Show Us The Efficiencies!

June 27, 2016

So, I’m having a quiet conversation the other day with a painter friend of mine, Donald… actually, my friend’s not a painter and his name isn’t Donald. quietconversationBut we were having a quiet conversation the other day.

I bring this up just to establish a time line of my thought process, to let you know I was thinking about this before reading David Nickle’s article yesterday, Toronto’s past public finance practices have experienced its own form of Brexit. It’s this latest broad side fired at the fiscal policies pursued for the better part of a decade at City Hall. “Folly. Pure populist folly,” Nickle calls it.

City councillors have been pretending to practice austerity and delivering at-or-below inflationary property tax increases for about a decade, while roughly maintaining services. They’ve increased some revenues, mostly through fees like transit fares. But otherwise, they’ve relied on the booming real estate market and finite help from the provincial government to keep things going.

Mayor Tory and his council allies are also continuing to trot out the shop worn claim that taxes and other revenue streams are unnecessary or unbecoming, even, until we bear down and squeeze out every last drop of inefficiency there is to be found especially in the operating budget. nostoneunturnedUntil such a time as there is shown to be absolutely no waste, or gravy as the previous guy called it, talk of new revenue will remain theoretical. This, of course, is an impossibly high goal to set which, as we’ve probably suggested before, may well be the whole point of such a futile exercise.

Bringing me to my quiet conversation with my friend the other day.

Of course there are still efficiencies to be found. No one has ever said otherwise. Here’s an example right here in a Toronto Star article from Thursday by David Rider, Audit finds waste in City of Toronto cleaning services. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain a year,” according to the Auditor General.

There you go. Although, I must point out that it’s also not good news for champions of contracting out services, like Mayor Tory, who like to tell us that the private sector, by its very nature, brings about efficiencies and automatically saves us money. Still. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. moarGet ‘er done.

Now, here’s the meat of the conversation between my not-Donald-the-painter friend of mine and me. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Hell, let’s call it a million bucks. Unless the auditor general or whoever else finds 50, 75, 100, 200 of those kind of examples of waste and inefficiencies, we still won’t have enough money to maintain the current services and programs we have, never mind anything new. This is what Mayor Tory’s been told by two consecutive city managers now. Efficiencies for sure but not just efficiencies. It’s not going to be enough.

Moreover, I said to my friend, I said, It’s put up or shut up time for these efficiencies fiends. You claim there’s still lots of efficiencies to be found, find them. Find them and bring them to the budget table. No more vague generalities and focus grouped catchphrases involving sides and dressings.

Anyone who’s followed along with the budget process the last 6 years or so will recognize the approach of the various self-proclaimed fiscal hawks we elect to city council. showmethemoneyPre-determine the property tax rate to give yourself a pretty good idea of what that year’s operating budget will be and then force anyone proposing new spending to make a deduction somewhere else in the budget. An offset, it’s called. This is how much we’re spending. It’s all zero sum after that.

How be this time around, anyone coming to the budget proceedings saying we have to find efficiencies, needs to bring said efficiencies to the table. You don’t want to raise the property tax rate above the rate of inflation? Find the efficiency offset. 1% property tax increase equals roughly $24 million for the city. Before you start talking about 2% or 4% or 5% cuts to budgets, you need to show some $48 or $96 or $120 million in efficiencies found.

Because across the board budget cuts are not the same thing as finding efficiencies. If we’re going to start talking about ‘unprecedented’ and ‘devastating’ cuts, texaschainsawmassacreas Nickle suggests some might be, the onus needs to be placed squarely on those pushing them under the banner of finding efficiencies. We must demand specifics, details down to the penny. Show us the efficiencies found, show us the money.

Otherwise, you’re just proposing cuts for cutting’s sake, and that’s something else entirely. That’s just ideology. That’s a completely different conversation.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor’s Business

November 3, 2011

Please bear with me if my initial points are a little blurry and all the thoughts not strung together in any sort of coherent fashion. No, Sue-Ann Levy is not ghost writing this post. It’s just that I’ve been banging my head repeatedly against the wall, trying to figure out the general m’eh attitude toward Mayor Ford using his own family printing business, Deco Labels and Tags, to whip up he and his staff a batch of gold embossed business cards.

What part of ‘The Mayor Using His Family Business To Print Business Cards’ doesn’t immediately scream ‘Wrong!’ to everyone? I don’t care if he’s been judicious in not sole sourcing the job out or if he paid fair market value for the order or..or..or.. whatever other flimsy justification he, his brother and staff come up with. There’s a point at every council meeting I’ve ever attended where councillors have to stand and declare ‘an interest’ in a particular item that’s coming up for debate. It’s short hand for ‘conflict of interest’, usually entailing some family member working for the department in question or ownership of a property that may benefit (or not) in a decision council is about to make. Declaring a conflict of interest.

So how can the mayor of Toronto using his family run business to print his business cards be anything other than a conflict of interest? How? How?? Oh. Councillor Minnan-Wong? You had something to say about the matter on The Agenda Monday night?

“But I can also tell you that if the mayor had his druthers about this that he would’ve just had Deco Labels do it for free and had it just delivered to City Hall. But the problem is there are other individuals at City Hall that don’t want him to have these free contributions made to save the taxpayers money for some reason beyond me that was made a few years ago. He would’ve just gone to Deco Labels, had them printed and had the city not be expensed at all. But city council won’t let him do it.”

Hmmm. ‘… other individuals at City that don’t want him to have these free contributions to the taxpayers money…’? Could one of those ‘other individuals’ be the city’s Auditor General, Jeffrey Griffiths? Or then Integrity Commissioner, David Mullan? Seems this practice of using his family business to outfit his office with supplies has been an ongoing concern since back in the early days of Mayor Ford’s time as a councillor. (h/t Edward Keenan whose dynamite article I’m just riffing on here). Turns out, it’s a force of habit that’s been frowned upon but Rob Ford just keeps plugging away at it. Somehow.

And yet the mayor’s council colleagues like Denzil Minnan-Wong, presumably without benefit of a similar family business to help him out around the office, can’t see what the problem is. It’s beyond him why anyone could object to Mayor Ford conducting his official business on his own or Deco Labels and Tags’ dime. (Can you say, `corporate donation`, Councillor Minnan-Wong?) Pish-posh. All’s fair as long as it saves the taxpayers money.

Well councillor, if that’s the case, I say why stop at just measly business cards and letterhead? If it’s all about saving the taxpayers money, let’s try and hand the whole shooting’ match over to anyone who can afford it? Surely there’s got to be someone out there with $9 billion/year they’d be happy to part with in order to run the city. Be great if they could match that again to cover off some of our capital costs too. Then it wouldn’t cost us li’l taxpayers a thing to live in the city.

Never mind the darker implications of public service becoming only the domain of those who can afford it. What about oversight and accountability? Personally, I want to know what our elected officials spent and where the money came from. And frankly, I don’t care if the mayor wants some fancy business cards although I do have to agree with Mr. Keenan that coming from Rob Ford, it is a bit, errr, rich with a noxious whiff of hypocrisy to boot. We’re going with the cheapest bid in contracting out waste collection but not for our business cards? And trying to placate the situation with an ‘I’m paying for it out of my own pocket’ doesn’t cut it either. That money may have come out of your pocket but how exactly did it get in there in the first place? That’s the kind of thing I want kept above board and on the table for everyone to see.

Openness and transparency. That’s a concept Councillor Ford promised to usher in to City Hall if elected mayor. Yet, here he is, still playing fast and loose with his office expenses, maintaining ongoing business with his family firm, fighting off a Compliance Audit Committee request to look through his campaign financing books. It’s all so unseemly and smacks more of disrespect for the taxpayers.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


Citizens Not Wanted

April 21, 2011

I wanted this one to be positive, to sing with the upraised voice of a vibrant, participatory democracy. Citizens, not taxpayers or stakeholders or customers, taking time out of their schedules, out of their lives to engage with their elected local representatives. Volunteer members from the city’s various communities, be it cycling, pedestrian, tenant advocacy, aboriginal support, those whose hobby it is to restore the Don River… yes, while you and I spend our free time on the Twitter or however else it is you spend your free time (but doesn’t everybody spend all their free time on the Twitter?)… there are dedicated groups of people who go and pitch in to help bring the Don River and its immediate surroundings back to life. All coming together to have their say in how business is being conducted at City Hall.

At issue yesterday (among other items) was a staff report from the City Manager brought before the mayor’s Executive Committee recommending the dissolution, decommissioning or reconsidering of 21 of the city’s 23 citizen advisory and working committees. “Advisory bodies are generally composed of a combination of Council members and members of the public. Working committees are composed solely of Council members to assist Council and its standing committees to accomplish specific tasks.” Now, this move is not out of the ordinary, as such committees are designated for the term of each council and these were from the previous term.

But the breadth of the suggested cuts and the lack of any replacement bodies gave the appearance that this administration isn’t all that concerned with citizen engagement. An administration dedicated, at least while the mayor was out on the campaign trail last year, to more transparency, more accountability, more respect for us, the taxpayers, Joe and Josephina Q. Public. Why the need to reduce the presence of citizen advisory committees? The report itself notes that there is no financial impact of this decision. So eliminating these committees wasn’t due to fiscal restraint although Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday has pointed out that there would be savings. “… [Citizen advisory committees] do cost something because we’re involving a lot of staff time that might be better off doing something else.” You see, it’s all about making the government ‘leaner’ according to the Deputy Mayor and apparently ‘leaner’ means less citizen involvement.

And nothing that happened at the committee meeting yesterday did much to dispel that notion. The room was packed for the meeting’s 9:30 start. Some 80 mailed submissions had been sent in from the public and there were over 40 deputants scheduled to speak. The first wrinkle came when the committee decided to deal with some other business first – the issue of the advisory councils was due up 3rd but Budget Chief Mike Del Grande asked for and got the votes to move an item with Section 37 benefits and development charges up.  “We dealt with a couple of items we were told were going to be quick,” said Deputy Mayor Holyday, “and they weren’t.” He admitted that the move had been a mistake.

Now, I’m willing to give the Executive Committee the benefit of the doubt on this and not think they deliberately pushed back the item to take the wind out of the speakers’ sails. To make people wait and wait for their turn to be heard, perhaps a few of them with other things to do, other commitments, would be forced to leave before they had the opportunity to have their say.  I’ll take the Deputy Mayor on word that that was not their intention. But it sure looked that way.

The quick items weren’t and the actual one that was scheduled to go before the advisory committee item, the Street Food Pilot Project, certainly didn’t wrap up swiftly which, frankly should’ve been expected. The fiasco that was the A La Cart program absolutely needs to be examined in depth to find out exactly what happened, how and if to compensate those who got caught up in excessive red tape and a not entirely well thought out process. This items shouldn’tve got short shrift and it didn’t.

By the time the committee took a break for lunch at 12:30, those still waiting to give their deputations on the advisory council item were told not to rush back, they probably wouldn’t be getting around to it until 3 p.m. 5 and a half hours after the meeting had started. Needless to say, there was some eye-rolling and grumbling in the crowd about intentions on the part of the committee to dampen their voices.

Those who did return after lunch or at 3, noticeably fewer than had left, discovered that estimate too was grossly off. There was more A La Cart discussions and then a timed item which had to dealt with before the committee could get the advisory council item. Which timed item, you ask? You’re going to love the double irony of this.

Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) – Response to Auditor General’s Report titled “Toronto Community Housing Corporation – Controls over Employee Expenses are Ineffective”.

That’s right. Now the Executive Committee had to hear from the Auditor General about the TCHC not 6 weeks, 2 months ago before the board was turfed, management dispatched and Case Otis installed as the supreme being. The urgency was all after the fact, long past when questionable decisions had been made.

The double irony? So urgent was this matter that the meeting had to be temporarily halted because there was no quorum. Yes, more than half of the Executive Committee were so desperate to hear what the Auditor General had to say about the TCHC spending scandal that they left the room. So speakers still present were further delayed as someone had to go off and drag an Executive Committee member back to the room to re-start the meeting.

Just before the stroke of 5, nearly 7 and a half hours after the meeting began, the first speaker to item EX 5.3 Council Advisory Bodies and Working Committees sat down in front of the Executive Committee.

Now, I am a cold-hearted bastard by nature. Very few things bring a tear to my eye or hope to my heart. There’s kittens and then there’s… yeah, kittens. That’s about it except when I witness plain, ordinary folk nervously take a seat in front of a group of politicians and civil servants just to let them know what they think. To get involved. To engage in the political process. It is a glorious thing to behold.

Yes, there were some smooth operators, lawyers and consultants among them, who were clearly comfortable in the spotlight. Those who had done this kind of thing before. But consider this. No one was there yesterday defending their piece of the pie. These were all people giving over their time and effort in hopes of persuading the Executive Committee to keep citizen advisory committees going on a volunteer basis. They weren’t asking for money. They were offering the city their help. For free.

People taking time off work to speak. People not at home to cook dinner for their family. People, in the words of one deputant, “… not against change” but who just “want to be a part of that change.”

I could go on at length but I’ll spare you my maudlin blubbering. The reception most of the speakers received was perfunctory at best. The members of the Executive Committee asked few questions, most of their attention turned to making sure enough of them were present to maintain a quorum. I don’t believe Councillors Mammoliti (probably off figuring ways to defund Pride) or Shiner were ever in the room during deputations. Councillor Kelly left early and Councillor Thompson, when he was present, spent most of it away from his chair talking to members of the press and the mayor’s staff. Citizen democracy wasn’t foremost in their minds.

Unsurprisingly, the City Manager’s report was passed and it will now be up to council to decide the fate of the advisory committees. It was a big fuck you to engaged citizens from the Ford administration. If you still believe that the mayor is listening to the little guy, you are clinically delusional.

Not all was doom and gloom, however. Just before the vote was held to adopt the staff report, after all the deputants had spoken, Councillor Jaye Robinson used her 5 minutes to speak to express concern about the details of the report. It was ‘light’, I believe she called it, meaning not fully thought out or explored. She then offered up a motion requesting a further review and exploration before proceeding with a decision. (Not being a journalist I’m scrambling to get a copy of the councillor’s motion. Will update as soon as I do.) This was significant for a couple reasons.

One, Councillor Robinson has not yet proven to be the most independent minded of councillors. A rookie on council, the perception so far has been that she operates under the mayor’s thumb, whipped into siding with him on important votes. That she offered up this motion running contrary to the mayor’s wishes at Executive Committee is a hopeful sign that she’s rankling under the weight.

And her motion last night was clearly flying in the face of what the mayor wanted. Once she put it forth, there was a behind the scenes scramble by the mayor’s staff, mainly Mark Towhey, the mayor’s Director of Policy and Strategic Planning. We watched as he coached Councillor Cesar Palacio (worth the price of admission itself) through an amendment to Robinson’s motion. But it didn’t appear to sit well, so the mayor called a quick recess where he huddled with the city clerk and some of this team. They came back, pulled Councillor Palacio’s amendment before going to a straight vote on Councillor Robinson’s motion.

It was defeated and the staff report was then passed as is but here’s the second significant point. The vote on Councillor Robinson’s motion was very close. Again, my non-journalist roots are showing through and I don’t have the exact numbers (will update when I get them) but I believe the vote went 6-4 against the motion. At the Executive Committee. The mayor’s handpicked team that, to date, has basically served as a rubber stamp for whatever it is he wants to do. Special commendation needs to go out not only to Councillor Robinson but also Councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Peter Milczyn (two of my least favourite councillors) who both stood firm in the face of the mayor’s icy stare in voting for Robinson’s motion.If there is this kind of split showing at the Executive Committee level, then the fissures under pressure for the mayor’s wider coalition at council must be immense. A close watch should be held on this item as it goes to council next month. If the mayor doesn’t have his way, it may be an indication that he simply can’t bully his agenda through and might be forced to start resorting to such tactics as negotiation and compromise, neither of which is his strong suit.

So maybe out of the ashes of yesterday’s Executive Committee soiling of civic engagement will come a new found democratic spirit at City Hall. Or at least, the autocratic tendency that Mayor Ford has displayed since coming to office will be just that much more difficult to wield effectively. If so, active citizen engagement will have played a large role in bringing that about.

hope springs eternally submitted by Cityslikr


The Double Life Of Mayor Rob Ford

March 29, 2011

I had a sleepless night last, I must confess. At the centre of my disquiet was a brewing disagreement in my head with our (virtual) friend over at Ford For Toronto, Matt Elliott. I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed on anything and it wasn’t lying easily upon my sleepy head.

Yesterday Elliott linked to a Spacing article written by John Lorinc examining Mayor Ford’s campaign expenses that were submitted last week, stating: I’m no fan of the mayor, but I still don’t see much newsworthy re: Ford, Election Expenses & Deco Labels. But as I read through Mr. Lorinc’s piece, I kept thinking, not newsworthy? How not newsworthy?

Is it because it’s all old news, the mayor’s complicated relationship with his family business, Deco Labels and Tags, and his role as former city councillor and now mayor? A business he’s still actively involved with, apparently? A complicated relationship that for years plagued many of his council colleagues as Ford made his name crusading against office expenses which he rarely-to-never used, and instead paid for such things out of his pocket. This put whatever expenses then Councillor Ford’s actually made out of public view. Say what you want about the bunny suits and taxi fares that made such a big splash in the press, not to mention provided heavy cannon fodder for Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign against waste and corruption at City Hall, but at least those things became public knowledge. How Councillor Ford funded his office endured no such transparency.

That is not to say he was doing anything illegal or unethical. Council set the Auditor-General and Integrity Commissioner upon Ford back in 2007 to investigate his lack of office expense claims. Their report found Ford (and Councillor Doug Holyday) were not adhering to council policy in terms of reporting expenses but suggested no punishment. So there it remained, with Ford able to continue his battle against wasteful councillor spending right into the mayor’s office while keeping his own financial dealings in the murky waters of non-compliance.

At the heart of the issue is Mayor Ford’s use of his family business while acting as a public servant. We know Deco does work  for the city and has been before Ford was first elected to council back in 2000. The amount seems insignificant and distanced enough from the mayor and his now councillor brother, Doug, to be only mildly unsettling. There is the whole sole sourcing contract in one aspect of the deal that seems more than reasonable and only rankles because the mayor has often railed about sole sourcing regardless that it sometimes is the best alternative.

More disturbing, however, is the mayor’s use of his company to supply his office with materials and services that he doesn’t claim as official expenses. Even if he does actually pay out from his own pocket, he’s paying a company that he co-owns and operates with his family. Doesn’t this represent an unfair advantage for the mayor over his council colleagues who don’t have access to a family firm? Does he get a family discount? If so, wouldn’t that constitute some sort of gift or donation from the private sector? These are questions we aren’t able to fully answer because the mayor as a councillor didn’t claim expenses from the city, so didn’t have to publicly declare where and how he spent his money. Not exactly the transparency he pledged to deliver if elected.

The quagmire further widened and deepened when Mayor Ford went public with his expenses for his successful mayoral run last year, disturbing on a number of levels. Firstly, the mayor blew $400,000 past the $1.3 million spending cap with seemingly no penalty for doing so. Why bother having a limit if candidates can simply ignore it by just assuming the overages? That doesn’t really level the financial playing field.

Secondly, the mayor got elected on a platform of vowing to bring sound fiscal management to City Hall but went into debt doing so. To the tune of anywhere between $640,000-$800,000 before post-election fundraising cleared out most of it. Isn’t that a little unnerving? Or do we just chalk it up to making a personal sacrifice for the common good? Like another fiscal conservative, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who is now asking council to pay his legal fees for a case he brought against the city back in 2008 in order to stop it… wait for it, wait for it… paying the legal fees of two other councillors. Initially, Holyday said he was footing the bill but when the city pushed back and strung the case out with an appeal process, well, it all became a little too rich for the deputy mayor’s tastes. Rest assured, good people of Toronto, we’re still saving money in the long run as Councillor Holyday will have finally put this nonsense of paying councillors’ legal fees to bed, once and for all. After, of course, we pay his legal fees.

Even if legitimate, the optics of this are horrible. Just like Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. Completely legitimate and above board but arguably the image the mayor and all the fiscal conservatives rode into power on.

And then there’s the $150,000 in costs to Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign charged by again… wait for it… wait for it… Deco Labels and Tags. That’s in the neighbourhood of 10% of the campaign costs going to Rob Ford’s company. Legitimate and above board but stinking to high heaven.

Think about it for a moment. Rob Ford pays $150,000 to his own company for election related expenses. Expenses that are then (hopefully) covered by donations from the public. Donations that are then subsidized up to 75% by the city. So indirectly, 75% or so of the $150,000 Deco Labels and Tags made from the Ford campaign is paid by taxpayers. Is that what passes for respect in the Ford era?

The mayor cannot continue to hold the moral high ground on fiscal matters of this city, to scream Gravy Train every time he spots what he deems to be wasteful spending, while he actively participates in the family business that does business with this city, that profits from its business with the city. Regardless of the amount involved or the arms length distance he might have from the deal as mayor. It reeks of hypocrisy and a conflict of interest. The mayor is either a public servant or a private business man. If those two worlds overlap as they do with the city of Toronto and Deco Labels and Tags, he has to decide which one he’s going to be.

It’s time to shit or get off the pot, Mr. Mayor.

decidedly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Liberal Media Bias

March 21, 2011

At the risk of revealing myself to be a downtown pinko elitist (ha, ha), I have to ask the question: who the fuck listens to AM radio? Outside of sports fans, that is, and I think it is sports coverage sensibilities that define the presentational style of the whole band. Strongly held opinions expressed vehemently, often times with little to no evidence backing up said opinions and rarely rising above the level of You Suck/They Suck.

I ask because I found myself yesterday afternoon listening to Councillor Josh Matlow’s regular 1 hour spot on Newstalk 1010’s Sundays with John Downs. As we have written here previously, the good councillor from Ward 22 is an intriguing new face at City Hall, bright, articulate and, as of yet, politically amorphous. He comes across progressive minded when he speaks on all the various platforms he has, and he has a lot of platforms especially for a new councillor. Yet when he votes, he more often than not falls in line behind the mayor’s agenda. Slippery or open to compromise? An opportunist or pragmatist? Time will tell.

This dichotomy was on display as Councillor Matlow took to the airwaves to question the $3 million on offer for outside consultants to come in and uncover all the wasteful spending that Mayor Ford as a candidate claimed he could easily find on his own. There were systems already in place at City Hall, according to Matlow, like the Auditor-General looking into spending like it had at TCHC. Handing over an extra $3 million to have another entity do what could be done for a fraction of that price smacked a little like the gravy the mayor was so intent on eliminating.

So far, so good but this thought was bandied about in the midst of jokes about crazy councillor spending, the TCHC ‘scandal’ and Councillor Matlow’s pronouncement that Mayor Ford was right about one thing. The city’s budget did balloon under David Miller. End stop. The intimation being that it ballooned because of wasteful spending. No other explanation need be discussed although there are plenty of other plausible, laudable reasons even, why the budget numbers rose. (h/t Ben Bergen.)

Councillor Matlow was able to appear that he was critiquing the mayor while accepting whole-heartedly the narrative framework that there was plenty of gravy still flowing at City Hall. Commence the slow clap. Well played, Mr. Matlow. Well played indeed.

More than that, however, my concern is, if John Downs gives over an hour of his show per week to talk to a councillor, why just Josh Matlow? Why not throw it open to all comers? For a diversity of opinion, from the far right to the far left and all points in between. Let Toronto (or at least the portion of Toronto who spends their Sundays listening to AM radio) hear a whole range of views.

Unless, of course, that isn’t your intent. Unless what you’re really trying to do is narrow the debate so it ranges from A all the way to B. But why would a media outlet do that? It makes no business sense, limiting your audience reach like that, undercutting any possible growth…

Yeah, yeah. I’m being facetious. Liberal Media Bias? What Liberal Media Bias? Point me to all those leftie councillors with their own outlet to deliver their thoughts on the goings on at City Hall? Where can I get my weekly dose of Janet Davis, Gord Perks or Shelley Carroll? Adam Vaughan used to be a television journalist. You’d think his former employers over at CityTV would jump at the chance to give him 30 minutes a week to opine on the state of municipal affairs. Remember before he was mayor, how Rob Ford had his regular spot over on 680 with John (Johnny to his good friends) Oakley?

And before you start screeching about George Smitherman and the $1billion eHealthscandalexcessivelyhighenergycosts and all the other offal you involuntarily vomit up every time his name is mentioned, for those of us actually over here on the left, the George Smitherman who ran for mayor was never one of us. The fact that Newstalk gave him a show is akin to Fox News hiring former Indiana senator Evan Bayh, arguably one of the most conservative Democrats ever to serve the party since the collapse of the Dixie Democrats way back when. Empty proof of their objectivity as they claim to deliver news and information from both ends of the political spectrum.

No, it seems when it comes to how they spend their Sunday afternoons, left leaning councillors can only hope to listen to the radio not have their own shows on it. Or, like Councillor Joe Mihevc, they can go out into the community and talk to people, face-to-face, as they did in the old days before the advent of new-fangled contraptions like the wireless. After enduring an interminable hour with John Downs and friend, I wandered up to catch Councillor Mihevc talk about “City and citizens…How the city sees its citizens and how citizens perceive its city. How do we talk to each other? What counts?”

Me, 10 other people and the councillor in the community gallery at the Wychwood Barns for the third of four scheduled St. Clair Salon Sundays. Not the glamour (or reach) of AM radio but an actual give-and-take between engaged community members and their elected representative. I have to admit, I’ve never found Councillor Mihevc to be a forceful speaker at council meetings and the like but one-on-one, up close and personal, he really is quite charming, thoughtful, gracious and well-spoken.

And passionate. Especially about transit. Councillor Mihevc didn’t give up his Sunday afternoon for self-promotion or to score political points. He sat down with a small group and led a discussion on how to encourage further citizen participation beyond just voting. “Deepening democracy,” Mihevc called it. We didn’t solve that particular equation but it’s reassuring to know that there 10 people out there who think that it’s an important enough issue, that of voter/civic apathy, to come out on a brisk weekend day and discuss it with other like-minded people. *Cliché Alert! Cliché Alert!* What’s that saying about big things starting with small groups? No, seriously. What is it? I can’t remember.I know Councillor Matlow isn’t purely a media hog and he too goes out into the community. I know this because he never fails to tell me that’s what he’s doing.  And this isn’t intended as a slag of him. Entirely. Councillor Matlow bad, Councillor Mihevc good. It’s just that for every active, hands-on engagement with citizens Councillor Matlow does, he undercuts it by participating in the pretense of informed dialogue that is AM talk radio. You can’t be fully informed if you’re only hearing one half of the debate.

submitted by Cityslikr


On Second Thought

March 20, 2011

Now that the Ford administration putsch (yes, it’s Sunday and I’m feeling a little feistily hyperbolic) of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is complete, CEO Keiko Nakamura fired by the mayor’s own special henchman, double-dipping ex-councillor Case Ootes (yes, we are still waiting for Sue-Ann Levy’s damning exposé in the Sun of such deplorable teat-sucking since hypocrisy is only something practiced by the left), it’s probably time that we step back, take a breather and examine in more depth the Auditor-General’s report. (My that was a long sentence. Everybody still with me?)

After all, that’s standard operating procedure, isn’t it? Rush and leak a report, foment outrage and indignation at half-cocked and very possibly erroneous allegations, generally stampede to judgment before taking time to try and truly suss out the situation and uncover the actual facts of the matter. Fly off the handle, lay waste and poison the atmosphere before settling in to some sober second thought. Ford Tough. The Ford way.

While the mayor may not be losing any sleep over how things played out, about possibly firing people without justifiable cause, sullying their reputations in the process, it seems some in the media might be reconsidering their actions. Over at Metro Morning earlier this week, Matt Galloway wondered if maybe they over-reacted to the story in an interview with Lindsey Reed, CEO of the Social Housing Services Corporation. Oddly, the show has not posted the segment on line so we can’t link it for you, and we’re trying not to be too suspicious thinking they’re burying criticism of their behaviour, but the gist of it can be found in Ms. Reed’s article in last Monday’s Toronto Star.

Indignant over-reaction and unthinking bellicosity are what Mayor Ford does. It is his forte as Edward Keenan beautifully detailed in Eye this week. Right now, it’s working for him.

But why does the media, the Toronto Sun aside of course, play along? Isn’t it their job to hold the politicians’ claims and machinations up to the light for a closer examination? Just because the mayor runs around screaming gravy in a crowded media scrum, it doesn’t mean the assertion has to be echoed and amplified. Mayor Ford has an easily identifiable agenda. Those covering him should be filtering everything that comes out of his mouth or the mouths of his spokesteam through that filter. As they should any and all politicians.

It was known almost from the get-go that no fraudulent or criminal behaviour was going on at the TCHC. Now, as more of the facts come to light (which should’ve happened if normal practices had been allowed to happen instead of being steamrolled by the mayor and those supporting him) and the din of the screeching mob has dissipated a little, some of the details don’t look so grisly and gravy laden. John Lorinc’s Spacing piece a couple weeks back paints a much more complicated picture of the TCHC, operating as much as development company (see, the new Regent Park) as it was a property manager. Does that justify everything that surfaced during this initial round of the Auditor-General’s report? Of course not. That there are serious concerns about the conditions and ill-repair at various TCHC property was obvious long before the Auditor-General’s report and go far beyond chocolates and bad procurement practices. But all those in the mayor’s entourage who called for the heads of everybody and anybody involved without a deeper understanding of what was happening at the TCHC will ultimately reveal themselves to be little more than fatuous and specious opportunists. Yeah, that’s right. I’m still looking at you, Councillor Matlow.

The mayor’s going to bluster. He’s going to try and make mountains out of molehills whenever he gets a chance to trumpet to the world he’s found the latest example of waste and gravy. That’s his modus operandi and has been for as long as he’s found work at City Hall.

Until Mayor Ford’s accusations actually prove credible, and I think we’re going to find as further TCHC details emerge from the swamp of innuendo, hearsay and outright distortion and misinterpretation of the facts that he was off the mark, he shouldn’t be simply parroted. The press needs to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming his outrage is warranted. His self-proclaimed mandate doesn’t entitle him to a free pass, not everything that comes out of his mouth treated as gospel. That whole asking questions later thing only works in Mayor Ford’s favour, after the damage is done. Post-mortem regret benefits no one but those thriving on gut instinct and irrational reaction.

soothingly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Media Mayor

March 9, 2011

It’s becoming more and more apparent that Rob Ford isn’t so much the mayor of Toronto as he is the mayor of media. If the city is considered a creature of the province, then Mayor Ford is a creature of the media. He sharpened this image during 10 years in the political wilderness as a councillor, always giving good copy with an outrageous quote and crazy antics, and never confusing anyone with an interesting or complex idea or thought about governance. Talk radio supplied him with a weekly platform to vent his spleen and paint the world in his black and white terms.

The pattern continued (after heavily test marketing and packaging it) on the campaign trail last year on his way to becoming mayor. Headline grabbing claims and statements. Easily digestible chants that even the dimmest of media types could churn out as sound bites. A tightly wrapped message, so impenetrable no questions, concerns or suspicions could leave any sort of lasting impression on it. The Ford Phenomenon. It could not be explained, so don’t try and understand it.

And it’s now morphed into Ford Nation since his election. Rule by media fiat. The mayor declares. It is so. Council bends to the will of the mayor because the media says resistance is futile. The media doesn’t have to agree with the mayor or support his views at all. It just has to roll over and admit the mayor is all powerful, incapable of defeat or setback.

The media and the Ford administration have become co-dependents. They get breaking news stories via leaked documents and the mayor gets to govern without having to deal with the normal democratic process at council. Take the recent Auditor-General’s report on the goings-on at the Toronto Community Housing Corp. If my time line’s correct on this, the report was leaked to the Toronto Star on February 25th even before the TCHC had an opportunity to see it themselves on the following Monday. By the time they did, the mayor and his team had scooped it up and run with it, demanding exclusively through media channels that heads roll and calling for a complete overhaul of the management organization, all at the mayor’s behest, with minimal input not only from city council but the Audit Committee itself. The entity in place to deal with the report and to make recommendation that would then go to council for debate and ultimate decisions.

Guess what? The Audit Committee wasn’t scheduled to meet until March 24th. City council wouldn’t have dealt with this matter until after that, probably at their April meeting. It’s Mayor Ford who is demanding extraordinary, democratically dubious measures to be enacted here. He is trying to limit debate on this issue, seeking to undermine proper oversight and insisting on being granted carte blanche to fill the TCHC board and management purely to his liking. Don’t ask questions. Just obey. This is a strong mayor system after all, right?

Yet, reading the newspapers this morning and listening to the radio, the noble march of democracy and citizen accountability was stopped in its tracks at yesterday’s council meeting by 16 (mostly all left wing kooks… probably) councillors who denied the mayor his 2/3s majority needed to waive established procedure and start debating and voting on restructuring the TCHC immediately. Because the mayor wanted to! The heaping amount of scornful derision directed at the likes of Councillors Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks, Shelley Carroll, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher and Pam McConnell by our local rags was shocking in the degree to which it barked out the mayor’s party line. In case anyone reading the Globe started to see glimmers of a more nuanced, multi-dimensional angle to the TCHC story from its regular City Hall reporters, it unleashed the unhinged fury of one of their resident hacks, Christie Blatchford to execute a full on, full fledged hatchet job of the mayor’s council opponents. Over at the Star, Royson James was at his execrable worst, completely twisting the events at yesterday’s morning council session to fit snugly into the mayor’s narrative. He might as well have added a little P.S. at the end of it. Can I have more access now please, Mayor Ford?

Even at the so-called liberal CBC, Metro Morning host Matt Galloway suggested that the councillors who voted against Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s motion were simply playing politics and delaying the inevitable. What’s that again, Matt? Exercising your democratic right to see that due process is followed is now ‘playing politics’? And why, ‘inevitable’? Simply because the mayor says so.

Remember when our mainstream press used to push back against power? When former mayor David Miller found surprise surpluses? (Creative accounting.) When Mayor Miller said he’d won significant concessions from city workers at the conclusion of the 2009 strike? (Oh, no he didn’t.) When he demanded that the province start paying its share of public transit and mandated services? (Going cap-in-hand to beg.)

What’s with the sudden turnaround and acquiescence toward the mayor’s office?  With such slavish devotion to the new boss, the press is undermining the democratic process at City Hall and inculcating the mayor with increasingly unchecked power that is answerable to few outside his inner sanctum. This kind of coverage allows Mayor Ford to bypass committees (and with that, citizens) and council itself where he just has to cobble together 22 other votes, a handful of whom simply fall into line because they don’t want to be seen bucking the trend of the inevitable that they read in their newspapers.

In his article, Royson James points out that the left leaning councillors ‘lost the last election’. As if that means all protocol, all normal procedures that have been set in place to get a vote passed at City Hall can be dispensed with. Yesterday, for the first time as mayor, Rob Ford lost a significant vote. It happens. But instead of adhering to the customary path when such a thing occurs, the mayor is seeking to smash up the established process and have his way with council. The press is not only falling down on their job by refusing to call him on it, they are actively helping him achieve it by vilifying everyone on council who is attempting to stand up to him.

This makes Rob Ford, the media’s mayor.

submitted by Cityslikr