What Are Words Worth?

Words matter. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t try so desperately to misuse them in our attempts to mislead. Thus, ‘public safety’ translates into private scrutiny. wordsworthA picture may be worth a thousand words but a single mistruth convincingly told can literally alter a landscape.

So while it may seem like partisan semantics to challenge the word ‘hybrid’ as it’s currently being used in the Gardiner east debate, the fact is, it’s simply not correct. The “hybrid” option, as framed by Mayor John Tory, should be considered more of an affectation, a pretense. Lipstick on a pig, to coin a colloquial phrase.

“Hybrid” brings to mind a sense of environmentalism, do-goodism, looking out for future generations. I drive a hybrid, man. Emphasis on the hybrid.

“Hybrid” also conjures up images of agreeable compromise. The best of both worlds brought into pleasing alignment. Perfection? No. Are you perfect? I’m not. But together, we can make the best decisions possible.

Ahhhhhh…. “Hybrid”! … Even the consonants are pleasing.

(You don’t think that word was given the brand marketing going over?)

The problem is, “hybrid” as Mayor Tory is trying to sell it to us isn’t any of that. The only hybrid aspect of his plan for the Gardiner east is the painful forging together of two terrible ideas. Maintain the elevated portion of the expressway as is, only moving it slightly. abracapocusNot once but twice. That’s the “hybrid” of this option. A mess of unadulterated political calculations. A melange of pure reactionary self-interest.

Think ‘city building’ and then slide over to the exact opposite of that. If you land on Escape From New York, you’ve gone a little too far. The right direction. Just a little too far.

The good folks over at CodeBlueTO have come up with the proper term for the mayor’s Gardiner scheme: Modified Maintain. It stems from one of the four original proposals that city staff put forth before last year’s campaign. Maintain, Improve, Replace, Remove. It essentially maintains the eastern most 1.7 kilometre section of the Gardiner as an elevated thoroughfare with a layout change that threatens future waterfront development.

Keep it Up To Maintain Appearances, basically. Mayor Tory wants to spend a half billion dollars to prove that he’s always looking out for car drivers while, not coincidentally, looking back over his shoulder for the Fords, determined to give them no fodder for what everyone’s convinced will be some variation of a mayoral rematch in 2018. oppositewordsA legacy for the city? Screw that. Mayor Tory’s all about numero uno. This has everything to do with his personal legacy.

Modified Maintain.

If the mayor were being honest, that’s what he’d call the Gardiner option he’s pushing for, expending political capital on. Modified Maintain. It’s just that it flies in the face of growing expert opinion that wants to see this 1950s-era hunk of infrastructure brought down to a more human scale. (Why, just yesterday, the Council for Canadian Urbanism weighed into the debate, standing in opposition to Mayor Tory, of course.) Modified Maintain leads fairly directly to ‘maintaining the status quo’ which the mayor has assured us, that’s not what he was elected to do. Just the opposite. The opposite being just the opposite of… the opposite?

Mayor Tory’s the embodiment of the status quo, is what I’m getting at.

Over the course of the next 10 days or so, he will, in effect, be hitting the campaign trail, selling this thing he won’t call by its proper name – Modified Maintained – and pressuring his council colleagues to fall in line behind him. He will spout words, many, many words, many times over, most of which won’t be in the faintest way related to their actual meaning. lipstickonapigLike his predecessor, he’s fighting against evidence and experience with this and will have to pretend he’s not. So you won’t hear him say things like ‘craven calculation’ or ‘political pandering’ or ‘fundamental lack of leadership’.

In other words, the mayor won’t admit to reality. He’s put himself on the wrong side of this issue for all the wrong reasons, and now must desperately paint a picture where this is about two equally viable options with no easy, perfect choice to choose from but he’s done his level-headed, reasonable, rational, prudent, sensible, all-the-reports-read best to make his decision. Does he look like someone who wouldn’t do and be all those things?

Clearly, he is and when he tries to convince you otherwise, just remember two words.

Modified Maintain.

wordily submitted by Cityslikr

Disorder In The Ranks

(On a lazy Sunday, we post our piece from this week’s Torontoist. Think of it as the director’s cut.)

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Mayor Ford emerged from his waterfront cash grab gambit (or maybe it belonged to his renegade councillor sibling – Sorry, bro. Did I get any on you?) with his brand new consensus suit a little ill-fitting. On Monday after last week’s fiasco, he stood before council at a special Core Services Review meeting more than a little feisty. Spit and vinegarish even

Clearly over the weekend he and his advisors, with the first real debacle of his mayoralty in place and favourability numbers dropping precipitously, decided that the taxpayers of Toronto preferred candidate for mayor Rob Ford to the actual Mayor Rob Ford. So he reverted back to campaign mode, all vitriolic rhetoric and new pithy catch phrases. In introducing the Core Services Review items to kick off the proceedings, he stood and called out the ‘loonie left’ councillors who dared to defy his wishes. Stay The Course was a brand new mantra, chanted over and over again. Under questioning, he blustered, rambled, frequently contradicted himself within a single sentence. Just like the glory days out on the hustings in 2010.

The mayor even cited some new, unofficial polling data. According to people he met everywhere, 90% told him, begged him, exhorted him to Stay The Course. Suck on that, Ipsos Reid. Maybe you need to take your random samplings from the line ups at Tim Horton’s.

But for all the chest beating, name calling and bully boy posturing, the tone at council had shifted noticeably. While never exactly orderly, Team Ford had been able to deliver a rough hewn obedience, always managing to wrangle a majority of councillors into its corner on important issues. This week? A sense of disarray descended. Tried and true allies tested the waters of independence. Items and amendments came fast furious, some from very unexpected corners. I’m sorry, was that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday introducing an item on road tolls? Yes, yes. I get that it was nothing more than an attempted poke in the eye of Councillor Josh Matlow who had put forth his own motions asking for a review of a road toll idea but it put the mayor on the defensive, having to explain (idiotically, IMHO) his opposition to the concept of generating revenue through this particular type of user fee.

The biggest eye-opener, however, was Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby. A fellow Etobicokian and self-proclaimed right of centre suburban politician, she openly stood up and questioned the mayor about the entire process they were being asked to undertake. “Flying blind”, she called it, having to make consequential choices without any numbers in front of them, sounding almost Perksian at times. She didn’t wilt under the withering but ineffectual show me the money line of questioning from the budget chief. When it came time to push through the items she had introduced, Councillor Lindsay Luby gleefully flashed a thumbs up, sitting right next to Team Ford QB-clown, Giorgio Mammoliti and his downturned thumb of mayoral disapproval.

That said, Mayor Ford suffered no devastating setbacks during the two day meeting. There was no knockout blow, as the pundits like to say. Yes, the cuts he was hoping to inflict in the process fell woefully short of the intended mark. The $28 million or so he did get doesn’t even rate as a drop in the bucket. And in my darker moments, I might view the fact the Voluntary Separation Program – a “coerced” retirement offering to city staff as Councillor Gord Perks suggested in an unfriendly environment with a threatened 10% across the board reduction to all departments hanging in the air — moved on relatively unscathed gave the mayor a jump on the budget process, initiating cuts by stealth under the guise of attrition rather than layoffs or firings.

Still, as the mayor insisted somewhat disingenuously to quell fears of the slashing and burning taking place no decisions were being made at this point. It was all about reviews and studies. In other words, he remained in place, knocking down the easy to reach, low flying fruit. But now, Team Ford was bleeding support and the tough choices remain to be made.

Not only were stalwarts like Councillor Lindsay Luby drifting, so were Executive Committee members Councillors Berardinetti and Robinson. The mushy middle stopped being cowed. As Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler pointed out to me, even more worrisome for Mayor Ford, the already soft but principled conservative Chin Lee representing heavy, heavy Ford friendly Ward 41 in Scarborough quietly but decisively voted against the mayor on a surprisingly large number of items over the last couple days.

Support jumping overboard even before the ship hits really choppy waters. An already tenuous majority grown skittish. A summer of discontent turned to an autumn of disregard. All the ingredients for a disastrous budget process and a severe blow to the tattered mandate flag Mayor Ford keeps trying to hold high.

resubmitted by Cityslikr

Skirmish Won. Battle Still Ongoing. Victory From From Secure.

(As we were in absentia for Team Ford’s waterfront retreat, we turn to colleague Sol Chrom for a summary of last week’s important but very, very fluid victory on the waterfront.)

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If Team Ford’s Port Lands plans are truly dead, would someone mind driving a stake through them?

The plans, that is.

That’s how a tweet from Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan is describing things, linking to a quote from Councillor Paula Fletcher.

This is a triumph for the public…This is a Toronto moment, a Jane Jacobs moment.

Can’t argue with the sentiments, but I’m inclined to agree with a comment left on the Torontoist site by one dsmithhfx:

Don’t celebrate quite yet… I don’t trust this cabal of scumbag opportunists as far as I could throw them. It’s a setback, to be sure. And much as we’d like to think of it as a turning point, the point where the wave of ignorance, resentment, stupidity, and short-term greed that the Ford approach taps into finally broke, let’s not start the happy dance just yet.

The Port Lands/Waterfront fiasco has captivated our attention for several weeks, to be sure, and we can’t underestimate its symbolic importance. But it’s also possible to think of it as this week’s Shiny ObjectTM — something thing that attracts our attention and keeps us all occupied while other things are going on.

A thoughtful essay by Dylan Reid in Spacing last week discussed the slow decline of a community through a process of dozens of little cuts. Cancel a minor program here, put less resources into something else there, cut back on the scope of something else over there. The examples Reid cites include things like litter pickup, tree planting, neighbourhood improvement programs, snow clearing, and making bylaw enforcement reactive rather than proactive. As Reid writes:

Individually, the impact of each of these is small. And it’s quite possible some of them could be reasonable proposals for a city with a screwed-up budgetary process if they were thought through properly (e.g. all parks could have citizen committees that take care of flower planting and care, if the city provides the flowers and eases up on regulation). But done all in a rush, and all together, the overall impact will be a gradual degradation in the walking environment. It will get dirtier and trickier, and many programs that make it more attractive will be abandoned. People will still be able to walk, of course. They just won’t want to walk as much, unless they have to. And since walking is how people experience their city most directly, Toronto will feel a little bit more like a city in decline — which, given the amount of building going on and people moving in, it really shouldn’t.

By themselves, these measures may not amount to much. They don’t have the impact or the visibility of the Port Lands clusterfuck, because they don’t carry the same scale or price tag. That’s why they’re mostly off the radar. Cumulatively, however, their effect on our quality of life could be just as serious. The places we love and live in, whether they’re downtown or in the suburbs, would become dirtier, more threadbare, and less welcoming.

But this is what happens when the function of government is entrusted to people with no commitment to the public sphere. I’ve already written that the current administration seems colonized by people with no interest in using the power of government to advance the common good, and the events of the past few weeks have done nothing to suggest otherwise. When you start pulling at the threads that hold a community together, you never know when the whole thing’s going to unravel.

This is not to take anything away from the the people whose efforts forced a retreat on the waterfront, of course. And the folks involved in CodeBlueTO deserve a special shout-out. Let’s just remember, though, that this is a long war that has to be fought on many fronts. These guys aren’t done yet. There’s still a long slog ahead.

submitted by Sol Chrom

(Not only is Sol Chrom an occasional commenter here but he’s also been known to blog over at Posteroustumblr and OpenFile.)