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.

Aug 11


The Grid’s Edward Keenan:

People will say—I know they are already are saying—that he was a man who was in politics “for the right reasons.” Unlike many, I think that is true of most polticians, however effective they may or may not be, and no matter how distracted they may become. But the interesting thing about Layton is that the wrong reasons appear not to have ever occurred to him. He coupled that with boundless energy and an inability to see anything as impossible or to interpret anything as a setback.

Contra Yeats, he was a man of great conviction who was full of passionate intensity. Our country, his party and our politics are lessened by his loss.

Long may the spirit of his relentless smile live on.

via Jack Layton: may his spirit smile on | The Grid TO.

Jack Layton died today. It sucks.

I feel dumb. Knowing I’d be off at a meeting all day and away from the computer, I scheduled a few posts  to run automatically on this blog. When I heard the Layton news on the 501 streetcar this morning, I had no time to alter or reschedule those posts. So, as planned last night, they went up over the course of the day.

I feel, as the guy who both writes and edits and promotes this blog, that the ideal thing to do would have been to postpone those posts, to spend the day linking to articles about Jack Layton, to try to — on this terrible occasion — find a way to celebrate his life and his contribution to Toronto and to Canada.

I regret the error.

Still, though, I suppose there are worse ways to honour the man than with political arguments. Calling out a conservative bluff, championing community activism and involvement and working toward a fair, dignified strategy to eliminate poverty — these are some of the things that Jack Layton stood up for. Their subjects typify just a few of the political battles he fought and a measure of the legacy he leaves.

The memory of this sad day will soon fade and what we’ll be left with is that legacy. A legacy that informs all of us who have passion for where we live. And while Layton is tinged with the colours of the party that he led and took so far — and could have taken farther — what he leaves us is not a spirit of partisanship or ideology. Instead, it’s about a driving desire to make the places we live in better than they are now. It’s about building collaborative and vibrant places where all things are possible to all peoples and creating cities and countries that continuously improve. That always endure. That last.

Toronto was lucky to have Jack Layton as a resident, a leader and a champion. His work in this city and for this city continues to impact us every day. Let’s hold onto all he gave us, and let it guide us forward. Toward something better. Something that lasts.

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.

May 11

What does the Mayor want from the Federal Government?

So the federal election happened. I’m over it. Municipal politics are way more fun and important anyway. How interesting can a government chamber be when you always know how everyone is going to vote?

But before we can move on, we’ve got to acknowledge the Ford Nation, and whatever impact it is they had in Monday night’s outcome.

Here’s what Doug Ford, presumably speaking for his brother, had to say about the results:

“What is good for Toronto is good for Canada,” Ford said Tuesday, adding that for the first time in a long time, Toronto will have a say in the federal government.

“We have a friendly voice in Ottawa right now,” he said. “We never had a voice in Ottawa for a number of years…we have numerous strong voices now to represent us in Toronto and Ottawa knows we are going to be a strong voice coming from Toronto now.

“It’s always nice to be able to pick up the phone and have a direct line to Ottawa, day in and day out.”

via Election good for Toronto, Councillor Ford says | Decision 2011 | News | Toronto Sun.

Okay — but what is it that the Ford Brothers want from the federal government? The line in the endorsement was about the Public-Private Partnership Infrastructure fund, but that at most represents a $300 million dollar commitment and isn’t going to be anything close to the magic bullet the city needs to actually make this Sheppard subway extension happen.

So what is it? What should the federal government do for Toronto? Ford had a laundry list of demands for the provincial government earlier this year. And other mayors across Canada have certainly made it clear they need more direct funding for infrastructure.

But so far Toronto’s mayor hasn’t asked the prime minister for much more than a handshake. He voted against sending a letter to the federal government that would condemn cuts to immigration services in Toronto, something that negatively impacts thousands of people, including many who supported Ford. At the last council meeting, the mayor was one of a group of five councillors to vote against asking the federal government to provide support to businesses who suffered damage or lost business during the G20 weekend.

If the mayor is so sure that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to be good for Toronto, he needs to define what “good for Toronto” is. It has to be more than token support for a P3 subway line and the meagre funding the city gets from the gas tax.

We’re facing an 800 million dollar hole in our operating budget next year and our combined capital budget requirement for transit and other infrastructure over the next decade totals into the tens of billions of dollars. Surely the federal government — who receive more than 50 cents of every tax dollar you pay — can do something about that.

Wouldn’t that be good for Toronto?

May 11

What did and didn’t happen in Toronto last night

Yesterday’s federal election is mostly beyond the scope of this blog, but since the mayor saw fit to involve himself I guess it’s all fair game.

Last night in Canada, the Conservative Party won 167 of 308 ridings, forming Canada’s first majority government in a decade. The Conservatives accomplished this despite seeing very little success in Quebec, long considered the major electoral barrier standing between Party Leader Stephen Harper and his long-desired majority. The difference-maker was, by all accounts, Toronto.

‘Fortress Toronto’ has been breached. The Conservatives won several supposedly ‘safe’ Liberal seats. The kind of seats that have been red since Confederation. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was himself defeated in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

It was a really bad night for the Liberal Party.

Here’s what didn’t happen last night: Rob Ford’s endorsement didn’t make much of a difference. Rob Ford, in his current role as the  Toucan Sam of populist conservatism — selling us cereal that is both healthy and tastes like candy –, did not significantly impact these results.

Further, Toronto did not display its newfound love for all things Conservative. Toronto is not the new Alberta.

So what did happen? Some ill-timed electoral calculus. A split vote like none other. The wave that took the NDP to record heights across Canada had some unintended consequences when it hit Toronto. Our longstanding support for the Liberal Party made for a bedrock group of voters in most ridings who were unwilling to switch to the Orange team. They’re the fortress in ‘Fortress Toronto.’ But enough soft Liberal voters did go NDP to create the perfect conditions for Conservative candidates to take their ridings.

Take Etobicoke Centre for example, where Conservative Ted Opitz was elected. The Cons were up 4% in that riding over their 2008 result. The Liberals were down 8%. The NDP was up 6%. Opitz won by only a handful of votes. In Don Valley East, the Liberals were down 14% while the NDP rose 12%. Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ignatieff’s seat, saw the Libs down 11 points while the NDP was up 9.

The same trend is evident in a number of other suburban Toronto ridings: The Liberals bled support, a little bit to the Conservatives and a lot to the NDP. Bled just enough to ensure a string of Conservative pluralities across the 416.

If you want to read anything more into the Toront0-area results from last night, start with this: Like they did this past October with George Smitherman, Toronto has once again rebuked the all-things-to-all-people flavourless brand of politics that defines today’s Liberals. Voters don’t want their politicians to be above ideology. Voters crave ideology. They crave character. They want to be inspired. They want to feel like they’re part of something. That they’re standing up for something. That, by supporting a candidate, there’s something to win.


Apr 11

Ford endorses federal party that offers nothing for Toronto

Natalie Alcoba reports the only-a-little-surprising news that Rob Ford will officially endorse Stephen Harper at a Conservative Party rally in Brampton tonight:

Adrienne Batra, the Mayor’s press secretary, confirmed that he will be introducing the prime minister at a rally in Brampton.

“It’s coming down to the wire in terms of the election and the Conservative platform and the message that Prime Minister Harper has been giving, lower taxes, is very important to the City of Toronto, particularly on the corporate tax side. We need to create jobs here and have a competitive tax environment,” said Ms. Batra.

via Mayor Rob Ford to endorse Harper | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Two points:

First, it is more than a little insane that a mayor who threatened to campaign against the provincial government, should they not give in to his stated demands for more money, is now publicly supporting a federal party that has little-to-nothing in their platform about urban issues.

Second, I think it’s somewhat telling that this endorsement is taking place on a Friday night, two days before the election, at a party event outside of Toronto. This is something that’s largely meant to fly under the general public’s radar, energize the Conservative base in the 905 — who, anecdotally, seem crazy for Rob Ford and the “stop the gravy train” stuff — and keep the Fords in the good graces of the Conservative Party.

Apr 11

One Ford silent on election issues as other canvasses for Tories

The mayor actually spoke to reporters on Friday. About issues beyond graffiti removal! He didn’t say much, but I thought his response on the federal election question was interesting:

He continued to stay away from the federal election. He is not endorsing any party, but will help out Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty, a long-time family friend. Asked what parties could do to woo Toronto voters, Mr. Ford was reticent. “I’m not going to pass the buck. I’m responsible for our city and I’m not going to blame the provincial or federal government. Whatever they can do, whatever they think is the appropriate measure, I appreciate it.”

via Ford takes questions on Gordon Chong, councillor expenses | Posted Toronto | National Post.

He’s not going to blame the provincial government. But just over a month ago he did blame the provincial government. He asked them for more money for city programs. Then he threatened to unleash ‘Ford Nation’ if they didn’t give him what he wanted. Does he not remember that?

To be fair, he has been very consistent in giving the federal government a pass when it comes to city issues. He voted against condemning federal cuts to immigration services. He’s remained silent despite this current election atmosphere being a great time for municipal leaders to make their case for urban issues. And today he voted against receiving Adam Vaughan’s motion that the city ask the federal government to clarify compensation rules for shop owners who suffered damage during the G20 summit last summer.

While Ford isn’t getting actively involved in the election, his brother is. Both Nick Kouvalis and Rocco Rossi tweeted about Doug Ford canvassing for the Conservative Party in Toronto ridings this past weekend.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with councillors supporting and campaigning for federal and provincial candidates, but Doug Ford’s incredibly close relationship with the mayor’s office works to betray his younger brother’s attempt to remain neutral.

Apr 11

Tumbleweeds in Toronto as federal election looms

The Toronto Star’s David Rider talks to the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, who is pretty fired up about the need for increased federal funding for Canada’s towns and cities, especially as various programs are set to expire:

“It’s time for leadership — traffic gridlock is choking our cities, local police services are overstretched, and 175,000 Canadian families are on affordable housing waiting lists,” said FCM president Hans Cunningham.

“Municipalities just don’t have the funding tools other governments have, and they can’t afford to meet these national challenges all on their own.”

via Federal funds for cities set to expire, municipalities ask: What’s the plan? – thestar.com.

Hell yes. This is a cause we can all get behind, right? Our mayor, who just a few months back was threatening to unleash ‘Ford Nation’ on the provincial government unless they coughed up more funds, should be all over this kind of thing.

Let’s see what he had to say:

So far, Ford has not followed predecessor David Miller’s lead in being a leading FCM voice lobbying Ottawa. Cunningham said FCM staff have talked to Ford’s staff, but not to the mayor himself.

“At this point we haven’t heard from Toronto with regard to their goals with this election. We hope to do that shortly . . . ,” he said, noting he understands “the big issue in Toronto is subways.”

In other words:

Mar 11

The federal election and our missing mayor

The Globe & Mail story has a good story about transit and the role it should play in the federal election. According to the byline, it’s written by — deep breath — Siri Agrell, Les Perreaux, Wendy Stueck and  Josh Wingrove.

They start strong:

Commute times in Canadian cities are no longer just a source of rush-hour irritation, but a national liability affecting the economic performance of our urban centres and requiring immediate intervention from Ottawa.

via Transit problems across Canada prompt calls for politicians to address issue – The Globe and Mail.

Canadians tend to totally let the federal government off the hook when it comes to this kind of thing. We are the only G8 country without a National Transit Strategy. That should make you angry, especially in an era of rising gas prices.

The article features quotes from the mayors of Vancouver, Calgary and Port Moody. This is all that is said about Toronto:

In Toronto, congestion has reached epic proportion and large-scale projects by the regional transit authority Metrolinx (the Big Move plan) have been thrown into jeopardy by the election of Mayor Rob Ford, who is firmly opposed to expanding light rail.

Despite publicly threatening to lead a campaign against the Provincial government if they didn’t provide additional funding for this city, our mayor has made no demands of the federal government. Missed opportunity.

Mar 11

Vision matters

The Globe & Mail, shining a spotlight on urban issues across the country, asked the mayors of Canada’s biggest cities what they’d like to see in the looming federal budget. The one that will probably trigger an election. Most mayors took the opportunity to talk about the challenges facing cities, and the need for increased, reliable funding from all levels of government. They took the time to put together thoughtful responses to the question at hand, demonstrating their belief that cities are a critical part of the Canadian economy.

Our mayor, on the other hand, said this, as reported by The Globe’s Siri Agrell:

But the mayor of Canada’s largest city stayed conspicuously mum on the subject. Toronto’s Rob Ford declined to share his hopes for the federal budget, saying in an e-mail only that he hopes it shows “respect for taxpayers’ money.”

via Canada’s big-city mayors are wondering: After the stimulus, what’s next? – The Globe and Mail.

During the election, not a lot was said about the candidates’ visions for the city. Transit plans sort of played into things a bit, but there were no real discussions about ideas for growth and development (or redevelopment) in various areas. Toward the end of the campaign, the Toronto Sun wrote a dumb editorial where they claimed that Ford’s sole “vision” was to “cut wasteful spending.” Royson James jumped on the vision-doesn’t-matter bandwagon too, writing, “The Toronto electorate, circa 2010, is not looking for a silver-tongued prophet with a vision of an ascendant Toronto.” (Emphasis added.)

Of course, despite the rhetoric, the reality is that vision does matter. Vision always matters. Even if somehow the administration is able to drastically reduce the size of the city government, freeze or lower the tax burden and eliminate the debt, the question will always be: what next? How are we going to move Toronto forward? What kind of city do we want to be?

That we elected someone who has no idea what the path forward looks like is, I think, the saddest part of all of this.