Monday, 16 January 2012

Team Ford and Working with Others

Deer Park Pool was slated for closure in 2009, but not this time. Photo: The Star. 
While this budget is not quite the radical conservative budget as portrayed by Council's left (see Matt Elliott, Daniel Dale and Edward Keenan for that argument) it is still a failure of good governance. 

In many ways, the budget has been a learning opportunity not just for citizens and their relationship to city services but for how the Ford administration will operate for the balance of its tenure. Given how the city budget was cobbled together, it seems the preference will be for the administration to stick to its core group of supporters without delegating tasks to centrists and opponents. 

Ironically, this is the approach David Miller took in his second term that was roundly criticized by the likes of Rob Ford, Denzil Minnan-Wong and Doug Holyday. It also stands in contrast to Miller's first term and particularly the latter stages of Mel Lastman's mayoralty, when people like Jack Layton and Olivia Chow were given roles that valued and used their experience working on homelessness and youth services. This model harnesses the strengths of various councillors and their diverse backgrounds so they can contribute to solutions. It has the added effect of taking their energy away from criticizing the administration. 

But the 2012 budget doesn't achieve this. Take a look at school pools, for instance. There are three rookie councillors who worked closely on school pools as trustees with the TDSB (Crawford, Matlow and Pasternak) and five pools are scheduled to close (Frankland, Gordon A. Brown, Hillcrest, Runnymede, and SH Armstrong) for a savings of $683,000. The Mayor's supporters contend the responsibility of the pools should lie with the school board, but it is cash-strapped so the pools would close.  

It's an issue that means a lot to Matlow, who has said his work on it as a trustee was a big motivator for him to run for Council. He suggests getting back to the table with former Mayor David Crombie and Karen Petrie of the Aquatics Working Group to put together a long-term strategy for funding and accountability of the issue, "[In the past] no one has wanted to put their hand up," Matlow says about the province, city and school board playing hot potato in an interview. But efforts to bring them together have been successful in some cases, "[Crombie and Petrie] have been successful in dozens of cases in finding funds and working with community groups. I believe we can continue to find funding... Since when can the city just shirk any purview?"    

But this strategy of incorporating people who are raising their hands like Crombie and Petrie has not been pursued by the Mayor's office. One veteran councillor speaking on background stated that the efforts from the Mayor's office to incorporate newer councillors's ideas on issues such as pools have not been there at all, adding that it is shameful for the Mayor's office and frustrating for the councillors. 

Asked if the Mayor's office has sought his advice on the issue, Matlow said flatly that it hasn't. 

Meanwhile, the approach of the Mayor's office continues to balkanize council, even the most willing to work collaboratively to find solutions. It's an approach that, like the pools issue, leads to standoffs between stakeholders and a decreased ability to find sustainable answers for the problems the city faces.      

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