Credit Not Where It’s Due

This is not Mayor Rob Ford’s debt. Don’t give him the credit. He doesn’t want it. dontlookatmeHe doesn’t deserve it.

As was pointed out in at least a couple corners (Matt Elliott here and Rob Granatstein here) yesterday, the Toronto Star’s headline, tagging the mayor with the increase in debt for capital spending was misleading at best, flat out wrong at worst. The city sets out a 10 year plan for capital expenditures which it adjusts annually. Incoming administrations inherit capital plans (and costs) from the preceding one and can only tinker so much with them. Such is the case currently. Mayor Ford took on much of the debt run up by the Miller administration.

AND THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!

Among other things, the city is getting a new fleet of transit vehicles including much needed streetcars rolling out next year as part of the capital spending that’s lead to the debt. This is neither unusual nor a bad thing. Governments, businesses and individuals rarely purchase big ticket items with cash up front. notthattheresanythingwrongwiththatIt makes no sense to do so especially with things that are going to be used over long periods of time like streetcars.

But almost all government spending is anathema to politicians like Mayor Ford. Debt is a red flag to him, proof positive that the gravy train chugs on and wasteful liberals are out of control. Since becoming mayor, he has done everything in his power to roll back the city’s debt including diverting money from the operating budget to pay off capital purchases outright.

(Everything, that is, outside of ensuring a proper revenue stream. There was a compelling argument as part of Matt’s Twitter stream above that by reducing revenue in the form of freezing property taxes and cutting the VRT, Mayor Ford had, in fact, contributed to the growing debt. moneydownthedrainThat’s not an unfair assessment.)

While certainly there is a bump in the city’s debt load currently, in looking over the various 10 year capital projections, you get a sense of, if not an overall decrease in debt, a definite flat lining of it. I think it’s safe to say that the mayor has successfully wrestled our debt to a stalemate. Done his best to put a lid on it.

Hold your applause, folks.

There’s nothing admirable in the mayor’s approach to debt. There’s nothing even remotely fiscally responsible about it. As was pointed out today in the probably not left leaning magazine, Canadian Business, congestion could be costing the GTA as much as $11 billion a year. Congestion caused by decades and decades of inaction on transit building.

And as was pointed out to us by the undeniably non-partisan storm on Monday evening, our sluggish investment in infrastructure under our streets is costing us millions and millions of dollars as well. “We’re hanging on by a thread,” said our debt-averse mayor in reaction to the damage inflicted by the heavy rains. Shut off your lights and power down your computer. floodTO3Half measures, long after the barn doors’ been kicked from their hinges, called for by a mayor unwilling to spend the money on real solutions.

The truth of the matter is, in his obsessive drive to reduce government to little more than a police force that keeps our roads paved and clear of anything but cars and trucks, Mayor Ford is limiting our chances in dealing with some serious changes that have already arrived while we’ve been pretending not to notice. Councillor Janet Davis pointed out that over a billion dollars was cut in the 10 year capital plan for the city’s Wet Weather Flow Program in this year’s budget.

What’s that you ask?

“Toronto’s Wet Weather Flow Master Plan (WWFMP) is a long-term plan to protect our environment and sustain healthy rivers, streams and other water bodies. And it’s about reducing the adverse effects of wet weather flow, which is runoff generated when it rains or snows.”togridlock

“The adverse effects of wet weather flow…” Ring a bell for anyone whose basement flooded Monday or who hoped to go for a swim in Lake Ontario this weekend before this week’s massive sewage dump? Adverse effects? What adverse effects?

Earlier this year, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee – the committee that oversees much of the substantial, debt-inducing spending that helps keep the city up and running properly – floated an idea to cap the revenue brought into by the Land Transfer Tax. It was intended to be a compromise between the mayor who wanted the tax eliminated entirely and those councillors who saw it as an important piece of the budget puzzle. The net effect, if it had been adopted by council (it wasn’t), would be to ultimately reduce city revenue.

We’re hanging on by a thread, and our mayor and chair of one of the most important committees in terms of building for the future are busy figuring out ways to generate less money. As if somehow, magically, leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers will rebuild aging infrastructure and new transit lines and not simply rewrite the formula for inaction that it’s been for decades now.

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So stop trying to discredit Mayor Ford with our increased in capital debt. It’s none of his doing. He hasn’t earned such praise.

tightly submitted by Cityslikr

Designed For Power Not To Rule

As the blood continues to ooze from under the door of Mayor Ford’s office at City Hall, bloodtheshingand the already small circle gets even smaller, it’s still difficult to get your head around the notion of a post-Ford Toronto. All those trees being on fire makes it really hard to see the forest. One can hope and one can dream but visualizing it takes a lot of effort.

There’s no telling how this latest… I don’t have the necessary vocabulary to describe the state of mayoral politics in Toronto at the moment… something something … will play out. An early exit? Certainly not by his own volition, it seems. Stay the course! Everything’s fine! First name on the ballot in the next election!

Removal by ‘external forces’, let’s call them. Your guess is as good as mine. They would have to be extraordinary circumstances, even by these already extraordinary circumstances, to turf the mayor before the next scheduled election. Around these parts mayors appear to be immoveable objects once installed into office.

Thing is, though, time marches on regardless of Mayor Ford’s status. The business of the city is being tended to whether he thinks he’s at the helm or not. handofgodTry and look away from the ongoing political wreckage and focus on the bigger picture. Stop squirming while the international audience looks on at us in wide eyed amazement. We all saw that coming, didn’t we? It’s only surprising it took this long.

One way or the other, this will pass. We must be ready to move on. In preparation, it’s good to remind ourselves of two important points that were brought up earlier this week.

Matt Elliott’s Challenge Accepted and Edward Keenan’s The trouble with Dougie’s people taking over. If you haven’t already read them yet, do it right now. I can wait. In fact, I’ll just switch over to my Twitter feed and see if the mayor’s staff has shrunk any further.

Go ahead. We’ll meet back here when you’re done.

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OK. First, Mr. Elliott.

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.”

We’ve seen it happening already. What’s left of this administration is trying to shrug off accusations about alleged personal failings by pumping up its governance cred. We said we’d stop the gravy train, and we have. We’ve kept your taxes low. We’ve cut wasteful spending. We’ve turned this fiscal ship of state around in the right direction.

Forgive us our trespasses, folks. But we’ve rocked our campaign promises. pickanumber1Boo-yeah!

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.”

They make up magic numbers. They claim credit for things they really had no hand in. What little policy initiatives they have managed to implement don’t amount to much more than a hill of beans in the scheme of things and have only truly accomplished making things just a little bit worse around the city. Fewer buses running more infrequently and more crowded. Park grass cut and streets cleaned a little less often. Smaller selection of books to borrow from the libraries.

And with no noticeable savings of tax dollars in our pockets. As Mr. Elliott shows, despite flatlining our gross operating budget, our property taxes have still gone up. So have user fees like transit fares. We’re paying more than we did in 2010 but are getting less.

Pretty much the exact opposite of Team Ford’s primary campaign pledge.

Pretty much the exact opposite of what any politician who steps into the fray and attempts to champion those very policy ideas and sideline the mayor. Beware any candidate trying to convince you that the message was sound. It was just delivered by the wrong messenger. pinocchio1The direction city council took early on in this term was misguided, no matter who was leading it.

“Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

This is the second point I want to make, cherry-picked from Edward Keenan’s post in The Grid on Wednesday.

The Ford Administration doesn’t have a leg to stand on at this point. Its very legitimacy is being questioned, and not just by the usual suspects who’ve been skeptical of it from the outset. Once obedient councillors are outspoken in their criticism. James Pasternak. John Parker. Jaye Robinson. The loyalist of the loyal simply keep their heads low.

Staff are jumping ship at a dizzying rate. Two yesterday. Five since the crack allegations surfaced. Some now sit on the sidelines, playfully sniping at the administration they once dutifully served.

How does the mayor and his dwindling number of defenders react?

“Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

inyourfaceI might add Deny to that list of Mr. Keenan’s. Deny. Confront. Attack. Repeat.

It goes something like this:

None of this situation – if there was a situation and there’s definitely not a situation – is our fault. It’s all just lies and rumours spread by our enemies. Enemies like the Toronto Star and all the social elite subscribers to that rag who’ve been out to get us since day one. Put up or shut up, folks. Where’s the video? Do you know the kind of pain you’re causing our families? How would you like it if we went after you like you’re going after us? Huh? Maybe I’ll just follow your wife and kids all around the place. How would you like that, huh? Get your own house in order before sticking your nose in our business. Disgruntled ex-employees. Put up or shut up. Put up or shut up.

They are the words of those who are never willing to accept responsibility for any negative consequences of their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. Question them and their motives and the response is always to push back, to challenge, never to answer or explain. Accuse me? Accuse you.

It’s worked for them so far because up until now the other side has blinked. Turned away and moved on to try and work around them. playingchickenjpgBacking down is an understandable instinct when confronted with such aggressive certainty. Nobody can be that sure of themselves and be so willfully wrong, can they?

Yes they can.

We’ve saved the taxpayers a billion dollars, folks.

An entirely fictitious number Team Ford has picked out of thin air to repeat over and over in response to any and all allegations that are fired at it. Part of an incantation of nebulous claims invoked to help ward of the inevitable reality of it all. A billion dollars. The unelected premier. Social elites who’ve run this city for 50 years. Stir in an eye of newt, click your heels twice and poof, everything’s fine, everything’s good, the wolves are no longer at the door.

“False. Absolutely, definitely false.” “Confront. Attack. Repeat.”

It’s the political calculus that has worked like a charm. It’s transformed a fringe city councillor into an unlikely mayor, and his even fringier brother into a bullying power broker. Unfortunately, it’s also ground the wheels of governance of a big, vibrant, progressive city to a near halt.

Mayor Ford and those choosing to remain defiantly in his camp can continue believing that everything’s fine, everything’s hunky dory, and that all the problems that exist are because of other people. Why wouldn’t they? It’s got them this far.

therewillbeblood

But everybody else at City Hall needs to start operating outside of the mayor’s crank circle. Leave them to burn their little playhouse down. It was inevitable they would anyway. Ford Nation was built for little else.

—  exasperatedly submitted by Cityslikr

The Gig’s Up

It’s impossible to accurately predict a turning point of an era, let’s call it, while still living in that particular time. seethefutureUnless of course you have planes flying into buildings. That kind of catastrophic plot point writes itself. But in a period of relative normalcy on a scale of one for placid calm and ten for, Run For Your Lives, Jesus Has Returned!, you can never be certain when things have taken a most definite turn.

But allow me to go on record as saying I think yesterday, January 23rd 2013, was a turning point of the Mayor Ford Era here in Toronto. Now, now. I know lots of you will quickly jump in and claim that there have been so many turning points over the course of the last couple years, how could I pick just this one. You would not be wrong. I just think yesterday all the air that remained came out of the hot air balloon that once carried Rob Ford aloft.behindthecurtain2

The prick (ha, ha) that did it?

Matt Elliott at Metro’s Ford For Toronto, Debunking Ford Nation’s favourite budget chart. I will take it one step further. Mr. Elliott’s article debunks the very platform upon which the Ford Nation was constructed. City Hall’s fiscal foundations were crumbling due to out-of-control spending by the Miller Administration. The Gravy Trains must be stopped. Councillor Rob Ford was the man to do it.

It was the flimsiest of canards, and not one used only by then candidate Ford. He just perfected it. Coincidentally, this week is the 3rd anniversary of Rocco Rossi announcing his mayoral run chickenlittle(h/t to the Toronto Star’s David Rider for sending a reminder out). He too was full of municipal spending/debt alarmism based on little more than pronouncements of big, scary numbers. “He [Rossi] is prepared to sell off assets such as Toronto Hydro,” Vanessa Lu wrote, “to put the city on a better financial footing by cutting the city’s debt, now hovering near $2.5 billion.”

George Smitherman wasn’t above such cheap politicking, talking about how the city was nickel and diming residents to death and ‘restoring Toronto’s financial credibility’. Not for nothing, Mayor Ford recently claimed (albeit in typical Fordian hyperbole) that 80% of voters in the 2010 election backed his mandate. Meaning, I guess, everyone who didn’t vote for Joe Pantalone.

And all of it was nonsense, baseless assertions that opened the door for the Ford administration to run amok and slash and burn which was their intention all along, notwithstanding a rock solid pledge that there’d be “No Cuts To Services, Guaranteed”. texaschainsawmassacreAn easy line to follow that fit perfectly on a t-shirt and bumper sticker. It doesn’t have to be true if it’s snappy.

This isn’t to say that all’s pollyannishly well and good. Toronto does face some financial hurdles. Reeling in overspending just doesn’t happen to be one of them. As Matt (and most other reasonable political minds around these parts) has pointed out over and over again, we can’t fix major problems like congestion and crumbling infrastructure by slicing away at our annual operating budgets or attacking unions or contracting out services or selling off assets or a combination of all those things. Those numbers simply don’t add up.

Reducing revenues won’t help out either. This Team Ford’s done by not only getting rid of the Vehicle Registration Tax but by also ensuring we keep our residential property taxes insufficiently low. A clear-eyed examination of the facts will reveal the mayor’s claim of over-zealous tax-and-spending of the previous administration to be outright misinformation based on de-contextualized charts and misleading graphs.

We haven’t been having a truthful conversation about this city’s finances for over three years now. All to our detriment. As we head into more uncertain territory over the next few months – Tnot just in terms of the outcome of Mayor Ford’s legal ups-and-downs but the Metrolinx forthcoming report on future transit funding – we really need to start dealing honestly and in an informed way with our current circumstances.

Hopefully Matt Elliott has finally put a stake through the heart of the Legend of Toronto’s Profligacy. It was never a thing. We need to get past it now and start working on the real problems we’re facing.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr