Just a quick additional note that I tried to artfully weave into yesterday’s post but couldn’t pull off in any way that met even our impossibly low standards.
We were talking about the arrival of Councillors Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam into the bigs with their respective battles to save projects in their wards from under the Godzilla steps of Team Ford. The Fort York bridge in Layton’s case and the Jarvis Street bike lanes in Wong-Tam’s. In losing causes both councillors made very favourable impressions.
We failed to make one important point. That is to the ‘why’ these projects came under attack in the first place. Budget overruns were cited with the proposed Fort York bridge. A mix of ideologically thinking and a repackaged election campaign pledge got trotted out in the case of the bike lanes on Jarvis. None of the reasoning actually held up in the light of the day and perhaps it’s just easiest to see it as simply a purge of anything and everything to do with the Mayor David Miller era. (If you’re looking for better analyses of what’s making the mayor tick, you absolutely need to read Ivor Tossell’s piece in the Toronto Standard and Matt Elliott at Ford For Toronto.)
But consider this.
I think it’s safe to say neither Wong-Tam nor Layton could be viewed as reliable allies of Mayor Ford. In fact, opposite camp may be a better descriptor. Downtown pinko left wing kooks. No need expending any political capital trying to woo them.
Instead, they could be used as examples to the other new councillors who are more amenable to the mayor’s way of thinking. Something along the lines of, don’t fuck with us, newbies, or this kind of thing may happen to you too. So, running against unwritten council protocol, in committee a Ford ally blindsides both Layton and Wong-Tam, giving them no real heads-up that the mayor’s aiming to pull the plug on a project in their ward. Grade school, bully boy tactics that has the dual purpose of sticking it to a political foe while warning everyone else who may be getting restless under the mayor’s thumb to stay put and shut up.
Fort York bridge, killed. Jarvis Street bike lanes, removed.
You see what Mayor Ford just did there, Councillor Bailão? Councillor Colle? Councillor Matlow? Councillor McMahon?
It’s instructive to point out that in the lead up to the Jarvis bike lane debate, Mayor Ford went out of his way to hold the Lawrence Heights development item, a big ticket project that Councillor Colle inherited from his predecessor in Ward 15, Howard Moscoe. Yes, the mayor had never been a fan of the development. He’d even campaigned in the neighbourhood last year and vowed to stop it if elected. But note the timeline this week. Mayor Ford holds item, putting a gun to its head. Jarvis Street bike lane debate happens. Councillor Colle remains in deep background during it. When the vote happens, Councillor Colle lines up with the mayor to help tear up the bike lanes.
Recess for lunch. When the meeting resumes, the mayor releases the item and is the only one to vote against it. However, it’s now safe for Councillor Colle to go forward.
That’s some out-and-out gangster shit there. The exact opposite of building consensus. Let’s call it, political extortion, given added oomph that it comes with the very real example of what happens if you don’t play ball with the mayor. Projects just disappear.
That’s just how Mayor Ford rolls, yo.
— sippin’ on gin and juicely submitted by Cityslikr
Not all that long ago, as recently as the waning days of 2009 in fact, I was happily living my life as a self-identified political apathete. Cocooned in a warm, fuzzy coating of ‘They’re all the same’, I voted when I had to and with very little enthusiasm. Calling myself a Red Tory to anyone who asked, I failed to recognize I’d become a species near the brink of extinction and that almost the entire right side of the spectrum had been slowly consumed by what can only be described as a brand of radical conservatism.
Then I went and did something stupid like sign on to All Fired Up in the Big Smoke and become involved, active and aware during last year’s municipal election campaign. I honestly believed I could bring a dispassionate, rational voice to the site but as things progressed… or maybe that should be, regressed… out on the hustings, it was a stance that became more and more untenable. Disregard grew into disbelief that morphed into shock, anger, fear until, ultimately, at the race’s conclusion, a little bit of my soul died.
“This is why you shouldn’t put yourself out there,” I thought to myself afterwards. “It can all turn out so horribly, horribly badly… bad? Badly?” Don’t like the sound of ‘badly’ in that context but ‘bad’ is in all likelihood incorrect.
So, I fled. In hopes of rediscovering my old self. My old, disinterested, apolitical self.
I took to the seas. I took to the bottle. I took to my knees to pray that it had all just been one bad dream. All to no avail. I was hooked. I’d become a junkie of the worst kind. The political kind. I can’t quit you, Toronto municipal politics!
Once having acknowledged and accepted that fact, I found myself face-to-face with a dilemma. By the time I turned my attention back to City Hall, it had become something of a partisan hellhole. Serious battle lines drawn. Whatever divisions that had manifested themselves during the election were, by the time Mayor Ford was sworn into office, deep to the point of moat-like. While my colleague Cityslikr seems to be quite content wallowing in such a nest of vipers, the thought of joining him struck me as wholly unappealing. Surely there was a way to make a more positive, satisfying contribution.
And there is. Voting/electoral/ballot reform.
If you hadn’t noticed, things are horribly out of whack on that front here in Toronto. In a couple great posts back in January, John Michael McGrath dug into the grisly details of highly disproportionate wards where some councillors are buried deep in constituent work while others have a lighter workload and have additional time to offer help, sometimes unasked, in other wards and do regular radio spots. It is a situation that seriously undermines the notion of one person, one vote that we like to believe sits at the heart of our democratic system.
While adjusting boundaries to more equitably distribute numbers throughout the city’s wards, there’s also a deeper fundamental change that needs exploring. Since amalgamation and the elimination of Metro Council, Toronto has suffered under a lack of city wide vision. Only the mayor is elected by voters throughout the city. So he (and it’s only been a ‘he’ since we became the megacity) sets an agenda for the entire city and must contend with the views and opinions of 44 councillors whose priorities for their constituents oftentimes sit in direct opposition to a broader view. For example? We all know that increased density is a must for our future well being. Yet where do we start developing? As the battle at Lawrence Heights shows, communities may see the need for more density but they don’t necessarily want it near them.
At the same time, there’s also a growing demand for a strengthening of local input into decisions being made at City Hall. This suggests we should look at giving more powers to our community councils. Not only would this foster an increase in citizen participation but it would also relieve the burden on city council to spend their time debating and voting on such hyper-local issues as extending liquor license hours to Paddy McMuldoon’s Irish Emporium Pub for St. Patrick’s Day or if a tree needs to be cut down in Ward Wherever.
All of which points to not only such electoral reform issues as at-large councilors and the like but actual improvements in voting. Yes, I’m talking about the bogeyman of proportional representation and changing how we cast our ballots. It is long overdue and we need to stop ignoring the claims of over-complexity that inevitably arise from the political class that has benefited from our current, first-past-the-post system. Arguably, this is something we could do most easily at the municipal level, owing to the fact we are officially party-less. Time is of the essence and new rules have to be in place soon in order that the can come into effect for the next municipal election.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. Not only do reform-minded people have to contend with entrenched status quoers but there is a divide within the ranks of the reform movement itself. It’s a clash of ideas that was captured nicely last month by Jake Tobin Garrett over at Spacing and, unfortunately one that can be used by opponents to argue for doing nothing.
But that really isn’t an option. Voters continue to be disengaged from the process and campaigns at every level are rarely fought over issues. The first-past-the-post system seems to encourage negative, I’m-not-as-bad-as-the-other-guys races and a clawing for a mere simple majority usually leads to more voters casting ballots against the ultimate winner. And as we can see by watching recent events in Ottawa as well as City Hall here in Toronto, negative campaigning moves directly into negative governing.
So I begin the initial steps of understanding alternative ways of electing our representatives. What I do feel strongly about right now is that Mayor Ford’s campaign pledge of cutting council in half is a non-starter. It will only increase our democratic deficit and his argument that since we only have 22 MPs and MPPs we only need 22 councillors displays a monumental ignorance about the difference between the services delivered to the public by their councillors and by their representatives at Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill.
Secondly, what we need to demand right now is the ability to elect our municipal officials by a ranked ballot. For a primer on what exactly that is, I highly encourage you to read over what the folks have to say over at RaBIT. I know this wades right into the controversy over alternative voting versus true proportional representation (about which you should also read at Fair Vote Canada) but 21 of the 45 people making decisions for us at City Hall were elected with less than an absolute majority of votes. In fact, 5 of our councillors had less than a third of their ward voters actually cast a ballot for them. So we have the ludicrous scenario of someone like Councillor James Pasternak standing up at council, claiming to speak for his ward when, in fact, less than 1 in 5 of the voters in Ward 10 who chose to cast a ballot, voted for Mr. Pasternak.
