New Year Predictions

As the new year progresses, it’s probably a good time to make some local and not so local predictions for 2019 and beyond.

Where we are right now.

During the regimes of the late Rob Ford and current mayor John Tory, Toronto has suffered almost a decade of austerity. Now that we have a premier who operates on the same policies, it looks as if Toronto’s public realm will shrink at a more rapid pace. While John Tory looks and sounds like a moderate politician, he’s as radically right-wing as either of the Ford brothers.
Austerity at the provincial level will add to Toronto’s woes, particularly here in Weston / Mount Dennis, especially after Ford gerrymandered Toronto Council by halving the number of councillors and basing council seats on outdated demographics. The current council will have enough support for John Tory to continue the decline of our city. The only differences between Mayor Tory and Premier Ford involve jurisdiction and style rather than political leanings.

A feature of the Rob Ford and John Tory mayoralties has been ignoring the planners and making awful decisions based on dogma and pandering rather than actual need. (Scarborough Subway, Gardiner rebuilding, dangerous streets and the failure of Vision Zero, lousy transit planning, an ineffective and demoralized police force, uncontrolled development…). Added to that, the refusal to charge an appropriate level of property tax has resulted in a lack of funds for city initiatives along with a dilapidated and inadequate public housing inventory. The late British actor Peter Ustinov once called Toronto, “New York run by the Swiss.“. I wonder how he would have described the 2019 version of our city.

Prediction 1: Poverty is about to get real in Weston / Mount Dennis.

Ford has frozen the (already inadequate) minimum wage at $14.00 an hour. It was due to rise to $15 this January 1. This roughly translates to a $2000 annual loss for minimum wage earners, only slightly offset by a tax cut. Basically, general taxes subsidize the wages of minimum wage earners while companies keep the savings and remove them from the community. Other austerity measures include removal of funding for repairs to Toronto schools and public housing (the money would have come from Cap and Trade). Less money and fewer job opportunities will mean more poverty and crime.

What can we do to fight this? Patronize only those businesses that pay workers $15 or more hourly. Call out companies that don’t. Support organizations that fight poverty.

Prediction 2: Massive decisions based on hunches and rewarding friends.

Arbitrary decision making and cronyism has only just begun. When you have lots of friends and lots of jobs to fill, there’s no end to the possibilities. Ford is a big proponent of subways regardless of need, cost and location. He famously suggested building a casino at Exhibition Place and and a ferris wheel on the Port Lands. Now that he’s in charge, the sky will be the limit. The TTC’s subway system will soon be handed over to the hopelessly inept Metrolinx. These are the people who are bungling the Presto Card implementation  The subway takeover plan will involve selling building rights on top of subway stations. The TTC will become a bus service. Incidentally, Metrolinx seems to taking measures designed to suck up to Ford – things like removing electric vehicle charging outlets from GO stations.

Prediction 3: A fire sale of provincial assets.

In order to balance the books and pay for Ford’s re-shaping of Ontario, the private sector will be called on to provide financing. Obtaining private money will involve selling precious public assets such as the LCBO and Ontario Place.

Prediction 4: A two-tier health care system.

Our health care system eats up $53.3 billion or about 39% of the Ontario budget. Ford would dearly love to find ‘efficiencies’ here. He may want private companies and hospitals to set up shop in Ontario. He may also entertain the possibility of people jumping the queue for a fee. A big obstacle is the Canada Health Act and that is why Ford is openly campaigning against Justin Trudeau in the hopes that a Conservative federal government will repeal or amend the act to insert some private health care. The new system might look like the  U.K.’s National Health Service which runs alongside a private system. When the rich (and politicians) are able to jump the queue, you can guarantee that health care for regular folks will suffer.

Prediction 5: Less information and more secrecy.

Many decisions made by the Ford government are made to reward his cronies or appease his fringe supporters and don’t hold up well under scrutiny (1998 Health Curriculum, Ron Taverner…).  Look for Ford and his government to distance themselves even further from accountability and awkward questions from the press. They spread the word through Ontario’s taxpayer funded version of Pravda.

Prediction 6: Local lefty initiatives to end.

Now that Councillor Frances Nunziata has been re-elected, look for her pre-election moderate stance to be dropped. Lefty frivolities such as bike paths and pedestrian safety measures will be quietly shelved. Ms Nunziata will continue to be the councillor most likely to vote with Mayor Tory.

Glimmers of hope for Weston /Mount Dennis:

The Weston Hub will open in February along with many new residents in the 360+ rental units. A small colony of artists will occupy the live / work spaces. Construction on the site will end allowing the area to flourish.
The Weston Farmers Market will have an attractive new home in the centre of Weston that will attract people from outside the area. Two cultural organizations, Shakespeare in Action and UrbanArts hold anchor positions in the new Hub and will also attract visitors to our community.

More businesses are opening up as the UP Express provides a rapid and regular link to downtown.

On Weston Road, retail stores are being renovated and a payday loan company has closed.

A small number of affordable units at 22 John Street will be made available through a lottery held between eligible applicants. Use this link to apply (the link becomes live on Monday January 14; the application process will close January 28).

Interesting Possibilities:

Prime Minister Trudeau will perform a minor cabinet shuffle on Monday and unpopular York South-Weston MP, Ahmed Hussen may be moved laterally or demoted. A lateral move might be part of an effort to distance Mr. Hussen from the burdensome immigration file and boost his chances in October’s general election.

Council votes for pot shops

City Hall had to make some tough decisions this week, among them what to do about marijuana legalization. Council voted to allow regulated marijuana retailers, and to ask the province for the power to zone the stores.

Had Toronto voted to stay pot-free, we would have lost out on provincial money for police and bylaw enforcement.

Frances Nunziata got into some hot water for clumsily referring to the store in Weston that advertises it donates a portion of its proceeds to Black Lives Matter. Some thought that this was uncalled-for.

Nunziata acclaimed as Speaker.

Council Frances Nunziata thanks colleagues for her unanimous acclamation as Speaker at today’s city council meeting.

At today’s brief session of Toronto City Council, Frances Nunziata was the only nominee as Speaker and she was elected unanimously by her colleagues in a recorded vote. Similarly, Councillor Shelley Carroll was also the sole nominee and unanimous choice for Deputy Speaker.

Some random observations from today’s opening session:

Council opened with an acknowledgement that Treaty 13 granted settlement rights over the land that covers Toronto and lands to the north. The money paid for the quarter of a million acres or so? Ten shillings (nowadays 50p or 84 cents). Even taking inflation into account it’s less than $40.

Only four new councillors were elected in Toronto’s 25 wards.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis is a very tall man.

Mayor John Tory seemed to be nursing a bad back as he walked into the ceremony with some difficulty. In his opening day speech he mentioned:

  • We don’t need to be divisive to do our job – possibly a dig at the Premier.
  • Toronto is Ontario’s financial engine – a message for both the Premier and Prime Minister
  • We need to keep taxes low and spend money carefully  – more austerity coming
  • Land transfer tax revenues are falling – more austerity coming
  • Toronto needs to be a more liveable city (whatever that means).

Everyone was on their best behaviour today with lots of hugs, handshakes and nice words. We’ll see how long that lasts with the new, smaller and more intimate Council.

Toronto City Council kick-off tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be like the start of a new school year in Toronto’s council chambers. All 25 councillors and Mayor Tory will be present, freshly scrubbed and on their best behaviour to begin a new four-year term. This will mark the beginning of the new Ford-imposed slimline Council – according to Doug; fewer councillors means better government.

Work-wise, it will be a fairly light day that doesn’t officially get under way until 2:00 pm. The first order of business will be to formally introduce the Mayor and Councillors to the public and then they will recite the Declaration of Office.

Mayor Tory will then address Council and deliver a pep talk designed to motivate council. Tomorrow’s other important task will also set the tone of council meetings for the next four years. The mayor and councillors will elect a Speaker and Deputy who between them will adjudicate over Council’s affairs. According to the City website, the Speaker:

presides over meetings of Toronto City Council in place of the Mayor, although the Mayor may take the chair at any time he desires.

Unlike the Speakers of the provincial and federal legislatures, the City Council Speaker has no additional duties beyond presiding over meetings.

While most Ontario municipal councils are chaired by a Mayor, Warden or Reeve, the City of Toronto adopted a Speaker in 2006 on the recommendation of an expert governance panel. Having a Speaker chair meetings allows the Mayor to participate more freely in debate without worrying about the additional duties of running the meeting.

The selection of a speaker will be an open vote among the 26 council members. Ward 5 (formerly Ward 11) Councillor Francis Nunziata has held this post since 2010 and it will be interesting to see if she:

(a) still wants the job, or

(b) will be re-elected, or

(c) if a new candidate(s) will emerge.

In the past, the job has been a major chore thanks to the (then) larger council and the antics of a few whom Speaker Nunziata found particularly hard to rein in (the Ford brothers and Giorgio Mammoliti come to mind).

Tomorrow’s fun begins at 2:00 pm. To watch the action, tune in here.

Councillor Nunziata; it’s legacy time.

The results are in and the unfair effect of name recognition was once again an overwhelming factor in Toronto elections. The two incumbents in newly created Ward 5 topped the poll despite spirited campaigns, especially from Chiara Padovani and Lekan Olawoye. Even Frances Nunziata must have realized during her campaign that there was a yearning for change. Indeed, the vast majority of voters chose another candidate. About 68% of electors who bothered to vote, chose someone other than her.

Now for the more depressing part; voter participation was significantly down across the city and fewer than 38% of YSW eligible voters bothered to vote according to my calculations. The average for Toronto was about 41%. In effect, Ms. Nunziata retained her job thanks to about 12% of electors.

Given the march of time, Frances Nunziata only has a few years left at council before she retires or a more compelling candidate beats her in an upcoming election. What will be her legacy? Frances herself struggled to list her accomplishments when debating other candidates. Many pointed to the decline in Weston’s fortunes over the past several decades of her tenure. Weston and Mount Dennis are slowly beginning to emerge from years of neglect and disinterest, mainly thanks to the UP Express, all day GO Train service and the expansion of the city to the suburbs; none of which she can legitimately claim credit for.

It’s not all bad; there are some minor achievements – will she be remembered for the Weston Common / Hub / Storage Unit? Remember, the original concept was for an arts and cultural centre and year round (indoor outdoor) farmers market. What about the car-focussed community centre at Black Creek and Eglinton? There are critics of both of these projects while others have a legitimate claim to shared parentage.

The original Weston Hub concept as it was sold to the community. (Click to enlarge)

There are some notable failures on her record. The persistent flooding in parts of the ward surely should have been fixed by now. The shabby public domain and the lack of progress on a bicycle network are two others that quickly come to mind.

Frances began her political career as a corruption fighter, exposing and taking on crooked politicians. That reputation is long behind her. Now she is best known for her role as Council Speaker. There are many critics of her voting record which was the closest of any councillor to that of Mayor Tory – over 90% of the time. This blog has long criticized some of her positions which often seem to work against residents who are struggling.

Speakers are chosen by a council vote. Given the dramatic changes to Council, it will be interesting to see if Ms Nunziata can win a third term in that prestigious yet challenging position. Now that Mammoliti has gone, the job may be a lot more attractive to others in the chamber. Losing the Speaker’s job would certainly give her more time to work on the larger ward she now governs.

Regardless; for this new term, Ms Nunziata needs to find bold projects that inspire and uplift our community if she is to be remembered for anything other than her long years in office. Whether she can do this over the next four years remains to be seen.

I for one hope she can.

The Sun chooses Nunziata

The setting Toronto Sun has chosen—unsurprisingly—to endorse Frances Nunziata.

From the Toronto Sun

Frances Nunziata has been a scrapper for the average person since her days as a councillor and then Mayor of York. For the last two terms she’s taken on the thankless task of serving as Speaker at city council meetings. Nuziata [sic] is being challenged by Frank Di Giorgio, another fiscally minded councillor. But we’re backing Nunziata.

Who to vote for? I choose Lekan.

If Doug Ford hadn’t screwed everything up, this would be an easy choice. But he did, and now it isn’t.

For the first time I can remember, we are spoiled for choice in York South-Weston. We have four strong contenders, and three of them are worthy choices.

The recent amalgamation of the ward brought Frank Di Giorgio and Frances Nunziata into close combat. Chiara Padovani and Lekan Olawoye are attacking their left flanks.

Me, I’m going to vote for Lekan Olawoye. I won’t pretend I have good reasons for doing so, though.

I came to this conclusion slowly—although I was able to eliminate most of the candidates quickly. I started by zapping the outside-chance contenders; I’m sure most of them are fine people, but their relative absence and small chances in this high-stakes race make them non-starters for me.

Frank Di Giorgio was next to go. He is too conservative and was too close to Rob Ford. He votes against Toronto’s interests. He attends council meetings infrequently—and opposes bike lanes—and that alone is a deal-breaker for me.

That leaves three: Nunziata, Olawoye, and Padovani.

I like Frances Nunziata, as a rule. She is an excellent retail politician. If you call her, she calls you back. She fixes problems, and she’s given her riding endless hours of underpaid service. Finally, she is an excellent tactician.

But I can’t shake the feeling that Weston has fallen on harder times under her leadership. Certainly, most of these problems are not of her making—she’s subject to decisions made above her pay grade, just like the rest of us. I think, however, that with different leadership, things might have been better. That’s because she is not an excellent strategist.

Take payday loan shops, just as an index of what I’m talking about. We have too many, and they have dubious social value. I think the job they do would be better done by our oligopoly of banks, which enjoy one side of a social contract but are allowed to ignore the other: they get a government guarantee but shirk the social responsibility. Banks are allowed to close, leaving low-income and low-mobility clients (often one and the same) in the hands of high-interest lenders.

I know Frances can’t do much about closing banks. That’s for our provincial and federal masters to tackle. But she could have made Weston, bit by bit, an environment that banks don’t want to leave, with improved streetscapes, better local businesses, and improved transit. She’s been working on these, lately, but too lately for me.

Of course, it’s not about payday loans; it’s about all the things like them—the small, strategic failures that have let Weston down. What happened the long-promised college campus? The Humber River Trail link? St John the Evangelist? Buses on Jane? All are long-term projects; none have happened. Strategy.

That leaves Padovani and Olawoye.

Lekan and Chiara are too close ideologically to fit a card between. I went so far as to create a spreadsheet, and if I recall correctly, Padovani doesn’t have a parks plan but she does want the city to tackle climate change, while Olawoye has a parks plan but says nothing about climate change. Or vice versa.

It really doesn’t matter, because I can’t imagine Lekan (or Chiara) being against the climate or parks.

So, with two equally good candidates, I would normally back the one most likely to win. It seemed, for a moment, that Chiara was in that position. Then it emerged that Lekan had been left off the poll. And Lekan had a handy lead last time… and the polls have been showing wild swings anyway, which is understandable given how small the sample is. Finally, neither Olawoye nor Padovani is likely to defeat Nunziata. So who knows?

That leaves, as far as I can tell, character. Argh. What, really, do I know about character? Nothing.

My interactions with Lekan and Chiara have been vanishingly brief, and both left me with the impression that they were excellent, principled, hard-working and ambitious people. We are lucky to have them volunteering for such a lousy job.

So I’m left peering at the sediments, trying to divine some worthy grounds on which to make a decision.

Here’s what it comes down to: I like Lekan a little more. He seems more grounded, more open, and less partisan. He seems a  little less certain, and I like that. He’s been in the community, working hard, for longer, and he’s had tough positions at MaRS downtown. I like that too.

With so little to distinguish excellent candidates, that’s all I have to work with. We can blame Doug Ford for that—it was not supposed to be like this.