Redemption’s A Life’s Work Not A Summer Vacation

June 30, 2014

Everybody loves a redemption story. Bad boy makes good. The down-and-outer turning his life around, rockyjust when everything seemed lost. The prodigal son.

It’s as old as the urge to tell tales to keep ourselves entertained in the cold night, huddled up inside the cave.

Think Oedipus Rex. Perhaps the greatest comeback story ever. Boy ordered to be put to death after an oracle warns that he will kill his father (the worst kind of son) but his mother cannot bring herself to do it (the best kind of mother). Instead, she orders a servant to slay the infant. (OK, maybe not the best kind of mother). The servant can’t do it either. (You really can find good help some days). So the servant just leaves the baby out on a mountain to die of exposure. (And other days you can’t). Saved by a good shepherd (shepherds are always good), oedipusrexthe little boy grows up to be a man and winds up triumphantly returning home after killing some old dude on the road and then he meets the woman of his dreams who he…

You know why everybody loves the redemptive narrative?

Because in real life, it so rarely happens. More often than not, you don’t get knocked down and get up again. At least, not to anywhere near where you were before. Loss tends to take its toll. Failure, especially of the spectacularly public kind, leaves a noticeable mark. Maybe not as drastic as, I don’t know, gouging out your own eyes but few walk away unscathed.

Redemption and deliverance tend to be hard won and small in scope. “Didn’t you used to be Mac Sledge? Yeah, I guess I was.” tendermerciesIf you’re lucky, you get to live to tell the tale.

And let’s face it. Rob Ford has been redeemed more than any one person deserves in any one lifetime. He has regularly tripped and fallen, stumbled over his own hubris, willful ignorance, disdain and dislike for almost everyone outside of his small cabal of associates, family included. And that’s just in the last 4 years! Born into a life of privilege (if not the kind of life most of us would want to live), he chose to abuse and exploit his advantage rather than use it to become a better person or make the world a better place around him.

His missteps and misconduct have never seemed to carry much repercussion or consequences. He’s actually been rewarded for being such a categorical failure. Isn’t it redemption enough that someone of Rob Ford’s rigid incuriosity and malevolent world view got to be mayor of Toronto? grandtheftautoHow much grace and forgiveness can fate bestow on one person?

Is that being too harsh on someone with substance abuse issues? Cut the guy some slack. Maybe this time he’ll turn things around, get his life in order, finally redeem himself.

Fuck that.

If Rob Ford actually gained even the slightest bit of self-awareness and the humility that would stem from that, he’d show up at his office at City Hall today and immediately announce his resignation from both the office and the campaign. He’d recognize all the harm he’s done, certificateofhumilityall the bullshit he’s spewed, the venomous misogynistic, racist, homophobic way in which he’s conducted his life, and realize, along with about 60% of us at this point, that he’s unfit to hold the office he was elected into.

Only if that were to happen would Rob Ford be at the point in the story where you might say, Well hey, he’s acknowledged his faults, the errors of his way. It took him some time to get there, burning a lot of bridges along the way, inflicting a lot of harm and damage. Some of which you never fix, you never get forgiven for. But, you know, maybe there is some hope for him after all. Let’s see what he does next.

You just know, though, that’s not how this is going to play out.

In all likelihood, Rob Ford, and his brother and family, all believe in their collective heart of hearts that he’s walked the rugged, rigorous road of redemption. He’s paid his dues. He took a leave of absence from the job he never really took that seriously in the first place, just pretendingand did what you have to do up in cottage country to look as if you might be contrite and a little bit shamed by your actions.

I’ve said sorry, folks. What more can I do? The past is the past. Let’s just move forward. Anything else?

We’ve heard it all before.

You don’t get to proclaim your own redemption. It’s not for you to bestow upon yourself. All you can do is accept the fact that you made a mess of things, try to clean it up as best you can and set out to be a better person. It’s up to others to decide what comes next.

Perhaps someday Rob Ford will genuinely find redemption. He’ll pick up the pieces of his broken life and put them back together in some discernible fashion. That should never include, however, re-assuming public office. There’s too much dirty water under that bridge, too much degenerate behaviour and misuse of power to ever have it restored. redemptionRob Ford displayed a degree of arrogance and contempt toward those who’d put their trust in him to a level you never dial back from, you never get a do-over for. That kind of record doesn’t get expunged.

Rob Ford will find redemption only when he’s humble enough to realize that and moves on to the next stage in his life, far away from the spotlight of elected office.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr


By-Election Trinity-Spadina

June 27, 2014

Here’s my thinking.thinking

It’s a federal by-election in Trinity-Spadina, right? This is going to make no big difference on the make-up of parliament. I guess there might be some sense of momentum going into next year’s general election but, you know, for what that’s worth.

So I actually don’t have to perform the party-candidate balancing act. You know the one where it’s all, I like the candidate but am unhappy with the party, or vice versa. The lesser of two evils more often than the best of both worlds. There’s no fear that if I vote this way that party will become the government.

That’s going to make it incredibly easy for me to mark my ballot.

thumbsupAdam Vaughan, hands down.

I say, put him in office and see what he can do before we head back to the polls in 2015. How much influence will he actually have in setting the Liberal party’s urban agenda? Will the pressures to toe the line that come with party membership curb the sharp-tongued, outspoken former city councillor?

Truthfully, I have grave concerns about the quality of Justin Trudeau. I’ve yet to see any rigour manifest in him. If Adam Vaughan is elected MP on Monday, I’d eventually like to ask him what it’s like working under the leadership of someone who seems not nearly as smart as he is.

During his time at City Hall, Vaughan did not suffer fools gladly which earned him something of a prickly reputation. Certainly over the course of the last four years, there were plenty of fools to go around, many of them holding positions of power. That never sat well with Vaughan.

Now, I’m not comparing Justin Trudeau to Rob Ford. I just don’t see him as much of a heavyweight although I’m perfectly happy to be proven otherwise. trialperiodI hope the possible presence of Adam Vaughan in his caucus will bring out the best in Trudeau. If it doesn’t, if he doesn’t live up to his commitments to housing and other progressive urban issues that Vaughan has been touting during the campaign, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Exactly how maverick-y will he be willing to go?

And that’s the beauty of this situation, right? It’s a trial period. See how it works, re-visit my decision next year.

Besides, the NDP candidate in the race, Joe Cressy, has made next-to-no impression on me. Zero impact. I have little sense of what’s driving him to seek this office. adamvaughanProgressive ideals, for sure, but what I’m hearing mostly from him right now is party, party, party. The NDP is home to progressive voters. The Liberals long ago abandoned their progressive ideals. There’s only one way progressives could think of casting their ballots. NDP, NDP, NDP.

Oh, and Jack Layton.

But for me, we’re not fighting the last election. We’re getting ready for the next. I have great admiration for the work Adam Vaughan did as a city councillor. I think the Liberal party with him a part of it, will be a better party, a more progressive party than it’s been for a couple decades now.

If I’m wrong about that, we get to do this all over again in 2015.

decisively submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch IV

June 26, 2014

Walking along Bloor Street West in Ward 18 Davenport with Alex Mazer, I was struck by a thought. This is like strolling in my own backyard. railpathWhich it kind of is since I live right next door in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina. I have played baseball in the parks in Ward 18. I have drunk in a few of the bars in Ward 18. I have cycled Ward 18’s railpath.

Su warda, mi warda.

(I hope that totally made-up Spanish on my part doesn’t actually mean anything rude or derogatory.)

I met Alex last year when he hosted a Better Budget TO event. It’s a group advocating for participatory budgeting, a more open process of determining how local governments spend money that actually includes not only community involvement but community decision making. (See what Councillor Shelley Carroll’s doing with Section 37 money in Ward 33.) participatorybudgetThe movement has gained traction in cities like New York and Chicago.

Participatory budgeting is also something more conducive to local governments than either the provincial or federal levels, both where Alex has spent some time working previously. Their budgets are dropped, fully formed, take it or leave it, folks. Municipal budgets, while dense and arcane, go through a few stages including one where the public gets to express its opinion, before being finalized by city council.

It’s this relative openness that has drawn Alex toward municipal politics. An ability to interact and work with constituents on issues that directly affect their quality of lives on a daily basis. Budgets, schools, public spaces, transit, the state of our roads and the constant construction. Oh, the construction.

Like many of us, Alex would like to figure out a way to better co-ordinate construction throughout the city in order to avoid what seems like a regular tear up and rebuild along his ward’s stretch of Bloor Street.

bloorstreetwestWhile not as intense as some neighbouring wards to the east or south of it, Ward 18 is experiencing similar kinds of pressures that come from growth and intensification, beginning with the need to deliver new infrastructure and maintain the old. The development along Queen Street on the edge of Parkdale is already in place. There’s a mixed used plan on what is now derelict land running beside the railpath right next to the Nestle chocolate factory near Dundas Street West and Lansdowne that’s been years in the making and looks ready to go. The Union-to-Pearson rail link will have a stop in Ward 18.

It’s going to be a serious hub, Ward 18, bringing with it all the opportunities and conflicts inherent in that. Continued pressure on employment lands. Cars versus transit versus biking. Like the old days versus new density. Electrification versus diesel.

You might think, why put all that into the lap of a newcomer? The current councillor, while only finishing up her first term, has worked in the ward for a while now, dating back to her time as Executive Assistant to longtime former councillor, Mario Silva. nestleLet’s just stick with the steady hand of experience.

The thing is, from my perch watching city council over the past 4 years, Councillor Ana Bailão has not shown herself up to the task. While not a destructive force certainly, she has regularly landed on the side of issues that truly mystify. Sure, there was voting to rescind the Vehicle Registration Tax which, while politically popular, hasn’t done much for the city’s revenue stream. She also voted to freeze property taxes in 2011, contract out waste collection west of Yonge (but against awarding that contract to Green 4 Life), eliminate the plastic bag fee, initially voted to keep the bike lanes on Jarvis but then voted to re-confirm the vote she’d voted against to tear them up (??) The councillor voted for the Scarborough subway.

Little rhyme nor reason or pattern. There doesn’t seem to be a there, there.

Even on her signature item, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, nothing much happened. It might’ve contained the fire but certainly hasn’t put it out. TCHC management remains a mess. The state of good repair continues to grow. No recommendations have been put forth to deal with what is a pressing, pressing situation.

In truth, Councillor Bailão has been something of a disappointment. Not at all dependable on the important issues facing the city. dupontbusMaybe a change in tone and function at City Hall would reveal a different Ana Bailão but it’s hard to see much evidence of that possibility.

And if Ward 18 is counting on change for better representation, why not go whole hog and elect a new councillor?

Alex Mazer?

He’s certainly bringing a lot to the table. Clearly engaged and on top of the issues directly affecting the ward and the wider city, Mazer wants to open up that engagement further, bringing the public into the decision-making process sooner, whether it’s the budget or local development plans. Anyone who ‘deeply disagrees with the Ford agenda’, as Mazer stated a week or so ago on Reddit, would be a step in the right direction from the ward’s current representation.

But I’ll let you decide for yourself, leaving you with candidate Mazer’s own words:

Change is happening — there’s no question about it. There are a lot of good things about this change — I think that most residents in the area that I talk to feel optimistic about the future of their neighbourhoods.

But despite this optimism, I also hear from renters, artists, newcomers, middle class families, and more, who feel that they can no longer afford to live downtown — who feel that they will never be able to afford to buy a home in the area. This is part of a broader challenge that our city faces — that people’s opportunities are increasingly shaped by their postal code (U of T’s David Hulchanski, among others, has done some great work on this).

City government can’t stop this change, but we can manage it better I believe. One of my priorities is to take a more proactive approach to managing development in the ward, working with communities to identify the types of growth and change they want before the ‘development application’ signs go up and they’re left scrambling to have their voices heard. A good example of this is the need to work with the community and other levels of government to preserve public space at Dufferin and Bloor.

A better affordable housing policy can also help. See some of my thoughts on this.

I think we need to focus more on the growing inequality in our city. It’s troubling that inequality has taken on a more prominent place in the American political discourse but remains a relatively minor part of the public debate here in Toronto.

gotrain

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Career Politicians

June 25, 2014

Anybody who’s thrown so much as a passing glance toward us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke knows that we kind of rankle at the hurled derision of the ‘career politician’ taunt. tryingmypatienceWe happen to think, done well, politics can be a noble profession, and one which need not be subject to some arbitrary time line. New blood does not inherently mean good or better blood. It’s just new.

But I will tell you that Councillor Raymond Cho is severely testing our laissez-faire attitude on this issue.

One day – ONE DAY! – after coming in 3rd in the June 12th provincial vote, Councillor Cho registered to run for re-election in October’s municipal election. Looking at the councillor’s history, you might conclude that he’s spent a lot of his career trying to get out of City Hall. He ran federally for the New Democratic Party in 1988 and then federally again in 2004 as an independent Liberal candidate. This time around, he took a stab at it as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

Having now run under the banner of a party with perhaps one of the most anti-urban agendas in recent memory, escapeplanCouncillor Cho blithely intends to return to municipal office as Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River incumbent. No hard feelings, eh guys? It’s not like I was a conservative in anything but name only, OK?

I’d probably be more forgiving if the councillor had done much of any significance this past term. At the start, just after Rob Ford became mayor, Cho was a bit of a thorn in Team Ford’s side. More like a pesky annoyance, really. But as the province lumbered toward a general election, Councillor Cho saw another exit opportunity and after securing the riding nomination, he just sort of faded into the woodwork. His most notable achievement ended up being to join with 8 other Scarborough councillors and derail plans to bring the LRT to their part of the city.

With a federal election on the horizon for 2015, you’d be crazy not to think that Councillor Cho isn’t ruling out one last kick at that can. sixofoneIt’s not like he’s getting any younger!

At least one of his opponents in the recent provincial campaign, the NDP’s Neethan Shan, had the decency to wait a week before throwing his name into the municipal campaign, registering to also run in Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River against Councillor Cho.

Frankly, that news doesn’t sit much better with me.

I know that there’s a lot of overlap between the provincial and municipal governments. In many ways, they are inter-dependent. It’s not unusual to see the same names vying for a position at both levels. Hell, 3 of Scarborough’s 5 Liberal MPPs are former Toronto city councillors and a fourth was a school board trustee in the city.

Still, Mr. Shan’s quick entry into the municipal race strikes me as something a budding politician might do in search of public office. Doesn’t care where, Queen’s Park or City Hall, as long as it’s an office. And public. pickadoorI’ll be very surprised if he’s the only unelected, unsuccessful provincial candidate who tosses his hat into the municipal campaign ring before its September deadline.

This kind of campaign juggling strikes me as lacking a certain commitment to, I don’t know, a cause. A passion for politics, maybe, but generalized, unfocussed. The thing that motivates you should dictate the level of government you aim for. International affairs or development? Federal. As a school board trustee, Kathleen Wynne has said it was the Mike Harris attacks on education that pushed her into provincial politics.

That might be too harsh or over-simplified. One of my favourite city councillors, Gord Perks, first ran for public office at the federal level. careerpoliticianThere’s obviously something to be said about learning the ropes of the campaign trail, taking it on the chin a few times before getting it right.

But, in the end, if a candidate is fortunate enough to win an election, there should be some passion for the office they step into. I’d be much more content with a city councillor who’s something of a lifer because they love the job they do and are good at it than someone just passing through municipal politics as a stepping stone to where the real power lies. That’s self-serving not public serving.

And it’s the kind of thing that gives career politicians a bad name.

testily submitted by Cityslikr


What On Earth!

June 24, 2014

In a post-canvass discussion with Paisley Rae, talking about community and city building, she pulled this gem from the recesses of her memory.

There’s really nothing more I can add except to say that, here we are, 48 years later, and not a whole lot has changed. For many of us, it remains a 1966 mindset. The satire is timeless and note perfect.

This one goes out the councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Michelle Berardinetti.

Enjoy!

side-splittingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Question Of Numbers

June 23, 2014

Last week, the final 2014 property tax bill notice arrived in the mail for my perusal. taxbillIt always delivers a brief moment of confusion when I think, Do I have to pay this now? Don’t I pay my property taxes through the bank in monthly installments? Why isn’t my bank making my property tax payments? I’m going to phone them and give them a piece of my mind…

And then, oh right. Property tax bill information. It’s just the final bit of accounting from the city, showing me all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

Included in this statement is a small pamphlet, informing the taxpayer about extended call centre and cashier counter hours, various tax relief, rebate and appeals processes, and one page detailing where exactly your tax dollars are being spent. This is a breakdown based on a house with “an assessed value of $499, 521”. Amounts may vary slightly according to the value of a house but you get the general idea of where your hard earned tax dollars are going.

The first thing you notice, if you’re looking closely, is the breadth of services and programs you get in return for paying your property taxes. The police, public transit, roads, parks, libraries, fire, EMS, children and elderly care, a zoo or two. But wait. budgetpieThere’s more.

City council, city planning, economic development and culture. Public health. Housing and shelter support. Employment and social services. 311.

All this (and more) for the low, low price of $2598.71 a year, if your home is valued at about $500,000. $216.56 a month. $7.22 a day.

If you never, ever use the TTC, living in your half a million dollar home, it costs you just over a dollar a day to keep other people from hopping in their car to get to work, and freeing up that much more road space. At 32 cents a day, our library shelves are kept stocked. You want to find out what exactly goes into the green bin or lodge a complaint about that massive pothole in front of your house? dothemathThat’ll be about 2 cents a day to keep 311 operational.

There are some troubling numbers, for sure, in our budgeting breakdown. We could wonder why we spend almost $300 a year more (again, based on a house valued at $500,000) on the police services than we do on 5 categories of social services that might keep our streets and homes equally safe. Should the police services be this city’s biggest single line item in the budget? By a significant amount, let me add.

It’s certainly a worthy conversation to have but beware the politician who tells you there’s a quick fix. Policing and police budgeting is a thorny matter, covering at least a couple jurisdictional territories. Untying such a knot won’t be an easy task.

When it comes right down to it, there’s no such thing as an easy task with a $10 billion annual operating budget. Always there’ll be more demand than the resources at hand. Making tough choices is simply part of the gig. But we could go a long way to de-mystifying the process if more of us took a moment, checked the numbers to see what services and programs were actually costing us on a yearly, monthly, daily basis. Evaluate them on a pretty straight-forward cost-to-value measurement. budgetneedsIs this item worth it to me, my community, my city?

Bring it down to a more manageable scale. Hundreds or tens of dollars rather than hundreds of millions or billions. This is what that service will cost you and your family, to the penny.

It would make for a more practical debate, freed as it would be from the tyranny of oppressively and mind-bendingly large numbers.

numerically submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Why He’s Called Dorg

June 22, 2014

Here’s how I saw it.perspective

At Friday’s Budget Committee meeting, during the discussion of the final 2013 operating variance report, which contained a $168.1 million dollar surplus, Councillor Doug Ford had a plan. But first he had to actually read the report, skim it maybe.

From where I sat in the room, he hadn’t. This is the vice-chair of the committee, wanting to play with the numbers, who appeared not to have done his homework. He scrambled to find the pages, assisted by the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Rossini, sitting beside him. The item located, the councillor flipped through it. You could almost hear him mumbling the words as he read them.

Now, if I’m wrong in these observations, I’ll happily retract them. It just struck me as a very on-the-fly process, heightened by the fact, Councillor Ford began scribbling out what would be a motion to amend the item. totallyunpreparedHe urged other committee members to take the opportunity to speak to give him time to finish writing his motion. Everyone waited. Staff. His colleagues at the table.

“This one’s going to flatten the City Manager,” Councillor Ford warned, glibly. Or something to that affect. Here comes a patented Fordian haymaker, folks.

Nothing like blind-siding the city’s top bureaucrat as a stable and judicious form of governance. Hey, Joe. Watch this. I’m going completely fuck with the city’s budget and established protocol. That’s how we roll in the private sector.

It isn’t, of course. One would hope Councillor Ford’s cavalier approach to monkeying around with the budget numbers is anything but sound business practice. I’m just spitballing here, folks. Haven’t put a lick of thought into this but what do you think about…

His motion?

Use 20% of the surplus to give a tax refund to the taxpayers. “It’s their money not ours,” the councillor said breezily, outoftheblueas if it made any kind of sense whatsoever. Put a little less money in the rainy day reserve funds. Pay down a little less of the capital debt. Give people back their money. It’s not as if the city has any pressing need for it.

Unsurprisingly, Councillor Ford’s motion was ruled out of order by the Budget Committee chair, Frank Di Giorgio. Any tax refund would change the property tax rate set by city council earlier this year. Only city council could re-open that matter. It couldn’t be done at the committee level.

“Just cut everybody a cheque,” Councillor Frances Nunziata chimed in, as if the room wasn’t already filled to bursting with the dumb.

Councillor Ford was having none of it. He challenged the ruling of the chair. A majority of the committee members voted against the challenge.

“I’d rather see the money go to filling in potholes,” Councillor Nunziata said as she voted along with Councillor Ford, bullinachinashopchallenging the chair’s ruling.

Well, why are you voting in favour of the challenge in order to bring about a motion that would refund some of the surplus, councillor, rather than have it go back into filling those pot–oh, never mind.

It’s not so much the crass, disruptive grandstanding from Councillor Ford that’s so tiresome and predictable. The tax refund motion was simply a variation of his peeling off $20 bills to give to strangers. It’s the sheer laziness of it.

The year-end variance came as no surprise to anyone who pays even the scantest of attention to city operation. Amounts differ. Some years the surplus is bigger than others. fordnation1But you can always count on some sort of surplus.

Councillor Ford has seen it happen during his time at City Hall four straight times yet he bulls into the meeting as if it’s some sort of newsflash, as if he’s too busy toiling away on other parts of his job to have had the time to read through the report, jot a few ideas down. Neither one of those possibilities is true. Councillor Ford is a half-assed municipal politician whose ignorance of how the city functions is only surpassed by his refusal to take the time to actually learn about it.

The blind leads the willful into a state of total incompetence.

In one sentence, pretty much summing up the Ford administration.

— repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr