Going To Pot

August 19, 2010

Frankly, I’m skeptical about the whole Rob Ford Caught With Pot in Florida story. It stinks to high heaven and not at all in the good way. That nice deep earthy, skunky way.

Firstly, I am not unfamiliar with the weed and have known my share of folks who are regular partakers. Never have I encountered someone of Ford’s personality trait who likes pot. At a party, they’ll wave an extended hand off, saying it doesn’t do much for them except make them sleepy.

Now, maybe there’s a laidback side to the man that very few of us get to see. Relaxin’ Rob, kickin’ it old school in FLA, wearing nothing but a speedo, blowing a doob and scarfing back pounds and pounds of shrimp cocktail.  Maybe, but I just can’t picture it. I just don’t want to picture it.

As has already been stated all over the interwebs, if Rob Ford were an illegal drug user, it would be a drug like coke. Crystal meth. Amyl nitrate poppers. OK, maybe not amyl nitrate. But then again, maybe. Whatever drugs it was that killed Chris Farley, those would be Rob Ford’s drugs of choice. If he were an illegal drug user.

Secondly, who broke the story and the timing of it are both highly, highly suspicious. Like the previous drug related pseudo-scandal involving Rob allegedly offering to illegally buy oxycontin for his new gay best friend, it was the Toronto Sun bringing us the pot tale. (Note the paper playfully chiding him as a Bad Boy.) By breaking this story now, the pro-Ford rag helped their candidate get out ahead of it, call himself yet another press conference to clear up yet another misstep, all well before election day when, hopefully, voters will have long since forgotten it.

More importantly, this minor blip of a controversy comes just 48 hours after Ford took his first real hit of the campaign during Tuesday night’s televised mayoral debate. When the topic of the Tamil “migrants” was raised, Ford stated that until we got our house in order and took care of the people who already live here we shouldn’t be going out of our way to welcome newcomers. Maybe it just came out the wrong way but no amount of spinning by the Ford people could totally obscure the fact that their guy might be a little bit of a xenophobic bigot.

Now, to his rock solid base — the Ford Army — his view on this was not just inconsequential but probably bang on. Everything the man says is bang on. In their eyes, Rob Ford can do or say no wrong. He could be caught strangling a baby while anally penetrating himself with a fuzzy puppy and they wouldn’t so much as blanch. That would just be Rob being Rob. What are you going to do? THE CITY DOESN’T HAVE A REVENUE PROBLEM! THE CITY HAS A SPENDING PROBLEM!! STOP THE GRAVY TRAIN!!!

The question is, however, is his base large enough to elect Rob Ford mayor on its own? One would hope in 2010 Toronto that wouldn’t be the case. Although we may be caught off-guard at just how many hillbillies we live amongst, they still aren’t plentiful enough to sweep Ford into office single-handedly.

So he has to reach out a little toward the right of centre. Not much, especially if the race continues as it is with these 5 front runners and 4 of them not having the devoted following that Ford has. Just 5-10% of those somewhat disaffected uncommitteds who feel overtaxed and underserviced and possess a streak of libertarianism in them. Those people still angry about having had to deal with their own garbage for 6 weeks last summer.

But when they hear Rob Ford being labeled as a mean-spirited bigot, they recoil. Ewww. That’s not right. John Tory would never say anything like that. And suddenly Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson begin to look like viable alternatives.

That is the sheer genius of the sudden appearance of the Rob Ford busted for pot and refusing a breathalyzer test in Florida more than 10 years ago story. It wipes the immigration gaffe right off the map and helps no one but Rob Ford. Given his history of boorish behaviour, it wouldn’t surprise me for a minute that he’s got hundreds of these things in his back pocket to use every time he says or does something that could seriously jeopardize his candidacy. With still 7 weeks to go in the election, he’ll probably have to use all of them.

I have now stopped thinking of the brain trust of Rob Ford’s campaign as mouth-breathing dunderheads who hold their daily meetings over hundreds of chicken wings at some Hooters. Whoever they are – and I still don’t see it being the candidate himself – they are proving themselves to be pure evil masterminds and should no longer be underestimated. For those who do not want to see Rob Ford as our next mayor, they have to ignore these insignificant diversionary tactics and continue to focus on all the real reasons he is unfit for the office.

mellowly 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


The Debates Drone On

June 16, 2010

Walking out from Trinity St. Paul’s church… er, Centre after the latest mayoral debate, I was accosted by a young fellow who stepped in front of me, blocking my path and demanded to know if I was Rocco Rossi.

Now, I have been called a few names in my time that were not my own, many better, most much worse, but never one this curious. Was I Rocco Rossi? If I’d been quicker on the uptake, I would’ve acknowledged that, yes in fact, I was Rocco Rossi but I had no time to stop and chat since I’d just stolen Sarah Thomson’s wallet from her purse and needed to make a quick getaway. That would’ve got the Twittersphere a-buzzing.

I could then take my act on the road, doing a little door-to-door canvassing under the name of Rocco Rossi, not so much campaigning as panhandling, begging for money, claiming that my fundraising had dried up since Rob Ford entered the race. I’d accept non-cash donation as well. A nice hot meal would be nice because I was so very, very hungry.

Oh, the things I’d do if I were the pretend Rocco Rossi.

Aside from that unusual ending, the debate itself proceeded pretty much as expected except that George Smitherman was absent who, it would appear, no longer needs to debate his opponents now that China has anointed him Mayor of Toronto. Taking his spot up on stage was Howard Gomberg, one of the 24 or so “other” candidates officially registered as mayoral candidates. How the evening’s hosts (a series of Bloor Street West business improvement areas and residents associations) decided upon Gomberg remains a mystery. The debate moderator, Gus Sinclair, began to explain the selection process but then simply didn’t and moved on to the candidates’ opening remarks.

This only increased my cynical suspicion of nefarious motives in choosing Gomberg to warm George Smitherman’s seat. An actor, improv-ver, spouter of New Ageism and all round genial old guy who wows the audience with his beat poetry/raps, Gomberg might be just the candidate to scream “Fringe!” loud enough for everyone to simply ignore all the other outsiders as cranks, pranksters and jokesters. None worthy of further consideration.

That Mr. Gomberg acquitted himself to the degree of not being an embarrassment was a good thing. Aside from injecting a little levity into the proceedings, however, he didn’t bring much to the table but, at least, he was not the clown prince. How could he be, what with Rob Ford sitting beside him?

Clown, buffoon, gas bag and blowhole. All these descriptors of Ford come easily but they don’t actually do justice to the monumental ignorance the man displays in terms of governance. It’s all about customer service to Ford; answering phone calls, filling potholes, putting name tags on city employees. There’s a paucity of imagination in the man (and presumably his rabid followers) that is simply staggering. Every time he stands to speak or rather, vent, H.L. Mencken’s quote immediately springs to mind. For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Of course, Rob Ford merely delivers the populist, grassroots version of the same song and dance sung by candidates Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson. Much of the evening’s talk was of fiscal responsibility, getting our financial house in order, running a tight ship, profligate spending and taxing. No degree of counter-argument penetrated their discussion.

Councillor Pantalone claimed that under the Miller administration municipal spending had risen less than government spending at either the provincial or federal levels. No matter. We must get our fiscal house in order before going to the senior levels of government, cap-in-hand. But the provincial and federal governments just posted $20 billion+ and $50 billion+ deficits respectively. They are hardly the paragons of financial probity that Toronto needs to be justifying itself to. Cities aren’t allowed to run annual operating deficits, Pantalone points out. Immaterial. Until we get serious about cutting taxes and spending, we cannot expect other levels of government to take us seriously.

So it went in circles. Ideology trumping informed debate which was especially discouraging last night as the audience largely brought their A-game, posing questions about land use development, population density strategies and socially inclusive gentrification. For his part, Joe Pantalone engaged in a thoughtful, deliberate manner, most of the time. But it’s a difficult slog as he doesn’t possess an orator’s power of persuasion, coupled with the fact his opponents were mostly content to talk trash and shit, brushing Pantalone off with the school yard taunt of Miller Lite. (No. I most certainly am not Rocco Rossi.)

Bringing me to a most unsettling conclusion: Giorgio Mammoliti came across as the evening’s most intriguing candidate. Setting aside for the moment all the man’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, he struck me as someone who genuinely is searching for a way to make this city better and more vital. Yes, his thoughts and plans drifted in and out of lucidity and he says sinister things like, I know where the money is, but he seems like a candidate who is not set in a rigid belief system. This leads to many a contradiction (even within a single statement) and backtracking which could well be a very solid indication that he doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about. Yet, on this night at any rate, it felt refreshing, popping up as it did in a sea of unyielding certainty and blinkered absolutes.

Or maybe I’m already desperate, clutching at straws, waiting and hoping for someone to step forward and give me one good reason to think that dark days don’t lie ahead for Toronto.

not yet but close to fearfully submitted by Cityslikr


Better Ballots Mayoral Debate 6 + 2

June 2, 2010

Attending my first mayoral debate last night, thrown by the folks at Better Ballots at the University of Toronto’s Hart House, it’s difficult to properly assess the proceedings. There’s no baseline to measure it against as the scientists say. Are they all like this because if that’s the case, debates are a lot of fun. More people should make a point of attending them. It was infinitely more entertaining than, I don’t know, Iron Man 2, although in reading that sentence I realize it could be taken as less than complimentary toward political debates.

I do know that this one was different than previous debates so far as it introduced some of the other 22 candidates who have registered to run for the office of mayor. Two, Rocco Achampong and Keith Cole, had won an online poll to join the 6 main contenders up on the stage while the other 20 were given the opportunity to give a 1 minute speech throughout the course of the evening. (We’ll go into more detail about how the “other” candidates fared in our Friday ‘Meet A Mayoral Candidate’ post, only to say now that Mssrs. Achampong and Cole acquitted themselves very, very well on stage last night.)

Held in the very proper Debates Room, the atmosphere was both stuffy and almost carnivalesque. Stuffy, owing mostly to the lack of A/C in the place. It was warm, close. To the point where I was half expecting a wet-pitted Huey Long to appear on the podium, exhorting a radical redistribution of wealth.

Yet, at least metaphorically speaking, the event felt light and airy. Finally allowed access to a wider audience, many of the previously overlooked mayoral candidates who were present took the opportunity to mingle with the crowd, some handing out their campaign literature, others promenading down the middle aisle of the room, holding up handmade campaign posters. Candidates on parade! Place your vote for mayor here!

Doing their level best to dampen the upbeat mood, however, was the Red Menace. A group of youthful red t-shirted Rocco Rossi supporters, hogging up chairs by the row full, wrestling the loose vibe in the room to the ground, harshing the mellow. As the jostling swirled around me, I realized they were in a pitched battle with equally young but perhaps even more doe-eyed, undercover George Smitherman (only one of them sported their team’s purple shirts which he quickly removed) backers. I fought the urge to ask one of these youngsters why on earth they were wasting their formative years working for such soulless candidates but fortunately resisted, not wanting to ruin the evening with fearful thoughts of our future well-being.

As for the debate itself, it was a tightly run operation based around the 14 electoral reform proposals that Better Ballots have been working on, ranging from extending the municipal vote to permanent residents and online voting to term limits and campaign finance rules. If I can offer up two bits of constructive criticism, it would be as follows:

  • One, since Better Ballots had held 4 town hall meetings throughout the city in April for interested members of the public to discuss and vote on, I might’ve used the numbers to eliminate the issues that least caught peoples’ attention, i.e. municipal parties, at-large councils, even possibly term limits. That way, there would’ve been more time to discuss the remaining issues in more detail and not allowed any of the candidates to simply agree or disagree without giving the reasons why.
  • Two, again to afford more time to delve further into details, I would nix the 6-10 minute open portion after each of the candidates were given their 1-1½ minutes to speak on a specific issue. It only opened the door to pre-packaged digs between candidates and empty, rhetorical posturing that often had little to do with the issue at hand.

That said, for much of the evening all the candidates seemed to be in the spirit of things, offering up thoughtful opinions on electoral reform. Except maybe Rob Ford who came across as completely uncomfortable and out of his element. To be fair, he was the main target of shots from the other candidates and the Hart House crowd was not his crowd and the room grew increasingly hot so he was sweating a lot but I still half expected him to break out into a Chris Farley “I live in a van down by the river!” routine. Ultimately, if I were voting for the candidate who I thought would make the best Walmart manager, Ford would be my candidate.

Sarah Thomson struck me as a high school valedictorian. Whenever she kept pointing out that she’d built a multi-million dollar business, I wanted to stand up and scream, “But government isn’t a business, Ms. Thomson!!” Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti drifted in and out of lucidity, constantly badgering Ford, dismissing his incessant call to reduce the number of councillors to 22 as nothing more than empowering the unelected bureaucracy and calling for (I think) publicly funded elections. George Smitherman was smooth, said pretty well next to nothing (a voting reform package sent to a council committee) and struck me as extremely unlikable.

I must admit that, despite the presence of his Redshirts, Rocco Rossi caught my attention with his thoughtfulness and passion. So much so that whenever he talked I found myself thinking, if we only could get him off this whole selling of public assets nonsense… Then came his final statement where he tried to convince the audience that the real reason for voter disaffection is due to the choices the current mayor has made, and then proceeding to dismiss plastic recycling and public toilets as unimportant. Clearly the man had no read on who he was talking to on this particular evening and his ideas of civic engagement are wildly antithetical to mine.

Leaving us with Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone. Neither here nor there, pretty well lost in the shuffle, he didn’t seem out of place so much as content to go along, surf the various tides as they swell up in order to be one of the last candidates standing come October. He seems non-ideological and cordial enough to work well with a fractious council. But I just wish he’d stand up (no pun intended) and be more forceful about why he thinks government matters, why he would be a good mayor and that after 29 years in office, the city he’s represented is not doing too badly despite what the gaggle of naysayers on the stage around him are saying.

It is still just June yet. Lots of time remaining for policies, platforms and personalities to coalesce. Onward and forward to future debates!

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr