Lobbing A Lobbying Bomb

May 4, 2016

I’m going to paraphrase about a hundred people who’ve expressed these exact sentiments, and if that makes me another Margaret Wente, so be it. cheatingIt’s a jab I’m willing to live with.

Here goes.

If all those Uber people were even half as passionate about other, far more important city issues as they are with accessing their inexpensive, on-demand, chauffeur service, Toronto would be a civic paradise.

That said, I’ve said as much as I want to say about the Uber debate. It’s already taken a disproportionately significant chunk of our local political discourse over the past couple years. Mayor Tory made it his key item to begin this month’s city council meeting yesterday, and it consumed every bit of the extended day to finish it off. For now. Always, for now.

People will argue that it’s simply a response commensurate with the demand out there for Uber. outofproportion45,000 people a day can’t be wrong, won’t be denied. A grassroots uprising breaking the death grip of the taxi industry monopoly, yaddie, yaddie.

Maybe…maybe.

Or, here’s another angle.

This Is How Uber Takes Over A City

“Uber’s made a name for itself by barging into cities and forcing politicians to respond.”

How, you ask?

A $40 billion value corporation (as of the article’s writing last June) with all the lobbying muscle that kind of money can buy.

Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the nation, at least a third more than Wal-Mart Stores. That doesn’t count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th-largest city in the U.S., 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber’s behalf. They’d become a constant force in City Hall. City officials say they’d never seen anything on this scale.

“Uber makes the rules; cities fall in line.”

Bringing it closer to home here in Toronto, we all know that two of the mayor’s former campaign mucky-mucks, John Duffy and Nick Kouvalis, have gone to work for Uber, bullyone as a lobbyist, the other to do some polling. And it seems like there’s been a lot of Uber lobbying of the Mayor’s office leading up to this week’s meeting. According to Anna Mehler Paperny of Global News, “And the mayor’s staff met with Uber more than anyone else on this topic last year.”

But, you know, whatever. The various branches of the taxi industry are no slouches themselves when it comes to lobbying, and donating to municipal campaigns, and just generally getting this debate front and centre in a way that makes it seem like it’s the most important policy matter the city faces. It isn’t, not by a long shot. That’s just what effective lobbying does. That’s why lobbyists and lobbying firms get paid the big bucks.

None of this is news. I didn’t write and crib some 500 words to tell you something you didn’t already know. It is what it is.

Although, and here’s the kicker and the reason I wrote anything about this at all, after the Uber debate dies down, and perhaps today’s equally noisy matter of the proposed bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street gets settled, teeoneupthere’s an interesting little item going to council from the Executive Committee. It was deferred from the March meeting, and the oh-so-perfect irony of the timing of it is hard to ignore.

As part of some lobbying by-law amendments being considered, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong put forth a motion asking for a staff report on the question of forcing unions and not-for-profit organizations to register with the city as lobbyists. It’s been an idea, as Jonathan Goldsbie writes in NOW, kicking around since the establishment of the Lobbyist Registrar back during David Miller’s first term in office. It’s been given a new lease on life with the support of Mayor Tory, his deputy mayor and 9 other councillors sitting on his Executive Committee.

His [Mayor Tory] position is that there are groups that have vested interests in the outcome of council decisions that are not confined to direct financial benefit. This is about transparency, and our belief that the public should have visibility into the various groups that lobby city councillors on matters of public record.

This statement from the mayor’s office in response to the NOW article has made some of those “various groups” more than a little nervous. “STOP Mayor Tory’s attempt to force community groups to register as lobbyists. buildingawallSign this petition now!” tweeted out the shadowy NOJetsTO group who have used their deep pockets and sneaky loophole seeking ways to bully the under-resourced and hamstrung-by-lobbying-rules little guy Robert Deluce and Porter Airlines in order to stymy island airport expansion. Why? What do they stand to gain from keeping the airport just like it is?

Until they are brought to heel under the careful watch of the Lobbyist Registrar, we won’t clearly understand their motivations. We’ll just have to file it under: “not confined to direct financial benefit.”

But if I were a community group or social activist type, I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. My guess is, Mayor Tory’s eyeing bigger game, like the unions, who the motion mentions specifically. And even that may be reading too much malicious intent into it.

Maybe the mayor is really and truly trying to level the playing field for everyone down at City Hall. wolfinsheepsclothingAfter yesterday’s vote, and his and a solid majority of city council’s complete and utter capitulation to the ferocious lobbying and PR effort of Uber, he’s reaching out to give the grassroots a leg up. See? Lobbying works. Become a lobbyist. Access millions and millions of dollars to hire high-priced consultants, pollsters and glad-handers. Then, prepare to roll over your local elected representatives.

If an upstart company like Uber can do it, you can too, little group looking to… I don’t know, provide some extra affordable daycare spaces. Think big. Big Daycare.

Besides, it’s only fair. Otherwise, just anybody can drop a line or send off an email, demanding access to decision-makers at City Hall. That’s just not how things get done around here anymore.

blithely submitted by Cityslikr


&%#%%& &@#@ %&%##@

December 11, 2015

Warning:foullanguage

This post may contain more salty language than usual. If you’re easily offended, click out now. I will try my best to contain myself but can’t make any guarantees.

Let’s talk about fucking Uber versus the taxi industry again, shall we? As if there’s nothing else more important to deal with other than what should be, arguably, the 4th best choice in getting around the city. Fuck.

Like I have written, I don’t know,  8 or 10 times previously, I could give a fuck about this issue in terms of policy or technology or whatever. I am in the fortunate position of having a multitude of choices at my disposal in terms of mobility. Paying somebody money to drive me around in their automobile falls pretty much way down to the bottom of the list. It is either out of sheer necessity or absolute laziness that I occasionally wind up in a cab. An after-thought or very pre-planned forethought before an early morning trip to the airport, say.

I could only wish taxis played as incidental a factor in everyone else’s life as it does mine.pottymouth1

But alas. It doesn’t. Evidently, as somehow I keep winding up talking about something I don’t really fucking care about.

So it was with Wednesday’s taxi protest which shut traffic in parts of the city down to a dead crawl. Drivers buzzed in and out of City Hall during the first day of city council’s December meeting. They threw what might be called a spanner in the works if I were writing 70 years ago for a British publication.

They came and fucked things up.

I’m not going to get into the reasons why other than the easy summary that cab drivers came to protest the lack of any serious crackdown on the illegal Uber operations going on in the city. Their sense is the city’s dragging its heels while coming up with new regulations to adjust to the 21st-century reality of what lots of people are mistakenly calling the “ridesharing” entity Uber which has rolled into town flouting a by-law or two. foullanguage1While indulging in what the taxi industry views as rather lax enforcement, the city’s helping to threaten a lot of peoples’ livelihoods which, for many, isn’t much of a livelihood to start with.

That’s a whole other fucking bottle of wax.

So cabbies took to the streets, fucked things up here and there, and didn’t some peoples’ noses get out of joint? Pretty much, How dare they! How Dare They!! Postmedia’s Matt Gurney vowed never again to use a Toronto taxicab. Oh, how will the industry survive such a blow?

By inconveniencing and annoying and generally pissing of so many people with their protest, it was deemed that taxi drivers lost the PR battle. Lose the PR battle, I guess such conventional wisdom goes, you’ve lost the PR war. Lose the PR war and…Oh, who fucking knows?!

Fuck you people and your fucking PR battles. Fuck winning your hearts and minds! Fuck Matt Gurney. pottymouth2Fuck everybody who’s ever had a bad cab ride and now hails Uber as some sort of little guy conquering hero. And fuck every one of you who can’t withstand the inconvenience of some mild civil disobedience thrown your way.

Nobody burned down your fucking house, did they? I’d like to burn down your fucking house right now. Nobody burned down your fucking house. So stop your fucking whining.

(I warned you I was going to swear a lot, didn’t I? I wasn’t lying. If you want more nuanced views about this ongoing civic disruption, let’s call it, give a read if you haven’t already of Desmond Cole’s Toronto Star article yesterday or @pangmeli’s Storify take.)

Look, nobody but nobody except for the exceptionally vested interested thinks the livery system here in Toronto isn’t seriously fucked. It has been for a while now despite regular attempts (some well-intended, others less so) to fix the problems. pottymouthMany of the solutions and the problems both have proven sticky, gumming up the works and gooily pulling in more attempted fixes until finally what we have is something of a clusterfuck pile on.

But here’s the thing, if you were so concerned about the state of the taxi industry, if it so negatively impacted your life with its terrifying rides, smelly drivers and refusal to accept anything but cash as payment, why not do something about it? Why not demand reform? Why not hold your councillor politically responsible if they did not contribute meaningfully to changing the industry? Why not organize a boycott?

Instead, you mope around, bitching about how badly you’re treated when you’re getting driven around the city, how much it costs you as if there wasn’t any other possible alternative for getting from point A to point B, until Uber suddenly appears to do your fighting for you. Illegally, it turns out. Defiantly so. But hey, what disruptive technology doesn’t skirt the rules, you rationalize. You can’t regulate the future, baby. Adapt or die. washyourmouthoutThe customer’s always right, amirite?

It’s lazy democracy, is what it is. An endorsement of lawlessness for the sake of a few bucks and a smooth ride. But when somebody steps outside the bounds of the law and gets in the way of that ride, delays your forward progress? Anarchy. Outrageous. An epic PR fail.

We deserve a few more protests like we saw on Wednesday. Toughen us up. Shake our priorities around a little. Move us on beyond thinking just about how we can get around the city in the optimum of comfort at the lowest price possible.

Fuck.

cursingly submitted by Cityslikr


Who Should Pay The Piper?

November 24, 2015

This has been nagging at me for a couple weeks, and kind of bubbled up to the surface yesterday, following along with the TTC commission debate over a fare increase in the new year. forkitover“I believe fares should be adjusted every year because the cost of running the system,” Mayor Tory responded when asked about any possible fare hike. But when it comes to the question of property tax increases because the cost of running the city? Or, I don’t know, a vehicle registration fee to help pay for expedited repairs on the Gardiner expressway?

That’s another matter entirely.

There are those with a similar political bent to the mayor who don’t agree with such an obvious double standard, certainly when it comes to charging drivers more to pay the costs of roads. Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne, for one. He was on a panel I attended (and wrote about earlier this month) where tolling and road pricing was very much the rage. We must stop subsidizing car drivers, Coyne pronounced. We need to let the free market deal with congestion.

OK, sure. Let’s have that conversation. At least we’re agreed that drivers in no way, shape or form, fully pay the price of the road space they use.

And stop subsidizing public transit, Andrew Coyne went on. waitwhatWhy our public transit system is so bad, he stated, was because the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ had been kept from performing its magic on it. (He’s been saying such things for a while now.)

If wishes were fishes and all that. An argument can be made that the private sector might augment the delivery of public transit but there are few examples of it doing so alone especially in larger metropolitan areas, and especially in North America. That’s not to suggest it couldn’t here but it does lead to a bigger question. Should it?

If public transit is, in fact, a public service, what role does the profit motive have to play in that? There is a considerable segment of the population living in places like Toronto who don’t view public transit as just another option to get around the city. It is the only way they can do it. They’re what we refer to as a ‘captive ridership’. They don’t choose to take public transit. They depend on it. Start with everybody under the age of 16 and count from there.tollroad

Should they be subject to the vagaries of the private sector as they endeavour to get to school, to work, to their doctor’s appointment?

I’ll take it a step further.

Shouldn’t those who use public transit as their mode of transportation be viewed as people actually delivering a public service rather than receiving a public service (for which they are charged here in Toronto nearly 75% of the operating costs)? Along with cyclists and walkers, aren’t transit users contributing to the quality of life in a city by not driving? Why does Andrew Coyne believe people using transit should be treated equally to those moving about a city in cars? No subsidies for anyone. Pay your way. Our current mayor, John Tory, is less even-handed, demanding “… those who use the system [public transit] should continue to maintain their proportional share of the cost.” crowdedsubwayHe wouldn’t dream of suggesting the same from car drivers.

The private vehicle is the least efficient, most expensive form of mobility there is in large urban areas like Toronto. Cars and driving place onerous demands on municipal budgets, pervert quality design and planning, overuse public space while underpaying for the privilege of doing so. So it’s way past time we have a discussion about them owning up to all that, starting with opening their wallets a little wider.

Those who either choose to or must use public transit have been paying more than their fair share, their ‘proportional share’ for some time now. We need to start acknowledging the contribution they’ve been making to this city and stop penalizing them for it. They’re doing us a favour while we keep acting like it’s the other way around.

fairly submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Don’t Have Nice Things

September 1, 2015

Allow me, if you will, to make this a Rob Ford story, while he plays a cameo in it, the familiar part of “former Toronto mayor…allegedly smoking crack” basketball1(Allegedly? The man’s admitted it already!), there are, admittedly, much bigger, wider, deeper issues at play.

Courting controversy: Push for public basketball courts runs up against misguided fears,” is the last in a 4 part series in the Globe and Mail “examining support programs and services for lower-income residents in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon – the cities and towns of Peel Region more known for their affluent middle and upper classes than a growing population who live in poverty.” Once more we are faced with our “veiled racism”, as a young Tristen Mason generously sees it in the article, in continuing opposition to building and operating basketball courts throughout the GTA.

“Veiled racism”? What’s the kid talking about? What’s racist about opposing basketball courts?

Let me ask you this.

When I say, Fill in the blank in the following statement: basketballBasketball is a game played mostly by _______, what’s your first response?

Yeah. Exactly. And then follow that through with the usual equating of basketball to drugs and gangs and gun play. Like I said. Mr. Mason’s talk of ‘veiled racism’ is generous indeed.

Such sentiments are ham-fistedly stoked by local knuckleheads like longtime Ward 7 York West city councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, who features prominently in Dakshana Bascaramurty’s piece. “We don’t welcome the concept, at all, of gang bangers…selling drugs on outdoor basketball courts,” he once said. Basketball courts, and all their yelling and screaming and fights and guns! Having changed one over to a place for ball hockey instead, I mean, what’s more Canadian white bread than ball hockey, Mammoliti claimed police told him crime dropped ‘dramatically’. Of course, the police claimed no such thing.

The councillor was at it again, late last municipal campaign where, probably not coincidentally one of his opponents, Keegan Henry-Mathieu, just so happened to be black. fanningtheflamesWhen Mammoliti was asked about his dim view of basketball courts, he pretty much replayed the dog whistle tune. “For one reason or another, [basketball hoops] seem to attract the wrong crowd outside. What I’ve heard loud and clear is that nobody is playing outdoor basketball any more, they seem to be selling drugs.”

That’s always a distinct possibility when you actively neglect a public space into dereliction.

Which brings me back to the subject of Rob Ford.

One of the dilapidated basketball courts that went untended and disregarded had originally been built with the proceeds from a foundation of one-time Toronto Raptor superstar, Vince Carter. The “Rolls-Royce of outdoor basketball courts,” the Globe and Mail called it. Now?

These days, the backboards are rusted. One rim has no net; the other is torn-up and ratty: like a once-voluminous coif thinned to a comb-over. Empty water bottles, McDonald’s cups and even an old 3.8-litre bleach container are scattered over the grass around the court. For a stretch, even the rims were taken down, effectively rendering the city-owned court useless.

Here’s the kicker.

Our friend over at Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall, pointed out that this one time ‘Rolls Royce of outdoor basketball courts’ is located right smack dab in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, fiefdom of the Ford clan, Rob-then Doug-then Rob again. basketball2Of course it is. Irony or poetic injustice demands it.

While serving as councillors/mayors, rarely was any opportunity passed up by the brothers Ford to squawk about private section participation in the running of the city. Want to build a subway? (And who doesn’t?) The private sector’ll pay for it. (Still waiting.) Want to host a splashy international event? (Don’t we all?) Corporate sponorship’ll foot the bill. (Honest.) Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. Blah, blah, blah.

Here we have a perfect example of such a model. The private sector, through a private donation, builds the ‘Rolls Royce of outdoor basketball courts’ for the city, serving it up on a platter for the Boys of Ward 2 to make political hay with, and what happens? They let it go to shit. “Nobody has done more for black people than me,” Rob Ford crowed during the 2010 mayoral race. And by ‘more’, obviously he meant more, as in, more to promote drugs, guns and violence through underfunding services and programs and undermining the marginalized community he’s represented, in one way or another, for more than a decade now.

