We sit down with Russ (no relation) Ford and talk about how he came this close to ousting longtime Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore lump, Councillor Mark Grimes.
— audibly submitted by Cityslikr
We sit down with Russ (no relation) Ford and talk about how he came this close to ousting longtime Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore lump, Councillor Mark Grimes.
— audibly submitted by Cityslikr
Let me start this with as close an approximation to just-the-facts-ma’am as I can.
Our Place Initiative is a local, grassroots campaign built on the idea of developing and encouraging civic engagement in Etobicoke. “We believe that it is important that decisions are made in the public interest and reflect the needs of the Etobicoke community,” from the group’s mission statement. “Choices that impact our health, our jobs, and our livelihood should be made with community input. But in order for it to happen, a community needs to be engaged on the issues and provided with the opportunity to learn more about them, if they choose.”
Begun in mid-2013, the group became active in 2014 and last night held its first public meeting. There was a surprisingly strong turnout, surprising because this is Etobicoke. (Oops, a little editorial spin snuck out there – more on that later.) Some 40 people filled a committee room at the Etobicoke Civic Centre on a, frankly, numbingly cold Thursday evening, suggesting that OPI just might be tapping into a potent if up until now latent local desire to get engaged.
If there’s a more appropriate symbol of what local engagement can achieve, it was the guest presenter at the meeting, Sabina Ali. Chair of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, Ms. Ali’s been active locally pretty much from the moment she moved to Toronto in 2008. The list of quality of life improvements TPWC has worked as a force toward, sometimes in spite of the resistance shown by the city, is nothing short of amazing. She earned a Jane Jacobs Award for her work, work that shows no signs of ebbing. “I work with passion and really love doing that,” Ali told the group near the end of her talk.
A passionate engagement for community building.
The word ‘community’ came up a lot last night. After breaking the crowd up into some 5 working groups to brainstorm ideas on how to improve Etobicoke, something of a general thematic consensus emerged around that word. Community centres, community events, building a sense of community. One participant wanted not to have to always go downtown for entertainment, restaurants, culture, a sense of nightlife. No matter where people are in the city, it’s not just someplace they live or work. They want to be part of it, part of a community.
There were certainly specific thoughts about how to improve Etobicoke from the group. Transit – surprise, surprise – figured prominently in the conversation. What was a surprise (that previous ‘surprise, surprise’ was sarcastic, in case that wasn’t clear), was that, here we were in the middle of the quintessential suburb and there was almost no talk of traffic or congestion. People wanted better public transit.
Residents also wanted more say about the kind of development that was happening in Etobicoke, especially in the southern portion from Bloor Street down to the lake. While I probably heard only one voice speak out against development as a thing, most were concerned that the condo boom was simply being imposed on them. That’s no way to build any sense of community.
If it hadn’t been clear to me before last night, it became obvious that when we talk about Etobicoke, it isn’t just one place, a solid hegemonic mass of sameness. Crudely, you could carve it up into 3 parts. There’s the traditional single-family home residential section where we were in central Etobicoke at the civic centre. Then there’s the booming development third in the south, a place with increasingly as much affinity to the downtown core as it has with the rest of Etobicoke. Then there’s the northern portion, industrial and largely working-class, as diverse an area as any in the city, that has largely been left to fend for itself, little or no official community building tools at its disposal.
Like I said, that’s a really, really rough outline. The lines of demarcation are hardly that stark. Still, there is no one size fix fits all for Etobicoke. Ideas, solutions, opportunities are as plentiful as the people who live there. Which is why residents should be more involved in the issues affecting their families and neighbourhoods. They need to be engaged.
Etobicoke suffers from a representation deficit. There is little evidence of wide-scale civic engagement because their local politicians haven’t really sought to engender such a thing. This is Ford country remember. The councillor (and former mayor) wants to hear from his residents only if they have a complaint to make or problem to be solved. It’s kind of a one-way relationship. While he claims this approach is just him looking out for the little guy in reality it has more to do with providing proof that government doesn’t really work.
Etobicoke is also the former fiefdom of Doug Holyday, the anti-tax/small government mentor of the Fords. There wasn’t a dollar of City Hall spending he didn’t suspect unnecessary. It’s not that engagement has to cost money but proactive involvement with residents and communities means staff time and, maybe, the odd pot of coffee. That smacked a little too much of waste.
The 3 incumbent Etobicoke councillors returned to office last October wouldn’t jump to the top of the list of community engagers. Aside from Rob Ford in Ward 2, Mark Grimes in Ward 6 spends time appearing in promotional videos for developers in his ward. Vince Crisanti in Ward 1, he… well, he…I don’t know what he does, actually.
While I’ll withhold judgement on the 3 new councillors, I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of a new type of representative at City Hall.
Stephen Holyday is the son of aforementioned Doug Holyday and he hasn’t shown any signs of having fallen far from the tree. In fact, last night’s meeting was in his ward and there was no sign of him or his staff. Ward 4’s John Campbell and Ward 5’s Justin DiCiano put in woeful performances last week at the Budget Committee although I will cut Councillor Campbell some slack as an assistant from his office did attend last night’s meeting and participated very enthusiastically.
With such a paucity of leadership (again, in my opinion), it’s going to take a concerted effort from the grassroots up to create an environment of engagement. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen. You can’t wish it into existence.
Based on last night’s meeting, Our Place Initiative has ably accepted the challenge of leading the charge. You don’t have to live in Etobicoke to be excited by that prospect. You should, however, follow along and take notes. It looks to be the start of something truly… ahem, ahem…engaging.
— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr
In today’s ‘how not to city council and still hold public office for over a decade’ news, I give you Ward 6 Lakeshore-Etobicoke councillor, Mark Grimes, first elected in 2003.
What am I looking at, you ask. Basically, Councillor Grimes putting forth a ‘technical amendment’ that states the builder of a condo development in the councillor’s ward will pony up $150,000 in Section 37 money to the community via the councillor. Section 37 money? A negotiated amount a developer agrees to pay in return for variances to their development. Variances? Essentially, aspects (usually increases) of the building that are not in accordance with city by-laws. More stories, higher density. Building by-law indulgences, let’s call them, in which money is offered up to compensate for any negative consequences the variances might have on nearby communities.
In a nutshell.
So, on the surface, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what Councillor Grimes is doing in the above video. Except for the fact, as the CBC report points out, what the ‘technical amendment’ the councillor successfully pushed through did was reduce the amount of Section 37 money the developer would pay from $250,000 to $150,000. No, it didn’t, the councillor told the CBC in an email response. “There was never an agreement reached with the applicant for $250,000 in Section 37 cash contribution,” the councillor wrote. “I recommended the $250,000 to try and negotiate the maximum benefit for the community.”
Again, except the CBC flags a final staff report sent to the Etobicoke York Community Council a month before the councillor’s city council ‘technical amendment’ that states, right there in black and white (page 11), “It had been agreed by the owner that they will provide a cash contribution in the amount of $250,000 for local parks improvements as their Section 37 contribution.”
In essence, the local councillor (Mark Grimes in this case) has it in writing in a city staff report that the owner of a proposed development has agreed to pay $250,000 in Section 37 money but a month later introduces a ‘technical amendment’ reducing that contribution by $100,000.
Who does that?!
Let’s avoid going to the darkest corner of possibilities here. The potential shadiness of Section 37 transactions are always bubbling near the surface. “A shakedown”, then-mayor Rob Ford once called Section 37 money. While wildly off the mark (as Rob Ford tends to be about almost everything to do with governance), it’s difficult to fully justify the practice.
Follow the bouncing ball. Developer wants to build something not allowed by current city planning by-laws. If the city doesn’t agree, the prospect of an OMB appeal going against it, granting the developer free rein, always hangs over the proceedings. So negotiations begin to arrive at some solution that makes nobody entirely happy but is something most can live with. Part of the deal making involves money, a payment to, as I wrote earlier, compensate for any negative consequences of the development might inflict on the community. Assuaging bitter feelings.
A far from perfect way of doing business, obviously, with plenty of open space for behind closed door unsavoriness. Moreover, it’s probably the least efficient or productive way to maximize the community benefits from such projects. Section 37 never provides enough money to ultimately offset the infrastructure stress these kinds of developments impose on communities like public transit. Instead, the city has to be content with building parks and green space, occasionally a library.
But it’s something. An unsatisfying solution to a highly problematic dynamic in terms of city building. The best councillors make the best of a bad situation. If there’s been any genuine claim of any sort of impropriety from a Toronto city councillor in terms of misusing Section 37, I don’t know of one. There’s no reason to think anything different with Councillor Grimes and this case of the disappearing $100,000.
The only conclusion I can arrive at, however, is hardly more heartening. “Councillor Grimes purpose at City Hall,” Luca De Franco tweeted in reaction to the CBC story, “as he sees it — aiding developers, even against the interests of Ward 6 residents.” That’s not corruption. It’s just willful disregard of the people who voted for you.
— sadly submitted by Cityslikr
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, incumbency 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.
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. As 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.
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. So 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
On those very few occasions we are called upon to think about Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest), something like this immediately comes to mind.
No. That’s not quite right. Too much personality. It’s more like this.
Tabula rasa. A blank slate. An empty space.
Three years into this councillor’s first term and I really have no idea what drives him, what compels him to serve at City Hall. He plays drums for a band that performs at Ford Fest BBQs. He painted a portrait of Mayor Ford that was commissioned by the mayor’s mom. These things we do know.
Aside from that, pretty much bupkis. He’s like Councillor Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore) minus the bow tie and good ol’ boy charm.
I exaggerate slightly.
Councillor Crawford has stood up and generally spoken in favour of the arts and arts funding. He’s been the point man for the mayor on the self-congratulatory distribution of the increase in per capita arts spending from the court delayed billboard tax the previous administration initiated. He… uh… ummm… Did I mention the councillor plays drums in a band that performs at Ford Fest? He is also a painter, did I point that out already?
After that, well, it’s all…
As a member of perhaps the two highest profile standing committees, Executive and Budget, you’d think we might’ve heard more from Councillor Crawford from time to time. But I swear to god. You can attend those meetings and never know the councillor’s in the room. He is. He sits there a lot. Doing what? I don’t know. Maybe just waiting to vote. Maybe dreaming of being Ringo Starr.
The councillor’s pretty close to mute during city council meetings as well. When he does stand to speak or ask questions of staff, it’s very rarely memorable. The last thing I remember hearing from him was his support for a Scarborough subway. Pretty much par for the course for councillors from Scarborough.
So left to judge Councillor Crawford’s political views almost exclusively by the votes he casts at council (like I said, there’s not much else to go on), he veers pretty much hard right. He’s voted along with Mayor Ford over 80% of the time during the course of the entire term. Even during this terrible, terrible year for the mayor who’s wound up on the wrong side of many issues, Councillor Crawford has been right there with him over 3/4s of the time.
Compare that with fellow Scarborough councillors Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest) and Paul Ainslie (Ward 43 Scarborough East), former strong allies, both of whom have created a gaping chasm of distance between themselves and the mayor now.
You can draw a couple conclusions from that.
One, Council Crawford puts loyalty to the mayor above all else. You don’t just turn your back on a guy because he’s going through a rough patch. There’s got to be a carrot and a stick. Vote to take away his powers and you paint a picture of him.
Second, Councillor Gary Crawford is an ideological far right conservative. Not as far right as the mayor or the mayor’s brother but still comfortably in that camp.
The question is, does that reflect the general feeling in his ward? His predecessor in Ward 36, Brian Ashton fell out with then mayor David Miller over the implementation of the Vehicle Registration and Land Transfer taxes and eventually resigned from the Executive Committee because of his opposition. But to think of Brian Ashton as a hardcore conservative, an ideological soul mate of the likes of Rob Ford is something of a stretch.
At this juncture in his tenure as first term councillor, that’s pretty much all Gary Crawford has. Being a strong ally of Mayor Rob Ford. What else is there? I’m all ears if anyone can think of anything else.
That’s a pretty thin and fraying string to hoist up his re-election bid with. Since Crawford barely squeaked into office in 2010, winning an open ward with just over 25% of the popular vote, you’d think he would’ve pieced together a stronger rope to swing on than that. I don’t know. Maybe he busks on street corners in Ward 36, playing the drums and generating name recognition that way. Does those caricature drawings of passers-by in between sets. He certainly hasn’t established himself in any meaningful fashion in his role as councillor at City Hall.
You’d think residents would want their elected representative to contribute a little more to the life of the city than that.
— curiously submitted by Cityslikr
Let me set aside Councillor Mark Grimes’ Las Vegas trip including a ‘back of house’ tour of MGM’s Bellagio hotel last summer as nothing more than unfortunate. As the casino debate was just beginning to ramp up, the chair of the Exhibition Place board – yes, that Exhibition Place where MGM would unveil ambitious plans to build their casino a few months later – decides to travel to the belly of the beast and subsequently raise all sorts of eyebrows just before a casino decision is to be made at city council. Bad optics, for sure. Terrible, very bad fucking optics.
But I’m going to take the councillor at his word when he tells us that the real reason he went to Las Vegas had nothing to do with casinos. The trip was a fact-finding mission that, according to David Rider of the Toronto Star, Councillor Grimes took in order “…to learn about a covered pedestrian mall with dazzling light show he wanted to emulate at Exhibition Place as a link to neighbouring Ontario Place.”
“The purpose of the trip was the Fremont Street Experience,” the councillor said. Mr. Rider describes the Fremont Street Experience as “a five-block entertainment district with light and sound show, zip-lines and more that has helped revitalize the older part of downtown Las Vegas.”
This aspect of the councillor’s Vegas junket is what truly chills me to the bone.
It’s city building by zazz.
What exactly is ‘zazz’, you ask? (Just like Lisa Simpsons did.) I’ll tell you what zazz is. (Just like Lindsey Neagle told Lisa Simpson.) “Zing! Zork! Kapowza! Call it what you want, in any language it spells mazuma in the bank!”
In terms of city planning and development, zazz is putting empty spectacle ahead of personal connections to space or place. Zazz is fast food to slow cooking. Zazz reeks of desperation rather than inspiration.
Now look. I’ve got nothing against Las Vegas. I haven’t been in close to twenty years which is indicative of my level of interest in it, I guess. There are few other places in the world where you’re offered the opportunity of witnessing a white tiger bite a German magician in the head.
Take a look at this aerial view of the CNE grounds and Ontario Place from the Torontoist earlier this year. Fort York over to the east. The southern reaches of Parkdale in the northwest. Ponder all the possibilities that could be.
Now, is your first response to developing Exhibition Place all light shows and tribute bands? Gowan’s Strange Animals (and Other Oddities). A Foot in Cold Lakefront Water. Fast GO Train: Songs of April Wine.
This isn’t vision so much as revision. There’s this really cool place I like to go to. Why don’t we try to create something just like it closer to home? We’re not attempting to adopt an idea. We’re trying to ape a marketing concept.
Toronto’s a big place. There’s plenty of room for both types of commons. Yonge-Dundas Square fits into the surrounding retail environment. Because we have the CNE for three weeks every year doesn’t necessarily mean we should turn the area into a non-stop party zone.
Wait. I have another one. Alanis Morissette: Isn’t It Ironic… See, it’s actually Alanis Morissette performing in a tribute band to Alanis Morissette, Isn’t It Ironic. Hey! She didn’t know the meaning of the word either.
As Michael Cruikshank of York Heritage Properties pointed out at a casino information session last month, the city’s left itself vulnerable to these kinds of machinations and spiels due to its lingering lack of bigger plans for the Exhibition Place site. The zazz appeal of a Fremont Street Experience is easy to see. Glitz. Glamour. World Class Destination that looks great in a tourism brochure. Retailing of the public sphere, and it won’t cost us a dime.
If Councillor Grimes really wants to make the best decision about the fate of Exhibition Place, maybe he should also take the time to travel to cities that weren’t seduced by dollar signs and simulations of big city life. It might not be as exciting or offer up ‘back of house’ tours of grand spectacles but it could provide alternatives to the prevailing notion in certain quarters of City Hall right now that the folks are only looking for Vegas-style entertainment when they head out on the town. Sometimes people want a little more than bread-and-circuses.
— Newtonianly submitted by Cityslikr
You know, if we could ever convince enough people that involvement in matters of city planning, revenue generation or affordable housing was as important to them as their neighbour’s fence and available parking, we would have a very actively engaged citizenry.
It is amazing (and I use the word in all its non-pejorative meaning) the dedication residents display to matters that directly affect them. People want to be heard. They will put in great effort and care, and set aside personal fear of public speaking to step forward and have their say. It’s not always eloquent. Some of it is definitely self-serving. But it’s usually passionate and heartfelt.
Messy, messy, beautiful democracy at work.
Based on a geographic area of the city, the Etobicoke York Community Council’s responsibilities include making recommendations and decisions on local planning and development, as well as neighbourhood matters including traffic plans and parking regulations. Community Councils reports to City Council but they also have final decision-making power on certain items, such as fence by-law exemptions and appointments to local boards and Business Improvement Areas.
Etobicoke York is one of four community councils, the others being North York, Scarborough and Toronto East York. And while I wondered if fence exemptions were specific to Etobicoke York, apparently that’s not the case. (Click here and type in ‘Fence Exemptions’.) We are a city united in fence exemptions, amalgamated in hedgerow heights.
I won’t lie. There were times early on in the meeting when I wondered if, given the current council structure, councillors should really be adjudicating over many of the picayune matters that crop up at community councils. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Surely there must be a more productive way to sort out what seemed to be personal grievances.
But then, an item sprung up, after the fence exemptions had been dealt with, that made me reconsider my condescending thoughts.
On the face of it, another seemingly routine matter. Traffic light placement. Essentially, the city was replacing a pedestrian controlled crosswalk with traffic lights but the discussion evolved into whether simply moving the crosswalk 300 metres east would make more sense. This then precipitated a much bigger conversation about traffic flow and pedestrian patterns. Some of the nuts and bolts of urban planning.
Here was a local resident, getting actual face time with elected officials to express his views on how traffic should move in his neighbourhood. The politicians were able to see how rules, regulations and by-laws might be affecting residents, and to ensure some flexibility in the enforcement stemming from those rules, regulations and by-laws. City staff aren’t supposed to interpret or adaptively implement rules. At community council, councillors can. A face is put to a decision.
Of course, not all the business that comes up at community council meetings is of the micro-local kind. The three more suburban community councils are noted for their brevity in comparison to the Toronto East York Community Council which traditionally spends additional time on wider ranging issues like tall building development and bigger commercial matters (not to mention it is the most populous of the community councils). It’s not unusual for a councillor sitting on, say, the North York Community Council to wrap up business there and get downtown to City Hall to take in the remainder of the Toronto East York Community Council.
But on Tuesday, the downtown came westside as I’m sure nobody’s ever said before. Not only did members of the EYCC fight to get their meeting done by lunch, most of them came back for a rare evening session where the 7 year planning process for the Mimico 20/20 development was having another public airing. Some 150 members of the public came out to hear and give 3+ hours of deputations about what was shaping up to be a major reformation of the Ward 6 lakefront neighbourhood.
This was the whole ball of wax. The Official Plan. A Secondary Plan. Revitalization. Intensification. Mobility. Affordability. The big daddy of fence extensions, you might say. The local councillor, Mark Grimes, seems genuine in his desire to try to give a more liveable shape to the wall of high rise condos moving west from the core along the water. But questions remain — big, city altering questions – how best to do that.
Remarkably, in the face of such substantive change, the general tone of the deputations was one of willing accommodation. Yes, there was a contingent of NIMBYism. Those who cherished the view of the lake from their front porch or who wanted to maintain the feel of a small town in the midst of the big city. One deputant brought forth a proposal to build everything on stilts to enable everyone easy access to the lake. But they were in the minority.
Most spoke eloquently, ardently and knowledgeably about the proposal. It wasn’t perfect to anyone in the room for sure. Yet, as an outsider, it seemed like progress toward an acceptable solution was happening. Members of the community council voted to defer a decision for a couple months in order to try and hammer out further solutions. There were no angry outbursts as the audience filed out of the room nearly 4 hours after the meeting started.
The democratic process in action. Community council as the burning gears of civic participation. Voting is just the beginning. Engagement puts meat on the bones. Maybe it all starts with fence exemptions.
— fence-buildingly submitted by Cityslikr