Career Politicians

June 25, 2014

Anybody who’s thrown so much as a passing glance toward us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke knows that we kind of rankle at the hurled derision of the ‘career politician’ taunt. tryingmypatienceWe happen to think, done well, politics can be a noble profession, and one which need not be subject to some arbitrary time line. New blood does not inherently mean good or better blood. It’s just new.

But I will tell you that Councillor Raymond Cho is severely testing our laissez-faire attitude on this issue.

One day – ONE DAY! – after coming in 3rd in the June 12th provincial vote, Councillor Cho registered to run for re-election in October’s municipal election. Looking at the councillor’s history, you might conclude that he’s spent a lot of his career trying to get out of City Hall. He ran federally for the New Democratic Party in 1988 and then federally again in 2004 as an independent Liberal candidate. This time around, he took a stab at it as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

Having now run under the banner of a party with perhaps one of the most anti-urban agendas in recent memory, escapeplanCouncillor Cho blithely intends to return to municipal office as Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River incumbent. No hard feelings, eh guys? It’s not like I was a conservative in anything but name only, OK?

I’d probably be more forgiving if the councillor had done much of any significance this past term. At the start, just after Rob Ford became mayor, Cho was a bit of a thorn in Team Ford’s side. More like a pesky annoyance, really. But as the province lumbered toward a general election, Councillor Cho saw another exit opportunity and after securing the riding nomination, he just sort of faded into the woodwork. His most notable achievement ended up being to join with 8 other Scarborough councillors and derail plans to bring the LRT to their part of the city.

With a federal election on the horizon for 2015, you’d be crazy not to think that Councillor Cho isn’t ruling out one last kick at that can. sixofoneIt’s not like he’s getting any younger!

At least one of his opponents in the recent provincial campaign, the NDP’s Neethan Shan, had the decency to wait a week before throwing his name into the municipal campaign, registering to also run in Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River against Councillor Cho.

Frankly, that news doesn’t sit much better with me.

I know that there’s a lot of overlap between the provincial and municipal governments. In many ways, they are inter-dependent. It’s not unusual to see the same names vying for a position at both levels. Hell, 3 of Scarborough’s 5 Liberal MPPs are former Toronto city councillors and a fourth was a school board trustee in the city.

Still, Mr. Shan’s quick entry into the municipal race strikes me as something a budding politician might do in search of public office. Doesn’t care where, Queen’s Park or City Hall, as long as it’s an office. And public. pickadoorI’ll be very surprised if he’s the only unelected, unsuccessful provincial candidate who tosses his hat into the municipal campaign ring before its September deadline.

This kind of campaign juggling strikes me as lacking a certain commitment to, I don’t know, a cause. A passion for politics, maybe, but generalized, unfocussed. The thing that motivates you should dictate the level of government you aim for. International affairs or development? Federal. As a school board trustee, Kathleen Wynne has said it was the Mike Harris attacks on education that pushed her into provincial politics.

That might be too harsh or over-simplified. One of my favourite city councillors, Gord Perks, first ran for public office at the federal level. careerpoliticianThere’s obviously something to be said about learning the ropes of the campaign trail, taking it on the chin a few times before getting it right.

But, in the end, if a candidate is fortunate enough to win an election, there should be some passion for the office they step into. I’d be much more content with a city councillor who’s something of a lifer because they love the job they do and are good at it than someone just passing through municipal politics as a stepping stone to where the real power lies. That’s self-serving not public serving.

And it’s the kind of thing that gives career politicians a bad name.

testily submitted by Cityslikr


Big Fucking Idiot

April 4, 2014

No, no. This isn’t about that, the term of endearment hurled at Mayor Ford by his crack-buddy, Elena Basso Johnson, and caught for posterity on police wiretap. bfiNo. I was turning the phrase over in my mind while watching the mayor on his feet at city council yesterday during the Great Food Truck Debate of 2014.

Set aside his personal travails. The manner in which he spends his off hours and down time. The affection and loyalty he so clearly engenders, hanging out and just being himself with the drug and gang folks. Pretend for a moment that isn’t what would normally disqualify anyone from continuing to hold public office anywhere in the real democratic world.

Watch Mayor Ford in action (clip via Matt Elliott), ostensibly doing what he was elected to do, what he’s supposedly been doing since 2000 when he first arrived at council. Watch and tell me, within a couple minutes, you don’t sit back in your chair and just think, What a big fucking idiot. Who voted for this guy again?

Look. The mayor’s not even entirely in the wrong on this. I mean, god! Food trucks! Watching this agonizingly prolonged debate, coming at the end of a year and a half process, you’d think we were venturing into uncharted territory here, as if no place else on earth has gone down this road before. It’s like the plastic bag ban or the fight over removing part of an expressway. Careful as she goes, guys! Trailblazing’s tricky!

And given the last big adventure in mobile food slinging, the á La Cart program (spit!), who’s going to disagree with Mayor Ford when he states that he’d “…just like to loosen up the restrictions a bit”? cuttheredtapeIf there’s one thing councillors should’ve learned from that mess of mess providing is that you can be too prescriptive, restrictive, meddlesome and red tape-y.

Fighting all that and the bureaucracy at City Hall is supposed to be his bread and butter. Looking out for the little guy, right? The defender of small businesses and job providers. Scourge of intrusive big government and political man-handling.

Could there be an item before city council more tailor made for Rob Ford to hit out of the park? A bigger and slower softball lobbed tantalizingly into his wheelhouse?

You wouldn’t think so.

Yet, there he was, in typical stumbling and bumbling fashion, unprepared to defend his motion.

foodtruck1If only he’d done even a modicum of homework.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Rob Ford doesn’t do homework. He’s a fly by the seat of his pants, gut feeling, shoot from the hip politician. That’s why the folks love him.

It’s also why he’s a big fucking idiot.

First of all, his motion to delete the proposed stipulation keeping food trucks 50 linear meters from any bricks and mortar restaurant sought to amend an item put forth by his very own Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio. This is a guy loyal to a fault to the mayor, dimming his re-election chances in Ward 17 in the process. As Mayor Ford’s fortunes go, so too will Councillor Palacio’s.

Clearly from the tone of Councillor Palacio’s questions to the mayor, there had been no prior consultation between the two men before the motion was put forth. The councillor asked if the mayor was aware he was amending his item. Mayor Ford shrugged. Councillor Palacio wondered if the mayor knew about the food vending working group that had been hammering out compromises like the linear distance for the past 18 months. cantbebothered
Again, Mayor Ford shrugged.

This followed the same line of reasoning Councillor Raymond Cho pursued when he asked the mayor if he’d attended any of the committee meetings that put the food truck proposals together. The Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. The Executive Committee (which Mayor Ford is a member of). The mayor shrugged. Attended? Not so much. He assured the councillor, however, that he followed along. He is the mayor of this city after all.

Besides, Mayor Ford met with people about the item. In his busy, busy office. ‘They’ told him what ‘they’ wanted.

Were these people lobbyists, Councillor Paula Fletcher asked. Like it’s up to the mayor to know that! The integrity-challenged mayor then went on to explain the rules to the councillor. “It’s up to them to register,” Mayor Ford said. “It’s not up to me to ask.” goitalone1Apparently, in Mayor Ford’s world, a lot of people get offended when you ask them if they’re lobbyists before you sit down to discuss city business with them.

I told you guys from the beginning, he’s a big fucking idiot.

Besides his lack of collaborative interest or acumen, Mayor Ford also displays a fundamental deficit of attention to details. In moving to delete the 50 linear meter regulation, he just simply proposed a ‘not in front of a restaurant’ rule. Exactly how not in front? A meter on other side? Could you set up shop right around the corner from the restaurant at the side of it, in clear view of the front? How about the parking lot? Could a food truck park in the lot of a restaurant as long as it was at the back?

These kind of details matter. In all likelihood, they were discussed in the working group and various committees that hashed all that out leading up to the council debate. Meetings the mayor may or may not have followed in between appointments with people who may or may not have been lobbyists.howshouldiknow

If he’d spent even an hour checking out how other cities manage the food truck-restaurant dynamic (and it’s not like he has much else to do at this point in his busy, busy schedule), he might’ve come up with more specific ideas instead of his half-baked “This is free enterprise! Let them sell what they want! Let the customer decide” motion that emphasized nothing more than his haphazard, governance in isolation mode that serves no constructive purpose aside from burnishing his lone wolf brand.

Forget his monumental personal failings. This is why he’s unfit to be mayor of this city. This is why he’s a big fucking idiot.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


On A Need To Know Basis

January 14, 2013

I don’t think it much hyperbole to suggest that budgeting is the most important aspect of governance, especially so at the municipal level. alookatthebudgetIt pretty much determines a city’s quality of life. The number of police and firefighters on the street. The state of good repair for important pieces of infrastructure. How many people will die on the streets in any given year.

The budgets here in Toronto are complex and complicated, no question. It just sort of comes with the territory when the annual operating budget comes in and around $10 billion and the capital at roughly $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of moolah that needs to be found and services that need to be funded adequately.

So it’s curious to me when councillors fail to reach out to their constituents in any meaningful way during the lead up to the council budget debate and vote. Hey, everyone. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s how I’m going to vote. Any questions? Concerns? Opinions as to what you think is and isn’t important?

Running down the list compiled earlier this month by Social Planning Toronto shows that less than half of our councillors organized any sort of budget forum for their constituents although that may’ve changed in the last few days. (We are happy to be corrected and updated to any omissions we make.) publicconsultationsAm I over-reacting to think there’s something wrong and neglectful about that?

By my estimation, some twenty of the councillors I’d expect to vote along the fiscal lines of Mayor Ford (yes, I’m including Councillor Karen Stintz in that group) had no public consultation on the budget process. There were six councillors on the other side of the political fence who didn’t although I’ll give Councillor Joe Mihevc a pass on his ‘maybe’ as he doesn’t seem averse to public consultations. And I’ve thrown Councillor Raymond Cho into the latter category despite having no idea where he’s going to come down on budget votes since seeking the provincial Progressive Conservative nomination in the next election.

Now, I could rush to the ideological conclusion that right wing politicians, once in office, don’t care to fraternize with the hoi polloi. Don’t bug me in between elections, folks. We’ll talk again in 2014.

But I won’t. Let’s just chalk that discrepancy up to the nature of being in power versus not. This is Mayor Ford and his supporters’ budget. They don’t need to consult the public’s opinions or fully inform them because a ‘mandate’ is why. shhhI’m sure the roles were reversed back in the day David Miller was in power.

But what I will note is the urban-suburban, geographic divide.

In Scarborough, only Councillor Chin Lee held a budget town hall. Councillor Gary Crawford was planning on attending one while also offering to meet up with groups at City Hall. Up in North York, 4 councillors either held formal sessions or met in for smaller budget get-togethers. In York, Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette was alone in holding a public meeting. None of the elected representatives in Etobicoke deigned to put together a budget town hall for their constituents.

In fact, in Ward 6, Councillor Mark Grimes declined to attend last week’s community organized budget session. Why? Your guess is as good as mine if you read through a statement he issued.

patronizing“Every year the capital and operating Budget seems to be the most contentious issue we deal with at City Hall,” he said.

“It’s difficult to comment on any one item without looking at its context as part of the whole. I’ve been gathering feedback from around the ward, meeting with city staff and I’m looking forward to the (budget) meeting. There is going to have to be a give and take from all sides of the debate, but I think at the end of the day we’ll find ourselves with a budget everyone can be proud of.”

It seems Councillor Grimes believes the budget’s too ‘contentious’ to be discussed in a public forum outside of a city council meeting. Leave the ‘give and take’ up to the councillors, folks. That’s what they’re elected to do. You can’t possibly expect a councillor to give any sort of budgetary context in just two or three hours, am I right? Next thing you know, people’ll be standing up on chairs and the like.

Meanwhile downtown, in the former cities of Toronto and East York, only the above mentioned Councillor Joe Mihevc and Councillor Paula Fletcher didn’t hold public budget sessions (again, all this is subject to updates and corrections). Setting aside the left-right politics for the moment, it shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice the wildly divergent degrees of engagement based on location. letmefinishThe broad strokes suggest politicians in the core engage with their constituents. Those in the suburbs don’t.

Which leads me to ask one very pertinent question.

When we talk of political alienation as a part of the rise of what we once referred to as Ford Nation – suburbanites being left out of the conversation, neglected, ignored – should we really be pointing the finger at out-of-touch, downtown elitists? Overwhelmingly it seems councillors from the suburbs failed to consult their own constituents on such an integral matter as the budget. Perhaps political disengagement begins much closer to home.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr


A Debate 3 Months Too Late

April 11, 2012

Do you hear that? The low humming, ever so slight grinding buzz? That’s the sound of triumphal ideological bluster awkwardly changing gears into reverse. It’s not particularly noisy or grating. In fact, there’s something quite soothing about it. Not yogic in its serenity. More like the summer cicada song, lulling us into a soporific state of waking slumber.

A motion to defer and rethink new recreation field user fees for the yout’ of Toronto was put forth by Mayor Ford yesterday and passed unanimously as did amendments from councillors Janet Davis and Paula Fletcher, an almost unheard of case of accord at city council during the Ford era. And as welcome as the situation was – consensus, that is, not necessarily the details which deserve another post entirely – it was deadly fucking boring. Conflict sits at the heart of good drama, yes? For those of us used to some 16 months of never ending, monumental struggle, it all felt like such a drag, man.

What’s good for the city is bad for city hall watchers?

Much of the anticlimax had to do with the vote result being pretty much a foregone conclusion. The story of new fees coming down on the kiddies of the city (‘a children’s tax’, Councillor Raymond Cho called it) to use Toronto’s playing fields took on such negative resonance that even the mayor thought it to be untenable. Either untenable or just another very likely black eye loss that he didn’t need to face at the moment. So get out there ahead of the curve on this one. Respect for the taxpayers taking a backseat to the widows and orphans out there.

But quite frankly, most of the air got sucked out of chambers because councillor after councillor stood up to defend themselves for letting these user fees see this much daylight in the first place. Notionally, if you voted in favour of the 2012 budget back in January, you voted in favour of bringing in these new user fees. Many of the 39 councillors who had given the amended budget a thumbs-up wanted to clear the air as to why they did what they did. Mea culpas and/or finger pointing get a little tedious after a while.

Here’s the thing.

This has been pretty much 2 years or so in the making. If you elect somebody as mayor who spent the entire campaign claiming he could cut waste, cut spending, cut taxes without cutting services or programs or facilities, well, new user fees shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise to anyone. Add to this that after burning through a previous year’s surplus and ridding city coffers of revenue by eliminating the VRT and pronouncing loudly and relentlessly that Toronto’s fiscal foundation was crumbling, any budget proposal was going to be chock full of user fees. It’s just basic math.

Besides, with the libertarian streak that runs deep in the mayor, a You Use It, You Pay For It ethos pretty much goes without saying. Unless of course we’re talking about driving private vehicles. Then hey, it’s all for one and one for all. Mi camino es su camino, si hermano?

Yet Mayor Ford flinched on this one. Along with his brother, the deputy mayor, budget chief and all the other fiscal conservatives who screamed bloody murder back only two months ago that such profligacy at City Hall was a thing of the past. We were dangling at the end of our spendthrift rope. Financial wrack and ruin were awaiting us if we didn’t zip up our pockets and start looking after our pennies, every single dime, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

We’d burned down the banana stand, folks.

So we needed to step back, take some time for careful consideration and reflection. Unlike during the full court budget process press when it was all hands on deck, grab the pails and start baling because the good ship SS Toronto was sinking into a sea of red. Everybody, and we meant everybody, needed to start pulling their weight. There would be no more freeloading under this mayor’s watch.

Yesterday’s change of course altered the dire landscape, it seems. Mayor Ford claimed that there was new money from all the sweetheart labour deals he’d swung with city workers. However much that might be putting the cart before the horse, even if true, what happened to all the talk of paying down our oppressive debt with any extra cash we found under the cushions? Isn’t the $1.5 million that’s now being waived for kids to use our sports field ‘gravy’ according to the Frugal Times dictionary?

And how will this decision affect budget debates going forward from here? It’ll be difficult for the administration to cry poor when other ‘special interests’ step up, Oliver Twist like, mewling for more. Please… sir… you found $1.5 million for them. What about us?

Of course, with the mayor already heading into campaign mode, it probably means that we’ve turned the corner on this. It’ll be all good news for us from here on in. We slayed the debt dragon, folks. Broke its proverbial back. Everybody said it couldn’t be done. We did it.

Re-elect Mayor Ford in 2014.

belatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Slumps Can Be Contagious

March 6, 2012

It feels a little passé to call a major setback for Mayor Rob Ford at city council historic since it’s become fairly routine, but to lose complete and utter control of the TTC, the number 1 operating budget outlay for the city, is well, kinda, sorta historic. Sure, with enough support at council the mayor can dictate the amount of money the city hands over to the TTC, but even that kind of backing should be considered highly tentative in light of yesterday’s vote. How the commission decides to spend the money the city gives it is entirely out of the mayor’s hands. LRTs, subways, bus route cuts, all are now up to a commission he has almost no sway over.

Imagine former mayor, David Miller, flush with provincial government money, claiming a mandate to build Transit City and his TTC commission members say, m’eh. You know what? We’re going a different route.

You can scream mandate, mandate, mandate all you want but it won’t mask the fact you’ve lost control of the agenda.

If the size of victory for ex-but-now-still TTC Chair Karen Stintz’s motion to dissolve the commission’s configuration from an all councillor board of 9 to a 7 councillor plus 4 appointed `civilian’ board, an eye-poppingly large, 29-15, twenty-nine to fifteen — a photo-finish shy of 2/3s of council voting against the mayor, two-thirds, a number that if replicated regularly would render him largely irrelevant in the running of this city – was not bad news enough for Mayor Ford, the composition of the new board made for an iceberg striking catastrophe.

He doesn’t have an ally on it. Of 14 ears, three could be considered sympathetic. Four of the councillors might take a call from him but probably 2 would keep him on hold for a couple minutes.

Politically, the commission is now as balanced as you could get. There are three right-of-centre members, Chair Karen Stintz, former vice-chair Peter Milczyn and Councillor John Parker. All survivors of the previous commission but none, save perhaps Councillor Milczyn, whose relationship with the mayor made it through the last month or so intact, let’s say.

Councillor Maria Augimeri is the other holdover and was never an ally of the mayor. She is now joined in that corner by councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and Raymond Cho, both vocal critics of Mayor Ford and both, not coincidentally, representing Scarborough wards. This has been designated the key battleground by the administration and now it’s represented on the TTC by two non-subway proponents.

And right smack in dab in the middle is first term councillor, Josh Colle. As one of the newcomers on the commission, Councillor Colle doesn’t bring as much baggage to the fray except for that minor budget amendment he brought forth in January that snatched back $19 million in cuts from the mayor’s hands, and we all know that Mayor Ford rarely bears a grudge when it comes to perceived disloyalty and betrayal. If Councillor Colle was looking to grow his profile at council, he probably couldn’t have found himself in a brighter spotlight.

The geographic make up of the new commission is also very telling. As much as the Ford Brothers are trying to depict this transit fight as an urban/suburban one, downtown, subway riding elitists bound and determined to deny the rest of the city their underground transit riding right, there’s nary a corist on the commission. Councillors Colle, Parker and Stintz could be considered midtowners, and all three will see the Eglinton LRT being built through their respective wards. In fact, in Councillor Parker’s case, it will emerge from below about a third of the way through his ward 26 at Laird Drive.

The rest of the 4 are all from the inner suburbs. So if anyone could complain about being left out and ignored, it should be the residents of the old cities of Toronto and East York. But we have our subways and streetcars running down the middle of the street to comfort us.

Lest we get too smug however, this fight is far from over. The Sheppard subway/LRT question is not settled although, given yesterday’s lopsided vote, the wounded Team Ford has quite a formidable climb ahead of it. Seven of the twenty-nine councillors who voted in favour of Councillor Stintz’s motion will have to be peeled away back to the mayor’s camp and in favour of building the subway. Mayor Ford has made that doubly difficult on himself by refusing to come up with a viable plan to pay for it. No new evil taxes or fees to be considered while anything off the top of Councillor Doug Ford’s head including building new toll lanes to raise money for public transit, casinos, lotteries is on the table. In other words, a wing and a prayer that only the ideologically hidebound, power mad sycophants and just the plain ol’ scaredy cats could mindlessly embrace.

It’s almost as if Team Ford wants to be defied, wants to be relegated to the sidelines, wants to be the outsider, once more railing against those politicians down at City Hall, the very ones who’ve taken over according to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. Sound familiar? Mayor Ford morphs into candidate for mayor Ford and plays up the looking out for the little guy schtick, persecution complex on high alert. They didn’t accept my mandate, folks. You need to elect more councillors who respect the taxpayers as much as me, so that I can really turn this city around, stop the gravy train and… more talking points and stunt sloganeering.

The long game, they’re looking at, using the setbacks of 2011 and 2012 as the platforms for a re-election run in 2014. Losing the battles to win a war. Misgoverning in order to campaign.

Yes, we should remain alert to that nakedly obvious ploy but today, after a day like yesterday, it’s hard to give the benefit of the doubt to Mayor Ford and his brain trust in their ability to execute any sort of long game. Besides, lightning seldom strikes twice, and 32 months is a very long time in politics. The question voters may be asking themselves come October 2014 is if Mayor Ford couldn’t/wouldn’t figure how to run council, why he should be trusted in trying to run a city.

on the ballly submitted by Cityslikr