Now We’ve Got Options!

August 17, 2015

unreadableHave you ever found yourself thinking: Man I would just love to get my hands around the throat of a public policy issue and throttle it into submission but all those official reports and papers are so dry and dense and full of inscrutable bureaucratese that’s it’s impossible to figure out what to think almost as if nobody wants you to know what’s going on…

Yeah?

Well, first. You need a little punctuation in your thought process. I mean, come on. Run on sentences lead only to disorderly logic and a fundamental inability to think critically. Use (but never over-use) commas.

That said, and after deciphering your brain gibberish, I highly recommend you sit down and read the Ward Boundary Review Options Report. pageturnerIt is a beautifully written document. Clear, to the point, no messing about. Official and essential beach reading.

What is the Ward Boundary Review? We wrote about it, first back in November. (And then again, here and here, and talked about it a couple times too, here and here).

What exactly is a Ward Boundary Review? (From an earlier report):

As a result of significant growth in the City over the past several years there are some wards that have considerably higher populations, and some lower, than the average ward population. This means that the equity of representative democracy across wards has been compromised. The Toronto Ward Boundary Review is looking at the size and shape of Toronto’s wards in order to address this inequity and ensure that all Toronto residents are fairly represented at City Council.

The City of Toronto Act (2006) gives City Council the authority to make changes to its ward boundaries. It does not, however, provide specific instructions for how the ward boundary review should be undertaken or the parameters that should be followed. Municipalities in Ontario look to past Supreme Court cases and Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) decisions for guidance. The historic Carter Case, which was one of the first electoral boundary cases to be taken to the Supreme Court, set the precedent for ward boundary reviews in Canada by establishing the principle of “effective representation” as the basis for making ward boundary adjustments.

Why is a ward boundary review and subsequent changes to ward boundaries necessary now?

Toronto’s current ward structure, developed approximately 15 years ago, has become unbalanced. This impacts voter parity (similar but not identical population numbers among wards) not just at election time, but every time City Council votes.

Not to mention that it probably doesn’t hurt to assess the state of your local governance structure at least every 15 years or so.

So after one round of consultations with the public, politicians and other various civic “stakeholders”, we’ve been presented with 5 options for ward realignment. wardboundaryreviewBigger, smaller, more, fewer, in a nutshell. I’m not going to break the options down much more than that right now, mostly because I really want you to read the report for yourself. Did I tell you it’s really fantastic and completely worth your while?

I will say this in terms of my immediate impression of the options, mostly having to do with what was left off the table. Both the idea of cutting the number of wards in half and keeping them aligned with federal/provincial ridings were deemed lacking in support and non-workable, respectively. Hoo-rah for that, I say.

“Since the idea of having 25 very large wards [aligned with the new federal ridings in Toronto, effectively cutting council size in half] gained virtually no support during the public process,” the report states, “it has not been pursued as an option.” intothebinThat may come as a surprise to all those chanting along with the former mayor and organizations such as the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition about reducing the number of councillors at City Hall but there it is. Despite the volume and repetition, there was ‘virtually no support’ to go down that reductionist rode. Good riddance.

While it seems to make sense to far more people to keep doing what we’re doing and design our wards along federal riding lines and then simply cut them in half, the report sense a problem with that too.

This option does not resolve the issue of very large wards in the Downtown and southern Etobicoke and the numerous small wards. It merely continues most of the inequities of the current situation that led to the TWBR. An option based on using the federal riding boundaries and then dividing them in two will not achieve effective representation and has, therefore, not been pursued.

And as I’ve said all along, why would the city want to design its electoral structure based on that of the level of government that has the least amount to do with our daily lives?

Shouldn’t we take this opportunity to come up with an actual made in Toronto formula? allergictochangeSince amalgamation, we’ve complained about the dysfunction at City Hall. Might part of that be the way in which we elect our local officials? Let’s try and figure out how why might be able to do that better.

I am not, however, hopeful of that occurring. Early signs are not encouraging. “The last thing we need is more politicians,” Mayor Tory said, summoning up his radio talk show, drive time persona, in response to one of the options for more wards with fewer residents in them. It’s a sentiment hardly more thoughtful than the cut-`em-half crowd but what passes for reasonable and rational these days.

Given the chill of maintaining the status quo that’s descended upon City Hall since our current mayor took office, it’s hard to see things going much further than Option #1, Minimal Change, “Change, if necessary, but not necessarily change,” as the report refers to it although even this one would guarantee an increase in the council size while “minimizing change”.haveyoursay

Still, there are now lines on a map, options for change to be considered and debated. Round 2 of public consultations happen in the fall before this gets decided next spring. Now is the time to read up and inform yourself about a decision that will affect this city through the next 4 election cycles. People will be listening.

excitedly submitted by Cityslikr


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


Stunt Activism

July 5, 2013

There are times when you just have to give credit where credit’s due. slowclapDoff your cap to acknowledge a job well done and offer up a round of applause. Not one consisting of the mocking slow clap either.

So here’s to you, Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. Your outsized ability to elevate stunt activism into part of the mainstream media discourse is truly commendable. Am I jealous? You betcha. I want to know the secret ingredient in the power drink that gives the group the Joe Friday appearance of just the facts, ma’am impartiality and the cape of authority.

Do we start just by claiming ourselves to be non-partisan? Despite all evidence to the contrary, after 3 and a half years of wearing our political hearts on our sleeve, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke should simply tell everyone that we are a non-partisan organization, respecting those taxpayers who don’t get their knickers all in a twist about paying taxes, nothingupmysleevewho recognize that taxation is more than just a fact of life but the way in which we build strong neighbourhoods, communities and cities.

Here’s our slogan: Respecting The Taxpayer Who Sees Paying Taxes Not As A Burden But As An Investment In Where They Live.

(We’ll fix that in editing.)

If the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition can claim with a straight face to be non-partisan, and be treated as such, then the word is meaningless. Click on the organization’s Issues list and check out their media releases. The plastic bag fee/ban? No. Fair Wage Policy? No. Land transfer tax? No. Vehicle Registration Tax? No. Private garbage collection? Yes. Casino? Yes. Subways? Yes.

Any of this sound familiar?

Replace the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition title on their website with the Office of Mayor Rob Ford and you’d hardly miss a step. parrotThat’s alright. The mayor’s agenda dovetails seamlessly with the views and opinions of a lot of Torontonians. Let’s just stop pretending because it’s an independent organization that it’s somehow non-partisan.

And could we please stop pretending the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition brings to the table an objective analysis with robust fact and figures. If they do, the same could be said about the mayor, and I’m not sure who actually believes that’s the case. A billion dollars saved! Need I say more?

What the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition does, and does well, all power to them, is deliver up talking points. Empty, divorced from reality talking points that talk show radio hosts love. Talking points complete with colourful infographics minus a whole slew of context.

During the last budget cycle debate in January, this other-TTC manufactured a tasty and calorically empty morsel for public consumption. After doing their research which, as far as I can tell is copying-and-pasting the necessary information from the city’s website, the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition screamed in horror at how much spending had increased during the first 3 years of the Miller administration which, of course, Mayor Ford put an end too, toute suite.mortimersnerd

A billion dollars! (Coincidentally, the same amount Mayor Ford keeps claiming to have saved us.)

That’s a lot of money! Especially if there’s no other information forthcoming. Just a number you indignantly bellow. A really, really big number.

There’s no question the Miller administration increased spending compared to its predecessor. No one disputes that. But how that happened is equally important. While the mayor and his supporters would like you to think it was all about out-of-control tax-and-spending, the truth, as it always is, is much subtler than that. David Miller was very successful in bringing other levels of government to the table and open up their wallets, for example, which would be reflected in that increased spending.

But any increase in government spending is abhorrent in the eyes of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. “While we don’t endorse increasing costs to taxpayers…”, the group writes. What world do these people live in, where costs never rise and flat lining spending never results in diminished returns?

Normally, I can keep my incredulity at such simple-mindedness reined in to the occasional snarky tweet but the Toronto Taxpayers Coaltion’s latest PR stunt is just too much to shrug off.

“Taxpayers Coalition says it will attempt to ‘force’ Toronto to cut council in half,” according to a National Post headline from earlier this week. texaschainsawmassacreYou see, like Mayor Ford (surprise, surprise), this other-TTC believes that cutting council in half or so will increase efficiency and decrease the cost of local government to taxpayers. It’s just so obvious, it has to make sense, right? Simple answers, to complex question, H.L. Mencken, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

Never mind that cutting the councillor numbers in half would make little dent on the operating budget and almost none on your tax bill. The 2013 gross expenditure on council all in? About 19 million dollars, folks. Let’s round it up to 20. On paper, cutting the number of councillors in half would shave $10 million off the annual operating budget. 10 million of roughly 10 billion. A savings of .001. On a $4000 tax bill that’d be about $4.

And that’s just on paper, in theory. The actual fact is, the city’s work has to be done. So the fewer councillors would need more staff and, darkly, there’d be a bigger reliance on outside influence and opinion, let’s call it. squarepeg2Cutting council numbers in half would be a boon to the lobbying industry.

What really gets my goat about this is it reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about how municipal governance actually works. The argument most touted in favour of reducing city council’s size is that Toronto has 22 MPs and 22 MPPs. Why do we need 44 councillors?

BECAUSE THEIR JOBS AREN’T THE SAME!!

As you travel up the levels of government, the ratio of legislative-constituent work changes. Essentially, the higher you go, the less constituent work a politician does. When’s the last time you called your MP for help? Shit! I’m heading out of the country and forgot to renew my passport!

City councillors are eye-deep in both aspects of governance. And the constituency aspect is very, very hands-on, labour intensive. Noise complaints. Dogs off leash. Fence exemptions. Oh, good god, the fence exemptions.

The customer service stuff the mayor’s so fond of touting while his council colleague have to spend some of their time picking up the legislative aspect of the job he’s not so interested in. igotnothingYou know, planning and growth, community development. All that eggheady boring crap Mayor Ford’s never really had much time for.

That’s not to embrace the status quo. There’s a very compelling argument to be made about re-thinking council structure to better ensure accountability, responsiveness and public engagement. But like in every aspect of our current political discourse in Toronto the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition isn’t interested in contributing in any meaningful way. Perhaps honest discussion and exchange of ideas is a little too partisan for its tastes. It prefers its radio spots instead.

acknowledgingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Real Tax Bogeyman

June 10, 2013

A local anti-tax advocacy group responded to the news of an updated $248 million surplus as proof that we are ‘very, very over-taxed.’ taxburden1It’s a sentiment that pretty much parrots the thinking of Mayor Ford who saw the surplus as a sign he could begin trimming the Land Transfer Tax in order to make partially good on his campaign promise to eliminate it all together. It wasn’t a promise out of line with most of his opponents. George Smitherman talked of how the city was nickel and diming residents. Joe Pantalone — David Miller’s deputy mayor – hopped aboard the anti-tax boat mid-stream, pledging to ditch the vehicle registration tax he’d helped to usher in.

It’s hard to be a tax-and-spender these days.

Why? BECAUSE IT’S MY MONEY, DAMMIT!! Unlike the streets, the schools, the police, etc., etc. taxationisthefttax money goes to providing for everyone.

This anti-tax pressure is especially acute at the municipal level.

Why? Because municipalities in this province are forced to rely so heavily on one form of taxation as its primary source of revenue. Property taxes.

There’s something really visceral about paying property taxes. It’s like an attack on your home and hearth. An article flagged by Rowan Caister today about the 35th anniversary of California’s Prop 13 which severely restricted the state’s ability to utilize property taxes as a source of revenue suggests to me that it was the source of a generation’s groundswell of anti-taxation fervour. Not to mention an important factor in the steady erosion of California’s economy over the past three+ decades.

(And doesn’t Howard Jarvis, the proposition’s point man, bear the same classic phenotype as almost every other anti-tax, anti-government zealot who has come after him?)

howardjarvis

Since property taxes make up such a big slice of Toronto’s revenue pie, it’s intuitive to then assume we’re paying too much or are being gouged. Nearly 40% of the city’s revenues came from property taxes (page 28 of PDF) in the 2013 budget. That’s a lot of taxes we’re paying, right?

Well…

Here in Toronto we still pay lower residential property taxes than any other municipality in the GTA. Even factoring in property values, the city winds up right in the middle of the pack. (Check out Joe Drew’s excellent analysis.) taxmanSo when someone claims that we are very, very over-taxed, I have to ask: Compared to… ? Not our municipal neighbours, surely. What then? The 1950s?

This is not a call necessarily to raise our property taxes although I will call bullshit on anyone claiming ours are too high already. Property taxes are not the ideal revenue tool for adapting to changing economic situations. They tend to be years behind reflecting reality. They’re relatively inelastic, I think the economic term is.

We need to diversify how we generate revenue. Consider how other municipalities around the world are equipped to do so. Check out Table 2 in Enid Slack’s  A Report to the London Finance Commission. In addition to property taxes, there are sales taxes, land transfer taxes, hotel taxes, beer and liquor excise taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes. Tokyo even has something called a ‘hunter tax’. taxesareevilA hunter tax?!

Of course, for Mayor Ford and all his acolytes, this has never been about reforming Toronto’s system of taxation. We were heading in that direction with the power bestowed in the City of Toronto Act. The Vehicle Registration and Land Transfer taxes (hardly unique by international comparison) took steps toward revenue diversification but were roundly defeated in the 2010 election campaign.

The only good tax is a dead tax, it seems. And I ain’t talking an estate tax neither. Councillor Doug Ford summed up the ghosts of Howard Jarvis sentiment perfectly last year when he declared all taxes to be evil.

Such short-sighted selfishness has held sway for too long now, and much to the detriment of our crumbling infrastructure and sorry lack of recent transit building. It just isn’t good enough anymore to cross your arms and shake your head no. It doesn’t get subways built or roads paved.

texaschainsawmassacre

It simply sponges off the sacrifices made by previous generations and stiffs future ones with the bills we were too cheap to pay.

freeloadingly submitted by Cityslikr


CasiYES Tops CasiNO

January 23, 2013

“I think this is a slam dunk,” says John Wright, senior vice president of Ipsos Reid in a National Post article yesterday.

This?

A casino in Toronto.

“Unless something incredible happens,” Mr. Wright continues, “the debate for the most part is over.”

In other words, according to the Ipsos Reid poll, for 906 people (presumably residents of Toronto) this has happened:

A Toronto casino will create jobs. How many? Thousands and thousands. Maybe even 10,000. Maybe. What kind of jobs? Full and part time. Maybe even union jobs. How much money in revenue will Toronto get for hosting a casino? Millions and millions. Maybe even $400 million a year according to no robust examination whatsoever. Why not $500 million if we simply float a boat in the lake, claims one pro-casino councillor who shall remain nameless although who else could it be? Where will this casino be? Ummm… What’s your answer first? We got preferences but let’s not decide on such an important factor until we know if a casinos coming or not.

I know this is going to come across as just another anti-casino screed. Truth be told, I am neither here nor there on the concept of casinos. They rarely serve as a destination of choice for me. gamblingThat doesn’t mean I don’t think others should have the opportunity to do so if they wish.

The deleterious effects of gambling as a reason for not building a casino in town leaves me equally cold. It is moralistic in tone and opens up the argument that the government should not be in the business of or profit from any activity that is harmful to a segment of society. Prohibition anyone? How’s that war of drugs been working out for us?

As our friend over on Twitter, @lifeonqueen, said, “…it symbolizes the immorality of using casinos as a tax substitute.” Now we’re getting to the meat of the argument. Governments preying on our more self-indulgent (and worse) natures instead of engaging fully with us about the necessity of proper taxation. Delivering the appearance of getting something for nothing.

And, according to the results of this online poll, a solid majority have bought into it.gambling1

From what I can tell, the city is being pressured into a yes-or-not vote with the details to be worked out later. We all know the devil is in the details, yet we’re essentially willing to sign off on a blank document. Who does that except for the extremely desperate? Why are we so desperate?

My two biggest concerns about this situation are money and location.

How much money, directly and indirectly, will end up in the city’s coffers when this is said and done? So far, the numbers have been vague. Vague, vague, vague. At this point, we’re can’t even be sure if it’ll end up costing the city more to have a casino than what we take in. gambling2That’s, what would you call it? A gamble.

Location is almost as important in this equation. To not have the ultimate say in where a casino would be is really not being an equal partner in the decision. Putting an inward looking edifice which a casino is along the waterfront, bringing cars downtown to fill its 10,000 parking spaces is an absolute deal breaker for me. I can’t see where’d there be any amount of money offered up in return for that.

Now, I would seriously consider a casino up at Woodbine. Remember Woodbine Live? Proof during the 2010 mayoral campaign that Rob Ford knew how to work with the private sector. It was supposed to look like this. In fact, it looks like this.

It’s a prime placement for some serious economic development especially for an automobile-oriented enterprise like this casino’s supposed to be. The decision seems a no-brainer to me if we’re going the casino route, if, when all the facts and figures are in, it makes fiscal sense for the city.gambling3

But we’re so far away from that kind of detailed discussion right now. Yes or No should be just a starting point with more than a few opt out escape hatches built in. No, but… Yes, if… That’s the level of discussion we need to have before getting down to the nitty gritty.

Right now, we’re just being asked to cross our fingers and trust a group of people who in no way has earned that trust that everything’s going to work out just fine for everyone concerned. Win-win-win.

You wouldn’t buy a water heater for you house under those stipulations. Why on earth would we consent to building a casino that way?

odds on-ly submitted by Cityslikr


Who Are They Trying To Kid?

November 22, 2012

Exactly who or what is the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition? Enquiring minds want to know.

Or, at least, I want to know since this other TTC has become the go-to group for conservative columnists in town (the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy is a fan) and talk radio show hosts like the Ford Brothers (just this past week, Part 1 of the show) when it comes to getting the skinny on tax and spending matters at City Hall. Even the apparently liberal biased CBC gave the group a nod, mentioning its 2012 City Council Report Card that was released this week. (More on that in a minute.)

From the other TTC Mission Statement: The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition is a non-partisan advocate for the municipal Taxpayer. We are committed to lower taxes, less waste, and holding government to account with respect to how they spend your hard earned money.

Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha….

If the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition considers itself a ‘non-partisan advocate’ then that term is absolutely meaningless. Fuck. By that measure, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are non-partisan advocates.

Their Mission Statement could’ve been cribbed from the Rob Ford for Mayor campaign platform. Taxpayer. Lower taxes. Less Waste. Respect. Respect for the municipal taxpayer from the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition.

When the group’s 2012 City Council Report Card (I’m getting to that. Just a second.) our friend on Twitter, Chaicube, plotted a graph, overlaying the other TTC’s councillor grades with Matt Elliott’s council scorecard which is a ranking given to councillors in accordance with how they vote in relationship to the mayor. (A 100% rating means a councillor is in lockstep with Mayor Ford’s politicies; at 3%, speciation has basically occurred between a councillor and the mayor).

And surprise, surprise. The graph showed a clustering of conservative councillors around Mayor Ford while tax and spenders – otherwise known as left of centre – huddled in a ball below. The Great Left-Right Divide on an X-Y axis.

Makes perfect sense when you think about it. Conservative means being fiscally respectful of hardworking taxpayers’ dollars, right? Enemies of wasteful spending and all that.

Except when you take a look at the issues the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition used to grade councillors. A big one seemed to be support for subways over LRTs. Now, how exactly is that being fiscally prudent or respecting taxpayers? Using the same amount of money to build less transit in fewer areas. I believe that would be called spendthriftry, if such a word existed and I think it should. It’s not about respecting taxpayers. It’s about playing the divisive card.

The plastic bag ban also factored heavily into the other TTC’s councillor evaluation. This makes some sense since it started from their opposition to the 5¢ fee on plastic bags. Nickel and diming the taxpayer to death, as Mayor Ford, the other TTC touts.

And the ban now, well, that’s just going to invite lawsuits from everybody with some sort of interest in maintaining the plastic bag status quo. It could wind up costing the city big bucks. So reverse that ban before Toronto’s coffers take an unnecessary hit.

Curiously however, one of three A+s the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gives out is to Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. (Another recipient is Cesar Palacio, a councillor who outside of his own family wouldn’t receive a passing grade from anyone else for his work at City Hall.) It might surprise you to know that in his role as chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Minnan-Wong actively promoted the private sector taking the city to court over the plastic bag ban.

“For those members of council who didn’t support the bag bylaw and others who regret they supported it in the beginning , we’re leaving it to the private sector to save us from our own madness,” Minnan-Wong told the committee. “They have to save us by hopefully going to court and having this stupidity overturned.”

Evidently for the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition, respect means disrespecting the democratic process when things don’t go your way.

It’s also interesting to note that there was no mention of their A+ student’s spearheading the move to tear up the Jarvis bike lanes at immense superfluous cost to the city. Respect for the taxpayer? More like respect for the car driving taxpayers. Fingers crossed the new parking revenues from along Jarvis Street make up the shortfall for Denzil’s Folly!

Look, I don’t have any trouble with a conservative advocacy group going to bat for Team Ford’s agenda. That’s politics. But can we stop pretending the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition is anything other than that? Claiming non-partisanship doesn’t automatically make it so.

partisanly submitted by Cityslikr


The Weather Up There

August 16, 2011

I spent the last few days trying to pull numbers from my ass. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks but it wasn’t entirely a waste of time either. I did find a couple mismatched socks that I’d long ago written off as hostages taken by my cantankerous dryer.

What really baffles me however is just how easily and often conservative politicians, pundits and thinkers pull off this feat. They are perpetually pulling numbers from their ass and using them as ‘proof positive’ of their various arguments and pet peeves. Why, just last week the mayor went deep and came up with a threatened 35% property tax increase if we don’t get down to some serious slashing and burning of city services and assets. Where’d he get that number? He didn’t pass along any footnotes or references, so we can only assume it came from where the sun don’t shine. Just like the 80% labour costs he tells us that that make up our annual operating budget. Or the 6% attrition rate of city staff that occurs every year. (Actual numbers point to less than 3%.)

Mystical, magical numbers that suit whatever situation the mayor’s railing against, thrown up against the wall to see how long they stick. That one’s done. That’s done. Oh. That one may need a little more cooking.

To be fair to the mayor, the 35% property tax increase number probably didn’t originate from up his ass. It seems to be a figure pulled out from the keister of one Matthew McGuire of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. 34% + 1 for good measure. Always round up when looking to scare people. Round down if you need to mitigate the increase to the police salaries you just agreed to.

Where did Mr. McGuire come up with his numbers? Well, I don’t have an MBA from the Rotman School of Business but it looks to me as if he just took the already arbitrary figure of $774 million Team Ford has been using to bludgeon us into submission and calculated what hike in property taxes would be needed to cover that cost. If we did nothing else. As happened every year David Miller was in power. Spend more money. Raise property taxes. Repeat. Years 2003-2010.

(Hey. I just pulled that from my ass. Maybe I am getting the hang of it.)

McGuire floated that number a week or so ago and it was immediately picked up by CityTV news and the receptacle of all things pulled from right wingers asses, talk radio. Stop the presses! Somebody just said something really loopy. Get that man a microphone! City council is a haven for communists? Print it!

Of course, it’s mostly a one-way street on that account. If I were to float something equally as questionable, chances are the press wouldn’t be knocking down my door unless maybe the mayor flipped me off or if I issued death threats. But in terms of policy like, say, Matt Elliott did about budget alternatives. I’m not sure our local mainstream media would be as a quick to set up an interview. Have you been interviewed yet, Matt, on your budget thoughts?

Right wingers float whatever ideas that emanate from their gut and the press is all ears. Nothing is ever too crazy or cracked to pass by unnoticed. It’s just put out there as a starting point for future discussion. Of course a 34 or 35% property tax increase would never happen under any administration but especially our current one. It’s just where the goal posts are planted. Negotiations begin from there. Don’t want a 35% property tax increase? Fine.

Where do we start cutting? Libraries? Grants? Sidewalk snow removal? No wait. That one’s off the table.

In our Matlovian manner, we then desperately search for the middle ground, playing on the field where the lines have just been redrawn. No, no, no. Nobody wants a 35% property tax increase. So let’s settle on the rate of inflation and begin cutting from there. Maybe we can sell off some of our assets instead? The mayor’s heavy lifting has been done for him and all he needed to do was negotiate in bad faith, using dubious numbers he pulled from his ass.

Why don’t we call his bluff? No, no, no. A 35% property tax increase is out of the question. We’re happy with 30%. Of course, the response will inevitably be, are you nuts? To which we respond, are you? You suggested a 35% increase. What? You mean you weren’t serious?

All of which takes me to the clip I’ve been watching over and over again since I first saw it on the season ender of Real Time with Bill Maher. New Rules. The Donner Party. In short, we who don’t adhere to radical right wing ideology need to start bringing the crazy. By playing nice and trying to be reasonable and always searching to find the ‘truth’ somewhere in the mushy middle, we’ve already given up the game. If you try fighting crazy fire with the coolness of logic, you succeed only in moving closer to the crazy not coming to a logical compromise.

HiMY SYeD had it right in his deputation to the Executive Committee last month. Rather than settle for cuts to some libraries, he demanded that we double the number of branches in the city. Why? Mr. SYeD claims libraries increase property values and increased property values increases revenue to the city. Libraries are a creative city’s DNA and engine driving innovation. (A sidenote: The book Mr. SYeD holds up for Councillor Kelly is The Warhol Economy.) Of course, if he were really playing by the crazy rules, Mr. SYeD wouldn’t have offered up any plausible explanations for his reasoning other than, just because or I pulled the number from my ass.

From that starting point, I can envision the conversation going something like: We can’t afford more libraries. Yes but, we can’t afford fewer libraries. That would be the start of some meaningful negotiations.

So let’s all start putting on our crazy dresses and Mr. Peanut tophats and make our demands heard loud and clear. Let’s stop reaching out to find a compromise with half-baked notions and patently false assertions. Let’s be ‘… a dog that can bark at a pine cone for 9 days and not get tired.’

insanely submitted by Cityslikr