Trapped In An Endless Loop

July 4, 2013

After spending the better part of 13 hours or so in a committee room, I don’t think it unreasonable to expect some sort of return on that investment. dalieyeA little nugget of wisdom. A soupcon of insight. I’d even settle for just one witty bon mot.

Yesterday’s beyond lengthy Executive Committee delivered on all that and more. Without resorting to any Doug Fordian detached from reality over-statement or hyperbole here but I think I can safely say that, by meeting’s end, I had caught a glimpse into Toronto’s troubled, tortured soul.

Yeah OK. I could still be a little fuzzily delusion. It was a long day.

On the one hand we’re like this place itching to be taken seriously as a world-class city. And world-class cities have subways-subways-subways, ferris wheels, casinos and an airport on the waterfront. But in the same breath, if the debate turns to something like the struggles of BIXI with an analysis of how similar bike-sharing programs are working in places like Paris and New York, the response is always, well, we’re not Paris or New York burtlancaster(or London or Chicago), are we.

Small town minds with big city dreams, as Burt Lancaster might’ve said in some movie from the 1950s. In fact, he probably did and I’m lifting it.

So the sense you get is a dog chasing its own tail, going in circles, believing something will be different this time around. Hours and hours Wednesday were taken up on stuff we’ve been rehashing for years. The island airport. Another report on the possibility of extending a subway further into Scarborough. Repealing a tax instituted in 2008.

Governance of the undead. Issues never die. They just lumber forward in search of brains.

Which is exactly why we’re still talking about a Scarborough subway instead of having one, or an LRT that was good to go five years ago. Volumes have been written about our lack of nerve in building needed transit since about, oh I don’t know, when Bill Davis was premier of the province. scroogeLack of nerve combined with a tightness of wallets might be a fairer assessment of the situation.

We are witnessing that inclination to the extreme currently at City Hall. The Executive Committee, the mayor’s handpicked cabinet of sorts, represents the most radical example of this city’s penchant for both fiscal and policy penury. We got great plans, folks. As long as it doesn’t cost us a dime.

Translation? We’re not going to do anything much other than keep everybody’s taxes detrimentally low.

Many of these guys made their mark railing at any and all the initiatives of the previous administration of David Miller and have essentially spent the better part of the last 3 years ripping them to shreds, regardless of the economic consequences or setbacks. Canines — when not chasing their tails — marking their territory and ruining the carpet in the process. Doesn’t matter to them. holdonsecThey can’t smell anything anyway, having cut off their noses and all that.

But it was interesting to note, that when the subject of reducing the Land Transfer Tax came up deep into the evening, there was far from unanimity in the crowd. Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee hasn’t exactly been a band of brothers for some time now (although it most certainly is a bunch of bros at the moment), and it appears as if it’s not regrouping for him on what was a key election issue back in 2010. He promised to get rid of the LTT and has since scaled back on that, eyeing a gradual elimination, starting with 10% next year.

Not so fast, said some key members of his Executive including, and arguably most vocally, councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner. Councillor Minnan-Wong pointed out that, while understanding the mayor’s ‘enthusiasm’ to start repealing the LTT, it wasn’t a campaign promise he had made. Any loss of revenue from the land transfer tax was probably going to have to be made up with higher property tax increases which the councillor was dead set against.

Councillor Shiner was even more adamant in his opposition. He’d spent much of the meeting thundering about the need to find a way to start building transit. canttouchthis“Subways, subways, subways? Where’s the money, money, money?”

We cannot any longer sit on our bottoms and do nothing,” Shiner said during the LTT debate.

While the item was eventually passed along to the budget committee for its deliberation, it’s really, really hard to see it with much of a life expectancy.

Of course, 2014 election watchers will see that and begin to worry about how Mayor Ford will happily use the rejection of any sort of reduction of the Land Transfer Tax as a campaign cudgel. Any loss is a win at this point. Over at The Grid yesterday, Edward Keenan scared the bejesus out of everyone with an article mulling over the very real possibility of Mayor Ford’s re-election next year. Nothing seems to dampen the man’s rock solid base with polls having him at exactly the 47% approval rating he won with in 2010.

But I see some real problems brewing for the mayor going forward.

While he most certainly will hold any defeat of his push to reduce the LTT aloft and blame city council for ignoring his mandate and blocking the will of the people, Mayor Ford won’t be able to just paint City Hall with a simple tax-and-spend brushstroke. armyofoneLast time out, I think fellow conservative travellers like councillors Minnan-Wong and Shiner sat back and let their colleague do his thing in the hopes he’d clear the stink of Millerism out of the place. They’d happily assume positions of power that had been denied them since 2003 or so.

This time out they might not be so quiet.

If conservative councillors like Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner vote against any reduction of the LTT, I imagine they’ll be very forthright explaining to their constituents why. The city can’t afford to lose the revenue especially if it’s actually serious about building public transit. The scenario will be such that conservative councillors in suburban ridings the mayor needs to win will be campaigning against the mayor’s agenda.

Who will Mayor Ford be running against then? Everybody. dejavuAnd that’s a mighty high hill to climb even for an incumbent starting from a solid base of support.

Before embracing what might be a little glimmer of hope, however, it would do well to remember that our city does have a tendency to turn on itself. If history is anything to go by, we could be back having this exact conversation a year, two years, five years, a decade down the road.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr

 


The Real Tax Bogeyman

June 10, 2013

A local anti-tax advocacy group responded to the news of an updated $248 million surplus as proof that we are ‘very, very over-taxed.’ taxburden1It’s a sentiment that pretty much parrots the thinking of Mayor Ford who saw the surplus as a sign he could begin trimming the Land Transfer Tax in order to make partially good on his campaign promise to eliminate it all together. It wasn’t a promise out of line with most of his opponents. George Smitherman talked of how the city was nickel and diming residents. Joe Pantalone — David Miller’s deputy mayor – hopped aboard the anti-tax boat mid-stream, pledging to ditch the vehicle registration tax he’d helped to usher in.

It’s hard to be a tax-and-spender these days.

Why? BECAUSE IT’S MY MONEY, DAMMIT!! Unlike the streets, the schools, the police, etc., etc. taxationisthefttax money goes to providing for everyone.

This anti-tax pressure is especially acute at the municipal level.

Why? Because municipalities in this province are forced to rely so heavily on one form of taxation as its primary source of revenue. Property taxes.

There’s something really visceral about paying property taxes. It’s like an attack on your home and hearth. An article flagged by Rowan Caister today about the 35th anniversary of California’s Prop 13 which severely restricted the state’s ability to utilize property taxes as a source of revenue suggests to me that it was the source of a generation’s groundswell of anti-taxation fervour. Not to mention an important factor in the steady erosion of California’s economy over the past three+ decades.

(And doesn’t Howard Jarvis, the proposition’s point man, bear the same classic phenotype as almost every other anti-tax, anti-government zealot who has come after him?)

howardjarvis

Since property taxes make up such a big slice of Toronto’s revenue pie, it’s intuitive to then assume we’re paying too much or are being gouged. Nearly 40% of the city’s revenues came from property taxes (page 28 of PDF) in the 2013 budget. That’s a lot of taxes we’re paying, right?

Well…

Here in Toronto we still pay lower residential property taxes than any other municipality in the GTA. Even factoring in property values, the city winds up right in the middle of the pack. (Check out Joe Drew’s excellent analysis.) taxmanSo when someone claims that we are very, very over-taxed, I have to ask: Compared to… ? Not our municipal neighbours, surely. What then? The 1950s?

This is not a call necessarily to raise our property taxes although I will call bullshit on anyone claiming ours are too high already. Property taxes are not the ideal revenue tool for adapting to changing economic situations. They tend to be years behind reflecting reality. They’re relatively inelastic, I think the economic term is.

We need to diversify how we generate revenue. Consider how other municipalities around the world are equipped to do so. Check out Table 2 in Enid Slack’s  A Report to the London Finance Commission. In addition to property taxes, there are sales taxes, land transfer taxes, hotel taxes, beer and liquor excise taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes. Tokyo even has something called a ‘hunter tax’. taxesareevilA hunter tax?!

Of course, for Mayor Ford and all his acolytes, this has never been about reforming Toronto’s system of taxation. We were heading in that direction with the power bestowed in the City of Toronto Act. The Vehicle Registration and Land Transfer taxes (hardly unique by international comparison) took steps toward revenue diversification but were roundly defeated in the 2010 election campaign.

The only good tax is a dead tax, it seems. And I ain’t talking an estate tax neither. Councillor Doug Ford summed up the ghosts of Howard Jarvis sentiment perfectly last year when he declared all taxes to be evil.

Such short-sighted selfishness has held sway for too long now, and much to the detriment of our crumbling infrastructure and sorry lack of recent transit building. It just isn’t good enough anymore to cross your arms and shake your head no. It doesn’t get subways built or roads paved.

texaschainsawmassacre

It simply sponges off the sacrifices made by previous generations and stiffs future ones with the bills we were too cheap to pay.

freeloadingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Emptiness of Empty Protests

April 26, 2013

Those must have been heady political days in the late-60s, early-70s, here in Toronto. stopthespadinaA citizens group forms to stop the move to pave neighbourhoods and put up an expressway. It coalesces into a bunch of reform-minded politicians who take control of City Hall and run it for the next decade or so.

The dream of grassroots activists everywhere!

Faint echoes of such a movement occurred in 2003, with David Miller’s broom representative of sweeping out the cronyism and incompetence that had consumed the Mel Lastman administration. But truthfully, that really only resonated at the mayoral level. The make up of council did not change that much. Thirty incumbents were re-elected. Only four defeated. And of the two new faces entering City Hall, Mike Del Grande and Karen Stintz, would hardly be considered Millerites.

No. The real descendant of the David Crombie-John Sewell municipal populist movement would have to be – gulp! – fordnationRob Ford. Yes, Rob Ford, dammit. In 2010, not only did he handily win the office of mayor, thumping the outgoing Deputy Mayor in the process, but five incumbents are tossed including the speaker, Sandra Bussin, a couple more are scared into submission with squeaker victories in their respective wards and a majority of the nine other rookie councillors initially falling in line to support the new mayor’s mandate.

Ford Nation, folks. Brimming full of respect for the taxpayers and come to stop the gravy train at City Hall. It’s what a grassroots insurgency looks like in the 21st-century.

But it seems in the intervening 40 years or so between the Crombie-Ford eras the protest portion of populism’s DNA has subsumed the reformist urge. noWhile David Crombie’s CivicAction Party began as a protest against the proposal to bring the Spadina Expressway downtown, it grew into something that actually governed the city.

Now into its third year in power, the Ford Administration shows no similar ability or inclination even. Governing is what professional politicians do. One-note outraged howls of protest are for the self-proclaimed amateurs.

Take a gander at Councillor Doug (Imma Businessman Not A Politician Folks) Ford’s op-ed on proposed transit funding today here and here and here. Or just read one. It’s the same thing spread over three of the city’s four dailies. Go figure.

Or let me summarize for you if you’re pressed for time.

No. No, no, no. No, no, no, no. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo. No. Uh-uh. Nope. No, no, no. Not on my watch. Over my dead body. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo.

Not a word about alternatives. No other options offered up. johnnystrablerYou’d think with all that free press at his disposal, the councillor might use the opportunity to lay out a transit plan that has been lacking for the three years since his brother announced his intentions to run for mayor. A plan?! We don’t need no stinkin’ plan!!

We just say no.

Name an initiative Team Ford has put forth that hasn’t been about cutting or dismantling.

It’s never about building. Theirs is a protest of destruction not construction. The anti-tax foundation on which Ford Nation is built extends to anti-everything. They took the ‘pro’ out of protest. Let’s call it the antitest.

I thought about labelling this movement the Johnny Strablers after Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One. “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” Mildred asks. “Whaddya got?” Johnny answers.

But there’s too much retro-cool in that. stubbornThe Ford brothers might take it as a compliment.

So I’ll go further back, into the 19th-century, and the nativist Know-Nothing political party. Ford Nation shares quite a bit in common with them but it’s not a perfect fit. So let’s dub them the No-Nothing party. You want new transit? No. Need to open additional shelter beds? No. Hey, Mayor Ford. You going to march in this year’s Pride Parade? No.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re all for brand new shiny stuff if you convince them it won’t cost the city a dime. A casino? You betcha. Jets flying into the island airport? Okey-dokey. But any talk of reaching into our pockets and contributing to the broader public commons? No.

This is the inevitable outcome of protest built on pure negativity. We voted for someone with a long list of what’s wrong but an empty column of how to fix it. Opposition with no solutions is just opposition. Nothing gets done. Everything grinds to a halt.

strutsandfretsIt’s a situation any parent will immediately recognize. We are living through a two year old’s temper tantrum.

feet stampingly submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto IV

March 7, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7thIdil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

*  *  *countrymousecitymouse2

Toronto: A City Of Disparities – Idil Burale

The more time I have spent thinking, discussing, and researching the urban-suburban divide paradigm, the more I’ve come to realize that the underlying factor in this politics du jour is the growing income inequality in what is now 4th largest city in North America. taleoftwocities1In his groundbreaking 2007 report “The Three Cities Within Toronto“, David Hulchanski highlighted a disturbing trend of concentration of wealth and poverty in different parts of the city for the past 35 years. According to that report, the Toronto core (i.e. downtown) has become an enclave for the ultra rich, whereas the rest of Toronto (the suburbs) has seen a decline in prosperity. Hulchanski is confident that if nothing is done the trend lines will continue and that we will see an emergence of Two Cities Within Toronto by 2025: one rich, one poor.

And yet, instead of dealing with this, most discussions on the development of Toronto lately seem to be centred around casinos, condos, and transit issues. thisiswhereIliveNo one seems to be strategizing a way of curtailing the symptoms of income inequality. For example, dealing with the issues surrounding the prevalence of precarious employment, the dire lack of affordable housing, or the disappearing middle-class. In short, there is no shortage of `wicked problems’ (to coin a Vass Bednar phrase) to solve, but how have these issues been addressed, if at all? Even more importantly, is this the only source of tension between the urban-suburban divide?

I don’t think so.

Since where you live dictates your lifestyle, your neighbourhood influences the way you relate to the city. Our surrounding environment is part of the perceptual process that we use to make sense of the world. Therefore, it is important to note that the framework of the urban-suburban divide is also about how people perceive their political identity and role in municipal politics. In Cityslikr’s post earlier this week, he mentioned Mayor Rob Ford’s comments that people in North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough are conservative voters. hediditI don’t think that’s the case and we only need to look to the last provincial elections to counter that notion. Or David Miller’s sweep of every suburban ward except two in 2006.

However, what Ford is alluding to is a cycle of voting precipitated by a particular circumstance. Ford knew that people in the suburbs did not want their taxes increased. Therefore, he used the perception that most suburbanites have about their place at City Hall, i.e., as second-class citizens, to convince them that any tax increase from liberals, would be used to further develop the infrastructure of the downtown core at the expense of the suburbs. He guaranteed he would put a stop to that. Stopping the Gravy Train.

When we consider that 10 out of the 17 years of post-amalgamation bliss in Toronto have been governed under the leadership of a conservative suburbanite, one must ponder why the right wing is better at exploiting the urban-suburban dynamic than their progressive counterparts? In many ways, the rise of Rob Ford was made possible by the growing sense of urban chauvinism in Toronto politics and facilitated by the recession.

Does this mean that the amalgamation benefits the conservatives more than it does progressives?

I don’t know. helloneighbourBut I know we need to try something different: a conversation.

Its time to think anew and build a system of planning that doesn’t exclude people from the spaces that we create. We need to revisit suburban planning. We need to change certain perceptions that people hold both of themselves and of other people in different neighbourhoods. We need to remind ourselves that a focus on the development of Toronto cannot be successful without addressing the growing trend of income inequality. We need to realize as one city, Toronto must ensure that all of its residents – urban and suburban alike – have equal access to opportunity, mobility and liveability.

To do that, Toronto must first move past the false, political and geographical divisions that we’ve created.

suburbanly submitted by Idil Burale


Re-Imagining Toronto III

March 6, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

*  *  *countrymousecitymouse2

Throughout the week, we’ve been writing about the political landscape that lead to Rob Ford’s victorious run for mayor of Toronto in 2010. The historical background, the media environment, all the what you might call externalities. More or less an attempt at objective observation.

Today, let me get all subjective and present a frank and full mea culpa. How I played my part in the election of Mayor Robert Bruce Ford. babesinthewoodsA big ol’ ooops.

As cub observers of the political scene in Toronto, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke made its first appearance on January 4th, 2010. The day candidates could officially file with the city. We and Rocco Rossi made our municipal debuts together. Ha, ha. We’re still here.

Councillor Rob Ford as candidate for mayor was still a figment of our feverish imagination. It would be another couple months before he declared his intention to run. The possibility of such a thing merely tickled our funny bone. If nothing else, it would provide a bit of comic relief to the proceedings.

We continued not to take him seriously throughout the spring and early summer. His building constituency had to be fragile, a protest movement with no legs. It wouldn’t sustain itself through the all the missteps and scandals that would surface. When people were confronted with his deplorable behaviour during his ten years as councillor – cllrrobfordthe ‘Orientals’, dead cyclists, drunken outbursts at hockey games and on and on and on – there’d be a collective ‘Eewww’.

Yes, we were guilty of hurling invective, comparing him to Chris Farley, an excellent candidate for manager of a Walmart and on and on and on. Not only did we mock his one-note campaign style and his dodgy grasp of important policies but, unfortunately, we also ridiculed him about his weight and appearance.

When it became clear that Rob Ford had established himself as a serious contender for mayor, we finally had to overcome our disbelief and bewilderment and come to grips with that cold, hard reality. No, that can’t be right. What’s going on? What the fuck is wrong with people?!

On July 14th, 2010, we wrote a post entitled ‘An Open Letter To Rob Ford Supporters.’ By a long shot, it remains our most read piece to this day. (That’s called building an audience, that is.) In it we asked, with as little snark and condescension as we could possibly muster, what was the appeal. Why were they embracing his candidacy like they were. His numbers didn’t add up. His policy planks were wobbly under the weight of sheer improbability. His track record as a councillor indicated no desire on his part to solve the problems suburban voters faced in the amalgamated city.

Nearly three years on, the validity of our concerns holds up. There have been cuts when candidate Ford said there would be none. He’s shaved spending not cut the billions he said he could cut. fordnationHis transportation plan is in tatters, no more thought out than it was in 2010. On most major issues the city faces, the mayor has been sidelined, reverting to the lone wolf councillor he always was.

Yet Mayor Ford has retained his core support. His approval ratings hovering between 42-48%, essentially where they were when he was elected. The conundrum continues.

I don’t share some of my colleagues concern that this makes him re-electable. Sure, given his lack of performance one might think the numbers would be significantly lower. Where they were for his predecessors when Toronto had tired of them, in the thirties and high twenties. But compared to where Mel Lastman and David Miller sat at the same time during their first term? 48% is nothing to be boasting about.

And the news that John Tory hasn’t ruled out a possible mayoral run next year must send shivers up and down Team Ford’s spine. It’s what they feared most in 2010 and fought so hard and under-handily to stave off. biggermanThe appearance of any credible right of center candidate in the 2014 campaign – be it Tory, Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson – will spell the end of Mayor Ford’s hopes for a second term.

But that it’s come to that as the catalyst for a crash and burn of this administration should be mystifying to many of us. A startlingly high number of suburban Torontonians still love the mayor, despite what the rest of us would view as a bad case of the unrequiteds on his part. For our part, we’re still as confused about that connection as we were back in 2010. Now, as much as then, we need to come to terms with it and figure out how to make the case that it is an unhealthy relationship for all of us.

earnestly submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto II

March 5, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

*  *  *

countrymousecitymouse2

In yesterday’s post, we pointed to David Miller’s 2006 re-election where he won 42 of Toronto’s 44 wards with nearly 57% of the popular vote. Four years later, Rob Ford swept into power, largely erasing all traces of a Miller mandate outside of Toronto’s downtown core. It was a dramatic turn of events that reflected a tumultuous discontent with the outgoing administration especially in the inner suburbs.

How did such a turnaround occur? What had David Miller done that so alienated voters in Etobicoke, York, North York and Scarborough? In terms of the political landscape, there was no suburban-urban divide in 2006 (or in 2000 for that matter in Mel Lastman’s second term). ironcurtainSuddenly in 2010, we had our very own version of the Iron Curtain.

The city as a whole was feeling somewhat unsettled. Toronto had weathered the global economic crisis fairly well although unemployment was up and the region’s manufacturing base shrinking. Voters were feeling particularly antsy.

Of course, the 2009 outside workers’ strike loomed large over local politics. Garbage piled up in our parks and when it was all over, the perception was the Miller administration had caved into the unions and handed over the key to the vault. The facts didn’t really back that up but since the mayor didn’t crush the unions into oblivion, he’d failed epically.

The over-arching tone of the 2010 campaign was pissed off. Everybody was angry. torontostinksNone seemingly more so than those in the inner suburbs.

If it wasn’t about being over-taxed, it was about being under-served. Whatever prosperity and new-fangled artscape or shiny development sprung up did so downtown. Suburbanites were left on the outside looking in and, to kick more sand in their collective faces, the tab was theirs to pay.

Troublingly, when perception doesn’t meet reality, it’s the perception that often times wins out.

There’s never been any convincing evidence that the city’s suburbs subsidize downtown spending. In fact, during David Miller’s time in office, there was much attention and capital spent on the inner suburbs. A new subway was being constructed that would extend the Yonge-University-Spadina line into the city’s northwest corner on its way up to Vaughan. Transit City was a plan to bring more rapid transit to areas that had none. The 13 Priority Areas Neighbourhood Action Plan was established to combat poverty in almost exclusively places in the inner suburbs. The Tower Renewal Program.

None of it overly glamorous unless you were a policy wonk or directly affected. But it’s simply untrue to say that the suburbs weren’t an important part of the Miller Administration agenda. So how did that view gain such traction?truthreality

Here’s my working theory.

The toxic pool of political discourse created by a growing anti-Miller sentiment in the media and splashed about in by early mayoral candidates George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi was expertly marshalled by the Rob Ford campaign into a potent divisive force. Wedge politics at its finest. Candidate Ford convinced adopted and amplified voter alienation in the inner suburbs to mirror a personal alienation during his decade long term as councillor at City Hall.

Rob Ford, lone wolf, outside councillor as champion of the forgotten and abandoned tax payers of suburban Toronto.

After four years as mayor, it’s obvious nothing could be further from the truth.

As a politician Rob Ford and those closest to him have little interest in public sector investment in the public realm. They stand firmly opposed to almost all of the legacy items of the Miller Administration’s attempts at suburban renewal and engagement. wolfinsheepsclothingIt’s not about spending and engaging more in the suburbs. It’s about not spending more anywhere.

The government should not be in the business of governing.

This urban-suburban divide we find ourselves facing is a political one more than geographical or cultural. While we can blame David Miller for not being more explicit about his goals or somehow not making his intentions clearer to voters in Etobicoke, York, North York or Scarborough, the real culprits are those claiming to be looking out for the little guy when every policy they pursue proves the exact opposite.

submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto

March 4, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

*  *  *countrymousecitymouse2

Last week after wiggling off another over sight hook at the Compliance Audit Committee meeting, Mayor Ford took some time to talk to the media. The Globe and Mail’s Elizabeth Church reported an interesting little tidbit the mayor passed along. “The suburbs, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough,” Mayor Ford said, “these people are obviously right of centre.”

It is a wholly unsurprising view coming from a right of centre politician who doesn’t do nuance. A world that can simply be broken down into two camps, right/left, suburb/downtown. letatcestmoiThe suburbs, c’est moi.

The statement is worth further scrutiny. Certainly the federal Conservatives made inroads onto Toronto’s electoral map last election, winning 8 of the city’s 22 ridings, all of them in the inner suburbs. But their counterparts at Queen’s Park were shut out both in the suburbs and downtown in the provincial election that followed less than half a year later. Twenty-two seats. Zero representation.

So I think it’s more accurate to say that ‘these people’ in the inner suburbs of the former municipalities Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York will vote conservative but it depends entirely on the situation. In the 2010 municipal election, they embraced Rob Ford’s conservatism. In the spring 2011 federal election, they were warm to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. In the fall 2011 provincial election, they gave Tim Hudak’s PCs the cold shoulder.

At the municipal level, while the inner suburbs loved both Mel Lastman and Rob Ford, they weren’t vehemently opposed to David Miller. In the 2003 election, Miller won wards in York, Etobicoke and Scarborough. mayoral2006When he was re-elected in 2006, the only wards he didn’t win in the city were the two in Don Valley West.

Despite Mayor Ford’s hope masking as a claim, there are no hard and fast political divisions in drawn along party lines in the city. Tendencies? Sure. But by their very nature, tendencies tend to be fluid, fluctuating on a case by case basis.

The key to Ford’s election success in 2010 had less to do with uniting Toronto’s conservatives under his banner than it did corralling the former suburban municipalities back into the fold. Four years earlier they had all supported David Miller and the Ford campaign artfully convinced them they were the worse off for it. Out of control spending all directed to the downtown. $12,000 of tax payers’ hard earned money spent on a retirement party for some councillor from downtown. resentmentTime to stop that gravy train, folks.

It was an appeal to geographic tribalism. Suburbanites unite! Put an end to the profligacy the downtown elite have been showering upon themselves for the past seven years.

Look at two of the key members of the mayor’s administration, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Speaker Frances Nunziata. Fiscal conservatives for sure but also the last mayors of their respective cities before amalgamation, Etobicoke and York. These are two politicians steeped in the history of big ticket items like transit, police and emergency services being looked after by a second, city-wide tier of local government. A time also when senior levels of government were not absent on other issues like social housing.

City government for the likes of Doug Holyday and Frances Nunziata was about keeping property taxes low and programs provided on a pay-as-you go model. There was no need for all that spending they then witnessed as amalgamated councillors. What was good for their days in Etobicoke/York/North York/Scaroborough was good enough for the megacity of Toronto.

It is the gasping of the past unwilling to come to terms with the present reality. A city of 2.7 million people does not, cannot be run like cities a fraction of that size. Economies of scale give way to a critical mass. Big city. Big numbers. metropolisandmayberryAttempting to roll those back is not some act of civic heroism but simply a dereliction of duty.

Councillors Holyday and Nunziata, along with the mayor and his brother and a few remaining hardcore loyalists remain convinced the amalgamated city of Toronto can operate in the frugal manner the former inner suburban municipalities did. Notwithstanding the glaring holes in the social fabric this approach brought about – high priority needs neighbourhoods, a lack of public transit, aging, malfunctioning infrastructure – this method of governance threatens the well-being of the entire city now. Rather than moving in a direction that brings issues of mobility and liveability up to higher service levels, the Ford administration is attempting to reduce them the barest of bones.

Conservative or not, I don’t believe that’s what voters signed up for when they backed Rob Ford in 2010. While urban-suburban differences may be many, I think on fundamental questions of fairness (no, subways are not about fairness) and good government, reasonable Torontonians, regardless of political stripe, can agree on the fact the Ford administration is delivering neither. That’s something a majority of this city should be able to unite around.

texaschainsawmassacre

submitted by Cityslikr