The Grimes Reality Of Unseating An Incumbent

July 5, 2015

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We sit down with Russ (no relation) Ford and talk about how he came this close to ousting longtime Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore lump, Councillor Mark Grimes.

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Less Is Not Always More

January 15, 2015

In today’s ‘how not to city council and still hold public office for over a decade’ news, I give you Ward 6 Lakeshore-Etobicoke councillor, Mark Grimes, first elected in 2003.

What am I looking at, you ask. Basically, Councillor Grimes putting forth a ‘technical amendment’ that states the builder of a condo development in the councillor’s ward will pony up $150,000 in Section 37 money to the community via the councillor. Section 37 money? A negotiated amount a developer agrees to pay in return for variances to their development. Variances? Essentially, aspects (usually increases) of the building that are not in accordance with city by-laws.  More stories, higher density. Bacceptlessuilding by-law indulgences, let’s call them, in which money is offered up to compensate for any negative consequences the variances might have on nearby communities.

In a nutshell.

So, on the surface, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what Councillor Grimes is doing in the above video. Except for the fact, as the CBC report points out, what the ‘technical amendment’ the councillor successfully pushed through did was reduce the amount of Section 37 money the developer would pay from $250,000 to $150,000. No, it didn’t, the councillor told the CBC in an email response. “There was never an agreement reached with the applicant for $250,000 in Section 37 cash contribution,” the councillor wrote. “I recommended the $250,000 to try and negotiate the maximum benefit for the community.”

Again, except the CBC flags a final staff report sent to the Etobicoke York Community Council a month before the councillor’s city council ‘technical amendment’ that states, right there in black and white (page 11), expectless“It had been agreed by the owner that they will provide a cash contribution in the amount of $250,000 for local parks improvements as their Section 37 contribution.”

In essence, the local councillor (Mark Grimes in this case) has it in writing in a city staff report that the owner of a proposed development has agreed to pay $250,000 in Section 37 money but a month later introduces a ‘technical amendment’ reducing that contribution by $100,000.

Who does that?!

Let’s avoid going to the darkest corner of possibilities here. The potential shadiness of Section 37 transactions are always bubbling near the surface.  “A shakedown”, then-mayor Rob Ford once called Section 37 money.  While wildly off the mark (as Rob Ford tends to be about almost everything to do with governance), it’s difficult to fully justify the practice.followthebouncingball

Follow the bouncing ball. Developer wants to build something not allowed by current city planning by-laws. If the city doesn’t agree, the prospect of an OMB appeal going against it, granting the developer free rein, always hangs over the proceedings. So negotiations begin to arrive at some solution that makes nobody entirely happy but is something most can live with. Part of the deal making involves money, a payment to, as I wrote earlier, compensate for any negative consequences of the development might inflict on the community. Assuaging bitter feelings.

A far from perfect way of doing business, obviously, with plenty of open space for behind closed door unsavoriness. Moreover, it’s probably the least efficient or productive way to maximize the community benefits from such projects. Section 37 never provides enough money to ultimately offset the infrastructure stress these kinds of developments impose on communities like public transit. Instead, the city has to be content with building parks and green space, occasionally a library.spikeandchester

But it’s something. An unsatisfying solution to a highly problematic dynamic in terms of city building. The best councillors make the best of a bad situation. If there’s been any genuine claim of any sort of impropriety from a Toronto city councillor in terms of misusing Section 37, I don’t know of one. There’s no reason to think anything different with Councillor Grimes and this case of the disappearing $100,000.

The only conclusion I can arrive at, however, is hardly more heartening. “Councillor Grimes purpose at City Hall,” Luca De Franco tweeted in reaction to the CBC story, “as he sees it — aiding developers, even against the interests of Ward 6 residents.” That’s not corruption. It’s just willful disregard of the people who voted for you.

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The Essential Eight — Council Challenger Endorsements V

October 7, 2014

We begin down our homestretch of city council challenger endorsements. The Essential Eight, we’ll call them. makingalist1These are candidates who, if elected, would alter the dynamic of city council for the better regardless of the name of the next mayor of this city.

That’s not to diminish our previously endorsed set of challengers. Every one of them would make a positive contribution to the political life in this city. It’s just these 8 candidates represent an enticing combination of strong, issued-oriented platforms, electoral opportunity and a seeming sense (mostly subjective on my part) of seasoned readiness to tackle the job of being a city councillor right out of the starting gate.

Admittedly, as you will discover, there is a preponderance of white maleness to this list. Perhaps I didn’t dig deep enough, scour the candidates’ list thoroughly enough and just simply, I don’t know, acquiesced to my establishment bias. I’ll own that. So factor that into your consideration as you read on, if you do read on.

 

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Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore

Etobicoke is in a state of electoral flux. Four-ish of the six wards are open (I don’t know what you’d call Ward 2). There are exciting, new voices making themselves heard during this campaign. (We’ve already endorsed some in Wards 1, 2 & 3). A good turnover here would mark a significant change in direction city-wide.

Ward 6 is one of the two with an incumbent seeking re-election. That incumbent is Mark Grimes. His ouster would represent a serious blow against the old guard at City Hall.

Russ Ford would be a huge step forward in terms of civic engagement and right-thinking rather than mob-mentality governance. We sat down and chatted with Ford in August. He was thoughtful, not given to either meaningless overstatement or other campaign platitudes. His concern for the ward wasn’t based on taxpayer respect but for finding a place at the table for everybody, whether they were residents concerned about development or residents worried about keeping an affordable roof over their heads.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Russ Ford for city councillor in Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

 

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Ward 24 Willowdale

Forget the Fords for a second. One of the original small government, anti-tax cranks who invaded City Hall from the inner suburbs with amalgamation was David Shiner. Incredibly, he’s still around (long after Mel Lastman’s gone, long gone). Still around and looking for another kick at the can.

It just doesn’t have to be this way. Dan Fox, a quiet, fact-based versus ideology-based, candidate has been plugging away on the campaign trail since February. We talked to him back in May and our impression of him has not changed since. He knows his stuff. He’s willing to defend his ideas eagerly but reasonably. He’s free of the crust of disinterest that’s hardened around the incumbent he’s out to defeat.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Dan Fox for city councillor in Ward 24 Willowdale.

— hopefully helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch IX

August 7, 2014

Tucked away at bottom in the very southwest corner of Toronto, Ward 6 may officially be part of Etobicoke but it feels quite a bit like much of the city’s downtown core. ward6There are serious development pressures especially along the waterfront that make up its southern border. Public transit has not kept up with the area’s population growth. Congestion is part of the daily commute. Employment lands in this once industrial part of the city are being squeezed by the lure of big bucks from residential expansion. Likewise, affordable housing is under threat from the enticement of upscale condos moving in a westward wave from downtown. The expansion of the island airport and the use of jets there is a highly contentious issue.

While city council candidate Russ Ford (no relation) hears about these issues when he’s out knocking on doors, what he’s getting more than an earful of, however, is the M.I.A. status of the ward’s incumbent, Councillor Mark Grimes.whereswaldo2

This is a recurring theme that’s playing out with many of the candidates we’ve been talking to, especially in the more suburban areas of the city. Out of touch, out of contact city councillors not in the habit of engaging with residents on the issues that directly affect them. This lack of visibility, Ford (no relation) tells me, leads to a lack of trust. It’s a feedback loop that plays into the anti-City Hall sentiment that’s the cornerstone of Mayor Ford’s populism.

Russ Ford (no relation) is seeking to change all that. He is a fixture on the Etobicoke-Lakeshore scene, engaged with the communities and neighbourhoods on the ground for 30 years now. For the past 14 years, he has been the Executive Director of LAMP, a local community health centre that promotes preventive measures to maintaining good health through access to secure housing and nutritious, healthy food, improved literacy. texaschainsawmassacreBefore that, Ford (no relation) was the founding Executive Director of another south Etobicoke health centre, Stonegate.

Of course, such involvement at the street level brought Ford (no relation) into direct conflict with the Ford (the other, non-related one) administration during the 2012 budget process that threatened many of the community programs and services Ford (no relation) represented. A budget, like so much of the administration’s agenda, avidly supported by Councillor Grimes who even voted against the $15 million pushback that saved some of these programs and services from the chopping block.

Penny pinching over any sort of vision, Russ Ford (no relation) tells me. Just negligent cutting to meet some arbitrary budget number, consequences to those affected be damned. My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day…

It is crass politics at its worst. Since many of the people hurt by such an austerity approach, many of whom Russ Ford lockstep(no relation) has spent his career working with and advocating for, don’t tend to vote, there is little consequence for a politician not looking out for their interests. Russ Ford (no relation) believes he can help change that equation, make Councillor Grimes have to answer for his almost unwavering support for the mayor’s agenda.

The real threat to the incumbent’s decade+ plus reign in Ward 6, however, is what Ford (no relation) refers to as a group politicized by bad development. Specifically what comes to mind is the Mimico 20/20 plan along the waterfront. This energized a very vocal group — some driven by, undoubtedly, more than a little nimbyism — but for many, there was inadequate community consultation, a feeling that the project was a done deal and presented to them as is. mineminemineTake it or… well, just take it.

Ford (no relation) takes comfort in the fact that, in the end, no residents of any affordable housing would be displaced by the development. Still, there is a sense that the best interests of residents took a back seat to those of the developers and even now, some of the community benefits of the project through Section 37 funds are not being handled in any sort of democratic fashion. Ford (no relation) wants to change the dynamic of that relationship, bring about a sense of inclusion and participation.

He’s got a bit of a mountain to climb. grassrootsDespite the sense of antipathy toward Councillor Grimes Ford (no relation) is hearing from many residents, the councillor was elected with a healthy majority of the popular vote in 2010, building on each successive election since he first won in 2003. If he decides to run (and that’s not an absolute certainty as he has not registered as of this writing), Mark Grimes will be a formidable entrenched incumbent to oust.

But Russ Ford (no relation) has a few things going in his favour. He has a very strong team in place and growing resources to help overcome the name recognition factor which always plays as an incumbent’s strength. He has an established, long term presence in Ward 6, active in the community there, carrying a certain degree of name recognition in his own right. Ford (no relation) also brings a certain enthusiasm to the prospect of becoming city councillor. An enthusiasm seldom on display from the current incumbent.

Perhaps most importantly, Russ Ford (he’s in no way related to the mayor, OK?) is running for city council in order to spark a wider citizen engagement in Ward 6 with City Hall. turnthepageHe wants to bring residents with him not have them send him alone to represent their interests. There’s too much that needs addressing, too many significant changes in the offing for just one person to contend with on their own. This is going to take a group effort.

Russ Ford (unlike his in no way related namesake) has a long history of working well with others. It will be a fresh and much needed dynamic he’ll bring to City Hall. If we’re hoping to see a change for the better come October 27th, let’s hope Russ Ford will be the only Ford on the scene, a new and improved and better Ford.

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