On Your Left

I hesitatingly venture here into provincial territory as it’s not really my thing. dipmytoeinWhich is odd because, regardless of what goes on at City Hall, what degree of self-import we attach to the place, it don’t amount to a hill of beans in the face of the ultimate power wielded by Queen’s Park. The municipal will of the people always bends to that of the provincial government. End stop.

So here goes…

It all started yesterday. Actually, it was the day before. Wednesday.

Mayor Ford foot stomps and waa-waas, demanding a face-to-face meeting with the premier to talk about financial help from the province for the city’s clean-up efforts after last month’s ice storm. A meeting the premier is under absolutely no obligation to have since the mayor’s been stripped of all his powers to be of any importance in the running of the city. tempertantrum3A meeting the premier is under absolutely no obligation to have since city council has already officially asked the province for assistance in paying for the clean-up.

A meeting that is only about one thing and one thing only.

Mayor Ford’s re-election campaign. Mayor Ford’s attempt to look like he’s still the mayor in anything but name only. Mayor Ford’s publicity stunt.

Just ignore him. He’ll get distracted soon. NFL playoffs this weekend!

But for whatever reason, the provincial NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, decides to wade in.

Let me restate that.

For purely political reasons, the provincial NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, decides to wade in. Ms. Horwath sees an opportunity to get a dig in at the premier. Why not? That’s what democracy is all about, right? Getting your shots in?

“I think common courtesy in response to a mayor’s request for a meeting is pretty easy to fulfil,” the NDP leader told reporters benice(and quoted here in a Toronto Sun article by Christina Blizzard. More on that in a moment.)

Come on, Premier Wynne! Why you gotta be so mean to guy when he’s down on his luck? What’s the mayor ever done to earn this kinda discourtesy from you?

I don’t really need to run down that list for you, do I? By the choices he’s made and actions he’s taken, Mayor Ford has made himself irrelevant to the operations and functioning of the city he was elected to lead. City council made it official. This goes beyond the mushy notion of courtesy.

So what’s to be gained for the NDP leader, out there, all sympathetic to Toronto’s disgraced mayor?

Here’s my guess, and it goes back to the Toronto Sun, Christina Blizzard and this seemingly bit of oddity from Trish Hennessy in the fall of 2011, after the last provincial election.

When they talked about Rob Ford, they often spoke in appreciative, glowing terms – in the same way they spoke about another well-loved politician, Jack Layton. In the focus group discussions, they saw little ideological divide between Jack Layton and Rob Ford. Rather, they felt the two men had in common a sincere drive to take on the struggle of the people despite great odds.

Rob Ford-Jack Layton? Wait? We’re NDP like Jack Layton. We’re like Jack Layton. ivegotitWhy not Rob Ford-provincial NDP?

From a left of centre perspective? Aside from the colour orange, I see very little resemblance between Jack Layton and the provincial NDP party. But hey. Have at it, if that’s how you see the way forward.

What I find particularly frustrating is that there’s another strategy possibly working to the NDP’s advantage here.

I see Premier Wynne as something of a throwback, a Pearson-Trudeau sort of Liberal at heart. With the Ontario economy in a serious rut, unemployment discouragingly high, disturbingly high for youth and young adults, the premier’s instinct must be to go all Keynesian on our asses. Damn the deficit! Open up the spigot and get spending. Seriously start addressing our staggering infrastructure deficit, especially in transit.

Screw talk of tax increases at this point of time. Those will come later. antikeynesianKick start the draggy economic engine because waiting for the private sector to step up has proven to be a mug’s game to this point.

The premier’s held back from taking such a bold step on two fronts. Old blue Tory McGuinty Libs remain in place, tutting and fretting about the deficit and debt. If we just buckle down a little more, tighten the belt a little further, things will start to come around. Conservatives assure us of this fact.

Secondly, previous financial spending gaffes (made by those very same blue Tory McGuinty Libs) have reduced the public’s trust in the Liberals’ ability to spend wisely to almost zero. With no credibility, no goodwill from voters, and still in a minority position, it’s tough to pull the trigger on any sort of increased spending. holeontheleftThis time, it’ll be different. Cross our hearts.

All of which opens a gaping hole on the left flank for the NDP to run up through. Government intervention to inject life into an otherwise anemic economy? It should be the party’s bread-and-butter. It’s what the NDP are all about, yes?

Not this current provincial NDP, it seems. This isn’t the party of Jack Layton. Or Stephen Lewis. Or, for that matter, Bob Rae even.

This is a party more concerned with what somebody like Rob Ford would do.

Political calculation, trumping principles and basic economic common sense.


Good luck courting new voters with that. You’re going to need it.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr

Re-Imagining Toronto IV

[On Thursday, March 7thIdil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

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Toronto: A City Of Disparities – Idil Burale

The more time I have spent thinking, discussing, and researching the urban-suburban divide paradigm, the more I’ve come to realize that the underlying factor in this politics du jour is the growing income inequality in what is now 4th largest city in North America. taleoftwocities1In his groundbreaking 2007 report “The Three Cities Within Toronto“, David Hulchanski highlighted a disturbing trend of concentration of wealth and poverty in different parts of the city for the past 35 years. According to that report, the Toronto core (i.e. downtown) has become an enclave for the ultra rich, whereas the rest of Toronto (the suburbs) has seen a decline in prosperity. Hulchanski is confident that if nothing is done the trend lines will continue and that we will see an emergence of Two Cities Within Toronto by 2025: one rich, one poor.

And yet, instead of dealing with this, most discussions on the development of Toronto lately seem to be centred around casinos, condos, and transit issues. thisiswhereIliveNo one seems to be strategizing a way of curtailing the symptoms of income inequality. For example, dealing with the issues surrounding the prevalence of precarious employment, the dire lack of affordable housing, or the disappearing middle-class. In short, there is no shortage of `wicked problems’ (to coin a Vass Bednar phrase) to solve, but how have these issues been addressed, if at all? Even more importantly, is this the only source of tension between the urban-suburban divide?

I don’t think so.

Since where you live dictates your lifestyle, your neighbourhood influences the way you relate to the city. Our surrounding environment is part of the perceptual process that we use to make sense of the world. Therefore, it is important to note that the framework of the urban-suburban divide is also about how people perceive their political identity and role in municipal politics. In Cityslikr’s post earlier this week, he mentioned Mayor Rob Ford’s comments that people in North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough are conservative voters. hediditI don’t think that’s the case and we only need to look to the last provincial elections to counter that notion. Or David Miller’s sweep of every suburban ward except two in 2006.

However, what Ford is alluding to is a cycle of voting precipitated by a particular circumstance. Ford knew that people in the suburbs did not want their taxes increased. Therefore, he used the perception that most suburbanites have about their place at City Hall, i.e., as second-class citizens, to convince them that any tax increase from liberals, would be used to further develop the infrastructure of the downtown core at the expense of the suburbs. He guaranteed he would put a stop to that. Stopping the Gravy Train.

When we consider that 10 out of the 17 years of post-amalgamation bliss in Toronto have been governed under the leadership of a conservative suburbanite, one must ponder why the right wing is better at exploiting the urban-suburban dynamic than their progressive counterparts? In many ways, the rise of Rob Ford was made possible by the growing sense of urban chauvinism in Toronto politics and facilitated by the recession.

Does this mean that the amalgamation benefits the conservatives more than it does progressives?

I don’t know. helloneighbourBut I know we need to try something different: a conversation.

Its time to think anew and build a system of planning that doesn’t exclude people from the spaces that we create. We need to revisit suburban planning. We need to change certain perceptions that people hold both of themselves and of other people in different neighbourhoods. We need to remind ourselves that a focus on the development of Toronto cannot be successful without addressing the growing trend of income inequality. We need to realize as one city, Toronto must ensure that all of its residents – urban and suburban alike – have equal access to opportunity, mobility and liveability.

To do that, Toronto must first move past the false, political and geographical divisions that we’ve created.

suburbanly submitted by Idil Burale

Councillor Clueless

OK. Everybody take a seat. I’m about to write something I’ve never written before.


I don’t understand what goes on in the head of Councillor Doug Ford.

No, wait. I always write that. Go back to standing. This is a regular thing I write about when it comes to the councillor-brother.

Yesterday he was in the Globe and Mail, leading the pushback to the mayor’s mild musings about modest property tax increases (which if not maintained at least at the rate of inflation actually constitute a tax cut) and the problem for the city’s coffer with any sort of rescinding of the land transfer tax.

“Councillor Doug Ford, the vice-chair of Toronto’s budget committee,” the Globe’s Kelly Grant wrote, “said Tuesday that he is ‘absolutely, 100 per cent’ in favour of holding the line on property-tax rates in the future.” And as for the LTT? “We have to look at the upcoming budget. And if there’s room to look at a little bit of the land-transfer tax, we’ll look at it,” the councillor said. “Eventually, [it should be] phased out. I don’t think we can afford doing it all in one shot.”

We can’t currently afford to phase out the LTT but sometime in the future we’ll be able to. What will have changed between now and then, I wonder? Oh yeah, further reduction in the role of the municipal government in our lives.

That’s what this is all about. A slow but steady erosion of the services the city provides to the population with an equal measure of tax cuts and elimination. Hell, while we’re at, why stop with the LTT? Instead of freezing property taxes, why not plug away at doing away with them altogether too?

“It’s the taxpayers’ money,” Councillor Ford said. “It’s not our money. We should give it back to the people that gave it to us.”

As usual, neoconservative/libertarians like Councillor Ford conveniently only make half the argument. They claim taxpayers fork over their hard-earned money and receive little in return. Government’s so-called ‘spending problem’ delivers few benefits and usually amounts to what the councillor likes to call a boondoggle.

But as Trish Hennessy highlighted yesterday, government spending actually translates into major benefits for taxpayers. Median households earning $66 000 annually receive $41 000 in public services. That’s what I would call getting a bang for your buck.

More intriguingly, in Councillor Ford’s arena of municipal government, it seems higher income households garner more benefits in public services than lower income households. From the full report:

The pattern of benefit from the spending of local governments is quite different from that of both the federal or provincial governments. The per capita absolute dollar benefit from public services delivered by local governments actually increases as household income increases…For higher-income households, local government is actually more important than it is for households with lower incomes. [bolding mine] In fact, measured benefit from local services for high-income households exceeds the measured benefit from federal government services.

I’d like to think that Councillor Ford rails about municipal taxation from a redistributive standpoint, calling to spread the wealth of public services the city provides a little more evenly. My guess, though, is that it comes from a complete lack of knowledge of the job he was elected to do. Respecting the taxpayer means actively supporting policies that, in fact, diminish the returns they receive for the taxes they pay.

In an Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance paper (page 7) last year, Toronto was compared to 3 other cities in terms of the sources of revenue generation available to them. Only London, England had fewer. By comparison, New York City levelled 13 different kind of local taxes. Toronto now has 3. And Councillor Ford advocates freezing one and the eventual elimination of another.

How exactly does he expect the city to function properly?

My guess is he doesn’t actually care, or doesn’t comprehend the importance in our lives City Hall plays. All taxes are evil. End stop.

I’d probably be less offended if the councillor was more upfront about his intentions than he is. Rather than blowing smoke about giving back money to the taxpayers (we already do in the form of public services), Councillor Ford should just come out and say what he’s really thinking. He wants to reduce government.

Unfortunately, to do so, he’d be advocating reducing the services the government provides to us like transit, libraries, programs, various forms of social innovation. Elect me and I will make your city less liveable and equitable!

That tends not to be a winning campaign platform.

finger to the nosingly submitted by Cityslikr