Friday 2 March 2012

Counting the votes: Gloria Lindsay Luby edition

When Gary Webster was fired last week I spoke to some councillors beforehand and afterwards for a piece on the day's events that I was hoping to sell to a publication. Between one thing and another that didn't happen, but I had a really interesting conversation with Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby. 

I'm reminded of that conversation because chatter on Twitter between Matt Elliott and John McGrath pointed to the March 21 vote on the Sheppard line potentially being close. As McGrath writes at OpenFile, Pasternak will support team Ford on this, but they'll need Lindsay Luby and others to flip too. 

Given how they voted to not excuse her from the special transit vote and the interview below, I say she's not in a sympathetic place when it comes to Team Ford:

How do you feel about this process [of hypothetically firing Gary Webster]?
I think it's disgusting. He's very competent. He's an engineer. I find him- and I've been through two previous managers- to be definitely the best. He listens, he's conciliatory, he wants to help and he's knowledgeable. 

I think they just want to hire someone who is going to kiss the mayor's ring. That's just not the way it works. 

Do you see this as payback for the council vote [to affirm the 2009 LRT MoA]?
I do not understand what goes through their minds, I really don't. I don't even want to try (she laughs). 

There seems to be a governance approach that, for the lack of a better term, has an element of spite to it. 
The vindictiveness is very clear. Whether it is to members of council or to staff. Do as I say. 

Do you feel that personally as well? 
Oh sure. Oh definitely. 

In what ways does that manifest itself? 
Many ways, actually. Whether it's specifically to vote against me on certain things, yeah, I do feel it. 

What advice would you give to the Ford administration to turn this around? 
Learn to work with council. 

So what are the best ways to reach out to council? 
Just because a mayor is elected on a platform doesn't mean all members of council have to follow that platform. We're all elected independently, so I'm going to be following what I think is the right thing not only for my constituents but for the city. We're not a bunch of bimbos that can be led by the nose. We're intelligent people and you have to deal with us intelligently. That's not what I'm seeing happen. 

You were a management consultant for a number of years. If you were doing a report on the management here at City Hall, what would it say? 
Well you have to look at two sides, the elected and staff side. I just can't put it into one word. There would be many, many recommendations. I find the hardest ones to deal with are on the elected side. That comes from an experience I had many years ago in a small municipality in New Brunswick where the elected members didn't get along with the mayor and the mayor basically didn't understand what he was doing. 

So, they had all sorts of issues and they called in the RCMP and it was a very complicated situation. The final analysis is we tried to get them to work together. But their election was coming up. And I said to members of council, if you want to run for mayor, just one of you do it, not all of you. Well you know what they did. None of them got elected. 

Don Cherry on pinkos

On Twitter last night, via Goldsbie, this video with Don Cherry on The Strombo Show was shared. In it, Cherry speaks about his inaugural address for mayor Rob Ford, what he means by 'pinkos' and blames G20 protesters for what happened in June 2010.

If it has any significance at all, Cherry provides an interesting amplification of a Fordian mindset.

Also, Cherry will be joining Twitter, so we might see more of this. 

How can you not trust this photo?

From David Rider/Toronto Star in this article:
Ford, Hudak and Mammoliti meet to discuss how they will not support any new taxes to fund their subway proposal. Nothing can go wrong here.  

Are taxes evil? Not so much.

Here I thought we were making so much progress. As the Ford brothers flail about trying to make their Sheppard subway proposal work, they inadvertently started an important conversation about taxation and revenue sources to invest in the city. When you have Norm Kelly talking about a sales tax and Rob Ford endorsing parking levies for the city, you've made legitimate progress in the conversation. 

Now, the Sheppard subway extension still won't happen for any number of reasons (funding, density and zoning among them) but at least we're going in the direction of talking about building infrastructure with the attached risk sacrifice applied to it. The Grid's Edward Keenan makes this explicit in this piece, where he shows what his family share of the various Sheppard subway plans would be: 
Put another way, the family capital cost for Ford's proposal is the equivalent of paying the VRT for 100 years. 
 This is the basis for a conversation about the value of a proposal and how much one is willing to contribute. To be fair, it's only the beginning of a conversation as it only looks at individual costs and not collective benefits, but it's a place to start thinking.

This, on the other hand, is not: 
 "We're against all taxes. All taxes are evil as far as I'm concerned." -Doug Ford on paying for the Sheppard extension
Whereas Keenan is willing to discuss the amount of taxation needed in real terms (and implicitly concludes it doesn't make much sense for him or his family) Ford rules out a conversation altogether. 

He uses loaded and emotional language to do so, calling taxes 'evil'. As Joe Mihevc said in this piece I did for The Grid, you can't begin to negotiate with something you think is evil. 

But there's a deeper thread here. Ford's sentiment speaks to a view of government that it can do nothing right and says that the social contract is only about individual freedoms and not collective responsibilities. 

We have shorthand sayings for these complex thoughts- Oliver Wendell Holmes's "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society" and Genesis' "I am my brother's keeper" come to mind. These sayings aren't fully fleshed out, but they capture the ethos that to belong to or to build something larger one must contribute to something larger than oneself. Without that underlying principle, there's no point in engaging with the likes of Edward Keenan or a conversation on civic discourse or policymaking in general. 

This is about more than just a subway or Doug's childish refusal to pay for something he wants (echoed by the Toronto Sun and real estate developers). The Doug Ford principle reduces citizens to islands where they struggle to defend themselves. 

And curiously, it's where the Ford administration finds itself politically. With an inability to make sacrifices and build bridges to collective interests, Team Ford is stuck playing in its own sandbox, kicking sand at those who pass by.

Friday 10 February 2012

The Real Waste at City Hall

Rob Ford and Karen Stintz, as drawn by Charles Schulz Neville Park.

Throughout the mayoral campaign and his first year in office, Rob Ford reminded anyone who would listened that it was all about waste. City Hall was filled with waste, he claimed, and he would be the one to look after it.

This language characterized his KPMG budget too. It was about finding 'efficiencies,' separating the nice-to-haves from the must-haves and making tough choices to move forward.

But the conversation was limited and the politics were small. The scope of Toronto's budget reform focused on how to cut services rather than the larger question of analyzing the structural relationships that give rise to the underlying issues. So while Ford had the public willingness to do a deep-dive in to how Toronto addresses its finances and the underlying issues, it was more Sue-Ann Levy than John Lorinc.

So it is with Toronto's transit plan. Ford was legitimately elected with a platform to re-visit Toronto's transit plan and specifically the poorly communicated Transit City plan. But instead of addressing the underlying flaws of Transit City- a lot of transfers and increased stress on the at-capacity Yonge-University-Spadina line- he decided to plow ahead with his completely unrealistic Sheppard line, accompanied by no funding and no transit experts who would support the idea.

And so The Mayor's office dithered on transit for a year, and Gordon Chong's much anticipated report was delayed multiple times before an optimistic version was released that still argued Sheppard was not feasible unless tolls, new parking charges or congestion taxes were introduced.

Of course, these suggestions were non-starters and Council's opposition fought to preserve the status quo, a vast improvement over the Mayor's crayola-planned underground.

It is rightly a triumph for Council's opposition; they effectively neutralized the uncompromising delusions of the Mayor to avoid a disastrous policy commitment.

But much like the other two big Mayoral defeats of the budget or the Port Lands, there's a bitter aftertaste to this victory. After all, it's all about preservation of existing policy, not progress. In this way, waste once again rears its ugly head, as the theme of this administration has become wasted opportunity.

In the aftermath of campaigning on criticism of the city's budget, planning and transit, Ford had the chance to lead a conversation of what Toronto has to do in order to achieve its goals. Of course, the populist and intellectually disinterested former Ward 2 councillor was never the man for that job.

Now it's up to Council to lead that conversation and assert its primacy beyond playing defense against a harmfully reactionary Mayor. Until then, in the glow of a historic victory, we have City Hall in the same place as the Mayor's disposition, stuck in arrested development.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Transit: How we got here and what to expect

So you may have heard that there's a special meeting of council this morning. Called by opponents to Mayor Ford's transit plan, the meeting will focus on just transit. 

At issue is the 2009 Memorandum of Agreement for the Transit City plan. The MoA expires on March 31 after which Council would have no transit deal in place (particularly since Ford's memorandum of understanding has no chance of passing). 

That this MoA has been resurrected is surprising by itself and deserves some context. Here's the timeline of how we got here:

  • Ford ally and Deputy Speaker John Parker calls the all-underground LRT plan 'goofy'. 
  • While Ford campaigned on subways (and no Eglinton line), TTC chair Karen Stintz comments to the Globe and Mail's Adrian Morrow that if the decision is to go with an LRT, it should be done at-grade where possible. 
  • At City Hall the next day, Stintz indicates she thought she had the support of Doug Ford (and thus the Mayor's office) on the item. The Mayor strongly opposes the Stintz plan. 
  • A group of councillors, including Stintz, Parker, Josh Matlow, Maria Augimeri and Joe Mihevc have meetings throughout the day to come up with some kind of compromise plan. 
  • The compromise plan comes out and includes a BRT on Finch (which could conceivably be turned into LRT later), a subway stop added to the Sheppard line and the Eglinton east crosstown surfacing for 8km. 
  • As the transit file becomes increasingly nebulous, Metrolinx issues a letter asking for a clear direction to move forward. 
  • At the regularly scheduled TTC meeting, Ford allies on the board, knowing they can't win at Council, vote 6-3 against a Stintz motion to finalize a framework for construction on the Eglinton project. In effect it is a vote of non-confidence in Stintz (Parker and Augimeri were the other two in the minority). 
  • As the Ford team gets beat up on the transit file, it doubles down on the rhetoric. In his weekly 'Cut the Waist' scrum, Ford fields questions on transit with the same answer, resulting in poetic and autotuned homages. 
  • The rhetoric continues. A push poll comes out later in the week suggesting people want subways, but its value is panned. Gordon Chong's long-awaited Sheppard report surfaces with more optimistic numbers than he ever suggested before. It also argues that any subway financing would be contingent on an alternate revenue source, like road tolls or congestion charges. The mayor's team also co-ordinates talking points, some of which are debunked here.  
  • On Superbowl Sunday news breaks that Council's opposition will call a special meeting to essentially revert to Transit City (but don't call it that). Stintz indicates that had her TTC commission vote went through she would not have done this. 
Further Information
Torontoist has a great summary of what this special meeting means, and you should totally read that. Additionall, Matt Elliott does his usual and rounds up the votes on the issue. Key people to watch will be James Pasternak, Jaye Robinson and John Parker. Robinson and Parker did not sign the petition for the special meeting but have had reservations about the Ford plan. 

What to Expect
Aside from rancorous debate and an out-of-control Frances Nunziata? Well, it's an omnibus motion so Team Ford will try to break it up to get councillors to vote against one another on prioritizing their areas. There will also be amendments to try to delay this to past the key March 31 date, or to send it back to the TTC commission, which coincidentally has a motion to reconstitute its membership (hrmmmmm). 

There were rumours going around City Hall yesterday about some kind of compromise package, but it's been shown that this isn't Ford's preferred route. 

In the meantime, follow council the same way as for the budget meeting (see tips here) and I'll be on Twitter. 

Monday 30 January 2012

Ford's Defensive Line

Rob Ford riding the rails
During the 2010 mayoral race, Rob Ford remarkably controlled the narrative for essentially the entire race as  the other contenders sniped at him from behind. Even when news broke about his arrest in Florida or offering to procure drugs for Dieter Doneit-Henderson he changed the story and controlled the story. 

The first year or so of his mayoralty was a continuation of this as Ford effectively used his aggressive style and the bully pulpit of the mayor to advance his agenda. However, this style only goes so far. Due to changing events, new information and a City Council that finally seems to respect itself in the wake of the budget, Ford is consistently on the defensive for the first time. Consider the weekend roundup of news:
  • Joe Mihevc solicited a legal opinion that Ford did not have the legal authority to unilaterally cancel Transit City. 
  • Adam Vaughan contends selling TCHC standalone housing units won't raise the cash for repairs. Of course, Team Ford didn't have the votes for this and so punted on it at last week's Executive Committee meeting. 
  • Even though he is waiting for Gordon Chong's report to comment (a telling sign), Denzil Minnan-Wong weighed in on Twitter, claiming Council never voted to approve Transit City. He was quickly pointed to this Steve Munro blog post
  • Also on Twitter, old Ford friend Nick Kouvalis tweets close to 50 times yesterday in defense of the Ford plan. Most of his defenses include some variation of claiming Karen Stintz has been duped by council's left or the Ontario Liberal Party. 
  • In addition to Ford's ongoing audit request, his bad lieutenant Giorgio Mammoliti joined him in that respect on Friday (in contrast to Ford, Mammoliti will not appeal). 
In response to consistently bad press, Team Ford has tried to respond with some pretty out-there reasoning. Mike del Grande mounted a defense of underground LRTs as not needing any drivers. Which is technically true, but never done in practice. 

Ford bizarrely argued that underground rail is cheaper in the long-term because it's not exposed to the weather. (This ignores the positive experience with the LRT system in Calgary and Minneapolis and the cost to build and maintain stations underground). Matt Elliott nicely debunks this and other transit myths in that note over at Ford for Toronto. 

In politics, when you're on the defensive you're losing- just ask super-historian Newt Gingrich. It's a look that doesn't suit anyone, but least of all Ford. This is a guy who thrives on the bully pulpit and controlling his surroundings, and sadly it's all he knows how to do.