Saturday, 31 December 2011

A City Council Year in Review

It's the last day of a very eventful year in Toronto politics, and I would be remiss if I didn't take this chance to collect some of the stories and moments that caught our Twitter-addled attention. In particular, there's a number of stories and moments that make you sit back and think, 'Wow, that did happen. How could I forget?' 

The answer: easily. The non-stop rush of stories, quotes and proposals was like a permanent diet of sugar with lots of highs and lows but little substance. So yeah, you can forget things in that state, just like I'm sure I missed lots of great moments in my summary (leave comments to fill in the gaps). 

But I would like to thank everyone who checked in at this website in 2011, gave it a chance and added their support. I hope to work on it more in 2012 than I did in 2011 and that you'll continue to read.  

Top words of 2011:

  • windrow 
  • depute
  • uncompetent
  • cuts efficiencies
  • liberry

Celebrity cameos: 

  • Margaret Atwood 
  • Woody Harrelson
  • Marg Delahunty
  • Yelly Granny

Headscratching moments from Giorgio Mammoliti:

  • Proposes to turn island into red light district 
  • Videotapes Dyke March
  • Rails against alleged opium dens
  • Creates pro-Ford Facebook page and pledges to weed out 'communists' 
  • Claims Janet Davis bullies him 

Best memes:

  • Rob Ford Metro Bowl kickoff 
  • #matlowmurdermystery 
  • Ford Math

Fake numbers of the year:

  • 774 million 
  • 35% property tax increase
  •  4.6% police budget reduction

Quotes of the Year:

"It's pretty hard to hide 300 pounds of fun." -Rob Ford responds to questions on transparency and accountability. 

"[The questionnaire is] not statistically valid" -Denzil Minnan-Wong on the city-crafted KPMG citizen survey, which didn't produce his desired results. 

"It's not backroom planning, it's called backroom vision" -Doug Ford on his surprising Port Lands proposal

"One thing we realized when we got to City Hall was that the bureaucrats...are working hard: 12, 15, 16 hours a day. Joe Pennachetti is working hard. So there's not a lot of 'gravy' at City Hall, per se." -Nick Kouvalis on waste

"We're going to be outsourcing everything that's not nailed down." -Doug Ford

"That really happened?" Moments:

  • Karen Stintz argues that the Jarvis bike lanes prevent a constituent from getting home in time to feed her family
  • Doug Ford talks about Tim Horton's, Margaret Atwood and libraries
  • Doug Ford is super charming at Budget Committee
  • Denzil Minnan-Wong rides a bike 
  • Doug Holyday proposes road tolls
  • Frances Nunziata reads the Pride Proclamation
  • Doug Ford writes a $1000 cheque 
  • A flying shark in council

Council's best votes:

Neglected issues:

A potential 2014 Ford sign, graciously designed by Matt Fucking Elliott
  • The report on citizen committees which was supposed to be delivered in July (still undelivered)
  • The terrible Astral 'info pillars,' given a pass until it was too late
  • The potential sale of TO Hydro- a huge financial decision which receives limited attention because it's complicated and there are limited numbers for public consumption
  • The various civic and board appointments made, which were largely political and lacked diversity. 
Disappointing Votes:
  • Gloria Lindsay Luby votes against looking into studying waste outsourcing west of Yonge St. further, arguing that it won't change anyone's mind. A couple of weeks later we learn that Green for Life, which won the contract, bought out Turtle Island, which services Luby's Etobicoke. From this, Etobicoke's garbage collection is now unionized and Luby was upset. 
  • Josh Colle had promised to support keeping the Jarvis bike lanes in e-mails to constituents. But when the Mayor placed a hold on a Lawrence Heights Development Project vote, Colle got the message and changed his mind. 
  • Jaye Robinson, arguably the most important swing vote, purposefully sits out a key vote on civic appointments at the side of the chamber. The vote is a tie, giving the Mayor a key victory that day. 
Neville Park tells Twitter to channel its anger

Best articles:
  • Ivor Tossell goes on an extended riff on Fordian uncompetence in the Toronto Standard, and it's pure gold. 
  • Trish Hennessy does important and startling research on Rob Ford voters in this post on her blog Framed in Canada.
  • The morning after the most exciting day in 2011 Toronto politics, Edward Keenan manages to keep his eyes open to write about the deputation slumber party and the smell of democracy in the morning. His Ford fact checks were also must-reads. 
  • Cityslikr is at his passionately indignant best in this post on how all you need are 23 councillors.
  • You could choose any number of articles from Matt Elliott's Ford For Toronto, but let's go with this one on the false budget choices the Mayor proposes. 
  • Other excellent writing in 2011 came from Openfile's John McGrath, Torontoist's Hamutal Dotan, the Globe's John Lorinc, and the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale. In fact, one of the great things to come out of 2011 from Toronto politics was the great writing that appeared (I'm neglecting a bunch), a lot of which appeared online.  
Issues for 2012:
  • Budget
  • Collective Bargaining / Lockout
  • Ford's Transit Proposal
  • A proposal to cancel the five cent bag fee 
  • 25% reduction in Land Transfer Tax
  • A prolonged discussion on whether Ford will go to Pride and lots of guessing even though no one will really know anything, including Ford's inner circle. 
  • Port Lands follow up in June
  • TO Hydro sale in January
  • Whether any Ford allies will defect 

This unicorn chaser from Neville Park summarizes the Sheppard plan

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Save Transit City: The Website

Between reducing service while increasing fares, assuming at least a $65 million charge for canceling Transit City while dismissing the number as 'fictitious', making the TTC an essential service at what might cost another $25 million a year and canceling the Finch LRT to plan a fanciful unicorn subway line along Sheppard, transit is screwed up in Toronto. 

It's something that Matt Elliott writes about in detail over at his blog today, and is a sentiment that has had an increased crescendo in recent weeks as more news comes out on the transit file. 

Following up on this is Joe Drew, a Firefox developer who put together the website I sent Drew some questions by e-mail to further explain his website and where the conversation on transit needs to go:

Why is needed, and why now?
Transit City—and LRT in general—is the lowest-cost way of extending real rapid transit to the parts of Toronto that aren't served by the subway or the Scarborough RT. It's clear that Mayor Ford currently doesn't have any interest in reconsidering his cancellation of Transit City, but if there's one thing we can count on, it's that Mr. Ford listens to his constituents. 

We have to spread the word that the province had already paid for three full lines of rapid transit. The people who are left out of Mayor Ford's new plan—like those watching full buses pass them by on Finch West—are the people we need writing to (and calling) Mr. Ford. Spending three transit lines' worth of money on burying a single transit line makes no financial sense. 

And why now? I think the political and populous will is there now. $65 million, the price Mayor Ford imposed on Toronto by cancelling work already under way, is an awfully good motivator. I wish I'd started months ago, but I'm glad I started it now, because I think we can get real change now.

You announced your soft launch last night. What kind of response have you received?People are excited and very supportive. There are a lot of people who wanted to participate in the sort of action that I'm organizing. It takes a first mover to get something started, but once people start seeing flyers and posters around the city, I expect it to snowball.

There's been a lot of great feedback, too, and I'm going to implement most of that before going wider with my campaign. 

Why do you think Transit City failed to gain traction originally and how does this site fill that gap?
Transit City actually did have traction. The province had fully funded the construction of three lines, and in fact City Council voted in favour of Transit City three times, including (then-Councillor) Rob Ford.

I believe the current opposition stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of Transit City as being "just streetcars" and somehow related to the St. Clair West reconstruction project. I hope that Save Transit City clears up both of these misunderstandings as it develops. 

For the average person who won't see transit websites, how can they get connected with this information? 
This is one of the most important parts of Save Transit City. I'm creating (and helping and encouraging others to create) posters and flyers to be distributed around the city. They'll inform and engage; I 
want people waiting in the cold to know that there was going to be a better way before Transit City was cancelled. 

I want those who think Mayor Ford only helps the city's budget to know that he wasted $65 
million without even bringing it to council for a vote.

These posters and flyers, and the awareness they bring, will get the citizens of Toronto to contact their Councillor and Mayor Ford demanding that Transit City be reinstated.

Is the original transit city plan politically viable? Is a compromise plan needed? 
Today's City Council is not fundamentally different from the City Council who voted in favour of Transit City. We have to tell our Councillors that we want solutions soon. 

Everyone wants a subway near 
their home, but it will take billions more dollars and many decades to build subways everywhere, and the first phase of Transit City would have been completed before 2020. (Sheppard East would have opened in 2014!) Subways also require a significantly denser population to justify their increased cost, and outside of Toronto's core, that population density just isn't there.

Rapid transit doesn't just mean subways, and LRT provides great rapid transit at a fraction of the cost of subways. Transit City is the right plan for Toronto, and it's time for Torontonians to start demanding our 
representatives put Transit City back on track.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Library Board Meeting, December 12, 2011: Storify

The Port Lands consultation wasn't the only major city event happening at the Reference Library tonight as the Library Board discussed cutting 19,400 library hours, 300,000 items from collections, bookmobiles and literacy programs. 

Like the Port Lands meeting, I was unable to attend this due to illness but put together a Storify to track the meeting for posterity's sake. Pay special attention to Stephen Dulmage, who has emerged as one of the most hilarious secondary characters in the City Hall circus. 

Special credit goes to Patrick White (@nut_graf), David Nickle (@davidnickle) and Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler (@adamcf) for their diligent reporting. 

Port Lands Consultation: Storify

Remember way back when, three months ago, when the city was caught up in its absurdist Port Lands drama? Yeah, crazy times. 

Part of the consensus agreement was to hold public consultations on the plan for the Port Lands, with special attention to 'accelerating' it. This will result in a report in June, and tonight was the first meeting. 

What continues to amaze is the depth of public understanding and enthusiasm for this issue. I'll let the Storify below tell the rest (may take 15 seconds to load):

Quick thoughts on deputations and attacks

Over at the Posted Panel, Goldsbie and Chris Selley discuss the nature of deputations and at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke Lucas Costello guest posts on how to make an effective deputation within the narrow constraints provided. I thought I'd pile on because I feel the deputation process is a telling site to understand the current administration and the engaged public's (mostly Ford critics) relationship to it. 

 During the budget committee meeting last week Doug Ford commented that this administration has 'conducted more public consultation than any administration in history.' Which may well be true for Toronto, but is a very different thing from listening to what the deputants have to say. 

 We know what to expect from these deputations now. Some are passionate and heartfelt, others informed and nuanced and there are some that are neither here nor there. Instead of the deputations being a place to understand where people are coming from, what their priorities are and how to make better policy decisions, it's about politicking. 

 But for Team Ford the politicking isn't just between them and the likes of Gord Perks, Shelley Carroll and Janet Davis. Instead this is extended to the general public that feels compelled to show up to share their views. 

This was on full display on Thursday morning, when Team Ford sent in Frances Nunziata and Giorgio Mammoliti to aggressively question and undermine the deputants. This tactic was borne out of a sense that the Mayor's team lost the message of the day before (they did) and would assertively take it back. It was a very Parliamentary dialogue in its worst sense, filled with ardent and weak attacks. 

Nunziata asked whether deputants would be willing to voluntarily pay more taxes on an individual basis, thus betraying her lack of understanding for what taxes really are. Mammoliti asked where deputants were from so as to dismiss their opinions if they happen to live downtown. Doug Ford offered commentary that essentially none of the deputants offered solutions, although what he really meant was that few offered solutions he personally agrees with. 

 This approach is a real shame too. The deputation process is in principle an excellent idea, but the fact that the administration sees the people who use it as part of the official opposition (and thus fair game for attack) is another sign of the cyncicism and means-to-an-end approach that underlies Team Ford. 

 On the other hand, the fact that 350 people sign up multiple times in spite of the fact they know they won't be listened to (in fact, actively undermined) speaks to the public valuing the deputation process much more than some politicians do, and it's heartening that there's that energy to protect it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

#topoliday in pictures

So a bunch of people came out yesterday for #topoliday, the city council gift exchange (see details in this post). Thanks to everyone who came out and all the thoughtful gifts people put time into. Here's an overview in pictures:
(@neville_park's photo) Some of the presents under the traditional #topoliday poinsetta. Exciting!

Mark and Erin, participating as a couple,  received Local Motion from @elcostello. It's a nice coincidence, because I think Mark has had his eye on the book for a while. Other books received for the book learnin' crowd included Animal Farm (trough feeders!), Crap at my Parents' House (waste!) and Napier's Bones (with math!) 
There was also lots of great creativity. @chaicube provided this framed sketch of his worship, complete with fridge magnet and business card for those pesky emergencies. 
Apparently #topolidayers recognize the need to wean off teatsucking, and thus provided each other with drinking implements. The one above (or one like it) was a nice 'stay the course' reference, while a slick looking CBC rainbow mug and thermos were also given. You know what goes along well with those mugs? Tim Horton's shirts, which were also gifted.
#topoliday was open invitation, so anyone could participate. Shelley Carroll joined us and baked these cookies for a lucky recipient. 
Don't know who Shelley Carroll is? Then you might find my humble contribution educational. If you liked the childhood game Guess Who and you like city council, then it's for you. (It will be available for play during today's deputations in Committee Room 2).

@elcostello looks slightly bewildered at receiving a children's board game. Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist 
Like the deputations for the day, the #topoliday gift exchange skewed to the left. So @neville_park thoughtfully gave this handmade "Lefty Pinko Toolkit", complete with union wages grabbed from taxpayers and a handcrafted Toronto Star notebook. Also, she has very nice writing. Photo by Goldsbie

Included in the Pinko Toolkit were those socialist Spacing buttons. They were a popular gift, with three different people receiving some, including Shelley Carroll who says her husband has been wanting them for a while. In other news, I hear Matt Blackett will  buy a hummer tomorrow. 
Of course, all of this #topoliday nonsense was made possible through Twitter, so it makes sense to have a Twitter-related gift.  @pcalith gave @lindsaysjunk winter gloves (different than shown) with conductive thread sewn into them. The special thread means that gloves will not have to be taken off when checking Twitter out in the cold. First world problem: solved. 
Also given: Toronto themed prints, candy and one or two things I'm forgetting.

In sum, people can be thoughtful, generous and awesome. Having those same people watching City Hall is pretty heartening, as they are qualities that make it a better place for everyone. 

Thanks to all who participated: @ivanvector, @madhattressto, @lindsaysjunk, @elcostello, @paisleyrae, @pcalith, @lifeonqueen, @electricland, @chaicube, @ddemchuk, @shelleycarroll, @davisvillehabit, @eldolmago, @shelleycarroll, @simonm223, @cityslikr, @leahbobet, @b_eaton and a special thanks to @neville_park, whose enthusiasm helped make this happen. If I'm forgetting anyone, my apologies. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Budget Question and Answer Segment

So since this budget has been launched some people I run into have been asking me some general questions about it. It's easy to get details confused by hearing snippets in the news here and there, so if you need to catch up this question and answer segment with an imaginary Ford supporter is for you. 

So I heard about this budget and it doesn’t sound that bad. After all, with a few cuts the $774 million deficit is taken care of. That’s good right?
The $774 was never the real number, it was the opening budgetary pressure. As this Wellesely Institute chart shows, this opening pressure is similar to the number for each of the past five years. The difference is that the previous administration chose not to publicize the opening number because they didn’t want to alarm the public. This administration chose a different approach for strategic purposes.
From the Budget Committee via the Wellesley Institute Countdown to Zero Report

Well the Miller years used lots of scare tactics too, like threatening to mothball the Sheppard subway line.
OK, this ‘but Miller did it’ argument is pretty intellectually shallow. Weren’t those the tactics Ford decried in the campaign? Miller was wrong to use those tactics and so is Ford.  

But the point is, the Ford proposal balances the budget. We can all be proud of that.
I suppose. That’s a pretty low standard though; the city is legally required to balance its operating budget each year and has always done so.

OK, point taken. But the Mayor said he found $355 million in savings and efficiencies. That’s impressive.
It might be if it was true. The Mayor gets that number by adding up all his service cuts, layoffs, unfilled vacancies and projected budget adjustments. It’s the latter that is crucial. The ‘savings and efficiencies’- service cuts, really- total $88 million and the balance ($267 million) are adjustments to previous budget estimates.

That is, they aren’t real savings at all. They are either more accurate (downward) budget projections or service cuts.   

That sounds a bit different. But Ford inherited an awful mess and clearly he’s doing the best anyone can expect.
Rob Ford inherited a $346 million surplus from David Miller. As Edward Keenan explains nicely in this piece, Ford used the surplus last year to pass tax break goodies. He cancelled the $60 vehicle registration tax that generates $60 million, and froze property taxes and TTC fares. Since the latter two need to rise with inflation to have the same value, these were decreases in real terms. If those items rose with inflation and the VRT was kept, they would have generated $300 million over two budgets.

Not only that, but Ford is balancing this year’s budget with an extra $83 million leftover from last year’s surplus. What it adds up to is a healthy financial cushion that Miller had built up and Ford took advantage of in a one-time binge last year without planning for this year.

Put another way, Matt Elliott has a chart on the subject. Everyone likes pictures. 

Well at least Ford is making those necessary cuts that Miller was afraid to do. That takes courage and conviction.
Also keep in mind that thing about ‘no service cuts...guaranteed.’ To break that promise requires- how shall we say- moral flexibility. But further to the point, these cuts are not necessary. After inflation-level increases on property taxes and TTC fares the budget generates a $139 million surplus while the total cuts are $88 million. So Ford could keep his zero service cuts promise (aside from the Urban Affairs library) and still have a surplus to put in reserves.

OK, but Ford also promised to avoid touching those one time unsustainable surpluses to fund the city’s business, and that’s what he’s saying here.
It’s curious how he uses that argument to justify the service cuts he wants but neglected it when funding his tax cuts, isn’t it?

Oh, and in that same budget last year, Speaker Frances Nunziata was instructed by the Ford Team to forbid any mention of planning for this budget. So all of this ‘planning and prudence’ rhetoric is a bit rich.

Point taken. But the cuts aren’t all that bad. I mean earlier we were talking about closing libraries or bus routes full time and shutting down tons of wading pools, but it’s only a handful.
Ah yes, the ‘well this could have been worse’ argument, ably analyzed by Cityslikr over at his blog. First of all, I guess how bad the cuts are depends on who you are. If you’re a minimum wage worker who relies on the already crowded Dufferin and Finch buses you’ll be paying more for what will somehow be worse in time and crowding. That 'well this could have been worse' argument probably doesn't feel that great. Or if you live near one of those libraries that have 12 hours cut a week, that might be some quality time reading to your son or daughter that you lose. And while no libraries will be shut down like last year, 20,000 hours will be cut which is the equivalent to the 9 smallest libraries closing full-time. Not only that but there will be 150 fewer staff members compared to last year, a number that the chief librarian has referred to as unsafe for current programming levels. Or there’s the wheel trans service if you have dialysis, the wading and swimming pools, the nutrition programs that serve 14,049 kids, the drug prevention programs...

I get it, I get it. And my heart bleeds for all these cuts, it really does, but shouldn’t a lot of those be the province’s responsibility? I mean, we’re just doing what’s right for Toronto.
Yeah, that’s a fair argument to make. Things like certain pools should be covered by the school board and social programs like shelters for the homeless should be funded by the province. That’s a debate worth having. For now, I’d feel more comfortable maintaining those programs while negotiating with the province. Our primary responsibility is to our citizens, not our budget.

I wouldn’t quite phrase it that way, but agree to disagree. But one thing that really gets me going is this property tax hike. And the TTC too. This is awful, and I can’t believe Ford broke his promise.
Not quite- Ford never promised no tax increases. As Dylan Reid explained a couple years ago in a must-read Spacing article, property taxes are only an increase in real terms when they go above the rate of inflation. And 2.5% is a reasonable estimate for the rate (in fact last year was an unusually high 2.9%). As for the TTC fare increase, between labour, fuel and infrastructure maintenance, the TTC’s budget increases above the rate of inflation each year and this really can’t be controlled. A 10 cent fare increase just maintains the inflation rate and if we wanted flat fares we would have to triple the proposed TTC cuts. It’s unfortunate that service has to be cut while enacting a fare increase, and that’s something that I strongly disagree with. Based on this Grid interview with the TTC’s Chris Upfold, I’m guessing some TTC brass do too. 

Well I support the Ford layoffs. I mean, that’s something that’s long overdue. We have more employees than at amalgamation and a lot of them are deadwood. Good riddance.
Any large bureaucracy- including the private sector- has de-motivated or underused employees that could move on. But make no mistake, these layoffs will have an impact on service. In particular, the Fire department is already running behind expected times by two minutes, street cleaning will be impacted although that was a campaign priority of Ford and parks will see a dramatic reduction. For more, read Matt Elliott’s post debunking the idea that the city has an out-of-control employee count across the board. 

Well according to Ford’s presentation 54% of the growth since amalgamation belongs to Police, EMS and Fire. So there’s redundancies there.
It’s a lot harder than it seems. The fire department has dangerously low levels, with fewer employed than at amalgamation. EMS has increased their headcount by 150 the past 13 years but their response times are poor. The overwhelming amount of this growth has come from the police department (the budget has almost doubled in this time period), which Ford proved unable to cut this year. It’s with good reason too; the province mandates a certain level of police officers and provides money for each position. With 85% of the budget tied up in labour costs, it’s impossible to make a dent in the budget without impacting the front lines. When Bill Blair said he would have to fire 1,000 officers (just under 20% of the force) to meet Ford’s arbitrary 10% target, he wasn’t kidding.   

OK, but at least Ford is doing what he can. He leads by example, cutting his own office budget and all those silly little perks councillors get.
That’s true, he has cut his office budget. But when we get down to this level, it’s really just symbolism. It’s nice to take a close and critical eye at each budget line but with an operating budget close to $10 billion cutting snacks for councillors is pretty meaningless.

OK wiseguy, what bright ideas do you have?
Well Jack Diamond of Diamond + Schmitt Architects has a nice column in the Globe arguing for re-zoning parking lots to encourage better planning and improving economic development. It’s something that would give more developers more flexibility, make land more valuable and discourage car dependence (which also means decreasing congestion).

Toronto has a much lower rate for development charges than other areas $9,000 compared to $29,000 in Oakville, for instance. This is due to how the provincial formula is calculated which I’m going to investigate in a future piece, mainly because I don't get it. But it sounds like there’s room to change it there.

Also, that deluxe leaf pickup and windrow clearing sounds suspiciously like gravy.

But mainly, we need to look at alternative revenue sources in conjunction with the province, ensure they upload the services they promised to and push hard on 50/50 subsidies for TTC operations like we used to have.

OK, so let me get this straight. Rob Ford inherited a massive surplus last year, spent it all on tax cuts while not allowing people to talk about next year, has another smaller surplus this year that would still cover all services but insists on not touching it this time while having service cuts or eliminating entire programs for the TTC, libraries, the arts, programs for children, youth, seniors, the homeless, people with AIDS and HIV, 2300 fewer city workers, less street cleaning and snow clearing and dramatically decreased budgets to all city departments except the police and planning?
Um, yeah.

Where can I learn more about the budget and how can I participate?
The city website is a great place to start. This has all of the documents you need to go through.  In particular, make your way through the analyst notes on the 2012 operating budget.  If you want to compare to previous years, just change the year in the address bar.

Also, go to the budget meetings on Wednesday and Thursday at City Hall. There should be lots of people there from 9:30 AM- 9:30 PM both days. Sign up here by Tuesday at 4:00 to make a deputation by e-mailing the address in the top right. If you do so, direct your remarks towards Chin Lee, Michelle Berardinetti, Frank Di Giorgio and John Parker. These are the more moderate councillors who are relatively open-minded.

Also, follow the #topoli hashtag on Twitter, Matt Elliott’s blog Ford For Toronto, Cityslikr’s All Fired Up in the Big Smoke blog, the Openfile, Torontoist and Spacing coverage and the reporters from the four dailies. There’s some other great blogs and columns out there, but I can’t list everything.

Also, e-mail or call your councillor- you can find out who they are here. Ask them questions, develop a more informed opinion, offer suggestions. (You can check out how they vote by looking at Matt Elliott's awesome scorecard here.)  In particular, speak with councillors' Executive Assistants. They can offer really good suggestions for what you can do and any one of them worth their salt should get back within 24 hours. If you want to speak on specific issues within the budget, they can point you in the right direction. 

For particular issues, some councillors are more helpful than others. A quick rundown:

General budget questions: Shelley Carroll and Gord Perks probably have the best understanding of the budget's intricacies on Council. Both answer Twitter questions regularly (@shelleycarroll and @gordperks) and are approachable and accessible at City Hall. 

Arts: Recently swing vote Gloria Lindsay Luby introduced a 20,000 strong arts petition at council and Jaye Robinson (@jayerobinson), another crucial swing vote, is also a supporter. Most any defense of arts programs for council votes needs them behind it. 

Wading Pools and Pools: Swing votes Josh Matlow (@joshmatlow) and James Pasternak (@jamespasternak) were both vocal in support of funding for TDSB pools as trustees, Matlow saying that confronting the issue motivated him to run for council. 

Children's Nutrition Programs, other programs for children: Janet Davis (@janet_davis) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (@kristynwongtam) are both on top of these issues, Davis in particular. Josh Matlow and Michelle Berardinetti (@councillorMB) are the point people defending the Toronto Youth Cabinet. 

Libraries: Libraries will probably have a lot of changes in their reductions between now and the final budget. For now, library board member Jaye Robinson will play a key role. She's a defender of libraries and also a supporter of increased corporate sponsorship. 

TTC: This impacts pretty much everyone, so it makes sense to focus on your region. If you live in North York, tell swing vote James Pasternak how you feel about the Finch bus whereas if you live in midtown contact swing vote Josh Colle to discuss the Eglinton service. If you need background, get in touch with opposition Councillor Joe Mihevc, who I'm sure would be happy to share his thoughts on the TTC and who to speak to. 

Layoffs: Ask your local councillor how this will impact services in the area and what strategies are being used to maintain service. 

With that, I hope you understand the budget slightly better.  

More questions? Criticisms? Leave a comment. 

Friday, 2 December 2011

The #topoliday gift exchange

For all those fears that Rob Ford would be bad for Toronto's culture, he has certainly strengthened City Hall's culture and engagement. As Goldsbie tweeted recently, as recently as a year ago or so it would be just him and one other person watching Council. 

But now it's not, as anyone following the #topoli hashtag on Twitter can see. While this online exchange is nice, so too is an in-person one. And so I am putting the idea out there to have a #topoliday gift exchange at 6:30 the evening of December 7 when the budget committee will be hearing deputations. 

Essentially, bring a gift and get a gift and meet all of your favourite #topoli watchers in one place. Budget time is a stressful time of year, so kick back and be merry, if only for a little while. 

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you bring a gift you'll get a gift. There will be no assignments in advance, just putting all the gifts in a pile and people can choose the one they want one by one. 
  • Anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate, such as Twitter commentators, media, coucillors/staffers and assorted characters. This includes Sattva, Sue-Ann Levy, Giorgio and City Raccoon. 
  • All gifts must have their total cost under $15. An arbitrary number? Yes. But hey, it's the budget meeting. 
  • #topoli themed gifts are encouraged. If you would like to give a tin of cookies decorated like Denzil Minnan-Wong, then go for it. 
  • UPDATE: We'll meet in committee room 2. Be there.  
  • The more people you recruit for this the better. That friend of yours who thinks politics can't be fun and interesting? Yeah, bring him or her. 
See you on December 7.