Benign Neglect Is Still Neglect

November 11, 2015

At a press conference yesterday (a ‘press avail’ in journalese), Mayor Tory announced that progress had been made in reducing the 2016 police budget. mayorjohntoryOf course, when it comes to the police budget, reduced actually means less of an increase. So, an original ask of 5.8% knocked down to 2.76% works out to be a decrease in the police budget. It’s what we call ‘progress’!

The day before, on Monday, the TTC budget committee met, and in discussions about proposed waterfront transit projects, seemed ‘resigned’, in the words of the Globe and Mail’s Transportation writer, Oliver Moore, to some sort of people moving walkway linking Union Station to Queen’s Quay. Yeah, an escalator rather an actual vehicular link like the one that was favoured here, way back in 2013 (h/t Matt Elliot). Why? A serious lack of capital funds. No money.

This is Mayor John Tory’s Toronto, folks. Where police budgets continue to rise despite evidence showing crime statistics declining. nomoneyPublic transit budgets keep growing too but not enough to accommodate the increasing ridership numbers that continue to go up despite a less than optimal service, let’s call it.

Mayor Tory’s Toronto.

To be sure, this isn’t all on him. He’s only officially held the office for some 11 months. Bloated police and insufficient public transit budgets most definitely preceded him.

But the mayor wears this current Police Services Board. The former chair, Alok Mukherjee, left the position before his term was up, and replaced by the mayor’s buddy and former chief of staff, Andy Pringle. Upon assuming office, Mayor Tory dumped the only black member on the TPSB, Councillor Michael Thompson, and took his spot on the board. The new police chief, Mark Saunders, is his choice.

So, yeah. The 2016 police budget belongs to Mayor Tory.

And as the TTC struggles to maintain proper levels of service and plan future transit projects, Mayor Tory has dropped a huge turd into the proceedings, his election campaign ready SmartTrack. whitewashingDraining money and time resources from city and TTC staff, the plan is no less fuzzy and ill-formed than it was when it was pitched for votes some 18 months ago. Reports on it have been delayed. Ridership models adapted to work it. There’s no lid tight enough to contain the stink coming from the project.

None of his gestures toward the TTC, bus service bumped back up to 2011 levels, free transit for the kids, are making any dent in the pressures weighing down on the system. So the ongoing problems facing public transit in this city are now Mayor Tory’s problems.

Is there any reason to believe that he’s up to the task of dealing with them?

His full on commitment to seeing SmartTrack through, regardless, seems nothing but self-serving, an eye solely on re-election in 2018 rather than improving transit for the city. He’s spent much more of his political capital (not to say a lot of the city’s actual capital) catering to the perceived needs of drivers, speeding up repairs on expressways, keeping others elevated for absolutely no reason aside from optics. Being modestly more transit-friendly than the previous administration in no way should be perceived as being any less car-friendly.

On the policing front, Mayor Tory’s wading in to the carding issue was a complete and utter fiasco. He got bailed out temporarily by the province who redirected the focus onto themselves as they figure out how to try and reconfigure regulations. sweepundertherugHis TPSB chair dropped the ball on a KPMG report on police budgeting that’s been on or near the table (depending on who you believe) for nearly a year now. Chair Pringle, in responding to questions about why the report hadn’t been made public yet, referred to it as an ‘internal think document’. “Random suggestions aren’t necessarily something that we report back on,” the chair said.

Mayor Tory has subsequently suggested the KPMG report be made public but not in time to have any impact on this year’s police budget. A budget that will be increasing again despite how the mayor’s office tries to spin it. An increase is an increase no matter how small an increase it is.

Given the current crisis level climate in the city toward its police services, with the laughably light penalty given to the only office convicted of a G20-related crime and the ongoing trial of Constable James Forcillo in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, Mayor Tory’s not rock the boat approach seems wholly inadequate. The additional strain of his SmartTrack plan on an already over-stressed transit system is the exact opposite. Unnecessarily burdensome in a white elephant kind of way.

This is a mayor completely tone deaf to the reality of the city he was elected to lead. He preaches steady stewardship but practices little of it. whatsthatTimid when he needs to be bold. Heavy-handed when required to be conciliatory. Wanting to be everything to everybody, Mayor Tory is proving to be nothing to anyone.

If the Ford Administration was a reaction to the instability Toronto now faces, brought about by unequal access to income, mobility, opportunity, Mayor Tory’s soothing can-do cheerleading in no way addresses that instability. It doesn’t even provide a band aid. It’s the blank, toothless smile of a nothing to see here sensibility that focuses all its energy looking back over its shoulder instead of at the rocky road ahead.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Which Mayor?

November 6, 2015

whichone

As we head into the 2016 budget process in earnest, with today’s rate supported budget launch, I want to look back to a couple weeks in February earlier this year. The 2015 budget had just been finalized and Mayor Tory gave a speech talking about that and looking ahead to his plans for the 2016 budget, this one that’s now upon us. A week later, the mayor delivered words upon the kick-off of poverty reduction initiatives that resulted in the delivery this week of TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy which Mayor Tory hailed as ‘one of the most important decisions, one of the most important commitments’ city council was going to have to make this term.

Compare and contrast these 2 speeches. Are they in any way compatible? One, the ardent cost-cutter. The other, investing in the health of the city, and the people of this city.

Which Mayor Tory is going to preside over the 2016 budget deliberations? It can’t be both. They’re working at cross-purposes. Just how important will his commitment to poverty reduction be when the rubber hits the road and he has to put actual dollars on the table?

mayorjohntory

***

Poverty Reduction Initiatives – February 19, 2015

Since taking office as mayor I have spoken often about the need for us to invest in the city to help ensure the health of the city itself, its economy and our people.

In our budget, this is demonstrated in particular by our unprecedented investment in public transit, so vital to the task of connecting people to jobs.

This year’s multi-million dollar investment will make it easier for families and working Torontonians to get around and will reverse some of the decisions of recent years which actually made doing that more difficult.

We have also proposed significant additional investments which try to address the needs of the homeless and while longer term solutions which see an increased supply of affordable housing are needed, these proposals represent sensible, sensitive shorter term measures for some of our most vulnerable people.

I believe it is also necessary for the short and long term health of our city that we also invest in people, with an early focus on those most vulnerable.

When I first took office, I indicated that I would appoint Councillor Pam McConnell as one of Toronto’s deputy mayors with a specific focus on developing a poverty reduction strategy previously called for by city council and endorsed by me as a candidate for mayor.

Deputy Mayor McConnell has done a very impressive amount of work in a very short period of time and that work continues with city wide consultations taking place this month.

With that strategy in development, I thought it would be right to set aside a substantial amount of new money in the 2015 budget to allow us to undertake some measures this year designed to address poverty in Toronto and I asked Deputy Mayor McConnell to make recommendations as to how to allocate that money.

Today, we are making those recommendations public, recognizing they now become part of the budget process, and thus subject to debate at the budget committee and ultimately to consideration by the full City Council.

While this allocation represents a beginning as opposed to any kind of final answer, I am struck by the fact that it includes support in a variety of areas, including student nutrition, employment assistance and helping seniors who often end up in dire circumstances.

I am especially happy about the expansion of the student nutrition program which these funds will support–some 27 new schools will be added to the list and I am absolutely convinced this will improve the learning experience for hundreds of kids in our city and thus help keep them in school.

Similarly, there has been a significant allocation recommended by Deputy Mayor McConnell to support initiatives which help people connect to jobs.

I have always believed the best poverty reduction strategy is to help ensure that people have good, secure jobs and this investment will help some harder to employ people to get a job.

My efforts to attract jobs and investment to Toronto will be stepped up in the months to come.

Seniors often find themselves alone and without resources and another investment in this package will help them with transportation to get to appointments, access services and participate in community events.

I believe it is a measure of our commitment to Canadian values and our desire to build a strong, prosperous and fair city to act now to invest in initiatives like these.

Making these kinds of investments to help our most vulnerable is not only good for the health of our economy and our citizens – it’s the right thing to do.

Once again I thank Deputy Mayor McConnell for all of her hard work on this, I thank all of those who she consulted and I look forward to consideration of these proposals by the budget committee and ultimately by City Council.

mayorjohntory

***

Budget 2015 Financing – February 12, 2015

Good afternoon.

The events which brought us to today began in 2013 when the province decided to phase out longstanding support for social housing, years ahead of schedule.

As a result, when I took office, we were confronted with an $86 million shortfall in this year’s budget.

That shortfall imposed all at once, would severely limit our ability to invest in key services like the TTC while keeping taxes affordable for Toronto families, particularly those who are struggling.

Unfortunately, as you know, after lengthy discussions with the province, we were unable to come to a satisfactory resolution to smooth out the impact of their funding cuts and lessen the impact on the people of Toronto.

So, in consultation with the City Manager and Budget Chair, I made the decision that the right thing to do was for Toronto to deal with this challenge on our own.

We said we would take care of our own house.

I am here today to spell out how we plan to do so.

Working alongside the City Manager, City staff and Budget Chair Crawford, we have taken a hard look at the City’s finances.

Tomorrow, when the budget committee reconvenes, the City Manager and CFO will formally present the report you have before you to outline the City’s in-house financing proposal.

It includes a short term financing strategy to replace the loss of the provincial housing funding, and proposes immediate budgetary adjustments of $25 million to begin addressing the provincial cutback on a permanent basis.

On the short term financing, we will spread the effect of the cutback on the City over a period of four years. We will do so by temporarily reducing capital contributions from the Operating Budget by $130 million spread over a period of three years and borrowing that money from our own reserves to make up that capital funding.

While that financing is in place, we will go about the task of adjusting our budget to account for the provincial cutbacks, but we will do it over a four year period – as the original provincial schedule would have permitted us to do.

As one example of the kind of budget adjustments we will see for this year, we are proposing to eliminate five positions that have stood vacant since 2012 in Transportations Services.

Let’s be frank, if we haven’t needed to fill them by now, I think it is safe to say no one will miss them.

Social services is seeing lower caseload volumes, so we are proposing to adjust their budget to reflect the real costs, not inflated ones, and in the process, reduce the budget by $1.6 million.

By reflecting the significantly lower fuel costs in this budget, we will reduce the budget by an additional $2 million.

We have also asked both the TTC and the Toronto Police Service to find $5 million in savings each.  City staff have highlighted some potential areas for reductions which will be addressed by the Police Services Board and the TTC board.

I thank both Andy Byford and Police Chief Blair for their willingness to work towards this goal.

I also want to emphasize this proposal is designed to have no impact on service levels.

I want to be clear that this is the beginning of a process where we will be scouring the City for real savings and efficiencies.

In the coming weeks I will be announcing the framework of a process that will help us achieve a target of 2 per cent savings across all City divisions and Agencies. That would yield around $80 million dollars by year’s end, and principally reflect itself in the 2016 budget.

The full details of the proposed financing approach and budget adjustments will be explained in detail by the City Manager at a technical briefing, but they represent a methodical, responsible approach to budgeting.

Confronted with a challenge, we have found a sensible way to give us time to meet it, including careful, considered reductions to this year’s budget, and a rational process to see us through the rest of this adjustment period.

While previous years have also presented challenges, we are committed to dealing with them in 2015 in a deliberate, sensible and sensitive way as to avoid the polarized chaos of the past.

Presented with a major provincial cutback, Councillor Gary Crawford and I chose neither to gut city services, nor to dramatically hike property taxes.

We chose instead to responsibly spread the impact of the provincial cuts over a few years by borrowing from ourselves, while we adjusted our budget.

This in turn allowed us to make vital investments in things like the TTC and keep the property tax increase below the rate of inflation.

Building the city, the transit, the housing, the support systems our people need in a financially responsible way, requires not rhetoric and a meat cleaver, but competence, common sense and discipline.

I think this proposed resolution to a problem created elsewhere reflects all competence, common sense and discipline.

I will now invite Councillor Crawford to say a few words.

beatsme

stumpedly submitted by Cityslikr


Give Him Enough Rope

November 5, 2015

If the predominant response to witnessing the Ford mayoralty was anger (followed by a profound sadness), cynicism is the emotion that springs forth watching Mayor Tory in action (followed closely by anger). cynicalIs cynicism even an emotion? I don’t know. It sure feels like an emotion.

It sure felt like it watching the mayor speak to the TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy item at city council yesterday. ‘Aspirational’… but. A ‘moral issue’… but. Proud of this document. Proud of the work having gone into it. Proud, proud, proud … but.

Mayor Tory took much of his speaking time to explain that the strategy, as such, spread out over a 20 year framework, was ‘not an instant answer’. He took great pains to explain ‘what it is not’. Aspirational … but. Almost as a warning, he informed us that at the budget committee, they will endeavor ‘to do as much as we can’ … but. Competing priorities, and all that.

Until that time, when this poverty reduction strategy goes through the buzz saw that will be the budget committee – as Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam pointed out, the mayor’s “direction to reduce 2016 overall budget by 2%” is not compatible with the new funding called for in the TO Prosperity document – likeI’ll set aside my cynicism, and take a moment to applaud those who are pursuing this with the upmost of earnestness and serious intent. Those who, for the time being, are willing to take Mayor Tory for his word on this, as qualified and mealy-mouthed as the words may sound to my jaded ears.

Hats off to Councillor Pam McConnell for her genuine acceptance of the title of Deputy Mayor, and her belief that the man who gave her that title is actually committed to this course of action. Her diligence in putting this report together, and exhorting her council colleagues that it is a worthy and absolutely essential undertaking, should be acknowledged and commended. Councillor Janet Davis said that McConnell “gave one of the best speeches of her career… Passionate and inspiring call for a fairer, stronger city.”

Applause too to all the advocates who contributed their time and effort to make sure this didn’t simply slip through the cracks, as poverty issues tend to do. aweSuch tirelessness is, I can’t even come up with the proper word that amplifies the inadequate ‘admirable’. It’s unfathomable to me, that kind of determination.

Many of you were probably in the council chambers gallery to watch the vote, and applauded when it was approved, clapped for Mayor Tory when he spoke to it. I cannot express the kind of awe I feel at that sheer act of trust in the good intentions of others, the conviction enough of us will do the right thing when push comes to shove. Again, humbled does not even begin to describe how I regard such faith and principle.

… but … but … but …

Let’s remember these words that the mayor uttered near the end of his speech yesterday, remember them, and hold him to account for saying them when he inevitably fails to live up to them. And Mayor Tory, as sure as I’m sitting here writing this, will fail, will prove to be a false ally. He’s already qualified his support, showing none of the can-do, inevitable triumphalism he’s flashed for SmartTrack or the Gardiner East hybrid, pledging only ‘to do as much as we can…to the extent we can’. Aspiration is great until it runs smack dab into the reality Mayor Tory has established. “More isn’t always better.” So please dim your expectations.

I think this is one of the most important decisions, one of the most important commitments that we’re going to make as a council during this entire term without even knowing what else is going to come up over the next 3 years.

That’s what he said. Those were Mayor Tory’s exact words. This poverty reduction strategy was one of the most important decisions city council would make this term. Mayor Tory said so.

lifecouldbebetter

Let’s make sure he’s held to that. Make this his signature item. Its success or failure will determine his success or failure as mayor of this city. He will try and wiggle free of it. Don’t let him.

assuredly submitted by Cityslikr


No More Important A Key Item

November 3, 2015

At this month’s city council meeting, Mayor Tory has made the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy his key item. He’s talked a lot about it. He appointed one of his Deputy Mayor’s (“Deputy Mayor”?), Pam McConnell, to oversee its realization to this point. The mayor’s talked about it some more.

We can call this a good first step but make no mistake. It’s only a first step. If I’m reading the agenda item correctly (not always a sure thing), the item before council this week “…proposes an Implementation and Accountability Structure to oversee and coordinate the strategy’s implementation, beginning with the first of five action plans…” These first of five action plans involve very little spending of money. That point “when the rubber hits the road,” according to the actual deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong.

As part of this initial implementation of the strategy, there is talk of talking money. “…to include consideration of the funding needs of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy in the Long Term Fiscal Plan.” “…to develop a cost-benefit analysis and framework for poverty-related spending as part of the TO Prosperity implementation.”

But as Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong suggested above, and the mayor himself said at last month’s Executive Committee meeting, “There are going to be competing priorities”. Talk’s great. Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but… but… “Budgetary implications have to be considered,” Minnan-Wong intoned, darkly, we can assume, since this is Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong we’re talking about.

It will be later this month, when the 2016 budget debate begins in earnest, that Mayor Tory’s actual ‘priorities’ will start to take shape. So far in his tenure, he’s found money to fund his SmartTrack reports, to build an increasingly expensive Gardiner East hybrid, to expedite repairs on the rest of the expressway. Just how much political capital will he be willing to spend to actually address poverty in this city? With the likes of Councillor Minnan-Wong looking over his shoulder or Etobicoke councillor John Campbell who’s already expressed his view that the mayor’s over-emphasized the ‘Progressive’ part of Progressive Conservative in terms of spending at City Hall.

Mayor Tory cannot be allowed to use this vital process of fighting poverty as just some window dressed display, a reiteration of last year’s municipal campaign where he pointed to all the things he said as proof of his progressive bent. Mayor Tory says a lot of things. Much of it simply filling up space, empty words.

Today, the mayor’s made the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy his key item. He cannot be allowed to do nothing more than wear it as some badge of honour, as meaningless proof of his commitment to social justice. Not a show piece of his administration but a centre piece. This has to stick to him. We must demand Mayor Tory do more than talk about Toronto poverty or use this as a rickety platform of self-promotion.

I’m sure Mayor Tory cares about poverty in Toronto. I’m sure he would like nothing more than to be seen as contributing to the alleviation of it. How much he’s willing to risk to put actual commitment and dollars behind the strategy, I’m less certain of. Failure to do so on his part must be seen to be just that, a failure, and not a more noble failure, where the mayor did his best, tried his darndest, but the rock was just too big to roll up the hill, competing priorities simply too overwhelming, for him to deliver.

upthehill

Mayor Tory needs to realize that on this, good intentions will not be good enough.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


1 Year Down, 7 To Go

October 27, 2015

Hey!

Here’s an idea nobody’s thought about until this very moment.brightidea

How about today, on the first anniversary of John Tory’s election as mayor of Toronto, I assess his job performance, by issuing a, what would you call it, a report card of sorts? So obvious. It’s amazing to me nobody’s come up with it before I did.

I kid. I kid.

While children throughout the province may not be receiving report cards this term, Mayor Tory has been inundated with them. So don’t mind me while I just pile on here for a second. I’m sure I’ve got something to say about his time in office somebody else hasn’t said already.

A+s all round, it seems, for Mayor Tory’s restoring of civility to City Hall. Out with the shit show. In with decorum. Toronto’s reputation in the eyes of the nation and the world has been salvaged and revived.

Make no mistake. This is important. While it’s tough to wholly quantify, local governance had been worn down to a slow grind even after the previous administration crashed and burned. oneyearanniversaryThe appearance of serious-minded competence is a vital first step in realizing serious-minded competence.

So, with absolutely no facetiousness intended, well done. Mayor Tory has largely succeeded in relegating the lunacy to the fringes where it belongs. At the local level, this is no small feat.

But this should come as no surprise, really. It’s pretty much as advertised. John Tory campaigned heavily on being the anti-Ford. That’s what the city voted for. That’s what the city got.

But is it enough? Going forward, is simple peace-and-quiet all we can demand and expect from this mayoralty? One year in, what other accomplishments can this administration point to?

I ask because, over the weekend, I was involved in a discussion on social media about the long term electoral prospects of Mayor Tory. It stemmed from a Toronto Star article by David Rider, outlining how the mayor seems to be operating with his attention focused on a rematch with Rob Ford in 2018, catering to the issues perceived to be important to the Nation: cars and low taxes. notthatguyAn unnamed councillor suggested the mayor doesn’t want to be perceived as ‘downtown-ist or urbanist’, and that his staff isn’t concerned with any sort of unrest from the ‘left flank’.

Essentially, as long as Rob Ford remains a viable contender (or the perception exists that he’s a viable contender), Mayor Tory can just waltz toward re-election, scaring left-of-centre voters into supporting him for no other reason than simply to keep Rob Ford from being mayor again.

I questioned the wisdom of that, and heard from some very non-Tory types that, yeah, as long as Rob Ford is in the electoral picture, nobody serious from the left would challenge the mayor, let alone win. This had been a sentiment expressed to me by more than a few voices on the left almost immediately after election night last year. Plan for two terms of Mayor Tory.

That’s 7 more years, folks. All this administration can point to by way of accomplishments is not being Rob Ford and we’ve resigned ourselves to expecting nothing more? For 7 more years?

What happens to a city presided over by a mayor who defines himself by something or someone he isn’t? Where exactly is the aspiration in that? Come 2022, at the end of Mayor Tory’s presumed 2nd term, what does that Toronto look like, aside from being Rob Ford-free for nearly a decade?yoursforlife

Nothing the mayor has done over the past 12 months can point to anything transformative taking place during his tenure. He’ll tell you SmartTrack despite every indication suggesting otherwise. He’s got a report on a plan to tackle the city’s poverty and growing income inequality. But so far, it’s just that, a report on a plan. In the words of the mayor’s chosen right-hand man, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “When the rubber hits the road, it all comes down to money.” Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but, ultimately, show me the money. “There are going to be competing priorities,” Mayor Tory concurred.

As much as he’s relied on differentiating himself from his predecessor for the goodwill he’s generated from Torontonians, policy-wise, there’s little sunlight to be seen between the two men. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has solidly aligned himself with the suburban, conservative rump of city council, filling his Executive Committee with them almost to the exclusion of downtown councillors. Like Rob Ford, Mayor Tory has rejected any discussion about property tax increases above the rate of inflation. foggytoLike Rob Ford, Mayor Tory grudgingly accepts public transit fare increases but will not so much as consider user fees on other types of commuters (*cough, cough *drivers* cough, cough * cough, cough*). Both Rob Ford and Mayor John Tory euphemistically talk efficiencies when they actually mean cuts. Rob Ford uses the low-brow terminology, ‘gravy’, while Mayor Tory goes all Michelin Guide, 5-star rating, ‘marbling’.

Mayor Tory talks a much bigger, brighter picture than Rob Ford ever did but he steadfastly refuses to discuss the grim reality of how we achieve such things. We might have to pay more. We might have to re-prioritize how we go about doing things, how we go about getting about the city, say. We might have to accept the fact it’s 2015 not 1975.

In no way do I see Mayor Tory willing to accept that challenge. He’s an agent of change from the Rob Ford way of doing things but he seems risk averse to much of any other sort of change. He’s returned us to the pre-Ford status quo, one chock full of intractable problems and structural concerns he seems no more prepared to face than Rob Ford was.unsure

Lest you think I’m just some Douglas Downer, on a positive note, I do think Mayor John Tory is both amiable and pliant enough to establish good working relationships with the other levels of government which, when all is said and done, will be vital for the city to deal effectively with those intractable problems and structural concerns. We’ve seen hints of it in his first year in office despite some setbacks. (You want us to pay how much for our portion of UPX?!) I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But is that enough to feel good about the prospect of 7 more John Tory as mayor anniversaries, to simply concede to him certain re-election because he’s proven little more to us than he’s not Rob Ford? We get it already. Who exactly Mayor Tory is and what he represents remains a mystery. One he needs to start unwrapping before we give him the keys to the office for as long as he wants.

notthatguy1

anniversararily submitted by Cityslikr


… but He Plays One On TV

October 5, 2015

A thought occurred to me the other day, so obvious that someone must surely have put it out there already. If so, my apologies for making it my own. actingCredit is all yours, whoever you are.

John Tory is far better at playing the role of mayor than he is actually being the mayor. He carries the chain of office with the appropriate level of gravitas and decorum. Photo ops and press conferences serve as his milieu, his political sweet spot. The day-to-day business of running the city? Where’s the fun in that? What about pomp? Don’t we all need a little circumstance?

For sure, there are some agenda items this mayor grabs and runs with, pushing and pulling the levers of powers of his office to further. So far, however, they’ve largely coalesced around roads and drivers — See: Parking Enforcement! — and his signature transit plan, SmartTrack. On these matters, Mayor Tory is indefatigable in his mayoral pursuit of championing. The bully pulpit that comes with being mayor, he has used to its fullest on these matters.

The rest of it? His mayoral passion waxes and wanes, depending on whether there’s an Olympic bid to ponder or public event to speak at. bullypulpitAs long as whatever it is doesn’t get in the way of more pressing mayoral matters, have at it. If it’s prudent, reasonable and gets done without too much fuss and bother, you’ve got the green light from Mayor Tory.

Which probably goes to explain exactly how the motion to rescind the request to the province for the right to use ranked ballots in the next municipal election passed city council last week. The mayor was asleep at the switch. The matter wasn’t on his radar. He had distinctly stated, at least on the topic of the Scarborough subway, this council shouldn’t spend its time reversing decisions of the previous council. So why would he be expecting this kind of motion of reversal?

Especially since it came from one of his allies, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Tory “Super Saturday-ed” with him last election to boost Di Ciano’s chances of winning the council seat in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He appointed Di Ciano to be a member of the powerful Budget Committee. Hell, the mayor’s office tapped Councillor Di Ciano to be part of the working group that met with city staff over the summer to work on the City of Toronto Act report which council was debating when this motion hit the floor. You’d expect, just out of common courtesy, Mayor Tory might’ve been alerted beforehand that this was coming.waitwhat

Clearly he wasn’t, as he ended up on the losing side of the vote. The mayor didn’t even get up to speak against the item, to urge council to vote it down. Maybe he realized it was an uphill battle and didn’t want to risk further embarrassment. Eight of the twelve other members of his Executive Committee voted in opposition to the mayor in favour of not wanting ranked ballots including three councillors, Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford and Jaye Robinson, who flip-flopped from their 2013 vote. Three of Mayor Tory’s four deputy mayors opposed him.

It could be that ranked ballots just did not…ummmm…rank high enough up on the mayor’s priority list for him to risk an internal battle with his closest council allies. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Loyalty isn’t bought but horse-traded. Fair enough.

If that’s the case, though, Mayor Tory can’t claim to have supported ranked ballots simply because he voted against Councillor Di Ciano’s motion. He supported ranked ballots but just not enough. If it comes to pass that the provincial government doesn’t grant municipalities the right to use ranked ballots in response to this motion, it will be under Mayor Tory’s watch that the initiative died. It will hardly matter that he supported the idea in principle. blindsided1In practice, he didn’t fight for them.

Ahh, well. You win some, you lose some. No mayor should be expected to pitch a perfect game. There’s only so much political capital to go around. Whipping votes and enforcing discipline among your council supporters comes at a cost. Even the best of mayors sometimes get sandbagged by their best of buds. Pushing back on that would only look petty and pissy.

So while we bemoan yet another attack on voting reform by status quo seeking politicians, we should celebrate the fact that our weak mayoral system remains in effect. Great freedom resides at City Hall for even the most lightweight of dim bulb councillors to pursue and hunt down any pet peeve that irks them, even if it defies a mayoral edict not to reverse previous council decisions, even if it runs contrary to a hearty pro-ranked ballot endorsement the mayor made earlier this year, even if you’re, apparently, a part of the mayor’s team.ettubrute

Go for it, Mayor Tory has signaled to ally, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Do your worst. There will be no repercussions for undermining the mayor, especially for friends and over inconsequential matters. Political in-fighting is undignified, beneath the office of the mayor. There are appearances to be maintained, after all. The actual dirty work of running a city isn’t the job of someone who likes to keep their hands clean.

democratically submitted by Cityslikr


The Worst. The Absolute Worst.

October 2, 2015

Just about a year ago (340 days or so but who’s counting?), as the results of the 2014 municipal election rolled in, I looked over the debris and carnage and declared that this may well shape up to be an even worse city council than the one that preceded it.JustinDiCiano

Impossible to imagine, I know, in the wake of the drunken, crack-laden, I’ve got enough to eat at home Ford years. But I held firm in my view that we did ourselves no favours with the new composition of council even with the new mayor we installed. Just watch, I said.

While I think there have been more than a few examples to back up my claim (the Gardiner east hybrid hybrid anyone?), a vote last night at council cemented it. In a 25-18 vote, our local representatives decided to reverse course and reject the notion of using ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. “A real setback for democratic reform and renewal,” according to Councillor Joe Mihevc.

How did such a turnaround happen? Aside from this simply being a worse city council, you mean? We have to go back to earlier this year, June to be exact.

The province is undergoing a 5 year review of the City of Toronto Act, the 2006 piece of legislation where Queen’s Park bestowed more powers and autonomy on Toronto’s city council. City staff struck up its own review process and the mayor’s office established a panel of 3 councillors, Norm Kelly, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Justin Di Ciano, to work with the staff in coming up with recommendations to pass along to the province for its consideration. The resulting report was before city council to vote on yesterday.

During the debate, councillors were putting forth ideas of their own to package off and send to Queen’s Park. JustinDiCianoThey were flying so fast and furiously at one point that Mayor Tory stood up to lecture his colleagues on governing ‘on the fly’. Staff had worked with council for months to come up with this report. These slap ons were, to the mayor’s mind, going to muddy the waters and diminish the seriousness of the report’s intent. Two of the working group members, councillors Kelly and Wong-Tam, echoed that sentiment.

The third member of the panel, Councillor Justin Di Ciano, had other ideas. Despite apparently working throughout the summer with Kelly and Wong-Tam and city staff on the report council was now amending, plenty of time, you’d assume, for him to float the idea of tossing out the request for ranked ballots, he decided to pursue it ‘on the fly’, as the mayor said. What were his reasons? They were doozies. Real fucking doozies.

Voters found ranked ballots “too confusing” he said. Never mind that the Toronto Star’s Betsy Powell explained how they work in a couple paragraphs.

Under ranked balloting, voters select candidates in order of preference — potentially first, second and third. The candidate with the majority of first-place votes — 50 per cent plus one — wins, just as in the current system.

If nobody meets that threshold, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is knocked out. The second-place choices of that candidate’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining hopefuls, and so on, until someone has a majority.

Hopelessly and utterly confused, are you? As the ranked ballot literature says, Easy as 1, 2, 3.

Under softball questioning from fellow council lightweight, Michelle Berardinetti, Councillor Di Ciano cited some study from California that said ‘low-income voters’ had trouble understanding ranked ballots. JustinDiCianoSee? The poorz. They just wouldn’t get it.

The councillor went on to say that this particular council, you know, the one worse than the previous one, shouldn’t be beholden to a decision made late last term. The vote on ranked ballots happened in June of 2013, with almost 18 months left in the mandate. What point does Councillor Justin Di Ciano think should serve as a cutoff in the term of council when it needs to stop doing stuff that might impinge on subsequent councils? A year? Two?

What makes this line of reasoning even more fucking ridiculously vacuous is that the June 2013 vote from city council was a request to the provincial government for the power to decide to use ranked ballots. Even if the province grants the city that power, council would have to vote to enact it. So this city council would have the opportunity to vote against it, and no decision from the previous council would be forced upon it.

Instead, city council said yesterday, nope, don’t even want to consider it.

This boneheaded motion from a terrible, terrible city councillor, Justin Di Ciano, could’ve, should’ve died right there, in its infancy. JustinDiCianoAll it needed was 7 councillors who’d voted in favour of requesting ranked ballots in June 2013 (and one who’d “missed” that particular vote) to vote against it. Amazingly, they didn’t. They did a 180. Like that. Killing months and years of advocacy that a whole lot of people had dedicated their time to. Just like that.

Who were those councillors?

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre). Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport). Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West). Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West).

Had these councillors not cravenly flipped-floppped, the results of the vote would’ve been reversed, and the motion would’v died. They did and it didn’t. Yeah, this city council sucks.

Click on those links, get a phone number or email address. And start asking these councillors why they changed their minds on pretty much a moment’s notice. Why did they think ranked ballots were a good idea last term? JustinDiCianoWhy do they think ranked ballots are a bad idea now? What changed?

Oh, and let’s not forget the architect of this clusterfuck and big ol’ fuck you to voting reform, Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke Lakeshore). Remember this face. It is the face of a city council that makes you pine for the Ford years.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr