The Wild West — Challenger Endorsements II

October 2, 2014

wildwest

Three west northwest wards may give us some sense of where voters’ heads are at come October 27th. One is an open ward, up for grabs after an Etobicoke institution took a briefly successful stab at provincial politics. The other two are occupied by long time incumbents who, I was going to say, have seen better days but, actually, they probably haven’t.

Just how anti-incumbency (or not) are we at this point? Very much so? Somewhat? Not at all? Will name recognition, as it usually does on election day, trump any itch for something new?

 

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Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre

Just when we thought we’d heard the last of the Li’l Ginny type ramblings of Toronto City Hall’s Grampa Simpson, Doug Holyday, in steps his son, Stephen (whom we’ll refrain from referring to as Homer) into his dad’s shoes. Far be it from us to look askance on anyone simply because of their lineage. Just so long as Holyday the Younger doesn’t try to capitalize on his family name for his political entry.

Yeah. Uh huh. That apple certainly hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

The thing is, watching the Rogers Ward 3 debate, most of the council candidates have landed in the same vicinity. Low taxes. Find efficiencies. Privatize public services. Oh yeah. And keep our services up to snuff too. It’s like some Etobicoke creed.

Separate from all that is Peter Fenech who we talked to back in September. He is a quiet, new voice out there in the wilderness, unwilling to reflexively reject the positive role government can play in our lives and the costs associated with that. He is well versed in how City Hall works and would represent a whole new type of discourse, flowing eastward in from Etobicoke.

On October 27th we endorse Peter Fenech for city councillor in Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre.

 

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Ward 7 York West

Anywhere else, this ward’s incumbent, Giorgio Mammoliti, would be cooling his heels outside of an election campaign. When last heard from, the city’s integrity commissioner had requested a police investigation into the councillor’s accepting of $80,000 from a questionable fundraiser earlier this year. And that’s just for starters.

Mammoliti is once again facing off against Nick DiNizio who is still bearing David Miller era grudges. Aside from their respective political track records (Mammoliti: Eeewww! DiNizio: None), there’s not much to differentiate between the two men.

One glimmer of daylight in the race is Keegan Henry-Mathieu. We talked to him back in July and, boy, what a breath of fresh air he’d be down at City Hall. He’s everything his two opponents aren’t. Knowledgeable about municipal politics. Not inherently anti-tax. All for engaging the wider Ward 7 community in how they expect their city to run.

On October 27th, we endorse Keegan Henry-Mathieu for city councillor in Ward 7 York West.

 

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Ward 12 York South-Weston

This race couldn’t be any crazier.

One bumbling, ineffective incumbent councillor. A former mayoral candidate, Member of Parliament, lobbyist and brother of the outgoing city council speaker. A now third time council candidate, and son of a real estate magnate and former interim city councillor.

Throw in some slashed tires and broken campaign office windows and let’s call it an olde tyme dirty old York city council race.

Then there’s Lekan Olawoye.

If Ward 12 voters were really anxious to jettison the past, and get on with the future, Mr. Olawoye would be the clear choice. We went out canvassing with him back in July and found him to be polished, very focussed on the needs of the residents and not attached in the least to old bromides and tired political saws that have got nothing done that needs to be done for decades now.

On October 27th, we endorse Lekan Olawoye for city councillor in Ward 12 York South-Weston.

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Challengers To Watch XIV

September 4, 2014

With another election campaign upon us, talk has come up about the urban-suburban political divide. donnybrookActually, that discussion hasn’t really let up much during the past 4 years. OK. We’ve never stopped talking about.

Greater minds than ours here have contemplated how to bridge the gap. There’s been an emphasis on downtowners’ needing to try and understand the needs and aspirations of those living in places like Scarborough, York, North York, Etobicoke. While taking no issue with that line of reasoning I do think there’s something else at work too, something that tosses the ball back into the court of suburban residents.

Meeting and chatting with city council candidates running for office this year, a theme that keeps coming up almost unanimously with them is that of disengagement. Not just in the sense of disengaged voters but between people and those they’ve elected to represent them at City Hall. armslength1Councillors simply not getting out and interacting with their communities, keeping them informed of what’s happening in neighbourhoods in the ward or seeking feedback and input from their residents.

In Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 6, Ward 7, Ward 12, Ward 17, Ward 24, Ward 34, Ward 35, Ward 44, it’s been pretty much the same sense from candidates out on the campaign trail. People never hear from their councillors except at election time. Townhall meetings are few and far between, even on matters as important as the annual city budget. Some voters, having voted in 2010, can’t even remember their councillor’s name.

Ward 3 Etobicoke Center where Peter Fenech is running is another suburban case in point. ward3The long time fiefdom of former councillor (and Etobicoke mayor) Doug Holyday has been Fenech’s home for the past 7 years and he attests to little presence from the councillor there. It’s hardly surprising. Holyday was known almost exclusively for his tight-fisted ways and hate for government spending. He boasted regularly of the small amounts of his office budget spent, suggesting he spent little time on community or resident outreach.

The result?

Fenech sees apathy when he’s out knocking on doors. If no one’s been consciously representing the views or seeking the opinions of residents, where’s the connection to City Hall? There’s one residents association in Ward 3, according to Fenech. When he travels around the rest of the city especially downtown, he sees community movie night, BBQs. There are few community movie nights or BBQs in Ward 3.

The biggest waste of communal space in Ward 3 to Fenech’s mind is Centennial Park. It’s a big park, for those of you who’ve never been there. But as we drove around it, Fenech pointed out the lack of connectivity through it, to it. excludedPublic transit skirts around part of the park’s perimeter. There are parking lots throughout it. There’s just no flow.

In fact while we were there, a car pulled up beside us and asked directions to the splash pad. The lack of signage is notable. The park doesn’t seem to draw people into it. It simply just is.

“Policy Over Politics” is Peter Fenech’s campaign slogan. It’s on the button he sports. Let’s take it one step further. Ideas Over Ideology. I’d argue that places like Etobicoke (and Scarborough and North York and York) have stunted civic engagement with a history of electing hidebound ideologues who believe the only purpose of a city councillor is to keep taxes low and spending to the barest of bare minimums.

I’ll give you a minute to run through the list of names starting with Doug Holyday and the Ford family…armslength

This isn’t to suggest that a new voice like Peter Fenech is some crazy spendthrift left winger. He isn’t but you don’t have to be and still be able to say, “There’s always a way to fund things that matter.” It’s about encouraging possibilities not limiting them.

As almost every candidate out knocking on doors has told me, the two biggest concerns residents have about the current state of affairs municipally are transit and infrastructure. Like many suburban wards in the city, Ward 3 is heavily dependent on bus service. Cuts to that service result in increased commute times. Fenech would also push for the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown, right out to Pearson airport. Ward 3, like much of Etobicoke, was hit hard by last year’s flood and ice storm. bubbleThe need for improved and updated infrastructure is self-evident.

Transit and infrastructure. Those things cost money. Money comes from taxes. It’s a basic, incontrovertible equation.

Saying so doesn’t make a candidate like Peter Fenech anything other than responsive to what he’s hearing from residents in Ward 3. Above all else, what seems to be driving him to run in this race is a desire to begin including the voices of constituents, to engage them, give them a voice rather than just speaking for them. His campaign website undergoes regular adaptation and revision based on the input he’s receiving from residents.

There is no one way to overcome what, at times, seems like an intractable divide between downtown and the suburbs, but it would certainly help if City Hall was filled with more councillors from the suburbs like Peter Fenech. Not because they’re just like us downtowners or think just like us downtowners but because they want to bring a real sense of civic engagement with them. discussionThey want their residents to be a part of the process, to contribute to the important decisions that get made which affect all of us.

By bridging that gulf between constituents and their councillors, the one that leaves many voters wondering what their councillor actually does for them, it will help stitch the wider divide plaguing the city. City Hall won’t exist at such a distance from them, regardless of where they live.

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Civics Lesson

September 26, 2013

Sometimes democracy scares the living shit out of me.

There. I said it. To hear your fellow citizens, gathered in a room, angrymobdiscussing matters they’ve clearly not spent much time actually thinking about, and feeling entitled to expound upon… Yikes! It makes you wonder how the hell we ever moved ourselves out of the caves and into village huts.

Magically, however, it only takes one sublime moment of, I don’t know, nobility? stateliness? intergrity? or maybe just simple frankness to strip away that accumulating layer of cynical misanthropy. You sit back and relax a bit. Yeah, there it is. That’s what this is all about.

Just in case you think this some random musings from someone who’s spent a little too much time watching Toronto’s city council over the past 3 years or so, no. No, it isn’t. At least, not entirely.

I attended last night’s information session given by city staff to those looking to be appointed Ward 3 councillor next month, filling in the vacancy left behind by Doug Holyday’s by-election elevation to Queen’s Park. informationsessionThere were some 50 or so hopefuls it looked like to my eye although I expect there won’t be that many making presentations to the Etobicoke-York Community Council on October 1st given the very short lag time between last night’s meeting and today’s noon deadline to submit the proper paperwork. As my friend Himy Syed suggested afterward, the quick turnaround might be in place in order to weed out those candidates who couldn’t find their way to City Hall with a 15 hour head start.

For sure, there were the fringe candidates, let’s call them, in attendance. Probably the most notable, Peter Caragianakos his card said, the guy looking to have his dog, Ozzy Spartacus Caragianakos his card said, appointed Ward 3 councillor. Now, I have no problem with someone taking the piss out of the process, especially one as contentious as this was with the appointment versus by-election debate that occurred. A gesture of protest. I get it.

But at least take the time to understand the thing you’re protesting.protest

Mr. Caragianakos, speaking for Ozzy I assume, wasn’t quite sure who it was he’d the dog would be giving a presentation to. “What’s this York council?” he asked. “Who’s on it? Will Mammoliti be there?”

You really want to be a city councillor, even an appointed one? Do a little homework, huh? And if you think I’m being too elitist about it. Later on in the evening, I heard Mr. Caragianakos berating some poor soul in the audience about the ‘section 37 shakedown of developers that Rob Ford exposed’. Oh, so you’ve heard all about that bogus claim but remain in the dark about council committee structures. Hey! Maybe your dog Ozzy might make a perfect Etobicoke councillor.

That’s the amazingly infuriating thing about municipal politics. No matter how disengaged from the process, how uninterested you are in the procedural aspects of it, everybody lives it on a daily basis. Driving on the roads, taking a streetcar, getting your garbage collected, hanging out in a park, it’s all city business. So everybody is an expert. They could do things better. How hard could it be after all?

But… but… and here’s the thing, the beautiful thing. councillorjobdescriptionSometimes one or two people step forward and help clear away the dark clouds of loathing.

A woman in the audience whose name I didn’t catch, who wasn’t working the room, handing out cards, she asked if city staff could give her the highlights of what it is a city councillor does. Ah. Some humility. What is it exactly I’d be doing if I were to be appointed city councillor? The job description of what I might be applying to do.

Up steps John Elvidge, Director of the Council Secretariat, to patiently give a quick overview of a councillor’s role and duties. The number of times council meets. Standing committees. Constituency work.

As angry as we might get at our elected officials, we should never lose sight of the indefatigable work the civil service does in this city. getcuriousWe love to deride them as fat cat, 9-5ers, living it up aboard the gravy train but that simply reveals a Mr. Caragianakos level of unwarranted derision. It’s a frank admission that you don’t understand in the slightest how this city actually operates, and operates as well as it does.

My feeling of goodwill received a further boost as a woman sitting a couple chairs away noticed me thumbing away at my phone and asked if I was the media. How do I answer that question? Well, sort of, I guess. I write about municipal politics, mostly for my own amusement.

She had picked up the submission forms and I asked her if she was going to apply for the appointment. She wasn’t sure and I wondered why. “I don’t feel like I have the supervisory experience necessary to do the job.”

I just wanted to fucking hug her.

She didn’t have the supervisory experience. Again with the humility and total possession of self-awareness. Like we couldn’t use more of that at city council, am I right?

I gently suggested that supervisory experience shouldn’t really be the deal breaker in making her decision. grinchsheartIn fact, just the opposite in some ways. We could use more people on council not looking to play boss.

After listening to my off-the-cuff spiel, the woman nodded her head thoughtfully before telling me that she had a bad habit of ‘self-exclusion’. “I tend to eliminate myself from consideration.”

And my heart grew at least 3 times.

The fact is, there’s probably a pretty short shortlist already drawn up to fill the ward 3 vacancy. Less than 10% of the people thinking about applying for the position have even the slimmest of slim hopes in hell of getting the appointment. Probably closer to 5%. That’s just the nature of the beast and probably how it should be. Even a placeholder councillor is too important a role to fill haphazardly or as a lark.

How many of these possible applicants know that? Tough to say. It’s difficult to imagine anyone unaware of the most basic functions of city council would be in the know enough to realize their bid was an impossibly long long shot. impossibleCynicism comes easily in politics, though, so perhaps some were there just to confirm their belief about how corrupt our political system was.

That’s the easy route down the rabbit hole leading to apathy and disinterest. It’s not only uninteresting. It’s harmful in its toxicity.

And still, at least a couple people – I suspect I’m grossly underestimating here based purely on anecdotal evidence from one night of crowd watching — remain immune to such civic poison through either sheer naïveté or a simple refusal to roll over and play dead, and they take their time to at least consider throwing their hat into the ring of municipal politics. That’s where it starts. That’s what we need to embrace.

All the rest is just noisy bullshit.

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Our Real Democratic Deficit

August 27, 2013

To argue yesterday’s city council vote was some sort of subversion or denial of democracy is ohpleasesimply a frank admission that you haven’t really thought much about the issue past headlines and rhetoric. An appointment decided by city council is as valid a process as a by-election, according to the rules. Appointments have happened seven times previously versus two by-elections. Timing is the key, and since no firm rules are in place about that, this remains a grey area.

Initially, protocol and precedent suggested for me that a by-election to fill Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre, vacated by Doug Holyday in his winning bid for a provincial seat, was the way to go. As the staff presentation pointed out, traditionally if a ward was declared vacant before November 30th a year before the next general municipal election, a by-election was called. After that date, an appointment was made in order to avoid having two elections so close to one another.

Ward 3 was declared vacant yesterday, August 26th. So, a by-election it should be. questionsThat was my opinion going into the council meeting.

But it was Councillor Chin Lee who threw a little wrinkle into the proceedings. During his questions to the staff, he pointed out that the city hasn’t faced this situation since moving to a four year term. All the protocol and precedent was based on three years terms. A one year appointment was 33% of the total term. One third of council and committee meetings.

Now? A one year appointment is 25% of the term. If a by-election had been voted on, the new councillor would’ve been present for 8 council meetings. That’s about 16% of the 2010-2014 term council meetings (including the additional special meetings called).

Things aren’t so clear cut, are they?unsure

Still, I would’ve been happy to see a by-election called with the promise to re-visit this matter again in order to recalibrate the parameters for a four year council term. But I’ll leave it to the likes of Councillor Lee to explain the outcome of the vote to any outraged voters. I’m just going to revel in witnessing the appointment process, especially since the likes of former mayoral candidate John Nunziata and former Harris cabinet minister and Doug Ford Sr. bester, Chris Stockwell already expressing interest in the position.

For his part, Mayor Ford did little to help the by-election cause at yesterday’s meeting. He’d been stumping for one almost as soon as it became obvious that an Etobicoke ward was going to be open come August 1st  with two members of Toronto council vying for one provincial seat. It’s really the only thing he’s talked about over the summer.

But he wasn’t prepared to defend his preference beyond anything other than his standard slogans – You Can’t Put A Price On Democracy! – and stunt populism. The people of ward 3 want a by-election. He was simply doing their bidding, he told council over and over. democracydeniedNor would he step back from a hands-on involvement in the by-election if one was called, fueling speculation that this was simply about him getting his election chops in fighting shape for 2014.

Unsurprisingly, the mayor displayed a complete lack of sway in the outcome of the vote.

The easy explanation is that he didn’t really care how the vote went. A vote for a by-election would be trumpeted as a victory for him democracy no, for him democracy. A loss, and council appointing a councillor for ward 3? Just a cudgel he could use during his official re-election campaign next year to beat the drum about the dysfunctional council undermining him and the democratic will of the people. bullhornVote Ford and more Ford friendly councillors so the mayor can really get the job done!

At no time yesterday did you get the sense the mayor’s staff was working the room for votes. There appeared to be no behind the scenes arm-twisting or horse-trading. As I noted last week, aside from a couple official appearances and the community meeting he called about this issue, Mayor Ford was largely absent, certainly not stalking the corridors of City Hall in an attempt to win the vote at special meeting he himself called to deal with this matter.

Maybe that’s also because Mayor Ford has simply lost any ability whatsoever to influence council. He’s become a lame duck, in other words, with more than a year still to go in his first term. He bellows. The majority of councillors (comprising every point on the political spectrum, left-right, suburban-downtown) just shrug. There is no need to fear or even listen to him anymore.

shrugThink about that for a second.

A mayor calls a special meeting of city council to deal with a key item he seems to hold especially dear and doesn’t come close to winning the vote?

He either doesn’t care or is singularly inept at doing his job.

That’s really the take-away from council’s decision to appoint a successor to Doug Holyday in ward 3 rather than hold a by-election. “The worst thing for democracy”? How about a complete abandonment of leadership by the city’s elected leader.

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True Believers

August 22, 2013

Sitting in the auditorium of Silverthorn Collegiate in Etobicoke last night, taking in Mayor Rob Ford’s community meeting called to discuss the Ward 3 vacancy created by long time councillor Doug Holyday’s election as MPP earlier this month, I caught a glimpse of the mayor’s fabled populist appeal. It was ever so fleeting but had long eluded me. This is what people, the folks, see in him!

He was explaining the process that had to be adhered to by council and city staff in filling a vacancy mid-term. It’s not overly complicated but it is an either/or scenario involving many if this-es, then that-es. Details, more or less, outlining the different procedures to be followed if choosing between a city council appointment of a new Ward 3 councillor or a by-election for the voters to select one.

It’s territory the mayor isn’t overly interested in, the small picture stuff. Nevertheless, he’d called the meeting so he soldiered through the small print, explaining how both situations would work. boringHe mumbled, hummed and hawed, checked his notes frequently, circled back to repeat something he’d already covered. The whole thing was as torturous for him, evidently, as it was for the audience to sit through.

But here’s the thing. He didn’t try and pretend it was anything other than that. A boring bunch of bureaucratic business he had to go through to set the stage for the rest of the meeting. This was no smooth operator with any glib condescension to the audience. The mayor made no attempt to hide the fact that he didn’t understand things any better than most of the audience.

My a-ha! moment.

The mayor’s just like us.aha

He has a complete and utter lack of guile. How else to explain that one minute he assured everybody that he was going to be neutral at the meeting about hearing everyone’s opinion and 7 minutes later state that “You can’t put a price on democracy” in responding to concerns over the cost of a by-election? “I am trying to be as unbiased as I can be here, folks but…”, hey, that’s just not the mayor’s style.

And the thing is, I think he actually believed it. Just like he actually believed that if the room came out in favour of appointing someone to replace Doug Holyday, he’d go to City Hall on Monday and vote for an appointment. He’s not there to represent his views, he assured the crowd. He’s there to represent their views, the taxpayers’ views.

Never mind that by the meeting’s end he’d somehow come to the conclusion that 70% of the people in Ward 3 wanted a by-election by judging the applause, I guess. allaboutyouEven before counting the pink straw ballots that had been handed out for the audience to mark down their preference, he had already concluded that a by-election was the way to go. But I think he truly believed it was the audience’s decision that sealed the deal for him.

There was no question in my mind as well that a majority of those in attendance at the meeting wanted a by-election. 70%? I’d actually want to count hands at least before offering up any firm number. But certainly more than half of the 100 people or so who came out last night were vocal in stating that preference. Give the mayor his number, 70 people in a ward of over 50,000 people wanted a by-election as the means of getting a new councillor. So, a by-election the mayor will vote for next week.

He will do so, not because that’s his opinion, but the opinion of the people of ward 3.

I don’t think there’ll be one moment during Monday’s debate on the issue that the mayor will think otherwise. He wants a by-election because the people of ward 3 in Etobicoke want a by-election. innocentBecause you can’t put a price on democracy. Because if a new councillor is chosen by council appointment, somebody from Scarborough, of all places, (there was a surprising anti-Scarborough sentiment running through the discussion last night), might be picked to represent ward 3 Etobians. Democracy denied.

None of the push for a by-election on Mayor Ford’s part has anything to do with ensuring his administration gets another rock solid loyalist in the mold of Doug Holyday. Having lost enough allies to already seriously undermine his ability to steer the agenda, he can’t afford to allow any further erosion. One more undependable vote at council won’t help his cause going into an election year.

His preference for a by-election has absolutely nothing to do with his love of campaigning. That’s not what this is about at all. hiddenagendaIt’s about representing the wishes of the people of Etobicoke down at City Hall. It’s not about the mayor’s political survival. It’s about democracy.

I’m convinced Mayor Ford really and truly believes that. It’s what makes him come across as genuine, as a straight shooter, down to earth and not just some slick professional politician. Only cynics would see him as calculating, delusional even.

Those still supporting the mayor support him because they still believe he’s looking out for their best interests. They believe it because the mayor still believes it.

That’ll be a real tough nut to crack.

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