The Politics Of Pandering

Half measures. Political legacies, both good and bad, are not made from half measures.

Don’t mistake half measures for compromise or consensus. Half measures represent uncertainty and timidity. They do not generate loyalty or commitment but ultimately build mounds of contempt. Half measures spawn a whole lot of meh.

The Dalton McGuinty Liberal government lives and breaths half measures. It sketches big thoughts and ideas in sand and stands back, content as its opponents wash over it, leaving mere traces of the original from which they’ll try to re-design a coherent whole. Half measures represent a half-hearted attempt at leadership and good governance. We believe in this unless people don’t think it’s a good idea.

The latest McGuinty about-face and cave-in came last Friday when it quietly announced shelving off-shore wind generation plans, burying it deep in the joyous tumult that greeted the news of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. For Further Scientific Study was the reason given, whole-heartedly embracing the skepticism of anti-wind turbinites especially those in politically contentious ridings in this, an election year. Thus, did the government sever an arm from its renewable energy plans and open wide the door to its critics who either think this just proves what they’ve been saying along that the need to find alternative sources of energy is just a bunch of hokum and green energy is actually “green” energy or that the government shouldn’t be in the business of funding new research and technology development ever. Or both.

It’s not as if there isn’t any information out there that couldn’t counter the claims made by the largely NIMBY crowd who view the very sight of the wind turbines as a personal affront to their well-being. Even a cursory web search took me to sites like this and this and this that dispute many of the claims being made by those seeking to kill wind energy in this province. Are they any more valid than the arguments being made by the anti-forces? I don’t know. But they seem strong enough to enable the government to make a principled stand in favour of a continued pursuit of energy through wind generation.

Sadly, principled stands seem to be an anathema to Liberals these days. Not just with the McGuinty government but with their federal brethren in Ottawa. Former Liberal mucky-muck George Smitherman couldn’t make one during his run for the mayoralty of Toronto last year and paid the price with a sound defeat at the polls. Resoluteness, even in the pursuit of destructive ideals, will attract a more passionate following than wishy-washy indecisiveness.

That is not to say what the province needs is another heaping dose of Common Sense. All of McGuinty’s equivocation multiplied cannot match the damage wrought on this province by the cancerous anti-government policies of his immediate Conservative predecessors.  It’s just that, governing on the basis of being slightly less like them is ultimately uninspiring and ineffectual in rebuilding after the swath of disaster created by Hurricane Harris.

Yes, the Liberals have invested more in education although not nearly enough to bring us back up to speed. Ontario is still dead last in per capita funding for post-secondary school education. How’s that going to help push us forward in the knowledge economy? The Big Move was a step in the right direction toward finally bringing about a blueprint for a GTA-wide transit network but it remains woefully under-funded and susceptible to politicking. Witness the government’s willingness to consider the inane attack on Transit City – arguably the beating heart at the centre of The Big Move – by an ideological driven, transit ignoramus all because it’s an election year and some 416 ridings could be up for grabs.

And now an environmental reversal “after years of touting itself as the greenest government in North America” in the face of discouraging poll results 8 months before an election. Plug in your own cliché here as I write You Got To Stand For Something Or You’ll Fall For Anything. It is a move that allows the opposition to frame the debate in a fashion that best fits them. Instead of standing its ground and calling out the Conservatives as knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers with their heads in the sand on environmental issues (take a moment to savour that image) who are jeopardizing future generations to a life of dirty, fossil fuel dependency, the Liberals look weak, opportunistic and dishonest.

Not really the image you want to run with in the anti-political environment that seems to be present in the electorate right now. Although, it may be difficult for the provincial Liberals to let go of it since they’ve been elected to two straight majority governments on just such a platform. It’s tough to argue with success.

strongly submitted by Cityslikr

Oath Of Allegiance

Reading where councillor Adam Vaughan may’ve fallen afoul of the code of conduct demanded from members of the Police Services Board when he issued a newsletter to his constituents briefing them with some details about the security and anti-terrorism plans for the upcoming G20 summit this summer. He received a reprimand for breeching the board’s oath of confidentiality but seemed less than contrite in the face of it. His response was quite telling.

“There is no higher calling at city hall than to be an elected representative in a city ward, Vaughan said. “The residents of my ward will get my full and undivided loyalty.”

Here lies the beating heart of the dysfunction that passes for the democratic process at Toronto’s City Hall.

Council consists of 44 councillors and one mayor. Only the mayor is elected city wide and, therefore, only the mayor speaks for all of Toronto. That must compete with 44 individual voices, like Adam Vaughan’s who are concerned first and foremost with their respective wards. It’s like medieval Europe with one king surrounded by rival and feuding duchies. Gridlock prevails and nothing short of all out war will bring about any meaningful solutions.

This is why single tier municipal governments are ultimately ineffective and detrimental to the smooth running of a city especially one the size of Toronto. Outside of the mayor and that one single vote, there is no one unified vision for matters that involve the entire city like transit or new development density. NIMBYism will often rear up and bite well intentioned projects in the ass. Like the construction of the St. Clair LRT, for example, that was disrupted and derided by orchestrated community groups that deemed their convenience to be paramount to a highly functioning transit line.

As much as it pains this true believer in streamlined forms of government to say, another administrative level is needed in Toronto as an advocate for long term planning on a city wide scale. Much like we had back in the pre-amalgamation days with the Metro Council. It was not perfect, no, but it was a voice for the whole of Toronto and wasn’t driven purely by local interests. Right now, the city lurches and convulses to discordant parochial rhythms.

And maybe if the loyalty of councillors like Adam Vaughan is fully and undividedly given to the residents of his ward, he should think about not sitting on the Police Services Board or the Planning and Growth Committee. These duties require a wider overview beyond the interests of just one ward, Vaughan’s ward in this case. His divided sense of loyalty smacks of a conflict of interest to those of us outside his ward and causes us to wonder just how effective his contributions are for the entire city of Toronto.

And shouldn’t a better, stronger city be the ultimate goal of all our elected municipal officials?

admonishingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

We’re One City Or We’re Not

One has to wonder how a city functions at all during an election year when even the simplest of decisions is put off until after the election for fear of riling voters. To whit, the January 6th 4-3 vote by the Planning and Growth Management Committee to defer plans on harmonizing bylaw regulations on rooming houses citywide. It’s one of about 43 zoning bylaws that remain un-amalgamized from the former municipalities that now make up the bigger, leaner, more uniform, less red tape-y city of Toronto. More than a decade on and we still haven’t got all that shit sorted out.

Pre-1999 only the municipalities of Toronto, York and Etobicoke licensed the running of rooming houses although the regulations of what constituted a rooming house and where they could operate varied significantly. North York, East York and Scarborough did not allow them in any legal form. So it should come as no surprise where the preponderance of rooming houses are within the confines of the new city.

Now in 2010, city hall is looking at ways to expand the supply of affordable housing as one way of dealing with its homelessness situation. Part of the Affordable Housing Action Plan 2010–2020 that city council adopted last August offered up well regulated rooming houses as one form of viable affordable housing. So it would make sense to streamline the regulations overseeing them and expanding areas where they could operate.

Not so fast, say a few councilors representing wards in the former rooming house no-go municipalities. We don’t want to go rushing into something like this so rashly, do we? There are property values to think of. Households with young children. We can’t just foist rooming houses on them without lengthy public consultations.

That’s what makes the January 6th vote so absolutely fucking craven. What was it the Planning and Growth Management Committee voted down? Immediate implementation of rooming house construction anywhere and everywhere within city limits especially right next door to schools and playgrounds? Hardly. What the committee wanted no part of were “preparations” of “regulations” and “enforcement strategies” for possible rooming house zoning bylaw changes and consultations “with the public and stakeholders after preparing the draft zoning and licensing regulations” and certainly they didn’t want to deal with any report “following the preparation of and consultation on the draft zoning by-law and licensing by-law changes.”

Instead they chose to defer “…to the next term of Council to allow open dialogue and consultation between elected representatives and affected communities regarding the proposed legalization of rooming houses in neighbourhoods where they are not currently allowed.” I’m sorry, isn’t that exactly what they voted against? Dialogue and consultation?

Ward 37 councillor Michael Thompson, who voted against the motion and, by extension, voted for exacerbating the city’s homelessness problem wants to make the whole rooming house bylaw an election issue. How? By deferring dialogue and consultation until after the election. Huh?!

Hey, Councillor Thompson. Can you spell N-I-M-B-Y? While that kind of exclusivist bullshit may’ve worked in pre-amalgamation days, it ain’t going to wash now. If the entire city adopts an approach to battle the lack of affordable housing, we’re all in. What’s that motto of the new Toronto? “One city One vision One plan.” You can’t pick and choose. It doesn’t work that way. Or at least, it shouldn’t.

submitted by Cityslikr