One Bright Spot

December 4, 2014

It’s my contention that twice now Toronto has missed the opportunity to elect truly progressive leadership when Shelley Carroll was droppedballoverlooked as a mayoral candidate in successive elections. In 2010, she was in the best position to campaign on the Miller administration mandate yet got squeezed out between Liberal and NDP party machinations. This year, she sidestepped the stampede to support Olivia Chow’s anointment as the left of centre representative on the ballot. Both times, a low recognition factor as well as, I speculate, internal party politics deep sixed any aspirations she might have had for the position of mayor.

So, it’s interesting to note that in the scramble for committee, agency and board appointments, her name has emerged for several key positions in the John Tory administration. The Police Services Board, the TTC, the Budget Committee, Economic Development Committee, the Disabilities Issue Committee, Toronto Arts Council, (am I missing anything?), as well as the Deputy Speaker of City Council. Granted, in many of the more high profile spots – budget and TTC, say – she will not form the majority opinion but it is a far cry from how frozen out she was by the administration last term. friendscloseFrozen out by the Fords only to emerge as one of its most effective critics.

Has the Tory administration realized this and calculated that it’s probably more prudent to bring her in closer to the power centre? Friends close, enemies closer and all that. No matter. It offers Councillor Carroll a bigger platform to push her ideas and policies.

Let’s not lose sight of that opportunity especially over on Budget Committee where the councillor has been a huge proponent of the notion of participatory budgeting. She might not have the clout to institute the idea this time around (the committee is also populated by a number of perfunctory councillors as well, starting with the chair, Gary Crawford, along with the likes of Michelle Berardinetti, James Pasternak and two unknowns, John Campbell and Justin Di Ciano) but we certainly should expect to hear discussion of it going forward.

Regardless of any calculations at work, the new mayor should be applauded for acknowledging Councillor Carroll’s serious credentials and vast knowledge of how the city works, and at least putting her in the room and at the table where important decisions will be made. handsoffClearly, during the campaign, Tory made friends in high provincial places with the Liberal government. The fact Carroll is an avowed big L liberal probably helped ease any concerns the incoming administration at City Hall might have had with her designation by the Fords and their cadre as being some sort of enemy combatant.

For her part, Councillor Carroll stayed out of the mayoral fray this year, just going about her business getting re-elected as Ward 33 councillor, not picking sides. She gave a barnburner of a speech at a fundraiser I attended late in the campaign where she expressed some annoyance that the idea of progressivism had somehow become synonymous with the NDP brand. Her work at city council over the course of an 11 year (and counting) career there easily puts to rest the claim that your politics can be defined solely by the party you’re part of. I mean, both Carroll and her council colleagues Mark Grimes and Cesar Palacio are active in or have been members of the Liberal party. One of these is not like the others.

The fact John Tory was not willing to give any power to Councillor Shelley Carroll tells me all I need to know about the limitations he’s put on his administration. It will be more than curious how their relationship develops. I doubt she intends on becoming a head-nodding yes man, going along to get along. There’s little to be gained for her currying favour with the Tory crowd. brightspotBut she has been given something of an inside voice now to question the direction the mayor intends to take on such big ticket matters like the budget, the TTC, the Toronto Police Services.

It’s not much for those feeling sidelined right now by Team Tory. Still, there are few other councilors I’d be as confident in to remain independent and outspoken as I expect Councillor Carroll will be. If we search really hard for the silver lining in this dark cloud, maybe it might be that the councillor’s upcoming adventures in Torytown will serve as a map for building a better progressive movement.

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Honeymoon? What Honeymoon??

December 2, 2014

So yeah, tell me that one again about John Tory the progressive minded moderate. You know, that natty-nat-natter during the past municipal campaign, assuring us not to get all tied up in knots about his blue, blue, dark blue Tory leanings. canthearyou1Think Bill Davis, David Crombie. Forget his participation in the Mel Lastman years. John Tory was too red for the provincial Progressive Conservatives. He said he’ll march in the Pride parade. What more do you want?

I’m sorry. I can’t hear you over the grating, unintelligible noise once again coming from the Speaker’s chair. Or the glowing radioactive smugness of the newly appointed deputy mayor of this city.

Look. I’m fine with the notion Toronto went nearly 3/4s in favour of right of centre candidates in the mayor’s race. I think it’s a fair assessment to question if we live in as progressive a city as many of us like to think we do. Some 17 years in from amalgamation, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if David Miller was the anomaly rather than norm to our politics here in town.oneofthesethings1

Mel Lastman. David Miller. Rob Ford. And now, John Tory. One of these is not like the others.

There it is.

Clearly, Tory and his campaign team felt that this could provide a winning edge, blasting Olivia Chow as the ‘NDP candidate’ as soon as she entered the race, thereby distinguishing himself as the not far left alternative to Ford Nation. Progressive, but reasonably so. A moderate answer to the radicalism of the past 4 years.

With his choices yesterday for his Executive Committee and various other appointments, it’s equally obvious that his aversion to anything left wing was more than a mere campaign tactic. The Great Uniter. Seeking to heal the divisions between 75% of the city. So ideologically driven were these decisions that Tory felt comfortable under-representing the most populous former municipality of the city around the table of his Executive Committee. upyoursNo single chair of a standing committee. A couple of at-large pats on the head and a ceremonial fluffing of little meaningful significance.

John Tory, the uniter, the great undivider, has proven to be so partisan that he couldn’t even reach out to perhaps the most stellar of council performers last term, Kristyn Wong-Tam who is really only a raging far leftie in the narrow minds of the most ardent supporters of our previous mayor. Given the ward she represents, one of the epicenters of growth and development in the entire city, she would make for a great chair of the Planning and Growth Management Committee. But our new mayor couldn’t even bring himself to do that, opting instead to give that position to the empty shell of a dinosaur, Lastman era, expressway loving David Shiner.

Again. There it is. The mayor’s prerogative. But along with that, the first flashes of his true colours. (Hint: more blue than red.) Mayor Tory had the opportunity to signal bipartisan consensus and didn’t even feel the need to give it so much as a passing nod. backtothedrawingboardSo, I’ll just roll up the welcome mat because it’s pretty much now been declared business as usual at City Hall.

But perhaps the real take away for those of us feeling snubbed as much by the new mayor as we did his predecessor is this, my friends: it’s the norm not the exception. Stars aligned radically for the Ford Administration but Toronto seems to like its local politics right. That’s the reality we have to accept. Want to change it? We’re going to have to work to change it. As John Tory has just shown us, nobody else, including self-proclaimed social progressives like our new mayor, will change it for us.

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Building A Machine To Defeat The Machine

December 1, 2014

This week all the post-election hypotheticals begin to collapse into reality. The very long, drawn out, seemingly at times without punctuation chapter of the Ford Era closes. quantumdecoherenceJust the chapter, alas. We’re pretty sure that book remains open.

The 2010-2014 term of Toronto city council makes way for 2014-2018, leaving behind a mess of crises, to paraphrase the incoming mayor. To use some sprots terminology, this city is in rebuilding mode. Nothing’s been fixed over the last four years, hyperbolic protestations to the contrary. Everything’s got a little more frayed around the edges.

Worst case scenario, we begin having rational discussions again about how to get our civic shit together. (Actually, a late addendum. Worst case scenario? Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.) Best case? City council actually coalesces in a meaningful way and starts implementing concrete plans to do just that.youagain

It’s hard to imagine how the proceedings will be any worse than they were last term, although perhaps too many of us have misplaced expectations in the change that’s happened at the top. (Exhibit A: the new mayor’s choice for Executive Committee.) Most of the main offenders, enablers, deadweights and flat out crackpots who contributed to the mayhem and dysfunction at City Hall last term are back for yet another kick at the can. Maybe a semblance of sanity in the mayor’s office will help rein in their worst instincts but can it really make them better city councillors?

We can hope for the best but I’m fairly confident that before long we’re going to realize our local government is terribly broken. How we elect and who we elect to represent us fails miserably in reflecting the people of Toronto. exactlythesame2Despite a very strong group of challengers throughout the city in October’s election, council managed to get whiter and more male. Even most of the newcomers felt like the usual uninspiring suspects.

Jonathan Goldsbie wrote an exhaustive piece last week in NOW about the seemingly status quo entrenchment that’s occurred. There’s no end of ideas on how to combat it and to contend with the overwhelming power of incumbency. Some possibly right around the corner (ranked ballots, permanent resident voting), others still up for debate (formation of municipal parties, term limits). None, I believe, even enacted all together, would serve as any sort of magic bullet and transform our democracy.

That’s going to take a whole lot more hands on engagement. If we learned nothing else from this past election, it should be that best wishes and high hopes contribute nothing more to a campaign than… best wishes and high hopes. exactlythesame1Too many strong candidate challengers were left to their own devices, lots of them out in our poorly represented inner suburbs, without much institutional help for the all essential ground game, ultimately picked off by lesser opponents who’d garnered party-friendly, unofficial backroom support.

As much as we hear about our municipal campaigns being too long, for most council candidates the 10 months is not long enough. Too often, candidates enter a race unprepared, under-financed and without enough human resources to get their names and faces out there in time to established themselves as legitimate contenders. No amount of social media adoration or late in the game endorsements will unseat an incumbent, even the worst of the worst incumbents, even incumbents under criminal investigation.

The reality — the sad, sad reality – is the 2018 race for city council starts right now. Sitting city councillors cannot be allowed 3 years of unchecked governance. Shadow opposition must commence immediately. Challengers popping up onto the scene in year 4 of a term, telling residents that change is needed, and that they are the needed change are seen as interlopers, opportunists. perpetualmotionmachineWhere were you when all this so-called bad shit was happening around here?

Unfortunately, very few people can just set aside 4 years to campaign, monitoring their city councillor or get themselves a Monday-Friday AM talk radio gig to maximize their exposure. Hell, not everybody knows 4 years out if a run for city council is even in the cards. The incumbents’ advantage is like a perpetual motion machine.

City council challengers need to be nurtured not just encouraged. As importantly, a campaign apparatus needs to be established, free of political party-ship, that will develop off-season electoral muscle. Create an active community throughout the city that starts to learn the doors to knock on, the phones to ring, the meetings to attend, connect to and organize.

The best city councillors are always out there, engaging with their respective neighbourhoods and communities. fix1Any prospective candidate needs to be doing exactly the same thing. Those of us discouraged by the results of our last election must pitch in to help create a system that makes that possible.

Clearly this is a process requiring a hands-on effort by a committed group, getting the proverbial boots on the ground. As we discovered once again to our dismay (and are re-learning as the new administration begins to take shape this week), we can’t hope and wait for change. It’s not going to be wondrously legislated for us. It’s going to take all sorts of people, working to make the change.

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