How Not To Be A City Councillor, Part 2

October 14, 2015

Here’s basic transit planning math. Get higher order public transit = Get higher density. That’s the only way it can work out in any sort of realistic economic sense. simplemathYou want subways or at-grade rapid transit? More people just come with that territory.

Or to put it another way, a robust public transit system needs people to function fully. People are attracted to fully functioning public transit. One follows the other. The other follows the other one. Like a Lays potato chip, you can’t have just one.

That basic equation seems to elude a startlingly high number of our city councillors however. Councillors in Scarborough want a subway to travel up a stable, single-family home residential street. When and if (always a big ‘if’) such a project arrives, the same councillors want nothing to do with the density that needs accompany it.

The latest skirmish in this I Want/Don’t You Dare battle has surfaced in the Eglinton-Bayview part of the city. Here comes the LRT, very likely, probably in the next decade, and moves are afoot to start developing along and near it accordingly. holdthephoneIntensification, in other words. Density, yo.

Just hold on a second. Hold on to your horses, pard’ner. Not so fast.

“Councillor Jon Burnside is not happy with Metrolinx officials after recently discovering the government agency had purchased property on Bayview Avenue that may be used for a residential development above an LRT station.”

Residential development above an LRT station? Whoever’s heard of such a travesty. Not if Councillor Burnside has anything to say about it.

Councillor Jon Burnside became aware of the deal when a resident on Bayview notified him that the transit agency had purchased a double duplex immediately adjacent to both the McDonald’s (at 1785 Bayview Ave.) and the property south of that, also owned by Countrywide Homes.

Acccording to Councillor Burnside, the deal could enable the developer to push for a taller development beyond the nine storeys allowed by the official plan.

Meanwhile, residents are already fighting a 19-storey proposal across the street at Sunnybrook plaza.

Not only is the local councillor concerned that new development above the LRT station might contravene the city’s Official Plan, he also suggests that the provincial transit agency has a vested interested in building higher, bigger because it was profit per square foot of development. cllrjonburnsideBeware development. BOO! Beware government agencies. BOO!

Councillor Burnside’s demonization of both Metrolinx and the development industry is on full display in a couple columns he’s written over the last couple months in Leaside Life News on the Eglinton-Bayview LRT station. “Can we trust Metrolinx?” the councillor wonders in the September edition.

The benefits of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to our city have been mentioned many times over, but what is less clear and even less welcome are the consequences to our community. The biggest issue we currently face is intensification along Eglinton, namely, enormous condominium development.

Intensification means consequences, a word wrought with negative connotations. Metrolinx and their development buddies are out to screw with Ward 26 residents, imposing on them ‘enormous condominium development’. How big? No one knows yet (or no one’s saying) but we could be talking ‘upwards of 20 storeys’, the councillor intones. There goes the neighbourhood, sitting as it will be along a major transit hub.

Councillor Burnside even undermines that idea, putting higher order transit in quotations. “Higher order transit”. So says the devious Metrolinx and their sneaky development buddies.

Then in October, the councillor follows up, confirming his suspicions. “I found Metrolinx duplicitous,” he writes. This wasn’t about the agency striking a deal to simply build an LRT station but with “… a clear motivation for maximum density and would likely back it up with the rationale that their job is to promote transit-oriented developmentpitchfork[italics mine] as if that would be the end of Leaside as we know it. Maximum density, transit-oriented development straight to hell in a handbasket! Or, as Metrolinx calls it: “Higher order transit”.

“I will let you decide whether or not you think Metrolinx is a neutral bystander or a government agency that could do irreparable damage to our community,” Councillor Burnside signs off, establishing a poisonous atmosphere between his constituents in the ward he represents and the official body in charge of inflicting “higher order transit-oriented development” on them. Get out the pitchforks, folks! The gubrment’s coming!!

I’m not suggesting that Metrolinx or any official agency be given a free pass and automatic benefit of the doubt as to their motivations and transparency. People much more informed about Metrolinx than I am, and certainly more so than Councillor Burnside, keep constant vigil with a wary eye as to what exactly they’re up on various projects. As it should be.

But this flagrant indulging, encouraging even, of such malice and mistrust is unbecoming, to say the least, of an elected official. protestagainstTo undercut a major transit project, one of the biggest and most important in these parts for decades now, simply to score cheap local political points shows Councillor Jon Burnside to be unfit for public office. But hey. That’s never stopped anyone from occupying space at City Hall before. I mean, Toronto elected someone like that as mayor not that long ago.

There is a good, necessary, spirited debate to be had about the kind of impact that will happen on neighbourhoods and communities as the Eglinton crosstown makes its way across the city. Obviously, Councillor Burnside isn’t prepared to be part of that. Despite his claims to the contrary, he’s not looking out for anyone else’s interest aside from his own.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Coffee With Mr. Parker

April 29, 2015

“I’m sure you know how tear gas works.”

I don’t actually (or only from a safe, televised distance). teargasThat John Parker does, with real life, foot on experience, should settle the matter any City Hall watcher in all likelihood has contemplated at least once: How much fun would it be to sit down and chat with John Parker? Lots, in fact, and it heads off in directions you never expected it heading.

Like that time he was backpacking in Europe during the 70s and found himself in the middle of a square in Italy, in the middle of a political donnybrook. Or talking about Cats, the musical Cats, and one of the characters in it, Macavity. I don’t know anything about musicals, councillor. Yes, but T.S. Eliot? Coffee spoons. Coffee spoons.

Sure. We talked some politics too, beginning with his time as an East York M.P.P. and member of the Mike Harris government. I wanted to know how he negotiated the middle ground in the megacity amalgamation battle, representing residents who overwhelmingly didn’t want to be amalgamated. Resistance in his neck of the woods was surprisingly fiery but short-lived, he suggested, settling back once into a sort of acceptance once the deed had been done.

Governance reform was in the air when the Tories came to power. Reports were piled up, gathering dust. johnparkerThe big one, commissioned by the Bob Rae government, with Anne Golden at the helm was pretty much a non-starter with its suggestion of some sort of GTA-wide amalgamation. No one in power at Queen’s Park, not just Mike Harris, would contemplate establishing a local government that would rival the province in political clout, Parker believes. Not back then. Not now.

Was the Harris forced amalgamation an overt anti-Toronto act, I asked him.

He didn’t believe so although there did seem to be some ideological basis for going down the amalgamation path the way the Harris government did. Parker said there was a perception that Toronto, the older, legacy city, had grown “pampered” by its high tax base and social spending. It was thought the suburban municipalities would serve as a “moderating” influence on the excesses of dowtown.

We both chuckled, and thought of Rob Ford.

In retrospect, did amalgamation turn out as well as he’d hoped?

John Parker is in a unique position to address that question. Having been forced to fight for a second term in 1999 in another riding, ironically a victim of his own government’s anti-government mantra that reduced the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103, Parker lost. macavitySeven years later, he won a city council seat in Ward 26, vacated by Jane Pitfield for her ill-fated mayoral run against David Miller. So, like tear gas, he got to experience the effects of amalgamation first hand.

It wasn’t perfect, Parker tells me. The loss of a metro wide level of government without some sort of replacement was almost an off-the-cuff decision, and left city council as first 56 and then 44 squabbling fiefdoms. This basically undercut why Parker thought amalgamation would be good in the first place. The city and most of its big ticket services were already amalgamated. He thinks some of the current council problems could be alleviated with the addition of at-large councillors into the governance mix.

Parker does believe that one of the benefits of amalgamation is the slow but inevitable merging of the planning process from six departments to one. Planning is clearly a passion of John Parker’s, and one of the biggest disappointments for him in not securing a third term in last year’s election. There’s a lot to be excited about, the waterfront, plans and development along Eglinton Avenue as the Crosstown LRT comes to fruition. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be there, on the inside, to actively participate.

This seems to genuinely upset him.

And I think I speak for more than myself when I say, I’m upset with him. Of all the incumbents who were returned to office in 2014, 36 of them in total, only John Parker wasn’t. johnparker1Pick a name. Giorgio Mammoliti. Mark Grimes. Frank Di Giorgio. Ron Moeser. I could go on but I won’t. You get the point. All re-elected. John Parker was not.

Had he not won a 2nd term back in 2010 (another close race), perhaps no one might’ve noticed Parker’s exit from the local political scene. He certainly was not well-regarded on the left side of the spectrum, getting failing grades from media outlets like NOW and from organizations like the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Right-leaning news outlets like the Toronto Sun were lukewarm toward Parker, at best. “Not ready for the chop yet!”

He’d come to City Hall with a newly re-elected mayor, David Miller, who had his agenda firmly in-hand and needing little new support to get it through. Parker eventually found himself part of the Responsible Government Group, a handful of conservative leaning councillors often in opposition to Mayor Miller. The group never really gelled into a potent organized force, Parker says, the coalition often undercut by higher political ambitions of some of the members and other right-leaning councillors. It petered out further after its main target announced his intention not to seek a 3rd term in 2009.

Despite his outsider status and ideological differences with the Miller administration unionjack(although it is fun to hear Parker tout Transit City on more than one occasion when we’re talking transit policy), his first term must’ve been bliss compared to the next 4 years, the Ford era. “A complete disaster”, “disgraceful” is how Parker sums them up. He’d hoped that Rob Ford, after his surprising victory in 2010, would be distracted by the trappings of the mayor’s office and ignore policy which is what he’d done during his 10 years as councillor. What many councillors hadn’t counted on was his brother, Doug.

Parker has no kind words for his former council colleague who basically was calling the shots, and the one targeting things Parker holds dear, transit and the waterfront especially. It was on the transit file, from my perspective, that Parker rose up out of quiet obscurity. He had caught people’s attention as council’s deputy speaker, a calming, funny voice, stepping in whenever the more cacophonous, hyper-partisan speaker, Frances Nunziata, took a break from the chair.

But when Parker, also a TTC commissioner, went on record, referring to the Fords’ Scarborough subway plan as “goofy”, you knew something was up. Soon after, council took back control of the transit file from the mayor, only to take it off in another wacky direction.

ward26Parker had hoped that Transit City simply would’ve been reinstated

This all leads to the question that’s been nagging at me during our conversation. Why did John Tory, who was desperate to convince enough progressive voters that he was reasonable, rational, moderate, publicly endorse the opponent of a reasonable, rational, moderate incumbent like John Parker? Something he promised not to do and only did once, openly campaigning against an incumbent. Once.

If Parker knows the answer, he’s not telling although he did deepen the mystery further for me.

Back in 2007 when John Tory was leader of the Progressive Conservative and running for a seat in Don Valley West, Parker, who represented a ward in that riding at City Hall, reluctantly came out in support of Tory against the incumbent and future premier, Kathleen Wynne. His video appearance figured prominently on Tory’s website (and did not go unnoticed by Ms. Wynne). After the disastrous election results, Parker, as a former member of the party, advised caution in a rush to appear panicky and dump the party leader, once more backing John Tory.

So, why the snub in return? Not once, but twice, Parker informs me. As a high-profile non-candidate in 2010, John Tory also endorsed Parker’s opponent, Jon Burnside, giving his candidacy some legitimacy for any future run.

Parker shrugs. You tell me?johntoryjonburnside

Obviously, I can’t peek inside the “pure heart” of our mayor but it most certainly goes to a question of his character where loyalty and fair play get short shrift. Such machinations on his part would be slightly more understandable if his chosen candidate in Ward 26 appeared to be anything more than a compliant ticket puncher for the mayor. So far, evidence to the contrary is severely lacking.

John Parker doesn’t seem to be bitter about this. Just disappointed about this lost opportunity. Not for just himself but for the city if the new council doesn’t get the big decisions it’s facing right. Transit. The waterfront including stopping the island airport expansion. Eglinton Connects. He’s not sure the right person’s on the job to safely shepherd those issues.

During last year’s mayoral campaign, Parker was an initial supporter of Karen Stintz’s nascent and still undeclared mayoral bid. Policy differences, especially on transit, made that increasingly untenable. He found something of a natural fit in his support for David Soknacki. johnparker2The two men campaigned together.

When that campaign folded, Parker gravitated in a surprising direction. On the big issues that mattered to the city, he said that Olivia Chow was right. Transit. The bulging police budget. Spending on social issues. Olivia Chow got John Parker’s vote for mayor.

A lovely and entirely organic end to a very interesting run at City Hall, during huge upheaval and tumultuous times. Hopefully, now as a private citizen, John Parker’s voice isn’t lost. He’s got a lot of important things to say and it’s a lot of fun listening to him say it.

Thanks, John.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


The Friends You Pick And The Company You Keep

October 20, 2014

When a mayoral candidate begins endorsing city council candidates, what image is it that they’re trying to project?

choosechooseA sense of inevitability?

This is a lock, folks. I will be the next mayor and these are the councillors I want to be working with me. Help me bring a wave of change to City Hall!

But what if a mayor miscalculates in his pre-election endorsements? What if his endorsed city council candidates lose? Their victorious opponents arrive at (or return to) City Hall knowing the incoming mayor doesn’t think too much of them. It could set a rather chilly tone to the start of a working relationship.

