If you live in Toronto, do you find you’re frequently asking yourself: Does anything work in this fucking city anymore?
Or is it just me?
Am I just getting older and crankier as old cranky people tend to get?
I’ve somehow managed to carve out a pretty good existence here despite my inherent aloofness to the place. Does anyone really love Toronto? Aren’t we all looking for the first opportunity to leave for somewhere else, the grass being greener and all that. Maybe I’m projecting my, at times, loathing of this city, me, of all people, who sit here, idly clicking away, a largely passive beneficiary of circumstances beyond much of my control, blind luck and timing being the most obvious of examples.
As a rule, Toronto’s dysfunction does not adversely affect my daily life. I have a roof over my head, ample private outside space. I can walk to almost everywhere I need to walk to, bike it in a pinch on streets that aren’t our most treacherous. I exist in the 15-minute city. By every measure, I should be gloriously content with my life in Toronto.
A contentment that depends on living almost exclusively inside my bubble.
Like reveling amidst the ruins.
There are days, man. There are days.
Trashy, trashed streets, and a multitude of people forced to live on them because we don’t have the shelter space that we claim to have to properly house them. A decrepit, anemic public transit system that wouldn’t adequately serve a population half our size. Grand, ever protean plans perpetually on the horizon, always behind schedule and overbudget, with the promise of guaranteed underfunding so that the system will never operate suitably. Congested roads and streets with drivers who, as a matter of fact, Do Own the Road, as a bumper sticker once proclaimed, coddled as such, allowed free rein to wreak havoc on everyone not fortunate enough to be behind the wheel of a private vehicle. Police services remain the top line item in the city’s operating budget, unreformed, unchallenged and unrepentant. Unconstrained growth in small pockets of the city, proof positive of a vibrant Best Of vibe, the claim, yet none of it seems in the least bit managed or planned, no apparent guiding organizational principle at work, more rubber stamped. Parks and other public spaces maintained at the barest of minimum levels, at best, neglected and left unwelcoming as par for the course.
When I re-read that paragraph, I think, Really? It can’t be as bad as all that. Can’t it? Isn’t it?
Take a moment. Look around. Ask yourself: In 2022, does Toronto feel like a better place, a more livable, equitable, cleaner, easier, agreeable city than it was 5 years ago, 10, 20? If ‘yes’, you need to bring receipts to make the claim.
And yet, here we are, just over 3 weeks out from a municipal election and a two-term mayor sits, ready for a cakewalk to a third term. No fuss. No bother. A couple debates and few questions asked.
How is such a thing possible?
Bias on the table.
I detest everything John Tory stands for, have railed about him since the very first post in this blog back in 2010. For me, he represents all that’s ever been wrong about Toronto politics: Smug privilege festered up from a sense of deep-pocketed monied entitlement that has never evolved beyond the Rosedale-Bay Street pipeline. Canadaland’s Jonathan Goldsbie put it best when he wrote, ‘John Tory is what you would get if you asked any random Montrealer to describe the person they’d imagine Toronto would have as mayor’.
Eight years along and he’s seeking another 4-year kick at the can, this time with additional ‘strong mayor’ powers granted by provincial legislation just recently. Behold, and look around ye, he campaigns. Marvel at all I have wrought as Your Worship! Allow me to rot some more!
And barring some unforeseen, almost deus ex machina circumstance, Tory’s a lock. Again, taking stock of the current situation in Toronto, I ask how such a thing is possible?
One partial answer, I think, is that voters in Toronto, certainly voters in amalgamated Toronto, have never taken municipal politics very seriously. In some ways, who can blame them? The monstrosity that was (and remains) amalgamation was undertaken by a mean-spirited, vendetta-seeking provincial government, displaying for anyone paying attention that cities in this province are subject to nothing less than imperial whim and machination by Queen’s Park. Regardless of even our best intentions, city efforts all can be undone at a capricious moment’s notice.
So, why bother?
Toronto voters responded to this reality by first electing a clown show, twice. It ended in international embarrassment and sordid corruption. There followed a clown interregnum, the new mayor valiantly trying to drag the megacity into the 20th-century. That was 2003 and ended 7 years later with a garbage strike. Then, another clown show, this one of the evil kind, again ending in international embarrassment and, even more grievously, the current premier of Ontario.
In 2014, voters decided to put an end to all the civic buffoonery and finally get around to electing as mayor a sober, serious, public-spirited, scion of success, John Tory, oozing perfume-scented noblesse oblige. Finally. Turn this sorry municipal ship of state around. Sensibly. Reasonably. Incrementally. John capital T-capital O-r-y.
You Wont’t Be Sorry. Vote John Tory.
Apparently, in 2022, not enough of us are.
Certainly, the Toronto Star’s Bob Hepburn isn’t. If there could be a more tepid political endorsement of a politician, I can’t remember reading one. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is ‘misguided’, basically a campaign blurb best summed up by former Toronto Star columnist, Christopher Hume:
Perhaps John Tory knows how city hall works, but not so sure about the “how to get things done” part. https://t.co/6AJCYL6M3L
— Christopher Hume (@HumeChristopher) September 29, 2022
Heaven forbid we challenge ourselves by electing someone who, as Hepburn sees Tory’s main rival, Gil Peñalosa, ‘dreams big’. No, no, no. The status quo, regardless of how broken, is how we in Toronto do. Didn’t you know? We’re Toronto the Good. How can that be bad?
What I believe John Tory will be remembered for, after 8 years, 12 years, a lifetime appointment, is 1) his disregard for city planners when he pushed through his re-imagined elevated Gardiner Expressway rebuild (borrowing the nickname from the old Cleveland ballpark, ‘the mistake by the lake’), spending a magnitude more to keep it from being brought down to a more human scale and draining the state of good repairs budget in the process; and 2) complicit with his old nemesis, Doug Ford, the now premier of Ontario, smothering local democracy.
John Tory has already been mayor of amalgamated Toronto longer than anyone else. While the scars this city bears are not all his doing, the recent ones, the ones that still aren’t fully healed, he can’t wash his hands of responsibility although that is something he does best, absolving himself of any and all accountability for anything and everything that’s broken and misused. It’s the province’s fault, he whines. It’s the feds. Covid. Not my jurisdiction.
As a politician, John Tory has always aimed low, his ambitions purely personal which may explain his success as Toronto mayor. He represents the prosperous constituency of homeowners, high-end vehicle drivers, managerial and speculator class members who conflate their vested interests with city’s. If they’re doing well, thriving, the city must be too. After all, Toronto ranks up near the top of the Best Of, Top Of lists in high profile publications that can be found in business lounges of important Canadian airports. John Tory’s Toronto votes with a critical eye on What can the city do for me? rather than What can I do for the city? And John Tory’s Toronto votes.
That’s not to say he’s remade Toronto in his image. John Tory’s simply the logical conclusion of the city’s entrenched and politically re-enforced status quo. It’s the pampered, largely ceremonial role he was born to play.