A New Year’s Resolution

January 4, 2016

I tried my best to back off, relax and go oblivious for a couple of weeks during this past holiday season. It was largely successfully, I’d say. I paid scant attention to what was going on around these parts, politically speaking.

But then came these on New Year’s Day from Mayor Tory’s office:

I mean, seriously.

Pure paint-by-numbers messaging, carefully checking off each box of high profile issues. Public transit. Affordable housing. Efficiencies and the family budget trope. And topping the list, of course, low taxes. Always keeping the taxes low.

Pure calculation rather than inspiration. Bot wishes for the New Year. Thirteen months in office, twenty-four before the next election and Mayor Tory campaigns not governs.

Why not? It seems to be working. A recent Forum Research poll put the mayor’s approval rating at some 75%. Toronto loves the calm, apparently. Familiar words and sentiments stated soothingly.

For Mayor John Tory, it’s business as usual but done in a business-like manner. He’s pursuing little change in direction. Just a change in tone.

But will 2016 allow him the luxury of such continued pretense? It’s hard to imagine how. City staff has already presented an unbalanced budget with unfunded liabilities on the operating side including, among other promises, a shortfall for the early Sunday subway opening the mayor has championed. SmartTrack and Scarborough subway reports are coming due with balloon popping possibilities very probable. longlistThere’s the final TCHC report on the $2.6 billion repair backlog from the mayor’s Task Force to come and the new Task Force to look at the Toronto Police Services $1 billion annual budget.

Judging from the mayor’s New Year’s resolutions, he’s totally unprepared and unwilling to realistically face any of these challenges. “On the verge of great things” indeed. Unlocking Toronto’s potential through more wishful thinking and failed ideological posturing.

It’s no longer enough to be content with the idea that, if nothing else, John Tory has chased the clown show from City Hall. In fact, he hasn’t at all. The clown character has simply changed.

Gone is the borscht belt tinged vaudeville act with its hilarious, lowdown slapstick, replaced by a far older tradition. Il Dottorre. The unimaginative pedant who believes himself to be everything he isn’t, a man in love with the sound of his own voice, an obstacle to actual progress.

Mayor Tory believes he can help. He wants to help. ildottoreHe’s simply incapable of doing so, locked into a mindset that permits little outside opinion that doesn’t confirm what he already believes.

Unfortunately, that may not be enough to move him out of the way. Already, many observers have conceded him 2018, imagining another Ford-Tory showdown with no other candidate daring to split the vote for fear of putting a reinvigorated Rob Ford back into the mayor’s office. Pure bogeyman politics.

So be it. Too early for too much to happen, in my opinion, but, whatever. I’ll leave that strategizing for others more attuned to fret over.

How about instead, we not think about who to replace Tory but what to replace him with? He has no vision aside from plastering over cracks in the foundation. He cannot imagine a Toronto that is not his Toronto, the city that made him all he is. What kind of city do we want this one to be and how can we achieve that? Mayor Tory and the sclerotic band of city councillors who unwaveringly back him either because political expediency, similar paucity of ideas or in the misplaced idea of avoiding the perception of dysfunction, are devoid of vision. They’re suited merely to pushback not push forward.

That creates a governance gap, filled with all that we can’t do not what we can. We’ve got two years to create and enact a viable and inspiring alternative to the current retrenchment too many city councillors (and this mayor) try to pass off as leadership. Prudent, sensible, workable, modest, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. It’s none of those things. churchdoorsIt’s dereliction and abstention, dressed up in nicer attire.

Mayor Tory and his council colleagues following closely in his footsteps need to run against something in 2018 not someone. We need to start putting that something in place and nail it up on the front doors of City Hall. Toronto is being stymied by the politics of personality. It’s time to offer up the politics of ideas.

That’s my New Year’s resolution.

resolutely submitted by Cityslikr


Stupidity Not Mendacity

September 12, 2014

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I hate the Scarborough subway plan pacification vote getter plan. hateitNothing more than, what do those politician-hating politicians call it? A boondoggle. If this monstrosity actually comes to be, and there’s no guarantee it will, folks. There’s no deal signed. No money in the bank. Just malleable promises, pandering politicians and one big novelty cheque.

But let’s say the political winds don’t change and sometime down the line, off there on the horizon, at a distant point in the distant future, 3 new stops get slapped onto the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Hurrah! Scarborough gets more of a subway, civic pride is restored and… well, nothing much else will change. It’s all just questions after that. Will the ridership numbers live up to the pie-in-the-sky estimates or will there be more of a drain on the TTC’s operational budget? What about all those other residents of Scarborough who can’t easily walk to one of the three subway stops and are once more relying on bus service for their commutes? How come I’m still paying property taxes for this fucking subway?ooops1

What’s so particularly galling about this nonsense is that it’s all so unnecessary, unnecessary and counter-productive.

In a discussion paper released this week, Build Regional Transit Now, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, among other things, called for an end to political interference in transit planning. This being 2014, it is something of a sad irony such a plea had to be made since the provincial transit planning body, Metrolinx, was established just for that very reason. David Hains does a great job in the Torontoist, running down the rocky not so non-political history of Metrolinx.

I want to take you to page 17 of the TRBOT’s report. Under the subheading, “Decison-Making and Project Execution a Struggle”, it speaks directly to the Scarborough LRT/subway debacle. Or ‘standoff’ as the report calls it.

At the heart of any sound governance structure is accountability and efficient decision-making. These elements were clearly not in place with the on-going Scarborough subway versus LRT standoff. Indeed, it demonstrated much confusion around the roles and responsibilities of Metrolinx and who exactly was accountable for driving regional transportation expansion. Despite Metrolinx’s transportation planners recommending an LRT line, including close to $100 million in sunk costs associated with environmental assessments and other preparatory work, Metrolinx’s advice was, in the end, ignored by both the Province and the City of Toronto. Over the span of several weeks, the agency was compelled to first endorse a subway proposal from the then provincial Transportation Minister and later Toronto Council’s approved subway route.

In a paragraph nutshell. Expert advice was ignored. Money burned. Political pressure brought to bear on an apparently non-political agency.

The question, of course, is why? And the simple answer is politics. whyThe conventional wisdom went that Scarborough residents wanted a subway, so Scarborough politicians bent over backwards to give them a subway, good governance and a cool hundred mil be damned.

But here’s what really burns my ass about that line of non-reasoning. When did that become conventional wisdom? Rob Ford’s election and his Subways Everywhere mantra, perhaps. The minority Liberals, running scared and willing to do anything in order to keep seats in Toronto.

A good theory, I guess. I don’t have a better one. The problem is, I’m not convinced the very premise lying at the heart of all this holds water.

As a Forum poll showed this week, 56% of Scarborough residents asked stated a preference for subways over LRTs. Here’s the catch. It was a completely loaded and skewed question. thisorthatEssentially it went, subway or LRT, “if costs for building both were the same”?

The costs aren’t the same. Not even close. Subways are more expensive. End stop. Moreover, the Scarborough LRT wouldn’t have cost Toronto residents any additional money. The subway has its own property tax increase.

So it was a stupid question, for sure, of the all things being equal type when clearly they’re not but even so, even with a pro-subway angle to the question, only 56% of respondents in Scarborough favoured building a subway.

That is hardly an overwhelming majority. Nowhere near the 100% support the mayor and other subway proponents tout. Given a proper shaping of the question, it would be even less.

In fact, earlier this year, a Leger poll found 56% of Scarborough residents wanted to revert back to the originally planned Scarborough LRT. “I think we’re starting to see a shift now as people become more aware of the cost to build subways,” said a Leger researcher. ontheotherhand1Yet, here we are, being told the exact opposite by the politicians we elected to represent our best interests.

The confounding thing to me is why. If voters can be convinced of the folly of building a subway extension into Scarborough with little more than a money argument, how come politicians aren’t willing to do just that? To recommend the advice of the non-political experts who tell us that a Scarborough LRT is really our best option. How has this debate become so fucking convoluted and divisive?

I have no answer. It’s one thing to chalk up politicians’ motives as doing whatever it is they need to do to get elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. Putting their interests before the interests of the voting public. A time-honoured, tried and true formula.

But the decision-making process for the Scarborough subway doesn’t seem to be that. It’s not about some failure to lead. It’s about the desire to mislead.

steamroll

When all the factors point in the direction of one decision, and the public appears prepared to accept that decision, what politician would opt not to make it? That’s not crass and craven politics. It’s flat-out idiocy.

head-shakingly submitted by Cityslikr


Five Cent Politics

July 2, 2013

In the north country over the long weekend, stocking up on provisions (“Are you sure that’s enough Pringles?”), pringleswe’re asked by the cashier if we need plastic bags. Hells yeah! We’re on vacation here. Our concern for the environment is purely a workday, 9-5 affair. We’ll be leaving these bags behind for somebody else to deal with.

Then we’re hit with the bill.

.05¢ per plastic bag?! What the fuck’s with that? Out here in the middle of nowhere? At someplace calling itself a ‘General Store’? Where’s all this small town and rural conservatism we keep hearing about, tired of being nickel and dimed to death?

It’s whatever the opposite of refreshing is to travel outside our little lakeside bubble here and realize that many of the places around us have accepted the inevitable, not got dragged down into trivialities and simply moved on with what had to be done. generalstoreThat Toronto wasted so much political time and energy debating and re-debating and debating again such an inconsequential matter as a five cent plastic bag fee should be both mind-boggling and soul-crushing. It reflects the blinkered mindset that’s held this city hostage for the past 3 years.

If it’s not plastic bags, it’s the misguided demand for subways. Technology-envy, if you will. We not only want more public transit (which is a worthwhile discussion) but we want a specific kind of public transit (a less vigorous debate) based almost entirely on the fact that other parts of the city have it. Oh yeah. And we’re not going to broach the subject of paying for our transit wish list.

These are not the types of conversations big cities with any sort of aspirations toward being places their children and children’s children want to live have. iknowyouareDwelling on such petty matters – and yes, insisting on your right to a subway based solely on the fact they run elsewhere in the city is the very definition of petulance – is a passive-aggressive way of simply avoiding big decisions. It clogs up forward motion and squanders opportunity at every turn.

I’d like to think that this farcical interregnum of debility we’ve subjected ourselves to for the past three years is the result of the lack of a truly bold campaign in 2010. Into the void of that vision thing, stepped the reactionaries and the governance-challenged who convinced a plurality of Torontonians that we were only a cut or two away from greatness. There were no tough choices to be made. Only a taxpayer windfall that would somehow propel us toward future prosperity without costing us a single dime.

Six months out from our next municipal campaign, it’ll be interesting to see if anyone contemplating a run for mayor rises above catering to our worst, self-interested instincts and lays out a positive platform. risksaheadA recent poll suggests there’s a sizeable base willing to get behind someone who rejects crass populism for a more constructive city building agenda. That may be hard to believe, listening to our current debates at City Hall but it’s also possible that the public is ahead of the politicians on this. They’ve had it up to their eyeballs in fights over plastic bags and inaction on transit funding. Perhaps the politician recognizing that will get a leg up on their rivals heading into the 2014 campaign.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Winning Formula

March 3, 2013

Unless they don’t already know that Mayor Ford is out on the campaign trail, anyone who decides to throw down and challenge him for his job next year will not have to battle with the element of surprise. georgchuvaloHe is nothing if not predictable, our mayor. Puts it all out there for everyone to see. TO poli’s very own George Chuvalo.

Fresh from squeaking by on a split decision at the Compliance Audit Committee last week and escaping any further examination of his 2010 campaign financing, the mayor did a media round with Sun News. Touting all the accomplishments from his first year in office, he then outlined what he’d be pushing for throughout the remainder of his term in office. “We’ve got the casino, we’ve got the Gardiner (Expressway) and we’ve got the election,” he said, counting on his fingers. “I think a lot of people are already in that election mode and just wrapping up a few loose ends and we’re going to be on the campaign trail.”

Oh, and don’t forget subways… err, ‘a long term transportation strategy’. No, OK. Just kidding. Subways.

“We’re going to be getting, guaranteed getting, subways,” the mayor said on his TV interview with David Menzies. Or ‘The Menzoid’. As most grown men who aren’t professional athletes or musicians prefer to go by their nickname.

“Everyone is doing polling in their area. We’re doing polling. cocktailnapkinideasI see the numbers and they see the numbers and when you ask about subways and why so and so didn’t support them, they’re not going to win the next election.”

“They realize that they have to support subways to get re-elected, it’s huge. That’s what people want especially out in Scarborough – they need a subway and I’m going to get subways for them.”

So heads-up all you would-be mayors and councillors. If the mayor has his way, 2014 is going to be all about subways. Subways, subways, subways. Deny the people subways at your political peril.

If that all sounds too one-track to sustain a campaign for 18 months or so, Team Ford has drawn up another line of attack. Flouting rules and then thumbing their noses at anyone who protests. Don’t like it? Sue me. Seriously. Sue me. I double dog dare you.

With the mayor away down in Florida, it came to light that his office was still soliciting funds from registered lobbyists for donations to his football foundation. Remember that, just a couple months weeks ago? nyahnyahEssentially the root cause of what lead to his near booting from office due to a conflict of interest over using office letterhead to solicit donations…from lobbyists….

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

According to Daniel Dale and David Rider of the Toronto Star, it appears the mayor (minus his office logo) sent out a donation request to one lobbyist on January 28th of this year. Three days after a winning appeal got him out from under his conflict of interest conviction. Three days, folks. Municipal Code of Conduct rules? What Municipal Code of Conduct rules?

The mayor’s brother-councillor Doug didn’t see the problem, saying the paper might want to focus on “something more interesting”. Although, why would he want them to do that? Toronto Star generated controversy seems to help Mayor Ford, says the conventional wisdom. “You guys are killing yourselves,” the councillor pointed out, “you can write whatever you want; the more you write, the more his (poll) numbers go up. It’s fact.”

Not just a Ford ‘fact’ either. But an actual fact.keeponkeepinon

According to a recent poll put out by Forum Research, despite all the time spent in court and the lack of any serious goals in governance since late-2011 or thereabouts, Mayor Ford’s numbers have ticked upwards, from a 42% approval rating in mid-December to 48% last week. The more people attempt to hold the mayor accountable for his actions, the more popular he seems to become. So instead of learning any sort of lesson about flying right and keeping their noses clean, they’re just keepin’ on keepin’ on.

So solicit lobbyists away! Bring another conflict of interest case against him. It’ll practically guarantee his re-election, we’re told. Hell, they’ll even further help your cause by having the mayor’s chief of staff respond to the allegations of lobbyist soliciting for a private foundation while on city time. There’s another conflict of interest case for you to take to the Integrity Commissioner.

And we all wring our hands, wondering how on earth to stop this seeming defier of common sense and political reckoning. eyeontheballIs there no way to counter his supernatural ability to fail to success?

Let me offer a word of advice in an attempt to soothe our troubled souls.

I know Rob Ford and his mayoralty is something of a conundrum and anomaly. But it’s still worthwhile to look at things from a historical perspective, to the same juncture of time in their first terms in office, his predecessors in amalgamated Toronto. With 18 months to go before re-election both Mel Lastman and David Miller were flying significantly higher than Rob Ford is. Neither man would face a serious contender in the subsequent campaigns. Lastman was re-elected with about 80% of the vote, Miller with 57%.

In the last full year of his second term, before the MFP scandal broke wide and after his handshake with a Hell’s Angel, Mel Lastman’s poll numbers dropped to 47%. While some City Hall watchers marvelled at his lingering popularity, others took it as a sign Mel’s days were numbered. koQualified candidates began lining up to challenge him the following year.

That should be the familiar scenario for us currently.

I’m not writing Mayor Ford’s political obituary here but the idea he can continue to blunder and bluster his way to a second term shouldn’t necessarily vex anyone. There’s some hard rain coming his way over the next few months. The expanding transit debate with the accompanying taxes and tolls. A casino, yes or no. Some tough, city defining slogging. It’s been some time since the mayor’s had a major political victory outside of a courtroom and his roster of council allies to help him out looks mighty thin and ragged at this point.

This is not a scenario that screams winning to me. Don’t give in to the spin. Viewed through a rational lens, this is a troubled administration with the barest of accomplishments to show for itself and a leader disinterested in almost everything else but campaigning. Team Ford might like those long shot odds. That doesn’t mean they’re still not long shot odds.

realistically submitted by Cityslikr


Tribalism

August 13, 2012

I spent some of the weekend reading about the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. This morning, closer to home, I saw the Forum Research poll indicating that Olivia Chow would win a 3-way mayoral race that included Mayor Ford and sometime political candidate John Tory. There is a link between the two, trust me, although it does include some additional information.

In response to the poll numbers, a local political wag opined that no right of centre candidate would dare run against the mayor in 2014 and threaten to split the vote and allow some crazy left wing nutter to steal the election. (Not in those exact words, mind.) “Any independent rightie is a ‘backstabber’ these days,” it was suggested.

This isn’t a lone sentiment. As much as Cityslikr tries convincing you that he’s not indulging in Election 2014 speculation, I’ve overheard more than a few conversations about campaign strategy around these parts in the idle days of summer. The thought that any conservative minded candidate wouldn’t have the temerity to challenge Mayor Ford in 2014 is a pretty strongly held belief. For those trying to read the scattered tea leaves of the right wing mind, the conclusion is that party loyalty (and by extension, electoral viability) trumps good governance.

Does that necessarily have to be the case though?

Couldn’t a perceived moderate conservative candidate like John Tory, say, or going through the current councillor list, Michael Thompson, Karen Stintz, David Shiner for argument’s sake, sensibly argue that, while agreeing with much of Mayor Ford’s fiscal views, his implementation of them has been less than desirable? That his personal antics, his less than enlightened views on many social fronts are, in fact, a serious detriment to his budgetary plans? Yes, the theoretical moderate conservative candidate could argue, there are ideological foes at City Hall who are doing their best to trip the mayor up for purely ideological reasons but, in truth, he’s been his own worst enemy.

Would that be too far from the truth?

Mayor Ford is hurting the conservative brand here in Toronto and not making that many local converts at the provincial or federal levels either. What would be the drawback of marginalizing him with a push from the right, cutting into the less hardcore of his supporters while opening up the middle to a more competent conservative approach? Back in the day when he was just a lone wolf councillor from Etobicoke, conservative colleagues on council weren’t very deferential to Rob Ford. Now that he’s mayor, all’s golden?

For a potential conservative candidate not to challenge Mayor Ford out of some sort of fear of splitting the vote and allowing a non-conservative to become mayor is essentially saying that, regardless of how bad, ineffectual, harmful, extreme a right wing politician is, it’s still better than even the best liberal or left wing possibility out there. That’s simply blind ideological loyalty, putting the welfare of your politics before that of the voters. In the end, it’s only going to wind up hurting everyone except perhaps your opponents.

Which brings me back to Paul Ryan. At least, I hope it does.

Conservatism does not come in one colour. It does not automatically make a candidate fit for office. (And if you’re reading this and already in the middle of a rebuff response, spluttering something to the effect of, “But what about the leftards?! Same could be said about the Leftards!!”, you’re already too far gone to get the point I’m making.) Embracing the blue or the red or the orange simply because it’s the colour of your politics is just unthinking tribalism. It’s the death march to irrelevancy and, unfortunately, the collateral damage can take years to undo if at all.

— centrely submitted by Urban Sophisticat