High flying local lawyer, 31-year old Saron Gebresellassi is running for mayor of Toronto. She came from Eritrea to Canada as an infant in 1989 and according to an article in The Lawyer’s Daily, her impressive list of accomplishments ranges from fluency in six languages to classical piano and flute playing. She graduated debt free from three universities thanks to winning several private scholarships. While she’s unlikely to defeat the incumbent, she will no doubt raise the profile of York South-Weston and introduce some important issues into the campaign.
On a bitterly cold evening, Mayor John Tory and Ward 2 Councillor Mike Ford joined a large crowd at a vigil last night for Nnamdi Ogba who, selected at random, was murdered last Friday by two armed men. Mr. Ogba, came to Canada with his parents from Nigeria and became an electrical engineer employed in Brampton. He was visiting friends at Scarlettwood Court when he was shot.
The mayor promised Nnamdi Ogba’s parents that the death of their son would not go in vain.
Mayor Tory was advised that the community would be bringing forward a petition asking for better quality video surveillance.
Here in Weston / Mount Dennis, a significant percentage of our population earns less than the average Toronto resident. In addition, we have more single parent households (30%, compared to the Toronto average of 21%).
How can these statistics be improved? Gentrification is often thought to be the answer. Unfortunately it can force low income people out through higher rents and property prices. This is happening across Toronto and simply shifts the problem to other areas. It does nothing to help people – in fact by forcing them to move, their lives are further disrupted. A better and more humane way is to support individuals so that they can pull themselves out of poverty. It also benefits society as a whole.
A review of studies in 2013 concluded that:
a decrease in income inequality is associated with sizeable reduction in crime. It is evident that a focus on reducing income inequality can be advantageous to reducing property crime, robbery, homicide and murder…
One of the problems with studies and facts is that sometimes they don’t fit the popular narrative. Some politicians find it much easier to blame the victims of poverty as being the cause of their own misfortune. They also look down on efforts to help the poor. Rob Ford’s famous ‘Hug a thug’ comment was made to justify his council vote against participating in a federal gang intervention project.
Should we expect politicians to look for ways to lower poverty? For example, raise the minimum wage so that people can earn a living wage. As of last month, the minimum wage became $14.00 and will become $15.00 next January. Without wishing to impugn the Premier’s motives, we may have to thank an election year and her attempt to outflank the NDP for that move. In general though, it makes sense to lower inequality as it has the potential to improve everyone’s quality of life.
How else can politicians reduce inequality? They should be spending more on:
- public housing,
- bike lanes
- social services
- addiction support
Why should we support this? Another recent study has shown that increasing social spending has a more positive impact on longevity and general health than increasing health care spending.
With the provincial and civic elections coming up in June and October, politicians will be courting our vote through some blunt platforms. There will be some who will promise to reduce spending, find efficiencies and cut taxes. They will talk about taxpayers rather than citizens. They will promise to keep property taxes at or below the level of inflation and reduce income taxes – in effect forcing a funding shortage since costs are always rising. Beware of these people – they have caused our current crises through:
- A constant focus on austerity
- Inadequate spending on public housing and repairs
- Opposing anti-poverty initiatives
- Prioritizing cars over pedestrians, bicycles and public transit
- Diversion of money to dogma / re-election driven transportation issues (e.g. Scarborough subway, Gardiner extension).
- Refusing to adequately subsidize public transportation (Toronto’s subsidy is .78 per ride compared to $1.03 in New York or $2.21 in Mississauga).
In other words, their platform is designed to increase income inequality and therefore higher crime and lower quality of life.
Thinking citizens don’t mind paying taxes because they see the bigger picture. The siren call of lower taxes is a tempting one and popular with unscrupulous politicians. Unfortunately the effects aren’t pretty.
Incidentally, everyone in Canada is a taxpayer. Perhaps politicians should talk about citizens instead.
Political blogger Neville Park has created a chart of Toronto’s current council and has sorted members into a matrix of four attributes; Progressive (good)/ Conservative (evil) and Lawful / Chaotic. If your political leanings go the other way, simply switch the good and evil terms.
Interestingly our own councillor has been classified by Ms. Park as Chaotic / Evil and is lumped in with some kindred spirits in the bottom right. She states that Ms. Nunziata started the term off well but has, “…since backslid into ‘peevish substitute teacher’ mode”.
Park tells councillors who object to their placement to, “…vote and act differently”.
Read her placement rationales here.
As we approach the year end, here are some things that seem to be holding us back locally. This is the fourth of a five part series.
As always, your comments are welcome.
4. The Democratic Process.
Next October will see city council elections for councillors and and mayor. Barring a cataclysmic upheaval, few seats will change hands in 2018. One positive note comes from the recent redrawing of ward boundaries to better reflect the changing population densities. The boundaries, in place since 1999 needed updating since ward populations had become uneven during that time. For example, downtown has many more residents thanks to the ongoing condo boom. This change was fought by the likes of Justin Di Ciano and Giorgio Mammoliti who presumably felt threatened by a more democratic redistribution. The OMB, (needing to act quickly and not known as a fan of democracy) in a surprising decision, rightly smacked down the appeal.
Ward 11 (along with only 6 others) will be unaffected as the population in our area has remained relatively static but four additional wards will be created in time for the elections; three of them in the downtown core. Downtown wards are often quite left leaning so the good news is that this may signal a more progressive council in the next term
We have a ‘first past the post’ system for all Canadian Elections including local council seats and mayor. A simple majority determines the winner. Unfortunately, the first past the post voting system favours incumbents and many people stay home, knowing that their candidate is disadvantaged. This is why we have so many career-politicians in Toronto. Some are elected term after term, often with the votes of a tiny fraction of constituents.
There is a better way. Ranked balloting allows voters to choose their first, second and third choices and gives more voting power to electors whose first choice doesn’t win. It also prevents fringe candidates from winning through a split vote. In the last mayoral election for example, Doug Ford could well have been elected if Olivia Chow had run a stronger campaign and split the centre-left vote between herself and John Tory. As an aside, other than bluster and the occasional ferris wheel popping up, one can be forgiven for wondering if anything would be different had Mr. Ford won in 2014.
It would seem obvious that anyone interested in a better democratic process in Toronto would support ranked balloting. The province is in charge of such legislation and would need a request from City Council to make the change. Sadly, our own councillor voted against studying the use of ranked ballots and effectively (with a group of other councillors) killed the possibility for the near future.
At council meetings, our councillor along with a cadre of nodding deputy mayors is obliged to vote the Mayor Tory line on most matters since she is Council Speaker and wants to keep her prestigious job. Sadly, this means that she and the rest of the Tory bloc often vote against the interests of Ward 11. The councillor cannot serve two masters effectively and it would probably be better for Ward 11 to have a councillor with no such conflicts.
As the saying goes, all politics is local. We are lucky enough to have local politicians who consult with the people on a regular basis on matters of importance. If we do or don’t like what’s going on, we need to attend the meetings and express our views. Shy folk can send emails or write letters but it’s vital that people express their opinions because no matter what the issue, you can be sure that corporate interests have already made their cases strongly and often.
Lastly one final thought: we need a better turnout for elections. In 2014, fewer than 51% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.
Part 5 of this series (The Planning Process) may be a couple of days what with Christmas festivities and all.
At Weston Web, we occasionally run across things that were once a good idea but now no longer work. One of them was a generous property tax rebate given to landlords of empty stores. We wrote about it back in 2013 and were pleasantly surprised when about a year ago, Mayor John Tory pledged that he would eliminate the break that had ended up doing more harm than good.
The 30% tax discount began during an economic downturn in 1998 when the Province thought it would help Ontario landlords struggling with vacant storefronts. Although times changed, Toronto continued to reward owners after a qualifying 90 day vacancy. The generous plan backfired somewhat as it reduced property tax revenues by about $22 million annually and encouraged longer store vacancies since owners are rewarded only when they hit the 90-day qualifying mark. This lower pressure to find a tenant also encouraged landlords to hold out for higher rents.
In a corner of the city struggling to keep a viable retail sector, ending the rebates may help reduce the number of empty storefronts that plague Weston and Mount Dennis. Property owners have been given notice that as of June 2018, the rebates will end after a phase-out period that began last January. The Province passed the necessary legislation on May 17, allowing the city to come up with the timeline. Well done Mayor Tory and the Provincial Government.
Incidentally, this year, claiming a shortage of money, the city kept Toronto Public Library’s budget increase to a mere 0.9% and Ontario then piled on by reducing the TPL allocation by $700,000 for the next two years.
Let’s hope that with the additional revenue, the library’s budget can now be brought up to where it should be.
Our councillor Frances Nunziata occupies the speaker’s chair during council meetings. It’s a lot of work. Things sometimes get testy and having to deal with the effervescent streams of consciousness mouthed by neighbouring councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is no easy task.
Last week the two had an exchange and the result is interesting. Watch Ms. Nunziata call out Mammo and tell him to keep his mouth shut. After some reflection, kindred spirit, Councillor Jim Karygiannis then leaps to Mammoliti’s defence.
After that, watch Mayor Tory coach Councillor Nunziata into an apology. It takes some persistence on his part but eventually the mayor’s lip synching gets through and a grudging apology is issued.
Watch the sorry spectacle unfold here.