The Ghost Of The Mayor’s Agenda

December 2, 2013

Heading into this week’s deputation days for the 2014 budget process, it is worth pointing out that the staff recommended budget, as it stands now, tightwadremains very much a conservative document. Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has emphatically stated that, while the mayor, for all intents and purposes, is gone, his fiscal ghost haunts city council still.

Remove the entirely self-inflicted half percent property tax increase dedicated to the building of a  Scarborough subway and what’s left is two percent, just under the projected 2.2% uptick in inflation. What that translates into, of course, is less of almost everything. If the real revenue doesn’t pay for the same amount of services or programs as it did in previous years because costs have risen – inflation — that becomes effectively a cut, a reduction.

Aside from the police and emergency services and the TTC (which after 3 years of making do with less and charging users more for that privilege will see an increase in the subsidy it gets from the city but still less, in actual dollars, than it received in 2010), there will be more belt tightening almost everywhere else throughout the city. This is a status quo budget with the status quo being making do with less. belttighteningToronto is treading water while still wearing soggy, heavy jeans and thick soled boots.

And my guess is, there’s not much room to push for more revenue generation. With the last few voices of Team Ford already shouting about the return of a tax-and-spend mentality since the loss of key powers by the mayor – a claim not made when the exact same 2.5% property tax increase was passed in 2012 – enough councillors will be skittish of any talk of higher increases. Going into an election year, very few of them will want to risk having their fiscal conservatism challenged.

So, let’s make the 2014 budget debate an election discussion. We need to challenge the prevailing wisdom that running Toronto on the cheap is somehow prudent or virtuous. You get what you pay for and, recently, we haven’t been paying for much. Don’t think so? demandbetterTry telling your friends and family in Pickering or Mississauga about your municipal tax woes and prepare for them to laugh in your face.

This week’s deputants need to demand a wish list of the services and programs they want. Put them on the table and attach a price tag they’re willing to pay. Dare councillors to go on record as tough-minded public money managers who are willing to strangle the life and vitality out of this city for the sake of a few bucks.

Between today and the end of January when city council finalizes the budget, let’s firmly establish which councillors remain steadfast in their support of our disgraced mayor’s fiscal agenda and force them to explain to their electorate why? Despite this administration’s dubious achievements in savings and enormous outlays of unnecessary costs that hardly add up to what you might normally think of as fiscally conservative, what is it that the remaining defenders of this agenda are actually defending? What future cost will we be paying for a continued insistence that we have a spending problem? That somehow a liveable city, community, neighbourhood simply springs up and out from the rocky ground of mean-spirited, small-minded austerity.tightwad1

If the 2010 municipal campaign was all about the costs of living in Toronto, 2014 needs to focus on the benefits. How much are we’re willing to pay for those benefits and how far are we willing to extend them throughout the city and into the future. We’re done talking about nickels and dimes. It’s time we moved up to the big money table.

liberally submitted by Cityslikr


Keep It Quiet, Kelly

November 21, 2013

I’m trying to get inside Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly’s head. beingjohnmalkovichIt’s not easy, what with all that new staff scheduling and numbers crunching going on in there, fighting for space with the massive amounts of climate change skepticism material, much of it from Russian researchers. There’s just not a lot of room.

So I remain stumped as to why it is he, in his new found position of council appointed power, would want to make the island airport expansion a priority. “I’ve always been a strong supporter of the City Centre Airport,” the deputy mayor told the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba. “So, if that comes on the agenda I will do my best to garner support [for Porter’s proposal to lengthen the runway].”

Personally I’ve never been a strong supporter of the island airport, for many of the same reasons laid out early on in All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s existence in a post by then contributor, Urban Sophisticat, I Got The TPA Porter Air Blues. The backroom influence by monied interests. The constant project creep by incremental stealth.youhavetobekiddingme

And nothing about the current expansion plans makes me feel any different.

But I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. It is a debate city council will have to have. Again. Possibly as early as the next council meeting in December.

I just don’t get why the deputy mayor thinks it’s a priority.

Surely he must be cognizant of the trauma, let’s call it, this city’s recently gone through at a political level. He’s supposed to be the steady hand bringing a calming influence in his caretaker role. Why would he squander the opportunity to display all that when Ms. Alcoba asks him, What will be your priorities, policy wise, for this year that we have left?

The deputy mayor could’ve said:

My priority, Natalie, is to continue on with Mayor Ford’s agenda of low taxes, customer service and transparent and open government.

All eye-rolling bullshit, of course, but hardly controversial or divisive at this point of time. bullfightEminently shruggable. Yeah. OK. Steady as she goes. Let’s get on with it.

Instead the deputy mayor takes a stand in front of what might be the most combustible item left on this council’s agenda and begins waving a red cape in front of it. Hey. I know what this council needs right now. A highly contentious, combative debate that’ll really goose the downtown-suburban divide that has been absent from our civic debate for at least 24 hours now.

While he’s at it, Deputy Mayor Kelly might as well revive the Sheppard subway battle too. Summon the private sector! Attention Dr. Gordon Chong!

What’s the man’s angle on this?

Is he looking for something special to mark his time as pseudo/kinda/sorta mayor of Toronto? kilroyA signature piece of infrastructure that will scream, Norm Kelly Was Here! Others said it couldn’t be done but Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly got it done. Jets Now Be Flying From Here.

Or maybe he’s just found a cause where he can thumb his nose at all those climate change extremists who haven’t taken the time the deputy mayor has in thoughtfully reading through all the literature that poos poos the work done by legitimate scientists on the subject. Surely you don’t think jet travel contributes in any way to the change in climate that may or may not be actually happening. I hear the weather’s quite pleasant in Tennessee this time of year.

A more likely explanation is that after, I don’t know, 90 years on the political scene, most of them as a city councillor, Norm Kelly doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what his priorities are in terms of governance. Nobody’s ever asked him that question before. If they had, well, maybe, hopefully, he wouldn’t still be in office. Do you think his constituents in Ward 40 Scarborough-Agincourt, about as far away from the island airport as you can get while still living in the city of Toronto, shhh1consider the runaway expansion to accommodate jet travel from the island to be some sort of priority?

The deputy mayor needs to remember that he’s found himself in this peculiar position not through any sort of merit or exemplary service in the line of duty. He was a second choice by guy running out of choices, with a track record of displaying monumental bad judgement. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement to go out there and give `em hell.

No. Deputy Mayor Kelly needs to do nothing more than speak only when necessary, in that somnolent tone of his that usually signals bathroom break to those in the crowd looking on, and ruffle absolutely no feathers. Be that kindly grandfather we always see in Christmas commercials who, if not wise, at least understands the grandkids have just been dragged through a messy divorce, their warring parents knifing their marriage right there on the kitchen floor. milfordmanThey need nothing more than a little consoling, a little peace and quiet, still prone to startling at loud noises as they are.

Your priority, Mr. Deputy Mayor, is to restore a little sanity at City Hall. Nothing flashy. No sudden moves and certainly no picking at the scabs of recent wounds. The mark of success of your tenure at the helm will be if, come next October, nobody remembers that you were actually there.

soothingly submitted by Cityslikr


Suburban? Moi?

October 11, 2013

Just in case you think city council’s Scarborough subway decision put an end to the conversation once and for all, justbeguntofightlet me disabuse you of that flightful bit of fancy. While the LRT plan to replace the aging SRT may’ve had the plug pulled on it, we’ve now moved to which subway are we going to build. That battle’s just begun and, as reported in Spacing yesterday, doesn’t look like it’ll be resolved any time soon.

*sigh*

A more theoretical and interesting discussion cropped up following the subway decision in, of all places, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly’s Twitter timeline. No, no. That’s no typo. And let me be clear, it was not a conversation intentionally instigated by the long time Scarborough councillor but one, like much of the city business that swirls around his presence at City Hall, grandboulevardhe just occasionally and unwittingly runs smack into.

You see, the deputy mayor like most of the Scarborough subway supporters have embraced the technology almost exclusively for its world classiness. They take every opportunity to point out all the glitzy international destinations that have subways running underneath their grand boulevards. New York. London. Paris. Madrid. Ipso facto, if Toronto truly wants to consider itself world class, it needs to start playing subway catch up.

The fact that many of these same cities are also building LRTs as a part of their transit network is usually greeted by silence when it’s pointed out to the likes of Deputy Mayor Kelly and other subway-philes.

But yesterday, he chimed in with a new counter-argument. whome1“Madrid builds subways in the city,” the deputy mayor tweeted. “Scarborough is IN the city. Madrid builds LRT’s in the suburbs. Our suburbs are in the GTA.”

Wow.

That is either the dumbest assertion I have heard in a while or a stroke of pure ingenuity in rationalization.

Given the source, I’ll assume the former but, probably not coincidentally, it’s a line of reasoning I encountered a few days earlier. Another subway advocate told me he was all for LRTs but “… in the ‘burbs (like Markham, Durham and Oakville)”. Apparently, with the expansion of growth out into the wider GTA, almost exclusively built on a suburban model, the former suburban municipalities that are now part of the legacy city of Toronto should no longer be viewed as suburbs and therefore, need to be treated accordingly.

With subways. Like they have in every other city worth mentioning.

It reminds me of the punch line to a joke never told in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. “I’m not Saul. I’m Paul. And this guy’s the Jew.”

Scarborough’s not a suburb. Markham’s a suburb. They should be the ones getting an LRT.suburbandream

You can’t just simply ignore intensive post-war design and development based almost exclusively on private automobile use and single family detached housing by pointing out that newer cities around you are more car dependent and single family house-y. That doesn’t make a place any less that because other places are more so. Inner suburb. Outer suburb. Note the similar word in both those descriptors.

It’s as if grafting a transit mode associated with a densely populated urban core will magically transform the suburban landscape of Scarborough into Manhattan. That’s like me envying a bird and wanting wings sewn to my back so I can fly. It doesn’t work like that. I’m simply not built for flight.

I know this is not your grandpa’s Scarborough. Much has changed over the course of the last four decades. attemptedflightThe demographics. More intensification. A bigger population.

But just a head’s up. Subways aren’t going to make you any less suburban. No one’s going to suddenly mistake you for Madrid. Or downtown Toronto even.

Besides, as long as this kind of stuff keeps happening, any claim that Scarborough has moved from its suburban roots is kind of suspect. In reaction to an application to build 50 townhouses on a vacant lot in his Scarborough East ward, Councillor Ron Moeser said, “I’ve got a single-family community that wants to stay that way.” For the record, Councillor Moeser voted in favour of the Scarborough subway.

This is not to say Scarborough (or Etobicoke or North York) can’t change. That the city’s suburbs shouldn’t endeavour to build healthier communities and neighbourhoods by decreasing their reliance on private vehicles. lookinthemirror1It’s just that there are better approaches that reflect the current reality on the ground than mindlessly demanding a type of transportation designed for an entirely different built form.

Scarborough is now a part of the city of Toronto, a big chunk too, nearly a suburban quarter of it, occupying its eastern boundary. Insisting on more subway stops isn’t going to alter that. Demanding better transit sooner will go a whole lot further in making the entire city more connected, more inclusive and, yes, maybe even a little less suburban.

non-judgementally submitted by Cityslikr