This Is Not A New Message

December 4, 2015

Just in case you were wondering, I am indeed acutely aware of my increasingly out there position on the Mayor Tory crank scale. Where others detect glimpses of positive in his governance approach, I see lapses of courage and conviction. Well, at least it’s something leadership now passes for a welcome breath of fresh air. It Could Be Worse, Our Strength.

But honestly, I look at this…

johntoryvision

… and think, Are you fucking kidding me?

That picture and headline (taken from a news article) strikes me as more depressing and discouraging than anything I saw during the Ford administration. Yeah, seriously. You could take comfort, albeit a cold kind, during the Ford years, warmed by the knowledge that the darks days couldn’t last. Wobbly almost from the outset through the weight of sheer incompetence and personal demons, it had to eventually, and fairly quickly as it turned out, come crashing down. Shocking for sure but kind of like an unsuccessful siege. Damage inflicted but the fundamentals left intact, relatively sound.bloodied

Perhaps the worst outcome of the Ford mayoralty is that now, a full year out from its official end, we as a city reward any politics that aren’t crack and booze fueled. We grant anything as ‘vision’ that isn’t… a-hem, a-hem… blurred. Doing the right thing means not doing the wrong thing.

Mayor Tory’s proposed .5% Capital Building Fund levy is the wrong thing going generally in the right direction. But times being what they are here in Toronto, the Ford spectre still looming large, we call such an announcement visionary. ‘Modest’. ‘Sensible’. ‘Workable’. ‘Unsexy’. Even, incredibly, ‘a new vision’.

After writing about this yesterday, I sat down and re-watched City Manager Peter Wallace’s budget pre-presentation, let’s call it, to Executive Committee this week. I urge everyone to take 30 minutes or so and give it a look. It’s clear, easy to follow and very direct about what we have to do (and what won’t really work) in order to develop a sustainable fiscal plan (especially on the capital side of the ledger) going forward.

I want to focus on this one slide. (Lifted right from Steve Munro as I’m too much of a technical knucklehead to figure out how to convert a PDF to JPEG. Thanks, Steve!)

stateofcityfinanceschart

While it is true that, since 2000, Toronto’s property tax rate increases have been kept to below the rate of inflation, all property taxes have not been treated equally. In order to bring certain business and ‘non-residential’ property taxes (including some very residential apartment buildings) more in line with other GTA municipalities, in the spirit of competitiveness, the Miller administration set in motion a re-jigging of the ratio between residential and non-residential rates. wonkyIt’s a process that’s still going on but, in effect, it’s meant that any property tax increase over the last decade or so has been felt more heavily on the residential side.

Now, while I still believe that for the services we receive and demand from the city, Toronto homeowners are getting a pretty sweet deal on their property taxes, the dynamic as shown in the above slide from the city manager provides a picture of why they may be feeling a little squeezed. Since about 2005, residential property tax rate have gone up above the rate of inflation. In a surprising bit of information, and running contrary to the Ford narrative of respecting the taxpayers, the city manager pointed out that over the past 4 years, residential property tax hikes have gone up at an increasing rate!

So, homeowners, those vaunted hardworking tax payers, have not been wrong in feeling that they’ve been squeezed, certainly in terms of their property taxes.

Listening to this, reading through the prepared documents, what is Mayor Tory’s response? To increase property tax rates by an additional .5% above whatever annual bump will happen. fingerscrossedbehindbackHe and his supporters can call it a levy. They can try to pretend it’s something it isn’t. But it’s a property tax increase.

I don’t think it’s accidental that throughout the Executive Committee presentation, the city manager continued to point in the direction of the Land Transfer Tax. He called it a lifesaver, and that without it, the city would’ve been forced to face the financial wringer sooner. Lookit it, people. Lookit this source of revenue. Controversial? For some. Sustainable? Probably not, and certainly not at the level it’s been at during our housing market boom. But lookit it. You see what the city manager sees? It’s not the property tax.

This is why Mayor Tory should not be applauded for his announcement. An additional property tax isn’t in any way, shape or form ‘a new vision’. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Even Rob Ford was in favour of increasing the property tax to help fund his Scarborough subway vision.

Mayor Tory was presented with an opportunity for a wider conversation about revenue tools and he chose to ignore it. charliebrownInstead, he simply continued to pile on the property tax base, and at a rate that, in the end, won’t even make much of a dent in the capital state of good repair backlog let alone build anything much new. And if one nickel comes out of this fund for SmartTrack… ?

When we come up short again — and the proposed implementation date of this Tory tax in 2017 means we’re already short in 2016 – and another round of discussions about revenue tools raises its head, people will be indignant. We are being nickel and dimed to death! What about that .5% levy, they’ll ask. Where did all that money go?

At best, this should be seen as a sideways move, a side-step, another dodge by a politician unwilling to face up to reality. Yet, for Mayor Tory, it’s like he’s invented the wheel. It’s not much (modest) but it’s better than nothing (workable). This is exactly what exceeding exceedingly low expectations looks like.

crankily submitted by Cityslikr

 


Shiner On To Greener Pastures

September 8, 2014

On Friday, one burning question about Toronto’s October 27th municipal was answered. Will David Shiner be seeking re-election as councillor for Ward 24 Willowdale? whyYes. Yes, he will be.

Leading to the inevitable and next logical train of thought. Good god in heaven, why?

Over the course of the past 4 years, we have all been witness to the wanton destruction wrought down on the city by what I’ll call the antediluvian, pre-amalgamated mindset of the Ford brothers, Rob and Doug. A low tax, user pay services, car-first approach to local governance that sees red at money spent on anything they don’t attach value to. Clear and pave the roads. Pick up the garbage. Keep the city safe.

Much past that and it’s pretty well everybody for themselves. If you want something, pay for it out of your own pocket. tightwadIt’s called, Respect For Taxpayers.

But before Rob Ford moved from the fringes of crank councillor, and brother-Doug took part-time off being a private sector magnate to grace City Hall with his presence, Councillor David Shiner represented the height of suburban Toronto reactionism. In his defence, he comes by it by it naturally, as son of former North York politico, Esther ‘Spadiner’ Shiner. Just a couple years ago, in fact, during one of the countless transit plan debates, he stood up and proudly boasted of marching in favour of the Spadina Expressway, back in his anti-flower power days.

Shiner descended on Toronto city wide, flocking down Yonge Street with the Mel Lastman horde, in 1997, resolute nothing should change for the lives of residents in the former municipality with amalgamation. Nothing at all. Nothing whatsoever. Nothing.

He’s pretty much maintained that belief for nearly 4 terms now, willing to sacrifice all but the barest of civic essentials in his pursuit of keeping taxes as low as possible. pieinthefaceHe sandbagged rookie councillor Mike Layton, back in early 2011, leading the rear-guard action against a long planned Fort York pedestrian and cyclist bridge. “Too fancy”, he called it.

Although later reworked to everyone’s seeming satisfaction, the Fort York bridge incident is a good example of Shiner dual destructiveness. A less than collegial relationship with fellow councillors and an absolute penury of public spirit. If that’s not bad enough – I mean, he isn’t alone in that — fellow Lastman era North Yorker, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has a similar knack for blind-siding his co-workers and openly attacking plans and development of the public realm, over the course of the last term, Shiner has displayed an open disregard for ethical behaviour.

Last October, it was reported that, along with Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, Shiner was paying below market rent for an apartment leased from a company who does some business with the city. He shrugged off questions, saying he wasn’t exactly sure what the rent was he paid. Mayor Ford, no stranger himself to questions of ethics, stepped up to the councillors’ defence. “It’s a private issue, it’s between them and the landlord,” he said.questionsquestionsquestions

A few days after that allegation, it was revealed Councillor Shiner worked as a federal lobbyist for a company “… that was competing for millions of dollars in municipal contracts,” Daniel Dale wrote in the Toronto Star.

“It is common for councillors to maintain their private businesses while in office,” according to Dale. “It is also common for councillors to become lobbyists after leaving office. It appears rare, though not illegal, for a councillor to work as a lobbyist while still serving as an elected representative.”

Nothing illegal but most certainly in an ethical grey zone. As Guy Giorno, a lawyer and ‘an expert in lobbyist legislation’ said in the article: “Nothing in the law prohibits a municipal politician from holding another job, even if that job is to lobby another level of government. However, given the fact that councillors in Toronto receive full-time pay, it is legitimate to question why they should hold second jobs.”citybuilding

It’s bad optics, to say the least and does raise concerns just how much time Councillor Shiner dedicates to representing the interests of those who elected him to public office. Who does he work for, himself or for the residents of Ward 24?

Perhaps most egregious of David Shiner’s questionable behaviour during the past 4 years is his continued support of Mayor Ford.  Last November, he was the only non-Ford on city council to vote against stripping the mayor of most of his powers in light of the admission of crack use. Shiner was adamant in his tepid support of the mayor, insisting he’d “done a reasonable job.”

A reasonable job? Only if you view the main purpose of the job of a member of city council to be keeping taxes low and making sure the future of Toronto doesn’t get too fancy.timeforchange1

While the focus of the 2014 municipal campaign has been on the unsuitability of Rob Ford to continue leading this city, the dynamics at City Hall won’t change significantly if his enablers, and David Shiner has been among his most ardent enablers, are returned to office. He remains a throwback to an earlier time, one that is no longer up to the task of running a city of this size, this complexity and in need of adapting to the 21st-century. As much as Toronto has to move beyond the Fords come October 27th, Shiner time must also be relegated to a thing of the past.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Now It’s A War On The Raccoon

August 19, 2014

You know we must be in full-fledged municipal campaign season when right wing candidates are turning up the volume and frequency on their Outrage, denzilminnanwongan Outrage inversely proportional to both its importance and reality itself.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s invective against the cost of umbrellas and rocks paid by Waterfront TO to build Sugar Beach. A cost almost entirely all borne by upper levels of government on a project that is succeeding in its goal of generating private sector development in a long underused and undervalued area of the city. Outrageous!

Now Councillor David Shiner is up in arms about an alleged explosion in the city’s raccoon population. “There is an increasing population and they are out there and they are getting more aggressive”, Councillor Shiner claimed at yesterday’s Licensing and Standards committee. raccoonhorde“They are breaking into people’s houses and ripping up people’s lawns and getting into their garbage.” Something must be done. Outrageous!

It is a claim city staff aren’t on board with. At least, not yet. There’s a report being done on Toronto’s wildlife population and is due next year but there’s no indication that the number of raccoons has ballooned. Still, who amongst us hasn’t seen a raccoon this year? So you do the math.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to deliver a public display of über-outrage (not to mention pad a rather skeletal looking re-election campaign), Mayor Ford hopped on both the incensed wagons of Sugar Beach and anti-raccoonness with outbursts that ratcheted up the nonsense into the realm of performance art.

“It’s a severe problem,” the mayor told a media scrum yesterday. “They’re getting braver and braver.” He told of “standoffs” with raccoons. Raccoons popping out of recycling bins. The kids and wife refuse to take the garbage out at night out fear of the raccoons lurking, waiting. outrageous1We are under siege, folks, from an implacable and growing procyonid army, intent on taking control of our curbside garbage placement routines.

It would be funny – it is funny as you can tell by the media snickers elicited by the mayor’s raccoon comments – if it wasn’t the elected leader of a city of 2.5+ people making such ridiculous and (as usual) unsubstantiated remarks about what is, essentially, an inconsequential matter. But that’s just how he rolls, making mountains out of molehills that, of course, being omnivores like they are, raccoons will inevitably destroy in order to satiate their ravenous appetites. Get the people riled up and indignant. Light the flame of anger and outrage under their collective butts. Lash out, people! Lash out.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the mayor offered zero solutions to the pretend problem he was creating. “We have to do something with the raccoons. I don’t have the answer but…” There’s always a ‘but’ followed by silence. The mayor and right wing cohorts like councillors Minnan-Wong and Shiner rarely provide answers because manufacturing outrage is just easier. hornetsnestIt validates their dimly held view of the role of government in our lives. Give the government an inch, it’ll take a mile. Give it a buck, it’ll buy $12 000 umbrellas. And when a problem pops up from behind the garbage bin like this rise of the raccoon horde, government is powerless to help us.

Anger rather than inspiration is their stock and trade. That’s all they know how to do. Pick a fight, stir the pot, move on. Create endless points of outrage in order to keep your name in the press. It’s so much simpler than actually contributing in any positive way to the operations of this city.

racc0onteurly submitted by Cityslikr


Call The Question

July 21, 2014

If they want to make it a campaign issue, I say, bring it on. Let’s have the discussion we should’ve had in 2010. replayAll that talk of gravy and the city’s spending problem. The mayor, his brother, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong all want to put it back on the table again this time around. Fine. Let’s revisit the conversation.

The current object of their fiscal hawk ire is Waterfront Toronto, and its spending practices on a couple projects as part of the wider waterfront revitalization. I’ll try and ape their tone of outrage. $12,000 on umbrellas!! Half a million dollars on rocks!!! $600,000 for a washroom!!!

Resign! Resign!! Resign!!!!

You see, when it comes to the public realm (of the non-road related kind), everything can be done more cheaply. Some parks build public washrooms for 25 grand. Why does Cherry Beach need one for 600 grand? Half a mil for rocks? mockoutrage1Councillor Doug Ford offered some from up at his cottage for a fraction of that cost.

Never mind that Waterfront Toronto has some perfectly legitimate explanations for the cost. The umbrellas at Sugar Beach are permanent, all weather umbrellas intended to last for 25 years. The sports field washroom was installed in a spot away from any sewer infrastructure that needed its own septic system to deal with the large number of people using it.

But as a Toronto Sun editorial warns us, “Too many appear prepared to take whatever Waterfront Toronto says at face value. Bad idea.”

Absolutely. Instead, take at face value what a handful of grandstanding-happy, campaigning politicians tell us.

As Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell points out, the agency is overseen by all 3 levels of government. demagogueWhere are the other outraged voices at all this profligacy? Why are we just hearing the loudest and the crankiest? Or more to the point, why are we giving them any sort of credence?

Even many fellow city council conservatives aren’t onside with this shameless bit of pure self-promotion. Economic Development and Culture Committee Chair Michael Thompson gave one of the best speeches I have seen him give in a fiery defense of Watefront Toronto earlier this month. By investing public money into previously derelict areas of the city’s waterfront, some $2.5 billion in private investment in the area has happened.

“Notwithstanding,” sniffs the Toronto Sun.

Notwithstanding?! That’s the entire fucking point. While not technically a public-private partnership, it’s kind of the theory in practice. Public money used to improve a public asset which, in turn, encourages private investment and development.

notlistening2Not to mention improved public spaces although it’s more difficult to put a price tag on that.

“What taxpayers know is that when it comes to revitalizing the waterfront,” the Sun goes on, undeterred by reason or even simple observation, “politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies from all levels of government have been over-promising and under-delivering for years.”

So when those ‘politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies’ do start delivering, as they have with the steady march of development along the waterfront, as indicated by $2.5 billion in private investment, you stand back, unimpressed, and moan about the cost. Did it have to be so expensive? Couldn’t you have done it cheaper?

Geez, I don’t know, Toronto Sun, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and the Ford Brothers. Could we? Tell us all about how you would’ve done it while saving the taxpayers’ a bundle. neverhappyHow about just slapping up, I don’t know, an outhouse at the Cherry Beach sports field would’ve accomplished the same result.

It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong, who’s been a city councillor for nearly 20 years now, step up and start telling us, not what’s wrong, but how exactly he’d make it right. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong told us about the positive contributions he’s made to the life of this city, how he’s served to make the residents’ lives better. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong start justifying his continued public presence.

And if, in the end, all he can point to are numbers with dollar signs on a ledger sheet and refer to those he represents as ‘taxpayers’, I’ll suggest that’s not enough, not even close. As we have seen with a similarly small-minded, monstrously narrow-focussed, anti-government conservative in our current mayor, big cities need big pictures not just the itty-bitty ones that spark indignation fueled solely on fallacious resentment. texaschainsawmassacreNay-saying is an easy political platform to build. Unfortunately, it collapses under the weight of governance.

So yeah, if Councillor Minnan-Wong, the Fords and the Toronto Sun want to try and re-hash the 2010 campaign, pitting their self-proclaimed record of stinginess against the idea of productive city-building, let them. This time, however, demand they show the results of their actions. Demand a full accounting of the costs and benefits. Demand actual leadership and not just mindless, crowd-pleasing axe wielding.

daringly submitted by Cityslikr