Toronto, Order Must Be Restored, Our Strength

October 19, 2014

If nothing else good comes out of this 2014 municipal election (and yes, I assume nothing good will come out of it as it’s just easier to deal with the crushing disappointment that way), diversityourstrengthI hope that we will finally lower that torn and frayed Toronto the Good, Diversity, Our Strength flag, bundle it off, put a frame around it and hang it somewhere in the basement of City Hall with a placard: Historical Curio, and underneath: We Really Thought That?

Yes, apparently we did.

And yet…

The latest burp of racist indigestion during the campaign appeared in a Globe and Mail article written by David Hains on the race in Ward 7 York West, the long time domain of Giorgio Mammoliti. It appears Giorgio Mammoliti has a problem with outdoor basketball.

“Some kind of sports just need a bit of supervision, and I think basketball” {blackpeople}* “is one of them,” the councillor said.

“For one reason or another, [basketball hoops] seem to attract the wrong crowd” {blackpeople}* “outside,” Mr. Mammoliti said in a telephone interview.

“What I’ve heard loud and clear is that nobody is playing outdoor basketball” {blackpeople}* “any more, they seem to be selling drugs” {blackpeople}*, Mr. Mammoliti said – a claim, he added, that he heard from the local police division.

He said that at least one of the basketball courts {blackpeople}* has been replaced with outdoor ball hockey {whitepeople}*, which has made it safer for families {whitepeople}*.

*italics ours.

This after news of a candidate in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, Munira Abukar, having her election signs defaced with Go Back Home and mayoral candidate Olivia Chow also told to Go Back To China. dogwhistleWe heard too that another mayoral candidate, Doug Ford, is not in the least bit anti-Semitic. Why some of the best lawyers/doctors/accountants he knows are Jewish.

Isolated incidents, signifying little more than outlying racism, you think? Nothing to see here except for a handful of bully bigots? There’s no such thing as “white privilege”, says a third mayoral candidate although he’s revised that thinking. “There are people who are not treated fairly based on the colour of their skin,” John Tory later told Daniel Dale.

The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting there’s a problem to be dealt with.

Royson James’ sprawling, troubling and problematic epic of a column pretty much lays out Toronto — politically, socially, geographically – here in 2014. It comes on the heels of last week’s Real City Matters, Can’t We All Just Get Along? 3citiesThe city isn’t so much Good as it is divided. Along racial, economic, social, cultural and geographic lines. Divisions easily exploited by self-serving and havoc-wreaking politicians like the Fords and their ilk.

We can hide behind all the indices we want, the world’s 4th best city to live or do business in or whatever. But we can no longer pretend that such bounty applies to everyone city-wide. Access to opportunity is not equally spread. It is dictated by income and geography which both in Toronto of 2014 run very much in parallel to race.

Look hard at our race for mayor.

Two white men, millionaires both, battle it out for the hearts and minds of our diverse city, assuring all of us they understand what it’s like not to be white, male and worth millions. whiteguymillionairePeople just need a hand up not a hand out, you’ll hear both of them say, like the generous benefactors they tell us they are and will continue to be.

In 3rd place now is a woman, a non-white woman, who entered the race as the presumptive favourite. Lord knows, she’s run a terrible, terrible campaign. We’ve talked about it in these very pages. She ran away from her strengths out of fear for being called out on those very strengths. She took her base for granted, and it wandered off in search of a more edifying candidate long enough for her to drop down in the polls and hand one millionaire man the opportunity to claim that only he could defeat the other millionaire man which was really the only thing this city was pretty much agreed upon.

But aside from championing the Stop the Ford Family movement, how good a campaign has John Tory run? He’s offering nothing of substance on any of Toronto’s most pressing problems. respectableoldetymePoverty, housing, childcare, infrastructure. Just more low taxes and finding efficiencies.

And his transit plan, SmartTrack? Fanciful lines on a map funded by a whole boatload of wishful thinking. Sound familiar, folks?

Issues, however, were never really a part of this campaign. It all boiled down to one thing. Character, and the strength of it.

After 4 years of international embarrassment, only John Tory, we’re told, will restore respectability back to the office of mayor of Toronto. John Tory, a leader in the business community. John Tory, community leader. John Tory, leader.

Toronto the Good re-established under the symbol of a white male millionaire who’s only different from the previous white male millionaire in matters of style and presentation.

elephantintheroom2

Diversity, Our Strength? We’ll just have to go along pretending that’s a thing for a little bit longer.

subdudely submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Inaction

June 4, 2014

Listening to the new CEO of the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, Sevaun Palvetzian, on Metro Morning yesterday,listeningtotheradio the thought crossed my mind just as host Matt Galloway articulated it. “What has that got us?” That, being the type of advocacy and public discourse generating the GTCAA undertakes. The harnessing ‘the wisdom of the crowds”, as Ms. Palvetzian stated.

The GTCAA has been on the forefront of the region’s congestion question during the past couple years or so. Its Your32 campaign sought to bring home the total cost of congestion to each individual living in the GTHA, not just in terms of money but time lost as well. What would you do with the extra 32 minutes you’d gain if we all weren’t bogged down in traffic and under-serviced by public transit?

Get building more transit, the group chimed in. Fund it. Build it. Push on with The Big Move. Now.

A great discussion to be having but where’s the action, Civic Action Alliance? doitdoitdoitThe follow through? The results?

That’s probably too harsh. New transit is being built. The University-Spadina subway extension. The Eglinton LRT crosstown.

But there’s a shitload more to do and lots of questions about project priorities and where to get the money to fund them. Questions the GTCAA participated in asking and promoting to a wider audience for a broader discussion. The group helped create a real sense of urgency on the transit file.

And then, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum of decision making.

John Tory, the former GTCAA chair, and the former CEO Mitzi Hunter, both left the organization to pursue political positions. civicactionallianceMs. Hunter won a seat in the provincial legislature for the Liberal government in a Scarborough by-election last summer and is running for re-election in the current general election. Mr. Tory is seeking the job of mayor of Toronto.

I think it’s safe to say that neither candidate has pursued the transit issue with the same zeal they had back in their GTCAA days. Hunter, mysteriously, became the Scarborough Subway Champion as part of the Liberal’s backroom politicization of the transit file in order to retain the seat, backing the more expensive and less expansive subway plan over the original Big Move LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line eastward. A switch Tory also favours as part of his mayoral campaign. We’re hearing little from either one of them about any sort of funding tools beyond the dedicated property tax increase for the Scarborough subway. coginthemachineRather than agents of change, they’ve settled into the role of obstructionists.

Writing this, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that politics is where bold ideas go to die. Give a listen to the Metro Morning segment following the interview with Ms. Palvetzian. Three party appointed talking heads spouting talking points ahead of the provincial leaders’ debate last night. Oh, that leaders’ debate last night! The boldest vision based on a monumental lie and the other two just carefully calculated poses.

We can talk all we want, hash out plans, harness the wisdom of crowds, but if those we elect to implement such wisdom shrug off the responsibility of doing so, what’s it matter? Do we just accept the role of demanding big change while settling for incremental?

This is where political apathy sets in. “Where has that got us?” as Matt Galloway asked. What’s it matter? talkingheadsOur political leaders are listening to someone but it sure as hell ain’t us.

And I have to tell you, news that the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance had named Rod Phillips as its new chair of the board brought me no great comfort either. Searching through his bio, nothing jumped out at me that screamed civic-minded. Maybe I’m missing something but this is someone who until just recently was the head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming, a provincial government Crown corporation that spearheaded the push for a casino on the city’s waterfront. Civic-minded? Really?

Perhaps we need to stop looking for outside help in solving our problems. Reading Marcus Gee’s 2009 article about the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance’s (originally known as the Toronto City Summit Alliance) founder, the late David Pecaut, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he had it wrong.

“The message of his [Pecaut] life is that you don’t need to beat City Hall,” Gee wrote. “You can go around it. straightlinefromAtoBRather than wait for the creaking cogs of official machinery to turn, he learned to build networks of interested parties, private and public, that could forge ahead on their own.”

Maybe instead of trying to go around City Hall or Queen’s Park, we should expend our energy going through them. I think it borders on the delusional to think the major issues of our time – congestion, inequality, climate change – can be addressed without government signing on.  “Let’s just go out and do it, and tell City Hall when we’re done,” Mr. Pecaut is quoted as saying. How about we cut out the middle man, and just go out and take control of City Hall?

If we’re really fed up with politics, with the inaction we’re seeing on almost every front, the conversation shouldn’t be about whether or not to vote or what the proper way to decline a ballot is. It’s long past that. getinvolved1We should all be looking for and demanding to see candidates on the ballot who reflect our values and aspirations. Rarely, in my experience, has that not been the case.

Sure, many have been longshots and no-hopers. As long as we stay on the sidelines or remain content to hold our nose and vote for the least worst option, that’ll continue to be the case. Our time and energy would be better spent trying to change that dynamic rather than passively accept it and trying to work around it.

challengingly submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Let The Name Fool You

March 22, 2014

I put myself in the middle of a circular conversation a couple days ago with someone who took exception to my incomprehension at the notion of Liberals, circularmazebig L liberals, throwing their support behind John Tory in his bid to become mayor of Toronto.

You see, I am of a vintage that was still in swaddling clothes during the Lester B. Pearson era. I came of age under Pierre Trudeau. I’ve always lived with a national medicare system, brought in from coast to coast to coast by Louis St. Laurent.

This is how I remember Liberals.

I sometimes forget that time has moved on. The current crop was forged in the face of the Mulroney years and the rise to prominence of the Reform movement. Late career Jean Chretien and his arch-nemesis Paul Martin. Bitter rivals but deficit hawks and downloaders both. The Common Sense Revolution wrought a Liberal automaton, series 2.0 Dalton McGuinty.

These are Liberals seemingly more at home with my misty-eyed nostalgic memories of red tory hued Progressive Conservatives like Robert Stanfield, Bill Davis, Peter Lougheed, Joe Clarke, David Crombie.nostalgic

There you go. Blue Liberals for red Tory John Tory. Makes perfect sense. Remember, he was once the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. A perfectly reasonable confederacy in the face of a possible purple and yellow wave forming over on the left.

But here’s my thing.

As much as the centre of the Liberal party has shifted, so too has it with conservatives. The bland greyness has been wiped clean. We no longer have moderate patrician types with a sense of noblesse oblige as our right of centre party. Federally, they’ve even dumped the pretense of progressive. Here in Ontario, the word might as well be in quotes.

Mike Harris. Jim Flaherty. John Baird. Tony Clement. Stephen Harper. Tim Hudak. The Ford brothers.

Snarling, thuggish, mendacious, regressive, government hating and private sector worshipping neo-conservatives in the American Tea Party mold are these men. robfordbellicoseNoblesse oblige, you say? Is that French for Ayn Rand?

In that light, John Tory doesn’t look so bad. He’s almost none of that. A throwback to an earlier time when Liberals and Progressive Conservatives could sit down to dinner together over a nice bottle of wine. During this 2014 municipal race, he offers the appearance of a safe harbour for disaffected, candidate-less Liberals who could never bring themselves to mingle with the NDP horde.

Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.

Avert your eyes from the image being presented and listen to the words being spoken instead.

At his official campaign launch on Wednesday, he derided tax-and-spending politicians who were eyeing the wallets of the beloved taxpayers. fordnationHe vowed to keep taxes low while promising to invest in the city’s infrastructure including a new subway line. How would he pay for that? Finding savings and efficiencies. Plenty of waste still to be found, he assured the crowd (despite opinion to the contrary).

Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar to you, almost word for word? City Hall doesn’t have a revenue problem. City Hall has a spending problem. Subways, subways, subways! It won’t cost you a dime because it’s time to Stop the Gravy Train.

John Tory is simply a pretty face, a soothing voice, the almost featureless presence fronting what sounds like the very same destructive policies that will be the true legacy of the Rob Ford administration. A Trojan horse for an army already inside the compound. He wants to be mayor of this city only in order to change the name on the door and the trashy newspaper headlines.

Liberals getting in under that big tent with him need to stop pretending that anything’s going to change other than the din of discord and the reality show antics now occupying space at City Hall. trojanhorseThe tone may become more civil but if the discourse remains the same – and that’s what I’m hearing so far from the Tory campaign – low taxes and cutting waste as the primary source of revenue, programs and services will still be under threat, growth based investment a pipe dream. That’s what you’re signing up for.

Which may be a-ok with many Liberals. They just need to stop pretending there’s anything progressive about it.

warningly submitted by Cityslikr


My Conservatism’s 4 Realz!

January 23, 2014

This one’s a long shot.

longshot

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.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Double Down On Blue

June 24, 2013

If nothing else, this $150 million latest Mayor Rob Ford-Queen’s Park brouhaha should lay wide open the very essence of our mayor’s fundamentally terminal approach to governing. punchyourselfA dullard’s populism that contradicts itself with every policy utterance and eats its own tail without so much a burp of self-awareness. He’s mad as hell but probably only because of who’s making the proposed cuts and the colour of their team’s jackets.

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t trust the province’s numbers one little bit and I’d like to see the work behind Royson James’ math or, at least, some context. It’s particularly galling to read the shiny remembrances of gold-standard fiscal management by the previous administration at City Hall from a guy who had few positive things to say about that matter in real time.

Even if the province is simply playing politics with this announcement, Mayor Ford has put himself in no position to fight back without looking like a massive hypocrite. potkettleThat may be of no consequence to him – he seems quite comfortable wearing that – but it does undercut his legitimacy and, by extension, the city’s.

You can’t claim the government you lead doesn’t have a revenue problem and then cry foul when some of that revenue is cut. Earlier this month the mayor was beating his chest about the $248 million surplus in 2012. So hey. You should be able to take a $50 million hit (the $150 rollback would be over a three year period) and accept a smaller surplus. Mayor Ford is on record hating those one time savings anyway.

You can’t go around cutting your own revenue stream (the VRT), threatening to reduce another (LTT) and keeping the main source impractically low (property taxes) and then stamp your feet and pop off when Queen’s Park does likewise. When the mayor came to power under the banner of getting the city’s financial house in order, he set about to cut spending. He demanded the same from the province. pleasesir1Get their fiscal house in order. Cut spending.

So they cut spending. To the city. Now he’s got a problem with that?

You can’t continually pick fights with your provincial overlords and not expect some pushback. Some pushback that is detrimental to the city you were elected to serve. Oh, it’s on, Mayor Ford declared, when he killed Transit City and demanded the province give him all the money to build his Sheppard subway or else he would unleash the electoral power of Ford Nation on them. They complied. The mayor reneged and got all partisan in the subsequent provincial election. There was no Ford Nation.

Like Junior Soprano told his nephew Tony, if he was going to come at him, he better come at him hard. Our mayor is all bluff, no bite to his bark. By now, everybody but the mayor and his brother realize that fact. juniorsopranoHis threatening gestures ring hollow.

You might actually feel for the guy if he was taking the fight to the province looking out for the best interests of Toronto. Increasingly however, it looks like anything but. Fuck, it isn’t even ideological with him. If it were, there might be some sense to it all, some straight line you could draw from intent to action.

More and more it just seems like nothing but a branding battle. The mayor and his brother are Conservative blue to the bone. Anything to do with Liberal red or NDP orange is automatically bad and must be fought. Both Fords, elected to represent the residents of Toronto, seem far more interested in changing the government at Queen’s Park than they do effectively running City Hall. bluemayorI think they’d happily sacrifice the best interests of the city if it meant the Tim Hudak Conservatives became the next government of Ontario.

In his unflagging support of local sports team, the Argos, the Leafs, the Jays, you might think he’s just doing his job as mayor acting the local booster. I think he just likes the colour blue. As both a sports fan and as the mayor of Toronto.

me-too-bluely submitted by Cityslikr


Somebody Needs A Hug

March 17, 2013

guestcommentary

Call me Hackistan.

Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — without need of much money in my purse and nothing particularly to interest me Down South, I cut loose from a relatively stable — if not monotonous existence in deepest Southern Ontario.

My story is a little more nuanced than a paraphrase of two Moby Dick paragraphs, but I didn’t arrive in the state of mind called Hackistan by making it all about me.mobydick

This is all about here, and now, and the place we all find ourselves in. It is most assuredly not a state of mind. It is Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Earth.

So right now, that’s Toronto in my body (and probably yours), though my state of mind, infuriatingly, remains firmly in Hackistan. Come visit sometime. Set a spell. I’ll make tea.

This meat world of Toronto (the Good, to some) is a decidedly nasty place these days, what with the meanness, the skintiness, the OMFG can you believe what he did THIS time?, the Little Ginnies and the Subways Subways Subways and the Burning Rage of a 1,000 Nuziatas, and the…citybuildingwell, I could go on.

No one, not anyone in this town seems to be feeling the love, and that goes right from the top to the bottom.

On Thursday Royson James offered up a rather provocatively headlined piece to that effect — namely, that The Mayor Toronto Needs Will Start by Loving Us.

Despite the awesome headline, he never comes out and says what I think a lot of Torontonians feel — that our Mayor really doesn’t like this city very much, and if he had his way, he’d much rather be elsewhere.

“We are not ‘taxpayers’ only,” James writes. “Everything does not begin and end with the desire to reduce government and taxes…We love our cars but have not sold out our neighbourhoods to the insatiable appetite for more highways…It would be good if our mayor sees this, understands the delicate forces that sustain this incredible balance, and fight to preserve it.”

Royson clearly knows his way around Hackistan. He gives voice to what many feel, but spares himself the gears he’d inevitably have ground if he came out and said the Mayor doesn’t love Toronto. After 2.5 years of Ford Toronto, we can pretty confidently predict how that’d go.angryvoters

“How DARE you say the Mayor hates Toronto! You hate Toronto, you commie!”

Comment boards would light up, hashtags would trend after getting bombarded with angry denunciations and counter-denunciations. Pornbots would flood in, someone will inevitably accuse Royson and the Star of hating the Mayor, ‘Haters gotta hate’ will most certainly appear in the #topoli hashtag, Doug Ford would be dutifully removed from his hyperbaric chamber two days before his scheduled maintenance prior to his Sunday radio program to talk about how hurt his little brother’s feelings were, then make a cheap shot about Rob’s weight, and so on…

So snaps to Royson for saying it without actually saying it. Bigger snaps for helpfully suggesting people start thinking about what they’d like to see in a Mayor.

There’s good reason for folks to start doing so, above and beyond the fact that we’re closing in the campaign period. Simply put, he may hate us and lots of us may hate him, but the Mayor has a base, and more importantly a vision.

Granted, it’s a narrow, reductionist and often nasty vision, but it’s something for narrow, reductionist and often nasty people to hang their hats on. areyoukiddingmeIn the absence of a compelling alternative, others will hang their hats on it as well.

Loving this city is a good starting-off point. Putting forward ways to make the city we love even more loveable is better.

The rumblings have begun. Behind the scenes, the Mayoral jockeying is already underway, but the ideas need to start getting fleshed out in the sunlight, so that broad, expansive and nice people (and the people who love them) have a chance to see what those ideas are and who is putting them forward.

The incumbent is in perpetual campaign mode. He also has the advantage of incumbency. If articulating a broad, expansive and nice vision takes a back seat in October 2014 and the election becomes a mere Roberendum, then chalk up another advantage for the Mayor.

embracethelove

And that’s something even he would love.

lovingly submitted by Hackistan


A Term Limit On Dumb Ideas

February 12, 2013

You want to know how meritless the idea is of term limits on politicians? Both Mayor Rob Ford and I agree it’s without merit. timesupI’m not sure of the internal logic of that statement but, hey, if the Toronto Star’s Royson James can riff on the theme who am I to shy away?

“Public service is an honour,” Councillor Jaye Robinson says in Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article. “It is an opportunity to bring your knowledge and your experience to City Hall but it is not a career path. It is simply a calling, it is not a career.”

What is it about a life in politics that makes it so different from being a doctor or a bank manager? There’s a hint of Tea Party populism in the councillor’s statement, the dismissive view of career politicians. theresthedoorSomehow a politician’s ‘calling’ is finite — twelve years in her view – while a calling into the priesthood, say, is a lifelong pact.

It’s almost as if Councillor Robinson is suspicious of those who would make politics their life’s work. That no one could possibly want to make a career of public service in a capacity they excel at. You know what the problem with politics is? Politicians. Career politicians.

A call for term limits is the laziest of reactions to political disengagement and disenchantment. And that they’re being touted by two rookie councillors, Robinson and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who turfed incumbents in 2010 to get into office is even more puzzling. Their new blood and ideas can now infuse the politics of the city, to paraphrase Royson James, because of successful election campaigns.

Yes, there are huge advantages to being an incumbent, mostly name recognition that’s especially pronounced at the municipal level but for reasons beyond James’ overly simplistic office budget “re-election slush fund” thinking. I’m of the belief that being an incumbent at the municipal level is so formidable because, until recently at least, voters didn’t pay that much attention to local politics between election cycles. It’s the most junior level of government after all, concerned mostly with garbage pick-up and neighbourhood stop signs. publicparticipationSo remembering who their councillor’s name was the biggest effort most people put into it.

But I think there’s much better ways to effectively engage the public. Directly involving a community in the decision making process is one. That may mean using the easily hated councillor office budgets to host town halls and other types of meetings we’ve seen crop up recently like on the casino issue or transit funding. Let’s promote a more participatory budget approach that elicits public input before most of the decisions have been made rather than just in reaction to them.

We could also invigorate our electoral system to make it both more inclusive and more competitive. In the Torontoist yesterday, Desmond Cole made the case for extending municipal voting rights to permanent residents. “In 2006,” Cole writes, “Ryerson municipal affairs expert Myer Siemiatycki estimated that at least 250,000 Toronto residents, or 16 per cent of the city’s population, could not vote in municipal elections because they were not citizens.” stuntA quarter-million currently disenfranchised residents suddenly eligible to vote would most certainly shake up our local democracy.

How about modifying the way we vote? For years Dave Meslin and the folks at RaBIT have pushed the idea of alternative voting as a counter to the power of incumbency. A quick glance at the 2010 election results shows that a ranked ballot might’ve led to the defeat of 10 incumbent councillors.

This isn’t an argument suggesting that governance here in Toronto has no need of modernizing or recalibration. Imagine my smirk after reading the deputy mayor’s claim, “We’ve had people (at City Hall) that should never have been there for a day that have been there for years.” Talk about your kettle throwing the pot around in a glass house. But if it takes term limits in order to rid the place of do-nothing councillors like our budget chief, speaker or deputy mayor, well, we have bigger fish to fry. Term limits smack of cheap fixes and political stunts. Toss away ideas that make a lot of noise but deliver very little meaningful change.

time sensitively submitted by Cityslikr