Sore Losing

June 16, 2014

One last thing about Thursday’s provincial election… OK, maybe one last thing for now… onemorethingYou know… we’ll see.

If nothing else, the reaction to the Liberal win from the two main parties (and their supporters) that went down to defeat serves as valid justification for having not voted for them.

Ousted from the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding he’d claimed only last year in a by-election, Doug Holyday summed up the reason for the loss. Union attack ads. A conservative politician bemoaning his fate at the hands of attack ads. Imagine that.

For its part, the NDP were still smarting from the perceived betrayal by the traitor within its own ranks during the campaign. When 3 MPPs from Toronto lost on election night, it was all, see what you went and did, you bunch of Judases? You got played, dumbasses. Here, let me help clean that egg off your faces.

Whatever happened to taking responsibility?

I mean, the NDP and PCs presented their respective platforms from a campaign strategy “…developed over years” as NOW’s Susan G. Cole stated. blameothersThey took it to the electorate over some 40 days. Here, voters. This is who we are and what we’ll do if we form the next government. Vote for us.

The dice were rolled and came up snake eyes for the two opposition parties. For reasons that can only superficially be explained at this early juncture, Ontarians rejected the PC and NDP bids (based, of course, on a first past the post model) and gave the Liberals a majority mandate. The vagaries of democracy, eh?

Now, a noble person, full of humility, would, at least publicly, accept the loss as the result of the wisdom of the masses. It’s not necessarily that they were wrong and the public right on any particular issue. The messaging didn’t work, this time around. Or maybe, it was just the messenger who failed to click with people, failed to tell a compelling story.

Take your pick but, my god, take responsibility.

One particularly condescending bit of unwillingness to accept defeat graciously came from a chorus of conservative commentators. blameothers2Pampered and entitled voters refused to take the dose of tough medicine needed to turn things around in this province. So this line of reasoning went.

Aside from the various mad scribblings to this effect inside the Toronto Sun, the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee put on his somber face. “Investment may be good for Toronto,” he wrote. “A provincial government that continues to go into debt is not.” Further, “While she [Premier Wynne] carried the day by arguing in the campaign that it is wrong-headed to cut the way to success, it is it is unclear what answers she has for the broader Ontario problem.”

“Wrong-headed” but not necessarily wrong to think, like Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives, that you can cut your way to success.

In other words, enjoy your victory lap, Liberals. blameothers1Your day of reckoning is at hand.

The National Post’s Matt Gurney took it one step further, assuaging the troubled minds of conservatives with the soothing assurances that, it hardly mattered who won the election, the tough choices were coming whether the Liberals like it or not. “If Ontario is to maintain any fiscal credibility, and avoid ruinous ratings cuts,” he writes, “there is significant austerity ahead.”

While the Progressive Conservative platform was unpalatable for voters in Ontario, it is inevitable. Like night following day, fall following summer, austerity is coming, folks. It doesn’t matter who’s in power.

Mr. Gurney may be right. The Liberals may accept that reality as it’s being pitched. Certainly there were dark utterings of austerity measures being loaded into the back end of the budget that brought the Liberals down in May and that they have pledged to bring back post haste.

But my question to him over the weekend, and to all the others singing from that same neocon songbook, was why? There’s no question the province’s fiscal fitness is worrisome. The economy remains fragile. Our debt level is high. But where is it written that austerity is the only way out of this? I’ve pleaded for austerimaniacs to point me to an example where it has worked. blameothers3The response so far? A shrug.

So maybe voters in Ontario didn’t reject the conservative bad news reality because they were unwilling to face up to the harsh facts of life. Maybe they just didn’t accept the premise. Maybe they weren’t prepared to go down that brutish road of untested economic theory. Especially since the alleged upside, the million jobs that would be created, was, well, maybe not that robust. A claim, based as it was, on faulty math. Or “glitches” as the National Post’s editorial board referred to it in its endorsement of Tim Hudak.

We all know from our own personal experiences that being rejected is tough. It’s difficult to accept the fact that you didn’t measure up. Despite your best intentions and firmest belief in them, your plans just did not work out.

When that happens, though, we don’t really indulge the impulse to blame others for the failure. It tends to lead to a narrowing of vision, a hardening of conviction, a wobbly sense of certainty and confidence. What we really should expect is that, in the face of defeat, we go through a period of reassessment and rethinking. What did I do right? Where do I go wrong? lookinthemirror3What could I have done differently to bring about a different outcome?

Going back to the drawing board, as they say.

But it’s hard to correct any mistakes you might have made when you refuse to admit mistakes were made in the first place. It seems at this point of time, the PCs and NDP are refusing to make the tough choice necessary in acknowledging that they fell short again this time, and the culprit for that is looking straight at them in the mirror. That is, if they decide they really need to have a look in it.

honestly submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Inaction

June 4, 2014

Listening to the new CEO of the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, Sevaun Palvetzian, on Metro Morning yesterday,listeningtotheradio the thought crossed my mind just as host Matt Galloway articulated it. “What has that got us?” That, being the type of advocacy and public discourse generating the GTCAA undertakes. The harnessing ‘the wisdom of the crowds”, as Ms. Palvetzian stated.

The GTCAA has been on the forefront of the region’s congestion question during the past couple years or so. Its Your32 campaign sought to bring home the total cost of congestion to each individual living in the GTHA, not just in terms of money but time lost as well. What would you do with the extra 32 minutes you’d gain if we all weren’t bogged down in traffic and under-serviced by public transit?

Get building more transit, the group chimed in. Fund it. Build it. Push on with The Big Move. Now.

A great discussion to be having but where’s the action, Civic Action Alliance? doitdoitdoitThe follow through? The results?

That’s probably too harsh. New transit is being built. The University-Spadina subway extension. The Eglinton LRT crosstown.

But there’s a shitload more to do and lots of questions about project priorities and where to get the money to fund them. Questions the GTCAA participated in asking and promoting to a wider audience for a broader discussion. The group helped create a real sense of urgency on the transit file.

And then, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum of decision making.

John Tory, the former GTCAA chair, and the former CEO Mitzi Hunter, both left the organization to pursue political positions. civicactionallianceMs. Hunter won a seat in the provincial legislature for the Liberal government in a Scarborough by-election last summer and is running for re-election in the current general election. Mr. Tory is seeking the job of mayor of Toronto.

I think it’s safe to say that neither candidate has pursued the transit issue with the same zeal they had back in their GTCAA days. Hunter, mysteriously, became the Scarborough Subway Champion as part of the Liberal’s backroom politicization of the transit file in order to retain the seat, backing the more expensive and less expansive subway plan over the original Big Move LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line eastward. A switch Tory also favours as part of his mayoral campaign. We’re hearing little from either one of them about any sort of funding tools beyond the dedicated property tax increase for the Scarborough subway. coginthemachineRather than agents of change, they’ve settled into the role of obstructionists.

Writing this, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that politics is where bold ideas go to die. Give a listen to the Metro Morning segment following the interview with Ms. Palvetzian. Three party appointed talking heads spouting talking points ahead of the provincial leaders’ debate last night. Oh, that leaders’ debate last night! The boldest vision based on a monumental lie and the other two just carefully calculated poses.

We can talk all we want, hash out plans, harness the wisdom of crowds, but if those we elect to implement such wisdom shrug off the responsibility of doing so, what’s it matter? Do we just accept the role of demanding big change while settling for incremental?

This is where political apathy sets in. “Where has that got us?” as Matt Galloway asked. What’s it matter? talkingheadsOur political leaders are listening to someone but it sure as hell ain’t us.

And I have to tell you, news that the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance had named Rod Phillips as its new chair of the board brought me no great comfort either. Searching through his bio, nothing jumped out at me that screamed civic-minded. Maybe I’m missing something but this is someone who until just recently was the head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming, a provincial government Crown corporation that spearheaded the push for a casino on the city’s waterfront. Civic-minded? Really?

Perhaps we need to stop looking for outside help in solving our problems. Reading Marcus Gee’s 2009 article about the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance’s (originally known as the Toronto City Summit Alliance) founder, the late David Pecaut, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he had it wrong.

“The message of his [Pecaut] life is that you don’t need to beat City Hall,” Gee wrote. “You can go around it. straightlinefromAtoBRather than wait for the creaking cogs of official machinery to turn, he learned to build networks of interested parties, private and public, that could forge ahead on their own.”

Maybe instead of trying to go around City Hall or Queen’s Park, we should expend our energy going through them. I think it borders on the delusional to think the major issues of our time – congestion, inequality, climate change – can be addressed without government signing on.  “Let’s just go out and do it, and tell City Hall when we’re done,” Mr. Pecaut is quoted as saying. How about we cut out the middle man, and just go out and take control of City Hall?

If we’re really fed up with politics, with the inaction we’re seeing on almost every front, the conversation shouldn’t be about whether or not to vote or what the proper way to decline a ballot is. It’s long past that. getinvolved1We should all be looking for and demanding to see candidates on the ballot who reflect our values and aspirations. Rarely, in my experience, has that not been the case.

Sure, many have been longshots and no-hopers. As long as we stay on the sidelines or remain content to hold our nose and vote for the least worst option, that’ll continue to be the case. Our time and energy would be better spent trying to change that dynamic rather than passively accept it and trying to work around it.

challengingly submitted by Cityslikr


Nick And John

February 17, 2014

John and Nick.

Nick Kouvalis and John Tory. courtingcoupleA political match made in heaven.

Nick Kouvalis, the bare-knuckled political strategist who was part of the team that improbably brought Rob Ford to the mayor’s office in Toronto. Don’t hate Nick because of that, because he’s good at what he does. He only did what he was paid to do.

(We can talk about how he fared during his time as the newly elected mayor’s chief of staff. Or maybe over some drinks and red meat — I always imagine talking to Nick Kouvalis over a plate of red meat — he can dish the dirt about when exactly it was he realized just how big a turd he helped dump on this city, at what point of time he knew that the man he helped elect as mayor may have had something of a ruinous substance abuse problem.)

John Tory, a political lightweight, a candidate who seldom met an election campaign he could not lose. needsapushA guy with the DNA of a winning politician, money, influence, privilege, but lacking in the necessary acumen and wiliness to make much of a lasting impression. Oh right. John Tory. That guy I didn’t vote for last election.

Face it. Somebody like John Tory needs somebody like Nick Kouvalis in his corner. Somebody like John Tory is exactly the kind of challenge somebody like Nick Kouvalis must relish. An nth-time loser with increasingly longer odds of ever getting elected to anything again. Bring it on. If Nick Kouvalis can get Rob Ford elected mayor, who can’t he put in that office?

As someone disinclined to ever vote for someone like John Tory, nothing Nick Kouvalis does to help Tory’s cause will likely bring me to change my mind. In fact, while I understand if Tory taps Kouvalis to help with his campaign, it will only confirm for me my long held suspicions of the man.

Again, this is not a slam against Nick Kouvalis. If anything, I respect him. He’s pretty upfront with his beliefs and what drives him. noholdsbarredHe’s paid to get politicians, mostly conservative leaning politicians, elected. And he will stop at almost nothing to get that done. This ain’t a popularity contest, folks.

I’d say it’s almost the exact opposite of how I view John Tory. I don’t know what’s behind his ambition. There’s no discernible motivation about why he wants to be mayor. There’s this guy with all this opportunity to present himself as a serious, civic-minded, urban thinker and where does he ultimately settle? On AM talk radio, the beating heart of the city’s raging id that is Ford Nation.

As much as I recognize the fact somebody like John Tory needs somebody like Nick Kouvalis, I don’t understand how Tory, in good conscience, can bury the hatchet and go down that road.

Soon after the 2010 election Kouvalis talked publicly about his plan to keep Tory out of the race.

“Kouvalis..said he sensed in July [2010] that Tory was itching to reverse his surprise January decision not to run for mayor. Internal Ford polling suggested Tory would enter 9.5 points ahead of Ford and 11 points ahead of George Smitherman.underhanded

Kouvalis said he warned Ford and his brother/campaign manager Doug that a Tory campaign would poach their donations and volunteers, and devised a four-point plan aimed at letting Tory know his integrity would be attacked if he jumped in…”

Included in the plan was this cheesy Stop the Gravy Train video and a staged call in to Tory’s show, challenging his integrity. Kouvalis claimed later that keeping Tory from the race was the key to Ford’s victory. Tory shrugged off the tactics as non-factors in his decision not to run. “Water under the bridge,” he said, even considering taking some sort of position in the Ford administration after the election, one that I don’t think ever materialized.

I guess if Tory easily accepted such things as just being part of the game back in 2010, there’s no raising an eyebrow at the possibility of him now working with a guy who fought so hard to keep him from running back then. sellyoursoulIn it to win it, am I right? Bearing grudges doesn’t seem to be a productive approach in political life.

It’s safe to assume that if he decides to toss his hat back into the ring this is John Tory’s last kick at the can. He cannot lose and needs to pull out all the stops to make sure that doesn’t happen. Still, what does it say about the man’s judgement and character that he’s willing to try and do that with the person who is at least partially responsible for inflicting on this city the monstrosity that is the current administration, and who did his level best to knee cap anyone and everyone standing in the way of making that happen back in 2010?

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


The Golden Rule

September 17, 2013

When it was announced last week that Anne Golden had been approached by the Ontario government to head up a panel to look at revenue generation to go toward building transit in the GTHA, hidebehindI joked that we should all be very excited as Queen’s Park has a history of listening to recommendations made by a panel chaired by Ms. Golden. Listening perhaps, then ignoring.

OK, joke may be too strong a word for it. That would suggest the statement was funny. More sagging, really. Under the weight of bitter, disillusioned sarcasm.

But it did get me thinking about the old Golden Report on the governance, competitiveness blah, blah, blah of the GTA, commissioned back in the twilight of the Bob Rae government. Delivered up to the Mike Harris crew in the early days of that government, it was greeted largely with a shrug. It wasn’t something they’d asked for.

That’s not exactly true either. The Harris Tories did use the report as a little bit of cover in the next couple years as they descended into an amalgamation frenzy including the one here in Toronto. Reading through Andrew Sancton’s account of what happened, shrugAmalgamations, Service Realignment, and Property Taxes: Did the Harris Government Have a Plan for Ontario’s Municipalities?, the immediate impression is of the ad hoc nature of it all.

To begin with, the idea of amalgamation wasn’t really on the party’s radar when it sat on the opposition benches at Queen’s Park. It certainly wasn’t a key part of the Common Sense Revolution. Here’s Mike Harris speaking in 1994, less than a year before he took over the reins of power.

There is no cost to a municipality to maintain its name and identity. Why destroy our roots and pride? I disagree with restructuring because it believes that bigger is better. Services always cost more in larger communities. The issue is to find out how to distribute services fairly and equally without duplicating services.

Bigger isn’t better? “Services always cost more in larger communities”? This was the exact opposite of what we were being told by the provincial government when they were ramming the megacity down our throats. aboutfaceHow times changed.

Sixteen years on, water under the bridge aside from pointing out that the 1994 Mike Harris was right about amalgamations while Premier Mike Harris was wrong. The change of heart might be easier to accept if there’d been a straight forward reason why he did what he did but there really didn’t seem to be.

Sure, there was the desire to bury the dissenting voice of the old city of Toronto’s council under the more friendly voices of the suburban municipalities but that seems to be just a small part of it. The Tories also wanted to remove the taxation power of school boards and put them on a tight fiscal leash. Plus, the whole matter of updating the property tax system was also in play.

Perhaps as important as any of these, the provincial government needed to keep a campaign promise of reducing government. Any ol’ government would do, regardless of the consequences. Six municipalities into one, plus Metro council? A double fucking trifecta.

Keeping up appearances, in other words. This anti-government government eliminating levels of government. It would make for good re-election campaign literature.

There are echoes of this jumbled miasma of reasoning currently going on with our whole heave-ho debate on transit. Everybody knows that the region’s public transit system is substandard. decisionsdecisions1Everybody knows that we’re going to have to pay substantially for the necessarily substantial expansion.

That seems to be where the agreement ends. Who pays? Who knows. What gets built where? Another head shaker. There are metrics to quantify the debate just like there were during the era of amalgamation. Unfortunately, few are very politically palatable.

Adding Anne Golden to the mix only serves to fuel the feeling that the provincial government is doing little more than throwing up more obstacles. Decisions aren’t the desirable outcome here. The appearance of process is, due diligence.

What’s weird about the way the Liberals are going about things here is, unlike how the Harris government did an about face on amalgamation, the Liberals are subverting a plan they themselves put into place. The Big Move. A breakdown of transit needs and priorities throughout the region and a smorgasbord of possible revenue tools to access in order to implement the plan.

Already the Eglinton crosstown construction is underway. selfsabotageThe Master Agreement with Toronto has been signed for 3 other LRT lines, one being the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line that the government seems determined to undermine at this point, ably assisted by a majority of city council. The motivation behind such a move is hard to discern.

You could just write it off to pure political pandering, to keep those Scarborough seats red in any upcoming provincial election. Pretty straightforward. But if it’s just that, why not go all in and build an actual subway? You know, at least all the way up to Sheppard? That way, you can put pressure on the proposed Sheppard LRT too. A subway to the west. A subway to the east. Complete the line from Yonge to Kipling with a Sheppard subway loop.

This two stop proposal just seems like a half-measure. How could this government be that invested and find themselves at this point of time so indecisive? To give the Harris government its due, they did a 180 on amalgamation and in the face of fierce political opposition pushed it through, damn the torpedoes. headlesschickenThese Liberals appear to have little inclination to be as bold even when they have the good cause on their side.

Instead of having to pull some clarity (misguided and malevolent as it was in the case of amalgamation) out of a stew of conflicting policy initiatives, the McGuinty-Wynne government seem bound and determined to reduce transit planning in the region to a chaotic mix of parochialism and unfinished business. If you are able to find a coherent narrative as to why, you have much better eyes for this kind of thing than I do. I just see a glaring lacking of leadership and a desperate desire for expediency coalescing into an all familiar puddle of incompetence that has plagued this city and region in transit building for a generation now.

disheartenedly submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Judge Me, Monkey

August 28, 2013

Please, please, please, please, please can we stop with the gotcha Have You Ever Smoked Pot question to our elected officials? Unless they’re caught driving (very slowly) backwards the wrong way down a one-way street, trying to flee the Wendy’s drive-through window without paying, the question is not germane. We don’t care, it seems, about something a majority of the public views as a personal choice, made quietly by adults, pretty much akin in acceptance to drinking. Illegal, for sure, but hardly a hangin’ offence these days.

facepalm

So when a press shy mayor with much, much bigger questions hanging over his administration actually stops to interact with the City Hall press corps, Have You Ever Smoked Pot is not the first thing he should be asked. It simply misdirects focus from where it should be. His job performance. That benefits no one except the mayor himself.

It’s an easy story. Do better, members of the press. For the city’s sake.

high (dudgeonly) submitted by Cityslikr


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