Corrosive Politics

July 29, 2013

John Lorinc drops another great article today about transit planning and election races. As has often been the case recently, gamesmanshipself-interest and narrow political calculation run roughshod over reasoned debate at every governance level involved. There ain’t no good guys in this story except the ones with almost zero chance of winning provincial office this coming Thursday.

Now, I know you’re going to get all up in my face when I quote the following passage from the story but I beg you to bear with me.

The broader point to make here is that Rob Ford’s corrosive influence on all the parties and the state of debate is writ large in this by-election. He’s given too many political people from all three partisan clans permission to be astonishingly dishonest and unprincipled with both the voters and themselves.

No, no. I am not pointing the finger of blame squarely at the mayor on this issue. gasolineonfireHe’s been remarkably consistent with views on public transit in this city. Horribly misinformed and willfully ignorant, but remarkably consistent.

The truly incredible aspect of this is that almost every other politicians of every political stripe allowed him to define the terms of debate, and continue to do so long after it seems simply politically expedient to do so.

The provincial Liberals could’ve stopped this latest debacle in its tracks back in 2010 after the newly elected mayor of Toronto declared Transit City dead. They could’ve stepped up and politely said, nope, sorry. The deal’s been signed and the books are closed on this.

Instead, lagging in the polls and intimidated by the notion of Ford Nation decimating them throughout ridings in Toronto, they shrugged. Whatevs. It’s our money to do whatever you want with.

And even after the Ford Nation wave failed to materialize and the mayor’s hold on whatever1city council has grown increasingly tenuous, his views on a Scarborough subway continue to hold sway. In the provincial by-election campaign. With sitting Scarborough Liberal MPPs. At City Hall.

I’d ask why that is but it’s pretty obvious. Pick a word. Pandering. Calculating. Craven. And put shameless as an adjective in front of them (or use its adverbial variation as needed).

It’s bad enough, the adverse affects this is having on actually trying to get transit — the right kind of transit – built in this city and region. Even more worrisome is how Mayor Ford’s ‘corrosive influence’ has been adopted. Rather than re-examine how he and his team, using catchy slogans, dubious claims and numbers, won the day back in 2010, toxicatmosphere1many of his opponents have embraced those practices for their own purposes and not figured out ways in which to successfully combat them. In the end, it’s nothing more than an endorsement of cynical sloganeering and destructive obfuscation.

Not only does that short-circuit efforts to build transit in this city but it also poisons the entire political atmosphere, turning off public engagement instead of encouraging it.

drippingly submitted by Cityslikr


Standard Operating Procedure

July 28, 2013

I have to confess to a naïve, privileged, white, middle-class, male rose-coloured view about our police. Despite personal albeit second-hand evidence to the contrary, my default opinion is to think of the police forces in this country and in this city as ones filled with honourable individuals, dedicated to upholding the law in the most peaceable manner possible. Sure, there are some bad apples, as is the case in any organization employing thousands of people but the institution itself, while not beyond reproach, remains trustworthy and respectable.

This does not square at all with that.

Now, I get that we do not have the full context. The video only serves as a brief glimpse of the entire incident. It’s impossible to hear exactly what was being said, what the shooting victim actually did (or didn’t do) to provoke such a response. We cannot rush to judgement.

That said, this looks bad. Very, very bad.

What we do know is that the shooting victim was armed with a knife although apparently not murderously competent (or inclined) enough to do any physical harm to the passengers and driver of the streetcar who all escaped. There were a large number of police officers on the scene, at least 5 or 6 at the beginning of the video, growing to double digits by the end. Nine shots were fired, not in quick succession but in groups. After which, it sounds as if a taser is being used.

On the face of it, it seems like excessive force, a quick over-reaction to a situation where no imminent danger to any of the officers could be seen. On the face of it. Obviously, more details need to be known, a thorough investigation necessary.

Yeah, I’m still willing to believe that can happen.

But if what we see on the video is essentially what happened, that someone armed with a knife alone on that streetcar, having not yet inflicted any injury on anyone else, surrounded by many police officers, all armed with guns, making some sort of threatening gesture or simply not complying with orders from the police, is shot to death without any other sort of situational de-escalation tactic first employed, we need to have a much deeper conversation about policing in this city. There’s every reason to expect the police officer who did the shooting will be cleared, deemed to have been following standard operating procedure. It’s happened before, almost eerily déjà vu-like. Reyal Jardine-Douglas and Edmond Yu.

The use of lethal force has to be the last resort not the first one. That needs to be standard operating procedure. If it isn’t, let’s start demanding a change.

submitted by Cityslikr


Get Off My Lawn! (Unless You’re Here To Cut It)

July 26, 2013

Hey old people of Scarborough’s Ward 36. Hey old people throughout Toronto’s inner suburbs. scaredoldmanHell, hey all you people of Scarborough and the inner suburbs of Toronto.

I am willing to pay for the city to continue cutting the grass on those public strips of land you’re now being forced to maintain under threat of a fine. It’ll only cost me a fraction of a cent, I imagine, in terms of a property tax increase. I’m fine with that.

The only thing I ask in return?

A full and frank discussion about the relationship between taxation and public services. You can’t have the latter without the former, and try as we have been for the past 3 years or so to believe otherwise, to imagine that our public sector was so bloated with excess that all we had to do was squeeze a little bit, nip and tuck, tighten our belt and we wouldn’t notice a thing? itllcostyouIt’s now costing Mrs. Miranda Masih an additional $20 a pop to have both her and the city’s grass cut.

Why risk a $200 fine when, for pennies a year, we could have the city keep doing what it’s been doing? That’s how taxation works. We pool our resources to provide residents with services they want and need in a more cost-effective way. It’s called economies of scale and is all the rage in the private sector.

This isn’t about some magical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We’re not talking a bottomless well of nice-to-haves, as Mayor Ford called them. As a city, we need to regularly sit down and hash out what’s important to us, what’s important for the future welfare of this place and for those who will be decide to call it home.

But to pretend we can have it all and not pay for it or take it from somebody else, well, that’s just not working out particularly well for anyone right now. scaryoldmanAs residents of Ward 36 in Scarborough are discovering to their extra grass cutting displeasure.

They really should call their councillor, Gary Crawford, and ask him about his nearly unwavering support of the mayor’s keeping taxes low and no service cuts guaranteed mandate. The math behind all that and how it’s led to a cut in a service the city used to provide. That equation was always untenable and one side of it had to eventually give way.

While they have Councillor Crawford’s ear, Ward 36 residents might also want to ask how his support for a largely unfunded subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line is going to further put stress on services the city provides to them. tightfistedA subway is more expensive to build and run, so both capital and operating budgets will face increased pressure and, in turn, property taxes will inevitably go up. First, they asked you to cut more grass. Next you’ll be expected to shovel your sidewalks and windrows.

Everyone for themselves, in other words. DIY. Pay to play if you think our tax burden is too much to bear, if you’re sick and tired of being nickel and dimed to death.

To my mind, it’s a recipe for a pretty nasty and unappealing city. A collective approach will get much more done and cost us each individually much less. Unfortunately, too many of us have only discovered that the hard way.

angryoldguy

 

Update

According to the Toronto Star’s David Rider, it seems playing the old and cranky card trumps common sense. The creaky, squeaky wheel does get oiled. Turns out, taxes can be kept low and services untouched. My bad.

head-shakingly submitted by Cityslikr


An Ethical Leave Of Absence

July 25, 2013

Whenever a political dust-up occurs, a contretemps that leads to much partisan Did Not-Did So back and forth, I ask this question: didtooWhat if the party/politician you don’t support were to do the exact same thing the party/politician you do support did? Would you be cool with that, shrug it off as being all part of the game, yo?

So Conservatives pulling for Doug Holyday in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore provincial by-election, you’d be easy-peasy if the city’s “on unofficial leave of absence” Deputy Mayor’s opponents in the race did the same thing? Just called up the city’s waste collection company and asked for one of their trucks to swing by for a campaign photo-op? Totally fine, yes?

“… when the deputy mayor calls and asks for a truck, we supply it,” said Green For Life’s chief executive, Patrick Dovigi.

I am trying very hard to avoid stinky-garbage language here but that statement alone should set off alarm bells to anyone concerned with political propriety and rule bending. dougholydaypcPage 7 of the Integrity Commissioner’s Code of Conduct for City Councillors contains 3 violations the Deputy Mayor may have committed using the garbage truck as part of his campaign. (h/t Jude MacDonald). VI, Use of City Property, Services and Other Resources. VII, Election Campaign Work. VIII, Improper Use of Influence.

But Conservative defenders were quick to point out that since Green For Life is a private company, contracted out by the city to pick up garbage, it’s all good. No harm, no foul. Technically speaking, this isn’t a technical breach of conduct by the technically (maybe) on leave of absence deputy mayor.

From Article VI, “No member of Council should use, or permit the use of City land, facilities, equipment, supplies, services, [bolding ours] staff or other resources (for example, City-owned materials, websites, Council transportation delivery services and member of Council expense budgets) for activities other than the business of the Corporation.”

Waste collection is a service Green For Life provides to the city, isn’t it?

From Article VII, “No member shall use the facilities, equipment, supplies, services [bolding ours] or other resources of the City (including Councillor newsletters and websites linked through the City’s website) for any election campaign or campaign-related activities… No member shall use the services [bolding ours] of persons for election-related purposes during hours in which those persons receive any compensation from the City.

Again, if Green For Life isn’t delivering a service to the city, what exactly are we paying them for?

From Article VIII, “No member of Council shall use the influence of her or his office for any purpose other than for the exercise of her or his official duties.

“When the deputy mayor calls and asks for a truck, we supply it.” That seems like a pretty straight forward ‘use of influence’, doesn’t it?

Unless of course you want to argue that Doug Holyday’s campaign staff called Green For Life as representatives of a provincial candidate not the deputy mayor. technicallyspeakingIt’s just unfortunate Mr. Dovigi didn’t say that when a candidate running for provincial office asks for a truck, they’re happy to oblige. But he didn’t. “When the deputy mayor calls and asks for a truck, we supply it.”

But hold on, the deputy mayor PC candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore defender’s say, it’s not as if anyone pulled a truck off collection duty for the deputy mayor PC candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. It just magically appeared at no cost whatsoever to the company, I guess. Free gas, free of charge for the person driving it.

Let’s chalk it up to a campaign donation from a private company to a provincial candidate who just so happens to also be the city’s deputy mayor. He’s also the politician who helped spearhead waste collection contracting out, first as the former mayor of Etobicoke and then as deputy mayor of Toronto. Contracting out that, ultimately, benefited the company supplying their garbage truck as a campaign prop.

Regardless of your partisan political stripe, it’s something of an ethical quagmire, wouldn’t you say?splittinghairs

We’ve come to expect such lapses in judgement from the mayor but until he decided to enter the by-election race, Doug Holyday had a straight-shooting, no bullshit reputation when it came to using taxpayer money even for legit reasons like office budgets.

“Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said regardless of whether Ford pays for fuel, city vehicles should be used for city business alone.” This from a Toronto Star article last fall in response to Mayor Ford’s staff using city vehicles to attend Don Bosco football practices. To now defend the deputy mayor’s use of a Green For Life garbage truck during his provincial campaign as different because it’s not a ‘city vehicle’ seems like mendacious hair-splitting.

All this coming less than week after the Integrity Commissioner’s annual report to city council. Never mind the backtracking now in progress to justify the deputy mayor’s actions on this. How could he stand in front of a truck his staff had ordered up, festooned with the City of Toronto logo, to make a campaign speech and not for a moment think to himself, something about the optics here smell? (There. My one garbage reference.)

ignoranceisbliss

And how can anyone, beating the drum of ethical bad behaviour on the part of the provincial Liberals, look at this circumstance and shrug? It’s no gas plant boondoggle, costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. As if ethics are simply about the amount of money involved and not the conduct it engenders.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Me And Chris Stockwell

July 24, 2013

Yesterday I wrote a post about the current plight of Detroit specifically, and of North American cities in general. chrisstockwellWithin minutes of sending out a link to the piece, I received this feedback on the Twitter from Chris Stockwell, former Progressive Conservative MPP, minister and Speaker of the Assembly under then-premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves:

So the Dems have won every election in Detroit for last 60 years and they go bankrupt and it is the GOP’s fault…. wow

For those of you who read the post indulge me while I point out to those who haven’t that I suggested nothing of the sort. In fact, I pretty much wrote the exact opposite. That Detroit found itself now on the verge of bankruptcy for myriad of complex reasons that stretched back over nearly 70 years. “… as with any complex situation,” to quote my exact words, georgebell“there are no easy conclusions to draw, no simple answers.”

Yet Mr. Stockwell saw that I’d mentioned three conservative politicians, his former boss at Queen’s Park, the governor of Michigan and the mayor of Toronto, and formed an opinion that I was blaming the Republican Party for Detroit’s financial problems. I responded, saying I’d also mentioned the 1987 Toronto Blue Jays in the post. Maybe they were culpable of killing Detroit too?

I mention all this not to prove how thin-skinned I am. To paraphrase our late Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, I’ve been criticized more harshly by better people. But I do think it’s important to note because of its adverse affect on public/political/civic discourse.

We can and should have disagreements. Criticism is a necessary element to a properly functioning democracy. echochamberQuestions need to be asked. Answers given.

Opinions must be informed opinions based on all available facts at hand.

Nothing can be accomplished, however, if we’re just hurling invectives at things we imagined another person said. Reinterpreting what someone else says through a lens of personal bias just leads to a conversation with yourself. The proverbial echo chamber.

Our politics here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are pretty upfront. We believe that after three decades of neoliberal governance throughout this continent and much of the developed world, the chicks are coming home to roost. The results are showing up at the extremes in distressed places like Detroit and other municipalities facing insolvency but also in every city groaning under the dead weight of aging and decrepit infrastructure. becauseIsaidsoOur public realm has been starved for the sake of private interest.

In a zero sum game, more theoretical money in the taxpayers’ jeans means fewer new lines of transit. That’s just basic math.

We’re willing to be convinced otherwise but that can’t happen if you insist on debating words we didn’t write and argue with ideas we don’t have.

patiently submitted by Cityslikr


Detroit Rocked City

July 23, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about Detroit recently, and it’s probably the first time I have since the 1987 Blue Jays collapse down the stretch, torontodetroitaided by 7 straight losses to end the season including 3 one run games to the Tigers in the final series. Man, those fucking Tigers. A one game lead with only 3 to go! Toronto was 19-5 in September until The Swoon. Fucking Detroit, man.

Fucking Detroit.

It’s impossible to wade through the coverage of the city’s financial turmoil to find a straight forward narrative. Obviously, there’s no one reason to explain how this all transpired although both sides of the political spectrum will tell you otherwise. Unfunded public sector pensions and benefits! Corporate tax giveaways!

One of the more compelling and heartfelt discussions I found was over at The Corner Side Yard by Pete Saunders, Detroit – Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? (If you want to get your fill of Detroit on the Verge of Bankruptcy, check in regularly with Urbanophile.) detroitStill, as with any complex situation, there are no easy conclusions to draw, no simple answers.

A couple parallels do jump out at me, though, that elicit passing thoughts along the Toronto, the next Detroit theme song we will inevitably be hearing sung over the next little while. The first is the municipality as a political football. Like Canadian cities, their U.S. counterparts have a surprising lack of autonomy in the bigger picture decisions. They are granted the crumbs of governance, largely in the day-to-day operations and, can do that poorly with negative consequences to residents. But the macro-decisions are often beyond their control.

And if, as appears to be the case of Detroit, a city’s overseers at the state level are not particularly partial to the city in question or, at least, to those in power at City Hall, they can essentially use it as a punching bag. Remember Mike Harris and the amalgamation of Toronto? underthumbWell, Mike Harris and anything to do with Toronto really.

A city can attempt to mitigate the damage it inflicts upon itself but is helpless if the blows come from above.

So in Detroit’s case, a city that votes overwhelmingly Democrat is manhandled by a Republican governor who seizes the woeful economic opportunity to experiment with his radical right wing anti-labour, anti-public sector, selling of public assets ideology. And there doesn’t seem to be much the local officials can do about it outside of taking the state to court which it’s done. A judge has ruled the bankruptcy filing to be unconstitutional, a ruling Michigan’s Attorney General has vowed to appeal.

It’s not different levels of government so much as warring levels of government.

(Can you say Scarborough subway?)

Such governance dependency on the part of municipalities breeds the type of local politician averse to responsibility. walkintoawallWe’ve all heard it before whenever a city asks for more powers. You really want these jokers with more power? will come the response with a pointed finger legitimately to the one or two walking shitshows that inevitably make up any part of a city council. But it’s a chicken-or-egg argument. Do the conditions produce the politician or does the politician produce the conditions?

It’s easy to see how enabling bad municipal behaviour helps to strengthen the legitimacy of state and provincial governments in a regular game of political one-upmanship.

Detroit also illustrates that once decline starts it sets in motion a toxic civic dynamic that makes the tough choices needed to turn things around nearly impossible. Just as growth begets growth, decline begets decline, and part of the reason is social dynamics.

This comes about because in a city in decline — such as in late imperial Rome — people start thinking only about themselves and no longer come to see themselves as part of a greater enterprise or commonwealth. The city and suburbs, blacks and whites, taxpayers and unions no longer see their fortunes as linked. Rather than rising and falling together, it’s every man for himself.

Toronto’s economic situation is nowhere near as dire as that of Detroit’s. The truth is, it’s in far better shape than almost any other city on the continent. But some – hint, hint, it’s duly elected mayor – would have you believe otherwise. chickenlittleThe language of decline will only grow more intense I imagine in the wake of Detroit’s misfortunes.

Why?

