Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Council Snack (sized news)- Photoshop Edition

Reddit had lots of fun with its Ford photoshop challenge. 
City Hall may have banned council snacks for its elected officials, but that doesn't mean us plebians should suffer. So here are your City Hall (news) snacks for Day 2 of the November session:

The big news of the day is the information coming out on the previously announced layoffs. Sue-Ann Levy feels the elimination of 2,338 positions including 1,190 firings is overdue, citing the struggles in the auto sector and media over the past few years as a parallel. If you follow that logic, you probably don't read this blog anyway. For bonus fun, see if you can find the glaring error/typo in her article (which has been part of the article for far too long). 

These layoffs and vacancies will have a direct impact on service and that's particularly bad for a mayor who has promised to improve 'customer service' so much. When they change the dispatch target times for emergency personnel and have a looming crisis with a firefighter shortage you're prioritizing your numbers over reality (more on this later).

Now also might be a useful time to remind Rob Ford of his campaign promise for no layoffs

In response, Adam Vaughan said these cuts are entirely avoidable and represent voodoo economics being driven not by reality but ideology. 

The other big news of the day was the proposal for a private-public partnership on the Eglinton crosstown LRT. There would be no problem for that on the construction side, but this includes looking at the operational side too. That is, that a private company would run the Eglinton line while the TTC would be publicly run. This sounds like it would have a lot of problems (Same pricing? Tickets? How to transfer? What about standards for employees?) It might also be worth mentioning that Ford's top strategist and policy adviser argued on his personal blog during the campaign to sell the TTC entirely.

Late last night the Toronto Star's chairman announced via an editorial that the paper intends to lodge a complaint with the integrity commissioner for the mayor's refusal to include them on press briefings and notifications of conferences. As they should. The administration's Star freezeout is juvenile, embarrassing and wrong. In spite of this, the Star provides the best coverage of City Hall of the four dailies and good on them for it. 

At council there were some key items. Most notable was a late-night vote to sell Enwave, which passed handily. It's a profitable city-owned enterprise but it makes sense to sell it. It's well positioned for growth but is under-capitalized, making it a good opportunity for an outside investor. Additionally, further expansion could help with providing strong environmental options for downtown tower energy use. The debate for Toronto Hydro is a different story and that will come up in January. 

There was debate on the city's naming rights policy and there are significant changes to it. Most importantly, city staff have discretion for naming rights on contracts up to $500,000 whereas previously it was a tenth of that, $50,000. Little to no naming rights go for more than $500,000 so it looked like it was intended to be a way for the Mayor's office to take power from council by having 'staff' make all the decisions. 

But a motion from Paul Ainslie nixed that and likely unintentionally. His motion expands the policy to city agencies, boards and committees, meaning that they will eventually go to Council. We all know from Ainslie's Twitter account how much he loves corporate ads, so this has to be unintentional. But there were some bad items too. Adam Vaughan motions to not sell sponsorship targeted towards children (a position Public Health supports) and not selling naming rights on heritage properties both failed. 

Mary Margaret McMahon's motion to allow backyard hens was referred to the Licensing and Standards Committee meeting on January 25, where I'm guessing it will be voted down. Twitter produced many successful puns on the subject though.

Council also voted to support sideguards on trucks in principle. I say in principle because they have no authority on this. Rob Ford was one of three votes against. Ford was also one of three votes against another Lawrence Heights project vote. 

My vote for worst vote of the day goes to Denzil Minnan-Wong, who was the sole vote against receiving a petition from 20,000 people in support of arts funding. Voting against receiving a petition? What the fuck is that? 

I don't really give many hat tips to Speakers Frances Nunziata and John Parker because they have been aggressively partisan in their rulings and the former consistently loses control and or track of the meeting. But both rightly admonished Ford ally Giorgio Mammoliti for abusing points of order and unfairly berating staff for not producing a document on short notice (Layton was criticized for this yesterday). So good on them. 

And good on Giorgio Mammoliti (weird sentence is weird). After a couple councillors, particularly Gloria Lindsay Luby, worried that some street names might be 'too ethnic' for people to pronounce, Mammoliti hammered this argument. To paraphrase, he argued: This is who we are and if these people are part of our history then they deserve to be represented. Have trouble pronouncing their names? Then learn them. Failing that is a slap in the face to immigrants. 

I don't get to write this much so I will- right on, Giorgio.  

I don't follow the theatre community, but I'm told a big-name producer was in attendance this morning and is looking at doing a production based on City Hall, which is great theatre in and of itself. It sounds good if this is better than the reportedly lousy fringe plays produced on Ford this past summer. Goldsbie, Nicholas Hune-Brown and Cityslikr are all much bigger theatre buffs than myself and seemed excited.

Over at Reddit, the hivemind went to work on photoshopping our Worship in a thread that has more than 500 comments and the results are pretty great. I posted my favourites on Twitter, but here they are again

Council Snack-sized News

Photo from Xtra (Andrea Houston?)
So some news and notes in bite size format for you council watchers on the go:

Adrienne Batra is leaving the Ford Team to join the Ford cheerleaders at the Sun comment page, Newstalk and filling in on SUN TV. Really, it's a logical fit for her (she's written for Sun Media before) and she's done a pretty good job as Ford's media handler. Doing that job for a year- and another year on the campaign- would be some of the toughest media work around and she's lasted as long as you could expect someone to. I'm also told that when she's not cutting off questions mid-sentence she's a really nice person. So while I look forward to criticizing future Sun editorials, good for her. 

Yesterday was day one of the council meeting where they predictably defended community environment days. What's notable about it is this charge was led by conservative Ford ally David Shiner, who proposed keeping them at a reduced cost. Denzil Minnan-Wong, Shiner's Public Works colleague, argued against this and Shiner probed for areas of compromise as Josh Matlow solemnly nodded his head behind the two of them. The fact that Shiner has been coming across as the reasonable one lately (on Public Works and here) due to the prominence of the likes of Minnan-Wong in this administration? Amazing. 

Remember how the Mayor was going to stick up for the little guy and stop the nonsense at City Hall? Yesterday councillors discussed the water and trash budget. In the water budget, councillors voted to give high corporate water use and polluters a break in the morning. In the afternoon? They voted to have non-profits, churches and the like pay for garbage collection so the city can collect $2.9 million. If this sounds like exactly the opposite of Ford's rhetoric, then you're reading it correctly. 

On the subject of corporate water use, Norm Kelly asked council why they would want to confuse an environmental and economic issue. Oh Norm. 

But what council meeting would be complete without Norm Kelly's monthly Contrarian Book Club Recommendation? This month you're assigned to read Thomas Sowell, the libertarian economist and social critic who doesn't really like multiculturalism. He also once compared Obama to Hitler, so there's that too. 

As for this morning, you know that Lawrence Heights revitalization project? It passed another vote, 27-3. The three votes against with the two Fords and James Pasternak. I'd love to know what Pasternak was thinking. 

Last night Mike Del Grande criticized the library for carrying popular movies, 'like Pirates of the Caribbean' and carrying items in languages other than English. I get that Del Grande really cares about keeping costs down, but I'm pretty happy that my library system serves diverse communities and doesn't act in an overly prescriptivist way. I'd also point out that one of the library's most popular items are Hindi movies, which are 1) not books and 2) not English. 

Lastly, Edward Keenan and a revitalized Royson James both have outstanding columns on the tomfoolery in the city budget for The Grid and Star. I'll be getting back to these columns for a future post. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Merry Budgetmas!

One of the most important days in the Ford administration arrived with Budgetmas 2012. Since Ford insisted on going through the budget line by line (as he should!), I thought I would follow suit by parsing his speech line by line. 

Rob Ford led off with a speech that grounded the authority of the budget in his election mandate and the desires of the public. Here is half of the first three minutes of that speech:
13 months ago I was elected with a very clear mandate: to make respect for taxpayers a core value at City Hall. The people of Toronto have been crystal clear about what they want. First and foremost, they want us to stop the wasteful spending, to reduce city expenses and hold the line on taxes... The 2011 budget process included more public consultation than any previous budget ever has. We continued that consultation over the summer. We held eight public meetings. We heard from over 1200 people at consultation sessions. More than 13,000 people responded to the service review survey. Committees and council held more than 100 hours of debate and heard over 600 deputants.
Ford is right to invoke the nature of his mandate, and certainly respect for taxpayers was part of that. Part of what 'respect' meant, according to his platform was transparency and consultation (campaign promises 7, 10 and 12) and a guarantee that services would not be cut. Those promises were pretty clear, but they're not what we have. Ford cites in-depth public consultation as a validation for the budget, but his version of consultation was only a token gesture.

After all, the committee meetings were designed to limit feedback (and had absurdly low time limits) and the 13,000 responses to the Service Review were dismissed by staunch Ford ally Denzil Minnan-Wong as 'statistically invalid'. This makes sense that he would respond this way, as the results from the survey and deputations were not what they wanted. But when Ford cites consultation as a grounding and validation for and of his budget, that's disrespectful to the vast majority of people who turned up to support the preservation of city services. The backbone of this budget wasn't found in the Ford promises of consultation and transparency, but through misinformation and political gamesmanship, as Hamutal Dotan details in this excellent Torontoist editorital. This spin was present in Ford's speech too.
In fact, folks, for the first time ever we will spend less this year that we did last year. That is unheard of. But that is exactly what the taxpayers demanded and that's what we can deliver with this budget. Through our core service review and modest service level adjustments we have found $355 million in savings this year...that $355 million is more than the amount of one time money we used last year.
As John McGrath points out on Twitter this morning, spending may have went down this year but the taxes collected went up. So pitching this as a great deal for taxpayers really only looks at one side of the equation. And Ford is right that citizens did ask for a halt to city spending, just like on the other side of the equation he promised no service cuts. But he's not right on other items in this statement. 

For instance, the $355 million number he cites is completely fictitious. This number is not arrived at through the core service review and modest service level adjustments, but because conservative staff estimates for various budget lines have been adjusted. The rest of the savings come from $88 million in cuts that people did not demand or are not modest. These include:
  • A deferral of hiring Fire department staff for the year in spite of a new report that indicates the department responds two minutes slower than the standard. Additionally, the fire department has 7 fewer employees than they did at amalgamation.
  • A reduction in service on 62 bus lines, including some of the city's busiest. This includes more crowding and is accompanied by a fare increase and excluding dialysis patients from using Wheel Trans. Hardly the customer service the mayor promised.
  • A reduction of 20,000 library hours (the equivalent of closing 9 libraries full time) and 160 fewer library staff (100 through attrition). Importantly, City Librarian Jane Pyper has indicated firing 60 staff would result in more program reductions or cause safety concerns.  
  • A reduction in street cleaning and snow shoveling. Hardly the clean city Ford made a priority in his campaign. 
  • The elimination of 5 wading pools and 2 outdoor pools that the mayor will not specify. The fact that these won't be specified is the most galling point; it's the way they'll be shut them down to prevent any response from the impacted communities.
  • Eliminating 3 homeless shelters, 58 nutrition programs, more than 100 arts programs, 2-3 AIDS programs, 3 drug prevention programs and the WinterCity programs. 
  • Reducing spending on roads, public health and municipal licensing by more than 5% each. This is basically the stuff that Ford says is integral to a well-functioning city and it is hit hardest. 
This does not include the proposed 2300 fewer city employees which will mean other service decreases. But Ford is firmly proud of this budget, offering it as a respectful and prudent way forward:
We have begun a process that will reduce the size and cost of government to a sustainable level. We made huge strides in re-building our fiscal foundation. Folks, it wasn't easy to get here. 
 Ford points to Miller as the reason why he has to make these tough decisions, but Ford was responsible for last year's budget. Consider that if Ford had kept the Vehicle Registration Tax (after all, he says the city has little money) and implemented an inflation-based tax increase (which would make it a freeze in real terms) then the city would have $250 million more over the past two years. In other words, all of these cuts (plus the Urban Affairs Library) are completely avoidable.

Not only are they avoidable from last year's Rob Ford decisions, they're avoidable this year too. The proposed efficiencies cuts total $88 million (not that phony $355 million number), but they propose not using any of the $138 million surplus. So the surplus could pay for everything- balanced budget FTW!- and the conversation could be about how we plan for the future and which programs are no longer effective.

Instead, as Robyn Doolittle details in this article on background from what every City Hall watcher assumes is Nick Kouvalis, the choice is to scorch the earth of the fiscal foundation to force changes in government. You know, screw those libraries and transit users, we have an ideology! It's also worth remembering that around this time last year Speaker Nunziata forbade mention of this year's budget in deliberations to prevent any planning for it. So to put this on David Miller is pretty rich.

In other words, with the David Miller surplus, maintaining fiscal tools and having a flat, inflation-based budget this would have been one of the easiest budgets since almagamation with plenty of money leftover to pay down more debt and put in reserves.
We were faced with closing over 35 wading pools. Instead, we have closed just 5. And they are underused and require expensive capital improvements. We are leaving over 100 wading pools functional and in operation. We faced the possibility of closing libraries to save money for childcare or emergency services. Instead, we managed to avoid library closures but we need to find efficiencies in the library system. We were faced with the prospect of raising taxes 34% to fill the $774 million hole that we inherited. But we have been able to keep our property tax this year to a manageable 2.5%
I won't belabour this part too much because Cityslikr already covered it in a Torontoist article. But suffice it to say these are false dichotomies presented to make people feel good about closing only 5 wading pools, even though no one really talked about closing 35. And the Ford Team must be financial wizards if they turned a potential 34% increase into 2.5%, even though that was always going to be the number. In other words, nothing about this is based on hard work or tough decisions. It's based on a false choices and an ideology that will invariably choose service cuts over revenue increases, making decisions easy.

It's worth remembering Rob Ford's campaign promises too. (Here was his budget proposal during the campaign)

It promised an $850 million surplus in its first two years (from gravy) and no service cuts. So by Ford's own promises, he has failed to deliver. Instead, he has treated citizens with overwhelming disrespect. He was elected on a platform of a 'voice for the people' yet ignores the feedback they give. He was elected in part because of his non-politician stance, yet he plays semantics to avoid calling cuts what they really are. He promised to offer citizens real choices, but he's only ever offered one, his own. 

Earlier I wrote that budgets are a reflection of who we are. It's true of Rob Ford's administration too. This budget wrongly grounds itself in the popularity and authority of the public, undermines the city's services, frames false choices and ignores promises.

On balance, it's exactly who we thought Rob Ford was. 

Our Budgets Tell Us Who We Are: Torontoist Re-post

I contributed this piece to Torontoist on Friday, and seeing as how today is Budgetmas, it seems fit to re-post it here. 

Our Budgets Tell Us Who We Are

The City of Toronto will release its draft budget on Monday. But how can concerned residents respond?
“Ok, put your hands up. Now put your hands down if you live south of Eglinton.” Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) was standing at the front of a room on the second floor of OISE. Only a handful of the 100 hands that went up stayed in the air.
“These are the people I need.”

Carroll was participating in an event put on last week by the Wellesley Institute to discuss Toronto’s budget and a recent report by the Institute—Countdown to Zero—arguing that the City could balance the budget without service cuts.
Carroll and the Institute’s director of economic analysis, Sheila Block, each spoke about the technical side of things, like the phony $774 million deficit figure and 34 per cent property tax threat, the structural shortcomings of revenue sources, and the similarity to previous budgets that were solved without across-the-board cuts. But these were facts the audience already knew. They wanted to know how they could they bring together different constituencies. How could they reach that audience north of Eglinton?
It was passionate community engagement that brought about Rob Ford’s biggest defeat since being elected mayor: losing his bid to revamp plans for the Port Lands. A group called CodeBlueTO quickly mobilized long-time activists to gather thousands of petition signatures, create public awareness, and co-ordinate councillors, citizens, and subject experts. Its consistent messaging—that the Waterfront Toronto plan was based on long-term consultation, planning, and community support—was an understandable, authentic, and ultimately winning narrative.
The CodeBlueTO success provides a model for others, like the campaign to save libraries. With tens of thousands of signatures on petitions, overflow attendance at public meetings, and the support of high-profile authors like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Vincent Lam, that campaign (though unnamed) has achieved wide recognition and looks to be heading to substantial successes. Ford has already assured Torontonians that no more branches would be closed, and on Monday night the library board rejected cuts to library hours—including a nay vote by frequent Ford ally Jaye Robinson.
But smaller-scale issues like the Hardship Fund, the Toronto Environment Office, or local museums don’t easily garner the same visibility and resources. It’s a problem that John Campey, executive director of Social Planning Toronto, is well aware of. In response, Campey’s organization has put together a website called Together Toronto, to be launched in the next week or so. We spoke with Campey after the official event wound down, and he explained: “Together Toronto provides a mechanism for people to contact their city councillor automatically…it’s a hoteling site that enables groups passionate about particular issues to get their message across.”
While Together Toronto may prove a useful resource for various constituencies and campaigns, it doesn’t do the legwork of communicating a mass message to those who wouldn’t otherwise hear it. People still need to reach out, like CodeBlue did, with old-fashioned neighbour-to-neighbour legwork.
In addition to Carroll and Block, Trish Hennessy spoke at the Countdown to Zero forum on the need for a unifying narrative, much like CodeBlue’s, to bring together various groups and initiatives in support of city services. A strategist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Hennessy conducted a series of focus groups in September with Ford voters (which she detailed in a must-read blog post) that provided counterintuitive insights into their thinking. Hennessy found that Ford voters admired the mayor’s authentic, “man-of-the-people” style, which wasn’t unexpected, but surprisingly this crossed ideological bounds so much that participants most connected Ford to—of all people—late NDP leader Jack Layton. Ford, like Layton, was deemed trustworthy, possessing the fresh and frank approach needed to shake things up and look after voters’ interests.
But Hennessy also found, for those who are concerned about Ford’s approach to budgeting, that those same voters also value city services. They identified as Torontonians first (as opposed to suburbanites), felt Ford should have represented Toronto at Pride, and voted to get rid of the perceived gravy—such as “chauffeurs”—not slashing services or wages to low-income City workers like building cleaners. In other words, among those voters there was a strong sense of civic pride and hope for the future.
Arguments based on budget details are generally too arcane to be effective. The challenge for engaged Ford critics hoping to affect the course of budget negotiations is to build a narrative around the value of city services that is relevant to the general public—to change the conversation, as Hennessy puts it. Attacks on Ford’s hypocrisy will be far less effective than focusing on the hundreds of seniors who are treated with respect and dignity due to the Hardship Fund, and risk losing safeguards. Instead of talking about debt ratios being artificially high because revenue sources are too limited, those opposed to budget cuts need to tell a story about thousands of low-income children who enjoy gifts thanks to the Christmas Bureau, and Toronto’s collective values.
This focus on the character of the city personalizes issues to make them accessible, visible, and relevant, just as CodeBlue managed to do with the Port Lands. This character-based inclusion also connects traditionally low-information voters to issues based on a general sense of civic pride. Thus, the focus is no longer on downtown vs. the suburbs, or on policy wonks vs. average voters, but on the collective character of the city—a story of what kind of place Toronto wants to be. It’s this conversation—the kind of legacy we want to leave for future generations—that actually underlies the budget.
The draft budget will be released Monday. When it is, newspapers, talk radio, blogs, and Twitter streams will rapidly flood with numbers and statistics. But for Ford critics like Block, Carroll, Campey, and Hennessy, numbers alone don’t determine the strength of the budget, because the budget is also a statement of values and priorities. And whether we live north or south of Eglinton, and no matter where we find ourselves aligned politically, we need to start talking more about those values.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

City Hall Hyprocracy

hy·poc·ra·cy  (h-pkr-s)
n. pl. hy·poc·ra·cies
1. The systemic practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess for political purposes; falseness.
2. Exercising principles on an inconsistent basis for political expedience. 

When Rob Ford was elected, voters were promised he was a man of principle who was going to change the workings of City Hall. All it needed was a new sheriff to enforce the new culture fairly and things would change. 

The more that changes, the more that stays the same. 

As detailed in a Toronto Star article, Etobicoke enjoys mechanical leaf pickup that the rest of the city does not. It's the kind of service that Rob Ford and his strongest allies would generally oppose. After all, the Mayor often opposes supporting BIAs on the basis that not every area has them and Mike Del Grande just called the proposal for non-curbside garbage pickup for seniors a 'cadillac premium service,' (the committee was told by city staff that the service already exists). 

The reason the service exists? Windrows (it always comes down to windrows). The idea is that councillors who have windrow clearing support Etobian premium leaf pickup and vice versa. 

In case you're keeping track, this is exactly the gravy and political gamesmanship you're looking for. 

The inconsistency of principles doesn't end there. 

At yesterday's Parks and Environment Committee meeting, councillors voted to institute a $53 fee to use park bake ovens. The ovens are in a handful of parks (Christie Pits, Dufferin Grove) and are used for community events like Friday night pizza nights. It's exactly the kind of thing that Rob Ford would support as a councillor and he would likely oppose the city's nickle and diming for permits, which cover the cost of insurance and cleaning.

The fee would be slightly more understandable if it weren't for the Licensing and Standard Committee last week.

On the agenda was a staff-recommended item (like the ovens) to raise the price of towing vehicles in highway accidents by $60 to $229 (the city does the towing and later bills drivers). This proposed increase was to reflect the cost of towing (it's indexed based) but was soundly criticized and deferred to the spring. 

To be fair, the councillors on this committee aren't the same as the ones on Parks, but they do represent the same city. 

And just because there's a new sheriff in town doesn't mean anything is systemically different when it comes to our preferred system of government passing small motions, hypocracy.   

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Will the real conservatives please stand up?

Over in New York magazine, Canadian conservative and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum has an excellent piece on the Republican party straying from its intellectual roots. Instead, it is now a party that caters to quackery (birthers) and ideologues (no tax increases, ever) and defends itself with name-calling (socialists!). 

Frum points out that when a similar friction occurred in the 1960s between the Goldwater and George Romney Republicans, the moderate Romneys weren't afraid to stand up for their beliefs. That's not the case today in the US, as moderates are either too rare or non-confrontational, and unfortunately it's also what we have in Toronto. 

Frum cites the old adage that, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." Sadly, their own facts is what Team Ford conservatives have brought to the table. 

Consider the Twitter conversation that occurred this weekend. First of all, Ford's campaign braintrust (Nick Kouvalis and Mark Towhey) engaged Dave Meslin. This was because Meslin tweeted that Ford ran on a left-wing platform implicitly endorsing Miller because he said 'no service cuts, guaranteed.' Like Edward Keenan in this great article, I'm uneasy about Meslin's 'left-wing' premise but it is a fact that Ford promised no service cuts-guaranteed and that service cuts are deeply unpopular among Torontonians. Ignoring this is at best the selective memory Towhey accuses Meslin of and at worst bringing his own facts to the table that ignore reality. 

The twitter conversation didn't end there. On Sunday, Queens Quay Karen Fraser Macdonald started tweeting about Transit City. Not being able to help myself, I responded. Here's the (slightly edited, for brevity) Storify. In sum, Macdonald- a key part of the Ford campaign- got basic facts wrong about the Eglinton LRT line (lanes of traffic being removed, streetcar v. LRT, where it would run underground) and instead relied on the Fordian campaign rhetoric. 

When Macdonald was asked for underlying evidence for those policy decisions (and assertions that streetcars kill traffic, for instance), none were provided. Nothing on the impact of induced demand, the density requirements for different kinds of development, the terrible planning with the Don Valley or the cost-benefit of burying Eglinton for purely aesthetic reasons at a $2 billion cost (for that money, you could do the Finch LRT twice over. Or rent two chipmunk suits for every Torontonian). Macdonald then finishes with an ad hominem attack, saying that downtowners are not concerned with the suburbs.

The criticism of Team Ford's grasp of the basic facts isn't new, and what they represent is not true conservatism. Like Frum's lamented party, the Towhey/Kouvalis/Macdonald arguments lack evidence-based policy, rely on ideological stereotypes, and either cherry-pick their facts or make them up altogether. It's this kind of process that leads to the complete antithesis of fiscal conservatism with Ford's Folly, the Sheppard and Eglinton lines. 

While Meslin's liberal label might not be accurate to describe the Ford campaign triumverate (or the message to be accurate), they aren't intellectual conservatives either. These policies are the result of what Frum calls the exploitation of conservatives as a market segment (think of Kouvalis' excellent focus groups of which he is proud) rather than a political philosophy.

Shelley Carroll has previously wondered where the Liberals are on council, the likes of Milczyn, Berardinetti and Kelly (who has had his own problems lately) who have ties to the party but don't show it. 

But where are the traditional conservatives, the Bill Davis kind that demand fiscal responsibility with informed, incremental and sustainable planning? 

The likes of Karen Stintz have a responsibility to defend conservatism the way Frum does. If they refuse to stand up for intellectually grounded positions then they, like the increasingly rare moderate Republican, render their ideas to irrelevance. 

And this isn't healthy. It's good to have conservatism in local politics. It improves the dialogue for everyone and challenges the left to strengthen their ideas. 

That tradition is silent right now. It is replaced with the bluster and shallowness of Fordian populism, and everyone is worse off for conservatism's absence. 

Team Ford: Library Edition

Library meeting bingo card created by the always awesome @neville_park at last night's library meeting.  
One important aspect of elections that is frequently forgotten is that voters aren't just choosing who occupies the Mayor's or Premier's or Prime Minister's seat, but an administration and appointees that allow that politician to function. 

So when you elect George W. Bush, you're also getting Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Alberto Gonzalez and Scooter Libby. For the Toronto Library Board, when you elect Rob Ford you get Michael Foderick and Stephen Dulmage. 

The last two library board meetings illustrate the shortcomings of these appointments.

Two meetings ago, Dulmage suggested 38 library closures, the elimination of library computers and the warehousing of books (read Daniel Dale's excellent summary, particularly the last two paragraphs). This meeting, he seemed entirely uninterested in the proceedings, swivelling around in his chair to look at the map behind him and fanning himself furiously (mind you, the room was hot). He even got into a petty argument about Tim Horton's during someone's deputation. All this from a guy who, according to Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, was placed on the board at the suggestion of Adrienne Batra, Ford's Press Secretary. 

Which brings us to the more polished Michael Foderick. A lawyer, Foderick has long been in touch with City Hall, from the early days of the Toronto Youth Cabinet (at age 16) to being fellow TPL board member Cesar Palacio's EA. So you would think he brings an understanding of the process that would be beneficial to the board. But, based on last night's meeting, you'd be wrong. 

He put forward a motion that asked to fire the equivalent of up to 60 full-time library employees in spite of City Librarian Jane Pyper's insistence that this would be a safety concern. His motion also called for using $2 million in development charges to fund operating expenses, a policy that would violate provincial law. 

As Janet Davis tried to describe the problems with these motions and how it would hand control to City Hall's budget committee, Foderick argued that she didn't appreciate the subtlety in what he was doing. Which is, if you've ever seen Davis talk about subtlety, like telling the Pope you're more Catholic.

And everyone was exasperated by this. The audience laughed a few times. Visiting councillor Adam Vaughan threw up his arms as he walked out to visit the overflow room. Other board members were unimpressed; it took Dulmage to second Foderick's motion. 

In the end, his requests were referred to library staff for review where they will be turned down at next month's meeting. But you could have seen this coming. After all, this is an individual who, I'm told, is the only person who has ever been banned from speaking on behalf of the Youth Cabinet because he kept speaking out of turn and misrepresenting their interests. 

Rob Ford has his handlers like Mark Towhey and Batra to rein in his more ill-considered words and ideas (or one would like to think). But their appointments do not have that hand-holding, and it's here that we see the out-of-touch (Dulmage) and poorly-thought-out ideas (Foderick) in full force. If these individuals provide an open book to the thinking of Team Ford, then it's not good. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Quotes of the Day: Norm Kelly and Doug Holyday on Occupy Toronto

Courts make governing in a democratic society quite a challenge
-Norm Kelly in the Toronto Sun, discussing the court's injunction on evicting Occupy Toronto from St. James Park (H/T NOW's Ben Spurr). 

A Trudeau era Liberal MP, perhaps Kelly was wanting to get his war measures act side out. As a Governor-General award winning historian (for research on Pierre Berton's National Dream), he should probably know how the three branches of government work. 

In the same Sun article, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday comments on the unfair impact the injunction might have on the Santa Claus Day Parade, worrying that it will spoil the day. It's worth remembering that he voted to eliminate the Christmas Bureau (H/T Cityslikr). 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

On Occupy Toronto and why Trust Matters

Like the financial system, democracy is predicated on trust in the institutions that serve it and the means by which they're expressed. For finance, that means that people trust banks to protect their money, banks trust each other to reconcile their massive overnight lending, and we all take a leap of faith that money- the tool by which this is expressed- means something.

It's a complicated relationship, one that's easy to take for granted until no one trusts Lehman Brothers or the Icelandic Krona.

And trust is at the root of our democracy, the root of any institution really. It's this characteristic that enables us to defer to authority and consent to be governed. Unfortunately, the public's lack of trust in the Ford administration- and rightly so- erodes the confidence in that institution.

This problem came up today at the City Hall press conference to discuss that confluence of financial and democratic trust, Occupy Toronto's protest at St. James Park.

The story will lead all the papers and trending topics on Twitter, but the Mayor was otherwise occupied and did not speak about it. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday did an admirable job filling in for the mayor; despite his politics he is a genuine, genial and honest individual and the right replacement for a sensitive subject.

It's a problem that Ford, who often invokes his authority as the elected Mayor, declined to take ownership of an important decision. It's a problem that he wouldn't express himself while limiting the expression of the Occupiers. It's a problem that Holyday cites 'social workers' as the city staff who have had a dialogue with Occupiers, because that misses the point.

It's pretty disrespectful of the Mayor, to both the Occupiers and general citizens. A case can be made that the Occupiers should be moved-Sue-Ann will take care of that- but one can't be made that he should have been there to answer questions. Instead his absence distanced himself from justifying the decision and alienated himself from the democratic process.

The Occupy movement, whatever its flaws and limits may be, is largely built on a mistrust of institutions and the imbalanced power structure provided. It's something we see at City Hall too, where the Mayor's own people don't trust him to speak about the subject and decline the opportunity to build a personal case for why he feels eviction is unfortunate but necessary.

And so confidence in our Mayor erodes once again, but hopefully not the office. We need something to trust, something to believe in, something around which we can build.

We can dislike the Mayor and his actions, but Democracy is too big to fail. So we reform the institution of City Hall with higher expectations, increased vigilance and good ideas. If that can't be done than the currency of our citizenship is further devalued until our democratic deficit becomes a bankruptcy.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Morning Briefing: Memes, Licensing and Standards Meeting, Headlines

So I think I'm going to start providing summaries for the committee meetings each day, both to help in understanding and to better track the decision making process. Although I don't think I'll do headlines and stuff as often, because John McGrath at OpenFile, Stephen Spencer Davis at Toronto Life and Laura McConnell at Spacing do that well already. 
Today's meeting is pretty uneventful, it's the Licensing and Standards Committee. There's really only one item that should garner any debate, and that's Paul Ainslie's motion to limit how close ice cream trucks can be to one another. Truck drivers have intense battles over territory and it leads to price wars and vindictiveness. It's a pretty interesting little aspect of the city, as described in this great National Post article by Jane Switzer and on Torontoist by Steve Kupferman and Kelli Korducki.  

My question for Councillor Ainslie is what does he have against the free market for beautiful soft-served swirly goodness? And won't this just mean intense competitions to get there first?

Sue-Ann Levy goes for the 'oh, the city shouldn't be investing in silly art when it has a deficit' angle, taking on Noel Harding and his $400,000 project in a priority neighbourhood at Dawes and Victoria. It's an oak bridge structure that contains a stream, native foliage, and solar panels and a wind turbine to provide AC and wifi. It also has a plaza and market square for community events.  

It sounds kind of nice and non-Ferris wheely, and exactly the thing that @HULKMAYOR would want to smash. 

The Toronto Star's top-read story is Mayor Ford standing up to Anonymous, which is exactly what he should say in this spot. A word of warning though, because I doubt Ford lurks 4Chan: they're not Marg Delahunty. 

Liam Lahey's Spacing piece went up Friday and has received less attention than it deserves. It talks about how the development of urban planning as a political force and how visions of Toronto's future have been stunted. 

Generation Meme
Of course, what would a #topoli weekend be without a meme. And this weekend we got two. 

Sunday's was when everyone's favourite smouldering hunk, Ryan Gosling, became a Toronto policy wonk on Tumblr

And Saturday's was another hashtag extravaganza- #councilbands- this time started by Youth Cabinet co-chair Claire McWatt, who was featured in this Clamshell article on Thursday. 

Here are some of the best names, in my humble opinion. And yes, I included one of my own. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Extended Analogy Day: Sports Edition

I meant to post this yesterday to go with the Analogy Day themed posts...but I didn’t.
I previously posted on the business analogy with City Hall, and I still think it’s very flawed, but let’s look at two of our mayor’s passions to put it in terms that might relate to him: sports and business.

Mayor Ford is more of a football guy, but I think the appropriate analogy here is to the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays of Major League Baseball. And he did leadoff his Empire Club speech with a baseball analogy, so this probably isn’t too far off-base.

Vince Naimoli Era

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays (who would later drop Devil from their name) were an expansion baseball franchise in 1998 owned by Vince Naimoli (read more in Jonah Keri’s book The Extra 2%). Naimoli was a successful local businessman who made his fortune as a turnaround specialist. What he would do is buy failing companies and slash every expense possible until they were profitable. He was very good at this and subsequently applied this approach to his baseball team.

The thing is, a baseball team is not a utility company. A lot of the success of the team from a business perspective comes from ensuring a positive fan experience. Naimoli didn’t appreciate this. Instead, he pursued his mission of cost-cutting with single-minded intensity. These included:
  • ·         Having a zero tolerance policy for outside food in the stadium. When an elderly woman was denied entrance because she needed almonds for her diabetes, she had to wait outside the stadium until after the game to leave with her tour group
  • ·         A high school band that was scheduled to play the national anthem was asked at the last minute to pay for tickets for each student
  • ·         Naimoli thought the Internet and e-mail was a fad, and refused to pay for it for team staff. This meant that they had to setup their own access and the sales and marketing team was reaching out to groups from Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL addresses.

This penny-pinching and thriftiness alienated fans and local businesses, who did not want to be a part of the team culture. For Naimoli, it was just business; he is renowned nationally for his philanthropy and giving nature. 

Likewise, Rob Ford is noted for helping others out of pocket and genuinely caring. But this approach is disconnected from how people are treated at City Hall. Consider the parallels:
  • ·         At the first all-nighter Executive meeting, a mobility-impaired woman was denied her speaking slot when she didn’t have enough time to get from the overflow room to the main room.
  • ·         Ford has consistently railed against the 25,000 free metropasses that are given out, many of them to TTC employees who use them to get to work and people who are blind or otherwise cannot get around the city.
  • ·         Despite promising to use better metrics to improve service for citizens, Ford and his allies voted to stop expanding 311.

Naimoli wasn’t just a spendthrift. At times, he got impatient with the time it takes to build a team and abandoned a youth plan to overspend on over-the-hill players. These were unwise investments motivated by a desie to have something shiny rather than something good. In turn, the team cut back on investing in the future and gave up draft picks and prospects.

Likewise, Rob Ford abandoned the paid-for and planned Transit City plan in order to pursue the white elephant Sheppard extension that could well be one of the worst financial and planning disasters in Toronto’s history in the odd chance it gets built. He and his brother also tried to sell off the Port Lands for a shiny Ferris wheel, monorail and megamall. And now there’s an attempt to solve capital problems by selling 10% of the dividend-returning Toronto Hydro. All of these decisions are short on analytical thinking and borne out of impatience and impulsiveness.

While Naimoli was owner, the Devil Rays were the laughingstock of the league. They couldn’t do anything right and had historically bad seasons. That all changed when a couple of Wall Street investors recognized the mismanagement had an opportunity to grow. 

Prudent Investment and Creative Thinking

Their first aim was to win back the fans’ trust by treating them with respect and going the extra mile to show that. So they refurbished the stadium, had great promotions at the stadium and gave free parking to all fans who attended (note: please don’t do the latter for all citizens!) They also knew they had to seek new revenues for their small-market team, and began an innovative concert series after games that diversified their demographics.

Not only did the Rays improve their fan experience, they won. On their very limited payroll, the Rays improbably put together a winning team due to out-thinking their competition. Using innovative metrics and tactics such as re-thinking the value of draft picks, young pitchers or why the sacrifice bunt is a bad idea, they identified the best ways to grow and manage a team. The team has since made the playoffs in three of the past four years while playing in the toughest division.

Rob Ford's 25-Person Roster

It’s the Tampa Bay Rays success story that we were promised in the campaign (save the subway idea, which has always been bad) but instead we’re getting Vince Naimoli management. Toronto is really fortunate in that it has a lot more opportunities to grow than a small market baseball team, although it can use some of the same techniques. Tampa recognized that they had a limited payroll given their market size and worked within that. But they also realized that they had to seek opportunities to grow that market size and internal revenue in order to be sustainably competitive.

This realization and thinking- the recognition that investment and creativity done right produce real results- is what we need in this budget process and general city planning. Vince Naimoli failed because he couldn't adapt his experience and outlook to the needs of his franchise. He failed to look deeper into the situation where opportunities existed and went for the quick-fixes. The city of Toronto is far more important than a sports franchise or most any business, and we can't afford those practices.