An Open Letter To Councillor Josh Matlow

June 21, 2011

Dear Councillor Matlow,

I am desperately trying to like you. Or, if not like you, to respect and understand your point of view and manner for navigating the very partisan grounds upon which City Hall currently sits. You seem like a nice enough fellow, open-minded, wanting to understand both sides of an issue, a consensus seeker.

Yet, you oftentimes give me cause to pause. Fence-sitter, I find myself thinking regularly. Ass-coverer when I’m feeling less generous. Going whichever way the political winds are blowing.

Most recently it’s been your indulging our budget chief’s moronically empty symbolism of his little red piggy bank that’s put a burr up my ass. Do you really think it brings anything substantive to the city’s budget problems? Councillor Del Grande himself has referred to the situation as a threatening ‘tsunami’. How is a child’s piggy bank going to help us in the face of such an onslaught?

Stop being so humourless, I’m sure you’re saying to me. It’s just a gag, a little joke to lighten the mood. Hell, maybe I’m missing your point altogether. Your constant referencing and social media photo sharing of the cute little plastic porcine is actually a subversive method of mocking the budget chief. If so, apologies and my hat is off to you. I probably would’ve just ignored the stupid pig altogether, and left it to the likes of the Toronto Sun to treat with the significance it doesn’t deserve.

More troublesome to me, however, is your habit of invoking the phrase, the truth lies somewhere in the middle on issues that divide city council largely on its right-left axis. That axiom is only meaningful if both sides are equidistant from the truth you are seeking. Do you actually believe that to be the case in many of the matters that come before you at council? That truth and good governance can always be found by finding some middle ground? It kind of makes you a patsy for those who have little interest in seeking compromise or even honestly debating issues.

By giving serious or legitimate weight to ideas or opinions that don’t necessarily warrant any seriousness or legitimacy, you skew the so-called middle in an unreasonable direction and distance it from the apparent ‘truth’ you are seeking. If one side claims that black is white while the other says, no, in fact, black is black, what colour do you arrive at? Greyish? Surely that can’t be the truth or consensus you’re aiming for.

Thus you find yourself having voted to repeal the vehicle registration tax and make the TTC an essential service (both money losing propositions for the city) and a few short months later, standing up to defend the selling off of TCHC homes out of fiscal necessity. As we have said here many times previously to the likes of Budget Chief Del Grande, you can’t cut sources of revenue and then sorrowfully plead being broke later as a reason to not to live up to your responsibilities. Well I mean, you can. It just looks a little fishy. Disingenuous. Hypocritical, even. Not really the appearance of someone looking to find the truth.

It doesn’t make you a hardcore, intransigent ideologue to hold strong opinions if they are based on well-informed reasoning peppered with facts and data. You’re only a hardcore, intransigent ideologue if your strongly held opinions aren’t based on those things. Giving equal bearing to these two very different approaches lends credence to prevarication and legitimizes what is otherwise pure propaganda. You enable those who are intent on distorting the truth you so desperately seek to find.

After some six months on the job at City Hall, surely you don’t still believe that the city’s fiscal problems are due to spending excesses rather than a lack of revenue, do you? Or are you going to fall back on the notion of it being somewhere between the two? Look at all those chocolates the former TCHC board bought for themselves versus the maw still gaping wide open by the refusal of the province to resume funding their portion of the TTC’s operational budget. You see what I’m getting at here? Those two situations do not carry equal weight. They shouldn’t, at any rate. One represents, perhaps, a culture of entitlement amounting to thousands of dollars while the other displays a complete and utter abrogation of responsibility to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars that has helped render our transit but a sad shadow of its former self.

Spending problem small, revenue problem HUGE. Suggesting that the two have equal significance to our fiscal problems, that the truth lies somewhere in the middle between the two does nothing more than aid and abet those whose main goal is to gut and shrink the size and scope our local government. That isn’t a show of bi-partisanship. It’s encouraging reflexive ideology to run roughshod over reasoned political debate.

Your predecessor as councillor in Ward 22, Michael Walker, was thought of as being a true independent voice at City Hall during his 28 years there. A maverick even, Mr. Walker never seemed to cater to the pressures from those in power, choosing instead to represent ‘the needs and aspirations’ of his constituents. More often than not, this designated him an outsider regardless of the political stripe of the administration that was in charge. “I have actively promoted community organization,” Walker notes, “and input in the development of a fiscally sound and socially progressive city”.

So far, Councillor Matlow, your performance has been one of the courtier rather than a maverick, seeking not to step on the toes of the mayor and his crew on important issues. You’ve led the charge in staking out the middle ground, the so-called mushy middle, ultimately transforming it into the pliable middle more prone to siding with political expediency instead of principle. As the old saying goes, you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. I’ve yet to see exactly what it is you stand for, councillor.

 

Yours truly,

 

Cityslikr


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