You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

Turns out, even for a somewhat political obsessive like me, it’s remarkably easy to switch off the electronic gizmos and happily walk away without so much as looking back. Head off to some place where people haven’t the foggiest idea what #TOpoli means and might just stare blankly at you when you respond to their query about where you’re from. “You mean, New York?” Places our country itself is but a vague notion. “It’s big, yes? With big mountains?”

Admittedly, it wasn’t complete cold turkey. I did find myself on occasion plopped down in a fully licensed free wifi zone, casually, very casually, checking in on what was going on back here. More disconcerting gunplay. More a-one diplomacy with the province from our mayor. The mayor’s big birthday surprise.

All the important stuff.

Still, despite such self-imposed exile (yeah, that’s what we call ‘vacations’ in these parts), politics does seep in, largely unnoticed at first. Knocking around Madrid and then more southerly spots in Spain as well as unOlympicized parts of northern Great Britain, it’s difficult not to see the economic distress. En alquiler, en venta, for sale, to let. Precio reducido. We won’t be undersold.

Everywhere. Along with boarded up storefronts and abandoned buildings. I tweeted about a moment in Grenada. Wandering through some alleyway, we encountered two bins on wheels outside a five storey walk up building. Both were full to bursting with what could be seen as stuff pulled out as part of some pre-renovation demolition. But it was all too intact and too many personal items for that to be the likely case. Repossession and salvage was our guess.

A man walked up the stairs past us and, very likely hearing our English prattling, turned back in our direction as he passed the bins and said, This Is Spain. Twice. Not necessarily angrily although it wasn’t simply a passing remark. Sad wouldn’t be how I describe it either. Resigned? Disappointed? Disbelieving? How the hell did it come to this?

Sitting in one of Madrid’s main squares, Plaza Mayor, we chatted with our waiter about the quiet atmosphere of the place. Granted it was a Monday night and it was only midnight or so, things do generally pick up later in Spain than they do here, but it was July. It was a gorgeous evening out. Que pasa?

Apparently, the place is packed and jumping on weekends but come the week nights? Nada. Unsettlingly subdued. On the upside… yeah, no. There is no upside.

The parts of northern Wales and up into Scotland we travelled didn’t look a whole lot more robust. Plenty of places for rent or sale, deserted and derelict properties. Sales galore! Of course, all that gloominess could’ve been on account of the greyer skies and cooler temperatures.

For its part, Edinburgh seemed chock full of vital with infrastructure construction going on all over the place. Sure, most of that was to do with the building of a tram system but even that will sound familiar to those of us who’ve been living in Toronto for the past 5 years or so. Initially, the system was supposed to run from the airport down through the town centre and onto the portside community of Leith. The whole enterprise was put on hold a couple years ago due to concerns over funding. A more modest version is now well underway. What was once a War on Cars has been scaled back to a mere skirmish.

Hanging over all of the UK now is the shadow of a double dip recession. It seems the austerity measures of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition haven’t quite worked out as hoped. Or, depending on your political perspective, it’s all gone swimmingly. Growth is down, unemployment is up and angry eyes have turned toward the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Fortunately for him and his government, the Olympics have got Britons’ hearts a-beating and their flags a-waving; their minds momentarily diverted from the economic crisis taking firmer hold of their green and pleasant land.

(That’s not hokey now if Danny Boyle used it.)

I couldn’t have been happier travelling in my relative Canadian anonymity than I was during the past two weeks. Who wants the rest of the world to know what our government is saying about their situation right now? Smugly tsk, tsk, tsking the Euro-region for the dire condition of their books and urging more, deeper austerity despite all indications pointing to this being the worst thing we can do at this moment. It’s working so well for us, right? What’s that you say CIBC?

Thank god I didn’t have to explain to anyone the nonsense going on here in this city where we’ve had to fend off a faux-financial crisis entirely manufactured by those who see almost any government spending as the root of all evil. Fiscal dimwits gravely invoking the names of Greece or Spain every time they sense any pushback to a proposed cut to services or programs. As if library spending rather than LIBOR fiddling was at the root of the global economic malaise. (Woo! Did I have to work for that one.)

It’s ugly out there which causes me to think the situation isn’t nearly as rosy for many of us here as we’re trying to convince ourselves. Pretending that it is, pretending all that stands between us and future prosperity is a tax cut here, a service efficiency there is nothing short of fucking delusional. Delusional, and if you’re an elected official, bordering on pure negligence. No, we’re not Greece or Spain. We’re not Great Britain. But the surest path in that direction is to advocate slashing and burning as the way avoid their grim fate.


Vacation’s over, I guess.

grumpily submitted by Cityslikr

Greece Is Not The Word

Toronto is not Greece.

Other things Toronto isn’t?

Italy. Spain. Portugal. Ireland. Lithuania. South Sudan. Paula Abdul. J.R.R. Tolkien. Cary Grant. A turnip.

While I fear having to fend off comparisons to the first four locales of the previous sentence over the next little while, no one would call on me to do so for the rest of it. Why? Because it would be ludicrous for anyone to suggest Toronto is just like Cary Grant. In the first place, we’re not dead. Secondly, this city is nowhere near as suave as Grant was. And as far as I know, Toronto was never chased through any open field by a crop duster.

It is as equally ridiculous to try and make hay with the Toronto-Greece comparisons when we’re discussing our current fiscal situation. Hell, Greece isn’t even Greece in the context of those using the financial crisis as a battering ram in their all out war against the public sector. Oh, were it ever so pleasingly simple that a bloated and lazy bureaucracy could bring an entire continent to its knees. Such an easy fix.

And it’s all easy fixes we’re looking for especially when it comes to dealing with complicated, systemic problems. Like cutting a tough knot in your shoelace with scissors. The knot’s no longer a problem but you’re going to have to replace the now too short lace.

Yes, Toronto has a long term financial problem. It is not alone in having the problem. Municipalities throughout the province, country, continent are facing perennial revenue shortfalls and most do not have the full governing tools at their disposal to tackle the problem head on.

This does not make us Greece however. Those who try dazzling us with this logical sleight of hand are less interested in solving our fiscal issues than they are in conducting their long war against organized labour and our public sector. We’re too beholden to the unions. (Just like Greece.) The public sector is lazy and unresponsive, looking out only for themselves. (Just like Greece.) We’re heading toward the financial crapper. (Just like Greece.)

The low murmurs can now be heard at city council from some of Mayor Ford’s supporters. We need to get our house in order. Look at what’s happening in Greece. The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy has picked up the thought and ran with it in a couple columns last week. A Greek-like day of reckoning is nigh, people. If we don’t do something to reign in the public sector and their relentless demands, we’ll soon be having to pay for our lattes with drachmas.

It’s all partisan hyperbole, of course. Innuendo and loud repetition to cover for the serious lack of substance, facts or figures. Scaring the children with really large numbers. Three billion dollars in unfunded capital expenditures over the next 10 years! Wherever are we going to get that kind of money?!

Inevitably such questions and assertions, framed under hysterical circumstances, call for drastic answers and demands. Sell assets. Cut programs. Slash staff. There’s no time for discussion. We’re on a runaway train, hurtling dangerously out of control toward a dark and scary tunnel with the only light coming from an oncoming train using the same tracks.

Just like Greece.

Toronto is not Greece.

Anyone claiming it is should not be considered a serious voice in what will be highly contentious budget debates in the next couple months. They aren’t looking to solve our problems. They’re looking to settle a score.

Athenianly submitted by Cityslikr