Pretty much the entirety of the above quoted second paragraph. “people…no longer come to see themselves as part of a greater enterprise or commonwealth. The city and suburbs, blacks and whites, taxpayers and unions no longer see their fortunes as linked. Rather than rising and falling together, it’s every man for himself.” Political opportunism, pure and simple. “Toronto’s financial foundation is crumbling,” Mayor Ford told the Empire Club early on in his term. Divide and conquer using fear as a tool. City versus suburbs. Taxpayers versus unions.

Create a crisis if one doesn’t exist.

Challenges are very different than crisis. Toronto shouldn’t bury its head and hope there aren’t serious challenges we have to face. Do we have massive under-funded liabilities lying in wait for us sometime in the future? I’m not sure but let’s examine that claim closely before rushing off to slash and burn shit to the ground. We are certainly lagging in infrastructure maintenance, and that’s even before we start talking public transit. detroitarmThe question that needs to be answered is, do we have the political will to do something about that, to reach into our pockets and do what needs to be done?

At this juncture, I wouldn’t bet on it. The rot of ‘poisoned civic culture’, to paraphrase Aaron M. Renn, has set in. It’s very much everybody for themselves, taxpayers versus residents. A terrible but not entirely surprising mindset under actual circumstances of duress like Detroit’s but unnecessarily and arbitrarily destructive in our manufactured case.

It’s not our economic model that requires a complete overhaul. It’s our approach to civic engagement. We’ve given up the greater public good long before circumstances might dictate we would.

warningly submitted by Cityslikr


Still Swimming With The Sharks

July 22, 2013

So, tired of all the congestion and gridlock in the city? Working hard, trying to figure out how to get more cars off our roads? ideaI’ve got a simple but obviously overlooked solution.

Strip irresponsible, reckless and dangerous drivers of their right to drive. Stop our collective shrug when the misuse of a motorized vehicle leads to death and bodily harm. Accidents will happen. For sure. But less so if we cull from the driving ranks not only repeat offenders but anyone who uses a car or truck as a weapon of intimidation and confrontation.

Two articles in the Toronto Star today highlight a certain War With Cars rather than a War on Cars.

On Thursday night, the police allege that a driver ran down and killed a pedestrian he’d got into some sort of set-to with. For me, if found guilty of the array of bodily harm charges he faces, this driver would never be allowed to legally drive again. deathrace2000aZero tolerance. One strike and you’re out. Privilege revoked irrevocably.

The exact opposite of what appears to happen, even for multiple offenders.

Like the driver involved in a cyclist’s death last November. With 8 driving infractions in just over 2 and a half years, including speeding, disobeying a police signal and violating novice driving conditions, the driver added to that tally with a failing to remain at the scene of an accident that caused death charge. Is it unreasonable to expect at least some sort of time out in the form of a suspension of his license?

Especially since it seems everything was not as it first appeared when news of the accident broke.

Police said that the cyclist was struck when he rode through a red light. deathrace2000bUnfortunate but hardly the fault of the motorist who struck him. Even fleeing the scene could be viewed sympathetically for the driver, just driving along, minding his own business, obeying the rules of the road. Out of nowhere, bike rides right in front of him, bang. Driver panics, takes off. Shock gets the better of good judgement and any sort of concern for a fellow human being.

Turns out that might not be exactly how things transpired.

In a letter responding to inquiries from the dead man’s family’s lawyer, the Crown now says that it is “not taking the position that [the cyclist] was travelling north or that he ran a red light.” In fact, “…they’re acknowledging [the cyclist] was stationary or near-stationary, waiting to turn left, as he was lawfully obliged to be, when he was rammed from behind.” Turns out that it was the cyclist who was minding his own business, obeying the rules of the road when, out of nowhere car slams right into him from behind, bang. deathrace2000cDriver panics etc., etc.

It’s enough to make you think there’s an inherent bias when it comes to dealing with accidents on our roads. That our mayor is not alone when he suggested back in his councillor days that, “… it’s their own fault at the end of day” when a cyclist is struck by a bus, car or truck. Responsibility for road safety lies squarely on the shoulders of pedestrians and cyclists and not those with the greatest capability of inflicting damage upon those they so reluctantly share space with.

We can talk all we want about building biking infrastructure to encourage more people to see cycling as a viable means of transport around the city, there’s undeniable merit to that discussion. Ditto mandatory helmet laws and bike sharing programs. deathrace2000But until we treat everybody equally when it comes to using the roads, when there are actual consequences to bad behaviour and lack of diligence, when driving stops being regarded as an inalienable right rather than a privilege, bike culture will remain on the fringe, a hobby for only the foolhardy and pinkos.

Unfortunately, it’s a status quo too many people and institutions would be only too happy maintaining.

disquietly submitted by Cityslikr