That ain’t democracy, folks. It’s time for a real change. And that’s what I intend to dedicate my time to, back here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.
Sitting, hanging out with my 1 geeky, egg-head science acquaintance who also serves as an official nerd football pool advisor with his fancy-schmancy algorithmic predictive powers (he got me on the ground floor of the Cowboys-certainly-aren’t-going-to-the-Super-Bowl-this-year), he reaches into the tattered plastic bag he uses to carry his belongings and hands me a magazine. Yeah, I know. What’s with the plastic bag? You’d think with all conferences these science folk attend and the canvas sack swag that’s tossed around at such gatherings, there’d be no shortage of non-plastic tote bags. But these scientific types, they think differently from normal people.
The magazine handed to me is Nature, one of the preeminent science publications going. Its October 21st issue is labeled: Science and the City/How cities nurture research – and how research can sustain them. Huh, I think. How does he know this is something that might interest me? I like to keep our relationship on a purely professional level. He tells me what teams to pick and I pick them. Clean. To the point. Uncomplicated. What other information about me lies, lurking, waiting to pop up from behind those thick, horn-rimmed glasses of his? Somehow, this friendly gesture on his part has now become creepy and full of suspect intentions.
But I’ll leave that to sort out away from public scrutiny. What you should know is that, according to Nature, the scientific community has decided that cities, and the studying of them, is becoming increasingly important not only for the cities themselves or the scientific community but for the sake of humanity and the fate of the planet. Why? Well, because of the numbers. More than 50% of the earth’s population now lives in cities. That’s up from only 29% just two generations ago. 40 years from now, the estimates have it somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70% urban population. Cities around the globe are growing at a rate of 1 million people per week!
Problems, of course, arise with such growth, much of it unplanned and uncontrolled, not the least of which is climate change. Cities already account for more than 70% of “the energy-related carbon dioxide emissions”. But as Jeb Brugmann writes in Welcome to the Urban Revolution people don’t come to the cities because of the problems. They come because of the opportunities. And opportunities grow along with a city’s population. Personal opportunities as well as those that can help fix the problems we face. If cities have become the largest contributors to climate change, they are also on the forefront of the solutions, darting ahead of provinces, states and countries who are hamstrung by a toxic combination of disinterest, self-interest and mistrust.
I could hardly do justice in trying to fully explain all the information that Nature’s 9 or so articles and editorials presented, suffice to say that it all got me thinking about what we as a city went and did a couple Mondays ago. While great thinkers in a multitude of studies have turned their attentions to the well-being of cities and how to plan, design and build them in a sustainable, livable and equitable way, the good people of Toronto have decided to turn their backs on all that. With a new mayor waiting in the wings, I wonder about the fate of the Tower Renewal Program. Lawrence Heights redevelopment. Transit City.
We, as a city, seemed poised to take a step back from any sort of forward thinking at a time when we can least afford it. As an urban agenda gains more traction throughout the world, Toronto now is without one unless you count filling potholes and fixing streetlights and customer service as an agenda. If you do, you suffer from a severe lack of imagination as well as nerve.
I will refrain from pointing fingers and casting aspersions at those who felt justified enough in their anger toward the outgoing administration to vote for Rob Ford. It probably felt really good. Enjoy it while it lasts. The pleasure of vindictive voting is fleeting and I’m guessing about 20% of you will be very sorry very quickly for what you did. The change you’ll see probably won’t be the change you thought you voted for.
No, my beef is with all those opinion makers and editorial writers who should’ve known better. Those whose job it is, those with the time if not inclination to see above the fray and to have a wider scope of what was at stake, what the city really needed to be focusing on, and who didn’t do it. Instead, you took the easy route and pandered to personality and campaign tactics. You went for the simplest to follow narrative and in the process, revealed your contempt and disdain for this city.
So if you ever wrote or said something out loud for other people to hear or read suggesting that Rob Ford would be a good mayor or would be what Toronto needed right now, maybe during the course of the next 4 years, you can do us all a big fat favour and just be quiet. Maybe what you need to do is take some time, look around and see what’s happening in other cities around the world, cities that are responsibly facing future challenges, cities prepared to be global players. Do some homework. Read Nature. Whatever. Just shut the fuck up and let the people who really care about Toronto go about their business of making it a better place to live and not just somewhere you report about.