Lost In A Forest Full Of Trees

January 15, 2016

It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I have lost perspective on Mayor John Tory. forestforthetreesAfter reading a couple news items on the 2016 budget process and an upcoming SmartTrack report last night and this morning, I let fly with some intemperate Twitter remarks that weren’t particularly well thought out. In my defence, they only contained one swear word in the lot of them.

“Tory hopes to balance Toronto budget by funding less than half of new commitments,” was the headline in a Metro article by Jessica Smith Cross.

My initial reaction?

Indignation, of course.

How hard is it to balance a budget when you decide to fund only 40% of the commitments, promises and pledges that you and your council colleagues have made? blowmylidYou know that thing we all thought was a really good idea? Well, we still think it’s a good idea but I’m not prepared to pay for it. But props to us for thinking it’s a good idea, right?

It’s about picking priorities, came one response to my outburst. That’s pretty much what every budget is about. That’s what City Manager Peter Wallace put before the budget committee with an unbalanced budget of at least $67 million in unfunded council requests and implementations. The mayor and city council have to choose their priorities. Mayor Tory’s simply choosing his.

“John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan for Toronto getting smaller, cheaper,” was the headline in Oliver Moore’s Globe and Mail article this morning.

My initial reaction?

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Millions of dollars on a report that essentially confirms what every critic of SmartTrack thought from the time it was released as a headline grabbing, yellingatcloudsill-thought out plan back during the 2014 campaign. My head exploded, and I fired off some of my own headline grabbing, ill-thought opinions, undercutting possible benefits in the report for Scarborough transit users and overplaying the mayor’s embrace of the report. “The issues you reference are still being studied and staff have not yet provided recommendations,” Amanda Galbraith, Mayor Tory’s spokesperson, told the Globe.

So, there’s plenty of time still for the mayor to ignore expert advice and stubbornly insist on doing SmartTrack his way. It was unfair of me to respond in a way that suggested he’d accepted the findings in this new report yet. If he does, it will be a better SmartTrack project, probably, at least the “new” western spur which would become, essentially, a Transit City proposal from way back when. At least, it can’t be worse than the SmartTrack he used to get elected.

Maybe they have a point. (Except for the ‘love nonetheless’ business. It’s an established fact that Tim Falconer detests me for my youth and rugged good looks.) Maybe I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Better, if not good, policy should always be preferred to bad policy. humbledIt’s amazing to me that I actually find myself writing such a sentence. And the politics of budgeting has always been about trade-offs and prioritizing. None of this is anything John Tory has ushered onto the scene.

I guess the source of my frustration and resentment is that while it’s a political landscape John Tory inherited, he’s chosen instead to navigate it rather than challenge it. In the post-Ford scorched earth environment of low-taxes-at-any-cost and non-reality based transit plans, Mayor Tory has played along. Prioritizing that unfunded $67 million in the budget is a whole lot harder because he’s refused to entertain reasonable discussions about property tax rates and other revenue tools. We’re piecemealing together a more acceptable transit approach not because of Mayor Tory’s reasonableness but because, for nearly two years now, he’s also been playing along with his predecessor’s unrealistic belief that transit comes for free and shouldn’t interfere with our ability to drive around the city.

Is that an improvement? Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, though. What Toronto needs right now is an injection of pure, unadulterated aspiration and methods necessary to achieve that. What we’re getting from Mayor Tory is a placebo.

It might work. There’s scientific evidence suggesting such a positive effect can happen. drinkingaloneAfter 4 years of backsliding on almost every conceivable front, any step forward, no matter how small or circuitous, should be seen as progress. Dampen your expectations and things look a lot less bleak. Always remember. It could be worse, in two words: RobDoug Ford.

I just have to learn that, when drowning my sorrows in a self-pity binge of What Could Bes, my booze filled glass is half full not half empty.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Can’t Or Won’t?

January 11, 2016

During a budget Twitter discussion last week, Torontoist’s David Hains boiled the process down to 140 characters.

(If you want it in greater detail, I cannot encourage you enough to read his property tax analysis from a couple years ago.)

In essence, for a couple key reasons, the keyest being municipalities, unlike their provinical and federal counterparts, cannot run annual operating deficits. Their books must balance. A dollar amount is chosen — This is what we’re going to spend this year! — and you then walk back to where the money comes from. pickanumberProperty taxes make up a large portion of that revenue, in and around 40% usually, so to get 40% of x dollars, the property tax rate has to be y.

More or less.

For a mayor, their administration or the city council to determine what that property tax rate is going to be ahead of spending projections essentially subverts the process. Mayor Tory’s campaign pledge to keep property tax at or below the rate of inflation, and then claiming a public mandate for that after winning office, is simply saying there’s only going to be this much money regardless of needs or other promises and improvements made. You want something new, a service enhanced, some shiny bauble or other nice-to-have? You have to cut something or somewhere else. mathAn ‘offset’, as they say in order to not state the word ‘cut’.

This is especially true since the mayor and his team are refusing to even discuss other sources of revenue. Aside from selling off assets  like Toronto Hydro and city-owned parking spaces, that is, or increasing user fees or squeezing more pencils and training costs from the city. Today on Metro Morning, the budget chair, Councillor Gary Crawford crowed over the possibility of finding an additional $5 million in savings by an exhaustive line-by-line search through office expenses. $5 million in the face of an identified $67 million shortfall in funding for promises and requests already made by Mayor Tory and city council.

By a pre-emptive determination of what the property tax rate will be, thus fixing 39% of the operating budget in place, Mayor Tory is stating just how much he is willing to spend on the city. gotyourbackThis and only this amount. Any addition must be matched by a subtraction. Or found through efficencies, 10s, 100s of millions of dollars paid for by chump change belt tightening.

Two years ago, John Tory picked an arbitrary number he thought would help get him elected mayor of Toronto. It was a number that represented his political well-being not the well-being of the city he wanted to lead. By refusing to budge (much) from that number, and digging his heels in like his predecessor had, Mayor Tory is showing exactly whose interest he’s really looking out for.

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A New Year’s Resolution

January 4, 2016

I tried my best to back off, relax and go oblivious for a couple of weeks during this past holiday season. It was largely successfully, I’d say. I paid scant attention to what was going on around these parts, politically speaking.

But then came these on New Year’s Day from Mayor Tory’s office:

I mean, seriously.

Pure paint-by-numbers messaging, carefully checking off each box of high profile issues. Public transit. Affordable housing. Efficiencies and the family budget trope. And topping the list, of course, low taxes. Always keeping the taxes low.

Pure calculation rather than inspiration. Bot wishes for the New Year. Thirteen months in office, twenty-four before the next election and Mayor Tory campaigns not governs.

Why not? It seems to be working. A recent Forum Research poll put the mayor’s approval rating at some 75%. Toronto loves the calm, apparently. Familiar words and sentiments stated soothingly.

For Mayor John Tory, it’s business as usual but done in a business-like manner. He’s pursuing little change in direction. Just a change in tone.

But will 2016 allow him the luxury of such continued pretense? It’s hard to imagine how. City staff has already presented an unbalanced budget with unfunded liabilities on the operating side including, among other promises, a shortfall for the early Sunday subway opening the mayor has championed. SmartTrack and Scarborough subway reports are coming due with balloon popping possibilities very probable. longlistThere’s the final TCHC report on the $2.6 billion repair backlog from the mayor’s Task Force to come and the new Task Force to look at the Toronto Police Services $1 billion annual budget.

Judging from the mayor’s New Year’s resolutions, he’s totally unprepared and unwilling to realistically face any of these challenges. “On the verge of great things” indeed. Unlocking Toronto’s potential through more wishful thinking and failed ideological posturing.

It’s no longer enough to be content with the idea that, if nothing else, John Tory has chased the clown show from City Hall. In fact, he hasn’t at all. The clown character has simply changed.

Gone is the borscht belt tinged vaudeville act with its hilarious, lowdown slapstick, replaced by a far older tradition. Il Dottorre. The unimaginative pedant who believes himself to be everything he isn’t, a man in love with the sound of his own voice, an obstacle to actual progress.

Mayor Tory believes he can help. He wants to help. ildottoreHe’s simply incapable of doing so, locked into a mindset that permits little outside opinion that doesn’t confirm what he already believes.

Unfortunately, that may not be enough to move him out of the way. Already, many observers have conceded him 2018, imagining another Ford-Tory showdown with no other candidate daring to split the vote for fear of putting a reinvigorated Rob Ford back into the mayor’s office. Pure bogeyman politics.

So be it. Too early for too much to happen, in my opinion, but, whatever. I’ll leave that strategizing for others more attuned to fret over.

How about instead, we not think about who to replace Tory but what to replace him with? He has no vision aside from plastering over cracks in the foundation. He cannot imagine a Toronto that is not his Toronto, the city that made him all he is. What kind of city do we want this one to be and how can we achieve that? Mayor Tory and the sclerotic band of city councillors who unwaveringly back him either because political expediency, similar paucity of ideas or in the misplaced idea of avoiding the perception of dysfunction, are devoid of vision. They’re suited merely to pushback not push forward.

That creates a governance gap, filled with all that we can’t do not what we can. We’ve got two years to create and enact a viable and inspiring alternative to the current retrenchment too many city councillors (and this mayor) try to pass off as leadership. Prudent, sensible, workable, modest, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. It’s none of those things. churchdoorsIt’s dereliction and abstention, dressed up in nicer attire.

Mayor Tory and his council colleagues following closely in his footsteps need to run against something in 2018 not someone. We need to start putting that something in place and nail it up on the front doors of City Hall. Toronto is being stymied by the politics of personality. It’s time to offer up the politics of ideas.

That’s my New Year’s resolution.

resolutely submitted by Cityslikr


An Indelicate Balance

December 28, 2015

How to be Rob Ford and not Rob Ford at the same time? This is the quantum politics Mayor John Tory is trying to determine as he enters his 2nd full year in office. quantumphysicsHe misses no opportunity to point out to everyone and anyone who’s listening how he isn’t Rob Ford: the return of civility to City Hall, respect re-bestowed upon Toronto by the international community, no more of the proverbial drunken stupors.

The mayor, however, never wants you to forget that, like Rob Ford, he stands firmly opposed to taxes and waste. Firmly. We can build shiny new things, expand necessary services and programs, world class up Toronto, done and done on high hopes and pure hearts. All we need to do is tighten our belts. Root out efficiencies and dead weight. Like that.

What Mayor Tory needs us to believe and accept is that his predecessor’s mess was manifest purely in the personal not policy realm. Policy failures, such as the cutbacks to TTC service, had nothing to do with revenue shortfalls or fiscal mismanagement but were the direct result of character flaws. The years 2010-2014 projected as tabula rasa on the governance front. disappearNothing but scandal and misconduct.

The problem for the mayor is that he’s not really fooling anybody. Non-Ford supporter critics of Mayor Tory, largely from the left side of the political spectrum, see him fighting for at-or-below inflationary levels of property tax rate increases and fending off talk of new revenue sources and can only conclude that it’s pretty much the same old same old, business as usual. This is what’s got the city in the financial straits it currently sits in.

At the other end, the hardcore Fordists, see through Mayor Tory’s suggested City Building Levy, and scream (rightly) that it’s just a property tax increase by a different name. Like the Scarborough subway levy although, for this camp, that’s another thing entirely. The people want subways. Subways, subways, subways!

So Mayor Tory has certain Toronto Sun columnists and editorialists, who never see a tax hike as anything other than proof positive of government overreach, yipping at him quantumphysics2while those having battled the Ford assault on City Hall coffers and services regard this mayor as just a well-mannered faux-populist who really ought to know better. There’s little room left for him to balance, his base squeezed onto an untenable platform made up largely of wishful thinking and constant thanks that, it could be worse, we could still have a Ford as mayor.

Not to cut the Fords much slack on this but a solid argument could be made that they actually believed their tax-and-spend, stop the gravy train rhetoric. Basic math never really mattered to them. The numbers didn’t have to add up. An obstinate and willful stance in opposition to facts passed for principled politics for the Fords. They didn’t have to be right to be right.

But how can a politician like John Tory, elected to the mayor’s office as a sensible, reasonable, prudent alternative to the madness of the Fords pursue policies with similar reckless abandon? johntoryvisionDuring the start of the 2016 budget process, he is being told by city staff in no uncertain terms that the city has a revenue problem. Its dependency on the property tax base and a still hot real estate market in terms of the land transfer tax is unsustainable. We must look seriously at other sources of revenues.

Mayor Tory’s reaction?

To propose an additional half-percent bump in the property tax rate, call it a ‘levy’, and look for further efficiencies at City Hall. It is as indifferent to staff advice and the reality on the ground as anything Rob Ford displayed. How is that sensible, reasonable or prudent?

Mayor Tory touts his willingness to work with his opponents at council on the Gardiner east hybrid to deliver a better option than the one he championed earlier this year as an example of the improved governance style under his watch.ignore Yet, whatever option finally emerges will be, fingers crossed, the best of the worst option on the table, not to mention, in all likelihood, the most expensive. The obvious choice, the one touted by city staff, the sensible, reasonable, prudent option, was to tear that section of elevated expressway down, rebuild it at-grade. Mayor Tory ignored all that and pushed ahead with what he believed to be the most politically advantageous choice.

In October 2014, nearly 70% of Toronto voters delivered what was almost exclusively an anti-Ford mandate. Picking up a 40% plurality of that vote, John Tory has read those numbers and concluded that it was merely the personal scandals Torontonians rejected, the confrontational and abrasive governance style, too. We were all good with the bad math, the deplorable accounting practices, the complete and utter disregard of expert advice, the detrimental policy choices.

All of which Mayor Tory now vigorously pursues if in slightly different guises. Attritional and limited levels of tax rates and revenue sources. schrodingerscatQuixotic cost savings quests. Ruinous public transit projects. Just like happened during the Ford administration. But somehow different with Mayor Tory at the helm, he wants us all to believe.

He’s got away with it for his first year. With reports due early in the new year on things like the Scarborough subway and SmartTrack, an impending budgetary shortfall forcing some tough choices out into the open, 2016 looks to provide a somewhat rockier road for Mayor Tory. How much longer can he continue trying to be not Rob Ford and Rob Ford simultaneously? Even the smallest of particles has to ultimately become one thing or the other.

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A View From Along Eglinton Ave West

November 23, 2015

smarttrack1It’s hard to believe that during last year’s municipal campaign someone from Team Tory didn’t take the time to drive the length of Eglinton Avenue, west from Mount Dennis to Pearson airport, the western spur of what became the concoction known as SmartTrack, to get the lay of the land, so to speak. More incredible still, how anyone claiming to be a transit planner looked at the plan and gave it their imprimatur, shrugging off the bit about running heavy rail, “surface subway” along that route without tunneling. “Criticisms [of SmartTrack] have, instead, focused on the line’s ‘constructability’ where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme,” wrote Eric J. Miller, director at the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute. “As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot.”

A tempest in a teapot…scribbling

I drove that stretch of the SmartTrack western spur and back last week. The notion you could run any sort of heavy rail (electrified or not) along it without tunneling is immediately laughable. As for tunneling? The rumblings we’ve been hearing about the forthcoming staff reports, and the price for going underground, suggests that SmartTrack’s “$8 billion price tag and seven-year timeline are based on considerable analysis,” as Miller wrote in the October 2014 Toronto Star article, weren’t, in fact, ever subject to ‘considerable analysis’. Or much of any sort of analysis, it turns out.

No, what should happen, what those really concerned with connecting people to places in this city should be concentrating on now, is building that western leg of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Black Creek (its current western terminus) out to the airport. Fuck SmartTrack. changecourseOr, at least, stop pretending it’s anything more than some enhanced regional rail that might contribute some to alleviating this city’s congestion and commuter woes but isn’t the silver bullet solution supporters are hyping it as.

Extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT westward, young man.

I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for that penny to drop, however. In making SmartTrack a priority signature item of his mayoralty, John Tory will have a tough time walking this one back. He painted himself into a corner, his campaign too clever by half, in attempting to be seen as a subway proponent, promising to deliver up ‘subway like service’ with SmartTrack. Now leading the charge to push ‘fancy streetcars’ directly through the heart of Ford country? Hard to imagine.

Even if he were so inclined, the mayor shouldn’t expect to get any help from local councillors on re-establishing the LRT idea on Eglinton West. “People do not want to see an LRT,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell stated. “If you’re going to put a subway or rail, it’s far better for the neighbourhood if it’s buried. But is it feasible to bury it?”

He thinks a busway might be more appropriate to cut congestion. But the population density doesn’t justify laying tracks, said Campbell.

It’s difficult to see how the councillor arrived at that conclusion. A 2010 ridership projection for the entire proposed Eglinton Crosstown from Kennedy station to the airport pegged the numbers at 170,000 daily, 5000-5400 at peak hours by 2031 (h/t Matt Elliott and Ev Delen). eraseWhile the section of Eglinton West running through his ward may not justify laying tracks, Councillor Campbell is missing the bigger network picture. Never mind the major transit node that is the airport but the rest of Eglinton is peppered with high and mid-rise buildings and growing communities with schools and shopping centres. Places not everybody can or wants to drive to.

In addition to which, how exactly will a busway preserve the green spaces the councillor says he wants to protect from the scourge of an LRT? Never mind the added transfer riders would have to take moving from the busway to the Crosstown at Black Creek. A busway just makes absolutely no sense in this situation. It is parochial and short-sighted.

Which pretty much sums up transit planning in Toronto. Anti-LRT nimbyism begat subways everywhere begat SmartTrack. Transit solutions gave way to political calculations. pointofnoreturnPolitical calculations gave way to transit slogans, leaving consequences for others to deal with.

There was a viable transit plan in place for this city. Bit by bit, we’ve chipped away at it for no other reason than short term political gain. Travelling west along Eglinton, it becomes apparent that if SmartTrack somehow comes into being (or Councillor Campbell’s ridiculous busway gains any traction outside of his own mind), the final nail will be put in the coffin of that transit plan. The damage that will inflict will be near impossible to repair.

dismally submitted by Cityslikr


Railroaded

November 13, 2015

The good news just keeps rolling in for SmartTrack.

And by good news, I mean bad news. And by rolling in, I mean like pulling teeth.notagain

Delayed reports, ridership modelling problems, notices of being ‘unaffordable and unworkable’. That’s not a stroke you’re having. It’s the acrid smell of desperation.

Yesterday in the Toronto Star, Jennifer Pagliaro reported that there’s a number floating around City Hall that represents the price tag for the so-called western spur of the SmartTrack plan. The part of the plan that very likely calls for the dreaded ‘tunneling’ word, digging up stretches of Eglinton Avenue. An aspect of the plan that, as a candidate for mayor, John Tory first said wouldn’t be necessary but as time went on, and he transformed from candidate to frontrunner, admitted to, yeah, probably, they’d have to dig but that had been accounted for in the $8 billion cost.

Well now, apparently, there’s an actual number but those in the know at City Hall are either pretending there isn’t or that we’ll be told what that number is when the time comes for us to be told.

It’s hard not to read this as just another setback in the making for the mayor and his signature transit plan. Ismarttrack1f the number being held back was favourable to SmartTrack’s cause, you’d think the mayor and his supporters would be shouting it loud and proud. He certainly needs some positive spin on this that isn’t just his. Unless, of course, he’s going all Henry the IVth on us, piling on the disappointment and dim expectations in order to amplify the success when it all turns out to be exactly like he said it would. “…he may be more wondered at/By breaking through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”

Maybe.

But maybe not.

The question is, just how far down dug in is Mayor Tory on pursuing SmartTrack if it does indeed turn out to be the lemon every indication is suggesting it is right now? Does he ride it, Slim Pickens-like, right into a fiery explosion, taking a whole lot of shit with it? drstrangeloveIn typical fashion, he’s left himself with very little wiggle room to step back. Just like he did on police carding. Just like he did on the Gardiner East.

How badly off the mark do the reports and whatever numbers they contain have to be before Mayor Tory is willing to about-face, admit it was a bad idea, his intentions were good and noble but… let’s move on, shall we? He’s said almost from the start that they hadn’t done any engineering studies or the like when the pitched the plan on the campaign trail. There were bound to be some mistakes in calculation. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Who wouldn’t love 53 kilometres and 22 stations of surface subway all up and ready to go in just 7 years? Just 7 years!

Even if the mayor remains undeterred in the face of mounting evidence that SmartTrack isn’t all that, plus a bag of 3 day old, stale donuts, are there really 22 councillors willing to follow his transit folly? hidenumberI know, I know. Much of this is the same council who wound up dancing the Scarborough subway jig that Rob Ford beat out time to. Let’s not rule out any dire possibility because these people, a majority of them at any rate, are clearly capable of doing anything, absolutely anything.

But it just seems to me SmartTrack doesn’t carry the same visceral, emotional baggage a subway in Scarborough did/does. Nobody’s picked up the mantle of deserving SmartTrack. This is John Tory’s baby, fully, completely. Bully pulpit or not, he’s got to sell it to his council colleagues and if there’s a stink attached, how much political capital does the mayor still have to use?

If you want to get a sense of just how tough a sell SmartTrack is shaping up to be, re-read Pagliaro’s article and remember, it isn’t an editorial, an opinion piece. It’s a news report and I don’t recall reading such a pointed newspaper article, at least not since the frenzied crack period of the Ford administration. The article oozes testiness and impatience.

Pagliaro refers to SmartTrack as something ‘dreamed up by Mayor John Tory’s campaign team’. keepawayShe points out that a staffer in the city manager’s office stopped communicating with her. The mayor seems to be obfuscating, saying the report isn’t finished, there are no numbers or he hasn’t seen any numbers or document.

Pagliaro sums up what we do know so far about the SmartTrack reports city staff have delivered.

What’s noticeably absent are the costs.

But it’s not because they’re not available.

I spoke to chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat this week, who confirmed the actual HDR report submitted to the city contains “high-level” costs for the western spur options.

So, what are they?

Keesmaat won’t tell.

She told me to take it up with the city manager’s office.

Colour Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star SmartTrack skeptical. It’s feeling more and more like we’re being dicked around here. It was a plan that from the very beginning was full of holes (not the good kind you could drive a subway train through), and nothing that’s happened over the course of the past 18 months has done anything to begin filling them. skepticalIn fact, Mayor Tory continues to dig more holes, creating an even bigger hill he has to push this thing up.

After the Scarborough subway debacle, there are very few bridges left for this mayor to burn on the transit file. Unrealistic cost estimates, questionable alignments, dubious ridership numbers. We’ve heard it all before, just recently, in fact. It’s hard to imagine there’s enough political will to suck another one up, not now, not again.

So, just how persuasive does Mayor Tory believe he is? Just how gullible does he think we are? Just how gullible are we?

still smartingly submitted by Cityslikr


1 Year Down, 7 To Go

October 27, 2015

Hey!

Here’s an idea nobody’s thought about until this very moment.brightidea

How about today, on the first anniversary of John Tory’s election as mayor of Toronto, I assess his job performance, by issuing a, what would you call it, a report card of sorts? So obvious. It’s amazing to me nobody’s come up with it before I did.

I kid. I kid.

While children throughout the province may not be receiving report cards this term, Mayor Tory has been inundated with them. So don’t mind me while I just pile on here for a second. I’m sure I’ve got something to say about his time in office somebody else hasn’t said already.

A+s all round, it seems, for Mayor Tory’s restoring of civility to City Hall. Out with the shit show. In with decorum. Toronto’s reputation in the eyes of the nation and the world has been salvaged and revived.

Make no mistake. This is important. While it’s tough to wholly quantify, local governance had been worn down to a slow grind even after the previous administration crashed and burned. oneyearanniversaryThe appearance of serious-minded competence is a vital first step in realizing serious-minded competence.

So, with absolutely no facetiousness intended, well done. Mayor Tory has largely succeeded in relegating the lunacy to the fringes where it belongs. At the local level, this is no small feat.

But this should come as no surprise, really. It’s pretty much as advertised. John Tory campaigned heavily on being the anti-Ford. That’s what the city voted for. That’s what the city got.

But is it enough? Going forward, is simple peace-and-quiet all we can demand and expect from this mayoralty? One year in, what other accomplishments can this administration point to?

I ask because, over the weekend, I was involved in a discussion on social media about the long term electoral prospects of Mayor Tory. It stemmed from a Toronto Star article by David Rider, outlining how the mayor seems to be operating with his attention focused on a rematch with Rob Ford in 2018, catering to the issues perceived to be important to the Nation: cars and low taxes. notthatguyAn unnamed councillor suggested the mayor doesn’t want to be perceived as ‘downtown-ist or urbanist’, and that his staff isn’t concerned with any sort of unrest from the ‘left flank’.

Essentially, as long as Rob Ford remains a viable contender (or the perception exists that he’s a viable contender), Mayor Tory can just waltz toward re-election, scaring left-of-centre voters into supporting him for no other reason than simply to keep Rob Ford from being mayor again.

I questioned the wisdom of that, and heard from some very non-Tory types that, yeah, as long as Rob Ford is in the electoral picture, nobody serious from the left would challenge the mayor, let alone win. This had been a sentiment expressed to me by more than a few voices on the left almost immediately after election night last year. Plan for two terms of Mayor Tory.

That’s 7 more years, folks. All this administration can point to by way of accomplishments is not being Rob Ford and we’ve resigned ourselves to expecting nothing more? For 7 more years?

What happens to a city presided over by a mayor who defines himself by something or someone he isn’t? Where exactly is the aspiration in that? Come 2022, at the end of Mayor Tory’s presumed 2nd term, what does that Toronto look like, aside from being Rob Ford-free for nearly a decade?yoursforlife

Nothing the mayor has done over the past 12 months can point to anything transformative taking place during his tenure. He’ll tell you SmartTrack despite every indication suggesting otherwise. He’s got a report on a plan to tackle the city’s poverty and growing income inequality. But so far, it’s just that, a report on a plan. In the words of the mayor’s chosen right-hand man, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “When the rubber hits the road, it all comes down to money.” Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but, ultimately, show me the money. “There are going to be competing priorities,” Mayor Tory concurred.

As much as he’s relied on differentiating himself from his predecessor for the goodwill he’s generated from Torontonians, policy-wise, there’s little sunlight to be seen between the two men. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has solidly aligned himself with the suburban, conservative rump of city council, filling his Executive Committee with them almost to the exclusion of downtown councillors. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has rejected any discussion about property tax increases above the rate of inflation. foggytoLike Rob Ford, Mayor Tory grudgingly accepts public transit fare increases but will not so much as consider user fees on other types of commuters (*cough, cough *drivers* cough, cough * cough, cough*). Both Rob Ford and Mayor John Tory euphemistically talk efficiencies when they actually mean cuts. Rob Ford uses the low-brow terminology, ‘gravy’, while Mayor Tory goes all Michelin Guide, 5-star rating, ‘marbling’.

Mayor Tory talks a much bigger, brighter picture than Rob Ford ever did but he steadfastly refuses to discuss the grim reality of how we achieve such things. We might have to pay more. We might have to re-prioritize how we go about doing things, how we go about getting about the city, say. We might have to accept the fact it’s 2015 not 1975.

In no way do I see Mayor Tory willing to accept that challenge. He’s an agent of change from the Rob Ford way of doing things but he seems risk averse to much of any other sort of change. He’s returned us to the pre-Ford status quo, one chock full of intractable problems and structural concerns he seems no more prepared to face than Rob Ford was.unsure

Lest you think I’m just some Douglas Downer, on a positive note, I do think Mayor John Tory is both amiable and pliant enough to establish good working relationships with the other levels of government which, when all is said and done, will be vital for the city to deal effectively with those intractable problems and structural concerns. We’ve seen hints of it in his first year in office despite some setbacks. (You want us to pay how much for our portion of UPX?!) I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But is that enough to feel good about the prospect of 7 more John Tory as mayor anniversaries, to simply concede to him certain re-election because he’s proven little more to us than he’s not Rob Ford? We get it already. Who exactly Mayor Tory is and what he represents remains a mystery. One he needs to start unwrapping before we give him the keys to the office for as long as he wants.

notthatguy1

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