A Catalyst For Real Change

September 18, 2015

This will be the last thing I say about the 2024 Olympic bid, now non-bid.

Honest.crossmyheart

I’m as tired of it as you are.

Honest.

On Tuesday, prior to Mayor Tory officially confirming what everyone unofficially already knew, Matt Galloway hosted a segment on Metro Morning with two opposing views on the city-building merits of hosting the Olympic games. Supporting the idea was Rahul Bhardwaj, CEO and President of Toronto Foundation, an organization promoting “the Art of Wise Giving” and connecting “philanthropy to community needs and opportunities” (according to the group’s website). He was also the VP of Toronto’s last Olympic bid, back in 2008.

I’ve seen Mr. Bhardwaj talk at a couple of events over the past few years, heard him interviewed on the radio. He always struck me as somebody I’d like to see in public office. impressedThoughtful, enthusiastic, articulate, a welcome addition to any legislative body, in my humble opinion.

So I listened intently to his arguments about what hosting the Olympics could do for Toronto. Since it was pretty clear that wouldn’t be happening this time around, no looming deadline hanging over the discussion, it didn’t feel all so loaded and contentious. Now, with years of planning ahead at our disposal, was the time to have this conversation.

He sang a familiar refrain. Hosting the Olympics would act as a “catalyst for the things this city needs,” he told Galloway. The Olympics presented “an opportunity to focus scare resources” at all levels of government on building things like transit and other infrastructure, affordable housing, create jobs.

“World class cities, that’s what they do,” he said. Yeah. He went there.

“We all have to take risks. We all have to innovate.” Failure to do so spoke “to a lack of confidence”, ambition even. spielTo not bid on the Olympics represented a “missed opportunity,” according to Bhardwaj.

Aside from the ‘world class city’, lack of confidence nonsense, I found fault with little Mr. Bhardwaj said. Toronto certainly has a long list of need-to-haves in terms of both physical and social infrastructure. It doesn’t have the means to pay for them itself nor should it have to. The other levels of government, the senior levels of government have proven loath to contribute to any or all of these items fully or regularly. Offering up an opportunity to do so in a manner that allows them to be both self-aggrandizing while appearing to be province/nation building rather than specific city building might just be the ticket.

Risky, for sure, as all sorts of things have to fall into place for any sort of Olympic bid to succeed. Innovative though? I guess, if that means depending on a magic bullet solution that’s shown mixed results in other places that have hosted the Olympics. As Mr. Bhardwaj’s co-guest on the show, Dean Rivando, claimed, the 2012 games in London brought $7 billion in infrastructure with a $14 billion price tag in public money spent. vantageThat’s a pretty hefty middleman sum.

“Why do we need a circus like that [the Olympics] to build the things that we need in Toronto?” Galloway asked Bhardwaj.

Answering that question satisfactorily would be something truly innovative. City-builders like Rahul Bhardwaj should spend some of their city-building energy addressing the asymmetric governance structure which sees us funnelling most of our money the furthest away from where we need it and have it trickling back when it suits the federal and provincial governments’ interests. We’re like children who cut the neighbours’ lawns for extra cash in order to pay rent to our parents, and still have to beg them for an allowance, and when they give it to us, we’re told we have to use it to go buy them a pack of smokes. (Yeah, I’m of that vantage. Pun not typo.)

Bad analogies aside, we need innovative city leaders who don’t simply accept the status quo. I do not believe you can be an effective and useful city builder anymore unless at least some of your respective connections and social capital are utilised in the direction of confronting and combating the fundamental lack of fairness in how our governance model functions. puppetmasterWe have to figure out how, in the 21st-century, we shed our 19th-century skin.

By hosting the Olympics, Bhardwaj told Metro Morning listeners on Tuesday, “We can actually build a vision of this city.”

How about dedicating our efforts to building a city that isn’t dependent on other levels of government to do things it needs to do, a city that doesn’t have to beg and perform a song and dance in the hopes of propping up our crumbling infrastructure or housing its residents affordably or move them around from point A to point B quickly and efficiently? A vision of an independent city that makes the right decisions for the right reasons rather than because it has little alternative. That’s the vision of Toronto I’d like to see us pursuing.

for realzly submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor Declares

September 15, 2015

It looks like now very few of us will ever learn why it was Mayor John Tory caught himself a case of Olympic fever and, for the last month or so, tried to spread the contagion city-wide. torontosignHolding a curious press conference on the roof of snack bar in Nathan Phillips Square (to afford a better camera angle on the PanAm/ParaPan Toronto sign, I guess) to announce his intention not to submit a commitment to bid letter for the 2024 summer games, the mayor cited most of the same reasons those opposing a possible bid had been trotting out since the idea popped up in the wake of the above mentioned PanAm/ParaPan games. Too short a time line to put together a proper bid. No committee in place to do so. A lack of support from the private sector, and by support, I mean money.

One reason he didn’t mention that I think should be pointed out here is the soft public support for a bid. Perhaps the veil of secrecy that surrounded the mayor’s consultative process during the last few weeks dampened any sort of chance at a last minute surge in pro-bid momentum. Who exactly was he talking to? puttingoutthefireWhile he claimed he’d been in conversation with, among other stakeholders, his council colleagues, Anthony Perruzza might beg to differ. In fact, he did just that yesterday on Metro Morning. The hush-hush, behind closed doors approach the mayor engaged in leading up to this decision generated more suspicion than enthusiasm.

Why Mayor Tory took to the podium to make this negative announcement remains something of a mystery to me. Wouldn’t a simple press release have sufficed, given he was saying no? I guess having beaten the bushes to scare up some semblance of interest in hosting the Olympics, words on page might’ve seemed like the coward’s way out. Nope. Step up. Claim the decision as your own.

Which, arguably, has been something of the intent and optics of all this from the outset. The mayor as the authoritative voice, the buck stops with him guy. City council as merely an afterthought, a rubber stamp on mayoral decisions.

None of this is true but you wouldn’t know that from how the entire will he-or-won’t he bid on the Olympics played out. bigcheese1Mayor Tory’s face was all over the push, his words treated as official statements. He brushed aside calls for a special meeting to ensure full council input into the decision, to make the ultimate decision which it inevitably had to do to go forward. This was his decision, the mayor wanted you to think, his alone to make.

Today’s press conference was also an opportunity for Mayor Tory to show everybody he was not rash. He was reasonable, prudent and whatever else he wants you to think he is that isn’t rash. And all that stuff he told you we needed the Olympics for in order to build? Transit and other major infrastructure needs. Affordable housing. Poverty reduction. Yeah well, not necessarily. The other levels of government need to get onboard, helping out with that. Toronto is the country’s biggest city, an important economic engine. When Toronto thrives, the country thrives.

Exactly where we were before all this talk of an Olympic bid to spur senior government action on such vital municipal issues. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess. Hey. It was worth a shot. Except that it wasn’t, as it turns out, as Mayor Tory announced today.startfinish

During the press conference, Mayor Tory took a not so subtle swipe at the previous administration, stating an Olympic bid was no ferris wheel. He was no Doug Ford, impetuously redesigning a decade’s worth of planning on the waterfront, with elaborate renderings of amusement park rides and monorails. No, if you’re going to indulge in spectacle, go big. How about an 80,000 seat stadium on the waterfront! Now that would garner us some serious infrastructure. It would have to, right?

So Mayor Tory gets applauded today for his wise and pragmatic decision not to pursue a course of action he himself had encouraged and championed for the entire last part of the summer. Not only encouraged and championed but fluffed with his talk of the September 15th deadline being simply a letter of interest in possibly bidding when, in fact, as he admitted at the podium today, it was a commitment to bid. slowclapI guess it took him all this time to finally get around to reading the not so fine print in the IOC’s bid process documents.

Oh well. It could’ve been worse. The mayor could’ve made the wrong decision today. A decision city council would’ve had to clean up afterwards.

That, I think, earns him a slow clap for prudently and reasonably making a decision on a bid for the 2024 Olympics that was never his to make in the first place and shouldn’t even have been entertained at this late stage in the game.

Well done.

decisively submitted by Cityslikr


Emperotory

September 11, 2015

Let me run this one up the flagpole for you.alcaponedeaddeaddead

Regardless of where he lands in terms of a 2024 Olympic bid for Toronto, after his agonizing to watch, behind-the-scenes deliberations, the only firm conclusion you can come to is Mayor John Tory has arrived at his Rob Ford ‘Transit City is Dead’ moment.

You remember that one, right? On the day of his swearing in as mayor back in 2010, Ford stepped up to the microphones and unilaterally declared that the previous administration’s massive transit plan, one of the projects already well underway, was dead, finished, over and out. Just like that. No debate with his council colleagues. Rob Ford was now the mayor, the big cheese. What he said, goes. End of discussion.

Of course, it wasn’t. That particular discussion was far from over, is far from over. 1984pigsIt lingers on still.

But Rob Ford, in that single utterance, made with no consultation outside of his small gang of vandals, drew a line in the sand, daring anyone to cross. Few did, initially, at least. For about 18 months or so after that, Rob Ford’s primacy as city council alpha went unchallenged.

Now listen to Mayor Tory’s most recent utterances about a possible Olympic bid less than a week before the deadline for making a decision.

I’m engaged in a very extensive consultative process with groups and individuals and I continue to do that. I will make what I hope will be a considered decision — that people will respect as being considered — when the time comes.

What groups or individuals? We’re only getting dribs and drabs of that information. But we can be pretty much assured it doesn’t include many other members of city council. Mayor Tory has brushed aside a request from Councillor Anthony Perruzza for a special council meeting to discuss the city putting in a bid letter next Tuesday.

I just felt in the circumstances that the decision as to whether to even send a letter or not expressing interest was one that I could make, in consultation with my colleagues and a lot of other people. So I’ll be held accountable for that decision.

“I just felt…the decision…was one that I could make.”

Like Rob Ford, this mayor single-handedly feels he can make a monumental decision on his own. Don’t get side-tracked by his weasel assurances that this is just a letter ‘expressing interest’ in a bid. igotthisThere’s no evidence anywhere that I can find that next Tuesday’s deadline is anything other than a ‘commitment to bid’. It says so right in the International Olympic Committee’s very own 2024 bid document, page 20 to be exact.

As for Mayor Tory being ‘held accountable’ for the decision he makes on this? I say, sure, starting right now. Let’s hold him accountable for his arrogant disregard for our local democratic process. If the Rob Ford years taught us nothing else, we should be well aware of what happens when one man and his small coterie of advisors and hangers-on tries to steamroll city council, and city council allows itself to get rolled over. Nothing good.

And if your response to that statement is to jump to John Tory’s defense, to point out that he’s no crackhead, that he shows up to work on time, that he’s no dummy like his predecessor, that he’s reasonable, sensible, prudent, you’re missing the bigger point. He shares Rob Ford’s point of view that as mayor he gets to call the shots, and city council’s backing simply comes with the territory. A mayor is just one vote but it’s the only vote that counts.

You like your mayors strong, if not in statute, in practice. I don’t. illgetbacktoyouI think a mayor of Toronto has as much power as he needs, and if he’s unable to use it to push an agenda through city council, that’s on him not the system.

As the clock clicks down to the bid decision deadline next Tuesday, and more and more information leaks out about the backroom maneuvers that have been going on – through Freedom of Information access to e-mails, the mayor’s been forced to admit there’s an unofficial bid ‘working group’ operating to assist him in “planning his consultations” – and the names of the people he’s been consulting with, largely unelected names – revealed, city council should realize that its authority is being usurped by the mayor’s office. He ignored a request for a council meeting to debate a possible bid. He has not been forthcoming in providing information to the public about how any decision is being made.

Whatever decision Mayor Tory makes next week, the city council cannot let this moment pass without making some sort of stand. That’ll be easier, obviously, if he decides to proceed with a commitment to bid and needs council approval for any money the city might need to come up with (and there will be money needed). royalsealBut even if the mayor declines to proceed, city council needs to make it clear, in the strongest way possible, that this was never a mayor’s decision to make alone, that all the behind-the-scenes, Freedom of Information access only deliberations were unacceptable and undemocratic. If Mayor Tory’s doing all that on an Olympic bid, what else is going on back there?

City council needs to nip this mayor’s imperious inclinations in the bud now. It needs to show the mayor exactly who the boss is here. Like Rob Ford before him, Mayor Tory seems to have claimed a mayoral mandate as some sort of executive fiat. He’ll keep thinking that until city council shows him otherwise.

advisingly submitted by Cityslikr