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

Cherish The Moment

October 26, 2011

The Great Shark Fin Ban Debate 2011. Offering us up a glimpse of what we’d naively hoped against hope would be a regular city council occurrence when we were shocked to learn last October that Rob Ford was going to be our next mayor. A once renegade mavericky councillor turned big kahuna still constantly on the losing end of votes, often times by wide margins. The mayor’s powers useless in his ham-fisted hands.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. So it was nice to revel in the vibe of seeing Mayor Ford one of only 4 votes against a municipal shark fin ban yesterday. Maybe, unlike the puzzling gustatorial appeal of said soup, other councillors might get to like the taste of that, drubbing the mayor. I refuse to let go of my dreams just yet.

To give the mayor his due, it is completely consistent with his small government, libertarian views that elected officials should not be telling people what they can eat. What they can buy in city operated vending machines. It’s a belief that also makes him uncomfortable with the idea of random drug and alcohol testing. As heartless as it appears toward the plight of sharks, it totally makes sense Mayor Ford would vote against such a ban.

Maybe the same can be said about Councillor David Shiner although I didn’t hear him speak out about why he opposed the ban. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Either that or he really, really hates sharks. Or maybe just Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker for floating his mechanical shark in council chambers before the debate began.

Don Peat -- Toronto Sun

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s opposition was much less defensible. While also a small government conservative, his tack seemed to be protecting the city against any possible lawsuits stemming from the ban. Over and over again he used the legal departments caution about a ban as justification for not proceeding. But seriously, when is a city’s legal department not cautious? If asked, their default will always be that any course of action council chooses to make could lead to legal action against it. Even from one of their very own, isn’t that right Deputy Mayor? Mr. Holyday’s resistance seemed nothing more than craven and querulous.

Ditto Councillor Mammoliti. It appears in defence of the mayor no argument is too ludicrous to make, no stance too bone-headed for Team Ford’s QB. Add to that a crowded gallery full of hippy activists and quite possible communists, Councillor Mammoliti is in his element. He bellows and belches purely to provoke. ”… a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing. “

All of the air was let out of Mammoliti’s bluster balloon by Councillor Chin Lee. Of actual Chinese heritage and representing a ward with over 50% of its population being ethnically Chinese (Councillor Mammoliti’s Ward 7 is less than 3%), Councillor Lee quietly dismissed Mammoliti’s cultural encroachment claim. After doing some legwork, talking to his constituents, Lee felt comfortable with the ban, once more proving himself to be an independent minded, right leaning councillor who will not mindlessly follow the mayor down any crooked path.

Even the normally docile and obedient mayoral acolyte, Councillor Cesar Palacio stood up to be counted. This after his public claim that the mayor would be supporting the ban turned out to be more wishful thinking than actual fact. The ban was ‘the right thing to do’, the councillor told his colleagues. See, Councillor Palacio? The sky didn’t fall when you defied the mayor’s wishes.

Since I’m all about the kudos now, I have to give a shout out to the budget chief, Mike Del Grande. He gave what I’d call a puppies and baby seals environmental plea, decrying our ransacking, pillaging and preying upon other species. Lawsuits be damned, he told the room (more or less). A stand had to be made to atone for our planetary misdeeds.

I really want to leave it right there, on a complimentary note to the budget chief. But he really doesn’t seem to get the whole environmental angle. One day after his pro-shark fin ban speech, according to the Star’s David Rider, Del Grande was railing about his colleagues who opted for the more expensive UV treatment of sewage at Ashbridge’s Bay over the cheaper chemical rinse, his compassion for marine life, apparently, doesn’t extend to the creatures living in Lake Ontario. “We can’t afford it,” the budget chief claimed.

** sigh **

And there we go, back to reality. Our little dream world of a fringe mayor marginalized as ephemeral as the fanciest of fancies. It was sure nice, though, while it lasted.

wistfully submitted by Cityslikr

Disorder In The Ranks

October 2, 2011

(On a lazy Sunday, we post our piece from this week’s Torontoist. Think of it as the director’s cut.)

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Mayor Ford emerged from his waterfront cash grab gambit (or maybe it belonged to his renegade councillor sibling – Sorry, bro. Did I get any on you?) with his brand new consensus suit a little ill-fitting. On Monday after last week’s fiasco, he stood before council at a special Core Services Review meeting more than a little feisty. Spit and vinegarish even

Clearly over the weekend he and his advisors, with the first real debacle of his mayoralty in place and favourability numbers dropping precipitously, decided that the taxpayers of Toronto preferred candidate for mayor Rob Ford to the actual Mayor Rob Ford. So he reverted back to campaign mode, all vitriolic rhetoric and new pithy catch phrases. In introducing the Core Services Review items to kick off the proceedings, he stood and called out the ‘loonie left’ councillors who dared to defy his wishes. Stay The Course was a brand new mantra, chanted over and over again. Under questioning, he blustered, rambled, frequently contradicted himself within a single sentence. Just like the glory days out on the hustings in 2010.

The mayor even cited some new, unofficial polling data. According to people he met everywhere, 90% told him, begged him, exhorted him to Stay The Course. Suck on that, Ipsos Reid. Maybe you need to take your random samplings from the line ups at Tim Horton’s.

But for all the chest beating, name calling and bully boy posturing, the tone at council had shifted noticeably. While never exactly orderly, Team Ford had been able to deliver a rough hewn obedience, always managing to wrangle a majority of councillors into its corner on important issues. This week? A sense of disarray descended. Tried and true allies tested the waters of independence. Items and amendments came fast furious, some from very unexpected corners. I’m sorry, was that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday introducing an item on road tolls? Yes, yes. I get that it was nothing more than an attempted poke in the eye of Councillor Josh Matlow who had put forth his own motions asking for a review of a road toll idea but it put the mayor on the defensive, having to explain (idiotically, IMHO) his opposition to the concept of generating revenue through this particular type of user fee.

The biggest eye-opener, however, was Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby. A fellow Etobicokian and self-proclaimed right of centre suburban politician, she openly stood up and questioned the mayor about the entire process they were being asked to undertake. “Flying blind”, she called it, having to make consequential choices without any numbers in front of them, sounding almost Perksian at times. She didn’t wilt under the withering but ineffectual show me the money line of questioning from the budget chief. When it came time to push through the items she had introduced, Councillor Lindsay Luby gleefully flashed a thumbs up, sitting right next to Team Ford QB-clown, Giorgio Mammoliti and his downturned thumb of mayoral disapproval.

That said, Mayor Ford suffered no devastating setbacks during the two day meeting. There was no knockout blow, as the pundits like to say. Yes, the cuts he was hoping to inflict in the process fell woefully short of the intended mark. The $28 million or so he did get doesn’t even rate as a drop in the bucket. And in my darker moments, I might view the fact the Voluntary Separation Program – a “coerced” retirement offering to city staff as Councillor Gord Perks suggested in an unfriendly environment with a threatened 10% across the board reduction to all departments hanging in the air — moved on relatively unscathed gave the mayor a jump on the budget process, initiating cuts by stealth under the guise of attrition rather than layoffs or firings.

Still, as the mayor insisted somewhat disingenuously to quell fears of the slashing and burning taking place no decisions were being made at this point. It was all about reviews and studies. In other words, he remained in place, knocking down the easy to reach, low flying fruit. But now, Team Ford was bleeding support and the tough choices remain to be made.

Not only were stalwarts like Councillor Lindsay Luby drifting, so were Executive Committee members Councillors Berardinetti and Robinson. The mushy middle stopped being cowed. As Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler pointed out to me, even more worrisome for Mayor Ford, the already soft but principled conservative Chin Lee representing heavy, heavy Ford friendly Ward 41 in Scarborough quietly but decisively voted against the mayor on a surprisingly large number of items over the last couple days.

Support jumping overboard even before the ship hits really choppy waters. An already tenuous majority grown skittish. A summer of discontent turned to an autumn of disregard. All the ingredients for a disastrous budget process and a severe blow to the tattered mandate flag Mayor Ford keeps trying to hold high.

resubmitted by Cityslikr

The Bigger They Are

September 16, 2011

Credit where credit’s due.

Mayor Ford, his brother and their closest coterie certainly do things in no half measure. Go big or go home should be their motto.

From last year’s oversized campaign that ultimately swept aside his competitors in a noisy, boisterous march to the mayor’s office to the blustery early successes this administration’s had in crushing much of the previous administration’s doings under foot, they have made their presence felt. It has been relentless, the busting up and dismantling of things. Big time ‘doers’, as Mayor Ford might likely say.

So it appears will be the case next week when Team Ford faces what could be its first significant setback. Short of serious amending and de-fanging of the Executive Committee item instructing city council to grant the Toronto Port Lands Corporation authority to seize property from Waterfront Toronto, a resounding, flashy and high profile defeat looks very, very likely. A spectacular flameout might not be too much of an overstatement.

Go big or go home.

Perhaps had the mayor and his brother attempted this move more quietly, it might not have been successful but the failure wouldn’t be so garish. What had worked for them before, a combination of bullying and bad mouthing and a little bit of glitzy, Vegas style showmanship ran into a solid wall of established resistance on the waterfront portfolio. Badly misjudging both those they were up against and the growing attachment the general public had toward what was going on down by the lake, the Ford Bros. did not have their normal bogeymen to excoriate. The downtown elites. Left wing kooks. Cycling pinkos.

Instead, the mayor and his brother found themselves on the receiving end of the body blows and head shots from very well respected urban thinkers and planners, former mayors. Even normally friendly media types have been conspicuous in not rushing to defend the mayor’s waterfront plans. The mayor’s interview with Jerry Agar yesterday brought to mind the Fawlty Towers episode where a German group was staying at the inn and Basil spent much time telling his staff ‘Not to mention the war’. ‘Don’t mention the waterfront, Jerry. Don’t mention the waterfront.’ He dutifully didn’t.

The pushback to Mayor Ford’s waterfront plan is so significant that normally pliant and quiet allies on his Executive Committee have been freed to publicly announce their intentions to oppose it. To lose support at that level suggests it’s now open season for defections. In fact, the item has become so repugnant to the general public that it could be seen as a detriment to back it. What councillor will risk being tarred with the ignominy of following the mayor down this path?

There’s Doug Ford, of course. Arguably the architect of the fiasco. Deputy Mayor Holyday has hitched his wagon to Team Ford. Councilllor Giorgio We Don’t Blink Mammoliti. The ever obedient Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

But who else? This could be some heavy baggage to carry around for the next three years. Voting to pull the plug on Waterfront Toronto is not simply some ward specific attack that will be remembered only by local residents like the Jarvis bike lanes or the Fort York Bridge. This will have reverberations city wide even in places far from the battleground. Is that a risk Councillors John Parker and David Shiner are willing to take? How about the budget chief? The entire city’s going to be watching you Councillors Grimes, Moeser, Crisanti, Di Giorgio, Pasternak, Lee, Ainslie, Nunziata, Palacio, Kelly, Crawford, Lindsay Luby, Thompson, Milczyn.

I know it’s early in this term yet but some matters are not easily forgotten three years later when voters will go to the polls again. This could be one of those defining moments. Are you going to be for the mayor or for the city. You can’t be both on this.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr