Monday, 31 October 2011

The Fordzone: Going too far and losing control of the issues

In the last week City Hall further descended into the Fordzone, that special spiral of increasing absurdity. It started with This Hour Has 22 Minutes’ Mary Walsh confronting Rob Ford on his driveway in the guise of Marg Delahunty and ended with a newly appointed library board director ridiculously proposing 38 libraries closed and all computers gone.

These events were the bookends to a week that included: a ban against shark fin soup (complete with a flying shark!) that Ford was one of four votes against, the Scrooge of the Jarvis bike lanes, Denzil Minnan-Wong, expensing the Bike Union membership he used as a prop in the spring, and Ford outsourcing his gold business cards to his family firm at up to four times the cost of city printing (Update: Ford has pledged to reimburse the city for this out of personal funds).

These incidents garnered indignation and an amount of attention disproportionate to their actual importance. In particular, the Marg Delahunty incident generated hilarious hashtags, one-liners and the inevitable Halloween costumes. The incident, which was presented with varying shades of truth from both the Ford camp and CBC, unnecessarily dragged on for days. Like the other incidents, this was a character study in microcosm, one that for all of its he-said, she-said drama revealed little in the way of policy.

In a way, it’s unfortunate. After all, there are real and serious issues more worthy of discussion, such as the merits of a $200 Million garbage contract awarded with little details last Monday and the potential sale of city assets worth $600 Million that will be discussed at the Executive Committee level tomorrow.

But it’s clear people connect to talking about the more character-driven, emotional issues. That makes sense; they’re more accessible issues that provoke a visceral reaction. The challenge, then, is to link the two kinds of issues in real and meaningful ways.
As Ivor Tossell points out in the Toronto Standard, the Marg Delahunty incident is an indictment of risk assessment on the part of Ford. So the questions should become:
  • ·         Is Ford and his three 911 calls the person we should trust to provide a measured response to a crisis for our city?
  • ·         Is Ford, with his varying versions of the Delahunty incident, the person we should trust to be honest with a $9 Billion budget?
  • ·         Is Ford more out to represent ideological conservatism or the public in issues like shark fin soup and selling city assets?
  • ·         Does the Ford Camp choose people to speak for them on the library board and elsewhere who are both competent and representative of Toronto’s values?

Ford enjoyed a lot of success during his campaign in part because he was able to tie small incidents like the chipmunk suit into a larger narrative of waste, entitlement and mismanagement at City Hall. Without that connection, the incidents are rightly devoid of meaning.
But there is something here, in terms of both the Ford Camp’s policies and character: it’s an administration that has gone too far.

Ford goes too far in his overreaction to Marg Delahunty and he goes too far when it comes to an attempted takeover of Waterfront Toronto.

His delegates go too far when they go out of their way to thumb their noses at cyclists and they go too far when they suggest shuttering over a third of Toronto’s libraries.

The Mayor goes too far when he misses the majority of the shark fin soup debate only to return to be one of the few to oppose it, and he goes too far when the only thing remotely liberal about his tenure is the relationship with the truth. 

As the city further moves into the depths of the budget debate, it’s important to create distance from the Fordzone spiral and see the greater issues. They’re issues that, yes, are informed by the character and emotions of the individuals at play. But moreso they’re issues that must be discussed meaningfully before that opportunity is too far gone.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Recap of October's Council Session

So the October Council session has come and gone and now all that is left is to talk about it until the next session. So why not get started on that with a recap:
Not actually true, but the shark looks comfy. Illustration by Brian Boutin ( You should hire him. 

Getting rid of waste

The big item was outsourcing garbage west of Yonge St, and it was a layup for Team Ford. The Mayor legitimately ran on this issue, had strong support from the public (61% in May), and little sympathy for unions from the 2009 municipal workers strike.

With that said, there was reason to vote against it as details were sparse and inconsistent. Matt Elliot has been covering this issue nicely and provides a good rundown here, the third point of which deserves particular attention (that since waste is paid for through rate-based budgeting, it won’t save money for the operating budget). Edward Keenan also delivers an excellent piece on looking at the price of everything and the value of nothing. He then complements that with another piece looking at how creative thinking which could be termed ‘gravy’ can sometime deliver enormous tangiblereturns.  

In the end, all of the middle councillors lined up behind the motion, but I think there’s a miscalculation of the downside. As Citslikr points out, the $11M savings from this motion should be a promise anchored to them going forward. 22 councillors successfully voted against receiving more information about the bid and a feasibility study was never done (read Josh Hind’s comment on Keenan’s first piece for more on bidding problems). Gloria Lindsay Luby even said, "why bother learning more, it'll pass anyway," essentially giving up on informed governance. 

My reading of this is that either service will suffer noticeably or the bid will not be able to be entirely fulfilled with the current amount of money. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Taking a bite out of animal cruelty

Next up was the vote to ban shark fin soup, of which I’ve posted some thoughts here. After a few hours of debate it overwhelminglypassed, 38-4. The dissent came from Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, David Shiner and Doug Holyday. Doug Ford and Denzil Minnan-Wong had wandered elsewhere during the vote. For Councillor Ford it’s interesting as he once claimed to be a vegetarian in a Josh Matlow article. Mind you, Matlow had been too trusting with Ford and when Keenan followed up it turned out that he just doesn’t eat cows. In the same article he also claimed him and Rob are 'big time social liberals'. 

Later in the evening Council voted to send Toronto Zoo’s remaining elephants to a sanctuary in California, the item carrying 31-4. Shiner and Holyday were the only ones principled enough to consistently make large grey animals unhappy (you can read more about the issue here, via David Topping).

Civic Appointments

This process hasn’t received too much attention but has been quite contentious. It’s hard to write too much about it as the details of what they’re discussing remain confidential. However, Ford supporters claim the opposition doesn’t know the details and are just trying to beat up on them for political reasons. The opposition claims Team Ford ignored the details of the process and are just trying to pass appointments for political reasons. Really, it’s hard to know where the truth lies in these matters although the indication at last Council meeting that there was essentially no diversity and no members carried over (at the time) was a strong indictment.

It’s one thing to have a limited opinion about the appointments watching the proceedings, but another when you’re a councillor who has heard both sides for hours. A key vote on the appointments came up on a Sarah Doucette motion to send it back to committee. The beeper system rang for votes to be punched in an there sat Jaye Robinson in the wings, avoiding the vote. The final result was a tie, and thus the motion failed.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. When you’re elected as a civic leader, you look at the arguments and research before you to make the best decision you can. If you are uncomfortable with the leadership and direction of the administration- and she was absent from the mayor’s 1-year anniversary press conference with all of his allies- then you stand up and say why. Or you stand up and justify your support.

She’s proven she can do it too, as she lead the way on the Port Lands and provided her reasoning for dissent.

But leadership isn’t a sometimes-thing. As a politician, it’s a defining characteristic of the role and remains one even if you feel like you might sink or swim.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ford and the Jaws of Defeat

Just last hour, Council voted to ban shark fin soup (link to motion) in Toronto. It was overwhelmingly passed, 38-4 (vote picture via @graphicmatt), with Rob Ford, David Shiner, Doug Holyday and Giorgio Mammoliti being the dissenting councillors. 

A couple quick thoughts on it:

  • The fact that this was so overwhelming should be a bit embarrassing for Ford. It highlights the fact that for all of his populist style, his ideology remains outside of the mainstream. Even very small-government conservatives like Michael Thompson were willing to put that aside for what is a straightforward ethical issue. 

  • The claims of 'representing Chinese culture' from critics highlighted inauthentic representation. Doug Ford mentioned this during the debate, essentially arguing that he is a defender of traditional Chinese culture. Doug Ford is as much representative of Chinese culture as he and is brother are of a blue collar upbringing. It should also be noted that he and Denzil Minnan-Wong somehow made themselves absent during the vote. 

  • It's a nice small win for council's left. It's exhausting being on constant defense. As one councillor told me after the waterfront vote, preservation of the city is a less rewarding kind of fulfillment than building it.     

  • There's a small frustration in this issue too. As one staffer told me this morning, it would be nice if other issues- think community housing, selling part of Enwave and Hydro One, seniors issues- could galvanize public and council support like sharks do. This isn't to take anything away from the motion- it's good- but there's a lesson in here about telling a simple, sympathetic and powerful story to show why sacrifice for the greater moral good can enrich us all. 

  • Clearly Council needs more flying sharks. 

How do people feel about Rob Ford one year later?

It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago when we were talking about Rocco Rossi’s ridiculous campaign ads, Sarah Thomson’s ‘boys, boys, boys’ tut-tutting and Joe Pantalone’s incredible dedication to garden metaphors.

More importantly, it’s one year to the day of Rob Ford’s election to the mayor’s office. 

A lot has changed since then. There’s no more Vehicle Registration Tax, garbage west of Yonge St. was just privatized yesterday and council no longer receives snacks, despite the protestations of  certain councillors (ames-Jay asternak-Pay).

What’s interesting in this time is how the perception of Rob Ford has changed. He went from being a confident celebrity mayor with very good poll numbers to a mayor with just a 37% approval rating according to a Forum Research poll yesterday. It’s a stunningly low number for a mayor one year in and reflects the anxiety people have going forward.

I wanted to hear where people were coming from so I went out to Bathurst and Lawrence (Ward 15, Josh Colle) and stood outside a Metro (with a Tim Hortons!) to ask people what they thought of the mayor a year later. Ford won this ward with 52% of the vote, slightly more than his city-wide 47%. Here are the results:

AJ, woman in her 30s

Who did you vote for? Oh…I didn’t vote.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? I was iffy.

How do you feel now? I wish I had voted now. I feel we were left in the dark on a lot of issues, like libraries and the police.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? Oh, he better change the course.

Woman, age 60 or so (I don’t ask these things)

Who did you vote for? Ford.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? Very pleased.

Why did you vote for Ford? He’s a strong leader who holds true to his promises. He’s a man of his word.

How do you feel now? About the same. I was glad that he was willing to listen to the public on the Waterfront and find a compromise.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? Stay the course and listen to the public.

Woman in her 30s

Who did you vote for? Ford.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? OK. I don’t follow politics that closely.

How do you feel now? I haven’t really been reading about it.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? I wouldn’t know enough to offer advice.

Tim, Middle-aged

Who did you vote for? Ford.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? Happy, I guess.

Why did you vote for Ford? Good fiscal policy.

How do you feel now? Not dissatisfied.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? Stay the course.

Mike H., owns a barbershop

Who did you vote for? I live in Mississauga.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? I don’t know. I kept hearing in the barbershop how he didn’t like gay people, how he didn’t like this or that. So I guess I was hesitant. I like Hazel though.

How do you feel about Ford now? Well I know more about Hazel, but I keep on hearing things at the barbershop about Ford. People say that he’s doing things for the mafia, stuff like that. I don’t know if it’s true of course.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? I’d say look out for the little guy and small business, not big business.

Middle-aged man

Who did you vote for? Smitherman.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? Nauseous.

Why did you not support Ford? He’s mean and mean-spirited. His brother too.

How do you feel now? I feel the same way.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’ on the street and at Tim Hortons. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? I would tell him to get out of my Tim Hortons.

Paul, middle-aged.

Who did you vote for? Not Rob Ford.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? I felt like my city was about to be dismantled.

Why did you not support Ford? He’s full of shit and full of himself. He’s quick to speak and speaks without any research.

How do you feel now? I feel worse. All this ‘gravy train’ stuff, that it was going to be easy, it was all a lie.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? He should resign. The policies he promoted were an illusion. If he has any honour, he would resign. Of course, he won’t.

Joelman, a cashier and security guard

Who did you vote for? I didn’t vote.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? I was surprised; he has a weird style.

How do you feel now? OK. He’s not afraid to say no to strikes, so that’s good.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? I wouldn’t offer any advice.

Tammy, former social worker.

Who did you vote for? Ford.

Why did you support Ford? I like that he’s a normal guy. Like with that whole going to the cottage thing with Pride, that was good. He stuck to his guns and he put family first. We need more of that.

How do you feel now? I feel the same way, he represents me. I’m a Liberal and I feel he looks out for me. Not like McGuinty, he doesn’t. Bob Rae was good too, I liked him. It’s a shame he died (sic)… So long as Ford isn’t cutting social services, I feel good.

Are you aware of Ford promoting cuts on childcare, long-term care, the hardship fund, libraries and community housing? No, that’s not good at all. Times are tough we have to look out for people in poverty.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’ on the street and at Tim Hortons. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? Stay the course, except for service cuts.

Barys, web developer.

Who did you vote for? Couldn’t vote.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? I was not happy. He’s just a populist who plays political games.

How do you feel now? The same, I think he’s proved my assumptions.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? I would say that cutting spending is good, but not libraries. It’s good that Ford cut his own staff budget though.

Alana, employment counselor.

Who did you vote for? Smitherman.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? Not good. He was all gung ho about driving and against bike lanes, which are important to me. And I don’t like Doug at all.

How do you feel about him now?  About as bad as before.

Ford says people tell him to ‘stay the course’ on the street and at Tim Hortons. Would this be the advice you give him? If not, what? Try to follow what the people of Toronto want.

Max, entrepreneur.

Who did you vote for? Couldn’t vote.

How did you feel when Ford got elected? Good. He seems like a good guy.

What do you like about Ford? I like his policies, especially his financial ones.

What advice would you give him? I’m always stuck in traffic, and that need to be fixed. We need more focus on transit, on building a Sheppherd and Eglinton line and another one for downtown.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Your City Council Guide for October 24-25

So it’s another City Council session today, surely to be marked by the usual diplomacy from Speaker Nunziata, graciousness from Councillor Peruzza and compassion from Councillor Mammoliti.

Beyond that, there will be some actual issues too. Here are some highlights and the supporting and dissenting arguments that may accompany them:
Photo by Doug Mo

Oh, the Mayor’s featured item! Fancy! John Lorinc and Matt Elliot  have the best analyses of the issue so far. The groundwork for this was laid in April when Council voted on a request for quotations to outsource garbage in zone 2, the area west of Yonge St. Notably, Councillor Matlow successfully passed motions on environmental standards (70% diversion rates) and the savings required for bidders.

The supporting argument: This was a key issue in the Mayor’s platform that voters approved of. It saves the city money too- the Green for Life bid will only cost about $17M per year, more than $10M less than the current collection. They won’t be able to go on strike and we all know from 2009 this is important to Torontonians. Plus, it’s the lowest bid and we are legally encouraged to take that.  Key voice: Denzil Minnan-Wong.

The dissenting argument: The competing bids weren’t looked at in detail and GFL’s was taken simply because it was the lowest. There has not been a feasibility study conducted on their numbers, and they don’t seem to add up. How can GFL outbid its nearest competitor by 15%, a huge difference? How can they claim to be 8% more efficient per tonne compared to the private company that takes care of Etobicoke, a less complicated area? How come when you average out the total cost over seven years without inflation it comes to much more than $17M per year? How come they use a high inflation number per year? For a large contract, we know very little. This requires further study to make a prudent decision. Key Voices: Various.

Shark fin soup is considered a Chinese delicacy and served on special occasions such as weddings and banquets. It’s a status symbol of sorts and has a big impact, having been named as a chief reason for the declining shark population worldwide.

The supporting argument: Moral leadership starts with sacrifices and as a city that cares about its impact around the world and setting an example for others, Toronto can lead the way. It’s an opportunity to do the right thing, as the devastating impact that barbaric shark finning has on ecosystems around the world is profound.

California has shown it’s possible and we have to be a leader for Canada. It’s not necessarily easy being early on an issue, but it’s not necessarily easy to be right. Key voice: Kristyn Wong-Tam.

The dissenting argument: There’s a lot of information we don’t know. There’s a good chance a lawsuit will follow, so what’s the legal liability going to be like for the city? What’s the impact on Chinese restaurateurs in the city? In a bad economy, will they lose significant business to the surrounding area? Plus, it’s not up to the government to dictate the norms of Chinese culture. Key voice: Doug Holyday.

Remember when Team Ford announced it was scrapping the citizen committees of volunteer advisors? Maybe not, because it happened back in April. It came to Council in May and with some amendments was sent back to the Mayor. The Mayor’s office was tasked with delivering a report on the committees, essentially to justify their elimination. The report was supposed to come back in July but didn’t. Today there will be an update on the status of this report. 

The supporting argument (to eliminate): We need to look at all aspects of how we manage costs and efficiency, and these committees are a waste of staff time, which is limited and costly. We can do outreach through the Internet and other resources. Additionally, some of these committees are way past the time when they were useful. Key voice: Giorgio Mammoliti

The dissenting argument: The mayor campaigned on open and transparent government that engages in real community consultation. These are good promises, and these are good committees. They provide meaningful channels to connect City Hall to passionate, everyday experts in communities around the city. These people provide the civic energy and fresh ideas that makes our city more livable and vibrant for it. Key voice: Sarah Doucette.

Update: Rob Ford's office responded to Sarah Doucette by letter and Council will consider this issue in full in February. 

Josh Matlow’s motion seeks to increase the fine from $60 to $500 for illegally parking during rush hour to make a delivery or grab a cup of coffee. The current law isn’t really enforced and the motivation is that by increasing the fine and making it more visible people will comply.

The supporting argument: Delivery companies’ rights don’t trump commuters rights. We’ve all been in the situation where two lanes are traffice are reduced to one because of one selfish person going in to grab coffee for five minutes. We need to improve congestion for everyone, and part of that is improving the behaviour of the few people who currently flout the law. Key voice: Josh Matlow.

The dissenting argument: The existing law is sufficient, it just needs to be enforced more often and with some common sense. Furthermore, we can’t be targeting small businesses who need to make their deliveries. They’re the ones that support the community with jobs and services and going out of our way to make things more difficult for them makes it more difficult for everyone. Key voice: Doug Ford.   

A lot of people might be surprised that this is not currently an essential service. EMS has a limited right to strike, where 25% of its workers can strike at any given time.

The supporting argument: EMS workers save lives around Toronto every day and are essential to protecting the welfare and well-being of the city. During the municipal workers strike, the response time for EMS dropped by 50 seconds per call. This is critical time for critical situations. If the TTC is an essential service, then so too is EMS. Key voice: Gloria Lindsay Luby.

The dissenting argument: While EMS workers are invaluable and important, making them an essential service is tough for a city in austerity mode. Key voices: Unknown.

Continuation of Civic Appointments

This topic was fairly contentious last time with accusations and aspersions being frequently cast. The city is continuing the process of appointing individuals to various boards This is done in the early stages of each Council term.

The supporting argument: These are qualified individuals who want to contribute to the city. The committee has went through a very thorough process to vet candidates, using much of their summer to do so. The opposition is trying to make this a political issue and in the process is undermining the candidates and discouraging future candidates from participating next time. Key voices: Michael Thompson, James Pasternak.

The dissenting argument: The proper process was not followed. The city has a mandate to include minority voices to represent the makeup of the city. Judging by the numbers so far, this has not been the case. Instead, individuals seen to be politically friendly have been appointed to key positions despite having little to no experience in the area. Additionally, there’s a lack of continuation from previous board members to help train newcomers and ease any transition pains. This is a straightforward task and it is stunning that it has been botched like it has. Key voices: Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks.  

In the past little while the Occupy protests have taken root in cities around the world, including downtown Toronto. It’s been going for over a week now and has been peaceful thus far.

The supporting argument: The Occupy movement is largely about giving a voice back to the majority of people who feel underrepresented. This is an ethic that should resonate at City Hall, where we all pledge to do our best to look out for every constituent and make sure they are fairly treated. Additionally, the peacefulness that has characterized the Toronto protest is to be commended. Key Voice: Gord Perks.

The dissenting argument: While it’s great that people feel passionate enough to voice their opinion, it’s not up to City Hall to lend credibility to one group or another. They have to do that on their own merits, and we’re confident that citizens can judge the protests for themselves. Key Voices: Various?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ford Math and Honesty

The refrain is said often from Team Ford: Toronto needs to take a real look at its numbers. It’s said so often that this is essentially the drumbeat of the administration.

So far, the most notable numbers to emerge are the $774 million deficit and 35% potential property tax hike. What’s particularly notable about these is how disingenuous and stretched they are.

To be sure, the $774 million number was at one point true. But Team Ford steadfastly refused to update it in the light of new information. Instead, they used the original assumption because it suited their purposes rather than reflecting the real change.

Likewise, the 35% property tax canard was conjured out of thin air. Calculated by dividing $774M by the expected revenue a 1% property tax generates ($22M), a 34% number is reached. Of course, it ignores any user fees, real savings and the land transfer tax among other things as John McGrath points out in the above link. So this number is not real either.

To give the benefit of the doubt, let’s say they knew these were fictional but were just using them as props to whip departments to generate real improvements. Sure, they may be playing games now, but that’s only because they want real results.

With that idea, let’s look at the police budget, of which the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has provided the best analysis.

The police budget last year was $930.4M, around 85% of that in salaries and benefits. Legitimately, Police Chief Bill Blair had some issues with reducing the department by 10% after a sizable salary increase the Mayor brags about (11.5% over four years).

Now, that police budget process is a long one. There’s a starting point in the spring and they decide on a number and then slowly it gets slightly less after a few proposals. But keep in mind that $930.4M number, the comparison for last year.

The starting point in 2012 was $979M, and through subsequent proposals was lowered to $969.7M, then $944.5M. It’s the latter that the Mayor most recently balked it and it was correctly characterized as a 1.6% budget increase over the $930M in spite of a call to reduce the budget by $93M from the starting point. Finally, the Chief came back with his last proposal, $936.3M. Now you may think this represents a slight increase over last year (0.63%), and you’d be right. 

Here’s how the numbers look:

But that’s not Ford Math. Because in spite of the police spending more money, they claim it’s a 4.6% cut. Ford ally and Police Services Board Member France Nunziata is quoted in Dale's piece as saying, “It’s a huge reduction.” So where do they get this 4.6% cut from? Well, they changed the assumptions because it suits them. Instead of comparing the police budget to last year’s, they compared it to the $979M starting request. Just a week ago this was not the basis for discussion. But now the police give us this work, changing the assumptions, and rather lazily so:
If $979M was the real starting point, why use $93M as the 10% reduction number?

Purely from the negotiating standpoint of reductions and leaving aside value, it would be akin to going to a car dealer and looking at a $20,000 car. You say you want 10% off, or $18,000. The dealer says they want 5% more, or $21,000. You settle for $20,120 because that’s a 4.6% cut from what he wanted, a real deal!

You can feel like you were a good negotiator and sell it to all your friends that way. But really, when you look at your bank account, the savings aren’t there.

Slightly different but related, Matt Elliott takes a good look at the bid process to outsource garbage collection west of Yonge St. The winning bid, Green For Life, sounds promising- it’s only $17M, which is more than $10M less than the previous cost. Matt has a great breakdown of all the numbers, but it begs the question: how is this possible?

GFL outbid their nearest competition by 15%, a huge number when you consider the margins of the business. Their bid also suggests they can collect waste 7.8% more efficiently per tonne than the private collector in Etobicoke, also an eyebrow-raiser. If it’s all true and it’s the same level of service, then that’s great. But are there hidden costs or liabilities? Until we see real results, there are some worthwhile questions to be asked.

Once upon a time, the core members of Team Ford derided the Miller administration for hiding numbers and costs and urged the city to have a real conversation about the budget numbers and value for services. 

You want to have an honest conversation about the budget? Great. But for that, honesty is needed. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Ford Focus (Group)

Edward Keenan on Twitter (see his Grid post here):

The frustrating thing: most voters want more services, and they want lower taxes. They consider both top priorities. See also: California. ...Which is to say they don't actually fit on the political spectrum at all. They emphatically support directly contradictory policies.

Sol Chrom:

Cityslickr on All Fired Up in the Big Smoke:

Keenan, Chrom and Cityslickr were each responding to a blog post by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Trish Hennessy, a strategist with a sociology and communications background. Hennessy’s post relays the results of focus groups done of Ford voters in September, the results of which would likely surprise most observers. The participants- again, all Ford voters- were optimistic people who identified as Torontonians and:

expressed a hope and vision for the city that is positive, united, safe, clean, green, diverse, welcoming, vibrant and easier to get around in…. They still believe in the value of public services, and many want better public services – especially when it comes to public transit, which is becoming a symbol of a city in need of a fix.”

This plays into the angle that Ford was promoting at his Empire Club speech, that the talk of waste and mismanagement- putting aside the extent of what that is- can be perceived as opportunity. That is, an opportunity to build the city at no personal cost to voters. All it would take is a little grit to take on the system and speak up for the little guy. In fact, focus group attendees saw little to no ideological differences between Jack Layton and Rob Ford, suggesting a powerful conflation of Ford’s populist personality over their policies. Whereas Jack Layton was big on new ideas for improving the city- something Ford voters like- this is not the mayor’s focus. At the Empire Club speech, he said:

“Everyone has their own idea of what Toronto should become. Some want Toronto of the future to be a world leader in “green” practices. Others see Toronto as the world’s next financial hub. Still others want Toronto to be a global centre for arts and culture. 
Whatever your dream for our city is, it depends on one thing. Your dream depends on our ability to make our own choices, to chart our own course, to shape our own destiny. 
The sad truth is that we are losing our ability to make our own decisions. Toronto’s financial foundation is crumbling. If we don’t fix the foundation now, our dreams for the future will collapse.”
Ford is right on one thing; it is very important for the city to plan for its financial future. However this quotation shows that he is not the person his voters thought they elected. The future ideas and priorities he speaks of are others’, not his own. It was much like last week’s Metro Morning interview in which he was unable to articulate what he loves about Toronto. How can you cut expenditures if you don’t know how to value them? To what end do you secure financial stability? What’s your city?

As Hennessy’s research shows, Ford Voters value city services but there is a disconnect between the cost to deliver these services and the taxes they require. CCPA Research Associate Hugh Mackenzie has an excellent 2009 speech on the subject in which he concludes:

Mackenzie speaks with the same urgency as Ford, but his urgency is to speak of the values and priorities of the government and its citizens. Which leads us back to Cityslikr’s question: how do we bridge this chasm?

Below are a few points made by others with my own humble thoughts:

1 Civic Engagement

As Chrom points out, the ‘sure, tax cuts with no impact on services are feasible’ sense indicates a lack of understanding of city budget issues that could be interpreted as wishful thinking. To remedy this requires involving people in the civic process and delivering information in a manner they find meaningful. 

For instance, Hennessy's research shows that conservatives (more likely to be Ford voters although they go across partisan boundaries) respond to more emotional explanations. They use empathy to identify with situations and connect with arguments that they can identify with personally. So rather than saying, "Rob Ford lied and his so-called solutions will worsen Toronto's structural deficit," what might be more effective is "Rob Ford mislead us and soulless cuts to the Christmas Bureau, Hardship Fund and Libraries hurt our friends and neighbours who need help the most. This doesn't represent the Toronto we value."     

2 Improve Language

Further to the previous point, terms can be improved too. For instance, taxes are abstract numbers, and thus tough to connect to the real tangible things we value. This only gets further obscured with murky terms like 'gravy train'. 

Something like the Vehicle Registration Tax, which Shelley Carroll admitted was a failure in being sold to the public when she voted to repeal it, was framed poorly. The language of the fee- it’s more a fee than a tax- focuses on the act of paying it rather than what it does. But if it was the Road Improvement Fee? That’s something that gives drivers responsibility over their roads, knowing that there are significant costs involved in maintenance and these must be shared.

3 Speak About Costs

There’s no free lunch and it’s counter-productive to pretend there is. Instead, we need to be willing to acknowledge all the things we value about the city and acknowledge that there’s a cost to them. Love libraries? Yeah, well they cost money. Think transit is important? Well that costs a lot of money too. Paying taxes is OK so long as they’re used reasonably and invested wisely. But people have to know where those taxes go and why they’re needed.

4 Speak About Successes

We only ever hear the bad news from government and yet we still expect perfection from them. Those are high standards albeit good ones to have. The thing is, we could celebrate what we do well a bit more. Celebrate the fact that the Toronto Public Library offers some of the broadest variety of programs at a median cost and enjoys a high use per capita rate. Celebrate the TTC’s safety record, efficiency and fare box recovery. Celebrate the urban planning that is slowly bearing fruit on the waterfront.

To engage in a good, meaningful conversation about what builds Toronto people need to know that by and large it works pretty well. They need to feel a connection between the taxes they pay and the services they receive and that they have responsibilities to share in supporting the resources that Torontonians value. That may not convince all 60 of those Ford voters from the focus group, but sets up the infrastructure to cross the bridge over the ‘Ford Nation’ chasm.