Everything’s Fine!

May 16, 2016

These days, this council.

With the provincial government dangling the prospect of ballot reform, tantalizingly, and today’s announcement of the ward boundary review recommendation, giddywe here in Toronto should be giddy with excitement at the opportunity to reshape our local democracy. It’s something that hasn’t been done for 16 years since Queen’s Park pretty much unilaterally aligned all the city’s wards with the federal and provincial riding boundaries. So, we’re overdue, to make an understatement. Seize the moment to try and iron out some of the parochial wrinkles that have accumulated. Sweep out the dust bunnies and moldy odors that have collected in the cupboards.

It’s just… You know…

These days, this council.

With Councillor Justin Di Ciano, as city council’s woefully underwhelming representative, taking his anti-ranked ballots clownshow up University Avenue to speak to the standing committee overseeing voting reform initiatives, there’s some serious concern that Toronto voters won’t get a crack at using ranked ballots. dampenHell, if the councillor has his way, we’ll be robbed of even having a debate about it. His argument against moving from the current First Past The Post system is so full of shopworn bullet talking points, it’s impossible to tell what his real motives are with this antediluvian quest.

Equally unclear are the reasons our mayor, John Tory, seems determined to curtail debate on the ward boundary review ahead of the final recommendation going public. Earlier this year, when five possible new ward alignment options were outlined, he stated his position, which was pretty much as dismissive as you could be. “The last thing we need is more politicians.” Over this past weekend, his rhetoric had ossified into place, suggesting Mayor Tory hadn’t put so much as another thought into the matter.

I’ve maintained my position, which is, first of all, I don’t personally see the need for an expanded number of politicians, and secondly, I have yet to meet a Toronto citizen who has told me that their top priority — or any kind of priority of their’s — is to expand the number of politicians. I think we can make arrangements by reorganizing the boundaries a little bit.

The bottom line is I don’t think we need to have more decision makers at City Hall.

That there? That’s the sound of the door slamming on any sort of serious discussion about the size, shape or reorganization of city council. Maybe ‘a little bit’, John Tory’s incrementalism on full display. draggedIf it ain’t broke, amirite?

Rather than take the opportunity to show some civic leadership, and begin a discussion that might inject some new ideas and life into the governance structure at City Hall, Mayor Tory is intent on belittling the debate to nothing more than the number of councillors. Just like his predecessor did. As if numbers, and numbers alone, are the sole determinant of good, solid and proper political representation.

While it wasn’t part of the ward boundary review mandate to look at the structure of city council, the mayor and councillors could make it theirs, take the initiative and start talking about ways to improve how council functions, how to better represent the residents who’ve elected them to office. One of the biggest glitches plaguing governance in Toronto is the seemingly intractable urban-suburban divide that engenders division instead of cohesion. (Something I suspect is going to be a lightning rod of contention surrounding the ward boundary recommendation today.) Could a move toward at least some at-large, ward-free councillor positions help address that?

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s at least worth some sort of examination, isn’t it?notlistening

Whatever the outcome and final decision city council makes determining new ward boundaries, it’s going to be in place for the next 4 election cycles, 2018, 2022, 2026, 2030. During that time span, the city is projected to see huge population growth – 600,000 new residents by 2031 — and significant demographic changes. Is this Mayor Tory led city council really going to look at that and pursue a redrawing of wards only through the lens of a head count? Will it also brush aside the chance to give voters in the city a new way to elect its local politicians, maybe even in a new type of arrangement that might help reduce the type of harmful geographic divisiveness that has dogged it pretty much from the beginning of amalgamation?

You’d hope not but… well, you know…

These days, this mayor, this council.

same-ol’-same-olly submitted by Cityslikr

Ward Boundary Review — Take A Moment. Have Your Say.

November 9, 2015

Near the end of the last public session I attended of the first round of the city’s Ward Boundary Review earlier this year (Got that?), a young man (I’m old enough to use that term in a non-pejorative way) raised his hand to ask a question. wardboundaryreviewWill any of this really affect my life? More or less. I’d have to dig back in my archives to get the exact quote but it’s Monday, I don’t much want to. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

It was a perfectly valid question. Of all the things we’re facing living in Toronto at this moment in history, are proposed changes to ward boundaries, the possible number to them, the number of city councillors we elect to represent us, all that important? Will it really affect the transit we build or the police budget we agree to? The wonk in me would immediately say Yes, yes, in fact, it would. But, that’s just the wonk in me.

Judging by the turnout for the 2nd round of public consultations over the course of this fall, I’d have to say most people resoundingly came down on the No side of the equation. How many wards we have, how they’re drawn up will have no effect on their respective lives. At least, nothing big enough to compel them out to participate in person.

Back during the 1st round, the weather was often cited for a reason turnout to public meetings wasn’t bigger. fakeglassesIt was winter. It was cold, dark.

This time around, I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but from the 4 meetings I attended, anecdotally I’d guess fewer people attended than previously, we were caught up in the prolonged federal election, the Blue Jays were in the middle of their amazing run. The weather was unseasonably warm! Who wants to spend time indoors, talking ward realignment, while the sun’s shining brightly and the temperature makes no socks demand on you?

I guess what I found unfortunate about our collective shrug at the process so far is that the city and the consultants it hired to conduct the public meetings, to write the reports, to make recommendations did their level best to engage with Torontonians. They listened intently to the feedback they received, incorporating it their report and recommendations. Their report after the 1st round of public sessions was highly readable, clear and precise. It cannot be claimed, as I heard from more than a few people after that report was issued, that the public had been kept in the dark. There was (and remains to be) plenty of opportunity for everyone to have their say.

Without broader public input, the ultimate decision makers on this, city council itself, will, not at all incorrectly, see a certain apathy on the matter and ultimately put its interests first, with only a possible Ontario Municipal Board appeal looking over its shoulders. slicingpieThe loudest voices will be the only ones heard, and those, from what I witnessed at the meetings, are largely older and white. Not exactly agents of change.

So I’m guessing when the 5 recommendations that are before the public during these 2nd round of consultations are winnowed done to just one early next year, it will be some variation of the minimal/no change options, either 44 or 47 wards. There seemed to be little appetite with the smaller, 58 wards options, mostly because that would mean more politicians. The bigger/fewer ward option also elicited very little support from the public at the meetings I attended.

The most intriguing option for me is the one that adheres to natural and physical boundaries. It received very little attention until the last couple meetings I was at. The reason I like it is that it reconfigures the entire city, setting aside long established ward boundaries and the community council structure arbitrarily imposed on us with amalgamation. Although I think there are too few wards (41) and a number of them are geographically imposing, I like the idea of re-designing a post-amalgamated Toronto. That would positively affect our lives, to answer the young man’s question.

Don’t agree with me?hitsend

Well, there’s still time for you to have your say. Online input is available all this week until November 15th. From the comfort of your very own desk, you can study the options that are on the table and give your opinion of what you’d like to see happen, even to the smallest detail. You can’t fight City Hall or, in this case, reshape it, without letting your opinion be known. If you’re reading these words, there’s really no excuse for you not to.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr

Democracy In Inaction

September 17, 2015

Round 2 of public meetings for the city’s Ward Boundary Review began last night, at a community centre near Dufferin and Eglinton Street. emptyroomAlong with 5 people from the consulting team conducting the review, a few minutes after the scheduled starting time, I was the only member of the public in the room. Not long after, a staffer for a councillor from a nearby ward appeared. A half hour or so later, a 3rd person showed up, another regular at the previous round of public consultations.

By the time everyone packed up to go home, about an hour into the proceedings, that was the full extent of the turnout. If this had been a theatre performance, where the cast numbers more than the members of the audience, the actors would have been obliged to take us out for drinks. Or so I am told.

At some point of time, the excuses get old.

I’m busy. It’s too far away. Wednesday’s are bad. The kids got soccer. I’m tired. Nobody told me.

makingexcusesFrom the very beginning of the public consultation outreach of this review, back last December, with 12 meetings, 3 in each of the city’s 4 community council areas, 2 weeknight sessions and 1 on Saturday, this has been a very open and transparent exercise, highly encouraging and supportive of public input and opinions. After round 1, an extremely readable and clear report was written, outlining the 5 options that were being put up for debate and the reasons why they were included while others weren’t. People were listened to and their opinions were factored into the report’s findings and decisions.

Kinda, sorta like we say we want to be governed.

Yet, there we were last night, 8 of us, all counted, 5 of whom were paid to be there, 6, I guess, if you count the councillor’s staffer.

The room was set up to accommodate, I don’t know, 50 people, say? I know the nuts and bolts of ward realignment are probably a little wonky, nerdy, so I wasn’t expecting a packed house although we were literally – and I don’t use that word figuratively here – we were literally discussing reshaping local democracy. boringSo, 10 interested members of the public maybe? It was a warm September night, for sure. (Last January it was too cold.) David Price was starting for the pennant seeking Blue Jays. (Last December was close to Christmas.)

But 2 people?

One of the consultants pointed out that nearly 400 people had filled out the online surveys. So there’s that, I guess. In a city of 2.6 million, you do the math on that.

Here’s what happens now.

The cranks (and I include myself in that grouping) get listened to. Listened to and, ultimately, ignored if our views are deemed to be unworkable. Hello, cutting council numbers in half cranks!

Politicians will look at the scenario, the abysmal public turnout except for the cranks, and conclude, rightfully so, it seems to me, that we just don’t give a shit. I mean, last night, the local councillor where the meeting was conducted, Josh Colle, Ward 15, didn’t even send an assistant to participate. uninterestedWhy bother wasting time when nobody else was willing to?

Politicians will then go about making a decision assuming, again, rightfully so, that it doesn’t really matter to most people. They wouldn’t be wrong, if turnout last night is anything to go by.  The people have not spoken. M’eh. Whatever.

We get the politics we deserve, I guess. And if our politicians show a propensity to serve only their own self-interests, do we have any right to complain? We certainly aren’t showing much interest in the business of politics.

self-righteously submitted by Cityslikr

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

Now We’ve Got Options!

August 17, 2015

unreadableHave you ever found yourself thinking: Man I would just love to get my hands around the throat of a public policy issue and throttle it into submission but all those official reports and papers are so dry and dense and full of inscrutable bureaucratese that’s it’s impossible to figure out what to think almost as if nobody wants you to know what’s going on…


Well, first. You need a little punctuation in your thought process. I mean, come on. Run on sentences lead only to disorderly logic and a fundamental inability to think critically. Use (but never over-use) commas.

That said, and after deciphering your brain gibberish, I highly recommend you sit down and read the Ward Boundary Review Options Report. pageturnerIt is a beautifully written document. Clear, to the point, no messing about. Official and essential beach reading.

What is the Ward Boundary Review? We wrote about it, first back in November. (And then again, here and here, and talked about it a couple times too, here and here).

What exactly is a Ward Boundary Review? (From an earlier report):

As a result of significant growth in the City over the past several years there are some wards that have considerably higher populations, and some lower, than the average ward population. This means that the equity of representative democracy across wards has been compromised. The Toronto Ward Boundary Review is looking at the size and shape of Toronto’s wards in order to address this inequity and ensure that all Toronto residents are fairly represented at City Council.

The City of Toronto Act (2006) gives City Council the authority to make changes to its ward boundaries. It does not, however, provide specific instructions for how the ward boundary review should be undertaken or the parameters that should be followed. Municipalities in Ontario look to past Supreme Court cases and Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) decisions for guidance. The historic Carter Case, which was one of the first electoral boundary cases to be taken to the Supreme Court, set the precedent for ward boundary reviews in Canada by establishing the principle of “effective representation” as the basis for making ward boundary adjustments.

Why is a ward boundary review and subsequent changes to ward boundaries necessary now?

Toronto’s current ward structure, developed approximately 15 years ago, has become unbalanced. This impacts voter parity (similar but not identical population numbers among wards) not just at election time, but every time City Council votes.

Not to mention that it probably doesn’t hurt to assess the state of your local governance structure at least every 15 years or so.

So after one round of consultations with the public, politicians and other various civic “stakeholders”, we’ve been presented with 5 options for ward realignment. wardboundaryreviewBigger, smaller, more, fewer, in a nutshell. I’m not going to break the options down much more than that right now, mostly because I really want you to read the report for yourself. Did I tell you it’s really fantastic and completely worth your while?

I will say this in terms of my immediate impression of the options, mostly having to do with what was left off the table. Both the idea of cutting the number of wards in half and keeping them aligned with federal/provincial ridings were deemed lacking in support and non-workable, respectively. Hoo-rah for that, I say.

“Since the idea of having 25 very large wards [aligned with the new federal ridings in Toronto, effectively cutting council size in half] gained virtually no support during the public process,” the report states, “it has not been pursued as an option.” intothebinThat may come as a surprise to all those chanting along with the former mayor and organizations such as the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition about reducing the number of councillors at City Hall but there it is. Despite the volume and repetition, there was ‘virtually no support’ to go down that reductionist rode. Good riddance.

While it seems to make sense to far more people to keep doing what we’re doing and design our wards along federal riding lines and then simply cut them in half, the report sense a problem with that too.

This option does not resolve the issue of very large wards in the Downtown and southern Etobicoke and the numerous small wards. It merely continues most of the inequities of the current situation that led to the TWBR. An option based on using the federal riding boundaries and then dividing them in two will not achieve effective representation and has, therefore, not been pursued.

And as I’ve said all along, why would the city want to design its electoral structure based on that of the level of government that has the least amount to do with our daily lives?

Shouldn’t we take this opportunity to come up with an actual made in Toronto formula? allergictochangeSince amalgamation, we’ve complained about the dysfunction at City Hall. Might part of that be the way in which we elect our local officials? Let’s try and figure out how why might be able to do that better.

I am not, however, hopeful of that occurring. Early signs are not encouraging. “The last thing we need is more politicians,” Mayor Tory said, summoning up his radio talk show, drive time persona, in response to one of the options for more wards with fewer residents in them. It’s a sentiment hardly more thoughtful than the cut-`em-half crowd but what passes for reasonable and rational these days.

Given the chill of maintaining the status quo that’s descended upon City Hall since our current mayor took office, it’s hard to see things going much further than Option #1, Minimal Change, “Change, if necessary, but not necessarily change,” as the report refers to it although even this one would guarantee an increase in the council size while “minimizing change”.haveyoursay

Still, there are now lines on a map, options for change to be considered and debated. Round 2 of public consultations happen in the fall before this gets decided next spring. Now is the time to read up and inform yourself about a decision that will affect this city through the next 4 election cycles. People will be listening.

excitedly submitted by Cityslikr