Now We’ve Got Options!

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.

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

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