The Essential Eight — Council Challenger Endorsements VI

October 8, 2014

Our next installment of city council challenger endorsements begins in Etobicoke. Seems we’re always starting in Etobicoke. Maybe Etobicoke is the nexus of change at City Hall this October. (A different, more positive change than the one that came eastward in 2010.) As Etobicoke goes, so goes Toronto?

endorsement2

Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore

This one landed on the radar late in the campaign. An open ward left vacant by the departure of Peter Milczyn (not necessarily in a hurry) for the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park. The only “names”, such as they are, vying to replace him are a former staffer in the former councillor’s office and the runner-up in Ward 5 in 2010 who came within a hundred votes or so of defeating Milczyn.

But the real deal in Ward 5 is Raymond Desilets. I cannot say enough good things about his candidacy. He is a pro-growth, urban-minded challenger with a platform full of ideas to revitalize and renew neighbourhoods and communities in the ward. How many candidates have you heard make this kind of statement? Property Taxes – I’m Not Complaining. He’s even got a streetcar proposal to provide relief to transit users commuting to and from work downtown.

Perhaps my favourite bit of information about Desilets — Spoiler Alert! This story is contained in the post I wrote about him a couple weeks ago – is how, when mulling over a possible run, he took 4 months to put together his reasons for running and held a mini-Town Hall for 35 friends and family to see what they thought. Fortunately he got a thumbs up from them.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Raymond Desilets for city council in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

endorsement1

Ward 18 Davenport

Alex Mazer is in an odd kind of uphill battle in the Ward 18 race. He’s facing a not entirely awful one-term incumbent but a wholly uninspiring one. Ana Bailão may be one of the most inconsistent, flippy-floppy councillors of the past term.

As we discovered in our talk with Mazer back in June, his is a dynamic campaign built on a foundation of increasing civic engagement. He wants to push forward the concept of participatory budgeting, opening up the budget process to wider public input. He’s a fierce supporter of using schools as community hubs and is strong in his defence of not selling off school properties for simple residential development.

While I don’t think there’s much of an age gap between Mazer and the incumbent he’s looking to replace, their respective ideas on city building seem generations apart. Alex Mazer represents a new era. Ward 18 could use the change.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Alex Mazer for city council in Ward 18 Davenport.

hopefully, helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch XVIII

September 26, 2014

There’s something of an opportunity brewing in Etobicoke this municipal election where 4 of its 6 city council seats are incumbent free. (More or less.) opportunityAn opportunity for new voices, new ideas. An opportunity for a new dialogue that’s refreshingly free of much pre-amalgamation baggage.

Alas, aside from the Ford factor freakiness in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, news from these parts has been scarce. Unsurprising in many ways, since most council races don’t get a whole lot of attention, especially when the mayoral campaign proves as preposterously outlandish as this one is. Open council races prove to be even more wobbly as there isn’t the touchstone of incumbency to measure them from.

Which may partly explain how candidacies like Raymond Desilets in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore have slipped under the radar so far. Take a look at the campaign website and tell me you’ve seen many others (including some of those running for mayor) this detailed, thorough and thought out. Places To Grow. Queensway Revitalization. Streetcar Expressway! (Yes, really.) Townhalls. Development Permit System…

Search hard and try to find a platitude or any demagogic populism. This is intelligent discourse for an engaged citizenry. In a roster of Ward 5 candidates chock full of your run-of-the-mill anti-tax rhetoric, Desilets boldly writes: Property Taxes – I’m Not Complaining.ideas

Perhaps it’s the mark of a rookie politician. Hardly surprising as this is 25 year resident of Ward 5’s first foray into politics. What he lacked in experience, he decided to make up for in research, knowledge and diligence.

When Desilets mused about running for council back last Christmas, friends and family asked him why, what exactly he would be running for. Not having a satisfactory answer but armed with a background in urban planning and architecture studies, he spent the next 4 months on a crash course in the history and governance of Toronto and the GTA. Done, Desilets put together an hour presentation for about 35 people in his own mini-Townhall meeting, laying out the reasons why he wanted to run for city council and the platform he’d run on.

The reception was positive and here he is, now running for Ward 5.

I asked how his ideas were playing beyond that initial group with voters as he knocked on their doors. There’s been very little pushback, he told me. ward5Generally speaking people have been surprised, pleasantly so, to hear the ideas Desilets talks about being possible.

This goes to the wider observation I’ve been hearing from candidates running for council in the former inner suburban municipalities. A lack of community and neighbourhood engagement between voters and those they elect to represent them at City Hall. Low-tax and anti-growth sensibilities, telling voters that there’s nothing but out of control spending, corruption and downtown-centricity. No good can come from it. So… vote for more of the same. Rinse and repeat.

Desilets wants to change that approach.

Much of that can come from how growth and densification is handled, he feels. He encourages it but feels, to date, and especially in places like Ward 5, the city’s shown a knack for building ‘condo deserts’ but not communities. We have to do better ‘developing our neighbourhoods’. islingtonbloorThat means including more affordable housing, more mixed use development where people can shop, drink and dine, work locally. Create ‘urban space’ and not just park space.

“Intensify for us,” Desilets tells me.

He also advocates for more local solutions to our transit woes, ideas that are quick to implement. His streetcar express, for one. Never mind the subway/LRT debate. Lay down streetcar tracks now!

Look, I’m not sure if Raymond Desilets ideas are all doable. The thing is, he’s got ideas, positive, community building ideas and he’s willing to talk about them, to engage with people with the goal of creating more liveable and equitable places to live and work. Look at two of his more high-profile opponents in Ward 5. Justin Di Ciano, came within a hundred votes or so of ousting the then incumbent councillor, Peter Milczyn, in 2010. Fast-forward 4 years and he’s still filling out his website. Kinga Surma, former Milczyn assistant until she went to work for his opponent, Doug Holyday, in last year’s by-election, is talking even less about her plans as city councillor.turnthepage1

Obviously, no one ward of 44 in this city will change the course of history here in Toronto. But there’s a real prospect of changing how we talk about this city, how we approach governance in a more inclusive and constructive way. “Let’s take advantage of that,” as Raymond Desilets says. If Etobicoke begins sending the likes of Raymond Desilets to City Hall, that would be a huge, great step in the right direction.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


An Appointment With Destiny

July 8, 2014

I get it. It’s supposed to be a mindful, deliberate process, disorderlyorderlythe appointment of an interim city councillor to fill a vacancy left behind when the duly elected councillor resigns the position during a term. The will of voters must be observed and, as best as humanly possible, adhered to.

But wouldn’t it be great if everybody threw caution to the wind and instead took a flyer on protocol and just said: This one’s a real crackerjack. Came in, gave a blockbuster of a speech, has a dynamite CV. Here, Ward [Whatever], try this one on for size. Especially this late in the term. What harm could an appointed councillor possibly do in a few short months?

Alas, no. Order (or whatever passes for order at Toronto’s City Hall these days) businessasusualmust be maintained.

So it was yesterday (as it was last year with replacement of Doug Holyday) with the appointment of new councillors in Wards 5 and 20. No fireworks. Very little surprise or suspense. Just a quiet passing of the torch to caretakers, essentially, until the start of the next term in December, to a couple of established figures. Ward 20 got a long time city staffer and social activist while a political backroomer on the south Etobicoke scene became the new Ward 5 councillor.

The only bit of intrigue during the procedure – no, wait. There were two. – came when a couple former staffers applied for the position of Ward 5 councillor. One, Nico Fidani-Diker, worked in Mayor Rob Ford’s office for a time and is on record expressing some reservations about the role Sandro Lisi played in the mayor’s life. Totally coincidentally, I’m sure, there were problems with the clock in the council chambers during his deputation which he felt got cut short by the speaker, Frances Nunziata.fingerscrossed

The other was the fate of Kinga Surma, an ex-assistant in the former city Ward 5 councillor, Peter Milczyn’s office up until last year’s provincial by-election when she went to work on the campaign of Milczyn’s rival in that race, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. A supposed amicable arrangement between Mr. Milczyn and Ms. Shurma that didn’t actually wind up that way. She was given her marching orders just a few days after Milczyn returned to the office, having lost the by-election.

Yesterday, she placed a distant 3rd in the appointment race to succeed him, providing a lesson to all political neophytes. Never, ever, publically piss on your boss’s shoes. sinkorswimOther bosses don’t look kindly on it, and won’t really extend a hand to help, given an opportunity down the road.

Unfazed by the outcome, Ms. Shurma almost immediately registered to run for the Ward 5 council seat in October’s municipal election. It was not an entirely surprising move, and one that may’ve also contributed to her lack of support by an overwhelming majority of councillors who had little interest in giving her a running start in the campaign. Hopefully for Ms. Shurma, democracy won’t be as office politics minded as the appointment process appeared to be.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


It Ain’t All Glamour And Caviar

July 7, 2014

Today, city council gathers together in a special meeting called to appoint two interim councillors to replace the recently elected members of parliament and provincial parliament respectively, yourehiredAdam Vaughan (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina) and Peter Milczyn (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore). The two join Doug Holyday, who left City Hall just last year after winning a provincial by-election against Mr. Milczyn, only to lose the seat in last month’s general election, as a triumvirate of former councillors, heading for higher orders of government before their terms in municipal office were officially over.

It got me to thinking about the role of city councillor.

All 3 of these men, Holyday, Milczyn and Vaughan, would be classified as council veterans. Including Holyday’s time as a local politician back in the annals of pre-recorded history, between them, they have about 453 years of accumulated elected experience. So I think it’s safe to say that the role of city councillor was not seen as some sort of stepping stone for any of them.poisonous

In fact, I’d hazard a guess that all 3 of their departures were precipitated, at least in some part, due to the foul air at City Hall generated by the continued stink bomb of the Ford Administration. Who, given a choice, would stick it out in such a toxic work environment? It’s going to take years to remove the sludge and de-contaminate that soil. Let’s spend some time over here in greener pastures, shall we?

Only Adam Vaughan (as far as I heard and I was in easy listening distance, living in the riding he won last week) cited a tangible reason for moving on to federal politics. He felt stymied at the municipal level in dealing fully with the big, systemic, intractable issues facing the city. His monster under the bed is affordable housing. Something the provincial government largely downloaded onto the municipalities nearly two decades ago. limitationsSomething the federal government hasn’t touched in a generation.

For Vaughan, housing was part of a wider urban agenda that Ottawa had largely neglected, save the odd political project or the two bits of gas tax thrown cities’ way, much to municipalities’ detriment. This is where the infrastructure deficit began, its source, a nearly dried-up riverbed. Mr. Vaughan heads to Parliament Hill in the hopes of completing the work he couldn’t finish as city councillor.

Which speaks volumes to the job of being a city councillor. A position some 45 people will seek to fill today, and well over two hundred (and counting) city wide in October’s municipal election.

Being a city councillor is a thankless job. It demands long hours and lots of personal sacrifice. Forget what the likes of the Fords or Sue-Ann Levys say about the gravy train and life in the clamshell. thanklessjobIt’s a grueling, 80+ hour/week occupation where you’re always on call. If that’s not the schedule the councillor representing you maintains, you need to ask why and consider voting another way in a few months time.

I’m just going to put this out there as pure opinion and an unsourced claim.

Your city councillor works much harder than your MPP or MP. They get paid less. There is no pension, no matter how long you serve, just a straight up severance package. There is no glory in what they do.

While an MP or MPP dabbles in constituency work, this is what consumes a city councillor’s time and effort. Getting sidewalks fixed. Filling potholes. Making sure garbage gets picked up properly. Dealing with basement flooding. Fence exemptions. Yes, fence exemptions. City councillors adjudicate neighbourhood spats over the height and placement of fences.cleaningupthemess

None of it head line grapping. Much of it mundane. Little of it easy to negotiate.

On top of all that, a city councillor legislates. Each month at council meetings, there are by-laws to sort through, debate and pass. Taxation implementation to consider. Transformative city development to deliberate and put into action.

And here’s the thing.

Municipal governments don’t have the full tool box at their disposal to deal with all of this. Both fiscally and jurisdictionally, council regularly has its hands tied with many of the pressing matters it faces. pleasesirThe powers of taxation are severely limited by the province. Too much of the city’s day-to-day operations are funded off the property tax base.

Say, Toronto, the 6th largest government in the country, wanted to toll its roads to pay for some of its much needed new transit. Not so fast, guys. The province controls many of the key access points to make this work properly.

Even how this city decides it wants to elect its local representation is ultimately in the hands of Queen’s Park to decide.

And don’t get me started on the OMB and the TPA, both unelected entities that serve at the pleasure of higher orders of governments but with huge stakes in the operations of Toronto.

Too many of our city councillors use this dynamic to avoid taking responsibility or making hard decisions. Ssaluteome to further their only seeming objective of keeping taxes low [*cough, cough* Denzil Minnan-Wong *cough, cough* David Shiner]. Others, because doing nothing is what they do best (*cough, cough* Frances Nunziata *cough cough* Frank Di Giorgio].

But those who soldier on, despite the limitations of their office, and endeavour to make Toronto a better city for all of its residents, they are a special breed. Under-appreciated and over-worked, it is, to paraphrase our mayor, a job I would not wish on my worst enemy. Those who accept that fact, and the challenge, are owed our utmost respect and consideration.

thankfully submitted by Cityslikr