A Diminishing Debate

June 5, 2015

“This is really a transportation issue, not a planning issue,” said Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, after a particularly prickly press conference she called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east section of the expressway.

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It’s difficult to know what to make of that quote. Champions of the “hybrid” option, like the mayor and Councillor Robinson, regularly trot out the claim that their choice opens up the Unilver site for massive redevelopment (hinting by omission that the other option, the boulevard option doesn’t which it does). How exactly then is this not a “planning issue”?

Well apparently, it isn’t when it’s pointed out that the “hybrid” option also locks out possible other development potential, some 12 acres of it, worth in the neighbourhood of a cool $2 billion. The boulevard option keeps that development open but also may slightly increase commute times for a small fraction of car driving commuters. Thus, for our mayor and chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, “This is really a transportation issue”.

If the councillor truly believed that, you’d think then, she’d be more open to understanding the transportation issue of this debate. dontbelieveitfaceThat doesn’t appear to be the case. During the press conference, Councillor Robinson played up the traffic havoc that would result if the 1.7 kilometre stretch of elevated expressway came down, replaced by an 8 lane at-grade road. A 5 minute increase in driver commute time. Each way. Negating that would be a “windfall”, the councillor claimed.

Never mind that the numbers in relation to the drive times are contentious. No one knows for certain what they’ll be. What we do know, as rigorously studied and researched examples of other cities that removed expressways have shown, traffic tends to disappear with diminished road capacity. People find other ways to get around the city.

When asked about that fact at the press conference, Councillor Robinson simply replied, “I don’t believe it.”

Just like that. I don’t believe it. I know what I know.

When you refuse to grasp what may be counter-intuitive, you wind up spinning the counterfactual.

While some may be in their element doing that – our current mayor has grown comfortable, trolling in that territory – others wind up diminishing not only the bogus case they’re trying to make but their reputation also. elephantCouncillor Robinson brightened her rather tepid presence at city council last term by stepping up to defend waterfront plans from the incursion made on them by Doug Ford. Now she seems prepared to return to the pod of obedient soldier, stumping for Mayor Tory’s ill-advised assault.

Highly respected urban planner and architect, John van Nostrand, did similar disservice to his reputation with an aggressive performance at the press conference yesterday. A well-regarded name with years of experience, working with the city on waterfront plans and the Gardiner expressway specifically, van Nostrand is the lone ace up the administration’s sleeve in terms of the planning side of the debate. Rather than try to pitch his vision of waterfront development with the Gardiner east remaining elevated, he played pitbull instead, gracelessly attacking the opposing side as simply wrong.

What he tried to do was sell the idea that a better urban form could be developed under and around an elevated expressway than could be with an 8 (or possibly 10) lane, at-grade roadway. granvilleislad“Specious”, he waved off any comparison between the boulevard option and University Avenue while straight-facedly suggesting we could have something similar with the Gardiner east as they have in Vancouver with Granville Island. Counter-intuitive? No. Just counterfactual.

John Lorinc showed John van Nostrand to be an innovative and bold thinker in an article from more than 10 years ago. He was all about enhancing the public realm that had been denigrated by the presence of elevated expressways. A worthy endeavour, for sure, as van Nostrand touted examples of such projects around the world.

As he did at yesterday’s press conference. London, New York, Madrid. But I wanted to know if these places had the choice Toronto faces with the Gardiner east. Did these cities have the option to remove the expressways and bridges or were they simply making do with what was in place? Adapting and adjusting to the results of an earlier age’s choice.

With the Gardiner east, we have another option. Get rid of it, create an entirely new environment. Build and develop essentially from scratch. If that choice was available to London, New York and Madrid, would they have passed it up and simply worked around what was already there?

Of course, we’re long past that kind of nuance in this debate. Arguably, nuance was never part of it. beatenMayor Tory dug in early, set up the ramparts as a bulwark against a rational and robust debate, for reasons still either unclear or absurdly simplistic and calculating.

In falling in line behind him and resorting to mouthing the mayor’s vacuous talking points, not only did “hybrid” supporters like the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair and respected professionals like John van Nostrand do the city a disservice, they sullied their own reputation and work in the process. A victory at city council won’t change that.

belittlingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Lasting Legacy Of Fear

April 14, 2015

Late last month Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star about Rob Ford’s ‘legacy of fear’. The choirmaster may have been chased out in disgrace but the same hymns continue to be sung. texaschainsawmassacreIt remains all about the hard working taxpayer (and a very specific, single family home owning taxpayer at that), drivers, finding efficiencies and looking out for any sort of downtown elitist assault on the little guy.

“Political paranoia has so unnerved current leaders that they are unable to make the choices they must,” Hume states.

I would venture to say that such skittishness extends to this city’s staff and public servants. Avoid spending money on anything other than what’s politically acceptable – witness the outrage with cost overruns on the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization versus the collective shrug about the nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. There’s still plenty of bloat at City Hall, so keep your departments ‘lean’. Objective analysis replaced by ideological and politically opportunistic ‘deserves’.

Think about that as the Spacing series continues to unfold, Parks in Crisis (parts 1 and 2). Toronto has, in the neighbourhood of $250 million, in what is called the Parkland Acquisitions & Development Reserve Fund. This is money paid by developers, set aside to purchase new parks and green spaces or rejuvenate existing ones in order to keep up with the increased development happening in the city, higher density development dependant on public spaces as ‘backyards’ basically for the growing number of multi-residential inhabitants.

That’s kind of surprising, isn’t it? coweringWeren’t you under the impression the city was tapped out, little room for the nice-to-haves like parklands the former mayor was always on about? Now we’re hearing there’s hundreds of millions of dollars just sitting there. What gives?

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than I’ll make it out to be here (that’s why John Lorinc is an actual journalist and I’m not) but I’m going to argue that this culture of fear that has descended on City Hall plays a big part in the inertia that’s allowing park space to fall further and further behind the pace of current development.

Who was the biggest loudmouth against the purchasing and refurbishing of green space over the last 5 years or so? Rob Ford. There were very few items along those lines he did not hold and did not rail against. Too much money, was his constant mantra, to be wasting on parks, playground and almost any public space that wasn’t a road.

In such an antagonistic environment, who in their right mind would step up with a park push? Keep your head low and money pile out of sight. Rob Ford may not even know the cash is there.

More structurally problematic, as Lorinc and Kimberley Noble point out, is the understaffing at City Hall due to the continual budget cuts and revenue decreases. The city can’t even keep up with maintaining existing parks and public spaces. sittingonmoneyWhat’s the rational for building new ones that won’t be looked after?

Moreover, there’s not the departmental staff to deal with the complex negotiations that go into securing these development funds, sometimes ranging into the tens of millions of dollars, or to implement some big, mega-park enterprise. “If somebody said, ‘here’s $100 million, let’s go,’ there isn’t the staff to execute those kind of projects,” Spacing is told. In the end, the city winds up taking the money and stashing it away, in the hopes of more favourable conditions, sometime in the future, I guess.

What about now, you might ask. Isn’t our long, municipal nightmare over? There’s a new sheriff in town, we’re told.

Bringing us back to Christopher Hume’s point. Rob Ford has effectively poisoned the civic well and his successor has done little so far to suggest he’s willing to stand up in a spirited defence of the commons. Mayor Tory has claimed repeatedly he was elected to keep taxes low. Check. He’s confident he can find savings through more efficiencies, ordering a 2% reduction in departmental budgets. Check. The point people he’s tapped to oversee many of these matters don’t instill much confidence in reversing the spending chill at City Hall.

Deputy Mayor and Waterfront TO board member Denzil Minnan-Wong doesn’t see a public expenditure not on roads he can’t rail against. cuttotheboneRemember Sugar Beach and those outrageous pink umbrellas, rocks and fancy public bathrooms? Surely, cheaper. And who’s chairing the Planning and Growth Management Committee? Why that old Spadina expressway enthusiast himself and noted tightwad, Councillor David Shiner.

These are names not usually associated with policies of smart growth or generally friendly to the common good. If anything, they signal a retrenchment of the Fordian era of illogical fiscal skin-flintery. Remain invisible, city staff, and don’t get flashy with any of your valuables.

Nor should there be any expectations from Team Tory of addressing the green space inequities the Spacing series points out. 69% of the parkland reserves between 2011-2014 came from what is most of two former municipalities, Toronto and East York (47% of that from just three downtown wards). Yet that same part of the city has received just 15% of all total new parkland since amalgamation.

But wait. That can’t be. Conventional wisdom says that downtown gets everything. Conventional wisdom (even when coming from the disreputable mouths of Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti or Glenn De Baeremaeker) cannot be wrong or, at least, cannot be contested. Certainly, Mayor Tory wasn’t elected to contest such politically sensitive conventional wisdom.blowhole

“…[Rob] Ford turned self-doubt into self-hatred,” Christopher Hume writes, referring to our reflexive anti-government opinion toward City Hall. Mayor Tory has embraced that sensibility, putting a smiley face on the empty boosterism that rarely includes any positive public sector contribution. In so doing, he threatens to milk the current building boom in Toronto dry, leaving the mess that will inevitably follow for others to clean up.

fearfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Toryfication of Fordism

February 23, 2015

corporateloveI guess if you’re born and bred in the lap of corporate exegesis, your family, almost the very definition of Bay Street lawyerliness and a career spent near the helm of a private sector titan, it would be impossible for you to imagine any downside to a philanthropic hand-out to help out the city in a time of need. You want to keep some skating rinks open for the rest of the winter? Show me the money.

It’s just what good corporate citizens do. Strings attached? Come on. Stop being so cynical. Quid pro quo? I don’t even know what that means. Buyer beware?

So when it became known again this year that some city run skating rinks would be closing for the season yesterday (skating rinks, closing on February 23rd, February 23rd), noveltychequeMayor John Tory quickly flipped through his batphone rolodex and found two willing corporations happy to do their part. Green 4 Life and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment both cut the mayor a cheque for $100,000, thereby keeping the doors to an additional 12 rinks open until spring officially arrives in town. 3 cheers for the good guys! Hip-hip-hooray, etc., etc.

The mayor didn’t seem to so much as pause to consider the, I don’t know, optics, let alone implications of such a financial arrangement. Both companies have fairly substantial dealings with the city. murkyGreen 4 Life is the private contractor that collects nearly half of Toronto’s trash and recycling. It’s not exactly been a smooth relationship, and with the possibility of opening up the rest of the city to private bidding in the near future, the company may well factor into that as well. MLSE just secured a $10 million loan from the city to renovate BMO stadium, home to the TFC soccer team, owned by, you guessed it, MSLE which itself is substantially owned by telecom behemoth, Rogers, a company the mayor was recently some sort of director mucky-muck of and remains as part of the Rogers family trust. In fact, Mayor Tory had to step outside council chambers during December’s meeting due to a vote on an MLSE owned restaurant.

So you start to get a sense of the murkiness of all this. But wait. There’s more.

Over at Spacing today, John Lorinc writes of a one-on-one meeting between the mayor and the CEO smelltest(and Tory campaign donor) and head of government relations of Bell Inc. just this past January to discuss the ‘unhelpful boilerplate’ of the city’s lobbyist registry. Bell, another telecom giant, is also a co-owner of MLSE, owner of TFC, blah, blah, blah, see two paragraphs above. According to Lorinc, no one has said whether these rink donations were run by any of the city’s oversight and accountability officers to see if they, at the very least, passed some sort of smell test. It’s all been very much, these are friends of Mayor Tory, and any friend of the mayor’s is a friend of the city.

Lorinc writes:

It’s also possible that Tory, who has spent his entire adult/professional life functioning in that rarefied world where corporate, social and philanthropic circles intersect, is simply doing what comes naturally, so to speak – making big money asks of prominent donors and networks of well-connected executives.

“Doing what comes naturally”. Rather than figure out a way to deal with the city’s structural fiscal deficit that leads annually to these sort of funding shortfalls, Mayor Tory makes a couple phone calls to those dwelling in the “corporate, social and philanthropic circles” he’s been running in all his life. Leadership means knowing how to make that big corporate ask and having the connections to be able to do it.

Why bother asking hardworking taxpayers to pay to run their city properly wgladhandinghen the private sector will chip in around the edges?

I think we’ve already reached that point in John Tory’s mayoralty when we get to start asking, What would be the reaction if Rob Ford did this? If, while serving as mayor, Rob Ford cuddled up to a major private provider of a city’s service and asked for some money to help keep rinks open? What if Rob Ford tapped a company he had more than a passing interest in, and that also had a financial relationship with the city, for a little spending cash to help the city out?

What if Rob Ford tried to pull off an unorthodox financial manoeuvre, like the current mayor is attempting to do, in order to balance the operating budget and avoid a serious discussion about revenue tools? A move even the city’s CFO admitted last week was going to cost more in the long run than if we simply adjusted the property tax rate to cover the $86 million budget hole now.

My guess is there’d be a little more vocal pushback. It’s not so much that Mayor Tory is operating with a bit of a honeymoon halo, given the benefit of doubt and a little more time on the job. twofacesHe convinced us throughout the campaign that he was a sound businessman with a sound understanding of numbers. Prudent, he’d be. Fiscally mindful and wise.

Except that, what we’ve seen so far is little more than an attempted institutionalisation of the Ford low tax, more efficiencies, anti-government mantra. The city has a spending not a revenue problem with a nicer haircut. An uncomfortable cozying up to the private sector and special interests who make money from the city and give money to the elected officials who help facilitate that transaction.

It’s simply Rob Ford with better pedigree and a more extensive rolodex. You can try and mask it with a nice cologne but the stink doesn’t really go away.

disapprovingly submitted by Cityslikr


Already Tired Of Tory’s Timid Toryness

February 18, 2015

Two articles written last week underlined the fundamental problem facing this city right now. Simply put, we have a crisis of leadership. neroIt manifests itself in all that isn’t working, people freezing to death in the streets, crumbling infrastructure, substandard public transit. These failures, though, can all be traced back to a consistent failure at the top.

After the spectacular implosion of the radical Rob Ford experiment of misgovernance, Toronto desperately looked around for an upgrade in competence in the mayor’s office. John Tory, we were told, was just the ticket. Competent – no, prudent! – yet bold. He was a successful businessman, top gun at a huge corporation, shortform for possessing a supreme fitness to lead the city from the crack-dazed darkness of the last 4 years.

Career politicians got us into this mess. Only stood to reason that a giant from the private sector was needed to clean it up. Because, that’s how the world works.

Post-election, a flurry of activity signified that business was being tended to, being taken care of. Cars were towed. likeachickenwithitsheadcutoffBus service increased. Mayor Tory got to work early, got down to busy-ness. Hey. Did you hear? The mayor’s having another press conference.

That’s how you run a city, yo.

Correction:

That’s how you look like you run a city.

In comparison to his predecessor, John Tory just had to show up without soup stains on his tie and having not obviously wet himself to immediately earn the mantle of competency. The bar was that low. Policy ideas were secondary to appearances.

Even beauty pageants, however, consist of more than just the swimsuit competition. Stuff needs getting done. Decisions have to be made, some significant. Like say, budgeting.

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As David Hains wrote in the Torontoist Saturday:

There are no good choices in the budget, and it is time to wake up to why that is the case and what that means. There is a much bigger discussion to have here: Toronto needs to talk about the fact that there is a structural deficit, and that it is also willing to acknowledge that things cost money, particularly the cost of making responsible decisions. If we fail that, we will see Toronto go from budget crisis to budget crisis, pulling out its hair until it wonders how it became bald.

Like every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory has numbers to deal with, big numbers. He has to decide what to fund, what to build, what to repair, what programs and services to maintain, expand or cut. Like every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory will be constrained by the fact there’s only so much money to go around, that on the annual operating side of things, he has to balance the books. shellgameLike every other previous mayor of the city, John Tory must make some tough choices.

Turns out, Mayor Tory isn’t like every other previous mayor of the city. He’s going to spare himself the trouble of making tough choices. He’s going to pretend like there’s another way of going about business at City Hall. His choices “represent…a methodical, responsible approach to budgeting.” Carve out some cash from capital expenditures to plug the hole on the operating side. Hike user fees to help pay for some of the increases in services. Keep property taxes ‘at or below the rate of inflation’. Nix talk of any new revenues. Demand 2% in efficiencies from city departments.

Done and done.

Responsible. Methodical. Prudent. Competent.

Except, it is none of those things. In a word, as Mr. Hains suggests in his article, ‘wrong’.

Mayor Tory is ducking a systemic fiscal problem in the hopes of some magical appearance of money from the other two levels of government sometime down the road. sweepundertherugMoney both Queen’s Park and Ottawa should be handing over in the areas of transit and affordable housing at the very least but money they’ve shown little inclination in handing over for years, decades now. Money the mayor should definitely be pushing for but money he should definitely not be counting on.

It’s like planning your life around the expectation of a relative dying and leaving you some money sometime down the road.

Not what you’d classically consider responsible, methodical, prudent or competent.

And then there’s the mayor’s bold transit plan, SmartTrack.

As John Lorinc pointed out in his Spacing article last week, we’re not even close to knowing what the price tag of that thing’s going to be or what portion the city’s going to have to come up with. Tory’s campaign-driven funding scheme, TIF, is another complete mystery, untested as it is on such a scale. Never mind how much the proposed eastern section of it while overlap with the Scarborough subway extension that he has tried to keep clear of. questionsquestionsquestions(Let’s not re-open that debate no matter how dumb and financially onerous it may turn out to be.)

Whatever its merits may be, aside from threatening to blow the city through its debt ceiling limit and, with that, future construction and repairs of, well, pretty much everything else, SmartTrack also looks as if it could further delay much needed transit building in Toronto. What if, in a year’s time when staff reports come back and questions arise about the viability of both SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway, “a kind of supercollider for Toronto’s latest transit ambitions,” Lorinc writes? Imagine that pitched battle at city council.

Subways, subways, subways versus SmartTrack, SmartTrack, SmartTrack!

And the shovels remain firmly unplanted in the ground.

After 4 years of paralytic, farcical uncertainty on the transit file, Mayor Tory has simply upped the ante instead of bringing clarity or even a semblance of sanity to it. magicbeansIn campaigning for the job, he refused to risk any loss of support by coming out against the Scarborough subway while offering up another fanciful transit plan that may well ensure the subway turns out to be nothing more than a costly white elephant. That’s political calculation not leadership.

It isn’t responsible, methodical, competent or prudent either.

In barely under three months, John Tory has fully revealed himself to be nothing more than just another small-time, parochial politician who is using this fiscal crisis (yes, it is a crisis) to diminish the city’s ability to deal with it rather than strengthen its hand. Why? Either he’s a committed small government ideologue or he possesses a steadfast aversion to making hard choices. Probably a healthy dose of both.

Whatever the reason, we need to stop expecting him to be anything other than an obstacle going forward, another failed experiment in the mayor’s office.

hands wipingly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Man Godfrey

January 19, 2015

mymangodfrey

In his book, The Tiny Perfect Mayor, Jon Caulfield wrote about the ongoing battle over the Spadina expressway and the alignment of the proposed western arm expansion of the Yonge-University subway line which planners and other transit advocates wanted to see run under Bathurst Street.

The pro-expressway forces, who had still not given up the ghost, recognized a fatal threat. So long as the Spadina right-of-way was preserved, the expressway plan might be revived – perhaps by [Premier William] Davis if he had a change of heart, perhaps by a new provincial government (some Queen’s Park Liberals had made pro-expressway noises). A Bathurst route would hammer the final nail in Spadina’s coffin. And so on the same day in August 1972 that it proposed paving four lanes along the old Spadina roadbed, Metro Council rejected its transportation planners’ advice and ignored the pleas for reason of the two affected boroughs, the City and York. Rallied by North York Controller Paul Godfrey, leader of the pro-expressway forces and soon to be Metro Chairman, it opted for a Spadina transit alignment. Afterward, Godfrey expressed satisfaction that Metro had “left its expressway options open.”

From the January 15, 2014 podcast of NewsTalk 1010’s Live Drive with Ryan Doyle and special guest co-host, Postmedia/Sun Media Mr. Thing, Paul Godfrey:

The issues [facing the city] haven’t really changed. In some ways, they’ve magnified. Transit was always a problem. During my era [1964-84], we were building some roads but during my era they stopped building roads. The major moving point they did was stop building the Spadina Expressway. And I think because of that, and because other major roadways that were cut short or not built whatsoever. Everybody says, well, we’re going to do it by transit but the problem was that they didn’t do it by transit. So right now we have gridlock city.

Mr. Godfrey goes on to assure us that, not to fear, Toronto is ‘blessed’ to have John Tory as mayor who is dedicated to relieving congestion in this city. highwaysBut it won’t happen overnight. The problem was created over 20 years, Godfrey curiously suggests, a decade after he left the political scene, conveniently washing his hands of any responsibility.

I would suggest, however, Toronto finds itself where it is today precisely because of people like Paul Godfrey. Last fall’s Globe and Mail article on the man from Christine Dobby presents a picture of someone dedicated to building a personal empire not city building. Remember, he was a municipal politician for 20 years. What does he (or Toronto) have to show for his two decades of public service?

The Rogers Centre, nee the Skydome. A terrible ballpark, perfectly located, that cost various levels of government hundreds of millions of dollars to build and purchased for a sliver of the cost years later by the private company who owned the ball club Godfrey was then president and CEO of. Nothing represents the Paul Godfrey legacy better than that, I wouldn’t think. Public money providing private profit.davidblaine

His last public sector gig (at least for now) was as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Chair where Godfrey championed the idea of an “iconic” downtown casino. Nothing screams quality public space quite like an inwardly directed, profit-driven edifice dedicated to taking money from people in exchange for… well, not much really. Hey everybody! Look! It’s David Blaine!!

Paul Godfrey admits that he left politics because there wasn’t enough money in it. That’s fine, understandable even. Everybody’s got to eat, or put their kids through private school. Besides, as anyone will tell you, real power happens in the backrooms. That’s where Godfrey has made his real mark on this city. Way back in 2003, John Sewell – perhaps sporting his own bone to pick — claimed Godfrey was the one who floated the megacity idea in front of then-premier, Mike Harris. As Andrew Spicer wrote back then, “Some people just seem to find their way into everything in this city.”

I’d argue that Toronto is something less than it could be because of Godfrey finding his way into everything in this city. He reflects an antiquated, highly privileged view of what makes a city work. I hope his glowing approval of Mayor Tory isn’t reciprocal because, if it is, if the mayor looks to the likes of Paul Godfrey for advice on how to turn things around in terms of transit or housing, it would be akin to asking the chef who’d just burnt the main course, how to save the dinner party with dessert.

paulgodfrey

Only by becoming a Paul Godfrey-free zone can Toronto start cleaning up the mess he helped create.

— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Tory Time

September 9, 2014

What do John Tory supporters see when they see candidate John Tory? What do Tory supporters dream when they dream John Tory dreams?sheepdreams

I ask, as I was struck somewhat by a series of responses I got over the Twitter this weekend after I took to mocking their dear leader for his apparent flip-flop over the ranked ballot voting reform initiative now sitting in limbo at Queen’s Park. (Here’s John Tory in May, all over the idea of ranked ballots:  Yes, I’m very open to the discussion…” blah blah blah… “ Look, if you have the discussion, there’s no reason you couldn’t have it in time for the next election.” Here’s John Tory’s response to the ranked ballots Big Idea published this weekend in the Toronto Star: “Position:  No. Both the city and the province are examining electoral reforms and I look forward to seeing the results of those studies…” blah blah blah…

Carrying this parenthetical over to a 2nd paragraph, it’s also interesting to note in John Lorinc’s Spacing article from May, twofaced1John Tory was gung ho about the Downtown Relief Line and stated emphatically that the rapid transit expansion for northwest and northeast Toronto in the form of the Finch West and Sheppard East LRTs might have to be delayed, de-prioritized and sacrificed at the altar of the DRL. Four months on and the guy can’t shut up about SmartTrack. Just how malleable are his transit plans, it makes one wonder.)

In response to his glaring ranked ballots flip-flop, I fired off a series of tweets, suggesting that aside from their respective code of conduct differences — Rob Ford, all debauched, degenerate and dissolute, John Tory, buttoned-down, hair parted on the left, corporate – I couldn’t see much daylight between the two candidates. While Tory’s SmartTrack isn’t nearly as phantasmagorical as the mayor’s Subways Redux plan, it still relied solely on a one magic bullet funding solution. John Tory hates taxes as much as Rob Ford does, except when it comes to the Scarborough subway. waitasecondBoth men now appear to be on the same page when it comes to voting reform.

John Tory: a warmed over Fordism dressed up in a tailored suit. City Hall, crackless, but essentially Rob Ford’s 2nd term.

I expected pushback in terms of policy from Tory fans. No, no, no. You got it all wrong. SmartTrack is this… Or, Mr. Tory’s new position on ranked ballots is more new nuanced. It’s not so much a reversal as it is a re-thinking.

Uh uh. Not even close. What I got were variations on a theme. ‘Inoffensive.’ Gracious. A pleasure to work with. ‘Genuine and impacting’. (**shrug**) ‘A businessman with a sparkling resume’.

Which was the fucking point of my outburst!

Nothing but personal testimonials. Issues? Issues? Give me an issue, I’ll make a tissue and wipe my ass with it. (h/t to the Lou Reed for that.)

Clearly, politics in Toronto has grown flabby and lazy. The uptick in support for John Tory in this campaign suggests that more and more people in this city look around and see the problems we face, birdsofafeatherwhether it’s congestion or growing inequality, and they come to the conclusion that, damn, if only our mayor hadn’t smoked crack, we wouldn’t  be in this mess.

We seem willing to extend our delusion that these things can all be fixed without anybody having to lift a finger to contribute. We just need to fire a few more bureaucrats. Lean on the private sector a bit more. Keep on keeping our taxes low.

Ignore the fact Rob Ford did all these things. In between crack smoking bouts and punching people in the face while holding a McDonald’s bag, these are all policies he pursued. Cuts to services and programs. Reduction in spending. Sheppard subway extension anyone?

Now we seem to think that all these things would work if we only had someone else in place to implement them. Someone inoffensive. Someone gracious. Someone genuine and impacting. Someone like John Tory.

What I once thought was a political liability, I’m now beginning to think might’ve been a stroke of pure genius on the part of John Tory. Back in the 2010 municipal campaign, he donated money to both Rob and Doug Ford. When the donations came to light this time around, people jumped on him. What were you thinking, John Tory? wolfinsheepsclothingLook how this all turned out.

I can only imagine what it was John Tory was thinking. Help get Rob Ford elected mayor. Support him early on. And when he crashes and burns, because the safe bet was he’d crash and burn, people would turn to John Tory to come in and clean up the mess. John Tory’s ticket to power would be that he wasn’t Rob Ford.

The joke is, beyond the wreck in the mayor’s office, John Tory has no intention of cleaning up the mess Rob Ford left behind. A John Tory mayoralty is going to be pretty much business as usual. Build and repair what you can within the confines of shrinking revenue. Cut and eliminate where necessary to keep the books balanced.

He’s done or said nothing to suggest otherwise. Believing he has is simply believing in fairy tales. Once again a plurality of Torontonians seem happily prepared to fall for the big con, part two.

depressingly submitted by Cityslikr


Getting Back In The Ring But Still Punch Drunk

June 20, 2014

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Can you hear it? flavorflavCan you just feel the pulse of anticipation?

20 days. 19 days. 18 days.

For those of you not regular Twitter partakers, the Rob Ford Campaign has been building the suspense for the big guys return on June 30th with countdown tweets. 14 days. 12 days.

Oh, goodiegoodiegoodie! He’s coming! He’s COMING!!

“News of Ford’s return feels like watching the trailer to the sequel of a bad Hollywood adventure flick that’s about to hit theatres,” writer John Lorinc tweeted a couple days ago.

Exactly. It’s going to be terrible. You know it’s going to be terrible. But somehow, there’s just no way to avoid it.

I will confess. It’s been a joy not feeling compelled to write about Rob Ford for the past little while. impendingdoomSure, his councillor-brother and knucklehead colleague (Giorgio Mammoliti, in case you haven’t been following along) have more than ably filled the ridonkulous quota in any given week. Still, going Rob Ford free has been a pleasure. I’m looking forward to more of it.

But clearly the countdown is on for this peaceful interregnum. Rob Ford is returning, like it or not, and for the next little while at least, we will have to take him semi-seriously. For how long exactly? It’s hard to tell.

We’ve been told again and again that Rob Ford is like no other politician. Scandals and misrule, both great and small, simply don’t stick to him. Any other mere mortal would long ago have been chased from office with the revelations we’ve had about Rob Ford. But not him. teflonThe man’s unsinkable.

Now with this time out taken, the phoenix is on the rise. Forgive and forget. Second chances. Back in fighting shape, the mayor will come out swinging.

Or so Team Ford hopes the narrative plays out.

Just how realistic is this pipe dream?

For the moment, let’s assume the best case scenario for the mayor. That he’s diligently rehabbed himself. That he’s clean and sober, and will remain so for the remainder of the campaign. That he’s indeed a new man with an old record of political accomplishments to come back to.

(I know, I know. Just assume. For the moment.)

Even with that overly-optimistic rosy scenario painted, it’s difficult to see how the numbers add up for the mayor. numbersdontaddupHis favourable rating has tanked in his semi-absence, into the 20s, from where very few politicians successfully re-emerge. But—But—you’ll say. Rob Ford’s like very few politicians. Conventional wisdom does not apply. He defies gravity. He defies basic arithmetic.

While in one aspect that is very true, not all Rob Ford’s math adds up, there’s one equation he can’t really disregard. That’s his recognition numbers.

Everybody knows who Rob Ford is. He’s sits at something like a 98% recognition factor. That’s simply unheard of by most politicians, and especially municipal politicians, many of whom can skate through an entire career in near anonymity. Not Rob Ford. Not now. (David Hains explored this point in much more depth early this year.)

Everybody knows who he is. Everybody has an opinion of him. Mweebleswobbleany of those have very, very strong opinions of Rob Ford. Their minds are going to be very, very difficult to change.

Unfortunately for Rob Ford, a solid majority of people don’t like him and would never vote for him. Few people are going to take a flyer on him this time around. He’s boxed himself in at an unwinnable level of support and has little room to expand it. As unpredictable as these things can be (and as bad as I am at predicting these things), I’d guess his numbers can go nowhere but down from this point.

And that’s the best case scenario, folks. Never mind further revelations of videotaped debauchery or full disclosure about his time spent in rehab. Whatever shot he’s got at making himself a contender once again – and it’s a long, long, long, long shot – it will be just one shot. Any more bad news and the highly improbable becomes the absolute impossible.fryingpanfire

The other formidable challenge the mayor faces is, this time out, right of centre, small c conservatives have other options. Team Ford’s biggest fear in 2010, a John Tory candidacy, is now a reality. There’s every reason to expect that he’ll suck up the donations and volunteers even an incumbent needs for re-election. There’s also Karen Stintz and David Soknacki if Tory doesn’t fit the bill.

So there’s no organization to speak of eagerly awaiting Rob Ford’s return. Only the ragtag bunch of true believers, led by the delusional campaign manager, Brother Doug. The re-election campaign feels haphazard and purely improvisational. Hell, even the Twitter countdown schtick misses days almost like it’s little more than an afterthought.

I see this playing out in one of two ways.

ragingbull1) Sensing insurmountable numbers and invariable defeat, even the wilfully obstinate and shame-free mayor will seek whatever shred of dignity he can get and pull out of the race, citing health and family reasons for doing so. He will be at least partially right about that.

Or 2), and the more likely scenario, Rob Ford soldiers on. You never knocked me down, Ray. You never knocked me down. Rather than being the presumptive favourite, he will settle back into a familiar role. The outsider. The no-hoper, telling it like it is, railing at the career politicians who have no respect for the taxpayers. Just like he did back in 2010. Much like he did during his time as mayor.

When he wasn’t smoking crack, that is.

The Mayor Ford re-election campaign is doomed, in other words. Dead incumbent walking. It will be great when everyone recognizes it. Then, we can’t stop writing about the man as anything other than what he was. An ugly footnote in this city’s history. A novelty gift that quickly wore out its welcome.

In 20, 19, 18, 14, 12, 11…

clock watchingly submitted by Cityslikr