Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

The Gods are busy; you fix it.

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

No doubt you have been reading many of these opinion pieces on how to fix this or that at Toronto city hall. We already know that those nincompoops at Queen’s Park think cutting city council in half will solve the problems. Others are lending their low view of things by suggesting that Toronto mayor John Tory have more powers. We know that is a non-starter. Tory got a strong mandate but it was certainly not for his brilliance. He got to keep his job because he has proved he cares.

It used to be that the liberals and new democrats fought it out for downtown wards and conservatives and liberals fought over the suburban wards. Very occasionally Toronto would end up with a progressive mayor and enough progressive councillors that the city could get a few things done.

But all Doug Ford saw the one term he was there was a dysfunctional council that only agreed on getting rid of an alcohol and drug addicted mayor.

But in my various travels around the world I met with many local politicians. It is the same all over. When you have political parties headed by the mayoralty candidates who are committed to a specific platform, you can often get things done. If you have a bunch of individuals with no common agenda, you have chaos. It is that simple.

Look at Canada. In Montreal, we have parties headed by strong mayors. In Vancouver we have political parties and you never know what will happen. Toronto had an experiment with political parties 50 years ago. It is time to see if the city can ever get it right?

And there is no need for the parties to be the three behind most of the present councillors. Civic parties might do a better job if they are not tied to provincial parties. (This might seem odd to the people who remember I criticized David Crombie’s Civic Action Party. I really did not see it as being representative of the changing face of Toronto at that time. I lampooned it for being too much Lawrence Park and too little Parkdale.)

But you have to start now talking with current members of council. As they become more frustrated with the multiplicity of views and the inability of the council to come to a consensus, you will find they will become more amenable to a party solution. And if you get someone identified with a particular party first, get the next one from a different party. Your strength will be in your candidates’ ability to communicate with their voters.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Let’s have ‘Whack-a-Mole’ voting.

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Blame Chantal Hébert. The other day she described the voting reform question as a whack-a-mole game. It just keeps popping up and needs to get a whack. The only reason Chantal noted it was because neophyte premier François Legault of the CAQ in Quebec made the same rash promise to reform how Quebec votes before he knew he would win. Now he just needs a way to back out gracefully.

Most Canadians, who have any opinion on this subject, think prime minister Justin Trudeau let them down. He did (foolishly) promise the voters that 2015 would be the last time they would use first-past-the-post voting. While he took the blame, it was really the opposition parties on the special committee of the commons that dumped on Justin’s promise.

Now we learn that Prince Edward Island might ask Islanders what they want. If they are smart they will settle for a reeve and some councillors and give the provincial problems to New Brunswick.

And we hear from the Wet Coast that the question of how to vote is being asked again. Maybe it will be third time lucky! You would think that they would finally understand the problems when the Greens are running their NDP government. Or they might never learn

It seems every time I write about this subject I get inundated by readers across the country claiming I am a Philistine trying to protect first-past-the-post. I even conceded recently that I would be happy to help promote run-off elections so that we could have majority choice voting. That just got me more complaints.

The problem is that people, for some reason, buy into the fiction that if your vote is not for the winner in an election, it is a wasted vote. As silly as that sounds, that is their argument against first-past-the-post.

No vote is ever wasted in a democracy. We can all have our say. And yes, it is very rare that governments are elected by a majority under first-past-the-post. If you really want to have a majority vote, then you have run-off elections. That is carrying your democracy further.

But having local representation—is to me, the very essence of our democracy. You can send the smartest person in town to parliament or the stupidest. It is your choice. Denying you that choice is the road to anarchy.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Kudos to Vancouver’s Kennedy Stewart.

Friday, October 26th, 2018

It took guts. That was no walk in the park for a new democrat to give up his seat in parliament and challenge for the Vancouver mayoralty, as an independent. It was a tough fight with no guarantees. And the remaining problem is that there is now a progressive in the mayoralty with an equally split right and left-wing council.

Stewart might be the first independent mayor in Vancouver in more than 30 years but, if he plays his cards carefully, the right-wingers on council will be reluctant to vote against him. The five are all from the highly partisan ‘non-partisan Association, known as the NPA. With only ten councillors in total, the others are three Greens and one each from two left-leaning parties. (And you thought premier John Horgan had a tenuous situation.)

Stewart defeated the NPA mayoralty candidate by close to 1000 votes. He is definitely the mayor the city needs for the problems ahead. Few will be neutral as the Trudeau government tries to force the expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline to Burnaby.

Mind you, Trudeau seems happy to let tempers cool on the pipeline while the judicial demand for reconsideration is taking place. The earliest there will be any construction activity is expected in March or April of 2019. One of Trudeau’s major problems is that there are growing elements from within his own liberal party that are resisting the expansion.

When the pipeline is twinned, equipped with heaters and higher-pressure pumps, it will be capable of bringing close to 900,000 barrels per day across the Rockies to Burrard Inlet. This will be barrels per day, mainly of diluted tar sands bitumen, the most polluting of all oil sources.

Mining bitumen requires heating vast quantities of water and forcing it down to the layers of bitumen strata and bringing it up to the surface. This creates vast settling ponds of greasy water that can kill wild life. Bitumen contains about three times the carbon of normal crude oil and this creates huge piles of what is called bitumen slag in the refining process. This is why the oil companies prefer to send it to third world refineries where nobody cares about the pollution.

With more spokespeople such as Kennedy Stewart, we will be heard.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Follow the money to Brampton Brown.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

He used to be Barrie Brown. His best friend, Toronto lawyer Walied Soliman describes him in the Toronto Star as the “hardest working person, I have ever met.” Those of us who have watched Brown manipulate his way through politics over the years are less complimentary. This is not the kind of politician you should trust.

The main concern about Patrick Brown’s career in politics is where the money comes from. It took him two tries to latch onto the Harper bandwagon in 2006, dump his job as a city councillor in Barrie and get elected as the member of parliament for Barrie and area.

He became known as a retail politician. He did what he was told in Ottawa and worked at getting in solid in Barrie. He used local charities as his publicity base and never got involved in political controversy. Studying his financial reports in elections, I found he was creative but there was nothing major to complain about. The main concern was that it was such a waste of time sending him to Ottawa.

But the plan was emerging. His friend Jason Kenney, then minister of ethnic support for prime minister Stephen Harper, suggested that Brown spend some effort getting to know the people from the Indian Sub-Continent. It was the Canadian taxpayers who paid for Patrick Brown’s trips to India. All he had to do was stay out of all the ethnic troubles of that part of the world.

What it enabled Brown to do was build up a large base of support and knowledge of those groups in Canada. That is why his first office to capture the Ontario conservative leadership was in Brampton. With more than 260,000 South Asian immigrants and descendants in Brampton, they represented 44 per cent of the total population.

And that was when we started to seriously question where the money was from? You hardly go over night from raising $100,000 for a federal election campaign to raising over a million for the provincial leadership. His South Asian organizers paid the memberships of close to 40,000 people across Ontario. Where did that money come from?

And where did the money come from at the time for Patrick Brown to acquire a mansion out in Shanty Bay? This is not a guy known for saving his nickels.

And skipping over the problems of January 2018, where did the money come from for a failed attempt to take over as chair of Peel Region? That is not a small area to put up signs.

And finally, where did the money come from for that very expensive campaign in the City of Brampton?

Enquiring minds want to know.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Voting for the future?

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

It has always been my observation that there are fewer ‘Come line’ bettors in municipal voting than ‘No line’ bettors. If you are not a craps player, I should explain that there are fewer civic voters voting positively for the future than there are people expressing themselves with a negative vote. (I should also mention that the ‘No’ side in craps gets slightly better odds.)

Despite this seeming negative advantage in craps, the casino still makes money on the game from what gamblers get hooked on, which are the propositions. These are all those funny markings in the middle of the craps layout that players throw chips at the stick-person to place for them.

But it has always been my observation that municipal politics is far more of a crap shoot than people realize. We elect people in municipal elections on far less information than a McDonalds’ would require from a teenager wanting an after-school job. We use rumour and name recognition to pay someone an outrageous sum and we cannot even fire them for four years.

I mention all this in response to the Toronto Star promoting the paper’s own version of confusion in how they promote candidates for office. I have noticed lately that columnists who might never have been to a city council meeting (or stayed very long) are now telling us how to vote for their candidate.

The best example recently was an op-ed piece by the Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick promoting Jennifer Keesmaat for mayor. Frankly, Keesmaat might not be the super solution that Mallick suggests. She would hardly be the first civic employee who thought she could do a better job than that bunch of elected screw-ups. I would like to know what she could not do as an employee that she could now do in the mayor’s chair?

The reason I say this is because Mallick is impressed with Keesmaat’ s level of planning in her plans for transit. Suggesting that Keesmaat must be better because she has made ten promises in regard to transit and John Tory has only four. Maybe Mallick should realize that Tory has a far better chance to achieve what he promises. Keesmaat has a lot to learn.

And if she had a way to get the downtown relief line for the Toronto subway system built three years sooner, she should have pushed for it back when she worked for the city.

Toronto is a rapidly growing city that needs a better form of governance. We need people who understand the problems and can help. Toronto news media need to fight for better governance—not encourage dilettante reporters to pitch their unqualified favourites.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Dumb ideas for publicity.

Friday, October 12th, 2018

The toughest challenge for municipal candidates is the problem of getting some decent publicity during the campaign. You sometimes get the feeling that all reporters hate you and you are just wasting your time. It always seemed that it was only the really dumb ideas that can break down barriers. What proves that theory is the latest effort by Toronto mayoralty candidate Jennifer Keesmaat.

We hear that the erstwhile candidate wants to shut down three of the city’s public golf courses. It seems that since the three are operated at a loss by the city, she thinks they should be put to other civic use. (That would likely cost us more.)

Reading her suggested uses, it would more likely increase the costs for taxpayers than to save any money. And why does she want to annoy Toronto golfers? Those golfers really appreciate the city providing facilities for many different recreations. And the candidate had better stay away from baseball diamonds. All that would get her would be thousands of little league mothers after her scalp.

I have played the public course in the Don Valley at the 401 and Yonge Street many times over the years. It was less than ten minutes from where I lived. I can also report that reaching par on that course was a fond hope that I never came close to achieving. I always felt that if I just held back a bit on my swing, I could have saved a lot of golf balls. I can assure you it is not just the green fees for golf that cost so much.

Remembering the Dentonia Park course, I always thought of it as a par three course for mountain goats. I think I played the Scarlett Woods course once but it must have been a long time ago. I usually rated courses by how many balls I lost and Scarlett Woods is in the ‘not bad’ category.

But if Keesmaat thinks she is going to get the hoi polloi to revolt against the elite with doing away with a few public golf courses, she must be kidding. If she wants to expropriate the Toronto Hunt, Rosedale, Weston and St. Georges, she might have a point. All those restrictive courses are sitting on prime land for development. I think you even had to have a pedigree as a Torontonian to just get to caddy at those courses.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

 

In John Tory’s Toronto…

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

It was fascinating to read the Toronto Star municipal reporter’s opinion on the current mayoralty race in Toronto. It was as though he wanted to go backwards to gain ground forward. He damned Tory for stepping down into the mayor’s role and not growing in the job. What the reporter does not appreciate is that the man is probably the last patrician to take the job. And if he cannot see that John Tory has the patience of Job, he must be in the wrong line of work.

And, frankly, candidate for mayor Keesmaat is a joke. And a sad one at that! We should all worry about this trend of city employees thinking they can casually move into elected positions. This one does not even think she should start at the bottom. Jennifer Keesmaat contributed little as a city planner, she can contribute even less in the mayor’s position.

John Tory brought grace and dignity to the role of mayor. What was remarkable about his last four years was his sensitivity to his city and its needs. That was, in itself, a remarkable job. I do not remember how many times watching some breaking news on television seeing Mayor Tory arriving to bring what help the city could provide to people caught up in the claustrophobia of big city events.

How quickly does premier Ford show up? When did he ever show up at that horror on Yonge Street south from Finch?

The reason John Tory beat Doug Ford and Olivia Chow for mayor four-years ago was because the city needed a civilized mayor such as Tory to bring some order. He cared about the city, not self importance.

And for the Toronto Star reporter to complain about Tory not ranting and roaring at the Queen’s Park Tories brings into question the reporter’s understanding of how things work. The province has full control of the cities in this province and they are never going to let us forget it. The mayor’s strength and effectiveness are built on his or her ability to cajole and convince. Other than that, the mayor is just one more vote on council.

If I was still living in the City of Toronto, I would vote for John Tory one more time. I would certainly not vote for a know-it-all reporter or a know-it-all former city employee such as Jennifer Keesmaat.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Getting elected in Toronto.

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

The ‘Hey Rube’ at Toronto city hall is over, for now. Candidates for the 25 wards are busy candidating. The next big event will be municipal election day on October 22. Similar to Halloween, it will be a scary time. And they have the nerve to call it democracy.

It will be the same old, same old. Other than a few scores settled in this ward or that one, look for the return of familiar faces. The only good news is there are fewer wards and fewer old faces. Nobody will be particularly surprised when John Tory continues to occupy the mayor’s chair.

Democracy is supposed to be government ‘by the people.’ In truth, it is government ‘for the people’ and we sometimes wonder what they did to deserve it?

The people who get elected in municipal politics are the ones who can convince the most voters what they can do for them. They are often helped in this by having a reasonably recognizable name and some decent promotion by the news media. Also having an Italian name with a voting population heavily weighted by people from that part of the world can work wonders.

It also helps to make friends with developers who have pushy projects to propose and need friends on council. You need their money to buy signs that show you are a serious candidate. One or two decent brochures would also be most helpful.

It also helps if you have a couple hundred pleasant looking volunteers who are going to help you knock on every door to identify your vote. The candidate that gets his or her voters to the polls is the one who will win the election. You should never underestimate the value of another 50 or 100 votes.

You should also set a target of morning coffee parties. They have a multiplier effect and even five housewives at one of these events can add up to 15 votes.

Hard work, smart material, and lots of volunteers can be a winning formula. It will be after you win that you will wonder if it is all worth it?

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

…Now, where were we?

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

It seems to me that we left off when premier Ford of Ontario pulled a rabbit out of his hat and told Toronto council hopefuls to stop running for 47 council wards in Toronto and just run for 25. Since people had been campaigning for weeks for the 47 wards, many of them were unhappy with their broader horizons. Regrettably Dougie and his crew at Queen’s Park came into some serious criticism for his sudden and unexpected interference.

And then a superior court judge stuck his oar in on behalf of the somewhat indignant city council. In response to this Dougie threatened to use the “Not Withstanding” clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also appealed the judge’s ruling. The appeal was successful, so now it is not necessary to “Not Withstand.”

But this commentator does not consider the number of councillors on council as the most serious question. In fact, the number of councillors has very little to do with their ability to get things done.

In fact, let me suggest to you that there are certain councillors in Toronto who are going to have a friend at Queen’s Park. If you think it is nice to have friends, let me also point out that Dougie has a bone to pick with some of the other long-time councillors on Toronto city council. These people were not friends when the Ford brothers tried to rule Toronto council. And Dougie has only begun to get even.

Now, you might suggest that Doug Ford has more important things to do as premier of Ontario than screw around with Toronto council. If you think that, you do not know him.  Dougie is as small-minded and petty as they come.

Whether there are 26 or 48 members of city council, each of them, mayor and councillors alike, have only one vote. The mayor has some other powers available to him or her to enable the mayor to appoint committees that will work with him or her to move things along.

What is needed is some sort of political structure that enables mayoralty candidates and councillors to run on a platform that says what they will do if elected. If elected, then they will have a responsibility to keep their promises and give the citizens responsible city government.  When you realize that Toronto has a larger population than most provinces, you have to admit that these people deserve the chance to have their city run properly.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Carpetbagger Brown.

Friday, September 14th, 2018

In politics, the carpetbagger is a figure of derision. The person is considered an unscrupulous opportunist who is seeking to exploit some real or imagined opportunity among local voters. No politician in Ontario better fits this description than Barrie’s Patrick Brown.

Or should we now call him: Brampton Brown?

In the last two years, this fast-moving individual has slipped and slid from being a member of parliament to becoming a provincial party leader, to a member of the legislature, down to provincial pariah, to candidate for Peel County chair and then to candidate for mayor of Brampton. Which is just as well as nobody would expect him to win if he came back and ran against the current mayor of Barrie.

And why should Brampton be so lucky?

But then why would you expect his former conservative friends at Queen’s Park to be so vindictive?

Just the other day, Brown called a news conference in Brampton and told the local media that he has noted that there is a great concern among Brampton voters about a rise in crime. It is not that there has been an overall increase in crime—in fact, there has actually been a decrease. The burghers in Brampton might not have been aware of this concern but Mr. Brown was attuned to this dilemma and had the solution. He was convinced, of course, that the same old solution (Whatever that was?) was not going to work. He was going to have a task force study the problems and report back to him—on the day after the election.

It would have been an appropriate touch for Brown to then close his news conference with a rendition of Meredith Wilson’s song: Seventy-six Trombones Led the Big parade.

Not satisfied with that event, Patrick Brown called another news conference later to announce that he would also promote a multi-use sports complex that would be built around a world-class cricket pitch. This is not surprising when you check Google and find 35 per cent of current Brampton residents come from the Indian Sub-Continent and Brampton already has a rapidly growing roster of more than 30 cricket teams. How he is paying for this new complex was less clear.

Our best advice to the people of Brampton is that they can do better than Patrick Brown.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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