The PM At The FCM

June 1, 2010

Sitting watching the video of Prime Minister Harper’s speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities from last Friday and I think it safe to say without fear of contradiction that I have not seen such a perfunctory public performance since paying $17 000 to witness the Eagles play Hotel California during their Hell Freezes Over For A Third Time reunion tour.

The man so didn’t want to be there. (Just like Don Henley.) He had nothing but contempt for those he had deigned to speak to. (Just like Timothy B. Schmit.) He chanted the phrase ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan’ relentlessly as if to ward off evil spirits. (Just like Joe Walsh.)

Our Prime Minister couldn’t so much as muster up the pretense of graciousness to try and appear that he gave even a passing shit about the speech or who it was he was talking to. With the whole G20 meeting heat swirling around him, he put in an appearance and left the stage without taking any questions from the audience. Thank you and good night! Actually, it was less of a rote performance and more of a sound check.

And Conservatives wonder why they can’t make an electoral breakthrough in the country’s biggest cities? Even just a little love from Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto would put them securely into majority territory but somehow they are simply unable to reach out. Toronto should fuck off, we were told by Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird in the midst of the biggest economic downturn in decades.

While Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff didn’t exactly blow the roof off the place, he gave the impression that he’d at least put some thought into what he was going to say rather than slapping something together in the limo ride from the hotel. Ignatieff talked about the future, with cities being offered a more equal partnership. He talked about a national public transit strategy. An affordable housing strategy. A national infrastructure bank. To his mind, cities weren’t merely a “delivery system for the federal government’s stimulus program…” but “… ladders of opportunity.”

Hokum? Quite possibly. There is little question that many of the problems cities face currently can be traced back to a federal Liberal government’s budgetary slashing and burning in the early-to-mid-90s. A wrong they never even thought of righting until Paul Martin’s minority situation more than 10 years later almost, a cynic might argue, as a ploy to shore up their urban base.

Still, it’s preferable to a prime minister who steps in front of an audience of municipal leaders and refers to them as pothole fillers. That’s a level of smug self-importance and lack of awareness that is nothing short of staggering. Or maybe in Harper’s case, it’s completely calculated.

Like their eagerness to be seen dissing the “experts”, “academics” and “eggheads” in order to play to their perceived Sarah Palin base, maybe the idea of coming into Toronto and calling its mayor a filler of potholes went exactly as planned. This might also explain their whole lack of concern about the G20 controversy. Knowing how you can never not score points from coast to coast to coast by being seen sticking it to Toronto, it is very possible for this very political prime minister that he’s using the event to mark his territory as the top dog, alpha male boss. We’re bringing the G20 meeting here, see. We’re not even going to ask your permission, got it. We’re putting it on where we want with complete disregard for any suggestions you may have about where would work best. Because I’m the Prime Minister of Canada and you’re just a pothole filler.

If you’re a believer that the building of strong, sustainable cities is the future of building a strong, sustainable country, there is nothing our current Prime Minister says or does that can fill you with any confidence whatsoever. He clearly doesn’t share that view. To him the future is little more than balanced budgets and low, low corporate taxes. Cities aren’t even on his radar. They’re an after-thought, places to host international gatherings where he can sit beside other world leaders, basking in significance. Cities are just somewhere we live, where there are pot holes to be filled by lesser politicians than he.

submitted by Cityslikr


NYC Postmortem

April 28, 2010

So I step in after my colleague’s hard crash, like a child coming back down hard to earth after a mad sugar rush, he could be out for days by the look of it, to wrap up our New York City sojourn.

As any good trip away should, we return home with a heightened appreciation of where we live. At least, most of us do. Acaphlegmic went missing Monday night, staying aboard the uptown bound N train as the two of us hopped off at our stop. He had a plan, he said, that did not include us. With that, he was gone, destined for the upper regions of Manhattan or, quite possibly, Queens.

In terms of vibrancy and self-assurance, there really is no other place that compares to New York. It is the centre of the known universe and is well aware of that fact. To bask in its aura even for just a few days, is to acquire a taste, ever so fleetingly, of what it is like to wield true power.

That’s fun for awhile but the responsibility becomes a bit much for us mere mortals to bear. We make our way back home with the knowledge that we are not, ultimately, made of the sterner stuff needed to survive a serious go in such an unforgiving environment. Failure is not an option, as the movies tell us, so we retreat to our slightly more humble surroundings.

Where we have a little more space. A little more tranquility. Where the food is just as good and less pricey and precious. Where we have long since abandoned the idea of building subways.

Did you know that New York City is still building subways? How is that possible? I thought our American neighbours took it in the economic cojones much harder than we did. Especially at ground zero of the meltdown, home to your Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. So how are they going about such extensive public transit infrastructure spending while we fiddle and fart over extending LRTs?

Then I came across this little tidbit in the Wall Street Journal yesterday at the airport:

Top New York real-estate executives and the City Council speaker will make an 11th-hour push Wednesday to persuade the White House to back federal funding for a second subway station as part of the extension of the No. 7 line in Manhattan.

Officials from the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will meet in Washington with Vice President Joe Biden’s staff in hopes of securing hundreds of millions of dollars to build a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street.

What’s that then?! A New York City councillor and some members of the real estate association have an audience with the US Vice-President, the second most powerful man in the world, trying to secure federal funding for one subway station!? I mean, wasn’t he just over in Israel trying to kick start peace in the Middle East? Remember when Toronto was trying to secure some federal infrastructure money last summer and were told by the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to go fuck ourselves because we hadn’t crossed our Ts and dotted our Is to their satisfaction?

Maybe cities get the respect they deserve. As long as we continue to grovel at the feet of senior levels of government, begging them to pony up cash they took from us in the first place, we’ll continue to be second class citizens. By taking seriously would-be mayoral candidates who call financial negotiations with the province ‘going cap in hand’, Toronto is simply acknowledging the fact that we’re an after-thought, a voter rich zone with little actual power and zero influence.

I’m not proposing we be like New York. That’s impossible and undesirable. What I would like, however, is to occasionally strut like New York, swing some serious pipe like New York. To simply stop acting like we’re not worthy to be treated like a world class city by the very politicians we elect to serve us. I’m not alone in appreciating where I live. It’s time to demand our elected officials do the same.

stridently submitted by Urban Sophisticat