A Matter Of Accountability

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

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

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