The Grind

November 30, 2011

If you actually want to see how your mayor and councillors earn their keep, you really need to tune into the council meeting where they debate and vote on the rate supported budgets for water and wastewater and solid waste. Yeah, I know. You’ve already tuned out. It is a grind. Not just for those watching but for everyone involved.

The thing is, it’s ultimately where a city lives and breathes. How much we pay for the water coming into our homes and the water and waste that leaves them. It ain’t pretty. It isn’t where political careers are made or flounder. Without it, however, little else matters. There’s no glory here. It’s the nuts and bolts of municipal governance.

How much do you think you should pay to have water to drink, to shower, clean your clothes and dirty dishes, to rid your house of bodily effluents and have your garbage hauled away weekly? A buck? Twenty? Fifty? Take a minute. Do the math. What do you pay to have cable TV and internet access?

We elect our local representatives on grand sounding platforms, respect for the taxpayers and such, but this is what it comes down to. The muck and goo of everyday basics. Nobody can emerge from that seeming majestic or noble. It’s dirty work but somebody’s got to do it.

Yes, ideology sometimes enters into it. This time around was no different. Too much time was spent debating the number of environmental days or if certain businesses should be allowed to ignore particular sewage bylaws. Unless we become more perfect beings, that is unavoidable.

Still, right and left, centre and fringe, had to wade through the minutiae and ingloriousness of how much we pay to flush our toilets and to have our garbage picked up and disposed of. We all should take a moment and give a tip of the hat to those we spend much of our time disparaging and denigrating. It’s a thankless task and, having spent nearly 8 hours watching it all unfold, not one you could pay me enough money to undertake.

impressedly submitted by Cityslikr


OK. So I Lied. I Mean, Misspoke.

November 29, 2011

“No posts this week. Guaranteed.”

Remember when we said that? Me neither. But just in case anybody out there misunderstood what we may or may not have written, what we said or meant to say was that there might not be (m)any posts here this week. Technically, that’s true. But today there is a post of ours over at the Torontoist. It’s really, really good. You should totally check it out.

Otherwise, just pretend we weren’t even here today. Like we said (or didn’t say), we may or may not be making daily appearances. You’ll just have to keep checking back to see.

As you were.

invisibly submitted by Cityslikr


Busy Times. Little Time To Post.

November 28, 2011

With a budget committee meeting today and council meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, there won’t be very much work getting done around here this week aside from some heavy Twitter output. Given the gathering storm clouds of proposed slashing and burning, I also thought it might be advisable to take some time, buckle down and put the finishing touches on Project 23 so that we can start putting pressure on our council members to do the right thing for the welfare of this city.

So it may seem quiet here for the next week or so but don’t be fooled by appearances. There will be much going on behind the scenes as we gear up for what’s going to be an ugly, ugly budget battle.

Do not despair. We have right on our side.

absently submitted by Cityslikr


TTC Skiddalin’

November 27, 2011

So, in light of the growing pushback at the announced TTC service cuts scheduled for January, it seems Team Ford is angling to redefine what is meant by the word ‘cut’. For good reason too since the mayor made that promise way back when about guaranteeing no service cuts while reigning in spending. Oops. Best now to try and massage the concept of what is and isn’t a cut.

In a Facebook update yesterday, the mayor (or someone in his office) wrote:  Recently in the news there has been some discussion about the TTC – let me assure you, no TTC routes are being cut.  The TTC is implementing service level modifications which will have minimal impact on your bus schedules.  Some service will be added to routes in January.

It’s true. No TTC routes are being cut. Instead transit riders are facing ‘service level modifications’ which, in terms of schedule minutes and seconds, do indeed seem ‘minimal.’ On paper. But reading Steve Munro over at the Torontoist on Friday, in real life this will quickly add up. “Who could object to waiting a mere 30 seconds more for their bus?” Munro writes. “On 54 Lawrence East, the morning rush service will change from every three minutes to every three and a half minutes. How dare riders complain about so small a change? But what this actually means for a busy, already overcrowded route is that instead of 20 buses per hour, riders will get only 17. Three busloads of passengers will have to cram into what’s left on the street.” Add to this, increased times to load and unload passengers and the concept of ‘minimal impact’ is certifiably laughable.

No matter how much the mayor and his people try to spin it, his 10% proposed budget cut to all… err, some departments will most definitely translate into cuts in service. Even the proclaimed added service on some TTC routes will be awash in a sea of reduction. Cuts. Decreases. Declines. That is not what swept Rob Ford to power.

What’s more unbelievable is just how arbitrary it all is. This call for a 10% departmental budget decrease (selectively applied by the mayor’s whims and fancies) is entirely made up with no facts or figures to back up the reasoning. TTC ridership is expected to top 500 million rides next year, a record. And it’s met with a decrease in service? It makes no sense and points to nothing short of gross mismanagement on the mayor’s part and those councillors doing his bidding on the TTC board.

And once again, it’s a decision made by fiat. Mayor Ford declares it. His TTC chair, Karen Stintz, backs it. The TTC implements it. All without any debate or vote at council. A fait accompli. A done deal. Print it. That’s a wrap.

Guess what, folks. It isn’t over. Council can reverse this. It doesn’t have to accept a 10% budget decrease. It doesn’t have to go along with any budget decrease. Mayor Ford and the TTC have put the cart before the horse in the hopes of making everyone believe it’s inevitable. It isn’t.

In an article on Friday, the Toronto Star’s Royson James said that “TTC users need a crusader to battle these cuts’. That sure would help but time is of the essence. Actually, TTC users can conduct the crusade against the cuts themselves. Call, write their councillors, let them know this will not stand. Here’s a list of the Team Ford members on the TTC board who should hear from you first: 

Karen Stintz, TTC chair, Ward 16.

Peter Milczyn, TTC vice-chair, Ward 5.

Vincent Crisanti, Ward 1.

Frank Di Giorgio, Ward 12.

Norm Kelly, Ward 40.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, Ward 34.

Cesar Palacio, Ward 17.

John Parker, Ward 26.

Mayor Ford is using his bully pulpit to ram through these TTC cuts in service (and that’s exactly what they are) as if he needs no input from his city council. That’s only true if half of those on council allow themselves to be steamrolled in that familiar fashion. Use your voice and weight to let them know it would be advisable for them not to cave in to the mayor’s hubris again.

imploringly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Menace

November 25, 2011

There was a time back last fall, either right before the municipal election when the possibility of Rob Ford becoming our mayor solidified into reality or just after the fact when he indeed did just that, a collective exhalation of breath among those who hadn’t voted for him could be heard. Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe the office of the mayor will soften him, draw out his inner statesman. Surely there won’t be 22 councillors willing to risk their political future pandering and aiding his worst instincts.

Well, mark your calendars, folks. November 24th, 2011. If it wasn’t obvious to everyone before then, it has become crystal clear now. Mayor Rob Ford is as bad as our worst fears. He is truly a destructive force, laying waste to Toronto either because he doesn’t understand what makes a 21st-century big city work or he just doesn’t give a fuck. At this point, it doesn’t matter the reason. He has simply become Mayor Menace.

How else to explain yesterday’s announced cuts to 56 TTC routes? And yes, they were cuts. Call them ‘efficiencies’, reductions or whatever euphemism you need to rationalize your continued support for the mayor’s War on the City… actually, it’s more than that…War on Modernity, the simple fact of the matter is, once more, Mayor Ford has broken his campaign promise of ‘No cuts to services. Guaranteed.

You want to shrug it off with a ‘m’eh, all politicians do it’ or ‘we all knew he couldn’t keep that promise and anyone who did was just playing dumb’ and any other intellectually lazy and morally bankrupt games you want to play, ask yourself this. If then candidate for mayor Rob Ford had said out loud that he would be instituting a 10% reduction to the TTC budget and possibly raising fares if elected, would he be mayor right now? I hate hypothesizing but given his precipitous drop in favourable poll numbers even before this frontal assault on public transit, can you honestly respond ‘yes’ to that question? Yeah well, who’s playing dumb now?

Even by the mayor’s own bird-brained rubric of government being run like a business, this move makes zero sense. What business, seeing demand for their services at an all time high, would cut back on those services? Charge higher prices, maybe, but cut back? Only if you’re looking to put your business out of business.

Of course, for a city of 2.5 million people or so, in 2011 public transit should not be regarded as some sort of for-profit enterprise. Mayor Ford spearheaded the drive to have the TTC declared an essential service earlier this year but is treating it as anything but. In an already congested city, diminishing TTC service will inevitably put more cars on the road, only making a bad situation worse, socially and economically.

It comes as no surprise that this idea is lost on the mayor and a handful of his more ardent, antediluvian council supporters. But what’s up with TTC chair Karen Stintz? If she has any thoughts about running for higher office, how is overseeing rollbacks in TTC service going to help her cause? “Hi. I’m Karen Stintz. I’m running for mayor. You might remember me as the TTC chair who helped kneecap public transit in Toronto. Can I count on your support?”

Aside from Councillor Maria Augimeri, none of the other councillors sitting on the TTC board have spoken out against the cuts as far as I know. Perhaps we should ask them to clarify their positions.

Peter Milczyn, TTC vice-chair, Ward 5.

Vincent Crisanti, Ward 1.

Frank Di Giorgio, Ward 12.

Norm Kelly, Ward 40.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, Ward 34.

Cesar Palacio, Ward 17.

John Parker, Ward 26.

When tossing around blame for these TTC cuts, it would be unfair not to mention the role of our provincial legislature in all of this. After 8 years in office, the Dalton McGuinty government has not made good on its promise to re-assume its obligation to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating budget. It never seemed like the right time, as they continued to deflect criticism by (rightly) pointing out big investment in other parts of transit, both in Toronto and the wider region. But it stood back and allowed the public transit system in its largest city to severely struggle and indulged the mayor in his phantasmagorical scheme to kill Transit City and try to build an ill-thought out subway in its place. Now hunkered down in austerity mode, there appears to be little help coming from our provincial overlords. So here’s a couple other names you might want to have a chat with.

Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Bob Chiarelli, Minster of Transport

Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Municipal Affairs.

Courtesy of Laurence Lui

But the ultimate responsibility falls on Mayor Ford and the council that continues to allow him to rampage over this city. We can sit and talk ourselves blue about partisanship, petty grievances, the urban-suburban divide and tit-fot-tat politics. These cuts to the TTC, however, should transcend all that. This is a serious setback to public transit in this city. Combined with all the other measures the mayor and council has pursued like tearing up bike lanes, burying the Eglinton LRT, they are making a grave situation much, much worse. A situation that’s not only going to affect citizens dependant on the TTC. Roads will fill up. Everyone’s commute times will increase. Toronto’s competitiveness will continue to come under threat from other jurisdictions that place a higher premium on public transit and liveability.

Cutting and slashing your way to prosperity is an illusion like all of the mayor’s other views on governance. We knew it last year but too many of us closed our eyes, crossed our fingers and hoped it wasn’t true. Time to wake up to the reality, admit our mistake and go about defending Toronto from anymore of Mayor Ford’s deluded impulses.

exhortingly submitted by Cityslikr


There’s A Better (Ballots) Way

November 24, 2011

I am not prone to giddy bursts of optimism. Like most of us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, my predilection tends more in the other direction. Bouts of downward fear and loathing that intersect dangerously often with paranoia. The office windows are almost always open to air out the toxic atmosphere.

But put me in a room full of enthusiastic voting reformers and I am over the moon, Up With People, Schweppes bubbly effervescent, that veritable ant that could move the rubber tree plant. So it was last night at the Oakham House on the Ryerson University campus for a Better Ballots get together, Thinking Ahead to 2014: Taking A Critical Look at Local Elections. Colour me activist. I’m thinking, teal-ish?

In short, this: Local Choice.

I am a firm believer that the desultory relationship we have with our politics and politicians boils down to one key element. It’s how we vote (or don’t for far too many of us) and elect our representatives. At the federal and provincial levels, the whopping majority of us don’t wind up voting for the ultimate winners. Right now in Ottawa, the party which less than 4 in 10 voters voted for now controls more than 50% of the seats in parliament. Each and every day they enact, pronounce and dictate in matters that a solid majority of Canadians don’t agree with.

That’s not a partisan statement. Here in Ontario, there hasn’t been a provincial government in power that more than 50% of voters cast their ballots for in nearly 75 years! How can that not sour our relationship with those who govern us? Don’t look at me. I didn’t vote for the guy. Yes, I said ‘guy’. Why? Because in our first past the post system, the status quo is usually maintained. Thus, the continued preponderance of doughy white guys in the corridors of power.

The list is long of ideas to reinvigorate our political process. In townhall gatherings last year, the Better Ballots folks winnowed down suggestions to 14 (pages 18 and 19), ranging from moving election days to weekends, introducing phone and internet voting, municipal parties and term limits. At last night’s session, the emphasis was on 4 areas: ballot or voting structure, extending voting rights to permanent residents, lowering the voting age to 16 and campaign financing.

My particular bailiwick happens to be how we vote. Over the next little while, I’ll be regularly writing on the subject of various voting systems, trying to figure out which one would fit best at our municipal level. The overarching theme will be that the first past the post system has got to go.

Based on the strength of last night’s presentations, lowering the voting age is also very intriguing. William Molls at Voteto16.ca made a highly entertaining and persuasive case. As did Leonardo Zúñiga of iVote Toronto in talking about extending voting rights to permanent residents. Both ideas couldn’t but help to reinvigorate the political process. The more people don’t have the right vote, the less politicians will feel the need to reach out to them and the less reason these people will be have to actively participate.

Bob MacDermid had the rather unfortunate task of pointing out our continued problems with campaign financing that inevitably favours those with money and those with influential friends with money. Vote Toronto does yeomen’s duty trying to keep on top of this byzantine business but it is a multi-headed monster that constantly shifts and morphs, always to the advantage of those with deep pockets. It seems that vested interests just don’t think that there should be a level playing field in our elections.

Which also explains why it is so hard to change what is so obviously broken. The status quo is a stubborn beast, made even more stolid by those who’ve expertly learned how to work the ref in the game. Any sort of change threatens the standard operating procedure. It is fought tooth and nail.

That’s why more of us have to get involved. Some of these proposals Toronto can enact on its own but others need a provincial go-ahead to happen. That’s two levels of politicians who have won under the current system, so may not be overly enthusiastic to altering something they’ve already mastered. (Hat tip should go out to councillors Shelley Carroll, Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam for coming out to the event and showing their support.) Much pressure must be brought to bear to get this conversation going and put the wind in change’s sails.

It is change that is tantalizingly close and many of these ideas are easily implemented if a critical mass can be achieved. Grab an issue that catches your fancy. Talk to those already involved, see what you can do to chip in and help. If you’re like a majority of Canadians and Torontonians and don’t like the way the game of politics is played, demand change. If we change how we elect our politicians, we may start changing who we elect, and if we change who we elect, there’s every reason to expect we’ll change how politics is played. For the better.

activistly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


What Now?

November 23, 2011

I’d asked him the question at least 5 minutes earlier with still no answer.

His beard had become excessively long, past Tolstoy length, approaching Gandalfian. Curiously, he had shaped his moustache into a handlebar transformation, both ends of which he was twirling currently as he sat, gazing out the window. “It’s a Movember thing,” he’d told me when I’d asked.

Which hadn’t been my question he was now ignoring. So I repeated it.

“So what now?”

Our resident protest expert, Acaphlegmic had initially been excited about the Occupy movement but had steadily become not disenchanted, just bewildered. Now that they were being moved from their spot in St. James park, the inevitable question was being asked. Repeatedly.

“Did you hear me?”

Acaphlegmic stopped fiddling with the ends of his moustache and clasped his hands together as if in prayer, turning from the window in my direction but without looking at me. He leaned in, still not saying anything. I followed suit, leaning toward him across my desk, hoping that this might help kick start the conversation. It did. Eventually.

“Who knows?” came the answer. Hardly worth the wait. I sat back in my chair in a huff, sighing exasperatedly. It was an all too common response for my liking.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The situation is fluid. So I keep hearing.”

“The thing is, Damien,” Acaphlegmic continued, as usual getting my name wrong, “back in my day, it was easy to answer that question. The demands were concrete. Equal rights. Stop the war. Disco sucks! Now… now… How do you encapsulate into slogan form, ‘We’ve Gone Down The Wrong Path For The Last 30 Years?’ Wegodo..th..”

“How about this,” I interrupted, Acaphlegmic’s attempt at acronymizing always led down long, winding roads that could take hours to cover. “Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy. It’s catchy and points us in a direction.”

It was also, apparently, completely new to my colleague who took some time letting it sink in before nodding his head and leaning back in his chair.

“That’s good,” he said. “You come up with that yourself?”

Hardly. It had been making the rounds for a couple weeks now down in the States but had struck me as something much more universal than Occupy Wall Street or Occupy the Banks. Not as easily and smugly shrugged off as those two had been here with the somewhat specious claim that Canadian banks had been good as gold during the black fall of 2008. Austerity measures were looming under the pretence that somehow government spending had gotten us into this mess in the first place rather than the result of backstopping a global recessionary economy brought on by a criminally reckless private financial sector.

“The McGuinty government has made its intentions known with the Throne Speech yesterday,” I told Acaphlegmic who now had his head tilted back into his hands and staring up at the ceiling. “Aside from health and education, it’s going to be belt tightening all round. Infrastructure needs? Up yours. Transit systems? Ha, ha. Ha, fucking ha. Growth is anaemic, job losses are mounting and this government’s response is to crawl into a hole and hope it doesn’t get too ugly? So yeah. Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

Acaphlegmic remained silently staring up at the ceiling. It was quite possible he’d fallen asleep. I leaned forward across the desk and tugged at the end of his beard. Nothing. Already on my feet, I circled around behind him and looked down into his face. His eyes were open. We stared at each other.

“Our already obscenely low corporate tax rates are still on target to go even lower,” I pointed out to him. “And what’s their response? The Chrysler CEO wants wage concessions from their Canadian workers. So government revenues drop doubly. How the fuck is that supposed to bring us out of recession?”

We continue to stare at one another. I’m not sure why exactly. Although a handle bar moustachioed, long bearded face at a 180-degree angle is very, very intriguing.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

I went back to my chair, wondering what to do next. Me and almost everyone else, I guess. What we shouldn’t be doing is making a stand now in a park that had little bearing on the real battle at hand. I’d listened this morning (17’26” mark) to an occupier chained up in the camp’s library stress how important it was to defend it. Hopefully he’d also attended Toronto Public Library board meetings where deputant after deputant stepped forward to speak out in defence of the other free libraries in town under threat of closure and hours reduction.

That’s not to diminish what Occupy Toronto set out to do. Establishing dialogue is good, injecting the standard narrative with dissenting views is necessary. But now it’s time to bring the fight inside to where decisions are pending that will adversely affect those whose cause you’ve taken up. Dwight Duncan, the provincial finance minister, is talking about 33% reductions to some ministries. Occupy Dwight Duncan’s office. Next week the city’s budget committee and then full council meet to begin debate on what is being proposed as a slash and burn budget. A falsely hyped and manufactured funding short fall deliberately made worse by ill-thought out revenue cuts in order to gut of services that were promised to be untouched. Occupy the budget committee on Monday. Occupy City Council on Tuesday and Wednesday. Occupy councillors’ offices.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” Acaphlegmic responded.

**sigh**

It seemed that maybe the fight had gone out of this old, one time rabble-rouser. The torch had been passed. I got up to see if I could make his nap a little more comfortable. Looking down into his face, I noticed his eyes remained open and he was smiling. I waved him off but he didn’t flinch. Putting my hand closer to his face, I waved more vigorously.

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Sleeping with his eyes open and a smile on his face, I took this as a good sign. Maybe we were on the right track.

as it happenedly submitted by Cityslikr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 295 other followers