A Disturbing Reflection

October 29, 2015

I’ve been thinking about variations of the We Get the Politicians We Deserve quote over the past couple days and decided to run with H.L. Mencken’s version:

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Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

This comes in light of the Brampton city council’s decision a couple nights ago to reject a plan for an LRT connection, fully funded by the provincial government. Why? Well, I’ll let other people who’ve been following the proceedings much closer than I’ve been explain it. I’ll just sum it up in a word: change. No, wait. More words. Change, we don’t care for it.

It gets darker and somehow sillier still. brilliantideaTurns out the plan, after rejecting money from Queen’s Park, is to solicit cash from the new federal government to build an LRT more to the city’s liking (h/t Andray Domise). Just like that, as if there’s no sort of co-ordination of infrastructure building between Ottawa and the provinces. As if the federal government is simply going to hand over money to a proven capricious municipal government.

But presumably, the Brampton city council was simply doing the will of the people who elected it to office.

Similarly, here in Toronto, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker reflects the views of his constituents who’ve sent him to City Hall since 2003.

The good councillor was at it again yesterday during a TTC meeting, his fitness to serve on full display. madhatterAfter a staff presentation on the state of Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack, the councillor assured the room that this plan was just another name for the downtown relief line. It isn’t. Not by any measure. Not in a million years.

“… And people wonder why we elected Rob Ford,” Councillor De Baeremaeker said. Huh? Wait?Apparently, according to the councillor, in response to “Scarborough parts of Transit City being ‘lobbed off’”.

Correct me if I’m wrong here but it was Rob Ford who, on his first day of assuming the office of mayor, declared Transit City dead, effectively lobbying off the Scarborough parts along with it. So what the hell is Councillor De Baeremaeker talking about?

More to the point, here’s Councillor De Baeremaeker in 2012, Transit City supporter and especially the Scarborough parts of it.

And here’s Councillor De Baeremaeker just a couple years later, after having been scared by then Mayor Ford about his re-election prospects for his support of the Scarborough parts of Transit City.

Fact is, it was Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker who helped lob off the Scarborough parts of Transit City, long after Rob Ford was elected mayor. He’s somehow — and very conveniently, I might add – got cause and effect all mixed up.

But the nonsense didn’t simply end with that, however.

In a press scrum after the TTC meeting, responding to the commission’s decision to sue Bombardier for its failure to deliver new streetcars to Toronto as per its contractual obligations, the councillor spoke into the microphones about his feelings toward Bombardier. iloveyouto“I can’t repeat what we’d say in Scarborough…” What? Presumably, once you cross east of Victoria Park Ave, people use different, extremely local invective?

I should not be amazed but I still am that such parochial pandering works. It’s the political equivalent of a musician up on stage shouting I LOVE YOU, TOR-ON-TOE! in order to garner wild applause. Totally cheap and meaningless.

Yet, it does the trick, evidently. Glenn De Baeremaeker is a totally unremarkable politician with an undistinguished record in office who’s wrapped himself in a Captain Scarborough cape in order to seem relevant. Brampton city council rejects both a transit connection to the wider GTA region and the opportunity to redevelop its downtown core for no other reason than it being a break from past approaches.

And there doesn’t seem to be any consequences to those decisions.captainscarborough

So what does that say about us, the electorate?

We like our municipal politics local, extremely so? Politicians succeed by pandering to our worst, most myopic instincts? When push comes to shove, it’s being the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know. The status quo bias. In the case of Glenn De Baeremaeker, he’s conflated his own personal, political best interests with the best interests of his constituents and Scarborough as a whole.

Politics as comfort food. Don’t upset the apple cart. Don’t do anything to disturb the as is. No sudden moves. Placate our concerns and, above all else, don’t challenge our preconceptions.

We get the politicians and politics we deserve. Why would we expect them to act any differently if this is what we expect of them?

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reflectingly submitted by Cityslikr


My Lunch With Andray

October 14, 2014

We’ve been writing much here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke during our conversations with city council candidates about the battle many of them face with a lack of nurtured, encouraged civic engagement. disengagedThis has been especially noticeable to me in the former municipalities of the so-called inner suburbs. Etobicoke. York. North York. Scarborough.

And then there’s ‘enforced disengagement’.

This was a topic of discussion I had last week with Ward 2 Etobicoke North council candidate, Andray Domise. We endorsed Mr. Domise a couple weeks back but hadn’t actually talked to him in person save a couple quick handshakes at a few public functions where our paths had crossed. I quickly realized that the subject of civic engagement was, I don’t know, a theoretical one for me while for Domise and the other candidates running in Ward 2, it was very, very real.muniraabukar

Most of us have heard by now of the sign wars going on up in the ward. Fellow Ward 2 candidate Munira Abukar was nastily instructed to ‘Go Back Home’ on her signs, part of a disturbing racist outburst that has occurred during the later part of the campaign. Domise too has had sign battles, defaced and replaced in a concerted effort to keep his campaign team otherwise occupied.

