Could Be Worse

January 5, 2015

I had hoped to begin the new year on a peppy, upbeat note of resolve, to scan the horizon and spot evidence of a better 2015 than 2014. Look, guys. upbeatWe actually did hit bottom. There is nowhere to go but up.

But somewhere during the search for signs of hope and civic sunshine, it dawned on me that yesterday, January 4th, was the fifth anniversary of the very first post here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. (Don’t ask how those two things intersected. It’s hardly an organized and linear organization we’ve got going on.) Tory! Tory! Tory! was the title. A plea at the outset of the 2010 municipal campaign for a certain John Tory to remain on the sidelines in the mayoral race. “Stick with radio, John,” we advised, “where we can continue to ignore you.”

raspberrySMASH CUT TO: (or maybe a slow dissolve, if I actually knew what that was) January 5th, 2015.

Mayor John Tory in a helicopter, high above the city, on the look out for parking scofflaws and ne’er-do-wells.

*sigh*

I mean, jesus fucking christ.

It occurs to me, nearly half a decade into this enterprise, that maybe it’s just not in this city’s DNA to come to grips with the grind down stuff that currently ails us. Congestion, under-performing public transit, aging and crumbling infrastructure, not to mention matters of housing, poverty and income inequality, summon up a whole bunch of let’s do more of the same and hope for better results. Some time, back in the foggy mists of the past, a workable, functional if not exactly exciting city was built. restingonourlaurelsIt worked. People came. The place thrived.

What Toronto hasn’t done is adapt. Arguably, for the past three decades, we have sat on our hands, looked the other way and hoped for the best. Staring up at all the towers carving out our skyline, we collectively sighed a self-satisfied sigh. World class!

In reaction to easily the most destructive and derelict administration the city had ever foisted onto itself, we settled for some throwback to an earlier era of dysfunction. Our new mayor was very well acquainted with the Mel Lastman years at City Hall. Sure, he’d gussied up his resume with right proper public service works like Civic Action yet put all that behind him in his second quest to be Toronto’s mayor. A moderate progressive, he sold himself as, or something similarly banal.

He won’t embarrass us! A rallying cry to mollify rather than actually rally us. Inspirational? I don’t know. Do you find the repeated use of the word ‘bold’ inspirational?

Not that there was much inspiration on display from any of our leading mayoral candidates in 2014 which, coming in the wake of the unmitigated Ford fiasco, says something of our civic constitution, I fear. sotiredCan we just have a little peace and quiet for a bit? Competence is what we crave. The big issues can wait while we catch our collective breath.

As we press pause, the wheels of dubious governance keep on turning.

Over the weekend, a Toronto Star opinion piece laid out in gory, gory detail the ongoing mess of a debacle that is shaping up to be the Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. ‘Another ‘billion-dollar boondoggle’ author R. Michael Warren asks, pushed forward for nothing other than political reasons by our new mayor, the premier of the province, dutiful Scarborough government MPPs, opportunistic and resentful city councilors. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. hopeforthebestEverything will work out just fine.

It’s not actually going to fix much from a transit prospective, probably make some things worse in fact, but aren’t we all just tuckered out from all the bickering? We’re done here. Let’s move on. No good can come from reopening old arguments. I mean, that’s how we ended up with this Scarborough subway, am I right?

Look. It could be worse. Rob Ford could still be mayor.

Yes, it could be worse. It could be worse should become our new city motto. It Could Be Worse, Our Strength.

It Could Be Worse is a lot easier to maintain than It Could Be Better, takes a lot less effort. I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to say that, with only a couple exceptions, It Could Be Worse has pretty much been Toronto’s approach to running things for 30 years or so now. It’s not great. It’s not innovative or ground breaking. But, it could be worse.couldbeworse Can I get a recorded vote? It could be worse. All in favour?

So we muddle into 2015. It can’t possibly be worse than 2014 or the couple years before that. While some think about tackling the big issues we face like poverty, Mayor Tory makes a spectacle of chasing down illegal parkers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it could be worse, right? The mayor could not be dealing with illegal parking.

Buck up. Granted, it’s not much to hang your cape of hope on, thin gruel with which to build an optimistic, hopeful New Year’s message. Still. It could be worse.

philosophically submitted by Cityslikr


Free To Be Mammoliti

December 12, 2014

So maybe we all should stop the tsk, tsk, tsking of disapproval toward Ward 7 York West residents and grant them a well-earned cynicism in regard to a certain long serving city councillor of theirs, one Giorgio Mammoliti.tsktsktsk

Pleading guilty to 4 charges of campaign overspending and ‘filing false paperwork’ during the 2010 election, the councillor was subject to a fine of $17, 500 which includes paying back the $10-12,000 he ‘inadvertently’ overspent. But don’t feel too badly for Mr. Mammoliti. He’s still got the $80,000 he pocketed from an illegal fundraiser last year minus 3 months salary the Integrity Commissioner dinged him for as a result of that illegal fundraiser minus the legal fees he’s racked up taking the city to court to fight that ruling plus $20,000 the city council just yesterday agreed to contribute to those legal fees.

“We all have different strengths,” Denis Lee, Justice of the Peace said during his ruling. “Unfortunately for Mr. Mammoliti, things went off the rail. He’s here today to take his lumps.”

“The court is of the opinion that you did act in good faith at all times — and there may have been an error in judgment in appointing who you did as your financial assistant. shrugAnd while the responsibility still is yours, the court is of the opinion that, taking everything into consideration, what has been presented to the court today is a very fair position on all these matters.”

Keep in mind here that Councillor Mammoliti has been an elected official for the better part of 25 years now, starting as a one-term M.P.P. from 1990-95 and then a city councillor since 1995. 2010 was his 6th municipal campaign (once in North York, the rest in amalgamated Toronto). The only difference 4 years ago was Mammoliti started out running for mayor before hightailing it back to his ward race when the run for the top job became an obvious lost cause.

The Justice of the Peace could have tossed the councillor from office but chose instead a financial shrug. So it’s difficult to view the ruling as Mammoliti taking any sort of lumps. offtherailsMore to the point, the idea that the councillor possesses the ability to act in good faith, never mind ‘at all times’, simply strains any attempts to attach a meaningful definition to that term.

I’m no legal scholar but I imagine the councillor’s most recent legal woes including being under police investigation had no bearing on today’s judgment. Priors may figure into a court ruling. Can currents?

It’s just hard for me to get my head around the fact that a veteran politician like Giorgio Mammoliti could be treated with such kid gloves. “Things went off the rail.” Mistakes were made. Mix ups happen. What are you going to do?

So why shouldn’t residents in Ward 7 be cynical? If the institutions meant to keep our politicians honest fail to do so, if they simply shrug and grant offenders political mulligans, how can we possibly chastise voters for figuring what’s it matter, it’s not going to make a difference who’s in office, they’re all the same? shirtlessmammolitiSince there are obviously no repercussions to bad behaviour, why should the public believe any politician will play by the rules?

Exposed to regular lapses of ethical conduct over the past 4 years from the likes of Councillor Mammoliti, the previous mayor, his ex-councillor brother, the new chair of the Planning and Growth Management Committee, and with apparently no recourse to hand out appropriate punishment, we leave it up to voters to chase the offenders from office. But if they have no faith in the system to keep the players playing fairly, why wouldn’t they conclude the next one’s going to be as bad? They’re all crooks and liars, right? All politicians are only in it for themselves and their deep-pocketed friends.

With the whole thing so broad strokingly tarnished, when it comes around to casting a ballot, many voters simply won’t bother. It only encourages the bastards. If they can summon up a sense of civic duty, why not just go with the devil you know? We know how bad he is. The other guy could be worse.trainwreck

Until we decide to act forcefully and justly with politicians who abuse the system and the public’s trust in it, we should hardly blame one tiny segment of voters for not making an example of one particularly egregious offender. The whole thing’s broken. There’s no reason for Ward 7 residents to think otherwise. There’s no reason for the likes of Giorgio Mammoliti not to realize it too and continue to push the limits because there doesn’t seem to be any serious downside not to.

fellow in cynicismly submitted by Cityslikr


Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

If nothing else, these past 4 years have taught us an abject lesson about the slow crawl of change in Toronto. slowchangeWhy can’t we have nice things? Because, well, change is scary and must be avoided at all costs.

First, there was Transit City. Three years in the planning and then, boom! Rob Ford’s first official day as mayor, he declares it dead. It is eventually wrestled back from his control but not in its initial shape or name and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a pricey and politically expedient Scarborough subway now attached.

Second, Waterfront TO and the Port Lands. This one underway since 2001, charged with revitalizing the rather sorry state of Toronto’s chunk of Lake Ontario. A slow but now noticeable process building public spaces and economic development. Too slow, however, and not noticeable enough (at least from their car seats, driving along the Gardiner) for the Ford Brothers and their ilk at city council. texaschainsawmassacreUnilaterally, Councillor Ford sought to take control of the situation with monorails, ferris wheels and shopping malls.

This foray, fingers crossed, was stymied without too much delay. But the attacks continue, I-don’t-even-know-where-Sugar Beach-is style. What’s with the pink umbrellas and Quebec rocks?

And remember that environmental assessment (EA) undertaken late in David Miller’s 2nd term to explore options on the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway – repair, rebuild or remove? No? Funny thing, that. After getting started, the report was quietly shelved in the fall of 2010 and the remaining money used for other ‘priority projects’. citybuildingThree years later, the EA was resuscitated and completed just this year. This one with significant delays and additional costs now attached.

Then, at last week’s council meeting, another addition to the do-we-have-to bin. After overwhelming approval just 2 months earlier, the Eglinton Connects plan came back to council for some additional authorization, this time to much less overwhelming-ness. Led by the mayor and one of his electoral challengers, the plans came under assault for being too driver unfriendly.

“City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” the mayor declared during the now semi-infamous shirtless protest. “This does not make sense. It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We can’t afford more gridlock than we already have. We can’t approve things that will bring this city to a standstill.”

Not to be outdone in his aversion to any new type of thinking when it comes to traffic planning, playingtothecrowdJohn Tory issued his own reactionary statement, although, to give him credit, he didn’t actually stop traffic to do it. “I have said all along that any proposal that will add to road congestion by reducing lanes of traffic is a non-starter in my books. EglintonConnects will do exactly that and will increase traffic by ten per cent on adjacent residential streets.”

We can’t change, we won’t change. As it was, so it shall always be. Anything else?

There’s most certainly some crass political pandering at work here. The War on the Car rhetoric was powerful last time around in 2010. Why not try going back to that well? Much fertile ground to plough there (not to mention plenty of metaphors to mix).

It taps into a strange and opposing dynamic in the electorate. We want change. We know we need change. We just don’t want anything to be different.eglintonconnects

So it seems no matter how much the public is consulted, how much input is offered up, in the end, any sort of significant change in pattern will arouse a noisy pushback. It might not represent significant numbers but it is loud, it is persistent, it is threatening. At least threatening enough to catch the attention of some of our local representatives.

But here’s my question.

Is it our elected officials’ sole job to listen to their constituents, and react only to the most vocal? Eglinton Connects did not suddenly emerge, out of the blue, dropping heavily onto everyone’s laps. By all accounts, it was a very public, open process. thanklessjobHere’s what we want to do? Any thoughts or ideas to improve it?

Just like in real life, sometimes councillors need to stand up to the bullies and loudmouths, marshal support for projects and ideas they believe in. This is a good plan. It will benefit the city, community, neighbourhood, street. Take a position, based on an informed decision, and sell it. Risk electoral retribution? Maybe. But that just comes with the territory, I guess.

Of course, that’s easier said from the outside when there’s no actual risk involved.

Even one of the more change-friendly city councillors, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has had to beat a tactical retreat on a plan in her ward. Friends of Chorley Park have succeeded in delaying the implementation of a new path through a portion of the south Rosedale ravine, better connecting it down through to the Brickworks, a major tourist draw, still most easily accessed by car. This, despite the fact, it has been in the works for two years, with plenty of resident notification and invitations for input.demagogue

Once it became a reality earlier this year, well, all hell broke loose. Petitions signed. Demands made. To the tune of roughly one million dollars in delays, according to Councillor Wong-Tam.

“My concern is that people are dug in so deep that they are not able to compromise on design,” she said, although she remains “…optimistic that we’re going to come up with something great. I’m optimistic that this is a community that’s going to come together and find a community-crafted resolution.”

The lesson from all this, I guess, is no matter how effective a city councillor may be, they can’t push progress forward on their own. They need support from their residents and the public at large. Get involved and get loud. You see something the city is doing that you like and want it to go forward, let everybody know. Beat the drum.

Unfortunately, it seems to be far easier to be against something rather than in favour of it. angrymobChange might result in something worse. It might be better! But it could be worse!

It’s a constant battle against human nature, fighting for change. The best place to start in engaging in that struggle is to help expose the politicians who exploit our risk aversion for their own gains. They aren’t looking out for the best interests of the city, its residents or the future. They’re beholden to only one thing and one thing only. Pure and utter self-interest.

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr


Go, Go, Go Giorgio

March 18, 2014

STOP THE (WORD) PRESSES!!

stopthepressesBreaking news in our Wards To Watch 2014!

Yesterday, Keegan Henry-Mathieu registered to run for city councillor in Ward 7 York West.

Why is this so newsworthy? Two words. Giorgio Mammoliti.

In our very first post of this series, we implored voters of Ward 7 to rid our city of this clown prince of municipal politics. Along with the Ford Brothers and Councillor Frances Nunziata, Mammoliti makes up one third of the unholy triumvirate of City Hall’s masters of divisiveness, discord and dysfunction. I know much of the campaign focus has been and will continue to be on the mayor’s race with an eye to ending the current reign of error but I cannot stress enough how chasing Giorgio Mammoliti from council would contribute to restoring much calm, decorum and civility as well.chasetheclown

As the councillor likes to point out regularly, in an attempt to deepen the urban-suburban fault line to his advantage, his ward never gets anything. And exactly whose fault is that, Giorgio? In his capacity as both an MPP and then city councillor for the area since 1990, more than a little of the blame should rest on his shoulders. He made it clear repeatedly throughout this term that it was a subway or nothing along Finch Avenue even if his residents had to wait a 100 years. His constant motions to freeze property taxes would also serve to provide a whole lot of nothing for Ward 7 residents.

Councillor Mammoliti also appears to hold the adherence to rules in as much disdain as he does his constituents. shirtlessmammolitiDuring this term, he’s been dinged with some ethical taint not once, not twice but three times. There are those 2010 campaign spending charges. There’s that questionable fundraiser now under investigation by Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner. Last fall, it was suggested that the councillor was paying below market rent owned by a developer that does business with the city.

It all adds up to a big ol’ bucket of What the Fuck? Just whose interests has Councillor Mammoliti been serving at City Hall?

While no official endorsement at this point, I will say that Keegan Henry-Mathieu appears on the tattered political landscape of Ward 7 like a refreshing breeze. I’ve met him a couple times in passing. He is some engaged, having spent time at City Hall as part of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, with an interest on issues like poverty, priority neighbourhoods, nutritional programs and equity. He would represent a much needed new voice on council and for Ward 7.keepcalmandturnthepage

Along with Lekan Olawoye who is challenging long time Ward 12 York South-Weston incumbent, Frank Di Giorgio, maybe Mr. Henry-Mathieu represents a new wave rising up against the old guard in the former city of York. If we could get somebody willing to step into the ring with Ward 11 York South-Weston councillor, Frances Nunziata, it might just be a movement stirring. A new generation of politicians, truly representing a post-amalgamated Toronto.

First, they take York. Then, they take Scarborough…

A guy can dream, can’t he?

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr