There’s Really Nothing Up His Sleeve

January 21, 2015

Yesterday’s 2015 budget launch left me feeling a little discombobulated. That sense you get after watching a magician try and pull the wool over your eyes for a couple hours. magicactFlim-flammed, bamboozled even.

It was different than the budgetary voodoo Rob Ford attempted while he was mayor. Trust me, folks. This won’t hurt a bit. Those aren’t service cuts. We call them ‘adjustments’.

No. Mayor John Tory’s first kick at the can was all about, what did he repeatedly call it? “The largest investment in service improvements in recent history.”

And credit where credit’s due.

Both public transit and Shelter, Support and Housing (or, at least, shelter and support) received nice bumps in spending, the TTC especially so. It will see service restored to 2010 levels. “Stabilizing of transit,” City Manager Joe Pennachetti called it. misdirectionA step forward in order to be running on the spot.

In total, it’s about a $1.8 billion increase in spending from last year’s operating budget, leaving some to call it ‘left-leaning’.

But here’s the thing. It’s not immediately obvious where the money is coming from to pay for that spending. In order to balance the operating side of the budget (which, I’ll remind everyone again, it is provincially mandated for municipalities to balance their operating budgets), the city has to come up with the revenue to the penny. $11.4 billion spent. $11.4 billion must be found in revenue.

This staff recommended budget proposes a below-the-rate-of-inflation property tax increase. So it doesn’t cover the inflation-adjusted cost of the delivering of services and programs. That means, in effect, a reduction in the money available for those services and programs. (Here, let Councillor Gord Perks explain it for you. Or Neville Park. Or Alex Mazer.)

Not to mention Mayor Tory’s directive to departments to find 2% efficiencies and city staff’s demand that department’s also ‘absorb the inflation’. nothingupmysleeveThis, despite the fact, that the city manager, as he was heading for the exit last spring before mayor-elect John Tory convinced him to stay for one more budget cycle a few months later, told us there was no more gravy to be found, no more fat to be trimmed. Apparently, retirement wasn’t the only thing Mr. Pennachetti reconsidered.

It’s a little of the ol’ robbing Peter to pay Paul. You want improved transit and more shelter space? Well somebody’s got to pay for it, and don’t expect it to be property owners. The pie got bigger but the slices became a little more uneven.

While the budget was a little tax-shy, let’s call it, it certainly embraced user fees. There’s an increase of $14 million in unidentified ones in the document right now. Plus, a good chunk of the TTC improvements this year will be covered by the proposed fare increase, one campaign pledge Mayor Tory seemed comfortable breaking.gobbluth

On the other hand, drivers are getting the Gardiner Expressway repaired 8 years earlier than scheduled to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars in the capital budget with nary a word about having to chip in a little more to cover the costs. The roughly $60 million the Vehicle Registration Tax once brought into city coffers multiplied by those 8 years would’ve more than covered those costs. Apparently some users are more preferred than others, even in John Tory’s Toronto.

A couple glaring holes still stand between the city and a truly balanced budget. There’s the $86 million one, created when the province decided to end the practice of pooling payments to Toronto to help pay for many mandated social services. Not to worry, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Rossini, excitedly told us yesterday, a big announcement was coming, talks had been very productive with the province about settling that amount. Everything’s under control.

Turns out, the big announcement seems to be a $200 million line of credit extended to the city from Queen’s Park, including market rate interest charges. swordboxOr what some of us might consider a deferred tax increase or user fee. Line up that can so we can kick it down the road a bit.

The other shoe dangling there, waiting to drop is the police budget. While the staff recommending a flatlining of it — I know, I know. That kind of thing always happens. And by always, I mean almost never – the city and the Toronto Police Services are currently negotiating a new collective agreement which almost always results in pay increases for the police. Budget Chair Gary Crawford assures us that money has been set aside for that contingency. How much? He won’t say. (Why would he as it might tip the city’s hand in terms of the ongoing negotiations.)

But as Ben Spurr pointed out in NOW, over the past 10 years, the police budget has gone up some $241 million. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect at least a $20-$30 million bump this year. But again, don’t worry. Everything’s under control. Even after the $86 million, there’s still over $100 million on that line of credit from the province.

Look. It’s not a terrible, terrible budget. Even Councillor Gord Perks says so. rockyandbullwinkleThere is a big investment in vital needs of the city. But Mayor Tory is still trying to pretend these things can happen magically, without having to say the word ‘taxes’ above a whisper. He’s putting a glossy patina on the Rob Ford maxim of governance. Sure you can have things. And we can get somebody else to pay for them.

It’s fundamentally dishonest and only serves to put off the inevitable, leaving the mess for somebody else to clean up.

unmesmerizedly submitted by Cityslikr


A Tory Budget

January 20, 2015

Today kicks-off the official launch of the city’s Budget 2015 process. Day 1 of nearly 40 days of numbers, haggling, debate, deputations, bluster, compromise and, finally, a dead reckoning. kickoffCampaign bullshit walks. Tough decisions talk.

While Mayor Tory and his budget team may be attempting to give him a little working distance with their talk of a ‘staff-generated budget’, what we’ll be hearing this morning will be simply staff recommendations. During the next 6 weeks or so, the mayor and council will be making the ultimate call on what gets paid for and how. When they’re through, make no mistake, it will be Mayor Tory’s budget.

What I’ll be watching for is how the mayor navigates the treacherous waters of fulfilling his campaign promises while coping with the reality of the numbers presented to him. He’s already taken one on the chin yesterday, announcing a TTC fare hike to help pay for serious and much needed service enhancements. On the campaign trail last year, Tory ill-advisedly vowed (along with his two main opponents, it should be added) to freeze TTC fares. Ooops!

The mayor fell back on the old trope of not realizing how bad things were when he made that promise. whoopsAfter all, he was just a radio talk show host commenting on municipal affairs as well the CEO of an organization that made transit and the fight against congestion a priority. How was to possibly know the sorry state of transit in the city?

Look. I’ll cut Mayor Tory some slack and even give him some very reluctant credit for accepting the inevitable and pushing ahead with the transit improvements. Should it come largely on the backs of TTC users? That’s going to be part of the budget debate but it should be pointed out (it has been pointed out) that regular riders on the system, those using a Metropass, will have paid over $500 more by the end of 2015 than they did in 2011 in return for 2010 levels of service. The better way indeed.

Still, the mayor seems unprepared to apply the same logic – improved service means more money — to the overall operating budget as he has to the TTC. At the press conference announcing the TTC news, he remained adamant that any property tax increase would remain at or below the rate of inflation. Without new sources of revenue (and the fare increase does not appear to be enough to cover the service bump), that campaign promise can only result in service reductions elsewhere. addingupIt certainly won’t lead to any type of expansion of services or programs. The numbers don’t add up.

If this is truly a Joe Pennachetti budget, as the Star’s Daniel Dale suggested, new revenue would be flowing into city coffers. For a couple years now, the city manager has been telling anyone and everyone who’s been listening that as it is, Toronto’s future fiscal health is unsustainable if we continue to ignore the need for new revenues. The mayor’s going to keep any property tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation? Barring new money from the other levels of government, expect more user fees and the like or just start expecting less from the city.

Taking the most generous assessment of inflation, 2.7% for the city of Toronto, add an additional .5% for the Scarborough subway, the 2015 property tax increase has to come in at 3.2%. Anything less, anything, will mean cuts somewhere in services and programs. chainofofficeEven at just 3.2%, without other revenue sources, reductions will have to happen in order to pay for the increased spending like on the TTC Mayor Tory has already committed to.

Today’s budget recommendations mark the end of the 2014 municipal campaign. The time for hedging and hair-splitting has ended. The mayor will try his best to convince us that his hands are tied, that he’s just responding to situation not of his making. While there’s a grain of truth to that, come the middle of March, the city budget will be his to wear like the chain of office he also inherited.

watchfully submitted by Cityslikr


Here’s Hoping

November 28, 2014

I’m ready to go on record as saying this.acceptance

Maybe John Tory is the mayor Toronto needs at this point of time.

Affable, well-intentioned, not ideologically strident.

A big ol’ stew of comfort food. Haute cuisine stew, mind you. Truffles and duck, with handmade dumplings. No recording devices, if you don’t mind.

There was kind of a, I don’t know, settling, while watching the mayor-elect’s state of the city address yesterday. Campaign sound bites and slogans set aside, replaced by, if not inspirational words, something close to adult conversation. He made a frank admission of the substantial problems Toronto faces – crises, he labelled a couple of them, prioritizing them in a way that seemed to accentuate people not numbers.

Traffic and congestion. Affordability. Child poverty. Unemployment.

Tory pointed out that while spending time on things like cutting councillor office budgets – stopping the gravy train, in other words — were of high symbolic value, it didn’t ultimately make much of a dent on the overall budget. Meanwhile, bus service was reduced. comfortfoodThe repair backlog of Toronto Community Housing grew as did the waiting list for people to live there. Infrastructure aged and crumbled just a little bit more.

It feels like after 4 years of non-stop campaigning, we might actually be sitting down to some actually governing. Not governing simply by default and in the face of a mayor’s worst intentions, but with a mayor’s best ones. Here’s the situation as it is (rather than how I make believe it to be). How do we go about dealing with it?

Don’t mistake my willingness to give the incoming mayor some benefit of the doubt as any sort of ringing endorsement. I remain highly skeptical of his SmartTrack scheme. He seems determined to plow ahead with the Scarborough subway craziness. Sometimes he says a lot of words in quick succession that all sound sensible but when you play them back, they don’t add up to much. He talked about needing to restore TTC services that had been cut and scaled back over the past 4 years. Perhaps think about bringing back buses that, well, were no longer available but, still, maybe there was something we could do, all within the constraints of what money’s available in the budget.benefitofthedoubtjpg

Parse it any way you want, John. Restoring TTC service is about one thing and one thing only. Money. More of it means more service. Less of it? Well, we’ve seen how that goes.

Our mayor-elect remains dogged in his belief that the city’s revenue needs will be met by a combination of long overdue largesse from the other two levels of government and further found efficiencies around City Hall. For sure, the feds and province need to start opening their respective wallets and chip in to help municipalities, and I believe Tory a better ambassador to make Toronto’s case than the previous administration, still… We might want some sort of backup plan in case either one comes up a little short. Again.

As for efficiencies?

After the election, Tory convinced the city manager, Joe Pennachetti, to put off his impending retirement for a bit to help ease the transition. The city manager is on record as saying that, we’re pretty tapped out in terms of efficiencies, there’s not much change left to be found under those cushions. cleanslate1Toronto needs new sources of revenue, he’s stated quite emphatically. Otherwise, expect reductions in services and programs.

Hopefully, he made that point in private to the mayor-elect, as a condition to remaining on the job. Hopefully, the mayor-elect heard him and is merely maintaining his electoral stance until certain budget realities force him to step back and be frank with residents. I’m willing to believe John Tory is reasonable enough to do that.

Right now, he sounds reasonable. Right now, we need to think we’ve elected somebody reasonable to lead the city. Right now, after the past 4 tumultuous years, that’s good enough for me.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Tory Story

October 23, 2014

It has come to my attention from a couple trusted sources that maybe, just maybe, I’ve been irrationally hostile to the whole concept of John Tory for Mayor. irrationalSo blind I am to the possibility that a Tory mayoralty wouldn’t be all that bad that my pushback is too over the top, aggressive, emphatic and resolute in rejecting the positives. Missing the forest for the trees, and all that. Come on. Really? Mayor Doug Ford?

It’s a fair accusation to make. In style and appearance, in putting our best face forward, yes, John Tory is no Rob or Doug Ford. After 4 years of regular embarrassment and some 1500 days or so of What The Fuckiness?, electing John Tory would announce for all that world to see that Toronto is once more back to taking itself seriously. The man walks upright. He speaks as if he might actually be thinking about what he’s saying. His suit fits.

I even over-stepped the other day, demanding someone name a significant policy difference between John Tory’s platform and that of his rival, Doug Ford. There is one very noteworthy distinction in terms of policy between the two men. The Land Transfer Tax. Ford thinks it can be gradually done away with, no problem. deepbreath1Never mind the $300 million annual revenue it brings in. Done and done.

Full marks to John Tory. This week he stood before a very anti-LTT, real estate crowd and told them he wasn’t going to tell them what they wanted to hear. The city needs the revenue from the LTT. The LTT has not hindered home sales. The LTT would remain in place if John Tory was elected mayor.

But after that? In all honesty? I strain to come up with much daylight at all between John Tory and Doug Ford when it comes to stuff of substance. (And enlighten me, fill up the comments section of where I’m wrong in this.) John Tory does better copy than Doug Ford. He sounds better telling us he cares about things. Tory’s made a lifetime of personal dedication in the private sector to a multitude of causes throughout the city. His awards and accolades have been earned not purchased.

This isn’t, however, about merit badges for volunteer service. texaschainsawmassacreThis is about politics and policy, about ideas to enhance the lives of every resident in this city, about delivering opportunity to everyone regardless of where they live or work. This is about standing up and giving an honest assessment about where the city is now and how it needs to proceed forward.

As a candidate, John Tory has failed miserably on that account.

Like Doug Ford, John Tory sees Toronto having a spending problem not a revenue problem. Despite advice to the contrary from the city CEO, Joe Pennachetti, or counter-evidence from municipal governance experts like Enid Slack, Tory insists we just need to tighten our belts, root out all those ‘inefficiencies’ at City Hall and we’ll have all the money we need. Tory is on record saying “low tax increases, at or below inflation, impose spending discipline on governments.”makeitupasyougoalon

Actually, low property tax increases, at or below the rate of inflation, impose service and programs cuts or hikes in user fees. At best, they ensure no expansion of those service or programs. It’s a self-induced zero sum game where we have to unnecessarily choose between our priorities. A game we’ve been playing for the last 4 years during the Ford administration.

John Tory is offering nothing different.

His SmartTrack transit plan is only slightly less implausible than the Subways! Subways! Subways! mantra of the Fords, and that’s a mighty low bar to clear. SmartTrack is full of questionable construction details and a financing gimmick that is untested anywhere in the world at the level he’s pitching. His assurances that he will get it done by sheer force of will are as empty and meaningless as the Fords’ guarantee about building subways.handthekeyback

The endorsements now flooding in for John Tory from most of our mainstream newspapers and media want us to believe that we’d be voting for CivicAction John Tory, John Tory the magnanimous private sector benefactor. There’s little mention of Tory’s political track record. Not so much his career as a Progressive Conservative operative and elected official, but his time spent as a well-placed backroom figure in the post-amalgamated Toronto Mel Lastman administration.

Ahhh, Mel Lastman. Only slightly less eye-rollingly embarrassing in light of Rob Ford. Still. Who the hell’s the WHO? African cannibals. MFP. The Sheppard subway. 1st term guaranteed property tax freeze, and here we are. John Tory was close to all of that. In 2003, he wanted us to ignore that. We didn’t. In 2014, we seem ready to let by-gones be by-gones.

What’s changed? Rob and Doug Ford, you’ll tell us. Rob and Doug Ford.

If the endorsements are any indication, what we want as a city is just a little bit of peace and quiet, a break from all the rancour and partisan divide that’s ground the city to a halt over the past 4 years. The only candidate who can do that, it seems, is John Tory, our great white establishment hope. sternheadmasterToronto needs a nice big fatherly hug. We need some civic soothing.

Frankly, that’s like applying make up to cover the bruising we’ve taken from the Ford administration – an administration John Tory supported until it became untenable to do so. Let’s all pretend like it didn’t happen, like Rob and Doug Ford were mere anomalies, sprung out of nowhere for no reason whatsoever. That they didn’t represent actual grievances and political, social isolation that existed well before they cynically tapped into for their own hubristic political gain.

In his article yesterday on what a possible John Tory mayoralty might look like, Edward Keenan suggested that Tory’s ‘laudable charitable work’ could be seen not so much as attempts to change a system that doesn’t include everyone but “helping people network their way into the system.” captainstubingLadies? Take up golf, am I right?

John Tory isn’t a candidate for change. His campaign has been pretty much Steady As She Goes, Only Quieter and Less Scandal-filled. More Captain Stubing than Francesco Schettino. Everything’ll be fine once we get rid of the Fords.

The funny thing is, at the council level races, the push for change is popping up all over the place. There are exciting candidates throughout much of the city. In Ward 2 alone, the Ford petty fiefdom, I estimate 3 strong candidates challenging Rob Ford, one of whom, Andray Domise, is knocking on the door of knocking off the mayor. If that comes to pass, it would be a more significant result than whatever happens in the mayor’s race.

John Tory is yesterday’s man. He represents the values of the old status quo. knowaguyA top down leadership paradigm based almost entirely on who you know, connecting inward not outward.

The John Tory campaign message has little to do with where we want to go as a city. It’s all about re-establishing order. Order under the (fingers crossed!) beneficent gaze of he who knows some people. He’ll make a couple phone calls, get some stuff done. Just keep your voices down, if you don’t mind. It’s been very loud around here for too long.

— cathartically submitted by Cityslikr


Deluded

May 1, 2014

staringatacomputer

I was sitting in the office, staring at the computer monitor, the live stream muted. It seemed to be stuck in some kind of loop. The same news reports delivered over and over.

And who should that be walking through the door, without a knock, I might add. Our old friend and one time All Fired Up in the Big Smoke contributor, Urban Sophisticat. I seemed to have caught him by surprise, like he wasn’t expecting to find me there.

“What? Did you come to steal the electronics?

“No. No, I just thought… it’d be more of a party atmosphere in here.”

If you’re reading this now, I don’t really have to explain what he was referring to, do I? Dagos, the gays, fucking jamming, fucking knocking teeth out. More crack in his sister’s basement. Drunken, coked up confrontation with Justin Bieber. Yes, you read that correctly.

As Urban Sophisticat sat down in front of me, I slid the bottle across the desk to him. He picked it up, checked out the label. I believe he turned up his nose just a little. It might not even been consciously.

crazynews

“You got anything lighter,” he asked. “Not so good with the sulphites these days.”

Sending a glass his way, I did my best to summon up a look of disdain before turning back to see if anything changed on the news need. It hadn’t. Evidently Urban Sophisticat was going to risk a sulphite encounter as he poured himself a glass.

“I’m fucking sick of politics, dude.”

Urban Sophisticat raised his glass in agreement to my sentiment. What he thought was my sentiment.

“Welcome to the club,” he said. “Chin, chin.” He took a sip, and a little bit of time deciding if he approved of my choice of wines. “I was struck down by that very same illness October 27th, 2010. A day that will go down in infamy.”

nicebottleofred

My friend hadn’t lost his grasp of hyperbole, I saw.

“I wasn’t talking about me, dude,” I informed him. “That’s what the mayor said in his drunken stupor on Monday night. ‘I’m fucking sick of politics.’”

“He’s sick of politics? P-lease! He’s sickened politics, that’s what he’s done. Sickened politics.”

Urban Sophisticat seemed quite delighted with his little witty self and had another slug of wine he obviously still hadn’t come to terms with. He wasn’t wrong but that wasn’t the point I had tried to make.

“No. He’s sick of politics and then goes on to say, ‘Look at my record.’ Look at his record. The fucking guy actually believes everything he says. $1.1 billion saved? He believes it. Doesn’t matter what anybody tells him, what numbers or facts and figures they throw around, he’s saved taxpayers $1.1 billion. He’s cut our taxes. Reduced spending. He’s looking out for the little guy. That’s not a catchphrase for him. The mayor really and truly believes he is. That’s why he’s fucking sick of politics. He’s trying and trying and trying, respecting the taxpayers, and for what? Nobody gives him credit for looking out for the little guy.”
robfordsuperhero

Urban Sophisticat seemed surprised by my surprise. He shrugged. Tell him something he doesn’t already know. And pop the cork on another bottle of wine while I’m at it. Maybe a Merlot. Or a Pinot Noir if I had it.

But I wasn’t done playing amateur psychologist just yet.

“Look at his attack on Karen Stintz. Violent, predatory. I’d like to fucking jam her. Nothing sexual about that. Why? Because she represents everything he hates. Ivy League, north Toronto, la-di-da, white, white teeth. The establishment. Yeah. Fucking jam that, right?”

“On the other hand,” I continued, taking the bottle from Urban Sophisticat and pouring out some more dark, peppery, sulphite-ridden wine, “if the mayor was going to lose this election who did he want to lose it to? This self-proclaimed conservative, left wing hating, loather of government. Who’d he want to succeed him as mayor? Olivia Chow. What’s up with that, right?”

I paused to let all this sink in. The two of us drank our wine. One of us enjoying it more than the other.

“It could be as simple as him thinking that she’ll cock it all up like David Miller did,” Urban Sophisticat suggested. “The city will rise up in righteous anger in 4 years hence and call, no plead, for the return of Rob Ford once more to rid the city of the leftist, unionist pestilence.”

delusional

That certainly could be a possibility, although I’m always loathe to give Rob Ford credit for such long term strategizing. But I could see the idea popping up in a conversation with his brother or drug buddies when his electoral future wasn’t looking particularly bright. Elect another dipper. Go ahead. See what happens. Then they’ll be begging me to come back.

“Or how about this,” I countered, not yet prepared to let go of my line of reasoning. “Rob Ford sees a lot of himself in Olivia Chow?” I immediately caught the look on Urban Sophisticat’s face and nipped it right in the bud. “No. No. Just no.”

“He might detest her politics, her way with going about things—“

“All that tax and spending,” Urban Sophisticat said.

“All that tax and spending, yes. But her politics are about the exact same thing as his. Looking out for the little guy. Just like Jack. We know Rob liked Jack. He felt a kindred spirit with him. disagreed with his methods, sure. But they wanted the same thing in Rob Ford’s mind. Olivia’s like Jack. She’s like Rob Ford.”

unconvinced

Urban Sophisticat was having none of it. Either that or he just couldn’t handle any more of the wine.

“That’s nuts. Crazy. Always go for the easier explanation first.”

“But that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? Delusion. The man’s clearly deluded.”

Turns out Urban Sophisticat wasn’t done with the wine. He poured another drink. Sulphites be damned!

“Fine. But it doesn’t matter anymore, does it. The man’s done. Finished. He’s not coming back from this avalanche of shit.”

I wasn’t so sure. With this guy, all bets were off. Normal rules don’t apply. Never forget that.

“Oh, come on!” Urban Sophisticat yelled, sensing my scepticism and doubt. “Just… Just… Come on.” He was not going to dignify my uncertainty with any further discussion.

fordnation

The problem now, as I saw it, was for many, they took the mayor’s ardent if deluded belief in the rightness of his cause as factually as the mayor did. He didn’t sell them a lie. He convinced them it was the truth. Absolutely, he saved taxpayers $1.1 billion. Absolutely, the city’s fiscal foundations were crumbling before he took office. Absolutely, he was looking out for the little guy.

Rob Ford came across as authentic because he believed in what he was saying. People believed he believed in what he was saying. People believed in what he was saying.

“Look,” I said to Urban Sophisticat. “I’m not saying there’s enough support out there to re-elect him.”

“I should hope not.”

“I’m not saying there isn’t either. What I am worried about, though, is that his core belief remains strong with a surprising number of voters. The message was right. The messenger, unfortunately, had issues. That’s essentially John Tory and Karen Stintz’s campaigns. I’m pretty sure that weasel Minnan-Wong has said those exact words.”

twoguysdrinkingwine

Urban Sophisticat seemed less concerned about that then with the idea there could possibly be a comeback in Rob Ford’s future.

“Nothing could be as bad as the past 3 years.”

I wasn’t so sure. The Rob Ford message needed to be confronted. As deplorable as all his personal problems are, his political views are equally so. If they aren’t chased down and clubbed to death, Rob Ford will still be with us, in spirit if not body.

We sat in silence, Urban Sophisticat and I, he thinking the job was nearly done and me thinking it had only started. I looked at my monitor to see if there was any new news. There wasn’t. I had another slug of my wine.

tippily submitted by Cityslikr


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


Missed Opportunity

March 24, 2014

It started out on a shaky note and didn’t get a whole lot better from there.

droppedball

“What was the moment in which you decided to run for mayor?” Metro Morning host Matt Galloway asked candidate Olivia Chow.

“…ummm, it’s not that one moment…”

Oh, god. *sigh*

That is the one question any candidate needs to have a pat answer down for. Why do you want to be mayor? stumped2Why should people vote for you? What was the moment you decided to run for mayor?

Campaign school 101.

I was fighting desperately to give Ms. Chow the benefit of the doubt since she was the first one in the series that will be playing throughout the week, featuring the 5 leading mayoral candidates. It’s a tough slog, right out of the gate. Breaking trail. New ground.

She recovered when asked about her pledge to re-institute the long planned Scarborough LRT instead of the new fangled subway council approved last summer. Four more stops in four less years for a lot less money. A nice, precise sound bite that is hard to refute especially by those touting their fiscal cred and business acumen.

And then Mr. Galloway teed one up for her at which point I realized, no, going first could actually work to Chow’s advantage. She’d be able to establish the terms of the debate, at least as far as this one happening this week on Metro Morning. Her answers and responses would serve as the scale by which her opponents’ performances might be measured.

inthewheelhouse“Do you think tax has become a four letter word?” Galloway asked Chow.

“Of course it has, Matt. To the detriment of this city. We cannot even begin to talk about the things we need, the infrastructure, both physical and social, the services, the programs, without having a rational discussion about taxes. About taxes, user fees and other sources of revenue Toronto needs to access if we hope to build the liveable, affordable, functional city one of my opponents claims to want.”

No, no. That wasn’t what she said at all.

Just a bunch of humming and hawing, refusing to budge any further than her already stated claim of property tax increases of ‘around inflation’.

Galloway even threw her a lifeline, pointing out that the city manager, Joe Pennachetti has gone on record as saying that Toronto cannot hope to continue growing in any sort of healthy fashion without serious consideration of more revenue. duckandhideWe do not have a spending problem. We have a revenue problem. Cover has been provided for all you closeted tax-and-spending politicians.

But Chow didn’t take that path, choosing instead to circle back to the savings that would come from putting the brakes on the Scarborough subway plan. That’s all it’s going to take, Matt. Just better decision making, smart investment, a modest inflationary annual property tax increase and together, we can build a better city.

We know how this movie unfolds.

Olivia Chow plays it safe into the mayor’s office, inevitably to be confronted with worse looking books than the outgoing council will ever admit to. We know they’re going to be worse, worse certainly than the $350 million operating budget surplus the supposed fiscally reckless David Miller administration bequeathed Rob Ford as a mayoral-warming gift. Having just scratched the surface dealing with last year’s announcement from the province that it was shortening the time frame in which it was going to cease its Toronto Pooling Compensation support of social services in the city, the bulk of the nearly $150 million loss is going to be faced by the new council.

herewegoagainAnd that’s just one example.

Oops, our new mayor will say. We didn’t see this coming. (We did.) We’re going to have to raise taxes more than I pledged in order to deal with this unexpected turn of events.

All followed by cries of ‘I told you so’, ‘tax-and-spender’, and everybody retreats back to their ideological corners. Myths and misconceptions reinforced. She wasn’t given a mandate by the voters of Toronto to raise taxes.

And they’ll be right. By not tackling this issue head-on now, the Olivia Chow team is simply delaying the inevitable battle they will have to have if their candidate is elected in October. Their short term gain will lead to a longer, extended battle that will invariably create fertile ground for another Rob Ford-like assault on the governance of Toronto. Proper, healthy city-building will come under threat once again.missedopportunity

The Chow campaign has ceded ground right off the bat to the anti-taxers, giving more credence to the mindless incantations from the likes of John Tory’s Nick Kouvalis. It is defensively reacting to the terms of the debate laid down by the mayor and all the right wing contenders for his job. There was an opportunity to seize control this morning, redefine the framing. They fumbled it.

It is a long campaign. Plenty of time to re-shape the messaging as you go along. It just gets harder if you pass up chances Olivia Chow was given today to set the agenda in her favour.

frustratingly submitted by Cityslikr