With Friends Like These…

April 8, 2011

You know what I love about the NOW magazineDave Meslin contretemps that flared up this week? I get to use the word ‘contretemps’. Both germane and pretentious.

One of the interesting aspects to this back-and-forth is that at its core — the role and approach to civic engagement – it reveals what goes on everyday here in the offices of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke [When this writer deigns to show up at the office – ed.] and, very likely, wherever political debate takes place. That is, how to best deliver your message and make it one that those in positions of power want to help further or simply can’t ignore. It’s hard to believe that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to it.

Yet that’s what it feels like in reading the original NOW piece and, to some extent, Mr. Meslin’s response. The concerted effort NOW has taken to demonize, vilify or, at the very least, demean Dave Meslin for his fraternizing with the enemy seems a little petty. Is he really some sort of traitor for his attempts to open up a dialogue with Mayor Ford and his team, to hope that there is some common ground that can be found on issues like bike lanes and electoral reform? For his part, Meslin initially seems to rise above that sort of pigeon-holing, summoning up the notion of a ‘diversity of tactics’ but 7 paragraphs later suggests that we should move beyond polarization and condemns NOW’s pillorying of the mayor and his supporters. Either he doesn’t really believe in a diversity of tactics or he needs an editor to tighten up his posts. [Who doesn’t? – ed.]

Only under the most extreme circumstances should we expect utter fidelity to a cause. I’m thinking, maybe, the various resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe. [While not explicitly calling anyone a Nazi, interesting to note how quickly writer evoked Godwin’s Law – ed.] Enforced conformity is something rigid ideologues do. It’s what intransigent bodies like police forces utilize to maintain an ominous wall of unaccountability. Us vs. Them marginalizes independent thought and squashes innovation and creativity.

While nominally operating under some sort of nebulous Left Wing banner, NOW and Meslin are simply going about trying to achieve similar ends in different ways. The weekly seeks to de-legitimize the mayor, to reduce his powers of persuasion in both the public sphere and at City Hall in order to put the brakes on what they see as a path of destruction he’s determined to travel down. Meslin seems more interested in wanting to help the mayor broaden his scope of what it means to have a well run city. Ultimately, both are just working to make the place where they live better.

And as much as he may dislike NOW’s disparagement of him and think it counter-productive, Mr. Meslin instead should view it as aiding his cause. With his conciliatory, hands across the aisle attitude, he gets to show Mayor Ford that not everyone who isn’t in complete agreement with him is some sort of left wing, pinko kook. NOW’s attack on him for his openness toward the mayor emphasizes that. Those people over at NOW are crazy! This Meslin guy seems reasonable. Let’s listen to what he has to say.

Firebrands are the heavy artillery that soften up the opposition’s defenses. Rather than look at NOW’s salvos as incoming strafing, maybe Mr. Meslin should see it more as friendly fire or cover. Giving him an opportunity to advance his position behind ‘enemy’ lines.

While I’d love to share his optimism about this administration’s willingness to listen to opposing views, I’ve seen little in the way of evidence to offer up hope of that. [As a matter of fact, Dave, not all answers to issues do lie in the middle. ‘Mutually respectful dialogue’ has to be a two-way street – ed.] But what do I know? Perhaps he’s gleaned a better insider’s view that cooperation is not beyond the realm of possibility. So why condemn him for trying to reach out? Being a hopeful and positive agent for change is Dave’s… if he’ll excuse the familiarity since my busy body editor seems to be on a first name basis… strength. Have at it, I say.

But since the mayor declared yesterday that he’s going to talk about what he wants to talk about, I hope Dave Meslin won’t hold it against anyone who thinks more forceful measures may be necessary in an attempt to redirect Mayor Ford’s energies in a more positive direction. Like many a battle, fighting the good fight may best be fought in multiple manners and on numerous flanks. [Gee willikers, Urban Sophsiticat. Nice of you to let us play along – ed.] [Don’t you have your own post you can vent on? Stop sticking your nose in mine – US] [Appeaser – ed.] [Hothead – US] [Ingratiating toady – ed.] [Mindless ideologue – US] [Unprincipled apostate – ed.] [Shut up – US] [No, you shut up – ed.] [No, you shut up – US] [No, you – ed.] [No, you – US] [Shut up, shut up, shut up – ed.] [You shu—US] [Nope. I get the last word because I’m the ed.]

submitted by Urban Sophisticat/ed. by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part III

March 5, 2010

Another Friday and another Meet A Mayoral Candidate post.

This week: MageeForMayor!

His name is Colin Magee and he is located in Toronto. According to his bio: The great only appear great because we are on our knees let us rise!

… after that, we got nothing.

It seems that what we’re dealing with here is a political campaign driven exclusively by Twitter. We could find no website, no other contact info. We can’t even be sure if there’s an actual person involved or simply a Twitter account. (Although.. although we’re intrigued by such a notion. No candidate. Just an account. The platform is formulated, added to and modified by a web of users. 21st-century participatory democracy at work, folks!)

To be fair, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are nothing short of raging incompetents in the field of social networking technology. All pertinent information may possibly be out there, easily accessed with a simple thumb click on a link that we remain oblivious to. So don’t write MageeForMayor off on our account. Maybe someone reading this can uncover more details and let us know.

What we did discover as we lurched clumsily through the MageeForMayor Twitterworld is that MageeForMayor likes listening to Social Distortion and The Clash with a beer on a spring day. (Has that going for him.) He tweets in rhyme. (Less impressive.) He announced his candidacy for mayor on January 7th and met with his campaign team in mid-January and again in early February. It seems that MageeForMayor was upset about the Adam Giambrone debacle. Since mid-February there’s been silence. Again, very possibly owing to our ineptitude rather than a lackadaisical approach by MageeForMayor.

It wasn’t all a total bust, our time a-Twittering. While there, we stumbled across a vibrant cyber politico-scape©™®. Groups using the internet to communicate and to arrange non-virtual gatherings of like-minded, tech savvy folks who are passionately committed to the well being of this city.

We were already aware of activists like Dave Meslin who use the internet to promote various causes including reform for fairer proportional representation in our elections with projects like Better Ballots. Through links at MageeForMayor we came across #voteTO, an online based organization that, in its own words “is a grand experiment in attempting to endow a virtual body with real-world political presence.” These are engaged (largely younger) citizens not ideologically driven, looking to contribute toward the betterment of the city where they live, work and play.

This is a deep, untapped, online well that offers a new and important method of public discourse and exchange. Serious candidates seeking political office in Toronto cannot simply ignore it especially those who have not been anointed and pre-ordained by the mainstream press as frontrunners or viable contenders. We too, following the proceedings from the sidelines, are missing out on an underground(swell) of support for new ideas and visions that will be heard in the not-too-distant future.

And think a Twitter political campaign demeans and diminishes the process, old man? Our leading contenders for mayor are already abiding by the 140 character rule. Cut! Cut!! Cut!!! Sell!!!! Sell!!!!! Sell!!!!!! Kick Union Ass!!!!!!!

Nailed it with 71 characters to spare!

This week we’ll answer our own pathetic question we’ve been posing to mayoral candidates. If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Colin Magee like to see his legacy written?

Wait for it.. wait for it…

Mayor Colin Magee made everyday feel like a warm spring day, listening to Social Distortion and The Clash with a beer in hand for every Torontonian.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


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