Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Tip of the Hat to Mike Del Grande, John Parker and Peter Milczyn?

So I was going to make a post about Rob Ford taking questions on Jack Layton. The video is a revealing and sensitive portrait of Ford as he is genuinely saddened by the news and shares memories of the NDP leader who used to be his seatmate in Toronto City Council. But Cityslickr over at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke did a nice write up first and anything I put into it is just duplication of his fine effort. 

To add just a few small words, it's nice that we're able to transcend partisanship in the spirit of honouring an individual who was passionate about policies, people and connecting the two. 

Speaking of bypassing partisanship, there was a budget meeting on Tuesday notable for its contradiction of a June decision. Back in June, Ford surprisingly opposed a provincially-funded offer of two public nurses over a concern the money would not be there on an ongoing basis and that there were enough health workers already. Rather than attaching a motion stating that if funding was pulled so too would the nurse positions, Ford deferred it indefinitely at the Executive Committee.

He was opposed at committee by Council veterans and Ford allies Norm Kelly, Mike Del Grande, Denzil Minnan-Wong and Peter Milczyn. At the time Minnan-Wong said, "The province is paying for two nurses full-time. Why would you say no to additional public health nurses to help out? Why would you say no?” 

When the issue was brought to a council vote to re-open it (2/3rds majority needed), Kelly, Del Grande, Minnan-Wong and Milczyn fell in line and supported the Fords and the funding didn't go through. 

This sets up the context for Tuesday's budget meeting where there was a debate about whether to accept the province's offer of three public nurses dedicated to helping combat bedbug issues. Doug Ford asked some questions about the value of nurses ("shouldn't we just hire more exterminators, since they get rid of the bugs?") and worried that the Toronto Star would make the city look bad if the funding was cancelled and the nurses were released. But there was a pushback. John Parker, Mike Del Grande and Peter Milzczyn, among others, strongly pushed back and argued for the need for more health support in fighting bedbugs. A- wait for it- compromise was reached, with Doug Ford putting forward a motion stating that the nurse positions will be tied to ongoing provincial funding. The motion passed. As Doug quickly ducked out from press questions, Mike Del Grande spoke for a couple of minutes, saying that he was inundated with 3000 emails on the issue and adding:
I think if one is politically astute, when one is asking maybe for other things in the future, that you'd want to be on more friendly terms with the province
This quotation is as scathing an indictment of the administration's tactics as you'll find within the inner circle. The situation provides a few useful lessons too. 
An about face on nurses.

1. Ford allies are willing to admit mistakes. 
This is clearly a strong reversal from the Council vote in July and demonstrates that some individuals are willing to point the mayor in the right direction on these issues. While it may seem like a no-brainer, it's not always politically easy and should be commended when it happens. 

2. Ford allies can listen to public engagement.
Not always of course, but to receive 3000 emails on a relatively small (although illustrative) issue like the two nixed nurses is massive. Del Grande took that overwhelming support into account when he voted. So this gives room for optimism; engagement can make a difference. 

3. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. 
Ordinarily an issue like the public nurses would gain little public attention. (Granted, ordinarily there would be a 44-1 vote to approve them).This is a case where the access to information and attention paid to City Hall proved enormously successful in ensuring sensible policies are adopted. The crowd had left from the Jarvis Bike Lanes Debate when this was originally debated in Council but thanks to the follow-up from various journalists and bloggers (the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale did a great job on this one) the issue rightly didn't fade away. 

So kudos to Ford allies for standing up for what was right and hopefully with diligent attention paid to them this can be often enough to not be exceptional.  

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