Podcast the Third

April 26, 2015

garyowens

Afraid you missed an important debate at City Hall? Never fear. Somebody will always want to bring it up again. And again. And again. And again. Toronto, Talking About Stuff, Our Strength.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Back To You, Executive Committee

April 16, 2013

No real surprises during my time at the Executive Committee public deputations on the casino issue yesterday except for the weird, continued contortions going on at the mayor’s office.

contortions

The city needs the revenue, the administration claims, whatever that revenue may be, despite previous assurances that Toronto didn’t have a revenue problem. A casino will bring [make up your number here] of jobs to Toronto, well paying, union jobs, the mayor declares, a concern which has never seemed to be much on his radar until now. And then there’s downtown versus Woodbine, the haves versus the have-nots. It was all about looking out for the little guy, remember? Now it’s the big boy developers and out-of-town movers-and-shakers.

Mayor Ford 2014 is essentially campaigning against Mayor Ford 2010. (h/t @paisleyrae)

I’m not sure many minds were changed with Monday’s deputations. That’s probably not the reason for them anyway. If anything, opinions were just further entrenched.

armtwisting

The real politicking starts today, as the debate goes into the Executive Committee. It’s not at all clear Mayor Ford has the votes to even get the motion out onto the council agenda. But I imagine members of the Executive Committee won’t want to be solely responsible for killing a casino, if that’s the way it goes. They’ll put that decision fully on city council’s plate.

So the saga continues, staggering dubiously toward a quiet finale. Until at least the next campaign season.

submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Or May Not

March 12, 2013

For the record, I think city council is doing a pretty bang up job at this moment. All things considered. statlerandwaldorfAnd by all things I mean, the mayor. Besieged and absent most of the time, he contributes nothing more than an occasional grunt of consent (casino, yes) or dissenting snort (tolls, no way).

Locked into a near submission hold early on in this term by a beast with a mandate, a more passive, compliant group was hard to imagine than our city council. Kill Transit City. Wait, what? Cut the VRT. OK, but how do we replace the reven–Cut office budgets. OK but that’s still not going to replace the revenue from–Privatize waste collection. Can you at least give us proper numbers? Oh, never mind. Whatevs.

Who’s the boss? You’re the boss, boss man.

But then, in a classic dumb wrasslin’ move, Mayor Ford didn’t finish off his opponent when he had the chance. whosthebossHe let up on the choke hold and tagged his partner to take over the beating. But when his partner-brother-councillor got in over his head, his nifty manoeuvre on the Port Lands rebuffed and then used to pummel him, the mayor was too distracted to help out. Oh, look. Football season!

He never really recovered.

And we as a city are the better for it.

City council has stepped up and ably assumed control, as best it can with an obstructionist mayor who, when he’s paying any attention at all, throws nothing more than blocks and hissy fits in order to in any way seem relevant to the civic discourse. Yes, transit plans were delayed by about 18 months but, I’d say, council was third on the list of those responsible for that, after the mayor and the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty who could’ve stopped the assault in its tracks, so to speak, but instead chose to play politics with it. Actually, fourth if you factor in Tim Hudak’s inane blathering about subways, subways, subways.

For sure, this type of unplanned (but not unsurprising) leaderless style of local governance is not optimal. It appears to have opened things wide for outside influencers, let’s call them, on the casino question. The mayor’s inability to build a majority of councillors to approve a casino has now slowed the proceedings to a halt as staff calls for more information from OLG (which is not necessarily a bad thing) tagteamwrestlingand given more time to lobbying efforts. But it’s also just prolonged the time, space and resources this debate takes of the public discourse. Important matters are not dealt with in the most expeditious of manners.

On the other hand, in the absence of a strong mayoral hand, city staff have seized control of the transit file and pushed it to the forefront. In fact, I might argue that led by our Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, along with TTC Chair Karen Stintz, the public discussion about tolls, taxes and fees needed to pay for Metronlinx’s Big Move have outpaced the efforts done by the province. With Mayor Ford bleating ineffectually along the sidelines, there have been forums, town halls and other information sessions that have inserted the topic firmly into the region wide discussion. All of it occurring in spite of the mayor’s adamant disapproval.

Pointing to the possibility that while having a mayor contribute positively to the running of the city is preferable, it isn’t absolutely essential. Order does not break down and chaos reign. Sure, it can be something of a circus but I would argue that’s more a product of this particular administration than it is any sort of proof that the system cannot function if a mayor doesn’t prevail.

What we absolutely don’t need is to bestow more power in the mayor’s hands to make sure this kind of gridlock doesn’t happen, as some have talked about repeatedly, not mentioning any names keepcalmandcarryonbut it’s exactly the same as the mayor’s and rhymes with ‘bored’. No, just the opposite. Until we undertake a radical restructuring of the municipal system here with an emphasis on more city wide representation outside of the mayor’s office while giving more power and say to citizens at the ground level, we might want to harken back to simpler times.

Let’s stop directly electing the mayor of Toronto.

Instead, our mayor will be chosen from the 44 councillors who’ve just been elected. That way, there’s already a momentum toward consensus going forward into the term. There’s a working majority at council from the get-go.

An added bonus would be extra interest in the councillor races because the one elected to be mayor would give up their council seat and be replaced by the candidate coming in second to them in the ward race. Four years down the road, the mayor would have to fight for the ward again, possibly facing the incumbent who’d replaced them. shortleashSo, there’d be none of this petulant sulking, impatiently waiting for the next election to get your way since you’d have someone else trying to contribute positively to the running of the city who you might just have to face off against in your ward in order to be re-elected.

It’s not perfect, no. But if the office of the mayor has not proven to be indispensable to the running of the city, why pretend that it is? Let’s treat it like it is, a first among equals to borrow a phrase. Only as powerful as the individual holding the office can make it or as strong as the rest of council allows.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


No Tears Shed

January 28, 2013

Off line for a couple days, I arrived back to find my various in-boxes filled with condolences over Mayor Ford’s appeal win on Friday.

Thanks for the kind thoughts, everybody, but nobody’s at all sad about the outcome around these parts. condolencesAs we suggested Friday, we think it’ll be far more damaging to his political future if the mayor stays right where he is and continues to make such a hash of things. And nothing he’s said or done since the decision suggests he’s going to be doing anything differently now that he’s been removed from the legal hot seat.

I’m naïve enough to believe that our legal system is a functional one in most cases, and in this particular case it played out properly and objectively. I don’t have the knowledge to argue the nuances of the respective decisions. courtwigIn a Spacing post today, John Lorinc points out some implications to the outcome that definitely should be taken into consideration by both the provincial and municipal levels of government in order to appropriately tighten statutes that will help uphold councillor conduct in the future

It was unfortunate to see supporters of the mayor successfully pollute the discourse with the dubious defense of a removal from office being somehow undemocratic, as if vote totals determined the degree to which a politician had to adhere to the rules and regulations. As if democracy and the law were separate entities. As if the rule of law wasn’t the very basis of democracy. Perhaps some civics lessons might be in order for Team Ford and various opinion makers covering the municipal beat.

But the mayor’s back and I wouldn’t hold my breath about any future court wrangling ousting him, including the long awaited results of his 2010 campaign finances audit, before our next, regularly scheduled election. Which is fine by me. Rather than spend time defending himself in court, I want him defending his record as mayor. thegreatest1After winning his appeal last week, Mayor Ford was big on stating that people are better off now than they were before he was elected. He claimed to be running the city better than any other administration has.

I’m looking forward to him having to back his hyperbole up. As we head into the nuts and bolts of casinos, I want Mayor Ford to explain how hosting one somewhere in the city the province wants to place it will replace other dedicated revenue streams coming into our coffers. Casinos Not Taxes Will Make Toronto Better!

With the new incoming premier, Kathleen Wynne, already talking about possible funding sources for long overdue public transit initiatives, I’m anxious to hear all about Mayor Ford’s “comprehensive transportation strategy”. Surely after more than 2 years in office, preceded by almost a year on the campaign trail, he must have something more than ‘Subways, Subways, Subways’, right? therinkHe can’t seriously believe he’s going to positively participate in the adult conversation going forward if all he’s still got is quotation enclosed catchphrases.

No, I’m very happy to have the mayor’s now where he is. I want him front and centre for the next 20 months or so, as the face of the malignant politics and policies that are anathema to healthy city building. He’s free to try and further his cause rather than be a martyr to it.

So, congratulations and welcome back from the precipice, Mayor Ford. You may find that your time in court proves to be much more of a walk in the park than the rocky road ahead from here to October 27th, 2014.

smilingly submitted by Cityslikr


Niagara Falls Ontario Wonderful Place For You To Go

March 23, 2010

Unexpectedly finding ourselves in the middle of a casino in Niagara Falls one night last week (tell me that hasn’t happened to you), we pondered on the notion of government sanctioned gambling. What had once been a highly controversial topic less than 20 years ago was now simply a given. A not-quite-Vegas-more-like-Reno-or-maybe-Atlantic-City given where cheese and bad food rules although the drinks are made in Ontario expensive.

We are not gamblers. Or, after our Niagara Falls experience, I should say, two of us aren’t gamblers. (Acaphelgmic went missing and has still not turned up days later.) It’s not owing to any moralistic bent. To our mind, we just don’t see the point of it. Money does burn a hole in our pockets but we can think of much more interesting ways to piss it away.

Like with so many other things though, we are face first into the prevailing winds of our time. Large swaths of the public, who otherwise rail against handing over their hard earned cash to the government in the form of taxes, happily do just that at a slot machine or card table. It’s a matter of personal choice, I guess, although for some that is highly debatable. Gambling, once the scourge of decent society, is now an acceptable pastime, wealth distributor and government income generator.

Last fiscal year, the Ontario Gaming and Lottery Corp. pumped nearly $4 billion into the Ontario economy, half of it directly into provincial coffers. It is a major employer and corporate sponsor of charities and cultural events. The 10 casinos it owns and/or operates have brought a pulse back into the ailing municipalities that have embraced them. This is a service sector largely resistant to economic cycles.

“If gambling, why not drug decriminalization?” my non-gambling colleague asks over sparkly cocktails at a glittery bar. “Or prostitution. Let’s accept the fact that there are distasteful habits that we just can’t legislate or regulate out of practice, and get in on the action.” Own it to rule it.

Maybe mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti isn’t so out there after all. OK. He is but as governments on all levels grapple with mounting fiscal imbalances why are we ignoring potentially huge revenue streams that are swirling around us, untouched in the underground economy? Not so long ago, we as a society didn’t abide gambling. We seem to have overcome our qualms about that. Why not legalized (and taxed) prostitution or drug use?

I would probably be an even stronger advocate of such ideas if I truly thought moneys made from such non-traditional enterprises were properly plowed back into the public sphere. A meander off the beaten track of the city of Niagara Falls doesn’t fill me with hope however. My childhood memory of the place is that of a somewhat tacky, down-at-heel vacation destination. Posed on the veritable precipice of a truly astounding natural wonder, the town was as equally awash in chintzy souvenir shops, carnival attractions and all the other markings of low rent consumerism.

Despite the boost to the local economy that the government run casinos claim to have provided, Niagara Falls still feels somewhat shabby. Dilapidated houses sit in the shadows of high rise hotels on somewhat derelict feeling streets just off the main drags. Actual residential areas are few and far between. Try finding a bank when you’re in need of some cash (no, I don’t have a problem) and are absolutely unwilling to hand over exorbitant fees to ATMs that you’re pretty sure are directly linked into the casinos.

It simply feels that little of the cash being thrown around town makes its way back into the lives of the people who live here. But hey, without the casino, do you think Gladys Knight and the Pips would give so much as a second thought to Niagara Falls as a tour stop? Where else would octogenarian funnyman Don Rickles ply his trade without our wealth of casinos?

And where else could our provincial government turn in order to divest its citizens of billions of dollars aside from the casinos and other gambling venues? It is the new reality, this uneasy truce between citizens and their elected representatives. The casino quid pro quo. I’ll give you my money although I want a little something in return. No, not services. But a chance to strike it rich under the flashing lights and faux grandeur of palaces dedicated to what we once considered nothing more than filthy vice.

sanctimoniously submitted by Urban Sophisticat