The Friends You Pick And The Company You Keep

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.


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?

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

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.


“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.


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

BTOly submitted by Cityslikr