Coffee With Mr. Parker

April 29, 2015

“I’m sure you know how tear gas works.”

I don’t actually (or only from a safe, televised distance). teargasThat John Parker does, with real life, foot on experience, should settle the matter any City Hall watcher in all likelihood has contemplated at least once: How much fun would it be to sit down and chat with John Parker? Lots, in fact, and it heads off in directions you never expected it heading.

Like that time he was backpacking in Europe during the 70s and found himself in the middle of a square in Italy, in the middle of a political donnybrook. Or talking about Cats, the musical Cats, and one of the characters in it, Macavity. I don’t know anything about musicals, councillor. Yes, but T.S. Eliot? Coffee spoons. Coffee spoons.

Sure. We talked some politics too, beginning with his time as an East York M.P.P. and member of the Mike Harris government. I wanted to know how he negotiated the middle ground in the megacity amalgamation battle, representing residents who overwhelmingly didn’t want to be amalgamated. Resistance in his neck of the woods was surprisingly fiery but short-lived, he suggested, settling back once into a sort of acceptance once the deed had been done.

Governance reform was in the air when the Tories came to power. Reports were piled up, gathering dust. johnparkerThe big one, commissioned by the Bob Rae government, with Anne Golden at the helm was pretty much a non-starter with its suggestion of some sort of GTA-wide amalgamation. No one in power at Queen’s Park, not just Mike Harris, would contemplate establishing a local government that would rival the province in political clout, Parker believes. Not back then. Not now.

Was the Harris forced amalgamation an overt anti-Toronto act, I asked him.

He didn’t believe so although there did seem to be some ideological basis for going down the amalgamation path the way the Harris government did. Parker said there was a perception that Toronto, the older, legacy city, had grown “pampered” by its high tax base and social spending. It was thought the suburban municipalities would serve as a “moderating” influence on the excesses of dowtown.

We both chuckled, and thought of Rob Ford.

In retrospect, did amalgamation turn out as well as he’d hoped?

John Parker is in a unique position to address that question. Having been forced to fight for a second term in 1999 in another riding, ironically a victim of his own government’s anti-government mantra that reduced the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103, Parker lost. macavitySeven years later, he won a city council seat in Ward 26, vacated by Jane Pitfield for her ill-fated mayoral run against David Miller. So, like tear gas, he got to experience the effects of amalgamation first hand.

It wasn’t perfect, Parker tells me. The loss of a metro wide level of government without some sort of replacement was almost an off-the-cuff decision, and left city council as first 56 and then 44 squabbling fiefdoms. This basically undercut why Parker thought amalgamation would be good in the first place. The city and most of its big ticket services were already amalgamated. He thinks some of the current council problems could be alleviated with the addition of at-large councillors into the governance mix.

Parker does believe that one of the benefits of amalgamation is the slow but inevitable merging of the planning process from six departments to one. Planning is clearly a passion of John Parker’s, and one of the biggest disappointments for him in not securing a third term in last year’s election. There’s a lot to be excited about, the waterfront, plans and development along Eglinton Avenue as the Crosstown LRT comes to fruition. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be there, on the inside, to actively participate.

This seems to genuinely upset him.

And I think I speak for more than myself when I say, I’m upset with him. Of all the incumbents who were returned to office in 2014, 36 of them in total, only John Parker wasn’t. johnparker1Pick a name. Giorgio Mammoliti. Mark Grimes. Frank Di Giorgio. Ron Moeser. I could go on but I won’t. You get the point. All re-elected. John Parker was not.

Had he not won a 2nd term back in 2010 (another close race), perhaps no one might’ve noticed Parker’s exit from the local political scene. He certainly was not well-regarded on the left side of the spectrum, getting failing grades from media outlets like NOW and from organizations like the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Right-leaning news outlets like the Toronto Sun were lukewarm toward Parker, at best. “Not ready for the chop yet!”

He’d come to City Hall with a newly re-elected mayor, David Miller, who had his agenda firmly in-hand and needing little new support to get it through. Parker eventually found himself part of the Responsible Government Group, a handful of conservative leaning councillors often in opposition to Mayor Miller. The group never really gelled into a potent organized force, Parker says, the coalition often undercut by higher political ambitions of some of the members and other right-leaning councillors. It petered out further after its main target announced his intention not to seek a 3rd term in 2009.

Despite his outsider status and ideological differences with the Miller administration unionjack(although it is fun to hear Parker tout Transit City on more than one occasion when we’re talking transit policy), his first term must’ve been bliss compared to the next 4 years, the Ford era. “A complete disaster”, “disgraceful” is how Parker sums them up. He’d hoped that Rob Ford, after his surprising victory in 2010, would be distracted by the trappings of the mayor’s office and ignore policy which is what he’d done during his 10 years as councillor. What many councillors hadn’t counted on was his brother, Doug.

Parker has no kind words for his former council colleague who basically was calling the shots, and the one targeting things Parker holds dear, transit and the waterfront especially. It was on the transit file, from my perspective, that Parker rose up out of quiet obscurity. He had caught people’s attention as council’s deputy speaker, a calming, funny voice, stepping in whenever the more cacophonous, hyper-partisan speaker, Frances Nunziata, took a break from the chair.

But when Parker, also a TTC commissioner, went on record, referring to the Fords’ Scarborough subway plan as “goofy”, you knew something was up. Soon after, council took back control of the transit file from the mayor, only to take it off in another wacky direction.

ward26Parker had hoped that Transit City simply would’ve been reinstated

This all leads to the question that’s been nagging at me during our conversation. Why did John Tory, who was desperate to convince enough progressive voters that he was reasonable, rational, moderate, publicly endorse the opponent of a reasonable, rational, moderate incumbent like John Parker? Something he promised not to do and only did once, openly campaigning against an incumbent. Once.

If Parker knows the answer, he’s not telling although he did deepen the mystery further for me.

Back in 2007 when John Tory was leader of the Progressive Conservative and running for a seat in Don Valley West, Parker, who represented a ward in that riding at City Hall, reluctantly came out in support of Tory against the incumbent and future premier, Kathleen Wynne. His video appearance figured prominently on Tory’s website (and did not go unnoticed by Ms. Wynne). After the disastrous election results, Parker, as a former member of the party, advised caution in a rush to appear panicky and dump the party leader, once more backing John Tory.

So, why the snub in return? Not once, but twice, Parker informs me. As a high-profile non-candidate in 2010, John Tory also endorsed Parker’s opponent, Jon Burnside, giving his candidacy some legitimacy for any future run.

Parker shrugs. You tell me?johntoryjonburnside

Obviously, I can’t peek inside the “pure heart” of our mayor but it most certainly goes to a question of his character where loyalty and fair play get short shrift. Such machinations on his part would be slightly more understandable if his chosen candidate in Ward 26 appeared to be anything more than a compliant ticket puncher for the mayor. So far, evidence to the contrary is severely lacking.

John Parker doesn’t seem to be bitter about this. Just disappointed about this lost opportunity. Not for just himself but for the city if the new council doesn’t get the big decisions it’s facing right. Transit. The waterfront including stopping the island airport expansion. Eglinton Connects. He’s not sure the right person’s on the job to safely shepherd those issues.

During last year’s mayoral campaign, Parker was an initial supporter of Karen Stintz’s nascent and still undeclared mayoral bid. Policy differences, especially on transit, made that increasingly untenable. He found something of a natural fit in his support for David Soknacki. johnparker2The two men campaigned together.

When that campaign folded, Parker gravitated in a surprising direction. On the big issues that mattered to the city, he said that Olivia Chow was right. Transit. The bulging police budget. Spending on social issues. Olivia Chow got John Parker’s vote for mayor.

A lovely and entirely organic end to a very interesting run at City Hall, during huge upheaval and tumultuous times. Hopefully, now as a private citizen, John Parker’s voice isn’t lost. He’s got a lot of important things to say and it’s a lot of fun listening to him say it.

Thanks, John.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Credit Not Where It’s Due

July 11, 2013

This is not Mayor Rob Ford’s debt. Don’t give him the credit. He doesn’t want it. dontlookatmeHe doesn’t deserve it.

As was pointed out in at least a couple corners (Matt Elliott here and Rob Granatstein here) yesterday, the Toronto Star’s headline, tagging the mayor with the increase in debt for capital spending was misleading at best, flat out wrong at worst. The city sets out a 10 year plan for capital expenditures which it adjusts annually. Incoming administrations inherit capital plans (and costs) from the preceding one and can only tinker so much with them. Such is the case currently. Mayor Ford took on much of the debt run up by the Miller administration.

AND THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!

Among other things, the city is getting a new fleet of transit vehicles including much needed streetcars rolling out next year as part of the capital spending that’s lead to the debt. This is neither unusual nor a bad thing. Governments, businesses and individuals rarely purchase big ticket items with cash up front. notthattheresanythingwrongwiththatIt makes no sense to do so especially with things that are going to be used over long periods of time like streetcars.

But almost all government spending is anathema to politicians like Mayor Ford. Debt is a red flag to him, proof positive that the gravy train chugs on and wasteful liberals are out of control. Since becoming mayor, he has done everything in his power to roll back the city’s debt including diverting money from the operating budget to pay off capital purchases outright.

(Everything, that is, outside of ensuring a proper revenue stream. There was a compelling argument as part of Matt’s Twitter stream above that by reducing revenue in the form of freezing property taxes and cutting the VRT, Mayor Ford had, in fact, contributed to the growing debt. moneydownthedrainThat’s not an unfair assessment.)

While certainly there is a bump in the city’s debt load currently, in looking over the various 10 year capital projections, you get a sense of, if not an overall decrease in debt, a definite flat lining of it. I think it’s safe to say that the mayor has successfully wrestled our debt to a stalemate. Done his best to put a lid on it.

Hold your applause, folks.

There’s nothing admirable in the mayor’s approach to debt. There’s nothing even remotely fiscally responsible about it. As was pointed out today in the probably not left leaning magazine, Canadian Business, congestion could be costing the GTA as much as $11 billion a year. Congestion caused by decades and decades of inaction on transit building.

And as was pointed out to us by the undeniably non-partisan storm on Monday evening, our sluggish investment in infrastructure under our streets is costing us millions and millions of dollars as well. “We’re hanging on by a thread,” said our debt-averse mayor in reaction to the damage inflicted by the heavy rains. Shut off your lights and power down your computer. floodTO3Half measures, long after the barn doors’ been kicked from their hinges, called for by a mayor unwilling to spend the money on real solutions.

The truth of the matter is, in his obsessive drive to reduce government to little more than a police force that keeps our roads paved and clear of anything but cars and trucks, Mayor Ford is limiting our chances in dealing with some serious changes that have already arrived while we’ve been pretending not to notice. Councillor Janet Davis pointed out that over a billion dollars was cut in the 10 year capital plan for the city’s Wet Weather Flow Program in this year’s budget.

What’s that you ask?

“Toronto’s Wet Weather Flow Master Plan (WWFMP) is a long-term plan to protect our environment and sustain healthy rivers, streams and other water bodies. And it’s about reducing the adverse effects of wet weather flow, which is runoff generated when it rains or snows.”togridlock

“The adverse effects of wet weather flow…” Ring a bell for anyone whose basement flooded Monday or who hoped to go for a swim in Lake Ontario this weekend before this week’s massive sewage dump? Adverse effects? What adverse effects?

Earlier this year, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee – the committee that oversees much of the substantial, debt-inducing spending that helps keep the city up and running properly – floated an idea to cap the revenue brought into by the Land Transfer Tax. It was intended to be a compromise between the mayor who wanted the tax eliminated entirely and those councillors who saw it as an important piece of the budget puzzle. The net effect, if it had been adopted by council (it wasn’t), would be to ultimately reduce city revenue.

We’re hanging on by a thread, and our mayor and chair of one of the most important committees in terms of building for the future are busy figuring out ways to generate less money. As if somehow, magically, leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers will rebuild aging infrastructure and new transit lines and not simply rewrite the formula for inaction that it’s been for decades now.

takecredit

So stop trying to discredit Mayor Ford with our increased in capital debt. It’s none of his doing. He hasn’t earned such praise.

tightly submitted by Cityslikr


Days Of Sue-Ann Supreme

November 23, 2012

In future days, will this be the face of the Toronto Sun?

DEVILITATOR

One might argue it already is but I’m referring specifically to the paper’s former editorial page editor, Rob Granatstein’s thoughts on the most recent cuts to Sun Media’s newspaper chain.

The cuts have crushed the local newsrooms. When the latest victims of downsizing are gone, Toronto will be down to three general assignment news reporters, according to people in that newsroom, unless staff is reassigned. That’s flat out ridiculous. The Sun will rely even more on its columnists to generate the news going forward. [Bolding ours.]

The Sun. Columnists. Generating news.

Information flowing forth, free of context, full of personal opinion. News from top down not bottom up.

This isn’t just about it being the Toronto Sun. Any newspaper working with a skeleton crew of reporters and teetering precariously with op-ed writers isn’t a newspaper. It’s, well, an organ of opinion, both informed and otherwise.

It would be just like… All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Only with inkier fingers.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do whatever it is I do without piggy backing on the work of Daniel Dale, David Rider, Robyn Doolittle, Kelly Grant, Elizabeth Church, Don Peat and a handful of other reporters who tirelessly dig up the dirt and parse information on Toronto politics on a seeming 24 hour, 7 day schedule. I’d hazard a guess neither could the bigger names a couple paragraphs up. The less reporting that gets done, the more, what would you call it?, PRing happens?

Picture Toronto, with the discourse only consisting of the views from the likes of Sue-Ann Levy, Joe Warmington, Royson James, Christopher Hume, Rosie DiManno, Chris Selley, Matt Gurney, Christie Blatchford, Marcus Gee, Margaret Wente?

“Columnists have found themselves out of jobs because they were too agreeable to those in power,” says Granatstein in this week’s Grid profile of Ms. Levy, “and it makes for weak reading. Wearing the Ford colours has hurt Sue-Ann…That means she struggles to get the other side of the story sometimes. People don’t feel she gives them a fair shake.”

While at the moment this may be a bigger bind for Sue-Ann because she’s in so deep with Team Ford, this can be a ditch all opinion writers must fight not to steer into. I’m sure the Star’s Christopher Hume has problems gaining access to the mayor and his staff. His colleague, Royson James, could hardly be considered an honest broker back in the day with the Miller administration. Remember his one-man, moralistic crusade to de-rail Adam Giambrone’s mayoral bid?

But that’s not really why we read columnists, is it? For impartiality or objectivity? We’re looking for opinions. Hopefully ones based on at least a semblance of reason and reality but we certainly don’t view their words as gospel or final on any given topic. Their purpose really is to either make our blood boil or confirm our biases.

Newspapers stressing op-eds over real reporting are nothing more than modern versions of olde thyme pamphleteering. And, if I do say so myself, that’s kind of our bailiwick, over here on the interwebs. We need newspapers to remain newspapers. Otherwise, we’ll all just be making shit up to push forward our agendas, unchecked and unsupported.

opinionatedly submitted by Cityslikr