Transit School

October 1, 2012

We attended class on Friday about the state of transit in Toronto and the GTHA and submitted our final report on it today in the Torontoist. You should totally check it out by clicking on this link.

studiously submitted by Cityslikr


A Year On

August 22, 2012

Tommy Douglas. David Lewis. Jack Layton.

Something didn’t quite sit right with me when Olivia Chow talked about the giants of this country’s progressive movement while discussing her husband on the first anniversary of his death today with Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway. Sure, Layton took the NDP to political heights it had never achieved before. The outpouring of grief, admiration and outright love toward him in the days leading up to his funeral was immense. It was hard to fathom such a positive reaction to a politician in these our cynical times.

But, Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Jack Layton?

Now, I’ll grant you the problem of perception could very well be my own. I was much younger during the twilight of Douglas and the Lewises. Everything seems bigger seen through youthful eyes. Politics and politicians operated on a grander scale. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Arguably the last successful politicians that swaggered onto the stage, full of big, world changing ideas were conservatives, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney. Think about their respective successors. Tinkerers. Technocrats. And much, much worse.

Yeah, and the music, movies [fill in the blank with whatever cultural reference] were all better back in the olden days too, right old man?

No. But here’s the thing.

The last of the big politicians with their big ideas brought with them the one big idea which would diminish future big ideas and big politicians. That was the triumph of the free market. The abstract, Milton Friedman theory of unfettered capitalism that, if untouched by the soiled hands of regulation, would float all boats. From which sprang the sentiment of government being the problem not the solution. Or, “… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.”

Everybody for themselves. Success measured not by contribution to the greater good but by accumulation of stuff. The triumph of the private over the public sphere.

Ironically, this political-economic philosophy supposedly based on the centrality of the individual actually reduced the majority of people to little more than supporting roles. They became merely part of the process rather than the focus of it. In the parlance of our times, we aren’t viewed as citizens but consumers or taxpayers. The strength of our neighbourhoods, communities, towns, cities, countries is now measured by the health of our healthiest members not by that of our weakest.

That is where Jack Layton comes in.

His big idea was really quite simple and revolutionary too, when it was introduced more than 2000 years ago. When we turn our backs on the welfare of others, we turn our backs on the very thing that makes us human. Thatcher’s notion that there is no such thing as society is total revisionist bunk as anyone who takes even a moment to glance through our history can see.

We did not prosper as a species because of herculean individual efforts or personal feats of wonder. Left alone to fend for ourselves, we would’ve been picked off one by one on the savannah. Humans succeeded through a group effort. The group is only as strong as the health of each member.

In fact, we are at our worst when we idolize the individual. Such idolatry leads to demagoguery. Clans clash with clans. Tribal warfare brings out the most inhumane in us.

It’s not lost on me that I write this in praise of, well, a particular individual. But Jack Layton was one who dedicated his life to public service in pursuit of bettering the lives of all and not just the few with the vain hope that the benefits would rub off or trickle down. This is what unites him with past leaders of his party, his movement. Strengthening society by strengthening the opportunities and possibilities of every member of it.

If we strive to achieve in spite of others, the benefits are of limited value. To strive to achieve because of others, with the help of others, that creates a lasting ripple effect that outlives any one individual. A year on, and that is Jack Layton’s continuing legacy.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


No Girls Allowed

May 24, 2012

Can I tell you something?

Sitting in the audience at last night’s decidedly un-sausagefest panel discussion, The Comments Section, brought to fruition by the relatively new to the scene Women in Toronto Politics group (#WiTOpoli), I found myself feeling very much the bystander… bysitter? My Blackberry deliberately stuffed into my back pocket, it wasn’t a discussion for me to participate in. I came to listen.

Not owing to any sense of condescending chivalry or politeness but, frankly, it mostly had to do with my surprise this conversation even needed to be aired. The talk wasn’t directly about the obstinately immoveable low numbers of women actively pursuing a career in politics although that problem certainly bubbled below the surface of much of what was being said. The evening’s main topic was the low percentage of women finding space to have their views on  municipal politics heard, clogged up as it is by those of us possessing penises. (No, that word didn’t come up. I just used it because I don’t get to very often especially in its plural form.)

Come on, I thought to myself. We’re talking about the wide open world of social media here, the Twitter and Facebook, the blog-o-sphere. Why, even I, an outsider to the world of local Toronto politics, just sat down and started to read, watch and write about it, and two and a half years later, here I am, having reached, well, not dizzying heights but I’ve made a name for myself. I mean, Councillor Josh Matlow knows who I am and, apparently, he doesn’t care for my work.

This is as democratic as it gets, ladies. Meritocracy rules. If you can’t make it here, you won’t make it anywhere.

Of course, in the microcosm that is Toronto politics, we now have a mayor, the scion of wealth and privilege casting himself as the underdog during his successful campaign run, the down-to-earth feller who just wanted to be mayor so he could look out for the little guy. (No, not that one. The actual little guy. I mean, I think that’s what he meant.)

If a rich and, arguably, the whitest of white guys can winningly embrace the mantel of the triumphant outsider, what room does that leave for those who are actually on the outside? Guy claiming to be powerless railing against a guy in power. Sort of a variation on cock blocking. Keep it down a bit, girls. Can’t you see we’re fighting amongst ourselves here?

The hyper-testosterone driven aggressiveness of the current administration probably also contributes greatly to the boys’ clubbiness of the political atmosphere. From the get-go, the language and attitude has been confrontational, regularly descending into little more than a pissing match between supporters and opponents. With a War always going on about something or other, it’s hard not to see a men’s game at play.

Now I’m not crazy for the… a-hem… a-hem… broad gender generalizations. I know as many outspoken and feisty women who like a good knock `em down and drag `em out debate as I do soft-spoken and reticent men. So I wouldn’t say that the tenor of the political discourse in Toronto has kept some women on the sidelines. But perhaps the tone has.

I’ve been referred to nastily in various ways over the course of my time at TOpoli. Never, however, has my gender been attacked. You fucking guy doesn’t quite have the same personal sting as you fucking bitch. Too many times have I seen gender become an issue in the heated debates that flame up on social media sites. Gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity.

All problems with which Mayor Ford has stumbled over during his 12 years in public office. So it’s not taking a big leap to suggest his attitude has fostered an antagonistic straight white male mindset into our politics. More malignantly, an aggrieved antagonistic straight white male mindset that lashes out at any demand to think more inclusively.

And his female troubles are especially pronounced. His Executive Committee is heavily male dominated. One of the two females on it, Councillor Jaye Robinson, has announced she’s stepping down at the end of the year and, if she’s not replaced by another women – it’s difficult to see who’d willing step into her spot at this point of time – there will be one woman on the committee.

Not only that, but in the last election the Ford campaign targeted a number of sitting councillors for defeat, three of whom were women. Councillors Maria Augimeri, Gloria Lindsay Luby and former councillor Suzan Hall who they did help unseat and replace with a Ford friendly face Vincent Crisanti. That would be Mister Vincent Crisanti.

I think it’s safe to say that Ford Nation is not terribly female friendly. While that hopefully will inspire some pushback activism, it also creates, I would imagine, something of a hostile work environment for those women willing to step into the fray. It’s one thing to dedicate time and effort into a cause with the expectations of a spirited and vigorous debate but another thing altogether to find ugliness lurking under every bridge you cross.

It would be foolish, however, for me to lay the blame solely at the feet of the Ford administration for the barriers women are feeling in getting heard around these parts. By not recognizing them myself, I help keep the obstacles in place. Even this post I write hesitatingly for fear of appropriating their terrain and horning in on the action Women in Toronto Politics are attempting to generate.

But I do believe there’s plenty of space at the table for new players, lots of ground still to be tilled. Regardless of who’s in the mayor’s office, Toronto is facing problems and opportunities that cannot be solved or taken advantage of using old methods of thinking or ways of seeing things. Putting new wine into new wineskins and all that.

So if you’re out there, reading this, wondering if it’s worth the effort. From my protected harbour of white maleness, let me assure you it is. And I offer you space here if you want to test the waters, see how it feels or just simply want to get something off your chest and have nowhere else to do so at the moment. It is a humble offer, no remuneration and not tons of eyeballs but it is a friendly place. It is a start in the right direction.

manly submitted by Cityslikr


Constructive Disengagement

April 29, 2012

I am swearing off futile Twitter fights. Again.

In January, I resolved to do just that. Our friend David Hains wagered I wouldn’t stay quiet more than a couple weeks. His guess was off wildly. I was back at it in a matter of hours, not content to just let stupidity, ill-informed opinions and spinning smears go unanswered.

My rational was a variation of the quote attributed to Mark Twain, A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. Even the most egregious untruth and piece of outright fiction can gain traction if not aggressively contested. Don’t let bullshit lie.

I’m not unaware of the niche market Twitter currently occupies in terms of social media in general and political discourse specifically. Edward Keenan wrote about the divide between the on the ground reality and Twitter bubble in The Grid last month. What may seem of the utmost importance to those of us getting much of our Toronto political news via Twitter is but a passing blip on the radar of a great majority of the city voters.

So don’t sweat the small stuff, I guess I’m saying.

Besides, I’m referring to the mindless, robotic, ideologically rigid wall of nonsense that I no longer think worth engaging with. On Friday I was having some Monty Python back and forth with Sol Chrom and was reminded of the I’d Like to Buy An Argument sketch. “That’s not an argument. That’s contradiction.” “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is.”

This is what I’m attempting to avoid. Why continue a conversation if you already know what the response is going to be? It’s not so much informed discussion where ideas are batted back and forth on the way to forging an agreement. Ironically, that occurs more between those on the left of centre bubble on Twitter than it does across the entrenched partisan divide.

No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t. It is too you, you lying sack of shit. Repeat and escalate.

There were a couple instances over the last few days where a Twitter argument descended into little more than ad hominen nastiness and vituperative outbursts. To what end? Oh guess what? So-and-so is racist/homophobic/misogynist/fill in your hater of choice here. No shit, Sherlock. Tell us something we don’t know.

It’s ultimately not only a time and energy suck. It’s also more than a little soul deflating. There’s always going to be rank odium existing out there, always surprising and always more pronounced and widespread than you ever imagined possible. Why bother giving it a platform? Don’t hand it a louder voice or the impression of legitimacy by continually responding to it. You already know what the answer is going to be. Nothing’s going to change it.

That’s not to say I don’t want an open and lively debate with those I am not politically simpatico with. Yes, please. But I’m simply not getting it on Twitter currently. Hell, at the municipal level, I’m of the opinion that right wing conservatives simply don’t have it in them to put forth a reasoned, fact based case, taking their cue from Team Ford. We Deserve A Subway is an assertion that needs no numbers or facts to back it up. It’s simply an unsubstantiated declarative that has little interest in consensus or compromise.

So I’ll go about my Twitter business with an eye open for those with differing opinions or who take exceptions to mine, hoping to have a civil discussion but willing to shut it down at the first sign of mindless intransigence. Like this one, that came up on Thursday. A name showed up on the #TOpoli feed I didn’t recognize. Their tweet declared a big fat NO! to road tolls with the claim that motorists already pay more than their fair share for the privilege of driving. I replied suggesting I’d like to see some numbers, studies to back that up. (Hint: probably an impossible request.) A day or so later what I got into my feed was No road toll for Toronto Liberals to waste.

Yeah, OK. So we’re done here. What’s the use of pursuing that line of circular reasoning and baseless opinion? It only leads to burning disappointment and befouled discourse that further digs already intractable divisions.

That’s not something I really set out to contribute when I began writing about municipal politics. So, I’m out of the Twitter tit-for-tat. I’d appreciate it if you remind me of this pledge if I break down and stray from the path.

Thanks.

seriously submitted by Cityslikr


Who Wouldn’t Want A Casino?

April 17, 2012

I joked about this on the Twitter last week. Probably wasn’t the first one. Definitely not the last.

But now it seems to deserve more than the 140 character treatment as, zombie-like, it’s an idea, a dumb idea, a highly unoriginal idea that just won’t die. A waterfront casino cash cow. Ching-ching!

It reminds me of one of my favourite movie lines from one of my favourite 80s movie, Prizzi’s Honor. “If Marxie Heller’s so fucking smart, how come he’s so fucking dead?”

If a casino’s so fucking smart, how come suburban councillors are so fucking dead set against having one in their ward? Never does a council or committee meeting go by when we don’t hear the whine from the likes of councillor Mammoliti or Nunziata or Ford about how downtown gets everything and the suburbs get stiffed. Hey, folks. Here’s your chance. Step right up and claim your casino.

Remember The Great Sheppard Subway Struggle of 2012? Sure you do. Scarborough councillors Ainslie, Berardinetti, Crawford, Del Grande, Kelly and Thompson all demanded that Scarborough residents get what downtown had, subways not no stinkin’ streetcars. They weren’t second class citizens. They deserved first class transit.

Well, where  are they all now? You want something downtown doesn’t have? Here, take the casino. Please. There’s some waterfront out there in your neck of the woods, isn’t there? Stick the casino there, why don’t you.

That's NIMBY not GUMBY

I heard Budget Chief Del Grande on the news this morning, suggesting that the old city of Toronto’s inability to say no is a source of the city’s money woes. Well, here you go, Mr. Budget Chief. Downtown’s finally saying no to a casino. Maybe Ward 39 would like to take it off our hands.

For the casinos biggest supporters, it’s a really good idea in someone else’s ward.

Just like transit planning. As John McGrath wrote about the commissioner of Los Angeles transit, Richard Katz’s seminar yesterday, “…everyone wants a transit solution that other people use.” Or development planning. John tweeted from today’s Toronto-East York Community Council meeting (he’s everywhere, that John McGrath): Councillor [Pam] McConnell, speaking for every deputant against height ever: “This is a beautiful design, for somewhere else.”

Everybody wants the upside — Yeah, whatever. That’s for another post — of a casino, the benefits but none of the headaches. Parking and congestion. Down-and-out gamblers. A Jeff Foxworthy crowd streaming out into the streets, looking for a post-show nosh at a Cracker Barrel.

If I wanted a fucking casino in my neighbourhood, I’d move fucking downtown!

It’s almost as if these councillors all know a casino is little more than a dog and pony show, it’s not really going to contribute much to city’s bottom line but it’s a great way to stick to downtowners. Ohhh, they’re gonna hate this! Like they did tearing up the Jarvis bike lanes, de-fancifying the Fort York bridge and making threatening noises about the Portlands.

In his Metro article today, Matt Elliott pointed out that one of the mayoral campaign platforms of Rob Ford was to give “…more power to local community councils to make neighbourhood decisions.” Instead, we’ve seen a whole lot of imposing their will upon others by Team Ford. Might I suggest that for some of the more vocal, pushy ones, they take a little more time to tend to their own garden, gussy up their own respective wards. That way, perhaps, in the future we won’t have to listen to their bellyaching, complaining how they never get anything.

How about starting with a casino?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

generously submitted by Cityslikr


Supplementary Reading

February 25, 2012

Since I’m sure the Ford Bros. are busily prepping for their co-hosting radio debut on The City, it’s probably good that we do too. Bone up on some facts and figures to counteract the less fact-y figures that’ll surely be flying fast and furious tomorrow afternoon. Write up a long check list of things that the mayor and his councillor brother don’t quite get right.

We’ll probably be hearing a lot about transit during their first show. The whole subways versus LRT (just fancy streetcars) debate. Jim, calling from an Oshawa Tim Horton’s, will regale listeners with that time he drove in downtown Toronto and was stuck for miles behind 9 streetcars that had nobody on them, his surroundings a dilapidated urban jungle.

Because you’ll probably be hearing much of the disastrous St. Clair right of way construction from the Ford Bros. tomorrow (I’m betting at least half a dozen times), take some time between now and then, if you haven’t already, to read James Bow‘s masterful blow by blow account of what actually happened. Full of intrigue and heroism, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that it didn’t turn out to be quite the mess you’ll be hearing nor were the problems that surfaced due in any way to building streetcars in the middle of the road.

It’ll serve as a nice antidote.

 Hyperbole and Axes To Grind on St. Clair Avenue.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Greece Is The Word

February 16, 2012

This may come as a super big surprise to all the regular readers out there but I admittedly wasn’t at my most open-minded in my expectations of the province’s Drummond Report. Its arrival coincided with me reading the last few chapters of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail. Oh good. A former bank economist tapped to tell us how to put our fiscal house back in order while we’re still mired in the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression brought on by the egregious behaviour of our international banking system.

Step 1: tightly regulate your banks and never again believe that, left to its own devices, the free market is a self-correcting entity.

I’m sure that’s somewhere in Mr. Drummond’s 17 million page report.

What I don’t understand is, if this province is in such a pickle (mmmmm…. gherkins) financially speaking, why did the government hem itself in, seeking solutions from only one narrow perspective? Why not throw the doors open to get a variety of opinions and views, not just the one fixated on the capital side of things?

On top of which, “Our mandate precludes us from recommending increases in tax rates…” Run that by me again, would you please, Mr. Drummond? Our mandate precludes us from recommending increases in tax rates…

So, the government wants to tackle their deficit/debt problem with one hand tied behind its back. Despite being told in the report that “The roots of Ontario’s current fix lie in both the economy and in the province’s record of failing to keep growth in government spending in line with revenue growth” [bolding ours], the province doesn’t want to hear a word about one tool for growing revenue? That would be taxation.

Oh, I get it now.

Tap a guy who’s sure to deliver the goods, in terms of some scary, pant load filling, Greece-we’re-right-behind-you scenarios (slyly bringing up a spooky Grecian spectre while denying he’s doing anything of the sort: “By current international standards, Ontario’s debt is relatively small. We are a very long way from the dreadful fiscal condition of countries that have dominated the news over the past two years…Even Greece, the poster child for rampant debt, carried an Ontario-style debt load as recently as 1984”), Leopold to Dalton McGuinty’s Superintendent Chalmers, remove one possible option from the recovery tool box, so that when you come in less heavy with your next budget, we all breathe a sigh of relief and collectively say, well, it could’ve been much worse.

Regardless to what extent the Liberal government attempts to implement Drummond’s suggestions, it has already achieved its purpose. If this province is really serious about righting the fiscal ship, spending cuts are inevitable. Austerity, folks. It’s all the rage. So much so that, apparently, there’s absolutely no need to listen to other opinions on the subject.

Which is all a little strange because, early on in his report, Drummond summarizes how we got to this point in the game. “Ontario’s revenues now do not cover its spending. In 2010–11, the latest full fiscal year, the government ran a deficit of $14.0 billion — equivalent to $1,059 for every Ontarian and 2.3 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP), the largest deficit relative to GDP of any province. This is not because spending is particularly high; relative to GDP, Ontario’s spending is one of the lowest among the provinces.”

Ummm… ? What?

Our spending is already one of the lowest among the provinces relative to GDP and now we’re being told that only by reducing spending even further will we be able to dig ourselves out of this hole we’ve created? Does that not seem, I don’t know, a little counterintuitive? Despite the constant painting of the McGuinty government as a gang of reckless spenders, profligate in scandal, eHealth, ORNGE, etc., etc., we read that, in fact, Ontario’s something of a skinflint compared to our provincial brethren.

Further on in the report, Drummond comes right out and tells us how we got to this point. “The reasons are simple. Beginning in 2003, the Canadian dollar began a strong ascent that lifted it from the persistent lows of the previous decade (around 70 US cents) to the recent highs (around parity with the U.S. dollar) during the past four years, with only a brief dip in late 2008 and early 2009. This surge in the currency made Ontario’s exports more expensive for foreigners to buy and rendered the province’s exporters less competitive, while also making imports cheaper.”

Combined with the ongoing effects of free trade that allow companies to scurry off to lower wage jurisdictions, our higher dollar helped gut this province’s manufacturing base, and those jobs left behind inevitably paid less. There was also that nasty global recession that lingers still like a cold that no amount of Echinacea can kill off. And let’s not forget the purely ideological slashing of corporate tax rates that led to the logical conclusion of a company like Caterpillar closing up shop and taking its record profits to Indiana because its workers here refused to accept a cut of some 50% to their wages and benefits.

So yeah, there are plenty of reasons why Ontario faces a record deficit and debt. Government spending just doesn’t seem to be high on that list. Why are we so intent on setting it up as the main culprit that needs to be brought to heel?

I’d be a little more down with the austerity agenda if there was a body of evidence to back up the notion that it’s the way out of our current dire fiscal situation. But so far, I’ve come across precious little of that. Austerity has not yet proven a panacea for places like the U.K., Portugal or Greece. (h/t to The Inverse Square Blog for the info.) And while it may seem a little early in the process to pronounce failure, I think history remains on the countercyclical side, suggesting it’s still too soon to cut-and-run from the idea of more stimulus, more deficits and debt until the economic outlook is a little less bleak.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be looking at efficiencies and alternative methods of delivering services that give a bigger bang for the taxpayers’ buck. I just think we’re given huge space to one point of view when clearly our economic problems are multifaceted. Cutting government spending is the easiest option on the table right now as long as it’s made political palatable. That’s the purpose the Drummond Report serves. We best ignore it, however, if we’re searching for actual long term solutions.

warily submitted by Cityslikr