A Vital Civics Lesson

June 8, 2015

Let’s set aside the cynicism for a moment. Ignore the urge to tabulate political calculations. Don’t discuss whose voices get heard in this city, whose opinions matter. cuphalffullNot yet, at any rate.

We need to revel in the fact that fierce citizen engagement can directly affect change. Take a moment. Take that in. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

Mayor John Tory came out yesterday in full support of ending the practice of police carding in this city. It’s a huge shift from the mayor who, less than a week ago, was full of — How’d John Barber put it in the Torontoist? – “marshmallow circumlocutions” in defense of reforming rather than ending the system.

The personal stories I’ve heard in recent months and even before, the words, laden with deeply-felt emotion, have been building up in my conscience and they have stuck with me.

And so after great personal reflection, and many discussions — highlighted by a very candid, thoughtful discussion with a number of people including Desmond Cole and others — I’ve concluded that time has gone on too long and that it was time for me to say, enough.

It was time to acknowledge that there is no real way to fix a practice which has come to be regarded as illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful. It was better to start over with a clean slate.

On Metro Morning today [no link yet], that very same Desmond Cole whose article in Toronto Life on his personal experiences with police carding served, I think, as the tipping point in the conversation, humbly deferred any sort of hero designation, rightly pointing the community and members of it who worked to bring about the change. No one person can ever successfully challenge a status quo system. desmondcoleThey can lend a voice, serve as a catalyst, contribute mightily, doggedly, relentlessly as part of the cause. Lone white knights are just fairytale characters.

The few times I talked with Desmond Cole about the issue, it was obvious the kind of personal and professional toll it was taking on him. I’ve been caught up in far less significant issues (yes, the Gardiner East pales in importance next to carding) and found everything else can fall by the wayside. Doctor appointments. Social engagements. Personal hygiene. Civic engagement, especially something as fundamental as our civil rights, comes at a cost. There are only so many hours in a day, so many fucks to give.

Which is why the more people who slice out even a few hours of their lives to contribute collectively to issues that matter to them, their family, their community, the less onus we place on individual efforts. Yeah, everything needs an instigator, an organizer, somebody to do a website. But it takes an army to knock on doors, to stand up and speak at public events, to testify on that one thing that serves as a barrier, that squeezes opportunity, that impedes the possibility of living fulfilled and meaningful lives.

So, let’s acknowledge this moment. That time when a bunch of people, almost exclusively from communities throughout the city normally without such a powerful voice to force the powers that be to take notice and actually change course. firststepIt’s something we need to relish. Change can happen.

Tomorrow’s the time to worry about the fuller picture. I am always wary of an on the road to Damascus conversion like Mayor Tory has seemingly experienced. He foisted himself immediately into the middle of the carding issue, putting himself on the Police Services Board after becoming mayor and mucking about with carding reforms that were already underway. But his words, if bloviatingly verbose at times, came across yesterday as genuine and heartfelt.

There’s no reason to expect the police services and its new chief will roll over passively on the issue just because the mayor said so. The service (with its former chief of police) resisted earlier calls for carding reform, ignoring directives from the board to do just that, creating the impasse Mayor Tory coddled up to just a few days ago. Systemic racism isn’t magically wished away by some mayoral fiat.

This issue ain’t over, is what I’m trying to say but, holy shit, did it receive a decisive body blow with Mayor Tory’s change of heart. Grab hold of that. Hug it close to you for a moment. Realize, as a matter of fact, you can make a difference. We just have to stop waiting for someone else to do it.

lilliput

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club V

January 30, 2015

For John Barber & Jamie Bradburn

Unless it’s Miss Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads block-rockingly telling me, I’m not one to embrace the history repeats itself trope. It gives too much agency over to this beyond our control notion of fate, of the march of time blindly spinning its wheels, oblivious to any sense of direction from us. revengeofthemethodistbicyclecompanyWe’re absolved of responsibility. Hey. Authoritarianism is on the rise again. Oh well. It’s just history repeatin’!

I’d argue that any sense of déjà vu we may experience in terms of current affairs is the result of our obstinate inability to learn from the past, from the mistakes we made, grievances we hold, just all `round stupid-head pettiness we cannot, will not let go of. We make history. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, yeah, history does seem like it might be repeating itself.

So you wanna talk endless Scarborough subway debates? Let me tell you about the late-19th-century struggle to run streetcars on Sundays in Toronto. We do have a way here of turning public transit decisions into pitched, prolonged battles.

The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company by Christopher Armstrong and H.V. Nelles tells the story of the almost decade long back-and-forth it took to bring streetcar service into operation on the Lord’s Day. There are very few good guys in the book. Corruption runs rampant. Vested business interests infect almost every level of public life. Religious fervor masks class divisions. Toronto the Good? Maybe not. Toronto the good yarn?

Huh? Huh?

Horse-drawn trolley/streetcars started up along Toronto streets in 1861. A 30 year franchise to run the service was granted to a private consortium, Toronto Street Railway Company. horsedrawntrolleyAs will surprise very few people these days, the relationship between the company and the local government wasn’t always smooth. There were constant disputes over who was obligated to do what (maintain the street tracks, for one) and who was owed what as a slice of the farebox. Your basic P3 dynamics.

Sunday streetcar service was one item rarely put on the table for discussion. It was a no-go from the outset. A deal breaker.

The grip of religion on the city as portrayed in the book was a revelation to me. The City of Churches, Toronto was sometimes dubbed. I vaguely remember the Sunday shopping brouhaha, back when I first moved to the city in the mid-80s. Sunday blue laws were deep and long abiding.

Religion also delineated much of the class structure of the city at the time. Protestantism was where the power lie, with well over 75% of the population swinging in that direction. torontorailwaycompanyticket1As Armstrong and Nelles point out in the book’s postscript, the fight over Sunday streetcar service was really about maintaining control of the city levers of power as much as it was keeping the Sabbath holy.

The fight too served to shine a light on just how corrupt politics in the city was at the time. How corrupt? Giorgio Mammoliti, by a few fold. Almost anyone and everyone, involved in this story, had a price and could be bought. Even among the proclaimed faithful money changed hands to sway decisions and elections. Christian values remained in the church, to be unsullied by everyday affairs. Unto Caesar and all that.

How corrupt are we talking?

In the 3rd and final vote on the Sunday streetcar issue (the one finally won by the pro side), there were allegations some men – pluggers, they were called, professional voters – cast as many as 25 ballots. Newspapers were paid to run favourable coverage. torontowards1890You might even call them advertorials. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of $11,000 was paid by the Toronto Street Railway Company to the various city newspapers to win that last vote.

Corruption hung so heavily around the workings of local politicians that, in 1891 when the company’s streetcar franchise lease was ending, any notion of making public transit a publicly run system was largely dismissed out of hand. Let the politicians make their fortunes from it? Leave that to private enterprise.

The devious doings surrounding the awarding of the new streetcar franchise told in all the gory detail in The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company led to the McDougall Investigation and the beginnings of a reform movement in the structure of Toronto’s governance. But not before another class struggle between those wanting fewer, ‘right thinking’ men appointed to an executive style board of control whose decisions could only be overturned by a 2/3s majority of city council and those looking to further expand democracy beyond the current restrictive bounds. horsedrawntrolley1An agreement was reached with a board of control appointed by council from amongst their elected ranks. The hope was to take the big decisions, especially those ones involving big infrastructure projects, out of the clutches of pure ward based horse-trading.

Sound familiar?

There was also the hope that civic reform might result in more fresh blood being elected to council. Again, modern readers will recognize such a thing is easier said than done. The first mayor and 3 man board of control established after the change were all very familiar faces on the scene.

Other feelings of things never changing crop up throughout the book. Penny-pinching Presbyterians certainly rings familiar right now during yet another budget debate over how to do things without spending any money. Although, back then, residents were rightly concerned about being fleeced by their politicians. Today we’re just more miserly minded, I think.

Privilege and private interests imposing itself on the public will also remain constant over the past 125 years or so. Then it was about the streetcars. Today, look to the island airport expansion clash. torontorailwaycompanyticketWealth and control hovering around the city business is timeless, I guess.

Late Victorian Toronto also comes across in the book as unrecognizable to those of us living here now. Never mind the coming of electricity or the receding of religious rule. The city was abuzz with political engagement. Elections were held annually with short campaigns run over the Christmas holidays. Rallies were well-attended. One during the 3rd plebiscite on Sunday streetcar service had 5400 people show up. On election nights, crowds gathered outside newspaper offices to wait for the results.

Yes, only a small segment of the population officially “counted”. It was during this time that the right to vote was extended beyond merely property owning men to, well, men. Still, politics didn’t come across as a chore like it sometimes feels today. It seemed to be woven into the fabric of daily, civic life.

Or seen another way, maybe this was just an early display of Torontonians rallying around something they didn’t want. electrictrolleyNo to Sunday streetcars! No to Spadina Expressway! No to a bridge to the island airport! No to good governance (2010 edition). Toronto, a town, a city in spite of itself.

The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company is a quick, interesting read through a tumultuous time in the city’s history, as the pressures of industrialization and urbanization come down to bear on this otherwise sleepy, God-fearing borough. It does suffer from some repetition of election campaigns that didn’t really change all that much. And while it’s quaint to read about an era where satire and pointed political commentary came in the form of poetry, dreadfully bad poetry, there may be too many examples of it in the book.

It does leave one lingering question though. Has Toronto grown beyond the expectations English writer Rupert Brooke had of it when he travelled here a decade and a half after streetcars began running on Sundays? “It [Toronto] is all right,” the first chapter of the book opens with.  “The only depressing thing is that it will always be what it is, only larger…” Prophetic? It all depends on what day you ask.

historically submitted by Cityslikr


The Bastards Keep Grinding

September 3, 2014

“I’m beginning to think politicians aren’t really looking out for the best interests of this city,” wide-eyed, naïve me writes. wideeyed(Yes. Such an aspect of this person exists.)

Jaded, cynical adult me turns and gives wide-eyed, naïve me a withering look.

“You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

This is a thing that happens, early on in the process most days. An ongoing battle between my cheery ingenuousness and the hardened pessimism about what passes as politics in these parts. Lately, it’s been a one-sided affair, and not in favour of the good guy.

“So who’s disappointed you this morning?” meany me asks.

Well, for starters, John Tory called a transit related press conference yesterday. Goodie, goodie, goodie, I thought. staringcontestMaybe now he’ll explain how his Smart Track funding will really work, because lately, some people, well, they’ve expressed some reservations about it. Mr. Gee and Mr. Barber.

“And what actually happened, sunshine?”

Well, not what I expected, OK?

It turned out to be an out-and-out endorsement for John Tory’s mayoral candidacy by the province’s Economic Development and Infrastructure minister and Scarborough MPP/subway lover, Brad Duguid.

“My Liberal colleagues at Queen’s Park are almost unanimously enthusiastic about John’s candidacy,” Duguid said. really“We see him as the guy… to provide the stable leadership to ensure that Toronto is the partner that we need.”

“Holy shit, eh?” nasty me exclaims, bursting out into a disturbingly cackle-like noise. “Imagine that!”

“Can they do that? Should they do that?”

The cackling gets louder and even more harsh on my sensitive ears.

I mean, it’s still nearly two months until the election and the provincial government essentially just came out and told voters in this city that John Tory is the mayor it wants, the candidate it’s willing to work with. Is that normal? Blatantly meddling in a municipal election is something that’s done regularly? Why not just cut to the chase and use its legislative powers to just appoint the next mayor of Toronto?

“I know, right?”

Even the soft-headed, big-hearted me can see the gears in motion, the politics at work. Pick the candidate who’s vowed not to re-open the Scarborough subway debate. Get somebody who isn’t Rob Ford into the mayor’s office to officially close up the Metrolinx master agreement on the previous LRT and sign off on the new subway plan. bodyblowFait accompli.

“Sure. That’s one way of looking at it,” cynical me says. “Don’t forget to factor in though that, above all else, Liberals hate the NDP. More than unfunded transit plans. More than nut job, far right conservatives, more than former opponent and rival, John Tory. John Tory, Tory leader, bad. John Tory, mayor of Toronto, good. How does that even work?”

No. No. I am not going to buy into such soul-crushing, naked cynicism. Cynicism? Fatalism.

Good me, hopeful me, sanguine me refuses to accept the fact that there are politicians out there so corrupted by power that they will sacrifice the interests of the people and places they were elected to serve purely for political gain. Partisan hackery above good, sound policy. I can’t. I won’t.toomuch

“Well, run these numbers around the daisy maypole of your mind, see what conclusion you can continue to ignore.” Meany me’s just taunting happy me now.

“The province gets its subway in Scarborough with both the feds and city kicking in some money instead of having to pull the full freight for an LRT. The province has already been working on its own version of Smart Track. Now here’s this guy volunteering to put up some city money to help them do it. A guy who’s spent the entire campaign deriding an opponent as ‘the NDP candidate’. The question isn’t why or how could the Liberal government endorse John Tory. The question is, what took them so fucking long?”

No. No. Nope. No, no, no. I’m not giving into this. Not again. There’s only one proper response now. drinking1Plug my ears and walk away until jaded, cynical adult me gets bored and goes out and gets drunk somewhere.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!

[Pulls bottle and glass from desk drawer, pours a nice, stiff drink] Look. It’s not like I enjoy being cynical and bitter. It’s not because it’s easy. It’s just… It’s just… [takes a drink]… Hope needs to toughen up, to smarten up. Hope needs to stop being taken for a sucker. Hope needs to start realizing who the real cynics in this equation are. It ain’t me. Not by a long shot. [Finishes the drink, pours another.] Not by a long shot.

dually submitted by Cityslikr


Smart Track’s Coming Off The Rails

September 2, 2014

Smart Track.

catchytitleIt’s catchy, succinct. Two words, and it tells you everything you need to know.

It’s smart and… it involves tracks.

Smart Track. Rolls off the tongue without so much as giving it a second thought.

Which is a good thing (at least for the John Tory camp) because when people start putting more than a passing thought into this much hyped transit plan, the only thing left to say about it… Track. fingerscrossedYes, it definitely involves track.

Just over a week ago, the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee began to wonder how exactly John Tory was going to fund the city’s contribution to the ambitious 53 kilometre, 22 station plan. “I don’t propose to offer hardworking Torontonians transit relief in exchange for a financial headache that could last for years,” Tory said back in June. “Therefore, I will not raise property taxes to build the SmartTrack line. The city’s one-third portion will come from tax-increment financing.”

Tax-increment financing, everyone! The solution for not paying for stuff we need now has a name to it. And a fancy-schmancy, official sounding name it is too.

“But it is far from clear that TIF could work here in Toronto, especially for such a costly project,” Mr. Gee writes.

doesnotcomputeWait, what? ‘Far from clear that TIF could work…?’ Did I read you right there, Mr. Gee. “This leading candidate for mayor is just feeding more false hopes,” he concludes.

**sigh**

A leading candidate feeding us false hopes on transit. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

Where Marcus Gee was cautiously skeptical about the Tory Smart Track plan, John Barber, writing in the Toronto Star a week later, was nothing short of stupendously apoplectic. “As mayor, John Tory could derail Toronto by trying to implement his half-baked, financially fraudulent transit plan,” states the sub-headline. And Barber is just getting started.

The magic carpet Tory has commandeered for this trip is called tax-increment financing (TIF), whereby the city borrows $3-billion and promises to pay it off with future tax revenue generated by property development attracted to the new stations. Tory’s breezy backgrounder cites a study by Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority, to explain how the magic is supposed to work. But because the type is so big and the single page so small, it doesn’t have space to report the study’s conclusion: that TIF is the riskiest, least desirable of all potential transit financing mechanisms, given one star out of five in the study’s final rating.

“But because the type is so big and the single page so small, it doesn’t have space to report the study’s conclusion…”swoon

If he wasn’t so grumpy looking all the time, I’d plant a big wet one on John Barber for that sentence alone.

John Tory’s big plan for building much needed new transit is untried and untested here in Ontario. Expert panels brought together to come up with the best ways to fund transit expansion have ranked tax-increment funding well down the list of feasible approaches. As Marcus Gee pointed out in his article, a recent panel chaired by Anne Golden listed tax-increment funding “as one of its ‘smaller’ revenue sources.” Both Gee and Barber point out the funding of subway construction in New York has fallen far short of the original TIF projections.

What happens then? Unsurprisingly, taxpayers are left to make up the differencedoesntaddup1.

AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, PEOPLE!

If we want new infrastructure, whether it’s transit or roads or new sewer lines, we should be paying for it. When did we start believing this stuff comes at no cost to us? When crass, craven politicians like John Tory started pitching us a line, telling us there was a magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow made from unicorn tears.

Nobody seems to dispute the worthiness of the plan itself. The province has been working on their version of it for a few years now. doesntaddup2If it actually contributes to helping reduce gridlock and congestion, bring it on.

But stop trying to convince us it won’t cost us a dime. We bought into that scam 4 years ago and here we are, plans delayed, plans scuttled, relief years, if not decades away.

in arrearsly submitted by Cityslikr


The Problem Of Weight

October 1, 2011

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I was the one who instigated the “late-night beer-enhanced” conversation that led to Sol Chrom’s post over at Posterous, Why making fun of Rob Ford’s weight isn’t cool. For the record, it wasn’t just some idle intellectual exercise, ‘late-night, beer-enhanced’ chatter about the use and nature of language, positions of privilege, etc., etc. Although it was indeed late at night and most definitely beer-enhanced.

The discussion stemmed from an actual exchange I had earlier in the week. Let me take you back (cue squiggly lines) to Monday September 26th, 2011. Taking a break from the special city council meeting, I wandered down to the south end of Nathan Phillips Square to take in the Stop The Cuts rally. Making my way through the crowd, sussing out the situation, firing off occasional tweets with my trademark pithy observations. One such came about when I couldn’t help think that no matter how loud these people yelled, no matter how hard they beat their drums, regardless of the justness of their cause or their fearful certainty that the city they love will be that much worse for wear if this current administration has its way with it, the mayor couldn’t give a shit about them.

That wasn’t thought in any fatalistic way. I wasn’t questioning why these people would be bothering to protest given it was all falling on deaf ears in the mayor’s office. (I don’t imagine the intent of the rally was to change Mayor Ford’s mind anyway. It was to try and change the minds of more and more city residents). I made the observation out of anger and frustration at the fact the mayor was so willing to run roughshod over public opinion, touting some mythical mandate that was nowhere near as strong as it once was and based almost entirely on false pretenses.

Looking around, I spotted a chip truck parked nearby on Queen Street. I then tweeted something to the effect that the mayor wasn’t going to listen to anyone in this crowd until we overturned the chip truck. Just before pressing send, I was struck by the possibility someone would read it and assume I was making fun of the mayor’s weight. Fuck it. That wasn’t my intent. I sent it out.

What was my intent, you might be asking? I spotted something trivial amidst the crowd brought together in a fight against the crucial. Daycare cuts. Library cuts. Emergency service cuts. Cuts that made the already vulnerable even more vulnerable. And I thought the only thing that would get the mayor’s attention would be if the crowd did something out of the ordinary, like overturn a fast food truck. Not because of the food inside but because of the unexpected gesture.

As with any attempt at humour, once it gets put under the microscope for a detailed analysis, it kind of loses its core of funny. Or, very possibly, it was never really that funny to begin with. I’m perfectly willing to accept that. What it most certainly wasn’t, I can assure you, was a shot at the mayor’s weight. I would’ve thought the very same thing, fired off the very same tweet if either dancer thin Doug Holyday or muscle bound Giorgio Mammoliti were mayor. It had nothing to do with the food.

Yet, soon after, I received a reply from what I would assume to be normally a politically aligned point of view. Let’s not descend to fat jokes (or something to that effect). Yep. I guess I should’ve trusted my instinct and not sent out the tweet. Notice how I refrained from saying ‘gut’ instinct lest someone think I’m taking another shot at the mayor’s weight?

So now any reference associated in any way to food can be construed as making fun of Mayor Ford’s weight? Or how about this? Mayor Ford did not exercise acute political judgement on the waterfront issue. What do you mean, the mayor didn’t exercise? Are you making fun of his weight again? See: previous paragraph’s ‘gut instinct’ discussion and make up your own example.

Really? It’s come to that? Those are the eggshells we must walk on when criticizing the mayor?

The thing is, I don’t see Rob Ford as your average person with weight issues. I see Rob Ford as the mayor of this country’s largest city. I see Rob Ford as a highly entitled politician whose approach to public service is to protect wealth and privilege. I see Rob Ford as a politician catering to our basest instincts. I see Rob Ford as many have seen his type of politician:

Any attacks I might make on Rob Ford using his weight is not an attack on anyone else who considers themselves fat. I’d like to think any criticism I may level at the mayor referring to his weight would be seen as more attitudinal toward his politics than his person. To my mind, it would be entirely germane to refer to Mayor Rob Ford as a fat cat or fat head without having to fend off those who might accuse me making issue with his weight.

But the issue is so fraught with emotional landmines that I have been very, very careful to steer clear of intentional references to the mayor’s weight. I’m sure a search of this site will reveal that early on we were less careful. I know we made constant comparisons to then candidate for mayor Rob Ford and the late comedian Chris Farley. We have attempted to heed the advice of many who have rightly pointed that there is so much more to criticize in the mayor than his weight.

We will continue to do so for three main reasons despite still believing that the mayor’s weight, through his politics and attitudes, is fair game.

1) I’m not sure my argument is rigorous enough to withstand oppositional scrutiny even within my own head.

2) Because I read this in the above Sol Chrom post. My issue is with the mayor, his views of government and those who support him. I hardly want to inflict emotional damage on others because I’m going for an easy, obvious shot.

3) Finally, and to show that my politics trump both empathy or any concern about being an intellectual lightweight, I try to refrain from going at the mayor with weight references because it gives succour to his backers. It gives a line of rebuttal where otherwise there would be none. As Sol argued in his piece, it puts the mayor in the position of being the underdog, the little guy, the put upon people’s spokesman dismissed because he doesn’t look the part, the anti-politician. It gives him justification to chase much better men from the room.

thoughtfully submitted by Cityslikr


Oh, Giorgio

August 10, 2011

Oh, Giorgio.

Giorgio, Giorgio, Giorgio, Giorgio.

Oh, Giorgio.

Communists? Really? Communists?? Support the Ford Administration to save the city from communism?

At first blush, one might conclude that the always colourful councillor from Ward 7 is simply fulfilling his duty to make the mayor, his brother and the other far right-wingers now ruling the roost at City Hall seem almost reasonable and of sound judgment. Almost. An unstable outlier that defines the boundaries of extreme. Here’s Giorgio. None who dare to pass that point can be taken at all seriously.

Then again, long before he became a confirmed Fordista, Councillor Mammoliti never shied away from making a spectacle of himself. Remember his run for mayor last year? A red light district on the islands? A floating casino. And before that, the bare-chested protest of nudity at Hanlan’s Point. The strip club tour. The flagpole.

Giorgio Mammoliti seems to court controversy and publicity. Covet may be the better verb to use in this case. As writer John Lorinc mused on Twitter yesterday Mammoliti “…operates in a realm that embarassment cannot touch. It’s performance art.” Style (such as it is) trumps substance (such as it ain’t).

Plenty of opinion was also offered that the Mammoliti Circus Side Show was nothing more than a distraction from the real harm being planned for this city by the Ford Administration. Councillor Mammoliti fiddles while Toronto is being burned. Look at me, ma. Top of the world! Ka-boom!!

Perhaps his Facebook page where the councillor vows to keep out any waft of communism is nothing more than theatre. He throws the bait into the water and gleefully stands back to mock the incredulous but inevitable reaction it elicits from the usual suspects. The left wing kooks. The downtown elites. The whiners. The communists.

Come on, guys. Communists? Really? Who in their rightful mind would be tossing around such dated terminology? Gimme a break. I was joking. Lighten up, would ya.

Seems possible except for the fact that Mammoliti buddied up to then councillor Rob Ford in the John Barber contretemps a few years back, calling the Globe and Mail a ‘socialist’ newspaper. The Globe and Mail socialist? Really? Anyone sporting that view seems capable of believing communists have been running City Hall for 8 years or so.

So maybe it is the ravings of someone caught in a pre-1989 time warp. He did talk about being brainwashed by leftists early on in his career on the CBC yesterday, I guess as a way of explaining his NDP and union affiliations back in the day. Sorry. Did I say a pre-1989 time warp? Let me be more specific. A 1950s time warp.

Best we just ignore it. Move on. Nothing to see hear. I’ve already screwed up by dedicating any space whatsoever to the man’s loopy opinions.

In my defense, however, let me just say this. Councillor Mammoliti may be beyond the reach of shame or embarrassment but what about those more moderate right wing and centrist members of council (yes, I am convinced they are out there) who have been lining up in support of the mayor so far? How does the headshaking, eye-rolling behaviour of Team Ford’s QB sit with them? Are they going to boast to their constituents of how they continually took their marching orders from council’s clown prince? All it took was a big thumbs down for them to vote how the mayor wanted?

Councillor Mammoliti might operate ‘in a realm embarrassment cannot touch’ but I’m not convinced a majority of other councillors are willing to risk their political futures dancing out there on the fringes with him. The left-right divisions Mammoliti seeks to exploit could well wind up as fissures in the current coalition the mayor’s cobbled together to push through his agenda. So, sing on, Giorgio, the discordant tune you perform so well.

operatically submitted by Cityslikr


The Magic Middle

March 15, 2011

Talk is brewing of some sort of middle ground bubbling up from the rancorously partisan divisions at City Hall. Over at Spacing yesterday, John Lorinc wrote of the Gang of Six; six new councillors who didn’t hue to strict left-right voting patterns during the protracted special council meeting called by the mayor last Wednesday to de-board the TCHC. While Mayor Ford comfortably triumphed on the main issues of the evening, some cracks formed on side motions and amendments that showed the administration doesn’t hold an iron grip on a majority of council.

So as we move forward from what everyone’s referring to as the low-hanging fruit that the mayor’s been successfully bashing away at – and yes, as complicated an issue as the TCHC imbroglio was, its treatment by city council and the press made it a big ol’ low-hanging, over-ripe fruit – and onto more challenging matters like, say, garbage privatization, selling off of city assets, further and deeper cuts to things like the TTC, things may not go as swimmingly the mayor’s way. What happens when things become much more contentious not just between right and left but for those trying to navigate the bipartisan, middle way? When the mob’s frenzied, anti-government bloodlust is sated and people start looking around and realizing, wait, you’re cutting what? That wasn’t part of the deal.

Will the so-called tug-of-war between the left and right on city council become less one-sided with the current winners, Team Ford, having to learn how to be conciliatory instead of confrontational? Is this administration even capable of such a gesture?

It seems hard to imagine not just because the mayor’s been so heavy-handed since taking office but his decade long career as a councillor points to a pathological inability to get along with those he doesn’t agree with. His is a black and white world, and consensus is deemed a sign of weakness. You’re either with him or against him. If you’re against him, it can only mean that you’re a socialist. Or worse.

The problem with the debate so far is that it’s being painted in terms of this radical view of Mayor Ford. I am hard pressed to think of any current (or recent) councillor who veers as hard left as the Fords veer hard right. Yes, City Hall was called Silly Socialist Hall under David Miller. By Sue-Ann Levy who shares the equally skewed opinion with Mayor Ford and his brother that anyone to the left of them is a… how did she describe it in a recent babbling rant? “…gravy train-enabling, public teat-sucking, union-loving… leftist hangers-on and despicable leftist hypocrites.” The mayor himself back in the day when he was still a councillor referred to the Globe and Mail as a ‘socialist newspaper’ in the now infamous Fat Fuck video that he starred in with Giorgio Mammoliti and John Barber.

The Globe and Mail. A socialist rag.

This current council does not suffer from a deeply divided left-right cleft. It is all about the far right versus moderates. The question is, under the baleful, full court press of the mayor and his team, can a genuinely moderate group of councillors emerge and start holding sway come vote time?

Let’s start with the six Lorinc mentions, Councillors Bailão, Berardinetti, Colle, Matlow, McMahon and Robinson. If they consistently voted with the 16 or so who regularly oppose the mayor, they’d still come up 1 short of a majority. Councillors Chin Lee and Ron Moeser have not been slavish in their devotion to Mayor Ford, so they couldn’t be ruled out as allies in this enterprise. That still leaves this group precariously dependent on everyone dutifully following suit which, it seems, only the mayor can count on currently.

So to cobble together a more comfortable consensus, you’d have to look to chip away at that wall of unflagging support Team Ford now can count on to push his agenda through. Discounting the new councillors Crisanti, Crawford and Pasternak who have cast their lot in with the mayor and mortgaged their future on his continued popularity… oh, and his brother, Doug, the mayor’s political Siamese twin… there are 16 councillors who all worked with Mayor Ford when he was a councillor. We know they all didn’t share his views or votes back in the day. In fact, it would be interesting to figure out what kind of common ground they shared with the mayor while serving as councillors together. (Paging Ford For Toronto! Paging Ford For Toronto!)

Surely a handful of these could be counted to buck the mayor if a reasonable centre began to take hold. Giorgio Mammoliti, once sworn enemy of Rob Ford and a fair-weather friend if ever there was one. Nobody else can do an about-face political pirouette like he can. I’d put Karen Stintz in a similar camp. Gloria Lindsay Luby has already opposed the mayor on an amendment during the TCHC debate. As has Frank Di Giorgio on occasion. Denzil Minnan-Wong and Paul Ainslie both smack of opportunists. Councillors John Parker, Michael Thompson, David Shiner and Norm Kelly seem like they’re capable of independent thought and/or can’t be considered hard core ideologues. Think about the sweet revenge, Councillor Peter Milczyn, if you helped make the mayor irrelevant after he tried to unseat you in October.

The fact is, Mayor Ford is irrelevant when we’re talking about finding middle ground. He doesn’t know how and wouldn’t be interested if he did. As Lorinc pointed out in his Spacing piece, the man voted against amendments to the TCHC motion despite them being right up his alley in terms of oversight simply, it seems, because he didn’t like who brought them forth, Councillors Shelley Carroll and Adam Vaughan which, if true, is nothing but spiteful, partisan politics. You can’t find a middle way with that.

In order for this council to find a moderate, middle-of-the-road consensus, Mayor Ford will have to be sidelined. While I realize that is easier said than done as he holds a lot of high cards, it is worth remembering that despite his claims to having a mandate, nearly 53% of Torontonians didn’t give him one. It is those folks you should be afraid of not the mayor.

moderately submitted by Cityslikr