Who’s Got The Wheel?

December 8, 2015

Yesterday, after the provincial government floated their rather tepid and, perhaps even, cosmetically driven tolls proposal, the following observation was floated on Twitter:

“We have government leaders who have no idea how an urban economy works. And most of this country is part of an urban economy.”

We are now a 21st-century, urban nation with a leadership class still firmly entrenched in the (generously) mid-20th-century. As former NYC Department of Transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan put it last week, “when you push on the status quo, it pushes back at you.” rolltherock1Or, as our old favourites The Libertines once sang: “…the boy kicked out at the world/the world kicked back alot fuckin’ harder now.”

We have a new federal government that might get it, they might understand the needs of cities, cities making up this urban nation. But, legislatively, Ottawa’s a long way from the ground. Whatever largesse and/or expertise the feds have to offer will inevitably come filtered through provincial and local distortions. So what if we get enhanced federal money for transit infrastructure if it goes to building Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack or the provincially backed and city council approved Scarborough subway? Good money after bad and all that.

Later yesterday, Queen’s Park released a report from the David Crombie led Advisory Panel looking at and making recommendations for the provincial government’s 4 growth plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The region’s been growing, grown significantly since the end of World War II, and will continue growing significantly over the next 25 years. The population looks to almost double in that time, from 9 million to nearly 13.5 million. Here’s the concern, and some of what the 4 growth plans were brought in to combat:

The extent of settlement has also grown. For example, between 1971 and 2006, the region’s urban footprint more than doubled. Much of the recent urban growth has been in the form of low-density, car-dependent suburbs, providing many residents with affordable, single-detached homes. However, this form of development, often known as urban sprawl, has resulted in loss of farmland, traffic congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, impacts on human health, and the loss of green space, habitats and biodiversity. The changing climate and increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events create additional pressures on the region’s communities, agricultural production, infrastructure and natural systems.

The Advisory Panel’s recommendations are unsurprising, really. Encouraging intensification through use of “existing urban areas” (while protecting employment lands), greater public transit-based initiatives “to support complete communities” and “greater integration of infrastructure planning with land use planning”, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. rolltherock3We already know this. None of it is particularly new or noteworthy. I guess it’s worthwhile to repeat and underline these ideas of healthy growth but still…

How many Advisory Panels have we had, telling us the things we have to do to improve this region’s quality of life as it continues to grow? I mean, if Anne Golden had a nickel for every panel she’s chaired to advise government policy, she’d have, what? A dime? Fifteen cents?

Remember her last outing, as chair of the provincially appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel? Yeah, it took 3 months to make 20 recommendations for raising revenue to fund the Big Move, leaning heavily on increased gas taxes while rejecting tolls in the short term as “too difficult to implement”. That was 2 years ago. The provincial government’s response to date? Its weak sauce toll announcement yesterday.

The fundamental problem with all these panels is that they tend to come back after studying a policy issue with recommendations that challenge the status quo. Complete communities? What’ll happen to my backyard? Pay for using the roads?! I already pay more than my fair share! I deserve a subway! Subways, subways, subways!!

Pushback from the status quo. Leaders with their ears to the ground can only hear the stamping of feet. Politicians love the word ‘change’ on their campaign signs but blanch in the face of bringing it about, all those red, outraged faces to contend with? rolltherock6Where angels fear to tread, amirite?

Sure, things are bad now but what if these changes you’re talking about makes things worse? Nothing’s 100% guaranteed. Despite all data, information and examples to the contrary, from where I’m standing, the grass over there doesn’t look all that much greener.

Our propensity to fearfully embrace what-we-know so tightly makes for an uphill battle to enact the changes we need. The grade’s made steeper still when our elected officials not only fail to directly address this tentativeness but, in fact, give in to it for even just the slightest step forward. That’s why for every bid our government’s pitch for increased public transit funding and investment, we see assurances of road and highway expansion. Despite working at cross purposes, to attempt to even slightly modify the status quo, we must show that the status quo won’t change that much.

Speaking at Simon Fraser University just a month or so after submitting the report and recommendations of the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, Anne Golden talked about a government’s need for trust from the public in order to pursue new measures like revenue generation for transit building. rolltherock‘Tax grab’ is an almost immediate reaction from a skeptical public, digging in their heels further against any sort of change. There has to be buy in based on a belief that it’s not only going to be money well spent but be beneficial to everyone. What’s in it for me?

When you have a reputation of not spending money wisely which the Liberal government at Queen’s Park has certainly earned, or when your transit plans appear to be politically motivated and easily subject to the whims of parochialism – Hello, Scarborough subway! – public trust is in even shorter supply. Resistance to change grows stronger.

You can point all you want to places that have turned the corner, embraced changed and a new approach to mobility and city building. Look! New York’s doing it! Don’t you want to be like New York? You always want to be like New York! But we look around closer to home and see what all needs to be done, what we’ve done so far and conclude such change is beyond our reach. The Sheppard subway remains a glaring white elephant with the Union-Pearson Express set to join it. We can’t even muster the will to clear road space for our busiest transit routes like the Finch bus or King streetcar. rolltherock4How on earth can we expect to meet the challenges of the 21st-century?

I’m sure plenty of our government leaders are well aware of how a modern urban economy works. What they don’t know is how to convince enough of us that we need to move in that direction. Too many flinch at the slightest sign of resistance, retreat in the face of loud, blustery noises.

It’d be great to leave off on that note. Place the blame elsewhere and carry on, absolved. But, you know, that old saw nags, a variation on getting the leadership we deserve. Not enough of us have been pushed from our comfort zone. Things are bad but they’re not that bad. They could always be worse.

Until such time, when enough of us conclude that, in fact, it is that bad (never an easily determined point on the scale), we’ll hum and haw, rail at the ineffectualness of our elected officials and uncaring bureaucracy, wonder about why we’re not those other places, doing exceptional, exciting things and hope that it won’t be too late to make those changes we were urged to make years, decades earlier.

rolltherock5

rocknrollingly submitted by Cityslikr


Car Troubles

December 2, 2015

Last week, Toronto writer, Shawn Micallef, fired off the following tweets:

It’s been a bad few years for pedestrians in Toronto, deaths up 90% over the past 4 years, 34 so far this year (and counting), compared to 18 in 2011. speedingcarsAs Jessica Smith Cross wrote in Metro over the weekend, that accounts for 59% of road deaths in Toronto this year. In the first 10 months of 2015, over 1500 pedestrians have been struck by cars.

And the official response from those tasked with the oversight of street safety, the Toronto Police? Do The Bright Thing. “We have to put ourselves in the position to be seen,” Constable Hugh Smith informs us.

How twisted is that? Those most vulnerable, the ones not behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle, sanctioned to go lethal limits of speed, those of us with the least control, are held responsible to make sure we don’t get run over. Because, you know, drivers have places to go, people to meet.

So even when we are full in our rights, crossing a street legally, as Micallef pointed out, we have to check and re-check around us to make sure somebody’s not rushing to make it through that light or checking their phone or just simply zoned out, unburdened of any consequence of their inattention. overthespeedlimitHow many of us pedestrians have had to stop up short in an intersection out of fear that driver may not have judged his stopping distance correctly? Who amongst us pedestrians haven’t had cars blow through a well-lit crosswalk or open streetcar doors?

Why just yesterday, in fact, I had to pick up my pace crossing a street at a green light as some fucking jag off making a left turn, committed to going despite me being in his way in order to avoid a collision with oncoming traffic. A collision, no doubt, that would’ve harmed me, the literal innocent bystander, more than any of the occupants of the cars involved. And in the end, invariably written up as an “accident”. An unfortunate “accident” but an “accident” nonetheless. Harm but no foul.

Drivers go about their driving business with relative impunity. Even the most egregious transgressions, like impaired driving or vehicular manslaughter, are rarely met with the severest of punishments. intheintersectionJail, sometimes, but usually not for very long. How many people do you know who’ve ever had their licence revoked permanently?

Is that too much to demand from someone who’s got into a driver’s seat drunk and killed somebody as a result? Never mind incarceration. Should they ever be allowed to drive again?

Or how about those driving at dangerously high speeds, just one little unforeseen glitch away from losing complete control of their vehicle? They do so knowingly, not only at the risk of their own lives but everyone who just might be in their path. Another tragic “accident”.

How much over the speed limit is too much? 20 kilometres an hour? 40? 50? At what point do we say, you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car?

We know a car travelling at 30 km/h puts the odds of a pedestrian dying if struck down at about 5%. At 50 km/h? 37-45%. 64 km/h? 83-85%.pedestriandown

We know this and yet, as Mr, Micallef pointed out, cars whipping down Jarvis Street are regularly travelling at 10-20 kilometres over the legally posted limited of 50 kp/h. That puts them right smack dab in the high probability kill zone if they hit a pedestrian or mow down a cyclist. Even without the possibility of casualties, racing cars make for an unappealing environment for anyone else not driving in the area.

We know all this and still, not only do we put up with it, we accommodate it with wider lanes to compensate for driver error, tearing up bike lanes which, according to Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, slow traffic down and greatly reduce the rate of road fatalities. pedestriandown1New York has recently experienced the fewest traffic deaths in a 100 years! But here in Toronto, whatevs. Mom’s got to get home a few minutes quicker to have supper with the kids.

My intention is not to demonize drivers here. I’m demonizing the system that continues to coddle them, entitle them, under-charge them and very, very, rarely penalizes them appropriately for the life-altering and often life-ending choices they make (largely for others) when they are behind the wheel of their vehicles. The political and societal clout the cult of the automobile is far greater than any good it delivers, often falling short by orders of magnitude.

Others cities throughout the world have recognized this and are attempting to reorder the hierarchy of their transportation system. Not just European cities. Cities we here in Toronto look to in terms of inspiration. New York City, for example. De-escalating our car dependency can’t be written off as simply some lifestyle choice. deathrace2000It is now nothing short of an absolute necessity.

Unless Toronto’s car-bound leadership recognizes that fact, we will jeopardize whatever competitive advantages we have as an international city. We have to stop pretending that somehow Toronto’s different than other places. We aren’t. We built this city on the belief that prioritizing car travel was the future. It wasn’t or, at least, that future didn’t last. It is our duty to now fix that mistaken but hard to shake belief.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Reckoning

January 14, 2015

OK. That’s it. This has to stop.notthisshitagain

For the sake of future civic sanity, Toronto City Hall has to sit down and do a full, frank costing of services, programs and capital expenditures across the city, breaking it down into the 4 community council brackets. How much gets spent on what in each area of the city. Top to bottom, from street maintenance through to swim times, after school programs to park grass cutting. The whole enchilada.

Because I am so fucking sick and tired of this parochial drumming up of regional resentment that has led directly to the white elephant-in-waiting council decision like the Scarborough subway extension. The usual suspects were at it again this week, led of course by the Scarborough {air quote} Deputy Mayor {end air quote} Glenn De Baeremaeker, on the subject of skating rinks. “I can’t imagine many people would object to building more outdoor ice rinks anywhere in this city,” he said, insisting that it needed to be done on a more ‘equitable basis’.

The back story is, Scarborough has only 1 of the 52 outdoor artificial ice rinks on the city which, no argument here, is clearly way out of whack, disproportionately speaking. shortchangedThings are only a little more even-handed but still not what anyone would call equitable when it comes to outdoor natural rinks, only 11 of 69 in Scarborough, and indoor skating rinks, Scarborough has 9 of 49. Discrepancies abound, no question but the sentiment, vaguely hovering over the numbers, is that Scarborough, once again, is getting the short end of the stick. Raw numbers in terms of skating rinks or subway stations presented as proof that while the city splurges on these things elsewhere, Scarborough remains frozen out in the cold.

Is that actually the case?

Could it be that, historically speaking, pre-amalgamation, Scarborough was a municipality that placed little emphasis on public spaces (aside from streets and roads), and adhered more to a pay-as-you-go approach to providing services and programs? You want it? You pay for it. (An approach epitomized by the former councillor for Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt and budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Cupcakes for widows and orphans.) Traditionally, skating rinks might not have been a priority for Scarborough and now we’re playing a game of catch-up.

I’m just posing that possibility. I have no hard data to back it up but neither does anyone else when they start making noises about the unfair treatment Scarborough receives when it comes to the doling out of municipal nice-to-haves. please sirWe need a full, robust accounting in order to have a full, robust conversation.

We need to expand on the Fair Share Scarborough report Councillor Norm Kelly undertook early in amalgamation. Let’s not just look at soft services the city provides – the skating rinks and parks — but the hard ones too. How much of our public works expenditure goes toward maintaining the wide streets of Scarborough. As a percentage of our waste collection budget, what’s Scarborough’s take in order to provide the service to all their big-lotted, detached homes. What’s the portion of our police budget that is spent in Scarborough. The buses serving as the backbone for commuters in Scarborough (and that will continue to even if it gets its subway), how much do they cost the TTC.

It may well turn out that Scarborough is underserved and underfunded in comparison to other parts of the city. There’s just no way of knowing that currently, and counting skating rinks (or subway stops) isn’t really the best way to tally it. thebillWe downtowners acknowledge your lack of rinks, Scarborough, but where’s our sidewalk snow shovelling or windrows clearing or leaf collection?

That’s not to say that if it were to turn out that Scarborough is a money-suck due to the high maintenance and delivery costs to service its sprawling built form, sorry, folks, no outdoor skating for you because you have so many roads to plow. This shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. But the Scarborough Warriors need to start putting solid evidence on the table, showing exactly how they’re being short-changed in this amalgamated deal of ours. Otherwise, it’s empty carping. Divisive governance intent only on benefitting their narrowly defined interests at the expense of everyone else in the city.

— resentfully submitted by Cityslikr


Street Carnag–Oh! I Get It!

July 23, 2014

You know what I love about people who offer up easy solutions to not-so-easy problems? brightidea1Their firm belief that no one else has ever come up with that easy solution. If it were so easy, asshole, don’t you think it would already be in place?

So it goes with the National Post’s recent War on the Streetcar series, where they tap noted transit and municipal affairs expert, Terence Corcoran, and some dude from Vancouver to give us the lowdown on the congestion woes that ail us here in Toronto. Their inevitable conclusion? Replace our streetcars with buses and Bob’s yer uncle. Done, and done. Next problem you want solved?

Geez. Thanks, guys. That’s such a solid idea even Rob Ford has floated it before.

(Note to those handing out transit advice: if Rob Ford agrees with you, it has to be the dumbest idea ever. imwithstupid2He gets his views on public transit from reports he reads behind the wheel of his SUV while driving on the Gardiner.)

For all of those deciding to give voice to your opinions on this city’s congestion, the one constant in the discussion, among all the other variables, the one factor that never, ever changes is the overwhelming presence of private vehicles in the equation. If streetcars were the root of the problem, there wouldn’t be congestion on Dufferin Street, on Finch Avenue, on Bathurst Street north of Bloor, all of which run buses. What about the expressways that intersect the city? The 401, the DVP, the 427, Gardiner/QEW? No streetcars there, either. Some buses. But mostly cars and trucks.

If you want to chime in with your transit/congestion problems, start and end with how to deal with private automobile use. Anything else is simply white noise. You’re not helping. You’re hindering.

Look at the photo accompanying Mr. Hopper’s empty screed. lonestreetcarThe 501 to Long Branch, trapped on all sides by a sea of cars. What problem does he see? The one, the lone streetcar. There’s a joke in there somewhere about not seeing the forest for all the cars.

Of all the laughably contemptible points made by Mr. Corcoran in his anti-transit blathering, perhaps the most laughably contemptible is his final one. “Now there is talk of clearing all automobile movement on King Street and other streetcar-strangled streets,” huffs Corcoran, “all to facilitate the trundling vestige of the horsecar along tracks that lock Toronto into the 19th century.”

Actually no, Terry. It’s not all about facilitating ‘the trundling vestige of the… blah, blah, blah.” It’s about facilitating the movement of as many people through our streets as efficiently and economically as possible. buscongestionWithout introducing lane, turning and parking restrictions on ‘automobile movement’, replacing the 19th-century horsecars with your beloved trolleybuses (which, by the way, would take 3 times as many to move the same number of passengers) won’t make a lick of difference. Bus or streetcar will still be stuck in traffic, battling for scarce road space with cars.

To give the National Post some credit, this peculiar ‘Street carnage’ series of theirs did include Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s article ‘Streetcars are not the problem, too much automobile traffic is’ which, essentially, stated what I’ve just been stating for the past 500 hundred words or so. But the paper then spent the better part of the week trying its best to refute that article. youdontsay1Worse, refute it by ignoring the main thrust of his argument. Too much automobile traffic.

How exactly to deal with the congestion problem of too much automobile traffic. Now, there’s a poser, a real conundrum. Until you’re prepared to tackle that, everything else is just re-arranging the furniture, and chances are, somebody else has come up with the idea before you did.

 

yeahyeahyeahly submitted by Cityslikr


An Appointment With Destiny

July 8, 2014

I get it. It’s supposed to be a mindful, deliberate process, disorderlyorderlythe appointment of an interim city councillor to fill a vacancy left behind when the duly elected councillor resigns the position during a term. The will of voters must be observed and, as best as humanly possible, adhered to.

But wouldn’t it be great if everybody threw caution to the wind and instead took a flyer on protocol and just said: This one’s a real crackerjack. Came in, gave a blockbuster of a speech, has a dynamite CV. Here, Ward [Whatever], try this one on for size. Especially this late in the term. What harm could an appointed councillor possibly do in a few short months?

Alas, no. Order (or whatever passes for order at Toronto’s City Hall these days) businessasusualmust be maintained.

So it was yesterday (as it was last year with replacement of Doug Holyday) with the appointment of new councillors in Wards 5 and 20. No fireworks. Very little surprise or suspense. Just a quiet passing of the torch to caretakers, essentially, until the start of the next term in December, to a couple of established figures. Ward 20 got a long time city staffer and social activist while a political backroomer on the south Etobicoke scene became the new Ward 5 councillor.

The only bit of intrigue during the procedure – no, wait. There were two. – came when a couple former staffers applied for the position of Ward 5 councillor. One, Nico Fidani-Diker, worked in Mayor Rob Ford’s office for a time and is on record expressing some reservations about the role Sandro Lisi played in the mayor’s life. Totally coincidentally, I’m sure, there were problems with the clock in the council chambers during his deputation which he felt got cut short by the speaker, Frances Nunziata.fingerscrossed

The other was the fate of Kinga Surma, an ex-assistant in the former city Ward 5 councillor, Peter Milczyn’s office up until last year’s provincial by-election when she went to work on the campaign of Milczyn’s rival in that race, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. A supposed amicable arrangement between Mr. Milczyn and Ms. Shurma that didn’t actually wind up that way. She was given her marching orders just a few days after Milczyn returned to the office, having lost the by-election.

Yesterday, she placed a distant 3rd in the appointment race to succeed him, providing a lesson to all political neophytes. Never, ever, publically piss on your boss’s shoes. sinkorswimOther bosses don’t look kindly on it, and won’t really extend a hand to help, given an opportunity down the road.

Unfazed by the outcome, Ms. Shurma almost immediately registered to run for the Ward 5 council seat in October’s municipal election. It was not an entirely surprising move, and one that may’ve also contributed to her lack of support by an overwhelming majority of councillors who had little interest in giving her a running start in the campaign. Hopefully for Ms. Shurma, democracy won’t be as office politics minded as the appointment process appeared to be.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


A Farewell To Mike

February 16, 2014

I just canx.

With the same grace and class he displayed while serving his time on city council, mikedelgrandeMike Del Grande announced he would not be seeking re-election to Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt. Which is to say, he’s basically intent on burning the place to the ground on his way out the door. So long, suckers. You won’t have Mike Del Grande to kick around anymore.

After what will be 11 years in office, the councillor and former budget chief doesn’t seem to have a good word to say about anyone or anything. To accentuate the dyspepsia and kick up the bile and acrimony a notch or four, the Toronto Sun’s tapped their former City Hall scribbler and now on book leave author, Sue-Ann Levy to transcribe Councillor Del Grande’s farewell note. There will be blood, spilt, mixed with the usual bit of meandering, pointless prattling.

“It [the dynamic at City Hall] gets very nasty, very personal and I just don’t want to be part of that anymore,” Councillor Del Grande tells Sue-Ann. “I just detest that.”

This from a man who I can’t remember ever turning on his microphone at council or committee meetings without eventually shouting at somebody, everybody. rageyHis colleagues, deputants, visiting members of the public.

His spiteful adieu is nothing short of pure psychological projection. The gruffest, least cordial member of city council signs off, accusing everyone else of being meanies. Mike Del Grande, an oasis of calm and civility in a desert of nasty.

Usually I could stop and at least applaud a person for the years of dedication to public service. Clearly the man’s time in office did his health no good. As he reminds readers, as budget chief, he worked 75-80 hours a week without help from anyone. Just him, his cross and a handful of nails.

I really can muster no good thing to say about Mike Del Grande as an elected official.

Surprisingly, the one person he sort of holds his fire with is Mayor Ford. Yes, he has his problems with the lying and imagines the substance abuse probably affected the mayor’s professional performance. But no mention of that time during Del Grande’s third and final budget, where he worked 75-80 hours a week all on his own, when the mayor wound up voting against him, instead whimsically getting behind a zero % property tax increase thrown up by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. robfordbellicoseThanks for the effort, Mike. It’s just, there’s optics to think about.

None of these shortcomings, it seems for Councillor Del Grande, were the fault of the mayor. It was the elites who never recouped from Ford’s unexpected rise to power. Or the gutter journalists, with their mob mentality, refusing to cut the guy a break.

No. In fact, the councillor shows a grudging respect for Rob Ford, and his lack of political correctness. “He was a very good Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Del Grande dictates to Sue-Ann, going on to say that he “actually enjoyed watching Rob Ford the councillor ‘go bonkers’”.

Ahhh, yes. Go bonkers.

Remember. The councillor told Sue-Ann that “the ‘level of decorum (and) personality attacks’ at council factored highly into his decision not to run again. In fact,” she continues, “there were times he was so ‘disgusted’ with the conduct of his colleagues, he walked out of council meetings.” ebenezerscroogeEvidently, Councillor Del Grande draws some sort of distinction between a lack of decorum and enjoying watching somebody go bonkers.

What I think Mike Del Grande should be remembered best for, aside from his totally misguided attempts to right the fiscal ship of the city, is his pithy and totally respectful response early on in his tenure as budget chief. “We need firm discipline. I get a little concerned when we start making arguments about the widows and orphans. Negligibles add up. We cannot afford to do everything that everybody wants us to do… the 2011 budget is cupcakes. We tend to spoil everybody. We need to learn to say ‘no.’”

Oh, the poor widows and orphans, always wanting their cupcakes. And I suppose they want to take off work early on Christmas Eve!

If Mike Del Grande possesses a decorous or generous bone in his body, I never saw it on display. His demeanour and the tenor he brought to City Hall never much wavered from pure vitriol and mean-spiritedness. goodriddanceHe was the exact problem he bemoaned of in others but somehow everybody else was to blame, never Mike Del Grande.

I wish the man well in whatever future endeavours he pursues and hope he finds some sort of peace and well-being. But, I for one, feel free to say that his malignant presence at City Hall won’t be missed. He represented the worst, most penurious of our civic instincts. Our municipal government will be better off in his absence.

grudgingly submitted by Cityslikr


Shut It Down Frank

December 3, 2013

There was a certain lack of urgency in the air in committee room 1 for the public deputations ahead of the 2014 budget, grityourteetchandcarryonboth perplexing as well as unsurprising.

Clearly there’s a crush of need in many sectors of city services and programs after years of cutbacks, flat lining and neglect by all three levels of government. Where that fact was on stark display these past two days was in child care and children’s nutritional programs. Oh, and the TTC. Always the TTC.

It is astounding to me the number of people out there filling in the gaps left by governments that, regardless of political stripe, seem to believe we are taxed enough. You can’t get blood from a stone, we’re told. Don’t look at us to be the heavies here. DIY. Do it yourself.

Many do, setting up things like breakfast programs with and/or without assistance from both the public and private sectors along with a healthy dose of volunteerism. And then they manage to take the time to come down to City Hall to express (almost exclusively) a discontent, let’s call it, with the contributions city council is making. For at least some 150 people or so who signed up to make deputations over the last couple days, democracy is much more than simply voting on election day.

I’m hoping what I perceived to be the deputants’ collective tone of quiet resolve wasn’t instead resignation in the face of just 3 years of constant beat down. admirationIt might be a product of sideshow freak fatigue, civic efforts in the face of a leaderless political entity trying to get back to business as usual. Who is it I’m addressing here?

Perhaps (and I could very well be projecting my own views onto this) there’s a sense out there that this is also very much a do nothing drastic, it’s an election year budget. Don’t rock the boat with any sudden change in direction and just get on with campaigning. Grit your teeth. Grin and bear it. Register your concern but no outrage. Next year will be an entirely different year.

The lack of, I don’t know, pressing engagement also might have been the result of the prevailing attitude from the budget committee members. With the exception of Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, it felt like the whole deputation process was an imposition upon the rest of them. disengagedAfter quickly passing a motion to reduce speaking time to 3 minutes, they followed up with a 1 minute limit for councillor’s questions that succeeded in impeding any sort of actual dialogue between residents and their elected representatives.

Then, the committee wanted to cut short Monday’s meeting back from its 930 p.m. scheduled end to 6 p.m., effectively eliminating any possibility for those who couldn’t make it to the meeting during work hours from deputing. Councillor Berardinetti initially beat back the motion but Councillor Doug Ford managed to have it pushed through later in the afternoon. Talk about your customer service.

Say what you will about former budget chief Mike Del Grande (and we said a lot, almost none of which was positive) but he at least seemed to revel in rubbing his opponents’ nose in the fact he was in charge of the city’s purse strings. Cupcake this, widows and orphans and he’d bang the gavel with relish. foghornleghornI want to listen to you beg and make a point of ignoring you.

This gang (again, I exclude Councillor Berardinetti from this broadside) couldn’t even bother mustering the pretense of interest. Councillor Ford, flitting in and out of the meeting, started almost every ‘question’ to deputants with a “Do you realize that…” before launching into whatever dubious claim or numbers he thought appropriate. Private sector this, find efficiencies that. Unsurprisingly, it was the lack of outdoor skating rinks IN SCARBOROUGH that grabbed his attention the most.

As for Councillor Frances Nunziata, if there is a more contemptible, less respectful councillor currently representing residents of Toronto, their name is Mike Del Grande and, well, see above. Nunziata wears a permanent sneer and spent more time on Monday watching the clock than listening to the deputations. “Frank! Frank!” she’d snap at the committee chair when he absent-mindedly or graciously allowed deputants to wrap up beyond the 3 minute mark. Her only interaction with the speakers who’d made the effort to come out was to ask if they’d looked elsewhere for help.

h/t Paisley Rae

h/t Paisley Rae

But there’d be problems with the deputation process even with a more crowd friendly committee. Unless you’re among the first 10 or so listed deputants, there’s too much uncertainty in your timing. People need to be assigned a block of time in which they know they’ll be speaking and the committee needs to stick to that. Otherwise, people just drift off, having to get back to work, to home, to pick up their kids from school. This usually precipitates a run of no-shows, leading to more no-shows by people who had been following along but hadn’t expected to be called on so soon.

More than that, the public needs to be invited to take part in the budget making decisions much earlier in the process. It’s hard not to conclude, as it works right now, that once we get to the staff proposed budget release it’s all a done deal. Months in the works, behind closed doors, it’s delivered up. A fait accompli. Here it is, boys and girls. What do you think of it?

In quick succession, just before Christmas, the public is offered a glimpse of what to expect, nowrunalonghave their say over the course of a couple days, and then it’s off to council to be voted on in late-January. Thanks for playing along. See you next year.

It gives the impression that we’re offered the chance to be heard but not listened to. This budget committee, this week, simply made what was a matter of fact painfully obvious.

openly submitted by Cityslikr