How Not To Be A City Councillor

October 13, 2015

Recently, a Scarborough community of about 12 households took their fight to City Hall over plans to install sidewalks along their street. Yes, you read that correctly. protestagainstResidents have been fighting the city over plans to install sidewalks.

This item, let us call it, first came to my notice when the local city councillor, Gary Crawford, tried to ix-nay hetay idewalksay at September’s Public Works and Infrastructure meeting. Rebuffed, it came back this month before finally being subdued and, hopefully, deep sixed for good last week after much commiserative mumbling from a few of the committee members. “I’m not a big fan of pavement myself,” said PWIC chair, Jaye Robinson.

How so very Joni Mitchell of her.

That the pushback even got this far along in the process is truly an abject lesson in pandering and How Not To Be A City Councillor. Listen to Councillor Crawford speaking up for his aggrieved dozen of households.

I fully support the construction of sidewalks, especially in my ward. I really do support sidewalks. But what I support is sidewalks that make sense. When you look at this particular little section, the community looked at the foot traffic and how busy that road is. They’ve indicated there’s very little foot traffic.

‘Sidewalks that make sense’.

Looking at this photo of Ramona Drive from the Scarborough Mirror, it’s hard not to conclude that, of course, there’s very little foot traffic. Who the hell would want to travel by foot along here? It basically screams, Stay Off My Lawn and Get In Your Car! RamonaDriveAfter the committee vote, the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore asked Councillor Crawford why he thought the sidewalk issue was so ‘divisive’. “It’s partly because people have become accustomed to having/using the road allowance,” the councillor responded.

In other words, the residents of Ramona Drive don’t need sidewalks because they use the road to walk on. But it’s not really that pleasant walking on the road, so, unsurprisingly, there’s very little foot traffic. Therefore, we don’t need no stinkin’ sidewalks!

Never mind the fact that the sidewalks would be put in on city property, so it’s not really up to residents to say yes or no to them. The installation is being coordinated with the replacement of watermains in order to keep construction time to a minimum and, hopefully, save some money in the process. Like it or not, this is just something that comes with living in a city. You want untouched bucolic where you collect your water from a stream and shit in an outhouse? There are places you can move to for that even without building a time machine to travel back to. Toronto, even Scarborough, isn’t one of them.johndenver

Another complaint from the residents was that the city didn’t consult enough with them beforehand, to come up with some sort of compromise, a more sensible sidewalk, I guess. This is often a legitimate complaint from people in dealing with the city about city plans but I do get the sense that on this one that from staff’s position what was there to consult about? They’re putting in a sidewalk, for fuck’s sake. Who’s going to have a problem with that?

Apparently, residents of Ramona Drive, Scarborough, Toronto. That’s who.

Interceding with and navigating the often times antagonistic dynamic between City Hall and city residents is part of the job of being a city councillor. That doesn’t mean always siding with the public because it’s the politically expedient thing to do. An angry constituent means a hostile voter. If people living on Ramona Drive weren’t notified in a timely fashion, the blame ultimately should lie with their councillor, and this whole ridiculous business feels like a councillor scrambling to the defense of his residents in order to keep up appearances. Councillor Crawford wants people to know he isn’t against sidewalks, in theory. gotyourbackHe’s just against this sidewalk, in practice, because these 12 households are against it.

Hedges have been built, Councillor Crawford points out. We can’t just bulldoze over front yards because people have been operating under the misconception that their property was their property even when it isn’t. People must be indulged, in other words, not enlightened or guided in the right direction. By doing just that, Councillor Crawford helps to exacerbate the animosity and feeling of alienation residents can feel toward City Hall rather than do his best to try and smooth over the relationship.

That wasn’t what he was elected to do.

submitted by Cityslikr


Dear Councillor Crawford

September 23, 2015

Cityslikr
All Fired Up in the Big Smoke
The Internets
September 23, 2015

 

Councillor Gary Crawford
City Councillor, Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest
City of Toronto
100 Queen Street West, Suite A11
Toronto, Ontario   M5H 2N2

 

Dear Councillor Crawford:

As an avid city council watcher, I couldn’t help but notice your appearance at yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I barely noticed your appearance, coming as it did just after the lunch break when you attempted to get some quick item passed by the committee. Turns out it wasn’t that quick and got shuffled off to the next meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in a flurry of what seemed to me at the time to be much baseless and niggling procedural wrangling.

Frankly, I’d forgotten the entire incident until a few hours later when the Torontoist posted this piece, Scarborough Sidewalk Skirmishes March On. It fleshes out your item PW 7.15, Midland Avenue Sidewalk Construction in more interesting detail. Allow me to quote the staff summary of the item as I’m sure it’s just one of many you have to deal with during the course of a day in the life of a busy city councilor.

In late July, my office was contacted by a number of residents on Midland Avenue who were disheartened to learn that, in accordance with City policy, a sidewalk would be constructed on their street in conjunction with area watermain replacements. In this case, while the watermain replacement stretches as far north as Kingston Road, the construction of sidewalks is limited to the west side of Midland Avenue from Fishleigh Drive to Romana Drive.

I have received a petition demonstrating that all thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue from Fishleigh Drive to Romana Drive are opposed to the installation of sidewalks in the currently planned location.

“A number of residents…were disheartened to learn that…a sidewalk would be constructed on their street.” What? “I have received a petition demonstrating that all thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue…are opposed to the installation of sidewalks in the currently planned location.” Surely, this must be some sort of joke. Opposed to a sidewalk?

In the letter, you go on to state that the source of this complaint is that the city’s sidewalk construction policy is not being applied fairly. If I understand your thinking correctly, other parts of the area in question are not getting sidewalks, so in the fairness, residents of these “thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue” believe they too should not receive such fancy civic amenities as a sidewalk either. Perhaps, I am not properly reading between the lines.

Interestingly, in her Torontoist article, Sarah Niedoba points out a previous Scarborough sidewalk kerfuffle not far from this one. In that, Ms. Niedoba writes the opposition to sidewalk construction wasn’t so much a question of fairness as it was about the negative impact a sidewalk would have on the “rural” feel of the area. Rural? Scarborough? I had to check my calendar. Yes. Indeed, it was 2015 not 1815.

I don’t know how much of the ensuing social media chatter you followed but one point made which I think bears repeating, especially if you missed it. “So we’re building subways to a place too rural for sidewalks,” Mr. Alex Colangelo asked. We want our mod-cons to whisk us back and forth from our country homes.

In other words, Councillor Crawford, you cannot demand Manhattan while wearing a John Denver vest.

In other other words (and I believe this requires an ALL CAPS emphasis), YOU CANNOT ADVOCATE FOR A SUBWAY IN SCARBOROUGH AND STAND OPPOSED TO BUILDING SIDEWALKS THERE. I mean, obviously, you can and you are but that would be pandering at its worst. It is a refusal to accept the realities of living in a big, big city in the 21st-century at the same time demanding all the advantages of doing so.

Records indicate that you won re-election in Ward 36 last year by more than 4000 votes. Surely you don’t feel so insecure in your position that you’re compelled to rush to the defense of 13 misguided residents. Is anti-sidewalk sentiment so strong in Scarborough Southwest that it could make any electoral difference to you in the future?

Even if it did, this is a question of leadership, Councillor Crawford. Leadership means not putting your own self-interest, or that of a precious few, ahead of the best interests of the city. Leadership means championing good public policy not kneejerk, reactionary nimbyism.

All the best.

 

Yours civic-mindedly,

 

Cityslikr


Four Sures — City Council Challenger Endorsements VII

October 9, 2014

The Four Sures are a subset of our Essential Eight city council challenger endorsements, an entirely subjective (as if this whole process isn’t heavily subjective) categorization based on little more than just the positive reaction in sitting down, talking. These four candidates (two today, two more tomorrow), I could’ve hung out with them, drinking coffee, discussing their ideas for the city, for hours. Imagine how great it’ll be for the next four years!

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Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina

It’s impossible to see a bad outcome in this race to replace Adam Vaughan. As far as I can tell, there are 3 or 4 candidates who could more than ably fill the former councillor’s shoes. I mean the worst outcome on October 27th will be a Joe Cressy victory, and we could survive that.

But for my money Anshul Kapoor is the best bet for Ward 20. Instrumental in building the NoJetsTO grassroots push against the island airport expansion, the possibilities of what he could do in an official capacity like city councillor are truly exciting. He represents a new wave of young people moving downtown, raising their families there because of the richness of the public domain rather than the vastness of their private space. Build neighbourhoods not just condos, he told me. Let him continue that conversation down at City Hall.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Anshul Kapoor for city council in Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina.

endorsement1

Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest

Let me just sum up my pure admiration for Bob Spencer by lifting a quote (like I did for the post I wrote about the Spencer campaign last month) from his interview with David Hains in the Torontoist.

The reality is the city is only great because its people are great. The city only works well because we all get together and work together. I think there’s a whole slew of issues that are missed—if you only look at the hard services in a city, you miss what makes a city useful: art, culture, community education, good health programs, and good nutrition programs for kids. Those are all within the mandate of the City. They’re all much more interesting than arguing about whether eight years from now an environmental assessment is going to be put on this alignment or that alignment, this number of stations or that number of stations.

The added bonus is Spencer’s running against one of the most spectacularly ineffective and insignificant city councillors at City Hall, mayoral portraitist and musical accompanist, Gary Crawford. Spencer lost the council race in 2010 by about 400 votes. It would be a tremendous addition to city council if he turns that result around on October 27th.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Robert Spencer for city council in Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest.

hopefully helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch XVI

September 16, 2014

Sitting in a small coffee shop on Kingston Road chatting with Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest city council candidate Robert Spencer about the city’s alarming rate of child poverty, gabbingI was struck by the fact that, wow, we were talking about child poverty. Here we were, as our municipal campaign hit its home stretch, and we’ve heard precious little about this ‘epidemic’ level of child poverty in Toronto. Talk about all the transit and infrastructure needs you want but a city that tolerates nearly 150,000 of its kids living under the poverty line isn’t really a place you should be proud to call home.

This seems to be the issue that has Spencer back knocking on doors after having lost in 2010 by just over 400 votes. Questions of fairness, equality of opportunity, justice have been lifelong pursuits of his during a career spent as a community activist. A former chair of the Toronto Board of Education, Executive Director of Ontario Association of Food Banks and co-founder of the Bluffs Advocate local newspaper, Spencer is well versed with the needs of the community as well as the bureaucracy that sees to them.

“The reality is the city is only great because its people are great,” Spencer told David Hains of the Torontoist last week. “The city only works well because we all get together and work together. I think there’s a whole slew of issues that are missed — if you only look at the hard services in a city, you miss what makes a city useful: art, culture, community education, good health programs, and good nutrition programs for kids. Those are all within the mandate of the City. They’re all much more interesting than arguing about whether eight years from now an environmental assessment is going to be put on this alignment or that alignment, this number of stations or that number of stations.”

Politics is about people not things. “Repaving the roads is not enough,” Spencer told me, although trying to “resolve as many of the practicalities as possible” is a city councillor’s job, filling potholes doesn’t make a city liveable, filling hungry kids’ bellies does.activism

It’s impossible for me to demonstrate the gulf of difference between Robert Spencer’s approach to governance and that of the man he’s trying to remove from office, Councillor Gary Crawford whose signature items during his first term were painting Mayor Ford’s portrait and drumming in the band that played Ford Fest. Oh, and his 76% pro-Ford voting record during the term, including eliminating water efficiency rebate programs, closing library branches, defunding the Tenant Defence Fund, eliminating community environment days, the Christmas bureau, the hardship fund.

And that was just in year one!texaschainsawmassacre

All this while one of the poorest areas of the city sits smack dab in the middle of Ward 36.

According to Spencer, he’s not hearing much of the Ford agenda banter as he’s talking to residents of the ward. Keeping taxes low doesn’t come up that often. As for the Scarborough subway plan, he’s says it’s about evenly split in terms of support. He doesn’t think much of it. It doesn’t do anything in terms of transit for the ward. He’d rather see express bus service brought back that was lost way back with amalgamation.

Again, politics is about people not about things.

I wound up my hour+ interview with Spencer with barely half a page of notes taken, not because he had little to say or out of sheer laziness on my part. communityinvestmentWe simply talked about the state of the city we both loved and what was needed to help try and fix it and I forgot to write stuff down. But his passion for Toronto and Ward 36, and his focus on how to create a fairer place to live with increased opportunities for everyone was obvious.

Whatever the outcome of this election on October 27th, if Robert Spencer is elected councillor of Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest, City Hall will be a better place. He is truly one of the good guys.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


Has Anybody Seen Your Councillor, Ward 36?

January 10, 2014

On those very few occasions we are called upon to think about Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest), something like this immediately comes to mind.

blackout

No. That’s not quite right. Too much personality. It’s more like this.

whitebox

Tabula rasa. A blank slate. An empty space.

Three years into this councillor’s first term and I really have no idea what drives him, what compels him to serve at City Hall. He plays drums for a band that performs at Ford Fest BBQs. He painted a portrait of Mayor Ford that was commissioned by the mayor’s mom. These things we do know.mayorfordportrait1

Aside from that, pretty much bupkis. He’s like Councillor Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore) minus the bow tie and good ol’ boy charm.

I exaggerate slightly.

Councillor Crawford has stood up and generally spoken in favour of the arts and arts funding. He’s been the point man for the mayor on the self-congratulatory distribution of the increase in per capita arts spending from the court delayed billboard tax the previous administration initiated. He… uh… ummm… Did I mention the councillor plays drums in a band that performs at Ford Fest? He is also a painter, did I point that out already?

After that, well, it’s all…

whitebox

As a member of perhaps the two highest profile standing committees, Executive and Budget, you’d think we might’ve heard more from Councillor Crawford from time to time. But I swear to god. You can attend those meetings and never know the councillor’s in the room. He is. He sits there a lot. Doing what? I don’t know. Maybe just waiting to vote. Maybe dreaming of being Ringo Starr.

The councillor’s pretty close to mute during city council meetings as well. ringoWhen he does stand to speak or ask questions of staff, it’s very rarely memorable. The last thing I remember hearing from him was his support for a Scarborough subway. Pretty much par for the course for councillors from Scarborough.

So left to judge Councillor Crawford’s political views almost exclusively by the votes he casts at council (like I said, there’s not much else to go on), he veers pretty much hard right. He’s voted along with Mayor Ford over 80% of the time during the course of the entire term. Even during this terrible, terrible year for the mayor who’s wound up on the wrong side of many issues, Councillor Crawford has been right there with him over 3/4s of the time.

Compare that with fellow Scarborough councillors Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest) and Paul Ainslie (Ward 43 Scarborough East), former strong allies, both of whom have created a gaping chasm of distance between themselves and the mayor now.

You can draw a couple conclusions from that.

One, Council Crawford puts loyalty to the mayor above all else. You don’t just turn your back on a guy because he’s going through a rough patch. notwithhimThere’s got to be a carrot and a stick. Vote to take away his powers and you paint a picture of him.

Second, Councillor Gary Crawford is an ideological far right conservative. Not as far right as the mayor or the mayor’s brother but still comfortably in that camp.

The question is, does that reflect the general feeling in his ward? His predecessor in Ward 36, Brian Ashton fell out with then mayor David Miller over the implementation of the Vehicle Registration and Land Transfer taxes and eventually resigned from the Executive Committee because of his opposition. But to think of Brian Ashton as a hardcore conservative, an ideological soul mate of the likes of Rob Ford is something of a stretch.

At this juncture in his tenure as first term councillor, that’s pretty much all Gary Crawford has. Being a strong ally of Mayor Rob Ford. What else is there? I’m all ears if anyone can think of anything else.

That’s a pretty thin and fraying string to hoist up his re-election bid with. Since Crawford barely squeaked into office in 2010, winning an open ward with just over 25% of the popular vote, you’d think he would’ve pieced together a stronger rope to swing on than that. I don’t know. defiantonesMaybe he busks on street corners in Ward 36, playing the drums and generating name recognition that way. Does those caricature drawings of passers-by in between sets. He certainly hasn’t established himself in any meaningful fashion in his role as councillor at City Hall.

You’d think residents would want their elected representative to contribute a little more to the life of the city than that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr