Stilled Life With Rot

April 22, 2015

As we have said more than a few times here in these bytes since last fall’s municipal election, the make-up of city council barely budged from the previous term. stuckinthemudI’d use the word ‘glacial’ except in these days it has taken on an entirely different meaning from its traditional usage, the polar opposite in fact. No, wait. Polar? Does that still mean what I think it means?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In 2014, Toronto city council got whiter, more male, lurched even further into paleoconservative territory. What change there was cannot be considered a change for the better. How can you further entrench an already firmly entrenched status quo?

Judging from the proceedings of yesterday’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee whatever reforms (and I’ll use that word loosely) were made last term at City Hall seemed to be under immediate attack of un-reform. Dereform? Change! Change! Chase that change from these chambers! Out, out, damned change.reverse

I have no strong opinions about the taxi industry in this city. Taxis play a very, very tiny role in how I get around, a mobility device of last resort. My main interaction with them centres around being cut off while I’m riding in a bike lane. I’ve no idea if they’re too expensive or deliver terrible service. When I think of cabs, I don’t, really. I seldom think of cabs.

The rules by which the city regulates them strike me as byzantine at best, misshapen by special interests at worst. Back in 2013, Metro’s Jennifer Cross Smith laid out the state of the industry (h/t Glyn Bowerman). A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee pushed to reform last year. A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee is now attempting to revert back to after yesterday’s vote.

Why?

I don’t care. Although I should because at first glance it appears the powerful players in the industry, fighting back last year’s reforms, won the day, to “revive a two-tier model for taxis,” according to Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star. stepbackBig players represented by this thing called the Toronto Taxi Alliance challenged last year’s reforms in court, were rebuffed, so have taken another run at it through city council, successfully for now it seems. Money well spent, you might argue, donating to the likes of Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ city council campaign last year who raised about a tenth of his total donations from the taxi industry, and has proven to be a dogged champion for the industry in fighting the taxi reforms and the Uber infestation.

More eye-rollingly, the Municipal Licensing and Standards chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio, also a beneficiary of the taxi industry’s largesse, is now overseeing the attempted dismantling of the reforms that happened while he was also chair of the exact same committee last term. In effect, his committee is seeking to repeal the reforms of his committee. If that’s not a potent symbol of impotency of city council, I don’t know what is.

Never mind that the committee also revived the food truck issue and came up with a 20 metre compromise. (Yeah, don’t even bother.) todolistThe fact that this is even a thing, remains a thing, a regular thing, a constant fucking reminder of our city council’s ongoing and perpetual war against change shows why on the big ticket items, housing, transit, police reform, this city stands in petrified stillness, unable to face the future because it can’t let go of the past. But…But…We used to know how to run a city.

In my lighter moments, I like to think when voters in 2010 rallied around Rob Ford, they were clamoring for change. Remember, there was also nearly a one-third turnover of city councillors then too. When it became glaringly obvious that Ford didn’t represent change as much as wanton destruction and outright contempt for public service, we retreated to what we perceived as a safe harbour. Dignity. Respectfulness. Diligence and duty.

Above all, we voted to get this city moving again. Moving to a standstill, as it turns out. rottingfruitRunning on the spot, avoiding anything that resembles anything close to substantive change.

In its current make-up, City Hall is where change goes to die. In its defiant embrace of the status quo, progress is impossible. The well-connected and well-served by the way things are, they way things are done, they way things have always been done, will continue to be heard. The rest of us? Well, we’re just going to have to figure out a way to work around the deadwood that continues to prop up the pretense of local, forward-thinking governance.

fed-uply submitted by Cityslikr


Now It’s A War On The Raccoon

August 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

racc0onteurly submitted by Cityslikr


Bloodied Cesar (I Just Had To)

April 7, 2014

I will give Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport) credit for this much. Talk about having the stones to bad-mouth a major piece of infrastructure that runs right through the heart of your own ward. citybuildingInfrastructure built under your watch.

That takes some nerve, it does. Stepping up and announcing to anyone listening, hey. Look at this mess I helped create. Vote Palacio!

But this is exactly the route the councillor took after signing on to Team Ford in 2010. Aside from maybe the mayor and his brother, and perhaps Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), nobody beat the drum about the St. Clair Disaster louder than Councillor Palacio. Never mind that most of the claims being made were untrue. Yes, the construction did not go smoothly. There were overruns in both time and money. Businesses along the strip suffered.

Don’t forget, however, Councillor Palacio was in office during all this. It’s not as if he inherited it. By yapping on about some perceived disaster, he’s basically announcing that he’s unfit for office. Almost like he’s daring voters not to support him.

Imagine being a resident up near St. Clair or a business along the strip, idareyou1and your local representative can’t seem to tell enough people about how bad things are there. I hear there’s a really good restaurant on St. Clair. Wanna go try it? I don’t know. I would but I hear it’s a nightmare up there. Or… or… You live near St. Clair? I hear it’s a real disaster. Who’d you hear that from? The guy you elected to represent you at City Hall.

Your councillor, Ward 17. Cesar Palacio. Advocating and fighting for your interests since 2003.

Councillor Palacio has been the closest thing downtown Toronto has to a bona fide member of Team Ford. He has accepted the role with particular relish, garnering himself a seat on the Executive Committee through his position as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. thumbsup3When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s (Ward 7 York West) thumb fell out of favour or into disuse (was never sure which it was), Councillor Palacio, perched as he was directly behind the mayor, enthusiastically filled in, flashing his thumb to let folks know which way the mayor wanted them to vote.

Not that I’d imagine anyone followed his instructions. In fact, I’m not even sure the mayor was ever aware of what Councillor Palacio was doing. The gesture probably had more to do with the councillor signalling to everyone that he was behind Mayor Ford both literally and figuratively.

Despite the mayor’s recent woes, Councillor Palacio has remained a steadfast devotee although he did join the enemy’s list when he voted in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers. The councillor has been firm in his support of a Scarborough subway and against LRTs (because that’s what made St. Clair a disaster, don’t you know). He was part of the gang of 5 TTC commissioners who helped engineer the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster after he had the temerity to publicly suggest it best to stick with the LRT plan that was already in place and paid for by the provincial government. Councillor Palacio was, in turn, thumbsuprobfordunceremoniously dumped when then TTC chair Karen Stintz pulled off her own putsch (curiously however the councillor voted in favour of his own termination), booting those known as Ford loyalists from the board.

Ford loyalist.

I think that would be the most apt and probably only term I’d come up with if asked to describe the councillor’s time in office this term. What else can you say about Cesar Palacio? A Ford loyalist.

And like all Ford loyalists whose last name isn’t Ford, what did the councillor get in return for such fidelity and reliability?

Why just last week in these very virtual pages we reported how the councillor, in his capacity as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee, overseeing the food truck issue, seemed to have been blindsided by the mayor’s motion to eliminate the 50 linear metre from any restaurant rule the councillor was proposing. gotyourback1Councillor Palacio asked the mayor if he realized it was his motion that the mayor was seeking to amend. So obviously there had been no consultation between them. The councillor also wanted to know if the mayor knew just how long it had taken to bang out the sort of compromise he was now seeking to undermine with his off-the-cuff motion.

Mayor Ford appeared indifferent to the councillor’s plaintive tone. That’s just the way he rolls, yo. Loyalty’s a one way street with him, baby.

Still, Councillor Palacio hasn’t come away empty handed with his toadying to the mayor.

Only in a Rob Ford administration could an undistinguished councillor like Cesar Palacio rise to the rank of a standing committee chair, even a lowly regarded one like Municipal Licensing and Standards. But hey. If a Frank Di Giorgio can become budget chief, the sky’s the limit for mediocrity. Chances are Councillor Palacio’s star will never shine as brightly (such as it) as it has for the past 3+ years, although I did spot him at the official launch of John Tory’s mayoral campaign, so his time in the sun may not yet be done.droppedball

The bigger question is, what have Ward 17 residents got in return for their councillor’s brush with power? Used as a political cudgel to fight a transit war across the city in Scarborough. Check. The implementation of the Ford agenda. Check. Fighting to remove a methadone clinic. Check.

Ummm… after that, I’m kind of drawing a blank.

After 10 years in office, you’d think Councillor Palacio and the ward he represents would have a lot more to show for it than that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Big Fucking Idiot

April 4, 2014

No, no. This isn’t about that, the term of endearment hurled at Mayor Ford by his crack-buddy, Elena Basso Johnson, and caught for posterity on police wiretap. bfiNo. I was turning the phrase over in my mind while watching the mayor on his feet at city council yesterday during the Great Food Truck Debate of 2014.

Set aside his personal travails. The manner in which he spends his off hours and down time. The affection and loyalty he so clearly engenders, hanging out and just being himself with the drug and gang folks. Pretend for a moment that isn’t what would normally disqualify anyone from continuing to hold public office anywhere in the real democratic world.

Watch Mayor Ford in action (clip via Matt Elliott), ostensibly doing what he was elected to do, what he’s supposedly been doing since 2000 when he first arrived at council. Watch and tell me, within a couple minutes, you don’t sit back in your chair and just think, What a big fucking idiot. Who voted for this guy again?

Look. The mayor’s not even entirely in the wrong on this. I mean, god! Food trucks! Watching this agonizingly prolonged debate, coming at the end of a year and a half process, you’d think we were venturing into uncharted territory here, as if no place else on earth has gone down this road before. It’s like the plastic bag ban or the fight over removing part of an expressway. Careful as she goes, guys! Trailblazing’s tricky!

And given the last big adventure in mobile food slinging, the á La Cart program (spit!), who’s going to disagree with Mayor Ford when he states that he’d “…just like to loosen up the restrictions a bit”? cuttheredtapeIf there’s one thing councillors should’ve learned from that mess of mess providing is that you can be too prescriptive, restrictive, meddlesome and red tape-y.

Fighting all that and the bureaucracy at City Hall is supposed to be his bread and butter. Looking out for the little guy, right? The defender of small businesses and job providers. Scourge of intrusive big government and political man-handling.

Could there be an item before city council more tailor made for Rob Ford to hit out of the park? A bigger and slower softball lobbed tantalizingly into his wheelhouse?

You wouldn’t think so.

Yet, there he was, in typical stumbling and bumbling fashion, unprepared to defend his motion.

foodtruck1If only he’d done even a modicum of homework.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Rob Ford doesn’t do homework. He’s a fly by the seat of his pants, gut feeling, shoot from the hip politician. That’s why the folks love him.

It’s also why he’s a big fucking idiot.

First of all, his motion to delete the proposed stipulation keeping food trucks 50 linear meters from any bricks and mortar restaurant sought to amend an item put forth by his very own Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio. This is a guy loyal to a fault to the mayor, dimming his re-election chances in Ward 17 in the process. As Mayor Ford’s fortunes go, so too will Councillor Palacio’s.

Clearly from the tone of Councillor Palacio’s questions to the mayor, there had been no prior consultation between the two men before the motion was put forth. The councillor asked if the mayor was aware he was amending his item. Mayor Ford shrugged. Councillor Palacio wondered if the mayor knew about the food vending working group that had been hammering out compromises like the linear distance for the past 18 months. cantbebothered
Again, Mayor Ford shrugged.

This followed the same line of reasoning Councillor Raymond Cho pursued when he asked the mayor if he’d attended any of the committee meetings that put the food truck proposals together. The Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. The Executive Committee (which Mayor Ford is a member of). The mayor shrugged. Attended? Not so much. He assured the councillor, however, that he followed along. He is the mayor of this city after all.

Besides, Mayor Ford met with people about the item. In his busy, busy office. ‘They’ told him what ‘they’ wanted.

Were these people lobbyists, Councillor Paula Fletcher asked. Like it’s up to the mayor to know that! The integrity-challenged mayor then went on to explain the rules to the councillor. “It’s up to them to register,” Mayor Ford said. “It’s not up to me to ask.” goitalone1Apparently, in Mayor Ford’s world, a lot of people get offended when you ask them if they’re lobbyists before you sit down to discuss city business with them.

I told you guys from the beginning, he’s a big fucking idiot.

Besides his lack of collaborative interest or acumen, Mayor Ford also displays a fundamental deficit of attention to details. In moving to delete the 50 linear meter regulation, he just simply proposed a ‘not in front of a restaurant’ rule. Exactly how not in front? A meter on other side? Could you set up shop right around the corner from the restaurant at the side of it, in clear view of the front? How about the parking lot? Could a food truck park in the lot of a restaurant as long as it was at the back?

These kind of details matter. In all likelihood, they were discussed in the working group and various committees that hashed all that out leading up to the council debate. Meetings the mayor may or may not have followed in between appointments with people who may or may not have been lobbyists.howshouldiknow

If he’d spent even an hour checking out how other cities manage the food truck-restaurant dynamic (and it’s not like he has much else to do at this point in his busy, busy schedule), he might’ve come up with more specific ideas instead of his half-baked “This is free enterprise! Let them sell what they want! Let the customer decide” motion that emphasized nothing more than his haphazard, governance in isolation mode that serves no constructive purpose aside from burnishing his lone wolf brand.

Forget his monumental personal failings. This is why he’s unfit to be mayor of this city. This is why he’s a big fucking idiot.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr