Leading With The Long Knives

February 21, 2012

Another Monday (albeit a long weekend Monday), another start (albeit a slow one) to another week and once again I don’t have a fucking clue to what Mayor Ford is up to. I mean, I know what he’s up to, petulantly, punitively striking out at someone who stood up to him and his goofy, loopy public transit plans while striking a blow against bureaucratic integrity in the process. But what’s his over-arching strategy, is what I’m wondering. What’s his end game?

Because, there has to be an end game even from this administration. It can’t just be about this low rent gangster shit… no wait. Let’s use the mayor’s own words… It can’t just be about this low rent Stalinist shit, purging City Hall of any and all dissenting voices. Creating a smaller and ever shrinking circle of obedient foot soldiers, their loyalty directly proportional to their dubious grasp of how a city council and municipal government actually works. Some of the dimmest bulbs that represent us locally will be deciding general manager Gary Webster and the TTC’s near future. Step up into the spotlight, Councillors Vincent Crisanti, Frank Di Giorgio, Norm Kelly and Cesar Palacio.

Even someone as short-sighted and driven on a power panel of spiteful resentment as the mayor seems to be must recognize this situation as untenable. With friends like his, who needs enemies and all that? Mayor Ford can’t possibly be operating under the assumption that if he makes all his bone-headed decisions early enough in his term voters will forget in a couple years. Re-hire master tactician Nicky K. who’ll magically spin electoral gold again from policy dross. Mr. Kouvalis is good but he ain’t that good.

So there’s a bigger picture at work, right?

When news broke on Friday about the special TTC Commission meeting called to deal with personnel issues, I joked on Twitter that maybe it was part of the mayor’s shrinking the size of government agenda. By acting so brazenly irrational, so out-of-control erratic and dictatorial, he’s hoisting up a red flag to our provincial overlords. Hey, guys. Your capital city has gone crazy. If you don’t step in and take over, there’s no telling what we might do. Stop us before we inflict further damage.

A self-manufactured plea and sly manoeuvre to abolish Toronto’s city council. See, folks. We reduced the size of government.

Slightly more seriously, @lifeonequeen responded that perhaps Mayor Ford was making a crafty bid to have the province simply assume control of the TTC. For the sake of public transit here in Toronto and the GTA, please take this off our hands. Clearly we are incapable of managing such a complex file. You must step in before we can inflict any further damage. Irreparable harm. Save Us From Our Silly Sheppard Subway.

That tweet went on to suggest Team Ford wasn’t far-sighted enough for that to be truly the case. But I am steadfast in believing that nobody can be successful in politics as long as Rob Ford has been without possessing a modicum of foresight, let’s call it. It’s simply impossible for him not to have some sort of a game plan at this point, regardless of how bad it might be. He can’t honestly believe that he’ll prevail in an escalating tit-for-tat battle with city council, can he? At least not with the quality of allies he has at his disposal as his team’s numbers dwindle.

I mean, really. Councillor Frank Di Giorgio? With his comments in a Toronto Star piece Sunday, the man practically handed Gary Webster a wrongful dismissal case on a platter.

“Di Giorgio said Webster’s integrity and job performance are not what is at issue.

The issue is a matter of — in my view — whether a bureaucrat has the responsibility to undertake a task as mandated by the people and reflected in the mayor’s mandate.”

If this is who the mayor will have carrying water for him as we lurch forward, the war’s already lost. Councillor Di Giorgio as your point man is akin to a losing army throwing 12 year-olds on the front line in order to beat a hasty retreat. It’s a prelude to a massacre.

So what is Mayor Ford’s pit bull on a poodle attachment to burying the Eglinton LRT and building the Sheppard subway extension that he’s so determined to jeopardize his political future on it? It can’t just be about the very tenuous anti-streetcar/pro-subway ‘mandate’ he claims to have been given with his election in 2010. At least not when it threatens to eviscerate his fiscal conservative, looking out for the taxpayers aura that shone bright during the campaign. And eviscerate it, it will. Spending more money for less transit plus a whole host of new taxes and fees necessary to actually extend the Sheppard subway. A regular profligate spendthrift he will be viewed as if this all comes to pass.

And as Edward Keenan pointed out yesterday in The Grid, this subway mandate was a minor component to the Ford campaign. An afterthought, almost; a throw in when they realized he needed some sort of transit plan. For this, he’s going to the mat?

I’ve never thought of Mayor Ford as a backroom kind of guy in the sense of doing deals with ‘friends’ and such, mostly because he’s seemed largely friendless. A proud lone wolfer on a quixotic quest to reduce the role of government in our lives. But the lengths to which he appears prepared to go to put all transit underground causes one to wonder, even after factoring in other possibilities.

Yes, it’s got the urban-suburban divide the mayor thrives on. The politicization of the bureaucracy at City Hall he might see as advantageous to his cause. There’s probably a certain satisfaction in carrying out a vendetta.

However, the downside to such a grade school minded putsch is enormous. The power of the mayor’s office is not unlimited. It’s not out of the question that council will act to clip his wings (see the last section, Taking Control) before too long, rendering him impotent and irrelevant.

Why exactly would Mayor Ford risk all that? What is it I’m missing here?

confusedly submitted by Cityslikr

Politics Is A Blood Sport Not A Blood Oath

February 17, 2012

No disrespect intended to Nick Kouvalis, he is undoubtedly a master of the dark arts, a wizard of manipulating the message and twisting patently absurd notions into winning political ideas, an alchemist, turning leaden dead weights into electoral gold. I do not doubt his marketing prowess. It’s his wise guy-like approach to the working dynamics at City Hall that I find a little unsettling.

Via Ford For Toronto I read this piece on TTC Chair Karen Stintz in the Toronto Star yesterday (thatz howz wez rollz on the interwebz). Detailing the course of the councillor’s very public break up with the mayor over the city’s transit file, the first crack in the relationship showed up with the proposed cuts to bus service. “[Nick] Kouvalis said the bus motion was a `test’ to see which TTC commissioners would fall in line and which were ‘wet noodles.’ Stintz was a noodle, he says.

My advice was: Get rid of her, right there on the spot, Kouvalis says.

He recently reiterated that point to Ford, he adds. She’s committed the biggest sin in politics, which is disloyalty, he charges.”

Holy cow. That’s like some serious gangsta shit. Yeah, we’re gonna cut 48 bus routes just to see if anybody here’s, like, a snitch or working undercover. ‘Cause, that’s how we roll.

I mean, why stop there? If they truly wanted to see who was with them for reals, they shoulda got a gun, handed it to Stintz and told her to prove her loyalty by popping, I don’t know, former TTC vice-chair, Joe Mihevc. The previous chair had already been summarily dispatched. Besides, with that last name, he could well have been a made guy.

Now I get that politics is a rough and tumble sport, a place where few angels dare tread. But this you’re either with us or against, part of the inner circle or our mortal enemy crap? It strikes me as highly unproductive and, ultimately, self-defeating. Something Team Ford just might be realizing at this juncture.

Wouldn’t it have been easier if the mayor, upon being elected, put out a call for names of councillors who wanted to chair the TTC, discarded the ones with any taint of that funky smelling Miller odour, and sat down with the remainder and laid out his expectations for the TTC and the person who led it. “Look, [fill in councillor name of your choice]. I could give a shit about public transit except that there’s going to be no more streetcars blocking up traffic under my watch, k? And when it comes to saving a buck versus a bus route running on some god forsaken street in a nowhere corner of Scarborough, the dollar’s going to win out every time. You cool with that?”

Just put it out there, straight up, in plain enough language that even Councillor Frank Di Giorgio will understand. If they sign up, fine, only later on to claim that, hey, I didn’t agree to this, that’s a different kettle of fish. Brian Ashton territory, even.

But some loyalty litmus test to prove you’re a team player? And using people’s livelihoods that depend on public transit as a prop? That’s some disregard for the notion of public service. Not wanting to sound all Pollyannish/Mr. Smith Goes To Washington but shouldn’t a politician’s first loyalty be to the constituents who elected them to the office? Then, maybe second before fealty to the team, a loyalty to building a better city?

Again, I know there are practical realities to successfully surfing a political career. To some degree one has to go along to get along as they once said back in the golden, less hyper-partisan days. But the beauty of the party-less municipal system is that it doesn’t need to be so rigidly adhered to. The idea that there are simply two camps, right-left, is both laughable and, ultimately, destructive. Even the view that there are only radical conservatives, Stalinist commies and the mushy middle seems designed merely for easy digestion rather than a reflection of reality.

As much as it may pain the architects of Rob Ford’s mayoral victory to remember, he was elected on a platform of guaranteeing no service cuts in his drive to stop the gravy train. It’s hardly a surprise then, that his TTC chair wavered in the face of bus routes cuts although, I am right in stating that, in fact, bus routes were ultimately cut, aren’t I? So it isn’t like Councillor Stintz actually defied the mayor on that point.

In fact from my perspective the TTC chair has been almost slavish in her attempts to help Mayor Ford extricate himself from the corner he’s painted himself into without getting too much on the bottom of his shoes. It’s been his ‘disloyalty’ to the greater good of the city he was elected to lead in refusing to compromise on the Eglinton LRT-Sheppard subway plans that’s undercut his authority. The black and white, with us or against us view of the world that served him so well on the campaign trail has now become a hindrance to him as mayor.

Nick Kouvalis should take note and stick to what he does best: putting people into office. That’s a different skill set than day-to-day governance which requires a lighter touch. Mr. Kouvalis has many talents but nuance, subtlety and gentle persuasion aren’t really his strong suit.

nice to Nickly submitted by Cityslikr

Greece Is The Word

February 16, 2012

This may come as a super big surprise to all the regular readers out there but I admittedly wasn’t at my most open-minded in my expectations of the province’s Drummond Report. Its arrival coincided with me reading the last few chapters of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail. Oh good. A former bank economist tapped to tell us how to put our fiscal house back in order while we’re still mired in the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression brought on by the egregious behaviour of our international banking system.

Step 1: tightly regulate your banks and never again believe that, left to its own devices, the free market is a self-correcting entity.

I’m sure that’s somewhere in Mr. Drummond’s 17 million page report.

What I don’t understand is, if this province is in such a pickle (mmmmm…. gherkins) financially speaking, why did the government hem itself in, seeking solutions from only one narrow perspective? Why not throw the doors open to get a variety of opinions and views, not just the one fixated on the capital side of things?

On top of which, “Our mandate precludes us from recommending increases in tax rates…” Run that by me again, would you please, Mr. Drummond? Our mandate precludes us from recommending increases in tax rates…

So, the government wants to tackle their deficit/debt problem with one hand tied behind its back. Despite being told in the report that “The roots of Ontario’s current fix lie in both the economy and in the province’s record of failing to keep growth in government spending in line with revenue growth” [bolding ours], the province doesn’t want to hear a word about one tool for growing revenue? That would be taxation.

Oh, I get it now.

Tap a guy who’s sure to deliver the goods, in terms of some scary, pant load filling, Greece-we’re-right-behind-you scenarios (slyly bringing up a spooky Grecian spectre while denying he’s doing anything of the sort: “By current international standards, Ontario’s debt is relatively small. We are a very long way from the dreadful fiscal condition of countries that have dominated the news over the past two years…Even Greece, the poster child for rampant debt, carried an Ontario-style debt load as recently as 1984”), Leopold to Dalton McGuinty’s Superintendent Chalmers, remove one possible option from the recovery tool box, so that when you come in less heavy with your next budget, we all breathe a sigh of relief and collectively say, well, it could’ve been much worse.

Regardless to what extent the Liberal government attempts to implement Drummond’s suggestions, it has already achieved its purpose. If this province is really serious about righting the fiscal ship, spending cuts are inevitable. Austerity, folks. It’s all the rage. So much so that, apparently, there’s absolutely no need to listen to other opinions on the subject.

Which is all a little strange because, early on in his report, Drummond summarizes how we got to this point in the game. “Ontario’s revenues now do not cover its spending. In 2010–11, the latest full fiscal year, the government ran a deficit of $14.0 billion — equivalent to $1,059 for every Ontarian and 2.3 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP), the largest deficit relative to GDP of any province. This is not because spending is particularly high; relative to GDP, Ontario’s spending is one of the lowest among the provinces.”

Ummm… ? What?

Our spending is already one of the lowest among the provinces relative to GDP and now we’re being told that only by reducing spending even further will we be able to dig ourselves out of this hole we’ve created? Does that not seem, I don’t know, a little counterintuitive? Despite the constant painting of the McGuinty government as a gang of reckless spenders, profligate in scandal, eHealth, ORNGE, etc., etc., we read that, in fact, Ontario’s something of a skinflint compared to our provincial brethren.

Further on in the report, Drummond comes right out and tells us how we got to this point. “The reasons are simple. Beginning in 2003, the Canadian dollar began a strong ascent that lifted it from the persistent lows of the previous decade (around 70 US cents) to the recent highs (around parity with the U.S. dollar) during the past four years, with only a brief dip in late 2008 and early 2009. This surge in the currency made Ontario’s exports more expensive for foreigners to buy and rendered the province’s exporters less competitive, while also making imports cheaper.”

Combined with the ongoing effects of free trade that allow companies to scurry off to lower wage jurisdictions, our higher dollar helped gut this province’s manufacturing base, and those jobs left behind inevitably paid less. There was also that nasty global recession that lingers still like a cold that no amount of Echinacea can kill off. And let’s not forget the purely ideological slashing of corporate tax rates that led to the logical conclusion of a company like Caterpillar closing up shop and taking its record profits to Indiana because its workers here refused to accept a cut of some 50% to their wages and benefits.

So yeah, there are plenty of reasons why Ontario faces a record deficit and debt. Government spending just doesn’t seem to be high on that list. Why are we so intent on setting it up as the main culprit that needs to be brought to heel?

I’d be a little more down with the austerity agenda if there was a body of evidence to back up the notion that it’s the way out of our current dire fiscal situation. But so far, I’ve come across precious little of that. Austerity has not yet proven a panacea for places like the U.K., Portugal or Greece. (h/t to The Inverse Square Blog for the info.) And while it may seem a little early in the process to pronounce failure, I think history remains on the countercyclical side, suggesting it’s still too soon to cut-and-run from the idea of more stimulus, more deficits and debt until the economic outlook is a little less bleak.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be looking at efficiencies and alternative methods of delivering services that give a bigger bang for the taxpayers’ buck. I just think we’re given huge space to one point of view when clearly our economic problems are multifaceted. Cutting government spending is the easiest option on the table right now as long as it’s made political palatable. That’s the purpose the Drummond Report serves. We best ignore it, however, if we’re searching for actual long term solutions.

warily submitted by Cityslikr

Organized Discontent

February 15, 2012

Despite what I think to be the George Hamilton like tone I carefully nurtured with a secret combination of cooking oil, mesquite rub and deet during my weeklong absence, there seems to be rumours a-swirling about the “real” reasons I went awol during what The Grid’s Edward Keenan called “The most significant week at City Hall in a generation” (probably just to taunt me). Dudes. Check out the tan lines. I went somewhere sunny and warm because it was February here. I thought February was going to provide some downtime at City Hall. No one circulated the Special Once In A Lifetime Special Council Meeting memo in my direction. It was merely bad timing.

So no, I am not a Team Ford double-agent — working from the inside to try and discredit the opposition with my ludicrous and often times illogical rantings about the mayor — who simply couldn’t stand to be around during his darkest hours to date. I’dve given my eye teeth to be here but, Expedia being Expedia, the whole she-bang was non-refundable. And no, it was not a clandestine rendezvous with a certain councillor from Etobicoke whose seat in the council chambers also went unoccupied last Wednesday. I admire the lady. She’s got, what do you call it, the moxy. It’s just, we come from such different backgrounds. We’d never get past that whole urban-suburban chasm.

Also, there was no slipping away for some discreet elective surgery. While I acknowledge a certain none-to-subtle ageism within the ranks of those covering City Hall (witness the cutesie, self-satisfied back-slapping of the young in yesterday’s tweets between the aforementioned Edward Keenan and writer David Hains), I stand proudly by my 28 years of age and wouldn’t think of furtively seeking some desperate attempt to look even younger than I already do. Why no, sir. I am not an unpaid intern at an unnamed publication. But I am flattered you thought I might be. How old do you think I am?

The fact of the matter is, last week was the first of a semi-annual, enforced Magazine Catch-Up Retreat week. Get out of town, get out of your work head and get reading those damn magazines that are littering the place up. Either that or cut back. What?! And do without my McCall’s?! I’m sorry, what? It’s been called Rosie since 2001?! I thought that was my gardening magazine. And it hasn’t been published in 10 years!?!

You see what I’m saying here?

Thus, I found myself cracking into the first of the 2011 issues of a couple subscriptions at the same time I was already receiving March 2012 issues. I knew Lewis Lapham had stepped away from his Notebook in Harper’s but was unaware that Thomas Frank had become the permanent resident in that space with his Easy Chair. I’m not yet sure how I feel about that. Lapham wasn’t so overtly political. It rarely felt like you were reading a screed. It was patrician subtle. Frank is as partisan as they come right now. I don’t want that from my Harper’s. I can read my own stuff if that’s what I was looking for.

That said, I’m hardly appalled reading Frank’s stuff and did come across an interesting tidbit in his January 2011 entry, The Fatal Middle. He quoted Howard Phillips, one-time director of The Conservative Caucus, saying way back during the early Reagan era that the job, the role, the genius of the right wing was its ability “to organize discontent.” Hello? What was that again? To organize discontent.

Some thirty years on and nothing much has changed. Perhaps it took a little longer up here in our cosy little corner north of the 49th because true, visceral discontent first needed to be stirred up amongst the hoi polloi before it could be organized into a viable voting bloc. A recession or two. Draining of the manufacturing sector. The general gestation period needed for the seeds of subversive disinformation to come to flower.

But, good goddamn, has our right wing learned how to organize discontent. We now believe ourselves to be over-taxed to the max with all our money being spent on greedy, self-interested politicians, unions and the undeserving poor. The rest of us are all the struggling middle class unless, of course, you don’t share our particular discontent. Then, you are a downtown, champagne-sipping, latte lapping elitist/socialist, two steps left of Joe Stalin who reads, well, Harper’s or The Walrus (up to April 2011 issue currently) or that Toronto Star rag.

Discontent. Resentment. Division.

In three words, Rob Ford’s victorious campaign and modus operandi since becoming mayor. This city does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. (Discontent). The War on the Car. (Resentment). Those in the suburbs pay for everything and get nothing in return. (Division with a little factual incorrectness thrown in for good measure).

It’s the Holy Right Wing Trinity and fits in perfectly with their views on government as a destructive force that needs to be reigned in and shrivelled down to size except for its law and order, enforcement side. The beauty of it too is that it is self-fulfilling because the more ineffectual you make government, the more discontent, resentment and division you breed. Almost like a political perpetual motion machine.

The remarkably depressing thing about this is that it’s neither new nor particularly covert. This has been a staple in North America since at least Richard Nixon and his Silent Majority. That’s 44 years ago, folks. And somehow we haven’t found a way to counteract it. When conservatives stumble and fall out of favour, it’s usually to do with their own missteps not some brilliant and uplifting piece of political theatre by their opponents.

Look at what’s happening here in Toronto. The mayor is not really being out-manoeuvred or out-played. He’s simply fucking up, left and centre, his setbacks washing out any steps forward. The very notable victory he can claim with the CUPE 416 settlement has been lost in the noise of his illogical transit plans. It’s not a question of contesting but containing him and all the damage his ideology wants to inflict on the proper governance of this city.

The easy appeal to voter discontent, resentment and division means right wing politicians have a leg up when it comes to campaigning. It’s the only thing really that keeps them in the game at all. If conservatives were judged on what they do once elected, they’d never get near the levers of power again. They couldn’t even present a perception of competency. Our system and beliefs in it suffer because of that.

We have to learn to confront them before they get the keys to office instead of always having to clean up their mess on the way out. That means appealing to people’s better nature not their worst, instilling hope rather than despair and anger. It’s a tall order, for sure, especially since the public well has been so poisoned by ugly rhetoric and anti-social policies. But the alternative is continued degradation of our public institutions and way of life.

imploringly submitted by Cityslikr

The Nub Of It

February 14, 2012

“Getting to the nub of it.” 16h06m at yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting, after Gordon Chong’s ‘Toronto Transit: Back on Track’ report on the Sheppard subway extension had been delivered and the debate and discussion raged, famously loquacious Councillor Michael Thompson bid everyone to cut to the chase and get to the nub of the matter at hand.

People want subways, people.

OK, fuck. You know what? You big bunch of crybabies want a subway so bad, fine. Extend your fucking Sheppard subway, east, west, both. I don’t care. You refuse to listen to reason. Hell, Dr. Chong, D.D.S., gave us permission to stop paying attention to experts which I’ll remember next I go to the dentist and am told the sharp, shooting pain in my back left molar is a cavity that needs to be fixed. Nah, you know what, doc? My gut tells me the searing sensation is more a respiratory affliction. The tooth only hurts when I breathe. Vicks VapoRub should do the trick.

It’s like dealing with a two year-old’s temper tantrum. Red faced, hands over ears, screaming at the top of their lungs, stomping both feet on the ground. We want a subway! You have a subway! Why can’t we have a subway?! We want a subway!! We want a subway!!

But here’s the deal. The Eglinton LRT stays as is according to the Transit City configuration city council voted to re-install last week. Underground where necessary, above ground where possible. That means all the way west of Keele and east of Laird above ground. To bury it all the way takes valuable transit from both Sheppard and Finch Aves. That’s a little bit selfish on your part to demand otherwise, wouldn’t you say?

Secondly, you want a subway, start talking congestion fees, tolls and all the other vehicle fees and levies that KPMG floated as possibilities (Table 26, page 85 of the report) for filling that glaring funding gap staring up at you from the pages of Dr. Chong’s report. Oh yeah, that’s right. No matter how shiny a spin he put on the concept of the public-private partnership that would build the subway for a fraction of the cost estimate delivered by the TTC, even with the bestest of best case scenarios with everything falling just perfectly into place, there was still a great big chunk o’ change shortfall. Nearly a billion dollars to be exact.

Seems Mayor Ford was a little off in promising to build your precious subway completely with private sector money. Not possible. The report from his own handpicked representative says so, unequivocally if a little sneakily.

So which promise will the mayor have to break? Not build subways or not jack up fees and charges for car owners? He can’t not not do one without not not doing the other. Or.. wait.. he can’t not do one without doing the other.. or he can’t do one without not doing..

It’s all so confusing. Is the War on the Car over or not? Because it’s now crystal clear to everyone but the most wilfully obstinate: the Sheppard subway extension can only be delivered with the help of a basketful of increases to the cost of operating a private vehicle in this city. Anyone claiming otherwise is simply being dishonest and spinning a fantasy, regaling the electorate with a fairytale.

If Mayor Ford and his subway supporters are so sure that he was elected on a mandate to build subways, that the people want subways, I challenge them to run a serious poll question. Would you prefer subways to LRTs if it meant a substantial increase in fees paid to own and operate a private vehicle? Frame it in a way that best captures the reality of the situation, that gets to the nub of it, you might say.

If a majority responds, hells yeah!, well then, we have ourselves a completely different situation than the one Mayor Ford is currently trying to convince us of, where subways can be built at no extra cost to the already put upon taxpayers of Toronto. We can all join with the suddenly Big Idea conservative caucus at city council who normally take any and every opportunity to lambast the former Miller regime for its political overreach, and build us a real, first class transit system with subways running everywhere, up and down, back and forth and beyond, even if it doesn’t make a lick of technical sense. People want subways, people. They’re even willing to pay for it.

And if they’re not? If they answer in the negative to the question, Would you prefer subways to LRTs if it meant a substantial increase in fees paid to own and operate a private vehicle? Well, sorry. You can’t have your subways. That’s not just me, a downtown, subway hoarding elitist telling you no either. Gordon Chong, his associates and the good folks from KPMG have put it down in writing. You want subways? Fine. It’s going to cost you. Until subway fans are willing to grow up and face that most unpleasant of facts, and start talking openly about new taxes and fees instead of referring to them euphemistically and obliquely (transit revenue tools) as if by not saying the dirty words out loud, it doesn’t really count, then all this is merely a diversion, a big ol’ waste of time and resources. Cheap, political grandstanding that has already set transit planning in this city back decades.

sick and tiredly submitted by Cityslikr

Author Of His Own Misfortune

February 12, 2012

I’m flying blind here, a patchy distant spectator to last week’s critical stage of the seemingly never-ending transit debate at city council. The Great Stintz Uprising has probably been covered thoroughly from the last train to engine. But do we here in Toronto ever tire of talking transit planning? My educated guess is that this will hardly be the last word on the matter.

The near perfectly played Stintzinian Manoeuvre should hardly have come as a surprise although Mayor Ford certainly reacted like it was. Among the chattering class here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we had long pondered what she was doing, a relatively moderate right of centre councillor, fraternizing with the hardcore conservative ideologues that make up the mayor’s club. There were mayoral ambitions on her part to be sure, dating back as far as 2006. Perhaps the goal all along was to use a very high profile spot like, say, TTC chair to mount an insider coup. Work with Mayor Ford for a bit, play the good, faithful soldier until the time was right, and when and where the mayor appeared weak, boom. Hey. I tried working with these guys but they’re deaf to compromise, unwilling to listen to any other voices except their own. Transit intransigent.

By breaking so publicly with Team Ford, on such a highly charged item like transit, Councillor Stintz helped isolate them, reinforcing the ‘radical’ tag council’s left guard had been touting since the new year. In fact, Team Ford wasn’t at all the reasonable, responsible types they claimed themselves to be. The TTC Chair offered up the Sheppard subway in return for keeping the Eglinton LRT above ground eastward from Laird Drive and they wouldn’t budge. Not even an inch. She was the voice of moderation, the true fiscal conservative of the bunch. Karen Stintz for Mayor in 2014!

Or maybe that’s all too Machiavellian, too fiendishly scheming to be true outside of a tightly scripted political narrative. Maybe the councillor accepted the position as TTC chair hoping to exert a moderating influence on the Ford administration. Knowing the mayor as she did from his days on council, Stintz felt she would act as the voice of reason on the transit file that, despite the mayor and his supporters’ insistence that he was elected to build subways, had always been an after-thought to him, a campaign throw-in that seemed to emerge only when he was pushed to answer how he was going to handle transit if elected mayor. When it became clear that, in fact, he was going to good and truly cock things up with his harebrained No Streetcars On My Watch pursuit, Councillor Stintz had to make a stand. Not only for the good of the city’s transit future but, quite possibly, her own.

Until she writes her biography or announces her intention to run for mayor in a couple years, it’ll be nothing more than a guessing game, armchair quarterbacking. In fact, the bigger head-scratcher about all this should be Mayor Ford’s actions. How did he get so badly played or whatever exactly it was his TTC chair did to him. What does it say about his approach to governing that he was overwhelmingly outflanked?

Councillor Stintz had been publicly uneasy with his insistence in burying all of the Eglinton LRT for a few months prior to last week’s showdown. She’d openly expressed her concern about ‘unresolved technical issues’ of crossing the Don valley underground. Red flag, Mayor Ford. Red flag.

Then came the last TTC commission meeting where the Chair asked for a staff report exploring various options including keeping the Eglinton line pretty much like it was in the thought to be deceased Transit City plan. Underground where necessary, above ground where possible. The commission beat that one back but the die was cast. The Chair was going rogue and the mayor was either unable to do anything about it or unconcerned that he would have to. Mayors simply don’t lose on matters of this import.

He was right about that. Mayors don’t lose on issues that big. It just seems Mayor Ford didn’t understand why which may explain how he lost the lead on transit.

It’s almost as if during his 10 years on city council, Ford looked on as both Mayors Lastman and then Miller implemented their respective mandates, relatively unscathed, and concluded that if he just became mayor, he too could push his agenda through. Just like that. Become mayor, rule the city.

Certainly he’d operated that way since assuming office. Decree this, declare that. Who dares defy me! Taking no notice of some surprising setbacks along the way including about $19 million worth in this year’s budget, the mayor blustered on, wilfully ignoring the notion of negotiation that his predecessors had engaged in in order not to be caught flat-footed in council chambers. Being elected mayor gave him an unfettered mandate apparently.

And his reaction and that of his ardent supporters to the defeat at Wednesday’s special council meeting only serves to further underline his regal and shockingly anti-democratic pretensions. Lose big at council? Irrelevant. His mandate would not be derailed merely by a council vote. Hadn’t the 27 councillors who voted against him been listening to his voters? They wanted subways. Subways they would have.

No retreat. No surrender. No compromise. Evidently, a mayor’s vote and the votes of those who voted for him count for more than the councillors who opposed him and their voters. Mayor Ford appears oblivious to how the system he was elected to lead works. He seems incapable or unwilling to abide by the rules and protocol, learning how to play nice, opting instead to bludgeon on, convinced that a big stick is all he needs to beat enough of council into submission.

Divide and conquer propelled him into the mayor’s chair and got him nicely through his first year or so in office. But is that all he’s got in his tool box? A plan B certainly isn’t obvious. There is no finesse. Only rage, indignation and narrow minded resentment.

Such a limited repertoire gets old awfully quickly. Wednesday’s special meeting and vote shows opponents will figure out how to successfully contest it. In this simple bifurcated world Mayor Ford thrives in, an us versus them scenario, all that needs happen for it to falter is there to be more them than us. The mayor has made it very easy for previously stalwart allies like Councillor Stintz to change teams. It’s hard to see how, without some sort of 180-degree turn in approach, he’s going to get them back on side again.

back in the saddlely submitted by Cityslikr

A Business Trip. Yeah. That’s It. A Business Trip.

February 4, 2012

[A preliminary report about possible work stoppages here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke over the course of the next week or so. Between the lines meaning conveniently provided to help the literal types out there.]

*  *  *

These days, there’s never a good time to step away from the municipal political scene. (Especially if you’re a self-loathing masochist who just loves smashing your head against the wall on a daily basis.) Even when you think the calendar is clear, activity has lessened somewhat, boom! What did he/she/they just say/do/propose?! (Clusterfucks abound! Ahoy! Another incoming shitstorm!) It’s been Go Time in T.O. since October 25th, 2010. (Life During Fordtime.)

Silly us, we booked a corporate retreat, nowhere hot and sunny (30-degrees in the shade, and there is no shade), way back months and months ago (Last Minute Vacations, anyone?), thinking (drinking) February wouldn’t be a bad time to get away. (In fact, it is a very, very good time to get away even in this, our non-winter. Did I mention it was going to be 30-degrees in the shade of which there is none?) The budget battles of January would be over and done with and everybody would have withdrawn to their respective corners, preparing for the next battle.

Little did we know, and you’d think we’d know by now, that the next battle is the next day around City Hall anymore. (Sorry. The trip is, how do they say, non-refundable.) There is no time off. No time to regroup. Blink and you’ll miss it. (Imagine everything we’ll be missing because of the daily siestas.) And boy, do you really want to miss any of this? (I told you the trip is non-refundable, right?)

Transit strife. Labour strife. Strife, strife, strife. We didn’t think it possible for one man to cause such non-stop destruction and mayhem. (Except maybe Rambo and that other guy in the movie who built a weather machine. Speaking of weather. Did I tell you we’re going somewhere warm?) Destruction is a whole lot faster and easier than building anything, I guess.

But rest assured. It will not be an idle week away. (Ohh, so much lounging, drinking and catching up on our magazines. I haven’t cracked open a Walrus from 2011 yet.) We’ll be gathering daily, strategizing. (OK. Who’s ordering the calamari?)  Conducting seminars. (Mixing The Perfect Sloe Gin Fizz.) Attending workshops. (Easy Hammock Entrances.) And working diligently through business dinners. (OK. I ordered the calamari for lunch. How about crab cakes?)

We may even pipe in with a communiqué or two over the course of the next week or so. (Drunken tweets, more like it.) We were told by the concierge of the resort business hotel that they have wi-fi but it can be spotty (for the cheap bastards unwilling to pony up for the daily charges). Not to fear, though. We will tough it out and persevere. An enforced separation from the goings on at City Hall (They just called our flight.) is probably good for the soul. To reset our priorities. (Dude. Come on. We’re boarding.) To clear our heads and fortify our spirits. It will be a long fight ahead. (Seriously. I’m leaving without you.) I mean, my God, the man hasn’t even been in power for two years and it seems, like, forever. Has anyone been diagnosed with Ford Fatigue yet? (I’m outta here.)

Right behind you.

on the beachly submitted by Cityslikr