Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

If nothing else, these past 4 years have taught us an abject lesson about the slow crawl of change in Toronto. slowchangeWhy can’t we have nice things? Because, well, change is scary and must be avoided at all costs.

First, there was Transit City. Three years in the planning and then, boom! Rob Ford’s first official day as mayor, he declares it dead. It is eventually wrestled back from his control but not in its initial shape or name and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a pricey and politically expedient Scarborough subway now attached.

Second, Waterfront TO and the Port Lands. This one underway since 2001, charged with revitalizing the rather sorry state of Toronto’s chunk of Lake Ontario. A slow but now noticeable process building public spaces and economic development. Too slow, however, and not noticeable enough (at least from their car seats, driving along the Gardiner) for the Ford Brothers and their ilk at city council. texaschainsawmassacreUnilaterally, Councillor Ford sought to take control of the situation with monorails, ferris wheels and shopping malls.

This foray, fingers crossed, was stymied without too much delay. But the attacks continue, I-don’t-even-know-where-Sugar Beach-is style. What’s with the pink umbrellas and Quebec rocks?

And remember that environmental assessment (EA) undertaken late in David Miller’s 2nd term to explore options on the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway – repair, rebuild or remove? No? Funny thing, that. After getting started, the report was quietly shelved in the fall of 2010 and the remaining money used for other ‘priority projects’. citybuildingThree years later, the EA was resuscitated and completed just this year. This one with significant delays and additional costs now attached.

Then, at last week’s council meeting, another addition to the do-we-have-to bin. After overwhelming approval just 2 months earlier, the Eglinton Connects plan came back to council for some additional authorization, this time to much less overwhelming-ness. Led by the mayor and one of his electoral challengers, the plans came under assault for being too driver unfriendly.

“City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” the mayor declared during the now semi-infamous shirtless protest. “This does not make sense. It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We can’t afford more gridlock than we already have. We can’t approve things that will bring this city to a standstill.”

Not to be outdone in his aversion to any new type of thinking when it comes to traffic planning, playingtothecrowdJohn Tory issued his own reactionary statement, although, to give him credit, he didn’t actually stop traffic to do it. “I have said all along that any proposal that will add to road congestion by reducing lanes of traffic is a non-starter in my books. EglintonConnects will do exactly that and will increase traffic by ten per cent on adjacent residential streets.”

We can’t change, we won’t change. As it was, so it shall always be. Anything else?

There’s most certainly some crass political pandering at work here. The War on the Car rhetoric was powerful last time around in 2010. Why not try going back to that well? Much fertile ground to plough there (not to mention plenty of metaphors to mix).

It taps into a strange and opposing dynamic in the electorate. We want change. We know we need change. We just don’t want anything to be different.eglintonconnects

So it seems no matter how much the public is consulted, how much input is offered up, in the end, any sort of significant change in pattern will arouse a noisy pushback. It might not represent significant numbers but it is loud, it is persistent, it is threatening. At least threatening enough to catch the attention of some of our local representatives.

But here’s my question.

Is it our elected officials’ sole job to listen to their constituents, and react only to the most vocal? Eglinton Connects did not suddenly emerge, out of the blue, dropping heavily onto everyone’s laps. By all accounts, it was a very public, open process. thanklessjobHere’s what we want to do? Any thoughts or ideas to improve it?

Just like in real life, sometimes councillors need to stand up to the bullies and loudmouths, marshal support for projects and ideas they believe in. This is a good plan. It will benefit the city, community, neighbourhood, street. Take a position, based on an informed decision, and sell it. Risk electoral retribution? Maybe. But that just comes with the territory, I guess.

Of course, that’s easier said from the outside when there’s no actual risk involved.

Even one of the more change-friendly city councillors, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has had to beat a tactical retreat on a plan in her ward. Friends of Chorley Park have succeeded in delaying the implementation of a new path through a portion of the south Rosedale ravine, better connecting it down through to the Brickworks, a major tourist draw, still most easily accessed by car. This, despite the fact, it has been in the works for two years, with plenty of resident notification and invitations for input.demagogue

Once it became a reality earlier this year, well, all hell broke loose. Petitions signed. Demands made. To the tune of roughly one million dollars in delays, according to Councillor Wong-Tam.

“My concern is that people are dug in so deep that they are not able to compromise on design,” she said, although she remains “…optimistic that we’re going to come up with something great. I’m optimistic that this is a community that’s going to come together and find a community-crafted resolution.”

The lesson from all this, I guess, is no matter how effective a city councillor may be, they can’t push progress forward on their own. They need support from their residents and the public at large. Get involved and get loud. You see something the city is doing that you like and want it to go forward, let everybody know. Beat the drum.

Unfortunately, it seems to be far easier to be against something rather than in favour of it. angrymobChange might result in something worse. It might be better! But it could be worse!

It’s a constant battle against human nature, fighting for change. The best place to start in engaging in that struggle is to help expose the politicians who exploit our risk aversion for their own gains. They aren’t looking out for the best interests of the city, its residents or the future. They’re beholden to only one thing and one thing only. Pure and utter self-interest.

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr


Anger Management

July 9, 2014

After Mayor Ford’s attempted campaign press conference was commandeered by the self-proclaimed #shirtlesshorde yesterday (and the below video is just a fraction of the monumental disruption caused by protesters), there was some talk about the effectiveness of the tactic. Much of it was grounded in how it played to the mayor’s base. Would it paint a picture of this poor guy, fresh out of rehab and on the slow road to recovery, once more under attack by jobless, union-backed, trough-slurping downtown elites. Give the guy a break!

And put a shirt on.

Since his unlikely rise to the mayor’s office in 2010, we’ve been told Rob Ford is like no other politician we’ve ever seen here in Canada. He has a fiercely loyal base that believes unwaveringly that he is just one of them and is always looking out for the little guy. angermanagement2The rules of political engagement are, therefore, different.

What exactly those rules are, however, are not very clear. Ignore him? Attack him? Attack his policies? Mock him? Ignore him? Did I say ‘ignore him’ already?

How do we handle this guy?!

In the post-mortem after his election win, the conventional wisdom was that those of us standing in opposition to the Ford juggernaut failed to understand the anger it had managed to tap into. An anger, much of it in the inner suburbs of the city, at exclusion and disenfranchisement, a feeling of disconnect with the rest of the city especially the downtown core which was perceived as the sole beneficiary of the upside to amalgamation. It had all the good transit, the booming economy represented by all the cranes on the skyline, the perks and fancy public spaces. angryvotersAll mostly paid by the hardworking taxpayers struggling to get by out in the suburbs.

Understand that anger and you’d understand the Ford appeal.

If only it were that easy.

It wasn’t so much that nobody got the anger. Only the most smug, self-satisfied Torontonian could think we weren’t surrounded by high degrees of inequality and isolation, political disenchantment and deeply rooted regional antagonism. angryPeople were unhappy, and many of them rightfully so.

The problem was, there were no quick and easy solutions, and none that the city could address all on its own. The Miller administration was pushing better transit further into the inner suburbs with Transit City and a ridership growth plan. Business property taxes were being adjusted in an effort to attract employers into the city and create more jobs. There were programs like the Tower Renewal introduced.

Systemic change takes time, and in 2010 it got crushed under a steamroller of retail politics. Rob Ford wrangled all the disaffection by offering simple solutions and slick slogans. There was no problem that couldn’t be solved by simply Respecting the Taxpayer. angrymobOr Stopping the Gravy Train.

He took the anger, made it angrier and rode it all the way into the mayor’s office.

Now, four years later, we tremble in fear of in any way poking the angry bear we call Ford Nation.

Don’t attack the mayor. It’ll get the base angry. Don’t make fun of the mayor. It’ll make the base angry. Don’t talk about the mayor’s bad behaviour. It’ll make the base angry. And, for godsakes, put on your shirt or you’ll make the base angry.

An angry Ford Nation is a motivated Ford Nation. A motivated Ford Nation means a re-elected Rob Ford.

So, shhhh! Don’t wake the angry bear.angrywhiteguy

I don’t know. Maybe there’s some wisdom in all that. Anger is tough to sustain, and all recent indications suggest there’s no upward mobility for the Ford campaign. Keep your composure, stand back, let him crash and burn, move on.

But you know, there’s a bigger matter at work here. Our local democracy is more than Rob Ford and these last four extraordinary, at times, demoralizing years. Politics here will continue when Ford leaves the stage, one way or the other. I’m not sure we start to repair things in any significant manner by silently holding the door for him on his way out. Here’s your hat and crack. What’s your hurry?

Four years ago – and I say this through gritted teeth – Rob Ford was something of a blank slate. angrymanHis possible mayoralty, theoretical. When he won, there was something of a reluctant hope against hope. Maybe the office would moderate his immoderate views? He’d have to reach out beyond his supporters to secure a workable mandate at City Hall, wouldn’t he? His brother (and this hope turned out to be the most fantastical), newly elected to council, would be a temperate influence. He’d be the smart one.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

Well now, that all turned out to be unfounded dreaming. Rob Ford has a deplorable track record as mayor based on a mountain of lies and gross misconduct. Nothing he says is true. He has ripped up more than he has built. angrywhiteguy1By any measure, he is a spectacularly failed mayor.

And he wants to be re-elected.

Meanwhile, we’re advised to keep calm, our eyes averted, fingers crossed and hope this whole tempest blows over.

What exactly does that kind of negligent compliance signal for the future?

Rob Ford’s reckless governance and personal behaviour, his disregard for common decency has degraded the office of the mayor of Toronto and smeared City Hall. Allowing him a free pass, quietly waiting for the end, is tantamount to a dereliction of our civic duty as residents of this city.

That’s what the Joe Killoran incident was all about. Unfiltered anger at an unrepentant, untrustworthy, entitled politician who somehow is still able to hold onto public office and be out asking for 4 more years. What does it say about us that we stand back, questioning the motives and tactics of those speaking out in order to ensure that all the ugliness just quietly goes away?

While we do, the mayor’s so-called ‘sobriety coach’ kicks a member of the public. The mayor continues to pretend his rehab stunt was anything but a campaign publicity stunt. The mayor remains seated during a standing ovation for the success of hosting World Pride this year.

So I say, rage on John Furr and the shirtless horde! Remain angry. Vigil on, Rob Ford Must Go! Keep reminding us that our mayor remains unfit for office. That he remains a lying disgrace of a human being. Time and time again, he’s betrayed our trust and pissed on everything the city touts to represent.

Don’t be angry? How can you not be angry?

angrily submitted by Cityslikr


An Appointment With Destiny

July 8, 2014

I get it. It’s supposed to be a mindful, deliberate process, disorderlyorderlythe appointment of an interim city councillor to fill a vacancy left behind when the duly elected councillor resigns the position during a term. The will of voters must be observed and, as best as humanly possible, adhered to.

But wouldn’t it be great if everybody threw caution to the wind and instead took a flyer on protocol and just said: This one’s a real crackerjack. Came in, gave a blockbuster of a speech, has a dynamite CV. Here, Ward [Whatever], try this one on for size. Especially this late in the term. What harm could an appointed councillor possibly do in a few short months?

Alas, no. Order (or whatever passes for order at Toronto’s City Hall these days) businessasusualmust be maintained.

So it was yesterday (as it was last year with replacement of Doug Holyday) with the appointment of new councillors in Wards 5 and 20. No fireworks. Very little surprise or suspense. Just a quiet passing of the torch to caretakers, essentially, until the start of the next term in December, to a couple of established figures. Ward 20 got a long time city staffer and social activist while a political backroomer on the south Etobicoke scene became the new Ward 5 councillor.

The only bit of intrigue during the procedure – no, wait. There were two. – came when a couple former staffers applied for the position of Ward 5 councillor. One, Nico Fidani-Diker, worked in Mayor Rob Ford’s office for a time and is on record expressing some reservations about the role Sandro Lisi played in the mayor’s life. Totally coincidentally, I’m sure, there were problems with the clock in the council chambers during his deputation which he felt got cut short by the speaker, Frances Nunziata.fingerscrossed

The other was the fate of Kinga Surma, an ex-assistant in the former city Ward 5 councillor, Peter Milczyn’s office up until last year’s provincial by-election when she went to work on the campaign of Milczyn’s rival in that race, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. A supposed amicable arrangement between Mr. Milczyn and Ms. Shurma that didn’t actually wind up that way. She was given her marching orders just a few days after Milczyn returned to the office, having lost the by-election.

Yesterday, she placed a distant 3rd in the appointment race to succeed him, providing a lesson to all political neophytes. Never, ever, publically piss on your boss’s shoes. sinkorswimOther bosses don’t look kindly on it, and won’t really extend a hand to help, given an opportunity down the road.

Unfazed by the outcome, Ms. Shurma almost immediately registered to run for the Ward 5 council seat in October’s municipal election. It was not an entirely surprising move, and one that may’ve also contributed to her lack of support by an overwhelming majority of councillors who had little interest in giving her a running start in the campaign. Hopefully for Ms. Shurma, democracy won’t be as office politics minded as the appointment process appeared to be.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch IV

June 26, 2014

Walking along Bloor Street West in Ward 18 Davenport with Alex Mazer, I was struck by a thought. This is like strolling in my own backyard. railpathWhich it kind of is since I live right next door in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina. I have played baseball in the parks in Ward 18. I have drunk in a few of the bars in Ward 18. I have cycled Ward 18’s railpath.

Su warda, mi warda.

(I hope that totally made-up Spanish on my part doesn’t actually mean anything rude or derogatory.)

I met Alex last year when he hosted a Better Budget TO event. It’s a group advocating for participatory budgeting, a more open process of determining how local governments spend money that actually includes not only community involvement but community decision making. (See what Councillor Shelley Carroll’s doing with Section 37 money in Ward 33.) participatorybudgetThe movement has gained traction in cities like New York and Chicago.

Participatory budgeting is also something more conducive to local governments than either the provincial or federal levels, both where Alex has spent some time working previously. Their budgets are dropped, fully formed, take it or leave it, folks. Municipal budgets, while dense and arcane, go through a few stages including one where the public gets to express its opinion, before being finalized by city council.

It’s this relative openness that has drawn Alex toward municipal politics. An ability to interact and work with constituents on issues that directly affect their quality of lives on a daily basis. Budgets, schools, public spaces, transit, the state of our roads and the constant construction. Oh, the construction.

Like many of us, Alex would like to figure out a way to better co-ordinate construction throughout the city in order to avoid what seems like a regular tear up and rebuild along his ward’s stretch of Bloor Street.

bloorstreetwestWhile not as intense as some neighbouring wards to the east or south of it, Ward 18 is experiencing similar kinds of pressures that come from growth and intensification, beginning with the need to deliver new infrastructure and maintain the old. The development along Queen Street on the edge of Parkdale is already in place. There’s a mixed used plan on what is now derelict land running beside the railpath right next to the Nestle chocolate factory near Dundas Street West and Lansdowne that’s been years in the making and looks ready to go. The Union-to-Pearson rail link will have a stop in Ward 18.

It’s going to be a serious hub, Ward 18, bringing with it all the opportunities and conflicts inherent in that. Continued pressure on employment lands. Cars versus transit versus biking. Like the old days versus new density. Electrification versus diesel.

You might think, why put all that into the lap of a newcomer? The current councillor, while only finishing up her first term, has worked in the ward for a while now, dating back to her time as Executive Assistant to longtime former councillor, Mario Silva. nestleLet’s just stick with the steady hand of experience.

The thing is, from my perch watching city council over the past 4 years, Councillor Ana Bailão has not shown herself up to the task. While not a destructive force certainly, she has regularly landed on the side of issues that truly mystify. Sure, there was voting to rescind the Vehicle Registration Tax which, while politically popular, hasn’t done much for the city’s revenue stream. She also voted to freeze property taxes in 2011, contract out waste collection west of Yonge (but against awarding that contract to Green 4 Life), eliminate the plastic bag fee, initially voted to keep the bike lanes on Jarvis but then voted to re-confirm the vote she’d voted against to tear them up (??) The councillor voted for the Scarborough subway.

Little rhyme nor reason or pattern. There doesn’t seem to be a there, there.

Even on her signature item, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, nothing much happened. It might’ve contained the fire but certainly hasn’t put it out. TCHC management remains a mess. The state of good repair continues to grow. No recommendations have been put forth to deal with what is a pressing, pressing situation.

In truth, Councillor Bailão has been something of a disappointment. Not at all dependable on the important issues facing the city. dupontbusMaybe a change in tone and function at City Hall would reveal a different Ana Bailão but it’s hard to see much evidence of that possibility.

And if Ward 18 is counting on change for better representation, why not go whole hog and elect a new councillor?

Alex Mazer?

He’s certainly bringing a lot to the table. Clearly engaged and on top of the issues directly affecting the ward and the wider city, Mazer wants to open up that engagement further, bringing the public into the decision-making process sooner, whether it’s the budget or local development plans. Anyone who ‘deeply disagrees with the Ford agenda’, as Mazer stated a week or so ago on Reddit, would be a step in the right direction from the ward’s current representation.

But I’ll let you decide for yourself, leaving you with candidate Mazer’s own words:

Change is happening — there’s no question about it. There are a lot of good things about this change — I think that most residents in the area that I talk to feel optimistic about the future of their neighbourhoods.

But despite this optimism, I also hear from renters, artists, newcomers, middle class families, and more, who feel that they can no longer afford to live downtown — who feel that they will never be able to afford to buy a home in the area. This is part of a broader challenge that our city faces — that people’s opportunities are increasingly shaped by their postal code (U of T’s David Hulchanski, among others, has done some great work on this).

City government can’t stop this change, but we can manage it better I believe. One of my priorities is to take a more proactive approach to managing development in the ward, working with communities to identify the types of growth and change they want before the ‘development application’ signs go up and they’re left scrambling to have their voices heard. A good example of this is the need to work with the community and other levels of government to preserve public space at Dufferin and Bloor.

A better affordable housing policy can also help. See some of my thoughts on this.

I think we need to focus more on the growing inequality in our city. It’s troubling that inequality has taken on a more prominent place in the American political discourse but remains a relatively minor part of the public debate here in Toronto.

gotrain

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


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


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