Friday, 29 July 2011

The Citizen's Filibuster: Backlash to Ford Nation

Sometimes it's just a matter of physics. What goes up (Rob Ford's poll numbers) must come down, and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In politics, reactions might not always be equal, but last night's was sure forceful.

Everything was set up to fulfill the most cynical of expectations about the city hall administration and politics in general. Earlier Denzil Minnan-Wong had dismissed people who responded to the public consultation as statistically invalid (that is, not Ford Nation) and Doug Ford chalked up the backlash at standing committees to organized union theatre. Even Margaret Atwood's opinion didn't count because she didn't run for office
By the end of the night, there were many Red Bulls on the table. National Post.
The meeting took place in Committee Room number one which holds slightly more than 100 people. On Wednesday, Kristyn Wong-Tam asked multiple people for the meeting to be held in council chambers to better hold the 344 deputants and spectators but her suggestion was rebuffed. And unsurprisingly, the executive immediately voted to reduce speakers' time from five to three minutes. Later on the executive committee would vote twice (in clear violation of committee rules) to limit councillors' question time to one minute (previously two).

Rob Ford left for an hour to participate in a TSN podcast where he made his weekly CFL picks (page two). And Giorgio Mammoliti, that Pericles of Ward 7, asked the city clerk to check the disabilities of deputants who spoke early on.
Toronto the Good, Respect for Taxpayers and other slogans weren't embodied on this executive committee. Everyone knew the meeting was just a formal exercise and that no number of deputations would change the Executive Committee's mind.

But rather than becoming dispirited or letting the default posture of apathy consume the proceedings, the opposite occurred. In the face of Fordian bullying, arrogance and condescension the committee room-- and the two packed overflow rooms-- were filled with what Jonathan Goldsbie referred to on Twitter as the energy of a TIFF Midnight Madness screening. 
Toronto Star photo of deputants waiting.
And past Midnight it went, for 22 and a half hours in fact. It was the longest continuous meeting in Toronto's history (an early motion said the committee would not break it up into several days-- some councillors had flights the next morning), but it wasn't a death march. In the face of the absurdity and manipulation of Ford, people responded with whimsy and earnestness.
Dave Meslin organized a lunchtime city hall picnic that sadly had a damper put on it by the weather. Later on, the #cityhallslumberparty hashtag took flight with Meslin (and myself, natch) wearing pajamas and carrying around stuffed animals.

There were memorable deputations, such as 67-year-old Mary Hynes who trolled the executive committee with steaming sarcasm, "As you can see from thousands of petitions and emails complaining about proposed service cuts, far too many people use the library to improve literacy and to learn about government and politics. You would save millions." She even generated her own hashtag, #yellygranny, something she most likely would not have anticipated in her lifetime.

There was 14-year-old Anika Tabovaradan who finally got the chance to speak at 2AM and through her tears and fear of public speaking asserted the importance of public libraries to her suburban ward.

There were devoted crossing guards, one of whom wouldn't mind an RPG to better marshall cars, and a humorous allegory 'about a house called Toronto', suitable for city hall slumber party storytime.
Punchline: Councillors, don't be a puppet for the mayor.
 Artist and writer Brian Cauley gave a rhyming spoken word deputation, Susan Wesson gave people a boost with a singing deputation at 4AM and former candidate for council Desmond Cole gave one through his sockpuppet Roy.

Laura Heslin Piper eloquently spoke about the need for animal shelter subsidies and as Ford was off to the side chatting with Giorgio Mammoliti she scolded him for not listening. When challenged by the committee on the Toronto Animal Service's high euthanasia rate she gave a knowledgable, nuanced and impassioned answer detailing how the TAS policies differ from other organizations to make the number deceptively high.

Kevin Clarke, above. 
Toronto Star food critic Corey Mintz, dressed in a dapper suit, brought in a tasty chili to Committee Room 2 where supporters yelled barbs and support at the two streaming screens. And Kevin Clarke, dressed in something of his own, gave the proceedings a different spice and flavour as he interrupted to yell that Ford stole the mayoralty from him.

Maureen O'Reilly, head of the Toronto Public Library Union, spoke about the public support and need for their services capping it off with a Miracle on 34th Street-style procession of 39,000 petition signatures. The standing applause lasted more than a minute and Ford ruled that the audience had used Joe Mihevc's questioning time in the process.  

Team Ford will spin the events as much as they can, saying that they stayed up all night listening to the public, that it is a proud civic moment for them. Simultaneously, they'll dismiss the 168 speakers as a vocal minority unrepresentative of the strength of Ford Nation and make up numbers to go along with it, like Mammoliti saying he doesn't want a 30% tax increase like some people do (no one said this). 

But on a bleary-eyed Friday for many, none of that really matters.
Corey Mintz offers chili with Goldsbie on left. Photo by Torontoist.
From Thursday to Friday morning, all the way to 7:57AM, citizens turned Ford's obstacle of democracy into an affirmation in the strength, spirit and dignity of Toronto. With creativity, passion and resolve an unprecedented number of individuals spoke to their vision of the city in contrast to the scorched-earth proposals the executive committee prefers.

For one day, it's OK to step back. After all, these events don't happen often. Ford Nation will spin their wheels and the media, but it's enough to admire the 'citizen's filibuster' from both the usual suspects and completely new individuals.

There will be more pitched battles down the road, and with people energized by the electricity in the rooms last night there will be all the more strength to push against the backwards thinking motions from Team Ford. It's that strength and energy that represents Toronto the Good, not the institution of city hall itself, and, just for a moment, things feel alright.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

How Doug Ford Can Love Margaret Atwood

I get it Doug, I really do. Earlier today when were saying how useless libraries are and how you didn't know Margaret Atwood and wouldn't recognize her, I understood. You see, she's really an acquired taste. But like in an Atwood novel, even if things look bleak there's a glimmer of hope. You see, you can ease into some of her best work if you change the plot just a bit. Do this and I'm sure you'll be hanging out together on the library bean bag chairs like old pals. 

Just read the summaries I've prepared below. Fortunately, the library system has lots in stock of each book, even in Etobicoke:

Cat's Eye / Eye Formation
A middle aged painter football player looks back on childhood and growing up when attending a retrospective of her work hall of fame ceremony in Toronto, a place purposefully forgotten. Focusing on the complicated and nuanced emotional relationship of young women the totally heteronormative and fun jock culture of high school, Atwood gives the reader a chance to re-consider how understanding female relationships gives rise to a more assured sense of self awesome that season with 13.5 sacks was.

Blind Assassin / Full-Sighted Sniper Dude
This tale of two sisters brothers structures its central mystery of the death of one of the sisters case of the stolen piggy bank around several nested, layered stories a really linear plotline. Showing off her literary legerdemain straight-talk Atwood crafts a story that features political shenanigans, social unrest and sibling rivalry brotherly love, in the totally cool way.

Alias Grace / Grace is for Namby-Pambies
This 19th century period book, written in appropriate Victorian detail high-level business prose for easy-reading, details the trial and life of 16-year-old convicted murderer Grace Marks. Grace has her sentence commuted spends the rest of her life in prison because we need to show her that we're tough on crime. The end.

Handmaid's Tale
In this dystopian novel, far-right wing religious ideals are carried out to their logical extreme. Women are segmented from society only to be used for their reproductive and gender categorized utility, because that's dang efficient.

The Edible Woman
Ok, I'm not touching this one.

Oryx and Crake / Adrienne and Mark
It's a crisis on a scorched earth beset by problems created by genetic technology, social inequality and global warming and really random non-human-made unpredictable events. The two last people on earth are Oryx and Crake Adrienne Batra and Mark Towhey, and together they have a chance to re-shape the world in their image using their unique vision and skills communication and crisis management expertise. 

The Year of The Flood
For years a group predicting environmental catastrophe has protected it from occurring through diligence and persistence. But now that it has happened two marginalized women must go on a quest to right all that has been wronged. A straightforward and easy guide to six sigma management, this book will teach you how to lean out your organization quickly and minimize those one in a million errors.     

The Arguments of Team Ford: A Case Study

The logic of the Ford world can be difficult to decipher and unpack sometimes. And I also know that we've been encouraged to think of Toronto and politics in more business terms, so I thought I would make a chart to help us all understand how Fordian reasoning works. If I missed any, please add to the comments. 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Learning from Rob Ford to Defeat Rob Ford

In his first eight months as mayor, Rob Ford has had a relatively easy time passing the motions he has prioritized with a handful of minor setbacks. While people theorized during the campaign that there might be enough opposition to Ford to effectively run a shadow mayoralty, that has not materialized. Team Ford has run a tight ship, whipping councillors to get in line and swaying just enough of the mushy middle to get more controversial items passed such as turning down provincial funding for two public nurses.  It's worth looking at how Team Ford has accomplished this, and what this in turn means for the right response to counteract the policies put into place.

Ford has been able to pass motions for three principal reasons:

1) Strict Messaging
2) Whipping Councillors when needed
3) Capitalizing on Perceived Popularity
Ford on election night, Ian Kelso for Inside Toronto
 1) One of the most remarkable aspects of the mayoral campaign was how disciplined Ford was at staying on message. Repeating the 'gravy train' and 'respect for taxpayers' mantra ad nauseam was effective in framing the debate and instilling quick, memorable ideas in voters' minds. This strict messaging from the campaign is maintained in the administration in the face of easily falsifiable claims, as The Grid's Edward Keenan has pointed out lately. But most observers don't follow politics closely enough to know they're being sold a bill of goods. Hey, even Stephen LeDrew doesn't call him on it!

2) As is oft-repeated, councillors have the vast majority of power at city hall while the mayor only has one vote. Things haven't worked out this way during Ford's brief time, with most moderate councillors being resistant to the idea of standing up proposed policies. Part of this is out of the fear of reprisal, as with Josh Colle voting for the removal of the Jarvis Bike Lanes perhaps due to an extortive hold put on a development project in his ward by Mayor Ford. Others may want to keep their committee assignments or don't want to be made targets like Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam were for the Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Bike Lanes. The administration has so far demonstrated a vindictive and spiteful side to it that is perfect for whipping councillors against standing up for their principles.

3) Moderate councillors are not only looking for their cues from the Ford Team due to point number two above, but also because of Ford's perceived popularity. Not only did Ford receive a healthy pluarlity for his mandate, but he has framed himself as a straight-shooter who is in touch with the common man and woman. When he speaks, he speaks as though he knows what all taxpayers want, claiming that the silent majority connects to him through his magic divining rod of a cell phone that no one can dispute. Other councillors want to deliver 'what the people want' regardless of the fact that their constituents also voted for them to follow their principles. But the moral suasion of the mayor's office carries public significance and it's tough for many of the moderate councillors (a number of whom are rookies) to feel comfortable challenging that.

Where Team Ford has been successful in crafting a message and image that allows quick and successful passage of their goals, opponents can use what they do well against them. This is a much more difficult task in the absence of formal parties or co-ordinating tools for the opposition in Toronto's city hall structure. But it's still possible to make a lot of headway.

1)    Consistent Messaging Alternatives
2)    Pressuring the Mushy Middle both positively and negatively
3A) Connecting with communities
3B) Raising Ford's negatives

1) Ford's amazing consistency with phrases and terms has had an impact on the language that is used in Toronto's political discourse. As Downtown Pinko Elitist as this sounds, those terms matter, such as the difference between a taxpayer and citizen. Heck, even Mark Towhey and Nick Kouvalis would admit that. As has been pointed out before, citizen implies a a dual relationship, a contribution to the community and using the benefits of it. Taxpayer only implies the latter, and that's a pretty lousy vision. 

Team Ford also uses 'entitlement' language to speak derisively of things like the Riverdale Farm, low-income nutrition and childcare subsidies. It's pretty effective language, but language that can be co-opted and subverted. After all, what's a bigger entitlement than not keeping property taxes, the lowest in the GTA, at the rate of inflation during consistent structural deficits? After all, this dispropotionately helps the wealthiest whereas KPMG cuts disproportionately affect the neediest. That's entitlement. Flipping this kind of language can help to lift the facade from Fordian rhetoric and deconstruct the impact that it has on how the city's policies treat its citizens. 
Via @joshuahind

2) There's been some chatter lately about Project 23 over at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. The project, which sounds like something Nick Fury might organize, aims at focusing on the Mushy Middle votes that assure Ford passage of most of his priorities. Daren Foster (Cityslikr) writes:

"...we need to concentrate on those in the so-called mushy middle. Let’s call it the vulnerable middle. Councillors, both new and old, who are regularly siding with the mayor out of either fear of the mayor’s tactical pressure or plain old political expediency. The going’s good now and they are aware of fallout if they are seen to be bucking Ford Nation. So they’re skulking in the shadows, hoping no one notices them and that come election 2014, they’ll be able to continue under the radar of their own ward races.

Let’s start informing them that that’s not going to happen. They will have to answer to their voters if they continue their craven allegiance to this administration. If they think there’s a price to be paid not being a Team Ford player, notice needs to be served there’s going to be no free ride for such slavish devotion."

I think Foster is right in encouraging people to inform Mushy Middle councillors that their votes enable Ford to pass motions without any consideration or compromise are noticed and ill-advised. But I think that more than threats have to be offered, that assistance is needed too. As Foster points out, many of these councillors are in vulnerable wards and will need help to be re-elected. Rather than threatening to simply unseat them, a co-ordinated effort is needed to support those that oppose awful policies in the face of electoral difficulties. Not offering that alternative may force them to side with Ford who can offer Sopranos-like protection and resources to help. It's this kind of coalition building that can go a long way in establishing a large enough opposition to stem the bloodletting from the current administration. 

3) There's two main ways to defeat an opponent in politics, to raise your own positives/sell your own ideas and raise your opponents unfavourables. So this will be split into those sections.
Connect to communities and raise negatives. Also, people like cats. 
3A) First, the idealism. It's pretty tough to raise positives in city hall due to relatively low name recognition/public interest and the individual structure of city hall. But it's possible. There are two aims here: to connect to directly impacted communities and make the larger connection to communities who are not directly impacted.

The Jarvis Bike Lanes Debate is a good example. Led by Dave Meslin and the Bike Union, the cycling constituency was out in force. It was an impressive display even if it fell short. What is more difficult is making the connections to people who are outside that issue. I don’t ride a bike, but the process by which the removal was passed impacts me as a cheapening of our democratic discourse. If I have an issue at city hall, I want fair, open and transparent means to discuss it. It also impacts me as a friend and family member to those who do cycle or as someone who cares about the environment (some of this was done, but I feel more of it was possible). Building those coalitions and connections is tough work but it’s needed to fight the populist-style politics at city hall.

3B) The second cynical portion is, sadly, easier to accomplish and often more politically effective. Ford’s negatives are already dramatically up (from 17 to 24% strongly disapprove) according to the latest StratCom poll and his slash and burn politics may gradually continue that trend and erode cover given to the Mushy Middle in supporting him.

What the opposition needs to do is speed up that deserved process before too much damage can be done. This can be done by making Ford earn his credibility. This requires holding him accountable for his facts (80% of budget goes to employees! 10x the traffic on Jarvis!), campaign promises (repeat, no service cuts), and cutting into the myth of the populist everyman that has been created for him. Because really, he cares more about his ideology (facts be damned) and image than he cares about you.

The TL;DR version for those of you (like me) with Twitter-attention spans:

§          Develop consistent messaging and terms to undermine Ford’s
§          Nudge the Mushy Middle using both the carrot and the stick.
§          Tailor messages for both narrow constituencies and broader communities to demonstrate how it impacts their  lives
§          Drive up Ford’s negatives to show how his disrespect for facts, process or promises disrespects each citizen

A lot of this has already been done in less formal ways, but if the Ford administration is to be limited in the damage it can inflict then opposition must be their equal in organization and focus, a difficult task given the loose structure at city hall.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Lizard Brain Planning

Over on Twitter, City Hall All-Star (or Mongoose, according to Torontoist) Jonathan Goldsbie points out an interesting observation in Toronto Star article, “Road to Privatize TTC Would be Bumpy”. In the article CD Howe Institute analyst Ben Dachis asserts that making the TTC an essential service makes it more difficult to contract out as arbitrators are sympathetic to the group’s status when making decisions.

Of course, this is contrary to inclination of the Ford administration to contract out whatever possible. Isolated as an ideological principle, contracting out city services is fine. You may not agree with it or its underlying vision for the role that government plays in building communities, but it’s an intellectually grounded position that can be discussed. It’s the contradictions, lack of intellectual planning and grounding that make the Ford administration’s logic (or what there is of it) so tough to follow.
Photo by Flickr user chewie2008

The decision to make the TTC an essential service was a curious one in the first place. Mark Towhey, Ford’s top strategy and policy adviser, had argued on his personal blog (link to Steve Munro's commentary, blog post has been deleted) during the campaign that the city should not run the TTC at all. Not that funding arrangements should be different or the province should run it, but that the city could save a lot of money by not offering the service. Plus, it would encourage neighbours to share taxis! Seriously, that was a reason he offered in a since-deleted blog post. Granted, Towhey doesn’t share all of the views of Ford, so the mayor shouldn’t be held to that silliness (although he did hire Towhey).

But to go in completely the opposite direction is something else. The logic behind the TTC being made an essential service went something like this: TTC strikes are disliked and the union is disliked so let’s stop strikes and disempower the union by making it an essential service.

There are problems with this. Dachis published a 2008 study for the CD Howe Institute- considered a conservative leaning organization- that argued making the TTC an essential service is not a definitive way to stop strikes, will lead to higher wage increases ($25M over 3 years) and makes it more difficult to win union concessions in the future despite limits in union negotiation. In other words, none of the aims would be achieved. But those warnings were ignored. Planning was thrown out the window in favour of sticking it to unlikeable TTC Union boss Bob Kinnear right away.

What’s troubling about this- policy considerations aside- is the fact that the Ford administration set their sights on a small short-term goal in making the TTC an essential service that they lost sight of their own team’s goal of making the TTC smaller organization with fewer employees and outsourced services. In other words, they even failed to plan for their own ideological goals.

The lack of planning extends to other important areas of governance. In the 2011 budget deliberations Speaker Frances Nunziata, presumably acting on orders of Ford, forbade councillors from referring to the 2012 budget. Knowing that there would be a 2012 shortfall but wanting to focus on the immediately gratifying Ford tax cuts, the ruling against prudence and planning forced left-leaning councillors to refer to the 2012 budget as the Voldemortesque budget-that-must-not-be-named.

Now that the 2012 budget is topical with the KPMG core service reviews, the planning is equally poor and short-sighted. Even the normally vanilla-opinioned Josh Matlow criticized the framework on his website:

"While I believe it was necessary to review how, and what, services our municipal government delivers, it is clear to me that the review process announced by the mayor's office was done hastily and did not properly take into account the feasibility of the proposals in the consultant's report nor the needs of most Torontonians."   
Lizard Brain Instincts

By conducting a piecemeal review that separates city services from the value they create, the service review fails to provide a wholesale look at how the city can operate better. Instead, it is a knee-jerk reaction to the most immediate desired outcome, in this case to cut off as much government as possible, sort the consequences later. While the policy effect may be different that the TTC essential service argument (reducing vs. preserving city paid employees) the same flawed process and management underlies the decision making. 

It’s a kind of decisions making and governance style that is visceral, where the rhetoric and discourse appeals to our lizard-brain. The underlying philosophy doesn’t even have to be consistent so long as the emotional resonance is. By focusing on emotional, short-term and immediately gratifying outcomes, Team Ford abandons planning, leading everyone to wonder just what could happen next. And it’s that emotional effect, the fear and uncertainty of what might happen, that is one of the few consistent things coming from the administration.    

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Doug Ford's Etobicoke

View Doug Ford's Etobicoke in a larger map

Recently Doug Ford talked about the availability of libraries and how this is a problem:
“We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world.  I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Horton’s.”
Maureen O'Reilly corrected the record, pointing out to Cllr. Ford that he doesn't have to worry because Etobicoke has three times the number of Tim Hortons as libraries (39 to 13). 

What's worse than Ford's comment being untrue is that fact that he sees nothing wrong with prioritizing a doughnut chain over libraries. I recognize he's trying to say that private enterprise should be encouraged and government limited. But if that's the issue and not a regular folk vs. socialist library users wedge comparison, why not compare libraries to something more applicable like Chapters/Indigo?  

Either way, I thought I would be nice and map out all of the libraries and Tim Horton's for Ford above. You know, because I'm that kind of guy. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Rob Ford's John Oakley Interview: A Play-By-Play

At what point does a person lose credibility? During the mayoral campaign, I was continually shocked at how the so-called Ford Nation did not call their mayoral hopeful out on some flimsy numbers and promises. His platform of cutting taxes and the deficit while maintaining services with no cuts was the stuff of fantasy. But now that policies must be implemented and results (or the lack thereof) will be seen, it will be interesting to see when his opinion polls go down as rhetoric meets reality. 
On Friday, Ford did a a softball-filled interview on the John Oakley Morning Show which was filled with talk of the city's finances. With answering questions with misinformation and half-truths, Ford shows himself to be once again either not as familiar with the city's finances as he professes to be or not telling the truth in order to fulfill his rhetoric. It was a miserable performance in a friendly environment, bad enough that the Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee (who was sympathetic to Ford in the campaign) wrote a scathing article critiquing the numbers.

Oakley starts out with a football metaphor, so I thought it would be a good idea to do a play-by-play of Ford's performance as he likes hard-hitting sports so much. 

Speaking about the KPMG recommendations:
(7:25) ...Contracting out garbage, we've done half of that already, they say we should do it for the whole city. 
First of all, due to collective bargaining there are a certain number of 'jobs for life' that are secured. This is why the city could only contract out half of the garbage jobs (west of Yonge) in May. KPMG suggests that contracting out further is an option although the bargaining agreements will get in the way, but nowhere do they say to completely contract out garbage collection (see pages 12-14 of the report).
(6:49) When [labour] makes up 80% of your budget, there's a lot of gravy there. There's a lot of people, unfortunately there's just not enough work to go around.
The problem with this statement, as has been rightly reported in the media, is that it's dramatically untrue. A February staff report on the operating budget said that city labour costs account for 'nearly 48%' of the gross operating budget (see the bottom of page 8).  It seems he just made the number up, or confused it for another number. Either way, it's pretty egregious and it's not the first time he has taken significant liberties with figures. For instance, during the mayoral debates he misrepresented the cost of the Jarvis bike lanes, saying they cost $6,000,000 as opposed to $59,000. But we'll get to Ford Math later. 
(6:24) In business the first thing you look at is your labour. Your labour should be making up maximum 20%, not what we're at, 80%. It's unheard of. 
As pointed out over at, this reasoning is pretty weak. Not only does he get the 80% number wrong, but the idea that labour costs in government should be 20% is fairly ridiculous. Ford isn't running a label company or a manufacturing company (unless you count manufacturing outrage) where raw materials account for most of the cost and profit is the main motive. Government exists precisely to fill in the voids that private business is unwilling to or is unsuited for. 

It's important to differentiate the needs and desired outcomes of business and government. Government attempts to provide societal order while business is motivated by wealth creation. Sometimes these goals can be complementary, but not always. Ford's inability to adapt to seeing how models are dependent on context is another sign that his supposed business acumen is non-existent. 
(5:40) We inherited this mess of $750M, we're trying to clean up a mess that was left behind...
As the Toronto Star reports today, this $750M figure, or $774M as it's alternately reported, is higher than the actual deficit that is being worked with (around $443M) as revenue sources have been identified by city staff. The rationale behind this could be to manufacture the perception of a greater crisis than actually exists in order to push through unpopular service costs despite campaign promises to the contrary

In this quotation he also tries to pin the structural deficit on the Miller administration despite the fact that Miller left Ford with a $350M surplus. Ford then applied this money to the cancellation of the vehicle registration tax ($60M/year) and a property tax freeze. While there is a consistent structural deficit to pin the responsibility of that on Miller instead of the provincial-municipal relationship of the imprudence of Ford's tax cuts is disingenuous. 
(5:29) People were irate [about bike lanes] that lived in the Jarvis area and they said 'Rob, we want these things out, it's causing worse traffic congestion. So we got those things out.
Ford claimed that 70% of phone calls to his cell phone were in favour of removing the Jarvis bike lanes, but you really have to wonder if you can trust his numbers. After all, barring a freedom of information request, you can't disprove that number. But HiMY SYeD tweeted that he asked a Ford staffer three separate ways whether they were tracking phone calls both pro and con, and she said no each time. 

Likewise, Denzil Minnan-Wong dismissed the public consultation for the Toronto Service Review in which they did not receive the response the wanted because, "That’s not statistically valid...Those people self-selected….There are certain people that go to those meetings.” To solicit responses and then not pay attention to the ones you don't like is a poor model for policy-making and furthermore, dishonest. 
(4:15) When you hear people talking about raising [property] taxes 10 or 15%, that is not going to happen, no way.
I sense a straw man argument here. If anyone can point me to a public official or figure who has suggested raising property taxes 10 or 15%, please pass it on, but I can't find it. And if the mayor needs to engage in straw man arguments to further his agenda, then that's another indication that his ideas don't stand on their own. 

Asked whether he was still planning to scrap the land transfer tax in increments:

(4:00) Yeah, we're going to scrap a quarter this year, a quarter next year...
This despite the large structural deficit, the fact that the tax brings in $300M of revenue a year and that Ford's own budget point man, Mike del Grande, has said that they need to keep the revenue, at least for the time being. 

(3:46) Like I said, we've saved over $70M in the first six months, and so if we can find $70M I'm sure we can find $700M, that's for sure. 

This was the quotation that started the Twitter hashtag #FordMath (hat tip to Shawn Micallef for his first mini-meme) Sample from Ivor Tossell: 32 degrees out but feels like 320 #FordMath.

 The idea that it's easy to find $700M after doing one tenth of that is ridiculous; it becomes exponentially more difficult to find the last $70M than the first. 

But wait, where is this $70M figure coming from? Is it coming from the same nether regions of accounting hell as Ford's 80% or $6M figure? Why yes, it is. The only way that this figure makes sense is if he is counting the cancelled vehicle registration tax. It's true this saved $60M for car-owners, but it also means $60M less in revenue for the city. Which means that the administration is further from making up the shortfall due to the 2011 budget, not closer. 

What's most terrible about this, other than the cavalier disregard for the truth of any statement or the reality of the situation, is that most casual observers of city hall (and most people tune out when it's not election season) would not know to call Ford on this nonsense. People will realize in the long-run that he spouts nonsense as the consequences manifest themselves but a lot of damage will be done in the meantime until this aspect changes. 

(3:30 onwards) Ford goes on to be asked about selling off waterfront property and civic centres, which he enthusiastically supports and to say that we won't have to deal with this next year. This despite the fact that solving a structural deficit through one-time sales is a massive accounting failure (shortfalls should be covered by items on the same financial statement as Mike del Grande could tell you) and essentially assures that this will occur again.

John Campbell's rendering of Waterfront potential (2008)
Three themes stand out in this interview
  • Rob Ford is not a good businessman, and the good businessman= good politician pitch should not be bought into. 
From accounting facepalms to applying manufacturing business models erroneously to government, he lacks the fundamental skills and framework to make informed decision. Ford Nation not only failed to elect a visionary leader, they failed to elect a technocrat. 
  • Ford's arguments rely on misrepresentations, exaggerations and deceit. 
Sadly, this is not an earth-shattering observation and is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. But it's still worth mentioning as what made Ford so successful during the campaign was his ability to frame the discourse around his version of reality. Recognizing that Ford is not the straight-shooter that he positions himself as and does not fight fair (see Fort York Bridge, Jarvis Bike Lanes) is an important step to bring us to point number three...
  • Ford must be called out on his deceit clearly and regularly. 
This is the only way for the general public to realize what they have in Ford. Either he is a fool and doesn't know his stuff at all (entirely possible) or he is playing the public for fools (entirely possible). Either way, no one likes to be duped and Ford Nation (and a fair amount of moderates) bought into his rhetoric. 

Pointing out how and why he pulls the wool over the eyes of his followers more easily enables people to unpack and decipher the Ford mirage for themselves. The sooner this can be done the better, and the sooner we can get on with the business of good, honest governance.  

    Friday, 15 July 2011

    City Council July 12-14: Charge of the Bike Brigade

    In the latest performance of the Kafkaesque theatre troupe known as city council, the bike lanes debate certainly stole the show. This was expected; with an organized and vocal cycling constituency in Toronto, there was no way that removing the Jarvis bike lanes (and Pharmacy + Birchmount, although less contentious) would be ignored.

    Photo by Jake Schabas, Spacing. Taken when bike lanes vote passed in 2009.
    But there's another reason why the bike lanes were deserving of so much attention, and that's the process by which the removal was conducted. The proposal was made: 
    • Without a community assessment
    • Without a recommendation from city staff
    • Without consulting the local community or councilor
    In other words there was not a policy basis to remove the lanes and the political process and opportunities to connect with the community were intentionally obfuscated. On the policy side of things, Scott Dagostino looks at the extraordinarily weak arguments presented by the mayor's allies in support of removing the bike lines. 

    Frank di Giorgio
    These include Frank di Giorgio arguing that buildings don't have enough shower facilities for cyclists and that the smelly cretins (although not in so many words) shouldn't have more bike lanes until these are provided and Karen Stintz saying that one mother has had her quality of life impacted because she just can't get home to dinner in time for her family due to the four minute delay (which would be lessened by changing signal lights on Gerrard). 

    While the policy-making is bad enough, the political process is worse. Matt Elliott has a blow-by-blow look at the shenanigans over at Ford for Toronto. 

    But, a brief plot summary:
    • On June 23, John Parker introduced the initial motion at committee without consulting local councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam and after deputations could be given.
    • The committee voted 4-2 against a Mike Layton motion asking for community consultation before proceeding (Gord Perks also voted for it). 
    • Going into council, it was thought the cycling debate would be at Wednesday at 5PM. The Bike Union was organizing members to attend at this time. It was then moved up by Denzil Minnan-Wong to Tuesday first thing after the mayor's item (graffiti). This seems largely designed to avoid cycling supporters being there. 
    • Speaking last, Minnan-Wong introduced what Wong-Tam felt was a hostile amendment onto her 7B motion (not discontinuing Jarvis lanes until Sherbourne's separated lanes are finished) by weakening the language so as to be non-enforceable. This caused confusion and had the added effect of preventing 7C (community consultation) from coming to a vote. 
    But here's the worst thing: this is par for the course. This is how, to use Ivor Tossell's excellent word from his must-read article, 'uncompetent' policy is being created and it's enabled by the circumvention of good government that even has professional optimist Dave Meslin feeling disillusioned and marginalized. 

    This is not an isolated incident. Within the same council session, they voted to uphold a committee vote to not debate accepting provincial money to pay for two public nurses. Frank di Giorgio essentially argued that for the city to assume fiscal responsibility for its deficit it cannot accept money from the province. In the Kafkaesque metamorphosis of city hall, logic is flipped upside down. 

    Robert Crumb

    But that's not all. Rob Ford also voted against all community grants. He was the only one to do so on four of the six votes, later joined by his brother Doug. What might be most galling about this is that he did not even deign to provide a reason for his vote. That is, he has a principle of some sort but refused to add that to the discourse to further understanding of his vision for Toronto. 

    On Wednesday night he accompanied his previous votes with a lone vote against AIDS grants. Once again, no reason given, everyone left guessing at the real meaning. 

    Good government is a challenging thing-- it's tough to engage all stakeholders while moving forward at a rate fast enough to effect meaningful change. But it's necessary because building communities requires people to buy-in to a particular vision. Not everyone will do so, but allowing people to see the rationale and engage those ideas to improve them is the model of innovation and progress and limits a sense of alienation and distance. 

    But this administration is showing none of it. When it dares to explain its reasons, the dialogue is absurd as with Di Giorgio and Stintz. And there's Ford, the silent leader, at the center. Failing to explain underlying policy reasons well if at all, the unreliable narration of his administration envelops city hall and cheapens the institution.