We Want To Rule. Just Don’t Ask Us To Govern.

January 31, 2011

Last week the notion got floated that if the province really, really insisted, the Ford administration was more than willing to hand it control of the TTC. That it got publicly slapped down in fairly quick order by folks from the McGuinty government should come as little surprise. Queen’s Park still refuses to re-upload its obligation of paying 50% of the annual operating costs that it booted in 1995, so the idea that they would willingly pick up the tab for the entire operation seems, well, more than a little fanciful.

I am hardly a transit expert. Scratch that. I am a transit ignoramus. That may be a bit strong. I don’t know nearly enough about public transit as I should. There. That’s better. So I wouldn’t dare offer an opinion as to whether it would be better or worse if the TTC was under the auspices of our provincial government. There might be some sense in it if it provided a certain seamlessness to an entire GTA regional transit system. On the other hand, it would distance management even further from the day-to-day operation in an organization already maligned as being out of touch with its customers. In addition, the province in its oversight of Metrolinx hasn’t been heaped with praise for its responsiveness to the public.

No matter. The province doesn’t appear willing to saddle itself with a millstone like the TTC leaving it in the hands of the city now under a leadership allergic to actual governance. It talks up mightily the concept of customer service but wants the scope of the services it provides limited. Policing. Potholes. Streetlights. Anything more than that and it’s probably gravy.

It’s a divestment of authority under the banner of fiscal discipline that is the mark of small-minded municipal politicians unconcerned with much else outside of keeping taxes low and the streets safe and clean. As if we’re living in Mayberry or Pleasantville. They seek as little responsibility as possible as more responsibility only comes with more decisions and increased complexity. Complexity, ultimately, costs.

Problem is, 21st-century cities especially big ones like Toronto are complex organisms, long since outgrown the facile perspectives on municipal governance now on offer by our current mayor. Yes, we (like every other municipality in this province) are saddled with an incredibly dated structural burden that goes back to Confederation when we were an agrarian country and cities were looked down on as nothing more than ‘creatures of the provinces’, subject to provincial whim, abuse and neglect. But the world has changed, whether or not senior levels of government accept that fact, and cities that stand pat, unwilling to adapt to their growing importance on a global scale, are in danger of turning themselves into backwaters.

Backwaters deem public transit unimportant enough to try and unload. Backwaters question environmental measures like re-forestation and water efficiency. Backwaters relegate culture, nutritional programs and even libraries as outside the sphere of “core services” that they should provide. Backwaters sound like this: “Graffiti is vandalism, pure and simple.

The blind forces of urbanization flowing along the lines of least resistance show no aptitude for creating an urban and industrial pattern that will be stable, self-sustaining, and self renewing.

So wrote Lewis Mumford some 55 years ago. Unfortunately, those ‘blind forces of urbanization’ are now hard at work here in Toronto, refusing to look up from their abacus and see that the well-being of the city depends on much more than the bottom line. ‘Affordability’ is not always about money and ‘hard decisions’ don’t always mean cuts to services that make a city more competitive, attractive and liveable.

Hard decisions aren’t those that are made that conform to your ideology. Hard decisions are made by those who take their leadership role seriously and see themselves as more than merely bookkeepers. Hard decisions accept responsibility. They don’t shirk it. And so far, Mayor Ford and his team seem determined to show they want less responsibility for the welfare of all the citizens of this city, and that hardly bodes well for either our posterity or prosperity.

cheaply submitted by Cityslikr


Vision Quest III

October 1, 2010

Now I don’t know if this’ll work the same magic as it did last week when we wrote about Sarah Thomson’s candidacy and a few days later – voila – she dropped out of the race. But here’s hoping…

Vision Quest III. Up this week, Rob Ford!

There’s really not much more that can be said about Councillor Rob Ford and the race he’s run so far that hasn’t been said over and over and over again already. It’s all so improbable. It’s built on misguided anger and faulty numbers. It makes sense only to those who’ve pledged blind loyalty to the wacky internal logic at its molten core.

(Wacky internal logic, you ask? OK, how about this. Increase councillor responsiveness to their constituents by cutting the number of councillors in half. Wait, what? Won’t that just double their workload and make it that much harder to serve their constituents? On the face of it, sure, but since there’ll be fewer council seats, the competition to get elected will be fiercer and, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Free Market 101 can tell you, tougher competition means only the fittest will survive. So, fewer council seats equals better councillors, all who’ll work harder which, and I’m not even sure the hardest core of Ford’s hardcore supporters have thought this thing as far through as this, it will also increase council’s diversity. How, you ask, again? Well, as Rob Ford is on record saying, the Orientals work like dogs. Such hard workers will make them more fit to be councillors. Under a Mayor Rob Ford and his smaller council, the Orientals will take over council! Two birds with one stone.)

That, in a nutshell, is how our mayoralty campaign has gone since Ford entered the race back in March. As we’ve written here frequently, regardless of the outcome on October 25th, Rob Ford has already won. Or at least, his cause can be declared victorious. His ceaseless harping on City Hall as out of control – bloated, profligate, corrupt, onerous on the citizens – has essentially salted the grounds around Nathan Phillips Square (concrete and all) and created a poisoned environment where every politician and bureaucrat can now be painted with the same unforgiving brush. In it only for themselves with their grubby little hands always in taxpayers’ pockets, demanding more from us and giving less back in return.

That there’s but a sliver of truth to any of that is entirely beside the point. Perception is everything, and as in most talking points emanating from the small government, libertarian leaning sect, simply repeating the same message over and over again at higher and higher decibels passes as truth or fact. It sure beats having to take the time to work through a coherent policy platform.

And why would they, for godssakes? Since the beginning of his run, Ford’s been amply rewarded for the discipline he’s shown staying on message. His lead in the polls is, at least in part, credited to delivering an easy-to-remember brand. Stop the Gravy Train! Cut Wasteful Spending! A War on Cars! (Credit for that should really go to Rocco Rossi but Ford’s it made his own.) It makes for great headlines and editorial chatter.

But just how difficult is that, I have to ask. We used to demand that high school students memorize the fucking periodic table of elements. Now, we’re applauding a man who wants to be mayor for his amazing ability to string the same five or six words together over-and-over again regardless of context or much, if any, meaning? Perhaps an admirable trait to posses in the advertising and marketing businesses but something short of desirable when looking for someone to oversee the nuances of governing a large city.

That’s the rub, of course, for Rob Ford and his ardent supporters. There is no nuance to governing a city big or small. Just fill the potholes, fix the streetlights, rid the roads of crime, bikes, streetcars, the homeless (see crime), festivals and marathons, and respond to every single inquiry and demand from every single voter that makes one. Outside of that, leave it up to the private sector to take care of all our other needs. Easy-peazy.

Aside from Europeans and their apologists, who wouldn’t want life and governance to work out just like that? Just like it was back in … the imaginations of those who actually believe there was such a time when all our needs were met, our taxes low and when we could keep our doors unlocked because crime is what happened somewhere else. That is, in a 1950s sitcom.

There has been some recent pushback to these simple minded sentiments. Since Ford became the presumptive favourite, his candidacy has come under more intense scrutiny. The results have not been pretty. His transit plan (or something approximating that) is a mess. Budget numbers don’t add up, with his proposed tax cuts leaving a large whole that he can’t fill without service cuts he’s refusing to divulge. His track record in council suggests that he has very few allies at City Hall which might render him ineffectual as mayor if he does get elected. Continued personal gaffes evoke images of Mel Lastman bringing unwanted international attention on the city.

Even the Toronto Sun has questioned the viability of a Rob Ford mayoralty. Sue­-Ann Levy took a powder and hiked on over to the Rocco Rossi camp. If a radical right wing candidate can’t even maintain the support of a radical right wing rag, is there the critical mass in place to be elected? Plenty of people remain angry out there at what they perceive to be our local government’s vast shortcomings but are there enough of them who will ignore their better instincts and put their ‘champion’ in place so he can take back City Hall for them?

That will be the question between now and October 25th.

quizzically submitted by Cityslikr