Permanent Campaigning

February 23, 2012

Having lost his once iron clad control of city council – and no mayor should lose an iron clad control of city council this early into a first term, at least, and not still be able to claim to have a ‘mandate’ – it looks like Mayor Ford has moved into outright permanent campaign mode. Yep. Fuck governing. That’s for egg-headed losers. We’re heading back out to the hustings where the mayor is most at home, amongst… I’m sorry… among the little guys and mall folk.

So the Brothers Ford make a weekly pilgrimage out to shopping centres in Scarborough where not 90%, not 99%, but 100% of shoppers who very likely drove to their destination want subways. Today the mayor’s opining (press releasing?) in the pages of the Globe and Mail. Whoah! The Globe? That’s some latté reading material there. Thought for sure that’d be news more fit for the Sun. No need, Your Worship. We’ve got your back. Here, here and here. (And that’s not even tapping the official Ford stenographer, Sue Ann Levy.)

Then, comes the big news. Bumping one-time centrist and now arch-enemy, Councillor Josh Matlow, from the airwaves, the mayor and his councillor brother will take over as co-hosts (co-mayors why not co-hosts) of 1010 talk radio’s Sunday afternoon political gabfest, The City. “This is our first opportunity ever to get our message out,” Councillor Ford told the Sun.

[Insert typeface here, denoting peels of belly laughter, followed by tears of mirth and ending with convulsive dry heaves from laughing so long and hard. What would that be, Franklin Gothic Book? Gill Sans MT?]

Aside from the stunningly delusional aspect of that statement, I mean, has there been a first term councillor who has received as much press, been offered up as many media platforms and opportunities to get the message out as Councillor Ford? I know out-going host Councillor Matlow has been accused by many of being a media hound but the real newcomer to council headline stealer is surely the mayor’s brother. How could it not be?

But note too the hint of victimization in the councillor’s assertion. The ‘first opportunity’? Really? Never mind as a sitting councillor back in the day, Rob Ford was a regular guest on John Oakley’s talk show but is Councillor Ford really trying to convince anyone that his brother, as the mayor of Toronto for nearly 18 months, has been ignored, his message kept boxed up?

On the Jerry Agar show this morning to announce their new role as radio guys, the councillor elaborated on that thought. “You’re not going to have the media twisting it around like they have the last year and a half.” Oh, my. Can I get you a little whine with that bitter greens salad, monsieur? How about a soother with that double double, councillor?

It constantly amazes me how these bully boy, tough guy conservative politicians get away with this damsels in distress schtick. Don’t their fanboys cringe just a little? What kind of cognitive dissonance do you need to operate with to buy into the notion that the sissy, downtown effete elite of the mainstream media are always picking on poor little Robbie and never letting him play and always twisting his words around?

Don’t we encourage our children to learn how to take responsibility for their actions and the outcomes that result because of them? It’s a little embarrassing to hear grown men constantly complain about always being taken out of context or having their word twisted. Or blaming other people for their failures.

And fail the Ford Brothers have. After a year plus of successfully pushing their agenda through city council, repealing taxes, reducing budgets, cutting and outsourcing services, they have lost control of the vehicle after hitting a bumpy patch on the road. It was inevitable. Not because of who they are but because that just happens when you’re in power especially at a non-party affiliated municipal level. Everything doesn’t just go your way with a wave of the hand and a loud proclamation.

You have to govern. You have to orchestrate a consensus. You have to lead and make a majority of your elected colleagues want to follow you, sometimes because it’s the right thing to do but other times because it’s the smart political thing to do.

Team Ford has given up on governing and simply kicked off its re-election campaign. It’s just easier. Whistle-stopping in front of welcoming crowds rather than debating with hostile councillors. Taking (screened) friendly calls from radio listeners instead of having to pretend to listen to opposing opinions from the usual suspect that line up to give public deputations. Running a city is hard. Running a campaign, well, any idiot can do that.

While the mayor and his brother are out on the stump, trying to revive the awesomeness of Ford Nation and get it into fighting shape once more in order to scare councillors back into the fold, council needs to just go about the business it was elected to do and, you know, govern the city. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating, Mayor Ford and Councillor Ford are only 2 votes. Yes, the power of the mayor’s office allows the two of them to gum up the works and grind things to a halt if they decide they don’t want to play along nicely or even collegially if their version (I will not say ‘vision’) of Toronto is the only one they’re willing to work for.

So be it.

In two and a half years’ time, one of two outcomes will be facing the mayor when he goes to the voters asking for their support again. Very little’s happened during his tenure as mayor and people are asking if they are better off than they were four years earlier. Mayor Ford’s ‘landslide’ victory in 2010 wasn’t so landslide-y that he could afford to have very many of his supporters answer that question negatively.

Or, the city’s humming along fine, transit is being built, services have been maintained at acceptable levels, people are generally happier than they were the last time they went to the polls, all while Mayor Ford has been on the outside, campaigning about just how bad it is at City Hall and regularly on the wrong side of every vote. Unable to claim much credit for any sort of turnaround, he’ll be running on essentially a platform of 4 More Years Of Contributing Nothing!

That’s a far cry from stopping the gravy train and reminds me of the old adage about lightning not striking the same place twice.

abdicatingly submitted by Cityslikr

A Return To Form

February 22, 2012

There was a moment at yesterday’s special TTC commission meeting called to determine the fate of the organization’s Chief General Manager, Gary Webster, we’d all been banished, visiting councillors, media, the public, and had gathered across the hall in committee room # 1. It was pretty much a done deal, the firing of Mr. Webster. Everyone appeared to have accepted that. What was happening was a mini-rally of sorts to save the transit plan city council had given the nod to a couple weeks earlier. (In truth, a plan approved and apparently settled on back in 2007 or so, but unilaterally cancelled by Mayor Ford upon taking office in 2010 and, mysteriously, sort of signed off on by the province which led directly to the events of yesterday and the dismissal of Gary Webster. That’s another story for another time.)

At some point of time during the nearly 3 hour wait for the TTC meeting to return from in-camera and announce its foregone conclusion, somebody asked for a show of hand, either to see who thought the CGM shouldn’t be fired or who was in favour of the transit plan council was trying to push ahead with. Unsurprisingly, Webster received nearly unanimous support as did proceeding full steam ahead with LRTs. Nearly unanimous support. The lone hand up in favour of canning the CGM and for Mayor Ford’s subway plan was the Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy.

With that, she rolled from the room, babbling about incompetence and the like, hoots, hollers and derisive laughter following her out.

But this is not to heap scorn on Ms. Levy. No, no, no. Anything but.

You see, it was at that moment, Sue Ann Levy’s defiant up yours to a room full of adversaries, I had a dreadful epiphany, a low in the gut, sinking feeling, not a bright light striking me on the road to Damascus so much as the god lord’s very stream of urine. Oh my god, I realized. That’s it, man. The answer you’ve been looking for.

As many of you regular readers will know, I’ve been trying to figure out Mayor Ford’s angle for a while now. What’s the end game, I’ve asked as recently as yesterday. It can’t be just some willy-nilly, catch-as-catch-can, random bit of thunder and roar, you will do my bidding or else, meting out retribution to any and all naysayers, Cody Jarrett in White Heat, purely reactive plan, right? There’s got to be something more than just petulance at the core of the mayor’s agenda, doesn’t there?

And here my answer was, masquerading as a journalist who masquerades as a journalist.

The mayor’s going rogue. Again.

You see, he successfully ran for mayor as an outsider, an outsider who’d been at City Hall for 10 years. All those years, almost exclusively on the losing end of council votes, many times very, very lopsided losing votes, had qualified him as an outsider. A determined lone wolf who vowed to curb all the excesses, all the backroom dealings, all the downtown elitist chicanery that had made this city the hell hole it had become.

Upon assuming office, he set about doing his business. Slash councillors’ office budgets and take away their snacks. Eliminate the VRT. Waste Transit City. Partially privatize waste collection. Steamroll municipal workers. Smite, smote, smought. In your face, Howard Moscoe. Rob Ford was passing gas all over City Hall.

Then, he plateaued.

Or did he?

Watching Sue Ann bask in her underdoggery, it struck me that Mayor Ford too operated best as the put upon little guy. The renegade flying in the face of vested interests, opposed at every turn by special interests. Hey. I may not be perfect but I’m indomitable, indefatigable in my efforts to fight City Hall.

One little problem now? As mayor, Rob Ford kind of is City Hall. He’s got the big office, that big-assed chain going around his neck, the mandate. Being mayor ran contrary to the image of being the outsider. The grubby everyman tarnish under threat of gaining lustre.

So what if, what if, and I’m just spit-ballin’ here, Team Ford decided to ease themselves out of pole position? Lose a vote here and there, do and say outrageous things in order to eventually force mass defections, generally act like a dickish 14 year-old with a monstrous sense of entitlement, all in order to alienate yourself from all but the imbeciles and most power hungry on council. A self-inflicted splendid isolation, as Warren Zevon once sang.

Once more, the outsider. Mayor Outsider. Standing up for the good taxpayers of Toronto but besieged from all sides by the usual suspects, the unions, the bureaucrats, left wing loons and teatsuckers. Even as mayor, he pits himself as the lonely voice in the wilderness, trying to do right by the little guy but he’s only one man. The outsider. Remember?

With that, he’s able to again embrace the spirit of victimhood right wing politicians and pundits so love to use in order to inflame outrage, resentment, division. The very thing that propelled him into the mayor’s office. No criticism is sound enough to be anything but self-interest. Disagreements are simply mean spiritedness. If you oppose Mayor Ford, you hate the suburbs.

It’s like wrestling water. A win no matter if it’s a loss. Failures on the mayor’s part have nothing to do with his shortcomings, lack of understanding or inability to arrive at a consensus. It’s all because of some nefarious plotting and underhanded dealings by those more plugged in to the power grid, the mainstream media, those with a hidden agenda, those with the subways. Not the little guys.

He’s endeavouring to go to that well once again by deliberately sabotaging his own performance as mayor. I didn’t fail. They didn’t let me succeed.

A plan so crazy, it just might work.

on to youly submitted Cityslikr

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