Toronto’s Taxing Problem, Part Infinity

May 27, 2016

I was in New York City earlier this week when this city’s City Manager, Peter Wallace, read the fiscal riot act to city council via Mayor John Tory and his Executive Committee in the boldest terms an unelected official could to his elected colleagues at City Hall. readtheriotact(Could I use the word ‘city’ and any of its derivations more times in one sentence? Probably. But, you know, overkill.)

What the mayor was told was the same thing the mayor and his predecessor have been told for pretty much 5 years now. Yes, there are probably more efficiencies to be found in the budget, efficiencies are always being found. Yes, the city can look at selling off monetizing some of its assets for a one time, payday infusion of cash. Yes, of course but… None of it will come close to narrowing the widening gap between the money coming in and money going out to pay for the services, programs and capital needs Toronto is responsible for. Not even close.

Mayor Tory was told all that but what he heard Jonathan Goldsbie highlights here in NOW. Essentially, the mayor heard what he wanted to hear. He heard what every self-serving, small-minded, pandering local politician hears when it comes to the city’s finances. Taxes bad. We already pay too much. Stretched to the limit. Hardworking homeowners. whatthecathearsNickel and dimed to death. Get off our lawns. Plow our streets.

A few years back, during a similar if not exact budget and fiscal discussion, I remember coming across a page listing the taxes and fees residents of other big cities throughout the world pay. For the life of me, I can’t find it now, and I’m too lazy and inept to actually track it down on the internetz but it did get me to thinking about a comparison I could probably present in a reasonable fashion. New York and Toronto.

I found this from 2009, a study of New York City’s taxation policy, funded by the Solomon Foundation, an off-shoot of the Solomon Company, a fairly substantial investment firm. Now, I offer it up with all the usual caveats. No comparison between cities is perfect, especially cities in different country and jurisdictions. This was from 7 years ago, so things might’ve changed. Moreover, I’m not much of numbers guy, my financial comprehension should be considered suspect and I am easily distracted.

That said…

Consider page 12, Exhibit 1, New York City Taxes and Other Revenue Sources.

NYCTaxes2009

Check out what I think could be called a laundry list of revenue sources the city taps into, taxes making up about 59% of all revenues. Personal income taxes, business taxes, sales tax, hotel tax, cigarette tax, beer, wine and liquor tax, horserace admission tax, vehicle tax, taxi tax. That’s before we even get to property taxes.

No wonder the city never sleeps! Everybody’s working 24/7 to pay all those taxes.

Now, look at this page [page 29], a pie chart from Toronto’s 2016 operating budget.

2016TOBudgetFinal

46% of our city’s revenues come from taxation, at least in name. Property tax, Land Transfer tax and something called “Supplementary Taxation”. Toronto already taxes residents and visitors to this city 13% less than New York did in 2009. So how is it that we’re overtaxed and “stretched to the limit” as the mayor claims we are, we being that mysterious group of “homeowners”?

And this is New York City we’re talking about here, not some zany, left-wing, socialist Scandinavian city. imbalanceThe Home of the Brave, Land of the Free, Tax Hating U.S. of A.

Mayor Tory and his allies do have a point, if they are trying to make a valid point that the city coffers are too dependent on property taxes to help pay the bills. Throwing in the Land Transfer tax, 44% of Toronto’s annual revenues come from property taxes. In 2009, “Real Estate Related Taxes” made up just 26.6% of New York’s revenues, 23.6% of that from straight up property taxes. So yes, especially given how we assess property taxes here, we probably rely too much on them to generate revenue.

So, let’s look for other sources of revenue then, shall we? Not just by selling off assets or ferreting out further efficiencies. The city manager, like the city manager before him, said that’s not going to do the trick.

We need to talk about revenue tools, taxes if you prefer. That’s not a bad word. notlisteningAt least, it isn’t in places that realize you have to pay for the things you want and need. Torontonians want, need and expect the city to provide these things. Somehow, if the words and deeds of many of the people we elect to represent us are any indication, we except to get all these things at impossibly low costs to us. Somebody else pay because I’m already paying too much!

It’s a tired line of argument, one with almost no factual merit. You get the kind of city you pay for. The bottom line is, we’re not paying for the city we say we want.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


I Prefer ‘Doubting Thomas’

October 21, 2015

There’s a certain childlike candor, a terrible beauty, in a politician matching the simplicity of messaging to the simple-mindedness of a policy platform. “Subways! Subways! Subways! The people want Subways!” Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I want! I want! I want! No justification, no rational, no cost-benefit pitch to it. Just a need identified and demand made.

And then, there’s this hot mess of pure obfuscation and tangential meandering of campaign tinged tired talking points.

Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack is no more a solution to this city’s transit woes than Rob Ford’s SubwaysEverywhere chant was, yet he wants us to think otherwise, and spends a lot of words and money trying to convince us of that. Assailing critics of the project as ‘Douglas and Debbie Downers’, legitimate questions are fine, as far as they go, but what’s really needed here, the mayor stated, is for us “to start finding ways to get to Yes on things instead of finding ways to get to No.”downer

Take that, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig who, in a letter earlier this month to the city manager, Peter Wallace, called SmartTrack (an “independent and parallel service” of the province’s improved RER plans) “unaffordable and unworkable.” That’s no way to start out on a path toward Yes, Mr. McCuaig. Although Metrolinx quickly tried to smooth over that bump in the road with a subsequent media release to say that everybody’s still “continuing to work together on how to integrate key elements of the SmartTrack proposal with the Province’s GO Regional Express Rail (RER) program.”

Integrating “key elements of the SmartTrack proposal” isn’t anywhere near the same as providing an “independent and parallel service”, something that doesn’t just help move GTA commuters around the region but also contributes to the alleviation of transit congestion within the city. fineprintFor SmartTrack to work and be worth the money spent on it, it has to deliver local service as part of an express framework. So far, 11 months into the process (more like 18 if you count back to its appearance on the campaign trail) that sticky dynamic has not been worked out, not even close, judging by the staff presentation at Executive Committee yesterday.

Mayor Tory told the room that what they were reading, what staff had delivered was just “an interim report.” No need to rush to any hasty conclusions and get all Douglas Downer-ish. All would be revealed as assuredly as the sun would rise in the morning. If the route to Yes was an easy one, it would be as clogged with foot traffic as Bloor-Yonge subway platform on your average workday rush hour.

Despite his flurry of words in defense of SmartTrack and the diligent process it is currently enduring, none of the concerns critics have expressed have yet to addressed, despite the extensive work being done between the city, the province and Metrolinx, despite the millions of dollars having been spent. None. The ridership projection model still isn’t in place. emptytalkFeasibility studies are still to come. Funding sources? Yep. TBD.

Mayor Tory is the one who set the clock ticking on SmartTrack. 7 years. “Admittedly in an election campaign,” he confesses, “where I didn’t have access to squads of engineers and ridership experts and various other people. I had what I had.” Which was bupkis, it turns out, other than a craven campaign team that ran with an empty slogan it passed off as a well-thought out plan. Even now, a year later, with none of the concerns addressed, the mayor triumphantly crows about having opened both federal and provincial government cheque books wide to fund SmartTrack even with its viability still very much in question.

In your face, doubters. Douglas and Debbie Downer-Doubters.

At least the Fords, in their crass politicization of transit planning, ceased trying to con us that they had anything more than a catchy chant, an earworm, a few words to slap on an election sign. elephantintheroomMayor Tory’s insisting on wasting our time and money in an effort to prove his scheme is much more serious and worthy of consideration, and not just some campaign gimmick run up the flagpole in a successful effort to become mayor. Suggesting such a thing is simply throwing up a roadblock on the way to Yes.

Bad transit plans are not the enemy of proper city building. Doubting is.

certainly submitted by Cityslikr


Standing Strong For The Status Quo

September 28, 2015

There are days when my rational and sane side win out, when my contempt and general misanthropy wane, taking a back seat and making me, I think, a moderately agreeable person. It rarely occurs without a battle. sunnydispositiononarainydayI don’t enjoy taking the dim view but whoever said that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile couldn’t have been fully on top of either human psychology or physiology.

Reasonable me wants to believe Mayor John Tory is more concerned, is more of an advocate for addressing Toronto’s affordable housing crisis (as part of a broader anti-poverty strategy) than was his predecessor, Rob Ford. That should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, no sooner had Ford assumed the mayor’s office than he started making noise about selling off Toronto Community Housing stock and letting the private sector deal with the mess. There were few social programs he didn’t deem to be akin to thug hugging.

Mayor Tory, on the other hand, has handpicked Councillor Pam McConnell to devise a poverty reduction strategy. Earlier this year he appointed Senator Art Eggleton to oversee the functioning of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and recommend ways to make it work better. Councillor Ana Bailão continues to focus on ways to deal with the Mount Everest backlog of TCHC state of good repairs. lookbusy1Just last week, the mayor pressed the ReSet button on an initiative to streamline the manner TCHC goes about fixing its housing stock.

So yeah, sane and rational me prevails, seeing Mayor Tory as a step in the right direction on the poverty and affordable housing fronts after the Ford years. Check that It Could Be Worse box.

But here comes disagreeable me to demand that it’d be really great to see the mayor speak and act as passionately and as often about poverty and affordable housing as he does on road repairs and car congestion. He’s pushing a $350 million agenda item at city council meeting this week to expedite work on the Gardiner expressway, reducing the construction timeline down 8 years, from 20 to 12. Just today, the mayor was defending an extra $3.4 million spent on a section of the Gardiner to shorten the repair completion date a few months.

Watch Mayor Tory vigorously champion the $350 million Gardiner rehabilitation expenditure at last week’s Executive Committee meeting on economic grounds (right near the end of the clip).

There is no mountain the mayor does not seem willing to move, no amount of money he will not spend to free drivers of congested traffic. Poverty and affordable housing? He’ll appoint people to make reports. He’ll tweak procurement practices. He’ll press senior levels of government to do their part.

That’s a whole lot better than showing up at buildings and handing out $20 bills but it’s hardly enough. It’s all well and good. It’s not Gardiner expressway rehabilitation level good, though.

This is where the sunny disposition, sane and rational me loses the upper hand on this discussion. No amount of reports or fiddling with the system is going to seriously address the problems at TCHC. Neither will they do much in dealing with poverty in Toronto, and the rise of David Hulchanski’s 3 cities within this city. Tblahblahblahhese are long simmering problems abandoned in any serious way by all 3 levels of governments for the better part of a generation now.

And Mayor Tory’s go-to move on the files? Not dissimilar from Rob Ford’s when he was mayor. Ask/cajole/plead with/shame the provincial and federal governments to pitch in and do their part. Try, and try again. Only this time, it’ll be different because… because… because… ?

Is this the face of a provincial government that looks as if it’s willing to open up its coffers to a municipal ask/demand from Toronto?

The Ontario government is trying to squeeze millions of dollars out of the City of Toronto by appealing the property-tax assessments on several provincial properties – including the Legislature Building at Queen’s Park and the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance.

During the Executive Committee debate over the Gardiner expressway rehabilitation item, it was pointed out that in order to access federal government infrastructure money the project had to use a P3 process. Sure, you can have some money. But always with strings attached. Always.

Mayor Tory hopes to tap into some of that federal infrastructure cash to help with the $2.6 billion repair backlog at TCHC. Another wish that comes, presumably, with strings attached. If we’re lucky.

This is where I can fight off the contempt and discontent no longer. Our mayor seems unprepared, unwilling or unable to challenge this status quo. He talks and talks and talks around it, expresses occasional dissatisfaction with it but in the end, he bows down before it. fingerscrossedWith an eye on the polls, acting on those things which churn with possible voter anger and ballot retribution, he prioritizes his agenda accordingly. Thus, we find ourselves flush with $350 million to speed up repairs on the Gardiner but improvements to living conditions at the TCHC remain dependent on successful asks from senior levels of government.

The poors and their poverty aren’t traditionally big vote getters. That’s simply the undeniable status quo. Mayor Tory isn’t big on challenging the status quo.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Transit Treachery

March 4, 2015

Our list of municipally elected transit villains is well known. Why, just in the past 4+ years alone, names fly off the top of your head. villainRob Ford, Karen Stintz, Glenn De Baeremaeker, and all the subway lovers who enabled them. We elected them. We re-elected them. They are our responsibility, our bad.

Yet, I am going to make a bold, perhaps controversial assertion here.

They are but bit players in this sad, sad drama we call transit planning here in Toronto. Supporting actors in our mad tragi-farce, farcedy. Wilfully self-unaware fall guys, the lot of them. Patsies. Patsies, not pasties. Mmmmmmm… pasties.

The real culprits here, the progenitors of this city’s — the region’s — diseased public transit, Ian McShane’s Teddy Bass to Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, is undoubtedly the provincial government. Ultimately, Queen’s Park pulls all the strings, fiscally, jurisdictionally. Theirs is the final yea or no although they would demur, preferring to project an image of sage partnership with its municipalities. Who us? We’re just sitting here minding our business, happily signing the cheques. Are you sure you don’t want a subway with that?

Follow the timeline with me on our current misadventure.benkingsley

In 2007, the city and province announced a grand plan, Transit City, as a step in the right direction to dealing with Toronto’s increasingly problematic congestion. We often forget that the project was more than just new LRT lines, 7 of those in total, running some 120 kilometres. New bus rapid transit routes were also in the mix along with increases to existing services. Looking at the original Transit City map, what is immediately apparent is the plan’s scope of bringing better transit into the long under-served inner suburban areas of the city.

Back then, the provincial government was picking up the tab for Transit City as part of their bigger regional transit vision, MoveOntario 2020. Unfortunately, the economic crisis and meltdown got in the way and, more attentive to politics than good governance, it scaled back Transit City to just 4 LRT lines. villain7Argue as we might about if the move made any economic sense but what we can say with a fair degree of certainty is that this change of plans instilled in Transit City a sense impermanence, assailability. Just more lines drawn on a map.

December 10th, 2010. Newly elected mayor, Rob Ford, unilaterally declares Transit City dead. That noise you heard coming from Queen’s Park? **Crickets**

Again, we can debate in hindsight whether or not city council should’ve stepped in and demanded the mayor bring the matter to a vote. Ford was as popular as he would ever be at this point. Had city council pushed, he may well have received the go-ahead to rip up the master agreement with Metrolinx and officially bury Transit City. Whether through wisdom or pure shocked inertia, city council stood pat, allowing the mayor enough time and rope to leave himself dangling.

The inaction on Queen’s Park in defense of Transit City is equally opaque and open to question. Remember though, they are the big bosses, the final arbiters, the holders of transit plans in their hands. They could’ve stepped in and stopped the insanity in its tracks. That power was theirs.villain1

Instead, they blinked. Deeply unpopular in the polls and facing almost certain defeat in the general election to be held the following year and not looking to have to face down the self-proclaimed Ford Nation flank in Toronto, the Liberal government shrugged and told the mayor and city council, Whatever you want to do. (It probably also didn’t hurt that any delays to the transit plan formerly known as Transit City would save the deeply indebted Liberals from immediately having to spend any money.)

Unsurprisingly, Rob Ford stumbled and fell flat on his face. City council seized control of the transit file from him. With only a 2 year delay to show for it, some semblance of order seemed to be on the horizon. Of course, it wasn’t. City council, led by a TTC commissioner eyeing the mayor’s office in a couple years, began dialogue on another transit plan, mostly pie-in-the-sky, unfunded schemes called One City. More lines on a map including – what the hell was that? – another Scarborough subway, this one a replacement for the proposed Transit City LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line.

It bears repeating at this point that, once more, the Liberal government could’ve put their foot down and put an end to the discussion. villain3They have the power to do that, rule by fiat pretty much. That is the nature of our municipal-provincial relationship. They didn’t, thereby perpetuating the farcical shitshow.

They’d been reduced to a minority status and their grip on power was tenuous. No false moves that might embolden the opposition to trigger an election. So just more of the, Whatevs.

But this is where the provincial government’s motives get really, really murky. During a by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, the Liberals dubbed their candidate, Mitzi Hunter, the ‘subway champion’. Sorry, what?! Increasingly, Scarborough MPPs (many of whom were former Toronto city councillors) went public with their preference for extending the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway rather than LRT. Everybody now had picked up the Rob Ford chant of Subways! Subways! Subways! Scarborough deserves a subway!

It’s like the boss, when you ask if you can cut out early to take your kid to soccer practice, tells you ‘no’ while winking and nodding his head ‘yes’. villain2No. *wink, wink, wink, wink* Quitting time is 5pm. *wink, wink, wink, wink* You cannot take your kid to soccer practice. *Nodding ‘yes’*

So it went. City council took the bait, cancelled plans for the fully funded by the province Scarborough LRT, taking upon itself all the risks and liabilities of building a subway instead, beginning with about $75 million it was on the hook for for cancelling the LRT plan, the plan the province covertly encouraged them to cancel. The Liberals scored a majority government last June and then pretty openly expressed its preference for who Toronto should elect as its next mayor, John Tory, a candidate with transit plans of his own, SmartTrack which, just so coincidentally, meshed nicely with the province’s own regional rail plans, and a candidate with no plans to reopen the Scarborough subway debate if elected.villain4

Why do I feel the need to revisit this recent, sordid history now?

On Monday at the Executive Committee’s budget meeting, buried oddly near the bottom of the 2015 Water and Waste Water Rate Supported Budget, a budget that doesn’t usually get the same spotlight its operating and capital budget brethren receive, a report surfaced revealing that the city and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) had been negotiating a $95 million bill Toronto was expected to pay for infrastructure upgrades that were happening along the Union-Pearson-Georgetown rail link. Hey! You want out-of-town visitors and commuters moving smoothly around your city? Pay up. That shit don’t come for free.

So, a city struggling to balance its operating budget (which it is provincially mandated to do) and with limited access to revenue to do that (and an even more limited propensity to access the tools it does have, admittedly) villain5is being told to come up with nearly $100 million to help pay for infrastructure improvements that will ultimately more directly benefit another level of government with increased taxation through economic growth. Oh, and the cost overruns on the main terminal of that rail link? You’re on your own, Toronto.

It is clearly evident that this city is more than capable of fucking itself. What’s becoming less apparent is why we have to continue putting up with a second fucking from a senior level of government more concerned about its own well-being than the municipalities it is purportedly looking out for. As my good friend MookieG77 said on the Twitter yesterday, this is just another form of provincial downloading onto cities.

While the idea of pushing for provincial status for the GTA remains quixotically out on the fringes of political discourse, it’s just not seeming that crazy an idea currently. For 20 years now, Queen’s Park has not acted much like a partner, albeit a senior partner in its relationship with Toronto. The dynamic is more like an occupier. villain6Happy to take our money but less interested in providing sound oversight or reasonable leadership unless it provides some tangible gain for them in return.

If we’re going to go down in some sort of ignominious flame out, let it at least be one of our own making and not imposed by a government who views us as little more than a liability, a vote rich and money laden liability.

rebelliously submitted by Cityslikr


Everything’s Fine. Ignore All Evidence To The Contrary.

March 3, 2015

I know the drill.nothingtoseehere

Take a deep breath. Rob Ford is no longer the mayor of Toronto. We are in capable hands now. We are in responsible, prudent, capable hands. Inhale, exhale.

Sitting through the morning session of yesterday’s special Executive Committee meeting to discuss, debate and amend the 2015 budget before passing it along to city council next week for a final vote, and I’m not feeling particularly reassured, however.

City staff’s message was clear. Holes have been plugged. Band aids and duct tape liberally applied as stop gap measures to balance the operating budget. But the recent approach to financing the city is not sustainable. A fiscal bullet was dodged again this year. Next year…?

Mayor Tory shrugged. Every year we hear the same doom and gloom tune. Every year things work out. Relax. alfredeTake a deep breath. The city is in capable hands now. Responsible, prudent, capable hands.

No matter the state of good repair backlog, manifested by the creaky condition of our public transit, the long, long repair list in our TCHC housing, the flood of broken watermains under duress from the extremely cold weather last month. What, me worry?

Everything’s fine. There’s no need to panic and start talking about new sources of revenue. An above the rate of inflation property tax increase? “An admission of failure,” according to the mayor.

Toronto does not have a revenue problem.

Sound familiar? It should. Because, no matter how much the appearance of responsible, prudent, capable leadership this administration wants to project, no matter how many times key members of the mayor’s team tell us that’s what they stand for (there’s some inverse proportionality to the number of times they say it to the actual reality of the claim), agenda-wise, Mayor Tory and his executive are little more than extensions of the previous holder of the office.

Think I’m exaggerating?failureisnotanoption

Of the 10 members on Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee who spent at least some of last term serving in the same role under former mayor Rob Ford, they collectively voted with Ford nearly 73% of the time (according to Matt Elliott’s council scorecard). Throw in Councillor Ana Bailão, as she worked with the Fords on the affordable housing file, and that brings this mayor’s Executive Committee overlap with Ford’s numbers down to 69%. Even factoring in the 12th member, the least Ford friendly of Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (she aligned herself with Rob Ford less than 1 in 5 times) and you still have nearly a two-thirds consensus between the two administrations.

Of course, the mayor, his budget chief and other team spokes people point to very obvious differences. Increases in services to the TTC, for example, eventually restored to 2010 levels before Rob Ford took an axe to them. Commendable, for sure, laudatory even if it were still 2010. In the interim, there’s 4 years of ridership growth, now packed onto and into 2010 service standards.

Clawing our way back to running to catch up from behind.

Mayor Tory brushes aside demands to even discuss an above the rate of inflation property tax increase or new revenue tools wolfinsheepsclothing(aside from hikes to user fees, the mayor loves user fees except for car drivers, leave the poor drivers alone, would you) because he believes that the big ticket items Toronto has to deal with must involve getting senior levels of government to the proverbial table. Until such a time, we can trim away here and there at city operations, gently nudge revenue in a way not to piss off too many people. Make the pretense of responsible, prudent, capable governance.

He’s not wrong, at least not in the first part of that equation. Toronto (and every other city in this country) doesn’t have the revenue or governance tools at its disposal to deal with what is essentially a gaping infrastructure deficit. Without those, both the province and federal governments have to step up and chip in.

But just how realistic is that scenario?

Ottawa hasn’t really been involved in municipal matters for a generation now. And how many times already during Mayor Tory’s 3 months in office has the province basically told him to get stuffed when he’s asked for financial help? Why, just yesterday we learned that Toronto got a double-dose of fuck you from Queen’s Park and Ottawa when the city was denied any funding help for cost overruns at Union Station, only one of the major transit hubs for the country’s biggest city and region that generates a fifth of the national GDP.loosechange

Sorry, pal. We’d really like to help but we’re a little strapped right now. In fact, maybe you could spot us a buck or two…

Yeah. Adding insult to snubbery, it also came to light yesterday after a two-hour in camera session that the city is expected to chip in on Metrolinx’s building of the Union-Pearson Express-Georgetown rail link. We’re facing a bill of nearly $100 million from the province for various improvements to their regional rail plans along the lines running through Toronto.

This is the environment Mayor Tory expects to make nice and extract money for the city?

Maybe if he’d have stepped up from the start and stated that there was no way he was going to raise taxes or introduce new revenue tools in order to pad provincial coffers, I’d be right there with him. neroThose demands from the government at Queen’s Park that the city needs to start using the revenue streams it was given back in 2006 sort of ring hollow now. Raise taxes, so we don’t have to.

But Mayor Tory isn’t doing that. He’s pretending like there’s nothing wrong, like this is just a little blip, a rough patch that can be managed with a capable, prudent, responsible approach. We just need to tighten our belts, be more efficient.

If Rob Ford set the city on fire or, at least, tossed gasoline onto the hot spots, Mayor John Tory is just fiddling while we burn, hoping, I guess, for the restorative powers of fire.

consumedly submitted by Cityslikr


Honeymoon? What Honeymoon??

December 2, 2014

So yeah, tell me that one again about John Tory the progressive minded moderate. You know, that natty-nat-natter during the past municipal campaign, assuring us not to get all tied up in knots about his blue, blue, dark blue Tory leanings. canthearyou1Think Bill Davis, David Crombie. Forget his participation in the Mel Lastman years. John Tory was too red for the provincial Progressive Conservatives. He said he’ll march in the Pride parade. What more do you want?

I’m sorry. I can’t hear you over the grating, unintelligible noise once again coming from the Speaker’s chair. Or the glowing radioactive smugness of the newly appointed deputy mayor of this city.

Look. I’m fine with the notion Toronto went nearly 3/4s in favour of right of centre candidates in the mayor’s race. I think it’s a fair assessment to question if we live in as progressive a city as many of us like to think we do. Some 17 years in from amalgamation, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if David Miller was the anomaly rather than norm to our politics here in town.oneofthesethings1

Mel Lastman. David Miller. Rob Ford. And now, John Tory. One of these is not like the others.

There it is.

Clearly, Tory and his campaign team felt that this could provide a winning edge, blasting Olivia Chow as the ‘NDP candidate’ as soon as she entered the race, thereby distinguishing himself as the not far left alternative to Ford Nation. Progressive, but reasonably so. A moderate answer to the radicalism of the past 4 years.

With his choices yesterday for his Executive Committee and various other appointments, it’s equally obvious that his aversion to anything left wing was more than a mere campaign tactic. The Great Uniter. Seeking to heal the divisions between 75% of the city. So ideologically driven were these decisions that Tory felt comfortable under-representing the most populous former municipality of the city around the table of his Executive Committee. upyoursNo single chair of a standing committee. A couple of at-large pats on the head and a ceremonial fluffing of little meaningful significance.

John Tory, the uniter, the great undivider, has proven to be so partisan that he couldn’t even reach out to perhaps the most stellar of council performers last term, Kristyn Wong-Tam who is really only a raging far leftie in the narrow minds of the most ardent supporters of our previous mayor. Given the ward she represents, one of the epicenters of growth and development in the entire city, she would make for a great chair of the Planning and Growth Management Committee. But our new mayor couldn’t even bring himself to do that, opting instead to give that position to the empty shell of a dinosaur, Lastman era, expressway loving David Shiner.

Again. There it is. The mayor’s prerogative. But along with that, the first flashes of his true colours. (Hint: more blue than red.) Mayor Tory had the opportunity to signal bipartisan consensus and didn’t even feel the need to give it so much as a passing nod. backtothedrawingboardSo, I’ll just roll up the welcome mat because it’s pretty much now been declared business as usual at City Hall.

But perhaps the real take away for those of us feeling snubbed as much by the new mayor as we did his predecessor is this, my friends: it’s the norm not the exception. Stars aligned radically for the Ford Administration but Toronto seems to like its local politics right. That’s the reality we have to accept. Want to change it? We’re going to have to work to change it. As John Tory has just shown us, nobody else, including self-proclaimed social progressives like our new mayor, will change it for us.

nothing newly submitted by Cityslikr


Building A Machine To Defeat The Machine

December 1, 2014

This week all the post-election hypotheticals begin to collapse into reality. The very long, drawn out, seemingly at times without punctuation chapter of the Ford Era closes. quantumdecoherenceJust the chapter, alas. We’re pretty sure that book remains open.

The 2010-2014 term of Toronto city council makes way for 2014-2018, leaving behind a mess of crises, to paraphrase the incoming mayor. To use some sprots terminology, this city is in rebuilding mode. Nothing’s been fixed over the last four years, hyperbolic protestations to the contrary. Everything’s got a little more frayed around the edges.

Worst case scenario, we begin having rational discussions again about how to get our civic shit together. (Actually, a late addendum. Worst case scenario? Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.) Best case? City council actually coalesces in a meaningful way and starts implementing concrete plans to do just that.youagain

It’s hard to imagine how the proceedings will be any worse than they were last term, although perhaps too many of us have misplaced expectations in the change that’s happened at the top. (Exhibit A: the new mayor’s choice for Executive Committee.) Most of the main offenders, enablers, deadweights and flat out crackpots who contributed to the mayhem and dysfunction at City Hall last term are back for yet another kick at the can. Maybe a semblance of sanity in the mayor’s office will help rein in their worst instincts but can it really make them better city councillors?

We can hope for the best but I’m fairly confident that before long we’re going to realize our local government is terribly broken. How we elect and who we elect to represent us fails miserably in reflecting the people of Toronto. exactlythesame2Despite a very strong group of challengers throughout the city in October’s election, council managed to get whiter and more male. Even most of the newcomers felt like the usual uninspiring suspects.

Jonathan Goldsbie wrote an exhaustive piece last week in NOW about the seemingly status quo entrenchment that’s occurred. There’s no end of ideas on how to combat it and to contend with the overwhelming power of incumbency. Some possibly right around the corner (ranked ballots, permanent resident voting), others still up for debate (formation of municipal parties, term limits). None, I believe, even enacted all together, would serve as any sort of magic bullet and transform our democracy.

That’s going to take a whole lot more hands on engagement. If we learned nothing else from this past election, it should be that best wishes and high hopes contribute nothing more to a campaign than… best wishes and high hopes. exactlythesame1Too many strong candidate challengers were left to their own devices, lots of them out in our poorly represented inner suburbs, without much institutional help for the all essential ground game, ultimately picked off by lesser opponents who’d garnered party-friendly, unofficial backroom support.

As much as we hear about our municipal campaigns being too long, for most council candidates the 10 months is not long enough. Too often, candidates enter a race unprepared, under-financed and without enough human resources to get their names and faces out there in time to established themselves as legitimate contenders. No amount of social media adoration or late in the game endorsements will unseat an incumbent, even the worst of the worst incumbents, even incumbents under criminal investigation.

The reality — the sad, sad reality – is the 2018 race for city council starts right now. Sitting city councillors cannot be allowed 3 years of unchecked governance. Shadow opposition must commence immediately. Challengers popping up onto the scene in year 4 of a term, telling residents that change is needed, and that they are the needed change are seen as interlopers, opportunists. perpetualmotionmachineWhere were you when all this so-called bad shit was happening around here?

Unfortunately, very few people can just set aside 4 years to campaign, monitoring their city councillor or get themselves a Monday-Friday AM talk radio gig to maximize their exposure. Hell, not everybody knows 4 years out if a run for city council is even in the cards. The incumbents’ advantage is like a perpetual motion machine.

City council challengers need to be nurtured not just encouraged. As importantly, a campaign apparatus needs to be established, free of political party-ship, that will develop off-season electoral muscle. Create an active community throughout the city that starts to learn the doors to knock on, the phones to ring, the meetings to attend, connect to and organize.

The best city councillors are always out there, engaging with their respective neighbourhoods and communities. fix1Any prospective candidate needs to be doing exactly the same thing. Those of us discouraged by the results of our last election must pitch in to help create a system that makes that possible.

Clearly this is a process requiring a hands-on effort by a committed group, getting the proverbial boots on the ground. As we discovered once again to our dismay (and are re-learning as the new administration begins to take shape this week), we can’t hope and wait for change. It’s not going to be wondrously legislated for us. It’s going to take all sorts of people, working to make the change.

determinedly submitted by Cityslikr