We can try and shrug it off as the usual electioneering antics and tactics but it’s hard not to see it as having a chilling effect on both candidates and residents alike. Who wants to put their name forward or speak out publicly if the reaction you’re going to get is based on nothing more than your skin colour or ethnicity? Go back home. You’re not wanted here. Your opinions don’t count.

Neither does your vote.

Hardly the environment to cultivate civic engagement.

Making matters worse, of course, is that Ward 2 is the Ford family’s playground. You only had to look at this campaign to realize just how entitled they feel they are to it. wardbossDoug Ford, one-term councillor, announces he’s had enough of municipal politics and will be leaving. In his place they attempt to prop up 20-something nephew, Mikey, and keep him away from any and all media. Rob, the mayor and former councillor, gets sick, decides instead to run for his old position in Ward 2 without really campaigning, bumps nephew Mikey to local school trustee candidate, Doug runs for mayor.

All this after Doug parachutes into town in 2010 to claim the Ward 2 council seat, trouncing local activist and 2006 runner-up, Cadigia Ali, by 10,000 votes. “Hope in Ford country”? Don’t think so.

Add in a degree of fatalistic inevitability – the Fords rule this roost – to the sense of racist unwelcoming, only further fuels that ‘enforced disengagement’.

On top of all of this, life for many residents in Ward 2 has not noticeably changed for the better under the 14 year misrule of the Fords. Follow along with Domise’s Twitter feed to see just how little improvement there’s been, how little engagement, interaction even, especially during Doug Ford’s time in office. justanotherpoliticianWhat’s the use of getting involved if the politicians who are going to win anyway do nothing for you? And when you do, when you throw you hat into the political ring, you’re viewed as just another say-anything-do-nothing politician.

Hostility, inevitability, ham-fisted ineptness = apathy, indifference, disengagement.

Yet, despite all this, the council race in Ward 2 has 3 viable candidates challenging the Ford legacy, with the breakout star being Andray Domise. That in itself should be cause for great joy and celebration. I think those of us who’ve never put their names forward for political office, who live in areas of the city not dominated by zero-tolerance for inclusion and engagement, under-estimate just how much courage that takes.

But you can’t simply flick on wider civic engagement like a switch. It doesn’t pop up from fallow ground. There has to be a history to build on. The Fords claim to speak for the people without ever actually having listened to them or actively attempted to let them speak for themselves.civicengagement3

The Ward 2 city council race will be something of a bellwether for the rest of the city indicating just how far along we are down the path of engaged democracy. Andray Domise has emerged as a new voice in support of that civic undertaking and in opposition to our traditional complacent boss politics. This election represents only the beginning of that change. We all will need to pitch in to continue pushing the concept forward.

submitted by Cityslikr


Challenger Endorsements I

October 1, 2014

So, let me begin this, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first non-incumbent city councillor endorsement post, as a plea for ranked ballots by the time the next municipal campaign rolls around. (Looking good! Fingers still crossed.) rabitVoting should not be a tactical game, a compromise that rarely amounts to anything inspiring. Settling because, well, it could be a whole lot worse.

Take Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, for instance. Of some 19 candidates or so, 5 are very interesting or, at least, palatable (says hello to Joe Cressy). It would be easy to list off your favourite 3 and be quite content with whatever the outcome instead of pitting them against one another in the hopes of one of them not winning. Or, whatever the mindset is in a first past the post mindset. It isn’t particularly positive.

That said. Here we are. In an imperfect system, we begin our imperfect endorsements.

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Ward 2 Etobicoke North

Back in early June, before any sort of Ford entered this race, we talked to Luke LaRoque. We liked Luke LaRoque. We still like Luke LaRoque. He’s chock full of good ideas about how to re-engage with residents of the ward. He’s got a real grasp of municipal politics. Luke LaRoque is an ideal candidate for city council.

There’s just one hitch.

The air’s been sucked out of the race by the Fords, in particular the outgoing mayor and former ward councillor, the ailing Rob Ford. What little space is left over has been occupied by Andray Domise. He’s got the media’s attention. He is articulate and passionate about the ward. He presents the perfect foil to the Fords’ dynastic pretensions.

Having not talked in detail with Mr. Domise, I can only assess his campaign based on reading through his website and his entries on WiTOpoli’s Position Primer. I was happy to see things being fleshed out yesterday, starting with his transit platform because until then I wasn’t seeing many robust ideas. There were good, positive initiatives framed in vague generalities and rhetorical platitudes. That seems to be changing.

Andray Domise does, however, speak up for those who haven’t had much of a voice at City Hall under the Ford regime, those they claim to have done more for than anybody else in the world.

In an ideal world, one where we have ranked ballots, at this point, Andray Domise would be my second choice for Ward 2 city councillor. That’s not 2014, unfortunately. We have to deal with the situation at hand.

Andray Domise looks like the sort of positive change that could actually defeat Rob Ford at the polls. For the city to turn the page on this turbulent past 4 years, Rob Ford needs to be defeated at the polls. For that reason alone, we endorse Andray Domise for Ward 2 Etobicoke North city councillor.

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Ward 17 Davenport

This one’s another toss up for me. It was in May when we sat down with Saeed Selvam and while he is a very impressive candidate by almost every other measure, he would still be our second choice in Ward 17. We endorse Alejandra Bravo.

Why?

Electability, in a word. She is well positioned to defeat a terrible incumbent. The stars finally seem aligned for her.

Ms. Bravo is seasoned and ready to assume her role as city councillor. She’s taken a run at this office a couple times before, in 2003 and 2006, and has a long history of community activism, most recently working on the Board of Health and with the Maytree Foundation. Mr. Selvam is a very, very worthy contender with a detailed platform that puts most other candidates to shame. Unfortunately, this just isn’t his time.

It sucks that this is how such important decisions get made. It feels cheap and shallow. But there it is. Politics in Toronto in 2014.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Complicated

July 2, 2014

Some things are, for sure.

The reasons why one feels compelled – high or not – to spew racist labels and sentiments itscomplicated(or homophobic or misogynistic ones) may well be complicated. What makes anyone a racist or homophobe or misogynist? There’s probably not one clear answer to that.

It doesn’t change the fact you’re a racist or homophobe or misogynist. That’s pretty straight-forward. You drop the N-bomb or muse publically about ‘jamming’ a female colleague or return to work after a 2 month stint off one day after Pride celebrations end, the fourth straight year you’ve openly ignored the event during your time in office? There’s nothing particularly complicated about who you are and what you stand for.

Confronting that fact, particularly in your role as a journalist, isn’t nearly as uncomplicated or simple or straightforward.

Let me state right here, right now. You could not pay me enough to work as a journalist. thepressNot even a billion dollars.

I don’t say that proudly or boastfully. I in no way mean to denigrate what they do. I just wouldn’t want to do. It’s too hard a job. It’s complicated.

Yes, we can all point to the hacks and sycophants. The toadies who cling to the spotlight with fawning, uncritical words of unflagging support. Journalism does not operate above and beyond the human condition.

But there’s no easy road to take in dealing with a public figure like Rob Ford. With so much of his support (and belief system) based on a mistrust of established institutions and strong belief in their outsider status, legitimate questions can come across as full frontal attacks. In hounding the mayor to start providing actual answers to their questions, it’s easy for the press to be portrayed as jackals and other unflattering predators. They get to play the villains in Ford Nation’s ongoing victimization pageant.

So, just ignore him. Make Ford come to you rather than the other way around. witchuntHe needs the press more than it needs him.

Again, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I know a couple of the journalists in question who’d like nothing more than to turn their backs on the mayor and walk away. They find the melodrama and sideshow as boringly depressing as many of us do. Of course, they’d rather pursue more interesting and elevated issues than one man’s downward spiral into justifiable obscurity.

But these people aren’t their own bosses. They answer to others who see Rob Ford as a genuine source of news, for good and ill. He continues to sell newspapers, gets eyes glued to the screens. If he’s declared a news conference on the day of his return from a two month rehab stint, it’s hard to imagine any editor or publisher or segment producer simply shrugging it off. Yeah, whatever. clothlessemperorThe guy’s a dick. Let’s move on.

Anybody’s job that involves looking out for the bottom line will not be dismissing Rob Ford any time soon. To do so would, in effect, be creating the news. We haven’t gone so bonkers with our disgust at Rob Ford to think that’s a good idea, have we?

Maybe we’re just expecting too much from journalism. We as a city have this problem called Rob Ford and we want somebody to magically rid him for us. Do your job, press! Hound him from office! Remember Watergate!

Then yesterday’s shirtless jogger, Joe Killoran, runs into the mayor at the East York Canada Day parade and begins berating him for all the questions he refuses to answer and we all say, See Journalists? That’s How It’s Done! Why aren’t you more like Shirtless Jogger Joe, Toronto press corps? diydemocracyIf only there were more reporters with Shirtless Jogger Joe’s chutzpah…

But how about this?

Maybe if more of us were like Shirtless Jogger Joe, confronting the mayor and his team whenever we encountered them or sought them out at campaign events. Maybe if more of us acted like concerned citizens, actively participating in this city’s life, demanding our elected officials answer the questions we posed to them, Rob Ford would be more forthcoming. Maybe he doesn’t answer questions, not because the press hasn’t asked them, but because he thinks not enough of us really care enough to be bothered if he does or not.

Some things are complicated. Some things aren’t. The proper functioning of our democratic process is, at times, confoundingly complicated. We need to recognize that and stop demanding easy answers from our politicians, our members of the press, ourselves.

goadingly submitted by Cityslikr