Posts Tagged: joe mihevc

Jan 12

Ford For Toronto Year One: A Look Back at 2011

The scene, as captured in the video above at a special council meeting held this past September: Councillor Joe Mihevc gets up to question the mayor on the results of the vaunted Core Service Review, the thing that’s supposed to lead the city to budgetary peace. To help make his point, Mihevc puts the chart from this post — a chart I cobbled together from city budget data — on the big screen in council chambers. Rob Ford, prompted by a hurried note from his policy advisor Mark Towhey, responds by pointing out that the chart — my chart — is not from a staff report.

Okay, admits Mihevc. “But is it wrong?”

It’s been a weird year. When I started this oddly-named blog a year ago, I had no real idea what I was doing. I just wanted to write some things about a mayor who both fascinated me and made me nervous.  I never could have imagined that well over 100,000 people would visit this site in 2011 or that I’d receive such an overwhelming response from such a great collection of people.

To all of you who read: thank you.

2011: The Year That Was

January: We kicked off 2011 with boasts and confidence. Rob Ford told the Toronto Sun he might be the best mayor of all time. Ford’s first budget was largely a forgettable affair — turns out financing a city is easy when the previous administration leaves a giant surplus — but we still dealt with a there-and-then-gone TTC fare increase, a library closure at Metro Hall and a reduction in bus service. The 2011 budget’s biggest impact, however, came from Ford’s seemingly innocuous property tax freeze. Torontonians will end up paying for that freeze with starkly reduced services in 2012. Also, Toronto was briefly ready for some football.

February: The shortest month of the year began with minor fireworks, as firebrand Chief of Staff Nick Kouvalis wrapped up his tenure in the mayor’s office. Don’t worry, though: we still heard a lot from him over the rest of the year. In his wake, we started to hear rumours about a scheme to privately fund a Sheppard Subway extension. Though tiny magic unicorns were not specifically mentioned as part of the plan, it seemed like a safe assumption. And the kicker: less than three months in to his brother’s first term, Doug Ford started to show concern that maybe the mayor would have trouble retaining enough votes on council to push his agenda forward.

March: Like mana from heaven came the big TCHC spending scandal. Ford slipped perfectly into his role as angry mayor who demands accountability, culminating in a bizarre decision to remove the entire TCHC Board of Directors (including just-appointed councillors, elected tenant representatives and alternate reps who had never served on the board) before the Audit Committee had a chance to fully investigate the scandal. Amidst the breaking brouhaha, a poll put Ford’s approval rating at 60% and the mayor promised to unleash “Ford Nation” against Dalton McGuinty if his demands for extra provincial funding weren’t met.

April: We began the month with confirmation that Transit City was mostly dead, replaced with an all-underground scheme for Eglinton Avenue and magic beans on Sheppard. Plus more than $50 million in penalties. Not a great trade. We also got first hint that Doug Ford had grand plans for Toronto’s waterfront — plans that would cut Waterfront Toronto out of the process.

In the same vein, council decided that maybe the problem was too much citizen engagement, and moved to shut down several advisory committees. And the city began the process toward contracting out waste collection in part of the city, initially flirting with the idea of approving a contract without council approval.

The month ended with a last-minute mayoral endorsement for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who would go on to win a majority government, buoyed by several victories in the 416. The federal election would be the last we’d see of Ford Nation in Toronto.

May: Though the 2012 budget was still months away, an ominous tone was set when Ford signed off on a rich new contract for the Toronto Police Service. The Core Service Review process began with the mayor encouraging his supporters to fill out an online questionnaire on city services. Ford later dismissed the results of the questionnaire — filled out by some 13,000 people — as irrelevant.

In a widely decried move that would set a nasty tone, the Fort York Bridge was killed in a sneak attack by Ford allies. The bridge was later brought back to life in one of the few positive council stories of 2011, but bad taste and mistrust lingers.

June: Warm weather brought new tidings, as the mayor’s approval rating fell to 57%. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong earned some unlikely kudos as he presented a new bike plan for downtown streets, but it all fell apart when — whoops — it turned out his plan called for the elimination of established bike lanes downtown and in Scarborough. In a move that would later be overturned, the mayor decided on a whim to reject provincially-funded public health nurses. He never says why.

And in probably the biggest Rob Ford story of the year, the mayor refused to march in the Pride Parade. He also skipped every event related to Pride Week. Even diehard Ford supporters struggled to find ways to avoid using the word ‘homophobe.’

July: The council debate on the future of the Jarvis Street bike lane sparked war. Council eventually approved spending money to remove the recently installed lanes, but only after some politician gamesmanship that concluded with several councillors leaving the chamber in protest. In other news, the first reports on the Core Service Review were released, prompting some uproar when they ask council to consider killing everything from childcare programs to night bus service to street cleaning. In addition, we started to hear a lot about a fishy-sounding figure of $774 million.

The month ended with another turning point: a marathon meeting in which Toronto Spoke.

August: I was on the radio! Very briefly. Council mostly took the month off, so we had time to take a quick look at the looming 2012 budget and the mayor’s disaster of a transit plan. Our month of peace was interrupted, however, once we finally learned what the Fords had planned for Toronto’s waterfront.

September: All-out war as citizens fought to maintain the existing plan for the waterfront. And, remarkably, the citizens won. (Mostly.) More recommendations were released stemming from the Core Service Review process, which prompted a lot of concern that these cuts are fuelled by ideology, not necessity. In the midst, a new poll put the mayor’s popularity at 42%.

The hits kept coming for Ford with yet another marathon meeting in which everyone told him his policies are bad, followed by a council meeting that saw him lose several votes.

October: The budget process begins in earnest as Police Chief Bill Blair publicly — and successfully — rejected the mayor’s demand for budget cuts, and instead won an increase for 2012. Ford’s office spins the increase as a reduction anyway. As we started hearing about cuts to library hours, the mayor’s popularity fell further, with an opinion poll putting him at 37%. And Ford proved to be a total non-factor in the provincial election, as the Liberals retained power — and didn’t cede any 416 seats to the Conservatives.

It wasn’t all bad news for the mayor, however, as he did manage to successfully contract out garbage in part of the city, despite a winning bid that smelled funny.

November: The revisionist history wagon trundled on, as Ford allies attempted to convince us that the mayor always said there might be service cuts. Budget news was briefly overshadowed by His Worship’s penchant for calling 911 all the time. We learned that Ford’s transit plan could be threatened by the existence of a 12,000-year-old river. And the 2012 budget was officially launched to predictable scorn.

December: People asked a lot of tough questions about the 2012 budget. Most notably: why the hell would you cut the TTC’s operating subsidy? Any remaining Holiday cheer was dashed by the depressing state of Toronto’s transit expansion plans. And 2011 ended with no one really knowing where Toronto will go next year.

Thank You

After all that, I’d like to thank a bunch of people for their kind words and support over the last year. This blog wouldn’t be here without the encouragement I received from Jonathan Goldsbie, John Michael McGrath, David Topping, Hamutal Dotan, Andrew Wallace, Ivor Tossell, Michal Hay, Daren Foster, Ed Keenan, David Hains, Sol Chrom, Laurence Lui, the CodeBlueTO team and so many others. You’re all the best.

And now: another year of Rob Ford.

Jul 11

Ford looks to fire GM, kill streetcars in push toward ‘joke’ of transit plan

There’s more high drama and intrigue at the TTC these days as Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug seem bound and determined to stick to an election promise to fund and build an extension of the Sheppard Subway, even if it means firing General Manager Gary Webster and dismantling the City’s streetcar system. I can offer no explanation as to why they feel so strongly about keeping this promise while simultaneously breaking other, more important promises.

Nevertheless, The Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski has the story:

Gary Webster, the TTC’s top executive, is caught in the crosshairs of Mayor Rob Ford’s administration, prompting fears that Toronto transit could be headed on a disastrous course if he’s fired.

A 30-year TTC veteran, the 60-year-old chief general manager has drawn the ire of the Fords over his refusal to support the Sheppard subway extension the mayor wants to build, say Toronto Star sources.

Most transit experts, including former TTC boss David Gunn, consider the subway plan a joke.

via Ford plotting to oust TTC chief over subway extension | Toronto Star.

A joke! That’s great.

Kalinowski also confirms something I’ve heard in a few places: that TTC Chair Karen Stintz and the mayor are at odds over Webster’s future, with Stintz sticking up for her GM. That the Fords have apparently floated Case Ootes and Gordon Chong — are these their only allies? — as potential replacements can’t establish much confidence. No offence meant to either man, but careers as an oil company executive and a dentist, respectively, don’t exactly lend themselves to running the day-to-day operations of one of North America’s largest transit systems.

There’a also this, from the same article:

The plan to get rid of Webster “is in play now,” said former TTC vice-chair Joe Mihevc.

“(The Fords) are so committed to Sheppard they are actively contemplating getting rid of the entire streetcar system in Toronto,” he said, adding that the cost of the new streetcars could be applied to the subway.

“If Doug Ford bullies his way through on this, it truly will be the victory of extreme authoritarian ideology over good public transit policy and good business management,” Mihevc said.

Councillor Mihevc could be working off second-hand information, so it’s probably unfair to jump to immediate conclusions, but let’s go with this line of thinking as an exercise. Toronto’s streetcar system — including the right-of-way routes on St. Clair & Spadina — carries almost 275,000 riders per day. The Sheppard Subway, at its current abbreviated length, carries just under 50,000. (These are 2008 figures.) If this streetcars-for-Sheppard scheme is an attempt to win populist approval, it’s entirely backwards.

Transit advocate Steve Munro has the last word on this story:

In ten years, we would have a much reduced quality of transit service in the central city, we would choke streets with clouds of buses and limit the growth of major areas served by the present and proposed streetcar system.  In return, Sheppard Avenue would have its subway, and what started as Lastman’s folly and a Liberal campaign promise by former Premier David Peterson would become a full-blown monument to the stupidity of transit planning and politics in Toronto.

via Will Nobody Stop Fords’ Folly? |

A full-blown monument to the stupidity of transit planning and politics in Toronto. Nicely said.

Mar 11

City sued for alleged “war on cars”

The latest chapter in the St. Clair Right-of-Way saga isn’t exactly thrilling, as it seems most along that stretch have moved on and accepted a new reality. (Councillor Joe Mihevc, while admitting the process kind of sucked, has pointed out several positive outcomes now that the ROW is in place.) There’s still the small matter, however, of a class-action lawsuit, led by lawyer (and author) Stephen Edell. They’re trying to get 100 million dollars from the city, an outcome that would almost double the cost of the project.

This article by the Post’s Natalie Alcoba points out that Edell is using some of the mayor’s campaign talking points as part of his case against the city:

Beyond allegations of negligence, the suit also accuses the former council of engaging in a “war on cars” that “is not a proper exercise of authority of a government in a public works program,” said Mr. Edell.

He alleges the city “turned a blind eye” to the businesses in peril in what he described as a “negative twist on the concept of gentrification.”

City officials “may not have started intending to destroy St. Clair West, west of Bathurst, but as the project started to drag on, and businesses failed, it dawned on them that this was a good opportunity to turn St. Clair around, to improve the tax base,” said Mr. Edell.

He expressed surprise that city litigators are seeking to throw out the case, given that Mayor Rob Ford has often referred to the St. Clair “fiasco” on the campaign trail.

via $100M St. Clair right-of-way case heads to court | Posted Toronto | National Post.

It should be noted that this is a lawsuit partially in response to delayed construction. Construction that was itself delayed by another lawsuit.

Mar 11

Bless this mess

Earlier this week, OpenFile did the thing that media outlets do where you spend some time going through the public expense records of councillors trying to find things that look like wasteful spending. (I did it too.) They hit upon a good one with Councillor Michael Thompson, reporting that he spent $300 to have his office blessed Pastor Dr. Tai Adeboboye, who in addition to doing office blessings also owns a spectacularly great suit.

Anyway, a lot of shock and horror and reaction about this supposedly improper use of funds followed. It all led to this, as reported by David Rider:

Councillor Michael Thompson is refunding taxpayers the $300 he charged to his office budget to have his office blessed by a Baptist pastor.

“I will provide the city with a cheque for the $300 and at the same time ask the integrity commissioner to take a look at this and rule on it,” Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre) said in an interview Friday.

via Councillor Thompson refunds Baptist blessing expense –

This was a giant waste of everyone’s time.

The angle from the left is that Thompson is a hypocrite, supporting Ford’s stop-the-gravy-train message while at the same time dealing “gravy” himself in the form of office blessings for $300. The angle from the right is the same as it always is: the ideal councillor would work in a cave and never do anything that costs money. Respect for taxpayers.

Joe Mihevc actually did a nice job coming to Thompson’s defense in the original Star article. He said that this was “an ‘interesting and creative and dynamic’ way of making a community donation.”

If we want to debate anything about this, it should be that last part: should councillors be allowed to make donations to community groups like churches, charities, youth programs and neighbourhood associations out of their office budget? Some, like Doug Holyday, would like to see councillors banned from making community donations. He says they should pay those bills themselves. Which seems like a great way to encourage residents to vote for millionaire candidates who, if elected, will donate to the local sports team.

Some clarification on this is probably a good idea (particularly with regard to whether councillors should be able to publicize the donation), but it would be a shame to eliminate the practice altogether. Sometimes a couple of hundred bucks given to a group so they can hold a barbecue can have a significant impact on a community.

Mostly, though, I think people just need to stop losing their heads over this stuff.