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Cyrus

Mayoral Amusment - "Progressive" Mr. Nenshi and "Conservative" Mr. Ford

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The whole blogosphere and media in Canada has said a lot of things about two mayoral elections in two of Canada's major cities the past month. Both of them had the guy expected to come in 3rd place, win the elections with a majority of votes, with high voter turnouts as well.

 

Everyone was surprised because a "progressive", brown, unmarried and Muslim guy won the mayoralty in Calgary (of all places) and a "hyper-conservative" fat white guy won the mayoralty in Toronto, which just shatters everyone's stereotypes of both cities. Some say they should have happened the other way around :silly:

 

But it seems that the "progressive" Mr. Nenshi is also quite respectful of the taxpayers, which is always very nice to hear of and would be most welcome in Montreal or any city. He has said he has "a lot in common" with Mr. Ford, and has been trying to find ways to cut spending in his city to reduce a planned property tax hike.

 

So I liked this article:

 

Two weeks into his term as mayor and Naheed Nenshi has yet to slay the city's budget, build the airport tunnel, solve the southwest ring road and bring lightrail transit to the southeast.

 

And we had such Obamalike hope in the guy.

 

I jest, of course. Nenshi can't walk on water. We all knew that. So what, then, have we actually gotten in this Harvard-educated business prof who stunned almost everyone to become mayor?

 

For those who feared a tax-and-spend liberal, he's anything but. So far, Nenshi is proving to be almost McIver-like in his parsimony. For instance:

 

When Nenshi asked for wireless Internet in the mayor's office, he ractically choked on his iPad when city staff quoted him a price of $22,000. He fired back an e-mail wondering why he couldn't just go out and buy a wireless router for $80.

 

He recently took the new city council out for dinner. They went to the Silver Dragon in Chinatown, where entrees are $10 to $15. Previous new councils had been treated, apparently, to higher-end gastronomy on Stephen Avenue.

 

Nenshi also doesn't care for the Lexus hybrid he inherited from Mayor Dave Bronconnier, saying that his Toyota Corolla gets better mileage.

 

None of this really comes as a surprise to those who know him. During the election, Nenshi quipped that nobody can understand what's its like to be a true fiscal conservative unless they've grown up in an immigrant family, as he did.

 

Nenshi, you see, is not the Lexus type. When he was criticized on one social media site during the election for being "too slick," a young woman fired back by saying, "Are you kidding? Have you seen his shoes?"

 

"I'm a firm believer that if you look after the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves," Nenshi said this week in a meeting with the Herald's editorial board.

 

We asked him about some of his governance ideas to make council more transparent and accountable. He says he'd like to see a Han-sard-like record of council meetings posted online, which has been previously dismissed as too expensive. He thinks the solution has been staring everyone in the face.

 

"I don't know if you noticed it. I sure did. During the swearing-in ceremony, it was closed captioned. Somebody is already typing it in. Why can't we just capture that?"

 

He also doesn't object to the Toronto approach of scanning all aldermanic receipts and posting them on a website, but considering the absurd $22,000 quoted cost of wireless, he doubts that is in the cards.

 

With an outsider's perspective and a fresh set of eyes, Nenshi is challenging the old way of doing things.

 

Long a proponent of bus rapid transit, the new mayor is pushing it as an immediate, low-cost solution to traffic issues in the southeast, southwest and to the airport. Southeast residents feel jilted that lightrail service isn't a priority, but the economic reality of the day demands creative solutions.

 

True bus rapid transit has dedicated routes and loading platforms, without the bigger infrastructure expense of light rail. Because Calgary has never planned for it, Nenshi's idea is basically for glorified express buses. It's not ideal, but he says it will at least provide an indication of demand for rapid transit to the airport, for instance. If it doesn't work, you can always scrap it or try another route, and it doesn't saddle taxpayers with an expensive white elephant.

 

Nenshi makes a strong case for the proposed tunnel connecting the airport to the northeast -- and building it wide enough to accommodate a future LRT link to the northeast LRT line. Putting in a "people mover" to connect the airport with a north line up the west side of Deerfoot, as is currently in the plans, makes no sense, he argues.

 

"I'm not sure what monorails cost these days, but I bet they're more expensive than tunnels," Nenshi said, adding he now prefers to call the tunnel an underpass.

 

I'm not sure if any of this will placate the older gentleman who sent me a postelection e-mail concerned that Nenshi was being described as a progressive.

 

"That's code for a radical socialist," he insisted. I'm thinking the Progressive Conservatives and the Progressive Group for Independent Business might object, but I digress.

 

The honeymoon with Nenshi officially ends on Monday, when the new ouncil meets for the first time. The lingering euphoria might quickly end.

 

But this much is certain. Nenshi, a guy who has never taken a beach vacation, loves cities. If he can reign in spending nonsense like $22,000 for office wireless and infect the bureaucracy with some creative thinking, he just might turn out to be a cross between Barack Obama and the Tea Party, as hard as that may be to comprehend.

 

Maybe he'll even buy himself some better shoes.

 

Robert Remington is a columnist and member of the Herald's editorial board.

