A Matter Of Accountability

March 24, 2015

If John Tory, upon taking over the mayor’s office, had really wanted to signal a break with his predecessor’s administration, he’d have gone all in in supporting City Hall’s accountability offices. hulksmashSerious breaches of city council’s code of conduct were numerous and investigated by the Integrity Commissioner. Public complaints about ‘the administration of city government’ to the Ombudsman’s office skyrocketed. Both offices were overwhelmed with work and requests without the proper resources to fully respond.

Yet, he didn’t. His support for both offices through his first budget process was tepid, at best, calculated at worst. At the budget committee wrap up meeting, a motion was passed to cut requests for increased staff in the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner’s offices to zero, none, zip. Public pushback resulted in Mayor Tory’s motion at city council the following week to restore, ever so slightly, a fraction of those requests, including 1 new staffer (of the 6 asked for) for the Ombudsman. Just enough to be able to say publicly, We love the work these offices do! while still being able to keep a straight face.

The current Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, was so grateful and impressed by the gesture that she subsequently decided not to seek reappointment to her post in the fall, a reappointment that should’ve happened two years ago, a full reappointment denied her by city councillors not happy with some of her findings. thanksfornothing(That is another sad, sordid story completely.)

“Council is not living up to the commitment of fairness and independent oversight that was promised in the City of Toronto Act,” the Ombudsman said during yesterday’s announcement. “The debate on my reappointment next week promises to be divisive, and I feel this will hurt the office, and its efforts to ensure fairness for the city’s residents.”

Mayor Tory could’ve stepped up and championed the Ombudsman, tried to dampen the divisiveness. He didn’t, only applauding Ms. Crean for a job well done with “gusto and determination”. Don’t let the door hit you… Here’s your hat. What’s your hurry?

Now, I’m not going to impugn the mayor with questionable motives for his lukewarm support of the Ombudsman but I will say, just in terms of optics, you’d think Mayor Tory would want the perception of his defending of the city’s accountability offices rock solid and airtight. whatsyourhurryGiven the number of potential conflicts of interest he might be subject to, largely through his connections to Rogers, (I mean how many votes did he sit out for that very reason at last council meeting?), the last thing he’d want is to appear lackadaisical in his views of the oversight officers. Last term was beset with the tumult such an attitude from the mayor’s office established. Mayor Tory could’ve delivered a real break with that.

He didn’t, and my best guess is that he (or his staff) is listening to all the wrong people on the issue. Councillors with an axe to grind with either or both the Integrity Commissioner or Ombudsman. Councillors unhappy with being under the oversight microscope, and taking their findings personally rather than professionally. Thin-skinned public servants unhappy with public scrutiny of their performance.

The company you keep, am I right?

“I had hoped, following the recent election, that the political climate surrounding the ombudsman’s office would have changed,” the Ombudsman said. stainedshirt“When I saw the divisive nature of the debate at budget committee, I made the decision over the past week that I would not seek reappointment.”

Mayor Tory had an opportunity to change the tone between city council and its accountability officers, from adversarial to a more cooperative one. He didn’t. He merely shrugged, unwilling to spend any political capital on the matter as if it wasn’t really that important to him. Now he gets to wear the Ombudsman’s departure because it’s all on him.

warily submitted by Cityslikr


Muscular Urban Agenda

February 15, 2011

The success of our cities in Canada is the success of our nation. And as such, it is time for us to embrace a new muscular urban agenda in this country. To allow our cities the resources, the powers and the authorities that they need in order to do the work we must do everyday for the citizens who live within our boundaries…It’s time to talk about cities. It’s time to really talk about how we make sure that cities have the resources they need to provide the services that Canadians need every single day, every single hour of every single day. And it’s time for us to understand that this 3rd order of government, this order of government that doesn’t exist in the Constitution, is actually the order of government that is most important to our citizens’ lives every single day.

~

Toronto does not have a revenue problem. Toronto has a spending problem.

I promised myself I would not compare Calgary’s mayor with ours. I swore I wouldn’t. Crossed my heart, pointed to god… but… it’s… so… hard. Nenshi’s so… articulate …so informed… so positive… Rob Ford… has… kidney stones.

Muscular Urban Agenda!

(Yes. Did it.)

There are two kinds of people, I believe, in both the political and non-political arenas. On one side you’ve got city folk. On the other, let’s call them I-don’t-care-as-long-as-there’s-a-Homesense-and-a-Jack Astors type. It’s not so much about where you live as it is what you think about where you live. You can live in a city and not be a city folk (see Ford, Rob). You can not live in a city and be a city folk although that seems doubtful. City folks tend to live in cities because they like living in cities. Non-city folks live in cities because they have to and don’t spend much time thinking about the whys-and-wherefores of their urban situation.

By most estimates city folks and non-city folks living in cities make up nearly 80% of the Canadian population. In fact, in and around 45% of us live in urban centres with populatons of 500,000 or more and it’s a percentage that isn’t shrinking. Many city folk like Mayor Nenshi think this is a force that needs to be reckoned with, its ranking elevated beyond mere governmental errand boy and coffee fetcher (I said ‘fetcher’) to that of managing partner.

Our former mayor, David Miller, thought along similar lines but by the time the tax revolters and various other non-city folk chased him from office, his demands for fairer treatment at the hands of what we refer to as senior levels of government were dismissed as nothing short of undignified begging. Much was made during the election campaign to replace him of how the city had to stop going cap in hand to the province or the feds, looking for handouts simply because we couldn’t put our financial house in order. Toronto didn’t have a revenue problem, we were told again and again. Toronto had a spending problem.

Oh, but lookee over there. Mayor Nenshi totes the Milleresque sentiments and the well-heeled audience in attendance at the city’s Canadian Club ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and applaud him heartily. The same Canadian Club, incidentally, that couldn’t be bothered to go hear David Miller give a farewell speech in the waning days of his mayoralty. I guess the difference is, Mayor Miller taxed many of the club members. Mayor Nenshi didn’t.

It’s all well and good to clap and cheer the concept of increased resources, powers and authority for municipalities. It’s another thing entirely to willingly subject yourself to them. Increased resources, powers and authority almost always mean the ability to tax and we here in Toronto, given such resources, powers and authority with the City of Toronto Act in 2006, seemed far from willing. In fact, we rewarded those who promised to do the exact opposite with our votes.

Gone, vehicle registration tax and millions of dollars of revenue (i.e. resource, power and authority) with it. Let’s freeze our property taxes while we’re at it. Millions more dollars of resources, powers and authority done away with. Next year, we’re eyeing you Land Transfer Tax.

We can’t demand more responsibility if we refuse to exercise the small amount we’ve already been given. Opting not to use the powers of taxation at your disposal and choosing instead to hack away at the services and infrastructure that elevate a city beyond simply the place you live to the place where you thrive and flourish, that’s not only short-sighted and detrimental, it’s the height of folly and reckless governance. It is the opposite of a muscular urban agenda. It’s flabby anti-urban abuse. True city folk would take no part in that. Nor would they stand by idly and watch it happen.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr


X Is For Executive Committee

January 18, 2011

To a political watcher, campaigns are the money shot. There is a built in, easy-to-follow narrative structure that, if played out right, still manages to deliver the occasional surprise or two. Ups, downs, spills, chills, spectacular flameouts, comebacks, the election trail has `em all. That shit practically writes itself.

Governance, on the other hand, is a grind. Fit only for nerds and wonks, with the nerdier and wonkier looking on in all its slow motion, day-to-day detail ingloriousness. Bylaws, capital versus operating budgets, infrastructure, official plans, I mean, seriously, how is it possible to make any of that interesting? No wonder few pay attention to what goes on at City Hall in between elections.

It’s all so boring!

You might think.

But if you spend some time around 100 Queen Street West, you might be pleasantly surprised. Indeed, you just might discover your inner nerd/wonk and realize why so many people are nerds and wonks. There is some compelling shit goes on behind those walls.

Take the Executive Committee, for example. I dropped in on its second meeting under Mayor Ford for a few hours yesterday to see exactly what it does and how it figures into the overall municipal government structure.

The Executive Committee is a relatively new body at City Hall, brought in with the City of Toronto Act in 2006. It ostensibly replaces the former Policy and Finance committee and is charged “to integrate City-wide strategic plans and priorities on behalf of [City] Council…” The vision thing, let’s call it, intended to look beyond ward-centric politics and at the whole of the city. (I know, I know. I can already hear you chuckling to yourself as you list off the members of Ford’s Executive Committee and their geographic representation.) It’s the successor in some ways to the old metro council in the pre-amalgamation days.

Membership of the Executive Committee includes the Deputy Mayor, the chairs of the seven standing committees and four at-large members appointed by the mayor and voted on by council. The mayor himself is not only a member of the Executive Committee but also presides over it as chair. So obviously this committee’s a biggie. The mayor’s unofficial cabinet, if you will, and while the objective of this committee may’ve originally been one of coordinating and focusing city council’s direction into a city-wide direction, it’s really the strong arm of the power a mayor wields. He picks the deputy mayor and 7 chairs which alone gives him an overwhelming majority on this committee and as long as the at-large councillors he nominates get through a vote at council — almost a certainty – the executive committee should be seen more as an agenda maker rather than an agenda facilitator.

It’s a They Choose, Council Decides sort of thing with the mayor and his team always playing offence and the rest of city council forced into the role of constantly pushing back. His Executive Committee gives a mayor the upper hand in situating himself and his agenda in the best possible position. Pro-active rather than reactive.

While the Mayor Ford Executive Committee is still in its infancy and wet behind the ears, a couple things jumped out at me during the scant time I’ve spent with them so far. Not having seen the previous ExComm in action, I don’t know if this is par for the course but no City-wide vision jumped out at me from this particular group of 13. (Thirteen? Really? That’s a little too Last Super-y if you ask me.) Unless, of course, we define ‘vision’ as meaning determined to account for every last dime that City Hall spends. I know, I know. That’s what the mayor campaigned on but isn’t that the job of another committee? Like Audit. Or Budget. Should the Executive Committee really be bogging itself down on whether the city should pay a particular councillor’s legal expenses? There are rules already in place for that, isn’t there?

Which brings me to a second point. Arriving in the middle of the debate on Councillor John Filion’s legal woes with the North York Symphony, I was struck by how many of the committee members seemed oblivious to proper protocol and procedures. And we’re not talking the newbie councillors in the room. Seasoned ones who’d been around the block a time or two.

Perhaps since many of them had been frozen out under the previous administration, they were still on a bit of a learning curve. Still. With all that time spent out of power, you’d think some time might’ve been spent brushing up on how the system functions.

Or maybe many of the Executive Committee members have a little too much inclination toward micro-managing, unable to see the proverbial forest for the trees. It’s hard to present a wider view when you’re busy demanding accountability down to the infinitesimally small detail. That is not to say City Hall shouldn’t be examining the fine print, making sure all the ‘t’s are crossed and ‘i’s dotted. But is that really the job of the mayor’s handpicked Executive Committee? The one charged with charting a course for Toronto to follow for the next 4 years?

If so, it’s going to be a torturous journey that, ultimately, won’t be going very far, very fast. After 7 years of so-called over-reach, City Hall looks to be entering an era of severe under-reach. A determined period of aggressive retraction and retrenchment. Soulless penny-pinching and corner cutting that will freeze up the hearts of even the nerdiest and wonkiest of us.

nebbishly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayoral Endorsement II

October 23, 2010

My Endorsement For Mayor: Joe Pantalone.

Although I may still vote for George Smitherman. I mean, David Crombie just endorsed him. Come on!

But I’m still endorsing Joe Pantalone.

I am that living, breathing, mushy middlist voting cliché everyone has been on about for the past week or so. The Smitherman team wants me. The Anybody But Ford coalition hounds me. We few, we unhappy few, we band of political brothers (and sisters) apparently hold the key to the outcome of Monday’s election. In our hands, lies the future fate of our city. Oh, the weight of such responsibility.

I, for one, know that George Smitherman will make a more capable mayor than Rob Ford. What I’m not as convinced about is if the city will be any better for that. Yes, Smitherman’s decked out his outerwear finery with the bow of John Sewell and ribbon of David Crombie. Perhaps that’s the silent signal to me that Smitherman will not ignore my concerns if he’s elected to City Hall. Just cross my fingers and hope that all the other stuff he’s been far more vocal about throughout the campaign, the right of centre meat and potatoes of tax freezes/cuts and job elimination through attrition, is just political posturing, necessary in the negative atmosphere that’s polluted election 2010.

It’s a leap of faith I’m just not sure I’m prepared to take.

I like living in Toronto. The past 7 years have not struck me as the dysfunctional quagmire many pundits and electioneering candidates have tried to make it out to have been. I’m not alone in that assessment. Check out here, here and here if you don’t believe me. There have been hiccups, no question. Some self-inflicted, others far beyond our control (i.e. the economic meltdown and subsequent recession). All things considered, I feel better about living in Toronto than I did in 2003.

I bought a house and had to pay the then newly instituted municipal land transfer tax. Came with the territory, as the city tentatively tested new powers granted to it through the City of Toronto Act.  The Vehicle Registration Tax had no affect on me as I don’t own a car and if there’s one major difference I have with Joe Pantalone it’s his pledge to remove it if elected. People may not like it. It may be regressive. But I think we should use all the tools at our disposal to make owning a car in this city a grind.

My garbage and recycling is picked up as often as I need it to be. I don’t mind the exercise shoveling snow from my own walk. I can walk home at night through a back alley, slightly drunk, playing with my telephonic gadget with very little fear of having harm done to my person. I spend more money per month on my Rogers bill than I do on services the city provides to me and I am much more satisfied with what the city delivers.

As you’re probably thinking as you read this, yes, I am one of the fortunate people living in Toronto. Indeed, I may do even better under a fiscally conservative regime at City Hall, what with all those taxes being cut and frozen under either a Ford or Smitherman administration. Except that, what I see emerging from both these candidates is a city more desperate. They’ve said little to absolutely zero about combating poverty, about continuing to work on fixes for our high priority neighbourhoods. Their transit plans are woefully short of properly dealing with congestion. One term of either a Ford or Smitherman mayoralty will result in a city that’s less livable. So all of us will be the worse for it.

Since I am also convinced that out there in the bigger, wider world, we may not yet be through the economic shit storm that started blowing through back in ought-8, and senior levels of government seemed pumped to begin budgetary slicing and dicing at the behest of what should be discredited neo-liberal voices that they are still mysteriously listening to, I trust neither Rob Ford or George Smitherman when the inevitable calls for further cuts start to ring out. I can already here the post-election statement from Ford or Smitherman. It’s much worse than I thought it was but don’t worry, it’ll only hurt a little.

No, in what will inevitably be a rough next few years, I am much more comfortable with the idea of Joe Pantalone as our mayor than anyone else. He will not turn on us. He’s had 30 years fighting for a fairer, more equitable and livable city, through good times and bad. He has the city’s best interests at heart. That, I know, is not true of Rob Ford. George Smitherman has not convinced me he does, either.

Read these Pantalone endorsements at ChangeToronto and blogTO. They are much more eloquent and thorough in their endorsements of Joe Pantalone than I’m being. Then for fun, take a glimpse at NOW’s Alice Klein endorsement of George Smitherman.

If there’s anything that’s pushed me more firmly into the Joe Pantalone camp, it’s the hectoring self-righteousness coming from those who’ve decided strategically voting in order to stop Rob Ford from winning is our only recourse. Hey. Fair enough. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to tell you who you should or shouldn’t vote for. Yes, Rob Ford is a despicable man. Yes, he’ll make a despicable mayor. But spare me the hysteric he’ll be Sauron who actually gets hold of the ring and transforms Toronto into Mordor if he gets elected mayor narrative. It leaves me cold. We will live to fight if this grisly scenario comes to pass.

In answering for my self @arvelomcquaig‘s quandary, I can’t decide if a Ford mayoralty is more worse than a Smitherman mayoralty than a Smitherman mayoralty is worse than a Pantalone mayoralty, yes, yes I believe a Mayor Smitherman would be significantly worse than a Mayor Pantalone than a Mayor Ford be worse than a Mayor Smitherman. Or, to put it another way, a Mayor Ford and Mayor Smitherman are more closely related than are a Mayor Smitherman and Mayor Pantalone.

For that reason (as convoluted as it may be) I, Urban Sophisticat, am endorsing Joe Pantalone as Mayor of Toronto.

endorsingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


George Smitherman Is Kicking Asses And Taking Names Later

February 5, 2010

Just when I started to think that George Smitherman had dropped out of the race to be the next mayor of Toronto, he’s popped back up into view, spitting, snarling and feisty. Embracing his Furious George, bully boy image (“If my bureaucracy basically shot me the finger,” Mr. Smitherman said [in a Globe and Mail interview], “well, I’ll let my reputation speak for itself…”), Smitherman promises to apply his trademark bulldog style to deal with the city’s woeful finances and the uppity bureaucracy that, apparently, is all that stands in the way of a brighter, fiscally rosier future for Toronto.

Now maybe George is simply over-compensating for what has been perceived as a tepid campaign performance so far. As the big name, front runner he’s been adhering to the rule of saying nothing and doing even less in order to not be dragged into the fray so early on. But as an insider on the Barbara Hall 2003 campaign flame out (she too was the early frontrunner) perhaps George does not want to see history repeat itself.

So we have George Smitherman channeling his inner Howard Beale. Mad as hell, George isn’t going to take it anymore. As mayor, he’s vowed to get tough, knock some heads and make sure that the TTC trains start running on time. How’s that for a deliberate evocation of a catch phrase in order to conjure up images of ruthless, fascist efficiency?

Still, as the perceived centrist candidate George can’t step on too many toes. He has to garner some support from the right and some from the left to be able to piece together a winning combination. So there’s a bit of a whirling dervish quality to Smitherman’s strikes; not so much surgical as they are erratically tactical.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than in his pronouncements about getting City Hall’s fiscal house in order. Aside from whipping the TTC, civil servants and their departments into shape, George has openly mulled over the idea of things like road tolls while also circling some taxes he’d like to cut. Apparently, the municipal land transfer tax is one that Smitherman can live with but vehicle registration tax.. ? Well, that was the proverbial straw “… that broke the camel’s back,” Smitherman told the National Post, “and elicits from so many people this feeling that they have been nickel and dimed…”

Nickel and dimed?!

Maybe someone should tell the former deputy premier of Ontario that while he was in the inner sanctum of Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, they passed this little thing called City Bill 53 Stronger City of Toronto for a Stronger Ontario Act. In case George never got around to reading it, the bill contains some elements that broaden, ever so slightly, Toronto’s ability to raise revenue through various taxation powers. Revenue needed to plug the huge financial gaps created almost exclusively by senior levels of government who have, for the better part of a couple decades now, more than nickeled and dimed municipalities to the point of insolvency.

Thus grudgingly, the city ultimately got around to instituting land transfer and vehicle registration taxes. Now George wants to rescind one of them while trying to bring about some fiscal sanity. How? Well, that kind of information’s just going to have to wait until later in the campaign. When George is able to get a better sense of which way the political winds are a-blowing. For now, it’s all about attacking, attacking, attacking and painting a dystopic picture of a city that he alone can ride into and straighten out.

We all know and can list off what’s wrong with the city, George. Being mad as hell is the easy part. How you propose to fix it all is the thing that we’re waiting to hear from you.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr