Let’s Go Over This One More Time.

April 8, 2015

It’s inconceivable to me that this discussion still has to happen, that a reporter for a local news station feels compelled to shoot a segment on such an obvious topic. saigonshitToronto needs a property tax hike to pay for crumbling infrastructure. Yet, there it is.

As the video shows, a wall of bricks showers down from a community housing building, concrete chunks off a major thoroughfare, subway closures occur frequently due to fires and floods, water mains rupture, roads sinkhole. Splice the visuals together with appropriate smash cuts and you’re left with the impression of a crumbling city, apocalypse now. Toronto. Shit.

Everybody’s got an opinion about why this situation has come to be. A bloated, fat cat bureaucracy, gorging itself on big fat bonuses while the most vulnerable residents live in slum-like conditions. Out-of-control spending on public works projects, over-budget, heavily delayed. Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. Pick your favourite bugaboo. Pink umbrellas and boulders from northern Ontario.pointingfingers

None of these complaints are wrong, necessarily — except for the pink umbrellas and rocks down at Sugar Beach which only reveals a myopic inattention to the bigger picture. Public spending should be heavily scrutinized.  Misspending and misappropriation only heightens an already suspicious belief out there in the public sector. It’s a negative feedback loop, feeding into an always ready to pounce anti-government sentiment.

Yet, do the math and in the scheme of things, added all together, none of these projects or particular bones to pick will make even a dent on the infrastructure needs this city faces. Sure, every little bit counts but every little bit is just that, a little bit, and they don’t count for much, maybe millions when we’re taking billions. We face a far deeper crisis than the easy nickel and dime solutions offered up by the apostles of outrage. We’ve grown content living on the cheap, and living off the hard decisions and sense of community obligation by previous generations.

Amidst all the tales of infrastructure decline and dissolution in Avery Haines’ news segment came the stark fact that we’re paying, in real inflationary adjusted dollars, less in property taxes now than we did back in 2000. That’s right. Less. In 2000, 3 years after amalgamation, 3 years in which there was a property tax rate freeze. hillofbeansWe’re still paying less than that.

Toronto residents pay less in property taxes than many of the GTA’s other municipalities, in some cases significantly less. This is not particularly news to anyone disinclined to think any property tax is too much property tax. During this year’s budget debate Councillor Gord Perks wrote in the Toronto Star that owing to inflation, this city has effectively cut property taxes by 12.4% since amalgamation. Inflation keeps inflating. City council keeps on not keeping up to it. Even all of those ‘through the roof’ over-the-rate-of-inflation property tax rate increases by the profligate David Miller couldn’t help the city’s coffers keep pace.

And Boom! goes the Gardiner. Boom! the brick façade of a TCHC building. Gush! goes the water spout from the busted water main.

And our new-ish mayor, John Tory, shrugs. He was elected by the voters of Toronto to keep property taxes below the rate of inflation. Why? Because he told them anything more than that would be unnecessary. sweepundertherugPlenty of money in the efficiency banana stand, I guess.

“The property taxpayers of Toronto should not be asked to bear those expenses and investments on their own,” Tory said yesterday. “The property tax was never meant to do that.” The mayor’s not wrong. In referring to downloaded social costs like housing and major infrastructure investment in things like public transit, municipalities with their limited revenue gathering base largely on property taxes aren’t supposed to be expected to pay for those big ticket items. Here in Toronto, up until 1995, the provincial government even paid for half of the TTC’s annual operating costs. In 2015, the city is putting nearly $480 million up for that cost. That’s almost one-quarter of a billion dollars that should, in a properly function system, be coming from Queen’s Park. Multiply that by 20 years and, yeah, no wonder our transit system is barely limping into the future, let alone all the other infrastructure needs the city has.

So we can get all pissed off about city council’s quick decision to step up with $90 million to cover shortfalls with the Spadina subway extension, as Ari Goldkind does today in the Star, but it misses the larger debate. cheshirecatThe city shouldn’t be paying for any part of a major transit build. It shouldn’t be contributing anything to the Union-Pearson airport link. Why are we putting up money to renovate a regional transportation route like the Gardiner Expressway?

