Nothing Against Councillor Mary Fragedakis But…

January 19, 2014

There’s a moment in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s One Leg Too Few sketch, about a one-legged actor auditioning for the role of Tarzan, where Cook, conducting the audition, tells Moore, the actor, “Your right leg I like. I like your right leg. It’s a very lovely leg for the role. A lovely leg for the role, and I’ve got nothing against your right leg. Unfortunately… neither do you.”

I’ve got nothing against Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth). Unfortunately… that’s hardly a rousing ring of approval, is it? That’d be the very definition of damning with faint praise, if I understand the phrase properly.

I should say right here that I truly do try and cut the freshman class of 2010 some slack. Birthed onto council in a fiery tempest of toxic partisanship brought down upon them by a strictly by the book, us-versus-them administration. trialbyfireThey had to make some hard choices, and make them quickly.

They were either with the mayor, ag’in the mayor or ducking for cover in the much derided mush middle. Imagine gazelles, born onto the savannah just as the herd bolts in fear at the approach of a hungry, hunting lion. Get up, junior. Get up! This is no time to learn how to walk. Run! Run!!

It was evident early on where Councillor Fragedakis came down on that spectrum. Despite going along with stripping the city of revenue by eliminating the vehicle registration tax (many, many confirmed anti-Fordists made that mistake), she clearly took a spot hanging out with the non-friends of the mayor.

But she did so with little distinction. She got lost in the crowd. Try as I might, I can’t come up with one thing she took hold of, made her own. Councillor Fragedakis, champion of… ?

It’s not like she sat silent, disappearing Esmeralda-like (ask your parents, kids) into the background. More often than not, the councillor made her opinion known during council meetings. milfordmanIt’s just… it’s just…

Her voice was like an echo, a reverberation of something that had already been said. Nothing particularly offensive to these ears but little to be distinguished from things already stated. Councillor Fragedakis strikes me as the dutiful political daughter of Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth) and niece of Councillor Pam McConnell. (Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale).

It could be worse, no doubt. I have nothing against Councillor Mary Fragedakis but…

Again, it’s worth noting that she could be a superb constituent councillor, attentive to the needs and concerns of the residents in her ward. Not everyone elected to council needs to be a firebrand and on the forefront of city wide issues. Councillor Fragedakis may be happily and effectively tucked away, doing the more mundane tasks of municipal governance.

Her re-electability too is something of a mystery. me tooI may be horribly off the mark seeing her as vulnerable. She is just in her first term, so not entrenched as the incumbent. Ward 29 shouldn’t necessarily be seen as some safe, left wing seat. Remember, the long time representative from the area, for like 150 years, was Case Ootes, an old Lastmanite and noted anti-David Miller foe. Unless there’s been a dramatic shift in demographics, this ward can’t be considered a walk for any left of centre candidate.

In the 2010 election, Fragedakis benefitted from a right of centre split between former councillor and 2006 mayoral candidate, Jane Pitfield, and the Rocco Rossi endorsed, Jennifer Wood. Animosity flared up, in fact, involving those two camps, with a member of Ms. Pitfield’s team sending off an email request for Ms. Wood to step down in order that she not take votes away from Pitfield and ‘let an NDP council (candidate) Mary Fragedakis win’. stumpedWood didn’t withdraw and ended up with over 4200 votes. Fragedakis won by almost 2500. So it is conceivable that played a part in the outcome.

So it is conceivable that a single strong right of centre candidate in 2014 could seriously challenge Councillor Fragedakis for Ward 29. If that happens, the question will be has she shored up her incumbent bona fides to stave such a charge off, to increase her percentage of the popular vote? Like many things to do with her time in office, I remain simply stumped for an answer.

confusedly submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate XXVI

August 20, 2010

With another long work week coming to an end, it’s time to Meet (another) Mayoral Candidate! And this one’s for you, Sonny Yeung, our favourite commenting candidate for mayor.

Today: Douglas Campbell!

Just like his old school socialist politics, Mr. Campbell is not that current when it comes to technology either. And since we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke aren’t particularly savvy (or just plain ass lazy) when it comes to tracking down our subjects, well, we’re just going to have to deliver you his candidacy purely second hand. Citations will be duly noted. It’s like we’re channeling the spirit of Douglas Campbell through the diligence of others.

Now an octogenarian, Douglas Campbell has been running for public office since 1962, first as an independent candidate in that federal election for the Toronto riding of St. Pauls and subsequently in almost every other race that has come up. He ran for the provincial NDP leadership in 1970 and the federal NDP leadership in 1975. During this same period, Campbell was also running for various positions at the municipal level in Mississauga. He first faced off against Mel Lastman for mayor in the North York election of 1988 before turning back to the federal NDP scene in 1989 with a run to succeed outgoing leader Ed Broadbent. 2010 marks the fourth time he has thrown his hat into the ring for the mayoralty of Toronto where, in 2000 in a second showdown with Lastman, Campbell placed 4th with more than 8500 votes.

The other Douglas Campbell.

Douglas Campbell’s professional resumé is as eclectic as his political career. He’s been a seaman, a coffee house proprietor, a student, a teacher and high school principal and a cabbie. But it’s been a work life imbued by politics. He took part in the Great Lakes Seamen strike of 1946, fighting for reduced working hours. As a U. of T. student in the `60s, he protested involvement in the Vietnam War and took to the streets in the anti-nuclear movement. In 1968 as a high school principal, Mr. Campbell brought sex education into Newfoundland classrooms. There’s no mention how long it remained there. Or Douglas Campbell for that matter.

At this point, it’s probably not necessary to point out that Campbell’s your dyed-in-the-wool outsider’s outsider. A socialist when it was almost fashionable, he remains one to this day despite the label having become a short form to signify a relic, a historic artifact, and used by those who’ve dishonestly repackaged their 18th-century political beliefs into something seemingly new and shiny but just as punishing and equal as it was 300 years ago. I mean, Campbell was part of the movement who thought the Lewis led NDP was too centrist! That is hard core left wing.

“I’m a fighter for the working class. I’d like to see the profits of labour (taxes) go to pay for hospitals and schools. Now the taxes go to the people who put the politicians in power,” Campbell has been quoted saying.

He wants free education for everyone right up through university. “The sooner we get to that level, the sooner we might preserve this planet,” Campbell figures. Having grown up in Toronto during the Dirty 30s “where tens of thousands of [were] unemployed,” Campbell thinks things are just as bad here now. “To see people now lying in the streets is evidence things are getting worse.”

How would a Mayor Douglas Campbell fix the problem of homelessness and inequality? “My only concern is that we should have public ownership of everything,” he informed CP24. “Either we get rid of capitalism or the working class will be resolved to nuclear dust.”

Yeah!! What’s not to like about such a fidelity to an ideology that has so fallen out of favour? It’s like the political version of being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. At least, his heart is in the right place.

Except for the odd flare up of racial and religious intolerance. In an interview with blogTO earlier this year, Campbell called Harry Truman “that lunatic-Jewish president” for ordering the end of the Canadian Merchant Marines. A Jewish president?! And because Premier McGuinty is Roman Catholic, somehow this means that George Smitherman is “a puppet of the Pope”.

OK. So let’s call him a man of his time and not necessarily discard the message because of the messenger. Maybe out there somewhere is a young person, raised in an environment where socialism, so totally and not entirely justifiably discredited, was never mentioned. They see this post and wonder, what is this thing this old, slightly bigoted man speaks of, socialism? Maybe they’ll discover that it wasn’t nearly as bad a notion as they had been raised to believed. That can’t be all bad.

While not going out and getting the opportunity to ask Douglas Campbell the question we’ve been asking of all the candidates we’ve profiled, we’ll use his own words to answer for him. If the current mayor would like to see his legacy as that of the Transit Mayor, what would a Mayor Douglas Campbell like to see as his legacy?

A Mayor Douglas would “keep up the revolution”.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Cars Versus People

April 8, 2010

A couple recent posts over at Kris Scheuer’s blog caught my eye as they related to a major pet peeve of mine that anyone who has read anything I’ve ever written here will attest to. Cars, parking, bicycles, bike lanes, pedestrians. The whole kit and caboodle.

The first entry reveals some surprising information emerging from a survey done by Clean Air Partnership. It seems of the 500+ folks interviewed who were going about their business along the Dundas Street West strip between Kennedy and Jane streets, more than ¾ of them arrived there through non-car means. In fact, more than twice as many walked to their destination rather than drove.

More surprisingly, a majority of business owners in the area favoured reducing parking along the street to make way for bike lanes and wider pedestrian friendly sidewalks. This has long been my argument about persistent retail woes along some of our major downtown arterial roads including much of Dundas Street West. Pedestrian unfriendliness. Even the Bloor-Danforth corridor, our main east-west drag, is largely devoid of strolling appeal. Nevermind it being unfriendly terrain to bike except for the portion between the Bloor Street viaduct and roughly Sherbourne Street. There’s the Danforth’s Greektown from Broadview to about Pape that makes for a pleasant few hour wander but that’s about it. Even trendy Yorkville draws its pedestrian crowds to the side streets one, two and three block north of Bloor.

Despite sitting atop a subway line, Bloor Street is not ultimately an attractive and desirable stop to hang out, browse, shop and generally revel in city life. It is little more than a (semi) functional traffic conduit whose fortune lies almost exclusively with the ups-and-downs of the nearby residential areas that border it. Anything that can be done to make Bloor-Danforth (or Dundas Street West) more people friendly will inevitably increase retail health as well, despite what your local B.I.A. might tell you.

Which segues nicely – something a writer always likes – to Kris Scheuer’s second post of note. After a decade+ back-and-forth on the issue, Forest Hill Village is finally getting 11 new parking spots and it’s only going to cost slightly more than a million dollars! Does that seem entirely out of whack to anyone else? There’s no reason to disbelieve that the price tag will be quickly recouped through parking fees as the Toronto Parking Authority claims, so it’s not the money that grates. But are 11 additional spaces for cars really going to alleviate the congestion and traffic problems that plague Forest Hill Village? Won’t having more parking simply bring more cars with the promise of less driving hassle? As anyone who’s ever tried to drive there (or bike) will tell you, it ain’t pretty. How more cars on the scene will alleviate the problem is a mystery to me.

Cars, cars, cars. They are the past, people, not the future. Making the city more amenable to drivers and their deathmobiles lessens the livability index rather than increases it. Pedestrians know it. Cyclists know it. Transit users know it. Even enlightened business owners know it. So let’s stop catering to the increasing minority of those who refuse to acknowledge the reality of it.

doggedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Wilting Democracy

February 17, 2010

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been thinking a lot lately about the state of local democracy. Well, not all of us. Urban Sophisticat seldom ponders on the subject as his preference would be for a benign dictatorship that banishes cars from cities and permits cannabis cafes on every street corner. This is not a belief conducive to thinking straight about democratic institutions.

But for those of us here not wandering around in a perpetual haze of glassy eyed, marijuana induced idealism, we have been mulling over our situation as duly appointed participants in the democratic process. Yes, it all seems alive and vibrant while in the midst of an election campaign. Caught up as we are in the proceedings, it’s hard to fathom that there are those out there more akin to Urban Sophisticat’s mindset who aren’t devouring every little morsel of news and information coming in off the campaign trail. Neither are they eagerly awaiting October 25th in order to be first in line at the polling booth to mark the requisite Xs in their appropriate ballots.

Trolling through the interwebs as is our want, we stumbled across the fact that over 60% of eligible voters did not vote in Toronto’s last municipal election. I’m sorry. You said over 60% of voters did vote in Toronto’s last municipal election, right? No, we didn’t. Over 60% of eligible voters did not vote in Toronto’s last municipal election. (Note the use of the bold, italics and underline functions for emphasis. Twice.)

Holy mackerel, that’s low. That’s low, right? Yes, it’s low. Criminally low as it would be in some places like Australia where voting is mandatory under penalty of prosecution. Keelhauling, we think they still do down there, what with their naval and shipping of convict heritage, if found guilty of voter neglect.

Yet not voting is par for the course here in Toronto. To say that we have a disengaged electorate is to dally in the shallow waters of DoYaThink!?! Creek which is a tributary of WellD’Uh River. When it comes to municipal politics, Torontonians are passionate about their lack of interest. It’s tough to fight City Hall when you’re not even sure where it is. That funny shaped thing, down by the Eaton Centre, right behind the outdoor skating rink, yeah?

From our inception, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has chalked up voter apathy – not just in Toronto but in municipalities all across the province of Ontario – to the fact that those we elect as mayor and councilors don’t really have the power and resources to deal with the demands placed upon them. The purse and authority lie with our elected officials at the provincial and federal levels. So why waste time worrying too much about the hired help?

Turns out things might be a little more complicated than that, as much as it offends our sense of strict black and white reasoning to admit. The democratic deficit under which we are operating is a broader, deeper pit of entropy according to those who actually examine the phenomena rather than simply opine glibly about it. If Toronto isn’t alive with voter fervor, it is most definitely hopping with enthusiasts who want to change our complacent attitude toward elections.

A quick trip through the tubes and pipes of the internet reveals a bubbling cauldron of activism at work on behalf of local democracy. At a website of Kris Scheuer, city hall bureau chief for the Town Crier newspapers, there’s a concise overview of the voting (or rather non-voting) habits here in Toronto. In that post, there is a link to a blog from a fellow named David Meslin.

mez dispenser, the blog’s called and it is the work of a self-proclaimed artist and organizer who doesn’t appear to need any sleep. As the site shows, the list of his undertakings is long including City Idol where participants vied to become candidates in the 2006 municipal election. One of his latest projects is Better Ballots which is a push for electoral reform in Toronto; a drive shared by other organizations such as the Toronto Democracy Initiative.

While impossible to summarize in a single post, among other overriding concerns of such individuals and groups is the exclusionary nature of our voting system. The traditional first past the post method is a boon for incumbency that has become so entrenched that City Hall is a pale (pun intended) reflection of the diversity of Toronto. Females and visible minorities are vastly under represented while some councilors can get re-elected with just 20% of the votes cast! (I’m sorry. Did you say that there were councilors at City Hall who got elected with–Yes, I did. Such is the sad state of democracy in Toronto.)

It is a hole that we will not dig ourselves out of quickly. Aside from the usual difficulties of transforming a well fed status quo, there is the ever present problem of having to get the OK from Queen’s Park for much of the proposed electoral reform. And this is a government that was lukewarm at best toward the 2007 provincial reform referendum on proportional representation. So it’s hard to see how they would be all that permissive in allowing Toronto to have a go at it on its own.

Still, you either throw in the towel, shrug your shoulders in defeat and head off to the nearest cannabis café to watch passively as more and more of your city is handed over to those who think of it as their own personal playground or you stand up and say, there is a better way to do things. Democracy is not dead as long as there is enough of the latter kind of people. From that standpoint, I think Toronto’s doing just fine.

upbeatedly submitted by Cityslikr