The Worst. The Absolute Worst.

October 2, 2015

Just about a year ago (340 days or so but who’s counting?), as the results of the 2014 municipal election rolled in, I looked over the debris and carnage and declared that this may well shape up to be an even worse city council than the one that preceded it.JustinDiCiano

Impossible to imagine, I know, in the wake of the drunken, crack-laden, I’ve got enough to eat at home Ford years. But I held firm in my view that we did ourselves no favours with the new composition of council even with the new mayor we installed. Just watch, I said.

While I think there have been more than a few examples to back up my claim (the Gardiner east hybrid hybrid anyone?), a vote last night at council cemented it. In a 25-18 vote, our local representatives decided to reverse course and reject the notion of using ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. “A real setback for democratic reform and renewal,” according to Councillor Joe Mihevc.

How did such a turnaround happen? Aside from this simply being a worse city council, you mean? We have to go back to earlier this year, June to be exact.

The province is undergoing a 5 year review of the City of Toronto Act, the 2006 piece of legislation where Queen’s Park bestowed more powers and autonomy on Toronto’s city council. City staff struck up its own review process and the mayor’s office established a panel of 3 councillors, Norm Kelly, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Justin Di Ciano, to work with the staff in coming up with recommendations to pass along to the province for its consideration. The resulting report was before city council to vote on yesterday.

During the debate, councillors were putting forth ideas of their own to package off and send to Queen’s Park. JustinDiCianoThey were flying so fast and furiously at one point that Mayor Tory stood up to lecture his colleagues on governing ‘on the fly’. Staff had worked with council for months to come up with this report. These slap ons were, to the mayor’s mind, going to muddy the waters and diminish the seriousness of the report’s intent. Two of the working group members, councillors Kelly and Wong-Tam, echoed that sentiment.

The third member of the panel, Councillor Justin Di Ciano, had other ideas. Despite apparently working throughout the summer with Kelly and Wong-Tam and city staff on the report council was now amending, plenty of time, you’d assume, for him to float the idea of tossing out the request for ranked ballots, he decided to pursue it ‘on the fly’, as the mayor said. What were his reasons? They were doozies. Real fucking doozies.

Voters found ranked ballots “too confusing” he said. Never mind that the Toronto Star’s Betsy Powell explained how they work in a couple paragraphs.

Under ranked balloting, voters select candidates in order of preference — potentially first, second and third. The candidate with the majority of first-place votes — 50 per cent plus one — wins, just as in the current system.

If nobody meets that threshold, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is knocked out. The second-place choices of that candidate’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining hopefuls, and so on, until someone has a majority.

Hopelessly and utterly confused, are you? As the ranked ballot literature says, Easy as 1, 2, 3.

Under softball questioning from fellow council lightweight, Michelle Berardinetti, Councillor Di Ciano cited some study from California that said ‘low-income voters’ had trouble understanding ranked ballots. JustinDiCianoSee? The poorz. They just wouldn’t get it.

The councillor went on to say that this particular council, you know, the one worse than the previous one, shouldn’t be beholden to a decision made late last term. The vote on ranked ballots happened in June of 2013, with almost 18 months left in the mandate. What point does Councillor Justin Di Ciano think should serve as a cutoff in the term of council when it needs to stop doing stuff that might impinge on subsequent councils? A year? Two?

What makes this line of reasoning even more fucking ridiculously vacuous is that the June 2013 vote from city council was a request to the provincial government for the power to decide to use ranked ballots. Even if the province grants the city that power, council would have to vote to enact it. So this city council would have the opportunity to vote against it, and no decision from the previous council would be forced upon it.

Instead, city council said yesterday, nope, don’t even want to consider it.

This boneheaded motion from a terrible, terrible city councillor, Justin Di Ciano, could’ve, should’ve died right there, in its infancy. JustinDiCianoAll it needed was 7 councillors who’d voted in favour of requesting ranked ballots in June 2013 (and one who’d “missed” that particular vote) to vote against it. Amazingly, they didn’t. They did a 180. Like that. Killing months and years of advocacy that a whole lot of people had dedicated their time to. Just like that.

Who were those councillors?

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre). Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport). Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West). Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West).

Had these councillors not cravenly flipped-floppped, the results of the vote would’ve been reversed, and the motion would’v died. They did and it didn’t. Yeah, this city council sucks.

Click on those links, get a phone number or email address. And start asking these councillors why they changed their minds on pretty much a moment’s notice. Why did they think ranked ballots were a good idea last term? JustinDiCianoWhy do they think ranked ballots are a bad idea now? What changed?

Oh, and let’s not forget the architect of this clusterfuck and big ol’ fuck you to voting reform, Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke Lakeshore). Remember this face. It is the face of a city council that makes you pine for the Ford years.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr


Here’s To You, Councillor Robinson

June 15, 2015

Last weekend, the weekend before last weekend actually, Councillor Jaye Robinson, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, mrsrobinsonreached out over social media to ask to meet up ahead of the Gardiner east debate at city council to discuss the issue. I’d been jabbing at her, in the virtual sense, over the pro-“hybrid” stance she’d taken during a press conference a few days earlier. I wondered aloud how she could have rushed to the defence of waterfront development when Doug Ford had concocted his ferris wheels-and-monorail plan a few years back but was perfectly willing to plop a newly rebuilt expressway down to inflict similar damage on the area. She also, to my mind, was brushing aside well-researched evidence that suggested the traffic chaos “hybrid” supporters predicted would happen if the Gardiner came down wouldn’t happen.

So we met on Tuesday, the day before the city council meeting began for a very amiable 15 minutes. Councillor Robinson came across as deeply conflicted on the issue, trying to figure out a better solution than was on the table in front of her and colleagues to decide on. scratchmyheadWhy she had chosen to spend time chatting it out with me – whose tear the fucker down preference was up front and centre – remains something of a mystery. While my arrogance might suggest otherwise, I am fully aware of my limited reach and ever so slight standing in the local political scene. It struck me as strange the councillor would waste her time talking to some asshole with a blog.

Despite unhealthy outbursts of political naïvete that catch me by surprise, I had no illusions about the meeting. There was no way Councillor Robinson was going to change her mind, having so publicly come out in favour of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” stance. Still, I thought, maybe, some compromise might be in the works, an attempt to perform a tactical retreat.

You can only imagine my disappointment, let’s call it, over the course of the following few days, watching as Councillor Robinson displayed little propensity toward any sort of compromise on the Gardiner east. When she spoke, she varied little from the “hybrid” hymnbook the mayor was preaching from, the one he used in a speech to the Empire Club, the speech the Torontoist referred to as “full Ford”, full of “at least 36 falsehoods or misleading statements”. whipWhen she wasn’t speaking, Councillor Robinson could be seen with a clipboard, conversing with the mayor’s staff and other councillors, presumably helping out to get the vote count right in favour of the “hybrid” option.

She did. The Gardiner east “hybrid” won out, narrowly, setting in motion a period of uncertainty that often times follows bad decisions. Are we really going to do this? Really? (I remain sceptical. But again, what the fuck do I know?)

Sitting here, a few days on, and I still can’t figure Jaye Robinson out. The cranks and the kooks you get. Vainglorious, idiotic and imbecilic. Dummies gonna be dum, am I right? You can only hope to minimize the damage they try to inflict.

But Councillor Robinson is different. She seems like she wants to do the right thing, to leap toward a more enlightened kind of governance, a better city. ignorefactsYet she can regularly be counted on to come down on the wrong side of important issues like the Gardiner.

And by the ‘wrong’ side, I don’t necessarily mean the ones I disagree with her on. I’m talking about the one like the Gardiner that defy facts, evidence and the future, settling for easy, mindless catch phrases like common sense. “Why have experts if politicians care little for their expertise?” Matt Elliott asks today. There was a deliberate attempt by the pro-“hybrid” council gang to muddy the waters of debate by disparaging and disbelieving city staff and other expert opinion, elevating lone voices of dissent to positions of authority far beyond the reality of the situation, to put opinion before thoughtful reasoning.

Gut feeling prevailed once again at City Hall. Councillor Jon Burnside revealed the height of the “hybrid” hypocrisy when he rose to speak in defence of it, saying that his heart wanted the boulevard but his head told him the “hybrid” was the way to go. thetruthThe fact is, very little thinking went into the “hybrid” argument. It was pure obedience to a mayor who had made his decision known well before the debate had truly begun. Again.

Life’s too short, I concluded over the weekend. Having been at this now for over 5 years, I find myself tired and bored covering the ins-and-outs of a city council that seems determined to work against the best interests of the city. This isn’t one mayor’s problem. It’s endemic to the institution itself, the people constantly returned to office to govern.

I don’t get paid to do what I do. (Most days I don’t think I deserve to be.) There are far better people doing a far better job than I could ever do. I’m contributing largely noise.

I’m not a city councillor. I don’t have to figure out how to deal with such monumental nonsense and duplicity on a daily basis. whyamidoingthisWhy keep inflicting it on myself?

The city works pretty well despite its ill-governance. Not everywhere certainly and not for everyone obviously. We could be, should be doing a whole lot better. It’s not for a lack of tools at our disposal. Just a lack of political will. The DenzilMinnanWongization of City Hall.

Where things work, how they work is an area I’d like to further examine. How do we build a better sense of public good, the public common? One of the aspects I’ve learned about municipal politics is the potential for affecting change is right there not somewhere in the vague distance. Although it doesn’t seem like it at times, your voice can be heard. todolist1We saw it just recently with Desmond Cole and the issue of police carding.

I’ve got a stack of books about yay-high, scattered in piles around the house. Books about cities, how they work, how they don’t work, how to fix those that don’t work, great cities, bad cities, cities on the move, cities bogged down in the past. I want to read those books, learn from them, write about them. I just keep letting myself get interrupted by the terrible goings-on at City Hall.

We also need to figure out a way to elect better local politicians. If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now. It doesn’t happen magically as we learned last October. Deadweight is lying heavily on this city, crushing the breath of life out of it. This is something that can wait until 2018. Organizing must start now.

These are the things I want to explore and write about. The basic nuts and bolts of civic life. I’ve focused far too much on the… a-hem, a-hem… the nuts and dolts. (Thank you. Try the veal.)

Near the end of the Gardiner debate last Thursday, Councillor Robinson, in her role as chair of Public Works and Infrastructure, spoke last on the issue. Using that time, she introduced a series of motions that might offer some workable alternatives to the “hybrid” option as it currently stands. closingdoorWhy this didn’t happen at the beginning of the meeting, or days, weeks before the debate even went to council is the disheartening thing about all this for me.

It was about crass fucking politics, winning optics for the mayor. The exact opposite of good governance, of practical, sensible, common sense governance Mayor Tory is always trying to assure us he’s all about. It’s bullshit and, ultimately, impossible to continue watching without hollowing out your core a little.

Councillor Robinson could’ve taken a different path. She chose instead to play along with the game and diminish the process just a little bit more. I’m tired. I don’t want to write about Councillor Jaye Robinson anymore.

resignedly submitted by Cityslikr


A Diminishing Debate

June 5, 2015

“This is really a transportation issue, not a planning issue,” said Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, after a particularly prickly press conference she called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east section of the expressway.

stiflingdebate

It’s difficult to know what to make of that quote. Champions of the “hybrid” option, like the mayor and Councillor Robinson, regularly trot out the claim that their choice opens up the Unilver site for massive redevelopment (hinting by omission that the other option, the boulevard option doesn’t which it does). How exactly then is this not a “planning issue”?

Well apparently, it isn’t when it’s pointed out that the “hybrid” option also locks out possible other development potential, some 12 acres of it, worth in the neighbourhood of a cool $2 billion. The boulevard option keeps that development open but also may slightly increase commute times for a small fraction of car driving commuters. Thus, for our mayor and chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, “This is really a transportation issue”.

If the councillor truly believed that, you’d think then, she’d be more open to understanding the transportation issue of this debate. dontbelieveitfaceThat doesn’t appear to be the case. During the press conference, Councillor Robinson played up the traffic havoc that would result if the 1.7 kilometre stretch of elevated expressway came down, replaced by an 8 lane at-grade road. A 5 minute increase in driver commute time. Each way. Negating that would be a “windfall”, the councillor claimed.

Never mind that the numbers in relation to the drive times are contentious. No one knows for certain what they’ll be. What we do know, as rigorously studied and researched examples of other cities that removed expressways have shown, traffic tends to disappear with diminished road capacity. People find other ways to get around the city.

When asked about that fact at the press conference, Councillor Robinson simply replied, “I don’t believe it.”

Just like that. I don’t believe it. I know what I know.

When you refuse to grasp what may be counter-intuitive, you wind up spinning the counterfactual.

While some may be in their element doing that – our current mayor has grown comfortable, trolling in that territory – others wind up diminishing not only the bogus case they’re trying to make but their reputation also. elephantCouncillor Robinson brightened her rather tepid presence at city council last term by stepping up to defend waterfront plans from the incursion made on them by Doug Ford. Now she seems prepared to return to the pod of obedient soldier, stumping for Mayor Tory’s ill-advised assault.

Highly respected urban planner and architect, John van Nostrand, did similar disservice to his reputation with an aggressive performance at the press conference yesterday. A well-regarded name with years of experience, working with the city on waterfront plans and the Gardiner expressway specifically, van Nostrand is the lone ace up the administration’s sleeve in terms of the planning side of the debate. Rather than try to pitch his vision of waterfront development with the Gardiner east remaining elevated, he played pitbull instead, gracelessly attacking the opposing side as simply wrong.

What he tried to do was sell the idea that a better urban form could be developed under and around an elevated expressway than could be with an 8 (or possibly 10) lane, at-grade roadway. granvilleislad“Specious”, he waved off any comparison between the boulevard option and University Avenue while straight-facedly suggesting we could have something similar with the Gardiner east as they have in Vancouver with Granville Island. Counter-intuitive? No. Just counterfactual.

John Lorinc showed John van Nostrand to be an innovative and bold thinker in an article from more than 10 years ago. He was all about enhancing the public realm that had been denigrated by the presence of elevated expressways. A worthy endeavour, for sure, as van Nostrand touted examples of such projects around the world.

As he did at yesterday’s press conference. London, New York, Madrid. But I wanted to know if these places had the choice Toronto faces with the Gardiner east. Did these cities have the option to remove the expressways and bridges or were they simply making do with what was in place? Adapting and adjusting to the results of an earlier age’s choice.

With the Gardiner east, we have another option. Get rid of it, create an entirely new environment. Build and develop essentially from scratch. If that choice was available to London, New York and Madrid, would they have passed it up and simply worked around what was already there?

Of course, we’re long past that kind of nuance in this debate. Arguably, nuance was never part of it. beatenMayor Tory dug in early, set up the ramparts as a bulwark against a rational and robust debate, for reasons still either unclear or absurdly simplistic and calculating.

In falling in line behind him and resorting to mouthing the mayor’s vacuous talking points, not only did “hybrid” supporters like the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair and respected professionals like John van Nostrand do the city a disservice, they sullied their own reputation and work in the process. A victory at city council won’t change that.

belittlingly submitted by Cityslikr


Standing Up To The Mayor

October 15, 2013

Here’s why I’m not a gambling man.

kennyrogers

Back in the early days of the Ford administration if you’d offered me the longest of long shot odds that Councillor Paul Ainslie would be a likely candidate to publicly break with the mayor, I’dve turned you down flat. Not possible, I’d say. There aren’t odds oddsy enough to make me take that bet.

Well, here we are.

On Friday, Councillor Ainslie not only resigned his chair of the Parks and Recreation committee exitstageright(automatically walking away from the powerful Executive Committee in the process) but he did so in a very loud and public fashion.

According to the councillor, Mayor Ford “ran out of ideas a long time ago” and has a “lack of strategic objectives.”

Ouch.

Councillor Ainslie isn’t the first former ally and Executive Committee member to part ways with the mayor but he might be the noisiest. Both councillors Michelle Berardinetti and Giorgio Mammoliti slipped away gently, citing their own reasons for doing so. Councillor Mammoliti has already crawled back onto the Executive Committee, directly replacing Ainslie.

Only Councillor Jaye Robinson’s departure from the inner sanctum back in June made a similar kind of splash. She was turfed for suggesting in her outside voice that maybe Mayor Ford should take a little time away from his position to deal with any sort of personal issues he might be having. pileonRobinson has not shied away from her break with the administration, weighing in on her colleague’s exit and the subsequent robo-call roll out from the mayor’s office that followed.

“We should be encouraging independent thought at City Hall,” she said in the radio interview and referred to Mayor Ford’s ‘leadership style’ as nothing more than “bluster and intimidation” “The farthest thing from transparent and accountable government.”

Along with Ainslie’s transition from an almost Tommy-like support (deaf, dumb and blind…actually, let’s call it Gary Crawford-like support) at the beginning of this term to a bona fide outspoken maverick of Mayor Ford, Councillor Robinson’s increasingly pointed criticism may well represent the soft support that put the mayor over the top in the 2010 election. It’s now evaporating and that should be of some concern to those dreaming of a second term. tommyThe simple fact of the matter is, there isn’t one without at least some of the mushy middle voting public across the city.

Of course, for some this latest schism with a former ally is no fault of the mayor’s. After Councillor Ainslie’s resignation on Friday, councillor-brother Doug went on full smear alert, chalking it up to Ainslie being miffed for having been overlooked to replace outgoing budget chief, Mike Del Grande (who himself kicked up some dust leaving the position. It didn’t amount to much as he seems to just have retreated into a sullen surliness). Frankly, I’d be pissed too if I’d been passed over for the job by Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. If anything is proof of Councillor Ainslie’s assertion that the mayor lacks strategic objectives, it would be his appointing of Frank Di Giorgio as budget chief.

As with almost everything that comes out of the mouth of councillor-brother Doug, the truth about the rift between Ainslie and the Ford administration is much more robust, let’s call it, beginning a lot earlier and in a far more nuanced way.

While Councillor Ainslie was enabling the mayor to run roughshod through the halls of City Hall, cutting this tax and that service, he was also steadily tinkering as chair of the Government Management Committee. yourefiredHe pushed through small but important things like getting wireless service throughout all of City Hall that helped further citizen engagement to the bigger enchilada on that score: sending a request to Queen’s Park for permission to start using alternative voting methods in forthcoming municipal elections. He was actually helping Mayor Ford keep a campaign promise of delivering a more open and transparent government.

But then things seemed to come unglued with some back stage mayoral shenanigans at the Garrison Ball in March. Ainslie was knocked from his post as Government Management Committee chair a couple months later and served briefly as chairs of the Parks and Recreation Committee until this week.

Until his decision to reject the Scarborough subway on Tuesday and opt for the already in place subway. When he stood up at council to make his case for the LRT, he said that he’d gone into the previous weekend fully intending to vote for the subway. Then he started really reading the staff report and just saw the mounting costs that had no definite end to them. yourefired1He found himself weighing his options between a fully funded LRT, ready to go, with no extra costs lurking in the corners versus a subway proposal dripping with unknowns and a much higher price tag.

However, subways have become so integral to the Team Ford brand that to vote against them and vote against them so overtly couldn’t be seen as anything other than an outright rejection of the administration. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another member of the Executive Committee, also voted against the subway but did so in a more low key fashion, so escaped notice.

Or maybe as a potential rival for the mayor’s job next year, he’s being allowed to keep close relations so he doesn’t have much distance between himself and the mayor if they have to campaign against one another.

Or quite possibly, Councillor Minnan-Wong shares enough of Mayor Ford’s loathing of government and taxes hediditthat he’s allowed a longer leash in order to wreak all the damage he can while the clock’s running down.

That’s not the kind of fiscally conservative politician Councillor Paul Ainslie is, obviously. Plus, he’s from the holy land of folks in Scarborough. So he was expendable. He needed to be made an example of.

It’s nothing personal, according to the mayor, although it seems voting against the Scarborough subway was nothing short of a ‘personal attack’ on Mayor Ford according to Councillor Ford. Go figure. *shrug* It’s about politics and political calculation. Plain and simple. The plan is to ride the subway issue to re-election and anybody seen as standing in the way? Electoral road kill.

This couldn’t come as any sort of surprise to Councillor Ainslie. He too must’ve made some calculations and decided to roll the dice on his political future, prepared to face his constituents as a careful custodian of their tax dollars rather than just another mayoral flunky. Again, I’m no betting man but if I were, I wouldn’t put my money against the councillor on this one.

rollthedice

fingers crossedly 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


Designed For Power Not To Rule

May 31, 2013

As the blood continues to ooze from under the door of Mayor Ford’s office at City Hall, bloodtheshingand the already small circle gets even smaller, it’s still difficult to get your head around the notion of a post-Ford Toronto. All those trees being on fire makes it really hard to see the forest. One can hope and one can dream but visualizing it takes a lot of effort.

There’s no telling how this latest… I don’t have the necessary vocabulary to describe the state of mayoral politics in Toronto at the moment… something something … will play out. An early exit? Certainly not by his own volition, it seems. Stay the course! Everything’s fine! First name on the ballot in the next election!

Removal by ‘external forces’, let’s call them. Your guess is as good as mine. They would have to be extraordinary circumstances, even by these already extraordinary circumstances, to turf the mayor before the next scheduled election. Around these parts mayors appear to be immoveable objects once installed into office.

Thing is, though, time marches on regardless of Mayor Ford’s status. The business of the city is being tended to whether he thinks he’s at the helm or not. handofgodTry and look away from the ongoing political wreckage and focus on the bigger picture. Stop squirming while the international audience looks on at us in wide eyed amazement. We all saw that coming, didn’t we? It’s only surprising it took this long.

One way or the other, this will pass. We must be ready to move on. In preparation, it’s good to remind ourselves of two important points that were brought up earlier this week.

Matt Elliott’s Challenge Accepted and Edward Keenan’s The trouble with Dougie’s people taking over. If you haven’t already read them yet, do it right now. I can wait. In fact, I’ll just switch over to my Twitter feed and see if the mayor’s staff has shrunk any further.

Go ahead. We’ll meet back here when you’re done.

wait

 

OK. First, Mr. Elliott.

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.”

We’ve seen it happening already. What’s left of this administration is trying to shrug off accusations about alleged personal failings by pumping up its governance cred. We said we’d stop the gravy train, and we have. We’ve kept your taxes low. We’ve cut wasteful spending. We’ve turned this fiscal ship of state around in the right direction.

Forgive us our trespasses, folks. But we’ve rocked our campaign promises. pickanumber1Boo-yeah!

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.”

They make up magic numbers. They claim credit for things they really had no hand in. What little policy initiatives they have managed to implement don’t amount to much more than a hill of beans in the scheme of things and have only truly accomplished making things just a little bit worse around the city. Fewer buses running more infrequently and more crowded. Park grass cut and streets cleaned a little less often. Smaller selection of books to borrow from the libraries.

And with no noticeable savings of tax dollars in our pockets. As Mr. Elliott shows, despite flatlining our gross operating budget, our property taxes have still gone up. So have user fees like transit fares. We’re paying more than we did in 2010 but are getting less.

Pretty much the exact opposite of Team Ford’s primary campaign pledge.

Pretty much the exact opposite of what any politician who steps into the fray and attempts to champion those very policy ideas and sideline the mayor. Beware any candidate trying to convince you that the message was sound. It was just delivered by the wrong messenger. pinocchio1The direction city council took early on in this term was misguided, no matter who was leading it.

“Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

This is the second point I want to make, cherry-picked from Edward Keenan’s post in The Grid on Wednesday.

The Ford Administration doesn’t have a leg to stand on at this point. Its very legitimacy is being questioned, and not just by the usual suspects who’ve been skeptical of it from the outset. Once obedient councillors are outspoken in their criticism. James Pasternak. John Parker. Jaye Robinson. The loyalist of the loyal simply keep their heads low.

Staff are jumping ship at a dizzying rate. Two yesterday. Five since the crack allegations surfaced. Some now sit on the sidelines, playfully sniping at the administration they once dutifully served.

How does the mayor and his dwindling number of defenders react?

“Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

inyourfaceI might add Deny to that list of Mr. Keenan’s. Deny. Confront. Attack. Repeat.

It goes something like this:

None of this situation – if there was a situation and there’s definitely not a situation – is our fault. It’s all just lies and rumours spread by our enemies. Enemies like the Toronto Star and all the social elite subscribers to that rag who’ve been out to get us since day one. Put up or shut up, folks. Where’s the video? Do you know the kind of pain you’re causing our families? How would you like it if we went after you like you’re going after us? Huh? Maybe I’ll just follow your wife and kids all around the place. How would you like that, huh? Get your own house in order before sticking your nose in our business. Disgruntled ex-employees. Put up or shut up. Put up or shut up.

They are the words of those who are never willing to accept responsibility for any negative consequences of their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. Question them and their motives and the response is always to push back, to challenge, never to answer or explain. Accuse me? Accuse you.

It’s worked for them so far because up until now the other side has blinked. Turned away and moved on to try and work around them. playingchickenjpgBacking down is an understandable instinct when confronted with such aggressive certainty. Nobody can be that sure of themselves and be so willfully wrong, can they?

Yes they can.

We’ve saved the taxpayers a billion dollars, folks.

An entirely fictitious number Team Ford has picked out of thin air to repeat over and over in response to any and all allegations that are fired at it. Part of an incantation of nebulous claims invoked to help ward of the inevitable reality of it all. A billion dollars. The unelected premier. Social elites who’ve run this city for 50 years. Stir in an eye of newt, click your heels twice and poof, everything’s fine, everything’s good, the wolves are no longer at the door.

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.” “Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

It’s the political calculus that has worked like a charm. It’s transformed a fringe city councillor into an unlikely mayor, and his even fringier brother into a bullying power broker. Unfortunately, it’s also ground the wheels of governance of a big, vibrant, progressive city to a near halt.

Mayor Ford and those choosing to remain defiantly in his camp can continue believing that everything’s fine, everything’s hunky dory, and that all the problems that exist are because of other people. Why wouldn’t they? It’s got them this far.

therewillbeblood

But everybody else at City Hall needs to start operating outside of the mayor’s crank circle. Leave them to burn their little playhouse down. It was inevitable they would anyway. Ford Nation was built for little else.

—  exasperatedly submitted by Cityslikr


A Term Limit On Dumb Ideas

February 12, 2013

You want to know how meritless the idea is of term limits on politicians? Both Mayor Rob Ford and I agree it’s without merit. timesupI’m not sure of the internal logic of that statement but, hey, if the Toronto Star’s Royson James can riff on the theme who am I to shy away?

“Public service is an honour,” Councillor Jaye Robinson says in Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article. “It is an opportunity to bring your knowledge and your experience to City Hall but it is not a career path. It is simply a calling, it is not a career.”

What is it about a life in politics that makes it so different from being a doctor or a bank manager? There’s a hint of Tea Party populism in the councillor’s statement, the dismissive view of career politicians. theresthedoorSomehow a politician’s ‘calling’ is finite — twelve years in her view – while a calling into the priesthood, say, is a lifelong pact.

It’s almost as if Councillor Robinson is suspicious of those who would make politics their life’s work. That no one could possibly want to make a career of public service in a capacity they excel at. You know what the problem with politics is? Politicians. Career politicians.

A call for term limits is the laziest of reactions to political disengagement and disenchantment. And that they’re being touted by two rookie councillors, Robinson and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who turfed incumbents in 2010 to get into office is even more puzzling. Their new blood and ideas can now infuse the politics of the city, to paraphrase Royson James, because of successful election campaigns.

Yes, there are huge advantages to being an incumbent, mostly name recognition that’s especially pronounced at the municipal level but for reasons beyond James’ overly simplistic office budget “re-election slush fund” thinking. I’m of the belief that being an incumbent at the municipal level is so formidable because, until recently at least, voters didn’t pay that much attention to local politics between election cycles. It’s the most junior level of government after all, concerned mostly with garbage pick-up and neighbourhood stop signs. publicparticipationSo remembering who their councillor’s name was the biggest effort most people put into it.

But I think there’s much better ways to effectively engage the public. Directly involving a community in the decision making process is one. That may mean using the easily hated councillor office budgets to host town halls and other types of meetings we’ve seen crop up recently like on the casino issue or transit funding. Let’s promote a more participatory budget approach that elicits public input before most of the decisions have been made rather than just in reaction to them.

We could also invigorate our electoral system to make it both more inclusive and more competitive. In the Torontoist yesterday, Desmond Cole made the case for extending municipal voting rights to permanent residents. “In 2006,” Cole writes, “Ryerson municipal affairs expert Myer Siemiatycki estimated that at least 250,000 Toronto residents, or 16 per cent of the city’s population, could not vote in municipal elections because they were not citizens.” stuntA quarter-million currently disenfranchised residents suddenly eligible to vote would most certainly shake up our local democracy.

How about modifying the way we vote? For years Dave Meslin and the folks at RaBIT have pushed the idea of alternative voting as a counter to the power of incumbency. A quick glance at the 2010 election results shows that a ranked ballot might’ve led to the defeat of 10 incumbent councillors.

This isn’t an argument suggesting that governance here in Toronto has no need of modernizing or recalibration. Imagine my smirk after reading the deputy mayor’s claim, “We’ve had people (at City Hall) that should never have been there for a day that have been there for years.” Talk about your kettle throwing the pot around in a glass house. But if it takes term limits in order to rid the place of do-nothing councillors like our budget chief, speaker or deputy mayor, well, we have bigger fish to fry. Term limits smack of cheap fixes and political stunts. Toss away ideas that make a lot of noise but deliver very little meaningful change.

time sensitively submitted by Cityslikr