Archive for the ‘Municipal Politics’ Category

Will Toronto charge for parking on the DVP?

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Did you hear that Toronto Council is now considering making the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway toll roads? This is hardly the first time the suggestion has been made and it is probably not the last. It shows you how desperate the city is for revenue other than taxing businesses and homes.

When the Toronto voters chose John Tory as mayor two years ago, it was in high hopes that he would bring a businesslike and workable approach to the city’s financial woes. Mind you there is nothing new in these woes and nothing really new in Tory’s various solutions.

But surprisingly there was general approval by the pundits in Tory’s midterm reports recently. Despite the poor guy wrecking his home life and working day and night to satisfy his constituents, the problems he faces are the same ole-same ole! It is an impossible task.

The problem is that the province holds all the cards and only deals them to the city as necessary for political advantage. The mayor might get the big bucks and the prestige of the chain of office but it is a job without joy. It is an attempt to lead without followers. Tory will always have more followers on Facebook than on city council.

You have to remember that the mayor might have some perks but he or she has only one vote on council. And the knives are now out on his taking leadership on the road tolls for the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway.

Without getting into the merits, or lack thereof, in the toll plan, it has all the earmarks of a trap for the unwary. It is not going to happen without specific approval from the province. And the possibilities of bringing any strong support from city council are close to nil.

The province can hang Tory by the thumbs at the first expressway overpass and laugh as he swings in the breeze. His entire case hangs on the assumption that 40 per cent of the Parkway and Expressway users are from out of town. You know it is alright for him to screw those people. The problem will be in the 60 per cent of users who already pay more than enough to park on those parking lots in morning and evening rushhours.

Maybe John can charge half the price per toll for plates showing a Toronto address and full price for the outsiders?

Or, even better, we could have responsible government for the city through the encouragement of political parties on the municipal scene. It would be nice to see a mayor and councillors elected on a party platform and then have to stand for re-election on its success or failure.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Go figure new municipal voting.

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

It has been so much fun observing the current political zoo in the United States that we tend to forget what is going on in our own backyard. Sure, we knew about the move by the Ontario government to allow municipalities in the province to move to ranked balloting but we were not aware that Bill 181 included transferable voting. It is typical of the Wynne Liberals that when they open a can of worms, they dump it on someone else.

To-date, cursory research has turned up no municipality boasting that it will be the first to choose ranked balloting in the province. Not even Toronto is partaking in the opportunity—and that was the city that asked for it. Toronto councillors changed their minds.

And here is the province looking silly because nobody wants the change.

But with more than 400 different municipalities in the province, surely there are at least a few who want to do something different. They can hardly all be too conservative to try a different system? And there are a few organizations such as Fair Vote that want to push them into change.

These organizations think that ranked voting is fair. They think we should only elect the blandest of candidates—or at least the ones voters know the least about. In a single-member ward for example, people are expected to number their choices one, two and three (or more if there are more candidates). Since most voters know at least one candidate, they can be vague about who should be numbers two, three, etc.

But the problem is how these votes are counted. If nobody gets a majority, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped and their second choice votes are added to the other candidates. This process can continue until one candidate wins a majority of the votes. And that is why we refer to it as a method where the losers are the choosers. It only works in situations where every voter knows all the candidates—such as a party leadership vote.

The transferable voting that was also approved applies in multi-member wards where you have to select two or more people to elect. In this system, the votes remain on the table as you transfer the excess votes from the winning candidate to the second, third or fourth candidate as required. It can be more than a little complicated.

What really amuses us is that what the Ontario government has approved is old and outmoded systems that are easily manipulated. We stopped using them because it was too easy to cheat.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The last laugh to Laschinger.

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

It was during the municipal election in Toronto in 2014 that both Warren Kinsella and John Laschinger were working on Olivia Chow’s campaign for the mayoralty. With Chow a New Democrat, Laschinger a Conservative and Kinsella a Liberal, it seemed like a match made in Heaven.

We were obviously a bit sceptical though as Babel-on-the-Bay’s Morning Line put Chow in third place behind both John Tory and Rob Ford’s brother Doug. Maybe neither Kinsella nor Laschinger had quite as much campaign experience in and around the wards and political ridings that make up the modern City of Toronto.

To do the Morning Line analysis in the summer months before that election, you had to know where the pockets of the suburban Ford Nation are located. The pockets of NDP strength are fewer and concentrated in the Spadina area and Broadview east to the Beach.

But if you draw a line on a city map from Church and Front to Bayview and Steeles, you will have drawn a line through the heart of John Tory’s support. It is this support that put John Tory in the mayor’s chair.

But John Laschinger got the last laugh on us. He got a book out of it.

Our friends at Dundurn Press have never looked as kindly on our book suggestions. To be fair; as soon as we see John’s book being remaindered, we will buy a copy.

It seems John has written a tell-all book that might not tell us everything. It is reputed to tell us about Olivia Chow being confronted by rude and racist supporters of the Ford brothers. It is unlikely that Olivia would have heard anything that she had not heard before and she knows how to handle it. And there are very good reasons an experienced campaign manager never lets a candidate go canvassing or to a political function alone.

Throughout that year-long municipal election in Toronto, we were frankly puzzled by the confidence of Olivia and her supporters. Her failure to rally large numbers of New Democrat supporters to her after the provincial election spoke volumes. It was also very puzzling why she was being touted as a budget expert when that was the last thing her supporters would have told anyone about her.

We hear that John has been involved in some 50 election campaigns over the years. He only claims to have won 30 of them. While that seems like a decent box score, it is always the losses that are most memorable.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Welcome to small-town gaming?

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

The other day the Toronto Star ran an editorial supporting Toronto’s Woodbine Entertainment becoming a full-fledged casino. It also supported a strange request from Toronto Public Health to restrict the casino to operating only 18 hours per day. And this is supposed to promote responsible gaming?

This closing proposal is not only small minded but is silly. If you do not like gambling just say so. Nobody forces you to gamble. If you are worried about problem gamblers, the hours of operation are not going to be a factor.

Having gambled on the ponies at Woodbine for the past 50 years, we might know more than the board of health about problem gamblers. We also have the experience of many visits to Las Vegas and to casinos in many parts of the world.

The only time we ever saw a casino that closed was when the wife was on a remarkable roll at an Atlantic City craps table. Your writer was also doing very well at a nearby blackjack table. It took two very large armed guards to convince the wife to give up the dice and join us for an early breakfast. We have never returned to Atlantic City—too rinky-dink!

And neither Woodbine Entertainment nor Toronto deserves that description.

Of course, living as we do near the Ontario casino resort at Rama, we are no strangers to the dealers, craps crews and pit supervisors at that gaming centre. And that establishment certainly does not need to close.

Sweeping out the gamblers at three or four in the morning does not protect anyone from problem gambling. It is like calling “Time” in an English pub to send the working men home to their families. It is silly. It is an anachronism.

We have waited a long time for Toronto council to grow up and agree to allowing a full casino operation at Woodbine. It is an ideal site. It serves a large market in the Toronto area and will be a better draw for tourists. Becoming a casino in name as well as operations will create jobs and related entertainment operations in Toronto’s Rexdale area.

Woodbine Entertainment has been a responsible member of the Ontario racing community for as long as this Ontario resident can remember. It has earned our trust and our respect. Let it decide what is best for its operations


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Heat is on to change municipal voting.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

It seems the Ontario government is turning loose lots of bewildered voters in the 2018 municipal elections. In legislation brought forward earlier this year, the government is allowing municipal election officials across the province to use ranked ballots to select local councillors and mayoralty candidates. While supposedly to ensure some legitimacy to those elected, it also opens the possibility of considerable confusion and corruption of the election process.

When Toronto council originally asked for the use of ranked voting, it was assumed that it would bring some balance to the de facto party politics in that city. It is the lack of effective party politics today that ties the city council in knots. This change would be more difficult to disrupt or manipulate in the larger city and would enable council to get more done.

In smaller cities in Ontario, it will make it much easier to cheat the system. The best protection for them is to remain with the simple and easy to understand first-past-the-post system.

In a ranked voting system, it is supposedly as simple as one-two-three. That is how many people will mark their ballots. They will assume that they are being a good citizen by marking council candidates as their first, second and third choice. The only problem is they might not know their second and third choices and one of them can win because of the voter giving the candidate a second or third choice vote.

Many people think this is, in effect, an instant run-off but it is not. A run-off election gives you time to rethink your vote and you are able to consider who of the remaining candidates would do a good job.

What is essential for voters to understand in ranked voting is that there is no requirement for them to mark a second or third choice if they do not know anything about those candidates.

The smart campaign manager in this type of voting situation considers the field of candidates and creates a scenario. According to where the candidate comes in this scenario, you can run a campaign flat out for first spot and encourage voters to only vote for one candidate. You might, alternatively, run a soft campaign encouraging everyone but your sure supporters to give your guy or gal their second vote and slipping in that way. There are many possibilities.

But smaller cities and towns are better off with the old tried and true first-past-the-post system. It is simple, you get the results quicker, it is difficult to cheat and you win by simply working harder and convincing more voters to vote for you.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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All parades need elephants.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

It was great wrap to the Pride month the other day when Toronto’s Pride Parade made its way down Yonge Street. It was also good to see Canada’s Prime Minister taking part. The only glitch in the day’s proceedings is when a group invited to be specifically honoured by the parade got carried away with its own importance.

Until this event, the group known as “Black Lives Matter” had done a good job of making its case in Toronto. Their cause is important and while some of their claims are related more to American circumstances than Canadian, the politicians need to hear what they are saying.

But it is just too easy to blow away all the good you have done with one stupid gesture. It is hubris (self-importance) that is the downfall of so many. And as they say: ‘Pride goeth before the fall.’

And as if the Pride Parade organizers do not have enough problems without a self-important group holding it up for their ‘demands.’ And it was not as though the parade organizers did not give a rat’s ass for the particular demands. They were self evident and mostly complied with. The only exception was the foolish request to exclude Toronto police in uniform and their floats from future Pride Parades.

What those so-called activists do not realize is that the police uniform is a uniform of service to the community. If they think it is a costume of conquest, they have a problem.

For a parade that celebrates inclusion to exclude anybody is to deny the very heart and soul of the event. Excluding the police is to insult some of the very strong supporters and participants in the parade. If these black activists have a problem with the Toronto police, let them take it to the police or the politicians. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community that certainly includes blacks counts on the support of the police who keep this a safe city. They are not about to throw away years of building good relations.

Here is a tip for the parade organizers: If Black Lives Matter want to be in the parade next year, they should be at the end of the parade. You can tell them that it is the place of honour. It is the position Santa Claus gets in his parade and who is more important than Santa? And if they want to have a sit down on the parade route, leave them to it. They will find that the police will be very helpful.

The only major difference for Black Lives Matter is that each of their participants should be handed a broom, a shovel or a garbage can on wheels to push. After all, somebody has to clean up after the elephants.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Who is reforming policing?

Friday, June 17th, 2016

It seems everybody is in on the act these days. The Province of Ontario is reviewing the Police Services Act. The City of Toronto keeps appointing committees to solve its budget problems with policing. And the cops are just digging in their heels against change.

But the question that has to be asked is, “Who is in charge?” The citizens of Toronto used to respect and like their police. The courts are befuddled by the cases of police malfeasance finally brought to them. A judge docked a Toronto police superintendent 30 days of holiday pay for abusing the civil rights of hundreds of citizens six years before. A court found a police officer guilty of attempted murder when he shot a confused young man with a pen knife repeatedly after he had already killed him.

And why are police officers paid over a $100,000 a year to direct traffic around construction sites? Nobody understands that.

But if you are waiting for wisdom from Queen’s Park in how we are running our police services, you can forget it. Police services boards are political fiefdoms for the party in power to pay political debts. Neither the provincial nor municipal politicians want to lose those payoff opportunities. And the public be damned.

You wonder sometimes about the spillover influence from America. Incidents of police brutality south of the border are played well by Canadian media. It is that old adage of news directors: If it bleeds, it leads.

Obviously many of those guns in the hands of young hoodlums in Toronto are being smuggled across the border. It is not ease of access to guns in Canada that is the first problem. The first problem is attitude. It is the collegial attitude of the police and their fellow officers protecting that long blue line. We still have had no accounting with former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair for the incidents of the Summer of 2010. (He is busy as the Ambassador of Pot for the Trudeau government.)

What about the conservative attitude of the Ontario Government? They make the rules for polices services. The only problem with that is that we have to change the mindset of what policing is all about. ‘To Serve and Protect’ is not just a public relations slogan. It has to mean something. It has to be a creed.

It always impressed us when we were young that the Toronto police were always friendly and helpful. We liked those men and women. We supported them. We wish that was the case today.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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What’s with bicycles in Toronto?

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

We always agreed with the healthy aspects of cycling and never thought much about bike lanes on city streets. That was until city council’s passion for cycling got carried away. They are spending millions of taxpayers’ money on restricted bike lanes and further tying up traffic. Are these people nuts?

You really have to wonder where the councillors think they are? Toronto has annual rainfall of about 831 mm and another 122 centimetres of snow. And the combination of snow, sleet and rain leaves damn few days each year to consider the joys of cycling. And as long as you are only going east-west, you are in luck because the north-south routes are all uphill.

One of my friends on council years ago used to take his bike down to city hall to be greeted by the news media. He never told the media that his driver put the bike in the trunk of the car for the trip home.

As a kid, biking around Toronto was a joy. Did we mention that we got a hand-me-down bicycle in 1948? For the next several summers, Toronto was ours to explore. From Swansea to Scarborough, from Forest Hill to the Beach, there were fewer people and few cars. The old streetcars of the era would always clang their bells at us if we wandered on to their rails.

But the city was growing. Did you know that today there are more than 4100 people per square kilometre in Toronto? There are now more that 2.6 million people in the city? And cars carrying commuters are not the enemy of cyclists. The enemies of all of us are the trucks, the delivery vans and the taxis. These people have their deliveries and time is precious to them. They are not the tourist gawkers and country cousins lost in the melee of traffic gridlock. The city depends on its commerce to survive. You cannot freight the goods for the Eaton Centre on the subway.

Somebody has to show some common sense. Those are supposed to be adults that the voters select for city council. You will have to ask them how many are riding their bikes to city hall in snow storms or cold driving rain? Even the city cops who ride bicycles in their short pants know when to park their bike. There is a time and place for bicycles. That is not year-round in Toronto.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Politicians are just like us.

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Maybe it is because they are never a hero to their valets that we have never been overly impressed with politicians. As a publicist and confidante to many politicians over the years, we have found that they share the same foibles, failures and frustrations as anyone else. Nobody is perfect and the person offering to represent us that does not share any weaknesses with the electorate is usually unable to serve them.

These weaknesses are usually more obvious in populist politicians and can raise or destroy their hopes. The greatest weakness is vanity. An excellent example of this weakness is Donald Trump. It is his vanity—and some possibly sociopathic characteristics—that drive him. His misogyny, his bigotry and his bluster are also weaknesses that will bring him fame but keep him from the American presidency.

There have been many populists in Canadian politics over the years. One of the most interesting was Prairie populist John George Diefenbaker. ‘Dief the Chief’ was brought down finally by the president of his own party, Dalton Camp. Dalton was convinced that Diefenbaker had taken the reins of the Conservative Party for too long and called for a leadership convention. Dief tried to succeed himself and it was a sad end to a fascinating career.

The most celebrated populist in Canadian politics—and also the most successful—was Justin Trudeau’s father. Compared to Pierre, a populist, his son is a politician. The son identifies with the populist father but uses the relationship effectively as a politician.

We can always start arguments among our New Democratic friends by pointing out that Saskatchewan’s Tommy Douglas was very much a populist. There are quite a few others but the most obvious was Toronto’s late councillor and mayor Rob Ford.

Ford failed finally as a politician when cancer brought him down. What also failed him was the effort to create a dynasty. Ford used his bombast and ‘in your face’ style effectively but no other Ford can match it. And he really did—for a while—call people back.

But politics can hardly survive on the few populists—good or bad—that come forward from time to time. We need good people who care. We need people who understand and want to help their fellow Canadians build a country with a rich and fulfilling future.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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A Richler’s epiphany on Toronto.

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

In a somewhat rambling op-ed for the Toronto Star the other day, Noah Richler tells us of his experience as a sacrificial lamb (candidate) for the New Democrats last year. He also explains (sort of) why Bombardier cannot seem to deliver Toronto’s streetcars.

Being a Montrealer by birth, Richler’s decision to run in Toronto-St.Paul’s was fuel for a Babel-on-the-Bay commentary last July. Our concern was that the NDP were just using him and his father’s name in a meaningless cause. There was just no way Mordecai Richler’s fame would help his son defeat the Liberal’s Caroline Bennett.

And it turns out the son really did not understand Toronto. He says he thought Toronto—St. Paul’s was just like all other Toronto electoral districts. He was actually surprised that people at their door accused him of being a parachute candidate.

Now he tells us this entire political business was to research a book he has written on being a candidate. We doubt that it could ever be turned into a movie starring someone like Robert Redford as “The Candidate.” That movie has already been made.

But what ticks us off about this article is that Richler accuses the Toronto MPs—who are all Liberals—of being unable to articulate the city’s needs in Ottawa. Frankly there are some that do a poor job of that but overall, there are some very good representatives for the city in Ottawa today.

In the negative, is the example of MP Adam Vaughan from Spadina—Fort York who thinks he can speak for all Toronto by getting Transport Minister Marc Garneau to end all speculation about Bombardier whisper jets flying out of the Island Airport. To get Garneau to blatantly interfere in that way with a city council decision is not representing the city.

But what Richler really does not realize that among the people guilty of not taking a unified approach in supporting the city are his fellow NDP. All he had to do was look around and see who the best supported candidates were. They were the downtown clique of NDP candidates in Toronto who neither understand nor want to understand the needs of the suburbs.

And anyone who thinks that you can beat up on Quebec-based Bombardier over late delivery of Toronto streetcars is not very political. Toronto is trying to help Bombardier solve their problems. Richler just wants to stir up trouble for the company.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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