Until We Meet Again. In 2011.

December 12, 2010

I don’t know how y’all celebrate this particular season but around here we go unplugged. In reaction to the crazy consumerist bent that these holidays have become, awhile back we made the decision to simply take a step back, tune out, turn off, drop out. (I know, I know. That’s not the exact quote. It suits our purposes here.) Starting (roughly) 12 days before Christmas, we go downright Amish minus the barn building and plus the booze. (Do the Amish drink alcohol?)

No TV. No radio. No computer with its internets and Tweeting. Just us and our thoughts. And food. And music. We’re not animals here. And almost a year’s backlog of magazine subscriptions to catch up on. And booze. Did I mention booze?

A tradition which pains me a little this year as it means missing next Thursday’s city council meeting. It’s going to be a doozy! But what’s tradition if you just go around breaking it, willy nilly, on any old thing that catches your fancy? So, forgo the meeting I must. Can’t wait to hear all about it in the new year.

Before signing off for 2010, we’d like to give some shout outs to everyone who’s been following along with us since January.Of course, family and friends who have been very supportive and encouraging and whose names we keep confidential for fear of delivering upon them retribution from all our enemies (you know who you are.) Specifically, a very loving thank you to my wife for indulging me yet another career twist. This one’s going to stick. Really.

Then we’d like to thank the folks over at Spacing and Torontoist for their links to our pieces every now and then. Much appreciated. And Edward Keenan, senior editor at Eye Weekly for acknowledging our minor disagreement with him, pleasantly and politely. (Yes, people. That is a shameless way for us to point out that some very important people have noticed us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.)

Over on the Twittersphere, we want to give a h/t to @paisleyrae for all the regular, sometimes daily links. Thank you very much. And @orwellsbastard for all those #FFs. Much appreciated. I’m sure there are many more folks we’re missing. Our apologies ahead of time. Don’t hate us because we’re forgetful.

Two last big shout outs.

One, to Tim Falconer for his early sage advice and bumps on Twitter that got our site up and moving. Thank you very much. And everyone out there reading this, go get Tim’s books! Buy them, read them and give them as Christmas gifts.

And finally, Jonathan Goldsbie. His overwhelming enthusiasm for our work here was invaluable to bringing us a wider readership, unwarranted for sure but appreciated nonetheless. Without Jonathan’s regular queries about our true identities, Leah McLaren would never have started following us on Twitter. That alone makes us eternally grateful.

Moreover, Goldsbie’s encyclopedic knowledge of what goes on at City Hall and his easy willingness in sharing it with those like us who are woefully ignorant was, at times, incalculable. We won’t ever possibly be able to return the favour, so hopefully a heartfelt thanks will suffice.

For many of us, 2010 was an awful year, politically speaking. Terrible. Disheartening. Disillusioning. We’d like to think it couldn’t get any worse and that we’ve hit rock bottom. But we fear that’s simply rum and egg nog induced wishful thinking. Shit could get a whole lot worse.

Which is why we need to rest up, kick back and take a breather. Enjoy the holidays and prepare ourselves for the battle(s) ahead in the new year. The slog, she has just begun.

So Happy Holidays to all and we’ll see you early in 2011.

Peace out.

seasonally submitted by Cityslikr


With A Little Help From His (Media) Friends

December 10, 2010

From Chris Hedges’ Death of the Liberal Class:

Truth and news are not the same, as James W. Carey wrote. News is a signal that something is happening. It provides, in Carey’s words, “degenerate photographs or a pseudo-reality of stereotypes. News can approximate truth only when reality is reducible to a statistical table: sports scores, stock exchange reports, births, deaths, marriages, accidents, court decisions, elections, transactions such as foreign trade and balance of payments,”

“The divorce of truth from discourse and action – the instrumentalization of communication – has not merely increased the incidence of propaganda”…[It has also] “disrupted the very notion of truth, and therefore the sense by which we take our bearings in the world is destroyed.”

A minor case in point with Canoe Live’s coverage of yesterday’s executive committee meeting, and perhaps a window into how Sun Media’s going to deliver news programming to us when they get up and going on in the spring.

Ford and committee steamroll opposition

(You have to click the above link and then click again on the video feed to watch. My apologies. Couldn’t figure out how to just embed video. Yes, I am an idiot. Go ahead. Click away and watch. I’ll go and get another cup of tea and come back when you’re finished. No rush.)

OK. Done? Let’s go.

Straight off, five seconds in and the first face shown asking a tough question of the mayor is Councillor and Executive Committee member, Michael Thompson. See? The mayor’s executive committee are no patsies, viewers. No ‘yes’ men, they. They’re not going to simply roll over and do whatever the mayor wants. (Although, I believe, everything on the agenda passed unanimously.) The man is getting grilled! His EC is going to hold him accountable, don’t you worry. Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, facing some strong opposition today during the first executive committee meeting held under his leadership.

Councillors were not giving him any breaks, though, [shot of Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday], hammering away at Ford to give specifics on promises he made throughout his campaign. Cut to the mayor giving the councillors specifics. I’ve been as clear as I can be at answering your questions. Exactly! Although we didn’t hear the mayor give any specifics he made it perfectly clear that he answered the questions as clear as he could. So let’s just move on, shall we?

Oh, look. There’s Councillor Vaughan, stating he’s going to make sure the mayor keeps his campaign promises and fulfills his mandate. Blah, blah, blah.

Intro over, now discussion time between Canoe Live’s on air personality and Don Peat, Sun Media reporter, calling in live from City Hall.

Bingo Caller: So Don, this was a meeting [giggle, giggle] of the Executive Committee but unfortunately for Rob Ford, he also had to deal with some hecklers.

Boom! Just like that, Adam Vaughan is not a city councillor. He’s a heckler. While Peat points out to whatever her name is that, no, no, no. Adam Vaughan is a councillor, he has every right to attend executive committee meetings, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie, it’s out there. In just one minute and twenty seconds, Sun Media elevates the mayor to the status of reasonable and accommodating politician (I’ve been as clear as I can be at answering your question) and de-legitimizes his critics as nothing more than lowly hecklers.

The rest of the segment is really just filler, to give the appearance of delivering news and information. The mayor seems willing to forgo over $30 million in savings to pander to voters’ hatred of the Vehicle Registration Tax but, hey, he’s offered to cut his office budget by $70 000! So that’s, you know, actually no savings at all. In fact, it’s quite a significant loss of revenue.

But.. but, Mr. Peat points out, it is a 20% cut to the mayor’s office budget. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Put together with the 40% cut that the executive committee is proposing for councillors’s budget and you got yourself some significant savings. Nowhere the amount to make up for the shortfall in eliminating the VRT in January instead of September, still.. you gotta start somewhere, right?

Bingo Caller: But wait a second though, why is his [the mayor] budget only being cut by 20, 25% and theirs [giggle, giggle] being cut by 40? Good question, Bingo Caller. Don? Don Peat: His budget’s a lot bigger! You know, when we talk about the mayor’s office budget, we’re talking about the millions. When we talk about councillors’ office budgets, we’re talking about $50,000…

Right. So what you’re saying, Don Peat, is that because the mayor’s office budget is bigger than individual councillor budgets, you can cut a smaller percentage of his to have the same amount of savings in absolute dollars. Sounds reasonable enough although, a little semantic-y for a mayor who was elected to cut deep and cut often.

Yet, Mr. Peat doesn’t bother to explain that. Choosing instead to take the remaining time of the segment for one last dig at council, wondering if they are up to voting for the mayor’s proposed cuts, a second such reference in about 20 seconds. Or maybe, Mr. Peat wasn’t at all sure why the mayor was cutting only 20% from his budget but 40% from councillors’ budgets. The question was just posed to give the appearance of objectivity and offer up one last opportunity to tee up on the mayor’s opposition on council.

Why do I bring all this up? In the aftermath of Rob Ford’s election as mayor and his attack on such initiatives as Transit City, much as been made of the downtown elites’ inability and/or refusal to reach out to their fellow city dwellers in the inner suburbs and explain things to them. But as this segment from Sun Media shows, it’s not as easy as all that. When you’re contending with misinformation and outright propaganda that passes itself off as news, how does the truth or actual facts overcome it? As long as a significant portion of the electorate believe that they’re watching the news when they see something like this, it is going to be a long, uphill battle to ever convince them of anything.

deconstructively submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor’s True Colours

December 9, 2010

If you’re one of those people who think our city councillors are underworked and overpaid, I highly recommend that you attend a council meeting or two to disabuse you of such inaccurate notions. While just the tip of the iceberg of what their job description, meetings are grinds with as much, if not more, going on behind the scenes as what we see performed out in the open. Yes, you can point to the laggards, those not actively engaged and who would receive failing grades for class participation. I’d be willing to bet that for many of those, the parry and thrust of debate simply is not their forte. They excel in the multitude of other duties councillors are responsible for. And then there’s Cesar Palacio. I kid. I kid. I’m sure every council needs an invisible non-entity taking up space.

Council meetings can also be extraordinarily engrossing to witness. They’re like visual variations on the Pixies song structure. slowslowFASTFASTslowslowFASTslowFASTslowslow. Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Languor and stultifying boredom. Interminable talk about meal breaks. And then, the proposed schedule comes up for a vote and the seemingly innocuous ‘expedited budget process’ lying there within, suddenly mayhem breaks loose. Amendments start flying. Staff is summoned. Councillors scramble to and fro. Points of order demanded. Points of privilege taken. Rhubarb-rhubarb-rhuarb. Rhubarb-rhubarb-rhuarb. And then… calm. Repeat as many times as necessary. Vote. Adjourn.

Now it’s entirely possible that yesterday’s meeting was something of an anomaly. Uncharacteristically fraught with political machinations, the first skirmishes of a new council that has undergone a radical shift from centre-left to far right. Like a couple boxers in the early rounds of a fight, feeling each other out with jabs and some fancy footwork to find weaknesses and vulnerabilities in their opponents.

Opponents? you say. The election is over. City council should be a place where there is a coming together. A meeting of minds to hash out and seek to solve the problems of the city. Leave your partisanship at the door, buckos. Time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the business of building a better Toronto.

Well, no. While City Hall has never been free of politics (especially since amalgamation), this session is shaping up to take the discord to a whole new level. Starting with the executive committee and working down, senior posts in the Ford Administration are exclusively occupied by right wing councillors. More importantly, they are also almost entirely from the suburbs, meaning that on vital, big ticket matters like the police service and budget, there are no voices from downtown at the committee level. No geographic input for voters who didn’t hop aboard the anti-gravy train train.

And no, before you even try blurting it out, David Miller did not do the same thing (exhibit A: his 1st budget chief was a Scarborough councillor from the right of centre who supported Miller’s rival, John Tory in the 2003 election.) Neither did Mel Lastman so nakedly and insecurely pack his committees with such slavish loyalty for that matter.

On day 1, it worked for Mayor Ford. As he crowed to the Globe’s Kelly Grant, “We got everything we wanted.” Yep. Everything came up Ford on Thursday but not without some surprisingly strong pushback from a group of councillors led by Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks and Janet Davis over the ‘expedited budget process’ that the mayor is pushing, hidden within the council schedule proposal. When amendments were offered to give more time for council to sort through budget matters between scheduled meetings and to hear from the public, Team Ford scrambled hard to get just enough votes to send the amendments to the Executive Committee where they will in all likelihood die an ignominious death. A couple squeakers should give pause to the mayor’s machine that it just might not be as invincible as it thinks it is. Although, judging by the 5 hours or so I sat in council chambers, the mayor hasn’t surrounded himself with many of the reflective types.

No, the mayor’s team in council seems to consist of bitter ideologues more interested in exacting revenge for their exclusion from power during the Miller years than they are dealing with the problems of the city. In fact, a noticeable waft of anti-democracy hangs about them. During the debate over public input on the city budget, the Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, opined that deputations were largely for those wanting to get their face on cable television. Giorgio Mammoliti chided those councillors fighting for proper and extended public input for representing wards where their constituents were little more than public organizers. “The trouble with processes with lots of time in them, is that they allow people to organize,” the councillor griped. What?! The people organized! Well, that just won’t do.

All of which flies in the face of Mayor Ford’s open and transparent City Hall promise on the campaign trail. His ‘expedited budget process’ seems dodgy and unnecessary. Their claim of merely seeking to eventually shift it to a January 1st-December 31st timeline has as many minuses as it does pluses. The haste in wanting to get the budget wrapped up by the end of February (rather than the usual April) appears to be driven more by stealth than any sort of respect for the taxpayers.

Of course, that seems absolutely preposterous. Rob Ford campaigned on a platform of looking out for the little guy. Surely, his objective now that he’s in office wouldn’t be to exclude them from such an important civic matter as the budget. Because that would mean that within less than one council meeting, he’s already broken one of his main election platforms. Clearly, I must be jumping the gun.

stealthily submitted by Cityslikr


His Honour’s Sour Grapes

December 8, 2010

So the Mayor Rob Ford era has officially begun, and for all those who picked ‘Decorously’ or ‘Graciously’ in the How Will Rob Ford Respond To Having The Chain Of Office Hung Around His Neck office pool, pay up, motherfuckers.

The mayor used the solemn occasion of his investiture to invite one of his heroes, noted Mississaugan urbanist and sartorial flamboyer, Don Cherry, to chain him and kick off the proceedings. Mr. Cherry, in turn, used his invite, as writer Jonathan Goldsbie noted, as “…mostly just an attack on the Globe’s TV critic.” John Doyle, that is, and his article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. The mayor then followed with an utterly uninspiring speech, full of references to taxpayers and customer service, more befitting (as we have noted numerous times previously) a Walmart manager’s pep talk to his employees just before the grand opening than a new mayor addressing the inaugural council meeting of the country’s largest city. Then some quick business was done like voting in the mayor’s all-male, all-right wing executive committee before the gavel came down to adjourn the proceedings until the real fireworks being tomorrow.

We’re now through the looking-glass here, people. Our new mayor, well-to-do through an inherited family business, speaks for ‘the little guy’. Mr. Cherry, a well-to-do sports commentator, lashes out and ‘artsy, left wing kooks’ and thinks “It’s time for some lunch pail, blue-collar people.” All pronounced while wearing an embroidered pink blazer that would make a geisha blush and his dapper Tom Wolfe high collar. Both men preach the neo-conservative gospel of small government (except for police and military, natch), and both have done alright for themselves, pocketing their fair share of government largesse.

And somehow, pinkos are the bad guys. We left leaning, bike riding, oh-so-privileged, downtown elites, bereft of the common touch and without our finger on the pulse of real Torontonians. We don’t understand the plight of the working people. The mayor does because he employs 350 of them in Toronto, New Jersey and Chicago. Don Cherry talks to millions of them directly through the camera, for a whole 8 minutes every Saturday night. Regular Joes, the two of them. Full fledged members of the lumpen proletariat, they is.

You know what? I say, fuck that. Much discussion has gone on since the new mayor’s been sworn in about how those standing in opposition to him should react. Take the high road. Don’t take the bait. Take a pill and chill-ax. The world’s not coming to an end because the likes of Don Cherry brought his schtick live to City Hall chambers.

All true but we’ve seen this movie before and it never, ever turns out well.

Every time a right wing populist is elected, they claim a ‘mandate’ (sometimes even from as on high as heaven itself) and immediately take the offensive, declaring a state of unilateralism. It’s My Way Or The Highway. You’re Either With Us Or A’gin Us. All Hail And Bow Down Before Me, Minions.

We’ve watched it for the past 4 years or so in Ottawa. A minority (A Minority!) Conservative government has browbeaten the opposition into simpering obsequiousness, giving way on almost every important issue that has emerged. Even the stands they’ve managed to take like on the long gun registry have tied them into paroxysms of soul-wrenching angst, leaving them to look defeated in the face of victory.

It’s a tactical strike adopted from right wingers in the States. George W. pulled it off masterfully throughout his term in office. The Tea Party led Republican congress is following suit. Not even sworn in yet and they have a Democratic President turning on his base. To seek bipartisanship where none is on offer doesn’t make you look evenhanded, open-minded or apolitically above the fray. It makes you look weak, unprincipled and unfit to hold public office.

Now comes Rob Ford who has not made one conciliatory gesture to his opponents since being elect mayor. His executive committee is exclusively right-wing, inner suburban (or from wards that Ford won) and male. He’s been blowing smoke about his power to end Transit City, going as far to say that council never voted about Transit City (it did), so it doesn’t have to be consulted to terminate it. The voters gave him a mandate, you see. Normal democratic principles no longer apply.

Bringing in Don Cherry to introduce him was just another aggressively defiant gesture by Ford. To all those who disdainfully dismiss the outrage that greeted Grapes’ council speech as unimportant, much ado about nothing, an overblown sticks and stones scenario, not worth the media attention, well, you’re diminishing the symbolism of it. “You never know what he’s going to say,” shrugged our mayor about Cherry’s speech. Not the exact words maybe but the intent was going to surprise no one. It was a big ol’ fuck you to anyone and everyone who doesn’t think exactly like the mayor and Don Cherry, pinkos or not.

Imagine if David Miller, re-elected with a larger percentage of the popular vote for his 2nd term, had proclaimed a ‘mandate’ and brought in, say, Naomi Klein to introduce him. She proceeds to say something to the effect of: Eat it, corporate right wing shills. Not political? Unimportant and beside the point? I don’t think so.

Mayor Rob Ford has come out of the gate with no intention of making nice, seeking compromise or trying to find the middle ground with his opponents. Why is the onus on them to reach out? It’s not obstructionist to stand up for your principles and beliefs. It’s called democracy. In a democracy, winning an election is just the 1st step. It doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want and everyone else has to go along, no matter how much right wingers would like to believe that.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


With Equal Conviction

December 6, 2010

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

— attributed in some variation to Daniel Patrick Moynihan

What a quaint notion, put severely to the test earlier today on CBC radio’s Metro Morning. Perpetually cloying Mary Wiens took to the streets to talk to a couple regular folks about the pronounced death of Transit City. First up, Odessa who faces a daily 3 hour round trip commute from the hinterlands of the inner suburbs to the downtown core. Transit City was planned with her in mind, it could be safely argued, to reduce her commute time. She tells Wiens that she’s looking forward to the new LRTs.

But alas, Odessa voted for Rob Ford. Why? His outspokenness. When Wiens informs her that the mayor was angling to kill Transit City and replace it with subways, Odessa was all over it, never asking a pertinent question or two, like is the mayor’s plan better than Transit City or would subways help her commute more than Transit City.

Next came Denis Lanoue, a much more politically active individual than Odessa but no less factually challenged. Lanoue, president of the Heathwood Ratepayers Association in Scarborough, is also active as part of the Save Our Sheppard group. He just so happened to turn up in the parking lot of a local Tim Hortons to give the CBC a piece of his mind an interview.

Like our new mayor, Lanoue and his group (S.O.S.) hates LRTs (or streetcars as he calls them), convinced with precious little evidence to back it up that LRTs on Sheppard Ave. will end life as we know it there, bringing wrack and ruin just as they did along St. Clair West. “A modest subway expansion is all we need,” Lanoue writes on the S.O.S manifesto. No fuss. No bother. Details to follow.

But Lanoue isn’t just interested in having his say on Transit City for Metro Morning. He wants to inform the audience exactly why there is that downtown-inner suburb divide. Two words: David Miller. According to Lanoue, all was hunky-dory under Mel Lastman but something changed late in Miller’s 1st term or early in the 2nd. What exactly? Lanoue doesn’t really say except that, residents of the inner suburbs just got fed up with handing all their taxes over to pay for things downtown.

Which would be grounds for anger and outrage if it were true but as we have written previously here and here, no one has ever pointed to any evidence or studies that show the downtown core being subsidized by the inner suburbs. In fact, Scarborough councillor Norm Kelly commissioned a report to look at the numbers and come up empty. Yet, Denis Lanoue grabs the mic on the CBC and pronounces it to be true, anecdotally pointing to the proposed 5 story ice rink down on the waterfront as proof positive.

So why does the CBC grant 6 minutes of airtime to the uninformed or deliberately disingenuous? Just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean they have to be heard. We already know they’re out there, muddying the debate and discourse, and getting their man elected mayor. Shouldn’t the media be providing more pushback and disputation and less a simple platform for anyone and everyone to air it out? The pursuit of uncovering truth and revealing facts and all that kind of high-minded sense of purpose.

Now, maybe I should view Wiens’ piece this morning not so much as investigative journalism as it is an exposé into The Minds Of Rob Ford Supporters. She did question a couple of the claims made by the interviewees but not directly. Only in gentle asides to the listeners that struck me like she was talking behind her subjects’ backs. Hey. If people are willing to give their opinions a wider voice, then we should at least be solicitous enough to publicly tell them that they’re full of shit when they are especially if their views, opinions or beliefs could possibly have an adverse impact.

So sure, everyone’s allowed to have an opinion. The question is, does that mean every opinion should be accorded equal weight and value? Chances are, if they were, we wouldn’t be having this discussion about public transit because we’d still be living in caves, arguing over how exactly to build that fire again.

submitted by Cityslikr