The Short Drive From Etobicoke To Brampton

April 30, 2011

Fealty to ideology above all else.

What other explanation is there for Mayor Rob Ford finally wading into the federal campaign to endorse Stephen Harper?

“Folks, so many people said: ‘Rob, why are you getting involved, you’re supposed to be non-political,’” said Ford at a Tory rally in Brampton last night. Umm, what? Who ever told the mayor he should be non-political during the federal campaign? In fact, there was an early push to get him to speak up for urban issues like the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, was doing. I think what Mayor Ford is mixing up is political with partisan. But that’s pretty well par for the course.

The bigger question though is what the fuck the mayor was doing endorsing Harper in Brampton? I know that in his part of Etobicoke area codes may be 416 but hearts and minds pine for the 905. As Matt Elliott pointed yesterday in Ford For Toronto, Conservatives in 905 “… seem crazy for Rob Ford and the “stop the gravy train” stuff…”. (Think the line in Sweet Home Alabama, ‘In Birmingham they love the guv-ner’ and sing ‘In 905 they love the may-yore’. Kind of creepily fits, doesn’t it?) And federal Conservative hopes are pinned in ridings in that part of the GTA, so it makes sense from their end to have Mayor Ford pimping for them. What exactly does the mayor get in return, though?

So the Conservatives snag some suburban seats, enough even to secure a majority government, and if Mayor Ford is seen to have assisted in it, how is that going to help the city of Toronto? Newly installed 905 MPs, working for a government that has no urban agenda, are going to expend political capital fighting to help an NDP orange/Liberal red Toronto? I see a whole world of animosity not co-operation.

Maybe the mayor does too and that’s part of the motivation on his part to get involved. More anti-government crusading conservatives at the levers of power help create a wave of anti-tax and spending. Hey. If the federal government isn’t going to help out with social housing or immigration settlement costs, there’s nothing we can do. My heart bleeds for you but my hands are tied, folks.

Ideological thinking 1, city issues 0.

And if the mayor’s magic doesn’t work in the 905 like it did last fall in 416, and Ford Nation fails to sweep through the greater GTA? Well, no harm, no foul. I’m mean, he’s the mayor of Toronto after all not Brampton or Mississauga. He pitched in to help, even in the face of giving his own city the finger. So you can’t say he didn’t try.

Which may explain why the mayor didn’t insist on the Conservative leader coming right into town, at least once during the campaign. (A sidebar, yer honour? Wouldn’t you be a little offended if, as a mayor of a city, either offering up help or being asked for help during an election, and you didn’t even get the courtesy of a visit to your city? Might you not take that as a slight?) With apparently a couple seats in play here in Toronto, including Eglinton-Lawrence and right on the mayor’s turf of Etobicoke Centre, you’d think Mayor Ford would rally the troops there, in the alleged heart of Ford Nation. Imagine the coup of handing even one 416 seat to the Conservatives. How could that not count as a solid with expectations for an I Owe You One?

That’s the best case scenario for the mayor however, although perhaps not for the citizens of Toronto. Imagine the possible horror that might be inflicted upon us with a newly elected Stephen Harper owing Mayor Ford a favour. But what if the mayor threw his support for Harper at a gathering in his own backyard and didn’t deliver the goods on election day? The vaunted Ford Nation was powerless to turn the town Conservative blue. Might that be a sign that the Nation is no longer so vaunted? That maybe the mayor’s victory last fall wasn’t so much a trend as it was a one-off; a fluke of timing and circumstance rather than a country embracing its far-right, conservative roots.

Publicly backing the Conservatives right here in Toronto and having voters in the city ignore him might take a little swagger out of the mayor’s step and the mayor is nothing without his swagger. He couldn’t risk losing that but somehow still couldn’t refrain from stepping from the sidelines and wading into the federal fray despite there being no discernible upside for the city he purports to lead. The important takeaway message from that is to realize exactly where Mayor Ford’s interests lay. It’s all about self not about city.

Alabambaly submitted by Cityslikr


It Is On

March 17, 2010

Nothing to do with article. Just a nod to St. Patrick's Day.

So if there are Torontonians out there looking for reasons to vote Progressive Conservative in the next provincial election, I think outspoken Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch just provided you one.

Hold on, I hear you saying. Why on earth would anyone in Toronto want to vote Progressive Conservative after the damage their gang of backwood thugs inflicted on the city the last time they were in power? They can’t buy a seat here exactly because of that.

No argument there. It’s just that Wild Bill Murdoch has said out loud an idea that most of us who live in the city only secretly and silently harbor. He thinks it’s time for Toronto to separate from the rest of Ontario and become its own province. As a Torontonian, I have to heartily agree with Murdoch which, in all likelihood, has been and will be the only time such a thing could ever happen.

“The province is run totally by the mentality that is coming out of Toronto. The government of the day can’t get anything done because they are overruled by Toronto,” Murdoch was quoted as saying. Really? You don’t say, Mr. Murdoch. Because from my perspective, deep down the 416 rabbit hole, that comes as complete news to me.

Now I don’t know how exactly power is wielded in political institutions like Queen’s Park. Maybe it’s not about the numbers. But a quick count of the 71 standing Liberal MPPs shows that 19 of them have a 416 area code in the constituency offices. That’s just under 27%. Of the 26 cabinet posts including the Premier who hails from the very non-Toronto riding of Ottawa South, 6 are Torontonians. That represents 23%.

Even if you try to argue that key ministries exert more influence than the actual numbers would warrant, there’s nothing of substance there either. In addition to the premier not being from Toronto, such heavy hitting portfolios like the Attorney General, Education, Finance, Labour, Enivornment and Health are all headed by MPPs who aren’t elected from Toronto. Even the Minster of Municipal Affairs and Housing – the de facto boss of cities – is from St. Catherines.

Not that I’m saying it should be any different. It’s just that I don’t know what the fuck it is that MPP Bill Murdoch is talking about. (I’m sure that’s not the first time someone’s said that, nor will it be the last.) By what standard or measure could Toronto be seen to be ‘overruling’ anything at Queen’s Park under the present government? Show me how that works, Mr. Murdoch.

How be we just disagree to agree. Murdoch thinks that rural Ontario would be better off without Toronto and free to cull coyotes as they see fit. I think Toronto would fare better on its own as well, doing a little culling ourselves, politically speaking. Of tartan tie wearing, hillbilly rubes trapped in the amber of 19th-century thought and beliefs.

There is one hitch, though. Murdoch wants to decouple the province only from area code 416 and take the 905 region with him. It makes political sense as 905 does tilt a little more Tory blue than its downtown cousins. While I’m sure there is a sizable chunk of 905ers who share Murdoch’s disdain of 416 and would happily wash their hands of the place, it’s tough to imagine everyone en masse cutting ties with Toronto. You think the good folks of Hamilton feel a greater affinity for Owen Sound or Nipissing than they do Toronto? How be immediate exburban places Markham or Pickering?

I don’t have the answers but it is a conversation I’d be very willing to have. So thanks for bringing it up, Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch. And let me just say from the outset, it’s not you (yes it is). It’s me (no it isn’t). We’ve just grown apart. Far, far apart.

ready to move on… edly by Cityslikr


Germanically Speaking

March 9, 2010

Zwischenstadt. One of those malleable German word/phrases that can be both laser-like in its specificity and so hopelessly ambiguous as to be utterly meaningless when translated into English. Like gestalt. Or fahrvergnügen.

Coined by German architect and urban planner Thomas Sieverts, zwischenstadt originally referred to the newer outlying sections of European cities that were built around the old historic centres, largely after the Second World War. The places where urban and rural meet; the ‘sprawl’ on the margins of a city. Adopted and then adapted for a wider non-European meaning, zwischenstadt came to mean the Edge City to Joel Garreau and a Technoburb for Robert Fishman. Ed Soja’s zwischenstadt was Exopolis.

For our purposes here, let us think of zwischenstadt as what is called an ‘in-between city’. These are the largely residential post-war suburbs that sprung up around the inner downtown core of Toronto and once were on the edges where urban met rural but are now sandwiched between the downtown core and the newer, more prosperous suburbs that make up the 905 region. Places like Scarborough and North York that, to borrow a phrase from Julie-Anne Boudreau, Roger Keil and Douglas Young in their book Changing Toronto, operate “in the shadows of Toronto’s glamour zones…”

What’s that? Markham, Pickering and Vaughan? Glamourous?! Yes 416ers, for a good many people, you are not the only game in town as much as that may bruise your collective egos. The in-between city possesses neither the allure of downtown gentrification nor the shiny newness of big houses on big lots in the exurbs.

While both the outer ring and inner core of what is now termed the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have generally flourished overall during the era of globalization and neoliberal economic policy rule, large sections of the in-between city have fared less well. We now talk of the frayed suburbs and their high priority neighbourhoods that are underprovided with both resources and organization. These are the parts of the city hit hardest when the economy nosedives and the last to reap any benefits that trickle down when times are good. When talk turns to the in-between city, it usually involves crime (Summer of the Gun) or economic insecurity.

A school of urban thought believes that the in-between city suffers from the consequences of our adherence to “… the myth of the ideal compact city…” as Boudreau, Keil and Young refer to it in their book. The suburbs seen as mere satellites of the central core, providing space and more affordable living to those who serviced the needs of downtown. Now with the phenomenal growth of the regions even further on the periphery, the in-between city is neither here nor there. It just is. Its needs and issues, as usual, subservient to those of the core or lost in the tug of war between powerful 416 interests and those in the 905.

Certainly the inner-ring suburbs are receiving little attention so far in the municipal election campaign. The battle lines have been drawn between the wealthier enclaves of midtown Toronto, Etobicoke and North York versus those living between St. Clair and the lake. In the increasingly vigorous move to the right by the leading candidates for mayor and their calls for cuts and freezes at City Hall, the needs of the in-between city like public transit and affordable housing are, in fact, coming under threat.

Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi has touted his City Builders Fund where he would direct 50% of additional fees that the city receives whenever a development goes beyond existing zoning laws into community projects in high priority neighbourhoods through the Toronto Community Foundation. This is fine as far as it goes but it is simply more of the same approach; public financing dependant on private money and will. It’s highly discretionary and often times a one shot deal that undercuts the notion of an overall plan. There’s no vision.

Without vision, Toronto will continue to stumble along with the increasingly familiar widening gap between the haves and have-nots. There will be those living in the city and those who live in the in-between city. Such an imbalance can only adversely affect our ability to contribute to the region’s growth as a vital economic and social centre. Moreover, by giving into the fiscal pressures of naked self-interest, we are undermining the system as a whole and threaten the very, as I think the Germans might say, gestalt of our city.

Teutonically submitted by Acaphlegmic


Fun With Numbers

February 27, 2010

With all the talk of Toronto’s looming economic apocalypse, I decided to submerse myself in a little policy wonking. I hunkered down with both the Toronto Board of Trade’s early February report, The Growing Chasm: An Analysis and Forecast of the City of Toronto’s Finances and a CUPE commissioned paper from economist Hugh Mackenzie entitled, Reality Check: Toronto’s Budget Crunch in Perspective. Two opposing points of view; two tales of two cities.

Now, I am no economic whiz. Numbers, pie charts, graphs and stats tend to make me break out into a cold sweat. Like most of us, I can be baffle-gabbed and hoodwinked when set upon by numerical waves. So in no way should this be taken as a valid economic assessment of these reports. Rather, what blinks before you is a general overview of my impression of them.

Firstly and not surprisingly, the conclusions drawn in both papers reflect the opinions and standpoints held by those who contracted, as it were, the reports. As to be expected, I guess. Still it feels a little, how shall I say, unscientific. But that just may be the nature of the beast when it comes to the field of economics as a whole.

In the Board of Trade’s The Growing Chasm, there is no mistaking whatsoever how we must not tackle the city’s dire financial situation and burgeoning structural operating budget deficit. Of their report’s 34 pages, two (#s 21 & 22) are delivered in dark highlighted boxes. Within those boxes is an impassioned plea against commercial property tax increases. According to this study done by Canada’s largest chamber of commerce, businesses in the 416 area code already bear an unfair tax burden and cannot be expected to carry anymore of the load. If future city councils were to try this than businesses would have no choice but to pick up their stakes and move to more tax friendly locations in the GTA.

To the Board of Trade the actual culprit for City Hall’s runaway spending and growing structural deficit are the wages and benefits that are doled out to municipal employees. Of course in his report done at the behest of the Toronto Civic Employees Union Local 416 of CUPE, Hugh Mackenzie strongly disagrees with that notion. His numbers suggest that employee wages and benefits are perfectly reasonable and that, in fact, Toronto’s recent increase in operating expenditures is 4% lower than the increases in municipal expenditures throughout the rest of Ontario.

Again, I can’t decipher the numbers thrown around in these reports well enough to be able to ascertain who’s massaging what figures or who’s cherry picking what data but I am confident enough to say that the Board of Trade’s report contains a methodological blemish that makes me, at least, suspicious about the veracity of their report. Early on in the Growing Chasm it is suggested that the city’s structural operating budget deficit has been around “since at least the start of the decade”. Sounds a little vague. Surely something this important, this ominous structural operating budget deficit, can be traced back a little more accurately than simply “Since at least the start of the decade”?

No matter. The report then bases all its assertions on the numbers gleaned from the 2002-2008 period. The end number, 2008, is reasonable as it is the last year for which the statistics are available. But why start at 2002? Why not begin right at amalgamation with the birth of the megacity before the structural operating budget deficit reared its ugly head in order to give us a full and complete view of the city’s finances from day one? 2002 seems an arbitrary snapshot as if the Board of Trade needed just that time frame to prove their point. It’s analogous to someone trying to establish the fact that the ancient Romans were poor builders of edifices by pointing out the shoddy condition of the structures from, say, 1945 to the present day.

Or maybe I’m just missing something. Clearly everyone in the mainstream press and the front running candidates for mayor have hopped on (the Toronto) board of Trade. There is a Growing Chasm. City Hall has taken part in an unsustainable spending spree! Cuts must be made! Assets sold! Taxes frozen!! Anything less and we will be going to hell in a hand basket while businesses flee the downtown core to the more amenable environs of 905.

No question. No doubt. And no paying attention to that man over there, Hugh Mackenzie, telling you otherwise.

studiously submitted by Acaphlegmic