Another Debate, Same Old Tune

With another televised mayoral debate under our collective belts, I do not think it hyperbolic (in the non-mathematical sense) to say that this city is now facing a crisis of confidence, leadership confidence. What seemed funny back in March became mirthlessly laughable by May. Now, more than mid-way through July and it’s simply just sad. And a little bit worrisome.

Yeah, it’s that bad, folks.

At moments like these, I try to settle my rattled nerves by knocking back a few stiff belts of Woodford Reserve over an a.m. bowl of honey coated Shreddies and convince myself that if we made it through the Mel Lastman years, hell, we can make it through anything. We are that strong. We are that resilient.

But this feels a little different, and not in a ticklish, I kind of like it way. It’s more ominous and disheartening. Thirteen years into this experiment we call the amalgamated city and it seems like we’ve learned nothing, processed no information, become none the wiser through the experience of past accomplishments and mistakes. Those endeavouring to assume Toronto’s top office have surveyed the landscape, examined the books and come to the exhaustive conclusion that what ails us most is a… spending problem.

It’s all about out of control, unaccountable, retirement party spending. End of discussion. Full stop. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone. Vote For Me!

To give Councillor/Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone his due, he did try offering up a variation on the theme. (No, not his charts.) He raised the spectre of tax revenue inequality among the various levels of government, pointing out that for every tax dollar a Toronto resident spends, 92 cents of it leaves the city on its way to either Ottawa or Queen’s Park but it was a conversation the others didn’t want to have. Pantalone was summarily shouted down by all 4 of the others, braying in unison: We have a spending problem!

That’s it. The full extent of the conversation. The alpha and omega of the debate. A paucity of thoughtful, provocative ideas and views, best exemplified by Rocco Rossi. I know you thought I was going to say Rob Ford but what would be the point? He’s a Johnny One-Note that only surprises by his extraordinary ability to bring every issue, regardless of how irrelevant and beside the point back to Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. I’m pretty sure that’s how he plans on cutting 22 council seats. Anyone who attended the party is gone.

Yet in his own way, Rossi’s no better. He might not turn as beet red as Ford but he manages to spout similarly inane nonsense. Near the end of last night’s debate, he looked into the camera and bludgeoned us with the power of absolute numbers, saying that the present mayor inherited a 6 point something billion dollar operating budget and this year? (Stare deep into my eyes those out there in TV land and listen to the gravity I summon in my baritone voice.) 9 point 2 billion dollars.

Wow. That’s a lot of money. We really do have a spending prob—Wait a second. Might there be any explanation for such a significant rise in expenditure? Let’s see, for the past 18 months, 2 years, there’s been that little recession thing. The biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression with government expenditures at all levels exploding in order to head off an even bigger calamity. So there was that. Plus Transit City, the largest expansion of public transportation in Toronto for decades, making up for previous regimes’ neglect and building those bridges Mr. Rossi talks so movingly about to underserved areas of the city. A little cash outlay was needed for that.

The spendthrift argument Rossi et al put forward de-contextualizes the situation, pulling Toronto out of the reality it operates in for purely political purposes. No real viable solutions are put up on offer. Just hot button topics to raise the hackles of outrage among the electorate.

So whatever audience there is for the debate tunes in, turns off and drops out. We’ve been hearing the same drivel for 6 months now and we’re not biting. Sure, Ford’s made a splash upon entry but he basically siphoned support away from the others. The largest number still remains in the undecided column. The prix fixe doesn’t do it for me. Can I order a la carte, s’il vous plais?

Unfortunately the media maitre d’ remains firm. This is the slate of candidates we gave you, dammit, pick one of these! Given the opportunity of Giorgio Mammoliti’s exit from the mayoral race to open up the field of choice, CP24 declined last night. Brushing off calls to include Mammoliti’s pick to replace him, Rocco Achampong, they said winnowing the debate down to 5 would help simplify things as if they weren’t already doing that with Ben Mulroney MCing the proceedings.

This led to accusations of racism since Achampong is black and every one of the front runners is white. Let’s try and, if not represent the diversity of the city here, at least make a passing nod to it. While not ignoring that point, I do think that it’s part of a bigger problem at work here.

We are a small organization and yet over the course of the last few months have uncovered 5 or 6 other candidates running for mayor who are at least worth a first look at. Some aren’t white, some are. None are saying anything crazier than Rob Ford; all are talking a lot more sense. If we can find them certainly big news gathering conglomerates like CP24 or CTV or CBC or the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun can too. Talk to them. Interview them. Introduce them to the public. That is your job after all, is it not?

Here, let me give you a list of names to get you started: there’s Rocco Achampong. (Check the spelling though.) HiMY SYeD. (Ditto.) Sonny Yeung. (Pronounced just like our main north-south street.) Keith Cole. (He’s gay just like George Smitherman.) George Babula. Andrew Barton. Wendell Brereton. Colin Magee.

These candidates are only fringe because you guys declared them so. Well, given those who you said weren’t and who were on display on CP24 again last night, I’m not sure we should trust your judgment on this. We’re not liking what we’re seeing and suggest it’s time to turn the channel. Or at least, give us more to choice to choose from. What we are seeing here is the deliberate muffling of democracy and the handcuffing of voters. A prospect even more frightening than a Mayor Rob Ford.

End of discussion. Full stop.

ire drawingly submitted by Cityslikr

Meet A Mayoral Candidate XX

Rainy days on Fridays always make me… want to read Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

This week a special double feature: Giorgio Mammoliti & Rocco Achampong!

OK, so we’re not going to really spend much time on the former mayoral candidate, Giorgio Mammoliti, as he’s withdrawn from the race and is heading back to seek reelection as councillor for Ward 7. But as we wrote here earlier this week, when Mammoliti announced that he was exiting he expressed hope that Rocco Achampong would have a greater presence in the campaign. Ostensibly, Mammoliti was endorsing Achampong to take his place along side the 5 other front running candidates.

How effective this endorsement of legitimacy will be is hard to tell. It came from Giorgio Mammoliti after all. A candidate very few took at all seriously which is why he is no longer running for mayor. It’s difficult to imagine why the remaining front runners would welcome a new face into the midst given the difficulties most of them have had mustering a whole lot of support and enthusiasm for their respective campaigns. Aside from Rob Ford that is, and he may welcome anyone up on stage with him who isn’t Giorgio Mammoliti, a constant thorn in Ford’s side and aggressive caller out of Ford’s steady stream of bullshit.

But Mammoliti’s attempt to shine whatever light he had on Achampong will make it increasingly difficult for debate organizers to continue ignoring the other Rocco. CBC’s Metro Morning picked up the thread almost immediately, interviewing Mr. Achampong the very next day. CP24’s next mayoral debate is schedule on July 20th. Has an invite already been extended to Rocco Achampong?

For our part, despite having already profiled his candidacy a couple months ago, we’re going to accept Giorgio Mammoliti’s challenge and do our first ever re-profile here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

As we wrote here earlier about Mr. Achampong, he has all the tools to be a very compelling candidate. He is articulate, passionate, confident and has a great biography. Born in Ghana, he came to Canada with his family at the age of 9 and grew up in one of the toughest, poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto, managing all the obstacles inherent in that environment to work his way through to becoming a lawyer. He was very politically active while at U of T, serving as both president of the Black Students’ Association and the Students’ Administrative Council. It is a resumé fit for a career in politics.

And yet, we remain underwhelmed. Having seen and heard Rocco Achampong a couple times since we wrote the first profile, nothing he’s said has alleviated our concern that his platform is built on the flaccid legs of empty rhetoric. When talking to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday, Mr. Achampong spoke of a need for a mayor who was not “a person reciting from rote from a political handbook”. We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Achampong. So would you mind closing up that political handbook you’re reciting from?

The Issues section of the (other) Rocco for Campaign 2010 website shows a candidate who is very concerned with social matters. Transit, housing, job creation and culture all figure prominently. But it still lacks some need to know specifics. Mr. Achampong wants to freeze TTC fares for two years and add subways to Transit City. Where’s he going to get the money to do that? Ditto the doubling of grants to city cultural and arts groups. Great idea. Where’s the money going to come from?

None of which would be all that troublesome at this juncture of the campaign (especially since the other leading candidates have similar gaping holes in their platforms) but we find it hard to gibe these noble intentions with the anti-tax/anti-City Hall sentiments that shone through Mr. Achampong’s kick off speech back in February. Many of his words could’ve just as easily emerged from the mouths of Mssrs. Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Ms. Thomson. While Rocco Achampong may be a fresh face on the campaign trail, his ideas most certainly aren’t.

This isn’t to suggest, however, that Rocco Achampong is not ready for and hasn’t earned a shot at mayoral primetime. He may fit in a little too neatly for our tastes. The race is in desperate need of someone of Mr. Achampong’s intelligence and perspective. There is no reason whatsoever that he continue to be ignored as future mayoral get togethers are organized.

And if not Rocco Achampong, why not HiMY SYeD? Or Colin Magee. Or Sonny Yeung? Or Keith Cole? Or Wendell Brereton? Or George Babula? There are plenty of interesting choices out there. Let’s get the opportunity to explore them.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Stifling Debate

With little fanfare, Toronto’s municipal election heated up yesterday with 3 – count `em – 3 mayoral candidate debates. Now alas, 2 weren’t open to the wider public, with one being at a school in Scarborough and another for the Toronto Real Estate Board where, surprise, surprise, according to a poll conducted by the host group, the second most important issue to voters after public transit is the repeal of the Land Transfer Tax. We’d love to see how that question was posed to end up with such a fortuitous stat.

What’s equally interesting to note from the Day of Debates©®™ is that regardless of the venue, only 6 candidates received invitations to participate. Whether it was the TREB, the Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute or the good people of the Bloor West Residents Association, they all have accepted the given narrative that there are six, and only six, candidates to be listened to and considered as legitimate hopefuls to be mayor. What’s going on here?

Do only those sporting a high media profile or with impeccable connections make the cut? What has Sarah Thomson done that has merited her a spot on the debate podium? Does being a sitting councillor automatically qualify you for contender status even though most of the shit coming out of your mouth is no less crazy or unworkable than that coming from those sidelined as ‘fringe’ candidates? Rocco Rossi is purely a backroom one trick pony and yet there he is, being treated like serious mayoral material.

At last count there are 20 other candidates who have paid their $200 and have every right to be heard but are clearly being marginalized. How does this help our democracy or open up the debate to wider, more diverse voices by excluding people who have expressed a clear interest in our local politics and registered to run for office? Yes, there are undoubtedly cranks standing out on the fringe. That’s what happens when everyone is free to vote and free to seek public office. The alternative is far more frightening.

Throughout our weekly Meet A Mayoral Candidate profiles, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have encountered some very intriguing prospects. Sonny Yeung. Wendell Brereton. Keith Cole. George Babula and his Parkdale Party. They all bring certain political ticks and quirks to the table that limits their reach at the moment. But which of the leading candidates don’t?

Four months into the campaign and let’s take a moment to look at what we’re being given. Aside from curfews and tax breaks for senior citizens, who knows why Giorgio Mammoliti wants to be mayor or what he might do if elected. The man’s been a councillor in North York and Toronto for nearly 15 years and I have no idea what he stands for. Then there’s Rob Ford. A clown (a mean, nasty one at that) by any other measure who has plugged into the anti-incumbent, unfocussed anger out there and is riding it into contention on a platform of idiotic and detrimental policy proposals. Ditto Rocco Rossi only with a slightly smoother presentation. Sarah Thomson introduced the idea of road tolls and subways into the debate and then seems to have taken a powder.

Leaving us with two other candidates. The first, the perceived front runner, is an undistinguished former Toronto MPP and cabinet minister in an undistinguished government who sometime last year got it into his head that he wanted to be mayor. Why? Who knows. It’s tough to get any sort of answer from a candidate who doesn’t want to engage fully for fear of making a mistake and finding himself in a horse race. So we get essentially a counter-punching offensive, attacking whatever his opponents say and then uttering mealy-mouthed platitudes like ‘an integrated transportation plan’ or ‘Services First Approach’.

Then there’s Joe Pantalone, the lone ‘viable’ candidate running from the progressive-left. That alone should make this his election to lose, what with him having been on council for 30 years and being the Deputy Mayor for the last 6. Yet Joe seems so petrified of being linked with David Miller that it seems his strategy is just to lay low, keep quiet and wait for all the lefties to eventually find their way to him.

Although to be fair to Joe, he’s not being treated with much respect from the press. Following last night’s debate from Runnymede United Church via the Twitter, when the candidates were asked what green initiatives of Mayor Miller’s they would keep if elected, Kelly Grant from the Globe and Mail tweeted Pantalone’s answer like this: Pants… reminds us of his tree hugging… Uhhh, Ms. Grant? Environmental issues aren’t just for dirty hippies anymore.

No, people. Time is of the essence. We are being sold a bill of goods here. Contenders have been unjustifiably anointed. Issues corralled and packaged for easy digestion. We need to open things up, bring in fresh perspectives. With another 6 months to go in the campaign, the process has already started to simply spin its wheels. Everyone is running in place.

Let’s ignore the prix fixe we’ve been given and demand to order from the a la carte menu. Twenty-six candidates have registered to run for mayor and twenty of them have been shut out of the process. That is not democracy. That is not a free and open debate. It’s a façade. A charade. A façade of a charade and no one save the chosen few are being well served by it.

It’s time to find ourselves a barn and put on our own show.

Judy Garlandly submitted by Cityslikr