Friday, 15 July 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Crumb

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

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

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

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

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