Laundry List

November 20, 2013

A variation on the old joke about violence in hockey.

hockeybrawl

The other day I went to watch the Rob Ford Shit Show Spectacle and a council meeting broke out! Ayy-Oooo!

Despite all the oxygen they sucked from council chambers and spotlight hogging they managed, the Ford Brothers’ attempt to derail city council from going about its normal business categorically failed. Sure, it got lost in the crack-and-lies fueled shuffle. Representation at an OMB hearing isn’t as sexy as a mayor and his thuggish councillor-brother baiting the gallery crowd but much of municipal governance seldom is. Getting the roads paved is dreary work but somebody’s got to do it.

Take a minute and a gander through the agenda of last week’s non-special council meeting. todolistI didn’t count all the items and motions but there had to be a billion, give or take. There was social housing. New, stricter smoking by-laws. An appointment to fill a Budget Committee vacancy and restructure the board of directors for Build Toronto. The environmental assessment for a proposed Bloor-Dupont bikeway was re-started after being abandoned last year. You want diversity in the ranks of the Fire Department? City council wants to look into that too.

And on and on the list goes, for the better part of three days, when it could be squeezed in around mayoral grandstanding and obstruction.

Then after the council meeting finally finished up on Monday, councillors broke out into their four respective community councils to meet yesterday where they all dealt with a combined 207 items, give or take a billion. You want fence exemptions? Etobicoke-York Community Council’ll give you fence exemptions. Zoning by-law amendments? Scarborough Community Council can deliver what you’re looking for. North York Community Council’s got all that and a front yard parking appeal to boot. gettingdowntobusinessOf course, where downtown gets everything, members of the Toronto-East York Community Council received a visit from world-renown architect Frank Gehry for one of the 90 items on their docket.

Today, members of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, among other items, set forth on a comprehensive downtown transportation operations study to consider ways to reduce congestion in parts of the core area. This afternoon, the TTC commission will resume its meeting that was interrupted on Monday by the mayor’s stuff. Among other things, the commission will consider raising transit fares once again to fill the TTC’s funding gap. Tomorrow, the Planning and Growth Management Committee will met to discuss amendments to the city’s Official Plan while the Government Management Committee goes about its business including property expropriation for the Yonge-University-Spadina subway expansion.

Oh yeah, and about the budget process that’s going public next week.

You get the drift here.

Life goes on with or without Mayor Ford. And let’s face it. Most of these items were either too expensive or complex for him to have ever understood or cared much about. ignorethekrazykatThe more prosaic matters? Your fence exemptions and front yard parking pads? He’d simply want to sort out with a phone or house call. Probably both. It’s always good to put a face to the name on your potential voters’ list.

The mayor can’t stop the forward motion of the city, no matter how big a hissy fit he has. He can slow it down, toss sand in the gears like he displayed on Friday by holding every item he could get his hands on, and drag them out with questions to the staff and making blowhole speeches. If it becomes too problematic, council may have to take more drastic measures and approach the province about stepping in and removing the mayor from the premises.

But until such time, it’s probably best just to avoid spending too much time on the expected mayoral antics. They really won’t matter much in the scheme of the city’s operations. It’s hard to avert your eyes from a car crash but eventually you have to or you wind up veering off the road.

advisingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Wrong Fight For The Wrong Reason

August 2, 2013

So the 5 Ontario summer by-elections are over, and the ruling Liberal party has been humbled vindicated ignored tickertapeand nothing has changed everything has changed oh, I’m sorry, there were by-elections at Queen’s Park.

The Liberals remain in power and voters are now demanding an immediate general election praying to god we don’t have to go through such a depressing experience again for at least a few months couldn’t care a less.

What we do know, here in this city is that Mayor Ford and his councillor-brother Doug campaigned hard did as much work as they normally do for the winning losing Progressive Conservative party candidate in Etobicoke-Lakeshore Doug Holyday in particular, and the provincial PCs in general. The Tories remain in opposition, emboldened deflated by the results of the by-election, in no more control of the situation in the legislature than they were before the campaigns began. The fate of the government is still in the hands of rewritingthe NDP Green Party who stunned everyone by winning all five by-elections yesterday.

As the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat pointed out, the mayor really made no friends with the Liberals over the course of the last month or so, despite having a mutual love of subways. He took shots at them at every opportunity and made awkward kissy noises with the NDP in a naked attempt to promote vote splitting in the non-Tory vote. You see, Mayor Ford is a dyed-in-the-wool Progressive Conservative. That’s his team. The original blue, folks.

Party Family comes first for politicians like Rob Ford. The job he was elected to do merely an outcome, a result of his politics. Besides, as we’ve learned over the course of the last 3 and a half years, the mayor much prefers campaigning to actually governing. There are no responsibilities like keeping your promises, no consequences to not doing so. It’s just about winning or losing. All so simple. Just like football. Or hockey.

But in this particular game, there are implications to the mayor so blatantly taking sides.

What now of the extra $400 million he’s looking to the province for to build his Scarborough subway? bloodsportWhat possible reason would they have to play nice with him? If they took it on the chin yesterday especially to the PCs benefit, I’m pretty sure the post-mortem isn’t going to be they were not Rob Ford-friendly enough. They lost because their own supporters failed to show up, unimpressed with many things but certainly none of them had to do with being too unfriendly to our mayor.

And if the Liberals weren’t knocked back on their heels? If Tim Hudak’s PC party didn’t step up and assume its predicted rightful position as government in waiting? If our mayor was capable of any sort of self-awareness, well, oops.

Not only did he get all in the face of the government at Queen’s Park to no particular end aside from them being Liberal, it’s not far-fetched to think the mayor’s also further entrenched divisions at City Hall. What self-respecting Liberal sitting on council could now honestly believe that it’s anything other than the mayor’s way or the highway in terms of working with him? This isn’t news but it certainly should be a reality by now.disloyal

Card carrying Liberal party member Peter Milczyn has voted along with Mayor Ford more than 32 other councillors. On almost 9 out of every 10 big ticket issues as tracked by Matt Elliott, Councillor Milczyn backed the mayor, and for what? He’s a great guy, been a great chair of the… Planning and Transportation Planning and Growth Management Committee but, the mayor still very, very visibly campaigns against him.

Frankly, had Councillor Milczyn previously shown any evidence of possessing a backbone, I’d fully expect him to tender his resignation tomorrow morning today as chair of the…. Planning and Transportation Committee and member of the mayor’s Executive Committee. Mayor Ford and his brother showed the councillor absolutely no respect, refusing to simply stand this one out to allow two strong allies to battle with no outside intervention from the Ford family. losingticketBut with the 2014 municipal election just around the corner and Ford Nation lurking somewhere in the weeds out there…

Toronto should feel as equally betrayed by Mayor Ford who put party allegiance before his duty to represent the best interests of the city he was elected to lead. He’s declared himself an enemy of the provincial government who doesn’t appear now to be going away anytime soon. Wrong horse backed, we’re now all going to be paying for our mayor’s losing bet.

to showly submitted by Cityslikr


You Can’t Build If You Don’t Know Where

April 15, 2013

Planning and Growth Management Committee

Remember that time I wrote something to the affect of, aside from the Budget Committee and maybe the Executive Committee, cityplanning5no committee was as important as the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee? Friday, I think it was.

Well, it seems I might have to revise that statement slightly after attending the Planning and Growth Management Committee meeting. It’s tough to build sewers and roads, lay track for rapid transit or sell off chunks of public space in return for ad revenue without knowing exactly where to do all that. Thus, Planning and Growth Management. Providing the proverbial blueprints in order for the digging to begin.

Planning and Growth Management is the yin to Public Works and Infrastructure yang of city building.

The Planning and Growth Management Committee’s primary focus is on urban form, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on planning, growth, and development of the City.

The first thing I learned at PGMC is that you have to actually have quorum to proceed with a meeting. Fifteen minutes after the scheduled start, if more than half the committee members are not present, that’s it. cityplanning2Recess until after lunch.

A bit of an eye-opener for anyone who’s made other plans for later in the day.

Fortunately, I’m not such a person.

Setting aside any petulance I might’ve had about this meeting not being important enough for a majority of its members to attend so why should I, I returned for the afternoon session. Quorum was achieved. The meeting got underway.

What quickly became apparent was that if there’s no Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong or Doug Ford on a committee, things move along very smoothly. Smoothly, amicably, productively. Why, near the end of Thursday’s meeting, when the committee chair, Councillor Peter Milczyn, put a motion up, the rest of the committee plus staff had input editing it to everyone’s satisfaction. Right there up on the screen for all to see.

Consensus!

While it’s certainly impossible to deny city council as a whole may be dysfunctional at the moment, it would be incorrect to assume the entire place is broken. Some vital organs are still operating. cityplanning4And it isn’t as if there’s nothing potentially contentious in the Planning and Growth Management file. Just think about two of those words. Planning. Growth. You’re doing what now to my neighbourhood?

If Public Works and Infrastructure is about the big ticket items money-wise, Planning and Growth Management deals with the aspirational big ticket items. Big ideas in theory. Transformative initiatives in a bid to make a city a better place.

Here’s some of the motions discussed at Thursday’s meeting:

Official Plan Amendment Application. Updated City-wide Tall Building Design Guidelines. Strategic Forest Management Plan. Addressing Mobility, Aligning Growth and Transit.

Everybody can point to planning projects that failed, some miserably so. Utter the name Robert Moses in many circles and observe the slow shaking of heads and guttural moans of disapproval. cityplanning3Toronto is undergoing two massive redevelopments at Regent’s Park and Lawrence Heights in an attempt to correct the mistakes of a previous era’s city planning approach.

But the thing about urban planning is, as with many of the social sciences, it isn’t an exact science. Even with the noblest of intentions, we can only proceed with the best available knowledge and information we have at hand. To expect anything more, to demand perfection, is futile, unreasonable and, ultimately, harmful. There are always going to be bumps in the road ahead, tweaks and overhauls that need to be done.

The worst thing a city could do in the face of problems that arise is to remain static. Fighting change because sometimes change doesn’t work. A reasonable and fact-based approach to planning and growth management is of supreme importance to any city’s future well-being. cityplanningIt should be the buttress against rampant, greed-based development, and residents need to be vigilant that’s what the committee is doing.

Councillor Josh Colle, the PGMC vice-chair, asked an interesting question of staff after the Tall Building Design Guideline presentation. In essence he wondered how best to lay out plans for tall buildings – intensification, basically – to neighbourhoods that have never had them before. Big, necessary change is afoot, folks. Here’s how we think it should happen.

Planning and Growth Management is not just about the kind of city we want to live in but the kind of city we leave to our kids and grandkids. The big of idea of posterity. Everybody needs to be a part of that discussion and, perhaps even more importantly, everybody needs to trust that the best interests of the city are being served and not just those of a selective few.

A tall order in the current environment of divisiveness and general scepticism toward the public good at City Hall. cityplanning1So it’s refreshing to watch, at least in one small corner, at a very important committee level, a communal sense of purpose between councillors of varying political stripes, and between elected officials and city staff.  Working together rather than looking to score cheap partisan points.

Yes Virginia, there can be accord at City Hall. You just need to know where to look for it.

smilingly submitted by Cityslikr