Yesterday I decided to take a break from our perpetual mayoral sorrow and His Worship’s latest justice dust-up and spend some time catching up on the actual running of the city. Drop into a Community Council meeting maybe, witness me some day-to-day governance going on in the shadows of continued misrule. Ask the question: can a chicken really still run with its head cut off?
Entering the City Hall lobby, a sign caught my attention. Chief Planner roundtable… Our Urban Fabric: Designing and Creating Public Places. Well, look at that, would you. And off I was, my destination changed from Committee Room #1 to Committee Room #2.
I encourage everyone who wasn’t there or didn’t follow along with the live stream to take some time and watch the proceedings. Failing that, read the agenda outline. What the city may lack in political leadership currently, it is made up for by a ferocious intelligence determined to grapple with some of the major issues we’re facing.
On the particular issue of the public realm, it was quite clear from the outset that many on the chief planner’s panel held diametrically opposed views from our administration. That’s not entirely fair. I mean, can anyone express the mayor’s views on the public realm in fifty words or less? Here, let me try. A football field.
The public realm is no one thing, obviously. Building design. Transportation. Green space. Planning and development. Seemingly disparate items but all serving the single notion of liveability and quality of life. Very few of those things has Mayor Ford had much to say about.
Certainly some of the views expressed by some on the panel — made up of urban planners, designers, landscape architects, civil engineers, transportation consultants, market researchers, from both the private and public sectors. And Anne Golden! – would not be those you’d be hearing from Mayor Ford and his allies. According to the city’s General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley, his department is “no longer just about moving cars…” I says, what?! Who the hell hired this guy? Denzil! Code Red! Rogue city staff! STAT!
(One of the upsides to our mayor’s obsessive focus on every single nickel and returning residents’ phone calls could well be his disengagement with the hiring of senior city staff. Whatever influence his office has on such matters, I can only imagine his involvement in anything that doesn’t directly have to do with dollars and cents is passing at best. Can picture the hiring of Jennifer Keesmaat as chief planner going something along the lines of, Hey, she’s from the private sector! Without looking up, a silent thumbs-up from the mayor as he works his phone.)
Such a disconnect between our highest elected local official and those implementing policy cannot be maintained, of course. Eventually, they have to either coalesce into some sort of coherence or heads are going to roll. Just ask Gary Webster, for instance.
But the ball may not be in the mayor’s court this time out. Not only has he essentially lost control of the agenda at council, he’s also heading into a campaign year. While that may be his strong suit, or at least, stronger than governing, as the incumbent he might not be as free to simply tout meaningless numbers and slogans as he was in 2010. He might have to talk honest-to-god policy ideas.
During yesterday’s panel discussion, the chief planner talked at some length about value. What it is we place value on as residents of the city. It struck me that would be a good place to start asking our politicians as we head into the next campaign. What is it that they value?
We know with almost dead certainty how Mayor Ford would respond to that question. What do you value? Customer service and respect for the taxpayer.
But what does that mean in everyday practical terms?
Returned phone calls and low taxes? What’s the value of those?
It doesn’t deliver us much needed transit. It doesn’t rebuild aging infrastructure. It doesn’t create vibrant public spaces. Outside of our own individual satisfaction there is no value in a phone call from the mayor or not paying the level of taxes necessary to properly maintain our city.
After Mayor Ford escaped unscathed from the Compliance Audit Committee on Monday, Matt Elliott suggested it was now time for him to get back to the work of governing. “It didn’t escape my notice yesterday,” Elliott wrote, “that when Ford started to listing his mayoral accomplishments in his post-victory speech, virtually none of them came from the last six months of his term.” Sure, we can lay the blame for that on all his legal wranglings but I think the truth of the matter is that Mayor Ford has nothing else to offer because there is nothing else he really values.
Public transit is merely a nuisance to him. There’s only value in it if it’s kept underground, out of sight, out of mind. Of course he’s in favour of a casino wherever it’ll fetch the most money for city coffers and offset some of the revenue his administration has foregone in its War on Taxes.
“I think a lot of people are already in that election mode,” the mayor told the media, “and just wrapping up a few loose ends and we’re going to be on the campaign trail.”
With about 20 months to go before the next election, Mayor Ford is ‘just wrapping up a few loose ends’. That’s what a politician with no values calls governing.
— impatiently submitted by Cityslikr