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


John Sewell: Yesterday’s Man

December 10, 2012

Maybe it’s the holiday spirit slowly seeping into this empty, cold soul of mine but I gotta say, goofybastardsI love this big sprawling mess of a megacity and each and every one of its goofy bastard inhabitants. Except maybe one right now. John Sewell. In fact, I’m going to say something that very few people outside of maybe the Toronto Police Services have said before.

Fuck John Sewell. Fuck him and his rethinking the Toronto megacity article last week in the Globe and Mail. He couldn’t be more wrong-headed, and his attitude reflects the worst of our elitist downtown-ccentric thinking. As if everything was fine and dandy before the Mike Harris government unceremoniously ignored our collective municipal wishes and lumped us together with our suburban bumpkin cousins.

Here’s a fact that Mr. Sewell seems to conveniently overlook.

In a few weeks’ at the end of this year, amalgamation will be fifteen years old. During that time, we will have had a mayor from the former inner suburbs eight years and a mayor from the old downtown city seven. David Miller, at least until the outside workers strike in 2009, proved that issues could resonate beyond the 416 core. Mel Lastman was not without a base in downtown Toronto. megacityWhile perhaps representing the most extreme of the supposed divide, Rob Ford voters weren’t scarce in some old Toronto wards.

As easy as it is to write up the narrative of Rob Ford’s rise to power as nothing more than the face of inchoate suburban rage, looking to extract some sort of populist revenge upon the highfalutin elites, the truth is much more complicated. Rob Ford was a phenomenon of 2010, surfing a wave that broke perfectly for him

An unnerved population still reeling from a global economic freefall and looking for someone to blame for their uncertainty. Palpable anger in the air at municipal workers who were portrayed as lazy, shiftless fat cats always demanding a bigger chunk of the public purse. Outgoing politicians giving themselves a gold plated send off. Terrible candidates who either ran similar but much less effective anti-incumbent campaigns or who just couldn’t convey the good the Miller administration had undertaken or connect viscerally with voters.

Lightning in a bottle in other words. Something that will be much more difficult to pull off a second time. Recent polls certainly indicate as much.

There’s no question there are different attitudes between former municipalities that linger on. “Everyone recognizes that human behaviour is very much influenced by built form,” Sewell writes, “and that’s where the two cultures come in.” headinsandYes, Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York and York are still more car dependent, say, than parts of Toronto and East York. At least the areas that remain under-serviced by public transit are. But that would be less to do with built form than adaptation to new realities, wouldn’t it?

Mr. Sewell seems to believe that the die is cast. Something built sixty-years ago cannot ever change. Let’s just all accept that and stop pretending otherwise.

You know who else thinks along those lines? Mayor Rob Ford. Somehow he’s the backward thinking, knuckle-dragging stick in the mud but John Sewell’s the enlightened voice of downtowners everywhere who just doesn’t want to get his hands dirty making this shit work.

Look, amalgamation was poorly implemented, perhaps deliberately so. But the concept isn’t inherently bad. A few specifics were.

For starters, the savings from efficiencies that Queen’s Park promised would happen just didn’t materialize. Creating one big institute of some 2.5 million people from six smaller ones detonated a critical mass instead of generating economies of scale that would heap savings upon us. squarepeg1Streamlining never proved to be as easy as all that as we now know a decade and a half on.

And I seem to remember something about amalgamation being revenue neutral. The province would download some services and programs and upload others, specifically our educational system. We wouldn’t notice a thing.

That too didn’t quite turn out to be true. As Matt Elliott points out in his 2013 budget analysis, the megacity is still waiting for the province to reclaim some $400 million in costs the Harris government placed on Toronto’s ledger. This year we’re being relieved of about $14 million of that. A rate which, if continued as is, should eliminate the imbalance in just another 30 years. Combine that with the fact two successive provincial governments have shirked their duty to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating costs and you might conclude that this whole amalgamation could’ve gone a whole smoother if the city hadn’t been left fighting over the crumbs left on the table by Queen’s Park.

I will, however, agree with John Sewell that the yoinking of the Metro level of government in the amalgamation process also has contributed mightily to our currents woes. Having only one elected official representing the entire city can lead to some sort of binary dynamic. If a mayor doesn’t possess something of a broader view of things, then it’s simply about pitting councillors’ interests against each other and herding until you get 22 of them on side. It’s not about reaching a consensus as much as it is pounding square pegs into round holes until they sort of fit.

A wider, broader and longer perspective is needed. That’s not going to be accomplished by de-amalgamating. turtleinshellThe city needs to recreate a metro like body with more councillors elected on a city-wide basis, free from simply ward-by-ward interests. Exactly what that make-up would be is for another post entirely. Suffice to say, there are better ways to build bridges in this city then re-fracturing in a vain attempt to recapture past magic.

The reality we need to accept right now is that amalgamation signalled the province no longer wanted to work as anything resembling equal partners with this city. They wanted a pliable entity that would fight amongst itself, fight with the wider region and not cause too much trouble politically. How else to explain Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful Sandra Pupatello’s ‘too Toronto’ Canadian Club comment?

In one fell swoop, she took a pot shot at the entire GTA and threw Niagra into the mix. I mean, who else aside from Sandra Pupatello sees PC leader Tim Hudak as ‘too Toronto’? “… there’s a whole big province out there,” she said, almost as if it were a threat.

Such obstreperousness from the province will not effectively be countered by reverting back to smaller, pre-amalgamated entities. onecityIn fact, we need to be looking much broader in order to defend our interests. This is no longer simply about East York versus North York. No, no, no, no. It’s not even urban versus suburban now.

This is about city building on a regional level. That can’t be done by popping our heads back into our shells, hoping this has all been some horrible fifteen year nightmare, a socio-political experiment gone wrong. It’s the future, baby. Let’s embrace it and figure out a way to make it work to our collective advantage.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Relationship Woes

October 24, 2012

Look, none of us wanted to be in this arrangement. We all were more or less happy, living side by side, tossing the occasional gentle barbs at each other, sharing a police force, a perfectly adequate transit system and some other infrastructure. It wasn’t paradise but it functioned properly.

But that was then and this is now. We are stuck with each other, by god, and nothing, it seems, can rend us asunder. (Is that even possible? A rendering asunder?) Our shotgun marriage has stuck, so let’s just make the best of a bad situation and at least try to get along.

In the affluent Humber Valley Village neighbourhood, density is a dirty word.

A proposed development at the site of the Humbertown Shopping Centre has met with furious opposition from local residents, who have staked their lawns with “Save Humbertown” signs and flooded two community consultation meetings. On Thursday evening, area residents spent more than two hours in an Etobicoke high-school auditorium grilling the plaza’s owners, First Capital Realty, over what they see as an assault on their suburban lifestyle.

**sigh**

Humber Valley Village. Enjoy all the amenities of a big city while living in a small town feel. No apartment complexes. No green spaces you can’t call your own. No poor people. (I’ll get to that in a minute).

According to the Humber Valley Village Residents’ Association president, Niels Christensen, the ‘suburban lifestyle’ as exemplified by Humber Valley Village consists of “…single-family homes, quiet streets and low-rise buildings.” Anything else constitutes a threat. All hands on deck! The urbanists are coming! The urbanists are coming!

You know, where exactly is that contract the city signs when you buy a house and settle into a neighbourhood guaranteeing nothing’s going to change forever and ever? You bought it as is. It’s going to stay as is. Come hell or high water.

Now I get I chose to live in an area of town that was already dense. I adapted my lifestyle to accommodate to that environment. Getting around by car is a pain. So I do as little of that as possible. The streets aren’t always quiet. I can sometimes hear my neighbour’s TV through the wall of the house we share. That backyard is, what do you call it, postage stamp small.

But the area continues to get denser, bringing in more people. I can’t expect to stop that 40 story tower going up 8 blocks to the east, nor would I want to. As Joe Strummer once sang, It’s just the beat of time/the beat that must go on/If you’ve been trying for years/we ‘ready heard your song

Post-war, automobile 1st city planning and living is dead or, at least, on life support. It’s too expensive to maintain. No longer a luxury municipalities, the province or the country, ultimately, can afford. As much as some suburbanites are convinced that they pay for all the ‘nice to haves’ downtowners enjoy – subways, community centres, free swim lessons, poor people cleaning our windshields – the ugly truth is the exact opposite. We are all subsidizing the suburban, low density lifestyle.

“The population of this area, of this census tract, has declined 2 per cent in the last census, it has declined 2 per cent in the census before,” a local resident, Robert Ruggerio, told the crowd gathered at the October community consultation meeting. “And unless we have change, and unless we have new life in the neighbourhood, our neighbourhood will suffer.”

Food for thought, right?

Indigestible it seems. According to the Globe and Mail article, Mr. Ruggerio’s comments drew heckling. When he went on to say that new apartments might be the only way he could continue to afford to live in the neighbourhood, someone in the mob crowd told him to get a job. Apparently, low income earners aren’t really welcome in Humber Valley Village.

“That’s never been the demographic for that area,” the local councillor, Gloria Lindsay Luby, said.

I guess, along with increased density, traffic and noise, poor people are also an assault on the suburban lifestyle of Humber Valley Village.

Apparently, the harassment of those speaking in favour of the proposed development continued after the meeting. Ruggerio tweeted yesterday that he received a phone call and was told he should move downtown. You want density, diversity and apartment living? Move downtown. Humber Valley Village. Love It (as is) or Leave It.

But I have a better idea. If you want to live the bucolic small town life with your wide open spaces and drives to the corner store for your bags of milk, move to a bucolic small town. Take the small fortune your single family house is now worth because of the increased property values due to the growth of this city and buy your piece of mind out on a leafy lane in the countryside. This ain’t your granddaddy’s Etobicoke anymore. The rest of us are tired paying to maintain your lifestyle.

That’s what being in a relationship is all about, give and take, compromise. A decade and a half into this thing we call the megacity and I’m not quite sure what anti-development suburbanites are bringing to the table except a destructive resistance to necessary change.

scoldingly submitted by Cityslikr


Scarborough Unfair

January 14, 2012

(A reposting of a piece we wrote for the Torontoist this week about our field trip to the wilds of Scarborough.)

*  *  *

By any measure in the rather narrow definition of today’s common currency I am a downtown elite. That means I live downtown and I’m not onboard with Mayor Rob Ford’s agenda. Full stop.

This place I thought of as my home and the lifestyle that came with it, the ease of mobility, the array of opportunity, had come under fire by the antiest of anti-urban municipal governments this city has seen in some time. This was an administration that threatened the very things I viewed as vital to what makes my home so special to me. I was growing increasingly aggressive in my defence of it.

And then I went to Scarborough last Tuesday night. Three and a half hours later I realized I don’t know anger. I don’t know outrage. I don’t know such fiercely loyal pride of place.

The ten councillors representing the former east side municipality met at the Scarborough Civic Centre to present the proposed 2012 city budget and listen to feedback from their residents. Man oh man, did they get a collective earful. Sixty-seven folks had signed up to give a deputation although, by my count, only about forty or so made it down to the microphone. Of that number, two spoke in favour of the course the mayor and his team were currently charting.

Now, I already heard chatter about the alleged ‘usual suspects’, CUPE backed and prepared speakers, special interests, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. The same old same old whenever the deputation process so overwhelmingly speaks out against the mayor. Your basic case of shooting the messenger.

I readily accept the argument that those who come out to have their voices heard aren’t necessarily fully representative of the population as a whole. (Although I’m not sure exactly how those in favour of the Mayor Ford’s budget would even know to come out and voice their support. I could only find notification of Tuesday night’s event through what we’ll cal ‘opposition’ websites. Neither the mayor nor any of the councillors from Scarborough seemed to have given residents a heads-up about the event as far as I could tell.) People don’t tend to take time out of their schedules to cheer on issues, to express a favourable opinion of them. This, I think, is especially true with the budget proposal put in front of us. Yeah! Cut more! Pump up the user fees! Further reduce the role of government! That side is more of a Tim Horton’s nod and stay the course interaction.

But even measured against other deputations I have witnessed throughout the city, last night’s was high-pitched, angry, outraged and very, very personal. One deputant, in summing up this year’s budget said, “Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”

That’s not simply a where’s mine parochial attitude. In all the divisive downtown-suburb hubbub over whose money and how much goes where that’s been a part of the post-amalgamation discourse, it’s become pretty clear that Scarborough has consistently got the short end of the stick. Not just versus downtown but in comparison to other former municipalities like Etobicoke and North York. Their anger at City Hall is justified.

Which was one of the reasons Scarborough went so overwhelmingly pro-Rob Ford in the 2010 election. He promised to change all that. He would cut the boatloads of gravy and the sense of downtown entitlement that was so pervasive at City Hall and redirect all the savings back to where it was really needed like in Scarborough. They’d get better transit. They’d get better service. And they wouldn’t have to pay more for it.

Jump cut two budgets later to 2012.

Scarborough is looking at reduced service on 26 of its bus routes. Their subway? Still a figment of Mayor Ford’s imagination. Eleven of their libraries are threatened with reduced hours as are ten of their arenas. Shelters are being closed. Recreation programs cut and higher user fees implemented.

“Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”

More than anything, the palpable feeling at last night’s budget session was one of betrayal. Scarborough had put their faith in Rob Ford and the residents there were being repaid by, well, actually they weren’t being repaid at all. Scarborough was being gouged, bludgeoned by an austerity bat that many who spoke out saw as unnecessary and ideological. The mayor had turned on them and now they were turning on him.

Betrayal is something a politician, no matter how savvy, has a hard time getting past even two and a half years down the road. Voters may have short term memories about many things political but betrayal lingers. Candidate Rob Ford promised he’d be looking out for the little guy. Seventy-one percent of voters in Scarborough believed him, more than anywhere else in the city.

That’s a mighty big voting bloc to have turn against you. Lose even twenty percent of that, and a 2014 re-election suddenly becomes very, very iffy. Mayor Ford and the ten Scarborough councillors better hope the deputations in their backyard last night aren’t representative of the wider swath of Scarborough voters. If they are and this budget goes through next week as is? Their collective political futures should be considered very much in question.

Mike Myersly submitted by Cityslikr


Vast Wasteland Between The Ears

December 14, 2011

Councillor Adam Vaughan goofed up.

In a heated exchange with his council colleague, Doug Ford, during yesterday’s 2012 budget committee meeting, Vaughan referred to Councillor Ford’s Ward 2 as ‘an industrial park’. A little while later, Vaughan clarified that what he’d meant to say was Ward 2 was full of industrial parks and not as populated as many downtown wards. He apologized to those he offended.

But there it was on the morning news, highlighting Toronto’s brittle downtown-suburban divide. Smart alecky, champagne sipping elitist mocking the misunderstood, put upon hardworking, ordinary Joes of Etobicoke. The very broomstick Rob Ford rode into the mayor’s office on.

Now, those of us represented by the likes of Councillor Vaughan and his ilk are patiently awaiting our apology from Councillor Ford.

See, what started the Vaughan-Ford spat was the groundless diatribe Ford launched into about the seeming unfairness of wading pool allocation throughout Toronto. Some downtown wards had more than their share, according to Councillor Ford, proving his belief that suburban tax money had been flowing downtown over the course of the Miller years, building cushy wading pools, community centres, libraries etc., etc., while the suburbs got nothing in return. Zilch. Nada. Zip.

You can shout that from the rooftops as often and loud as you want, councillor, but it doesn’t make it true. As usual, the mayor’s brother was just concocting shit as he spoke, providing no evidence of this allegation and impugning downtowners’ reputations as he went. The rookie councillor may actually believe it himself and misses no opportunity to try and convince others that we more urban types want our socialist programs and nice to haves but don’t want to foot the bill from them. Suburbanites as our sugar daddies. Makes a great story and plays perfectly into the right wing love of their own victimhood.

Some have tried to actually back up this claim with facts and data including Scarborough councillor, Norm Kelly back in 2007. We’ve written about this before (here and here, for example) and yesterday John McGrath dug up the pre-election Toronto Star story about it complete with an easy to read graph. Turns out, things aren’t really that simple. It’s almost a wash, one might say. With residents in different parts of the amalgamated city receiving different amounts of city funding depending on the category. Yes, the former municipalities of Toronto and East York receive more for their libraries than Etobicoke/York, North York and Scarborough while those living in Etobicoke and North York get more money per capita on parks and recreation than elsewhere in the city.

The only conclusion one might come to reading through those stats is that Scarborough seems to be consistently on the short end of the stick of things and residents have plenty of reason to be unhappy or angry. Too bad the mayor they helped elect is doing little to right those wrongs. Any Scarborough councillor supporting Mayor Ford’s agenda should be held accountable for that fact.

What the wading pool battle represents isn’t anything to do with post-amalgamation unfairness or inequality. It’s about urban geography and competing pre-existing political philosophies toward governance. Our ongoing cramming of a round peg into a square whole that is the megacity of Toronto.

As visiting councillors pointed out to Councillor Ford during the brouhaha was that none of the wading pools in the inner core of the old city of Toronto and East York were built during the Miller years. They are a legacy of pre-amalgamation. Owing to various factors, some of which included density, income disparity and a basic consensus to use the tax base to build community infrastructure like wading pools and libraries.

It’s hardly surprising that when Councillor Vaughan lashed out at Ford, he invoked an industrial park. As John McGrath also pointed out yesterday — I really should be paying him for providing me with so much research. A Stiegl, it is. Maybe 2. — during his summer set-to with novelist Margaret Atwood, Councillor Ford noted he had a library in an industrial part of his ward that no one used. He expressed little compunction in shutting it down if it came to it. ‘In a heartbeat’, in fact.

That epitomizes the approach to governing that many in the outer suburbs bring to the table. Low taxes, the very basic of services and anything beyond that, the nice to haves, paid for by user fees. An emphasis on the individual over community, in part perhaps determined by a preponderance of single family homes and reliance on personal vehicles as the choice of transit.

It’s a political view I categorically disagree with but not one I just summarily dismiss. We’re locked in an ideological battle to be sure. I just wish Councillor Ford and his ilk would be honest and upfront about that. Come right out and say it instead of manufacturing scenarios based on conjecture, innuendo and flat out falsehoods, poisoning the possibility of having any meaningful discussion.

So, I’m here, waiting. You know how to contact me, Councillor Ford. It’s your turn to apologize.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Never A Dull Moment

November 4, 2011

Heads up all you Toronto city council watchers. If you want to witness exactly how the Mayor Ford administration dysfunctionally functions, there’s no better place to start than spending a few hours with the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. There’s intrigue and machinations aplenty. Dastardly double-dealing. Oozing personal antipathy.

And in the end? Invariably a little more of the city has been chopped up or sold off for an ever so slight relief of our budgetary woes. All this and no cover charge to boot.

Yesterday’s gathering could’ve been so very different. There was actually serious consensus brewing, and between two committee members who couldn’t really be much further apart on the political spectrum without needing spyglasses to recognize on another. Councillor David Shiner, committee vice chair and bona fide, shark hating right winger. Last spring, if you recall, he used the committee to bring to a screeching halt the proposed Fort York bridge, citing cost overruns and it being unnecessarily ‘fancy’. This came at the expense and to the surprise of the councillor for the ward the bridge was to built in, Mike Layton, left leaning and most definitely not a member of Team Ford.

Despite this history and such stark ideological differences, these two councillors seemed to have patched things up and worked out a compromise that would see a bridge built not dissimilar to the previous one but at less cost and, more importantly, slightly smaller that opened up more land nearby to be developed. That’s an important point to keep track off as it’ll come back as part of the fitting coda of this story. That just seems to be how the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee rolls.

Now, it’s hard to see what exactly Councillor Shiner representing the administration gave up here to reach an accord on the bridge. There was no disputing the fact that one was needed for the area. The only real nod to the previous design was to ape its appearance. Everything else met Councillor Shiner’s demands: cheaper, shorter and more to city owned property to sell. Even the timeline which would not get the bridge built in time for the War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations at Fort York was just fine and dandy with him. Hard to use the word ‘compromise’ with such an agreement. Sure you can have a bridge but only to my specifications.

It’s not like the councillor went out of his way elsewhere during the meeting to extend a hand to his colleague. Shiner led the charge to defeat an item Layton put forth to exclude bikes from a bylaw restricting chaining or locking items to city property for any length of time. It was the kind of thing that might be OK downtown, Councillor Shiner suggested, but wouldn’t work in his suburban ward. A chaotic scene of bikes locked to fences and bus shelters outside the Finch subway station. And we wonder why bylaw harmonization still hasn’t happened in this post-amalgamation era.

On top of which, Councillor Shiner insisted on pushing through an item that will really only serve to harass the homeless living on our streets; a situation less endemic in his ward than it would be in Councillor Layton’s ward. Is the situation so hunky dory up in Willowdale, no problems there to solve, that councillors like David Shiner have ample time to muck about in other wards, emptily pontificating on things they have only a passing knowledge or interest in? If I understood the councillor correctly, people have no right to sleep on sidewalks if he doesn’t have the right to park his car on them. (The sidewalks, that is. Not the homeless. I think.) Yeah. It was that idiotic of a discussion.

Still, Councillors Shiner and Layton overcame their differences and put forward a motion that would see a Fort York bridge built.

And then, enter the sandman, PWI Committee Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong.

Seemingly not content with what would appear to everyone else to be a victory for his side, the councillor slithered in a two part motion that would, one, direct section 37 development fees to the building of the bridge and two, specifically targeted a property, 53 Strachan to be exact, to be used as ‘leverage’ to get the ball rolling on development in the area.

Whoa, whoa, whoa went up the cry. Where did this come from, asks Councillor Layton. Even Councillor Shiner seemed surprised by the surprise move, immediately jumping in to broker some kind of deal between his chair and Councillor Layton.

Once more, at yet another Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting, a non-Ford compliant councillor gets blindsided by a proposal to push and/or kill a project in their ward. No prior consultation. No attempt to involve the local representative. Nothing more than a deliberate poke in the eye. Take that, consensus.

In the ensuing brouhaha, it’s revealed that among other things at 53 Strachan there’s a youth shelter and a community garden. Councillor Minnan-Wong didn’t appear to know that but might have had he spoken first to Councillor Layton. Why he didn’t, only Councillor Minnan-Wong would know but from the back-and-forth between the two, it seems the committee chair felt Layton had gone public after an earlier meeting between them about getting the Fort Bridge motion onto the committee agenda…

Or some such petty, spiteful bullshit like that. Committee member Councillor Gord Perks suggested it was just simply another example of proving who was the boss of the committee. Marking his territory.

Not that it ultimately mattered, as the chair’s item was soundly defeated by the committee. But it managed to cast a pall on what could be considered a minor step forward out from the partisan pissing match that now passes for debate and discussion at City Hall these days. It’s almost as if the more ardent members of Team Ford are allergic to anything that smacks of compromise or cooperation. Concession and negotiation are dirty words. They have the upper hand now so giving in on anything, admitting to any sort of negotiated settlement, is a sign of weakness.

Even in the building of a bridge, they are incapable of anything other than crass politics.

submitted by Cityslikr


Ford Nation Notion

October 19, 2011

The good news, after reading Trish Hennessy’s post over at Framed In Canada, Mythology: Ford Nation, one year later, is that the great urban-suburban, car-bike, conservative-progressive divide that we all presumed existed may be overblown, misunderstood and little more than a scary figment of our collective imagination. Hoo-rah! The bad news? Well, there may be a division much more pernicious and tough to bridge.

Looking on the bright side first, let’s just set aside all that talk about de-amalgamation, shall we? It’s unhelpful, pretty much unrealistic and quite possibly detrimental to our future well being as a city and region. Rather than a Ford Nation, we all are a Leafs Nation, united in quiet pride at almost getting it right and fumbling with what was once a great franchise. Here’s to being in constant rebuilding mode.

“As regionally divisive as the election of Rob Ford might appear,” Ms. Hennessy writes, “most of the Ford voters we listened to identified as being Torontonian first. Most have either lived in different parts of the city or have to cross the city for work and they feel some responsibility for Toronto as a whole.

Rather than wanting to see their city fall into decline, these Ford voters expressed a hope and vision for the city that is positive, united, safe, clean, green, diverse, welcoming, vibrant and easier to get around in. Some even dream of having more bike lanes, as long as they’re safe for both cyclists and drivers.

They want a city that works together, for a common purpose.

They still believe in the value of public services, and many want better public services – especially when it comes to public transit, which is becoming a symbol of a city in need of a fix.”

That those wanting all of that for the city saw in candidate Rob Ford someone who’d deliver such things is, for those of us who didn’t, the crux of the mystery. Green? Diverse? Welcoming? Where did they see that in Ford’s campaign? Wasn’t he the one who said Toronto couldn’t afford any more people? And Mr. War On The Car green?

It’s almost as if we were talking about two completely different candidates for mayor. Those of us seeing Rob Ford as a destructive force for this city and those who, to again quote Trish Hennessy, “…believed he was willing to fight the establishment on behalf of the people…He [Ford] made them feel hopeful that positive change was coming; that he was going to punch a hole into the bubble of the elites.” How was such a gaping cavernous dichotomy of opinion possible?

Bringing us to the bad news I took away from the post. I read and reread it a few times and nowhere did I see the Ford voting participants in the Environics focus group talk about taxes outside of “…a simmering sense that they have been paying more taxes and user fees while getting less or worse public service in return.” Ford’s Gravy Train “…was considered a symbol for city finances in need of restraint, for people at the top of the city hall food chain abusing power – the ones they read about in the newspaper [italics ours]…” All those fat cats, Rob Ford railed against. “In terms of job cuts, their expectation is that Ford would go after the people ‘at the top’ of the scale.”

What I didn’t find in Ms. Hennessy’s post was any talk of if there was no gravy or not anywhere near the amount candidate Ford claimed he could find — like say 10%, in each and every city department — would they be willing to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the ‘simmering sense’ they felt about paying more taxes and user fees ‘while getting less or worse public service in return’ was unfounded? “While participants support the notion of some service and job cuts to balance the budget, they raised several points that indicate most won’t support across-the-board massive cuts.” So would these Ford supporters pay more to avoid ‘across-the-board massive cuts’? If so, how much more? A 30% property tax increase the mayor and his strict adherents are now throwing around?

I don’t know if such a question was asked of this small Ford voting cohort by Environics. How much are the services that they believed the public relies on worth to them? The same? More?

That, I think, is the fundamental divide we’re facing right now. Between those believing we’re paying more or just the right amount for the services we want and demand from the city and those who aren’t as convinced that’s the case. We in the latter camp never, the 53% of Torontonians not casting their ballot for Rob Ford last year, never “… believed Rob Ford when he said he could cut government waste without affecting city services.” Nearly a year later we see the proof of that conviction in the pudding. The KPMG core services review backed that up. The mayor’s slash-and-burn proposals provides further evidence that the city, despite some of the instances of wasteful spending and other seeming excesses that are regularly trotted out as examples of profligacy, is delivering services at very reasonable rates. Perfect? No one ever claimed that. Value for money? Overall, it’s looking more and more like it.

In her post, Ms. Hennessy uses turns of phrases like ‘whether the facts add up or not’ or ‘when in reality’. About cancelling the Vehicle Registration Tax, she suggests “Few [of the focus group participants] associate the cost of that tax cut with the city’s budget woes today.” It suggests a disturbing gap between belief and reality. Even now, a year into Rob Ford’s mayoralty, some of those who voted for him are holding on to the notion that we can have all the amenities our city offers without paying the price necessary to maintain them. They seem to think there’s an easy fix that doesn’t involve having to pay more.

To my mind, that’s the gap needing to be filled. Rob Ford promised gain without pain, a shift of blame from our unrealistic expectations onto manufactured bogeymen who either weren’t real or weren’t sticking it to the honest, hardworking taxpayers to the degree he claimed. Ford voters were duped which is a hard pill to swallow and not a constructive point of departure in reaching out in going forward from here.

The question is, how do we bridge such a chasm of perspective?

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr