The Explanation Gap

June 3, 2016

In amidst the most recent twist of the stomach turning, head spinning, logic defying debate over of the one-stop express (thank you David Rider for that) Scarborough subway extension headspinning– Chapter It’s Time To Talk About Expropriations – I was struck by how one local resident reacted. Scott Cole, who received a letter last week from the TTC telling him that his property could be subject to expropriation by the city if a proposed alignment of the extension ended up running along nearby McCowan Road, was, how would I put it, none too pleased. “I’m not going, they’re going to kill me to take me out of here,” Mr. Cole told the Toronto Star. A firm, first play negotiating stance, aggressive, leaving plenty of walk-back space.

But that wasn’t what really caught my attention.

“In my opinion, they’re just going to sell all of this to big developers and make tens of millions of dollars,” Mr. Cole stated.

Huh. Wow.

Of all the dark, dank angles and levels of subterfuge in this fetid debate over the Scarborough subway, this was one I hadn’t ever contemplated. moneymoneymoneyOf course, with any big infrastructure project, the possibility of somebody being involved purely for the money makes sense. But as the prime motivator at the heart of it all? That takes some genuine cynicism to get there, even if it is your house sitting under the shadow of expropriation.

That’s just how some people roll, I guess. Easy answers to complicated matters. It spares the brain from doing much heavy lifting.

I will, in this case, cut Mr. Cole some slack, however, and not simply because he’s looking down the barrel of being ousted from his home, even at fair market value. In a debate that often transgresses the boundaries of reason and common sense, there’s lots of room for detecting sinister specters. When a supposedly cash-strapped city is determined to spend a couple billion dollars on a one-stop express (thanks again, David) subway station that will move only 7300 riders during the peak morning rush hour, any grasping at straws for the reasons why shouldn’t be considered too outrageous.

Mr. Cole isn’t alone in expressing his dim views of transit building in Toronto.

Nick Kouvalis, the man who helped elect the last two mayors of this city and, I don’t think gets enough credit for his integral role in debasing the debate about public transit here over the last 5 years, jfkdonaldsutherlandtweeted out similarly baleful thoughts about another subway project when its proposed alignment went public this week. “Investigate this DRL [downtown relief line] route & land holdings of TTC Pension Fund & understand real politics.” That’s Oliver Stone level stuff, right there. Follow the money. Always follow the money.

In under 140 characters, Mr. Kouvalis manages to impugn the character and motivation of city staff and everyone else involved in pushing forward a subway project that has been on the demand table for decades now. Relief line? Relieving all of us of our hard earned tax dollars for no discernible return, amirite? That’s the kind of besmirching that earns Nick Kouvalis the big bucks and makes Scott Cole look like a rank amateur in comparison.

While I can’t figure out Kouvalis’ motives for weighing in on this subject at this time and in that manner, aside from perhaps just some simple union bashing, it reveals what I’ll call an explanation gap. With pro-Scarborough subway proponents desperately scrambling to justify the clearly unjustifiable building of their pet project, throwing out rationale after rationale, none of which hold up to much scrutiny but, stitched together with a thread of divisively parochial city building to create a loose-fitting blanket of… spidersinthebrainbecause, that’s why, there’s plenty of room left over to be filled with equally questionable ruminations. Defending politically based decisions leaves too much to the public imagination, too much space between the lines to read into.

That is where, there, be dragons.

And it just takes the one, in this case, it’s a big, $2 billion one, to throw into question the whole process. If the Scarborough subway is about nothing more than political theatre trumping good planning practices, why not the relief line too? What’s up with that? Who stands to profit?

It’s a contagion of suspicion that can cast a pall over every proposed transit project. Such a degree of mistrust will lead ultimately to a system wide paralysis. A situation, one might argue, we’ve been enduring and are currently suffering the ill-effects of. If the Scarborough subway is being used as a politically expedient route to pop open the spigot of public willingness to accept the cost of more transit building (and I’m being very generous in that interpretation), then do us all a favour and couch it in those terms.

Sure, that might lead to a whole bunch of Me-Tooisms, copycat demands for nothing but subways which, whispersas irony dictates in these cases, is one of the basis for building this subway. In the end, though, it’s probably preferable to the damaged credibility to actual, fact-based transit projects and the undercutting of legitimacy for the entire decision-making process that comes from pretending the Scarborough subway is anything but a political machination.

Don’t leave an explanation gap for people to fill because fill it they will. Once that happens, a competing narrative, regardless of how iffy and baseless, can take on an oversized life of its own. That, in fact, is how we ended up with this kind of debate on the Scarborough subway.

explicably submitted by Cityslikr


No, You First

March 14, 2014

(A heads up: this one’s going to be particularly swear-y. Those with delicate sensibilities may want to take a pass.)

strutsandfrets

I’m trying to re-jig that old axiom.

We get the politicians the strategists, consultants and pollsters they pay give us.

Yesterday, Premier Kathleen Wynne bravely stood down in the face of opposition intransigence toward new taxes to fund regional transit in the GTA, waving the white flag of political opportunism. After two reports came back, one from the provincial transit body, Metolinx, and another from the premier’s own appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, recommending ways to pay for the ambitious (on paper) Big Move, justsaynoPremier Wynne brushed aside two of the more substantive suggestions, the gas tax and HST.

“We are taking those potential revenue tools off the table,” she told the press. But “make no mistake”, she’s going to get this shit built. She’s just not going to tell anybody how yet.

Well, Premier Wynne, join the party. Behind every other fucking politician who cavalierly promises to tackle the pressing issue of transit in the region but deftly avoids the conversation about how exactly to pay for it. This is the line for the magic beans, right?

This is political brinksmanship at its most loathsome. Mutual assured do-nothingness. Both opposition parties at Queen’s Park have dug into their trenches and refused to so much as engage, really only popping their heads up to take the odd pot shot at the government.

brinksmanshipThe Tories have moved beyond the realm of reprehensible, promising the most expensive option of transit, the subway, with the least likely way to pay for it, finding efficiencies. They might as well just admit that they couldn’t give a flying fuck about public transit. The only reason they really addressed the issue was in order to look busy writing up white papers.

And the NDP? My political home? They’ve carved out some fucking bullshit form of populism that is trying to convince us that this can all be done through corporate taxes and a higher income tax on some miles wide interpretation of the middle class. It’s the flip side of the Conservative’s we can do all this and you won’t feel it a bit mantra.

This seems to be the avenue the government has left open to themselves. They haven’t ruled out more in corporate taxes or from high income earners. Don’t worry, people. Other people will pay for all this.whopaysforlunch

Now look, I have absolutely no problem with a renewed interest in harkening back to the olden days of using a truly progressive form of taxation via income to start addressing our social needs. It’s decades overdue. But why would I believe our politicians are prepared to have that discussion when merely saying the word ‘tax’ makes them blanch and wet themselves?

When one of these parties actually steps forward and stops referring to the middle-class as everybody who makes less than $500k/year, maybe I’ll start to think they’re serious. It’s been a long time since many of us, corporations, individuals, families, have being what we should be paying. It’s why we’re in the transit-infrastructure mess we find ourselves. We all believe somebody else should be paying for it.

But this is a game of who’s going to blink first. Nobody’s willing to take the lead on this for fear of everybody else screeching and pointing their fingers at them. hediditLook! Tax-and-spenders!! Burn them!!!

The situation is so abysmally preposterous that also yesterday, the big name left wing, NDP flavoured candidate for mayor, Olivia Chow, would only commit to property tax increases at the rate of inflation. That’s great, Olivia. That’ll maintain services at the current level. What about all the other stuff you’re going to pledge to do?

When Chow didn’t enthusiastically jump on board the DRL express, the subway build everyone has acknowledged is a priority to relieve pressure from the current lines, citing cost concerns, she was immediately jumped all over by some of the other candidates, led by the John Tory team. Hey, tax-and-spender! Why aren’t you promising to tax-and-spend some?

Now, follow me on this.

On its staff, the John Tory campaign has one Nick Kouvalis. You may remember Mr. Kouvalis from other mayoral campaigns like 2010’s Rob Ford. If you recall, there’s was much talk then of stopping a gravy train and the city government having a spending problem not a revenue problem.

Even this iteration, Kouvalis 2.0, Tory has pledged to keep taxes low. Yet building an expensive subway is priority #1. How? Not to worry. Somebody else will pay for it. You won’t feel a thing.whome1

“The only way you’re going to break this vicious cycle of waiting for public opinion that won’t come,” the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Carol Wilding told Matt Galloway today on Metro Morning, “is to insert leadership.”

Setting aside for the time being the TRBoT’s own contribution to anti-tax fever back in 2010, Ms. Wilding isn’t off the mark. We’ve stopped demanding leadership from our politicians, letting them off the hook, content only to hear them tell us what we want to hear. Yes, things aren’t perfect. Yes, there are ways we can start fixing them. No, you don’t have to do a thing about, though. Carry on. Somebody else will sort it out.

The phrase for that is probably left as is, only slightly modified.

We get the politicians we deserve.

spitting nailsly submitted by Cityslikr


Nick And John

February 17, 2014

John and Nick.

Nick Kouvalis and John Tory. courtingcoupleA political match made in heaven.

Nick Kouvalis, the bare-knuckled political strategist who was part of the team that improbably brought Rob Ford to the mayor’s office in Toronto. Don’t hate Nick because of that, because he’s good at what he does. He only did what he was paid to do.

(We can talk about how he fared during his time as the newly elected mayor’s chief of staff. Or maybe over some drinks and red meat — I always imagine talking to Nick Kouvalis over a plate of red meat — he can dish the dirt about when exactly it was he realized just how big a turd he helped dump on this city, at what point of time he knew that the man he helped elect as mayor may have had something of a ruinous substance abuse problem.)

John Tory, a political lightweight, a candidate who seldom met an election campaign he could not lose. needsapushA guy with the DNA of a winning politician, money, influence, privilege, but lacking in the necessary acumen and wiliness to make much of a lasting impression. Oh right. John Tory. That guy I didn’t vote for last election.

Face it. Somebody like John Tory needs somebody like Nick Kouvalis in his corner. Somebody like John Tory is exactly the kind of challenge somebody like Nick Kouvalis must relish. An nth-time loser with increasingly longer odds of ever getting elected to anything again. Bring it on. If Nick Kouvalis can get Rob Ford elected mayor, who can’t he put in that office?

As someone disinclined to ever vote for someone like John Tory, nothing Nick Kouvalis does to help Tory’s cause will likely bring me to change my mind. In fact, while I understand if Tory taps Kouvalis to help with his campaign, it will only confirm for me my long held suspicions of the man.

Again, this is not a slam against Nick Kouvalis. If anything, I respect him. He’s pretty upfront with his beliefs and what drives him. noholdsbarredHe’s paid to get politicians, mostly conservative leaning politicians, elected. And he will stop at almost nothing to get that done. This ain’t a popularity contest, folks.

I’d say it’s almost the exact opposite of how I view John Tory. I don’t know what’s behind his ambition. There’s no discernible motivation about why he wants to be mayor. There’s this guy with all this opportunity to present himself as a serious, civic-minded, urban thinker and where does he ultimately settle? On AM talk radio, the beating heart of the city’s raging id that is Ford Nation.

As much as I recognize the fact somebody like John Tory needs somebody like Nick Kouvalis, I don’t understand how Tory, in good conscience, can bury the hatchet and go down that road.

Soon after the 2010 election Kouvalis talked publicly about his plan to keep Tory out of the race.

“Kouvalis..said he sensed in July [2010] that Tory was itching to reverse his surprise January decision not to run for mayor. Internal Ford polling suggested Tory would enter 9.5 points ahead of Ford and 11 points ahead of George Smitherman.underhanded

Kouvalis said he warned Ford and his brother/campaign manager Doug that a Tory campaign would poach their donations and volunteers, and devised a four-point plan aimed at letting Tory know his integrity would be attacked if he jumped in…”

Included in the plan was this cheesy Stop the Gravy Train video and a staged call in to Tory’s show, challenging his integrity. Kouvalis claimed later that keeping Tory from the race was the key to Ford’s victory. Tory shrugged off the tactics as non-factors in his decision not to run. “Water under the bridge,” he said, even considering taking some sort of position in the Ford administration after the election, one that I don’t think ever materialized.

I guess if Tory easily accepted such things as just being part of the game back in 2010, there’s no raising an eyebrow at the possibility of him now working with a guy who fought so hard to keep him from running back then. sellyoursoulIn it to win it, am I right? Bearing grudges doesn’t seem to be a productive approach in political life.

It’s safe to assume that if he decides to toss his hat back into the ring this is John Tory’s last kick at the can. He cannot lose and needs to pull out all the stops to make sure that doesn’t happen. Still, what does it say about the man’s judgement and character that he’s willing to try and do that with the person who is at least partially responsible for inflicting on this city the monstrosity that is the current administration, and who did his level best to knee cap anyone and everyone standing in the way of making that happen back in 2010?

frankly 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


Time To Talk Transit Turkey

October 9, 2012

If Mayor Ford really wanted to turn the page on the nasty car accident that’s been his last year in office or so, he could do worse than to enthusiastically adopt the city CFO’s report on transit funding strategies at Executive Committee meeting today. Instead of spending his time and political capital trying to eradicate any and all evidence that David Miller was ever mayor of Toronto, he could now simply absorb what was his predecessor’s most cherished legacy. Out transit the one time Transit Mayor. You want transit? I’ll give you transit, folks.

Of course, no such thing is going to happen.

The initial response coming from the mayor’s office to Cam Weldon’s report is pretty much par for the course for an administration that’s only viewed the transit file as a potential wedge issue. Private sector this from Councillor Doug Ford, senior levels of government that from the mayor. Any talk of new sources of revenue dedicated to building transit is just a whole lot of tax-and-spending in disguise. Team Ford, no can do.

Instead, Mayor Ford seems intent on keeping to the tried and true path of obsessing and trying to exploit inconsequential matters in the hope of righting the ship. Over on Twitter last Friday, the mayor’s former campaign director and one of his ex-chiefs of staff, Nick Kouvalis suggested 70% of suburban Toronto was unhappy with the plastic bag ban and he predicted Mayor Ford could win re-election on that issue alone. Hyperbole aside (and noting Mr. Kouvalis doesn’t officially speak for the mayor at this juncture), it does point to some skewed priorities from those in the mayor’s corner. They seem unwilling, uninterested and/or unable to cope with the more pressing concerns the city faces.

So what happens when one of those pressing concerns comes before the mayor’s Executive Committee for its consideration?

I imagine Mayor Ford will try to bury the CFO’s report under procedural manoeuvrings. Out of sight, out of mind; defer it in order to keep it from council’s hands for a wider debate. The city’s got bigger fish to fry than contributing to a region wide debate on transit building. Those plastic bags aren’t going to unban themselves, people.

In other words, the mayor’s probably looking to excuse himself from the discussion and hoping to sideline the city along with him. Go on ahead without us. We’ll just stay here and roll up into a ball of irrelevancy.

How many members of his Executive Committee are willing to stick their heads in the sand along with the mayor? This isn’t just some left-right, downtown-suburban issue we’re talking about here. Toronto’s Board of Trade is pushing this discussion. The bigwigs of the region’s post-secondary school institutes are demanding action. John Tory’s Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance group will be rolling out their attempt to kick start the debate this week.

But the mayor of the largest city in the entire GTHA wants to take a pass on participating?

Enabling such a craven approach will not reflect well on those who do so. Transit is too important an item to continue playing politics with it. We’ve avoided having this conversation for at least a generation now. Any elected official once more endeavouring to push it off onto someone else’s plate needs to seriously question why it was they sought public office in the first place. And voters need to question why it was they supported them.

ominously submitted by Cityslikr


Is This A David Simon Project?

October 4, 2012

The Rob Ford Story was starting to play out like a classic Hollywood narrative.

Underdog outsider, derided by all the cool kids, defies the odds and becomes student council president mayor of Toronto. The heady heights go straight to his ego, hubris rising, he nearly throws it all away, forgetting where it was he came from and alienating all those who believed in him when nobody else did. He wallows in self-pity, mistakes piling on mistakes, looking very much like he’ll fall back into the little man obscurity he’d just escaped.

That part where Rocky, having achieved international fame after the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, has tapped him to be his next an opponent, slacks off, distracted by adoring fans and all the temptations of celebrity. Burgess Meredith is always yelling at him and makes him chase a chicken. I think that’s in Rocky, right? Maybe Rocky II. I just know it’s not the one with the Russian robot.

Redemption awaits.

Or as former campaign director and chief of staff, now unofficial Fordian gadfly, Nick Kouvalis exclaimed: Rob 2.0 He gets his shit together, bounds up the set of stairs and dances/shadow boxes triumphantly. Flying high now! Flying high now!

At the fall city council meeting, the first after his summer of deep discontent, Mayor Ford promises and delivers to beat back those angling to keep the Jarvis bike lanes, one of his early shows of power in Act One. “It’s what the people want,” the mayor pronounced, embracing the populism that got him elected. The foul weather now behind him, it was playing out like a blockbuster storybook tale. Eye of the Tiger and all that.

Except that there seemed to be some genre busting going on. It wasn’t really the mayor who trumped his adversaries on the bike lane issue but, instead, his diabolical evil henchman, Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He seemed to do all the heavy lifting while Mayor Ford basked in the accolades.

And then there was the addition of a mystery element.

Three middle of the road councillors inexplicably flip-flopped and swung the vote in the mayor’s favour. Why? As Matt Elliott pointed out yesterday, councillors Ana Bailão, Michelle Berardinetti and Josh Colle had all expressed their intention to keep the Jarvis bike lanes and had they all voted that way the result wouldn’t have been a 24-19 win for the mayor but a 22-21 loss. What happened?

Probably some horse trading. One of the amendments was to pay for the removal of the bike lanes not from the biking infrastructure budget as has been floated earlier. Some good ol’ tit for tat. But there was little other glaringly obvious swapping in evidence.

Surely none of these shifty three were still intimidated by the mayor or the power he didn’t really yield. Maybe back in the day when his power was absolute and they were greenhorn rookies. Not now. They were in control, the decision in their hands. Such capitulation seemed more than a bit baffling.

We had now entered Sidney Lumet territory.

Everybody but Mayor Ford, that is.

He continued on his rag-to-riches-to rags-to riches arc. With victory secured, redemption was now at hand. Reaching out to his enemies as represented by the downtown elitists at CBC, the mayor would admit to his own failings, how he’d learned from them and would now rise above the fray to secure his rightful place as the mayor of all people. Everyone hugs (or in the Bollywood DVD only version for increased global sales, dance and sing together), credits roll, The End.

But again, Mayor Ford went off script.

As John McGrath beautifully detailed at the Torontoist this feel good ending did not come to pass. The mayor blustered, made up facts and figures, disputed staff numbers, spouted platitudes and empty rhetoric. Basically reverted back to his desultory Act Two behaviour.

This is what happens when your script is written by committee.

Mayor Ford returned to council to slay the dragon of the much hated plastic bag ban but there was no deus ex machine in sight, the cavalry did not ride in over the hill. The mayor did not have the 30 votes needed to re-open the ban debate. It ended just like that. A whimper. Wait, what? It’s over? Where’s the twist? The surprise plan B that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat?

Worse still for Mayor Ford, he faded into the background, became a bit player. Yesterday’s news was not about him, not about his ignominious defeat but about the Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti-Gord Perks face off. City Hall Brawl, the Toronto Sun screamed.

Earlier in the day, before the plastic bag ban showdown, Councillor Mammoliti rose in chambers and harrumphed something about the Ombudsman’s Report that was to be debated later in the meeting being ‘politically motivated’. Chastised by council and told by Speaker Frances Nunziata to retract his statement and apologize. He refused, stomping from the council floor before being forced out, and up to the media gallery, the councillor continued his tirade in front of the cameras.

Enter our shaggy anti-hero, Councillor Perks. He gets all up in his colleagues face, demanding he apologize or leave the chambers. Back off, out my face. Get out. Stand back. Get out.

Conflict. The key ingredient of any good drama.

In what then appears as a reversal of fortune, Councillor Perks is forced to apologize for his outburst at council while Councillor Mammoliti issues a typical non-apology apology. The mayor’s foes have over-stepped and succeeded only in embarrassing themselves. They hand him the public opinion victory he could not secure himself.

Except the story’s not done yet.

It could be seen that our seemingly reckless anti-hero, Councillor Perks, tactically fell on his sword. In making his confrontation today’s headline, it left people wondering what the two councillors fighting about. What indeed? The Ombudsman’s Report damning the mayor’s office’s involvement in the civic appointments process.

As I sit writing this, I’m listening to city council’s debate over the report. No good can come of this for the mayor. It’s bad news about bad conduct and that’s what everyone’s going to be talking about. This council meeting, the first of what was supposed to be his comeback, will be remembered only for a report highlighting his failure of governance as mayor.

Hardly the Hollywood ending he needed. In fact, this isn’t a movie at all with its interminable requisite sequels. It’s a sprawling miniseries saga that continues to defy expectations. A cautionary tale where the hero does not triumph.

cinematically submitted by Cityslikr


Sometimes A Surplus Is Just A Surplus

September 19, 2012

Gather round, all ye loyal readers, and prepare your ears to hear that not heard in these parts muchly. Tis an admission of error on our part. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For some time now, pretty near since our inception over two and a half years ago, we’ve suggested that the mayor and his fiscal conservative ilk have budgetary issues, let’s call them. That their numbers rarely add up. In fact, they are an assault upon reason itself.

But the problem, dear readers, may lay with our abacus not theirs. Our eyes blinded by the ideology of government spendthriftry and the love of dwelling in a gravy slathered city. We are wanton with the money of others when restraint is something near godliness. Affix the letters D P E in brightly stitched pink to our breasts and take the keys to the safe from our sweaty, grubby hands and greedy, bleeding hearts.

For you see, yesterday a word was spoken in the halls of City Hall that has seldom been uttered anywhere near that vicinity if uttered at all. A word so delicious to those hungering for the twin notions of fiscal sanity and respect for the taxpayers that all they could do was but to gobble it up, swallow it whole. That word, curious readers?

Surplus.

Ohhh, sweet, sweet surplus. How we have longed to embrace you all these dark, dank days filled with deficits and debt. Let us never part again, shall we? Not? That is to say, tongue tied as I am in your magnificent presence, may we be together forever and never leave each other’s sight. Ever.

How long has it been, dearest one, since your name upon our lips last passed? Last year? 2010? 2009? 2008. 2007. 2006. 2005. 2004… Every fucking year, year after fucking year, Toronto has a surplus. It pretty much has to since the province mandates against municipalities running any sort of deficit on their annual operational side. It would be news only if we didn’t have a surplus not when we do. Because we always do.

No, any surplus news should involve how we went about achieving said surplus. Increases in revenues? Decrease in costs? A healthy mix of both? An unhealthy mix?

For a couple reasons that angle’s not really in the best interest of our current administration. One, while very revenue generating shy (or tax hating in the common parlance), Team Ford would have to accentuate their approach to surplus delivery has not made them wildly popular. Call it ‘finding efficiencies’ or ‘service adjustments’ all you want, it still strikes some especially those directly affected as the exact same as service and program cuts, user fees replacing tax increases. Things Mayor Ford campaigned on never implementing.

More importantly however, any talk of operating budget surpluses being par for the course in Toronto lays waste to the claim that brought the mayor and other hawks to power. It was all about out of control tax-and-spending, costly union appeasing, money burning on sweetheart deals, complete and utter breakdown of order on taxpayer respecting. “Toronto’s financial foundation is crumbling,” Mayor Ford pronounced, not long after using hundreds of millions of surplus dollars from the Silly Socialist David Miller regime to stuff holes in his first budget.

Hold on there, bucko. A David Miller surplus? Hardly. A one-time savings is all. An annual savings that happen every year. Don’t count on that regularly.

Besides much of that repeated one-time savings comes from the loathed Land Transfer Tax and, based as it is on real estate, we know how volatile that is. So undependable we need to get rid of it altogether to free ourselves from such instability. Once we do that, then we can start talking about a strong, stable surplus.

Maybe.

Unless of course widows and orphans come knocking at our door, thinking we’re suddenly flush with cash to spend on their little ‘nice to haves’. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande will know just what to say to nip that in the bud. “I don’t call it a surplus, I call it a positive variance.” Words matter. So get the hell off my lawn.

To ensure all hatches are battened down on the HMS Tightfisted, council’s surplus deniers also delight in pointing out the capital side of things. Plenty of unfunded liabilities there, folks. Any surplus—I mean, ‘positive variance’–must be rolled over onto capital expenses. Otherwise… otherwise… Even former Ford chief of staff and campaign honcho, tough as nails Nick Kouvalis wets his pants at mention of our capital budget outlook. “What’s the Capital Budget deficit,” he tweeted. “Why do reporters not talk about the real issues?”

OK, Nick. Let’s talk about real issues. Let’s talk about our capital budget.

Yeah, it’s big. That tends to happen when big cities need big capital projects like public transit and infrastructure. Just comes with the territory.

It may appear insurmountable to those whose politics are defined exclusively by lowering taxes and cutting spending. So I get why you blanch at those numbers. How the hell can we afford everything that makes a city liveable and prosperous?

Well, we certainly can’t cut our way there. The city manager, Joe Pennachetti said as much earlier this year, suggesting there’s not more than $100 million left in efficiencies to find in the budget. How many subways stops will that buy us? Contracting out some of the city’s waste collection might, might, save us $11 million a year. Contracting out cleaning services looks to save another $800 000. Won’t make a dent on capital costs.

Senior levels of government have largely walked away from their obligations to cities and caught up as they are in the downward spiral of austering us from rocky economic times shouldn’t be expected back any time soon. That well is as good as dry for the time being.

So we’re going to have to figure this out on our own. Operating budget surpluses or one-time savings or positive variances, whatever you want to call them, is the easy part. Everyone does it. Everyone has to. That’s not newsworthy.

What I want to know is how you’re going to spend the money necessary to keep Toronto from collapsing under the weight of small-minded frugality masking as rock solid fiscal stewardship.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr