Shiner On To Greener Pastures

September 8, 2014

On Friday, one burning question about Toronto’s October 27th municipal was answered. Will David Shiner be seeking re-election as councillor for Ward 24 Willowdale? whyYes. Yes, he will be.

Leading to the inevitable and next logical train of thought. Good god in heaven, why?

Over the course of the past 4 years, we have all been witness to the wanton destruction wrought down on the city by what I’ll call the antediluvian, pre-amalgamated mindset of the Ford brothers, Rob and Doug. A low tax, user pay services, car-first approach to local governance that sees red at money spent on anything they don’t attach value to. Clear and pave the roads. Pick up the garbage. Keep the city safe.

Much past that and it’s pretty well everybody for themselves. If you want something, pay for it out of your own pocket. tightwadIt’s called, Respect For Taxpayers.

But before Rob Ford moved from the fringes of crank councillor, and brother-Doug took part-time off being a private sector magnate to grace City Hall with his presence, Councillor David Shiner represented the height of suburban Toronto reactionism. In his defence, he comes by it by it naturally, as son of former North York politico, Esther ‘Spadiner’ Shiner. Just a couple years ago, in fact, during one of the countless transit plan debates, he stood up and proudly boasted of marching in favour of the Spadina Expressway, back in his anti-flower power days.

Shiner descended on Toronto city wide, flocking down Yonge Street with the Mel Lastman horde, in 1997, resolute nothing should change for the lives of residents in the former municipality with amalgamation. Nothing at all. Nothing whatsoever. Nothing.

He’s pretty much maintained that belief for nearly 4 terms now, willing to sacrifice all but the barest of civic essentials in his pursuit of keeping taxes as low as possible. pieinthefaceHe sandbagged rookie councillor Mike Layton, back in early 2011, leading the rear-guard action against a long planned Fort York pedestrian and cyclist bridge. “Too fancy”, he called it.

Although later reworked to everyone’s seeming satisfaction, the Fort York bridge incident is a good example of Shiner dual destructiveness. A less than collegial relationship with fellow councillors and an absolute penury of public spirit. If that’s not bad enough – I mean, he isn’t alone in that — fellow Lastman era North Yorker, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has a similar knack for blind-siding his co-workers and openly attacking plans and development of the public realm, over the course of the last term, Shiner has displayed an open disregard for ethical behaviour.

Last October, it was reported that, along with Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, Shiner was paying below market rent for an apartment leased from a company who does some business with the city. He shrugged off questions, saying he wasn’t exactly sure what the rent was he paid. Mayor Ford, no stranger himself to questions of ethics, stepped up to the councillors’ defence. “It’s a private issue, it’s between them and the landlord,” he said.questionsquestionsquestions

A few days after that allegation, it was revealed Councillor Shiner worked as a federal lobbyist for a company “… that was competing for millions of dollars in municipal contracts,” Daniel Dale wrote in the Toronto Star.

“It is common for councillors to maintain their private businesses while in office,” according to Dale. “It is also common for councillors to become lobbyists after leaving office. It appears rare, though not illegal, for a councillor to work as a lobbyist while still serving as an elected representative.”

Nothing illegal but most certainly in an ethical grey zone. As Guy Giorno, a lawyer and ‘an expert in lobbyist legislation’ said in the article: “Nothing in the law prohibits a municipal politician from holding another job, even if that job is to lobby another level of government. However, given the fact that councillors in Toronto receive full-time pay, it is legitimate to question why they should hold second jobs.”citybuilding

It’s bad optics, to say the least and does raise concerns just how much time Councillor Shiner dedicates to representing the interests of those who elected him to public office. Who does he work for, himself or for the residents of Ward 24?

Perhaps most egregious of David Shiner’s questionable behaviour during the past 4 years is his continued support of Mayor Ford.  Last November, he was the only non-Ford on city council to vote against stripping the mayor of most of his powers in light of the admission of crack use. Shiner was adamant in his tepid support of the mayor, insisting he’d “done a reasonable job.”

A reasonable job? Only if you view the main purpose of the job of a member of city council to be keeping taxes low and making sure the future of Toronto doesn’t get too fancy.timeforchange1

While the focus of the 2014 municipal campaign has been on the unsuitability of Rob Ford to continue leading this city, the dynamics at City Hall won’t change significantly if his enablers, and David Shiner has been among his most ardent enablers, are returned to office. He remains a throwback to an earlier time, one that is no longer up to the task of running a city of this size, this complexity and in need of adapting to the 21st-century. As much as Toronto has to move beyond the Fords come October 27th, Shiner time must also be relegated to a thing of the past.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Compromised

October 31, 2012

If you’ve ever wondered why this city council moves at such a (pre-climate change) glacial pace and never seems to get much done, you need not look any further than yesterday’s meeting. Yes, there was the usual procedural wrangling in setting up the order paper. That’s just a thing. And a longer than necessary debate over whether or not to cut out early tonight for Halloween. (For the record. Why not? They’ll make up the lost time by going longer on Thursday. Their job isn’t a standard 9-5 one. Flexible working hours shouldn’t be begrudged).

No, what really ground the proceedings to the halt were two items, both of which amounted to cleaning up the mess created by the mayor’s previous intemperate and ideological outbursts.

First up was the passing of Councillor Ana Bailão’s working group report on the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Putting People First. This all came about due to Mayor Ford’s open hostility to the idea of public housing and his orchestrated attack on it during his initial swell of support in the early days of his administration. Manufacturing a crisis over some perceived excessive spending by the board, he ousted the lot and replaced them with another TCHC hater, former councillor Case Oootes.

Their plan for a massive sell-off of homes — ostensibly to help put a dent in the corporation’s massive backlog of capital repairs — met fierce resistance from a majority of council. Instead of unloading 675 single family homes that the Executive Committee had recommended back in January (Ootes had suggested 900 on his way out in June 2011), council went with just 55. Added to the 56 sold earlier, that’s but a fraction of what the mayor was hoping to accomplish and we should view with much suspicion his statement that the report “was a good start”.

But nonetheless, it was proclaimed a compromise victory for Mayor Ford, proof that he was learning to work with council and was growing into his role. Never mind that it took nearly two years to accomplish because of the extreme approach he adopted at the very beginning. It is a one-time fix, a band-aid solution to a growing problem the city’s going to have tackle again, probably sooner than later.

Of course, that process looked like the very model of nuanced governance compared to what followed.

The renewal of the city’s Ombudsman’s contract for a second 5 year term should’ve been effortless. A quick item dealt with, bing, bang, boom. Why would there be a fuss? No one had any complaints about the job Fiona Crean was doing.

Oh wait.

The mayor did.

After her office issued a report citing his office’s interference with the Civic Appointments process, he declared war. Unable to refute any of the report’s findings, he decided to kill the messenger and threw a contract renewal after her first term was up next fall into question. It was pettiness and score settling at its worst.

Now, you would think that a majority of councillors would be able to nip such vindictiveness in the bud like they had on the TCHC file. But here’s a good example of the modest powers bestowed on the mayor’s office being put to ill use. According to provincial legislation, council requires 30 votes to renew the Ombudsman’s contract and there was enough concern that 15 councillors might be craven enough to do the mayor’s bidding on this.

Thus, the 2 year extension “compromise”.

Hours after the matter should’ve been settled, 41 councillors voted in favour of the extension, almost all of them with high praise for the job Ms. Crean was doing. Nice work. There’s no reason whatsoever you shouldn’t be getting a 5 year extension but… you know… the mayor… we had to throw him a bone… you know how it is when the chief magistrate hasn’t a clue about the job he’s supposed to be doing… We’ll talk again in 2014, OK?

Compromise!

It wasn’t.

It was just another example of finding some sort of way for Mayor Ford to save face after he, yet again, stepped into it. A huge time suck spent to placate a mayor who threatened to overturn the applecart if he didn’t get his way. With over 100 items on their agenda, once more council pissed away the better part of a day mending fences the mayor had impulsively ripped up for no apparent reason other than he could.

Respect for the taxpayers indeed.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Redrawing Toronto

May 30, 2011

I chuckled a little bit, reading Patrick White’s Globe article from Friday about Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s next task of ‘redrawing Toronto’s dated electoral boundaries.’ “Now that he’s [Holyday] approaching the home stretch of a months-long effort to slash egregious councillor expenses…”, the piece began. Images bounced around my noggin. Rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Reducing the number of fiddlers as the city burned. Etc., etc.

Even giving inflated figures, say $30 K cuts in ‘egregious’ councillor spending, that amounts to about $1, 320, 000 million, let’s call it $1.5 million in savings to city coffers. But a small fraction of the lost revenue in eliminating the VRT and freezing property taxes that the Deputy Mayor helped push through. The net effect of adding to Toronto’s ever increasing operating budge hole. Well done, fiscal conservatives. Sound management of the city’s finances.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have often been chided, by friends included, of sniffing at Team Ford’s multi-fronted attacks on the Gravy Train. It’s the reason he was elected, we’re told. Cutting taxes and wasteful spending. It’s all about optics, reality be damned.

So, fine. I give the Deputy Mayor and all those slaving away to maintain the mayor’s optics a tip of the hat. Well done, folks. Reality can wait until the fall when the 2012 budget debates begin and you have to struggle to keep up the appearance of Mayor Ford’s other campaign platform of No Major Service Cuts. Guaranteed.

That said if, as the Globe piece also notes, Deputy Mayor Holyday is serious about tackling the thorny issue of ward redistribution, our kudos will be much less facetious. It is a non-partisan concern that cuts to the heart of democracy. Citizens deserve as close to equal representation as is feasible, especially at the municipal level which is so day-to-day service oriented. Wide variations between wards will invariably result in wide variations in how councillors serve their constituents.

And as it stands right now, there are wide variations. Huge, gaping differences in populations between wards, in fact. It’s almost a 35,000 person disparity between the most populous ward (John Filion’s Willowdale 23 at 79,435) and the least (Maria Augimeri’s Ward 9 with just under 45,000 residents). How could Mr. Filion be anywhere near as attentive to the needs of his constituents as Ms. Augimeri is to hers? In fairness, we should really determine councillor’s office budgets on a per head basis.

In the Globe article, Councillor Adam Vaughan suggests that if redistribution were to happen properly, it would swing council to the left. We’d like to see his methodology behind that line of reasoning as many of the suburban ridings (including Ward 23) are the more populous ones. Scarborough especially has more than its share of hugely populated, 60K+ wards. Given that the former municipality is home to some of the current mayor’s most ardent supporters (Councillors Michael Thompson, Norm Kelly, Chin Lee), it’s hard to see how splitting those wards is going to enhance the left at council.

But that’s beside the point. Redrawing ward maps need to transcend political affiliation. Elected officials should have as little hand in the process as possible. If the Deputy Mayor can successfully pull such a feat off, it will be a shiny medal he can rightfully pin to his chest.

A bigger hurdle still will be navigating a new municipal political map with the mayor’s campaign pledge to cut councillor numbers in half. (More meaningless and possibly detrimental optics!) In the Globe article, the Deputy Mayor was already distancing himself from that promise. “That’s the mayor’s office that will have to come up with a plan for that,” Holyday said. “I don’t know that my plan is exactly the same as his.” With some wards already struggling under the weight of a 60, 70K+ population, it’s hard to see how having wards with 100,000 people will be of benefit to anyone.

Except for Mayor Ford’s optics. An ‘I said I would do it. I did it’ claim is an empty boast if the city is the worse for it. And it’s hard to see how it won’t be if we wind up further under-represented even if the pain is more equally shared.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr