How High Sir?

February 19, 2015

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 17 million times.

You want to fix City Hall? Start electing better city councillors. upthehillEasier said than done, for sure, given the disheartening results of last year’s municipal campaign. Thirty-seven of thirty-eight incumbents returned to office including one still under the cloud of a police investigation. Another, Frank Di Giorgio in Ward 12 York South Weston.

The councillor was on Metro Morning today along with another former budget chief, Shelley Carroll, to talk about the city’s need for more revenue, new revenue tools. “Do you think we need new taxes, Frank Di Giorgio?” asked the show’s host, Matt Galloway. Here’s how the councillor responded:

Not at this point. I think certainly, I think the one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor…

Say what?

That’s what’s important in the immediate future? City council needs to support the mayor? [Begins flipping frantically through the city’s Code of Conduct for Members of Council. Must support the mayor…Must support the mayor….] fealtyNope. Not seeing that stipulation.

Councillor Di Giorgio has been a local representative for almost 30 years now, at City Hall in amalgamated Toronto since 2000. This is the sum of all his civic wisdom. “I think one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor.”

If the councillor actually believes that — and he’s not alone in that way of thinking, sadly, in talking to a candidate during last year’s election who was running against another deadweight incumbent, I was told that a few years earlier in discussing with the councillor why he had voted a certain way, he was told that, You gotta support the boss — why bother with city council races in the first place? Just elect a mayor, be done with it. No messy debates to deal with, rubber stamp city council meetings, items all passed with a waxed red royal seal.

Parsing Councillor Di Giorgio’s go along to get along logic a little further, consider his 2014 re-election. At Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall has done fantastic work breaking down the numbers October’s election. waxsealA look at the results in Ward 12 shows that less than one in five voters there voted for John Tory. The councillor fared little better, garnering under 30% of the popular vote where just over 1300 ballots separated him from the 4th place challenger.

So, less than one in three voters gave Councillor Di Giorgio a mandate to unwaveringly support a mayor who fewer than one in five Ward 12 voters backed? It’s how first-past-the-post elections work, I get it, but it’s almost as if the councillor thinks we have some sort of presidential system at City Hall, though. The Big Guy wins. You fall in line behind the Big Guy.

Councillor Di Giorgio’s views on such ring-kissing fealty to the mayor also extends to city staff. As Jude MacDonald reminded me, back during the last administration when the councillor was still TTC commissioner and voted to fire then-CEO Gary Webster, he had his reasons. “Excellence in bureaucracy means the ability to perform tasks that are consistent with leaders of a corporation, the leaders of a city,” he declared. “It’s the ability to put forward positions that are consistent with positions adopted by the mayor.”

Your councillor for Ward 12 York South Weston, folks.  Frank Di Giorgio.

So, city councillors are elected to merely to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Such passiveness from Di Giorgio extends to the city’s dealings with the province evidently. jumphighhowDuring the Metro Morning discussion, he said exploring the idea of more revenue tools will simply let the province off the hook for paying their share of stuff like social housing. They’ve already stopped paying, Councillor Carroll pointed out. That’s why the city’s scrambling to plug the hole in its operating budget. That’s why we need to a discussion about new revenues. It’s all on us now.

The councillor was having none of it. No need to rush. We already have revenue tools in the arsenal, like the Land Transfer Tax which is bringing in substantial amounts of money to the city coffers. Maybe we could milk some more from that cash cow. If not, the City of Toronto Act is coming up for renewal in a few years, 2018 or so. Let’s revisit this discussion then. In the meantime, don’t ‘undermine the mayor’s initiatives’ because that would be ‘dangerous’. Loose lips sink ships, I guess.

Councillors like Frank Di Giorgio are throwbacks to an era when municipalities were little more than wards of the province, where we were given the property tax to play with, to largely pay for local initiatives, roads, sewers, maybe a portion of public transit. A time when the province contributed substantially more to the overall operations of this city than it sees fit to now. As Councillor Carroll (as well as the city manager, Joe Pennachetti) pointed out, Toronto is a big boy now, closing in on 3 million people. asleeponthejobIt’s time we put on our big boy pants and realize we’ve been pushed out of the nest.

Provincial contributions to the well-being of this city will be grudging and probably when it is only politically advantageous for them to do so. We can act like two year-olds and hold our breath until we turn blue in the face in hopes of changing their attitude but, well, umm, I wouldn’t…hold my breath. But that’s what Mayor Tory has in mind, and loyal foot soldiers like Councillor Di Giorgio see it as his job to follow the mayor’s marching orders.

After all, that’s what he’s been doing for three decades now. That’s what he was elected to do.

at your servicely 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