A Vital Civics Lesson

Let’s set aside the cynicism for a moment. Ignore the urge to tabulate political calculations. Don’t discuss whose voices get heard in this city, whose opinions matter. cuphalffullNot yet, at any rate.

We need to revel in the fact that fierce citizen engagement can directly affect change. Take a moment. Take that in. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

Mayor John Tory came out yesterday in full support of ending the practice of police carding in this city. It’s a huge shift from the mayor who, less than a week ago, was full of — How’d John Barber put it in the Torontoist? – “marshmallow circumlocutions” in defense of reforming rather than ending the system.

The personal stories I’ve heard in recent months and even before, the words, laden with deeply-felt emotion, have been building up in my conscience and they have stuck with me.

And so after great personal reflection, and many discussions — highlighted by a very candid, thoughtful discussion with a number of people including Desmond Cole and others — I’ve concluded that time has gone on too long and that it was time for me to say, enough.

It was time to acknowledge that there is no real way to fix a practice which has come to be regarded as illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful. It was better to start over with a clean slate.

On Metro Morning today [no link yet], that very same Desmond Cole whose article in Toronto Life on his personal experiences with police carding served, I think, as the tipping point in the conversation, humbly deferred any sort of hero designation, rightly pointing the community and members of it who worked to bring about the change. No one person can ever successfully challenge a status quo system. desmondcoleThey can lend a voice, serve as a catalyst, contribute mightily, doggedly, relentlessly as part of the cause. Lone white knights are just fairytale characters.

The few times I talked with Desmond Cole about the issue, it was obvious the kind of personal and professional toll it was taking on him. I’ve been caught up in far less significant issues (yes, the Gardiner East pales in importance next to carding) and found everything else can fall by the wayside. Doctor appointments. Social engagements. Personal hygiene. Civic engagement, especially something as fundamental as our civil rights, comes at a cost. There are only so many hours in a day, so many fucks to give.

Which is why the more people who slice out even a few hours of their lives to contribute collectively to issues that matter to them, their family, their community, the less onus we place on individual efforts. Yeah, everything needs an instigator, an organizer, somebody to do a website. But it takes an army to knock on doors, to stand up and speak at public events, to testify on that one thing that serves as a barrier, that squeezes opportunity, that impedes the possibility of living fulfilled and meaningful lives.

So, let’s acknowledge this moment. That time when a bunch of people, almost exclusively from communities throughout the city normally without such a powerful voice to force the powers that be to take notice and actually change course. firststepIt’s something we need to relish. Change can happen.

Tomorrow’s the time to worry about the fuller picture. I am always wary of an on the road to Damascus conversion like Mayor Tory has seemingly experienced. He foisted himself immediately into the middle of the carding issue, putting himself on the Police Services Board after becoming mayor and mucking about with carding reforms that were already underway. But his words, if bloviatingly verbose at times, came across yesterday as genuine and heartfelt.

There’s no reason to expect the police services and its new chief will roll over passively on the issue just because the mayor said so. The service (with its former chief of police) resisted earlier calls for carding reform, ignoring directives from the board to do just that, creating the impasse Mayor Tory coddled up to just a few days ago. Systemic racism isn’t magically wished away by some mayoral fiat.

This issue ain’t over, is what I’m trying to say but, holy shit, did it receive a decisive body blow with Mayor Tory’s change of heart. Grab hold of that. Hug it close to you for a moment. Realize, as a matter of fact, you can make a difference. We just have to stop waiting for someone else to do it.

lilliput

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

The Awful Untruth

Of all the responses we get here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, the pushback we receive when criticizing Mayor Ford, by far the most frequent… No, wait. The 2nd most frequent, just after ‘Why don’t you guys get a real job?’… tends to be, ‘Well, Miller did the same thing.’, Miller being the former mayor, David Miller. Whether it’s how Mayor Ford’s conducting business at council or City Hall or fiddling with the budget numbers. Whenever we level a critique his way, we inevitably hear, ‘Well, Miller did the same thing.’

To which, our initial response is: yeah, so? It doesn’t make it right. The former mayor also received plenty of criticism. In politics, two negatives do not—you get where I’m going with that.

Besides, wasn’t this mayor elected on a platform that included not doing business as usual? He was going to be sticking up for the little guy by putting it to the fat cats and lazy bureaucrats. He’d put an end to all the backroom deals. Clear and transparent would be the Ford Administration. No more game playing with the budget. No sudden finds of hundreds of millions of dollars. We were going to get an open and honest debate.

Step forward all ye steadfast Ford supporters, and with straight faces all, tell us your man has kept his word. Follow the bouncing ball on the sing-along that has been the 2012 police services budget debacle and belt out the coda that it’s all been on the up and up, yep, an open and honest debate. Without cracking a smile or a knowing grin. Tell us this is exactly what you voted for.

“It’s a huge reduction!” exclaims TPS board member, Councillor Frances Nunziata.

Wait, what? No. No, it isn’t, Councillor. Not only is the police services budget not facing ‘a huge reduction’, there’s no reduction at all. None. In fact, just the opposite. They’re getting an increase.

David Hains over at The Clamshell, Daniel Dale at the Toronto Star and Ford For Toronto’s Matt Elliott all go into much more interesting detail than I can but here’s the nuts and bolts of the situation. Mayor Ford demanded a 10% reduction to all city departments based on their 2011 budgets. Putting it to the fat cats and lazy bureaucrats. Police Chief Bill Blair announced he could do no such thing without laying off front line police officers and endangering public safety. So instead, he asked for an increase. A modest one by the police standards but an increase nonetheless.

All hell breaks loose. A showdown seems imminent between the mayor and police chief. Hardcore Ford ally and TPS vice-chair Michael Thompson plays the heavy, letting it be known that the police budget faces the same pressure as every other department and agency in the city. There must be a 10% cut or else…

Last week’s TPS meeting to deal with the impasse was postponed at the last minute. Details of some sort of compromise leak out. We learn that the mayor’s OK with the 10% cut being carried out over a two year period which, if my math skills are up to snuff, isn’t 10% but 5%. It’s an offer made to no one else on the city payroll.

Then comes yesterday’s news of an agreement. The chief has found almost 5% in cuts, 4.6% to be precise for the 2012 budget, through attrition, a 10% reduction in senior management and a host of other bits and bites. No layoffs of police. The city’s safety has not been compromised. The rest of the cuts will come next year.

“It’s a huge reduction!” exclaims TPS board member, Councillor Frances Nunziata.

OK, actually the councillor’s right. It is a huge reduction. Just not from the 2011 budget which is what the mayor called  for. It’s nothing more than a reduction in the original ask from the TPS. The one everyone got up in arms about and said wasn’t possible. The 1.6% increase Chief Blair proposed that, apparently, put his job in jeopardy. He scaled that back 4.6% and settled instead for a mere .6% increase.

An increase, folks. The Police Services Board approved an increase to the police budget not a cut which every other department is facing. There’s no cut to the police budget. There’s just less of an increase.

“It’s a huge reduction!” Shut up, Frances. Doesn’t matter how many times you say it. It simply isn’t true.

What does Mayor Ford have to say about such an about face? Who knows? He was coaching football at the time. How about his hard-assed enforcer on the TPS board, Michael Thomspon? Away on family business.

So what this says is that the mayor holds the police to an entirely different standard than the rest of the city departments. He boasts about giving them a pay increase while everyone else on the city payroll must make do with less. For the overall budget to balance, somebody’s going to have to give up more to make up for the TPS increase. (Nope. Don’t say it, Frances. It’s an increase. Shh-shh!)

Now, maybe Mayor Ford values the police more than any other employee of the city. Perhaps his worldview is such that happy police make for a happy town. I wouldn’t agree but there it is.

Or maybe the mayor’s afraid of the police. Butting heads with them would put a serious dent in his law and order veneer. They might remind voters that on the campaign trail the mayor promised 100 new police officers and delivered none. Bad optics all round.

But the straight-shooting, tell it like it is mayor ain’t talking. Instead he’s hiding behind monumental spin, trying to convince us that an increase is really a decrease, black is white, up is down and there we go through the looking glass, people.

Just like every other politician Rob Ford railed about as a candidate, saying one thing to get elected and doing the exact opposite when in office. The kind of politician he pledged not to be. It’s all just business as usual.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr

I Don’t Think Mandate Means What You Think It Means

Let’s take a brief ride in our time machine, shall we? Step back about a year ago to the very day. Just over three weeks to go in our municipal campaign, Councillor Rob Ford has unexpectedly assumed the lead in the race to replace outgoing mayor David Miller. The battle is still a toss-up, however. Councillor Ford’s to lose.

During a typical stump speech, the councillor tosses out his catch phrase pledging to Stop The Gravy Train. City Hall has a spending problem not a revenue problem, he tells us. If elected mayor, Rob Ford promises to put an end to all the wasteful spending that is drowning the city in red ink.

When questioned how exactly he will do this, what he’ll cut in order to balance the budget without increasing taxes, he steps up and tell us that, well, he’d start with a 10% cut to all departments especially the ones that are bloated with labour costs. Like the police budget, for example. That’s a major money suck on the city’s coffers. Lots of fat to trim there. Sure, the city could afford to lose 500, 650 police officers and we wouldn’t even notice. Guaranteed. Next question?

Repeat that answer, replacing the TPS budget with, reduction of library services, elimination of windrow clearing, reduction of street cleaning to once a month, and I’m going to hazard a guess that Rob Ford would not be the mayor of Toronto today. In fact, I’d guarantee it. He sold us a bill of goods and somehow 47% of those casting their ballots either didn’t care and were happy with the concept of a major slash and burn at City Hall or didn’t bother to read the fine print, eyes unable to see anything past their red hot anger.

So this notion, in the face of dwindling support and outright antipathy to the path Mayor Ford is currently on, that he has a mandate from the people based on his election victory is simply bogus. Anyone who floats it or uses it as a shield to deflect criticism endorses the notion that democracy is about winning and winning only. By any means necessary. No matter how much you obfuscate, fudge facts, distort reality or just outright lie, lie, lie, a win on election night becomes a mandate.  See you in four years, folks.

And to all you out there shrugging your shoulders and saying that’s what politicians do, that anyone with even a lick sense knew that Councillor Ford would never be able to keep his promise of no service cuts, well, that’s the kind of cynicism opportunistic and underhanded politicians feed on. You’re helping to prop up a sick system. You are the heart of the problem.

I’m not here to argue that the TPS budget is sacrosanct and cannot be touched. There may very well be enough bloat that we wouldn’t notice any difference if it underwent a 10% cut. The point is Mayor Ford didn’t run on a platform of reducing the number of police officers. Just the opposite in fact. He said he would increase the number by 100. That was part of his mandate.

Earlier this year, a few months after being elected on his platform of curbing excessive spending, the mayor trumpeted a decision to give the TPS a wage increase, burnishing his pro-police cred. Now he’s demanding a 10% cut in their budget. To match political rhetoric to reality, there has to be a corresponding cut somewhere to balance the equation. Are there the inefficiencies within the TPS that Mayor Ford claimed were rampant at City Hall but has yet to find? If not, cuts, firings, layoffs will have to happen. Surely no one’s going to claim any of that was in the mayor’s mandate.

If a politician possessing lighter right wing stripes than the mayor had campaigned on a promise to buy everyone a house, build them a stable and fill it with a pony family without increasing municipal spending, well, they probably wouldn’t have been elected in the first place. But if they had, if 47% of voters cast bought into the feasibility of such a promise and voted this house-for-everyone, a-pony-in-every-stable politician into office, what would happen when reality settled in and either no one got themselves a new house or pony or everyone’s property taxes increased by 27 billion % to pay for such things? Would we still be saying the mayor had a mandate not to buy everyone a house? His mandate included raising property taxes 27 billion percent to pay for the increase in municipal spending increase he said he wouldn’t need?

Obviously not. So let’s stop allowing the empty claim Mayor Ford has a mandate to do things he was never elected to dot. He promised one thing and is doing the exact opposite. That’s called mendacious not a mandate.

truthfully submitted by Cityslikr