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.

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

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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…

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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


Let’s Just Disagree To Agree

October 16, 2013

Watching as the wagons circle tighter around Mayor Ford, what remains of his loyal footmen launching darts at the most recently exiled from the base camp, iwonderI wonder if I too am being politically opportunistic. While the likes of councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, Denzil Minnan-Wong and (of course) Doug Ford along with the faithful stenographers at the Toronto Sun attempt to diminish and denigrate their colleague, Paul Ainslie, with school yard name calling, I embrace him as one of ours. A principled, well-informed participant in our local democracy.

Yeah. That’s how I see myself when I look in the mirror in the morning. After applying a little spit and polish. Don’t you?

I wasn’t alone yesterday in finding myself wincing slightly while taking in Councillor Ainslie’s press conference denouncing the mayor’s robocall response to Ward 43 residents after the councillor had voted against the Scarborough subway plan.

“What I’ve been about as a Councillor is the value of taxpayers’ money,” Ainslie said, “I’m with this mayor in fighting the gravy train at city hall…Many people like the Ford agenda, and so have I. That’s why I backed Rob Ford from the outset, and was a member of the Mayor’s Executive Committee. I’m proud of all that has been accomplished.”

There’s so much about that statement that makes me want to scream. The gravy train! simpsonsshudderWhat accomplishments? I’m sorry, councillor. You backed Rob Ford from the outset?

Looking back at some of my posts from early on in this administration, I clearly had a low opinion of Councillor Ainslie. Confession time. I was the brains behind a Twitter parody account mocking the councillor. (A sidebar: parody accounts are really, really hard to sustain. My hats off to all of those who can pull it off.) For me, he represented that largely silent block, enabling the administration’s worst instincts.

But as I pointed out in my post yesterday, Councillor Ainslie was also quietly going about interesting business in terms of civic engagement and participation as chair of the Government Management Committee. Earlier this year, he pushed forward with the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization (which he had originally opposed back in the day) complete with a new bike parking station. “If you’re getting people off the road, out of their cars using either public transportation or their bikes, in the long run, I think it is worth it,” he said. reconsiderAinslie’s been instrumental in trying to alter the approach the city takes with development charges in order to direct growth in areas that have been long neglected.

I can’t believe I actually have to write this — for my sake as much as anybody’s – but times being what they are… Gradations of political approaches, let’s call them, actually still survive out there in the world of imaginary black and white. Only those thriving on an us-versus-them divisiveness want to pretend otherwise. Despite the attempts at easy to understand packaging that highlights a brand, it’s counter-productive to try and govern in such a manner. As we’re currently experiencing.

Look, I’ve already said that, given the importance of subways to the very viability of the Ford administration and just how vocal Councillor Ainslie was in opposing this particular one in Scarborough, there should’ve been a parting of ways. But the unnecessary attempts to vilify him, the Burn The Witch squeal is nothing but scorched earth policy. paintswatchesDefy us, Defy Ford Nation, and there will be dire consequences.

That’s not how things get done. That’s how things get undone.

Councillor Ainslie and I arrived at an agreement that the LRT option for extending the Bloor-Danforth subway further into Scarborough was the best way forward for entirely different, if related reasons. His was financial. It was a needless imposition on municipal taxpayers. “For the record, I have always supported a subway for those who live in Scarborough,” the councillor said in his statement. “Just two and a half months ago I joined the Mayor and voted in favour of a subway. I voted for a subway based on sound financial transparency, disclosure and the commitment there would be no tax hike for people in this city and especially my constituents.”

I don’t happen to agree. Scarborough doesn’t need or deserve a subway. consensuspieIt needs better transit and it needs it 20 years ago. In my opinion, LRTs are a much better fit. I’d be perfectly happy with a dedicated property tax increase that built more LRTs running all through Scarborough and York and North York and Etobicoke.

Despite that difference of opinion, Councillor Ainslie and I ended up in the same camp. That’s how democracy is supposed to function. Reaching a workable consensus through negotiation and horse-trading.

That’s just a basic civics lesson we seem to have forgotten, much to our detriment.

kumbiyahly submitted by Cityslikr


Standing Up To The Mayor

October 15, 2013

Here’s why I’m not a gambling man.

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Back in the early days of the Ford administration if you’d offered me the longest of long shot odds that Councillor Paul Ainslie would be a likely candidate to publicly break with the mayor, I’dve turned you down flat. Not possible, I’d say. There aren’t odds oddsy enough to make me take that bet.

Well, here we are.

On Friday, Councillor Ainslie not only resigned his chair of the Parks and Recreation committee exitstageright(automatically walking away from the powerful Executive Committee in the process) but he did so in a very loud and public fashion.

According to the councillor, Mayor Ford “ran out of ideas a long time ago” and has a “lack of strategic objectives.”

Ouch.

Councillor Ainslie isn’t the first former ally and Executive Committee member to part ways with the mayor but he might be the noisiest. Both councillors Michelle Berardinetti and Giorgio Mammoliti slipped away gently, citing their own reasons for doing so. Councillor Mammoliti has already crawled back onto the Executive Committee, directly replacing Ainslie.

Only Councillor Jaye Robinson’s departure from the inner sanctum back in June made a similar kind of splash. She was turfed for suggesting in her outside voice that maybe Mayor Ford should take a little time away from his position to deal with any sort of personal issues he might be having. pileonRobinson has not shied away from her break with the administration, weighing in on her colleague’s exit and the subsequent robo-call roll out from the mayor’s office that followed.

“We should be encouraging independent thought at City Hall,” she said in the radio interview and referred to Mayor Ford’s ‘leadership style’ as nothing more than “bluster and intimidation” “The farthest thing from transparent and accountable government.”

Along with Ainslie’s transition from an almost Tommy-like support (deaf, dumb and blind…actually, let’s call it Gary Crawford-like support) at the beginning of this term to a bona fide outspoken maverick of Mayor Ford, Councillor Robinson’s increasingly pointed criticism may well represent the soft support that put the mayor over the top in the 2010 election. It’s now evaporating and that should be of some concern to those dreaming of a second term. tommyThe simple fact of the matter is, there isn’t one without at least some of the mushy middle voting public across the city.

Of course, for some this latest schism with a former ally is no fault of the mayor’s. After Councillor Ainslie’s resignation on Friday, councillor-brother Doug went on full smear alert, chalking it up to Ainslie being miffed for having been overlooked to replace outgoing budget chief, Mike Del Grande (who himself kicked up some dust leaving the position. It didn’t amount to much as he seems to just have retreated into a sullen surliness). Frankly, I’d be pissed too if I’d been passed over for the job by Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. If anything is proof of Councillor Ainslie’s assertion that the mayor lacks strategic objectives, it would be his appointing of Frank Di Giorgio as budget chief.

As with almost everything that comes out of the mouth of councillor-brother Doug, the truth about the rift between Ainslie and the Ford administration is much more robust, let’s call it, beginning a lot earlier and in a far more nuanced way.

While Councillor Ainslie was enabling the mayor to run roughshod through the halls of City Hall, cutting this tax and that service, he was also steadily tinkering as chair of the Government Management Committee. yourefiredHe pushed through small but important things like getting wireless service throughout all of City Hall that helped further citizen engagement to the bigger enchilada on that score: sending a request to Queen’s Park for permission to start using alternative voting methods in forthcoming municipal elections. He was actually helping Mayor Ford keep a campaign promise of delivering a more open and transparent government.

But then things seemed to come unglued with some back stage mayoral shenanigans at the Garrison Ball in March. Ainslie was knocked from his post as Government Management Committee chair a couple months later and served briefly as chairs of the Parks and Recreation Committee until this week.

Until his decision to reject the Scarborough subway on Tuesday and opt for the already in place subway. When he stood up at council to make his case for the LRT, he said that he’d gone into the previous weekend fully intending to vote for the subway. Then he started really reading the staff report and just saw the mounting costs that had no definite end to them. yourefired1He found himself weighing his options between a fully funded LRT, ready to go, with no extra costs lurking in the corners versus a subway proposal dripping with unknowns and a much higher price tag.

However, subways have become so integral to the Team Ford brand that to vote against them and vote against them so overtly couldn’t be seen as anything other than an outright rejection of the administration. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another member of the Executive Committee, also voted against the subway but did so in a more low key fashion, so escaped notice.

Or maybe as a potential rival for the mayor’s job next year, he’s being allowed to keep close relations so he doesn’t have much distance between himself and the mayor if they have to campaign against one another.

Or quite possibly, Councillor Minnan-Wong shares enough of Mayor Ford’s loathing of government and taxes hediditthat he’s allowed a longer leash in order to wreak all the damage he can while the clock’s running down.

That’s not the kind of fiscally conservative politician Councillor Paul Ainslie is, obviously. Plus, he’s from the holy land of folks in Scarborough. So he was expendable. He needed to be made an example of.

It’s nothing personal, according to the mayor, although it seems voting against the Scarborough subway was nothing short of a ‘personal attack’ on Mayor Ford according to Councillor Ford. Go figure. *shrug* It’s about politics and political calculation. Plain and simple. The plan is to ride the subway issue to re-election and anybody seen as standing in the way? Electoral road kill.

This couldn’t come as any sort of surprise to Councillor Ainslie. He too must’ve made some calculations and decided to roll the dice on his political future, prepared to face his constituents as a careful custodian of their tax dollars rather than just another mayoral flunky. Again, I’m no betting man but if I were, I wouldn’t put my money against the councillor on this one.

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fingers crossedly submitted by Cityslikr


Hey Rain Man!

September 25, 2013

“Once the government gets involved, 9 times out of 10 it’s a disaster.”

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This from Mayor Ford at yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting during a debate over recommended increases in development charges. Development charges are fees the city receives for development that increases demand on necessary infrastructure like roads, public transit, sewage and water delivery. Fees this city charges are significantly less than many in the surrounding regions and as anybody who tries to get from point A to point B or who’s had their basement flooded knows, our infrastructure needs have not really kept up to all the new growth.

Councillor Paul Ainslie put forward a motion asking for a staff report on “… mechanisms for development charge discounts along main avenues in our Strong Neighbourhoods, and adjacent neighbourhoods.” A Scarborough councillor, Ainslie pointed out that with development charges the same throughout the city, developers tended to go where they would get the biggest and quickest return on their investment which is almost always downtown. bullhornAs with most things planning related, the city is constrained by provincial law in its ability to manipulate development charges in order to spur growth in areas needing growth. The councillor was just looking for possible ways to work within such restrictions.

But the mayor was having none of it.

“I’m a huge believer in the market determines the cost.”

“We shouldn’t be dictating what these people pay, let the market dictate.”

“This will turn into a complete mess.”

Have conservatives always been this dumb? Are those of us of a certain vintage deluded when we talk about the halcyon days of the red Tory – Joe Clarke, Hugh Segal, Bill Davis, David Crombie – when conservatism was entirely reasonable?

Development charges, by their very nature, are the government getting involved. It takes money from the private sector in order to help offset the costs of growth which, in turn, makes the development more attractive, therefore increases the value of the development. notlistening2Higher value, higher tax base. A win-win for all involved.

In voting in favour of the staff’s report to phase in development charge increases over the next couple years, Mayor Ford voted in favour of government involvement.  But somehow, in an effort to figure out ways to encourage growth in areas of the city in need of it, that was just too much meddling for the mayor’s taste. It would surely precipitate a complete disaster.

The irony (and I believe I’m using the word correctly) is that this anti-government outburst from the mayor came a day after he declared victory in securing federal funding and sealing the deal for a Scarborough subway. An infrastructure project exclusively funded by the government which, in the mayor’s very own words, would stimulate growth and development in Scarborough.

But when Councillor Ainslie and another Scarborough councillor, Gary Crawford, request a report to propose ways to help stimulate growth and development along Kingston Road in their neck of the Scarborough woods? No way. People shouldn’t be dictating. Let the market decide!

It’s like this iteration of conservatism has taken all the easy, self-serving, short term aspects from the ideology while jettisoning its more complicated features. multiplicityThey’re like the third clone in Michael Keaton’s Multiplicity, the ones who eat toothpaste. Pale shadows of their forbearers who can’t or conveniently don’t remember the fuller version of their political philosophy.

There’s no pattern or logic. It’s just partisan addled sloganeering outbursts at words or ideas that don’t sit well with them. Like single-celled organisms reacting to the light. Single-minded entities reacting to things they don’t understand. No thought. Just visceral, opportunistic grandstanding.

Modern conservatism is nothing more than an empty brand masking its one true operating principle: blind, anti-government reactionism. Openly adopting such a stance, however, doesn’t play well with the voting public. So you try and smooth out the rough electoral edges by maintaining a soothing name that reeks of tradition.

A tradition that I now call into question if Mayor Ford and his ilk represent its legacy.

sins-of-the-fatherly submitted by Cityslikr


On Activism And The World We Live In

June 13, 2013

The great thing about doing the thing I do, and yes, this is me doing something, aside from getting to trade barbs with former Harris government knobs, goodnewseveryoneis all the smart, engaged people I meet along the way.

Two of the smartest, most engaged people I’ve had the opportunity to meet are Desmond Cole and Dave Meslin. On Tuesday, the two helped roll the rock of voting reform a little bit further up the hill as the Government Management Committee’s Proposed Electoral Reform item made its way through city council, relatively unscathed. Now the questions of permanent resident eligibility to vote municipally, ranked ballots, internet voting and a review of municipal election finance rules are on their way to Queen’s Park to secure the provincial approval needed for any of these initiatives to go forward.

It’s just another step, for sure, with more than a few obstacles still to clear but, pick your own hoary cliché here, a long march is only completed step-by-step.rollingrock

Being an activist can’t be easy.

There are assholes like me, just popping up on the scene, who start yelling and think that’ll make an immediate difference. True, effective activism doesn’t work like that. It’s a slog. A long, tough slog.

Meslin has been stirring up the pot here in Toronto since the last century it seems. Oh. I’m sorry. What? 1998 is the last century. Well then. Meslin has been stirring up the pot here in Toronto since the last century.

Reclaim the Streets. Toronto Public Space Committee. City Idol. Toronto Cyclists Union. RaBIT. He was part of all those movements.

For his part, Desmond Cole’s been around the activist block a time or two himself. A Project Coordinator for I Vote Toronto, he’s been at ground zero for the push to open municipal voting to permanent residents. busyHe was a winning candidate for City Idol back in 2006, running in Ward 20 against Adam Vaughan. As a writer-activist, Cole has also been front and centre covering relations between the Toronto Police Services and the city’s visible minority communities.

The status quo is firmly entrenched. Budging it even just a little takes a lot of time and effort. You’re labeled a special interest or a usual suspect by those who like the status quo just fine, thank you very much, or who can’t see anything past it.

Even those fighting the same fight can turn unfriendly and unhelpful. I’ve witnessed firsthand the internal warfare going on between the camps trying to change our first-past-the-post voting system. Allies fighting for a better way to elect our representatives arrive at loggerheads over the exact method to do it.

Activism is not for the faint of heart. I think that’s especially true in these days of deep cynicism and disconnect to our political system. getbusyMuch easier to throw up your hands and say, well, they’re all corrupt, they all lie, a pox on all their houses than it is to roll up your sleeves, get into the trenches, firm in your conviction of changing this motherfucker up.

So I tip my hat to the likes of Dave Meslin and Desmond Cole, and say thank you. Not only are they fighting the good fight, they do so in such an infectious, enthusiastic way as to make it almost seem like fun. And why not? Civic participation is fun, despite opinions to the contrary.

And it would be remiss of me not to send out a big thumbs-up to Councillor Paul Ainslie as well. As chair of the Government Management Committee, he grabbed hold of the electoral reform issue and saw it through some very choppy waters especially at times due to his own unfriendly committee. His determination to see this through was as dogged and tireless as that of the likes of Meslin and Cole.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke spend much of our time expressing disappointment in the conduct of our local representatives at City Hall. So it behooves us then to take a moment and acknowledge when they exhibit exemplary behaviour. (Frankly, they do so at a much higher rate than they are ever given credit for.)

At the outset, Paul Ainslie never struck me as a particularly outstanding councillor. Early on in this term, he seemed to be just another right wing lap dog for Mayor Ford, obediently doing the mayor’s bidding and voting along party lines. thumbsup1That started to change for me when he stood up, outraged as the TPL board chair, to respond to then budget chief Mike Del Grande’s dim view of all the non-English language books and videos in the library’s catalogue.

His drift toward independence has continued and, while still too right leaning for my particular tastes, he has come to represent a moderate voice on council. Maybe he always was and it got lost in the ideological thunder that rolled over City Hall in the fall of 2010. He deserves a lot of credit for rising above the partisan tumult and delivering on what could be a real game-changer in terms of local politics.

Not immediately. But soonish. That’s the reality for activists and the politicians responsive to them. We owe both a huge hug of gratitude.

thankfully submitted by Cityslikr