C Is For ‘Conservative Country Mouse’

April 24, 2012

Hardly equipped to wade into the fallout of last night’s Alberta election except to say that both pollsters and more right wing types from the ‘Calgary School’ and on the interwebs must be feeling a little glum today.

“In Alberta yesterday, voters were given a choice between Principled Conservatism and Unprincipled Conservatism,” The Clown At Midnight wrote. “And Unprincipled Conservatism – populism — won the day. Boy, did they ever win the day…We can stop pretending that just because our views are principled, people will share them.”

The day before the election, University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins established what exactly was at stake on a segment of the CBC’s Sunday Edition. “This is the big question right now. What do Albertans want? Do they want to be true conservatives on the right or are Albertans actually drifting to the left?”

Apparently a majority of Albertans aren’t principled or true enough conservatives for some. But I’ll leave them to battle that one out.

What did jump out at me, though, from a city perspective was a glaring urban-rural/moderate-right wing divide. Once again, cities proved to be the righter wing’s Waterloo. The Wildrose Party won only two ridings in Calgary and none Edmonton. Since more than half the Albertan provincial seats are located in those two places, that’s a mountain the party’s going to have to scale at least partially if they ever want to form the government.

Which isn’t really the strong suit of the more hardcore conservative ideologues. Cities and true, principled conservatives seem to go together like oil and water, birds of different feathers or, in terms that a Wildrose supporter might understand, the Hatfields and McCoys. They don’t quite get us. They scare us.

At the federal level, Conservatives were able to pick off enough suburban ridings especially here around Toronto to form their majority government. What did we get in return? A pedestrian tunnel to our second, smaller airport. How about a national transit strategy? Yeah, no. We’re not that close.

Conservative city love (CCL) has traditionally never really been a thing. All those great unwashed huddled there, causing trouble back in the olden days. Now, joined by champagne sipping socialists demanding we scale back car use and pay $9 for free trade coffee. What’s with these people? Cities are just somewhere you go to work and get the hell out of at 5pm.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to exploit those antiquated divisions, it’s simply becoming bad policy, and not just at the local levels, but provincially and federally as well. Senior levels of government neglect of public transit is threatening the economic well being of the region, the province and country. A ‘national tragedy’ according to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. A little overwrought perhaps but certainly a national crisis.

“Gridlock and congestion impede our mobility and productivity on a daily basis,” claims the not unconservative Toronto Board of Trade. Red Tory John Tory and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance are spearheading a regional transportation initiative. “Making it easier to move people, goods and services across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is critical to our region’s economic, social and environmental prosperity.” “We have far outgrown our existing transportation infrastructure, which is not meeting the current or future needs of our growing region. This outdated system is hampering our ability to realize the rich potential of our region.”

Cities matter. Overwhelmingly, Canadians are living in cities. To ignore that fact and use outmoded electoral distribution to subvert the changing demographics is ultimately undercutting the country’s future.

It also may be self-defeating in the long run for politicians who exploit it.

In our review of Tim Falconer’s book, Drive, way back when, (an aside here: come out to the launch of his latest book next Monday. There will be drinking involved.) we excitedly noted one of the conclusions he came to after driving his way across the good ol’ U.S. of A.  “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.”

We become more liberal, shall we say?

If that’s so, politicians continue to ignore us, defy us, demonize us at their peril. As more and more voters get wise to city ways, it will pay fewer political dividends to cast them as the enemy within. Just ask the Wildrose Party today.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr


From Circus To Freak Sideshow

March 2, 2012

You guys see that too, don’t you? Or I mean, you don’t see it either, right? It’s not just me. It’s not not just me. It’s not just not me. Not just me not. I’m not crazy, am I?

Apparently, there’s this tussle going on between two competing transit plans for the city. One side’s pushing LRT technology that a lot of the world is using, and has full funding in place for 3 new lines and another replacement one. In the other corner sit subway proponents, all juiced about burying any new piece of public transit at the cost of 3 of the LRT lines while still being woefully short of money to complete it.

So you see the problem I’m having here. There really isn’t any sort of battle or war between two equal and viable alternatives. One is currently funded and all ready to go, and was from about 2007 until the plug was pulled a little over a year ago by a mayor who didn’t have a workable alternative as much as he had a mirage, a notion, a flight of fancy untethered to any semblance of reality.

So it’s more of a shadow boxing match. No. It’s like a vampire shadow boxing match. Vampire’s still cast no shadows, right kids? Or is it you can’t see their reflection in a mirror?

What I’m saying is that there is no there there. Mayor Ford is attempting to make something fly that wasn’t designed for flight. And the more he continues to hold out, stamp his feet and demand subways, the more surreal the whole thing becomes.

Yesterday was some sort of esquie-esque combination of Kafka/Fellini/Carnival-esque as Team Ford desperately scrambled around to convince anyone who would listen that everything was good to go. You see, the previous day the mayor, having been rebuffed by city council and let down by his very own Sheppard subway report from Gordon Chong, turned to his much vaunted private sector and huddled together for a little confab with his closest developer peeps, some friendly councillors and sandwiches. Emerging from his office a couple hours later, he announced they were good to go, everybody loves subways, everybody’s going to pony up, problem solved.

Except, as with many of Mayor Ford’s transit claims, there was ample space between the truth and full-fledged fantasy. Newspaper coverage told a slightly different story. “[Toronto Board of Trade president Carol] Wilding indicated support for subways wasn’t unanimous…” On the notion of increased development fees, Councillor Peter Milczyn said “…developers in the meeting weren’t keen on that idea…”

City staff has taken the temperature of private sector interest in laying down some upfront bucks on subways and found it more than a little tepid. “This model doesn’t work. There is a huge (funding) gap,” said one staff. “The private sector want certainties (but) these revenue streams are risky. They are based on a ‘build it and they will come’ view. It’s not a sure thing…And there are huge political risks.”

Gulp.

A more deliberate or reflective politician might take a step back at this point, breathe deeply and go to plan B. But here’s the thing. Mayor Ford doesn’t have a plan B on transit. How can you when your plan A doesn’t even qualify as a plan? It’s nothing more than a loose collection of largely contradictory fleeting thoughts being touted as a mandate based not on a persuasive argument but by some creepy sounding ‘moral authority’ that Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong actually tried floating. His Worship does not need to explain himself to you. He’s the Mayor! He shall clap His hands and there will be subways!

If only, huh? Without any divine intervention of that sort, the mayor and his morally authorized mandate is looking down the barrel of new taxes (and some old… Hello, VRT. Where you been hiding, gorgeous?), levies, tolls to get his subway built, and if there’s one thing Mayor Ford promised more than even subways was…

Sigh.

With glimmers of movement that he was willing to budge on the issue of not completely hating taxes with a passion other people hold toward baby killers, the through the looking glass quotient went through the roof. What? Mayor Rob Ford was actually leading us in having an adult conversation on the necessity of taxation in building a better city? That’s crazy talk. Crazy talk.

And then, of course, by yesterday afternoon we weren’t having that conversation. Brother-Councillor Doug went DEFCON 1, pressing the button on any talk about tax/toll/levy increases or any other instruments of the Devil. “We are against all taxes,” Councillor Ford said. “All taxes are evil as far as I am concerned.” Right then. So, I’ll mark you down as undecided then, shall I? Lotteries, casinos are the way we should be going, according to Councillor Ford, TorontoReno. Except folks at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. aren’t as convinced that was a good idea. “I would have told them right off the bat,” stated Paul Godfrey, OLG’s chairman of the board, “this is a project that has no chance of being successful at all.”

Undeterred, the mayor fell back into line, snuffing out any future tax increase on cars for the rest of his natural life. “I will guarantee that were will never be a tax on cars again,” he told John Tory. Over my dead body, pushing up tulips. Or maybe that was Doug.

The shitshow didn’t feature just the Ford brothers. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said he would send back any money intended to build an LRT along Finch Avenue in his ward, and his constituents would wait 50 years if they had to for subway instead. This, three years after fully embracing the LRT for Finch. The leader of the provincial opposition, Tim Hudak, got in on the act, saying he would disregard any vote by council and build subways. Asked if he would chip in more money to fund that construction, Mr. Hudak demurred, yeah well, no. What do you think? Money grows on trees?

By day’s end, we were right back where we started. The mayor wanting subways he didn’t have the money to build and unwilling to even consider the most logical, straightforward revenue streams to help get the funding in place. And that’s the plan council and its LRT almost Transit City in everything but name was up against.

A couple days ago, we evoked Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta as the movie character our mayor seemed a lot like in his stubborn drive for subways. Today we’re thinking the resemblance is more Elwood P. Dowd with his invisible white rabbit transit plan, Harvey. “Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Evidently, the mayor, his brother and all those still willing to follow them down their transit rabbit hole are hoping to recreate a little bit of that movie magic.

— barkerly submitted by Cityslikr


The Hill They Died On

January 20, 2012

(John Bowker is a community activist living in Ward 19, and the owner of She Said Boom! Records and Books. In 2010, he was featured in the CBC Radio One documentary series, Civic Muscle, and this week he spoke to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway about the budget process.)

*  *  *

“This is clearly a slap to the office of the Mayor,” spat Cllr Giorgio Mammoliti during Tuesday’s budget meeting. Mayor Rob Ford compared his council colleagues to greedy dogs who can’t resist food placed in front of them. And NOW summed up the City Council session with a triumphant, “Ford’s budget fails.”

And what exactly was in this Ford-slapping, dog’s breakfast of a budget that made the pinkos at NOW so happy? Well, it includes: spending cuts of over $300 million, over 1,000 municipal workers laid off, over $100 million banked against future debt, and a property tax increase that was below the rate of inflation. Not exactly a pinko victory.

But this was a defeat for radical conservatism, even if it remains a victory for actual conservatism. And even if you are not actually conservative, that’s still a victory worth celebrating.

The ”radical conservative” label has been thrown around a lot lately, only to be shrugged off by the mayor, who pointed out, quite rightly, that his budget proposals were not nearly as apocalyptic as some had originally feared. He described his budget as “smart, reasonable, responsible” and accused his council opponents of fear-mongering.

But a “smart, reasonable, responsible” conservative would never have risked losing control of City Hall over a lousy $19 million in reversed cuts – a pittance compared to the $9.3 billion budget. While Cllr Josh Colle and his fellow centrists were prepared to accept almost all of the mayor’s austerity budget, this $19 million represented cuts to programs their constituents told them were particularly important: cuts to the library, the TTC, to pools, to arenas, to the arts, to the environment, to shelters, to at-risk communities. All this just to save $19 million? The centrists decided it wasn’t worth it.

A mere $19 million separated the mayor from the centrists. He could have reversed these small but high-impact cuts, and still have claimed a major victory for a solidly conservative budget. But instead, Ford and his allies chose this $19 million to become, in the words of Cllr Denzil Minnan-Wong, “a hill to die on.” And that’s what was radical. Because by risking everything over $19 million, Ford and his allies showed that their agenda wasn’t really about the money. It was about teaching us all a lesson.

A few days ago, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande accused his wobbly council colleagues of seeking “short term gratification,” a strange term to apply to people trying to save programs they do not personally benefit from, many in other councillors’ wards. With the same language Pope Benedict uses when critiquing modernity, Del Grande seemed to suggest it was somehow sinful for councillors to want libraries or homeless shelters to remain open, for impoverished kids to have access to pools, or for commuters to have some elbow room on a bus. As with his controversial remarks about parental responsibility and school breakfasts, it’s clear he frames budget issues less in terms of trade-offs and priorities, and more in terms of Right and Wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having values; the problem is when you use the power of City Hall to steamroll constituents who have clearly shown they do not share them.

It was with similarly religious conviction that Mayor Ford drew two lines in the budget sand. First, he declared that the residential property tax increase would be 2.5%, “not “2.6%, not 2.7%, not 2.9% not 3%.” There was nothing special about this number except its tidiness; the inflation rate is currently 2.89%, and even the Toronto Board of Trade felt an increase of 3% was more appropriate. This rate would have provided the funds necessary to satisfy the needs of centrist councillors, while remaining within Ford’s second line in the sand: that every penny of the $154 million surplus be banked for capital purchases. Mayor Ford’s rigidity on the surplus is odd given that he banked exactly none of the previous year’s $367 million surplus, but instead used it for tax cuts. For the sake of $19 million, an actual conservative would have been willing to be flexible to keep centrists on board and maintain control of the agenda at City Hall; but this would have tainted the purity of the budget’s “message,” and a radical conservative could never allow that.

A few years ago, Cllr Karen Stintz famously slammed Mayor David Miller for focussing on “bags, bottles, bicycles.” She was arguing that City Council had better things to do than provide moral instruction in the proper management of groceries, the consumption of water, or one’s preferred method of transportation. Fair or not, Stintz had a point: no one likes being lectured to by their government. And so it is ironic that Stintz found herself pushing a right-wing mirror image of what she once condemned, abandoning pragmatic governance for the sake of moralistic abstractions. Hopefully she, along with Mayor Ford and other conservatives on council, will now look into the mirror and restore the principles of realism, continuity and accountability that used to define “conservatism” in this city.

Centrist councillors ultimately supported a conservative budget, but they refused to be enlisted in a culture war against the citizens of Toronto. For those of us who are tired of sermons from our elected representatives, this is a radical change we should welcome.

submitted by John Bowker


Finding The Better Way

November 10, 2011

A political case could probably be made for Premier Dalton McGuinty, his Minister of Municipal Affairs, Kathleen Wynne, and Transportation, Bob Chiarelli, to seize the moment and reframe the transit debate in Toronto. Our mayor has been staggered by a series of largely self-induced setbacks. He no longer commands a vaunted political force (if he ever did) under the banner of Ford Nation. His Transportation City plan is fraying around its already fuzzy edges. While not needing to shore up support in Toronto or the GTA, the Liberal government could lock it down for the foreseeable future by being seen to elevate the transit issue in importance here.

But really, should a political case have to be made stepping up for transit? Look around, listen. It’s not just car-hating, bike riding, downtown pinko elites demanding action. Carol Wilding and the Toronto Board of Trade have been beating the drum for a while now. Transit planning and funding have not kept up pace with the growth of this city and region. It is a situation now past the point of deleteriousness. Not just for Toronto or the GTA but for the province and the country. (Uh oh. Is that an example of the self-importance the rest of Canada hates us for? Ah, fuck `em. Oops. Too smug?)

If a politician wants to leave a positive mark, a legacy if you will, at some point of time they have to step forward and do the right thing and not just the expedient or most popular. Take a stand on an issue that may not curry them favour with a wider swath of the electorate but says, this needs to be done. Fifty years ago, for no discernible reason aside from Cold War fuelled hyper patriotism, President Kennedy exhorted his country to send a man to the moon. Less than a decade later, mission accomplished. Surely to christ we’re capable of building a viable transit system or, at least, a working portion of one in that kind of time.

It’s hard to see how, however, as our functionaries continue to play footsie instead of getting down to serious business. Witness yesterday’s ceremonial breaking of ground for the Eglinton crosstown LRT and the insipid press release it inspired. Jobs! Secure future! Jobs! New global economy! Jobs! Did we mention Jobs!

Unwritten went the fact that under the rejigged plan for the Eglinton LRT that now sees it buried underground for most of its 25 kilometres or so, sinking funds for the previously planned LRTs along Finch and Sheppard along with it, there’s uncertainty about how exactly to cross the Don Valley. Can you say cost overruns and delays? The $650 million in ‘leftover funds’ from building the Eglinton LRT has already dwindled to about $200 million before construction has barely begun, none of which is being fronted by the province to the mayor in order for him to help jump start development of an extension for the Sheppard subway which he promised could be built entirely with private funding. It has now been downgraded to a station by station concept, pay as you go kind of thing that will only succeed in keeping Toronto further and further behind the necessary transit curve.

A brewing monumental clusterfuck is what we’re facing and it’s time for the province to forcefully step in and get this thing back on track. It should be clear by now that Mayor Ford and his team is not up to the task. In fact, a convincing argument could be made the he is now nothing more than an obstacle to transit planning in this city.

At least make the case that before we proceed much further this has to go back to city council for a more serious debate and vote. We’re no longer talking about a simple rearranging of funds that had already been allocated to build transit. There’s going to have to be additional money provided by someone. It’s hard to see how another environmental assessment can be avoided whatever way they come up with as a plan to cross the Don Valley along Eglinton. This is now beyond the scope of simply the mayor and the TTC. The entire city council, and the city itself needs to have a say in how we go forward.

Now I thought that was the case right from the beginning when the mayor declared Transit City dead. I didn’t see how he could do that single-handedly and most of those who sprang to his defence did so with greyish technicalities. I was surprised the Premier played along. In hindsight, I’m glad he did. Mayor Ford’s popularity was higher than it is now, his clout more substantial. He just might’ve been able to bury Transit City for good and we’d be right back to scratch as we seem to find ourselves regularly on the transit portfolio.

Forced to sell his plan to council now, the outcome is nowhere near as foregone. With the bad news keep on a-coming, what councillor in their right mind would stand up to be counted as backing the mayor’s Transportation City plan? It’s going to cost more and deliver less transit to the city. Yes, if we go with Transit City, there’ll be ‘streetcars’ back on the street but that’s his millstone to bear. How many councillors went out on the hustings touting that to voters?

No, Transit City is not perfect. The province made it a little less so when it blinked in the face of a darkening economy a couple years ago and pulled some funding back off the table. But it still delivers reliable transit to parts of the city that will continue to be woefully underserved without it. Let’s call it a reasonable start to an increasingly daunting problem facing us.

An argument could be made to let the mayor dangle further, bluster ahead with his plan and watch it disintegrate further with each successive misstep. That will only squander valuable time and money both of which are at a premium presently with very little prospect of any increased rosiness in the near future. It’s time to stop playing political football with this, push aside the mayor and get on with building proper transit with the serious intent he’s shown no inclination in having.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr


These Happy Days Are Yours And Mine

March 6, 2011

It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile Mayor Ford’s approach to governing and his relatively young age. Just into his 40s, the Ford Nation feels more and more like one ruled by an octogenarian. Maybe it’s because the mayor’s blinkered sensibility is formed exclusively by his view out over his suburban backyard and through his windshield. City life, to his way of thinking, as depicted by the seminal documentary of the 1950s, Happy Days.

The latest manifestation of this is the mayor’s declared War on Graffiti. Signaling an about-face from an earlier decision just after the mayor was elected to target graffiti only on a complaint basis, the city issued over 150 removal notices along Queen Street in just 10 days, catching business owners and the local BIA by surprise in the process. The removal notices appear to make no distinction between your run of the mill graffiti and commissioned murals, bringing to mind a variation on that old standard, I may not know much about art but I know what I don’t like.

This follows an earlier eyebrow raiser last month when the Brickworks received notice for 13 graffiti violations. That chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee that polices matters of graffiti, Councillor Cesar Palacio, has somewhat softened his original hard line stance that graffiti is graffiti, comes as little consolation in light of the Queen Street blitz. The city’s aggressive proactive approach puts the onus on homeowners and businesses to prove that they’re not besmirching the cityscape with graffiti regardless if there have been any complaints from neighbours, belying the mayor’s claim to be looking out for the little guy.

So the mayor campaigned on a promise of taking City Hall’s hands out of the taxpayers’ pockets but seems to have little compunction in unleashing the bureaucracy on them if they don’t measure up to his artistic or community standards.

Which must be a trait of his strain of Tea Party-like reactionary conservatism. As Bill Maher said on his show Friday night, in the U.S. the Tea Party got elected on a straight forward platform of slaying government spending and debt but has quickly moved on to things like attacking collective bargaining, reproductive rights and almost everything else with a progressive stench of secularism. Mayor Ford has similarly set his sights outside of the fiscal realm. He’s trying to push LRTs underground. He’s asked the province to declare the TTC an essential service. Now this wading into public order with an ill-defined, if-I-don’t-like-or-understand it assault on graffiti, he’s revealing his inner non-libertarian and very authoritarian self.

Mayor Ford’s also exposing an attitude toward urbanism that is decades behind the times. A clean, whitewashed main street, full of mom and pops stores, soda shops and cruising the drag on a Saturday night. (No, most definitely not that kind of cruising or drag.) It is an intolerance to differing opinions and tastes, chock full of patronizing father-knows-bestism. Not to mention counter-productive and, ultimately, carrying an additional financial burden to households and small business owners. Eliminating commissioned murals clears out space for less agreeable forms of graffiti and tagging which those owning the buildings will have to constantly spend time and money dealing with. It also appropriates police resources which surely would be put to better use on more pressing issues the city faces.

All in pursuit of what? In a speech he gave to the Board of Trade earlier this year, the mayor said “It’s [graffiti] just out of control. Nobody likes it. It doesn’t help our city. I want people to come to the city and say wow this is spotless, and it is safe.” Note the mental myopia. The world seen only through his eyes. I don’t like graffiti so nobody likes graffiti. It’s stunningly monochromatic and reveals a remarkable lack of empathy. Never mind the Sunday School logic of equating cleanliness with safety. In addition to the mayor having obviously spent his youth watching the wholesome adventures of Richie, Potsie, Ralph and the Fonz, my guess is he also overdosed on regular viewings of The Warriors.

This is the danger of electing a mayor with such unsophisticated thinking who lacks any sort of wider vision for the city. He governs based purely on pet peeves and petty prejudices. Unchecked, we face four years not looking toward the future but back at an idealized past that never existed except in the minds of those like Mayor Ford.

heyyyyly submitted by Cityslikr


The Numbers Stink (And Other Trash Puns)

February 9, 2011

Is there a reason we can’t get some concrete numbers on the cost of hauling away our garbage and recycling? We must have to budget for it every year, right? So where are the cold hard figures?

Because without them, pricing possible savings from privatizing waste collection is pretty much a crap shoot. I mean, look at the numbers being bandied about. The C.D. Howe Institute suggested last fall that Toronto could save a cool $49 mil/year if it contracted out all its garbage duties. On the campaign trail, Rob Ford said it’d be $20 million. His announcement Monday vowed to reduce our costs by $8 million with privatizing everywhere west of Yonge Street. Yesterday his Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, thought city-wide we could save in the neighbourhood of $16-18 million. Of course, the union involved assured us privatizing garbage collection would cost us money. But we know they’re hardly honest brokers in all this.

It’s enough to make your head spin and get you all discombobulated. Both the Toronto Star’s Royson James and Sue-Ann Levy over at the Sun found the numbers game being played kind of confusing although, to be honest, we have it on good authority that Ms. Levy can become disoriented if given a tangled ball of yarn. While there’s a wave of reaction in favour of outsourcing garbage and recycling collection – our mayor has said government has no business in the refuse business – it’s a sentiment that is based almost exclusively on blind, ideological faith in the notion that the private sector will always be more efficient and less costly than the public sector. I’d really like to see some numbers to back that claim up.

As the former mayor of Etobicoke back in the 90s, Doug Holyday privatized garbage collection there and now claims it saves $2 million annually. That’s great if true, Mr. Hoylday, but could I see it in writing? Not that I don’t believe you or anything but as the architect of garbage privatization, you’ve got some vested interest in trumpeting that number as a fact. In her column on Monday, Ms. Levy dismisses out of hand union assertions on costs as ‘nonsense’ while embracing whole-heartedly the information she gets from a group calling itself the Ontario Waste Management Association. The OWMA, you say? Who’s that? 300 private sector companies, some of whom, arguably, will stand to gain from the outsourcing of Toronto’s garbage and recycling collection.

The numbers they bandy about are in almost direct opposition to those provided by the folks over at the Progressive Economics Forum who seem to have examined the pro-privatization arguments put forth by the C.D. Howe and Toronto Board of Trade and found both wanting. In his post yesterday, Toby Sanger shows the city of Ottawa saving money with their unionized city employees collecting garbage in the downtown core. After studying the issue, Peterborough decided against outsourcing its garbage collection.

Now, I’m no economist (although I do have an uncle who played one on TV’s Beachcombers years ago), so I can’t say for certain who’s right and who’s wrong on this issue. The numbers just aren’t there. Every professed cost saving on one side can be countered by an argument of increases from the other. And yes, the dividing line is almost exclusively drawn through the swamp of ideology.

What is clear however is that the issue of outsourcing public sector services is a complex matter. The black and white manner in which garbage privatization here in Toronto is being promoted is not based on anything resembling a solid argument. Asserting that bringing in the private sector will save us money and increase efficiency and throwing out any old number that suits you’re fancy is meaningless and, ultimately, harmful if you turn out to be incorrect. Before rushing in and taking this very significant step based solely on biased opinion and tainted, dubious research, how be you start showing us the money.

number crunchingly submitted by Cityslikr


Deputations And Disregard

January 20, 2011

Let it be a given that annual public consultations on City Hall’s proposed budget are, always have been and always will be an exercise in, if not futility, let’s call it pretense. The people talk. City councillors (at least, those with a hand in crafting the budget) pretend to listen. A show trial of democracy without all the messiness of executions afterward.

So I hesitate to suggest that the consultations currently underway for budget 2011 are any more of a façade than previous ones but some councillors and the mayor seem to be jettisoning even the pretense of pretending. After hearing overwhelmingly from deputants telling him that they’d prefer no service cuts to tax cuts, Mayor Ford claimed that, “Obviously people want a zero-percent tax increase. I’ve heard it from all over.” Someone get the mayor a Q-Tip. Clearly he has some waxy build-up.

And after a particularly fractious and protracted process in East York, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande reportedly quipped that he “heard lots of numbers but at end of the day, I’m not sure it’s reflective.” Not reflective of what, Councillor Del Grande? The opinion of a vast majority of people who took the time to come out and have their voices heard? Or just not reflective of the opinions of those you agree with?

But, to be fair to the Budget Chief, he had endured what sounded like a grueling quarter of a day or so, defending the proposed budget out in East York. Me? I chose to attend the meeting up in North York as it was much easier to get to from downtown. I’m all about getting involved in the democratic process as long as it doesn’t put me out too much.

The proceedings in the council chambers at the North York Civic Centre were more placid than those, it appears, in East York. One might even call them somnolent. Presided over by a congenial even folksy Councillor Ford, deputants came and went, almost exclusively decrying the budget’s proposed cuts to both services and taxes without raising much of a stir from the other members of the budget committee. Councillors Milczyn, Parker, Shiner, Di Giorgio and Deputy Mayor Holyday rarely interacted with anyone other than themselves, asking few questions of the deputants or providing little to no feedback. Only when those stepping forward to speak heaped praise upon the proposed budget (I counted 4 of the 40 or so deputations doing so) did any of these councillors snap to attention or show even a lick of interest.

In fact, the four hours of deputations could’ve been completed in half the time if it hadn’t been for Councillor Shelley Carroll and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Perruzza. They, along with Councillor Ford, appeared to be the only ones from the council perspective who came to actually listen and react to deputations. Carroll did much more than that. Ask questions, tweet pictures, head up into the crowd to assist deputants who were having trouble figuring out the process. It was the Shelley Show, and when she finished up in North York, she made her way over to the East York location to pitch in there.

To be honest, these deputations are in many ways as much about Carroll’s time as budget chief as they are about the 2011 budget. While the proposed document sets out Mayor Ford’s plan for Toronto, it is also a complete repudiation of the previous administration. Tax and spend. A spending problem not a revenue problem. (Dis)respect For The Taxpayers. That which made The Gravy Train run. All of it (or at least the last 4 years) under Carroll’s fiscal watch.

She is the remaining face of the Miller administration’s power group. The mayor retired voluntarily. His Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, Speaker Sandra Bussin, protégé Adam Giambrone, likewise all gone, less voluntarily. Carroll is the last one standing. She is doing so boldly and unwaveringly.

Carroll was at her best last night when she tangled with the few speakers who heaped praise on the budget for its attacks on spending and taxes but offered little in the way of helpful suggestions about which fat to trim. This includes the Board of Trade’s Carol Wilding who categorically refused to go on the record to say which services she would recommend cutting in order for the city to achieve a budgetary balance. Distancing herself from the dirty business of fiscal belt-tightening, all she would say when asked about cuts was that it was all in the presentation she’d handed out to the councillors.

It was especially invigorating to witness Councillor Carroll verbally pick up the representative from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses by the scruff of the neck and point that, for all his squawking about tax relief for businesses, he had failed to inform his membership and the public at large about the special program the Miller administration had established to help smaller businesses offset property tax increases. Much blubbering and backtracking ensued from Mr. CFIB and no attempted assistance from Councillor Di Giorgio could rescue him. At least, I think it was assistance Di Giorgio was offering. It was never clear exactly what he was up to on the rare occasions he opened his mouth.

Councillor Carroll is emerging as the voice of sanity at City Hall in the face of the Ford juggernaut. She has been relentless in not only defending the spirit of the Miller administration but in insisting on reasonable debate and discussion, conducted in the proper manner using established protocol. She is standing firm in front of the bulldozer Ford and his boys want to take to our municipal government.

She is being assisted certainly by the likes of Councillors Vaughan, Perks, Davis and McConnell. The difference is, the mayor’s supporters will all dismiss these as downtown, pinko, left wing, elitist kooks. That’s a smear they can’t use on Carroll. Despite her high rank in the Miller administration, she has serious big L liberal pedigree (which we don’t hold against her) and represents a suburban ward, deep up in Ford Country. She should be one of them. She’s not. This makes her a formidable foe of the mayor which we should remember and hold onto when things begin to look bleak.

And there will be times over the course of the next 4 years when things will look bleak.

fan boyishly submitted by Cityslikr