Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

Defunding police not on Toronto’s agenda.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

No mayor seems to read his city council better than John Tory in Toronto. With a few simple proposals, Tory defanged the move by the council’s inner-city left wing to cut the police budget. It led to a long day of debate to the disappointment of the downtown councillors as well as their supporters, camped out in Nathan Phillips Square.

But what made these foolish people think they were going to get anywhere calling for defunding of the police? In Ontario, the police are governed by the respective police services board for that municipality. The chair of the board in Toronto is a citizen appointed by city council, the vice-chair is a citizen appointed by the province, two additional citizens are appointed by the province, two councillors are appointed by the city council and the mayor is an ex-officio member. The city just gets to pay for the police.

You do not casually defund the largest municipal police force in Canada. Toronto police have more than 5000 uniformed officers and a budget of more than a billion dollars. Mayor Tory’s motion for council was a recommendation for body cameras and to investigate having specially trained, unarmed personnel to handle the approximately 20,000 calls each year that the police dispatch to assist emotionally disturbed persons—out of about a million calls. If that happens in the next year, prepare to be surprised.

There is no question that Canadians want and deserve better trained peace officers. One of our problems is that too many of these pop-up pressure groups watch too much American television. We do not have ingrained racism nor do we have systemic racism in Canada. And neither are we perfect. We have to continue to train our police better. We have to remember they are a para-military force, there to serve and protect. We have to stamp out any racist attitudes. Mutual respect is what builds a better country.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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

In the Wild—West of Toronto.

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

Who knew? When Barrie’s Patrick Brown, was ejected from Queen’s Park early in 2018, he picked Peel Region for his comeback. Rejected by his fellow conservatives in the legislature, Brown’s instinct was to return to municipal politics. He knows little else. He had no idea though that he had picked a region of lawlessness similar to the American West.

He had little choice. With a strong mayor already in place in Barrie, there was no hope in his home town. Brown needed an open field. His first choice was to run for the newly created elected position of chair of Peel Region. The former Peel County included the area that became the City of Mississauga, the older City of Brampton and the more rural area of Caledon.

Appalled at the idea of someone like Brown running the Peel Region, the new conservative Ontario premier Doug Ford blocked the election. He ruled the regional council would continue to appoint its own chair.

That left Brown with the only alternative of running for the mayoralty in Bampton. His connections with the South Asian community in Brampton gave him a base vote. Plus being a conservative in former premier Bill Davis’ home town did not hurt either.

But Brown had little knowledge of the problems in the region. With an area twice that of Toronto and about half the population, Peel Region has less than half the police to cover it. And about half of the population of the region was born outside of Canada. That statistic is not reflected in the members of the Peel Region police.

The other day in Brampton, Peel Region police broke into a Muslim gentleman’s home shouting in English and with tasers and guns blazing. The family was concerned about the man (who did not speak English) being off his meds and the police killed him.

And now we hear the other day, a female officer in Mississauga pulled out her gun and shot a black woman—who had already been tasered and was lying on the ground.

Things in Peel Region have been going sideways since Brown got there.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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

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.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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

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.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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

 

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.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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

 

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.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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

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.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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

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.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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

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.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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

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.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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