The Tory Story

October 23, 2014

It has come to my attention from a couple trusted sources that maybe, just maybe, I’ve been irrationally hostile to the whole concept of John Tory for Mayor. irrationalSo blind I am to the possibility that a Tory mayoralty wouldn’t be all that bad that my pushback is too over the top, aggressive, emphatic and resolute in rejecting the positives. Missing the forest for the trees, and all that. Come on. Really? Mayor Doug Ford?

It’s a fair accusation to make. In style and appearance, in putting our best face forward, yes, John Tory is no Rob or Doug Ford. After 4 years of regular embarrassment and some 1500 days or so of What The Fuckiness?, electing John Tory would announce for all that world to see that Toronto is once more back to taking itself seriously. The man walks upright. He speaks as if he might actually be thinking about what he’s saying. His suit fits.

I even over-stepped the other day, demanding someone name a significant policy difference between John Tory’s platform and that of his rival, Doug Ford. There is one very noteworthy distinction in terms of policy between the two men. The Land Transfer Tax. Ford thinks it can be gradually done away with, no problem. deepbreath1Never mind the $300 million annual revenue it brings in. Done and done.

Full marks to John Tory. This week he stood before a very anti-LTT, real estate crowd and told them he wasn’t going to tell them what they wanted to hear. The city needs the revenue from the LTT. The LTT has not hindered home sales. The LTT would remain in place if John Tory was elected mayor.

But after that? In all honesty? I strain to come up with much daylight at all between John Tory and Doug Ford when it comes to stuff of substance. (And enlighten me, fill up the comments section of where I’m wrong in this.) John Tory does better copy than Doug Ford. He sounds better telling us he cares about things. Tory’s made a lifetime of personal dedication in the private sector to a multitude of causes throughout the city. His awards and accolades have been earned not purchased.

This isn’t, however, about merit badges for volunteer service. texaschainsawmassacreThis is about politics and policy, about ideas to enhance the lives of every resident in this city, about delivering opportunity to everyone regardless of where they live or work. This is about standing up and giving an honest assessment about where the city is now and how it needs to proceed forward.

As a candidate, John Tory has failed miserably on that account.

Like Doug Ford, John Tory sees Toronto having a spending problem not a revenue problem. Despite advice to the contrary from the city CEO, Joe Pennachetti, or counter-evidence from municipal governance experts like Enid Slack, Tory insists we just need to tighten our belts, root out all those ‘inefficiencies’ at City Hall and we’ll have all the money we need. Tory is on record saying “low tax increases, at or below inflation, impose spending discipline on governments.”makeitupasyougoalon

Actually, low property tax increases, at or below the rate of inflation, impose service and programs cuts or hikes in user fees. At best, they ensure no expansion of those service or programs. It’s a self-induced zero sum game where we have to unnecessarily choose between our priorities. A game we’ve been playing for the last 4 years during the Ford administration.

John Tory is offering nothing different.

His SmartTrack transit plan is only slightly less implausible than the Subways! Subways! Subways! mantra of the Fords, and that’s a mighty low bar to clear. SmartTrack is full of questionable construction details and a financing gimmick that is untested anywhere in the world at the level he’s pitching. His assurances that he will get it done by sheer force of will are as empty and meaningless as the Fords’ guarantee about building subways.handthekeyback

The endorsements now flooding in for John Tory from most of our mainstream newspapers and media want us to believe that we’d be voting for CivicAction John Tory, John Tory the magnanimous private sector benefactor. There’s little mention of Tory’s political track record. Not so much his career as a Progressive Conservative operative and elected official, but his time spent as a well-placed backroom figure in the post-amalgamated Toronto Mel Lastman administration.

Ahhh, Mel Lastman. Only slightly less eye-rollingly embarrassing in light of Rob Ford. Still. Who the hell’s the WHO? African cannibals. MFP. The Sheppard subway. 1st term guaranteed property tax freeze, and here we are. John Tory was close to all of that. In 2003, he wanted us to ignore that. We didn’t. In 2014, we seem ready to let by-gones be by-gones.

What’s changed? Rob and Doug Ford, you’ll tell us. Rob and Doug Ford.

If the endorsements are any indication, what we want as a city is just a little bit of peace and quiet, a break from all the rancour and partisan divide that’s ground the city to a halt over the past 4 years. The only candidate who can do that, it seems, is John Tory, our great white establishment hope. sternheadmasterToronto needs a nice big fatherly hug. We need some civic soothing.

Frankly, that’s like applying make up to cover the bruising we’ve taken from the Ford administration – an administration John Tory supported until it became untenable to do so. Let’s all pretend like it didn’t happen, like Rob and Doug Ford were mere anomalies, sprung out of nowhere for no reason whatsoever. That they didn’t represent actual grievances and political, social isolation that existed well before they cynically tapped into for their own hubristic political gain.

In his article yesterday on what a possible John Tory mayoralty might look like, Edward Keenan suggested that Tory’s ‘laudable charitable work’ could be seen not so much as attempts to change a system that doesn’t include everyone but “helping people network their way into the system.” captainstubingLadies? Take up golf, am I right?

John Tory isn’t a candidate for change. His campaign has been pretty much Steady As She Goes, Only Quieter and Less Scandal-filled. More Captain Stubing than Francesco Schettino. Everything’ll be fine once we get rid of the Fords.

The funny thing is, at the council level races, the push for change is popping up all over the place. There are exciting candidates throughout much of the city. In Ward 2 alone, the Ford petty fiefdom, I estimate 3 strong candidates challenging Rob Ford, one of whom, Andray Domise, is knocking on the door of knocking off the mayor. If that comes to pass, it would be a more significant result than whatever happens in the mayor’s race.

John Tory is yesterday’s man. He represents the values of the old status quo. knowaguyA top down leadership paradigm based almost entirely on who you know, connecting inward not outward.

The John Tory campaign message has little to do with where we want to go as a city. It’s all about re-establishing order. Order under the (fingers crossed!) beneficent gaze of he who knows some people. He’ll make a couple phone calls, get some stuff done. Just keep your voices down, if you don’t mind. It’s been very loud around here for too long.

— cathartically submitted by Cityslikr


The Recumbent Incumbent

September 3, 2013

Gawd! These infernal pre-campaign polls. Story generators produced by those without caller ID on their phones, onthephonewilling to engage with anyone who dials their number. Idle speculation meant to fill in the gap between actual stories.

The only folks these polls are intended to help out are those mulling over a mayoral run. An informal testing of the waters. Polls establish front runners, differentiating them from those without a hope in hell of becoming the city’s next mayor. Hey. Possible candidate X was seen having lunch with John Laschinger at Spadina Garden. How would they do in next year’s election matched up against candidate Y?

The funny thing is, if the history of amalgamated Toronto is anything to go by, such polls conducted so many, many months before the actual election are pretty much meaningless aside from confirming the name (or names) of the candidates to beat. In 2003, John Tory and Barbara Hall. wiltsIn 2010, George Smitherman. All lost the subsequent elections to candidates few had on their radar when the campaign actually commenced.

So beware everyone currently placing their bets and hopes on the likes of John Tory (again), Olivia Chow, Karen Stintz. Our recent electoral history has not treated early front runners well.

I think the one certainty we can take from the likes of Forum Research’s most recent poll for next year’s municipal election in Toronto is that the incumbent, unlike his predecessors, is going to find himself in the midst of a bruising battle to keep his job. In 2000, Mel Lastman was as good as acclaimed for a second term, facing no politically established opponent in the campaign. In 2006, Councillor Jane Pitfield stood as little more than a sacrificial lamb in her attempt to deny David Miller another go-around at the job.

It ain’t going to be so easy for Rob Ford. The one caveat is that both Lastman and Miller went into re-election mode after only two years (of a 3 year term)donnybrook in office, perhaps seeming a little more fresh-faced than our current mayor who’s had an additional year of public scrutiny in office before his re-election campaign begins. Perhaps this will be the new norm with 4 year council terms now. A one term mayor facing an uphill battle in a bid for re-election.

For many incumbents that might seem a little daunting but may be this is nothing but good news for Mayor Ford. He loves playing the underdog, the outsider. The little engine that nobody said could and nobody better think of writing off as an impossible long shot again. Every indication suggests that 2014 is the mayor’s election to win. Just like 2010.

deweydefeatstruman

If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost think that’s the exact spot he’s positioned himself to be in at this juncture. Failing miserably toward a second term

cassandraly submitted by Cityslikr


Retail Politics

July 10, 2013

You’re the best retail politician in the country!

On this, Councillor Doug Ford and I (and the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale) could all agree. everythingmustgo1Mayor Rob Ford is indeed a fantastic retail politician although, unlike his councillor-brother, I haven’t seen every politician in the country so can’t really make the complete comparison. But certainly, the mayor just might be the best I have ever witnessed.

Now, you might consider that a startling confession if retail politics was something I was looking for in a politician. Unfortunately (for me), it isn’t. In fact, it’s the kind of populism I abhor in those seeking public office.

When I think of retail, I think of somebody trying to sell me something I don’t need at a price I can’t afford. Pandering also springs to mind. What do I have to say for you to buy my product?

According to the etymology of the phrase, ‘retail politics’ meant ‘buying votes’. salesman1Hardly the most flattering of descriptions for a politician and probably not the way we think of the phrase these days. It’s more, tell me what you want to hear and I’ll say it. You don’t like paying taxes? Let’s cut taxes. You hate streetcars? Me too. Let’s get rid of streetcars.

It’s more complicated than that, of course. Like any good retailer, it’s about shaping the perfect pitch for your product to the consumer. Snappy slogans, easily committed to memory. Political jingles, really, that stick in your mind and spring up unexpectedly years later.

“Marine Land and Game Farm!”

Stop the Graa-Vee Train! The city’s got a spending not revenue problem. The city’s got a spending not a revenue problem.”salesman

(Yeah. I’m more of a word than a tunesmith.)

Retail politicians essentially sell themselves to the voting public, complete with easy to follow labels and instructions. Their policies are usually just extensions of their personalities, extra bonus add-ons that come with the full package. Pick me and I’ll freeze property taxes. Pick me and get subways.

At least since amalgamation, Toronto seems to love its municipal politics retail. The very first mayor of the place was in fact a salesman. Who voted for Mel Lastman? Ev-er-ee-bo-dy!

Now, Mel served in the capacity of mayor since 1972 up in North York. Over the course of 30+ years, he certainly refined his product to suit the changing political landscape but, ultimately, it was always Mel people voted for, salesman3and his pledge to keep taxes low and the government small. Who wouldn’t want that?

The problem with retail politics, however, is that they’re very, very limited in their scope.

If you buy a carton of milk from the supermarket, for example, you don’t go back there to get the brakes of your car fixed (except maybe at some Walmarts). You shop at a supermarket for supermarket-y stuff. You take car problems to a garage with a qualified mechanic.

If the city you live needs more than lower taxes and small government, like say a transit system or other infrastructure requirements, politicians who promised nothing more than low taxes are kind of out their depth. In fact, the bigger matter of governance in general may well be beyond their grasp or even interest level. Whoah, whoah, whoah. Pilgrim. I promised to look out for the little guy not build them a liveable city.

The complicated nature of big city politics finally took its toll on Mel Lastman in his 2nd term as megacity mayor. mellastmanIronically when it came to selling Toronto to the world in an Olympic bid, he came out embarrassingly flat and awkward. He was hopeless during the SARS crisis. Lobbyists filled the void created by his increasing disinterest in the actual day-to-day running of the city.

We’re witnessing a very similar failure of retail politics, much earlier in his administration from Mayor Ford. In the face of the severe storm on Monday and with much of the city’s infrastructure under duress, he was nowhere to be seen. The press conference he eventually participated in the day after was perfunctory, as most of his press conferences are. He toured some of the sights still struggling with the excess of water and stared blankly at them.

“There’s no doubt about it. We do need infrastructure. We just have to fund for it,” the mayor said.

Funding. The billion(s) dollar question, and one the best retail politician in the country is ill-equipped to answer. How to invest in infrastructure when all you promised to do was lower taxes and reduce spending. deathofasalesmanHe’s already come up empty on the promise to build more subways in Scarborough. It’s hard to imagine how the mayor can be a part of this solution.

But he’s not to blame for that.

On the campaign trail, he told us what he stood for, what he planned to do if elected. Sure, he polished some rough policy corners but what retailer doesn’t buff out the blemishes of their product? Buyer beware, right?

We bought what Rob Ford was selling us, so it’s unfair to expect that he has anything much of value to contribute to this ongoing discussion of city building. That’s not his product. Anyone reading the fine print would’ve known that.

sellingly submitted by Cityslikr


Putting Ourselves Between A Rock And A Hard Place

June 25, 2013

On the other hand…

hmmmm

It was gently asked of me yesterday that if the characters in the current $150 million pooling-uploading saga now swirling around City Hall and Queen’s Park were different – like, say, a mayor I didn’t see as a raging incompetent or a provincial government I felt was more Mike Harris-y – would my reaction be the opposite of what it was. Essentially, a variation on the why is he so fucking incompetent theme. A fair question.

Yes indeed, the Liberal government is getting away with some dubious claims in this transaction, using Mayor Ford’s epic inability to get along with absolutely anyone and everyone he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with as cover. letmestopyourightthereAs John McGrath pointed out on Friday, over the course of the 3 year phase out of the $150 million pooling fund, the city will ultimately be short-changed just over $13 million after factoring in the uploading of services back to the province over the same period of time. (The chart is on page 5 of this letter sent to the mayor’s office by Finance Minister Charles Sousa.)

Of course, Mayor Ford muddies the waters with his immediate ballistic response, threatening to cut social programs to the tune of $50 million next year when, in fact, the pooling fund-upload exchange will net the city an additional $700,000. It’s hard to believe there can’t be some financial re-arranging at the city level to mitigate the need for any cuts. It’s also hard to believe the mayor would be willing to go into an election year with the mess of significant cuts to social programs on his hands in the hopes voters follow him in pinning the blame on the provincial government. No service cuts. Guaranteed. Remember?

This is all purely political jostling on everyone’s part. It’s just unfortunate, if not at all surprising, the Liberals decided to play along. pissingmatchA solid majority of Toronto residents know that we’ve elected a child-mayor who only operates through the lens of campaigning. The provincial government is supposed to be the adult in the room. Instead, they’ve started up their engines in a game of chicken.

In order to try and mask that, the finance minister threw into the pot relief from a loan made to the city by the province back when Mike Harris was premier and Mel Lastman mayor. A loan to cover the initial costs of amalgamation with the expectation of being paid back with all the efficiencies that would be found. Efficiencies weren’t found, so the loan has been ignored for most of its life.

So, the finance minister claims that’s about $230 million in savings for the city but it’s actually Ford level accounting. thanksfornothingIf the city hasn’t made a payment in a decade or and wasn’t expected to, it should hardly count as any sort of savings. Thanks for the gesture, Queen’s Park. As empty as it may be.

The politics of this goes beyond just the war with Ford. The Liberals want everyone to know that it’s not giving any municipality preferential treatment even if there are legitimate reasons it might. If the province is fully assuming the costs of the social programs Toronto bears a heavier burden providing than other cities in Ontario, fair enough. I’m yet to be convinced that’s actually the case.

But the Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne, a Toronto MPP, is petrified of being seen as Toronto-centric by the rest of the province. So no special deals on a casino. No special funding treatment. itshisfaultAs it goes in Kenora, so it goes in Toronto.

It would be unfair to suggest that it’s simply back to business as usual since 1995. The Liberals have reclaimed much of the costs their Progressive Conservative predecessors downloaded onto municipalities in the Great Savagery of 1995-2003. (Certainly not all. For one, there remains the outstanding matter of the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating budget they haven’t made good on.) Let’s give credit where credit is due.

It’s sheer big-balled audacity, though, to point to the city’s annual surpluses as proof we’re sitting pretty while Queen’s Park battles heroically with a debt load that’s kept us all afloat. Lest they need reminding, cities can’t run an operating deficit. They’re not allowed as provincially mandated. dirtyhands1Our surpluses come from conservative budgeting that leaves many of our services (some also provincially mandated but not necessarily provincially funded) and residents more than a little frayed around the edges. It’s at moments like this when it’s worth asking if the province is putting back as much into Toronto as it’s taking out. I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to that.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to use our bumbling, stumbling mayor as a convenient punching bag, it would do well for the provincial government to remember that there are real life implications to their political calculations. Implications that will inevitably be borne by those least able to bear them. Mayor Ford won’t be among them.

Perhaps the bigger lesson to be learned from this is for the people of Toronto. Queen’s Park and the governments in power there, first and foremost will be looking out for themselves. We’re just part of their always fluid political equation, little more than polling numbers.responsibility

We need to look after ourselves and have been given some of the tools to do so. In order for that to happen, we have to stop electing politicians who refuse to step up and take on that responsibility. It makes us easy prey for those putting their own interests first.

responsibly submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto III

March 6, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

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Throughout the week, we’ve been writing about the political landscape that lead to Rob Ford’s victorious run for mayor of Toronto in 2010. The historical background, the media environment, all the what you might call externalities. More or less an attempt at objective observation.

Today, let me get all subjective and present a frank and full mea culpa. How I played my part in the election of Mayor Robert Bruce Ford. babesinthewoodsA big ol’ ooops.

As cub observers of the political scene in Toronto, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke made its first appearance on January 4th, 2010. The day candidates could officially file with the city. We and Rocco Rossi made our municipal debuts together. Ha, ha. We’re still here.

Councillor Rob Ford as candidate for mayor was still a figment of our feverish imagination. It would be another couple months before he declared his intention to run. The possibility of such a thing merely tickled our funny bone. If nothing else, it would provide a bit of comic relief to the proceedings.

We continued not to take him seriously throughout the spring and early summer. His building constituency had to be fragile, a protest movement with no legs. It wouldn’t sustain itself through the all the missteps and scandals that would surface. When people were confronted with his deplorable behaviour during his ten years as councillor – cllrrobfordthe ‘Orientals’, dead cyclists, drunken outbursts at hockey games and on and on and on – there’d be a collective ‘Eewww’.

Yes, we were guilty of hurling invective, comparing him to Chris Farley, an excellent candidate for manager of a Walmart and on and on and on. Not only did we mock his one-note campaign style and his dodgy grasp of important policies but, unfortunately, we also ridiculed him about his weight and appearance.

When it became clear that Rob Ford had established himself as a serious contender for mayor, we finally had to overcome our disbelief and bewilderment and come to grips with that cold, hard reality. No, that can’t be right. What’s going on? What the fuck is wrong with people?!

On July 14th, 2010, we wrote a post entitled ‘An Open Letter To Rob Ford Supporters.’ By a long shot, it remains our most read piece to this day. (That’s called building an audience, that is.) In it we asked, with as little snark and condescension as we could possibly muster, what was the appeal. Why were they embracing his candidacy like they were. His numbers didn’t add up. His policy planks were wobbly under the weight of sheer improbability. His track record as a councillor indicated no desire on his part to solve the problems suburban voters faced in the amalgamated city.

Nearly three years on, the validity of our concerns holds up. There have been cuts when candidate Ford said there would be none. He’s shaved spending not cut the billions he said he could cut. fordnationHis transportation plan is in tatters, no more thought out than it was in 2010. On most major issues the city faces, the mayor has been sidelined, reverting to the lone wolf councillor he always was.

Yet Mayor Ford has retained his core support. His approval ratings hovering between 42-48%, essentially where they were when he was elected. The conundrum continues.

I don’t share some of my colleagues concern that this makes him re-electable. Sure, given his lack of performance one might think the numbers would be significantly lower. Where they were for his predecessors when Toronto had tired of them, in the thirties and high twenties. But compared to where Mel Lastman and David Miller sat at the same time during their first term? 48% is nothing to be boasting about.

And the news that John Tory hasn’t ruled out a possible mayoral run next year must send shivers up and down Team Ford’s spine. It’s what they feared most in 2010 and fought so hard and under-handily to stave off. biggermanThe appearance of any credible right of center candidate in the 2014 campaign – be it Tory, Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson – will spell the end of Mayor Ford’s hopes for a second term.

But that it’s come to that as the catalyst for a crash and burn of this administration should be mystifying to many of us. A startlingly high number of suburban Torontonians still love the mayor, despite what the rest of us would view as a bad case of the unrequiteds on his part. For our part, we’re still as confused about that connection as we were back in 2010. Now, as much as then, we need to come to terms with it and figure out how to make the case that it is an unhealthy relationship for all of us.

earnestly submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto II

March 5, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

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countrymousecitymouse2

In yesterday’s post, we pointed to David Miller’s 2006 re-election where he won 42 of Toronto’s 44 wards with nearly 57% of the popular vote. Four years later, Rob Ford swept into power, largely erasing all traces of a Miller mandate outside of Toronto’s downtown core. It was a dramatic turn of events that reflected a tumultuous discontent with the outgoing administration especially in the inner suburbs.

How did such a turnaround occur? What had David Miller done that so alienated voters in Etobicoke, York, North York and Scarborough? In terms of the political landscape, there was no suburban-urban divide in 2006 (or in 2000 for that matter in Mel Lastman’s second term). ironcurtainSuddenly in 2010, we had our very own version of the Iron Curtain.

The city as a whole was feeling somewhat unsettled. Toronto had weathered the global economic crisis fairly well although unemployment was up and the region’s manufacturing base shrinking. Voters were feeling particularly antsy.

Of course, the 2009 outside workers’ strike loomed large over local politics. Garbage piled up in our parks and when it was all over, the perception was the Miller administration had caved into the unions and handed over the key to the vault. The facts didn’t really back that up but since the mayor didn’t crush the unions into oblivion, he’d failed epically.

The over-arching tone of the 2010 campaign was pissed off. Everybody was angry. torontostinksNone seemingly more so than those in the inner suburbs.

If it wasn’t about being over-taxed, it was about being under-served. Whatever prosperity and new-fangled artscape or shiny development sprung up did so downtown. Suburbanites were left on the outside looking in and, to kick more sand in their collective faces, the tab was theirs to pay.

Troublingly, when perception doesn’t meet reality, it’s the perception that often times wins out.

There’s never been any convincing evidence that the city’s suburbs subsidize downtown spending. In fact, during David Miller’s time in office, there was much attention and capital spent on the inner suburbs. A new subway was being constructed that would extend the Yonge-University-Spadina line into the city’s northwest corner on its way up to Vaughan. Transit City was a plan to bring more rapid transit to areas that had none. The 13 Priority Areas Neighbourhood Action Plan was established to combat poverty in almost exclusively places in the inner suburbs. The Tower Renewal Program.

None of it overly glamorous unless you were a policy wonk or directly affected. But it’s simply untrue to say that the suburbs weren’t an important part of the Miller Administration agenda. So how did that view gain such traction?truthreality

Here’s my working theory.

The toxic pool of political discourse created by a growing anti-Miller sentiment in the media and splashed about in by early mayoral candidates George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi was expertly marshalled by the Rob Ford campaign into a potent divisive force. Wedge politics at its finest. Candidate Ford convinced adopted and amplified voter alienation in the inner suburbs to mirror a personal alienation during his decade long term as councillor at City Hall.

Rob Ford, lone wolf, outside councillor as champion of the forgotten and abandoned tax payers of suburban Toronto.

After four years as mayor, it’s obvious nothing could be further from the truth.

As a politician Rob Ford and those closest to him have little interest in public sector investment in the public realm. They stand firmly opposed to almost all of the legacy items of the Miller Administration’s attempts at suburban renewal and engagement. wolfinsheepsclothingIt’s not about spending and engaging more in the suburbs. It’s about not spending more anywhere.

The government should not be in the business of governing.

This urban-suburban divide we find ourselves facing is a political one more than geographical or cultural. While we can blame David Miller for not being more explicit about his goals or somehow not making his intentions clearer to voters in Etobicoke, York, North York or Scarborough, the real culprits are those claiming to be looking out for the little guy when every policy they pursue proves the exact opposite.

submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto

March 4, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

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Last week after wiggling off another over sight hook at the Compliance Audit Committee meeting, Mayor Ford took some time to talk to the media. The Globe and Mail’s Elizabeth Church reported an interesting little tidbit the mayor passed along. “The suburbs, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough,” Mayor Ford said, “these people are obviously right of centre.”

It is a wholly unsurprising view coming from a right of centre politician who doesn’t do nuance. A world that can simply be broken down into two camps, right/left, suburb/downtown. letatcestmoiThe suburbs, c’est moi.

The statement is worth further scrutiny. Certainly the federal Conservatives made inroads onto Toronto’s electoral map last election, winning 8 of the city’s 22 ridings, all of them in the inner suburbs. But their counterparts at Queen’s Park were shut out both in the suburbs and downtown in the provincial election that followed less than half a year later. Twenty-two seats. Zero representation.

So I think it’s more accurate to say that ‘these people’ in the inner suburbs of the former municipalities Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York will vote conservative but it depends entirely on the situation. In the 2010 municipal election, they embraced Rob Ford’s conservatism. In the spring 2011 federal election, they were warm to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. In the fall 2011 provincial election, they gave Tim Hudak’s PCs the cold shoulder.

At the municipal level, while the inner suburbs loved both Mel Lastman and Rob Ford, they weren’t vehemently opposed to David Miller. In the 2003 election, Miller won wards in York, Etobicoke and Scarborough. mayoral2006When he was re-elected in 2006, the only wards he didn’t win in the city were the two in Don Valley West.

Despite Mayor Ford’s hope masking as a claim, there are no hard and fast political divisions in drawn along party lines in the city. Tendencies? Sure. But by their very nature, tendencies tend to be fluid, fluctuating on a case by case basis.

The key to Ford’s election success in 2010 had less to do with uniting Toronto’s conservatives under his banner than it did corralling the former suburban municipalities back into the fold. Four years earlier they had all supported David Miller and the Ford campaign artfully convinced them they were the worse off for it. Out of control spending all directed to the downtown. $12,000 of tax payers’ hard earned money spent on a retirement party for some councillor from downtown. resentmentTime to stop that gravy train, folks.

It was an appeal to geographic tribalism. Suburbanites unite! Put an end to the profligacy the downtown elite have been showering upon themselves for the past seven years.

Look at two of the key members of the mayor’s administration, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Speaker Frances Nunziata. Fiscal conservatives for sure but also the last mayors of their respective cities before amalgamation, Etobicoke and York. These are two politicians steeped in the history of big ticket items like transit, police and emergency services being looked after by a second, city-wide tier of local government. A time also when senior levels of government were not absent on other issues like social housing.

City government for the likes of Doug Holyday and Frances Nunziata was about keeping property taxes low and programs provided on a pay-as-you go model. There was no need for all that spending they then witnessed as amalgamated councillors. What was good for their days in Etobicoke/York/North York/Scaroborough was good enough for the megacity of Toronto.

It is the gasping of the past unwilling to come to terms with the present reality. A city of 2.7 million people does not, cannot be run like cities a fraction of that size. Economies of scale give way to a critical mass. Big city. Big numbers. metropolisandmayberryAttempting to roll those back is not some act of civic heroism but simply a dereliction of duty.

Councillors Holyday and Nunziata, along with the mayor and his brother and a few remaining hardcore loyalists remain convinced the amalgamated city of Toronto can operate in the frugal manner the former inner suburban municipalities did. Notwithstanding the glaring holes in the social fabric this approach brought about – high priority needs neighbourhoods, a lack of public transit, aging, malfunctioning infrastructure – this method of governance threatens the well-being of the entire city now. Rather than moving in a direction that brings issues of mobility and liveability up to higher service levels, the Ford administration is attempting to reduce them the barest of bones.

Conservative or not, I don’t believe that’s what voters signed up for when they backed Rob Ford in 2010. While urban-suburban differences may be many, I think on fundamental questions of fairness (no, subways are not about fairness) and good government, reasonable Torontonians, regardless of political stripe, can agree on the fact the Ford administration is delivering neither. That’s something a majority of this city should be able to unite around.

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submitted by Cityslikr