"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Wednesday 29 August 2007

To Market To Market To Buy A Fat Pig

Last Wednesday I went to the park to enjoy the concert. The 48th Highlanders were playing. The park was packed. M&M Meat Shop was there, barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers, popping corn and selling ice cream bars. It was a beautiful evening - the kind that makes for happy memories.

The special events co-ordinator of the town has organized these evenings for years. They plan the programs and find the sponsors. Home Hardware was the sponsor last week. People are able to enjoy quality entertainment and it doesn't cost them a cent.

Staff salaries of course are paid out of taxes, but year round there are fun things going on for the entertainment of people of all generations. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves of the good things happening and the people who work for us with energy and enthusiasm.

This year we did not have a July 1st Parade. On the other hand, the celebration at Lambert Wilson Park gets better every year. The parents and children who flock to the park leave no doubt the events are well received.

Still, the lament for the Parade was loud and bitter. Considering the glory days of the July 1st Parade were due entirely to community volunteers and an entire year of hard work, commitment and ingenious planning by literally dozens if not hundreds of people, I find it hard to understand the sharpness and the target of the criticism.

If the volunteers are not there to throw heart and soul into the enormous undertaking of a successful parade, just who is it who has the right to stand on the sidelines and shout recriminations?

I do not consider The Farmers' Market in the class of a July 1st Celebration or a summer concert in the park. But If some people are charmed by the opportunity to shop for fresh produce from a stall on a Saturday morning, that's fine with me.

If entrepreneurs want the opportunity to ply their wares at a stall on a Saturday morning, I find nothing objectionable about that either.

What I do not understand is why I should be expected to jump at the chance to put my hand in someone else's pocket for money so others can enjoy shopping at a market?

Neither do I understand why all the checks and balances in place to ensure accountability in public spending should be set aside, so that some or any politician can set himself up as a heroic figure of famers market enterprise. Any day now ,I expect to see a statue in the Temperance Street parking lot of a man in a toga wearing a laurel wreath on his head.

If I wanted to indulge myself as a rip-roaring critic of any person thus far involved with The Aurora Market, the only thing stopping me is my own discipline. Thus far, I have confined myself to simple disagreement that the town's taxpayers should be required to contribute anything at all towards the success of what I perceive to be a commercial endeavour.

The Market has been in place four years. Every year, vendors return. That has to be taken as a sign of success. Why else would a farmer from Uxbridge drive to Aurora every Saturday to peddle his wares? Why would he imagine he has a right to demand taxpayers of Aurora should dig into their pockets to help finance his endeavour?

I do not agree with colleagues who apparently fancy they are presiding over the burgeoning treasury of a Charitable Foundation, a Service Club or a Philanthropic Organization. They scatter money about like flower petals on a Path of Righteousness. I don't do that with my own resources. I am not about to do it with money belonging to people who trusted me not to.

Sunday 26 August 2007

Choose Your Weapons

We are nine months into the current term of council. In the last term, a fairly efficient campaign was waged in the community to convince residents that I alone was responsible for the lacklustre performance of the last council. I stayed the course however and I was re-elected

.Character assassination is not an unusual gambit in politics.. I tend to discount its effectiveness.
Particularly if I am not in a contest for one particular office. But it was effective and it is continuing now, only more openly. A sequence of letters in The Auroran repeat the same phrases; " small- minded , mean-spirited" and deplore the fact there were people who marked a cross beside my name on the ballot." One writer suggested I won votes only because my name was first on the ballot.

Virulent letters tell more about the writer than they do about the target. Yet I know from experience if something is repeated often enough without challenge, it is eventually accepted as fact. Heretofore I have accepted there is not much one can do to counteract the attacks. So I have given my detractors the back of my hand. But things are different now. We have the internet.

So... what to do what to do. How does one defend oneself against an insidious campaign of hate mail? Should one even try? To engage on its level is unlikely to be effective. How would one do that anyway?

"You are small-minded."
"Am Not. "
"You are mean-spirited."
"You are."
"You should never have been elected."
"You neither."

My critical blog correspondent rose to my challenge this morning. She still did not reveal her identity. But she did specify a list of my sins.

  • political e-mails

  • blame-finding for water shortage

  • Aurora Farmers' Market attitude

  • refusal to honor the ideas of others

  • refusal to embrace the concept of co-operation.

The list opens a host of opportunities for discussion.

I assume my critic is a council member because I do use the internet to correspond with colleagues.in open dialogue.The most recent exchange was my response to an e-mail sent to staff from Mayor Morris. Councillors received a copy.

The Mayor notified staff that in her absence at a conference, she had appointed Councillor McEachern to the position of Deputy-Mayor. Councillor McRoberts was also attending the conference.

I informed the Mayor, with respect, the authority to appoint a Councillor to the position of Deputy -Mayor rests with the council. The Mayor responded thanking me for the information. She stated had she thought of it, she would have made the recommendation at the previous council meeting.

I responded I was glad that had not happened. I would have been unable to support the recommendation and I would not have relished giving my reasons in a public forum. I did however provide them in an e-mail circulated to councillors including the Mayor. It was a blunt statement of facts as I see them.

. Mayor Morris has made no secret of her alliance with Councillor McEachern from the beginning of the term. Impartiality from the chair is non-existent. The clerk has been removed from his place at the left hand of the Chair and the CAO from the right .. The Mayor and Councillor McEachern are openly in control They frequently engage in private dialogue. There are no rules, save the ones the Mayor chooses to exercise.

There is no respect for the essential principle of debate. . No recognition that council is composed of nine members. With control of five votes, there is no need for full and respectful consideration of input from every councillor. . It even seems like some decisions are made before they come to the table.

As a councillor with a substantial background of how things ought to be, I have probably experienced a level of frustration not shared by my colleagues. From time to time, I have reacted. Meetings extending to midnight and beyond have become the rule rather than the exception. There is a total lack of imperative from the chair Because all other efforts have failed and to make a point, I have decided I will not sit past 11 p.m. The hour of adjournment is 10.30p.m.

If anything is being accomplished, I stay. If the meeting has ground to a halt with idle chit-chat from the chair I leave...

As bad as it has been, I do see small signs of improvement . We still have time to discover there is a great deal more satisfaction in working together to accomplish the town's business
rather than carrying on the Endless, Pointless , Dance of the Pecking Order.

Four years is a long time to keep butting heads.

Monday 13 August 2007

Toronto's Exceptionality (contd)

I watched Mayor David Miller on a phone-in show on Saturday. His host had complete empathy with the city's revenue "shortfall".

Questions from callers allowed him to reinforce his arguments: Toronto needs more money. Million dollar programs mandated by the Province and the responsibility of the Province are being paid from property tax.

Cost of security at the provincial courts is charged to the city. Toronto receives a bill for "catastrophic" drug benefits of $140 million. It includes special benefits for the disabled.

What the Mayor did not say was that all municipalities pay the cost of these services. There is a total lack of integrity in these and other programs like ambulance service being charged to municipal government. They are services to people not property. They should be paid from the myriad of relevant taxes collected from people by the Province.

Municipal governments should be making the case together for the people we serve. Toronto would find itself in a more secure position if they chose to align themselves with the rest of us. Over the years however, they have used municipalities around them as the whipping boy when making the case to the Province for relief from this burden. And they have been successful.

For example, each year, for ten years, two hundred million dollars have been siphoned from the pockets of property owners in the GTA and funnelled into Toronto's treasury to pay for social housing and other services inaccessible to non-residents of the city.

There were other revelations during the phone-in program. David Miller served one term as councillor before becoming Mayor of Toronto. He has no experience of how things were. He disclosed City property-owners are getting a good deal on their taxes. He proclaimed with satisfaction they are paying 15% less than any other municipality around them.

It was a startling revelation. It has been known in the hinterlands that people in Toronto pay less tax than the rest of us. In fact, because Toronto refused to adopt market value assessment thirty years ago, propertry taxes within Metro have not been even for decades The fallout from his glib comment about their lower tax rate may yet be felt.

A few weeks ago, The Toronto Star editorialised that Toronto's neighbours should join the city to convince the Province of the inequity of municipal property-owners paying for provincial programs.

If the Province were to stop pandering to the city and the city to stop plundering her neighbours,we might yet arrive at the place where we could stand united and make a difference for the people we serve. All depends on the rediscovery of the dual principles of integrity and equity at Queen's Park versus ignorance and arrogance at Queens Street(City Hall). In this matter,The Toronto Star has not exactly been a beacon of enlightenment.

We will not hold our breath. As long as people outside the city are ignorant of the reality, provincial politicians have not much to fear from property-owners at large.

Sunday 12 August 2007

Friday 10 August 2007


Today is the day the Redoubtable David Miller, Mayor of Toronto will reveal the awful consequences of his council's failure to support his efforts to raise money outside of the property tax to pay Toronto's bills. It is mid-August. Two thirds of the year is past. An obvious question is , how did they pass a budget and approve expenditures without indicating the source of revenues to meet the expenditures? On what basis are they collecting taxes?

Media reports on the melodrama of the city's politics has made for interesting summer reading . In times past. we always knew what was going on in other municipalities. Nowadays we know more about what is happening in Kandahar. Baghdad and Kosovo than we do about happenings on our own doorstep. We have learned more about the new City of Toronto in the last several weeks than we learned in the nine years since the Province amalgamated several boroughs into a single unit for the purpose of saving money.

Media coverage, questions not asked, editorials unwritten and some written have been both revealing and astonishing for their lack of analysis.

We had heard references to the increased power of Toronto's Mayor. We had to wait until now to see how it works. It seems the essence of the Mayor's power is the authority to appoint an executive committee numbering a majority of council. The Mayor is able to hand-pick twenty-three members for his power block. According to media interpretation, a condition of membership is slavish obedience to the Mayor's will.

The power however is apparently illusory. In the current controversy, one member chose to exercise his own judgement and that completely upset the apple cart. Speculation is, the recalcitrant member will be dumped from the power elite. First however he had to be dumped upon by various other members of the power elite. Name calling runs freely in Toronto City Council.

Heretofore , much has been made of Toronto's new power to raise revenues by taxes other than property taxes. The Mayor apparently lobbied for that from the provincial Government. I have never understood why a municipal official would consider that an asset.

But the two "new" taxes recommended are not new at all.They are not even Municipal. The Mayor and his power elite have proposed to double The Land Transfer Tax and the Vehicle Permit Fee . These are Provincial Taxes.

When and how did the Government of Ontario grant Toronto the authority to tap in to Provincial tax programs. . What game is being played here? Who are the players?

There is a game. No doubt about it. The Minister responsible for the Vehicle Permit Fee has been quoted that if city council passed it , there is no guarantee the Ministry would collect double the Vehicle Permit Fee.

The Provincial Treasure has been quoted ,there will be no further bail-out for the city from the Provincial Treasury. Yet doubling two provincial taxes and funnelling funds to the City Treasury certainly would be a bail-out .

The Premier on the other hand, has publicly scolded city councillors who failed to support the Mayor's recommendation for the "new" taxes. Now the question is: Which of these three are speaking for the Province ? And what does this mean for the rest of us?

Another weird angle about doubling the Vehicle Permit Fee is that Ontario residents can obtain their permits from any Ministry of Transportation Office Why buy it in Toronto when it can be bought elsewhere for half the price? . How can the province charge city residents double the fee paid elsewhere in the province based on address alone? Where is the logic ?Where is the equity?

Ninety-eight per cent of Toronto drivers are probably paying little attention to the summer political histrionics going on in their city But if that tax gets approved before the Provincial election , that ought be enough for another fifty nails in the Provincial Liberal Coffin.

The Land Transfer Tax increase is just as questionable.There may not be as many property sales in Toronto as there are car drivers , but vendors will certainly become aware of the inequity; real estate agents, lawyers and developers will make certain of that. Every extra cost is an irritant at the time of such a serious transaction..

There have been other revelations in the course of this public discussion .None has been more disappointing than the belligerent and truculent manner of the August Mayor of Toronto. They haven't had a Mayor with flare in Toronto since Phil Givens held the office for one term in the late sixties.

But perhaps the most significant revelation is that the city has finally been brought into step with the rest of the province in the assessment of property at current value. It is thirty-five years since the Province took over assessment from the municipalities. The purpose was to bring equity to the assessment process. The Province had been providing support to municipalities based on their assessment wealth. If there was no common measurement,there was no equity in support. Municipalities had been known to fudge.

The problem was, the City of Toronto for decades , refused to agree to re-assessment.Only Toronto the Powerful could get away with that.Tiny Perfect David Crombie was in charge at that time. William Grenville Davis was the premier.

A quoted remark by a city councillor in response to published criticism by some Mississauga Councillors has revealed the City is finally having to deal with the adoption of current value assessment. The Councillor apparently had no idea the rest of the province had weathered that storm thirty-five years ago.

The greatest impact of course is on wealthy and elite old established neighbourhoods . They have not been paying their fair share for decades.Apparently, they are currently dealing with 8% tax increases quite separate from any impact the 2007 budget might cause.

And therein I suspect lies the real reason Toronto dare not raise property taxes to meet the real cost of their expenditures and risk the ire of prominent homeowners and businesses in the city. For thirty-five years, they have dodged the bullet one way or another . The attempt at doubling two provincial taxes, with the apparent support of Premier Dalton McGuinty ,is just the latest dodge. It has not
gone smoothly.

But the game is still being played and we are more than just onlookers.

Monday 6 August 2007


People are happy to talk to visitors about their town. It was no different in Charlottetown. I had a thousand questions and they cheerfully chatted.

I wondered why the Conference Centre, a concrete block building, was built up against the small hundred year old jewel of the Parliament Building. The Liberals told me it had been a bitter controversy and a few more salacious tales besides.

The concrete flower boxes outside the building had at some time split apart and were bolted together with iron bars. The earth they held had not been disturbed for some time. Dandelions were the only thing blooming. There were thousands of delegates from all over Canada at that conference. The Queen was making a visit two or three days after we left.

In my walks to and from the centre, I noticed several piles of unidentifiable material at the side of the roads. Cigarette butts were prominent. It turned out they were the sweepings from the street. The piles were periodically removed.

A hairdresser told me she was looking forward to going to her cottage at the week-end. I asked about city beaches. She said they were unuseable. The ocean was polluted by city sewage.

I noticed many old mansions lining the beautiful wide sweep that was the the main street. Where there should have been lawns and gardens, there was hard-packed dirt and scattered strollers and bicycles. They were being used as multiple rentals.

If there is such a thing among us as National Pride. If towns and cities hold the key, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Banff are eminent examples of the value we place on our history and heritage. They are magnificent.

Yet Charlottetown, where the Fathers of Confederation met and hammered out the terms of agreement. They walked those streets, stayed at that hotel, vsited and no doubt consulted with the residents of those old mansions and they accomplished something which had been tried and failed repeatedly. They created the nation whiich every one of us is privileged to share. Charlottetown in the mid-seventies, several years after the wonderfully successful national celebration of Canada's Centennial, Charlottetown languished in shabby and shameful neglect.

It was with a mixture of sadness and anger I wrote a subsequent column.

Some Aurora residents expressed surprise that I did not enjoy Prince Edward Island. I had obviously failed to make my point.

I remember nothing of the merits of the conference. But I remember Charlottetown.

Saturday 4 August 2007


I remember attending the annual conference of the Canadian Conference of Mayors and Municipalities in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in the early seventies. I had heard much about the Province. It was a popular vacation destination with Aurora residents.

I stayed in a motel at the opposite end of the main street from the Conference Centre. I walked to and from the Centre more than twice some days. Alma Walker, a regional councillor from Markham had a room in the beautiful vintage hotel across the street from the Centre. She invited a bunch of regional councillors to her room one evening.

There was a reception at the former home and gardens of a Lieutenant Governor. It was a lovely old colonial mansion. Margaret Britnell, Mayor of King, was at the conference. Margaret was a prominent Liberal and made contact with Liberals wherever she went in Canada. I was invited along to the home of Charlottetown Liberals for a pleasant evening of conversation. Of course it was political... and mostly local.

There was a bus tour of the Island for delegates, a lobster fest, and an ocean ferry trip. If the objective was to familiarise the delegates from cities across Canada to the charms of Prince
Edward Island, it was eminently successful.

Charlottetown has a substantial Lebanese community. They seemd like Greeks to me. Generous in hospitality, with a love of life and laughter and a passion for politics.

David Crombie, Mayor of Toronto, was at the Conference staying at the same motel as myself. He never seemed to attend any of the sessions. He held court at the motel swimming pool. People had audiences in his presence. He left on Sunday. A particular vote did not go his way and he indicated, with a departing flourish, Toronto would withdraw from the organization.

Member fees were based on per capita or some such measurement. If Toronto withdrew
that signalled one of two things. Fees from every other member would escalate. Or, the organisation would collapse. Or, the first would predicate the second with the same result Toronto is still doing stuff like that.

With the exception of Alberta and the North West Territories, I visited every capital city in Canada while I was in office. It was great to see how people lived in other places and how cities functioned. It broadened my perspective. I believe it made me a better Mayor.