The City of Toronto has studied burning garbage — apparently candidate Stephen LeDrew has not
I’ve been on about this on the blog (check it out at eyeweekly.com/election2006) but the vast influence of my internet audience has not yet altered the terms of the election debate, so I figured I’d commit this to paper, too:

Stephen LeDrew, alongside many, many conservative-ish council candidates, keeps proposing that we should “investigate” or “take a look at” or “study” burning our garbage rather than buying the Green Lane landfill (or any other landfill). Here’s LeDrew, for example, in a press release from last week: “I will commit to diverting 80 per cent of waste from landfill and exploring clean and cost-effective waste-to-energy solutions for the remaining 20 per cent.”

(Nota bene: “waste to energy,” “advanced thermal technology” and “gasification” are all words that mean incineration, just so we all know what we’re talking about.)

It sounds so reasonable when they suggest we should study this option. Who wouldn’t want to investigate all the options? Why is David Miller such a closed-minded hard head that he’s against investigating possible solutions? Right?

Except that, as Geoff Rathbone, director of policy and planning with the city’s works department, confirms, we have already studied and explored waste-to-energy solutions, and in fact we’re continuing to do the groundwork required to build such a facility.

To wit: the city convened a committee made up of experts on waste management and local citizens and activists to study all available options for diverting waste from landfill way back in February 2003. That group (whose name is longer than a Rex Murphy adjective — the New and Emerging Technologies, Policies and Practices Advisory Group, for the record) met for nearly two years, at no small cost to the city, and studied all the new technologies on the market. Their final report is available online at http://www.tinyurl.com/y6lqnj.

As a result of their work, Toronto is conducting an Environmental Assessment on various technologies — including incineration — with an eye to building a test facility. Just this week, the city ran a bunch of
advertisements announcing public hearings as part of that EA process (see http://www.toronto.ca/ceat for hearing dates and a comments form). This is all work that is required before building a waste-to-energy facility.

In other words, not only have we studied incineration, but we’re taking the necessary steps to build incinerators.

Maybe some candidates haven’t explored all the options, but the city has. And if they want to build an incinerator, they shouldn’t hide behind words like “look into it.”

Taking a page from Spacing
Last week in this space, I had a bit of a laugh at Jane Pitfield’s blog. Over the weekend, the story got even weirder. Turns out her posting from Oct. 7 — taking the wind out of some Miller spending proposals — was plagiarized almost directly from a post by John Lorinc on Spacing magazine’s excellent election blog (www.spacing.ca/votes). Further investigation revealed that another post seemed to have been lifted from a story by Anthony Reinhart from The Globe and Mail.

Matt Blackett of Spacing writes, “‘There hasn’t always been a clear plan of what to do with my blog,’ [Pitfield] said. ‘I have a young man looking after it. But I will talk to someone at our office right away.'”

The entire blog has since been removed.

On a related technology note, one of the interesting developments in this campaign has been the emergence of the blog as a form of coverage. In addition to ours and Spacing’s, there’s also Rob Granatstein’s X Marks the T-dot from the Toronto Sun, where I found the LeDrew quote about garbage above (surf over to www. blog.canoe.ca/cityvote and praise the lord Sue-Ann Levy hasn’t figured out how to use the internet yet) and Marc Weisblott’s Campaign Bubble from The Globe and Mail (www.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/campaignbubble).

Meet the next mayor
Both Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star and John Barber of The Globe and Mail have very recently proposed the idea of introducing political parties to Toronto politics.

We suspect they mean party as in have-a-membership-card-and-toe-the-line. But Eye Weekly already has plans to introduce a
political party (as in pass-the-beer-and-hit-the-dancefloor) to this election, and it’s scheduled to take place one week before election day.

The Political Party, presented with our friends at Spacing magazine, will feature speeches and interviews with Jane Pitfield and David Miller and then give you an opportunity to talk to them yourself while the drinks flow and the live music plays.

It takes place at Revival (783 College) on Monday, Nov. 6. Musical guests announced Oct. 19 at http://www.eyeweekly.com/election2006. Admission is free.

Originally published in Eye Weekly on October 19, 2006. 

Due to a series of miscommunications and scheduling conflicts, Eye Weekly was not able to speak to Jane Pitfield prior to last week’s cover story profiling the leading mayoral candidates. In an effort to ensure she had a chance to answer the questions dogging her campaign, we caught up with her at Revival after our Nov. 6 Political Party event.

EYE WEEKLY: Your plans for the city are fairly bold — building subways, putting more police on the streets — but also seem unrealistically expensive. How are you going to pay for all of it?

JANE PITFIELD: We’ll just pay half of it, and the other half will be the province. And I do think that too, that if I can find it in the budget — [Miller and his team] are wasting money. You just have to trust that I really understand the budget — it’s my great interest and my specialty. You know in nine years, we’ve never questioned the base budget. The time has come to have an audit. Because all that we’ve done is accepted the fact that it can’t be changed. So that is first of all what we need to do: we’ve got to have a good look at that.

So I think first of all you can’t make an assumption that this is going to be increased spending. There’s a lot in the budget that I don’t agree with — we’re providing more than a municipality should. We should get back to what property taxes are supposed to fund and stick to that.

Tomorrow [Nov. 7], when I release my numbers, I’m going to do my best to show what would be an increase, but it’s not as much as people have been rumouring.

EYE WEEKLY: The other big question would be management skills. I want to point to a few things, and they may seem small, but the mistaken vote on the Green Lane landfill, the change of mind on the St. Clair right-of-way, the plagiarized posts on your blog from Spacing magazine and The Globe and Mail

JANE PITFIELD: The plagiarized — that business, with the blog? I have a volunteer on my campaign who has been working and helping me with my web page. What had happened, he had assured me that it was linked. When Matt Blackett [of Spacing magazine] let us know, I then found out that for two days it hadn’t been. My solution, when I realized, I phoned Matthew, apologized, and said that so this never happens again, the only thing that will go on my blog are my platform statements.

EYE WEEKLY: But I guess people raise these things as evidence that you might not have the management skills to run the city. What is your answer to people who ask if mishaps along the campaign like this are a sign of poor management skills?

JANE PITFIELD: I think my comment is simply this: these have been very small trivial things. There have been much bigger mistakes made that have cost the city a lot of money, by David Miller. The fact that you even focus on this? I believe that this is the only thing you can use as criticism. I accept your criticism, but I think again it’s very important in leadership to have the flexibility to change your mind. Sometimes it’s better to change your mind than not.

Originally published in Eye Weekly on November 9, 2006. 

One week before election day, Eye Weekly and Spacing magazine give you a chance to meet Jane Pitfield and David Miller

Three years ago, David Miller rode his broom into the mayor of Toronto’s office on a wave of optimism inspired by his clear-thinking, neighbourhood-minded campaign. Back then, the ballot-box question (as political strategists put it) was, “what kind of city do you want to live in?” Miller’s answer – cities are for people, not airplanes; city hall should invite citizens not lobbyists – carried the day.

As we head back to the polls at the end of Miller’s first term in office, the relevant question comes in two parts: do you think Miller has adequately delivered on his promise of a cleaner (metaphorically and physically) city? And if not, do you think it is possible that Jane Pitfield, Miller’s only serious opponent, could do a better job?

Readers of Eye Weekly and Spacing magazine will get a chance to see the candidates up close to attempt to get answers to those questions on Nov. 6 at Revival in Little Italy, at an event billed The Political Party. There, Jane Pitfield and David Miller will outline competing visions for Toronto’s public spaces, addressing the issues ranging from transit to the waterfront to the spread of advertising in civic squares. Following their speeches, the candidates will face questions from a panel of Eye Weekly and Spacing contributors. And after that, there’ll be live music by New York–Toronto glam rockers Hot One (featuring Toronto’s Emm Gryner and Shudder to Think veteran Nathan Larson) as the candidates mingle with the crowd. It’s a unique opportunity to pin the candidates down in the final week of the race.

But about those questions:

There’s a vocal cadre of Miller’s long-time supporters who feel a palpable sense of disappointment in his first term as mayor. This sentiment was neatly summed up in stories in Toronto Life and The Globe and Mail in October (both stories were titled “Miller’s Crossing,” of course). Toronto Life writer Philip Preville put it, “As his first term comes to a close, however, it’s clear that he never quite delivered on the broad promise he embodied: that he could inspire the city with a clear vision for the future. It’s not that he hasn’t done anything; it’s just that, as mayor, he’s proven to be a visionary plumber.”

In an interview with Eye Weekly last week on a southbound subway car from Downsview, Miller says he’s puzzled by that perception. “I’ve done pretty much what I said I would. I think people put their hopes in me, and I’m very proud of that, but it’s not just about me, it’s about Toronto. And I think people share my frustration that Toronto can’t succeed the way it should until we’ve dealt with the leftovers from the Harris era, the downloading and the lack of funding. [Another] thing is, that’s not what people tell me on the street: people tell me all the time that they’re happy, keep it up – that’s the response I’m getting on the street.”

Even so, he defends his baby-steps, nuts-and-bolts approach against those who would have him focus on more transformative mega-projects.

“It’s not how you build a city and it wasn’t my vision of building a city three years ago – you don’t build monuments. You build a city neighbourhood by neighbourhood. It’s an incremental thing, and it should be,” he says. “Cities are organic, and that’s why things like the community safety plan work, because it’s about neighbourhoods and about investing in young people in neighbourhoods. That’s why Clean and Beautiful works: it’s about bringing neighbourhoods together – the businesses, the people, the city – to make the neighbourhood a more livable place, to make the public space more livable. And that’s my philosophy on how you build a city, that way. Not by monuments like Mel Lastman Square but by doing real change in real neighbourhoods with real people.”

And indeed there are no monuments in his platform this time. Miller is promising slow, surface-route growth on transit with more ambitious additions if the province will invest; his community-safety plan involves a tiny increase in investment in an existing program; he’s refused to seriously discuss taking down the Gardiner Expressway because it would be too expensive; his garbage plan involves purchasing a landfill so we can take our time and “control our own destiny.”

By contrast, Jane Pitfield is promising massive change: she wants to begin construction on subway tunnels, adding a new stop to the system every year for the next two and a half decades; she’d cancel the purchase of the landfill and speed up the process of building an incinerator (she says a six-year environmental assessment process is too long); she’d hire more police officers, sell off surplus land for development as affordable housing and hold a referendum on tearing down the Gardiner (which she says should stay, since it provides “the best view of the lake”). And all this while freezing taxes.

The biggest stumbling block – even for those who like Pitfield’s vision – is that she hasn’t adequately explained how she’ll pay for all of these promises. Her responses tend to assume an investment by the provincial and federal governments that experience tells us is unlikely to be there.

And further, in a related concern, it’s unclear whether Pitfield has the organizational and management skills to lead the city.

Throughout her campaign, Pitfield has been forced to backtrack: after announcing she’d sell Toronto Hydro, she had to clarify that she hadn’t meant it; she’s had to explain why she supported the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way and now promises to cancel it; she voted for the purchase of the Green Lane landfill by mistake. If she can’t operate the voting equipment in council chamber, the thinking goes, how can she manage the entire council and bureaucracy?

I didn’t have the opportunity to put these questions to Pitfield because, in a week and a half of back and forth negotiations, her campaign team was unable to secure me a 10-minute phone interview with the candidate (after asking – during our third conversation – how Eye Weekly is spelled, staffer Leslie Stafford suggested I might attend a debate and try to scrum Pitfield afterward).

But the question was addressed, in a way, during a televised debate earlier in the campaign. “How – h-h-how can you be mayor?” Vanessa Lu of the Toronto Star asked. After pausing, as if stunned by the audacity of the question, Pitfield answered, “I can be mayor because I have the ability – I have the heart to lead this city, and on most issues I am very decisive.”

Torontonians will have the chance to meet both candidates on Monday and make their own assessment.

Originally published November 2, 2006 in Eye Weekly

Glenn Coles is an MBA business consultant and holistic healer (a combination you don’t see every day). He has a plan to house the working poor in Toronto:

“What if the city of Toronto (and all surrounding regions) allocated a percentage of municipal-owned land for the building of housing units?” he writes on his website, http://www.glenn4mayor.com. “Instead of selling the land, it would be leased to condominium corporations that operate housing developments of 20 to 40 units. Because land costs have been eliminated, the main costs of construction could be held to $100,000 per unit. A markup of $25,000 would be used to cover infrastructure costs such as sewers and roads. Eligible families or individuals would buy these affordable houses, and would then be paying off a low-interest mortgage. Approximate mortgage costs to the homeowner would be about $700 per month for a three-bedroom house, which is less than the rent that some are paying.”

If that sounds reasonable to you, you can vote for Coles — he’s one of the 31 candidates for mayor. And if you’ve never heard of him, you’re not alone.

Perhaps the most commonly voiced complaint from the so-called fringe candidates is that they never have a chance to run a legitimate campaign because they lack money, connections and media attention. We in the big corporate media have already decided who the candidates are and they never have a chance. So you’ll never get to hear from Coles and his campaign to bring on a “New Age of Toronto” while financially supporting the Guardian Angels. Similarly, you’ll never find out about Nick Brooks, whose website (www.nickformayor.ca) advertises his “thoughts on being Mayor, my Art, my Photo Repair skills, my Resume and my company Filmgear.” Or Rod Muir, an environmental gadfly who says Miller’s broom will be replaced by his power washer (www.muirformayor.ca). Or Duri Naimji, whose 2003-website-is-still-good page at http://www.mayortoronto2003naimji.com reveals his sophisticated mathematical mayoral formula: DUTY=FAIR+FIT=JOY==>DURI.

If you’ve been wondering what the big corporate media are keeping from you, you’ll have a chance to meet all of the mayoral candidates at the only event that welcomes them all to share the same stage: the Who Wants to Be Mayor? event at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on Oct. 4 at 7:30pm. Run by Citytv and Dave Meslin’s Who Runs This Town?, the night promises a full stage and some fresh ideas, if not good ones (see http://www.whorunsthistown.to for more information).

And in response to those who claim the fix is in and that’s why the little guys never get a fair shake, here’s the question I’d ask: if you can’t inspire and motivate donors and volunteers enough to organize a campaign large enough to draw attention, why should anyone believe you’ll have it together enough to run the city?

A waste of money that should be an election issue
There isn’t much, politically, on which I agree with Councillor Rob Ford, but I share his sputtering rage at the taxpayer-financed campaigning that takes place through city councillors’ newsletters issued immediately prior to elections.

To pick on Councillor Bill Saundercook, since I live in his riding and he delivered one to my home (though nearly all the councillors do it): our tax money just paid for him to issue a four-page “Ward 13 Update” with his name in giant letters on the front. Here’s my count of what it contains:

Photos of Saundercook: 7

Number of times his name appears in headlines or banners: 5

Articles boasting about Saundercook’s accomplishments: 5

Articles containing information useful to constituents: 2.5

Ford put forward a motion to ban this kind of city-financed propaganda earlier this year and, predictably, it failed. Saundercook should be ashamed of himself. That one bit of self-serving spending certainly cost him my vote.

Graf-ing Jane’s chances
On Sept. 10, Jerry Grafstein — never a supporter of David Miller — said Jane Pitfield lacked “the spark” to be mayor and floated the idea of running for the job himself. On Sept. 26, Grafstein threw his support behind Pitfield saying that he would have done so earlier but he’s been busy because he’s a senator (which sounds like a punchline in itself).

But however late and conflicted this support may be, Grafstein and old-school Liberal pollster Martin Goldfarb certainly add organizational expertise and access to cash to Pitfield’s suddenly rolling campaign. We may get a semi-interesting race after all.

Originally published in Eye Weekly September 28, 2006. 

Recently, Toronto Star columnist Royson James lamented the lack of “new blood” among the near-record number of council candidates running in this November’s municipal election.

“And these days, old and recycled blood may have to do for those seeking new blood at the seat of local democracy,” he wrote. “Welcome back John Sewell and John Adams … and Ron Moeser…. Then, there is the connected — ex-Citytv man Adam Vaughan challenging in Trinity-Spadina and the last-minute parachute candidate Gord Perks, riding in on his environmental horse into Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park. Old new blood.”

If, by “new blood,” he means young blood (sorry for the Rob-Lowe-on-skates flashback), James should be inspired by the race in Ward 26, which is wide open since incumbent councillor Jane Pitfield has left to take on David Miller. The race — with 15 candidates, the most crowded in the city — features two impressive candidates under 30.

Bahar Aminvaziri entered politics through public-space activist Dave Meslin’s City Idol competition, the wonderful, un-televised exercise dreamt up to draw in some uncommon fresh faces.

Aminvaziri is 27 years old, a U of T masters candidate and environmental engineer who emigrated to Canada from Iran to attend university seven years ago. She points to different priorities in Ward 26’s four neighbourhoods: historical preservation and safety in Leaside, poorly planned development in Wynford Park, the need for a community centre in Flemingdon Park and a lack of skills training and language classes for immigrants in Thorncliffe Park. How fresh is this face? It’s still wearing braces.

Meanwhile, further right on the political spectrum is 26-year-old Natalie Maniates, who boasts an endorsement from Conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay. Her campaign features a “FIT for 26” theme: “I’m 26 years old, running in Ward 26 and my platform deals with the city over the next 20 years, which will take us to 2026,” Maniates says.

The former sorority girl and campus conservative figures waste management (she’s in favour of incineration and a credit system for garbage tags) and crime (she’s believes in the broken-windows theory) are the big issues in this election.

What does Maniates think of the City Idol process that nominated her youthful opponent? “I don’t watch much TV,” she says, “but I think it’s a fun show.” I can hear Mez howling from here.

Election Fever Online
I’m a frequent contributor to Spacing magazine, so take my endorsement of it with a grain of salt. But while you’re weighing my bias, head on over to Spacing‘s brand-spanking-new election blog at http://www.spacing.ca/votes.

The public-space advocates have assembled 13 young writers and urban thinkers to blog about the election from points across the city, which just might mean their blog will offer the most comprehensive campaign coverage in Toronto.

Best of all, they’ve snagged former Toronto Life urban affairs columnist and multiple National Magazine Award winner John Lorinc — who may be the best city politics writer in the country — to write a column.

From Lorinc’s first post: “David Miller is coasting into an election on the strength of his personality and intellect and a respectable, though modest, record in his first term…. So it’s time for him to make a bold move and spend some of the political capital he so loves to hoard…. The bottom line is that he’s got to make a big gesture in order to rekindle the imagination of Torontonians. If he puts himself on cruise control, Miller could quickly become another Barbara Hall — pleasant, popular, yet ultimately crippled by his unwillingness to be effective and bold. The choice is his, and ours.”

The only thing that would’ve been better than Lorinc blogging for Spacing would’ve been if he’d been hired to run Miller’s campaign.

Jane’s Door is Open
Brendan Cahill of Jane Pitfield’s campaign emailed to call me out on something I wrote in last week’s notebook. “Read in your Sept. 14 edition of 2006 election notebook that Jane Pitfield’s campaign office at the northwest corner of Dundas and Pacific in the Junction has never been opened or staffed. Really? As far as I know, it’s been opened and staffed since we had our grand opening July 18. In fact it’s open Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm, and sometimes on the weekend….”

I sent my two research assistants (my wife Rebecca and my son Colum) by on Monday to check out his claim and, sure enough, her office was open with four campaign staffers helpfully offering a brochure.

So sorry. But I was telling the truth when I wrote that — though I live across the street — I’d never seen it open, which, since I work from 10am to 6pm, makes sense.

My larger point, of course, was that it didn’t look like the central hub of a serious city-wide campaign hoping to capture the votes of a couple million people in fewer than three months. Maybe it’s time to extend the bankers’ hours.

Originally published September 21, 2006 in Eye Weekly. 

Senator Jerry Grafstein — known in the media as The Man Who Brought The Rolling Stones to Toronto (quite a feat, considering they’d only been here a couple dozen times before, and, of course, recorded a live album here in 1977, and then used Toronto as their regular rehearsal space for about two decades) — is thinking about grappling David Miller for the mayor’s chair.

“If I can’t find a viable candidate by Sept. 27, I will seriously consider it,” the SARSstock senator said at a Toronto International Film Festival party, as reported in the Toronto Sun on Sept. 12. “My wife, Carole, has been telling me to stop complaining and do something. I think I would win. A lot of people feel this way.”

Well, hello, snowflake. Welcome to hell.

You want to beat Miller? I’ll tell you how to beat Miller: he pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours — oh no, wait, that’s how you beat Al Capone. You want to beat David Miller? You’re on your own.

And I do mean on your own, since virtually every heavy-hitting political operative in the city, including Mel Lastman’s former fundraising guru Ralph Lean, has signed on to Miller’s re-election campaign. Maybe Grafstein (who, showing his unerring political instincts, backed John Nunziata in the 2003 mayoral race) can call on his buddies Warren Kinsella (who backed John Tory) and Dennis Mills (who was busy preparing to have his ass handed to him in the 2004 federal election by Jack Layton) and build on the momentum they have going after their anti-terrorist “We Are Not Afraid” day this past June. Remember that? No? Oh. Maybe Grafstein ain’t the man for the job after all.

But if you are crazy enough to run, Jerry, I do have one piece of advice: whatever you do, don’t kick off your maybe, maybe-not attempt to dethrone David the Goliath by saying something asinine like “I have lived here since 1955 and it’s in the worst shape I have ever seen it. It’s dirty and it’s not safe.” D’oh! You already said that? See, the thing is that by every conceivable standard of measurement, Toronto is safer than it’s been in decades, while litter is down by 40 per cent and Toronto is in the midst of a cultural renaissance (both street level and elite: uTOpia, meet Opera House), to boot. So the doom-and-gloom might be a hard sell.

But whatever the message, it’s going to be a hard slog trying to knock off the mayor anyway. Just ask Jane Pitfield, who’s resorted to begging the media not to discount her chances just yet. According to the Star last week, Pitfield unveiled her pledge to cut the fat at city hall in a press conference, saying, “Don’t prejudge and don’t underestimate me, because the best is yet to come. I have been waiting with relish for these nine months.” Coupled with the National Post clipping hanging in her campaign office window (next to the classy, handwritten “For Rent after November 15” sign) that says she likes herself a hot dog, supporters might be tempted to request that she put down the relish and the rest of the condiments and start running for mayor.

If you were to stake out Pitfield’s office (or live directly across the street, as your correspondent does), you’d have plenty of time to read the two — count ’em! Two! — lukewarm newspaper clippings posted in the window, since the office has never been unlocked or staffed as far as I can tell. Add to this the fact that her second campaign manager has just quit to “concentrate on his business” (replaced by admitted political neophyte Judy Paradi) and you start to wonder whether Pitfield is serious about running a legitimate campaign. Not that a legitimate campaign would put forward panhandling as a serious campaign issue. And not that a legitimate campaign would have spent nine months waiting with relish to get started.

A legitimate campaign would have started in January and relentlessly hammered away throughout the summer. That’s how Miller himself knocked off shoe-in Barbara Hall and establishment man John Tory back in 2003 (no one thought Miller had a chance until he pulled ahead in September).

A legitimate campaign would try to attack Miller from the centre, to appeal to both those who’d never vote for him and those who voted for him last time but are disappointed. A legitimate campaign would — fairly or unfairly — hammer Miller, who promised to clean up city hall, for untendered contracts at the TTC, a lack of progress on the waterfront and his ally Joe Pantalone’s tendency to have members of his family on the city payroll. A serious contender would also deliver something big and positive as the central plank in her campaign, rather than focusing on cutting spending. And a serious contender would not allow the mayor to turn the Conservative government’s recent bolstering of the island airport into a political whipping post — a contender would hold it up as evidence of the mayor’s inability to deliver on the one key issue of his last campaign.

Dennis Mills, whose name keeps getting batted around as a late-entry possibility, isn’t the guy, since he created the nefarious, airport-expanding Toronto Port Authority in the first place. Julian Fantino, who declined to enter the race, wouldn’t have been right, and the dirty war he and Miller would have fought — which Miller would have won — would have made everyone look ugly. Now it looks like Pitfield and Grafstein probably aren’t up to the job, either. It’s a pity. We could use a real race for mayor, if for no other reason than to get the important issues facing the city aired out. There’s still time to register. Any other snowflakes wanna brave the heat?

Originally published in Eye Weekly September 14, 2006.