Less Politics. More Thoughtful Discourse, Please.

September 12, 2010

Tired and blue about the mayoral race, and its paucity of thoughtful, critical ideas sacrificed at the altar of nonsensical ranting and empty rhetoric posturing?

May we suggest taking a breather at an event sponsored by the Cities Centre research institute at the University of Toronto or the Canadian Urban Institute? After successfully managing to pry the $40 registration fee from Mr. Boss Man at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke as a genuine business expense, I attended last Thursday morning’s Breakfast Roundtable entitled, On the Outside Looking In? The Many Mysteries of Governance in the City of Toronto at the august Arts and Letters Club. Ah, the sweet sounds of apolitical, rational discourse!

That is, after the bland stylings from the morning’s moderation of one Art Eggleton, Toronto’s longest serving and quite possibly most unexceptional mayor. (Is there a link between those two details, we wonder.) I wasn’t entirely certain what the event’s organizers thought Mr. Eggleton would bring to the proceedings aside from a world of knowledge about how to keep reform at bay which seemed to be the antithesis of what they were hoping to accomplish but fortunately, like most discussions he contributes to, much of his opening remarks were quickly forgotten.

The meat of the presentation concerned itself with the nature of governance at the municipal level here in Toronto. In 3 short talks delivered by professors Richard Stren and Frank Cunningham along with the chairman of the Maytree Foundation and author of the book Urban Nation, Alan Broadbent, the main thrust was that the city’s governing structure was big, messy, multifaceted and still very much a work in progress. “A complex behemoth,” as Prof. Stren called it.

Without going into the details (but certainly encouraging people to take a moment to read a basic summary of what was under discussion here, suffice it to say there are no easy solutions to the difficulties Toronto faces and anyone on the campaign trail telling you otherwise is either lying or completely misinformed and should be summarily ignored as a viable candidate. None more than those promising to cut council members by half. The last thing a city of this size and multifaceted nature needs is less political representation. A councillor’s job is so vastly different than that of what MPs and MPPs do that equating the three levels of government reveals nothing more than an absolute ignorance of how things work at the municipal level that is so staggeringly monumental that it should automatically disqualify those espousing the idea.

At the discussion on Thursday, there was no panic about the state of the city. No dire predictions of its immediate collapse into Mad Max style chaos that we hear much of from our mayoral candidates. Just reasonable talk about the problems we face and possible solutions to pursued. Maybe if there were more of that during this campaign and less unsubstantiated, purely politically motivated vitriol, the public might be more positively engaged with their local politics, and looking forward to electing a new mayor instead getting ready to hold their collective noses and vote for the least worst candidate.

No great city gets built in that manner.

thoughtfully submitted by Acaphlegmic

We Don’t Know Hockey But Know Somebody Who Does

September 9, 2010

(Just in case you’re getting tired of hearing the same old nat-nat-nattering from these quarters, we thought it’d be good to change it up a bit today. So, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you a guest commentator…)

*  *  *

This week in Eye Weekly, Shawn Micallef wrote a perspicacious open letter to George Smitherman, urging the Toronto mayoral candidate to be more like Wendel Clark than Tie Domi. Although I am not a Maple Leaf fan, I’ve watched the team for decades and inevitably started wondering what Leafs our former mayors most resemble:

* David Crombie = Ted Kennedy

Okay, I never saw Kennedy play—I’m not that old—but many hockey historians consider him the greatest Leaf ever. Captain for eight years, “Teeder” helped the team win the Stanley Cup five times and was the last Leaf to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. Mayor from 1972 to 1978, Crombie led a reform council that left a legacy the city has coasted on for decades. We still remember him fondly as Toronto’s Tiny Perfect Mayor.

* John Sewell = Frank Mahovlich

A big, supremely talented player, the Big M helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup four times. And yet, management mistreated him and fans booed him. Sewell had been a smart and scrappy activist alderman, but after he had the temerity to suggest Toronto cops were anything less than tops, he lasted just one term as a bike-riding, rights-defending mayor. Pearls before swine, I guess.

* Art Eggleton = Inge Hammerstrom

An ineffectual player, Hammerstrom could, according to owner Harold Ballard, “go into the corners with eggs in his pockets and not break one of them.” Eggleton was equally ineffectual. Unfortunately, he lasted longer as mayor than the Swedish winger lasted as a Leaf—and a lot of things broke in Toronto while he was in office.

The Other Swede

* June Rowlands = Tie Domi

A classic NHL goon, Domi served as Leaf enforcer. Rowlands ran for mayor on a law and order platform, but is best remembered for banning the Barenaked Ladies, an innocuous Scarborough pop group, from performing at Nathan Phillips Square. While both Domi and Rowlands were embarrassing, the big difference between the two was that Domi was, inexplicably, wildly popular in Toronto.

* Barbara Hall = Mats Sundin

The only Swedish player to score 500 NHL goals, the talented Sundin was a rare likable player on a team full of unlikable ones (Tie Domi, Darcy Tucker, Shayne Corson). Hall was mayor during Premier Mike Harris’s war on the city. Like Sundin, she served with class during a difficult era.

* Mel Lastman = Tiger Williams

A notorious bad boy, Williams remains the NHL’s all-time penalty leader. Some hockey fans thought he was a goof; others found him entertaining. Ditto for Lastman.

* David Miller = David Keon

When I was a kid, the hockey magazines I devoured regularly referred to the small, skillful Keon as “pound for pound the best player in the NHL.” Although he was one of the greatest players to ever don a Leaf sweater, his relationship with the team eventually soured and he split. As mayor, Miller had smarts, skill and vision—and was equally underappreciated. But many of the mayor’s supporters have a nagging suspicion that, like Keon, who won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player, the mayor would have been even more effective if he’d had Gordie Howe’s elbows.

skates strapped on-edly submitted by Tim Falconer, author of Drive: A Road Trip through Our Complicated Affair with the Automobile

The Real Agenda Debate

September 8, 2010

The boys of summer are gone replaced by men of fall (no offense, Ms. Thomson), all in their resplendent autumnal colours and nary a pair of white slacks between them. From the starter’s tower, the white flag has been waved signaling the commencement of the final lap. (If you thought it meant surrender, you’re not a Rob Ford supporter.) Months and months of mindless posturing and can kicking now gives way to grave seriousness and weighty deliberation.

And nothing says ‘weighty deliberation’ more than a mayoral debate on TVO hosted by respected journo, Steve Paikin. He’ll civilize the proceedings, quiet the roar to a more pleasing, easy to follow decibel. There’ll be no grandstanding under Steve Paikin’s watch. The candidates won’t be able to slime their way out of the tight corners Steve Paikin will put them in. This one’s going to be different. Steve Paikin will finally shed the light of truth and reason on the race and we’ll all be the better for it.

Did he?

Well, yes and no. The sound level on yesterday’s debate was noticeably lower than previous televised debates but, then again, isn’t everything more quiet on TVO? They don’t have the money to buy one of them kick-ass volume goes to 11 amps. It certainly felt more dignified, less shouty and aggressively confrontational. Steve Paikin held much tighter onto the reigns, never letting things veer too out of control. Steve Paikin was insistent without being obnoxious. A one hour debate moderated by Steve Paikin brought much more clarity than any two hour debate we’ve witnessed so far.

And just what was that clarity, you ask?

Well, it become glaringly apparent that, barring some minor miracle, some Hail Mary pass being tossed up and caught, Toronto will be led by someone intent on cutting it down to size. Our next mayor is going to want to see blood on the floor and guts exposed. The terms of the debate are now set in stone. It’s no longer if the city has a spending problem but what to do about the spending problem.

Rob Ford is already the winner of this election even if he doesn’t become mayor on October 25th. His endless braying chant of Toronto not having a revenue problem but a spending problem has been whole-heartedly picked up by Mssrs. Smitherman and Rossi and Ms. Thomson and embraced, leaving any other opinion or view on the matter simply peep, peep, peeping quietly and ineffectively out of the mouth of Joe Pantalone. I know conventional wisdom has it that Councillor Pantalone is simply not a good campaigner but the malaise goes deeper than that. His refusal to embrace the last 7 years, both the good and bad, has put him purely on the defensive, reactive not proactive.

So he’s ceded the battleground to the interloping tax-and-spend choppers, the self-proclaimed white knights with a thirst for government blood. Major surgery will be needed, folks, to cure the ailing patient. But don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit. At least not for you, what with that protective coating of tax cuts. You’ll be fine. You’ll barely even notice the freezing/cutting spending at City Hall because, seriously, what have they been doing for you over the past 7 years? What with all that retirement partying and sole sourcing and gravy train gulping they’ve been doing…

The table is now set. It’s only a matter of what and how much to axe, what to sell off and who and how much to outsource. The last remaining vestige of liberal impulse in any of the front runners (sorry Joe, you’re not really a front runner) was tossed out by George Smitherman yesterday when he said, cryptically, “There will be less Copenhagen, more Scarborough.” As if Toronto’s problems can be traced back to being too Copenhagen-ish. Clearly, Smitherman’s now speaking code to conservative voters, assuring them once he’s mayor there’ll be no more of that smarty-pants, European, environmental, bike riding going on under his watch. Strip malls for everyone!

Enough Of The Downtown Shenanigans®©™ has become the framework of our mayoral campaign. It’s time to get back down to basics; the basics of low taxes and government spending on only the essentials. And then what?

This is where future debates have to take us. We now know what any one of Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Thomson will do if they are elected. It’s only a difference of degree between them. What we need to discover is once they’ve restored our fiscal house to order, what kind of city will Toronto look like. They are all harkening back to a former time of Toronto greatness which they vow to restore. When was that exactly? The good ol’ days of… ? Mel Lastman? Art Eggleton? David Crombie? Nathan Phillips? William Lyon Mackenzie?

Because if things are as bad as everyone’s assuring us they are, and can only be fixed by returning to a magical, mystical place in the past, just when was that exactly? That’s what I want to start hearing from our mayoral candidates. Paint us a picture of the Toronto we’ll be living in when your job as mayor is done here. A time, like that one in the past you keep referring to, when there were no problems to solve and seldom was heard a discouraging word.

inquiring mindedly submitted by Cityslikr

It Just Feels Right

September 1, 2010

Lets’ go back to the beginning.

No, not that far back, wherever you found yourself thinking ‘the beginning’ was. Just to this past January, the fourth of, I believe. When the official municipal campaign 2010 kicked off and we all were looking forward with trepidation at having to elect a new mayor. There was anger out there in the hinterlands but who could’ve guessed exactly how much?

Me? I wasn’t a fire breathing silly socialist. If you remember correctly, I was sitting comfortably in the centre, perhaps a little rightish of there. Don’t believe me? Check this out. (Those were much shorter posts back then too, weren’t they. When did we become so full of ourselves?) An admitted John Tory supporter back in `03 who might not have ruled out voting for him again this year if he chose to run despite having misgivings about his stumble through the provincial political arena throughout much of the past decade.

However, I did not develop a hate on for the man that beat him in 2003 and whom I voted for in 2006, Mayor David Miller. The city did not seem like the cesspool we were being told it was. Problems needed to be fixed, certainly; none more so than our aging public transit system, the once venerable TTC. Even that didn’t seem all that out of reach, what with Transit City up and ready to go. I considered myself a Miller convert and was sorry to see him go.

Leaving us with…?

A mad, maddening rush to the right. In some circumstances the surprisingly far right. Much chatter about privatization, outsourcing public services, cuts, cuts, cuts.


Simple solutions offered up for complicated situations despite what H.L. Mencken (no bleeding heart liberal himself) once said: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. In other words, if it were as easy as all that, it would’ve been done already. Unfortunately, few of us are immune to the lure of the snake oil salesman.

In place of concrete ideas, those looking for our votes pitched divisions. Left versus Right. Car versus bikes. Suburban versus urban. Everything that was wrong with Toronto could be traced back to those at City Hall, ignoring any outside factors that weighed heavily on us. Negligent and sometimes hostile senior levels of government. An economy that for the past two years nearly tanked and since has barely sputtered along. Continued pains of enforced amalgamation that did not magically disappear by executive fiat.

None beat the drum of discord louder than Etobiocoke millionaire councillor and laughably self-proclaimed ‘Man of the People’, Rob Ford. His noisy entry into the race and subsequent overtaking of perceived front runner, George Smitherman, had everyone scurrying worriedly to the right. Rocco Rossi was already there. He had to dig in deeper. Smitherman, figuring that bombastic Ford had no real constituency in downtown circles, threw caution to the wind and abandoned the centre to scrape away whatever soft right supporters he could. Ford’s extreme right views allowed both Rossi and Smitherman to adopt stances that would make someone like John Tory uncomfortable. Defying all electoral logic, the three amigos are desperately trying to divvy up the right wing pie, leaving their left flank wide open and virtually undefended.

Again, why?

Because they think they can. Reading Jeff Jedras’ post on the long arms registry tug-of-war in his BCer in Toronto, it seems there are no negative consequences in pandering to a conservative base. To not do so, in fact, is to risk an electoral fiasco. This conventional wisdom (i.e. mainstream media) has it that flipping the bird to the left has only an upside.

Leaving us here in the mushy centre with only one real alternative, Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone.

Oh Joe. You should be delighted with how this is all playing out, alone among the leading contenders, to tend to the left of centre garden without fear of having to give up so much as a speck of land to any interlopers. There are those of us out here who don’t think the city’s in such dire shape that it needs a good short, sharp shock of neoconservative home brew. (Isn’t that exactly what amalgamation was?) For every one of those who believe this election’s solely about “money, money, money”, there’s an equal contingent thinking that’s a rather myopic view of how to build a city. Embrace us, Joe. Take up the fight.

Not that he hasn’t tried. It’s just that Pantalone isn’t a strong campaigner. He’s nice. He’s quiet. He’s approachable. His strong suit seems to be behind the scenes where it is said he can be as tough as nails. A 30 year track record of working with mayors, running the wide political spectrum from Art Eggleton to Mel Lastman and David Miller, and time spent on the former Metro Council, reveal a non-divisivenes in Pantalone. He’s a uniter not a divider, as he’s stated, which may be another reason he’s the odd man right now.

Who knows. As election day closes in on us, everyone may snap to attention and realize that fighting tooth-and-nail for one side of the political spectrum may not be the best strategy. It certainly hasn’t been in the past. Otherwise, unless Pantalone can successfully scoop up a good portion of the centre/centre left citywide – or someone else breaks out big time — we will elect a mayor with a dangerously low percentage of the popular vote. And if you think Toronto’s polarized and divided now…

trepidatiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat

The Unsoundness Of The Furey

June 21, 2010

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have sat pondering this post for the past couple days now, taking in a World Cup game or two and a handful of NXNE performances as we mulled over its composition. You see, we have rarely disagreed with much that comes across our desk from Jonathan Goldsbie. In fact, he as been anointed patron saint of this blog for his overwhelming support and constant promotion of it, to say nothing of his effusive praise for the work of my colleague, Cityslikr. But we’re writing today to take exception to Mr. Goldsbie’s description of Anthony Furey’s National Post piece from last week on Rob Ford as ‘insightful’.

To us, the only insight on offer is into the mind of Anthony Furey. His column reads like it emanated from the Ford camp itself. It is a pure piece of PR puffery, seeking to assuage the roiled nerves of the Fordians after their candidate hit the first speed bump on the campaign trail since he’d started polling as a serious contender in the mayoral race.

Rob Ford does not have his ear to the ground, as Mr. Furey suggests. What he has is his spleen dipped into the oozing wound of resentment that opens up during times of great economic uncertainty. My derision of the man as a candidate has nothing to do with him being a ‘dim-witted populist’ because Mr. Ford is mostly certainly not that. Rather, he is an exploitive demagogue (in the modern sense) who is attempting to channel the justifiable anger that is in the air and direct it away from where it ought to be aimed and toward more self-serving targets.

Rob Ford wants us to believe that the city is in such dire, apocalyptic straits (a scenario itself greatly exaggerated by all the candidates running on an anti-incumbent platform and the media looking for some juicy oomph to their coverage of local politics) due to the current administration’s out of control taxing and spending, unions and the fact that fellow councillor Kyle Rae spent $12K on a retirement party. All convenient objects of vilification for a politician bent on delivering up easy explanations to complex problems. Why the likes of Anthony Furey want to applaud Ford for that rather than castigate him is indeed, to borrow Mr. Goldsbie’s word, ‘insightful’ if somewhat perplexing.

Because an honest look at many of the problems Toronto faces right now reveals them to be, in large part, due to the result of policies and decisions made by short-sighted and parochial politicians. Funding shortfalls emerging from Mel Lastman’s campaign pledge not to raise residential property taxes during his first term. This, despite having no idea what the full costs of amalgamation would be to the city which turned out to be much larger than we were promised. A failure of nerve at both the provincial and municipal levels dating back to the Eggleton regime to pull the trigger on subway expansion that has left us with an underfunded and inadequate transit system. Traffic status quoists unwilling to imagine our city streets filled with anything other than cars.

These are the Knights who say Nay, rarely lifting a gaze past their ward boundaries. They appeal only to our worst instincts in the hopes of stunting any forward-thinking, inclusive vision. And Rob Ford is their 2010 campaign standard bearer.

Mr. Furey takes tepid exception to the Toronto Star’s comparison of Ford to Sarah Palin. On this we agree with Furey. The politician Ford should actually be compared to is George W. Bush. Both men are the products of inherited money and privilege who, adopting very different public personas, attempt to project a common folk sensibility. They also share a frightening lack of curiosity about the wider world around them. Combined with a rigid and narrow ideology, this makes for potentially destructive politics as we witnessed with W.’s reign. Our only consolation should Ford pull off an upset victory in October is that his power would be limited compared to that of the President of the United States.

Toward the end of his column, Mr. Furey brushes aside Rob Ford’s ‘slights to the gay community’, one of which, I imagine, is at the source of Ford’s current imbroglio. As we wrote in our post on Saturday, in arguing against a proposed $1.5 million funding of AIDS prevention, Ford said: If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line. Now, if someone got up and said that back in, say, 1982, it might’ve been factually correct if grotesquely lacking in empathy and compassion. Ford bellowed it in 2006, showing himself to be not only callous, uncaring and unsympathetic but misinformed and a stranger to the truth.

He was wrong. Not just morally or from a politically correct standpoint. He got up in front of council and spread a lie about a life-and-death issue. That is not merely a ‘slight’, Mr. Furey. It is irresponsible. It is harmful. It is divisive. All trademarks of a demagogue.

And in our humble opinion, your column simply enables and encourages those reactionary traits that this city hardly needs in its next mayor. So yeah, in that way it was insightful. Into the mind of a member of the media who seems intent on cheering malignancy, obstreperousness and intolerance all the way into the mayor’s chair.

Sorry, Jonathan. We could not allow Anthony Furey’s column to go unremarked upon. Hopefully you won’t hold it against us.

supplicantly submitted by Urban Sophisticat