Our Mayoral Endorsement

October 24, 2014

It just shouldn’t be this difficult writing an endorsement.hardclimb

After such a tumultuous 4 years at City Hall, the melodrama, the outright assault on civility and common sense, the ripped from the crime fiction pages, you’d think choosing an alternative would be easy. The bar has been set so incredibly low. How couldn’t you find a candidate to be enthusiastic about?

Yet. Here we are.

Doug Ford is a non-starter. I hardly need to explain that statement, right? The only positive aspect I can say about the prospect of a Doug Ford mayoralty is that it would be a lonely one for him. He’d be an isolated figure from the outset, nothing more than an irritable object to be worked around. But that’s not going to be a problem because Doug Ford isn’t going to be mayor of this city. Despite what many supporters of John Tory want you to believe as you go to cast your ballot.

John Tory’s entire pitch, the all-in roll of his dice this second time around running for mayor is that only he can defeat Rob Doug Ford. That’s it. himormeOnce he was able to push past Olivia Chow in the polls during the summer, all he set out to do was convince enough middle-ground, centrist voters that the only thing that mattered this election was the defeat of a Ford and the only one who could do that was John Tory.

John Tory the candidate trotted out John Tory the civic-minded patron as proof of his progressive bona fides. Remember the John Tory who talked about genuine revenue tools as the only way to build transit? Remember CivicAction John Tory’s support of diversity and inclusion? Vote John Tory!

The fact John Tory the candidate never did more than talk about progressive issues didn’t seem to phase those who gravitated into his camp. emptypromiseAs our friend MookieG77 pointed out over on Twitter, John Tory has committed $0 to social programs in his campaign platform. Instead he’s emphasized the need to find more efficiencies, weed out more waste and played up the role of the private sector and tapping the senior levels of government for more money as ways of paying for our services and programs.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s been the Ford mantra for the last 4 years.

Factor in Tory’s only less laughable than the Fords’ transit plans, his SmartTrack, a smartly designed graphic with fundamental construction flaws and purely magical funding mechanism, and essentially what’s on offer is a smiley, functional happy face on the Ford agenda. An agenda John Tory openly supported until Rob Ford’s personal demons politically neutered him. An agenda John Tory in no way repudiated during this campaign.

Arguably the most interesting candidacy was that of former city councillor and budget chief, David Soknacki. A wonk’s dream, it pitched itself on the notion of substance of style. If the politics of personality got us into this mess, maybe an issues oriented campaign could get us out.policy

Platform ideas flowed freely over the course of the 7 months Soknacki was in the race, many of them good, almost all of them worthy of discussion. He was unafraid to tackle controversial subjects like the ever-expanding police budget and unabashedly told us that if we wanted things, we had to figure out realistic ways to pay for them. He injected a passion for reason and rationality into the campaign.

The Soknacki team either miscalculated the electorate’s desire for serious discourse or, perhaps, David Soknacki wasn’t the right candidate to capture the public’s imagination. Too wonky? Too nerdy? Certainly the direction the campaign’s taken suggests the problem wasn’t the messenger but the message itself.

Ari Goldkind, a newcomer on the political scene, certainly tried to push the idea of an issues campaign. newsherrifA criminal lawyer by trade, he was more dynamic a candidate than Soknacki but he ran into a very familiar wall anyone faces when they’re coming at it from the outside. Who are you and why should we give you an opportunity to speak? He got himself into a few debates, established some credibility, getting himself on the wrong side of Doug Ford in the process, but never caught enough of the popular imagination to make himself a serious contender in the wider public’s eyes.

Goldkind did shape a platform that most closely aligned with my politics. The irony here though is, his style ultimately trumped his substance for me. As I told him in our couple conversations we had just after he got into the race, I wasn’t looking for a white knight to swoop in and solve our civic crisis. I’ve been at this, following municipal politics closely for nearly 5 years now, and I feel unqualified to run for mayor. It takes a lot more than good ideas and good will to generate good governance although it’s a pretty good start.

If Ari Goldkind sticks around for the next 4 years, reaches out and begins working with and contributing to the wider civic-minded group that’s emerged since 2010, I’d say he’s laid out an intriguing and extensive platform for another run at the mayor’s job in 2018.

endorsement2Which leaves me with Olivia Chow.

I have complete faith in the fact Chow would make a much better mayor than she has a candidate. Unlike either of her two main opponents, she actually has a history of collaboration with colleagues as an elected official. Always smoothly? No, but that’s a little unreasonable to expect from someone who’s served in public office for 30 years or so.

When Chow finally got around to playing to her strengths as a politician (more on that in a second), she brought the issues that really sit at the heart of building a better city to the fore. Equality, fairness, opportunity, inclusion. This is Olivia Chow’s bread and butter. After 4 years of the Ford administration’s assault on all those things, out of the gate she should’ve been trumpeting them, establishing them as the go-to themes of this election.

Why that didn’t happen is one of the reasons I hesitate to endorse Olivia. It could be seen as endorsing her terrible, terrible campaign. Those in charge of it should never be allowed to run a campaign again. Olivia’s strengths were downplayed for fear of attacks from her opponents. The campaign emphasized her fiscal “common sense” and held back on the notion of investment in our neighbourhoods, communities and city. Rather than humming and hawing about property tax increases ‘around or about the rate of inflation’, Olivia should’ve boldly stated she’d do whatever was necessary to make sure this city functioned well and functioned fairly.smash

If we’ve learned nothing else from this campaign, it should be this. Unless you’re white and male, never run a campaign as if you’re a frontrunner. Clearly you’re not.

My other brief hesitation is that, whatever happens on Monday, we need to have a long, hard discussion about who determines who is a progressive candidate around here. However we’ve been doing it for the past two elections has not worked out. The blame for that I place squarely on the political party machines that are in play in the background and on the sidelines at the municipal level.

We need to bust these fucking things up. They serve one thing and one thing only, the party. Having watched this campaign closely, I feel confident in stating that if city council fails to shift in a progressive direction, it will be because political parties put their interests first. A slew of interesting and exciting candidates, politically unaffiliated many of them, cropped up all over the city and many were left to their own devices while parties put their resources toward their own and other parties put their resources to stopping their opponents from being elected.

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So I endorse Olivia Chow for mayor, in spite of her political affiliation not because of it.

I endorse Olivia Chow because she reflects the kind of city I want to live in and be a part of. I endorse Olivia Chow because she represents our best ideals. An immigrant to this country as a young woman, growing up, if not poor, at least scrambling to get by, who took hold of the opportunities offered to her. I endorse Olivia Chow because she then dedicated her life to public service, a public service dedicated to helping others who faced similar obstacles she had along the way, a public service dedicated to fighting for those things that make us better, make our city better. Equality, fairness, opportunity, inclusion.

That’s why I endorse Olivia Chow for mayor of Toronto.

guardedly submitted by Cityslikr


It’s All In The Presentation

October 17, 2014

Last night, as an October’s worth of rain fell around the city, CBC hosted its mayoral debate. Streets, a subway station flood, power outages here and there. heavyrainFor what? The third time in over just a year, if not a storm of the century, an outburst of weather that Toronto clearly is not up to handling.

Yes, we have an infrastructure deficit. One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.

Yes, we have a child-care deficit. One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.

Yes, we have an affordable housing deficit, a looming crisis really. One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.

Yes, we have a transit deficit. (I don’t really have to link this one, do I?) One that’s only going to get bigger unless we deal with it, head on.problems

And yet, here we are, just over 9 months into the campaign and none of these things are we talking about dealing with head on. At least the mayoral front runners are doing anything but. Olivia Chow has been talking the issues up lately. Long shot candidate Ari Goldkind’s built a platform around them. Long gone candidate David Soknacki built a campaign on the platform people wanted to talk about these issues head on.

He miscalculated.

What we want, evidently, from this election is to restore our respectability in the eyes of the world, by chasing all the buffoonery, malice and low-brow spectacle from the mayor’s office, clear out of City Hall. Toronto is tired of being embarrassed. Toronto yearns once more to be world class, with a world class mayor.

Whoever promises to do that for us, well, they’ve got our vote for mayor. No other questions asked. Certainly not answered.

As for the rest of it? M’eh. What are you gonna do? personalitycontestAs long as we have a mayor in place who isn’t smoking crack, it’s all good. Baby steps, eager pants. Baby steps.

Very adroitly, the John Tory team framed this election as one about personalities not issues. Conveniently so too since he really had no issues to run on despite his self-proclaimed years as a civic advocate for the city. That infrastructure deficit? Don’t worry. Property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation will fix that. Child-care? Provincial government’s problem. Affordable housing deficit? Let the feds take care of it. Youth unemployment and a growing inequality gap? Good jobs. Private sector. Sobeys. My rolodex.

But his real doozy comes in response to our transit deficit.

SmartTrack.

A totally unworkable, unfunded piece of transit planning sorcery rivalling the slogan-heavy and equally laughable Subways! Subways! Subways! from the Ford Brothers.brushitoff

It’s not that our new emperor has no clothes. It’s that, as the Torontoist referred to John Tory, he’s “…just Rob or Doug Ford in a better suit.”

If the polls are to be believed, a plurality of Torontonians are OK with that. In fact, polls suggest over 70% of voters in Toronto are fine and dandy with the Ford policies dressed up in John Tory’s button-down, Bay Street attire. Some will protest and tell you, hey, it’s not that they’re voting Tory because they like him, it’s that he’s the only one who can beat Doug Ford. They’ll keep insisting on that even though the likelihood of a Doug Ford victory dims with each day we get closer to the election.

If this all comes to pass and the election plays out as we’re told it’s going to, there’s no reason to think these things that actually matter, transit and congestion, welldressedmancrumbling infrastructure, affordable housing crunch, increased inequality, will be addressed in any sort of substantive manner. Why should we expect they would? John Tory has shown he doesn’t actually give a toss about any of that. He just wants you to know he’s not Doug Ford and that’s all that really matters.

We seem shallow enough to be poised to agree with him and make John Tory our next mayor.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


See Ya, Soks

September 10, 2014

Even in light of David Soknacki’s withdrawal from the mayor’s race last night, I refuse to go blaming a campaign team for over-estimating the public’s desire to engage in meaty policy thinking during an election campaign. goodintentionsIt’s a good instinct to have, I think. Optimistic. Displaying faith in your fellow human beings. Respecting our collective intelligence.

Unfortunately, it also may be somewhat misguided. What a candidate really seems to need to be successful is an image consultant not some nerdy issue wonks. Keep it simple. Most people don’t pay that much attention.

“Ultimately, the reason Ford got elected is that voters were very superficial,” says [Soknacki campaign manager Brian] Kelcey, noting his awareness that these comments may come back to haunt him. “I believe that the reason voters were willing to vote for Ford in 2010 in such numbers was because they were being superficial about municipal issues. That they wanted change, but they bought into the idea that the solutions could were simple and could be expressed in meaningless slogans without a plan to back them up… The challenge is that we’re still facing superficial voters, and the voters who are being anti-Ford may be being as superficial as the voters who were being pro-Ford in 2010, by not demanding more of the other candidates.”

While this, in David Hains’ fantastic Torontoist piece from yesterday, might come across as sour grapes from a failed campaign, it’s difficult to disagree with Mr. Kelcey at this point. sourgrapes1Even in a campaign this long, months and months long, there was very little space given over to detailed ideas and platforms with even two dimensional complexity. Freak shows and catchphrases. Toronto Votes 2014.

Maybe that’s just politics in the Rob Ford era. 2010, Rob Ford, good. 2014, Rob Ford, bad.

But I think it goes much deeper than that. We’d like to think that in a robust democracy substance matters. An informed electorate will look past personalities and zippy slogans, and dig down into the meat of matters. The message is what matters not the messenger.

The fact is, we’d be idiots to believe that. “Firstly, it must be said that Soknacki is a dedicated and conscientious policy wonk and, I think, a genuinely decent human being,” @mightygodking tweeted last night. “All of that said: so what? This is politics. It is not THE WEST WING.”

We can blame this on all those ‘low-information’ voters out there, too busy or too ignorant to take the time to become really informed, substancebut I suspect most of us are not immune to our visceral, initial impressions of a candidate. Many of us love our brand affiliations. This is why the ‘NDP candidate’ Olivia Chow barb from John Tory has stuck so clingingly. That’s gut trumping brains.

Everybody knew that this campaign would be some sort of referendum on Mayor Rob Ford. That tends to happen when an incumbent runs for re-election. The calculus of engaging that by each candidate was different.

David Soknacki and his team rolled the dice, figuring the public was tired of the outrageous antics of the mayor, and wanted somebody the exact opposite. A low key, less colourful figure with good ideas. Toronto just wanted some peace and quiet, and for city council to get on with running things competently.

The problem for Team Soknacki turned out to be that John Tory did them one better. patricianHe was low key and less colourful than Rob Ford minus the good ideas part which rarely counts for all that much in an election campaign. Sorry.

Where in 2010, Rob Ford caught the spirit of voters with one word, resentment, John Tory is doing it in 2014, competency. Is he competent? Doesn’t matter. His suit fits perfectly.

David Soknacki ran smack dab into the impermeable bubble of illusion created by money, influence and class, frankly. The patrician John Tory had the Those Seeking Competency Above All Else vote from the outset. He didn’t have to prove it. He just was.

But I will throw mad props out to David Soknacki and all those who dedicated their time and energy to his candidacy for actually thinking we were prepared to engage in an issues-oriented campaign, for making a bid to our better angels. For various reasons, we weren’t up to the task. Toronto scared itself shitless 4 years ago and now was desperately, irrationally trying to un-inflict the damage. 2014 was no time to engage in ideas about the future.

hattip

grumpily submitted by Cityslikr


The Tory Brand

August 5, 2014

John Tory is a terrible candidate for mayor. Just awful. rottenthingtosayIf he goes on to win in October, and governs like he’s campaigning, he’ll be a terrible mayor.

Here’s how he responded last week to fellow mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind’s proposal to reinstate the Vehcle Registration Tax:

I’m trying to make the city more affordable and I hear every day from people about the taxation overall that they face and I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. I think I’m not going to be doing anybody a favour in terms of the struggle the taxpayers are facing if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.

Throw in a couple folks’s there and exclaim some Respect for Taxpayers, and it might as well be Rob Ford talking.

These are not the words of John Tory CivicAction city-builder. fordnationIt is a.m. radio talk show host John Tory speaking, getting all faux-populist, anti-tax, Rob Ford like. `… I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation…not doing anybody a favour…if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.’

Taxation as a burden. The city does not have a revenue problem. Investment in services and programs will in no way help struggling taxpayers.

What exactly is John Tory putting on the table for anyone to rally around and champion?

Oh. He doesn’t smoke crack and he’ll attend pride events. questionmarkSlow clap. Bravo.

Not that he was alone among the mayoral frontrunners in rejecting the idea of re-introducing the VRT out of hand. “…under no circumstances,” declared Karen Stintz. A VRT is not part of David Soknacki’s budget plan. Rob Ford? See John Tory’s response.

Most disappointingly (at least from my personal political standpoint) is Olivia Chow, once more skittish about casting any shadow from the left. ‘…councillors have already made a decision on the car tax and she wouldn’t bring it back.’ So while Ms. Chow seems perfectly comfortable revisiting the Scarborough subway decision city council has already made, it’s hands off the VRT.

It might’ve been nice to see the Chow campaign use this opportunity to show she isn’t as reflexively anti-tax as the next candidate to her right. In theory, at least, all the main contenders are to Olivia Chow’s right. scaredofhisownshadow“While the VRT may have been poorly implemented,” the Chow camp could’ve said, “and unfairly targeted car drivers for an annual infusion into the city’s general revenue, I think we cannot ideologically reject the city’s need for additional revenue as almost all of my opponents seem to be doing.”

But that’s a conversation the Chow campaign seems hell bent on avoiding, lest it open itself up to a tax-and-spend, NDP candidate attack from the right and, once more, falling into the trap left-of-centre candidates regular fall into of allowing themselves to be defined by their opponents. It concedes ground without putting up a fight. Yeah, you’re right. Taxes are a burden, never giving back anything in return.johntorycricket1

It puts no daylight between Olivia Chow and John Tory, allowing him to undeservedly claim territory he has no right to claim. I can be disappointed in the Chow campaign so far, but that in no way confers on John Tory the status of viable, progressive alternative. He’s done little to distinguish himself from his political past; the distant, as an unofficial advisor in the Mel Lastman administration in the early days of amalgamation, to the very recent past, with his full-throated and open wallet support of Team Ford.

The problems Toronto faces very much have John Tory’s fingerprints all over them. He’s offered no real solutions in addressing them, only more of the same tired rhetoric. johntorycricketLow taxes, finding efficiencies and almost every other chapter from the Rob Ford campaign handbook, slightly warmed-over and spit-polished to give it a fresh sheen of respectability and thoughtfulness.

John Tory seems to think the message is fine. The only problem’s been the messenger. He’ll get lots of support, campaigning that way. Just let’s not pretend he represents anything other than that. Don’t allow him to get away professing he’s something or someone he’s not.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Results Are Not All In

July 18, 2014

I’d love to vote for him but he’s not going to win.

This was said, more than a few times, about Mayoral candidate David Soknacki after what was, apparently, lostcausea very strong debate performance (I didn’t see it) on Tuesday night.

It’s July. The election’s still more than 3 months away. This is what you would call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More embarrassingly, I think of it as a very passive participation in the democratic process.

You have an incumbent. You have a former high profile city councillor and a federal M.P. until just recently. You have a frequent candidate for office, a former leader of a provincial party and a long time A.M. talk radio show host.

The fact that these 3 candidates sit atop every poll taken should hardly be a surprise to anyone. While not purely a recognition factor (if it was, the mayor would be sitting at 98%), these are all recognizable names to even the most casual of political observers of City Hall. manoflamanchaWho would I vote for? Yeah. I’m going with the one there I’ve never, ever heard of.

“If a few of the people lamenting the fact that Soknacki can’t win started telling pollsters they intend to vote for him…” John McGrath suggested, post-debate.

Maybe if I just clap a little harder, for a little longer, the Soknacki campaign won’t die. Cross my fingers. Pray. Send it my mental best wishes.

A successful candidacy doesn’t simply materialize as if by magic or run the race fueled by good ideas and noble intentions. It takes work. Lots of it by lots of people over a long period of time.

I’ve written about this in terms of city council races but it’s equally true at the mayoral level.

By reputation or experience or a good network or access to a shitload of money (maybe all of them together), favourites for the mayor’s office quickly emerge in any race. They are granted or have gained a certain degree of institutional support. This gets them even more exposure, more air time and print space. People see them as serious contenders. wishfulthinkingSo they then lend their support, money, time, resources.

It’s a closed, feedback loop that is very, very difficult to break into if you don’t gain access quickly. Soon, the ‘fringe’ label sticks and you get deemed unelectable. I love your ideas and your platform but, really, voting for you will just be throwing my ballot away.

But we’ve been down this road before, people. Democracy is about much more than voting. To sit and observe, and then stew about the choices you’re being given is unproductive and lazy. Agitate. Make noise beyond your Twitter bubble. Get a campaign going to harass broadcasters to include the candidate of your choice in the next debate it’s hosting.

Better yet. Organize your own mayoral debate. Find a free space somewhere in your neighbourhood. Print off a few flyers. Invite the candidates you want to see to come out and debate. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the turnout.

If that’s too grandiose, host a BBQ for 20 or 30 friends. Invite the candidate to come over and speak for a few minutes, introduce themselves. highhopesThen pass the hat around for some campaign donations.

It’s what makes municipal politics so accessible and user-friendly. You can have a direct impact on the outcome far and above just your one vote. (Two if you count mayor and your local councillor. Three, actually. Mayor, councillor, school board trustee.) But you have to get active.

It’s at this point in the post where I have to obligatorily write about how, back in 2003, David Miller was still polling in the single digits on Labour Day, less than two months before that election. It was just assumed to be a two-way race between John Tory and Barbara Hall.

During Tuesday’s debate, the fact was being bandied about that at this time in July of 2010, a no-name candidate, Naheed Nenshi, found himself sitting at about 2% in the polls for the Calgary’s mayor’s office. 6impossiblethingsThe very same Naheed Nenshi who got re-elected mayor last year with about 74% of the popular vote.

So can we stop with the tortured anguish of entrapment to pre-determined election outcomes already? Those leading the pack in the summer don’t always cross the finish line first in the fall. It’s anybody’s race still to win, and anybody’s to lose too.

You want to vote for David Soknacki as the next mayor of Toronto, and want him to be in a position to do so in order to vote for him? Chip in. Do something about it. Donate. Volunteer some of your time. Ditto Morgan Baskin. Ari Goldkind. Richard Underhill. Robb Johannes.

Election victories don’t emerge from best wishes and wishful thinking. Hard work, long hours and, frankly, something of an indomitable spirit are all that matter really. That, and a boatload of volunteers who are prepared to put some effort into the campaign beyond remarking and complaining from the sidelines about how all the good candidates don’t have a hope in hell of winning.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Better Business Model

March 30, 2014

Toronto is not, nor should we try to be, the location with the lowest cost. Instead, we must strive to be the location providing the highest value.

moneytimevalue

Thus spoke (actually, wrote) mayoral hopeful David Soknacki, a week or so back during his Reddit AMA. (Embarrassingly, I had to Google to find out what AMA stood for. Ask Me Anything, in case you’re still wondering.) It’s a quiet but very important point that needs emphasis in this municipal era of finding waste and efficiencies, cutting taxes and generally trying to get by with less. It is a statement that warrants continued consideration of the Soknacki campaign.

I am not a business guy. In fact, you might even consider me hostile to the veneration of business as the building block of society. Or is that even a thing? Certainly, simply because someone has excelled in the business-y private sector in no way translates for me into an immediate assumption of possessing a capable hand for governance. creatingvalueIn fact, history throws up plenty of examples of just the opposite being true.

Government in no way operates like a business. Just as I’d imagine business in no way operates like a government. They serve different purposes and provide different needs. The skill sets necessary to function properly within each entity have to be distinct, complimentary perhaps, but not exact.

This does not mean the two should be adversarial. In fact, I’d argue there needs to be more intersection and interaction between the institutions of government and the private sector beyond players in either camp switching sides every now and then. Does that make any sense? Like I said, writing about business feels like I’m skating out on thin ice.

It is my belief that we have operated for too long under the business-friendly mantra of governments just needing to get out of the way and let business do its thing, unencumbered by red tape, regulation and onerous tax rates. We have taken for granted the contributions governments make in order to create business friendly conditions. Governments educate us. Governments endeavour to keep us healthy. betterservicelowercostGovernments pay for the infrastructure that eases the mobility of people and goods in such a way that business is given opportunities to flourish.

Does it always do any of this in the most efficient or best way possible? No. Nobody here’s saying government is perfect. Not even close. There should be constant vigilance in making sure government works to the optimum for the greatest number of people.

We cannot expect that to happen while starving it of its ability to do so.

That’s why taxes are not fundamentally evil. That’s why having the lowest taxes doesn’t automatically translate into the best business environment. Lower taxes will not inevitably lead to a city being more affordable, liveable or functional. Value isn’t determined solely by opting for the guaranteed bargain basement price.

Nobody makes even the most basic decisions based on one variable, do they? You don’t go to a restaurant just because it’s the cheapest, do you? Who buys only remainder bin books? Even the data plan for you phone isn’t determined purely on the price, is it?

So who moves to a city, as an individual or business, for the sole reason that it has the lowest taxes?attraction

Aren’t there a bundle of factors that figure into the calculation? How easy is it to get to where you need to go? How good are the schools? Are there fun things to do within close proximity? Is it, at the end of the day, a positive experience living and/or doing business in a particular city?

Taxes are but a part of that equation.

Or, in the words of David Soknacki, we must strive to be the location providing the highest value. Value, like taxes, shouldn’t be a dirty word.

In the 30 seconds he was given to inspire the city at the end of Tuesday’s Metro Morning, David Soknacki summed up his vision like this:

I want to reform City Hall where we’re going to be making decisions based on consensus and on facts, and make it representative of our voices and priorities. That in turn will enhance our prosperity, and that in turn will enhance our quality of life.

I’m always a little leery of those putting prosperity before the idea of quality of life. I get it. I’m not a complete idiot. You can’t build anything positive with only good intentions and rainbow hopes. Money makes the world go around.

But isn’t it also possible to strive for prosperity by improving our quality of life first? By any measure you take, Toronto is a rich city. Investing now in infrastructure and other fundamentals of the public realm will invariably enhance our quality of life, as Mr. Soknacki wants to do, and attract more people and businesses and investment here, all vital to enhancing our prosperity.

alexanderdumas

A prosperity that isn’t just about having more money in our wallets. A richness more encompassing than adding up the dollars and cents. A value that goes beyond being respected as a taxpayer and puts as least as much emphasis on a way of life as it does a way of doing business.

business friendly-ly submitted by Cityslikr


A Mayoral Catch-22

March 20, 2014

I was mulling over Edward Keenan’s piece in The Grid yesterday about, well, fringe mayoral candidates, thinkinganddrinkinglet’s call them for lack of a better heuristic when, don’t you just know it, up pops the news that former candidate Sarah Thomson is planning another run at the mayor’s office.

You know Ms. Thomson. Barely cracked double digits in the 2010 race before throwing her lightweight weight behind the eventual 2nd place finisher, George Smitherman. Then ran something of a spirited campaign for the Liberals in the 2011 provincial in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, giving the long time incumbent Rosario Marchese a bit of a scare. Sarah “Transit” Thomson who basically took her one good idea from 2010 – road tolls – and built a platform of self-promotion around it. Yeah. That Sarah Thomson.

As I write this, Thomson showed up at City Hall this morning in a horse drawn red wagon to register. Whatever. But it does provide me a nice little segue into a larger discussion about fringe candidates.

Next Wednesday CityNews will be holding the first televised mayoral debate of the 2014 campaign. cinderellaAll 5 “major” candidates have signed on to participate, according to the announcement. Olivia Chow. Rob Ford. David Soknacki. Karen Stintz. John Tory.

Will a 6th podium be added now for Sarah Thomson? If so, why? Because she ran previously? Because she organized events around regional transit problems? Because she owns a publication? Because all this combines to give her public standing?

On the other hand, if CityNews doesn’t extend an invitation to the debate to Ms. Thomson, why not? Why do they get to make that decision? Who determines which candidacy sits beyond the fringe and which one doesn’t?

Mr. Keenan seems to suggest that’s it’s kind of an organic process. “As with any job — in this case, the CEO of a $10 billion-a-year organization responsible for millions of peoples’ daily necessities,” Keenan writes, cv“the hiring criteria includes significant experience and demonstrated abilities as much as anything else.”

There’s certainly some truth to that. In Toronto, it’s been the case for pretty much forever that the only way to the mayor’s job is through city council. Mayoral hopefuls have traditionally put in time as councillors first. No outsiders need apply.

“Putting together a successful campaign is actually a pretty good proxy for many of the attributes you need to govern,” Keenan continues, “managing a staff and volunteers, inspiring people to work on your behalf, raising funds, and engaging in a public debate that convinces citizens to put their trust in you and your plan. The press will pay close attention to candidates who show they can do that on a citywide scale. And so will voters.”

Again, certainly true, but for me, really only half of the equation. “Managing a staff and volunteers…raising funds…engaging in a public debate” are essential but none of it just appears out of the blue. All that’s easier said than done. Without an established name or easy access to money to buy yourself one, outside candidates have to work doubly hard (at least) to get their name and ideas out there. backroomI am troubled by that notion.

What I see is a slate of candidates that is presented to voters on the basis of money and influence. Prominent, backroom donors, well-worn campaign strategists, political party apparatchiks, all cajoling, tempting and eventually signing on to work for candidates they deem acceptable to run for mayor. These are your candidates, Toronto. Now, vote as you see fit.

And the media, especially media outlets that wind up hosting mayoral debates and forums, are complicit in this heavy-handed winnowing of the field. Only candidates from the given slate are invited to participate. Why? Well, because these are the ones voters want to hear from? Why is that? How does the media determine that? Look at the polling numbers, we’re told. Numbers derived from polls featuring only the non-fringe candidates’ names.

It’s a pre-determined, closed loop. An iterative process with only a handful of appointed variables, ultimately ending up with the choice from pick one of the above. closedopensystemNone of the above is never presented as a viable alternative.

Look. The 2014 campaign is about two and a half months old. Candidates have been registered since January 2nd. Yet, only after Olivia Chow — who everybody knew was running — officially entered the race last week were we informed that the official debates would begin. I’m not alone in finding the timing a little fishy, am I? It feels like the fix is in.

Instead of hashing and rehashing the will he or won’t he/when will she narrative and pursuing the HMS Destructive tour of the current incumbent, maybe a little time could’ve been devoted to listening to some of the other candidates for mayor, suss out their fitness for the job. In early February the U of T Scarborough student union held a mayoral forum that featured the mayor, David Soknacki and 3 of the fringe candidates. footinthedoorThe Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale covered it and, in his opinion, declared that one of the 3, Robb Johannes just might’ve won the debate.

So why hasn’t Mr. Johannes been invited to participate in the CityNews’ debate? Based on the observation of an experienced City Hall reporter giving his candidacy some legitimacy, what must he do to be given a shot at proving himself worthy of further consideration?

In 2010, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke ran some 30 or so Meet A Mayoral Candidate posts throughout the campaign. Admittedly, most, a high percentage of them, rightfully deserved the fringe label. Remember, anybody with $200 to spare can run for mayor. It was hard to tell why many were in the race. A lark. Mere attention seeking. Misguided sense of direction.

But a handful of them were thoughtful, interesting and dedicated to giving their time and energy to the city. Hell, we ended up endorsing one for mayor when all was said and done. Not every fringe candidate should be viewed fringe simply because they don’t yet have money, resources or influence.musicalchairs

And I would argue that this time around, there are even more potentially serious fringe candidates then in 2010. The subject of Mr. Keenan’s article, Ari Goldkind, immediately strikes me as somebody worth listening to. Matt Mernagh. Jeff Billard. Richard Underhill. Morgan Baskin. The above mentioned Robb Johannes.

Are any of these credible mayoral candidates? I don’t know. But who the fuck am I to blithely brush them off before giving them a chance to hear what they have to say, deliver their plans and ideas to a wider audience?

“You don’t need the press to legitimize your candidacy,” Keenan informs the fringers. “Only your campaign can do that.”

That sentiment seems hopelessly and impossibly pollyannish or unaware on Keenan’s part; neither adjective I’d normally attach to him. Yes, we can all look to Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi as living, breathing proof that an unknown entity can come out of seemingly nowhere to score an improbable victory. ignoreOutsider candidates should look to Nenshi to see how exactly he and his team pulled that off. But to point to that very, very rare example and conclude it’s all about a little innovative DIY, and that somehow the media’s exclusionary practices to all but the few anointed candidates doesn’t play into the fringe determination of the many, that only truly viable candidates will earn a place in the spotlight, I think ignores just how a vast majority of the voting public gets their information and processes it in determining what way their support is going to go.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr