3 Wards To Really Watch Now

We interrupt the regular Wards To Watch program to bring you this breaking ward-related, election 2014 news:


Already early into the 2014 municipal campaign (yes, it really is still early despite the feeling that we’ve been at this since about 2011), 3 wards have come open, the incumbents declaring, for some reason or the other – one, boredom; two, spite; three, bigger fish to fry — they would not be seeking re-election. These are wards that, I think it safe to say, if said incumbents decided to run again, they probably would coast to victory. While none of the announcements came out of the blue, it does suddenly throw a little unexpected uncertainty into the possible make-up of the next city council.

All 3, Ward 2 Etobicoke North, Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence and Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt, as geographically dispersed as they may be, are crowded under their current local representation together at the far right end of the political spectrum. callitadayIn Ward 2’s Councillor Doug Ford and Ward 39’s Councillor Mike Del Grande, you can’t really veer further to the right unless you’re prepared to run into Mayor Ford.

And don’t let Ward 16’s Councillor Karen Stintz’s fall out with the mayor over transportation plans and her mayoral aspirations fool you. She’s pretty much as tax-cutting (except for certain transit projects in Scarborough), program and service slashing, bike-lane ripping up as any conservative politician on council. Remember, she was a bona fide part of the Responsible Government Group, standing in stark opposition to then mayor David Miller, even contemplating a run against him in 2006.

The question is, are these wards as hardcore conservative as the councillors who’ve been representing them?

Ward 2 has been a Ford folks fiefdom since 2000. They probably believe they could run a family pet there and get it elected. Since electoral rules would forbid that, there’s been chatter of throwing up a daughter or nephew as version 3.0. Just how Ford friendly can the ward be?

In our fondless farewell last weekend to Mike Del Grande, we checked out the demographics of Ward 39 and discovered that it contains a larger proportion of old people than the citywide average. leanrightNow, I don’t want to get too ageist here, some of my best friends are old people who aren’t conservative, but the cohort does skew right and it does also tend to be dedicated more to voting than the younger whippersnappers. So maybe Ward 39 isn’t inherently conservative. Maybe its conservative voters just simply get out to vote.

Ward 16 looks like an entirely different can of worms. Before Councillor Stintz, it was represented by the not unprogressive Anne Johnston. In fact, the story goes that Stintz responded to an ad taken out by residents, unhappy with Johnston’s approval of a high rise development in the ward. She unseated the incumbent in 2003, bringing a much different political tone to city council than her predecessor did.

So, is Ward 16 a conservative leaning ward with a preference for conservative councillors or is the current representative simply conservative? The same goes for wards 2 and 39. Are they just empty right wing tip shoes waiting to be filled by the appropriately right wing candidate?

I would imagine that in 2 and 39, conservative candidates have a leg up. There is an established base there for their votes. cleanslateMuch less so in Ward 16.

Even in the absence of an incumbent (or maybe because of that), name recognition will also play as an important factor as political stripe. In 2010, a handful of school board trustees filled council vacancies, some in exceedingly close races. Having a known brand is a big plus at the municipal level.

That said, these are 3 wards that over the past decade have been lockdown, very right wing seats for the conservative contingent at City Hall. It’s difficult to imagine them swinging further that way this year. That’d be like, I don’t know, Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas going deeper red in the United States.

It’s an opportunity for more moderate voices to step forward, to shift things to the centre a little bit, perhaps even dampen down the heated rhetoric some. If you were contemplating a run in these wards in the hopes of doing just that but were put off by the prospect of mounting an uphill battle against an entrenched incumbent there, that obstacle has been cleared out of your way. Now’s your chance. Seize it. In municipal politics, that only seems to happen every decade or so.whatareyouwaitingfor

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My Conservatism’s 4 Realz!

This one’s a long shot.


Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East).

As divisive and stridently ideological as the mayor and his councillor-brother are and have been, in terms of divisiveness and hidebound anti-tax, small/anti-government sentiment, Councillor Minnan-Wong has matched them step for step. Set aside his new found abhorrence of the mayor’s personal behaviour over the past year or so — their ‘personal’ politics couldn’t be more different – when it comes to politics politics, Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Fords are soul mates.

Yes, the councillor called the mayor out on his cowardice yesterday at Executive Committee for failing to put the money where his mouth is especially when it came to the Scarborough subway. peasinapodHe is positioning himself as a more reasonable conservative than the mayor. Well, good for him. Who isn’t and still maintains the ability to walk upright?

But don’t be fooled by this attempt at political relativity. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is second to only one in his hatred of taxation and the attempts of government to have a positive effect in people’s lives. He was as anti-David Miller as they come, being part of the right wing Responsible Government Group established in opposition to the Miller administration. He lustily embraced the role of henchman for Mayor Ford during the early years, using his powerful position as chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to roll back a number of key initiatives the previous council enacted.

Jarvis bike lanes? Gone. Rebuilt a few intersections over along Sherbourne Street. texaschainsawmassacreThe environmental assessment in progress to study various options of what to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway? Quietly shelved, work on it stopped. Hey. What’s going on in Kristyn Wong-Tam’s ward? Let’s fuck some of that shit up, shall we?

Councillor Minnan-Wong may tout himself as a devout fiscal conservative but what he really is is a destructive conservative. None of the actions in the previous paragraph saved the city any money. In fact, the delay caused by ignoring council’s request for the Gardiner EA will wind up costing the city more in the long run as we have to ad hoc patch and maintain parts of the expressway while waiting longer than we needed to for EA to be finished.

Respect and all that blah, blah, blah.

Even the councillor’s righteous indignation at the Scarborough subway Mayor Ford’s unwilling to pay for is, what would you call it? Rich? henchmanCouncillor Minnan-Wong was in the majority of TTC commissioners who engineered the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster at the mayor’s behest for having the temerity to oversee a report that recommended maintaining the course of LRT building rather than throwing money at a phantom subway. So, he sort of helped set fire to transit plans already in place and ushered us into the next phase of uncertainty and delay.

More respect!

Hold on, you might be saying at this point. Maybe we won’t have to worry about Denzil Minnan-Wong creating havoc as a councillor at City Hall for much longer. He’s rumoured to be looking at a run for mayor.

Well, maybe. I just don’t see it happening, though. For a couple reasons.

With the news this week of John Tory definitely maybe jumping into the race, joining Mayor Ford, David Soknacki and (soon) Karen Stintz, all to the right of centre, there’s precious little room left on that perch for Minnan-Wong. Unless he has something up his sleeve, the big back room guns and money will have already found a place elsewhere. And how exactly is he going to position himself? More conservative than the others, less outrageously unpredictable than the mayor. noroomIt’s the sound of the slicing and dicing of the centre-right vote into smaller and smaller bits.

Besides, ignoring political differences for the moment, Councillor Minnan-Wong just doesn’t strike me as an overly appealing candidate. Whatever the populist appeal is that Mayor Ford has (and I’m told he has it although it remains a mystery to me), Councillor Minnan-Wong ain’t got it. Watching him work council chambers, he seems ill at ease with anyone not wearing a suit and lobbying some issue or another. He’s like that guy we all know who isn’t nearly as clever or funny as he thinks he is.

It’s impossible to imagine him making much of a dent into the loyalist Ford base which leave him trying to capture the rest of the conservative vote as he’s certainly dead to anyone sitting centre-left. Just don’t see the numbers breaking his way.

So that leaves us with the prospect of another term of a Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

As entrenched an incumbent as he is, I mean, the guy’s been at City Hall, some city hall, since 1994 and he captured over 50% of the popular vote in 2010, there is a slight glimmer of opportunity. unimpressedIn the last 3 elections, the councillor’s share of the popular vote has declined each campaign from a high of over 70% in 2003 to 53% last time out. Perhaps the longer voters in Ward 34 see Councillor Minnan-Wong, the less they take to him.

And they have seen a lot of him in the past 3+ years, doing what he’s good at. Gutting the city from the inside out under the banner of faux fiscal conservatism. Responsible government? Hardly. A small-minded bean counter with little regard for healthy city building.

He’s kept your taxes low, Ward 34, but at what cost?

Somebody really should take a crack at forcing him to answer that question in 2014.

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One City

So, if this is what’s possible when a city doesn’t have a mayor, I move a motion to abolish the office entirely.

Imagine if you will (and I normally hate doing this but bear with me), former Mayor David Miller at the height of his popularity, early on in his second term, back before there was even a thought about a garbage strike, in the halcyon days of Transit City wishful thinking, where it all seemed possible. Imagine his initial transit expansion proposal containing the kind of funding strategy now being put forth for what’s being called One City.  Actually, you don’t have to imagine it.

Replace the snarling photo of the current TTC Chair with a snarling pic of David Miller and Bob’s yer uncle. David Miller never had the political support to put forward a transit plan with a hike in property taxes at its heart. Ironically, at least in part, due to councillors like Karen Stintz and other members of the Responsible Government Group who viewed their role as primarily defenders of the mythical taxpayers’ wallets rather than any sort of city builders.

That’s not a knock against our current TTC Chair. Politicians should be allowed to evolve. Never trust one who doesn’t.

Which is exactly how we have found ourselves where we are today. A transit plan born from intransigence. (Thank you. Thank you very much. Next show at 10pm.)

In the crater left behind from the spectacular crash-and-burn of Mayor Ford’s woefully ill-thought out Subways! Subways! Subways! The People Want Subways plan, One City springs forth. Not a replacement for the reinstatement of parts of the Miller era Transit City plan that council salvaged from under the mayor’s fist earlier this year; a supplement and an addition. On paper anyway, a huge fucking addition.

Is it at all feasible? Too early to tell. Yes, there are holes in the plan as critics more thoughtful than those from the Toronto Sun are already pointing out. Matt Elliott gives a good opening summation today at the Urban Compass. Politically motivated placement of some subway lines. A sole reliance on property taxes for funding. Some hopeful finger-crossing for involvement from our senior levels of government.

But the important aspect of One City at this juncture should not be sniffily dismissed. An actual funding mechanism put on the table for discussion. You know, how we think we might pay for expanding our transit system.

After two years or so of absolute make believe, that somehow we could build subways for nothing and get our chicks for free, the children have been told to run along and play outside so the adults can have a grown-up chat. We’re done indulging Mayor Ford’s ‘The city doesn’t have a revenue problem’ schtick and are ready now to take up his predecessor’s challenge. You want a liveable city? You gotta pay the price.

Boom! Right there gets tossed a grenade into the ideological bunker that’s long hampered this city’s attempts to upgrade absolutely necessary infrastructure. Fiscal conservative Karen Stintz, coupled with traditional tax-and-spender Glenn De Baeremaeker step forward together and lay out a vision – yes, that vision thingie. Here’s what we could do. Here’s how we could pay for it. Any questions?

Only ideologues are going to reject One City based purely on the fact it involves a tax increase. Oh hello. What’s that you’re saying, Mayor Ford?

“I will not and cannot support the plan. The taxpayers can’t afford it.”

Councillor Ford?

“It’s a tax city plan, it’s not a One City plan.”

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong?

 A “massive, backdoor tax increase.”

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti

Blargh, blargh, blargh. Cat food.

What the mayor and his dwindling minions might not yet realize is that the agenda for the remainder of his term has now been established. Campaign 2014 officially kicked off. And it’s not going to swing on the right-left axis they so hope it does.

This will be about city building. What we’re prepared to pay for the services we need. Team Ford has already shown they are willing to pay for nothing and are content to get nothing. Shrug. Hey. We kept your taxes low and packed your buses past capacity. 4 More Years! 4 More Years!

Today, with One City, councillors of varying political stripes brushed aside such vapid sloganeering and laid out a plan that asks the city’s residents to reach into their pockets in order to bring our transit system up to speed for the 21st-century. It’s got nothing to do with political ‘sides’. It’s about responsible governance and responsible citizenship.

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