October 31, 2012

If you’ve ever wondered why this city council moves at such a (pre-climate change) glacial pace and never seems to get much done, you need not look any further than yesterday’s meeting. Yes, there was the usual procedural wrangling in setting up the order paper. That’s just a thing. And a longer than necessary debate over whether or not to cut out early tonight for Halloween. (For the record. Why not? They’ll make up the lost time by going longer on Thursday. Their job isn’t a standard 9-5 one. Flexible working hours shouldn’t be begrudged).

No, what really ground the proceedings to the halt were two items, both of which amounted to cleaning up the mess created by the mayor’s previous intemperate and ideological outbursts.

First up was the passing of Councillor Ana Bailão’s working group report on the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Putting People First. This all came about due to Mayor Ford’s open hostility to the idea of public housing and his orchestrated attack on it during his initial swell of support in the early days of his administration. Manufacturing a crisis over some perceived excessive spending by the board, he ousted the lot and replaced them with another TCHC hater, former councillor Case Oootes.

Their plan for a massive sell-off of homes — ostensibly to help put a dent in the corporation’s massive backlog of capital repairs — met fierce resistance from a majority of council. Instead of unloading 675 single family homes that the Executive Committee had recommended back in January (Ootes had suggested 900 on his way out in June 2011), council went with just 55. Added to the 56 sold earlier, that’s but a fraction of what the mayor was hoping to accomplish and we should view with much suspicion his statement that the report “was a good start”.

But nonetheless, it was proclaimed a compromise victory for Mayor Ford, proof that he was learning to work with council and was growing into his role. Never mind that it took nearly two years to accomplish because of the extreme approach he adopted at the very beginning. It is a one-time fix, a band-aid solution to a growing problem the city’s going to have tackle again, probably sooner than later.

Of course, that process looked like the very model of nuanced governance compared to what followed.

The renewal of the city’s Ombudsman’s contract for a second 5 year term should’ve been effortless. A quick item dealt with, bing, bang, boom. Why would there be a fuss? No one had any complaints about the job Fiona Crean was doing.

Oh wait.

The mayor did.

After her office issued a report citing his office’s interference with the Civic Appointments process, he declared war. Unable to refute any of the report’s findings, he decided to kill the messenger and threw a contract renewal after her first term was up next fall into question. It was pettiness and score settling at its worst.

Now, you would think that a majority of councillors would be able to nip such vindictiveness in the bud like they had on the TCHC file. But here’s a good example of the modest powers bestowed on the mayor’s office being put to ill use. According to provincial legislation, council requires 30 votes to renew the Ombudsman’s contract and there was enough concern that 15 councillors might be craven enough to do the mayor’s bidding on this.

Thus, the 2 year extension “compromise”.

Hours after the matter should’ve been settled, 41 councillors voted in favour of the extension, almost all of them with high praise for the job Ms. Crean was doing. Nice work. There’s no reason whatsoever you shouldn’t be getting a 5 year extension but… you know… the mayor… we had to throw him a bone… you know how it is when the chief magistrate hasn’t a clue about the job he’s supposed to be doing… We’ll talk again in 2014, OK?


It wasn’t.

It was just another example of finding some sort of way for Mayor Ford to save face after he, yet again, stepped into it. A huge time suck spent to placate a mayor who threatened to overturn the applecart if he didn’t get his way. With over 100 items on their agenda, once more council pissed away the better part of a day mending fences the mayor had impulsively ripped up for no apparent reason other than he could.

Respect for the taxpayers indeed.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr

Happy Birthday, Dear Councillor

August 11, 2011

A little Wikipedia bird tells me that today is Councillor Norm Kelly’s 70th birthday. Three Score and Ten. Happy Birthday, councillor, and many happy returns.

On this auspicious occasion, may I offer you more than just simple birthday wishes? How about some helpful birthday advice.

I am not one for enforced retirement based on some arbitrary age. Many senior citizens flourish in their golden years, their accumulated wisdom brought to bear on the problems, joys and complexity that is our modern life. Dotage is not for them. It is a youthful sprint to the proverbial finish line.

But for some octogenarians minus ten, I imagine, it would be good to step back from the fray, from the hurly burly, to a more gentle period of reflection, assessment. To bounce grandchildren on your knee, spoil them rotten, fill them full of sugar before sending them back to their parents, secretly loving the hassle it will cause to those who hassled you way back when. To hop in that Winnebago and drive to places you’d never been able to visit before. To write that book you’ve always been meaning to write.

Doesn’t that all sound so very, very appealing, Councillor Kelly? So much more relaxing then spending your time, desperately trying to stay on top of what’s going on at City Hall.

I know there’s still another 3 years or so before your term is up, and there’s so much more work to be done, so much more you have to offer the city, bike lanes to install and then to uninstall. Systemic indebtedness that needs to be wrestled to the ground with wildly ineffective slashing of discretionary budgets. But today is the first day of the rest of your life, councillor. Maybe it’s time to turn that page, begin a new chapter. Rest on whatever laurels you may’ve accumulated over all those years of public service.

And no one says you have to step out from the limelight. Look at your old colleague Case Ootes. ‘Retirement’ is working well for him.You don’t have to make a decision now. Just tell me you’ll think about it before you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. Make it your wish. Sometimes birthday wishes do come true.

HB greetingly submitted by Cityslikr

Selling Off Stock

May 29, 2011

(In case you missed it at the Torontoist on Wednesday, we’re reposting the post. With new, pretty pictures.)

* * *

Just before the May 24th fireworks reignited the ongoing Pride/anti-QuAIA debate at yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s (still) one-man board was given the go ahead to sell off 22 properties. While possessing moments of drama and emotion, the TCHC debate ultimately lacked the highly charged personal edge that gripped the Pride v. anti-QuAIA deputations. Perhaps that’s what happens when only one side holds all the cards.

What Tuesday’s TCHC process was also lacking in was concrete answers. And not just answers to pointed questions from visiting councillors looking to score political points. Honest to goodness answers to honest to goodness questions asked by the mayor’s allies on the Executive Committee.

Like much of the rush to foist the Ford Nation mandate onto Toronto, there’s a sense that the mayor and his team don’t have to explain themselves. They won the election, so they’re free to do as they want. All this back-and-forth is simply wasting time. Pitter patter, let’s get at her!

It was in evidence at last week’s council meeting and the debate over proposed garbage outsourcing in district 2. The staff and privatization advocates were all a little hazy when it came to the numbers and figures. Would it save $8 million? If not, how much? Any? What about diversion rates? Different? On par? Improved?

Stop with all the questions, already! We campaigned on privatizing garbage. We won. We’re going to privatize garbage.

Likewise, TCHC Managing Director Case Ootes and CEO Len Koroneos didn’t seem particularly driven to talk turkey about their recommendation to unload the 22 housing units. How many tenants would be affected by the sell off? Ummm… let me check my notes. 32. Who would be in charge of relocating the tenants losing their homes? Ummm… not sure. “The Planning Department’s not here,” the mayor offered up by way of an answer. What would be the difference in cost to the city between putting in necessary repairs and renovations and continuing to rent out units and simply unloading them as is? Ummmm… we’ll have to get back to you on that, councillor.

“A huge absence of information,” Councillor Janet Davis suggested.

The Committee wasn’t even provided with definitive numbers when it came to such fundamental inquiries about how much the city could really expect to get for selling the houses. Mr. Ootes is thinking close to $16 million. Others like Michael Shapcott at the Wellesley Institute aren’t convinced the number will be that high. Whatever sum it ends up being, the money will be applied to the backlog of repairs on other TCHC properties that is now in the neighbourhood of $650 million.

Another number that came as a surprise to some councillors at the meeting, more than a tripling of repair costs in just two years if true. And if true, it’s hard to imagine how $16 million is going to make a lick of difference in their bigger picture even 1 elevator repair at a time. Especially if we’re ultimately reducing the amount of rental units available to a list that’s already 10 years long to do it.

That seemed to be one thing we could safely conclude would happen if the sale gets approved by city council. Less TCHC housing to go around. “A reduction of capacity,” as Mr. Ootes admitted reluctantly. But, he was quick to add, we weren’t responsible. “We’re not reducing capacity,” Mr. Ootes spun. “Capacity’s being reduced because we don’t have the money.”

It is a new age, a new reality, according to Councillor Mammoliti. “We’re on our own,” he informed the room. We should never expect to see money from senior levels of government ever again. That was that.

So, wave the white flag and agree to be the hatchet men, to do the bidding of the provincial and federal governments’ respective and collective negligence in the social housing portfolio. Instead of standing up and fighting to protect the most vulnerable in our city, members of the mayor’s Executive Committee voted to use them as fodder, sacrifices to the new order. Making tough choices, it seems, means making other people pay for your lack of imagination and willingness to go to bat for your constituents.

“This particular sale of 22 houses is a start,” the unelected, unaccountable Case Ootes told reporters, undoubtedly striking fear into the hearts of every TCHC tenant.

For all the talk of having to go it alone and make choices out of enforced necessity due to fiscal restraints not personal preference (the mark of all small-minded municipal politicians who operate happily under the umbrella of not bearing ultimate responsibility), the irony of the decision to sell the houses is that, even if city council agrees, it is still pending provincial government approval. What the Executive Committee signaled with its vote to sell off TCHC properties was that it was willing to get its hands dirty and be the bad guy. That answer seems firm and unequivocal.

repeatedly 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

Overlooked Good News Item of the Week

January 10, 2010

Councilman Case Ootes retires.

His ward 29 residents express surprise. They thought he died in 2002.

Upon announcing his retirement from politics, Case Ootes said his proudest accomplishment was working with then mayor, Mad Mel Lastman, on the amalgamation of seven governments into one.

Speaking on behalf of Torontonians city wide, I thank Mr. Ootes with all the facetiousness I can muster.

If I may paraphrase from the deep well of George W. Bush quotables: A heck of a job, Casey.

slap happily submitted by Cityslikr