This is the absolute and abysmal hollowness that forms the core of the Ford brand of fake populism. pretendpopulismTalk a big game about looking out for the little guy, assure them there are easy ways to serve their best interests and when the chips are down, when it comes to putting money where their mouths are? M.I.A.

Worse yet, go missing and then blame the failure on everybody else. Bloated and misdirected spending at City Hall. The suburbs never getting anything. Thugs that they don’t hug.

What we really ought to do is post signs around the abandoned basketball court, pointing out the reality of continuing to fall for the politics of the Fords. This basketball court, brought to you by Vince Carter. This basketball court, destroyed by Rob and Doug Ford.

suggestingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Meddling Public Sector

August 26, 2015

While governments at every level and of every political stripe spend our money like it’s theirs, threatening to send all us hardworking taxpayers to the proverbial poorhouse, it is the private sector, the merchants of free enterprise, muckingupthewordswho keep the ship of state upright, generating the wealth which floats all our boats. With a laser-like approach to finding efficiencies, customer service and competitive pricing, the profit motive greases the wheels of a functioning society, pretty much as God and Milton Friedman proclaimed. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem,” actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan crowed, “government is the problem.”

Allow me to introduce exhibit A.

Right now in Toronto, City Hall sits guilty of stifling not one, but two heroic businesses, trying their best to make this city a better place to live for all of us. lucyBack in 2009, city council demanded to pay Bombardier nearly a billion dollars in return for 204 new streetcars. Clearly, it was an unreasonable 10 year delivery timeline with 37 of the vehicles expected on the road by the end of 2014, 60 by the time 2016 rolled around. To date, only 8 are up and running along the streets of Toronto.

Obviously the only reasonable explanation for such a delay and overwhelming under-performance on the part of Bombardier is the intrusion of government into the sphere of the private sector. The company has also been forced to delay orders of new subway cars to New York City and Montreal. What’s the common factor in that equation? (Aside from the delays, that is.) Ethrowingmoneyaroundxactly. Cities, and government.

Where the hell are all these public pension bloated fat cats with their hands out full of money, offering to buy planes from Bombardier? Because of this stingy, public transit-oriented attitude of municipal officials, the company’s aviation arm has been hindered in its honest pursuit of an honest day’s capitalism. Reduced to near ‘penny-stock status’, according to the Globe and Mail, Bombardier sits helplessly on its stock of beautiful C-series flying technology, waiting for somebody, anybody, from the public sector to step up and perform as it was meant to do. Write big fat cheques to private companies with as few strings attached as possible.

Here’s the kicker.

Rather than sit around complaining about how Bombardier isn’t living up to its streetcar contract, Toronto city council could be channeling that negative energy into something positive. greasethewheelsSuch as, for example, bulldozing ahead with approval of the island airport expansion. This would allow another valiant private company, Porter Airlines, now obstructed by a pernicious officialdom, bureaucratically hung up on ‘proper environmental assessments’, ‘public input’, ‘people oriented waterfront development’ and other make-work, nonsensical jargon, to green light its order of Bombardier CS-100 whisper jets and expand its reach and, fingers crossed, bottom line.

In turn, flush with cash, Bombardier could ramp up its street and subway car assembly lines, delivering to the politicians what they’re really in the business of: vote getting. That’s what they call, out here in the real world, a win-win-win for everyone. Government keeps spending money in order for the private sector to make money. Wealth is then spread accordingly in the immutable law of Economics 101. lenderoflastresortAs it should be.

We elect our representatives to pay up, step back and observe the miracle of commerce. Nothing more. Until we learn to do that, and that only, we will continue to hinder the real engine of our well-being, leaving us empty-handed with fingers pointed in blame at the wrong people for delays, cost overruns, contract breaches and an underwater tunnel taking too few people to too few places.

If that comes to pass, who will be left holding the bag? In the end, somebody’s got to pay. That’s just the way of the world. Governments need to accept that responsibility, their responsibility, and fall into line, knowing it is always better to be the payer of first resort than it is the lender of last resort.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr