Brood Parasite

June 29, 2016

The cuckoo, it is said, deviously lays its eggs in another bird’s nest to have its young raised and reared by the unsuspecting guest parent. cuckooforcocoapuffsThe cuckoo bird either hatches earlier or grows quicker than its host’s offspring, launching its faux-siblings from the nest in an effort to become the sole mouth to feed. A survival of the fittest tactic known as ‘brood parasitism’.

It strikes me as something too sinisterly perfect to be true. More like a child’s fable. No, not the white-washed ones we heard as kids. The grim ones, told by dour Germans or the icky Brits of the 18th-century, full of impending doom, evil lurking around every corner, stranger danger. The original scared straight, morality tales to keep the children in line. Suspect everyone. Trust no one. Are they really your parents?

In that vein…

The Scarborough subway. A cuckoo’s egg laid by the Ford Administration in the nest of City Hall. cuckoobirdnestIn a bid to grow and flourish, it, in turn, lays waste to everything around it, mainly in the form of reputations of those trying to give it life, even with the best of intentions. Here, I’m thinking city staff who know what’s what, a wink’s as good as a nod, but try anyway to make the best of a bad situation. It’s not a beast of their making. They’ve tried, at times, to set the record straight. To no avail, in the end, their attempt to make it all seem legitimate only succeeds in damaging their own credibility.

For those who actually try to claim parentage of this impersonator, the result is even more unbecoming or, in the extreme case, self-immolating. It derails political aspirations. Karen Stintz. It further mocks those already prone to mocking. This is not that subway. It’s a completely different subway. Which, just so happens, to be in Scarborough like that other subway. Councillor Michelle Holland. It makes some say the kookiest things. “The subway is never going to be cheaper than it is today,” said Councillor Ana Bailão.cuckoobirdbaby

Nobody’s fooled. Everybody’s embarrassed. Maybe if we can just get past the pretense of it all, we can start having a rational discussion again.

Except that no longer seems possible because no one in any position of real power is willing to step forward and admit mistakes were made, bad decisions pursued for all the wrong reasons. At first we thought this was a good idea. Now we don’t. This was an egg that should never have been allowed to hatch.

Mayor John Tory may be in line to take the biggest hit for trying to maintain this fiction. Whatever claims to sound judgment and a sober approach to governance he may have once made are meaningless now, nothing but empty campaign slogans. With his Toronto Star op-ed on Monday, he jettisoned any semblance of good sense or consensus building. Think that’s just me talking, an avowed and self-proclaimed Tory critic? cuckoobirdbaby1Or some other left-wing tongue-wagger in Torontoist?

Flip through the pages covering the transportation beat in the Star. Still not satisfied? How about this editorial in the august Globe and Mail? Both newspapers, by the way, that endorsed John Tory for mayor less than two years ago.

Why he’s taking such a risk to nurture somebody else’s terrible, terrible idea is probably both crassly obvious and backroom murky. Your guess is as good as mine. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter to John Tory because he, and every other politician who’s calculated to make this possible, won’t be around to see it to fruition, to have the scorn heaped directly on them.

In the meantime, we all can get a glimpse at the future. That deliberately misplaced egg has hatched and the cuckoo bird has already started to squawk, demanding we feed it, we love it, respect it. The sound, it sounds just like this:

fosterly submitted by Cityslikr


Fake, Plastic And Unnaturally Green

May 26, 2015

Just last week, as a matter of fact, I noticed a truck on our street delivering what were rolls of artificial turf. ‘Design Turf Synthetic Grass’, I guess the aficionados call it. fakegrassThe notion there was enough demand for this product for a company to actually specialize in it surprised me.

I’d assumed someone had plans to cover a small back cement patio or something similar with it. Friendly up the industrial concrete feel. But really. Does that a business case make?

“I call it year-round grass,” she said, showing off her a front yard carpet of green. “It doesn’t need to be watered. It doesn’t need to be maintained. There’s no mowing. There’s no care and feeding.”

Karen Stintz, folks. Former city councillor and 1 time mayoral candidate, extolling the virtues of an artificially turfed front lawn. Or, ‘Year-round Design Turf Synthetic Grass’ as a brochure might call it.

According to the CBC report, this new generation of astro turf is sometimes difficult to tell from the real thing. All the soullessness and conformity of a grass front lawn without any of the hassle to maintain it! We know how much Ms. Stintz valued the extra two or three minutes a day she got to spend with her family when, as a councillor, she voted to rip up the Jarvis bike lanes. So, any time not spent gardening or cutting the lawn is clearly important to her.

Cheap shot? Maybe. There’s certainly a whiff of the judgmental taste police in my reaction. fakegrass2I mean, come on, Karen. No aesthetic sense at all trumping pure convenience?

In the story, she points out that there’s a city by-law against artificial grass lawns, a $1400 fine for the infraction, in fact. Don’t city inspectors have better things to do, wonders Stintz and a neighbor, than skulk around every January, looking for the greenest of grass in neighbourhoods and handing out fines to offenders? A fair question unless the by-law has something to do less with the concerns of taste and suitability than I’ve expressed and more about, say, the environment.

Sure, as another neighbour pointed out, there’s no watering needed for a fake lawn. So that’s environmentally positive. But does this new generation of faux-turf allow for rainwater or snow melt to soak into the ground below it or does it simply act as a sheet that flushes it off into the sewage system? If not, then the city has every right to enforce their by-law, as convenience for one home owner costs the rest of us money.

At this point, we don’t know but as we also learn in the report, Karen Stintz is heading back to City Hall to fight this unfair by-law.

I’m not going to lie to you and say that news didn’t bring a smirk to my face.fakegrass1

How appropriate is it that, after 3 terms as a city councillor, her last one as the chair of the TTC no less, she resurfaces on the political map, fighting for the right to have an artificial grass lawn? That’s the extent of it, the depth of her 11 years of municipal political experience. “Fake, plastic and unnaturally green,” I tweeted out when I heard the news.

Not to pat myself on the back but I think that’s the perfect epitaph for the political career of Karen Stintz.

salutingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Mayoral Catch-22

March 20, 2014

I was mulling over Edward Keenan’s piece in The Grid yesterday about, well, fringe mayoral candidates, thinkinganddrinkinglet’s call them for lack of a better heuristic when, don’t you just know it, up pops the news that former candidate Sarah Thomson is planning another run at the mayor’s office.

You know Ms. Thomson. Barely cracked double digits in the 2010 race before throwing her lightweight weight behind the eventual 2nd place finisher, George Smitherman. Then ran something of a spirited campaign for the Liberals in the 2011 provincial in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, giving the long time incumbent Rosario Marchese a bit of a scare. Sarah “Transit” Thomson who basically took her one good idea from 2010 – road tolls – and built a platform of self-promotion around it. Yeah. That Sarah Thomson.

As I write this, Thomson showed up at City Hall this morning in a horse drawn red wagon to register. Whatever. But it does provide me a nice little segue into a larger discussion about fringe candidates.

Next Wednesday CityNews will be holding the first televised mayoral debate of the 2014 campaign. cinderellaAll 5 “major” candidates have signed on to participate, according to the announcement. Olivia Chow. Rob Ford. David Soknacki. Karen Stintz. John Tory.

Will a 6th podium be added now for Sarah Thomson? If so, why? Because she ran previously? Because she organized events around regional transit problems? Because she owns a publication? Because all this combines to give her public standing?

On the other hand, if CityNews doesn’t extend an invitation to the debate to Ms. Thomson, why not? Why do they get to make that decision? Who determines which candidacy sits beyond the fringe and which one doesn’t?

Mr. Keenan seems to suggest that’s it’s kind of an organic process. “As with any job — in this case, the CEO of a $10 billion-a-year organization responsible for millions of peoples’ daily necessities,” Keenan writes, cv“the hiring criteria includes significant experience and demonstrated abilities as much as anything else.”

There’s certainly some truth to that. In Toronto, it’s been the case for pretty much forever that the only way to the mayor’s job is through city council. Mayoral hopefuls have traditionally put in time as councillors first. No outsiders need apply.

“Putting together a successful campaign is actually a pretty good proxy for many of the attributes you need to govern,” Keenan continues, “managing a staff and volunteers, inspiring people to work on your behalf, raising funds, and engaging in a public debate that convinces citizens to put their trust in you and your plan. The press will pay close attention to candidates who show they can do that on a citywide scale. And so will voters.”

Again, certainly true, but for me, really only half of the equation. “Managing a staff and volunteers…raising funds…engaging in a public debate” are essential but none of it just appears out of the blue. All that’s easier said than done. Without an established name or easy access to money to buy yourself one, outside candidates have to work doubly hard (at least) to get their name and ideas out there. backroomI am troubled by that notion.

What I see is a slate of candidates that is presented to voters on the basis of money and influence. Prominent, backroom donors, well-worn campaign strategists, political party apparatchiks, all cajoling, tempting and eventually signing on to work for candidates they deem acceptable to run for mayor. These are your candidates, Toronto. Now, vote as you see fit.

And the media, especially media outlets that wind up hosting mayoral debates and forums, are complicit in this heavy-handed winnowing of the field. Only candidates from the given slate are invited to participate. Why? Well, because these are the ones voters want to hear from? Why is that? How does the media determine that? Look at the polling numbers, we’re told. Numbers derived from polls featuring only the non-fringe candidates’ names.

It’s a pre-determined, closed loop. An iterative process with only a handful of appointed variables, ultimately ending up with the choice from pick one of the above. closedopensystemNone of the above is never presented as a viable alternative.

Look. The 2014 campaign is about two and a half months old. Candidates have been registered since January 2nd. Yet, only after Olivia Chow — who everybody knew was running — officially entered the race last week were we informed that the official debates would begin. I’m not alone in finding the timing a little fishy, am I? It feels like the fix is in.

Instead of hashing and rehashing the will he or won’t he/when will she narrative and pursuing the HMS Destructive tour of the current incumbent, maybe a little time could’ve been devoted to listening to some of the other candidates for mayor, suss out their fitness for the job. In early February the U of T Scarborough student union held a mayoral forum that featured the mayor, David Soknacki and 3 of the fringe candidates. footinthedoorThe Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale covered it and, in his opinion, declared that one of the 3, Robb Johannes just might’ve won the debate.

So why hasn’t Mr. Johannes been invited to participate in the CityNews’ debate? Based on the observation of an experienced City Hall reporter giving his candidacy some legitimacy, what must he do to be given a shot at proving himself worthy of further consideration?

In 2010, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke ran some 30 or so Meet A Mayoral Candidate posts throughout the campaign. Admittedly, most, a high percentage of them, rightfully deserved the fringe label. Remember, anybody with $200 to spare can run for mayor. It was hard to tell why many were in the race. A lark. Mere attention seeking. Misguided sense of direction.

But a handful of them were thoughtful, interesting and dedicated to giving their time and energy to the city. Hell, we ended up endorsing one for mayor when all was said and done. Not every fringe candidate should be viewed fringe simply because they don’t yet have money, resources or influence.musicalchairs

And I would argue that this time around, there are even more potentially serious fringe candidates then in 2010. The subject of Mr. Keenan’s article, Ari Goldkind, immediately strikes me as somebody worth listening to. Matt Mernagh. Jeff Billard. Richard Underhill. Morgan Baskin. The above mentioned Robb Johannes.

Are any of these credible mayoral candidates? I don’t know. But who the fuck am I to blithely brush them off before giving them a chance to hear what they have to say, deliver their plans and ideas to a wider audience?

“You don’t need the press to legitimize your candidacy,” Keenan informs the fringers. “Only your campaign can do that.”

That sentiment seems hopelessly and impossibly pollyannish or unaware on Keenan’s part; neither adjective I’d normally attach to him. Yes, we can all look to Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi as living, breathing proof that an unknown entity can come out of seemingly nowhere to score an improbable victory. ignoreOutsider candidates should look to Nenshi to see how exactly he and his team pulled that off. But to point to that very, very rare example and conclude it’s all about a little innovative DIY, and that somehow the media’s exclusionary practices to all but the few anointed candidates doesn’t play into the fringe determination of the many, that only truly viable candidates will earn a place in the spotlight, I think ignores just how a vast majority of the voting public gets their information and processes it in determining what way their support is going to go.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Real Fringe Candidates

September 14, 2010

Yesterday was a decisive day in the 2010 campaign for mayor of Toronto because September 13th will be seen as the moment we finally achieved critical mass for crazy. In taking the battle for the Spadina Expressway underground, Rocco Rossi firmly confirmed his divisive status, going for broke with a full frontal assault on the downtown core in an effort to endear himself to those dwelling both physically and psychologically in Ford Country. We wish Mr. Rossi well in whatever future endeavours he pursues after the election as long as it never includes holding elected office.

We’d been joking around the office last week about the shape of the collective campaign strategy of the 4 front running candidates chasing Rob Ford. It seemed to consist of nothing more than cuddling up closer and closer to him on the right side of the political spectrum in the hopes of forcing Ford to do or say something really, really nuts. Some big hunk of 100% grade-A red meat to his fanatical base which would be a little too Fordian-tastic for those just sampling where to place their angry vote. Like say, a call for the introduction of public executions by tying people to unused streetcar tracks and running over them with a car.

Who knew with his Toronto Tunnel Rossi would actually attempt to leapfrog Ford into the deep end of batshit insane?

Rossi’s announcement came at the same time I was sitting in the auditorium at the Dovercourt Baptist Church at TOVotes — Guaranteed Change at City Hall, a gathering of registered candidates very few people in the mainstream media were paying much attention to. (The Star’s Katie Daubs, the Globe’s Marcus Gee and Global TV’s Jackson Proskow were in attendance covering the gathering.) They were council candidates from a handful of wards around the city and the event was organized by HiMY SYeD, himself an outsider candidate for mayor. An introduction and orientation, if you will, with Mr. SYeD presenting a couple internet sites that he will launch to assist candidates in getting their names and platforms out to a wider audience. The candidates mingled, took turns talking to the press present and then got a chance to introduce themselves and their platforms to the audience.

I wasn’t there wearing rose coloured glasses. These folks seeking elected office were where they were because they lacked money and resources to run a high profile campaign, they didn’t have big name, backroom boys overseeing their operations and the media (Mssrs. Gee and Proskow and Ms. Daubs aside) had not deemed them worthy of serious consideration. Theirs was an uphill battle, to be sure, despite the fact that as HiMY SYeD pointed out, this was a once in a generation election with 20% of wards wide open with no sitting councillors in the race. “City Hall is bleeding incumbents,” as the event invite stated.

For sure, there were a couple cranks present in the Rob Ford mold, railing about out-of-control spending, over-taxation, corruption. How couldn’t there be? It is all the rage this election season.

But mostly what I saw were people galvanized around a concern for making Toronto a better, more accessible city not wild-eyed, pro-business fundamentalists bound on cutting it down to size. There was anger, for sure. Just not at the usual targets the mainstream press and their mayoral candidates are telling us people are angry at.

I had a conversation with Patrick Smyth, a campaign staffer for Terry Mills, a soft spoken but articulate candidate running to unseat Karen Stintz in Ward 16. Neither Smyth nor Mills seemed driven into the political arena for the reasons we are told that the electorate is angry out there. Both men are aware of the changing nature of Toronto, and the need for intensification and increased density. It’s just that their experience has left them feeling that citizens are being dictated not listened to. They are angry, yes, about the top down, exclusive, ad hoc nature of planning in Toronto.

None of which can possibly be addressed in the Rob Ford (and his increasingly evil-minded doppelganger, Rocco Rossi) slash and burn vision of the city under their rule. Our council is not burdened down with over representation. How cutting the number of councillors in half will increase citizen participation is part of both men’s magical mystery arithmetic. Less representation cannot equal more representation anymore than tunneling under the downtown core can alleviate traffic congestion.

These are the fringe ideas running amok in this campaign, and yet they are emanating from the camps of the so-called serious candidates. While we give time, space and credence to Rossi et al as they run around emptily embracing change and promising to take back City Hall with their increasingly bizarre and dangerous assault on democracy, the real grassroots, mainstream movement is happening in gatherings like that at Dovercourt Baptist Church yesterday. Real people with real concerns and real policies about how to make Toronto more livable, more inclusive and more equitable.

With just 6 weeks to go until we elect a new mayor and council, maybe we should start listening to those corners of the democratic process if we really want to make make Toronto into our own image.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr