On Your Left

January 17, 2014

I hesitatingly venture here into provincial territory as it’s not really my thing. dipmytoeinWhich is odd because, regardless of what goes on at City Hall, what degree of self-import we attach to the place, it don’t amount to a hill of beans in the face of the ultimate power wielded by Queen’s Park. The municipal will of the people always bends to that of the provincial government. End stop.

So here goes…

It all started yesterday. Actually, it was the day before. Wednesday.

Mayor Ford foot stomps and waa-waas, demanding a face-to-face meeting with the premier to talk about financial help from the province for the city’s clean-up efforts after last month’s ice storm. A meeting the premier is under absolutely no obligation to have since the mayor’s been stripped of all his powers to be of any importance in the running of the city. tempertantrum3A meeting the premier is under absolutely no obligation to have since city council has already officially asked the province for assistance in paying for the clean-up.

A meeting that is only about one thing and one thing only.

Mayor Ford’s re-election campaign. Mayor Ford’s attempt to look like he’s still the mayor in anything but name only. Mayor Ford’s publicity stunt.

Just ignore him. He’ll get distracted soon. NFL playoffs this weekend!

But for whatever reason, the provincial NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, decides to wade in.

Let me restate that.

For purely political reasons, the provincial NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, decides to wade in. Ms. Horwath sees an opportunity to get a dig in at the premier. Why not? That’s what democracy is all about, right? Getting your shots in?

“I think common courtesy in response to a mayor’s request for a meeting is pretty easy to fulfil,” the NDP leader told reporters benice(and quoted here in a Toronto Sun article by Christina Blizzard. More on that in a moment.)

Come on, Premier Wynne! Why you gotta be so mean to guy when he’s down on his luck? What’s the mayor ever done to earn this kinda discourtesy from you?

I don’t really need to run down that list for you, do I? By the choices he’s made and actions he’s taken, Mayor Ford has made himself irrelevant to the operations and functioning of the city he was elected to lead. City council made it official. This goes beyond the mushy notion of courtesy.

So what’s to be gained for the NDP leader, out there, all sympathetic to Toronto’s disgraced mayor?

Here’s my guess, and it goes back to the Toronto Sun, Christina Blizzard and this seemingly bit of oddity from Trish Hennessy in the fall of 2011, after the last provincial election.

When they talked about Rob Ford, they often spoke in appreciative, glowing terms – in the same way they spoke about another well-loved politician, Jack Layton. In the focus group discussions, they saw little ideological divide between Jack Layton and Rob Ford. Rather, they felt the two men had in common a sincere drive to take on the struggle of the people despite great odds.

Rob Ford-Jack Layton? Wait? We’re NDP like Jack Layton. We’re like Jack Layton. ivegotitWhy not Rob Ford-provincial NDP?

From a left of centre perspective? Aside from the colour orange, I see very little resemblance between Jack Layton and the provincial NDP party. But hey. Have at it, if that’s how you see the way forward.

What I find particularly frustrating is that there’s another strategy possibly working to the NDP’s advantage here.

I see Premier Wynne as something of a throwback, a Pearson-Trudeau sort of Liberal at heart. With the Ontario economy in a serious rut, unemployment discouragingly high, disturbingly high for youth and young adults, the premier’s instinct must be to go all Keynesian on our asses. Damn the deficit! Open up the spigot and get spending. Seriously start addressing our staggering infrastructure deficit, especially in transit.

Screw talk of tax increases at this point of time. Those will come later. antikeynesianKick start the draggy economic engine because waiting for the private sector to step up has proven to be a mug’s game to this point.

The premier’s held back from taking such a bold step on two fronts. Old blue Tory McGuinty Libs remain in place, tutting and fretting about the deficit and debt. If we just buckle down a little more, tighten the belt a little further, things will start to come around. Conservatives assure us of this fact.

Secondly, previous financial spending gaffes (made by those very same blue Tory McGuinty Libs) have reduced the public’s trust in the Liberals’ ability to spend wisely to almost zero. With no credibility, no goodwill from voters, and still in a minority position, it’s tough to pull the trigger on any sort of increased spending. holeontheleftThis time, it’ll be different. Cross our hearts.

All of which opens a gaping hole on the left flank for the NDP to run up through. Government intervention to inject life into an otherwise anemic economy? It should be the party’s bread-and-butter. It’s what the NDP are all about, yes?

Not this current provincial NDP, it seems. This isn’t the party of Jack Layton. Or Stephen Lewis. Or, for that matter, Bob Rae even.

This is a party more concerned with what somebody like Rob Ford would do.

Political calculation, trumping principles and basic economic common sense.

duplicity

Good luck courting new voters with that. You’re going to need it.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr


We Really Going Down This Path?

March 29, 2012

Watching The Bottom Line segment last night on the CBC’s National a day before the federal budget was coming down and one of the panelists Patricia Croft said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the private sector experienced a serious recession a few years back and now it was time for the public sector to face its own recession.

???

So the divide is complete. Those not lapping it up at the public sector trough for these past 3, 4 years, the unlucky sods stuck toiling away heroically in the private sector trenches have seen tough times, buddy. They’ve endured while their lazy counterparts in government, most all unioned up, have been picking the pockets of hardworking taxpayers, living large on our dime.

Now it’s time for a little payback, err, comeuppance, I mean, yeah, OK, payback. Enough is enough. We all know what caused the recession. Wildly inflated public sector wages, benefits, pensions and sick days. Those damn teachers brought us to the edge of financial apocalypse! We demand restitution! We demand a day of reckoning!

It’s remarkable, really, just how effective this bait and switch has been performed. That all this government debt, from the federal right down to the municipal level, has been due to reckless spending out of the public purse. None of it came from a mania for slashing taxes or a lack of oversight of financial institution that believed in their own corrective powers and that greed was indeed good – bankers gone wild!

And here we are, anemically digging ourselves out from under the wreckage, no serious questions asked or answered about how we really got into this particular mess, and now it’s time to gut our way back to prosperity. Trust us, we’re instructed by the same people who led us off the cliff in the first place, this is how it’s done. Have we ever steered you wrong before?

We’ve asked this question more than a few times before but in light of this week’s budget madness it bears repeating. How exactly does it work, this cutting your way to growth? You keep wages stagnant, remove benefits, reduce pensions, making people more vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. They respond either by piling on more personal debt or tucking what money is left under a mattress. That expands the economy how exactly?

I don’t know why I even bother asking, frankly. No actual answer is ever forthcoming. We cut our debt and debt payments and, voila, there’s more money in the bank to spend on those things people really want. Except, point me to an example where that’s actually happened. Don’t talk to me about the Chretien/Martin Mid-90s Miracle where, in fact, the pain wasn’t short but sweet. Instead it was just passed along, downloaded if you will, to the provinces who, if they aren’t resource extracting the shit out of their economies, are mired down in debt and dislocation, themselves having offloaded as much of the fiscal difficulties onto their municipalities.

As Trish Hennessy pointed out earlier this week at Framed in Canada, this austerity model has so far proven to be hypothetical, illusory, nice and neat on the blackboard but not the proven panacea its adherents claim. With each cut and reduction Greece makes, more bailout money is needed to keep it from collapsing. Great Britain is travelling down a similar path. Austerity, along with its philosophical tax cut soul mate, aren’t really driving economies in the direction their proponents tout.

Rahm Emanuel, that staunch fiscal conservative according to Councillor Doug Ford, is looking at “a ‘major new infrastructure program’ to create tens of thousands of jobs across Chicago by ‘coordinating the revitalization of Chicago’s infrastructure.” What? Government spending in Chicago?! But Mayor Rahm. Everybody knows governments don’t create jobs. Governments just get in the way of the real job creators in the private sector. Unless they don’t.

Our friend Matt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto today wrote about how Mayor Ford should be luxuriating in the spotlight (our words not his) with his handling of Toronto’s labour situation. Deals signed with very little disruption so far, ‘phenomenal news’, according to the mayor, that gives the city flexibility. Flexibility to reduce the work force, to outsource jobs to the private sector, to start respecting the taxpayers.

No doubt this is exactly what Mayor Ford campaigned on, probably even more so than his promise to build subways. He was elected to bring unionized city workers to heel. Punch them in the face, bust their unions preferably. So that we would never have to endure the horrors of another summer garbage strike. Ever.

They need to get a taste of what the real world’s like out there. They need their own recession. Recovery starts from the bottom and our public workers haven’t hit there yet.

questioningly submitted by Cityslikr


Ford Nation Notion

October 19, 2011

The good news, after reading Trish Hennessy’s post over at Framed In Canada, Mythology: Ford Nation, one year later, is that the great urban-suburban, car-bike, conservative-progressive divide that we all presumed existed may be overblown, misunderstood and little more than a scary figment of our collective imagination. Hoo-rah! The bad news? Well, there may be a division much more pernicious and tough to bridge.

Looking on the bright side first, let’s just set aside all that talk about de-amalgamation, shall we? It’s unhelpful, pretty much unrealistic and quite possibly detrimental to our future well being as a city and region. Rather than a Ford Nation, we all are a Leafs Nation, united in quiet pride at almost getting it right and fumbling with what was once a great franchise. Here’s to being in constant rebuilding mode.

“As regionally divisive as the election of Rob Ford might appear,” Ms. Hennessy writes, “most of the Ford voters we listened to identified as being Torontonian first. Most have either lived in different parts of the city or have to cross the city for work and they feel some responsibility for Toronto as a whole.

Rather than wanting to see their city fall into decline, these Ford voters expressed a hope and vision for the city that is positive, united, safe, clean, green, diverse, welcoming, vibrant and easier to get around in. Some even dream of having more bike lanes, as long as they’re safe for both cyclists and drivers.

They want a city that works together, for a common purpose.

They still believe in the value of public services, and many want better public services – especially when it comes to public transit, which is becoming a symbol of a city in need of a fix.”

That those wanting all of that for the city saw in candidate Rob Ford someone who’d deliver such things is, for those of us who didn’t, the crux of the mystery. Green? Diverse? Welcoming? Where did they see that in Ford’s campaign? Wasn’t he the one who said Toronto couldn’t afford any more people? And Mr. War On The Car green?

It’s almost as if we were talking about two completely different candidates for mayor. Those of us seeing Rob Ford as a destructive force for this city and those who, to again quote Trish Hennessy, “…believed he was willing to fight the establishment on behalf of the people…He [Ford] made them feel hopeful that positive change was coming; that he was going to punch a hole into the bubble of the elites.” How was such a gaping cavernous dichotomy of opinion possible?

Bringing us to the bad news I took away from the post. I read and reread it a few times and nowhere did I see the Ford voting participants in the Environics focus group talk about taxes outside of “…a simmering sense that they have been paying more taxes and user fees while getting less or worse public service in return.” Ford’s Gravy Train “…was considered a symbol for city finances in need of restraint, for people at the top of the city hall food chain abusing power – the ones they read about in the newspaper [italics ours]…” All those fat cats, Rob Ford railed against. “In terms of job cuts, their expectation is that Ford would go after the people ‘at the top’ of the scale.”

What I didn’t find in Ms. Hennessy’s post was any talk of if there was no gravy or not anywhere near the amount candidate Ford claimed he could find — like say 10%, in each and every city department — would they be willing to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the ‘simmering sense’ they felt about paying more taxes and user fees ‘while getting less or worse public service in return’ was unfounded? “While participants support the notion of some service and job cuts to balance the budget, they raised several points that indicate most won’t support across-the-board massive cuts.” So would these Ford supporters pay more to avoid ‘across-the-board massive cuts’? If so, how much more? A 30% property tax increase the mayor and his strict adherents are now throwing around?

I don’t know if such a question was asked of this small Ford voting cohort by Environics. How much are the services that they believed the public relies on worth to them? The same? More?

That, I think, is the fundamental divide we’re facing right now. Between those believing we’re paying more or just the right amount for the services we want and demand from the city and those who aren’t as convinced that’s the case. We in the latter camp never, the 53% of Torontonians not casting their ballot for Rob Ford last year, never “… believed Rob Ford when he said he could cut government waste without affecting city services.” Nearly a year later we see the proof of that conviction in the pudding. The KPMG core services review backed that up. The mayor’s slash-and-burn proposals provides further evidence that the city, despite some of the instances of wasteful spending and other seeming excesses that are regularly trotted out as examples of profligacy, is delivering services at very reasonable rates. Perfect? No one ever claimed that. Value for money? Overall, it’s looking more and more like it.

In her post, Ms. Hennessy uses turns of phrases like ‘whether the facts add up or not’ or ‘when in reality’. About cancelling the Vehicle Registration Tax, she suggests “Few [of the focus group participants] associate the cost of that tax cut with the city’s budget woes today.” It suggests a disturbing gap between belief and reality. Even now, a year into Rob Ford’s mayoralty, some of those who voted for him are holding on to the notion that we can have all the amenities our city offers without paying the price necessary to maintain them. They seem to think there’s an easy fix that doesn’t involve having to pay more.

To my mind, that’s the gap needing to be filled. Rob Ford promised gain without pain, a shift of blame from our unrealistic expectations onto manufactured bogeymen who either weren’t real or weren’t sticking it to the honest, hardworking taxpayers to the degree he claimed. Ford voters were duped which is a hard pill to swallow and not a constructive point of departure in reaching out in going forward from here.

The question is, how do we bridge such a chasm of perspective?

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr