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


Still Undecided

March 13, 2014

I know what you’re thinking.

Olivia Chow’s in the race to be mayor of Toronto. She’s got his vote.notsofast

It’s true.

She was my city councillor until 2006. She was my MP until yesterday. I voted for her every time there was an opportunity.

But my vote on October 27th is not a given.

Here’s what Olivia Chow in her campaign to be mayor of Toronto has to do to ensure my vote.

She has to embrace every aspect of her progressivism and repudiate everything that the current mayor, Rob Ford, stands for. There is nothing, nothing, of this mayor’s record that should be embraced or applauded. His 3+ years in office have been an unmitigated disaster for this city. listofmydemandsMs. Chow must not miss any opportunity to point that out.

I do not want to hear hedged talk or cautious goals. I want a full, warm embrace of real city building, an acknowledgment of the responsibilities we have to make Toronto a healthier, more sustainable, more equitable place to live. I don’t want to see any ducking away from the inevitable epithets thrown in her direction, that have already been trotted out in expectation of her entrance into the race. Tax-and-spender. Yeah? What of it? That’s what people elect politicians to do. Tax fairly. Spend wisely.

While I recognize Ms. Chow was only around for a part of David Miller’s tenure in office and she could try and keep her distance from his record, I’ll become suspicious if she does so. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially in light of what’s come later. In fact, now is the time to set that record straight. That we were never on the precipice of fiscal ruin. That we weren’t being nickel-and-dimed to death by overly onerous taxation. whatareyougoingtodo1That the gravy train was nothing more than an effective campaign concoction.

Olivia Chow also needs to come right out of the gate with a realistic transit plan that is not designed to mollify parochial concerns. As the federal transportation critic for the NDP, she was conspicuously silent during the last Scarborough subway debate. Perhaps she felt it wasn’t her fight to fight. Now it is. How she proceeds on this issue will go a long way to how I wind up casting my ballot.

As a left of centre voter my support should not be taken for granted or assumed to have nowhere else to go.

With only one declared major candidate on the left right now, the other contenders realize they have to chip away at that base if any of them have a hope to win this time around. They have to roll out their progressive cred, as it were. allearsWoo those voters who aren’t yet or never will be able to bring themselves to vote for an NDP labeled candidate.

I will be listening to their pitch too.

Truthfully, I’ve already ruled out Mayor Ford and Councillor Karen Stintz. Neither one of them has shown any progressive stripes while in office. John Tory makes a big stink of his red Tory politics but certainly coming out of the gate he’s shown off none of that, relying so far on flying monkey attacks on Chow’s fiscal record and alleged use of public resources to kick off her mayoral campaign. You can’t team up with the dark side and not expect to collect any of that dirt on you.

That leaves David Soknacki so far as the reasonable voice of the centre-right big name contenders. He’s certainly made meaningful announcements about the Scarborough subway and transit file. I’ll wait patiently to see what else he has to say and the policies he rolls out. (I’m even prepared to overlook his first serious gaffe, yesterday uttering some divisive suburban vs. urban nonsense to greet Ms. Chow’s entry into the campaign). It’s a long race. caucusraceThere’s no need to decide on anyone yet.

And don’t forget. I’m not afraid to cast a ballot on a long, long, long shot, doing so in 2010 on Himy Syed. While the stakes seem higher this election, we now know exactly what damage can be done and not what damage may be done, I will not be beholden to voting strategically and settling for a lesser of two evils. I’d really like to go out and vote without holding my nose and believing I was making a positive contribution to Toronto’s future.

That possibility exists currently. Let’s cross our fingers and hope it stays that way.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


On Your Right

February 25, 2014

Imagine this.ptahasdisbanded

Councillors Shelley Carroll, Adam Vaughan, Kristyn Wong-Tam all join Olivia Chow as candidates for mayor of Toronto in 2014.

OMG! would come the anguished cry from anyone and everybody on the centre-left of the political spectrum. They’re splitting the vote! This’ll guarantee [fill in your right of centre candidate of choice here] the mayor’s office. Catastrophe!

Yet here we are, two high profile conservative candidates, Councillor Karen Stintz and John Tory, entered the mayoral race yesterday in a bid against ultra-right wing Mayor Rob Ford, joining self-declared moderate right wing candidate David Soknacki in what has become a very, very crowded field on the right.

Where are the alarm bells from the respective conservative camps?

crowdedfieldI’m trying to run the numbers here and I just don’t get it.

In 2010, Rob Ford was the only credible (and I’m using that word very specifically in this situation) conservative candidate still operational at the finish line, and he garnered 47% of the vote. Meanwhile, I think it’s safe to say, few on the left were truly content with their options but yet, between the two of them, George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone, they came in with over 46%. The slightest of cracks on the right and this thing’s wide open. What we’re looking at now is more like multiple fractures.

Not only does one of these candidates need to get a solid majority of conservative voters in under their tent but they have to do so while attracting at least a chunk of progressive voters. Moderate, will be the pose in the hopes that enough people are tired of the turmoil that’s come with the current administration. Crackless conservatism, let’s call it.

Still.

What’s the calculation for the percentage of crazy plus the power of incumbency Mayor Ford will have going for him? fordnationGiven the kind of name recognition the mayor possesses, not necessarily all favourable, what’s the number you write off as unassailably Ford? Just how potent is Ford Nation?

Disregard the 42% he’s regularly clocked in at Forum Research polls. Favourability does not equate into reliable voter intention. 30%? 25%? 20%?

Any of those types of numbers from Mayor Ford this time around dooms the conservative cause. Even at the low end, that would mean Soknacki, Stintz or Tory would have to take the rest of the right of centre vote and nearly all of Smitherman’s numbers from last time out in the hopes of winning it all. So a collapse of conservative votes into two uneven camps and scooping every centrist and soft left supporter to boot. Not undoable but certainly a tall order.

Traditionally, mayoral elections in Toronto have ultimately come down to two candidate races. Over the long haul of 10 months, the field gets winnowed down, attrition takes its toll. slicingupthepieIt wouldn’t be surprising to see something like the 2010 campaign pattern emerge again this year. The third place finisher, say Mayor Ford, holding on to his 10-20% rabid followers. The top two, one, a redder shade of blue, the other, deep, deep red, vying for the remaining, 75-85% of voters.

But this time around, we got some big names duking it out, much bigger names than four years ago. More money behind them. Better organizations. I’d argue that even the truly unknown candidate, David Soknacki, has a higher name recognition than 2010’s two fall by the waysiders, Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thompson. Looking for an early knockout may not be a sound strategy.

So in the early stages of this campaign, every declared candidate needs to stake out their conservative ground and then paint their opponents who aren’t Rob Ford as further left than they are (and I’ll exclude David Soknacki from that assertion as he seems busy just defining who he is as a candidate). splitvoteSo Karen Stintz and John Tory immediately state their subway preferences (because true conservatives believe in only subways as a viable form of public transit) and their adherence to the low taxes that will magically pay to build them. Expressing otherwise is pretty much Bolshevism.

“Karen Stintz says she’s worried about pendulum swing back to NDP government,” CTV’s Natalie Johnson tweeted after the councillor had registered to run. “Says Toronto has had enough of that.”

“There is no such thing as right of centre,” Mayor Ford told the press later in the day. Only the mayor and everybody else who is two steps left of Stalin. Right is not right. Right is right, if you get what the mayor’s trying to get at.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just a bunch of mayoral candidates, touting conservative values. If we are all right of centre, then right of centre ceases to be a defined position. It simply is the place from which everyone campaigns from.

Of course, the possibility exists that once a truly progressive candidate emerges, and if only one emerges, the optics of everyone together on stage or in a television studio might be that they are the odd one out. badnumbers1Four right of centre candidates versus one from the left. The power of numbers, suggesting, giving more legitimacy to the majority view. The left of centre pushed out to the fringes, not to be taking seriously.

Even if that were to happen, the scenario still exists of four candidates vying for enough of the electoral slice of the pie to put one of them over the top. Vote splitting, in other words. There are only so many conservative votes to go around. The real battle this year might not be for the mayor’s office but for a workable slice of the 383,501 votes Rob Ford had all to himself in 2010.

You do the math.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


Behind Blue Eyes

October 29, 2013

You’d think that after nearly 4 years of watching Rob Ford full time, saywhat1I’d be immune to the charms, let’s call them, of his presentation, let’s call it. His inability to put together any sort of coherent thought that hasn’t been drilled into his consciousness by simple word messaging. His monumental awkwardness under the spotlight that he so obviously craves. His childlike wonder at childlike things.

“The haunted house is the best. It’s the best!”

Yet I am.

Or at least, I am captivated by the continued appeal the mayor has on what remains a rock solid base of voters in Toronto. What do they see and approve of when they watch Mayor Ford in action at yesterday’s press conference outside his haunted office? When I watch him verbally fumble and mumble, bouncing from one cliché to another, playing fast and loose with the truth, I see someone in way over his head, glistening in flop sweat. lookinthemirror4What do those who still think he’s there looking out for the little guy, uncomfortable speaking publicly because he’s not a professional politician although he’s been one for the past 13 years see?

Themselves reflected in him, all honourable intentions but with the rough edges that prove his lack of affectation?

If that’s the case, do they share the same point of view about politics and democracy as the mayor does? That it’s all nothing more than a game, a little rough and tumble, a blood sport that’s only about winners and losers. Keep your head up and my taxes low, yo.

Facing his first official, big name opponent (sorry David Soknacki, you’re not a big name yet) for next year’s election campaign, all the mayor could spout was sports vernacular, and not just sports but heavy duty contact sports. No thrust and parry of the foppy French for Mayor Ford, no siree. It was all about clearing the bench, dropping the puck and dropping the gloves and keeping your chin strap tight.

In fact, sports had very little to do with it. It was all about combat, pure and simple. Rock `em, sock `em politics. Keep your head up and elbows sharp, boys. There Will Be Blood.

It’s the triumph of brawn over brains. A battle of ideas?! Fuck that. That’s for eggheads. marquisofqueensburyMan up, grow a pair and get into the ring, motherfuckers.

I get the visceral appeal, I do. I was a 14 year old boy once too. Full of raging testosterone and a passionate desire (if limited ability) to pummel opponents and smite my perceived enemies. Lay waste to all who stood in my way.

Eventually, my teenage years behind me, I realized that I wasn’t ever going to be a professional athlete. Maintaining such a pugnacious approach might just be counter-productive in regular society. Seeing the world through such an us-versus-them, with me or against me, Manichean lens would be ultimately limiting.

Now, I’m not Pollyannish enough to believe that politics has ever been played by Marquis of Queensberry rules, wearing kids’ gloves. It is not for the faint of heart. I get it. The object is to win in order to be able to deliver up your ideas and platform in the service of bettering the lives of those you get elected to represent.lookinthemirror3

That’s different than simply winning for winning’s sake. It’s one thing to be competitive. An another thing entirely wanting nothing less than to obliterate your opponents – no, enemies – to destroy them, to slash their throats, steal their wallets and leave them bleeding in the gutter.

That’s not competitive. That’s sociopathic. Or psychopathic. I’m never sure what the difference is between those two. Either one is not good, not healthy for politics or democracy.

There’s nothing wrong with backing a winning candidate, in seeing your interests represented by them in office. It’s just a little dispiriting to think that a significant bloc of Torontonians are drawn into the process out of some sense of blood lust and a desire to inflict damage on those who don’t agree with them. Take No Prisoners may be a great motivating battle cry in a locker room during half time but it leaves civic life a little ragged, mean-spirited and unproductive.

the Wholly submitted by Cityslikr