The Art Of The Deal

April 13, 2015

This shouldn’t be considered some nyah, nyah, nyah, I-told-you-so. hahaWhile I remain sceptical about the magical powers of public-private partnerships to heal our infrastructure deficit, pending a definitive study to prove/disprove their rationale beyond simply a case-by-case basis, I’ll keep my mind as open as I ideologically can toward the possibility that an argument can be made for the P3s’ merits. After all, the private sector blah, blah, blah, am I right?

But this, this, “First-of-its-kind condo deal…mired in financial troubles”, does little to engender much feeling of goodwill toward the concept. I know, I know. Why emphasize the one deal gone wrong when so many have gone right but the same thing might be said about those purely public projects that make so much noise when they go over budget and/or face significant delays. This one’s significant because Metrolinx, the provincial agency directed to get Ontario moving with a proposed massive public transit build over the next quarter century, has stressed the importance of P3s as an integral component of a successful implementation of that plan.

The lack of one being in place was cited as a reason for the recent and ongoing woes of the Yonge-Univesity-Spadina subway extension. The premier wagged her finger at the city. toogoodtobetrureThe TTC chair put forth a motion to ensure P3s were on the table going forward with future transit projects. No more opportunities would be lost in accruing the obvious benefits that come with bringing private sector expertise into building better public facilities.

Yet, it’s hard not to look at this particular deal, an attempt to integrate the concept of intensification with transit hubs, and not come away with the sense that the real expertise the private sector provides is assuring its own best outcomes. In a nutshell, a developer of some property near the Mimico GO station got official approval and rezoning for additional height of a condo project which would be directly connected to the GO station in return for building additional parking spaces specifically for the use of the GO station. Things went south, financially speaking, the development company had a little solvency problem, it seems, and Metrolinx had second thoughts.

“Some information had come to our attention that made this a less than desirable agreement to enter so we pulled out of that agreement,” a Metrolinx spokesperson told the CBC. This was back in 2012. No harm, no foul. Live and learn. Onward and upward. Metrolinx will renovate the GO station and build the extra parking spaces on its own.

But here’s the real kicker, in my opinion.ripupcontract

Despite the cancelling of the agreement, and no connection between the proposed condo development and the Mimico GO station, no additional GO parking provided, the developer still gets to keep the increased height for the project. Rebuffed by the city’s Committee of Adjustment after the deal went sour, the OMB swopped in to save the day, OKing the 7 extra stories. Private sector benefits 1, obligations nil.

This is where my dubious disposition toward P3s stems from. Private enterprise looks out for number one. That is the foundation it is built on, is it not? Self-interest. Emerging with a net gain is the key to survival.

How the public sector arrives at a win-win situation in a relationship with a private partner is therefore tricky at best. Is it possible to maximize profits at the same time as maximizing the public good? That’s the pounding sound of constantly trying to square a circle.

Governments just have to make sure contracts are signed tightly, all the eyes are dotted and tees crossed, risk fully and properly assessed, managed and allocated. Make the right deal and watch the magic happen. It all just makes such sound, intuitive, fiscal sense for everyone involved.

Except that there’s one fundamental disparity in this relationship that makes it ultimately unequal. The private sector can just walk away from any deal that becomes unworkable for them. leftholdingthebagContract signed? So, sue me. To think that any P3 agreement doesn’t include that kind of assessment built into it is probably naïve, the definitive out clause.

Public projects are ultimately the responsibility of the public sector. Failure to deliver a transit stop, for example, is not an option for them. One way or another, over budget or not, on time or not, it must come to pass. It’s the key bargaining chip a private sector partner always has in its back pocket, moral hazard a friend.

It’s difficult to imagine any cost or efficiency savings enough to trump that advantage the private sector always brings to the negotiating table.

side-eyely submitted by Cityslikr


Less Is Not Always More

January 15, 2015

In today’s ‘how not to city council and still hold public office for over a decade’ news, I give you Ward 6 Lakeshore-Etobicoke councillor, Mark Grimes, first elected in 2003.

What am I looking at, you ask. Basically, Councillor Grimes putting forth a ‘technical amendment’ that states the builder of a condo development in the councillor’s ward will pony up $150,000 in Section 37 money to the community via the councillor. Section 37 money? A negotiated amount a developer agrees to pay in return for variances to their development. Variances? Essentially, aspects (usually increases) of the building that are not in accordance with city by-laws.  More stories, higher density. Bacceptlessuilding by-law indulgences, let’s call them, in which money is offered up to compensate for any negative consequences the variances might have on nearby communities.

In a nutshell.

So, on the surface, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what Councillor Grimes is doing in the above video. Except for the fact, as the CBC report points out, what the ‘technical amendment’ the councillor successfully pushed through did was reduce the amount of Section 37 money the developer would pay from $250,000 to $150,000. No, it didn’t, the councillor told the CBC in an email response. “There was never an agreement reached with the applicant for $250,000 in Section 37 cash contribution,” the councillor wrote. “I recommended the $250,000 to try and negotiate the maximum benefit for the community.”

Again, except the CBC flags a final staff report sent to the Etobicoke York Community Council a month before the councillor’s city council ‘technical amendment’ that states, right there in black and white (page 11), expectless“It had been agreed by the owner that they will provide a cash contribution in the amount of $250,000 for local parks improvements as their Section 37 contribution.”

In essence, the local councillor (Mark Grimes in this case) has it in writing in a city staff report that the owner of a proposed development has agreed to pay $250,000 in Section 37 money but a month later introduces a ‘technical amendment’ reducing that contribution by $100,000.

Who does that?!

Let’s avoid going to the darkest corner of possibilities here. The potential shadiness of Section 37 transactions are always bubbling near the surface.  “A shakedown”, then-mayor Rob Ford once called Section 37 money.  While wildly off the mark (as Rob Ford tends to be about almost everything to do with governance), it’s difficult to fully justify the practice.followthebouncingball

Follow the bouncing ball. Developer wants to build something not allowed by current city planning by-laws. If the city doesn’t agree, the prospect of an OMB appeal going against it, granting the developer free rein, always hangs over the proceedings. So negotiations begin to arrive at some solution that makes nobody entirely happy but is something most can live with. Part of the deal making involves money, a payment to, as I wrote earlier, compensate for any negative consequences of the development might inflict on the community. Assuaging bitter feelings.

A far from perfect way of doing business, obviously, with plenty of open space for behind closed door unsavoriness. Moreover, it’s probably the least efficient or productive way to maximize the community benefits from such projects. Section 37 never provides enough money to ultimately offset the infrastructure stress these kinds of developments impose on communities like public transit. Instead, the city has to be content with building parks and green space, occasionally a library.spikeandchester

But it’s something. An unsatisfying solution to a highly problematic dynamic in terms of city building. The best councillors make the best of a bad situation. If there’s been any genuine claim of any sort of impropriety from a Toronto city councillor in terms of misusing Section 37, I don’t know of one. There’s no reason to think anything different with Councillor Grimes and this case of the disappearing $100,000.

The only conclusion I can arrive at, however, is hardly more heartening. “Councillor Grimes purpose at City Hall,” Luca De Franco tweeted in reaction to the CBC story, “as he sees it — aiding developers, even against the interests of Ward 6 residents.” That’s not corruption. It’s just willful disregard of the people who voted for you.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Make Them Run For It

January 7, 2014

Now, it may seem something bordering on the amnestic, me writing yesterday about wanting to see an aspirational municipal campaign in 2014 forgetfuland then turn around the very next day to begin a series on 15 councillors who need to be seriously challenged this year. Shouldn’t I instead be extolling the virtues of councillors who bring a sense of equitable and smart city building to the proceedings? Why focus on the negative, dude, if you’re trying to be all aspirational?

The thing is, it’s a campaign, right? At this point, what’s the sense in writing something that ends up stating: Councillor So-and-So is alright. Opponents need not apply. Endorsements come later in the race.

What I’ve done for now is to develop a very subjective, non-scientific formulation to calculate the worthiness of our current slate of city councillors and factored in the feasibility in successfully challenging them. It’s weighted toward my impression of their work and votes at City Hall with little emphasis on just how well they do constituency work. There certainly could be some councillors who excel at fixing residents’ fences or sorting through on street parking while being complete duds at a more city wide level. formulation1I’ve chosen to accentuate the later.

As for the feasibility aspect, I’ve combined a rating for incumbency — the level at which a councillor is entrenched as an immoveable force in the ward – with their plurality in the 2010 election. So if they’ve been around for centuries and won by a shit ton last time around, they get big points in terms of feasibility. They may be terrible councillors but, for whatever reason, their residents keep putting them back in office.

It’s because of that measure, incumbency+plurality, the likes of councillors Frances Nunziata (Ward 11 York South-Weston) and Michael Del Grande (Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt) escape the wrath of my Better Off Gone list. While nothing could be more beneficial for the governance of this city than the removal of the likes of these two, given their respective time served and easy victories in 2010, it’ll be a very uphill battle to dislodge them. That’s not to say, no one should try. formulationBut go in with your eyes wide open.

And just in case you think I’m being overly partisan, I’d put Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre) on the list too for his scorched earth approach to the Scarborough subway debate last year. In vilifying every other form of public transit, he helped set the debate back years if not decades. However, he too, has a strong presence in his ward and won in 2010 in a walk. He’d be tough to knock off but should be challenged every step of the way.

One final note before moving on to my first entry. I arbitrarily declared both Ward 2 Etobicoke North and Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre open since Councillor Doug Ford has said he won’t be seeking re-election and Councillor Peter Leon pledged he wouldn’t run again before being chosen to replace Doug Holyday. rulesandregulationsAlso, I declared Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence open as it looks like the incumbent there, Councillor Karen Stintz, will be making a serious run at the mayor’s job. All those are subject to change but as of right now won’t be part of this process.

So with the rules, stipulations and caveats in place, and in no particular order, we shall commence with All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s 15 To Give A Run For Their Money list.

Up today:

The Madness of Clown-Prince Giorgio

Aside from the mayor and his councillor-brother (and maybe the above mentioned Councillor Nunziata), nobody represented the sheer breakdown of function and civility at City Hall more than Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7 York West). Grandstanding does not do justice to the thing it is he does most frequently and annoyingly. He doesn’t debate so much as he brays. He baits rather than discusses. He sees conspiracy (usually of the union kind) and plots to silence him behind every door and under every bed.

Unprincipled? You betcha.

Back in the day, before Rob Ford became mayor, he and Mammoliti were bitter, bitter enemies. madnessofkinggeorgeDuring the 2010 mayoral campaign, candidate Mammoliti was then councillor Ford’s most caustic and aggressive critic. But when the winds changed in favour of Ford, Mammoliti scurried back to his ward race and hitched his wagon to Team Ford becoming, literally, the new mayor’s right hand man and most rabid attack dog.

Depending on Mayor Ford’s fortunes, Councillor Mammoliti’s hopped on and off the Executive Committee, clearly with an eye open to see if the ship sank fully. He claimed to be a new man after an illness felled him last year but by last council meeting when he was forced to apologize for his bad behaviour at council, it was difficult to make out any discernible difference in him. Same as if ever was. Same. As. It. Ever. Was.

Unethical? You be the judge.

He was charged last year under the Municipal Elections Act for 5 financial offences from his 2010 campaign. In December, the Integrity Commissioner launched an investigation into a fundraiser the councillor had last spring that featured some big name lobbyists. sameasiteverwasAlong with Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), Councillor Mammoliti has also allegedly been renting at below market rate an apartment from developers who conduct millions of dollars of business with the city.

Oh my.

As a local representative, the councillor was such a subway advocate that he claimed his residents would wait a 100 years for one to be built along Finch Avenue West rather than settle for some measly LRT. Knowing that’s never going to happen, he might as well have just admitted he could give a shit about public transit for Ward 7, York, northwest Toronto. In fact, it’s difficult to see an example of Councillor Mammoliti ever putting the interests of his residents before his own.

Now, no doubt that the councillor has big name recognition (good or bad, that’s very important in local elections) and definitely has the power of incumbency in his favour. But here’s an interesting tidbit I’ve pointed out previously. Since being first elected to city council in 2000, [as was pointed out to us by one of our readers, Councillor Mammoliti was 1st elected in 1997, coming in second to Judy Sgro when 2 councillors in each of the then 28 wards made up the 1st amalgamated city council in Toronto. Our apologies. — ed.] Giorgio Mammoliti’s share of the popular vote in Ward 7 has dropped each election, runforyourlifefrom over 70% in 2000, to being acclaimed in 2003, to 63% in 2006 to 43.8% in 2010 after a high profile mayoral run earlier in the race.

One might conclude that the more his residents see Giorgio Mammoliti, the less they like him. He could be vulnerable this time out and knocking him off would be a huge step forward for both Ward 7 and the city of Toronto. It doesn’t matter who’d replace him. They couldn’t be any worse.

hopefully and helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Damaged Goods

November 24, 2013

Cast your minds back to earlier this year, this spring to be specific. runamokJust after the crack allegations first broke and after former chief of staff Mark Towhey took leave of his employ to Mayor Rob Ford.

Trace that line forward to today, through all the stunning events over the past 6 months especially the last, I don’t know, three weeks or so. Package that sequence up, the crack smoking admission, the “2nd” video, the pussy eating comment, all the unacknowledged business coming out of the police surveillance ITO, the whole shit show clusterfuck that’s been comedy gold for late night TV.

And plunk it down into the 2010 campaign for mayor. Imagine it happening then, while knucklehead Rob Ford was still only a dissenting councillor from Etobicoke trying to muscle his way into the mayor’s office. setthehouseonfireThat’s the guy George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone ran against.

You honestly think that we’d still be talking about all the problems we’re having with our Mayor Rob Ford?

I ask because this is pretty much the scenario we’re facing as we head into the 2014 municipal election. Rob Ford left to his own devices, watched over only by his brother Doug who’s proven to be equally as maladroit at managing his impulse control and outbursts than his little brother, the mayor. There’s no telling what either of them might do at any particular public appearance.

In 2010, Rob Ford was kept on a very tight leash by a team of professionals including Nick Kouvalis (his first chief of staff), Adrienne Batra (his former press something something) and Towhey. onashortleashEven then, his behaviour — both past and current – regularly burst forth and threatened to sink his candidacy. But overall, his campaign team managed to keep him on message, disciplined and under control long enough to elect him mayor.

All three remained on board throughout the early part of his administration, when his council successes piled up. But then, one by one, they jumped ship. First Kouvalis. Then Batra. Towhey hung on but was shown the door when the crack scandal erupted.

What we’re seeing now is pretty much what we should expect going forward. The brains of the operation have left the building. It’s now just Rob and his demons egged on by Doug and their weird family dynamics. It’s not going to be a campaign as much as some demolition derby. Just one car wreck after another.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone with actual campaign skills and knowledge of how to manage an almost unmanageable candidate would be willing to sign on with the Ford re-election team. hazmatsuitThe mayor’s become toxic. Even the most mercenary of political operatives would have to weigh the money against the yuck factor that would surely attach itself to them for trying to secure another go at public office by such a disgraced politician.

I guess there might be the thrill of the challenge of getting such damaged goods re-elected. If I can win this one, there’s no candidate I can’t get elected! I’ll be a legend!!

But that’s assuming the mayor has flamed out as much as he can, as any human can, flame out. It wouldn’t be an assumption I’d be willing to make at this point. Witness the latest news that dribbled out about Mayor Ford’s antics on Friday. You think that’s the last head shaker we’re going to hear about? (It wasn’t even the last one we heard on Friday). The risks just seem to outweigh any benefits to attaching yourself to the rightfully dubbed Ford crazy train.

Besides, Rob Ford and his brother probably don’t think they need anybody else now. They must look at the favourable numbers that haven’t seemed to have budged through all this mess and ridicule and figure, hey, we can ride it out. If admitting to smoking crack doesn’t put a dent in his support, what will? Full steam ahead!

If that happens, I’m predicting the Rob Ford Unhinged Tour in 2014. No one to keep him tied to political realities. No one to keep him on message. On message? No one to keep him on time. Huh? Oh, the debate started at  7?! caveatemptor1My watch must be running late…

This isn’t to get all smug and self-assured about Rob Ford going down to defeat next year. As we witnessed to our horror four years ago anything can happen during an election campaign. But it’s hard to see how he just doesn’t simply implode without the assured, if diabolical, hand of the likes of Nick Kouvalis, Adrienne Batra and Mark Towhey. (Why diabolical? There’s no way they didn’t know they were pawning off a defective product on the Toronto electorate, an electorate equally as diabolical, I guess, since there’s no way they didn’t know they were buying into a defective product)

And many will continue to look past those defects, embracing the positives they see as being more important. toxicsinkholeIt’s not easy giving up on a brand you bought into. No one likes to admit to buyer’s remorse.

It just seems possible that a Rob Ford running amok during a campaign with no one around to reel him will make it very easy for those who voted for him the first time around to convince themselves that wasn’t the guy they voted for. He’s not the brand they bought into. They’re not changing their minds. Rob Ford’s just not who he claimed to be.

Cue the support crater.

realistically submitted by Cityslikr