In Praise Of Paul

April 2, 2015

We spend a lot of time railing here at all Fired Up in the Big Smoke, bitching, if you will, agonizingly over the state of affairs of our local politics. notallbadWith good reason, I think it fair to add. Things are terrible, from the state of our public transit, public housing to the repute (illin’, in the vernacular of the kids today) of our local governance, and many points in between.

Grim, dark days indeed.

From all that glum, occasionally the positives appear, brightly alight on the dreary canvas of civic/political life of this city like the spring flowers we should expect to see sometime soon if this cold, heartless winter ever ends. We’re told it will. Honest. It has to.

So I’d like to send a shout out today to one of those positives, one of the proofs that Toronto isn’t necessarily going to hell in a hand basket. It is the Easter holiday season, after all. If the dead can rise again, why not the near dead? (Too much?)

Councillor Paul Ainslie.applaud

At yesterday’s council meeting, he entered the fray of the accountability officers’ debate, putting forth an amendment to a motion that should put the issue to rest at least for a bit, seemingly satisfying a solid majority of the two factions. It was an adept bipartisan move that deflated the hyper-partisanship which had needlessly infected the issue. Such diplomacy, let’s call it, was a far cry from the Paul Ainslie I remember when I first started closely watching City Hall back in the early days of the Ford era.

It struck me then (and I believe with justification) Councillor Ainslie was simply a robotic ‘yes’ vote for whatever crazy idea the Mayor Ford demanded. In fact, I will confess publicly here for the very first time, I had a hand in an obscure Twitter parody account mocking the councillor, mostly for his refusal to get up and defend some of the positions he took. We can all disagree politically, I think it’s safe to say. caterpillarI just want to hear why you’re doing what you’re doing.

To give Councillor Ainslie his due, at the same time, he was plugging away quietly in his position as chair of the low visibility Government Management Committee. Yeah, I know, right? What the hell is the Government Management Committee and how does it impact my life?

Well, OK. I’m not going into the details here but let me say this. If ranked ballots arrive at City Hall for our next municipal election (currently nestled away somewhere in Queen’s Park awaiting provincial approval), Councillor Ainslie should be credited as one of the prime adoptees of the initiative at City Hall in his role as chair of the Government Management Committee. In a time of regressive, backwards thinking embraced by many in the Ford administration, it is a testament to the councillor’s doggedness to the cause that ranked ballots made it through such a mess.

Then came 2013.

Hopefully when a definitive history is written about Toronto’s city politics from 2010-14, Paul Ainslie’s role in pulling one of the many loose threads of Rob Ford’s ratty, tawdry behaviour will be acknowledged. standupA full month before the crack story broke, it was Councillor Ainslie going public about Ford’s drunken, loutish appearance at the Garrison Ball that really teed the ball up for the messy, ugly fall that followed. Few of the mayor’s supporters had broken ranks with him yet. This was big news at the time that got lost in the ensuing crack story.

The Fords, of course, denied it. They wrote the claim off as just bitterness on the part of Councillor Ainslie for not getting the nod as the budget chief to succeed Mike Del Grande. A few months later, they booted Ainslie from his post as chair of Government Management in a display of what spite was really about.

Let me just say here that while there is no need to point out the Ford’s unfamiliarity with the truth, the notion Ainslie, I don’t know, used the incident to get back at them is sort of laughable. Having chatted with the councillor on a few occasions, I have to say, the man comes across as lacking as little guile as I have seen in any other adult I know. You have to have a little bit of the sharp elbows in you to be successful in politics and Ainslie’s city councillor origin story is not without controversy but if there is a more genuine politician at City Hall right now, I haven’t spoken to them.drunkdriving

The feud between Ainslie and the Fords escalated especially when the councillor reversed course on the Scarborough subway extension. Initially supporting the move, he said after looking at all the information that the numbers simply didn’t add up. He was the lone Scarborough councillor to speak out and vote against scrapping the LRT which led to a series of robocalls being placed by the mayor to residents of Ainslie’s Ward 43, a subsequent complaint to the Integrity Commissioner by Ainslie and yet another apology from Rob Ford.

