Challengers To Watch III

June 6, 2014

I sure don’t envy any candidate running for city council in Etobicoke, especially Ward 2 where the Ford spectre must loom large. fordcountryNot just because of the family’s dynastic pretensions there but the way their hands-on representation (more Rob than Doug) has surely disfigured residents’ view of how a city functions properly. Got a problem? Call your councillor directly, any time of day, 24/7. He’ll sort it out for you. Who needs more than a one man local government? The rest is, obviously, gravy.

I posed this question to Luke LaRocque, one of the nine council candidates running in Ward 2 this time around. He shrugged. The Ford factor is just a thing in these parts. Something not so much to be confronted as handled.

It’s about gently trying to change the perception of the dynamics of local governance. Where the Fords have built a reputation of what they can do for their residents, fromscratchMr. LaRocque wants to inculcate a sense of how can we do this together. He sees the role of city councillor more as a community leader rather than the local handyman.

In fact, for LaRocque, a born and bred north Etobian, there’s more to public service than just customer service. After receiving his Master’s degree in urban and international development, he worked for a relief organization in Malawi and has served as a volunteer both before and after that here in Canada. Currently he’s working with Matthew House, a group that provides temporary housing for refugees upon their arrival here.

There’s a natural progression to his desire to enter municipal politics. It’s the level of politics where you can most directly affect people’s lives. The nuts and bolts of daily life. Housing. Transit. Safe streets and public spaces.

The community.

Out on the campaign trail, LaRoque feels a little bit like he’s starting from scratch, communityengagementgoing right back to the basics of local governance. What do we have? What do we value as a resident and as a community? What do we want? How do we set out achieving that together?

At the risk of sounding all consultant-y, it comes down to community based consulting. Consulting, engaging and actively encouraging participation in how and what decisions get made. LaRocque points out that the nearest constituency office for either Ward 1 and 2 is the Etobicoke Civic Centre, a fair drive or an even longer transit ride away.

(An interesting side note: during the Griffin Centre kerfuffle a couple weeks back, it should be noted that there seemed to be a definite lack of communication between the current Ward 2 councillor and the residents of neighbourhood where the house was. Some of the pushback might’ve been alleviated had everyone known what was going on. That appeared not to be the case here.)

Unsurprisingly, “better resident communication” is one of LaRocque’s goals as city councillor. parochial1It has to be a two-way form of communication, however, beyond simply giving out your personal cell phone number, only to be used when something’s not working. That’s a very limited scope and doesn’t do much to build any investment in the larger community.

It’s not a question of ignoring the day-to-day matters a city councillor has to deal with. Pot holes have to get filled and fences fixed. Those are the things you hear about when you’re out canvassing door-to-door. But a city councillor should serve in the role of last resort not first. There are other, more efficient, less expensive mechanisms in place to deal with those kinds of things. Only when they don’t get the job done, should the local councillor be called in to deal with it.

It’s this delicate balancing act a successful city councillor needs to pull off. torontocityhallSatisfying the hyper-local needs of your residents while contributing on a city-wide scale to ensuring ease of access and equality of opportunity for everyone. Ward 2 Etobicoke North has had a preponderance of the former to the detriment of the latter from its local representatives lately.

Luke LaRocque is part of a new wave of young office seekers for the suburbs whose formative political years have happened post-amalgamation. While he still catches himself referring to Up Here versus Down There, he’s part of a group who see themselves more as Torontonians than from Etobicoke or North York or Scarborough. They drive and they take transit which may seem like a trite observation but I think it points a much larger trend.

The new aspirants to political office in Toronto don’t tend to see City Hall, being located downtown as it is, as some beast to be tamed or reined in. HQ for some foreign occupiers. digthenewbreedFor the likes of Luke LaRocque, City Hall is a place of opportunity to make the lives of not only residents of Ward 2 better but the lives of everybody across the entire city. In the end, you can’t really have one without the other.

If we finally want to get past this whole urban-suburban divide that continues to plague the forward motion of Toronto, we have to start rejecting the politics and politicians who exploit it to their advantage. Luke LaRocque represents a break with that way of thinking. Both Ward 2 and City Hall would be better off with him in place as city councillor.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Oh, Etobicoke

May 18, 2014

whatareyousayingIf you’ve ever found yourself staring incredulously at the awful antics of some elected representative and stopped to wonder, Who the fuck elects these idiots?, have a quick gander here. It appears it really does take a village.

“Staff of a residential home for developmentally disabled youth with mental health issues newlyopened in a north Etobicoke neighbourhood faced an angry, anxious group of residents Thursday night.”

“Griffin Centre is a non-profit, multiservice mental health agency that operates five residential homes across the city and in Richmond Hill and offers programs and services funded by the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry for Children and Youth Services.

The centre recently purchased and renovated the house at 22 Jeffcoat Dr. where four challenged youth, some with autism, have lived for the past two months. All have learning issues and emotional problems, which include anxiety, depression, explosive anger and complicated family situations that prevent them from living at home, Deanna Dannell, Griffin Centre’s director of youth and family support services, told the crowd.

Staff are in the house “24/7” she said, adding staff are trained to deal with “aggressive and volatile behaviour, part of which is knowing when to call the police. Typically, we don’t have emergency services come as much as they have in the last few weeks.”

Asked the nature of police calls, a 23 Division officer explained police remove a child from the home under the Ontario Mental Health Act and take them to hospital when the child is a danger to himself or herself, or a danger to others, including other residents or home staff.”

Within 10 minutes of the meeting arranged by the ward councillor of the neighbourhood, Doug Ford, at the 23 Division police station, some of the ‘anxious residents’ were demanding explanations.

angryvoters

“This is not a place for mental people. This is a residential area. Why don’t you build a house out on a farm?”

“There is nothing wrong with what the Griffin group is doing with these children. They’re just doing it in the wrong location.”

“What do I say to my three kids under the age of seven when one of these kids freaks out? When my child says, ‘Mommy, why are there police here again?’ What do I say?”

“The solution is for them to move out. Locate the facility in another place. This is a community for people, not for that. I have nothing against the kids. If the kids need help, they need help.”

Is it any wonder these people elected someone like Doug Ford (and his brother Rob before him) to represent them at City Hall? The lack of empathy or understanding. Their inability to deal with anyone who isn’t just like them. The shocking sense of entitlement. This is a community for people not for the mentals.

Of course, their councillor did pretty much what we’ve come to expect from him in situations like these. Pour gasoline on the fire of outrage. After arriving 25 minutes late, of course.

gastofire

“You can’t destroy a community like this,” the councillor said. “People have worked 30 years for their home. My heart goes out to kids with autism. But no one told me they’d be leaving the house. If it comes down to it, I’ll buy the house myself and resell it.”

No one told Councillor Ford the mentals would be allowed to roam free. I mean, come on. His heart goes out to the kids but what about the normal people? The hardworking normal people?

What’s with Etobicoke? Especially those areas of it represented by the Fords, Doug Holyday, Gloria Lindsay Luby. If it’s not group homes or social housing they’re trying to keep at bay, they’re opposed to children being raised downtown (L’il Ginnys) or sidewalks. Yeah, they’re against sidewalks.

How the fuck are we supposed to build a cohesive, healthy, equitable city when we don’t share certain core values, one of which is not locking away those suffering from mental illness out on some farm or other institution? We tried that for awhile. It didn’t really work out that well.

Sloughing off something you may even deem to be worthy but just not desirable in your neck of the woods onto another part of the city is the exact opposite of neighbourly. Few of us are generous enough in spirit that we seek out areas to live that, I don’t know, highlight the marginalized. We all want a comfortable piece of mind, a safe place for us and our kids and our grandkids to go about their lives.

etobicoke

But we don’t all see difference as threatening, objectionable or unwelcome. That’s what you say to your young children, Mr. Anxious Resident, when they ask what’s going on at that house on the street. We’re not all the same. But that’s OK. Some people need different things in order to live their lives and we can all help out by gracefully accepting that and doing our utmost to adapt to different circumstances.

By being better neighbours.

mystifiedly submitted by Cityslikr


On A Need To Know Basis

January 14, 2013

I don’t think it much hyperbole to suggest that budgeting is the most important aspect of governance, especially so at the municipal level. alookatthebudgetIt pretty much determines a city’s quality of life. The number of police and firefighters on the street. The state of good repair for important pieces of infrastructure. How many people will die on the streets in any given year.

The budgets here in Toronto are complex and complicated, no question. It just sort of comes with the territory when the annual operating budget comes in and around $10 billion and the capital at roughly $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of moolah that needs to be found and services that need to be funded adequately.

So it’s curious to me when councillors fail to reach out to their constituents in any meaningful way during the lead up to the council budget debate and vote. Hey, everyone. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s how I’m going to vote. Any questions? Concerns? Opinions as to what you think is and isn’t important?

Running down the list compiled earlier this month by Social Planning Toronto shows that less than half of our councillors organized any sort of budget forum for their constituents although that may’ve changed in the last few days. (We are happy to be corrected and updated to any omissions we make.) publicconsultationsAm I over-reacting to think there’s something wrong and neglectful about that?

By my estimation, some twenty of the councillors I’d expect to vote along the fiscal lines of Mayor Ford (yes, I’m including Councillor Karen Stintz in that group) had no public consultation on the budget process. There were six councillors on the other side of the political fence who didn’t although I’ll give Councillor Joe Mihevc a pass on his ‘maybe’ as he doesn’t seem averse to public consultations. And I’ve thrown Councillor Raymond Cho into the latter category despite having no idea where he’s going to come down on budget votes since seeking the provincial Progressive Conservative nomination in the next election.

Now, I could rush to the ideological conclusion that right wing politicians, once in office, don’t care to fraternize with the hoi polloi. Don’t bug me in between elections, folks. We’ll talk again in 2014.

But I won’t. Let’s just chalk that discrepancy up to the nature of being in power versus not. This is Mayor Ford and his supporters’ budget. They don’t need to consult the public’s opinions or fully inform them because a ‘mandate’ is why. shhhI’m sure the roles were reversed back in the day David Miller was in power.

But what I will note is the urban-suburban, geographic divide.

In Scarborough, only Councillor Chin Lee held a budget town hall. Councillor Gary Crawford was planning on attending one while also offering to meet up with groups at City Hall. Up in North York, 4 councillors either held formal sessions or met in for smaller budget get-togethers. In York, Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette was alone in holding a public meeting. None of the elected representatives in Etobicoke deigned to put together a budget town hall for their constituents.

In fact, in Ward 6, Councillor Mark Grimes declined to attend last week’s community organized budget session. Why? Your guess is as good as mine if you read through a statement he issued.

patronizing“Every year the capital and operating Budget seems to be the most contentious issue we deal with at City Hall,” he said.

“It’s difficult to comment on any one item without looking at its context as part of the whole. I’ve been gathering feedback from around the ward, meeting with city staff and I’m looking forward to the (budget) meeting. There is going to have to be a give and take from all sides of the debate, but I think at the end of the day we’ll find ourselves with a budget everyone can be proud of.”

It seems Councillor Grimes believes the budget’s too ‘contentious’ to be discussed in a public forum outside of a city council meeting. Leave the ‘give and take’ up to the councillors, folks. That’s what they’re elected to do. You can’t possibly expect a councillor to give any sort of budgetary context in just two or three hours, am I right? Next thing you know, people’ll be standing up on chairs and the like.

Meanwhile downtown, in the former cities of Toronto and East York, only the above mentioned Councillor Joe Mihevc and Councillor Paula Fletcher didn’t hold public budget sessions (again, all this is subject to updates and corrections). Setting aside the left-right politics for the moment, it shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice the wildly divergent degrees of engagement based on location. letmefinishThe broad strokes suggest politicians in the core engage with their constituents. Those in the suburbs don’t.

Which leads me to ask one very pertinent question.

When we talk of political alienation as a part of the rise of what we once referred to as Ford Nation – suburbanites being left out of the conversation, neglected, ignored – should we really be pointing the finger at out-of-touch, downtown elitists? Overwhelmingly it seems councillors from the suburbs failed to consult their own constituents on such an integral matter as the budget. Perhaps political disengagement begins much closer to home.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr