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