Civic Disengagement

Sitting in an okonomi restaurant, talking about what most folks talk about at an okonomi restaurant, that is, what exactly is an okonomi anyway? It’s not a crepe. It’s not an omelette. It’s not a frittata. It’s..? It’s..?

It’s umai, as they might say in Japan. Or someone might say after doing a rough English-Japanese, Google driven translation search.

The couple next to our table had apparently just come from a movie. I’m not sure which one but it sounded like it might’ve been The Master. Interested in seeing it, I leaned in for a closer listen to hear an unvarnished opinion. (I wasn’t rude about it. Tables were in close proximity to each other. Tight quarters, you might even say. Technically not eavesdropping.)

Not that it mattered. I garnered little in the way of any valuable insight. All I learned was that the couple disagreed with whatever opinion Liam Lacey expressed about the film and it’s not like I’m going to read the Globe and Mail for a film review. What is this? 1987?

It was their next topic of conversation, however, that really caught my attention.

No wait. Not the next one. First, they talked about train travel in Europe. Like, 12 hours from Paris to Barcelona? How could that be? Don’t they have fast trains over there? Does that include any time change? Is there a time change between Paris and Barcelona…

Seriously. I wasn’t eavesdropping. The tables were just that close.

Anyway, the couple eventually got around to talking about the Metrolinx announcement earlier this week about outsourcing the design, building and operation of the Transit City LRTs. The woman (who, interestingly had chosen a chicken teriyaki dish over an okonomi) was unhappy with Metrolinx. Outrageous. What was the province thinking? The man (clearly an okonomi fan) was confident Metrolinx wouldn’t go through with their threat to contract out the process. As far as he was concerned it was just a political manoeuvre. A poke in the eye of the TTC to prod it into playing nicely with the province’s plans for a regional transit strategy. He also thought it might have been a little jab at TTC Chair Karen Stintz for stepping out of line with that whole One City business. The woman thought that Stintz was doing a very good job with the TTC. The man didn’t disagree but assured his dinner companion that Metrolinx knew what it was doing, not to panic, etc., etc.

At which point, I almost jumped in to express my opposing opinion of the high regard for Metrolinx the man held but restrained myself. I think once you impose, uninvited, into strangers’ conversation, it’s pretty much an admission that you’d been eavesdropping. Like I said. I wasn’t eavesdropping.

Besides, the important thing wasn’t my disagreement about Metorlinx with the man beside me at a table in the okonomi restaurant. It’s that here were two people discussing what to me is one of the more important changes in policy direction that Toronto has faced in a while – the contracting out to the private sector the building and operating of public transit. They’d been listening. They discussed it. They were engaged.

Mayor Ford, on the other hand, well, nary a peep. Not since the announcement on Wednesday. Barely a word yesterday during his 2 hour radio slot, a passing shrug. With 3 and a half minutes left in the show – after much talk of his business trip to Chicago (It was great!), the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series (It was great!) and how nobody in the media writes about all the great stuff he’s done as mayor which is more than any other administration ever, dontcha know – he apparently mentioned the Metrolinx news with a weird claim of ownership to the idea. That’s it.

See you next week, folks.

Now, it’s probably safe to assume that the okonomi eating, P.T. Anderson viewing, transit talking couple aren’t certified members of the Ford Nation. An okonomi? The Master? Naunced transit discussion? Like a downtown elitist check list. If so, it’s hardly a surprise they’re on a different page than Mayor Ford, concerned about different issues affecting the city.

But how is it that they’re spending a weekend afternoon discussing the future of transit in this city while the mayor can only summon a fleeting mention of it? “The TTC is in the business of making sure their riders get from point A to point B in a rapid fashion,” Councillor Ford said during the show yesterday in reference to contracting out bus cleaning services. As simple as that. End of story.

It’s a curious turn we’re experiencing in Toronto right now. Where citizens engage with the process of governance while the mayor sits on the sidelines, commentating. Almost as if we’re doing his job for him.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr