Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


One Step Forward…

April 15, 2014

Listening to veteran transportation planner Ed Levy on Metro Morning today talk about the province’s latest foray sighinto the choppy political waters of transit building in the GTA, I felt for the guy. He and the likes of Steve Munro, and all the others who’ve been following this sorry tale for much longer than I have. How else do you respond to the question, Well, what do you think? A shrug. A sigh. A sad, slow shake of the head.

The equation is remarkably easy.

This region is in desperate need of transit and transportation infrastructure upgrades. It has been woefully neglected for at least 3 decades. We are now paying the economic and social costs for this lack of investment.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this. Time to get busy. The clock is ticking. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to transit building business.

That’s where the consensus all goes to shit. agreetodisagreeThe perpetual sticking point. How do we pay for it?

Nothing about this is going to come cheap. If it did, public transit would be everywhere. We wouldn’t be having this ongoing conversation. Parse it any way you want, it is an expensive proposition, a pricey necessity for the proper functioning of any sizeable city.

It’s going to cost us. All worthwhile investments do. So, pony up, shut up and let’s get on with it.

On the other hand…

Yesterday’s Liberal government announcement of $29 billion in money directed toward transit and transportation building throughout the province, $15 billion of that in the GTA, over the next 10 years is not nothing. It only seems like that because there’s been a long, deliberate build up to this point. There’s something anti-climactic to the announcement. holdonaminuteI’m sorry, what? That’s it?

Part of the problem is that the money’s not new. What did the Minister of Transportation call it? Repurposed revenue. If these guys spent half as much time coming up with smart ways to convince the public to buy into the need to pay for transit as they did polishing up weasel words and phrases to mask their continued ambivalence in confronting this issue head on, we’d already have the Yonge Street relief line built and paid for.

This is $29 billion already coming into the province through gas taxes and the HST paid on gas. The government is simply dedicating that amount in this particular direction. Which is fine and good, a start at least. Where it’s being pulled from is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll cross that bridge (after it’s been retrofitted) when we get to it.

The other glitch in the announcement is that the $1.5 billion coming the GTA’s way annually over the next 10 years is still below the goal of $2 billion a year Metrolinx has said would be needed to fund the capital side of its Big Move build. All in good time, we were assured by the premier and minister of transportation. willywonka1More will be revealed with the upcoming budget.

This is where the politics comes in to play. Unfortunately, politics always comes in to play. The $29 billion was the opening gambit (after what? A 6 year overture?) by the government. How would the opposition parties react? Were they going to sign on or in any other way show their hand on this?

The trouble for the Liberals right now is two-fold. One, they have no spending credibility, lost amidst the scandals plaguing them. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. Trust us to get it right this time, folks.

It’s a scenario that could be easily dealt with if there was a serious alternative being put up on offer. But this is the second problem. Out there on the extreme is the official opposition pretending like building transit is free and easy. You want subways? We’ll give you subways. And it won’t cost you a thing. Just a nip and tuck there. Bob’s your uncle. Remember the last time the Progressive Conservatives were in power and all those subways they buil—No, wait. Strike that.

We have proof negative of exactly higotnothingow this approach to building transit works here in Toronto. It doesn’t. Remember when our current mayor was running for office back in 2010 and he guaranteed us he could deliver subways here, there and everywhere without any additional revenues? Uh huh. That’s the exact bill of goods Tim Hudak’s trying to sell us again.

Unfortunately, the third party at Queen’s Park, the NDP, are tilting heavily toward similar populist pandering. Corporate taxes is their mantra. Rolling back a decade’s worth of corporate tax cuts will pay for everything we want while eliminating the deficit apparently. A different angle on the too good to be true pitch.

And then we all flip the table and walk away from the discussion. Politicians, we bellow! Where have the true leaders gone, we ask? If only Bill Davis. If only… If only.

Until we start punishing those elected representatives who believe that in concocting fairy tales of no money down, whome1no interest until forever as the surest way to secure office, this song will play on repeat. We will still be bitching about the state of our public transit 10 years, 20 years from now. We will still be reading posts like this. We will be explaining to our grandchildren how it was our politicians let us down, how they failed to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

We will still be absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the gridlock that has continued to worsen and the deplorable state of ill-repair our trains and streetcars and buses operate in. Like the generation before us, we will wipe our hands clean and successfully pass the buck to the next to deal with.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Celebrity Mayor

April 14, 2014

Is it possible Rob Ford has always been a celebrity candidate? Even back in 2010 when he was a little known councillor from Etobicoke deciding to take a run at the mayor’s office, celebritybobblehead2it was all about his personality, that everyman in an ill-fitting suit, looking out for the little guy. He wasn’t a politician. He was a brand.

Everywhere he goes, Rob Ford is treated like a rock star, at least according to his councillor-brother-campaign manager, Doug. Wherever he goes everybody wants to get their picture taken with the mayor. Look, guys! It’s me and the mayor! The mayor who’s been on a late night talk show! The mayor who’s admitted to smoking crack!

It’s not necessarily a recent phenomenon, in the wake of his increased notoriety over the last 18 months or so. People always seemed to want to get their pictures taken with him. At the first Ford Fest after he was elected mayor, there was a steady stream of attendees waiting to pose with Mayor Ford. He has always been a larger-than-life figure. His politics ride shotgun with his persona.

So the direction his re-election campaign is taking cannot come as much of surprise to those who’ve been following along for the last 4 years. It is a full on embrace of his celebrity status. Anyone – and they mean anyone – abelincolnbobbleheadswith any sort of name recognition, good or bad, is welcomed aboard Team Ford. Ben Johnson. That guy from the Trailer Park Boys. No, not that one. Not that guy either. The one in that episode where—Does it matter? The Trailer Park Boys!

And as with any sort of celebrity campaign, whether electoral or some product promotional tour, you can never forgot the merchandise. Some swag. With Rob Ford, it’s all about the bobbleheads. Sports stars. Dead presidents. Anybody who’s anybody (or anybody who was anybody) gets their own bobbleheads.

There’s an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star about the tactical approach of these bobbleheads in helping not only with donations but in compiling voters and volunteers lists. Buy one, give us your data in return. “Rob Ford and his brother…are either the smartest people in the room or the dumbest and I don’t know,” says Ralph Lean, celebritybobbleheada long time political bagmen who knows a thing or two about raising money.

I do know that the Fords are smart in using the mayor’s celebrity as the focus for eliciting donations and names for the campaign. Smart, or it’s just the result of a basic process of elimination. It’d be hard to run on his record of accomplishments (spotty) or his time in office (horrific, if you’re not a big fan of your mayor smoking crack in drunken stupors, etc., etc.) So, it’s full on celebrity mayor. Do you like a mayor who puts Toronto on the map of late night American talk shows and international news wires? Re-elect Mayor Rob Ford in 2014!

It’s little wonder then that the latest installment of Ford Nation on YouTube is dedicated solely to bobbleheads and Jimmy Kimmel. Looks, folks. Your celebrity mayor hobknobs with actual, real life celebrities. No talk of policy issues the city the mayor wants to continue to lead faces. Who’s got time to discuss transit? It’s Jimmy Kimmel, folks! A celebrity. Endorsing the mayor. Sort of. He said he might come to town in November for a “fun-raiser” and to celebrate brother Doug’s birthday.

Jimmy Kimmel, folks!

The question now is, have the Fords so degraded public discourse in this city that there’s a big enough audience – and that’s how they view their base of support, as an audience of taxpayers not engaged citizens – to secure them a second term in office? Will boasting that the likes of Jimmy Kimmel had never even heard of Toronto before Rob Ford became mayor activate another winning Ford Nation who see something ‘world class’ about that? It’s a risky road to take, even in the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but the reality is, Team Ford has no other alternative.

star struckly submitted by Cityslikr


On Self-Justification

April 11, 2014

Earlier this week, as part of our Municipal Election 2014 Wards To Watch series, we wrote a few words about Ward 17 Davenport councillor, defenseCesar Palacio. While certainly not flattering, it could’ve been so much worse, in our judgement, since we were writing about, well, Cesar Palacio. Still, we received a couple forceful replies in the councillor’s defence (here and here), both calling us out for being fact unfriendly, and suggesting we try to employ a little something called ‘research’.

One (which may or may not have come from a former employee of Councillor Palacio’s; we’re still waiting for a response to our enquiry about that) asked a very direct question: This is journalism?

Is this journalism.

Of course it isn’t. As least as I understand the term which itself is kind of interesting because I think we all have a slightly different interpretation of what constitutes journalism. journalism1Like pornography, we might not be able to define ‘journalism’ but most of us recognize it when we see it.

[Stops. Eyes narrow at the suitability of the above analogy. Continues on.]

What this is, what I’ve always imagined it to be, may go back further than our notion of journalism, perhaps to the very roots of modern journalism, if my grasp of the history can be trusted.

A personal story.

Back in 2009, while deep into my epic poetry phase, I was reading a biography of John Milton. Best known as the author of Paradise Lost, during his lifetime he would’ve been seen more as a political prose writer, a staunch defender of republicanism, divorce and a separation between church and state. Such views almost cost him his life when Charles II returned to the monarchy and was looking to exact some payback on those seen as responsible and sympathetic to the execution of his father 11 years earlier.

See Milton’s The Tenure of Magistrates and Kings.

At this time, I was getting much of my political news, especially U.S. political news, thehangingvia the interwebz. Not just from big name online publications like Salon and such but through these things the kids were calling blogs. Hullabaloo and Sadly, No! were a couple of my favourites. (HTML Mencken remains one of my favourite pseudonyms, a tradition, for all you anonymous haters out there, that goes back centuries, even before the advent of all this computer gadgetry.)

2009, the summer of it in fact, was also when you might remember Toronto enduring the indignities and tumult of a municipal outside workers’ strike. Some things struck me at the time. Firstly, we as a society had become incredibly soft, easily outraged at being in any way slightly inconvenienced. How dare they put upon us so! Garbage in our parks! The stench! Won’t someone think of the children!

Secondly, at the strike’s conclusion, we were immediately told that the administration had caved to the unions, given them the keys to the vault, blah, blah, blah. The fact that this wasn’t quite true seemed to have no bearing on the volume and frequency with which it was broadcast. It’s a sound bite still reverberating today, 5 years on, giving an undeserved fiscal bump of credibility to many who hardly deserve it.garbagestrike

Thirdly, it became clear to me that then mayor David Miller was being ridden out of town on the rails in a disturbingly orchestrated fashion. I was, and remain a fan of David Miller, and still believe it to be a travesty how his record and legacy has been wilfully and deliberately distorted, much to the detriment of this city. Does that mean I think he and his administration were perfect? I won’t even dignify that possible straw man of a question with a response.

In the wake of Miller’s political demise, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke was born.

Now, why am I telling you this, spooling out our origin story, as the kids like to say about their fancy colouring book superheroes? Journalism. We ain’t that. Especially not the narrowly defined and hopelessly misguided version of it media critics like to trot out. Objectivity. He said but then he said. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

We’re not even the truly good and noble form of journalism that Toronto has a lot of in its newspapers, radio, online. What you’re reading is a political tract. All subjectivity and polemic, based, we hope and endeavour, on the facts we’ve gathered along the way, the observations we make. The opinions we have about how this city is being governed, and the better ways to go about doing that.

This isn’t anything new or the result of modern technology. discourseHell, if you think that somehow sites like these, all internetsy and free from editorial oversight, have somehow degraded the public discourse, you haven’t been following along for the last, I don’t know, 500 years. Politics has rarely been courteous or decorous or, ultimately, objective. Expressed political opinion even less so.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke welcome criticism and disagreement. Encourage it, even. Just don’t pretend or expect us to be something we’re not. Something that, in fact, might not exist or never, ever existed in the first place.

mea culply submitted by Cityslikr


You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Live Here But…

April 10, 2014

Ever since our inception, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have found ourselves in a regular state of civic suspension of disbelief. crazysquirrelI know this isn’t actually happening but… but it seems so real. I know it’s just some crazy made-up shit but… but it’s so compelling, so engrossing to follow along with, you know?

Not coincidentally, our appearance came about during the rise of Rob Ford from that goofy, malevolent but largely impotent politician every local government has to contend with to becoming mayor of the largest city in the country. Of course things were going to get nutty. Toronto had elected Rob Ford as its mayor.

Nearly four years on, it has proven to be more than some prolonged nightmare of Dali/Buñuel, eye-slicing proportions. Not even a deranged Truman Show explanation suffices where we’re just the game pieces for a God-like producer with an eye only on the TV ratings. Our story’s taken on biblical dimensions, frankly. The political book of Job. Pushed beyond any sort of reasonable limits, we cry out in anguish. Why, Lord? jobWhy are you doing this? Who can deliver us from your hands? And from the whirlwind comes the response. I don’t have to explain myself to you.

If you’re reading this, I don’t have to recount the whole sad, sordid tale, the multitude of ways we’ve traveled down through the rabbit hole. Municipal governance gone wild! You’d think what with everything that’s gone on, we’d be one and done, talking about what comes next. But no. Our disgraced, discredited mayor cannot be discounted from possibly securing himself another term in office.

Which naturally, as this kind of thing must, can only lead to further fantasy sequences, more outbursts of the bizarre. If his first kick at the can embraced the improbable, the second go-round will be all about the unimaginable. You think that was weird, folks? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

unchienandalouBringing us to two days this week that best encapsulate the thick sticky freakiness we find ourselves in.

The mayor holds a press conference to announce that Ben Johnson and an actor from the TV series/movie franchise The Trailer Park Boys are joining the campaign team in some capacity. What capacity? Nobody’s quite sure. It will all become clear in due time. Or it won’t since forethought and strategic planning are not really what these guys are about. They’re more instinctual than that.

When you think Ben Johnson, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Right. Drugs. Steroids. Gold medal and record setting stripping steroids.

Seems an odd choice then, doesn’t it, for a mayor dogged by stories of personal drug use and outrageous drug-induced behaviour. We’re all mavericks and outlaws here, folks. The all-star Team Nobody’s Perfect. Are you?

But wait, it gets better. It always gets better with these guys. A bottomless pit of ¿¡WTF?!

The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale reported today that the Trailer Park Boy the mayor introduced yesterday, Sam Tarasco, hosts an internet pot smoking show called High Fuckers. That’s right. High Fuckers. druglifeYou pay $4.20 a month to watch guys get high and shoot the shit. High Fuckers.

So instead of trying to distance itself from the heavy cloud of drugs and the drug life, Team Ford seems to be embracing it. Yeah, we do drugs. Yeah, we know people who do drugs. We’re not perfect. Are you?

Counterintuitive? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. Like much of the way they operate, there just isn’t an English word to do it justice. It’s post-verbal.

While all this… whatever you want to call it… was happening, there was also much excitement over the new edition of Mayor Ford bobbleheads. $100 a pop and bearing almost no resemblance to the man himself, we’re told proceeds would be going into the mayor’s campaign war chest. Hmmm, we wondered. Would those purchasing a bobblehead be eligible for the 75% candidate donation rebate the city offers? If so, they’d be a steal at just $25. You could easily make a healthy return on that with an eBay sale.

Talk about your retail politician. Everybody makes a buck when Rob Ford is out on the campaign trail. bobbleheadWin-win-win-win-win!

In case you thought there was no bread with this circus, the mayor took time out of his celebrity tour to announce some serious policy yesterday. Or I should say, to re-announce some serious policy, telling the media that, if re-elected, he will start to phase out streetcar service in Toronto. Just like he promised back in 2010 and immediately didn’t pursue upon taking office. Promises made, promises forgotten.

But this time, he means it, man.

“I know one thing. I won’t get on a streetcar,” the mayor told the press. “If I have an option to drive or take a streetcar, I’m going to get in my car.”

Forget the sheer lunacy of the idea. Buses could never make up the capacity without causing even more congestion that the mayor is supposedly fighting with his no-streetcar idea. And the subways he keeps touting will never be built. Not in his lifetime. Not in his children’s lifetime.

Like the sad spectacle of fluffing a campaign team with D-list celebrities, the streetcar announcement was an empty gesture, intended only to inflame the urban-suburban divide on which the mayor exists. mayordrivingA petulant outburst from a confirmed non-transit user who views the world entirely through his car windows. It doesn’t make any sense because it doesn’t have to. It’s meant solely to excite those unable or unwilling to see through it. Governance based on Dada rules.

The only internal logic to it, probably not even grasped entirely by the mayor or his campaign manager-brother, came through in tweet sent out by the CBC’s Jamie Strashin in the wake of the mayor’s out-with-streetcars declaration. “When someone says, ‘oh I’m going to resolve the issue of gridlock’,” the mayor said. “You’re not going to resolve the problem with gridlock.”

Solve this problem? Are you kidding me? You can’t solve this problem. Just keep on gridlocking. Keep on keeping on.

So deeply held are his anti-government views, so engrained in his sensibilities, Mayor Ford can’t even begin to imagine actually any way anyone could solve a problem like gridlock. Government’s the problem, remember? Never the solution. So, of course he doesn’t take his role as mayor at all seriously. Why would he? It wouldn’t make things better. mayorfordbenderIn fact, it would make things worse.

Government’s a joke, and an expensive joke at that. Acting responsible in his role as mayor, coming up with ideas to help run the city and surrounding himself with people who have even a trace of good will toward public service, would mean Rob Ford might have to take the job seriously. We know he doesn’t. He proves it almost every day when he seems to take delight only in pissing on the carpets.

The joke is on us if we think for even a second that he’s ever going to change.

insanely submitted by Cityslikr


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