A Whole Lot Less Where That Came From

November 20, 2012

Taking a break from his Santa Claus Parade Promenade, Mayor Ford called into his Sunday afternoon radio show to make his case for a second term in office. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Obviously, we can’t do it in the next two years (the remainder of the current four-year term). I’m going to need at least another four to six years to complete the work, and we’ll take it from there.”

That’s the key. Never let the folks forget that we’re in a perpetual campaign. Keep the base stoked. Maybe they won’t realize just how little governing there is going on currently.

It was particularly rich, reading the mayor’s plea for four more years to git `er done, while sitting through his Executive Committee’s meeting yesterday. He was absent, of course, busy in court defending himself from libel charges. In his place, a heavy hanging sense of inertia filled the room. The exact opposite of gittin’ `er done. Not gittin’ `er done, let’s call it to double underline my point.

The agenda was just eleven items long. Meatier ones like the 2013 Rate Supported Budgets for water, solid waste collection and the Parking Authority were adopted almost perfunctorily lickety-split. No debate, no questions to staff, just got `er done.

What took the majority of the committee’s time? Some five hours, part of it in camera, wrestling with the future of three city owned theatres. And in the end? A decision deferred for four months.

Now, look.

I’m not suggesting this isn’t an important matter that needs to be carefully sorted through. But should the Executive Committee be the one agonizing over it at this juncture? We’re talking about a net expenditure last year for the city of less than three million dollars. Surely there’s a more appropriate committee to be banging out the details. The Economic Development Committee perhaps? Even the Budget Committee.

The Executive Committee is a mayor’s steering committee. The hands on the tiller, charting a direction, shaping a mandate and agenda. The brain trust.

Under this mayor, it’s now relegated to wasteful micro-managing. Stuff people devoid of bigger ideas spend time doing to make it seem like they’re doing something important. Treading water, shuffling papers, looking busy.

The only jolt of life during the meeting came from a brief spat between councillors Minnan-Wong, Shiner and Thompson. Councillor Minnan-Wong took exception to the disrespectful manner in which he felt Councillor Thompson was questioning one of the deputants (yeah, insert laugh track here. Denzil? Meet respect. Respect? Some guy who has no time for you.) Sitting between the two, Councillor Shiner interjected, causing DMW to snap something about ‘your stupidity’, apparently referring to the plastic bag ban Shiner had instigated at council. ‘Sue me, Denzil’, came the response, proving only that Councillor David Shiner is the sharpest member of the Executive Committee.

Dust settled, it was back to the matter of doing precious little.

It could be argued that this Executive Committee might be merely running out the clock. The last meeting of the first half of term, they were lame ducking it. Indeed, exiting member Councillor Berardinetti skipped out to attend a ward event, never to return. (Hey. If the mayor can beg off to coach football…) Might as well put off any serious decisions until the new blood arrives to re-energize the atmosphere. Shuffle the deck. Shake up the roster. Refocus. Get `er Done.

But the fact of the matter is, the mayor has done nothing more than retweak. One councillor in, one councillor out. The mushy middle Josh Colle will still be outnumbered on Executive Committee by do-nothing loyalists like councillors Paul Ainslie, Norm Kelly, Peter Milczyn and Cesar Palacio. That’s the mayor’s team. The one’s who’ve allowed things to grind to a screeching halt, a mid-air stall out.

And he’s out there on the hustings already, talking four more years?

Out of breath and ideas, he’s barely limping past the first halfway mark.

windedly submitted by Cityslikr


Playing Politics

October 5, 2012

Try to parse the dark logic of this.

In the end, city council voted unanimously (with a few notable abstentions) to adopt the recommendations contained in the Ombudsman’ report into the civic appointment process conducted last year by the Civic Appointments Committee. Recommendations a handful of councillors and the mayor vehemently argued at council and/or in the media were unnecessary because the problems they are intended to address never occurred in the first place. Or, in the always blithely oblivious words of Councillor Norm Kelly, “… the Ombudsman is fixing something that is not broke.”

Only could a hardcore ideologue or someone completely disengaged with the reality swirling around him sit through this week’s fiery council debate, shrug his shoulders and conclude, what’s the problem? This, coming from a guy who sits right beside the budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande. At the height of the viciousness being tossed around at council chambers yesterday, Del Grande stood up on a point of privilege to essentially wipe his hands of the proceedings, disgusted with the gutter tone it had descended into, claiming he’d never been a part of anything like it in all his time in office.

As any of our regular readers know, I am not a fan of the budget chief. He represents almost everything I dislike in right wing politicians. And not for nothing was he once dubbed, Cardinal Mike Del Grandstand.

But in this, I have to say, his repulsion felt genuine. He talked kindly of gentlemanly behaviour at previous councils towards him by Joe Pantalone. His abhorrence at the fight over the Ombudsman’s report crossed political lines.

This is both good news and bad news for Mayor Ford.

The Ombudsman’s report and ensuing debate over it saw him abandoned by almost all of his natural allies. Not only did the budget chief walk away but other conservative councillors kept their distance. You heard nothing from councillors David Shiner or Karen Stintz. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday stood and expressed complete and utter incredulity at why council was spending so much time on this debate. The recommendations in the report were clear and good. Let’s just get on with it. At one point of time, the deputy mayor could be seen standing on the periphery of the chambers, glaring in the direction of Councillor Mammoliti, looking as if he couldn’t bring himself to be sitting in the same row as his colleague.

Even Mayor Ford’s bad lieutenant of devious doings, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong steered cleared. There was no upside to be seen going to bat for the mayor on this issue.

Only those must entrenched and (not coincidentally members of the Civic Appointments Committee) stood with Mayor Ford. Much has been rightly made of the bully antics of Councillor Mammoliti but the true depths were dredged by Speaker Frances Nunziata. Assuming her councillor seat, her 7 minute speaking time extended to at least 15 minutes with all the points of order and privilege demanded by those she shrilly huffed and puffed and hurled baseless accusations at. It was during this time, the budget chief rose, castigated his colleagues and left the chambers.

Which may represent the silver lining of all this for the mayor.

All the hurly burly created by his defenders helped impugn not only the integrity of the Ombudsman’s report but that of city staff as well in at least the minds of his most ardent supporters. ‘Politically motivated’ they managed to insert into the debate and got the chatter of it being nothing more than a he said-she said, hearsay document despite the fact that all the non-material evidence in it being sworn to under oath. They demanded names and documentation, ultimately revealing only their supreme ignorance of how the work of the city’s Accountability Officers is effectively conducted.

Yet, when all was said and done, despite the protestations of innocence and claims of partisan, political attacks inflicted upon them by the office of the Ombudsman, they voted (with the exception of councillors Kelly and Mammoliti who stepped out of the chambers when the vote was held) to accept the report’s findings and adopt its recommendations. How couldn’t they? After all, Councillor Doug Ford said over and over how the administration was dedicated to openness, accountability and transparency. For them, to vote against receiving the Ombudsman’s report would be nothing more than trying to suck and blow at the same time.

The only element of ‘politics’ introduced into all this was done on behalf of the administration. To accept the Ombudsman’s finding without attempting to denigrate it first was tantamount to admitting mistakes had been made (and I’m being very generous with that assessment). And we all know, Mayor Ford and his closest advocates are loathe to admit to mistakes. Ever.

Instead unsubstantiated allegations were thrown out against everyone and anyone. The Ombudsman, council colleagues, city staff all came under fire from Team Ford. At one point, Councillor Ford said that whatever may’ve happened, the mayor’s hands were clean. Not that the report ever named the mayor specifically, only referring to the mayor’s staff. No matter. The mayor was above reproach.

But that’s not exactly how things are supposed to work.

From the 2010-2014 Council Handbook:

2.14 Councillor staff – conduct and policies

Councillor staff, when acting in their role as a representative of the Councillor, must comply with the Code of Conduct for Members of Council (see page 100). Councillors are responsible for ensuring that their staff understand their obligations and responsibilities.

(h/t to Jude MacDonald)

Certainly the same goes for the mayor and his staff.

But accountability, it would seem, only applies to others and previous administrations. Demanding it from the mayor’s office and his most rabid supporters is just playing politics.

demandingly 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


Why One City’s Flaws Are OK

June 28, 2012

(Our 2nd favourite City Hall watcher — come on, seriously, who can top the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy? — David Hains deigns to grace our pages with his thoughts on the new proposed transit plan, One City. Every now and then we do like to offer up some actual clear-headed analysis. Thanks, David.)

* * *

When it came time to discuss how to fund the Sheppard subway plan, Doug Ford knew how he felt. As is his talent, he put it simply, “All taxes are evil, as far as I’m concerned.”

With this statement, the councillor for Ward Two made it clear that there was no discussion to be had. His was an absolutist belief, and it is one which says nothing is worth having unless it is free.

Of course, that is not the world most of us live in, the one called ‘reality’.

The reality of the situation is Toronto needs massive investment in transportation to be economically competitive and make the city more livable. With an average commute found to be the worst in North America, the current ‘Big Move’ strategy is projected to only maintain current levels of congestion, and focusing on a cars-only strategy won’t deliver the progress that’s needed.

Which brings us to One City, the supposed antidote for Toronto’s transit ills. It’s massive in every dimension: investment, scope, and ambition. And for a city that is preternaturally risk-averse and provincial when it comes to realizing its stated visions, this actually seems to have political support.

Council’s newfound pluralism, as left-leaning councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) put it, is the direct result of the necessity of leadership created by a mayor lacking vision, moral authority or a solid attendance record at city hall.

Into that void steps Stintz, fulfilling her role as TTC chair with a plan and some staggering numbers. $30 billion. Six subway lines. 10 LRT lines. 5 bus and streetcar lines. $180 per year in property taxes for the average household over the next 26 years (phased in over four years).

Naturally, there are flaws and this process will have immense obstacles.

It needs equal investment from the federal and provincial governments, hardly sure things when their word of the year is ‘austerity’.

The map, already a very political document (of course) will have councillors try to graft on further squiggles that will lead to further squabbles.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby (Etobicoke Centre, Ward 4) will insist on the Eglinton Crosstown to be underground from Scarlett Rd. to Martingrove. Councillor Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ward 5) asked today where the western leg of the downtown relief line and western Bloor-Danforth extension were, adding that he prefers to wait until October to hear from staff.

Councillors Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre) will wonder whether too much of this is an expensive sop to suburban councillors.

Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) will use the occasion to advocate for a sales tax, and Norm Kelly (Scarborough-Agincourt, Ward 40) might even join her.

People will worry about all sorts of things: paying for the unfunded operating costs, the most effective funding methods (like parking taxes), the wisdom of building a subway between Yonge and Spadina along Sheppard when geologists say that’s not possible and how Toronto can pull all this off without the mayor’s support.

While these concerns are well placed, One City is not meant to be immutable. Like a constitution, it speaks more to a framework of aspirations than a detailed model going forward. In this case dissent to that plan is the entropy of progress; the healthy and messy part that demonstrates why the process is worthwhile.

Despite all this, the key is Toronto has something to talk and get excited about. It finally has a holistic vision for the TTC that has an attached funding model (albeit just for capital). And it got to this point in spite of the mayor, not because of him (Yesterday the mayor toured a beer factory, looked at a caterpillar, and didn’t go to Pride’s police reception.)

So here we are, at the start of a transit journey and not entirely sure what the destination will be. And that’s OK, because unlike Doug Ford’s earlier statement, we finally have a conversation on how to get there.

guestily submitted by David Hains


Who Wouldn’t Want A Casino?

April 17, 2012

I joked about this on the Twitter last week. Probably wasn’t the first one. Definitely not the last.

But now it seems to deserve more than the 140 character treatment as, zombie-like, it’s an idea, a dumb idea, a highly unoriginal idea that just won’t die. A waterfront casino cash cow. Ching-ching!

It reminds me of one of my favourite movie lines from one of my favourite 80s movie, Prizzi’s Honor. “If Marxie Heller’s so fucking smart, how come he’s so fucking dead?”

If a casino’s so fucking smart, how come suburban councillors are so fucking dead set against having one in their ward? Never does a council or committee meeting go by when we don’t hear the whine from the likes of councillor Mammoliti or Nunziata or Ford about how downtown gets everything and the suburbs get stiffed. Hey, folks. Here’s your chance. Step right up and claim your casino.

Remember The Great Sheppard Subway Struggle of 2012? Sure you do. Scarborough councillors Ainslie, Berardinetti, Crawford, Del Grande, Kelly and Thompson all demanded that Scarborough residents get what downtown had, subways not no stinkin’ streetcars. They weren’t second class citizens. They deserved first class transit.

Well, where  are they all now? You want something downtown doesn’t have? Here, take the casino. Please. There’s some waterfront out there in your neck of the woods, isn’t there? Stick the casino there, why don’t you.

That's NIMBY not GUMBY

I heard Budget Chief Del Grande on the news this morning, suggesting that the old city of Toronto’s inability to say no is a source of the city’s money woes. Well, here you go, Mr. Budget Chief. Downtown’s finally saying no to a casino. Maybe Ward 39 would like to take it off our hands.

For the casinos biggest supporters, it’s a really good idea in someone else’s ward.

Just like transit planning. As John McGrath wrote about the commissioner of Los Angeles transit, Richard Katz’s seminar yesterday, “…everyone wants a transit solution that other people use.” Or development planning. John tweeted from today’s Toronto-East York Community Council meeting (he’s everywhere, that John McGrath): Councillor [Pam] McConnell, speaking for every deputant against height ever: “This is a beautiful design, for somewhere else.”

Everybody wants the upside — Yeah, whatever. That’s for another post — of a casino, the benefits but none of the headaches. Parking and congestion. Down-and-out gamblers. A Jeff Foxworthy crowd streaming out into the streets, looking for a post-show nosh at a Cracker Barrel.

If I wanted a fucking casino in my neighbourhood, I’d move fucking downtown!

It’s almost as if these councillors all know a casino is little more than a dog and pony show, it’s not really going to contribute much to city’s bottom line but it’s a great way to stick to downtowners. Ohhh, they’re gonna hate this! Like they did tearing up the Jarvis bike lanes, de-fancifying the Fort York bridge and making threatening noises about the Portlands.

In his Metro article today, Matt Elliott pointed out that one of the mayoral campaign platforms of Rob Ford was to give “…more power to local community councils to make neighbourhood decisions.” Instead, we’ve seen a whole lot of imposing their will upon others by Team Ford. Might I suggest that for some of the more vocal, pushy ones, they take a little more time to tend to their own garden, gussy up their own respective wards. That way, perhaps, in the future we won’t have to listen to their bellyaching, complaining how they never get anything.

How about starting with a casino?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

generously submitted by Cityslikr