Lobbing A Lobbying Bomb

May 4, 2016

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

Here goes.

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

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

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

Maybe…maybe.

Or, here’s another angle.

This Is How Uber Takes Over A City

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

How, you ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blithely submitted by Cityslikr


That’d Be What Uber Do

October 1, 2015

I vowed not to write about Uber or cabs or taxi reform ever again. I did. Because I just don’t care. vowofsilenceI can’t muster the interest or… the energy to even finish that sentence.

But then something happened yesterday at city council which presented me with a situation I never thought I’d find myself writing. Rob Ford, Councillor Rob Ford, I’m writing, still donning his Sopranos track suit for whatever reason, stood up to ask questions of Mayor Tory, and the councillor – are you ready? – actually made sense.

Paraphrasing here, the councillor riddled the mayor this.

Does an Uber car and a taxi do the “exact same job”?

To which Mayor Tory responded: “You know full well that is a complicated question.”

To which I thought: Is it? Is it really that complicated a question?

The mayor did later admit that, yes, an Uber car and cab both provide a service of picking customers up, dropping them off where they want to go and charging for that service. How they go about delivering that service is different but it is basically the same service. yesornoThat’s really the crux of this debate.

No doubt this is pure bullshit politics on Councillor Ford’s part. Ideologically speaking, he should be an Uber champion. Down with regulation! Slash the red tape! The customer is always right! Let the market, the FREE market, decide!

But since Mayor Tory has displayed a certain friendliness to the corporation, the councillor must stand against it. You can never agree with an adversary unless it’s on your terms, unless it’s them agreeing with you. That’s just how you play politics according to the Ford doctrine.

The fact is, by every measure immediately apparent to me, Uber is a livery company, “A business that offers vehicles, such as automobiles or boats, for hire.” How you go about summoning someone to come and whisk you away to your destination, whether it’s a concierge whistle, a street corner hail, a telephone call or smartphone app, doesn’t alter the kind of business you’re doing. A livery business. A business that offers vehicles, such as automobiles or boats, for hire.

Councillor Rob Ford was right. Uber and the cab companies do the “exact same job”. liveryDoes Uber do the job better? Hundreds of thousands of Uber allies will zealously tell you it does. Is the taxi industry in this town monopolistic and in desperate need of reform? Again, hundreds of thousands of Uber allies (and general all-round not-fans of the industry) will zealously tell you, yes. Yes, it does.

I’ve got no opinion either way on that. Like I said, I can’t find two fucks to rub together to flint a spark of interest about it. That we’re spending so much time on an issue that is of such importance to people who apparently can’t make their way around this city without paying someone to chauffeur them is galling. Our sense of civics has shrunken to little more than Can I Get This Cheaper and I Want It To Be More Convenient. For me.

All politics is personal, as they say.

Whatever.

But this is what Uber does. The corporation imposes itself, city by city, sucking up all the political oxygen. With heavy lobbyist clout, it becomes important, vital, a mayor’s key item.

It’s anything but. Uber’s just another livery business, picking people up, dropping people off, charging a fee to do it. shhhhThe model may be different, it may be better. It still does the “exact same thing” any other taxi business does. Rob Ford was right.

So do the rest of us a favour and at least own it. Stop pretending it’s about anything other than that. Technology changes everything. The “sharing” economy. The 21st-century. The future! Progress!

And can we please start talking about something else now?*

 

(*Apparently not. Actual regulation of Uber, and Uber-like services won’t be put on the table now by city staff until early next year. Much more waste of time, energy and breath to come.)

unenthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr