The Friends You Pick And The Company You Keep

October 20, 2014

When a mayoral candidate begins endorsing city council candidates, what image is it that they’re trying to project?

choosechooseA sense of inevitability?

This is a lock, folks. I will be the next mayor and these are the councillors I want to be working with me. Help me bring a wave of change to City Hall!

But what if a mayor miscalculates in his pre-election endorsements? What if his endorsed city council candidates lose? Their victorious opponents arrive at (or return to) City Hall knowing the incoming mayor doesn’t think too much of them. It could set a rather chilly tone to the start of a working relationship.

Back in 2010, Rob Ford attempted to ride a growing tide of support as the election neared, to influence some council races, to mixed success, I’d call it. He scored Vincent Crisanti but had a series of near misses against Gloria Lindsay Luby, Peter Milczyn and Marie Augimeri. Aside from loyalty to the end from Crisanti, it’s hard to see if his choices in the other races had much affect on his working relationships with the eventual winners.picksides

But honestly, Rob Ford may not be the best example for this, as his whole approach to governing was based on a binary, you’re for me or you’re against me dynamic. Picking sides was just how he rolled.

Maybe rather than a tactical manoeuvre, we should view mayoral campaign endorsements as a reflection of what kind of mayor we’d be getting. The council candidates a mayoral candidate endorses are the kind of councillors the would-be mayor would like to work with. They represent the ideal city council.

Last Friday mayoral frontrunner, John Tory, officially endorsed two city council candidates, Kristin Carmichael Greb in Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence and Jon Burnside, Ward 26 Don Valley West. Ward 16 is an open ward with no incumbent running. John Parker is a two-term councillor in Ward 26.

What do these endorsements say about John Tory’s opinion of city councillors he’d like to work with? According to Josh Dehaas of CTV News, “Tory responded that he did not endorse those candidates because they favour jets, but because they share his vision for the city, including his transit plan.”

logrolling“They both support SmartTrack,” Tory said, “they both support tax increases at or below inflation and they both support contracting out garbage in the east end of the city.”

Carmichael is the daughter of the local Conservative M.P. who had endorsed Tory for mayor just days earlier. Her website is chock full of conservative support and she certainly toes a very fiscally conservative (one might go as far to call it Ford-like) line.

Toronto, and in fact all governments across Canada, are facing increasing pressure on their budget due to growing costs, rising demand for its services, and waste and inefficiencies. They need to operate within their means – you cannot mortgage your kids’ future simply to get by today.

Given this fiscal reality, we need to be able to do more with less. We need to look at things like alternative models of service delivery. This could provide much needed cost savings while maintaining the quality of services we deliver.

Jon Burnside, on the other hand, is a complete cipher. I cannot get any sort of handle on his candidacy at all. I have come across many platitude and slogan filled websites during this campaign but Burnside’s ranks up there among the blandest and least consequential.cipher

In his Accountability and Customer Service section, he pledges a 24 hour callback guarantee and monthly Town Hall meetings. Both admirable but then he states he will “Champion the needs and interests of all of our Ward 26 neighbourhoods. My interest in making a difference will be consistent, earnest and genuine.” And then, “Lead in a collaborative and co-operative way, working together with the Mayor and all Councillors to move our City forward.”

Is it just me or is that little more than space filler?

“The debate about subways versus LRTs is based on the false premise that one of these transit solutions is the best answer in all parts of Toronto,” Mr. Burnside writes. Good, good. Go on. “I support a holistic approach to transit that includes improved subway, LRT, bus and above-ground train services.”

And… ?

Aside from the Fords, who doesn’t agree with that view on transit?

On and on, it continues with little more than mush in bullet points.

I will take my business experience, entrepreneurial spirit and energy to City Hall and ensure that tax dollars are spent responsibly – with a focus on delivering maximum value for every dollar.

City Hall needs Councillors with positive attitudes and an optimistic outlook; people who find solutions rather than offering excuses.  I have a track record of cutting through the red tape and delivering results — results that make a difference in our community.

Zzzzzzzz…

Out of hundreds of candidates running for city council, this is one John Tory chooses to endorse?!fingerscrossed

Look, I endorsed other candidates in both these races. John Parker struck me as a reasonable, civil conservative councillor who stood up to bad transit decisions. City council could use a few more of those types not less. You’d think he’d align perfectly with Tory’s proclaimed moderate, centrist values.

In Ward 16, J.P. Boutros is one of my go-to, A1, top notch challengers. While it’s not surprising Tory didn’t share my views on that endorsement, given Boutros’ very strong stance against proceeding with the Scarborough subway extension, it is disturbing that, according to a media release put out by Boutros after Tory’s endorsements last week, “Tory’s announcement comes two weeks after Tory’s campaign team pledged to me that they had no intention of endorsing anyone in the Ward 16 race.”

Yeah, you know that thing we said before? Well, not so much now. No hard feelings, I hope, if it turns out we backed the wrong horse on this, yeah?killpeacejpg

Frankly, I would’ve thought that, given the divisiveness and acrimony at city council, a mayoral hopeful might want to stay above the fray and come in to office with a clean slate. John Tory’s told us he’s a uniter. He’s all about One City.

Yet, he’s not even elected and here he goes picking sides already.

I’m beginning to suspect John Tory isn’t the kind of candidate he’s been trying to convince us he is.

suspiciously submitted by Cityslikr


Another Photo Finish in Ward 26?

January 16, 2014

Just a quick clarification before I jump right into the next instalment of 15 Wards to Watch (Previous entries here and here.)reminder

This in no way should be interpreted as a list of worst councillors or bums that need to be tossed out. As I wrote at the beginning, if it were, the likes of councillors Frances Nunziata (Ward 11 York South-Weston) or Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore) would feature front and centre. While I’ve certainly weighted the calculations to reflect my opinion of the work councillors do at City Hall, it’s not what this about.

I’m looking at 15 wards that could be seriously contested in the upcoming municipal election based on a combination of councillor competency, the strength of their incumbency and the degree of their plurality in 2010. Obviously, high marks in category one is my way of subjectively skewing the results but as with the above mentioned councillors, primerincumbency and the ease of victory last time out also contribute.

Think of this as a primer, if you will. An All Fired Up in the Big Smoke guide to prospective candidates pondering a run for city council. The information contained within should be considered 85% reliable, 19 times out of 20.

*  *  *

Councillor John Parker (Ward 26 Don Valley West) seems like a nice guy. Well spoken, thoughtful and with a dry sense of humour. His biggest contribution to this term at city council has been in his role as Deputy Speaker. In what could only be best described as a perpetual and ongoing clusterfuck, Councillor Parker always brings a sense of calm, civility and decorum to the proceedings when he assumes the Speaker’s chair.soothing

It also should not be overlooked that he quietly helped derail Mayor Ford’s plan to bury the Eglinton crosstown for the entire length of the route including, somehow, as it crossed the Don Valley. “We’re buying LRTs and asking it to do what a subway does,” Councillor Parker said back in December 2011. “It’ll be the goofiest LRT line known to man.” Parker helped TTC chair Karen Stintz take control of the board from the mayor and oust Ford loyalists who’d turfed then TTC CEO (and LRT supporter) Gary Webster.

He then stood opposed to the TTC chair’s move to build a Scarborough subway her way and was very vocal on the council floor, speaking out against the ultimately successful bid to abandon the planned and paid for LRT replacement of the Scarborough RT with a subway. So he’s got transit working for him. texaschainsawmassacreAs long as you don’t consider cycling and walking an integral part of a transit network.

There’s the rub. Councillor Parker is still what you might call a fiscal conservative with an OK sensibility of city building but not outstanding. Money first. Ideas next.

And we cannot forget that he was a member of the Mike Harris government back in the 90s when subways were filled in, costs downloaded to the city and enforced amalgamation. Much of this burden we’re still living with currently. So it’s annoyingly ironic that here he is, a decade and a half later, contributing (or not) to cleaning up a mess he as an MPP helped create. Such a mess that Councillor Parker, during a 2012 budget debate, had the gumption to suggest was severe enough to force him to float visions of Detroit and Greece if we didn’t clean up our act.

John Parker is much smarter than that.johnparker

As mixed as I’d call his time at city council as, the real factor in making Ward 26 one to watch is his tenuous hold on it. He was first elected in 2006 with just over 20% of the popular vote. In 2010 in another tight race, this time a 3-way one, Parker increase his share popular vote share to over 31% but only 600 votes separated him from the 3rd place finisher.

Slight shifts in either of these elections would’ve kept him from winning. Is he as vulnerable this time out? While I’d think his profile has been elevated (always a plus for an incumbent) especially in his role as Deputy Speaker if nothing else, does it move in a favourable direction for him?

He’s certainly become increasingly vocal in his opposition to Mayor Ford to the point that during the ice storm cleanup cost debate, the mayor’s brother-councillor-campaign manager told Councillor Parker that he was pathetic and a joke. photofinishSo Parker might not want to count on any Ford Nation bump to help him out in a close race. That ship seems to have already sailed.

Will it matter?

I’ve said that regardless of what happens at the mayoral level, the mayor isn’t going to have long enough coat tails to settle many council races especially ones that aren’t in Etobicoke or Scarborough. So Ward 26 is Councillor John Parker’s to lose. Depending on who lines up against him and if there’s another vote split like occurred in both of Parker’s previous victories, I’m pretty comfortable in calling this one a nail biter.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Taking Care Of Business

June 1, 2013

Here was my first reaction:

City council must act with blazing fury… Actually, the first reaction was:ptahasdisbanded

City council must act with blazing furry. Funnier, but didn’t take me in the direction I wanted to go.

City council must act with blazing fury to counter the growing perception that Toronto is on political fire, gridlocked, mismanaged and manhandled. It isn’t true. People shouldn’t think it is.

The mayor’s office is clearly dysfunctional. Order has broken down. Despite their best attempts to give off the air of business as usual, with his daily press conferences – in themselves unusual for the normally media averse mayor – touting policy initiatives from 2011, there’s a manic desperation to the show. As you were. Nothing to see here, folks. Folks.

Unfortunately, the disarray is being extrapolated on to the wider council. Civic governance has broken down. The premier of the province has expressed concern and is monitoring the situation. Dark talk of dissolving council and control being taken by Queen’s Park.

nothingtoseehere

“Quite honestly,” Councillor John Parker told the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat on Friday, “as I said all along, one person in this building has a problem but that doesn’t translate to the rest of us.”

“My work goes on, the work of my colleagues goes on, the work of the city goes on and whether the mayor is part of it or not should be a matter of concern to him but frankly it is not a matter of concern to me.”

While that may be overly sanguine of Councillor Parker, the mayor’s office does possess enough procedural oomph to throw up roadblocks and drag the governance process out, the business of city running is being conducted even in the dark shadow cast by the mayoral tumult. That’s the way it is, how our system works. Everything’s fine.

But it’s doesn’t seem that way to the wider public. It’s not just the mayor who’s looking like a bumbling, country bumpkin. takincareofbusinessThe ability to govern ourselves is being held up to question.

Maybe I’m allowing myself to get caught up in the frenzy but I’d like to see the council step up with a flagrant display of authority. Go all Alexander Haig on the mayor’s ass by declaring who exactly is in control here. Make a point of very visibly pushing Mayor Ford to the sidelines. Officially state what is already the de facto situation at City Hall.

How exactly to do that?

Remove the chairs of a couple of the big committees like Budget and Public Works and Infrastructure. Re-configure the committee membership to better reflect the wider will of the council. Erase any stamp the mayor now has on them.

And next council meeting put forth a motion to remove Speaker Frances Nunziata from her position. Aside from the mayor and his brother, no one exemplifies the aggressively partisan and divisive nature of city council more than the speaker. Dumping her and elevating Deputy Speaker Parker to the position would set a much more civil, productive tone than we’ve been witness to for the past two and a half years.

It would go a long way to establishing a post-Ford era that in many ways has already happened.

Yeah anyway, turns out such machinations are much harder in reality than they are in my ever hopeful (and not a little bit spiteful) imagination.

Reading through the Toronto Municipal Code Council Procedures, it seems what little extra power the office of the mayor has is pretty ironclad. Even a super-majority of councillors (30) cannot simply undo what a mayor has done in terms of appointments. takeanaxetotheplaceThere doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to replace committee chairs or members once they are in place. (Although I am curious to know how the TTC commission putsch took place and all the Ford allies removed last year. Perhaps because it’s a commission and not a committee, and the rules are slightly different.)

The one intriguing possibility is in removing the council speaker. A two-thirds majority can vote to replace the speaker and nominate someone else but the mayor has ultimate veto power. So I envisioned this scenario where council turfs Councillor Nunziata from the speaker’s chair but Mayor Ford refuses to sign off on any replacement. This continues until council meets where, in an official speaker’s absence, the mayor would have to chair the meeting.

Oh, the possibilities. Mayor Ford stuck in the speaker’s chair for an entire meeting unless he wanted to hand over the duties to Deputy Speaker Parker. A backdoor triumph for the council rebellion.

On the other hand, such a state of affairs could simply heighten a sense of inoperable gridlock. A sager sage than I also pointed out the favourable optics for the mayor in this case. Once more under siege by those ignoring the democratic will of the people of Toronto, it would feed into the already ample persecution complex of the mayor and his supporters. farceHis outsider status further accentuated.

Better to just carry on and conduct business as usual. “…the work of the city goes on,” as Councillor Parker said, “and whether the mayor is part of it or not should be a matter of concern to him but frankly it is not a matter of concern to me.” When all is said and done, Mayor Ford is just one vote and if he fails to use what power he’s been granted to marshal a majority of council behind him, well, that’s all on him. He’ll have to explain his failure to the voters in 2014.

But might I suggest city council recognize the extraordinary circumstances it’s found itself in and go a little further than simply ‘business as usual’? Be bold in the power that it has to go beyond the mayor’s obstructionist intent. Craven votes like last month’s transit funding debacle only help feed into the growing sense that nothing productive is being done. Mayor Ford brought council down to his level on that.

It’s time for council to step up and distinguish itself from the mess that is the mayor’s office now. Lead don’t simply react. Accept the fact the mayor no longer commands the authority to lead the city (and view with suspicion any councillor pretending that he still does) and assume the leadership void.

keepcalmandstepforward

That can be done simply, one vote at a time.

BTOly 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


My Problem With Conservatives

January 20, 2013

“You need to friend yourself some conservative friends.”

This coming across the desk at me from someone who, acaphlegmicif the universe worked in such a manner, could be the spawn of Charles Bukowski and Jeff Lebowski.

I’d discovered Acaphlegmic at the computer this morning when I swung by the office. Before I could even ask him what he was doing, he’d quickly shut everything down, mumbling something about having a bone to pick with the Nobel judges. Under most other situations, this would be a cause for alarm with every reason to assume we would now be on some sort of watch list from some sort of authority somewhere. But I was pretty sure Acaphlegmic remained oblivious to the power of the interwebs, believing us always to be magically connected at the slightest push of any button on the keyboard in front of him.

“Friend myself?”

“You’re living too much inside the bubble. You need to diversify your thoughts, acquaint yourself with the Other. You’ve lost perspective, my friend. You’ve lost perspective.”

Again, this was a little rich coming from Acaphlegmic, the only actual real life hippie I know. A man with the Spirit of `68 tattooed across his shoulders. A man who, while frequently unable to remember your name during the course of a single conversation, could recite The Wave passage from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, word for word, in even the most stuporous of stupors.bukowski

Seriously. I need more conservative friends?

It was true. I am not feeling at my charitable best these days toward conservatives and conservative thought. (I submit these posts here and here as proof of that claim.) But I think I am hardly to blame in this dissatisfaction. Look around. Conservative ideology has devolved into a place of solace for the bitter and the deranged. In my day, the cranky old man schtick on the CBC was performed by the likes of Gordon Sinclair. Compare that with Kevin O’Leary and tell me which one of us has changed. Me or conservatism?

Leaning in toward Acaphlegmic, “Don’t tell me. Some of your best friends are conservative.”.

“You’d be surprised,” was his response. And as a matter of fact, I would be, yes.

thebiglebowski“Name me one reasonable conservative politician since Bill Clinton,” I asked him.

This seemed to throw him for moment but not for the reason I expected.

“Who said anything about conservatives being reasonable?” he responded. “I’m not saying you need to embrace their politics. You just need to befriend one or two. Pretend like you actually think anything they have to say on how the world is run makes a lick of sense. Fake it.”

“Why? If I’m not even going to try. Why bother?”

I mean, I’m sure there are conservatives out there who’d be engaging dinner party companions. A few you could go to a ball game with, talk sports shit. Hell, I imagine I could share a plate of oysters and a bottle of Cab with someone like Councillor John Parker, and then go take in a performance of Tom Stoppard’s – note to self: I’ve read somewhere that Stoppard is of a conservative bent. He’d be a conservative you could probably spend time with — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at Soulpepper (coming this February and March) and have a gay old time (in the Flintstones sense of the word rather than its more modern usage) of it.dontmentionthewar

But we would never talk politics.

It’s like that episode of Fawlty Towers when the Germans come to stay at the inn. “Don’t mention the war!” Basil implored before hitting his head on something or other and goose-stepping around the dining room. Don’t mention the war.

Just like you don’t mention politics if you want to have a civil conversation with a conservative.

They’re not up to it anymore.

Take the aforementioned Councillor Parker for example.

Seems perfectly congenial, with a dry sense of humour. We’ve talked often of the noticeable positive change in tone at council meetings when he assumes the speaker’s chair in place of the hyper-partisan, rabid oversight of Speaker Frances Nunziata. As a member of the TTC commission, Councillor Parker was front-and-centre in his very laid back manner in which he helped de-rail Mayor Ford’s pursuit of subways. johnparker“Goofy”, I believe his descriptor was of the burying of the Eglinton crosstown as it journeyed across the Don Valley.

But then Councillor Parker has not been above the eye-rolling antic of intoning ‘Greece’ as the economic path we’re going down if we don’t rein in our spending. That’s nonsense a crazy conservative like Doug Ford spouts when he’s run out of other empty platitudes not a supposed thoughtful conservative like John Parker. To try and draw parallels between Greece and Toronto in terms of fiscal problems is simply an open admission that you’re not to be considered a serious participant in our civic conversation.

“See? Right there,” Acaphlegmic interrupted my train of thought. “That kind of talk suggests you’re not really interested in understanding a conservative point of view.”

(Yes. I do realize a certain glaring gaffe just took place which, at closer inspection suggests Acaphlegmic must’ve been reading my mind. Indulge me that narrative tic, if you will.)

“But you just said conservatives weren’t reasonable and it wasn’t necessary to embrace their politics!”

“I did. But you have to be open-minded and make the appearance of listening and considering.”

Aside from the fact it was a stance Acaphlegmic would never take, I am of the opinion we are bombarded by conservative political views, monotonously and regularly. It’s not like we have to actively seek it out. After 30 years or so of indoctrination through our mainstream media, we can rhyme the rhetoric off by rote. fingerscrossedSmall government, yes. Big business, yes. Unions, bad. Free markets, free of regulation. Low taxes, big profits. Trickle down. All boats lifted.

And frankly, if conservatives would just be honest with their political ideology, I’d be much more conducive to having a conversation with them. But they’re not. They hide behind the pseudo-science of economic theories, pretending it’s all about fiscal ‘discipline’ I believe they call it when we’ve seen it’s anything but.

Pre-mayor Rob Ford was a conservative politician who put it all out there. He hated the idea of paying taxes and the notion of government spending on anything other than public safety and the ease of car travel. He frequently listed off the businesses government shouldn’t be in the business of but then, something happened.

No service cuts, guaranteed.

He or someone smarter than he was on the campaign team knew that the councillor’s true conservative politics would never fly with a plurality of the electorate. Want to see Ford Nation shrivel up and blow away? Be upfront with the implications of conservative ideology. Of course, there’s going to be slashing and burning of services and programs. How else do you think we’re going to balance the books without raising taxes? You want something? You pay for it.

That’s not a winnable mandate. thesuddenlyConservatives know that, so they lie about their intentions. It’s government by euphemism.

So here in Toronto, conservative councillors wrap themselves in a cloak of debt fear in order to siphon off operating funds to unnecessarily pay down chunks of capital expenses to avoid the impending financial cataclysm only they can see. Deceitful disingenuousness or a monumental lack of understanding of how municipal financing works? Hardly matters. It’s bad enough having such wrong-thinking politicians at the levers of power let alone contemplating hanging out with any of them socially.

“Did you hear what I was just thinking, Acaphlegmic?”

But I’d lost him. He’d nodded off during my last internal tirade as, I fear, many of you have.

So let me just wrap up. It’s not the conservative politics I dislike so much. It’s the shady, under-handed way the beast is propagated that I can’t abide. Who wants to be friends with anyone so untrustworthy?

up frontly submitted by Cityslikr


We Won’t Pay. We Can Pay. But You Pay.

December 12, 2012

Just another quick thought after this week’s deputations at the Budget Committee. My magnum opus on the subject is coming tomorrow. onemorething(That’s what you call a self-imposed deadline, folks. Fear of a ‘What is this shit again? You promised something weighty today’ response.)

At committee end yesterday, councillors split into their respective camps over the proposed 2013 budget, not coincidentally, the visiting ones largely on the ‘nay’ side while the mayor’s men, committee members, lining up in formation in the ‘yea’ aisle. To Take On More Debt Or Not To Take On More Debt. That was the question.

For a much more in-depth explanation of this budgetary divide, you need to read Matt Elliott’s analysis, Budget 101. But the gist of it is, some elected officials see debt as a useful tool in building and maintaining stuff a city needs like, say, basic infrastructure. Sewers, roads and sidewalks, transit. Others see debt and soil themselves.

Yeah. I think that about sums it up. Self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives want to run a government nothing like they would their households or businesses even while proclaiming that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. And they’re the ones who keep bringing that analogy up. Funny, that.

Never mind how Councillor Doug Ford used his three minutes to sum up the budget direction. Nonsense and hyperbole largely. Just a rehash of his greatest hits. Everything we’ve heard before, signifying nothing. womanscream(More Shakespearean allusions to give this thing some heft.)

Councillor Peter Milczyn piped in saying this budget and this administration he’s been an integral part of has done nothing more radical than reverse the Miller years’ habit of ‘spending money we didn’t have’, I believe is how he put it. Note to self: email councillor_milczyn@toronto.ca and ask how exactly he bought his house or car for that matter.

I know, I know.

I hate having to go to that well all the time but how else do you respond to such inane views of public sector financing? Seriously? I’m asking because I’ve tapped it dry and politicians like Councillor Milczyn never seem to tire of making such ridiculous claims.

Councillor John Parker took a more intriguing angle on the debt question. Citing the entirely self-imposed 15% debt level of the city’s property tax revenues, he suggested council shouldn’t aim for it simply because it was there. How’d he put it exactly? You don’t put canaries down a coal mine just to kill them. As if councillors want to mount that entirely artificial debt ceiling simply because it’s there and not because there’s pressing shit the city has to build and repair. But for the likes of Councillor Parker – a one-term member of the Mike Harris government, it should be noted regularly, a player on the team who kick-started us down this path of fiscal instability – debt ceilings, even ones as entirely manufactured as this one is, are there to be feared and trembled before, shied away from at all costs.

And make no mistake, there will be costs to such debt fear, there have been costs already (*A-hem, A-hem* TCHC repair backlog. The crumbling Gardiner. *A-hem, A-hem*). bleakfutureThose proclaiming that, at the end of the day, these are the times we live in, have played a major part in getting us here. In these times. At the end of the day. Catchphrases devoid of any real meaning, replacing real argument.

It seems perfectly acceptable and fiscally upright to defend our children and grandchildren from a future weighed down by financial debt. Yet somehow handing them the baton of decrepit infrastructure is hunky dory. Yes, kids. We could’ve helped you out, paid for some of this when interest rates were low and the costs less but instead, we saved ourselves a few bucks and left you to it. You’re welcome.

That’s what you call fiscal conservatism in these days we live in.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayoral Shakedown

November 30, 2012

There was a moment during the recess. A recess called by Deputy Speaker John Parker after Mayor Rob Ford lost his shit. Vintage Rob Ford losing his shit. angrybirdLosing his shit like we had not seen since he was Councillor Rob Ford.

The matter in hand was about parking. A proposed development in Councillor Adam Vaughan’s ward was going ahead without the amount of parking spaces the mayor deemed appropriate. Parking spaces the developer didn’t want to build.

The mayor thought it inconceivable anyone would want to live somewhere they had to take the streetcar to and from. Or bike in the winter. It was just another project Councillor Vaughan was trying to sneak through under cover of the dying moments of the third day of council meeting.

Heated words. A time out called. Both sides retired to their respective corners.

In that moment of recess, Rob Ford looked very contented. Unfazed by the fact he’d just got walloped in a previous vote over another proposed development in Councillor Vaughan’s ward that the city planning staff was not yet entirely on board with.alrightmrdemille Another item he’d lost his shit over.

But clearly, losing a vote hardly mattered to the mayor. Losing his shit was the whole point. He needed the clip, the sound bite, the TV moment. “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Throughout the three days of this council meeting, Mayor Ford had been absent, both physically and.. what? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? He’d checked out. Yet he hung around yesterday long after the higher profile items and motions had been dealt with. Long after his presence had been required. He wasn’t engaged so much as he was lurking.

“A shakedown! A shakedown of developers!” he bellowed on the first item he’d held for no apparent reason other than the opportunity to bellow ‘Shakedown!’ Under questioning, it was revealed he knew absolutely nothing about the development. He hadn’t talked with staff. He hadn’t attended community council meetings on the issue. He most certainly hadn’t consulted with Councillor Vaughan about the development.

He only knew that a million dollars in Section 37 money had been ponied up during the modification period between plans and that city staff still weren’t entirely ready to sign off on the project. hohumThat the gears for an OMB appeal had been set in motion and the city faced not only losing the Section 37 money but also the possibility of seeing an earlier version of the development nobody wanted didn’t factor into his thinking a bit. The mayor never uttered the words ‘corruption’ or ‘skulduggery’. ‘Shakedown’ was going to have to do.

Of course, under pressure, he retracted the statement. There must be limits even he has to going to court to defend his indefensible claims. But his purpose had been served. He’s Rob Ford, dammit! Listen to him roar! The base’ll love it.

Or at least that must have been his thinking.

The fact that the likes of Councillor Frank Di Giorgio saw through the ruse should set some alarm bells off for the dwindling ranks of Ford Nation. As any regular reader here knows, we’re no friend of Councillor Di Giorgio. He is often an object of ridicule for us. But during the insane hullabaloo the mayor triggered, the councillor made his way over to the planning staff, had a conversation with them and came back to make a speech in favour of Councillor Vaughan’s item. He even waved off Councillor Peter Milczyn’s placating motion of deferral. During the vote, with the mayor hissing at him and making menacing faces, Councillor Di Giorgio stood his ground and voted against the mayor.

He saw what we all saw.

Mayor Ford is unprincipled. Mayor Ford doesn’t give a shit about good governance. Mayor Ford doesn’t give a shit about good planning. Mayor Ford doesn’t give a flying fuck about the unwieldy oversight the Ontario Municipal Board possesses on development in this city. Mayor Ford doesn’t fucking respect the taxpayers.runforyourlife

Mayor Ford only cares about the Ford brand.

That’s what this whole unseemly set-to was about. Reasserting the maverick mayor. The lone wolf. Captain Shouty. Admiral Bluster.

Red-faced populism masking a deep seated contempt of democracy.

The mayor had reached back into that reserve in the hopes of reviving his Everyman image in the eyes of those still wanting to believe that’s who he was. It’s all he’s got. He seemed satisfied with his performance, perhaps even emboldened that once again he’d come out, drubbed, on the losing end of a council vote. He’d summoned the black magic that had worked so miraculously before, counting on enough people being fooled a second time to save him from the more ignoble fate that is slowly taking shape and waiting in those dark clouds off in the horizon.

still reelingly submitted by Cityslikr