To Live And Drive In L.A.

April 10, 2015

(First time posting from our new Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, a friend of ours from back in the days of fire, earthquakes, riots and O.J. We fled to our northern safety. He remained behind.)

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guestcommentary

Recently, Zocalo Public Square, the not-for-profit ideas exchange, hosted a discussion at MOCA in Los Angeles that asked, “Is Car Culture Dead?” The question set off an internal alarm. After all, I lived in L.A., the city known more than any other for its love affair with the car. If car culture were dead, that would mean the end of the affair. And nobody wanted that. Or did we?

I took my seat in the auditorium and tried to remember how it had all started. It was after World War II, and we’d been promised that the car would liberate us from such quaint notions as public transit and a single, central business district. We’d been promised that it would bring all the advantages of the city right up to the white picket fence that surrounded our single-family homes, our pools and our patios with the outside barbecues. All these promises were fulfilled, spectacularly so, and a deep, abiding trust developed. lovemycar6And what is trust but the bedrock of a healthy, loving relationship?

Did we have, ahem, bumps in the road? Of course. What relationship doesn’t have a few? But we dealt with them, because that’s what you do in a committed relationship. Like the time we started choking on something called SMOG. Did we give up? Heck, no. We slapped catalytic converters on our tailpipes and changed the formula of our gas. Or the riots, remember those? Some would say they were brought about by social and economic inequities engendered by the use of our cars. But did we throw up our hands and give up like a bunch of East Coast metropolitans? Double heck no! We cracked down, giving our police more guns, more helicopters and more surveillance capabilities. Why? Because I’ll repeat: That-is-what-you-do-in-a-committed-relationship.

And the relationship has only deepened through the years, because what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Right? lovemycar3So who the hell were these Zocalo Public Square types to come in here and try to pull us apart? What nerve!

If William Shakespeare had been sitting next to me, he might have leaned over and told me, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Good ol’ Bard of Avon. He’s always there when I find myself starting to become unhinged. Why he calls me a lady is another matter that I won’t go into right now.

But alas, the great explainer of human nature had a point. The city had come to be known more for its dystopian commutes than its white picket fences, putting our relationships under a new kind of strain, one we’d never seen before, and one for which we have as yet to come up with a solution.

This new strain comes from two different though related developments. On the one hand, we can point to the five separate rail lines being built or extended that will connect such disparate and distant hubs of activity as Santa Monica (the beach), Long Beach (the port), Pasadena (the foothills) and North Hollywood (the Valley) to the resurgent Downtown (down by the river). lovemycar8By early next year, a traveler will be able to traverse the 5,000 square-mile (more or less) urban cluster from any of these points with just one transfer. And without a car.

On the other hand, there just seems to be no traffic relief no matter what we do. Emblematic of this is the just-completed widening of the 405. After five years of blasting through the Santa Monica Mountains, commutes are about a minute longer now than they were before the $1 billion undertaking was undertaken. And told-you-so’s of induced demand only make car commuters that much angrier.

Even I, a devoted road warrior, have to admit: While I still loved my car, I am no longer sure I am in love with it.

Relationships, as the Bard well knows, are never easy, even when there are no Capulets or Montagues around to mess things up. And as Neil Sedaka reminded us many years ago, breaking up is hard to do. But the Bard (the Elizabethan one) provided a ray of hope.

“Hast thou considered opening up thine relationship?” lovemycar1He asked this casually, not even looking up as he texted his broker in New York.

I blushed so deep that any one of the new generation of Downtown chefs could have sliced up my head and put it in a salad. Of course I’d thought about it. I mean, who hadn’t, right? Like everyone else, I’d heard the talk. About how an open transit relationship would be better for the environment, how it would lower my car insurance, how it could extend the lifetime of my car. I’d even heard that it could spice things up in the garage, if you know what I mean.

Then one night, I found myself planning it out in my head. First, I’d leave the car at home, discreetly of course. I’d take the train or the bus, or even walk, if I could remember how. But no, the Bard shook his head. That would amount to cheating. Apparently, the way these things go, you have to be open and honest with your partner. lovemycar4Yeah, I thought, and take all the damned fun out of it!

But the Bard patiently walked me through it. I’d have to be loving and honest, and communicate clearly with my partner that the new arrangement was for the commute and for the commute only. There would have to be rules: There’d be no riding of the train to the end of the line just to see what was there; no overly chatty conversations with strangers asking you how to get to Union Station, and definitely no weekend passes! Maybe down the road, there could be a discussion about taking transit to an occasional Dodger game, so I wouldn’t have to leave in the 7th inning to beat the traffic. But that could wait. Still I wasn’t convinced. The Bard reassured me that the greater trust that would develop could even strengthen our bond. I looked at him quizzically. Strengthen our bond? Really? Where did he get this stuff? Nevertheless, I quickly jotted it down so I wouldn’t forget. lovemycarIf I could convince my partner about this bond strengthening stuff, I could have my cake and eat it too!

I watched the different people file into the auditorium. They chatted and smiled and shook hands with each other. They were, in sum, just a bunch of normal commuters, and they all seemed so satisfied with their lives that it brought me back down to earth. Who was I kidding? An open transit relationship was what they did in places like Vancouver or Portland. Or even Toronto. [Clearly our correspondent hasn’t visited us lately. – ed.] But I wasn’t in those cities. I was in L.A., a city that embraced a multitude of kinky lifestyles, but where taking the bus up Western was the ultimate taboo.

To avoid eye contact, I picked up the Metro pamphlet that was sitting in my lap. And then I saw it, a photograph of the first of the sleek, new Kinkisharyo LRTs that had recently started issuing from the Japanese company’s Palmdale assembly line. It was exactly like the one I had seen that morning on my way into work. I was stopped at a light, listening to Rush Limbaugh, when she appeared. I watched her slide gracefully through the intersection behind the lowered yellow-and-white, candy-cane striped traffic arms. A real slinky, if you ask me, she was quiet and cool as she carried her Expo Line passengers in air-conditioned comfort on the way to Culver City. kinkisharyoAnd as the last car went through, I don’t think I’d ever been so revved up. The light must have changed, because suddenly people were honking and yelling at me to move. A silly, stupid smile spread across my face like I was a frat boy getting his first lap dance at Jumbo’s Clown Room. But no, this was better. This was 50 Shades of Kinkisharyo.

The panel participants came out onto the stage, and I folded up the pamphlet and placed it safely in my backpack for later research. The moderator, an ex-Detroiter named Mike Floyd, Editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine, introduced everyone and asked each of the panelists how he had traveled to the event. Predictably, the car people drove. They were Terry Karges, Executive Director of the Petersen Automotive Museum, and Myles Kovacs, Founder and Editor of DUB Magazine. The transit people, you guessed it, took transit. Or walked. They were Deborah Murphy, an architect and Founder of Los Angeles Walks, a pedestrian advocacy group, and Mimi Sheler, Director of Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy in Philadelphia. lovemycar2Presumably, this latter participant flew then walked. Show offs, I thought.

The tension between pro-car and pro-transit people was so thick you could cut it with a wiper blade. Ms. Sheler got things rolling with her assertion that a national and global transition is taking place, with fewer people driving and getting licenses. Mr. Karges promptly disputed this assessment, putting forth that people still like to drive, and pointed out that the Forza Motorsport driving game currently has 43 million Xbox subscribers. To which Ms. Murphy responded that those 43 million subscribers need to get out of the house, go for a walk, maybe meet a nice girl who will make them forget all about their Xboxes. Mr. Kovacs, the urban custom car enthusiast, smiled knowingly and said that in L.A., you drive to impress, and what impresses is a fast, low-slung car with poor visibility. And so it went for about 40 minutes or so.

But then the audience got into it. Somebody asked about the self-driving car, and it was off to the races. In fact, that was the only thing anybody in the audience wanted to talk about. Clearly, the autono-mobile had captured the imagination of Angelenos. The self-driving car was seen as a panacea. lovemycar7Not only would it allow us to get more work done while stuck in traffic, but the traffic itself would be cured, because as everyone knows, traffic is caused by a-hole drivers constantly accelerating and braking for no reason. If not for these jerks on the road (and I admit, I’m one of them), our commutes would once again be smooth sailing. And there wouldn’t be any accidents either because these computers on wheels, as some are calling them, are much smarter than us. And if a pedestrian decided to throw himself in front of my car as part of some misguided protest about the 99%, well, manufacturers have thought of that too. Just out is a pillow-soft bumper so that when pedestrian and car collide, the pedestrian won’t feel a thing. Rather, he’ll think he’s at a pajama party and be grateful for the playful interruption to his daily routine.

I sat in wonderment. People were so enthusiastic about the autonomous car that nobody wanted to hear about the kinks that needed to be worked out. Things like liability insurance and computer hacking. And what about driving my own damned car? The whole thing, I’ll admit, seemed to be a big step backward to me. lovemycar5I mean, I hadn’t been driven around since I was a kid, and then it was because my bike had a flat and it was my mother doing the driving. I suppose I could derive some recompense in that I would dang-sure have a mini-bar in my self-driving car, and I’d toast and make faces at the other drivers who were stuck in traffic. But wouldn’t I be stuck too, you ask? Heck no, I wouldn’t be stuck. I’d have a mini-bar!

Eventually, though, I think all the non-driving would get to me. Because without the sheer pleasure and excitement of driving, what was the point of having a car at all? And that would truly mean the end of the relationship.

I was so upset, I went home and hugged my Prius.

toliveanddieinLA

drive byly submitted by Ned Teitelbaum


Let’s Go Over This One More Time.

April 8, 2015

It’s inconceivable to me that this discussion still has to happen, that a reporter for a local news station feels compelled to shoot a segment on such an obvious topic. saigonshitToronto needs a property tax hike to pay for crumbling infrastructure. Yet, there it is.

As the video shows, a wall of bricks showers down from a community housing building, concrete chunks off a major thoroughfare, subway closures occur frequently due to fires and floods, water mains rupture, roads sinkhole. Splice the visuals together with appropriate smash cuts and you’re left with the impression of a crumbling city, apocalypse now. Toronto. Shit.

Everybody’s got an opinion about why this situation has come to be. A bloated, fat cat bureaucracy, gorging itself on big fat bonuses while the most vulnerable residents live in slum-like conditions. Out-of-control spending on public works projects, over-budget, heavily delayed. Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. Pick your favourite bugaboo. Pink umbrellas and boulders from northern Ontario.pointingfingers

None of these complaints are wrong, necessarily — except for the pink umbrellas and rocks down at Sugar Beach which only reveals a myopic inattention to the bigger picture. Public spending should be heavily scrutinized.  Misspending and misappropriation only heightens an already suspicious belief out there in the public sector. It’s a negative feedback loop, feeding into an always ready to pounce anti-government sentiment.

Yet, do the math and in the scheme of things, added all together, none of these projects or particular bones to pick will make even a dent on the infrastructure needs this city faces. Sure, every little bit counts but every little bit is just that, a little bit, and they don’t count for much, maybe millions when we’re taking billions. We face a far deeper crisis than the easy nickel and dime solutions offered up by the apostles of outrage. We’ve grown content living on the cheap, and living off the hard decisions and sense of community obligation by previous generations.

Amidst all the tales of infrastructure decline and dissolution in Avery Haines’ news segment came the stark fact that we’re paying, in real inflationary adjusted dollars, less in property taxes now than we did back in 2000. That’s right. Less. In 2000, 3 years after amalgamation, 3 years in which there was a property tax rate freeze. hillofbeansWe’re still paying less than that.

Toronto residents pay less in property taxes than many of the GTA’s other municipalities, in some cases significantly less. This is not particularly news to anyone disinclined to think any property tax is too much property tax. During this year’s budget debate Councillor Gord Perks wrote in the Toronto Star that owing to inflation, this city has effectively cut property taxes by 12.4% since amalgamation. Inflation keeps inflating. City council keeps on not keeping up to it. Even all of those ‘through the roof’ over-the-rate-of-inflation property tax rate increases by the profligate David Miller couldn’t help the city’s coffers keep pace.

And Boom! goes the Gardiner. Boom! the brick façade of a TCHC building. Gush! goes the water spout from the busted water main.

And our new-ish mayor, John Tory, shrugs. He was elected by the voters of Toronto to keep property taxes below the rate of inflation. Why? Because he told them anything more than that would be unnecessary. sweepundertherugPlenty of money in the efficiency banana stand, I guess.

“The property taxpayers of Toronto should not be asked to bear those expenses and investments on their own,” Tory said yesterday. “The property tax was never meant to do that.” The mayor’s not wrong. In referring to downloaded social costs like housing and major infrastructure investment in things like public transit, municipalities with their limited revenue gathering base largely on property taxes aren’t supposed to be expected to pay for those big ticket items. Here in Toronto, up until 1995, the provincial government even paid for half of the TTC’s annual operating costs. In 2015, the city is putting nearly $480 million up for that cost. That’s almost one-quarter of a billion dollars that should, in a properly function system, be coming from Queen’s Park. Multiply that by 20 years and, yeah, no wonder our transit system is barely limping into the future, let alone all the other infrastructure needs the city has.

So we can get all pissed off about city council’s quick decision to step up with $90 million to cover shortfalls with the Spadina subway extension, as Ari Goldkind does today in the Star, but it misses the larger debate. cheshirecatThe city shouldn’t be paying for any part of a major transit build. It shouldn’t be contributing anything to the Union-Pearson airport link. Why are we putting up money to renovate a regional transportation route like the Gardiner Expressway?

The province has walked away from its traditional obligations, leaving cities to pick up the slack. That’s what we should really be angry about. That’s the fight we need to be engaged in.

But then we allow the province (along with the federal government to a lesser extent) off the hook, we provide them with their one bit of buckshot of ammunition when we campaign and govern on under-taxation. We’ve given you these revenue tools to deal with the added responsibilities, the province tells Toronto. Why not use them instead of always coming to us for money?

Disingenuous, accompanied with a Cheshire cat grin? You betcha. Download both the obligations and the taxing powers so loathed by the public. citybuildingThank you very much.

Like it or not, that’s where we’re at. By standing idly by, talking about moral and business cases for more investment by the senior levels of government, while deliberately chocking off your own sources of revenue even those not part of the property tax base, is simply being an accomplice to the crumbling of the city. You know there are ways to help, at least, bolster the state of disrepair. They won’t be immediately popular (made even less so by irresponsible campaign pledges that helped get you elected). The alternative, however, is untenable. Unless, of course, you’re comfortable overseeing a city that will continue to decline.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Disobedience

April 7, 2015

Much of the debate during last year’s mayoral campaign revolved around the notion of a return to sanity or, at least, a small sense of normalcy. serenitynowAfter 4 years of Mr. Ford’s wild ride, Toronto needed calm, some peace and serenity. Can we please have a slice of that good ol’ bland boring that should be the centerpiece of municipal politics?

Enter John Tory, bland as bland can be, scion of the establishment, Mr. Sharp Fitting Suit himself. Who better to still our choppy civic waters? There, there, T.O. Everything’ll be alright. Uncle John’s here now. Shhh…Shhhh… Go back to sleep. Everything’s under control.

“Shower of bricks reveals TCHC’s ruined façade,” states the headline of Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star editorial from yesterday in response to a weekend Toronto Star story about “four storeys of brick facing fall from TCHC building in Scarborough”. Ooops! Mash this up with today’s latest TTC breakdown at the St. Clair subway station that stranded thousands and thousands of commuters, waiting for relief lines of buses to get them to work on time.TTChaos

Can we just admit that our troubles run deeper, a whole lot deeper, than the simple matter of who’s running the show? It’s the ideas that matter not the politician. Putting lipstick on a pig and all that.

If the mayor of Toronto isn’t prepared to stare long and hard into the abyss that is this city’s chronic underfunding of, well, pretty much everything, to look up and admit that, yes, in fact we do have a revenue rather than a spending problem, then it really doesn’t matter who’s wearing the chains of office. It’s simply degrees of failure. It could be worse really shouldn’t be a viable option.

During the campaign, John Tory assured Toronto that, as well as restoring a sense of respect and decorum to the office of mayor, he would also improve the city’s rapport with the senior levels of government. wellrespectedmanMr. Tory was well-connected, if nothing else, an acknowledged civic leader of the private sector. How could his relationship be any worse than his predecessors with Queen’s Park, our provincial overlords? The feds, as the feds do, kept a certain non-malevolent distance which could certainly be improved upon with a more delicate but still Tory touch.

It was pretty much an open secret the provincial Liberal government, with a fresh new majority restored, wanted to see John Tory as the next mayor of Toronto. That certainly boded well for improved interaction between the two. I mean, the outgoing mayor and his brother-designate long advocated for the Liberals removal from office. How could we not see an uptick in the relationship?

Now, I’m willing to cut the mayor some slack, agreeing that it takes time to build those kinds of relationships. Still… So far, Queen’s Park has said ‘no’ to any and all requests the city’s made for additional funds for transit, housing, pretty much everything. In fact, we’ve received bills in return for those asks. $95 million as part of the Union-Pearson Express, for example. Oh yeah, and the provincial funding shortfall for the Spadina subway expansion? Toronto and Vaughan need to pick that up. $86 million for the GTA social service pooling fund? eviloverlordYou want a line of credit to deal with that?

This is not something that is new, provincial off-loading of money onto municipalities. The Harris government started it and the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals have not done nearly enough to alleviate it. That’s just a straight-up fact, a thing now 20 years-old.

To continue demanding provincial and federal money as the single plank in your platform of revenue generation is not only stubborn wishful thinking, it is, as walls continue to tumble and subways catch on fire, nothing less than a dereliction of duty. It’s not a plan. It’s avoidance. Why moral persuasion is any more feasible now than it was back when David Miller was going ‘cap in hand’ to the other levels of government isn’t at all clear.

Perhaps John Tory was the farthest thing from being the right mayor at the right time. That’s not to say Doug Ford would’ve been preferable. Both he and his brother looked upon every TCHC repair that needed to be done, every TTC breakdown that occurred, as proof positive of the unsuitability of government to help with folks’ lives.

But John Tory is too conventional in his thinking, too much part of the status quo to be of much use to us right now. (Why else do you think he rails incessantly against the ‘status quo’?) He can’t even stomach the idea of a conversation about tax increases. disobeyRadical is not part of the man’s lexicon and Toronto needs a radical approach.

I don’t know how exactly an orchestrated campaign of intra-governmental civil disobedience would work but that’s where we’re at. As was pointed out last week, Toronto (along with other municipalities) doesn’t have much negotiating power when it comes to dealing with the province. But if it’s true as the mayor likes to tell us that this city is the economic engine of both the province and the country, we could probably start causing some disruptions in order to make some noise.

What form that would take is hard to say. Let’s Big Data it and see if we can’t come up with something. What I do know is that meekly handing over millions and millions of dollars whenever the province asks, and going in camera if need be in order to keep the details from the public, in some sort of self-defeating gesture of good faith or will is probably counter-productive. Hey. The province wants the UPX up and going before some of the world arrives in Toronto for the PanAm Games? Maybe that’s their problem. Queen’s Park wants the subway arriving in Vaughan? Maybe they ought not renege on the money they owe. More to the point, maybe the city shouldn’t be picking up their portion of the tab.

Since John Tory has no real vested interested in the Scarborough subway, perhaps it’s time to hold a gun to that beast’s head. fightbackYou know what Queen’s Park? Maybe we’ll just stick to the LRT after all. That Master Agreement hasn’t been reopened has it? I think that money’s better spent on our billions of dollars of state of good repair.

I’ve often mused that with one budget cycle the city should threaten not to balance its operating budget. With no additional provincial money coming in, in fact with such a regular of outflow going from the city’s coffers to Queen’s Park, we just can’t possibly invest enough in our communities while balancing the operating budget. It’s no longer tenable. If the province demands that municipalities balance their operating budget, then the province needs to come in and do it themselves, either pony up the cash they owe or make the cuts to services and programs such legislation demands of Toronto.

But it’s clear by now that John Tory isn’t the type of politician to upset the applecart. It’s just not in his established, status quo nature. Neither is the make up of the current city council up to that fight, the battle we need to wage.

On the other hand, none of us should breathe some sigh of relief and relax in the false comfort that it could be worse. Could it? And what exactly would that look like? upsettheapplecartWe are best served, I think, remembering that Rob Ford and Ford Nation was not just some anomaly, now quietly placated by the bromide assurances of John Tory. While the messenger was damaged, the message remains defiantly there with every building façade collapse and public transit failure.

This shit, it isn’t working. We need to fix it. By and with any means necessary.

militantly submitted by Cityslikr


Who’s Your Dada?

April 5, 2015

whosaskingIn this year’s Easter edition of Answering Questions No Reader Asked, we respond to the non-query, What Is Dada and What the Hell Were You Talking About Earlier This Week? Making Up Stories. What the hell was that? Some kind of April’s Fool thing?

Yeah so, about that.

As the week wore on, it struck me that the post felt like an incomplete thought or, at least, there’s was more to say on the subject. Let’s sum it up as right wing faux populism as a form of Dada expression. None of it has to make any sense exactly because that’s the point, to not make any sense.

We need to stop looking for explanations in their actions, in the things they say, the positions they pronounce. Logical consistency is absent not through any inability to reason logically but because there’s no need for it. Reductio ad absurdum. See? This whole government thing is ridiculous because, well, look at me. Look at what I do, what I say, the shenanigans I wind up performing.

If there really was anything to this idea of the usefulness of City Hall, surely politicians like we are wouldn’t be elected, time and time again, time after time. How could it not be a circus and clown show when clowns and carnies perform key roles? absurdDon’t take what they do seriously because they sure don’t.

And I’m not just talking the Ford Brothers Travelling Shit Show, their little fiefdom of folly. Or Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and His Flickering House of Mirrors. Add to that extremity of lunacy, new councillor and long time Member of Parliament, Jim Karygiannis, defining defiling the Liberal brand for a generation now.

Consider the more ‘serious’ acts. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, at perpetual war with anything and everything he deems to be excessive public spending, and most public spending is excessive in the Deputy Mayor’s eyes except when it comes to clearing the way for his much beloved Subaru. How about the chair of Planning and Growth Management and self-proclaimed pro-Spadina Expressway protester back in the day, Councillor David Shiner? Planning and growth? In somebody else’s backyard please with a helping of subway, if you don’t mind.

Councillor Ron Moeser, some 30 years a city councillor and still operating in a state of constant confusion. nonsenseDitto Councillor Frank Di Giorgio who, in addition, isn’t a big fan of the City of Toronto Act and all its proposed responsibilities for municipal politicians. Who needs that, am I right?

Elected public servants with a dim view of the efficacy of public service, dedicating much of their respective adult lives to actively diminishing it. You don’t actually take this stuff seriously, do you? Nobody really thinks we can make much of a difference, do they? If they did, they might pay a little more attention to the people they send to City Hall to represent their interests.

It’s a political negative feedback loop.

“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” Groucho Marx said.

City Hall’s a joke, right? Let’s not waste any time doing anything productive. We’ll just play down to the non-expectations everyone has of the place. dadafairPoint of order, Madam Speaker! Or maybe it’s a point of privilege. I never did understand the difference between those two. Whatever. Blah, blah, blah, blah…

And then an earnest do-gooder arrives at the place, one sharing a similarly askance view of it. After all, he once thought Rob Ford would be a suitable mayor of the city. Taking in the spectacle for a few months, he shakes his head. It only confirms his bias. “I thought (Wednesday) was an example where there were probably four or five hours just wasted on stuff that was sort of interesting maybe to a few people but it really wasn’t advancing the public interest,” Mayor John Tory said. Democracy, eh? Just a bunch of people wasting hours and hours, talking about stuff that was sort of interesting to them but to what end? We need to streamline this. Less chatter, less grandstanding, more doing.

Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right. Mayor Tory’s stuck in the middle with democracy. shirtlessSurely there must be a more productive way to get things done around here. I mean, what the hell does Giorgio Mammoliti have to offer anyway?

Exactly.

Councillor Mammoliti and his ilk have been striving to prove that point for years now, decades even. This whole thing’s a joke and he’s a clown prince. You’d be an idiot to think otherwise. If you just stopped caring (like he has), then maybe the place would just shrivel up and disappear. I mean, what the hell does City Hall have to offer for us anyhow?

ridiculously submitted by Cityslikr


In Praise Of Paul

April 2, 2015

We spend a lot of time railing here at all Fired Up in the Big Smoke, bitching, if you will, agonizingly over the state of affairs of our local politics. notallbadWith good reason, I think it fair to add. Things are terrible, from the state of our public transit, public housing to the repute (illin’, in the vernacular of the kids today) of our local governance, and many points in between.

Grim, dark days indeed.

From all that glum, occasionally the positives appear, brightly alight on the dreary canvas of civic/political life of this city like the spring flowers we should expect to see sometime soon if this cold, heartless winter ever ends. We’re told it will. Honest. It has to.

So I’d like to send a shout out today to one of those positives, one of the proofs that Toronto isn’t necessarily going to hell in a hand basket. It is the Easter holiday season, after all. If the dead can rise again, why not the near dead? (Too much?)

Councillor Paul Ainslie.applaud

At yesterday’s council meeting, he entered the fray of the accountability officers’ debate, putting forth an amendment to a motion that should put the issue to rest at least for a bit, seemingly satisfying a solid majority of the two factions. It was an adept bipartisan move that deflated the hyper-partisanship which had needlessly infected the issue. Such diplomacy, let’s call it, was a far cry from the Paul Ainslie I remember when I first started closely watching City Hall back in the early days of the Ford era.

It struck me then (and I believe with justification) Councillor Ainslie was simply a robotic ‘yes’ vote for whatever crazy idea the Mayor Ford demanded. In fact, I will confess publicly here for the very first time, I had a hand in an obscure Twitter parody account mocking the councillor, mostly for his refusal to get up and defend some of the positions he took. We can all disagree politically, I think it’s safe to say. caterpillarI just want to hear why you’re doing what you’re doing.

To give Councillor Ainslie his due, at the same time, he was plugging away quietly in his position as chair of the low visibility Government Management Committee. Yeah, I know, right? What the hell is the Government Management Committee and how does it impact my life?

Well, OK. I’m not going into the details here but let me say this. If ranked ballots arrive at City Hall for our next municipal election (currently nestled away somewhere in Queen’s Park awaiting provincial approval), Councillor Ainslie should be credited as one of the prime adoptees of the initiative at City Hall in his role as chair of the Government Management Committee. In a time of regressive, backwards thinking embraced by many in the Ford administration, it is a testament to the councillor’s doggedness to the cause that ranked ballots made it through such a mess.

Then came 2013.

Hopefully when a definitive history is written about Toronto’s city politics from 2010-14, Paul Ainslie’s role in pulling one of the many loose threads of Rob Ford’s ratty, tawdry behaviour will be acknowledged. standupA full month before the crack story broke, it was Councillor Ainslie going public about Ford’s drunken, loutish appearance at the Garrison Ball that really teed the ball up for the messy, ugly fall that followed. Few of the mayor’s supporters had broken ranks with him yet. This was big news at the time that got lost in the ensuing crack story.

The Fords, of course, denied it. They wrote the claim off as just bitterness on the part of Councillor Ainslie for not getting the nod as the budget chief to succeed Mike Del Grande. A few months later, they booted Ainslie from his post as chair of Government Management in a display of what spite was really about.

Let me just say here that while there is no need to point out the Ford’s unfamiliarity with the truth, the notion Ainslie, I don’t know, used the incident to get back at them is sort of laughable. Having chatted with the councillor on a few occasions, I have to say, the man comes across as lacking as little guile as I have seen in any other adult I know. You have to have a little bit of the sharp elbows in you to be successful in politics and Ainslie’s city councillor origin story is not without controversy but if there is a more genuine politician at City Hall right now, I haven’t spoken to them.drunkdriving

The feud between Ainslie and the Fords escalated especially when the councillor reversed course on the Scarborough subway extension. Initially supporting the move, he said after looking at all the information that the numbers simply didn’t add up. He was the lone Scarborough councillor to speak out and vote against scrapping the LRT which led to a series of robocalls being placed by the mayor to residents of Ainslie’s Ward 43, a subsequent complaint to the Integrity Commissioner by Ainslie and yet another apology from Rob Ford.

Compare and contrast the principled stand on the issue made by Paul Ainslie with the complete and utter cowering capitulation and 180 made by Glenn De Baeremaeker.

What was really interesting about yesterday’s accountability office motion by Councillor Ainslie wasn’t so much that he made it, and made it stick. There’s every reason to believe that the original motion of Councillor Stephen Holyday’s wasn’t going to pass, so ill-thought out and deliberately divisive as it was. steakthroughtheheartIt was Councillor Ainslie’s response in defending it to some critics who thought the original motion should just be killed outright.

“I’m not trying to salvage it [Holyday’s motion],” the councillor tweeted. “If we defeat it outright it will only leave too much on the table with an axe to grind.”

Ainslie wasn’t aiming at the motion. He was going after those behind it who had ‘an axe to grind’ with the accountability officers and, for their own mysterious reasons, were determined to reduce oversight of city council despite any protestations they made to the contrary. A more thorough review of the offices (as opposed to the very narrow, amalgamation-orientated one asked by Councillor Holyday) would better arm accountability proponents for future attacks.

I understand why councillors like Shelley Carroll opposed any sort of review. It is unnecessary and floats the idea that there’s something amiss with the accountability offices when the reality is, the only thing wrong is they are all chronically underfunded. easterbunnyYet the pipsqueaks on the council, the Stephen Holydays, Michelle Berardinettis, James Pasternaks, Justin Di Cianos and John Campbells were relentless in their fight against the offices. Councillor Paul Ainslie attempted to put an end to their pursuit once and for all, or, maybe even better, expose them for the regressive, anti-democratic types that they are.

For that, and the general all-round geniality and amenability, good natured can-do-ness, we salute Councillor Paul Ainslie. May you find all the easter eggs you search for in the easter egg hunt you will undoubtedly participate in.

positively submitted by Cityslikr


Making Up Stories

April 1, 2015

Rob Ford.

We need to talk about Rob Ford.dada5

Not Rob Ford the city councillor from Ward 2 Etobicoke North, exiled mayor in re-waiting. But Rob Ford the performance artist. Rob Ford as Dada.

I think most of us here would agree that Rob Ford didn’t make his way into politics in order to govern well or to make a difference. Rob Ford could only be seen to be ‘looking out for the little guy’ if the little guy was in fact Rob Ford and he refers to himself in the 3rd person.

Rob Ford got into politics for no other reason than to make a name for himself. (Likely too, daddy issues at work although I’m not really qualified to address those.) Politics of personality and protest because, as we know, the squeaky wheel always gets noticed if not oiled.

Style over substance. Bluster trumps brains. Fury-fueled noise signifying nothing but self-promotion.

We know the plan of attack for redemption currently underway. If he can overcome his ill-health, Rob Ford plans to resume his role as outspoken, lone wolf councillor, railing at the excess and nonsense at City Hall. dada1He already has staked out and resumed that position but his diagnosis hangs over everything he does at the moment. But, recovery willing, he’ll be back, hard at it. Maybe even somebody will give him a talk radio segment, his own show hopefully, drive time, where his peeps live.

History repeating.

Here’s the hitch to all that however.

Historically speaking, rarely is any person in the right place at the right time for a second go-around. (Greil Marcus, roughly paraphrased.) Pre-2010, a Mayor Rob Ford was purely theoretical. We all marvelled at the possibilities of such a scenario, some gleefully, others horrified.

The problem going forward for Rob Ford is that, well, he was the mayor already. He proved to be terrible at it, out of his depth and, at times, out of his mind. Drunk, high, blindly furious. It was a crazy ride while it lasted but, in the end, the vehicle wound up wrapped around a tree.

So spectacular was the flame-out that now Rob Ford has to pretend it never happened, make as if he’s always just been Rob Ford, city councillor from Ward 2 Etobicoke North. dada32010-2014? Yeah…must have been one of his drunken stupors. Are you perfect?

With every pronouncement he makes, and he gets to make a lot of pronouncements as just some other city councillor from Etobicoke, he talks as if he had nothing to do with the operations of the city over the course of the past 4+ years. Just yesterday, during the debate about the cost overruns and delays of the Spadina subway extension, Rob Ford told anyone who would listen, and unfortunately too many people are still listening, that he wasn’t at all surprised.

“I knew it was going to come out,” Ford told the press. “You hear rumours about it.”

And as mayor, there’s no way you could get to the bottom of those rumours. No way. Uh uh.

“If I would have known about this, I would have been all over it,” he told the media.dada2

If he’d known about it? He was the fucking mayor? All he had to do was ask, throw his weight around a bit. If he’d known about it.

“I totally disagree with you,” Ford responded when asked if he shouldn’t take some responsibility for the problems with the Spadina subway since, you know, he had been the mayor for some of that time.

You might think Rob Ford was disagreeing about having to assume responsibility but could it be that he’s actually disagreeing with the statement that he was ever mayor? Who me? What are you talking about? Mayor of Toronto? Rob Ford? Have you been smoking crack or something?

“I don’t know why people make up stories,” wondered the guy who’d spent most of his time as mayor making up stories.

What we’re building to, of course, is the biggest made up story of all, in the eyes of Rob Ford, that he has ever been the mayor of Toronto. This is operation negation. Erase the past, at least the past 4 years, 2010-2014. dadaThe greatest mayor in the history of Toronto? You wish. Maybe in 2018, God and health willing.

Every word he says, every statement he makes is an attempt to alter previous events, to rewrite history. Me? You got the wrong guy. Maybe you’re thinking of somebody else. My brother maybe. We look a lot alike. He was mayor, remember? Yeah, definitely. You’re thinking about him. Rob Ford’s never been mayor of Toronto. Too busy looking out for the little guy, counting every single nickel of taxpayers’ hard-earned money. 2018, maybe. You never know.

The more bad news that emerges, transit cost increases, service decreases, chunks of the Gardiner falling off, TCHC failures, all things that grew worse under his watch, the more Rob Ford will try to convince us he was never mayor. You’re barking up the wrong tree, brother. You got your facts wrong. You’re just making up stories now.

Rob Ford needs to shatter his record as mayor of Toronto into indecipherable shards, smash it out of existence. Push reset, reboot rather than reconsider or re-examine. In that context, everything he says now makes sense, shouldn’t feel at all jarring or inconsistent with reality. dada4Reality is no friend to Rob Ford.

The feeling is mutual, of course. Rob Ford has always been at war with reality. He’s never accepted it, finding it constantly running contrary to his view of the world. It’s so much easier to just shape one to fit your needs. That way, every day is a new day, all your mistakes can be deleted, and the possibility exists that enough people will (once more) think it’s time for somebody like Rob Ford to be mayor of this city (again) and clean this mess up, a mess Rob Ford in no way had any hand in creating.

How could he? It wasn’t like he was mayor already or anything.

incomprehensibly submitted by Cityslikr


Another Never Ending Story

March 31, 2015

Not having a Plan B, Our Strength.

Mayor John Tory holds yet another press conference to inform us what most of us already know. It’s becoming something of a tiresome pattern, quite frankly. The media gathers. The mayor stands behind a podium that bears a action-denoting placard. He states the obvious. Questions dutifully ensue, invariably winding up with some take on, Yes but, Mayor Tory, what about Plan B?

Or in other words:

anexitstrategy

Yesterday, the mayor told us about the crisis at Toronto Community Housing. Did you hear? There’s a state of good repair backlog, billions of dollars long, threatening to shutter thousands of units in less than a decade and send that many+ of our most vulnerable residents looking for affordable housing in a squeezed environment where there’s already a waiting list, tens of thousands of people long, lined up to get into the very housing that’s in jeopardy of being board up. (See the start of this paragraph.)

Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. This is news only if not new news counts as news. Why, during last year’s municipal election campaign, David Hains raised a red flag in his Torontoist article. Betsy Powell painted a similarly grim picture in the Toronto Star. tellussomethingwedontknowEarlier this year, the mayor established a task force to examine the crisis.

We know all this already. What are you going to do about it, is what we’re waiting to hear. What’s the game plan? What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

To urge the other two levels of government to get back into funding social housing. Mayor Tory has both ‘moral and business’ cases to make why this should be. We can get a return on our investment and feel good about ourselves while doing it. A win-win. What the hell’s everyone waiting for?

He’s not wrong. The problem is, he’s not the first person to make this point, not even the first mayor to make it. As Ed Keenan points out today, this is a thing nearly a quarter of a century in the making. (An irony sidebar: the man named to head the aforementioned TCHC task force, Senator Art Eggleton, a former Toronto mayor and member of the Liberal government that initiated this crisis when it began divesting itself of the social housing file, offloading to the provinces, and as with any shit stream, it continued to make its way downhill to municipalities. The circle remains unbroken.)iffisheswerewishes

If wishes were fishes, and all that. Yes, it would be fantastic if the federal and provincial governments came on board and began pulling their weight on housing, public transit. It’s an easy argument to make, that they should feel morally obligated to do so. Ditto economically prudent, such investments in key factors for better functioning communities and cities.

Unfortunately, here we still are. All the stamping of our feet, holding of our breath, tubthumping, begging, pleading, blustering hasn’t changed the dynamics. We ask. The feds and Queen’s Park shrug.

So, what’s the Plan B, Matt Galloway asked the mayor on Metro Morning.

Ever the savvy negotiator, Mayor Tory said that he’s not going to talk about any ‘Plan B’ because then the other governments would just tell us to get stuffed and proceed with Plan B. A little game of chicken we’re watching play out.

Except that, as Brian Kelcey pointed out on the Twitter, that’s not how things work, there’s no negotiation. Municipalities make demands, or if they are more politely inclined, ‘asks’. asifNot for nothing, Ottawa and Queen’s Park are referred to as ‘senior’ levels of government. “They either give, or they don’t.”

And if our mayor sees some sort of spirit of giving at either level of government, well, he’s got better eyes than most of us. Just yesterday, in fact, Oliver Moore reported in the Globe and Mail that the province has informed Toronto and Vaughan that the money it pledged to build the Spadina subway extension is going be a tiny bit short, by about $85 million or so. You two make up the difference, would you? And make sure that thing opens up on time or else!

It’s difficult to the point of snapping any optimistic streak in half to see the province pulling out a wad of dough to put in the TCHC pot, moral persuasion and sound business case be damned. Right now they seem much more interested in drawing cash from Toronto rather than make a deposit. The quicker Mayor Tory accepts that fact, the better. Pretending otherwise will only deepen the crisis and make the work that has to be done even more expensive.

It must be difficult for him, this early in to his term, to come to the realization that his influence, his ability to work with the other levels of government might not be as awesome as he thought it was, convinced Toronto voters he possessed. anofferyoucantrefuseI’m certainly not blaming him for believing that other politicians, regardless of where they plied their trade, would want to do the right thing, the smart thing, the moral thing. Keep. Hope. Alive.

But surely the scales have fallen from the mayor’s eyes by now. The current state of our politics is a dog-eat-dog fight for every public dollar out there. We, cities, the province, the federal government, are not partners. We’re rivals, at best agreeing to a you-scratch-my back and I’ll-scratch-yours relationship, not collaborating but always trying to get the upper hand. Unless Mayor Tory is engaged in a much more elaborate and veiled dance, he’s wasting valuable time, blue-skying it and wishing a wish upon a star.

The mayor’s painted himself into a corner, and I’m trying really hard not to think it was deliberate. Maybe he just believed in the rightness of his cause. outofideasIf a fine upstanding citizen like himself saw the moral and business case for billions of dollars of reinvestment in the TCHC, who could possibly disagree? It’s simply a question of doing the right thing.

The alternative is more disheartening, with the best case scenario having Mayor Tory claiming his hands are tied, he has no other choice but to raise the necessary revenue for the city to invest in TCHC itself. He’s been pretty adamant that the property tax base can’t afford the hit, and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong except for the fact the property tax base is funding the Scarborough subway extension and somehow the property tax base came up with nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. So yeah, priorities.

Taxes are a necessary evil. Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault.

The darker turn, though, is all this being a pretext for yet another assault on TCHC. A firesale. testedWe can’t afford to maintain these homes anymore, and we’ve been left to our own devices by Queen’s Park and Ottawa. Only the private sector can save us now. By turning the stock over, Mayor Tory can later claim he kept true to the pledge he made to Matt Galloway earlier today that TCHC buildings would not be boarded up under his watch.

Probably sooner rather than later, we’re going to see just how much of a moral issue social housing is to Mayor John Tory.

wearily and warily submitted by Cityslikr


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