Slippery Slope

November 19, 2013

I’m not a fan of the slippery slope argument. slipperyslopeWhen you respond to an idea by bringing up the worst possible case scenario that could come from pursuing or implementing that idea. Like (Topical Reference Alert!), if someone suggests going out for a few pops and drinking yourself into a stupor but you decline, citing a fear of that leading to crack smoking as the reason.

We heard of the dreaded slippery slope during the last couple special council meetings called to strip Mayor Ford of much of his governing powers. How, proceeding down that path, it would set a dangerous precedent for future councils to neutralize future mayors simply because they didn’t agree with them politically or with what they were wearing on a particular day. Rampant over-reach of powers and nullilfying of democracy just around the corner, folks!

Nonsense, of course. We’re talking a 2/3s majority of council which rarely happens at the best of times. nonsense1So to invoke the specter of such a thing happening on a regular basis over routine disagreements is simply craven fear-mongering.

What happened yesterday at Toronto city council was unprecedented because it was facing an unprecedented situation in the mayor’s office. An unrepentant (and just mouthing the words ‘I apologize’ is different than actually being apologetic) drug using and binge drinking mayor who shirks his duties while consorting with criminals and is a serial liar about almost every aspect of his personal and professional life had become nothing more than an international walking punch line. His contribution to City Hall and civic life amounted to simply a bothersome nuisance that drained the ability of our local government to go about its business.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The hope is, of course, that what we are experiencing right now are desperate times. That it’s just some glitch, an unforeseen anomaly that, through happenstance and bad timing, befell us. The circumstances are such that the chances of something like this happening again are highly improbable. nothingtoseehereFingers crossed.

I mean, watching the mayor and his brother’s performances yesterday (h/t to Ev Delen and Jonathan Goldsbie for the video), one sure as hell would hope that this particular administrative strain is an outlier. Mocking and knocking over colleagues, baiting and yelling at citizens in attendance, declaring war in next year’s election… ? It’s just not the behaviour of reasonable people.

And then, I find myself sliding down my own fears of slippery slope-ism.

Back in 2010 when it became obvious that Rob Ford just might be the city’s next mayor, many of us fingered the suddenly tight collars around our neck and rationalized out loud that, Well, what’s the worst he could do? Even knowing his sketchy background both inside and outside City Hall, he was only going to be a mayor in a relatively weak mayor system. His excesses would be held in check by 44 councilllors, right? youcannotbeseriousRight?

Yeah so, wrong. All hell’s broken loose and there remains enough support for the runaway train wreck that is Team Ford that we still, after all he’s been caught doing, confessed to and the shit still lurking around the corner, have to view him as a threat to be re-elected. No. Really. There is a chance that candidates running for mayor of Toronto in next year’s election will have to treat Rob Ford as an actual credible opponent. Again.

He hasn’t been forced to resign in disgrace. He apparently possesses zero degree of shame or honour to own up to his actions and realize he’s severely sullied the office of the mayor and put the city he was elected to lead on the international map for all the wrong reasons. Hey, folks. WYSIWYG. Take him or leave him. Rob Ford’s going nowhere. At least, not quietly.

Which leads me to wonder is he the new normal? That slippery slope from a public figure that has to at least make a pretense of decorum and decency to just some fucking guy who runs around bellowing, Elect Me! I can do better than that! Whatsa matter, you elitist? Got a problem with a knucklehead? Well, la-di-da.lowerthebar

Don’t get me wrong here. I could care less about the man’s off-duty boozing and drug smoking, although I do think the mixing of both with driving and gangland figures calls into some question his stunning lack of judgement. It’s his inability to actually show up to work that offends me. His disrespect bordering on contempt for anyone not sharing a bloodline with him that’s problematic. His lying. About everything. Every time he opens his mouth.

His general lack of fitness for the job he was elected to do.

Has he now lowered the bar of expectation to a point where behaviour like his by a politician is considered perfectly fine? Will the standards Rob Ford has established as mayor become par for the course? After four years of bearing witness to this out-and-out shit show, will Rob Ford immunize us against the belief that such a thing as good governance once existed?

If I’m right and the case for a slippery slope exists on unsound foundations, we should be able to put this evil genie back into the bottle. downadarkholeUse this past 3 years as a teachable moment and say a sad told-you-so. Close the door and move on.

If I’m wrong?

Well, that’s just slippery slope to depressing thoughts and irreversible apathy.

slidingly submitted by Cityslikr


Conservative Values

February 13, 2013

If nothing else comes from our current transit funding debate, if we’re still snarled on our roads and public transit modes, screaming Subways! Subways! Subways! at each other 25 years hence, differentiateat least we will have during this time of discussion differentiated between the reasonable conservatives and that of their all taxes are evil, Ted Nugent, we can’t even figure out how to plow our streets properly paleo-conservative brethren.

For it seems that only the most retrograde, mouth-breathing, Atlas Shrugged hugging, Toronto Sun columnist-commentator type believes that if there is a congestion problem, and they’re not all convinced there is, then there are plenty of ways to pay for alleviating it other than digging deeper into the hardworking taxpayers’ pockets. Hit up the private sector, for example. It can always be counted on to serve the public good. Or how about cutting spending on programs only the shiftless lay-abouts use? Or uncovering the mountains of scandal tinged money spent on pet social engineering projects or to prop up a teetering government.

The X billion dollars spent on X scandal could build X kilometers of subways!

Those right leaning thinkers of a more sound mind and constitution have accepted the fact the region’s congestion is slowly strangling our economic well-being and quality of life. digintoyourpocketThey also accept the fact that much of the money is going to have to come from the public purse. There is no silver bullet, no magic potion that will painlessly deliver transportation infrastructure for free.

This is what’s known as an un-blinkered, non-ideological assessment of the facts.

There is one quirk, however, in this otherwise reasonable conservative mindset, on display by the National Post’s Matt Gurney in his conversation with his NP colleague Chris Selley and NOW magazine’s Jonathan Goldsbie.

“But I think everyone except the mayor has probably realized the city needs to pay for most of this [transit expansion] itself…It’s all well and good to talk about the federal government’s obligation. We’ll have plenty of time to jaw-jaw about that while sitting in traffic or waiting for a subway car that isn’t packed to the gills. But for now, we have to recognize that money isn’t coming from Ottawa.”

This is a variation on a theme Mr. Gurney and other like-minded conservatives have been uttering for a while. Don’t expect money from the senior levels of government. They have a deficit to contend with. They’re broke. ‘emptypockets1Tapped out’, as Mr. Gurney wrote a couple years back.

The business of governing must wait until both Ottawa and Queen’s Park get their respective fiscal houses in order. Nothing is more important than deficit reduction. Sacrifices must be made. If we just cut here, slash there, trim that area between the two, and wrestle the mighty beast into submission, then we can talk about building stuff. Until then, you’re on your own, cities and everybody else in need of something.

It’s all about cutting costs with these guys. Any expenditure, at least any expenditure on the social side of things, is deemed a cost, never an investment that will contribute noticeable returns down the road in the form of increased revenue or reduced costs. It’s all about the short term, baby.

With that kind of prevailing attitude, how did conservatives claim the mantle of sound financial stewardship? They seem to lack a certain understanding of even the most basic of economic theories. Or rather, they’ve transformed more complicated economic ideas into easily regurgitated chants.

In the face of an economic meltdown, fiscal conservatives of all political stripes rushed to embrace austerity. notoausterity1Dubious on paper, it has proven to be wrong-headed in practice as Europe is mired in fiscal gloom, having imposed severe austerity measures on its most profligate member countries. Great Britain is now flirting with a triple-dip recession after their dance with austerity. With no noticeable improvement, the logical response, of course, is to stay the course. This shit’s gotta work sometime, right?

Cut costs. Cut taxes. Damn the revenue. Better living through scarcity.

Besides, there is more than one way to skin a cat, a skinny, deprived, malnourished runt of the litter.

Casinos!

You want revenue that won’t cost a thing?

Casinos!

Because there’s nothing a modern day fiscal conservative loves more than free money. Cash on the table simply to host a casino (actual amount to be negotiated after the fact but, rest assured, a sliver of what’s needed to fund transit expansion). dogandponyshowPlus, think of all the job creation, both building a casino and working in it once done. Good, well paying, union jobs which, normally conservatives aren’t all that comfortable embracing. But you know, when it comes to a casino and all that no cost money filling a city’s coffers, all bets are off.

Now, try running that line of reasoning by fiscal conservatives when it comes to building infrastructure. Think of all the jobs it will create to build and run that subway, dig up and replace aging water and sewage lines. Good, well paying, union jobs.

Blink, blink. Blink, blink.

Does not compute.

The difference being as Tom Broen at The Infrastructure Society pointed out most recently, infrastructure costs are up front, nowsville, while the benefits of such spending are lost in the ethereal dreams of tomorrow. A casino, on the other hand, is money in your pocket today baby, ka-ching, ka-ching! The costs and downsides? None that I can see and if there are any? Somebody else’s problem.spendingthekidsmoney

While fiscal conservatives go apoplectic at the thought of leaving some sort of financial deficit for their children and grandchildren to deal with, they seem to have little problem bequeathing them crumbling highways and antiquated public transit. Infrastructure deficit? You’re just sticking words together to see if they make sense, aren’t you.

There’s a word for that kind of thinking but it’s not conservative. It certainly isn’t enlightened or enterprising either.

Regressive. Selfish and self-serving. Backward and obstructionist. Those sound closer to the truth.

RSPly submitted by Cityslikr


Going Forward

November 4, 2012

This week we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were voted a finalist in the blog category of NOW magazine’s Best of 2012 issue. What it means, none of us is quite sure. Pretty much old news by tomorrow but it did lead to one truly remarkable moment. Acaphlegmic bursting into the office, clutching an Old Milwaukee Tallboy to his chest, squealing, They like us! They really, really like us!!

For my money, however, it is an accolade best summed up by one of our regular and largely unimpressed readers:

I congratulate you on your now heralded contribution to discourse on the World Wide Web. More people should express their opinions online. It will surely lead to improved interaction and mutual understanding.

Yours,

Jabbermonkey43@spunkhouse101.ihatemyexwife/hatehatehate

Yes, self-loathing will trump self-congratulation in my heart and mind every time.

But I will say this.

As we approach the three year mark of the establishment of this here blog, what started out as a journey of discovery, let’s call it, because none of us involved had any idea where this thing was going to take us (an answer still very much obscured from view) has morphed into something of a cause. This, of course, has much to do with circumstances beyond our control, namely the results of the 2010 election which were both unexpected and seismic. Like that, it became about defending the city we live in

The edifying aspect of that was the realization there were a lot of people coming to the same conclusion. A dedicated and growing group of individuals intent on participating in the decisions that were being made and holding our elected officials responsible for those decisions. Civic engagement has swelled, populated by smart, organized and resolute citizens and residents not just taxpayers.

It’s a movement that didn’t spring out of nowhere. There was a structure in place to build from. I’m thinking of the likes of Desmond Cole, Jonathan Goldsbie, Dave Meslin and Himy Syed (to name but a few) who were there holding politicians accountable and making demands of City Hall long before it became fashionable to do so. And (logrolling alert) alternative publications like NOW magazine that placed coverage of local issues front and centre. They blazed the trail we are all now traveling down.

And before you get all defensive and outraged, calling this nothing more than a left wing, downtown elite circle jerk, echo chamber, let me say this. I do not think the Ford administration and those still supporting it are deliberately trying to destroy the city of Toronto. I really do believe they, like everyone else who gets involved in the political scene, want to make it a better place to live in. We just have a difference of opinion how to go about accomplishing that.

So, taking a moment for bi-partisan outreach, can we start making this discussion and debate about ideas and not slogans? Facts and data rather than resentment tend to build better communities. Sometimes a better deal for you personally does not make for a better whole.

If we’re accused of simply preaching to the choir — and the nod from NOW may help to highlight that claim — it’s not something we set out to do. We really do want the wider debate, to hear from those we’re not always in agreement with. Hopefully, that’s the next step forward in our evolution here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


We Really Going Down This Path?

March 29, 2012

Watching The Bottom Line segment last night on the CBC’s National a day before the federal budget was coming down and one of the panelists Patricia Croft said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the private sector experienced a serious recession a few years back and now it was time for the public sector to face its own recession.

???

So the divide is complete. Those not lapping it up at the public sector trough for these past 3, 4 years, the unlucky sods stuck toiling away heroically in the private sector trenches have seen tough times, buddy. They’ve endured while their lazy counterparts in government, most all unioned up, have been picking the pockets of hardworking taxpayers, living large on our dime.

Now it’s time for a little payback, err, comeuppance, I mean, yeah, OK, payback. Enough is enough. We all know what caused the recession. Wildly inflated public sector wages, benefits, pensions and sick days. Those damn teachers brought us to the edge of financial apocalypse! We demand restitution! We demand a day of reckoning!

It’s remarkable, really, just how effective this bait and switch has been performed. That all this government debt, from the federal right down to the municipal level, has been due to reckless spending out of the public purse. None of it came from a mania for slashing taxes or a lack of oversight of financial institution that believed in their own corrective powers and that greed was indeed good – bankers gone wild!

And here we are, anemically digging ourselves out from under the wreckage, no serious questions asked or answered about how we really got into this particular mess, and now it’s time to gut our way back to prosperity. Trust us, we’re instructed by the same people who led us off the cliff in the first place, this is how it’s done. Have we ever steered you wrong before?

We’ve asked this question more than a few times before but in light of this week’s budget madness it bears repeating. How exactly does it work, this cutting your way to growth? You keep wages stagnant, remove benefits, reduce pensions, making people more vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. They respond either by piling on more personal debt or tucking what money is left under a mattress. That expands the economy how exactly?

I don’t know why I even bother asking, frankly. No actual answer is ever forthcoming. We cut our debt and debt payments and, voila, there’s more money in the bank to spend on those things people really want. Except, point me to an example where that’s actually happened. Don’t talk to me about the Chretien/Martin Mid-90s Miracle where, in fact, the pain wasn’t short but sweet. Instead it was just passed along, downloaded if you will, to the provinces who, if they aren’t resource extracting the shit out of their economies, are mired down in debt and dislocation, themselves having offloaded as much of the fiscal difficulties onto their municipalities.

As Trish Hennessy pointed out earlier this week at Framed in Canada, this austerity model has so far proven to be hypothetical, illusory, nice and neat on the blackboard but not the proven panacea its adherents claim. With each cut and reduction Greece makes, more bailout money is needed to keep it from collapsing. Great Britain is travelling down a similar path. Austerity, along with its philosophical tax cut soul mate, aren’t really driving economies in the direction their proponents tout.

Rahm Emanuel, that staunch fiscal conservative according to Councillor Doug Ford, is looking at “a ‘major new infrastructure program’ to create tens of thousands of jobs across Chicago by ‘coordinating the revitalization of Chicago’s infrastructure.” What? Government spending in Chicago?! But Mayor Rahm. Everybody knows governments don’t create jobs. Governments just get in the way of the real job creators in the private sector. Unless they don’t.

Our friend Matt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto today wrote about how Mayor Ford should be luxuriating in the spotlight (our words not his) with his handling of Toronto’s labour situation. Deals signed with very little disruption so far, ‘phenomenal news’, according to the mayor, that gives the city flexibility. Flexibility to reduce the work force, to outsource jobs to the private sector, to start respecting the taxpayers.

No doubt this is exactly what Mayor Ford campaigned on, probably even more so than his promise to build subways. He was elected to bring unionized city workers to heel. Punch them in the face, bust their unions preferably. So that we would never have to endure the horrors of another summer garbage strike. Ever.

They need to get a taste of what the real world’s like out there. They need their own recession. Recovery starts from the bottom and our public workers haven’t hit there yet.

questioningly submitted by Cityslikr


Deputing Dog

December 12, 2011

Lucas Costello gave his first public deputation last Thursday in Committee Room #1 in front of the Budget Committee. Watch it here. (h/t to Jonathan Goldsbie for tracking it down. Begins at the 58’ 10”.) Today, Mr. Costello offers a post-mortem of the proceedings.

*  *  *

You can fight City Hall. Seriously.

As Cityslikr stated here last week, the public deputations process is political theatre. However, as was seen with the decision to “save” student nutrition programs, when deputants come in heavy (I’ll explain how in just a second) and can paint pro-cuts/Team Ford councillors as miserly penny-pinchers intent on taking food from the mouths of babes in order that car drivers continue to be subsidized, engaged citizens can make an impact. Standing back away from the fight, allows all those mystical Tim Horton’s voters to inform the mayor’s decision making.

Some thoughts upon my first ever deputation and how to make it even better next time.

–          Observe

In person if you can. (Rogers livestreaming for the monthly council meetings and other committees deemed important if you can’t.) I attended the two all night Executive Committee meetings earlier this year. Being there in person also increases the likelihood of meeting some like-minded folks in Committee Room 2.

–          Pick your battle

Do you have a particular program in mind that you want to save? Or are you just outraged with the fiscal mismanagement and shell games this current administration has been playing with our city’s budget, programs, transit, shelters, daycares, etc.

  • If the former, find out what other similar programs exist within the amalgamated city. I guarantee you there’s a parent/citizens/advocacy group in every corner of Toronto that’s feeling the same way. Some councillors assume that we Torontonians do not think of the city as a whole and try to exploit that division for political gain. I disagree with that line of thinking, and I imagine if you’re wanting to give a deputation, you probably do to.
  • If it’s just a general, overarching disenchantment with the direction Mayor Ford is taking the city, approach your friends who you consider good speakers and try to submit your deputation requests via e-mail at the same time. This way you’ll have a cluster of people speaking to the same issue back-to-back, or one person stating grievances, the next person offering solutions, the next grievances, and so on.

–          Prepping your deputation

FACTS

Anecdotes, are great, and hey, they worked to kill the Jarvis bike lanes but you my fellow deputant are going to show up with statistics, numbers, and dollar amounts.

Why? Because we are in the middle of a battle for control of the narrative. So many false dollar amounts and tax percentages have been flying around during the budget process, it’s easy to get confused. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some councillors are still telling their residents that a 34% tax increase is looming if we don’t hack away services and bring city workers into line. Such an egregiously false figure is not on the table and never was.

Get in touch with your local councillor to find out what services, shelters, daycares, bus routes etc are up for closure, delays, shortened service. This might help to personalize your deputation a bit more.

Oh, your councillor says these cuts are necessary? Well, you’ve been watching previous deputations throughout the year, right? So that means you know which councillors in your surrounding area may be more amenable to helping you fight the good fight. All councillor e-mail contacts are available at toronto.ca. Over at Ford For Toronto, Matt Elliott has a helpful primer for you to check out what each councillor have been up to.

He’s not alone. There are many great resources out there in the City Hall watching world. Aside from Elliott, there’s David Hains at The Clamshell and Edward Keenan of the Grid, Hamutal Dotan and the Torontoist gang to name a few. Email them with questions and check out their Twitter accounts. You’ll find them pretty good at responding to queries. Along with them, many of us nerds are engaged in a 140 character (or less) battle in the #TOpoli #TOcouncil searches. Join in. Give a holler.

Check, check, and re-check your numbers. An eloquently delivered, well thought out presentation can ultimately be undermined by one councillor fixating on one incorrect number, amount or percentage. Stupid, right? But that’s how it goes.

And finally, no Hitler references. Ever. No. Ever. Never. Ever.

–          Rehearse

Welcome to the the-a-tuh! I didn’t really rehearse my deputation, and wish I had. Even if you can’t corral a couple of friends into deputing, try to run it by a sympathetic ear in order to a) time it; and b) to find out what points need clarification. I could have shaved 30 seconds off mine had I done this.

Come deputation day(s)…

City Hall releases the full list of deputants the day of the committee meeting. Not exactly schedule friendly I know, but, if you have your own small child, bring them as it will be an educational experience and you just might get bumped to the top of the list!

–          Visual Aids

There’s a way to hook up a laptop to the committee room projector but depending on how cagey the chair of the committee is they may use any set up time against your deputation time, meaning 3 minutes has suddenly dwindled to 2’ 30”. So unless you have a tech savvy friend guaranteed to be by your side as a power point presenter, go old school. Keep visual aids basic and easy to use. The projector may come in handy to help highlight one important point or even frame your deputation. Had I thought ahead, I would have just printed out the question that Edward Keenan put forward last week, “How are we making Toronto a better city?” Simple, effective and cheap.

–          The deputation

You’ve rehearsed it, so it’s going to be awesome, don’t worry. Be brave and have fun. Yes, it will be a bit unnerving to have a bunch of angry (mostly white) dudes (and one or two ladies) staring at you, yawning, falling asleep, shaking their head, glowering etc, but don’t worry. That’s what they are paid to do. It’s their job to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible if they disagree, oh wait…that’s not right. They’re supposed to be supportive of public input, aren’t they?

 

Well, such pushback is one thing that rehearsal might not prepare you for, so heads up!

–          The question(s)

This is actually the fun part, where the magic happens! Some of your elected officials not persuaded by the arguments you just put forth, if they don’t simply ignore you, will sometimes take personal shots or try to undermine your well prepared and thoughtful deputation with irrelevant and bizarre questions. This isn’t a trial, so I would say feel free to answer the dumber questions with a question in return. (For example: Do you drive? Reply: I do/don’t but do you take the bus?)

However, since you’ve been watching past committee meetings, you probably have an idea who these councillors are. Some have a real knack for running down the clock so that their question actually ends up being a statement. In this situation, I think you’re fully within your right to anticipate the question and give your answer. You may be called belligerent but that’s neither here nor there. In the truncated versions these more high profile public deputations sessions become, there’s only one minute for questions, so feel free to get in as many salient points as possible. Also, councillors may try to say things like, “I just want a yes or no answer” (kind of gives you insight into the lack of scope some councillors have at times). Again, I say feel free to reply with a question.

Remember, you are not on trial. City councillors are public servants. You are the public.

There are also those councillors who have your back, and will offer up softball questions which can give you room for more questions or, if you’re so inclined, make direct statements at specific councillors.

Be warned though, varying reactions may occur!

That’s it. You, my fellow traveler, have completed your first deputation. However, the work is not done.  We are going to go through this budgeting process under the Ford administration at least two more times with our public services under constant threat. So tell your friends in all corners of the city why it’s not only vital that they take the time to depute but also exciting and invigorating. Yes, you can make a difference. Chances are if they are your friend, they share interests similar to yours and have insights that you won’t. The more often we get different people, from different neighbourhoods giving public deputations (or just generally speaking out), the more cracks we can put in this idea of it being just “the usual suspects” at City Hall.

Because remember, the ‘usual suspects’ are simply an engaged citizenry concerned with the welfare of the city they live in. That’s you, right? So what are you waiting for? Step up, be brave and have fun.

submitted by Lucas Costello


The Death of Toronto in Toronto Life

August 21, 2011

I’m sneaking this one while Cityslikr is distracted watching Caddyshack. Again. (“So what? So let’s dance!” Cue Journey.)

He wanted no part of the brief brouhaha caused by Philip Preville’s ‘The New Surburbanites’ article in the September issue of Toronto Life. “Doesn’t deserve any more attention,” he told me. “Been suitably slapped upside the head and tossed to the curb far better than any of us could do here. Now shut up. I’m watching Caddyshack.” (“You got a pool up there, right?” “A pool.. pond. The pond would be good for you.”)

He’s right. Edward Keenan wrote a standalone piece at The Grid that is so good, you don’t even have to read the article he takes to task. Same can be said for Bert Archer over at the Toronto Standard. There’s really no need to sully such terrific writing by wasting your time with the source material.

But I did. And all I can say is: Who the fuck are these people?

Not the ones who packed up and headed out of town. To each his own, I say. The lure of small towns may be great for some. Nothing wrong with that although I couldn’t keep the whistling tune to the Andy Griffith Show from my head when reading Mr. Preville’s glowing, there’s-only-a-lack-of-a-critical-mass-of-good-restaurants-that-keeps-us-from-pure-perfection description of places like Peterborough, Cobourg, Dundas and Creemore. Not too boastful there, Philip and Toronto Life, or they won’t be small towns very much longer.

No, what I didn’t recognize was the version of Toronto the article presented (yes, congestion is bad) and the residents dwelling within. The ones who find children an imposition. The cocktail party goers, partaking in genteel adult conversation. All so ‘…busy and overwhelmed…with six o’clock meetings and pinging Black Berrys’ that they forget to pick up their kids at daycare.

Maybe Philip Preville didn’t need to get out of the city. Maybe he just needed to find himself a better circle of friends.

I’m always leery of any argument put forward that relies almost exclusively on vilifying the opposing view. We didn’t want to leave Toronto. Toronto forced us to leave. Toronto left us. We didn’t leave Toronto. I gave you my heart, Toronto. My blood, sweat and tears. And what did you give me in return? Love, marriage, children, a well-paying profession that enabled me to make enough money to go tell you to fuck yourself. (Cue Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. “What have the Romans ever done for us?”)

It’s all about justifying a decision made by presenting it as something foisted upon you. There was no alternative. Rather, the choice to stay put became untenable because the Toronto I once knew and loved was no more. Sure, I could’ve stayed and tried to change that but what about the kids? Think of the children. And apparently, according to one ex-Torontonian, for a kid to truly be a kid, he needs to throw rocks not hang around libraries and restaurants. Another did not know? The only people who will continue ‘living the downtown life’ are educated, well-off ‘arts professionals and university proofs’. Yeah, Preville really needed to get out more.

It all seems a little self-fulfilling if you read Toronto Life regularly and look back at previous articles Mr. Preville’s written for it. Especially good is his Hall of Shame in the January 2008 issue (h/t @goldsbie), a fine example of the mindless screeds that greased the rails for former Mayor Miller’s exit and paved the way into office for Rob Ford. There it was. David Miller should stop squawking for more money from other levels of government and start standing up to the greedy unions who take every last penny we do have. It’s that easy.

Such political simple-mindedness seems to have taken root at Toronto Life if the Editor’s Letters from Sarah Fulford are any indication. We talked about that here last September. A month or so before the municipal election, Ms. Fulford summed up what had gone wrong with Toronto: in 2003 we elected an Ivy League educated mayor. End stop.

She’s back at it again in the Exodus To The Burbs issue. “Not that I’m in favour of bulldozing neighbourhoods to make room for highways. But it would have been nice if at some point in the last 40 years we had implemented a workable transportation plan for Southern Ontario. In my view, the legacy of the Stop the Spadina Expressway movement is this: grand municipal plans are not welcome here.”

Not welcome here by whom, Sarah? Is the city of Toronto now responsible for coming up with a transportation plan for Southern Ontario? Without a strong regional level of government, that’s really the job for Queen’s Park, isn’t it? And once upon a time, we were all ready to go with an Eglinton subway but the kibosh was put on that, not by the vestiges of the Stop the Spadina Expressway movement, but by, that’s right, Queen’s Park. I’d say Waterfront Toronto is quietly going about their business of devising, if not a grand, a pretty darn good municipal plan.

If Sarah Fulford is so despondent about the direction Toronto has been heading and is singularly incapable of discovering the real root causes of our present malaise, maybe it’s time she followed Philip Preville’s lead and buy herself a nice house in a small town somewhere. Jettison her high-flying life as a magazine editor and open up a quaint coffee shop or second-hand bookstore. She certainly doesn’t seem prepared to help pitch in and help out here in any meaningful way.

Evidently, a common trait in some folks over at Toronto Life. When Preville describes himself and his ‘inner asshole’ in the article, he admits to being part of the problem that he now decries. “All my life I’ve been an upbeat person, but when I navigate the city I do it with a frown. I cut people off in my car, and on foot as I go through the TTC turnstile. I jaywalk. I litter.”

He litters? Really?! Who does that?

But you have to understand. It’s not really him littering or cutting people off or jaywalking — as we all know, no one jaywalks in great, livable cities. The city makes him do it. Maybe if we work really hard to fix things around here, smooth out the rough edges and return Toronto to its glory days of Philip Preville’s youth, we could entice him back to the downtown fold, a better man, a better citzen.

Until such time, and with Philip Preville and his ‘inner asshole’ now gone, making things right here in Toronto is one less asshole easier. (Cue ‘I’m Alright’.)

Logginsly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


A Sheepish Admission

July 25, 2011

Standing outside the tent on Saturday night, listening to The Sheepdogs rip through their 2nd set of the day (the first being an acoustic one in the blazing sunshine) at Hillside, my thoughts turned to the 70s. How could they not? Here was a band channeling the spirit of Southern Fried Rock in both sound and look with a touch of The Black Crows and My Morning Jacket thrown in for good measure to a capacity crowd that consisted largely of folks who weren’t even born when this sound first emerged.

Kids these days, with all their rap and bleep-blop electronic music, enthusiastically embracing the more countrified roots rock sound of their parents. Nothing wrong with that although, for me, if I want to listen to the Allman Brothers (an impulse which occurs almost never – my musical taste tends more to the bands that bracketed The Sheepdogs, Hooded Fang and Hollerado) I’ll listen to the Allman Brothers. But certainly, there are worse things to adopt from the recent past as I await the re-arrival of wide, wide ties with some trepidation.

I have mixed emotions about the decade I came of age in. While many of us benefited from the social and political freedoms that opened up as a result of the upheavals of the 1960s, we also wound up stunting them, stopped the march of progress far short of its goals, twisting and bending the ideals into an almost unrecognizable shape that called itself the Reagan (Neo-Conservative) Revolution. In 1969, America put a man on the moon. By 1980, we’d convinced ourselves that government was a problem not the solution. The 1970s just don’t hold up well in that light.

I was still mightily in my pre-teens during the tumultuous year of 1968 but I do remember that mixed sense of fear and, if not hope, a curious anticipation of what might be right around the corner. Protestors derailed a presidential re-election bid in a fight against an illegal, immoral war. Cities exploded in riots, set alight by inequality and racial oppression. Assassinations. First, Martin Luther King. Then, Bobby Kennedy. More riots.

It was Kennedy’s death that we can now see as something of a turning point for progressivism. Not that it was any more important or devastating than the slaying of King but RFK’s journey from his privileged, elite upbringing and early rabid anti-communism to the moral conscience of a country as presidential candidate signaled that the old order was rotten to the core. A fundamental change of course was needed and underway.

And then he was dead.

The politics of spite and tribalism filled the void and prospered. Even the downfall of the petty tyrant of vindictiveness, Richard Nixon, in 1974 only served to temporarily delay the triumphant of reactionism. It emerged in its full blown hideousness with the ascent to power of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and so on and so forth.

So by the time those younger Sheepdogs fans began sitting up and noticing the wider world around them, radical conservatism had become the entrenched orthodoxy. We who had benefited from progressive ideas in action – livable wages and working conditions, accessible and affordable health care and education, reasonable expectations of fair pensions and a well earned retirement, all that solid middle class claptrap – had decided that enough was enough. No longer would or should we extend such luxuries. They only served to sap our work ethic and encourage lolly-gagging and freeloading. Nose to the grindstone, pull yourself up by your boot-straps and all that.

The flagrant hypocrisy of such I-Got-Mine-Jackism manifested itself to me last week when I came across a video of Paul Ainslie’s maiden speech at Toronto city council (h/t Jonathan Goldsbie) after he was appointed councillor in 2006. Ignoring for the moment his vow never, ever to run for council in ‘Ward 41 or any other ward in this city’ after his interim time was up (he did run both in the 2006 and 2010 election, successfully unfortunately), what really got my goat was Ainslie’s citing of a Bobby Kennedy quote as a source of his political and public service inspiration.

The task of leadership, the first task of concerned people, is not to condemn or castigate or deplore; it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.

Councillor Ainslie is a nose-pick of a politician who is a certified member of Mayor Ford’s wrecking crew, intent on dismantling much of what makes this city work so well. Rather than searching out and learning from ‘the reason for disillusionment and alienation’ as Robert Kennedy implored, Councillor Ainslie, the mayor and his other enablers only seek to exploit the disillusionment and alienation in order to reduce government to impotency. The exact opposite of what RFK was seeking to do.

That a politician of Ainslie’s low caliber was able to co-opt the words of Robert Kennedy goes a long way to explaining our modern political dynamic. The Reactionary as Revolutionary. I’m a neo-conservative politician and Robert Kennedy would endorse these words I’m about to speak.

It takes me to the words of another icon of the 60s, Hunter S. Thompson. The best known passage from his best known book, and perhaps the best analysis of the end of what we now think of as the end of the 60s and the birth of a generation of swine.

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

And it’s been rolling back now for over 40 years, slowly and surely drowning much of the progress that had come before it. Just when you think it’s crested, unbelievably you’re hit with another surge. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford. This has to peak too, doesn’t it? That’s the way waves work. Where is the neoconservative ‘high-water mark’? Have we just not seen it yet? Are we lacking the ‘right kind of eyes’?

So kids, follow in our musical steps all you want. Remake it. Remix it. Rejig it. It’s all harmless, nostalgic fun. But stop listening to our politics. We’re sell-outs and con artists. We’ve shirked our duties and responsibilities, leaving us all worse for wear. Our taste in music far exceeded our sense of citizenship, and the sooner you learn that the better.

guiltily submitted by Urban Sophisticat