Where Have You Been?

April 26, 2012

“Time to talk about taking on the Fords” was the headline in a National Post article written by Chris Selley yesterday. “Three times this week,” it opened, “City Hall poured gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers.” He then outlined those three examples: the Metrolinx approval of council’s decision to go ahead with 4 LRT lines, the chief medical officer’s recommendation to lower speed limits in the city and the growing talk of looking at road tolls.

On top of which, Mr. Selley suggests later in the piece that in taking over control of outsourcing practices, city council “…added a weapon to the Mayor’s arsenal.”

There seems to be some inconsistencies in this argument.

For starters, city council has moved beyond talking about taking on the Fords. They’re already doing it by rolling back proposed cuts in the 2012 operating budget, successfully defending the Portlands from Councillor Doug’s incursion, reversing new fees for sports fields along with the examples above. The mayor’s self-proclaimed mandate continues to be challenged.

But to Mr. Selley this is pouring ‘gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers’, intimating that by defying the mayor council is only succeeding in making him stronger. (With a nod to @HULKMAYOR) DON’T MAKE FORD NATION ANGRY! YOU WON’T LIKE FORD NATION WHEN THEY’RE ANGRY!

This argument grates. It pops up every time the mayor suffers a setback. A wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and the wailing of, but we’re just giving him a re-election platform.

What?!

And the alternative? To sit back, let him run rampant, implementing the worst of his policy ideas? When it all goes to shit, we then step up and say, see? We told you so? Then start picking up the pieces.

That’s certainly not what Mr. Selley’s suggesting. He believes the mayor’s opponents need to take control of the narrative and contest the fallacious assertions Team Ford continues to make. Like the St. Clair “disaster” and its mutant spawn, St. Clair-ization of the city with the building of LRTs. Agreed and I think that’s already under way with the work John Lorinc and others have been doing exploring St. Clair Avenue post its St. Clairizing.

“When it comes to subways and LRTs specifically,” Selley writes, “someone needs figure out how to make staying the course look sexy.”

That’s kind of a tall order and perhaps a little bit of overkill. While I know the mayor has pledged to make it a campaign issue and the likes of the Toronto Star’s Royson James worries that the timing of the Sheppard LRT’s commencement of construction in 2014 could be manna from heaven for Mayor Ford’s re-election bid, I’d really like to see him try and run with that frankly. Already having put off the timetable by 18 months with his declaring Transit City dead does he really think promising further delays is going to be a winner for him?

The statement issued from his office yesterday in response to the Metrolinx decision to proceed with LRTs suggests the mayor isn’t looking to go to the mat for a Sheppard subway. It attempts to put the matter fully into the province’s lap, saying that the focus for the TTC should now be solely on “…delivering operational and customer service excellence — and not on capital infrastructure planning and construction.” The mayor’s continued ‘push for subways to form the backbone of Toronto’s future plans for rapid transit expansion’ is vague enough to open the possibility of talk for something as out there as the downtown relief line. Subways are subways, right?

Inadvertently, Mayor Ford has triggered a transit discussion this city has not had this openly in decades. Very few people now disagree that we have fallen woefully behind, to the growing detriment of commuters and businesses alike. A Spacing-Environics poll last week suggested an eye-poppingly large number of the GTA are more than willing to consider a regional sales tax dedicated to building transit.

That’s a tax increase, folks. The polar opposite of what then candidate for mayor Rob Ford ran successfully on in 2010. All the talk of evil taxes now seems to be little more than pissing in the wind, a naked appeal to a narrowing base of support.

So the mayor and his brother want to recreate the conditions that got them elected some 18 months ago? Good luck with that. Like they say, you can’t push toothpaste back into its tube. The agenda has changed, the discussion advanced. Fighting yesterday’s war seldom leads to victory today.

That’s not to say I’m writing the mayor off as one and done. Mr. Selley’s correct in pointing out that then Councillor Rob Ford was severely underestimated. The anger he helped foment and then champion was surprising and misunderstood. He will be helped by the power of incumbency.

But 2014 will be a different political landscape, one the mayor will have contributed to having altered. Last time out, his main rival, George Smitherman, forged the anti-City Hall mindset that Ford ran away with. Every subsequent move Smitherman made to differentiate himself from Ford only seemed to reinforce the argument that Toronto’s government was out of control in every conceivable way. The only main candidate defending the status quo, Joe Pantalone, was simply a bad campaigner. His arguments were closer to the truth but he just couldn’t effectively deliver that message.

It’s hard to imagine how that dynamic will be recreated for the mayor to exploit. Council has already established itself as a viable counter-balance to the worst instincts of the mayor. There is a working majority consensus on most of the important issues the city faces. Whoever rises up from that to take on Mayor Ford in 2014 will be the type of formidable candidate he didn’t face in 2010.

Chris Selley doesn’t seem to realize that and is writing from a few steps behind what’s happening on the ground now.

up to speedly submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Not Just About The Money

March 24, 2012

In hindsight, I wish the outcome of this week’s subway-LRT transit battle hadn’t been settled on the question of money. Everyone conceding the ground that subways would be great but we just can’t afford them. If money grew on trees, we’d have subways running every which way until Sunday. But it doesn’t so we can’t.

There’s always money in the banana stand. Everybody has a scheme for raising money to build subways. Even tight-fisted fiscal conservative, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande, gave the impression of floating a proposal to look at the possibility of a parking levy before trying to pull it the following day. Earlier in the week at a TO Townhalls transit debate, Councillor Norm Kelly checked off a list of taxes and fees the city could pursue in order to raise enough funds to build a subway as if it was as easy as all that, as if any of these ideas hadn’t already been swept aside by Mayor Ford.

Councillor Kelly invited the audience to join him in being bold. A variation that Dr. Gordon Chong employed as well in getting us to think big, to think outside the box. Don’t have a closed mind, you stick in the mud squares. Explore the possibilities of private public partnerships. There’s always money in the banana stand.

Except there’s not, of course, there never was. All nonsense or hogwash to use the parlance of the mayor. Team Ford had the better part of two years to come up with a funding plan for the Sheppard subway, to think outside the box, to be bold, to give us a transit vision. But what did they deliver? Let’s start digging and go from there. Use some $1 billion ($2 billion if you do your math in the Councillor Doug Ford double-clutch fashion) in funding from the provincial and federal governments and get those shovels in the ground. Say, whatever happened to all that private sector cash to fill the subway funding gap, Mayor Ford? Those magical tales of a city with a spending not a revenue problem. A guarantee we could have it all, low taxes and shiny new infrastructure. No money down. No interest payments. Ever.

Councillor Jaye Robinson epitomized that gulf between fact filled reality and misguided fantasy. I’m trying really hard to like the councillor. She seems very honourable, sensible and well-intentioned. But her speech on Thursday (including her first ever request for a speaker’s extension) coming out in favour of closing the Sheppard subway loop was nothing more than ill-informed, area-centric parochialism.

Firstly, there was no talk of how to pay for a complete Sheppard subway loop. Ooops. There I go, doing it myself, asking about funding, funding, funding.

The councillor opened up with an attempt to undermine those who pointed out that 1st class cities such as Paris and Madrid are building/have built LRTs, saying those places already have a robust, fully integrated subway system. Their LRTs are simply feeding into it. Toronto’s subway system needed a full Sheppard loop to bolster its subway system not an LRT to feed into it.

That’s simply wrong. What Toronto needs to shore up its subway system is the Downtown Relief Line. Not to cater to the core elites but to relieve capacity on the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines for all those coming in to work downtown from the… wait for it, wait for it… inner suburbs and exurbs.

Don’t believe me? Fair enough. I’m no transit expert. Why not ask the TTC’s new CEO?

Despite being expropriated by Team Ford as a proponent of their crazy scheme, Andy Byford quietly stated his actual subway priority at a Board of Trade breakfast talk yesterday. “Although the TTC accepts the decision made by council, I maintain the city does also need to have a sensible debate around a subway provision,” he told reporters. “Sooner or later we’ve got to address the subway capacity, particularly in regard to the downtown relief line.”

‘A sensible debate’.

In fairness, that did begin to happen this week. With the mayor’s refusal to provide any sort of cogent funding plan for his pet subway project, his allies rushed to fill in the void. Half-hearted and vague as most of the proposed measures were, right wing councillors kicked started the conversation about revenue generation that had been pooh-poohed pretty well since our previous mayor stated that you can’t build a great city for free.

That said, great cities aren’t simply great cities because they build subways everywhere. Great cities build subways where it’s feasible, where subways transport the greatest number to the places they need to get to.

For Toronto, all of Toronto not just where Mayor Ford’s trying to get the greatest amount of votes, the answer isn’t along Sheppard Avenue. It never was. We should never have been talking about it in the first place.

So let’s start having that sensible debate.

calmly, coolly submitted by Cityslikr


L’état C’est Moi

March 23, 2012

Standing outside City Hall yesterday after the transit vote, I noticed a man holding a cardboard placard. I couldn’t read the sign at first glance, only noticing the person holding it. He was somewhat bedraggled, leaving me to assume he was one of those street corner religious types. John 3:16 or other words condemning those to hell who did not accept Jesus Christ as our lord and saviour.

When I finally did catch sight of the front of the sign, my assumption was proven only mildly incorrect. “The Will Of Council Does Not Supersede The Will Of The People”. Not religion as much as misplaced faith.

The schism is complete then. You are either with Mayor Ford or you are against the will of the people of Toronto. As the mayor stated after his latest council defeat on transit, “This is an election issue. Obviously the campaign starts now.”

You remember how that plays out. We just wrapped one up, less than 18 months ago. Rob Ford as the outsider, on the hustings, railing against a bloated, mismanaged and quite possibly corrupt City Hall with a spending problem not a revenue problem.

He kicked off Re-Election 2014 with a fiery speech yesterday, full of misplaced indignation and highly dubious claims that came across as little more than a temper tantrum. In the face of certain defeat – How certain? Team Ford QB and avowed LRT hater Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti didn’t alter previous plans in order to attend the vote. Why bother if you’re going to lose anyway? – Mayor Ford simply lashed out, burned bridges and delivered a big ‘Fuck You’ to his council colleagues and the democratic process.

Watching the speech, you’d think council members, regardless of political stripe, would slowly step back away from the mayor, smiling politely while maintaining eye contact as one does when dealing with any sort of raving lunatic. Surprisingly, 18 councillors stood with Mayor Ford to back his ill-thought out and unfunded subway plan. Sure, many bemoaned his lack of leadership on the issue but followed up by playing along and allowing the mayor to continue with the charade of having a sensible transit plan.

Councillor David Shiner took it one step further, greasily muddying the waters to suggest there was a lack of leadership by everyone on the transit issue. Actually no, Councillor Shiner, but nice try though. TTC Chair Karen Stintz led a coalition of right of centre, centre and left of centre councillors in assuming control of an issue the mayor could not get past empty campaign rhetoric on.

That’s how democracy works around these parts. A mayor is given a head start in setting the agenda, has a certain rump of votes to work with but then it’s up to them to cobble together 23+ votes. There’s no rule that a mayor has to win every vote, not even really important ones.

This isn’t about dysfunction at City Hall. The inmates are not running the asylum. It’s not a clown show or a farce. This is how municipal politics operates. We just don’t recognize what’s going on currently because this is our introduction to a renegade mayor.

In an excellent piece yesterday, John Lorinc pointed out the two remaining items of the mayor’s 2010 election mandate: repealing the Land Transfer Tax and cutting councillor numbers in half. With all the talk of new revenue tools that emerged during the transit debate, it’s laughable to think Mayor Ford could convince 22 councillors to junk a very important source of revenue for the city. If any consensus arose out of the transit battle, it was the need for more revenue not less. Repealing the LTT should be a non-starter.

Leaving the reduction of councillors from 44 to 22 as the remaining plank in his 2010 campaign platform to fulfill.

What I expect to happen in the next little while is an attempted conflation of this pledge with a demand for accountability to the taxpayers from city council. ‘The Will Of Council Does Not Supersede The Will Of The People’. Council’s out of control, folks. They denied you subways. Fewer councillors mean more control for the people, more respect for taxpayers.

Never mind the illogical of that sentiment. Logic has never been part of Mayor Ford’s mandate. Fewer councillors mean less representation for the people of Toronto. Yet it’s going to ring true to those who saw the triumph of LRTs over subways as proof positive of the meddlesomeness of council. Reduce the number of councillors and you’ll increase the power of the mayor.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine 22 councillors agreeing to put their jobs in jeopardy. There’ll be some support from the diehardest of diehard supporters of the mayor, and maybe a sprinkling of those not planning to run for office again. Even with the possible realignment of wards, a reduction probably won’t be done before 2014 election.

Which will be the point Mayor Ford attempts to capitalise on. They’re only in it for themselves, folks. Too many cooks in the kitchen. They denied me my mandate, your mandate, our mandate. Help me rid City Hall of these troublesome councillors. Re-elect Rob Ford in 2014 and I can finally get around to doing the job you elected me to do in 2010.

clairvoyantly submitted by Cityslikr


Childish Behaviour

February 24, 2012

I could not disagree with Christopher Hume more if he were, well, Rob Ford.

He’s plea to the province to assume control of Toronto’s transit file is nothing short of madness, an adolescent whine. I want my mommy. Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.

Long has been my stance, if not in these pages than in discussions I’ve had, that the main reason voters in cities including here seem comfortable casting their ballots at the municipal level for, how to say this delicately, clowns, clowns, jokers, the inept and certifiably deranged, is because they believe that it doesn’t really matter. There’s this blind faith that regardless of what happens, no matter what shit we manage to cover ourselves with, there’s a safety net to break our fall. The province would never let us burn our playhouse down.

We are the junior level of government, the farm team if you will, the bush leagues. Expectations are low, so why not have some fun with it? Politics as performance art. Since there are no consequences, we can afford to take a flyer or two, an appliance salesman here, a blustering buffoon there. It’s not like it’ll make any difference to our lives, right?

As we’re slowly beginning to realize, that’s not in the least bit true. In fact, it’s downright misguided from where we’re standing. Municipal politics matters. A lot. But to scream for a lifeline now, to call for the cavalry only reinforces the already hardened preconception that we’re not responsible enough to take care of ourselves. That when push comes to shove, we’re happy to hand over responsibility to the adults in the room and let them sort through the mess we’ve created.

And even that’s more than a little galling. In terms of public transit in Toronto, we are hardly the chief culprits in the bind we’re in currently. Plenty of blame to go around, with Queen’s Park topping the list. I mean, hey. If cities are nothing more than creatures of the province than the province has to bear some of the burden in how we’ve turned out, right?

Imagine if you will, the Mike Harris government (and yeah, I’m looking hard at you, Councillor John Parker) not filling in the hole that had already been dug in Eglinton Avenue back in 1996. This whole above/below ground LRT battle would be moot. We might even already have a Sheppard subway extension! Or what if the McGuinty government had long since made good on its promise to re-upload it’s portion of the annual TTC  operating budget that their predecessors had wiped their hands clean of (again, I’m looking hard at  you, Councillor John Parker)? That’s hundreds of millions of dollars Toronto would’ve had in its coffers or been able to give to the TTC for expansion or state of good repairs. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered back in the spring of 2010 and scaled back on some of the original Transit City plans, then candidate for mayor Rob Ford wouldn’t have seen it as negotiable. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered again, this time in the face of a Mayor Rob Ford, and signed their Memorandum of Understanding, throwing all transit planning back up into the air.

These are the people Mr. Hume wants to take charge? Arguably the very architects of our transit disarray? What on earth will that accomplish?

Despite Mayor Ford’s continued intransigence, city council is getting a handle on the situation. Doddering patrician types like the National Post’s Terence Corcoran sniffs at the February 8th city council meeting that asserted council’s primacy over the mayor, calls a timeout and declares we should just start all over. Well you know what, Mr. Corcoran? Fuck you. Democracy’s messy.

If people would just accept the fact that Mayor Ford lost, that city council (re)approved the Transit City plans for the Eglinton and Finch LRTs, that in a sop thrown to the mayor, a panel will make recommendations about Sheppard Avenue next month, we could just get on with things. Ignore the petulant child jumping up and down, holding his breath and turning red in the face. It doesn’t matter. Paying attention to him only reinforces the grade school view of municipal politics.

As does asking the province to come in and sort our problems out. Ironically, it also puts the normally fierce critic of the mayor, Christopher Hume, on the same side as the man he so obviously loathes. You don’t think Mayor Ford would love to divest himself of public transit decisions? Here, take it and all the related costs. Then we can just bitch and moan if it doesn’t work out to our liking, blameless. Take our traditional place in the backseat, counting on our parents to get us to where we’re going and only asking over and over, are we there yet? Are we there yet?

We’re not but we also need to realize that dad’s handed us the keys to the car.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr