Going Forward

November 4, 2012

This week we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were voted a finalist in the blog category of NOW magazine’s Best of 2012 issue. What it means, none of us is quite sure. Pretty much old news by tomorrow but it did lead to one truly remarkable moment. Acaphlegmic bursting into the office, clutching an Old Milwaukee Tallboy to his chest, squealing, They like us! They really, really like us!!

For my money, however, it is an accolade best summed up by one of our regular and largely unimpressed readers:

I congratulate you on your now heralded contribution to discourse on the World Wide Web. More people should express their opinions online. It will surely lead to improved interaction and mutual understanding.

Yours,

Jabbermonkey43@spunkhouse101.ihatemyexwife/hatehatehate

Yes, self-loathing will trump self-congratulation in my heart and mind every time.

But I will say this.

As we approach the three year mark of the establishment of this here blog, what started out as a journey of discovery, let’s call it, because none of us involved had any idea where this thing was going to take us (an answer still very much obscured from view) has morphed into something of a cause. This, of course, has much to do with circumstances beyond our control, namely the results of the 2010 election which were both unexpected and seismic. Like that, it became about defending the city we live in

The edifying aspect of that was the realization there were a lot of people coming to the same conclusion. A dedicated and growing group of individuals intent on participating in the decisions that were being made and holding our elected officials responsible for those decisions. Civic engagement has swelled, populated by smart, organized and resolute citizens and residents not just taxpayers.

It’s a movement that didn’t spring out of nowhere. There was a structure in place to build from. I’m thinking of the likes of Desmond Cole, Jonathan Goldsbie, Dave Meslin and Himy Syed (to name but a few) who were there holding politicians accountable and making demands of City Hall long before it became fashionable to do so. And (logrolling alert) alternative publications like NOW magazine that placed coverage of local issues front and centre. They blazed the trail we are all now traveling down.

And before you get all defensive and outraged, calling this nothing more than a left wing, downtown elite circle jerk, echo chamber, let me say this. I do not think the Ford administration and those still supporting it are deliberately trying to destroy the city of Toronto. I really do believe they, like everyone else who gets involved in the political scene, want to make it a better place to live in. We just have a difference of opinion how to go about accomplishing that.

So, taking a moment for bi-partisan outreach, can we start making this discussion and debate about ideas and not slogans? Facts and data rather than resentment tend to build better communities. Sometimes a better deal for you personally does not make for a better whole.

If we’re accused of simply preaching to the choir — and the nod from NOW may help to highlight that claim — it’s not something we set out to do. We really do want the wider debate, to hear from those we’re not always in agreement with. Hopefully, that’s the next step forward in our evolution here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Be Bold

July 5, 2012

It’s the only way to counteract the lethargy of ill-governance.

Boldness is a form of action not reaction. It steps into the void created by a lockdown of thought, a failure of nerve, an acceptance of some misbegotten notion of inevitability. Boldness requires courage.

What we are currently experiencing is the exact opposite. Ours is the Age of the Great Flinching. We flinch in the face of economic uncertainty. We flinch in the face of climate upheaval. We flinch in the face of societal reconfiguration.

We flinch, retreat, retract and call it conservatism.

I do not think that word means what self-described conservatives think it means.

It’s all a regression to the meanness of a previous era. Everyone for themselves. Winner takes all, losers work retail.

There are days when I’m unsure how we as a species ever managed to climb out of the primordial goo and start to evolve. It’s just so hard. I’m good here. Think I’ll just stay put where I am.

The path of least resistance.

So I think it hardly surprising that such an outpouring of interest was sparked by the announcement of One City last week. Hey! Look at that, would you? An idea, many ideas. A forward looking plan that poses substantial questions and tough challenges. Something we can actually sink our teeth into.

Now, much has been made of the plan already so I won’t add to the discussion except to say that, if nothing else, the proposal and the negative reaction to it on the part of the province and from some on council simply made them look tired and unwilling. Disinterested spouses at the tail end of a lifeless marriage. Don’t kick up a fuss. Think of the children.

But I do hope that unenthusiastic reaction does not dissuade other councillors who find themselves in similar positions of power at City Hall – not just in terms of committee chairs but with powers of persuasion – from observing what the TTC Chair and Vice-Chair and councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc actually accomplished. They activated an agenda. Rather than stand pat and let the chips fall where they may, a larger discussion was initiated. If you really want to talk transit, let’s really talk about transit.

I’m looking at the most unlikely of sources to take a flyer on an issue and make a big splash. Ward 43-Scarborough East councillor and Government Management Committee chair, Paul Ainslie. [Phee-ew. I was worried you were talking about Councillor Frank Di Giorgio for a minute there—ed.] Your time is now. Carpe diem.

Councillor Ainslie, you say? I’m not even sure I know which one he is. [Almost always but never quite ever holding the mayor’s hand—ed.] Are you sure you got the right councillor?

As chair of the Government Management Committee, Councillor Ainslie has the opportunity to bring about some important voting, ballot and citizen participatory reforms. He’s been a big supporter of Dave Meslin’s 4th Wall Project which is on display in the lobby of City Hall all next week with an opening reception at 6:30 Monday night. (July 9th). Earlier this year, Councillor Ainslie introduced numerous motions – ranging from using ranked ballots to using video for deputations – for further study.

But as anyone who’s followed voting reform initiatives knows, they can die a frustrating, quiet death by neglect. Those who’ve been elected to office in the traditional manner aren’t always prone to change a system that’s worked for them. Entrenched status quo is not the friend of change in any fashion.

In fact two reform motions actually passed city council unanimously recently, one to establish a working group to study the proposals and another calling for a staff report on a ranked ballot initiative. Yet somehow even these two innocuous seeming items never made it out of the meeting intact and were sent back to staff until October. The slow grinding wheel of change.

The thing is, though, civic awareness and participation has spiked here in Toronto during Mayor Ford’s term. People not only want to be engaged, they have realized the absolute necessity of getting engaged. While it may not be in the best interest of some politicians to have an increase in voter activism, those looking beyond their own self-interest know that it would be in the best interest of our local democracy.

So now, Councillor Paul Ainslie, it’s your time to shine. Use this summer interregnum and the mayor’s disinclination to actually lead as an opportunity to make the case for voter reform. Pull a Stintz, as they say, and step outside the mayor’s circle, that ever decreasing sphere of influence. You’ll have a wide and receptive audience. People want what you have to offer.

Be bold.

It’s this season’s colour.

humidly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


With Friends Like These…

April 8, 2011

You know what I love about the NOW magazineDave Meslin contretemps that flared up this week? I get to use the word ‘contretemps’. Both germane and pretentious.

One of the interesting aspects to this back-and-forth is that at its core — the role and approach to civic engagement – it reveals what goes on everyday here in the offices of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke [When this writer deigns to show up at the office – ed.] and, very likely, wherever political debate takes place. That is, how to best deliver your message and make it one that those in positions of power want to help further or simply can’t ignore. It’s hard to believe that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to it.

Yet that’s what it feels like in reading the original NOW piece and, to some extent, Mr. Meslin’s response. The concerted effort NOW has taken to demonize, vilify or, at the very least, demean Dave Meslin for his fraternizing with the enemy seems a little petty. Is he really some sort of traitor for his attempts to open up a dialogue with Mayor Ford and his team, to hope that there is some common ground that can be found on issues like bike lanes and electoral reform? For his part, Meslin initially seems to rise above that sort of pigeon-holing, summoning up the notion of a ‘diversity of tactics’ but 7 paragraphs later suggests that we should move beyond polarization and condemns NOW’s pillorying of the mayor and his supporters. Either he doesn’t really believe in a diversity of tactics or he needs an editor to tighten up his posts. [Who doesn’t? – ed.]

Only under the most extreme circumstances should we expect utter fidelity to a cause. I’m thinking, maybe, the various resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe. [While not explicitly calling anyone a Nazi, interesting to note how quickly writer evoked Godwin’s Law – ed.] Enforced conformity is something rigid ideologues do. It’s what intransigent bodies like police forces utilize to maintain an ominous wall of unaccountability. Us vs. Them marginalizes independent thought and squashes innovation and creativity.

While nominally operating under some sort of nebulous Left Wing banner, NOW and Meslin are simply going about trying to achieve similar ends in different ways. The weekly seeks to de-legitimize the mayor, to reduce his powers of persuasion in both the public sphere and at City Hall in order to put the brakes on what they see as a path of destruction he’s determined to travel down. Meslin seems more interested in wanting to help the mayor broaden his scope of what it means to have a well run city. Ultimately, both are just working to make the place where they live better.

And as much as he may dislike NOW’s disparagement of him and think it counter-productive, Mr. Meslin instead should view it as aiding his cause. With his conciliatory, hands across the aisle attitude, he gets to show Mayor Ford that not everyone who isn’t in complete agreement with him is some sort of left wing, pinko kook. NOW’s attack on him for his openness toward the mayor emphasizes that. Those people over at NOW are crazy! This Meslin guy seems reasonable. Let’s listen to what he has to say.

Firebrands are the heavy artillery that soften up the opposition’s defenses. Rather than look at NOW’s salvos as incoming strafing, maybe Mr. Meslin should see it more as friendly fire or cover. Giving him an opportunity to advance his position behind ‘enemy’ lines.

While I’d love to share his optimism about this administration’s willingness to listen to opposing views, I’ve seen little in the way of evidence to offer up hope of that. [As a matter of fact, Dave, not all answers to issues do lie in the middle. ‘Mutually respectful dialogue’ has to be a two-way street – ed.] But what do I know? Perhaps he’s gleaned a better insider’s view that cooperation is not beyond the realm of possibility. So why condemn him for trying to reach out? Being a hopeful and positive agent for change is Dave’s… if he’ll excuse the familiarity since my busy body editor seems to be on a first name basis… strength. Have at it, I say.

But since the mayor declared yesterday that he’s going to talk about what he wants to talk about, I hope Dave Meslin won’t hold it against anyone who thinks more forceful measures may be necessary in an attempt to redirect Mayor Ford’s energies in a more positive direction. Like many a battle, fighting the good fight may best be fought in multiple manners and on numerous flanks. [Gee willikers, Urban Sophsiticat. Nice of you to let us play along – ed.] [Don’t you have your own post you can vent on? Stop sticking your nose in mine – US] [Appeaser – ed.] [Hothead – US] [Ingratiating toady – ed.] [Mindless ideologue – US] [Unprincipled apostate – ed.] [Shut up – US] [No, you shut up – ed.] [No, you shut up – US] [No, you – ed.] [No, you – US] [Shut up, shut up, shut up – ed.] [You shu—US] [Nope. I get the last word because I’m the ed.]

submitted by Urban Sophisticat/ed. by Cityslikr


Assessing Our New Mayor’s Movement

November 23, 2010

As we breathlessly await firm news of Mayor-elect Rob Ford’s committee appointments, I am trying to convince myself to look upon this not as a horrible, disfiguring moment in the city’s history but as…an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity. It isn’t a matter of perspective. No, it’s what kind of conservative our incoming mayor turns out to be.

Kinds of conservatives, you ask? How many kinds of conservatives are there? You’ve got your run-of-the-mill, always irate, incoherent kind, flailing about in the choppy, churning waters of cognitive dissonance and then there’s…? Help me out here. Other kinds of conservatives?

Well yes, at least in theory. There once were conservatives roaming about in the wild who were of Burkean stock. Wary of excess of any stripe including rabid anti-governmentalism, your daddies’ conservatives did not seek to dismantle the New Deal/Just Society welfare state in its entirety. They simply wanted to reshape it in their own vision. Red Tories, let’s call them. These guys were the elitists of their time. Democracy was all well and good as long as there wasn’t too much of it.

Movement Conservatives, on the other hand, the spawn of William F. Buckley-Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher, are a lot less amiable. Theirs is “a revolutionary doctrine hostile to any public enterprise except the military” and, I will add, national security except for that whole no junk touching stream of unconsciousness that has recently emerged. They have manifested themselves in the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and, to some extent, our current federal Conservative government. There is no form of government that doesn’t drive them batty with inchoate anger. To their minds, democracy is merely a vehicle to smash up democratic institutions.

Much was made during this past municipal campaign about Rob Ford being our very own Tea Bagger, a bigger, louder, less foxy Sarah Palin. It’s a comparison that goes only so far. Yes, he was angry and adeptly tapped into, exploited and manufactured a wide swath of anger in the electorate. He made claims of reclaiming City Hall for the little guy. A deep streak of xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny runs through his core.

Yet, like the earlier strain of conservatism, Rob Ford seems more driven to eradicate government excesses rather than government itself. In fact, he may be prone to more democratic impulses than is normal in conservatives of any stripe. When he says he wants to take back City Hall, it is largely free of the racist, faux-grassroots chant we heard during the U.S. midterm election campaign. Ford actually sounds like an honest to god populist in wanting to give the reins of power to the people instead of his hated bureaucracy. (The irony of this is that the last thing his most fervent devotees would want or know what to do with is to actually exercise that power.)

Therein lies the opportunity at hand. On Metro Morning last week to promote the book Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto, Dave Meslin told host Matt Galloway how, back in 2006, when Meslin was involved with the City Idol project that sought to shine a spotlight on a diverse set of council candidates, then councillor Rob Ford was very helpful in giving his time and advice to the proceedings. Ford’s face now adorns the endorsement page of Meslin’s latest adventure in advancing democracy, RaBIT, Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. By all accounts, our next mayor is fully on board for helping further the cause of democratic renewal.

So, fighting our way past the recoil phase of October 25th’s fallout, we can prepare to seize what may be a truly golden moment for positive change on the democratic front. A politician elected to office who truly wants to invest more powers in the populace. It is a gift we should be ready to receive and not allow him to renege on or get horribly wrong (i.e. simply cutting council numbers in half). This may be the only common ground we find with this administration. Let’s not waste the opportunity to take full advantage of it.

exhortingly submitted by Cityslikr


Better Ballots Town Hall

April 14, 2010

You know, even without any delays it is a long subway ride up the Yonge Street line to North York Centre. I was aroused from my reading material somewhere between Lawrence and York Mills, wondering if I’d read through a stop. You go really fast for a long time which, if my understanding of the physics of motion is solid (and it probably isn’t), means that you are traveling great distances.

Why would you be doing that, you might rightly ask. Heading up to the first Better Ballots Town Hall meeting, I will inform you, held in committee room #3 of the North York Civic Centre, home of the former city hall of the former city of North York. Its empty early evening halls steeped in the history where colossi of the political scene like Mel Lastman once strutted and fretted. The air remains pungent of past power, reeking of… shoe polish. Or maybe it’s the cleaning agent that’s being applied to a floor off down one of the corridors.

Better Ballots, if you don’t know and you should, is an organization committed to increasing voter turnout at the municipal level. The website can give you much better presentation of their mission but in a nutshell: less than 40% of eligible voters voted in the last municipal election in Toronto; 14 of the 44 councillors were elected with less than 50% of ballots cast; only 1 incumbent councillor was defeated while another won his ward with just 20% of the vote; the council make-up is wildly unreflective of the city’s diversity that it claims to represent. Better Ballots wants to change all that.

Local political impresario, Dave Meslin, is the Better Ballots project coordinator and has been toiling away in the margins of election reform for much of the past decade including 2006’s City Idol where 4 candidates were chosen to run for council seats in that year’s election. He chaired last night’s town hall in an amiable but focused manner, promoting inclusiveness with the 25 or so of us there while not allowing things to careen too far off topic. Like any good promoter of a cause, Meslin made sure to surround himself with other smart, articulate advocates.

There was Desmond Cole, one of the winners of the City Idol project, and now an organizer with iVote Toronto. Another Better Ballots representative, Rob Newman, talked about campaign finance reform. Julia Deads from the Toronto City Summit Alliance moderated the town hall portion of the meeting, gently but with the necessary firmness to keep the proceedings flowing. If I had any claim to being an actual journalist, there were a couple other members of the panel whose names I would’ve made note of but didn’t. One was from Fair Vote Canada, a group promoting more proportional representation at all levels of government. I want to say Jeff Peck but, maybe somebody out there who attended the meeting with much better powers of observation could correct me on that. [It was Mark Greenan not Jeff Peck from Fair Vote Canada who were referring to. Thank you to mayoral candidate Sonny Yeung for clearing that up for us. — ed.]

The intent of this town hall meeting (and the 3 others planned at various city locations throughout April) was twofold. The first was to present 14 proposals for discussion about possible reform. These included such things as extending the vote to permanent residents and lowering the voting age to 16, the pros and cons of municipal parties and term limits, several options on ballot structures and districting and the above mentioned campaign finance reforms.

Along with providing information, these town hall gatherings are also about promoting advocacy. Ideas are all well and good but they die on the vine without a movement to take them to a wider audience. The second aim of the meetings is to initiate a grassroots movement to begin pushing for the reform options that garner the most interest from those who attend the meetings and vote on the ballot provided.

Despite what you might think, grassroot movement making ain’t pretty. It’s not all Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockoviches and Meryl Streep’s Karen Silkwoods but rather a long, tough slog through outsider-ville. For every smart, dedicated activist and proponent, there are those who wear their exclusion from the mainstream loudly and proudly, sometimes hijacking the proceedings to grind an axe or to just simply have their voices heard. This manifested itself last night when a handful of mayoral and council candidates took the floor to speak their minds. More campaigning than listening, they mostly took up time and space rather than contributed to the discussion.

Still, the dialogue was far more informative and exciting than any of the claptrap and bullshit that has passed for debate and deliberation so far in campaign 2K10®©. These people truly want to change how things are done in Toronto and to explore the ideas that will ultimately translate into electing those who best represent the widest community views at City Hall. It was time well spent on the subway hearing them talk about it firsthand.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr