Open for business

Premier Doug Ford has returned from Florida with some new inspiration provided by Canada’s ‘11th province’. Doug seems to take his cultural lead from either Chicago where Deco Labels has a branch plant, or his Florida compound (Mar a Fordo?). According to rumours, the premier wants to truly make his mark on Ontario by re-jigging our licence plate motto. Some of us oldies can remember when it was ‘KEEP IT BEAUTIFUL’ and then the current, ‘YOURS TO DISCOVER’. Hell, I can even remember when we had to change the damned plates every year – everybody at the same time, front and back – in the middle of winter! Imagine the line-up at the liquor store on Christmas Eve – changing plates was similar, except people had to line-up outside and there was no booze at the end.

The trial balloon floated on Friday indicates that Mr. Ford is keen to change the slogan to a more capitalist, ‘OPEN FOR BUSINESS’. He also wants to get rid of that pesky front licence plate (just like Florida). One immediate benefit will be to give parking officers a little more in the way of exercise.

Perhaps readers can help Mr Ford come up with a better and more creative slogan for our car’s er, plate. Kindly place your suggestions in the comments section here, or on Facebook. Remember to keep it beautiful clean.

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especially after Ford gerrymandered Toronto Council by halving the number of councillors and basing council seats on outdated demographics.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.

Ron Taverner’s Weston connection

As controversy builds around the appointment of local police Superintendent Ron Taverner (and friend of the Premier) as head of the OPP, the Toronto Star (via the paywall free ourwindsor.ca) has found that Mr Taverner purchased a home in Weston in July 2017. The deal was private with $550,000 changing hands for the home near Church and George.

The problem? The seller, Simone Daniels  worked for the Ford family business, Deco Labels, and is currently employed as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Premier.

In related news, the Globe and Mail reports that when Doug Ford was a Toronto councillor, he suggested to former Police Services Board Chair, Alok Mukherjee that his longtime friend would make a good Toronto Deputy Police Chief (Taverner did not apply for the job and was not appointed).

Rightly or wrongly, this steady drip of negative stories adds to the perception of strong connections between Doug Ford and Ron Taverner and a possible conflict of interest.

It will take great deal of determination to stare down this kind of pressure. My guess is that Mr Taverner (who has not commented publicly on the current brouhaha) may decide that the job isn’t worth the bother, plus,  he’ll probably not want to begin his new job under a cloud that will likely persist during his term of office.


Update: We’ve removed the picture, because that seems like the right thing to do.

Premier Ford – For which people exactly?

Whenever there’s a ‘Ford Fest’, the people in attendance could be anyone’s friends, neighbours or work colleagues. Most have shown up to support Doug Ford and possibly scarf the odd hot dog or burger (2,800 hot dogs, 4,200 burgers and 800 veggie burgers at the recent one in Vaughan). Free food and Ford Nation T-shirts aside, they’ve probably made the effort because they believe the Premier really is on their side; cutting the waste, the bureaucracy and all that red-tape while building subways and fighting for the little guy. This year, anticipating larger numbers, the ‘Fest’ was held away from his mother’s house at a Vaughan banqueting hall. The PC Party allegedly footed the bill.

Gone are the days of accidental encounters with prime ministers, free booze and $20 bills dispensed from a roll. No; Premier Ford needs to look, shall we say, presidential. As Ford Nation stalwarts shuffle along dutifully in a line, whether it’s for condiments from legions of servers doling them out a tablespoon at a time, or for a handshake and selfie with the great man himself, the event seems to have lost its spontaneity. Regardless, Ford Nation needs a pep rally every so often and gratitude must be shown for their unswerving loyalty but the events seem a bit more formulaic. There has never been a superlative that the premier doesn’t like. Taking his cue from south of the border, Ford seems to gearing  up for more frequent events – the latest, tonight, will be a celebration of the first 100 days of his premiership.

from Twitter.

There’s no doubt that legislatively, Ford has hit the ground running. There’s also an impression that cabinet members like Christine Elliot and Caroline Mulroney have been told to keep their opinions (and integrity) to themselves.

Let’s examine the 100 days of achievements that Ford Nation will celebrate.

He:

  • Threatened to use the ‘Notwithstanding Clause’
  • Cut a planned welfare increase of 3% to 1.5%
  • Shrank  Toronto Council to a gerrymandered 25 councillors.
  • Set up a teacher snitch line
  • Repealed the most heavily consulted Health and Sex-Ed curriculum ever
  • Cancelled Cap and Trade that made polluting companies pay money to conservation projects..
  • Cancelled a $100 million school repair program
  • Cancelled an almost complete 18.5 megaWatt wind turbine project
  • Cancelled the Green Energy Act
  • Got successfully sued by Tesla
  • Cut $17 million from public housing green upgrades
  • Ended the Green Ontario Fund (gave grants for homes to be more energy efficient)
  • Ended the Basic Income pilot a year early.
  • Paused the opening of new safe injection sites.
  • Forced the resignation of Hydro One’s Chair and Board.
  • Diverted money for mental health care into police budgets
  • Scrapped the Drive Clean program.
  • Fired Ontario’s Chief Scientist
  • Froze public service hiring
  • Enabled Buck a Beer
  • Shelved a law to cap concert and sport tickets at 50% higher than face value.
  • Shelved new vaping regulations
  • Shelved new indigenous curriculum writing teams
  • Froze the cost of a driving license at $90 (would have risen to $97).

The people who support ‘Ford Nation’ and those who voted PC at the last election wanted change and disruption after years of Liberal rule. Kathleen Wynne failed to tamp down the arrogance of some high profile ministers who had been in office too long. Ford Nation voted for change and disruption and they’re getting it in spades.

With about 1360 days to go in Ford’s mandate; a steady hand at the wheel seems unlikely. The clock is ticking on his premiership and Ford is desperate to stem the flow of money – especially since he has ended a lot of revenue streams and the province is on track for a $15 billion deficit this year. According to Ford, we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.

In the near future, legislation will be announced that will:

  • Hold the minimum wage at $14.00
  • Repeal workers’ right to 10 annual leave days (including two paid days).

Ford instituted a ‘line by line review of government spending’. Ernst and Young recommended selling big assets like the LCBO, ending social program universality and tightening up government generally.

The report found that Ontario Government spending increased by 55% over 15 years. This sounds bad but it’s a less than 3% annual increase (compounding at work). This is remarkable when taking into account the increased health care spending needed on a growing senior population. When inflation is taken into account, it’s miraculous.

When compared to other provinces, Ontario is reasonably efficient in operating its services so there’s not much fat to cut. Over that 15 year time period, Ontario Public Service spending had a 0% increase.

What may be coming:

Along with a hiring freeze, Ford will need to cut expensive programs. Education, health care and social services take up more than 80% of the budget so that is where he may act. Selling off assets like Hydro or the LCBO produce a one-time gain and the revenue stream is lost forever (remember former PC premier Harris leasing the 407 for 99 years?).

  • Provincial government agencies may have to bargain through a central bargaining unit.
  • Sharing of data across ministries
  • A reduction of ‘red tape’ across ministries (this may imply fewer regulations)
  • More services available online
  • Means testing and co-payments for some services
  • Increased costs for civil litigation cases.

With a hiring freeze continuing and an estimated  annual civil service turnover rate of 15%, it’s clear that some government departments will become severely understaffed and personnel will need retraining if they are transferred.

If none of this works, a money saver for a future term might be a voucher school system. Parents would be given a voucher for each child’s education to be be used in a public or private school of their choosing. Home schoolers could convert the voucher to cash. The diversion of students to home and private schools would reduce the size of the public system and therefore administration, pension and maintenance costs.

Public transit could be auctioned off to private companies (as happened under Margaret Thatcher) and this would provide instant cash and get the government out of fare subsidies. If Ford (as rumoured) takes over the TTC’s subway system, it could be sold or leased for a good amount and the province could keep the cash.

How will these changes affect Weston and Mount Dennis? We live in an area with a substantial number of people working minimum or low wage jobs. Many others rely on benefits or welfare. With less money coming in, there will be increased poverty and reduced spending. There is a danger that the local economy will be affected in terms of lower sales.

In the larger community, squeezing the economy will mean reduced government revenues, the possibility of a recession and an even greater deficit.

Perhaps not the effect that Ford Nation was anticipating.

Fun facts from the report:

  • 90% of gambling revenue in Ontario goes to ‘grey market’ online sites.
  • 33% of tobacco sales in Ontario are contraband and therefore contribute no tax revenues.
  • There is an estimated $16 billion in unreported economic activity each year in Ontario.

Latest Crosstown video shows green roof installation.

The latest video from Crosstown shows before and after views of the vehicle maintenance yard located on the old Kodak lands in Mount Dennis. The video begins with a shot of the site back in March 2017 and then moves forward to this October. The work is substantially complete; most of the tracks are down and a striking feature of the project is the green roofing of the complex. The green roof will save money on heating and cooling while reducing the buildings’ carbon footprints.

One can speculate whether or not such ‘frills’ could happen if the project had been approved under the current Ford regime.

Hassan ejected from commons

Faisal Hassan, our MPP, was ejected from Queens Park yesterday after protesting Premier Ford’s plan to use the notwithstanding clause to force ward amalgamation.

The NDP members protested by banging their desks and shouting until they were escorted one at a time from the chamber by the sergeant at arms.

Hassan had voiced his opposition to the Conservative’s plan earlier in the week. He called the motion “undemocratic” and suggested it was dictatorial. On Twitter he called it “an abuse of power”.

 

As you were – it’s Ward 5 again.

Nobody ever said that Toronto politics was dull. Yesterday after getting judicially spanked for re-arranging Toronto Council’s seats, Premier Doug Ford went nuclear. He used the ‘Notwithstanding Clause’ contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; originally designed to hold confederation together during constitutional impasses. Under the clause, provinces can declare a law too important for it to be judged as unconstitutional.

The NC was designed to be used in exceptional circumstances; not in anger, petulance or bloody mindedness. What Ford has done is something like finding that there are no seats in a subway car and pulling the emergency cord; someone forgot the pepperoni on his pizza so he phoned 911 (insert your own meme here).

Ford actually dissed the judge yesterday on the basis that judges are unelected and this one, Edward Belobaba was tainted, having been appointed by Premier McGuinty (actually it was Paul Martin). What’s worrying is that Ford seems likely during his time as premier to take any actions he deems necessary in order to get his way. The possibilities are frightening.

The Legislature will meet tomorrow to begin the process of passing Bill 5 once again. So, barring a mutiny of MPPs, or a blockade of the Legislature, we’re going to be back to 25 seats, gerrymandered (thanks to being out of date) to favour the suburbs rather than downtown. Our new Ward 5, using the York South-Weston boundaries will once again feature a showdown between decades long incumbents Frank Di Giorgio and Frances Nunziata  pitted against new main challengers, Lekan Olayowe and Chiara Padovani.

Ain’t democracy great?