mayor mel has been in the busi ness of local politics longer than anyone around here, and as a result he has earned a reputation for being instinctively in touch with the sentiments of his constituency. But for the first time, the people's Mel has quietly called in a pollster so he can divine by science what he can no longer do by insight.
At undisclosed cost to the city, the mayor is trying to find out who voters blame for the current financial crisis -- himself or Mike Harris. His sense of insecurity stems from abrupt changes in his popularity. In the past, when the political seas got rough, the mayor could count on his personable charm. Not any longer.
Mel's pathetic "New Deal" for the city -- with its dangerous call for a city- worker wage freeze and a roster of other foolishness like moving animals from Riverdale Farm -- demonstrates that the former North York maverick doesn't have what it takes to save the city from the $305-million shortfall.
Even the Toronto Star, an amalgamation booster that has allied itself with the mayor on the waterfront development and the Olympics, has said the title of Mel's plan "promises more than it delivers," and that "the mayor's call for a two-year wage freeze for municipal workers suggests an unspoken agenda to curry favour with the province."
Indeed, are those rabbits Mel referred to at his press conference last week actually just the latest secret deal with the province?
This city can't afford any more of Mel's deals with Mike Harris. We're still on the hook for the last one.
With the city in financial free fall, we desperately need someone with a well-honed plan to unite the city and leverage citizen pressure against the Tories. Mel has neither the maturity nor the sophistication to accomplish this. He can't even work collectively with councillors to strategize.
And he has sickened city workers, potential allies against downloading, with a proposal that would freeze the first wage increase they've had in nine years and set the stage for ugly labour showdowns.
Instead of networking, he keeps counsel with his small coterie of lushly paid advisers and aides (several of them earning six figures). He alienates other elected officials by failing to consult with them and by proposing largely symbolic, if not laughable, cuts to their office budgets, travel and catering -- as if the city's fiscal sustainability hinges on whether there's a veggie tray at the next works committee meeting.
Moderate NDP councillor Joe Pantalone, who has been a dependable ally of the mayor, has publicly broken with him over this "Mickey Mouse proposal."
"In my view, it represents a total surrender to Queen's Park," Pantalone tells NOW, adding "my hope is that a majority of council will wake up to this and not allow it to happen."
To prevent it and save the fabric of our city, councillors need a strategist and team builder -- but they don't have one. They have someone who covered for the Tory downloading and kept mum during the last election so no one would divine the crisis ahead.
This person is doing the city no favours, and I believe he should step down. Under council rules, Mel's resignation would automatically trigger a mayoral election. And while it would cost the city money, at least Toronto's citizens would get the election debate they were deprived of during last fall's mayoral coronation. Finally, we would have a clear choice between a candidate supporting public service cuts and user fees, and one dedicated to maintaining a city that serves its people and who's capable of hammering out a new deal with the senior levels of government.
With the country's economic engine in the dumps, reforming the relationship between cities and the senior levels of government would have to be a top priority. It would certainly be hard for the feds and the province to keep stringing us along, which they will do as long as Mel stays.
Jack Layton backs the Committee for Fair City Taxes' recent four-point plan. It proposes no more cuts to city services, changes to provincial Bill 140, a cut to the provincial property-tax rate on commercial properties in Toronto, and redistributing a portion of our tax dollars that currently go to the province and feds back to the city.
He also says there has been talk of convening a mass meeting in Toronto of municipal politicians from across the country during the next couple of weeks "to make really clear what's going on" in terms of the lack of funding from senior levels of government. A most interesting idea.
Both long shots, but there will be no creative solutions proposed as long as Mel's in the mayor's seat. *
Why Mel should spend all his time in Florida:
-- His "new deal" aims at appeasing province, not standing up to it.
-- He's declared war on city workers with plan to freeze their wages.
-- He's proposing further staff cuts.
-- He wants to cut city grants 10 per cent across the board.
-- He wants to hire an "efficiency expert" to look at privatizing public services.
-- He chooses to act alone rather than consulting with his councillors and building a united front.
-- He's so out of touch that he's relying on secret polling to gauge public opinion.
What councillors are saying:
-- "I leave it up to him," says Michael Walker when asked if Mel should resign. "I think he shouldn't run again."
-- Jack Layton is "keeping an open mind on the issue" of Mel stepping down.
-- Olivia Chow says "Our main problem at this point is with the province and the feds. Let's finish this budget cycle. Let's deal with the downloading and when we're finished, then we can look internally."
-- Says Joe Pantalone, "Let's borrow and live to fight another day. In my view, the next fight should be in 2003, when there's a municipal and a provincial election. Let the people decide at that time."