Meet A Mayoral Candidate XXIII

July 30, 2010

It’s Friday, and with my colleagues’ absence the task has fallen to me to bring to you the latest instalment in our ongoing Meet A Mayoral Candidate series. The opportunity couldn’t be anymore timely, either, as this one is right in my wheelhouse, as they say. A post with my name written all over it.

So without further adieu, allow me to introduce to you, Reverend Daniel Walker, member of the Church of the Universe!

It should quickly become obvious to everyone that with such a handle, Rev. Walker is Campaign 2010’s first openly pro-cannabis candidate for mayor. And frankly, what’s an election race without one? No matter that drug decriminalization lies within federal jurisdiction, it is important that the public be reminded at every electoral opportunity at all levels that there are people out there who are willing to stand up and be counted as indulgers in the sweet weed. We can demonize them. We can dismiss them as flaky-brained, starry-eyed slackers. We can fill them up with grilled Wagon Wheel sandwiches and whipped cream burritos in the hopes of them just keeping quiet and not making a Bill and Ted sized spectacle of themselves. But, come every election campaign, a dedicated few of them seem determined to rub our noses in the fact that, well, they will continue to get high whether we like it or not, whether we care or not.

Never mind that for some, part of the thrill of the bud is its very illegality. A little of the high comes from the fact that a good chunk of society disapproves of your behaviour. The edge of being an outlaw and ne’er-do-well. Do-gooders like Rev. Walker would put an end to all that, demanding the legalization of marijuana which would mean that anyone could do it therefore reducing the potency of the indulgence. Why would he risk such a thing? For medical purposes, he claims. To make it easier for those who use marijuana as pain relief and appetite enhancers to acquire and use. Rev. Walker also thinks we’d save millions and millions of dollars from the enforcement and prosecution of the marijuana trade that would be better used elsewhere.

That’s all fine and good, sensible and noble even, but what about those who like their pot with the edge of criminality, Rev. Walker? Where do they turn when that’s gone? The harder, still illegal drugs like meth, coke and their ilk. You’re turning marijuana into a true gateway drug with your proposal of legalization, sir. Good thing the matter would be out of your hands even if you were elected mayor of this city.

Of the issues he might be able to pursue as mayor, Rev. Walker would demand a full public inquiry into the G20 debacle and ask for police chief Bill Blair’s resignation. Of all the mayoral candidates, Rev. Walker is the first to come out publicly to demand a 5% cut in the police budget. He’d give half his salary to St. Stephen’s House (take that and your 10% cut, Rocco Rossi) as part of a wider outreach to the city’s homelessnesss problem. He’d build more bike lanes and search for other green transportation initiatives, and by ‘green’, we’re assuming he means environmentally friendly as opposed to marijuana fuelled. Rev. Walker wants to see more parks and less condos. The city under a Mayor Walker administration would be more dog friendly, have more outdoor attractions and our public washrooms would be clean.

There’d be no more alcohol as part of city council expense accounts and he’d see that all accounts were audited to make sure that was strictly enforced. (Will Rev. Walker be as hard-assed if marijuana is legalized and councillors begin to write it off?) He will push for stiffer penalties when it comes to law-breaking police and government officials. Strikes for essential services which Rev. Walker considers both garbage collection and teachers to be, would be banned.

When asked the question we’ve been asking all of candidates —  If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Walker like to see his legacy written? – Rev. Walker responded, more or less, a Mayor Daniel Walker’s legacy will be clothes-food-shelter-transportation.

All very good policies to pursue and, more importantly, consuming enough to keep Rev. Walker from attempting to impose his libertarian drug views on those who aren’t as convinced of their efficacy. Leave people alone to indulge in criminal behaviour as they best see fit and just concentrate on running the city, sir.

dutifully submitted by Acaphlegmic


Looking For Lost Love. Be Back Next Week.

July 28, 2010

So 20 years ago today, a dissolute, heartbroken young man with no particular direction in life sits on a train bound for Paris. In the bar car, he strikes up a conversation with a woman who is also heading to Paris for her final year at university there. They talk. They laugh. They smoke. They drink. They share a stale baguette.

Once in Paris, the two spend a magical but chaste afternoon seeing the sights while still talking, laughing, smoking, drinking. A brief kiss is exchanged when they find themselves in too close quarters on the steps leading up the spire of Notre Dame. It is nothing. It is everything. A promise of future happiness. (Too much foreshadowing, you think?) She begs the young man to remain in Paris for just a couple days more. I mean, she really, really begs. But he can’t. His Eurorail pass is about to expire and he has to get over to England for his flight home. Or something like that. In hindsight, he thinks he could’ve used a little dose of impetuosity. Really, dude. Improvise! There’s a French girl who looks a lot like Julie Delpy asking you to stay with her for a few days in Paris. What we’re you thinking?!

At the Gare du Nord, they share one last Gitane and swear fidelity and a promise to write. He departs with a long longing look out the window back at her. At least, he’s pretty sure it was her. He vows to himself that someway, somehow, by hook or crook, he will return to Paris (á Par-ee) and win the love of the girl (la femme). He’s as sure of this as he’s been of anything in his life.

He doesn’t. Shit happens. A series of dead-end jobs. Too much drinking. A four year drug problem. OK, 7 if you’re going to count the handful of relapses and escapes from enforced rehab. Life got a little busy. No longer that young of a man becomes preoccupied.

Ten years after the initial encounter and now somewhat straightened around, the man rashly decides to head back to Europe and retrace his steps. Surely, the woman who he hasn’t exchanged so much as a word with ever again is thinking the same thing and they will meet up, somewhere unbelievably photogenic. It is destiny. (I said he was ‘somewhat straightened around’.) Just like a movie.

Except that it isn’t. Maybe that one magical afternoon ten years earlier wasn’t as magical for her as it was for him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s been accused of harbouring delusions. Still, this one felt different. So much so, that he tries it again, five years on, 15 after the original encounter but to no avail. Clearly, she wouldn’t recognize him if they ran smack dab into each other on the claustrophobic staircase of Notre Dame. He’s not even sure he’d remember what she looked like.

But maybe the third time’s a charm as they say, probably, in France. (Troisiéme temp est la charmant.) So here we are, back in Paris, 20 years later, looking for that one that got away. This time around, I’m not some faceless nobody. I am a renowned municipal blogger read by tens a day. Surely one of them on one of those days has to be her.

And if she doesn’t show up this time, well, I may just have to consider it a lost cause although… 25 does have a certain ring to it. Never say never. (Jamais dire jamais.)

With me on this trip Urban Sophisticat who hasn’t been to these parts for a little while. It might be good to have some company if things don’t work out, and his facility with the language will be a boon at restaurants where I never seem to get the meal I think I’ve ordered.

So things will be quiet for the next few days here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Our regular Friday feature, Meet A Mayoral Candidate, goes up as usual á Vendredi. That’ll have to tide you over until next week. Á semain as I believe the old French kiss off goes. And here’s hoping.

Gaulishly submitted by Cityslikr


More Thoughts On Presto

July 27, 2010

Just a follow up on yesterday’s post here re: the Presto smart card and the resulting pissing match between the province and city.

In our comments section, a reader pointed out that a Mr. Tony Gaffney sits on the board of directors of the Toronto Board of Trade whose press release last week precipitated an ensuing war of words between the Minister of Transportation, Kathleen Wynne, and TTC chair, Adam Giambrone. The province wants the TTC to cease shopping around for an alternative or complementary form of payment for transit use outside of the Presto card that is already in use throughout the GTA and several TTC subway stations. The above mentioned Tony Gaffney’s day job is Managing Partner at Accenture, the company behind the Presto smart card.

Now, we are not suggesting that there’s anything untoward in this set up. Given the make up of the BOT’s board of directors – from banking and financial services to telecommunications and computer technology – private sector/public sector overlap just comes with the territory. But the vigorousness with which the Board of Trade pushes a product that is operated by one of its board of directors should be treated as not entirely unbiased. Rather than a dispassionate, objective analysis, it is the opinion of a special interest group and needs to be viewed as such. One of many, opinionated points of view that get bandied about during policy making debates. The democratic process at work.

That mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi so wholeheartedly embraces the Board of Trade’s view on this issue and has been slavish in his praise of the Presto card is what’s truly disturbing and unsettling to us. Yes, yes. His campaign has been built almost exclusively on a platform of discrediting the Miller Administration and anyone involved in it to generate a groundswell of anti-incumbent feeling in the electorate. This contretemps between the province and the TTC is simply just another hammer to use in his arsenal. George Smitherman did likewise.

But for Rossi it’s also another display of what seems to us to be his corporatist agenda. (Lifted directly off  his website: “Rossi is the only candidate with an extensive career as an executive in large corporations…”.) From his desire to sell off whatever he can of Toronto Hydro to contracting out city services, Rossi seems all about putting business before people. Presto may in fact turn out to be the best system of automated fare payment for the TTC and the GTA. There just seems to be some serious questions about that and Rocco Rossi might be better served garnering some of his information on the issue from the likes of an outside observer like Steve Munro and not exclusively from those with vested interest in the outcome like Toronto’s Board of Trade.

Otherwise, it just looks like Rossi’s running to be CEO of Toronto rather than its mayor.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Presto, Minions. We Said Presto!

July 26, 2010

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would never think of ourselves as experts in anything. There’s too much delving into the tiny details, combing through the minutiae. It taxes our tiny brains. Generalists we, rather than specifists; meta-analyzers.

So we wade very trepidatiously into the Presto/smart card versus open fare payment debate that flared up last week, once again pitting the province against the city over public transit planning. And certainly not to offer up any new insights into the pros and cons of either method as that’s something done much more thoroughly and knowledgably by someone like Steve Munro (whose blog we leaned heavily on for this post). No, we’re focusing on the politics behind the issue and how it’s playing out on the municipal campaign trail.

As anyone who’s traveled to any city that has a major transit system will tell you, Toronto is miles behind in how it collects fares. Tickets, tokens and transfers are a thing of the past in most metropolitan regions. It’s all about smart cards/open payments whether through a dedicated transit card or with personal credit and debit cards. Some systems even allow riders to swipe their cell phones as a method of payment. All of which help ensure a more streamlined and efficient operation, allowing for better opportunities to have the trains run on time.

But never fear, Torontonians, a decade into the 21st-century, ready or not, we are on the precipice of finally embracing the future. There is no choice as the new streetcars that are on their way will not be token or ticket friendly. We’ll have to swipe to ride. The only question now is, swiping what exactly?

The province has hitched its wagon to the Presto card which it has already implemented on GO lines and in a handful of subway stations in Toronto. For its part, the TTC is still deciding. While not ruling out Presto, it wants to make sure there is an open payment option which they feel is more conducive to further innovations down the road. PrestoPlus, let’s call it. An idea that even the brains behind Presto seem to be already exploring.

Lots of room for agreement and accommodation clearly, yet the provincial transportation minister, Kathleen Wynne, delivered an aggressively worded post onto the government website last week, stating emphatically that the TTC was to consider no other payment option but Presto. Presto Now. Presto Tomorrow. Presto Forever. Thinking otherwise was a wasteful exercise in misusing precious tax dollars. End of discussion.

Gas Tax funding was provided to GTA Municipalities, including the City of Toronto, with the requirement that they participate in the PRESTO fare card system, provincial funding towards the cost of the City of Toronto’s replacement streetcars is also conditional upon the City’s full participation in PRESTO and we’ve communicated to the City that the 182 light rail vehicles for the four Transit City projects in Toronto must be PRESTO ready.

Within this paragraph lies the nub of the patronizing approach the province has toward municipalities. When it stopped contributing to the annual operating budget of the TTC back in the late-90s, many assumed it was purely for the cost saving involved. But it seems obvious here that there was more to it, and the real reason that the McGuinty government has been slow to keep its election promise of reassuming the funding is not for money reasons but for the power they can wield in doling out funding on ongoing conditional bases.

With money comes power, and this Liberal government has become expert at withholding the first in order to use the hammer of the second.

Now, we encourage everyone to follow this fight on their own to decide the rights and wrongs of it. Only to say, that it does appear to these eyes that the province got into bed with Presto without consulting any of the affected municipalities and is now demanding that everyone fall into line behind them or else risk losing transit funding. Eat your peas or you won’t get any pudding!

What we find even more interesting is the response of a couple of our mayoral hopefuls to the imbroglio. Both Rocco Rossi and George Smitherman issued kneejerk statements, lambasting the TTC and chair Adam Giambrone for the decision not to whole-heartedly embrace Presto. Basing his response on the Board of Trade’s endorsement of Presto, Rossi used the opportunity to singularly castigate the TTC for not falling in line behind the province, using some questionable claims in the process. For his part, Smitherman’s view can be summed up with this: “Mr. Giambrone has been a barrier to the modernization of Toronto’s transit system and we should be glad he will soon be out of our hair.”

Two men, in their bid to become mayor of Toronto, categorically side with the province despite there being some very valid, non-partisan questions about the issue. What does this say about how they’ll lead if elected? Will the province always be right when it comes to resolving problems with the city? Rather than serve as mayor, will either of these two be nothing more than the Queen’s Park representative on city council, head of neo-Family Compact.

This is especially worrisome with George Smitherman. Once the highest ranking Toronto M.P.P. in the Liberal government, he delivered nothing by superficial air-kisses to this city. Is he now looking to be mayor to atone for that negligence or is he coming to town as nothing more than a deputy sheriff, intent on quashing the last of our independence and eliminating all voices of dissent against ham-fisted provincial rule? Every sign so far points to the latter.

worriedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Defiant One

July 25, 2010

There’s going to be no logical, reasoned way of keeping Rob Ford from becoming mayor, is there. He’s hopped aboard the Resentment Rail, hoping to ride it right into office, cheered on by the Persecution Choir and its conductor, Sue-Ann Levy, chief Pamphleteer and Disseminating Dissembler of Disinformation.

“They’re just trying to muzzle me,” Ford said after receiving an official reprimand for campaigning outside City Hall. “If the other candidates can be on the Square, I can be on the Square … you can’t have two sets of rules.”

Uhhh, Mr. Ford? You may want to check that letter you got from the city’s Chief Corporate Officer, Bruce Bowes, advising you that you’d contravened both the councillor expense policy and Council’s Code of Conduct when you made your Taxpayer Protection Plan announcement in Nathan Phillips Square. Bowes cited “…the section of the councillor expense policy which prohibits corporate resources and funding from being used for election-related purposes and the Code of Conduct which states councillors aren’t permitted to undertake campaign-related activities on city property during regular working hours.” [underling and bolding all ours.]

So there aren’t two sets of rules at work here as Ford claims. Sitting councillors can’t campaign on city property but private citizens can, it seems. Thus, George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi show up at City Hall, unmolested by the socialist apparatchiks getting their “marching orders from on high” while Ford is technically prohibited because – and this may be news to Mr. Ford, rushing in and out as he does council meetings to maintain his 98% voting rate without always spending much time there to figure out who’s who and what’s what before actually casting a vote [most likely] against whatever it is everyone’s voting on – neither Smitherman nor Rossi sits on council. (Although at the last debate, Ford did continually point out that neither man understood City Hall as well as he did. So he must have some inkling that they’re not councillors.)

Now, if Councillor Joe Pantalone decided to deliver a campaign announcement on city property and didn’t receive a similar reprimand then Rob Ford could—

Oh, fuck it. What’s it matter? It’s not like explaining it fully is going to change any Rob Ford supporter’s opinion. That is simply the nature of conservative thought these days. Right is right and the rest is wrong, and very likely plotting to overthrow everything that is good and wholesome. Facts have no bearing on the issues. You’re either with us or agin us; a paranoid pumping, divisive style of politicking that goes back to… well, let’s avoid any Hitler or Nazi references although they were masters of this particular tact… how be we just start at Nixon and move forward from there?

Margaret Thatcher. Ronald Reagan. The Bushes. Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution. You can draw a direct line between our current Prime Minister and his ongoing war with the long-form census and the statistical conclusions he doesn’t want to hear and this mindset. Their thinking was best encapsulated by Stephen Colbert when he said that “reality has a liberal bias”. If that’s the case, then they have to create and live within a separate reality, trying to draw in as many people as they can just long enough to claim positions of power in order to try and tilt real reality ever so slightly their way.

Thus, Rob Ford and his inherited wealth is just ‘looking out for the little guy’. How exactly does he do that? By cutting their taxes and out of control spending at City Hall. Just generally getting government off their backs. It couldn’t be simpler. So simple in fact that there must be plenty of examples of it working like charm out there in the bigger, wider world. You know, lower taxes = higher government revenue, deregulation = equitable running of the free market, higher tides raising all boats.

Well no, not exactly. After about 30 years of neo-liberal economics, we can look around and conclude that wealth never trickles downhill. It simply gushes upward like a busted deep sea oil rig, polluting everything around it. Deregulation (or getting the government off peoples’ backs) leads to near economic collapse and the socialization of private risk and debt. And higher tides float only those who’ve stashed enough money away to buy themselves a fancy yacht and drowns everything else that hasn’t learned how to swim.

That is what experience tells us. That is, if you subscribe to an evidence-based reality, of course. Those who aren’t so particular can go on believing that their cars aren’t contributing to climate change, greed is good and that Rob Ford is a viable mayoral candidate who has as much right as the next (non-councillor) guy to conduct campaign events outside City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square.

According to his choirmaster, Sue-Ann Levy in the Toronto Sun, Ford has “…every intention of continuing to use the Square for campaign announcements.”

No doubt. How better to hype his martyr status among all those who truly believe there are two sets of rules? One for them and one for all the privileged, egghead, sushi-eating, transit taking, downtowners who think that Rob Ford is a lying, manipulative, ignorant, backwards buffoon who makes Mel Lastman seem reasonable and who will set this city back a decade or two if he’s allowed to exert any power or influence.Don’t believe me or just outright disagree? OK then. Let’s sit down and examine the evidence, shall we? Oh right. We’ve already tried that. I guess that’s why we call it ‘wilful ignorance’. It is both wilful and ignorant.

fed-uppedly submitted by Cityslikr