The Unravelling

August 30, 2013

Let’s not think of Mayor Ford’s “things are unravelling as they should” assessment of the Scarborough subway plans as some sort of goofy, normcrosbyNorm Crosby malapropism. A funny little slip of the tongue. Utterly meaningless except for the mocking opportunities it presents.

Obviously, he didn’t really mean to say that.

Or did he?

What if that statement was just as frank an admission as the previous day when the mayor admitted to smoking a lot of pot? How are the plans for building the Scarborough subway coming along, Mr. Mayor? Unravelling, as they should.

This would come as a surprise to almost no one except maybe anyone who really believed that anybody actually intended to build the subway, either as an extension of the Bloor-Danforth line or the mayor’s earlier Sheppard subway pipe dream. Unravelling? Of course. None of this was ever supposed to ravel in the first place.

Signs of the unravelling began almost as soon as city council voted to convert the former Transit City LRT plans for the B-D extension to a subway instead. catsoutofthebagFull of provisos and contingencies that had to be met before proceeding in earnest, the council vote had a built-in self-destruct mechanism, beginning with the demand for $1.8 billion from the province which, in fact, was nearly an additional half a billion dollars above what had already been agreed to.

(That math? The $1.8 billion already marked for the Scarborough LRT, some $400 million for the Kennedy station redesign that was going to happen with either an LRT or subway. Council wanted that $400 million plus another $400 million.)

The day after the vote, the provincial transportation minister, Glen Murray called a press conference for a big announcement, complete with Subway Champion and Liberal candidate for the Scarborough-Guildwood August 1st by-election, Mitzi Hunter. Hey everybody! Guess what! hediditThe province is giving $1.4 billion for the subway extension! Hoo-rah!!

But even Mayor Ford stated up front the subway dream would be dead if the province didn’t come up with the fuller $1.8 billion. Cue the finger-pointing and blame gaming as the clock started to run down before council had to make another final decision. This time we mean it, man.

Then yesterday, Minister Murray dialed up the damping down of subway expectations, suggesting that the federal money needed to build the subway probably wasn’t in the cards. He plans on meeting the federal transportation minister, Lisa Raitt, this week [update: a meeting now cancelled by Raitt, according to Murray.] but didn’t seem to be holding out much hope. “When you put a 416 area code in front of a transit project, the cheques disappear.”

Oh dear.

For his part, Mayor Ford was planning to talk with the prime minister last night at a fundraising BBQ. As of this morning, no news on how that all worked out. pretendingPerhaps everybody’s looking to bury the good news later this afternoon, ahead of the long weekend. As politicians are want to do.

So it unravels slowly toward the September 30th deadline council set to have all the funding questions answered. If the money’s not in place? We’ll just revert back to the original LRT plans, again. No harm, no foul. Everybody concerned can hold their heads high and tell the public that they tried to build them their Scarborough subway but somebody else failed them.

Local politicians can point at the province and say they didn’t step up to the plate. The province can return fire, claiming it paid what it promised which is still the lion’s share of the price tag and, besides, if the city wants a subway so bad, maybe it needs to think a little harder about generating more of the revenue. youdontsayAnd what about the feds? Why aren’t they at the table, putting some skin in the game? Unsurprisingly, Ottawa will continue to look the other way. I’m sorry, what? Were you talking to me?

So I think Mayor Ford made no mistake when he spoke to the issue. Things are most definitely unravelling as they should.

unsurprisingly submitted by Cityslikr


Are You Rob Ford?

August 29, 2013

“You know who the social elites are in this city. You know who runs this city. We’ve stopped them. We’ve taken their hands out of the gravy train. Rob doesn’t give them the time of day…”

— Councillor Doug Ford, to Jackson Proskow on Global News, May 25, 2013.

 

“Folks. I am very proud to stand before you today and say that I did exactly what you elected me to do.”

— Mayor Rob Ford, in a speech to the private, male-only Cambridge Club, August 28, 2013.

elitist

Maybe the Fords and I have different opinions about who constitute the ‘social elites’ in this city. But while the mayor wasn’t given some downtown social elites the time of day yesterday at lunch, his brother was up in the northern reaches of Etobicoke, representing the city at a community event in the Dixon Road apartment complex that was in the news recently for the Project Traveller police raids back in June.

“Are you Rob Ford?” some children at the event asked Councillor Ford.

Out of the mouth of babes, huh?

mistakenidentityI know that the mayor can’t be everywhere, and I also realize that this particular event might be a little awkward for him, given its location and his alleged after hours activities in the neighbourhood but I do think this whole man of the folks’ act has grown awfully thin. This elite versus blue collar, hard working taxpayer wedge they use to bolster their everyman cred is as fabricated as the mayor’s claim to have saved the city a billion dollars.

“This has been our area for 20 years,” Councillor Ford said. “My dad was here working with the Dixon Road community, my brother has and I am.”

Leaving aside the implications of that statement amidst all the recent allegations made about the family, it’s a pretty bold assertion, the councillor makes. There’s a certain lord of the manor attitude in it. “Our area” as opposed to we’ve lived and worked here for 20 years?

There’s no kind of kinship in that point of view. It’s more ownership. Our area versus our community. Proprietary not shared.

arentyouthatguy

Let’s not put too much stock in the misidentification of the councillor for his mayor-brother by what were children according to the article. No one would expect them to all up on current affairs, right down to being able to know the mayor when they see him. But there is a certain, I don’t know, phantom element to the mix up.

The kids have heard of Rob Ford. Obviously there was some expectation that he might be in attendance at the event. There’s a definite phenotype overlap between the mayor and his councillor-brother. Doug Ford certainly acts like the mayor at times. Even for those of us who follow along closely, that mistake has been made.

Still.

“Are you Rob Ford?”

haughty

We’ve heard about you. We hear you’re looking out for us. This has been your area for 20 years now. Are you sure you aren’t Rob Ford?

No, kids. Mayor Ford couldn’t be here because he’s giving a speech to some of the social elite downtown this afternoon.

unsurely submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Judge Me, Monkey

August 28, 2013

Please, please, please, please, please can we stop with the gotcha Have You Ever Smoked Pot question to our elected officials? Unless they’re caught driving (very slowly) backwards the wrong way down a one-way street, trying to flee the Wendy’s drive-through window without paying, the question is not germane. We don’t care, it seems, about something a majority of the public views as a personal choice, made quietly by adults, pretty much akin in acceptance to drinking. Illegal, for sure, but hardly a hangin’ offence these days.

facepalm

So when a press shy mayor with much, much bigger questions hanging over his administration actually stops to interact with the City Hall press corps, Have You Ever Smoked Pot is not the first thing he should be asked. It simply misdirects focus from where it should be. His job performance. That benefits no one except the mayor himself.

It’s an easy story. Do better, members of the press. For the city’s sake.

high (dudgeonly) submitted by Cityslikr


Our Real Democratic Deficit

August 27, 2013

To argue yesterday’s city council vote was some sort of subversion or denial of democracy is ohpleasesimply a frank admission that you haven’t really thought much about the issue past headlines and rhetoric. An appointment decided by city council is as valid a process as a by-election, according to the rules. Appointments have happened seven times previously versus two by-elections. Timing is the key, and since no firm rules are in place about that, this remains a grey area.

Initially, protocol and precedent suggested for me that a by-election to fill Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre, vacated by Doug Holyday in his winning bid for a provincial seat, was the way to go. As the staff presentation pointed out, traditionally if a ward was declared vacant before November 30th a year before the next general municipal election, a by-election was called. After that date, an appointment was made in order to avoid having two elections so close to one another.

Ward 3 was declared vacant yesterday, August 26th. So, a by-election it should be. questionsThat was my opinion going into the council meeting.

But it was Councillor Chin Lee who threw a little wrinkle into the proceedings. During his questions to the staff, he pointed out that the city hasn’t faced this situation since moving to a four year term. All the protocol and precedent was based on three years terms. A one year appointment was 33% of the total term. One third of council and committee meetings.

Now? A one year appointment is 25% of the term. If a by-election had been voted on, the new councillor would’ve been present for 8 council meetings. That’s about 16% of the 2010-2014 term council meetings (including the additional special meetings called).

Things aren’t so clear cut, are they?unsure

Still, I would’ve been happy to see a by-election called with the promise to re-visit this matter again in order to recalibrate the parameters for a four year council term. But I’ll leave it to the likes of Councillor Lee to explain the outcome of the vote to any outraged voters. I’m just going to revel in witnessing the appointment process, especially since the likes of former mayoral candidate John Nunziata and former Harris cabinet minister and Doug Ford Sr. bester, Chris Stockwell already expressing interest in the position.

For his part, Mayor Ford did little to help the by-election cause at yesterday’s meeting. He’d been stumping for one almost as soon as it became obvious that an Etobicoke ward was going to be open come August 1st  with two members of Toronto council vying for one provincial seat. It’s really the only thing he’s talked about over the summer.

But he wasn’t prepared to defend his preference beyond anything other than his standard slogans – You Can’t Put A Price On Democracy! – and stunt populism. The people of ward 3 want a by-election. He was simply doing their bidding, he told council over and over. democracydeniedNor would he step back from a hands-on involvement in the by-election if one was called, fueling speculation that this was simply about him getting his election chops in fighting shape for 2014.

Unsurprisingly, the mayor displayed a complete lack of sway in the outcome of the vote.

The easy explanation is that he didn’t really care how the vote went. A vote for a by-election would be trumpeted as a victory for him democracy no, for him democracy. A loss, and council appointing a councillor for ward 3? Just a cudgel he could use during his official re-election campaign next year to beat the drum about the dysfunctional council undermining him and the democratic will of the people. bullhornVote Ford and more Ford friendly councillors so the mayor can really get the job done!

At no time yesterday did you get the sense the mayor’s staff was working the room for votes. There appeared to be no behind the scenes arm-twisting or horse-trading. As I noted last week, aside from a couple official appearances and the community meeting he called about this issue, Mayor Ford was largely absent, certainly not stalking the corridors of City Hall in an attempt to win the vote at special meeting he himself called to deal with this matter.

Maybe that’s also because Mayor Ford has simply lost any ability whatsoever to influence council. He’s become a lame duck, in other words, with more than a year still to go in his first term. He bellows. The majority of councillors (comprising every point on the political spectrum, left-right, suburban-downtown) just shrug. There is no need to fear or even listen to him anymore.

shrugThink about that for a second.

A mayor calls a special meeting of city council to deal with a key item he seems to hold especially dear and doesn’t come close to winning the vote?

He either doesn’t care or is singularly inept at doing his job.

That’s really the take-away from council’s decision to appoint a successor to Doug Holyday in ward 3 rather than hold a by-election. “The worst thing for democracy”? How about a complete abandonment of leadership by the city’s elected leader.

alternatively submitted by Cityslikr


HeartsnMindsTO — Episode 4

August 26, 2013

The urban-suburban divide from a suburban perspective. Idil Burale talks to Paisley Rae at HeartsnMindsTO, and suggests we try listening to each other rather than making uninformed assumptions. Stereotypes are just a failure of imagination.

guiltily submitted by Cityslikr


Bridge The Gap

August 23, 2013

Sixteen years into amalgamation, Toronto is still struggling with a strong sense of unified place. siblingrivalrySix separate entities officially smushed into one but remaining defiantly, petulantly, antagonistically individual. That urban-suburban divide. The downtown gets everything. [Fill in your former municipality surrounding it here] gets nothing.

Don’t even think about introducing the 905 into that warring equation. An entirely different beast altogether. Their own local governments, transit systems, civic culture. Distant relatives in an already estranged family.

Yet you can take a 15 minute jaunt along Bloor Street West west west (although not a particularly pleasant one, what with the 4 lanes of speeding traffic shooting by you), siblingrivalry3from the Markland Wood shopping plaza in Etobicoke, past some apartment towers of mid-teen stories in height at most, past a park with a baseball diamond, more apartments, past the parking lot and clubhouse of the Markland Wood Golf Club, its fairways rolling westward to Etobicoke Creek, where you cross a bridge to find yourself in Mississauga. The blue sign on the roadside says as much. From the 416 to the 905 in a few hundred steps.

Not so distant after all.

In fact, continuing on a few blocks, this slight slice of Mississauga doesn’t feel that far flung at all. The strip of apartments continue, a little older, shabbier around the edges. By the time you reach Fieldgate Plaza, east of Dixie Road, there’s a diversity of residents going about their business that equals many places you’ll find throughout the city of Toronto. siblingrivalry2Certainly this ward 3 of Mississauga feels much more urban than the leafy neighbourhoods a few traffic lights back to the east in Etobicoke’s ward 3.

Funny thing, the Fieldgate Plaza and surrounding area has more than a passing resemblance to the downtown Toronto high rise, traffic filled, green space deficient existence of a certain Li’l Ginnie deplored by Doug Holyday earlier this year when he was at council, representing Etobicoke Centre.

In his own backyard, just beyond past the ol’ creek there, life was being conducted in a manner completely foreign to our former Deputy Mayor. Where folks didn’t need their leaves hoovered and windrows cleared. Within an easy evening stroll.

Having yet to move past our own myopic parochialism in Toronto, it seems a waste of time to call for a wider, more regional cohesion but we cannot continue battling one another, treating every other surrounding municipality as some competing interest and a threatening, mysterious entity, looking to steal our jobs and children. siblingrivalry1Our civic and political differences have been used by politicians at every level to undermine our best interests. Suburban voters pandered to by vilifying urbanites. Suburbanites viewed as an occupying force, laying siege to the core of the city with their cars and loud leaf blowers.

And the result? Every municipality within the GTHA is left to fend for itself, begging and scratching for the crumbs tossed our way by upper levels of government that seem only interested in the region when it comes to collecting votes. The feds shrug off cities as a provincial matter. Queen’s Park is forever looking over its shoulder not wanting to be seen as too Toronto-centric.

siblingrivalry4This calculated indifference can only happen when we stand around, pointing our fingers at one another and speaking out with separate voices. In a region as interconnected as this, no one city should hope to prosper at the expense of others. That would be counterproductive to the whole. As hoary a cliché as it may be, the GTHA’s commonalities are much more prevalent than the differences. One place is simply not just this while another is just that.

If you think that’s little more than hyperbolic boosterism, try taking a stroll sometime across what are nothing more than boundaries on a map.

brotherly submitted by Cityslikr


True Believers

August 22, 2013

Sitting in the auditorium of Silverthorn Collegiate in Etobicoke last night, taking in Mayor Rob Ford’s community meeting called to discuss the Ward 3 vacancy created by long time councillor Doug Holyday’s election as MPP earlier this month, I caught a glimpse of the mayor’s fabled populist appeal. It was ever so fleeting but had long eluded me. This is what people, the folks, see in him!

He was explaining the process that had to be adhered to by council and city staff in filling a vacancy mid-term. It’s not overly complicated but it is an either/or scenario involving many if this-es, then that-es. Details, more or less, outlining the different procedures to be followed if choosing between a city council appointment of a new Ward 3 councillor or a by-election for the voters to select one.

It’s territory the mayor isn’t overly interested in, the small picture stuff. Nevertheless, he’d called the meeting so he soldiered through the small print, explaining how both situations would work. boringHe mumbled, hummed and hawed, checked his notes frequently, circled back to repeat something he’d already covered. The whole thing was as torturous for him, evidently, as it was for the audience to sit through.

But here’s the thing. He didn’t try and pretend it was anything other than that. A boring bunch of bureaucratic business he had to go through to set the stage for the rest of the meeting. This was no smooth operator with any glib condescension to the audience. The mayor made no attempt to hide the fact that he didn’t understand things any better than most of the audience.

My a-ha! moment.

The mayor’s just like us.aha

He has a complete and utter lack of guile. How else to explain that one minute he assured everybody that he was going to be neutral at the meeting about hearing everyone’s opinion and 7 minutes later state that “You can’t put a price on democracy” in responding to concerns over the cost of a by-election? “I am trying to be as unbiased as I can be here, folks but…”, hey, that’s just not the mayor’s style.

And the thing is, I think he actually believed it. Just like he actually believed that if the room came out in favour of appointing someone to replace Doug Holyday, he’d go to City Hall on Monday and vote for an appointment. He’s not there to represent his views, he assured the crowd. He’s there to represent their views, the taxpayers’ views.

Never mind that by the meeting’s end he’d somehow come to the conclusion that 70% of the people in Ward 3 wanted a by-election by judging the applause, I guess. allaboutyouEven before counting the pink straw ballots that had been handed out for the audience to mark down their preference, he had already concluded that a by-election was the way to go. But I think he truly believed it was the audience’s decision that sealed the deal for him.

There was no question in my mind as well that a majority of those in attendance at the meeting wanted a by-election. 70%? I’d actually want to count hands at least before offering up any firm number. But certainly more than half of the 100 people or so who came out last night were vocal in stating that preference. Give the mayor his number, 70 people in a ward of over 50,000 people wanted a by-election as the means of getting a new councillor. So, a by-election the mayor will vote for next week.

He will do so, not because that’s his opinion, but the opinion of the people of ward 3.

I don’t think there’ll be one moment during Monday’s debate on the issue that the mayor will think otherwise. He wants a by-election because the people of ward 3 in Etobicoke want a by-election. innocentBecause you can’t put a price on democracy. Because if a new councillor is chosen by council appointment, somebody from Scarborough, of all places, (there was a surprising anti-Scarborough sentiment running through the discussion last night), might be picked to represent ward 3 Etobians. Democracy denied.

None of the push for a by-election on Mayor Ford’s part has anything to do with ensuring his administration gets another rock solid loyalist in the mold of Doug Holyday. Having lost enough allies to already seriously undermine his ability to steer the agenda, he can’t afford to allow any further erosion. One more undependable vote at council won’t help his cause going into an election year.

His preference for a by-election has absolutely nothing to do with his love of campaigning. That’s not what this is about at all. hiddenagendaIt’s about representing the wishes of the people of Etobicoke down at City Hall. It’s not about the mayor’s political survival. It’s about democracy.

I’m convinced Mayor Ford really and truly believes that. It’s what makes him come across as genuine, as a straight shooter, down to earth and not just some slick professional politician. Only cynics would see him as calculating, delusional even.

Those still supporting the mayor support him because they still believe he’s looking out for their best interests. They believe it because the mayor still believes it.

That’ll be a real tough nut to crack.

penny-droppingly submitted by Cityslikr