Redrawing Toronto

May 30, 2011

I chuckled a little bit, reading Patrick White’s Globe article from Friday about Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s next task of ‘redrawing Toronto’s dated electoral boundaries.’ “Now that he’s [Holyday] approaching the home stretch of a months-long effort to slash egregious councillor expenses…”, the piece began. Images bounced around my noggin. Rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Reducing the number of fiddlers as the city burned. Etc., etc.

Even giving inflated figures, say $30 K cuts in ‘egregious’ councillor spending, that amounts to about $1, 320, 000 million, let’s call it $1.5 million in savings to city coffers. But a small fraction of the lost revenue in eliminating the VRT and freezing property taxes that the Deputy Mayor helped push through. The net effect of adding to Toronto’s ever increasing operating budge hole. Well done, fiscal conservatives. Sound management of the city’s finances.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have often been chided, by friends included, of sniffing at Team Ford’s multi-fronted attacks on the Gravy Train. It’s the reason he was elected, we’re told. Cutting taxes and wasteful spending. It’s all about optics, reality be damned.

So, fine. I give the Deputy Mayor and all those slaving away to maintain the mayor’s optics a tip of the hat. Well done, folks. Reality can wait until the fall when the 2012 budget debates begin and you have to struggle to keep up the appearance of Mayor Ford’s other campaign platform of No Major Service Cuts. Guaranteed.

That said if, as the Globe piece also notes, Deputy Mayor Holyday is serious about tackling the thorny issue of ward redistribution, our kudos will be much less facetious. It is a non-partisan concern that cuts to the heart of democracy. Citizens deserve as close to equal representation as is feasible, especially at the municipal level which is so day-to-day service oriented. Wide variations between wards will invariably result in wide variations in how councillors serve their constituents.

And as it stands right now, there are wide variations. Huge, gaping differences in populations between wards, in fact. It’s almost a 35,000 person disparity between the most populous ward (John Filion’s Willowdale 23 at 79,435) and the least (Maria Augimeri’s Ward 9 with just under 45,000 residents). How could Mr. Filion be anywhere near as attentive to the needs of his constituents as Ms. Augimeri is to hers? In fairness, we should really determine councillor’s office budgets on a per head basis.

In the Globe article, Councillor Adam Vaughan suggests that if redistribution were to happen properly, it would swing council to the left. We’d like to see his methodology behind that line of reasoning as many of the suburban ridings (including Ward 23) are the more populous ones. Scarborough especially has more than its share of hugely populated, 60K+ wards. Given that the former municipality is home to some of the current mayor’s most ardent supporters (Councillors Michael Thompson, Norm Kelly, Chin Lee), it’s hard to see how splitting those wards is going to enhance the left at council.

But that’s beside the point. Redrawing ward maps need to transcend political affiliation. Elected officials should have as little hand in the process as possible. If the Deputy Mayor can successfully pull such a feat off, it will be a shiny medal he can rightfully pin to his chest.

A bigger hurdle still will be navigating a new municipal political map with the mayor’s campaign pledge to cut councillor numbers in half. (More meaningless and possibly detrimental optics!) In the Globe article, the Deputy Mayor was already distancing himself from that promise. “That’s the mayor’s office that will have to come up with a plan for that,” Holyday said. “I don’t know that my plan is exactly the same as his.” With some wards already struggling under the weight of a 60, 70K+ population, it’s hard to see how having wards with 100,000 people will be of benefit to anyone.

Except for Mayor Ford’s optics. An ‘I said I would do it. I did it’ claim is an empty boast if the city is the worse for it. And it’s hard to see how it won’t be if we wind up further under-represented even if the pain is more equally shared.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr

Selling Off Stock

May 29, 2011

(In case you missed it at the Torontoist on Wednesday, we’re reposting the post. With new, pretty pictures.)

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Just before the May 24th fireworks reignited the ongoing Pride/anti-QuAIA debate at yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s (still) one-man board was given the go ahead to sell off 22 properties. While possessing moments of drama and emotion, the TCHC debate ultimately lacked the highly charged personal edge that gripped the Pride v. anti-QuAIA deputations. Perhaps that’s what happens when only one side holds all the cards.

What Tuesday’s TCHC process was also lacking in was concrete answers. And not just answers to pointed questions from visiting councillors looking to score political points. Honest to goodness answers to honest to goodness questions asked by the mayor’s allies on the Executive Committee.

Like much of the rush to foist the Ford Nation mandate onto Toronto, there’s a sense that the mayor and his team don’t have to explain themselves. They won the election, so they’re free to do as they want. All this back-and-forth is simply wasting time. Pitter patter, let’s get at her!

It was in evidence at last week’s council meeting and the debate over proposed garbage outsourcing in district 2. The staff and privatization advocates were all a little hazy when it came to the numbers and figures. Would it save $8 million? If not, how much? Any? What about diversion rates? Different? On par? Improved?

Stop with all the questions, already! We campaigned on privatizing garbage. We won. We’re going to privatize garbage.

Likewise, TCHC Managing Director Case Ootes and CEO Len Koroneos didn’t seem particularly driven to talk turkey about their recommendation to unload the 22 housing units. How many tenants would be affected by the sell off? Ummm… let me check my notes. 32. Who would be in charge of relocating the tenants losing their homes? Ummm… not sure. “The Planning Department’s not here,” the mayor offered up by way of an answer. What would be the difference in cost to the city between putting in necessary repairs and renovations and continuing to rent out units and simply unloading them as is? Ummmm… we’ll have to get back to you on that, councillor.

“A huge absence of information,” Councillor Janet Davis suggested.

The Committee wasn’t even provided with definitive numbers when it came to such fundamental inquiries about how much the city could really expect to get for selling the houses. Mr. Ootes is thinking close to $16 million. Others like Michael Shapcott at the Wellesley Institute aren’t convinced the number will be that high. Whatever sum it ends up being, the money will be applied to the backlog of repairs on other TCHC properties that is now in the neighbourhood of $650 million.

Another number that came as a surprise to some councillors at the meeting, more than a tripling of repair costs in just two years if true. And if true, it’s hard to imagine how $16 million is going to make a lick of difference in their bigger picture even 1 elevator repair at a time. Especially if we’re ultimately reducing the amount of rental units available to a list that’s already 10 years long to do it.

That seemed to be one thing we could safely conclude would happen if the sale gets approved by city council. Less TCHC housing to go around. “A reduction of capacity,” as Mr. Ootes admitted reluctantly. But, he was quick to add, we weren’t responsible. “We’re not reducing capacity,” Mr. Ootes spun. “Capacity’s being reduced because we don’t have the money.”

It is a new age, a new reality, according to Councillor Mammoliti. “We’re on our own,” he informed the room. We should never expect to see money from senior levels of government ever again. That was that.

So, wave the white flag and agree to be the hatchet men, to do the bidding of the provincial and federal governments’ respective and collective negligence in the social housing portfolio. Instead of standing up and fighting to protect the most vulnerable in our city, members of the mayor’s Executive Committee voted to use them as fodder, sacrifices to the new order. Making tough choices, it seems, means making other people pay for your lack of imagination and willingness to go to bat for your constituents.

“This particular sale of 22 houses is a start,” the unelected, unaccountable Case Ootes told reporters, undoubtedly striking fear into the hearts of every TCHC tenant.

For all the talk of having to go it alone and make choices out of enforced necessity due to fiscal restraints not personal preference (the mark of all small-minded municipal politicians who operate happily under the umbrella of not bearing ultimate responsibility), the irony of the decision to sell the houses is that, even if city council agrees, it is still pending provincial government approval. What the Executive Committee signaled with its vote to sell off TCHC properties was that it was willing to get its hands dirty and be the bad guy. That answer seems firm and unequivocal.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr

A Cause Of Death

May 27, 2011

A friend of mine died this week. Unexpected and unexplained. Shocking, gut-punching, distressing reminder of how quickly it can all come to an end.

Advancing in years as I am, my life has been remarkably bereft of this sort of thing. There have been pets passing, grandparents, contemporaries of parents, parents of contemporaries. All part of the natural order; no less sad but understandable, comprehensible. This is how life works.

Much greater minds than mine have wrestled, largely unsuccessfully, with this nasty inevitability of our existence. Perhaps it is something that, ultimately, cannot be explained. The very definition of ineffable. All we can learn how to do is to cope, to deal with the grief and sadness, and get on with living our lives as purposefully and joyfully as possible.

Sitting through the memorial service, coming to terms with this death in my own mind while watching, well aware, of the greater impact of it on the family members, the one thing I was certain of is that every loss of life diminishes all of us, the human family. Rage as we might against it, we must ultimately accept it. But we should not do so casually. Yes, as I heard someone once say, “The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on”. Still, we must remain vigilant against turning hard-hearted and nihilistic. Just because the same fate awaits us all does not mean we cannot guard against death occurring unnecessarily or carelessly.

Which is where the politics of it enters.

This should not be taken as a screed against those who do not share my political views. I am not about to suggest that those with right wing or conservative opinions don’t feel the pain of loss or grieve as much as I do. If that’s what you take away from what follows then I haven’t done a very good job of explaining myself.

It’s just that… it’s just that we live in brutish times. We drop bombs on people recklessly under the guise of national security. Get them before they get us. We send young men and woman to die for vague, sometimes jingoistic reasons that serve no discernible purpose. We cheer extra-judicial executions. They had it coming, we tell ourselves.

We accept growing poverty and inequality with callous indifference, knowing full well that such a state invariably leads to greater risk of suffering, ill-health and early death. That’s just here in our country, in our own city and neighbourhoods. Our acceptance of this state of affairs in far away, foreign lands is even more cavalier.

The thing is, with every bomb dropped, shot fired, target exterminated with extreme prejudice, that’s someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter dead. Every person who dies homeless on the street or digs themselves into an early grave working 18 hours a day in an attempt to make ends meet, that’s someone’s loss. A death to be mourned and grieved.

Where’s the politics in this, you ask? How is this a left-right issue?

Well, using the utilitarian metric of John Stuart Mill’s ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’, the left, I believe, endeavours to mitigate circumstances that lead to gross inequality. Progressivism, I believe, endeavours to use war and force only as a last resort. It is a grim admission of failure.

Ours is a collective vision that believes the vicissitudes and vagaries of life are best contended with together rather than alone. No, it doesn’t stave off the inevitability of death or create some utopia where we all get along and are never suffer grief and loss. It just strives for a measure of equality where every life’s important, meaningful, full of possibilities and not subject to needless want or harshness.

That we’ve failed miserably is beyond question. And I’m not patting myself on the back, saying, well, nice try, your intentions were good. In the face of this failure, the question that needs asking is Why? not Why bother?

Which is the prevailing wisdom behind modern, right wing, Ayn Rand conservatism. Poverty, inequality, war and conflict (and the massive scale of suffering and dying that comes with all that) are just treated as a given, a simple fact of life. Don’t talk to me about widows and orphans, there’s only so much money in the universe. They’ve beatified greed and concocted economic theories extolling obscene amassing of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, giving it pithy names and turns of phrases. Trickle Down Theory. Rising Tides Raise All Boats.

While it all may’ve looked good on paper, in real life over the course of the last 30 years it has been nothing short of a disgrace. We’ve inflicted untold pain and suffering, stolen dreams and crushed spirits in the name of sound fiscal management and grotesque, unwarranted hierarchical distribution of wealth and happiness. We’ve accept misery as a way of life because that’s just the way things are.

The old saw goes something like the only inevitable things in life are death and taxes. Some amongst us have spent their lifetime trying to reduce the inevitability of taxes. It’s at the heart of their politics. Their success in seeing that through has ensured that, for many, death to be not only inevitable but quicker and more pointless than it has to, inflicting more grieving and mourning than there should be.

submitted by Cityslikr

As A Matter Of Fact We Do Have A Real Job

May 25, 2011

At least today, we do.

Over at the Torontoist.

Click here to see how we act when we’re not slumming in niche sights like this one.We’ll be back, however. We always come back.

That’s a promise. And a threat.

haughtily submitted by Cityslikr

Shiner Light, Dimly

May 24, 2011

I like my magazines like I like my condiments. Just slightly out of date and not bland.

Reading through them a few months, half a year behind, it offers up immediate hindsight. An automatic retrospective that allows for quick judgment as to how well a writer grasped the subject at hand. Instant historical perspective.

So it was as I made my through the Spacing magazine’s Fall 2010 issue. One article in particular caught my attention, Deck the Allen by Jake Schabas. It offered an overview of the Allen Expressway and the various attempts that have been made since the early-70s to integrate what is, essentially, just a false start more fully and functionally into the neighbourhoods it so hideously slices through and divides.

A name jumped out at me as I read the article. Esther Shiner. First elected as North York alderman in 1972, and then the city’s Board of Control in 1976 which earned her a spot on Metro Council where she served until her death in 1987. During the 1980s she also served as Mel Lastman’s Deputy Mayor in North York.An early proponent of amalgamation way back in the 70s, her enduring claim to fame, however, appears to be her ardent support of the Spadina Expressway. So much so, she earned the nickname, ‘Spadiner Shiner’. When the project got bogged down after it made its initial way from the 401 to Lawrence Avenue, she fought successfully to push it further down to Eglinton where it remains today, known as the Allen Expressway. ‘Spadiner Shiner’ continued to press on with the project even after successive provincial governments and city councils had bowed to citizen pressure to halt it. According to Mr. Schabas, Shiner was also very instrumental in the ultimate auto-centric nature of the Expressway, helping to beat back plans (including one proposed by Buckminster Fuller. Buckminister Fuller, people!) that arose to make the Lawrence-Eglinton section part of a broader development that included parkland, public transit hub and residential and retail space.

Esther Shiner can also be credited with being the mother of current councillor, David. A former budget chief of Mel Lastman, Councillor Shiner was recently in the news for his spiking of the proposed Fort York Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge in late April as a member of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. ‘Too fancy’, he thought it, and his motion to deny the city giving final approval on the already approved project sent it back to the drawing board for a proper scaling down.The times have changed, it seems, but the results are about the same, laced though they may be with a lethal dose of irony. Esther Shiner was all in favour of plowing money into bulldozing and disfiguring downtown neighbourhoods to make way for a highway. Her son, David, withholds a miniscule amount of money to halt the building of a bridge that would’ve brought together neighbourhoods now divided by a highway.

Two generations of public service to Toronto, dedicated to draining life from the city one bad choice at a time.

belatedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat