Compromised

If you’ve ever wondered why this city council moves at such a (pre-climate change) glacial pace and never seems to get much done, you need not look any further than yesterday’s meeting. Yes, there was the usual procedural wrangling in setting up the order paper. That’s just a thing. And a longer than necessary debate over whether or not to cut out early tonight for Halloween. (For the record. Why not? They’ll make up the lost time by going longer on Thursday. Their job isn’t a standard 9-5 one. Flexible working hours shouldn’t be begrudged).

No, what really ground the proceedings to the halt were two items, both of which amounted to cleaning up the mess created by the mayor’s previous intemperate and ideological outbursts.

First up was the passing of Councillor Ana Bailão’s working group report on the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Putting People First. This all came about due to Mayor Ford’s open hostility to the idea of public housing and his orchestrated attack on it during his initial swell of support in the early days of his administration. Manufacturing a crisis over some perceived excessive spending by the board, he ousted the lot and replaced them with another TCHC hater, former councillor Case Oootes.

Their plan for a massive sell-off of homes — ostensibly to help put a dent in the corporation’s massive backlog of capital repairs — met fierce resistance from a majority of council. Instead of unloading 675 single family homes that the Executive Committee had recommended back in January (Ootes had suggested 900 on his way out in June 2011), council went with just 55. Added to the 56 sold earlier, that’s but a fraction of what the mayor was hoping to accomplish and we should view with much suspicion his statement that the report “was a good start”.

But nonetheless, it was proclaimed a compromise victory for Mayor Ford, proof that he was learning to work with council and was growing into his role. Never mind that it took nearly two years to accomplish because of the extreme approach he adopted at the very beginning. It is a one-time fix, a band-aid solution to a growing problem the city’s going to have tackle again, probably sooner than later.

Of course, that process looked like the very model of nuanced governance compared to what followed.

The renewal of the city’s Ombudsman’s contract for a second 5 year term should’ve been effortless. A quick item dealt with, bing, bang, boom. Why would there be a fuss? No one had any complaints about the job Fiona Crean was doing.

Oh wait.

The mayor did.

After her office issued a report citing his office’s interference with the Civic Appointments process, he declared war. Unable to refute any of the report’s findings, he decided to kill the messenger and threw a contract renewal after her first term was up next fall into question. It was pettiness and score settling at its worst.

Now, you would think that a majority of councillors would be able to nip such vindictiveness in the bud like they had on the TCHC file. But here’s a good example of the modest powers bestowed on the mayor’s office being put to ill use. According to provincial legislation, council requires 30 votes to renew the Ombudsman’s contract and there was enough concern that 15 councillors might be craven enough to do the mayor’s bidding on this.

Thus, the 2 year extension “compromise”.

Hours after the matter should’ve been settled, 41 councillors voted in favour of the extension, almost all of them with high praise for the job Ms. Crean was doing. Nice work. There’s no reason whatsoever you shouldn’t be getting a 5 year extension but… you know… the mayor… we had to throw him a bone… you know how it is when the chief magistrate hasn’t a clue about the job he’s supposed to be doing… We’ll talk again in 2014, OK?

Compromise!

It wasn’t.

It was just another example of finding some sort of way for Mayor Ford to save face after he, yet again, stepped into it. A huge time suck spent to placate a mayor who threatened to overturn the applecart if he didn’t get his way. With over 100 items on their agenda, once more council pissed away the better part of a day mending fences the mayor had impulsively ripped up for no apparent reason other than he could.

Respect for the taxpayers indeed.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr

The Sun Stays Behind The Clouds

Acaphlegmic showed up a week or so ago and hadn’t returned back to wherever it was he had returned from, remaining cagey about where exactly that was.

He sat across from me, feet up on my desk, reading the Toronto Sun. Turning pages with a frequency that suggested he wasn’t reading much of the material, he’d occasionally let out a chuckle. A chuckle that sounded, to my ears at least, entirely insincere.

Heh, heh, heh, heh. Heh, heh, heh, heh. Heh. Heh. Heh.

“Why are you pretend laughing?”

“Would you prefer to hear me pretend cry?”

Yeah, OK. I got it. He was winding up for a Sun ablution. It was probably the only reason he came back. In fact, I was somewhat surprised it had taken him this long to get to it.

I let out the requisite sigh. There was an order to this ritual.

Followed by a longish pause but hardly Mametian in scope. A couple ..s Not …

“Why do you bother? Seriously. You can’t be surprised by anything in there.”

Acaphlegmic gave the newspaper a flick before setting it down, still open on his chest. He stared at me for a long time, long enough to think that he’d forgotten how this chat went. His eyes then turned back down to the paper. He brushed some stuff off of it into his lap.

“It’s hardly surprise I’m looking for here, my friend. Repentance. Repentance is what I want. What I demand.”

He then picked up the paper back up and began flipping wildly through it.

“I want Saul on the road to Damascus repentance from the Toronto Sun. Struck blind by the light of reason and true seeing.”

“That’s more conversion than repentance, wouldn’t you say?”

Continuing to flip back and forth between pages, clearly on the hunt for something in particular, he shook his head as if he were trying to get rid of a disagreeable image.

“You can’t convert without repenting first. There has to be an admission of past mistakes and misjudgements. That’s just basic biblical law.”

Really? I wasn’t versed enough in religious studies to know if that was true. Acaphlegmic had always claimed to be a former seminarian. That could mean anything, of course.

Finding what he was looking for, Acaphlegmic folded the paper in half and set it down in front of me. Toronto councillors quietly boost office budgets by Sue-Ann Levy. Ah, yes. Back At the Trough.

“You know of this lady’s work, I trust?”

Heh, heh, heh, heh. Heh, heh, heh, heh. Heh. Heh. Heh.

Did I know this lady’s work.

“Yeah. So what? If you’re looking for repentance, you’re barking up the wrong tree, bucko. That lady ain’t for turning.”

Acaphlegmic sat back in his chair, shaking his head. He didn’t believe what I’d said. Small movements, big refusal. Like De Niro had just before he smashed a glass into your face.

“But with so much going on, so much the city faces, how long can you hold on to such minor matters before you just burst into indignant flames of self-loathing and contempt? How does it not eat through to your inner core?”

It was a fair question to be sure. How is it possible to remain so righteously small-minded for so long? Don’t you ever itch for a shot at the bigs, tackling weighty issues and getting truly involved with matters of real import to the city’s future?

Instead of the bleat, bleat, bleat, a hundred thousand here, a hundred thousand there, porkers, gravy, shameful and a fusillade of alliterative name-calling to bring it all home.

That’s a whole lot easier, I guess. Demeaning and giving the raspberry rather than contributing to a robust dialogue about the direction the city has to go, the measures that need to be taken in order to build a place we all want to continue to live in.

Get your hands out of my pocket, you porkers. Find some other trough to feed at.

I held my hands up, shrugged just a little.

“It’s the mayor’s bread and butter. Speaks directly to the base. They want to seethe not solve.”

Acaphlegmic seemed unconvinced. He was doing his De Niro head shake thing again. I found it surprising and somewhat endearing that he still could summon that much belief in people. In some people. In Sun people.

“No one wants to be ignorant, said the Lord.” (Did He?) “Some may want to remain in the darkness but no one wants to remain in the dark.” (Said the Lord?) “No one would willingly, wilfully embrace the surely self-defeating premise of self-delusion. You just need to give them a reason to say `yes’, my friend. That is your job. That is your quest. To dream that impossible dream.” (Said Miguel De Cervantes via Joe Darian and Mitch Leigh?)

With that, Acaphlegmic swiped the Sun from the desk and onto the floor. He stood up, thrust his hands into his pockets and looked at the door. I leaned back over the desk toward him.

“Some people just…” I began but wasn’t sure how to finish. Some people what? Do they really believe that you can fix the kind of problems Toronto faces right now by reeling in hundreds of thousands of dollars in councillor office expenses, the tiniest of tiny fractions of annual costs? By keeping our taxes low and throttling our revenue stream when the solutions being put forward need to be counted in the billions of dollars?

Acaphlegmic looked back at me.

“Some people just what?”

I leaned back, shrugged.

“Just need to be convinced otherwise, I guess.”

“You’ve got truth and facts on your side, right. So it should be easy.”

He headed toward the door. I asked if he was gone for awhile again. He stopped with his hand on the door knob. Took a moment to decide.

“Depends.”

“On?”

“How long it takes to find me some jerk chicken. Maybe fried plantains…”

With a finger swipe of his nose, he was gone.

It really shouldn’t take him long at all, since there was a place not far up the street with the menu he was looking for. But as always, you could never be certain how literal Acaphlegmic might be playing it. For him, sometimes jerk chicken wasn’t just jerk chicken.

But there was something you could always count on from Acaphlegmic. Leaving you thinking about something that had nothing to do whatsoever with the story at hand.

spicily submitted by Cityslikr

Every Four Years Whether You Need It Or Not

What is it with conservatives these days and their loathing of democracy? I know theirs is an uneasy history with the concept but they seemed to have come to terms with it through the last half of the 20th-century or so. But recently…

Republicans in the United States are intent on suppressing the vote in order to try and steal a state or two and secure their nominee the White House. Our Conservatives prorogued themselves out of a couple of minority jams, unable as they were to cope with the parliamentary insistence that you have a majority of the seats before attempting an unimpeded run of the table. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in Ontario (conservative in all but their red ties) liked what they saw in that manoeuvre and shut down Queen’s Park in order to conduct a leadership convention, free from the unruliness of two opposition parties that actually hold down a majority in our provincial parliament.

And here in Toronto, Team Ford has gone to war with some of the city’s Accountability Officers who have had the temerity to question the mayor and his brother’s actions. Apparently there can be too much oversight from watchdogs like the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner even for an administration that pledged more openness and transparency than any previous administration in history. Of the world. Ever.

What conservatives seem to believe is that, once elected, they are free to do whatever it is they see fit to do until the next election. That’s what they refer to as a ‘mandate’. If you don’t like what they’ve done, then vote them off the island the next opportunity you get. Until that time, sit down and shut up.

Democracy in four year installments. Citizen engagement and accountability to the taxpayers begins and ends with casting a ballot. Any questioning of motives or actions is nothing more than cheap partisan politics, driven only by a refusal to accept the previous election results. Whining not winning.

Thus rigorously supervised, what’s the need for all these political babysitters? A part time democracy only needs part time overseers surely.  “In Mississauga they have one person,” Mayor Ford claimed last week,” a lawyer on retainer, who does all their jobs.” What’s that they say? As goes Mississauga, so goes Toronto. (Although, unsurprisingly, the mayor might not have had all his ducks in a row on that. “[Deputy Mayor] Holyday said Ford may have misconstrued information that he gave him, about a lawyer on retainer as Mississauga’s integrity commissioner. The lawyer has no ombudsman or lobbyist registrar duties.”)

You know what happens when we have too much oversight? Bounds are overstepped. Our elected officials start having their non-public lives over-scrutinized. Like when they host their own Sunday radio talk show.

But the Fords did what talk show hosts usually do: they mouthed off, they were derisive, they personalized their attack. Should a public servant be empowered to condemn elected officials for the manner in which they exercise their free speech?

Errrrrrrr, what the fuck, Globe and Mail?!

What we really should be concerned about is a couple politicians having unfettered media access to foist their highly slanted views on the public, unchecked and uncontested.  “Hi, I’m Rob Ford, that traffic report would have been a lot better without streetcars.” That you let pass and choose instead to lambast the city’s Integrity Commissioner impinging on the free speech of our mayor and his councillor brother to play AM shock jocks?

The thing is, Globe and Mail, the Fords aren’t just talk show hosts although their administration is largely conducted as if they were.  Just because it’s Sunday doesn’t mean their listeners think of them as Humble and Fred and not the mayor of Toronto as his right-hand man. When they — how’d you put it again? — “…ridiculed [Medical Officer of Health] Dr. McKeown’s nearly $300,000 salary as ‘an embarrassment’…” and asked “Why does he still have a job?”, they did so as mayor and councillor not just talk show hosts. To suggest that the Integrity Commissioner had no place to write them up for such ‘a shameful performance’ is astoundingly narrow-minded about the office’s role in the functioning of an open and transparent government.

Still, it isn’t necessary to have an integrity commissioner say as much. It is best left to voters to determine whether the Mayor is exercising his free speech responsibly. Members of council may rebuke the mayor if they wish. And he’s accountable to voters once every four years for his behaviour.

Oh, I’m sorry. You also have an astoundingly narrow-minded opinion of how democracy should work too.  I guess I expected a slightly higher standard from the editors of the Globe and Mail.

confoundedly submitted by Cityslikr