Mar 12

On labour, the Ford administration proves quietly effective – so why doesn’t anyone care?

Early last week, Toronto’s library workers went on strike. Everyone assumed they would. The city and the library have been at each other’s throats for much of the last year – through budget cuts and branch closures and threats of service reductions. The animosity between the library union and the Ford administration never quite got to the point of outright profanities and name calling, but it got pretty damn close.

If you had asked me on the weekend, I would have predicted a long and drawn out work stoppage. Libraries are vitally important to the city – especially when it comes to youth, seniors and low-income people – but their absence is less likely to cause an emotional response than, for example, a lack of garbage pick-up or reduced EMS response times. The city’s negotiators had a lot of breathing room on this one.

Which is why this, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Liam Casey, comes as a bit of a surprise:

Toronto Public Library workers have reached a tentative deal with the library board, according to its union.

The workers went on strike March 19, closing all 98 branches.

CUPE spokesperson Cim Nunn said the two sides have been meeting since the strike began and reached a deal through “long, hard work.”

via Toronto library strike: Union and board reach tentative deal to end strike | Toronto Star.

And, lo and behold, it looks like the city has found common ground with much of Local 79, the city’s inside workers. Yes, there’s still work to be done with part of that union, but we’re worlds away from speculation last summer that said the mayor would jump straight to a lockout, damn the torpedoes.

Like with the out-of-nowhere deal signed with the outside workers at CUPE 416 last month, these seemingly quick resolutions have got to be seen as a victory for the Ford administration. Contrary to the expectations of a lot of people who claim to have their finger on the pulse of things down at City Hall – including, um, me – the mayor has done reasonably well with labour, wringing the kind of concessions he promised without declaring bloody war on the public sector.

The unions deserve credit too, of course. What we’re seeing now – speedy resolutions to labour issues, a willingness to concede on certain sticking points – is a tacit admission from union leadership in this city that they really screwed things up in 2009, when workers went on strike for 40 days before ultimately conceding and accepting a deal. The public sector seems to know that they need to rebuild political support. And so they’re being conciliatory — often preemptively so. As far as workable long-term strategies go, this is the best the unions have.

Still, if Ford’s been pretty smart on the labour file, he’s been totally inept at turning that intelligence to his political advantage. While Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and the negotiating team at City Hall have been knocking out deals with various Locals, Ford’s been tilting at transit windmills and repeating the word “subways” so often he’s probably broken an obscure Guinness record for word repetition.

With the subways/LRT debate taking all the headlines, Ford’s done little to attach himself to the negotiations. Instead of holding press conferences and giving interviews trumpeting his ability to wring cost-saving concessions from city workers and open the door for the kind of contracting-out he promised in his campaign, the mayor has been almost invisible in this process.

You could make the argument that the mayor’s invisibility has been a blessing for the city’s negotiating team. Ford’s not particularly well-liked by a lot of union members, and his comments – followed, inevitably, by his brother’s comments – could serve only to add fuel to fire. The Fords have an uncanny ability to make any situation worse just by talking about it.

The other side of the coin, however, says that the mayor is a politician who’s been taking a beating lately. He desperately needs some checkmarks in his “win” column. These labour negotiations could provide that. Yes, it makes sense to maintain some space between the mayor and labour negotiations, but there’s a fertile middle ground between invisibility and overbearing involvement that would still allow Ford’s star to shine in the wake of signed deals.

The only real explanation that makes sense to me is one that harkens back to an underlying theme through Ford’s mayoralty: the mayor is simply understaffed. He doesn’t have the resources in his office to effectively strategize on more than one issue at a time – they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. His advisors are hilariously ill-equipped to effectively manage policy and communication at the level demanded by Ford’s position. They’re obviously lousy at marshalling support at council and they don’t seem to have many cards to play with the media either, except for with a few names at the Toronto Sun and on the broadcast side. Even simple tasks like ordering business cards or keeping up with municipal conflict of interest law have led to major (and public) screw-ups.

But, hey, they are pretty good at getting back to constituents who have problems relating to sizeable piles of dirt.

Ford’s office has copped to the issue somewhat – there’s money for a new position in the mayor’s office in the 2012 budget. But that may be too little too late. Change needed to start soon after the Port Lands debacle. There have been at least a half-dozen debacles since then, with no sign of improvement. Meanwhile, Ford still lists slashing his own office budget as a major achievement.

But back to the labour issue: signed deals with all the city’s major unions would stand as an undeniable success for the Ford administration. But it doesn’t amount to much if his office isn’t able to effectively communicate that success – and if  it all gets drowned out by the noise and controversy of other things.

Feb 12

Here I go again on my own: three stories about Rob Ford

Rob Ford: Here I Go Again On My Own

Original photo by Craig Robinson / Toronto Sun.

To end the week, three stories about Rob Ford.

December 15: In the midst of major budget meetings, Rob Ford finds himself standing in a backyard in Councillor Frank Di Giorgio’s ward, looking at a pile of sand. After examining the sand — a neighbour had complained about the pile — the mayor decrees that the sand must be moved.

Rob Ford is the CEO of a corporation with $10 billion in annual revenues and a workforce of 50,000 employees. He runs the sixth biggest government in Canada. His decision to involve himself in a civil dispute over a pile of sand goes beyond micromanagement. It’d be like if Apple CEO Tim Cook volunteered to take a look at your broken MacBook.

The neighbour with the sand pile told the Toronto Star’s David Rider that he couldn’t understand why the mayor had taken an interest. “I don’t think he should be involved in such a petty issue,” he said. “He has staff, councillors, labour negotiations. When did the mayor get involved in such small matters?”

In the same Star article, Doug Holyday defended the mayor’s decision. “He does care about the little guy,” said the deputy mayor. “I guess it’s hard to stop.”

Yeah, hard to stop. The mayor comes out on the losing end of the city budget debate, but the sand is moved from the backyard a month later.

January 26: With local councillor Frances Nunziata, a handful of staff and — always — a crew from the Toronto Sun, Rob Ford visits a TCHC building in Mount Dennis. This is the kind of thing he’s best at. Never is the mayor more likeable than when he’s visiting with people, listening to their concerns and promising action.

While admirable, the mayor’s passion for this kind of politicking and governance — one-to-one, personal, on-demand — hints at one of his big weaknesses. As the mayor of the city, Ford can effect more large-scale change sitting at a board room table with staff than he can wandering the halls of a TCHC building, pointing out needed repairs.

Even Rob Ford doesn’t have the energy to personally monitor the condition of every TCHC property in the city. If he really wants to improve conditions, he has to start with policy. With funding. With leadership.

But, still, the mayor visits. People smile and give him hugs. The Sun’s Don Peat hears from a resident that she really appreciates the mayor’s visit. “It’s good,” she says. “He’s showing he cares.”

Meanwhile, Ford is rightly put off by the number of holes he’s seeing in the walls of TCHC units. “Holy, there’s three of them,” the Sun reports him saying. “These holes are driving me nuts.”

February 8: A few hours after losing a major vote on transit at a council meeting he didn’t even want to hold, Rob Ford decides to get on the subway. He begins riding at Royal York station in Etobicoke, going east toward the Scarborough RT and then on to Scarborough Town Centre.

There are a lot of different things a mayor might be expected to do after losing a major vote. Riding trains and buses for four hours in the middle of night wouldn’t generally make the list. But Rob Ford isn’t conventional.

The Sun’s Joe Warmington,  invited along for the ride, tracked the mayor’s conversations with riders. The idea, I guess, was to collect feedback in favour of Ford’s subway plans.

“This is where it’s all about it. I don’t call it retail politics. I call it the ground game. This is where the people are,” the mayor says, according to Warmington.

In addition to talking transit, the mayor also talks to riders about other topics. His weight loss comes up. So does the old stand-by: city hall expense accounts. “I think it’s ridiculous all of the money that we have available to us at city hall,” the mayor says, maybe forgetting for a second that he’s no longer the perpetual outsider, no longer a rogue councillor from Etobicoke. He’s the mayor.

Somewhere along the route, Warmington reports, a rider asks the mayor if he has a lighter. The mayor doesn’t, so he gives the woman five dollars.

On the way back — it’s well past midnight — the mayor’s trip gets interrupted as the subway closes for the night. Rob Ford has missed the last train. He soon finds himself on the bus, but at Eglinton he and his staff realize they forgot to get transfers. The ride is over.

The mayor takes a cab home. Again on his own.

Feb 12

Labour Daze: work stoppage seems likely as city moves to force strike

Because politics in Toronto aren’t already heated and chaotic enough, we got word today that the city is seemingly on course to head straight into a work stoppage situation with its outside worker union. The labour disruption — which could take the form of a lockout or a strike or some kind of work-to-rule thing — could start as soon as Sunday. (Updated for clarity: the union hasn’t scheduled a strike vote so they’re not going to take any immediate action this weekend. We could start to see movement on Sunday, however, depending on the terms the city imposes.)

The tenor of the negotiations between the city and the union changed quickly. It was only yesterday that things looked pretty good, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale:

Less than 72 hours before a lockout or strike becomes legal, the leader of the union representing Toronto’s outdoor municipal workers is reporting “significant progress toward successfully concluding an agreement.”

Mark Ferguson, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 416, made the optimistic assessment in a written statement Thursday afternoon.

via Toronto labour fight: As lockout date looms, CUPE reports ‘significant progress’ | Toronto Star.

But then, earlier this morning, we got word that any progress between the two sides had been torpedoed after the city let the union know they’d be unilaterally imposing new contract terms.

The Star’s David Rider:

The Mayor Rob Ford administration has moved aggressively against CUPE Local 416, tabling 11th-hour demands it says will be imposed on 6,000 city workers Sunday whether their union accepts them or not.

The threat — very unusual in the public sector and regarded as a way to get workers to accept an offer or force them to strike — pushes Toronto to the very brink of a work stoppage this weekend by outside workers.

Bruce Anderson, the city’s executive director of human resources, told reporters Friday the demands, suddenly tabled Thursday night after months of bargaining, will be unilaterally imposed at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

via Take new deal or we’ll impose it, city tells workers | Toronto Star.

The city’s threat basically amounts to this: we’re going to start messing with your jobs. Security provisions will be tossed out and benefit plans changed. The city has even threatened to stop collecting union dues via their payroll system, something which seems extraordinary petty.

The goal seems to be to provoke a strike from the union. The city — and Rob Ford, whose office has a clear hand in these negotiations — seemingly holds the belief that a labour disruption is inevitable. A negotiated settlement is out of the question. (If you believe rumours, a negotiated settlement was always out of the question.) And because a lockout imposed by the city might build public sympathy for the union, forcing a strike is the preferable solution from the city’s perspective.

David Dorey, a professor at York U, has a good run-down of some of the technical details on his blog.

What Next? 

A prolonged labour disruption raises a lot of questions. For instance: how exactly does this help Rob Ford with his mandate to improve customer service across the city? The guy was elected at least partially because of residual anger and bad-feelings stemming from the 2009 strike — and so he responds by taking the city into another one just like it?

Also, back in 2009, Ford was a big proponent of provincial back-to-work legislation as a means to end the dispute. He surely won’t advocate the same this time of around, should the union strike. Why the change of heart?

But really, presuming some kind of work stoppage takes hold next week, everything turns into a PR battle. The union will have to effectively portray themselves as victims of management that never wanted to negotiate in good faith. They’ll have to convince the public that the city always wanted a strike. The city, on the other hand, will talk about how the Ford administration has a strong mandate to rein in costs and take back control of organized labour. They’ll say that the union is being unreasonable.

Don’t kid yourself: public opinion will probably fall squarely on the side of the mayor. In fact, this is undoubtedly a chance for Ford to rebuild some of the popularity he squandered over the last year. There is a strong unshakeable belief amongst many Toronto residents that public sector workers are unfairly overpaid for the work they do.

The union isn’t starting from a strong position. They’ve got some ground to make up.

The Bigger Picture

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’ve got to wonder if any of this will prove to be worth it. These labour negotiation wheels were set in motion primarily because the mayor wants to contract out a number of city services to the private sector, and that can’t be done with the job security provisions under the current collective agreement.

But is going to all this trouble to chase those contracting-out opportunities even worth it? Are there really enough money-saving opportunities that a prolonged and bitter labour dispute is justified? Wouldn’t it better to pursue a long-term approach, balancing the current collective agreement with contracting-out opportunities that can actually demonstrate value and customer service?

Does it really make sense to let garbage pile up on our streets for months without knowing the answers to these questions?

Oct 11

Catching Up: Provincial Election Fallout, TTC Customer Service, Library Cuts & Budget Blues

After nine months of episodic thrills — Public Housing Chicanery! Disappearing Bike Lanes! Marathon Meetings! A Waterfront Under Attack! — the loud political drama that has surrounded Mayor Rob Ford since he took office last year seemed to finally quiet down last week. The only thing to really come out of City Hall was a committee decision to ban the sale of Shark Fin. Which, sure, is a good thing, from what I can tell, but it’s hardly an issue rich with intrigue or nuance. It’s simply good news for sharks.

So I decided to take last week off from blogging.

But just because shark fins were the only major thing up for debate at City Hall doesn’t mean there weren’t rumblings of larger stories to come. Here are a few jumbled thoughts on the bigger stories from the past seven days.

Provincial Election Fallout

Ford did a mini media-tour on the morning after the provincial election, going so far as to stop by the CBC studios to speak to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway. The results of the provincial election — a complete Tory shutout in Toronto — can realistically only be seen as a major defeat for the Fords and their agenda, but the mayor still came out with his own spin on things.

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

Mr. Ford met with the three major party leaders during the campaign but did not endorse anyone. During the radio interview, the Mayor dismissed any suggestion the Progressive Conservatives’ inability to crack through the 416 may have been a repudiation of his approach to balancing the books.

“Not at all. Last time I checked, we never had a seat, Tories never had a seat, my name was never on the ballot… I’m getting a lot of support, people are saying stay the course,” said Mr. Ford. “I’ve worked well with Mr. McGuinty. He helped us make the TTC an essential service and we’re not going to have strikes anymore…we have a great working relationship.”

via Liberal minority government ‘excellent’ for Toronto: Rob Ford | National Post.

The spin is, of course, kind of lame, but there’s actually a bit of truth to what Ford’s saying: his October 2010 victory did hinge on the support he got from voters who wouldn’t describe themselves as conservative or even right-leaning.

He got that support because his major platform plank wasn’t conservative or right-leaning.

Here’s the thing about all that stop-the-gravy-train, spending-problem-not-a-revenue-problem stuff: it all rested on the premise that there wouldn’t be service cuts. Ford wasn’t preaching good, right-wing austerity and the elimination of social programs. He was calling for the status quo, only cheaper. People believed in that. They voted for that. But, in return, they got the same conservative, let’s-cut-everything governance they had roundly rejected in the past.

And that’s why the mayor is unpopular.

Improving customer service while cutting actual service

TTC Chair Karen Stintz announced a “customer service liaison panel” and an upcoming Town Hall meeting as the first step toward improving customer service on the TTC. This is incredibly boring news.

Steve Munro points out that trying to improve customer service while cuts are moving forward that would increase overcrowding on transit vehicles — thus providing worse service in general — seems kind of ridiculous:

What nobody mentioned is that most of these recommendations address problems of communication in a broad sense, but the report is silent about system management and service quality.

There has been no discussion of the service implications of the budget cuts beyond the general policy change in loading standards — we don’t yet know which routes and time periods will be affected, or how much more crowded they will be.  Chair Stintz stated that the proposed cuts, in detail, would be part of the budget process at the TTC and Council.

via More Icing, Less Cake (Updated) | Steve Munro.

I don’t think you need to have a big discussion to determine that riders don’t like it when their bus driver is rude, and that they especially don’t like when their bus driver is rude and their bus is late. Customer service suffers on the TTC when service itself suffers.

Major cuts to Library Service

While Ford took branch closures off the table — finally –, library cuts are still very much on the table for the 2012 budget. And they’re significant.

The Toronto Star’s Raveena Aulakh:

Closing libraries was suggested by consultant KPMG some months ago. Ford backed down after an unprecedented public outcry led by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. But the mayor left the door open to a reduction in operating hours and other cuts.

Now the cuts are here:

•An almost 30 per cent reduction in the number of hours that neighbourhood branches will be open on Sundays.

•At least 25 neighbourhood branches losing some morning service from Monday to Saturday.

•Nearly 20,000 fewer open hours from Monday to Saturday.

•Two research and reference libraries will lose two mornings each.

•A reduced acquisition budget, meaning more than 106,000 library items won’t now be bought.

via Toronto library services face cutbacks | Toronto Star.

In an edition of the National Post Political Panel from earlier this year, Post columnist Chris Selley noted that “Ford told the Post in a sit-down interview that closing a library on a Sunday, never mind entirely, constituted a major service cut in his mind.”

So: this would be a major service cut. Do you think Rob Ford will oppose these staff recommendations, which were made to meet his edict that departments reduce their budgets by 10%?

$774 million is wrong. So wrong. Incredibly wrong.

That $774 million figure — the purported budget shortfall for 2012 that leads us to apocalyptic budget scenarios and 35 per cent tax hikes — was always BS. This is continuously confirmed by reports coming from city staff, who can’t help but point out that there are significant revenues that have come in or will come in from the 2010 and 2011 budget years.

Here’s the latest, via The Star’s Paul Moloney:

In a report to the budget committee, finance staff project the tax windfall and cost cuts mean there will be a $139.3 million surplus left over at the end of this year. That’s money that will make it easier to balance the 2012 budget.

The large surplus results in part from a hiring freeze and other cost-saving measures, but most comes from the higher tax haul.

via City headed for $140M surplus thanks to tax Ford wants to scrap | Toronto Star.

“City headed for $140M surplus thanks to tax Ford wants to scrap” is a great headline.

Ford’s allies were quick to dismiss this news, arguing that we shouldn’t use one-time funds to plug systemic budget issues. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told a group of his constituents that “We’ve got to make balancing the budget repeatable and accountable every single year without a provincial bailout or pulling a rabbit out of a magic hat.” The budget chief echoed that: “You should use one-time surplus money for one-time expenses. The problem for the city for a long time has been the use of one-time monies to balance the budget. We can’t get back into that trap.”

And, yes, I suppose, in a perfect world we’d have budgets that balanced without prior-year surplus dollars, which would allow us to put the surplus dollars in reserves and save them for a rainy day. But we don’t live in that world. And the only alternative we’ve been shown so far to using these one-time funds to get us through 2012 is to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from programs that people seem to value a lot.

Aug 11

29 year council veteran Holyday expresses total ignorance on critical budget matters

The Toronto Star’s David Rider, in an article discussing the shrinking possibility that Mayor Rob Ford will be able to eliminate the land transfer tax during this term of office:

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he can’t imagine the tax disappearing next year and wouldn’t speculate on when it will be scrapped, adding, “that money has already worked its way into the system to pay for spending increases and new employees.

“Who knew during the election we were $774 million in the hole? I didn’t know.”

The gap between spending and revenue at the start of the budget cycle in 2010, Miller’s last year in office, was $443 million. In 2009 it was $679 million.

via Toronto News: Ford mum on vow to scrap land sales tax, as budget shortfall looms – thestar.com. [Emphasis added.]

Rider’s being a good reporter, so he only hints at what I’ll just say outright: either Holyday is admitting that he hasn’t read a city budget document in years or he is being completely disingenuous with his claim that this year’s budget gap is a surprise.

For David Miller’s last budget, the opening pressure was actually $821 million, larger than this year’s shortfall. It only got down to $443 million after cost cutting, user fee hikes and other measures. Holyday was there. He read the budget. Opening pressures in the same ballpark have been dealt with by council essentially every year since amalgamation. Holyday was there for every single one of them.

Beyond that, the deputy mayor is seemingly making the claim that the city’s financial problems were not a known quantity during an election campaign that was largely fought-and-won over the issue of the city’s financial problems.


Jul 11

City infrastructure: something’s gotta give

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney reported last week that the city now carries $4.4B worth of net debt, as a result of a 20 per cent increase in 2010. Moloney talked to Deputy Mayor Doug Holday to get the scoop on how this administration is going to reduce debt levels:

“I guess we’ll have to look at capital requests with a fine-tooth comb,” Holyday said. “It’s things like the Fort York bridge, which was to be entirely borrowed — it went over budget and became unaffordable.”

“As we go forward, I wouldn’t be surprised if we found other projects that could wait or be reduced in some fashion. We’re just not in a position to keep increasing the debt load.”

via Toronto debt $4.4B and rising – thestar.com.

In other words: we’re going to cut things. Because previous councils have spent far too much on all the entirely unnecessary infrastructure we’ve seen spring up in recent years. Like, um… huh.

The reality is that a significant percentage of the city’s capital costs go to entirely necessary repairs to existing infrastructure. It’s never easy or cheap to run a major city, but it gets progressively harder and more expensive when all the stuff that helps the city function — the pipes, the roads, the tracks, the transit vehicles, the public housing — get to be at least 30-40 years old.

It’s worth noting that the last time a city agency got lax with prioritizing state of good repair costs in their capital budgets, people literally died.

Even ignoring the cost of maintaing the infrastructure we’ve got, no one could reasonably argue that a fast-growing city in a super-fast-growing region can or should make do with the infrastructure we have. As reported by the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba, the Toronto Board of Trade released a report last week calling for the expansion of transportation infrastructure to be a major issue in this fall’s provincial election:

Toronto-area residents are stuck in some of the worst traffic around, spending on average 80 minutes a day commuting, according to regional transit agency Metrolinx. That could hit 109 minutes by 2031. The congestion costs the Toronto-area economy $6-billion a year, a figure Metrolinx says will rise to $15-billion in 20 years if significant action isn’t taken.

“This is a critical issue, this is a top issue up there with the issues of health care, with the issues of education,” said [Board of Trade president Carol] Wilding. “At this point, taking options off the table, or a bidding war that goes down the path of what we don’t want to do, is not the right discussion to be having.”

via Funding to tackle ‘a critical issue’: Toronto Board of Trade | National Post.

The belief that solving the fiscal challenges facing the city is a simple matter of cutting a few wasteful things is, I think, one of the more dangerous elements of the Rob Ford administration. Serious, structural shortfalls — both fiscal and relating to infrastructure — require serious leadership, especially with regard to intergovernmental affairs.

Of course, Councillor Doug Ford stepped it after the Board of Trade report, fulfilling his role as Requisite Diversion and proposing some dumb magical private-sector thing where the Gardiner Expressway would be three storeys high and people would live in it. Problem solved.


Jun 11

Of expenses and Halifax trips: micromanaging the ‘gravy train’

The Toronto Star’s David Rider:

Facing revolt from councillors of all political stripes, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday is willing to give only a little ground in his plan to clamp down on their office expenses.

He has agreed to minor changes, for example rewording a section to allow a councillor to order in a pizza dinner for late-working staff.

“But no pricey meals at fancy restaurants across the street, like some have done in the past,” adds Holyday,

via ‘Micromanaging’ Holyday faces revolt over councillor expenses – thestar.com.

Doug Holyday’s been banging the drum for expense reform for a while now, and increasingly my reaction is simply this: Who cares?

Who cares? Who cares? Who cares?

The most important reform to councillor expenses already happened. They’re posted online, quarterly, with receipts. The public can view them themselves or, more likely, read the nineteen articles the Toronto Sun will run the very next day questioning every item that isn’t straight-up office supplies.

Any further reforms should be geared toward ensuring councillors are getting the best deal possible on common items like newspaper printing, and helping our elected reps better work with technology, so they’re not doing moronic things like running up massive international data bills.

Maybe I’m idealistic, but I think we elect councillors to be innovative in the way they do their job and meet their constituents’ collective needs. If a councillor decides that they’ll better serve their ward by going to XYZ conference or even buying their staff pizza with literal flakes of gold as toppings, then let them do it. If the voters decide that a councillor is not being responsible or effective with their office budget, then the recourse is clear: vote the bastard out.

Holyday also criticized the twelve Toronto councillors who attended the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference this past weekend in Halifax, as if conferences for professional development and/or networking aren’t an incredibly common and worthwhile thing in the private sector.

Ford also skipped the FCM conference. When asked why, his director of policy and strategic planning Mark Towhey told the Globe’s Elizabeth Church: “Toronto is a pretty big city. People know where it is.” As he understands it, the FCM Conference is mostly about speculative geography. Also, apparently the city’s relationship with the federal government is now strong enough that no collective advocacy on the part of Canadian municipalities is necessary.

Related: Over at Spacing, John Lorinc makes the push for an argument that says it’s a good thing for Toronto’s reputation that Ford didn’t attend. Silver linings.

Jun 11

Holyday on Panhandling: How do you solve social issues without social programs?

For some reason, Councillor Doug Holyday did a mini press-tour last week to hype up the idea of new bylaws against panhandling. Panhandling — especially the aggressive variety — is definitely a problem worth addressing, but what’s interesting about Holyday’s approach is that he seems bound and determined to solve the issue without resorting to investment in social programs. Even if those social programs are effective.

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba scored a brief Q&A with the deputy mayor:

Q: So are you talking about a bylaw that bans panhandling?
A: I don’t know if it bans it, but it controls how it happens and it certainly makes it illegal for people to be in your face and for people to block the sidewalk and use public property as their own.  [The police] say to control the matter, we have to have better laws. It’s about having a bylaw with teeth. What happens now is that they do get a ticket or a citation, but there’s nothing they can do with it. If they had a drivers license that we could attach the ticket to…

Q: Would the city invest more money in shelters, what would happen to the people who are on the street?
A: I suggest for one thing if we had better control over the matter they wouldn’t come here in the first place. Because we’re so lenient with our controls, that’s like inviting them. They come to the city of Toronto because they can get away with doing things they can’t do in their own homes. I think we’d probably have to invest less, because there would be fewer people coming here requiring our help.

via Q&A: Doug Holyday on the city’s panhandlers | Posted Toronto | National Post.

He seems to indicate that the police should do more than issue a ticket or citation to panhandlers. I would assume that means throwing them in jail. It’s either that or he wants to turn them all into motorists so we can revoke their driver’s license when they’re caught panhandling.

Some conservatives seem blind to the fact that, for all intents and purposes, jails and prisons are social programs. Worse, they tend to be incredibly expensive and not very effective ones.

True to his political stripe, Holyday is dismissive on the idea of investment in social services. Meanwhile, a 2010 report indicates that the City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes program helped the outdoor homeless population by 51% between 2006 and 2009.

There’s also this, from the same report:

The costs of providing affordable housing are less on average ($31 per day) than the use of emergency shelters ($69), jails ($142) and hospitals ($665) when people are homeless.

Huh. Still, though, if only these people had driver’s licenses.

May 11

For Ford, credit when credit is due

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat scored an actual, honest-to-goodness interview with Rob Ford. It’s rather light on detail and hard-hitting questions, but it’s worth reading anyway.

I liked this part:

Ford laughs when he’s reminded that retiring councillor Kyle Rae predicted, if elected, Ford would be mayor in name only. Retiring councillor Howard Moscoe said Ford wouldn’t be able to pass gas without council’s permission.

“Well, I’ve done a lot,” he says, shaking his head and smiling. “I’ve done everything we’ve said we were going to do.”

via Six months in: Ford is large and in charge | Home | Toronto Sun.

I already said this last week, but I find it incredibly disconcerting that Ford believes he’s nearing the end of his political agenda. Not only because the agenda is so light on ambitious — though it is: rescind a tax or two, eliminate potential for annoying strikes, kill some council perks, and he’s done? — but because it’s not even accurate.

The Sun also has a list of Ford’s supposed accomplishments. But here are some things Ford hasn’t actually done, despite claims to the contrary:

  • reduced the city’s overall operating budget, or “reined in spending.”
  • secured funding — much less broken ground — on any new subway project
  • privatized garbage collection, or done anything that has ‘reined in’ public sector unions or reduced labour costs

His actual accomplishments so far are actually relatively meagre, typified more by the city’s new lack of ambition, and a handful of spite-based initiatives, instead of some kind of Brave New World of fiscal conservatism.

If Ford can succeed in delivering on his promises for a reduced operating budget, high-quality/low-cost privately-delivered services and a funded subway extension (The Eglinton LRT is a David Miller legacy, and does not count), then he can realistically crow about his accomplishments. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Also from Peat’s article is a bit from Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday:

Asked why the Ford administration has targeted so many of Miller’s legacy projects, Holyday says it’s due to necessity.

“So many things we couldn’t afford to do in the way he planned to do them,” Holyday says.

He pointed to the $24-million Fort York pedestrian bridge blown up by the public works committee.

“We would have had to borrow every cent to build it,” Holyday says.

I’m very confused by fiscal conservatives who savage the idea of debt, as if it’s some terrible way to finance capital projects. How are they suggesting the city invest in infrastructure, if not through financing? Is the province supposed to fund everything for us? Or is this just another private-sector magic beans thing?

Apr 11

Citizen voices silenced at city hall

On Wednesday, the mayor’s executive committee voted to adopt a staff recommendation that would eliminate eleven active citizen committees and formally dissolve ten others whose work has been deemed to be ended. (The item still has to be approved by council.)

The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White explains the opposition to the move, and quotes deputy mayor Doug Holyday’s rationale for cutting these committees:

Opponents portray the move as an attempt to blockade one of the few avenues unelected Torontonians have to influence municipal policy while the mayor’s allies see it as making good on election promises to streamline government.

“It’s a simple way of reducing bureaucracy,” said deputy mayor Doug Holyday. “There are many, many other ways for people to be heard at city hall without these committees.”

via Ford’s committee criticized for vote to cancel citizen panels – The Globe and Mail.

It should be noted that Doug Holyday pointed out the “many, many other ways for people to be heard at city hall” on the very same day that the executive committee reshuffled their agenda, forcing those who had come to city hall to speak against the elimination of city committees to wait for more than seven hours before getting an opportunity to depute.

And when the citizens in attendance did get a chance to speak, others in attendance reported that the councillors on the executive committee seemed uninterested in what they had to say.

Here’s how Daren “cityslikr” Foster at All Fired Up In the Big Smoke described the scene:

The reception most of the speakers received was perfunctory at best. The members of the Executive Committee asked few questions, most of their attention turned to making sure enough of them were present to maintain a quorum. I don’t believe Councillors Mammoliti (probably off figuring ways to defund Pride) or Shiner were ever in the room during deputations.

Councillor Kelly left early and Councillor Thompson, when he was present, spent most of it away from his chair talking to members of the press and the mayor’s staff. Citizen democracy wasn’t foremost in their minds.

via Citizens Not Wanted – All Fired Up In The Big Smoke.

To recap: Councillors argue that citizen committees are no longer necessary because citizens can speak directly to councillors via committee deputations and other mechanisms. Then those same councillors ignore the citizens who take the time to come to share their opinions.