The Grimes Reality Of Unseating An Incumbent

July 5, 2015

garyowens

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


Our Place Initiative

February 27, 2015

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. ourplaceinitiative“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. sabinaaliChair 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. communityThey 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. getinvolvedCrudely, 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.

Bringing me to the editorial aspect of this. The views and opinions expressed from here on in no way reflect those of Our Place Initiative. Just observations made by an outsider.robfordebay

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.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti

Councillor Vincent Crisanti

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


Less Is Not Always More

January 15, 2015

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. Bacceptlessuilding 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), expectless“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.followthebouncingball

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.spikeandchester

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


Another Photo Finish in Ward 26?

January 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

John Parker is much smarter than that.johnparker

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

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

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

Will it matter?

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

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Has Anybody Seen Your Councillor, Ward 36?

January 10, 2014

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.

blackout

No. That’s not quite right. Too much personality. It’s more like this.

whitebox

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.mayorfordportrait1

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…

whitebox

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. ringoWhen 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. notwithhimThere’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. defiantonesMaybe 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