Which Lie Do You Buy?

July 21, 2011

Politicians are all liars.

If there’s a bigger cop-out for political apathy, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. It brushes with a broad stroke and enables those pronouncing such a trite sentiment to walk away with an unearned sense of superiority. I would deign to participate in the proceedings if those involved weren’t so contemptibly untruthful.

More insidiously, it gives cover to vote for those we know are determined to act on our worst, self-interested instincts. When they do once being elected, we look shocked, throw up our hands and exclaim, what are you gonna do? Who knew they were going to cut [fill in the blank] and ban [fill in the blank]? They’re all liars.

It all comes full circle as opportunistic politicians then do only what an easily cynical electorate expects them to do: lie. Tell us what we want to hear with a wink and a nod and then unfurl an unspoken agenda, much to our satisfaction and mock dismay. What are you gonna do? They’re all liars.

So we had a recent federal election that, to hear tell it, nobody really wanted and had nothing to do with a minority government in contempt of parliament. There’s an upcoming provincial election in the fall that looks as if it’s going to be fought on the flimsiest of grounds. A tax mad incumbent who’s buried the province under a sea of red tape, making it uncompetitive and on the road to ruin. Never mind that indications point to a more upbeat outlook. A slow if unsteady climb from the biggest economic downturn in over 80 years. The Taxman Cometh! Oogly-boogly!

And of course, there was last year’s municipal election in Toronto, chock full of pithy phrases, sleights of hand and misdirection. “Stop The Gravy Train.” “Respect For Taxpayers.” “City Hall Does Not Have A Revenue Problem. It Has A Spending Problem.”

Less than a year later, turns out much of that was — how to phrase it gently? – complete and utter shit. Most of then Councillor Rob Ford’s opponents for mayor said exactly that on the campaign trail. His numbers didn’t add up. His anecdotal evidence of waste and profligacy was nothing more than that, anecdotal. There was no way possible for him to cut taxes without cutting services.

But the soon-to-be next mayor of Toronto and his self-proclaimed Nation plugged their ears and yelled la-la-la-la-la-la, unconvinced. Waste would be found. Easy. Taxes could be cut. Easy. No services would be cut. Guaranteed.

Quickly however, ‘no services’ became no major services’ and now, as we head into the budget battles in the fall Everything. Is. On. The. Table. Exactly like many of those Ford defeated last October said it would be. As Edward Keenan pointed out in his Grid article last week, the KPMG core services review report ultimately showed what the previous mayor, David Miller, and his supporters had said all along. There wasn’t a whole lot of gravy at City Hall. Toronto was being run pretty darn efficiently and the major cuts that were available to Mayor Ford weren’t going to amount to a hill of beans money wise.

In short, the entire campaign platform that propelled Rob Ford into the mayor’s office was predicated on one whoppingly big faulty premise, let’s call it. All the waste he promised to find easy, well, wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, it’d be a stretch to call most of it waste at all. No matter how much the generously paid consultants at KPMG tired to frame it otherwise, the fact of the matter is candidate Rob Ford was wrong.

A more humble or intellectually accommodating person would stand back, admit the error of his ways and proceed to re-evaluate his thinking. New information. Recalibrate. That’s generally how a species successfully adapts.

That is not our mayor’s style, choosing instead to just bull on, spouting even more nonsense and claptrap. As Mr. Keenan noted Tuesday in The Grid, the mayor’s on something of a ‘truthiness’ whistle stop tour, telling AM radio talk show listeners that labour make up 80% of the city’s costs. Ummm, actually no, Mr. Mayor. It’s more like 48%. Maybe if he’d said 84%, we might think he had a brain fart and mistakenly flipped digits.

Not to outdone on the nosestretcher scale, the mayor’s brother and apparent stunt double in mendacity, Councillor Doug Ford, blurted out that his neighbourhood had more libraries than Tim Hortons. As if that would be a bad thing. As if that was an indication that we were spending too much money on libraries. As if…

It doesn’t matter because it turns out not to be the case. Not even close. “We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world,” Councillor Ford blustered on. Wrong again, Doug. We don’t. You’re just spouting out sound bytes that have no basis in reality. Infecting discourse with a contagion of half-truths and not even close to half-truths.

What kind of politician, a public servant, would do that?

One whose arguments can’t be won on facts and reason. On equal footing, they’re dead to rights, as is often the case when you watch them at work during debates at council. Make shit up because it can’t be contested since it’s not based on anything real or actual. Like punching the wind.

Moreover, a constant misstating of facts fills the whole space with an air of deceit and dishonesty. Sure, I may be lying but so is everyone else. That’s what politicians do.

All politicians lie.

A lie built on lies.

And we let them get away with it because it lets us off the hook. Why bother if nobody’s telling the truth? A pox on all your houses.

If we’re lied to by our elected officials, it’s because we let them lie to us. We encourage them to lie so that we don’t have to do the heavy lifting of governing. We’re lying to ourselves if we think otherwise.

honest as the day is longingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Pattern Emerges

May 9, 2011

The threads of Mayor Rob Ford’s Toronto are starting to weave together and form a discernible pattern. Like those 3D Magic Eye posters that were all the rage back in the 80s, deciphering what exactly the thing is we’re looking at all depends on your perspective and ability (or willingness) to see behind the white noise. A simple mess of colours to some becomes a distinct shape to others.Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler snapped the above photo and posted it on Twitter last week. ‘Service reduction’ of bus routes should not be confused with ‘major service’ cuts that themselves are different from the No Service Cuts. Guaranteed. pledge Mayor Ford made on the campaign trail last year. Although it might be hard to tell the difference if you’re one of those people who depended on the night time and weekend runs of the 127 Davenport or 33 Forest Hill routes.

Done on the q.t. via posted notice, lost amidst the heavy din of a proposed 10 cent fare increase earlier during the budget process that the mayor and TTC chair Karen Stintz bravely beat back, it is the Ford way. Big noise trumpeting the cutting of taxes or freezing of fees followed by a wee peep of an announcement of a ‘service reduction’. If only a few folks are adversely affected does it really amount to a service cut? The tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it and all that.

Some, sensing the way the wind’s blowing in Ford Nation, have decided that the public sector is no longer the place to be. Take Geoff Rathbone, for example. The city’s General Manager of Solid Waste Management Services announced last week that he was stepping down from his post to take up the vice-president position of resource recovery for Progressive Waste Solutions.

Aside from being the 5th city manager to pack up and head out of Dodge since Mayor Ford came to power, Mr. Rathbone’s departure is also more than a little eye-brow raising since one of the last steps he took in his official capacity with the city was to author the report recommending privatizing a portion of Toronto’s garbage collection. His new employer will, in its position as “one of the country’s largest waste management firms,” in all likelihood make a serious bid on the contract that Mr. Rathbone has proposed. Admitting to the National Post that “… the timing of his departure ‘may not be perfect’ but ‘you can’t necessarily choose when opportunities come to you.’” May not be perfect? You think?

That’s not to question Mr. Rathbone’s credentials as he seems well liked and respected by councillors of all political stripes but the idea that this ‘opportunity’ arose coincidentally with the move toward privatization seems a little disingenuous and hard to swallow. While we’re assured the city’s integrity commissioner will keep everything above board, the fact that such a move is even considered legitimate should be of concern. We’re now outsourcing expertise for the benefit of the private sector with no real guarantee that we’ll see anything in return for it. Note the ever dwindling amount of savings privatizing garbage collection west of Yonge Street will give us. $6 million this week, down from $8 million last week, both wildly off the $49 million in savings claimed in a C.D. Howe report that pro-privatization proponents touted Toronto could save with city wide implementation.

We’re selling the city off by the pound with little benefit to show for it. So, it’s little wonder that managers like Geoff Rathbone are heading for the greener pastures of the private sector (made that much more green with the outsourcing public services). The city’s function will be nothing more than to provide customers for businesses.

The picture comes fully into focus with the news of Mayor Ford’s blank schedule pages. “Previously information had been given out,” said the mayor’s press secretary, [Adrienne Batra], “perhaps too much.” We had complaints in our office too, from citizens who met with mayor wondering ‘Why is my name on a very public calendar?’ So we have to take steps to ensure we protect people’s privacy.”“Why is my name on a very public calendar?” Perhaps because you’re meeting with the mayor. A mayor who campaigned hard against secretive, backroom deals. Now it’s none of our business who the mayor meets with. So much for accountability and Mayor Ford’s Respect for Taxpayers. All gone the way of No Service Cuts.

The Ford Nation. Reduced expectations, increasingly beholden to private interests and where no questions need be answered. A clear pattern of public de-servicing.

eagle-eyedly submitted by Cityslikr


Ruling Not Governing

April 27, 2011

Nearly 5 months since being sworn in as mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford doesn’t seem so much interested in governing the city as he does laying siege to it. He’s come. He’s seen. Now he wants to conquer.

Having won the election, he’s now got a mandate. No need to seek consensus. It’s all about securing the minimum necessary votes. Anything more than that is pure gravy. You’re either with him or you’re ag’in him.

The latest target in his sights is Maria Augimeri who could face a court enforced by-election due to “irregularities” in the voters list in Ward 9 during last October’s election. “Augimeri isn’t keen on implementing Ford’s agenda,” former Ford deputy campaign manager and chief of staff Nick Kouvalis told the Star last week. “Augimeri votes with the left on most occasions and, if we can replace her with somebody who votes on the center-right on most occasions, that would be a huge victory for the mayor.”

So eager is Kouvalis (and the mayor presumably) to install another Ford ally on council that he’s offered to guide the campaign of Gus Cusimano, Councillor Augimeri’s main rival in last fall’s election. An election Ms. Augimeri won by just 89 votes and one that Mr. Cusimano’s taken to court to overturn to the tune of $70,000 to date. Cusimano may claim not to be a politician but he’s been trying very hard to be one since 1974.

Kouvalis suggested that if the by-election should happen, he’d like to see it framed as a “referendum” on Mayor Ford’s performance so far since Councillor Augimeri has regularly voted against the mayor on key issues. She even had the temerity to refuse to step down from her board member position at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (along with fellow thorn in the mayor’s side, Raymond Cho) when he went head-hunting after the release of the Auditor General’s report.

Such audacity in the face of the mayor’s wishes makes Augimeri an especially juicy target to try and bring down. Her defeat at the hands of a Ford backed candidate would give a deep green light for Team Ford to proceed apace with their plundering and sacking of the city. It would also signal to those in the “mushy middle” to straighten up and fly right. Failing to fall in line behind the mayor could have repercussions of the negative sort. If nothing else, a by-election would serve as a distraction to an opposing councillor as the mayor heads for some rocky political terrain.

For his part, would-be Ward 9 Councillor Cusimano is already sounding positively Fordian divisive. “People have to decide if they want their councillor to be part of government or on the outside looking in.” Hear that, oh taxpayers of Ward 9? You want your local government working for you, you better get on side. You’re either with us or ag’in us.

It’s not just the precious battlements of downtown pinko elites as represented by the likes of Councillors Vaughan, Davis, Perks, Fletcher or McConnell that are under attack. Mayor Ford seems intent to lay waste to the ground under anyone who doesn’t share (or at least vote in favour of for fear of reprisal) his radical right wing, anti-government views. That includes almost everyone on council except for his brother, and maybe the Deputy Mayor and Budget Chief.

You can see it in the arm-twisting that goes on at council and committee meetings. Written instructions on which way to vote. QB Mammoliti’s thumbs up or down. It’s wrangling not debating. A show of force instead of the power of persuasion. Given the recent setback during the debate over appointments to city boards at the last council session, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat by the mayor on a technicality, and the little contretemps at last week’s executive committee meeting with Councillor Jaye Robinson over citizens advisory committees, it appears some members of Team Ford are beginning to buck under the oppressive weight of his doctrinaire saddle. Some fresh, pliable meat would come in handy for the battles shaping up in the near future.

So I agree with Nick Kouvalis on this. If a by-election does happen in Ward 9, let’s all frame it as a referendum on the mayor’s agenda. Since he’s so frenetically and successfully implemented some elements of his campaign platform, there are tangible outcomes we can look at to judge his performance. He and his designate, Gus Cusimano, won’t be able to hide behind empty rhetoric and trite platitudes like Stopping The Gravy Train and Respect For Taxpayers as the mayor did during last year’s campaign.

So let’s revive the debate on Transit City for those who missed it the first time. Get down to the nitty gritty about the mayor’s replacement plan and point out just how many folks will be ill-served by it. Maybe we can talk about the sudden case of deafness the mayor’s come down with toward the public. Exclusion seems to be how he prefers to operate rather than all that touchy-feely inclusion he promised before being elected. Garbage privatization? Have it. Maybe we can start talking about actual numbers instead of the theoretical ones being thrown around right now. And how about the mayor’s monstrous plans for the waterfront as mouthed by his brother, Councillor Doug? A by-election would offer a perfect venue for a wider discussion of that.

Hopefully, if the city does appeal the court’s decision, an outcome won’t be determined until the fall and if a by-election does happen then, it’ll happen right smack dab in the middle of the 2012 budget debate when the real results of Mayor Ford’s agenda start taking hideous shape. I’m guessing Councillor Augimeri’s stock will rise at that point due to her established opposition to the mayor and challenger Cusimano won’t be nearly as willing to cozy up to him as he is right now. Instead, he just might look fondly back at the time he only lost by 89 votes.

bring it onily submitted by Cityslikr


Election? What Election?

April 15, 2011

Admittedly, I did not spend much time in Mayor Rob Ford’s head. The discomfort was too bearable. It was all blindingly red, the colour of rage and perpetual indignation. At times so intense as to render me unconscious, only to be revived by the sweet smell of chicken wings.

So, I was never able to figure out just what is going on in the mayor’s mind that keeps him so mum about the ongoing federal election campaign. Here he has this bully pulpit which he’s not been shy to use to come down on his particular pet peeves like councillor spending, social housing, public transit and yet on pushing forth a municipal agenda, Mayor Ford’s been L’il Miss Demure. ‘Respect for Taxpayers’ has been as much as he’s managed to type out, allowing a grand opportunity to pass him, and us – and by ‘us’ I don’t mean just us in Toronto but the overwhelming majority of us who live in metropolitan areas throughout the country — by.

The need for such proactive measures has not been greater. Municipalities in Canada are facing increasingly dire circumstances, symbolized by a four year-old estimate of an accumulated $123 billion infrastructure deficit. This cannot be handled individually by nibbling around at discretionary spending corners and stopping the gravy train. As we heard at yesterday’s Who Cares About 15 Million Voters? (h/t @_john_henry @MartinProsperiT), Canada’s 19th-century governance structure does not enable cities to deal with the problems they face on their own. The numbers simply don’t add up.

And the timing could not be more propitious for our mayor to step up to the plate. His political stripe is no secret. The federal finance minister is a family friend. If polls and opinions are to be believed, there are actually some seats in Ford Nation that are in play for Conservatives. (NOW has 5 possibly up for grabs that could turn blue from red.) These could be the difference between a win and a loss, majority versus minority for Stephen Harper. So why isn’t the mayor leveraging this opportunity to highlight urban issues? More specifically, imagine the oomph behind his ask for help in building the Sheppard subway from the feds if he helped secure the Conservatives even 1 or 2 416 ridings for them. It would go a long way to re-election in 2014.

Could it be his silence is, in fact, very tactical? By pushing an urban agenda is there some concern about alienating the even more important 905 region? That urban-suburban divide that politicians in Ottawa (and Queen’s Park) so love to exploit to their advantage might flare up against them if they’re seen to be catering to the bigger cities. Perhaps the Conservatives have asked the mayor to remain on the sidelines and let them have it in the greater GTA. If things fall their way, then maybe there’ll be a little something in it for him afterwards.

Of course, it may be worth considering that the vaunted Ford Nation that the mayor threatened to unleash on Premier McGuinty earlier this year – and it will be interesting to see if Mayor Ford maintains his disengagement during the provincial election in the fall – may not be as vaunted as he hopes. What would happen if the mayor got all involved in the campaign and had little to no to negative impact on the outcome? It wouldn’t diminish his abilities to run the city certainly but it might poke a hole in the invincibility suit he’s been wearing since his election. And if the Conservative horse he backed didn’t win? His ability to bargain at the federal level might be lessened down the road.

Setting partisan campaigning aside, and wondering why Mayor Ford has refused to pick up the urban banner during this election, it may just be more ideologically based than anything else. To step up and demand federal government action in helping cities meet the burdens put upon them would repudiate everything that brought the mayor to power. Echoing the sentiments made by Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi admits to what the mayor refused to admit to his entire political career. Cities do have a revenue problem. If Mayor Ford gives voice to that idea, then everything he ran on, all the damage he’s inflicted on the city right now under the rubric of fiscal responsibility could be seen as unnecessary, mean-spirited and nothing more than pure politics.If that’s the case, if that’s reason for the mayor’s continued absence from the federal election scene, well, it’s as damaging as anything he could by being more involved. It suggests he’s looking out for his own best interests rather than those of the city. Respect for the taxpayers indeed.

questioningly submitted by Cityslikr


The Useful Idiocy Of Mike Del Grande

April 6, 2011

Early on as Toronto’s 2011 budget debate got rolling, there were questions about how much the city’s new budget chief, Mike Del Grande, was in the loop about matters budgetary. He’d been caught unawares with the mayor’s decision to freeze property taxes. (Must be how the mayor rolls. Ford For Toronto pointed out yesterday that TTC chair Karen Stintz was surprised to learn that Mayor Ford was planning to build a subway along Finch Avenue within 10 years. Not single-handedly, of course, although it may come to that.) But if Councillor Del Grande bears any ill-will toward the mayor for not being the second or third or twelfth to know about important decisions made, he certainly doesn’t show it. The good councillor from Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt is nothing if not magnanimous. And by magnanimous, I mean dyspeptic.

It was easy to assume going in that given Mayor Ford’s obsession with the bottom line and campaign pledge to stop the gravy train, his sibling and political soul mate would be a natural choice for budget chief. Brothers… are doin’ it for themselves. But maybe it all looked a little too cozy, too Ford-y. Besides, Councillor Doug was a neophyte to municipal politics. He’d need some time to pretend to learn the ropes.

So who better to front the Ford family’s plan to dismantle the city bit by bit than a chartered accountant? It’s not personal. It’s business. The numbers just don’t add up. Don’t believe us? Ask the guy with the pocket protector.

Councillor Del Grande has been ferocious in his role as holder of the purse strings, the man whose destiny it is to restore fiscal sanity to City Hall. He understands the meaning of a penny. You don’t. He’s a chartered accountant after all. You’re not.

Once more I sat in Committee Room #1 yesterday and watched as Councillor Del Grande bullied presided over the budget committee meeting. As we have written about very extensively before (here and here and here and here), there is nothing the councillor can’t take exception to, no contrary view that he can’t blow up into a hysterical tirade about discipline and responsibility. Not for nothing a former colleague on council nicknamed him Cardinal Del Grandstand.

It is shocking to find oneself in a room with, I don’t know, 30 or so other grown ups being bellowed at, finger pounding on the desk, condescendingly talked down to and berated. I half expected the budget chief to tell me I had detention after the meeting. Adults don’t speak to adults like that. Adults shouldn’t speak to children like that because adults who do often times end up alone in their twilight years, packed off to a nursing home where the staff drug them into a satisfying silence.

Such baleful arrogance is barely tolerable in those who’ve earned it through brilliance, acuity or genius. It’s absolutely unacceptable coming from someone in possession of none of those qualities. In fact, Budget Chief Del Grande represents the exact opposite of all those things.

Once Mike Del Grande signed on to Team Ford, he lost all entitlement he may have once had to lecture others about fiscal accountability. Despite acknowledging things were slightly more complicated than simply having a spending problem, Del Grande swallowed the poisoned pill of tax cuts and freezes and no service cuts. Any chartered accountant worth their salt would’ve seen the financial train wreck coming after the tourniquet was applied to the revenue streams, and run as fast as they could in the opposite direction. Instead, the councillor has stood firm, puffed out his cold, hollow chest and declared martial law on spending. Now it’s all about tightening our belts and lowering our expectations. Everything. Is. On. The. Table.

While the budget chief may think highly of himself as a slayer of big government spending, he’s actually nothing more than the presentable if rumpled front for darker motives. Aside from his slight mayoral campaign trope of Respect For The Taxpayers, Mayor Ford and Bros. Inc. have made no secret of their ultimate goal: to reduce government to little more than a skeleton crew. Protector of property and paver of roads. Everything else is gravy.

But to articulate that aspiration out loud sounds much crazier and less populist than it does when you’re at home, talking politics over family dinner. The public is far less enthusiastic if you tell them what you’re planning on taking away from them instead of all the money you’re going to save them. They need to be convinced they’re over-taxed not under-serviced.

Enter Michael Del Grande. He and his chartered accountancy diploma changes the channel. It isn’t a question of not wanting to be involved in social housing or day care or after school programs or environmental initiatives or libraries or the zoo or city planning. We. Just. Can’t. Afford. It. We no longer ask how can we do this or that because the answer will invariably be, we can’t. Dr. No. Mike Del Grande. C.A.

The thing is, he’d probably wear that badge with pride. He truly thinks he’s saving the city from its past profligacy which is what makes him so fucking insufferable not to mention dangerous. As he methodically counts the pennies and Ebenezerly brushes off widows and orphans he offers cover for the mayor to sell this asset off and privatized that service. Hey, folks. My heart bleeds for you. But we just can’t afford it anymore. Ask the budget chief. He’ll tell you. He’s a chartered accountant.

— distastefully submitted by Cityslikr