Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

When NIMBY’s win, we all lose.

Friday, January 31st, 2020

It has been almost a year since Barrie city council decided to do further research on a safe injection site in their town. Some of my neighbours were there to tell the councillors that they did not want it in their neighbourhood. I am sorry I was not there. I would have forgiven the neighbours who did not know better. I would not have forgiven the councillors who had a moral responsibility to lead and failed us.

The location chosen by an expert group lead by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the Gilbert Centre and Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) was at the CMHA district centre just a few doors up Mulcaster Street from Barrie City Hall. It is across the street from the Ontario courts. That is why most of the larger homes in the area have been converted to lawyers’ offices. The experts had researched the question for about a year before deciding on this location.

And yet they were told that is not enough. The detractors claimed that the year of work was “fundamentally flawed.” They failed to explain how they also thought it was something that could “devastate a neighbourhood.”

Another complaint from the NIMBY’s was that it was too close to the David Busby Centre that deals with outreach to the homeless. The fact it is nearby seems irrelevant when you realize the difference in clientele. It also seems a puzzle as to just how big these people think Barrie’s downtown might be?

As important as it is that these people be heard, you have to wonder how nine people can convince council to bend to their will. Barrie has a critical situation in connection to the consumption of opioids. It is reputed to have the second worst problem among large cities in Ontario. Councillor Keenan Aylwin claimed that further delay in approving a site will lead to “dozens more deaths.”

It is hard for anyone to justify the unnecessary deaths caused by this further delay in what is an urgent need. Barrie council had a responsibility to its citizens and it should have done its job. For a bunch of NIMBY’s to come to council to delay this further is a disgrace for the entire city.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Toronto wants to choose mediocre?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Toronto councillors are setting things up to enable voters to choose mediocre council candidates in 2022. This was brought on by the previous provincial government allowing municipal councils to opt for ranked balloting as an alternative to first-past-the-post voting for council positions.  The system seems simple but the complications grow with the number of candidates seeking office in each ward.

Proponents of ranked balloting claim it is simple but anyone who has ever faced a ballot with more than ten candidates listed would beg to differ. Even knowing the names of all the candidates is a chore. To rank all of them is next to impossible.

What really happens when there are many names on the ballot is that the least obnoxious candidates get most of the third, fourth, etc. votes because the voter has nothing against them. In effect the voters end up drilling down to the candidates that nobody has anything against. It becomes a contest to elect the least controversial candidate.

Case in point: The conservative party federal leadership that chose Andrew Scheer as national leader was a ranked ballot fiasco. There were 13 candidates and the counting process actually went through 13 counts to arrive at a final tally, just over 50 per cent, for the Saskatchewan MP. And when you realize that Maxime Bernier was a very close second, it is enough to make you shudder.

But there is still time to make sure your favourite councillor in Toronto does not fall into the ranked ballot trap. Council has asked staff to lay the groundwork for the change in 2022. This includes holding multiple open houses and other forms of public consultation. The law does not say what to do if the public reaction is negative. You can only hope.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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It comes down to sidewalks.

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Do we trust our governments to spend our tax money wisely? What kind of democracy is this when our municipal politicians hew to the right or left of the political divide? In Toronto, that supposed haven of liberalism, the debate rages at city council about the costs of mechanically clearing sidewalks of snow or the alternative of threatening home owners with fines if they do not clear the sidewalk in front of their properties.

A friend called the other day in high dudgeon on the issue. He had recently had a 75th birthday and did not appreciate being threatened. Sure, he said, in years gone by, he had given his stretch of sidewalk a thorough shovelling, as needed. The time has come, he told me, for the city to take over. And, instead, they were arguing among themselves as to whether it was properly the responsibility of the city.

This, to me, has got to be one of the stupider aspects of conservatism. These people want smaller, cheaper government that does not involve itself in the concerns of the populace. They admit that it is more sensible for the city to plow the streets rather than everyone clearing the road in front of their home or business.  They just do not understand that heart attacks, hernias, frost bite and broken bones from slips and falls incurred when shovelling snow, cost us much more in the long term, than small sidewalk plows clearing our sidewalks.

As for my ancient friend, I advised him to contract with a 13 or 14-year old nascent capitalist in his neighbourhood who would shovel his walk and driveway for a reasonable sum. He can stay in by the fire and clip some coupons to pay for it.

And if he is still annoyed about the city councillors arguing about the expenditure, he could compose another cogent letter to the editor of the Toronto Star explaining why the right-wing councillors are fighting a losing battle.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Repeating history with Doug Ford.

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

The worst of the mistakes made by Mike Harris, conservative premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002, was the downloading of provincial government expenses to municipalities. It was a stupid and ill-advised. And despite the lessons learned, we now have premier Doug Ford following in Harris’ draconian footsteps.

Where the municipalities had thought the Ford government had backed down on some of these moves, he announced them anew this week at the annual meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). Where he had backed down on cutting funding for ambulance costs, daycare support and public health retroactively this year, he has now promised the cuts for next year.

These are all services that the previous liberal government had assured the municipalities would be looked after by the province. While there were few details in the speech that the premier read from a teleprompter, it is assumed that it will be at least 30 per cent of these costs will end up coming from municipal revenues.

Each of these services is essential to the well being of Ontario’s municipalities and they can only pay for them with substantial increases in property taxes or cutting of other core services.

These changes are believed to be designed to aid the provincial government in covering more of its deficit without raising taxes. It is supposed to make the provincial politicians look better at controlling the taxpayers’ money than the municipalities. When premier Mike Harris did it, he had little understanding of the economics of the province and its municipalities and many of the cuts he made caused serious results in services delivered and even deaths from failure in delivery of essential services that people had trusted.

Doug Ford, on the other hand, continues to want to get even with Toronto for the way the city treated his brother when mayor.

Mike Harris wanted to create a legacy. Doug Ford is just vindictive.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Mad Dogs, Englishmen and Candidates.

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

That knock on your door on this hot July day is more likely to be a candidate for the coming election. This time is gold for candidates, they can pick and choose strategic areas of the riding, they can test various approaches for the campaign to come and, most important, they have time to listen to voters.

As a campaign manager, I would often go with the candidate to watch how he or she handled questions, drew out the voter and watch the voter’s reaction to the candidate. It is also important to know when to shut down the conversation with the voter when it had gone far enough. People who want to trap the candidate too long in conversation are often not on your side.

The last time I spent a summer working with a candidate was in a municipal campaign and that summer was as hot as this one. Rather than risk our candidate to heat stroke on the hottest days, I would choose condominiums for him to canvas on the days were the temperature was over 30°C. Condominiums most frequently air condition the halls and a 15-storey building offers a comfortable afternoon of listening to voters.

One of the reasons that the campaign chair asked me to handle the ground game in that campaign was because he knew of my experience over the years in training canvassers. I always enjoyed that part of the job and I knew that getting good canvassers in this town was a tough job. I found I was training a few liberals but my best students were not liberals. In the subsequent federal election, I had the disquieting experience of conservative campaign people calling me to thank me for training them.

One of my satisfactions from that campaign was collecting a bet from the campaign manager. I collected it very publicly in front of the entire campaign team at the victory dinner. That ten bucks showed that the guy on the ground knows far more about a campaign than pollsters.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Should Toronto be a Charter City?

Friday, July 5th, 2019

There are different definitions of a charter city. In the United Kingdom, the charter is bestowed by the Crown and it enables those cities to make their own rules in regard to municipal affairs. In the United States, cities are controlled by the state where they are located. As Canada is similarly a federation, it is the provinces that make the decisions about the municipalities.

In regards to Toronto, we can safely say a charter city order by the Province of Ontario will not happen immediately. It would require a much more enlightened political party in power at Queen’s Park. It would certainly require a premier with fewer dull axes to grind with Toronto council.

But even so, if you want anything constructive to happen ten years from now, you had better start planning.

First of all, if you are serious, you need a movement, a political party maybe, behind you. This is proposition that needs to be understood by the voters. They have to see the benefit to them of the city being able to call the shots on taxes without the interference of the province. You need a great deal of help selling that. You have to show that the city would be able to levy entertainment, hotel and restaurant taxes. You want to show that when others benefit from city amenities, they should pay something toward the city services while they are here.

It is critically important that when the city takes responsibility, it can get the job done. City council has been hamstrung for too long by the so-called independent councillors who can be bought by this developer or that one. The mayor can hardly give leadership to a mixed bag of independent councillors. He or she needs to run on a platform that says what he and his party will do when in office. If they do not do what they promised, they can get turfed next time

And it is all to the benefit of the voters. They get to hear what each group will do while in office. They have the choice of voting in their ward for the candidate who supports that promise. They are the ones who pay. They have the right to call the tune.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Toronto knows how to party.

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Hey, knock off the complaints about the party in Toronto for the Raptors team last Monday. With three days notice, the decision was to parade the team from the Exhibition grounds to city hall. The effort involved thousands of city employees and police. And it was a rain or shine event, with no idea at all of the people that would come.

It was a beautiful June day and a couple million showed up for what will remain, for a long time, a unique event in Canadian history.

From the first minute, we saw the aerial shots from helicopters over the exhibition grounds, we knew that all time estimates were wrong. Barricades were a temporary hinderance for crowds of happy people intent on seeing their heroes. The organizers were soon dealing with chaos. It was a credit to their communications systems that they were able to cope.

It has been some time now since I have been involved in the planning and running of large indoor and outdoor events. They were exciting times. They involved long pages of checklists that you would pore over time and time again as your plans had to change. You always hoped that whatever happened looked like it was supposed to happen. And there were the times the worst things happened and suddenly all the people responsible were somewhere else.

But the other day, help was there. The police were doing their jobs. The emergency services people were on the ball. A crowd almost the size of the city’s population had to bring support systems with them. They strained the transportation systems and they tied the downtown traffic in knots. Who knows where they could have put more Johnnies but they would have provided good height to climb on to see the scene.

It was regrettable that some of the city’s gang members forgot this was a celebration and they brought their guns with them. The police were on the job. It was not a really good day for all politicians but a great day for Toronto.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Kindergarten for conservative candidates.

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

There is nothing new about politicians who learn their craft while climbing the ladder of politics. Many make a start on school board, get to know the people of their area and wait for the right time to move up to municipal councillor. Municipal council, in turn, can become the incubator popping out fresh young faces to be your next member of the legislative assembly or member of parliament.

While politicians of all flavours can be found on this path, it is most common in Ontario to find they are paid up members of the conservative party. This is where they find their mentors, their funding sources and support for the campaigns to come. No city beats Barrie in this conservatism of its city council.

It was why after being in the city for only a few years, I ran the campaign ground game for a new mayor. He ran against two well-known conservatives and a group of also-rans. He is now on his third term as mayor.

While I like to think that Mayor Jeff Lehman does what he can with a council that wants to defer any contentious issues until they are told what position to take, this city council is not progressive. We have a burgeoning, successful city here despite a council of small city minds. The truth is, the city is run by its senior staff and people learn you best not interfere.

Recently a brash young councillor became annoyed with two former city council members who are now the sitting members of parliament. They are both about what you would expect in a city that allowed the rise of Patrick Brown, from councillor to MP, to leader of the Ontario conservatives. The councillor was angry about white-supremacists joining in on Andrew Scheer’s remarks to some westerners castigating prime minister Trudeau for not building them a pipeline fast enough.

It was hardly a municipal issue and the councillor was out of line using his position to demand an apology to Canadians by the conservatives.

But it was also hardly an issue for council’s ethics commissioner. Nor was it worthy of a threatened law suit from the two MPs.

Mind you, I think I should drop in on council meetings more often. It is obviously becoming more fun.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Fake news on the opioid front?

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

We were reading a poster telling us about a community meeting to discuss a proposed safe injection site in the neighbourhood. It invited anyone who wanted more information or had concerns to come to the meeting. We had barely finished reading when a voice behind us said, “It’s all a lie you know.”

It is very strange to hear that. Sure, we have had people tell us that Donald Trump was really a very fine gentleman, just misunderstood. We have even taken time to hear out climate change deniers to try to understand their reasoning better. This was a new one.

But why would anybody want to suggest that the politicians are lying about the deaths of opioid users? This has been in the news for many months. They are panicking about it on the West Coast. The Medical Office of Health in Toronto is deeply concerned. Our emergency measures people in cities such as Barrie, are frustrated and alarmed. And those fools running the Ontario government are cutting back the funding for safe injection sites needed to help stem the tide.

Do those idiots think they are saving money by letting people die?

I was amazed earlier this year when our local conservative MP wrote an item for the local grocery flier wrap about this. He actually questioned the idea of providing clean needles and a place for addicts to take drugs. I figured it was just his way of demonstrating his general incompetence.

Someone whom he respected must have gotten to him and convinced him that he should support safe injection sites. The really good news came later when he announced he would not run again for MP.

I have always been horrified over the years when seeing people heading down the slippery slide into the world of illicit drugs. It is a terrible waste of human life. I see the safe injection sites as an opportunity for knowledgeable workers to connect and maybe save the lives of some of these people. It is certainly worth the small cost.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Why we are pissed with politicians.

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

They are even quantifying just how pissed Canadians are with their politicians these days. It makes sense. And interestingly, we see they are happier with their mayors and councillors. These local people are able to generate a 50 per cent approval rate. Provincial and federal politicos do not make it that high.

Greg MacEachern of Washington-based Proof Strategies’ Ottawa and Toronto office has been studying Canadian attitudes and claims that the low-flying politicos these days are the provincial ones across the country. Based on recent vote results, the provincials are probably lucky to be trusted by as many as a third of Canadians. At least the federals are at an average of 40 per cent trust rate.

There is certainly a lot of logic to those figures. The municipal people are close at hand and you can get to talk to them when you are dissatisfied with what they are doing. Besides, it is relatively easy to verify what is being reported by the local news media. And as there are supposedly no political parties involved, you get used to those politicians municipally who fall into right or left- wing categories.

But what is obviously pissing off the populace is the power of the political parties and the secrecy of our federal and provincial cabinets. When these people are planning how to change your life, people get concerned. The politicos are springing changes on them that the people get to pay for—like it or not!

One of the things I have found travelling back and forth across Canada over the years is that trust seems to come with the smaller size of provinces. In PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador, you can get to stop and have a pleasant chat with the premier in passing and nobody thinks anything special about it. The bigger the province, the more self important the politico can be.

The federal government just has better public relations. I go back to the era of both John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson and both were delightful gentlemen with whom to chat. I found I could always get a laugh from Mr. Pearson and his successor Pierre Trudeau. And you could trust them. We seem to be going downhill since.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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