Meet A Mayoral Candidate XXII

July 23, 2010

It’s Friday. Time for another Meet A—Oh, pick me! Pick me! Can I do it?! Can I?? Huh? Huh? Huh?

Oh, I’ve been waiting for this one. It has my name written all over it. (Urban Sophisticat in case you can’t read the fine print.) This is the post I was born to write.

Up today: David Vallance!

But first, a history lesson, crudely told. (No, don’t worry, mother. There won’t be any curse words. Probably.) When Quebec voters want their voices to be heard and their views known in Ottawa and throughout the country, who do they turn to? The Bloc Quebecois and their provincial counterparts, the Parti Quebecois, non? On nous entendra, oui? Otherwise, we will pull up stakes from this thing we call confederation and go it alone, buckos. (How’s that for distilling over 400 years of history in a single paragraph?)

Now, that’s not to diminish the integrity of the separatist movement in la belle province as little more than political posturing. But for all its fidelity to the cause of an independent country, it also swings some mighty effective pipe in the corridors of power.

And couldn’t we here in Toronto use a little bit of that around about now?

We’re told, not asked, that we’ll be hosting the G20 meeting in the downtown core of the city. We’re told, not asked, to fund a slew of provincially mandated programs, without receiving adequate funding from the province. We’re told to expect x-billions of dollars for expanded transit funding only to have a serious chunk of it arbitrarily pulled from the table because someone else has run their coffers dry (having stocked it in the first place with much of our money). Sorry, chums. A bit strapped right now. I’ll get you next time.

The front running candidates for mayor belt out a familiar refrain about the city needing to get its fiscal house in order, and cease going to senior levels of government with cap in hand. Candidate David Vallance has another, more intriguing idea. A province of Toronto. Try that on for size. Walk around in it for a bit. See how it fits your curvy sensibilities.

The Province of Toronto?! What the hell are you talking about? That’s just crazy talk. Who is this insane David Vallance? Maybe he should take that tinfoil hat of his off.

Actually, Mr. Vallance is a former life insurance agent who, since 1979 has been part of a wide array of resident and ratepayers associations. He formed the Bloor-Annex Business Improvement Area (BIA) in 1996 and served on the board member of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA). In 1997, Mr. Vallance chaired Taxpayers Against Megacity.

Versed as he is in business, he puts forward a business argument for why the city of Toronto should be a province. While Mr. Vallance has combed through the GTA’s FIRs (Financial Information Returns) to arrive at his conclusion, let me offer up the simplest reason: more money is extracted from Toronto by the senior levels of government then is returned in services by them. It was a point Joe Pantalone tried to make at this week’s CP24 mayoral debate but was shouted down by the other contenders who clearly didn’t want to talk about it. Why not? Well, it goes against the prevailing, anti-incumbent narrative that they’re trying to spin. Spending is out of control at City Hall. We have to rein it in. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut!!

David Vallance doesn’t buy it. “Our spending problem is beyond our control,” he says. “For municipal services we are not out of line with most other municipalities and much of the spending reflects Toronto’s demographics.” i.e. a larger influx of immigrants and the related costs of settling them. In other words, the mayoral campaign of 2010 is being fought under false premises, driven by misdirection, lies and outright bullshit. (Sorry ma.)

Mr. Vallance sees a province of Toronto taking “… the boundaries of the former Metropolitan Toronto, an area of 630 square kilometres. The province would consist of the six municipalities that made up Metropolitan Toronto prior to amalgamation: the borough of East York and the cities of Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, Toronto and York.” We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke might take it one step further, inviting any of the GTA region that wanted to join forces. While much enmity can be summoned up toward Toronto from its exburb neighbours, I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to say that, ultimately, places like Mississauga, Pickering and Vaughan (you’re welcome, btw, for that subway stop that’s coming your way) share much more in common with the central core than they do with, say, Kapuskasing. Vallance wouldn’t go down that road but, hey, we’re not going to agree on everything. Even just encompassing 416 would make a province of Toronto the fifth most populous in the country.

A province of Toronto would elect a provincial government just like we do currently in Ontario, with a similar party system. The megacity would then be broken down back into more workable pieces, not necessarily a bad thing as all those benefits of size have failed to materialize. If in place now, Mayor David Miller would probably be running for a third term while Etobicoke would have that ‘crazy’ mayor Rob Ford. Instead of negotiating with a Queen’s Park full of outsiders, there’d be a province who understands the unique needs of the city because they actually live here. On matters of federal jurisdiction, Toronto would deal directly with Ottawa without having to go through and be dictated by an entity called Ontario.

Certainly there are those like retiring PC MPP Bill Murdoch (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) who would not only hold the door open for Toronto to leave but would help pack our bags, so he and his people would be free to cull all the animals they wanted without any interference from us. If he can imagine an Ontario without Toronto, why can’t we picture a Toronto outside of Ontario? It’s easy if you try. Let’s at least have that debate. It’s time to welcome David Vallance to the table in order for his views to be heard.

patriotically civically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


It Is On

March 17, 2010

Nothing to do with article. Just a nod to St. Patrick's Day.

So if there are Torontonians out there looking for reasons to vote Progressive Conservative in the next provincial election, I think outspoken Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch just provided you one.

Hold on, I hear you saying. Why on earth would anyone in Toronto want to vote Progressive Conservative after the damage their gang of backwood thugs inflicted on the city the last time they were in power? They can’t buy a seat here exactly because of that.

No argument there. It’s just that Wild Bill Murdoch has said out loud an idea that most of us who live in the city only secretly and silently harbor. He thinks it’s time for Toronto to separate from the rest of Ontario and become its own province. As a Torontonian, I have to heartily agree with Murdoch which, in all likelihood, has been and will be the only time such a thing could ever happen.

“The province is run totally by the mentality that is coming out of Toronto. The government of the day can’t get anything done because they are overruled by Toronto,” Murdoch was quoted as saying. Really? You don’t say, Mr. Murdoch. Because from my perspective, deep down the 416 rabbit hole, that comes as complete news to me.

Now I don’t know how exactly power is wielded in political institutions like Queen’s Park. Maybe it’s not about the numbers. But a quick count of the 71 standing Liberal MPPs shows that 19 of them have a 416 area code in the constituency offices. That’s just under 27%. Of the 26 cabinet posts including the Premier who hails from the very non-Toronto riding of Ottawa South, 6 are Torontonians. That represents 23%.

Even if you try to argue that key ministries exert more influence than the actual numbers would warrant, there’s nothing of substance there either. In addition to the premier not being from Toronto, such heavy hitting portfolios like the Attorney General, Education, Finance, Labour, Enivornment and Health are all headed by MPPs who aren’t elected from Toronto. Even the Minster of Municipal Affairs and Housing – the de facto boss of cities – is from St. Catherines.

Not that I’m saying it should be any different. It’s just that I don’t know what the fuck it is that MPP Bill Murdoch is talking about. (I’m sure that’s not the first time someone’s said that, nor will it be the last.) By what standard or measure could Toronto be seen to be ‘overruling’ anything at Queen’s Park under the present government? Show me how that works, Mr. Murdoch.

How be we just disagree to agree. Murdoch thinks that rural Ontario would be better off without Toronto and free to cull coyotes as they see fit. I think Toronto would fare better on its own as well, doing a little culling ourselves, politically speaking. Of tartan tie wearing, hillbilly rubes trapped in the amber of 19th-century thought and beliefs.

There is one hitch, though. Murdoch wants to decouple the province only from area code 416 and take the 905 region with him. It makes political sense as 905 does tilt a little more Tory blue than its downtown cousins. While I’m sure there is a sizable chunk of 905ers who share Murdoch’s disdain of 416 and would happily wash their hands of the place, it’s tough to imagine everyone en masse cutting ties with Toronto. You think the good folks of Hamilton feel a greater affinity for Owen Sound or Nipissing than they do Toronto? How be immediate exburban places Markham or Pickering?

I don’t have the answers but it is a conversation I’d be very willing to have. So thanks for bringing it up, Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch. And let me just say from the outset, it’s not you (yes it is). It’s me (no it isn’t). We’ve just grown apart. Far, far apart.

ready to move on… edly by Cityslikr


Germanically Speaking

March 9, 2010

Zwischenstadt. One of those malleable German word/phrases that can be both laser-like in its specificity and so hopelessly ambiguous as to be utterly meaningless when translated into English. Like gestalt. Or fahrvergnügen.

Coined by German architect and urban planner Thomas Sieverts, zwischenstadt originally referred to the newer outlying sections of European cities that were built around the old historic centres, largely after the Second World War. The places where urban and rural meet; the ‘sprawl’ on the margins of a city. Adopted and then adapted for a wider non-European meaning, zwischenstadt came to mean the Edge City to Joel Garreau and a Technoburb for Robert Fishman. Ed Soja’s zwischenstadt was Exopolis.

For our purposes here, let us think of zwischenstadt as what is called an ‘in-between city’. These are the largely residential post-war suburbs that sprung up around the inner downtown core of Toronto and once were on the edges where urban met rural but are now sandwiched between the downtown core and the newer, more prosperous suburbs that make up the 905 region. Places like Scarborough and North York that, to borrow a phrase from Julie-Anne Boudreau, Roger Keil and Douglas Young in their book Changing Toronto, operate “in the shadows of Toronto’s glamour zones…”

What’s that? Markham, Pickering and Vaughan? Glamourous?! Yes 416ers, for a good many people, you are not the only game in town as much as that may bruise your collective egos. The in-between city possesses neither the allure of downtown gentrification nor the shiny newness of big houses on big lots in the exurbs.

While both the outer ring and inner core of what is now termed the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have generally flourished overall during the era of globalization and neoliberal economic policy rule, large sections of the in-between city have fared less well. We now talk of the frayed suburbs and their high priority neighbourhoods that are underprovided with both resources and organization. These are the parts of the city hit hardest when the economy nosedives and the last to reap any benefits that trickle down when times are good. When talk turns to the in-between city, it usually involves crime (Summer of the Gun) or economic insecurity.

A school of urban thought believes that the in-between city suffers from the consequences of our adherence to “… the myth of the ideal compact city…” as Boudreau, Keil and Young refer to it in their book. The suburbs seen as mere satellites of the central core, providing space and more affordable living to those who serviced the needs of downtown. Now with the phenomenal growth of the regions even further on the periphery, the in-between city is neither here nor there. It just is. Its needs and issues, as usual, subservient to those of the core or lost in the tug of war between powerful 416 interests and those in the 905.

Certainly the inner-ring suburbs are receiving little attention so far in the municipal election campaign. The battle lines have been drawn between the wealthier enclaves of midtown Toronto, Etobicoke and North York versus those living between St. Clair and the lake. In the increasingly vigorous move to the right by the leading candidates for mayor and their calls for cuts and freezes at City Hall, the needs of the in-between city like public transit and affordable housing are, in fact, coming under threat.

Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi has touted his City Builders Fund where he would direct 50% of additional fees that the city receives whenever a development goes beyond existing zoning laws into community projects in high priority neighbourhoods through the Toronto Community Foundation. This is fine as far as it goes but it is simply more of the same approach; public financing dependant on private money and will. It’s highly discretionary and often times a one shot deal that undercuts the notion of an overall plan. There’s no vision.

Without vision, Toronto will continue to stumble along with the increasingly familiar widening gap between the haves and have-nots. There will be those living in the city and those who live in the in-between city. Such an imbalance can only adversely affect our ability to contribute to the region’s growth as a vital economic and social centre. Moreover, by giving into the fiscal pressures of naked self-interest, we are undermining the system as a whole and threaten the very, as I think the Germans might say, gestalt of our city.

Teutonically submitted by Acaphlegmic