Core Services Review Review Two

July 12, 2011

Imagine if Mayor Ford and his Merry Band of Yes Men spent nearly the time and energy managing reality as they do trying to wrestle it into submission. Or conversely, simply came out and honestly said, this is how we see things and this is what we’re going to do about it. We’d either have a functioning city council or they all would’ve been blown out of the water last October and, well, we’d have a functioning city council.

Instead we have the circus side show that was yesterday’s unveiling of the outside consultant group KPMG’s assessment of the city’s core services review. First up, Public Works. If I’m understanding it correctly, this one was a complete and utter waste of time and money, examining services 96% of which “… are core municipal services, either mandatory as a result of provincial legislative requirements or essential to the continued operation of the City as an urban area.” In other words that MC Hammer sang, can’t touch this.

Even if council were willing or able to enact all the cuts KPMG offered up as options, it would amount to a whopping grand total of $10-15 million according to the Torontoist. Take that, next year’s $774 million operating budget shortfall. You’ve been reduced a whopping 1.93%. A hill of beans is what I’m suggesting.

Dutifully, like an organ-grinder’s pair of monkeys, Budget Chief Del Grande and Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair Minnan-Wong performed at the press conference ‘technical briefing’ in the mayor’s continued absence, blowing smoke for media consumption, in turns embracing and distancing themselves from the report. Cherry picking, some might say. Jettisoning water fluoridation probably wasn’t on the table, according to Councillor Minnan-Wong but, hey, even if the city scaled back work on cycling infrastructure, they’d still be doing more than the previous administration ever did. So we should rest easy in the knowledge that if we’re knocked down off our bikes and smash in our teeth, they will have been perfectly healthy teeth.

Phee-ew!

When reporters started asking questions, Minnan-Wong ratcheted up the double-speak to even greater heights. Hearing that a majority of people involved in the core services review consultation process expressed a preference for paying higher taxes in order to maintain current services, the councillor pronounced such views statistically invalid because those participating were ‘self-selected’. I’m not up on my statistic-ese but isn’t everyone who chooses to take part in the online surveys and public consultations ‘self-selected’?

In other words, they are active and engaged citizens. To hear the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair tell it, anyone choosing to participate in public consultations is self-selected and therefore statistically invalid. Bringing up that whole thorny issue of the usefulness of elections, I guess.

Not to be undone for sheer chutzpah in terms of ignoring the reality swirling around him the budget chief swung for the fences when he allowed himself to be quoted saying, “We have the lowest taxes in the GTA, with the greatest services provided.” I says, what now?! Can you run that by me again, Budget Chief To The Mayor Who Says We Don’t Have A Revenue Problem We Have A Spending Problem? We have the lowest taxes in the GTA and yet you voted to repeal the Vehicle Registration Tax and freeze property taxes right before starting to run around Chicken Little-ish warning us of an oncoming budget tsunami?

Don’t fear though, Councillor Del Grande assured the gathered media throng, he’s a chartered accountant. Leading one to assume that they let just about anybody into those professional schools including folks without a seeming grasp of basic arithmetic. Exactly what course is it that teaches cutting taxes and revenues doesn’t lead to some sort of budget crunch?

But apparently the budget chief, the PWI chair and all the others gathered around Mayor Ford are completely at home with cognitive dissonance. Commission a report that fundamentally undercuts everything you stand for politically, no problem. There’ll be the odd word or phrase or bullet point that, if spun correctly, will fully support your argument. Those you can’t? Pronounce them statistically invalid. Playing with facts is fun. Playing with reality is even better because it is what you make it and nobody can take it away from you. We have a spending problem, dammit. I don’t care what anybody says, even high-priced consultants we paid to tell us we have a spending problem and who may be suggesting that, in fact, we don’t.

The fun is only beginning, too. Carefully stage managed to present the more untouchable services first, the rollout is heading toward what’s thought of as the ‘soft’ services. The real source of gravy like libraries, parks, recreation, community centres, public transit. That way, the reality will be that they’ve got no choice. Their hands were tied by the province or political reality (you can’t be cutting sidewalk snow shoveling in your Ford Nation base) in Public Works and the other ‘hard services’. So sorry, folks. You can always sit around Chapters when we close your library branch on the Sundays.

From a strategy point of view, it’s nothing short of top notch. Tactical shock and awe, dropping the possibility of big ticket cuts first that you have no plans whatsoever of enacting. So when you take them off the table, it’s greeted with a sigh of relief and we’re then prepared to accept cuts to easier targets. Bike lanes. Libraries. After school programs.

You know, the usual suspects.

Just imagine, though, the possibilities if such PR ingenuity was put into something actually concrete, beneficial, constructive.

Oh, the city we would have.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


Boxstore Aesthetic

April 29, 2011

There’s not much I can add to the discussion about this week’s decision by the Public Works Committee to kill the Fort York pedestrian bridge that hasn’t been already said more fully and completely by Derek Flack at blogTO and Ford For Toronto’s Matt Elliott. Except maybe to introduce a new word to the English language. Derived from a combination of despair and anger that has become the prevalent mood here in Toronto during the Mayor Rob Ford era. Angair? Desger? Despanger? (Try it with a French pronunciation. Day-PAN-jay.)

How many times and ways can we talk about myopia and short-sightedness? Pennywise and poundfoolishness. The stunted notion of ‘core services’ being seen as little more than roads and sewers and not the wider, longer view of all round liveability.

That the public face of the move to kill the bridge is Councillor David Shiner comes as no surprise. He is part of the core group of Team Ford whose prime motivating factor seems to be, even more than simple political ideology, exacting revenge on anyone or anything from the Miller administration for excluding them from positions of power or influence. Once the mighty budget chief under Mel Lastman, Councillor Shiner was reduced to outsider status during the David Miller years, and somebody has to pay for that slight.

He couldn’t really have bagged a bigger prize, either, than the Fort York bridge. Not a big ticket item money-wise (less than the revenue the city won’t see from the decision to repeal the VRT), it was the baby of Ward 19’s former councillor and Miller’s Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone.  ‘An attack on taxpayers’, Councillor Shiner called the bridge and its ‘fancy’ design. Fancy’s the old way of doing things at City Hall. Austerity (in both mind and matter) is the new fancy.

What’s especially rich about Councillor Shiner’s demand for more financial accountability in somebody else’s ward is that he’s one of the beneficiaries of perhaps the biggest boondoggle… I mean, investment in future development… in recent memory:  the Sheppard subway line. Running through a bottom slice of his Ward 24, we have recently heard the councillor get up and defend the mayor’s plan to extend the subway, extolling ‘the subway to nowhere’’s contribution to a construction boom along its corridor. An argument some have made about the Fort York bridge. Its fancy design would help spur interesting investment around it much more than a Gardiner Expressway version of it might.

It’s also interesting to note that in justifying his decision Councillor Shiner said, “… just think about what that $23 million could do for bridge rehab, for road repair; think of the community centres it could fix up, of the children’s services and child care centres it could provide.” I believe that this is the same councillor who back a few months during the budget debate, grilled a representative from the Toronto Public Library about switching projects after money had been specifically allocated even if timelines and preparedness dictated a strategic change. Doesn’t his rationale about using possible savings from a scaled back version of the bridge on more pressing needs use the same kind of reasoning he dismissed on the part of TPL?

While I’m sure impossible to track, it would be interesting to see how much of any savings that might arise from a new, modified bridge construction Councillor Shriner will then fight to spend on infrastructure upgrades, community centres and child care. Colour me sceptical (which is more or less teal-like) that’ll be the case. Instead, I see whatever money there is being flushed down the sinkhole created by tax cuts and freezes, and the fundamental ill-will the conservative faction at City Hall bear toward generating revenue.

The fate of the Fort York bridge is the inevitable outcome that arises when politicians elected on a platform of respecting taxpayers not citizens gain power. There’s no bigger picture outside the bottom line. Why do anything special or fancy when it can be done for less money? Imagine the oodles of dough saved for Paris way back when if Napolean III told Baron Haussmann that his plans were all pretty and such but let’s scale it back a little, shall we. Why build a stage with a Frank Gehry proscenium arch (to use an example from one of the mayor’s favourite cities, Chicago) when a concrete band shell would work just as well?

despangerly submitted by Cityslikr