Compare And Contrast

October 14, 2010

As Toronto’s mayoral race is being forcibly shoehorned into an ill-fitting two man race, leaving anyone who usually sits happily left of centre with the distasteful choice between worse, worser or simply making a defiant gesture, the time has come to turn our attentions more fully to the council races. To protect the city’s progressive spirit from the nasty onslaught of a His Honour SmitherFord™®© (FordMan®™©?), a council needs to be in place that will resist the worst impulses of such a short-sighted, small thinking regime. Barring some wacky turn of events between now and October 25th, no one is going to assume the mayoralty with a sweeping mandate. So a strong, purposeful council needs to be in place.

We here in Ward 19 (Joe Pantalone’s former stronghold) have already endorsed Karen Sun as our councillor of choice. But a post in yesterday’s Torontoist caught our attention as it featured our particular council race. It interviewed the three perceived front runners and the thoughts and opinions expressed by two of them struck us as typifying the stark divisions at work in the city at the moment. Whoever prevails will go a long way to determining the direction Toronto takes over the next few years.

Karen Sun versus Sean McCormick.

A quick look at their respective backgrounds and experience reflects an important distinction between the two. Sun has worked with the city as part of its Urban Forestry Services and Water and Wastewater Division. She’s the Toronto chapter executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council and serves on the boards of several extra-governmental community organizations, including Heritage Toronto. McCormick is a media personality who founded the annual summer Queen West Musicfest.

Karen Sun has made a career of active civic engagement with the community. Sean McCormick has a single resume padder. I know throughout this campaign we’ve heard much antagonism toward “career politicians” but it’s safe to assume which one of these candidates will hit the ground running if elected.

Sun and McCormick’s responses to the questions posed by Torontoist also reveal a large gap in knowledge about the issues at work in Ward 19. Simple-minded, misguided ideology informs one while an open, informed, flexible approach is the basis of the other.

When asked about development in Liberty Village, McCormick is generally in favour of it but “…concedes that developers require a certain amount of oversight.” He then focuses on one issue, the pedestrian bridge that is in the works, as if that alone will solve the problems and concerns of increasing density in the area. Like the mayoral candidate he’s fashioning his campaign after, McCormick offers little in the form of insightful ideas that he would bring to the table as councillor.

Same question asked of Karen Sun? “I think there will be more pressure to build denser, and to build towers. And I think that’s fine,” she said. “But if we are going to be building up, I think we need to go to some of those other cities and see how they build tower communities well.”

“Because right now [Toronto is] zoning them as mixed-use, and then building twenty, thirty-storey towers with a Rabba and a Blockbuster on the first floor, and calling that mixed-use. When you’re putting another thousand residents into an area that used to be zoned as employment lands and the only employment opportunities are retail at a couple of stores, I mean, that’s not a community, right?”

On that response alone it’s clear who the more qualified candidate is but it continues for 6 more questions, all of which reveal Mr. McCormick to be as unfit for elected office as Rob Ford is. The Ossington bar/restaurant moratorium? Sun isn’t in favour of it but largely due to the lack of public consultation that was involved. She believes much of the business-resident friction could be alleviated by proper enforcement of current noise by-laws and that the city should work with the province in changing the liquor law licensing to make explicit distinctions between bars and restaurants. Moratorium bad, development good, according to McCormick. He then proceeds to paint the scene on Ossington in its pre-hip days as a hotbed of criminality that suggests he spent more time watching Law & Order at home on TV than he did in the vicinity. And really, Sean? “Ne’er-do-wells”? How old are you anyway? 90?

How about transit expansion? Sun wants to proceed with Transit City because it’s this first massive transit plan for Toronto in decades that has all 3 levels of government on board. McCormick? Subways please and then he goes on to applaud former candidate, Rocco Rossi’s largely discredited plans for selling city assets to finance them. Same theme for the idea of electrification of the Georgetown corridor and Union-Pearson airport link. Sun yes, McCormick no, as it’ll place too much burden on the tax payer, as increased expense automatically translates into increased taxes in Sean’s world. This, despite the fact that, an electrified Georgetown corridor would be highly beneficial to residents of Liberty Village not only environmentally but electric train technology would allow for a stop near the Village which diesel wouldn’t. But, no matter to likes of Sean McCormick and his empty posturing as Angry Taxpayer Man.

While the die may, may, be cast for our disagreeable choice of mayor, we can counteract that by diligently keeping the likes of Sean McCormick out of City Hall. If a healthy majority of Toronto wards elect councillors as intelligent, well-versed and hardworking as Karen Sun, the situation will not be nearly as dire. We can endure a SmitherFord/FordMan®™© as our mayor if we surround them with a council consisting of the likes Karen Sun.

positively 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


One Councillor And One Mayor Are Not Enough

September 28, 2010

Early on at last night’s Ward 19 council debate, it became clear to me that Toronto’s post-amalgamated governance structure is woefully lacking in delivering us the representation we need and deserve. As the questions piled up (both prepared from business and residents association as well as the audience’s more free form stylings), most expressed concerns about purely local issues. The moratorium on restaurants and bars on Ossington Street. Park upkeep and organization at Trinity-Bellwoods. Traffic congestion in Liberty Village and parking at the CNE.

Undoubtedly, some of these have city wide implications concerning matters like density and park management, but it still felt awfully parochial, if I can use that term non-derogatorily. The debate was held in a parish, after all. So why not `parochial’?

Local matters should be the main duty of those seeking a council seat. To look out for the interests of their constituents. Councillors represent the peoples’ voice at City Hall.

But this leaves the city wide view in the hands of the mayor and the mayor only. Councillors sit on various committees that oversee municipal aspects for the entire city like transit, police, planning but they remain councillors first and committee members second. Leaving us with one voice in the face of 44 who must straddle the line between city building and ward defending. Sometimes these two roles not only don’t jibe but are in direct opposition to one another.

Which may explain some of the palpable anger and discontent at the debate last night toward outgoing councillor for ward 19 and mayoral candidate, Joe Pantalone. He was accused by many of non-responsiveness and unilateral decision making. Perhaps this was always the case but I can’t help thinking that as a high ranking official in the Miller administration, Pantalone stopped looking out for the concerns of those who had elected him while he was concentrating on the bigger picture of Toronto as a whole.

A city of this size and diversity cannot be properly represented by one official and a handful of councillors who are secure enough in their ward positions that they can attend to wider city matters. We need another municipal level of government (yes, I said another level of government) whose sole purpose is for the greater good of the city and to coordinate its place within the entire GTA region. A Board of Control, say, elected from the ashes of the former cities of Toronto, York, East York, North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke. Call it, oh I don’t know, Metro Council. But this thing with a mayor and 44 fiefdoms doesn’t really seem to be fully functioning.

It’s a dilemma I’ll be facing when it comes to deciding where to cast my vote for ward 19 councillor. On one hand, there’s Karen Sun. From her, I get a sense of someone looking to contribute to the building of a better city. That’s not to say she won’t stand tall for the people of this ward. She just seems to have a bigger vision. One that goes beyond the Trinity Spadina border.

On the other hand, there’s David Footman. Having just encountered him last night, it would be presumptuous of me to make sweeping generalizations about his campaign but what I saw at the debate (and read from his campaign literature) is a bull terrier in defense of ward 19 and the people living here. Mr. Footman very likely possesses thoughts about the city in its entirety. Upon first impression however, his strengths seemed to be very much local, on the ground.

Toronto voters should not have to make such a choice. Or rather, there should be a second option. To vote for someone like David Footman whose primary job is to look after our neighbourhood needs. And to vote for Karen Sun as our representative for matters encompassing the entire city. Such a system was in place back before we were all one city. Nothing about amalgamation has ameliorated the situation to the point where we don’t require a similar set up again.

undecidedly submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Love This City

April 7, 2010

Prone as I am to impulsive acts of merriment and derring-do, some of which have taken me far afield for weeks on end, I’ll be the first to say that there is a time and place for such pleasure seeking. One has to set boundaries or else it’s all play and no work. That, my friends, is the slippery slope on the road to pure hedonism, and take it from someone who has been there, done that and purchased the tank top to prove it, it is a tough, seductive slog back to the land of the dreary everyday.

So it was last night. We decided to take our editorial meeting out from the fetid confines of the office/media viewing room, pungent with the smell of non-stop sports spectating, chocolate ingesting and the agony of defeat. It was necessary to find a TV-free venue if we hoped to accomplish any semblance of work; jonesing as our colleague was with an insatiable need to cheer for someone, anyone.

We discovered just the place at the northern tip of the hot, hot west end strip of Ossington Street. The Painted Lady, it’s called. Had I known it would ultimately live up to its alluring name, I would’ve insisted on returning at another time when work wasn’t the reason we were looking for a bar.

Pure hindsight, unfortunately. It all stared innocuously enough. Ossington was quiet, what with it being the Tuesday night after a long, long weekend. The weather had returned to spring-like conditions from the blast of summer we’d received over the past few days. The Painted Lady was sparsely occupied, perfect for a work meeting. One could see, however, the appeal of it with a full crowd crammed into its fairly narrow confines. A slightly elevated stage sat at the back of the room past the long bar, underneath a ceiling decorated with deliberately gaudy baubles. Was that a picture of 70s icon, Xaviera Hollander aka The Happy Hooker peeking out from the back wall behind the drum set, slightly obscured by a heavy velvet curtain?

You want to say that The Painted Lady has a very lower, east side Manhattan feel but NYC comparisons are as futile as they are useless. It reveals a paucity of imagination on our part which I have just done by pursuing this thought out loud. So I’ll stop.

Things went swimmingly at first although it was a task to keep distracting Cityslikr from peering longingly up at the empty TV screen hung over the bar. We amassed future civic issues to follow, politicians and media personalities to praise and chastise. We even found ourselves downing delicious (if slightly sweet) pulled pork sandwiches prepared by our friendly if slightly reticent bartender who told us that this was something we could not expect when crowds filled the place.

Fair enough. But on this particular evening, all was well for the brain trust of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

That is, until the band arrived.

Why I didn’t insist at that very moment on paying up and heading out, I can’t honestly say. That the meeting was at an end was beyond doubt. There would be no more work talk to be talked. The bigger concern was for tomorrow (now today) and perhaps a few more days after that. I can personally attest to situations like this spiraling out of control and wanted no part of it now. My colleagues could not see (or chose not to see) the danger lurking. They were deaf to my protestations.

The band called themselves Rambunctious and were an ad hoc group of musicians featuring mainly horns and woodwinds with a drummer and accordion thrown into the mix. Only after it was too late did we learn that Rambunctious got together every Tuesday for an improv jam. And jam they did.

My best description of it was a sort of Broken Social Scene gathering playing dirty jazz. It immediately took me back to my days auditing religious courses at Loyola University in New Orleans where I frequented a down and dirty place called The Maple Leaf Bar, listening to the likes of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. It was that good.

Which is why I had to leave. Eventually. Someone had to be the responsible one and it was quickly obvious that neither of my colleagues would be up to the task. I gathered together my meeting notes and took one for the team, calling it a night prematurely. Bidding the other two adieu (which they barely acknowledged), I ventured out into the drizzle, looking back one last time to witness as they shared a round of Jägermeister shots with the band. No, they would be of no use in the morning.

As I made my way home, I wrapped myself in the self-righteously edifying cloak of being the responsible one in the crowd. Besides, there would be other Tuesdays for me. At The Painted Lady. With Rambunctious.

longingly submitted by Acaphlegmic