An Appointment With Destiny

July 8, 2014

I get it. It’s supposed to be a mindful, deliberate process, disorderlyorderlythe appointment of an interim city councillor to fill a vacancy left behind when the duly elected councillor resigns the position during a term. The will of voters must be observed and, as best as humanly possible, adhered to.

But wouldn’t it be great if everybody threw caution to the wind and instead took a flyer on protocol and just said: This one’s a real crackerjack. Came in, gave a blockbuster of a speech, has a dynamite CV. Here, Ward [Whatever], try this one on for size. Especially this late in the term. What harm could an appointed councillor possibly do in a few short months?

Alas, no. Order (or whatever passes for order at Toronto’s City Hall these days) businessasusualmust be maintained.

So it was yesterday (as it was last year with replacement of Doug Holyday) with the appointment of new councillors in Wards 5 and 20. No fireworks. Very little surprise or suspense. Just a quiet passing of the torch to caretakers, essentially, until the start of the next term in December, to a couple of established figures. Ward 20 got a long time city staffer and social activist while a political backroomer on the south Etobicoke scene became the new Ward 5 councillor.

The only bit of intrigue during the procedure – no, wait. There were two. – came when a couple former staffers applied for the position of Ward 5 councillor. One, Nico Fidani-Diker, worked in Mayor Rob Ford’s office for a time and is on record expressing some reservations about the role Sandro Lisi played in the mayor’s life. Totally coincidentally, I’m sure, there were problems with the clock in the council chambers during his deputation which he felt got cut short by the speaker, Frances Nunziata.fingerscrossed

The other was the fate of Kinga Surma, an ex-assistant in the former city Ward 5 councillor, Peter Milczyn’s office up until last year’s provincial by-election when she went to work on the campaign of Milczyn’s rival in that race, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. A supposed amicable arrangement between Mr. Milczyn and Ms. Shurma that didn’t actually wind up that way. She was given her marching orders just a few days after Milczyn returned to the office, having lost the by-election.

Yesterday, she placed a distant 3rd in the appointment race to succeed him, providing a lesson to all political neophytes. Never, ever, publically piss on your boss’s shoes. sinkorswimOther bosses don’t look kindly on it, and won’t really extend a hand to help, given an opportunity down the road.

Unfazed by the outcome, Ms. Shurma almost immediately registered to run for the Ward 5 council seat in October’s municipal election. It was not an entirely surprising move, and one that may’ve also contributed to her lack of support by an overwhelming majority of councillors who had little interest in giving her a running start in the campaign. Hopefully for Ms. Shurma, democracy won’t be as office politics minded as the appointment process appeared to be.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


Stunt Activism

July 5, 2013

There are times when you just have to give credit where credit’s due. slowclapDoff your cap to acknowledge a job well done and offer up a round of applause. Not one consisting of the mocking slow clap either.

So here’s to you, Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. Your outsized ability to elevate stunt activism into part of the mainstream media discourse is truly commendable. Am I jealous? You betcha. I want to know the secret ingredient in the power drink that gives the group the Joe Friday appearance of just the facts, ma’am impartiality and the cape of authority.

Do we start just by claiming ourselves to be non-partisan? Despite all evidence to the contrary, after 3 and a half years of wearing our political hearts on our sleeve, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke should simply tell everyone that we are a non-partisan organization, respecting those taxpayers who don’t get their knickers all in a twist about paying taxes, nothingupmysleevewho recognize that taxation is more than just a fact of life but the way in which we build strong neighbourhoods, communities and cities.

Here’s our slogan: Respecting The Taxpayer Who Sees Paying Taxes Not As A Burden But As An Investment In Where They Live.

(We’ll fix that in editing.)

If the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition can claim with a straight face to be non-partisan, and be treated as such, then the word is meaningless. Click on the organization’s Issues list and check out their media releases. The plastic bag fee/ban? No. Fair Wage Policy? No. Land transfer tax? No. Vehicle Registration Tax? No. Private garbage collection? Yes. Casino? Yes. Subways? Yes.

Any of this sound familiar?

Replace the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition title on their website with the Office of Mayor Rob Ford and you’d hardly miss a step. parrotThat’s alright. The mayor’s agenda dovetails seamlessly with the views and opinions of a lot of Torontonians. Let’s just stop pretending because it’s an independent organization that it’s somehow non-partisan.

And could we please stop pretending the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition brings to the table an objective analysis with robust fact and figures. If they do, the same could be said about the mayor, and I’m not sure who actually believes that’s the case. A billion dollars saved! Need I say more?

What the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition does, and does well, all power to them, is deliver up talking points. Empty, divorced from reality talking points that talk show radio hosts love. Talking points complete with colourful infographics minus a whole slew of context.

During the last budget cycle debate in January, this other-TTC manufactured a tasty and calorically empty morsel for public consumption. After doing their research which, as far as I can tell is copying-and-pasting the necessary information from the city’s website, the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition screamed in horror at how much spending had increased during the first 3 years of the Miller administration which, of course, Mayor Ford put an end too, toute suite.mortimersnerd

A billion dollars! (Coincidentally, the same amount Mayor Ford keeps claiming to have saved us.)

That’s a lot of money! Especially if there’s no other information forthcoming. Just a number you indignantly bellow. A really, really big number.

There’s no question the Miller administration increased spending compared to its predecessor. No one disputes that. But how that happened is equally important. While the mayor and his supporters would like you to think it was all about out-of-control tax-and-spending, the truth, as it always is, is much subtler than that. David Miller was very successful in bringing other levels of government to the table and open up their wallets, for example, which would be reflected in that increased spending.

But any increase in government spending is abhorrent in the eyes of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. “While we don’t endorse increasing costs to taxpayers…”, the group writes. What world do these people live in, where costs never rise and flat lining spending never results in diminished returns?

Normally, I can keep my incredulity at such simple-mindedness reined in to the occasional snarky tweet but the Toronto Taxpayers Coaltion’s latest PR stunt is just too much to shrug off.

“Taxpayers Coalition says it will attempt to ‘force’ Toronto to cut council in half,” according to a National Post headline from earlier this week. texaschainsawmassacreYou see, like Mayor Ford (surprise, surprise), this other-TTC believes that cutting council in half or so will increase efficiency and decrease the cost of local government to taxpayers. It’s just so obvious, it has to make sense, right? Simple answers, to complex question, H.L. Mencken, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

Never mind that cutting the councillor numbers in half would make little dent on the operating budget and almost none on your tax bill. The 2013 gross expenditure on council all in? About 19 million dollars, folks. Let’s round it up to 20. On paper, cutting the number of councillors in half would shave $10 million off the annual operating budget. 10 million of roughly 10 billion. A savings of .001. On a $4000 tax bill that’d be about $4.

And that’s just on paper, in theory. The actual fact is, the city’s work has to be done. So the fewer councillors would need more staff and, darkly, there’d be a bigger reliance on outside influence and opinion, let’s call it. squarepeg2Cutting council numbers in half would be a boon to the lobbying industry.

What really gets my goat about this is it reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about how municipal governance actually works. The argument most touted in favour of reducing city council’s size is that Toronto has 22 MPs and 22 MPPs. Why do we need 44 councillors?

BECAUSE THEIR JOBS AREN’T THE SAME!!

As you travel up the levels of government, the ratio of legislative-constituent work changes. Essentially, the higher you go, the less constituent work a politician does. When’s the last time you called your MP for help? Shit! I’m heading out of the country and forgot to renew my passport!

City councillors are eye-deep in both aspects of governance. And the constituency aspect is very, very hands-on, labour intensive. Noise complaints. Dogs off leash. Fence exemptions. Oh, good god, the fence exemptions.

The customer service stuff the mayor’s so fond of touting while his council colleague have to spend some of their time picking up the legislative aspect of the job he’s not so interested in. igotnothingYou know, planning and growth, community development. All that eggheady boring crap Mayor Ford’s never really had much time for.

That’s not to embrace the status quo. There’s a very compelling argument to be made about re-thinking council structure to better ensure accountability, responsiveness and public engagement. But like in every aspect of our current political discourse in Toronto the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition isn’t interested in contributing in any meaningful way. Perhaps honest discussion and exchange of ideas is a little too partisan for its tastes. It prefers its radio spots instead.

acknowledgingly submitted by Cityslikr


Sink Or Ride

April 18, 2013

If we were only permitted to travel around this city on modes of transport paid in full, upfront by each of us on a fee-for-service basis, we’d all be walking everywhere we went. hackingthroughthejungleThere’s probably an argument to be made about bicycle use as well. Its impact on infrastructure a fraction of its costs.

For every other way we get from point A to point B? Subsidized to the hilt. Roads for vehicular traffic are not fully paid for through gas taxes and registration fees. While transit users in Toronto pay an unusually high percentage of the system’s annual operating costs, a good chunk of it comes from other revenue sources. And we haven’t even got to the matter of capital costs.

So if our car, bus, streetcar, subway travel all is subsidized to varying degrees, why do we expect the public bike sharing system, Bixi, to pay its own way?

In normal circumstances that would be purely a rhetorical question. You’d think mobility was mobility regardless of the number of wheels under your ass. This, however, is Toronto 2014. subsidizeCycling is nothing more than a sport or a jaunty ride about town, to and fro places of latte-sipping.

Reports of Bixi’s financial duress emerged on Tuesday. The Montreal based company is looking to sell off its franchises including the one in Toronto. A couple years back, the city signed on as a loan guarantor to help get the operation up and going. Now it’s on the hook for about $3.9 million.

Unsurprisingly, Mayor Ford is uninterested in helping out. The chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, is not any more enthusiastic about the idea. He’d prefer to off-load it onto the private sector.

“Government, fundamentally, isn’t the first place where you look to run a business,” the councillor said. “The private sector is better at making a dollar because it is their dollar. tossoverboardI’m a firm believer that if it can be in the Yellow Pages, it shouldn’t be in the Blue Pages.”

*sigh*

On Tuesday, I wanted to hug Councillor Minnan-Wong to my bosom for having the courage of his convictions in speaking out and voting against a casino. I’d always questioned his courage and believed his only conviction was reducing local government to a heaping rubble. But by later that day, he’d returned to form.

Only the firmest set of anti-cycling minds saw the bike sharing program as some blue chip business venture. bixiAccording to the National Post’s Megan O’Toole, in a report going to the Executive Committee next week, Toronto’s GM of Transportation Services suggests BIXI has become “’an important part of the transportation mix’ in the city and a key component of the Pan Am Games transportation plan.” ‘An important part of the transportation mix’, you say? Well, let’s just hand that over to the private sector to maximize profits why don’t we.

BIXI was never intended to individually cover great distances. It’s all about short hauls. Think timed transfers we’d like to have on the TTC – hop on-hop off privileges – but on a bike.

Set up to actually succeed, BIXI could immediately begin paying back any investment in it from the city by helping to alleviate the stress along certain transit routes. Right now, I’m thinking the downtown streetcar lines, especially King Street. fieldofdreamsReduce the ridership there in order to re-allocate TTC resources in other parts of the city.

Of course, it’s not as easy as simply putting up more stands filled with more bikes. Biking infrastructure also has to be improved to further entice reticent but interested would-be riders to casually start using the system as part of their transit routine. All part of the concept of induced demand. Build it (and maintain it properly) and they will come.

As part of the city’s overall transportation outlay, coming to the rescue of BIXI would be a modest outlay. For a fraction of the amount we’re looking to shell out keeping the Gardiner in the pink, we could triple the number of BIXI bikes and broaden its reach from High Park to Broadview and Dupont Street to the lake. Hardly the ‘drain on the city’s finances’ the Public Works chair pretends to fret about. eraseA concern particularly rich coming from the man who cost the city a couple hundred thousand dollars reverting the Jarvis bike lanes back to a 5th lane for cars and another $19.4 million trying to bury the Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment without council consent.

But we all know this isn’t about sound policy or good governance. It never is with this administration. BIXI’s financial problems offer up yet another golden opportunity to kill off a David Miller initiative. That’s really the only kind of agenda they have left.

sharingly submitted by Cityslikr