Compare and contrast the principled stand on the issue made by Paul Ainslie with the complete and utter cowering capitulation and 180 made by Glenn De Baeremaeker.

What was really interesting about yesterday’s accountability office motion by Councillor Ainslie wasn’t so much that he made it, and made it stick. There’s every reason to believe that the original motion of Councillor Stephen Holyday’s wasn’t going to pass, so ill-thought out and deliberately divisive as it was. steakthroughtheheartIt was Councillor Ainslie’s response in defending it to some critics who thought the original motion should just be killed outright.

“I’m not trying to salvage it [Holyday’s motion],” the councillor tweeted. “If we defeat it outright it will only leave too much on the table with an axe to grind.”

Ainslie wasn’t aiming at the motion. He was going after those behind it who had ‘an axe to grind’ with the accountability officers and, for their own mysterious reasons, were determined to reduce oversight of city council despite any protestations they made to the contrary. A more thorough review of the offices (as opposed to the very narrow, amalgamation-orientated one asked by Councillor Holyday) would better arm accountability proponents for future attacks.

I understand why councillors like Shelley Carroll opposed any sort of review. It is unnecessary and floats the idea that there’s something amiss with the accountability offices when the reality is, the only thing wrong is they are all chronically underfunded. easterbunnyYet the pipsqueaks on the council, the Stephen Holydays, Michelle Berardinettis, James Pasternaks, Justin Di Cianos and John Campbells were relentless in their fight against the offices. Councillor Paul Ainslie attempted to put an end to their pursuit once and for all, or, maybe even better, expose them for the regressive, anti-democratic types that they are.

For that, and the general all-round geniality and amenability, good natured can-do-ness, we salute Councillor Paul Ainslie. May you find all the easter eggs you search for in the easter egg hunt you will undoubtedly participate in.

positively submitted by Cityslikr


Laundry List

November 20, 2013

A variation on the old joke about violence in hockey.

hockeybrawl

The other day I went to watch the Rob Ford Shit Show Spectacle and a council meeting broke out! Ayy-Oooo!

Despite all the oxygen they sucked from council chambers and spotlight hogging they managed, the Ford Brothers’ attempt to derail city council from going about its normal business categorically failed. Sure, it got lost in the crack-and-lies fueled shuffle. Representation at an OMB hearing isn’t as sexy as a mayor and his thuggish councillor-brother baiting the gallery crowd but much of municipal governance seldom is. Getting the roads paved is dreary work but somebody’s got to do it.

Take a minute and a gander through the agenda of last week’s non-special council meeting. todolistI didn’t count all the items and motions but there had to be a billion, give or take. There was social housing. New, stricter smoking by-laws. An appointment to fill a Budget Committee vacancy and restructure the board of directors for Build Toronto. The environmental assessment for a proposed Bloor-Dupont bikeway was re-started after being abandoned last year. You want diversity in the ranks of the Fire Department? City council wants to look into that too.

And on and on the list goes, for the better part of three days, when it could be squeezed in around mayoral grandstanding and obstruction.

Then after the council meeting finally finished up on Monday, councillors broke out into their four respective community councils to meet yesterday where they all dealt with a combined 207 items, give or take a billion. You want fence exemptions? Etobicoke-York Community Council’ll give you fence exemptions. Zoning by-law amendments? Scarborough Community Council can deliver what you’re looking for. North York Community Council’s got all that and a front yard parking appeal to boot. gettingdowntobusinessOf course, where downtown gets everything, members of the Toronto-East York Community Council received a visit from world-renown architect Frank Gehry for one of the 90 items on their docket.

Today, members of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, among other items, set forth on a comprehensive downtown transportation operations study to consider ways to reduce congestion in parts of the core area. This afternoon, the TTC commission will resume its meeting that was interrupted on Monday by the mayor’s stuff. Among other things, the commission will consider raising transit fares once again to fill the TTC’s funding gap. Tomorrow, the Planning and Growth Management Committee will met to discuss amendments to the city’s Official Plan while the Government Management Committee goes about its business including property expropriation for the Yonge-University-Spadina subway expansion.

Oh yeah, and about the budget process that’s going public next week.

You get the drift here.

Life goes on with or without Mayor Ford. And let’s face it. Most of these items were either too expensive or complex for him to have ever understood or cared much about. ignorethekrazykatThe more prosaic matters? Your fence exemptions and front yard parking pads? He’d simply want to sort out with a phone or house call. Probably both. It’s always good to put a face to the name on your potential voters’ list.

The mayor can’t stop the forward motion of the city, no matter how big a hissy fit he has. He can slow it down, toss sand in the gears like he displayed on Friday by holding every item he could get his hands on, and drag them out with questions to the staff and making blowhole speeches. If it becomes too problematic, council may have to take more drastic measures and approach the province about stepping in and removing the mayor from the premises.

But until such time, it’s probably best just to avoid spending too much time on the expected mayoral antics. They really won’t matter much in the scheme of the city’s operations. It’s hard to avert your eyes from a car crash but eventually you have to or you wind up veering off the road.

advisingly submitted by Cityslikr


Electoral Reform Gets All Tied Up at Government Management Committee

May 14, 2013

In the end, Government Management Committee item 22.15, Proposed Electoral Reforms, limped forward without recommendation for wider city council consideration deadlocked in a 3-3 tie. alltiedupThose voting against reforming the way we go about casting our ballots municipally? Team Ford. Councillors Vincent Cristanti, Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti, stood firmly in opposition to any change in the status quo, even going as far as putting up a motion to defer the item indefinitely. That salvo was fended off by the rest of the committee, consisting of Chair Paul Ainslie and councillors Mary Fragedakis and Pam McConnell.

At issue was a staff report that proposed four reforms of how we can and who can vote municipally. Any possible changes that might be enacted wouldn’t occur until the 2018 campaign at the mayoral level, 2022 council wide. Nothing too radical or too quickly. Plenty of time to ruminate and consider, and all for a good cause. The promotion of wider civic participation and engagement.

Much of the conversation and most of the deputations revolved around only one of the measures, to rank ballots or not. An alternate way to vote by ranking candidates in order of preference to ensure that the winning candidate gets at least 50%+1 of all votes cast. rankedballotIt’s a pitched battle that has been going on for some time now, not only pitting those in favour of keeping our current First Past the Post system against those proposing the basic 1-2-3 alternate ballot but reformers at odds with each other, arguing the merits of the ranked ballot versus pure proportional representation. That fight is for another post altogether.

But I will say that those speaking under the banner (if not official endorsement) of Fair Vote Canada – the side of proportional representation and against ranked ballots – did themselves no favours. It’s one thing to speak out against a proposal and another thing entirely to positively offer up something in its place. They told the committee members a ranked ballot was not truly proportional and wouldn’t affect the election results all that much. What they didn’t tell us was how their Single Transferable Vote would work at the municipal level.

None seemed really all that familiar with the structure and workings of the local government in fact, intent to graft on an approach to voting much more conducive to a situation with a party system in place and multi-member representation. Not to say that PR and STV couldn’t work in Toronto. singletransferablevoteWe just needed to be shown how.

We weren’t and in reality, the PR deputations seemed to scare off potential committee support from the likes of Councillor Ford to the idea of any sort of electoral reform whatsoever. Which, unfortunately, also threatened other equally important ideas in the item for ways to increase not only voter turnout but civic engagement overall. How our ballots were counted was only part of the solution put forward.

City staff proposed holding elections on one of the weekend days in order to free voters from having to sneak away from work to vote. Staff also suggested extending the right to vote over the internet for those with disabilities. Thirdly (and most importantly to my way of thinking) the report put forward the idea of allowing permanent residents living in Toronto the right to vote in municipal elections.

The chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Paul Ainslie, who has been indefatigable in his support of electoral reform, talked about how when he campaigns a solid majority of the residents in single-family dwellings are eligible to vote. The opposite is true when he knocks on doors in apartment buildings. outsidelookinginYou want better election day turnout and more civic engagement? There’s no better place to start than extending the municipal franchise to those living in Toronto, paying taxes and using the city’s services.

As someone native born to this country, and with my Canadianness dating back a whole two generations now, I don’t feel particularly possessive of my right to vote here. It’s one aspect of citizenship, the cornerstone of it even. But I believe the exclusivity to it decreases as we move down the levels of government, from federal to provincial to municipal.

What I find especially egregious in the anti-permanent resident vote at the local level is that it’s perfectly fine for citizens to vote municipally in Toronto even if they don’t live here as long as they own or rent a property in the city. velevetropeI get the reasoning. If you have some pecuniary interest in city business, you should have a say in how the city is run.

Why give that right to just citizens? All permanent residents have financial as well as social interests in Toronto. Giving them the right to vote acknowledges their contributions to this city, the sacrifices they make to live here and the benefits they receive for doing so. It’s like a democracy starter kit. A welcome mat to anyone wanting to put down stakes in Toronto.

Fortunately, all this will be debated again at council despite Team Ford’s best efforts to smother it at committee. Like the representatives of the proportional representation camp, councillors Cristanti, Ford and Mammoliti were content to emphasize the negative without making any sort of positive contribution. Councillor Mammoliti bemoaned how much harder voting is in the suburbs than it is downtown without offering up any motions to address that claim. He chose instead to try and stop any talk of reforms in its tracks. Councillor Ford was all for strengthening the office of the mayor – putting forth a motion to ask the City Manager what kind of legislative amendments were necessary to do so — while merely providing lip-service to giving more power to community councils.

Trying to bolster our democratic process and extend its reach to promote wider and deeper engagement shouldn’t be a partisan issue. nonpartisanOn a lot of fronts, it isn’t. The proportional representation-ranked ballot dust up is largely being fought between the left. City council’s champion of electoral reform is Councillor Paul Ainslie who usually sits centre-right. At Government Management Committee he was backed by two of the more left of centre councillors.

But we heard loud and clear yesterday from those wanting nothing to do with electoral reform. The self-described Looking-Out-For-The-Little-Guys guys. The hardest of the hardcore supporters of Mayor Ford. They came down firmly against change without really saying why. The mark of true reactionaries.

frustratingly submitted by Cityslikr


Strictly For Wonks

April 9, 2013

Government Management Committee.

Yes, it is as dry as all those words on their own might suggest. bonedryPut together? Well, the Sahara fucking desert.

Yet, this committee deals with the nuts and bolts of how City Hall functions both inside its curved walls and outside. Why, just yesterday the agenda was full of such diverse items as property tax shirkers and parking ticket miscreants to building a bike station at City Hall and TTC pension plan mergers. Most of it isn’t headline grabbing stuff but it’s all got to get done for the place and the institution to function properly.

Or, in short, from the city website: This committee has a focus of government assets and resources, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on the administrative operations of the City.

From a City Hall watcher’s perspective, this Government Management Committee got council chambers and committee rooms wi-fied up and there’s talk of installing more electrical outlets for ease of keeping computing devices charged. nutsandboltsIt just pushed for extending live streaming of all committee and community council meetings before 2014. And word is, they’re pondering granting media accreditation to council social media types which, from our very subjective viewpoint would render the process meaningless. I mean, come on. It’s bloggers we’re talking about. Those people are hacks.

As committee chair, Councillor Paul Ainslie was quick off the mark to embrace many of the electoral and civic reforms that came out of Dave Meslin’s The 4th Wall project including looking at using ranked ballots in municipal elections. Clicking through the committee’s agenda over the last little while, it’s hard to tell exactly where those items are sitting right now and it’d be nice to know that they haven’t simply been buried. But I’ll give Councillor Ainslie the benefit of the doubt because, well, he seems like a sensible guy who knows better than to get on Meslin’s bad side.

Councillor Ainslie also seems to run an affable meeting. He doesn’t huff and puff, is courteous with staff, fellow committee members and deputants. If I were writing copy I’d say something like Committee Chair Ainslie makes boring Government Management stuff fun! fineprintMaybe even with two exclamation marks.

He does get some help from Councillor Doug Ford in the fun department, although the mayor’s brother does provide a different sort of fun. More of the laughing at than laughing with kind of fun. In many ways, the Government Management Committee is the reason the councillor came to City Hall. To Lean Six Sigma his ass all over procurement practices and squeeze out every ounce of gravy he can find.

The committee also offers up Councillor Ford the opportunity to rail about out of control spending like the budget of the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. Or the construction of a bike station at City Hall in place of perfectly unused parking spots, complete with, and get this…”Vince! You gotta come here, they’re building showers!” Showers! For bikers! Can you get any gravier than that?

But with the chair siding with the lefties on the committee, councillors Mary Fragedakis and Pam McConnell, Councillor Ford and his buddy Vince (Crisanti) did not win the day. That may have to wait until the one missing committee member, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, returns from the DL. boringmeetingHis presence at the meetings must change the dynamics somewhat.

Would I recommend a visit to the Government Management Committee to take in the proceedings?

I don’t know. Did I mention it covers a lot of dry terrain? You have to really love watching people cross their t’s and dot their i’s to get caught up in the action of a Government Management Committee meeting.

Theirs are many of the thankless tasks that must get done, and very much subject to the whims of the much higher profile Budget Committee. (Given the overlap of many of the items, it would’ve made perfect sense for Councillor Ainslie to seamlessly transition into the role of budget chief. Alas.) Government Management Committee might not be the place to start your journey through the committee meetings but be secure in the knowledge that six councillors are dedicating their time to getting `er done.

appreciatively submitted by Cityslikr


One Is The Loneliest Number

April 1, 2013

It would be easy to write off the city’s new budget chief, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio as… invisibleman1ineffectual, let’s call it to keep things on a civil level. It’s difficult to point to a single contribution he’s made during his undistinguished time in office. His one stand out quality seems to be posing the most baffling of questions during council meetings. If there’s a current councillor who elicits more “I’m sorry. I’m not sure what you’re asking.” responses one doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

Yet there he is, a North York and Toronto councillor since 1985 save the first term of the amalgamated city. That’s 25 years for those of you counting at home. He’s got to be delivering the goods in some way, doesn’t he? whateverOtherwise, you’d have to conclude that his residents aren’t really paying that much attention to who represents them at City Hall, and their voting habits consist of nothing more than checking off the most recognizable name on the ballot.

Let’s not travel down that cold, bleak road.

Instead we’ll assume that Councillor Di Giorgio is one savvy political survivor. A canny operator who knows what needs to be known, does what needs to be done to continue getting elected to public office.  He has his finger on the pulse of what Ward 12 York South-Weston voters want and expect in a councillor.

Now, after years in the wilderness of obscurity, he has finally ascended the heights of prominence. Clawing his way up over the corpses and cast offs of a once powerful army, he is the last man standing. solesurvivorThe chosen one from the dwindling ranks. The few, the proud, the Team Ford.

Being budget chief is a tough, thankless job at the best of times. Arguably, this is not the best of times. The position kicked the stuffing out of his predecessor, Mike Del Grande who seemed to have coveted the job from the time he was first elected as councillor in 2003. Why would Councillor Di Giorgio want to travel down that same grueling path with a crowd not playing at the top of its game and hardly noted for overt displays of loyalty toward those who’ve offered up their services for the cause?

Surely the councillor’s been around the political block enough times to know that he’s not going to make a lick of difference in the direction the budget takes as long as the mayor’s brother sits to his left as the committee’s vice-chair. Sure, there are five other members on the committee but with hyper-Fordian Councillor Frances Nunziata now one of them, it’s hard to see much of a free flow of ideas happening that don’t carry the imprimatur of the councillor-brother. liontamingIt’s obvious who’s running the show at budget committee in everything but name.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were on record for not thinking much of the former budget chief’s job. In our humble opinion, he never fully grasped the nature of public finances, maintaining a very cloistered view that saw debt and taxation as unnecessary profligacies. But Councillor Del Grande was no toady. He possessed an independence of attitude that, more often than not, overlapped with Mayor Ford. When it didn’t? Well, ultimately that’s why he quit the post.

Watching Budget Chief Di Giorgio’s inaugural budget committee meeting as chair last Thursday, independent minded was not the first thing that sprung to mind. He was solicitous and polite and did not commence the meeting with a bang of the gavel. Granted, the meeting was light on business and for the most part, items sailed through with very little fuss or bother. rubberstampNobody set about re-inventing the wheel on this particular day.

And then came the last bit of new business.

An item from the February Government Management Committee meeting to purchase a little over a third of an acre of green space from a surplus TDSB school along Dufferin Street in Ward 15.

For most of the committee members in the room, this was the first they’d heard about the item and understandably wanted to get a little more information before giving it a green light. (Councillor Nunziata took the opportunity for her familiar complaint refrain about not getting the parks in her ward cleaned let alone getting a new park.) Due diligence and all that.

But the budget committee vice-chair took the wariness a couple notches higher.

A million bucks for a park?! Who did the math on this? Fair market value, the budget chief assured him.grandstanding

A park on Dufferin Street?! Who would want their kids playing there? Well, the area is lacking green space, the budget chief told him.

If we buy a park for Ward 15, where’s the park for every other ward in the city? Let’s keep everything at the lowest common denominator, folks. Parks for all or parks for nobody. And it’ll be for nobody since a million dollars for a park is outrageous.

So it went until the committee voted in favour of sending the item onto Executive Committee without recommendation, effectively washing their collective hands of making any decision on it.

While such an excessive outburst is nothing new, this one was something of a head-scratcher even by Councillor Doug Ford standards. Alone among budget committee members, the councillor was not unfamiliar with this particular item. As part of the Government Management committee, not only did Councillor Ford debate the item a month earlier, he actually moved the adoption of the motion.

Now, here he was railing about it.

Whatever was behind such a pronounced flip-flop?

Follow me as I make a wild guess here.

The chair of the Government Management Committee? A certain Councillor Paul Ainslie. pissingmatchWhat happened in the interim between Councillor Ford’s apparent approval of the purchase of the parkland in February and his about face on it a month later? A little accusation of more questionable public behaviour on the part of Mayor Ford at the Garrison Ball earlier this year by – you guessed it – a certain Councillor Ainslie.

Who did the math on this?!

This is the kind of eradicate, sideshow conduct Councillor Di Giorgio has signed up for in taking the position of budget chief. Entirely extraneous, personality driven politics diverting attention from the task at hand of running the city. As the administration wobbly heads into an election year, completely sidelined on most of the important issues on the municipal docket, is this really the kind of increased profile the councillor is looking for? outsidethecircleBudget chief in name only and subject to the turbulence of a populist administration constantly undercut by a lack of realistic policy goals and regular questions about the mayor’s off-field behaviour?

Unsurprisingly, after the conclusion of Thursday’s budget committee meeting, the budget chief was left alone, talking to someone in the public seats as the media chased Councillor Ford out of the room. It’s a scenario Councillor Di Giorgio probably should get used to.

singularly submitted by Cityslikr


Be Bold

July 5, 2012

It’s the only way to counteract the lethargy of ill-governance.

