A Farewell To Mike

February 16, 2014

I just canx.

With the same grace and class he displayed while serving his time on city council, mikedelgrandeMike Del Grande announced he would not be seeking re-election to Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt. Which is to say, he’s basically intent on burning the place to the ground on his way out the door. So long, suckers. You won’t have Mike Del Grande to kick around anymore.

After what will be 11 years in office, the councillor and former budget chief doesn’t seem to have a good word to say about anyone or anything. To accentuate the dyspepsia and kick up the bile and acrimony a notch or four, the Toronto Sun’s tapped their former City Hall scribbler and now on book leave author, Sue-Ann Levy to transcribe Councillor Del Grande’s farewell note. There will be blood, spilt, mixed with the usual bit of meandering, pointless prattling.

“It [the dynamic at City Hall] gets very nasty, very personal and I just don’t want to be part of that anymore,” Councillor Del Grande tells Sue-Ann. “I just detest that.”

This from a man who I can’t remember ever turning on his microphone at council or committee meetings without eventually shouting at somebody, everybody. rageyHis colleagues, deputants, visiting members of the public.

His spiteful adieu is nothing short of pure psychological projection. The gruffest, least cordial member of city council signs off, accusing everyone else of being meanies. Mike Del Grande, an oasis of calm and civility in a desert of nasty.

Usually I could stop and at least applaud a person for the years of dedication to public service. Clearly the man’s time in office did his health no good. As he reminds readers, as budget chief, he worked 75-80 hours a week without help from anyone. Just him, his cross and a handful of nails.

I really can muster no good thing to say about Mike Del Grande as an elected official.

Surprisingly, the one person he sort of holds his fire with is Mayor Ford. Yes, he has his problems with the lying and imagines the substance abuse probably affected the mayor’s professional performance. But no mention of that time during Del Grande’s third and final budget, where he worked 75-80 hours a week all on his own, when the mayor wound up voting against him, instead whimsically getting behind a zero % property tax increase thrown up by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. robfordbellicoseThanks for the effort, Mike. It’s just, there’s optics to think about.

None of these shortcomings, it seems for Councillor Del Grande, were the fault of the mayor. It was the elites who never recouped from Ford’s unexpected rise to power. Or the gutter journalists, with their mob mentality, refusing to cut the guy a break.

No. In fact, the councillor shows a grudging respect for Rob Ford, and his lack of political correctness. “He was a very good Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Del Grande dictates to Sue-Ann, going on to say that he “actually enjoyed watching Rob Ford the councillor ‘go bonkers’”.

Ahhh, yes. Go bonkers.

Remember. The councillor told Sue-Ann that “the ‘level of decorum (and) personality attacks’ at council factored highly into his decision not to run again. In fact,” she continues, “there were times he was so ‘disgusted’ with the conduct of his colleagues, he walked out of council meetings.” ebenezerscroogeEvidently, Councillor Del Grande draws some sort of distinction between a lack of decorum and enjoying watching somebody go bonkers.

What I think Mike Del Grande should be remembered best for, aside from his totally misguided attempts to right the fiscal ship of the city, is his pithy and totally respectful response early on in his tenure as budget chief. “We need firm discipline. I get a little concerned when we start making arguments about the widows and orphans. Negligibles add up. We cannot afford to do everything that everybody wants us to do… the 2011 budget is cupcakes. We tend to spoil everybody. We need to learn to say ‘no.’”

Oh, the poor widows and orphans, always wanting their cupcakes. And I suppose they want to take off work early on Christmas Eve!

If Mike Del Grande possesses a decorous or generous bone in his body, I never saw it on display. His demeanour and the tenor he brought to City Hall never much wavered from pure vitriol and mean-spiritedness. goodriddanceHe was the exact problem he bemoaned of in others but somehow everybody else was to blame, never Mike Del Grande.

I wish the man well in whatever future endeavours he pursues and hope he finds some sort of peace and well-being. But, I for one, feel free to say that his malignant presence at City Hall won’t be missed. He represented the worst, most penurious of our civic instincts. Our municipal government will be better off in his absence.

grudgingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Rethink

August 30, 2012

Let me rephrase that…

A couple days ago, I wrote a post saying, law be damned, I didn’t want to see the mayor thrown out of office due to this conflict of interest claim. It would martyr him and prove to all his supporters what they’ve believed all along. Nefarious forces – left wingers, union types, downtown elitists – were out to get Mayor Ford. They never accepted the results of the 2010 election and were bound and determined to overturn them at the earliest possible opportunity.

It’s not paranoia if it’s true.

Now, I received a little pushback from many folks I normally agree with at a political level. The law is the law. If a judge in a courtroom decided the mayor broke that law, well, the mayor was just going to have to face the consequences. Just like anybody else might expect to if they found themselves in a similar position.

I don’t disagree with that but as I responded to someone, it’s the political fallout I’m concerned with. An already politicized electorate might simply retreat to their respective corners, any sort of compromise now out of the question, and begin training, sharpening the knives in preparation of 2014. An already ugly partisan environment would get a whole lot uglier.

Can’t we all just try and get along?

But I’ll tell you what. I don’t think those still in Mayor Ford’s corner want to get along. I think most of them are digging what’s happening right now. It feeds in mightily to their persecution complex and, truthfully, that’s all that’s really keeping them politically engaged, isn’t it? The drive to stick it to anyone they think has stuck it to them in the past. Left wingers, union types, downtown elitists. The usual suspects.

Let’s not lose sight of the facts of this matter.

This isn’t about where the donated money went. It isn’t about the mayor, then a city councillor, using his official capacity to raise funds for private purposes. That matter was settled a couple years ago.

It didn’t pass the city’s Integrity Commissioner’s smell test who ordered the mayor to pay back the money out of his own pocket, all $3150 of it. Council voted on it. A done deal.

Once in power and carrying a little more sway at council, Mayor Ford managed to bring the item back for reconsideration. One of his most ardent defenders, Councillor Paul Ainslie, brought forward the motion to overturn the previous council’s decision and therefore saving the mayor $3150. Ethically, a little sketchy but hey, to the victors go the spoils.

That Mayor Ford opted to stay in council chambers and participate in the debate on the item and even vote on it is what’s at the heart of this matter. Nothing else. That the outcome would determine whether or not he’d have to pay $3150 out of his own pocket is the very fucking definition of a pecuniary interest. Not recusing himself is the very fucking definition of a conflict of interest.

Even his most slavish scribbler over at the Toronto Sun, Sue-Ann Levy, admits as much. “He [Mayor Ford] should have declared a conflict when the donations were discussed at the Feb. 7 council meeting and not voted on whether to approve Ms. Manners’ [Integrity Commissioner and Birkenstock wearer Janet Leiper] report,” she writes in her article a couple days ago. Thank you, Sue-Ann.

But instead of making that the first sentence and exploring what seems to be Mayor Ford’s deep mistrust of good and sound judgement, she buries it deep within the usual drivel. A plot, aided by a publicity seeking lawyer and cheered on by left wingers, union types, downtown elitists and, what’s a new one to me, the “AHTS” crowd. The “AHTS” crowd? Yeah, apparently you use your best Boston/Cambridge/hoity-toity accent.

What’s especially galling to Ms. Levy, however, is that the mayor’s being singled out when everybody else on council is up to their eyeballs in conflict of interest as well. Take her word for it as there’s not much more to her allegations. Remember Councillor Pam McConnell buying that condo in the new Regent’s Park development at market rate? Yeah well, Sue-Ann assures us there’s a lot more of that going on. So why just pick on the mayor?

What kind of defence is that? Even if there was a shred of evidence to back up any of her assertions (or those made by other supporters), that’s the take away lesson? I may’ve goofed up but so did everybody else. Oh. OK. That’s alright then.

Got that, kids?

So to summarize (and quoting Sue-Ann Levy): “Mayor Ford should have declared a conflict.” But demanding he accept the consequences of his actions as determined in a court of law, well, that’s just a witch hunt and nothing more than cheap politics. “It’s sickening how people want to politicize the process,” Councillor Doug Ford said.

You know, the law’s the law, politics is politics and all that. Apparently, the two should never overlap.

That’s not owning up to a mistake. It’s an attempt to shift the blame. The real witch hunt in this little drama.

And it’s making it difficult to simply shrug your shoulders and say, oh well, just 2 more years.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Governing Through Philanthropy

August 2, 2012

Thank goodness for the quarterly councillor expense report shaming. Four times a year, those of us who spend their time City Hall gazing get served up a steaming hot bowl of indignation at the wasteful misuse of our hard earned tax dollars by our profligate local elected representatives. It most certainly beats spending time looking into anything of substance especially during these dog days of summer when absolutely nothing else is going on.

Or as the Toronto Sun likes to think of it, Christmas in August!

Even the more rational seeming of their writers, Don Peat for example, gets into torch and pitchfork mode. “New numbers revealed by the city this week show Toronto city councillors kept draining their taxpayer-funded office budgets in April, May and June,” Peat wrote this week [bolding mine]. You see what he did there? ‘Draining’ not simply spending. Like blood-sucking vampires rather than just councillors using allowable funds to go about their business of, well, being councillors. And never forget whose money that is, folks. You, the taxpayers.

The Peatster goes on to report that in total, councillors and Mayor Ford spent exactly $364,233.95 so far for the first half of 2012. Now, allow me to do some math for you here. I’m not even going to bother including the mayor’s 6 month budget parameters because that would mean I’d have to find out what that is and research isn’t something I do much of in August even though it would make my case even more.

Councillors have a yearly $30,000 office expenses budget. So (and I’m doing this part without a calculator), that would be $15,000 for half a year. There are 44 councillors. That would be 44X15000 (and I am using a calculator now). $660,000 that all the councillors could’ve spent by now. What number did you have again, Don of the Sun? $364,233.95. That’s $295,766.05 less than they could’ve spent. Or, about 55% of what they as a body were allowed to spend by this time of year. And remember, I’ve lazily included expenses from the mayor’s office so, in fact, the number would be even smaller.

Oh, the outrage!

Cue Ms. Sue-Ann Levy.

Councillors show they’re cheap

This is Ms. Levy’s métier. Her bread and butter red meat sandwich. Right in her stylistic wheel house where she doesn’t have to string together any logical reasoning. Just a laundry list of Things That Make Her Go Grrrrrr.

$10 for tickets to see Shimon Peres speak. $50 for a couple tickets to a fundraiser for the Islamic Foundation. $300 here. $350 there. A $100 donation to host a community BBQ on Earth Day by Paula (Fattie) Fletcher. What?! Physical appearance has everything to do with this.

At a ‘business meal’ with a young woman she was mentoring as part of Toronto Regional Champion Campaign Protegee Program, Councillor Karen (Skinny… why not?) Stintz even had the nerve to spend $8.31 of her office budget on a “business meal’ consisting of rooibos – aka elitist — tea, hot chocolate and a banana chocolate muffin. Sue-Ann’s got some advice for you, sweetheart. Pay for that shit yourself because…

Who the fuck knows?

It’s merely the rantings of right wing ideologue opinion-maker. Someone who’s spent, I don’t know, seven decades covering City Hall and what she admires most in our politicians is thrift. Not vision. Not compassion. Not an ability to get things done and help build a better city. But thrift. Just thrift.

Coincidentally I’m sure, the exact same prime directive of her current meal tickets, Mayor Rob Ford, his councillor-brother Doug and their deputy mayor, Doug Holyday. Cheapness is next to godliness, folks. Office budgets are nothing more than re-election slush funds. Donations essentially a bribe for votes. If constituents want to know what’s going on or have a problem, all they need is to pick the phone. You might even get yourself a house call from the mayor.

So committed to this frugal ideal, Councillor Doug (The Wealthy) Ford works gratis, giving his salary to charity and spending only out of his own pocket on essential things like the banner for his and his brother’s weight loss challenge. If only more of the well-to-do were content with just one paycheque and devoted at least some of their time to pitching in and governing, we could do away with “expenses” altogether and apply those savings to cutting our taxes even further. A healthy democracy would be restored.

Just like in the olden days.

I don’t know. Call me a spendthrift, a trough feeder but I think all this kvetching is little more than a tempest in a teapot, making a mountain out of molehill, a distraction. There are more pressing matters at hand.

Besides, I think more along the lines of free market principles on this. In the end, you always wind up getting what you pay for.

mind on my moneyly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayoral Learning Curve

July 6, 2012

Things Mayor Rob Ford just seems to be learning since becoming mayor of Toronto:

1) It isn’t really a part time job.

2) How to properly negotiate driving a vehicle past a stopped streetcar.

3) Anger is a great campaign tool but not so much a good governing tool.

4) Public transit is a tough nut to crack.

4a) 3-peating a word like an incantation doesn’t always make it happen.

4b) The private sector is fickle about what it’s actually willing to pay for.

4c) Never underestimate somebody just because they’re a girl. Even a blonde one.

5) He isn’t the least politically astute politician in his family.

6) Making a public spectacle of your weight loss program doesn’t really help you cause. (Refer back to point 5.)

7) Probably should’ve followed my true dream, like a football in football or sports broadcasting. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.”

8) A bylaw prohibits street vending of hot dogs and sausages in Etobicoke.

9) Probably should’ve paid a little more attention to what was going on around City Hall during previous 10 years as councillor. (See point 8.)

10) Your public behaviour matters a little more now that everybody knows who you are.

11) Oh yeah. Being a cop would’ve been cool too. (See point 7.)

12) It’s easier getting things done when you’re popular.

13) Adam Vaughan really, really gets under my skin.

14) Can’t punch Adam Vaughan every time he pisses me off. (See point 10.)

15) Dougie can’t kick box Adam Vaughan every time he pisses us off. (See points 10 & 5.)

16) Toronto Star reporters scare easily. Especially the smaller ones.

17) A lie really does get halfway around the world before truth even has time to put its shoes on.

18) Lies are a little more difficult to manage afterwards, though.

19) Not using a cell phone while driving is a really dumb law especially since it’s rarely enforced.

20) A mayor can only vote on an item at council once and his vote only counts as much as everyone else’s even if he has a mandate from the people.

20a) A strong mayor system would be good for me but bad if someone like Adam Vaughan were ever to win. As if. (Refer to point 5.)

21) Being mayor does give you a better seat for council meetings.

22) Rather be hated by everyone at the Star than Sue-Ann Levy. She kind of scares me.

23) Always keep your eyes on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He really, really wants my job.

23a) Sometimes can’t tell Councillor Minnan-Wong and Kristyn Wong-Tam apart. Their names are so close.

24) Giorgio uses great smelling cologne. Like apple fritters. (That doesn’t mean I’m gay or anything.)

25) It’s easy to get distracted when you don’t really understand the bigger issues.

26) Having just 3 numbers in 9-1-1 makes it too easy to call.

27) Taxes pay for roads.

27a) Taxes pay for police.

27b) Taxes pay for snowplowing.

27c) Not sure all taxes are evil. (See point 5.)

28) I’d really like to get rid of that Land Transfer Tax.

29) (See point 25.)

30) Besides widows and orphans, the budget chief doesn’t think anything’s funny.

31) Scarborough is really far from Etobicoke.

32) Some people actually choose to take public transit even if they can afford not to.

33) Two years in mayor time is like eight years in councillor time. It never ends.

34) It really is a cyclist’s fault, at the end of the day, if they get killed. The roads were made for cars, trucks and buses. I’ve won a cycling award so now I can say that with authority.

35) All I really want during my time as mayor is for the Argos to win the Grey Cup. Leafs or Blue Jays winning would be good to but less likely than Adam Vaughan becoming mayor.

36) Don’t really get basketball.

37) Oh. And one more thing. As mayor I’d really like to take a ride on a police horse.

compiledly submitted by Cityslikr


Wasted Effort

June 5, 2012

$16.4 million.

According to the Globe and Mail’s John Lorinc, that was the “Total council cost (including mayor’s office)” to the city of Toronto in 2011.

$16.4 million.

Any way you want to parse that number it’s nothing but peanuts. As a percentage of the operating budget? Even rounding it down to the nearest billion which would be 9, $16.4 million works out to roughly .18%. Yeah, less than a fifth of a percent.

How about per population? Again, rounding it down to a workable round number like, say, 2.5 million, divided by 16.4 million comes to about 15 cents. That’s right. City council costs every man, woman and child in Toronto 15¢ per year. [Or, if you do the math properly, $6.56/Torontonian/year. Still a pretty sweet deal. h/t Mg]

Yet our deputy mayor, ostensibly the 2nd most powerful politician in the city, has spent what seems like an inordinate amount of time and energy in an attempt to reduce that number even further. To where, I wonder. What amount are we willing to give to our elected officials in order for them to govern the city? Are we looking for a corps of volunteers like the fire department of Councillor Holyday’s youthful days in Etobicoke? (I completely made that up. I have no idea if Etobicoke’s fired department was ever volunteer or, even, if our Deputy Mayor spent his youth there.) Or maybe, we want part time positions, no benefits; just dedicated folks coming in every now and then in between their other jobs in order to fill out the necessary paperwork.

If the city needs to be run like a business, doesn’t another shopworn cliché need to be trotted out? You get what you pay for.

Unsurprisingly, Deputy Mayor Holyday has run up against the stony wall of reality. New rules that he’s proposing to the Executive Committee this month “…would allow councillors to offload various costs, such as smartphone bills and office renovations, onto the general council budget,” Lorinc writes, “in effect freeing up more funds for other councillor office expenses.” Let the good times roll, folks. Bunny suits all round!

That’s right. In his search for further cuts to the ways councillors use their office expenses, the deputy mayor is, in fact, proposing to restore some of the cuts Mayor Ford made a successful campaign platform from. Could it be good sound bite politics that bash at the hornet’s nest of electorate anger turn out to be terrible policy ideas?

One of the items off the table for consideration, however, is any agreement to have the mayor sign off on councillor travel expenses. In his bid to rid the city of gravy, it seems the mayor thought it necessary for him to micromanage the oversight of $53,000. I’m not even going to bother to figure out that percentage of the operating budget, suffice it to say, it’s a ridiculously infinitesimal amount that would be a colossal waste of energy for a mayor of a major city to expend.

Of course, how long would it take for Mayor Ford to just rubber stand a ‘Denied’ across every request to reimburse travel expenses? We all know the mayor isn’t much of a traveller, except stateside for Florida jaunts and to take in NFL games. OK. There was that one time he went down to Mexico on official PanAm Games business but that was forced on him by the previous mayor.

If the mayor had his way, councillors would stay put here at home or pay for any trips on their own dime. It’s called city council for a reason. The city. Stay here. Do your job. There’s nothing to be gained, nothing to learn by spending your time elsewhere.

There’s certainly no need to be going to something like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference for example. That ‘lefty shmoozefest’ according to the Toronto Sun’s and Team Ford typist Sue-Ann Levy. Nearly one-quarter of Toronto councillors were in attendance when, surely, just Giorgio Mammoliti and an assistant to take notes and file a report would do.

What are other cities and their representatives going to tell Toronto that it doesn’t already know? Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. You need a weekend living large in Saskatoon to find that out?

Such continued myopia is a serious detriment to this city’s well-being. The mayor’s right hand man (or the mayor’s right hand man’s right hand man) is discovering the limits of cutting our way to fiscal health. Our structural deficit has little to do with bloat in the operating budget and everything to do with limited access to proper revenue tools outside of property taxes. Just like every other city in this province and in this country. Getting together at an annual conference to air out and hear ideas on how to go about fixing that can only help. Travel expenses for 11 councillors to attend is a very, very small price to pay.

But as we’re discovering, there is no price to pay that is too low to escape Mayor Ford’s notice. Every expenditure is suspect, every dollar must be contested. It gives the appearance of doing something substantive without really doing much at all.

on the cheaply submitted by Cityslikr