The Unbearable Lightweightedness of Glenn De Baeremaeker

December 30, 2014

Not to step on any Torontoist toes with our own year-end summary of local villainy but I cannot let 2014 go without commenting on what may be the pure essence of terrible, terrible governance. The very reason we cannot have nice things. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, Ward 38 Scarborough Centre.

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Now, I realize that may be something of outrageous claim in an environment where the likes of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has been elevated to a position of second in command at City Hall. Where Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti still roams free to be Giorgio. Where Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt actually downgraded from Mike Del Grande to Jim Karygiannis. Where a Councillor Ron Moeser is still a thing.

For me though, we have a handle on all of them. They represent the worst aspect of do-nothing, maintain the status quo municipal representation that is something of a legacy in these parts. Keep taxes low, roads clean and clear and let’s all pretend it’s the happy days of the 1950s. We get it.

Glenn De Baeremaeker, on the other hand, maintains the fresh-faced appearance of someone who just wants to help make everybody’s life better. From animals of all shapes and sizes to people of all ages and colours, he comes across as an impossibly more squeaky clean, naïve version of Howdy Doody. Wide-eyed. Congenial. All cowboy hale and hearty. Hey boys and girls! Who wants a subway?! We all want a subway!!

howdydoody

But by now we should know that Glenn De Baeremaeker is about nothing more than Glenn De Baeremaeker. He’s in it for himself first and foremost. Everything else is, well, collateral damage.

His latest assault on the proper functioning of City Hall came last week when he publicly mused about wanting another stop in his already unnecessary and entirely self-serving Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. What’s the sense of having a new subway that many people can’t directly access, he wondered out loud, repeating a line of questioning most LRT proponents posed back during our last great transit debate. Or was it the second last? I honestly can’t remember.

twofaced

Back then, you might recall, Councillor De Baeremaeker brushed aside the argument about building the best option for rapid transit in Scarborough for the most amount of people which clearly was the 7 stop LRT plan that the very same councillor fought for just 18 months earlier. No, no, no, he moaned. An LRT was 2nd-class transit being foisted on Scarborough by greedy downtowners luxuriating in their 1st-class subway rides. Ridership numbers could be massaged. Questionable route alignments justified. The point was, Scarborough deserved more subways. Deserved. Anything less would be a civic slap in the face.

It is at this point in the conversation when we pause and ask you to take two minutes and six seconds (via Himy Syed) to watch De Baeremaeker earnestly defend the choice of LRT for Scarborough transit users. Just to fully grasp how craven and bold-faced his pivot has been. How utterly despicable and unprincipled.

Of course, the councillor could not have performed such a feat of purely political machination solo. A Scarborough subway was also intended as the springboard to the mayor’s office for then TTC chair Karen Stintz. The provincial Liberals used the debate to shore up their eastern Toronto flank with a slew of pro-subway Scarborough MPPs and subway champion candidates heading into last spring’s general election.

The manoeuvre turned out particularly well for the governing Liberals. Not only were they returned to power with a healthy majority but they got the city to pitch in with money for capital spending on not one but two transit projects, the Scarborough subway and the new mayor’s campaign pet project, SmartTrack. What did the Liberal government give back in return? Absolutely nothing.

mrburns

Councillor De Baeremaeker too was returned to office, easily re-elected to a 4th term, in a race nobody except the councillor and the Ford brothers thought he might lose. This mutual assured delusion served as the basis of De Baeremaeker’s cynical transformation from ardent LRT supporter to avid subway fanboy. He blanched in the face of their threatening bluster back when they were pushing for another Scarborough subway, this along Sheppard Avenue, took their robocalls to his residents seriously and instead of standing up for the right thing, he folded up his cards for the wrong reasons. His personal political self-interest.

Now, he wants more. Another station for his subway. Another $150-200 million dollars of capital costs, further increasing the city’s long term debt levels and jeopardizing the viability of other big ticket items like housing, say, or other transit projects in other areas of the city that are truly under-served by rapid transit. It’s as parochially pork planning as you can get, the very definition of it in fact. The councillor has nakedly utilised the politics of divisiveness, pitting one section of the city against another, ignoring the exigencies of built form while emphasizing unwarranted grievances, for no other reason than his own continued existence as a councillor.

cowardlylion

It’s one thing to boldly revel in your disregard for your job as city councillor, to ignore the job of serving the most people to the best of your ability. Take a bow Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong and Councillor Mammoliti. It just seems that much worse to mask your indifference to the concept with a contemptuous gesture of community building that is only really about a community of one, yourself.

How else to explain Councillor Glenn De Baeremaker’s 180-degree change of heart in just a matter of months, from LRT lover to subway demander with nothing more than a blink of political calculation? A builder of regional resentment instead of sound transit plans. For the sake of another 4 years in office, the councillor’s helped put a chokehold on the city’s capital expenditure budget for decades to come. A master stroke of self-interested posturing, an abject display of elected representation. Well done, Councillor De Baeremaeker. You are truly the worst.

— year endingly submitted by Cityslikr


Picking Sides

December 22, 2014

It’s difficult for me to determine which of this is the most dispiritingly fucked up. The number of civilians killed by law enforcement officers in the United States since… well, pick a number, any number. Incredibly, these kind of statistics aren’t routinely kept. The execution style shooting of two New York police officers over the weekend. Or the statement issued in response to the shooting, allegedly by the inaptly named Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, one of the NYPD’s unions:

“The mayor’s hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words, actions and policies, and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”

It is the latest twist in the uneasy saga between New York mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s police force, going back to the election campaign when he talked of reform. The police have viewed his not critical enough opinion of the protests which emerged in the city after yet another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, was killed at the hands of the police and yet another grand jury refused to pursue prosecution.

Not to diminish anyone’s deaths here, not the slain police officers, not the hundreds of civilians killed annually by police and law enforcement officers but the above statement has to be as close to treasonous as you can get if that’s possible in a non-military situation. Officers sworn to uphold the rule of law declaring war, essentially, on those who have granted them that right. ‘We will act accordingly’ uttered threateningly in the direction of an elected leader.

How can that not be the most shocking element in this already shocking story?

The fact that no solid record or numbers have been kept in terms of civilian deaths at the hands of police forces is shocking.

The blind eye we as a society turn to excessive force and brutality from our police officers is shocking.

The ease with which a convicted criminal with acknowledged mental health problems could access a firearm is shocking.

But little undercuts a democracy more than the idea of armed insurrection by those expected to serve and protect.

Am I missing something in those ‘wartime’ words?

I ask this from my privileged perch where my last interaction with the police was getting the speed reduced on a ticket I received in order to avoid losing points. I am not unaware that large segments of our society already see the police in a much less benign way than I do. People of colour. Those with mental health issues. The poor, the indigent, the outsiders.

Police baring their teeth at them is nothing new.

But we, those of us on the safe side, collectively shrug. It’s a dirty job, right? Where angels fear to tread…

Increasingly however, the net of undesirables has seemingly widened. Somehow expressing understanding of mostly peaceful protests against the death of another unarmed black man has made the mayor of New York complicit in cop killings. You’re either with the police or you’re with the police killers. Levelling any sort of criticism of the men and women in blue is now akin to levelling a gun at their temple.

Toronto’s police union president got into the frenzy, penning an editorial in the Toronto Sun, pointing his finger at ‘anti-police rhetoric’ as destabilizing. Carried to the extreme – “police officers are the enemy”, McCormack puts in quotes, although I’m unsure exactly who he is quoting – can only lead to the tragedy we witnessed in Brooklyn on Saturday. Police actions have no consequences. Criticisms of those actions, which amount to anti-police rhetoric, do.

The murder of police officers is indeed a tragedy. But so is the murder of every person who dies at the hands of our police. To say those deaths are beyond questioning, or the anger that arises when those deaths are not properly investigated and prosecuted is somehow anti-police, threatens, if not democracy, maybe that’s too broad a stroke, it undermines the quality of justice.

Some lives are more valuable than others. Everyone is not equal in the eyes of our law. That kind of eats at the heart of our democracy.

This isn’t about us-versus-them. It’s about order-versus-justice. Some of us think out of the former will come the latter. Right now, I’m seeing very little evidence of that. Instead what we’re witness to is that without justice, there is no real order.

— unYuletidely submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club II

December 19, 2014

thetinyperfectmayor

While I am of that vintage I did not grow up in Toronto during the halcyon days of the David Crombie rein. I came to the city late in his political career, as an MP in the Mulroney administration. For the past 25 years or so, it’s been one honorary position after another, in a steady trajectory toward canonization. St. David, the urban legend.

There are some dissenters or, at least, there were, back in the day, people who probably haven’t taken a crack at editing Crombie’s Wikipedia page. The Tiny Perfect Mayor was a book written by journalist Jon Caulfield in 1974, 18 months into Crombie’s first term in office, and it views the tiny mayor’s contributions to the city in less than perfect light.1972mayoralslate

The book’s subtitle, David Crombie and Toronto’s reform aldermen, points to the author’s actual intent. Crombie is only part of the equation. Caulfield really sets out to examine the rise and ultimate failure to launch of a more widespread, community based reform movement at City Hall.

To be sure, Caulfield holds Crombie partially responsible, asserting from the outset that Crombie was a reform candidate only in his own mind and that of the local media. Members of the real reform group who first were elected to City Hall in 1969, the likes of John Sewell and Karl Jaffary, never regarded David Crombie as one of them. 11wardtorontoHe was young and stood outside of the old guard establishment represented by the two men he defeated in the 1972 mayoral race, Aldermen Anthony O’Donohue and David Rotenberg. But that didn’t necessarily make him reform-minded to many.

Caulfield asserts that Crombie was too beholden to the Progressive Conservative party that had long been in power at Queen’s Park to stick his neck out to much in defense of the city when the two levels of government butted heads. He was also too quiet in his dealings with the Metro Council chair and fellow PCer, Paul Godfrey who makes a villainous cameo in the book. Although a self-proclaimed seeker of consensus, Caulfield maintains that Crombie actually concentrated power in the mayor’s office, making behind closed doors deals on various development projects and announcing the results as the best the city could expect.

davidcrombie(In an early iteration of Matt Elliott’s Council Scorecard, Caulfield tabulates the voting records on a number of key issues during the 1973/74 time span which shows Mayor Crombie voting much more consistently with the old guard of city council than he did with the reformers.)

Rather than reform anything, David Crombie was more interested in refining things, smoothing out rough edges, ensuring in his inaugural address that ‘the haves don’t have less and the have-nots have more’. This, in Caulfield’s opinion, resulted in a mayoralty of half-measures and rearranging of the furniture. Actual reform was too divisive for David Crombie’s constitution.

If the author is dismissive of the idea of David Crombie as a reformer, he’s much more disappointed with the performance of the actual reform candidates. johnsewellIn the end, as we know 40 years down the line, a mayor of Toronto is only one vote at council, and back in Crombie’s time possessed even less executive powers than the mayor has now. Although the reformers were a minority bloc at council, too often they failed to act together on items they could’ve amassed enough votes to win.

Caulfield contends that the reform schism existed largely along socio-economic lines. There were the working class reformers, the Dan Heaps for example, and there were the middle-class activists, represented by the likes of Colin Vaughan who’d been part of the group that had successfully fought off the Spadina Expressway. Their interests didn’t always mesh – rooming house regulations in the Annex, for example – and a suspicion of respective motives factored into various failed attempts at community organization.

I guess the irony in all this is that the consensus-seeking mayor achieved the perception of consensus at City Hall by exploiting the lack of consensus within the reform group of aldermen.crombieshorty

If the reformers elected in 1972 never coalesced into a regular majority at city council, Caulfield sees an even bigger failure in their inability to maintain the kind of grassroots activism that put them in power. It wasn’t all due to a lack of trying. Although some of the aldermen weren’t ever really onboard with the idea of empowering resident controlled ‘ward councils’, established activist organizations kind of melted away after their various ‘victories’. The Spadina Expressway! Reformers at City Hall! What more was there left for them to do?

Turns out, even back in 1974, there’s more to civic engagement than fighting for a single issue or getting involved during an election campaign. (Sound familiar?) The reform movement floundered, according to Caulfield, because it had no stated set of principles for a movement to rally around. “It remains unclear who they [the reformers] are, what they stand for and what sort of city Toronto would be if they had their way,” Caulfield writes in the conclusion of his book.newguardoldguard

Is this simply the nature of progressive activism, a loose coalition of occasionally over-lapping interests that only rarely build into large scale social change or have we just failed to learn any lessons 40 years on? As Caulfield points out, fundamental change at the municipal level is an even tougher haul since cities don’t ultimately control either the legislative powers or the purse strings to enact sweeping transformation even if they wanted. They remain at the whim and mercy of other levels of government. So does that mean the goals of local activism should remain modest and kept to an ad hoc, case-by-case basis?

I’d hazard a guess Jon Caulfield would say no. Purely issues-oriented activism is easily picked off by the political opportunists, as Caulfield views the likes of David Crombie. Reform, such as that is, becomes little more than, to paraphrase the author, compromising what it wants and taking what it can get.

Obviously, it’s a situation that remains relevant today. crombietoryWhile Toronto in no way just elected a reform-minded mayor in John Tory, he comes to office on a self-described wave many of us question. We’re told he’s progressive. He says progressive things, promotes progressive ideas but…doubt remains.

John Tory came David Crombie endorsed. That provided comfort to some. But a read through The Tiny Perfect Mayor would suggest that for those intent on reforming how Toronto goes about its business, it’s not time to put your guard down. If anything, a tougher battle lies ahead.

reviewingly submitted by Cityslikr


Free To Be Mammoliti

December 12, 2014

So maybe we all should stop the tsk, tsk, tsking of disapproval toward Ward 7 York West residents and grant them a well-earned cynicism in regard to a certain long serving city councillor of theirs, one Giorgio Mammoliti.tsktsktsk

Pleading guilty to 4 charges of campaign overspending and ‘filing false paperwork’ during the 2010 election, the councillor was subject to a fine of $17, 500 which includes paying back the $10-12,000 he ‘inadvertently’ overspent. But don’t feel too badly for Mr. Mammoliti. He’s still got the $80,000 he pocketed from an illegal fundraiser last year minus 3 months salary the Integrity Commissioner dinged him for as a result of that illegal fundraiser minus the legal fees he’s racked up taking the city to court to fight that ruling plus $20,000 the city council just yesterday agreed to contribute to those legal fees.

“We all have different strengths,” Denis Lee, Justice of the Peace said during his ruling. “Unfortunately for Mr. Mammoliti, things went off the rail. He’s here today to take his lumps.”

“The court is of the opinion that you did act in good faith at all times — and there may have been an error in judgment in appointing who you did as your financial assistant. shrugAnd while the responsibility still is yours, the court is of the opinion that, taking everything into consideration, what has been presented to the court today is a very fair position on all these matters.”

Keep in mind here that Councillor Mammoliti has been an elected official for the better part of 25 years now, starting as a one-term M.P.P. from 1990-95 and then a city councillor since 1995. 2010 was his 6th municipal campaign (once in North York, the rest in amalgamated Toronto). The only difference 4 years ago was Mammoliti started out running for mayor before hightailing it back to his ward race when the run for the top job became an obvious lost cause.

The Justice of the Peace could have tossed the councillor from office but chose instead a financial shrug. So it’s difficult to view the ruling as Mammoliti taking any sort of lumps. offtherailsMore to the point, the idea that the councillor possesses the ability to act in good faith, never mind ‘at all times’, simply strains any attempts to attach a meaningful definition to that term.

I’m no legal scholar but I imagine the councillor’s most recent legal woes including being under police investigation had no bearing on today’s judgment. Priors may figure into a court ruling. Can currents?

It’s just hard for me to get my head around the fact that a veteran politician like Giorgio Mammoliti could be treated with such kid gloves. “Things went off the rail.” Mistakes were made. Mix ups happen. What are you going to do?

