The Grimes Reality Of Unseating An Incumbent

garyowens

We sit down with Russ (no relation) Ford and talk about how he came this close to ousting longtime Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore lump, Councillor Mark Grimes.

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Can We Talk?

Reading Alan Redway’s Governing Toronto, I’m struck by just how much the provincial government of Ontario spent time tinkering on the governance of Toronto and the GTA. governingtorontoStarting near the end of the Second World War, with a regional planning act, Queen’s Park exhibited little shyness in regularly rethinking how its biggest city and region should run. As the 1953 Cumming Report served up Bill 80 that established Metro Council, within 3 years, there would be a Commission of Inquiry to sort through the growing power of the suburban municipalities within Metro. Then came a Royal Commission in 1964. And another one in 1974.

The Mike Harris government had 3 reports and task forces (one of those coming from 4 mayors of 4 Metro municipalities) in front of it as it decided how to proceed with amalgamation. It largely ignored all 3, opting instead in favour of its own commissioned report from KPMG on the financial implications of creating one local government from six. From that point on, however, all examination and reviews of local governance in Toronto has ceased. Once our 44 ward boundaries were mandated in 2000, it’s been pretty much, Bob’s yer uncle.

Isn’t it time we sat down and had an in-depth conversation about things are functioning here?

We’re currently undergoing a ward boundary review that has to be in place for the next election in 2018. That, however, will do nothing to address the political structure, aside from changing the number of wards. tinkerIt’s long past due that we have a meatier discussion about what’s working and what isn’t with how we’ve governed ourselves since 1998.

The megacity’ll be two decades old when we next vote for our local representative, and I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark saying we have more than a few wrinkles we need to iron out. How come we’ve all gone radio silence and continued business as usual like everything’s hunky dory? Why did our provincial government stop being interested in trying to adapt our form of governance to the changes underway with both the city and region?

A cynic might suggest it’s because things are working out nicely for the province with the arrangement we have. By serving as the de facto regional level of government, the ultimate hands-on authority, Queen’s Park faces no serious challenge from a divided and weak set of municipalities. Toronto, the core of the region, is much, much too busy fighting with itself to provide much pushback against the province. Fiefdoms within fiefdoms, squabbling, leaving the monarch unrivalled.

But shouldn’t the provincial government really be concentrating more of its efforts on being, well, a provincial government? puppetmasterIt has the last word on how the cities under its rule do things. Can it really be effective micromanaging at a local level a region of some 6 million people?

I’d argue they can’t, and they haven’t been for some time now. Queen’s Park has proven to be an absentee-landlord, only to be seen when demanding money and/or votes. For too long now, their approach has been self-interest first, and everything else secondary to that.

No actual regional oversight body would’ve stood aside and meekly allowed one elected official, even one of mayoral stature, to try and torpedo much needed transit plans that had been in the works for three years. Worse than that, get involved in the melee, sacrificing fact-based decision making in order to better position itself politically. No, we’re the subway champions.

Last week’s provincial budget further proved Queen’s Park’s regional vision may come at a cost to certain municipalities that fall off the provincial radar. Oddly enough, Toronto seems to be one of those municipalities. Of the $16 billion being spent by the provincial government on public transit, $13.5 billion of that will be dedicated to its regional rail system. Not that that’s a terrible thing. It isn’t. There’s just not much left over for other necessary projects in the pipeline. Let alone helping to rebuild the biggest, arguably most vital component of the regional transit system, the TTC.

For over 20 years now, the provincial government has shirked its obligation to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, billions and billions of dollars it’s pocketed over the last couple decades directly from Toronto’s property tax base. givewithonehandThis has regional implications as a shoddy TTC does little to encourage commuters to use it, bringing more cars into and around the city. A truly regionally inspired government would recognize that fact and work to fix it.

Exerting such pressure on the city’s budget leads to shortfalls elsewhere like, for example, social housing which the provincial government, acknowledging the regional implications of the file, used to help pay for. No more. Once again the budget made no mention of it despite the ‘moral and business case’ Mayor Tory pitched a couple weeks ago.

Raise your property taxes appropriately, critics say. Utilize the other taxing powers granted to Toronto back in 2006 with the City of Toronto Act. A vehicle registration tax, for example.

While not wrong, I believe those enhanced taxing powers should’ve been accompanied by new governance arrangements or, at the very least, discussion about regional government. It’s all well and good to say Toronto should start paying for what was traditionally thought of as regional or even provincial areas of oversight but shouldn’t that come with some bigger say in the matter? takemymoneyRight now, it’s awfully one-sided, more often than not falling in favour of the provincial government.

The case might be made that with such vested interest, Queen’s Park is not the ideal body to be solely in charge of regional governance for the GTA. It’s kind of conflicted, really. What with watching its own bottom line, and playing municipalities in the region off against each other, even encouraging a city to fight with itself, there’s a valid question of leadership here. We as a region are long overdue to have a conversation about how we should be governing ourselves in the 21st-century.

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In Praise Of Paul

We spend a lot of time railing here at all Fired Up in the Big Smoke, bitching, if you will, agonizingly over the state of affairs of our local politics. notallbadWith good reason, I think it fair to add. Things are terrible, from the state of our public transit, public housing to the repute (illin’, in the vernacular of the kids today) of our local governance, and many points in between.

Grim, dark days indeed.

From all that glum, occasionally the positives appear, brightly alight on the dreary canvas of civic/political life of this city like the spring flowers we should expect to see sometime soon if this cold, heartless winter ever ends. We’re told it will. Honest. It has to.

So I’d like to send a shout out today to one of those positives, one of the proofs that Toronto isn’t necessarily going to hell in a hand basket. It is the Easter holiday season, after all. If the dead can rise again, why not the near dead? (Too much?)

Councillor Paul Ainslie.applaud

At yesterday’s council meeting, he entered the fray of the accountability officers’ debate, putting forth an amendment to a motion that should put the issue to rest at least for a bit, seemingly satisfying a solid majority of the two factions. It was an adept bipartisan move that deflated the hyper-partisanship which had needlessly infected the issue. Such diplomacy, let’s call it, was a far cry from the Paul Ainslie I remember when I first started closely watching City Hall back in the early days of the Ford era.

It struck me then (and I believe with justification) Councillor Ainslie was simply a robotic ‘yes’ vote for whatever crazy idea the Mayor Ford demanded. In fact, I will confess publicly here for the very first time, I had a hand in an obscure Twitter parody account mocking the councillor, mostly for his refusal to get up and defend some of the positions he took. We can all disagree politically, I think it’s safe to say. caterpillarI just want to hear why you’re doing what you’re doing.

To give Councillor Ainslie his due, at the same time, he was plugging away quietly in his position as chair of the low visibility Government Management Committee. Yeah, I know, right? What the hell is the Government Management Committee and how does it impact my life?

Well, OK. I’m not going into the details here but let me say this. If ranked ballots arrive at City Hall for our next municipal election (currently nestled away somewhere in Queen’s Park awaiting provincial approval), Councillor Ainslie should be credited as one of the prime adoptees of the initiative at City Hall in his role as chair of the Government Management Committee. In a time of regressive, backwards thinking embraced by many in the Ford administration, it is a testament to the councillor’s doggedness to the cause that ranked ballots made it through such a mess.

Then came 2013.

Hopefully when a definitive history is written about Toronto’s city politics from 2010-14, Paul Ainslie’s role in pulling one of the many loose threads of Rob Ford’s ratty, tawdry behaviour will be acknowledged. standupA full month before the crack story broke, it was Councillor Ainslie going public about Ford’s drunken, loutish appearance at the Garrison Ball that really teed the ball up for the messy, ugly fall that followed. Few of the mayor’s supporters had broken ranks with him yet. This was big news at the time that got lost in the ensuing crack story.

The Fords, of course, denied it. They wrote the claim off as just bitterness on the part of Councillor Ainslie for not getting the nod as the budget chief to succeed Mike Del Grande. A few months later, they booted Ainslie from his post as chair of Government Management in a display of what spite was really about.

Let me just say here that while there is no need to point out the Ford’s unfamiliarity with the truth, the notion Ainslie, I don’t know, used the incident to get back at them is sort of laughable. Having chatted with the councillor on a few occasions, I have to say, the man comes across as lacking as little guile as I have seen in any other adult I know. You have to have a little bit of the sharp elbows in you to be successful in politics and Ainslie’s city councillor origin story is not without controversy but if there is a more genuine politician at City Hall right now, I haven’t spoken to them.drunkdriving

The feud between Ainslie and the Fords escalated especially when the councillor reversed course on the Scarborough subway extension. Initially supporting the move, he said after looking at all the information that the numbers simply didn’t add up. He was the lone Scarborough councillor to speak out and vote against scrapping the LRT which led to a series of robocalls being placed by the mayor to residents of Ainslie’s Ward 43, a subsequent complaint to the Integrity Commissioner by Ainslie and yet another apology from Rob Ford.

Compare and contrast the principled stand on the issue made by Paul Ainslie with the complete and utter cowering capitulation and 180 made by Glenn De Baeremaeker.

What was really interesting about yesterday’s accountability office motion by Councillor Ainslie wasn’t so much that he made it, and made it stick. There’s every reason to believe that the original motion of Councillor Stephen Holyday’s wasn’t going to pass, so ill-thought out and deliberately divisive as it was. steakthroughtheheartIt was Councillor Ainslie’s response in defending it to some critics who thought the original motion should just be killed outright.

“I’m not trying to salvage it [Holyday’s motion],” the councillor tweeted. “If we defeat it outright it will only leave too much on the table with an axe to grind.”

Ainslie wasn’t aiming at the motion. He was going after those behind it who had ‘an axe to grind’ with the accountability officers and, for their own mysterious reasons, were determined to reduce oversight of city council despite any protestations they made to the contrary. A more thorough review of the offices (as opposed to the very narrow, amalgamation-orientated one asked by Councillor Holyday) would better arm accountability proponents for future attacks.

I understand why councillors like Shelley Carroll opposed any sort of review. It is unnecessary and floats the idea that there’s something amiss with the accountability offices when the reality is, the only thing wrong is they are all chronically underfunded. easterbunnyYet the pipsqueaks on the council, the Stephen Holydays, Michelle Berardinettis, James Pasternaks, Justin Di Cianos and John Campbells were relentless in their fight against the offices. Councillor Paul Ainslie attempted to put an end to their pursuit once and for all, or, maybe even better, expose them for the regressive, anti-democratic types that they are.

For that, and the general all-round geniality and amenability, good natured can-do-ness, we salute Councillor Paul Ainslie. May you find all the easter eggs you search for in the easter egg hunt you will undoubtedly participate in.

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