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


Diminshed Expectations Are Contagious

March 18, 2011

I have come to terms with the fact that our 4 dailies, most of the mainstream media actually, take a dimmer view of government than I do. For I continue to believe that our elected representatives act only as badly, goodly, cravenly, bravely, miserly or magnanimously as we allow them. Their faults are our faults. Their successes ours. At the end of the (election) day, governments remain accountable to the people and to the people only.

Yeah. I do actually believe that.

So most political coverage from our newspapers that comes across my desk I read with a mixture of anger, dismay, incredulity, angrier, disbelief, confusion, angrierer. (But not you, Christopher Hume.) It’s not that I simply disagree with much of what’s written. That’s a given. I just find it discouraging to think of the influence the discourse has on our political atmosphere. A disheartened atmosphere of No Can Do-ism and diminished expectations. Ask not what your government can do for you because it can do diddly squat.

So it was as I read Chris Selley’s piece in the National Post a couple days back, Let’s get diesel trains to airport on track Mr. Selley may have a tepid point with his analysis of the diesel vs. electric debate. Let’s take whatever we can to get a rail link between downtown and Pearson. Finally. It’s long, long, very long overdue. But isn’t it this grudging acceptance, this settling for something less, this sense of diminished expectations that has got us into our current transit mess in the first place?

Had the newly minted Harris government not experienced a failure of nerve or a failure to take the long view or just been less… oh, I’m so tempted to drop the c-bomb and add an ‘ish’ here but I’ll restrain myself… back in 1995, we’d already have a subway running along Eglinton Avenue. Fast forward 13 years, Premier McGuinty wavering in the face of a recession induced deficit and scaling back plans on funding Transit City, itself something of a We-Don’t-Have-The-Density/Money-To-Build-Subways compromise. The result? More delays and opening the door wide to the new mayor’s ridiculously under-thought out Sheppard subway plan that, whatever the outcome, only means even further delays for Toronto.

What happened to the time when our politicians marshalled an uncertain public to embrace the great unknown for the greater good? Like JFK sending Americans to the moon. I’m sure a very solid dollars and cents case was made why that wouldn’t be a good idea. Or (and I hesitate to go here, fearing that I may just be invoking Godwin’s Law which I only recently learned about from @jm_mcrath) back in 1939, imagine western governments worrying about the costs, both human and financial, of going to war with the Nazis? You know, the timing’s really bad. Winter’s coming. We’re still a little behind the 8 ball with this Great Depression-y thing…

Oh, right. We now have leaders marshalling an uncertain public to embrace bad causes for the lesser good. Like say going to war in Iraq. Deregulation. The debasement of government itself.

The strange thing is, we watch as the private sector nose dives into a near death spiral through mismanagement, criminality and irrational swings in triumphant certainty to baseless fear, only to be picked up, dusted off and sent back along their way with billions of dollars of government cash, yet still we lionize these titans of industry for their daring-do, spirit of adventure and risk taking in the face of daunting odds. Our politicians? Not so much. Just deliver the services we demand, don’t take too much money from us and try and keep quiet over there.

While no transit expert, I think the case for electrifying the rail link from downtown to Pearson is a slam dunk. Yes, the upfront costs are more but the general feeling is we will recoup that money through lower operational costs down the line. Electrification would allow more flexibility in terms of the numbers of stops along the way. There’s that whole concept of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. I know some of our electricity is coal generated but it is more flexible to future energy innovations (although there’s another front where our politicians are easily swayed away from green energy by dubious arguments). Diesel is diesel and electric trains simply make public transit a joy.

Mr. Selley does his argument a great disservice by blithely pointing out that the diesel trains Metrolinx has contracted to buy are convertible to electric as if it’ll be as easy as that. Slap up some wires, attach a couple of those rod thingies to the trains and we’ll be good to go. It’ll be a little more burdensome than that and, if history can be used as an example, the cost will be much higher in the long run than if we just electrified it now. (And while we’re in critical mode with this. Please, Chris. “If I worked downtown and was flying to London, I’d much sooner change in Montreal, or even Newark, than brave Pearson.” Seriously? A connecting flight rather than making your way to Pearson for a direct one? A little over the top, wouldn’t you say?)

But that seems to be what we do these days, make questionable claims to back up our demand for less bold measures from our governments. Bold measures are inherently risky, unpredictable and oftentimes don’t immediately pay off. It takes some courage to step up and see them through. If our politicians aren’t capable of such conviction, maybe it’s because we aren’t either.

boldly submitted by Cityslikr