What Now?

I’d asked him the question at least 5 minutes earlier with still no answer.

His beard had become excessively long, past Tolstoy length, approaching Gandalfian. Curiously, he had shaped his moustache into a handlebar transformation, both ends of which he was twirling currently as he sat, gazing out the window. “It’s a Movember thing,” he’d told me when I’d asked.

Which hadn’t been my question he was now ignoring. So I repeated it.

“So what now?”

Our resident protest expert, Acaphlegmic had initially been excited about the Occupy movement but had steadily become not disenchanted, just bewildered. Now that they were being moved from their spot in St. James park, the inevitable question was being asked. Repeatedly.

“Did you hear me?”

Acaphlegmic stopped fiddling with the ends of his moustache and clasped his hands together as if in prayer, turning from the window in my direction but without looking at me. He leaned in, still not saying anything. I followed suit, leaning toward him across my desk, hoping that this might help kick start the conversation. It did. Eventually.

“Who knows?” came the answer. Hardly worth the wait. I sat back in my chair in a huff, sighing exasperatedly. It was an all too common response for my liking.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The situation is fluid. So I keep hearing.”

“The thing is, Damien,” Acaphlegmic continued, as usual getting my name wrong, “back in my day, it was easy to answer that question. The demands were concrete. Equal rights. Stop the war. Disco sucks! Now… now… How do you encapsulate into slogan form, ‘We’ve Gone Down The Wrong Path For The Last 30 Years?’ Wegodo..th..”

“How about this,” I interrupted, Acaphlegmic’s attempt at acronymizing always led down long, winding roads that could take hours to cover. “Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy. It’s catchy and points us in a direction.”

It was also, apparently, completely new to my colleague who took some time letting it sink in before nodding his head and leaning back in his chair.

“That’s good,” he said. “You come up with that yourself?”

Hardly. It had been making the rounds for a couple weeks now down in the States but had struck me as something much more universal than Occupy Wall Street or Occupy the Banks. Not as easily and smugly shrugged off as those two had been here with the somewhat specious claim that Canadian banks had been good as gold during the black fall of 2008. Austerity measures were looming under the pretence that somehow government spending had gotten us into this mess in the first place rather than the result of backstopping a global recessionary economy brought on by a criminally reckless private financial sector.

“The McGuinty government has made its intentions known with the Throne Speech yesterday,” I told Acaphlegmic who now had his head tilted back into his hands and staring up at the ceiling. “Aside from health and education, it’s going to be belt tightening all round. Infrastructure needs? Up yours. Transit systems? Ha, ha. Ha, fucking ha. Growth is anaemic, job losses are mounting and this government’s response is to crawl into a hole and hope it doesn’t get too ugly? So yeah. Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

Acaphlegmic remained silently staring up at the ceiling. It was quite possible he’d fallen asleep. I leaned forward across the desk and tugged at the end of his beard. Nothing. Already on my feet, I circled around behind him and looked down into his face. His eyes were open. We stared at each other.

“Our already obscenely low corporate tax rates are still on target to go even lower,” I pointed out to him. “And what’s their response? The Chrysler CEO wants wage concessions from their Canadian workers. So government revenues drop doubly. How the fuck is that supposed to bring us out of recession?”

We continue to stare at one another. I’m not sure why exactly. Although a handle bar moustachioed, long bearded face at a 180-degree angle is very, very intriguing.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

I went back to my chair, wondering what to do next. Me and almost everyone else, I guess. What we shouldn’t be doing is making a stand now in a park that had little bearing on the real battle at hand. I’d listened this morning (17’26” mark) to an occupier chained up in the camp’s library stress how important it was to defend it. Hopefully he’d also attended Toronto Public Library board meetings where deputant after deputant stepped forward to speak out in defence of the other free libraries in town under threat of closure and hours reduction.

That’s not to diminish what Occupy Toronto set out to do. Establishing dialogue is good, injecting the standard narrative with dissenting views is necessary. But now it’s time to bring the fight inside to where decisions are pending that will adversely affect those whose cause you’ve taken up. Dwight Duncan, the provincial finance minister, is talking about 33% reductions to some ministries. Occupy Dwight Duncan’s office. Next week the city’s budget committee and then full council meet to begin debate on what is being proposed as a slash and burn budget. A falsely hyped and manufactured funding short fall deliberately made worse by ill-thought out revenue cuts in order to gut of services that were promised to be untouched. Occupy the budget committee on Monday. Occupy City Council on Tuesday and Wednesday. Occupy councillors’ offices.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” Acaphlegmic responded.


It seemed that maybe the fight had gone out of this old, one time rabble-rouser. The torch had been passed. I got up to see if I could make his nap a little more comfortable. Looking down into his face, I noticed his eyes remained open and he was smiling. I waved him off but he didn’t flinch. Putting my hand closer to his face, I waved more vigorously.


Sleeping with his eyes open and a smile on his face, I took this as a good sign. Maybe we were on the right track.

as it happenedly submitted by Cityslikr

Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill To Hide The Actual Mountain

I really wanted to write about the mayor’s 180, the complete reversal of his entire campaign m.o., in the letter he sent to the province’s finance minister, Dwight Duncan, last month and revealed in the pages of the Toronto Star today. It seems our mayor, he who insisted that the city had a spending not a revenue problem, fired off a missive asking that the province pony up $150 million to help the city plug some projected shortfalls in next year’s budget. This year’s OK because the previous council left behind a healthy surplus after driving the Gravy Train all the way to Excessville and back again. Next year, however… Brother, can you spare a dime?

This revelation comes just days after the mayor voted against taking provincial money for STI screening and awareness because, well, I’ll let the Mayor Ford speak for himself. “Everyone says it’s provincial money. No. It’s taxpayers’ money. So, you know what? In the big picture, they say it doesn’t cost the city a dime. Well, it costs people money…” So, it’s not ‘provincial money’ when it comes to fighting sexually transmitted diseases but it is ‘provincial money’ when the mayor needs it to cover his fiscally inept tracks. Is this what you might call straying from the message or is that the mayor’s message is corrupt to its very core?

But that’s not what I actually sat down to write about. I wanted to get out ahead of the Auditor’s report (even perhaps by the time this is posted) detailing the ugly spending going on over at the Toronto Community Housing Corp. which, rumour has it, will be chalk full of all the Gravy Train evidence the mayor and his team railed about during the campaign. The prospect already has the mayor’s brother salivating. “Everyone keeps coming up, yourself too, where’s the gravy? This is just scratching the surface,” Councillor Ford said Sunday. “There’s some damning things in there. It’s just disrespect for the taxpayer you know having big parties on the backs of taxpayers and not proper procurement practices. It’s pretty scathing.”

My bet is we’re going to see a boatload of bad optics with juicy pieces of ill-advised spending practices that will be more embarrassing than they are lucrative in terms of filling city coffers. In other words, the exact scenario that got Mayor Ford elected. The exact scenario that will offer little assistance in helping the mayor deal with his ballooning budget woes.

That’s not to suggest I’m an apologist for government/bureaucratic waste or unnecessary extravagance. This is why we have an auditor’s office in the first place. To provide oversight on how City Hall and its various branches handle the finances of the city. It audits and reports its findings. What it uncovers will, at times, be ugly.

But unless today’s report reveals massive fraud and illegality, just how twisted should we get in our knickers? Will the auditor-general find millions and millions of misspent dollars that could’ve helped the city better balance its books? Hardly. It sounds as if it’s all penny ante stuff. The nickels and dimes that drove candidate Ford and his following so nutty.

Which brings me to the point I’ve been trying to get to oh-so many paragraphs ago.

What price are we willing to pay to those whose job it is to run, manage, administer, oversee our city’s agencies, corporations and sundry holdings? Should we demand complete austerity and count on a voluntary civil service, doing it out of the goodness of their hearts? Or how about taking the average income of those a governmental agency assists and use that as the rate of pay. How much is too much, the level at which it counts as hopping aboard the Gravy Train?

Certainly it is terrible optics, spas, dinner cruises, manicure and pedicures especially since we’re talking the TCHC with its long waiting lists, crumbling infrastructure and unfunded bed bug issue. It strikes one straight at a visceral level, bypassing sober second thought completely. You immediately throw your hands onto your head and scream, what were you thinking?! It just serves it up to meat-and-potatoes neocons who seem entirely comfortable with the fact that they went after the same organization 5 years ago and came up with bupkis. The fact that they’re going to use anything they find in this report to flail you publicly. Why provide the ammunition?

Is that how our bureaucracy should be forced to operate, ever vigilant about drawing council and the public’s ire? The simple answer is, yes. Yes, they should. And that’s why we have the office of the auditor-general.

Still, we shouldn’t have a bureaucracy afraid of its own shadow. There should be rules in place, a list of do’s-and-don’t’s that are easy to follow and leave little doubt about how and where to spend money. My sense is, such rules already exist and we’re going to witness the process play out this afternoon.

For those still believing in the existence of a great gravy train that needs derailing, it will be proof positive that City Hall needs a massive overhaul. I would like to think that when the great hue and cry of outrage recedes, reasonable measures will be taken to fix anything that the auditor deems to be broken at TCHC and we will move on to matters that are truly problematic. Like say, the province’s outright dismissal of Mayor Ford’s massive ask.

warily submitted Cityslikr

Toronto Sun Hates Half Its Name

City begs province for more daycare cash, goes the title of a Toronto Sun story this past weekend. The city is going hat in hand to the province, the Sun continues, blah, blah, blah, followed, of course, by a litany of boneheaded comments from readers, who obviously, could’ve benefited themselves from a few years of early education.


If the Sun was trying to be factual with this, the article should’ve read: Cash strapped city demands province start paying its fair share of daycare funding. Using the word ‘beg’ and the phrase ‘going hat in hand’ denotes dissoluteness, irresponsibility, a lack of character and profligacy with money. Like that inveterate gambler of an uncle who uses his infrequent winnings to get drunk.

As city council begins the 2010 operating budget process next month, we’re going to be hearing a lot about possible cuts to services, increases in taxes and user fees, whopping great shortfalls. Already estimates are being made in the $300-500 million range. And yes, the province is going to be asked to chip in and contribute.

Wastefulness on the city’s part? A lack of having their financial house in order? Hardly.

You see, of the 3 levels of government we have plying their trade, only at the municipal level are they legally unable to run an annual operating budget deficit. Who mandated this? Their overlords in the provincial legislature, of course, who by my latest tabulations (sound of me slapping away on the keys of a calculator) projected a $14.1 billion deficit last year. “A deficit is not something that we take lightly,” said provincial finance minister Dwight Duncan in March. “It is, however, a necessity in these challenging times.

A case of do as I say not as I do, it seems; paternalism that lies at the heart of municipal-provincial relations. It is also your trickle down neo-liberalism on display. In order to clean up their books, top level of senior government cuts transfer payments to the next level of senior government. That level of senior government not only makes cuts of their own but then offloads services to the lowest level of government (municipalities if you’re having trouble following) minus the corresponding dollars to finance them. Without the regulatory or revenue powers to accommodate their new obligations (or to deficit spend when necessary), cities are left holding the bag to face an angry public with news of cuts in services and/or tax/user fee increases.

So yes, Toronto Sun, the city is begging the province with hat in hand for more money but maybe a little perspective is in order. Indulging in the family member analogy once more, the provincial government is like a deadbeat dad. After refusing to pay for their kid’s upbringing for nearly a decade, they’ve finally been forced to cough up some dough which they’ve done reluctantly and almost always with a patting of their pants pockets, a shrug and a dismissive we’re a bit strapped at the moment.

That’s unfortunate but what do we tell the children?

censoriously submitted by Cityslikr