Civic Inaction

June 4, 2014

Listening to the new CEO of the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, Sevaun Palvetzian, on Metro Morning yesterday,listeningtotheradio the thought crossed my mind just as host Matt Galloway articulated it. “What has that got us?” That, being the type of advocacy and public discourse generating the GTCAA undertakes. The harnessing ‘the wisdom of the crowds”, as Ms. Palvetzian stated.

The GTCAA has been on the forefront of the region’s congestion question during the past couple years or so. Its Your32 campaign sought to bring home the total cost of congestion to each individual living in the GTHA, not just in terms of money but time lost as well. What would you do with the extra 32 minutes you’d gain if we all weren’t bogged down in traffic and under-serviced by public transit?

Get building more transit, the group chimed in. Fund it. Build it. Push on with The Big Move. Now.

A great discussion to be having but where’s the action, Civic Action Alliance? doitdoitdoitThe follow through? The results?

That’s probably too harsh. New transit is being built. The University-Spadina subway extension. The Eglinton LRT crosstown.

But there’s a shitload more to do and lots of questions about project priorities and where to get the money to fund them. Questions the GTCAA participated in asking and promoting to a wider audience for a broader discussion. The group helped create a real sense of urgency on the transit file.

And then, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum of decision making.

John Tory, the former GTCAA chair, and the former CEO Mitzi Hunter, both left the organization to pursue political positions. civicactionallianceMs. Hunter won a seat in the provincial legislature for the Liberal government in a Scarborough by-election last summer and is running for re-election in the current general election. Mr. Tory is seeking the job of mayor of Toronto.

I think it’s safe to say that neither candidate has pursued the transit issue with the same zeal they had back in their GTCAA days. Hunter, mysteriously, became the Scarborough Subway Champion as part of the Liberal’s backroom politicization of the transit file in order to retain the seat, backing the more expensive and less expansive subway plan over the original Big Move LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line eastward. A switch Tory also favours as part of his mayoral campaign. We’re hearing little from either one of them about any sort of funding tools beyond the dedicated property tax increase for the Scarborough subway. coginthemachineRather than agents of change, they’ve settled into the role of obstructionists.

Writing this, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that politics is where bold ideas go to die. Give a listen to the Metro Morning segment following the interview with Ms. Palvetzian. Three party appointed talking heads spouting talking points ahead of the provincial leaders’ debate last night. Oh, that leaders’ debate last night! The boldest vision based on a monumental lie and the other two just carefully calculated poses.

We can talk all we want, hash out plans, harness the wisdom of crowds, but if those we elect to implement such wisdom shrug off the responsibility of doing so, what’s it matter? Do we just accept the role of demanding big change while settling for incremental?

This is where political apathy sets in. “Where has that got us?” as Matt Galloway asked. What’s it matter? talkingheadsOur political leaders are listening to someone but it sure as hell ain’t us.

And I have to tell you, news that the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance had named Rod Phillips as its new chair of the board brought me no great comfort either. Searching through his bio, nothing jumped out at me that screamed civic-minded. Maybe I’m missing something but this is someone who until just recently was the head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming, a provincial government Crown corporation that spearheaded the push for a casino on the city’s waterfront. Civic-minded? Really?

Perhaps we need to stop looking for outside help in solving our problems. Reading Marcus Gee’s 2009 article about the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance’s (originally known as the Toronto City Summit Alliance) founder, the late David Pecaut, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he had it wrong.

“The message of his [Pecaut] life is that you don’t need to beat City Hall,” Gee wrote. “You can go around it. straightlinefromAtoBRather than wait for the creaking cogs of official machinery to turn, he learned to build networks of interested parties, private and public, that could forge ahead on their own.”

Maybe instead of trying to go around City Hall or Queen’s Park, we should expend our energy going through them. I think it borders on the delusional to think the major issues of our time – congestion, inequality, climate change – can be addressed without government signing on.  “Let’s just go out and do it, and tell City Hall when we’re done,” Mr. Pecaut is quoted as saying. How about we cut out the middle man, and just go out and take control of City Hall?

If we’re really fed up with politics, with the inaction we’re seeing on almost every front, the conversation shouldn’t be about whether or not to vote or what the proper way to decline a ballot is. It’s long past that. getinvolved1We should all be looking for and demanding to see candidates on the ballot who reflect our values and aspirations. Rarely, in my experience, has that not been the case.

Sure, many have been longshots and no-hopers. As long as we stay on the sidelines or remain content to hold our nose and vote for the least worst option, that’ll continue to be the case. Our time and energy would be better spent trying to change that dynamic rather than passively accept it and trying to work around it.

challengingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Not Rob Ford

March 1, 2014

It probably seemed really easy in theory.

Just separate yourself from Rob Ford, the man, the human train wreck, but embrace the policies he’s pursued as mayor. wipeyourhandscleanThat’s what everybody’s telling us, aren’t they? Love the low taxes, increases in (non-car related) user fees, cutbacks in services and programs. All good. If we could roll back on a little of the crack news and police chief baiting, however, everything would be roses.

The wisdom of the latter portion of that analysis of the electorate’s pulse will be put to the test as the mayoral campaign unfolds especially once a left of centre candidate joins the race… an actual left of centre candidate is going to join the race, I trust. We shall see just how enthusiastic the folks have embraced what have been essentially austerity budgets at the municipal level for the past 3 years, and an alternative approach is truly championed. When the snow and ice have receded… the snow and the ice will eventually recede, I trust, and the city strains to keep up with all the pothole fixing and road re-paving. whatdidhejustsayNever mind the water main breaks and basement flooding.

But even the simple aspect of the presumption, the whole distinguishing yourself from Rob Ford, has not been a swift clean break. At least not right out of the blocks. At least not for either Karen Stintz or John Tory.

“We thought we were getting a responsible leader,” Councillor Karen Stintz told the crowd gathered at Tuesday’s Toronto and Region Board of Trade lunch time kick off to her campaign.

OK, look.

You might’ve agreed with the thrust of the Rob Ford’s 2010 campaign. That the city was sitting on a fiscal cliff. That there wasn’t a revenue problem. There was a spending problem. That it was time to Stop the Gravy Train, blah, blah, blah.

Fine. I think posterity, such as it is only 4 years on, has proven that thesis woefully incorrect. But not my point here.shiva

My point is, nobody in their right mind saw Rob Ford as a ‘responsible leader’. There would be no way to come to that conclusion, looking back over his 10 years as a councillor. Perhaps too many of us failed to see just how irresponsible he’d become but Rob Ford never represented responsible leadership.

What he was, and what his ardent supporters wanted him to be, was a radical break with past municipal governance in this city. Not just his immediate predecessor, David Miller, but even the more loveable, incorrigible, softer conservatism of Mel Lastman. Where Lastman wanted smaller government, Rob Ford and his brand of conservatism just outright hated government.

Rob Ford, Etobian Shiva, politico of destruction. His job was to level the place. He didn’t do a whole lot to disguise that fact. If you signed on, you signed up for that. Otherwise, you signed on blind.

So it’s a bit awkward now if you’re John Tory and news breaks during the first few days of your official candidacy that back in 2010, you donated to both Rob’s mayoral campaign as well as brother-Doug’s councillor race. More awkward still, you invite Rob Ford’s former campaign director and first mayoral chief of staff, Nick Kouvalis, on to your campaign team. imwithstupid2The distinction between you and the guy you’re trying not to be gets a little blurry.

Toss in the fact that on his bully pulpit of talk radio, John Tory could hardly be considered the mayor’s harshest critic. Even as a widely acknowledged civic leader as CEO of the Greater TorontoCivic Alliance, where rational public transit policy was promoted, Tory didn’t really push back hard on the grievous assault the mayor inflicted on the city’s transit plans. It’s all well and good to tsk, tsk Rob Ford’s appalling “extra”-curricular behaviour but I’d argue Toronto’s suffering more from the blows inflicted by his malignant policy pushes that Mr. Tory isn’t trying as hard to distance himself from.

At least, Tory’s got some actual, you know, distance between he and the mayor to try and play with. He was never part of the official Team Ford down at City Hall like, say, Councillor Karen Stintz. The mayor’s TTC chair until just a couple weeks ago, responsible for the regular fare hikes and service roll backs. She once wrestled the transit file from him, only to, in perhaps the weirdest twist of crass political pandering imaginable, pretty much hand it right back to him with the Scarborough subway he always wanted. Not exactly in the spot he originally intended but enough in the general vicinity to permit him to triumphantly pound his chest and bellow victory, regardless of how misguided.sunflowerskarenstintz

The twists and contortions Councillor Stintz is currently performing in order to be Not Rob Ford are equally astounding. It’s as if she’s trying to wipe our minds clean of the past 4 years with the soothing sounds of banality. “A better tomorrow does not rely on yesterday’s politics and old-fashioned thinking,” came one tweet. “We need to get past the dysfunction at City Hall and build a better place to live,” intoned another. “Let’s leave the battles behind us. Let’s leave yesterday’s attitudes behind. Moving forward,” sang one in an almost Andy Williams lyrical style.

She brought bags of sunflower seeds to her Board of Trade speech, bearing the title ‘Grow a strong tomorrow’.

AARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

westworldYou can almost hear the gears grinding, smell the oily smoke generated from the calculated effort to be Not Rob Ford. Pick me. I don’t smoke crack. Pick me. I’m congenial not combative. Pick me. I’m just like you.

Team Stintz seems so determined to present a fresh, smiling face of non- belligerence and confrontation that it is scrubbing its candidate clean of anything resembling personality. A computer generated rendering of a perfectly polished aspirant to the mayor’s office, free of controversy or conflict. She is the veritable calm after the storm.

I am not Rob Ford. I am [fill in the blank]. I am whoever you want me to be, bringing subways and change for a better future, free from the nasty pastiness of the past. Vote for me. You will hardly even know I’m here.

blankly submitted by Cityslikr


Evading A Solution

December 13, 2013

It should be easy. At least, it should be easier. There is a problem. The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area has become bogged down in congestion. easyAs it stands now, the region’s public transit network is not up to the task of helping alleviate the situation.

So… ?

Build more transit. Pretty straightforward. It won’t be cheap, in the short term. In the long run, however, the savings will manifest themselves with a general increase in productivity that comes from increased mobility.

Besides, investing in major infrastructure isn’t exclusively about saving money. It’s about paying it forward. Investing in the future, in your children’s future, your grandchildren’s future. Playing your part in posterity like previous generation did with the roads you now use, the subway tunnels that get many of us around from point A to point B.

The details will always be prickly. The wheres and the hows will inevitably be politically loaded. (At times like these, it’s good to go back and re-read Jamie Bradburn’s great Historicist piece in Torontoist, Opposing the Subway.) Paying for shit we need is never a slam dunk case to make.

But it gets done because common sense and fair-mindedness prevail. Nobody loves paying taxes. giveandtakeThey’re just grudging necessities if we don’t all want to live in hovels in the hills.

Unfortunately, we have been living in an era where common sense and fair-mindedness are in short supply. This is how we’ve arrived at the state we’re in. Everybody hates paying taxes. They’re no longer grudging necessities but rather, egregious burdens on our lifestyles. All taxes are evil, as one of our local representatives has informed us.

In the face of such ill-will, our politicians have grown cowardly. With yesterday’s arrival of the funding report from the provincially appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel – appointed by the province to undercut put distance between counter-balance the revenue generation report from another provincial government body, Metrolinx – the general consensus is, no political party is going to push ahead into a very likely election year with a platform of tax increases. Electoral suicide!

While it’s easy to blame them for such displays of cravenness, this is really nobody’s fault but our own. For a generation now we’ve swallowed the notion of low taxes and small governments as a path to prosperity. taxesareevilNot coincidentally, the very same generation where we’ve invested comparatively little in the public sphere. We sit behind the wheel of our cars, stuck in traffic, and wonder why. We wait half an hour for a bus before squeezing onto the crammed vehicle when it finally arrives, and wonder why. Bridges and overpasses crumble, and we wonder why.

This is the urban definition of the tragedy of the commons. We want and need something of a public service – i.e. transit – but think somebody else should pay for it. Gone is any sense of the greater good. Don’t look at me, jack. I already gave at the office.

There is little doubt that the ruling Liberals at Queen’s Park have for 7 years now, since the inception of Metrolinx, been doing their damndest to avoid the issue of funding public transit expansion in the GTHA. It was very much the very last piece of the puzzle they sought. When it came time to finally have the discussion, they desperately searched for partners to participate in what would definitely be tough talk.

And everybody blinked, looked the other way, made like it wasn’t their problem to help solve.

Toronto city council demurred to put in their two cents, choosing instead to draw up a list of we’d prefer nots.passthebuck

The provincial NDP said the revenue should be generated solely from the corporate sector. Details to follow.

The PCs, now the fossilized remnants of the political movement that kick started the divestment in the public good, assure us we can totally pay for the transit we want by tightening our belts and dipping into the pools of unnecessary current expenditures to build capital infrastructure. Translation? Since Bill Davis, we are the party of could give a fuck about public transit.

There can be little doubt that the parties and their pollsters have delved deep into this issue and concluded beyond the shadow of a doubt that taxing (even dedicated taxing) and spending (even on something we should be spending on) remains a losing campaign platform. Nobody’s convinced Transit Champions will put their party over the top.

Before we tsk tsk our politicians for their unwillingness to nobly go down to defeat fighting for a good cause, maybe we should try and figure out how we can contribute to making it more of a winning atmosphere for pro-transit building proponents. rollingrockEfforts have started with organizations like the CivicAction Alliance, Toronto Board of Trade and the city’s Feeling Congested. But 30 years of conventional wisdom that’s told us governments are the problem isn’t effortlessly overturned. It’s difficult convincing people that their long held, self-centred, narrow focus is working at cross-purposes to their best interests.

It will seem as if we’re beating our heads against a brick wall because we, in fact, are. Eventually though, even the hardest stone breaks. You just have to keep pounding away at it.

loudly submitted by Cityslikr


Birds Of A Feather

January 21, 2013

Suppose sometime over the course of the next couple weeks or so, Mayor Ford’s conflict of interest appeal is upheld and he’s officially tossed from office. Suppose not assume because, waiting2for me at least, my assumptions over the last 3 years have been woefully off the mark, starting with my early mirth about the improbable prospect of a ‘Mayor Rob Ford.’ Here, there be no more assumptions.

But let’s do suppose the courts toss him from office.

Much has been made of the Candidate from The Left who would best oppose him. Olivia Chow? Councillors Adam Vaughan and Shelley Carroll? All with the inevitable concern for vote splitting between them, allowing the mayor to slip up through the middle to another unlikely election win.

But recently, there’s been chatter about the right. bowlingsplitThis poses as equal if not greater threat to the mayor than any sort of alignment on the left, I think. A split on the right side of the spectrum would probably be fatal to his re-election chances unless somehow the left fragmented into tiny little pieces which, after 2010, I don’t see happening.

That’s assuming (ooops!) there’s a vote at all. Council could simply appoint a mayor instead of electing to have a by-election. Re-appointing Mayor Ford has been seriously floated by the likes of Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. Like some real life Dallas re-do. It’s all just been a dream.

But why would council do that? More specifically, why would council conservatives do such a thing? Why would they allow Rob Ford to continue damaging their brand?

That speaks to a bigger picture, frankly. imwithstupidA response to my post yesterday, My Problem With Conservatives, summed it up in under 140 characters. “Have been curious for some time about why moderate conservatives have allowed, what were fringe radicals, to co-opt their parties.

We’ve seen it down in the States with the Republican Party and, to some degree, up here at the federal and provincial levels. These are not your daddies’ Progressive Conservative parties. Hell, in Ottawa they cut to the chase and dropped Progressive altogether.

And it’s meant a certain degree of electoral success. At least in the short term. The results of the 2012 U.S. election suggest right wing radicalism is, however, hurting the conservative cause now. Here in Ontario, after 2 terms of far-rightedness under the Common Sense Revolution, the P.C.’s have experienced trouble bringing voters back into the fold even in the face of discontent with the ruling Liberal party working in their favour.

And here in Toronto, well, Rob Ford.

It’s not like his type of right wing crank politician never existed before. But they just weren’t usually allowed to drive the bus. proppedupDriving it into a ditch.

I guess a cynical view might be that council conservatives with an eye on the mayor’s office could see fit to prop him up until next year at this time when the official 2014 campaign kicks off. Then, all bets are off. Whoever decided to run could take the 10 months to draw a distinction between their type of right of centre politics and the mayor’s. The right message delivered by the wrong messenger and all that.

That would be a calculated risk, I’d think. If Mayor Ford continues to blow up in such spectacular fashion, it might be difficult to continue keeping the fall out off of you. A smart, progressive campaign would tar all conservatives with the same brush.

Political calculations aside, surely to christ, moderate conservatives at the municipal level must now realize that the mayor’s conservatism is harming the greater good of the city more than anything either of his immediate predecessors did. citybuildingIn fact, if any moderate conservative can still say with a straight face Toronto is in better shape now than it was three years ago should not consider themselves a moderate conservative. They’re willfully blind ideologues.

Take for example John Tory. A seeming old school Red Tory. Too red certainly for the provincial Progressive Conservative party.

As chair of Toronto’s CivicAction Alliance, he is now the public face of a group advocating for greater investment in public transit infrastructure in the GTA. They along with conservative leaning interest groups like the Board of Trade recognize the negative impact congestion is having on the region and the only solution is to spend money bringing our public transit system into the 21st-century. That means considering new taxes. Road tolls.

Is John Tory prepared to stand idly by and let Mayor Ford continue to spout his subway nonsense, given the opportunity to replace him with someone more forward thinking? And I’m not talking about Tory running for mayor necessarily. birdsofafeatherWith the talk radio bully pulpit he has, is he going to pipe up in favour of the status quo, keeping a mayor in place whose closet counsel is his brother, a politician on record as saying all taxes are evil? The private sector will build us our subways, folks.

It won’t. John Tory must know that. TTC chair Karen Stintz too. How about Councillor Michael Thompson?

For the sake of keeping a conservative in power will they all be content to let Mayor Ford stand for the conservative banner? Reasonable people shouldn’t let blind loyalty to their ideology trump city building. It’s OK to state that Mayor Ford has been an unmitigated disaster and still be a conservative. Someone serious from the ranks should step forward soon and say as much. Otherwise, it’ll start to look like conservatives of every stripe are more interested in power rather than good governance.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Time To Talk Transit Turkey

October 9, 2012

If Mayor Ford really wanted to turn the page on the nasty car accident that’s been his last year in office or so, he could do worse than to enthusiastically adopt the city CFO’s report on transit funding strategies at Executive Committee meeting today. Instead of spending his time and political capital trying to eradicate any and all evidence that David Miller was ever mayor of Toronto, he could now simply absorb what was his predecessor’s most cherished legacy. Out transit the one time Transit Mayor. You want transit? I’ll give you transit, folks.

Of course, no such thing is going to happen.

The initial response coming from the mayor’s office to Cam Weldon’s report is pretty much par for the course for an administration that’s only viewed the transit file as a potential wedge issue. Private sector this from Councillor Doug Ford, senior levels of government that from the mayor. Any talk of new sources of revenue dedicated to building transit is just a whole lot of tax-and-spending in disguise. Team Ford, no can do.

Instead, Mayor Ford seems intent on keeping to the tried and true path of obsessing and trying to exploit inconsequential matters in the hope of righting the ship. Over on Twitter last Friday, the mayor’s former campaign director and one of his ex-chiefs of staff, Nick Kouvalis suggested 70% of suburban Toronto was unhappy with the plastic bag ban and he predicted Mayor Ford could win re-election on that issue alone. Hyperbole aside (and noting Mr. Kouvalis doesn’t officially speak for the mayor at this juncture), it does point to some skewed priorities from those in the mayor’s corner. They seem unwilling, uninterested and/or unable to cope with the more pressing concerns the city faces.

So what happens when one of those pressing concerns comes before the mayor’s Executive Committee for its consideration?

I imagine Mayor Ford will try to bury the CFO’s report under procedural manoeuvrings. Out of sight, out of mind; defer it in order to keep it from council’s hands for a wider debate. The city’s got bigger fish to fry than contributing to a region wide debate on transit building. Those plastic bags aren’t going to unban themselves, people.

In other words, the mayor’s probably looking to excuse himself from the discussion and hoping to sideline the city along with him. Go on ahead without us. We’ll just stay here and roll up into a ball of irrelevancy.

How many members of his Executive Committee are willing to stick their heads in the sand along with the mayor? This isn’t just some left-right, downtown-suburban issue we’re talking about here. Toronto’s Board of Trade is pushing this discussion. The bigwigs of the region’s post-secondary school institutes are demanding action. John Tory’s Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance group will be rolling out their attempt to kick start the debate this week.

But the mayor of the largest city in the entire GTHA wants to take a pass on participating?

Enabling such a craven approach will not reflect well on those who do so. Transit is too important an item to continue playing politics with it. We’ve avoided having this conversation for at least a generation now. Any elected official once more endeavouring to push it off onto someone else’s plate needs to seriously question why it was they sought public office in the first place. And voters need to question why it was they supported them.

ominously submitted by Cityslikr


C Is For ‘Conservative Country Mouse’

April 24, 2012

Hardly equipped to wade into the fallout of last night’s Alberta election except to say that both pollsters and more right wing types from the ‘Calgary School’ and on the interwebs must be feeling a little glum today.

“In Alberta yesterday, voters were given a choice between Principled Conservatism and Unprincipled Conservatism,” The Clown At Midnight wrote. “And Unprincipled Conservatism – populism — won the day. Boy, did they ever win the day…We can stop pretending that just because our views are principled, people will share them.”

The day before the election, University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins established what exactly was at stake on a segment of the CBC’s Sunday Edition. “This is the big question right now. What do Albertans want? Do they want to be true conservatives on the right or are Albertans actually drifting to the left?”

Apparently a majority of Albertans aren’t principled or true enough conservatives for some. But I’ll leave them to battle that one out.

What did jump out at me, though, from a city perspective was a glaring urban-rural/moderate-right wing divide. Once again, cities proved to be the righter wing’s Waterloo. The Wildrose Party won only two ridings in Calgary and none Edmonton. Since more than half the Albertan provincial seats are located in those two places, that’s a mountain the party’s going to have to scale at least partially if they ever want to form the government.

Which isn’t really the strong suit of the more hardcore conservative ideologues. Cities and true, principled conservatives seem to go together like oil and water, birds of different feathers or, in terms that a Wildrose supporter might understand, the Hatfields and McCoys. They don’t quite get us. They scare us.

At the federal level, Conservatives were able to pick off enough suburban ridings especially here around Toronto to form their majority government. What did we get in return? A pedestrian tunnel to our second, smaller airport. How about a national transit strategy? Yeah, no. We’re not that close.

Conservative city love (CCL) has traditionally never really been a thing. All those great unwashed huddled there, causing trouble back in the olden days. Now, joined by champagne sipping socialists demanding we scale back car use and pay $9 for free trade coffee. What’s with these people? Cities are just somewhere you go to work and get the hell out of at 5pm.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to exploit those antiquated divisions, it’s simply becoming bad policy, and not just at the local levels, but provincially and federally as well. Senior levels of government neglect of public transit is threatening the economic well being of the region, the province and country. A ‘national tragedy’ according to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. A little overwrought perhaps but certainly a national crisis.

“Gridlock and congestion impede our mobility and productivity on a daily basis,” claims the not unconservative Toronto Board of Trade. Red Tory John Tory and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance are spearheading a regional transportation initiative. “Making it easier to move people, goods and services across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is critical to our region’s economic, social and environmental prosperity.” “We have far outgrown our existing transportation infrastructure, which is not meeting the current or future needs of our growing region. This outdated system is hampering our ability to realize the rich potential of our region.”

Cities matter. Overwhelmingly, Canadians are living in cities. To ignore that fact and use outmoded electoral distribution to subvert the changing demographics is ultimately undercutting the country’s future.

It also may be self-defeating in the long run for politicians who exploit it.

In our review of Tim Falconer’s book, Drive, way back when, (an aside here: come out to the launch of his latest book next Monday. There will be drinking involved.) we excitedly noted one of the conclusions he came to after driving his way across the good ol’ U.S. of A.  “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.”

We become more liberal, shall we say?

If that’s so, politicians continue to ignore us, defy us, demonize us at their peril. As more and more voters get wise to city ways, it will pay fewer political dividends to cast them as the enemy within. Just ask the Wildrose Party today.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr


Not Your Grandaddy’s Conservatism

September 4, 2011

(Hey ho, people. Listen up. An auspicious Sunday as we introduce a guest contributor to All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, Sol Chrom. Not only is he an occasional commenter here but he’s also been known to blog over at Posterous, tumblr and OpenFile. A busy, busy man. So we are honoured to have him appear with us. Hopefully the first of many.)

*  *  *

I’ve tried to avoid the easy snark in reaction to Doug Ford’s musings about turning what’s left of Toronto’s waterfront into a megamall-themed, monorail-adorned, Ferris-wheel-festooned amusement park. It doesn’t do any good to get all riled up and turn into indignant sputtering caricatures of Left-Wing Kooks every time Brother Doug has a brain fart.

But it turns out it wasn’t just a brain fart. Turns out it was something that arose out of a series of private meetings with real estate developers and mall operators. Isn’t this very much like the corruption and backroom dealing Councillor Rob Ford used to rail against and promised to do away with if he was elected mayor? You know, transparency and respect for taxpayers and all that?

There’s not much point in spending a lot of detail on the obvious political arguments. “Who the hell does this guy think he is?” is the easy question. He doesn’t have the mandate to singlehandedly tear up years of planning and consultation, flushing millions of tax dollars down the drain. An easy criticism, and not likely to dissuade anything.

It’s also pretty easy to point out that pawning off capital assets in a one-time fire sale in a half-assed effort to make up an operating deficit isn’t exactly prudent management. Weren’t these guys supposed to be the antidote to years of socialist fiscal ineptitude?

One could also ask why this is getting fast-tracked to Executive Committee, but again − easy question. That’s how this bunch operates. Spring it on us with almost no warning and give us less than a week to absorb and discuss. No surprise there either.

No. There’s a much larger and more overarching issue here: whence this pathological compulsion to tear things apart? First Transit City, and now this? Years of planning, study, consultation, remediation, standard-setting, consensus-building, and Team Ford wants to attack it with sledgehammers, tear it to shreds, and set fire to it – and for what? How does this benefit the public? There’s got to be something deeper and more disturbing here than mere impatience with process or the childish desire for payback against David Miller and the nefarious downtown elites.

Once again, it’s worth taking a step back and trying to view this in a larger historical context. While I’m usually reluctant to categorize things in terms of labels, I’m willing to make an exception here, if only because on the surface there seems to be such a correlation between people who identify as “conservative” and support for Team Ford.

But is there? An open letter to the city’s Executive Committee from the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance is urging caution on the Port Lands proposals for pretty much the same reasons: it’s not prudent to make wholesale and irrevocable changes to a large body of existing work and tear up years of planning without undertaking a rigorous and transparent process of public consultation: The proposed changes to be discussed at your next meeting are very significant, are not well understood and were not the subject of any substantive debate or discussion in the last municipal election campaign.

Despite the imprimatur of noted local Trotskyite John Tory, this doesn’t sound like wild-eyed revolutionary zeal; it sounds more like an attempt to stop it, or at least slow it down.

Back to the historical context. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution was reverberating throughout Europe. The established social and political order was facing its most fundamental challenge since the Protestant Reformation. In England, the statesman and orator Edmund Burke was reflecting upon the French Revolution: I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases.

Remind you of anyone?

Burke’s words resonate here because he’s frequently cited as one of the fathers of modern conservatism. It’s worth taking some time here to reflect upon the meaning of the word; to the extent that I understand it, it carries connotations of care, civility, preservation of tradition, honouring the most worthwhile aspects of our collective past, learning from our mistakes, and trying to leave things as clean and orderly as possible for the people who come after us. It means identifying and retaining the best parts of our history and the lessons it’s taught us. We have a body of intellectual and political tradition that’s been cultivated and developed over decades, over generations, over centuries even. Sweeping it all away with a dismissive wave of the arm is not the hallmark of responsible or careful governance.

You don’t have to identify as a conservative to acknowledge that it’s an honourable tradition – one that’s stood the test of time and has much to teach us. In that light, it’s hard to see the Ford “plans” for the waterfront as anything but antithetical to genuine conservatism.

So where is this coming from? Given what we’ve seen from this bunch, I fear that it’s not “conservatism” as we understand it at all, but something more sinister: atavistic autocratic bullshit, aided by a sophomorically gleeful narrative encouraging the bull-in-the-china-shop approach because … well, just because. It’s not an ideology or a collection of ideas and tradition at all. It’s rule by fiat. Might makes right. We’re doing this because we have money and power and you don’t, so step out of the way, peasant. We don’t even have to pretend this makes sense from a financial or infrastructural point of view, and we don’t have to address your insolent questions.

When was it that people used to act this way? Oh, that’s right. Medieval times. Or perhaps under the feudal system.

It’s not as if this started with Team Ford. It’s just particularly blatant because it’s served up with such an overwhelming air of triumphalism and belligerent ignorance. It’s not a pleasant realization, but the first step in confronting it is recognizing it for what it is.


As the Civic Action letter makes clear, this is going to have ramifications that go well beyond the mandate of the Ford administration and its successors. Screw this up and the damage could be irreparable. Executive Committee members and city councillors contemplating whether to get on board should keep this in mind.

— submitted by Sol Chrom

(To read the original post Team Ford goes Godzilla on the waterfront: this ain’t your grandpa’s conservatism in its entirety, click here.)