Will The Real Josh Colle Please Step Forward

There are more than a few sitting city councillors whose presence on the municipal scene baffles me. headscratcherWhether they seem ill at ease in a public forum or are just complete busts when it comes to understanding policy issues, I scratch my head and wonder what forces brought them to where they’re currently sitting. Accidents of circumstance or just freak electoral accidents?

Curiously, none are more of a mystery to me than Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence). He seems smart and is definitely articulate. No dummy is Councillor Colle. It’s just, I can’t get a handle on the man.

Even before he started sporting a goatee that made him look like the son of Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), he struck me as someone who was up to something. That something, I haven’t been able to figure out. Colle’s like the thinking man’s Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), City Hall’s Machiavellian Prince.

Back during the highly contentious 2012 budget debate, Councillor Colle was the face of the pushback to save some $20 million in cuts that the Ford administration had put on the chopping block. twofacedHe stood defiantly in opposition to the mayor when it wasn’t necessarily politically advantageous to do so. It was probably the first symbolic lump Mayor Ford took.

A little more than a year later, the very same Councillor Colle stood up and gave perhaps one of the most dispiriting defences of city council not doing a single thing when it came to dealing with revenue tools for building transit. He was pushing an amendment to colleague Councillor Josh Matlow’s motion to proceed with some of the revenue recommendations from city staff that essentially struck all the suggested revenue streams out of the motion. In effect, Colle was seeking to turn a pro-tax motion into a non-tax motion. He won.

It was a shrug. An outright rejection of responsible governing. Councillor Colle’s version of Homer Simpson’s I’m not not licking toads denial.

Looking through the councillor’s voting pattern via Matt Elliott’s council scorecard reveals little up about what he represents. lickingtoadsHe sits at just over 40% of agreement with Mayor Ford, almost smack dab in the middle of the pack. That’s not far off the number he was at after year one on council. While support for the mayor from his strongest allies has dropped off precipitously over the last couple years, Councillor Colle has remained fairly steady throughout.

Even in this last budget cycle where the mayor was pretty much abandoned by everybody but the hardest of hardcore, far right on council, Colle punched in at 33% alignment with Mayor Ford. A very small sample size mind you, but it was on par with the usual unthinking mayoral yeah-sayers like councillors Cesar Palacio, Gary Crawford and above even the likes of the normally dependable Councillor Mark Grimes.

This is not necessarily a good or bad thing. Early on in the term, when Councillor Colle had inherited the Lawrence Heights redevelopment in his ward, you could sense he was forced into some horse trading with the mayor who’d campaigned against the redevelopment, in order to protect it. orelseA scenario where he was operating with a gun to his head, as is the mayor’s standard operating procedure.

But Mayor Ford doesn’t swing that kind of pipe any more. Still, Councillor Colle continues to play ball. Maybe he’s comfortable politically aligned with the mayor 40% of the time on the big issues affecting the city. It’s just odd that his predecessor in Ward 15, Howard Moscoe, famously said Rob Ford couldn’t pass gas if a majority of council didn’t let him, and here’s Councillor Colle – who Moscoe endorsed to replace  him – enabling Mayor Ford to pass gas 4 out of 10 times.

It all leaves me cold with ambivalent uncertainty toward Josh Colle.

As the scion of the local MPP and with all the Liberal party election machine operations that entails, it’s hard to see how a candidate could dislodge him in October. In 2010, Colle’s main opponent was the established conservative candidate Rob Davis, so picture him running as the reasonable progressive in the field. beatfromthebushesMaybe it might be worth a try this time around for someone to run against him from the left, challenge the councillor on his progressive credentials. Ask Councillor Colle why he continues to support the Scarborough subway extension while voting against ways to fund it.

Ask him anything that might chase him from the bushes and force him to define who exactly he is and what he stands for. After nearly 4 years in office, we deserve to know that much, I think.

— curiously submitted by Cityslikr

One Is The Loneliest Number

It would be easy to write off the city’s new budget chief, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio as… invisibleman1ineffectual, let’s call it to keep things on a civil level. It’s difficult to point to a single contribution he’s made during his undistinguished time in office. His one stand out quality seems to be posing the most baffling of questions during council meetings. If there’s a current councillor who elicits more “I’m sorry. I’m not sure what you’re asking.” responses one doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

Yet there he is, a North York and Toronto councillor since 1985 save the first term of the amalgamated city. That’s 25 years for those of you counting at home. He’s got to be delivering the goods in some way, doesn’t he? whateverOtherwise, you’d have to conclude that his residents aren’t really paying that much attention to who represents them at City Hall, and their voting habits consist of nothing more than checking off the most recognizable name on the ballot.

Let’s not travel down that cold, bleak road.

Instead we’ll assume that Councillor Di Giorgio is one savvy political survivor. A canny operator who knows what needs to be known, does what needs to be done to continue getting elected to public office.  He has his finger on the pulse of what Ward 12 York South-Weston voters want and expect in a councillor.

Now, after years in the wilderness of obscurity, he has finally ascended the heights of prominence. Clawing his way up over the corpses and cast offs of a once powerful army, he is the last man standing. solesurvivorThe chosen one from the dwindling ranks. The few, the proud, the Team Ford.

Being budget chief is a tough, thankless job at the best of times. Arguably, this is not the best of times. The position kicked the stuffing out of his predecessor, Mike Del Grande who seemed to have coveted the job from the time he was first elected as councillor in 2003. Why would Councillor Di Giorgio want to travel down that same grueling path with a crowd not playing at the top of its game and hardly noted for overt displays of loyalty toward those who’ve offered up their services for the cause?

Surely the councillor’s been around the political block enough times to know that he’s not going to make a lick of difference in the direction the budget takes as long as the mayor’s brother sits to his left as the committee’s vice-chair. Sure, there are five other members on the committee but with hyper-Fordian Councillor Frances Nunziata now one of them, it’s hard to see much of a free flow of ideas happening that don’t carry the imprimatur of the councillor-brother. liontamingIt’s obvious who’s running the show at budget committee in everything but name.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were on record for not thinking much of the former budget chief’s job. In our humble opinion, he never fully grasped the nature of public finances, maintaining a very cloistered view that saw debt and taxation as unnecessary profligacies. But Councillor Del Grande was no toady. He possessed an independence of attitude that, more often than not, overlapped with Mayor Ford. When it didn’t? Well, ultimately that’s why he quit the post.

Watching Budget Chief Di Giorgio’s inaugural budget committee meeting as chair last Thursday, independent minded was not the first thing that sprung to mind. He was solicitous and polite and did not commence the meeting with a bang of the gavel. Granted, the meeting was light on business and for the most part, items sailed through with very little fuss or bother. rubberstampNobody set about re-inventing the wheel on this particular day.

And then came the last bit of new business.

An item from the February Government Management Committee meeting to purchase a little over a third of an acre of green space from a surplus TDSB school along Dufferin Street in Ward 15.

For most of the committee members in the room, this was the first they’d heard about the item and understandably wanted to get a little more information before giving it a green light. (Councillor Nunziata took the opportunity for her familiar complaint refrain about not getting the parks in her ward cleaned let alone getting a new park.) Due diligence and all that.

But the budget committee vice-chair took the wariness a couple notches higher.

A million bucks for a park?! Who did the math on this? Fair market value, the budget chief assured him.grandstanding

A park on Dufferin Street?! Who would want their kids playing there? Well, the area is lacking green space, the budget chief told him.

If we buy a park for Ward 15, where’s the park for every other ward in the city? Let’s keep everything at the lowest common denominator, folks. Parks for all or parks for nobody. And it’ll be for nobody since a million dollars for a park is outrageous.

So it went until the committee voted in favour of sending the item onto Executive Committee without recommendation, effectively washing their collective hands of making any decision on it.

While such an excessive outburst is nothing new, this one was something of a head-scratcher even by Councillor Doug Ford standards. Alone among budget committee members, the councillor was not unfamiliar with this particular item. As part of the Government Management committee, not only did Councillor Ford debate the item a month earlier, he actually moved the adoption of the motion.

Now, here he was railing about it.

Whatever was behind such a pronounced flip-flop?

Follow me as I make a wild guess here.

The chair of the Government Management Committee? A certain Councillor Paul Ainslie. pissingmatchWhat happened in the interim between Councillor Ford’s apparent approval of the purchase of the parkland in February and his about face on it a month later? A little accusation of more questionable public behaviour on the part of Mayor Ford at the Garrison Ball earlier this year by – you guessed it – a certain Councillor Ainslie.

Who did the math on this?!

This is the kind of eradicate, sideshow conduct Councillor Di Giorgio has signed up for in taking the position of budget chief. Entirely extraneous, personality driven politics diverting attention from the task at hand of running the city. As the administration wobbly heads into an election year, completely sidelined on most of the important issues on the municipal docket, is this really the kind of increased profile the councillor is looking for? outsidethecircleBudget chief in name only and subject to the turbulence of a populist administration constantly undercut by a lack of realistic policy goals and regular questions about the mayor’s off-field behaviour?

Unsurprisingly, after the conclusion of Thursday’s budget committee meeting, the budget chief was left alone, talking to someone in the public seats as the media chased Councillor Ford out of the room. It’s a scenario Councillor Di Giorgio probably should get used to.

singularly submitted by Cityslikr

An Addendum

Just a quick additional note that I tried to artfully weave into yesterday’s post but couldn’t pull off in any way that met even our impossibly low standards.

We were talking about the arrival of Councillors Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam into the bigs with their respective battles to save projects in their wards from under the Godzilla steps of Team Ford. The Fort York bridge in Layton’s case and the Jarvis Street bike lanes in Wong-Tam’s. In losing causes both councillors made very favourable impressions.

We failed to make one important point. That is to the ‘why’ these projects came under attack in the first place. Budget overruns were cited with the proposed Fort York bridge. A mix of ideologically thinking and a repackaged election campaign pledge got trotted out in the case of the bike lanes on Jarvis. None of the reasoning actually held up in the light of the day and perhaps it’s just easiest to see it as simply a purge of anything and everything to do with the Mayor David Miller era. (If you’re looking for better analyses of what’s making the mayor tick, you absolutely need to read Ivor Tossell’s piece in the Toronto Standard and Matt Elliott at Ford For Toronto.)

But consider this.

I think it’s safe to say neither Wong-Tam nor Layton could be viewed as reliable allies of Mayor Ford. In fact, opposite camp may be a better descriptor. Downtown pinko left wing kooks. No need expending any political capital trying to woo them.

Instead, they could be used as examples to the other new councillors who are more amenable to the mayor’s way of thinking. Something along the lines of, don’t fuck with us, newbies, or this kind of thing may happen to you too. So, running against unwritten council protocol, in committee a Ford ally blindsides both Layton and Wong-Tam, giving them no real heads-up that the mayor’s aiming to pull the plug on a project in their ward. Grade school, bully boy tactics that has the dual purpose of sticking it to a political foe while warning everyone else who may be getting restless under the mayor’s thumb to stay put and shut up.

Fort York bridge, killed. Jarvis Street bike lanes, removed.

You see what Mayor Ford just did there, Councillor Bailão? Councillor Colle? Councillor Matlow? Councillor McMahon?

It’s instructive to point out that in the lead up to the Jarvis bike lane debate, Mayor Ford went out of his way to hold the Lawrence Heights development item, a big ticket project that Councillor Colle inherited from his predecessor in Ward 15, Howard Moscoe. Yes, the mayor had never been a fan of the development. He’d even campaigned in the neighbourhood last year and vowed to stop it if elected. But note the timeline this week. Mayor Ford holds item, putting a gun to its head. Jarvis Street bike lane debate happens. Councillor Colle remains in deep background during it. When the vote happens, Councillor Colle lines up with the mayor to help tear up the bike lanes.

Recess for lunch. When the meeting resumes, the mayor releases the item and is the only one to vote against it. However, it’s now safe for Councillor Colle to go forward.

That’s some out-and-out gangster shit there. The exact opposite of building consensus. Let’s call it, political extortion, given added oomph that it comes with the very real example of what happens if you don’t play ball with the mayor. Projects just disappear.

That’s just how Mayor Ford rolls, yo.

sippin’ on gin and juicely submitted by Cityslikr