Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

The tiny, tidy minds of reformers.

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

Reading about the recent report on political reform for our cities from the University of Manitoba, reminded me of my old friend David Crombie. It was almost 50 years ago that he was still a nascent conservative and teaching at Ryerson and I was handling communications for the Ontario Liberals. We had some spirited and somewhat sophomoric discussions at the time about how to reform municipal politics. I guess David won. Toronto seems to still be recovering from what he did as mayor.

David got the sobriquet “tiny, perfect mayor” for his reform attempt at restricting any further development in Toronto at the time to a 45-foot height. He was trying to make a point and it certainly stuck—the name, not his height by-law.

David’s Civic Action Party (CIVAC) was also short lived but he went on to three terms as mayor. He and his supporters on Toronto council, such as John Sewell were identified with cities guru Jane Jacobs who urged them on in their fight against developers. What they did was create a delaying action that set the city further and further behind in development, in infrastructure and in progress and prestige.

Remember that the City of Toronto, at the time David was mayor, had a population of less than 700,000. All David did with his height restrictions was to send the developers to the suburbs and that was where the growth was taking place. Toronto is now a city of 2.8 million and its governance is a constant headache for the provincial government.

But more serious than that was the cruel end to talk of some form of party-type politics at city hall. The job of mayor has been a hopeless task since then as a growing city council with more and more councillors usurped the powers and controlled the chief magistrate.

When Premier Mike Harris tried to end the misery by amalgamating the city with its major suburbs, we ended up with 45 councillors who could out gun any mayor who did not treat them with respect. And Torontonians ended up with an on-going war between the inner city and suburban councillors.

David and I had disparate visions of reform those many years ago. I am sure that if any of our reform ideas were enacted, the years between would never have been as much fun.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Cole considers claiming the mayor’s chair.

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Toronto Star’s columnist on city issues, Edward Keenan, thinks black activist Desmond Cole would bring some excitement to the race for mayor next year. He thinks that the race would be a bit of a snooze without Cole. When you consider that the main contenders so far are incumbent Mayor John Tory and wannabe politician Doug Ford, the race certainly needs something to bring it to life.

Keenan reports that Cole is actively considering the possibility of mounting a campaign. He tells Keenan that he has been approached a lot by people urging him to run. He is also asking his friends what they think and he has yet to make up his mind.

Keenan feels that the city can use the “injection of energy, charisma, honesty and ideas” that he believes Cole could bring to what could otherwise be an underwhelming race.

Keenan referenced a recent poll that brought forward Cole’s name as a possible candidate. Keenan was a bit ambiguous as to whether the poll respondents preferred Cole to Ford. The poll also supplied the logical answer that some 65 per cent of people polled said that John Tory deserved to be re-elected. That figure can change given some strong competition.

As you can imagine, the Maple Leaf’s star hockey player would be an odds-on favourite to win the mayoralty if he would just bring the city a Stanley Cup next spring.

But as any politico can tell you, with a year to go before election day in Toronto, anything can happen. There is no denying that a well-planned, well-funded, dramatic campaign could set the city on fire. It is simply too early to pick your winner.

Keenan was basing his forecast on the questions the poll asked about possible names of candidates that voters would or would not consider supporting. Cole was only rejected by 30 per cent while Doug Ford was rejected by 53 per cent.

Keenan says that Cole complains that we have stopped “dreaming in this city.” He also assumes that Ford and Tory would both concentrate on the right-wing vote while Cole could ignite the dreams of the political left.

This writer’s advice is that Toronto voters best wait until next September to place their bets.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Two NDPers on bicycles.

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Reading a fatuous op-ed in the Toronto Star the other morning was funnier than the comics. It was signed by two city councillors who are New Democratic party supporters. And it was not just the superficial treatment of the subject and the bad editing that was funny. This was a highly biased opinion piece by downtown Toronto councillors, Joe Cressy and Mike Layton.

What they were writing about was a test on 2.4 kilometres of Bloor Street in Toronto between Avenue Road and Shaw Street. It now has protected lanes for bicycles. It cost half a million to put in the lane dividers and paint the road. They ignored the loss of about a half a million in city revenue foregone from the on-street parking. This entire exercise is being treated as a skirmish between automobiles and bicycles. It has become a contest between the narrow minded and reality.

The people being left out of the statistics here are the tens of thousands of subway riders who have taken their cars off Bloor Street and chosen the “Better Way.” The ones who are left are the those who likely need their cars for their work and the many thousands of necessary delivery and service vehicles that keep the city going.

And before analyzing this study, you really need a breakdown of the monthly use of these bicycle lanes. In a city with five months of lousy cycling every year, why would you give up valuable road space for 12 months? And how do you clear snow at no cost from bicycle lanes?

I think this test lane should have been on Avenue Road between Davenport Road and St. Clair Avenue. The drivers on that road have been used to constant delays and construction for many years anyway. I would want to see what percentage of northbound cyclists are still in the saddle when they reach the top of the Avenue Road hill?

The study claims that more than a thousand new cyclists actually started using the bicycle lanes every day. Yet, it occurs to me that people going one way would be likely to come back on the other side of the street—doubling the figures. This seems to a sizeable expense for less than 2500 cyclists.

They should have counted the vehicles that needed to use the road.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Hepburn’s humour.

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Columnist Bob Hepburn must be weaning off the writing habit as he continues for his 30th year at the Toronto Star. Luckily, he has not lost his sense of humour. He wrote a couple weeks ago that the media should not ignore former Toronto Councillor Doug Ford. And then he wrote more recently that Toronto Mayor John Tory made his worst decision as mayor when he listened to Doug Ford.

Bob always has marched to a different drummer. Many of us who also follow city hall happenings in Toronto saw the humour in what John Tory did to Doug Ford’s idea. Rather than provide oxygen to the Ford campaign—it served to put Ford where he belonged.

For those who might have missed the manoeuvring, Doug Ford came up with the idea of honouring his late brother Rob by renaming Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke as the Rob Ford Memorial Stadium. He took this idea to Mayor Tory. Instead of insulting the millionaire political blowhard, John Tory said he would see what he could do.

It was masterful. John Tory fed Doug Ford to the jackals on city council. He sent them all a polite letter suggesting that they might consider the renaming of Centennial Stadium along with finding suitable parks or public places to be named for other deceased former council members. The letter to council was also released to the news media.

Public response ranged from a polite “Good God” to “That is the stupidest idea we have heard in a long time!” Bear in mind, John Tory had pointed out that it was Doug Ford’s idea.

But there was a much more visceral reaction among those who had tried to work with Rob Ford during his years on council. The renaming operations were stopped by council.

In his second column, in which he castigated Tory for bringing forward the suggestion to council—Hepburn asked “What, indeed, was he thinking?”

John Tory was obviously thinking “Nobody is going to say I said anything ill of the dead.”

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Toronto’s Tory talks the talk.

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

It was Doug Ford’s challenge. He actually asked Toronto Mayor John Tory to rename Etobicoke’s Centennial Stadium after his late brother Rob. It is very hard to say whether Tory—considering that Doug Ford says he will challenge him for the mayoralty next year—was baiting a trap or just proving Ford is an egotistical ass.

Now the question is whether the Toronto mayor is serious in supporting the idea of renaming the stadium or is just leading likely opponent Doug Ford down the garden path?

It was interesting when the younger Ford brother, who has less than half the political instincts of his late brother, actually belittled the stadium when asking for its renaming. He said it was a small stadium, without a name, that just happened to be located in Centennial Park.

Ford made the plea that it was in this small stadium in Centennial Park where Rob Ford used to play football and even coached there. Whether he used to smoke crack cocaine or meet with gangs there did not come up.

Mayor Tory wisely mentioned a couple of other deceased councillors who might also be recognized in this way, should there be a suitable civic facility to be named.

In his letter to city council members, Tory mentioned former Mayor Rob Ford’s “unique approach to public service.”  It is statements such as that that Mayor Tory might make us wonder how serious the mayor might be?

We should bear in mind that the one term of Rob Ford in the mayor’s office was one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of Toronto politics. If you were honouring the notoriety that he brought to Toronto, council should use his name for Toronto City Hall.

But I, for one, take considerable exception with the practice these days of selling and reselling names for stadiums, arenas, parks and theatres. It is not only crass and vulgar but should hardly be a matter for the mayor of the city to be touting. To me, the Blue Jays are still playing baseball at SkyDome, the O’Keefe Centre is on Front Street and Maple Leaf Gardens is a shrine to hockey. What is your price to dishonour the past?

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

In search of leadership.

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

This is not as simple as Diogenes with his lamp, searching for an honest man. There are many possibilities in life for leadership and many who believe they can fill the need. In Canada, we tend to assume that when the need arises, a leader will step forward. We could not be more wrong in our assumptions and our best example of this is our municipalities—where, in most cases, we lack the organizational structures that can support leadership.

I was thinking of this today because of the ongoing complaints of the Toronto news media about where Toronto Mayor John Tory is leading the city. Mind you, the term leading might be inappropriate in this situation. It is a task more like herding.

In Toronto today, the voters elect a mayor citywide and 44 councillors in their individual wards. While most of these people are or become affiliated with this or that political party, there is no party platform or discipline to hold them accountable. They run on their own platform in their own neighbourhood. They are accountable only to their own voters. And if that is more than 35 per cent of the potential voters, it is considered a high turnout.

Watching various mayors put together their coalitions over the years, it seemed to be more of exercise in personality than of politics. They made it personal. It was more a moral persuasion than political party discipline.

A recent report on Toronto City Hall commissioned by the Toronto Sun Newspaper hardly solved the problems. A major recommendation was that council could have more time for the important stuff if it delegated more community problems to the existing community councils. Nobody seems to have pointed out that this would be moving the city backward.

The newspaper’s plan also included somebody having to write consumer-friendly write-ups on issues that the council was bringing up for debate—and here we thought that was the role of the news media!

Actually, nothing is going to improve on the municipal front until a provincial leader realizes that the lack of political accountability in Toronto is the biggest problem. This true leader will liberate the city’s serfs.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

What is the price of one child?

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Children are returning to school at this time of year. In our wisdom, we Canadians have two types of school boards. (In most provinces.) We have a Catholic Board and a public board. The Catholic board must be the junior kindergarten of politics. It is where the wannabe politicians go to make their mistakes.

And they made a lulu of a mistake recently. The Catholic Board in Toronto caved in to unreasonable pressure and blocked the police and their school resource officer program from their schools until they get around to discussing the program at their next meeting. They were caving in to the demands of people with a bias a mile wide, using American statistics and who are not interested in the needs of our children.

These people are claiming that “putting police officers in schools puts vulnerable and ‘racialized’ students in danger…” Oh! What about the vulnerable children it helps? And who is really ‘racializing’ these students?

The only people we know who are forcing racial stereotyping are these writers in Toronto who write ‘black’ with a capital ‘B.’ They are the people who go to the Police Services Board to cause trouble and radicalize the proceedings. They are not there for the children. They are there to make a name for themselves. And they might not like the names they are earning.

These writers, who all seem to be black (without a capital ‘B,’ dear editor), are using American statistics to make their case. When they try to import these statistics, their case fails.

What about the kids we hear saying of the program that “That cop is my friend.”? That is the report that makes the case for the program. For every child who is told he or she should feel threatened by the police in schools, there must be two or three who feel safer. Who are we serving in these cases?

Frankly, if at least one child’s life is saved from getting involved with gangs and guns because of the police program, we should feel strongly about supporting it as citizens.

If we err in this, let us err on the side of the children.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

Fear of Ford.

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Is he, or isn’t he? Is Doug Ford running for the mayoralty in Toronto next year or for the Progressive Conservatives in the provincial election? And who cares anyway? Oddly enough that is a matter that is mainly of concern to provincial politicians. Incumbent Mayor John Tory, who wants another term, could care less. The fact is that nobody expects Doug Ford to discover a magic elixir for winning in politics.

Doug Ford will let us all know where he is headed at Ford Nation’s annual backyard barbeque later this week. The reality is that Doug Ford reminds us of the old story about the erstwhile fisherman who goes to the fishing hole where his brother could always catch fish. He spends a day fishing with no luck. He is giving up when a fish jumps above the water and calls out: Where’s your brother?

Well Rob Ford is dead and Doug Ford in no fisherman. And Ford Nation is just a bunch of freeloaders.

The reality of the story, as any knowledgeable political apparatchik can tell you, is that Doug Ford is appreciated for his money and his name but he is a political liability. If there is fresh dog poop anywhere within range of the political Doug Ford, you can be sure he will step in it.

Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown is running a fragile campaign into next June’s provincial election and he hardly needs a loose cannon like Ford on his team. The younger Ford brother is a guy who thinks of Donald Trump as his hero. Brown wants the kind of candidates who can slide in under the radar. His campaign will be built on vilifying the Liberals and creating a massive vote against them. It is the only way a putz like him can get elected.

Patrick Brown is the type of candidate whom nobody has ever voted for as an individual. He is a wasted vote. He offers nothing other than a vague support for his party and not being the other guy. He is a user. And he is dishonest. He took the leadership of Ontario’s Conservatives by skulduggery—signing up temporary members of the party and paying for most of their memberships. His hero is former Ontario Premier Mike Harris.

But as much as Doug Ford would worry Patrick Brown, John Tory could care less about him. Lord knows, John Tory is not the perfect mayor. It is that Doug Ford is the kind of candidate who makes John Tory look good.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Leadership Lost.

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

One of many theories in politics is that the aspiring politico needs to pick a cause. Years ago, I heard a newspaper reporter advise a young Liberal to latch on to environmental issues. It was an emerging issue at the time and he took the advice and went on to a number of years in city politics. If he had timed his run better, he might have made it to the mayoralty, where he could have capped a successful career.

There are many issues in politics that need advocates and if your timing is right there might just be an issue out there to take you to the top. Lord knows, we need leaders. There are many who think they are the little engine that could but the reality is that there are really only few who have the timing, the news sense, the determination, the issues and the energy needed.

And we should also mention sponsorship. Few of us have the deep pockets needed to sustain us during the development days needed for new issues. You should always remember that the good issues are the ones that are easy to fund-raise for. And it is always best to have a little money from each of many than lots of money from one.

I was thinking of all of this as I was reading of novice advocate hopeful Desmond Cole in Toronto. Cole has been looking for a cause for some time but whether he can build any momentum is questionable. He seems to enjoy his harangues for their vitriol instead of their winning.

Cole seemed at one time to have joined with the group in Toronto who call themselves Black Lives Matter. Maybe he realized before they did that their obvious hate for Toronto police and foolish abuse of the Pride Parade were alienating their own black community.

Cole’s haranguing and obstructionism at Toronto Police Services Board meetings is hardly winning him any support. It is a tough issue to capitalize on when the black Chief of Police just sits there looking puzzled throughout his complaints.

Toronto’s Police Services Board is desperately in need of new ideas and cogent arguments. At the last meeting Cole and some other trouble makers wanted to rant about school resource officers. They need to realize that this system of police participation in the community is working and the community hardly needs people who just want to throw rocks.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Picking preferred politicians.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

This is not really about Donald Trump. It was just when reading the complaints of an academic about the choice of Trump that it became obvious that all he was saying was that we need to have smarter voters.

In many years of working on elections for political parties or for the returning officer, you do spend a great deal of time answering really dumb questions. Some people suggest having a little quiz for each voter to make sure they know the purpose of their vote. It is assumed that, in turn, we would have politicians elected who know what they are doing.

But not everyone would ever agree to that. Democracy means that the people have their say. It also means that any idiot can vote and should. It is why some of us object to Justin Trudeau’s elitist approach to appointing senators. Why cannot stupid people be represented in the senate?

Proof that we should not just have knowledgeable people vote was demonstrated the other day here in Barrie. Our city council members chose one of their own to be the city’s new financial head and then decided to choose someone to replace him as councillor for his ward. They were opposed to spending money on a by-election and decided to just pick someone to keep the council seat warm for the next 16 months.

They then had 32 citizens apply for the job. They had everyone from the Town Fool (100 to 1 shot) to one of their favourite reporters (5 to 1 in the morning line). If they had an election it would have meant expense and hard work for a few smart operators. There might have been 16 contenders running in a by-election but it would have quickly been narrowed to two or three potential winners.

But the obvious choice of council members was a former councillor from the ward area whom the councillors felt they could trust. He narrowly beat out another former councillor from a different ward. There were at least four former councillors vying for the seat. It would have provided them a platform to return to politics. Their only problem was they were asking people who know them to choose them. Politicians usually do better with people who do not know them too well.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me