Lobbing A Lobbying Bomb

May 4, 2016

I’m going to paraphrase about a hundred people who’ve expressed these exact sentiments, and if that makes me another Margaret Wente, so be it. cheatingIt’s a jab I’m willing to live with.

Here goes.

If all those Uber people were even half as passionate about other, far more important city issues as they are with accessing their inexpensive, on-demand, chauffeur service, Toronto would be a civic paradise.

That said, I’ve said as much as I want to say about the Uber debate. It’s already taken a disproportionately significant chunk of our local political discourse over the past couple years. Mayor Tory made it his key item to begin this month’s city council meeting yesterday, and it consumed every bit of the extended day to finish it off. For now. Always, for now.

People will argue that it’s simply a response commensurate with the demand out there for Uber. outofproportion45,000 people a day can’t be wrong, won’t be denied. A grassroots uprising breaking the death grip of the taxi industry monopoly, yaddie, yaddie.

Maybe…maybe.

Or, here’s another angle.

This Is How Uber Takes Over A City

“Uber’s made a name for itself by barging into cities and forcing politicians to respond.”

How, you ask?

A $40 billion value corporation (as of the article’s writing last June) with all the lobbying muscle that kind of money can buy.

Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the nation, at least a third more than Wal-Mart Stores. That doesn’t count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th-largest city in the U.S., 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber’s behalf. They’d become a constant force in City Hall. City officials say they’d never seen anything on this scale.

“Uber makes the rules; cities fall in line.”

Bringing it closer to home here in Toronto, we all know that two of the mayor’s former campaign mucky-mucks, John Duffy and Nick Kouvalis, have gone to work for Uber, bullyone as a lobbyist, the other to do some polling. And it seems like there’s been a lot of Uber lobbying of the Mayor’s office leading up to this week’s meeting. According to Anna Mehler Paperny of Global News, “And the mayor’s staff met with Uber more than anyone else on this topic last year.”

But, you know, whatever. The various branches of the taxi industry are no slouches themselves when it comes to lobbying, and donating to municipal campaigns, and just generally getting this debate front and centre in a way that makes it seem like it’s the most important policy matter the city faces. It isn’t, not by a long shot. That’s just what effective lobbying does. That’s why lobbyists and lobbying firms get paid the big bucks.

None of this is news. I didn’t write and crib some 500 words to tell you something you didn’t already know. It is what it is.

Although, and here’s the kicker and the reason I wrote anything about this at all, after the Uber debate dies down, and perhaps today’s equally noisy matter of the proposed bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street gets settled, teeoneupthere’s an interesting little item going to council from the Executive Committee. It was deferred from the March meeting, and the oh-so-perfect irony of the timing of it is hard to ignore.

As part of some lobbying by-law amendments being considered, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong put forth a motion asking for a staff report on the question of forcing unions and not-for-profit organizations to register with the city as lobbyists. It’s been an idea, as Jonathan Goldsbie writes in NOW, kicking around since the establishment of the Lobbyist Registrar back during David Miller’s first term in office. It’s been given a new lease on life with the support of Mayor Tory, his deputy mayor and 9 other councillors sitting on his Executive Committee.

His [Mayor Tory] position is that there are groups that have vested interests in the outcome of council decisions that are not confined to direct financial benefit. This is about transparency, and our belief that the public should have visibility into the various groups that lobby city councillors on matters of public record.

This statement from the mayor’s office in response to the NOW article has made some of those “various groups” more than a little nervous. “STOP Mayor Tory’s attempt to force community groups to register as lobbyists. buildingawallSign this petition now!” tweeted out the shadowy NOJetsTO group who have used their deep pockets and sneaky loophole seeking ways to bully the under-resourced and hamstrung-by-lobbying-rules little guy Robert Deluce and Porter Airlines in order to stymy island airport expansion. Why? What do they stand to gain from keeping the airport just like it is?

Until they are brought to heel under the careful watch of the Lobbyist Registrar, we won’t clearly understand their motivations. We’ll just have to file it under: “not confined to direct financial benefit.”

But if I were a community group or social activist type, I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. My guess is, Mayor Tory’s eyeing bigger game, like the unions, who the motion mentions specifically. And even that may be reading too much malicious intent into it.

Maybe the mayor is really and truly trying to level the playing field for everyone down at City Hall. wolfinsheepsclothingAfter yesterday’s vote, and his and a solid majority of city council’s complete and utter capitulation to the ferocious lobbying and PR effort of Uber, he’s reaching out to give the grassroots a leg up. See? Lobbying works. Become a lobbyist. Access millions and millions of dollars to hire high-priced consultants, pollsters and glad-handers. Then, prepare to roll over your local elected representatives.

If an upstart company like Uber can do it, you can too, little group looking to… I don’t know, provide some extra affordable daycare spaces. Think big. Big Daycare.

Besides, it’s only fair. Otherwise, just anybody can drop a line or send off an email, demanding access to decision-makers at City Hall. That’s just not how things get done around here anymore.

blithely submitted by Cityslikr


Speed Kills But In A Worthy Cause

June 24, 2015

Look.

When it comes down to it, there are only 2 types of city dwellers. Those who hold tight onto their belief that car travel maintain its privileged spot atop the transportation hierarchy and those believing otherwise. standfirmStatus quo versus agents of change.

In Toronto, there can be little doubt which gang holds the upper hand. Any perceived attempt to even the playing field, to demand a more equitable division of our public spaces, to take a step a little bit closer to the 21st-century is met with squeals of outrage. An umbrage of sloganeering, boiled down short and sweetly by the champion of private automobile champions, Rob Ford: A War on the Car!

Unsurprisingly, this week’s decision by the Toronto and East York Community Council to reduce speed limits on downtown streets from 40 km/h to 30 was met by great gasps of roadster rage. SPEED TRAP rips the Toronto Sun headline. “It will make congestion worse,” the paper’s editorial predicted without qualification, as if speed has something to do with traffic flow. That reasoning, followed logically, should translate into the highways around the city being unfettered by gridlock since drivers are allowed to go so much faster on them. carspeedingStill bogged down? Bump up the speed limit to 140 km/h. That’ll fix things.

Even better was the Sun’s angle that the decreased speed limits would just be ignored anyway, “impossible to enforce”, it stated. Drivers be driving, am I right? They don’t need no stinkin’ speed limits!

Just how Fuck You is that? And coming from a no-nonsense, law-and-order publication like the Toronto Sun too. Where do we draw the line on what nanny state rules and regulations to ignore? Speeding, as we know, is not just some benign, victimless crime. Speed Kills, the PSA said back in the day, and even the Sun didn’t seem to dispute the fact that the faster a car is going, the more likely serious injuries and fatalities will result in any sort of collision. Oh, and there will be collisions.

Setting aside that reality for the moment, this knee jerk reaction against the lower speed limit proposal reveals a life not led around the city much on foot (or, god forbid, on a bike). givethefingerThe faster cars are allowed to go, the more dangerous and less enjoyable it is for everyone not behind the wheel. Ever stand on the side of the 401, say? Or even an 8 lane boulevard where vehicles are allowed to go 60 km/h? It isn’t a pleasant experience. Most people would avoid it, given a choice, thereby completing the nasty feedback loop that cedes pole positioning to cars. People don’t walk (or ride) here anyway. So why are we being forced to slow down?

The Sun cites traffic planning staff in warning against blanket speed limit reductions, calling for case-by-case approvals. “Not all streets are suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit…” the staff report says. Ignoring the delicious irony of the Sun embracing the red tape loving bureaucracy at any time, we are in agreement here. In the perverse way of traditional traffic planning, streets were designed with pedestrian safety in mind, built wide to accommodate driver mistakes travelling at X km/h. Wider, assuming a certain disregard for the posted speed limit; a worst case scenario, if you will, that enabled drivers to comfortably travel above the desired speed limit.

City transportation departments are filled with people raised in that tradition, the tradition of putting cars atop the transportation hierarchy. icantdrive55Lay out streets and, therefore, cities, first for the private vehicle and adapt everything and everyone else around that. Of course said street is not “suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit” (whatever the hell ‘suitable’ means in this circumstance). It was designed for 40 km/h and is easily driven along at 50 km/h. That was the whole point.

That is the status quo. Changing it means challenging it. Drop the speed limit to 30 km/h and then slowly redesign the streets to physically enforce the lower speed limit. Narrow the streets. Give back the extra space to other users, pedestrians and cyclists. Flatten out our transportation hierarchy.

Drivers won’t put it up it, we’re informed, matter-of-factly.

“…an unsuitable speed limit could result in widespread disregard or non-compliance by motorists,” writes city staff. deathrace2000“The resulting variation in operating speeds of vehicles could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions.”

In most other circumstances, that would be taken as a threat.

Reducing speed limits won’t change motorist behaviour which ‘could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions’. Better keep drivers happy or else. An angry or frustrated driver is a dangerous driver.

I love to play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud wherever I go, whenever I want. Nobody better tell me when and where I can play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud. That would make me angry and frustrated. So angry and frustrated, I’d punch anybody who tells me to turn it down.

Why are we so quick to exempt car drivers from adhering to the rules of the road we collectively seek to establish?crybaby

Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Jaye Robinson, brushed aside the need to lower speed limits on downtown streets, pointing out that 90% of collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, and 85% of the resulting fatalities happen on arterial roads which, for me, suggests maybe we should look at improving pedestrian and cyclist safety on arterial roads not ignore trying to improve it downtown. 15% of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities as collateral damage, acceptable losses in our ongoing war on the car.

Or as Rob Ford famously put it: “My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day, it’s their own fault.”

Like the Gardiner East debate a couple weeks ago, drivers and their hardcore apologists cannot fathom a world where their transportation priorities do not take precedence over those of everyone else. Even a less wild-eyed reactionary than the Toronto Sun editorial board, the National Post’s Chris Selley, eye-rolled at the critics of John Tory, calling the push against keeping the 1.7 kilometre eastern bit of the expressway elevated, “overblown in quantity and misbegotten in kind”, a decision that doesn’t “matter all that much”. wrongwayWhat’s a few hundred million dollars in lost development potential, untold amounts of property tax revenue and a decade, more or less, of painstaking waterfront planning in the face of the intractable demands of car drivers?

Any pushback against those is seen as radical, unreasonable and unworkable. Change that cannot be countenanced for fear of the ensuing chaos which will inevitably follow. (It’s always with the chaos.) As A Matter Of Fact, I Do Own The Road, says the bumper sticker. Driving as some sort of divine right rather than a granted privilege.

leisurely submitted by Cityslikr


Conservative Values

February 13, 2013

If nothing else comes from our current transit funding debate, if we’re still snarled on our roads and public transit modes, screaming Subways! Subways! Subways! at each other 25 years hence, differentiateat least we will have during this time of discussion differentiated between the reasonable conservatives and that of their all taxes are evil, Ted Nugent, we can’t even figure out how to plow our streets properly paleo-conservative brethren.

For it seems that only the most retrograde, mouth-breathing, Atlas Shrugged hugging, Toronto Sun columnist-commentator type believes that if there is a congestion problem, and they’re not all convinced there is, then there are plenty of ways to pay for alleviating it other than digging deeper into the hardworking taxpayers’ pockets. Hit up the private sector, for example. It can always be counted on to serve the public good. Or how about cutting spending on programs only the shiftless lay-abouts use? Or uncovering the mountains of scandal tinged money spent on pet social engineering projects or to prop up a teetering government.

The X billion dollars spent on X scandal could build X kilometers of subways!

Those right leaning thinkers of a more sound mind and constitution have accepted the fact the region’s congestion is slowly strangling our economic well-being and quality of life. digintoyourpocketThey also accept the fact that much of the money is going to have to come from the public purse. There is no silver bullet, no magic potion that will painlessly deliver transportation infrastructure for free.

This is what’s known as an un-blinkered, non-ideological assessment of the facts.

There is one quirk, however, in this otherwise reasonable conservative mindset, on display by the National Post’s Matt Gurney in his conversation with his NP colleague Chris Selley and NOW magazine’s Jonathan Goldsbie.

“But I think everyone except the mayor has probably realized the city needs to pay for most of this [transit expansion] itself…It’s all well and good to talk about the federal government’s obligation. We’ll have plenty of time to jaw-jaw about that while sitting in traffic or waiting for a subway car that isn’t packed to the gills. But for now, we have to recognize that money isn’t coming from Ottawa.”

This is a variation on a theme Mr. Gurney and other like-minded conservatives have been uttering for a while. Don’t expect money from the senior levels of government. They have a deficit to contend with. They’re broke. ‘emptypockets1Tapped out’, as Mr. Gurney wrote a couple years back.

The business of governing must wait until both Ottawa and Queen’s Park get their respective fiscal houses in order. Nothing is more important than deficit reduction. Sacrifices must be made. If we just cut here, slash there, trim that area between the two, and wrestle the mighty beast into submission, then we can talk about building stuff. Until then, you’re on your own, cities and everybody else in need of something.

It’s all about cutting costs with these guys. Any expenditure, at least any expenditure on the social side of things, is deemed a cost, never an investment that will contribute noticeable returns down the road in the form of increased revenue or reduced costs. It’s all about the short term, baby.

With that kind of prevailing attitude, how did conservatives claim the mantle of sound financial stewardship? They seem to lack a certain understanding of even the most basic of economic theories. Or rather, they’ve transformed more complicated economic ideas into easily regurgitated chants.

In the face of an economic meltdown, fiscal conservatives of all political stripes rushed to embrace austerity. notoausterity1Dubious on paper, it has proven to be wrong-headed in practice as Europe is mired in fiscal gloom, having imposed severe austerity measures on its most profligate member countries. Great Britain is now flirting with a triple-dip recession after their dance with austerity. With no noticeable improvement, the logical response, of course, is to stay the course. This shit’s gotta work sometime, right?

Cut costs. Cut taxes. Damn the revenue. Better living through scarcity.

Besides, there is more than one way to skin a cat, a skinny, deprived, malnourished runt of the litter.

Casinos!

You want revenue that won’t cost a thing?

Casinos!

Because there’s nothing a modern day fiscal conservative loves more than free money. Cash on the table simply to host a casino (actual amount to be negotiated after the fact but, rest assured, a sliver of what’s needed to fund transit expansion). dogandponyshowPlus, think of all the job creation, both building a casino and working in it once done. Good, well paying, union jobs which, normally conservatives aren’t all that comfortable embracing. But you know, when it comes to a casino and all that no cost money filling a city’s coffers, all bets are off.

Now, try running that line of reasoning by fiscal conservatives when it comes to building infrastructure. Think of all the jobs it will create to build and run that subway, dig up and replace aging water and sewage lines. Good, well paying, union jobs.

Blink, blink. Blink, blink.

Does not compute.

The difference being as Tom Broen at The Infrastructure Society pointed out most recently, infrastructure costs are up front, nowsville, while the benefits of such spending are lost in the ethereal dreams of tomorrow. A casino, on the other hand, is money in your pocket today baby, ka-ching, ka-ching! The costs and downsides? None that I can see and if there are any? Somebody else’s problem.spendingthekidsmoney

While fiscal conservatives go apoplectic at the thought of leaving some sort of financial deficit for their children and grandchildren to deal with, they seem to have little problem bequeathing them crumbling highways and antiquated public transit. Infrastructure deficit? You’re just sticking words together to see if they make sense, aren’t you.

There’s a word for that kind of thinking but it’s not conservative. It certainly isn’t enlightened or enterprising either.

Regressive. Selfish and self-serving. Backward and obstructionist. Those sound closer to the truth.

RSPly submitted by Cityslikr


Days Of Sue-Ann Supreme

November 23, 2012

In future days, will this be the face of the Toronto Sun?

DEVILITATOR

One might argue it already is but I’m referring specifically to the paper’s former editorial page editor, Rob Granatstein’s thoughts on the most recent cuts to Sun Media’s newspaper chain.

The cuts have crushed the local newsrooms. When the latest victims of downsizing are gone, Toronto will be down to three general assignment news reporters, according to people in that newsroom, unless staff is reassigned. That’s flat out ridiculous. The Sun will rely even more on its columnists to generate the news going forward. [Bolding ours.]

The Sun. Columnists. Generating news.

Information flowing forth, free of context, full of personal opinion. News from top down not bottom up.

This isn’t just about it being the Toronto Sun. Any newspaper working with a skeleton crew of reporters and teetering precariously with op-ed writers isn’t a newspaper. It’s, well, an organ of opinion, both informed and otherwise.

It would be just like… All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Only with inkier fingers.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do whatever it is I do without piggy backing on the work of Daniel Dale, David Rider, Robyn Doolittle, Kelly Grant, Elizabeth Church, Don Peat and a handful of other reporters who tirelessly dig up the dirt and parse information on Toronto politics on a seeming 24 hour, 7 day schedule. I’d hazard a guess neither could the bigger names a couple paragraphs up. The less reporting that gets done, the more, what would you call it?, PRing happens?

Picture Toronto, with the discourse only consisting of the views from the likes of Sue-Ann Levy, Joe Warmington, Royson James, Christopher Hume, Rosie DiManno, Chris Selley, Matt Gurney, Christie Blatchford, Marcus Gee, Margaret Wente?

“Columnists have found themselves out of jobs because they were too agreeable to those in power,” says Granatstein in this week’s Grid profile of Ms. Levy, “and it makes for weak reading. Wearing the Ford colours has hurt Sue-Ann…That means she struggles to get the other side of the story sometimes. People don’t feel she gives them a fair shake.”

While at the moment this may be a bigger bind for Sue-Ann because she’s in so deep with Team Ford, this can be a ditch all opinion writers must fight not to steer into. I’m sure the Star’s Christopher Hume has problems gaining access to the mayor and his staff. His colleague, Royson James, could hardly be considered an honest broker back in the day with the Miller administration. Remember his one-man, moralistic crusade to de-rail Adam Giambrone’s mayoral bid?

But that’s not really why we read columnists, is it? For impartiality or objectivity? We’re looking for opinions. Hopefully ones based on at least a semblance of reason and reality but we certainly don’t view their words as gospel or final on any given topic. Their purpose really is to either make our blood boil or confirm our biases.

Newspapers stressing op-eds over real reporting are nothing more than modern versions of olde thyme pamphleteering. And, if I do say so myself, that’s kind of our bailiwick, over here on the interwebs. We need newspapers to remain newspapers. Otherwise, we’ll all just be making shit up to push forward our agendas, unchecked and unsupported.

opinionatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Clown Prince And Queen Frances of IsSheSerious?

November 2, 2012

The easiest thing to do these days when covering Toronto city council is simply to end with a panache of loathing, a figurative throwing of hands in the air and shop worn variation of the Shakespearean quote, “A plague on both your houses!”

Council meetings are often bogged down in partisan rancour although, in fairness and in the end, they always do wind up clearing their often times bulky agenda even if it does take them three days instead of two. It’s seldom pretty. It’s rarely graceful. But the business of the city is being taken care of.

Which, in reality, is quite a testament to the majority of councillors since we have a chief magistrate and his administration firm in the belief that governance suffers from a governing problem. Of course this is a circus, folks. We’re politicians! What else would you expect from us?

The opposition party is in control and has no idea how to actually run things because that would take having an open mind toward the efficacy of government. Few of them do. There’s nothing affirmative in their approach. It’s simply about no. no, no, no.

Mayor Ford is much more comfortable behind a microphone as a radio talk show host or on the football side lines than he is chairing a committee or speaking to items. His councillor-brother assumes the private sector does everything better than the public sector and gives that sales pitch at any opportunity that arises. The budget chief faints at the sight of large numbers.

But none may represent the vacuity of leadership and embrace of maladministration within Team Ford better (or would that be worse?) than its self-appointed QB, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, and council Speaker Frances Nunziata. It’s almost as if they were adopted and appointed for no other reason than to make the mayor’s bad behaviour look better by comparison. If his primary intention upon assuming office was to discredit the very notion of municipal government, the elevation of councillors Mammoliti and Nunziata to positions of power and visibility should be considered one of his only unqualified measures of success so far.

Immediately, partisan hackles are raised and examples of outlandish opposition antics are raised. What about Councillor Gord Perks getting all in Mammoliti’s face on camera? No question. Deplorable. But he subsequently apologized unequivocally at council. Intemperate displays of loutishness are not confined just to the right side of the political spectrum at City Hall. It’s just the regular, almost like clockwork and always near operatic occurrence of it from the Ford Administration that makes it seem so commonplace.

As Speaker, Frances Nunziata is supposed to bring a degree of decorum to the proceedings. An even-handed voice of reason and unbiased arbitrator, the role is that of a referee. Keep everything moving along and dealing with infractions in the fashion of blind justice.

Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Hectoring, nakedly partisan, she has maintained the fractious, contentious tone bestowed on council chambers by Don Cherry in his inaugural address. Worse still, the speaker doesn’t seem to have a handle on the procedural rules of the place. Things stop and start based on her mercurial whims that staff seem reticent to rein in for fear of having everything ground to such a halt that it might never get started again.

If Speaker Nunziata gave a shit about the appearance of propriety, she would’ve handed over her gavel to the Deputy Speaker during the contentious debate over the Ombudsman’s Report which dealt with the questions of civic appointments at the Civic Appointment Committee, a committee the speaker was chair of. How does that not smack of conflict? Instead she harassed critics of the process, coddled the defenders and used her role as speaker as a soapbox to editorialize.

The only upside to Frances Nunziata’s role as the council speaker is it keeps her off the floor of chambers in the capacity of councillor to a minimum. Her speaking times frequently double in length, punctuated as they are by a succession of her colleagues standing on points of privilege and order to correct the wildly inflammatory statements she makes. On Wednesday, she stood up to her critics, accusing them of using hearsay and innuendo to undermine the appointment process. The former mayor David Miller was guilty of “interfering every day” she claimed, citing no evidence to back it up.

A dictionary for the speaker, STAT! She evidently doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hearsay’ or ‘innuendo’.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that her performance paled in comparison to Councillor Mammoliti’s. Let’s just say it provided a fitting complement to it because, when he decides to let fly (and he does regularly), Councillor Mammoliti is without peer in delivering nonsensical rhetorical bombast. Which – guilty pleasure confession – kind of makes him a soft spot for me. Am I alone in my love of having a performing monkey?

Who else (aside from Councillor Ford) would have the gall to stand up with a list of names in his hand that he claimed a month earlier did not to exist and refer to it as “so-called”?  No one else challenged the authenticity of the list. There was no doubt about where it came from. Lots of questions about its intent but not its existence. Still, for Councillor Mammoliti it was “so-called”.

His 5 minute incantation of the words ‘Halloween’ and ‘candy’ and ‘witch hunt’ was truly Dadaesque in delivery. There was no internal coherence or logic. Just words spewed forth to mock and demean the office of the Ombudsman and incite the ire of his colleagues into defending Ms. Crean and the validity of the report she delivered.

See? We’re all crazy down here in the Clamshell. No need to take us seriously.

This is why we have to continue striving to distinguish between constructive and destructive debate and governance. While nothing in Chris Selley’s article about this week’s council meeting was at all factually incorrect, it suggests an equal culpability in the shenanigans going on during the meeting. “… four-and-a-half hours of councillors hurling accusations, counter-accusations and countless points of personal privilege at each other. At last, they had The List. Blood would be spilled. Edifying, it was not.”

No, it wasn’t but the blame for that should hardly be dished out evenly. Some members of council bear much more responsibility for degrading the discourse and, unfortunately, most of them are part of the mayor’s team. Adding further insult to that injury, such a sorry state of affairs seems to be their default and preferred position.

fairly submitted by Cityslikr