The Real Agenda Debate

September 8, 2010

The boys of summer are gone replaced by men of fall (no offense, Ms. Thomson), all in their resplendent autumnal colours and nary a pair of white slacks between them. From the starter’s tower, the white flag has been waved signaling the commencement of the final lap. (If you thought it meant surrender, you’re not a Rob Ford supporter.) Months and months of mindless posturing and can kicking now gives way to grave seriousness and weighty deliberation.

And nothing says ‘weighty deliberation’ more than a mayoral debate on TVO hosted by respected journo, Steve Paikin. He’ll civilize the proceedings, quiet the roar to a more pleasing, easy to follow decibel. There’ll be no grandstanding under Steve Paikin’s watch. The candidates won’t be able to slime their way out of the tight corners Steve Paikin will put them in. This one’s going to be different. Steve Paikin will finally shed the light of truth and reason on the race and we’ll all be the better for it.

Did he?

Well, yes and no. The sound level on yesterday’s debate was noticeably lower than previous televised debates but, then again, isn’t everything more quiet on TVO? They don’t have the money to buy one of them kick-ass volume goes to 11 amps. It certainly felt more dignified, less shouty and aggressively confrontational. Steve Paikin held much tighter onto the reigns, never letting things veer too out of control. Steve Paikin was insistent without being obnoxious. A one hour debate moderated by Steve Paikin brought much more clarity than any two hour debate we’ve witnessed so far.

And just what was that clarity, you ask?

Well, it become glaringly apparent that, barring some minor miracle, some Hail Mary pass being tossed up and caught, Toronto will be led by someone intent on cutting it down to size. Our next mayor is going to want to see blood on the floor and guts exposed. The terms of the debate are now set in stone. It’s no longer if the city has a spending problem but what to do about the spending problem.

Rob Ford is already the winner of this election even if he doesn’t become mayor on October 25th. His endless braying chant of Toronto not having a revenue problem but a spending problem has been whole-heartedly picked up by Mssrs. Smitherman and Rossi and Ms. Thomson and embraced, leaving any other opinion or view on the matter simply peep, peep, peeping quietly and ineffectively out of the mouth of Joe Pantalone. I know conventional wisdom has it that Councillor Pantalone is simply not a good campaigner but the malaise goes deeper than that. His refusal to embrace the last 7 years, both the good and bad, has put him purely on the defensive, reactive not proactive.

So he’s ceded the battleground to the interloping tax-and-spend choppers, the self-proclaimed white knights with a thirst for government blood. Major surgery will be needed, folks, to cure the ailing patient. But don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit. At least not for you, what with that protective coating of tax cuts. You’ll be fine. You’ll barely even notice the freezing/cutting spending at City Hall because, seriously, what have they been doing for you over the past 7 years? What with all that retirement partying and sole sourcing and gravy train gulping they’ve been doing…

The table is now set. It’s only a matter of what and how much to axe, what to sell off and who and how much to outsource. The last remaining vestige of liberal impulse in any of the front runners (sorry Joe, you’re not really a front runner) was tossed out by George Smitherman yesterday when he said, cryptically, “There will be less Copenhagen, more Scarborough.” As if Toronto’s problems can be traced back to being too Copenhagen-ish. Clearly, Smitherman’s now speaking code to conservative voters, assuring them once he’s mayor there’ll be no more of that smarty-pants, European, environmental, bike riding going on under his watch. Strip malls for everyone!

Enough Of The Downtown Shenanigans®©™ has become the framework of our mayoral campaign. It’s time to get back down to basics; the basics of low taxes and government spending on only the essentials. And then what?

This is where future debates have to take us. We now know what any one of Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Thomson will do if they are elected. It’s only a difference of degree between them. What we need to discover is once they’ve restored our fiscal house to order, what kind of city will Toronto look like. They are all harkening back to a former time of Toronto greatness which they vow to restore. When was that exactly? The good ol’ days of… ? Mel Lastman? Art Eggleton? David Crombie? Nathan Phillips? William Lyon Mackenzie?

Because if things are as bad as everyone’s assuring us they are, and can only be fixed by returning to a magical, mystical place in the past, just when was that exactly? That’s what I want to start hearing from our mayoral candidates. Paint us a picture of the Toronto we’ll be living in when your job as mayor is done here. A time, like that one in the past you keep referring to, when there were no problems to solve and seldom was heard a discouraging word.

inquiring mindedly submitted by Cityslikr


Minneapolis Cycle City USA

April 29, 2010

There must be some sort of mistake. A typo or something. This just can’t be possible.

Minneapolis named America’s best bike city.

Or maybe there’s a Minneapolis in some other state outside of Minnesota. California. Oregon. Arizona. You know, where they can ride their bikes all year round.

Because in Minnesota, man, you wouldn’t waste the time, money or effort to build and design a crackerjack bicycle system that people would use for just part of the year. I mean, that would be insane, an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money, some sort of socialist plot to steal our cars from us.

That’s what we’re told up here in wintery Toronto when bike lane opponents have run out of other arguments. As recently as a couple weeks ago in a Toronto Sun editorial, huffing mightily in indignation about the proposed trial run of bike lanes on University Avenue this summer, we’re warned that “… council needs to remember that what may work for 12 weeks in the summer from July to September could prove to be a disaster in the dead of winter.

Not just unworkable, you understand, but a disaster.

Bike lanes are for more temperate climes. Vancouver. Portland (a previous winner of Best Bike City in America). Europe. You mean like balmy locals such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam? They don’t count. They’re European. They like biking because they’re effete, cheese-eating car haters.

We here in North America take to our bikes only recreationally and only when weather permits. Hardy means shivering in your car before the seats actually warm up. Nobody in their right minds would choose to bike in the winter which is why there’s usually only couriers out on the road between November and April.

Apparently, no one’s informed the people of Minneapolis about that. The city is strikingly similar to Toronto weather-wise, averaging slightly less than one degree colder in its daytime highs throughout the winter months with an almost identical amount of snowfall. Yet, there it is, the newly crowned America’s Best Biking City. Yes, they experience a drop off of bike commuting when the temperature plummets and snow falls, as much as 2/3s by an estimate a couple years ago. But this does not stop them from investing in, promoting and encouraging cyclists.

So, it’s not a question of can you create a positive biking culture in cities afflicted by inclement winter weather. Minneapolis proves that you can. It’s all about will you.

bipedally submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Someone Should Stick To Food Reviewing

April 15, 2010

Maybe it was because I was awaiting major dental work that the article in last month’s Toronto Life got right up in and under my craw. “The case for privatizing the TTC” declarative on the front page under a tasty looking plate of pasta most certainly caught my eye as I was sitting in the reception area. Bold, I thought. I will attempt to set aside my reservations about the idea and listen to a well thought out argument on the subject. Go ahead, impress me, convince me, sway me, Mr. Chris Nuttall-Smith.

It did not take long for that openness on my part to dissipate. Never trust an argument that begins its journey with a long preamble full to bursting with aspersion casting and name calling of those that would be against said argument. It takes me back a quarter century or so to the 1988 federal election that was fought primarily over the proposed free trade deal with the United States. The anti voices expressed concern about the flight of capital southward to lower cost regions, taking good paying manufacturing jobs with it. Lily-livered, knee jerk, head in the sand, backward looking, parochial, old time nationalists came the studied response. Don’t be ridic-uuu-lous, to borrow a TV catch phrase of the time.

Cue irony machine and Homer Simpson D’oh! What’s that you say? Good paying manufacturing jobs? Never heard such crazy talk.

So goes Nuttall-Smith’s argument in favour of TTC privatization. Those who are against it are well-meaning but ill-informed, ill-equipped, fearful of the future and, worse yet, engineers. Why engineers have been bad for the TTC Nuttall-Smith never bothers taking the time to explain. He even calls TTC chair, Adam Giambrone, ‘Chairman Himbo’. That’s early on in the article and Nuttall-Smith’s argument never really rises much higher than that.

He quotes Giambrone’s response to calls for privatization of the TTC back in 2008 after it was subject to yet another unionized workers strike: “Aside from London, England, he [Giambrone] said, ‘There are no major centres that run privatized operations – there’s a reason.’” Nuttall-Smith quickly swats that claim aside, telling us, in fact, there are dozens of them and, after some more name calling, eventually gets around to listing a few although aside from a couple of exceptions, he reels off countries who have gone the privatization route rather than cities which doesn’t really refute Giambrone’s assertion about ‘major centres’. That’s called comparing apples to oranges, Mr. Nuttall-Smith.

He does have a couple examples of ‘major centres’ in his back pocket, though. Copenhagen and Stockholm have privatized aspects of their transit systems. And they’re both great! Although, strictly speaking, transit operations in the Swedish capital are only partially privatized. If I understand the gist of Nuttall-Smith’s argument, the buses and subway are public owned while the maintenance of them and actual moving of people has been contracted out to private firms. The whole operation is overseen and regulated by a public body.

An operation that is heavily subsidized, Nuttall-Smith quietly admits in a quick paragraph after all his ejaculatory swooning over Stockholm’s “private” transit system.  “Granted,” he states, “Stockholm does this with an annual operating subsidy of $900 million – more than double what we drop on the TTC every year…” Hello. What? More than double the TTC funding?! And didn’t you tell us earlier on in your article, Mr. Nuttall-Smith, that the Stockholm transit handles half the daily traffic of Toronto? So they get double the money to move half the people.

“But great transit systems cost money.” Chris Nuttall-Smith informs us.

Well then, how about this, Mr. Nuttall-Smith. Why don’t we first start funding this city’s transit system properly and see what happens. If things don’t pick up and turnaround after that, then we can begin to have the privatization conversation. With someone who can put forward a coherent case in favour of it instead of just ideologically driven drivel.

hungrily submitted by Cityslikr