Here’s Hoping

November 28, 2014

I’m ready to go on record as saying this.acceptance

Maybe John Tory is the mayor Toronto needs at this point of time.

Affable, well-intentioned, not ideologically strident.

A big ol’ stew of comfort food. Haute cuisine stew, mind you. Truffles and duck, with handmade dumplings. No recording devices, if you don’t mind.

There was kind of a, I don’t know, settling, while watching the mayor-elect’s state of the city address yesterday. Campaign sound bites and slogans set aside, replaced by, if not inspirational words, something close to adult conversation. He made a frank admission of the substantial problems Toronto faces – crises, he labelled a couple of them, prioritizing them in a way that seemed to accentuate people not numbers.

Traffic and congestion. Affordability. Child poverty. Unemployment.

Tory pointed out that while spending time on things like cutting councillor office budgets – stopping the gravy train, in other words — were of high symbolic value, it didn’t ultimately make much of a dent on the overall budget. Meanwhile, bus service was reduced. comfortfoodThe repair backlog of Toronto Community Housing grew as did the waiting list for people to live there. Infrastructure aged and crumbled just a little bit more.

It feels like after 4 years of non-stop campaigning, we might actually be sitting down to some actually governing. Not governing simply by default and in the face of a mayor’s worst intentions, but with a mayor’s best ones. Here’s the situation as it is (rather than how I make believe it to be). How do we go about dealing with it?

Don’t mistake my willingness to give the incoming mayor some benefit of the doubt as any sort of ringing endorsement. I remain highly skeptical of his SmartTrack scheme. He seems determined to plow ahead with the Scarborough subway craziness. Sometimes he says a lot of words in quick succession that all sound sensible but when you play them back, they don’t add up to much. He talked about needing to restore TTC services that had been cut and scaled back over the past 4 years. Perhaps think about bringing back buses that, well, were no longer available but, still, maybe there was something we could do, all within the constraints of what money’s available in the budget.benefitofthedoubtjpg

Parse it any way you want, John. Restoring TTC service is about one thing and one thing only. Money. More of it means more service. Less of it? Well, we’ve seen how that goes.

Our mayor-elect remains dogged in his belief that the city’s revenue needs will be met by a combination of long overdue largesse from the other two levels of government and further found efficiencies around City Hall. For sure, the feds and province need to start opening their respective wallets and chip in to help municipalities, and I believe Tory a better ambassador to make Toronto’s case than the previous administration, still… We might want some sort of backup plan in case either one comes up a little short. Again.

As for efficiencies?

After the election, Tory convinced the city manager, Joe Pennachetti, to put off his impending retirement for a bit to help ease the transition. The city manager is on record as saying that, we’re pretty tapped out in terms of efficiencies, there’s not much change left to be found under those cushions. cleanslate1Toronto needs new sources of revenue, he’s stated quite emphatically. Otherwise, expect reductions in services and programs.

Hopefully, he made that point in private to the mayor-elect, as a condition to remaining on the job. Hopefully, the mayor-elect heard him and is merely maintaining his electoral stance until certain budget realities force him to step back and be frank with residents. I’m willing to believe John Tory is reasonable enough to do that.

Right now, he sounds reasonable. Right now, we need to think we’ve elected somebody reasonable to lead the city. Right now, after the past 4 tumultuous years, that’s good enough for me.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Technocons

November 27, 2014

So, a national newspaper columnist, libertarian and city councillor walk into a bar…

(This is going to be the biggest subtweet ever, written in blog form.)

I was following along with a Twitter exchange a couple days ago on the subject of Uber. lurkingI know, I know. More fucking cab talk, am I right? We addressed the topic last week, believing that to be the end of it from our angle of interest. But this discussion revealed some deeper ideological underpinnings to the role of technology and governance.

Stemming, I think, from an article Councillor Gord Perks wrote for the Globe and Mail, Eight reasons why Toronto should push back at Uber – note ‘push back’ not ‘ban’ or ‘rid itself of’ – the Twitter discussion developed into a critique and defense of regulation and the role government has to play in the face of new technology and innovation. For some, it seems, smart phones and the interwebz will save us from government tyranny, allowing us to go about our daily business of hailing cabs, unfettered. Who needs official oversight when you have crowd sourcing?

An old hand with all this new technology stuff, I used the Google to see if anyone had coined the phrase ‘technocon’ yet. givemelibertyApparently not, although I’m willing to accept the possibility I didn’t actually exhaust the search. Technocon is the ideal word, I believe, to attach to conservative leaning, utopian futurists who are banking on technology to eventually reduce government down to the small size they’ve always dreamed of.

I mean, seriously. If God had had a morality app, the 10 Commandments would never have been imposed on us. Users, working it out for themselves.

Such technological fetishism mirrors the kind of perfection these conservative types assign to the workings of the free market. An actual free free market. That flawless element of nature which dwells in harmony with the cosmos until touched by the damn, dirty paws of defective human meddling. Technology, like that of Uber, diminishes the need for such artificial interference in the natural process of commercial transactions. It puts the ‘free’ back into the free market.

Evidently, as consumers, our judgement is impeccable if not infallible. The customer is always right, right? Therefore, what do we need of regulation and oversight?

Technocons put pretty heavy stock in the savvy and good sense of consumers. A taxi service delivers a bad driver? Customer reviews will collectively speak and punish the miscreant, forcing both the company and driver to do better. It’s called self-regulation and user oversight. That’s never steered us wrong before. thefuture1Hell. It’s been hard at work, keeping Uber on the straight and narrow. I mean, if cheaper fares and superior convenience are really the only things that matter.

Unleashing the wisdom of the crowds, we’re told.

But then I think, don’t we already have that? A little something we call democracy. We elect people to enact laws and regulations to strike a balance between competing and various interests. It most definitely isn’t perfect. It needs constant tweaking and adjustments. Updates are always in order.

One single technological innovation doesn’t change that. Certainly a taxi app, of all things, shouldn’t be heralded as ground zero for a transformative change in governance structure. It’s new and may force adaptation by the cab industry. That doesn’t earn it space to simply disregard what’s in place, to thumb its nose at established practices. At least not without expecting, how did Councillor Perks put it? Push back.

The councillor was berated during the Twitter exchange for not being able to think outside of the old paradigm. Uber, Uber technology, he was told, changes everything, everything. Elivinginacave1verything you thought was necessary, all that old, tired ways of going about governing needed to be tossed onto the trash bin of history. To deny Uber was to deny the future. A future that looked to be a whole lot more conservative, small government leaning. Just like technocons like it.

We need to be leery of such stark, simple binary alternatives. It’s either this or it’s that, nothing in between. You’re with Uber, new technology and innovation, progress and the future or you’re standing in the mud, like a stick, stuck in the past, hiding behind the skirts of the nanny state, waiting on the corner, you’re hand in the air, hoping for a cab that’ll never come and if it does, it’ll stink of incense and the driver will ask you for directions to the place it is you want to go.

warily submitted by Cityslikr


Narrowing The Gap

November 26, 2014

I don’t think it’s going to be as much fun, hair-pullingly, jaw-droppingly fun, following a competent mayor as it was, you know, that other, previous mayor. boredThe words, posts aren’t going to write themselves as they once did. Not everything you set out to explain will start with the basic disclaimer: I couldn’t make this shit up if I wanted to.

But I’m prepared to take the trade-off and accept that, in going forward, while things on the mayoral front may be more dry and issues oriented, they’re also NOT GOING TO BE TOTALLY INSANE! TOTALLY, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW, EVEN MAKES JAY LENO SEEM FUNNY INSANE! (Jay Leno’s still doing late night, right?)

Yesterday, mayor-elect John Tory responded reasonably and not in the least big unhingedly when asked about city transportation staff’s intention to start narrowing road lanes where possible to dimensions that improved safety for all users, made extra space available when applicable for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, all the while seeking to reduce traffic congestion by making things run more smoothly if not faster.blowagasket

We all know how the current mayor would’ve reacted. A blustery War on the Car bellow. He would huff and puff and blow hot air all over the transportation department, vowing not to rest until this bureaucratic, downtown elitist plot against all things good and drivey was soundly beaten back to the drawing board.

The mayor-elect had instead at least taken time to familiarize himself with the issue beyond a 4 word title. He was humble enough to admit he wasn’t fully up on the matter but as far as he could tell, the staff was proceeding with the intention of ensuring congestion was not going to be made worse. It might get slightly better, if the mayor-elect understood correctly.

It was a far cry from the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from our mayor over the past four years. Hell, it was even a near cry from Tory’s intemperate (relatively speaking) reaction last week to the news of city staff seeking an injunction against the taxi app company, Uber. This time out, Tory didn’t reflexively react. (I’ve used Uber. Uber is good. Stop messing with Uber.) He laid out his priority. weshallseeThat any change couldn’t cause more congestion. He’d be watching ‘like a hawk’ to make sure it didn’t. If lane narrowing didn’t do that, if it even helped to ease congestion as transportation staff suggested it might, the mayor-elect wouldn’t have a problem with the idea.

I may disagree with what Tory deemed to be a priority. Safety for all users of our streets, and a move toward more equal usage on what is ultimately a public space would be my preference over the rule of private vehicles. Moving people not just cars and all that. “It’s all about safety, not just for the people in the vehicle, but also for our vulnerable road users,” according to the city’s manager of pedestrian projects, Fiona Chapman.

Still, the loudest, dumbest voice in the room wasn’t that of the mayor-elect which, by Toronto 2010-2014 standards, is a step in the right direction. In more combative, always campaigning hands, this plan could have been used as a divisive, wedge issue to pit suburban-urban camps against one another. lookingupThe idea is not a ‘radical’ one, as Tory pointed out. There is no sort of Toronto exceptionalism when it comes to traffic and traffic planning. If it worked in other places, why not give it a try here?

While mayor-elect John Tory remains hawkishly car-biased, that he stepped back and gave room for city staff to do their jobs should be noted and applauded (especially by those of us who are publicly declared non-fans of the man). Who’dve thunk reasonableness would feel like such a breath of fresh air around here. But, you know, there it is.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Not Just Ferguson

November 25, 2014

The world is a terrible place.

At least if you’re born on the on the wrong side of the divide of race, ethnic, gender, socio-economic, geography.

Another unarmed black man’s death at the hands of a police officer will not only go unpunished but largely unquestioned.

We as a society, as a white society, as a society structured on the building blocks of whiteness, have grown comfortable, if not comfortable then complacent with the justification of non-white deaths committed with our knowing complicity.  The non-whiteness was threatening. The non-white religion preaches jihad. Their non-whiteness was sitting on top of the natural resources our whiteness required.

First, white peace, security and prosperity. Then we can talk about justice and equality.

It’s as if we drained Randy Newman’s 1972 song, Political Science, of all its satire and adopted it as a viable playbook.

No one likes us – I don’t know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let’s drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money – but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us – so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them

My historical awareness (and by that I mean, what I first remember seeing on TV) began watching American cities burn, watching black areas of American cities burn. Specifics escape me. I was probably too young to recall the 1965 Watts riots. But Cleveland, Newark a year or so later? Detroit, definitely. It was much closer to home although it might as well been a world away.

1968 happened. Riots, assassinations. To a 7 year old, even a protected, privileged, white kid a couple hours and an international border away from any sort of civil unrest, it felt like – and I’m sure this mostly consists of personal historical revisionism, written with the assistance more than 4 decades of hindsight – things were coming unglued. Order, such as I knew it, was breaking down.

Then, it didn’t.

I’m not a historian, and of course it didn’t all end as abruptly and cleanly as that, but a certain calm re-asserted itself. “… the wave finally broke and rolled back,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote 4 years later in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Revolution was averted. With a few minor tweaks here and there, it was back to business as usual.

As you were, gentlemen.

Nearly 25 years later, I was living in Los Angeles when the Rodney King riots broke out. This time I was much closer to the epicenter, able to stand on the roof of our apartment and watch the fires burn throughout South Central with my naked eye. Still, I stood well behind the protected line of privilege that would’ve been pretty much unassailable if those who’d taken to the streets had even contemplated moving much in our direction.

One or two days in, with a night time curfew still in place, I remember an awkward exchange (coming entirely from my direction) with an African-American woman while in line at our local Ralph’s supermarket. Smiles, some small talk about something that had nothing to do with what had been going on outside in the streets not far away. All I wanted to say to her was that I was sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Shit got burned. Hands were wrung. But nearly another 25 years on, as evidenced by last night’s grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, nothing much has changed.

In fact, I’d offer our resolve to advocate for change has atrophied in the intervening years. We demand only peaceful protests while allowing our local police forces to militarise. We view systemic inequities as a product of personal failings rather than a societal problem that needs to be solved. We point to prominent non-white (and non-male) people and wonder what everyone else is complaining about.

It’s at times like these when I wonder why there aren’t more bombs, more burnings, more violent acts of retribution directed at those of us who continue to benefit from and propagate such a loaded status quo. When the Ebola crisis was breaking wide open in western Africa, we here in Canada busied ourselves preparing for the ISIS threat looking our way from northern Iraq and Syria. Who do we get to bomb and how often?

Our security and peace of mind is paramount. Any perceived threat to that will be dealt with swiftly and impulsively. If Ebola wants our attention, it’s going to have to make a menace video.

In these parts, we, we white we, have had a remarkable run of peace without extending much sense of justice. We’ve shown a growing preference for authoritarianism over egalitarianism. We value diversity as far as it doesn’t challenge our long established hierarchy of power. We crave even the most oppressive kind of order rather than accept the transformative possibilities of disorder.

The rules on which this system of ours has been established are inviolable. Play by them or else. If you can’t be white (and, preferably, male) understand that there’s always a complaints department where you can express your displeasure if you do so in a personable and polite manner. All concerns will be indulged if not actually addressed. Change will come when it’s convenient for us to accommodate it.

Such convenience, as we’ve seen, is a rare commodity these days.

submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club I

November 21, 2014

(Today I introduce a new semi-regular element to the site. Book Club where I review city/urban-centric books from the pile that have been gathering dust here around me, victims of very good intentions but little carry through. I have some trepidation, to be sure, of revealing my towering ignorance of urban issues through this series. But hey, that’s never stopped me before. Besides, these books aren’t going to read themselves, and if they did? They could bloody well review themselves.)

bookclub

*  *  *

It was pure coincidence that I decided to take Triumph of the City with me on my recent trip as well as the September 2013 issue of Harper’s. Yes, my magazine subscription backlog is as impressive as my waiting to be read book pile. Essentially, I’m admitting my eyes are bigger than my brain or self-discipline. harpers0913I wonder if there’s a book to help me with that…

“Saving Your Children from a Harvard Education” (subscription required) was the title of that month’s Anti-Economist column by Jeff Madrick where he outlined a series of crimes against economic theory committed by Harvard professors over the past 3 decades or so. The last example he cited in his piece was the debt-to-GDP debacle foisted on the world by two Harvard academics, Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, which gave cover to governments worldwide to go on an austerity frenzy. Turns out the paper was full of “data omissions, questionable methods of weighting, and elementary coding errors”. An ‘academic kerfuffle’, the authors shrugged although the world still awaits the positive outcome of the austerity measures they helped justify.triumphofthecity

Turns out Triumph of the City’s author, Edward Glaeser is a Harvard appointed professor as well and, I have to say, he doesn’t exactly burnish the school’s cred any with his book.

It’s not that Glaeser is some anti-urban, pro-sprawl, pro-car type like, say, Wendell Cox although he does share the sentiment that housing prices are influenced mainly by onerous land use and development regulations. Get rid of planning rules, let developers build anywhere there’s demand and more people will be able to afford home ownership. Like Cox, Glaeser cites Houston as somewhere that’s doing it right. Build it and they will come. When they come, keep building more. Supply meet demand. Demand? Supply.

Sure, even Glaeser admits, Houston has a huge carbon footprint, in its insatiable need for electricity to keep all those ranch style houses cool in the summer, and the gasoline consumption for all the driving necessary. singaporeBut what are you going to do? It’s the free market at work, am I right?

Glaeser’s analysis of cities seems only partial, using the bits that fit and ignoring those that which doesn’t. While reading the book, I kept thinking it felt a bit Freakonmics-ish, funny coincidences that in no way denoted causality. Unsurprisingly, when checking his endnotes I discovered regular citing of Steven D. Levitt, a co-author of the Freakonmics books.

Singapore and Hong Kong seem to be the model for Glaeser’s ideal city of the future. Density created almost exclusively through tower living. Its simplicity runs at odds to the complexity of most current cities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with skyscrapers, is that all there really is? What about encouraging more midrise growth in places that seems more appropriate? houstonCouldn’t we help fight the negative externalities of sprawl in places like Houston by promoting less single family housing with slightly more dense forms of dwellings instead of expecting New York City to loosen up and allow more tall buildings around the perimeter of New York City’s Central Park?

For such a free market advocate as Glaeser comes across as, he seems uninterested in addressing urban sprawl with any sort of market costing. While he gives a thumbs up to the congestion charges in London and tolls in general, he doesn’t make much of putting a real price on the cost of infrastructure like the roads and highways that are necessary to maintaining single use communities with single family housing, content to claim that housing is affordable simply because the market’s keeping up with demand. detroit1Glaeser also spends surprisingly little time on public transit. Somehow it’s just going to be there as people make their way to their high rises downtown.

I guess that’s what I found most dissatisfying about the book. The lack of, I don’t know, thoroughness to it. Fixes were straight forward, mostly if the heavy hand of government would just keep out of the mix. Glaeser sees slums and tenements as hotbeds of opportunity, where everyone has one innovation in them to fill a niche that will eventually allow them to prosper. He skirts around the role racism has played in the decline of places like Detroit, suggesting its reliance on a single industry was the sole cause of what’s happened. He sees little merit in doing much to help places like Detroit or New Orleans. History has dealt with them. Let’s move on.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on Professor Glaeser. It’s not so much that I disagreed with much of his views and conclusions. horsefeathersThey just didn’t come across as very vigourous. He seemed hidebound and stuck by his laissez-faire ideology. On more than one occasion he presented choices in a simplistic, binary alternative. “As noted earlier,” Glaeser writes re: the public school system, “this problem could be eased by a move either to the left or the right.”

Really?

I guess I just expected more from a Harvard professor. But as Jeff Madrick pointed out in Harper’s, that’s a mistake too many of us make.

— bookishly submitted by Cityslikr


Uber Allies

November 20, 2014

I am what you would call a late adoptor. In no way am I anti-tech. I have a smart phone. I know my way around the internets. lateadaptorMy music is all digital.

But I know I just barely scratch the surface of it all. There is so much more I could be doing, to my advantage. It just doesn’t interest me. I don’t say that proudly. It’s just a matter of fact. I use what comes easily to me. Let’s call it ‘tech lazy’. (I’m sure there’s an actual term for that I’m just not aware of.)

I know even less about the taxi industry here in Toronto. My cab trips are few and far between. One is usually around when I want it. I have no solid price comparison with many other places to know if we’re being gouged or not. My main interaction with the city’s cab happens when one nearly knocks me down or cuts me off in a bike lane when I’m riding around.

There was a big debate this past term at City Hall about taxi licensing. boring2People wearing opposing coloured shirts. I think it had much to do with who owned what kind of license or something or other. Frankly, I tuned out. Let’s call it politically lazy. Since it didn’t have much impact on my life, I couldn’t really be bothered.

So imagine my surprise, sitting here, writing something about a ‘car-summoning’ internet application, Uber, being hit with a cease and desist injunction by the city’s licensing staff for its continued disregard of taxi rules and regulations. Oh wow. Tech versus taxi. How deliciously dull.

Look. I have no reason to suspect that Toronto’s bureaucracy isn’t stodgy and slow-moving in its bid to maintain the status quo. We only have to look at something like the great food truck debate last year as proof of that. Certainly, the staff’s claim of safety concerns in seeking the court injunction ring, I don’t know, a little hollow and manipulative.

And there’s little question too that there are some very vested interests in the taxi game here in town who are well looked after as their phalanx of lobbyists at City Hall can attest to. bureacraticAn argument could be made (by someone much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am) that serious, serious reform is needed. A real shake-up might be nice.

Is Uber the one to do it?

Maybe. I don’t know. I guess we’re going to find out.

Meanwhile, they’ve been breaking the rules in conducting their business in Toronto. 35 by-law infractions, I believe it is to date. They’ve simply ignored them, and carried on carrying on. Toronto is not alone in coping with the new reality introduced by Uber. The company has tended to run afoul of the authorities in many of the places it touches down (as well as some it hasn’t even arrived at yet.)

Somehow though, the city has become the bad guy in all of this.

Even more disturbing is how, to many, the corporate titan Uber has become some sort of saviour. The necessary oomph needed to whip the bureaucracy into 21st-century shape. A righteous vigilante, stepping up, busting heads and taking questions later.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, am I right?

Fine. Renegade away. But spare me the indignation when there’s some official pushback. baretta1You want to flout the law? Deal with the fallout.

Couldn’t the city’s injunction against Uber be something other than just a luddite reaction to shut the service down and box out the future from coming? The company is clearly content to continue ignoring the law, shrugging off each and every bylaw infraction notice. Maybe the injunction is just a shot across the company’s bow. Do we have your attention now, Uber?

You know, if maybe this was some actual David and Goliath fight, I could get more behind it. If it struck me as a justifiable bit of civil disobedience that was out to right some sort of wrong, to make the lives of everyone involved – owners, drivers, customers – better, maybe I might be more sympathetic. Right now, however, it only seems like, I don’t know, more corporate disobedience. I’m a lot less comfortable with that.upyours

There’s a real strain of libertarian thought coursing through the politics of this. If we can do it, why can’t we? Who are you to tell me how, where and when I can grab a cab? Why should some bureaucrat determine what and what isn’t a taxi? Damn your restraints on innovation!

Technology trumps governance.

What the fuck is wrong in saying, look, there are rules and regulations in place here. Obviously, they need to be re-thought according to current realities. Let’s take a step back and sort through this. How can we best try to accommodate everyone’s best interests in this?

Uber doesn’t seem that interested in accommodation. As Ted Graham, “innovation leader at PWC, a professional services network”, told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, Uber’s approach seems to be to flood a market, build up consumer demand and let the chips fall where they may. We’re here. Deal with it. Tellingly, Mr. Graham avoided answering Galloway’s question about why the onus to adapt should be on the regulators and not the company.thefuture

Because… Disruption!

Clearly the plan is working. Many have come to Uber’s defence from a consumer’s standpoint. It’s convenient. For me. It’s cheaper. For me. Why should I have to play by some company’s rules? I want this service. You can’t stop me from having this service. This is the future. You can’t stop the future.

Yeah well, you don’t necessarily have to hand over the keys to the future no questions asked. Who said the future has to be free of regulation and oversight? Grateful consumers not concerned citizens.

stubbornly submitted by Cityslikr


Reshaping Toronto’s Future

November 19, 2014

In the quiet before the hubbub of the new administration at City Hall starts up again next month, retiring city councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby penned an opinion piece in the Toronto Star this week about what could be, arguably, the most important piece of governance business that will emerge next term: ward boundary review.waiting4

By provincial mandate, ward resident populations must be relatively uniform across the city. Toronto’s already been challenged by the Ontario Municipal Board as, I think, the requirement stipulates that no ward can have a population 15% higher than the city-wide average. As it stands right now, a couple wards have grown 30-45% above the average number. On top of which, the current wards and governance structure have been in place since 2000. So a review is overdue.

The process is already underway, with background research beginning last summer. Public consultations start in early December. Final recommendations will go to city council sometime in the first part of 2016.

Why is this so important?

For starters, we should try our best in a democracy to make sure everyone is represented equally. review1As it stands right now (or, at least, as of the 2011 census), Ward 23 Willowdale is home to over 88,000 people. That’s almost double the nearly 45,000 people living in Ward 18 Davenport. Such a glaring discrepancy must affect the relative performance of the respective councillors in those wards to the detriment of residents living in the more heavily populated ward.

Councillor Lindsay Luby is bang on dismissing the nonsense demand to use this review to cut the council number in half. How does it serve anybody to tilt things in the direction of less representation, putting a greater burden on city councillors? It guarantees more of a top down democracy and creates an even greater distance between residents and their local representatives. The city has grown by some 700,000 people since amalgamation. That’s more than 3 Windsors. Having fewer councillors simply waters down local democracy.

In a more abstract vein, given the entrenched parochial sensibilities that have so strongly emerged the past 4 years (Scarborough Deserves A Subway!), it might do us a whole lot of good to look hard at the geographical component of the boundary review. reviewWill it be possible to disrupt the politically exploitable divisions that are based on little more than what are former municipalities? While it would be fun to try, obviously you can’t take a knife and extract, say, Ward 38 and plunk it down on the Mimico lakeshore but is there a way we can shape wards based on current realities rather than previous history? That’s a genuine question. I don’t have an answer but I think it’s worth exploring.

Since 2000 Toronto’s wards have been aligned with federal and provincial riding boundaries, 22 cut in half to make 44. Lindsay Luby suggests that this is ‘less confusing for the electorate’. On that point, I’d differ with the councillor. I think, in fact, it adds an added layer of confusion for the electorate. During this recent municipal campaign, I talked to numerous candidates, and heard it myself at the few doors I knocked on, voters wanting to know what candidate X was going to do about healthcare or the grade 7 curriculum or to stop that damned Stephen Harper. None of which a municipal politician has much of a hand in dealing with.

Such an easy overlap of jurisdictional boundaries can’t help but contribute to an easy confusion in the minds of voters. haveyoursayIt’s a situation that might’ve been exacerbated during this term since the 2010 municipal election we had one federal and two provincial general elections and a host of by-elections throughout the city. Still, I don’t see how aligning local wards with the ridings of the other two levels of government at all helps clarify the roles each play in the lives of the city’s residents.

More cynically, I’d suggest such a configuration only really serves the purposes of the political parties operating at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa. It makes for easy compiling of voters’ lists and helps them in establishing ground games and footholds in areas of the city they’re looking to take runs at during their own election campaign. It encourages backroom party involvement in municipal elections for reasons not always beneficial for the city but very much in the interests of the parties.

What we need from this ward boundary review is a made in Toronto, for Toronto solution. The city needs to establish new political turf (if not an entirely new governance model), free from past grievances and fiefdoms, free from outside interference. buildingblocksGiven the fact that we may have a new voting system in 2018, ranked ballots, if both the province and new council push it through, this is an ideal time to attempt to completely remake the city’s political landscape. The future starts next month.

Have your say. Help redraw the lines. The opportunity to take control of local democracy here in Toronto is soon upon us.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr