A Question Really Worth Asking

July 26, 2011

For some masochistic fun and long overdue penance, I put on my figurative hair shirt and subjected myself to re-watching Mayor Ford’s CP24 interview with Stephen LeDrew from last Friday. Its staggering shortcomings have been analyzed to death so I won’t bother with anything further along those lines except to say that it came across as less a piece of television journalism and more of an infomercial pitch. Not an in-depth interview; a Johnny Carson-Ed McMahon routine. (Yes, I am that old.)

Aside from his self-satisfied certainty and shocking inability to articulate anything that isn’t printed out in front of him or committed to memory, what jumped out at me most about the mayor’s performance was his constant rhetorical refrain of, ‘Should the city be in the business of… ?’ Rhetorical because we all know what the mayor’s answer to that question is unless you fill in the blanks with ‘policing’ or ‘keeping streets clean’. No. No, no, no, no. Absolutely not!

We need to change that question ever so slightly, so he’s unable to provide an easy Yes or No answer. So instead, we frame the question as Why Shouldn’t The City Be In The Business Of… ? The one word answer, Because, will not be accepted nor will its slightly extended version of Because It Costs Too Much And The Private Sector Can Do It Cheaper unless accompanied by actual evidence proving the claim that doesn’t just make use of numbers entirely pulled from your ass/hat.

Now I know the idea might get the likes of Stephen LeDrew’s bow tie a-spinning as he’d actually have to occasionally challenge the mayor but I think it might be an adult conversation worth having as we move toward this fall’s budget discussions. Take any service the city now provides and ask not, should the city be in the business of… ? but, why shouldn’t the city be in the business of… ?

Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of maintaining parks? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of providing affordable daycare to low income families? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of handing out cultural funds that both enhance city life as well as provide economic spin-offs that usually dwarf the initial cash outlay? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of… ?

If the mayor is choosing to opt out of established programs, then the onus is on him to explain why. And saying we simply can’t afford it doesn’t cut it. At least not without facts and figures to back it up. The moment he resorts to his standard mantra of receiving 100s of calls a day, 70% of whom approve of what he’s doing, you know the actual answer is we can afford to fund these programs but we are simply choosing not to.

At least let’s force Mayor Ford to be honest about the choices he’s making. (Why now? Why not 12 months ago?) During last week’s infomercial with Stephen LeDrew, the mayor claimed that the people want just three things in return for the taxes they pay. Safe streets. Smooth, freshly paved streets. Clean streets.

According to the mayor’s self-selected numbers, the citizens taxpayers of Toronto have no or little interest in libraries, public spaces, public transit, visual arts, street festivals, smart planning and development or anything else that doesn’t make the drive time from home to work and back again easier. If they are, the private sector can provide them more efficiently and cheaply. Unless of course, you actually use them. Then hey, you’re on your own.

We often joke here how the mayor and his cadre of regressives possess a 1950s, Mayberry urban view. No traffic except the easy purr of car engines. Aunt Bea knowing her place at home, taking care of all the domestic chores. Happy town drunks. Creepy barbers.

But we’re off. Way off. In truth, Mayor Ford and his ilk maintain a medieval village mentality. A gathering of huts, together solely for commercial exchange, each paying a tithe to the local strong man who offers them protection from the scary notions roaming the nearby woods and builds a smooth(ish) road for them to conduct their business. Ties only extend as far as family. Everything else is just transactional interaction. Should the city be in the business of being a city? For Mayor Ford, the answer is resoundingly to the negative.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr


We Want To Rule. Just Don’t Ask Us To Govern.

January 31, 2011

Last week the notion got floated that if the province really, really insisted, the Ford administration was more than willing to hand it control of the TTC. That it got publicly slapped down in fairly quick order by folks from the McGuinty government should come as little surprise. Queen’s Park still refuses to re-upload its obligation of paying 50% of the annual operating costs that it booted in 1995, so the idea that they would willingly pick up the tab for the entire operation seems, well, more than a little fanciful.

I am hardly a transit expert. Scratch that. I am a transit ignoramus. That may be a bit strong. I don’t know nearly enough about public transit as I should. There. That’s better. So I wouldn’t dare offer an opinion as to whether it would be better or worse if the TTC was under the auspices of our provincial government. There might be some sense in it if it provided a certain seamlessness to an entire GTA regional transit system. On the other hand, it would distance management even further from the day-to-day operation in an organization already maligned as being out of touch with its customers. In addition, the province in its oversight of Metrolinx hasn’t been heaped with praise for its responsiveness to the public.

No matter. The province doesn’t appear willing to saddle itself with a millstone like the TTC leaving it in the hands of the city now under a leadership allergic to actual governance. It talks up mightily the concept of customer service but wants the scope of the services it provides limited. Policing. Potholes. Streetlights. Anything more than that and it’s probably gravy.

It’s a divestment of authority under the banner of fiscal discipline that is the mark of small-minded municipal politicians unconcerned with much else outside of keeping taxes low and the streets safe and clean. As if we’re living in Mayberry or Pleasantville. They seek as little responsibility as possible as more responsibility only comes with more decisions and increased complexity. Complexity, ultimately, costs.