Back in 2010, Rob Ford attempted to ride a growing tide of support as the election neared, to influence some council races, to mixed success, I’d call it. He scored Vincent Crisanti but had a series of near misses against Gloria Lindsay Luby, Peter Milczyn and Marie Augimeri. Aside from loyalty to the end from Crisanti, it’s hard to see if his choices in the other races had much affect on his working relationships with the eventual winners.picksides

But honestly, Rob Ford may not be the best example for this, as his whole approach to governing was based on a binary, you’re for me or you’re against me dynamic. Picking sides was just how he rolled.

Maybe rather than a tactical manoeuvre, we should view mayoral campaign endorsements as a reflection of what kind of mayor we’d be getting. The council candidates a mayoral candidate endorses are the kind of councillors the would-be mayor would like to work with. They represent the ideal city council.

Last Friday mayoral frontrunner, John Tory, officially endorsed two city council candidates, Kristin Carmichael Greb in Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence and Jon Burnside, Ward 26 Don Valley West. Ward 16 is an open ward with no incumbent running. John Parker is a two-term councillor in Ward 26.

What do these endorsements say about John Tory’s opinion of city councillors he’d like to work with? According to Josh Dehaas of CTV News, “Tory responded that he did not endorse those candidates because they favour jets, but because they share his vision for the city, including his transit plan.”

logrolling“They both support SmartTrack,” Tory said, “they both support tax increases at or below inflation and they both support contracting out garbage in the east end of the city.”

Carmichael is the daughter of the local Conservative M.P. who had endorsed Tory for mayor just days earlier. Her website is chock full of conservative support and she certainly toes a very fiscally conservative (one might go as far to call it Ford-like) line.

Toronto, and in fact all governments across Canada, are facing increasing pressure on their budget due to growing costs, rising demand for its services, and waste and inefficiencies. They need to operate within their means – you cannot mortgage your kids’ future simply to get by today.

Given this fiscal reality, we need to be able to do more with less. We need to look at things like alternative models of service delivery. This could provide much needed cost savings while maintaining the quality of services we deliver.

Jon Burnside, on the other hand, is a complete cipher. I cannot get any sort of handle on his candidacy at all. I have come across many platitude and slogan filled websites during this campaign but Burnside’s ranks up there among the blandest and least consequential.cipher

In his Accountability and Customer Service section, he pledges a 24 hour callback guarantee and monthly Town Hall meetings. Both admirable but then he states he will “Champion the needs and interests of all of our Ward 26 neighbourhoods. My interest in making a difference will be consistent, earnest and genuine.” And then, “Lead in a collaborative and co-operative way, working together with the Mayor and all Councillors to move our City forward.”

Is it just me or is that little more than space filler?

“The debate about subways versus LRTs is based on the false premise that one of these transit solutions is the best answer in all parts of Toronto,” Mr. Burnside writes. Good, good. Go on. “I support a holistic approach to transit that includes improved subway, LRT, bus and above-ground train services.”

And… ?

Aside from the Fords, who doesn’t agree with that view on transit?

On and on, it continues with little more than mush in bullet points.

I will take my business experience, entrepreneurial spirit and energy to City Hall and ensure that tax dollars are spent responsibly – with a focus on delivering maximum value for every dollar.

City Hall needs Councillors with positive attitudes and an optimistic outlook; people who find solutions rather than offering excuses.  I have a track record of cutting through the red tape and delivering results — results that make a difference in our community.

Zzzzzzzz…

Out of hundreds of candidates running for city council, this is one John Tory chooses to endorse?!fingerscrossed

Look, I endorsed other candidates in both these races. John Parker struck me as a reasonable, civil conservative councillor who stood up to bad transit decisions. City council could use a few more of those types not less. You’d think he’d align perfectly with Tory’s proclaimed moderate, centrist values.

In Ward 16, J.P. Boutros is one of my go-to, A1, top notch challengers. While it’s not surprising Tory didn’t share my views on that endorsement, given Boutros’ very strong stance against proceeding with the Scarborough subway extension, it is disturbing that, according to a media release put out by Boutros after Tory’s endorsements last week, “Tory’s announcement comes two weeks after Tory’s campaign team pledged to me that they had no intention of endorsing anyone in the Ward 16 race.”

Yeah, you know that thing we said before? Well, not so much now. No hard feelings, I hope, if it turns out we backed the wrong horse on this, yeah?killpeacejpg

Frankly, I would’ve thought that, given the divisiveness and acrimony at city council, a mayoral hopeful might want to stay above the fray and come in to office with a clean slate. John Tory’s told us he’s a uniter. He’s all about One City.

Yet, he’s not even elected and here he goes picking sides already.

I’m beginning to suspect John Tory isn’t the kind of candidate he’s been trying to convince us he is.

suspiciously submitted by Cityslikr