Breakdown of An Executive Committee Breakdown

March 27, 2011

(In case you missed it earlier this week, we posted a piece over at Torontoist. Out of sheer laziness, we’re re-posting a truncated version of it here today. If you’re feeling equally as lazy, this one’s for you.)

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If you’ve spent any time lately at city council and found yourself uninspired by the lack of substantive debate and partisan chest-beating (or bleating, depending on your view), may I suggest you take a pass on attending any Executive Committee meetings. At least watching the entire council at work in the chambers, Team Ford is diluted somewhat, usually triumphant in the end but at least put through its paces, challenged on almost equal footing by the opposition. But in committee room #1? The Executive is let off the leash, barely touched by ‘visiting’ councillors or deputants who hope to make any sort of impression upon them.

Made up of the mayor’s handpicked standing committee chairs, the executive committee acts as the official brain trust of an administration; the public face of Mayor Ford’s unofficial brain trust consisting of his councillor brother and staff. The Executive Committee basically preps the mayor’s agenda that will be presented at and bludgeoned through the next city council meeting. At Executive Committee motions are gussied up, some lipstick and rouge slapped on them in the form of minor amendments to make them look all pur-dy. Or sometimes, motions go there to die, killed by an indefinite referral.

This isn’t entirely surprising since the Executive Committee is essentially chosen by the mayor as his on field team. No one expects serious splits, divisions or close votes. That’s for council. This is how the mayor marshals his forces to try and advance his agenda.

But I don’t think I have seen a less incurious, less thoughtful or less intellectually rigorous group outside of a church. No one cared about input from those who took the time to attend the meeting and express their views. This administration seems to believe that the “people” spoke last October 25th and all this is now just an annoying distraction from the work that has to be done. They couldn’t even muster the pretense of listening. Twice as the meeting wound down, they had to stop after it was pointed out there wasn’t a quorum – 7 committee members – present. Once, during a discussion about how they were going to proceed with their Core Service Review! The nuts and bolts of governing. You know, the very essence of what a municipal government does.

Which should come as little surprise since the driving force of Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee seems to be the dismantling of the activist government of their immediate predecessor. A fancy way of saying, Stop the Gravy Train.

There are two reasons for that, I believe. One is pure ideology. Like the mayor himself, the active members of the Executive Committee, the ones who contribute more than simply casting a vote when they’re told, are hard core, tried and true, anti-government neo-conservatives. Barely 10 minutes would pass during the meeting when somebody wasn’t yammering on with trite bromides like ‘learning to live within our means’, ‘governments are just like households’ and respect for the taxpayer.

The second and equally applicable reason for the Ford administration’s anti-Miller sentiment is much more personal. It’s pure, bitter resentment at having been excluded and sidelined for the past 8 years or so. When various members of the Executive Committee aren’t talking of finding efficiencies and waste, they let it be known how badly they were treated by the Millerites, excluded or kicked off that board, ignored or ridiculed at that committee meeting. It’s like revenge of the nerds but in real life.

If true, I’m sure some of it was along partisan lines. Councillor David Shiner pointed out that he’d been turfed from the board of Toronto Hydro because he wasn’t supportive enough of green initiatives. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that.

But I’d also suggest that, with the possible exception of Councillors Shiner and Michael Thompson, the more I see of the Executive Committee, the more I’m convinced that most of them along with the chair of the committee, Mayor Ford, are lightweights. They bring very little to the table in terms of original ideas or well-developed thoughts. Those that do bother to express an opinion, rarely do so in any sort of rational or compelling manner. They’re too busy checking off the list of grievances at previous slights.

None embody this bubbling cauldron of spiteful, inchoate animosity better than the Budget Chief, Mike Del Grande. Hectoring and disagreeable, the councillor from Scarborough is equal parts know-it-all and I-told-you-so. He lectures rather than asks questions. Berates not debates. He re-configures his opponents’ arguments into ones better suited for him to deride and dismiss. At one point of time during Monday’s meetiong, the councillor told a skin-crawlingly personal story of paying the way for his university aged daughter and how under his roof it was his rules and he who holds the purse strings… Oh my god, the poor woman!

The truly galling aspect of this, though, is Councillor Del Grande’s temerity to lecture others about the value of money. Here’s a guy, always boasting of his chartered accountant credentials and how he understands that you can’t spend more than you have, revenues must match expenditures, and yet he was all onboard cutting the VRT and freezing property taxes thereby denying the city millions and millions of dollars? With a straight face he demands our respect for him as a sound fiscal manager?

This Executive Committee is the ugly manifestation of the Ford Nation. Like a jilted lover, it has seized control, determined to prove its worth. It brooks no dissent and counters any disagreement or outside opinion with vitriol and contempt. Retribution not reconciliation is its agenda. This is the heart of an administration that has more interest in getting even than it does in governing.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Muscular Urban Agenda

February 15, 2011

The success of our cities in Canada is the success of our nation. And as such, it is time for us to embrace a new muscular urban agenda in this country. To allow our cities the resources, the powers and the authorities that they need in order to do the work we must do everyday for the citizens who live within our boundaries…It’s time to talk about cities. It’s time to really talk about how we make sure that cities have the resources they need to provide the services that Canadians need every single day, every single hour of every single day. And it’s time for us to understand that this 3rd order of government, this order of government that doesn’t exist in the Constitution, is actually the order of government that is most important to our citizens’ lives every single day.

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Toronto does not have a revenue problem. Toronto has a spending problem.

I promised myself I would not compare Calgary’s mayor with ours. I swore I wouldn’t. Crossed my heart, pointed to god… but… it’s… so… hard. Nenshi’s so… articulate …so informed… so positive… Rob Ford… has… kidney stones.

Muscular Urban Agenda!

(Yes. Did it.)

There are two kinds of people, I believe, in both the political and non-political arenas. On one side you’ve got city folk. On the other, let’s call them I-don’t-care-as-long-as-there’s-a-Homesense-and-a-Jack Astors type. It’s not so much about where you live as it is what you think about where you live. You can live in a city and not be a city folk (see Ford, Rob). You can not live in a city and be a city folk although that seems doubtful. City folks tend to live in cities because they like living in cities. Non-city folks live in cities because they have to and don’t spend much time thinking about the whys-and-wherefores of their urban situation.

By most estimates city folks and non-city folks living in cities make up nearly 80% of the Canadian population. In fact, in and around 45% of us live in urban centres with populatons of 500,000 or more and it’s a percentage that isn’t shrinking. Many city folk like Mayor Nenshi think this is a force that needs to be reckoned with, its ranking elevated beyond mere governmental errand boy and coffee fetcher (I said ‘fetcher’) to that of managing partner.

Our former mayor, David Miller, thought along similar lines but by the time the tax revolters and various other non-city folk chased him from office, his demands for fairer treatment at the hands of what we refer to as senior levels of government were dismissed as nothing short of undignified begging. Much was made during the election campaign to replace him of how the city had to stop going cap in hand to the province or the feds, looking for handouts simply because we couldn’t put our financial house in order. Toronto didn’t have a revenue problem, we were told again and again. Toronto had a spending problem.

Oh, but lookee over there. Mayor Nenshi totes the Milleresque sentiments and the well-heeled audience in attendance at the city’s Canadian Club ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and applaud him heartily. The same Canadian Club, incidentally, that couldn’t be bothered to go hear David Miller give a farewell speech in the waning days of his mayoralty. I guess the difference is, Mayor Miller taxed many of the club members. Mayor Nenshi didn’t.

It’s all well and good to clap and cheer the concept of increased resources, powers and authority for municipalities. It’s another thing entirely to willingly subject yourself to them. Increased resources, powers and authority almost always mean the ability to tax and we here in Toronto, given such resources, powers and authority with the City of Toronto Act in 2006, seemed far from willing. In fact, we rewarded those who promised to do the exact opposite with our votes.

Gone, vehicle registration tax and millions of dollars of revenue (i.e. resource, power and authority) with it. Let’s freeze our property taxes while we’re at it. Millions more dollars of resources, powers and authority done away with. Next year, we’re eyeing you Land Transfer Tax.

We can’t demand more responsibility if we refuse to exercise the small amount we’ve already been given. Opting not to use the powers of taxation at your disposal and choosing instead to hack away at the services and infrastructure that elevate a city beyond simply the place you live to the place where you thrive and flourish, that’s not only short-sighted and detrimental, it’s the height of folly and reckless governance. It is the opposite of a muscular urban agenda. It’s flabby anti-urban abuse. True city folk would take no part in that. Nor would they stand by idly and watch it happen.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr