Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

The politician as huckster.

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

It is hard to estimate the times a politician has said to me: “What do you think of this great idea? In most cases—if part of the campaign team—I will listen to the idea and then say: “That’s nice, now go to that wall, hit your head against it ten times and hope you have forgotten the idea.” It is cruel but, in most cases, necessary.

Luckily party candidates federally and provincially are expected to toe the party line and most understand they are not allowed to throw in their own ideas helter-skelter. Most of the ideas come from municipal candidates. And sometimes I have actually encouraged their use.

But there are strict conditions. The idea has to be simple and easy to communicate, of value to everybody and of long term value to the community and, if not free, at least inexpensive.

A good example of this is a mayoralty candidate here in Barrie who came up with an idea for a year-round farmers’ market. It is a simple idea, easily understood, proposed for an excellent location, could be self-funding and, besides, the present farmers’ market is desperate for a larger and more accessible home.

I liked that idea and actually did some of the publicity work behind it. My only regret is that the same smart guy is running for re-election again, eight years later, and we still are still stuck with the same over-crowded farmer’s market at city hall.

I could make the same remarks about the SmartTrack plan espoused by Mayor Tory in Toronto. Here he is running for re-election four years later and still talking about how great SmartTrack could be.

The difference between Tory’s SmartTrack proposal and challenger Keesmaat’s transit plan is that, typical of most professional planner’s suggestions, Jennifer Keesmaat’s plan requires an advanced degree in transit services to even comprehend. The only hope for it is that a voter might see a transit stop close to their home.

The SmartTrack idea appealed to me from day one because it reminds me of why the ‘El System’ in Chicago helped build that great city. Chicago used the already existing train lines into the city to build a workable mass transit system. That is what SmartTrack does. It can save billions in routing costs.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Restoring democracy in Toronto.

Friday, August 31st, 2018

If you are not being sued by the Ford government in Ontario, you might already be suing it or hoping to sue. What is of particular concern at the moment, are the various lawyers getting together to sue the government for reducing the new 47-ward council in Toronto to just 25 wards. It would not be worth comment if it was not such a terrible waste of time and money.

Reducing or increasing the size of council has very little to with what Toronto council really needs. In a city of almost three million people it is the efficacy of local government that matters. Good government requires effective taxing powers to enable the city to fulfill the needs of its citizens. It needs to have access to the funds needed to build and maintain the infrastructure required in the city.

What it also needs is to enable citizens to communicate effectively with their elected representatives. In assuring that ability to communicate, the numbers of constituents each elected representative serves needs to be considered. And before you guess at numbers for an ideal ward size, remember that several years ago, Toronto had a mayor who took pride in his effort to return telephone calls from most of the citizens across the city who called him.

You also need to consider the ability of the politicians to provide adequate direction of the more than 40 municipal divisions with more than 50,000 employees providing the city with services, with an operating budget of over C$12 billion a year. This alone might require more than 26 individuals to assure effective oversight.

But the essential need is for the citizens to understand that they can take problems to city hall. It is an essential component of democracy. Citizens must not only be heard but be assured of a fair hearing. They must see that wrongs can be righted. They must see that democracy works for them.

But there are many ways to deliver the service needed. Community councils have been tried. More staff for councillors can help. More councillors is also a possibility. The only problem with more councillors is the lack of discipline. Without political parties of some sort, every councillor is an island of ideas and ambition—or the lack of either. Council meetings, with 47 councillors to be heard from, presents a frightening picture of deadlock.

People need to be considering how best to get the job done—not massaging the egos of council wannabes!

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

 

Wise politicos choose their battles carefully.

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Toronto council has made a bad move. They are, in effect, fighting ‘city hall.’ Because city hall for cities in Canada are the provincial and territorial governments. I am not saying the Toronto councillors definitely will not win against Queen’s Park reducing the number of councillors but they are not likely to get anything other than a ‘stay of execution.’ And nobody wants to be hung more than once.

The problem is that to delay the change to half the number of councillors for four years is a very costly and unnecessary step in the modernization of city hall. It solves nothing. It changes nothing. It simply extends the ongoing waste of time for an already unworkable system of civic government.

This is not a problem for the judiciary. It is a problem for a plebiscite by the citizens of Toronto. Toronto needs to build a partnership with the province. It is a growing city of almost 3 million people and needs a system of government that allows it to raise the funds needed to manage the city properly.

It requires the infrastructure of a city, not a province. It requires governance that makes high density living workable. As a city it requires the constant flow of people to and from the greater metropolitan area and that is the key reason for the partnership with the province.

A city is more than just so many people per hectare, it is a centre for commerce, for trades people, for learning, for banking, for living and the amenities. A city requires an entirely different political view than a country or state. It consumes the products of the countryside and creates the artifacts the surrounding lands require. It creates and regulates the trades, it teaches and advances the sciences, and it offers services and entertainments.

And cities also offer the opportunities to politicize, to experiment, to grow in knowledge and in culture, in the arts and in professions. Great cities develop unique cultural entertainments. They develop an accent and a political view. A knowledgeable traveller can almost sniff the air in a city and easily identify their location.

A city is a unique part of life experience. It can evoke strong loyalties. It has its own patterns of entertainments. They become strong tourism destinations in themselves. They have to earn their plaudits.

Autocratic politicians who take on a city most often get their comeuppance.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Who says Dougie’s done?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

Looking at the upcoming Toronto municipal election in October, you can end up with more questions than answers. The problem is premier Ford. This guy is not finished with his home town. And they are not finished with him. And they are wasting the taxpayers’ money fighting him. We seem to have the ghost of Rob Ford running in this municipal election.

And what is the point of Jennifer Keesmaat and John Tory arguing over Smart Track and the one-stop subway to Scarborough while everyone is waiting for the premier to decide? We are reminded of a promise Doug Ford made during the provincial election that the Toronto subway system and the GTA transit lines would be taken over and integrated by the province. As ominous as that prospect might be, at least the province has pockets deep enough to pay for those needs.

John Tory’s Smart Track has been kicked around for the past four years and nobody seems to acquired much more fondness for the idea. Overall, Tory has been a pretty good mayor. He probably deserves a second term. Whether his ideas for rapid transit are any better than Keesmaat’s, I do not know.

But I do know that Keesmaat became the poster girl on the file over the past few years and she assumes that people should trust her. I have a problem with that. Civil servants who think jumping into elected office is the road to fame and riches, are deluding themselves. The two jobs take radically different skill sets.

Keesmaat might look good but I expect she is a one-trick pony. John Tory has far more experience in the political scene and he can probably run rings around her.

But it is still early in the campaign and it is unlikely that Doug Ford will save the good news about taking over Keesmaat’s specialty until after the election in October.

Keesmaat is the darling of the downtown NDP and all their fellow cyclists and as such will get no kind consideration from Dougie.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

 

The Copenhagen Syndrome.

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

You have probably heard of the Stockholm Syndrome. The Copenhagen Syndrome is only different in that it is for people to learn to love bicycles–instead of the people keeping them captive. The Copenhagen Syndrome is prevalent in Toronto these days because nobody seems to understand the difference in climate and topography between the two cities.

Toronto is a winter city. I will never forget the winter of 1944 when we got more than a metre of snow in one dump and it took us two months to clear all our streets. You certainly could not have gone far with a bicycle back then. Yet, people insist that Torontonians should ride bicycles just like those in the Danish capital.

Copenhagen is a fun city. If you have never been there, I can assure you Copenhagen is beautiful city with a climate tempered by being by the straits connecting the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. It has a very busy year-round harbour. Many people ride bicycles around the city of over half a million because it is a mainly flat island with few hills to challenge the cyclists.

Yes, Copenhagen gets some snow each winter but nothing that stays very long. There is nowhere near as much snow and ice as Toronto. Rainfall is another matter but Danes seem very stoic about getting wet. I always enjoyed my visits to the city, yet never had time to ride a bicycle while there.

But Toronto has more obstacles to pleasant biking than just rotten weather. From the level of Lake Ontario to the highest point of land in Toronto is the equivalent of trying to ride a bicycle to the top of a 40-storey building. No matter how many ramps you used, that is a tough trip. (By the way, the highest point in the city is at York University on Keele Street. It is all downhill from there.)

But in a city four times the size of Copenhagen, with all Toronto’s hills and valleys, it is mainly children who ride bicycles on their neighbourhood streets. We never did develop a culture of bicycles, cars and trucks sharing the main roads.

And Torontonians are not doing well at it today. If you want to protect cyclists from getting ‘doored’ or run over, you need to get them off the busy downtown streets. We get all types of lost tourists driving in that area and they have no understanding why cyclists have any rights to the roads.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

“All politics is local.”

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

The adage about all politics being local is usually credited to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neill many years ago. All he was saying was that if you do not know what your voters have stuck in their craw, there is little you can do for them. You always have to assume that politicians have their own objectives but if they can share their objectives with their voters, they have a much better chance of being elected.

This occurred to me on receiving a piece of literature the other day from a new candidate in my ward. That provides the ward with four candidates for councillor from which to choose on October 22. I admit that I happen to like the current ward two councillor. Rose Romita was new to council in the last municipal election and I gave her a tip to improve her campaign. I have only talked to her once since then and I noted that she seems to be settling in well.

But this first piece from her main competitor for the next council was a bit of a surprise. It was four color, right out of the conservative party handbook and even used the tory blue. The last item I read about this guy was on the event of his retirement earlier this year, from the senior staff at city hall here in Barrie. After 28 years working for the city, this guy wants to double dip. I am sure he has a healthy pension coming to him from the city and he wants to add a councillor’s stipend.

I live two blocks from Barrie city hall but as far as this guy is concerned, I live in a different world. I watched him sometimes at city council meetings and during a few presentations to council over the years. He always struck me as being at the slow end of the throttle. And if I have had one complaint over the years about Barrie municipal management, they seem to have a single speed: slow.

The truth is, they do not like any ideas but their own. They really do not want citizens to add to their workload. Their epitaph is enshrined at the south-west corner of Kempenfelt Bay: it is the Allandale train station. This restored historic site sits as a permanent display of wasted taxpayer money. The millions spent on this unused site are an embarrassment to all.

And that brings us back to the candidate, the former city official. He was hired 28 years ago as a water resources engineer. It might explain why there are so many businesses supplying bottled water to the citizens of Barrie.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Toronto’s urgent need for unity.

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

It is a daunting prospect. No matter who is elected to what position in Toronto in the October municipal election, the Ford conservatives will be in their face for the next four years. And the only way to face it is with a united front. And to do that, you have to have a group running for mayor and most of the councillor spots on a united ticket.

You do not have to call it party politics. You could call it Tory’s Troublemakers and get the job done. What you want is to elect the mayor and at least 13 councillors who agree to giving Toronto some good government and really serving Torontonians. Since the Ford crew at Queen’s Park are remnants from the far right of the conservative party in Ontario, you might not want to identify as conservatives.

But bear in mind, your major problem will be the potential for the NDP to unite behind a mayoralty candidate such as Jennifer Keesmaat. While Doug Ford has left them few wards with easy wins for the NDP, that is still the group likely to provide the opposition at city hall.

And you definitely do not want to annoy any liberal candidates. If you could combine the liberal and conservative support for Tory’s Troublemakers, it should give you a majority on city council. It will be your chance to put through some very positive programs for the city.

There is not a lot of time to put this together but you should be able to put your candidates in a room and work out a common platform that you can all support. You might have your candidates bring supporters to an open meeting where they could pass judgement on the plans. You can invite the media to see your hard work and get a major boost for your platform and your candidates. And if you play your cards right, you will beat the NDP.

Ad hoc parties are a tenuous approach but, in time you could grow your group into a Toronto party that can stand up to Queen’s Park and negotiate better arrangements for the city.

The truth is that the threat of secession from Ontario is spurious. Toronto needs Ontario just as much as Ontario needs Toronto. They just need to see the need for each other.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Dougie doesn’t do distress.

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

At the end of April this year, a truck was driven down Yonge Street in north Toronto on a quest to murder. The driver succeeded in killing 10 people and injuring 14. Mayor John Tory was there on the scene soonest, Premier Kathleen Wynne came. NDP leader Andrea Horwath came. The prime minister of Canada came. Doug Ford, the man running for premier of Ontario on the slogan ‘For the People,’ was too busy campaigning.

And then we had the random shootings in Greektown on Toronto Danforth. Mayor Tory was there soonest. As premier, Doug Ford read a statement to the legislature. And since the prime minister was coming at the time of the funerals, the premier showed up for a vigil.

This is one of the toughest parts of the politician’s job. It requires that fine balance between showing your concern and appearing to be taking advantage of it for the exposure. Mayor John Tory does it well. Maybe it is because he gets more fires and shootings and other types of disasters in a large city. He also has the constant down-in-the-mouth expression of a St. Bernard. He was born to be a first responder.

But Doug Ford does not do concern well. He lacks empathy. He is too self-centred to feel for others. No doubt he has to let his staff pick the timing, prepare his off-the-cuff remarks and tell him how to dress and how to look. It is not in his DNA.

But nobody wants that brash loud-mouth at quiet moments of contemplation anyway. Doug Ford’s problem is that he only has an on-off switch. There is no volume control.

Ford’s attitude seems to permeate the entire conservative caucus at Queen’s Park. They applaud the brashness of their leader. They appear to revel in their party’s ignorance of climate change. They share the myopia when it comes to the growing demand for gun controls. And at a time of increasingly horrendous criminal attacks on complete strangers, they concur on the throttling back of funds for mental health solutions.

At a time of growing need for better government, Ontario has opted for ignorance. When better solutions should be sought to growing needs in fields of provincial jurisdiction, Ontario voters have chosen comic-book heroes. This is not a time to be proud of what we have done.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

The Patrick Brown legacy lives on.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

It is like a bad smell that does not go away. There was some relief in Barrie during the period when Patrick Brown was living the high life in Toronto as leader of the Ontario conservatives. It was the complaints by two young, unidentified Barrie ladies that caused him to resign as conservative leader. And it was the vindictiveness of fellow conservative MPPs that convinced him not to run to replace himself as leader or to contest the Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte provincial electoral district as a conservative.

But like a bad penny, Patrick Brown keeps showing up—recently as a home owner in Mississauga—then as a candidate for Peel Region chair—and then, just as suddenly—candidate for mayor of Brampton.

Patrick Brown of Barrie is a political conniver. Some people think he is a pretty good ‘retail politician’ in the sense that he knows all the angles to work on voters. Yet he abuses those angles. He is slippery and has little respect for truth. He is only in it for himself.

Brown spent years in Ottawa and never made a contribution to his party policy or on behalf of his constituents. On free votes he voted against women’s rights and to re-open abortion arguments.

The old political term for Brown is “carpetbagger.” He little cares for the needs of Peel region voters but he figured to make around $200,000 per year in the newly elected role as regional chair. He took a quick look around when premier Ford slammed close that opportunity and selected mayor Linda Jeffrey of Brampton as the only potential opportunity. He has no personal connection with Brampton but figures, in the current times, his being a conservative and Jeffery being a former provincial liberal cabinet minister gives him a chance at winning. He knew better than to go after Bonnie Crombie in Mississauga (where he now lives) who has done a good job replacing a retired Hazel McCallion.

What reminded me of this was Brown’s acolyte, Alex Nutall MP, who is very proud of taking over Brown’s role at Hockey Night in Barrie this year. I think Royal Victoria Hospital and the other charities getting involved should get a forensic audit of this event in recent years. They might not know the kind of legacy to which they have tied themselves.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

The Ford Follies fumble forward.

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

To be truthful, I had a hard time controlling my laughter reading the revelations on premier Doug Ford’s plans for Toronto and the municipal elections in Ontario. I am now convinced that Dougie is dumber than former Ontario premier Mike Harris. It was Harris who amalgamated Metro Toronto and left it in deplorable disarray 20-years ago.

If the Ford followers at Queen’s Park were truthful, they would mostly admit that it is high time that the good burghers of Toronto paid the piper. Those from outside the GTA are convinced that it is Toronto that sucks up all the good air (and money) of this province.

And if Dougie has something of a vendetta going with arch enemies such as Patrick Brown and Steven Del Duca, well why not get even? With the two of them looking for easy election as chair of Peel and York regions respectively, they were looking for an easy run at a lucrative job. This was to be the first public election for those positions and they both thought it would be a breeze. Those guys know something that has been kept secret in municipal elections for far too long: name recognition wins. Incompetence hardly matters.

The laugh might be on Dougie though for cancelling the chairs’ elections as Patrick Brown raced to file a nomination for mayor of Brampton. (Brampton is a city of just over a half million above Mississauga and west of Toronto.) Hopefully, the last laugh will be for Brampton mayor Linda Jeffrey, who will be no pushover. If that putz Brown looks like he is giving Linda any trouble, this old liberal apparatchik will be heading down to Brampton, volunteering to help her.

But the Toronto situation is providing the best laughs. Imagine the grin on John Tory’s face when former city planner Jennifer Keesmaat announced she is running against him. She might be the favourite of the bike-riding NDP but those people have their own problems.

Can you imagine those vaunted NDPers, Mike Layton and Joe Cressy, going head to head for a single downtown ward? I can hardly guess who will blink first but someone will have to step in to resolve that one.

No doubt some enterprising lawyer is dashing between already-nominated candidates putting together a lawsuit to cover monies they have already spent in now changed wards. Campaigns have to be completely re-evaluated and some will be abandoned in frustration.

The question is how are the voters going to accept this mess? I think we all need to listen to the voters very carefully.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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