With Equal Conviction

December 6, 2010

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

— attributed in some variation to Daniel Patrick Moynihan

What a quaint notion, put severely to the test earlier today on CBC radio’s Metro Morning. Perpetually cloying Mary Wiens took to the streets to talk to a couple regular folks about the pronounced death of Transit City. First up, Odessa who faces a daily 3 hour round trip commute from the hinterlands of the inner suburbs to the downtown core. Transit City was planned with her in mind, it could be safely argued, to reduce her commute time. She tells Wiens that she’s looking forward to the new LRTs.

But alas, Odessa voted for Rob Ford. Why? His outspokenness. When Wiens informs her that the mayor was angling to kill Transit City and replace it with subways, Odessa was all over it, never asking a pertinent question or two, like is the mayor’s plan better than Transit City or would subways help her commute more than Transit City.

Next came Denis Lanoue, a much more politically active individual than Odessa but no less factually challenged. Lanoue, president of the Heathwood Ratepayers Association in Scarborough, is also active as part of the Save Our Sheppard group. He just so happened to turn up in the parking lot of a local Tim Hortons to give the CBC a piece of his mind an interview.

Like our new mayor, Lanoue and his group (S.O.S.) hates LRTs (or streetcars as he calls them), convinced with precious little evidence to back it up that LRTs on Sheppard Ave. will end life as we know it there, bringing wrack and ruin just as they did along St. Clair West. “A modest subway expansion is all we need,” Lanoue writes on the S.O.S manifesto. No fuss. No bother. Details to follow.

But Lanoue isn’t just interested in having his say on Transit City for Metro Morning. He wants to inform the audience exactly why there is that downtown-inner suburb divide. Two words: David Miller. According to Lanoue, all was hunky-dory under Mel Lastman but something changed late in Miller’s 1st term or early in the 2nd. What exactly? Lanoue doesn’t really say except that, residents of the inner suburbs just got fed up with handing all their taxes over to pay for things downtown.

Which would be grounds for anger and outrage if it were true but as we have written previously here and here, no one has ever pointed to any evidence or studies that show the downtown core being subsidized by the inner suburbs. In fact, Scarborough councillor Norm Kelly commissioned a report to look at the numbers and come up empty. Yet, Denis Lanoue grabs the mic on the CBC and pronounces it to be true, anecdotally pointing to the proposed 5 story ice rink down on the waterfront as proof positive.

So why does the CBC grant 6 minutes of airtime to the uninformed or deliberately disingenuous? Just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean they have to be heard. We already know they’re out there, muddying the debate and discourse, and getting their man elected mayor. Shouldn’t the media be providing more pushback and disputation and less a simple platform for anyone and everyone to air it out? The pursuit of uncovering truth and revealing facts and all that kind of high-minded sense of purpose.

Now, maybe I should view Wiens’ piece this morning not so much as investigative journalism as it is an exposé into The Minds Of Rob Ford Supporters. She did question a couple of the claims made by the interviewees but not directly. Only in gentle asides to the listeners that struck me like she was talking behind her subjects’ backs. Hey. If people are willing to give their opinions a wider voice, then we should at least be solicitous enough to publicly tell them that they’re full of shit when they are especially if their views, opinions or beliefs could possibly have an adverse impact.

So sure, everyone’s allowed to have an opinion. The question is, does that mean every opinion should be accorded equal weight and value? Chances are, if they were, we wouldn’t be having this discussion about public transit because we’d still be living in caves, arguing over how exactly to build that fire again.

submitted by Cityslikr


PR PR

November 22, 2010

Lazily listening to the CBC’s Sunday Edition (at 40’15” of hour 2) yesterday morning, I found myself out-lazied by the show’s host, Michael Enright, during his segment on proportional representation in our voting system. “One of the reasons the public campaign to switch to proportional representation has never gained steam is that it’s about as simple to explain as quantum physics. And boring as well,” Enright opined.

Your public broadcaster at work, folks, shining a light of knowledge seeking into the dark recesses of our democracy. From such a promising premise, the segment then presented two 30 second (or so) ‘commercials’ that attempt to sell the idea of proportional representation. The supposition being, of course, that if you can’t sell an idea to the public in 30 seconds, what’s the sense in trying.

The concept of proportional representation is actually pretty simple and easy to explain. Here’s one from the group Fair Vote Canada: When each vote has equal value, election results are proportional. A party that receives 40% of the votes will receive close to 40% of the seats in the legislature, not 60% or more. A party which receives 20% of the votes will win close to 20% of the seats, not 10% or none at all.

How a democracy goes about implementing such a system is, admittedly, a little more complicated than merely defining it but hardly insurmountably so. That is, unless a democratic institute like, say, the Liberal led provincial government at Queen’s Park saw no benefit to its own electoral well-being by bringing in proportional representation, and deliberately muddied the waters of understanding in the referendum it presented to voters on the issue, thereby sinking whatever prospects it had under a wave of self-interest. Over 80 countries around the world already operate under some variation of proportional representation, and just because the perpetually sad-sack Italy is one of them does not mean the system cannot work.

My suggestion here is to begin with baby steps, and hell, it isn’t even truly proportional representative! Let’s begin the push to have a ranked ballots system for Toronto in time for the next municipal election. Once we get used to voting that way and see how invigorating an experience it can be, it’ll pave the way toward demanding actual proportional representation at the provincial and federal levels with what’s called a Single Transferable Vote.

Ranked ballots (or Instant Runoff Voting [IRV] or Ranked Choice Voting or Alternative Vote or Preferential Ballots), you say. What’s that?

Well, RaBIT does a much more thorough job explaining it but, the short version, a ranked ballot system ensures that candidates must be elected with no less than 50% of all votes cast. Voters are given the chance to list their candidate preference for a particular office, 1st, 2nd, 3rd. If someone wins 50% or more of the vote, they are declared the winner and the election is over. However, if no one receives more than 50% the candidate with the least votes is eliminated from the race…If your preferred candidate is eliminated from the race, your vote is automatically transferred to your second choice. Again, the votes are counted and if someone has a majority, they are declared the winner. If not, another candidate eliminated and it repeats until there is a majority winner. This is all done without voters having to re-vote as happens during leadership conventions. One vote albeit, 1, 2, 3 in order of preference for each office that you’re casting a ballot for.

Like I said, ranked ballots aren’t true proportional representation and work much better at a party-less municipal level like we have in Toronto. Chances are, Rob Ford with 47% of the vote would’ve become mayor even under a ranked ballot system. But only 23 of our 44 councillors won their wards with over 50% of the vote with some truly eye-poppingly low numbers among those who didn’t. 25% for Gary Crawford in ward 36. 28% for Kristyn Wong-Tam in ward 27. 27% for Frank Di Giorgio in ward 12. 19% for James Pasternak in ward 10!!! Not to mention the handful of other council races that were settle by mere percentage point with the winner pulling in just 40% of votes.

That’s not representative democracy. That’s… disgraceful, is what it is. It breeds disregard for the will of the people, makes them contemptuous of a process that needs to be inclusive and participatory. Simply settling for our ingrained first-past-the-post method of electing candidates because anything else is too complicated or boring to contemplate reveals a hollowness at the core of citizenship. If we can’t be bothered to do our part in shoring up democracy, how dare we expect those we elect to do or be any better.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate XXX

September 10, 2010

It’s Friday, so turn your ball caps around, show us the price tag and we’ll bring you our latest installment of Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

This week: James Di Fiore, OddmanicMayor!

If you have to ask what exactly OddmanicMayor means, it means you’re an old fart, yo. Which is why we didn’t inquire about it for fear of looking like, well, an old fart. Let’s just leave it as one of those tics of the youth vernacular us grown-ups just weren’t supposed to understand.

You see, the James Di Fiore mayoralty campaign is all about getting young people out participating in the electoral process which they do not do at an alarmingly low rate. According to Di Fiore, the youngest voters (ages 18 to 35) represent over a third of Toronto’s population but only 18% of them decided to cast a ballot in the 2006 municipal elections. That’s well below an already embarrassingly 39% of all eligible voters who voted in `06.

So it would seem to be a huge demographic bracket to try and engage but that rarely seems to happen. Is it that whole chicken-and-egg, which came first dilemma? Young people don’t vote because candidates overlook them or do candidates overlook them because young people don’t vote? It’s not a new phenomenon, yet it would seem to be an important nut to crack for any candidate willing to try especially in what’s shaping up to be a horse race here for mayor where every vote will matter.

Into that gaping disconnect steps James Di Fiore. A self-described ‘media maverick of Canadian journalism’, Di Fiore gained notoriety when he was charged and convicted of violating the Canada Elections Act after he obtained 3 ballots at three polling places in the June 2004 federal election and wrote a piece for NOW magazine to tell the tale. While the stunt earned him it a $250 fine, it also led to an amendment in the voting law requiring voters to produce picture ID or to have someone vouch for them in person.

This wasn’t the first foray into actual newsmaking for Di Fiore. He also liked to hoodwink TV networks like CNN, CBC, the BBC into granting him panel space on their talking heads shows where he would proceed to cause a ruckus. Or so he claims unless he just punked us into writing that and help burnish his iconoclastic image that goes over well with the kids.

But will displaying attitude be enough to drag the young cohort out from in front of their Xboxes and Wiis and down to the polling stations come election day? If that were the case, we could just roll out, I dunno, Pauly Shore and run him for office. The youngsters still dig Pauly Shore, don’t they?

Mr. Di Fiore’s answer to that is simple. He’s got policies and platforms to back up the hip, subversive perspective. Oh yeah, that’s right, gramps. James Di Fiore will beat you over the head and back with policy ideas.

If elected, he would bring in a 3 year freeze on rental rates (although we’d be curious if that falls within a municipal government’s domain). Di Fiore would also like to see more tax breaks given to single people in the city who don’t get the same consideration as families, businesses or religious institutes. Di Fiore’s downright Dawkins/Hitchens in his animosity toward organized religion. No tax exempt status for you, churches et al, under a Mayor Di Fiore administration although, again, we’re not exactly sure how much of a hand municipalities have to play in that matter.

Di Fiore would also like to see tax incentives used to encourage businesses to foster virtual office space. That is, making it easier for people to not bother getting dressed in the morning and work from home. It would help alleviate congestion in business cores and contribute to a greener city enivornment. Di Fiore would continue the environmental policies of Mayor Miller and expand upon them.

A Mayor Di Fiore administration would intensify the waterfront redevelopment and extend a tourist initiative throughout other parts of the city including utilizing locations like Downsview Park much more. A daily transit user, Di Fiore isn’t one of your typical TTC haters even though he thinks it is weighted down with too much bureaucracy. He’d make it an essential service. He is also concerned about the number of sex offenders who are relocated in Toronto and would endeavour to halt that practice. His concern for the youth even extends to those not yet able to vote.

We wondered if having a campaign platform focused on young voters would be enough to get them out to vote in larger numbers. Did Di Fiore have any tricks up his sleeve to further help entice them to participate in the upcoming election? He did, yes, but when he started talking about using non-political events and online entertainment “that will allow [younger voters] to make a statement when they vote, not just cast a ballot”, we had no idea what he meant. But then again, we don’t have to. We’re not the demographic Di Fiore’s aiming for although he did assure us that as the election drew nearer his approach would become clearer. Even to codgers like us.

So we posed the question we’ve been asking all the mayoral candidates: If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Di Fiore like to see his legacy written? I would like my legacy to be that of a candidate who exposed young non-voters to the political process, he told us. I want 2010 to be seen as a turning point when disenfranchisement is replaced with a gradual inclusion between young voters and the system that represents them. I hope to be the catalyst who facilitates that turning point.

Hear that, front running candidates? There’s a big block of young people out there, wanting a seat at the table. If you’re not going to help make that happen, step aside. Candidate James Di Fiore will. Ignore him (and them) at your peril.

— dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Exeunt To The Cave

April 13, 2010

It is done. The wheel turned full circle. Case closed. The End.

Adam Giambrone announced last night that he is not running for re-election as councillor in Ward 18. His meteoric rise followed the course that most meteors take, finishing up with a crash and burn, leaving behind little evidence of their final impact. Certainly at 33 years of age, he is still a mere babe in the political sense with a long road ahead of him to start over again after enduring a period of time, wandering about the wilderness purgatory as many a great figure has done before him. (Wasn’t Jesus Christ of similar vintage when he battled the demon in the desert?)

Young Giambrone sounded resilient during his interview with CBC this morning. He ruled nothing out including another go at municipal politics once he’d done his time. (My words not his.) So perhaps there is little to mourn or to note in his passing. Rather than the final act of a great modern tragedy, it may only signify the curtain coming down for intermission, the ending of a first movie in a franchise of sequels.

Scoff as you might at my invocation of a tragic story but it does have all the makings of such. A brash young hero quickly rises through the ranks, impervious to the established limitations expected of one so green and inexperienced. He is arrogant, the old folk say, haughty. Just who exactly does he think he is?

Taken under wing by the king, he is given immense power which only increases resentment toward him. Clearly ambitious, a trait which normally elicits admiration, on young Adam it comes across as unseemly. The boy’s too ambitious, to the point of hubris.

Hubris. Pride. That which goes before the Fall. A fall that comes just as he nears the peak of powers, shortly after announcing his intention to become mayor of the city.

What trips our tragic hero up? That singular flaw which his pride blinds him to?

Errrrr…. he likes the ladies? Unseemly, maybe. Sordid even but tragic?

How about being a terrible judge of character? It wasn’t so much who he chose to practice his infidelity with but rather who he chose to text all about it with that ultimately undid him. Didn’t he see that an aspiring model with a need for publicity was not the best kind of character with whom to commit his unfaithfulness in bytes that could be easily broadcast far and wide? In that way, Giambrone was the author of his own demise. He was just plain stupid.

Hardly Shakespearean or Sophoclean. Barely movie of the week.

In reading an article by the National Post’s Jonathan Goldsbie earlier this week about another matter, I came across this little tidbit: … the dirty (non-sex-related) secret was that very few people actually liked him [Giambrone], as a person or as a councillor.

In other words, Adam Giambrone, once a rising start in the progressive political skies, was felled by the fact that nobody liked him.

Where’s the catharsis in that? All great tragedies provide catharsis. There’s no catharsis here. So this is no great tragedy. Sad and tawdry with a healthy dose of titillation, maybe, but certainly not a tragedy.

Or maybe it is. Only it isn’t a tragedy about Adam Giambrone. It is a tragedy about us. So obsessed have we become with the trivial, mundane and all that is monumentally inconsequential that we have lost our ability to focus on the essential. We reject complexity in favour of simplicity and can no longer collectively conduct our lives and society in any sort of rational, vigorous, mature manner. Those who think and act in such childish terms can only ultimately be treated as children.

sadly (but not tragically) submitted by Acaphlegmic