There’s A Better (Ballots) Way

November 24, 2011

I am not prone to giddy bursts of optimism. Like most of us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, my predilection tends more in the other direction. Bouts of downward fear and loathing that intersect dangerously often with paranoia. The office windows are almost always open to air out the toxic atmosphere.

But put me in a room full of enthusiastic voting reformers and I am over the moon, Up With People, Schweppes bubbly effervescent, that veritable ant that could move the rubber tree plant. So it was last night at the Oakham House on the Ryerson University campus for a Better Ballots get together, Thinking Ahead to 2014: Taking A Critical Look at Local Elections. Colour me activist. I’m thinking, teal-ish?

In short, this: Local Choice.

I am a firm believer that the desultory relationship we have with our politics and politicians boils down to one key element. It’s how we vote (or don’t for far too many of us) and elect our representatives. At the federal and provincial levels, the whopping majority of us don’t wind up voting for the ultimate winners. Right now in Ottawa, the party which less than 4 in 10 voters voted for now controls more than 50% of the seats in parliament. Each and every day they enact, pronounce and dictate in matters that a solid majority of Canadians don’t agree with.

That’s not a partisan statement. Here in Ontario, there hasn’t been a provincial government in power that more than 50% of voters cast their ballots for in nearly 75 years! How can that not sour our relationship with those who govern us? Don’t look at me. I didn’t vote for the guy. Yes, I said ‘guy’. Why? Because in our first past the post system, the status quo is usually maintained. Thus, the continued preponderance of doughy white guys in the corridors of power.

The list is long of ideas to reinvigorate our political process. In townhall gatherings last year, the Better Ballots folks winnowed down suggestions to 14 (pages 18 and 19), ranging from moving election days to weekends, introducing phone and internet voting, municipal parties and term limits. At last night’s session, the emphasis was on 4 areas: ballot or voting structure, extending voting rights to permanent residents, lowering the voting age to 16 and campaign financing.

My particular bailiwick happens to be how we vote. Over the next little while, I’ll be regularly writing on the subject of various voting systems, trying to figure out which one would fit best at our municipal level. The overarching theme will be that the first past the post system has got to go.

Based on the strength of last night’s presentations, lowering the voting age is also very intriguing. William Molls at Voteto16.ca made a highly entertaining and persuasive case. As did Leonardo Zúñiga of iVote Toronto in talking about extending voting rights to permanent residents. Both ideas couldn’t but help to reinvigorate the political process. The more people don’t have the right vote, the less politicians will feel the need to reach out to them and the less reason these people will be have to actively participate.

Bob MacDermid had the rather unfortunate task of pointing out our continued problems with campaign financing that inevitably favours those with money and those with influential friends with money. Vote Toronto does yeomen’s duty trying to keep on top of this byzantine business but it is a multi-headed monster that constantly shifts and morphs, always to the advantage of those with deep pockets. It seems that vested interests just don’t think that there should be a level playing field in our elections.

Which also explains why it is so hard to change what is so obviously broken. The status quo is a stubborn beast, made even more stolid by those who’ve expertly learned how to work the ref in the game. Any sort of change threatens the standard operating procedure. It is fought tooth and nail.

That’s why more of us have to get involved. Some of these proposals Toronto can enact on its own but others need a provincial go-ahead to happen. That’s two levels of politicians who have won under the current system, so may not be overly enthusiastic to altering something they’ve already mastered. (Hat tip should go out to councillors Shelley Carroll, Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam for coming out to the event and showing their support.) Much pressure must be brought to bear to get this conversation going and put the wind in change’s sails.

It is change that is tantalizingly close and many of these ideas are easily implemented if a critical mass can be achieved. Grab an issue that catches your fancy. Talk to those already involved, see what you can do to chip in and help. If you’re like a majority of Canadians and Torontonians and don’t like the way the game of politics is played, demand change. If we change how we elect our politicians, we may start changing who we elect, and if we change who we elect, there’s every reason to expect we’ll change how politics is played. For the better.

activistly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


What Now?

November 23, 2011

I’d asked him the question at least 5 minutes earlier with still no answer.

His beard had become excessively long, past Tolstoy length, approaching Gandalfian. Curiously, he had shaped his moustache into a handlebar transformation, both ends of which he was twirling currently as he sat, gazing out the window. “It’s a Movember thing,” he’d told me when I’d asked.

Which hadn’t been my question he was now ignoring. So I repeated it.

“So what now?”

Our resident protest expert, Acaphlegmic had initially been excited about the Occupy movement but had steadily become not disenchanted, just bewildered. Now that they were being moved from their spot in St. James park, the inevitable question was being asked. Repeatedly.

“Did you hear me?”

Acaphlegmic stopped fiddling with the ends of his moustache and clasped his hands together as if in prayer, turning from the window in my direction but without looking at me. He leaned in, still not saying anything. I followed suit, leaning toward him across my desk, hoping that this might help kick start the conversation. It did. Eventually.

“Who knows?” came the answer. Hardly worth the wait. I sat back in my chair in a huff, sighing exasperatedly. It was an all too common response for my liking.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The situation is fluid. So I keep hearing.”

“The thing is, Damien,” Acaphlegmic continued, as usual getting my name wrong, “back in my day, it was easy to answer that question. The demands were concrete. Equal rights. Stop the war. Disco sucks! Now… now… How do you encapsulate into slogan form, ‘We’ve Gone Down The Wrong Path For The Last 30 Years?’ Wegodo..th..”

“How about this,” I interrupted, Acaphlegmic’s attempt at acronymizing always led down long, winding roads that could take hours to cover. “Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy. It’s catchy and points us in a direction.”

It was also, apparently, completely new to my colleague who took some time letting it sink in before nodding his head and leaning back in his chair.

“That’s good,” he said. “You come up with that yourself?”

Hardly. It had been making the rounds for a couple weeks now down in the States but had struck me as something much more universal than Occupy Wall Street or Occupy the Banks. Not as easily and smugly shrugged off as those two had been here with the somewhat specious claim that Canadian banks had been good as gold during the black fall of 2008. Austerity measures were looming under the pretence that somehow government spending had gotten us into this mess in the first place rather than the result of backstopping a global recessionary economy brought on by a criminally reckless private financial sector.

“The McGuinty government has made its intentions known with the Throne Speech yesterday,” I told Acaphlegmic who now had his head tilted back into his hands and staring up at the ceiling. “Aside from health and education, it’s going to be belt tightening all round. Infrastructure needs? Up yours. Transit systems? Ha, ha. Ha, fucking ha. Growth is anaemic, job losses are mounting and this government’s response is to crawl into a hole and hope it doesn’t get too ugly? So yeah. Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

Acaphlegmic remained silently staring up at the ceiling. It was quite possible he’d fallen asleep. I leaned forward across the desk and tugged at the end of his beard. Nothing. Already on my feet, I circled around behind him and looked down into his face. His eyes were open. We stared at each other.

“Our already obscenely low corporate tax rates are still on target to go even lower,” I pointed out to him. “And what’s their response? The Chrysler CEO wants wage concessions from their Canadian workers. So government revenues drop doubly. How the fuck is that supposed to bring us out of recession?”

We continue to stare at one another. I’m not sure why exactly. Although a handle bar moustachioed, long bearded face at a 180-degree angle is very, very intriguing.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

I went back to my chair, wondering what to do next. Me and almost everyone else, I guess. What we shouldn’t be doing is making a stand now in a park that had little bearing on the real battle at hand. I’d listened this morning (17’26” mark) to an occupier chained up in the camp’s library stress how important it was to defend it. Hopefully he’d also attended Toronto Public Library board meetings where deputant after deputant stepped forward to speak out in defence of the other free libraries in town under threat of closure and hours reduction.

That’s not to diminish what Occupy Toronto set out to do. Establishing dialogue is good, injecting the standard narrative with dissenting views is necessary. But now it’s time to bring the fight inside to where decisions are pending that will adversely affect those whose cause you’ve taken up. Dwight Duncan, the provincial finance minister, is talking about 33% reductions to some ministries. Occupy Dwight Duncan’s office. Next week the city’s budget committee and then full council meet to begin debate on what is being proposed as a slash and burn budget. A falsely hyped and manufactured funding short fall deliberately made worse by ill-thought out revenue cuts in order to gut of services that were promised to be untouched. Occupy the budget committee on Monday. Occupy City Council on Tuesday and Wednesday. Occupy councillors’ offices.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” Acaphlegmic responded.

**sigh**

It seemed that maybe the fight had gone out of this old, one time rabble-rouser. The torch had been passed. I got up to see if I could make his nap a little more comfortable. Looking down into his face, I noticed his eyes remained open and he was smiling. I waved him off but he didn’t flinch. Putting my hand closer to his face, I waved more vigorously.

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Sleeping with his eyes open and a smile on his face, I took this as a good sign. Maybe we were on the right track.

as it happenedly submitted by Cityslikr


Embracing The Past’s Cold Dead Body

November 22, 2011

Apologies ahead of time for harping on this but the truth is since discovering Chris Turner’s The Leap, I’ve kind of been infected with its thinking. It didn’t help matters any by my going to see him last night at a talk on the German Leap toward a green, sustainable economy. The guy’s on to something big. Right now only some people get it and are acting on it. Those who don’t, well, they’re just standing in the way, slack-jawed and taking up space. I’m trying to become one of the former.

During last night’s session, I was struck by the political implications of all this. Let’s take one of the book’s premises as fact for the moment and look at how we have responded. Early on in The Leap, Turner suggests that in 2008 while the whole world watched in helpless horror as the global financial system sailed uncomfortably close to the abyss, two other equally grave spectres raised up their heads, Hydra-like (or rode in on their apocalypse horses – take your myth pick), largely unnoticed by a wider swath of the population. Say hello to energy scarcity and climate change.

Unfortunate, coincidental timing? Yeah, probably not. All three inextricably linked and three years on, none changed for the better. Our economy remains punch drunk, occasionally lapsing in and out of a comatose state. Conventional, fossil fuel derived energy hasn’t gotten any less scarce. The minute hand’s crept ever closer to high noon on climate change at which point of time there will be no stopping, let alone reversing the negative feedback coming our way.

And our collective response to it all?

To run screaming from the challenges facing us and into the arms of those happy to lie to us. Everything’s fine, they purr. Just a temporary blip. A little belt tightening here, some fat trimming there and it’ll all be as good as new. Steady as she goes. Stay the course. Comforting us with false hope while demonizing any who question their wisdom or motives.

These are our modern day conservatives, folks, heirs of the Edmund Burke tradition, rejecters of all that is new and different including ways of thinking and seeing the world. The old ways are always the best ways. Full stop. All that is novel, innovative or smacks of science is nothing more than the devil’s handiwork. Unless of course it can drain oil from hitherto unreachable places or increases the capability of the modern police state.

The mark of a crank that would be laughable if we didn’t continue to fall into their arms at the first sign of trouble. It’s an abusive relationship. They do something stupid, drain our bank account, smash up our car. We kick them out only to come crawling back when they promise they’ve change, they’ll be better. Trust us. You’ll see.

What the fuck is wrong with us?

A heavy adherence to the ‘status quo bias’, according to The Leap’s Chris Turner. We fear the loss of what we already have more than we’re enticed by possibly bigger rewards through changing behaviour or wireless plans. More or less. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Or how about this little chestnut? Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya.

We are change averse and seem determined to hang on to a way of life to the bitterest end. In times of societal stress, our tendency is believe those who insist there is no need to change. Everything’s fine. This… this is just a temporary blip. It’ll get better, back to normal. Trust us. You’ll see.

So in 2010, the United States went full on Tea Party. We here in Toronto gave the mayoral nod to Rob Ford who simply blamed all the problems the city was facing on out of control tax and spending for things we didn’t need. This spring we handed a majority government to the federal Conservatives on a promise of steady helmsmanship and more of the same same.

Not surprisingly, little has changed. The economy continues to take hits, one more shot from another standing eight count. Oil continues to leak from the ocean where we continue to drill further down. Ice fields melt. Oceans acidify. Ozone hole reappear in the sky.

‘The Age of Fail’ as Turner puts. Or, as Joe Orton phrased it a little more poetically pointedly, “The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul.”  We’re scared and put our faith in those assuring us that there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of except for all those telling them otherwise. Guess what? There’s plenty to be scared about, very real, tangible monsters under the bed and no amount of pretending they’re not there or leaving the nightlight on is going to chase them away.

Existing at this time in history and in this place of privilege in the developed western world, it’s hard to get our head around the concept of collapse or catastrophic failure. That’s the kind of thing that happened in the past or to other societies in impoverished parts of the world. I’m going to call it an ‘it can’t possibly happen here bias’. We’re too smart. We’re too evolved to let that happen. If we just continue to do what we’ve been doing the way we’ve been doing it, we can dig ourselves out from under this.

Just stop listening to those telling us there’s another way, a better way, a fairer and sensible way. There’s too much at stake here. We have too much to lose to gamble on the great unknown. We just need to do this a little bit harder…longer…

Blinker yourselves like we are. Close your mind off to the possibility of anything else. And behold, the attenuated mind and hearts of our modern conservatives. Embracing the past so tightly, they’re squeezing the life out of the future.

beseechingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Sun Shines A Little Brighter Today

November 21, 2011

Now that the courts have upheld the city’s right to evict the Toronto occupiers from St. James Park, maintaining common sense and rational civic discourse in the process, I think we owe a big tip of the hat to those bravely fighting for such principles in their vigilant opposition to the squatting, dope smoking union dupes: the Toronto Sun and, especially Sue-Ann Levy.

When we look back at the history of this movement here in Toronto, no doubt the turning point in phase one that tilted the first skirmish in favour of the reactionaries and status quo enablers will be Ms. Levy’s intrepid undercover work, Serpico-like, effortlessly donning the appearance of some wild-eyed crackpot complete with her own pair of tiny, sort of dogs that were all the rage with the protest set, and setting up shop in a park closer to home.

A mere stunt, you say? How long did she stay in her mock makeshift camp site, 5 minutes? Wrong. Guess again. Half an hour? Not even close. An hour? Try two hours, bucko. From 3pm to 5pm without so much as a pee break before the dark and cold sent her packing. And in all that time, her wishy-washy, fence-sitting newbie councillor, Josh Matlow, did not have the courtesy to come down (up?) and talk to Ms. Levy about her list of grievances.

What grievances would those be?

Ms. Levy is tired of paying taxes to maintain a park that others can use is ways she doesn’t approve. She is also aggrieved that despite paying taxes she still has to get a permit to host an event in a park, shovel her own sidewalk, take out her own garbage and cannot cut down any tree that so much as looks at her the wrong way. What exactly is she paying taxes for anyway? That’s the travesty stoned, hippie protestors should be protesting. The likes of Sue-Anny Levy having to shovel their own sidewalks.

In exactly 120 minutes and the two or three extra it obviously took Ms. Levy to hack out her column, she got right to the heart of the problem of the occupy movement here in Toronto. It’s failure to adequately represent the concerns and self-interest of the put upon 1%. Who speaks for them, Sue-Ann Levy seems to be asking. What about their demands?

There she was, sinisterly waving about some pretend flammable liquid, prepping a picnic table to sleep under but was anybody other than her camera operator paying any attention? She “…nearly got chased out of Oriole park by a ferocious area resident…”, causing me to wonder if, since it was getting dark out, Ms. Levy may’ve got spooked by a dog rather than an actual person mistaking her as “… part of the Occupy T.O. movement.” Aside from that encounter, it seems to have been a lonely vigil.

If the St. James Park protestors aren’t going to listen to the likes of Sue-Ann Levy and all the other voiceless Sun media practitioners, then clearly their priorities are hopelessly out of step with the rest of the vulnerable 1% and must be dealt with accordingly. With hysterics. Baseless innuendo. Wilful disregard of any thoughtful exchange of ideas. Hey, protestors! What about our freedom to walk our dogs in the park of our choosing and our dogs’ freedom to pee on the sleeping homeless person of their choosing?

Hopefully, Sue-Ann will take some time after this morning’s court victory to recover from her punishing ordeal that brings to mind the 1981 Maze prison hunger strike or Nelson Mandela’s time on Robben Island. This battle is far from over. If the past, 2500, 3000 years have shown us anything it’s that wealth and privilege can never be taken for granted.  Existing far outside the circle of power and influence, the wealthy and privileged can be set upon at a moment’s notice, for no reason outside of greed and envy of those who think it’s perfectly reasonably to camp out shabbily in our public spaces in order to try and get their way. We must remain open-eyed to creeping union subsidized socialism and close-minded to any points of view that differ from ours.

Rest up, Sue-Ann. Your job has just begun.

pep talkingly submitted by Cityslikr


An Outside Opinion

November 20, 2011

(It’s both funny and sad how an ostensibly progressive movement like OccupyTO can create such divisions among progressive minded people. Even here in the offices of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke there isn’t what you’d call solidarity on the subject. But our disagreements are mild compared to those some of our readers have with us. Some are so eloquent and persuasive in their disagreement, however, that it would be wrong to keep them relegated to our comments section. After all, we are not so convinced of the rightness of our views that we can’t listen to differing opinions.)

* * *

[from our Nov. 16th post.] “My question is, where was all this high dudgeon when the indigent alone called the park home? The drug-addled, the ne’re-do-wells and other various down-on-their-luckers who now mix uneasily with the social justicers living in their midst. As long as they weren’t too bothersome or threatening, we accepted their presence in the public realm as just part of living in the city but when others show up, pitch a tent and point out such unpleasantries, that’s unacceptable and untenable.”

 

If anything, I would argue the reverse is true – it has long been unacceptable and untenable for the homeless to camp in our parks and no one outside of OCAP has ever seriously argued that the solution to chronic homelessness was pitching a tent in Queen’s Park and letting squatters move in. Perhaps we would see more support for Streets to Homes, managed-risk treatment centres for intractable addicts and affordable housing if Toronto’s homeless occupied Yorkville instead of winter camps in the Don Valley.

But when a largely white, largely affluent, largely articulate, employed and politically savvy (as Occupy Toronto insists – contra the “get a job hippies” cant – that they are) group moves in with tents, squatting in a public park becomes, as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association argues, a vital form of expression that ought to be Constitutionally protected.

Furthermore, note that despite their rhetoric, Occupy Toronto’s actual response to the homeless who customarily frequent St. James Park has been to police them lest they “harm the movement.” They are as guilty as every other citizen in marginalizing and averting their eyes when it comes to the problem of chronic homelessness and the addiction that so often is both cause and symptom of homelessness. If Occupy Toronto speaks for the city’s desperately underprivileged it seems they would rather do so from a safe distance.

Occupy Toronto may rail against the inequalities of our society but they speak with all the benefits, protections and privileges of their class. There is a hypocrisy to the continued encampment (and a certain blowhard gutlessness to their location discretely away from the institutions they wish to overthrow – close enough to be visible but not so close as they might be daily asked to put their occupation rhetoric to the test) and their demand that their right to their chosen form of political expression be upheld above all others. In my mind, a vital test of the legitimacy of Occupy Toronto’s continued presence in St. James Park is whether or not the same toleration would be extended to another group. I can only speculate that an Aryan Bikers for a Whiter, Christian Canada camp-out in High Park would not be welcome. Nor is anyone offering reparations to the Tamils for violating their Charter rights of Expression, Free Assembly and Political Association when they were gently but firmly removed from the Gardiner Expressway.

It is possible to call for a better and more just world, to reject inequality, and to demand that the wealth of our society be shared more equitably and find Occupation Toronto tiresome, the Josh Matlow of political actions – focused on optics, obsessed with “concensus” and generally unproductive.

Where you see the beginning of a movement, I see a flash in the pan – at least in Toronto. Christ didn’t give the Sermon on the Mount, hand out some bread and fish, and call it a revolution. Taken as a historical document, the testimony of the Gospels is an account of a social movement that succeeded in changing the world, one based on tending the poor, the sick, and the outcasts of society, including the insane and the demented – the people Occupy Toronto would rather not trouble their new Utopia on King Street. You cannot create a more equal world if you are not willing to make a place for those less fortunate among you.

So just as the Hippies turned into Yuppies, and then from Yuppies to Republicans, so too will Occupation Toronto senesce into more and more debased forms until all that will remain are the demonstration tourists and the professional activists. As I said yesterday, the world is changed by those that do not those that talk about how we can all agree that it should be done. In the end, someone always has to clean the toilets.

Even among Occupy Toronto, they’re having a hard time finding more than a single volunteer.

— submitted by LifeonQueen