The People’s Mayor

January 6, 2011

Having rid beleaguered Torontonians of the scourge of a vehicle registration tax and the Cecil B. DeMille excessiveness of councillors’ office budgets, Mayor Rob Ford has now set his sights on the 5¢ plastic bag fee. Why? Because over the holidays, the mayor talked to a lot of people who didn’t like it. No matter that all indications point to such levies reducing the demand for plastic bags and therefore doing their part, however humbly, in reducing our contribution to landfills. No matter that it’s just 5 fucking cents we’re talking about here. The mayor’s spoke to a lot of people. The people don’t like it. So it’s gone.

I wish, I really wish, I could share the magnanimity toward Mayor Ford that Eye Weekly’s Edward Keenan exhibits. Mr. Keenan wonders if our mayor isn’t more of a populist, just giving the people what the want, than he is a right wing, anti-government ideologue. The mayor as a mere conduit through which the peoples’ will is done.

Certainly, the mayor’s been talking up doing the people’s will with almost every pronouncement that he’s made lately. Why just yesterday in response to a study suggesting that his move to scrap Transit City made little sense, either fiscally or any other way, Mayor Ford stated, “It’s very simple. I campaigned on subways, I was elected as you know by a large mandate…People supported my subway plan and that’s what we’re going to go ahead with.”

Yet he seems much more flexible in regards to his ‘large mandate’ when it comes to property tax increases. That should be very simple as well. The mayor campaigned on a platform of keeping any property tax increase in line with the rate of inflation, I believe, poo-pooing his opponents’ call for a 0% property tax increase as being fiscally irresponsible. But now, well, the people “…just need some breathing space.”

The fact is, Rob Ford’s ‘large mandate’ was predicated on nothing more than restoring fiscal sanity to City Hall. He was given a ‘large mandate’ to put an end to wasteful spending. 47% of Toronto voters elected Rob Ford mayor on his pledge to (say it along with me) Stop The Gravy Train.

But as the budget process looms, nothing he’s done would suggest that he feels the least bit bound to doing the people’s will. Killing Transit City and replacing it with his subway scheme will be, he claims, revenue neutral but service far fewer people. That’s before any financial penalties manifest themselves for broken contracts and agreements now in place. Can you say, ‘wasteful spending’? His symbolic gesture of slashing office budgets amounts to a tiny, tiny fraction of the revenue lost by abolishing the VRT. Add to this the $55 million lost by not raising property taxes, and the mayor has dug himself a serious money pit that needs to be filled. Let’s not even bring up the subject of the 100 extra police officers the mayor promised.

None of which smacks of fiscal sanity. We certainly know cutting any services that the city provided was not part of his ‘large mandate’. Guaranteed. The mayor can hardly go to that well, claiming that’s why the people voted for him.

So what’s a populist mayor to do when the peoples’ will he is so steadfastly determined to carry out works at such cross-purposes? Hopefully all those people he spends so much time talking to can provide him with the answer. Otherwise, he just may have to make some difficult choices on his own, consequences be damned. The mayor might have to actually lead. And what kind of populist would he be if he had to do that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Fight! Fight! Fight!

January 4, 2011

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would like to begin 2010 2001 2011 by issuing an apology.

To all those sounding the alarm loudest and earliest about the prospect of a Mayor Rob Ford administration during last year’s municipal election campaign, we are truly sorry. While in no way could we have been viewed as sanguine about the possibility of Ford ascending to the office, we ultimately concluded that he would do less damage to the city than his right of centre rivals. Our thinking was based on the fact that as a councillor, Mr. Ford had developed no constituency on council and even less credibility. On the hustings, his constant braying about all the corrupt practices his colleagues engaged in behind closed doors couldn’t have made him any friends at 100 Queen Street West. Ford was a lone wolf, far more often than not on the losing end of votes. We reasoned that he’d have less ability to bring together a working majority to enact his radically right agenda than would, say, George Smitherman who’d be assuming the mayoralty with more or less a clean slate.

In short, we misunderestimated the power of the mayor’s office. Or, more precisely, we failed to realize just how flexible, let’s call it, a good chunk of council members would be in the face of the bluster and chest-beating that began emanating from Team Ford soon after their man was sworn in. The new mayor claimed he had a mandate which appears to be all a majority of councillors needed to hear and they handed it over to him, no questions asked. Would you like your shoes shined with that, Mr. Mayor?

We were wrong. We dropped the ball. Wish we could have a do-over. Nous nous excusons.

On the plus side, has there been a local politician who has drawn a line in the sand so deeply so quickly? Who’s so enthusiastically performed a cannonball into the deep end of the partisan pool and declared so explicitly that you’re either with him or ag’in him? Who has surrounded himself so thoroughly with people who think just like he does, who sees the world exactly as he does?

If the mayor is unprepared to offer any sort of olive branch of compromise to those not sharing his stunted view of the role of government, why should the onus be on his opponents to do so? Yes, the mayor holds a mitt full of high cards in his hand. He sets the agenda and his wish list takes priority. But the power of the office ends there. There is no special fiat declaring mechanism that is the sole privilege of the mayor. Despite what you may read in our newspapers, Mayor Ford cannot simply make a regal pronouncement, clap his hands and proclaim, “Make It So!”

We on the left side of the political spectrum have a terrible habit of trembling and bowing down before the bellowing triumphalism that inevitably follows a right winger’s win at the polls, no matter how close a race or dubious a victory. I’m thinking George W. in 2000 and again in 2004. Stephen Harper and his 2 straight minority governments, bestriding the narrow world like a Colossus. And we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves (h/t W.S.) So far, too many of our city councillors have willingly rolled over onto their backs, ever hopeful for an affection rub of their tummies from the mayor. It’s a prone, vulnerable position that is usually taken as a sign of weakness and dealt with accordingly.

Granted, as Eye Weekly’s Edward Keenan noted a couple weeks back, the mayor’s had his way with the council on no-brainer issues (rightly or wrongly) like office expenses, the VRT and making the TTC an essential service (a decision that ultimately is up to Queen’s Park to make). “… low-hanging fruit,” Mr. Keenan wrote, “the bread and butter of Ford’s election campaign and, to any honest observer, the extent of his mandate.” But it’s given the mayor an air of indomitably and allowed him to dig in at the plate and sit on the next fat pitch he can try and go yard with.

So already this early in the game, it’s time to brush the mayor back a little. Throw some high, stinky cheese under his chin. Maybe even fire one behind him, get under his skin and rattle him. If he isn’t prepared to play ball, why should his opposition? He’s clearly chosen the path of divisiveness and conflict with no eye for compromise and accommodation. It’s a winner-take-all mentality, and the quicker Mayor Ford’s disabused of the notion that he’s always going to come out on top in that struggle, the sooner we can get on with the proper give and take of municipal governance.

— new yearly submitted by Cityslikr


Until We Meet Again. In 2011.

December 12, 2010

I don’t know how y’all celebrate this particular season but around here we go unplugged. In reaction to the crazy consumerist bent that these holidays have become, awhile back we made the decision to simply take a step back, tune out, turn off, drop out. (I know, I know. That’s not the exact quote. It suits our purposes here.) Starting (roughly) 12 days before Christmas, we go downright Amish minus the barn building and plus the booze. (Do the Amish drink alcohol?)

No TV. No radio. No computer with its internets and Tweeting. Just us and our thoughts. And food. And music. We’re not animals here. And almost a year’s backlog of magazine subscriptions to catch up on. And booze. Did I mention booze?

A tradition which pains me a little this year as it means missing next Thursday’s city council meeting. It’s going to be a doozy! But what’s tradition if you just go around breaking it, willy nilly, on any old thing that catches your fancy? So, forgo the meeting I must. Can’t wait to hear all about it in the new year.

Before signing off for 2010, we’d like to give some shout outs to everyone who’s been following along with us since January.Of course, family and friends who have been very supportive and encouraging and whose names we keep confidential for fear of delivering upon them retribution from all our enemies (you know who you are.) Specifically, a very loving thank you to my wife for indulging me yet another career twist. This one’s going to stick. Really.

Then we’d like to thank the folks over at Spacing and Torontoist for their links to our pieces every now and then. Much appreciated. And Edward Keenan, senior editor at Eye Weekly for acknowledging our minor disagreement with him, pleasantly and politely. (Yes, people. That is a shameless way for us to point out that some very important people have noticed us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.)

Over on the Twittersphere, we want to give a h/t to @paisleyrae for all the regular, sometimes daily links. Thank you very much. And @orwellsbastard for all those #FFs. Much appreciated. I’m sure there are many more folks we’re missing. Our apologies ahead of time. Don’t hate us because we’re forgetful.

Two last big shout outs.

One, to Tim Falconer for his early sage advice and bumps on Twitter that got our site up and moving. Thank you very much. And everyone out there reading this, go get Tim’s books! Buy them, read them and give them as Christmas gifts.

And finally, Jonathan Goldsbie. His overwhelming enthusiasm for our work here was invaluable to bringing us a wider readership, unwarranted for sure but appreciated nonetheless. Without Jonathan’s regular queries about our true identities, Leah McLaren would never have started following us on Twitter. That alone makes us eternally grateful.

Moreover, Goldsbie’s encyclopedic knowledge of what goes on at City Hall and his easy willingness in sharing it with those like us who are woefully ignorant was, at times, incalculable. We won’t ever possibly be able to return the favour, so hopefully a heartfelt thanks will suffice.

For many of us, 2010 was an awful year, politically speaking. Terrible. Disheartening. Disillusioning. We’d like to think it couldn’t get any worse and that we’ve hit rock bottom. But we fear that’s simply rum and egg nog induced wishful thinking. Shit could get a whole lot worse.

Which is why we need to rest up, kick back and take a breather. Enjoy the holidays and prepare ourselves for the battle(s) ahead in the new year. The slog, she has just begun.

So Happy Holidays to all and we’ll see you early in 2011.

Peace out.

seasonally submitted by Cityslikr


The Power of Wishful Thinking

December 3, 2010

(ed.’s note – the following post was in the pipe before Edward Keenan sorta scooped us with his article a couple days ago, Rob Ford: the illusionist. All similarities in theme, tone, intent, right down to word usage frankly is purely coincidental and, we’d like to think, a product of that old adage ‘great minds think alike’. We fully expect a Marcus Gee knock-off to soon follow.)

I like to drink. Alcohol, that is. The other stuff’s fine, life-sustaining and all that but booze is my true liquid consort.

I like that moment a couple, few drinks in when your internal stars align and everything seems just right. All the shit of the day, those niggling, unsettling concerns and qualms about your life, the world around you, all together subside. Passing bliss, let’s call it, because it is very, very brief, fleetingly so. It comes only once a drinking session (if you’re lucky) and the rest of the time you spend chasing its vapours.

I like to think that my drinking of alcohol is a healthy pursuit. Studies (mostly French) have shown that regular consumption of red wine is, indeed, good for you. Lowers blood pressure, helps digestion. It also gets the creative juices flowing on those occasions when I’m feeling a little blocked. Weakens my editorial inhibitions and loosens the reins on my muse. Our literary canon is stuffed to blasting — See? I’m drunk right now! Can’t Touch This!! — with works from writers who were drunkards through-and-through.

My doctor, however, tends to disagree. Dr. Moderation, I call him when I’m feeling agreeable. Dr. Downer when I’m not. “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” I tell him. But it falls upon his deaf, Philistine ears as he probably spent an excess of his time in school learning anatomy and biology instead of the wisdom of William Blake. (Yeah. I am really hammered here.) It is just wishful thinking on my part, I am told, to believe that drinking alcohol in anything but a moderate manner isn’t deleterious to both my body and mind.

Doctors. What do they know?

Advice is free unless it comes with a prescription, and we are equally as free to ignore it if it suits our fancy and doesn’t jibe with our beloved preconceived notions. Expert opinions are all well and good if you can understand them but they’re not nearly as comforting as our own biases and gut instincts. Wishful thinking beats the hell out of critical thinking any day of the week.

Wishful thinking is also a powerful tool in the hands of a politician. You want the stars, ladies and gentlemen? I’ll get you the stars, and the moon too. Would you like the moon too, ladies and gentlemen? Just click your heels and say there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. Clap your hands really hard, boys and girls, and Tinkerbell won’t die!

You say you like subways, all ye taxpayers? Can’t stand those streetcars? According to the highest principles of customer service, the customer is always right. So let’s ditch those LRT ‘streetcars’ and dig us up some subways!

Saying you like subways instead of streetcars is not a transit plan. It isn’t even a Transportation City Plan. It’s a statement of personal preference, an opinion. Like saying, chocolate ice cream is better than French vanilla. There are no facts backing such a claim up.

Who wouldn’t love a NYC/Paris/Barcelona/Beijing (pick a city) style subway running under the streets of Toronto? All things being equal. Bu they’re not. No expert on public transit matters that I’ve come across has said that, given the current economic environment, population density, specific needs of certain under-serviced areas of the city, subways are the way to go here. Correct me if I’m wrong, subway lovers.

Transit City was not simply some whim of a downtown, lefty, car-hating mayor. It was a tortuously long negotiation between 3 levels of government and a multitude transportation industry analysts and professionals. Perfect? No. But far less flawed than the mirage now being floated by the mayor.

But as we have been saying since the start of Rob Ford’s candidacy he operates purely in the chimerical. A mythical, magical place where one’s beliefs are never contested and exist undented by logic, reason or reality. Of course you can cut taxes without cutting services. It’s just simple math. If you’re not gay or sticking needles in arm, you can’t get AIDS. Basic common sense. How do you deal with decreasing crime stats? Hire more police officers. D’uh! Roads are made for cars, trucks and buses. Otherwise, they’d be called ‘bike lanes’ or ‘tracks’.

Certainty is never having to say you’re wrong. It is a specialty of those who share our mayor’s political persuasion. A big tent of closed-minded true believers standing firm in the face of anything that questions their faith. Such a cloistered view treats any and all contrary information as suspect which must be discredited quickly and with extreme prejudice, usually by vilifying the messenger. They see things not as they are, to paraphrase Don Quixote’s Dr. Carrasco, but as they’d truly like them to be. Unlike the book’s errant knight, however, these conservative pedants aren’t looking to make the world a better place for anyone else but themselves.

Life is easy inside that kind of bubble where there are always uncomplicated yes or no answers to whatever question is asked. Answers that, invariably, validate your own bias. Where troubles melt like lemon drops/Away above the chimney tops/That’s where you’ll find me. Such blinkered thinking has no basis in reality but does have very serious adverse consequences in the real world. Here in Toronto, we’re only beginning to get a glimpse at some of those and it’s only just a few days into Rob Ford’s mayoralty.

It’s enough to drive us to drink. Don’t mind if I do. It is Friday, after all.

suddenly soberly submitted by Cityslikr


Not So Much Where You Live

November 16, 2010

Leisurely making my way through Jeb Brugmann’s Welcome to the Urban Revolution when the concept of “city consumers versus trained urban citizens” stopped me up. Three weeks after the election that made Rob Ford Toronto’s mayor-elect and with much chatter about the divide revealed by his win, here to me was an idea that transcended mere geography. Could this be an insight into the core political sensibilities of the two camps?

Anybody who’s been following along with the post-election analysis knows of the downtown core/inner suburb, old city of Toronto/other places that weren’t Toronto but are now divide. We examined Edward Keenan’s article about here last week. Marcus Gee did as well over the weekend in the Globe and Mail although he failed to cite Mr. Keenan as his primary source material. The general consensus is that there were enough exceptions to prove the rule that it was suburban Toronto alienation from City Hall over the past 7 years that led them to vote for Rob Ford in droves while downtowners thought anyone voting for Ford was an idiot.

Here’s another take on it. “City consumers versus trained urban citizens.” Rob Ford supporters, regardless of where they live, think of the city only as far as what it gives to them personally. A place to live and work. Getting between those two places easily and safely is of primary importance and should be the main thrust of what a municipal government does. Pave the roads. Fix the streetlights. Clean the streets of garbage, both literal and figurative. Do it as cheaply as you can especially in the short run. Almost anything beyond that is simply ‘The Gravy Train’.

Trained urban citizens, on the other hand, see the city not so much as a set place on a map (that’s GPS to you city consumers reading along) but more as an entity that morphs along with its residents. The city extends beyond our backyard or office lunchroom or driver’s seat. It is a collective organism living and dying by the actions of those who are a part of it. What makes a city truly livable is when a majority of decisions made, from the corridors of City Hall right down to even personal ones, have a net positive effect on a majority of its citizens. An impossible goal to achieve, perhaps, but a better one to aim for than simply an every man for himself free-for-all.

There are more than a handful of credible theories about the origins and development of cities. At the core of each of them, however, is the inherent social nature of the human species. Push comes to shove, we basically like to hang out with each other. Arguably, we need to hang out with each other. Not everybody, of course. There will always be that one neighbour in the apartment above you who cannot get enough of Bon Jovi at top volume. Or the couple across the street who don’t think they have to clean up after their dog that makes a habit of pooping on your front lawn. But overall, we thrive and prosper with positive interconnectivity at all levels of our lives, and that is made much more possible when more of us have the opportunity at that positive interconnectivity.

That’s why 53% of eligible voters in Toronto didn’t vote for Rob Ford. Cities seldom flourish with short term solutions. Rob Ford is all about short term solutions appealing to our least likeable and most anti-social trait. What’s in it for me?

So, the upcoming battles that will be waged at City Hall won’t be fought along where you live lines although, clearly, the maps suggest they will be. No, it’s going to be about the overlap between what some think is best for themselves and what others see as being best for the city. Streetcars versus buses? Green initiatives? More cops at the expense of social services cuts? No longer mere campaign slogans, these are now items that very well may be put on the table for debate. You know, the whole ‘Vision Thing’ that was raised and summarily dismissed during the election race. An approach to city building that goes beyond the end of our own laneways, neighbourhoods and even outside ward boundaries.

That is the difference between trained urban citizens and city consumers. It isn’t just about my house or my bike lane. It’s our community, our roadway. A vital difference in the general well-being of any city, and one that must be overcome if this whole notion of an amalgamated Toronto is to work for everyone who chooses to call it home.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr