Beware The Man Bearing Bad Analogies

While we’re on the subject of specious budget debate claims… and as a matter of fact, we were. Just yesterday. What do you mean, you weren’t following along. I’m not in this to hear myself write, folks. What I’m doing I do for you. So please, if you wouldn’t mind…

Last week, the Toronto Star’s Royson James penned a little ditty about the boneheadedness of contemplating selling off a 10% piece of the Toronto Hydro pie. I’ll let him do the explaining his reasons in the article but something that caught my attention was a quote from the deputy mayor, ol’ trusty for a crazy quote, Councillor Doug Holyday. “If you’re going to lose your house, you have to sell your cottage.”

Ohhh, how I love tattered and broken down analogies that sound so full of homey wisdom and common sensical matter-of-factness at first blush yet disintegrate like old school vampires when a ray of reasoned sunlight shines upon them. Governments need to balance their books just like every household does. You see, taxes are like revenue, like when you get paid for a service you provide. Expenditures are like, well, expenditures. What you pay out for a service which has been provided to you. At the end of the month, these revenues must match expenditures, otherwise—

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Right wing, neoconservative, small government types who populate Mayor Ford’s administration love this trope. It’s so easy to understand. It’s the very definition of straight forward simplicity which should be the first sign that it’s also fundamentally, categorically wrong.

In June, over at Ford For Toronto, Matt Elliott took Budget Chief Del Grande to task for spouting similarly inane platitudes. “We are no different than any family in Toronto who spends more than we earn,” the budget chief told the National Post. “We need to get a second job. We would love to send our kids to camp, but it may not be the most nice camp. Or maybe the kids don’t go to camp at all.”

See, at a budgetary level, government is most definitely different from a family. A family is finite, let’s call it. Its budget plan must include a point of time in the distant future when the main revenue source dwindles. Known as retirement. Hopefully, there’s been enough savings done to bridge the gap between then and when the sweet embrace of death comes.

Governments, on the other hand, aren’t as terminal if one’s lucky enough to live in a relatively stable democratic tradition. Revenue and expenditure ebbs and flows but doesn’t end when one government is ‘retired’ through, say, electoral misfortune. So government budgeting is, in fact, quite different from household budgeting.

But even that comparison is superficial and not complete. As Mr. Elliott suggested, these analogies often only go part of the way. Budget Chief Del Grande suggests the city needs ‘to get a second job’. To which Elliott responds, “But last year the city did have a part-time job. It paid more than $60 million per year. [The VRT if you’re having trouble following along.] The city quit that job.”

The same line of reasoning goes with the deputy mayor’s selling the cottage analogy. What if the cottage is a revenue generating rental property? Instead of selling it off, you decide not to spend the summer at it and rent it out. The money you make can then be ploughed back into the payments you need in order to save the house.

Only if you were in absolutely desperate straits, and needed cash money right now to stave off foreclosure would you sell the cottage. Which is what Team Ford wants us to believe is the state of affairs in Toronto currently. There’s also a hint of entitlement, privilege and living beyond your means in the cottage reference. Bit off a little more than you could chew, irresponsible homeowner? Maybe you’re not up to owning two properties. You should try summer camp for the kids. But not too nice a summer camp, mind.

They hide behind these tired analogies to mask their real intentions. To sell off the city piece by piece and cut the government down to a more fitting size. Nothing more than keeping the streets clean and safe. Anything beyond that is simply gravy, an unaffordable second home that is well beyond our means.

It shifts responsibility from small-minded, self-serving meagreness of spirit onto supposed profligacy. Tough medicine meted out by sober, mature adults after a wild party thrown by teenagers. A claim that is so shop worn that it sullies the word ‘cliché’. It needs to be ignored at all costs.

tired and hackneyedly submitted by Cityslikr

Breakdown of An Executive Committee Breakdown

(In case you missed it earlier this week, we posted a piece over at Torontoist. Out of sheer laziness, we’re re-posting a truncated version of it here today. If you’re feeling equally as lazy, this one’s for you.)

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If you’ve spent any time lately at city council and found yourself uninspired by the lack of substantive debate and partisan chest-beating (or bleating, depending on your view), may I suggest you take a pass on attending any Executive Committee meetings. At least watching the entire council at work in the chambers, Team Ford is diluted somewhat, usually triumphant in the end but at least put through its paces, challenged on almost equal footing by the opposition. But in committee room #1? The Executive is let off the leash, barely touched by ‘visiting’ councillors or deputants who hope to make any sort of impression upon them.

Made up of the mayor’s handpicked standing committee chairs, the executive committee acts as the official brain trust of an administration; the public face of Mayor Ford’s unofficial brain trust consisting of his councillor brother and staff. The Executive Committee basically preps the mayor’s agenda that will be presented at and bludgeoned through the next city council meeting. At Executive Committee motions are gussied up, some lipstick and rouge slapped on them in the form of minor amendments to make them look all pur-dy. Or sometimes, motions go there to die, killed by an indefinite referral.

This isn’t entirely surprising since the Executive Committee is essentially chosen by the mayor as his on field team. No one expects serious splits, divisions or close votes. That’s for council. This is how the mayor marshals his forces to try and advance his agenda.

But I don’t think I have seen a less incurious, less thoughtful or less intellectually rigorous group outside of a church. No one cared about input from those who took the time to attend the meeting and express their views. This administration seems to believe that the “people” spoke last October 25th and all this is now just an annoying distraction from the work that has to be done. They couldn’t even muster the pretense of listening. Twice as the meeting wound down, they had to stop after it was pointed out there wasn’t a quorum – 7 committee members – present. Once, during a discussion about how they were going to proceed with their Core Service Review! The nuts and bolts of governing. You know, the very essence of what a municipal government does.

Which should come as little surprise since the driving force of Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee seems to be the dismantling of the activist government of their immediate predecessor. A fancy way of saying, Stop the Gravy Train.

There are two reasons for that, I believe. One is pure ideology. Like the mayor himself, the active members of the Executive Committee, the ones who contribute more than simply casting a vote when they’re told, are hard core, tried and true, anti-government neo-conservatives. Barely 10 minutes would pass during the meeting when somebody wasn’t yammering on with trite bromides like ‘learning to live within our means’, ‘governments are just like households’ and respect for the taxpayer.

The second and equally applicable reason for the Ford administration’s anti-Miller sentiment is much more personal. It’s pure, bitter resentment at having been excluded and sidelined for the past 8 years or so. When various members of the Executive Committee aren’t talking of finding efficiencies and waste, they let it be known how badly they were treated by the Millerites, excluded or kicked off that board, ignored or ridiculed at that committee meeting. It’s like revenge of the nerds but in real life.

If true, I’m sure some of it was along partisan lines. Councillor David Shiner pointed out that he’d been turfed from the board of Toronto Hydro because he wasn’t supportive enough of green initiatives. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that.

But I’d also suggest that, with the possible exception of Councillors Shiner and Michael Thompson, the more I see of the Executive Committee, the more I’m convinced that most of them along with the chair of the committee, Mayor Ford, are lightweights. They bring very little to the table in terms of original ideas or well-developed thoughts. Those that do bother to express an opinion, rarely do so in any sort of rational or compelling manner. They’re too busy checking off the list of grievances at previous slights.

None embody this bubbling cauldron of spiteful, inchoate animosity better than the Budget Chief, Mike Del Grande. Hectoring and disagreeable, the councillor from Scarborough is equal parts know-it-all and I-told-you-so. He lectures rather than asks questions. Berates not debates. He re-configures his opponents’ arguments into ones better suited for him to deride and dismiss. At one point of time during Monday’s meetiong, the councillor told a skin-crawlingly personal story of paying the way for his university aged daughter and how under his roof it was his rules and he who holds the purse strings… Oh my god, the poor woman!

The truly galling aspect of this, though, is Councillor Del Grande’s temerity to lecture others about the value of money. Here’s a guy, always boasting of his chartered accountant credentials and how he understands that you can’t spend more than you have, revenues must match expenditures, and yet he was all onboard cutting the VRT and freezing property taxes thereby denying the city millions and millions of dollars? With a straight face he demands our respect for him as a sound fiscal manager?

This Executive Committee is the ugly manifestation of the Ford Nation. Like a jilted lover, it has seized control, determined to prove its worth. It brooks no dissent and counters any disagreement or outside opinion with vitriol and contempt. Retribution not reconciliation is its agenda. This is the heart of an administration that has more interest in getting even than it does in governing.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr

More Thoughts On Presto

Just a follow up on yesterday’s post here re: the Presto smart card and the resulting pissing match between the province and city.

In our comments section, a reader pointed out that a Mr. Tony Gaffney sits on the board of directors of the Toronto Board of Trade whose press release last week precipitated an ensuing war of words between the Minister of Transportation, Kathleen Wynne, and TTC chair, Adam Giambrone. The province wants the TTC to cease shopping around for an alternative or complementary form of payment for transit use outside of the Presto card that is already in use throughout the GTA and several TTC subway stations. The above mentioned Tony Gaffney’s day job is Managing Partner at Accenture, the company behind the Presto smart card.

Now, we are not suggesting that there’s anything untoward in this set up. Given the make up of the BOT’s board of directors – from banking and financial services to telecommunications and computer technology – private sector/public sector overlap just comes with the territory. But the vigorousness with which the Board of Trade pushes a product that is operated by one of its board of directors should be treated as not entirely unbiased. Rather than a dispassionate, objective analysis, it is the opinion of a special interest group and needs to be viewed as such. One of many, opinionated points of view that get bandied about during policy making debates. The democratic process at work.

That mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi so wholeheartedly embraces the Board of Trade’s view on this issue and has been slavish in his praise of the Presto card is what’s truly disturbing and unsettling to us. Yes, yes. His campaign has been built almost exclusively on a platform of discrediting the Miller Administration and anyone involved in it to generate a groundswell of anti-incumbent feeling in the electorate. This contretemps between the province and the TTC is simply just another hammer to use in his arsenal. George Smitherman did likewise.

But for Rossi it’s also another display of what seems to us to be his corporatist agenda. (Lifted directly off  his website: “Rossi is the only candidate with an extensive career as an executive in large corporations…”.) From his desire to sell off whatever he can of Toronto Hydro to contracting out city services, Rossi seems all about putting business before people. Presto may in fact turn out to be the best system of automated fare payment for the TTC and the GTA. There just seems to be some serious questions about that and Rocco Rossi might be better served garnering some of his information on the issue from the likes of an outside observer like Steve Munro and not exclusively from those with vested interest in the outcome like Toronto’s Board of Trade.

Otherwise, it just looks like Rossi’s running to be CEO of Toronto rather than its mayor.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr