We Have Enough

March 12, 2014

“We have enough.”

And with that, Mayor Rob Ford solved the city’s inequality and social disparity. werefinethankyouJust like that. Just three words. We have enough.

The mayor was speaking about the city staff’s report on expanding what used to be referred to as Priority Neighbourhoods and now re-dubbed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. If OK’d by city council, they’d also grow in number from the current 13 to 31. In short, it means increased investment directed at neighbourhoods, targeting various social, economic and infrastructure factors that contribute (or don’t, as the case may be) to inequities throughout the city.

Of course, the mayor was having none of it. Priorities neighbourhoods are where you go to campaign and show that you’re always looking out for the little guy. As an elected official you don’t actually try and solve any of the problems. That’s what the private sector’s for. Government is just there, to sit back, stay out of the way and keep taxes low.

While Mayor Ford is the poster child on city council for this way of thinking, he’s far from alone. offendedMore than a few of his low tax, no spend colleagues represent wards in which these priority neighbourhoods are located and they resent the designation, believing it discourages investment because, I guess, business types don’t care for the poors. Way back in the early days of the Ford administration Matt Elliott summarized the move by the likes of councillors Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziati to try and rid their wards of the stigma of neediness designated by such a distasteful moniker.

End inequality by renaming it.

Even doing that, however, hasn’t placated Mayor Ford. Despite staff’s best intention to make their findings more thorough and robust, more inclusive to the hurdles people face living and working in this city, he shrugs it off in three easy-to-remember words. For him, calling it something else only expanded the numbers, made the problems seem worse.

What he refuses to accept, what every adherent to his low tax, spending not a revenue problem political philosophy refuses to accept is that it is this very approach that has exacerbated the problems. everythingsgreatChronic underfunding in both hard and soft services that go toward enhancing everyone’s ability to make the most of the opportunities available to them living in this city – from transit to housing, parks to daycare – have created the unhealthy and insecure situations giving rise to our ballooning priority neighbourhoods. There is no other alternative.

We’ve gone through the pretty much useless exercise of finding efficiencies that helped sweep Ford into power. Take whatever number he wants to throw at you as the number he’s saved while mayor, $400 million, a billion, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to tap. It’s done. No more juice to squeeze.

Don’t believe me? Ask the fiscal hawk of a city manager who’s obediently followed the mayor’s instruction to stop the gravy train. “I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services,” Joe Pennachetti said in December. While some of us would argue services and programs have already been more than impacted, the statement still stands. We’ve gone as far as we can down this ruinous route of penny-pinching and cheapening of our civic life.

The complaint often heard during Rob Ford’s mayoral run in 2010 was that with all the spending going on under then mayor David Miller (who, it should be noted from the above article, Mr. Pennachetti applauded for beginning the fiscal reforms at City Hall) there was little to show for it. everythingsfineUntrue on a number of points especially with substantial increases in transit services to name one, it was entirely ridiculous to think that 7 years of increased spending was going to immediately reverse decades of under-spending. The first 3 years of property tax freezes under Mel Lastman. The actual costs of amalgamation and provincial downloading. Transformation was not going to happen overnight.

Not to mention the history of low tax and pay-as-you-go services and programs pursued by many of the former municipalities making up Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Now, I know there are multiple factors at play here. The concentration of wealth and businesses in the downtown core. A certain continued disregard emanating from there outward to the city’s perceived hinterlands.

newpriorityneighbourhoods

But look at the map. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the former priority neighbourhoods and many of the new additional Neighbourhood Improvement Areas sit in those former municipalities. Etobicoke, Scarborough, York. Traditional home to many of the city’s most anti-tax, small government zealots. Such zealotry continues to be represented on city council today.

The mayor, his brother, the afore-mentioned trio of Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziata. Throw in the budget chief, Frank Di Giorgio. The former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Budget Committee members, councillors Gary Crawford and Ron Moeser.goodtothelastdrop

Councillor James Pasternak, also a member of the Budget Committee and fiscal hawk, bemoaned the loss of a priority neighbourhood, Westminster-Branson, in his ward in the new configuration. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

Yeah well, Councillor Pasternak. Maybe you should’ve thought about that when you fought to keep our property taxes low, tossed out the vehicle registration tax, put money toward a totally unnecessary subway. Didn’t you ask for a report exploring the possibility of reducing the Land Transfer Tax, another source of city revenue, next year?

So here we are, with the lowest property tax rate in the GTA, under-utilized and always under threat sources of possible revenue, staring at huge infrastructure needs and growing segments of the city woefully under-serviced, isolated and alienated. miserlyWe’ve tried scaling back our efforts and investment in the hopes of somehow, miraculously, turning things around. We haven’t and we won’t until we accept the fact and responsibility that improvement in our city’s physical environment and quality of life doesn’t just happen, doesn’t come for free or even on the cheap.

We have enough? How about, We’ve had enough? Respect for Taxpayers was a real nice, catchy slogan but it’s done fuck all for an increasing number of residents of this city. It’s time to stop pretending and accepting responsibility to make things better for all of us, not just some of us.

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They’ve Got A Committee For That?

June 27, 2013

Early on at yesterday’s Community Development and Recreation Committee meeting, it dawned on me that I wasn’t really that interested in people. realitytvSure, in the abstract, I spend my time thinking about things like transit and budgeting in a (hopefully) people friendly manner but the nuts and bolts of their daily lives? That’s what reality TV’s for. To watch the mundane aspects of real life without actually having to experience it.

Apparently it is an indifference I share with Mayor Ford because the Community Development and Recreation Committee whose task it is to oversee “social cohesion, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations to strengthen services to communities and neighbourhoods” may be the most non-Fordian of any of the city’s standing committees. The makeup skews centre to left. Former chair, Councillor Jaye Robinson, was perhaps the most natural ally of the mayor’s and he turfed her because of her outspoken stance on his alleged crack use.

Social cohesion and strengthened services to communities and neighbourhoods is stuff the mayor is prepared to leave up to the lefties on council to sort out. sandboxOr, more to the point, stuff he can quash at the Budget or Executive Committees. From his perspective, it’s easy to see CDR as the sandbox he sends the usual suspects off to play in.

Which translates into a very amicable and constructive atmosphere in the committee room. With no vendetta seeking animosity brought to the table by any of the mayor’s remaining allies, the meeting represented the complete antithesis of the dysfunction normally on display at the higher profile meetings like council, budget, public works and infrastructure. Hell, the mayor’s own hand-picked Executive Committee has become more strained and combative than Community Development and Rec.

That’s not to say everything was roses.passthebuck

There’s clearly a shit storm brewing with the continued roll out of full-day kindergarten and the question of before and after school child care. It pits three entities – Queen’s Park, the school boards and the city – against one another with the latter holding the bag when the inevitable shortages appear. The big question is who’s going to provide child care for the newly minted kindergarteners before and after class. Licensed child care businesses were led to believe the schools would, so adjusted their staffing and facilities to reflect that. Many of the schools have not taken up the task. The province just shrugs. Community Development and Rec committee members scramble to figure out how to fill in the void.

Another agenda item, the Toronto Youth Equity Framework is an ongoing part and parcel of “…the development of a Toronto youth equity strategy”, undertaken after the 2008 Review of the Roots of Youth Violence report from Roy McMurty and Alvin Curling, and the provincial Ontario Youth Action Plan that came in response to a couple high profile shootings in Toronto last year. You know, the low hanging fruit our elected officials can easily strike off their To Do list. sweptundertherugInequality. Discrimination. Exclusion.

I will grant Mayor Ford this. He isn’t the first politician to place such matters on the back burner of their administration although few have been as open in their disinterest as this one. There’s not a whole lot of political capital to be gained dealing with issues like poverty and racism especially when you get elected vowing to rein in spending. The axe tends to fall easily on the disenfranchised if it saves the hard-working taxpayers a buck or two.

So the workings of the Community Development and Recreation committee feel like a slog. The type of business only the likes of Councillor Janet Davis could love. Seemingly intractable problems moving in imperceptible slow-motion. Troubles mount quickly. Solutions appear stingily.

There are no easy wins and the steps needed to set things on the right course invariably cost money. That’s a formula to strike fear in the hearts of any but the most intrepid of politicians. The weight of the status quo hangs heavy over the Community Development and Recreation committee.

Councillors taking on this work deserve the utmost respect from us. When all is said and done, they are the faces of the city at ground level, rollingrockdoing the grunt work while lacking the necessary control over the factors that influence what comes before them. It was Queen’s Park who made the decision to institute full-day kindergarten but the implications of it fall on the desk in front of the members of CDR committee.

Judging from the tone of Wednesday’s meeting, they do so with a certain resolve, grace and equanimity. It just so happened to be Councillor Anthony Perruzza’s first meeting as chair and, despite the fact I still question his decision to take the position that pushed aside the last female member of the mayor’s Executive Committee, I thought he did a good job. He was solicitous with all the deputants, accommodating with both visiting councillors and the members of the committee. There was no bombastic oratory. Disappointing to those of us who are a little partial to his bombastic oratory.

Once again, I was left with the feeling that the dysfunction ascribed to City Hall currently flares up only when the mayor or his brother or Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong gets involved. For the most part, at most committee levels work is getting done. Councillors do get along. The business of the city is proceeding apace.

keepcalmandrollupyoursleeves

It just doesn’t make for an immediately compelling story.

applaudingly submitted by Cityslikr


Here’s To You, Councillor Robinson

February 21, 2013

Hopefully Councillor Jaye Robinson wasn’t looking to keep her low profile at City Hall intact. To use some mixed football terminology, Mayor Ford has handed the homelessness ball off to her, called a timeout and left the field to enjoy the halftime show. forrestgumpRun, Robinson! Run!

Only the most obdurate ally of the mayor, at this point, refuses to acknowledge that there may be some question about the numbers city staff is giving in terms of shelter space and beds available to the people living on our streets. The official line is everything’s OK, hunky dory. The supply meets the demand for anyone needing a place to stay. Those using and working in the shelter system disagree. They’ve declared an emergency and point to 8 dead bodies in 2013 as proof.

How to get to the bottom of this quandary? Yesterday twenty-three councillors voted to debate the matter, to get city staff to show that their numbers are valid and that the city is doing all that it can to provide shelter to those who need it. Now. When weather conditions are at their most unforgiving. The mayor and twenty other councillors including Councillor Robinson, believe everything is fine and that the matter will be handled all in due time at next month’s Community Development and Recreation Committee meeting.

Respect the process, people. Mayor Ford is all about respecting the process.

That argument was persuasive, at least coming from Robinson who is the chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee. stifledebateMore palatable certainly than Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong waving around staff numbers and accusing their colleagues of crying wolf. Or Councillor Doug Ford’s insisting that the real problem with people out on the street was that they didn’t want to use the shelters. So what could we possibly do about it?

So debate done. A two-thirds majority was not achieved. Everybody, as you were. We’ll talk again in March. Fingers crossed no one else dies in the cold and inclement weather between now and then.

Having provided cover for the mayor on the matter, Councillor Robinson must now realize this is all on her plate. Mayor Ford has washed his hands of it and will continue to tout the numbers he likes in order to maintain everything’s being taken care of, nothing he’s done with the budget (the best budget ever in the city of Toronto) has adversely affected shelters or people living on the streets. His conscience is clean.

But if he’s not right. If with further digging, it’s discovered there is a discrepancy. hotpotatoIf city staff numbers don’t ultimately match up with the facts on the ground, Mayor Ford will shrug and say he only proceeded using the information he was given, so he can hardly be held accountable. What was everybody on the Community Development and Recreation Committee doing? Were they asleep at the wheel?

By managing to quash the emergency debate yesterday, the mayor has put this matter behind him. He was never a big fan of dealing with the homeless and shelters anyway. Ultimately, his core constituency doesn’t have a problem with that. I’m not sure Councillor Robinson has that luxury.

While she helped spearhead the derailment of the mayor’s brother’s Port Lands plans nearly 18 months ago, Councillor Robinson has otherwise quietly stick-handled playing along with Team Ford. She is the remaining female face on his Executive Committee and votes less often along party lines on key issues than any of the other committee members. tworocksSuch independence is going to be put to the test while in the spotlight of a very hot button topic.

In her role as CDR Committee chair, Councillor Robinson is going to have to challenge city staff to show that their data on shelter space and beds is robust without Mayor Ford having her back. He will hold tight onto the numbers we’re being given now because they back his claim that all is well and good. Councillor Robinson will be driving full on into a solid wall of resistance while being pursued by a whole truckload of denial wanting to hear only one answer.

Her reputation as a nonpartisan member of council is at stake. If the information coming from city staff is what they say it is now, Councillor Robinson should walk away unscathed. If there’s any sort of suggestion that all is not what we’re being told, she’s going to have some difficult decisions ahead, starting with a mayor not wanting to hear what she’ll need to say.

But it’s a position she put herself in by standing up and arguing against having a council debate on the question. She assumed full responsibility. Going forward, Councillor Robinson will be the face of City Hall’s response to homelessness in Toronto.

jrobinsonThat’s Councillor Jaye Robinson, Ward 25 Don Valley West.

coo-coo-coo-chooly submitted by Cityslikr


Let’s Make Local Democracy Actually Democratic

February 4, 2013

We’ve all heard the defense of ‘traditional marriage’ – that between a man and a woman –made during an argument against same sex marriage. hughhefnerThe one about how the latter will ‘undermine’, ‘diminish’, ‘make mockery of’ the former. As if up until recently, traditional marriage had been some rock solid institution, a sacred bond that those who entered into it never undermined or diminished. Only serious practitioners of the heterosexual persuasion like Hugh Hefner could uphold its honour.

A similar line of reasoning seems to be at work in the debate over extending the right to vote in municipal elections to permanent residents. (Steve Paikin runs it up the flagpole in an excellent 2010 session with Desmond Cole on the subject.) Somehow allowing non-citizens to vote at the local level will cheapen the act for the slim majority who exercise their franchise at the best of times during a municipal campaign. castaballotChoosing not to vote should be the privileged right of citizens and citizens only.

While no one would argue that the right to vote is the bedrock of any democracy, to maintain that it should be the sole entitlement for those holding citizenship suggests that it is the only determinant to a democracy. As if democracy is synonymous with voting. If someone wants to be a part of our democracy, they only can do so upon getting their citizenship.

But democracy is so much more than that or, at least, it should be. Voting is a small albeit vital component of the process, something that happens, more or less, every four years. Democracy is a larger, daily commitment.

And the flipside of that would be citizenship is more than simply the ability to vote in elections. So to argue that somehow conferring the right to vote on permanent residents diminishes citizenship rings hollow for me. Citizenship, like marriage, is an institutional designation and what you do under its banner will determine the quality of it, won’t it? If voting is contingent on being a citizen, does deciding not to vote when that right has been bestowed upon you call into question your citizenship?

I’ll grudgingly accept the assertion that only citizens should be allowed to vote at the federal level although I’m not entirely convinced as to why. But at both other levels of government, I can’t think of a reason why that should be the case. engageenableenpowerIf someone has chosen to live in a particular locality that is, ultimately, overseen by a provincial government, the argument escapes me that they should be allowed to vote for their representation only after they’ve become citizens.

Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a group of people who’ve already indicated their keenness to be part of the community by becoming permanent residents. So pick a standard. A six month residency requirement? A year? During which time, a permanent resident is paying taxes, using amenities supported by those tax dollars, sending their children to schools or going to school themselves. Once they meet the time line, why not allow them to have a say in who’s making the decisions that affect their lives? How does allowing them to do so in any way diminish the notion of a wider citizenship?

I’d like to think of voting as something of a citizenship starter kit. An introduction to how shit works here. Your opinions and views matter as much as your tax dollars to the proper running of this place. kinggeorgeOne stake, a very important stake, in a functioning democracy.

It’s also possible that extending the vote to permanent residents might make politicians more aware, let’s call it, of the pressing issues newcomers face. If there are areas of a city, say, with high concentrations of permanent residents unable to cast a ballot, just how much attention will their local representatives pay to them. Taxation without representation and all that.

Back in 2006, then mayor David Miller attempted to put this debate on the front burner. The Community Development and Recreation Committee revived it again last week with a request for a staff report on the idea. Perhaps if it were as simple as a council vote on the matter, we wouldn’t be still talking and doing nothing about it. Unfortunately, it’s just another example of how we as a city don’t control our destiny. It’s a matter that Queen’s Park must decided and they will only do so if we show that’s there’s enough support for the idea.

If only those who had the most to gain actually had a vote in the matter.

invitingly submitted by Cityslikr


Striking Out At Striking Committee

November 19, 2012

If anyone’s still patiently waiting for the Ford administration to get its shit together after two years at the helm, you only need to look at Friday’s events to realize that’s probably not ever going to happen. Either through sheer incompetence or simply not giving a fuck, the mayor and his… brain trust, let’s call them, seem content to simply fly by the seat of its collective pants and let the chips fall where they may. No direction. No design. No over-arching bigger picture.

No nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

As Mayor Ford took the stand to defend himself against a case of libel, his Striking Committee settled in to sort out councillor (re)assignments on council’s committees, boards and agencies for the second half of the term. How badly did it go? Well, the mayor did better in court than the Striking Committee did doing its work, and the mayor didn’t do very well. Following along with both events via the Twitter, it wouldn’t be out of line to call it all a two-pronged shit show.

Establishing councillor representation of the city’s ABCs goes a long way to determining how successfully mayors roll out their agenda. Deftly beating out the wrinkles in items and motions at the committee level smooths the ride out for them when they arrive at council meetings. Arguably, good, thorough work done at committees will help lessen the time and length of full council meetings.

Naturally, any mayor wants and should have a majority of like-minded councillors in control of the committees. At least the ones they view as important. (Take a peek at the proposed line-up of the Community Development and Recreation Committee to see what little interest the mayor has with those issues. If the committee gets too big for its britches, he can bury its motions at Executive or Budget Committees.) There has to be an upside to our semi-strong mayoral system. Committees shouldn’t be a quagmire for an administration, the places a mandate goes to die.

That said, committee make-up also needs to reflect the diversity and regional representation of Toronto. From the outset back in 2010, Mayor Ford has shrugged that obligation off, choosing instead to load up the committees he cares about with loyalty first and foremost. Nothing from Friday’s Striking Committee circus suggests he plans on anything different for the second half of his time in office.

His Executive Committee, nine of the thirteen members there “…by virtue of office or having been appointed by the Mayor as a Standing Committee Chair” and the remaining four selected as at-large members are all from the inner suburbs and only one isn’t male. Ditto the Budget Committee. Its six proposed members are all suburban and only one is female. If Councillor Mike Del Grande is re-named chair by the Executive Committee, the rigid and narrow gender, regional and ideological pattern will be reinforced.

Such flagrant disregard of even a semblance of bi-partisanship led to the Striking Committee meeting’s biggest flare up. According to tweets from the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat and Star’s David Rider, Councillor David Shiner appeared to have lost his cool with the proceedings and the mayor’s staff over moves to leave him on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and remove Councillor Gord Perks.

“At striking committee where midterm council appointments being hashed out, [Councillor] Shiner is blowing his top,” tweeted Rider. “[Councillor] Shiner now very mad at Mayor Rob Ford’s office staff,” from Peat. Peat again, “”Your boss doesn’t consult, your boss works in a vacuum. The chief of staff doesn’t consult & guess what, you don’t win like that,” from Councillor Shiner. Summarizing, David Rider tweeted, “Backstory to Shiner flipout is he was angry that mayor’s staff want to take uber-knowledgable Cllr Perks off public works.”

So a noted conservative councillor, a regular ally of Mayor Ford (plastic bag ban aside) goes all snake (to paraphrase the mayor) on the mayor’s staff and the Striking Committee process because he feels that they’ve put politics ahead of good governance by moving to replace a qualified but ideologically opposed councillor on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee with, let’s face it, nothing more than a major mayoral toady, Speaker Frances Nunziata.

And there’s poor Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday seemingly baffled by the kerfuffle.

“I would have thought someone would like the opportunity to serve on executive.” 

Why, when only the most blindly loyal need apply?

No, that’s not entirely true.

The blindly loyal, nakedly political and/or most highly delusional.

After musing out loud earlier this year about leaving the Executive Committee, Councillor Jaye Robinson will be back for another kick at the can. In replacing Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti as the chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee, she will return to the Executive Committee, the lone female representative. Councillor Michelle Berardinetti has jumped ship, citing a desire to be free of “…intense vote-whipping pressure from Ford’s staff… on even minor issues.”

For her part, Councillor Robinson still believes she can be a “moderating influence” on the Executive Committee. Just like the committee’s newest member, Councillor Josh Colle. “My hope is that I can inject some reason and ration and new ideas into some of those [Executive Committee] discussions,” he said.  “I think I can contribute to that discussion and hopefully some refocusing.”

Well, good luck to them on that front, I say. Both have, at times, been the faces of moderating influence on the Ford Administration. Councillor Robinson led the pushback to the mayor and his brother’s wacky waterfront plans while Councillor Colle announced the proposal to eliminate some proposed cuts in last year’s operating budget. But I would argue that was done at council level where there are actual allies for them to count on.

The Executive Committee?

Aside from the occasional renegade in Councillor Shiner, there’s not a single face of moderation on the committee. Maybe councillors Ainslie, Milczyn or Thompson on particular issues but even then, that’s still a minority in the room. So why would either Colle or Robinson want to waste their time and energy trying to roll that rock up the hill?

If anything, the messy, partisan cock up at Friday’s Striking Committee session should only have emphasized to them that Team Ford remains in highly immoderate mode.

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