Rank Anti-Ranked Ballot Arguments

October 6, 2015

There are good arguments against ranked ballots. Valid reasons in which they are not optimal, mostly revolving around the question of true proportional representation. goodpointIt is not a perfect system.

Unfortunately, these are not the arguments being made currently, especially by those on city council who voted in favour last week of requesting the province not to give cities the option of introducing ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. Motion 6(a) from Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore): “That the Province should not proceed with amendments to the Municipal Elections Act to provide for Ranked Choice Voting.” There’s nothing more to this than not wanting to have the debate at all. It’s essentially trying to kneecap a decision council made last term. No discussion. Just cheap political thuggery.

If you want to hear really bad, woefully inadequate, pure and utter fuckwad nitwittery arguments against ranked ballots, take 5 minutes and listen to this segment on Mark Towhey’s Sunday 1010 talk radio show from three first term councillors, all, interestingly enough, close allies of Mayor John Tory. He voted against the motion. With friends like these, am I right?

I’ll refrain from taking the most obvious snark shot here. Larry, Curly and Moe. Because, really, that’s the first thing that sprang to your mind too, isn’t it.

No. I’m going with Dopey, Doc and Sully. A coterie of dumb. Exemplars of why we here in Toronto can’t have nice things.

When Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence) opens her mouth to speak, you realize why she doesn’t do so very often. It does her no favours. You know why she supported the motion to bury ranked ballots? She’s never been a fan of them. That’s why. She doesn’t like them.

You can hardly blame her, from an entirely selfish perspective. As Mr. Towhey pointed out, she was elected last year with only 17% of the popular vote. tempertantrumWith ranked ballots, the outcome might’ve been different, depending on the makeup of her challengers and other variables. Councillor Carmichael Greb simply doesn’t ‘believe it’.

Besides, she told listeners, she worked really hard for over a year to ensure that fewer than 1 in 5 voters in her ward put an X beside her name. She earned that 17%, dammit! With 16 candidates on the ballot in Ward 16, it was already confusing for the voters, she claimed. Having to choose 1, 2, 3 would’ve been even more so and, ultimately, not made any difference as far as the candidate who got into office with just 17% of the vote was concerned.

In explaining his opposition to ranked ballots, Councillor Stephen ‘Doc’ (yeah, I went there) Holyday (Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre) continued his impressive display of seemingly sound, rational reasoning always taking him into the reeds of illogical reactionism. It is a step forward, I guess, from the frequent unhinged rantings of his father, the sire of the Holyday dynasty in Etobicoke, (L’il Ginny, anyone?), but if it lands us in the same nonsensical soft spot, what’s it matter? The journey is a lot less fun to watch.

Councillor Holyday informed us that, under the current system, there’s quite a diversity at city council. A diversity along the political spectrum, that is, left, right and centre, and please, don’t look at the overwhelmingly white, largely male elephant in the room. longrouteSuch diversity, according to the councillor, leads to vigorous debate and discussion which, it can hardly be argued, is a good thing.

The problem with ranked ballots, says Councillor Holyday, is that they will ‘flatten’ that diversity. How? Because – and this is where he goes truly Holydian in his thinking – the second or third choice candidates on a ranked ballots will, and I’m quoting here with italics to emphasize the outrageousness of the statement, “…naturally be that centre, centre-left candidate that’s very neutral, very unexciting…”

Where the fuck does he come up with that?! Was he talking to his dad over Sunday brunch before coming in to the studio to do the show? Councillor Holyday proceeds to pile it on, suggesting such a fantasy scenario will lead to boring debates at city council as if the sole purpose of municipal government is to keep us entertained with some gruesome spectacle.

What’s truly amazing about the councillor’s performance here is that he actually brings up an interesting point before taking it and driving it through his eye into the intelligence centre of his brain, thereby killing any possibility of thoughtful discourse. on2ndthoughtBingham Powell, in his 2000 book, Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions, suggested that our current system, first past the post, let’s call it, which requires a simple plurality of votes to determine election outcomes, may lead “to governments that are more extreme than the voters”. Or, less boring, as Councillor Holyday might sum up.

By making his particular argument against ranked ballots, basically smoothing off the extreme edges of the democratic process, Holyday winds up actually arguing in favour of the hyper-partisan, divisive dynamic that has been paralyzing this city for at least 5 years now.

As egregious an assault on our intelligence as that was, Councillor Jon Burnside (Ward 26 Don Valley West) took home the bullshit prize on this particular day. I nicknamed him Sully because, honestly, I failed to come up with a better word ending in ‘y’ for him. Dicky? Pricky? I even briefly contemplated transgressing the c-bomb stratosphere before settling on Sully.


Councillor Burnside’s anti-ranked ballot justification just drips of condescension toward the voting public. The ‘complication factor’, he stated, despite the fact that host Towhey had perfectly explained how ranked ballots worked in about 45 seconds.idiot Ranked ballots are a lot more complicated than putting down one X, Burnside said, as if counting to 3 gets most of us all fuzzy-headed.

He then goes on to say that when he was out knocking on doors during last year’s campaign, a lot of voters didn’t know the difference between federal, provincial and municipal levels of government as if that somehow proves that we can’t be trusted to mentally multitask. Nope. We’re simple folk. We like to mark our ballots like we like to sign our names. With just one X.

It is hard to refute his argument about the idiocy of the electorate, I guess, at least in Ward 26. After all, voters there voted Jon Burnside into office to represent their interests at City Hall.

In less time than it took Mark Towhey to inform listeners about the nuts and bolts of ranked ballots, Councillor Burnside sullied the reputation of voters and revealed a real patronizing side toward his constituency. I’d suggest anyone wanting to challenge him in 2018 simply print up flyers saying in big bold letters: COUNCILLOR JON BURNSIDE THINKS YOU’RE STUPID, WARD 26! No, wait. KOWNSILER JON BERNSID THINK WERE STOOPID WORD ??WEAR EVER WE LIV!!!

If you’re opposed to ranked ballots, so be it. We do still live in a democracy. idiot1This isn’t Russia. This isn’t Russia, is it, Danny?

Just be honest, is all we can ask. Don’t come up with bogus rationalizations. It’s obvious, listening to these 3 city councillor, Burnside, Carmichael Greb and Holyday, they don’t like change. The won, fair and square, with the current system in place. Why would they possibly want to change that?

But please stop insulting our, albeit limited, intelligence pretending it’s about anything else. You just wind up embarrassing yourselves.

dumbly submitted by Cityslikr

… but He Plays One On TV

October 5, 2015

A thought occurred to me the other day, so obvious that someone must surely have put it out there already. If so, my apologies for making it my own. actingCredit is all yours, whoever you are.

John Tory is far better at playing the role of mayor than he is actually being the mayor. He carries the chain of office with the appropriate level of gravitas and decorum. Photo ops and press conferences serve as his milieu, his political sweet spot. The day-to-day business of running the city? Where’s the fun in that? What about pomp? Don’t we all need a little circumstance?

For sure, there are some agenda items this mayor grabs and runs with, pushing and pulling the levers of powers of his office to further. So far, however, they’ve largely coalesced around roads and drivers — See: Parking Enforcement! — and his signature transit plan, SmartTrack. On these matters, Mayor Tory is indefatigable in his mayoral pursuit of championing. The bully pulpit that comes with being mayor, he has used to its fullest on these matters.

The rest of it? His mayoral passion waxes and wanes, depending on whether there’s an Olympic bid to ponder or public event to speak at. bullypulpitAs long as whatever it is doesn’t get in the way of more pressing mayoral matters, have at it. If it’s prudent, reasonable and gets done without too much fuss and bother, you’ve got the green light from Mayor Tory.

Which probably goes to explain exactly how the motion to rescind the request to the province for the right to use ranked ballots in the next municipal election passed city council last week. The mayor was asleep at the switch. The matter wasn’t on his radar. He had distinctly stated, at least on the topic of the Scarborough subway, this council shouldn’t spend its time reversing decisions of the previous council. So why would he be expecting this kind of motion of reversal?

Especially since it came from one of his allies, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Tory “Super Saturday-ed” with him last election to boost Di Ciano’s chances of winning the council seat in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He appointed Di Ciano to be a member of the powerful Budget Committee. Hell, the mayor’s office tapped Councillor Di Ciano to be part of the working group that met with city staff over the summer to work on the City of Toronto Act report which council was debating when this motion hit the floor. You’d expect, just out of common courtesy, Mayor Tory might’ve been alerted beforehand that this was coming.waitwhat

Clearly he wasn’t, as he ended up on the losing side of the vote. The mayor didn’t even get up to speak against the item, to urge council to vote it down. Maybe he realized it was an uphill battle and didn’t want to risk further embarrassment. Eight of the twelve other members of his Executive Committee voted in opposition to the mayor in favour of not wanting ranked ballots including three councillors, Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford and Jaye Robinson, who flip-flopped from their 2013 vote. Three of Mayor Tory’s four deputy mayors opposed him.

It could be that ranked ballots just did not…ummmm…rank high enough up on the mayor’s priority list for him to risk an internal battle with his closest council allies. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Loyalty isn’t bought but horse-traded. Fair enough.

If that’s the case, though, Mayor Tory can’t claim to have supported ranked ballots simply because he voted against Councillor Di Ciano’s motion. He supported ranked ballots but just not enough. If it comes to pass that the provincial government doesn’t grant municipalities the right to use ranked ballots in response to this motion, it will be under Mayor Tory’s watch that the initiative died. It will hardly matter that he supported the idea in principle. blindsided1In practice, he didn’t fight for them.

Ahh, well. You win some, you lose some. No mayor should be expected to pitch a perfect game. There’s only so much political capital to go around. Whipping votes and enforcing discipline among your council supporters comes at a cost. Even the best of mayors sometimes get sandbagged by their best of buds. Pushing back on that would only look petty and pissy.

So while we bemoan yet another attack on voting reform by status quo seeking politicians, we should celebrate the fact that our weak mayoral system remains in effect. Great freedom resides at City Hall for even the most lightweight of dim bulb councillors to pursue and hunt down any pet peeve that irks them, even if it defies a mayoral edict not to reverse previous council decisions, even if it runs contrary to a hearty pro-ranked ballot endorsement the mayor made earlier this year, even if you’re, apparently, a part of the mayor’s team.ettubrute

Go for it, Mayor Tory has signaled to ally, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Do your worst. There will be no repercussions for undermining the mayor, especially for friends and over inconsequential matters. Political in-fighting is undignified, beneath the office of the mayor. There are appearances to be maintained, after all. The actual dirty work of running a city isn’t the job of someone who likes to keep their hands clean.

democratically submitted by Cityslikr

The Worst. The Absolute Worst.

October 2, 2015

Just about a year ago (340 days or so but who’s counting?), as the results of the 2014 municipal election rolled in, I looked over the debris and carnage and declared that this may well shape up to be an even worse city council than the one that preceded it.JustinDiCiano

Impossible to imagine, I know, in the wake of the drunken, crack-laden, I’ve got enough to eat at home Ford years. But I held firm in my view that we did ourselves no favours with the new composition of council even with the new mayor we installed. Just watch, I said.

While I think there have been more than a few examples to back up my claim (the Gardiner east hybrid hybrid anyone?), a vote last night at council cemented it. In a 25-18 vote, our local representatives decided to reverse course and reject the notion of using ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. “A real setback for democratic reform and renewal,” according to Councillor Joe Mihevc.

How did such a turnaround happen? Aside from this simply being a worse city council, you mean? We have to go back to earlier this year, June to be exact.

The province is undergoing a 5 year review of the City of Toronto Act, the 2006 piece of legislation where Queen’s Park bestowed more powers and autonomy on Toronto’s city council. City staff struck up its own review process and the mayor’s office established a panel of 3 councillors, Norm Kelly, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Justin Di Ciano, to work with the staff in coming up with recommendations to pass along to the province for its consideration. The resulting report was before city council to vote on yesterday.

During the debate, councillors were putting forth ideas of their own to package off and send to Queen’s Park. JustinDiCianoThey were flying so fast and furiously at one point that Mayor Tory stood up to lecture his colleagues on governing ‘on the fly’. Staff had worked with council for months to come up with this report. These slap ons were, to the mayor’s mind, going to muddy the waters and diminish the seriousness of the report’s intent. Two of the working group members, councillors Kelly and Wong-Tam, echoed that sentiment.

The third member of the panel, Councillor Justin Di Ciano, had other ideas. Despite apparently working throughout the summer with Kelly and Wong-Tam and city staff on the report council was now amending, plenty of time, you’d assume, for him to float the idea of tossing out the request for ranked ballots, he decided to pursue it ‘on the fly’, as the mayor said. What were his reasons? They were doozies. Real fucking doozies.

Voters found ranked ballots “too confusing” he said. Never mind that the Toronto Star’s Betsy Powell explained how they work in a couple paragraphs.

Under ranked balloting, voters select candidates in order of preference — potentially first, second and third. The candidate with the majority of first-place votes — 50 per cent plus one — wins, just as in the current system.

If nobody meets that threshold, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is knocked out. The second-place choices of that candidate’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining hopefuls, and so on, until someone has a majority.

Hopelessly and utterly confused, are you? As the ranked ballot literature says, Easy as 1, 2, 3.

Under softball questioning from fellow council lightweight, Michelle Berardinetti, Councillor Di Ciano cited some study from California that said ‘low-income voters’ had trouble understanding ranked ballots. JustinDiCianoSee? The poorz. They just wouldn’t get it.

The councillor went on to say that this particular council, you know, the one worse than the previous one, shouldn’t be beholden to a decision made late last term. The vote on ranked ballots happened in June of 2013, with almost 18 months left in the mandate. What point does Councillor Justin Di Ciano think should serve as a cutoff in the term of council when it needs to stop doing stuff that might impinge on subsequent councils? A year? Two?

What makes this line of reasoning even more fucking ridiculously vacuous is that the June 2013 vote from city council was a request to the provincial government for the power to decide to use ranked ballots. Even if the province grants the city that power, council would have to vote to enact it. So this city council would have the opportunity to vote against it, and no decision from the previous council would be forced upon it.

Instead, city council said yesterday, nope, don’t even want to consider it.

This boneheaded motion from a terrible, terrible city councillor, Justin Di Ciano, could’ve, should’ve died right there, in its infancy. JustinDiCianoAll it needed was 7 councillors who’d voted in favour of requesting ranked ballots in June 2013 (and one who’d “missed” that particular vote) to vote against it. Amazingly, they didn’t. They did a 180. Like that. Killing months and years of advocacy that a whole lot of people had dedicated their time to. Just like that.

Who were those councillors?

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre). Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport). Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West). Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West).

Had these councillors not cravenly flipped-floppped, the results of the vote would’ve been reversed, and the motion would’v died. They did and it didn’t. Yeah, this city council sucks.

Click on those links, get a phone number or email address. And start asking these councillors why they changed their minds on pretty much a moment’s notice. Why did they think ranked ballots were a good idea last term? JustinDiCianoWhy do they think ranked ballots are a bad idea now? What changed?

Oh, and let’s not forget the architect of this clusterfuck and big ol’ fuck you to voting reform, Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke Lakeshore). Remember this face. It is the face of a city council that makes you pine for the Ford years.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr

That’d Be What Uber Do

October 1, 2015

I vowed not to write about Uber or cabs or taxi reform ever again. I did. Because I just don’t care. vowofsilenceI can’t muster the interest or… the energy to even finish that sentence.

But then something happened yesterday at city council which presented me with a situation I never thought I’d find myself writing. Rob Ford, Councillor Rob Ford, I’m writing, still donning his Sopranos track suit for whatever reason, stood up to ask questions of Mayor Tory, and the councillor – are you ready? – actually made sense.

Paraphrasing here, the councillor riddled the mayor this.

Does an Uber car and a taxi do the “exact same job”?

To which Mayor Tory responded: “You know full well that is a complicated question.”

To which I thought: Is it? Is it really that complicated a question?

The mayor did later admit that, yes, an Uber car and cab both provide a service of picking customers up, dropping them off where they want to go and charging for that service. How they go about delivering that service is different but it is basically the same service. yesornoThat’s really the crux of this debate.

No doubt this is pure bullshit politics on Councillor Ford’s part. Ideologically speaking, he should be an Uber champion. Down with regulation! Slash the red tape! The customer is always right! Let the market, the FREE market, decide!

But since Mayor Tory has displayed a certain friendliness to the corporation, the councillor must stand against it. You can never agree with an adversary unless it’s on your terms, unless it’s them agreeing with you. That’s just how you play politics according to the Ford doctrine.

The fact is, by every measure immediately apparent to me, Uber is a livery company, “A business that offers vehicles, such as automobiles or boats, for hire.” How you go about summoning someone to come and whisk you away to your destination, whether it’s a concierge whistle, a street corner hail, a telephone call or smartphone app, doesn’t alter the kind of business you’re doing. A livery business. A business that offers vehicles, such as automobiles or boats, for hire.

Councillor Rob Ford was right. Uber and the cab companies do the “exact same job”. liveryDoes Uber do the job better? Hundreds of thousands of Uber allies will zealously tell you it does. Is the taxi industry in this town monopolistic and in desperate need of reform? Again, hundreds of thousands of Uber allies (and general all-round not-fans of the industry) will zealously tell you, yes. Yes, it does.

I’ve got no opinion either way on that. Like I said, I can’t find two fucks to rub together to flint a spark of interest about it. That we’re spending so much time on an issue that is of such importance to people who apparently can’t make their way around this city without paying someone to chauffeur them is galling. Our sense of civics has shrunken to little more than Can I Get This Cheaper and I Want It To Be More Convenient. For me.

All politics is personal, as they say.


But this is what Uber does. The corporation imposes itself, city by city, sucking up all the political oxygen. With heavy lobbyist clout, it becomes important, vital, a mayor’s key item.

It’s anything but. Uber’s just another livery business, picking people up, dropping people off, charging a fee to do it. shhhhThe model may be different, it may be better. It still does the “exact same thing” any other taxi business does. Rob Ford was right.

So do the rest of us a favour and at least own it. Stop pretending it’s about anything other than that. Technology changes everything. The “sharing” economy. The 21st-century. The future! Progress!

And can we please start talking about something else now?*


(*Apparently not. Actual regulation of Uber, and Uber-like services won’t be put on the table now by city staff until early next year. Much more waste of time, energy and breath to come.)

unenthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr

The Defeat Device

September 29, 2015

The basis of the appeal of the private automobile has always been a kind of mystically perceived total freedom. In practice, it is the freedom to go wherever one wants to go (wherever the roads go, which opens up another socioeconomic can of worms), whenever one desires to go (whenever the car is ready, when one has paid the price in preparation and maintenance, in taxation and legal qualification, whenever one has the wherewithal simply to feed the machine), at whatever rate one desires to go (assuming the traffic will allow, that congestion eases – and at rates up to but not beyond the arbitrary standards established to protect one from the dangers of excessive use of his own freedom).

Never mind the cavils, however; mobility, or the illusion thereof, has indeed been the prime attraction, the dream for which we have so cheerfully paid all those other costs. The tragedy is that if mobility alone had been the single goal in the development of the modern private automobile, we could have achieved a better measure of it for a fraction of a percentage point of the cost we have paid.

— John Jerome, The Death of the Automobile, 1972

It should be unsettling to all of us that we have built our lives around, designed the places we live and work to, hinged an unhealthy segment of our economy on this “mystically perceived total freedom” of the private automobile. deathoftheautomobileSo engrained is this perception of the individual life enhancing power of the car that we cannot imagine a future without one, a future, like the past two generations, of unimodal transportation policy revolving entirely around our use of private vehicles. Anything else is inconceivable.

Our mayor will be pursuing an item at city council this week that will, if successful, drain $350 million from the capital budget in order to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway, shrinking the timeline from 20 to 8 years. So important to our local economy that people not be hampered in getting around the city in their cars, Mayor Tory believes this to be a wise and prudent expense of public dollars. Just like spending hundreds of millions more money to keep a small eastern section of the same expressway elevated makes sense to him.

The primacy of the automobile is simply self-evident. As it was so it shall ever be. carad5Stopping such madness only serves to reveal it was madness from the very beginning.

While you can certainly accuse the mayor of lacking much imagination and even less foresight, you can’t necessarily fault him. The car mythology has been deeply engrained in us, sold to us unrelentingly, in 30 second spots during the Super Bowl, filling up magazine pages, providing regular content in pop culture. Little Deuce Coup to the Fast and Furious. Baby, you can drive my car and we’ll have fun, fun, `til your daddy takes the T-bird away. (That makes no sense but nothing about car adulation does).

We have been bamboozled by marketing and PR. In this way, the automotive industry has much in common with Big Tobacco. Actually, in another important way as well. Mass deception and perfidy resulting in a steady march of hundreds of thousands to the graveyard.

Truth in advertising.

We laugh now at the outrageous claims of pretend doctors pitching their favourite brand of cigarettes. Cool menthol. Lucky Strike. It’s Toasted! Low tar and nicotine. I’d Rather Fight Than Switch. carad4Come To Where The Flavour Is, you Marlboro Man Men, a succession of pitchmen dying of lung cancer.

But how much more realistic is your everyday car commercial? Mostly, drivers and their freedom-loving passengers, tearing it up along the open road, nary another car in sight, even in the most populous of cities. Ads highlighting the new features that a company has developed to keep your family safe deny the obvious. Your family would be much safer not travelling around the city in a car.

One of the most cynical spots on TV right now is one featuring the band X Ambassadors, touring America in a Jeep, writing lyrics, listening to music on the radio, taking in the sights. And where do they wind up for a gig? At a venue that says ‘Portland’ on its marquee. Portland, Oregon. Perhaps the leading North American city committed to reducing its dependence of private automobiles.

Renegades, my ass, you TV jinglemakers. Fuck you, X Ambassadors. Fuck you, Jeep. Fuck you, car industry.

A little over-the-top? An unfair comparison, cars and cigarettes? One is a delivery system for an addictive, toxic virulence which was well-known but hidden and denied by corporations and the other…

Volkswagen: The scandal explained. ‘Diesel dupe’. ‘Defeat device’. carad2A mammoth multinational company consciously working to defy regulations in order to sell their product which dumps untold amounts of dangerous, deadly shit into the atmosphere. Yeah, that’s the other.

It’s not like this is some singular event by an outlier. Car companies have been slipping and dodging government environmental regulations for, well, probably since the advent of environmental regulations. “Manufacturers have long been accused of using specially prepared cars to produce the best possible [miles-per-gallon performance] figures.”

The entire Age of the Automobile has been predicated on lies and slick, misleading advertising. Like all advertising, it’s based on a perceived lifestyle with the promise of easy, economical and efficient mobility at its core. Like all advertising, it’s not entirely true. Not even close.

This is not news, particularly. There’s nothing revelatory in that statement. Car dependence is killing us, and disfiguring our cities and communities in the process. But we’re too far in, it seems, to do much about it. carad1We just continue to dig the hole deeper, tossing more money after bad, hoping to find a solution somewhere in that deep, dark pit.

The denial sits heavily. We can’t possibly have been this stupid to have bought so whole-heartedly into such a fantasy, spun by corporate entities. Can we? No. Let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing.

More than 40 years on, we refuse to accept the reality of what we’ve done.

Technology isn’t evil, but the uses of technology often are. The car is a bad machine – and the solution is not to build a better bad machine, but rather not to build bad machines. Yet this huge, wealthy nation is trapped with what is virtually a single transportation system, and to suggest simply abandoning that system is to suggest paralyzing the nation. We have become addicted to automobiles; they have become literally a necessity to sustaining life.

autohatingly submitted by Cityslikr

Standing Strong For The Status Quo

September 28, 2015

There are days when my rational and sane side win out, when my contempt and general misanthropy wane, taking a back seat and making me, I think, a moderately agreeable person. It rarely occurs without a battle. sunnydispositiononarainydayI don’t enjoy taking the dim view but whoever said that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile couldn’t have been fully on top of either human psychology or physiology.

Reasonable me wants to believe Mayor John Tory is more concerned, is more of an advocate for addressing Toronto’s affordable housing crisis (as part of a broader anti-poverty strategy) than was his predecessor, Rob Ford. That should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, no sooner had Ford assumed the mayor’s office than he started making noise about selling off Toronto Community Housing stock and letting the private sector deal with the mess. There were few social programs he didn’t deem to be akin to thug hugging.

Mayor Tory, on the other hand, has handpicked Councillor Pam McConnell to devise a poverty reduction strategy. Earlier this year he appointed Senator Art Eggleton to oversee the functioning of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and recommend ways to make it work better. Councillor Ana Bailão continues to focus on ways to deal with the Mount Everest backlog of TCHC state of good repairs. lookbusy1Just last week, the mayor pressed the ReSet button on an initiative to streamline the manner TCHC goes about fixing its housing stock.

So yeah, sane and rational me prevails, seeing Mayor Tory as a step in the right direction on the poverty and affordable housing fronts after the Ford years. Check that It Could Be Worse box.

But here comes disagreeable me to demand that it’d be really great to see the mayor speak and act as passionately and as often about poverty and affordable housing as he does on road repairs and car congestion. He’s pushing a $350 million agenda item at city council meeting this week to expedite work on the Gardiner expressway, reducing the construction timeline down 8 years, from 20 to 12. Just today, the mayor was defending an extra $3.4 million spent on a section of the Gardiner to shorten the repair completion date a few months.

Watch Mayor Tory vigorously champion the $350 million Gardiner rehabilitation expenditure at last week’s Executive Committee meeting on economic grounds (right near the end of the clip).

There is no mountain the mayor does not seem willing to move, no amount of money he will not spend to free drivers of congested traffic. Poverty and affordable housing? He’ll appoint people to make reports. He’ll tweak procurement practices. He’ll press senior levels of government to do their part.

That’s a whole lot better than showing up at buildings and handing out $20 bills but it’s hardly enough. It’s all well and good. It’s not Gardiner expressway rehabilitation level good, though.

This is where the sunny disposition, sane and rational me loses the upper hand on this discussion. No amount of reports or fiddling with the system is going to seriously address the problems at TCHC. Neither will they do much in dealing with poverty in Toronto, and the rise of David Hulchanski’s 3 cities within this city. Tblahblahblahhese are long simmering problems abandoned in any serious way by all 3 levels of governments for the better part of a generation now.

And Mayor Tory’s go-to move on the files? Not dissimilar from Rob Ford’s when he was mayor. Ask/cajole/plead with/shame the provincial and federal governments to pitch in and do their part. Try, and try again. Only this time, it’ll be different because… because… because… ?

Is this the face of a provincial government that looks as if it’s willing to open up its coffers to a municipal ask/demand from Toronto?

The Ontario government is trying to squeeze millions of dollars out of the City of Toronto by appealing the property-tax assessments on several provincial properties – including the Legislature Building at Queen’s Park and the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance.

During the Executive Committee debate over the Gardiner expressway rehabilitation item, it was pointed out that in order to access federal government infrastructure money the project had to use a P3 process. Sure, you can have some money. But always with strings attached. Always.

Mayor Tory hopes to tap into some of that federal infrastructure cash to help with the $2.6 billion repair backlog at TCHC. Another wish that comes, presumably, with strings attached. If we’re lucky.

This is where I can fight off the contempt and discontent no longer. Our mayor seems unprepared, unwilling or unable to challenge this status quo. He talks and talks and talks around it, expresses occasional dissatisfaction with it but in the end, he bows down before it. fingerscrossedWith an eye on the polls, acting on those things which churn with possible voter anger and ballot retribution, he prioritizes his agenda accordingly. Thus, we find ourselves flush with $350 million to speed up repairs on the Gardiner but improvements to living conditions at the TCHC remain dependent on successful asks from senior levels of government.

The poors and their poverty aren’t traditionally big vote getters. That’s simply the undeniable status quo. Mayor Tory isn’t big on challenging the status quo.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr

A Leap Of Faith In Ourselves

September 26, 2015

If you want to see the hollow, corrupted shell that modern conservatism has become, check out its reaction to the leap manifesto.hysterical (The what? I know, I know. So like, 10 days ago.) “Naomi Klein’s Great Leap Backward,” wailed the Financial Post’s Peter Foster, “…issued on Tuesday by an asylum full of celebrity victims of Harper Derangement Syndrome…is certainly a thought-provoking platform. The main thoughts it provokes are: Does achieving celebrity cause a sharp drop in IQ and increase in hypocrisy, or does all-consuming artistic ego and/or power-hungry socialist inclination prevent all logical thought?”

Celebrities and eggheads. What do they know about the real world, am I right? Marxists and Maoists, the lot them, trumpeting long-refuted Keynesian economics, strangled as it was by the Invisible Hand of the free market. The FREE market.

Only moderately less hysterical, the Globe and Mail editorial board similarly dismissed the presence of ‘movie stars and pop musicians’ (and public-service unions — *spit*) signing on to this “…revolutionary (but not in the good sense of the word) critique of capitalism.” angrypartisanWhat might be a good sense of the word ‘revolutionary’? The G&M doesn’t really take the time to explain such details, too busy ripping apart the document’s contents for that.

In doing so, the Globe showed itself as willing as the Financial Post not to engage candidly with the leap manifesto. Misrepresentation was more to their liking. Not coincidentally both publications claimed that the manifesto called for an end to all trade deals with a big ripping noise. Problem is, they both cut and copied the first part of that particular sentence.

“We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects. [Bolding mine.]

That’s a huge gulf of difference between what is written and what these newspapers claimed was on the page.

At least these papers made the pretense of having a serious (but not in the good sense of the word) discussion. Over on social media, all critique and flack began and ended on the word ‘manifesto’. In a nutshell: You know who else wrote a manifesto? Karl Marx. joemccarthyIt was called The Communist Manifesto. Therefore, all manifestos are communist. You support this manifesto? You’re a communist. You know who supports this manifesto? The NDP. They’re communists. Their leader, Tom Mulcair, is a communist. A Tommunist. Get it? Tom-Comm, Tommunist. Tommunist Manifesto. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto

A ‘50s-era line of attack smear intending, I guess, to provide cover for those still in desperate need for a reason to vote Conservative in the upcoming federal election. Well, Harper’s not perfect but at least he’s not a communist. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto.

Mock and ridicule. The current state of our conservative politics, folks.

*  *  *

(The three dots to denote a change of what will hopefully turn out to be a related narrative direction that I couldn’t masterfully do using just words. I’m fessing up to that up front.)

Along with the leap manifesto, I also spent some time reading Joshua Zeitz’s August Atlantic article, Born to Run and the Decline of the American Dream, commemorating (if that’s the right word) the 40th anniversary of the album’s release. “I don’t think the American Dream was that everyone was going to make it or that everyone was going to make a billion dollars,” Springsteen said in a later interview. borntorun“But it was that everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That, in two sentences, summed up the rationale of the western post-war consensus. A mixed-use economy with the government playing an integral in both smoothing out the regular kinks the market suffered, as well as ensuring a level playing field in providing equal access to opportunity. Not, as Springsteen pointed out, equal access to a billion dollars but at `the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.’

Born To Run became something of an anthem to the breakdown of that consensus occurring in the mid-70s. Conventional economic thought had not seen the economic shocks that rattled the boom time belief in never-ending growth and prosperity coming, and it wasn’t quick enough to offer up possible solutions to the malaise which set in. In its place, up popped a seductively simple alternative. Free up the markets from the death grip of government intervention. borntorun1Unleash the wealth creators and let the good times roll. Money will trickle down to everyone. A rising tide will raise all boats.

Remove the human element from the free market, the FREE market, and let it run perfectly, like Newton’s well-oiled cosmic clock, keeping exact time according to the immutable laws of the universe. Keynes was dead. Long live the Chicago school!

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong,” H.L. Mencken wrote decades earlier, predicting, I’m sure, economic theorists.

The upheaval wasn’t simply economic. The social consensus also fractured. In this everybody for themselves environment promoted by the new economic model we were told would solve our problems, oppositional forces turned on each other. Union leaders were now seen as fat cats and leeches. Racial divisions hardened. And what were the damn girls screeching about now?

As Zeitz points out in his article, the protest politics of the 60s didn’t disappear in the 70s. They changed. Gone were the hippies marching against an unjust war, in favour of peace and love. 1970sIn their place, the taxpayers’ revolt and the moral majority. The counter-revolution, reactionism.

Like many Canadians of my demographic, I was buffered from the tumult, by and large. I had discovered Bruce Springsteen post-Born To Run with Darkness on the Edge of Town. He spoke to the mild youthful rebellion I was experiencing. Springsteen and the punks. But I was far from one of the working class figures he depicted in his songs.

My parents certainly were but they had seized the opportunity offered up by the post-war consensus Springsteen spoke of, to live a life of decency and self-respect, and ensure I never had to toil as hard as they did. The irony is, the only time I spent on the factory floor was in a summer job between 1st and 2nd year of university, in a union shop, making a shitload of money. A shitload of money.

But that was during the early-80s, and things were different back then. Me and my generation (probably grammatically incorrect but sounds appropriately gritty) kicked away the ladder behind us as we climbed into the comfortable positions our parents created for us. Sorry, kids. Didn’t you hear? The rules have all changed.

*  *  *

(Act 3, or the Final Act, a variation on the Hegelian thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Fingers crossed!)

Just as the post-war consensus era ran its course, collapsing after 30, 35 years, its successor, what do we call it, The Great Unravelling, is walking wounded on its last legs. breadlineHidebound ideological adherents refuse to admit it but it all came crashing down in 2008, and now limps toward its demise, unable to staunch the bleeding.

We call it the Great Recession because, apparently, it wasn’t as bad as the Great Depression which, along with World War II, was an important element in the subsequent creation of the post-war consensus. We’ve been through some tough times recently, sure. But not that tough, not Dust Bowl, bread line tough. Everybody’s got a cell phone and hi-def TV. How hard can it be?

2008 was just blip, a bad downturn, a correction, if you will. Nothing that 7 years of sluggish growth wide spread economic insecurity won’t help fix. Pay no attention to any dark clouds that pop up on the horizon, it’ll be blue skies and smooth sailing ahead if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, adamsmithkeeping taxes low, governments small and our ears to the ground for any sort of threat to our way of doing business life.

Friend of this site, former city councillor and proud Progressive Conservative, John Parker, in reaction to the news that the pay of the average U.S. CEO in 2014 was almost 400 times that of the average employee, “multiples of what it was a few decades ago,” Mr. Parker tweeted, asked how many had read Adam Smith’s book, Wealth of Nations. Smith was an 18th-century philosopher, hero of the neo-conservative/liberal set, who penned the idea of the Invisible Hand, the magic of the free market, the FREE market, summoned by our rational pursuit of self-interest.

“And hands up everyone who knows that Adam Smith also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Parker continued. “The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith, redux: An economic system must have a moral foundation in order to be sustainable.”

Markets don’t have morals. They just determine winners and losers. jacobmarleyPeople are moral (or should be). Government should reflect people, moral people, not markets.

While it would be simplistic to chalk up the cause of the crash of 2008 to just one thing, I do not think it outrageous to believe that the key to understanding such a massive economic failure (and its ongoing lingering malaise – there’s that word again) is that the system had absolutely no moral foundation. It wasn’t sustainable, a spectacular flameout was inevitable because it lacked morality, fairness or any sense of responsibility beyond me, mine and my own.

I would postulate that it is this lack of morality the leap manifesto seeks to address.

Or sought to address, I guess it’s fair to conclude. Ten days is a long time, especially in a 70+ day campaign. The leap manifesto seems to have become something of a relic, a tic. Big news for a day or two, then vapour. Almost as if it didn’t happen. A new shoe tried on but ill-fitting. It didn’t stick to the NDP like conservatives hoped it would. It didn’t stick to the NDP because the NDP wanted nothing to do with it.

Clearly, an election campaign is no time to talk about root causes, big ideas or actual change from a rotten status quo. Carry on, gentlemen. jmkeynesIt’s business as usual.

Now we’re on to niqabs and the conservative rallying cry of Can Governments Really Do Anything About The Economy? Really?

A couple weeks back, Doug Saunders, certainly no avid proponent of government interventionism and writing for the same Globe and Mail newspaper that had haughtily dismissed the leap manifesto, suggested that maybe, just maybe, the government does have role to play in economic affairs.

Many economists came to realize not only that government intervention bailed many countries out of the post-2008 recession and restored growth and employment, but that the crisis itself may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy – the sort of direct investment and partnership that had existed in earlier decades.

“The crisis itself” — a crisis of 21st-century capitalism – “may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy.” Active government support “that had existed in earlier decades.”

How’s that for your great leap backward? To a time when government didn’t simply get out of the way and let the magic of the mythical invisible hand do its thing. freemarketTo a time when it was expected that a government would do all it could to ensure that, how did Bruce Springsteen put it? “…everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That doesn’t seem overly ambitious or too unachievably utopian. It just doesn’t square with the self-made man image of the economic right where worth is measured solely by wealth regardless of the manner in which it was amassed. If you haven’t made it, bucko, look no further than the mirror. The blame lies squarely there, nowhere else.

It’s everybody for themselves and everything else will fall into place.

Except it doesn’t. It never has, and the façade of that political and economic belief system shattered in 2008. Having spent the past 7 years trying to piece it back together, to tweak and tinker it as if only minor adjustments were all that was needed, we’re simply denying the reality our current situation. Only a transformation, another great transformation, if you will, is in order.headinthesand

That’s what the leap manifesto is all about.

That it’s already yesterday’s news suggests we’re not ready to make any sort of transformative leap. We agonize over almost rounding error deficits and accept the faulty premise that only balanced budgets will cure the economic ills that ail us. We’ll elect our next federal government based on minor differences, all revolving around a discredited economic model and an abused sense of governance. And then we’ll wonder why nothing much has changed.

ever hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


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