Democracy By The Square Foot

August 28, 2015

As summer cools and fall looms, the options report for Toronto’s ward boundary review begins to sink into focus. (I’ve written – dare I say it? – voluminously about it . Most recently here.) wardboundaryreviewoptionsreportJust now, I am struck by a thought.

Should city council be the ultimate decider on this? How wards get reconfigured may have, will have, a direct impact on more than a few sitting councillors. It’s difficult not to see something of a conflict of interest inherent in this process.

It’s a horse that’s already left the barn, obviously, but you can see the optics of even the most well-meaning councillor being called into question, read it in the comments section of any news story about the issue. No politician will decide to get rid of their own job! Less pigs at the trough not more! The Jays are going to fold just like they usually do! Oh, yeah. And I hate politicians!!

Such a specter of negative public perception will most definitely hang over the proceedings. The consulting group responsible for conducting the public meetings, writing the reports and making the recommendations have taken the two most contentious and illusorily logical options off the table. Simply cutting the ward numbers in half elicited little, if loud, public support. thumbthescaleAligning ward boundaries with the new federal ridings failed to address the voter disparity, the democratic deficit that served as the ultimate reason for reworking our ward boundaries.

This doesn’t mean city council can’t revive them. Staff and expert reports are rarely treated as sacrosanct especially if they get in the way of politics. It would be naïve of anyone to think politics won’t play a part, a significant part, in this when all is said and done.

One political angle has already emerged. It emerged early on in the first round of public consultations and popped back up in a CBC article a couple days ago. “Residents of towers [high rise apartments and condo buildings, I guess] rarely interact with their councillor,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell said. apartmenttower“Most interaction we have I would say are residents calling about property issues. They are homeowners.”

Homeowners. Property issues.

In response on the Twitter, John McGrath made a very interesting and telling point. “Almost everywhere, municipal government is about and for single-family homeowners, with everyone else shoehorned in where necessary.” Councillor Campell’s mistake was just saying out loud what is true but nobody wants to talk about.

Homeowners. Taxpayers. Hardworking taxpayers.

In response to my rather pointed, shall we say, social media queries at the councillor about his comment, he informed me that in Ward 4 there are 14,000 homes versus 6,000 apartments, roughly a 70:30 ratio. densityandsprawlYet his office only gets 5% of calls from apartment/condo residents requiring work of some sort from him. Thus, to his mind, “equal distribution [of residents/ward] will not provide equitable representation.”

Setting aside the fact that on the city’s website, the Ward 4 profile (according to the 2011 census) has it that just under 47% of households are technically considered “apartment buildings”, a significantly different ratio than the councillor stated, Councillor Campbell seems to be equating representation at City Hall with how much work he is called upon to do for a resident. Homeowners demand more. So homeowners’ votes should count for more.

Or something.

Perhaps a more generous interpretation would be that, in Councillor Campbell’s view, an uneven distribution of residents per ward is warranted since different built forms demand different levels of work for councillors. If your ward is dominated by apartment towers, full of residents making fewer demands because, apparently,towers apartment dwellers are more content than those forced to mow their own lawns and shovel their own sidewalks, that councillor can not serve more of them.

“Capacity to represent” is certainly one of the considerations being factored in to the ward boundary equation but should hardly be the sole determinant in calculating full “effective representation” the report is striving toward. It’s the customer service aspect of serving as a city councillor, the crowd pleaser. Surely, there’s more to the job of being a city councillor than completing work orders, isn’t there?

If some of Toronto’s residents aren’t engaged with City Hall, maybe it’s because they haven’t figured out they can or why they should even bother. Shouldn’t at least one aspect of this “capacity to represent” be about proactive engagement by our local representatives? suburbs50sIf Councillor Campbell is only hearing from a very small section of Ward 4 residents living in apartment buildings, maybe he ought to wonder why rather than conclude, It’s all good.

As difficult as it might be to believe, given the last 5 years or so around these parts, civic engagement isn’t only about airing out our grievances. There should be a much more positive exchange. Of ideas and opinions rather than just complaints.

There’s also a bigger political question at play here. While certainly Toronto’s population and development growth isn’t concentrated just in the older legacy part of the city, people are moving in and moving on up in the southern part of Etobicoke, along the lake just under Ward 4, as well us up north in Willowdale and the northeastern part of Scarborough, there can be little denying that a critical mass are heading to a few wards right smack dab downtown. More people could translate into more wards in that area. shutthedoorIt would stand to reason and only be fair if we have even a passing interest in “voter parity” or the old rep-by-pop saw.

Such a demographic and democratic shift could well threaten to upset the ruling coalition of suburban council votes that has been a mainstay in Toronto since amalgamation, and even under the previous Metro form of governance when the population had migrated from the core of the city. Power shifts to where the people are, and I’m not just talking geographically. The reign of traditional ‘homeowners’, as Councillor Campbell defines them, detached, single-family houses, living the Cleaver lifestyle, is under threat. There’s no room anymore in Toronto. What there is now is all there will ever be.

In order to resist such change councillors like John Campbell, and Scarborough throwback, Jim Karygiannis who voiced similar flippant disregard during the first round of public meetings for those deemed not to be real homeowners, will have to work to diminish non-homeowners’ status as residents of this city. viewPeople living in apartments and condo towers have their own building management at their beck and call, the local councillor from Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt opined. Granting them equal representation at City Hall would be just unfair.

Democracy by the square foot, in other words. Nothing new, of course. But we need to call it what it is.

size mattersly submitted by Cityslikr


Who’s Your Dada?

April 5, 2015

whosaskingIn this year’s Easter edition of Answering Questions No Reader Asked, we respond to the non-query, What Is Dada and What the Hell Were You Talking About Earlier This Week? Making Up Stories. What the hell was that? Some kind of April’s Fool thing?

Yeah so, about that.

As the week wore on, it struck me that the post felt like an incomplete thought or, at least, there’s was more to say on the subject. Let’s sum it up as right wing faux populism as a form of Dada expression. None of it has to make any sense exactly because that’s the point, to not make any sense.

We need to stop looking for explanations in their actions, in the things they say, the positions they pronounce. Logical consistency is absent not through any inability to reason logically but because there’s no need for it. Reductio ad absurdum. See? This whole government thing is ridiculous because, well, look at me. Look at what I do, what I say, the shenanigans I wind up performing.

If there really was anything to this idea of the usefulness of City Hall, surely politicians like we are wouldn’t be elected, time and time again, time after time. How could it not be a circus and clown show when clowns and carnies perform key roles? absurdDon’t take what they do seriously because they sure don’t.

And I’m not just talking the Ford Brothers Travelling Shit Show, their little fiefdom of folly. Or Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and His Flickering House of Mirrors. Add to that extremity of lunacy, new councillor and long time Member of Parliament, Jim Karygiannis, defining defiling the Liberal brand for a generation now.

Consider the more ‘serious’ acts. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, at perpetual war with anything and everything he deems to be excessive public spending, and most public spending is excessive in the Deputy Mayor’s eyes except when it comes to clearing the way for his much beloved Subaru. How about the chair of Planning and Growth Management and self-proclaimed pro-Spadina Expressway protester back in the day, Councillor David Shiner? Planning and growth? In somebody else’s backyard please with a helping of subway, if you don’t mind.

Councillor Ron Moeser, some 30 years a city councillor and still operating in a state of constant confusion. nonsenseDitto Councillor Frank Di Giorgio who, in addition, isn’t a big fan of the City of Toronto Act and all its proposed responsibilities for municipal politicians. Who needs that, am I right?

Elected public servants with a dim view of the efficacy of public service, dedicating much of their respective adult lives to actively diminishing it. You don’t actually take this stuff seriously, do you? Nobody really thinks we can make much of a difference, do they? If they did, they might pay a little more attention to the people they send to City Hall to represent their interests.

It’s a political negative feedback loop.

“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” Groucho Marx said.

City Hall’s a joke, right? Let’s not waste any time doing anything productive. We’ll just play down to the non-expectations everyone has of the place. dadafairPoint of order, Madam Speaker! Or maybe it’s a point of privilege. I never did understand the difference between those two. Whatever. Blah, blah, blah, blah…

And then an earnest do-gooder arrives at the place, one sharing a similarly askance view of it. After all, he once thought Rob Ford would be a suitable mayor of the city. Taking in the spectacle for a few months, he shakes his head. It only confirms his bias. “I thought (Wednesday) was an example where there were probably four or five hours just wasted on stuff that was sort of interesting maybe to a few people but it really wasn’t advancing the public interest,” Mayor John Tory said. Democracy, eh? Just a bunch of people wasting hours and hours, talking about stuff that was sort of interesting to them but to what end? We need to streamline this. Less chatter, less grandstanding, more doing.

Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right. Mayor Tory’s stuck in the middle with democracy. shirtlessSurely there must be a more productive way to get things done around here. I mean, what the hell does Giorgio Mammoliti have to offer anyway?

Exactly.

Councillor Mammoliti and his ilk have been striving to prove that point for years now, decades even. This whole thing’s a joke and he’s a clown prince. You’d be an idiot to think otherwise. If you just stopped caring (like he has), then maybe the place would just shrivel up and disappear. I mean, what the hell does City Hall have to offer for us anyhow?

ridiculously submitted by Cityslikr