So why shouldn’t residents in Ward 7 be cynical? If the institutions meant to keep our politicians honest fail to do so, if they simply shrug and grant offenders political mulligans, how can we possibly chastise voters for figuring what’s it matter, it’s not going to make a difference who’s in office, they’re all the same? shirtlessmammolitiSince there are obviously no repercussions to bad behaviour, why should the public believe any politician will play by the rules?

Exposed to regular lapses of ethical conduct over the past 4 years from the likes of Councillor Mammoliti, the previous mayor, his ex-councillor brother, the new chair of the Planning and Growth Management Committee, and with apparently no recourse to hand out appropriate punishment, we leave it up to voters to chase the offenders from office. But if they have no faith in the system to keep the players playing fairly, why wouldn’t they conclude the next one’s going to be as bad? They’re all crooks and liars, right? All politicians are only in it for themselves and their deep-pocketed friends.

With the whole thing so broad strokingly tarnished, when it comes around to casting a ballot, many voters simply won’t bother. It only encourages the bastards. If they can summon up a sense of civic duty, why not just go with the devil you know? We know how bad he is. The other guy could be worse.trainwreck

Until we decide to act forcefully and justly with politicians who abuse the system and the public’s trust in it, we should hardly blame one tiny segment of voters for not making an example of one particularly egregious offender. The whole thing’s broken. There’s no reason for Ward 7 residents to think otherwise. There’s no reason for the likes of Giorgio Mammoliti not to realize it too and continue to push the limits because there doesn’t seem to be any serious downside not to.

fellow in cynicismly submitted by Cityslikr


Measure For Tiny Measure or, Much Ado About Little

December 11, 2014

Could somebody sit the mayor down, tell him he’s got the gig, that he is the mayor now? Stop with the campaigning already. Relax. coolyourjetsSettle into governing or something.

I get the optics of this week’s whistle stops around town. John Tory is the mayor of Toronto. He’s hit the ground running, having done more in first his 10 days in office than the previous mayor did in 4 years. Yaddie, yaddie.

Mayor John Tory means business by getting down to business.

I just wish that instead of making announcements, the mayor might actually be making some decisive actions.

There’s nothing wrong with his 6 point anti-gridlock plan. Increased rush hour parking enforcement. More traffic signal co-ordination. Tougher oversight of road closures and access for construction sites.

Nothing particularly new or innovative. We were just made aware that there was ‘a new traffic sheriff in town’. Notice has been served, illegal parkers.

All-door boarding on the overcrowded King streetcar. Making official what already is being done in many cases already. Checking off a recommendation made by the last TTC board.nothingtoseehere

Really? You called the press out to make that announcement? A quick step outside your office into the hallway might’ve sufficed for that.

The city’s Bikeshare program saved by corporate sponsorship! Well, not exactly, no. The expansion was already budgeted for and in the works. What exactly is TD bringing to the table? Nobody is really at liberty to say but, rest assured, it’s the kind of partnership Mayor Tory is really excited about. “Who in their right mind, subject to reasonable terms, would say no to these kinds of things?” Not Mayor Tory, that’s who not.

Three days, three campaign style events, Much pomp, little substance. Remember. When you go to vote last October, vote John Tory for mayor.unimpressed1

The King streetcar media event screamed the loudest of a missed opportunity. As Edward Keenan pointed out in great detail on Tuesday, there was so much more the mayor could’ve announced in providing assistance to the wary King Street commuters. No street parking or deliveries during rush hours. No left turns during rush hours. No cars at all from Roncesvalles to Parliament Street!

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke talked about King Street almost two years ago now (h/t J.P. Boutros for that heads-up.) Fixing congestion along that strip has been contemplated off and on since about 1991. Twenty-five fucking years of do-nothingism, and Mayor Tory decides to give a hearty thumbs-up to all-door loading of the streetcar?!

If he can’t take bold measures now, in this the honeymoon phase of his mayoralty, what the hell should we expect when the kids’ gloves come off? Remember the emphasis of his campaign just two short months ago? Bold! SmartTrack, bold! Bold! Bold! Has it sunk in yet? Bold!misseditbythatmuch

I detected an arched eyebrow on the face of my companion I was berating with this angle of discussion two nights ago. (I, for one, could never get that just one eyebrow arched look of patronizing knowingness down. I dislike the ability in others.)

“You weren’t really expecting actual boldness from this administration, were you?” the eyebrow implied.

Yeah, I guess I was. Colour me easily convinced. But I guess in this town, you campaign bold and govern faint-heartedly. Unless, of course, you’re Rob Ford and you take having a mandate to mean running roughshod with everything you promised and a lot of other things you didn’t. Mayor Tory wants to dial back on all that extremism in everything but caution. Baby steps not bull steps.

Governance isn’t something to be tackled. It’s to be finessed. One tiny, almost imperceptible measure at a time.

underwhelmingly submitted by Cityslikr


Left To Their Own Devices

December 9, 2014

From Jon Caulfield’s The Tiny Perfect Mayor (1974):

This fatalism was shared by many reform leaders and candidates themselves. For the press, at fund-raising parties, at rallies and public meetings, they were mostly all capable of bursts of optimism…But pressed privately in ones and twos, they were often unsure, their confidence watery. Because their movement was, at root, a fragile marriage of convenience drawn together only by informal networks of key individuals, communication among them was haphazard, and fragmentary, in some cases nearly non-existent; for the most part they had no way of knowing about the progress of campaigns outside of their own parts of town.

Forty years on, this passage struck me as still wholly relevant when looking back through the ashes of the 2014 municipal election campaign, an election where the old guard of all political stripes ran roughshod over its competition.steamroll

Nobody who seriously throws their hat into the ring to become a political candidate can do so without at least a sliver of belief they can win. No matter how small a sliver, how big the odds, how steep the uphill climb to victory might be, there’s always a chance, remote, outside or not. Otherwise, you wouldn’t dedicate the time and energy necessary to mount even the most basic of campaigns.

In late October, I heard through the grapevine that such-and-such a candidate was, according to internal polls, within striking distance of such-and-such an incumbent. Candidate X had jumped into an improbable lead in Ward Y. In the end, neither rumour of glory came close to being true. A respectable showing would be the best one might claim of the results. Pretty much throughout the entire city.

By their very nature, election campaigns are built on hard work and false hopes. rubbertreeplantThere will always be more losers than winners but for a democracy to remain vibrant, everyone thinking about a run for office has to believe that that this time is their time. You can apply other metrics to what constitutes a successful campaign – increased voter turnout, say, — in the end though? Well, close only counts in horseshoes and grenades. Or, as a springboard to another crack at it four years hence.

Perpetual optimism mixed with battle worn realism.

When I met up with Idil Burale a couple weeks back, pretty much a month after her run for a city council seat in Ward 1 Etobicoke North, there was a lot more realism than optimism in her take on how things had gone. A very promising challenger to one term councillor deadweight, Vincent Crisanti, Burale finished a disappointing 5th place in race where Crisanti increased his plurality from 2010 simply by being the Fordest of Ford supporters in one of the Fordest of wards in the city.

It should’ve been so easy. A terrible, do-nothing incumbent versus a brand new voice of the community. Faced with such a clear option, how could Ward 1 voters not jump at the opportunity to make a change?

Yeah well, funny story…davidandgoliath1

First, a declaration of interest on my part.

I met Idil a couple (three?) years ago, at some event or another that led to us hosting an evening to talk about the urban-suburban divide. I (along with a few hopeful others) gently encouraged her to consider a run in 2014 election. When she finally decided to take the plunge, I was involved early on in the campaign, helping with content, messaging. I even timidly and awkwardly knocked on doors as part of two or three canvasses.

Everybody was cautiously optimistic, I think. Winning the thing wasn’t the be-all. If Idil could even just affect the conversation during the campaign or get out the vote in a ward that had the lowest turnout in 2010, it could still be considered a success.

In the end, I don’t know if even those modest goals were achieved. Like every other ward in the city it seems, the only conversation people wanted to have was about the mayor’s race. rollingrockI’m not alone in asserting that the 2014 campaign was essential a mayoral referendum. Rob/Doug Ford, yes or no? Everything else at city council could be fixed in editing.

That said, I don’t think it’s an unfair assessment of the Burale campaign to suggest that it never really gelled into a smooth running operation. There were personnel problems, mostly of the kind that there were never enough people to do the jobs that needed to get done. In the end, Burale thinks they knocked on about 80% of the doors in the ward which, as impressive as it sounds, isn’t nearly enough.

The general rule of thumb is that a successful campaign needs to hit every door at least 2 times, maybe 3 when all is said and done. Despite our hope and belief in advanced technology, campaigns are still won and lost on the ground, real live bodies going out to meet real live people, once, twice, three times, driving them to the polling station on election day if need be to make sure they vote. Without those troops, there isn’t the necessary voter outreach. Candidates unable to swamp doors in their wards remain unknown entities with no name recognition factor.

This points to perhaps the biggest problem the Burale campaign faced. There simply wasn’t enough community support at the local level at the beginning of the campaign. trekDowntowners (like me) formed a large part of her team in the early going.

It’s an especially acute problem for wards in the inner suburbs. Ward 1 sits in the most north-westerly spot in the city. Without local support, people able to get to a canvass meeting spot in 15 minutes, half an hour rather than an hour and a half, 2 hours, it’s difficult to amass a regular, reliable team of volunteers. Without a regular, reliable team of volunteers, well, you tend to finish in 5th place.

Idil also picked up very little ‘institutional’ help. By this I mean the party and riding association machines that always play an integral part even in officially non-party municipal campaigns. For whatever reasons (and I am certainly privy to none), there was no backing from either the ward’s Liberal MPP or MP thrown her way. Despite receiving the labour council backing, Burale found herself competing against an unofficial NDP candidate.goodluck

There may well have been good reasons for that situation but the fact can’t be ignored if an outsider candidate remains on the outside, the odds of them running successfully remain very long.

No amount of social media adoration is going to change that. Burale was one of a number of challengers, especially out in the suburban wards, who garnered a lot of Twitter attention along with endorsements from both old and new media, only to see it not translate into electoral success. Martyrs to the progressive cause, fueling our sense of wonder at what’s wrong with people out in the suburbs.

Turns out, you can’t just flick on the civic engagement switch come election year. Wards like Etobicoke North aren’t imbued with a history of strong citizen activism in their local governance. What groups there are don’t seem particularly connected or, in the words of Jon Caulfied in describing the early-70s City Hall reformers, ‘informal networks of key individuals’.diy1

There was no fertile grassroots base for a challenger like Idil Burale to draw on. Without enough outside or institutional help to make up for that, she was left to fend for herself against the power of incumbency. Even an incumbency of a second rate city councillor who has subsequently been appointed the deputy mayor of Etobicoke and York.

So pick yourself up, dust yourself off and chalk it up as a valuable learning experience?

Not exactly.

There was certainly something of a personal toll on Burale. Parts of the 7 month run were miserable, not at all fulfilling. So much so, at this juncture, fresh off the loss, she’s not considering another run.

A casualty to an electoral process that promotes the power of insiders and the well-connected? Change or reform doesn’t come about through the sheer strength of individual effort. We can’t pat hopefuls on the head, slap them on the back and send them out into the fight with only our high hopes and fingers crossed. overthetop1Challenging the status quo needs to be a group enterprise, uncoloured by partisan brand or parochial interests.

Candidates like Idil Burale should be applauded and congratulated for trying to roll that rock up the hill. We just have to stop thinking they can do it on their own and then expect a different, a better result in the end. That’s the definition of crazy. Crazy and lazy.

discontentedly submitted by Cityslikr


Empty Chairs

December 5, 2014

Sitting in the largely empty ballroom at the Cedarbrooke Community Centre in Scarborough last night for the 1st public meeting of the Toronto ward boundary review, emptyrooma thought struck me. How can we expect and encourage civic engagement from the general public when it’s not much in evidence from those we elect to represent us at City Hall?

I know, I know. It’s December, the beginning of the holiday season. It’s the very first community consultation. It’ll take a bit for people to warm up to the process. It’s cold and dark out there.

But still.

There we were. I counted 6 non-official attendees, tucked away in the southeast corner of Ward 38, domain of the new deputy mayor of Scarborough, the mayor’s eyes and ears on the ground there, the Scarborough warrior, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. He wasn’t there. missingIn fact, the only Scarborough councillor present, the only member of the Executive Committee which will be tasked in shaping the new ward boundary proposals for city council in 2016 was Councillor Paul Ainslie.

And yes, there will be 2 more meetings in Scarborough this week. We were told some councillors will be conducting their own meetings with constituents. They can’t be everywhere all the time. Stop being so demanding!

It’s just… we can hardly scold the folks for not showing much interest in matters of public concern when the local leadership goes MIA. Tracing a direct line between citizen disengagement and elected representative absenteeism is easy to do.

Not like there’s anything important at stake in this process. Simply the political reconfiguration of the city for the next 4 election cycles. Let’s call it the better part of the next couple decades. As it stands currently, resident numbers per ward are horribly out of whack. The presentation last night suggested that a 10% variation in population between wards is acceptable. puzzleFrom 10-25% is tolerable in some circumstances. Right now, we have one ward that has almost double the number of residents than the least populated ward in the city. With that, it’s difficult to pretend everybody’s vote carries the same weight.

There are other issues to consider when adjusting ward boundaries. Natural and physical boundaries like green spaces, highways and railroads. “Communities of interest”, as the consultants phrased it. Keeping neighbourhoods, heritage districts, ethno-cultural groups together with the same local representation.

All of this criteria considered together in an attempt to arrive at a sense of equal and `effective representation’ throughout the city. That’s a mushy, nebulous term, ‘effective representation’ that gives way to different interpretations depending on different expectations. For some keeping taxes low is the best form of effective representation. Others, it’s about delivering services in a way that builds stronger and fairer communities.

The process is also a moving target, projecting population growth 15 years down the road. projectionRight now estimates are for 600,000 new residents by 2031. That’s almost another entire new Scarborough of people moving within the city’s borders. And it won’t be evenly distributed either. Given the development underway and that in the proposal pipeline, downtown and midtown will see much of that growth, along with pockets in southern Etobicoke and Scarborough. This is all before factoring in not yet on the board plans like, say, SmartTrack. If it gets up and going in 7 years as the mayor has told us (I know, I know), how will it affect growth patterns?

So, you see what I’m saying that this just might be an important point in Toronto’s transformation?

We really don’t want to leave these decisions solely in the hands of the various vested interests. I’m not talking about just the councillors, some of whom may be looking at ways to ensure their political longevity through favourable ward re-alignment. opportunityknocksThere will be a push to keep the wards as closely in tune with both the federal and provincial ridings to avoid ‘voter confusion’, we’ve been told and to better help streamline services. As I wrote a couple weeks ago about this, I’d like to see the math on that assertion as the sceptic in me tends to think such overlap is simply more politically expedient for the respective parties in terms of amassing voters’ lists and other campaign efficiencies.

And of course, we should expect the full out push to take this opportunity to cut the council numbers in half for both the paltry (if any) financial gains and in some misguided belief that fewer councillors will bring more order to the proceedings. As if the rancour and tumult we’ve seen over the past 4 years is due only to having too many cooks in the governance kitchen as opposed to the result of simply the rancour and tumult going on throughout the entire city. If we just turn down the noise a bit, maybe it’ll seem more orderly.

So yeah, much is at stake through this ward boundary review, nothing less than how we’re governed in Toronto. We all need to start paying attention. drawthelines(Next public meeting, tomorrow at 9 a.m.) Leaving it to others to decide simply passes on the chance to help redefine this city, and begin dismantling parochial attitudes and micro-regional attachments that no longer reflect the current reality of this city. (I mean, really. Does Victoria Park Ave. represent anything other than a historical boundary these days?) Read up. Turn out. Chime in.

Maybe if you start making some noise, our city councillors might start to notice.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr