A New Generation Of Suburban Resentment

How would you best sum up Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest) first term in office? is a question nobody’s asked me until now.surprisedbythequestion

Hmmm. Councillor Berardinetti, huh? Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest, eh?

Elephants, bike lane hatred and other terribly misguided public transit views.

Yeah. That about sums it up.

As to the elephants, I can’t offer up much in the way of analysis. Something about moving them from an unhealthy environment at the Toronto Zoo to a nicer place more conducive to the elephant lifestyle. How best to do that. Bob Barker. Different coloured t-shirts in the council chamber.

I remember Councillor Berardinetti being all up in that debate. No judgement from me about it. Wasn’t high on my list of things to be concerned about. bobbarkerKudos to the councillor for making it one of hers.

While she seemed to love the elephants, Councillor Berardinetti had little time for bike lanes. During the 2010 campaign, she claimed that some residents living along Pharmacy Avenue had moved because they could not “get out of their own driveway”, and within a year of taking over as councillor in Ward 35 had the damn bike lanes torn up along with those on Jarvis Street. In fact, run through this list of council votes from July 2011. Councillor Berardinetti pretty much came out against every pro-biking measure.

We get it, councillor. You represent a suburban ward. Everybody likes to drive there. Bikes have no place in your vision of how a city moves people around.

Or LRTs, for that matter.

Between she and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre), they played point for the 7 other Scarborough councillors who eventually helped then TTC Chair Karen Stintz flip the planned Bloor-Danforth LRT extension to a subway. crybabiesNot so much good cop-bad cop, the two traded off on being perpetually outraged and indignant. World class transit! Scarborough is owed! Selfish downtowners!

“You can’t go to residents with revenue tools and not even deliver a subway,” Councillor Berardinetti pronounced. Subways are the only mode of transit worth paying for. Nothing for nothing. Something for subways.

Yeah so, pretty much stamp their feet, whine loudly and hold their collective breath until they got their way.

To give her full marks, at least Councillor Berardinetti had been consistent in her opinion that Scarborough deserved a subway, any subway. She went along with Mayor Ford when he sought to bury the Eglinton crosstown and agreed that his Sheppard subway folly didn’t need any of the Dr. Gordon Chong suggested revenue tools to proceed. The councillor was an early and eager adopter of the Scarborough LRT/subway swap, even voting for an additional property tax increase to fund it, waitingforasubwayan inclination she didn’t show a lot of on almost any other issue so far during her time at City Hall.

Throughout much of this term, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti has proven herself comfortably in line with Mayor Rob Ford, especially on fiscal matters. She’s voted to keep taxes low, freezing and eliminating important sources of revenue. Just this year, as a member of the Budget Committee, she pushed a motion to ignore the staff recommended property tax increase, lowering it by .25% and making up the difference with any surpluses from the projected Land Transfer Tax revenue. Credit where credit’s due, the councillor didn’t then turn around and vote in favour of a report looking at any possible reduction in the LTT rate.

She pretty much reflects the arc of the city council story during the Ford era. As an original member of his powerful Executive Committee, Councillor Berardinetti enabled all his destructive instincts early on. But as he pissed away his power to influence the agenda, she slowly changed course, jumping from the Executive Committee during the mid-term shuffle. berardinettifordShe had also left the Budget Committee for a while from March 2012 until January of the following year. A trendsetter, let’s call her. Totally comfortable with his policies but unhappy with his politicking.

Maybe this might play well for her constituents.

In 2010, she handily beat incumbent Adrian Heaps, concluding a bitter struggle that had gone back to the 2006 election that resulted in lawsuits and all sorts of legal wrangling. Ward 35 went strongly pro-Rob Ford in that election, so maybe she’s tapped into a certain ambivalence toward the mayor amongst her residence, loving the message, just not the messenger. If that’s the case, she may be hard to unseat.

But if anybody were to run against her based on her record, take her to task for her habit of underfunding the city’s ability to pay for programs and services, call her out on her subway love taking priority over common fiscal (not to mention transit) sense, Councillor Berardinetti would have a lot to answer for. She’s been very much at the epicentre of a couple of the city’s most divisive debates over the last three years, nutcrackerand has not provided a particularly cooperative voice, opting instead for the us-versus-them, suburban-versus-downtown tone of anger and resentment that has plagued Toronto since amalgamation. Having been put into a couple positions of leadership as a first time councillor, with an opportunity to change that tone, she failed to provide much leadership at all.

It’s hard to imagine she’ll grow into the role going forward, having adopted the familiar position of Scarborough councillor with a chip on their shoulder that seems to be the commonplace feature with many. Why change? It’s an approach that’s been working since long before Councillor Berardinetti came to Toronto City Hall.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr

Numbers Numbers Numbers

Frankly, given Mayor Ford’s disinclination with numbers it’s a wonder how he pays for a Red Bull at a convenience store counter without constantly being stiffed on the change. Or how he ever ran a business. It’s clearly inhibiting his ability to properly run a city.

Writer John Lorinc over at Spacing reveals the mayor’s inability to cite basic facts and figures. It’s a mess. He lowballs some numbers and wildly inflates others. All in order to make the highly dubious claim that municipal services and those providing them are really, really expensive. The question is, does he do it intentionally or does he simply not understand the complexity of running a multi-billion dollar organization? Either answer is truly troubling.

It’s a similar propensity to play fast and loose with the numbers that the mayor displays when it comes to how he finances his office budget and campaign finances. Some stuff gets included. Some doesn’t. A habit that is dogging him currently with a compliance audit hanging over his head and the legal fees piling up as he tries to fend it off. Questions about unaccounted for campaign expenses now wash over to fundraisers he’s held to come up with money to pay his lawyers. Once again, John Lorinc goes through all that with a comb and comes up with plenty of dander.

Oh, and let’s not forget the most recent nugget. The mayor’s family firm, Deco Labels and Tags, invoiced the city $1,579.15 for business cards for the mayor and his staff that has not yet appeared on any official accounting ledger. Not to mention… well, let’s just get Mr. Lorinc to explain it again: “Two companies owned by the Ford family provided goods and services worth $187,730.96 to Mayor Rob Ford’s election team, accounting for almost 10 per cent of campaign spending. But documents filed with the city indicate that while the campaign waited up to a year to pay many of these bills, the two firms – Deco Labels and Tags and Doug Ford Holdings Inc. – did not charge late fees.

Many suppliers, including the City of Toronto, impose such charges after a 30-to-60-day grace period, typically in the 1 to 2 per cent range, compounded monthly.

With Mr. Ford facing a possible compliance audit, the forgone late charges raise new questions about whether the campaign benefited from an indirect corporate donation worth at least $12,000, according to a Globe and Mail analysis of the campaign’s accounts payable payments. Toronto council policy prevents candidates from accepting corporate or trade union contributions.”

All these numbers! It’s just too hard to keep track of all these numbers. Stop asking me to try and do it.

The mayor’s present legal pickle has also revived the legal fees battle that flared up with the previous council when it went against a staff recommendation not to pay legal expenses incurred by 3 councillors, Giorgio Mammoliti, Adrian Heaps and Sandra Bussin. Council passed a bylaw that permitted the city to reimburse the councillors. Incensed, Doug Holyday went to court to quash the bylaw and won, racking up $125,000 in… wait for it… wait for it… legal fees.

And here’s the kicker. Holyday forked over $42,500 out of his own pocket, another portion was paid by an award for costs. The rest? Wait for it… wait for it.. Holyday’s lawyer ‘forgave’ him. To the tune of $67,000.

So Doug Holyday went to court to make sure none of his colleagues could ask taxpayers to pick up the tab if they were taken to court. On your dime, fellas. And if the price is too rich, hey, find yourself a lawyer who’ll forgive you some of the expenses. Here, let me give you my guy’s card. (Or as the Toronto Star’s Royson James sees it, ‘principled man that he is’ Doug Holyday took council to court in defence of the taxpayers and his lawyer, equally as principled I guess, ‘forgave’ the councillor $67,000 for fighting the good fight.)

That’s a pretty generous reading, in my opinion. Doug Holyday was conducting city business by taking city council to court and in so doing received a below market rate for the services of a lawyer. Them’s mighty murky waters that makes it difficult to see any principled bottom.

But that just seems to be how this gang rolls. Numbers, whether on their own or with dollar signs attached, add up to different things than they do for most of us. Every taxpayer nickel and dime must be accounted for while the ins-and-outs of who pays what when it comes to running your office, campaigns or legal battle, well, never you mind. Chalk it up to the costs of doing business. As long as we’re looking out for the taxpayers, who cares who or what is helping us do it.

calculatingly submitted by Cityslikr

They’re Called Expenses For A Reason

Here’s my question about Toronto city councilors’ 2009 expenses that were made public this week: what the fuck is it exactly that Etobiocoke councilor Rob Ford does with his time? If he’s not out there engaging with the public (aside from the killer BBQ he throws), holding meetings, organizing community events, keeping his constituency informed about the work going on down at City Hall, what is he doing? More to the point, why is the man treated by everyone as some go-to fiscal sage, asked to pronounce upon his colleagues’ outrageous spending habits?

Look. Each councilor has a discretionary office expense budget of $53,100. It seems to be monitored fairly closely. We now know Adrian Heaps spent $423.75 to rent costumes for a kids skating party. Adam Giambrone spent over 3 grand on taxis. (Insert joke here. TTC chairman. Take The Cab. Late night trips to his girlfriends’ houses.) If we don’t want councilors spending money in this manner, let’s start demanding they eliminate this budget. Or elect candidates who will conduct their business austerely like Rob Ford. Otherwise, can we cease and desist with this yearly exercise in indignant outrage?

I know for most of us, we look at the salaries at City Hall ($99 153.60/year for a councilor plus a very nice benefit package) and wonder why they would need more money for expenses. They have staff already paid for. Why can’t they just get along like the rest of us?

Well that’s the point. Councilors aren’t like the rest of us. By the very public nature of their work, elected officials conduct meetings, hold information seminars, create a sense of community within their.. errr, communities.  The discretionary office expense budget should not be viewed by us as a councilor’s private play stash. It is the money of the people in their respective wards. To help generate a sense of attachment to the neighbourhoods in which they live.

Should councilors be expected to dig down into their pockets for that? Does it cost just $700 to do that as Rob Ford spent last year? Good questions and ones that should be posed to Rob Ford instead of the inane softballs that pass for hard hitting news that crop up every year at about this time. Let’s stop assuming that the way Ford manages his expenses is the right way. There are 43 other councilors who might not necessarily agree.

miserly submitted by Cityslikr