Don’t Let The Name Fool You

March 22, 2014

I put myself in the middle of a circular conversation a couple days ago with someone who took exception to my incomprehension at the notion of Liberals, circularmazebig L liberals, throwing their support behind John Tory in his bid to become mayor of Toronto.

You see, I am of a vintage that was still in swaddling clothes during the Lester B. Pearson era. I came of age under Pierre Trudeau. I’ve always lived with a national medicare system, brought in from coast to coast to coast by Louis St. Laurent.

This is how I remember Liberals.

I sometimes forget that time has moved on. The current crop was forged in the face of the Mulroney years and the rise to prominence of the Reform movement. Late career Jean Chretien and his arch-nemesis Paul Martin. Bitter rivals but deficit hawks and downloaders both. The Common Sense Revolution wrought a Liberal automaton, series 2.0 Dalton McGuinty.

These are Liberals seemingly more at home with my misty-eyed nostalgic memories of red tory hued Progressive Conservatives like Robert Stanfield, Bill Davis, Peter Lougheed, Joe Clarke, David Crombie.nostalgic

There you go. Blue Liberals for red Tory John Tory. Makes perfect sense. Remember, he was once the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. A perfectly reasonable confederacy in the face of a possible purple and yellow wave forming over on the left.

But here’s my thing.

As much as the centre of the Liberal party has shifted, so too has it with conservatives. The bland greyness has been wiped clean. We no longer have moderate patrician types with a sense of noblesse oblige as our right of centre party. Federally, they’ve even dumped the pretense of progressive. Here in Ontario, the word might as well be in quotes.

Mike Harris. Jim Flaherty. John Baird. Tony Clement. Stephen Harper. Tim Hudak. The Ford brothers.

Snarling, thuggish, mendacious, regressive, government hating and private sector worshipping neo-conservatives in the American Tea Party mold are these men. robfordbellicoseNoblesse oblige, you say? Is that French for Ayn Rand?

In that light, John Tory doesn’t look so bad. He’s almost none of that. A throwback to an earlier time when Liberals and Progressive Conservatives could sit down to dinner together over a nice bottle of wine. During this 2014 municipal race, he offers the appearance of a safe harbour for disaffected, candidate-less Liberals who could never bring themselves to mingle with the NDP horde.

Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.

Avert your eyes from the image being presented and listen to the words being spoken instead.

At his official campaign launch on Wednesday, he derided tax-and-spending politicians who were eyeing the wallets of the beloved taxpayers. fordnationHe vowed to keep taxes low while promising to invest in the city’s infrastructure including a new subway line. How would he pay for that? Finding savings and efficiencies. Plenty of waste still to be found, he assured the crowd (despite opinion to the contrary).

Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar to you, almost word for word? City Hall doesn’t have a revenue problem. City Hall has a spending problem. Subways, subways, subways! It won’t cost you a dime because it’s time to Stop the Gravy Train.

John Tory is simply a pretty face, a soothing voice, the almost featureless presence fronting what sounds like the very same destructive policies that will be the true legacy of the Rob Ford administration. A Trojan horse for an army already inside the compound. He wants to be mayor of this city only in order to change the name on the door and the trashy newspaper headlines.

Liberals getting in under that big tent with him need to stop pretending that anything’s going to change other than the din of discord and the reality show antics now occupying space at City Hall. trojanhorseThe tone may become more civil but if the discourse remains the same – and that’s what I’m hearing so far from the Tory campaign – low taxes and cutting waste as the primary source of revenue, programs and services will still be under threat, growth based investment a pipe dream. That’s what you’re signing up for.

Which may be a-ok with many Liberals. They just need to stop pretending there’s anything progressive about it.

warningly submitted by Cityslikr


Delivering Low Expectations

February 19, 2014

Don’t look…Don’t look…Don’t look…And if you have to look, don’t look directly into his eyes. Whatever you do! Do not look directly into the man’s eyes!

blankstare

I looked.

I know I shouldn’t have. But I did. I even looked directly into that man’s eyes and saw what I can only assume to be is the eternal abyss of nothingness, swirling deep down inside of them.

Worse, against Ed Keenan’s sage advice, I’m now talking about what I saw when I looked, giving them a free bump, an additional bit of publicity, such as we can offer here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.cableaccess

Ford Nation on YouTube.

Exactly why the good Lord in His infinite wisdom created scientists, so they could create the Internetz.

Ford Nation on YouTube.

Having burned all their bridges to access of uncritical and unthinking media platforms, save maybe Sue-Ann Levy and Joe Warmington, including every newspaper in town, AM talk radio, Sun TV – Sun TV, folks! – the Fords, Mayor Rob and Councillor Doug, have turned their mostly undivided attention to the internet for getting their message out to their unswerving supporters and snickering adversaries. No bias there except the good kind of bias. No difficult questions to answer. Not even those squishy-hard ones always lobbed their way by the likes of CP24’s Stephen LeDrew.

The web. The free range domain of conspiracy theorists, rational denialists and amateur political punditry (yeah, I beat you to it) since 1997. internetzI’m pretty sure that’s when the internet was invented.

There’s really no need to offer up any sort of analysis here. Others are doing it more thoroughly and entertainingly. And besides, any evaluation of the merits or lack thereof in the videos, anything that might smack of treasonous disagreement with what’s being said, is simply brushed off as the self-satisfied smugness of a downtown latte sipping elitist dipper leftie subway and Scarborough hater.

Did I leave anything out?

Oh, right. Bike riding, anti-car cyclist. Repetition entirely intentional.

Because if Rob Ford or Doug Ford or any other member of Ford Nation never has to be right, can just make shit up all the live long day, spout nonsense every time they open their mouths without immediately stuffing it with food or drink, why is anyone else held to a higher standard?upyours

Ford Nation is this hermetically sealed place where rational discourse and civil debate are smothered in their cribs. Every number when added together comes out to a billion. The private sector builds a healthy public realm out of the goodness of its own heart. Demands that the mayor do his job and stand up for everyone he was elected to represent, that’s called bullying. War declared on anyone who dared to sanction the mayor for his deplorable behaviour both on and off the clock. Half day, part time work weeks are of no concern to any serious minded denizen of Ford Nation.

Ford Nation on You Tube is amateurish and hackneyed because anything else would come across as slick and too professional and unRob Ford. I mean, frankly, I don’t think at this point Team Ford such as it is could produce anything else. The operations are amateurish and hackneyed. But you go with what you know.

Low production values and low rent drivel is what Team Ford thinks Ford Nation wants to hear. It’s the mark of the non-politician, don’t you know. Sure the mayor fibs every time he’s caught in a lie. Who doesn’t? suaveandsophisticatedYeah, the mayor’s math may be bad but only egg-headed accountants should be expected to get such big numbers right. Of course, the Fords appear awkward and tongue-tied on camera. Who know who isn’t? Actors. Any politician who doesn’t lie, who can do complex math, who looks and talks good on camera is nothing but an actor.

Rob Ford is the real deal. I mean, look at him. He’s just like I would be if I ran this city. I wouldn’t be able to produce some polished, contrived video either. He’s the mayor of Toronto, folks. Not James Cameron.

How exactly we arrived at this juncture, where fumble-assed, know-nothingness with a solid dose of reprobate conduct passes as more than enough qualifications to oversee a city of 2.5+ million people, I’m not exactly sure. We’re told it’s because of the aloofness and disconnect of downtowners to the plight of those living in the inner suburbs. It’s the snark of privilege. We’re out of touch with the needs of the little guy and hard-working taxpayers. They don’t expect much from the city they live in, maybe a returned phone call and occasional visit. Mayor Rob Ford delivers them exactly that and nothing more.

Bargain basement governance, sold as is. The campaign pitch delivered with all the razzamatazz of a late-night informerical. ShamWow, Ford Nation!

insane

It’s the intersection of little effort and low expectations. Even if they were capable of delivering something better, something more informative, something beyond Wayne and Garth in the basement, Team Ford wouldn’t. It’s not their style. Their rock solid supporters wouldn’t recognize them if they did.

It wouldn’t be Ford Nation on You Tube.

under-whelmingly submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Engagement Is A Daily Thing

February 4, 2014

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

attributed to Horace Mann, American educational reformer, among other things.

horacemann

Point 6. (A recap of points 1-5)

We have been reduced in the democratic equation of late to two points of civic participation. Paying taxes and voting every 4 years (or whenever governments of the day deem absolutely necessary). Outside of that, it’s all, keep on moving, folks. Nothing to see here.

Just such an attitude has been on ample display in Toronto since 2010 where all we’ve heard about is the ‘mandate’. Through divisive service and programs cuts and subway debates to crack and drunken stupor scandals, we’ve been told a certain someone was given a mandate. You can’t challenge the mandate! Not until the next election. nowrunalongDecisions are only made at election time. You don’t like what’s going on in the interim? Vote your displeasure next election.

To contest the mandate is to be a usual suspect. Some sort of elitist, still bitter over losing in 2010, with no job and lots of free time to hang around City Hall, getting all snarky. Hard working tax payers know their place when it comes to governance. In the polling booth. Every 4 years.

If I’m trying to be even-handed here, such disengagement is not specific to this administration. Too many of us (save a band of dedicated city advocates) during the Miller era were lazy, with our heads buried or looking the other way. We assumed Toronto was in good hands and stood on the sidelines instead of pitching in and contributing. It left some of the accomplishments vulnerable to a tax-and-spend counter-attack. Exhibit A, Transit City.

In 2014, candidates need to encourage people not only to help elect them but to continue on in helping them govern once elected. peskyflyVictory (or defeat for that matter) should not end at the ballot box. What you hear in line at Tim Horton’s does not constitute civic engagement.

Much more than the other two levels of government, the municipal level offers up a grand opportunity for more hands-on involvement by city-zens with the actual running of the city they live in. Anyone who wants to can get in there, get their hands dirty with governance. Attend meetings. Make deputations. Badger your local councillor directly. Mayor Ford has said he is accessible 24/7, right?

Municipal government is where the rubber hits the road, as they say, they being people I can’t bother looking up to properly cite saying it.

Of course, much could be done to further strengthen and deepen civic engagement. There’s a grassroots movement afoot for something called participatory budgeting. Small slivers of a city’s budget portioned off to be decided upon and spent directly at the community level. “Creating a more educated platform of voters overall,” says PGP volunteer facilitator, Christine Petro. “So I think this can only be good for the big project of democracy.”

Perhaps more radical still would be an idea to empower citizens at the community council level. Give them more than simply input. getyourhandsdirtyMake people decide on and be responsible for certain local issues throughout the city. Instead of simple an advisory position make room for actual governing.

Hey, hey.

That’s what elections are for, pallie. The people decide who governs them. Then we go home, watch the Leafs and do it all over again in 4 years time. Anything more than that would be pure… chaos.

Maybe.

But even if that were the case, it would be preferable to the democratic somnolence that has crept up on the citizenry at every level of government. The trend with voter turnout continues to point downward. Disengagement smacks of disillusionment.

That void is then filled with real special interests, not the pretend ones imagined by politicians who see any opposition as undemocratic and unsavoury. Participation and engagement beyond simply voting and tax paying amounts to vigilance. No one politician should be expected to keep democracy healthy and vibrant. Nor 45 for that matter, for a city of over 2.5 million residents with a multitude of needs and opinions.fordnation

For nearly 4 years now, Toronto has been bludgeoned with this idea of a manufactured ‘Nation’ that manifested its will back in 2010 and will do so again this October if need be.

My question is, where exactly has that ‘Nation’ been when every single decision has been made affecting them, every month at every council meeting? Where are they when matters are getting hashed out at committee meetings? Where is that nation when the heavy lifting of daily governance is going on?

Politicians only looking for civic engagement every four years aren’t really comfortable with democracy. Their preference is for more of a don’t call us, we’ll call you kind of arrangement. Give us power, stand back and we’ll take it from here.

That’s not engagement so much as it is honorary ceremonial status.  The flag waver at a car race. The bottle smasher at a boat launch.

If you’re only expected to pay attention once every four years, it’s ultimately difficult to muster much enthusiasm for it.

hopefully submitted  by Cityslikr


Why Can’t We Be Friends?

November 29, 2013

I’ll take some of the initial blame.

Reading Chris Ramsaroop’s article, Ford on his own turf, allmyfaultin this week’s NOW magazine and following along and participating in the ensuing chatter about it on Twitter, I thought, Yeah, that’s me, a dismisser of the suburbs.

Back in 2010 during the municipal campaign when Ford Nation began to coalesce into a formidable movement, I remember being dumbstruck by it. What the fuck are you thinking?! This guy??

“Rather than demonize the suburbs (they are already criminalized because of over-policing),” Ramsaroop writes, “it’s important to have a rethink. Poverty and racism are extremely complicated and affect people in numerous ways. The folks who show up at a Ford BBQ or rally are some of the same people denied adequate services, decent housing and good jobs.”

Fair enough. And these same people think Rob Ford was the politician to alleviate all those shortcomings for them? Why? Whatever in his career as a councillor would lead you to think that he’d deliver adequate services, decent housing and good jobs?

You know all those phone and house calls were just about building a voters’ database, right? fordnationLittle he did for constituents individually would help the problems long term. Rob Ford very rarely concerned himself with looking out for the little guy.

If suburban voters didn’t know that beforehand, they’d certainly find it out once he assumed office. That’ll show them, I sulked. Serves them right. (See? Suburbanites aren’t the only ones who can wallow in spite and resentment.)

But as things proceeded, I came out from under my self-imposed funk and started to wonder what it was I wasn’t getting. What was the connection between residents out in Etobicoke, York, Scarborough and this mayor who was doing very little to help their daily lives. Savings in frozen property taxes and the elimination of the VRT were being offset by increases to the cost in using transit and other pay as you go fees. whatareyousayingServices were being reduced and programs cut despite the mayor’s campaign promise that none of that would happen. Guaranteed.

I was loath to think of such support being based on what some referred to as ‘low information’. That’s not far off calling somebody stupid in my view. The kind of patronizing attitude that’s apparently got us into this mess in the first place.

But hey. I was willing to accept the premise that there were plenty of folks out there, busy going about their business, working hard just to get by who didn’t have the time to tune in closely to the ins and outs of city council although, I know plenty of people who were also busy going about their business, working hard just to get by who managed to find the time to be more informed.

Still. I get it. There are loads of people due to their location, race, ethnicity, income level, feeling that City Hall is too removed from their daily lives and just some place that takes money from their pockets and gives back little in return. A sense of disenfranchisement encouraged by those elected to represent many of these same people; roadtrip1city councillors who thrived on exploiting this urban-suburban divide as a way to cover their own inability or disinclination to deliver anything of much to their residents. Not unlike Mayor Ford himself.

The only way to bridge this gap was to start reaching out beyond our comfy, walled confines of downtown. Get on the subway and then onto a bus and then another bus and see what the members of Ford Nation were saying in the places they met and organized. As we were constantly being told (no, Mr. Ramsaroop is not the first person to chastise downtowners for their apparent insularity), get outside of the bubble we were existing in, and get to know our suburban neighbours.

If I’m being honest here, my efforts to do just that have not been as extensive as my best intentions. I have attended a couple handfuls of meetings, both official (community council meetings) and resident organized ones. My ongoing connections with these groups are tenuous although others are gathering a solid database. communitymeetingBut this is a project I have been a part of for a couple years now.

And I will tell you, for my part, it did not get off to an auspicious start. One of the first gatherings I attended outside of the downtown core was a transit town hall meeting which I later dubbed Seething in Scarborough. People were not present to converse or have a dialogue. It was shouty from the get-go. Much of my time was spent desperately trying to look inconspicuous, wondering if I shouldn’t join in and let fly with a howl of indignation just so no one might figure me as an outsider.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to go out to the political hinterlands and impose my views on the locals. I honestly don’t know what motivates suburban residents, what their expectations are of City Hall, what drives them nuts. Aside from probably the same things we all want. buildabettercityA city that strives to provide the opportunities every resident needs to flourish (eudaimonia, to steal a thought from Charles Montgomery’s Happy City). A place that’s easy to get around, safely. A respectful city that allows and encourages all our diversity.

And aside from that one madhouse meeting in Scarborough (and one or two proposed development sessions I’ve witnessed), my impression is most people who take the time to organize and attend community events want those exact same things. The devil’s in the details and the sticking points always tend to be how exactly to achieve those goals. Most of the times I’ve ventured north of Bloor, as we joke, the experience has been positive and a little inspiring.

But I will tell Chris Ramsaroop that misconceptions abound on both sides of this particular fence. backandforthHe wouldn’t want anyone to assume everybody living in the suburbs thinks like the worst of the unhinged supporters of the mayor who show up in the comments section of newspapers. So he shouldn’t assume that there’s a blanket downtown disregard and dismissal of the suburbs represented by the intemperate outbursts expressed in some of those same newspaper pages.

There are many of us trying to understand and engage. But, like those in the suburbs, our lives are full too and we can’t keep on top of everything that’s happening around this city. You want us to come to your meetings, make concrete steps and deliver the goods? You’ve got to do a little reaching out yourselves, let us know when and where. Chances are a few of us will be there.

friendly-ly submitted by Cityslikr


Everybody Get Happy

November 28, 2013

Early on in Charles Montgomery’s Happy City (page 6 to be exact), happycitythe author quotes former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa, speaking at the 2006 World Urban Forum:

“If we defined our success just in terms of income per capita, we would have to accept ourselves as second or third-rate societies – as a bunch of losers,” he said. No, the city needed a new goal. Peñalosa promised neither a car in every garage nor a socialist revolution. His promise was simple. He was going to make Bogotans happier.

“And what are our needs for happiness?” he asked. “We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”

Over the past 3+ years, there has been plenty of head-scratching and analysis over and of this thing that has been labelled Ford Nation. Much of it has been very good (most recently from Naheed Mustafa in The Atlantic – h/t @GerardDiTrolio for the link and Marco Chown Oved in The Toronto Star – h/t @CTBNFG for that link).

But if I may be so bold, allow me to put it all under one big umbrella, using Enrique Peñalosa’s words. fordnation“We need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”

Being part of Ford Nation, from a political standpoint, could be viewed as an exercise in inclusion. For the first time in at least seven years, if not since amalgamation, hundreds of thousands of residents, mainly in the surrounding former suburban municipalities of Toronto, felt there was somewhere they had a voice, exerted some power. Rob Ford was their mayor. David Miller was our mayor. It was their turn now. Equality.

Never mind, for the moment, that many of the policies Team Ford would pursue once in power ran contrary to some of the issues that exacerbated the sense of isolation and exclusion, i.e. cutbacks in programs and services, reductions in public transit. Pocketbook politics are strong. For over 3 decades now, conservatives have sold us a bill of goods that more money in our pockets was all we needed to make our lives better. longwaitforabus1It’s a tough rhetorical nut to crack. To paraphrase a wise politico, sometimes that elderly lady has to start wondering why her bus taking her to church on a Sunday morning now comes every half hour when it used to be only 15 minutes before you can convince her that freezing property taxes does have an effect aside from simply saving a bit of pocket change.

Ford Nation is the face of people wanting in, wanting to be heard if not wanting to directly participate in the civic life of the city where they live.

It’s not enough to simply tsk, tsk, tsk, rant in an alleyway and slap our foreheads in wonder at how these people can support a guy who’s clearly not acting in their best interests. Ford Nation is a vehicle for both a collective frustration and, I hope and think, a demand for inclusion in the decision making of this city. scoldForget the reckless driver who’s behind the wheel. That’s ultimately unimportant. It’s the vehicle we need to take notice of.

If we’re truly concerned about the direction our city’s going, of the well-being of all its residents, we have to recognize what the members of Ford Nation saw back in 2010. The status quo is not working. We need to figure out why that is and how to go about trying to address it.

That calls for a positive reassessment not finger-wagging, blame-naming and nay-saying. We need a bus load of ideas, big and small, with a wide open door policy where anybody who wants to, contributes. Point the thing in the direction we want to go, along the surest route we think will get us there, aware that there’s always going to be detours ahead, and invite everybody who’s interested aboard.

It’s time we started talking about what we want from the city we live in not with everything we don’t like about it. Can’t, won’t, no no no, is the language of division and exclusion. Here’s what I’d like to see. magicbusHow about you? is the way we talk when we’re seeking other opinions, when we want to be inclusive, when we actually care what other people think, even those we think we know better than.

Toronto won’t work unless it works for everybody. There’s no easy fix for that. Consensus building is the only way forward to that goal. True consensus can only happen when everyone’s voice is heard and treated equally. That’s where solutions start.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


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