Post Mortem and Analysis

October 28, 2010

On the theory that there is much to talk about re: results of Toronto’s October 25 municipal election, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has assembled its crack team of observers to dissect what happened, why and what’s next. This week, well, we just said. They’ll discuss the outcome of Monday’s election.

Cityslikr (heretoforth, CS): Well, the verdict’s in. Rob Ford won and everyone who didn’t vote for him is to blame. Especially hipster urbanites who never took him seriously and spent the entire campaign mocking, ridiculing and denigrating him and those supporting him. We didn’t get the anger.

Acaphlegmic (heretoforth ACA): Truer words have never been spoken. Which is why I’ve decided to go live amongst them.

CS: What? Live amongst whom?

ACA: There you go, getting all elitist. Whom! Amongst people who say ‘who’ not ‘whom’.

US (heretoforth US): But are still OK with the word ‘amongst’.

CS: What do you mean you’re going to live amongst them?

ACA: We can’t understand a people or empathize with them until we’ve seen through their eyes, walked a mile in their shoes. So I am venturing forth to live amongst them. To observe them. To understand what motivates them. To truly get under their skin in order to grasp their hopes, their dreams.

CS: So you’re like what? Margaret Mead of the inner suburbs?

US: Try Dian Fossey.

ACA: See? That’s just what everyone’s talking about. Mocking. Ridiculing. Denigration.

CS: But I don’t get what you mean, ‘live amongst them’. You going to hang out at the Jack Astors at Sherway Gardens?

ACA: There it is again. The mocking and ridicule. They don’t just shop, you know.

US: Yeah. They have to take regular breaks to fill up their Hummers and SUVs.

ACA: Mock away, my friend, mock away but you better start getting used to the fact that you’re in the minority now and start acting accordingly.

CS: Technically that’s not true. Ford did only get 47% of the vote which is why [turns to look directly into pretend camera] you should support RaBIT, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. To start making every vote count.

ACA: Cling to that little pipe dream all you want, buddy. Me? I’m going to where the real action is. Larry’s garage.

[inserting very prominent … here to signify a monstrously large pause in the conversation. A really big one.]

CS: Who’s Larry?

ACA: Larry. You met him Monday night here, drinking. We got to talking afterwards. His son, Larry Jr., just got married, and he and the wife are moving into the trailer that’s parked in the driveway. So, Larry-pere offered me the garage. You should see this place! It’s not a garage. It’s like a 2nd home. All decked out. Like this 140” plasma screen TV. Ping pong table. Bar. You name it. A sound system like you would not believe! 4 speakers, maybe 8. I don’t know. Speakers all over the place. I have not listened to that much Foghat since… I don’t know… June of ’77, maybe.

CS: And you’re going to live there. In Larry’s garage.

ACA: You betcha! Live there and observe. Eat the food they eat. Play the games they play. Learn what it is that’s important to them. Rob Ford knows. I should too.

US: So you’re embracing your inner mullet?

CS: (to US) And you? No, wait. Let me guess. You’re moving to Calgary.

US: Well, hey. They took a bold step into the future. We fearfully clung onto… some misguided view of the past. Where we paid no taxes and there was no traffic congestion.

CS: Which brings up something that struck me about the election. There’s all this talk about the downtown-suburb divide, the angry car driving, backyard BBQing Ford supporters versus us effete bike riding, latte loving urbanistas. Yet right here, smack dab in the downtown core, we had three open council seats, none of which were filled with what you’d call new, forward thinking, vibrant Nenshites. Ward 19 went stolidly status quo, replacing old time moderate lefty Pantalone with old time moderate lefty Mike Layton, ignoring a much more interesting progressive candidate in Karen Sun. Ward 18 went hardcore centrist Ana Bailão. Ward 17 and Cesar Palacio—

US: Palacio didn’t retire, did he?

CS: Didn’t he? How could you tell? They had this dynamite challenger, Jonah Schein, but went with their tried and true non-entity incumbent relic.

ACA: What’s your point? I gotta cut out soon. There’s some sort of… sporting event everybody’s getting together to watch at Larry’s.

CS: My point is, maybe this city’s not nearly the outpost of progressive politics we downtown elites would like to think it is. We live in this little bubble, dreaming of bike lanes, complete streets and being just like Portland when, in fact, we’re nothing more than another small minded North American burg concerned only with paying as little as we can and getting as much as we want. Rob Ford as our mayor shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not the anomaly. David Miller is. He was the outlier. Ford’s just a regression to the mean.

US: Nice. Regression to the mean. Works on a couple levels, too.

ACA: Blah, blah, blah. You guys just don’t get it! There’s nothing to analyze here. Nothing to deconstruct. People are just pissed off. End of story. Rob Ford gets it because he’s pissed off too. Guaranteed!

CS: No, we get the whole anger bit. What we don’t understand is how Rob Ford is going to help in any way to deal with it. What in his platform will help lessen the anger.

ACA: Wh-wh-wh-what are you talking about? Rob Ford isn’t going to lessen the anger. The last thing he wants to do is assuage the resentment.

US: You might want to curtail the use of words like ‘assuage’ with Larry’s crowd.

ACA: Right. The last thing Rob Ford wants to do is the dumb word for assuage the resentment. Without resentment, he’s just another self-interested politician wrapping his own narrow concerns into a populist package.

US: Exactly. And what are we doing in the face of that? Caving in and taking the blame. We got out-politicked, no question. That’s what we should be examining now not shouldering the blame for the perceived grievances of 47% of the population who refused to engage in an honest discussion about the real problems this city has to deal with. We spent very little time here, writing about Ford’s appearance or operatically sized personal failings. We kept asking, over and over again, how his policies on public transit and cutting spending were going to help address the city’s problems. The response? Wrapping themselves in a cloak of victimhood like pouty teenagers. Stop picking on me. You don’t understand. The guy’s not even sworn into office yet and he’s already backtracking on one big doozey of a campaign nose stretcher about replacing streetcars with buses, claiming he never said that, his opponents said he did. Then he gives a babblingly incoherent radio interview and calls it a smear campaign, so he can withdraw further into the safe cocoon of sympathetic press coverage at the Toronto Sun, National Post and AM talk radio. We’ve seen this movie before, guys. Remember. George W. Bush.

CS: Yep. I think we can now officially stop looking south at the Americans and smugly laughing at who they elect into office. Or their eating habits. Did you see where Canada broke the record for sales of KFC’s Double Down?

ACA: (standing) Are we done here? I really don’t want to miss the first quarter… or half of the… thing.

CS: Godspeed to Larry’s garage. Godspeed us all to a Larry’s garage somewhere.

ACA: I’ll be in touch. Under an alias. Send you my serial exposé of the Ford movement.

CS: Stay safe, Serpico.

(Rolling up his collar, Acaphlegmic skulks from the office.)

CS: So, the battle for hearts and minds has just begun.

US: Fuck that. I’m traveling to the Continent. Rent out my house and follow in the steps of Byron, Shelley, Keats. They want elite? (Pulls out his pipe) I’ll give them elite.

CS: No, don’t. You’ve already set off the smoke detector once.

US: I disconnected it.

CS: It stinks. Don’t.

(Urban Sophisticat puffs away at the pipe, trying to get it to stay lit. Eventually a smoke detector goes off in the distance.)

CS: This is going to be a long 4 years.

submitted by Cityslikr


And In Other News

August 23, 2010

… meanwhile, over at Metrolinx…

Funny how in the midst of a tempestuous election campaign, the business of actual governance gets pushed off deep into the background. So much so that some candidates out there on the hustings go as far as to suggest that elected officials should not be making any decisions that may outlive their time in office. Election year lame ducking, you might call it.

Still, the odd piece of business can pop up that does impose itself on the campaign. Take, for example, the minor brouhaha last week over the almost completed construction of the so-called Dufferin Jog. This is the long overdue reconnecting of Dufferin Street at Queen. For the past century or so, weary travelers making their way along Dufferin Street in either direction had to jut around the railway bridge at Queen to continue their sojourn north or south. This minor diversion has long caused traffic chaos along that section of Queen Street.

But as of sometime in the early fall, we’ll be able to breeze up and down Dufferin Street like it’s PCH 1, zipping effortlessly beneath the rail underpass on our way to the Home and Garden Show or… for whatever reason it is people go north on Dufferin Street.

But wait, not so fast. Metrolinx – the vaguely provincial government transit agency in charge of orchestrating the entire GTA’s Big Move — has asked the city to delay wrapping up construction for a couple months, maybe 4 or 6, so they can lay down another track for trains operating on the Georgetown corridor. Why this is only being brought up now, who knows? For our purposes here, let’s just chalk it up to another example of problematic overlapping governmental jurisdictions.

As of now it seems the city will ignore Metrolinx’s request and go ahead to complete construction, leaving the question of additional tracks for a later date. This decision imposed itself on the council race in Ward 18 where the Dufferin Jog is located and which is the seat of power for outgoing TTC chair, Adam Giambrone. Ana Bailão, a candidate to replace Giambrone as councillor in Ward 18 and whom Giambrone defeated for the spot in 2003, suggests her former opponent is setting common sense aside and proceeding with completion simply in order “… to cut the ribbon for the project” before he leaves office. She contends it would be cheaper and less hassle to finish the whole thing up now rather than having to restart construction at a later date.

Kevin Beaulieu, another candidate competing for the Ward 18 council seat and former Giambrone executive assistant, thinks there’s more to it than that. He contends Metrolinx is trying to covertly expand the railway in order to accommodate their diesel engine technology at the expense of electrifying the corridor, a sentiment shared by at least in part by some at council including Councillor Gord Perks. We leave it to those better informed about transit and that particular issue to try and disentangle it but a couple Metrolinx matters – and the gist of this actual post — did jump to our attention while we were reading through the minutae of the imbroglio.

News filtered out late last month that the Metrolinx-SNC Lavalin private-public partnership deal to build and operate the Union Station-Pearson Airport rail link was dead. According to John Lorinc in the Globe and Mail, “… SNC Lavalin and its lenders pulled out because Ontario refused to provide operating subsidies for the 46-year deal, meaning the private sector consortium would rely only on fare revenues to meet its profit targets.”

Huh. Imagine that. The fearless private sector got cold feet at plunging into the public transit game because the provincial government “refused to provide operating subsidies”.

“Naturally, we are disappointed by the outcome of the Toronto Air Rail Link Project. Given the state of financial markets over the past few years, lenders, both in Canada and elsewhere, are reluctant to lend money for full revenue-risk projects.  As a result, an agreement that met our own standards of risk tolerance could not be reached with interested lenders,” SNC Lavalin said in an official statement [bolding ours].

Attention should be paid, you candidates bellowing about how the private sector will eagerly sign on to build all those subways we want. Apparently a little cost analysis reveals that making money from public transit ain’t that easy. At least not without some stinky government cheese thrown in, and if that’s what it takes to get PPPs up and running, why bother? If the Ontario government isn’t going “to provide operating subsidies” to, say, the TTC, they shouldn’t be expected to do so with private companies.

Of a second Metrolinx related note, outgoing President and CEO of the organization, Robert Pritchard who is moving up to become its chair of the board, will be replaced by Deputy Minster of Transportation, Bruce McCuaig. McCuaig is a veteran bureaucrat and his appointment puts a politician in charge of Metrolinx. That is, if spending 26 years in bureaucracy qualifies him as a politician. And if it does, that means a ‘career politician’ now has his fingers in the pie of public transit planning which appears to be an about-face of professionalization of such matters that the government’s been touting for the last little while.

Again, we’re not well enough informed about public transit policy to debate the merits or lack of them in such moves. We point them out only because they seem to be running contrary to the voices of debate going on during this municipal campaign in Toronto. The private sector should not be counted on to build public transit. SNC Lavalin’s exit from the airport rail link table serves as yet another example of this failed experiment. Secondly, we cannot entirely de-politician the public transit planning. As strong as that appeal is especially when anti-incumbency is as thick in the air as it is this year, it seems neither sensible nor workable.

Anyone running for office who advocates such ideas (Mssrs. Ford and Rossi are merely the most extreme cases) must be vigorously challenged on these points. They are pushing theories and ideas that don’t seem to be viable and certainly are not working out there in the real world. It would be negligent on our part to put such baseless dreamers in a position of power that well might undermine public transit planning into the foreseeable future.