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.

Feb 11

For sale: Sheppard Subway extension, lightly used

The Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant has the scoop on upcoming transit announcements:

[Interim Chief of Staff Mark Towhey] said the city intends to seek a private-sector partner who would build, design and finance an extension of the Sheppard subway east to the Scarborough Town Centre and west to Downsview station.

If the plan is approved by the province and city council, the city would continue to own the longer Sheppard line. The city would pay back the private consortiums initial investment using tax-increment financing and an increased transit-oriented development fee in a narrow band along the Sheppard line.

via Rob Ford pitches private financing plan for Toronto subway extension – The Globe and Mail.

So many questions: is the city even allowed to hide debt this way? How do you structure this kind of deal so that it would appeal to a private company? Does this mean the rest of the Transit City funding stays in place? How surreal and scary is it that Mark “Cut all bus routes and let people car pool!” Towhey is speaking about transit matters?

This isn’t necessarily a bad outcome. It seemingly would allow the province and Metrolinx to focus their money and energy on more important routes like Eglinton while the Mayor’s Office screws around with the private sector for the next few years getting a deal done. Could be a lot of worse.