Boldness is a form of action not reaction. It steps into the void created by a lockdown of thought, a failure of nerve, an acceptance of some misbegotten notion of inevitability. Boldness requires courage.

What we are currently experiencing is the exact opposite. Ours is the Age of the Great Flinching. We flinch in the face of economic uncertainty. We flinch in the face of climate upheaval. We flinch in the face of societal reconfiguration.

We flinch, retreat, retract and call it conservatism.

I do not think that word means what self-described conservatives think it means.

It’s all a regression to the meanness of a previous era. Everyone for themselves. Winner takes all, losers work retail.

There are days when I’m unsure how we as a species ever managed to climb out of the primordial goo and start to evolve. It’s just so hard. I’m good here. Think I’ll just stay put where I am.

The path of least resistance.

So I think it hardly surprising that such an outpouring of interest was sparked by the announcement of One City last week. Hey! Look at that, would you? An idea, many ideas. A forward looking plan that poses substantial questions and tough challenges. Something we can actually sink our teeth into.

Now, much has been made of the plan already so I won’t add to the discussion except to say that, if nothing else, the proposal and the negative reaction to it on the part of the province and from some on council simply made them look tired and unwilling. Disinterested spouses at the tail end of a lifeless marriage. Don’t kick up a fuss. Think of the children.

But I do hope that unenthusiastic reaction does not dissuade other councillors who find themselves in similar positions of power at City Hall – not just in terms of committee chairs but with powers of persuasion – from observing what the TTC Chair and Vice-Chair and councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc actually accomplished. They activated an agenda. Rather than stand pat and let the chips fall where they may, a larger discussion was initiated. If you really want to talk transit, let’s really talk about transit.

I’m looking at the most unlikely of sources to take a flyer on an issue and make a big splash. Ward 43-Scarborough East councillor and Government Management Committee chair, Paul Ainslie. [Phee-ew. I was worried you were talking about Councillor Frank Di Giorgio for a minute there—ed.] Your time is now. Carpe diem.

Councillor Ainslie, you say? I’m not even sure I know which one he is. [Almost always but never quite ever holding the mayor’s hand—ed.] Are you sure you got the right councillor?

As chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Ainslie has the opportunity to bring about some important voting, ballot and citizen participatory reforms. He’s been a big supporter of Dave Meslin’s 4th Wall Project which is on display in the lobby of City Hall all next week with an opening reception at 6:30 Monday night. (July 9th). Earlier this year, Councillor Ainslie introduced numerous motions – ranging from using ranked ballots to using video for deputations – for further study.

But as anyone who’s followed voting reform initiatives knows, they can die a frustrating, quiet death by neglect. Those who’ve been elected to office in the traditional manner aren’t always prone to change a system that’s worked for them. Entrenched status quo is not the friend of change in any fashion.

In fact two reform motions actually passed city council unanimously recently, one to establish a working group to study the proposals and another calling for a staff report on a ranked ballot initiative. Yet somehow even these two innocuous seeming items never made it out of the meeting intact and were sent back to staff until October. The slow grinding wheel of change.

The thing is, though, civic awareness and participation has spiked here in Toronto during Mayor Ford’s term. People not only want to be engaged, they have realized the absolute necessity of getting engaged. While it may not be in the best interest of some politicians to have an increase in voter activism, those looking beyond their own self-interest know that it would be in the best interest of our local democracy.

So now, Councillor Paul Ainslie, it’s your time to shine. Use this summer interregnum and the mayor’s disinclination to actually lead as an opportunity to make the case for voter reform. Pull a Stintz, as they say, and step outside the mayor’s circle, that ever decreasing sphere of influence. You’ll have a wide and receptive audience. People want what you have to offer.

Be bold.

It’s this season’s colour.

humidly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Silly Socialist Social Engineering

March 30, 2011

Somebody really ought to ask Councillor Doug Ford, and his brother the mayor, and their official court stenographer, Sue-Ann Levy, to define the term ‘socialism’. I’m beginning to think none of them actually know what it means. It’s just a catch-all phrase they toss around to denigrate those they don’t agree with politically; those who believe in the positive influence government can have on the greater good.

The latest instance occurred at yesterday’s Government Management Committee meeting where councillors debated and then voted down a city staff recommendation to have exclusively healthy options — 2% milk, soy milk, fruit juices, no bottled water – in all city operated vending machines by 2014. “Down here we have a mentality that the government knows best,” Councillor Doug Ford said, arguing against dictating to people what they should be drinking. “We’re big brother, we tell you what to do.”

“This is socialism at its best, it really is,” Councillor Ford continued. Best. Worst. Whatever. Let’s just assume the councillor was speaking derogatorily.

Government certainly doesn’t know best but, according to the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, the beverage industry certainly does. Why listen to a staff report (which was just “a pile of crap” according to Committee Chair Paul Ainslie) when those who stand to lose most by any change in the current status quo can tell you all you need to know? “Consumers are going to purchase what they want to purchase and if they can’t get it on site they’re just going to walk across the street,” John Challinor, director of corporate affairs for Nestle Waters Canada, said. “We don’t need to be following this sort of Nanny state approach.”

Mr. Challinor went on to tell Ms. Levy that they ‘…do regular opinion surveys and have found the majority of Torontonians do not want bottled water removed from their civic facilities.’ If the people selling bottled water tell us a majority of Torontonians demand bottled water in their civic facilities, who are we to question them? Piles of crap are what governments produce not the private, for-profit sector.

I imagine if the tobacco industry conducted a survey among teenagers asking if they wanted cigarettes back being in sold vending machines, you’d find a majority somewhere saying, hells yeah! How about booze too? All sold in vending machines that don’t ask anybody what year they were born before dispensing their product.

“If they want to have cigarettes in the machines, so be it,” [Councillor] Ford said. “They might even put a shot of rye in there too. Unbelievable.”

Hoo-ray! Let’s hear it for the good guys fighting for the right of Joe Average to consume whatever product they desire wherever they want. Down with social engineering and all those do-goodie, ‘calorie-counting’, ‘eco-obsessed wingnuts’. Attempted behavioral modification by the government is nothing more than socialism and is doomed to failure.

Just take that pesky 5¢ fee the city forces merchants to charge customers for plastic shopping bags for instance. A government money grab, nothing more. Oh, and a business killer. Except the money doesn’t go to the government but to the retailers. So.. just over-reaching, nanny state government with their fingers in consumers pockets for no reason whatsoever.

“The Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, which represents the big supermarket chains, said the fee has been a success at cutting plastic bag use by 71 per cent in its members’ stores.”

Five cents might not be a lot of money, but it seems to be enough to make people change their habits,” said Metro [supermarket chain] spokeswoman Marie-Claude Bacon. “People were ready for that.” How ready? According to the company, 1 month after the fee was introduced, demand for plastic bags dropped by 50% and 18 months later, it was down to 80%.

That’s 80% fewer petroleum based products in circulation. 80% fewer bags going into landfills. Environmentally friendly and economically sensible. Like Jim Harris argued in the pages of the National Post a little while back.

Just a little nudge is all people need sometimes. I’m not paying 5¢ for a plastic bag. I’ll bring my own bag. So it begins. No Coke in the vending machine?! Maybe I’ll try a cranberry juice instead. How can that be bad for anyone, for society?

If that’s what Councillor Ford wants to call ‘socialism’, let’s give it to him. Because his world view, his non-socialism is one filled with obese underage smokers and drinkers, and floating islands of unnecessary plastic garbage, where the customer is always right. It’s a cheap imitation laissez-faire attitude that hurls meaningless political labels as insults and that would shock and appall even the staunchest of traditional conservatives whose tattered banner radical right wingers like the Ford Bros. et al have hijacked for their own anti-social purposes.

socialistically submitted by Cityslikr