Queen’s Park Strangers

July 3, 2012

“Too much time has been wasted,” intoned Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli last week, “and we need shovels in the ground and improvements to public transit starting now. There is no time left to waste.”

All reports suggest he said this with a straight face.

If it wasn’t obvious before, it couldn’t be any clearer now: the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto has been nothing less than manna from heaven for the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty. In the havoc Mayor Ford’s wreaked on this city’s transit file (havoc the provincial government could’ve stemmed if it so chose but more on that later), Queen’s Park has been able to cover its tracks, hiding nearly a decade of neglect and indecisive mishandling of such a vital portfolio. So much so, that after TTC Chair Karen Stintz launched what was nothing more than an embryonic idea about further transit expansion in Toronto with One City, Minister Chiarelli was able to condescendingly brush it aside as a ‘future-looking concept’ with ‘a lot of merit’ but – and hold your stitches together with this — “We must not and cannot allow further council debate and delay,” the minister said. “Transit in a city like Toronto isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

The stones on these guys. Really.

For the past 17 years, transit in this city has been little more than a political football to successive provincial governments of both red and blue stripes. Kicked and punted this way and that, depending on the direction the winds were blowing, there hasn’t been anything really resembling an overall strategy as much as there’s been basic calculated ad hockery.  While the current transportation minister mouths the word ‘necessity’ in terms of transit, it’s really only been about expediency from Queen’s Park for some time now.

1995.

The newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris decides to bury the already in progress Eglinton subway line. Unaffordable. So we’ll wait a decade and a half when the costs of building transit inevitably come down and we can have this debate all over again in its entirety.

Later on as a sop to then Mayor Mel Lastman, the Tories OK a Sheppard subway line. This little stub of a thing contributes little to alleviating congestion much. In fact, it only seems to be helping load up the Yonge subway line to past capacity. It also serves as a flashpoint to the great subway debate of 2010-12, a key element to the delays the transportation minister bemoans.

And then there was the decision to stop funding the provincial half of the TTC’s annual operating budget, a decision that candidate for premier McGuinty promised to reverse if elected but has yet to get around to nearly 9 years on in his mandate. Taking a very conservative estimate, say $150 million a year, for 17 years now, that adds up to some $2.5 billion that the TTC and taxpayers of Toronto have had to shoulder or simply dispense with for the better part of a generation now. That’s a lot of expansion of services deferred and new technologies ignored.

What Mike Harris taketh away, Dalton McGuinty hath kept tucked away.

And like his predecessor, Premier McGuinty also bestowed upon the city a subway that had more to do with politics than with practicality. The Yonge-University subway line extension up to Vaughan was hardly where a new subway was needed most. Transit? Sure. But a subway? If there, why not Scarborough was a legitimate question asked during this spring’s transit debate. Until you elect a high ranking member of the provincial government, Scarborough, might’ve been the actual answer.

Then there’s Transit City.

Until we elected Mayor Ford in 2010, the main culprit in the delays in implementation of Transit City has been at the provincial level. Originally planned to build 7 new LRT lines and upgrading the Scarborough RT, along with new rapid bus lanes, Queen’s Park blanched in the face of the economic meltdown in 2008 and pulled funding that reduced the plan to 3 new LRT lines and the work on the Scarborough RT. (What’s that again about transit in Toronto being a necessity, Minister Chiarelli?) This reversal signalled that Transit City was subject to change and opened the door for Mayor Ford to crayon in a few alterations of his own.

As our friend David Hains pointed out last week, the Liberal government seems to have a selective memory when it comes to what, who and when modifications to a plan can occur. While brushing aside One City with a pithy ‘the train has already left the station’ bon mot from Minister Chiarelli, they weren’t as decisive when Mayor Ford unilaterally declared Transit City dead in December of 2010. Fearing for their own political future in the face of the supposed might of Ford Nation, Queen’s Park played along with the charade, allowing the debate to drag on until city council itself sorted things out. Now, it’s like, time’s up, folks. The clock is ticking. Time is money.

This is not to absolve Toronto city council of all responsibility for the transit woes it now faces. We elected an obvious anti-public transit mayor in Rob Ford. We demanded our councillors repeal the VRT and put further pressure on our own ability to pay our share of things. The subway-versus-LRT debate revealed a continued parochialism running deep throughout the city.

But, as they say, a fish rots from the head down. (I don’t know if that’s true but the saying comes in handy at the moment). This city and this region have suffered from a provincial leadership vacuum on transit for nearly two decades now. At least. $6 billion in lost productivity due to traffic congestion per year in the GTA and Metrolinx’s report on funding ideas for its Big Move isn’t expected until June of 2013. If still in office then that will be almost 10 years after the McGuinty government took over power. It hardly screams urgent or not a luxury but a necessity for transit from them.

So you’ll have to excuse me, my dismissal of the provincial government as honest or serious brokers on this issue. It reminds me of my favourite line from The Sopranos. “They shit on our heads and want us to thank them for the hat.”

snittily submitted by Cityslikr


Childish Behaviour

February 24, 2012

I could not disagree with Christopher Hume more if he were, well, Rob Ford.

He’s plea to the province to assume control of Toronto’s transit file is nothing short of madness, an adolescent whine. I want my mommy. Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.

Long has been my stance, if not in these pages than in discussions I’ve had, that the main reason voters in cities including here seem comfortable casting their ballots at the municipal level for, how to say this delicately, clowns, clowns, jokers, the inept and certifiably deranged, is because they believe that it doesn’t really matter. There’s this blind faith that regardless of what happens, no matter what shit we manage to cover ourselves with, there’s a safety net to break our fall. The province would never let us burn our playhouse down.

We are the junior level of government, the farm team if you will, the bush leagues. Expectations are low, so why not have some fun with it? Politics as performance art. Since there are no consequences, we can afford to take a flyer or two, an appliance salesman here, a blustering buffoon there. It’s not like it’ll make any difference to our lives, right?

As we’re slowly beginning to realize, that’s not in the least bit true. In fact, it’s downright misguided from where we’re standing. Municipal politics matters. A lot. But to scream for a lifeline now, to call for the cavalry only reinforces the already hardened preconception that we’re not responsible enough to take care of ourselves. That when push comes to shove, we’re happy to hand over responsibility to the adults in the room and let them sort through the mess we’ve created.

And even that’s more than a little galling. In terms of public transit in Toronto, we are hardly the chief culprits in the bind we’re in currently. Plenty of blame to go around, with Queen’s Park topping the list. I mean, hey. If cities are nothing more than creatures of the province than the province has to bear some of the burden in how we’ve turned out, right?

Imagine if you will, the Mike Harris government (and yeah, I’m looking hard at you, Councillor John Parker) not filling in the hole that had already been dug in Eglinton Avenue back in 1996. This whole above/below ground LRT battle would be moot. We might even already have a Sheppard subway extension! Or what if the McGuinty government had long since made good on its promise to re-upload it’s portion of the annual TTC  operating budget that their predecessors had wiped their hands clean of (again, I’m looking hard at  you, Councillor John Parker)? That’s hundreds of millions of dollars Toronto would’ve had in its coffers or been able to give to the TTC for expansion or state of good repairs. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered back in the spring of 2010 and scaled back on some of the original Transit City plans, then candidate for mayor Rob Ford wouldn’t have seen it as negotiable. Maybe had Premier McGuinty not wavered again, this time in the face of a Mayor Rob Ford, and signed their Memorandum of Understanding, throwing all transit planning back up into the air.

These are the people Mr. Hume wants to take charge? Arguably the very architects of our transit disarray? What on earth will that accomplish?

Despite Mayor Ford’s continued intransigence, city council is getting a handle on the situation. Doddering patrician types like the National Post’s Terence Corcoran sniffs at the February 8th city council meeting that asserted council’s primacy over the mayor, calls a timeout and declares we should just start all over. Well you know what, Mr. Corcoran? Fuck you. Democracy’s messy.

If people would just accept the fact that Mayor Ford lost, that city council (re)approved the Transit City plans for the Eglinton and Finch LRTs, that in a sop thrown to the mayor, a panel will make recommendations about Sheppard Avenue next month, we could just get on with things. Ignore the petulant child jumping up and down, holding his breath and turning red in the face. It doesn’t matter. Paying attention to him only reinforces the grade school view of municipal politics.

As does asking the province to come in and sort our problems out. Ironically, it also puts the normally fierce critic of the mayor, Christopher Hume, on the same side as the man he so obviously loathes. You don’t think Mayor Ford would love to divest himself of public transit decisions? Here, take it and all the related costs. Then we can just bitch and moan if it doesn’t work out to our liking, blameless. Take our traditional place in the backseat, counting on our parents to get us to where we’re going and only asking over and over, are we there yet? Are we there yet?

We’re not but we also need to realize that dad’s handed us the keys to the car.

adultly submitted by Cityslikr


What’s In A Name?

January 10, 2012

You know, for a bunch of bona fide name-callers, the radical conservatives marching under the banner of Mayor Rob Ford sure are thin-skinned when it comes to taking what they love to dish out. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I hurt your feelings? Offend your delicate sensibilities? Yeah well, put that in your pipes and smoke it, you right wing zealots, ya.

As the hardest of the hardcore Team Ford members on the budget committee pushed through further proposed cuts to libraries, closed pools, daycares, homeless shelters and TTC service, they managed to find time to take umbrage at the clearly orchestrated use by their councillor opponents of various iterations of the term ‘radical conservative’ thrown in their collective direction. (‘Umbrage’, you say? The dumber of you budget committee lot can ask the more bookish to explain it for you. Councillors Peter Milczyn and John Parker will know… and speaking of Parker. How rich was it, how fucking rich to listen to him mewl defensively about being referred to as a ‘radical conservative’? The very same John Parker who, as a member of the very right wing Mike Harris government, helped impose amalgamation on an unwilling 6 municipalities in Toronto along with an asymmetrical downloading of services, both of which remain root causes of the fiscal squeeze this city is currently experiencing. ‘Radical conservative’? Moi? Nonsense. Oh yes, amidst all the slashing and burning that Councillor Parker referred to as ‘reasonable’, he managed to secure city funding to build a 2nd ice rink in the Leaside neighbourhood of his ward.)

It’s as if they all felt that name calling and labelling those with different political views was their sole domain. Proprietarily they voiced indignation at having the tables turned on them. We’re the ones who take intellectual shortcuts and brand those we disagree with in bumper sticker slogans not you, you teat-sucking, trough swilling silly socialists.

Remember Stop the Gravy Train?

Now, I don’t know where I sit with the ‘radical conservative’ moniker. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have certainly played with variations of it at least since then Councillor Rob Ford announced his candidacy for mayor back in March of 2010. Far right wing. Radical right wing. Neoconservative Ideologue.

The problem is, their actions don’t seem particularly radical for conservatives these days. They are simply doing what conservatives have been doing for over 30 years. Transferring wealth upwards. Using the guise of fiscal responsibility to shrink government in size and efficacy. Privatizing everything not nailed down. Check, check and double check. It’s just what conservatives do. We shouldn’t expect otherwise regardless of what they tell us while campaigning.

Our good friend, Sol Chrom, has argued that what passes as conservative now has nothing in common with the ideals of traditional conservatism as espoused by Edmund Burke back in the days of yore. To attach any version of ‘conservative’ to the likes of Rob Ford and his enablers is to render the word meaningless. From that point of view, a ‘radical conservative’ is actually a radical non-conservative.

But honestly, we haven’t really seen much of traditional conservatives for some time now unless they’re calling themselves Liberals. At the federal level, the last real ‘progressive’ conservative was Joe Clarke. Provincially, the concept died in the wreckage of the Big Blue Machine. In fairness, Toronto has maintained a short supply of these radical non-conservatives and, usually kept them far from the reins of power. And I don’t think it out of line to say the city’s been the better for it.

The one shred of traditional conservatism this gang retains, the one all neo-conservatives in the country and continent maintain in their political DNA, is a distrust and dislike of anything to do with cities and urbanism. They prize individual ease over community comfort. How else to explain their axe wielding at public transit, libraries, daycares, community centres? One of the mayor’s favourite mantras goes something along the lines of ‘The city shouldn’t be in the business of…”, and if it isn’t anything to do with immediate personal safety or clean and wide open streets to drive on, the city shouldn’t be engaged in it.

What the mayor is, and everyone who helps further his agenda as well, is radically anti-urban. Let’s remove the political ideology from the equation. Team Ford is only conservative as far as it has declared a war on a liveable, equitable city. That’s the extent of their traditional conservatism. So, let’s start calling it what it actually is.

Radical anti-urbanism.

Let them try to defend themselves against that label.

elitely submitted by Cityslikr


The Bold And The Beautiful

October 13, 2011

It’s difficult to reconcile being in a room full of articulate, passionate and fully engaged Torontonians for about 6 hours or so and the state this city finds itself in currently. I mean, if we’re facing such seemingly intractable and menacing issues, why aren’t some of these people in charge? After all, they can’t be that busy. Here they were, taking an afternoon to talk to the likes of us.

So it was yesterday as I sat in attendance in the Baillie Court auditorium at the AGO for a symposium, Imagine Toronto, that kicked off the launch of The Toronto Project followed by a Walrus sponsored debate, Be It Resolved That Toronto Will Never Be Beautiful. The room was packed with bright stars both on and off the stage, exchanging ideas, expressing hope (guarded), concern (sincere), outrage (very, very palpable). David Crombie moderated the afternoon session that featured 10 takes on the essence of Toronto, past, present and future. There was author-professor-philosopher Mark Kingwell. From the Maytree Foundation, Ratna Omidvar. Author-editor-stroller, Shawn Micallef. CivicAction‘s Naki Osutei. Rahul Bhardwaj talked about Toronto’s worrisome Vital Signs but remained surprisingly upbeat. Architect Wayne Kuwabara. Visual artist Shary Boyle tore up the place, beseeching the audience to imagine a Toronto that embraced itself and its artists proudly rather than half-heartedly. Writer-activist Dave Meslin called for more community, grassroots engagement in our political process.

That was all before the evening’s entertainment had begun.

One crossover between the day’s two meeting of minds was journalist John Lorinc. His cover article for the November issue of The Walrus magazine, Where Toronto Went Wrong, has been the talk of the town since it came out and was the cornerstone of both gatherings. No, folks. Things didn’t suddenly go south when Rob Ford became mayor. Even the enforced amalgamation foisted upon us by the Harris government and the subsequent downloading and bailing of responsibilities by Queen’s Park cannot be pointed to as the only culprit although it certainly served as a key role in how things are playing out here presently. Weaving a historical overview, Lorinc writes about how for every positive step the city leaders and their provincial overlords took, such as the creation of a two-tier system of regional governance with the formation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954, there were two steps back like, well, the undoing of Metropolitan Toronto in 1998. (Amalgamation didn’t have to include the elimination of the metro level of government.)

My take on the whys and hows Toronto ‘lost its groove’ can be distilled in two points Mr. Lorinc makes in his article.  “Unfortunately, Toronto’s history is filled with examples of high-minded plans for open spaces that were crushed by its deep-seated disinclination to invest in the public realm.” Four paragraphs later he writes, “Such not-so-benign neglect, borne of a culture of stinginess, has been a long-standing element of Toronto’s DNA.”

Our leaders have suffered from a severe aversion to boldness, masked in an embrace of parsimoniousness calling itself fiscal prudence. Not only have we allowed them to conduct their business in such a fashion, we’ve encouraged it, demanding low taxes before civic amenities. ‘Need-to-haves’ over ‘nice-to-haves’ to use Mayor Ford’s words.

A ‘stinginess’ with money infecting a ‘stinginess’ of spirit. No to a Yonge Street subway in 1912 because of its price tag, repeated some 80 years later when Mike Harris buried the hole already dug for an Eglinton Avenue subway. The costs too rich for our blood that would haunt and saddle future generations with a significantly higher amount of money needed to think big on matters of transit. A history of here and now closed-mindedness and fistedness.

Remember a few months back when Councillor David Shiner killed plans for the Fort York bridge because he thought it ‘too fancy’? A miserliness of thinking handed down from his mother, Esther Shiner, Spadiner Shiner, who led the charge to extend the Spadina Expressway from where it had been stopped in its tracks at Lawrence Avenue down to Eglinton Avenue. The so-called Davis Ditch which, among other proposals was one from Buckminster Fuller that feature a mixed use development atop the Spadina subway extension. Instead, we got Allen Road. Anyone who’s ever tried to negotiate that intersection on foot, bike or even a car knows the price we paid for that.

We have inherited a short-sightedness in terms of money that never seems capable of taking in the bigger picture. A deficit of boldness that always means passing the buck, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes, oftentimes, a penny saved is not a penny earned. It’s just responsibility deferred.

To be bold means more than strictly adhering to the bottom line. Down the road, money you think you’ve saved just accrues, collecting interest that will have to be paid by someone else. Not doing something because it seems unaffordable now may seem noble and conscientious and shows Respect For The Taxpayer but in many cases, when it comes to building a sustainable, liveable, just city, is nothing more than a refusal to govern. It isn’t even caretaking. It’s obstructionism. Politicians priding themselves in that would do us all a favour and step out of the way. As I witnessed yesterday, there’s plenty of people ready to offer up solutions and ideas to get Toronto back on the right track.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Letting Them Off The Hook

October 12, 2011

I’ve got no particular axe to grind with the Globe and Mail’s columnist Marcus Gee. His columns seldom either infuriate or excite me. He’s not the worst journalist covering the City Hall, not by any stretch of the imagination. At least, not until Sue-Ann Levy stops her doodled rants on the pages of the Toronto Sun. And takes Joe Warmington with her when she goes. Mr. Gee is much more palatable writing about this city than he was international affairs all those many years ago.

But he still doesn’t get it. Or, if he does, he adamantly refuses to accept the facts as they are. His stubbornness in viewing municipalities as mere after thoughts on the governance scale, last on the bus, last to exit, does us no favours. In fact, he may help entrench the view of cities as wayward children, naïve to the ways in which the world works.

“Whatever party had won [the provincial election] on Thursday night,” Gee wrote last Friday, “and whatever governing arrangement emerges now, the prospects of wringing a wealth of benefits for Toronto out of the provincial government are dim. With a projected $15-billion budget deficit, and the threat of a global economic crisis, Queen’s Park is in no position to help another level of government with its money problems in any substantial way.”

The Toronto-Queen’s Park relationship shouldn’t be about leverage and looking to cash in on enforced, political largesse. Any problems the provincial government has with its books must include obligations it has to the municipalities it oversees. Ditto the federal government. The rising deficits cities face, both from a fiscal and infrastructure stand point, originate with the debt the two upper levels of government owe them.

Even that phrasing – upper or senior levels of government – denotes a degree of priority which is long past a best before date. Municipalities in this country are groaning under the weight of negligence inflicted upon them by Ottawa and the provincial legislatures. They’ve washed their hands of responsibility and left cities to make the impossible decisions of what to cut and how deep. We are living in an era of absentee landlords, deadbeat dads if you will.

We are told by Mr. Gee that as premier Dalton McGuinty has done alright by us. He’s re-upped some of the downloads imposed by his predecessor, Mike Harris. He’s made strides on the transit portfolio, albeit in half measures. What more do we want? “Even under NDP pressure,” Gee opines, “he [McGuinty] seems unlikely to reverse himself completely and disinter Transit City. A provincial commitment to 50-50 sharing of transit costs seems just as far-fetched, given the great cost and the awful state of the provincial accounts.”

Why, Mr. Gee, should we not expect the premier to live up to his promise, now almost a decade old, to resume the provincial share of the TTC annual operating budget that was in place until the previous government at Queen’s Park reneged on the deal? How is it any different than a citizen of Toronto deciding he could no longer afford to pay the full amount of the property tax bill and cutting the city a cheque for 50% of the amount? Walking away from your responsibility is still walking away from your responsibility regardless of the state of your finances.

Besides, allowing municipalities to sink in a sea of red ink and to collapse under the weight of neglected infrastructure and a second-rate transit system does no one’s bottom line any good. That shit’s got to be paid by someone sometime or everyone suffers irreparably. This isn’t about doing something out of the goodness of your heart or because it’s politically expedient. It’s about good governance. Withholding on your responsibilities is anything but.

Marcus Gee enables such deplorable behaviour from our senior levels of government. He gives them an escape clause. We’d really love to help you out but we’re a little bit strapped at the moment. Maybe after that whole economic meltdown plays itself out, we can talk about what it is you need to get yourself back up on your feet again. Until then, you’re on your own. There’s really nothing we can do.

That’s a cop out, plain and simple. We’re paying the price for someone else’s shirking of duty. And Marcus Gee blithely let’s them off the hook scot-free.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


It Takes Two To Tango Badly.

August 19, 2011

Just a further thought on Wednesday’s meeting of minds between Mayor Rob Ford and Premier Dalton McGuinty.

While it is so very, very easy to jump all over the mayor for his scattershot approach so far in his dealings with the province — we don’t need any money, we have a spending problem, the new Sheppard subway will be privately funded (and for more on the absurdity, nay, incompetence of it all, take a look at this at Ford For Toronto) — let’s not let the premier off this hook on this. A good chunk of our woes currently are due to his push me pull me attitude toward the province’s financial obligations to our public transit.

Since 2003, he’s been promising to resume funding of 50% of the TTC’s operating costs as had been the case pre-Mike Harris. Eight years later, we’re still waiting for that to happen.

Early in 2010, the McGuinty government reneged on about $4 billion for Transit City, citing the economic meltdown that had put stress on the coffers at Queen’s Park. This destabilized a plan to put much needed transit to areas in the city severely under-served. It also paved the way for an all out attack on Transit City by a number of the leading contenders for the mayor’s office during last year’s municipal election campaign. None better than the eventual winner who immediately declared Transit City dead upon being elected.

In the face of the new mayor’s swagger, Premier McGuinty further helped undermine transit in this city by agreeing to reallocate funding for other LRT lines to bury more of the Eglinton Street plan and make possible Mayor Ford’s dream/nightmare pronouncement of a Sheppard subway extension entirely funded by the private sector. Impossible, most knowledgeable transit minds suggested and even worse, serving far fewer people and communities than the plan the mayor was singlehandedly trying to murder. With this week’s awkward ask for some $650 million in seed money to get the project rolling (and, quite possibly, to keep the feds on board), Mayor Ford proved his critics right.

Further assisting in aggravating the system, the premier quickly pushed through the essential service bill that the mayor and council wanted passed which, if history is anything to go by, ensures higher labour costs down the road for the TTC, meaning a higher operating budget. But hey. What’s the premier care? It’s not Queen’s Park money that’ll be going toward it.

Now, I understand that it’s a campaign year here in Ontario and Premier McGuinty is seeking a third term. He has to perform a delicate dance to try and avoid enraging Ford Nation while at the same time not pissing off the rest of Ontario who erroneously see any money given to Toronto as their money being flushed down the drain. Still, it seems odd that if the premier is going to try and frame at least some of his election run on an environmental platform that he’s doing his darndest to undercut public transit in this city.

Of course, principled stands are frequently set aside for political expediency by our premier. That’s not unique to him, of course. And maybe if he is able to beat back the tide of Ford Nation come October (or if the mayor and/or Tim Hudak succeed in doing that for him), an entirely different dynamic between the two men will emerge. Premier McGuinty will be the one holding the upper hand in their relationship and can stop cowering in fear of Mayor Ford.

That’s the thing though. As premier of Ontario, McGuinty already has the upper hand. He is our undisputed overlord and can do anything he so desires with the city, any city in the province. If he’d stood up from the outset to the mayor’s poorly thought out plan, Transportation City, and pointed out the folly both strategically and financially to such drastic reworking of something that had support at all 3 levels of government, even if he’d just made the case that the mayor had to take his plan to the new council before these changes could be considered, and the election hadn’t given the mayor carte blanche to push his wacky scheme foward, he might’ve been able to score points with all sides. He wasn’t saying no to Ford Nation. He was just saying that democracy isn’t only about winning elections. It’s about process. And he’d also show to those living outside the 416 area code that he wasn’t giving in to a pushy Toronto.

By immediately rolling over and granting the mayor his ludicrous wishes, Premier McGuinty showed himself more interested in his own political future than Toronto’s. How exactly did he hope to win our support that way? It should be a question we ask every Liberal candidate who comes knocking at our doors after Labour Day.

jazzily submitted by Cityslikr


Return To Civilization. Such As It Is.

August 3, 2011

I am the first to re-emerge from the woods.

It was an eventful few days, full of surprises, undercooked food and questionably cooked alcohol. The blindness, mercifully, turned out to be only temporary. The holes in the mind, I fear, may be longer to diagnose and repair.

Arriving at the homestead/hunting cabin/inherited family real estate/squatting place, Cityslikr and I were surprised by the presence of our long lost colleague Acaphlegmic who, judging by the lived in look and smell of the place, had been camped out there for some time. As regular readers of this site know, Acaphlegmic self embedded into Ford Nation just after election night last October to try and understand the heart of the beast we had just installed as our next mayor. To what end was never quite clear as his irregular posts (here and here) bordered on the, if not delusional, let’s call it fantastical. Instructional would not be an adjective I’d attach to his correspondence.

But there he was, in all his feral splendor, awaiting our appearance. How long he’d been there, he wouldn’t say. Why he was there, also left unanswered. He was sphinx-like with any information, saying that what he saw, what he learned, all the knowledge he’d gleaned from his time in Ford Nation was not going to be handed over to some nowhere blog without adequate recompense. There was a book to be written and he was just the person to write it. Any evidence suggesting that’s what he’d been doing out in the wilderness was scant.

What was evident was Acaphlegmic had been rolling around contentedly in his own approbation along with, as our noses hinted at, many fish carcasses that had washed ashore. The reason for such sentiment was pasted to the inside of the cabin. Copy after copy of his mayoral endorsement last year covered every inch of the walls. Standing in the centre of the room, it wasn’t as spooky as, say, Shelley Duvall discovering pages and pages of her husband typing out All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. We were miles away from anything resembling civilization and it was an awfully deep lake we had just crossed. It would take months to discover our bodies.

Fortunately, Acaphlegmic wasn’t in a killing kind of mood. Mostly. It was all about the crowing, the chest beating, the I-Told-You-Sos. “I was right, wasn’t I, chaps. Bulls-eye. Correctamundo. Fucking dead on.” Agreeing with him, even heartily, didn’t seem to lessen his demands that we agree with him.

Admittedly, given the last few months, it’s difficult not to concede he’d been accurate in his assessment of how a Mayor Ford scenario would play out. Who amongst us didn’t see that train wreck coming? Who amongst us, that is, who didn’t vote for the man. It’s all been as grisly, divisive and dispiriting as we feared it would be if such a thing came to pass. The difference is, very few of us were reveling in the situation to any degree. Certainly not to the degree Acaphlegmic appeared to be.

“It is as how I prophesized!” Acaphlegmic bellowed at us intermittently throughout the weekend. Not meaning to draw any comparisons between either Cityslikr or myself to Jesus but it did feel a little like we were in the presence of crazy John the Baptist. “Our time is soon at hand.” Yes, he did actually say that. On more than one occasion.

I will distill Acaphlegmic because I don’t think, at this point, you could handle pure Acaphlegmic.

What we are witnessing now in Toronto is the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarianism end game of the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarians. From Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush to the Tea Party to Stephen Harper to Tim Hudak to Rob Ford with some willing and conciliatory liberals (both small and big ‘L’) thrown in for good measure. The slashing and burning, vilifying and demonizing has all trickled down to where the rubber meets the road, municipalities. This is where we all discover exactly what they mean by ‘small government’, ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘respect for the taxpayer’.

It all sounds so reasonable and mainstream when it’s stated hypothetically. Who doesn’t want to find efficiencies? I’m a taxpayer. Hells yeah, I want respect. A leaner, meaner, smaller government? You betcha. Go right ahead. Cut our libraries. Reduce public transit. Gut environment—

No, wait. What?

At the municipal level, we’re getting all close up and personal with what these people mean when they talk about small government. It’s really all about less government. Reduce. Eliminate. Obliterate. Fewer helping hands. Less shared sacrifice. Watching the men of KPMG present their Core Services Review over the last couple weeks, the realization sunk in that it’s only about throwing citizens to the wolves of privatization and free marketeers. No guarantees we’d be paying less or services improved. And absolutely no word on any negative social impacts of guts and cuts. Not in our purview.

Trickle down neoliberalism, offloading and downloading costs and responsibilities from the feds to the provinces to the municipalities. Now with a mayor and his administration in place as willing waterboys, poised to do the dirty work, Toronto is realizing the implications and consequences of such radical ideology where everything is on the table. Everything, that is, that makes a city livable, desirable and place which encourages its citizens to reach their fullest potential. There’s no more hiding from that fact.

Acaphlegmic called it back in October. We wrote it off as the rantings of a crank and alarmist. It’s hard not to admit he may’ve been barking up the right tree.

contritely submitted by Urban Sophisticat