Post Mortem and Analysis

October 28, 2010

On the theory that there is much to talk about re: results of Toronto’s October 25 municipal election, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has assembled its crack team of observers to dissect what happened, why and what’s next. This week, well, we just said. They’ll discuss the outcome of Monday’s election.

Cityslikr (heretoforth, CS): Well, the verdict’s in. Rob Ford won and everyone who didn’t vote for him is to blame. Especially hipster urbanites who never took him seriously and spent the entire campaign mocking, ridiculing and denigrating him and those supporting him. We didn’t get the anger.

Acaphlegmic (heretoforth ACA): Truer words have never been spoken. Which is why I’ve decided to go live amongst them.

CS: What? Live amongst whom?

ACA: There you go, getting all elitist. Whom! Amongst people who say ‘who’ not ‘whom’.

US (heretoforth US): But are still OK with the word ‘amongst’.

CS: What do you mean you’re going to live amongst them?

ACA: We can’t understand a people or empathize with them until we’ve seen through their eyes, walked a mile in their shoes. So I am venturing forth to live amongst them. To observe them. To understand what motivates them. To truly get under their skin in order to grasp their hopes, their dreams.

CS: So you’re like what? Margaret Mead of the inner suburbs?

US: Try Dian Fossey.

ACA: See? That’s just what everyone’s talking about. Mocking. Ridiculing. Denigration.

CS: But I don’t get what you mean, ‘live amongst them’. You going to hang out at the Jack Astors at Sherway Gardens?

ACA: There it is again. The mocking and ridicule. They don’t just shop, you know.

US: Yeah. They have to take regular breaks to fill up their Hummers and SUVs.

ACA: Mock away, my friend, mock away but you better start getting used to the fact that you’re in the minority now and start acting accordingly.

CS: Technically that’s not true. Ford did only get 47% of the vote which is why [turns to look directly into pretend camera] you should support RaBIT, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. To start making every vote count.

ACA: Cling to that little pipe dream all you want, buddy. Me? I’m going to where the real action is. Larry’s garage.

[inserting very prominent … here to signify a monstrously large pause in the conversation. A really big one.]

CS: Who’s Larry?

ACA: Larry. You met him Monday night here, drinking. We got to talking afterwards. His son, Larry Jr., just got married, and he and the wife are moving into the trailer that’s parked in the driveway. So, Larry-pere offered me the garage. You should see this place! It’s not a garage. It’s like a 2nd home. All decked out. Like this 140” plasma screen TV. Ping pong table. Bar. You name it. A sound system like you would not believe! 4 speakers, maybe 8. I don’t know. Speakers all over the place. I have not listened to that much Foghat since… I don’t know… June of ’77, maybe.

CS: And you’re going to live there. In Larry’s garage.

ACA: You betcha! Live there and observe. Eat the food they eat. Play the games they play. Learn what it is that’s important to them. Rob Ford knows. I should too.

US: So you’re embracing your inner mullet?

CS: (to US) And you? No, wait. Let me guess. You’re moving to Calgary.

US: Well, hey. They took a bold step into the future. We fearfully clung onto… some misguided view of the past. Where we paid no taxes and there was no traffic congestion.

CS: Which brings up something that struck me about the election. There’s all this talk about the downtown-suburb divide, the angry car driving, backyard BBQing Ford supporters versus us effete bike riding, latte loving urbanistas. Yet right here, smack dab in the downtown core, we had three open council seats, none of which were filled with what you’d call new, forward thinking, vibrant Nenshites. Ward 19 went stolidly status quo, replacing old time moderate lefty Pantalone with old time moderate lefty Mike Layton, ignoring a much more interesting progressive candidate in Karen Sun. Ward 18 went hardcore centrist Ana Bailão. Ward 17 and Cesar Palacio—

US: Palacio didn’t retire, did he?

CS: Didn’t he? How could you tell? They had this dynamite challenger, Jonah Schein, but went with their tried and true non-entity incumbent relic.

ACA: What’s your point? I gotta cut out soon. There’s some sort of… sporting event everybody’s getting together to watch at Larry’s.

CS: My point is, maybe this city’s not nearly the outpost of progressive politics we downtown elites would like to think it is. We live in this little bubble, dreaming of bike lanes, complete streets and being just like Portland when, in fact, we’re nothing more than another small minded North American burg concerned only with paying as little as we can and getting as much as we want. Rob Ford as our mayor shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not the anomaly. David Miller is. He was the outlier. Ford’s just a regression to the mean.

US: Nice. Regression to the mean. Works on a couple levels, too.

ACA: Blah, blah, blah. You guys just don’t get it! There’s nothing to analyze here. Nothing to deconstruct. People are just pissed off. End of story. Rob Ford gets it because he’s pissed off too. Guaranteed!

CS: No, we get the whole anger bit. What we don’t understand is how Rob Ford is going to help in any way to deal with it. What in his platform will help lessen the anger.

ACA: Wh-wh-wh-what are you talking about? Rob Ford isn’t going to lessen the anger. The last thing he wants to do is assuage the resentment.

US: You might want to curtail the use of words like ‘assuage’ with Larry’s crowd.

ACA: Right. The last thing Rob Ford wants to do is the dumb word for assuage the resentment. Without resentment, he’s just another self-interested politician wrapping his own narrow concerns into a populist package.

US: Exactly. And what are we doing in the face of that? Caving in and taking the blame. We got out-politicked, no question. That’s what we should be examining now not shouldering the blame for the perceived grievances of 47% of the population who refused to engage in an honest discussion about the real problems this city has to deal with. We spent very little time here, writing about Ford’s appearance or operatically sized personal failings. We kept asking, over and over again, how his policies on public transit and cutting spending were going to help address the city’s problems. The response? Wrapping themselves in a cloak of victimhood like pouty teenagers. Stop picking on me. You don’t understand. The guy’s not even sworn into office yet and he’s already backtracking on one big doozey of a campaign nose stretcher about replacing streetcars with buses, claiming he never said that, his opponents said he did. Then he gives a babblingly incoherent radio interview and calls it a smear campaign, so he can withdraw further into the safe cocoon of sympathetic press coverage at the Toronto Sun, National Post and AM talk radio. We’ve seen this movie before, guys. Remember. George W. Bush.

CS: Yep. I think we can now officially stop looking south at the Americans and smugly laughing at who they elect into office. Or their eating habits. Did you see where Canada broke the record for sales of KFC’s Double Down?

ACA: (standing) Are we done here? I really don’t want to miss the first quarter… or half of the… thing.

CS: Godspeed to Larry’s garage. Godspeed us all to a Larry’s garage somewhere.

ACA: I’ll be in touch. Under an alias. Send you my serial exposé of the Ford movement.

CS: Stay safe, Serpico.

(Rolling up his collar, Acaphlegmic skulks from the office.)

CS: So, the battle for hearts and minds has just begun.

US: Fuck that. I’m traveling to the Continent. Rent out my house and follow in the steps of Byron, Shelley, Keats. They want elite? (Pulls out his pipe) I’ll give them elite.

CS: No, don’t. You’ve already set off the smoke detector once.

US: I disconnected it.

CS: It stinks. Don’t.

(Urban Sophisticat puffs away at the pipe, trying to get it to stay lit. Eventually a smoke detector goes off in the distance.)

CS: This is going to be a long 4 years.

submitted by Cityslikr


Whither You Progressives

October 18, 2010

Here’s where the numbers don’t add up for me. (Nice cold start. No mucking about with wordy intro.)

In the 2006 municipal election, incumbent mayor David Miller was re-elected with nearly 57% of the vote. According to the latest poll from Nanos, the outgoing mayor’s endorsed candidate, Joe Pantalone, is pulling in 15%. My very unscientific reading of that suggests over 40% of a supposed left of centre, progressive voting bloc has dissipated somewhere into the ether. Where to, is what I’m wondering.

It’s hard to imagine that even with all that alleged anger manifesting itself post-09 civic workers’ strike, there’d be such a stampede across the political spectrum toward the decidedly un-progressive Rob Ford. George Smitherman has run a very right of centre campaign, tossing out the occasional lefty crumb to keep up liberal appearances. So where are those 40% of David Miller voters?

Granted, not everyone who ever voted for David Miller would consider themself progressive or left of centre. In 06 there was the power of incumbency and, arguably, a weakness of opponent. In 03 Miller was deemed the agent of change who would undo the disrepair wrought on City Hall by the Lastman gang. Change seems to be a major player again in this campaign. Regardless of ideology, the electorate has moved to candidates they think will bring about the biggest change for the city.

Still, it’s hard to reconcile the Pantalone 15%. As we have stated on more than one occasion here, Mr. Pantalone is not a strong campaigner. So, that must be factored into the equation. He’s simply been unable to rally the troops under his candidacy’s flag. But with no other viable left of centre candidate (at least in the mainstream media – and thus, a majority of voters’ eyes) on offer, 15% seems like a very, very low number.

Yes, there is the Ford factor. Many who would naturally tend Pantalone-sque are so violently appalled at the prospects of the Etobicoke councillor becoming mayor that they have abandoned their natural base in order to stop that from happening. The Deputy Mayor simply never polled high enough to be considered the candidate to defeat Ford. That simply takes us back to the question, why?

What’s taking place here in ward 19 may offer up a possible answer.

Two progressive candidates are fighting it out for the council seat that opened up, appropriately enough, when Joe Pantalone decided to run for mayor. Michael Layton has been endorsed by the former councillor and is back by the legendary local NDP machine including his father’s wife, Olivia Chow, the M.P. for the area. Karen Sun is an independent voice who has spent the last decade working on a series of municipal level matters both at City Hall and outside, ranging from environmental to governance issues.

The division between these two candidates, I think, represents the ongoing transformation of progressive thought, and may help explain Joe Pantalone’s anemic showing in the campaign so far.

Mike Layton epitomizes the old school, left wing coalition of urban elitism, the “ethnic vote” (for lack of a better term), unions and Tommy Douglas-like grassroots populism. The “ethnic vote”, I would suggest, is fairly disparate at this point that doesn’t vote en masse for a single candidate. Ditto, the union vote. Populism has become largely right-wing recently. And us elites can only be counted on not to vote too far right. That’s a tough group to stitch together in hopes of gaining a plurality. A little of each may not be enough to secure a victory.

Especially if you’re vying with a candidate who is offering up a similarly progressive but far more urban oriented platform. For a candidate growing up with a father and stepmom both city councillors, Layton the Younger displays remarkably little affinity for local, urban specific issues. Check out his Community Experience under the About link on his website. A camp councillor?!

In comparison Karen Sun represents the face of urban progressivism. Her work has been focused almost exclusively at the municipal level. This is vitally important since we as a nation are becoming increasingly urbanized. With over 3/4s of us now living in what are considered urban environments, it is becoming more critical for us to elect those well versed on those issues to represent us. Progressive values have become increasingly linked to urban values.

Bringing us back to the flagging Pantalone support. While he can rightfully boast of a number of progressive initiatives he’s helmed or supported, his endorsement of Michael Layton displayed a proclivity for stale thinking. Whether he believed Layton was the best candidate on offer for ward 19 or if it was just a case of mutual back-scratching with the NDP powers-that-be, Pantalone showed himself to be out of step with where much of the progressive, left of centre is at the moment. He may be the most left leaning voice still in the mayoral election (that is within the realm of the remaining 3 front runners. Perhaps if the wider voting public had been allowed to see more of Himy Syed, the city would be in the throes of the same deliberation we here in ward 19 are currently in the midst of between Layton and Sun) but Pantalone simply is not in step with the wider progressive movement.

Thus, leaving much of the left limply unenthusiastic and prone to drifting reluctantly to where they think they’re needed most.

unsupportively submitted by Cityslikr


Our First Ever Official Endorsement

October 6, 2010

After last night’s ward 19 council debate held at the Garrison on Dundas Street West, I have come to the conclusion that we’d have much more clarity at the mayoral level if the debates were held in bars. In the backroom of bars. With access to alcoholic beverages.

Formal structures tend to break down and the audience becomes involved. Candidates have to think on their feet especially when pat, pre-packaged answers are noisily shouted down by the crowd. It’s like a trial by fire for the spot they’re campaigning for at City Hall.

The first thing that became clear last night is that we have an embarrassment of riches for council candidates here in ward 19. Of the 9 running to replace outgoing councillor and mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone, three would easily be up to the task, each bringing a fresh, new perspective as the ward’s representative on council. That situation alone makes me more determined than ever to further the cause of a ranked ballot voting system which, oddly enough, few of the candidates spoke up in favour of when asked the question from an audience member.

But at this point, let me tell you who I will not be voting for. Neither Sean McCormick nor Mike Layton. Both men feel like consummate opportunists, stepping forward into an open ward in order to advance their own personal ambition. Former sportscaster McCormick puts a shiny face to anti-City Hall, Ford-esque politics without adding any substance whatsoever. He quickly turned the crowd — which had been rowdy but largely encouraging — ugly when, in answering the question about the Ossington bar and restaurant moratorium, said how the street’s development had been important because as recently as 5 years ago, he and his wife had been afraid to walk there at night. What?! Are we talking about the same Ossington Street? Our Ossington Street?

As for Mike Layton, well, his pedigree may well be as much a hindrance as it is a help. Possessing the unrelenting earnestness of his father with none of the spark of his dad’s wife, Olivia Chow, Layton the younger comes across as a design model for the “perfect” Ward 19 council candidate. The next generation, chip off the old block replicant, he tosses around empty left wing cant as easily and emptily as McCormick does neo-conservative blather. Mike Layton is part of a municipal machine that residents around here seem to be growing weary of. This became painfully obvious when questioned about the mandatory inclusion of school board trustee incumbent, Chris Bolton (himself an object of attack from his opponent earlier in the evening for being part of this same political operation), name on Layton’s lawn signs. Caught flat-footed, Layton hummed and hawed, seeming to be genuinely surprised that anyone who would be voting for him wouldn’t be voting for Chris Bolton as well.

While Layton and McCormick treated each other with a contempt that suggested they believed they were the only two candidates on the ballot, most of the others up on stage with them delivered a genuine passion for public service that elicited unadulterated warm and fuzzies. David Footman again impressed with what is not a blanket anger toward City Hall but a frustration born of experience dealing with its bureaucracy and elected officials. A frustration that suggests things between residents and the city, and small businesses and the city could and should just work better. Not with a massive overhaul but a basic rethinking and retooling of rules and regulations along with simply opening up and easing access to the officials in order to allow a freer flow of thoughts and ideas. Too often, however, during the course of both ward 19 debates that I’ve attended, Mr. Footman has simply shrugged his shoulders at a question asked him because he doesn’t have an answer. While such frankness about ignorance can be endearing in small doses, it suggests to me that Mr. Footman needs to broaden his knowledge base somewhat before expecting people to throw their support behind him.

Which is the complete opposite of candidate George Sawision. A lifetime resident of ward 19, Sawision ran against Pantalone in 2006 and harbours a lingering dislike of the man who seems to be one of the very few people Mr. Sawision bears animosity toward. Mr. Sawision works tirelessly it seems in, at, and around City Hall in an effort to understand the mechanics of municipal governance and to discover ways to make it work better. The guy loves this community and you believe him whole-heartedly when he pledges that if elected ward 10 councillor, he’d be working for the residents not for himself. He already does. If George Sawision possessed fewer libertarian quirks, he’d be hard to ignore as the best choice on the ballot.

A spot taken in our books by Karen Sun. Possessing all the progressive credentials that Mike Layton has with none of the political baggage, Ms. Sun boasts real life experience in implementing her ideals. An organizer, volunteer and committee member, she represents those ideals Toronto needs to embrace if it’s to move forward and maintain its place as a significant city at the core of a vibrant regional economic and societal hub. Diversity, sustainability, innovation, deeper and more inclusive civic involvement, all comprise the basis of Ms. Sun’s campaign and are why she deserves to be ward 19’s next councillor.

Our only concern about Karen Sun is how her youthful, wide-eyed optimism will fare in the shark tank that is city council. But at last night’s debate, she displayed a quiet steeliness that avoided the loud, personal invective that dominated the stage at times. Her positive enthusiasm transcended the bitter tone toward City Hall which has been the trademark of the entire campaign in 2010. So, who knows? Maybe Karen Sun will change city council more than it changes her.

Our one word of advice for Ms. Sun would be, if you’re elected on October 25th, your first move should be to hire both George Sawision and David Footman onto your staff. Mr. Sawision will give you his considerable knowledge about City Hall and the workings of its various departments while Mr. Footman could serve as your enforcer. He seems to have a gritty, no bullshit demeanour that would serve you well. The three of you would make a winning team.

Just throwing it out there.

Karen Sun for city councillor in Ward 19.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr