Posts Tagged: david miller

Sep 11

The Port Lands vote: the first significant defeat for the Ford administration

Updated Sept 16, 2011 — 9:27 p.m. The Toronto Star has now reported that Michelle Berardinetti and Karen Stintz are likely ‘no’ votes. I’ve also moved Frank Di Giorgio to the ‘maybe’ column. The remaining 15 ‘yes’ votes are the most bedrock Ford supporters, so I don’t expect to see much change from this point onward. It’s obvious at this point that the item as originally presented is doomed. The mayor’s office must now scramble to find a face-saving compromise motion.

A quick update on the voting chart from last week:

Lots of movement on the chart: previously up-in-the-air Councillors Colle, Bailão, and Lee were switched to presumed ‘No’ votes. Councillors Berardinetti, Lindsay Luby and Parker have been re-listed as questionable votes after sources indicated they are all feeling rather conflicted about things.

The big news, though, is Councillor Jaye Robinson who, despite sitting on the mayor’s executive committee, announced that she would not be supporting the Ford-driven item to seize the Lower Don Lands and Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto. This is an important development not only for waterfront watchers but for council as a whole, as it severely weakens the mayor’s ability to obtain a majority going forward.

It remains to be seen whether this is only a minor blip in the relationship between Councillor Robinson and the Mayor — which has always felt a bit awkward and forced, she a rather centre-left type with an interest in the arts and he an iconoclast with a hate-on for government programs — or a significant sea change. How the mayor’s office responds to this outburst of independent thinking is the thing to watch. (When former councillor Brian Ashton, as an executive committee member, voted against one of Mayor David Miller’s key items, Ashton was quickly cast into the wilderness and removed from the committee.)

The Fords now face a looming council vote that looks very challenging for them to win. With 22 likely ‘No’ votes, their only hope is that all of the remaining available votes go their way without any absences in the chamber when the bells ring. This is a very unlikely scenario.

Councillor Peter Milczyn — a Ford guy — has been rather frank about their failure on this one. He told the Toronto Star’s Royson James that this “blew up in our faces” and, also, that “there is egg on our faces for allowing this.” Their collective faces have definitely seen better days.

So what happens now? It’s unlikely the item will make it to vote when council meets next week, unless something drastic or daring happens. Expect a deferral motion or another stall tactic to send this to staff for further study. A 1,333-word epic of an email from Milczyn’s office appears to lay out a future compromise that would see Waterfront Toronto and the Toronto Port Lands Company work together to review the collective plan for the Port Lands. Why TPLC needs to be involved at all is a fair question at this point.

It continues to amaze me just how many political missteps the mayor and his brother are making these days. There were probably dozens of workable strategies that would have resulted in the technical and contractual changes necessary to wring more value for the city out of Port Lands development. None of those strategies involved the councillor from North Etobicoke trotting out to the media with visions of a giant ferris wheel and an honest-to-god plan for a monorail. What kind of political strategy is that? What kind of meeting ends with everyone agreeing that the answer is sending Doug Ford out there to really wow ’em with some razzle dazzle?

Despite all this good news, I will caution that nothing is set in stone and a lot can change in the week ahead. Keep watching CodeBlueTO for further updates, and — if you haven’t already — sign the petition.

Jul 11

The annotated Rob Ford: notes on the mayor’s interview with CP24 (VIDEO)

The mayor was on CP24 this past Friday for a rare sit-down interview. Unfortunately, the journalist sitting down with Rob Ford was one-time mayoral candidate and aspiring softball pitcher Stephen LeDrew, who didn’t give the mayor much in the way of challenging questions.

Still, Ford’s statements on a variety of important issues are notable for the number of outright falsehoods and misperceptions they contain. Standing on the shoulders of giants like The Grid’s Edward Keenan, who ran a Fact Check column relating to this interview on Friday afternoon, I’ve put together an edited version of the mayor’s interview, pointing out the moments where he departed from the truth.

I call it the annotated Rob Ford. You can watch it below.

Some notes:

First, this is a six-minute edit of a twenty-minute interview. The editing process by its very nature removes context. To be objective, readers should also watch the full version of the interview at CP24 before they make any conclusions.

00:00:35 — The top three priorities identified by Toronto residents comes from Page 4 of KPMG’s summary of the Core Service Review Public Consultation process. Note also that the item given the least priority was “Fair and affordable taxes.”

00:00:55 — The KMPG report lists “Detailed analysis of services to identify efficiency and effectiveness opportunities” as “Out of Scope” on page four of the introductory document. The report does note that an efficiency study could take place at a later date, as a separate report.

00:01:22 — The KPMG report to the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee lists Solid Waste Management Services as having a net budget of 0 on page 12.

00:01:25 — Council voted to send an RFQ out to tender for solid waste collection (and a few other services) west of Yonge Street at the May Council meeting. The quotations will come back to Council for approval, probably early next year.

00:01:29 — Edward Keenan, writing for The Grid: “The right to strike in Canada is considered a constitutionally protected right (as it is in every other large democracy in the world), and contracting out garbage collection does not take away anyone’s right to form a union, bargain collectively or go on strike.”

00:01:42 — See note for 00:00:35.

00:02:17 — Quote is from the Toronto Star. David Rider recently dredged up the quote and discussed its ramifications.

00:02:43 — In fact, most of the grants Ford dismisses as unjustifiable are for programs that help needy people. They include organizations like the Rexdale Women’s Centre, the Crime Prevention Association of Toronto and the New Canadian Community Centre. The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has a partial list.

00:03:00 — The City of Toronto’s own website for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund is probably the best resource for information on the fund, its history and the benefits it brings to Toronto.

00:03:28 — Per KPMG’s report to the Public Works & Infrastrucutre Committee on page 39: “Consider reducing snow plowing and snow removal standards on residential streets.”

00:03:48 — The only scenario in which Ford’s claim makes sense is if we include some of the new off-road recreational paths that are to be added as part of the plan, but those serve an entirely different purpose than on-road bike lanes. The Agenda Item History for the 2011 Bike Plan is available online and details which lanes were added and which were removed. The Plan does float the idea of new lanes, notably on Richmond or Adelaide Street, but those are only being studied at this point.

00:04:09 – See page 17 of the 2011 Bike Plan Staff Report for details on traffic levels on Jarvis Street before and after installation of the bike lanes. You can also read my FAQ on Jarvis Street.

00:04:33 — It’s not true at the moment, at least. If Ford enthusiastically supports separated bike lanes on Richmond Street, for example, his statement would have more weight.

00:04:44 — It really isn’t true. See note for 00:03:48.

00:04:55 — As per “Mayor Ford votes against all community grants” in the Toronto Star.

00:05:15 — Ford skipped both the traditional Pride flag-raising kicking off the event, which took place steps from his office. He was touring the Air Canada Centre at the time. He also skipped an earlier flag-raising held by the Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, which was presided over by Leafs GM Brian Burke.

00:05:40 — Per the Toronto Star’s “Ford expected to plow surplus into 2011 budget” by Robyn Doolittle: “Mayor Rob Ford is planning to use the city’s one-time surplus to help balance his 2011 budget, avoiding unpopular service cuts and delivering on a property tax freeze, say members of the executive and budget committees.”


Jun 11

Presto Chango: TTC looks to adopt new fare card

The TTC will consider a report this week wherein staff recommend adopting the Metrolinx Presto Card program. This program, now in its fourth year of a slow roll-out, aims to give every transit user a pre-loaded card that they can use to pay their fares on local and regional transit vehicles across Ontario.

It’s a good idea, but implementation has been stalled for years in Toronto because the province has only promised to provide partial funding. Given that the TTC faces a huge (and growing) backlog of necessary capital projects, asking local taxpayers to pick up about half the cost of implementing a system that will primarily benefit commuters coming from outside the 416 seems a little crazy.

In his well-worth-listening-to exit interview with Spacing Radio, former mayor David Miller spoke of a very early briefing note he was given regarding Presto. He paraphrases: “Warning! Warning! Presto will bankrupt the TTC! Don’t ever allow the cost of Presto to be put on the TTC.”

So what happened? Wasn’t it only a few weeks back that TTC Chair Karen Stintz was dismissing Presto as too expensive? Essentially, because the province holds all the cards when it comes to infrastructure funding, the TTC got squeezed enough that they’ve given in.

The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White:

The TTC’s refusal to adopt Presto had become increasingly untenable. Provincial funding for the Eglington cross-town subway contained a condition that Presto would be available on that line. In addition, all new streetcar orders have required Presto-compatible units and much of the TTC’s gas-tax revenue is contingent upon Presto adoption, according to Ms. Stintz.

“The commission has a decision to make: we could continue with open payment and put a number of funding agreements with the province at risk, or we could move with Presto,” she said.

via TTC report backs province’s electronic fare-collection system – The Globe and Mail.

The full TTC report is available. All in all, it’s a rather unenthusiastic endorsement for Presto, and the question of the remaining funding gap is left open.

The weird thing is that both the TTC and the minds behind Presto acknowledge that an open payment system (using a debit card, credit card or cell phone to pay your fare) is the logical end-point. The adoption of the current Presto card, then, is merely a stop-gap measure leading to the more open “Presto Next Generation” project, set for 2014ish. (But, then again, with a provincial election looming, who knows?)

The report also indicates that the TTC had a successful bidder from the private sector, willing to implement an open payment system in return for a percentage of fare revenue. That this option is being set aside in favour of the larger program peddled by the provincial government is kind of funny, given city hall’s preference for all things privatized and low-cost.

Jun 11

City ends 2010 with $88m surplus, but no one’s finding fault

Let’s play compare and contrast.

Here’s the Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney, on a recently discovered surplus found on the city’s 2010 books:

The final tally of the city’s books shows there’s an extra $88 million available to reduce next year’s budget gap.

The year-end report for 2010 shows higher revenues and lower costs than had been projected in September.

City finance staff are recommending that the $88 million be used to reduce the $774 million hole in the 2012 operating budget rather than put the money into capital repairs.

via City ended 2010 with $88M surplus –

Now here’s Royson James, writing for the same paper, in March 2010, criticizing Mayor David Miller for announcing that the city had discovered an approximately 100 million dollar surplus on the city’s 2009 books:

But it raises many questions about how the city manages our money – it seems able to “find” massive sums of cash, almost on demand, while crying poor.

Surpluses are obviously better than deficits – cities can’t run a deficit, by law – but budget integrity suggests you levy the amount of money you need to run city services. And if you took more than you needed, maybe you give it back, not continue to raise taxes.

via James: How did a city that’s broke find $100 million? –

Around the same time, the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba interviewed a number of Miller’s council opponents, who piled on the bandwagon that claimed a discovered budgetary surplus indicates poor fiscal management:

“I’m still trying to get my head around the whole notion of finding $100-million,” said Councillor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre).

“The credibility of the budget is worn fairly thin. I worry by the time it reaches council they will have found more money under the sofas and desks at City Hall,” said Councillor Brian Ashton (Scarborough Southwest).

via Analysis: The looming battle over David Miller’s $105-million surplus – Posted Toronto.

And the venerable Toronto Sun’s Antonella Artuso talked to the mayoral candidates, who at the time were mostly all pretending to be right-wing budget hawks — not yet understanding that the real key to success as a right-wing budget hawk candidate is repetitive slogans and yelling –, getting more of the same type of reaction:

“That means one of two things – that they overtaxed us or they’re incompetent and don’t understand how to do math,” candidate Rocco Rossi said of the shifting surplus.

“He will not be the mayor then… now he’s making next year’s budget on the back of an envelope, the same envelope that he’s used to figure out this year’s budget,” Smitherman said.

Councillor John Parker said it’s always nice to find money but he wondered why city finance officials didn’t know about it.

“I see that as nothing to be proud of,” he said.

via Miller playing budget games: Critics | Toronto Sun.

Of course anyone who takes a second to think about it understands why these surpluses happen. The city’s budget is, in many cases, little more than a collection of informed estimates. They estimate how many people will ride the TTC, how much fuel the city will use, what the cost of building materials will be, and so on. Plus, revenues from the land transfer tax are highly variable; the city has no way of accurately knowing how many homes will sell in the city in any given year. Essentially, they just guess.

The difference between this year and last year, of course, is that where Miller made a big show of announcing the surplus at a media event, Ford hasn’t gone on record with a comment about this year’s extra money. You have to assume this is largely because he can’t take credit for a 2010 budgetary surplus. This was forged before he was mayor.

Still, though, I wonder if the same critics will continue to throw barbs should this sort of thing continue into the coming budget year.

Related: Not all budgetary news is good. The TTC is facing a shortfall of at least $39 million. Steve Munro has an excellent analysis of the numbers. It would appear that we’re cruising toward a fare increase. And those promised increases in service we were promised following the recent route cuts? Don’t hold your breath.

May 11

Carroll for Toronto

At Spacing, Jonathan Goldsbie has a hell of an interview with Councillor Shelley Carroll. It’s the kind of extended, in-depth interview I wish we’d see more often from local politicians. Really really good stuff, explaining why she didn’t end up in last year’s mayoral race:

“In hindsight, its easier to say why the hell didnt you run, you see how easy it would have been.  But when the decision was made, it was a much more crowded field.  When I was making the decision, Adam was in with the prominent Bay Street–organizer supporters.  Joe was gonna have the support of the NDP.  And George was going to have the Liberals.  By the time I announced I wasnt gonna run, Rob was gonna have his big party.  Its easy in hindsight, Look what a bad campaign George ran.  But in January, he had so many prominent resources that no one suspected he would run a campaign that was so weak.  That early on, he had so many people signed on to work for him that were known to run good campaigns and that we were about to see a brilliant campaign…

via Why Shelley Carroll Didn’t Run for Mayor « Spacing Toronto.

There are so many “what ifs” surrounding the 2010 mayoral race. What if the garbage strike hadn’t happened? What if Adam Giambrone had just been honest about his love life? What if Darcy Allan Sheppard hadn’t been hit by a car? What if John Tory hadn’t discovered a love for A.M. radio?

It’s fun to think about — and a campaign that pitted, say, David Miller versus George Smitherman, or Shelley Carroll versus John Tory, would have made for far better debates than what we did get — but I think I’m coming around to seeing the result of the 2010 as potentially a long-term positive thing for the City of Toronto. I’m not as optimistic as Dave Meslin, but I’m hopeful that Rob Ford’s still-seems-inevitable flameout will galvanize the voters of the city, underscoring the importance of a committed, progressive leader with a measured, long-term civic vision.

Come 2014, Shelley Carroll could be that leader.

May 11

70% of Toronto loves Rob Ford

From last week, The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White:

As Mayor Rob Ford heads into a contentious period of labour strife, spending cuts and possible job losses, a new poll suggests he has political capital to burn.

The survey of 913 Torontonians, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for the Toronto Real Estate Board, found that 70 per cent approve of the mayor’s performance and 65 per cent support the way city council is handling tax dollars.

via Mayor Rob Ford’s approval rating rises to 70 per cent – The Globe and Mail.

A couple of points about this.

First, while not invalidating this poll’s methodology, this whole thing was commissioned by the Toronto Real Estate Board with an intent to show public support for repealing the land transfer tax. Their press release practically drips with excitement: these people are downright jazzed at the thought of the mayor eliminating this tax:

“The public’s support for Mayor Ford and the current direction of Toronto City Council is high, and it is clear that moving forward with repealing the Toronto Land Transfer Tax will help to keep it there,” said [TREB President Bill] Johnston.

via Realtors Take Public’s Pulse on GTA Issues, Including Toronto Land Transfer Tax.

That 68% of the public wants to repeal a tax isn’t surprising. Nobody likes taxes. But it’s hard to be sympathetic to the TREB when there’s not really much to indicate that the Land Transfer Tax has had a negative impact on home sales. We still have a healthy market.

Second: I don’t know how anyone could reasonably expect Ford’s approval rating to be much lower. As far as the public is concerned, he’s done only a handful of things as mayor, most of them popular proposals he laid out when campaigning last year. He’s killed the car tax, frozen property taxes for the year, eliminated the threat of TTC strikes, ‘cleaned up’ TCHC, and started the process of privatizing garbage collection, eliminating that threat as well.

It’s actually surprising his approval rating isn’t higher. That he’s not riding David Miller-style approval numbers in the 80% range shows that the mayor is still fairly divisive.

Council-watching nerds know that Ford’s record since taking office is more complex. There have been TTC route cuts, attempts to eliminate oversight and consultation, a bizarre campaign to sell the waterfront, short-sighted fiscal maneuvers and just downright embarrassing moments.

But the general public is unlikely to have felt any of these things. Many of them are still largely conceptual: ideas that have been floated to the media or voted on, but not implemented.

Will the public ever tire of Mayor Rob Ford? I think so. Eventually. The Ford Team has shrewdly — if somewhat short-sightedly — removed the two major obstacles that hurt David Miller: transit and garbage strikes. That should help him. But I don’t believe Miller ever faced budget circumstances as tough as what we’re looking at for 2012.

We’re just getting started.

Apr 11

The upside to libertarian leadership: better food carts

The Toronto Star’s David Rider:

Toronto’s “a la cart” street food pilot project is a failure that should be shut down immediately, say senior city staff who also urge council to consider expanding menu options for all food vendors.

The report to the executive committee, made public Wednesday, recommends that “the A La Cart Street Food Pilot project be discontinued immediately, prior to season three of the planned pilot project.”

via Shut down ethnic street food project, city staff urge –

When this program was proposed in 2008, then-councillor Rob Ford opposed it, saying “I would just open it up and let them sell anything…whatever they want to make money on.” While I guess you could spin that as a moment of prescient wisdom, the reality is that Ford consistently used the same high school libertarian rationale for his opposition to damn near everything council did over the last decade.

It just happened that, on this matter, he ended up being mostly right.

One of the weaknesses of the David Miller council was their tendency to over-engineer solutions to problems. The street food vending program that became A La Cart is one of the best examples of this — overly bureaucratic, inordinately complicated and generally just too innovative in a space where innovation wasn’t really necessary.

In this case, the simplified “let businesses do what they want” strategy is the correct one. For all his faults, Ford does understand that. It’s the broader application of the libertarian ideology (to, for example, the waterfront) that we have to worry about.

For the record, council gave broad support to the new program in 2008. Here’s how that vote went down, from the City Council minutes for December 1, 2 and 3 in 2008:

Mar 11

Ford enjoys a 60% approval rating, says terribly misleading poll

Kelly Grant with the Globe & Mail:

Rob Ford enjoys a 60-per-cent approval rating, according to the first public poll released since he took office Dec. 1.

However, Toronto-based Forum Research, Inc. found that urban and suburban Torontonians remain deeply divided about Mr. Ford: His approval rating was highest in Scarborough (71 per cent) and North York (65 per cent) and lowest in the old cities of Toronto and East York (46 per cent.)

“That puts him higher than his vote, so somehow he’s got the approval of some of his opponents’ supporters, which I think is quite a task, especially given how polarizing the election was,” said Lorne Bozinoff, the president of Forum Research. “My gut feel is that’s a good rating.”

via Rob Ford more popular now than at election – The Globe and Mail.

Always fun to see pollsters going by their “gut feel.”

Grant points out that while a 60% approval rating isn’t bad by any means, David Miller’s approval rating was 82% six months into his first term. Quick googling reveals that Miller’s approval ratings stayed very high until the garbage strike in 2009. In 2005, well into his first term, Miller sat at 69%.

More troubling is the nature of the poll questions. Forum Research asked respondents 11 questions about various policies. Of those, several of the questions are incredibly misleading, generally skewed toward pushing support for the mayor’s initiatives.

Here’s a quick breakdown, I’m assuming all questions began with “Do you agree with…” or “Do you support…” but that’s been omitted in the report.

  • “The privatization of garbage collection for parts of the city” – A fine question. Notable that only 54% of people agree with this. I’d have pegged popular support at a higher level.
  • “The mandatory 5 cent plastic shopping bag fee” – Another appropriate question. It’s hilarious how much older people hate this fee.
  • “Declaring the TTC an essential service that would ban strikes and lockouts” – I don’t have a huge problem with this question, but I’d guess that rephrasing it as “Declaring the TTC an essential service, increasing labour costs related to transit” would see very different results.
  • “Tearing down the eastern end of the Gardiner expressway” – Why even ask this? Has it come up at all? Was there more context given? A weird question.
  • “Providing jobs for life for city employees” – This is where these questions go off the rails completely. They might as well have phrased as this “Do you support fatcat union members?”
  • “Using private sector financing to pay for the Sheppard subway so it can be built sooner” – What the hell is this one? No one is proposing that private sector funds will get transit built on Sheppard faster than originally planned. The Sheppard East LRT would have been open in less than three years.
  • “Spending $3 million to hire an outside consultant to look at ways to make the City more efficient?” – If there’s bad news for Ford in this poll, it’s this question. Only 38% of people support the move to hire an outside consultant. A fair question. (Interesting, too, that the $3 million dollars only become public knowledge at council on Thursday, February 24  – this poll went into the wild on Friday, February 25.)
  • “Relaxing liquor regulations so that you can walk around with a drink at licensed events instead of having to stay in a beer tent?” – This is a provincial issue that doesn’t have anything to do with the City’s government.
  • Licensing bicyclists so that traffic laws can be enforced with them?”Oh, screw off. I love the implication that traffic laws can’t be enforced with cyclists currently because of the lack of some kind of licensing program. Cyclists already are subject to the rules of the road. A municipal licensing program wouldn’t do anything to change that and would cost a ton of money.
  • “In order to improve public transit, do you think more below ground subways or more above ground light rail streetcars should be built?” – No one is proposing more streetcar lines as Toronto knows them. A ridiculous question in the sense that even diehard Transit City supporters would probably be forced to answer for below ground subways. In an ideal world we’d have below ground subways everywhere.
  • “Should the City build more City owned social housing units or should the City provide rent subsidies so those needing social housing can rent privately owned units instead?” – Not as egregious as some of the other questions but, again, there’s a clear skew here. The subtext is “Should the city keep spending YOUR TAX DOLLARS on public housing or should we just let the awesome private sector deal with it?” As I noted yesterday, Section Eight housing subsidies exist across the United States and still lead to the same issues we see with our public housing system — slumlords eagerly accept the subsidies while “nicer” market rental buildings refuse them.

In summary, this poll reveals primarily that Ford is currently a semi-popular mayor and little else. Anyone who can read some of the questions contained within this poll and feel like they’re an accurate representation of anything is kidding themselves.

Mar 11

Miller’s surplus is the gift that keeps on giving

Oh, yeah. You know that thing where it was revealed that the mayor secretly asked Dalton McGuinty for hundreds of millions of dollars? Despite the fact that he was once adamant that the city didn’t need provincial funding? The premier said no.

On another note: Sometimes I wonder if maybe Miller shouldn’t have just spent the 2010 surplus money on a city-owned hovercraft and spared us all the smoke and mirrors of the 2011 budget.

Kelly Grant and Karen Howlett with the Globe & Mail:

The mayor’s press secretary said that Toronto routinely asks for more money in its pre-budget submission to the province and this year is no different.

However, Adrienne Batra stressed that Mr. Ford didn’t need provincial aid to balance the city’s 2011 budget without a property-tax increase.

“There’s one fundamental difference,” Ms. Batra said. “The funding here was not needed to balance the (2011) budget.”

via McGuinty shoots down Ford’s request for more than $350-million – The Globe and Mail.

The obvious response to Ms. Batra is, of course, “Would you have been able to balance the 2011 budget without a property tax increase without prior year surpluses and reserves?”

Related to this is a “Talking Points Memo” memo circulated to  22 “friendly councillors” of the mayor’s office last week. Uncovered and posted by OpenFile Toronto’s Jonathan Goldsbie, it is all sorts of ridiculous at various points, but the capper is the last page, which gives justification for spending all surplus and reserve funds to balance the 2011 budget with no thought to 2012:

By applying all accumulated surpluses to the 2011 budget, we unmasked the true financial condition for all to see. The 2012 budget forecast reflects the true gap between the city’s revenues and spending habits.

Gee, thanks. It’s a bit like emptying out someone’s savings account just to make it really obvious how little money they make.

P.S. The 22 councillors who received the talking point memo? The results from the vote on the Tenant Defence Fund from last week probably serve as a good indication.

The “No” votes are Team Ford. I’m thinking Jaye Robinson would be considered a friendly too. Perhaps Doug Ford isn’t included in the list of 22 councillors since he works out of the mayor’s office.