The Mayor’s Business

November 3, 2011

Please bear with me if my initial points are a little blurry and all the thoughts not strung together in any sort of coherent fashion. No, Sue-Ann Levy is not ghost writing this post. It’s just that I’ve been banging my head repeatedly against the wall, trying to figure out the general m’eh attitude toward Mayor Ford using his own family printing business, Deco Labels and Tags, to whip up he and his staff a batch of gold embossed business cards.

What part of ‘The Mayor Using His Family Business To Print Business Cards’ doesn’t immediately scream ‘Wrong!’ to everyone? I don’t care if he’s been judicious in not sole sourcing the job out or if he paid fair market value for the order or..or..or.. whatever other flimsy justification he, his brother and staff come up with. There’s a point at every council meeting I’ve ever attended where councillors have to stand and declare ‘an interest’ in a particular item that’s coming up for debate. It’s short hand for ‘conflict of interest’, usually entailing some family member working for the department in question or ownership of a property that may benefit (or not) in a decision council is about to make. Declaring a conflict of interest.

So how can the mayor of Toronto using his family run business to print his business cards be anything other than a conflict of interest? How? How?? Oh. Councillor Minnan-Wong? You had something to say about the matter on The Agenda Monday night?

“But I can also tell you that if the mayor had his druthers about this that he would’ve just had Deco Labels do it for free and had it just delivered to City Hall. But the problem is there are other individuals at City Hall that don’t want him to have these free contributions made to save the taxpayers money for some reason beyond me that was made a few years ago. He would’ve just gone to Deco Labels, had them printed and had the city not be expensed at all. But city council won’t let him do it.”

Hmmm. ‘… other individuals at City that don’t want him to have these free contributions to the taxpayers money…’? Could one of those ‘other individuals’ be the city’s Auditor General, Jeffrey Griffiths? Or then Integrity Commissioner, David Mullan? Seems this practice of using his family business to outfit his office with supplies has been an ongoing concern since back in the early days of Mayor Ford’s time as a councillor. (h/t Edward Keenan whose dynamite article I’m just riffing on here). Turns out, it’s a force of habit that’s been frowned upon but Rob Ford just keeps plugging away at it. Somehow.

And yet the mayor’s council colleagues like Denzil Minnan-Wong, presumably without benefit of a similar family business to help him out around the office, can’t see what the problem is. It’s beyond him why anyone could object to Mayor Ford conducting his official business on his own or Deco Labels and Tags’ dime. (Can you say, `corporate donation`, Councillor Minnan-Wong?) Pish-posh. All’s fair as long as it saves the taxpayers money.

Well councillor, if that’s the case, I say why stop at just measly business cards and letterhead? If it’s all about saving the taxpayers money, let’s try and hand the whole shooting’ match over to anyone who can afford it? Surely there’s got to be someone out there with $9 billion/year they’d be happy to part with in order to run the city. Be great if they could match that again to cover off some of our capital costs too. Then it wouldn’t cost us li’l taxpayers a thing to live in the city.

Never mind the darker implications of public service becoming only the domain of those who can afford it. What about oversight and accountability? Personally, I want to know what our elected officials spent and where the money came from. And frankly, I don’t care if the mayor wants some fancy business cards although I do have to agree with Mr. Keenan that coming from Rob Ford, it is a bit, errr, rich with a noxious whiff of hypocrisy to boot. We’re going with the cheapest bid in contracting out waste collection but not for our business cards? And trying to placate the situation with an ‘I’m paying for it out of my own pocket’ doesn’t cut it either. That money may have come out of your pocket but how exactly did it get in there in the first place? That’s the kind of thing I want kept above board and on the table for everyone to see.

Openness and transparency. That’s a concept Councillor Ford promised to usher in to City Hall if elected mayor. Yet, here he is, still playing fast and loose with his office expenses, maintaining ongoing business with his family firm, fighting off a Compliance Audit Committee request to look through his campaign financing books. It’s all so unseemly and smacks more of disrespect for the taxpayers.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


Diminshed Expectations Are Contagious

March 18, 2011

I have come to terms with the fact that our 4 dailies, most of the mainstream media actually, take a dimmer view of government than I do. For I continue to believe that our elected representatives act only as badly, goodly, cravenly, bravely, miserly or magnanimously as we allow them. Their faults are our faults. Their successes ours. At the end of the (election) day, governments remain accountable to the people and to the people only.

Yeah. I do actually believe that.

So most political coverage from our newspapers that comes across my desk I read with a mixture of anger, dismay, incredulity, angrier, disbelief, confusion, angrierer. (But not you, Christopher Hume.) It’s not that I simply disagree with much of what’s written. That’s a given. I just find it discouraging to think of the influence the discourse has on our political atmosphere. A disheartened atmosphere of No Can Do-ism and diminished expectations. Ask not what your government can do for you because it can do diddly squat.

So it was as I read Chris Selley’s piece in the National Post a couple days back, Let’s get diesel trains to airport on track Mr. Selley may have a tepid point with his analysis of the diesel vs. electric debate. Let’s take whatever we can to get a rail link between downtown and Pearson. Finally. It’s long, long, very long overdue. But isn’t it this grudging acceptance, this settling for something less, this sense of diminished expectations that has got us into our current transit mess in the first place?

Had the newly minted Harris government not experienced a failure of nerve or a failure to take the long view or just been less… oh, I’m so tempted to drop the c-bomb and add an ‘ish’ here but I’ll restrain myself… back in 1995, we’d already have a subway running along Eglinton Avenue. Fast forward 13 years, Premier McGuinty wavering in the face of a recession induced deficit and scaling back plans on funding Transit City, itself something of a We-Don’t-Have-The-Density/Money-To-Build-Subways compromise. The result? More delays and opening the door wide to the new mayor’s ridiculously under-thought out Sheppard subway plan that, whatever the outcome, only means even further delays for Toronto.

What happened to the time when our politicians marshalled an uncertain public to embrace the great unknown for the greater good? Like JFK sending Americans to the moon. I’m sure a very solid dollars and cents case was made why that wouldn’t be a good idea. Or (and I hesitate to go here, fearing that I may just be invoking Godwin’s Law which I only recently learned about from @jm_mcrath) back in 1939, imagine western governments worrying about the costs, both human and financial, of going to war with the Nazis? You know, the timing’s really bad. Winter’s coming. We’re still a little behind the 8 ball with this Great Depression-y thing…

Oh, right. We now have leaders marshalling an uncertain public to embrace bad causes for the lesser good. Like say going to war in Iraq. Deregulation. The debasement of government itself.

The strange thing is, we watch as the private sector nose dives into a near death spiral through mismanagement, criminality and irrational swings in triumphant certainty to baseless fear, only to be picked up, dusted off and sent back along their way with billions of dollars of government cash, yet still we lionize these titans of industry for their daring-do, spirit of adventure and risk taking in the face of daunting odds. Our politicians? Not so much. Just deliver the services we demand, don’t take too much money from us and try and keep quiet over there.

While no transit expert, I think the case for electrifying the rail link from downtown to Pearson is a slam dunk. Yes, the upfront costs are more but the general feeling is we will recoup that money through lower operational costs down the line. Electrification would allow more flexibility in terms of the numbers of stops along the way. There’s that whole concept of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. I know some of our electricity is coal generated but it is more flexible to future energy innovations (although there’s another front where our politicians are easily swayed away from green energy by dubious arguments). Diesel is diesel and electric trains simply make public transit a joy.

Mr. Selley does his argument a great disservice by blithely pointing out that the diesel trains Metrolinx has contracted to buy are convertible to electric as if it’ll be as easy as that. Slap up some wires, attach a couple of those rod thingies to the trains and we’ll be good to go. It’ll be a little more burdensome than that and, if history can be used as an example, the cost will be much higher in the long run than if we just electrified it now. (And while we’re in critical mode with this. Please, Chris. “If I worked downtown and was flying to London, I’d much sooner change in Montreal, or even Newark, than brave Pearson.” Seriously? A connecting flight rather than making your way to Pearson for a direct one? A little over the top, wouldn’t you say?)

But that seems to be what we do these days, make questionable claims to back up our demand for less bold measures from our governments. Bold measures are inherently risky, unpredictable and oftentimes don’t immediately pay off. It takes some courage to step up and see them through. If our politicians aren’t capable of such conviction, maybe it’s because we aren’t either.

boldly submitted by Cityslikr


The Real Agenda Debate

September 8, 2010

The boys of summer are gone replaced by men of fall (no offense, Ms. Thomson), all in their resplendent autumnal colours and nary a pair of white slacks between them. From the starter’s tower, the white flag has been waved signaling the commencement of the final lap. (If you thought it meant surrender, you’re not a Rob Ford supporter.) Months and months of mindless posturing and can kicking now gives way to grave seriousness and weighty deliberation.

And nothing says ‘weighty deliberation’ more than a mayoral debate on TVO hosted by respected journo, Steve Paikin. He’ll civilize the proceedings, quiet the roar to a more pleasing, easy to follow decibel. There’ll be no grandstanding under Steve Paikin’s watch. The candidates won’t be able to slime their way out of the tight corners Steve Paikin will put them in. This one’s going to be different. Steve Paikin will finally shed the light of truth and reason on the race and we’ll all be the better for it.

Did he?

Well, yes and no. The sound level on yesterday’s debate was noticeably lower than previous televised debates but, then again, isn’t everything more quiet on TVO? They don’t have the money to buy one of them kick-ass volume goes to 11 amps. It certainly felt more dignified, less shouty and aggressively confrontational. Steve Paikin held much tighter onto the reigns, never letting things veer too out of control. Steve Paikin was insistent without being obnoxious. A one hour debate moderated by Steve Paikin brought much more clarity than any two hour debate we’ve witnessed so far.

And just what was that clarity, you ask?

Well, it become glaringly apparent that, barring some minor miracle, some Hail Mary pass being tossed up and caught, Toronto will be led by someone intent on cutting it down to size. Our next mayor is going to want to see blood on the floor and guts exposed. The terms of the debate are now set in stone. It’s no longer if the city has a spending problem but what to do about the spending problem.

Rob Ford is already the winner of this election even if he doesn’t become mayor on October 25th. His endless braying chant of Toronto not having a revenue problem but a spending problem has been whole-heartedly picked up by Mssrs. Smitherman and Rossi and Ms. Thomson and embraced, leaving any other opinion or view on the matter simply peep, peep, peeping quietly and ineffectively out of the mouth of Joe Pantalone. I know conventional wisdom has it that Councillor Pantalone is simply not a good campaigner but the malaise goes deeper than that. His refusal to embrace the last 7 years, both the good and bad, has put him purely on the defensive, reactive not proactive.

So he’s ceded the battleground to the interloping tax-and-spend choppers, the self-proclaimed white knights with a thirst for government blood. Major surgery will be needed, folks, to cure the ailing patient. But don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit. At least not for you, what with that protective coating of tax cuts. You’ll be fine. You’ll barely even notice the freezing/cutting spending at City Hall because, seriously, what have they been doing for you over the past 7 years? What with all that retirement partying and sole sourcing and gravy train gulping they’ve been doing…

The table is now set. It’s only a matter of what and how much to axe, what to sell off and who and how much to outsource. The last remaining vestige of liberal impulse in any of the front runners (sorry Joe, you’re not really a front runner) was tossed out by George Smitherman yesterday when he said, cryptically, “There will be less Copenhagen, more Scarborough.” As if Toronto’s problems can be traced back to being too Copenhagen-ish. Clearly, Smitherman’s now speaking code to conservative voters, assuring them once he’s mayor there’ll be no more of that smarty-pants, European, environmental, bike riding going on under his watch. Strip malls for everyone!

Enough Of The Downtown Shenanigans®©™ has become the framework of our mayoral campaign. It’s time to get back down to basics; the basics of low taxes and government spending on only the essentials. And then what?

This is where future debates have to take us. We now know what any one of Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Thomson will do if they are elected. It’s only a difference of degree between them. What we need to discover is once they’ve restored our fiscal house to order, what kind of city will Toronto look like. They are all harkening back to a former time of Toronto greatness which they vow to restore. When was that exactly? The good ol’ days of… ? Mel Lastman? Art Eggleton? David Crombie? Nathan Phillips? William Lyon Mackenzie?

Because if things are as bad as everyone’s assuring us they are, and can only be fixed by returning to a magical, mystical place in the past, just when was that exactly? That’s what I want to start hearing from our mayoral candidates. Paint us a picture of the Toronto we’ll be living in when your job as mayor is done here. A time, like that one in the past you keep referring to, when there were no problems to solve and seldom was heard a discouraging word.

inquiring mindedly submitted by Cityslikr