Apr 11

“Vaughan amendment” wreaks havoc on city boards and agencies

Motion to Reconsider Item 2011.EX4.7
The recorded votes on Gloria Lindsay Luby’s motion to reconsider Adam Vaughan’s amendment. 29 votes were needed to re-open the item.

By most accounts — including mine –, council’s left-wing opposition won a major victory last week when they successfully passed an amendment to an Executive Committee motion that would have eliminated some council positions on several of the city’s boards and agencies. The amendment, moved by Adam Vaughan, called for a minimum membership of 11 on all such boards, including three members of council and one designate of the mayor. This passed 24-19, despite a Mammoliti thumbs down.

The victory was marked by a clerical error, as it was realized it applied far too broadly — to neighbourhood BIAs and arena boards other such things. Gloria Lindsay Luby moved that Council reconsider the amendment to fix the area, but Mammoliti again whipped the vote and her motion failed. (See above.)

And so today we have an unfortunate briefing note from staff relating to the matter, that attempts to make sense of the logistics of filling an incredible 319 newly-created positions on 107 of the city’s boards. Of these, 103 of the positions are to be filled by the mayor or his designates, 169 are to be councillors nominated by the striking committee and approved by council, and 47 are trapped in a mysterious void. No one is sure who is supposed to fill these positions, or how they should be appointed.

For his part, Mammoliti has been spinning this as a good thing. He told InsideToronto’s David Nickle that he is “certainly looking forward to sitting on the Dundas Square BIA,” which is not a thing that actually exists. There’s also something about ‘gravy googles’:

“I’m certainly looking forward to sitting on the Dundas Square BIA,” said Mammoliti. “So in an attempt by Vaughan to detract from the mayor’s agenda, I think he’s increased the value of the agenda.”

Mammoliti said “The gravy goggles will come on and we’ll wear them in the appointments we get on these other agencies, boards and commissions.”

via InsideToronto Article: Debate focuses on size of boards, councillor commitments.

I assume the gravy googles he refers to would be worn to identify and then eliminate gravy. They would probably not be goggles made of literal gravy. (Viscosity would be a problem, and also the optics.)

It’s challenging to determine reasons why councillors would vote against Luby’s motion to re-open the item and fix the mistake, aside from vindictiveness and spite. Appointing more than 300 new board members across the city certainly doesn’t fit with the mayor’s “small government” mandate.

Apr 11

Team Ford loses vote, takes ball home

Confusion marked the end of today’s city council meeting, coming after a morning where everybody was best friends and also a little bit Jamaican. The drama began when the Executive Committee motion that would change the make-up of the city’s boards and agencies was amended by left-wing councillors. Surprisingly, these amendments were passed by council despite the Fords and Mammoliti attempting to whip the vote.

The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White:

Mr. Vaughan’s amendment, which passed 24-19, sets minimum sizes for all municipal boards, commissions and corporations at 11 members, including at least three city councillors. It spoiled a motion spearheaded by the executive committee, a group heavily stacked with Ford loyalists, that would have shrunk the boards of several cultural organizations down to nine and trimmed the number of councillors on the city’s library board to one from three.

A hush of disbelief fell over council chambers after the vote as Mr. Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, huddled over a screen displaying the names of council members who sided against them.

via A victory for left-leaning bloc of Toronto council – The Globe and Mail.

White also quotes Vaughan after-the-fact: “That was our best day yet.”

Unfortunately, Vaughan’s amendment had an unintended consequence, in that it applied too broadly. Under the wording, even BIAs and arena boards would require representation from three city councillors.

After losing the vote, Team Ford got vindictive and refused to allow the item to be re-opened so that it could be amended to fix the error. A two-thirds majority was required to bring the item before council again — the vote was lost 26-17, as reported by Jonathan Goldsbie. Which would seem to indicate that there are roughly 17 hardcore ready-whip votes available.

Giorgio Mammoliti then embarrassed himself in interviews, pulling the ‘I meant to do that’ card and claiming that this will, I guess, serve as a lesson to left-wing councillors not to mess with the executive committee’s agenda items:

“In an attempt by Vaughan to detract from the mayor’s agenda, I think he’s increased the value of the agenda,” Mr. Mammoliti said. “I think next time they stand up and try to move a motion, just for the sake of moving a motion, they are going to think twice because this has really backfired on them.”

Yeah, that makes sense.

Apr 11

Replacing the gravy train with a crazy train

Earlier this week, in response to news that board-of-one Case Ootes would approve the sale of 22 TCHC properties, the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat quoted Mike Layton. “What’s the rush now?” asked the rookie councillor.

It’s a question you could ask about a lot of news coming out of City Hall. If there’s a single unifying characteristic for the first four months of Rob Ford’s administration, rushing would be it. If you buy the mayor’s claim that the previous council was some kind of “gravy train,” this council is a train of another sort, rumbling forward at a million miles per hour, taking no care on the curves. This train moves forward even at the expense of planning, consultation or process.

The mayor rushed through the budget process, and attempted to make cuts to TTC bus routes without public consultation. Every effort has been made to avoid debate on transit planning issues, though that may change next week. We were told it was imperative that every member of the TCHC board be immediately removed, even recently-appointed councillors and elected tenant representatives.

For a recent example, take the Sheppard Subway plan. This week we learned that former councillor Gordon Chong was hired as President of CEO of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd, the agency revived a month ago to oversee the early stages of the project. As John Lorinc with the Globe points out today, Chong was essentially “sole-sourced” into the position, bypassing the TTC’s normal process for recruiting senior executive positions.

Chong will be paid the equivalent of a $100,000 per year salary. Lorinc points out that he is “the third high-profile member of Mr. Ford’s transition team to find paid positions in the mayor’s administration.”

This kind of behaviour — rewarding supporters with well-paying positions; avoiding due process –, while it doesn’t appear to break any rules, seems surprising, given the mayor’s history. Ford once publicly accused Adam Vaughan of having a serious conflict of interest because a person who donated $250 to Vaughan’s campaign ended up appointed to a city committee. (Ford was later forced to apologize, then there was a party.)

Giving the mayor his deserved credit, I do believe that any characterization of Ford as even a little bit corrupt is nonsense. I think what drives the mayor is a casual ineptitude when it comes to rules and process, coupled with a general lack of patience.  You can see echoes of this in the stories (also by Lorinc) about irregularities in Ford’s campaign expenses. I doubt very much that the Fords attempted to game the system — it seems more likely that they simply barrelled forward, unencumbered by complicated campaign finance rules, taking the easiest path towards getting things done. Rush rush rush.

There’s an upside to the rushing. People often complain about the general lethargy of government. How nothing changes and nothing gets done. This administration certainly takes a different approach, and up until now it’s been largely effective in the broad-strokes. But a train moving this fast, and with so little regard for the rules of operation, runs the real risk of going off the rails.

Mar 11

Ford: Pretty quiet for a cycling advocate

A Smitherman Campaign Ad painting Ford as an opponent of cycling

A ‘postcard’ from the Smitherman campaign painting Ford as anti-cyclist.

Dave Meslin, in the first of what I hope will be a bunch of columns for the Toronto Star, writes about Ford’s sometimes exaggerated views on cycling:

Ford says “cyclists are putting their lives at risk every time they go on the road,” and his solution is both simple and practical: “We have to widen our sidewalks, split them basically in half, pedestrians on one side, closest to the stores, and the cyclists on the other side. It will work in this city.”

This might not be the right solution for every street, but the idea of physically separating cyclists from motor traffic, where possible, is a good one. It encourages more people to try cycling. The concept is not new, nor radical. It’s just common sense, and that’s why separated lanes are being used in cities all across the world, from Berlin to Manhattan to Montreal.

via Rob Ford: Cycling advocate? – thestar.com.

I appreciate the call for a more nuanced perspective on these kinds of things, but my short response to this piece would be simple: just because you’re not advocating AGAINST something doesn’t mean you’re an advocate FOR something.

Case in point: after Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of  the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee, revealed his plan for physically separated bike lanes in the downtown core in January, the response from the Mayor’s Office was swift. This kind of thing, they said, was simply not a priority.

Some advocate.

On a related note: There’s a bizarro world fight simmering over this issue, stemming from the Toronto Cyclists Union enthusiastic support of Minnan-Wong’s plan. They’ve even asked neighbourhood groups to write letters in support of the plan. This has put them at odds with Adam Vaughan, who has written a detailed letter explaing why he’s against Minnan-Wong’s proposals. Needless to say, if you had said last year that the Cyclists Union would be allied with Denzil Minnan-Wong, de facto leader of the “War on Cars” brigade during the Jarvis debates, against lefty man-of-the-people Adam Vaughan you’d probably have been called crazy. But here we are.

I’d echo a call for a more nuanced approach to this issue. There are good reasons to be cautious when looking at Minnan-Wong’s plan, particularly as it may represent the sum total of all the on-street bike lanes this administration wishes to build. (In a 2009 interview with BlogTO, Minnan-Wong said “it’s not practical” for lots of bike lanes downtown: “Let’s determine where there might be one or two of them that they can use and let’s invest in those.”) But it would also be a shame to oppose it out-of-hand, as any new cycling infrastructure would be welcome at this point, particularly a new east-west route on Richmond Street.

Minnan-Wong’s plan could be on the agenda when the Public Works committee meets next week.