Eventually You Have To Stand For Something

March 18, 2015

That’s why it’s not C51 that’s the issue. The problem in this country is we have a prime minister called Stephen Harper. And long as he is prime minister, whether it’s the Supreme Court, the workings of parliament, the politicizing of the police force and the walk away from science and evidence, all of these things can be laid at the feet of Stephen Harper. It’s the reason why he must be beat in the election…The focus we need to have in this country, quite frankly, is not on one bill it is on all the legislation which has been problematic. We need to change this government.

Elect Justin Trudeau and the Liberals or Bill 51 gets it! And by ‘gets it’, we mean, gets enacted and implemented by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. You wanna talk about fear now? Fear that.

Vote Liberal!orthebunnygetsit

I sat listening to two of my favourite Toronto political figures, Trinity-Spadina M.P., Adam Vaughan and one of the best reporters around, Desmond Cole, on the latter’s Sunday afternoon talk radio program (where the above quote comes from). Before being elected to Parliament in a by-election last year, Vaughan was pretty much enemy number one of the Rob Ford administration, riotous fun to watch poke great big smoking holes in that clusterfuck we called a mayoralty, sometimes with righteous anger and other times outright mockery. Cole has established himself as a major voice writing (and talking) about the stuff most of us would choose not to think or talk about: racism, poverty and the corrosive effects of poor policing. He’s now taken to sitting for one hour a week in the belly of the beast, hosting an a.m. talk radio show.

Their segment, unsurprisingly, centred mostly around the Canadian government’s proposed bill, C51, their terrorist bill which has generated much (and increasing) pushback. c51protestsThere had been nationwide demonstrations protesting the bill the day before, on Saturday, with the turnout numbered in the tens of thousands. Vaughan had appeared at the one in Toronto, raising eyebrows among some folks, since the leader of his party, Justin Trudeau, has come out and stated that, despite some serious reservations, the Liberals would support the bill. Support it and then change it if elected as the government in this year’s elections.

Once more, the Liberal Party of Canada quakes in the face of theoretical machinations of the diabolical Conservatives. If we do this, then they’ll do that. If they do that, then we’ll look like this.

At a purely crass political level, it’s understandable. c51protests1For the past two elections, the Liberals have been defined to the electorate by the Conservatives, fighting both campaigns from back on their heels. In 2011, the unthinkable happened. They wound up in 3 place, setting out immediately to find a fourth leader to lead them into a fourth straight campaign.

With Justin Trudeau then in place, rather than burst forth with a sense of purpose, driven by, I don’t know, youthful optimism and a truly liberal or progressive agenda, they chose instead a certain tentative amorphousness, nothing which could be defined by anyone especially the Conservatives. Sure, they purged the party of anti-choicers. Trudeau mused about pot decriminalization. But mostly, it was vague generalizations that could not be pinned down.

Nothing anyone could throw a punch at. Equally, nothing anyone could hang a hat on and call home. Just place your worst fears or greatest hopes here.c51protests2

Pretty much the not-conservative politics of our generation. The progressive collapse of vigour and ideas. Hum and haw while licking our wounds in defeat, waiting for the inevitable crash and burn of whatever right wing government is in place. A crash and burn that is inevitable because modern right wing politics is designed to crash and burn, and take everyone around with it.

Tony Blair after the disintegration of Thatcherism. Bill Clinton, post-Reagan. Barak Obama in the wake of W.

We here in Ontario are living it with the McGuinty-Wynne doing little more than smoothing out the rough edges left behind from the Harris years. Much of Toronto’s current woes aren’t due to the Harrisites’ assault but because the Liberals haven’t done enough to fully reverse those policies. Conservatives destroy. nothingleftLiberals validate the principles but deplore the excess.

(Don’t mistake this as some partisan attack. No party on the left, as far as I can see, has stood up strongly enough against the basic tenets of modern conservatism. Challenged its bankrupt orthodoxy.)

So it happens again with Bill 51. Few I have encountered or read outside of Conservative supporters have expressed anything less than outrage, horror, contempt for this piece of proposed legislation. The words of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, appointed by Stephen Harper, as Michael Geist points out:

…the scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the Act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient.  While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive.  All Canadians would be caught in this web.

As a result of SCISA, 17 government institutions involved in national security would have virtually limitless powers to monitor and, with the assistance of Big Data analytics, to profile ordinary Canadians, with a view to identifying security threats among them. In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security agencies to determine the limits of their powers. Generally, the law should prescribe clear and reasonable standards for the sharing, collection, use and retention of personal information, and compliance with these standards should be subject to independent and effective review mechanisms, including the courts.

The scope of the new powers is ‘excessive’. ‘Limitless powers to monitor’ by national security institutions. ‘All Canadians would be caught in this web’.

Yet somehow, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals found enough in bill C51 that they could get behind, support even without changes in oversight or to the vague language defining terrorism. duckandcoverNothing problematic enough to make a political issue out of it. Just go along to get along.

From a strategic standpoint, it may work out for the Liberals. The Conservative government is currently setting itself on fire in a flaming burst of racist demagoguery and other populist nonsense. Support for bill C51, which initially ran high, now seems to be tanking the more people read and talk about it. Perhaps we are witnessing yet another right wing crash and burn. The Liberals might’ve played this one right for a change.

Yet, by mouthing any type of support for the bill, regardless of how guarded or calculated, Liberals again endorsed a conservative narrative. milfordmanThat there is need for increased surveillance, further intrusion into our privacy, perceived security trumps individual rights and freedom. Accommodation not repudiation.

In the above quote, Adam Vaughan runs down a list of offenses committed by the Harper government against the country as proof of why they have lost any sort of authority to govern. It’s long and damning, for sure. But somehow, he wants us to think that such an immoral, unethical government is still capable of delivering a surveillance law with enough integrity to it that his Liberal party can get behind.

That’s the vacuity of our modern day liberalism, folks.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


By-Election Trinity-Spadina

June 27, 2014

Here’s my thinking.thinking

It’s a federal by-election in Trinity-Spadina, right? This is going to make no big difference on the make-up of parliament. I guess there might be some sense of momentum going into next year’s general election but, you know, for what that’s worth.

So I actually don’t have to perform the party-candidate balancing act. You know the one where it’s all, I like the candidate but am unhappy with the party, or vice versa. The lesser of two evils more often than the best of both worlds. There’s no fear that if I vote this way that party will become the government.

That’s going to make it incredibly easy for me to mark my ballot.

thumbsupAdam Vaughan, hands down.

I say, put him in office and see what he can do before we head back to the polls in 2015. How much influence will he actually have in setting the Liberal party’s urban agenda? Will the pressures to toe the line that come with party membership curb the sharp-tongued, outspoken former city councillor?

Truthfully, I have grave concerns about the quality of Justin Trudeau. I’ve yet to see any rigour manifest in him. If Adam Vaughan is elected MP on Monday, I’d eventually like to ask him what it’s like working under the leadership of someone who seems not nearly as smart as he is.

During his time at City Hall, Vaughan did not suffer fools gladly which earned him something of a prickly reputation. Certainly over the course of the last four years, there were plenty of fools to go around, many of them holding positions of power. That never sat well with Vaughan.

Now, I’m not comparing Justin Trudeau to Rob Ford. I just don’t see him as much of a heavyweight although I’m perfectly happy to be proven otherwise. trialperiodI hope the possible presence of Adam Vaughan in his caucus will bring out the best in Trudeau. If it doesn’t, if he doesn’t live up to his commitments to housing and other progressive urban issues that Vaughan has been touting during the campaign, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Exactly how maverick-y will he be willing to go?

And that’s the beauty of this situation, right? It’s a trial period. See how it works, re-visit my decision next year.

Besides, the NDP candidate in the race, Joe Cressy, has made next-to-no impression on me. Zero impact. I have little sense of what’s driving him to seek this office. adamvaughanProgressive ideals, for sure, but what I’m hearing mostly from him right now is party, party, party. The NDP is home to progressive voters. The Liberals long ago abandoned their progressive ideals. There’s only one way progressives could think of casting their ballots. NDP, NDP, NDP.

Oh, and Jack Layton.

But for me, we’re not fighting the last election. We’re getting ready for the next. I have great admiration for the work Adam Vaughan did as a city councillor. I think the Liberal party with him a part of it, will be a better party, a more progressive party than it’s been for a couple decades now.

If I’m wrong about that, we get to do this all over again in 2015.

decisively submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor’s True Colours

December 9, 2010

If you’re one of those people who think our city councillors are underworked and overpaid, I highly recommend that you attend a council meeting or two to disabuse you of such inaccurate notions. While just the tip of the iceberg of what their job description, meetings are grinds with as much, if not more, going on behind the scenes as what we see performed out in the open. Yes, you can point to the laggards, those not actively engaged and who would receive failing grades for class participation. I’d be willing to bet that for many of those, the parry and thrust of debate simply is not their forte. They excel in the multitude of other duties councillors are responsible for. And then there’s Cesar Palacio. I kid. I kid. I’m sure every council needs an invisible non-entity taking up space.

Council meetings can also be extraordinarily engrossing to witness. They’re like visual variations on the Pixies song structure. slowslowFASTFASTslowslowFASTslowFASTslowslow. Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Languor and stultifying boredom. Interminable talk about meal breaks. And then, the proposed schedule comes up for a vote and the seemingly innocuous ‘expedited budget process’ lying there within, suddenly mayhem breaks loose. Amendments start flying. Staff is summoned. Councillors scramble to and fro. Points of order demanded. Points of privilege taken. Rhubarb-rhubarb-rhuarb. Rhubarb-rhubarb-rhuarb. And then… calm. Repeat as many times as necessary. Vote. Adjourn.

Now it’s entirely possible that yesterday’s meeting was something of an anomaly. Uncharacteristically fraught with political machinations, the first skirmishes of a new council that has undergone a radical shift from centre-left to far right. Like a couple boxers in the early rounds of a fight, feeling each other out with jabs and some fancy footwork to find weaknesses and vulnerabilities in their opponents.

Opponents? you say. The election is over. City council should be a place where there is a coming together. A meeting of minds to hash out and seek to solve the problems of the city. Leave your partisanship at the door, buckos. Time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the business of building a better Toronto.

Well, no. While City Hall has never been free of politics (especially since amalgamation), this session is shaping up to take the discord to a whole new level. Starting with the executive committee and working down, senior posts in the Ford Administration are exclusively occupied by right wing councillors. More importantly, they are also almost entirely from the suburbs, meaning that on vital, big ticket matters like the police service and budget, there are no voices from downtown at the committee level. No geographic input for voters who didn’t hop aboard the anti-gravy train train.

And no, before you even try blurting it out, David Miller did not do the same thing (exhibit A: his 1st budget chief was a Scarborough councillor from the right of centre who supported Miller’s rival, John Tory in the 2003 election.) Neither did Mel Lastman so nakedly and insecurely pack his committees with such slavish loyalty for that matter.

On day 1, it worked for Mayor Ford. As he crowed to the Globe’s Kelly Grant, “We got everything we wanted.” Yep. Everything came up Ford on Thursday but not without some surprisingly strong pushback from a group of councillors led by Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks and Janet Davis over the ‘expedited budget process’ that the mayor is pushing, hidden within the council schedule proposal. When amendments were offered to give more time for council to sort through budget matters between scheduled meetings and to hear from the public, Team Ford scrambled hard to get just enough votes to send the amendments to the Executive Committee where they will in all likelihood die an ignominious death. A couple squeakers should give pause to the mayor’s machine that it just might not be as invincible as it thinks it is. Although, judging by the 5 hours or so I sat in council chambers, the mayor hasn’t surrounded himself with many of the reflective types.

No, the mayor’s team in council seems to consist of bitter ideologues more interested in exacting revenge for their exclusion from power during the Miller years than they are dealing with the problems of the city. In fact, a noticeable waft of anti-democracy hangs about them. During the debate over public input on the city budget, the Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, opined that deputations were largely for those wanting to get their face on cable television. Giorgio Mammoliti chided those councillors fighting for proper and extended public input for representing wards where their constituents were little more than public organizers. “The trouble with processes with lots of time in them, is that they allow people to organize,” the councillor griped. What?! The people organized! Well, that just won’t do.

All of which flies in the face of Mayor Ford’s open and transparent City Hall promise on the campaign trail. His ‘expedited budget process’ seems dodgy and unnecessary. Their claim of merely seeking to eventually shift it to a January 1st-December 31st timeline has as many minuses as it does pluses. The haste in wanting to get the budget wrapped up by the end of February (rather than the usual April) appears to be driven more by stealth than any sort of respect for the taxpayers.

Of course, that seems absolutely preposterous. Rob Ford campaigned on a platform of looking out for the little guy. Surely, his objective now that he’s in office wouldn’t be to exclude them from such an important civic matter as the budget. Because that would mean that within less than one council meeting, he’s already broken one of his main election platforms. Clearly, I must be jumping the gun.

stealthily submitted by Cityslikr


Massacre At The AGO

June 17, 2010

To cut the 6 front running mayoral candidates a little slack, one could say that they might’ve been sandbagged at the AGO’s Pug Talk: A New Mayors Vision For Architecture, Design and Planning In The City Of Toronto last night. Before the roundtable discussion commenced, Toronto’s former Tiny Perfect Mayor, David Crombie, took to the stage and warmed up the crowd with talk of a “continuation of regeneration of the public realm”. He spoke of “reimagination, reinvention and reinvestment” in the “civic magic” that makes all the difference between simply living in a city and loving living in a city. In 3 short minutes, I found myself plotting a Draft Crombie For Mayor movement.

Crombie was then followed by a grade school participant in the Pug Ed program which is “… designed to engage senior elementary school students in architecture, design and urban development…” who succinctly laid out a very green (environmentally speaking) plan of what he would do if he were mayor. As he finished up, one of the mayoral candidates said it was a good thing that he wasn’t running for office now. Truer words have never been spoken by anyone on the campaign trail.

And then came the real kick in the sack. A video clip of Councillor Adam Vaughan (clip starts at about the 83′ mark) taking part in an earlier Pug Talk where he spoke of the choice between wanting to “build a civilization or sustain a settlement” and needing to elevate the notion of city building above merely filling potholes and fixing street lights.  High falutin’ stuff, as Rob Ford and his zombie army might say if they knew what it meant, and certainly leaving many in the audience wondering why Mr. Vaughan wasn’t running for the mayor’s job.

The warm up act finished, it was now time for the headliners, and I don’t think it much of an overstatement to tell you that the next hour and three-quarters was nothing short of a big ol’ fucking train wreck.  It might’ve been more fun to watch if, you know, our collective futures weren’t riding on all of it.  I didn’t think it possible for a city that elected Mel Lastman mayor twice could find itself less than a decade later with even dimmer prospects. But it was difficult to shake off that sense after the performances I witnessed last night.

Joe Pantalone, bless his soul, I think has his heart in the right place. As a progressive, left wing voter, my sympathies are with him. It’s his struggles to straddle the middle way — distancing himself from the current administration that he’s been an integral part of but is the bogey man of this campaign, while trying to point out the positive aspects it has delivered — that leave him floundering, easy prey for vacuous political sharks like George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi. He’s fighting their fight and getting beaten to the punch constantly.

For a second consecutive night, Giorgio Mammoliti delivered what I saw as the most impassioned, least calculated performance. His wild swings for the fences never ever hit one out of the park or, quite possibly, ever got him safely on base but it seemed that he tied Pantalone for at least trying to mould their responses to the room they were speaking to. There was a sense Mammoliti believed the topic at hand was important even if he wasn’t sure about what needed to be done about it.

It was performance miles ahead of the rest of the mayoral pack.

Rob Ford was so far out of his element that it was almost embarrassing to witness. But not that embarrassing. He clearly has no mind for complex issues and his adaptive powers are equally absent. Despite having been given the questions beforehand, he answered none, only using them to launch into his now familiar spiel of out of control taxing and spending, blah, blah, blah. He was heckled by a suit just into his first rambling response and by the end the crowd was openly laughing at his answers especially the one where he claimed to have made Rexdale into Rosedale.

Was Rob ruffled? Hard to say. He always seems ruffled. For him, the crowd’s reaction had nothing to do with his performance. They were all just rude and a bunch of NDPers, he told reporters afterwards. Apparently, the man simply sees culture, education and discourse on weighty issues as some sort of socialist plot.

George Smitherman didn’t really use the opportunity of Ford’s missteps to further his cause much as he just was popping in on his way to another engagement long enough to take a couple swipes at Ford and Pantalone, buddy up with Rocco Rossi and mimic some of the key words and phrases he’d heard bandied about. Public realm. Elevated urban planning. We found it telling that the man had just returned from a trip to China that included a stop in Shanghai, arguably one of the architectural marvels of the modern world, and he made no mention of it at an Architecture, Design and Planning roundtable discussion!!! I guess his engineers hadn’t got the opportunity to program that into his hard drive yet.

As for Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson, they are little more than talkers of talking points. Rossi, the smoother of the two, seemed the most knowledgeable about the subject at hand and spoke baritonely about beauty and planning but in examining my notes, I realize I jotted down nothing of what he actually said. And Thomson still sounds as if she just recently joined the debate club. Her approach is exhaustively Wikipedian, able to talk about any topic that comes up but for no longer than 2 minutes a pop. Her ability to adjust to the crowd is as equally suspect as Ford’s. Last night speaking at the AGO to an audience with a large contingent of designers and architects, she began one statement as follows: “I don’t know if you know the ROM…” Yeah, my guess is they probably do, Sarah.

What was most discouraging about this particular evening was that it offered up the perfect opportunity for the candidates to unveil a grand vision of why they want to be mayor and how they see the future of the city coming together under their leadership. Not one of them rose to the occasion. The proceedings had started out with glimpses of heavyweights in the forms of David Crombie, Adam Vaughan and a pre-pubescent child. It ended with a choice of lightweights.

It may be time to turn our attention to our respective council races in order to send strong representatives to City Hall in the hopes of at least trying to mitigate the disaster that’s taking shape in the race to be mayor.

despairingly submitted by Cityslikr


Oath Of Allegiance

March 31, 2010

Reading where councillor Adam Vaughan may’ve fallen afoul of the code of conduct demanded from members of the Police Services Board when he issued a newsletter to his constituents briefing them with some details about the security and anti-terrorism plans for the upcoming G20 summit this summer. He received a reprimand for breeching the board’s oath of confidentiality but seemed less than contrite in the face of it. His response was quite telling.

“There is no higher calling at city hall than to be an elected representative in a city ward, Vaughan said. “The residents of my ward will get my full and undivided loyalty.”

Here lies the beating heart of the dysfunction that passes for the democratic process at Toronto’s City Hall.

Council consists of 44 councillors and one mayor. Only the mayor is elected city wide and, therefore, only the mayor speaks for all of Toronto. That must compete with 44 individual voices, like Adam Vaughan’s who are concerned first and foremost with their respective wards. It’s like medieval Europe with one king surrounded by rival and feuding duchies. Gridlock prevails and nothing short of all out war will bring about any meaningful solutions.

This is why single tier municipal governments are ultimately ineffective and detrimental to the smooth running of a city especially one the size of Toronto. Outside of the mayor and that one single vote, there is no one unified vision for matters that involve the entire city like transit or new development density. NIMBYism will often rear up and bite well intentioned projects in the ass. Like the construction of the St. Clair LRT, for example, that was disrupted and derided by orchestrated community groups that deemed their convenience to be paramount to a highly functioning transit line.

As much as it pains this true believer in streamlined forms of government to say, another administrative level is needed in Toronto as an advocate for long term planning on a city wide scale. Much like we had back in the pre-amalgamation days with the Metro Council. It was not perfect, no, but it was a voice for the whole of Toronto and wasn’t driven purely by local interests. Right now, the city lurches and convulses to discordant parochial rhythms.

And maybe if the loyalty of councillors like Adam Vaughan is fully and undividedly given to the residents of his ward, he should think about not sitting on the Police Services Board or the Planning and Growth Committee. These duties require a wider overview beyond the interests of just one ward, Vaughan’s ward in this case. His divided sense of loyalty smacks of a conflict of interest to those of us outside his ward and causes us to wonder just how effective his contributions are for the entire city of Toronto.

And shouldn’t a better, stronger city be the ultimate goal of all our elected municipal officials?

admonishingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat