Straddlin’ The Chasm of Centre

March 2, 2011

Of the 14 new council faces that showed up at City Hall last fall, I think it’s safe to say that Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow has proven so far to be the breakout star. Oh, I’m sorry. Of the non-councillor/co-mayor new councillors I should’ve said, Josh Matlow has proven so far to be the breakout star.

He is already a presence at council meetings, speaking often and, if not eloquently at least pleasingly, seldom referring to notes or talking points. He’s civilly sparred with council speaker (and mayor protector) Frances Nunziata and more than ably stood his ground during budget debate last week when Councillor Ford took to his haunches to blast away spurious accusations at the city’s Ombudsman’s office who Matlow had the temerity of putting forth a motion to give more funding for. Of course, Councillor Matlow was probably already not in the good graces of the mayor’s company, having publicly told the story of his first meeting with the mayor’s team who had clearly mistaken him for the other new Josh on council.

As one of the 4 newbies (that will be the last time I use that descriptor) on council who are thought of as swing votes, moderates you might say, Matlow gives every appearance of being less Ford friendly, let’s call it. Yet based purely on their respective voting records so far, there is nothing to warrant such distinction. There hasn’t been that much daylight between the votes Matlow’s cast and those of Ana Bailão, Josh Colle or Mary-Margaret McMahon. Could it be Councillor Matlow’s talking out of the left side of his mouth but voting from the right?

Councillor Matlow voted in favour of getting rid of the Vehicle Registration Tax. He voted to ask the province to make the TTC an essential service. On the operating budget, he varied little on the big ticket items with mayor. I mean, he was part of the gang who ensured the closing of the Urban Affairs library. He’s been front and centre with the mayor’s team expressing his outrage at the goings-on with the TCHC and demanding heads roll.

Is that the definition of a centrist at City Hall in the Mayor Ford era?

Yet he seems genuinely concerned about revenue sources for the city and his background doesn’t scream reactionary. Maybe it’s something about politicians from his neck of the woods. His predecessor, Michael Walker, was also what one might refer to as an ideological conundrum, regularly annoying those on both sides of the political spectrum. Nobody puts Ward 22 in a corner!

The problem with being all maverick-y like that is it can often leave you on the outside looking in, as Michael Walker might attest to. Both camps see you as little more than a gadfly, popping in and out with your support and not to be counted on when the chips are down. Unless you’re able to forge an actual middle ground consensus that can win votes, you wind up being little more than ward-centric councillor that puts the interests of his constituents above all else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As it is currently structured, our municipal government doesn’t promote city wide thinking from its councillors. There are those, however, who can forge a wider identity. Our current mayor certainly did as did Mayor Miller before him. Sitting councillor Adam Vaughan is one. So is Shelley Carroll.

While it’s very early, I see those same skills in Councillor Josh Matlow and am willing to overlook his tendency to cater to the right wing, anti-government blood lust that is in the air currently. It is the way the wind is blowing. But he does have to start putting some of his more progressive ideals into action soon lest he start seeming like a crass opportunist, distancing himself in style from the mayor but actually enabling His Worship’s worst, most destructive instincts. After awhile, that’s the kind of stink that won’t easily come off.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Day Democracy Died Just A Little

July 8, 2010

Maybe it’s the heat that’s making me so ornery. Or maybe I’m no more ornery than usual but with all the sweaty and stickiness, I just feel ornerier. Or maybe, just maybe, quite possibly, it’s the ease with which all levels of politicians have been sniffing at and dismissing the basic tenets of a democratic society that has me so hot under the collar. No amount of A/C or electric fanning is bringing me relief.

Watching the debate at City Hall yesterday was disconcerting enough. Councillor Mark Grimes put forth a motion that would see council issue a big ol’ thank you to all the city workers, police and police chief who worked so diligently before, during and after the G20 summit. What it really amounted to, however, was nothing more than a purely partisan maneuver, designed to flush out all those police-hating, anarchist-loving lefties who, according to conventional wisdom, occupy a majority of the seats on council.

That a right wing politician would politicize this issue is entirely unsurprising. When you’re riding a wave of a bankrupt and discredited ideology, what else have you got outside of simply trying to make your opponents look as unprincipled as you are? Perhaps it should be equally predictable that if there were progressives and left wingers present in council chambers yesterday, none stood up to defend themselves or their beliefs. Because, let’s face it, true dyed-in-the-wool, small ‘l’ liberals have been ducking for cover for 30 years now, trying to put their best pro-free market, pro-authority faces on lest their patriotism or sanity be questioned. You’re either with us or you’re against us, remember?

So it was left to two retiring councillors, Michael Walker and Brian Ashton, neither of whom one would call progressive lions, to stand up and make very qualified peeps in defense of civil liberties, freedom of speech and due process. Both, of course, ended up voting in favour of the motion to thank everyone for a job well done. As did the mayor but not until after he take another opportunity to reveal his inner reactionary. Telling of how for the first time in his political career he needed a police escort to leave City Hall on Black (Bloc) Saturday, he essentially condoned the sentiment that if a politician is scared, civil rights are easily jettisoned. With that stated, the motion was passed unanimously. No dissent. Zero.

That, my friends, was simply a precursor to the real show of authoritarianism and autocratic thinking. According to the Toronto Star, Premier Dalton McGuinty actually said this in the face of some of his caucus concerned about their government’s involvement in the whole G20 mess: “Just remember, the same guy who gave us the Charter also gave us the War Measures Act.” I’m sorry. What did you just say? Are you equating the June 25-27 G20 protests in the streets of Toronto to the FLQ crisis? Really?!

Nevermind the mind-boggling lack of proportionality in that statement – the only kidnapping and murder committed at the G20 was of that very same Charter McGuinty mentioned and at the hands of politicians of every stripe – his comprehension of history goes beyond staggering. The War Measures Act was controversial and it cleaved a major rift in progressive circles which Trudeau never fully healed even after shepherding in the Charter some 12 years later. So raising its specter doesn’t really alleviate concerns about the role in revoking the rule of law the Premier played. Moreover, you’ve delivered us your War Measures Act, Dalton, show us your Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

More sinister still, however, during the same closed door session the Premier apparently uttered out loud this beauty: “Don’t forget about the silent majority.”

Huh.

In all likelihood, McGuinty was merely alluding to polls that show a majority of people asked had no problem with how the police dealt with the situation at the G20 but was he oblivious to where that term originated or did he actually intend to align himself with the doings of former U.S. president Richard Nixon? This was a politician who used his perceived support among a majority of upright Americans (as opposed to the dirty hippies) to justify a secretive bombing campaign of a non-combatant country, the mowing down of 4 unarmed war protestors at Kent State and an increasingly elaborate and paranoid, not to mention entirely illegal, wiretapping operation to ferret out his enemies. This is how our premier wants to rationalize his actions?

It should be painfully obvious at this point that those who believe in the fundamentals of our Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and all that underlying crap of living in a true democracy, have been abandoned en masse by their politicians. The choice between liberty and security has been made for us whether we like it or not. We no longer have elected representatives. They have become caretakers at best, overseers in times of distress and dissent.

It would be heart-stoppingly chilling if it wasn’t so fucking hot outside.

hot and botheredly submitted by Cityslikr


Enemies List

May 25, 2010

The topic’s probably been explored to death in our absence (even by our own Distant Cousin) but I just can’t let it go unremarked upon.

The deep-sixing of a trial run of bike lanes on University Avenue earlier this month.

A note to the 15 councillors who carried the amendment and spiked the project: I will overlook the fact that your opposition to the plan seems to be directly proportional to your actual physical distance from it. (Let’s call it the Etobicoke-Scarborough Alliance). Your argument probably goes that you and your constituents are the ones who are actually using those two lanes that would be lost to bikes to drive your car to work downtown.

But here’s what I don’t understand. If you were actually convinced that these bike lanes were such a bad idea, that congestion and chaos would rule with the loss of roadway to cars, why wouldn’t you vote for this? It was only on a trial basis for 3 months. Arguably the 3 months with the lightest amount of business traffic going back and forth, what with summer vacations and such. If you were indeed correct and the whole Avenue Road-University Ave. corridor ground to a screeching halt and the bike lanes remained virtually cyclist free, imagine the ammunition you would have had at your disposal. Not only to kill this proposal dead but any more misguided attempts to impose bike lanes on major arterial roads in the city. Remember the University Ave. Bike Lanes!

By successfully stopping this plan before it even started, well, let’s just say your motives are suspect. It could be argued now that you are nothing more than a pack of fat-assed, myopic inner suburban dwellers, fighting a rear-guard battle against any sort of change in order to maintain a dysfunctional status quo. Simple-minded car huggers representing the worst of cowering reactionary impulses.

Yet the disdain and disgust I feel toward you is miniscule compared to that which I harbour against the 14 councillors, 2 would-be mayors and 1 sitting mayor who felt their presence at the vote was unnecessary. Aren’t you elected to office to attend to city business? So what other pressing engagements do you have to attend to that supersede being in council chambers to vote?

I’m sure the Mayor of Torino would’ve understood, Mayor Miller, that you had to be late for your date because of a council vote. Councillor Ford couldn’t be there because he was taking calls from his constituents? Hmmm. Imagine how many votes councillors are going to miss once there’s only 22 of them. And Councillor Michael Walker whose St. Paul’s ward contains a stretch of Avenue Road, the north of Bloor Street extension of University Ave. that would see a lot of backed up traffic if the bike lanes further south caused all the pandemonium opponents claimed they would, aren’t you retiring this year? What did you have to lose by voting – either yes or no – on this issue? Were you afraid of hurting your executive assistant, Chris Sellors’ chances of succeeding you by offending either side of the debate?

Except that it’s this refusal to offer up the courage of your convictions that gives politicians a bad name with the public. I know, I know. This was only a vote on a trial run at installing bike lanes on a major downtown road. A minor issue to many, for sure. But in some ways, it is representative of competing future visions of the city. Lessening our reliance on cars versus a continued catering to their every uncivil whim and demand.

At least we know where those councillors who led the charge and voted against the University Avenue bike lanes stand on the issue. We can combat an established target. It’s the slippery, elusive, greasy ducking of controversy that irks and is ultimately unhelpful in charting a course for the city. Those are the kind of politicians we don’t need and who should be targeted for defeat this fall.

Remember the University Bike Lanes!

belatedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat