A Repugnant Blight

April 24, 2015

So there I am, minding my own business this week, catching up on my magazine subscriptions, making my way through the June 2014 issue of Harper’s. Second article in, The Civil Rights Act’s Unsung Victory by Randall Kennedy [subscription required unless you’re much better with the internets than I am which is a very real possibility]. The following day Desmond Cole drops this searing piece for Toronto Life, The Skin I’m In [no subscription required].

Mr. Kennedy writes about how his family used to pack food picnic-style for their trips back to South Carolina from Washington D.C. to avoid having to find meals on the road in the few places that served African-Americans. Even the car ride itself was fraught with danger. “My father was particularly burdened by the drive,” Kennedy writes.

He became noticeably nervous at the sight of police officers. Over the years several of them pulled him over. They did not charge him with any infraction. Rather, they stopped him seemingly out of curiosity and a desire to test his willingness to accept the etiquette of white supremacy. Their colloquies went something like this”

“That’s a nice car you’re driving, boy.”

“Thank you, officer. Have I done something wrong?”

“Not from what I can see just yet. I notice you’ve got out-of-town plates. You know, we do things different down here. You do know that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Boy, you do know that, right?”

“Yassuh.”

“Okay. You’re free to go.”

In one of the most dispiriting and gut-punching passages in Desmond Cole’s article, he too describes an encounter with the police, our police, on a highway from Oshawa to Niagra Falls. His cousin throws a Kleenex out the window and police pull the car over immediately. Almost as if they’d been following, waiting for a reason.

A hush came over the car as the stocky officer strode up to the window and asked my dad if he knew why we’d been stopped. “Yes,” my father answered, his voice shaky, like a child in the principal’s office. My dad isn’t a big man, but he always cut an imposing figure in our household. This was the first time I realized he could be afraid of something. “He’s going to pick it up right now,” he assured the officer nervously, as Sana exited the car to retrieve the garbage. The cop seemed casually uninterested, but everyone in the car thrummed with tension, as if they were bracing for something catastrophic. After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. “You realize everyone in this car is black, right?” he thundered at Sana.

We here up in Canada use the ugly, overt, Bull Connor racism of the American south (or apartheid in South Africa) as a smokescreen to hide our own inherent racism. Come on. We’re not that bad, as if a kinder, gentler racism is possible. We have no history of slavery in Canada. Therefore, no racism exists.

Events in the past couple weeks here in Toronto should disabuse us of that notion. Not only is racism a clear and present danger, it has been justified under the banner of effective policing. At its heart, the current practice of ‘carding’ is the assumption that people of colour, young men of colour especially, are more prone to criminal activity, therefore they forfeit their charter rights to lawful engagement with the police.

If Desmond Cole and I were walking down the street together, any street it seems, he would more likely be stopped by the police and asked for his personal information than I would be. Why? For no other reason than the fact Desmond Cole is black and I am white.

That’s racism, pure and simple. Hum and haw all you like, rationalize it, spin it and massage it. But if we condone the current practice of police carding, we are condoning racism.

By doing so, what kind of democracy does it say we live in when people are forced to go about their lives, negotiating how they move around their shared city differently? Take equality and fairness off the table. They don’t exist unless the words mean something other than I thought they did.

Show me your papers! That’s the essence of police carding, isn’t it?

If an appeal to a sense of decency or basic human rights doesn’t move you, what about the fundamental attack on civilian oversight by our police services we’ve been subject to? Recognizing there were some questions of legality with carding as it was being done, the police services board last term demanded that in a non-investigative interaction with the public, the police had to first inform a citizen that the exchange was entirely voluntary, they could walk away if they so desired. Also, the police were required to provide a receipt of the interaction giving, among other things, reasons for the interaction.

Turns out the police didn’t want to do that. So they ignored the request from their civilian oversight board, rendering their demands non-‘operationalized’, to use the term of our mayor who also doesn’t believe such a thing as white privilege exists, thus there’s no such thing as racism. Police dictate the policy they follow. It isn’t dictated to them.

Raising the equally dire specter of who’s exactly running the show here?

Not only does a strong democracy require an unwavering commitment to equality in all its forms, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, law enforcement must be subservient to its political masters. Anything else bends toward authoritarianism. We tried in good faith to negotiate a workable, acceptable form of carding. That failed. Nothing short of a complete abolition of the practice will now do.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Reflection In The Mirror

April 23, 2015

I have been waging a see-saw battle with myself over the type of public servant John Tory believes himself to be ever since he became mayor. Actually, before that, going right back to when he announced his candidacy last year.flipacoin

An obtuse political dullard, tone deaf to life in this city beyond the boardrooms, country clubs and philanthropic organizations or a savvy operator, stone cold Frank Underwood, yo, master manipulator, backroom civic strongman stepping out into the spotlight?

His previous foray into politics at the provincial level would suggest the former. He’s given the benefit of the doubt toward the latter as a private sector titan where family and privileged connections only get you so far. No dummy can successfully navigate those treacherous, shark-infested waters, am I right?

This question arises again now because of more ridiculous shenanigans from Mayor Tory’s appointed deputy mayor, the actual deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong. During yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting (which the deputy mayor vice chairs), Minnan-Wong indignantly tweeted out that he’d been blocked on the Twitter by the city’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. Social media attention ensues, followed by a boo hoo press conference with the deputy mayor. While city business is being conducted elsewhere, it’s worth mentioning again.

No biggie, in and of itself, except to serve as yet another example of a regular pattern from Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong of building a grandstand on a foundation of public servant attacks at City Hall. He seems to take pleasure in sandbagging figures like the chief planner whose views on city building he doesn’t share, and his views on the subject are pretty simple. texaschainsawmassacreCity building = road building.

But this post isn’t about him (and David Hains has already done a great job on the subject of Denzil and the Chief Planner at the Torontoist). This is about Mayor Tory who appointed Minnan-Wong as his deputy mayor, his 2nd in command, his right-hand man. Just what the fuck was he thinking? (An entirely gratuitous curse just to “haunt” the deputy mayor.)

After winning the election in October and casting his glance about over the member of city council to settle upon the person who’d best suit the job of deputy mayor, how did John Tory settle on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong? There’s somebody who’s been around, knows the lay of the land. He’s a rock solid conservative voice and will never veer off political course except to the further right. Done, and done!

Did John Tory realize that his choice for deputy mayor had no real base of support at city council, few natural allies? Minnan-Wong’s history at council showed much more of a flare for making enemies than friends. He loved nothing more than to get his business all up in his colleagues’ wards and make life miserable for them. Antagonizil Minnan-Wong, I’ve just nicknamed him.

Tory had to be aware of this reputation, right? Despite running for mayor back in 2003 and then covering the municipal scene for years after his stint in and around Queen’s Park, he likes to play the role of the city political naïf, willing to admit he was ignorant of the stuff he regularly opined on. goodcopbadcopStill, we’re to believe his people didn’t vet his choice for deputy mayor’s background and standing?

That would be denser than quark-gluon plasma. Team Tory as the gang who couldn’t think straight, unable to collectively put it together to tie one of their shoes. Defies belief.

So is this just a case of, I don’t know, good cop-bad cop? The deputy mayor as henchman – Monsieur Henchman, to you – brass knuckles and sharp elbows, brawling it out in the trenches while the mayor keeps his nose clean and Oxford button down starched? Classic political positioning.

But here’s the thing.

In such a scenario, both the good cop and the bad cop share a common end-game. Busting the criminal. Their approaches are different. Their ultimate goal isn’t.

Last term at city council, while it was more dirty cop-bad cop in terms of Rob Ford and Doug Holyday, there was no question they shared the same vision, sprung from the bowels of our worst instincts. Attack public sector unions, reduce the size of government, keep taxes, low, low, low. Rob Ford may’ve proven to be the wayward political son of Doug Holyday but there was no doubting their shared bond in bringing City Hall to its knees.reflection

What exactly is the vision of the Tory-Minnan-Wong dynamic? Our mayor touts civility, respect, adherence to data-based decision making. His deputy mayor represents small-minded, divisive, petulant undermining of good governance. By unleashing his deputy mayor on the public service, the planning agency like Waterfront Toronto or just in general, Mayor Tory is flashing his own dark underbelly, his simple disregard of his own stated principles.

What’s unclear is whether that proves John Tory to be dumb or cut-throat vicious like a fox.

Neither one is particularly flattering.

judgingly submitted by Cityslikr


Stilled Life With Rot

April 22, 2015

As we have said more than a few times here in these bytes since last fall’s municipal election, the make-up of city council barely budged from the previous term. stuckinthemudI’d use the word ‘glacial’ except in these days it has taken on an entirely different meaning from its traditional usage, the polar opposite in fact. No, wait. Polar? Does that still mean what I think it means?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In 2014, Toronto city council got whiter, more male, lurched even further into paleoconservative territory. What change there was cannot be considered a change for the better. How can you further entrench an already firmly entrenched status quo?

Judging from the proceedings of yesterday’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee whatever reforms (and I’ll use that word loosely) were made last term at City Hall seemed to be under immediate attack of un-reform. Dereform? Change! Change! Chase that change from these chambers! Out, out, damned change.reverse

I have no strong opinions about the taxi industry in this city. Taxis play a very, very tiny role in how I get around, a mobility device of last resort. My main interaction with them centres around being cut off while I’m riding in a bike lane. I’ve no idea if they’re too expensive or deliver terrible service. When I think of cabs, I don’t, really. I seldom think of cabs.

The rules by which the city regulates them strike me as byzantine at best, misshapen by special interests at worst. Back in 2013, Metro’s Jennifer Cross Smith laid out the state of the industry (h/t Glyn Bowerman). A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee pushed to reform last year. A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee is now attempting to revert back to after yesterday’s vote.

Why?

I don’t care. Although I should because at first glance it appears the powerful players in the industry, fighting back last year’s reforms, won the day, to “revive a two-tier model for taxis,” according to Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star. stepbackBig players represented by this thing called the Toronto Taxi Alliance challenged last year’s reforms in court, were rebuffed, so have taken another run at it through city council, successfully for now it seems. Money well spent, you might argue, donating to the likes of Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ city council campaign last year who raised about a tenth of his total donations from the taxi industry, and has proven to be a dogged champion for the industry in fighting the taxi reforms and the Uber infestation.

More eye-rollingly, the Municipal Licensing and Standards chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio, also a beneficiary of the taxi industry’s largesse, is now overseeing the attempted dismantling of the reforms that happened while he was also chair of the exact same committee last term. In effect, his committee is seeking to repeal the reforms of his committee. If that’s not a potent symbol of impotency of city council, I don’t know what is.

Never mind that the committee also revived the food truck issue and came up with a 20 metre compromise. (Yeah, don’t even bother.) todolistThe fact that this is even a thing, remains a thing, a regular thing, a constant fucking reminder of our city council’s ongoing and perpetual war against change shows why on the big ticket items, housing, transit, police reform, this city stands in petrified stillness, unable to face the future because it can’t let go of the past. But…But…We used to know how to run a city.

In my lighter moments, I like to think when voters in 2010 rallied around Rob Ford, they were clamoring for change. Remember, there was also nearly a one-third turnover of city councillors then too. When it became glaringly obvious that Ford didn’t represent change as much as wanton destruction and outright contempt for public service, we retreated to what we perceived as a safe harbour. Dignity. Respectfulness. Diligence and duty.

Above all, we voted to get this city moving again. Moving to a standstill, as it turns out. rottingfruitRunning on the spot, avoiding anything that resembles anything close to substantive change.

In its current make-up, City Hall is where change goes to die. In its defiant embrace of the status quo, progress is impossible. The well-connected and well-served by the way things are, they way things are done, they way things have always been done, will continue to be heard. The rest of us? Well, we’re just going to have to figure out a way to work around the deadwood that continues to prop up the pretense of local, forward-thinking governance.

fed-uply submitted by Cityslikr


A Profile In Courage

April 20, 2015

God bless the politician who stands up for the downtrodden, gives voice to the voiceless, goes to bat for the tiny, puny, infinitesimal, often overlooked 3%. godoggoYou are a testament to daring and guts. A folks hero.

“Minnan-Wong vows to save the Gardiner Expressway” states the headline of Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article from last week.

“I did not get elected to increase congestion, I did not,” the deputy mayor speechified. (He also doesn’t like your hat.) “I was elected to solve congestion problems.”

“Cars are a fundamental reality.”

Finally.

Somebody representing the beleaguered car drivers of this city and beyond.

The proposed downing of a 2.4 kilometre stretch of the easternmost portion of the Gardiner Expressway must not stand. No attempted buying off with a 6 to 8 lane replacement boulevard will suffice. A boulevard?! What is that exactly? Sounds like something the French promenade down.

And as everyone knows, our deputy mayor isn’t really a Renault man. dmw1He’s more a Porsche guy, a Beemer type although, owing to family obligations, he’s now quite content in his Subaru Forester. Driving in from North York, watching the sun glint off those downtown towers, more of which there’d be if the eastern bit of the Gardiner Expressway came down and opened up acres and acres and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in new development opportunities.

Ahhh, irony.

Car enthusiasts are clearly too distracted by shiny objects to appreciate stuff like irony.

What’s getting lost in all these high-minded (and high-handed) plans for the future of Toronto is the convenience of drivers to get around this city. If this part of the Gardiner is brought down, the unlucky 3% of commuters who currently use it during the morning rush hour can expect as much as a 5 minute increase in their commute times. 5 minutes!? Do these politician not realize just how important a car drivers’ time is? You’ve read the numbers. Billions and billions of dollars of productivity lost annually in the GTA due to congestion. Only by continuing to do what we’ve been doing for 50 years now – making room and time for private automobiles – can we start to turn things around.

And if this part of the Gardiner is brought down, where will it end? What happens if the traffic chaos and heavy congestion doesn’t materialize? What if everything works out just fine or, heaven forbid, gets even better? The rest of the Gardiner will not be safe. The radical anti-car types will start agitating for more of its destruction. dmw2A city cannot survive such a grievous assault on its urban expressways.

This is a slippery slope, folks, and all that stands between us and such an unimaginable future are politicians like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

And please, don’t talk to him about the higher cost of building his beloved hybrid replacement option. Can you really put a price on freedom… to drive? Even if you can, even if you say, sure, in this particular case it’s that number between $919 million and $461 million, should you? In the end, it’s only money.

“Our (total) capital budget over 100 years is somewhere around $300 billion,” the deputy mayor said. What’s a half billion or so within that sort of time frame? Chump change.

Unlike those $12,000 umbrellas at Sugar Beach, located not far from the shadows cast by the Gardiner. That’s a spending outrage. $12,000. For an umbrella. Take a moment and let that sink in.

For car loving warriors like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the only public space we should throw insane and unconscionable amounts of cash at are those that allow cars to drive on or over or park on. dmwAs it’s always been (since the 1950s anyway), so it must always be. Everything else is just gravy, to use the parlance of the time.

This issue is of such vital importance to the deputy mayor that back a few years ago, in his then role as chair of the Public Work and Infrastructure Committee, serving under fellow automobile zealot, Rob Ford, he felt the need to sit on the city council requested environmental assessment looking at future options for the Gardiner Expressway, delaying its release until finally this past week, to the tune of some $20 million. Money that would have probably gone to other useless public realm projects. (Denzil Minnan-Wong Googles: How many $12,000 pink umbrellas would $20 million buy?) Now that the EA has been released, there is only one viable option. Build that hybrid! Build that hybrid!

Sure, building the hybrid option of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway will lock out hundreds of millions of dollars in potential development and future property tax income for the city but should the well-being for an overwhelming majority of Torontonians bulldoze the right to drive for the vulnerable 3%? dmw3Somebody’s got to stand up for the minority. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong has a long and established track record of public service doing just that.

Remember that time he… ummm…. did that thing where he definitely defended the… uhhh… boldly fighting for their right to, you know… ummm…

Well anyway, resistance to change and pandering to car drivers has to start somewhere. It’s a thankless task, far from the spotlight and reactionary applause a civic leader like Minnan-Wong normally prefers to operate in. Agree with him or not, you can’t ignore the fact that he is a principled politician representing the best interests of the entire city with every decision he makes.

totally admiringly submitted by Cityslikr


White Privilege, Black Heart

April 17, 2015

It is my experience that when a politician insists they’ve been elected into office to shake up the status quo, they mean the exact opposite. They are in fact ardent status quo embracers, hugging it lovingly to their bosom, caressing it, eye licking it, making sweet, sweet love to the status quo. You are my rock, status quo. Without you, I am lost, bereft, nothing. Oh my, my status quo.

Yesterday, Mayor John Tory voted along with 4 other members of the Police Services Board to approve a revamped police carding policy that has been described as racial profiling and, quite possibly, unconstitutional. It once again allows for police to stop any individual they encounter, demand personal information without informing that individual of their charter rights to tell the police to go fuck themselves and continue on their way, provide no record to that individual of that interaction and to keep that information filed away for some defined period of time. You know, in case something comes up later, something involving concerns for public safety.

That the overwhelming number of these individuals are men of colour should in no way be taken to mean that this policy is in any way racist. Pure coincidence. If it were racist, the mayor would be the first to give the policy the thumbs down. Because the mayor’s not a racist, and he voted in favour of this policy, carding cannot be racist.

Some of the mayor’s best friends, and all that.

Listen to Mayor Tory explain his vote (as relayed by Paisley Rae on the Twitter):

I’d like to put into context my vote. I don’t doubt for a second — *interrupted by shouts of SHAME* — I have no doubt that this kind of thing is going on (racial profiling) and one time is too many. I thought I was likely to vote in favour of this policy last night so I made some notes. It’s patently false that I’m in denial. If we go back to the 2014 policy it would take us back to the same impasse we’re facing now. 2014 policy was not operationalized. Attitudes were hardening, not driven in bad faith. I will say, police leadership was probably moving more slowly than if there’d been whole-hearted agreement. But that’s not insubordination. There was none, no progress at all. So do you provoke a confrontation or do you make one more effort to achieve movement. This policy isn’t operationalized, it’s a statement of principle which I feel is being looked down on today. You can order people to do things and they’ll do them but they’ll be insincere and incomplete. We need buy-in. Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance? I don’t live in that world {the not real world} to me, the choice wasn’t between April 2014 and where we are today. It was an impasse & no policy at all & no oversight OR we could have a quick step forward and a step forward that was subject to a quick review the choice was to take meaningful progress over an impasse [The room is RAPIDLY clearing out as people quietly curse on their way out the door.] I think the time period allowed for, of 6 months, is adequate to see.

After an entire afternoon of hearing impassioned deputations about the dehumanizing effects of carding, being badgered by the police to hand over your personal information with no reason given except for the one that’s silently understood between everyone concerned, the colour of your skin, being black or brown in the wrong place at the wrong time (any time or place, really), or harsh lawyerly words about the possible unconstitutionality of the policy, having been given an option to defer the implementation of the policy in order to ‘get it right’, as TPSB member Shelley Carroll said and voting against that deferral, after all that, our mayor voted to implement this contentious policy, offering only those mealy-mouthed words in his defense.

We’ll re-visit the issue, he said. In 6 months. That’s adequate. The problem being, as the mayor saw it, was there just wasn’t any buy-in for the old board-driven policy by Chief Blair and the police force. Non-compliance not insubordination. “Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance?” Mayor Tory asked.

Remember that new sheriff in town, getting tough on illegal parkers? But faced with a much more dire challenge to the well-being of this city, a police chief openly defying the directives of what is essentially civilian oversight, citing some backroom ‘legal advice’, Mayor Tory caved spectacularly. As the room cleared of disgruntled and dismayed community members, mothers and fathers of targeted children, residents of Toronto who feel marginalized and diminished by this renewed policy, discriminated against and harassed, the mayor spouted words devoid of any real meaning or intent. He simply filled the air, trying to explain himself.

I’ll leave what this all means to the legacy of Chief Bill Blair and police-city relations going forward in much more capable hands. But I want to ask all those John Tory voters still cloaking themselves in the defense that things could be worse, there could be a Ford in the mayor’s chair. Could it? Would it?

As Paisley Rae tweeted a few hours after the meeting, “Last year Michael Thompson, Francis Nunziata and Mike Del Grande [Rob Ford appointed city council police services board members] passed a more progressive carding policy than Tory did today. Take that in.” In fact, Councillor Thompson forwarded a letter, signed by 14 other city councillors (make it 15 since TPSB member Shelley Carroll voted against the new policy) opposing the new carding guidelines. Clearly, they didn’t understand the words the mayor was saying, the status quo he was shaking, the world Mayor Tory lives in where a step back is called a step forward, regression progress.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


A Legacy Left In The Blink Of An Eye

April 15, 2015

It should come as little surprise, given the magnitude of clusterfuckery inflicted on this city for the past 4+ years now, that the defining moments of John Tory’s mayoralty are coming fast and furious at him. junkintheclosetThe chicks have come home to roost as they say. Unfortunately, they hatched from eggs he didn’t lay but, now in charge of the coop, he’s obliged to raise and tend to them.

I’ve extended that analogy as far as I care to. The drift, I imagine, you get.

There’s the matter of the Scarborough subway. A white elephant of a boondoggle waiting to happen that’s going to cost the city billions of dollars unnecessarily and has already shown up on our tax bills for the past two years. During last year’s campaign, John Tory had the opportunity to flash his fiscal bonafides and renounce the scheme as little more than political pandering. He didn’t. He said, what’s done is done, there’s no use opening up that debate again. Mayor John Tory has kept that campaign pledge, steadfastly refusing to reconsider a bad decision despite the fact that all early indications suggest a Scarborough subway will compete for ridership with the south eastern portion of his own signature transit plan, SmartTrack.sweepundertherug

Rather than rise above this parochial politics which will threaten to limit the city’s ability to pay for other big ticket capital projects in the not too distant future, Mayor Tory blinked. Maybe a forthcoming staff report will provide enough cover for him to still scuttle the plans before the worst is done. Even so, that’s not what you’d call sound leadership.

About that gaping budget hole left behind by the previous city council? John Tory assured us during the 2014 campaign that he, and only he, could heal the rift wrought by the Ford administration with the provincial government. He, and only he, could smooth the ruffled feathers and bring Queen’s Park back to the table, pockets bursting with money to ante up for long forgotten obligations they could now get back to funding. Like transit and social housing, just to pick a couple of the more important ones.

In fact, what’s happened since his election is that the city has paid more back to the province than it’s received. $95 million for the Union-Pearson rail link. sweepundertherug2Some $50 million to cover the provincial shortfall on the Spadina subway expansion. And as for that $86 million hole from the withdrawal of the social program pooling compensation? Yeah, no dice.

At which point, Mayor Tory might’ve had the responsible budget conversation with Torontonians, informing us that, for the moment, we were on our own to balance the budget and to do that we needed to talk seriously about additional revenues, higher than hoped for property tax increase for example. This was another of those defining moments, a mess not of his own making that he now had to clean up. The mayor demurred, choosing instead to pretend he’d fixed the problem. Much like his predecessor.

Unlike his predecessor, Mayor Tory decided to directly address the matter of policing in Toronto, assuming a spot on the Police Services Board rather than designate a representative. A bold move, to be sure, with a union contract to be settled, a new chief to be appointed and a number of prickly, outstanding community issues, police carding at the top of that list. This mayor was not going to run and hide from any of it.

The contract was settled quietly and amicably, it seems. sweepundertherug1The wage increase of 8.64% over 4 years isn’t outrageous out of context but it is difficult to see how it’ll bring the overall police budget, the largest single item the city has to deal with, north of $1 billion annually, into the lean machine the mayor is demanding of other city departments. Not to worry, we were assured during the budget process. Money had been set aside for such a pay increase.

The new police chief has yet to be named with the current chief, Bill Blair, set to retire near the end of this month. But at least, the carding issue has been resolved, a happy compromise reached for everyone concerned. A ‘landmark’, the mayor called it. “We cannot live in a city where young black men, for example, feel devalued or disrespected.” Hoo-rah!

Except that it seems we are. Within a matter of days, the so-called compromise unravelled into acrimonious disagreement. It satisfied almost none of the concerns the public had with the procedure, ranging from the ultimate fate of any collected information through to the informing of the public’s right of refusal to simply walk away from any interaction with the police. sweepundertherug3After claiming the compromise struck the right balance, the Police Services Board chair, Alok Mukherjee, now suggests it simply wasn’t worth it “to go to war with the chief.”

“We were getting nowhere,” Mukherjee confessed. “There was a standoff. We were at an impasse.” In short, the police chief refused to accept direction from the board, thumbed his nose at civilian oversight. He was on his way out. Know when to pick your battles, more or less.

So now, the naming of the next police chief looms large for Mayor Tory. The choice will undoubtedly reflect intensely on his mayoralty. As he likes to remind us, he was elected to shake up the status quo. We shall see while not holding our breath.

Up next in the mayor’s legacy making tour, the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway has popped up onto the political radar. Again. This has been years in the making (and delaying) but it seems crunch time has landed right in Mayor Tory’s lap. (That sounded a lot more risqué than I intended.) sweepundertherug4This one’s already been kicked down the road as far as it can be.

The most sensible thing for anyone who isn’t one of the few drivers who uses that part of the Gardiner to get around the city is to tear it down from Jarvis street east. Replace it with a similar kind of boulevard design that happened when a previous part of the expressway was ripped own. Free that area of the city of the blight that comes from elevated thoroughfares. Step fully into the 21st-century.

But, you know, drivers. They’ll get mad. On talk radio yesterday, the mayor said people are always going to drive. So, you know, don’t rule out catering to their every demand. Drivers.

The previous council refused to make a decision. The hybrid plan – rejuvenate and rejig don’t remove the expressway — was offered up as a compromise. John Tory touted it specifically during the campaign. He was, after all, the compromise candidate.

Now that the bill has come in, and the price tag for such a compromise is so astronomical, nearly double the tear down option, nearly another billion dollars simply in order to keep car drivers happy, just how compromised is Mayor Tory?shinethoseshoes

Defining moments aren’t always time based. They happen when they happen, heedless of our orderly sensibilities and reliance on retrospective. Time isn’t on Mayor John Tory’s side. Through previous neglect and avoidance, these weighty, significant issues have piled up, their expiry dates come due. His chances are coming fast and furious. If it hasn’t yet, judgement will arrive early.

judgmentally submitted by Cityslikr


A Lasting Legacy Of Fear

April 14, 2015

Late last month Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star about Rob Ford’s ‘legacy of fear’. The choirmaster may have been chased out in disgrace but the same hymns continue to be sung. texaschainsawmassacreIt remains all about the hard working taxpayer (and a very specific, single family home owning taxpayer at that), drivers, finding efficiencies and looking out for any sort of downtown elitist assault on the little guy.

“Political paranoia has so unnerved current leaders that they are unable to make the choices they must,” Hume states.

I would venture to say that such skittishness extends to this city’s staff and public servants. Avoid spending money on anything other than what’s politically acceptable – witness the outrage with cost overruns on the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization versus the collective shrug about the nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. There’s still plenty of bloat at City Hall, so keep your departments ‘lean’. Objective analysis replaced by ideological and politically opportunistic ‘deserves’.

Think about that as the Spacing series continues to unfold, Parks in Crisis (parts 1 and 2). Toronto has, in the neighbourhood of $250 million, in what is called the Parkland Acquisitions & Development Reserve Fund. This is money paid by developers, set aside to purchase new parks and green spaces or rejuvenate existing ones in order to keep up with the increased development happening in the city, higher density development dependant on public spaces as ‘backyards’ basically for the growing number of multi-residential inhabitants.

That’s kind of surprising, isn’t it? coweringWeren’t you under the impression the city was tapped out, little room for the nice-to-haves like parklands the former mayor was always on about? Now we’re hearing there’s hundreds of millions of dollars just sitting there. What gives?

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than I’ll make it out to be here (that’s why John Lorinc is an actual journalist and I’m not) but I’m going to argue that this culture of fear that has descended on City Hall plays a big part in the inertia that’s allowing park space to fall further and further behind the pace of current development.

Who was the biggest loudmouth against the purchasing and refurbishing of green space over the last 5 years or so? Rob Ford. There were very few items along those lines he did not hold and did not rail against. Too much money, was his constant mantra, to be wasting on parks, playground and almost any public space that wasn’t a road.

In such an antagonistic environment, who in their right mind would step up with a park push? Keep your head low and money pile out of sight. Rob Ford may not even know the cash is there.

More structurally problematic, as Lorinc and Kimberley Noble point out, is the understaffing at City Hall due to the continual budget cuts and revenue decreases. The city can’t even keep up with maintaining existing parks and public spaces. sittingonmoneyWhat’s the rational for building new ones that won’t be looked after?

Moreover, there’s not the departmental staff to deal with the complex negotiations that go into securing these development funds, sometimes ranging into the tens of millions of dollars, or to implement some big, mega-park enterprise. “If somebody said, ‘here’s $100 million, let’s go,’ there isn’t the staff to execute those kind of projects,” Spacing is told. In the end, the city winds up taking the money and stashing it away, in the hopes of more favourable conditions, sometime in the future, I guess.

What about now, you might ask. Isn’t our long, municipal nightmare over? There’s a new sheriff in town, we’re told.

Bringing us back to Christopher Hume’s point. Rob Ford has effectively poisoned the civic well and his successor has done little so far to suggest he’s willing to stand up in a spirited defence of the commons. Mayor Tory has claimed repeatedly he was elected to keep taxes low. Check. He’s confident he can find savings through more efficiencies, ordering a 2% reduction in departmental budgets. Check. The point people he’s tapped to oversee many of these matters don’t instill much confidence in reversing the spending chill at City Hall.

Deputy Mayor and Waterfront TO board member Denzil Minnan-Wong doesn’t see a public expenditure not on roads he can’t rail against. cuttotheboneRemember Sugar Beach and those outrageous pink umbrellas, rocks and fancy public bathrooms? Surely, cheaper. And who’s chairing the Planning and Growth Management Committee? Why that old Spadina expressway enthusiast himself and noted tightwad, Councillor David Shiner.

These are names not usually associated with policies of smart growth or generally friendly to the common good. If anything, they signal a retrenchment of the Fordian era of illogical fiscal skin-flintery. Remain invisible, city staff, and don’t get flashy with any of your valuables.

Nor should there be any expectations from Team Tory of addressing the green space inequities the Spacing series points out. 69% of the parkland reserves between 2011-2014 came from what is most of two former municipalities, Toronto and East York (47% of that from just three downtown wards). Yet that same part of the city has received just 15% of all total new parkland since amalgamation.

But wait. That can’t be. Conventional wisdom says that downtown gets everything. Conventional wisdom (even when coming from the disreputable mouths of Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti or Glenn De Baeremaeker) cannot be wrong or, at least, cannot be contested. Certainly, Mayor Tory wasn’t elected to contest such politically sensitive conventional wisdom.blowhole

“…[Rob] Ford turned self-doubt into self-hatred,” Christopher Hume writes, referring to our reflexive anti-government opinion toward City Hall. Mayor Tory has embraced that sensibility, putting a smiley face on the empty boosterism that rarely includes any positive public sector contribution. In so doing, he threatens to milk the current building boom in Toronto dry, leaving the mess that will inevitably follow for others to clean up.

fearfully submitted by Cityslikr


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