Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

The malice that made the megacity.

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Toronto as a megacity turns 20 this year. Canada’s largest city has once again opened the nominations for its city council to be elected in October. It will be another lost opportunity. It will produce another council of dilettantes and wannabes to argue over meaningless issues. Former conservative premier Mike Harris can continue to enjoy his revenge on the city.

As part of a program to sharply reduce the number of municipalities—and to dump more provincial costs on them—the Harris government amalgamated Toronto’s five boroughs and the inner city in 1998. The most vocal outcry against the move was from the former city. It was Mike Harris’ specious claim that it would save millions in duplication of services.

Since most of the costly municipal services had already been amalgamated under the former Metropolitan structure, Harris’ promises of savings turned into increases in costs. His revenge for their fighting him on the amalgamation was to fail to offer the city any new tax revenues to help handle the increased costs.

The latter-day Queen’s Park liberals have taken back some of the people services, offered Toronto a few new tax avenues and promised additional grants. Yet there has been no move to giving the city a workable government structure. The system that the city has, does not work.

And to make matters worse, a schism has been worn into city hall council chamber that has separated the downtown councillors from the suburbs. The mayor can use an archaic appointment system to try to improve things but the frustrations are always with them.

This division was clearly evident in the tumultuous term of Rob Ford and his brother at city hall. There is no foolishness less understandable than the one-stop subway to Scarborough. It was forced through by the Ford’s, more to prove their point than to solve an infrastructure problem. Toronto, like many cities, is caught up in failing infrastructure in a rapidly growing city.

But to show you how much they care, the inner-city councillors devote their time to bicycle lanes and throttling down the accessibility of the city to automobiles. Toronto voters need a mayor and councillors who can come to them with a clear platform of city reform that they can promise and deliver. Until then Mike Harris’ revenge continues.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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The Beatification of Bill Blair?

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

It took the questionable memory of Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee to relate it and the writing skills of Toronto Star writer Tim Harper to forge it. And it took them over seven years to prepare it for publication. It purports to be an explanation of what took the G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010 off the rails. The book is titled Excessive Force.

But any farmer could tell them that when you play road hockey with frozen horse droppings in the barnyard, you end up splattered as the puck melts. And those pucks sure get warmed as this team spins their tale.

First of all, they can hardly suggest that former police chief Bill Blair is a saint because, as he reports, he thinks he was responsible for nothing. The first question we would ask, if we were foolish enough to believe him, is what new communications systems did he acquire for that $14 million he supposedly got from Toronto taxpayers? And why did the police communications fail at times when communications were really needed?

What is very strange in this book is the reported arrangement between the chief of police and the police services board. It seems the board is not allowed to ask questions regarding operational matters. We are told operations matters are the purview of the chief. If you follow that thinking, the board, who hires him or her, is at the mercy of the chief of police. The board is therefore a sham that hires gunfighters to keep their town safe according to some ancient code.

What makes absolutely no sense in this story is the operational hierarchy in place for the Toronto summit. Mukherjee tells us that Blair was not responsible but his underlings were. Blair is reported to have told him that all orders originated from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Integrated Security Unit in Barrie. This operational centre had been established in Barrie to cover the earlier G7 near Huntsville, Ontario as well as the G20 in Toronto. From a technical communications view, Barrie made a lot of sense. From a street view, it was idiotic.

Good security systems for international events are built in rings. Typically, the inner ring of an event such as the G20 is covered by highly trained federal representatives such as the RCMP. The surrounding ring is handled by local people who know the site and its surroundings. Mukherjee and Harper make it sound like many of the police borrowed from other parts of Canada spent most of their time in Toronto learning their way about.

Mukherjee tells us that Blair’s preparations for the G20 were ridiculous and quickly found to be hollow. Blair sniped at his underlings instead of leading them. The tactics of the anarchist group the Black Bloc had been studied but not prepared for. Blair goaded his troops into retaliating on the innocent. He broke all the rules of effective policing.

Why should Toronto take pride in that?


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Choosing champions.

Monday, March 26th, 2018

One of the aspects of populism that confuses people is that they can come from the left or the right or any other part of the political spectrum. Typically, the populist rises from the environment that generated the specific populist movement. This is why Donald Trump in the United States is not considered a populist. He just had the ego and enough money to take advantage of the opportunity. He is a narcissist, a womanizer, ignorant and incompetent and those are just some of the polite words used to describe him.

But Donald Trump’s arrogance, simplistic message and racism attracted a following among a broad swath of mainly apolitical Americans ranging from neighbourhood bigots and bikers to the Klu Klux Klan and the National Rifle Association. Not even Trump had any idea how effective those people would be at the polls. When Hillary Clinton called some of Trump’s supporters “deplorables” it helped drive them to the polls to vote against her.

In America’s red states that dominate middle America, the God-fearing, embittered and concerned right had no one else to vote for as president. It was this odd coalition of the holy and the unholy who won the electoral college to make Trump president.

In Canada, we are seeing a somewhat similar situation developing in the planned June election in Ontario. Nobody is suggesting that Doug Ford is as racist and incompetent as Mr. Trump but there is some confusion between Ford and his late brother Rob Ford, the crack-cocaine smoking and plain-spoken populist mayor of Toronto for one term.

Rob Ford was the get-even mayor of Toronto. His one term as mayor created chaos. It held the city up for ridicule on late night television in the United States and in British tabloids.

While Doug Ford, the older brother, served one term in his brother’s former council seat, it was Rob who was the populist. Since the forced amalgamation of the city by the Harris Conservatives, there has been a serious schism growing in Toronto between the downtown inner city and its suburbs. Without their local politicians and councils, the suburbs have felt isolated.

What made matters worse in a city of 630 square kilometers, that rises from the downtown up steep hills, the inner-city politicians declared war on the automobile. The suburbs saw their routes to downtown congested with restricted bicycle lanes and no better public transportation services in the offing. Enter populist Rob Ford to save the day.

But Rob Ford is dead and his brother Doug failed to replace him as mayor. Doug Ford is no populist.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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The redemption of Patrick Brown?

Monday, March 19th, 2018

How do you like those phone calls you get from automated polling systems? The worst of them are the ones that want you to press one if you intend to vote conservative and two if liberal. I always have lots of fun with them by pressing numbers at random.

But I had to pause and think about a series of those calls last week. After two calls on subsequent evenings, I thought it might be the local mayor testing the waters for his political future. I sent him an e-mail kidding him about the surveys and suggesting that his party needs him at Queen’s Park.

But when the third automated polling call came that evening, I had an even better idea. What if it is former conservative leader Patrick Brown checking out his options? He has been told that he is not getting a pass from the conservatives to run for them in my electoral district of Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte. The only path for redemption left for him would be the mayor’s chair in Barrie.

He could hardly come back as a councillor. That was where he started 14 years ago. He did not seem to like practicing law or whatever he was doing after finally passing bar admission. He only stayed a councillor until, on a second try, he finally won a federal seat for the conservatives.

The mayoralty could be the ideal route back. He can hardly disprove somehow that he prefers younger girls. From now on he should solemnly promise to check their driver’s licences before inviting any of them to his Shanty Bay home to admire his hockey memorabilia.

And he never has been mayor of Barrie. The job pays well. It is an easy job. You get your picture in the local media all the time. You get to cut a lot of ribbons and greet visiting dignitaries. It is not as though you are expected to really run things. The toughest part of the job is getting the ward councillors to maintain some decorum at open council meetings.

And it would free up the incumbent mayor to do something useful. Having a guy who graduated from the London School of Economics worrying about the high householder taxes in Barrie is a terrible waste of talent. The city staff will continue making all the decisions anyway. The mayor is just for show.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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The indignities of the indigenous?

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

It is important that we respect Canada’s aboriginal peoples but calling them ‘indigenous’ is basically stupid. Your Oxford dictionary will tell you that ‘indigenous’ means ‘produced naturally in a region.’ Canada’s aboriginal peoples have roots in Asia and were nomadic to the point of their early ancestors crossing ice bridges to North America.

All this comment is because of the outrageous costs to Barrie taxpayers inflicted by a group calling themselves the Ontario Coalition of Indigenous Peoples. This is a spurious action and it might be fair to ask why the city’s lawyers have not been able to get the action dismissed.

The fiasco started just 200 to 300 years ago when nomadic Indian tribes would camp during the summer months at the south-west corner of what became known as Kempenfelt Bay. Later the area became Allandale Village and even later was absorbed into the City of Barrie.

The Indians would camp, fish and smoke some of their catch and enjoy the bounty of the area for a couple months maybe. During that time, the aboriginal people would give birth, live and die. Decisions about where to bury granny were made arbitrarily as specified burial grounds were for civilization. And yes, archeologists might naturally find some of granny’s bones in the area.

But those few bones hardly justify the waste of millions of dollars in development in this part of Barrie. There is no formal cemetery or burial ground under the empty and unused Allandale train station—that was painstakingly restored at outrageous cost by a spendthrift city council.

Barrie does not even use the fenced off train station as a train station. It regularly brings GO trains and busses into the area but the sale of tickets is automated. There is nobody but other travellers to provide information. There are no waiting rooms and no washrooms. It is probably the most ill-equipped train station in Ontario. They cannot even dig a hole for a privy!

But this person who works for the Ontario Association of Indigenous (sic) Peoples is preparing to do a Stage 4 archeological assessment (under the restored train station) this coming summer. It is obvious that even he does not really believe that this further digging will produce very much. You can almost see him smirking when demanding that Barrie City Council give the entire site to his organization. I somehow wonder if we would ever be quite that generous?


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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King Street. Where T.O. business goes to die.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Did you hear the exciting news? The streetcar pilot project on King Street in Toronto is moving people faster. What for, we are not quite sure. It seems that in the evening rush hour, you can potentially get home for dinner five minutes earlier. For whatever it is worth, you can also get to work up to five minutes earlier.

But this bonanza of time you are now enjoying comes at a cost. It seems others have cottoned to this wealth of time savings and those street cars seem more crowded than usual. If your business is on King Street, you might want to give tips to visitors on where to park on Queen Street. And if they take a taxi, warn them they will have as much as a three-block walk from where ever the taxi manages to deliver them.

That leaves the most serious problem: deliveries. Have you ever counted the number of deliveries your company receives each day? For some firms, it is a constant flow. And you can hardly get everything by bicycle courier. Think of the number of snow days per year that your employees might as well be taking if everything came by bicycle. Here’s a tip: find a delivery service that uses streetcars. You will appreciate those five-minute savings then.

The Toronto Transit folks are as pleased as punch that their service is showing improvement. Who would have thought redirecting all those autos and delivery vehicles was such an easy solution? They still feel challenged though that they have been unable to show any improvement at four am.

Mind you, they would also be showing improvement on the less used Queen Street line if it were not for all the autos and deliver vehicles who now have to use Queen St. and other alternative east-west routes.

The additional police service on King Street has been an unpaid bonus since the experiment started. They only warned drivers who were confused by it all in the first week. In the second week, the police got serious and started ticketing the confusion. More than 500 tickets were given out that week. (Confusion costs $110 and two demerit points.)

It seems to me that this is another example of downtown councillors making decisions that chase businesses out of downtown Toronto.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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A station ghosts have forgotten.

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

As the winds of yet another winter blow through the beautifully restored but empty train station by Kempenfelt Bay, you wonder at the foolishness of Barrie’s city council. In the words of an old television series, they see nothing, they know nothing.

The story of the train station started about 700 years ago when nomadic aboriginals would sometimes camp at the shallows at the south-west corner of Kempenfelt Bay to fish and enjoy the cooling breezes from Lake Simcoe. There might have even been some disputes with other tribes about the right to camp there.

Europeans only started showing up 300 years ago when the area served as a portage point on the way to the head of the lakes. It was about 200 years ago that a village started at the portage on the north side of the bay and a village called Allandale started at the south-west. Trains have been coming to Allandale since 1853.

Today, Allandale is in the centre of the City of Barrie and the train station lands have become the de facto GO Train terminus and bus station. The only problem is that the preserved train station (built in 1905) remains unused. GO Train services are all automated, tickets are in a machine, buses pick up and discharge passengers. The only problem is that nobody knows anything and nobody sees anything. Only ghosts are in residence.

My barber, who has a small shop near the bus entrance, has noticed one problem. People who have to wait for a bus or train have no amenities. There are no snacks or coffee purveyed and there are no washrooms. When in need of a washroom, people sometimes ask her. She does not really have public facilities, but she is not cruel.

When the small business owner asked her local councillor about this problem, he assured her there were facilities. She checked the entire site again and realized that her local councillor did not know squat. So much for him.

When she told me about the problem, I checked with Barrie’s mayor. He acknowledged the problem. But it is Metrolinx’s problem, he told me. They are responsible for the GO Trains, buses and facilities but not the unused train station. It is an historic site, owned by the city. It might be a long time before it is open to the public for any purpose.

It seems nobody is in any rush. With the discovery of some possibly human bone fragments on the site that could be 200 or 700 years old, the Ontario Coalition of Indigenous Peoples (OCIP) has demanded that the land and the station be turned over to them as an aboriginal burial site. Since other local aboriginal tribes and groups seem skeptical of OCIP’s bonafides, there has been no rush for the city to give away a multi-million dollar restored train station and the site.

But nothing more is expected until the Wilfrid Laurier associate professor of Indigenous studies hired by the city gets around to a fourth level study of the site next summer, looking for historical artifacts.

It  seems like a long time to wait for a washroom.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Black on black.

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

It never pays to be pedantic but enough is enough. I try not to sound off on how others write, spell, punctuate or capitalize. I can make my own mistakes. And if I get on my high horse, the wife calls me ‘Anal Alan’ after the role of the brother in “Two and a Half Men.”

But I was reading an article by the Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star the other day and I found he was capitalizing the colour black as though it was a proper name. He even wrote about Barack Obama as the first “Black president.” He capitalized the colour instead of ‘President.’ How far do we go?

The next thing we know, the Toronto Star will be referring to me as “that darn White man.” After all English is a living language. You have to keep up with the times!

I thought the Toronto Star only let writers of colour capitalize on being black.

Though the Star should be pleased with its writers who helped end the very successful program of having police officers in some Toronto’s public schools. Despite majority approval for the program, Star writers complained that some black students felt intimidated. Well, maybe they should be. You would think that we would be smart and find out what is intimidating about the program?

The cops are there to build better relationships with our young people and the empirical evidence is that this has been very successful. If we have the majority of the kids happy with the cops being there, we have a major win on our hands. And to kill the program is colossally stupid.

If we kept one kid from joining a gang today, what is that worth? If we discouraged one kid from thinking of stealing, what is that worth? If we got a few kids to think of becoming a police officer after they have finished school successfully, what is that worth?

And what our kids really need to see is that police can be of any colour, any ethnic background, any sex and lead surprisingly normal lives. That seems to be worth a lot.

And before we take the word of some group saying they represent the black community or this ethnic group or that group, you should check it out. It is amazing how many of these groups are self appointed.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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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.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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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.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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