Lobbing A Lobbying Bomb

May 4, 2016

I’m going to paraphrase about a hundred people who’ve expressed these exact sentiments, and if that makes me another Margaret Wente, so be it. cheatingIt’s a jab I’m willing to live with.

Here goes.

If all those Uber people were even half as passionate about other, far more important city issues as they are with accessing their inexpensive, on-demand, chauffeur service, Toronto would be a civic paradise.

That said, I’ve said as much as I want to say about the Uber debate. It’s already taken a disproportionately significant chunk of our local political discourse over the past couple years. Mayor Tory made it his key item to begin this month’s city council meeting yesterday, and it consumed every bit of the extended day to finish it off. For now. Always, for now.

People will argue that it’s simply a response commensurate with the demand out there for Uber. outofproportion45,000 people a day can’t be wrong, won’t be denied. A grassroots uprising breaking the death grip of the taxi industry monopoly, yaddie, yaddie.

Maybe…maybe.

Or, here’s another angle.

This Is How Uber Takes Over A City

“Uber’s made a name for itself by barging into cities and forcing politicians to respond.”

How, you ask?

A $40 billion value corporation (as of the article’s writing last June) with all the lobbying muscle that kind of money can buy.

Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the nation, at least a third more than Wal-Mart Stores. That doesn’t count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th-largest city in the U.S., 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber’s behalf. They’d become a constant force in City Hall. City officials say they’d never seen anything on this scale.

“Uber makes the rules; cities fall in line.”

Bringing it closer to home here in Toronto, we all know that two of the mayor’s former campaign mucky-mucks, John Duffy and Nick Kouvalis, have gone to work for Uber, bullyone as a lobbyist, the other to do some polling. And it seems like there’s been a lot of Uber lobbying of the Mayor’s office leading up to this week’s meeting. According to Anna Mehler Paperny of Global News, “And the mayor’s staff met with Uber more than anyone else on this topic last year.”

But, you know, whatever. The various branches of the taxi industry are no slouches themselves when it comes to lobbying, and donating to municipal campaigns, and just generally getting this debate front and centre in a way that makes it seem like it’s the most important policy matter the city faces. It isn’t, not by a long shot. That’s just what effective lobbying does. That’s why lobbyists and lobbying firms get paid the big bucks.

None of this is news. I didn’t write and crib some 500 words to tell you something you didn’t already know. It is what it is.

Although, and here’s the kicker and the reason I wrote anything about this at all, after the Uber debate dies down, and perhaps today’s equally noisy matter of the proposed bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street gets settled, teeoneupthere’s an interesting little item going to council from the Executive Committee. It was deferred from the March meeting, and the oh-so-perfect irony of the timing of it is hard to ignore.

As part of some lobbying by-law amendments being considered, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong put forth a motion asking for a staff report on the question of forcing unions and not-for-profit organizations to register with the city as lobbyists. It’s been an idea, as Jonathan Goldsbie writes in NOW, kicking around since the establishment of the Lobbyist Registrar back during David Miller’s first term in office. It’s been given a new lease on life with the support of Mayor Tory, his deputy mayor and 9 other councillors sitting on his Executive Committee.

His [Mayor Tory] position is that there are groups that have vested interests in the outcome of council decisions that are not confined to direct financial benefit. This is about transparency, and our belief that the public should have visibility into the various groups that lobby city councillors on matters of public record.

This statement from the mayor’s office in response to the NOW article has made some of those “various groups” more than a little nervous. “STOP Mayor Tory’s attempt to force community groups to register as lobbyists. buildingawallSign this petition now!” tweeted out the shadowy NOJetsTO group who have used their deep pockets and sneaky loophole seeking ways to bully the under-resourced and hamstrung-by-lobbying-rules little guy Robert Deluce and Porter Airlines in order to stymy island airport expansion. Why? What do they stand to gain from keeping the airport just like it is?

Until they are brought to heel under the careful watch of the Lobbyist Registrar, we won’t clearly understand their motivations. We’ll just have to file it under: “not confined to direct financial benefit.”

