Lobbing A Lobbying Bomb

May 4, 2016

I’m going to paraphrase about a hundred people who’ve expressed these exact sentiments, and if that makes me another Margaret Wente, so be it. cheatingIt’s a jab I’m willing to live with.

Here goes.

If all those Uber people were even half as passionate about other, far more important city issues as they are with accessing their inexpensive, on-demand, chauffeur service, Toronto would be a civic paradise.

That said, I’ve said as much as I want to say about the Uber debate. It’s already taken a disproportionately significant chunk of our local political discourse over the past couple years. Mayor Tory made it his key item to begin this month’s city council meeting yesterday, and it consumed every bit of the extended day to finish it off. For now. Always, for now.

People will argue that it’s simply a response commensurate with the demand out there for Uber. outofproportion45,000 people a day can’t be wrong, won’t be denied. A grassroots uprising breaking the death grip of the taxi industry monopoly, yaddie, yaddie.

Maybe…maybe.

Or, here’s another angle.

This Is How Uber Takes Over A City

“Uber’s made a name for itself by barging into cities and forcing politicians to respond.”

How, you ask?

A $40 billion value corporation (as of the article’s writing last June) with all the lobbying muscle that kind of money can buy.

Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the nation, at least a third more than Wal-Mart Stores. That doesn’t count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th-largest city in the U.S., 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber’s behalf. They’d become a constant force in City Hall. City officials say they’d never seen anything on this scale.

“Uber makes the rules; cities fall in line.”

Bringing it closer to home here in Toronto, we all know that two of the mayor’s former campaign mucky-mucks, John Duffy and Nick Kouvalis, have gone to work for Uber, bullyone as a lobbyist, the other to do some polling. And it seems like there’s been a lot of Uber lobbying of the Mayor’s office leading up to this week’s meeting. According to Anna Mehler Paperny of Global News, “And the mayor’s staff met with Uber more than anyone else on this topic last year.”

But, you know, whatever. The various branches of the taxi industry are no slouches themselves when it comes to lobbying, and donating to municipal campaigns, and just generally getting this debate front and centre in a way that makes it seem like it’s the most important policy matter the city faces. It isn’t, not by a long shot. That’s just what effective lobbying does. That’s why lobbyists and lobbying firms get paid the big bucks.

None of this is news. I didn’t write and crib some 500 words to tell you something you didn’t already know. It is what it is.

Although, and here’s the kicker and the reason I wrote anything about this at all, after the Uber debate dies down, and perhaps today’s equally noisy matter of the proposed bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street gets settled, teeoneupthere’s an interesting little item going to council from the Executive Committee. It was deferred from the March meeting, and the oh-so-perfect irony of the timing of it is hard to ignore.

As part of some lobbying by-law amendments being considered, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong put forth a motion asking for a staff report on the question of forcing unions and not-for-profit organizations to register with the city as lobbyists. It’s been an idea, as Jonathan Goldsbie writes in NOW, kicking around since the establishment of the Lobbyist Registrar back during David Miller’s first term in office. It’s been given a new lease on life with the support of Mayor Tory, his deputy mayor and 9 other councillors sitting on his Executive Committee.

His [Mayor Tory] position is that there are groups that have vested interests in the outcome of council decisions that are not confined to direct financial benefit. This is about transparency, and our belief that the public should have visibility into the various groups that lobby city councillors on matters of public record.

This statement from the mayor’s office in response to the NOW article has made some of those “various groups” more than a little nervous. “STOP Mayor Tory’s attempt to force community groups to register as lobbyists. buildingawallSign this petition now!” tweeted out the shadowy NOJetsTO group who have used their deep pockets and sneaky loophole seeking ways to bully the under-resourced and hamstrung-by-lobbying-rules little guy Robert Deluce and Porter Airlines in order to stymy island airport expansion. Why? What do they stand to gain from keeping the airport just like it is?

Until they are brought to heel under the careful watch of the Lobbyist Registrar, we won’t clearly understand their motivations. We’ll just have to file it under: “not confined to direct financial benefit.”

But if I were a community group or social activist type, I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. My guess is, Mayor Tory’s eyeing bigger game, like the unions, who the motion mentions specifically. And even that may be reading too much malicious intent into it.

Maybe the mayor is really and truly trying to level the playing field for everyone down at City Hall. wolfinsheepsclothingAfter yesterday’s vote, and his and a solid majority of city council’s complete and utter capitulation to the ferocious lobbying and PR effort of Uber, he’s reaching out to give the grassroots a leg up. See? Lobbying works. Become a lobbyist. Access millions and millions of dollars to hire high-priced consultants, pollsters and glad-handers. Then, prepare to roll over your local elected representatives.

If an upstart company like Uber can do it, you can too, little group looking to… I don’t know, provide some extra affordable daycare spaces. Think big. Big Daycare.

Besides, it’s only fair. Otherwise, just anybody can drop a line or send off an email, demanding access to decision-makers at City Hall. That’s just not how things get done around here anymore.

blithely submitted by Cityslikr


Who’s Got The Wheel?

December 8, 2015

Yesterday, after the provincial government floated their rather tepid and, perhaps even, cosmetically driven tolls proposal, the following observation was floated on Twitter:

“We have government leaders who have no idea how an urban economy works. And most of this country is part of an urban economy.”

We are now a 21st-century, urban nation with a leadership class still firmly entrenched in the (generously) mid-20th-century. As former NYC Department of Transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan put it last week, “when you push on the status quo, it pushes back at you.” rolltherock1Or, as our old favourites The Libertines once sang: “…the boy kicked out at the world/the world kicked back alot fuckin’ harder now.”

We have a new federal government that might get it, they might understand the needs of cities, cities making up this urban nation. But, legislatively, Ottawa’s a long way from the ground. Whatever largesse and/or expertise the feds have to offer will inevitably come filtered through provincial and local distortions. So what if we get enhanced federal money for transit infrastructure if it goes to building Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack or the provincially backed and city council approved Scarborough subway? Good money after bad and all that.

Later yesterday, Queen’s Park released a report from the David Crombie led Advisory Panel looking at and making recommendations for the provincial government’s 4 growth plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The region’s been growing, grown significantly since the end of World War II, and will continue growing significantly over the next 25 years. The population looks to almost double in that time, from 9 million to nearly 13.5 million. Here’s the concern, and some of what the 4 growth plans were brought in to combat:

The extent of settlement has also grown. For example, between 1971 and 2006, the region’s urban footprint more than doubled. Much of the recent urban growth has been in the form of low-density, car-dependent suburbs, providing many residents with affordable, single-detached homes. However, this form of development, often known as urban sprawl, has resulted in loss of farmland, traffic congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, impacts on human health, and the loss of green space, habitats and biodiversity. The changing climate and increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events create additional pressures on the region’s communities, agricultural production, infrastructure and natural systems.

The Advisory Panel’s recommendations are unsurprising, really. Encouraging intensification through use of “existing urban areas” (while protecting employment lands), greater public transit-based initiatives “to support complete communities” and “greater integration of infrastructure planning with land use planning”, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. rolltherock3We already know this. None of it is particularly new or noteworthy. I guess it’s worthwhile to repeat and underline these ideas of healthy growth but still…

How many Advisory Panels have we had, telling us the things we have to do to improve this region’s quality of life as it continues to grow? I mean, if Anne Golden had a nickel for every panel she’s chaired to advise government policy, she’d have, what? A dime? Fifteen cents?

Remember her last outing, as chair of the provincially appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel? Yeah, it took 3 months to make 20 recommendations for raising revenue to fund the Big Move, leaning heavily on increased gas taxes while rejecting tolls in the short term as “too difficult to implement”. That was 2 years ago. The provincial government’s response to date? Its weak sauce toll announcement yesterday.

The fundamental problem with all these panels is that they tend to come back after studying a policy issue with recommendations that challenge the status quo. Complete communities? What’ll happen to my backyard? Pay for using the roads?! I already pay more than my fair share! I deserve a subway! Subways, subways, subways!!

Pushback from the status quo. Leaders with their ears to the ground can only hear the stamping of feet. Politicians love the word ‘change’ on their campaign signs but blanch in the face of bringing it about, all those red, outraged faces to contend with? rolltherock6Where angels fear to tread, amirite?

Sure, things are bad now but what if these changes you’re talking about makes things worse? Nothing’s 100% guaranteed. Despite all data, information and examples to the contrary, from where I’m standing, the grass over there doesn’t look all that much greener.

Our propensity to fearfully embrace what-we-know so tightly makes for an uphill battle to enact the changes we need. The grade’s made steeper still when our elected officials not only fail to directly address this tentativeness but, in fact, give in to it for even just the slightest step forward. That’s why for every bid our government’s pitch for increased public transit funding and investment, we see assurances of road and highway expansion. Despite working at cross purposes, to attempt to even slightly modify the status quo, we must show that the status quo won’t change that much.

Speaking at Simon Fraser University just a month or so after submitting the report and recommendations of the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, Anne Golden talked about a government’s need for trust from the public in order to pursue new measures like revenue generation for transit building. rolltherock‘Tax grab’ is an almost immediate reaction from a skeptical public, digging in their heels further against any sort of change. There has to be buy in based on a belief that it’s not only going to be money well spent but be beneficial to everyone. What’s in it for me?

When you have a reputation of not spending money wisely which the Liberal government at Queen’s Park has certainly earned, or when your transit plans appear to be politically motivated and easily subject to the whims of parochialism – Hello, Scarborough subway! – public trust is in even shorter supply. Resistance to change grows stronger.

You can point all you want to places that have turned the corner, embraced changed and a new approach to mobility and city building. Look! New York’s doing it! Don’t you want to be like New York? You always want to be like New York! But we look around closer to home and see what all needs to be done, what we’ve done so far and conclude such change is beyond our reach. The Sheppard subway remains a glaring white elephant with the Union-Pearson Express set to join it. We can’t even muster the will to clear road space for our busiest transit routes like the Finch bus or King streetcar. rolltherock4How on earth can we expect to meet the challenges of the 21st-century?

I’m sure plenty of our government leaders are well aware of how a modern urban economy works. What they don’t know is how to convince enough of us that we need to move in that direction. Too many flinch at the slightest sign of resistance, retreat in the face of loud, blustery noises.

It’d be great to leave off on that note. Place the blame elsewhere and carry on, absolved. But, you know, that old saw nags, a variation on getting the leadership we deserve. Not enough of us have been pushed from our comfort zone. Things are bad but they’re not that bad. They could always be worse.

Until such time, when enough of us conclude that, in fact, it is that bad (never an easily determined point on the scale), we’ll hum and haw, rail at the ineffectualness of our elected officials and uncaring bureaucracy, wonder about why we’re not those other places, doing exceptional, exciting things and hope that it won’t be too late to make those changes we were urged to make years, decades earlier.

rolltherock5

rocknrollingly submitted by Cityslikr


Car Troubles

December 2, 2015

Last week, Toronto writer, Shawn Micallef, fired off the following tweets:

It’s been a bad few years for pedestrians in Toronto, deaths up 90% over the past 4 years, 34 so far this year (and counting), compared to 18 in 2011. speedingcarsAs Jessica Smith Cross wrote in Metro over the weekend, that accounts for 59% of road deaths in Toronto this year. In the first 10 months of 2015, over 1500 pedestrians have been struck by cars.

And the official response from those tasked with the oversight of street safety, the Toronto Police? Do The Bright Thing. “We have to put ourselves in the position to be seen,” Constable Hugh Smith informs us.

How twisted is that? Those most vulnerable, the ones not behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle, sanctioned to go lethal limits of speed, those of us with the least control, are held responsible to make sure we don’t get run over. Because, you know, drivers have places to go, people to meet.

So even when we are full in our rights, crossing a street legally, as Micallef pointed out, we have to check and re-check around us to make sure somebody’s not rushing to make it through that light or checking their phone or just simply zoned out, unburdened of any consequence of their inattention. overthespeedlimitHow many of us pedestrians have had to stop up short in an intersection out of fear that driver may not have judged his stopping distance correctly? Who amongst us pedestrians haven’t had cars blow through a well-lit crosswalk or open streetcar doors?

Why just yesterday, in fact, I had to pick up my pace crossing a street at a green light as some fucking jag off making a left turn, committed to going despite me being in his way in order to avoid a collision with oncoming traffic. A collision, no doubt, that would’ve harmed me, the literal innocent bystander, more than any of the occupants of the cars involved. And in the end, invariably written up as an “accident”. An unfortunate “accident” but an “accident” nonetheless. Harm but no foul.

Drivers go about their driving business with relative impunity. Even the most egregious transgressions, like impaired driving or vehicular manslaughter, are rarely met with the severest of punishments. intheintersectionJail, sometimes, but usually not for very long. How many people do you know who’ve ever had their licence revoked permanently?

Is that too much to demand from someone who’s got into a driver’s seat drunk and killed somebody as a result? Never mind incarceration. Should they ever be allowed to drive again?

Or how about those driving at dangerously high speeds, just one little unforeseen glitch away from losing complete control of their vehicle? They do so knowingly, not only at the risk of their own lives but everyone who just might be in their path. Another tragic “accident”.

How much over the speed limit is too much? 20 kilometres an hour? 40? 50? At what point do we say, you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car?

We know a car travelling at 30 km/h puts the odds of a pedestrian dying if struck down at about 5%. At 50 km/h? 37-45%. 64 km/h? 83-85%.pedestriandown

We know this and yet, as Mr, Micallef pointed out, cars whipping down Jarvis Street are regularly travelling at 10-20 kilometres over the legally posted limited of 50 kp/h. That puts them right smack dab in the high probability kill zone if they hit a pedestrian or mow down a cyclist. Even without the possibility of casualties, racing cars make for an unappealing environment for anyone else not driving in the area.

We know all this and still, not only do we put up with it, we accommodate it with wider lanes to compensate for driver error, tearing up bike lanes which, according to Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, slow traffic down and greatly reduce the rate of road fatalities. pedestriandown1New York has recently experienced the fewest traffic deaths in a 100 years! But here in Toronto, whatevs. Mom’s got to get home a few minutes quicker to have supper with the kids.

My intention is not to demonize drivers here. I’m demonizing the system that continues to coddle them, entitle them, under-charge them and very, very, rarely penalizes them appropriately for the life-altering and often life-ending choices they make (largely for others) when they are behind the wheel of their vehicles. The political and societal clout the cult of the automobile is far greater than any good it delivers, often falling short by orders of magnitude.

Others cities throughout the world have recognized this and are attempting to reorder the hierarchy of their transportation system. Not just European cities. Cities we here in Toronto look to in terms of inspiration. New York City, for example. De-escalating our car dependency can’t be written off as simply some lifestyle choice. deathrace2000It is now nothing short of an absolute necessity.

Unless Toronto’s car-bound leadership recognizes that fact, we will jeopardize whatever competitive advantages we have as an international city. We have to stop pretending that somehow Toronto’s different than other places. We aren’t. We built this city on the belief that prioritizing car travel was the future. It wasn’t or, at least, that future didn’t last. It is our duty to now fix that mistaken but hard to shake belief.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Who Should Pay The Piper?

November 24, 2015

This has been nagging at me for a couple weeks, and kind of bubbled up to the surface yesterday, following along with the TTC commission debate over a fare increase in the new year. forkitover“I believe fares should be adjusted every year because the cost of running the system,” Mayor Tory responded when asked about any possible fare hike. But when it comes to the question of property tax increases because the cost of running the city? Or, I don’t know, a vehicle registration fee to help pay for expedited repairs on the Gardiner expressway?

That’s another matter entirely.

There are those with a similar political bent to the mayor who don’t agree with such an obvious double standard, certainly when it comes to charging drivers more to pay the costs of roads. Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne, for one. He was on a panel I attended (and wrote about earlier this month) where tolling and road pricing was very much the rage. We must stop subsidizing car drivers, Coyne pronounced. We need to let the free market deal with congestion.

OK, sure. Let’s have that conversation. At least we’re agreed that drivers in no way, shape or form, fully pay the price of the road space they use.

And stop subsidizing public transit, Andrew Coyne went on. waitwhatWhy our public transit system is so bad, he stated, was because the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ had been kept from performing its magic on it. (He’s been saying such things for a while now.)

If wishes were fishes and all that. An argument can be made that the private sector might augment the delivery of public transit but there are few examples of it doing so alone especially in larger metropolitan areas, and especially in North America. That’s not to suggest it couldn’t here but it does lead to a bigger question. Should it?

If public transit is, in fact, a public service, what role does the profit motive have to play in that? There is a considerable segment of the population living in places like Toronto who don’t view public transit as just another option to get around the city. It is the only way they can do it. They’re what we refer to as a ‘captive ridership’. They don’t choose to take public transit. They depend on it. Start with everybody under the age of 16 and count from there.tollroad

Should they be subject to the vagaries of the private sector as they endeavour to get to school, to work, to their doctor’s appointment?

I’ll take it a step further.

Shouldn’t those who use public transit as their mode of transportation be viewed as people actually delivering a public service rather than receiving a public service (for which they are charged here in Toronto nearly 75% of the operating costs)? Along with cyclists and walkers, aren’t transit users contributing to the quality of life in a city by not driving? Why does Andrew Coyne believe people using transit should be treated equally to those moving about a city in cars? No subsidies for anyone. Pay your way. Our current mayor, John Tory, is less even-handed, demanding “… those who use the system [public transit] should continue to maintain their proportional share of the cost.” crowdedsubwayHe wouldn’t dream of suggesting the same from car drivers.

The private vehicle is the least efficient, most expensive form of mobility there is in large urban areas like Toronto. Cars and driving place onerous demands on municipal budgets, pervert quality design and planning, overuse public space while underpaying for the privilege of doing so. So it’s way past time we have a discussion about them owning up to all that, starting with opening their wallets a little wider.

Those who either choose to or must use public transit have been paying more than their fair share, their ‘proportional share’ for some time now. We need to start acknowledging the contribution they’ve been making to this city and stop penalizing them for it. They’re doing us a favour while we keep acting like it’s the other way around.

fairly submitted by Cityslikr


Speed Kills But In A Worthy Cause

June 24, 2015

Look.

When it comes down to it, there are only 2 types of city dwellers. Those who hold tight onto their belief that car travel maintain its privileged spot atop the transportation hierarchy and those believing otherwise. standfirmStatus quo versus agents of change.

In Toronto, there can be little doubt which gang holds the upper hand. Any perceived attempt to even the playing field, to demand a more equitable division of our public spaces, to take a step a little bit closer to the 21st-century is met with squeals of outrage. An umbrage of sloganeering, boiled down short and sweetly by the champion of private automobile champions, Rob Ford: A War on the Car!

Unsurprisingly, this week’s decision by the Toronto and East York Community Council to reduce speed limits on downtown streets from 40 km/h to 30 was met by great gasps of roadster rage. SPEED TRAP rips the Toronto Sun headline. “It will make congestion worse,” the paper’s editorial predicted without qualification, as if speed has something to do with traffic flow. That reasoning, followed logically, should translate into the highways around the city being unfettered by gridlock since drivers are allowed to go so much faster on them. carspeedingStill bogged down? Bump up the speed limit to 140 km/h. That’ll fix things.

Even better was the Sun’s angle that the decreased speed limits would just be ignored anyway, “impossible to enforce”, it stated. Drivers be driving, am I right? They don’t need no stinkin’ speed limits!

Just how Fuck You is that? And coming from a no-nonsense, law-and-order publication like the Toronto Sun too. Where do we draw the line on what nanny state rules and regulations to ignore? Speeding, as we know, is not just some benign, victimless crime. Speed Kills, the PSA said back in the day, and even the Sun didn’t seem to dispute the fact that the faster a car is going, the more likely serious injuries and fatalities will result in any sort of collision. Oh, and there will be collisions.

Setting aside that reality for the moment, this knee jerk reaction against the lower speed limit proposal reveals a life not led around the city much on foot (or, god forbid, on a bike). givethefingerThe faster cars are allowed to go, the more dangerous and less enjoyable it is for everyone not behind the wheel. Ever stand on the side of the 401, say? Or even an 8 lane boulevard where vehicles are allowed to go 60 km/h? It isn’t a pleasant experience. Most people would avoid it, given a choice, thereby completing the nasty feedback loop that cedes pole positioning to cars. People don’t walk (or ride) here anyway. So why are we being forced to slow down?

The Sun cites traffic planning staff in warning against blanket speed limit reductions, calling for case-by-case approvals. “Not all streets are suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit…” the staff report says. Ignoring the delicious irony of the Sun embracing the red tape loving bureaucracy at any time, we are in agreement here. In the perverse way of traditional traffic planning, streets were designed with pedestrian safety in mind, built wide to accommodate driver mistakes travelling at X km/h. Wider, assuming a certain disregard for the posted speed limit; a worst case scenario, if you will, that enabled drivers to comfortably travel above the desired speed limit.

City transportation departments are filled with people raised in that tradition, the tradition of putting cars atop the transportation hierarchy. icantdrive55Lay out streets and, therefore, cities, first for the private vehicle and adapt everything and everyone else around that. Of course said street is not “suitable for a 30 km/h speed limit” (whatever the hell ‘suitable’ means in this circumstance). It was designed for 40 km/h and is easily driven along at 50 km/h. That was the whole point.

That is the status quo. Changing it means challenging it. Drop the speed limit to 30 km/h and then slowly redesign the streets to physically enforce the lower speed limit. Narrow the streets. Give back the extra space to other users, pedestrians and cyclists. Flatten out our transportation hierarchy.

Drivers won’t put it up it, we’re informed, matter-of-factly.

“…an unsuitable speed limit could result in widespread disregard or non-compliance by motorists,” writes city staff. deathrace2000“The resulting variation in operating speeds of vehicles could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions.”

In most other circumstances, that would be taken as a threat.

Reducing speed limits won’t change motorist behaviour which ‘could result in a less safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists and increase the risk of collisions’. Better keep drivers happy or else. An angry or frustrated driver is a dangerous driver.

I love to play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud wherever I go, whenever I want. Nobody better tell me when and where I can play my rock ‘n’ roll music way loud. That would make me angry and frustrated. So angry and frustrated, I’d punch anybody who tells me to turn it down.

Why are we so quick to exempt car drivers from adhering to the rules of the road we collectively seek to establish?crybaby

Public Works and Infrastructure chair, Jaye Robinson, brushed aside the need to lower speed limits on downtown streets, pointing out that 90% of collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, and 85% of the resulting fatalities happen on arterial roads which, for me, suggests maybe we should look at improving pedestrian and cyclist safety on arterial roads not ignore trying to improve it downtown. 15% of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities as collateral damage, acceptable losses in our ongoing war on the car.

Or as Rob Ford famously put it: “My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day, it’s their own fault.”

Like the Gardiner East debate a couple weeks ago, drivers and their hardcore apologists cannot fathom a world where their transportation priorities do not take precedence over those of everyone else. Even a less wild-eyed reactionary than the Toronto Sun editorial board, the National Post’s Chris Selley, eye-rolled at the critics of John Tory, calling the push against keeping the 1.7 kilometre eastern bit of the expressway elevated, “overblown in quantity and misbegotten in kind”, a decision that doesn’t “matter all that much”. wrongwayWhat’s a few hundred million dollars in lost development potential, untold amounts of property tax revenue and a decade, more or less, of painstaking waterfront planning in the face of the intractable demands of car drivers?

Any pushback against those is seen as radical, unreasonable and unworkable. Change that cannot be countenanced for fear of the ensuing chaos which will inevitably follow. (It’s always with the chaos.) As A Matter Of Fact, I Do Own The Road, says the bumper sticker. Driving as some sort of divine right rather than a granted privilege.

leisurely submitted by Cityslikr


A Lasting Legacy Of Fear

April 14, 2015

Late last month Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star about Rob Ford’s ‘legacy of fear’. The choirmaster may have been chased out in disgrace but the same hymns continue to be sung. texaschainsawmassacreIt remains all about the hard working taxpayer (and a very specific, single family home owning taxpayer at that), drivers, finding efficiencies and looking out for any sort of downtown elitist assault on the little guy.

“Political paranoia has so unnerved current leaders that they are unable to make the choices they must,” Hume states.

I would venture to say that such skittishness extends to this city’s staff and public servants. Avoid spending money on anything other than what’s politically acceptable – witness the outrage with cost overruns on the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization versus the collective shrug about the nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. There’s still plenty of bloat at City Hall, so keep your departments ‘lean’. Objective analysis replaced by ideological and politically opportunistic ‘deserves’.

Think about that as the Spacing series continues to unfold, Parks in Crisis (parts 1 and 2). Toronto has, in the neighbourhood of $250 million, in what is called the Parkland Acquisitions & Development Reserve Fund. This is money paid by developers, set aside to purchase new parks and green spaces or rejuvenate existing ones in order to keep up with the increased development happening in the city, higher density development dependant on public spaces as ‘backyards’ basically for the growing number of multi-residential inhabitants.

That’s kind of surprising, isn’t it? coweringWeren’t you under the impression the city was tapped out, little room for the nice-to-haves like parklands the former mayor was always on about? Now we’re hearing there’s hundreds of millions of dollars just sitting there. What gives?

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than I’ll make it out to be here (that’s why John Lorinc is an actual journalist and I’m not) but I’m going to argue that this culture of fear that has descended on City Hall plays a big part in the inertia that’s allowing park space to fall further and further behind the pace of current development.

Who was the biggest loudmouth against the purchasing and refurbishing of green space over the last 5 years or so? Rob Ford. There were very few items along those lines he did not hold and did not rail against. Too much money, was his constant mantra, to be wasting on parks, playground and almost any public space that wasn’t a road.

In such an antagonistic environment, who in their right mind would step up with a park push? Keep your head low and money pile out of sight. Rob Ford may not even know the cash is there.

More structurally problematic, as Lorinc and Kimberley Noble point out, is the understaffing at City Hall due to the continual budget cuts and revenue decreases. The city can’t even keep up with maintaining existing parks and public spaces. sittingonmoneyWhat’s the rational for building new ones that won’t be looked after?

Moreover, there’s not the departmental staff to deal with the complex negotiations that go into securing these development funds, sometimes ranging into the tens of millions of dollars, or to implement some big, mega-park enterprise. “If somebody said, ‘here’s $100 million, let’s go,’ there isn’t the staff to execute those kind of projects,” Spacing is told. In the end, the city winds up taking the money and stashing it away, in the hopes of more favourable conditions, sometime in the future, I guess.

What about now, you might ask. Isn’t our long, municipal nightmare over? There’s a new sheriff in town, we’re told.

Bringing us back to Christopher Hume’s point. Rob Ford has effectively poisoned the civic well and his successor has done little so far to suggest he’s willing to stand up in a spirited defence of the commons. Mayor Tory has claimed repeatedly he was elected to keep taxes low. Check. He’s confident he can find savings through more efficiencies, ordering a 2% reduction in departmental budgets. Check. The point people he’s tapped to oversee many of these matters don’t instill much confidence in reversing the spending chill at City Hall.

Deputy Mayor and Waterfront TO board member Denzil Minnan-Wong doesn’t see a public expenditure not on roads he can’t rail against. cuttotheboneRemember Sugar Beach and those outrageous pink umbrellas, rocks and fancy public bathrooms? Surely, cheaper. And who’s chairing the Planning and Growth Management Committee? Why that old Spadina expressway enthusiast himself and noted tightwad, Councillor David Shiner.

These are names not usually associated with policies of smart growth or generally friendly to the common good. If anything, they signal a retrenchment of the Fordian era of illogical fiscal skin-flintery. Remain invisible, city staff, and don’t get flashy with any of your valuables.

Nor should there be any expectations from Team Tory of addressing the green space inequities the Spacing series points out. 69% of the parkland reserves between 2011-2014 came from what is most of two former municipalities, Toronto and East York (47% of that from just three downtown wards). Yet that same part of the city has received just 15% of all total new parkland since amalgamation.

But wait. That can’t be. Conventional wisdom says that downtown gets everything. Conventional wisdom (even when coming from the disreputable mouths of Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti or Glenn De Baeremaeker) cannot be wrong or, at least, cannot be contested. Certainly, Mayor Tory wasn’t elected to contest such politically sensitive conventional wisdom.blowhole

“…[Rob] Ford turned self-doubt into self-hatred,” Christopher Hume writes, referring to our reflexive anti-government opinion toward City Hall. Mayor Tory has embraced that sensibility, putting a smiley face on the empty boosterism that rarely includes any positive public sector contribution. In so doing, he threatens to milk the current building boom in Toronto dry, leaving the mess that will inevitably follow for others to clean up.

fearfully submitted by Cityslikr


Eventually You Have To Stand For Something

March 18, 2015

That’s why it’s not C51 that’s the issue. The problem in this country is we have a prime minister called Stephen Harper. And long as he is prime minister, whether it’s the Supreme Court, the workings of parliament, the politicizing of the police force and the walk away from science and evidence, all of these things can be laid at the feet of Stephen Harper. It’s the reason why he must be beat in the election…The focus we need to have in this country, quite frankly, is not on one bill it is on all the legislation which has been problematic. We need to change this government.

Elect Justin Trudeau and the Liberals or Bill 51 gets it! And by ‘gets it’, we mean, gets enacted and implemented by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. You wanna talk about fear now? Fear that.

Vote Liberal!orthebunnygetsit

I sat listening to two of my favourite Toronto political figures, Trinity-Spadina M.P., Adam Vaughan and one of the best reporters around, Desmond Cole, on the latter’s Sunday afternoon talk radio program (where the above quote comes from). Before being elected to Parliament in a by-election last year, Vaughan was pretty much enemy number one of the Rob Ford administration, riotous fun to watch poke great big smoking holes in that clusterfuck we called a mayoralty, sometimes with righteous anger and other times outright mockery. Cole has established himself as a major voice writing (and talking) about the stuff most of us would choose not to think or talk about: racism, poverty and the corrosive effects of poor policing. He’s now taken to sitting for one hour a week in the belly of the beast, hosting an a.m. talk radio show.

Their segment, unsurprisingly, centred mostly around the Canadian government’s proposed bill, C51, their terrorist bill which has generated much (and increasing) pushback. c51protestsThere had been nationwide demonstrations protesting the bill the day before, on Saturday, with the turnout numbered in the tens of thousands. Vaughan had appeared at the one in Toronto, raising eyebrows among some folks, since the leader of his party, Justin Trudeau, has come out and stated that, despite some serious reservations, the Liberals would support the bill. Support it and then change it if elected as the government in this year’s elections.

Once more, the Liberal Party of Canada quakes in the face of theoretical machinations of the diabolical Conservatives. If we do this, then they’ll do that. If they do that, then we’ll look like this.

At a purely crass political level, it’s understandable. c51protests1For the past two elections, the Liberals have been defined to the electorate by the Conservatives, fighting both campaigns from back on their heels. In 2011, the unthinkable happened. They wound up in 3 place, setting out immediately to find a fourth leader to lead them into a fourth straight campaign.

With Justin Trudeau then in place, rather than burst forth with a sense of purpose, driven by, I don’t know, youthful optimism and a truly liberal or progressive agenda, they chose instead a certain tentative amorphousness, nothing which could be defined by anyone especially the Conservatives. Sure, they purged the party of anti-choicers. Trudeau mused about pot decriminalization. But mostly, it was vague generalizations that could not be pinned down.

Nothing anyone could throw a punch at. Equally, nothing anyone could hang a hat on and call home. Just place your worst fears or greatest hopes here.c51protests2

Pretty much the not-conservative politics of our generation. The progressive collapse of vigour and ideas. Hum and haw while licking our wounds in defeat, waiting for the inevitable crash and burn of whatever right wing government is in place. A crash and burn that is inevitable because modern right wing politics is designed to crash and burn, and take everyone around with it.

Tony Blair after the disintegration of Thatcherism. Bill Clinton, post-Reagan. Barak Obama in the wake of W.

We here in Ontario are living it with the McGuinty-Wynne doing little more than smoothing out the rough edges left behind from the Harris years. Much of Toronto’s current woes aren’t due to the Harrisites’ assault but because the Liberals haven’t done enough to fully reverse those policies. Conservatives destroy. nothingleftLiberals validate the principles but deplore the excess.

(Don’t mistake this as some partisan attack. No party on the left, as far as I can see, has stood up strongly enough against the basic tenets of modern conservatism. Challenged its bankrupt orthodoxy.)

So it happens again with Bill 51. Few I have encountered or read outside of Conservative supporters have expressed anything less than outrage, horror, contempt for this piece of proposed legislation. The words of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, appointed by Stephen Harper, as Michael Geist points out:

…the scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the Act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient.  While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive.  All Canadians would be caught in this web.

As a result of SCISA, 17 government institutions involved in national security would have virtually limitless powers to monitor and, with the assistance of Big Data analytics, to profile ordinary Canadians, with a view to identifying security threats among them. In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security agencies to determine the limits of their powers. Generally, the law should prescribe clear and reasonable standards for the sharing, collection, use and retention of personal information, and compliance with these standards should be subject to independent and effective review mechanisms, including the courts.

The scope of the new powers is ‘excessive’. ‘Limitless powers to monitor’ by national security institutions. ‘All Canadians would be caught in this web’.

Yet somehow, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals found enough in bill C51 that they could get behind, support even without changes in oversight or to the vague language defining terrorism. duckandcoverNothing problematic enough to make a political issue out of it. Just go along to get along.

From a strategic standpoint, it may work out for the Liberals. The Conservative government is currently setting itself on fire in a flaming burst of racist demagoguery and other populist nonsense. Support for bill C51, which initially ran high, now seems to be tanking the more people read and talk about it. Perhaps we are witnessing yet another right wing crash and burn. The Liberals might’ve played this one right for a change.

Yet, by mouthing any type of support for the bill, regardless of how guarded or calculated, Liberals again endorsed a conservative narrative. milfordmanThat there is need for increased surveillance, further intrusion into our privacy, perceived security trumps individual rights and freedom. Accommodation not repudiation.

In the above quote, Adam Vaughan runs down a list of offenses committed by the Harper government against the country as proof of why they have lost any sort of authority to govern. It’s long and damning, for sure. But somehow, he wants us to think that such an immoral, unethical government is still capable of delivering a surveillance law with enough integrity to it that his Liberal party can get behind.

That’s the vacuity of our modern day liberalism, folks.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


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