Our Real Democratic Deficit

August 27, 2013

To argue yesterday’s city council vote was some sort of subversion or denial of democracy is ohpleasesimply a frank admission that you haven’t really thought much about the issue past headlines and rhetoric. An appointment decided by city council is as valid a process as a by-election, according to the rules. Appointments have happened seven times previously versus two by-elections. Timing is the key, and since no firm rules are in place about that, this remains a grey area.

Initially, protocol and precedent suggested for me that a by-election to fill Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre, vacated by Doug Holyday in his winning bid for a provincial seat, was the way to go. As the staff presentation pointed out, traditionally if a ward was declared vacant before November 30th a year before the next general municipal election, a by-election was called. After that date, an appointment was made in order to avoid having two elections so close to one another.

Ward 3 was declared vacant yesterday, August 26th. So, a by-election it should be. questionsThat was my opinion going into the council meeting.

But it was Councillor Chin Lee who threw a little wrinkle into the proceedings. During his questions to the staff, he pointed out that the city hasn’t faced this situation since moving to a four year term. All the protocol and precedent was based on three years terms. A one year appointment was 33% of the total term. One third of council and committee meetings.

Now? A one year appointment is 25% of the term. If a by-election had been voted on, the new councillor would’ve been present for 8 council meetings. That’s about 16% of the 2010-2014 term council meetings (including the additional special meetings called).

Things aren’t so clear cut, are they?unsure

Still, I would’ve been happy to see a by-election called with the promise to re-visit this matter again in order to recalibrate the parameters for a four year council term. But I’ll leave it to the likes of Councillor Lee to explain the outcome of the vote to any outraged voters. I’m just going to revel in witnessing the appointment process, especially since the likes of former mayoral candidate John Nunziata and former Harris cabinet minister and Doug Ford Sr. bester, Chris Stockwell already expressing interest in the position.

For his part, Mayor Ford did little to help the by-election cause at yesterday’s meeting. He’d been stumping for one almost as soon as it became obvious that an Etobicoke ward was going to be open come August 1st  with two members of Toronto council vying for one provincial seat. It’s really the only thing he’s talked about over the summer.

But he wasn’t prepared to defend his preference beyond anything other than his standard slogans – You Can’t Put A Price On Democracy! – and stunt populism. The people of ward 3 want a by-election. He was simply doing their bidding, he told council over and over. democracydeniedNor would he step back from a hands-on involvement in the by-election if one was called, fueling speculation that this was simply about him getting his election chops in fighting shape for 2014.

Unsurprisingly, the mayor displayed a complete lack of sway in the outcome of the vote.

The easy explanation is that he didn’t really care how the vote went. A vote for a by-election would be trumpeted as a victory for him democracy no, for him democracy. A loss, and council appointing a councillor for ward 3? Just a cudgel he could use during his official re-election campaign next year to beat the drum about the dysfunctional council undermining him and the democratic will of the people. bullhornVote Ford and more Ford friendly councillors so the mayor can really get the job done!

At no time yesterday did you get the sense the mayor’s staff was working the room for votes. There appeared to be no behind the scenes arm-twisting or horse-trading. As I noted last week, aside from a couple official appearances and the community meeting he called about this issue, Mayor Ford was largely absent, certainly not stalking the corridors of City Hall in an attempt to win the vote at special meeting he himself called to deal with this matter.

Maybe that’s also because Mayor Ford has simply lost any ability whatsoever to influence council. He’s become a lame duck, in other words, with more than a year still to go in his first term. He bellows. The majority of councillors (comprising every point on the political spectrum, left-right, suburban-downtown) just shrug. There is no need to fear or even listen to him anymore.

shrugThink about that for a second.

A mayor calls a special meeting of city council to deal with a key item he seems to hold especially dear and doesn’t come close to winning the vote?

He either doesn’t care or is singularly inept at doing his job.

That’s really the take-away from council’s decision to appoint a successor to Doug Holyday in ward 3 rather than hold a by-election. “The worst thing for democracy”? How about a complete abandonment of leadership by the city’s elected leader.

alternatively submitted by Cityslikr


On A Need To Know Basis

January 14, 2013

I don’t think it much hyperbole to suggest that budgeting is the most important aspect of governance, especially so at the municipal level. alookatthebudgetIt pretty much determines a city’s quality of life. The number of police and firefighters on the street. The state of good repair for important pieces of infrastructure. How many people will die on the streets in any given year.

The budgets here in Toronto are complex and complicated, no question. It just sort of comes with the territory when the annual operating budget comes in and around $10 billion and the capital at roughly $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of moolah that needs to be found and services that need to be funded adequately.

So it’s curious to me when councillors fail to reach out to their constituents in any meaningful way during the lead up to the council budget debate and vote. Hey, everyone. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s how I’m going to vote. Any questions? Concerns? Opinions as to what you think is and isn’t important?

Running down the list compiled earlier this month by Social Planning Toronto shows that less than half of our councillors organized any sort of budget forum for their constituents although that may’ve changed in the last few days. (We are happy to be corrected and updated to any omissions we make.) publicconsultationsAm I over-reacting to think there’s something wrong and neglectful about that?

By my estimation, some twenty of the councillors I’d expect to vote along the fiscal lines of Mayor Ford (yes, I’m including Councillor Karen Stintz in that group) had no public consultation on the budget process. There were six councillors on the other side of the political fence who didn’t although I’ll give Councillor Joe Mihevc a pass on his ‘maybe’ as he doesn’t seem averse to public consultations. And I’ve thrown Councillor Raymond Cho into the latter category despite having no idea where he’s going to come down on budget votes since seeking the provincial Progressive Conservative nomination in the next election.

Now, I could rush to the ideological conclusion that right wing politicians, once in office, don’t care to fraternize with the hoi polloi. Don’t bug me in between elections, folks. We’ll talk again in 2014.

But I won’t. Let’s just chalk that discrepancy up to the nature of being in power versus not. This is Mayor Ford and his supporters’ budget. They don’t need to consult the public’s opinions or fully inform them because a ‘mandate’ is why. shhhI’m sure the roles were reversed back in the day David Miller was in power.

But what I will note is the urban-suburban, geographic divide.

In Scarborough, only Councillor Chin Lee held a budget town hall. Councillor Gary Crawford was planning on attending one while also offering to meet up with groups at City Hall. Up in North York, 4 councillors either held formal sessions or met in for smaller budget get-togethers. In York, Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette was alone in holding a public meeting. None of the elected representatives in Etobicoke deigned to put together a budget town hall for their constituents.

In fact, in Ward 6, Councillor Mark Grimes declined to attend last week’s community organized budget session. Why? Your guess is as good as mine if you read through a statement he issued.

patronizing“Every year the capital and operating Budget seems to be the most contentious issue we deal with at City Hall,” he said.

“It’s difficult to comment on any one item without looking at its context as part of the whole. I’ve been gathering feedback from around the ward, meeting with city staff and I’m looking forward to the (budget) meeting. There is going to have to be a give and take from all sides of the debate, but I think at the end of the day we’ll find ourselves with a budget everyone can be proud of.”

It seems Councillor Grimes believes the budget’s too ‘contentious’ to be discussed in a public forum outside of a city council meeting. Leave the ‘give and take’ up to the councillors, folks. That’s what they’re elected to do. You can’t possibly expect a councillor to give any sort of budgetary context in just two or three hours, am I right? Next thing you know, people’ll be standing up on chairs and the like.

Meanwhile downtown, in the former cities of Toronto and East York, only the above mentioned Councillor Joe Mihevc and Councillor Paula Fletcher didn’t hold public budget sessions (again, all this is subject to updates and corrections). Setting aside the left-right politics for the moment, it shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice the wildly divergent degrees of engagement based on location. letmefinishThe broad strokes suggest politicians in the core engage with their constituents. Those in the suburbs don’t.

Which leads me to ask one very pertinent question.

When we talk of political alienation as a part of the rise of what we once referred to as Ford Nation – suburbanites being left out of the conversation, neglected, ignored – should we really be pointing the finger at out-of-touch, downtown elitists? Overwhelmingly it seems councillors from the suburbs failed to consult their own constituents on such an integral matter as the budget. Perhaps political disengagement begins much closer to home.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr


The Caretaker

November 29, 2012

Through the window of the cafe in City Hall I spotted Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday standing out in the lunchtime chill in Nathan Phillips Square, patiently being interviewed by a television crew. Since the announcement of Judge Charles Hackland’s ruling in the mayor’s conflict of interest case, the deputy mayor has become the de facto face of the administration, issuing stay calm and proceed alerts as the city deals with an official leadership vacuum for the next couple months or so.  Not Winston Churchill in the face of the blitz but still, strangely assuring.

I have an oddly dichotomous opinion of the councillor from and last mayor of Etobicoke. In person whenever we cross paths, he is extremely courteous and gracious, always nods and exchanges greetings with me. I’m fairly certain he has no idea who I am, what I do or why I’m always hanging around his place of work. But I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t matter if he did. Colleagues of mine who have regular dealings with him and share more of my politics than his tell me the deputy mayor always makes himself available and is gentlemanly and cordial.

But then there is the Grandpa Simpson side of Doug Holyday that makes regular appearances on council floor or in a committee room during heated exchanges. Little Ginny. Remember her? That poor neglected child raised by negligent parents in a downtown high rise, destined to die an early death when she’s relegated to playing in the traffic or shoots off the slide on her roof top playground and plunges 95 stories to a bloodied splat on the ground below.

Why, just this week, under pointed questioning from Councillor Janet Davis about the uniformly male, uniformly suburban make up of the members of the mayor’s two most powerful committees, Executive and Budget, going forward in the terms second half. Look, the deputy mayor responded, he’d welcome more downtown councillors, would love to have more women on the team, if only they could get with the program and set aside any independent thinking.  When asked what his problem with entertaining more diverse opinions and views, he seemed nonplussed. Because… because DAVID MILLER! because BRIAN ASHTON! BRIAN ASHTON!!

In no way, shape or form could the deputy mayor be mistaken as anything other than a hardcore, fiscal conservative. No Red Tory is he. But it does seem that he is a more realistic assessor of the political situation in front of him. You don’t spend 125 years in politics, even politics in Etobicoke, and not know how to adapt to a change in the winds.

This is why I put forward the proposal that if Mayor Ford is really and truly put out to pasture, if his appeal in January to overturn Judge Hackland’s ruling falls upon deaf ears, that instead of plunging into a distracting and noisy by-election, city council designate the deputy mayor the actual mayor for the remainder of the current turn.

Believe me, this goes against every retributive instinct in my body. That scorched earth inclination to raze everything and anything reminiscent of Rob Ford’s time in office. A Northerner demands the South’s destruction not reconstruction.

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Allow cooler heads to prevail.

Hear me out (and forgive me if any or all of the following suggestions contravene any statute of the City Of Toronto Act. I have not read it in its entirety. You see, back in the 1990s, my daddy was…)

There would be some serious stipulations in appointing Doug Holyday mayor. First, he could not run for re-election in 2014, using this appointment as a high profile platform. He might even consider this his municipal politics swan song.

Second, no coaching football or any equivalent activity to occupy his afternoons. Keep those crazy Kiwanis meetings to non-council meeting evenings, sir.

Third, a Mayor Holyday would remove Councillor Frances Nunziata from the Speaker’s chair, replacing her with the current deputy speaker, John Parker. Going forward, it’s important to restore a tone of civility and decorum during council meetings. Councillor Nunziata has proven herself incapable of providing such an environment during her tenure in the chair.

Next, a Mayor Holyday must share the job with council of completely overhauling the Striking Committee, appointing new members not because of their ideological loyalty but to reflect the diversity of council makeup.  In turn, such a Striking Committee would consider other committee appointments based on the same principle of diversity and inclusion. To try and lessen the whole us-versus-them mentality that has laid siege to City Hall.

On many of the committees, I don’t think there’d be the need for major renovations. A tweak here and there. Maybe flip a vice-chair to chair to bring a more bipartisan look to the Executive Committee. Say, a Councillor Chin Lee or Gloria Lindsay Luby replacing Councillor Cesar Palacio as Chair of the Licensing and Standards Committee. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon takes over for Councillor Norm Kelly as Chair of the Parks and Environment Committee.

There would be two deal-breaking change of appointments before Doug Holyday could take over as mayor. Both Councillor Mike Del Grande and Denzil Minnan-Wong must be relieved of duty from their respective committees. Along with Speaker Frances Nunziata, they are the most non-Ford divisive and destructive forces at council right now. To go forward with any hope of a constructive 2nd half of the term, these two – the Stadler and Waldorf of Toronto politics – must be relegated to where they belong. The backbenches of braying opposition where they’re only allowed to make noise and not a mess.

The final stipulation for a Mayor Holyday would the necessity of appointing a deputy mayor that was his polar opposite in political view, geography, gender and/or ethnicity. While I love the idea of a Deputy Mayor Janet Davis in a Mayor Doug Holyday regime, I think it would be ultimately unworkable, a sitcom in and of itself. So, how about a Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell? Yes, occasionally a Mayor Holyday’s head would explode in righteous indignation but, let’s be honest here. That’s going to happen regardless.

While the idea of such an unorthodox arrangement might run contrary to everything the straight-laced Holyday stands for, I think he could look upon this as his final and finest contribution to a long if not entirely distinguished career in public service. He could be the one who rose above partisan rancour to help heal the rift of a city divided. A grandfatherly figure dampening the heightened emotions of his unruly brood. Wisdom besting acrimony. Good will trumping ill.

And by reaching out this way, appointing the deputy mayor mayor, those currently in opposition in council would accomplish two things. The administration of a Mayor Holyday would be a tough one for Rob Ford or his brother to rail against during  their 2 years in exile. The inevitable campaign to recapture the mayoralty would lack satisfying target to shoot at.

The move would also acknowledge that the voters’ will from 2010 is not being denied. Doug Holyday was Rob Ford’s choice for deputy Mayor. By making him Ford’s replacement, there is some continuity, a peace offering.

If nothing else, what Toronto needs at this point is a little peace.

honest brokerly submitted by Cityslikr


Friend And Foe

March 28, 2012

When Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto his council critics, opponents, arch nemeses were easy to spot. Hello Councillor Adam Vaughan! The whiny, scheming two steps left of Stalin led by the likes of councillors Janet Davis and Gord Perks. As former mayor David Miller’s 2nd budget chief, Councillor Shelley Carroll was made the symbol of everything tax-and-spendy.

This was the division Ford exploited on the campaign trail and what he pursued during his first year as mayor. Taxpayers versus trough feeders. The reasonable right wing versus the loony left. Etc., etc. etc.

But 16 months into things and the mayor’s aim has become scattershot, a growing number of fellow conservatives taking on friendly fire. His decade long feud with Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby got openly nasty during last week’s Sheppard subway/LRT vote with both brother councillor Doug and Speaker/ toady Frances Nunziata piling onto the fray. Chin Lee, a moderate right of centre councillor from the mayor’s beloved Scarborough has openly drifted from the Ford camp in a manner that suggests it would be very, very difficult for them to lure him back any time soon.

And of course there’s the case of TTC Chair Karen Stintz. A very well established anti-Millerite and solid Team Ford player until just recently, the councillor did Mayor Ford’s bidding by dutifully cutting 10% from this year’s TTC budget and axing service correspondingly. She stood tall for the mayor in the face of the moderate pushback to claim $19 million back in 2012 the budget. In no way could she be considered anything but a good soldier.

Until, that is, the Great Transit Takeback when the TTC Chair led a group of moderate conservative, centrist and left wing councillors to assume control of the transit file. Then it’s all Turncoat/Streetcar Stintz who stabbed the mayor in the back, suddenly becoming a leftie in the process. While Councillor Stintz has been very temperate in her reaction to the hurled invective, saying that transit was a one-time issue and there’d be no problem working with the mayor on other matters, it’s hard to imagine how. I mean, how do you continue working with someone who turns nasty and petulant anytime there’s a disagreement? That isn’t what I’d call a positive work environment.

Now the mayor and his brother have turned their sights on Councillor John Parker. During their radio show musings about running a slate of candidates in the next municipal that better reflect Mayor Ford’s political leanings and do his bidding, the mayor openly praised Parker’s opponent in the 2010 election, an election determined by just 415 votes. (The councillor won his ward for the first time in 2006 by just over 200 votes). “They [Parker and Kristyn Wong-Tam’s opponent] ran — they came very close seconds — but these are the type of people, we have to get them on council,” Ford said.

Folks (if I can borrow some Ford vernacular), I don’t see a winning strategy with this. Pitting conservatives against even more conservatives? Isn’t that what they call, splitting the vote?

Not to mention that with still more than two and a half years to go until the next election, doesn’t this just help forge further the growing alliance between moderate conservatives and centrists, a substantial voting bloc at council? I know there’s been much talk about Mayor Ford in campaign mode, going rogue and running for re-election on his lone wolf ticket but what if council gets into the groove of running things smoothly without him? If in 2014, voters see the mayor only for his bullying, his intransigence? That’s a real leap of faith hoping enough voters are looking for those qualities in a mayor.

Besides, even I who have little politically in common with the likes of Councillor Parker are siding with him in this battle. Yes, we’re uncomfortable with his Mike Harris Progressive Conservative connections and the damage he helped inflict on this city. We largely abhor his fiscal policies and his regular evoking of Greece and the fate that awaits us if we don’t cut, cut, cut. And he joined in on the slime fest by sandbagging Councillor Wong-Tam with the move to tear up the Jarvis Street bike lanes in Public Works and Infrastructure committee,

But in terms of preference to the full on Ford way? No contest. Councillor Parker seems like a decent enough fellow, no willful dummy. He’s quietly funny, much of the time in a self-deprecating way.

Not actually Paul Ainslie

Hell, in the face of a Ford-friendly foe, I might go to work for the councillor to get him re-elected. Ditto Councillor Lindsay Luby.

That’s a kind of consensus that couldn’t possibly be helpful for Mayor Ford’s re-election chances. The left and the right, setting aside their differences to unite around a common foe, the mayor of Toronto. Send up the evil genius signal! Calling Nick Kouvalis! Calling Nick Kouvalis!

Like the TTC chair, Councillor Parker is trying to make nice with the mayor and put all this negativity behind them. Calling the Mayor Ford ‘a man of great passions’, the councillor confessed that he didn’t “…think it is ever going to be a quilting bee around here. We need to keep focused on the job we are here to do.”

Noble words, nobly stated. And if the councillor truly wants to focus on the job he elected to do, might I recommend the next important step in that direction? Ridding the council of its current speaker and replacing her with the deputy speaker, John Parker. Where she brings nothing but shrill partisanship, he is all calm and courteous. Speaker Nunziata wears the mayor’s divisiveness on her sleeve, prone to escalate tensions rather than lessen them. If council is really determined to get on with the business of governing, there’d be no better start than to divest itself of the worst excesses of Mayor Ford’s bid to politicize everything.

Replacing Speaker Nunziata would be a sign that while the mayor operates only in terms of electioneering, two-thirds of councillors are capable of putting Toronto’s interests before their own and getting on with the business of running the city.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Dreaming Of A True Ford Nation

March 26, 2012

Hey.

Did everybody see that? At the NDP federal leadership convention this weekend, councillors Karen Stintz and John Parker, locked arm in arm, cheering the radical left crowd on, belting out Le Internationale.

Yeah, me neither. But apparently that’s exactly what Councillor Doug Ford and his brother mayor witnessed. “You’re on our side or against us,” Mayor Ford said yesterday on his radio show. “You’re on the taxpayer’s side or against them. There’s no mushy middle. It’s left or right down there.”

In what must be the most ridiculous case of repositioning ever, Team Ford is desperately trying to cast the world of municipal politics here in Toronto as a simple binary system, a black-and-white world of simplistic right-versus-left, us-versus-them. You’re either with us or you’ve been brainwashed by the vile and manipulative NDP. The mushy middle has drunk the koolaid.

Councillor Karen Stintz, a dipper. That must be news to the previous incarnation of Councillor Stintz who stood in strong opposition to former mayor David Miller. She was a chartered member of the Responsible Government Group. The other Councillor Karen Stintz speaking out passionately if misguidedly against a motion to reclaim about $19 million in service and program cuts in the 2012 budget.

And former Progressive Conservative MPP and Mike Harris backbencher, Councillor John Parker. Another member of the anti-David Miller Responsible Government Group, now suddenly a left leaning councillor, his blue hues changed overnight to that bilious orange.

Let’s not forget fellow Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, a long time foe of the Ford family, clearly because of her political stripes. You see, way back in 1999, she had the temerity to oppose Doug Ford Sr. in a political nomination showdown for the… wait for it, wait for it… Progressive Conservative party. Clearly, a lost cause left wing wingnut. So much so that she was a member of Mayor Miller’s Executive Committee before resigning. “I never felt part of that small inner circle”

In the magical world that exists in the Ford family mind, bona fide conservatives become evil socialists the moment disagreement emerges. There is no middle ground, no third way. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, in her 2010 race to unseat David Miller Speaker, Sandra Bussin, endorsed by former provincial Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, is now a left winger. Councillor Ana Bailão ran in the 2003 municipal election against very left leaning Adam Giambrone and then won the ward in 2010 by beating Giambrone EA, Kevin Beaulieu. Councillor Josh Colle, offspring of Liberal MPP Mike Colle, and up until the recent rash of transit votes, sided with the mayor more than 40% of the time. Councillor Chin Lee, another member of the Responsible Government Group back in the day, backed Mayor Ford more than half the time.

Now, because of their disagreement with him over transit plans have all been hopelessly lost to the dark side, left wingers all.

There was a reason some of the more outspoken critics of the mayor and his brother began calling them ‘radical conservatives’. Actually, two. One, because the Fords are radical right wingers. Despite the election promise not to cut services and programs that’s exactly what they’ve done. They want to make government smaller under the banner of efficiencies. They are endeavouring the smash the unions. They want to privatize everything not nailed down.

That is, in fact, a radical right wing agenda.

The other reason to colour them with this label is to differentiate the Fords and their hardcore supporters on council from actual moderate conservatives. Despite what the brothers will try and tell you over the course of the next 2.5 years, city council is made up with a fair rump of moderate conservatives, those who are able to reach out and form a consensus with a majority of council members. That is what occurred on the transit vote. A consensus of 24 councillors from the moderate right to the left (29 when it came to assuming control of the TTC board) to take  the transit file from Mayor Ford when he failed to bring forth a workable plan to build a Sheppard subway that would almost get to Scarborough.

But the mayor and his brother see such cooperation as nothing short of betrayal and treachery. In their us-versus-everyone else who disagrees with us on any issue worldview, true conservatives march in lockstep. Since they are conservatives, you can’t vote against them and still be a conservative.

So now they’ve pledged to run a slate of candidates against any councillor that dares to defy them. This isn’t new. They did it on a limited scale in 2010. They nearly unseated Councillor Lindsay Luby as well as Councillor Maria Augimeri. Councillor Peter Milczyn similarly had to fight for his political life with a Ford backed candidate in the race. He, unlike councillors Lindsay Luby and Augimeri, has largely turtled and become a pliant supporter of the mayor except for some of his recent votes on transit.

In Ward 1, the Fords did manage to boot then councillor Suzan Hall, locking in undying fealty at city council from one Vincent Crisanti. Councillor Crisanti immediately assumed the position as a largely silent deadwood paper weight rubber stamp yes man for the incoming mayor. When he does rise to speak, he invokes the babbling oratory of councillors Frank Di Giorgio and Cesar Palacio. In the debate over transit and the Sheppard subway, Councillor Crisanti insisted busses ran faster than LRTs and endeavoured to ensure Etobicoke would not see improvement in transit in our lifetimes.

That, folks, is the slate of candidates the mayor wants to put together. Team Ford and Vincent Crisantis in 2014.

sirenly submitted by Cityslikr


Democracy? M’eh.

March 7, 2012

The modern conservative species (genus: WTF?!) has often been a subject of consideration for us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Our overriding impression is one of a political philosophy that has, ironically, strayed far from its traditional path. In short, theirs is not their grandfathers’ conservatism.

There remains a strain of belief, however, that has survived the centuries relatively intact. It’s that unease with the messy aspects of democracy we can trace back to, arguably, one of the movement’s founding voices, Edmund Burke, although it does him a great, great disservice to lump him in with today’s crowd even on that score. His reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution is what I’m referring to on this point. One, I’m sure, our friend Sol Chrom will take the time to straighten me out on.

Conservatives tolerate democracy, I’m saying. Barely. They boil it down to the basic element of elections. The governance that goes on in between is little more than a nuisance, the vagaries inherent in a system that endeavours to accommodate more than one voice, one point of view is vilified, discounted and suppressed.

For example, the pre-stable majority Conservatives in Ottawa. Twice as a minority government they were faced with parliamentary non-confidence, they sought extraordinary measures to wiggle free from out under it and shut down democracy. Any notion of a coalition replacing them as the governing party was couched in terms of being illegitimate, anti-democratic, a nefarious coup d’etat.

As the Robocalls outrage shows, even their successful bid to form a majority is tinted with an anti-democratic impulse. Rather than endeavour to expand their appeal by persuasive arguments and reaching out for a broader consensus, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives sought to misinform voters and to disenfranchise them. Dirty tricks instead of bright ideas. It’s all in the game, yo.

Here in Toronto, conservative supporters are aghast at a mayor losing control of city council, utilizing similar terminology to their federal counterparts. A coup. Illigetimacy. Back stabbing. Treacherous betrayal.

In recent days there has been some very fine pieces written about the current entanglement at City Hall. Open File’s John McGrath got it started last weekend with his post, Rob Ford, the TTC, and the crisis of legitimacy at Toronto City Hall. Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler responded with a spirited rebuttal, An Informed Dissent on City Hall. After the TTC debate and vote on Monday, the Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan weighed in beautifully, City Council is Supreme. The Grid’s Edward Keenan added his voice on the topic, So who’s running this city, anyway?, earlier today.

It is not my purpose to jump into that particular fray now aside from saying I don’t believe we’re witnessing any sort of crisis of legitimacy more than a crisis of leadership. Yes, there are probably some adjustments that could be considered to reduce the fractiousness that arises between the single so-called mayoral mandate and those of 44 councillors. Electing more citywide representatives might be a step in that direction but that’s for another post.

No, my concern here is the reaction of conservative voices to Mayor Ford’s diminishing position on council. The inchoate screeds from the Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy are to be expected. Any reversal of fortune the mayor encounters will always be the devious, underhanded work of pampered left wing, kooky socialists to her mind, such as it is. It only begs for schoolyard nicknames.

But such baseless outpouring of drivel from Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail is far more troubling. Messy political infighting plunges City Hall into chaos screams the headline of his article on Tuesday. ‘Low rent borgias’, ‘a power-drunk left-wing opposition’, he labelled those who took control of the TTC from the mayor on Monday. He states: The mayor is badly hobbled, but who runs the show in his place? before concluding As fascinating as it is to watch all this ad hocery, it leaves Toronto with a drifting, leaderless government at a time when it needs firm direction more than ever.

I’ve never met Mr. Gee but, from a distance, he seems like an amiable enough chap. While I think it safe to call him conservative leaning, he hardly comes across in his writing as some sort promoter of authoritarianism. Yet, here he is predicating the successful, smooth running of a city with the powerful leadership of one person, the mayor. Without that, well, we’re plunging into the darkness of chaos. Oh my god, the PTA is disbanding!

Such a sentiment is not only highly anti-democratic but it also suggests a very blinkered view of the workings of our municipal government. And to promote the notion that the 29 councillors voting to assume control of the TTC from the mayor who has badly fumbled the transit file are driven by nothing more than left-wing ideology is, well, pure fabrication. Since when did Councillor Karen Stintz become left wing? Or councillors Gary, Crawford, Peter Milczyn, Cesar Palacio, John Parker, James Pasternak, Jaye Robinson, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Chin Lee, Josh Colle? By making such a claim, Mr. Gee is simply propagating the left-right storyline that the mayor regularly spouts.

Aside from the increasingly potent opposition to Mayor Ford not being ideologically cohesive, it spans the entirety of the city, further exploding the divisive urban-suburban myth the mayor so heavily relies on. There is not a former pre-amalgamation municipality not represented in the 29 councillors who stood up against the mayor on the TTC vote. Right of centre Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby joined forces with leftie Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker as part of the team with North York centrist Councillor Jaye Robinson and champagne sipping, downtown socialist Councillor Gord Perks.

We should be celebrating this move toward a city wide conciliation instead of shrieking about the collapse of local democracy. Why do we think that one person steamrolling over 22 others to fulfill a mandate or agenda is how a city best runs? While it might fit nicely into a lazy narrative, it is profoundly autocratic loving. Sadly, it also passes as rigid conservative orthodoxy these days.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


Colle Cocked

January 19, 2012

A remarkable day starring two, up until now, unremarkable councillors.

And I don’t use ‘unremarkable’ in a pejorative sense. Just not noteworthy. Bereft of distinction. Having made no real dent or splash yet. A kind of, who’s my councillor again kind of councillor.

Until budget day on Tuesday. In one swift motion (ha, ha), rookie councillor Josh Colle made his presence felt and established himself as a very real force to be contended with. Not only did he catch the mayor and his guard flat-footed with a move to reinstate some $15 million of the more controversial cuts back into the 2012 operating budget, he withstood a blustery, cantankerous line of questioning from a brigade of under-prepared Ford Teamsters in a polished and confident manner that suggested a much more veteran politician. He was politely aggressive with the baiting line of queries and also very funny. When a more friendly colleague, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon rose to ask him her questions and accidentally referred to him as the other Josh, Matlow, Colle waited for the laughter to subside before responding, “Yes, Councillor Doucette?”

