Civic Engagement Is A Daily Thing

February 4, 2014

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

attributed to Horace Mann, American educational reformer, among other things.

horacemann

Point 6. (A recap of points 1-5)

We have been reduced in the democratic equation of late to two points of civic participation. Paying taxes and voting every 4 years (or whenever governments of the day deem absolutely necessary). Outside of that, it’s all, keep on moving, folks. Nothing to see here.

Just such an attitude has been on ample display in Toronto since 2010 where all we’ve heard about is the ‘mandate’. Through divisive service and programs cuts and subway debates to crack and drunken stupor scandals, we’ve been told a certain someone was given a mandate. You can’t challenge the mandate! Not until the next election. nowrunalongDecisions are only made at election time. You don’t like what’s going on in the interim? Vote your displeasure next election.

To contest the mandate is to be a usual suspect. Some sort of elitist, still bitter over losing in 2010, with no job and lots of free time to hang around City Hall, getting all snarky. Hard working tax payers know their place when it comes to governance. In the polling booth. Every 4 years.

If I’m trying to be even-handed here, such disengagement is not specific to this administration. Too many of us (save a band of dedicated city advocates) during the Miller era were lazy, with our heads buried or looking the other way. We assumed Toronto was in good hands and stood on the sidelines instead of pitching in and contributing. It left some of the accomplishments vulnerable to a tax-and-spend counter-attack. Exhibit A, Transit City.

In 2014, candidates need to encourage people not only to help elect them but to continue on in helping them govern once elected. peskyflyVictory (or defeat for that matter) should not end at the ballot box. What you hear in line at Tim Horton’s does not constitute civic engagement.

Much more than the other two levels of government, the municipal level offers up a grand opportunity for more hands-on involvement by city-zens with the actual running of the city they live in. Anyone who wants to can get in there, get their hands dirty with governance. Attend meetings. Make deputations. Badger your local councillor directly. Mayor Ford has said he is accessible 24/7, right?

Municipal government is where the rubber hits the road, as they say, they being people I can’t bother looking up to properly cite saying it.

Of course, much could be done to further strengthen and deepen civic engagement. There’s a grassroots movement afoot for something called participatory budgeting. Small slivers of a city’s budget portioned off to be decided upon and spent directly at the community level. “Creating a more educated platform of voters overall,” says PGP volunteer facilitator, Christine Petro. “So I think this can only be good for the big project of democracy.”

Perhaps more radical still would be an idea to empower citizens at the community council level. Give them more than simply input. getyourhandsdirtyMake people decide on and be responsible for certain local issues throughout the city. Instead of simple an advisory position make room for actual governing.

Hey, hey.

That’s what elections are for, pallie. The people decide who governs them. Then we go home, watch the Leafs and do it all over again in 4 years time. Anything more than that would be pure… chaos.

Maybe.

But even if that were the case, it would be preferable to the democratic somnolence that has crept up on the citizenry at every level of government. The trend with voter turnout continues to point downward. Disengagement smacks of disillusionment.

That void is then filled with real special interests, not the pretend ones imagined by politicians who see any opposition as undemocratic and unsavoury. Participation and engagement beyond simply voting and tax paying amounts to vigilance. No one politician should be expected to keep democracy healthy and vibrant. Nor 45 for that matter, for a city of over 2.5 million residents with a multitude of needs and opinions.fordnation

For nearly 4 years now, Toronto has been bludgeoned with this idea of a manufactured ‘Nation’ that manifested its will back in 2010 and will do so again this October if need be.

My question is, where exactly has that ‘Nation’ been when every single decision has been made affecting them, every month at every council meeting? Where are they when matters are getting hashed out at committee meetings? Where is that nation when the heavy lifting of daily governance is going on?

Politicians only looking for civic engagement every four years aren’t really comfortable with democracy. Their preference is for more of a don’t call us, we’ll call you kind of arrangement. Give us power, stand back and we’ll take it from here.

That’s not engagement so much as it is honorary ceremonial status.  The flag waver at a car race. The bottle smasher at a boat launch.

If you’re only expected to pay attention once every four years, it’s ultimately difficult to muster much enthusiasm for it.

hopefully submitted  by Cityslikr


EYCC Post Deferred

April 10, 2013

bestlaidplans

So the plan was to go up to the Etobicoke Civic Centre, take in the Etobicoke-York Community Council meeting which usually lasts a couple hours, head back downtown, drop into the Toronto-East York Community Council meeting which tends to last a little longer, come home, write up a post about them and Bob’s your uncle.

Only to find out that there was an additional evening session of the EYCC dealing with the highly contentious Mimico 20/20 development plan. So what to do? Take the hour, go back downtown for the afternoon and then head back up north, attend that meeting or I could just hang around Etobicoke for six hours, waiting…

But then…

decisionsdecisions

Sue-Ann Levy got all snippy with me about a post I’d written, called me lazy and bitter, and I thought, I’ll show Sue-Ann who’s lazy. I’ll stay up here in Etobicoke all night if I have to, working this Community Council to the bone. That’ll show Sue-Ann.

And then the evening session started, and it went on for a really long time. A really, REALLY LONG TIME. ONE DEPUTANT AFTER ANOTHER. SOME HAPPY WITH THE PLAN, OTHERS NOT AT ALL HAPPY WITH IT BUT EVERYBODY WANTING TO HAVE THEIR 5 MINUTE SAY. SEVEN O’CLOCK BECAME EIGHT O’CLOCK. EIGHT O’CLOCK BECAME NINE O’CLOCK AND THEN TIME LOST ALL MEANING AND I’M THINKING, I HAVE TO WRITE A POST ABOUT THIS BUT THE PUBLIC WORKS AND INFRASTRUCTURE COMMITTEE MEETING IS TOMORROW AND I STILL HAVE A TRIP BACK IN FROM ETOBICOKE AND THERE’S JUST NOT ENOUGH TIME TO WRITE WHAT I WANT TO WRITE HOW DO THE COUNCILLORS DO THIS ALL THE TIME AND MAYBE SUE-ANN’S RIGHT MAYBE I’M JUST LAZY AND MAYBE LORRIE GOLDSTEIN’S RIGHT AND I’M A BAD WRITER I MEAN LOOK WHAT I’M DOING RIGHT NOW GOING ALL META ON MYSELF…

meditation

So you will not get my report on the Etobicoke-York Community Council today. I’m deferring it until later in the week when the dust settles. The other committee meetings will be more manageable. Nothing contentious or of much importance ever happens at things like Public Works and Infrastructure, right?

all-consumingly submitted by Cityslikr


Just Wrapping Up Loose Ends

February 27, 2013

Yesterday I decided to take a break from our perpetual mayoral sorrow and His Worship’s latest justice dust-up governanceand spend some time catching up on the actual running of the city. Drop into a Community Council meeting maybe, witness me some day-to-day governance going on in the shadows of continued misrule. Ask the question: can a chicken really still run with its head cut off?

Entering the City Hall lobby, a sign caught my attention. Chief Planner roundtable…  Our Urban Fabric: Designing and Creating Public Places. Well, look at that, would you. And off I was, my destination changed from Committee Room #1 to Committee Room #2.

I encourage everyone who wasn’t there or didn’t follow along with the live stream to take some time and watch the proceedings. Failing that, read the agenda outline. What the city may lack in political leadership currently, it is made up for by a ferocious intelligence determined to grapple with some of the major issues we’re facing.

On the particular issue of the public realm, it was quite clear from the outset that many on the chief planner’s panel held diametrically opposed views from our administration. publicrealmThat’s not entirely fair. I mean, can anyone express the mayor’s views on the public realm in fifty words or less? Here, let me try. A football field.

The public realm is no one thing, obviously. Building design. Transportation. Green space. Planning and development. Seemingly disparate items but all serving the single notion of liveability and quality of life. Very few of those things has Mayor Ford had much to say about.

Certainly some of the views expressed by some on the panel — made up of urban planners, designers, landscape architects, civil engineers, transportation consultants, market researchers, from both the private and public sectors. And Anne Golden! – would not be those you’d be hearing from Mayor Ford and his allies. According to the city’s General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley, his department is “no longer just about moving cars…” I says, what?! Who the hell hired this guy? Denzil! Code Red! lookingthewrongwayRogue city staff! STAT!

(One of the upsides to our mayor’s obsessive focus on every single nickel and returning residents’ phone calls could well be his disengagement with the hiring of senior city staff. Whatever influence his office has on such matters, I can only imagine his involvement in anything that doesn’t directly have to do with dollars and cents is passing at best. Can picture the hiring of Jennifer Keesmaat as chief planner going something along the lines of, Hey, she’s from the private sector! Without looking up, a silent thumbs-up from the mayor as he works his phone.)

Such a disconnect between our highest elected local official and those implementing policy cannot be maintained, of course. Eventually, they have to either coalesce into some sort of coherence or heads are going to roll. Just ask Gary Webster, for instance.

But the ball may not be in the mayor’s court this time out. Not only has he essentially lost control of the agenda at council, he’s also heading into a campaign year. While that may be his strong suit, or at least, stronger than governing, as the incumbent he might not be as free to simply tout meaningless numbers and slogans as he was in 2010. He might have to talk honest-to-god policy ideas.

During yesterday’s panel discussion, the chief planner talked at some length about value. costvalueWhat it is we place value on as residents of the city. It struck me that would be a good place to start asking our politicians as we head into the next campaign. What is it that they value?

We know with almost dead certainty how Mayor Ford would respond to that question. What do you value? Customer service and respect for the taxpayer.

But what does that mean in everyday practical terms?

Returned phone calls and low taxes? What’s the value of those?

It doesn’t deliver us much needed transit. It doesn’t rebuild aging infrastructure. It doesn’t create vibrant public spaces. Outside of our own individual satisfaction there is no value in a phone call from the mayor or not paying the level of taxes necessary to properly maintain our city.

The mayor has no sense of the value of public service. stumped1His values don’t deliver, build or create anything other than divisions, resentment and antagonism.

After Mayor Ford escaped unscathed from the Compliance Audit Committee on Monday, Matt Elliott suggested it was now time for him to get back to the work of governing. “It didn’t escape my notice yesterday,” Elliott wrote, “that when Ford started to listing his mayoral accomplishments in his post-victory speech, virtually none of them came from the last six months of his term.” Sure, we can lay the blame for that on all his legal wranglings but I think the truth of the matter is that Mayor Ford has nothing else to offer because there is nothing else he really values.

Public transit is merely a nuisance to him. There’s only value in it if it’s kept underground, out of sight, out of mind. Of course he’s in favour of a casino wherever it’ll fetch the most money for city coffers and offset some of the revenue his administration has foregone in its War on Taxes.

After that, what does he value? With no values, you can’t govern. And if you can’t govern, what else is there? killingtimeCampaigning for re-election.

“I think a lot of people are already in that election mode,” the mayor told the media, “and just wrapping up a few loose ends and we’re going to be on the campaign trail.”

With about 20 months to go before the next election, Mayor Ford is ‘just wrapping up a few loose ends’. That’s what a politician with no values calls governing.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr