Are You Experienced?

Ron Moeser has been a Toronto and pre-amalgamated Scarborough city councillor for 24 of the past almost 27 years. A seasoned veteran, you might call him. sageA wise sage possessing deep, institutional knowledge. An old pro.

Or, watching his performance Tuesday as a member of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, you could also conclude he’s just a crank.

The extent of his questions and concerns amounted to little more than slight variations on ‘What are we agreeing to here?’ and ‘How much is this going to cost us?’ He seemed overwhelmed, complaining to the committee chair, Councillor Jaye Robinson, about having too much to do in too little time. There were moments when fellow committee members expressed a degree of impatience with Councillor Moeser’s, I can only describe it as, a certain obtuse stick-in-the-mudness.

Is this just the product of being too long in office, unable or uninterested any longer to grapple with the complexities of governing what is a sprawling, complex, 21st-century metropolitan city? Is Councillor Moeser simply burnt out, past his best before date, the poster child for term limits? Or… or… was Ron Moeser always a terrible city councillor?

It’s difficult to believe that such a radical transformation, from Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Grandpa Simpson, is the explanation. mrsmithI’ve watched Councillor Moeser for 5 years now (some of which, to be fair, early last term, he was ill) and never witnessed any spark of policy proficiency or a city building initiative he picked up and ran with. An absent presence, I’d offer, a bump on the municipal log.

Lord knows, he’s hardly alone in the bad councillor category. His utter lack of contribution in any sort of sense probably disqualifies him as the worst city councillor currently occupying space at City Hall. Certainly not while the names Ford, Mammoliti, Karygiannis are tossed around. Councillor Moeser is benignly counter-productive rather than actively so.

But there’s something about the likes of that terrible trio that’s understandable in a perverse way. They’ve each found their calling in the low-expectation perception arena of municipal politics. Political bush leagues and backwaters, even here in the country’s largest city. The clown show, replete with clown princes’ like Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti and Jim Karygiannis. Look at us! Look at us!!

Ron Moeser can’t even claim that status, though. He’s just a non-entity asking questions that have already been asked and answered, demanding to know little more than what we’re agreeing to and how much it’s going to cost us. manyellsatcloudsThis is too much work. We need to slow down and catch our breath. We need to do less and take more time doing it.

What does this say about voters in Ward 44 Scarborough East who’ve sent Moeser to City Hall in 5 of the 6 post-amalgamated elections, albeit usually with very slim margins? Is incumbency so heavy a stone to set aside at the municipal level that the deadest of dead weights becomes impossible to move? Avoid contentious issues, keep taxes low, basements from flooding, the garbage picked up, and you’ll do alright. Maintain as low a profile as possible for an elected official and maybe, just maybe, residents will continue voting for you because… they can’t think of any reason why not.

A non-angry electorate is not a change-y electorate. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, or content. Just a whole lot of m’eh. Things could be worse, I guess. Put the X next to the recognizable name.

Does that sound mean or patronizing? Probably. But I’m at a loss to explain how it is Ron Moeser remains a city councillor. Maybe he’s dynamite at the constituency level. Maybe. That’s a little hard to believe, difficult to bridge the gap between that possibility and his abysmal performance in the legislative aspect of his job.toomuch

What’s even harder to understand at this point is why Ron Moeser sits on what may be the second most important standing committee at City Hall after the Budget Committee. Public Works and Infrastructure is largely responsible for the physical operations of the city, the roads, sewers, waste collection. The nuts-and-bolts of city life, pretty much. It oversees billions of dollars in capital spending.

Just this past week, among the nearly 25 items the committee considered, were a couple doozies. Yet more options on the Gardiner expressway east. Contracting out waste collection on the east side of the city. The interim poverty reduction plan.

And Ron Moeser sits as 1 of 6 votes on the committee, struggling to stay on top of the work, the reports, the decisions. What are we agreeing to and how much is it going to cost is the extent of his contribution to the discussions and debates. We have to get through all of this? By 6 o’clock?!

You have to wonder as to the motivation of the administration that elevated him to such a key position. In the waning days of the Ford era, Moeser occupied a seat at the table of the Budget Committee under the then chief stickinthemud(and another mystifyingly out of his depth long serving councillor, Frank Di Giorgio). But by then, the Fords had burned through all their options, their allies scattered and in hiding.

Mayor Tory tapped Ron Moeser right from the outset of his time in office, with plenty of other, better choices at his disposal if his main concern was having the best and the brightest in the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee room. He went in another direction, however. A direction that suggests the mayor, just like the last mayor, is more about politics than he is good governance.

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Challengers To Watch VI

I found myself in a part of the city where it’s best taking a GO Train to get to if you’re going there. notinkansasanymoreWhere the roads are wide and the parking lots full. Plenty of green space too. Oh my god! Is that the soon-to-be Rouge National Park?

WE’RE ALMOST IN PICKERING, PEOPLE!!

Tucked away in the further south-east region of the city is Ward 44 Scarborough East. Toronto’s often forgotten ward. Wait. We have 44 wards?

I’m there chatting with city council candidate Jennifer McKelvie on the afternoon of her official campaign launch. She’s been already out canvassing, fitting it in around her full time work schedule, and will continue to do so until throwing all in come September. So, I have to ask what made her decide to take the leap into politics.

She’s always figured there’d be a political run in her future. It took a question from her kids to set it in motion, one probably asked by hundreds, thousands of children (dare I say a billion) around the city of Toronto. Why can Mayor Ford do drugs and still have a job? Good question with no easy answer but, clearly, the time had come to step up and try to help bring a little decorum and G-rated business back to City Hall.running

Aside from good intentions, I asked Jennifer what specifically she wanted to deliver as a municipal representative. Housing was high up on her list. She was worried about affordability being in her children’s future. Would they be able to afford living in the neighbourhood if they chose to?

She expressed particular concern about seniors in Ward 44. Where would they go when they were no longer able to live on their own at home? This isn’t a theoretical exercise for this part of the city.

Ward 44 has a higher than city average of people living there in the 45-74 year-old age ranges and its single detached home ownership is more than double that of the city. Play that scenario out over the next decade and you’ve got yourself something of an exodus from the area if not dealt with fully. How? New development directed at various types of assisted living, I’d imagine.ward44

But here’s the thing.

New, more intense kind of development is not always embraced in Ward 44. Check out 3 of the 4 candidates in the 2010 council campaign (including the current incumbent but not yet registered for 2014, Ron Moeser). “It’s a single-family community and whatever we do, we have to make sure it fits the character of our community.” “I think we should aim for zoning that keeps it as residential as possible. I would resist condo developments in the ward.” “…it fits with the neighbourhood, it keeps in a theme of green and trees and all the things that are really important to this area.”

Even on Ms. McKelvie’s website, she states: “When I see kids on the street playing, couples strolling, and people running, I smile. This tranquil Ward 44 lifestyle, tucked inside a metropolitan city, is why I live here.” I ask her about that because, for me, this tranquil lifestyle ‘tucked inside a metropolitan city’ sets off alarm bells. It’s what I hear, this ‘character of our community’, just before people blast any sort of new development proposal.

McKelvie is protective of that view. Ward 44 isn’t downtown. But she gets that stand alone single use, single house, entirely car-dependent development is no longer sustainable, at least not at the cost we’re currently charging for it.

Many of the people she’s talked to so far during the campaign seem to get it too. They’re not demanding taxes be kept low. holdingthedoorshutThey want to see value for their money. An amorphous concept in many ways. When I look at, I see the tranquil lifestyle and think, well, hey, you get to live out here in your big lots and tree filled neighbourhoods, and isn’t that the lake I’m looking at right now? That’s pretty good value for your money.

But then Jennifer tells me about the flooded basements during last year’s storms, the damage done by the ice storm. And public transit options. Ward 44’s pretty good if you live near the GO Train and can afford to take it every day. But I hopped aboard the Lawrence East bus to come home and let me tell you…

Like much of Scarborough, Ward 44 is a bus dependent area of the city. Whether or not the LRT or subway gets extended out along the Bloor-Danforth line, the ward will remain bus dependent.

So it’s about improving service through frequency and reliability. Maybe an express line or two. Hell, I don’t know if the ridership numbers warrant it but Lawrence Avenue out in this part of Scarborough is plenty wide enough for its own dedicated bus lane. lawrenceeastbus(My opinion not the candidate’s, in case anyone asks.)

Of course, any sort of talk about BRTs or densification in Ward 44 runs smack dab into the wall of obdurate resistance that is its local councillor, Ron Moeser. Jennifer shrugged politely when I brought the incumbent’s name up. She winced slightly in reaction to my question about whether Councillor Moeser’s health should be an issue during the campaign if he chooses to run again. Felt a little bit like “mudslinging” to her.

I’m not so sure, frankly.

The fact is, the councillor was absent for a good chunk of the first 18 months of this term. Eighteen of some of the most tumultuous months this amalgamated city has seen. Even with his return, I wouldn’t consider him reliable or up to speed on the matters in front of him. movearockOn the day last week Jennifer and I were talking, Councillor Moeser went missing for a vote to determine the future of the current Ombudsman.

One way or the other, Ward 44 Scarborough East needs new representation, a new approach to governance, a new, reliable voice at City Hall. One of those now speaking up is Jennifer McKelvie. She deserves to be listened to.

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A Change Has Got To Come

I was going to declare Ward 44 Scarborough East an open ward in the 2014 municipal campaign since it’s largely been vacant since 2010. yougottobekiddingThere was no reason to think the current incumbent, Councillor Ron Moeser, would be running for re-election since there’s been some question about his health from the start of this term. He missed much of the first two years owing to illness and, while he’s returned on a more regular basis in the last year, I wouldn’t consider him exactly in the pink.

Still, there’s been rumblings lately he might seek another term, and certainly no definitive announcement that he’s thinking of retiring. He even has his own Twitter account now! (No, not that one. This one.) So… I guess we’ll consider this a non-vacant ward to watch.

Which is unfortunate because, I think, if Councillor Moeser does intend to run again, he will really need to clear the air about just how physically capable he is to do the job. He went down early after winning the 2010 election, almost right off the bat. So quickly, in fact, that people probably should’ve been asking whether he was up to even running in the first place. questionsquestionsquestionsI don’t think it unkind or out of place to say that he’s been essentially an absentee councillor for most of the past 3 years.

Councillor Moeser really needs to put that issue to rest, front and centre, if he plans to keep going on city council.

For me though, perhaps even a bigger factor is his performance when he is on the job. As the mayor’s circle of willing allies shrunk to nearly unworkable levels, Councillor Moeser was foisted onto the budget committee upon his return to work, more or less full time. He seemed out of his depth. And on a committee featuring councillors Frances Nunziata, Vincent Crisanti, Doug Ford and Frank Di Giorgio sitting as chair, that’s saying something.

During this past budget season, Councillor Moeser seemed focussed purely on getting the staff recommended property tax increase down but singularly unable to come up with any suggestions on how to do that, where to find the necessary cuts. Granted, Mayor Ford exhibits similar difficulties with this concept but we shouldn’t really be setting the bar for other council members based on that lowly standard.

Now maybe this has nothing to do with Councillor Moeser’s health. Maybe he’s always been an anti-tax warrior with a tenuous grasp on city budgeting. overwhelmedIf so, who needs any more of those on city council?

Frankly put, Councillor Moeser has looked lost for most of the time I’ve been watching him. At budget committee, at city council meetings, he comes across as largely distracted, often times asking questions that others have already asked and had answered, or just putting forth plain, outright incomprehensibility. He’s tied in my mind with Councillor Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1 Etobicoke North) for having staff respond to his questions most often with, “I’m sorry, councillor. I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”

He’s been at this municipal government thing for a long time. Over 25 years now, dating back to his time on the city of Scarborough council minus the 3 years he sat out after being defeated in 2003. That’s a long time and, at this point, it doesn’t appear as if Councillor Moeser’s adapted to the massive changes this city has underground. He comes across as a grumpy old guy, more comfortable in those bucolic days when Scarborough was just some sleepy commuter burg where the biggest troublemakers were those loveable scamps, Wayne and Garth.

Councillor Ron Moeser has not had an easy time keeping Ward 44 since the 2000 election. He always involved in a tight electoral fight. gonegolfingThe last couple he defeated Diana Hall by a combined 350 votes.

If he’s not willing to accept the fact he’s no longer up to the task of representing his ward, it may be time for voters to give him more than just a scare in October. They need to give him a push. On your way, councillor. Thanks for your years of dedication to public service but it’s long since time for a change.

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