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


The Caretaker

November 29, 2012

Through the window of the cafe in City Hall I spotted Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday standing out in the lunchtime chill in Nathan Phillips Square, patiently being interviewed by a television crew. Since the announcement of Judge Charles Hackland’s ruling in the mayor’s conflict of interest case, the deputy mayor has become the de facto face of the administration, issuing stay calm and proceed alerts as the city deals with an official leadership vacuum for the next couple months or so.  Not Winston Churchill in the face of the blitz but still, strangely assuring.

I have an oddly dichotomous opinion of the councillor from and last mayor of Etobicoke. In person whenever we cross paths, he is extremely courteous and gracious, always nods and exchanges greetings with me. I’m fairly certain he has no idea who I am, what I do or why I’m always hanging around his place of work. But I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t matter if he did. Colleagues of mine who have regular dealings with him and share more of my politics than his tell me the deputy mayor always makes himself available and is gentlemanly and cordial.

But then there is the Grandpa Simpson side of Doug Holyday that makes regular appearances on council floor or in a committee room during heated exchanges. Little Ginny. Remember her? That poor neglected child raised by negligent parents in a downtown high rise, destined to die an early death when she’s relegated to playing in the traffic or shoots off the slide on her roof top playground and plunges 95 stories to a bloodied splat on the ground below.

Why, just this week, under pointed questioning from Councillor Janet Davis about the uniformly male, uniformly suburban make up of the members of the mayor’s two most powerful committees, Executive and Budget, going forward in the terms second half. Look, the deputy mayor responded, he’d welcome more downtown councillors, would love to have more women on the team, if only they could get with the program and set aside any independent thinking.  When asked what his problem with entertaining more diverse opinions and views, he seemed nonplussed. Because… because DAVID MILLER! because BRIAN ASHTON! BRIAN ASHTON!!

In no way, shape or form could the deputy mayor be mistaken as anything other than a hardcore, fiscal conservative. No Red Tory is he. But it does seem that he is a more realistic assessor of the political situation in front of him. You don’t spend 125 years in politics, even politics in Etobicoke, and not know how to adapt to a change in the winds.

This is why I put forward the proposal that if Mayor Ford is really and truly put out to pasture, if his appeal in January to overturn Judge Hackland’s ruling falls upon deaf ears, that instead of plunging into a distracting and noisy by-election, city council designate the deputy mayor the actual mayor for the remainder of the current turn.

Believe me, this goes against every retributive instinct in my body. That scorched earth inclination to raze everything and anything reminiscent of Rob Ford’s time in office. A Northerner demands the South’s destruction not reconstruction.

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Allow cooler heads to prevail.

Hear me out (and forgive me if any or all of the following suggestions contravene any statute of the City Of Toronto Act. I have not read it in its entirety. You see, back in the 1990s, my daddy was…)

There would be some serious stipulations in appointing Doug Holyday mayor. First, he could not run for re-election in 2014, using this appointment as a high profile platform. He might even consider this his municipal politics swan song.

Second, no coaching football or any equivalent activity to occupy his afternoons. Keep those crazy Kiwanis meetings to non-council meeting evenings, sir.

Third, a Mayor Holyday would remove Councillor Frances Nunziata from the Speaker’s chair, replacing her with the current deputy speaker, John Parker. Going forward, it’s important to restore a tone of civility and decorum during council meetings. Councillor Nunziata has proven herself incapable of providing such an environment during her tenure in the chair.

Next, a Mayor Holyday must share the job with council of completely overhauling the Striking Committee, appointing new members not because of their ideological loyalty but to reflect the diversity of council makeup.  In turn, such a Striking Committee would consider other committee appointments based on the same principle of diversity and inclusion. To try and lessen the whole us-versus-them mentality that has laid siege to City Hall.

On many of the committees, I don’t think there’d be the need for major renovations. A tweak here and there. Maybe flip a vice-chair to chair to bring a more bipartisan look to the Executive Committee. Say, a Councillor Chin Lee or Gloria Lindsay Luby replacing Councillor Cesar Palacio as Chair of the Licensing and Standards Committee. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon takes over for Councillor Norm Kelly as Chair of the Parks and Environment Committee.

There would be two deal-breaking change of appointments before Doug Holyday could take over as mayor. Both Councillor Mike Del Grande and Denzil Minnan-Wong must be relieved of duty from their respective committees. Along with Speaker Frances Nunziata, they are the most non-Ford divisive and destructive forces at council right now. To go forward with any hope of a constructive 2nd half of the term, these two – the Stadler and Waldorf of Toronto politics – must be relegated to where they belong. The backbenches of braying opposition where they’re only allowed to make noise and not a mess.

The final stipulation for a Mayor Holyday would the necessity of appointing a deputy mayor that was his polar opposite in political view, geography, gender and/or ethnicity. While I love the idea of a Deputy Mayor Janet Davis in a Mayor Doug Holyday regime, I think it would be ultimately unworkable, a sitcom in and of itself. So, how about a Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell? Yes, occasionally a Mayor Holyday’s head would explode in righteous indignation but, let’s be honest here. That’s going to happen regardless.

While the idea of such an unorthodox arrangement might run contrary to everything the straight-laced Holyday stands for, I think he could look upon this as his final and finest contribution to a long if not entirely distinguished career in public service. He could be the one who rose above partisan rancour to help heal the rift of a city divided. A grandfatherly figure dampening the heightened emotions of his unruly brood. Wisdom besting acrimony. Good will trumping ill.

And by reaching out this way, appointing the deputy mayor mayor, those currently in opposition in council would accomplish two things. The administration of a Mayor Holyday would be a tough one for Rob Ford or his brother to rail against during  their 2 years in exile. The inevitable campaign to recapture the mayoralty would lack satisfying target to shoot at.

The move would also acknowledge that the voters’ will from 2010 is not being denied. Doug Holyday was Rob Ford’s choice for deputy Mayor. By making him Ford’s replacement, there is some continuity, a peace offering.

If nothing else, what Toronto needs at this point is a little peace.

honest brokerly submitted by Cityslikr


The Deputy Mayor’s Got Those Far Away Eyes

September 26, 2012

I’ve often wondered what goes on behind those blue eyes of our Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, as he sits and stares off at the horizon during city council meetings. Lunch? Ava Gardner? Lunch? Lunch? Dirty filthy unions? Lunch? René Descartes dualism? Lunch? Ooo! Tuna salad!

These days, I would imagine, it wouldn’t be surprising if the good councillor from Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre sits silently ruminating about the possible folly of getting those Ford boys involved in municipal politics. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A couple like-minded tax-hating kids from the neighbourhood. Sure, they seemed a little boisterous but chalk it up to youthful exuberance. Besides, their daddy’s company sold election campaign signs!

Like almost everyone else, it’s unlikely the last mayor of Etobicoke ever imagined that Rob would scale the heights of amalgamated Toronto politics and become the city’s chief magistrate. An improbable outcome, let’s call it. But what the hay. Somebody had to come along and clean up the profligacy of the left wing downtowners. Why not Rob Ford?

Why not indeed.

How did it become so unseemly? What ugliness had Doug Holyday wrought as political mentor to Rob and Doug Ford, I imagine Doug Holyday thinking as he gazes into the distance.

That the Deputy Mayor essentially suggested that the mayor’s brother shut his trap for a bit gives voice to the dilemma all council conservatives must be facing at the moment. How do you solve a problem like Mayor Ford and his most vocal supporter/nemesis, Brother-Councillor Doug? Or more specifically, how do continue with the mayor’s message of frugality while not getting any of the messy taint of scandal and bad behaviour on you?

They don’t come much more rock solid conservative than the deputy mayor. His ideology is as rabid and unbending as any on Team Ford including the mayor and his brother. Councillor Holyday has been known to step in it himself with the ‘it’ being headline grabbing outbursts like the one we saw earlier this year with the mythical Little Ginny, held against her innocent little will by her morally bankrupt parents in a downtown high rise.

The difference being that was said during the heat of council debate which doesn’t make it any less reactionarily anti-urban but, hell, we all say dumb things if we talk long enough. By all accounts, the deputy mayor is courteous and accommodating to anyone who asks of his time. Even certain publications that represent the polar opposite of his political leanings. You clearly don’t last as long in politics as Holyday has by drawing up an enemies list comprising of those who cover the work you do on a daily basis.

Obviously his patience is waning with the administration’s off-field antics. “We have important work to do,” the deputy mayor said, “the taxpayers expect certain things from us and these distractions don’t make it any easier. To have a public fight on the radio with all media isn’t really helpful.”

That’s not to suggest there’s an imminent breaking of ranks of the far right wingers at council but when your staunchest compatriot in the ideological wars openly chastises you… And this after another devout defender of the faith, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong told the CBC that the mayor needed to “smarten up” with all the appearances of conflict swirling around him. It’s kind of hard to lead, I bet, when you’re constantly looking back over your shoulder.

Only the budget chief, Mike Del Grande, appears prepared to go to the mat for the mayor. “People will find ghosts where there are no ghosts,” he said. Del Grande has even lobbed a budget broadside at the Integrity Commissioner who will inevitably be dragged further into the mayoral mess over the next little while, demanding a line-by-line audit of the city’s accountability offices. All this for the mayor and what’s he have to show for it? Lousy bedbug bites. That’s devotion.

If they’re not openly criticizing the mayor, other conservative and right leaning councillors are either keeping quiet, hoping no one will notice them or they’ve publicly walked away on certain issues. The highest profile, obviously, is TTC Chair Karen Stintz who served up notice that Mayor Ford could be openly defied with no repercussions. Councillor John Parker followed along with her. Councillor Michelle Berardinetti quit her position on the budget committee and word is Councillor Jaye Robinson will do similarly at the end of year with her position on the executive committee. Councillors Michael Thompson and David Shiner have at times had little trouble disagreeing with the mayor, the latter the architect of the proposed plastic bag ban that slipped through council in the spring.

There may be no bigger sign of a realignment of the informal council conservative caucus than the silence of Mayor Ford’s other official mouthpiece, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. Having effortlessly and spectacularly flip-flopped in joining forces with his long time adversary, no one could be surprised if there’s a full 360 pulled off if the fortunes of the mayor continue to plummet. I’m sorry. Did you call me Gino-boy?! Hey everybody. The mayor called me Gino-boy again!

This commotion should strike a positive chord for all but the hardest of hardcore right wing conservatives. With one of the polarized ends collapsing under the weight of its own obstinacy and incompetence, the atmosphere at City Hall can only moderate. Poisonous partisanship – so pronounced right from the beginning of Mayor Ford’s time in office – will die down to just a dull roar and maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually start to see some constructive governance again.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Conservative Conundrum

September 14, 2012

As the football shit show builds and swirls around Mayor Rob Ford, much chatter continues about his re-election chances in 2014, if there are any re-election chances for him once the courts and city’s Integrity Commissioner are done with him. Who from the left will run against him? Adam? Shelley? Does the barrage of accusations and criticism hinder them or only serve to strengthen the mayor’s core support?

But I’m sitting here wondering, what are the Ford Follies doing to the right wing at council?

Surely, the mayor and his councillor-brother must be hurting the brand. Whatever accomplishments they may try to lay claim to are now getting lost in the disbelief shuffle. Repealed the VR–Sorry, I can’t hear you above the din of special assistant/assistant football coaches. Settled city workers’ contracts without hav—What’s that you’re saying? Apparently city owned cars were used to chauffeur around football players. Cut councillor office expenses. You’re kidding, right. Cut councillor office expenses? Ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha. Hahahahahahahah…!

Before becoming mayor, Rob Ford made few allies at City Hall. That was his schtick, the whole lone wolf outsider, giving the straight goods on council waste, nefariousness and gravy train riding. He manned the parapets of eagle-eyed fiscal conservatism.

As mayor, Ford was able to pull together a loose coalition largely through the bullying use of the power of his office. Sure, there are a handful of true hearted believers in the Fordian crusade to cut spending at the municipal level to the barest of the bare minimum and keep taxes unworkably low. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande. Speaker Frances Nunziata. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

But what about the likes of councillors Mark Grimes and Norm Kelly or newcomers like councillors Vincent Crisanti and Gary Crawford? Bona fide, hard core supporters of the cause or just simply along for the ride? It could be argued that Councillor Crisanti owes his fledging career to the mayor’s efforts to unseat former Ward 1 councillor, Suzan Hall. If he keeps his dingy tied to the current ship of state, doesn’t he risk drowning if the whole contraption goes under?

Where does the latest mayoral imbroglio leave councillors Paul Ainslie and Peter Milczyn, both of whom are going about their business, trying to do interesting things within their sphere of influence at City Hall. They owe their positions to Mayor Ford’s appointment largesse. Just how far does their allegiance go because of that? Not to mention Councillor Milczyn was targeted for defeat in the last election by the Ford campaign. He must be itching for a little payback right around about now.

Council conservative stalwarts like Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson and David Shiner have already openly defied the mayor on certain issues (as has Councillor John Parker in a supporting role). Mayor Ford’s weakened position can only encourage further independence and, in the case of Councillor Stintz, a solidifying of leadership in her position as TTC chair. If he wasn’t a non-issue on the transit file before this summer’s series of flaps, he most definitely is now.

Then there’s the wildcard, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. A long time foe of Rob Ford right up until he suspended his campaign for mayor in the late summer of 2010, he effortlessly flip-flopped and became a BFF, soaking up the power that comes with sitting at the mayor’s right hand. Why would anyone be surprised if he just as easily reverts back to previous form now that Mayor Ford’s shining star has dimmed significantly? Where’s Councillor Mammoliti been for the last month or so?

In fact, outside of Councillor Ford, the Deputy Mayor and the Speaker, very few of the mayor’s inner circle have rushed to his defence. Fear based loyalty is not all that binding. A marriage of convenience dissolves when it’s no longer convenient. What allegiance to him remains in conservative circles at City Hall is little more than a delicate balance, keeping their distance while espousing similar fiscal policies. Kill the messenger if you must but don’t abandon the message.

If the mayor staggers through all this and is still up for a run at re-election, will other conservatives stand back and allow him to be their standard bearer? That would seem suicidal. Even if Mayor Ford could stage such an improbable comeback, it’s hard to fathom how he would have the coat tails to seriously re-configure council in his favour. So, you’d be facing another four years of council deadlock with little input from the mayor.

It strikes me that a golden opportunity is forming for a moderate conservative candidate to mount a successful campaign for mayor in 2014 even if the nebulous left puts up only one credible opponent. Think about it. Mayor Ford will always have his core support. Pick a number. 20, 25% of voters? Could it be much higher if he continues to alienate every newspaper in this city?

So a right of centre candidate steps up, picks off all the soft Ford support that has abandoned him and claims the middle. All those Torontonians who still believe in small government, low taxes, accountability. What’s that, half the 2010 Ford votes and a sizeable chunk of George Smiterman’s supporters? That would be some hefty number to contemplate.

There’s been much idle chatter since, well probably, October 26th, 2010 about possible winning match-ups against Mayor Ford down the road in 2014. Most of it has involved coming up with 1 candidate from the left side of the political spectrum in order to avoid vote splitting. But I think the real split, the actual divide that’s happening now not 2 years hence is on the right. It’s a split between the dwindling Ford camp and conservatives who still believe in the competency and conscientiousness of government. The bridge between them has been burned and there’s really no going back.

analytically submitted by Cityslikr