How’d We Become The Enemy?

September 7, 2010

Lying in bed on Labour Day morning, with the CBC’s The Current on the radio — welcome back from your summer vacation, Anna Maria Tremonti! Looking forward to ignoring you once again for most of the 2010/11 season. – listening to former Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP, Janet Ecker, talk about the new wave of Canadian conservative populism. When she referred to the typical adherent of this movement as ‘Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch’, I thought to myself, “Wow! Could she be any more patronizing?” How exactly is it that we’ve become the enemy?

We, of course, being the so-called downtown, intellectual, liberal elite. Or, to put it in Ms. Ecker’s vernacular, ‘Mr. & Dr. 3rd Floor-Deckers’. So far in this municipal election campaign, we have become the target for the ire coming from Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch due to the unflagging support we show to “our” mayor down at “our” City Hall. Apparently, “our” taxes haven’t risen while “our” services have. “Our” free spending councillors have lavished all their attention and money on “our” downtown wards especially for things like “our” bike lanes which squeeze out the cars coming in from the city’s inner suburban ring when everyone there steps off their front porches to drive downtown to work.

None of which is true, of course. It is only pronounced loudly and often. Downtown taxes have increased along with everyone else’s and, from my own, very anecdotal evidence, while services might not have declined over the past few years, I’m certainly paying more for many of them than I did in the pre-amalgamated Toronto.

But here’s the thing. I’m not blaming those who live in the former cities of Etobicoke, York, North York, East York and Scarborough for this turn of events. We’re all in the same boat here on this one, now paying the unexpected costs we were not told about by those who enforced amalgamation on us. Despite some urban experts saying that the economies of scale not always applying to bigger cities, we were sold a bill of goods about lower costs, lower spending, lower taxes in the megacity by the Harris government, consisting of members like Janet Ecker and Rob Ford’s father, Doug Sr., who defied the wishes of his own Etobicoke constituents to not be absorbed into a bigger Toronto and sat on his hands except to vote ‘yes’ on amalgamation.

And now Ecker’s invited onto the radio to explain grassroots anger, using a clearly test marketed term like ‘Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch’?! Or Rob Ford is championed as looking out for these little guys as he campaigns vigorously to be the hatchet man who will carry out the cuts that were inevitable in light of amalgamation and the downloading that accompanied it? (Or, to put it more poetically, doing the dirty work of his beloved late father.) If there’s any resentment I bear towards Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch, it’s the misdirected rage and anger. Do they have reasons to be angry about the way the city’s working? Sure. Just rage against the ones that actually were really responsible for bringing about this turn of events and not the easiest scapegoats being handed over to you on a platter.

I’m not one to ascribe much to conspiracy theories especially on the part of our elected officials. While a proponent of the power of government to do good, I just don’t think they are capable of pulling off grand schemes to hoodwink the population at large. So there was no alien crash landing near Roswell, N.M. or a 2nd gunman on the grassy knoll. Both are too big a secrets to go unsolved for decades.

But I am beginning to think that maybe the Mike Harris government did come close with the amalgamation of Toronto. It was said at the time (and many times since) that along with helping the provincial ledger sheets with a non-neutral revenue neutral swap of services with the city, the biggest boon for the province with their amalgamation sleight of hand was to water down the progressive core with the more Tory friendly inner suburbs. At worst, the city would become ungovernable due to the constant squabbling between the two factions.

Well, kudos to you, Mr. Harris and Ms. Ecker and Mr. Ford Sr.’s son. We have swung from the right to the left and are now threatening to lurch heavily right once more with fingers being pointed in every direction and accusations of mismanagement and corrupt governance thrown around for good measure. Dysfunctional is the label Toronto’s getting and no one benefits more from it than our overlords smiling smugly at Queen’s Park. Yes, it is no longer the Conservatives but as Dalton McGuinty can most definitely attest to, amalgamation is the gift that just keeps giving. At least, to him and all those who rule from that particular roost if not the citizens of the city.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Labour Day Thought Worth Repeating

September 6, 2010

Because it’s the last long weekend of the summer, and because it’s rainy and dreary outside, and because we’re lazy, and because we’re still reeling from the realization that Nicholas Cage can actually still act, having watched him in Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant last night, because of all this, we’re bringing you our first, official repeat column.

Hey. Everyone’s doing it. It is still summer after all.

We’re not entirely laying a turd on you or anything. It will be topical. Since it’s Labour Day, we’d thought we’d replay the column written by our colleague, Acaphlegmic, on May 1st. The Other Labour Day.

It’s just as pertinent now as it was way back then, perhaps even more so. As our municipal campaign has heated up, the anti-labour/anti-union rhetoric has only intensified. To some of our politicians and their rabid followers, city unions and workers are a big part of the myriad of problems the city faces. Just like the auto workers were when they were asked to take pay and benefit cuts to help out their poor, beleaguered employers. If only they wouldn’t demand so much, maybe the industry wouldn’t have found itself in the dire straits  it did.

Yeah. That was the problem.

The face of labour may be changing but we should take a moment today and stop to remember that much of what we have, like the first day in September being work free for many of us, is not due to the munificence of the markets or the beneficence of our bosses. It is because of the sacrifice and willing to risk life and limb of those who were truly fighting for the little guy. Lest we forget.

A Good May Day To You

It’s May 1st. May Day. International Workers’ Day.

It always brings to mind the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the revolutionary groups are discussing life under the Romans.

To paraphrase slightly: What have the unions ever done for us?

Modern May Day “celebrations” can be dated back to the late-19th century as a commemoration of Chicago’s Haymarket Massacre in 1886. Twelve people died (including 7 policemen) when a bomb was thrown during a labour demonstration that was held calling for an 8 hour workday.

How quaint. An 8 hour workday. What kind of starry-eyed idealists were these that believed such things possible? If there are those out there reading this who pay their rent/mortgage, put food on the table and are ready to finance their childrens’ university education, all on an 8 hour workday, raise your hands.

It’s one thing to ask to work only 8 hours a day/5 days a week but another thing entirely to expect to earn a proper living on it. For at least the last 30 years wages have stagnated for the middle class as it shrank in size, squeezed from both burgeoning top and bottom ends. Simply to maintain economic ground, most people have had to work longer and take on increasing amounts of debt.

Occurring simultaneously, union membership has fallen. In the United States, more than one-third of employed people belonged to unions in 1945. By 1979, union membership had fallen to 24.1 percent. Thirty years later, union workers only made up 12.3% of the work force.

A coincidence? Perhaps. We are not unaware of the fact that correlation does not imply causation. There have been many factors, oftentimes interrelated and interdependent, over the past 3 decades that have contributed to the growing fiscal imbalance between work and pay. Still, it is funny that in these days of economic struggle unions and those that belong to them are derided and dismissed as lazy fat cats, bloodsuckers and artifacts of the past.

Of course, May Day festivities and revels long pre-date unions and workers. They go back to pre-Christian, pagan seasonal rituals denoting the end of the long, dark winter in the northern hemisphere. According to Celtic legend, bonfires were set alight at strategically important sites to “mark a time of purification and transition”.

Maybe the time has come to meld the two traditions, modern and ancient. How be we burn some shit down to purify and transition to a more fair and equitable era? And then we can all dance happily around the Maypole.

revolutionarily submitted by Acaphlegmic


No More More Of The Same

September 5, 2010

Earlier this week as the mayoral candidates prepared for another series of debates, some questions popped up about the inclusion of 6th placer, Rocco Achampong. Why now? Why not months ago? Nobody ever listened to what former candidate Giorgio Mammoliti said about anything else when he was campaigning. So how come they took him up on including Achampong in the debates?

The most salient argument against including newcomers to the proceedings at this relatively late stage of the game is that now is the time to start winnowing down not opening up. We need to focus in on the front running campaigns, one of which will produce Toronto’s next mayor. To throw the doors open will simply muddy the waters, cause voter disarray and make post-Labour Day clarity and decision making near impossible.

My response to that would be, have the candidates earned such a free pass? Months and months into this, with countless debates already under their belts and exclusive media access, and no one’s yet broken through. So what’s just more of the same going to accomplish?

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Rob Ford has more than broken through. He is the one candidate that has run what must be considered a near flawless campaign so far. How else to explain his turning a mindlessly pea-brained platform that can be re-uttered by even the densest voter – Stop The Gravy Train! – into a 1st place standing? Ford should be the joke of this race and yet the only one to even so much as land a punch on him is, well, Ford himself.

Take this past week for example. Ford bumbled, stumbled and fumbled through 3 debates, two of which, to be fair, were not his strong suit, city heritage and the environment. But what’s the news grabbing the headlines over the weekend? George Smitherman telling a Rocco Rossi campaign staffer to either fuck or screw off after they tried handing him some pamphlet apparently critical of his candidacy.

(To give George some props on this issue, I’ve encountered the Rossi Red Army at a number of debates. Their aggressive chair saving and Pavlovian cheering at their candidate’s increasingly loud, shrill empty rhetoric have made me inclined to want to tell a few of them to fuck off on occasion as well. So that’s a point for Smitherman in my books.)

If anything, this suggests that the mayoral debates need some new blood not a closing of ranks. Achampong has not embarrassed himself even if he hasn’t distinguished himself either. Part of the problem as I see it is that he’s singing from the same fiscal conservative, social liberal songbook as Smitherman, Rossi and Thomson. So it’s difficult to differentiate his views from the rest of the pack. Still, he’s proving that there are other credible candidates out there we should be hearing from.

My first choice would be HiMY SYeD. (Don’t worry, potential debate moderators. The name’s much easier to pronounce than it looks. Simpler than ‘Achampong’ which seems to be giving everyone verbal fits.) Following SYeD out on the hustings largely through his almost superhuman Twitter output, he appears to have more knowledge and ideas about civic governance than any of the leading candidates outside of Joe Pantalone. Let’s see how he fares up under the debate spotlights. He’s earned it.

That’s seven. How be we make it an even number? I’d nominate George Babula or Sonny Yeung. Give them a crack at the big time. Hell, let’s see what Keith Cole is up too as the campaign kicks into high gear. He acquitted himself well at the Better Ballots debate back in June. No reason he wouldn’t again if given another shot.

While much noise is being made over this final summer long weekend about how people’s attention will start to hone in on the municipal campaign as it heads toward the October 25th conclusion, I’m not sure how delivering them the same dog-and-pony show will accomplish anything other than having more people feeling as discouraged and disenchanted as those who’ve been following from the beginning. To borrow an inane phrase Rocco Rossi’s been touting over and over again, isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result? What this campaign doesn’t need is more of the same. It needs a shake-up that can only come with bringing in new voices and new ideas.

still hopeful(ly) submitted by Cityslikr