Problem is, 21st-century cities especially big ones like Toronto are complex organisms, long since outgrown the facile perspectives on municipal governance now on offer by our current mayor. Yes, we (like every other municipality in this province) are saddled with an incredibly dated structural burden that goes back to Confederation when we were an agrarian country and cities were looked down on as nothing more than ‘creatures of the provinces’, subject to provincial whim, abuse and neglect. But the world has changed, whether or not senior levels of government accept that fact, and cities that stand pat, unwilling to adapt to their growing importance on a global scale, are in danger of turning themselves into backwaters.

Backwaters deem public transit unimportant enough to try and unload. Backwaters question environmental measures like re-forestation and water efficiency. Backwaters relegate culture, nutritional programs and even libraries as outside the sphere of “core services” that they should provide. Backwaters sound like this: “Graffiti is vandalism, pure and simple.

The blind forces of urbanization flowing along the lines of least resistance show no aptitude for creating an urban and industrial pattern that will be stable, self-sustaining, and self renewing.

So wrote Lewis Mumford some 55 years ago. Unfortunately, those ‘blind forces of urbanization’ are now hard at work here in Toronto, refusing to look up from their abacus and see that the well-being of the city depends on much more than the bottom line. ‘Affordability’ is not always about money and ‘hard decisions’ don’t always mean cuts to services that make a city more competitive, attractive and liveable.

Hard decisions aren’t those that are made that conform to your ideology. Hard decisions are made by those who take their leadership role seriously and see themselves as more than merely bookkeepers. Hard decisions accept responsibility. They don’t shirk it. And so far, Mayor Ford and his team seem determined to show they want less responsibility for the welfare of all the citizens of this city, and that hardly bodes well for either our posterity or prosperity.

cheaply submitted by Cityslikr


The Moth-like Politics of Dalton McGuinty

May 4, 2010

A debate has been raging around the office in recent days… OK, not so much raging as dribbling out in fits and starts. If not fits and starts, at least, bored bouts of opinionated discussion. And even the word ‘discussion’ gives too much a sense of engagement in the topic.

You see, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been pondering on Dalton McGuinty. So you understand the complete and utter ambivalence and passionate disinterest at the core of the subject. The room was far from electric when talking about the provincial premier.

The two sides can be summed up as follows: Dalton McGuinty, evil Machiavellian political operator masking as country bumpkin or just plain country bumpkin? Andy Taylor of Mayberry or Barney Fife? Andy Taylor of Duran Duran or Simon LeBon?

Frankly, I don’t buy the Machiavelli angle. There’s no convincing proof. Stephen Harper is nothing but Machiavellian with a little sliver of ideology to give him direction. Dalton McGuinty possesses neither. He doesn’t machinate nor does he even so much as dabble in the cold, cold waters of doctrinairism. Dalton McGuinty simply is.

It is my contention that Dalton McGuinty is the luckiest politician going. He took over his late father’s seat at Queen’s Park in 1990. He took over a dispirited provincial Liberal party who’d just been caught flat-footed by the Common Sense Revolution. He was fourth on both the 1st and 2nd ballots of the 1996 leadership convention before finally lurching to victory in the 5th and final ballot, ultimately backed by the Red Tory contingent of the party. He was summarily defeated in his first provincial election as Liberal leader by a far from popular Progressive Conservative government but retained the leadership reins with little struggle. He became premier next time out with the collapse of the Harris-Eves government under the weight of its own malicious incompetence.

As the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty has successfully governed by being perceived as a better fiscal manager than the NDP and a more humane overseer of social services than the PCs. It is a baffling perception. The province has a record deficit. (Yeah, yeah. They’re dealing with a nasty recession. Where was that slack cut with Bob Rae back in the early 90s? Or the present city budget?) In terms of social spending and provincial downloading of services onto municipalities, well, the Liberals have hardly restored matters to anything close to pre-Harris Tory levels.

One of the most telling shortcomings of the McGuinty government is in terms of education funding. With the devastation of the provinces manufacturing sector, all the talk is about the new, high tech information age. For that to happen, we need heavy investment in education at all levels. Yet, Ontario remains last in higher education spending per capita of all the country’s provinces. Yes, that was a trend started under the Tories in the 90s but more than a decade later we are still last.

Excuses only go so far. For McGuinty, first it was that the preceding government had left a bigger deficit than expected. Now it’s the economic downturn. He’s trying his best but let’s be reasonable, people.

It is my hypothesis here that the success of Dalton McGuinty is due to the fact that he governs as a moth flies. His is an unpredictable, random approach that is near impossible to pin down. He zigs when you think he should zag. And like the moth, McGuinty has no control over it. It’s like punching water or putting the squeeze on jello.

Hey, don’t worry Toronto voters. If I’m elected premier I will upload all those services that mean nasty Mike Harris burdened you with. Eventually. Maybe. Transit City? You bet. Or maybe not. Times are tough all over. The cupboard’s bare.

You can never tell when the man will stand firm or fold up like a card table made of a deck of cards. He’s remained staunch in the growing outrage over the harmonized sales tax that’s coming down on us in July, possibly risking what should be an easy re-election. But with a minor peep of protest from a small contingent, he quickly backed off the proposed sex education grade school curriculum.

There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. It’s a governing style impossible to engage with rationally. At least with the stridently ideological bent of Mike Harris, you knew what to expect and (usually) prepare for the worst. With Dalton? He’ll stab you in the back without apparently even knowing he’s doing it. Apparently, it’s a method conducive to political longevity but impossibly difficult to work with or count on.

musingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat