Sep 11

Six Years of Budget Balancing Strategies: Rob Ford’s 2012 approach presents false choice

For the last six years, City Council has dealt with each budget shortfall with a mixture of surplus funds, new revenue projections, property tax increases, investment income and spending cuts/efficiencies. The 2012 approach under Mayor Rob Ford has been different.

Update: I’ve made a minor edit to the chart above to clarify how the implementation of the Land Transfer Tax & Vehicle Registration Tax changed the city’s financial situation. Quick summary: in 2008, both new taxes combined to take about $175 million in budget pressure off the city’s books. That new money was folded into expected revenues for future years, but LTT revenues tend to surpass staff estimates, resulting in extra cash in 2009, 2010 and especially 2011.

Through this Core Service Review process, the (growing) group of councillors opposed to Mayor Rob Ford’s fiscal strategy has continuously complained about a lack of information. While Budget Chief Mike Del Grande and assorted hangers-on have been quick to cite a figure of $774 million as the opening “pressure” for 2012, they’ve been less forthcoming with revenue figures that will significantly reduce that pressure.

Increased revenues from the Land Transfer Tax in 2011 alone look to total almost $80 million. And remaining surplus dollars from the 2010 and 2011 budget years could total another $100 million or more. Add in potential investment revenues, dividends from Toronto Hydro, assessment growth and other miscellaneous revenue lines and that big scary $774 million figure looks to drop down to something a lot more manageable.

The chart above reveals why this revenue information is so critical: each year, that opening pressure figure — which, it should be noted, was bigger in 2010 than it is this year — is brought down through a variety of strategies. Yes, there are spending cuts and efficiencies — Rob Ford’s favourite things — but also other revenues. Each year — until this one — the budget has been balanced without apocalyptic talk of slashing childcare, closing libraries and decimating public services or else raising property taxes by 35%.

That’s a false choice. It’s one that ignores the balancing strategies used over the past five years that have kept the city moving forward.

A note on sustainability

Critics would point to the chart above and say that the budget balancing strategies employed by Mayor David Miller, Budget Chief Shelley Carroll and the rest of the the left on council were largely unsustainable, short-term fixes, relying too heavily on reserves and other one-time funding sources.

And, for the most part, that’s true.

That said, if you believe — as even right-leaning councillors like Giorgio Mammoliti and Doug Ford seem to these days — that the city’s structural deficit is due in part to the province, who reneged on its responsibilities for supporting things like transit, child care and welfare, then one-time strategies tend to be the best Toronto can hope for these days. Unless the province comes to the table and commits to uploading more transit costs, a truly sustainable 2012 budget — one that doesn’t completely destroy the kind of public services that contribute to the economic viability of our city — is nearly impossible to achieve.

An Alternate Path

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t paths Toronto can take toward fiscal independence.

  • A service review process and efficiency study — like the one we’ve just been through — was a good idea, but the timeline needed to be longer. Set annual goals to increase across-the-board efficiency and work with management to achieve them. You’ll save more money this way than you will with layoffs.
  • Set a long-term path forward for residential and commercial property tax rates. A multi-year strategy to put the average residential tax levy on par with, say, Markham would bring in vastly more revenue. Commercial rates should continue to decrease relative to residential. Review tax increase deferral and cancellation policies for seniors and disabled residents to ensure we’re not kicking anyone out on the street.
  • Consult with Metrolinx on their upcoming revenue strategy to ensure that a fair percentage of revenue from road tolls — an inevitability in this province — go toward transit operating costs, in addition to capital.
  • Review parking rates and increase them in downtown, high demand areas. Think like the private sector.
  • Look at new revenue sources, including a City of Toronto sales tax. Big cities across the world have one, and they’re not dying because of it. We keep hearing about the necessity of hard choices: here’s one.

The key is to think long-term and not to rush toward slash-and-burn fixes. More than any other level of government, municipal public services are directly tied to economic success. We can’t afford to risk that.

Sep 11

A lack of leadership, coherence and action in aftermath of Marathon Meeting sequel

Marathon Meeting 2: Electric Boogaloo is the obvious joke, or maybe Marathon Meeting 2: Judgment Day, but I kind of like Marathon Meeting 2: The Legend of Rob Ford’s Gold.

But let’s move on.

On Monday, the mayor’s executive committee held yet another marathon meeting. This one was a bit shorter, wrapping up around 5:30 a.m on Tuesday morning. And, despite continuing to build the good will I have toward the people who live in this city and the lengths they’ll go to defend the things they value, the meeting ultimately suffered from the same drawbacks that most sequels to blockbuster movies do: it felt a bit repetitive and maybe a little unnecessary.

This isn’t a knock on the hundreds of citizens who — once again — took time off work to show up and make their case for cuts. They spoke and, for the most part, effectively delivered the message that Toronto never voted for cuts to service. But, as the hours and deputations piled up, there was the sense that this setting — the executive committee – was no longer an important battleground. That, given the mayor’s maybe-declining popularity and the increased willingness of councillors to move against Ford’s once-iron grip on council, the message voiced again and again by deputants in Committee Room 1 at City Hall is already being heard.

That’s not to say that Ford is defeated or being made irrelevant. Far from it. But any fear that the Rob Ford-led administration would simply be able to steamroll through their agenda over the next three years has been effectively erased. The anger is getting to people: popularity is waning, slogans long forgotten. Political alliances are splintering — even, I’d speculate, within the executive committee itself — and tempers are flaring like never before.

The mayor relented this week. Both on the waterfront and on service cuts. That’s big.

What the executive committee approved

For the most part, the executive committee on Monday continued their pattern of being a lame duck group that continues to pass the buck and dither. There seems to be a concerted effort to drag things out in such a way that staff and consultants can shoulder the blame for any service cuts. For a mayor who ran on his purported ability to effectively and easily manage the city’s budget — buoyed by his experience watching a decade’s worth of similar budgets — the mayor has been mostly absent through this process, waiting for others to toss out ideas.

In Rob Ford’s fiscal plan documents, revealed late in last year’s campaign, he promised to save $695 million in the 2012 budget year. He said he could find $409 million in efficiencies — which would presumably not negatively impact service levels — and $200 million through staff reductions. I guess we’re just supposed to accept at this point that these numbers, presented by his campaign, were complete and total fabrications with no connection to the city’s real fiscal situation.

Anyway, Reporter Don Peat at the Toronto Sun has a nice list of the few things the committee actually signed off on as potential cuts in next year’s budget. They’ll be debated at a special meeting of council this Monday:

– Closing some museums funded by economic development’s cultural services activities

– Reducing community and neighbourhood development activities

– Eliminating the public realm’s neighbourhood improvement program

– Cancelling the requirement for paid-duty officers at construction sites

– Trying to sell the Toronto Zoo, the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts, the Sony Centre, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and Heritage Toronto

– Try to privatize Riverdale Farm, High Park Zoo and Far Away Farm but, if no interested parties can be found, do not close.

via Mayor-a-thon meeting aftermath | Toronto Sun.

As a collection of cuts goes, it doesn’t look all that fearsome. There is an unfortunate lack of detail attached to most of these, which will probably cause the most anguish come Monday. How are councillors supposed to approve closing museums if they don’t actually know which museums they’re talking about? Similarly, what’s the economic cost to eliminating public realm and neighbourhood development activities? The City didn’t implement these programs one day because they were bored: these things exist to make local businesses happy and more profitable.

The paid-duty item is probably a slam dunk, as no one seems altogether happy with the current status quo. (Councillor Doug Ford did defend the practice earlier this year, though.)

Other contentious issues: a buyout offer for city staff and a new user fee policy. The staff buyout covers about 700 employees, and the plan is to use some of the 2011 budget surplus — which won’t be a small chunk of change — to cover the immediate costs associated with the buyout. The challenge here is, again, a lack of detail: which departments will lose people? Can they afford to be short-staffed? What sort of institutional knowledge and skill will leave the building when these buy-outs are approved? And is there a more effective way to make use of 2011 surplus dollars?

The new user fee policy seems to be, essentially, “let’s have higher user fees!” We’ll see how that goes.

An enormously unsuccessful budget process

If it’s not clear by now, this whole core service review process amounts to a colossal collection of screw-ups from the Ford administration. Even if you support the quixotic quest for cuts and efficiencies, a prolonged, public-facing approach — one that left every public service the city provides on the chopping block for several months — is not a good way to go about things. It’s left the mayor unpopular, councillors nervous and residents wondering if there’s anyone at City Hall with an actual, honest-to-god plan for this city.

One that doesn’t involve slashed public services, more crowded buses, a dirtier city and the installation of El Toro Disney at the water’s edge.

Sep 11

The week Rob Ford unravels

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how critical this week is to the continuing success of Rob Ford’s mayoralty. Either he and his backers find the workable strategies they need to navigate the coming obstacles or all the political capital built over the last ten-and-a-half months will simply and spectacularly blow up in the mayor’s face.

Here’s some thoughts on the stories that will shape the week ahead:

Marathon Meeting 2: The quick, cash-in sequel

Damned reruns. In an echo of that thing that happened six weeks ago where hundreds of people signed up to give deputations and contribute to the longest committee meeting in amalgamated Toronto’s history, we’re looking at yet another marathon-length meeting Monday. The circumstances are almost identical: executive members — and, yes, the public — are only nominally closer to having any real sense of which program and service cuts are actually on the table. The mayor continues, as a point of communication policy, to deflect blame and point fingers at consultants and staff whenever anyone accuses him of supporting cuts to service.

Committee members will undoubtedly complain about both the length of the meeting and the lack of workable solutions brought forth by those giving deputations. The latter is a familiar refrain at this point: those lefties just want to keep the spend-spend-spend status quo but we have a massive budget hole, so we need to make cuts, so where are their ideas and suggestions for cuts?

But it’s insane to demand that the bleary-eyed guy speaking at 5:30 a.m. in support of libraries should also give a three-point summary of his preferred fiscal strategy for the city. We elect councillors to handle the fiscal strategy — to look at the numbers and the charts –, with the full faith and understanding that they work for us and will defend the things we care about. It isn’t crazy, far-left socialism to demand that the mayor and the executive committee start doing the job the voters hired them to do.

I’m in no position to give advice to the mayor, but if I was it would go like this: step up and be a leader. Speak confidently about your fiscal plan for the city. Be plain about the programs and services you feel need to be reduced. Stop trying to scare people with talk of a 35% tax increase and instead start focusing on truth.

The Waterfront Saga

The Port Lands item goes to council on Wednesday. It will play out one of two ways. Either the mayor’s office has been successful in brokering some sort of compromise motion — moved in the form of an amendment — that they know will pass with support from the usual gang, or they’ll simply make a quick motion to defer the item and it will come off the agenda without a significant amount of debate. The latter is the better outcome, though the best thing would be an up-and-down vote that would rightly see council reject any notion of change to the current plan.

A compromise that violates any of the guiding principles of the process up until now is a very bad thing.

No matter how things shake out on the floor of council, however, this whole item has to be chalked up as a major defeat for the Fords. Every move they attempted on this file was a bad one, starting with Doug Ford’s monorail dream and continuing through to today’s revelation that the mayor’s brother apparently tried to get Councillor Josh Matlow to trade a supporting vote on this item for a guest spot by Ford on Matlow’s radio show.

In contrast to the previous contentious battles that have marked the run-up to every council meeting since Ford took office, this one had the immediate effect of pissing off an audience of older people and business types. Whereas it’s easy to dismiss those who would rage about bike lanes and affordable housing — the young! the poor! — an angry cabal of planners, businesspeople and seniors is way harder to sweep under the rug.

The vanishing Ford Nation

One poll last week had the mayor at a ridiculously low 42% approval rating. A second poll revealed that only 27% of Toronto residents would vote for the guy if an election were to happen tomorrow. The same poll also pointed out that the mayor has shed more than a quarter of his core support, when compared to the October 2010 election results.

Some have tried to dismiss these numbers as irrelevant, but it was clear late Friday that the mayor’s office is taking them pretty seriously. A hasty email was sent out to Ford’s old campaign mailing list reassuring people that “[this core service review process] is what you elected me to do as Mayor.” Someone is panicking. (The Toronto Sun is also playing defence, publishing a Ford-praising column by Joe Warmington that can only be fairly described as remarkably terrible.)

Ford is never going to be the kind of politician to draw broad, across-the-board support. He made his political fortune by demonizing certain groups across the city, including essentially all of downtown. But that his popularity is flagging with the core supporters — the true believers — is the thing to note from all of this. Without the highly-mobilized base, Ford is nothing.

The loss in popularity amongst those who bought into the stop-the-gravy-train, respect-for-taxpayers sloganeering also goes back to an issue of leadership. As a generalization,  right-leaning voters tend to appreciate a more paternalistic approach to government. Think Stephen Harper, wearing his sweater, making us feel like he’s got a plan for the economy. Ford’s erratic and irresponsible behaviour on fiscal issues — blaming others; focusing on scare tactics instead of workable solutions — isn’t giving anyone any sense of security or confidence. There’s no authority there.

In theory, the mayor’s popularity doesn’t matter. He won the election and that fancy chain is his for the taking until 2014. But the only real leverage Ford has had over council in these early months is that spectre of popularity. Without it, the only tools he has left are the confusing procedural powers of the mayor’s office, which can’t take him that far.

Sep 11

What the city manager saved from the budget knife

After the marathon Executive Committee meeting in July, councillors opted to punt on their next play. They left everything on the table — all of the hundreds of considerations identified in the KPMG report — and asked City Manager Joseph Pennachetti to report back on their feasibility in regards to the budget process.

And so he did, on Monday with the release of his ‘final report.‘ But the city manager’s report feels hardly worthy of such a declarative title, as it again seems to call for a punt, kicking the brunt of the KPMG considerations back to various agencies, boards and committees for further discussion and debate.

Pennachetti did, however, take some items off the table as potential cuts for consideration in the upcoming budget process. Below is a comprehensive list of what is, at least for now, safe:

  • The Toronto Office of Partnerships: Because closing or reducing this office “could lead to lower revenue generation for sponsorships, reduced opportunities for P3s.”
  • The Toxic Taxi: This service, which allows residents to schedule pick-ups for hazardous waste and other goop, will continue. Pennachetti points out that a cut here would leave residents without access to vehicles with no real way to dispose of household hazardous waste, and that it would result in reduced matching funds from Stewardship Ontario.
  • Small Commercial Waste Collection: Ruled out due to logistic challenges related to determining whether curbside waste was generated by a residential or commercial source.
  • School Crossing Guard Program: Among other reasons, it’s said that this cut would “present for the City potential public safety issues, leading to complaints.” People do tend to complain when children are injured by speeding vehicles.
  • Water Fluoridation: In a move sure to rile up a bunch of people who love conspiracy theories, Pennachetti says that fluoridation is a continued necessity to ensure a docile population and reduce the risk of a mass rebellion. Just kidding. He says it helps improve dental health.
  • Development of bicycle infrastructure: Thankfully, the city manager says that ceasing development of cycling infrastructure would “reduce the incentives/encouragement to cycle, increasing travel by other modes.” He also notes that “cycling is an environmentally sustainable mode of transportation.” Which seems obvious, but is probably worth repeating a bunch of times.
  • Emergency Animal Rescue & Care: KPMG said to look at increasing response times for animal rescue, but friend-of-the-forest Pennachetti basically says that will cause more animals to die.

Pennachetti also rules out considerations that we try to establish a partnership with the federal government, making the Toronto Zoo a “National Zoo” associated with Rogue Park. He also nixes an idea for an independent, not-for-profit agency to take control of the zoo, preferring an outright sale to private owners.

Everything else remains on the table as we go forward, which continues to make for a frustrating debate. The Mayor of Toronto does not have the luxury of passing the buck on these kinds of issues. Citizens — or taxpayers; whatever –are entitled to a clear indication of what potentially will and will not be cut in next year’s budget. Only then can we have a full and honest debate about the city’s finances.

Sep 11

2012 Budget: Trading tax cuts for service cuts in Rob Ford’s Toronto

After months packed with a weak, barely-heard consultation process and a maddeningly non-specific communication strategy employed by the mayor’s executive committee — who told us that nothing, specifically, was on the table for cuts, except everything —, today we finally received, by way of the city manager, a list of concrete recommendations for service cuts in the 2012 budget.

They amount to, at best, $300 million worth of cuts over the next three operating budgets. For 2012, the best case scenario sees $100 million worth of cuts, mostly coming in areas like transit, planning & heritage, parks & recreation, street cleaning & snow removal, policing and libraries. We could see further cuts to both policing and libraries (including branch closures) in 2013 and 2014.

That $100 million in cuts does very little to fix the city’s perennial structural budget gap. It actually only barely covers the damage done in last year’s budget, when Council voted to significantly reduce revenues by cutting the vehicle registration tax and freezing property taxes. In essence, this fills the hole Rob Ford created and leaves us staring, rather fruitlessly, at the remaining shortfall — the same one that has dogged us since amalgamation.

Ford and his executive committee will attempt to make up the remaining difference — they’d peg it at $664 million, but really it’ll be closer to $350 million — through the forthcoming user fee review (which will undoubtedly recommend that user fees go up sharply) and the so-called efficiency study, which might end up being yet another set of veiled cuts to services. There will also be the inevitable TTC fare increase and a perfunctory property tax increase, though Ford has said he’d like to keep any increase on the low side. (To make up for last year’s freeze, we should probably be looking at something in the neighbourhood of at least four percent, but Ford has floated numbers in the two percent range.)

If it wasn’t clear already, this morning’s announcement should kill any lingering doubt that Ford has, rather spectacularly, violated his campaign promise not to cut city services. Ford voters now must look square in the face at a fiscal reality that says that damn near every dollar of revenue — taxes — removed from the city’s coffers must be complemented with an equivalent cut to service. Most of the 2012 savings come from proposed TTC cuts, including to Blue Night service, which would have a devastating effect on low-income people across the city, particularly in suburban neighbourhoods. Many of the remaining cuts are nickel-and-dime stuff, and little analysis seems to have been done to measure the financial impacts cuts to services can have to other departments or agencies.

City Manager Joseph Joseph Pennachetti has also passed the buck on a number of items, ensuring that we’re still several months away from a real debate about what to cut. Pennachetti recommends sending nearly all of the KPMG budget considerations back to various boards, committees and agencies, where they can be further debated, deputed on, and probably once again referred to executive committee. It’s an endless cycle, which cries out for the kind of fiscal leadership from the mayor’s office we were promised on election night. Rob Ford has sat in council chambers for over a decade’s worth of city budgets: it’s time we heard his ideas for plugging the budget gap. No more hiding behind expensive consultants and endless process.

Deputants to committees, left-leaning councillors and progressives in the city have been called out several times by those in power for merely championing existing programs, instead of proposing solutions to the city’s budget shortfall. What became clear today was that those running the city — Rob Ford, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande, assorted council hangers-on and staff — have no real idea how to balance the budget either. Their last, best hope is to skate through 2012 with assorted surplus revenues, these cuts, and user fee hikes, and then begin a fire sale of city assets — including, as we learned last week, the Port Lands — in the inane hope that using those revenues to pay down capital debt gives them enough room in the operating budget to make things balance.

It’s a bad idea that could significantly damage our city, and it continues to ignore Toronto’s only real path to fiscal sustainability: a coordinated approach to intergovernmental relationships, new sources of revenue — which must include consideration of road tolls and a sales tax — and a massive push for the provincial government to take back the funding responsibilities that rightfully belong to them.

Sep 11

Toronto Spoke Coda: “When are you going to tell us what kind of city you actually want to govern?”

After twenty-two videos and a month of pithy commentary, let’s let Councillor Gord Perks sum this whole thing up: “Over the last twenty hours,” he says in the video above, his remarks coming in the very early morning. “I have experienced something that I have never experienced in twenty years as a community activist and five years as an elected official: I heard Toronto speak.”

That epic-length Executive Committee meeting has faded into the background over the last month, replaced with endless and seemingly circular debates around things like waterfront development and communism. The episodic nature of politics under Mayor Rob Ford unfortunately means that we run the risk of getting ourselves lodged in a deep rut of formulaic outrage and ridicule as this administration skips from one contentious policy announcement to the next.

But what really matters, I think, when you get past the weekly sitcom-esque plot lines, is the kind of overarching message expressed in these videos I’ve posted. It’s a sentiment that says yes, we do care about this city. And, yes, we will stay up all night and take time off work and speak — and sometimes sing and rhyme and present puppet shows — even if we know, deep down, that the elected officials at the other side of the table probably aren’t likely to listen or care.

Because Torontonians love Toronto. After the tone and the outcome of the 2010 municipal election, it feels good to write that. To believe it.

Anyway, if these videos represent anything it’s a defence against anyone who would dare to dismiss the deputants as nothing but union members or people representing organizations who get city grants. Of the 22 people I chose to highlight, I picked deputants who were mostly not speaking for or on behalf of unions. Most of them have little-to-no political history. To dismiss these people as trough-feeders or “left-wing NDP people that always got this money handed to them” — as the mayor did in an interview with Sun News Network soon after the meeting — is flat-out wrong.

This is what Toronto sounds like.

Continue reading →

Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “I am proud to pay taxes,” says Wendy Greene

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Wendy Greene (twitter)

Occupation: Her Twitter bio describes her a “simultaneous translator” which sounds impressive.

Political History: None noted.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 134; Actual Speaker No.: 103

Note: Rob Ford makes a well-timed return to the room after a lengthy break midway through Wendy’s deputation.

Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “That word—citizen—is very important to me,” says Vikki VanSickle

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Vikki VanSickle (twitter, website)

Occupation: She’s a children’s author and worked at the Flying Dragon Book Shop until it closed a few months back.

Political History: In her own words: “Although I am interested in politics, I would never describe myself as a politically active person.”

Scheduled Speaker No.: 245; Actual Speaker No.: 142

Note (1): Mayor Rob Ford, clearly very tired at this point in the evening, seems to make a derogatory reference toward either VanSickle or Councillor Janet Davis around the 3:30 mark.

Note (2): Vikki’s books, Words that start with B and Love is a Four-Letter Word, are available at the Toronto Public Library.

Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “These are not gravy — they are the basics of a great city,” says Ernest Tucker

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Ernest Tucker

Occupation: He’s a teacher at the exclusive — and expensive — Toronto French School. His students give him solid rankings at RateMyTeachers.com, though his most recent review is more mixed: “Seems like a cool guy, but also seems like he’s fully capable of murdering me without remorse, so…not quite sure about this one”

Political History: None noted. Owns three cars. Is that political?

Scheduled Speaker No.: 257; Actual Speaker No.: 147

Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “Our mayor knows the price of everything, but he values very little,” says Desmond Cole

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Desmond Cole (twitter)

Occupation: He’s been a tutor and was project coordinator for I Vote Toronto, an organization dedicated to granting non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

Political History: Was one of the winners of City Idol in 2006, and thus made an unsuccessful bid for City Council in that year’s election.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 183; Actual Speaker No.: 126

Note: Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday reveals himself to be a harsh critic of amateur puppetry with this clip. He first tells the deputant that he can still see him behind the box — ruining the illusion, I guess — and follows up with a sharp rebuke of Cole’s skills: “[Your puppet] doesn’t even move his lips.” Admittedly, Desmond Cole is not a very good puppeteer.