The province has walked away from its traditional obligations, leaving cities to pick up the slack. That’s what we should really be angry about. That’s the fight we need to be engaged in.

But then we allow the province (along with the federal government to a lesser extent) off the hook, we provide them with their one bit of buckshot of ammunition when we campaign and govern on under-taxation. We’ve given you these revenue tools to deal with the added responsibilities, the province tells Toronto. Why not use them instead of always coming to us for money?

Disingenuous, accompanied with a Cheshire cat grin? You betcha. Download both the obligations and the taxing powers so loathed by the public. citybuildingThank you very much.

Like it or not, that’s where we’re at. By standing idly by, talking about moral and business cases for more investment by the senior levels of government, while deliberately chocking off your own sources of revenue even those not part of the property tax base, is simply being an accomplice to the crumbling of the city. You know there are ways to help, at least, bolster the state of disrepair. They won’t be immediately popular (made even less so by irresponsible campaign pledges that helped get you elected). The alternative, however, is untenable. Unless, of course, you’re comfortable overseeing a city that will continue to decline.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Disobedience

April 7, 2015

Much of the debate during last year’s mayoral campaign revolved around the notion of a return to sanity or, at least, a small sense of normalcy. serenitynowAfter 4 years of Mr. Ford’s wild ride, Toronto needed calm, some peace and serenity. Can we please have a slice of that good ol’ bland boring that should be the centerpiece of municipal politics?

Enter John Tory, bland as bland can be, scion of the establishment, Mr. Sharp Fitting Suit himself. Who better to still our choppy civic waters? There, there, T.O. Everything’ll be alright. Uncle John’s here now. Shhh…Shhhh… Go back to sleep. Everything’s under control.

“Shower of bricks reveals TCHC’s ruined façade,” states the headline of Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star editorial from yesterday in response to a weekend Toronto Star story about “four storeys of brick facing fall from TCHC building in Scarborough”. Ooops! Mash this up with today’s latest TTC breakdown at the St. Clair subway station that stranded thousands and thousands of commuters, waiting for relief lines of buses to get them to work on time.TTChaos

Can we just admit that our troubles run deeper, a whole lot deeper, than the simple matter of who’s running the show? It’s the ideas that matter not the politician. Putting lipstick on a pig and all that.

If the mayor of Toronto isn’t prepared to stare long and hard into the abyss that is this city’s chronic underfunding of, well, pretty much everything, to look up and admit that, yes, in fact we do have a revenue rather than a spending problem, then it really doesn’t matter who’s wearing the chains of office. It’s simply degrees of failure. It could be worse really shouldn’t be a viable option.

During the campaign, John Tory assured Toronto that, as well as restoring a sense of respect and decorum to the office of mayor, he would also improve the city’s rapport with the senior levels of government. wellrespectedmanMr. Tory was well-connected, if nothing else, an acknowledged civic leader of the private sector. How could his relationship be any worse than his predecessors with Queen’s Park, our provincial overlords? The feds, as the feds do, kept a certain non-malevolent distance which could certainly be improved upon with a more delicate but still Tory touch.

It was pretty much an open secret the provincial Liberal government, with a fresh new majority restored, wanted to see John Tory as the next mayor of Toronto. That certainly boded well for improved interaction between the two. I mean, the outgoing mayor and his brother-designate long advocated for the Liberals removal from office. How could we not see an uptick in the relationship?

Now, I’m willing to cut the mayor some slack, agreeing that it takes time to build those kinds of relationships. Still… So far, Queen’s Park has said ‘no’ to any and all requests the city’s made for additional funds for transit, housing, pretty much everything. In fact, we’ve received bills in return for those asks. $95 million as part of the Union-Pearson Express, for example. Oh yeah, and the provincial funding shortfall for the Spadina subway expansion? Toronto and Vaughan need to pick that up. $86 million for the GTA social service pooling fund? eviloverlordYou want a line of credit to deal with that?

This is not something that is new, provincial off-loading of money onto municipalities. The Harris government started it and the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals have not done nearly enough to alleviate it. That’s just a straight-up fact, a thing now 20 years-old.

To continue demanding provincial and federal money as the single plank in your platform of revenue generation is not only stubborn wishful thinking, it is, as walls continue to tumble and subways catch on fire, nothing less than a dereliction of duty. It’s not a plan. It’s avoidance. Why moral persuasion is any more feasible now than it was back when David Miller was going ‘cap in hand’ to the other levels of government isn’t at all clear.

Perhaps John Tory was the farthest thing from being the right mayor at the right time. That’s not to say Doug Ford would’ve been preferable. Both he and his brother looked upon every TCHC repair that needed to be done, every TTC breakdown that occurred, as proof positive of the unsuitability of government to help with folks’ lives.

But John Tory is too conventional in his thinking, too much part of the status quo to be of much use to us right now. (Why else do you think he rails incessantly against the ‘status quo’?) He can’t even stomach the idea of a conversation about tax increases. disobeyRadical is not part of the man’s lexicon and Toronto needs a radical approach.

I don’t know how exactly an orchestrated campaign of intra-governmental civil disobedience would work but that’s where we’re at. As was pointed out last week, Toronto (along with other municipalities) doesn’t have much negotiating power when it comes to dealing with the province. But if it’s true as the mayor likes to tell us that this city is the economic engine of both the province and the country, we could probably start causing some disruptions in order to make some noise.

What form that would take is hard to say. Let’s Big Data it and see if we can’t come up with something. What I do know is that meekly handing over millions and millions of dollars whenever the province asks, and going in camera if need be in order to keep the details from the public, in some sort of self-defeating gesture of good faith or will is probably counter-productive. Hey. The province wants the UPX up and going before some of the world arrives in Toronto for the PanAm Games? Maybe that’s their problem. Queen’s Park wants the subway arriving in Vaughan? Maybe they ought not renege on the money they owe. More to the point, maybe the city shouldn’t be picking up their portion of the tab.

Since John Tory has no real vested interested in the Scarborough subway, perhaps it’s time to hold a gun to that beast’s head. fightbackYou know what Queen’s Park? Maybe we’ll just stick to the LRT after all. That Master Agreement hasn’t been reopened has it? I think that money’s better spent on our billions of dollars of state of good repair.

I’ve often mused that with one budget cycle the city should threaten not to balance its operating budget. With no additional provincial money coming in, in fact with such a regular of outflow going from the city’s coffers to Queen’s Park, we just can’t possibly invest enough in our communities while balancing the operating budget. It’s no longer tenable. If the province demands that municipalities balance their operating budget, then the province needs to come in and do it themselves, either pony up the cash they owe or make the cuts to services and programs such legislation demands of Toronto.

But it’s clear by now that John Tory isn’t the type of politician to upset the applecart. It’s just not in his established, status quo nature. Neither is the make up of the current city council up to that fight, the battle we need to wage.

On the other hand, none of us should breathe some sigh of relief and relax in the false comfort that it could be worse. Could it? And what exactly would that look like? upsettheapplecartWe are best served, I think, remembering that Rob Ford and Ford Nation was not just some anomaly, now quietly placated by the bromide assurances of John Tory. While the messenger was damaged, the message remains defiantly there with every building façade collapse and public transit failure.

This shit, it isn’t working. We need to fix it. By and with any means necessary.

militantly submitted by Cityslikr


Another Never Ending Story

March 31, 2015

Not having a Plan B, Our Strength.

Mayor John Tory holds yet another press conference to inform us what most of us already know. It’s becoming something of a tiresome pattern, quite frankly. The media gathers. The mayor stands behind a podium that bears a action-denoting placard. He states the obvious. Questions dutifully ensue, invariably winding up with some take on, Yes but, Mayor Tory, what about Plan B?

Or in other words:

anexitstrategy

Yesterday, the mayor told us about the crisis at Toronto Community Housing. Did you hear? There’s a state of good repair backlog, billions of dollars long, threatening to shutter thousands of units in less than a decade and send that many+ of our most vulnerable residents looking for affordable housing in a squeezed environment where there’s already a waiting list, tens of thousands of people long, lined up to get into the very housing that’s in jeopardy of being board up. (See the start of this paragraph.)

Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. This is news only if not new news counts as news. Why, during last year’s municipal election campaign, David Hains raised a red flag in his Torontoist article. Betsy Powell painted a similarly grim picture in the Toronto Star. tellussomethingwedontknowEarlier this year, the mayor established a task force to examine the crisis.

We know all this already. What are you going to do about it, is what we’re waiting to hear. What’s the game plan? What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

To urge the other two levels of government to get back into funding social housing. Mayor Tory has both ‘moral and business’ cases to make why this should be. We can get a return on our investment and feel good about ourselves while doing it. A win-win. What the hell’s everyone waiting for?

He’s not wrong. The problem is, he’s not the first person to make this point, not even the first mayor to make it. As Ed Keenan points out today, this is a thing nearly a quarter of a century in the making. (An irony sidebar: the man named to head the aforementioned TCHC task force, Senator Art Eggleton, a former Toronto mayor and member of the Liberal government that initiated this crisis when it began divesting itself of the social housing file, offloading to the provinces, and as with any shit stream, it continued to make its way downhill to municipalities. The circle remains unbroken.)iffisheswerewishes

If wishes were fishes, and all that. Yes, it would be fantastic if the federal and provincial governments came on board and began pulling their weight on housing, public transit. It’s an easy argument to make, that they should feel morally obligated to do so. Ditto economically prudent, such investments in key factors for better functioning communities and cities.

Unfortunately, here we still are. All the stamping of our feet, holding of our breath, tubthumping, begging, pleading, blustering hasn’t changed the dynamics. We ask. The feds and Queen’s Park shrug.

So, what’s the Plan B, Matt Galloway asked the mayor on Metro Morning.

Ever the savvy negotiator, Mayor Tory said that he’s not going to talk about any ‘Plan B’ because then the other governments would just tell us to get stuffed and proceed with Plan B. A little game of chicken we’re watching play out.

Except that, as Brian Kelcey pointed out on the Twitter, that’s not how things work, there’s no negotiation. Municipalities make demands, or if they are more politely inclined, ‘asks’. asifNot for nothing, Ottawa and Queen’s Park are referred to as ‘senior’ levels of government. “They either give, or they don’t.”

And if our mayor sees some sort of spirit of giving at either level of government, well, he’s got better eyes than most of us. Just yesterday, in fact, Oliver Moore reported in the Globe and Mail that the province has informed Toronto and Vaughan that the money it pledged to build the Spadina subway extension is going be a tiny bit short, by about $85 million or so. You two make up the difference, would you? And make sure that thing opens up on time or else!

It’s difficult to the point of snapping any optimistic streak in half to see the province pulling out a wad of dough to put in the TCHC pot, moral persuasion and sound business case be damned. Right now they seem much more interested in drawing cash from Toronto rather than make a deposit. The quicker Mayor Tory accepts that fact, the better. Pretending otherwise will only deepen the crisis and make the work that has to be done even more expensive.

It must be difficult for him, this early in to his term, to come to the realization that his influence, his ability to work with the other levels of government might not be as awesome as he thought it was, convinced Toronto voters he possessed. anofferyoucantrefuseI’m certainly not blaming him for believing that other politicians, regardless of where they plied their trade, would want to do the right thing, the smart thing, the moral thing. Keep. Hope. Alive.

But surely the scales have fallen from the mayor’s eyes by now. The current state of our politics is a dog-eat-dog fight for every public dollar out there. We, cities, the province, the federal government, are not partners. We’re rivals, at best agreeing to a you-scratch-my back and I’ll-scratch-yours relationship, not collaborating but always trying to get the upper hand. Unless Mayor Tory is engaged in a much more elaborate and veiled dance, he’s wasting valuable time, blue-skying it and wishing a wish upon a star.

The mayor’s painted himself into a corner, and I’m trying really hard not to think it was deliberate. Maybe he just believed in the rightness of his cause. outofideasIf a fine upstanding citizen like himself saw the moral and business case for billions of dollars of reinvestment in the TCHC, who could possibly disagree? It’s simply a question of doing the right thing.

The alternative is more disheartening, with the best case scenario having Mayor Tory claiming his hands are tied, he has no other choice but to raise the necessary revenue for the city to invest in TCHC itself. He’s been pretty adamant that the property tax base can’t afford the hit, and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong except for the fact the property tax base is funding the Scarborough subway extension and somehow the property tax base came up with nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. So yeah, priorities.

Taxes are a necessary evil. Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault.

The darker turn, though, is all this being a pretext for yet another assault on TCHC. A firesale. testedWe can’t afford to maintain these homes anymore, and we’ve been left to our own devices by Queen’s Park and Ottawa. Only the private sector can save us now. By turning the stock over, Mayor Tory can later claim he kept true to the pledge he made to Matt Galloway earlier today that TCHC buildings would not be boarded up under his watch.

Probably sooner rather than later, we’re going to see just how much of a moral issue social housing is to Mayor John Tory.

wearily and warily submitted by Cityslikr


A Letter From Our Mayor (With Some Early Edits)

April 25, 2014

mayorrobford

Dear Friends (Folks, really. But I’m trying to be all mayor formal here.),

Over the last few days, we have heard a lot of talk about Toronto Community Housing. (Disregard everything you’ve heard. All of it was lies, political smear jobs and witch hunting.)

I am here today to ask people to put politics aside (Politics in its original meaning, meaning views of those who oppose or disagree with me. Look it up.) and look at what is best for both the staff, and the residents of Toronto Community Housing. (FORD MORE YEARS! FORD MORE YEARS!)

Four years ago, Toronto Community Housing was in a state of disarray – overspending, ineffective operations, and a culture of entitlement (David Miller. BOOGILY-BOOGILY!!) meant that the TCH didn’t work for the people it was supposed to serve.

fordnation

Over $90,000 spent on 2 Christmas parties, chocolates, manicures, and boat cruises, just to name a few items. (Please avert your eyes from the nearly $1.4 million increase in severance payouts since I became mayor over the previous 3 years. Nothing to see there.)

When I became Mayor I vowed to clean up this mess. (And build subways. And make no service cuts, guaranteed.)

We made some tough decisions that were necessary to get things working again. (Which totally explains why both the state of good repair backlog and waiting list for housing at the TCHC has increased during my time in office… No, wait. It doesn’t. Never mind. Delete! DELETE!)

Working with the Board a new CEO was hired and new senior management – with strong and clear mandates (Remember, folks. Having a mandate means doing whatever you want to do regardless of rules and regulations. Sometimes that even means kicking out old freeloaders who don’t pay their rent. There’s no ‘t’ or ‘c’ or ‘h’ in free lunch.) – to make Toronto Community Housing work for the people of Toronto.

evictoldpeople

Eugene Jones has done what was necessary to root out the people at TCH who were working in an environment of entitlement. (Burn, burn, BURN, BURN IT TO THE GROUND!!!!) He is bringing people on board who see the work that needs to be done, they are getting it done, and they are the right people for the job. (Team players. Team Ford players. God bless Ford Nation.)

Eugene Jones was brought to TCH to clean up a mess. (It’s messy, cleaning up messes. You can’t clean up a mess without creating a mess. Without a mess to clean up, you can’t clean up any messes.) It’s a simple as that folks. (Never ever think anything is complicated. It only leads to having to clean up messes.) Corruption (Completely different from cronyism. Corruption leads to messes. Cronyism cleans up messes.), waste, and poor service to tenants were major problems and Eugene was told to clean it up. He has done an excellent job in doing so. (Didn’t I tell you to ignore those increases in state of good repair backlogs and housing waiting list?)

texaschainsawmassacre

Tomorrow morning, the Board of Toronto Community Housing will meet to decide the future of Eugene Jones. The meeting starts at 8:00 AM at their head office, 931 Yonge St, just north of Yonge & Davenport. (8a.m. is a bit early for the hardest working mayor Toronto has ever had. I’ll be there in spirit, and even then, probably late.)

Come out and show support for a man whose key message has always been to Put The Tenants First. (Bet you didn’t know that, did you? Because I just made it up for this letter.) Show your support for Eugene Jones. (Never mind. Show your support for Eugene Jones by re-electing me this October so I can re-hire Eugene Jones. FORD MORE YEARS! FORD MORE YEARS! ME AND MR. JONES! ME AND MR. JONES! But I’m totally not playing politics with this.)

As always, please contact me at 416-397-FORD (3673) or email me at mayor_ford@toronto.ca if I can ever be of assistance to you. (And I’m desperately trying to replace that voters’ list I lost in one of my drunken stupors, probably.)

robfordbellicose

Yours truly,

Mayor Rob Ford

 

OFFICE OF THE MAYOR

Mayor Ford’s Four Priorities:

1 Customer Service Excellence (Through Creating A Culture Of Fear)

2 Transparent & Accountable Government (The Ombudsman Has To Go)

3 Reduced Cost and Size of Government (See Point 1. It’s Just Basic Math)

4 Transportation City (Subways, Subways, Subways)


Rules Are For Others

April 23, 2014

Let’s suppose for a moment that the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is a big steaming pile of a mess. fierybuildingsThere is evidence to support such a supposition. Hundreds of millions of dollars in state of good repair needed. An impossibly long waiting list of prospective tenants. Tales of cockroaches, bed bugs and fire inducing hoarding.

Let’s also suppose that the fault for all this lies solely with TCHC management. The rot starts at the head, it is said. There is less evidence to support such an assumption but go with me on this for a bit. There were all those chocolates a few years ago. Spa retreats. Yaddie, yaddie.

Something stinks here. Something’s broken. All the king’s men and all the king’s horses…

So obviously, what the TCHC needs is a good shake-up. An ol’ fashion ass-kickin’. Names will be taken later but right now, all bets are off. These HR rules and regulations are what got us into this pickle in the first place, creating a cushy culture of complacency and cosy comfort. Time to bring the pain. Hello, culture of fear.

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!yosemitesam

Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Even if we’d arrived at such a situation, even if such measures of disregard for protocol and standard operating procedure that the Ombudsman uncovered under TCHC CEO Gene Jones were effective outside of the movies or a flagging sports franchise (and listening to the interview with Schulich School of Business professor Alan Middleton on Metro Morning, it seems highly dubious they are), even if you adhere to some variation of the ends justifying means, what exactly were the ends? Surely Mr. Jones and other members of the TCHC board had a plan, an and then what. We shake this shit up and then..?

If there was some kind of strategy, some method to the madness, to the culture of fear, it hasn’t seemed to have surfaced. The logical follow up to the untendered hirings and firings without cause has yet to make itself evident. shakeitupWe await the appearance of the omelette after the breaking of all those eggs.

Order needs to be restored. Otherwise this just seems like summary executions for the sake of giving the appearance of something being done. Filling the depleted ranks with loyalists and call it The New Team, Under New Management. Fine. So, now what?

Besides, if such a purge was necessary to get the TCHC house in order, as they say, why ignore the rules that were in place to do it? If you have to fire people without cause, maybe you should take a moment to think about it first. Just because is another way of saying without cause. Just because is a pretty flimsy foundation. It’s awfully close to just because I can.

Unless Gene Jones can stand up to public scrutiny and explain why he did what he did since taking over the TCHC, citybuildingand what exactly his plans are going forward because of the course of action he has taken, this simply smacks of petty tyrant shit. A man with no plan except to show up, terrorize the staff into submission, surround himself with loyalists he doesn’t even have the confidence in to subject them to normal hiring practices. Because… well, because… that’s what he was hired to do.

If Gene Jones has no plan other than to wreak havoc on the TCHC, it is simply the sad reflection of the man who remains in his corner, defiantly. Let’s face it. Mayor Rob Ford’s approach to governance is no more extensive or involved than just that. Wreak havoc. Instill a culture of fear and intimidation. Surround himself with friends, allies and toadies to help him out in his righteous indignation with government. The Ford way.

The mayor’s never made much pretense in his attitude toward social housing and City Hall’s involvement in it. Privatize. Sell it off. Vouchers for tenants to contend out there in the free market. Governtexaschainsawmassacrement shouldn’t be in the business of…

You’ve heard that song and dance before.

I imagine in Mayor Ford’s eyes, Gene Jones did absolutely nothing wrong. He’s a doer not a talker. He gets things done, shakes it up a little. And if there’s a mess left behind, it’s hardly the fault of Gene Jones. It’s just further proof that anything government gets involved in just turns to shit. That’s what governments do best. Gene Jones, not unlike the mayor, is simply another victim to the ruinous presence of government in our lives.

obligingly submitted by Cityslikr