Rank Anti-Ranked Ballot Arguments

October 6, 2015

There are good arguments against ranked ballots. Valid reasons in which they are not optimal, mostly revolving around the question of true proportional representation. goodpointIt is not a perfect system.

Unfortunately, these are not the arguments being made currently, especially by those on city council who voted in favour last week of requesting the province not to give cities the option of introducing ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. Motion 6(a) from Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore): “That the Province should not proceed with amendments to the Municipal Elections Act to provide for Ranked Choice Voting.” There’s nothing more to this than not wanting to have the debate at all. It’s essentially trying to kneecap a decision council made last term. No discussion. Just cheap political thuggery.

If you want to hear really bad, woefully inadequate, pure and utter fuckwad nitwittery arguments against ranked ballots, take 5 minutes and listen to this segment on Mark Towhey’s Sunday 1010 talk radio show from three first term councillors, all, interestingly enough, close allies of Mayor John Tory. He voted against the motion. With friends like these, am I right?

I’ll refrain from taking the most obvious snark shot here. Larry, Curly and Moe. Because, really, that’s the first thing that sprang to your mind too, isn’t it.

No. I’m going with Dopey, Doc and Sully. A coterie of dumb. Exemplars of why we here in Toronto can’t have nice things.

When Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence) opens her mouth to speak, you realize why she doesn’t do so very often. It does her no favours. You know why she supported the motion to bury ranked ballots? She’s never been a fan of them. That’s why. She doesn’t like them.

You can hardly blame her, from an entirely selfish perspective. As Mr. Towhey pointed out, she was elected last year with only 17% of the popular vote. tempertantrumWith ranked ballots, the outcome might’ve been different, depending on the makeup of her challengers and other variables. Councillor Carmichael Greb simply doesn’t ‘believe it’.

Besides, she told listeners, she worked really hard for over a year to ensure that fewer than 1 in 5 voters in her ward put an X beside her name. She earned that 17%, dammit! With 16 candidates on the ballot in Ward 16, it was already confusing for the voters, she claimed. Having to choose 1, 2, 3 would’ve been even more so and, ultimately, not made any difference as far as the candidate who got into office with just 17% of the vote was concerned.

In explaining his opposition to ranked ballots, Councillor Stephen ‘Doc’ (yeah, I went there) Holyday (Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre) continued his impressive display of seemingly sound, rational reasoning always taking him into the reeds of illogical reactionism. It is a step forward, I guess, from the frequent unhinged rantings of his father, the sire of the Holyday dynasty in Etobicoke, (L’il Ginny, anyone?), but if it lands us in the same nonsensical soft spot, what’s it matter? The journey is a lot less fun to watch.

Councillor Holyday informed us that, under the current system, there’s quite a diversity at city council. A diversity along the political spectrum, that is, left, right and centre, and please, don’t look at the overwhelmingly white, largely male elephant in the room. longrouteSuch diversity, according to the councillor, leads to vigorous debate and discussion which, it can hardly be argued, is a good thing.

The problem with ranked ballots, says Councillor Holyday, is that they will ‘flatten’ that diversity. How? Because – and this is where he goes truly Holydian in his thinking – the second or third choice candidates on a ranked ballots will, and I’m quoting here with italics to emphasize the outrageousness of the statement, “…naturally be that centre, centre-left candidate that’s very neutral, very unexciting…”

Where the fuck does he come up with that?! Was he talking to his dad over Sunday brunch before coming in to the studio to do the show? Councillor Holyday proceeds to pile it on, suggesting such a fantasy scenario will lead to boring debates at city council as if the sole purpose of municipal government is to keep us entertained with some gruesome spectacle.

What’s truly amazing about the councillor’s performance here is that he actually brings up an interesting point before taking it and driving it through his eye into the intelligence centre of his brain, thereby killing any possibility of thoughtful discourse. on2ndthoughtBingham Powell, in his 2000 book, Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions, suggested that our current system, first past the post, let’s call it, which requires a simple plurality of votes to determine election outcomes, may lead “to governments that are more extreme than the voters”. Or, less boring, as Councillor Holyday might sum up.

By making his particular argument against ranked ballots, basically smoothing off the extreme edges of the democratic process, Holyday winds up actually arguing in favour of the hyper-partisan, divisive dynamic that has been paralyzing this city for at least 5 years now.

As egregious an assault on our intelligence as that was, Councillor Jon Burnside (Ward 26 Don Valley West) took home the bullshit prize on this particular day. I nicknamed him Sully because, honestly, I failed to come up with a better word ending in ‘y’ for him. Dicky? Pricky? I even briefly contemplated transgressing the c-bomb stratosphere before settling on Sully.

Why?

Councillor Burnside’s anti-ranked ballot justification just drips of condescension toward the voting public. The ‘complication factor’, he stated, despite the fact that host Towhey had perfectly explained how ranked ballots worked in about 45 seconds.idiot Ranked ballots are a lot more complicated than putting down one X, Burnside said, as if counting to 3 gets most of us all fuzzy-headed.

He then goes on to say that when he was out knocking on doors during last year’s campaign, a lot of voters didn’t know the difference between federal, provincial and municipal levels of government as if that somehow proves that we can’t be trusted to mentally multitask. Nope. We’re simple folk. We like to mark our ballots like we like to sign our names. With just one X.

It is hard to refute his argument about the idiocy of the electorate, I guess, at least in Ward 26. After all, voters there voted Jon Burnside into office to represent their interests at City Hall.

In less time than it took Mark Towhey to inform listeners about the nuts and bolts of ranked ballots, Councillor Burnside sullied the reputation of voters and revealed a real patronizing side toward his constituency. I’d suggest anyone wanting to challenge him in 2018 simply print up flyers saying in big bold letters: COUNCILLOR JON BURNSIDE THINKS YOU’RE STUPID, WARD 26! No, wait. KOWNSILER JON BERNSID THINK WERE STOOPID WORD ??WEAR EVER WE LIV!!!

If you’re opposed to ranked ballots, so be it. We do still live in a democracy. idiot1This isn’t Russia. This isn’t Russia, is it, Danny?

Just be honest, is all we can ask. Don’t come up with bogus rationalizations. It’s obvious, listening to these 3 city councillor, Burnside, Carmichael Greb and Holyday, they don’t like change. The won, fair and square, with the current system in place. Why would they possibly want to change that?

But please stop insulting our, albeit limited, intelligence pretending it’s about anything else. You just wind up embarrassing yourselves.

dumbly submitted by Cityslikr


A Terrible Plan Made Even Worse

July 17, 2015

Adding insult to injury that is the oozing sore of transit plans, the Scarborough subway, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reported today that, according city council rules, the vote to revert from the already underway LRT eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to a subway never should have occurred in the first place.

In the end, [Speaker] Nunziata ignored advice from city staff and ruled the motion [to re-open the LRT/subway debate] was properly before council. It passed with a 35-9 vote — opening the door for Ford and others to ultimately cancel plans for the LRT in favour of the more expensive subway option.

This, after a 24 hour scramble that had seen the speaker first stop the motion’s mover, Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaeker, from moving the motion on procedural grounds, then agreeing to rule on it later and seeking help from the mayor’s office in wording the ruling she would subsequently give that ultimately re-opened the debate.

But city clerk Watkiss told the Star the speaker is only permitted to give rulings she herself or the clerk has written. She also said the city’s procedural bylaws set out that the Speaker must give procedural reasons for her ruling.

“The [then mayor Rob Ford’s then chief of staff] Towhey ruling was not a proper procedural ruling, but a policy ruling, and the Speaker needs to give procedural rulings,” Watkiss wrote in an email. “She should not be ruling on the basis of policy as she needs to maintain a measure of independence.”

Still Speaker Nunziata’s response to that?

“Council procedures dictate that while the speaker may consult with the Clerk prior to ruling on a matter, it is ultimately the speaker who decides the way in which he/she will rule.”

Rules? M’eh. Whatever.

While it should not be overlooked that, despite the very questionable manner in which it came about, city council could’ve voted to keep the Scarborough subway debate closed, and chose instead to re-open it , overwhelmingly so, we should perhaps be even more alarmed at how easily rules and procedures at city council can be discarded and ignored.

Is that simply the price that gets paid living in a free-wheeling democracy? gavelOur elected officials are the ultimate decision-makers and the civil service, the bureaucracy, sits in place merely to advise not instruct? When the chips are down, a true democracy cannot be hamstrung by the rules and procedures — not put in place but adjudicated by – unelected officials?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. It seems to me that if rules and procedures are being contravened, those in charge of upholding them, in this case the city clerk staff, should be in a position to, at the very least, make loud noises that the rules and procedures are being violated, if not stop the violations dead in their tracks. You can’t do that, Madam/Mister Speaker.

Does that overstep unspoken boundaries, undercutting the democratic process?

More clear, perhaps, is that the position of Speaker (and Deputy Speaker, natch) at city council ought not to be left in the hands of the mayor’s office to appoint. As it stands now, like chairs of standing committees, the Speaker of city council is put forward by the mayor and pretty much rubber-stamped by a city council vote. It is extremely difficult to remove them once they’re in place.

If, as the current speaker believes, it is the role of the speaker to ultimately decide “the way in which he/she will rule”, maybe their allegiance shouldn’t be owed to the one person who put them in place, the mayor, but to the wider body, city council itself. “In order to maintain a measure of independence,” as city clerk Ulli Watkiss suggested, the speaker needs to answer directly to city council not via the mayor’s office. youcantdothatWhy not have city council truly elect a speaker (and deputy speaker, natch) rather than simply sign off on the mayor’s recommendation?

It’s hard to imagine how anyone in the position of speaker could ‘maintain a measure of independence’ while looking over their shoulder at the mayor who put them in the job, a mayor who can assume the speaker’s chair whenever the fancy strikes them. So it should come as no surprise that, in this particular case, the speaker actually went to the mayor’s office for help in writing a ruling. If your view of the job you’re doing is to act as a mouthpiece, why not get your instructions directly from the horse’s mouth?

Whose interest does the speaker of city council represent, the mayor’s office or city council itself? The answer to that will determine who you think should really be running the city.

searchingly 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


Transit Defiled

April 25, 2013

“If 30 members of council want to sign a petition to call a special meeting to raise taxes on the backs of citizens who can’t afford them, that will be the first campaign poster for the mayor’s 2014 campaign.” Mark Towhey, Chief of Staff, Mayor Ford.

snidelywhiplash

For a bunch of reasons, the 2014 municipal campaign can’t come soon enough for me. But mostly I’m just eager for this angle to play out. Mayor Ford, steadfast in his respect for taxpayers, refuses to so much as even discuss options for transit expansion.

“I promised taxpayers I’d keep their taxes low. I kept their taxes low.”emptypromise

“You also promised taxpayers subways,” counters a hypothetical opponent. “Subways, subways, subways.”

“City Council refused to let me build a subway. It’s their fault.”

“But you had 3 years [four years by the time the campaign rolls around] to come up with a plan to build subways. Where is it?”

“The private sector. P3s. P3s. The private sector. The private sector. Did I say, ‘P3s’? P3s. The private sector. The people want subways. Subways, subways, subways.”

Maybe Mark Towhey and the rest of the Team Ford brain trust are really, truly salivating at the prospect of running a re-election campaign on the mayor’s bread-and-butter issue of low taxes but the ground has shifted considerably since 2010. This time he won’t just be running against some easily smearable, downtown tax-and-spender. In his determined digging in of his heels and holding his breath until the transit conversation loses steam or Tim Hudak is elected premier, Mayor Ford is painting himself into a sad, lonely political corner with only the Toronto Sun holdmybreath(and maybe not even the Sun based on today’s transit talk with columnist Sue-Ann Levy) to keep him warm.

His continued transit funding intransigence (as a matter of fact, yes, I did have to go there) has left Mayor Ford running against not just a majority of his city council but the Toronto Board of Trade. John Tory and the CivicAction Alliance. Hazel McCallion and almost every other elected official in the 905 region. Hardly a left-leaner among them.

There is a significant difference between a lone wolf howling at the moon and a crazy person shouting the same thing over and over again on a street corner.

In the hopes of riding an anti-tax wave back into office next year, the mayor will have to cross his fingers that voters and his opponents will forget some of the other stuff he promised and claimed in 2010, and not just subways. The city didn’t have a revenue problem, remember? It had a spending problem. Yet, he’s spent considerable political capital pushing for a downtown casino because all of the revenue it would generate for the city.

Oh, I see. The city doesn’t have a tax revenue problem. It’s the other type of revenue we’re a little short on.fingerscrossed

Expect a boatload of that kind of semantic hair-splitting going forward.

Mayor Ford’s also revived his 2010 campaign idea of cutting our way to a better city by joining the empty chorus of finding efficiencies experts who insist a little belt tightening will pop out the loose change we need to build whatever it is we want. Short on details, of course. Long on vague pandering populism.

Ditto the whole boondoggle angle being embraced by those trying to fend off new taxes. Add up your eHealths and your ORNGEs and your gas plants and your PRESTO fiascos, and you’re still well short of the funds needed to build the proposed transit. That’s not to condone these trip ups or simply shrug them off. Of course, there’s a huge trust issue with handing over more money for another major public infrastructure endeavour to a government whose track record in matters of oversight is somewhat sketchy. It still doesn’t mean doing nothing about congestion and our woeful lack of regional transit.

But that’s the thing.

Mayor Ford is simply looking for any excuse to do nothing on the transit file. The thought of actually doing something runs counter to every political instinct in his body. robfordstreetcarsOutside of public safety, the government isn’t supposed to do anything. Certainly not if it means disrupting traffic flow or demanding drivers pay more for the privilege right to drive their vehicles.

While Team Ford disavowed any attachment to it back in 2010, it is very telling to read through the mayor’s chief of staff’s views on public transit and the TTC back in the day. (Captured for posterity by Steve Munro, and brought to our attention by yesterday by Jude MacDonald.) In short it reads: stop funding the TTC, sell off the assets and let the market decide how people get around the city.

Since coming to office, has Mayor Ford done anything in terms of transit that has been less indifferent than the attitude his chief of staff displayed three years ago? So why would we expect him to change now? Of course, he’s fighting tooth and nail against new revenue tools for transit expansion. He doesn’t give a shit about transit.

So Team Ford has to do its best to frame this as a pitched battle to keep taxes low because the flipside of that debate – government shouldn’t be involved in actually governing – is unwinnable. shellgameThe mayor and those planning his re-election campaign seem to believe people will be content enough with the notion that their taxes have been kept low to return him to office. Moreover, voters will be ready to punish any councillor who even so much as raised the possibility of new taxes.

At this juncture, it seems more like wishful thinking than any sort of sound strategy. But that’s really all this administration’s ever been about, isn’t it.

bay of fund it all readily submitted by Cityslikr


The Winning Formula

March 3, 2013

Unless they don’t already know that Mayor Ford is out on the campaign trail, anyone who decides to throw down and challenge him for his job next year will not have to battle with the element of surprise. georgchuvaloHe is nothing if not predictable, our mayor. Puts it all out there for everyone to see. TO poli’s very own George Chuvalo.

Fresh from squeaking by on a split decision at the Compliance Audit Committee last week and escaping any further examination of his 2010 campaign financing, the mayor did a media round with Sun News. Touting all the accomplishments from his first year in office, he then outlined what he’d be pushing for throughout the remainder of his term in office. “We’ve got the casino, we’ve got the Gardiner (Expressway) and we’ve got the election,” he said, counting on his fingers. “I think a lot of people are already in that election mode and just wrapping up a few loose ends and we’re going to be on the campaign trail.”

Oh, and don’t forget subways… err, ‘a long term transportation strategy’. No, OK. Just kidding. Subways.

“We’re going to be getting, guaranteed getting, subways,” the mayor said on his TV interview with David Menzies. Or ‘The Menzoid’. As most grown men who aren’t professional athletes or musicians prefer to go by their nickname.

“Everyone is doing polling in their area. We’re doing polling. cocktailnapkinideasI see the numbers and they see the numbers and when you ask about subways and why so and so didn’t support them, they’re not going to win the next election.”

“They realize that they have to support subways to get re-elected, it’s huge. That’s what people want especially out in Scarborough – they need a subway and I’m going to get subways for them.”

So heads-up all you would-be mayors and councillors. If the mayor has his way, 2014 is going to be all about subways. Subways, subways, subways. Deny the people subways at your political peril.

If that all sounds too one-track to sustain a campaign for 18 months or so, Team Ford has drawn up another line of attack. Flouting rules and then thumbing their noses at anyone who protests. Don’t like it? Sue me. Seriously. Sue me. I double dog dare you.

With the mayor away down in Florida, it came to light that his office was still soliciting funds from registered lobbyists for donations to his football foundation. Remember that, just a couple months weeks ago? nyahnyahEssentially the root cause of what lead to his near booting from office due to a conflict of interest over using office letterhead to solicit donations…from lobbyists….

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

According to Daniel Dale and David Rider of the Toronto Star, it appears the mayor (minus his office logo) sent out a donation request to one lobbyist on January 28th of this year. Three days after a winning appeal got him out from under his conflict of interest conviction. Three days, folks. Municipal Code of Conduct rules? What Municipal Code of Conduct rules?

The mayor’s brother-councillor Doug didn’t see the problem, saying the paper might want to focus on “something more interesting”. Although, why would he want them to do that? Toronto Star generated controversy seems to help Mayor Ford, says the conventional wisdom. “You guys are killing yourselves,” the councillor pointed out, “you can write whatever you want; the more you write, the more his (poll) numbers go up. It’s fact.”

Not just a Ford ‘fact’ either. But an actual fact.keeponkeepinon

According to a recent poll put out by Forum Research, despite all the time spent in court and the lack of any serious goals in governance since late-2011 or thereabouts, Mayor Ford’s numbers have ticked upwards, from a 42% approval rating in mid-December to 48% last week. The more people attempt to hold the mayor accountable for his actions, the more popular he seems to become. So instead of learning any sort of lesson about flying right and keeping their noses clean, they’re just keepin’ on keepin’ on.

So solicit lobbyists away! Bring another conflict of interest case against him. It’ll practically guarantee his re-election, we’re told. Hell, they’ll even further help your cause by having the mayor’s chief of staff respond to the allegations of lobbyist soliciting for a private foundation while on city time. There’s another conflict of interest case for you to take to the Integrity Commissioner.

And we all wring our hands, wondering how on earth to stop this seeming defier of common sense and political reckoning. eyeontheballIs there no way to counter his supernatural ability to fail to success?

Let me offer a word of advice in an attempt to soothe our troubled souls.

I know Rob Ford and his mayoralty is something of a conundrum and anomaly. But it’s still worthwhile to look at things from a historical perspective, to the same juncture of time in their first terms in office, his predecessors in amalgamated Toronto. With 18 months to go before re-election both Mel Lastman and David Miller were flying significantly higher than Rob Ford is. Neither man would face a serious contender in the subsequent campaigns. Lastman was re-elected with about 80% of the vote, Miller with 57%.

In the last full year of his second term, before the MFP scandal broke wide and after his handshake with a Hell’s Angel, Mel Lastman’s poll numbers dropped to 47%. While some City Hall watchers marvelled at his lingering popularity, others took it as a sign Mel’s days were numbered. koQualified candidates began lining up to challenge him the following year.

That should be the familiar scenario for us currently.

I’m not writing Mayor Ford’s political obituary here but the idea he can continue to blunder and bluster his way to a second term shouldn’t necessarily vex anyone. There’s some hard rain coming his way over the next few months. The expanding transit debate with the accompanying taxes and tolls. A casino, yes or no. Some tough, city defining slogging. It’s been some time since the mayor’s had a major political victory outside of a courtroom and his roster of council allies to help him out looks mighty thin and ragged at this point.

This is not a scenario that screams winning to me. Don’t give in to the spin. Viewed through a rational lens, this is a troubled administration with the barest of accomplishments to show for itself and a leader disinterested in almost everything else but campaigning. Team Ford might like those long shot odds. That doesn’t mean they’re still not long shot odds.

realistically submitted by Cityslikr


Reassessing More Than Our Property Values

August 17, 2012

In an announcement this week of Mark Towhey becoming Mayor Ford’s new chief of staff, Kelly Grant of the Globe and Mail writes that he wants to focus on the mayor’s economic strategy, including plans for the city to “implement policies to grow its assessment base, rather than raise property taxes year after year.” An ensuing social media conversation took place, questioning if that were even possible, using a wider/higher property assessment in lieu of higher property taxes. Minds much brighter than mine struggled with questions of provincially mandated revenue neutral reassessments, averaging, etc., etc.

The short answer seems to be: raising revenue is much more difficult and complicated than simply cutting services, programs and generally just not doing anything much. Our fiscal status quo leans toward inaction. Claiming we can’t afford something is simply an admission of one of two things. You’re either ideologically opposed to the concept of taxation or you don’t understand government financing. Or maybe both.

Complicating matters for Ontario municipalities is that the provincial government keeps us on a pretty short leash in terms of revenues. We rely so heavily on property taxes as a revenue source because it’s the only one we have much control over. And as the discussion this week showed even that is watched over carefully by Queen’s Park.

How?

Well, it seems cities just can’t reassess property values and then slap on the tax rate to the new numbers. In a place like Toronto that would in, all likelihood, generate a significantly higher amount of revenue. From the city’s website (h/t to Brent Gilliard) comes a provincial commandment. The effect of reassessment, at the municipal level, is “revenue neutral” and does not generate any additional revenue for the City. With a reassessment, the City must adjust the tax rate to remain revenue neutral, so no new funding comes to the City of Toronto as a result of property valuation changes.

Reassess all you want, the province tells us, it just can’t generate any more money for you.

Of course, there’s a much larger discussion to be had on this point. Municipalities shouldn’t have to depend so heavily on property taxes to, you know, run the city. Both their calculation and implementation is complex, cumbersome and, often times, politically thorny. Of all taxes, none seem to be taken as personally as property taxes. California’s 1978 Proposition 13 that severely limited the state’s ability to adjust property taxes could be seen as the granddaddy of tax revolts. Property taxes also don’t truly reflect the economic activity going on at a municipal level at any given time.

Internationally, many cities have adopted other models of taxation for new streams of revenue. Sales tax, payroll tax, hotel tax, a motor vehicle tax… OK. So Toronto certainly didn’t help its cause by backing an administration that was hell bent on repealing one of the few taxes the province allowed it to institute, the VRT, as soon as it was sworn in. Like a petulant teenagers, tossing their allowance back into their parents’ faces. We don’t need your stinking handouts. Oh, and by the way, mom and dad. Can we have some cash for extra police officers and some transit we need to build?

Still, it is odd how stingy Queen’s Park is in terms of allowing its municipal governments to figure out ways to pay for things. What’s it to them if we decide to generate revenues through a city or regional sales tax? How will a, say, .5% sales tax going into the city’s coffers adversely affect the province’s bottom line? It’s not like they’re rushing to finance Toronto’s major infrastructure needs like transit. Before you start bellowing ‘Transit City! Transit City!’ at me, note how I used the word ‘rushing’. We’re getting transit. On the province’s dime. On the province’s time.

It’s hard to look at the recent additions to Toronto’s transit system before the Eglinton crosstown broke ground and not see a pattern of self-interest on the province’s part. Arguably, we got subway lines where we needed them least that successive government’s at Queen’s Park used to burnish their cred with a very specific segment of voters. You want subways? We gave you subways. Where we wanted.

Control of the purse strings will always translate into political control. Cities less dependent on the province means cities less willing to let the province dictate its terms. What do you call that? A more equal partnership. It doesn’t quite have the ring of ‘creatures of the province’ that must sound much better to ears at Queen’s Park.

For many provincial politicians, cities are more a political chessboard than they are economic engines. All moves must be tightly controlled and very, very limited. Unless you’re the queen, of course. In provincial-municipal matters, never ever forget who’s the queen.

pawnly submitted by Cityslikr


The Politics Of Transit

January 26, 2012

If you’ve ever played one of those 3-D board games, like say, chess or Battleship, you can get a sense of what’s going on currently with public transit planning here in Toronto. Layers upon layers of intrigue and political jockeying where one seemingly unrelated move has serious ramifications on the machinations happening below. It sets the head a-spinning, and not necessarily in a good way.

Not to drive a wedge in the opposition now coalescing against Mayor Ford’s harebrained ‘Subways Only’ Transit – I mean, Transportation – Plan, and, oh yes, opposition is clearly coalescing. Last week, TTC Chair and Team Ford stalwart Karen Stintz openly mused about bringing the eastern portion of the Eglinton LRT back up from underground where the mayor had single-handedly banished it last year. She wasn’t the first one of the mayor’s gang to question the wisdom of burying it. Councillor John Parker had called the idea ‘goofy’ a few weeks back. But certainly Councillor Stintz as head of the TTC, her words carried significant weight. Enough certainly to draw Scarborough councillor Michael Thompson out of the woodwork as he expressed no particular drive to keep the Eglinton LRT buried.

Now the Chair was political enough to offer Mayor Ford a compromise of sorts, a facing saving out. She proposed that any money saved by keeping some of the Eglinton LRT at street level would be ploughed into building the mayor’s cherished Sheppard subway extension. But… but here’s where it gets murky, possibly operating on a second level. If the mayor were to take the money to build the subway, wouldn’t he be breaking one promise to keep another? He said there’d be no public money needed for Sheppard, and here he’d be taking public money.

A moot point perhaps, as the mayor seems categorically incapable of accepting compromise as was on display last week during the budget debate. Instead, the loyal members of his entourage went on the offensive. Mark Towhey, the mayor’s Policy Director proclaimed, “Residents don’t want trains running down the middle of the street.” Then Councillor Doug, the mayor’s brother, went full on bluster with the Toronto Sun. Forcing taxpayers onto streetcars or LRTs (Stalin style) relegated them to “second-class” citizenship. And apparently, according to the councillor, all that money that was diverted from other Transit City projects in order to bury the Eglinton LRT would somehow not be there if that decision was reversed. “There is no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow for $2 billion to fund something else.”

And where the mayor and his brother go, so goes the likes of Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, right?

Not so fast. This morning in the National Post Councillor Mammoliti is on record gently disputing Mayor Ford’s claim that everybody loves subways but not nearly as much as they hate streetcars. Read this last paragraph and tell me there isn’t an open revolt brewing within Team Ford’s ranks.

Councillor Mammoliti, who has pushed for a subway on Finch Avenue, says that if a forthcoming report on how to build the Sheppard line determines that private-sector funding will be hard to come by, then “we should be looking at improving what is there to begin with” on Finch. He favours a swift surface light rail line over a dedicated bus lane. As for what should happen on Eglinton, Mr. Mammoliti said that “during the election I didn’t hear anybody on the eastern side say they had some concerns with [surface light rail].”

If you’re counting at home, folks, that’s the TTC Chair, 2 members of the all-powerful Executive Committee and one staunch supporter of Mayor Ford openly and frankly challenging his Transportation City vision. It’s the kind of internal disarray proponents of a more sensible and feasible transit plan couldn’t be happier about. Alas, it’s also the kind of discord our ultimate political overlords at Queen’s Park can use to give them the appearance of having sound judgement and being above the fray.

“The city still doesn’t have its act together,” said Bob Chiarelli, the Minister of Transportation. “We have the chair of the TTC speculating about changes. We have some city councillors, we have the Mayor really not commenting on it. So, we need some clarity from the city.”

AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGHH!

It’s this kind of multi-levelled, political gamesmanship that has stunted transit planning in this city for three decades now. If the province had remained resolute and kept to the already agreed upon Transit City plan last year, we wouldn’t have lost another 12 months or so chasing the mayor’s phantom transit vision. If the premier had called for a “formal proposal” from city council then to change course as he is right now to change back to the original plans (????), we might’ve had this discussion last year not now.

Instead, he capitulated in the face of the mayor’s self-proclaimed Ford Nation, signed on to the Memorandum of Understanding with the mayor, end-running city council, to use all the province’s money to bury the Eglinton LRT in what could only be seen for personal political reasons. Facing an election with, at the time, very dismal prospects, and a mayor of Toronto in his ascendancy, he chose to sacrifice the city’s transit future for his own political one. Unfortunately for the city, it wasn’t the first time such a thing has happened.

But… but… again, this is where it gets murky. I don’t credit Premier McGuinty with many things but his political acumen isn’t one that I question. Perhaps, he knew that if he forced the transit issue to a vote at city council last year, Mayor Ford may well have won the day. Transit City would truly have been buried for good along with the Eglinton LRT. By making nice and surviving last October’s election while exposing the ethereal foundations of Ford Nation while at it, he kept Transit City alive. The honeymoon now over, Mayor Ford faces a rejuvenated city council and very vocal, well-organized opposition to his transit plans.

Wheels within wheels. What should be a fairly straight-forward how to build a better transit system for the city situation is anything but. Perhaps the most aggravating aspect of it is that those who rely on public transit here the most aren’t the ones contributing to the decisions. It’s left in the hands of those who view it in terms of little more than their personal and political gain.

head spinningly submitted by Cityslikr