Stuck In The Middle With Josh

As even the most casual reader (and we really do insist no ties or business pants suits be worn while reading here) of this site will know, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke aren’t Mayor Ford’s biggest fans. There’s a political and social gulf between us. I know who Mary Walsh is. He doesn’t.  He thinks you can gut a city back to health. I don’t.

But while we fret about the very real possibility of the mayor and his team burning down the place in their misguided attempt to fix it, we also secretly harbour a sense of satisfaction that the more matches they light, the more they discredit and undercut their extreme small government, radical neoconservative ideology. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. We might come across as a little two-faced.

Speaking of two-faced and the awkward segues that spring from such clumsy transitions, there is an equally insidious force at work at City Hall. One just as destructive as the mayor’s hatchet and chainsaw and perhaps even more dangerous. It enables the dismantling under the guise of bipartisanship. It puts a smiley face emoticon on the snarl of right wing nastiness.  It has a name: faux-centrism. Its face? Councillor Josh Matlow.

We have written indignantly about this previously (for example, here and here) but it all got stuck in my craw again when I stumbled across this little puff piece, “Newbie councillor trying to rise above it all”, in My Toronto Today.ca. Note the accompanying picture, a non-buttoned down Matlow, standing in the long grass of City Hall’s green roof. It’s just one Nehru jacket away from looking like the cover of a 1970s album.

I found the article particularly grating having watched him at work during this week’s council meeting especially during the debate over contracting out waste collection west of Yonge Street. Councillor Matlow voted in favour. No biggie. So did 24 other councillors. But his reason for doing so were all, pure Matlovian.

He questioned staff about the, well, questionable numbers, the dubious claims to enormous savings. He rooted his snout through the dirt like a pig hunting for truffles, desperately searching for the elusive middle. They’re saying one thing but they’re saying another. The truth must be somewhere in between.

(No, no. Again, councillor. If one side touts debatable numbers and the other side puts up a more realistic set of numbers, the truth isn’t lurking near some imagined mid-point. Allow me this analogy. I go to the fair and decide to give the Guess My Weight guy a whirl. He thinks I come in at 185 pounds – it’s an American touring show, they don’t know from metric. I say, not even close. I’m 155 pounds soaking wet. Using your method, that probably means I’m about 170 pounds, right smack dab in the middle. But I step on the scale and reveal myself to actually be 225 pounds, winning a stuffed animal because the guessing guy was more than 5 pounds off but it in no way means that I weigh 170 pounds.)

After the usual huffing and puffing about the loneliness of the moderate voice these days at City Hall, Councillor Matlow casts his vote in favour of the mayor’s demand to contract out collection. Why? It’s a beaut. The councillor isn’t at all sure about the savings for taxpayers or if the low bid company GFL is even up to the task but still, still, people remain angry about the strike back in 2009. We have to cater to that anger or risk generating even angrier voters. By exercising the democratic right to strike, the city union put poor Councillor Josh Matlow on the spot and he just had to vote to contract out their jobs.

And he’s at it again in the My Toronto Today article, shifting blame onto someone else for his decision to vote in favour of getting rid of the revenue generating Vehicle Registration Tax. “I think it was done too hastily,” Matlow said. “I believe there should have been a stronger argument from the city manager as to how it would impact the 2012 budget.” I was just brand new. How was I supposed to figure out that taking millions and millions of dollars from the city’s coffers was going to adversely affect future budgets? I wasn’t aware that basic math applied to City Hall.

“Though he’s been vocal in his questioning of Ford’s leadership, Matlow says he agrees with many of the mayor’s initiatives, including a review of Toronto services.”

“What I strongly disagree with is the method he’s gone about implementing those ideas,” he said. “I would have liked to see a more thoughtful and mature process.”

But to the mind of Councillor Josh Matlow, Mayor Ford isn’t entirely to blame for this. And certainly the newbie councillor isn’t either. You want to know whose fault it is? David Miller’s, that’s who.

“The biggest surprise for me is how much influence the mayor’s office has over the agenda at city hall,” Matlow says. “And it’s ironic that it’s the left-wing and the Millerites themselves that created the stronger mayor system that they’re now subject to.

“Ford has taken advantage of the very house that Miller built.”

You see, none of the current divisions running rampant through City Hall, none of the bad decisions that get made are Councillor Matlow’s fault. He’s a centrist, after all. The rarest of rare birds. A condor of consensus. An ivory-billed woodpecker of moderation. He’s not on the mayor’s team. He’s not on the opposition left’s team. He’s a free agent, available to either side when the time is right and the situation is favourable.

For Councillor Matlow, there’s no ‘I’ in team but there’s certainly one almost smack dab in the middle of expediency.

divisively submitted by Cityslikr

17 thoughts on “Stuck In The Middle With Josh

  1. “For Councillor Matlow, there’s no ‘I’ in team but there’s certainly one almost smack dab in the middle of expediency.”

    Indeed. I expect that by 2014, the term “Matlovian” will be recognized throughout our municipality as synonymous with convenient morality and naked self-promotion.

  2. I agree with Josh’s comments about Miller and the changes he made. So many people were opposed to the ‘stronger mayor’ system. But Team Miller wasn’t good at listening, and Council’s left is paying the price…. for FOUR years.

    • Dear Dave Meslin,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke weren’t suggesting that Councillor Matlow’s historical perspective about who demanded and received the strong mayoral system was incorrect. We just suggested he was using it as an excuse to avoid responsibility for some of the votes he’s made. A certain inevitability to it. Well, hey, the mayor’s strong, he sets the agenda, so what are you gonna do? Also felt like he was just making sure to paint both sides of the spectrum in disagreeable colours to make his brand of centrism that much more bright, shiny and appealing.

      • Cityslikr, I read the article you’re referencing and its clear you’ve taken every line out of context because you have a hate-on for Matlow for some reason. Where in that article did he use the stronger mayor point to avoid responsibility? It read to me he was simply answering a question about what surprised him as a newbie councillor.

      • Dear Mr. Reade,

        We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke will take your clear-eyed, objective rush to defend Councillor Matlow critique of our bias under advisement.

      • Cliff; Matlow ultimately voted the way he did and said what he did! Heard Josh on his radio show this afternoon; which is on Newstalk1010 a right wing station where angry suburbanites call in to say how they would run the city except they are not elected like…

  3. Hm, I’m not entirely convinced the stronger mayor reforms that Miller made were necessarily a bad thing, even given what Ford has been able to do with them. I do think there are some problems with ambiguity regarding the powers and position of the mayor, though, probably best exemplified by the “Transit City is dead” unilateral edict.

  4. I think a big disappointment with this vote was the failed motion to defer the decision one more month.

    First, there was significant uncertainty with the staff report (see Rosen, etc.), and, second, councillors were only given a couple of days to make a $200 million decision with hundreds of jobs in the balance. The GFL bid was something like 25% less than the average bid and I believe they suggested they could deliver the same service with something like 30 fewer trucks. Really..? I can’t help but wonder how feasible their bid is and whether the language of the contract will result in an escalation of costs not factored into the original bid (in which case, at some point, would the city be exposing itself to claims from the other bidders?). In this case, my fear is that due diligence was sacrificed in the name of getting something through fast.

    The reality is, councillors have to read a consider stacks of reports before a vote. Some will be less weighty than others and can perhaps be made a bit more expeditiously, but this one doesn’t make sense. Respect for the taxpayer means (among other things) taking the time to deliberate on issues with lots of $$ in the balance.

    In Matlow’s defence, I believe he was supportive of colleagues who wanted more time to investigate and consider the item. It takes a bit more time to satisfy oneself and discharge one’s duty to one’s constituents if one doesn’t simply get a cheat sheet telling one what to do. Unfortunately, I suspect there are some councillors who just vote with Mammoliti’s thumb and really aren’t fully investigating issues and faithfully discharging their duties as elected representatives.

      • Hi Sol Chrom,

        Josh Matlow voted in favour of Ana Bailão’s motion to defer the item. The motion failed 22-20. “At the end of the day”, it should be acknowledged that this is how he voted. My interpretation is that, while he would have preferred to give his colleagues (and perhaps even himself) more time to consider the matter, he respected the expression of council not to defer the item and to decide the matter that day.

        I also don’t think it’s fair to say “at the end of the day he votes to give the mayor what he wants anyway.” Matlow does not receive cheat sheets. It should be obvious to those that watch council debates, listen to his show, follow his tweets, etc. that he does not take direction from the Fords. I do believe he put a lot of time into researching and considering this issue and that deserves acknowledgement – and I don’t think giving the mayor what he wants factored into his decision-making (at least not beyond the fact that it’s something the mayor ran on so there is some mandate). In the end, he’ll have to wear how he voted, but it will be because of his own analysis, not because it’s what the mayor wants.

        Respectfully,

        RS.

      • Dear Mr. Shirkey (and Mr. Reade),

        Here’s the thing for us with Councillor Matlow. You say, “…he’ll have to wear how he voted…” But it is our view after close observation of the man at work that the way he votes is often driven by cold political calculation rather than pragmatism or thoughtful analysis.

        On the contracting out of waste collection, how can you express concern with the numbers being thrown about, the savings guaranteed, the overall rigour of the bid (all of which Councillor Matlow did, admirably too, I will add), vote to have the motion deferred for a month and then, when that’s defeated, turn around a vote to proceed with contracting out?

        Here’s how, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke will offer. If everything goes swimmingly for GFL and the city saves $11 million/year with no discernible decline in service, he can say he voted in favour of it. If, however, the whole enterprise blows up, well, Councillor Matlow can turn around and say, hey, I wanted to defer it and take a closer look but the mayor pushed his agenda through. What’s that called? Having your cake and eating it too.

        Now Councillor Matlow was not the only one to play that game. Councillors Cho, Lee and McMahon did the same flip flop. We will admit that the bigger surprise to us is Councillor Cho. But we will aim the same criticism at all of them that we do at Councillor Matlow. Opportunism, plain and simple.

      • That is an interesting interpretation; a lot more political than my own take. Thanks for sharing the insight. I suspect most (all?) councillors factor such political calculations into their decision-making but I hope it’s never a driving force. Do you think these considerations are at the fore for some councillors or do you think that they tend to be secondary considerations (i.e. what is the politically smart thing to do versus X is the right thing to do, now how does that affect me politically?).

  5. Why did you write that Matlow cast his garbage vote based on the strike? I listened to his speech and he seemed sincere and never said the strike was the reason for his decision, very different from Ford. And you actually think Matlow’s scarier than Ford? At least he votes with us more than half the time. There goes your credibility.

    • Dear Mr. Reade,

      We are currently looking to track down the video of Councillor Matlow’s speech at council last week on contracting out waste collection. Until then, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke stand by our claim that he used the strike as a reason (not the only one) to vote in favour of contracting out by referencing ourselves via Twitter. If we are proven wrong, be more than happy to issue a full fledged retraction of our claim.

  6. PS Not only did Matlow vote for to support his colleagues who asked for another month to consider the info (are you going to call the left fence sitters too now?) but he spoke strongly in favour of that.

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