Diary of a councilspotter: They can’t all be golden

Monday, February 13, Executive Committee meeting 16

That controversial TCHC item got punted to a special meeting on Friday, so today’s agenda isn’t very interesting aside from the presentation of the Chong report. It’s hard to work up much excitement for development charges by-laws. Luckily many of the Scoobies are here too, including new guy @oytamarind, and we’re occupying ourselves by surreptitiously passing out City Hall-themed valentines to various councillors, journos, and staffers.

(We’re in the caf when we spot Doug Holyday eating his lunch on the other side of the room and start double-dog-daring each other to go up and give him a couple of valentines. I finally take one for the team, because I broke down in tears in front of the guy at my last deputation and I figure it’s all uphill from there. Adorably, he assumes the Janet Davis one is actually from Janet Davis, because she later says he thanked her for it.

I offer Mary “Best Hair On Council” Fragedakis a Denzil Minnan-Wong valentine and she shoots me down. Ice cold, lady. Ice cold.)

The Chong report is—pardon the term—irrelevant after last week’s transit vote, but I figure the presentation and question period have got to be entertaining, and they are. I’ll say this for Chong, he did the job he was hired to do, and he’s a lively speaker. The report itself is a masterful exercise in dressing up bullshit to fool the uninformed; it reminds me of creationist literature that attempts to prove that the earth is six thousand years old. Gord Perks compares it to promises of pigs flying. At any rate you can only make it look reasonable with a delicate balance of sloppy and outdated data, selective statistics, out-of-context numbers, and pure mendacity. Notably, the report doesn’t offer any actual recommendations, because 1) who wants to sign their name to that shit? and 2) it has to support whatever Team Ford wants it to. It drives Gord Perks and especially Adam Vaughan up a wall—I swear if we weren’t there to make sarcastic asides to, he’d seriously lose it.

(A little digression on Why We Can’t Have Nice Things Subways:

  1. They’re really fucking expensive to build and nobody can pay for them
  2. They want to put them in areas that basically will not be dense enough to run profitably in our lifetimes.

And the niceness of subways cannot override those facts. Shut up and get on the LRT.)

In the end ExComm votes to establish a panel to look into subways, which—you might recall—council already voted to do. Does this mean they’re supporting the status quo? LOL NO, they voted for an entirely redundant second subways panel, which will totally never get past council, so really we could have all gone home and jerked off for four hours and we’d have the same result. It’s just a last noisy crying jag in the extended tantrum Team Ford have been throwing as their grip on power erodes.

There’s still some items to go, but I’m at that point of tiredness and boredom where I’m entertaining myself by Google image searching Mike Del Grande and laughing inwardly (Edit: apparently not so inwardly) how he looks like a hungover owl in like every single photo. Which is a pretty pathetic point to be at, even for a council creeper, so I pack up my computer and head home.

Someone is wrong on the Internet, TTC edition

So here I am having gotten work out of the way, done laundry, cooked dinner, looking forward to a pleasant evening of photoshopping city councillors and watching horror movies, when someone on Twitter linked Matt Gurney’s analysis of the whole transit thing that just went down and I had to read it and I don’t normally do the fisking thing but it’s so profoundly out of touch with reality I just need to sit down and bang out a post on how wrong he is about nearly everything here, paragraph by paragraph.

tl:dr; LOL WUT STFU NOOB

The Ford Plan, as it’s been dubbed, involved building a light-rail line entirely underground [blah blah]…It’s a plan with a lot of merit, but was hotly contested by a faction of council that preferred building a greater number of light-rail lines into more Toronto neighbourhoods.

Reality: This light rail plan, Transit City, was introduced under Miller and was about to get going when Ford got elected and unilaterally decided to cancel it in favour of his own plan. The problem is that the province had already agreed to pay for Transit City, whereas Ford’s plan was a little more…ephemeral. Fast forward to now, when the guys doing the Eglinton crosstown line, Metrolinx, are like, “We’re super confused about what we’re supposed to be doing, can City Council clear this up?” [PDF] So the TTC chair, Councillor Karen Stintz, called a special meeting and put forward a motion that was basically “Okay, guys, let’s do Transit City.”

LRTs aren’t as good as subways

Subways are faster and bigger, yes, but they’re also hella expensive, so they’re only worth building in much denser areas. So in this case, for the densities we’re talking about (and that includes projected future growth), light rail would actually be better. For the numbers and a good explanation of the differences between the transit modes, see the Pembina report.

Mayor Ford, a sworn enemy of any transit plan that removes lanes from roads

Um yeah, so that funding already included the costs of widening roads so they wouldn’t lose lanes. Was that good enough for Ford? HELL NO, he doesn’t even want to see the LRVs.

[Ford’s plan was] expensive, but Ford won a victory when he was able to convince the government of Ontario to pick up the entire tab — better than eight-billion bucks.

Well, no. He basically pinky-swore with the Premier. Their agreement was non-binding, which means Council had to approve it first [PDF].

It’s entirely possible that Ontario might agree to allow Toronto to take that $8-billion and use some of it — the portion saved by not burying part of the Eglinton line — on other transit projects

This was the point where I was like, “He doesn’t even go here!”

What actually happened:

Dalton McGuinty: I’ll give you guys $8 billion for this Transit City you planned.
Rob Ford: DISREGARD THAT, SUBWAYS SUBWAYS SUBWAYS
Dalton McGuinty: Um, if Council’s cool with that, I guess.
Council: Nah, the Mayor’s plan blows, let’s do Transit City.
Dalton McGuinty: Sure, whatever. It’s a deal.

Gordon Chong, a former city councillor that Ford hired to prepare a plan showing how the Mayor’s plan was fiscally feasible, spent a year doing exactly that, and determined that it was, indeed, a workable plan. But some new parking fees and road tolls were going to be necessary.

In reality Chong’s report was an “unabashedly political” piece of work that relied on suspiciously low estimates, optimistic projections, and funding sources more wishful than concrete. Subways are not really “workable” in this case because subways are fucking expensive. They’re so expensive that even with (really unpopular) parking fees and road tolls and whatnot the Sheppard subway would still be a billion dollars short.

Ford’s transit plan is arguably superior to the version endorsed by his opponents in council.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAno.

Ford’s plan 1) served like a tenth of the people Transit City would, 2) was horrifically inefficient (for one, LRTs are basically wasted underground), and 3) was prohibitively expensive. In fact, “plan” is kind of a strong word, considering that Ford’s creatively named “Transportation City” was basically just (misconceived) ideas with no means of funding them.

I am genuinely curious as to where Matt Gurney has been getting his information, because I suspect it’s that parallel universe where the St. Clair right-of-way is a dystopian warzone and Bombardier takes payment in Canadian Tire money.

Fuck the Post, I’m going to take a bubble bath.

What the flying fuck happened yesterday?

Let’s do this TUMBLR STYLE.

  • So they kicked off the Extra Special Surprise Transit Meeting by presenting a shit-ton of petitions from all over the city, mostly for Stintz’s plan.
  • Mammoliti banged the drum for a subway on Finch, which no one had even been considering until today and which no one can pay for.
  • His argument was that the people up there are real nice and they deserve subways.
  • Like the transit version of the Nice Guy™.
  • The spectre of the St. Clair Right-of-Way Disaster was constantly raised, causing innumerable PTSD flashbacks.
  • Gary Webster pretty much earned his whole year’s salary patiently answering councillors’ wrong-headed questions about LRTs.
  • Denzil Minnan-Wong and others brought up an ’86 vote on subways, because that was the last time subways were actually a good idea. I was not even crawling by then, if that gives you any perspective.
  • Possibly the funniest moment: Nunziata flipping out having just realized that the Stintz “don’t call it the Stintz” plan was basically Transit City. OH SHIT GUYS, SHE’S ON TO US.
  • Nobody knows the fucking difference between LRTs and streetcars.
  • Someone had a button maker and was turning out “I ♥ Gary Webster” and “Karen Stintz Fan Club” pins, seen on the lapels of many centre/left councillors.
  • Rob Ford moved to defer the vote for a month for no damn good reason.
  • Karen Stintz extended an entire goddamn olive tree to the man and he apparently refused any compromise, even though it would make him look good. WAT.
  • Perruzza got all fiery and shit.
  • Doug Ford and Norm Kelly demonstrated their extraordinarily shaky grasp of Canadian history. No, the 2010 mayoral election was not “the largest referendum in Canadian history”, and Toronto is not actually the capital of Canada.
  • Berardinetti shared an impassioned plea to “depoliticize transiAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA I can’t even type that with a straight face.
  • The audience died of hunger and dehydration while every goddamn councillor had to stand up and have their say instead of just having the fucking vote.
  • They had to vote THREE TIMES.
  • Ford et al. (that makes them sound so much classier) threw a fit by opposing all the subsequent motions, even the routine one to end the meeting, WAT.
  • We won!!!

The takeaway: The same people who lectured us since last summer about “nice-to-haves” and fiscal responsibility turned around and argued for throwing away billions of dollars from the province and pouring billions more into the exorbitantly expensive and unnecessary transit option (subways) just because they can’t abide seeing public transit vehicles sharing space with CAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRSSSSSSSSS. And when they don’t get their way they’re extraordinarily petty and mean-spirited about it.

The good news: they’re no longer a majority on Council. The best-case scenario a lot of lefties were hoping for when Ford got elected seems to have come to pass — he’s staked out a position extreme enough that most of Council won’t stand with him. He’s unwilling to compromise or build consensus, and that’s finally coming back to bite him in the ass. People are pissed-off, mobilized, and — for the first goddamn time in years — paying attention.

I don’t think it’s too early to declare Rob Ford the best shitty mayor this town’s ever had.

The “mushy middle” sets at last

Yesterday, while cops and protesters clashed outside City Hall, a quietly dramatic battle was taking place inside. In the face of sweeping budget cuts, the “moderate” councillors joined forces with resident pinkos like Carroll, Davis, and Vaughan and tabled motions reversing the mayor’s most controversial proposals. It started with Josh Colle, a heretofore silent rookie whose key role up till now was being mistaken for Josh Matlow.

Unsure Fry meme: Not sure if Josh Colle...or Josh Matlow

Shortly before the lunch break he put forward an omnibus motion that would save many of the services to be cut, including daycare subsidies, CPIP grants, and community centre youth programs. It was an audacious move that sent Ford allies into a tizzy. Speaker Frances Nunziata was acting like a crabby schoolteacher who’s lost control of her class. Deputy mayor Doug Holyday accused Colle of cutting a deal with his “special interest pals”. Giorgio “The Thumb” Mammoliti desperately attempted to paint Colle’s motion as some kind of salvo in the downtown vs. suburbs wars in a blustering tirade reminiscent of Brady’s closing speech from Inherit the Wind. It became pretty obvious why it was Colle who presented this; he responded to attacks from Ford allies with unusual determination and composure, refusing to be bullied into rhetorical traps.

Josh Colle introduces his motion
Josh Matlow Colle. Photo by Rene Johnston of the Star.

And then, one councillor after another began moving to reverse budget cuts not covered in Colle’s motion. Berardinetti (whose stance on daycare has not been particularly women-friendly) moved to save the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre. Crawford, to keep three shelters open. Cho, to preserve library services. And so on. (Matt Elliott has a wonderful breakdown.) The usual lefty suspects were, for the most part, lying low; most of the councillors were moderates—not always Ford-friendly, but not vocal opponents, either. A few who supported Colle’s motion or tabled their own were reliable Ford allies.

Cllr Gloria Lindsay Luby beams as she gives a thumbs-up, countering Mammoliti's surly thumbs-down.
Mammoliti’s thumb seems to have lost its power. By Steve Russell for the Star.

Side note: Ford’s inner circle (Rob Ford himself, as usual, didn’t participate in debate) badgered everyone (or tried to), as expected, but I thought their treatment of Ana Bailao was inexcusably patronizing. They saw a young, not really aggressive woman rookie and used all the old rich white dude pull they could muster to try to cow her into submission. I hope she wasn’t intimidated, and that she goes into the next meeting more prepared.

As protesters massed in Nathan Phillips Square, police presence ramped up and City Hall was put on lockdown—no one going in, no one going out. Security already wasn’t letting anyone into council chambers, partly because it was very full, partly to prevent any protesters from sneaking in, unfurling banners, and raising a ruckus (which happened a couple times over the course of the day). Tweets flew back and forth. We had only a vague idea about what was happening outside—arrests? tear gas? fights?—and most of the people outside were equally in the dark about what was going on in the council meeting. Tension drew to a peak as Nunziata, to councillors’ very vocal dismay, announced a short recess before the vote—presumably so the mayor’s cadre had time to get councillors alone and whip up enough votes.

And, in the end, Ford lost. Big time. Doucette’s and Bailao’s motions (for the High Park Zoo and fire services, respectively) were ruled out of order and a motion to defer contracting out janitors didn’t carry—but everything else went through, to immense jubilation from the gallery. Ford’s budget was swiftly, decisively defanged.

What I learned?

Common human decency sometimes wins the day. It may take a little (okay, a lot) of backroom machination, is all.

“Poor people will be with us forever”

says budget chief Mike Del Grande in this horrifying chat from last summer, echoing that famous line from the Gospels,

The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

It’s a reference to this verse from Deuteronomy outlining economic policies:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Note the subtle difference between the two verses. In the Deuteronomy version, the ubiquity of poverty is in itself a rationale for caring for the poor. (Our budget chief’s somewhat unorthodox interpretation inverts this reading: the ubiquity of poverty means we shoud not care for the poor.)

In the Gospels, however, Jesus puts his own spin on it. Context, beautiful context: he and the crew are in Bethany and a woman anoints him with expensive perfume, and the disciples are outraged because they think she should have sold it and given the money to the poor. Jesus, however, knows that it’s only a couple days away from the Last Supper and he’s totally about to die. So he says, it’s not a big deal, after I’m gone, you can take care of the poor (in place of me). It’s an echo of the parable of the sheep and the goats:

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

where service to the poor is considered service to God by proxy.

In Del Grande’s interpretation, however, Jesus doesn’t deserve food or shelter or care. Jesus is not worthy of unconditional love — unjudgmental service for its own sake — because whatever state he’s in is probably his own damn fault. Tough love, man. Sometimes love is impatient and unkind, remembers wrongs, and dishonours and humiliates people.

Take it from a true Christian.