Give Him Enough Rope

November 5, 2015

If the predominant response to witnessing the Ford mayoralty was anger (followed by a profound sadness), cynicism is the emotion that springs forth watching Mayor Tory in action (followed closely by anger). cynicalIs cynicism even an emotion? I don’t know. It sure feels like an emotion.

It sure felt like it watching the mayor speak to the TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy item at city council yesterday. ‘Aspirational’… but. A ‘moral issue’… but. Proud of this document. Proud of the work having gone into it. Proud, proud, proud … but.

Mayor Tory took much of his speaking time to explain that the strategy, as such, spread out over a 20 year framework, was ‘not an instant answer’. He took great pains to explain ‘what it is not’. Aspirational … but. Almost as a warning, he informed us that at the budget committee, they will endeavor ‘to do as much as we can’ … but. Competing priorities, and all that.

Until that time, when this poverty reduction strategy goes through the buzz saw that will be the budget committee – as Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam pointed out, the mayor’s “direction to reduce 2016 overall budget by 2%” is not compatible with the new funding called for in the TO Prosperity document – likeI’ll set aside my cynicism, and take a moment to applaud those who are pursuing this with the upmost of earnestness and serious intent. Those who, for the time being, are willing to take Mayor Tory for his word on this, as qualified and mealy-mouthed as the words may sound to my jaded ears.

Hats off to Councillor Pam McConnell for her genuine acceptance of the title of Deputy Mayor, and her belief that the man who gave her that title is actually committed to this course of action. Her diligence in putting this report together, and exhorting her council colleagues that it is a worthy and absolutely essential undertaking, should be acknowledged and commended. Councillor Janet Davis said that McConnell “gave one of the best speeches of her career… Passionate and inspiring call for a fairer, stronger city.”

Applause too to all the advocates who contributed their time and effort to make sure this didn’t simply slip through the cracks, as poverty issues tend to do. aweSuch tirelessness is, I can’t even come up with the proper word that amplifies the inadequate ‘admirable’. It’s unfathomable to me, that kind of determination.

Many of you were probably in the council chambers gallery to watch the vote, and applauded when it was approved, clapped for Mayor Tory when he spoke to it. I cannot express the kind of awe I feel at that sheer act of trust in the good intentions of others, the conviction enough of us will do the right thing when push comes to shove. Again, humbled does not even begin to describe how I regard such faith and principle.

… but … but … but …

Let’s remember these words that the mayor uttered near the end of his speech yesterday, remember them, and hold him to account for saying them when he inevitably fails to live up to them. And Mayor Tory, as sure as I’m sitting here writing this, will fail, will prove to be a false ally. He’s already qualified his support, showing none of the can-do, inevitable triumphalism he’s flashed for SmartTrack or the Gardiner East hybrid, pledging only ‘to do as much as we can…to the extent we can’. Aspiration is great until it runs smack dab into the reality Mayor Tory has established. “More isn’t always better.” So please dim your expectations.

I think this is one of the most important decisions, one of the most important commitments that we’re going to make as a council during this entire term without even knowing what else is going to come up over the next 3 years.

That’s what he said. Those were Mayor Tory’s exact words. This poverty reduction strategy was one of the most important decisions city council would make this term. Mayor Tory said so.

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Let’s make sure he’s held to that. Make this his signature item. Its success or failure will determine his success or failure as mayor of this city. He will try and wiggle free of it. Don’t let him.

assuredly submitted by Cityslikr


Credit Not Where It’s Due

July 11, 2013

This is not Mayor Rob Ford’s debt. Don’t give him the credit. He doesn’t want it. dontlookatmeHe doesn’t deserve it.

As was pointed out in at least a couple corners (Matt Elliott here and Rob Granatstein here) yesterday, the Toronto Star’s headline, tagging the mayor with the increase in debt for capital spending was misleading at best, flat out wrong at worst. The city sets out a 10 year plan for capital expenditures which it adjusts annually. Incoming administrations inherit capital plans (and costs) from the preceding one and can only tinker so much with them. Such is the case currently. Mayor Ford took on much of the debt run up by the Miller administration.

AND THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!

Among other things, the city is getting a new fleet of transit vehicles including much needed streetcars rolling out next year as part of the capital spending that’s lead to the debt. This is neither unusual nor a bad thing. Governments, businesses and individuals rarely purchase big ticket items with cash up front. notthattheresanythingwrongwiththatIt makes no sense to do so especially with things that are going to be used over long periods of time like streetcars.

But almost all government spending is anathema to politicians like Mayor Ford. Debt is a red flag to him, proof positive that the gravy train chugs on and wasteful liberals are out of control. Since becoming mayor, he has done everything in his power to roll back the city’s debt including diverting money from the operating budget to pay off capital purchases outright.

(Everything, that is, outside of ensuring a proper revenue stream. There was a compelling argument as part of Matt’s Twitter stream above that by reducing revenue in the form of freezing property taxes and cutting the VRT, Mayor Ford had, in fact, contributed to the growing debt. moneydownthedrainThat’s not an unfair assessment.)

While certainly there is a bump in the city’s debt load currently, in looking over the various 10 year capital projections, you get a sense of, if not an overall decrease in debt, a definite flat lining of it. I think it’s safe to say that the mayor has successfully wrestled our debt to a stalemate. Done his best to put a lid on it.

Hold your applause, folks.

There’s nothing admirable in the mayor’s approach to debt. There’s nothing even remotely fiscally responsible about it. As was pointed out today in the probably not left leaning magazine, Canadian Business, congestion could be costing the GTA as much as $11 billion a year. Congestion caused by decades and decades of inaction on transit building.

And as was pointed out to us by the undeniably non-partisan storm on Monday evening, our sluggish investment in infrastructure under our streets is costing us millions and millions of dollars as well. “We’re hanging on by a thread,” said our debt-averse mayor in reaction to the damage inflicted by the heavy rains. Shut off your lights and power down your computer. floodTO3Half measures, long after the barn doors’ been kicked from their hinges, called for by a mayor unwilling to spend the money on real solutions.

The truth of the matter is, in his obsessive drive to reduce government to little more than a police force that keeps our roads paved and clear of anything but cars and trucks, Mayor Ford is limiting our chances in dealing with some serious changes that have already arrived while we’ve been pretending not to notice. Councillor Janet Davis pointed out that over a billion dollars was cut in the 10 year capital plan for the city’s Wet Weather Flow Program in this year’s budget.

What’s that you ask?

“Toronto’s Wet Weather Flow Master Plan (WWFMP) is a long-term plan to protect our environment and sustain healthy rivers, streams and other water bodies. And it’s about reducing the adverse effects of wet weather flow, which is runoff generated when it rains or snows.”togridlock

“The adverse effects of wet weather flow…” Ring a bell for anyone whose basement flooded Monday or who hoped to go for a swim in Lake Ontario this weekend before this week’s massive sewage dump? Adverse effects? What adverse effects?

Earlier this year, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee – the committee that oversees much of the substantial, debt-inducing spending that helps keep the city up and running properly – floated an idea to cap the revenue brought into by the Land Transfer Tax. It was intended to be a compromise between the mayor who wanted the tax eliminated entirely and those councillors who saw it as an important piece of the budget puzzle. The net effect, if it had been adopted by council (it wasn’t), would be to ultimately reduce city revenue.

We’re hanging on by a thread, and our mayor and chair of one of the most important committees in terms of building for the future are busy figuring out ways to generate less money. As if somehow, magically, leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers will rebuild aging infrastructure and new transit lines and not simply rewrite the formula for inaction that it’s been for decades now.

takecredit

So stop trying to discredit Mayor Ford with our increased in capital debt. It’s none of his doing. He hasn’t earned such praise.

tightly submitted by Cityslikr


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


If Boxing Week Sales Continue Into January…

January 8, 2013

(A double dose of our City Hall holiday questions-and-answers today. Up now, Councillor Janet Davis, Ward 31 Beaches-East York!)

*  *  *jdavis

1) The Gift of Councilling: What is the one moment in 2012 that struck you as the best example of why it was you became a councillor.

Despite reductions in provincial funding and a recommendation from KPMG against it, Council agreed to reinstate the Hardship Fund and Medical Benefits in 2013. This means thousands of Torontonians struggling to survive will get help with things like prosthetics, wheel chairs and other medical devices. The vote was almost unanimous. Restoring some dignity to the lives of our most marginalized residents helped restore some dignity to City Hall. It also restoreth my soul (and sharpeneth my focus.)

2) Going Forward: In 2013, what is the one aspect you would like to see happen that would help develop better civic discourse going forward?

Council has to change the way it considers and approves “The Budget.” Residents – and Councillors – need more time and better ways to become informed if they are to participate in a meaningful way. The capital and operating budgets need to be separated. The process should start in the new year when we have better information on revenues and surpluses. Standing Committees should be involved again to set policy and budget priorities. We need year-round education and outreach combined with real decision-making for local communities. Torontonians need to follow the money – budgets turn principles into reality and promises into action. Budgets count.

merrychristmas2012

still seasonally submitted by Councillor Janet Davis


Taxing My Patience

December 11, 2012

Just a quick slapdash entry after deputations on the 2013 budget wrapped up this afternoon. madhatterHopefully it will appear entirely different from my regular slapdash efforts.

Mike Del Grande. Councillor Mike Del Grande. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande.

Mike Del Grande, Mike DelGrande, MikeDelGrande, mikedelgrande…

Despite listening to over 200 deputants, none of whom I heard demand their taxes be cut, and a litany of the usual suspect downtown lefty councillors suggesting their constituents would prefer a better city over lower taxes, our budget chief doesn’t buy any of that nonsense. People don’t like paying taxes. End of story. Let’s move on.

How does our budget chief know this? By a rigorous examination of a solid, evidence based study, OK? Voluntary repayment of the Vehicle Registration Tax back to the city. All these people, coming down to plead their case in front of the Budget Committee year after year, all the bleeding hearts the likes of Councillor Janet Davis meets in her ward, all saying they would happily pay more in tax. Well? Where are they, the budget chief wonders. Certainly not filling the city coffers out of the goodness of their hearts, let him tell you.

Now, I don’t have a car, thus don’t pay the VRT but if I did and didn’t have to pay the VRT because the Ford Administration is averse to that kind of revenue generation, nothankyouthe last place I would be returning that money saved is to a City Hall run by a gang of far right, anti-government ideologues. All taxes are evil, as far as the likes of Councillor Doug Ford is concerned. Yeah… sure. Here’s my rebate, Mr. Budget Chief. Please do something nice with it, OK?

Instead, I know a couple people who have diligently used the $60 they saved when renewing their car sticker and donated it to places hurt by recent city cuts – i.e. the library. So, the budget chief’s certainty that people don’t like paying taxes based on a lack of returns back to the city is based on, what do you call it, an inadequate sampling? Nonsense? Pure and utter bullshit?

On top of which, taxation really only works as a collective enterprise. Elective participation in handing over one’s hard earned cash doesn’t tend to fill the coffers like a compulsory obligation. It only fully functions if we’re all in it together, contributing. Some more, some less but none voluntarily.

I’d like to think my willingness to pay taxes is based on an absolute selflessness. That I am constitutionally more inclined to help out the ‘widows and orphans’ than our budget chief is. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.taxation

From an unequivocally selfish perspective, I want to pay more for better transit (which I don’t depend on), for fewer people forced to live on the streets (I have a house), for free recreational programs (which I’ve never taken) because it means the lives of other people (mostly who I don’t know but share this city with) are made just a little bit better, a little more liveable, their prospects of a better life just a little brighter. Why does that matter to me? The possibility of them being able to contribute more significantly and positively will make this a better city for me to live in.

And I can’t do that single-handedly, giving back my VRT or making some other voluntary contribution to the likes of Mike Del Grande. Taxation only works en masse. Everybody pitching in what they can.

It’s disheartening that the person in charge of spending billions and billions of dollars annually either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t believe it.

taxingly submitted by Cityslikr