 

 

Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/shoes+cheap+meal+show+Nenshi+spender/3787600/story.html#ixzz14YmMvznY

 

As for Rob Ford, I don't think he has actually become Mayor of Toronto yet or at least has done anything, except meet with all the elected councillors to get to know them. Who said things about "angry politics", he seems like he is actually trying to make the council work :)

 

An interesting, contemporary TO article:

 

Chris Selley, National Post · Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010

 

Look at this column. Now look at outgoing councillor Sandra Bussin's website ( sandrabussin.ca).Now back at this column. Over the past year, that website cost you and your fellow taxpayers $8,960.68 -- just for design, development and maintenance. (Over the same period, Ms. Bussin also billed $11,747.80 in unspecified "data entry.") It's an OK website, I guess. Pretty basic. There's a calendar of local events, a few press releases, and an "about Sandra Bussin" page on which Toronto Sun columnist Sue- Ann Levy, ironically enough, calls her "unstoppable." But is it a $9,000 website? Informed opinions I consulted suggested she -- which is to say we -- could have done considerably better. That doesn't mean she did anything wrong, obviously. You could reasonably accuse me of nitpicking. But that's sort of my point: Because it's our money, it's our right to nitpick, and our politicians' responsibility to respond to it. If they think we're overreacting, they should explain why. Far too often, they won't. I've lost track of the number of unreturned phone calls reported in this week's news, not least from Ms. Bussin.

 

Not least from Adam Giambrone, either. In February, after he'd abandoned his mayoral campaign, he billed $2,299.50 for French lessons. And in June, after he'd announced he wouldn't run for council again, he billed the same amount. That's not a matter of nitpicking. Certainly in the latter case, it's flat-out unethical.

 

More people in Mr. Giambrone's ward speak Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese than French, but back in the glory days, he justified the lessons by noting he was on the board of a francophone association of Ontario municipalities. Judge that as you will, at least it offered a theoretical benefit to the taxpayer. Once he knew he wasn't coming back, however, he knew there was no way the taxpayer could possibly benefit from his burgeoning bilingualism ... at least until he shows up in federal politics. (Come on. You know it's going to happen.) As such, we shouldn't have had to foot the bill. It's as simple as that.

 

The timing of these expense reports is terrific, news-wise, because there isn't all that much to do these days except wait for Rob Ford to take over and find out what he's capable of. So there is a temptation to go after the low-hanging fruit -- Kyle Rae's $421 donation to cover a permit for Mr. Leatherman Toronto's "Leather Ball in the Park," for example, and myriad donations by councillors to all manner of causes that people might or might not agree with: soccer teams, charity marches, the fights against various diseases.

 

Those expenses add up. In the first nine months of this year, 14 councillors filed expenses under "other"--mostly donations and tickets to charity events -- in excess of $2,000. But more than the money, I object to the randomness of it. There is no net detriment when a councillor donates $500 of taxpayer money to a local public school library, but what about all the public schools in the wards where councillors don't donate anything to anyone? Why should they have $500 less to buy books? It's like combining government spending with roulette.

 

There is a whole class of people and pundits who, when confronted with taxpayer outrage that's based on a few hundred or thousand dollars, will roll their eyes, cluck their tongues and muse aloud about the Tea Party movement spreading north of the border. You can almost taste the disdain: Don't these Neanderthals understand that the city's finances are a matter of billions and millions, not hundreds and thousands? Don't they realize they're only driving smart people out of politics?

 

The fact Mr. Ford rode the backlash all the way to the mayor's office should give those people pause. But personally speaking, it's not the sums that annoy me at all. I'm not outraged by the cost of Ms. Bussin's website or Mr. Rae's permit. It isn't the cost of Mr. Giambrone's French lessons that rankles; it's that he had the temerity to expense it. What I object to is any compromise to my absolute right to information about activities conducted with my money, and to an explanation from the politicians who chose to spend it the way they did.

 

Why people want to know is irrelevant. It's their money, and they want to know. So tell them, or prepare to be yelled at.

 

[email protected]

 

 

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/spending+accountability/3787216/story.html#ixzz14YnI0Fxn

 

This article about spending by TO city councillors is also illuminating:

 

http://www.nationalpost.com/high+costs+council/3780393/story.html

 

Some highlights:

 

Sandra Bussin, who was ousted by a landslide in last month's election, has earned the dubious distinction of highest spending councillor, racking up $42,832 as of Sept. 30 -- just a few thousand dollars shy of her $46,241 limit, which must last until the end of her term this month. Thousands were spent on developing and maintaining Ms. Bussin's website, sandrabussin.com,while she expensed $9,629 on unspecified "data entry" services. The Ward 32 councillor, who did not respond to inquiries, also spent close to $10,000 on advertising and more than $4,000 on donations and event tickets.

 

In the least shocking revelation, mayor-elect Rob Ford came in with the lowest numbers by far, charging a grand total of $0 to his office budget. He did expense a solitary toner cartridge for $65 in August, but quickly reimbursed the full amount out of pocket. Mr. Ford, whose oft-repeated campaign message to "stop the gravy train" apparently resonated with taxpayers, has pledged to reduce councillors' expense accounts to $30,000 from $50,445 -- a move he suggests would save more than $1-million a year. "It's just abuse. The amount of taxi rides, the expenditures that do not relate to the office," Mr. Ford said of some of his colleagues' spending habits.

 

I don't think I even want to know what the books look like for Montreal's city council :eek:

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