Too Far Gone

December 7, 2012

Another Friday, another less than flattering photo making the social media rounds showing fingerinthedikeMayor Ford painting the town red. And then there are rumblings that one of the city’s newspapers is sitting on another mayoral scandal. A non-contested stay granted for the mayor on his conflict of interest conviction pending an appeal; an appeal John McGrath exhaustively assesses and concludes does not look overly strong. News from the Ford For Mayor 2010 campaign finance audit waits ominously in the wings.

Such bad boy/cowboy behaviour would all be so riveting if Rob Ford was, I don’t know, the professional football player he always wanted to be, or a rock star. It would be gripping fodder for the yellow pages of tabloids if he was a member of the royal family. Right proper grist for the infotainment mill.

Unfortunately, he’s the mayor of our city. His Worship and all that. Instead of providing leadership, he’s simply proving to be a major distraction.

And hey, that might not be too great a blow to his own cause, given the news trickling out of this week’s Budget Committee review of the staff’s proposed 2013 operating and capital budgets. badnewseveryoneWhy just today, word emerges of the cuts to the city’s Fire Services. A Swansea Runnymede Road firehouse closed, reduction in trucks to others. It can’t possibly help already worrisome response times in the city. I wonder if Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong plans on alerting insurance companies to that fact, see if they can scare council straight like he did with the plastics lobby and the bag ban.

Councillor Janet Davis has suggested this is the year the city will eliminate some 41,000 shelter beds. A fight is a-brewing over budget reductions for the Toronto Police Services. The Planning Department remains woefully under-staffed. TTC rider subsidies shrink again with another fare increase and a flat-lined budget from council.

This is nothing like the easy finding of efficiencies and gravy that the mayor promised during the campaign in 2010. It is the slash and burn scenario all his opponents promised. No service cuts, guaranteed is a broken pledge much harder to dismiss than any onslaught of personal foibles.

Especially if you can blame those kind of setbacks on others, that ever growing list of far left enemies who’ve spent nearly 3 years now trying to discredit the mayor and nullify his election victory. Mayor Ford’s just trying to do his job, looking out for the little guy and respecting the taxpayers, hediditif only bullies like Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks, Shelley Carroll and their cabal of sore loser whingers in league with unelected and activist judges would stop trying to subvert democracy. Who hasn’t occasionally slipped up and fallen afoul of the rules and regulations? Everybody knows everybody does it. Buried bodies will be unearthed.

The amazing thing is, we wouldn’t accept such shirking of responsibility from a wayward teenager, trying to blame their failing grades on the distraction of classmates. Yet plenty of voices are still willing to give Mayor Ford a pass on his growing pile of transgressions. It’s not his fault but the fault of the fault finders. If a mayor breaks the rules but there’s no one around to see him do it, does he really break the rules?

Every time he digs himself out from under some sad spectacle or sideshow he’s served up, he vows to forge ahead, get on with the job he was elected to do and [fill in meaningless campaign slogan here]. But increasingly, there’s nowhere for him to go. He’s the kid at the back of the room, disrupting class. Teacher! Teacher! Look at me! I don’t have the answer but let me crack wise and make fart noises!

Whatever happens with his appeal in January and a possible by-election as a result of it, it already seems as if we’ve passed the point of no return where redemption seems even beyond a faint hope. Rob Ford has become a punch line not a mayor. overthefallsHis edict from afar to hold the budget line at 0 and keep taxes low is making him no new friends while even once steadfast allies are lining up behind each other to keep their distance from the toxic cloud billowing from his office. It’s hard to see how he can take control back of the wheel at this point.

The question at the end of another roller coaster week is why does Rob Ford even want to try?

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


Bad Mojo Rising

November 5, 2012

How much weight is too much for even the strongest of Mayor Ford supporters on city council to bear?

I ask as the Executive Committee goes in to session today, dealing with such matters as a casino, property taxes, capital budgets and Mayor Ford’s bogged down in yet another football coaching related controversy, his ability to lead once again hampered by questions of bad judgement. Where’s the tipping point when even members of his own Executive Committee decide the city’s future, as well as their political fortunes, will be irrevocably harmed by a continued enabling of the Ford administration? When will good governance trump crass politics?

Now maybe everyone’s hoping that once the high school football season ends in a couple weeks or so, the mayor will re-focus his attention on the job he’s actually paid to do. But unless he vows to dial back on his involvement next fall and the fall after that, it will be on ongoing item of contention. (Could it be he’s all in now, working toward a championship season so that he can announce his temporary retirement and go out a winner? Stay tuned, Don Bosco Eagles’ fans).

But I think it’s safe to say that the mayor’s troubles aren’t really seasonal and the rate of such incidences is hardly declining as he gets more comfortable in his role. Sure, they’ve spiked this fall but it’s not like they return to an acceptable level of competency. It is truly a regression to the mean in the case of Mayor Ford’s ongoing transgressions.

Councillor Jaye Robinson announced earlier this year that she’s leaving the Executive Committee at the end of 2012. There are similar rumblings from Councillor Michelle Berardinetti. Councillor David Shiner is on the outs with the mayor after his motion to ban plastic bags made it through city council. Although highly unlikely to jump ship, councillors Milczyn, Minnan-Wong and Thompson have all been openly critical of Mayor Ford on various issues over the last couple months.

This is a leaky boat that can only keep afloat if the mayor stops punching holes in it. Mayoral clout is as effective as the power that wields it. The bully possesses strength through fear and intimidation. If Mayor Ford continues to piss away base support with these ridiculously preventable missteps and abuses of position, what’s to fear or be intimidated by? Sure, he can remove you as chair of a committee or boot you from Executive but so what? As his reputation sinks, there’s less and less upside for councillors to hitch their wagons to him.

This is go time for Team Ford. The debate over the 2013 operating and capital budgets is just starting and will not only determine the direction going forward but may define his term in office. (The 2014 budgets will be seen as little more than a campaign document.) If the mayor squanders this opportunity, either through an obstinate adherence to bad policy ideas or bad behaviour, he might not be able to reassume even the appearance of council leadership. That would leave him, going into the next election campaign looking like an out of control (gravy) train wreck.

 

prognosticatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Sometimes A Surplus Is Just A Surplus

September 19, 2012

Gather round, all ye loyal readers, and prepare your ears to hear that not heard in these parts muchly. Tis an admission of error on our part. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For some time now, pretty near since our inception over two and a half years ago, we’ve suggested that the mayor and his fiscal conservative ilk have budgetary issues, let’s call them. That their numbers rarely add up. In fact, they are an assault upon reason itself.

But the problem, dear readers, may lay with our abacus not theirs. Our eyes blinded by the ideology of government spendthriftry and the love of dwelling in a gravy slathered city. We are wanton with the money of others when restraint is something near godliness. Affix the letters D P E in brightly stitched pink to our breasts and take the keys to the safe from our sweaty, grubby hands and greedy, bleeding hearts.

For you see, yesterday a word was spoken in the halls of City Hall that has seldom been uttered anywhere near that vicinity if uttered at all. A word so delicious to those hungering for the twin notions of fiscal sanity and respect for the taxpayers that all they could do was but to gobble it up, swallow it whole. That word, curious readers?

Surplus.

Ohhh, sweet, sweet surplus. How we have longed to embrace you all these dark, dank days filled with deficits and debt. Let us never part again, shall we? Not? That is to say, tongue tied as I am in your magnificent presence, may we be together forever and never leave each other’s sight. Ever.

How long has it been, dearest one, since your name upon our lips last passed? Last year? 2010? 2009? 2008. 2007. 2006. 2005. 2004… Every fucking year, year after fucking year, Toronto has a surplus. It pretty much has to since the province mandates against municipalities running any sort of deficit on their annual operational side. It would be news only if we didn’t have a surplus not when we do. Because we always do.

No, any surplus news should involve how we went about achieving said surplus. Increases in revenues? Decrease in costs? A healthy mix of both? An unhealthy mix?

For a couple reasons that angle’s not really in the best interest of our current administration. One, while very revenue generating shy (or tax hating in the common parlance), Team Ford would have to accentuate their approach to surplus delivery has not made them wildly popular. Call it ‘finding efficiencies’ or ‘service adjustments’ all you want, it still strikes some especially those directly affected as the exact same as service and program cuts, user fees replacing tax increases. Things Mayor Ford campaigned on never implementing.

More importantly however, any talk of operating budget surpluses being par for the course in Toronto lays waste to the claim that brought the mayor and other hawks to power. It was all about out of control tax-and-spending, costly union appeasing, money burning on sweetheart deals, complete and utter breakdown of order on taxpayer respecting. “Toronto’s financial foundation is crumbling,” Mayor Ford pronounced, not long after using hundreds of millions of surplus dollars from the Silly Socialist David Miller regime to stuff holes in his first budget.

Hold on there, bucko. A David Miller surplus? Hardly. A one-time savings is all. An annual savings that happen every year. Don’t count on that regularly.

Besides much of that repeated one-time savings comes from the loathed Land Transfer Tax and, based as it is on real estate, we know how volatile that is. So undependable we need to get rid of it altogether to free ourselves from such instability. Once we do that, then we can start talking about a strong, stable surplus.

Maybe.

Unless of course widows and orphans come knocking at our door, thinking we’re suddenly flush with cash to spend on their little ‘nice to haves’. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande will know just what to say to nip that in the bud. “I don’t call it a surplus, I call it a positive variance.” Words matter. So get the hell off my lawn.

To ensure all hatches are battened down on the HMS Tightfisted, council’s surplus deniers also delight in pointing out the capital side of things. Plenty of unfunded liabilities there, folks. Any surplus—I mean, ‘positive variance’–must be rolled over onto capital expenses. Otherwise… otherwise… Even former Ford chief of staff and campaign honcho, tough as nails Nick Kouvalis wets his pants at mention of our capital budget outlook. “What’s the Capital Budget deficit,” he tweeted. “Why do reporters not talk about the real issues?”

OK, Nick. Let’s talk about real issues. Let’s talk about our capital budget.

Yeah, it’s big. That tends to happen when big cities need big capital projects like public transit and infrastructure. Just comes with the territory.

It may appear insurmountable to those whose politics are defined exclusively by lowering taxes and cutting spending. So I get why you blanch at those numbers. How the hell can we afford everything that makes a city liveable and prosperous?

Well, we certainly can’t cut our way there. The city manager, Joe Pennachetti said as much earlier this year, suggesting there’s not more than $100 million left in efficiencies to find in the budget. How many subways stops will that buy us? Contracting out some of the city’s waste collection might, might, save us $11 million a year. Contracting out cleaning services looks to save another $800 000. Won’t make a dent on capital costs.

Senior levels of government have largely walked away from their obligations to cities and caught up as they are in the downward spiral of austering us from rocky economic times shouldn’t be expected back any time soon. That well is as good as dry for the time being.

So we’re going to have to figure this out on our own. Operating budget surpluses or one-time savings or positive variances, whatever you want to call them, is the easy part. Everyone does it. Everyone has to. That’s not newsworthy.

What I want to know is how you’re going to spend the money necessary to keep Toronto from collapsing under the weight of small-minded frugality masking as rock solid fiscal stewardship.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


Conservative Conundrum

September 14, 2012

As the football shit show builds and swirls around Mayor Rob Ford, much chatter continues about his re-election chances in 2014, if there are any re-election chances for him once the courts and city’s Integrity Commissioner are done with him. Who from the left will run against him? Adam? Shelley? Does the barrage of accusations and criticism hinder them or only serve to strengthen the mayor’s core support?

But I’m sitting here wondering, what are the Ford Follies doing to the right wing at council?

Surely, the mayor and his councillor-brother must be hurting the brand. Whatever accomplishments they may try to lay claim to are now getting lost in the disbelief shuffle. Repealed the VR–Sorry, I can’t hear you above the din of special assistant/assistant football coaches. Settled city workers’ contracts without hav—What’s that you’re saying? Apparently city owned cars were used to chauffeur around football players. Cut councillor office expenses. You’re kidding, right. Cut councillor office expenses? Ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha. Hahahahahahahah…!

Before becoming mayor, Rob Ford made few allies at City Hall. That was his schtick, the whole lone wolf outsider, giving the straight goods on council waste, nefariousness and gravy train riding. He manned the parapets of eagle-eyed fiscal conservatism.

As mayor, Ford was able to pull together a loose coalition largely through the bullying use of the power of his office. Sure, there are a handful of true hearted believers in the Fordian crusade to cut spending at the municipal level to the barest of the bare minimum and keep taxes unworkably low. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande. Speaker Frances Nunziata. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

But what about the likes of councillors Mark Grimes and Norm Kelly or newcomers like councillors Vincent Crisanti and Gary Crawford? Bona fide, hard core supporters of the cause or just simply along for the ride? It could be argued that Councillor Crisanti owes his fledging career to the mayor’s efforts to unseat former Ward 1 councillor, Suzan Hall. If he keeps his dingy tied to the current ship of state, doesn’t he risk drowning if the whole contraption goes under?

Where does the latest mayoral imbroglio leave councillors Paul Ainslie and Peter Milczyn, both of whom are going about their business, trying to do interesting things within their sphere of influence at City Hall. They owe their positions to Mayor Ford’s appointment largesse. Just how far does their allegiance go because of that? Not to mention Councillor Milczyn was targeted for defeat in the last election by the Ford campaign. He must be itching for a little payback right around about now.

Council conservative stalwarts like Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson and David Shiner have already openly defied the mayor on certain issues (as has Councillor John Parker in a supporting role). Mayor Ford’s weakened position can only encourage further independence and, in the case of Councillor Stintz, a solidifying of leadership in her position as TTC chair. If he wasn’t a non-issue on the transit file before this summer’s series of flaps, he most definitely is now.

Then there’s the wildcard, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti. A long time foe of Rob Ford right up until he suspended his campaign for mayor in the late summer of 2010, he effortlessly flip-flopped and became a BFF, soaking up the power that comes with sitting at the mayor’s right hand. Why would anyone be surprised if he just as easily reverts back to previous form now that Mayor Ford’s shining star has dimmed significantly? Where’s Councillor Mammoliti been for the last month or so?

In fact, outside of Councillor Ford, the Deputy Mayor and the Speaker, very few of the mayor’s inner circle have rushed to his defence. Fear based loyalty is not all that binding. A marriage of convenience dissolves when it’s no longer convenient. What allegiance to him remains in conservative circles at City Hall is little more than a delicate balance, keeping their distance while espousing similar fiscal policies. Kill the messenger if you must but don’t abandon the message.

If the mayor staggers through all this and is still up for a run at re-election, will other conservatives stand back and allow him to be their standard bearer? That would seem suicidal. Even if Mayor Ford could stage such an improbable comeback, it’s hard to fathom how he would have the coat tails to seriously re-configure council in his favour. So, you’d be facing another four years of council deadlock with little input from the mayor.

It strikes me that a golden opportunity is forming for a moderate conservative candidate to mount a successful campaign for mayor in 2014 even if the nebulous left puts up only one credible opponent. Think about it. Mayor Ford will always have his core support. Pick a number. 20, 25% of voters? Could it be much higher if he continues to alienate every newspaper in this city?

So a right of centre candidate steps up, picks off all the soft Ford support that has abandoned him and claims the middle. All those Torontonians who still believe in small government, low taxes, accountability. What’s that, half the 2010 Ford votes and a sizeable chunk of George Smiterman’s supporters? That would be some hefty number to contemplate.

There’s been much idle chatter since, well probably, October 26th, 2010 about possible winning match-ups against Mayor Ford down the road in 2014. Most of it has involved coming up with 1 candidate from the left side of the political spectrum in order to avoid vote splitting. But I think the real split, the actual divide that’s happening now not 2 years hence is on the right. It’s a split between the dwindling Ford camp and conservatives who still believe in the competency and conscientiousness of government. The bridge between them has been burned and there’s really no going back.

analytically submitted by Cityslikr


One City

June 27, 2012

So, if this is what’s possible when a city doesn’t have a mayor, I move a motion to abolish the office entirely.

Imagine if you will (and I normally hate doing this but bear with me), former Mayor David Miller at the height of his popularity, early on in his second term, back before there was even a thought about a garbage strike, in the halcyon days of Transit City wishful thinking, where it all seemed possible. Imagine his initial transit expansion proposal containing the kind of funding strategy now being put forth for what’s being called One City.  Actually, you don’t have to imagine it.

Replace the snarling photo of the current TTC Chair with a snarling pic of David Miller and Bob’s yer uncle. David Miller never had the political support to put forward a transit plan with a hike in property taxes at its heart. Ironically, at least in part, due to councillors like Karen Stintz and other members of the Responsible Government Group who viewed their role as primarily defenders of the mythical taxpayers’ wallets rather than any sort of city builders.

That’s not a knock against our current TTC Chair. Politicians should be allowed to evolve. Never trust one who doesn’t.

Which is exactly how we have found ourselves where we are today. A transit plan born from intransigence. (Thank you. Thank you very much. Next show at 10pm.)

In the crater left behind from the spectacular crash-and-burn of Mayor Ford’s woefully ill-thought out Subways! Subways! Subways! The People Want Subways plan, One City springs forth. Not a replacement for the reinstatement of parts of the Miller era Transit City plan that council salvaged from under the mayor’s fist earlier this year; a supplement and an addition. On paper anyway, a huge fucking addition.

Is it at all feasible? Too early to tell. Yes, there are holes in the plan as critics more thoughtful than those from the Toronto Sun are already pointing out. Matt Elliott gives a good opening summation today at the Urban Compass. Politically motivated placement of some subway lines. A sole reliance on property taxes for funding. Some hopeful finger-crossing for involvement from our senior levels of government.

But the important aspect of One City at this juncture should not be sniffily dismissed. An actual funding mechanism put on the table for discussion. You know, how we think we might pay for expanding our transit system.

After two years or so of absolute make believe, that somehow we could build subways for nothing and get our chicks for free, the children have been told to run along and play outside so the adults can have a grown-up chat. We’re done indulging Mayor Ford’s ‘The city doesn’t have a revenue problem’ schtick and are ready now to take up his predecessor’s challenge. You want a liveable city? You gotta pay the price.

Boom! Right there gets tossed a grenade into the ideological bunker that’s long hampered this city’s attempts to upgrade absolutely necessary infrastructure. Fiscal conservative Karen Stintz, coupled with traditional tax-and-spender Glenn De Baeremaeker step forward together and lay out a vision – yes, that vision thingie. Here’s what we could do. Here’s how we could pay for it. Any questions?

Only ideologues are going to reject One City based purely on the fact it involves a tax increase. Oh hello. What’s that you’re saying, Mayor Ford?

“I will not and cannot support the plan. The taxpayers can’t afford it.”

Councillor Ford?

“It’s a tax city plan, it’s not a One City plan.”

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong?

 A “massive, backdoor tax increase.”

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti

Blargh, blargh, blargh. Cat food.

What the mayor and his dwindling minions might not yet realize is that the agenda for the remainder of his term has now been established. Campaign 2014 officially kicked off. And it’s not going to swing on the right-left axis they so hope it does.

This will be about city building. What we’re prepared to pay for the services we need. Team Ford has already shown they are willing to pay for nothing and are content to get nothing. Shrug. Hey. We kept your taxes low and packed your buses past capacity. 4 More Years! 4 More Years!

Today, with One City, councillors of varying political stripes brushed aside such vapid sloganeering and laid out a plan that asks the city’s residents to reach into their pockets in order to bring our transit system up to speed for the 21st-century. It’s got nothing to do with political ‘sides’. It’s about responsible governance and responsible citizenship.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr