Call The Question

July 21, 2014

If they want to make it a campaign issue, I say, bring it on. Let’s have the discussion we should’ve had in 2010. replayAll that talk of gravy and the city’s spending problem. The mayor, his brother, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong all want to put it back on the table again this time around. Fine. Let’s revisit the conversation.

The current object of their fiscal hawk ire is Waterfront Toronto, and its spending practices on a couple projects as part of the wider waterfront revitalization. I’ll try and ape their tone of outrage. $12,000 on umbrellas!! Half a million dollars on rocks!!! $600,000 for a washroom!!!

Resign! Resign!! Resign!!!!

You see, when it comes to the public realm (of the non-road related kind), everything can be done more cheaply. Some parks build public washrooms for 25 grand. Why does Cherry Beach need one for 600 grand? Half a mil for rocks? mockoutrage1Councillor Doug Ford offered some from up at his cottage for a fraction of that cost.

Never mind that Waterfront Toronto has some perfectly legitimate explanations for the cost. The umbrellas at Sugar Beach are permanent, all weather umbrellas intended to last for 25 years. The sports field washroom was installed in a spot away from any sewer infrastructure that needed its own septic system to deal with the large number of people using it.

But as a Toronto Sun editorial warns us, “Too many appear prepared to take whatever Waterfront Toronto says at face value. Bad idea.”

Absolutely. Instead, take at face value what a handful of grandstanding-happy, campaigning politicians tell us.

As Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell points out, the agency is overseen by all 3 levels of government. demagogueWhere are the other outraged voices at all this profligacy? Why are we just hearing the loudest and the crankiest? Or more to the point, why are we giving them any sort of credence?

Even many fellow city council conservatives aren’t onside with this shameless bit of pure self-promotion. Economic Development and Culture Committee Chair Michael Thompson gave one of the best speeches I have seen him give in a fiery defense of Watefront Toronto earlier this month. By investing public money into previously derelict areas of the city’s waterfront, some $2.5 billion in private investment in the area has happened.

“Notwithstanding,” sniffs the Toronto Sun.

Notwithstanding?! That’s the entire fucking point. While not technically a public-private partnership, it’s kind of the theory in practice. Public money used to improve a public asset which, in turn, encourages private investment and development.

notlistening2Not to mention improved public spaces although it’s more difficult to put a price tag on that.

“What taxpayers know is that when it comes to revitalizing the waterfront,” the Sun goes on, undeterred by reason or even simple observation, “politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies from all levels of government have been over-promising and under-delivering for years.”

So when those ‘politicians, bureaucrats and publicly-funded agencies’ do start delivering, as they have with the steady march of development along the waterfront, as indicated by $2.5 billion in private investment, you stand back, unimpressed, and moan about the cost. Did it have to be so expensive? Couldn’t you have done it cheaper?

Geez, I don’t know, Toronto Sun, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and the Ford Brothers. Could we? Tell us all about how you would’ve done it while saving the taxpayers’ a bundle. neverhappyHow about just slapping up, I don’t know, an outhouse at the Cherry Beach sports field would’ve accomplished the same result.

It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong, who’s been a city councillor for nearly 20 years now, step up and start telling us, not what’s wrong, but how exactly he’d make it right. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong told us about the positive contributions he’s made to the life of this city, how he’s served to make the residents’ lives better. It’s time Councillor Minnan-Wong start justifying his continued public presence.

And if, in the end, all he can point to are numbers with dollar signs on a ledger sheet and refer to those he represents as ‘taxpayers’, I’ll suggest that’s not enough, not even close. As we have seen with a similarly small-minded, monstrously narrow-focussed, anti-government conservative in our current mayor, big cities need big pictures not just the itty-bitty ones that spark indignation fueled solely on fallacious resentment. texaschainsawmassacreNay-saying is an easy political platform to build. Unfortunately, it collapses under the weight of governance.

So yeah, if Councillor Minnan-Wong, the Fords and the Toronto Sun want to try and re-hash the 2010 campaign, pitting their self-proclaimed record of stinginess against the idea of productive city-building, let them. This time, however, demand they show the results of their actions. Demand a full accounting of the costs and benefits. Demand actual leadership and not just mindless, crowd-pleasing axe wielding.

daringly submitted by Cityslikr


The Results Are Not All In

July 18, 2014

I’d love to vote for him but he’s not going to win.

This was said, more than a few times, about Mayoral candidate David Soknacki after what was, apparently, lostcausea very strong debate performance (I didn’t see it) on Tuesday night.

It’s July. The election’s still more than 3 months away. This is what you would call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More embarrassingly, I think of it as a very passive participation in the democratic process.

You have an incumbent. You have a former high profile city councillor and a federal M.P. until just recently. You have a frequent candidate for office, a former leader of a provincial party and a long time A.M. talk radio show host.

The fact that these 3 candidates sit atop every poll taken should hardly be a surprise to anyone. While not purely a recognition factor (if it was, the mayor would be sitting at 98%), these are all recognizable names to even the most casual of political observers of City Hall. manoflamanchaWho would I vote for? Yeah. I’m going with the one there I’ve never, ever heard of.

“If a few of the people lamenting the fact that Soknacki can’t win started telling pollsters they intend to vote for him…” John McGrath suggested, post-debate.

Maybe if I just clap a little harder, for a little longer, the Soknacki campaign won’t die. Cross my fingers. Pray. Send it my mental best wishes.

A successful candidacy doesn’t simply materialize as if by magic or run the race fueled by good ideas and noble intentions. It takes work. Lots of it by lots of people over a long period of time.

I’ve written about this in terms of city council races but it’s equally true at the mayoral level.

By reputation or experience or a good network or access to a shitload of money (maybe all of them together), favourites for the mayor’s office quickly emerge in any race. They are granted or have gained a certain degree of institutional support. This gets them even more exposure, more air time and print space. People see them as serious contenders. wishfulthinkingSo they then lend their support, money, time, resources.

It’s a closed, feedback loop that is very, very difficult to break into if you don’t gain access quickly. Soon, the ‘fringe’ label sticks and you get deemed unelectable. I love your ideas and your platform but, really, voting for you will just be throwing my ballot away.

But we’ve been down this road before, people. Democracy is about much more than voting. To sit and observe, and then stew about the choices you’re being given is unproductive and lazy. Agitate. Make noise beyond your Twitter bubble. Get a campaign going to harass broadcasters to include the candidate of your choice in the next debate it’s hosting.

Better yet. Organize your own mayoral debate. Find a free space somewhere in your neighbourhood. Print off a few flyers. Invite the candidates you want to see to come out and debate. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the turnout.

If that’s too grandiose, host a BBQ for 20 or 30 friends. Invite the candidate to come over and speak for a few minutes, introduce themselves. highhopesThen pass the hat around for some campaign donations.

It’s what makes municipal politics so accessible and user-friendly. You can have a direct impact on the outcome far and above just your one vote. (Two if you count mayor and your local councillor. Three, actually. Mayor, councillor, school board trustee.) But you have to get active.

It’s at this point in the post where I have to obligatorily write about how, back in 2003, David Miller was still polling in the single digits on Labour Day, less than two months before that election. It was just assumed to be a two-way race between John Tory and Barbara Hall.

During Tuesday’s debate, the fact was being bandied about that at this time in July of 2010, a no-name candidate, Naheed Nenshi, found himself sitting at about 2% in the polls for the Calgary’s mayor’s office. 6impossiblethingsThe very same Naheed Nenshi who got re-elected mayor last year with about 74% of the popular vote.

So can we stop with the tortured anguish of entrapment to pre-determined election outcomes already? Those leading the pack in the summer don’t always cross the finish line first in the fall. It’s anybody’s race still to win, and anybody’s to lose too.

You want to vote for David Soknacki as the next mayor of Toronto, and want him to be in a position to do so in order to vote for him? Chip in. Do something about it. Donate. Volunteer some of your time. Ditto Morgan Baskin. Ari Goldkind. Richard Underhill. Robb Johannes.

Election victories don’t emerge from best wishes and wishful thinking. Hard work, long hours and, frankly, something of an indomitable spirit are all that matter really. That, and a boatload of volunteers who are prepared to put some effort into the campaign beyond remarking and complaining from the sidelines about how all the good candidates don’t have a hope in hell of winning.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch VI

July 16, 2014

I found myself in a part of the city where it’s best taking a GO Train to get to if you’re going there. notinkansasanymoreWhere the roads are wide and the parking lots full. Plenty of green space too. Oh my god! Is that the soon-to-be Rouge National Park?

WE’RE ALMOST IN PICKERING, PEOPLE!!

Tucked away in the further south-east region of the city is Ward 44 Scarborough East. Toronto’s often forgotten ward. Wait. We have 44 wards?

I’m there chatting with city council candidate Jennifer McKelvie on the afternoon of her official campaign launch. She’s been already out canvassing, fitting it in around her full time work schedule, and will continue to do so until throwing all in come September. So, I have to ask what made her decide to take the leap into politics.

She’s always figured there’d be a political run in her future. It took a question from her kids to set it in motion, one probably asked by hundreds, thousands of children (dare I say a billion) around the city of Toronto. Why can Mayor Ford do drugs and still have a job? Good question with no easy answer but, clearly, the time had come to step up and try to help bring a little decorum and G-rated business back to City Hall.running

Aside from good intentions, I asked Jennifer what specifically she wanted to deliver as a municipal representative. Housing was high up on her list. She was worried about affordability being in her children’s future. Would they be able to afford living in the neighbourhood if they chose to?

She expressed particular concern about seniors in Ward 44. Where would they go when they were no longer able to live on their own at home? This isn’t a theoretical exercise for this part of the city.

Ward 44 has a higher than city average of people living there in the 45-74 year-old age ranges and its single detached home ownership is more than double that of the city. Play that scenario out over the next decade and you’ve got yourself something of an exodus from the area if not dealt with fully. How? New development directed at various types of assisted living, I’d imagine.ward44

But here’s the thing.

New, more intense kind of development is not always embraced in Ward 44. Check out 3 of the 4 candidates in the 2010 council campaign (including the current incumbent but not yet registered for 2014, Ron Moeser). “It’s a single-family community and whatever we do, we have to make sure it fits the character of our community.” “I think we should aim for zoning that keeps it as residential as possible. I would resist condo developments in the ward.” “…it fits with the neighbourhood, it keeps in a theme of green and trees and all the things that are really important to this area.”

Even on Ms. McKelvie’s website, she states: “When I see kids on the street playing, couples strolling, and people running, I smile. This tranquil Ward 44 lifestyle, tucked inside a metropolitan city, is why I live here.” I ask her about that because, for me, this tranquil lifestyle ‘tucked inside a metropolitan city’ sets off alarm bells. It’s what I hear, this ‘character of our community’, just before people blast any sort of new development proposal.

McKelvie is protective of that view. Ward 44 isn’t downtown. But she gets that stand alone single use, single house, entirely car-dependent development is no longer sustainable, at least not at the cost we’re currently charging for it.

Many of the people she’s talked to so far during the campaign seem to get it too. They’re not demanding taxes be kept low. holdingthedoorshutThey want to see value for their money. An amorphous concept in many ways. When I look at, I see the tranquil lifestyle and think, well, hey, you get to live out here in your big lots and tree filled neighbourhoods, and isn’t that the lake I’m looking at right now? That’s pretty good value for your money.

But then Jennifer tells me about the flooded basements during last year’s storms, the damage done by the ice storm. And public transit options. Ward 44’s pretty good if you live near the GO Train and can afford to take it every day. But I hopped aboard the Lawrence East bus to come home and let me tell you…

Like much of Scarborough, Ward 44 is a bus dependent area of the city. Whether or not the LRT or subway gets extended out along the Bloor-Danforth line, the ward will remain bus dependent.

So it’s about improving service through frequency and reliability. Maybe an express line or two. Hell, I don’t know if the ridership numbers warrant it but Lawrence Avenue out in this part of Scarborough is plenty wide enough for its own dedicated bus lane. lawrenceeastbus(My opinion not the candidate’s, in case anyone asks.)

Of course, any sort of talk about BRTs or densification in Ward 44 runs smack dab into the wall of obdurate resistance that is its local councillor, Ron Moeser. Jennifer shrugged politely when I brought the incumbent’s name up. She winced slightly in reaction to my question about whether Councillor Moeser’s health should be an issue during the campaign if he chooses to run again. Felt a little bit like “mudslinging” to her.

I’m not so sure, frankly.

The fact is, the councillor was absent for a good chunk of the first 18 months of this term. Eighteen of some of the most tumultuous months this amalgamated city has seen. Even with his return, I wouldn’t consider him reliable or up to speed on the matters in front of him. movearockOn the day last week Jennifer and I were talking, Councillor Moeser went missing for a vote to determine the future of the current Ombudsman.

One way or the other, Ward 44 Scarborough East needs new representation, a new approach to governance, a new, reliable voice at City Hall. One of those now speaking up is Jennifer McKelvie. She deserves to be listened to.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Gun Play

July 15, 2014

I am a little perplexed by yesterday’s handgun ban announcement as part of her community safety platform from mayoral candidate, Olivia Chow. scratchmyheadIn a campaign that has been devoted to downplaying any hint of a leftward tilt to it, this seems to be an odd choice to send out as a signal to progressives that there she is, representing their values. Personally, I’d much rather Ms. Chow take on the prevailing anti-tax, anti-urban stances of some of her rivals.

At this point, I’m assuming everything the very deliberate Chow campaign does is done in order to provoke an immediate and not particularly well-thought out response from the John Tory team. Its tendency to date consists largely of striking out before the ink is even dry on a Chow statement. NDP Candidate! No Leadership! Flip Flop! Knock, knock! Read/hear, react. Read/hear, react. Medulla oblongatarily.

Again on this, Team Tory predictably obliged, alligatorbrainquickly issuing an indignantly vacuous response. “Empty gesture.” No leadership. “As your Mayor, I will work tirelessly with community groups and police to get guns and gangs off our streets.” Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

Better to have simply laid low, stay the fuck out of it, and let the chips fall where they may. Which they did. Right back into Ms. Chow’s lap.

Now look. In theory, banning handguns would be a great idea. Olivia Chow is absolutely correct that handguns have no place in a big city. I’d take it one step further. Guns have no place in a big city.

There’s nothing I love better than gun enthusiasts, gunnutlet’s call them, pushing back on that statement, talking about their right to bear arms. Yeah, no. Check your birth certificate and then point me in the direction where that right is enshrined. As far as gun rights go, I’ll always come down on the side of the collective over the individual.

Equally as flaccid an anti-ban argument is the one about how criminals don’t care about no stinkin’ handgun ban. Criminals, by their very criminally driven behaviour, don’t obey laws. Following that particular anti-handgun ban argument through to its logical conclusion, we should be living in a lawless society then?

Start talking to me about the effectiveness of a handgun ban and then we have ourselves a serious discussion. Especially the ability for a municipality to enforce such ban. In short, it can’t. Aside from policing handgun ownership, the ability to prosecute is beyond a city’s control. nostinkinbadgesSure, sure. Make a point of working with our senior levels of government partners to ensure the optimum of gun safety or whatever but pushing a handgun ban onto the platform of a municipal campaign seems a little, I don’t know, gimmicky.

I have even deeper reservations about a handgun ban than all that, as much as it saddens me to say so. Prohibition of any readily available item hasn’t proven to work that well. Alcohol. Illicit drugs. Cigarettes. You can try to keep them at bay, control their use in an attempt to moderate the damage they inflict on the wider society, but an outright ban seldom results in the elimination of the targeted object.

We live along the largest unguarded border, as they say, with a global leader in the manufacture of arms of all sorts including the small variety. prohibition1Given that scenario, Toronto and the country as a whole does a remarkable job keeping the gun-toting wolf from the door. Not perfectly by any means. Gun violence is largely contained in disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities, speaking to much wider and deeper societal problems, none of which can be wished away or dealt with by a handgun ban.

Still, by its comparative size and diversity of population and quality of life, shall we say, Toronto remains extraordinarily free of gun violence.

The last time a handgun debate popped up here happened in response to a very uncharacteristic spike in gun-related deaths. 2005, Summer of the Gun which culminated a couple seasons later with the lethal shooting on Boxing Day of Jane Creba, a teenager just going about her shopping business who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and, cynically speaking, tavisthe wrong colour to die in a senseless shooting.

There was talk of a handgun ban then. Closing up shooting ranges in the city, ceasing any sort of gun manufacturing. Prohibiting the sale of ammunition was also put on the table.

Even without such things in place, gun-related homicides dropped back to previous levels. Perhaps simply a regression to the mean or maybe because more effective measures were brought in place to deal with the root causes of much of the violence. Poverty, inequality of opportunity, alienation. In the wake of 2005, the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) was formed to encourage more community based policing efforts. The Priority Neighbourhood initiative implemented.

Pretty much bread and butter issues for Olivia Chow, you’d think, some of which also appeared in her announcement yesterday. chess“Creating police-community partnerships.” Enhancing a more nuanced police response to incidents dealing with those with mental illness. “Focusing on young people”.

So why the emphasis on gun control and a handgun ban?

Undoubtedly, there’s some sort of long game at work. In a 10 month campaign, there’s always a long game at work. Maybe by drawing the predictable (and, in some cases, very reasonable) criticism from her main rivals, Tory and Mayor Ford, she can ask them their ideas for dealing with poverty, youth unemployment, youth violence. At least I’m talking about these issues, Ms. Chow can claim. What about you two?

It’s a tactic, for sure. unimpressed1But how effective of one if, in drawing some blood from your opponents, you raise eyebrows from potential allies and dampen their enthusiasm toward you? How is success measured in that scenario?

At some point of time, a candidate needs to inspire supporters not just count on boxing them in to position of, well, who else are you going to vote for. Serving up a heated, unnecessary wedge issue that delivers little more than optics really isn’t reaching for the stars. It just winds up making me agree with the likes of John Tory. It’s not leadership.

And I hate ever having to agree with the likes of John Tory.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


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


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