A Repugnant Blight

April 24, 2015

So there I am, minding my own business this week, catching up on my magazine subscriptions, making my way through the June 2014 issue of Harper’s. Second article in, The Civil Rights Act’s Unsung Victory by Randall Kennedy [subscription required unless you’re much better with the internets than I am which is a very real possibility]. The following day Desmond Cole drops this searing piece for Toronto Life, The Skin I’m In [no subscription required].

Mr. Kennedy writes about how his family used to pack food picnic-style for their trips back to South Carolina from Washington D.C. to avoid having to find meals on the road in the few places that served African-Americans. Even the car ride itself was fraught with danger. “My father was particularly burdened by the drive,” Kennedy writes.

He became noticeably nervous at the sight of police officers. Over the years several of them pulled him over. They did not charge him with any infraction. Rather, they stopped him seemingly out of curiosity and a desire to test his willingness to accept the etiquette of white supremacy. Their colloquies went something like this”

“That’s a nice car you’re driving, boy.”

“Thank you, officer. Have I done something wrong?”

“Not from what I can see just yet. I notice you’ve got out-of-town plates. You know, we do things different down here. You do know that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Boy, you do know that, right?”

“Yassuh.”

“Okay. You’re free to go.”

In one of the most dispiriting and gut-punching passages in Desmond Cole’s article, he too describes an encounter with the police, our police, on a highway from Oshawa to Niagra Falls. His cousin throws a Kleenex out the window and police pull the car over immediately. Almost as if they’d been following, waiting for a reason.

A hush came over the car as the stocky officer strode up to the window and asked my dad if he knew why we’d been stopped. “Yes,” my father answered, his voice shaky, like a child in the principal’s office. My dad isn’t a big man, but he always cut an imposing figure in our household. This was the first time I realized he could be afraid of something. “He’s going to pick it up right now,” he assured the officer nervously, as Sana exited the car to retrieve the garbage. The cop seemed casually uninterested, but everyone in the car thrummed with tension, as if they were bracing for something catastrophic. After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. “You realize everyone in this car is black, right?” he thundered at Sana.

We here up in Canada use the ugly, overt, Bull Connor racism of the American south (or apartheid in South Africa) as a smokescreen to hide our own inherent racism. Come on. We’re not that bad, as if a kinder, gentler racism is possible. We have no history of slavery in Canada. Therefore, no racism exists.

Events in the past couple weeks here in Toronto should disabuse us of that notion. Not only is racism a clear and present danger, it has been justified under the banner of effective policing. At its heart, the current practice of ‘carding’ is the assumption that people of colour, young men of colour especially, are more prone to criminal activity, therefore they forfeit their charter rights to lawful engagement with the police.

If Desmond Cole and I were walking down the street together, any street it seems, he would more likely be stopped by the police and asked for his personal information than I would be. Why? For no other reason than the fact Desmond Cole is black and I am white.

That’s racism, pure and simple. Hum and haw all you like, rationalize it, spin it and massage it. But if we condone the current practice of police carding, we are condoning racism.

By doing so, what kind of democracy does it say we live in when people are forced to go about their lives, negotiating how they move around their shared city differently? Take equality and fairness off the table. They don’t exist unless the words mean something other than I thought they did.

Show me your papers! That’s the essence of police carding, isn’t it?

If an appeal to a sense of decency or basic human rights doesn’t move you, what about the fundamental attack on civilian oversight by our police services we’ve been subject to? Recognizing there were some questions of legality with carding as it was being done, the police services board last term demanded that in a non-investigative interaction with the public, the police had to first inform a citizen that the exchange was entirely voluntary, they could walk away if they so desired. Also, the police were required to provide a receipt of the interaction giving, among other things, reasons for the interaction.

Turns out the police didn’t want to do that. So they ignored the request from their civilian oversight board, rendering their demands non-‘operationalized’, to use the term of our mayor who also doesn’t believe such a thing as white privilege exists, thus there’s no such thing as racism. Police dictate the policy they follow. It isn’t dictated to them.

Raising the equally dire specter of who’s exactly running the show here?

Not only does a strong democracy require an unwavering commitment to equality in all its forms, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, law enforcement must be subservient to its political masters. Anything else bends toward authoritarianism. We tried in good faith to negotiate a workable, acceptable form of carding. That failed. Nothing short of a complete abolition of the practice will now do.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


White Privilege, Black Heart

April 17, 2015

It is my experience that when a politician insists they’ve been elected into office to shake up the status quo, they mean the exact opposite. They are in fact ardent status quo embracers, hugging it lovingly to their bosom, caressing it, eye licking it, making sweet, sweet love to the status quo. You are my rock, status quo. Without you, I am lost, bereft, nothing. Oh my, my status quo.

Yesterday, Mayor John Tory voted along with 4 other members of the Police Services Board to approve a revamped police carding policy that has been described as racial profiling and, quite possibly, unconstitutional. It once again allows for police to stop any individual they encounter, demand personal information without informing that individual of their charter rights to tell the police to go fuck themselves and continue on their way, provide no record to that individual of that interaction and to keep that information filed away for some defined period of time. You know, in case something comes up later, something involving concerns for public safety.

That the overwhelming number of these individuals are men of colour should in no way be taken to mean that this policy is in any way racist. Pure coincidence. If it were racist, the mayor would be the first to give the policy the thumbs down. Because the mayor’s not a racist, and he voted in favour of this policy, carding cannot be racist.

Some of the mayor’s best friends, and all that.

Listen to Mayor Tory explain his vote (as relayed by Paisley Rae on the Twitter):

I’d like to put into context my vote. I don’t doubt for a second — *interrupted by shouts of SHAME* — I have no doubt that this kind of thing is going on (racial profiling) and one time is too many. I thought I was likely to vote in favour of this policy last night so I made some notes. It’s patently false that I’m in denial. If we go back to the 2014 policy it would take us back to the same impasse we’re facing now. 2014 policy was not operationalized. Attitudes were hardening, not driven in bad faith. I will say, police leadership was probably moving more slowly than if there’d been whole-hearted agreement. But that’s not insubordination. There was none, no progress at all. So do you provoke a confrontation or do you make one more effort to achieve movement. This policy isn’t operationalized, it’s a statement of principle which I feel is being looked down on today. You can order people to do things and they’ll do them but they’ll be insincere and incomplete. We need buy-in. Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance? I don’t live in that world {the not real world} to me, the choice wasn’t between April 2014 and where we are today. It was an impasse & no policy at all & no oversight OR we could have a quick step forward and a step forward that was subject to a quick review the choice was to take meaningful progress over an impasse [The room is RAPIDLY clearing out as people quietly curse on their way out the door.] I think the time period allowed for, of 6 months, is adequate to see.

After an entire afternoon of hearing impassioned deputations about the dehumanizing effects of carding, being badgered by the police to hand over your personal information with no reason given except for the one that’s silently understood between everyone concerned, the colour of your skin, being black or brown in the wrong place at the wrong time (any time or place, really), or harsh lawyerly words about the possible unconstitutionality of the policy, having been given an option to defer the implementation of the policy in order to ‘get it right’, as TPSB member Shelley Carroll said and voting against that deferral, after all that, our mayor voted to implement this contentious policy, offering only those mealy-mouthed words in his defense.

We’ll re-visit the issue, he said. In 6 months. That’s adequate. The problem being, as the mayor saw it, was there just wasn’t any buy-in for the old board-driven policy by Chief Blair and the police force. Non-compliance not insubordination. “Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance?” Mayor Tory asked.

Remember that new sheriff in town, getting tough on illegal parkers? But faced with a much more dire challenge to the well-being of this city, a police chief openly defying the directives of what is essentially civilian oversight, citing some backroom ‘legal advice’, Mayor Tory caved spectacularly. As the room cleared of disgruntled and dismayed community members, mothers and fathers of targeted children, residents of Toronto who feel marginalized and diminished by this renewed policy, discriminated against and harassed, the mayor spouted words devoid of any real meaning or intent. He simply filled the air, trying to explain himself.

I’ll leave what this all means to the legacy of Chief Bill Blair and police-city relations going forward in much more capable hands. But I want to ask all those John Tory voters still cloaking themselves in the defense that things could be worse, there could be a Ford in the mayor’s chair. Could it? Would it?

As Paisley Rae tweeted a few hours after the meeting, “Last year Michael Thompson, Francis Nunziata and Mike Del Grande [Rob Ford appointed city council police services board members] passed a more progressive carding policy than Tory did today. Take that in.” In fact, Councillor Thompson forwarded a letter, signed by 14 other city councillors (make it 15 since TPSB member Shelley Carroll voted against the new policy) opposing the new carding guidelines. Clearly, they didn’t understand the words the mayor was saying, the status quo he was shaking, the world Mayor Tory lives in where a step back is called a step forward, regression progress.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


A Legacy Left In The Blink Of An Eye

April 15, 2015

It should come as little surprise, given the magnitude of clusterfuckery inflicted on this city for the past 4+ years now, that the defining moments of John Tory’s mayoralty are coming fast and furious at him. junkintheclosetThe chicks have come home to roost as they say. Unfortunately, they hatched from eggs he didn’t lay but, now in charge of the coop, he’s obliged to raise and tend to them.

I’ve extended that analogy as far as I care to. The drift, I imagine, you get.

There’s the matter of the Scarborough subway. A white elephant of a boondoggle waiting to happen that’s going to cost the city billions of dollars unnecessarily and has already shown up on our tax bills for the past two years. During last year’s campaign, John Tory had the opportunity to flash his fiscal bonafides and renounce the scheme as little more than political pandering. He didn’t. He said, what’s done is done, there’s no use opening up that debate again. Mayor John Tory has kept that campaign pledge, steadfastly refusing to reconsider a bad decision despite the fact that all early indications suggest a Scarborough subway will compete for ridership with the south eastern portion of his own signature transit plan, SmartTrack.sweepundertherug

Rather than rise above this parochial politics which will threaten to limit the city’s ability to pay for other big ticket capital projects in the not too distant future, Mayor Tory blinked. Maybe a forthcoming staff report will provide enough cover for him to still scuttle the plans before the worst is done. Even so, that’s not what you’d call sound leadership.

About that gaping budget hole left behind by the previous city council? John Tory assured us during the 2014 campaign that he, and only he, could heal the rift wrought by the Ford administration with the provincial government. He, and only he, could smooth the ruffled feathers and bring Queen’s Park back to the table, pockets bursting with money to ante up for long forgotten obligations they could now get back to funding. Like transit and social housing, just to pick a couple of the more important ones.

In fact, what’s happened since his election is that the city has paid more back to the province than it’s received. $95 million for the Union-Pearson rail link. sweepundertherug2Some $50 million to cover the provincial shortfall on the Spadina subway expansion. And as for that $86 million hole from the withdrawal of the social program pooling compensation? Yeah, no dice.

At which point, Mayor Tory might’ve had the responsible budget conversation with Torontonians, informing us that, for the moment, we were on our own to balance the budget and to do that we needed to talk seriously about additional revenues, higher than hoped for property tax increase for example. This was another of those defining moments, a mess not of his own making that he now had to clean up. The mayor demurred, choosing instead to pretend he’d fixed the problem. Much like his predecessor.

Unlike his predecessor, Mayor Tory decided to directly address the matter of policing in Toronto, assuming a spot on the Police Services Board rather than designate a representative. A bold move, to be sure, with a union contract to be settled, a new chief to be appointed and a number of prickly, outstanding community issues, police carding at the top of that list. This mayor was not going to run and hide from any of it.

The contract was settled quietly and amicably, it seems. sweepundertherug1The wage increase of 8.64% over 4 years isn’t outrageous out of context but it is difficult to see how it’ll bring the overall police budget, the largest single item the city has to deal with, north of $1 billion annually, into the lean machine the mayor is demanding of other city departments. Not to worry, we were assured during the budget process. Money had been set aside for such a pay increase.

The new police chief has yet to be named with the current chief, Bill Blair, set to retire near the end of this month. But at least, the carding issue has been resolved, a happy compromise reached for everyone concerned. A ‘landmark’, the mayor called it. “We cannot live in a city where young black men, for example, feel devalued or disrespected.” Hoo-rah!

Except that it seems we are. Within a matter of days, the so-called compromise unravelled into acrimonious disagreement. It satisfied almost none of the concerns the public had with the procedure, ranging from the ultimate fate of any collected information through to the informing of the public’s right of refusal to simply walk away from any interaction with the police. sweepundertherug3After claiming the compromise struck the right balance, the Police Services Board chair, Alok Mukherjee, now suggests it simply wasn’t worth it “to go to war with the chief.”

“We were getting nowhere,” Mukherjee confessed. “There was a standoff. We were at an impasse.” In short, the police chief refused to accept direction from the board, thumbed his nose at civilian oversight. He was on his way out. Know when to pick your battles, more or less.

So now, the naming of the next police chief looms large for Mayor Tory. The choice will undoubtedly reflect intensely on his mayoralty. As he likes to remind us, he was elected to shake up the status quo. We shall see while not holding our breath.

Up next in the mayor’s legacy making tour, the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway has popped up onto the political radar. Again. This has been years in the making (and delaying) but it seems crunch time has landed right in Mayor Tory’s lap. (That sounded a lot more risqué than I intended.) sweepundertherug4This one’s already been kicked down the road as far as it can be.

The most sensible thing for anyone who isn’t one of the few drivers who uses that part of the Gardiner to get around the city is to tear it down from Jarvis street east. Replace it with a similar kind of boulevard design that happened when a previous part of the expressway was ripped own. Free that area of the city of the blight that comes from elevated thoroughfares. Step fully into the 21st-century.

But, you know, drivers. They’ll get mad. On talk radio yesterday, the mayor said people are always going to drive. So, you know, don’t rule out catering to their every demand. Drivers.

The previous council refused to make a decision. The hybrid plan – rejuvenate and rejig don’t remove the expressway — was offered up as a compromise. John Tory touted it specifically during the campaign. He was, after all, the compromise candidate.

Now that the bill has come in, and the price tag for such a compromise is so astronomical, nearly double the tear down option, nearly another billion dollars simply in order to keep car drivers happy, just how compromised is Mayor Tory?shinethoseshoes

Defining moments aren’t always time based. They happen when they happen, heedless of our orderly sensibilities and reliance on retrospective. Time isn’t on Mayor John Tory’s side. Through previous neglect and avoidance, these weighty, significant issues have piled up, their expiry dates come due. His chances are coming fast and furious. If it hasn’t yet, judgement will arrive early.

judgmentally submitted by Cityslikr


Nobody Really Wins

February 28, 2014

Pause for a second before gleefully (or maybe it’s just wearily) putting your hands together and praying for the arrest of Mayor Rob Ford. holduponthecelebrationsPause to think about the optics.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that people in powerful positions should be treated any differently than anyone else. If laws have been broken and arrests warranted, lower the boom regardless of social status or political ranking. That I even need to write that is an indictment of the fact that isn’t always the case.

But no one is really the better for it when an elected official is led away in handcuffs or similarly chased from office outside of an election night loss. At least, the office and the governmental body represented sags a little under such a perp walk. It seems to me democracy in America has never really recovered from the Watergate scandal. There was a loss of faith in the system and the void was filled by heavily orchestrated partisanship and big money.

The arrest of an elected representative needs to be carefully considered and conducted with extreme judiciousness. perpwalkThey are not a private citizen. They are a public servant. The reverberations are different and far more widespread.

Now, the argument could be made that any official who’s pushed things to the point of being arrested has already soiled the position they were elected into, reverberations already felt. Lord knows, the likes of Rob Ford and his councillor-brother have inflicted more than enough damage on the office of the mayor of Toronto. A possible arrest, nothing but a fillip, a dollop of icing on a cratered cake.

Still.

I’m just empty postulating but there could be all sorts of things at work here that haven’t bubbled up to the surface yet. All this could be little more than a fishing expedition (so to speak) on the part of the Toronto police. They don’t have anything stickable to the mayor. So they’re just shaking the tree to see what may fall out.

He could be very correct in suggesting they’ve got nothing on him which is a far cry from his claim to have done nothing wrong. The man’s admitted to smoking crack. His hands are far from clean.

It could also be a scenario where the police have just fired a warning shot across Mayor Ford’s bow. Let him know that the gig’s up and it’s time to walk away as they’d expect any reasonable, rational person to do, caught in as many compromising and unbecoming situations as he has been. stewThe chain of office will protect him from any further police investigation. Just step aside and do the honourable thing.

HaHaHa. And **sigh**.

Of course, there could be much deeper implications at work, matters that have only been hinted at and whispered about until now. Things we may never discover. But suffice it to say that we have come a long way from those innocent days of the 2010 campaign when Rob Ford was recorded over the phone agreeing to try and secure some oxycontin for Dieter Doneit-Henderson.

When the news broke, Ford claimed he “said what I needed to say to get the person off the phone without provoking him” and that he did so because he feared for his family. (Note the familiar pattern of turning a gaffe into a point of victimization. One Rob Ford has used extensively throughout his career, up to and including the current morass with the Toronto police.)

Many of us shrugged the whole thing off and actually bought Ford’s explanation. “I’ll try. I’ll try,” Ford was heard telling Mr Doneit-Henderson. “I don’t know this s–t [oxycontin] but I’ll try to f—–g [fucking] find it.”

Of course, he doesn’t know anything about oxycontin. The guy drinks some. Does a little weed. Who doesn’t? saladdaysIt’s not like he knows anything about harder drugs, right? Right??

HaHaHa. And **sigh**

(As the campaign staff scrambled to salvage his candidacy over this, you have to wonder, with nearly some 4 years of hindsight, how many of them knew the true extent of Rob Ford’s drug problems. How many knew and looked the other way. That’d be a conversation I’d like to have.)

You know, I could forgive the mayor his drug use and hard partying ways. Actually, scratch that. I could care less about the mayor’s drug use and hard partying ways outside of their deleterious effect on his job performance.

No.

At issue right now is Rob Ford’s adamant refusal to accept responsibility for his deplorable behaviour, and the attempts to paint what’s happening as some sort of political vendetta. foodfightHaving taken a dump in the mayor’s office and used the city’s flag to wipe his ass, he and his brother are on an all out smear campaign to paint anybody standing opposed shit brown. If he hasn’t done so already, he’s proving with every utterance he or his councillor-brother makes, every unsubstantiated allegation they hurl, his supreme unfitness for the office, let alone any re-election consideration.

Of course, this is not news to a solid majority of Toronto residents.

It doesn’t, however, make the prospect of his possible arrest any more appealing or satisfying. Nobody really wins in that scenario.

reluctantly submitted by Cityslikr


Standard Operating Procedure

July 28, 2013

I have to confess to a naïve, privileged, white, middle-class, male rose-coloured view about our police. Despite personal albeit second-hand evidence to the contrary, my default opinion is to think of the police forces in this country and in this city as ones filled with honourable individuals, dedicated to upholding the law in the most peaceable manner possible. Sure, there are some bad apples, as is the case in any organization employing thousands of people but the institution itself, while not beyond reproach, remains trustworthy and respectable.

This does not square at all with that.

Now, I get that we do not have the full context. The video only serves as a brief glimpse of the entire incident. It’s impossible to hear exactly what was being said, what the shooting victim actually did (or didn’t do) to provoke such a response. We cannot rush to judgement.

That said, this looks bad. Very, very bad.

What we do know is that the shooting victim was armed with a knife although apparently not murderously competent (or inclined) enough to do any physical harm to the passengers and driver of the streetcar who all escaped. There were a large number of police officers on the scene, at least 5 or 6 at the beginning of the video, growing to double digits by the end. Nine shots were fired, not in quick succession but in groups. After which, it sounds as if a taser is being used.

On the face of it, it seems like excessive force, a quick over-reaction to a situation where no imminent danger to any of the officers could be seen. On the face of it. Obviously, more details need to be known, a thorough investigation necessary.

Yeah, I’m still willing to believe that can happen.

But if what we see on the video is essentially what happened, that someone armed with a knife alone on that streetcar, having not yet inflicted any injury on anyone else, surrounded by many police officers, all armed with guns, making some sort of threatening gesture or simply not complying with orders from the police, is shot to death without any other sort of situational de-escalation tactic first employed, we need to have a much deeper conversation about policing in this city. There’s every reason to expect the police officer who did the shooting will be cleared, deemed to have been following standard operating procedure. It’s happened before, almost eerily déjà vu-like. Reyal Jardine-Douglas and Edmond Yu.

The use of lethal force has to be the last resort not the first one. That needs to be standard operating procedure. If it isn’t, let’s start demanding a change.

submitted by Cityslikr


Shrug Off A Thug

February 20, 2013

You have to give Mayor Ford marks for honesty. When asked about the recent spike in shootings of young men in Toronto, he said, “If I had an answer for (gun violence), I’d implement it.” shrugAnd then, “We’re trying everything we can and I just don’t have a magic answer right now and if I did, like I said, I’d be the first one to use it…I’m trying my very, very best and I don’t know really what else I can do.”

He’s right in some ways. Crime is a multi-level governmental problem. As the mayor of the city, his jurisdiction is limited. It’s not as if he can just grab the assailants by the scruff the neck and force them to play football. homersimpsonOr deport them from the city.

He can’t deport them, right?

Besides, former mayor David Miller reacted to a spate of shootings during the infamous Summer of the Gun under his watch, and for what? Seven years on and people are still getting shot and killed. Trying is the first step to failure, as Homer Simpson said. So aside from rolling back initiatives and programs of your predecessor, a mayor can only do so much.

Proaction starts with the same three letters as progressive and a fiscally conservative minded politician like Rob Ford has no time for either concept. There’s only one answer to deal with each and every problem society faces. Cut taxes, cut government and let the free market create jobs and opportunities. hediditFailing that, lock up all criminals and throw away the key.

Looking for any other kind of response from him is futile. He knows no other approach. His lingering appeal lies in the simplicity he brings to even the most complex of problems.

He’s not alone.

Watching Councillor Mike Del Grande at yesterday’s Police Services Board meeting, the same kind of thinking was on display. In response to Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle’s deputation [page 9] about the unsolved murders of over 50 men from the Somali community in Alberta and Ontario over the past decade, the recently installed board member intoned the dark spectre of ‘drugs’. “…[news]papers seem to report drug-related causes leading to young people’s deaths”, Councillor Del Grande suggested. As if, unsolved murders, sure. But if we’re talking ‘drug-related causes’, what are you going to do?

Reap what you sow and all that. Just how Jesus would’ve reacted, casting the first stone at any and all sinners. nothingtobedoneOr at least, cast aspersions to absolve yourself of any responsibility.

It’s a collective shrug of indifference from our council’s conservatives. If flat lining spending can’t solve a problem then that problem is simply intractable. Nothing to be done. Certainly talking for five or six hours at council over something like Councillor Josh Matlow’s Taking Action on the Roots of Youth Violence motion won’t solve a thing especially if it leads to any sort of thug hugging.

So stop looking to our mayor and his fellow conservative colleagues to deal with stuff, folks. They’re in over their heads. If they can’t slash and burn their way to a solution, they’re at a loss how to respond. Expect anything more and you simply haven’t been listening to what they’ve been telling us.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


The Kids Are Alright

January 22, 2013

Next time you get all hot under the collar at what you perceive to be shenanigans, childish antics or just a general sense of out-of-control behaviour by our municipal politicians, you really need to take a deep breath and a long look at André Côté’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance report, kidsarealrightThe Fault Lines at City Hall: Reflection on Toronto’s Local Government. Given the constraints and competing interests at work, it’s really remarkable anything gets done at all. And despite what you might be hearing around Toronto these days, quite a bit gets done, starting with ten billion dollars or so worth of operating and capital budgets just approved last week.

Could things run more smoothly? Of course they could. That’s true at both Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill as well. Probably every place of government the world over.

Two points in Mr. Côté’s report jumped out at me as legitimate causes of both the institutional as well as current struggles politicians face at City Hall. One is entirely external and, as it stands now, almost entirely out of our local politicians’ hands. The second is very specific to our present situation.

Another factor that clouds political accountability at City Hall is the degree of provincial control over municipal affairs. The Province sets election dates and service standards, limits the use of taxes, requires approval for certain asset sales, and uses conditional funding arrangements to force compliance in important policy areas. The result is that the City’s field of action is constrained. The reliance on fiscal transfers also breaches a basic principle of public finance: accountability is blurred when the level of government making the spending decisions is different from the one that raises the revenues.” [page 5]

Everything municipal governments do in this province can be undone or undermined by their provincial overlords. We are their ‘creatures’, according to a 19th-century document written when this was an agrarian country and not properly challenged in nearly 150 years. eviloverlordUltimate accountability lies almost exclusively in the hands of politicians not necessarily elected to mind municipal level issues. In most cases, we should refer to them as absentee landlords.

Take Toronto, for example. (Please, the rest of the province chimes in.)

Against our collective will, we six municipalities, were messily forced into one by an antagonistic Queen’s Park government. ‘Efficientized’ to use Lucas Costello’s term; a lean, mean level of government meant to shed its fat and reap a certain windfall of streamlined bounty. Never mind that none of that happened because it was never intended to in the first place. It was all part of a downloading scheme almost entirely for the purpose of lightening the fiscal load on the provincial coffers.

Toronto was never given the appropriate powers commensurate with the much larger entity it had become. In fact, it was stripped of a level of governing that oversaw some of the more contentious, citywide services like policing and transit. Gone was Metro council, leaving only one politician at City Hall representing the interests of the city as a whole. The mayor.

Now figures as disparate as academic Richard Florida and councillor-brother Doug Ford have publicly mused about countering this problem by instituting a stronger mayoral system like they have in the U.S. Frankly, I find that notion to be a fucking nightmare scenario. strongmayorAll well and good if you like the policies and directions of a Mayors Bloomberg or Miller or Ford but what if you don’t?

Let me run a hypothetical by you that we can all be appalled at.

A Mayor Giorgio Mammoliti in a strong mayor system?

One might argue if we had such a thing, we’d be more careful with who we elect mayor. And if we aren’t?

My suggestion is rather than seek to beef up our municipal governance by bestowing more power upon one person, we look to increase it for the 2.6 million residents who live here. How? Well, that’s another post entirely and probably by someone with much stronger public policy credentials than I possess. (Paging John McGrath. Call me!)

This does take us the second important point brought up by Andre Côté in his report.

Reformers should also bear in mind that, under the existing system, Mayors Rob Ford and David Miller have had notable successes in advancing their policy agendas. Both academic literature and recent history suggest that a combination of public profile, political acuity, and a willingness to use the softer skills of persuasion and consensus-building can result in successful and effective lead­ership at City Hall, even without a strong mayor system.” [page 7]

Pre-amalgamation, mayors in their respective cities had fewer councillor cats to herd and the issues were largely more specifically localized. liontaming(Many that weren’t were dealt with at the Metro level.) So they didn’t need more powers to push their agenda or items forward.

Such is not the case in post-amalgamation Toronto. Yet both Mel Lastman and David Miller managed for most of their terms in office to get `er done. Rob Ford too in his first year or so as mayor. Then he didn’t. Ultimately, he has no one else to blame but himself for that.

That’s not quite right.

We the voters are to blame as well because a plurality of us voted for a candidate who possessed few of the traits necessary to be an effective mayor in Toronto. ‘Political acuity’? As a campaigner perhaps but certainly not as mayor. ‘…a willingness to use the softer skills of persuasion and consensus-building…’. Never ever during his time at City Hall did Rob Ford display that particular trait. In fact, he revelled in being the exact opposite, the outsider, the lone wolf.

We elected him mayor despite all that and somehow seemed surprised how badly it’s all worked out.

A perfect mayor (if such a thing existed) will in no way paper over all the problematic governance realities this city faces. hogtheballIt would be foolhardy to think otherwise. But we shoot ourselves in the foot, and vote against our best interests when we throw our support behind a candidate based on a platform of sticking it to others at City Hall. Such an us-versus-them approach is destined to failure, not only for the candidate in question but the entire city as everything becomes a grind not a collaborative effort.

The city doesn’t have the power it needs but it has to stop squandering the power it does have. That starts with electing a mayor who is able to see past their own narrow focus and reach out to interests that are not their own.

co-operatively submitted by Cityslikr