What I’m Not Doing On My Summer Vacation

July 12, 2016

This is me…

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I’m…

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to…

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… debate public transit, bike licensing, police pride and a horror of other inane, retrograde items. You can’t make me.

To those who will be doing so, wear plenty of protective gear. Lots of bullshit will be flung around.

summery submitted by Cityslikr


In Memoriam

February 19, 2016

I only met former Rob Ford staffer Graeme McEachern in person 3 times, all post-mayoralty, post-2014 election, post-cancer diagnosis. We’d had testy social media exchanges previous to that although I can’t remember on what policy issues. Pretty much any and all of them, I imagine. Our most recent bit of sparring on the Twitter, a few months back, came after having been introduced in person. We disagreed – naturally — on voting reform.

The first time we encountered each other face-to-face was outside a favourite College Street haunt of his, Café Diplimatico. I was walking down the street with the Torontoist’s David Hains, having just grabbed a bite to eat. Graeme was on his way to see his boss in the hospital. “I know who you are,” McEachern informed me after David did the intros. It was said joshingly not ominously. After some pleasant back-and-forth, we asked about Councillor Ford’s health, and some other work related stuff. Graeme wanted me to know he was an avid cyclist, certainly sounding more avid than I was. You see? We have some things in common. (We also shared a dislike of the current administration at City Hall.) “I like how you write,” he told me before heading off. “I don’t agree with much of it but I always enjoy reading it.”

That was nice, I told David as we continued on. On the political level, I wasn’t sure I believed the part about him liking my writing. You assume compliments to be nothing more than smoke being blown up your ass, no matter where on the spectrum they come from, but it was a friendly gesture, nonetheless, totally unsolicited in the situation and unnecessary on Graeme’s part.

The next time our paths crossed was just outside City Hall. I was going to a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting and was wheeling around to a bike stand when this voice boomed out from under the stairs of the southwest corner of the building. “Cityslikr!”

I, of course, didn’t immediately recognize Graeme which happens with increasing frequency these days, in my dotage. Once again he was gracious with my blank look, re-introducing himself. I apologised and joked that it was appropriately troll-like that he popped out at me from under the stairs. He laughed. We talked a little bit about the meeting that was about to begin. There was an important item on the agenda although now, I’m at a loss to remember what it was. We chatted a little bit more about other stuff. Graeme told me he was a staunch conservative raised and surrounded by a family of lefties. He again assured me that he liked to get around the city on his bike as much as I did. After some more small talk, he went back to work and I went off to the meeting.

The last time we met up was a little bit before Christmas, again on the street outside the Café Diplimatico and again I didn’t immediately recognize him when he said hi although, this time in my defense, I had had more than a little something something to drink and wasn’t operating at peak performance. It was shortly after a second tumour had been found on Rob Ford’s kidney and he was heading back for another round of chemotherapy. Graeme was upset at the news, telling me that with his illness, his boss had turned the corner on some of the other struggles in his life, the addictions, so the most recent diagnosis felt like a real body blow.

We chatted a little bit more about this and that. I suggested we should grab something to eat or drink sometime, sort through all the problems in the world. “Let’s do that,” he said.

Of course, we didn’t. What with the busy holiday season and then me heading off shortly afterwards down here to Los Angeles. You know, life, and good intentions regularly taking a back seat to… just stuff.

That’s sad because, despite our mountain of differences on just about everything, politically speaking, it would’ve been great to get to know Graeme a little bit more. We’d all probably benefit learning to understand what makes those across such a hug divide tick. Especially someone like Graeme McEachern who seemed so passionate about the causes and politicians he believed in. I could only wish to be so engaged in something so ferociously.

submitted by Cityslikr


The Face Of Our Political Age

December 31, 2015

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The year (in) ahead.

I fear that this is the face of politics in 2016. Out of context it looks like pure, unadulterated joy. Unrestrained happiness, unfiltered exuberance.

But… but…

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Pull back and it doesn’t look so benevolent. Joy becomes unhinged. This is the face of someone capable of anything. Open to any possible suggestion, no matter how malicious or nasty. “Sure, strange man in the red ball cap, you want to crush this baby’s head in your hands? I offer up the child to you.”

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With no elections for us here for at least 2 years, perhaps we’ll be spared the worst excesses on the political scene in 2016. We can sit back in sort of bemused detachment, watching the grand spectacle to the south of us, although no longer smug in the knowledge that such a thing, to such extremes, could ever happen to us here. We’ve seen this face before. We’ve worn this face. It does not lead to anything good.

auld lang synely 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


Strictly For Wonks

April 9, 2013

Government Management Committee.

Yes, it is as dry as all those words on their own might suggest. bonedryPut together? Well, the Sahara fucking desert.

Yet, this committee deals with the nuts and bolts of how City Hall functions both inside its curved walls and outside. Why, just yesterday the agenda was full of such diverse items as property tax shirkers and parking ticket miscreants to building a bike station at City Hall and TTC pension plan mergers. Most of it isn’t headline grabbing stuff but it’s all got to get done for the place and the institution to function properly.

Or, in short, from the city website: This committee has a focus of government assets and resources, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on the administrative operations of the City.

From a City Hall watcher’s perspective, this Government Management Committee got council chambers and committee rooms wi-fied up and there’s talk of installing more electrical outlets for ease of keeping computing devices charged. nutsandboltsIt just pushed for extending live streaming of all committee and community council meetings before 2014. And word is, they’re pondering granting media accreditation to council social media types which, from our very subjective viewpoint would render the process meaningless. I mean, come on. It’s bloggers we’re talking about. Those people are hacks.

As committee chair, Councillor Paul Ainslie was quick off the mark to embrace many of the electoral and civic reforms that came out of Dave Meslin’s The 4th Wall project including looking at using ranked ballots in municipal elections. Clicking through the committee’s agenda over the last little while, it’s hard to tell exactly where those items are sitting right now and it’d be nice to know that they haven’t simply been buried. But I’ll give Councillor Ainslie the benefit of the doubt because, well, he seems like a sensible guy who knows better than to get on Meslin’s bad side.

Councillor Ainslie also seems to run an affable meeting. He doesn’t huff and puff, is courteous with staff, fellow committee members and deputants. If I were writing copy I’d say something like Committee Chair Ainslie makes boring Government Management stuff fun! fineprintMaybe even with two exclamation marks.

He does get some help from Councillor Doug Ford in the fun department, although the mayor’s brother does provide a different sort of fun. More of the laughing at than laughing with kind of fun. In many ways, the Government Management Committee is the reason the councillor came to City Hall. To Lean Six Sigma his ass all over procurement practices and squeeze out every ounce of gravy he can find.

The committee also offers up Councillor Ford the opportunity to rail about out of control spending like the budget of the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. Or the construction of a bike station at City Hall in place of perfectly unused parking spots, complete with, and get this…”Vince! You gotta come here, they’re building showers!” Showers! For bikers! Can you get any gravier than that?

But with the chair siding with the lefties on the committee, councillors Mary Fragedakis and Pam McConnell, Councillor Ford and his buddy Vince (Crisanti) did not win the day. That may have to wait until the one missing committee member, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, returns from the DL. boringmeetingHis presence at the meetings must change the dynamics somewhat.

Would I recommend a visit to the Government Management Committee to take in the proceedings?

I don’t know. Did I mention it covers a lot of dry terrain? You have to really love watching people cross their t’s and dot their i’s to get caught up in the action of a Government Management Committee meeting.

Theirs are many of the thankless tasks that must get done, and very much subject to the whims of the much higher profile Budget Committee. (Given the overlap of many of the items, it would’ve made perfect sense for Councillor Ainslie to seamlessly transition into the role of budget chief. Alas.) Government Management Committee might not be the place to start your journey through the committee meetings but be secure in the knowledge that six councillors are dedicating their time to getting `er done.

appreciatively submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto

March 4, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

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Last week after wiggling off another over sight hook at the Compliance Audit Committee meeting, Mayor Ford took some time to talk to the media. The Globe and Mail’s Elizabeth Church reported an interesting little tidbit the mayor passed along. “The suburbs, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough,” Mayor Ford said, “these people are obviously right of centre.”

It is a wholly unsurprising view coming from a right of centre politician who doesn’t do nuance. A world that can simply be broken down into two camps, right/left, suburb/downtown. letatcestmoiThe suburbs, c’est moi.

The statement is worth further scrutiny. Certainly the federal Conservatives made inroads onto Toronto’s electoral map last election, winning 8 of the city’s 22 ridings, all of them in the inner suburbs. But their counterparts at Queen’s Park were shut out both in the suburbs and downtown in the provincial election that followed less than half a year later. Twenty-two seats. Zero representation.

So I think it’s more accurate to say that ‘these people’ in the inner suburbs of the former municipalities Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York will vote conservative but it depends entirely on the situation. In the 2010 municipal election, they embraced Rob Ford’s conservatism. In the spring 2011 federal election, they were warm to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. In the fall 2011 provincial election, they gave Tim Hudak’s PCs the cold shoulder.

At the municipal level, while the inner suburbs loved both Mel Lastman and Rob Ford, they weren’t vehemently opposed to David Miller. In the 2003 election, Miller won wards in York, Etobicoke and Scarborough. mayoral2006When he was re-elected in 2006, the only wards he didn’t win in the city were the two in Don Valley West.

Despite Mayor Ford’s hope masking as a claim, there are no hard and fast political divisions in drawn along party lines in the city. Tendencies? Sure. But by their very nature, tendencies tend to be fluid, fluctuating on a case by case basis.

The key to Ford’s election success in 2010 had less to do with uniting Toronto’s conservatives under his banner than it did corralling the former suburban municipalities back into the fold. Four years earlier they had all supported David Miller and the Ford campaign artfully convinced them they were the worse off for it. Out of control spending all directed to the downtown. $12,000 of tax payers’ hard earned money spent on a retirement party for some councillor from downtown. resentmentTime to stop that gravy train, folks.

It was an appeal to geographic tribalism. Suburbanites unite! Put an end to the profligacy the downtown elite have been showering upon themselves for the past seven years.

Look at two of the key members of the mayor’s administration, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Speaker Frances Nunziata. Fiscal conservatives for sure but also the last mayors of their respective cities before amalgamation, Etobicoke and York. These are two politicians steeped in the history of big ticket items like transit, police and emergency services being looked after by a second, city-wide tier of local government. A time also when senior levels of government were not absent on other issues like social housing.

City government for the likes of Doug Holyday and Frances Nunziata was about keeping property taxes low and programs provided on a pay-as-you go model. There was no need for all that spending they then witnessed as amalgamated councillors. What was good for their days in Etobicoke/York/North York/Scaroborough was good enough for the megacity of Toronto.

It is the gasping of the past unwilling to come to terms with the present reality. A city of 2.7 million people does not, cannot be run like cities a fraction of that size. Economies of scale give way to a critical mass. Big city. Big numbers. metropolisandmayberryAttempting to roll those back is not some act of civic heroism but simply a dereliction of duty.

Councillors Holyday and Nunziata, along with the mayor and his brother and a few remaining hardcore loyalists remain convinced the amalgamated city of Toronto can operate in the frugal manner the former inner suburban municipalities did. Notwithstanding the glaring holes in the social fabric this approach brought about – high priority needs neighbourhoods, a lack of public transit, aging, malfunctioning infrastructure – this method of governance threatens the well-being of the entire city now. Rather than moving in a direction that brings issues of mobility and liveability up to higher service levels, the Ford administration is attempting to reduce them the barest of bones.

Conservative or not, I don’t believe that’s what voters signed up for when they backed Rob Ford in 2010. While urban-suburban differences may be many, I think on fundamental questions of fairness (no, subways are not about fairness) and good government, reasonable Torontonians, regardless of political stripe, can agree on the fact the Ford administration is delivering neither. That’s something a majority of this city should be able to unite around.

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submitted by Cityslikr


A Special Corner In Hell

December 15, 2012

I can’t even…

Now seems like just about the right time to start doing exactly that.

submitted by Cityslikr