embracing its far-right, conservative roots.

Publicly backing the Conservatives right here in Toronto and having voters in the city ignore him might take a little swagger out of the mayor’s step and the mayor is nothing without his swagger. He couldn’t risk losing that but somehow still couldn’t refrain from stepping from the sidelines and wading into the federal fray despite there being no discernible upside for the city he purports to lead. The important takeaway message from that is to realize exactly where Mayor Ford’s interests lay. It’s all about self not about city.

Alabambaly submitted by Cityslikr


Boxstore Aesthetic

April 29, 2011

There’s not much I can add to the discussion about this week’s decision by the Public Works Committee to kill the Fort York pedestrian bridge that hasn’t been already said more fully and completely by Derek Flack at blogTO and Ford For Toronto’s Matt Elliott. Except maybe to introduce a new word to the English language. Derived from a combination of despair and anger that has become the prevalent mood here in Toronto during the Mayor Rob Ford era. Angair? Desger? Despanger? (Try it with a French pronunciation. Day-PAN-jay.)

How many times and ways can we talk about myopia and short-sightedness? Pennywise and poundfoolishness. The stunted notion of ‘core services’ being seen as little more than roads and sewers and not the wider, longer view of all round liveability.

That the public face of the move to kill the bridge is Councillor David Shiner comes as no surprise. He is part of the core group of Team Ford whose prime motivating factor seems to be, even more than simple political ideology, exacting revenge on anyone or anything from the Miller administration for excluding them from positions of power or influence. Once the mighty budget chief under Mel Lastman, Councillor Shiner was reduced to outsider status during the David Miller years, and somebody has to pay for that slight.

He couldn’t really have bagged a bigger prize, either, than the Fort York bridge. Not a big ticket item money-wise (less than the revenue the city won’t see from the decision to repeal the VRT), it was the baby of Ward 19’s former councillor and Miller’s Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone.  ‘An attack on taxpayers’, Councillor Shiner called the bridge and its ‘fancy’ design. Fancy’s the old way of doing things at City Hall. Austerity (in both mind and matter) is the new fancy.

What’s especially rich about Councillor Shiner’s demand for more financial accountability in somebody else’s ward is that he’s one of the beneficiaries of perhaps the biggest boondoggle… I mean, investment in future development… in recent memory:  the Sheppard subway line. Running through a bottom slice of his Ward 24, we have recently heard the councillor get up and defend the mayor’s plan to extend the subway, extolling ‘the subway to nowhere’’s contribution to a construction boom along its corridor. An argument some have made about the Fort York bridge. Its fancy design would help spur interesting investment around it much more than a Gardiner Expressway version of it might.

It’s also interesting to note that in justifying his decision Councillor Shiner said, “… just think about what that $23 million could do for bridge rehab, for road repair; think of the community centres it could fix up, of the children’s services and child care centres it could provide.” I believe that this is the same councillor who back a few months during the budget debate, grilled a representative from the Toronto Public Library about switching projects after money had been specifically allocated even if timelines and preparedness dictated a strategic change. Doesn’t his rationale about using possible savings from a scaled back version of the bridge on more pressing needs use the same kind of reasoning he dismissed on the part of TPL?

While I’m sure impossible to track, it would be interesting to see how much of any savings that might arise from a new, modified bridge construction Councillor Shriner will then fight to spend on infrastructure upgrades, community centres and child care. Colour me sceptical (which is more or less teal-like) that’ll be the case. Instead, I see whatever money there is being flushed down the sinkhole created by tax cuts and freezes, and the fundamental ill-will the conservative faction at City Hall bear toward generating revenue.

The fate of the Fort York bridge is the inevitable outcome that arises when politicians elected on a platform of respecting taxpayers not citizens gain power. There’s no bigger picture outside the bottom line. Why do anything special or fancy when it can be done for less money? Imagine the oodles of dough saved for Paris way back when if Napolean III told Baron Haussmann that his plans were all pretty and such but let’s scale it back a little, shall we. Why build a stage with a Frank Gehry proscenium arch (to use an example from one of the mayor’s favourite cities, Chicago) when a concrete band shell would work just as well?

despangerly submitted by Cityslikr


Do As You’re Told

April 28, 2011

First, I had to overcome my own laziness and a certain sloppiness in uncovering the facts. Like Fox News, this isn’t journalism we practice here but heavily biased opinions. Then, there was Easter and all the chocolate eating and religious ridicule. I’m not sure what happened to the last couple days, frankly, but that is not an infrequent occurrence around here.

But I did promise an update to a post we wrote about last week’s Executive Committee meeting and ensuing kerfuffle over the cutting of many citizens advisory committees. Cue TV voice-over: Previously on All Fired Up in the Big Smoke… Just before the vote was held to adopt the staff report…Councillor Jaye Robinson used her 5 minutes to speak and express concern about the details of the report. It was ‘light’, I believe she called it, meaning not fully thought out or explored. She then offered up a motion requesting a further review and exploration before proceeding with a decision… It was defeated and the staff report was then passed as is but…the vote… was very close… 6-4 against the motion. At the Executive Committee. The mayor’s handpicked team that, to date, has basically served as a rubber stamp for whatever it is he wants to do. Cut to: follow-up.

I got my grubby little hands on a copy of Councillor Robinson’s motion which read like this:

“That the City Manager report to the Executive Committee at its meeting on June 20, 2011 on the need for program advice and civic engagement in each program area, and to recommend an appropriate format and mechanism to meet those advisory or engagement needs.”

“… on the need for program advice and civic engagement in each program area…”

Simply outrageous. How dare the councillor thumb her nose like that at the mayor who simply wanted to eliminate 21 of the 23 advisory committees, no questions asked. Pure heresy. Such independence must not be countenanced.

“… to recommend an appropriate format and mechanism to meet those advisory or engagement needs.”

I mean, really. When did Councillor Robinson become a left wing, pinko kook? City staff recommends what the mayor wants recommended, and the mayor wants citizens advisory committees gone. Did the councillor not get the memo? The mayor’s needs are the only ones Executive Committee members should be concerned about meeting.

Even the slightest whiff of compromise or independent mindedness is treated like some sort of shocking transgression if you’ve signed on to Team Ford, it seems. Councillor Robinson’s motion could not have been more benign or reasonable without sinking into a pit of meaninglessness. Yet, as we stated in our previous post, it was met with a great big fat over-reaction and scrambling by the mayor’s staff and the toadier of his supporters on the ExComm and beaten back down as if the administration’s entire future depended on it. Such heavy-handedness loses its force and effectiveness eventually as the mayor should already be realizing.

Despite all the moves to defeat her motion and the mayor’s obvious displeasure at it, Councillor Robinson was not left out to dry by all her colleagues. We sent props out to councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Peter Milczyn for openly defying the mayor and voting for the motion, knowing that there was one more committee member who joined them. Lo and behold, it turned out to be the Deputy Mayor himself, Doug Holyday. Yes, that Deputy Mayor. Yes, that Doug Holyday who had otherwise so publicly supported the mayor’s move to eliminate almost all of the committees, claiming it wasn’t doing away with public participation but only making the government and bureaucracy leaner.

So, a belated tip of the hat to you, Mr. Deputy Mayor. When Doug Holyday votes on the side of fairness and prudence, you know those opposing him have just given over to blind, willful ideology or are simply bowing down to the power of the mayor and have stopped using any independent thought whatsoever. Unfortunately, last Wednesday at least, a majority of members on the Executive Committee displayed the worst of those tendencies.

follow uppedly submitted by Cityslikr


Ruling Not Governing

April 27, 2011

Nearly 5 months since being sworn in as mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford doesn’t seem so much interested in governing the city as he does laying siege to it. He’s come. He’s seen. Now he wants to conquer.

Having won the election, he’s now got a mandate. No need to seek consensus. It’s all about securing the minimum necessary votes. Anything more than that is pure gravy. You’re either with him or you’re ag’in him.

The latest target in his sights is Maria Augimeri who could face a court enforced by-election due to “irregularities” in the voters list in Ward 9 during last October’s election. “Augimeri isn’t keen on implementing Ford’s agenda,” former Ford deputy campaign manager and chief of staff Nick Kouvalis told the Star last week. “Augimeri votes with the left on most occasions and, if we can replace her with somebody who votes on the center-right on most occasions, that would be a huge victory for the mayor.”

So eager is Kouvalis (and the mayor presumably) to install another Ford ally on council that he’s offered to guide the campaign of Gus Cusimano, Councillor Augimeri’s main rival in last fall’s election. An election Ms. Augimeri won by just 89 votes and one that Mr. Cusimano’s taken to court to overturn to the tune of $70,000 to date. Cusimano may claim not to be a politician but he’s been trying very hard to be one since 1974.

Kouvalis suggested that if the by-election should happen, he’d like to see it framed as a “referendum” on Mayor Ford’s performance so far since Councillor Augimeri has regularly voted against the mayor on key issues. She even had the temerity to refuse to step down from her board member position at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (along with fellow thorn in the mayor’s side, Raymond Cho) when he went head-hunting after the release of the Auditor General’s report.

Such audacity in the face of the mayor’s wishes makes Augimeri an especially juicy target to try and bring down. Her defeat at the hands of a Ford backed candidate would give a deep green light for Team Ford to proceed apace with their plundering and sacking of the city. It would also signal to those in the “mushy middle” to straighten up and fly right. Failing to fall in line behind the mayor could have repercussions of the negative sort. If nothing else, a by-election would serve as a distraction to an opposing councillor as the mayor heads for some rocky political terrain.

For his part, would-be Ward 9 Councillor Cusimano is already sounding positively Fordian divisive. “People have to decide if they want their councillor to be part of government or on the outside looking in.” Hear that, oh taxpayers of Ward 9? You want your local government working for you, you better get on side. You’re either with us or ag’in us.

It’s not just the precious battlements of downtown pinko elites as represented by the likes of Councillors Vaughan, Davis, Perks, Fletcher or McConnell that are under attack. Mayor Ford seems intent to lay waste to the ground under anyone who doesn’t share (or at least vote in favour of for fear of reprisal) his radical right wing, anti-government views. That includes almost everyone on council except for his brother, and maybe the Deputy Mayor and Budget Chief.

You can see it in the arm-twisting that goes on at council and committee meetings. Written instructions on which way to vote. QB Mammoliti’s thumbs up or down. It’s wrangling not debating. A show of force instead of the power of persuasion. Given the recent setback during the debate over appointments to city boards at the last council session, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat by the mayor on a technicality, and the little contretemps at last week’s executive committee meeting with Councillor Jaye Robinson over citizens advisory committees, it appears some members of Team Ford are beginning to buck under the oppressive weight of his doctrinaire saddle. Some fresh, pliable meat would come in handy for the battles shaping up in the near future.

So I agree with Nick Kouvalis on this. If a by-election does happen in Ward 9, let’s all frame it as a referendum on the mayor’s agenda. Since he’s so frenetically and successfully implemented some elements of his campaign platform, there are tangible outcomes we can look at to judge his performance. He and his designate, Gus Cusimano, won’t be able to hide behind empty rhetoric and trite platitudes like Stopping The Gravy Train and Respect For Taxpayers as the mayor did during last year’s campaign.

So let’s revive the debate on Transit City for those who missed it the first time. Get down to the nitty gritty about the mayor’s replacement plan and point out just how many folks will be ill-served by it. Maybe we can talk about the sudden case of deafness the mayor’s come down with toward the public. Exclusion seems to be how he prefers to operate rather than all that touchy-feely inclusion he promised before being elected. Garbage privatization? Have it. Maybe we can start talking about actual numbers instead of the theoretical ones being thrown around right now. And how about the mayor’s monstrous plans for the waterfront as mouthed by his brother, Councillor Doug? A by-election would offer a perfect venue for a wider discussion of that.

Hopefully, if the city does appeal the court’s decision, an outcome won’t be determined until the fall and if a by-election does happen then, it’ll happen right smack dab in the middle of the 2012 budget debate when the real results of Mayor Ford’s agenda start taking hideous shape. I’m guessing Councillor Augimeri’s stock will rise at that point due to her established opposition to the mayor and challenger Cusimano won’t be nearly as willing to cozy up to him as he is right now. Instead, he just might look fondly back at the time he only lost by 89 votes.

bring it onily submitted by Cityslikr


An Easter Thought

April 24, 2011

As but a nominal Christian (baptismal waters are not easily rinsed away), I am confounded by all religious matters from Abrahamic to Zoroastrianism. Easter celebrations are especially mysterious to me with its veering wildly from pain and suffering to rapturous joy, all in a three day period. Not to mention the naked appropriation of earlier pagan seasonal festivities. I mean, I get the chocolate and the breaking of Lent but bunnies? Really? There wasn’t another symbol you could’ve used? Like a finger or cross? Or just stuck with a chocolate covered communion wafer. Why does it have to be all so, I don’t know, territorial?

The bigger conundrum for me of this holiest of holies for Christians is the strain of anti-Semitism that arises from it in some of the faith’s followers. ‘Christ Killers’ is a term of opprobrium directed at Jews for their part in the death of Jesus. Now, OK. If you’re going to go around pointing the finger of blame at people for the incident, isn’t there plenty of it to go around? Sure, the Pharisees might’ve had a hand in how things played out, resenting the uppity kid from Galilee’s self-righteous intrusion onto their terrain. But, come on. It was the Romans who actually did the deed, condemning him to death and fully committing to making it as horrific and grisly as possible. Pontius Pilate and all those in his tribe should not be let off the hook just because he washed his hands of the whole affair.More to the point, however, is the fact that anyone is blamed for the death of Jesus at all. I mean, isn’t that a critically important part of Christianity? Without dying – and the younger and more gruesome the better because, let’s face it, if Jesus passed away peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of 82, that whole dying for our sins loses a bit of its oomph – there can be no resurrection. And without His death and Resurrection, well, you got a religion lacking a central tenet, it seems to me. A whole lot of rules and regulations with no focus addressing the most vital issue at the heart of all religious belief: illuminating the meaning of life and the path we should take in order to live it both to the fullest and full of grace.

So rather than being reviled for their part in the death of Jesus, Jews and anyone else held responsible should be celebrated and honoured. At least, raise a toast to them over your Easter turkey (or whatever it is you’re supposed to eat at Easter) and give credit where credit’s due. For you to be Christian, Jesus had to die on the cross. If he hadn’t, he’s just another crazy guy, wandering around the desert, claiming to know the mind of God.

ecumenically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Citizens Not Wanted

April 21, 2011

I wanted this one to be positive, to sing with the upraised voice of a vibrant, participatory democracy. Citizens, not taxpayers or stakeholders or customers, taking time out of their schedules, out of their lives to engage with their elected local representatives. Volunteer members from the city’s various communities, be it cycling, pedestrian, tenant advocacy, aboriginal support, those whose hobby it is to restore the Don River… yes, while you and I spend our free time on the Twitter or however else it is you spend your free time (but doesn’t everybody spend all their free time on the Twitter?)… there are dedicated groups of people who go and pitch in to help bring the Don River and its immediate surroundings back to life. All coming together to have their say in how business is being conducted at City Hall.

At issue yesterday (among other items) was a staff report from the City Manager brought before the mayor’s Executive Committee recommending the dissolution, decommissioning or reconsidering of 21 of the city’s 23 citizen advisory and working committees. “Advisory bodies are generally composed of a combination of Council members and members of the public. Working committees are composed solely of Council members to assist Council and its standing committees to accomplish specific tasks.” Now, this move is not out of the ordinary, as such committees are designated for the term of each council and these were from the previous term.

But the breadth of the suggested cuts and the lack of any replacement bodies gave the appearance that this administration isn’t all that concerned with citizen engagement. An administration dedicated, at least while the mayor was out on the campaign trail last year, to more transparency, more accountability, more respect for us, the taxpayers, Joe and Josephina Q. Public. Why the need to reduce the presence of citizen advisory committees? The report itself notes that there is no financial impact of this decision. So eliminating these committees wasn’t due to fiscal restraint although Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday has pointed out that there would be savings. “… [Citizen advisory committees] do cost something because we’re involving a lot of staff time that might be better off doing something else.” You see, it’s all about making the government ‘leaner’ according to the Deputy Mayor and apparently ‘leaner’ means less citizen involvement.

And nothing that happened at the committee meeting yesterday did much to dispel that notion. The room was packed for the meeting’s 9:30 start. Some 80 mailed submissions had been sent in from the public and there were over 40 deputants scheduled to speak. The first wrinkle came when the committee decided to deal with some other business first – the issue of the advisory councils was due up 3rd but Budget Chief Mike Del Grande asked for and got the votes to move an item with Section 37 benefits and development charges up.  “We dealt with a couple of items we were told were going to be quick,” said Deputy Mayor Holyday, “and they weren’t.” He admitted that the move had been a mistake.

Now, I’m willing to give the Executive Committee the benefit of the doubt on this and not think they deliberately pushed back the item to take the wind out of the speakers’ sails. To make people wait and wait for their turn to be heard, perhaps a few of them with other things to do, other commitments, would be forced to leave before they had the opportunity to have their say.  I’ll take the Deputy Mayor on word that that was not their intention. But it sure looked that way.

The quick items weren’t and the actual one that was scheduled to go before the advisory committee item, the Street Food Pilot Project, certainly didn’t wrap up swiftly which, frankly should’ve been expected. The fiasco that was the A La Cart program absolutely needs to be examined in depth to find out exactly what happened, how and if to compensate those who got caught up in excessive red tape and a not entirely well thought out process. This items shouldn’tve got short shrift and it didn’t.

By the time the committee took a break for lunch at 12:30, those still waiting to give their deputations on the advisory council item were told not to rush back, they probably wouldn’t be getting around to it until 3 p.m. 5 and a half hours after the meeting had started. Needless to say, there was some eye-rolling and grumbling in the crowd about intentions on the part of the committee to dampen their voices.

Those who did return after lunch or at 3, noticeably fewer than had left, discovered that estimate too was grossly off. There was more A La Cart discussions and then a timed item which had to dealt with before the committee could get the advisory council item. Which timed item, you ask? You’re going to love the double irony of this.

Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) – Response to Auditor General’s Report titled “Toronto Community Housing Corporation – Controls over Employee Expenses are Ineffective”.

That’s right. Now the Executive Committee had to hear from the Auditor General about the TCHC not 6 weeks, 2 months ago before the board was turfed, management dispatched and Case Otis installed as the supreme being. The urgency was all after the fact, long past when questionable decisions had been made.

The double irony? So urgent was this matter that the meeting had to be temporarily halted because there was no quorum. Yes, more than half of the Executive Committee were so desperate to hear what the Auditor General had to say about the TCHC spending scandal that they left the room. So speakers still present were further delayed as someone had to go off and drag an Executive Committee member back to the room to re-start the meeting.

Just before the stroke of 5, nearly 7 and a half hours after the meeting began, the first speaker to item EX 5.3 Council Advisory Bodies and Working Committees sat down in front of the Executive Committee.

Now, I am a cold-hearted bastard by nature. Very few things bring a tear to my eye or hope to my heart. There’s kittens and then there’s… yeah, kittens. That’s about it except when I witness plain, ordinary folk nervously take a seat in front of a group of politicians and civil servants just to let them know what they think. To get involved. To engage in the political process. It is a glorious thing to behold.

Yes, there were some smooth operators, lawyers and consultants among them, who were clearly comfortable in the spotlight. Those who had done this kind of thing before. But consider this. No one was there yesterday defending their piece of the pie. These were all people giving over their time and effort in hopes of persuading the Executive Committee to keep citizen advisory committees going on a volunteer basis. They weren’t asking for money. They were offering the city their help. For free.

People taking time off work to speak. People not at home to cook dinner for their family. People, in the words of one deputant, “… not against change” but who just “want to be a part of that change.”

I could go on at length but I’ll spare you my maudlin blubbering. The reception most of the speakers received was perfunctory at best. The members of the Executive Committee asked few questions, most of their attention turned to making sure enough of them were present to maintain a quorum. I don’t believe Councillors Mammoliti (probably off figuring ways to defund Pride) or Shiner were ever in the room during deputations. Councillor Kelly left early and Councillor Thompson, when he was present, spent most of it away from his chair talking to members of the press and the mayor’s staff. Citizen democracy wasn’t foremost in their minds.

Unsurprisingly, the City Manager’s report was passed and it will now be up to council to decide the fate of the advisory committees. It was a big fuck you to engaged citizens from the Ford administration. If you still believe that the mayor is listening to the little guy, you are clinically delusional.

Not all was doom and gloom, however. Just before the vote was held to adopt the staff report, after all the deputants had spoken, Councillor Jaye Robinson used her 5 minutes to speak to express concern about the details of the report. It was ‘light’, I believe she called it, meaning not fully thought out or explored. She then offered up a motion requesting a further review and exploration before proceeding with a decision. (Not being a journalist I’m scrambling to get a copy of the councillor’s motion. Will update as soon as I do.) This was significant for a couple reasons.

One, Councillor Robinson has not yet proven to be the most independent minded of councillors. A rookie on council, the perception so far has been that she operates under the mayor’s thumb, whipped into siding with him on important votes. That she offered up this motion running contrary to the mayor’s wishes at Executive Committee is a hopeful sign that she’s rankling under the weight.

And her motion last night was clearly flying in the face of what the mayor wanted. Once she put it forth, there was a behind the scenes scramble by the mayor’s staff, mainly Mark Towhey, the mayor’s Director of Policy and Strategic Planning. We watched as he coached Councillor Cesar Palacio (worth the price of admission itself) through an amendment to Robinson’s motion. But it didn’t appear to sit well, so the mayor called a quick recess where he huddled with the city clerk and some of this team. They came back, pulled Councillor Palacio’s amendment before going to a straight vote on Councillor Robinson’s motion.

It was defeated and the staff report was then passed as is but here’s the second significant point. The vote on Councillor Robinson’s motion was very close. Again, my non-journalist roots are showing through and I don’t have the exact numbers (will update when I get them) but I believe the vote went 6-4 against the motion. At the Executive Committee. The mayor’s handpicked team that, to date, has basically served as a rubber stamp for whatever it is he wants to do. Special commendation needs to go out not only to Councillor Robinson but also Councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Peter Milczyn (two of my least favourite councillors) who both stood firm in the face of the mayor’s icy stare in voting for Robinson’s motion.If there is this kind of split showing at the Executive Committee level, then the fissures under pressure for the mayor’s wider coalition at council must be immense. A close watch should be held on this item as it goes to council next month. If the mayor doesn’t have his way, it may be an indication that he simply can’t bully his agenda through and might be forced to start resorting to such tactics as negotiation and compromise, neither of which is his strong suit.

So maybe out of the ashes of yesterday’s Executive Committee soiling of civic engagement will come a new found democratic spirit at City Hall. Or at least, the autocratic tendency that Mayor Ford has displayed since coming to office will be just that much more difficult to wield effectively. If so, active citizen engagement will have played a large role in bringing that about.

hope springs eternally submitted by Cityslikr


The Real Swing Factor In Trinity-Spadina

April 20, 2011

[Yesterday our email inbox contained a message that so nailed how we were feeling about the federal campaign going on in our riding that, with the author’s permission, we wanted to share it with all of you. Plus, it gave us the day off to head out and enjoy our lovely spring weather.]

*  *  *

I am exasperated!

Today I read yet another article about how the Liberals and the NDP both need to court the centre-right condo vote in order to win Trinity-Spadina. But the “conservative condo vote” has been mentioned for almost a decade as a swing factor, only to disappear when the votes are counted. It is a cliché and it is wrong.

The real swing voters in Trinity-Spadina are independent progressives.

The NDP does not own the progressive vote in Trinity-Spadina, and cannot take it for granted. Many progressives grimaced as the NDP dithered over the long gun registry, or adopted the Tory anti-tax talking points on the Green Shift, or called for cheaper fossil fuels, or sided with conservative unionists who fear environmentalism costs jobs. These progressives really like Olivia Chow, but they also worry that the NDP is perhaps less a party of urbanists and environmentalists, and more that of culturally-conservative rural unionists who think Toronto pinkos can go to hell.

These swing progressives are the people who voted for Adam Vaughan over the NDP-endorsed Helen Kennedy municipally in Ward 20 (Jack Layton had reportedly threatened to “bury” Vaughan if he ran against Kennedy – nice!). These are also the people who voted for Karen Sun over Jack Layton’s son in Ward 19 last year. These alone represent about 12,000 T-S votes, or one-fifth of the voting electorate. These are the people who will decide the results in Trinity-Spadina, not the “conservative condo vote.”

And yet the condo cliché remains. Here’s the Toronto Star talking to Sean McCormick, an inexperienced Fordesque fiscal conservative who had been bizarrely endorsed by the federal Liberal T-S riding association in last fall’s municipal election for Ward 19 councillor. Not only did McCormick place third, even with the supposedly-mighty conservative condo vote, he was so incompetent that he defaulted on his campaign financials, the only front-running council candidate in the City to do so. (Liberal donors to McCormick’s campaign: according to City bylaw, this default means you are no longer eligible for the City’s 75% donation rebate). Bad enough that these Liberals endorsed an incompetent candidate, but the real stupidity is that they are chasing after conservative voters in Trinity-Spadina, and not progressives.

Clearly, the T-S Liberal riding association is still gripped by the dead hand of Tony Ianno, who was the Liberal MP from 1993-2006. He is famous around here for the contrast between his ruthless hold on power locally, and his lack of presence in Parliament. In 1988, he pioneered some disgraceful practices in the nomination process, practices that William Johnston said “strike at the legitimacy of the most fundamental process of our democratic system.” In 1996, as the feds were turning over harbour commissions to municipalities elsewhere, Ianno fought to create the Toronto Port Authority and put it under federal control. One of its first acts was to sue the City of Toronto for a billion dollars, and the TPA has been a continuous “fuck you” to the city ever since. In 2003, Ianno also pioneered new ways of getting around his own party’s campaign finance law, by creating a secret trust fund that was described in the Montreal Gazette as “a recipe for corruption.” In 2006, he shut down campus polls at U of T, the same thing Iggy slammed the Tories for doing in Guelph. To top it off, Ianno now faces stock manipulation charges.

After this Liberal stronghold fell to the NDP in 2006, you might have hoped the Trinity-Spadina riding association would seek a fresh face who could win back progressive Liberal voters. Next door, in Parkdale-High Park, the Liberals replaced a similarly defeated, similarly uninspiring Liberal with progressive Gerard Kennedy, who was able to defeat the popular and hard-working NDP MP Peggy Nash and retake the riding (some people say, “what a waste,” but why shouldn’t voters get to choose between good candidates?). You might also have thought the T-S riding association would be especially sensitive to the fact that their former MP was now facing an OSC probe during a recession caused by securities shenanigans.

Instead, just weeks before the 2008 election, the Liberals replaced their irritating former MP with Christine Innes, the MP’s wife. If you’re a registered Liberal but can’t remember when you agreed to this nomination, it is because you were not exactly asked. The couple apparently decided this between themselves. “It’s my time,” said Innes. This reminds me of how Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture following the Enron scandal.

The role of a riding association generally does not come up in election coverage. And perhaps the distastefulness of the Ianno/Innes family compact is simply how the sausages are made. Voters are also expected to vote for the party and not the local representative. But who advocates for the community’s priorities in a party’s caucus if not the MP? Who sets the direction of a party in Parliament if not its caucus? And as the TPA issue shows, federal politics can indeed be local. MPs matter.

Christine Innes seems quite nice, and she is not her husband. But she is not a fresh start either, and her riding association’s overtures to hard-right fiscal conservatives should worry Liberal progressives. Is Ms. Innes herself centre-right politically, or does she just think the voters are? Either way, how can progressives trust her?

Why won’t the Liberals nominate a progressive in this progressive riding? Where’s our Gerard Kennedy? Where’s our Martha Hall Findlay?

It’s time to drop the conservative condo cliché, and its time for the Liberal riding association to pull its head out of Tony Ianno’s ass. Independent progressives are the real swing voters in Trinity-Spadina, and we are the ones who should be courted.

submitted by John Bowker