You Can’t Take What’s Already Given

In less than a month’s time, on July 25th, there’ll be a by-election in Ward 2 Etobicoke North to pick the successor to the late Rob Ford.

I know, right? Pretty much slipped my mind too. What with all the other news going on. distractedTransit madness. Budget talk. The official start of summer, lazy, hazy days. Who’s got the time or inclination to wrap their head around a by-election right now?

Besides, the general consensus seems to be, Michael Ford, nephew of the last two Ward 2 city councillors, will take this in a cakewalk. Name recognition. A brand loyalty from voters. It’s a summer by-election. So low voter turnout will compound the advantage of an established candidate. Why waste resources fighting a no-win battle?

Why indeed.

I am hopelessly naïve on many aspects of politics, never more so than campaign politics.

I would’ve thought this to be a perfect opportunity to plant a non-Ford flag in Ward 2. It’s the only council election going (as opposed to the general municipal campaign where there are 44 wards and a mayor’s race to contend with). fordnationMarshall the forces. Get behind a candidate. Challenge these Ford dynastic aspirations.

Sure, you might not win. In fact, you probably won’t. Although, this notion of invincibility doesn’t entirely jibe with the 2014 election results that saw a former mayor and 4 time Ward 2 councillor enter the race, under the sympathetic shadow of illness, and only pull in 58% of the popular vote. That meant 42% of Ward 2 voters didn’t vote for Rob Ford last time out. Seems like a base that could be worked with this time around.

But Michael Ford’s a nice kid, I hear. He’s expressed nice sentiments to a community his uncle actively disliked and maligned. Give him a chance to prove he’s better than either of his uncles.

So, in fact, it’s more of a coronation than an election. Michael Ford isn’t forced to do anything but knock on doors and issue press releases like this one about the KPMG’s Revenue Options Study.

Ward 2 residents can’t afford billions of dollars in costly new taxes; I have heard this message loud and clear at the door. While I support investment in the City’s housing and transit infrastructure, additional work must be done to find internal savings and efficiencies, and leverage private investment, before we ask taxpayers for even more of their hard earned money.

Sound familiar? Yeah, to me too. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, issues statements that both his uncles would …

What gets me most about this, by-election or not, is that it represents something of a pattern I noticed going back to the 2014 municipal election. shrugI worked a little on a campaign in Etobicoke, wrote about a number of suburban candidates. These were races that, for the most part, pretty much operated under the radar. No one news organization has the resources to cover 45 races, no matter how long a campaign may be. So these candidates in the wilderness wards are pretty much left to their own devices, left to dangle, making them even more susceptible to being steamrolled by the power of incumbency and other hyper-local forces.

Then we sit back and wonder why all these terrible councillors come down to City Hall from the suburbs. What’s wrong with voters out there? See? This is not our fault. It’s theirs. Just start voting better.

And when the opportunity like this one arises to challenge the status quo in places like Ward 2 – and make no mistake, Michael Ford is the status quo, he represents zero change except perhaps in tone, style – we shrug. What are you going to do? It’s a by-election. It’s summer. Low voter turnout. Name recognition. strategyWhy waste resources on fighting a losing battle?

So in waltzes another questionable local representative for the 416 hinterlands, leaving us shaking our heads. There’s a certain self-fulfillment in all that, a self-perpetuation. And the divisions continue.

I’ve heard similar rumblings looking at the mayor’s race in 2018. The mayor’s going to get re-elected. There’s nobody out there to challenge him. We’ll just concentrate on shoring up council support. The mayor is only one vote after all. Why waste our resources on that race?

Freed up of any significant challenger, you’ll have a mayor, all decked out in his inevitability, trying to shape the council even more in his image than it is now. His time and resources spent in wards where he’d really like to see a change of councillor, undermine his opposition. wantofanailSure, the mayor is just one vote but he’s made a lot of new council friends now, removed a few thorns in his side.

Maybe this is all too for want of nail from me. It is just a single ward by-election after all. But by constantly ceding ground in areas that you don’t think you can win, it winds up putting you on the defensive, concentrating on maintaining a base that you’re forced to defend rather than attempt to expand, reactive not proactive. Winning campaigns are rarely built like that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr

Brood Parasite

The cuckoo, it is said, deviously lays its eggs in another bird’s nest to have its young raised and reared by the unsuspecting guest parent. cuckooforcocoapuffsThe cuckoo bird either hatches earlier or grows quicker than its host’s offspring, launching its faux-siblings from the nest in an effort to become the sole mouth to feed. A survival of the fittest tactic known as ‘brood parasitism’.

It strikes me as something too sinisterly perfect to be true. More like a child’s fable. No, not the white-washed ones we heard as kids. The grim ones, told by dour Germans or the icky Brits of the 18th-century, full of impending doom, evil lurking around every corner, stranger danger. The original scared straight, morality tales to keep the children in line. Suspect everyone. Trust no one. Are they really your parents?

In that vein…

The Scarborough subway. A cuckoo’s egg laid by the Ford Administration in the nest of City Hall. cuckoobirdnestIn a bid to grow and flourish, it, in turn, lays waste to everything around it, mainly in the form of reputations of those trying to give it life, even with the best of intentions. Here, I’m thinking city staff who know what’s what, a wink’s as good as a nod, but try anyway to make the best of a bad situation. It’s not a beast of their making. They’ve tried, at times, to set the record straight. To no avail, in the end, their attempt to make it all seem legitimate only succeeds in damaging their own credibility.

For those who actually try to claim parentage of this impersonator, the result is even more unbecoming or, in the extreme case, self-immolating. It derails political aspirations. Karen Stintz. It further mocks those already prone to mocking. This is not that subway. It’s a completely different subway. Which, just so happens, to be in Scarborough like that other subway. Councillor Michelle Holland. It makes some say the kookiest things. “The subway is never going to be cheaper than it is today,” said Councillor Ana Bailão.cuckoobirdbaby

Nobody’s fooled. Everybody’s embarrassed. Maybe if we can just get past the pretense of it all, we can start having a rational discussion again.

Except that no longer seems possible because no one in any position of real power is willing to step forward and admit mistakes were made, bad decisions pursued for all the wrong reasons. At first we thought this was a good idea. Now we don’t. This was an egg that should never have been allowed to hatch.

Mayor John Tory may be in line to take the biggest hit for trying to maintain this fiction. Whatever claims to sound judgment and a sober approach to governance he may have once made are meaningless now, nothing but empty campaign slogans. With his Toronto Star op-ed on Monday, he jettisoned any semblance of good sense or consensus building. Think that’s just me talking, an avowed and self-proclaimed Tory critic? cuckoobirdbaby1Or some other left-wing tongue-wagger in Torontoist?

Flip through the pages covering the transportation beat in the Star. Still not satisfied? How about this editorial in the august Globe and Mail? Both newspapers, by the way, that endorsed John Tory for mayor less than two years ago.

Why he’s taking such a risk to nurture somebody else’s terrible, terrible idea is probably both crassly obvious and backroom murky. Your guess is as good as mine. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter to John Tory because he, and every other politician who’s calculated to make this possible, won’t be around to see it to fruition, to have the scorn heaped directly on them.

In the meantime, we all can get a glimpse at the future. That deliberately misplaced egg has hatched and the cuckoo bird has already started to squawk, demanding we feed it, we love it, respect it. The sound, it sounds just like this:

fosterly submitted by Cityslikr

Show Us The Efficiencies!

So, I’m having a quiet conversation the other day with a painter friend of mine, Donald… actually, my friend’s not a painter and his name isn’t Donald. quietconversationBut we were having a quiet conversation the other day.

I bring this up just to establish a time line of my thought process, to let you know I was thinking about this before reading David Nickle’s article yesterday, Toronto’s past public finance practices have experienced its own form of Brexit. It’s this latest broad side fired at the fiscal policies pursued for the better part of a decade at City Hall. “Folly. Pure populist folly,” Nickle calls it.

City councillors have been pretending to practice austerity and delivering at-or-below inflationary property tax increases for about a decade, while roughly maintaining services. They’ve increased some revenues, mostly through fees like transit fares. But otherwise, they’ve relied on the booming real estate market and finite help from the provincial government to keep things going.

Mayor Tory and his council allies are also continuing to trot out the shop worn claim that taxes and other revenue streams are unnecessary or unbecoming, even, until we bear down and squeeze out every last drop of inefficiency there is to be found especially in the operating budget. nostoneunturnedUntil such a time as there is shown to be absolutely no waste, or gravy as the previous guy called it, talk of new revenue will remain theoretical. This, of course, is an impossibly high goal to set which, as we’ve probably suggested before, may well be the whole point of such a futile exercise.

Bringing me to my quiet conversation with my friend the other day.

Of course there are still efficiencies to be found. No one has ever said otherwise. Here’s an example right here in a Toronto Star article from Thursday by David Rider, Audit finds waste in City of Toronto cleaning services. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain a year,” according to the Auditor General.

There you go. Although, I must point out that it’s also not good news for champions of contracting out services, like Mayor Tory, who like to tell us that the private sector, by its very nature, brings about efficiencies and automatically saves us money. Still. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. moarGet ‘er done.

Now, here’s the meat of the conversation between my not-Donald-the-painter friend of mine and me. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Hell, let’s call it a million bucks. Unless the auditor general or whoever else finds 50, 75, 100, 200 of those kind of examples of waste and inefficiencies, we still won’t have enough money to maintain the current services and programs we have, never mind anything new. This is what Mayor Tory’s been told by two consecutive city managers now. Efficiencies for sure but not just efficiencies. It’s not going to be enough.

Moreover, I said to my friend, I said, It’s put up or shut up time for these efficiencies fiends. You claim there’s still lots of efficiencies to be found, find them. Find them and bring them to the budget table. No more vague generalities and focus grouped catchphrases involving sides and dressings.

Anyone who’s followed along with the budget process the last 6 years or so will recognize the approach of the various self-proclaimed fiscal hawks we elect to city council. showmethemoneyPre-determine the property tax rate to give yourself a pretty good idea of what that year’s operating budget will be and then force anyone proposing new spending to make a deduction somewhere else in the budget. An offset, it’s called. This is how much we’re spending. It’s all zero sum after that.

How be this time around, anyone coming to the budget proceedings saying we have to find efficiencies, needs to bring said efficiencies to the table. You don’t want to raise the property tax rate above the rate of inflation? Find the efficiency offset. 1% property tax increase equals roughly $24 million for the city. Before you start talking about 2% or 4% or 5% cuts to budgets, you need to show some $48 or $96 or $120 million in efficiencies found.

Because across the board budget cuts are not the same thing as finding efficiencies. If we’re going to start talking about ‘unprecedented’ and ‘devastating’ cuts, texaschainsawmassacreas Nickle suggests some might be, the onus needs to be placed squarely on those pushing them under the banner of finding efficiencies. We must demand specifics, details down to the penny. Show us the efficiencies found, show us the money.

Otherwise, you’re just proposing cuts for cutting’s sake, and that’s something else entirely. That’s just ideology. That’s a completely different conversation.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr