Politics Is A Blood Sport Not A Blood Oath

February 17, 2012

No disrespect intended to Nick Kouvalis, he is undoubtedly a master of the dark arts, a wizard of manipulating the message and twisting patently absurd notions into winning political ideas, an alchemist, turning leaden dead weights into electoral gold. I do not doubt his marketing prowess. It’s his wise guy-like approach to the working dynamics at City Hall that I find a little unsettling.

Via Ford For Toronto I read this piece on TTC Chair Karen Stintz in the Toronto Star yesterday (thatz howz wez rollz on the interwebz). Detailing the course of the councillor’s very public break up with the mayor over the city’s transit file, the first crack in the relationship showed up with the proposed cuts to bus service. “[Nick] Kouvalis said the bus motion was a `test’ to see which TTC commissioners would fall in line and which were ‘wet noodles.’ Stintz was a noodle, he says.

My advice was: Get rid of her, right there on the spot, Kouvalis says.

He recently reiterated that point to Ford, he adds. She’s committed the biggest sin in politics, which is disloyalty, he charges.”

Holy cow. That’s like some serious gangsta shit. Yeah, we’re gonna cut 48 bus routes just to see if anybody here’s, like, a snitch or working undercover. ‘Cause, that’s how we roll.

I mean, why stop there? If they truly wanted to see who was with them for reals, they shoulda got a gun, handed it to Stintz and told her to prove her loyalty by popping, I don’t know, former TTC vice-chair, Joe Mihevc. The previous chair had already been summarily dispatched. Besides, with that last name, he could well have been a made guy.

Now I get that politics is a rough and tumble sport, a place where few angels dare tread. But this you’re either with us or against, part of the inner circle or our mortal enemy crap? It strikes me as highly unproductive and, ultimately, self-defeating. Something Team Ford just might be realizing at this juncture.

Wouldn’t it have been easier if the mayor, upon being elected, put out a call for names of councillors who wanted to chair the TTC, discarded the ones with any taint of that funky smelling Miller odour, and sat down with the remainder and laid out his expectations for the TTC and the person who led it. “Look, [fill in councillor name of your choice]. I could give a shit about public transit except that there’s going to be no more streetcars blocking up traffic under my watch, k? And when it comes to saving a buck versus a bus route running on some god forsaken street in a nowhere corner of Scarborough, the dollar’s going to win out every time. You cool with that?”

Just put it out there, straight up, in plain enough language that even Councillor Frank Di Giorgio will understand. If they sign up, fine, only later on to claim that, hey, I didn’t agree to this, that’s a different kettle of fish. Brian Ashton territory, even.

But some loyalty litmus test to prove you’re a team player? And using people’s livelihoods that depend on public transit as a prop? That’s some disregard for the notion of public service. Not wanting to sound all Pollyannish/Mr. Smith Goes To Washington but shouldn’t a politician’s first loyalty be to the constituents who elected them to the office? Then, maybe second before fealty to the team, a loyalty to building a better city?

Again, I know there are practical realities to successfully surfing a political career. To some degree one has to go along to get along as they once said back in the golden, less hyper-partisan days. But the beauty of the party-less municipal system is that it doesn’t need to be so rigidly adhered to. The idea that there are simply two camps, right-left, is both laughable and, ultimately, destructive. Even the view that there are only radical conservatives, Stalinist commies and the mushy middle seems designed merely for easy digestion rather than a reflection of reality.

As much as it may pain the architects of Rob Ford’s mayoral victory to remember, he was elected on a platform of guaranteeing no service cuts in his drive to stop the gravy train. It’s hardly a surprise then, that his TTC chair wavered in the face of bus routes cuts although, I am right in stating that, in fact, bus routes were ultimately cut, aren’t I? So it isn’t like Councillor Stintz actually defied the mayor on that point.

In fact from my perspective the TTC chair has been almost slavish in her attempts to help Mayor Ford extricate himself from the corner he’s painted himself into without getting too much on the bottom of his shoes. It’s been his ‘disloyalty’ to the greater good of the city he was elected to lead in refusing to compromise on the Eglinton LRT-Sheppard subway plans that’s undercut his authority. The black and white, with us or against us view of the world that served him so well on the campaign trail has now become a hindrance to him as mayor.

Nick Kouvalis should take note and stick to what he does best: putting people into office. That’s a different skill set than day-to-day governance which requires a lighter touch. Mr. Kouvalis has many talents but nuance, subtlety and gentle persuasion aren’t really his strong suit.

nice to Nickly submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Speak Unless You’re Spoken To

September 8, 2011

Another outrageous, highly dubious plan of action crawls up and out, Creature From the Black Lagoon style, from the mayor’s office. Another outbreak of indignant cries of foul (and worse) from opponents, compromising the typical cadre of left wing kooks, academics and not Toronto Sun readers.
Predictable, really.

Why doesn’t everybody just chillax, take a pill. The mayor’s just one vote on council, we’re told. What he says doesn’t automatically go. You’re just being hysterical. Team Ford loves making you hysterical. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

OK but, upon assuming office the mayor declared Transit City dead and in its place, Transportation City and a Sheppard subway that remains very much in a pie in the sky state.  He then pushed a plan through council for a report – and a report only — on privatizing waste collection west of Yonge. Now he proclaims throughout the land that he’s privatized waste collection west of Yonge. And on Tuesday, the mayor’s rubber stamp Executive Committee challenged council to stop him from seizing control of the Port Lands plans and disfiguring them completely.

It’s hard not to see this as a pattern. Mayor Ford declares it. The court of public opinion says it is so.

One can’t blame the media entirely for continually giving him a soapbox and bullhorn. It makes for great reading/viewing. Crazy statement ensures over-reaction. Conflict, conflict, conflict. That would be, what do you call it, their bread and butter.

But it is does a great disservice to our discourse, front loading it with what appears to be a done deal and foregone conclusion, relegating those standing opposed to the mayor’s moves to rolling the rock back up the hill. Why are you continuing to argue about this? What’s done is done. Let’s move on to the next apple cart we can tip over.

Without substantive pushback, the mayor isn’t just one vote of 45 at city council. There is an atmosphere of fait accompli in everything he does, everything he says. Councillors who defy his wishes are either whining left wing kooks, their noses all out of joint because they no longer have any power, or they’re obstinately denying the will of the people who gave Mayor Ford a mandate to do anything he wants.

Now, as in with every other criticism of the mayor, the usual response is that David Miller did the exact same thing. Well, bad behaviour should not beget bad behaviour. Post-war German leaders did not go on holocaust sprees and turn around in their defence and claim Hitler did it too. (Just for the analogy-challenged: in this particular instance I did not compare Mayor Ford to Hitler. I compared David Miller to Hitler. How’s that for bipartisanship?) Besides, a quick look at who Mayor Miller surrounded himself with, those that sat on his Executive Committee, reveals that it was nowhere near as ideologically hidebound as the current administration’s crop of councillors; nor were they as happy to simply sit around, silently nodding in agreement, ready to raise their hands in automatic agreement. (See the Saga of Brian Ashton.)

A semi-strong mayoral system that we now employ courtesy of the City of Toronto Act allows for our mayors to have an elevated upper hand. Great if you like the mayor who’s in power, not so good if you don’t. It’s the criticism of the mayor’s critics that seems new. While Royson James of that lyin’ rag, the Toronto Star, has set his sights on the performance of Mayor Ford, let’s not forget his shrill anti-Miller voice in the waning days of that administration and his single-minded crusade to chase Adam Giambrone from last year’s mayoral race. Did the Toronto Sun and its followers call him out on any of that? Was he just some kind of right wing kook then? David Miller was fair game and all criticism was justified.

Now, we’re supposed to sit back, keep our opinions to ourselves since Mayor Ford was elected with a mandate from the people of Toronto. To question is to whine. To disagree is simple jealousy or just disenguousness to use Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s favourite new word.

Reasoned disagreement doesn’t seem to stick. Much of that has to do with the fact that, well, facts seem to be irrelevant currently. The Port Lands debate is a good case in point. Of the mayor’s allies only Budget Chief Mike Del Grande is being upfront about what the administration is doing. “The truth,” Royson James claims, “is [Del Grande] needs revenues from the sale of the Port Lands to fix holes in his budget.”

If that’s the case, let’s debate the issue on that basis. Quick cash for a one time budget solution. Pros and cons? Instead, we must contend with obfuscation, misdirection and an outright distortion of the truth. We hear that Waterfront Toronto is a bloated, boondoggle of an organization that has done nothing to earn its keep. There is no plan. At the Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, Councillor Minnan-Wong deliberately blurred the roles both Waterfront Toronto and the Toronto Port Lands Corporation play in the waterfront development. Read this from Jonathan Robson to see just how disenguous the councillor is being.

Faced with such an onslaught of ‘truthiness’ (and I’m being very generous using that label) what recourse do we have except to scream and holler and continually call out bullshit? If one side insists on conducting business in the mucky goo of misinformation and innuendo, some of us have to wade in there with them and start slinging mud. It may be noble and honourable to take the high road but it leaves us lagging behind in the race to save our city.

loudly submitted by Cityslikr


The Day Democracy Died Just A Little

July 8, 2010

Maybe it’s the heat that’s making me so ornery. Or maybe I’m no more ornery than usual but with all the sweaty and stickiness, I just feel ornerier. Or maybe, just maybe, quite possibly, it’s the ease with which all levels of politicians have been sniffing at and dismissing the basic tenets of a democratic society that has me so hot under the collar. No amount of A/C or electric fanning is bringing me relief.

Watching the debate at City Hall yesterday was disconcerting enough. Councillor Mark Grimes put forth a motion that would see council issue a big ol’ thank you to all the city workers, police and police chief who worked so diligently before, during and after the G20 summit. What it really amounted to, however, was nothing more than a purely partisan maneuver, designed to flush out all those police-hating, anarchist-loving lefties who, according to conventional wisdom, occupy a majority of the seats on council.

That a right wing politician would politicize this issue is entirely unsurprising. When you’re riding a wave of a bankrupt and discredited ideology, what else have you got outside of simply trying to make your opponents look as unprincipled as you are? Perhaps it should be equally predictable that if there were progressives and left wingers present in council chambers yesterday, none stood up to defend themselves or their beliefs. Because, let’s face it, true dyed-in-the-wool, small ‘l’ liberals have been ducking for cover for 30 years now, trying to put their best pro-free market, pro-authority faces on lest their patriotism or sanity be questioned. You’re either with us or you’re against us, remember?

So it was left to two retiring councillors, Michael Walker and Brian Ashton, neither of whom one would call progressive lions, to stand up and make very qualified peeps in defense of civil liberties, freedom of speech and due process. Both, of course, ended up voting in favour of the motion to thank everyone for a job well done. As did the mayor but not until after he take another opportunity to reveal his inner reactionary. Telling of how for the first time in his political career he needed a police escort to leave City Hall on Black (Bloc) Saturday, he essentially condoned the sentiment that if a politician is scared, civil rights are easily jettisoned. With that stated, the motion was passed unanimously. No dissent. Zero.

That, my friends, was simply a precursor to the real show of authoritarianism and autocratic thinking. According to the Toronto Star, Premier Dalton McGuinty actually said this in the face of some of his caucus concerned about their government’s involvement in the whole G20 mess: “Just remember, the same guy who gave us the Charter also gave us the War Measures Act.” I’m sorry. What did you just say? Are you equating the June 25-27 G20 protests in the streets of Toronto to the FLQ crisis? Really?!

Nevermind the mind-boggling lack of proportionality in that statement – the only kidnapping and murder committed at the G20 was of that very same Charter McGuinty mentioned and at the hands of politicians of every stripe – his comprehension of history goes beyond staggering. The War Measures Act was controversial and it cleaved a major rift in progressive circles which Trudeau never fully healed even after shepherding in the Charter some 12 years later. So raising its specter doesn’t really alleviate concerns about the role in revoking the rule of law the Premier played. Moreover, you’ve delivered us your War Measures Act, Dalton, show us your Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

More sinister still, however, during the same closed door session the Premier apparently uttered out loud this beauty: “Don’t forget about the silent majority.”

Huh.

In all likelihood, McGuinty was merely alluding to polls that show a majority of people asked had no problem with how the police dealt with the situation at the G20 but was he oblivious to where that term originated or did he actually intend to align himself with the doings of former U.S. president Richard Nixon? This was a politician who used his perceived support among a majority of upright Americans (as opposed to the dirty hippies) to justify a secretive bombing campaign of a non-combatant country, the mowing down of 4 unarmed war protestors at Kent State and an increasingly elaborate and paranoid, not to mention entirely illegal, wiretapping operation to ferret out his enemies. This is how our premier wants to rationalize his actions?

It should be painfully obvious at this point that those who believe in the fundamentals of our Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and all that underlying crap of living in a true democracy, have been abandoned en masse by their politicians. The choice between liberty and security has been made for us whether we like it or not. We no longer have elected representatives. They have become caretakers at best, overseers in times of distress and dissent.

It would be heart-stoppingly chilling if it wasn’t so fucking hot outside.

hot and botheredly submitted by Cityslikr