For Mookie

January 7, 2015

So just how cynical does this make me?

Following the deaths of two people on our city streets this week, due to the cold weather and lack of somewhere warm to stay, I merely expected Mayor Tory to at least make an appearance of, if not concern, then an awareness of the circumstances. blindsidedOn Monday, he was busily choppering around the city, overseeing from the sky that his parking enforcement edict was being observed. Meanwhile, one man was found dead, early the same morning, another early the next morning.

Great fanfare and kudos all `round for the mayor’s efforts getting tough on traffic congestion. “People of Toronto want to get to work on time, they want to get home to their families on time,” the mayor proclaimed, “and that is what this policy is all about … it’s enforcing the law so people can get around.”

Decisive. No nonsense. If he’s that committed to clearing the streets of illegally parked cars, imagine how on top of it he’ll be when it comes to making sure residents of this city aren’t left to die on our streets!

Well, yeah, you know. Not so much.

This is where my cynicism enters.tonedeaf

You’d think Mayor Tory or someone on his staff might be alert enough to put together a response that gives even the impression he’s as troubled by the precariousness of homelessness as he is about people losing precious moments of their commute behind an illegally parked delivery van in their race to get home and into the warm bosom of their families. Throw us a bone, man. Make it seem like this is something that even showed up on your radar.

Any cold weather alert decision would be up to the city’s Medical Officer of Health, the mayor told reporters. He added that even one death was one too many but, you know, it was ultimately out of his hands. Established protocol was in place to deal with such matters that didn’t directly involve the mayor’s office.

Technically, this is true. The determination to declare a weather related alert had been shunted over to city staff, relieving our elected officials of such a responsibility. whomeIt might be a good idea to try and remove the politics out of such a matter but rigid parameters of what constitutes the exact conditions necessary in order to call an alert left City Hall looking bureaucratically soulless in the face of two people dying, even more so Mayor Tory who attempted to dodge the issue with a don’t look at me shrug off.

Of course, in the end, it wasn’t going to be as easy as all that for the mayor. In the face of mounting criticism and the appearance of OCAP protesters outside his office in the afternoon, the mayor’s office issued a release stating he had asked that a cold weather alert be issued and warming centres opened ASAP which hastily, if not officially, happened. Two did so last night before temperatures dropped into the range where the regular mechanism for such alerts could be implemented.

It’s all very much the tip of the iceberg, the very top, the tippy, tippy, .001% top of the iceberg. Temporary warming centres serve as nothing more than a symptom, a daunting reminder of the actual problem, crisis, actually, Toronto faces with a fundamental lack of affordable housing, itself the fallout from unchecked poverty and increasing income disparity. If Mayor Tory had such difficulty getting out ahead of this smallest and ultimately miniscule aspect of homelessness in the city, how convinced should we be about his efforts going forward when bigger, crucial aspects have to be decided, such as the growing monstrosity of the TCHC repair backlog that threatens to put even more people out onto the streets if not dealt with almost immediately?tipoftheiceberg

Throughout last year’s municipal election campaign, we John Tory wary-ists kept being told to assume the man had only the best of intentions for the city. That he was truly a progressive at heart and, as mayor, would fight for the interests of all Torontonians regardless of where they lived or if they had any place to live at all. Just how long do we have to keep assuming that despite much evidence to the contrary? Eventually his actions (or lack of them in this particular case) will speak louder than any of those placating words of assurance.

still unconvincedly submitted Cityslikr


Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here’s my question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr