The Reckoning

January 14, 2015

OK. That’s it. This has to stop.notthisshitagain

For the sake of future civic sanity, Toronto City Hall has to sit down and do a full, frank costing of services, programs and capital expenditures across the city, breaking it down into the 4 community council brackets. How much gets spent on what in each area of the city. Top to bottom, from street maintenance through to swim times, after school programs to park grass cutting. The whole enchilada.

Because I am so fucking sick and tired of this parochial drumming up of regional resentment that has led directly to the white elephant-in-waiting council decision like the Scarborough subway extension. The usual suspects were at it again this week, led of course by the Scarborough {air quote} Deputy Mayor {end air quote} Glenn De Baeremaeker, on the subject of skating rinks. “I can’t imagine many people would object to building more outdoor ice rinks anywhere in this city,” he said, insisting that it needed to be done on a more ‘equitable basis’.

The back story is, Scarborough has only 1 of the 52 outdoor artificial ice rinks on the city which, no argument here, is clearly way out of whack, disproportionately speaking. shortchangedThings are only a little more even-handed but still not what anyone would call equitable when it comes to outdoor natural rinks, only 11 of 69 in Scarborough, and indoor skating rinks, Scarborough has 9 of 49. Discrepancies abound, no question but the sentiment, vaguely hovering over the numbers, is that Scarborough, once again, is getting the short end of the stick. Raw numbers in terms of skating rinks or subway stations presented as proof that while the city splurges on these things elsewhere, Scarborough remains frozen out in the cold.

Is that actually the case?

Could it be that, historically speaking, pre-amalgamation, Scarborough was a municipality that placed little emphasis on public spaces (aside from streets and roads), and adhered more to a pay-as-you-go approach to providing services and programs? You want it? You pay for it. (An approach epitomized by the former councillor for Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt and budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Cupcakes for widows and orphans.) Traditionally, skating rinks might not have been a priority for Scarborough and now we’re playing a game of catch-up.

I’m just posing that possibility. I have no hard data to back it up but neither does anyone else when they start making noises about the unfair treatment Scarborough receives when it comes to the doling out of municipal nice-to-haves. please sirWe need a full, robust accounting in order to have a full, robust conversation.

We need to expand on the Fair Share Scarborough report Councillor Norm Kelly undertook early in amalgamation. Let’s not just look at soft services the city provides – the skating rinks and parks — but the hard ones too. How much of our public works expenditure goes toward maintaining the wide streets of Scarborough. As a percentage of our waste collection budget, what’s Scarborough’s take in order to provide the service to all their big-lotted, detached homes. What’s the portion of our police budget that is spent in Scarborough. The buses serving as the backbone for commuters in Scarborough (and that will continue to even if it gets its subway), how much do they cost the TTC.

It may well turn out that Scarborough is underserved and underfunded in comparison to other parts of the city. There’s just no way of knowing that currently, and counting skating rinks (or subway stops) isn’t really the best way to tally it. thebillWe downtowners acknowledge your lack of rinks, Scarborough, but where’s our sidewalk snow shovelling or windrows clearing or leaf collection?

That’s not to say that if it were to turn out that Scarborough is a money-suck due to the high maintenance and delivery costs to service its sprawling built form, sorry, folks, no outdoor skating for you because you have so many roads to plow. This shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. But the Scarborough Warriors need to start putting solid evidence on the table, showing exactly how they’re being short-changed in this amalgamated deal of ours. Otherwise, it’s empty carping. Divisive governance intent only on benefitting their narrowly defined interests at the expense of everyone else in the city.

— resentfully submitted by Cityslikr


Laundry List

November 20, 2013

A variation on the old joke about violence in hockey.

hockeybrawl

The other day I went to watch the Rob Ford Shit Show Spectacle and a council meeting broke out! Ayy-Oooo!

Despite all the oxygen they sucked from council chambers and spotlight hogging they managed, the Ford Brothers’ attempt to derail city council from going about its normal business categorically failed. Sure, it got lost in the crack-and-lies fueled shuffle. Representation at an OMB hearing isn’t as sexy as a mayor and his thuggish councillor-brother baiting the gallery crowd but much of municipal governance seldom is. Getting the roads paved is dreary work but somebody’s got to do it.

Take a minute and a gander through the agenda of last week’s non-special council meeting. todolistI didn’t count all the items and motions but there had to be a billion, give or take. There was social housing. New, stricter smoking by-laws. An appointment to fill a Budget Committee vacancy and restructure the board of directors for Build Toronto. The environmental assessment for a proposed Bloor-Dupont bikeway was re-started after being abandoned last year. You want diversity in the ranks of the Fire Department? City council wants to look into that too.

And on and on the list goes, for the better part of three days, when it could be squeezed in around mayoral grandstanding and obstruction.

Then after the council meeting finally finished up on Monday, councillors broke out into their four respective community councils to meet yesterday where they all dealt with a combined 207 items, give or take a billion. You want fence exemptions? Etobicoke-York Community Council’ll give you fence exemptions. Zoning by-law amendments? Scarborough Community Council can deliver what you’re looking for. North York Community Council’s got all that and a front yard parking appeal to boot. gettingdowntobusinessOf course, where downtown gets everything, members of the Toronto-East York Community Council received a visit from world-renown architect Frank Gehry for one of the 90 items on their docket.

Today, members of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, among other items, set forth on a comprehensive downtown transportation operations study to consider ways to reduce congestion in parts of the core area. This afternoon, the TTC commission will resume its meeting that was interrupted on Monday by the mayor’s stuff. Among other things, the commission will consider raising transit fares once again to fill the TTC’s funding gap. Tomorrow, the Planning and Growth Management Committee will met to discuss amendments to the city’s Official Plan while the Government Management Committee goes about its business including property expropriation for the Yonge-University-Spadina subway expansion.

Oh yeah, and about the budget process that’s going public next week.

You get the drift here.

Life goes on with or without Mayor Ford. And let’s face it. Most of these items were either too expensive or complex for him to have ever understood or cared much about. ignorethekrazykatThe more prosaic matters? Your fence exemptions and front yard parking pads? He’d simply want to sort out with a phone or house call. Probably both. It’s always good to put a face to the name on your potential voters’ list.

The mayor can’t stop the forward motion of the city, no matter how big a hissy fit he has. He can slow it down, toss sand in the gears like he displayed on Friday by holding every item he could get his hands on, and drag them out with questions to the staff and making blowhole speeches. If it becomes too problematic, council may have to take more drastic measures and approach the province about stepping in and removing the mayor from the premises.

But until such time, it’s probably best just to avoid spending too much time on the expected mayoral antics. They really won’t matter much in the scheme of the city’s operations. It’s hard to avert your eyes from a car crash but eventually you have to or you wind up veering off the road.

advisingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Tale Of 2 Community Councils

June 19, 2013

The downtown versus suburbs pissing match flared up again this week, ignited by the usual suspects, councillors Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti, pissingmatchover the redevelopment of a northern portion of St. Lawrence Market.

“When it comes to the downtown part of the city, it freaks me out,” Councillor Mammoliti spouted, “it freaks me out that everybody can find money to be able to do these things when the rest of us are told no.”

“We’re going out and we’re spending (a) disproportionate amount of money downtown all the time,” Councillor Ford mouthed. “Etobicoke North we get crumbs,” the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat quotes the councillor saying, “people out in Scarborough get crumbs.”

It’s a very easy political fight to pick. All appearances would back the councillors’ claims up. crumbsAttending the North York Community Council meeting yesterday, it was wrapped up before lunch. On its agenda were some 56 items, accompanied by about 10 deputations from the public.

This allowed for enough time to get back downtown to City Hall and take in the Toronto-East York Community Council meeting when it resumed after lunch. Its agenda included 128 items with over 20 deputations for one item alone. (For the record, the Scarborough Community Council meeting dealt with 37 items and the Etobicoke-York Community Council, which both councillors Ford and Mammoliti are part of, had 52 items before it.) If you’re counting along at home, the 3 suburban community councils had just 17 more items combined than their downtown counterpart.

Certainly the Toronto-East York Community Council represents significantly more of the city’s population than the other three, with just under 1/3 of the entire population of Toronto. And without question, it’s the area of town getting the lion’s share of the development, what with the business core within the boundaries while sitting on a good chunk of the waterfront. pieceofthepieThis is where a majority of the action’s at, baby.

But that somehow this translates into receiving a disproportionate piece of the total budget pie? The claim never really comes with any concrete proof or reliable sources. It’s cache comes purely through the repetitive chant not any actual facts.

We’ve written a few times about the study commissioned back in the day by Councillor Norm Kelly, Fair Share Scarborough. Ostensibly it set out to see if Scarborough was getting its fair share of city services under amalgamation. Turns out there was no solid proof Scarborough was either getting ripped off or making out like bandits in the situation. A wash, let’s call it.

Nothing since that study has surfaced to prove otherwise.

Yet that doesn’t stop the likes of Doug Ford or Giorgio Mammoliti (Councillor Frances Nunziata is also a avid proponent of the divisive tactic) from trying to make political hay out of it.

Oh, but what about all that Section 37 money the downtown gets and the suburbs see nothing of? The slush fund. The dirty bribe money. section37moneyWhy does it only go to the wards where the development is?

“Distribute the money equally to all the boroughs not just downtown all the time,” Councillor Ford demanded.

Fair’s fair, right? All for one and one for all, yeah? We’re all in this together.

Except for the development part of the equation.

Seems the likes of Councillor Ford is all for section 37 funds as long as the development that provides it goes elsewhere in the city.

Next time the councillor from Ward 2 Etobicoke whines about his share of section 37 funds ask him about Humbertown.

 “We’re all in consensus, we’re going to kill this thing.”

So spoke Councillor Ford at a public meeting about a proposed development in his neck of the woods.

It seems that you can suck and blow at the same time.crybabies

There are many residents of this city who can rightfully claim that they are being left out of the politics, the planning, the development of Toronto. Their claim is legitimate. But politicians like Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti are simply piggybacking on that grievance, attempting to leverage it for political gain. They’re looking for others to do the heavy-lifting of governance and city-building while they just squawk away noisily in their little corners of the city.

submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Nimby

May 15, 2013

For three years now, ever since then-councillor Rob Ford announced his run for mayor, we’ve been clubbed over the head with the urban-suburban divide.fordnation The narrative of downtown elites hoarding all the goodness that is living in Toronto, leaving their suburban counterparts with nothing more than the crumbs and scraps. Get out of your cars so we can have bike lanes! No subways for you! Your taxes spent on us.

Rob Ford rode such resentment into office, and the continued suburban support maintains his not impossible chances for re-election next year. He is the self-proclaimed champion of the little guy in places like Scarborough, basing his entire transit policy around getting a new subway out there. Nobody rails about and profits from deriding the self-satisfied, special interest insularity of downtowners like the mayor and the rest of Team Ford.

An accusation I’ve tried to take to heart. Get out there, learn what makes these suburban types tick, their likes, dislikes, their pet peeves, their pet causes. haughtyTry and find out why they’re so mad at us and how politicians like Mayor Ford so easily tap into that vein of anger.

The latest leg of that journey outside of my south of Bloor/west of the Don Valley comfort zone took me to the Scarborough Civic Centre yesterday for their monthly Community Council meeting. Here you can see the local councillors and their constituents at work far from the spotlight of City Hall, not dwelling on the Us-versus-Them but instead focusing on pure Scarborough time (or North York or Etobicoke-York or Toronto-East York time depending on which community council meeting you’re attending). Community council concentrates on the minutiae of local governance.

As the agenda for the Scarborough meeting showed, this is the time spent adjudicating neighbours’ fence heights, debating the need for a stop sign or traffic lights, the removal of tree from private property, parking, always parking. toilIt isn’t glorious or sexy. Just the nuts and bolts of the political process at the municipal level.

Perhaps the most charged item I witnessed yesterday was over the fate of the wading pool just outside of the civic centre. Apparently it was a community hub for the forty years of the building’s existence but last summer the This Is Not A Wading Pool sign went up due to the lack of funding to pay for a lifeguard. Scarborough councillors set out to try and rectify that situation.

Most of the time, big ticket, highly contentious, city wide items don’t dominate community council meetings. A casino, tall tower complex or the island airport runway expansion rarely find their way to be debated at North York or Scarborough community councils. The majority of those end up for discussion at Toronto-East York community council.

And Etobicoke-York, apparently.

For the last two months the west-end community council has had to conduct additional meeting time to deal with the public reaction to two developments that are being proposed in their catchment area. In April, there was an evening session at the Etobicoke Civic Centre over the proposed waterfront development in Ward 6, Mimico 20/20. nonono1And yesterday for six hours, the public came out to express their unanimous opposition to First Capital Realty’s intention to convert the Humbertown shopping plaza into a mixed up residential-commercial space.

This one was a biggie. As David Hains writes in the Grid, it was held in a 3,200 seat church on the Queensway, was broadcast on TV and streamed online and brought out much of the media as well as the big gun politicians like the mayor and his councillor-brother. (As a member of the Etobicoke-York community council, it’s not unusual that Councillor Ford was in attendance although, it is worth noting that he was absent for the Mimico meeting last month, choosing instead to attend a provincial Progressive Conservative fundraiser.)

Now, I don’t know if the Humbertown development is a good one or not. Certainly the community’s concerns over the increase in traffic caught my attention. It didn’t strike me as the disaster-in-waiting almost every speaker to person claimed it would turn out to be. villagesquireThere are voices living in the area that even think it’s a positive thing for the area.

What I will tell you, however, is that I didn’t care for the tone I heard from the development’s opponents. Like many who spoke out against the Mimico 20/20 plans, we were told the Humber Valley neighbourhood was like a village wrapped inside a big city. A place for families to thrive and grow, away from big city concerns. People were born in Humber Valley. They went to school in Humber Valley. They got married in Humber Valley. They have children of their own who they want to raise in the same Humber Valley they grew up in.

After a couple hours of this, I couldn’t help but think if these people really wanted the village life, they should maybe move to an actual village. Somewhere, I don’t know, in Amish country. Or maybe on the edge of the moors in south-west England. A village village.

Not a pretend one of their imagination, situated 1500 metres from a major east-west subway line. No, what these people want is to enjoy all the amenities a big city offers while keeping the messier aspects like intensification and underground parking (really, underground parking) at bay. usversusthemThis is a wealthy enclave with the time and resources which, as my friend Paisley Rae said, should not determine the outcome of the civic process, trying to keep the 21st-century from their front door.

And the real kicker is that these are our populist mayor and brother’s people not the poor schlubs having to endure a cold winters rid on the Scarborough SRT or even those living further north in Etobicoke, up in Rexdale. This development is right in both the Fords’ backyards and the little guys they’re looking out for are those who can afford to hire their own architect to draw up alternate plans and find the concept of shopping on a second floor inconceivable. I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve invented a moving staircase in which to ascend us to ladies wear.

“We cannot let these developers come in and bully us,” said the mayor who’s all in pushing a waterfront casino. He vowed to fight the Humbertown development ‘tooth and nail’. “Let’s go to the board (Ontario Municipal Board),” he urged if First Capital Realty didn’t back down, presumably with money from the city he often tries to stop at council when other communities faced with unwanted development face appeals at the OMB. Everything Mayor Ford purports to be got completely turned on its head with his strident opposition to the Humbertown development.

Not in my backyard.humbertown

The fact is, Mayor Ford doesn’t really represent the aspirations or alienation of suburban Toronto. At least not those of the hard-working little guys in large portions of Scarborough or Etobicoke. It’s a very select few he will go to the mat for, the ones who essentially live in his own neighbourhood. The overwhelming majority of suburban residents are nothing more than votes to him.

nimbly submitted by Cityslikr