His Master’s Voice

January 26, 2015

At a party Saturday night, the conversation inevitably turned to local politics as it tends to do when I find myself at a public gathering. cantshutuupSure, I can be a shout-y bore on the subject but, in my defense, I rarely am the instigator. If somebody’s going to ask me what I think of our new mayor, am I supposed to demur and pretend to admit that I don’t really follow what goes on at City Hall, that I don’t have an opinion?

I’ll spare you all the details, since you’re reading this you’ve probably heard them all before, only to tell you that the conversation’s conclusion ended with a mutual marveling at the fact that Toronto is somehow still functioning. Frequently finding itself near the top of Best Of lists and not some smoldering Rust Belt crater, it is something of a wonder how the city escapes the clutches of oftentimes terrible, terrible governance. It is what it is despite not because of the elected leadership that purports to be looking after the city’s best interests.

That is, for those of us in comfortable enough positions to enjoy the benefits on offer here. If we aren’t spending disproportionate amounts of our income to keep a roof over our heads. If we’re not trapped in a single mode of transport in order to get around. If you’re not dependent on the soft services – the nice-to-haves rather than the need-to-haves — the city provides. If living here isn’t just some daily grind that leaves us looking longingly for any possibility to pack up and move to greener, more livable pastures.livinglarge

Those are the signs of neglectful governance, of course, the loose threads of poverty and inequality concentrated throughout the city. All those shiny skyscrapers are certainly one way (and not an unimportant way) to measure civic well-being but ultimately meaningless while we ignore the homeless deaths and children going to school hungry. A city working exclusively for the Haves is just another gated community.

Reading Royson James’ article yesterday in the Toronto Star, Exploring the murky depths of Toronto’s budget making, it’s painfully clear that neglectful governance has been par for the course for this city for a couple decades now. Not just the startlingly low caliber of local representation we seem content with, almost willfully excited to put into office, no, no. Where the real power resides, at Queen’s Park, Toronto’s had to battle, at times, a deliberate attack on City Hall’s ability to serve as an effective manager of the city’s affairs.

Look at the numbers. $2 billion of the $10 billion or so operating budget goes toward provincial and federal services and programs delivered by the city. hismastersvoiceSome are voluntary while others are legislated. Some get actual funding from the senior levels of governments, some don’t. For the stuff the city either chooses or is mandated to provide that doesn’t come with money from Queen’s Park or Ottawa, the choice is both stark and unpleasant: cuts elsewhere in the budget and/or higher than desired tax and revenue increases.

For most of the amalgamated city’s history, we’ve leant more heavily on scaling back and putting off than actually doling out more in taxes. Our infrastructure suffers as a result. Our transit system can’t keep up with demand. Our social housing stock becomes more and more unlivable.

So here we are again with this $86 million operating gap created by the downloading of a bunch of social services as part of our amalgamation-warming gift from the Mike Harris government that has only been partially undone by the Liberal government that’s been in place since 2003. fightingoverthebillIt’s a depressing case of petty hot potato-kicking the can down the road where no side has been particularly responsible. The province looks to balance its budget and not appear to be too Toronto-centric in the eyes of the rest of Ontario (it’s never obvious which is most important to Queen’s Park), rightfully if greasily pointing to the fact the city is negligent in using its taxing revenue resources more robustly.

It’s all political fun-and-games until the operating budget has to be balanced, and people waiting for a bus or affordable housing and daycare see little improvement in their daily lives. “Hey soldier,” Willard asks, “do you know who’s in command here?” “Ain’t you?”

We’ve arrived at that point in this conversation when I ask if it’s not well past time we start to pose the question, What about a Province of Toronto? Ask people elsewhere in Ontario if they think it’s an idea worth pursuing. If your out-of-town relatives are anything like mine, you’ll probably get a whole lot of Good Riddance and Don’t let the door hit you…

The other common riposte to that line of thinking is a derisive shrug. You want the like of Rob Ford or Mel Lastman to be your premier? That’s a concern, for sure. aintyouOn the other hand, we endured Mike Harris, didn’t we?

Could it be that we get, not so much the municipal government we deserve but more the municipal government we think is appropriate to the responsibilities it has? As we have learned from our recent past, the ultimate authority for the functioning of this city, any city in Ontario, lies with the province. It can do anything it wants and we are pretty much powerless to challenge it. So who cares who the mayor is, our city councillor?

As it stands, most of our municipal decision-making is fraught with almost adolescent angst-filled nihilism. What’s it matter what we do? The province can just come in and scuttle everything. We’re told what we have to do, unsure if there’s any allowance coming to us as part of the deal. While you’re living under my roof… blah, blah, blah.

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As long as we have to answer to a level of government that places this city’s best interests secondary to its own, there can be no satisfactory outcome with this relationship. For 20 years now, Toronto has had to endure the vicissitudes of provincial attitudes toward us, some of it malicious, some of it benign, occasionally beneficial. There’s no way in a scenario rife with such uncertainty that we can possibly plan and build a better future. If the province can’t treat us with respect as their “junior partners” maybe the time has come to demand a more equal footing.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Hallelujah For Somebody

January 23, 2015

“Hallelujah!”

The word of thanks Premier Kathleen Wynne uttered upon hearing John Tory had been elected mayor of Toronto back last October. hallelujahHis win heralded, among other things, a renewal of cordial relations between the city and the province. In fact, Mr. Tory had assured us he was the only one who’d be able to work productively with the other two levels of government. His rolodex and business networking skills and all that.

So this week when city staff delivered their recommended 2015 budget, confidently assuring everyone that gaping $86 million hole created by the provincial government’s unilateral decision to stop paying the long time pooling fund for provincially mandated social services (half of which had been deferred from last year’s city budget), we all assumed Mayor Tory had it covered. He was the one, we were repeatedly told, who’d get everyone to the table to iron out these petty grievances, ramped up largely by the clumsily defiant, confrontational braying of his predecessor’s administration. Hallelujah, right?

Consider that $86 million as good as gone… using a $200 million line of credit at the city’s disposal from the province. Market rate interest charges apply. Hallelujah! dontworryMayor Tory’s on the job.

Wait, what?

A line of credit? With interest?? That’s the result of getting the provincial government to sit down at the table and work things out?

It was only moderately less offensive than the original proposal that had the province offering to buy up land along the Eglinton Crosstown corridor in exchange for the $86 million. Land that was only going to appreciate in value as the LRT got going. An exchange that, by every other measure, would be illegal, owing to the province’s own decree that municipalities cannot sell assets in order to help plug holes in their operating budget.

I mean, holy hell. With friends like these, am I right? Arbitrarily stop making payments that, arguably you should be making because you’ve mandated the city to provide certain services and programs, and when this stopped payment makes it difficult for the city to balance its operating budget which it has to do because of provincial legislation, you offer to help out in return for the city selling off assets to you. takeitorleaveitThere’s a word for that, isn’t there? Not a very flattering one either. A word that rhymes with packet.

It’s difficult to choose the real bad guy in all this. I get the province being stingy with the city as we continue to budget on the cheap, refusing to really explore all our revenue sources except for the user fee route. Property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. Below again this year.

You can’t cry poor but keep your hands in your pockets when it comes time to pay for things and expect other people to make up the difference.

Still, the Liberal government barely could contain their preference for who it wanted to see Toronto elect as its next mayor last fall. Local MPPs and cabinet ministers falling over themselves to be seen endorsing John Tory for the job. They knew what they were getting, at or below the rate of inflation and all.

They continue on, starving the beast and encouraging even more of our tax dollars go to helping build their regional transit system while ignoring their ongoing obligations. Remember when the province used to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget? Remember when the Liberals promised to restore it, I don’t know, a billion dollars or so ago? takeitorleaveit1Got a problem balancing the books, Toronto? Here’s a line of credit for you. Plus interest if you don’t mind. Or… Or… You could sell us some of your sure-to-be valuable property.

There are times when it feels like the provincial government is not really any sort of ally of the municipalities it’s been casually, almost as an after-thought, given oversight of. There’s the obvious examples, Mike Harris and gang, 1995-2003. But have the Liberals done a whole lot more for us in the scheme of things? Now 12 years in, there’s not a lot to show for it. A couple big transit projects underway – underway – state of good repair ballooning every year in our social housing stock and other infrastructure. In asking the quintessential governance question, are we better off as a city than we were 12 years ago?

It could be worse is not an answer. The feds need to start contributing is also a little bit of misdirection. Although true, it deflects from the larger point that cities have been left to sort out the problems largely created by an absence of the other two levels of government. Guilt by disassociation, let’s call it.

Now we have a mayor who’s complicit in the neglect, taking scraps and telling us it’s the best he could do. But wasn’t John Tory going to be different? helpmehelpyouDidn’t he tell us he was the candidate to count on to restore a beneficial and productive working relationship with Queen’s Park and Ottawa?

That’s not what this feels like right now, quite frankly. It feels like we have a mayor who is more concerned with keeping the province happy than he is in fighting for what’s best for the city. Maybe he owes the Liberals for helping to get him elected. That doesn’t mean the rest of us should be paying off his debt.

unpraiseworthily submitted by Cityslikr


There’s Really Nothing Up His Sleeve

January 21, 2015

Yesterday’s 2015 budget launch left me feeling a little discombobulated. That sense you get after watching a magician try and pull the wool over your eyes for a couple hours. magicactFlim-flammed, bamboozled even.

It was different than the budgetary voodoo Rob Ford attempted while he was mayor. Trust me, folks. This won’t hurt a bit. Those aren’t service cuts. We call them ‘adjustments’.

No. Mayor John Tory’s first kick at the can was all about, what did he repeatedly call it? “The largest investment in service improvements in recent history.”

And credit where credit’s due.

Both public transit and Shelter, Support and Housing (or, at least, shelter and support) received nice bumps in spending, the TTC especially so. It will see service restored to 2010 levels. “Stabilizing of transit,” City Manager Joe Pennachetti called it. misdirectionA step forward in order to be running on the spot.

In total, it’s about a $1.8 billion increase in spending from last year’s operating budget, leaving some to call it ‘left-leaning’.

But here’s the thing. It’s not immediately obvious where the money is coming from to pay for that spending. In order to balance the operating side of the budget (which, I’ll remind everyone again, it is provincially mandated for municipalities to balance their operating budgets), the city has to come up with the revenue to the penny. $11.4 billion spent. $11.4 billion must be found in revenue.

This staff recommended budget proposes a below-the-rate-of-inflation property tax increase. So it doesn’t cover the inflation-adjusted cost of the delivering of services and programs. That means, in effect, a reduction in the money available for those services and programs. (Here, let Councillor Gord Perks explain it for you. Or Neville Park. Or Alex Mazer.)

Not to mention Mayor Tory’s directive to departments to find 2% efficiencies and city staff’s demand that department’s also ‘absorb the inflation’. nothingupmysleeveThis, despite the fact, that the city manager, as he was heading for the exit last spring before mayor-elect John Tory convinced him to stay for one more budget cycle a few months later, told us there was no more gravy to be found, no more fat to be trimmed. Apparently, retirement wasn’t the only thing Mr. Pennachetti reconsidered.

It’s a little of the ol’ robbing Peter to pay Paul. You want improved transit and more shelter space? Well somebody’s got to pay for it, and don’t expect it to be property owners. The pie got bigger but the slices became a little more uneven.

While the budget was a little tax-shy, let’s call it, it certainly embraced user fees. There’s an increase of $14 million in unidentified ones in the document right now. Plus, a good chunk of the TTC improvements this year will be covered by the proposed fare increase, one campaign pledge Mayor Tory seemed comfortable breaking.gobbluth

On the other hand, drivers are getting the Gardiner Expressway repaired 8 years earlier than scheduled to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars in the capital budget with nary a word about having to chip in a little more to cover the costs. The roughly $60 million the Vehicle Registration Tax once brought into city coffers multiplied by those 8 years would’ve more than covered those costs. Apparently some users are more preferred than others, even in John Tory’s Toronto.

A couple glaring holes still stand between the city and a truly balanced budget. There’s the $86 million one, created when the province decided to end the practice of pooling payments to Toronto to help pay for many mandated social services. Not to worry, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Rossini, excitedly told us yesterday, a big announcement was coming, talks had been very productive with the province about settling that amount. Everything’s under control.

Turns out, the big announcement seems to be a $200 million line of credit extended to the city from Queen’s Park, including market rate interest charges. swordboxOr what some of us might consider a deferred tax increase or user fee. Line up that can so we can kick it down the road a bit.

The other shoe dangling there, waiting to drop is the police budget. While the staff recommending a flatlining of it — I know, I know. That kind of thing always happens. And by always, I mean almost never – the city and the Toronto Police Services are currently negotiating a new collective agreement which almost always results in pay increases for the police. Budget Chair Gary Crawford assures us that money has been set aside for that contingency. How much? He won’t say. (Why would he as it might tip the city’s hand in terms of the ongoing negotiations.)

But as Ben Spurr pointed out in NOW, over the past 10 years, the police budget has gone up some $241 million. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect at least a $20-$30 million bump this year. But again, don’t worry. Everything’s under control. Even after the $86 million, there’s still over $100 million on that line of credit from the province.

Look. It’s not a terrible, terrible budget. Even Councillor Gord Perks says so. rockyandbullwinkleThere is a big investment in vital needs of the city. But Mayor Tory is still trying to pretend these things can happen magically, without having to say the word ‘taxes’ above a whisper. He’s putting a glossy patina on the Rob Ford maxim of governance. Sure you can have things. And we can get somebody else to pay for them.

It’s fundamentally dishonest and only serves to put off the inevitable, leaving the mess for somebody else to clean up.

unmesmerizedly submitted by Cityslikr


A Tory Budget

January 20, 2015

Today kicks-off the official launch of the city’s Budget 2015 process. Day 1 of nearly 40 days of numbers, haggling, debate, deputations, bluster, compromise and, finally, a dead reckoning. kickoffCampaign bullshit walks. Tough decisions talk.

While Mayor Tory and his budget team may be attempting to give him a little working distance with their talk of a ‘staff-generated budget’, what we’ll be hearing this morning will be simply staff recommendations. During the next 6 weeks or so, the mayor and council will be making the ultimate call on what gets paid for and how. When they’re through, make no mistake, it will be Mayor Tory’s budget.

What I’ll be watching for is how the mayor navigates the treacherous waters of fulfilling his campaign promises while coping with the reality of the numbers presented to him. He’s already taken one on the chin yesterday, announcing a TTC fare hike to help pay for serious and much needed service enhancements. On the campaign trail last year, Tory ill-advisedly vowed (along with his two main opponents, it should be added) to freeze TTC fares. Ooops!

The mayor fell back on the old trope of not realizing how bad things were when he made that promise. whoopsAfter all, he was just a radio talk show host commenting on municipal affairs as well the CEO of an organization that made transit and the fight against congestion a priority. How was to possibly know the sorry state of transit in the city?

Look. I’ll cut Mayor Tory some slack and even give him some very reluctant credit for accepting the inevitable and pushing ahead with the transit improvements. Should it come largely on the backs of TTC users? That’s going to be part of the budget debate but it should be pointed out (it has been pointed out) that regular riders on the system, those using a Metropass, will have paid over $500 more by the end of 2015 than they did in 2011 in return for 2010 levels of service. The better way indeed.

Still, the mayor seems unprepared to apply the same logic – improved service means more money — to the overall operating budget as he has to the TTC. At the press conference announcing the TTC news, he remained adamant that any property tax increase would remain at or below the rate of inflation. Without new sources of revenue (and the fare increase does not appear to be enough to cover the service bump), that campaign promise can only result in service reductions elsewhere. addingupIt certainly won’t lead to any type of expansion of services or programs. The numbers don’t add up.

If this is truly a Joe Pennachetti budget, as the Star’s Daniel Dale suggested, new revenue would be flowing into city coffers. For a couple years now, the city manager has been telling anyone and everyone who’s been listening that as it is, Toronto’s future fiscal health is unsustainable if we continue to ignore the need for new revenues. The mayor’s going to keep any property tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation? Barring new money from the other levels of government, expect more user fees and the like or just start expecting less from the city.

Taking the most generous assessment of inflation, 2.7% for the city of Toronto, add an additional .5% for the Scarborough subway, the 2015 property tax increase has to come in at 3.2%. Anything less, anything, will mean cuts somewhere in services and programs. chainofofficeEven at just 3.2%, without other revenue sources, reductions will have to happen in order to pay for the increased spending like on the TTC Mayor Tory has already committed to.

Today’s budget recommendations mark the end of the 2014 municipal campaign. The time for hedging and hair-splitting has ended. The mayor will try his best to convince us that his hands are tied, that he’s just responding to situation not of his making. While there’s a grain of truth to that, come the middle of March, the city budget will be his to wear like the chain of office he also inherited.

watchfully submitted by Cityslikr


Our Man Godfrey

January 19, 2015

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In his book, The Tiny Perfect Mayor, Jon Caulfield wrote about the ongoing battle over the Spadina expressway and the alignment of the proposed western arm expansion of the Yonge-University subway line which planners and other transit advocates wanted to see run under Bathurst Street.

The pro-expressway forces, who had still not given up the ghost, recognized a fatal threat. So long as the Spadina right-of-way was preserved, the expressway plan might be revived – perhaps by [Premier William] Davis if he had a change of heart, perhaps by a new provincial government (some Queen’s Park Liberals had made pro-expressway noises). A Bathurst route would hammer the final nail in Spadina’s coffin. And so on the same day in August 1972 that it proposed paving four lanes along the old Spadina roadbed, Metro Council rejected its transportation planners’ advice and ignored the pleas for reason of the two affected boroughs, the City and York. Rallied by North York Controller Paul Godfrey, leader of the pro-expressway forces and soon to be Metro Chairman, it opted for a Spadina transit alignment. Afterward, Godfrey expressed satisfaction that Metro had “left its expressway options open.”

From the January 15, 2014 podcast of NewsTalk 1010’s Live Drive with Ryan Doyle and special guest co-host, Postmedia/Sun Media Mr. Thing, Paul Godfrey:

The issues [facing the city] haven’t really changed. In some ways, they’ve magnified. Transit was always a problem. During my era [1964-84], we were building some roads but during my era they stopped building roads. The major moving point they did was stop building the Spadina Expressway. And I think because of that, and because other major roadways that were cut short or not built whatsoever. Everybody says, well, we’re going to do it by transit but the problem was that they didn’t do it by transit. So right now we have gridlock city.

Mr. Godfrey goes on to assure us that, not to fear, Toronto is ‘blessed’ to have John Tory as mayor who is dedicated to relieving congestion in this city. highwaysBut it won’t happen overnight. The problem was created over 20 years, Godfrey curiously suggests, a decade after he left the political scene, conveniently washing his hands of any responsibility.

I would suggest, however, Toronto finds itself where it is today precisely because of people like Paul Godfrey. Last fall’s Globe and Mail article on the man from Christine Dobby presents a picture of someone dedicated to building a personal empire not city building. Remember, he was a municipal politician for 20 years. What does he (or Toronto) have to show for his two decades of public service?

The Rogers Centre, nee the Skydome. A terrible ballpark, perfectly located, that cost various levels of government hundreds of millions of dollars to build and purchased for a sliver of the cost years later by the private company who owned the ball club Godfrey was then president and CEO of. Nothing represents the Paul Godfrey legacy better than that, I wouldn’t think. Public money providing private profit.davidblaine

His last public sector gig (at least for now) was as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Chair where Godfrey championed the idea of an “iconic” downtown casino. Nothing screams quality public space quite like an inwardly directed, profit-driven edifice dedicated to taking money from people in exchange for… well, not much really. Hey everybody! Look! It’s David Blaine!!

Paul Godfrey admits that he left politics because there wasn’t enough money in it. That’s fine, understandable even. Everybody’s got to eat, or put their kids through private school. Besides, as anyone will tell you, real power happens in the backrooms. That’s where Godfrey has made his real mark on this city. Way back in 2003, John Sewell – perhaps sporting his own bone to pick — claimed Godfrey was the one who floated the megacity idea in front of then-premier, Mike Harris. As Andrew Spicer wrote back then, “Some people just seem to find their way into everything in this city.”

I’d argue that Toronto is something less than it could be because of Godfrey finding his way into everything in this city. He reflects an antiquated, highly privileged view of what makes a city work. I hope his glowing approval of Mayor Tory isn’t reciprocal because, if it is, if the mayor looks to the likes of Paul Godfrey for advice on how to turn things around in terms of transit or housing, it would be akin to asking the chef who’d just burnt the main course, how to save the dinner party with dessert.

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Only by becoming a Paul Godfrey-free zone can Toronto start cleaning up the mess he helped create.

– hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club IV

January 17, 2015

Entering this world at the very, very tail end of the baby boom, I’ve constantly felt that I just missed out on something special. whatdidimissThe party ended moments before I got there, pot still stinking up the room, a little cold beer remained at the bottom of the keg. Embers glowing in the campfire outside.

Subsequent generations, the Ys and the Millenials, well, it might as well have been Mount Vesuvius. Ancient history, told by their smug and self-satisfied elders. Man, you just had to be there. Yeah, yeah. Thanks, gramps.

I was this close. So my life is haunted by The Wave passage in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run…but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket …booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change)…but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that…

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda…You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…

And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

What was it like to be to be part of a moment that seemed like everything could change, could change for the better? To be in the grips of a truly revolutionary era. To believe whole-heartedly in “…a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…”? Instead of this slow playing out of counter-insurgency, fearandloathingthe golden age of reactionism, a half-century roll back?

Why did the ‘high and beautiful wave’ of upheaval break and how come it did before I could get me some of it?

I think the only way to answer that is to settle the still lively debate over who was better, the Beatles or the Stones?

(Wow. That was a long set-up for something of a limp punchline.)

Yes, John McMillian’s Beatles vs. Stones was my holiday, kick back and don’t think much read. And I will tell you that while I was reading it, the unfulfilled promise of the 60s did feature prominently in my thinking. These two bands probably best reflected the mainstream zeitgeist of the era. What was interesting is that both of their images they projected were largely manufactured. beatlesvsstonesThe Beatles were the scrappy, working class bunch the Rolling Stones would morph themselves into. While certainly not the squeaky clean lads the Beatles portrayed, most of the original Stones, save perhaps Keith Richards, were largely middle-class.

That’s not to say the music was inauthentic or any less vital. It’s just got me to thinking about the bigger picture.

None of the original members of either band was, by the strictest definition, a baby boomer. Most were all wartime babies, born to parents of the great depression. In England, they grew up during a time of severe rationing.

These were part of a demographic who knew only a sense of the collective, pulling together to defeat the Nazis, to sustain themselves through the depravation of the pre-war depression and post-war rationing. It would be logical to imagine this kind of perspective to continue through their coming of age in the 60s. Together, we can change the world!

Certainly, when it was advantageous to their careers, both bands embraced the youthful call for change. That was the Stones’ trademark, their schtick. “Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution.”

But it’s hardly surprising that that’s what most of it was, schtick, a pose. beatlesvsstones2Ultimately, these guys were all about money and fame, fame because it meant more money. And that’s the other side of it. We were looking to people to lead the charge who were really in it for themselves. Finally, prosperity, crazy, crazy prosperity, was within their reach after a lifetime, generations of doing without. Their time was now.

The Beatles and Stones provided the soundtrack to rebellion. They weren’t going to risk being on the losing side if it all went to shit.

By 1968, John Lennon sang about changing minds and heads not constitutions and institutions. The Me Generation of the 70s had begun. Revolution was left to the crackpots.revolver

Martin Luther King dead. Bobby Kennedy dead. Vietnam kicking into gear. Richard Nixon back from the political grave. With the right kind of eyes, you saw the wave break.

And me, puberty still a few years off. Oh come on! You have to be kidding me.

How did we get here?

No, I mean here, on this particular train of thought. The mind does wander so when you get to a certain age.

Oh right.

Beatles vs. Stones is a pleasant enough read, probably revealing nothing new on the topic. It’s one of those books that you wind up feeling was either too long or too short. I could’ve done without a lot of the gossipy aspects of it or put up with it in a more substantial recounting. The sidelining, firing and death of Brian Jones is a defining story of the Stones and it almost gets lost in McMillian’s telling. thebeatlesalbumYou could see it coming, building and then, it’s just happened. Sort of like the book.

As for my preference, the Beatles or the Stones?

Well frankly, the Beatles were finished before I turned 10, the Rolling Stones’ best work done just after that. By the time I hit my musical stride, they both represented my dad’s music. (Actually, not my dad’s music. He discovered the joys of Lennon-McCartney by listening to Percy Faith’s The Beatles Album. But that’s another story.) We didn’t need the Rolling Stones. We had Aerosmith!

Decades later, I conducted my own retrospective and found myself to be more of a Stones guy. I appreciate the Beatles, understand they were the real trailblazers in many aspects of the industry. Without them, I think it’s safe to say, there would be no Rolling Stones. In McMillian’s telling of it, disturbingly so. I own Rubber Soul, Revolver and the White Album but rarely listen to them.exileonmainstreet

The Stones’ 4 album run from 1968-72, Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street, is perhaps the greatest successive output of pop music ever. The only rival I can think of off the top of my head is The Clash, eponymous debut to Sandinista. Forget the old guys still out on tour, waxing Jumpin’ Jack Flash nostalgic. Sympathy for the Devil through to Soul Survivor, 47 songs that, to me, stand for an era in all its glory and ultimate disappointment.

A glory I missed out on. The disappointment continues to resonate.

still bitterly submitted by Cityslikr


Less Is Not Always More

January 15, 2015

In today’s ‘how not to city council and still hold public office for over a decade’ news, I give you Ward 6 Lakeshore-Etobicoke councillor, Mark Grimes, first elected in 2003.

What am I looking at, you ask. Basically, Councillor Grimes putting forth a ‘technical amendment’ that states the builder of a condo development in the councillor’s ward will pony up $150,000 in Section 37 money to the community via the councillor. Section 37 money? A negotiated amount a developer agrees to pay in return for variances to their development. Variances? Essentially, aspects (usually increases) of the building that are not in accordance with city by-laws.  More stories, higher density. Bacceptlessuilding by-law indulgences, let’s call them, in which money is offered up to compensate for any negative consequences the variances might have on nearby communities.

In a nutshell.

So, on the surface, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what Councillor Grimes is doing in the above video. Except for the fact, as the CBC report points out, what the ‘technical amendment’ the councillor successfully pushed through did was reduce the amount of Section 37 money the developer would pay from $250,000 to $150,000. No, it didn’t, the councillor told the CBC in an email response. “There was never an agreement reached with the applicant for $250,000 in Section 37 cash contribution,” the councillor wrote. “I recommended the $250,000 to try and negotiate the maximum benefit for the community.”

Again, except the CBC flags a final staff report sent to the Etobicoke York Community Council a month before the councillor’s city council ‘technical amendment’ that states, right there in black and white (page 11), expectless“It had been agreed by the owner that they will provide a cash contribution in the amount of $250,000 for local parks improvements as their Section 37 contribution.”

In essence, the local councillor (Mark Grimes in this case) has it in writing in a city staff report that the owner of a proposed development has agreed to pay $250,000 in Section 37 money but a month later introduces a ‘technical amendment’ reducing that contribution by $100,000.

Who does that?!

Let’s avoid going to the darkest corner of possibilities here. The potential shadiness of Section 37 transactions are always bubbling near the surface.  “A shakedown”, then-mayor Rob Ford once called Section 37 money.  While wildly off the mark (as Rob Ford tends to be about almost everything to do with governance), it’s difficult to fully justify the practice.followthebouncingball

Follow the bouncing ball. Developer wants to build something not allowed by current city planning by-laws. If the city doesn’t agree, the prospect of an OMB appeal going against it, granting the developer free rein, always hangs over the proceedings. So negotiations begin to arrive at some solution that makes nobody entirely happy but is something most can live with. Part of the deal making involves money, a payment to, as I wrote earlier, compensate for any negative consequences of the development might inflict on the community. Assuaging bitter feelings.

A far from perfect way of doing business, obviously, with plenty of open space for behind closed door unsavoriness. Moreover, it’s probably the least efficient or productive way to maximize the community benefits from such projects. Section 37 never provides enough money to ultimately offset the infrastructure stress these kinds of developments impose on communities like public transit. Instead, the city has to be content with building parks and green space, occasionally a library.spikeandchester

But it’s something. An unsatisfying solution to a highly problematic dynamic in terms of city building. The best councillors make the best of a bad situation. If there’s been any genuine claim of any sort of impropriety from a Toronto city councillor in terms of misusing Section 37, I don’t know of one. There’s no reason to think anything different with Councillor Grimes and this case of the disappearing $100,000.

The only conclusion I can arrive at, however, is hardly more heartening. “Councillor Grimes purpose at City Hall,” Luca De Franco tweeted in reaction to the CBC story, “as he sees it — aiding developers, even against the interests of Ward 6 residents.” That’s not corruption. It’s just willful disregard of the people who voted for you.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


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