Democracy By The Square Foot

August 28, 2015

As summer cools and fall looms, the options report for Toronto’s ward boundary review begins to sink into focus. (I’ve written – dare I say it? – voluminously about it . Most recently here.) wardboundaryreviewoptionsreportJust now, I am struck by a thought.

Should city council be the ultimate decider on this? How wards get reconfigured may have, will have, a direct impact on more than a few sitting councillors. It’s difficult not to see something of a conflict of interest inherent in this process.

It’s a horse that’s already left the barn, obviously, but you can see the optics of even the most well-meaning councillor being called into question, read it in the comments section of any news story about the issue. No politician will decide to get rid of their own job! Less pigs at the trough not more! The Jays are going to fold just like they usually do! Oh, yeah. And I hate politicians!!

Such a specter of negative public perception will most definitely hang over the proceedings. The consulting group responsible for conducting the public meetings, writing the reports and making the recommendations have taken the two most contentious and illusorily logical options off the table. Simply cutting the ward numbers in half elicited little, if loud, public support. thumbthescaleAligning ward boundaries with the new federal ridings failed to address the voter disparity, the democratic deficit that served as the ultimate reason for reworking our ward boundaries.

This doesn’t mean city council can’t revive them. Staff and expert reports are rarely treated as sacrosanct especially if they get in the way of politics. It would be naïve of anyone to think politics won’t play a part, a significant part, in this when all is said and done.

One political angle has already emerged. It emerged early on in the first round of public consultations and popped back up in a CBC article a couple days ago. “Residents of towers [high rise apartments and condo buildings, I guess] rarely interact with their councillor,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell said. apartmenttower“Most interaction we have I would say are residents calling about property issues. They are homeowners.”

Homeowners. Property issues.

In response on the Twitter, John McGrath made a very interesting and telling point. “Almost everywhere, municipal government is about and for single-family homeowners, with everyone else shoehorned in where necessary.” Councillor Campell’s mistake was just saying out loud what is true but nobody wants to talk about.

Homeowners. Taxpayers. Hardworking taxpayers.

In response to my rather pointed, shall we say, social media queries at the councillor about his comment, he informed me that in Ward 4 there are 14,000 homes versus 6,000 apartments, roughly a 70:30 ratio. densityandsprawlYet his office only gets 5% of calls from apartment/condo residents requiring work of some sort from him. Thus, to his mind, “equal distribution [of residents/ward] will not provide equitable representation.”

Setting aside the fact that on the city’s website, the Ward 4 profile (according to the 2011 census) has it that just under 47% of households are technically considered “apartment buildings”, a significantly different ratio than the councillor stated, Councillor Campbell seems to be equating representation at City Hall with how much work he is called upon to do for a resident. Homeowners demand more. So homeowners’ votes should count for more.

Or something.

Perhaps a more generous interpretation would be that, in Councillor Campbell’s view, an uneven distribution of residents per ward is warranted since different built forms demand different levels of work for councillors. If your ward is dominated by apartment towers, full of residents making fewer demands because, apparently,towers apartment dwellers are more content than those forced to mow their own lawns and shovel their own sidewalks, that councillor can not serve more of them.

“Capacity to represent” is certainly one of the considerations being factored in to the ward boundary equation but should hardly be the sole determinant in calculating full “effective representation” the report is striving toward. It’s the customer service aspect of serving as a city councillor, the crowd pleaser. Surely, there’s more to the job of being a city councillor than completing work orders, isn’t there?

If some of Toronto’s residents aren’t engaged with City Hall, maybe it’s because they haven’t figured out they can or why they should even bother. Shouldn’t at least one aspect of this “capacity to represent” be about proactive engagement by our local representatives? suburbs50sIf Councillor Campbell is only hearing from a very small section of Ward 4 residents living in apartment buildings, maybe he ought to wonder why rather than conclude, It’s all good.

As difficult as it might be to believe, given the last 5 years or so around these parts, civic engagement isn’t only about airing out our grievances. There should be a much more positive exchange. Of ideas and opinions rather than just complaints.

There’s also a bigger political question at play here. While certainly Toronto’s population and development growth isn’t concentrated just in the older legacy part of the city, people are moving in and moving on up in the southern part of Etobicoke, along the lake just under Ward 4, as well us up north in Willowdale and the northeastern part of Scarborough, there can be little denying that a critical mass are heading to a few wards right smack dab downtown. More people could translate into more wards in that area. shutthedoorIt would stand to reason and only be fair if we have even a passing interest in “voter parity” or the old rep-by-pop saw.

Such a demographic and democratic shift could well threaten to upset the ruling coalition of suburban council votes that has been a mainstay in Toronto since amalgamation, and even under the previous Metro form of governance when the population had migrated from the core of the city. Power shifts to where the people are, and I’m not just talking geographically. The reign of traditional ‘homeowners’, as Councillor Campbell defines them, detached, single-family houses, living the Cleaver lifestyle, is under threat. There’s no room anymore in Toronto. What there is now is all there will ever be.

In order to resist such change councillors like John Campbell, and Scarborough throwback, Jim Karygiannis who voiced similar flippant disregard during the first round of public meetings for those deemed not to be real homeowners, will have to work to diminish non-homeowners’ status as residents of this city. viewPeople living in apartments and condo towers have their own building management at their beck and call, the local councillor from Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt opined. Granting them equal representation at City Hall would be just unfair.

Democracy by the square foot, in other words. Nothing new, of course. But we need to call it what it is.

size mattersly submitted by Cityslikr


The Long Shots — Challenger Endorsements III

October 3, 2014

Who doesn’t like a cinderella story? A rags-to-riches tale of unexpected triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds or an imposing adversary. The Little Engine That Could. Rocky. Those damn ants and that nasty assed rubber tree plantrubbertreeplant

We love them because such an arc is so exceedingly rare in real life. The best person doesn’t always win. Giving it your all won’t guarantee the podium.

Politics is no exception. Dark horses seldom catch anyone by surprise. Incumbency sits like dark matter, bending elections to its well. You don’t even have to be a very good incumbent. Most times, being an incumbent is all you need to remain in place.

Which is what makes people throwing their hats into the ring despite the improbable mountain they have to climb so absolutely edifying and inspiring. You got to believe in the rightness of your cause to face almost certain defeat and to forge ahead in spite of it. To dream the impossible dream, am I right?

So today, we’re talking long shots in our city council challenger endorsements. Three candidates who, on a level playing field, would be frontrunners based on their ideas, passion for their respective communities and dedication to civic engagement. Three candidates who have dropped the gauntlet on some less than impressive opponents and shown a willingness to fight an uphill battle for no other reason than it being a fight that needs to be fought.

 

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Ward 34 Don Valley East

You’ve all heard this rant before. Long time incumbent Denzil Minnan-Wong serves in the upper echelon of divisiveness and destructiveness at City Hall. He seeks to shrink the efficacy of local government to little more than paver of roads and collector of garbage. He’s been doing that since the days before amalgamation.

His opponent this time around, Mary Hynes, is no stranger to City Hall herself but sits across the committee table from Minnan-Wong, speaking up for all the things he could care less about. He talks about taxpayers. She talks about community. We met and chatted with Mary in July, in the infancy of her campaign. She is well aware of the David versus Goliath aspect of this race but also knows in the past 3 campaigns, Minnan-Wong’s share of the popular vote has dropped.

Perhaps Ward 34 has just been waiting for the right alternative. Mary Hynes most certainly fits that bill.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Mary Hynes for city councillor in Ward 34 Don Valley East.

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Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest

Paul Bocking is young, enthusiastic, articulate, with a fresh perspective about local representation. He projects a rosy-cheeked, can-do spirit that isn’t based on the fact he’s running against some entrenched, weezy, old guard councillor. He’s not. He’s running against entrenched, weezy, old guard ideas.

When we met this past summer, Bocking couldn’t stop talking ideas and issues. Almost all of them were in direct opposition to the incumbent he’s trying to unseat, Michelle Berardinetti. We’ve spoken often and never really very flatteringly about the councillor. Although just finishing up her first terms, it seems like she’s been there forever.

Scarborough is what Scarborough is because it continues to elect the likes of Michelle Berardinetti to represent its interests at City Hall. A little bit of Bocking could go a long way to changing perception and attitudes.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Paul Bocking for city councillor in Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest.

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Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt

It’s hard to imagine worse representation at City Hall than outgoing councillor Mike Del Grande but I don’t think it’s out of line for me to say that the presumptive favourite in the race to replace him, Jim Karygiannis, doesn’t look to be much of an improvement. He retired from federal politics after 25 years in office and is looking to now bring the burning issues and values of 1988 to municipal politics. Exactly what Scarborough needs at this juncture.

The really frustrating thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Franco Ng, a former Del Grande staffer, would be the ideal way forward for the ward. He is obviously very familiar with the neighbourhoods and communities from his time at City Hall. His views on modernising the suburbs, revitalizing aging shopping malls and employment lands, are exciting. The afternoon I spent travelling around the ward with him in August was very instructive in how new voices can energize old ways of thinking.

Jim Karygiannis represents, if not a step back for Ward 39, a digging in of its heels or burying its head in the sand. It would be a waste of the next 4 years. Franco Ng would be a real opportunity to step into the 21st-century.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Franco Ng for city councillor in Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt.

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Challengers To Watch XI

August 21, 2014

We’ve spent the last 4 years looking at costs and ignoring the benefits.

This is pointed out to me over dim sum by Franco Ng, city councillor candidate for Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt. ward39It’s a sentiment that comes as something of a relief to me because I had no idea what to except from somebody who’d worked in Mike Del Grande’s office for 4 years. Mike Del Grande, the penny-pinchingest, grumpiest and one of our least favourite city councillors.

Franco Ng is nothing at all like that.

This is not to say that during the two hours spent together, we agreed on everything. We certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye on LRTs in the suburbs (although Mr. Ng had no strong feelings about the Scarborough subway – he told me nobody was talking about it at the doors he’d knocked at either) or the right for permanent residents to vote but there was certainly a strong basis of understanding between us about what this city needs to do going forward in order to remain prosperous and a desirable place to live.

Franco Ng is what I’d call a post-amalgamation Torontonian. While having very strong ties to the ward, he’s been a north Scarborough resident for 15 years, there’s no sense of us-versus-them, suburb-versus-downtown, we get nothing-they get everything from him. bridlewoodmallHe wants to put Ward 39 on the map, make it a place people want to visit, move to, stay and raise families while working to make the city as a whole a truly global city. A place that isn’t just somewhere up there.

It will be a daunting task in many ways.

The ward is a typical single-use suburban ward, built around private vehicle use, now entering a phase where that’s no longer economically viable. I met Franco at the Bridlewood Mall, at the corner of Warden and Finch. Getting off the bus, I walked through a vacant part of the parking lot which was being used exclusively as a warming spot for seagulls. The mall had seen better days, for sure. Franco walked me through the inside, full of vacant stores. More modern malls, with better amenities were a drive away in nearby Ward 40 and up a bit in the city of Markham.

Plans were afoot for Bridlewood. Condominium developments were going up. There was a new library branch in the mall. Bright and busy for a Tuesday afternoon. You should see it during the school year or at night, Franco tells me. It already may be too small a space to accommodate the people who want to use it.bridlewoodmalllibrary

This was the kind of pressure places like Scarborough-Agincourt were facing these days. Competing with not only surrounding communities to attract residents, businesses, visitors, but the wider world around us. Huge tracks of land designated for heavy industry, much of which has departed to cheaper territories. What to do with it? The tension is playing out right now with the battle over building a TTC bus garage near a seniors’ residence that has encroached onto industrial land.

How can a local councillor deal with such macroeconomic and citywide issues?

Franco Ng proposes starting street by street, developing and promoting a pride in place in order to bring about better neighbourhood integration. He tells me there are few residents associations in the ward and no BIAs. None. Without those, there’s very little engagement within the ward or with the city as a whole.

This is a frequent point made by many of the council candidates I’ve met out in the inner suburban parts of the city. A noticeable lack of civic engagement. They are not participants in governance. bridlewoodmallcondoThey are spectators.

“There’s no sense of ownership,” Ng tells me. You don’t really know what you have until you take part in getting it, I guess. This is what happens when you treat residents as taxpayers and not hands-on contributors to the process of community building.

It’s unfortunate too because, despite my downtowner view of places like Ward 39 being car strewn hellscapes (I mean, there are a lot of cars, lots of wide, wide roads and parking lots, interminable bus rides to get places by public transit), there’s a lot of green, public spaces there. The ward has 16 parks, Ng informs me, with the jewel being L’Amoreaux. The hydro corridor is beginning to fill up with soccer leagues and the like.

The elements are in place to build on all that. It’s just going to take a new approach to local politics. Less insular and backward-looking and more embracing new possibilities.

It’s about seeing the residents of Ward 39 as resources not, well again, just taxpayers. Franco says that taxes aren’t really a hot topic with the residents he’s met. wardenbusPeople seem to get the difference between spending money and simply throwing money away.

When the Steeles-L’Amoreaux neighbourhood was ‘de-prioritized’ earlier this term and some of the services offered there scaled back, people wanted to know why. They get investment in the community, in people of the community. Taking us right back to the beginning of this. Costs versus benefits.

After 4 years of inflammatory, divisive in-fighting at City Hall, the easiest way to combat it going forward is to elect city councillors who aren’t entrenched in old approaches, old ways of thinking. Franco Ng has bigger fish to fry than simply nursing old grudges or championing empty political platitudes. He wants to kick start a real sense of community in Ward 39, put it on the map as somewhere people want to visit and move to. lamoreuxparkThere’s a whole new world of regional discourse and planning he wants to move on, a dynamic that’s very much in play for parts of Toronto where you simply cross a street to get to another municipality.

There are real choices and alternatives for voters in wards like Scarborough-Agincourt. Franco Ng is one of them. 2014 is shaping up to be an important race between the past and the future in Ward 39. Let’s hope (and work toward) it chooses to go forward.

encouragingly submitted by Cityslikr


3 Wards To Really Watch Now

February 21, 2014

We interrupt the regular Wards To Watch program to bring you this breaking ward-related, election 2014 news:

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Already early into the 2014 municipal campaign (yes, it really is still early despite the feeling that we’ve been at this since about 2011), 3 wards have come open, the incumbents declaring, for some reason or the other – one, boredom; two, spite; three, bigger fish to fry — they would not be seeking re-election. These are wards that, I think it safe to say, if said incumbents decided to run again, they probably would coast to victory. While none of the announcements came out of the blue, it does suddenly throw a little unexpected uncertainty into the possible make-up of the next city council.

All 3, Ward 2 Etobicoke North, Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence and Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt, as geographically dispersed as they may be, are crowded under their current local representation together at the far right end of the political spectrum. callitadayIn Ward 2’s Councillor Doug Ford and Ward 39’s Councillor Mike Del Grande, you can’t really veer further to the right unless you’re prepared to run into Mayor Ford.

And don’t let Ward 16’s Councillor Karen Stintz’s fall out with the mayor over transportation plans and her mayoral aspirations fool you. She’s pretty much as tax-cutting (except for certain transit projects in Scarborough), program and service slashing, bike-lane ripping up as any conservative politician on council. Remember, she was a bona fide part of the Responsible Government Group, standing in stark opposition to then mayor David Miller, even contemplating a run against him in 2006.

The question is, are these wards as hardcore conservative as the councillors who’ve been representing them?

Ward 2 has been a Ford folks fiefdom since 2000. They probably believe they could run a family pet there and get it elected. Since electoral rules would forbid that, there’s been chatter of throwing up a daughter or nephew as version 3.0. Just how Ford friendly can the ward be?

In our fondless farewell last weekend to Mike Del Grande, we checked out the demographics of Ward 39 and discovered that it contains a larger proportion of old people than the citywide average. leanrightNow, I don’t want to get too ageist here, some of my best friends are old people who aren’t conservative, but the cohort does skew right and it does also tend to be dedicated more to voting than the younger whippersnappers. So maybe Ward 39 isn’t inherently conservative. Maybe its conservative voters just simply get out to vote.

Ward 16 looks like an entirely different can of worms. Before Councillor Stintz, it was represented by the not unprogressive Anne Johnston. In fact, the story goes that Stintz responded to an ad taken out by residents, unhappy with Johnston’s approval of a high rise development in the ward. She unseated the incumbent in 2003, bringing a much different political tone to city council than her predecessor did.

So, is Ward 16 a conservative leaning ward with a preference for conservative councillors or is the current representative simply conservative? The same goes for wards 2 and 39. Are they just empty right wing tip shoes waiting to be filled by the appropriately right wing candidate?

I would imagine that in 2 and 39, conservative candidates have a leg up. There is an established base there for their votes. cleanslateMuch less so in Ward 16.

Even in the absence of an incumbent (or maybe because of that), name recognition will also play as an important factor as political stripe. In 2010, a handful of school board trustees filled council vacancies, some in exceedingly close races. Having a known brand is a big plus at the municipal level.

That said, these are 3 wards that over the past decade have been lockdown, very right wing seats for the conservative contingent at City Hall. It’s difficult to imagine them swinging further that way this year. That’d be like, I don’t know, Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas going deeper red in the United States.

It’s an opportunity for more moderate voices to step forward, to shift things to the centre a little bit, perhaps even dampen down the heated rhetoric some. If you were contemplating a run in these wards in the hopes of doing just that but were put off by the prospect of mounting an uphill battle against an entrenched incumbent there, that obstacle has been cleared out of your way. Now’s your chance. Seize it. In municipal politics, that only seems to happen every decade or so.whatareyouwaitingfor

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Road To Irrelevancy

March 14, 2013

It’s very easy with our 21st-century hindsight (such as it is) to look back through the history books and scream in frustration at the mistakes made by our predecessors. blackdeath“It’s the fleas, you dimwits!” you yell at the poor bastards suffering through the plague. In the sixth century. And again in the fourteenth century. And the seventeenth.

Clear out the rats! Stop living in such squalor! It’s a bacteria! No, flowers in your nose won’t help! Invent antibiotics, already!

Progress is a slow march, sometimes imperceptible. The scientific method was a long time in coming and still hasn’t fully taken hold. Iterative trial-and-error, plugging in acquired knowledge as it becomes available to us. We proceed humbly with the best information we have at the time, knowing it’s not always going to be perfect or even correct.

Educated guesses. Informed assumptions.

Or there’s this.

A Transportation Town Hall for the residents of Councillor Mike Del Grande’s Scarborough Agincourt ward. scientificmethod“Transit And You. Subways. Public Transit. (TTC/GO Transit) Hwy 401. Road.”

The evening’s guest speaker? Put your hands together for Mr. Frank Klees, MPP and the Progressive Conservative Transportation Critic. Yes, folks. That Frank Klees. Member of the Mike Harris government that buried the hole where an Eglinton subway would’ve run and cut the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating subsidy. Mr. Frank Klees, everyone.

(Full disclosure: I did not attend the event and am only relaying the sense I got via social media. Grain of salt not included.)

Mr. Klees pleaded for transit planning to move “beyond politics.” Too many times in the past we have seen incoming administrations simply trash can the work of their outgoing counterparts for little more than partisan reasons. Marking the territory. Male lions, taking over a new pride, killing the offspring of its defeated rival.

Hard to argue with that. I mean, Mayor Rob Ford unilaterally killing Transit City. The aforementioned dispatch by the Harris government of Eglinton subway. filltheholeSuch crass politics should be called out, detrimental as they are to healthy city building.

But strangely if not unsurprisingly, Klees ignored those examples and hopped into his way back machine in order to trot out… wait for it, wait for it… the Spadina Expressway! Yep, folks. The Opposition’s Transportation Critic at Queen’s Park sees everything that’s wrong with transit planning in this city traced back to the ignominious end of the Spadina Expressway at Eglinton Avenue.

Again, I was not in attendance, so can’t be entirely sure of Mr. Klees’ exact point. Was it just the reversal that he believed wrong or the fact that the Expressway would’ve been a boon for transportation? Whatever, but it seemed to establish a tone for the evening where the car needed to reclaim its exalted position atop the transportation hierarchy, all public transit must run underground and, why not more bridges?

Bridges? Yes, bridges. Where there are more bridges, there  is less gridlock.

“Resident says for 50 years roads have been considered dirty words. Same with cars. And trucks. And bridges.”

Look.

Sixty-five years ago or so, there was a different prevailing view. After a Great Depression and World War, after nearly 20 years of selfless sacrifice, there was a little breath of freedom in the air. Land was plentiful. suburbandreamThe energy to get people to those far flung places was cheap. So the approach to designing cities reflected those sensibilities.

Why wouldn’t they? It was based on the best information at hand. Thus, places like Scarborough Agincourt were planned into existence.

More than half a century on, we’ve realized a couple of those key suppositions turned out not to be quite right. Land is plentiful but the sprawl that followed was not really sustainable or economically viable. Energy, or at least a cheap version of it, turned out not be in infinite supply and it also happened to be hazardous to our collective health.

Again, life is not an exact fucking science. Best laid plans and all that. Mistakes happen. You learn from them and seek to correct them with the knowledge you’ve gained from experience.

What you don’t do is insist on repeating them in the hopes of a different outcome. We all know what the definition of that is.

Frank Klees, Mayor Ford and Councillor Del Grande are all conducting a flat out assault on reason when it comes to transit planning. stubborn(It’s especially galling from the councillor who leaves no opportunity wasted to tout how he as the former budget chief removed the “emotion” from the budget process.) They either don’t know or don’t care about any evidence that’s emerged that runs contrary to their strongly held opinions, apparently forged in steel in the 1950s and 60s.

It’s reactionism at its worst and a complete abdication of leadership and responsibility. Leveraging parochial resentment for political opportunism, they insist on spreading mistruths and false hope. No, guys. More roads don’t lead to less congestion. They are deniers of reality and need to be dispatched to the trash heap of irrelevancy.

Just like the experts who blamed the plague on the humid air. Only, let’s not wait as long to see that it happens.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr