Talking Accountability

July 12, 2015

garyowens

If you think the city’s accountability offices are unnecessary relics from a past administration, you’re probably not looking closely enough.

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In Praise Of Paul

April 2, 2015

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

Grim, dark days indeed.

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

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

Councillor Paul Ainslie.applaud

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

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

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

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

Then came 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Playing Politics

October 5, 2012

Try to parse the dark logic of this.

In the end, city council voted unanimously (with a few notable abstentions) to adopt the recommendations contained in the Ombudsman’ report into the civic appointment process conducted last year by the Civic Appointments Committee. Recommendations a handful of councillors and the mayor vehemently argued at council and/or in the media were unnecessary because the problems they are intended to address never occurred in the first place. Or, in the always blithely oblivious words of Councillor Norm Kelly, “… the Ombudsman is fixing something that is not broke.”

Only could a hardcore ideologue or someone completely disengaged with the reality swirling around him sit through this week’s fiery council debate, shrug his shoulders and conclude, what’s the problem? This, coming from a guy who sits right beside the budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande. At the height of the viciousness being tossed around at council chambers yesterday, Del Grande stood up on a point of privilege to essentially wipe his hands of the proceedings, disgusted with the gutter tone it had descended into, claiming he’d never been a part of anything like it in all his time in office.

As any of our regular readers know, I am not a fan of the budget chief. He represents almost everything I dislike in right wing politicians. And not for nothing was he once dubbed, Cardinal Mike Del Grandstand.

But in this, I have to say, his repulsion felt genuine. He talked kindly of gentlemanly behaviour at previous councils towards him by Joe Pantalone. His abhorrence at the fight over the Ombudsman’s report crossed political lines.

This is both good news and bad news for Mayor Ford.

The Ombudsman’s report and ensuing debate over it saw him abandoned by almost all of his natural allies. Not only did the budget chief walk away but other conservative councillors kept their distance. You heard nothing from councillors David Shiner or Karen Stintz. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday stood and expressed complete and utter incredulity at why council was spending so much time on this debate. The recommendations in the report were clear and good. Let’s just get on with it. At one point of time, the deputy mayor could be seen standing on the periphery of the chambers, glaring in the direction of Councillor Mammoliti, looking as if he couldn’t bring himself to be sitting in the same row as his colleague.

Even Mayor Ford’s bad lieutenant of devious doings, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong steered cleared. There was no upside to be seen going to bat for the mayor on this issue.

Only those must entrenched and (not coincidentally members of the Civic Appointments Committee) stood with Mayor Ford. Much has been rightly made of the bully antics of Councillor Mammoliti but the true depths were dredged by Speaker Frances Nunziata. Assuming her councillor seat, her 7 minute speaking time extended to at least 15 minutes with all the points of order and privilege demanded by those she shrilly huffed and puffed and hurled baseless accusations at. It was during this time, the budget chief rose, castigated his colleagues and left the chambers.

Which may represent the silver lining of all this for the mayor.

All the hurly burly created by his defenders helped impugn not only the integrity of the Ombudsman’s report but that of city staff as well in at least the minds of his most ardent supporters. ‘Politically motivated’ they managed to insert into the debate and got the chatter of it being nothing more than a he said-she said, hearsay document despite the fact that all the non-material evidence in it being sworn to under oath. They demanded names and documentation, ultimately revealing only their supreme ignorance of how the work of the city’s Accountability Officers is effectively conducted.

Yet, when all was said and done, despite the protestations of innocence and claims of partisan, political attacks inflicted upon them by the office of the Ombudsman, they voted (with the exception of councillors Kelly and Mammoliti who stepped out of the chambers when the vote was held) to accept the report’s findings and adopt its recommendations. How couldn’t they? After all, Councillor Doug Ford said over and over how the administration was dedicated to openness, accountability and transparency. For them, to vote against receiving the Ombudsman’s report would be nothing more than trying to suck and blow at the same time.

The only element of ‘politics’ introduced into all this was done on behalf of the administration. To accept the Ombudsman’s finding without attempting to denigrate it first was tantamount to admitting mistakes had been made (and I’m being very generous with that assessment). And we all know, Mayor Ford and his closest advocates are loathe to admit to mistakes. Ever.

Instead unsubstantiated allegations were thrown out against everyone and anyone. The Ombudsman, council colleagues, city staff all came under fire from Team Ford. At one point, Councillor Ford said that whatever may’ve happened, the mayor’s hands were clean. Not that the report ever named the mayor specifically, only referring to the mayor’s staff. No matter. The mayor was above reproach.

But that’s not exactly how things are supposed to work.

From the 2010-2014 Council Handbook:

2.14 Councillor staff – conduct and policies

Councillor staff, when acting in their role as a representative of the Councillor, must comply with the Code of Conduct for Members of Council (see page 100). Councillors are responsible for ensuring that their staff understand their obligations and responsibilities.

(h/t to Jude MacDonald)

Certainly the same goes for the mayor and his staff.

But accountability, it would seem, only applies to others and previous administrations. Demanding it from the mayor’s office and his most rabid supporters is just playing politics.

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