But if I were a community group or social activist type, I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. My guess is, Mayor Tory’s eyeing bigger game, like the unions, who the motion mentions specifically. And even that may be reading too much malicious intent into it.

Maybe the mayor is really and truly trying to level the playing field for everyone down at City Hall. wolfinsheepsclothingAfter yesterday’s vote, and his and a solid majority of city council’s complete and utter capitulation to the ferocious lobbying and PR effort of Uber, he’s reaching out to give the grassroots a leg up. See? Lobbying works. Become a lobbyist. Access millions and millions of dollars to hire high-priced consultants, pollsters and glad-handers. Then, prepare to roll over your local elected representatives.

If an upstart company like Uber can do it, you can too, little group looking to… I don’t know, provide some extra affordable daycare spaces. Think big. Big Daycare.

Besides, it’s only fair. Otherwise, just anybody can drop a line or send off an email, demanding access to decision-makers at City Hall. That’s just not how things get done around here anymore.

blithely submitted by Cityslikr


Standing Strong For The Status Quo

September 28, 2015

There are days when my rational and sane side win out, when my contempt and general misanthropy wane, taking a back seat and making me, I think, a moderately agreeable person. It rarely occurs without a battle. sunnydispositiononarainydayI don’t enjoy taking the dim view but whoever said that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile couldn’t have been fully on top of either human psychology or physiology.

Reasonable me wants to believe Mayor John Tory is more concerned, is more of an advocate for addressing Toronto’s affordable housing crisis (as part of a broader anti-poverty strategy) than was his predecessor, Rob Ford. That should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, no sooner had Ford assumed the mayor’s office than he started making noise about selling off Toronto Community Housing stock and letting the private sector deal with the mess. There were few social programs he didn’t deem to be akin to thug hugging.

Mayor Tory, on the other hand, has handpicked Councillor Pam McConnell to devise a poverty reduction strategy. Earlier this year he appointed Senator Art Eggleton to oversee the functioning of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and recommend ways to make it work better. Councillor Ana Bailão continues to focus on ways to deal with the Mount Everest backlog of TCHC state of good repairs. lookbusy1Just last week, the mayor pressed the ReSet button on an initiative to streamline the manner TCHC goes about fixing its housing stock.

So yeah, sane and rational me prevails, seeing Mayor Tory as a step in the right direction on the poverty and affordable housing fronts after the Ford years. Check that It Could Be Worse box.

But here comes disagreeable me to demand that it’d be really great to see the mayor speak and act as passionately and as often about poverty and affordable housing as he does on road repairs and car congestion. He’s pushing a $350 million agenda item at city council meeting this week to expedite work on the Gardiner expressway, reducing the construction timeline down 8 years, from 20 to 12. Just today, the mayor was defending an extra $3.4 million spent on a section of the Gardiner to shorten the repair completion date a few months.

Watch Mayor Tory vigorously champion the $350 million Gardiner rehabilitation expenditure at last week’s Executive Committee meeting on economic grounds (right near the end of the clip).

There is no mountain the mayor does not seem willing to move, no amount of money he will not spend to free drivers of congested traffic. Poverty and affordable housing? He’ll appoint people to make reports. He’ll tweak procurement practices. He’ll press senior levels of government to do their part.

That’s a whole lot better than showing up at buildings and handing out $20 bills but it’s hardly enough. It’s all well and good. It’s not Gardiner expressway rehabilitation level good, though.

This is where the sunny disposition, sane and rational me loses the upper hand on this discussion. No amount of reports or fiddling with the system is going to seriously address the problems at TCHC. Neither will they do much in dealing with poverty in Toronto, and the rise of David Hulchanski’s 3 cities within this city. Tblahblahblahhese are long simmering problems abandoned in any serious way by all 3 levels of governments for the better part of a generation now.

And Mayor Tory’s go-to move on the files? Not dissimilar from Rob Ford’s when he was mayor. Ask/cajole/plead with/shame the provincial and federal governments to pitch in and do their part. Try, and try again. Only this time, it’ll be different because… because… because… ?

Is this the face of a provincial government that looks as if it’s willing to open up its coffers to a municipal ask/demand from Toronto?

The Ontario government is trying to squeeze millions of dollars out of the City of Toronto by appealing the property-tax assessments on several provincial properties – including the Legislature Building at Queen’s Park and the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance.

During the Executive Committee debate over the Gardiner expressway rehabilitation item, it was pointed out that in order to access federal government infrastructure money the project had to use a P3 process. Sure, you can have some money. But always with strings attached. Always.

Mayor Tory hopes to tap into some of that federal infrastructure cash to help with the $2.6 billion repair backlog at TCHC. Another wish that comes, presumably, with strings attached. If we’re lucky.

This is where I can fight off the contempt and discontent no longer. Our mayor seems unprepared, unwilling or unable to challenge this status quo. He talks and talks and talks around it, expresses occasional dissatisfaction with it but in the end, he bows down before it. fingerscrossedWith an eye on the polls, acting on those things which churn with possible voter anger and ballot retribution, he prioritizes his agenda accordingly. Thus, we find ourselves flush with $350 million to speed up repairs on the Gardiner but improvements to living conditions at the TCHC remain dependent on successful asks from senior levels of government.

The poors and their poverty aren’t traditionally big vote getters. That’s simply the undeniable status quo. Mayor Tory isn’t big on challenging the status quo.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Cálmese

June 4, 2015

The phone rang at god-knows-what time in the morning which meant it was you-know-who calling.

“What do you want?” I yelled at it more than into it. earlyphonecall“Do you know what time it is?”

“Were you sleeping?”

I did not immediately answer the lingeringly bad question as it turned out not to be asked by the person I assumed had called me. No, it wasn’t our long departed former contributor, Acaphlegmic, who was in the habit of making late night/early morning calls when the fancy caught him and he found himself near a phone. It was the other long departed former contributor, now residing in rural Spain but usually acutely aware of the time differential. Urban Sophisticat.

“What did you just ask me?”

“Were you sleeping?”

“That’s what I thought you asked. Yes, I was fucking sleeping.”

“Good. You needed to be woken up. ¡Espabílate!”

Oh. So this wasn’t going to be just a literal wake-up call but figurative one as well. I was about to get a talking to.

“OK. I’m awake. What do you want?”

“I’ve been watching you on this Gardiner expressway business. This whole John Tory business, actually. latenightphonecall4You need to relax a bit. Sit back, take a deep breath. ¡Cálmese!”

He wasn’t wrong, although I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of admitting that. He has a smugness that transcends time and space. It was too early in the morning to have to bear it.

But I have been given to spontaneous nose bleeds lately whenever my mind turns to the ineffable machinations of Mayor John Tory on things like police carding, the Gardiner east debate… Most of it, actually. And by nosebleeds, I mean, blood streaming from my right eye. Blood is blood, I know. Nosebleeds just sound more benign, not out of the ordinary, than an eye bleed. You really should go see a doctor with those, I imagine.

“You really need to start looking at the bigger picture here. I know John Tory. I know what makes him tick. More importantly, I know what scares him.”

Urban Sophisticat doesn’t know John Tory in the up close and personal sense. He knows John Torys. He knows the type.

While certainly not a bona fide blue blood or of Toronto Family Compact lineage, Urban Sophisticat was familiar with the species, in the monied, boarding school, which house should we spend the weekend manner he’d grown up in. urbansophisticatAs the Ford debacle grew worse and noisier, Urban Sophisticat basically packed up his belongings and hunkered down somewhere in Spain, never revealing his exact whereabouts to me for fear of an unexpected extended layover there on my part. He was a man of means, in other words, boosted to that status with family money.

In fact if memory serves, Urban Sophisticat was a John Tory for Mayor fan (of the tepid sort) back in the day when it was thought to be fashionable to be so. He saw something in the man that I failed to grasp. His thoughts at this juncture might be worth staying awake for.

“Men like John Tory are really and truly only afraid of one thing. It’s not electoral defeat. It’s not derision from the lowly likes of you. You know what it is?”

“You made the call, bra. You tell me.”

“Country club opprobrium.”

“Opprobrium.”

“Opprobrium.”

“Can you say that in Spanish?”

“Oprobio.”

“Really?”

“De verdad.”

It sounded good. His Spanish, I mean. latenightphonecallBut to my linguistic tin ear, he could be saying anything.

“Look at the pictures of all those prominent Torontonians speaking out against Tory. The Gardiner, carding. It’s his worst nightmare, believe me. He’s supped with some of these folks. Probably played a round of golf or two. Smoked a cigar when deemed socially necessary to do so. Shunning by this go-to group of eminent citizens would be a catastrophe for John Tory.”

“Oh, come on. The man can’t be that shallow.”

“Amigo mio. We are all that shallow. Self-reflection does not suit the wealthy. Trust me. The man is desperately searching for a clean-ish way out of this mess.”

“He could just admit he made a mistake, own up to setting fire to everything.”

A heavy sigh and long pause greeted my suggestion. I was only partially kidding. On the public stage, it can’t be as easy as just throwing up the white flag. latenightphonecall2That signifies weakness. No politician wants to look weak especially this early into their term. Still, John Tory billed himself as reasonable and practical. Reasonable and practical people can change their minds if their positions grow untenable.

“Alphas don’t back down at the first sign of trouble, Slikr. That’s not just human nature. It’s primate nature! You’ve seen chimpanzees at work, right? There’s got to be a lot of noise and teeth-baring before the big guy retreats, so it doesn’t look like a retreat. It’s got to be tactical, almost like it’s their idea.”

OK but, is being an alpha all about brawn? I thought to myself. Shouldn’t some smarts go into it too? Wouldn’t a real top notch alpha have avoided digging himself into such a big hole in the first place, necessitating some sort of elaborate exit strategy?

“At this point, even a narrow win on the Gardiner east for the mayor won’t be any sort of victory in the eyes of his peers.”

“Peers?”

“Your betters. The real Torontonians.”

“Ahh.”

“He’ll come out bloodied and bruised, looking the worse for wear. Over dinner at the club, someone will say, en voz baja, You’re no bloody better than Ford. latenightphonecall3You said you would be better than Ford. Trust me. That is the kind of thing that keeps men like John Tory up at night. That, and undercooked beef bourguignon.”

Yeah. I wasn’t buying it. Why, just earlier today, Mayor Tory showed little sign of backing down in the face of any peer pressure either on the Gardiner east or carding issue. He lives in the ‘real world’ don’t you know. He is the Mayor of Toronto in 2015.  Beats his chest, flings his shit at any and all detractors. David Crombie’s not the boss of John Tory! Not anymore!

“Just relax, is all I’m saying. ¡Tranquilízate! You can’t comprehend the pressures that come to bear on Sundays at the country club. The not-so-subtle snub of a “missing” salad fork. An errant golf shot without the accompanying FORE! A pass on an invitation to the season’s hottest charity event. These are the kinds of things that matter to John Tory not the outrage of the invisible hordes like you.”

Wouldn’t that be nice. The shame of being shamed by the city’s influential movers-and-shakers. spanishmusicThe motive for doing the right thing might not be noble but if it resulted in a better outcome? Who was I to argue or judge?

But as my eye started to bleed again, I fear I’m far from convinced such a thing is possible. Urban Sophisticat’s smooth Spanish utterings to the contrary.

sleepily submitted by Cityslikr


Tolling Smoke And Mirrors

May 21, 2015

hammeragoodideaOut of the fog of debate over the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway, Budget Committee member James Pasternak floated the idea of imposing a toll on non-residents using the city owned and maintained Don Valley and Gardiner expressways. “I think the mayor’s hybrid selection is the way to go, but at the same time, you really do need a secure, reliable source to fund it,” the councillor mused publicly yesterday.

While any talk of tolling roads should be warmly welcomed into the conversation, coming as this does in the service of the willfully misguided effort of Mayor Tory to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated, we have to simply shrug. It’s feels like little more than a dodge, frankly. An attempt to offset the cost argument against the hybrid option, and serving to deflect from the real issue at hand: the hybrid option is a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

Besides, the mayor has no time for toll talk. Att least, ever since re-running for mayor. There was time when he held a different view. Of course.

Now as mayor of Toronto, money is no object for John Tory when it comes to dealing with his beloved Gardiner expressway. There’s just a secret stash of it, tucked away somewhere apparently, whenever he’s looking to gussy or speed it up and burnish his pro-car image.

Without mayoral support for the idea, it’s hard to imagine Councillor Pasternak’s toll item garnering much support, consigned surely to the trash bin at the next Executive Committee if it gets even that far along. The right place for it, if for the wrong reason. I mean, why would the councillor stop at tolling non-residents, aside from the fact they can’t vote in a municipal election in Toronto, freeing him of facing any electoral ire? It can’t be just that crass an idea, can it?

No, no. It’s a question of fairness. trashbinCouncillor Pasternak told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning yesterday [segment not yet archived] that Toronto residents pay to maintain the Gardiner and DVP from their property taxes. Why should outsiders get to freeload on our roads, paid for by our hard-earned property taxes?

But how about extending that sense of fairness a little further? Why should I, a resident of Toronto who helps pay for those expressways I rarely use, be forking over the same amount of cash as someone using them on a daily basis? That hardly seems fair, if we’re introducing the concept of road use/pay fairness.

Another member of the Budget Committee, Councillor John Campbell agrees. “I don’t see why all residents and all users of the highway shouldn’t be paying for it. Basically the TTC is a user-pay system. 80% of the funding for the TTC comes out of the fare box. Why shouldn’t our roads be the same?”

That’s just the tip of the inane iceberg of Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea, a half-baked measure with a full on helping of self-interest. letmecorrectitThe expense of co-ordinating the whole thing would immediately bite into any money made to throw at road maintenance. Fellow Budget Committee member (and former Budget Chief) Shelley Carroll said tolls had been discussed extensively, back in 2006 and the introduction of the City of Toronto Act. “What my colleague is proposing is ridiculously expensive,” she tweeted in response to Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea.

“You can’t collect from ‘outsiders only’ without use of transponder system or Tech ‘Road Pricing’ technology of some sort. Would need to be GTA wide, therefore, not just Gardiner. Would cost minimum $300/400 million to install. $30+million a year to operate. All of this would earn about $20/30 million net to Toronto because we would have to partner with GTA & Province.

Despite the fact the Gardiner and DVP are ours to pay for and maintain, in yet another example of the paternalistic relationship we have with Queen’s Park, we’d have to go to the province for permission to toll them even if it was economically feasible which it isn’t. In other words, Councillor Pasternak is just making noise in an attempt to sound as if he’s put a lick of thought into his idea.

But wait. There’s more from the councillor.

Maybe we should just upload responsibilities for these two expressways to the province, as if it were as easy as wishing. toshredsCiting a ‘historical imbalance’, Councillor Pasternak pointed out that other GTA municipalities don’t have to directly financially support their expressways, the QEW, 401, 404, 407. (Did I miss any?) Why should Torontonians have to bear the burden of the Gardiner and DVP alone?

I hate to break it to him but the Gardiner and DVP have always been ours. Aside from the strip of the Gardiner from the Humber to the 427 which the Harris government downloaded onto the city (h/t to Sean Marshall for that bit of info), these 2 urban expressways were Toronto’s from the outset, birthed and raised into being by the 1st chair of Metro council, Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, inspired as he was by the city building prowess of New York City “construction coordinator” Robert Moses. We’ve been maintaining them for some 50 years now. Why suddenly should the province feel compelled to start bearing that burden?

There’s nothing wrong with having a discussion about utilizing road tolls in order to raise revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure. facethemusicIt’s being done throughout the world. We wouldn’t be breaking any new ground there.

But let’s have a realistic discussion on the subject instead of something floated like a lead balloon for no other reason than to divert attention away from an equally politically loaded topic like what to do with the crumbling eastern section of the Gardiner expressway. Councillor Pasternak should be working on answering why we need to throw money to ‘retain and drag’ such an antiquated beast, why exactly is the hybrid option the way to go, not how do we pay to do that. The answer would be much simpler.

We don’t. It’s time to bring the fucker down.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Security Detail

April 30, 2015

With today’s release of the City of Toronto’s Ombudsman’s Report, An Investigation Into Toronto City Hall Security, ombudsmanwe’re sure to get another dose of noise from our Tales of the Mayor Behaving Badly tickle trunk. Just comes with the territory when you elect a drinker and drug abuser to public office. Messy shit happens.

And no question, messy shit happened, lots and lots of it.  Much of it reported earlier. Except I don’t remember hearing previously about security helping then mayor Rob Ford drive out of City Hall unnoticed while he was clearly under the influence. Aiding and abetting drunk driving, that is.

D’oh!

There I go, veering off onto the salacious detail trail. It’s so easy to get sidetracked. One could argue that, collectively, we got sidetracked for 4 years, caught up in the weeds and muck of scandal.

The thing to focus on in this Ombudsman’s report is not the instigator, the belligerent provocateur, but instead, how the system coped with a situation that the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, referred to as ‘without precedent’. In short, it didn’t. Slightly less short, individual front line security officers were left to their own devices to deal with the unprecedented demands and overreach of the mayor’s office on them. forestforthetreesManagement, city management, did little to counter the belief that the mayor was the “head of the city” (339, page 58), so could not really be challenged by security.

In other words, individual security officers were hung out to dry by management, allowing the mayor to run roughshod over procedures and protocol. When management finally did respond, it was frequently too late and reactive. The mayor blew past all established boundaries, and in the process, redefined them.

Yeah, well. What are the chances of this city ever electing a crack smoking, drunken stupor falling mayor again, asked while regularly looking back over our shoulder, wondering if this is the thing that will re-ignite Ford Nation again. Fool me once, shame on you, etc., etc.

“It is behind us, the city’s moved on,” Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair Jaye Robinson (and noted no friend of the Ombudsman’s office) responded when asked about the security report. Yes. Let us never speak of this again.

The thing is though, Ms. Crean and her staff have revealed not just specific structural flaws in how City Hall provides security but very basic, fundamental flaws, starting with, Who’s in charge here? nothingtoseehereNowhere in the City of Toronto Act, in the position of C.E.O. of the corporation of the City of Toronto or as head of city council, does it say a mayor can hijack City Hall security for his own personal use. The fact that, in this case, some security personal felt intimidated about reporting their interactions with the mayor out of fear of some sort of retaliation from him or his office (350, page 60), and when reports were written, they weren’t filed properly from the same reason, takes this far beyond this one mayor at this one moment in time.

Another mayor might look at this, see the matter of sheepish compliance in the face of the perceived power of the mayor’s office not only from the lower echelons of the public service but upper management itself, the very top of the city’s bureaucracy, and try to push the envelope in other, more troubling ways. Like say, I don’t know, procurement practices, for instance. The mayor lets it be known to the pertinent city department that he’s got an acquaintance with a business that would be perfect for job X. No pressure, you understand. Just a heads up from the “head of the city”. abuseofpowerHow about appointments to the various civic agencies, boards or committees? There’s this lovely lady, a good friend of a good friend. A great fit on the X board. Just some friendly advice from the “head of the city”.

Of course, we have rules against that sort of thing, just like there are rules about the role of security at City Hall. But if they are ignored, if those in charge of enforcing the rules, especially those sitting at the very top, look the other way, then those rules are meaningless, nothing but computer bytes and marks on a page. Rules made even less meaningful if, upon receiving a report detailing the flouting of those rules, our elected officials chose to undermine and attack the offices and staff empowered to investigate and report the abuse of those rules.

That’s why today’s report is important, why it can’t be simply put up on the shelf to collect dust, filed under just another episode of the Ford Follies. Mistakes were made, system failure detected. We need to reinforce the concept of just who exactly is the “head of the city”, underlining the fact that, no, no, it isn’t the mayor, any mayor.

securely submitted by Cityslikr

 


Stilled Life With Rot

April 22, 2015

As we have said more than a few times here in these bytes since last fall’s municipal election, the make-up of city council barely budged from the previous term. stuckinthemudI’d use the word ‘glacial’ except in these days it has taken on an entirely different meaning from its traditional usage, the polar opposite in fact. No, wait. Polar? Does that still mean what I think it means?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In 2014, Toronto city council got whiter, more male, lurched even further into paleoconservative territory. What change there was cannot be considered a change for the better. How can you further entrench an already firmly entrenched status quo?

Judging from the proceedings of yesterday’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee whatever reforms (and I’ll use that word loosely) were made last term at City Hall seemed to be under immediate attack of un-reform. Dereform? Change! Change! Chase that change from these chambers! Out, out, damned change.reverse

I have no strong opinions about the taxi industry in this city. Taxis play a very, very tiny role in how I get around, a mobility device of last resort. My main interaction with them centres around being cut off while I’m riding in a bike lane. I’ve no idea if they’re too expensive or deliver terrible service. When I think of cabs, I don’t, really. I seldom think of cabs.

The rules by which the city regulates them strike me as byzantine at best, misshapen by special interests at worst. Back in 2013, Metro’s Jennifer Cross Smith laid out the state of the industry (h/t Glyn Bowerman). A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee pushed to reform last year. A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee is now attempting to revert back to after yesterday’s vote.

Why?

I don’t care. Although I should because at first glance it appears the powerful players in the industry, fighting back last year’s reforms, won the day, to “revive a two-tier model for taxis,” according to Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star. stepbackBig players represented by this thing called the Toronto Taxi Alliance challenged last year’s reforms in court, were rebuffed, so have taken another run at it through city council, successfully for now it seems. Money well spent, you might argue, donating to the likes of Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ city council campaign last year who raised about a tenth of his total donations from the taxi industry, and has proven to be a dogged champion for the industry in fighting the taxi reforms and the Uber infestation.

More eye-rollingly, the Municipal Licensing and Standards chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio, also a beneficiary of the taxi industry’s largesse, is now overseeing the attempted dismantling of the reforms that happened while he was also chair of the exact same committee last term. In effect, his committee is seeking to repeal the reforms of his committee. If that’s not a potent symbol of impotency of city council, I don’t know what is.

Never mind that the committee also revived the food truck issue and came up with a 20 metre compromise. (Yeah, don’t even bother.) todolistThe fact that this is even a thing, remains a thing, a regular thing, a constant fucking reminder of our city council’s ongoing and perpetual war against change shows why on the big ticket items, housing, transit, police reform, this city stands in petrified stillness, unable to face the future because it can’t let go of the past. But…But…We used to know how to run a city.

In my lighter moments, I like to think when voters in 2010 rallied around Rob Ford, they were clamoring for change. Remember, there was also nearly a one-third turnover of city councillors then too. When it became glaringly obvious that Ford didn’t represent change as much as wanton destruction and outright contempt for public service, we retreated to what we perceived as a safe harbour. Dignity. Respectfulness. Diligence and duty.

Above all, we voted to get this city moving again. Moving to a standstill, as it turns out. rottingfruitRunning on the spot, avoiding anything that resembles anything close to substantive change.

In its current make-up, City Hall is where change goes to die. In its defiant embrace of the status quo, progress is impossible. The well-connected and well-served by the way things are, they way things are done, they way things have always been done, will continue to be heard. The rest of us? Well, we’re just going to have to figure out a way to work around the deadwood that continues to prop up the pretense of local, forward-thinking governance.

fed-uply 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