Our Provincial Endorsement

October 5, 2011

With the importance provincial governments play in municipal life, I’m somewhat bewildered by my lack of engagement with the 2011 election. I should be on top of this, combing through party platforms, tracking down candidate debates or otherwise just staying on top of things. But no. I dithered. I procrastinated. I couldn’t beat back this feeling of caring less.

In trying to avoid the burden of responsibility, I lay the blame squarely on the respective campaigns’ shoulders. It all seemed to be about what we don’t need. We don’t need another 4 years of Dalton McGuinty. We don’t need another neo-conservative at the levers of power, desperately trying to steer the ship of state away from the future. No time for change. Exactly the time for change.

Well, if that’s the case, do I really need to be paying attention?

Snap out of it. Of course you do. Must muster interest. Do your duty as a citizen. Engage! Engage!

So I sat through Rogers’ Trinity-Spadina candidates’ debate minus the incumbent MPP. I went through campaign literature. I scoured party websites. And here’s what I came up with.

Surprise! I won’t be voting Conservative. The last thing we need is another anti-urban leader ignoring the interests of municipalities. Ignoring would be generous to Tim Hudak. It’s more like looking at cities as dumping grounds for the disastrous results of their backward policies. Remember Mike Harris?

As for the government of Dalton McGuinty? Ambivalence is mostly what wells up within me. For every strong initiative it’s made in areas like education or the environment, there’s been two steps back in the face of strong, largely misguided opposition. You don’t like wind turbines in toss-up ridings? They’re gone. Catholic school boards got problems with progressive approaches to sex education in the classrooms? Ignore it and carry on with your discriminatory, pre-Second Vatican Council ways.

Oh yeah. And let’s not forget the trampling of our civil rights, police state approving fiasco that was the G20.

The Liberal Government’s dealing with cities has been wishy-washy. Yes, it’s redone a lot of the damage inflicted by the Harris gang. Uploading many of the services dropped into our laps in the late-90s. They passed the City of Toronto Act which gave more powers and flexibility to the city to deal with its particular issues. There’s been the more than half-hearted Big Move and nod to the importance of public transit in the GTA. We got some of the gas tax. Promises have been made since 2003 of restarting provincial contribution to the annual operating budget of the TTC. Transit City was a signature piece of the transit puzzle here in Toronto. Until it wasn’t.

One might hope that, if given a 3rd majority, McGuinty would become more resolute and less afraid of his own shadow. He has stood firm in the formidable face of opposition to the HST. If Ford Nation fails to dislodge him, the premier might start standing up to the more ridiculous whims of our mayor. Moreover, Premier McGuinty might gracefully approach retirement and the Liberal party could entertain the notion of reclaiming its more liberal leanings.

But what about the Liberal candidate in our riding? One Sarah Thomson. We got a healthy dose of her when she ran for mayor of the city last year before she ran out of gas late in the proceedings. Underwhelming initially, she never really caught fire but she did evolve over the course of the race, the first of the candidates to begin backing away from the city’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket narrative and did seem to be listening to the actual problems we were facing. She adapted an extensive bike lane plan and was the first one to float the idea of road tolls, getting laughed out of the place by her opponents.

Yet, she still has a tendency to talk in sound bites. There’s the air of the high school valedictorian about her. I get the feeling she’s running here because there was no riding closer to home. She may be an ideal McGuinty Liberal which I hold against her. On the other hand, she’s not Rocco Rossi.

Normally, I don’t have to go through such a process of elimination about where I’ll be placing my X on the ballot. Trinity-Spadina is an NDP stronghold. I tend to lean that way most of the time. It should be a no-brainer.

However, maybe it’s the fallout of the lacklustre campaign but I’m just not feeling Andrea Horwath’s vibe. Rather than pick up where the federal NDP left off and run unabashedly with a left of centre platform, I’m feeling nickel and dimed by all the talk of capping gas prices, removing the HST from home heating fuels. On the other hand, they have promised to restart contributing to the TTC operating budget and other transit initiatives. But that feels almost ad hoc, not part of a bigger plan for cities.

Where’s the tapping into the Occupy Wall Street movement? It’s a shitstorm out there, people! Governments should not be retreating in the face scary economic news. We need to be talking Keynesian not deficit reduction. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

And then there’s our incumbent, Rosario Marchese. He may be a very nice man and a crackerjack constituent MPP. But how would I know? I never hear much from or about him until election time. Maybe it’s living in the shadow of MP Olivia Chow who keeps me apprised of everything she’s doing.  (What’s that you say, Olivia? A private member’s bill calling for a national transit strategy?) Marchese pales in comparion. But when he missed most of the Rogers’ candidates’ debate, it just struck me that he’s merely doing time.

Leaving me with the Green Party. Now, truth be told, I’ve never really known what to make of the Green Party. I get the environmental thrust but there’s also been the fiscal conservatism they’ve often touted. Some of the pledges in their platform come with the ‘when the budget’s balanced’ caveat. I’m sorry but with all the grim predictions making the rounds out there about an almost certain double-dip recession, budget balancing should be the last thing we’re talking about now.

That said, the Green Party candidate in Trinity-Spadina, Tim Grant, has caught my fancy. A former teacher who has been involved in the environmental movement since the days when most of us were asking, what’s that? He was a member of the Harbord Village Residents Association. His platform stresses biking and walking as much as public transit. Mr. Grant advocates a Junk Food Tax and a carbon tax. During both the Rogers’ candidates debate and on The Agenda’s Confronting Poverty, he came across as not only knowledgeable but collegial with his opponents.

On top of all that, he’s pictured riding a bicycle on his campaign signs!

I realize that in voting for Tim Grant, I’m doing little more than lodging a protest. There’s no hope in hell he’ll be elected. But I’m alright with that. Let it be known that I’m protesting the Liberal government and it’s too tentative embrace of a green economy in general and a strong, unapologetic public transit strategy. I’m sending out a protest to the provincial NDP. Don’t take my vote for granted. Out with the deadwood and in with new blood.

For all those reasons, tomorrow I will be voting for Tim Grant in the riding of Trinity-Spadina and The Green Party of Ontario.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr

It Takes Two To Tango Badly.

August 19, 2011

Just a further thought on Wednesday’s meeting of minds between Mayor Rob Ford and Premier Dalton McGuinty.

While it is so very, very easy to jump all over the mayor for his scattershot approach so far in his dealings with the province — we don’t need any money, we have a spending problem, the new Sheppard subway will be privately funded (and for more on the absurdity, nay, incompetence of it all, take a look at this at Ford For Toronto) — let’s not let the premier off this hook on this. A good chunk of our woes currently are due to his push me pull me attitude toward the province’s financial obligations to our public transit.

Since 2003, he’s been promising to resume funding of 50% of the TTC’s operating costs as had been the case pre-Mike Harris. Eight years later, we’re still waiting for that to happen.

Early in 2010, the McGuinty government reneged on about $4 billion for Transit City, citing the economic meltdown that had put stress on the coffers at Queen’s Park. This destabilized a plan to put much needed transit to areas in the city severely under-served. It also paved the way for an all out attack on Transit City by a number of the leading contenders for the mayor’s office during last year’s municipal election campaign. None better than the eventual winner who immediately declared Transit City dead upon being elected.

In the face of the new mayor’s swagger, Premier McGuinty further helped undermine transit in this city by agreeing to reallocate funding for other LRT lines to bury more of the Eglinton Street plan and make possible Mayor Ford’s dream/nightmare pronouncement of a Sheppard subway extension entirely funded by the private sector. Impossible, most knowledgeable transit minds suggested and even worse, serving far fewer people and communities than the plan the mayor was singlehandedly trying to murder. With this week’s awkward ask for some $650 million in seed money to get the project rolling (and, quite possibly, to keep the feds on board), Mayor Ford proved his critics right.

Further assisting in aggravating the system, the premier quickly pushed through the essential service bill that the mayor and council wanted passed which, if history is anything to go by, ensures higher labour costs down the road for the TTC, meaning a higher operating budget. But hey. What’s the premier care? It’s not Queen’s Park money that’ll be going toward it.

Now, I understand that it’s a campaign year here in Ontario and Premier McGuinty is seeking a third term. He has to perform a delicate dance to try and avoid enraging Ford Nation while at the same time not pissing off the rest of Ontario who erroneously see any money given to Toronto as their money being flushed down the drain. Still, it seems odd that if the premier is going to try and frame at least some of his election run on an environmental platform that he’s doing his darndest to undercut public transit in this city.

Of course, principled stands are frequently set aside for political expediency by our premier. That’s not unique to him, of course. And maybe if he is able to beat back the tide of Ford Nation come October (or if the mayor and/or Tim Hudak succeed in doing that for him), an entirely different dynamic between the two men will emerge. Premier McGuinty will be the one holding the upper hand in their relationship and can stop cowering in fear of Mayor Ford.

That’s the thing though. As premier of Ontario, McGuinty already has the upper hand. He is our undisputed overlord and can do anything he so desires with the city, any city in the province. If he’d stood up from the outset to the mayor’s poorly thought out plan, Transportation City, and pointed out the folly both strategically and financially to such drastic reworking of something that had support at all 3 levels of government, even if he’d just made the case that the mayor had to take his plan to the new council before these changes could be considered, and the election hadn’t given the mayor carte blanche to push his wacky scheme foward, he might’ve been able to score points with all sides. He wasn’t saying no to Ford Nation. He was just saying that democracy isn’t only about winning elections. It’s about process. And he’d also show to those living outside the 416 area code that he wasn’t giving in to a pushy Toronto.

By immediately rolling over and granting the mayor his ludicrous wishes, Premier McGuinty showed himself more interested in his own political future than Toronto’s. How exactly did he hope to win our support that way? It should be a question we ask every Liberal candidate who comes knocking at our doors after Labour Day.

jazzily submitted by Cityslikr

Return To Civilization. Such As It Is.

August 3, 2011

I am the first to re-emerge from the woods.

It was an eventful few days, full of surprises, undercooked food and questionably cooked alcohol. The blindness, mercifully, turned out to be only temporary. The holes in the mind, I fear, may be longer to diagnose and repair.

Arriving at the homestead/hunting cabin/inherited family real estate/squatting place, Cityslikr and I were surprised by the presence of our long lost colleague Acaphlegmic who, judging by the lived in look and smell of the place, had been camped out there for some time. As regular readers of this site know, Acaphlegmic self embedded into Ford Nation just after election night last October to try and understand the heart of the beast we had just installed as our next mayor. To what end was never quite clear as his irregular posts (here and here) bordered on the, if not delusional, let’s call it fantastical. Instructional would not be an adjective I’d attach to his correspondence.

But there he was, in all his feral splendor, awaiting our appearance. How long he’d been there, he wouldn’t say. Why he was there, also left unanswered. He was sphinx-like with any information, saying that what he saw, what he learned, all the knowledge he’d gleaned from his time in Ford Nation was not going to be handed over to some nowhere blog without adequate recompense. There was a book to be written and he was just the person to write it. Any evidence suggesting that’s what he’d been doing out in the wilderness was scant.

What was evident was Acaphlegmic had been rolling around contentedly in his own approbation along with, as our noses hinted at, many fish carcasses that had washed ashore. The reason for such sentiment was pasted to the inside of the cabin. Copy after copy of his mayoral endorsement last year covered every inch of the walls. Standing in the centre of the room, it wasn’t as spooky as, say, Shelley Duvall discovering pages and pages of her husband typing out All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. We were miles away from anything resembling civilization and it was an awfully deep lake we had just crossed. It would take months to discover our bodies.

Fortunately, Acaphlegmic wasn’t in a killing kind of mood. Mostly. It was all about the crowing, the chest beating, the I-Told-You-Sos. “I was right, wasn’t I, chaps. Bulls-eye. Correctamundo. Fucking dead on.” Agreeing with him, even heartily, didn’t seem to lessen his demands that we agree with him.

Admittedly, given the last few months, it’s difficult not to concede he’d been accurate in his assessment of how a Mayor Ford scenario would play out. Who amongst us didn’t see that train wreck coming? Who amongst us, that is, who didn’t vote for the man. It’s all been as grisly, divisive and dispiriting as we feared it would be if such a thing came to pass. The difference is, very few of us were reveling in the situation to any degree. Certainly not to the degree Acaphlegmic appeared to be.

“It is as how I prophesized!” Acaphlegmic bellowed at us intermittently throughout the weekend. Not meaning to draw any comparisons between either Cityslikr or myself to Jesus but it did feel a little like we were in the presence of crazy John the Baptist. “Our time is soon at hand.” Yes, he did actually say that. On more than one occasion.

I will distill Acaphlegmic because I don’t think, at this point, you could handle pure Acaphlegmic.

What we are witnessing now in Toronto is the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarianism end game of the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarians. From Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush to the Tea Party to Stephen Harper to Tim Hudak to Rob Ford with some willing and conciliatory liberals (both small and big ‘L’) thrown in for good measure. The slashing and burning, vilifying and demonizing has all trickled down to where the rubber meets the road, municipalities. This is where we all discover exactly what they mean by ‘small government’, ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘respect for the taxpayer’.

It all sounds so reasonable and mainstream when it’s stated hypothetically. Who doesn’t want to find efficiencies? I’m a taxpayer. Hells yeah, I want respect. A leaner, meaner, smaller government? You betcha. Go right ahead. Cut our libraries. Reduce public transit. Gut environment—

No, wait. What?

At the municipal level, we’re getting all close up and personal with what these people mean when they talk about small government. It’s really all about less government. Reduce. Eliminate. Obliterate. Fewer helping hands. Less shared sacrifice. Watching the men of KPMG present their Core Services Review over the last couple weeks, the realization sunk in that it’s only about throwing citizens to the wolves of privatization and free marketeers. No guarantees we’d be paying less or services improved. And absolutely no word on any negative social impacts of guts and cuts. Not in our purview.

Trickle down neoliberalism, offloading and downloading costs and responsibilities from the feds to the provinces to the municipalities. Now with a mayor and his administration in place as willing waterboys, poised to do the dirty work, Toronto is realizing the implications and consequences of such radical ideology where everything is on the table. Everything, that is, that makes a city livable, desirable and place which encourages its citizens to reach their fullest potential. There’s no more hiding from that fact.

Acaphlegmic called it back in October. We wrote it off as the rantings of a crank and alarmist. It’s hard not to admit he may’ve been barking up the right tree.

contritely submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Swimming With Sharks

July 22, 2011

“Swimming is only a life-saving skill if you go near the water.” – KPMG guy.

(h/t John McGrath)

Where do you go to learn how to say such things while keeping a straight face? It’s a statement I wish I’dve come up with, figuring out how to saturate it with loathing for the kind of people who had the balls to utter that kind of drivel out loud. There must be a special class you take while earning your MBA.

A week into the pretend, inverse show trial that is the KPMG Core Services Review report to standing committees, we already know the company wasn’t hired to find efficiencies at City Hall. It’s all about cuts and only cuts. No examination of the social implications of the suggested cuts. Not our purview. Here’s what you can cut and here’s the savings you could achieve enacting said cuts. That is all. We accept credit cards, cash and cashier cheques as forms of payment for our services.

The thing is, why spend the money for any of that information? If it was all about what services we could cut and the money saved doing it, almost anyone with relatively strong literacy and numeracy skills could’ve delivered a similar document, locked away for a weekend at the low, low cost of an internet provider, 2, maybe 3 cases of beer and a freezer full of pizza pockets. Of course, we could get out of the day care business, privatize libraries and TTC routes, sell off or outsource everything not nailed down. The questions we need answered is, should we? And what would the fallout be in doing so?

Our reaction to the KPMG should be nothing more than, well d’uh.

More to the point, why does anyone listen to anything that comes with a KPMG seal of approval? They were the organization that told us amalgamation would save the city money, weren’t they? Didn’t they also assure the world that Iceland’s economy was hunky dory just before it Thelma and Louised over the cliff?

Google ‘KPMG scandal’ and behold the laundry list of questionable practices it has found itself involved in not the least of which is the Bernie Madoff scandal. Tax shelter fraud. Bribery.

While KPMG has avoided the fate of fellow auditing giant Arthur Anderson, it has primarily done so through quick settlements that prevent its numerous cases of fraud from ever reaching court. Though most of the focus of the financial crisis of 2008 has been placed upon the nation’s big financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Citibank, more evidence is arising over the role of auditing firms throughout the subprime loan disaster. KPMG was the first “big-four” firm to be hit with a lawsuit, accused in 2009 of “grossly negligent audits” of home loan provider New Century Financial Corp.

I mean, wow. Why would we be basing the future wellbeing of this city on the advice given to us from an organization with that kind of sketchy history? Never mind that they already steered us wrong once by giving cover to the pro-amalgamation forces led by Mike Harris with their questionable analysis of the cost benefits to the move.

Are there no adverse consequences to being wrong in their line of work? It seems that not only should we take KPMG’s report on our core services with a grain of salt, we should assume the opposite of what they’re telling us to be true. How many times do we have to suffer from the results of bad advice before finally saying, you know what? Maybe I’ll ask someone else.

Of course, bad advice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Looking at the KPMG bigger picture, an argument could be made that their job is to deliver the news those paying for their services want to hear. We think amalgamating Toronto is good idea. Would you agree with that? We don’t want anyone to think our banking system is about to collapse. Would you tell them that’s true?

I am sick and tired of my hard earned tax dollars going to give those who can’t afford it swimming lessons. Could you make that happen? Thus, “Swimming is only a life-saving skill if you go near the water.” “Prevention of contacting a communicable disease is only a life-saving skill if you’re having sex with the wrong kind of people.” “Reading is only a life skill if you go to a library.” “3-1-1 is only life saving if you mistakenly dial 9-1-1.”

We got a million of them, folks.

The only thing we should take from the KPMG Core Services Review report is the fact that it reveals the Ford Administration’s real intent. It was never about finding efficiencies or gravy. It was never about respect for the taxpayers. It always has been about cutting the government down to proper, libertarian size. Hacking, slashing, burning.

They just needed to give their dark impulse a shiny sheen of researched respectability. We have just the people for the job! I know why the likes of Mayor Ford believe that. But why does anyone else?

swimmingly submitted by Cityslikr

The Golfing Age

July 7, 2011

So at our bi-monthly Golf Haters gathering last night, the conversation turned, unsurprisingly, to how much we all hate the game of golf. A few developed their animosity from a distance, never able to understand the appeal of the sport. Invariably, they’ll wind up mangling the quote attributed to Mark Twain, ‘a good walk spoiled.’

Another faction of the group were once in love with the past time but the affair soured, owing to either nagging shoulder or back injuries, liver breakdown, marital discord or the simple realization that they sucked and could no longer deal with the mental anguish it caused. More likely, there’s a co-mingling of those various factors. Whatever the reasons, these were lovers scorned and harboured a deep, deep hatred of golf.

Then there’s Tad Cromartey (or Thaddeus Reginald Stafford Cromartey V – actually he’s just the Fourth but prefers the feel of the Fifth). Tad was born to the game. In fact, he boasts of a driver and 3-wood as part of his family crest. Golf was the only game he ever played and he had played it ferociously in his day, even landing a scholarship to some school stateside way back when despite having absolutely no need of it. So ingrained was it that he had taken to wearing knickerbocker pants while playing as a sign of his fidelity to the tradition.

Now, not so much. When asked why, his answer’s straight forward and bold in its unflagging arrogance.

“The wrong element has taken to it.”

“The ‘wrong element’?” someone will ask, never tiring of the response it evokes.

“The Yahoos. The Yobs and Yobbos.”

“The Great Unwashed,” someone will chime in. “Those who can’t pull off the knickerbocker look.”

“All I’m saying,” Tad jumps to his own defense, “is that if you can’t make it through 9 holes just drinking from a flask, you don’t belong on the links.”

You see, for the Tads of the world, golfing in Ontario began its desultory decline after Mike Harris legalized drinking on the courses not long after taking over the Premier’s office. Up until then, the manicured greens were the sole domain of the Flask Drinking Set, golfers who liked the occasional nip after a drive gone wrong or putt improbably sunk. They were golfers who drank rather than drinkers who golfed. Tad initially took great pleasure from nailing a lout or two with an errant ball but the novelty wore off after a few years and his golfing days were numbered.

As an avowed Golf Hater myself, I too saw dark dealings in the Harris move to make outdoor bars of our golf courses. But my wariness, naturally, was more political. Amidst all the slashing, burning and downloading of social programs that comprised the early days of the Common Sense Revolution, the seemingly innocuous move to legalize drinking while golfing in this province crystallized what the conservative movement had become and would continue to be throughout the course of the next decade and a half.

Harris was a golfer. Duffer, he was called and he’d worked for a spell managing a golf club before entering politics. While he spearheaded what was to be a major societal upheaval that we’re still feeling the effects of in 2011, he found the time to make a hobby he enjoyed even more enjoyable.

Thus, neo-conservatism in a nutshell: what’s in it for me?

I wouldn’t call it selfishness. It’s more of a hermetically sealed self-centredness. Instilled is the idea that what benefits you will benefit others. The atomization of the political impulse to its simplest, purest form. The individual. Me want this. Me no like that.

That’s the opposite of consensus building. It’s more fomenting mob rule, whipping up emotion based on our two most primal instincts: fear and want. If you find yourself in a constant state of amazement at how successful such a strategy has been, don’t be. It’s fucking easy. We should stop labeling those who operate tactically in such a fashion ‘geniuses’. Real genius is the ability to quell that insidious wave of anger and build one on bigger, more affirmative principles.

But currently we’re living our lives in the Golfing Age whether we play the game or not. Highly individualistic, we wander around on artificially maintained green, green grass in groups of no more than 4, our direction based on the last, single shot. When we land in the rough or plop one in the drink, we’re entirely left to our own devices. We’ll see you at the next tee, guy. And watch out for the ticks while you’re over there.

And it suits us, too. According to a recent issue of Macleans magazine, “Could there be a better indicator that Canada is one of the world’s most prosperous, contented and civilized nations than this? We have the highest golf participation rate in the world.”

It’s difficult to argue with such solid, fact based metrics although my fellow Golf Hater, Tad Cromartey, might disagree with the civilized aspect of the claim. We are doing just fine because we golf. We golf because we can drink while doing it. For that, we have self-serving neo-conservatives to thank.

bogeyedly submitted by Cityslikr

The Day Conservatism Died

April 19, 2011

Does anyone know the exact date when conservatism ceased operations as a productive, positive contributor to society? At what point of time in its supposed illustrious history did it stop offering up ideas and solutions that consisted of more complex notions than could fit perfectly on a placard, bumper sticker or that a two year-old could remember and recite? Was it a sudden jolt like a meteor strike that made the post-Enlightenment air toxic to the more progressives in their movement or did they just gradually rid themselves of reason, rational thought and a belief in the common good?

Was the last true conservative of the Burkian mold in the plane with Buddy Holly that fateful night in February 1959?

We know traditional political conservatism has been under attack in the U.S. since the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. It was put on the endangered list under Richard Nixon and the last species spotted during the Reagan Revolution. Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents’ conservatism went extinct when George W. Bush move into the Oval Office in January 2001.

But here in Canada, conservatism survived a little longer, dying a slower death. Perhaps it was fatally infected with the 1988 Free Trade Deal and our closer integration with the United States. The ‘neo’ in neo-conservatism began to rub off on us. With the rise of western alienation, the Reform Party and Alberta with its U.S. style conservatism as an oil producing, economic force. The progressive in the Progressive Conservative leaked away, lapped up by the Jean Chretien-Paul Martin Liberals, eager to bolster their right flank.

Ontario dipped its toe into the new conservative waters when it embraced Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution in the mid-90s, rejecting and ultimately putting a bullet in the head of the red Toryism that had ruled the land for over 40 years until 1985. After 8 years, the province return to its traditional progressive conservative roots when it elected Liberal Dalton McGuinty. The actual Progressive Conservative now exists in name only.

Unlike their neo-conservative soul mates at the federal level who, with the PC-Canadian Alliance/Reform Party amalgamation, jettisoned any last vestige of progressive thought or policy. Finally, it’s Morning in Canada. Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. Taxes are bad. Science is bad. Peacekeeping is for pussies. In-depth gathering of data in order to more thoroughly define and guide public policy is an invasion of privacy and must be eliminated. An added bonus if you’re planning to build more prisons and get tougher on crime in the face of evidence pointing to dropping rates of criminal behaviour.

Statistics and facts be damned when we’ve got naked ideology to propel us forward back to the 17-century!

It wasn’t too long ago that kind of political thinking would’ve relegated you to the fringes. Yet now the Conservatives are within serious striking distance of securing a majority victory, able to count on a third of the electorate for steadfast support for what can only be described as an antediluvian outlook. Hell, in the so-called liberal hotbed of Toronto, nearly 50% of the voters rallied behind Rob Ford – the poster child for narrow-minded, anti-government, pithy slogans as policy platforms politicians — as their choice for mayor last fall. We are now in the process of witnessing up close and personal just much how respect we taxpayers should expect from neo-conservative politicians.

Which, judging by the craziness going on to the south of us at the hands of the self-proclaimed Tea Party movement, should be next to nil. The thing is, when conservatives abandoned their core principle as stated by Glen Worthington, “…the essence of conservatism lies not in a body of theory, but in the disposition to maintain those institutions seen as central to the beliefs and practices of society”, the day traditional conservatism died, all bets were off. Neo-conservatives bear no responsibility to anyone aside from themselves. What’s good for them as individuals is good for society. End stop. Edmund Burke and the like deposed by Ayn Rand. Ask not what your country can do for you because it’s going to do fuck all. And certainly don’t ask what you can do for your country as, well, that would just be an imposition, an impingement of my individual freedom and liberty.

And those of us not sharing that particularly libertarian worldview have much blame to shoulder for the current conservative-less situation. By accepting any tenets of the faith, from its creeping anti-governmentalism to the bogus trickle-down economic theory, we lent it credibility and gave it traction. We helped make the lunatic acceptable and now find ourselves having to defend against what is essentially an alternate reality where up is down, black is white and tax cuts generate increased revenue for the public purse.

An alternate reality where the likes of Ezra Levant are considered worthy of having a spot on television to discuss politics. Yes, as a matter of fact, he did compare the CBC to a North Korean state run broadcast. With a straight face!

Watching what I could stomach of yesterday’s launch of Sun TV, two words immediately sprung to mind: cable access. Back when honest to god conservatism was still alive and well, that’s where crackpots like Mr. Levant et al would’ve been relegated if they wanted to air their fetid, malignant views out in public. Or a soapbox in the corner of a park.While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly how it is traditional conservatism died, I think we can officially call time of death. It was April 18th 2011, 4:30pm EDT.

sympathetically submitted by Cityslikr

It Couldn’tve Worked Out Any Better

March 24, 2011

If he were alive today, think of what a proud papa Mike Harris would be of the municipal government in Toronto that he sired. Maybe he’s smiling down beatifically from Heaven upon his progeny and all the conservative goodness he helped wrought… Mike Harris is dead, right?

(Sorry. Can never passed up the opportunity to pilfer that bit from Stephen Colbert. A few years back, he joked about something that would have ‘Lou Dobbs rolling over in his grave.’ He then turned to ask his crew, ‘Dobbs is dead, right’?)

I was thinking of this as I read through an article Ben Bergen linked to from 1998. Megacity: Globalization and Governance in Toronto by Graham Todd in Studies in Political Economy. Of the many reasons the Harris Tories rammed through Bill 103 in the face of widespread opposition to it throughout the entire 6 cities facing amalgamation, one was particularly nefarious if highly speculative and largely restricted to the old city of Toronto and the borough of East York. It suggested that the neo-conservative Harris was looking to smother the more liberal downtown tendencies under a stuffed suburban pillow that was more closely aligned to his politics. Such thinking gained a degree of legitimacy when the mayor of North York, Mel Lastman, defeated Barbara Hall, Toronto’s final mayor, in the first election of the new megacity.

Now a third administration in and it’s interesting to note that the mayor and his most trusted advisor, Councillor Doug, are from Etobicoke. The Deputy Mayor is one Doug Holyday, the last mayor of pre-amalgamated Etobicoke. The Council Speaker is Frances Nunziata, the last mayor of pre-amalgamated York. The Executive Committee is made up entirely of suburban councillors save Cesar Palacio whose downtown ward butts up against suburban York. A certain pattern emerges regardless of how intentional.

Of course, if we want to dwell on the damage inflicted upon this city, both downtown and suburban, by the ill-thought out amalgamation, there would be worse examples than those currently at the helm. Not a whole lot worse, mind you. But most definitely worse.

To lay the blame for our current fiscal crisis solely on the profligacy of the Miller administration, to spuriously point to the big budgetary numbers that grew during his 7 years in office as even the moderate councillor, Josh Matlow, did on Newstalk 1010 last Sunday, as proof positive of waste and gravy at City Hall, is to suggest that only what happens in the last two years or so matter. It denies history, really, or at least, your grasp of it. Or it suggests you’re just an ideologue.

The provincial Tory view of the reduction of costs through an increase in efficiency with amalgamation was suspect to many from the very beginning of the exercise. (Enid Slack, current Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance, wrote back in the early days of amalgamation: “It is highly unlikely, however, that the amalgamation will lead to cost savings. On the contrary, it is more likely that costs will increase.”) Most studies since have backed that view up.

In fact, how the Tories went about amalgamating flew in the face of the neo-liberal world view they were espousing. “Flexible forms of governance,” Todd writes, “it is thought, are more consistent with the reality of and necessity for competitive, export-oriented, knowledge-based, whiz-bang approaches to economic development.” So the Harris government replaced 6 smaller municipalities with 1 big, lumbering behemoth and claimed that it would be somehow more efficient? More cost effective? They seemed to have mistaken having fewer local governments for flexibility.

Or maybe they were just using a different definition of the word ‘flexible’. Todd suggests in the paper that unlike previous municipal governance reforms that had intended “…to consolidate the role of local government and the public sector in regulating development…”, the 1998 amalgamation was intended to do just the opposite. It was never about dollars and cents. That was simply a red herring to make the process more palatable. There was still going to be the same number of people demanding the same level of services whether they came from 6 governments or one. At some point of time, economies of scale simply don’t work.

It was all about control of how the city functioned. One government over a wider area was politically more pliable, flexible if you will, and easier to deal with than six. There were more differences of opinions, a wider area of dissension to exploit. Imaginary savings were offered up in exchange for the keys to City Halls. By the time we realized that, what were we going to do, de-amalgamate?

Add to this loss of local control and inevitable rise in costs of running a bigger city, there was that whole downloading/offloading of services onto Ontario municipalities by the provincial government. Cities told to cough up portions “… of provincially mandated social services such as social assistance, public health care, child care, homes for the aged, social housing, disability and drug benefits”. Some, I repeat some, of which have been uploaded back to the provincial government, slowly and on their time line. A $3.3 billion gap according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario estimated back in 2007.

Of course let’s not forget the de-funding of their half of the TTC annual operating budget that the Harris Government undertook and that has never been reassumed by Dalton McGuinty. Call it $200 million/year that Toronto property taxes must come up with. Add to that the hundreds of millions of dollars foregone by Mel Lastman during his property tax freeze during his first term. A brilliant fiscal move copied by our new mayor on his first budget cycle, along with eliminating the vehicle registration tax and any other form of revenue generation the province had given the city with the City of Toronto Act. No, no. We don’t want that on our hands. We didn’t ask for that responsibility.

Instead, we’ll blame the last administration for our financial woes. We’ll blame the lazy unions and other special interest groups that are looking for handouts. The Gravy Train has stopped, haven’t you heard. The time has come to privatize anything that isn’t nailed down. Sell off lucrative assets too if we have to. Maybe even if we don’t. Everything is on the table.

Yeah, it’s hard not to view our new mayor as the inevitable outcome of decisions made nearly 15 years ago. The offspring, the love child of our former premier. Too bad Mr. Harris didn’t live long enough to see the success his political son had become.

condolencely submitted by Cityslikr