Suck And Blow

November 1, 2012

Tuesday’s hours’ long debate on the Toronto Community Housing Corp.’s report – Putting People First – represents a microcosm of the political division this city faces. An overwhelmingly daunting capital expenditure To Do list. One side says sell as much of the operation off as you need to pay for the expenses (and in so doing, conveniently reduce the size of government). The other views it not as some zero sum equation, an impermeable circle of set dollars that can only change in a downward direction. Let’s call that the more than one way to skin a cat camp.

That a compromise solution was achieved, a partial sell off, much, much less than the real deficit hawks were eyeing, is moderately good news. But make no mistake, once the sale of 55 TCHC homes is done, there will be less housing in this city where some 80,000 families sit on a waiting list. That cup is still half empty.

This is an act of civic cannabilization, just as cutting TTC service in order to use the savings to pay down the capital costs of buying new streetcars is. Without talk of increasing revenues, this conversation is simply travelling along a one way street. Make Do With Less Boulevard. It’s all in the mayor and other right wingers’ favour. The rate of reduction may be slower than they want but it’s certainly up their slash and burn alley. (Yeah, I couldn’t resist).

While it’s only and always been just about attacking the role of government in the functioning of the city, the argument made out loud is inevitability. It’s always about inevitability. Queen’s Park downloaded this file on us without the financial resources to keep things running properly. It’s been ages since the federal government expressed any interest in social housing. The city’s left holding the bag. There’s only so much we can do. So stop being poor if you want a reasonable roof over your head at a reasonable price.

That some of the argument is true makes it sound convincing. The senior levels of government have walked away from the issue, leaving cities to cover for them. But by following their lead – and selling off housing stock is walking away, no matter where the proceeds go – the situation can only get worse.

There’s only so much we can do.

Ummm, well, we could talk about raising revenue. You know, that other side of the economic equation the mayor and his flock of right wing supporters never want to talk about. Except to say, “We’re up to our eyeballs in taxes!” Or, how about a downtown casino? That’ll pay for everything. And the latest gambit they’re rolling out in order to evade an honest discussion about taxes is to demand a redistribution of Section 37 wealth from wards that see a lot of those funds to those that don’t.

In brief, Section 37 funds “permits the City to authorize increases in permitted height and/or density through the zoning bylaw in return for community benefits…” So developments outside zoning bylaws cough up cash to help mitigate any negative effective they might cause to the surrounding neighbourhood. Such money might be used to build a park, playground community centre.

Wards with a lot of that type of development have access to more Section 37 funds than those that don’t. Some of the have not councillors have noticed this discrepancy and want to even things up a bit. Now, I’m not going to get into the arguments for or against this sentiment except to say it’s not as easy as all that since, among other complications, provincial legislation becomes involved. A bid on Tuesday by Councillor Michelle Berardinetti to have 10% of Section 37 funds put in a pool to go toward the TCHC repair backlog got rightfully shot down.

What I do find interesting though is that some councillors (cough, cough.. Giorgio Mammoliti.. cough, cough) are all for this type of equalization payment, let’s call it, but would go red in the face and his head explode to hear talk of property tax increases. Unsurprisingly he has the stones to call Councillor Adam Vaughan who is flush with Section 37 funds the “$51 Million Man” and a hypocrite for not supporting a pooling of this resource (which is not true anyway). It seems collectivism is fine and dandy as long as it doesn’t involve any socialist talk of increasing taxes.

This bid by some councillors on the right to lay claim to Section 37 money to help fix TCHC housing is nothing less than a tacit admission new revenues are needed for the city coffers. Evidently Toronto does have a revenue problem despite Mayor Ford’s campaign mantra. By refusing to honestly face that fact by keeping any discussion of reasonable tax increases off the table, it’s hardly surprising budget cuts and city owned property fire sales are presented as our only viable option.

But that’s not inevitability. It’s a conscious choice.

predictably 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