Do The Right But Not The “Right” Thing

October 20, 2010

After watching last night’s final CP24 mayoral debate this morning (man, I wish I had’ve thought of this earlier, zipping right through the commercials and Ben Mulroney segments), allow me to try and introduce, I don’t know, a long, cool drink of water to the increasingly heated proceedings. My colleagues here have, frankly, lost all sense of perspective, driven by rage, stupefaction and impotence to the verge of insanity. They refuse to accept the facts of this campaign heading into the final weekend before Monday’s election day as it has been played out .

It isn’t simply a case of “their” candidate(s) having little-to-no prospect of winning. “Their” candidate(s) never emerged, for a variety of reasons, the least of which… well, don’t even get me started on that, lest I get dragged down into the gutter of intemperate language. Suffice to say, many of us have neither forgotten nor forgiven the arbitrary determination made at some level somewhere of which candidates would be considered “viable” or front runners and which ones wouldn’t.

We have what we have. The hand’s been dealt and we must play it. Our bed’s made, now we must lie in it, perhaps to dream away the upcoming nightmare of the next four years.

Writer Jonathan Goldsbie deftly highlights the demons we, the uncommitted/undecided voters who only know that Rob Ford would be a very, very bad choice, are wrestling with. Voting with our heads may stop that train wreck from occurring but perhaps at a cost to our city that is only negligibly less harmful. Voting with our hearts or ideals, while perhaps leaving us smugly self-righteous, could well inflict a world of pain on Toronto that would take years to repair.

Adding to the frustration and increasing acrimony is the fact that the two front running candidates, one of which we are told will be our next mayor, are left to shamelessly exploit the uncertainty of uncommitted/undecided voters because neither have persuaded a big enough constituency to elect them mayor based on their own merits. If they can’t build a workable consensus with the electorate, how do they hope to do it at City Hall? How doesn’t a divisive campaign not beget a divisive administration?

After the surprise result in this week’s municipal election in Calgary, many of us watched the clip of the mayor-elect, Naheed Nenshi’s TED talk on urban issues. Inevitably, most came away from it thinking, where’s Toronto’s Naheed Nenshi? Rob Ford would watch the talk and not understand a single thing that was being said. “Calgary. Calgary’s in Alberta.” George Smitherman would think he understood much more of the talk than he actually did. “Egghead. I could take him in a 10K race.” Joe Pantalone would understood it all but not know how to articulate it to others. “It’s just like planting and cultivating a garden.”

The awful truth of the matter is, 5 days before the election, there is no Naheed Nenshi running for mayor of Toronto. Allow me, to correct that. Five days before the election, none of the 3 front runners, our only viable alternatives as we’ve been told, is a Naheed Nenshi. Toronto is facing, I won’t say a bleak next 4 years as that simply ignores the checks-and-balances in place that make up what should be considered our semi-strong mayoral system. But it will be an insular 4 years with a noticeable lack of progress towards advancing the needs of a healthy 21st-century city. That alone should cause us consternation, concern and more than a little fretting.

If I’m right about that, then the question we uncommitted/undecided voters need to ask ourselves between now and October 25th is: how do we best mitigate this downturn of expectations and limit the damage in order to be in a better shape, come 2014, to resume a more progressive and positive approach to city building? Assuming, of course, that the inevitable comes to be, and we wind up with an unwelcome and/or heavily compromised choice for our next mayor…

… A question I am not prepared to answer just yet. It’s tough feeling so coerced into hand over our lofty hopes. There’s time still to imagine that every so often, the unexpected can happen. Maybe we too can have our `Dewey Defeats Truman’ iconic moment and find ourselves pleasantly and deliriously surprised, defying pollsters, oddsmaker and conventional wisdom all. Proving that maybe, just maybe, we haven’t become the jaded, cynical pragmatists our leading candidates have bet their electoral fortunes we are.

torn and frayedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Despite Its Best Intentions CP24 Delivers The Debate Goods

August 18, 2010

In spite of its continued attempts to broadcast yet another substance-free televised debate last night, CP24 might just have inadvertently delivered one of those turning point moments that can define a campaign. Let’s not overlook the fact that it happened in Ben Mulroney’s absence. While not actually hard enough proof of cause and effect, I do think it’s worth conducting the experiment again with the next debate for further evidence. Do Toronto a favour, Ben, and stay home with the kids!

Although to be fair, it was apparently his grade school idea of picking names from a hat that delivered the seminal moment for me. If you haven’t been following along throughout the summer, each candidate picks another candidate’s name from a hat and asks them a question. Yeah, yeah. It is usually as lame as it sounds but last night Rocco Rossi had the great fortune of picking Rob Ford’s name and, surprisingly, he offered up a softball question that Ford, if he possessed an iota of sense amidst all the rage and indignation, could’ve/should’ve taken yard.

Rossi asked Ford to comment on a recent Toronto Sun article that suggested Ford didn’t single-handedly shepherd the Woodbine Live deal through council as he’s been spouting as an example of how he can work well with his colleagues and get votes passed. According to the rabidly pro-Ford rag, fellow Etobicoke councillor, Suzan Hall also had a hand in getting council unanimously on side. Here, Ford was handed the opportunity to reach out, seem collegial and show the city that he can play with others.

Instead, Rob Ford replied: “She had nothing to do with it. I was the one doing all the leg work.”

Yep. For the second time in a week, Ford’s gone out of his way to diminish, dismiss and generally kick in the slats everyone he works with. First, another councillor from Etobicoke and fiscal conservative soulmate, Doug Holyday, was paraded out to dejectedly state that maybe, just maybe, Ford shouldn’t call city council ‘corrupt’, at least not without some proof. And now this big fuck you to Suzan Hall.

So to you fanboys out there, trumpeting the ascension of Rob Ford and crowing about all the ass he’s going to kick and unions he’s going to bash and cyclists he’s going to run over, if your man gets elected, he’s going to be a mayor of one. All red faced and blustery, he’ll spend his time in office, stomping his feet and bellowing how he can’t get anything done, blaming everyone else but himself when the fact is, while pathological assholes who can’t work with others may be an asset when running an inherited business, it simply doesn’t fly at a non-political party municipal government level.

Oh, yeah. And there was that whole keeping newcomers out of Toronto thing that sprung up last night as well.

Now, I’m not going to call the racist card on Ford with this. I won’t even label him xenophobic because none of his followers will understand what the word means. What I will say is that his remarks in response to questions about the Tamil “migrants” on the west coast reveal a level of ignorance about urban demographic flow that no non-illiterate adult should possess. Like it or not, the world is becoming more and more ‘citified’, to use some hillbilly talk that seems highly appropriate, and we can’t or shouldn’t want to call a timeout so that we can make sure the house is all pur-dy for our guests’ arrival.

Spin all you want, Fordites, but it can’t mask the fact that you’re backing a talking horse who spouts Tea Party sentiments and everyone who signs on to the movement are simply porch sitting, AM radio listening, backwards looking Know-Nothings. What’s next? Building a fence around the city?

Despite that, there’s no reason to think that Rob Ford won’t be our next mayor. None of the other front running candidates are rising to match his simple-minded clarion call.

George Smitherman seems to be sharping his elbows and is starting to smother the talk of eHealth scandal and other provincial government nefariousness under his watch with a blanket of facts, figures and examples of positive things he oversaw. Now if somebody would just tell him that he doesn’t always need to use up every second of his allotted time. The more he talks, the more it becomes apparent that he’s not saying anything.

Sarah Thomson is no longer the doe-eyed valedictorian. She now just seems torn between two warring impulses. The more socially progressive Sarah which is the result of having two artist parents and the fiscally conservative Sarah who built a million dollar business by the time she was 30. What emerges is an utterly meaningless ‘Toronto has a management problem’ message. So I guess we should just fire all the managers then?

While being far more eloquent and sounding much more reasonable than, say, Rob Ford, Rocco Rossi is similarly one-note. “Value for Money” may mean something to business school types but to me it just sounds like Rossi’s talking to, well, business school types. We would all like value for money, Mr. Rossi. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way especially in government which is not nor should it be a for-profit enterprise.

Leaving us with the most perplexing campaign among the front runners, Joe Pantalone. I do not get what he’s doing at all. With the left side of the spectrum wide open to him, he insists on snuggling up to the cushy but crowded centre along with Smitherman, Thomson and Rossi. I understand with no ideological threat from that angle, he feels free to ignore voters positioned there because where else do they have to go? Still, he’s defining himself as indistinguishable from the other three and getting lost in the shuffle. Their “freshness” makes him seem stale.

Pantalone should just step back and vigorously defend the administration he’s been an integral part of. Despite what his opponents scream and yell, I don’t think there’s nearly the rampant anti-incumbency among voters that the other candidates are counting on. That’s something they have to believe is out there (and stir up) because they’re not offering anything else. Joe just needs to stop giving over to the reality his rivals are trying to create and show us that, despite being in the throes of a nasty economic downturn and the pains that we’re undergoing as we move into a post-manufacturing centre, Toronto remains a vibrant and healthy place to live.

That’s why people will risk their lives to endure an arduous ocean passage to make their way here. For a better life. We have it despite what all the nay-saying contenders for the mayor’s office are trying to tell us.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Another Debate, Same Old Tune

July 21, 2010

With another televised mayoral debate under our collective belts, I do not think it hyperbolic (in the non-mathematical sense) to say that this city is now facing a crisis of confidence, leadership confidence. What seemed funny back in March became mirthlessly laughable by May. Now, more than mid-way through July and it’s simply just sad. And a little bit worrisome.

Yeah, it’s that bad, folks.

At moments like these, I try to settle my rattled nerves by knocking back a few stiff belts of Woodford Reserve over an a.m. bowl of honey coated Shreddies and convince myself that if we made it through the Mel Lastman years, hell, we can make it through anything. We are that strong. We are that resilient.

But this feels a little different, and not in a ticklish, I kind of like it way. It’s more ominous and disheartening. Thirteen years into this experiment we call the amalgamated city and it seems like we’ve learned nothing, processed no information, become none the wiser through the experience of past accomplishments and mistakes. Those endeavouring to assume Toronto’s top office have surveyed the landscape, examined the books and come to the exhaustive conclusion that what ails us most is a… spending problem.

It’s all about out of control, unaccountable, retirement party spending. End of discussion. Full stop. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone. Vote For Me!

To give Councillor/Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone his due, he did try offering up a variation on the theme. (No, not his charts.) He raised the spectre of tax revenue inequality among the various levels of government, pointing out that for every tax dollar a Toronto resident spends, 92 cents of it leaves the city on its way to either Ottawa or Queen’s Park but it was a conversation the others didn’t want to have. Pantalone was summarily shouted down by all 4 of the others, braying in unison: We have a spending problem!

That’s it. The full extent of the conversation. The alpha and omega of the debate. A paucity of thoughtful, provocative ideas and views, best exemplified by Rocco Rossi. I know you thought I was going to say Rob Ford but what would be the point? He’s a Johnny One-Note that only surprises by his extraordinary ability to bring every issue, regardless of how irrelevant and beside the point back to Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. I’m pretty sure that’s how he plans on cutting 22 council seats. Anyone who attended the party is gone.

Yet in his own way, Rossi’s no better. He might not turn as beet red as Ford but he manages to spout similarly inane nonsense. Near the end of last night’s debate, he looked into the camera and bludgeoned us with the power of absolute numbers, saying that the present mayor inherited a 6 point something billion dollar operating budget and this year? (Stare deep into my eyes those out there in TV land and listen to the gravity I summon in my baritone voice.) 9 point 2 billion dollars.

Wow. That’s a lot of money. We really do have a spending prob—Wait a second. Might there be any explanation for such a significant rise in expenditure? Let’s see, for the past 18 months, 2 years, there’s been that little recession thing. The biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression with government expenditures at all levels exploding in order to head off an even bigger calamity. So there was that. Plus Transit City, the largest expansion of public transportation in Toronto for decades, making up for previous regimes’ neglect and building those bridges Mr. Rossi talks so movingly about to underserved areas of the city. A little cash outlay was needed for that.

The spendthrift argument Rossi et al put forward de-contextualizes the situation, pulling Toronto out of the reality it operates in for purely political purposes. No real viable solutions are put up on offer. Just hot button topics to raise the hackles of outrage among the electorate.

So whatever audience there is for the debate tunes in, turns off and drops out. We’ve been hearing the same drivel for 6 months now and we’re not biting. Sure, Ford’s made a splash upon entry but he basically siphoned support away from the others. The largest number still remains in the undecided column. The prix fixe doesn’t do it for me. Can I order a la carte, s’il vous plais?

Unfortunately the media maitre d’ remains firm. This is the slate of candidates we gave you, dammit, pick one of these! Given the opportunity of Giorgio Mammoliti’s exit from the mayoral race to open up the field of choice, CP24 declined last night. Brushing off calls to include Mammoliti’s pick to replace him, Rocco Achampong, they said winnowing the debate down to 5 would help simplify things as if they weren’t already doing that with Ben Mulroney MCing the proceedings.

This led to accusations of racism since Achampong is black and every one of the front runners is white. Let’s try and, if not represent the diversity of the city here, at least make a passing nod to it. While not ignoring that point, I do think that it’s part of a bigger problem at work here.

We are a small organization and yet over the course of the last few months have uncovered 5 or 6 other candidates running for mayor who are at least worth a first look at. Some aren’t white, some are. None are saying anything crazier than Rob Ford; all are talking a lot more sense. If we can find them certainly big news gathering conglomerates like CP24 or CTV or CBC or the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun can too. Talk to them. Interview them. Introduce them to the public. That is your job after all, is it not?

Here, let me give you a list of names to get you started: there’s Rocco Achampong. (Check the spelling though.) HiMY SYeD. (Ditto.) Sonny Yeung. (Pronounced just like our main north-south street.) Keith Cole. (He’s gay just like George Smitherman.) George Babula. Andrew Barton. Wendell Brereton. Colin Magee.

These candidates are only fringe because you guys declared them so. Well, given those who you said weren’t and who were on display on CP24 again last night, I’m not sure we should trust your judgment on this. We’re not liking what we’re seeing and suggest it’s time to turn the channel. Or at least, give us more to choice to choose from. What we are seeing here is the deliberate muffling of democracy and the handcuffing of voters. A prospect even more frightening than a Mayor Rob Ford.

End of discussion. Full stop.

ire drawingly submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Let The Bastards Wear Us Down

June 10, 2010

At the risk of appearing to be indulging in a little log rolling for this site, allow me to pick up on a thematic thread from my colleague’s post yesterday.

Our ever increasing democratic deficit.

After a slight walk on the wild side with the Better Ballots mayoral debate a week and a half or so ago where more than just the Gang of 6™®© were allowed on stage to air their ideas and differences, it’s been back to the business as usual format. The kids had been treated to an evening of dress up and pretending to be grown ups but now playtime’s over. Why, just the other evening CP24 hosted their second mayoral debate (of a conveniently numbered six) featuring their designated six front running candidates. How could you possibly open up the floor to more candidates and threaten that kind of entrenched synchronicity? Even the community held debates like the one in Parkview Hills this past Monday and hosted by John Tory, are opening their doors only to the 6 main candidates as if some hard and fast rule exists to keep interlopers out.

I understand why the media wants this easy to remember, uncomplicated setup. It’s difficult enough for the likes of Ben Mulroney to remember the names of all the candidates on stage, forced to use both hands to count heads while still managing to hold onto his microphone. Imagine what would happen if the numbers got into the double digits. (Keep your pants on, Ben.) I also indignantly understand why the anointed six want to be left on their own. No further sharing of the spotlight while lending credibility to their campaigns even if they haven’t earned it.

But why is the voting public so willing to chip in and contribute to the stifling of debate? Shouldn’t they want to hear a wider chorus of voices offering up a wider swath of ideas and solutions to the problems and concerns they’re facing? Surely we’re not as empty-headed as Ben Mulroney and are able to cope with slightly more complexity.

Then this appeared in our interwebs mailbox earlier in the week. A note from mayoral candidate Keith Cole (and participant in the Better Ballots June 1st debate), announcing his withdrawal from participation in PRIDE’s ALTERNA-QUEER event due to the organization’s banning of the phrase “Israel Apartheid” from its annual and iconic parade. Not really wanting to enter this particular fray, I bring it up only to point out that while every one of the front running candidates ducked for cover and came out in favour of the ban, and in favour of overt censorship through media, government and corporate pressure tactics, there was one dissenting voice with a dissenting opinion. Keith Cole made a stand (and sacrifice) for his principles. Yet he is being arbitrarily shut out for the sake of convenience and whatever other sinister reasons there are for maintaining a manageable status quo.

This is how totalitarian regimes operate, folks, to paint a shiny happy face of a free and open society. They present to their electorate a sanctioned list of candidates for the voters to choose from. Debates range from points A through to B. People cast their ballots. Someone the party has given their seal of approval to wins. No fuss, no bother. It’s what we usually refer to as a ‘sham election’.

But true democracy is messy. It shouldn’t be clean and easy to navigate. Giving voice to disparate views, as many views as demand to be heard, means tolerating – encouraging — a cacophonous din on the march toward forging a workable consensus. That’s how democracy works. The expectation of having everything presented in a nice tidy box is frighteningly short-sighted and narrow-minded especially this early on in the game. And it doesn’t qualify as democracy. What it is, what we should call it is mediacracy in all its appropriately homonymic glory.

urgently submitted by Urban Sophisticat