Challengers To Watch IV

June 26, 2014

Walking along Bloor Street West in Ward 18 Davenport with Alex Mazer, I was struck by a thought. This is like strolling in my own backyard. railpathWhich it kind of is since I live right next door in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina. I have played baseball in the parks in Ward 18. I have drunk in a few of the bars in Ward 18. I have cycled Ward 18’s railpath.

Su warda, mi warda.

(I hope that totally made-up Spanish on my part doesn’t actually mean anything rude or derogatory.)

I met Alex last year when he hosted a Better Budget TO event. It’s a group advocating for participatory budgeting, a more open process of determining how local governments spend money that actually includes not only community involvement but community decision making. (See what Councillor Shelley Carroll’s doing with Section 37 money in Ward 33.) participatorybudgetThe movement has gained traction in cities like New York and Chicago.

Participatory budgeting is also something more conducive to local governments than either the provincial or federal levels, both where Alex has spent some time working previously. Their budgets are dropped, fully formed, take it or leave it, folks. Municipal budgets, while dense and arcane, go through a few stages including one where the public gets to express its opinion, before being finalized by city council.

It’s this relative openness that has drawn Alex toward municipal politics. An ability to interact and work with constituents on issues that directly affect their quality of lives on a daily basis. Budgets, schools, public spaces, transit, the state of our roads and the constant construction. Oh, the construction.

Like many of us, Alex would like to figure out a way to better co-ordinate construction throughout the city in order to avoid what seems like a regular tear up and rebuild along his ward’s stretch of Bloor Street.

bloorstreetwestWhile not as intense as some neighbouring wards to the east or south of it, Ward 18 is experiencing similar kinds of pressures that come from growth and intensification, beginning with the need to deliver new infrastructure and maintain the old. The development along Queen Street on the edge of Parkdale is already in place. There’s a mixed used plan on what is now derelict land running beside the railpath right next to the Nestle chocolate factory near Dundas Street West and Lansdowne that’s been years in the making and looks ready to go. The Union-to-Pearson rail link will have a stop in Ward 18.

It’s going to be a serious hub, Ward 18, bringing with it all the opportunities and conflicts inherent in that. Continued pressure on employment lands. Cars versus transit versus biking. Like the old days versus new density. Electrification versus diesel.

You might think, why put all that into the lap of a newcomer? The current councillor, while only finishing up her first term, has worked in the ward for a while now, dating back to her time as Executive Assistant to longtime former councillor, Mario Silva. nestleLet’s just stick with the steady hand of experience.

The thing is, from my perch watching city council over the past 4 years, Councillor Ana Bailão has not shown herself up to the task. While not a destructive force certainly, she has regularly landed on the side of issues that truly mystify. Sure, there was voting to rescind the Vehicle Registration Tax which, while politically popular, hasn’t done much for the city’s revenue stream. She also voted to freeze property taxes in 2011, contract out waste collection west of Yonge (but against awarding that contract to Green 4 Life), eliminate the plastic bag fee, initially voted to keep the bike lanes on Jarvis but then voted to re-confirm the vote she’d voted against to tear them up (??) The councillor voted for the Scarborough subway.

Little rhyme nor reason or pattern. There doesn’t seem to be a there, there.

Even on her signature item, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, nothing much happened. It might’ve contained the fire but certainly hasn’t put it out. TCHC management remains a mess. The state of good repair continues to grow. No recommendations have been put forth to deal with what is a pressing, pressing situation.

In truth, Councillor Bailão has been something of a disappointment. Not at all dependable on the important issues facing the city. dupontbusMaybe a change in tone and function at City Hall would reveal a different Ana Bailão but it’s hard to see much evidence of that possibility.

And if Ward 18 is counting on change for better representation, why not go whole hog and elect a new councillor?

Alex Mazer?

He’s certainly bringing a lot to the table. Clearly engaged and on top of the issues directly affecting the ward and the wider city, Mazer wants to open up that engagement further, bringing the public into the decision-making process sooner, whether it’s the budget or local development plans. Anyone who ‘deeply disagrees with the Ford agenda’, as Mazer stated a week or so ago on Reddit, would be a step in the right direction from the ward’s current representation.

But I’ll let you decide for yourself, leaving you with candidate Mazer’s own words:

Change is happening — there’s no question about it. There are a lot of good things about this change — I think that most residents in the area that I talk to feel optimistic about the future of their neighbourhoods.

But despite this optimism, I also hear from renters, artists, newcomers, middle class families, and more, who feel that they can no longer afford to live downtown — who feel that they will never be able to afford to buy a home in the area. This is part of a broader challenge that our city faces — that people’s opportunities are increasingly shaped by their postal code (U of T’s David Hulchanski, among others, has done some great work on this).

City government can’t stop this change, but we can manage it better I believe. One of my priorities is to take a more proactive approach to managing development in the ward, working with communities to identify the types of growth and change they want before the ‘development application’ signs go up and they’re left scrambling to have their voices heard. A good example of this is the need to work with the community and other levels of government to preserve public space at Dufferin and Bloor.

A better affordable housing policy can also help. See some of my thoughts on this.

I think we need to focus more on the growing inequality in our city. It’s troubling that inequality has taken on a more prominent place in the American political discourse but remains a relatively minor part of the public debate here in Toronto.

gotrain

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


A Better Business Model

March 30, 2014

Toronto is not, nor should we try to be, the location with the lowest cost. Instead, we must strive to be the location providing the highest value.

moneytimevalue

Thus spoke (actually, wrote) mayoral hopeful David Soknacki, a week or so back during his Reddit AMA. (Embarrassingly, I had to Google to find out what AMA stood for. Ask Me Anything, in case you’re still wondering.) It’s a quiet but very important point that needs emphasis in this municipal era of finding waste and efficiencies, cutting taxes and generally trying to get by with less. It is a statement that warrants continued consideration of the Soknacki campaign.

I am not a business guy. In fact, you might even consider me hostile to the veneration of business as the building block of society. Or is that even a thing? Certainly, simply because someone has excelled in the business-y private sector in no way translates for me into an immediate assumption of possessing a capable hand for governance. creatingvalueIn fact, history throws up plenty of examples of just the opposite being true.

Government in no way operates like a business. Just as I’d imagine business in no way operates like a government. They serve different purposes and provide different needs. The skill sets necessary to function properly within each entity have to be distinct, complimentary perhaps, but not exact.

This does not mean the two should be adversarial. In fact, I’d argue there needs to be more intersection and interaction between the institutions of government and the private sector beyond players in either camp switching sides every now and then. Does that make any sense? Like I said, writing about business feels like I’m skating out on thin ice.

It is my belief that we have operated for too long under the business-friendly mantra of governments just needing to get out of the way and let business do its thing, unencumbered by red tape, regulation and onerous tax rates. We have taken for granted the contributions governments make in order to create business friendly conditions. Governments educate us. Governments endeavour to keep us healthy. betterservicelowercostGovernments pay for the infrastructure that eases the mobility of people and goods in such a way that business is given opportunities to flourish.

Does it always do any of this in the most efficient or best way possible? No. Nobody here’s saying government is perfect. Not even close. There should be constant vigilance in making sure government works to the optimum for the greatest number of people.

We cannot expect that to happen while starving it of its ability to do so.

That’s why taxes are not fundamentally evil. That’s why having the lowest taxes doesn’t automatically translate into the best business environment. Lower taxes will not inevitably lead to a city being more affordable, liveable or functional. Value isn’t determined solely by opting for the guaranteed bargain basement price.

Nobody makes even the most basic decisions based on one variable, do they? You don’t go to a restaurant just because it’s the cheapest, do you? Who buys only remainder bin books? Even the data plan for you phone isn’t determined purely on the price, is it?

So who moves to a city, as an individual or business, for the sole reason that it has the lowest taxes?attraction

Aren’t there a bundle of factors that figure into the calculation? How easy is it to get to where you need to go? How good are the schools? Are there fun things to do within close proximity? Is it, at the end of the day, a positive experience living and/or doing business in a particular city?

Taxes are but a part of that equation.

Or, in the words of David Soknacki, we must strive to be the location providing the highest value. Value, like taxes, shouldn’t be a dirty word.

In the 30 seconds he was given to inspire the city at the end of Tuesday’s Metro Morning, David Soknacki summed up his vision like this:

I want to reform City Hall where we’re going to be making decisions based on consensus and on facts, and make it representative of our voices and priorities. That in turn will enhance our prosperity, and that in turn will enhance our quality of life.

I’m always a little leery of those putting prosperity before the idea of quality of life. I get it. I’m not a complete idiot. You can’t build anything positive with only good intentions and rainbow hopes. Money makes the world go around.

But isn’t it also possible to strive for prosperity by improving our quality of life first? By any measure you take, Toronto is a rich city. Investing now in infrastructure and other fundamentals of the public realm will invariably enhance our quality of life, as Mr. Soknacki wants to do, and attract more people and businesses and investment here, all vital to enhancing our prosperity.

alexanderdumas

A prosperity that isn’t just about having more money in our wallets. A richness more encompassing than adding up the dollars and cents. A value that goes beyond being respected as a taxpayer and puts as least as much emphasis on a way of life as it does a way of doing business.

business friendly-ly submitted by Cityslikr