Everything’s Fine!

May 16, 2016

These days, this council.

With the provincial government dangling the prospect of ballot reform, tantalizingly, and today’s announcement of the ward boundary review recommendation, giddywe here in Toronto should be giddy with excitement at the opportunity to reshape our local democracy. It’s something that hasn’t been done for 16 years since Queen’s Park pretty much unilaterally aligned all the city’s wards with the federal and provincial riding boundaries. So, we’re overdue, to make an understatement. Seize the moment to try and iron out some of the parochial wrinkles that have accumulated. Sweep out the dust bunnies and moldy odors that have collected in the cupboards.

It’s just… You know…

These days, this council.

With Councillor Justin Di Ciano, as city council’s woefully underwhelming representative, taking his anti-ranked ballots clownshow up University Avenue to speak to the standing committee overseeing voting reform initiatives, there’s some serious concern that Toronto voters won’t get a crack at using ranked ballots. dampenHell, if the councillor has his way, we’ll be robbed of even having a debate about it. His argument against moving from the current First Past The Post system is so full of shopworn bullet talking points, it’s impossible to tell what his real motives are with this antediluvian quest.

Equally unclear are the reasons our mayor, John Tory, seems determined to curtail debate on the ward boundary review ahead of the final recommendation going public. Earlier this year, when five possible new ward alignment options were outlined, he stated his position, which was pretty much as dismissive as you could be. “The last thing we need is more politicians.” Over this past weekend, his rhetoric had ossified into place, suggesting Mayor Tory hadn’t put so much as another thought into the matter.

I’ve maintained my position, which is, first of all, I don’t personally see the need for an expanded number of politicians, and secondly, I have yet to meet a Toronto citizen who has told me that their top priority — or any kind of priority of their’s — is to expand the number of politicians. I think we can make arrangements by reorganizing the boundaries a little bit.

The bottom line is I don’t think we need to have more decision makers at City Hall.

That there? That’s the sound of the door slamming on any sort of serious discussion about the size, shape or reorganization of city council. Maybe ‘a little bit’, John Tory’s incrementalism on full display. draggedIf it ain’t broke, amirite?

Rather than take the opportunity to show some civic leadership, and begin a discussion that might inject some new ideas and life into the governance structure at City Hall, Mayor Tory is intent on belittling the debate to nothing more than the number of councillors. Just like his predecessor did. As if numbers, and numbers alone, are the sole determinant of good, solid and proper political representation.

While it wasn’t part of the ward boundary review mandate to look at the structure of city council, the mayor and councillors could make it theirs, take the initiative and start talking about ways to improve how council functions, how to better represent the residents who’ve elected them to office. One of the biggest glitches plaguing governance in Toronto is the seemingly intractable urban-suburban divide that engenders division instead of cohesion. (Something I suspect is going to be a lightning rod of contention surrounding the ward boundary recommendation today.) Could a move toward at least some at-large, ward-free councillor positions help address that?

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s at least worth some sort of examination, isn’t it?notlistening

Whatever the outcome and final decision city council makes determining new ward boundaries, it’s going to be in place for the next 4 election cycles, 2018, 2022, 2026, 2030. During that time span, the city is projected to see huge population growth – 600,000 new residents by 2031 — and significant demographic changes. Is this Mayor Tory led city council really going to look at that and pursue a redrawing of wards only through the lens of a head count? Will it also brush aside the chance to give voters in the city a new way to elect its local politicians, maybe even in a new type of arrangement that might help reduce the type of harmful geographic divisiveness that has dogged it pretty much from the beginning of amalgamation?

You’d hope not but… well, you know…

These days, this mayor, this council.

same-ol’-same-olly submitted by Cityslikr


2016 Budget Launch

December 16, 2015

So yesterday, led by the new city manager, Peter Wallace, staff delivered its 2016 Preliminary Budget presentation at a special meeting of the Budget Committee. My impressions? lookoverthatwayYou’ll have to find out here at Torontoist. While you’re at it, give a read to Neville Park and Sarah Niedoba and Catherine McIntyre. Rather hear words than read them? Brian Kelcey talks about the 2016 budget with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning.

While city staff seemed to be offering up the opportunity to finally have an adult conversation about the kind of city we want to have, and how we’re going to pay for that, early signs coming from the mayor’s office and the point people on his team are not encouraging. Budget Chair Gary Crawford pushed a paper clip motion at committee to see if they can find enough coins under the cushions at City Hall to pay for various initiatives. “Council can make investments and still keep increases at [the] rate of inflation,” Crawford insisted at a press conference after the budget presentation. No, it can’t. That’s pure budgetary fiction.

Councillor Justin Di Ciano, a member of the budget committee, perhaps summed up this approach best and emptiest when he essentially strung together meaningless words and spun a meaningless anecdote for 2 minutes, absolutely devoid of any substance, and echoing Mayor Tory’s campaign chant of ‘prudence’. These people, the mayor’s people, are zealously determined not to have any sort of serious conversation about the direction the city has to go.

The reality on the ground may have other ideas. Mayor Tory (and other so-called ‘fiscal conservatives’ on city council) may have finally painted themselves into too tight a corner. Things cost money. That money has to come from somewhere. Empty rhetoric has been tapped dry. Big investments and ever shrinking revenue sources simply don’t add up.

Councillor Gord Perks begins the conversation this city needs to start having.

ominously submitted by Cityslikr


Pissants

December 14, 2015

One vote.

That’s how close Mayor John Tory came to inadvertently winning Councillor Rob Ford’s business travel expense item for him at last week’s city council meeting. One vote.

I say ‘inadvertently’ since I’m giving the mayor the benefit of the doubt on this one. He spoke out forcefully against it, seconding Councillor Justin Di Ciano’s opinion that the item was nothing more than ‘grandstanding’ on the former mayor’s part. He just pushed the wrong button, green instead of red. Understandable, since in the back of your mind Councillor Ford pretty much always votes ‘no’, so if you’re standing opposed to the councillor, you reflexively vote ‘yes’. redandgreenbuttonMayor Tory did, and narrowly avoided the embarrassing situation of speaking against something and turning around to vote in favour of it.

The mayor wasn’t alone, it seems, in his confusion. During the revote — permitted on the mayor’s behalf because it wouldn’t change the outcome of the vote — two other members of council, Frank Di Giorgio and Mary-Margaret McMahon, also flipped sides. What had been a nail biter the first time around (one vote), turned out to be a more comfortable 19-12 defeat of Councillor Ford’s motion.

(Let it be noted here, by those who think me overly hyper-critical of Mayor Tory, how I cut him some slack on this gaffe. I didn’t go to the darker place of thinking maybe he was trying to  play both sides, have his cake and eat it too, speak out against but vote for, hoping no one would notice. No. Flubbed votes happen to the best of them.)looktheotherway

The mayor’s goof, and the subsequent prolonged process in his taking a mulligan on the vote, only served to add credence to Councillor Ford’s motion when all it really deserved was dismissive contempt. Was it all about grandstanding? You betcha. But add to that, counter-productive nitpicking that probably cost more to debate than it would ever save the city if implemented.

Do you know what the number was Councillor Ford’s motion entailed? The total amount city councillors’ claimed for business travel expenses? Total? In 2014, it came to $42,672.09. $42,672.09. That’s under $1000/per city council member/year.

Or, in terms of an almost $11 billion annual operating budget, 0.0000039 of that. Not sure I have the right number of zeroes, there are so many of them. pickingupapennyThat’s not even rounding error.

Councillor Ford didn’t necessarily begrudge the $100 per diem. He just wanted receipts to prove a city councillor travelling on business spent that amount. If they didn’t, they’d only get reimbursed the amount they did spend. We’re now wading into the Fordian weeds of infinitesimally small savings but symbolically charged tubthumping. Never mind the time lost to staff tallying up receipts rather than just signing off on established per diems.

But we already knew that. That’s always been this councillor’s schtick. Rather than take time questioning his motives, time would be better spent running those numbers by him. It was a nuisance motion, ultimately endorsed by 12 city councillors who should be ashamed of themselves for contributing to the myth Rob Ford needs perpetuated in order to remain relevant.

Given Councillor Ford couldn’t be at the meeting to personally defend his item, why not just let it slide by pretty much unnoticed instead of breathing life into it and, on Mayor Tory’s part, almost passing it into law by accident? Sure. The councillor was grandstanding. No surprise there. But grandstanding back is still grandstanding, giving more notice to it than it ever deserved.

contestedly submitted by Cityslikr


… but He Plays One On TV

October 5, 2015

A thought occurred to me the other day, so obvious that someone must surely have put it out there already. If so, my apologies for making it my own. actingCredit is all yours, whoever you are.

John Tory is far better at playing the role of mayor than he is actually being the mayor. He carries the chain of office with the appropriate level of gravitas and decorum. Photo ops and press conferences serve as his milieu, his political sweet spot. The day-to-day business of running the city? Where’s the fun in that? What about pomp? Don’t we all need a little circumstance?

For sure, there are some agenda items this mayor grabs and runs with, pushing and pulling the levers of powers of his office to further. So far, however, they’ve largely coalesced around roads and drivers — See: Parking Enforcement! — and his signature transit plan, SmartTrack. On these matters, Mayor Tory is indefatigable in his mayoral pursuit of championing. The bully pulpit that comes with being mayor, he has used to its fullest on these matters.

The rest of it? His mayoral passion waxes and wanes, depending on whether there’s an Olympic bid to ponder or public event to speak at. bullypulpitAs long as whatever it is doesn’t get in the way of more pressing mayoral matters, have at it. If it’s prudent, reasonable and gets done without too much fuss and bother, you’ve got the green light from Mayor Tory.

Which probably goes to explain exactly how the motion to rescind the request to the province for the right to use ranked ballots in the next municipal election passed city council last week. The mayor was asleep at the switch. The matter wasn’t on his radar. He had distinctly stated, at least on the topic of the Scarborough subway, this council shouldn’t spend its time reversing decisions of the previous council. So why would he be expecting this kind of motion of reversal?

Especially since it came from one of his allies, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Tory “Super Saturday-ed” with him last election to boost Di Ciano’s chances of winning the council seat in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He appointed Di Ciano to be a member of the powerful Budget Committee. Hell, the mayor’s office tapped Councillor Di Ciano to be part of the working group that met with city staff over the summer to work on the City of Toronto Act report which council was debating when this motion hit the floor. You’d expect, just out of common courtesy, Mayor Tory might’ve been alerted beforehand that this was coming.waitwhat

Clearly he wasn’t, as he ended up on the losing side of the vote. The mayor didn’t even get up to speak against the item, to urge council to vote it down. Maybe he realized it was an uphill battle and didn’t want to risk further embarrassment. Eight of the twelve other members of his Executive Committee voted in opposition to the mayor in favour of not wanting ranked ballots including three councillors, Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford and Jaye Robinson, who flip-flopped from their 2013 vote. Three of Mayor Tory’s four deputy mayors opposed him.

It could be that ranked ballots just did not…ummmm…rank high enough up on the mayor’s priority list for him to risk an internal battle with his closest council allies. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Loyalty isn’t bought but horse-traded. Fair enough.

If that’s the case, though, Mayor Tory can’t claim to have supported ranked ballots simply because he voted against Councillor Di Ciano’s motion. He supported ranked ballots but just not enough. If it comes to pass that the provincial government doesn’t grant municipalities the right to use ranked ballots in response to this motion, it will be under Mayor Tory’s watch that the initiative died. It will hardly matter that he supported the idea in principle. blindsided1In practice, he didn’t fight for them.

Ahh, well. You win some, you lose some. No mayor should be expected to pitch a perfect game. There’s only so much political capital to go around. Whipping votes and enforcing discipline among your council supporters comes at a cost. Even the best of mayors sometimes get sandbagged by their best of buds. Pushing back on that would only look petty and pissy.

So while we bemoan yet another attack on voting reform by status quo seeking politicians, we should celebrate the fact that our weak mayoral system remains in effect. Great freedom resides at City Hall for even the most lightweight of dim bulb councillors to pursue and hunt down any pet peeve that irks them, even if it defies a mayoral edict not to reverse previous council decisions, even if it runs contrary to a hearty pro-ranked ballot endorsement the mayor made earlier this year, even if you’re, apparently, a part of the mayor’s team.ettubrute

Go for it, Mayor Tory has signaled to ally, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Do your worst. There will be no repercussions for undermining the mayor, especially for friends and over inconsequential matters. Political in-fighting is undignified, beneath the office of the mayor. There are appearances to be maintained, after all. The actual dirty work of running a city isn’t the job of someone who likes to keep their hands clean.

democratically submitted by Cityslikr


Justin Di Ciano’s Coming Out Against Voting Reform Party

October 3, 2015

Just in case you missed Councillor Justin Di Ciano rolling back the ranked ballots initiative at city council on Thursday, here it is in all its dripping idiocy. Councillor Di Ciano, perhaps in a little bit of projecting, I believe the psychological term for it, thinks voters are too stupid to understand the concept of ranked ballots, especially poor people. Features some cameos from this term’s burgeoning confederacy of dunces.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


The Worst. The Absolute Worst.

October 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who were those councillors?

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

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

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

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

angrily submitted by Cityslikr


Shooting The Messengers

March 27, 2015

What the fuck is up with city council?

Just days away from yet another sanctioned apology from Rob Ford by the Integrity Commissioner for yet another ethical lapse on his part while serving as mayor wtf– What for this time? The use of ethnic/racial slurs – and a lobbyist registrar’s report of improper lobbying of then Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, then conuncillor, Doug, by one of their family business’ clients, a couple freshman councillors are bringing a motion to next week’s council meeting that would diminish the oversight of all four accountability offices through amalgamation.

It’s as if, seeing the slime trail left behind by the Fords (and a few other councillors) from last term, the response is to lessen the ooze by checking the investigative process instead of changing the greasy behaviour.

What exactly these new councillors, motion mover, Stephen Holyday, and seconder, Justin Di Ciano have against the accountability officers is difficult to fathom. They’ve been in office for less than four months. Some sort of pre-emptive axe grinding? Who knows. metooBut it is another full frontal attack on the accountability offices that began at the last budget committee meeting with a Councillor Michelle Berardinetti walk on motion to reject all increased funding requests by the Ombudsman and Integrity Commissioner. A motion supported by Councillor Di Ciano and another rookie Etobicoke councillor, John Campbell (not to mention the budget chief himself, Gary Crawford).

Mayor John Tory managed to walk that one back ever so slightly, pushing a motion at the following council meeting to partially restore the funding request a slight fraction. A gesture which amounted to little more than seeing the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, announce she would not be seeking reappointment, fearing the `divisiveness’ would do long term harm to the office itself. Good job, Creanie, is essentially how the mayor greeted that news, and then his Executive Committee passed a motion to keep future Ombudsman’s gigs to just one, 7 year term, replacing the current 2 term, 5 years each, the 2nd, renewable at council’s pleasure, thereby reducing the politicking of the appointment process to just a one-time thing. Probably pragmatic politics but for the absolute wrong reasons.

I mean, what reason is there to resist strengthening oversight of the operations at City Hall, both the public service and elected officials? There’s been no credible criticism of the job any of the accountability officers have done. Report after report from them has been accepted by city council and city staff, many recommendations implemented. pokeintheeyeThis has never been a question of competence or performance.

So, what then?

There is no good or satisfying answer to that. Various councillors, including one currently under criminal investigation for accepting $80,000 from a fundraiser back in 2013, have seen the accountability investigations as some sort of witch hunt. During the hyper-partisan years of the Ford Administration, the work done by the Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Lobbyist Registrar became characterized as some sort of left-right issue, non-elected bodies trying to undermine the democratic will of the voters of Toronto. These weren’t misdeeds or missteps being committed, but acts running contrary to the sore losers on the left.

Such were dynamics of the day.

Yet these motions seem intent on dragging this past fractiousness forward, keeping the matter alive. The mayor, councillors Campbell, Di Ciano, Holyday had nothing to do with any of it. Now they seem to want to join the fray. (Matt Elliott has his usual excellent insight into the seemingly passive-aggressive role Mayor Tory’s playing in this sad melodrama.) suffocateIt’s not even clear whether the motion will be in order, if it contravenes the City of Toronto Act, which had established the accountability offices or would require changing that act.

With so much else that needs tending to in Toronto, we all know the list: infrastructure, affordable housing, transit, why are councillors wasting their time, as well as ours, and, undoubtedly, threatening to further dig a partisan divide, by attacking and diminishing the accountability offices?

We need to listen very carefully to each and every councillor who rises to speak in favour of this motion next week at city council. They must spell out clearly and concisely why they think folding 4 offices into 2, 4 offices which overlap only in the function of providing oversight, will help to increase transparency and public scrutiny of the job City Hall is doing. Because, right now, I can’t think of one compelling reason to do what councillors Holyday and Di Ciano are proposing to do. Not one.

Moreover, Mayor Tory needs to step up to the plate and lead the charge killing this thing. He is too back-roomed up, too chock full of potential conflicts of interest through his continued affiliation with the likes of Rogers, brooma senior staffer of his and former lobbyist already tsked tsked by the Registrar for a lobbying transgression back in 2012 and raising eyebrows in his current capacity for talking up a Toronto Library Board candidate for the chair, to be seen as anything other than unequivocal in his opposition to any potential weakening of the accountability offices. The mayor cannot shy away from this this time around. Otherwise, he will establish the tone at City Hall that oversight is negotiable.

dubiously submitted by Cityslikr