Manning The Lifeboats

Yeterday, 24 hours or so before his first anniversary of being elected mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, decked out in Ticat black and yellow, pushed through council yet another solid plank of his election platform, that of contracting out curbside waste collection between Etobicoke and Yonge Street. There was a certain grim determination to it. Although there was much back slapping and handshaking after the vote among some of the 25 councillors who sided with the mayor, it was absent the gleeful triumphalism that had accompanied such successes earlier in his tenure.

Mayor Ford better be right this time. Eyes shut, ears plugged, fingers crossed. There’s no longer really much wiggle room.

In less than one year supporting the Ford agenda has gone from being an absolute must for councillors looking to occupy the space anywhere near the middle of the political spectrum to something not far from a liability. The mayor’s approval rating has dropped startlingly low startlingly quickly owing to the fact that much of what he campaigned on turned out to be a solid combination of bunk and hokum. There wasn’t nearly the amount of waste (or ‘gravy’ to use the tired, tired turn of phrase) he promised there would be to find and it has become apparent that, in fact, city hall does have a revenue problem more than it does a spending problem. So the mad rush to eliminate the Vehicle Registration Tax and freeze property taxes has created a wider gap in the budget than there needed to be which has put cuts to services front and centre. Something the mayor guaranteed would not be necessary.

Despite all that, Mayor Ford still had his way with council yesterday.

But I’m guessing that, if not a pyrrhic victory, it set the clock ticking on the ultimate fate of his administration and those who have thrown in their lot with him. Because if the contracting out of waste collection to GFL does not translate into $11 million in annual savings to the city, if there’s any sort of hiccup in the delivery of the service, if the public aren’t happy with the change in providers, it will turn out to be yet another boondoggle from the mayor and his team. Fool me once, shame on you and all that.

The significance of this vote is all in the timing. The change won’t take place until next August. To be fair, it’ll really take a year to be able to assess the performance which will be 2013, just a few months before the next election cycle kicks into gear. By August 2014, two months before the election, the success (or not) of private waste pickup west of Yonge Street will be a major issue. If it’s seen as a success, all those who supported it will have something to crow about. If not, well, it’ll all be scurrying for cover.

Which goes a long way to explaining the rather tepid defence put up at council during Monday’s debate.

Yes, the hardcore ideologues and true believers sang the praises of contracting out, with all the improvement in services and millions of dollars saved being touted. (Remember this, people. $11 million per year. Guaranteed.) They were joined by the union haters and everyone who suffered mightily during the horrible summer of 2009. And, of course, the doomsayers of inevitability, featuring the hangdog hysteria of Budget Chief Michael Del Grande. If we don’t do this, we will be sued. Sued, I tells ya!

The rest, however, just seemed to want to be done with it. No discussion. Let’s get `er done and move on. In no way did they want to go on record in favour of proceeding.


There were too many questions about the true worth of the move. There always are when it comes to contracting out or privatizing waste collection. For every claim for the upside of such a move, there’s a counterclaim of a city or municipality taking things back in house. While Deputy Mayor couldn’t say enough about the 16 years of non-city worker trash pickup in Etobicoke, it comes with asterisks. Less diversion. Easier routes.

And the GFL proposal council approved is additionally fraught with questions. How was the bid so low? Do the numbers actually hold up? Who knows. Since it was just a Request For Quote process, the bid wasn’t assessed against the others. It came in lowest. That’s all the city needed. Even the outside consultants brought in to look at the bid, Ernst and Young, weren’t asked about its feasibility, leading me to wonder what exactly their role was. Yep. We can confirm those are numbers.

Most of the mayor’s supporters didn’t want to know the answers to any of those questions. Only Councillors Gloria Lindsay Luby and Josh Matlow expressed any concerned about how low the GFL bid was, saying it might be too good to be true and that you ultimately get what you pay for. Still, they both fell dutifully in line.

But if, like so many of Mayor Ford’s ill-thought out schemes go south on him, if this move to contract out waste collection does indeed turn out to be too good to be true, those two councillors along with their silent cohort, will have provided themselves cover. We thought something was fishy but the mayor, the deputy mayor and the chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee assured us it would all be fine. ‘A win-win for everybody,’ I believe Councillor Minnan-Wong said. So don’t look at us. We’re just as a surprised as you are that things didn’t turn out like we were told they would.

A distancing embrace, let’s call it. Fence straddling might be another way to look at. Diligently delivering deniability when the cows come home to roost rather than doing their due diligence. Not only is the bulk of the mayor’s support softening, it’s also shirking its responsibility. That’s bad news for him and, more importantly, bad news for the citizens of Toronto as a disturbing number of our elected officials have gone on record as now looking out for themselves rather than for those who put them in office.

harbingerly submitted by Cityslikr

Return To Civilization. Such As It Is.

I am the first to re-emerge from the woods.

It was an eventful few days, full of surprises, undercooked food and questionably cooked alcohol. The blindness, mercifully, turned out to be only temporary. The holes in the mind, I fear, may be longer to diagnose and repair.

Arriving at the homestead/hunting cabin/inherited family real estate/squatting place, Cityslikr and I were surprised by the presence of our long lost colleague Acaphlegmic who, judging by the lived in look and smell of the place, had been camped out there for some time. As regular readers of this site know, Acaphlegmic self embedded into Ford Nation just after election night last October to try and understand the heart of the beast we had just installed as our next mayor. To what end was never quite clear as his irregular posts (here and here) bordered on the, if not delusional, let’s call it fantastical. Instructional would not be an adjective I’d attach to his correspondence.

But there he was, in all his feral splendor, awaiting our appearance. How long he’d been there, he wouldn’t say. Why he was there, also left unanswered. He was sphinx-like with any information, saying that what he saw, what he learned, all the knowledge he’d gleaned from his time in Ford Nation was not going to be handed over to some nowhere blog without adequate recompense. There was a book to be written and he was just the person to write it. Any evidence suggesting that’s what he’d been doing out in the wilderness was scant.

What was evident was Acaphlegmic had been rolling around contentedly in his own approbation along with, as our noses hinted at, many fish carcasses that had washed ashore. The reason for such sentiment was pasted to the inside of the cabin. Copy after copy of his mayoral endorsement last year covered every inch of the walls. Standing in the centre of the room, it wasn’t as spooky as, say, Shelley Duvall discovering pages and pages of her husband typing out All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. We were miles away from anything resembling civilization and it was an awfully deep lake we had just crossed. It would take months to discover our bodies.

Fortunately, Acaphlegmic wasn’t in a killing kind of mood. Mostly. It was all about the crowing, the chest beating, the I-Told-You-Sos. “I was right, wasn’t I, chaps. Bulls-eye. Correctamundo. Fucking dead on.” Agreeing with him, even heartily, didn’t seem to lessen his demands that we agree with him.

Admittedly, given the last few months, it’s difficult not to concede he’d been accurate in his assessment of how a Mayor Ford scenario would play out. Who amongst us didn’t see that train wreck coming? Who amongst us, that is, who didn’t vote for the man. It’s all been as grisly, divisive and dispiriting as we feared it would be if such a thing came to pass. The difference is, very few of us were reveling in the situation to any degree. Certainly not to the degree Acaphlegmic appeared to be.

“It is as how I prophesized!” Acaphlegmic bellowed at us intermittently throughout the weekend. Not meaning to draw any comparisons between either Cityslikr or myself to Jesus but it did feel a little like we were in the presence of crazy John the Baptist. “Our time is soon at hand.” Yes, he did actually say that. On more than one occasion.

I will distill Acaphlegmic because I don’t think, at this point, you could handle pure Acaphlegmic.

What we are witnessing now in Toronto is the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarianism end game of the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarians. From Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush to the Tea Party to Stephen Harper to Tim Hudak to Rob Ford with some willing and conciliatory liberals (both small and big ‘L’) thrown in for good measure. The slashing and burning, vilifying and demonizing has all trickled down to where the rubber meets the road, municipalities. This is where we all discover exactly what they mean by ‘small government’, ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘respect for the taxpayer’.

It all sounds so reasonable and mainstream when it’s stated hypothetically. Who doesn’t want to find efficiencies? I’m a taxpayer. Hells yeah, I want respect. A leaner, meaner, smaller government? You betcha. Go right ahead. Cut our libraries. Reduce public transit. Gut environment—

No, wait. What?

At the municipal level, we’re getting all close up and personal with what these people mean when they talk about small government. It’s really all about less government. Reduce. Eliminate. Obliterate. Fewer helping hands. Less shared sacrifice. Watching the men of KPMG present their Core Services Review over the last couple weeks, the realization sunk in that it’s only about throwing citizens to the wolves of privatization and free marketeers. No guarantees we’d be paying less or services improved. And absolutely no word on any negative social impacts of guts and cuts. Not in our purview.

Trickle down neoliberalism, offloading and downloading costs and responsibilities from the feds to the provinces to the municipalities. Now with a mayor and his administration in place as willing waterboys, poised to do the dirty work, Toronto is realizing the implications and consequences of such radical ideology where everything is on the table. Everything, that is, that makes a city livable, desirable and place which encourages its citizens to reach their fullest potential. There’s no more hiding from that fact.

Acaphlegmic called it back in October. We wrote it off as the rantings of a crank and alarmist. It’s hard not to admit he may’ve been barking up the right tree.

contritely submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Proper Usage

Yesterday @GraphicMatt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto linked to the comment section of Luca De Franco’s Spacing article about the battle over the proposed Fort York pedestrian/cyclist bridge. One particular comment quoted an email response from the city’s budget chief, Mike Del Grande. The above linked piece at Ford For Toronto covers the gist of Councillor Del Grande’s response much more thoroughly than we will here but one sentence caught our attention.

“This bridge will cost 22 [million] + the opportunity to gain 25 million from proper usage of the site,” the budget chief wrote. “So it will really cost 47 million at the end of the day. Sorry, that is very poor use of limited funds the City has.”

‘Proper usage’? You know once someone starts spouting euphemisms they aren’t willing to come right out and say what they really mean. What kind of ‘proper usage’ would net the city $25 million? Not many things outside of parceling off a prime piece of real estate, I’m thinking. So to Councillor Del Grande’s mind it’s not just about saving money and building a cheaper bridge. It’s about selling off city assets – I mean, ‘monetizing’ the city’s assets — to deal with an impending, tsunami-sized budget hole next year.

So it begins. Under the banner of sound fiscal discipline or whatever other business-speak blather the budget chief spews forth, it’s nothing more than a fire sale. One-off transactions that may plug a temporary hole but could end up costing the city more in the long run, if not in direct financial terms but in the ability to control development, plan neighbourhoods, create livable public space. Councillor Del Grande is simply waving the white flag of surrender and admitting that he’s out of his depth. The best he can come up with in the face of a budget crunch is to sell, outsource and privatize everything that’s not nailed down.

There’s. No. More. Money. Everything’s. On. The. Table. Everything. Must. Go.

The Waterfront. Toronto Hydro. Toronto Parking Authority. Unload it all. Cash for control. It’ll look good for the annual bottom line. Until next year, of course, when all that revenue dries up and there’s another shortfall. Rinse and repeat.

“Bridge yes but not at any cost,” Budget Chief also notes. “But… does not carry the day. This kind of thinking has caused a great financial problem for the City.”

That he remains firm in this belief that reckless spending is the source of Toronto’s current money woes speaks to either a fundamental lack of understanding of the budget process or just plain ol’ willful ideology. The city could cut its discretionary spending to the very finest of cores and still find itself in a pinch due to the mandated services it must provide. Maybe that’s the path Councillor Del Grande wants to travel down. But I’d respect him more if he had the courage of his convictions to admit it was a choice and not a necessity foisted on him by the profligacy of the previous administration.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr