Civic Inaction

May 1, 2015

“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” Groucho Marx is said to have quipped.

I thought of that quote as I followed along with the proceedings of this week’s Better City Bootcamp hosted by the venerable CivicAction Alliance. grouchomarxSuch righteous goals. Vital breakout sessions. Elevated discourse about city building.

But through it all, the one thing that kept dancing, pogo-style, around my head was: John Tory. John Tory. John Tory. John Tory.

Good intentions may pave the road to hell but I’m wondering if they also provide solid footing for entry level access into the entrenched status quo.

Is that too harsh?

I know people speak very highly and fondly of CivicAction’s founder, the late David Pecault and his Toronto City Summit Alliance, CivicAction’s early incarnation. There’s no reason for me to doubt those sentiments. Nor is there any reason for me to doubt the integrity and good intentions of those now at the helm of the organization.

It’s just… It’s John Tory, dammit.

What does it say to a group of aspiring community leaders that no matter what kind of  ideas or novel approaches you may have in dealing with some of the problem issues this city faces, congestion or youth employment say, you leave those ideas and approaches behind the moment you get into any position of real, elected power? Thinking outside the box is all well and good when there’s nothing at stake, when you’re just making suggestions not decisions. Once you’re out there in the real world, well, come on. It’s the real world. marxbrothersThinking outside the box is just an empty phrase you say to make it seem like you’re open-minded and all about shaking up the status quo.

Take the former CivicAction chair and now actual mayor of Toronto, the aforementioned John Tory.

Remember CivicAction John Tory and their Your 32 campaign? What would you do with an extra 32 minutes in the day if our commute times were reduced through a grand investment in public transit? That campaign, led by CivicAction John Tory (and, not coincidentally, former CEO and now Liberal government M.P.P. Mitzi “Subway Champion” Hunter), demanded our politicians start having an adult conversation about new revenue tools to pay for it. Evidently both of them have forgotten the particulars of that campaign.

“Indeed, the public has figured out,” CivicAction Tory speechified back in 2013, “that transit plans without money are almost worse than no transit plans at all because they create nothing but false hopes.”

That was CivicAction John Tory. Mayor Tory has offered up SmartTrack, a largely unfunded transit plan, creating ‘nothing but false hopes’. CivicAction John Tory’s words not mine.

So how does he face the gathering at CivicAction’s Better City Bootcamp?

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Be bold. Be innovative. Be tireless in your pursuit of doing the right thing. Just don’t expect any of that from anybody holding public office.marxbrothers1

Dare to dream. Prepare to embrace disappointment. Change that threatens the status quo can be talked about, hashed over in forums like we’ve gathered together for here. Implementation is another matter entirely.

Democracy’s all well and good. I’m as big a fan of it as there is. But there are limits. Corporate boardrooms are where the real action is. If you want to wield ultimate power and influence, put on your networking hat and get yourself mingling out in these hallways today.

Thank you very much and have a good day.

John Tory is living, breathing proof of the stunted policy positions corporate drenched organizations like CivicAction will ultimately affect. Hyperbole? Check out the board of directors or, as they like to think of themselves, “A Team of Strategic Thinkers”. The man chosen to replace Tory as the group’s chair, Rod Phillips, is yet another product of corporate and political backrooms. Chief of staff to former mayor Mel Lastman. A staffer with Tory during his time as provincial Progressive Conservative leader. Former mucky muck of OLG and now mucky muck with Postmedia.

These are not people who will be advocating for fundamental social change. They have it pretty good as it is. Tweaks to the system will suffice. Reasonable, common sense tweaks, you understand.

Look at Tory’s mayoralty so far to see the kind of changes CivicAction players really stand for. See it? Look harder. marxbrothers2Anything? No? Yeah, me neither.

I don’t know if this is the kind of vehicle David Pecault envisioned when he established the organization back a dozen years ago, if John Tory is the kind of leader he wanted to see step up to tackle the problems the city faces. If so, it was doomed to failure from the start. A failure, that is, for everyone else but the establishment types like John Tory who use the organization as a false patina to give them the appearance of being agents of change and not the standard bearers of the status quo which is what they truly are.

contrarily submitted by Cityslikr


Committed To Talking About Transit

March 17, 2014

What can we do in the face of an overwhelming lack of leadership?powervacuum1

I was thinking that, listening to Premier Kathleen Wynne explain to Matt Galloway on Metro Morning today why she’d announced pulling some possible revenue tools last week to help fund transit building. You could actually hear the political calculus at work. Or maybe it was the sound of transit planning coming to a grinding halt.

No one doubts the premier is in something of a bind here. You could make the argument she’s looking down the wrong end of history’s barrel, with twenty years of anti-tax and small government sensibilities having taken solid root in the political soil, dating back to the rise of the Reform Party in the early 90s. The Chretien/Martin deficit cutting and downloading frenzy. Mike Harris. Mel Lastman. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford.

Taxation not even seen as a necessary evil but simply evil.

Of course, her own party’s recklessness with public funds doesn’t help her cause any. taxesareevilWe all know the names by heart. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. It’s a bit tough at this point for Premier Wynne to step up and ask for more money from Ontario’s residents. Trust us. We’ll spend it all very, very wisely.

And the politicking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The opposition parties at Queen’s Park have constructed their own anti-reality bubbles in terms of revenue sources to dedicate to transit. Everybody’s got some magic beans they’re shilling, ways to get the transit needed at a cost that will come from almost nobody’s pockets. Don’t worry, folks. This won’t hurt a bit.

My guess is, as we head into the provincial budget process, the government has just handed concessions over to the NDP by vowing not to increase the gas tax, the HST or income tax on middle-class families in order to fund the Big Move. Your move now, Andrew Horwath. What does your party suggest? Using exact figures, if you don’t mind.

Who’s going to step forward first and sign their name to a tax increase or new user fee?

Because everybody knows this can’t continue. Public transit in the GTHA has to be built. That fact, at least, cuts across political lines. checkersOnly the supremely delusional Tim Hudak-led Tories are insisting it can be done without raising more revenue.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked.

The Liberal government has been provided with plenty of cover to take the important next step in this debate. From the non-politically realigned Metrolinx and the premier’s very own appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, to organization as disparate as the Toronto Region Board of Trade, CivicAction Alliance, the Pembina Institute, right down to grassroots groups like Code Red TO, all have talked up revenue tools. The pump has been primed, the ground broken.

Yet, here we are, gridlocked and deadlocked. Still.

The ugly truth about this, unfortunately, is that the well being of the party takes precedence over the strength of the idea. We’ve all been told that if party X runs with this and takes a beating in the election because of it, well, we’re right back to square one or so. partyloyaltyThe fate of transit in the GTHA hinges on the party that best touts the least amount of pain necessary to voters in order to build it.

No one’s gutsy or astute enough (both integral components of actual leadership) to step forward and challenge the conventional wisdom that voters summarily oppose taxation and are unwilling to pay more for improved service. Instead it’s just more nibbling around the edges, reframing the debate in the exact same dimensions we’ve heard for the past 20 years. Empty, empty pledges of new stuff free of charge. Promises to deliver the undeliverable.

All of which serves only to make us more cynical, more apathetic and less likely to take anything any of our politicians say seriously. Who wants to go to bat for somebody ducking from the first inside pitch they face? Why waste your time and effort?

At this point, there can be little doubt that the 3 parties representing us at Queen’s Park have failed miserably at displaying anything close to resembling leadership on the transit file. Each have wilfully disregarded the hard work and dedication put in by groups and individuals, goitalonefighting to ensure that we have a robust debate and positive outcome in dealing with an issue that threatens nothing short of our well-being and way of life in this region. We’ve been abandoned by our elected leaders.

If our provincial politicians are unwilling to provide the appropriate leadership for us, we really should start talking about why we continue to finance them and subject ourselves to their inaction and indecisiveness.

dim viewly submitted by Cityslikr