Oct 11

Ford stays out of provincial race as Ford Nation goes up in smoke

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Days before the May federal election, Ford came out endorsing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives.

But Ford won’t be throwing his support behind Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath or Liberal Dalton McGuinty

“There are no plans to,” Adrienne Batra, the mayor’s press secretary, told the Sun.

Batra did not provide Ford’s reason for staying out of this race.

via Ford staying out of provincial election | News | Ontario Votes | More | Toronto Sun.

Here’s the reason: he’s unpopular.

That Ford didn’t endorse Tim Hudak — the only guy he would ever endorse — is the clearest sign yet that the mayor is aware of his declining popularity. This inaction speaks louder than any poll. Rob Ford knows he doesn’t have the ability to help Hudak in the polls in the 416.

Don’t get me wrong: Ford staying out of the race is the right move. He would have been right to stay out of the federal race too — there really was no personal upside to his endorsement, as Harper promised little for Toronto — but that didn’t stop him. The mayor’s desire to endear himself to the provincial and federal Conservative parties is strong. He didn’t hang that picture of Mike Harris in his office for nothing, nor was it coincidental that Stephen Harper ate barbecue at Ford’s mother’s house over the summer. The Fords seem thrilled to be back in the good graces of the conservative political machine that once rejected them.

Ford’s silence on the provincial race — which, I have to assume, came because the powers-that-be decided his endorsement wouldn’t help anybody — is further proof that, if Rob Ford’s ascension was representative of any kind of political sea change, it was only a fleeting one. A brief, weird moment in time where Toronto collectively rolled the dice on a fascinating, one-of-a-kind politician, who spent his campaign tooling around the city in a (maybe improperly paid for) massive RV, telling everyone he could lower their taxes while maintaining their services.

Election night on October, 25, 2010 was not a massive rightward shift for Toronto. It was not the dawn of some great Ford Nation that holds sway over other orders of government beyond the City of Toronto’s borders. It was just an unlikely man winning an unconventional election in uncertain times.

That doesn’t mean that Ford couldn’t take a second term, of course. Just that, come 2014, the incumbent candidate will have to be a different Rob Ford, running on different terms, telling us something new.

Jun 11

Mammoliti, other councillors face serious audit requests

After making waves with a pretty-damn-serious request for an audit of Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign expenses, Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler turned up the dial last week, debuting a new advocacy group — Fair Elections Toronto — and launching eight additional requests for campaign audits against several councillors and defeated council candidates.

Steve Kupferman with Torontoist:

A group calling itself Fair Elections Toronto is asking for audits of four sitting councillors, whom they accuse of having violated campaign finance laws during the 2010 municipal election.

Comprised of about 25 members and led by activist and Toronto Public Library Board vice-chair Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, Fair Elections Toronto alleges that Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre), Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), and Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) all improperly classified expenses incurred during their campaigns as being for “fundraising functions,” in amounts ranging from $4,000 to $17,000.

via Doug Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, and Other Councillors Facing Calls for Campaign Audits – Torontoist.

The most serious allegations fall against Mammoliti, who is accused of exceeding spending limits by more than 50%. If, over the course of the audit process, it is determined that the Mammoliti campaigning knowingly overspent — listing non-fundraising expenses as fundraising expenses, which are exempt from the limit — he could very well be removed from office.

Knowingly overspending in an election campaign isn’t just a minor administrative error. It’s tantamount to cheating.

The Star’s Daniel Dale has more on the Mammoliti situation:

“When you file an audited financial statement without a name and a date or a title for each one of the expenses claimed, it really stretches my willingness to believe it was a good-faith error,” Chaleff-Freudenthaler said.

Mammoliti said he had done “everything according to the law.” And he lashed out at Chaleff-Freudenthaler and his colleagues.

“We’ve got no concerns at all,” Mammoliti said, “except the fact that we think this is a bit of a conspiracy going on with a few individuals wanting to get to the right-leaning councillors. That’s not really what this structure was put together for. So we’re looking at actually suing the individuals that are doing this.”

via Mammoliti alleges ‘conspiracy’ over audit requests – thestar.com.

When your first line of defence against an allegation is to claim that there’s a conspiracy against you, you know you’re in deep trouble. (A much better line of defence for Mammoliti would have been to produce details, including a date and location, of the fundraising event in question. But maybe that would just be playing into the conspiracists’ hands.)

Fair Elections Toronto’s biggest challenge through this process will be to convince skeptics that their actions are not politically-motivated. That all the sitting councillors targeted for audit happen to be allied with the mayor is difficult to ignore.

But either way, these allegations are serious regardless of motivation. Municipal elections are tooth-and-nail, grassroots efforts, where every dollar spent and every vote cast matters. Allegations that Councillor James Pasternak overspent by a mere $2,500 may seem trivial, for example, until you consider that he won Ward 10 by only 382 votes, garnering less than 20% of the popular vote. A hundred fewer signs or flyers and that race could have easily gone a different way.

Those claiming that these allegations are politically-motivated also have to contend with the fact that Fair Elections Toronto seems sincerely devoted to the idea of reforming the Municipal Elections Act. The Reform page on their site outlines four changes to the Act that would improve accountability and fairness, and justifies the necessity of the current round of audit requests:

Litigating complaints against candidates who, we allege, broke election laws is only the first step in bringing fair elections to Toronto. Fundamental changes need to be made to the Municipal Elections Act to increase accountability and transparency, eliminate the gray areas that candidates systemically exploit, and better reflect the realities of big city elections. As the City of Toronto’s Auditor General reported following the 2006 election, 29 of 45 councillors broke election laws in one way or another. While we have only filed audit requests on the four councillors we believe gained a material advantage from Municipal Elections Act violations, we believe that the culture of non-compliance that was identified in 2006 remains today.

via Reform | Fair Elections Toronto.

Regardless of outcome, the audit process and legal proceedings are expected to drag out for quite some time.

Jun 11

Whistle Blower Protection Policy a small victory for Ford

Let’s give the mayor his due: he fulfilled an election promise Tuesday when council unanimously voted to approve a new Whistle Blower Protection Policy that ensures city employees will not fear for their jobs after reporting department waste or mismanagement.

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

“Every single one of us in this council chamber has received an email or phone call from an employee of the city saying something is wrong, or we can do this better, but they’re afraid to give their name because they’re afraid to lose their job,” Mayor Ford said at the top of this month’s council meeting. “Starting today that will end.”

Mr. Ford, a proponent of smaller government, also lauded the 56,000 civic employees as the “backbone” of how the city is run. “We need them to come forward and say this is a better way of delivering the service, or this is where taxpayers money is being wasted.”

via Council approves ‘whistle blower protection policy’ | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Believing that this policy will make a significant difference requires a pretty significant leap of faith — are there really scores of employees out there aware of negligent use of city funds but won’t come forward? — but it’s a harmless addition to the Fraud Prevention Policy that could ultimately result in a positive outcome.

The new policy defines “waste” as “the gross mismanagement of City resources in a wilful, intentional or negligent manner that contravenes a City policy or direction by Council.”

Jun 11

Rob Ford, October 2010: “I will assure you that services will not be cut”

Over at Torontoist, André Bovee-Begun does a hell of a job tearing through the online survey the city is pushing as part of their ballyhooed core service review:

One of the most striking features of the survey: respondents are asked, for any given service, whether “maintaining the quality is more important” or “lowering the cost to the City is more important.” Think the service should be improved? There’s no check-box for that. It provides another misleading set of choices when it asks respondents how they would choose to pay for any cost increases—via increased property taxes, higher user fees, or a combination thereof. Conspicuously absent: the array of other revenue-generating tools the City has at is disposal, such as the now-cancelled Vehicle Registration Tax or the Land Transfer Tax Ford has promised (but cannot afford) to cut. The survey simply chooses from among the full range of options the City could consider, and presents only some of these to the public for deliberation.

via Toronto’s Budget Survey Deeply Flawed – Torontoist.

He’s right, of course. The survey takes a subjective scenario — the city is totally broke and we must cut costs now or face doom! — and presents it as objective. If you believe, as many do, that the city has a revenue problem instead of a spending problem, there’s little opportunity in this survey to express that view. Worse, the survey seems to suggest that the city is clearly trying to do too much, something those who believe in city building definitely disagree with.

I think most people would probably fall somewhere in the middle, believing that there are surely places where the city can find savings but also that more of the money we send to the provincial and federal governments should return to us in the form of services. But even that view is difficult to express given the constraints of the survey.

If you don’t believe services must be cut, you’re crazy. Or so the story goes.

Hilariously, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande has taken to carrying around a plastic piggy bank to remind people that “we have a financial problem that we have to fix.” He speaks as if the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, even though the majority of this year’s budget hole comes from an ill-advised property tax freeze, the elimination of the vehicle registration fee, and mismanagement of the surplus dollars this administration inherited.  (Yes, the city has a structural deficit it needs to tackle but we could have at least made it through 2012 without too much wrangling.)

This week’s National Post Political Panel also looks at the survey and the public consultation sessions that came with it. Even staunch right-wing 905er Matt Gurney wonders about the wisdom of the mayor’s promise “to find hundreds of million of dollars’ worth of gravy while also promising no service cuts.”

Which brings up another point that I feel must be made continuously through this whole process: Rob Ford has no mandate for service cuts. None. As he probably told a reporter who was standing within earshot of the Toronto Star’s David Rider and Paul Moloney last October:

Although his rivals insist Ford’s savings can’t happen without reducing services Torontonians value — and he would need to somehow convince a majority of councillors to agree with his cuts — he insisted there is enough waste to make his fiscal surgery bloodless.

“I will assure you that services will not be cut . . . guaranteed.”

via Ford fiscal plan big on numbers, short on details – thestar.com. (Emphasis added.)

He broke that guarantee less than two months after he took office. And now he’s getting in gear to break it some more.

Jun 11

Ford appeals campaign audit request, despite having nothing to hide

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

Rob Ford has just filed an appeal with the Ontario Court of Justice, asking that “the decision of the Compliance Audit Committee granting an application for a compliance audit of the 2010 election campaign finances of Rob Ford be set aside” and, further, that “an Order be made rejecting the application for a compliance audit of the 2010 election campaign finances of Rob Ford.”

A couple of weeks ago, when asked if he planned to appeal any of the audit requests, Ford told the Sun: “I don’t think so… There is nothing to hide so let them audit all they want.”

via Rob Ford Appeals Audit Request, Asks for Stay of Audit Committee Decision – Torontoist.

This is in response to the several audit requests filed earlier this month. I’ve written in past posts that I don’t believe these audit requests will amount to much, even if Ford is found to have breached election law. I stand by that view — belief that Ford is being unfairly persecuted by a left-wing ‘other’ is kind of integral to his political success — but, still, this is a surprising development. There’s no way to spin this that doesn’t make Ford look like a giant hypocrite.

In an article by John Lorinc in the Globe, “veteran compliance auditor” Bernard Nayman speculates that this is the first strike in what will likely be a long war of attrition. Essentially, Ford’s lawyers can delay this thing for years.

Also worth reading: Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler, who of the individuals who formally requested the audit, wrote a piece titled “Why I Sought an Audit of Rob Ford” for Spacing. Chaleff-Freudenthaler also deserves a ton of credit for getting quoted as saying “Rob Ford’s day of reckoning will come” in a national newspaper. That’s the kind of thing you tell your grandchildren about.

May 11

Ford’s friendless folly

The great-as-per-usual John Lorinc has a new piece on Spacing today, discussing the string of votes that went against the mayor at last week’s council meeting:

What’s the take-away? The Fords like to believe their electoral mandate – and subsequent polling results – magically translates into touchdowns at council. Not true, especially with a mayor whose diplomatic skills are roughly on par with those of a typical schoolyard bully.

The newbies, it seems, may not want to be manhandled all the time. But these results aren’t just about ineffective whipping and insufficient stroking. Those close losses for the brothers reveal, to me, that the mushy middle councillors, and even some of the mayor’s loyalists, are feeling a wee bit uncomfortable with the program.

via LORINC: Rob Ford’s Not-so-Excellent Week « Spacing Toronto.

When Ford was elected, there was a prevailing wisdom that said, given his large popular mandate, those who had previously opposed him on council would need to buckle down, extend a hand, and work with the new mayor.

Ford, too, expressed a willingness to work with council and, beyond the immediate political sphere, bring together Toronto residents. On election night, he took to the stage at the Toronto Congress Centre and declared “Tonight the city of Toronto is not divided. We are united.” Later, his brother, a newly elected councillor himself, told The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba that he did “not believe in this left- right scenario … because I believe every councillor has great ideas.”

The obvious move on both council’s left and right was to soothe tensions, find common ground, make some concessions, and — above all — compromise. The left has had its moments of partisanship — certain opposition councillors do have a tendency to grandstand and make every item sound like critical life-or-death business — but they have, in my estimation, made an effort to work within the structure and mandate of the new council. The night of the TCHC vote, for example, was nothing if not a serious of attempted compromises — let the elected reps stay; let the alternate elected reps stay; keep the appointed councillors on the board; etc. — all of which were summarily shot down until the mayor got his way.

Indeed, from the very first day of council, when Don Cherry took the podium and playfully insulted half the city’s population — after which, Ford told him his remarks were great –, the mayor has almost always refused to compromise. Eschewing a “big tent” scenario, his political tent has gotten smaller by the month, shedding allies and alienating community groups. And now he’s losing votes.

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.