… but He Plays One On TV

October 5, 2015

A thought occurred to me the other day, so obvious that someone must surely have put it out there already. If so, my apologies for making it my own. actingCredit is all yours, whoever you are.

John Tory is far better at playing the role of mayor than he is actually being the mayor. He carries the chain of office with the appropriate level of gravitas and decorum. Photo ops and press conferences serve as his milieu, his political sweet spot. The day-to-day business of running the city? Where’s the fun in that? What about pomp? Don’t we all need a little circumstance?

For sure, there are some agenda items this mayor grabs and runs with, pushing and pulling the levers of powers of his office to further. So far, however, they’ve largely coalesced around roads and drivers — See: Parking Enforcement! — and his signature transit plan, SmartTrack. On these matters, Mayor Tory is indefatigable in his mayoral pursuit of championing. The bully pulpit that comes with being mayor, he has used to its fullest on these matters.

The rest of it? His mayoral passion waxes and wanes, depending on whether there’s an Olympic bid to ponder or public event to speak at. bullypulpitAs long as whatever it is doesn’t get in the way of more pressing mayoral matters, have at it. If it’s prudent, reasonable and gets done without too much fuss and bother, you’ve got the green light from Mayor Tory.

Which probably goes to explain exactly how the motion to rescind the request to the province for the right to use ranked ballots in the next municipal election passed city council last week. The mayor was asleep at the switch. The matter wasn’t on his radar. He had distinctly stated, at least on the topic of the Scarborough subway, this council shouldn’t spend its time reversing decisions of the previous council. So why would he be expecting this kind of motion of reversal?

Especially since it came from one of his allies, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Tory “Super Saturday-ed” with him last election to boost Di Ciano’s chances of winning the council seat in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He appointed Di Ciano to be a member of the powerful Budget Committee. Hell, the mayor’s office tapped Councillor Di Ciano to be part of the working group that met with city staff over the summer to work on the City of Toronto Act report which council was debating when this motion hit the floor. You’d expect, just out of common courtesy, Mayor Tory might’ve been alerted beforehand that this was coming.waitwhat

Clearly he wasn’t, as he ended up on the losing side of the vote. The mayor didn’t even get up to speak against the item, to urge council to vote it down. Maybe he realized it was an uphill battle and didn’t want to risk further embarrassment. Eight of the twelve other members of his Executive Committee voted in opposition to the mayor in favour of not wanting ranked ballots including three councillors, Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford and Jaye Robinson, who flip-flopped from their 2013 vote. Three of Mayor Tory’s four deputy mayors opposed him.

It could be that ranked ballots just did not…ummmm…rank high enough up on the mayor’s priority list for him to risk an internal battle with his closest council allies. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Loyalty isn’t bought but horse-traded. Fair enough.

If that’s the case, though, Mayor Tory can’t claim to have supported ranked ballots simply because he voted against Councillor Di Ciano’s motion. He supported ranked ballots but just not enough. If it comes to pass that the provincial government doesn’t grant municipalities the right to use ranked ballots in response to this motion, it will be under Mayor Tory’s watch that the initiative died. It will hardly matter that he supported the idea in principle. blindsided1In practice, he didn’t fight for them.

Ahh, well. You win some, you lose some. No mayor should be expected to pitch a perfect game. There’s only so much political capital to go around. Whipping votes and enforcing discipline among your council supporters comes at a cost. Even the best of mayors sometimes get sandbagged by their best of buds. Pushing back on that would only look petty and pissy.

So while we bemoan yet another attack on voting reform by status quo seeking politicians, we should celebrate the fact that our weak mayoral system remains in effect. Great freedom resides at City Hall for even the most lightweight of dim bulb councillors to pursue and hunt down any pet peeve that irks them, even if it defies a mayoral edict not to reverse previous council decisions, even if it runs contrary to a hearty pro-ranked ballot endorsement the mayor made earlier this year, even if you’re, apparently, a part of the mayor’s team.ettubrute

Go for it, Mayor Tory has signaled to ally, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Do your worst. There will be no repercussions for undermining the mayor, especially for friends and over inconsequential matters. Political in-fighting is undignified, beneath the office of the mayor. There are appearances to be maintained, after all. The actual dirty work of running a city isn’t the job of someone who likes to keep their hands clean.

democratically submitted by Cityslikr


Justin Di Ciano’s Coming Out Against Voting Reform Party

October 3, 2015

Just in case you missed Councillor Justin Di Ciano rolling back the ranked ballots initiative at city council on Thursday, here it is in all its dripping idiocy. Councillor Di Ciano, perhaps in a little bit of projecting, I believe the psychological term for it, thinks voters are too stupid to understand the concept of ranked ballots, especially poor people. Features some cameos from this term’s burgeoning confederacy of dunces.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


The Worst. The Absolute Worst.

October 2, 2015

Just about a year ago (340 days or so but who’s counting?), as the results of the 2014 municipal election rolled in, I looked over the debris and carnage and declared that this may well shape up to be an even worse city council than the one that preceded it.JustinDiCiano

Impossible to imagine, I know, in the wake of the drunken, crack-laden, I’ve got enough to eat at home Ford years. But I held firm in my view that we did ourselves no favours with the new composition of council even with the new mayor we installed. Just watch, I said.

While I think there have been more than a few examples to back up my claim (the Gardiner east hybrid hybrid anyone?), a vote last night at council cemented it. In a 25-18 vote, our local representatives decided to reverse course and reject the notion of using ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. “A real setback for democratic reform and renewal,” according to Councillor Joe Mihevc.

How did such a turnaround happen? Aside from this simply being a worse city council, you mean? We have to go back to earlier this year, June to be exact.

The province is undergoing a 5 year review of the City of Toronto Act, the 2006 piece of legislation where Queen’s Park bestowed more powers and autonomy on Toronto’s city council. City staff struck up its own review process and the mayor’s office established a panel of 3 councillors, Norm Kelly, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Justin Di Ciano, to work with the staff in coming up with recommendations to pass along to the province for its consideration. The resulting report was before city council to vote on yesterday.

During the debate, councillors were putting forth ideas of their own to package off and send to Queen’s Park. JustinDiCianoThey were flying so fast and furiously at one point that Mayor Tory stood up to lecture his colleagues on governing ‘on the fly’. Staff had worked with council for months to come up with this report. These slap ons were, to the mayor’s mind, going to muddy the waters and diminish the seriousness of the report’s intent. Two of the working group members, councillors Kelly and Wong-Tam, echoed that sentiment.

The third member of the panel, Councillor Justin Di Ciano, had other ideas. Despite apparently working throughout the summer with Kelly and Wong-Tam and city staff on the report council was now amending, plenty of time, you’d assume, for him to float the idea of tossing out the request for ranked ballots, he decided to pursue it ‘on the fly’, as the mayor said. What were his reasons? They were doozies. Real fucking doozies.

Voters found ranked ballots “too confusing” he said. Never mind that the Toronto Star’s Betsy Powell explained how they work in a couple paragraphs.

Under ranked balloting, voters select candidates in order of preference — potentially first, second and third. The candidate with the majority of first-place votes — 50 per cent plus one — wins, just as in the current system.

If nobody meets that threshold, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is knocked out. The second-place choices of that candidate’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining hopefuls, and so on, until someone has a majority.

Hopelessly and utterly confused, are you? As the ranked ballot literature says, Easy as 1, 2, 3.

Under softball questioning from fellow council lightweight, Michelle Berardinetti, Councillor Di Ciano cited some study from California that said ‘low-income voters’ had trouble understanding ranked ballots. JustinDiCianoSee? The poorz. They just wouldn’t get it.

The councillor went on to say that this particular council, you know, the one worse than the previous one, shouldn’t be beholden to a decision made late last term. The vote on ranked ballots happened in June of 2013, with almost 18 months left in the mandate. What point does Councillor Justin Di Ciano think should serve as a cutoff in the term of council when it needs to stop doing stuff that might impinge on subsequent councils? A year? Two?

What makes this line of reasoning even more fucking ridiculously vacuous is that the June 2013 vote from city council was a request to the provincial government for the power to decide to use ranked ballots. Even if the province grants the city that power, council would have to vote to enact it. So this city council would have the opportunity to vote against it, and no decision from the previous council would be forced upon it.

Instead, city council said yesterday, nope, don’t even want to consider it.

This boneheaded motion from a terrible, terrible city councillor, Justin Di Ciano, could’ve, should’ve died right there, in its infancy. JustinDiCianoAll it needed was 7 councillors who’d voted in favour of requesting ranked ballots in June 2013 (and one who’d “missed” that particular vote) to vote against it. Amazingly, they didn’t. They did a 180. Like that. Killing months and years of advocacy that a whole lot of people had dedicated their time to. Just like that.

Who were those councillors?

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre). Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport). Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West). Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West).

Had these councillors not cravenly flipped-floppped, the results of the vote would’ve been reversed, and the motion would’v died. They did and it didn’t. Yeah, this city council sucks.

Click on those links, get a phone number or email address. And start asking these councillors why they changed their minds on pretty much a moment’s notice. Why did they think ranked ballots were a good idea last term? JustinDiCianoWhy do they think ranked ballots are a bad idea now? What changed?

Oh, and let’s not forget the architect of this clusterfuck and big ol’ fuck you to voting reform, Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke Lakeshore). Remember this face. It is the face of a city council that makes you pine for the Ford years.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr


Liberalism. As It Was So It Shall Always Be.

August 30, 2015

eminentvictorians

In Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, mock biographical essays on 4… well… eminent Victorians, the author goes to town on Dr. Thomas Arnold, self-styled educational reformer, longtime Rubgy School headmaster and father of poet, Matthew Arnold. “The son of a respectable Collector of Customs, he had been educated at Winchester and at Oxford, where his industry and piety had given him a conspicuous place among his fellow students,” Strachey writes of the young Dr. Thomas. “It is true that, as a schoolboy, a certain pompousness in the style of his letters home suggested to the more clear-sighted among his relatives the possibility that young Thomas might grow up into a prig; but, after all, what else could be expected from a child who, at the age of three, had been presented by his father, as a reward for proficiency in his studies, with the twenty-four volumes of Smollett’s History of England?”

Later on, Strachey describes the adult Dr. Thomas’ Liberal politics in a manner which caught my attention for its modern appropriateness. A definition that appears to never go out of style.

Now, I know some of you will see this as a partisan attack. But, let me assure you as much as I can, that when I read this passage, party politics was the furthest thing from my mind. It was the concept of liberalism that sprung out at me. The notion of not-conservative, I would call it. A contrast versus a designation. This is what I’m not not this is what I am.

drarnold

He was, as he constantly declared, a Liberal. In his opinion, by the very constitution of human nature, the principles of progress and reform had been those of wisdom and justice in every age of the world — except one: that which had preceded the fall of man from Paradise. Had he lived then, Dr Arnold would have been a Conservative. As it was, his Liberalism was tempered by an ‘abhorrence of the spirit of 1789, of the American War, of the French Economistes, and of the English Whigs of the latter part of the seventeenth century’; and he always entertained a profound respect for the hereditary peerage. It might almost be said, in fact, that he was an orthodox Liberal. He believed in toleration, too, within limits; that is to say, in the toleration of those with whom he agreed…He had become convinced of the duty of sympathising with the lower orders ever since he had made a serious study of the Epistle of St James; but he perceived clearly that the lower orders fell into two classes, and that it was necessary to distinguish between them. There were the ‘good poor’ — and there were the others. ‘I am glad that you have made acquaintance with some of the good poor,’ he wrote to a Cambridge undergraduate; ‘I quite agree with you that it is most instructive to visit them.’ Dr Arnold himself occasionally visited them, in Rugby; and the condescension with which he shook hands with old men and women of the working classes was long remembered in the neighbourhood. As for the others, he regarded them with horror and alarm. ‘The disorders in our social state,’ he wrote to the Chevalier Bunsen in 1834, ‘appear to me to continue unabated. You have heard, I doubt not, of the Trades Unions; a fearful engine of mischief, ready to riot or to assassinate; and I see no counteracting power.’

transcribedly submitted by Cityslikr

 

 


Democracy By The Square Foot

August 28, 2015

As summer cools and fall looms, the options report for Toronto’s ward boundary review begins to sink into focus. (I’ve written – dare I say it? – voluminously about it . Most recently here.) wardboundaryreviewoptionsreportJust now, I am struck by a thought.

Should city council be the ultimate decider on this? How wards get reconfigured may have, will have, a direct impact on more than a few sitting councillors. It’s difficult not to see something of a conflict of interest inherent in this process.

It’s a horse that’s already left the barn, obviously, but you can see the optics of even the most well-meaning councillor being called into question, read it in the comments section of any news story about the issue. No politician will decide to get rid of their own job! Less pigs at the trough not more! The Jays are going to fold just like they usually do! Oh, yeah. And I hate politicians!!

Such a specter of negative public perception will most definitely hang over the proceedings. The consulting group responsible for conducting the public meetings, writing the reports and making the recommendations have taken the two most contentious and illusorily logical options off the table. Simply cutting the ward numbers in half elicited little, if loud, public support. thumbthescaleAligning ward boundaries with the new federal ridings failed to address the voter disparity, the democratic deficit that served as the ultimate reason for reworking our ward boundaries.

This doesn’t mean city council can’t revive them. Staff and expert reports are rarely treated as sacrosanct especially if they get in the way of politics. It would be naïve of anyone to think politics won’t play a part, a significant part, in this when all is said and done.

One political angle has already emerged. It emerged early on in the first round of public consultations and popped back up in a CBC article a couple days ago. “Residents of towers [high rise apartments and condo buildings, I guess] rarely interact with their councillor,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell said. apartmenttower“Most interaction we have I would say are residents calling about property issues. They are homeowners.”

Homeowners. Property issues.

In response on the Twitter, John McGrath made a very interesting and telling point. “Almost everywhere, municipal government is about and for single-family homeowners, with everyone else shoehorned in where necessary.” Councillor Campell’s mistake was just saying out loud what is true but nobody wants to talk about.

Homeowners. Taxpayers. Hardworking taxpayers.

In response to my rather pointed, shall we say, social media queries at the councillor about his comment, he informed me that in Ward 4 there are 14,000 homes versus 6,000 apartments, roughly a 70:30 ratio. densityandsprawlYet his office only gets 5% of calls from apartment/condo residents requiring work of some sort from him. Thus, to his mind, “equal distribution [of residents/ward] will not provide equitable representation.”

Setting aside the fact that on the city’s website, the Ward 4 profile (according to the 2011 census) has it that just under 47% of households are technically considered “apartment buildings”, a significantly different ratio than the councillor stated, Councillor Campbell seems to be equating representation at City Hall with how much work he is called upon to do for a resident. Homeowners demand more. So homeowners’ votes should count for more.

Or something.

Perhaps a more generous interpretation would be that, in Councillor Campbell’s view, an uneven distribution of residents per ward is warranted since different built forms demand different levels of work for councillors. If your ward is dominated by apartment towers, full of residents making fewer demands because, apparently,towers apartment dwellers are more content than those forced to mow their own lawns and shovel their own sidewalks, that councillor can not serve more of them.

“Capacity to represent” is certainly one of the considerations being factored in to the ward boundary equation but should hardly be the sole determinant in calculating full “effective representation” the report is striving toward. It’s the customer service aspect of serving as a city councillor, the crowd pleaser. Surely, there’s more to the job of being a city councillor than completing work orders, isn’t there?

If some of Toronto’s residents aren’t engaged with City Hall, maybe it’s because they haven’t figured out they can or why they should even bother. Shouldn’t at least one aspect of this “capacity to represent” be about proactive engagement by our local representatives? suburbs50sIf Councillor Campbell is only hearing from a very small section of Ward 4 residents living in apartment buildings, maybe he ought to wonder why rather than conclude, It’s all good.

As difficult as it might be to believe, given the last 5 years or so around these parts, civic engagement isn’t only about airing out our grievances. There should be a much more positive exchange. Of ideas and opinions rather than just complaints.

There’s also a bigger political question at play here. While certainly Toronto’s population and development growth isn’t concentrated just in the older legacy part of the city, people are moving in and moving on up in the southern part of Etobicoke, along the lake just under Ward 4, as well us up north in Willowdale and the northeastern part of Scarborough, there can be little denying that a critical mass are heading to a few wards right smack dab downtown. More people could translate into more wards in that area. shutthedoorIt would stand to reason and only be fair if we have even a passing interest in “voter parity” or the old rep-by-pop saw.

Such a demographic and democratic shift could well threaten to upset the ruling coalition of suburban council votes that has been a mainstay in Toronto since amalgamation, and even under the previous Metro form of governance when the population had migrated from the core of the city. Power shifts to where the people are, and I’m not just talking geographically. The reign of traditional ‘homeowners’, as Councillor Campbell defines them, detached, single-family houses, living the Cleaver lifestyle, is under threat. There’s no room anymore in Toronto. What there is now is all there will ever be.

In order to resist such change councillors like John Campbell, and Scarborough throwback, Jim Karygiannis who voiced similar flippant disregard during the first round of public meetings for those deemed not to be real homeowners, will have to work to diminish non-homeowners’ status as residents of this city. viewPeople living in apartments and condo towers have their own building management at their beck and call, the local councillor from Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt opined. Granting them equal representation at City Hall would be just unfair.

Democracy by the square foot, in other words. Nothing new, of course. But we need to call it what it is.

size mattersly submitted by Cityslikr