His performance and not unreasonable motion changed the tone of the day’s debate and paved the way for moves by other councillors to stave off another $4 million in cuts including the additional savings demanded of the Toronto Public Library. Councillor Colle nudged Mayor Ford from the driver’s seat, sending the administration into scramble mode in the hopes of beating back the motion and preserving the mayor’s budget.

In the end, they didn’t. The mayor suffered a string of defeats, close, close, close but inevitable defeats and as much credit as Councillor Colle deserves for that, so does Councillor James Pasternak. Arguably traversing much more political ground than Colle to wind up on the opposite side of the mayor – he had been pretty much a sure thing for Mayor Ford for most of the year+ he’s been councillor for Ward 10 – Pasternak wound up being the very unlikely swing vote that pushed Councillor Colle’s motion over the top.

Not for a lack of trying to keep him in the fold by the mayor’s forces. At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, both the mayor and his brother, Doug, made their way across the chamber floor in Councillor Pasternak’s direction. The mayor gestured like a grade school principal who’d just caught a child running in the hallway for the councillor to follow them to backroom. Councillor Pasternak willingly obeyed and the three of them disappeared from the room.

What was said and how, I couldn’t tell you. One would assume it took more dark, threatening tones because for the mayor to be offering up goodies in return for the councillor’s vote, well, that would just be antithetical to what we’ve been hearing from the mayor’s office for months now. The cupboard’s  bare, there’s no money for ‘pet projects’. So as important as the vote was, and we’re talking really, really important, like 4 new libraries, 3 new community centres and a subway right up to the councillor’s door important, it would be monstrously hypocritical for the mayor to be promising favours in return for votes.

Whatever was said, offered, threatened behind closed doors failed. Councillor Pasternak didn’t blink. He defied the mayor and voted for Councillor Colle’s motion.

As did another right of centre councillor, Chin Lee who continued his drift from the administration. And let’s not forget, Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, the only girl allowed in the Etobicoke Councillor Boys Club that includes the mayor’s brain trust, his brother and the Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, along with the hangers-on, Councillor Vincent Crisanti, Mark Grimes and Peter Milczyn. While her intentions might not have been the most noble (“Leaf collection, for me, was absolutely important”), she stood her ground, gleefully flashing her thumb in the opposite direction of the one Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti insisted on displaying despite its noticeable lack of efficacy.

Combined with the other members of the newbie mushy middle, Councillors Ana Bailão, Josh Matlow and Mary-Margaret McMahon, it was enough of a faction, along with the left of centre crowd of councillors, to best the mayor in every budget motion save two, I believe. It was a rebuke if not quite a repudiation of the direction Mayor Ford wanted to take the city. It put on the brakes but did not turn the car around.

The budget that passed remained chock full of highly questionable cuts. The mayor and his team can still rightly claim that they are spending less than they did last year which, to their way of thinking, means something significant. Before losing control of the budget meeting, Team Ford deftly managed to snip off any nascent move that may have been building to increase the property tax increase from 2.5%. Budget 2012 can still rightfully be called a Mayor Rob Ford budget.

But at what cost?

There’s now clearly disorder in the ranks. If they can lose an ally like Councillor Pasternak on such an important vote as a budget vote, who’s next? Fellow rookie councillors and Executive Committee members, Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson, must feel as if they were hung out to dry. They now have to wear things like their vote in favour of demanding a full 10% cut to the TPL and explain it to their constituents. For what? Where an unwavering allegiance to the Ford brand might’ve seemed like just good politics last year, six months ago, two weeks ago, it’s suddenly more like a millstone around their necks.

Ditto Councillor Crawford. Another Ford stalwart, Councillor Michael Thompson was awfully quiet during the budget meeting. He dutifully voted along with the mayor but certainly kept his head low while doing so. And how long will even Councillors Grimes and Milczyn – both of whom were targeted for defeat by the Ford campaign during the 2010 election – blindly follow him, realizing the mayor can’t even win over city council on important matters let alone orchestra a successful race against them in 2014 if they don’t now obey his every command?

Yes, Councillors Josh Colle and James Pasternak may’ve just skimmed a speck of dosh from the surplus stash the mayor tucked away on the capital side of the budget on Tuesday. A mere less than .2% of the operating budget, as Edward Keenan pointed out in his comprehensively excellent article yesterday. But there is every reason to suspect that they succeeded in blowing up the prevailing Ford era dynamic at City Hall where the mayor pronounces and it is so.

They’ve opened the floodgates. The Curtis Flood-gates, that is. Free agency has come to city council.

borasly submitted by Cityslikr