Manning The Lifeboats

October 25, 2011

Yeterday, 24 hours or so before his first anniversary of being elected mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, decked out in Ticat black and yellow, pushed through council yet another solid plank of his election platform, that of contracting out curbside waste collection between Etobicoke and Yonge Street. There was a certain grim determination to it. Although there was much back slapping and handshaking after the vote among some of the 25 councillors who sided with the mayor, it was absent the gleeful triumphalism that had accompanied such successes earlier in his tenure.

Mayor Ford better be right this time. Eyes shut, ears plugged, fingers crossed. There’s no longer really much wiggle room.

In less than one year supporting the Ford agenda has gone from being an absolute must for councillors looking to occupy the space anywhere near the middle of the political spectrum to something not far from a liability. The mayor’s approval rating has dropped startlingly low startlingly quickly owing to the fact that much of what he campaigned on turned out to be a solid combination of bunk and hokum. There wasn’t nearly the amount of waste (or ‘gravy’ to use the tired, tired turn of phrase) he promised there would be to find and it has become apparent that, in fact, city hall does have a revenue problem more than it does a spending problem. So the mad rush to eliminate the Vehicle Registration Tax and freeze property taxes has created a wider gap in the budget than there needed to be which has put cuts to services front and centre. Something the mayor guaranteed would not be necessary.

Despite all that, Mayor Ford still had his way with council yesterday.

But I’m guessing that, if not a pyrrhic victory, it set the clock ticking on the ultimate fate of his administration and those who have thrown in their lot with him. Because if the contracting out of waste collection to GFL does not translate into $11 million in annual savings to the city, if there’s any sort of hiccup in the delivery of the service, if the public aren’t happy with the change in providers, it will turn out to be yet another boondoggle from the mayor and his team. Fool me once, shame on you and all that.

The significance of this vote is all in the timing. The change won’t take place until next August. To be fair, it’ll really take a year to be able to assess the performance which will be 2013, just a few months before the next election cycle kicks into gear. By August 2014, two months before the election, the success (or not) of private waste pickup west of Yonge Street will be a major issue. If it’s seen as a success, all those who supported it will have something to crow about. If not, well, it’ll all be scurrying for cover.

Which goes a long way to explaining the rather tepid defence put up at council during Monday’s debate.

Yes, the hardcore ideologues and true believers sang the praises of contracting out, with all the improvement in services and millions of dollars saved being touted. (Remember this, people. $11 million per year. Guaranteed.) They were joined by the union haters and everyone who suffered mightily during the horrible summer of 2009. And, of course, the doomsayers of inevitability, featuring the hangdog hysteria of Budget Chief Michael Del Grande. If we don’t do this, we will be sued. Sued, I tells ya!

The rest, however, just seemed to want to be done with it. No discussion. Let’s get `er done and move on. In no way did they want to go on record in favour of proceeding.

Why?

There were too many questions about the true worth of the move. There always are when it comes to contracting out or privatizing waste collection. For every claim for the upside of such a move, there’s a counterclaim of a city or municipality taking things back in house. While Deputy Mayor couldn’t say enough about the 16 years of non-city worker trash pickup in Etobicoke, it comes with asterisks. Less diversion. Easier routes.

And the GFL proposal council approved is additionally fraught with questions. How was the bid so low? Do the numbers actually hold up? Who knows. Since it was just a Request For Quote process, the bid wasn’t assessed against the others. It came in lowest. That’s all the city needed. Even the outside consultants brought in to look at the bid, Ernst and Young, weren’t asked about its feasibility, leading me to wonder what exactly their role was. Yep. We can confirm those are numbers.

Most of the mayor’s supporters didn’t want to know the answers to any of those questions. Only Councillors Gloria Lindsay Luby and Josh Matlow expressed any concerned about how low the GFL bid was, saying it might be too good to be true and that you ultimately get what you pay for. Still, they both fell dutifully in line.

But if, like so many of Mayor Ford’s ill-thought out schemes go south on him, if this move to contract out waste collection does indeed turn out to be too good to be true, those two councillors along with their silent cohort, will have provided themselves cover. We thought something was fishy but the mayor, the deputy mayor and the chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee assured us it would all be fine. ‘A win-win for everybody,’ I believe Councillor Minnan-Wong said. So don’t look at us. We’re just as a surprised as you are that things didn’t turn out like we were told they would.

A distancing embrace, let’s call it. Fence straddling might be another way to look at. Diligently delivering deniability when the cows come home to roost rather than doing their due diligence. Not only is the bulk of the mayor’s support softening, it’s also shirking its responsibility. That’s bad news for him and, more importantly, bad news for the citizens of Toronto as a disturbing number of our elected officials have gone on record as now looking out for themselves rather than for those who put them in office.

harbingerly submitted by Cityslikr


Return To Civilization. Such As It Is.

August 3, 2011

I am the first to re-emerge from the woods.

It was an eventful few days, full of surprises, undercooked food and questionably cooked alcohol. The blindness, mercifully, turned out to be only temporary. The holes in the mind, I fear, may be longer to diagnose and repair.

Arriving at the homestead/hunting cabin/inherited family real estate/squatting place, Cityslikr and I were surprised by the presence of our long lost colleague Acaphlegmic who, judging by the lived in look and smell of the place, had been camped out there for some time. As regular readers of this site know, Acaphlegmic self embedded into Ford Nation just after election night last October to try and understand the heart of the beast we had just installed as our next mayor. To what end was never quite clear as his irregular posts (here and here) bordered on the, if not delusional, let’s call it fantastical. Instructional would not be an adjective I’d attach to his correspondence.

But there he was, in all his feral splendor, awaiting our appearance. How long he’d been there, he wouldn’t say. Why he was there, also left unanswered. He was sphinx-like with any information, saying that what he saw, what he learned, all the knowledge he’d gleaned from his time in Ford Nation was not going to be handed over to some nowhere blog without adequate recompense. There was a book to be written and he was just the person to write it. Any evidence suggesting that’s what he’d been doing out in the wilderness was scant.

What was evident was Acaphlegmic had been rolling around contentedly in his own approbation along with, as our noses hinted at, many fish carcasses that had washed ashore. The reason for such sentiment was pasted to the inside of the cabin. Copy after copy of his mayoral endorsement last year covered every inch of the walls. Standing in the centre of the room, it wasn’t as spooky as, say, Shelley Duvall discovering pages and pages of her husband typing out All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. We were miles away from anything resembling civilization and it was an awfully deep lake we had just crossed. It would take months to discover our bodies.

Fortunately, Acaphlegmic wasn’t in a killing kind of mood. Mostly. It was all about the crowing, the chest beating, the I-Told-You-Sos. “I was right, wasn’t I, chaps. Bulls-eye. Correctamundo. Fucking dead on.” Agreeing with him, even heartily, didn’t seem to lessen his demands that we agree with him.

Admittedly, given the last few months, it’s difficult not to concede he’d been accurate in his assessment of how a Mayor Ford scenario would play out. Who amongst us didn’t see that train wreck coming? Who amongst us, that is, who didn’t vote for the man. It’s all been as grisly, divisive and dispiriting as we feared it would be if such a thing came to pass. The difference is, very few of us were reveling in the situation to any degree. Certainly not to the degree Acaphlegmic appeared to be.

“It is as how I prophesized!” Acaphlegmic bellowed at us intermittently throughout the weekend. Not meaning to draw any comparisons between either Cityslikr or myself to Jesus but it did feel a little like we were in the presence of crazy John the Baptist. “Our time is soon at hand.” Yes, he did actually say that. On more than one occasion.

I will distill Acaphlegmic because I don’t think, at this point, you could handle pure Acaphlegmic.

What we are witnessing now in Toronto is the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarianism end game of the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarians. From Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush to the Tea Party to Stephen Harper to Tim Hudak to Rob Ford with some willing and conciliatory liberals (both small and big ‘L’) thrown in for good measure. The slashing and burning, vilifying and demonizing has all trickled down to where the rubber meets the road, municipalities. This is where we all discover exactly what they mean by ‘small government’, ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘respect for the taxpayer’.

It all sounds so reasonable and mainstream when it’s stated hypothetically. Who doesn’t want to find efficiencies? I’m a taxpayer. Hells yeah, I want respect. A leaner, meaner, smaller government? You betcha. Go right ahead. Cut our libraries. Reduce public transit. Gut environment—

No, wait. What?

At the municipal level, we’re getting all close up and personal with what these people mean when they talk about small government. It’s really all about less government. Reduce. Eliminate. Obliterate. Fewer helping hands. Less shared sacrifice. Watching the men of KPMG present their Core Services Review over the last couple weeks, the realization sunk in that it’s only about throwing citizens to the wolves of privatization and free marketeers. No guarantees we’d be paying less or services improved. And absolutely no word on any negative social impacts of guts and cuts. Not in our purview.

Trickle down neoliberalism, offloading and downloading costs and responsibilities from the feds to the provinces to the municipalities. Now with a mayor and his administration in place as willing waterboys, poised to do the dirty work, Toronto is realizing the implications and consequences of such radical ideology where everything is on the table. Everything, that is, that makes a city livable, desirable and place which encourages its citizens to reach their fullest potential. There’s no more hiding from that fact.

Acaphlegmic called it back in October. We wrote it off as the rantings of a crank and alarmist. It’s hard not to admit he may’ve been barking up the right tree.

contritely submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Proper Usage

May 17, 2011

Yesterday @GraphicMatt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto linked to the comment section of Luca De Franco’s Spacing article about the battle over the proposed Fort York pedestrian/cyclist bridge. One particular comment quoted an email response from the city’s budget chief, Mike Del Grande. The above linked piece at Ford For Toronto covers the gist of Councillor Del Grande’s response much more thoroughly than we will here but one sentence caught our attention.

“This bridge will cost 22 [million] + the opportunity to gain 25 million from proper usage of the site,” the budget chief wrote. “So it will really cost 47 million at the end of the day. Sorry, that is very poor use of limited funds the City has.”

‘Proper usage’? You know once someone starts spouting euphemisms they aren’t willing to come right out and say what they really mean. What kind of ‘proper usage’ would net the city $25 million? Not many things outside of parceling off a prime piece of real estate, I’m thinking. So to Councillor Del Grande’s mind it’s not just about saving money and building a cheaper bridge. It’s about selling off city assets – I mean, ‘monetizing’ the city’s assets — to deal with an impending, tsunami-sized budget hole next year.

So it begins. Under the banner of sound fiscal discipline or whatever other business-speak blather the budget chief spews forth, it’s nothing more than a fire sale. One-off transactions that may plug a temporary hole but could end up costing the city more in the long run, if not in direct financial terms but in the ability to control development, plan neighbourhoods, create livable public space. Councillor Del Grande is simply waving the white flag of surrender and admitting that he’s out of his depth. The best he can come up with in the face of a budget crunch is to sell, outsource and privatize everything that’s not nailed down.

There’s. No. More. Money. Everything’s. On. The. Table. Everything. Must. Go.

The Waterfront. Toronto Hydro. Toronto Parking Authority. Unload it all. Cash for control. It’ll look good for the annual bottom line. Until next year, of course, when all that revenue dries up and there’s another shortfall. Rinse and repeat.

“Bridge yes but not at any cost,” Budget Chief also notes. “But… does not carry the day. This kind of thinking has caused a great financial problem for the City.”

That he remains firm in this belief that reckless spending is the source of Toronto’s current money woes speaks to either a fundamental lack of understanding of the budget process or just plain ol’ willful ideology. The city could cut its discretionary spending to the very finest of cores and still find itself in a pinch due to the mandated services it must provide. Maybe that’s the path Councillor Del Grande wants to travel down. But I’d respect him more if he had the courage of his convictions to admit it was a choice and not a necessity foisted on him by the profligacy of the previous administration.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Company He Keeps

October 3, 2010

Before everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that at least a Rob Ford mayoralty is not assured at this point, we might be well served to pause and look more closely at the man who is shaping up to be the only viable alternative. George Smitherman.

Ignoring the distasteful aspect of feeling obligated to vote for a candidate in order to stop another one from winning – the ‘Do I Have To?’ factor – and the inevitable disenchantment with the political process that follows, we should be alert to the tone Smitherman’s taken on the campaign trail recently. Instead of trying to distance himself from Ford’s ultra-right platform and embracing the wide open centrist territory, Smitherman’s been mouthing increasingly conservative platitudes. He’s stepping onto his rival’s turf and attempting to engage him in a knockdown, brawling neo-con slugfest.

Tax freezes (and cuts), hiring freezes except for police, privatization and outsourcing. All of which can be found on Rob Ford’s campaign website. Yes, Smitherman’s pledged to increase things like arts funding but it’s difficult to see how those kind of ‘special interest’ targets will get much priority amidst the fiscal restraint he’s vowing to bring to City Hall.

Moreover, look at the people backing Smitherman and working in his camp. While his fellow rivals on the right, Ford and Rocco Rossi and the media organs that stand in opposition to him, namely the Toronto Sun, try pinning the tax-and-spend, Liberal label on Furious George – he was part of the Dalton McGuinty government after all – Smitheman For Mayor is actually eye deep in Tory blue. And not just the soft and squishy Progressive Conservative brand of yore, either. Jamie Watt, senior campaign strategist for Smitherman, was a communications advisor for Mike Harris in 1995 and 1999 where he helped introduce good ol’ American style neo-conservatism into these parts.

Further Harris ties gained front page news last month with an open letter of support for George Smitherman signed by some 38 conservative voices. Some prominent, others forgettable but most having had something to do with the Mike Harris government.

In amongst those names was one Ralph Lean. Lean is part of the Smitherman fundraising team and signed on early to the campaign in that capacity. Along with being a highly placed figure on the conservative scene, Lean made waves last year when he publicly broke with David Miller after having turned heads by helping Miller get re-elected in 2006. It was a public excoriation in the pages of the National Post that came out mere weeks before Miller announced he would not seek a 3rd term.

Among the mistakes that Miller had made as mayor that cheesed Lean off were “… overspending, for failing to freeze councillors’ salaries, for narrowing Jarvis Street, for fighting with Porter Airlines (“I’m a big supporter of Porter”) and for refusing to examine outsourcing some city functions.” Hmmm. Sound familiar? Oh right, Smitherman’s mouthed the same complaints, all of which he’s vowing to alleviate if we elect him mayor.

None of this is at all new or groundbreaking. The dividing line between Conservative and Liberal politics is often times slippery and blurry. It’s just that as the endgame of our mayoral race is being forcibly shaped into a two man race, between the far right and the not-as-far right, progressive voices and views have been squeezed out. The accepted narrative being spun has it that Toronto is a city on the brink of financial and social ruin, its citizens over-taxed and under-serviced. Pure hyperbole mixed in with a soupçon of outright bullshit.

Not only are those of us who range on the political spectrum from centre to left being asked – nay, told – that in order to avoid a calamitous victory by Rob Ford we must vote for a candidate who is displaying no affinity for our political views. We are being instructed to cast a ballot for a candidate who is campaigning further on the right than anyone has seen here in a long, long time, if ever. We are being neo-conned by stealth.

There are other choices available to us, folks. Don’t close the book on this race yet. To give in to the two man race narrative is to hand over the keys to someone – either Rob Ford or George Smitherman — who is determined to reshape Toronto in ways that will benefit few and be harmful to many. Let’s not be a part of that.

defiantly submitted by Cityslikr


The Real Agenda Debate

September 8, 2010

The boys of summer are gone replaced by men of fall (no offense, Ms. Thomson), all in their resplendent autumnal colours and nary a pair of white slacks between them. From the starter’s tower, the white flag has been waved signaling the commencement of the final lap. (If you thought it meant surrender, you’re not a Rob Ford supporter.) Months and months of mindless posturing and can kicking now gives way to grave seriousness and weighty deliberation.

And nothing says ‘weighty deliberation’ more than a mayoral debate on TVO hosted by respected journo, Steve Paikin. He’ll civilize the proceedings, quiet the roar to a more pleasing, easy to follow decibel. There’ll be no grandstanding under Steve Paikin’s watch. The candidates won’t be able to slime their way out of the tight corners Steve Paikin will put them in. This one’s going to be different. Steve Paikin will finally shed the light of truth and reason on the race and we’ll all be the better for it.

Did he?

Well, yes and no. The sound level on yesterday’s debate was noticeably lower than previous televised debates but, then again, isn’t everything more quiet on TVO? They don’t have the money to buy one of them kick-ass volume goes to 11 amps. It certainly felt more dignified, less shouty and aggressively confrontational. Steve Paikin held much tighter onto the reigns, never letting things veer too out of control. Steve Paikin was insistent without being obnoxious. A one hour debate moderated by Steve Paikin brought much more clarity than any two hour debate we’ve witnessed so far.

And just what was that clarity, you ask?

Well, it become glaringly apparent that, barring some minor miracle, some Hail Mary pass being tossed up and caught, Toronto will be led by someone intent on cutting it down to size. Our next mayor is going to want to see blood on the floor and guts exposed. The terms of the debate are now set in stone. It’s no longer if the city has a spending problem but what to do about the spending problem.

Rob Ford is already the winner of this election even if he doesn’t become mayor on October 25th. His endless braying chant of Toronto not having a revenue problem but a spending problem has been whole-heartedly picked up by Mssrs. Smitherman and Rossi and Ms. Thomson and embraced, leaving any other opinion or view on the matter simply peep, peep, peeping quietly and ineffectively out of the mouth of Joe Pantalone. I know conventional wisdom has it that Councillor Pantalone is simply not a good campaigner but the malaise goes deeper than that. His refusal to embrace the last 7 years, both the good and bad, has put him purely on the defensive, reactive not proactive.

So he’s ceded the battleground to the interloping tax-and-spend choppers, the self-proclaimed white knights with a thirst for government blood. Major surgery will be needed, folks, to cure the ailing patient. But don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit. At least not for you, what with that protective coating of tax cuts. You’ll be fine. You’ll barely even notice the freezing/cutting spending at City Hall because, seriously, what have they been doing for you over the past 7 years? What with all that retirement partying and sole sourcing and gravy train gulping they’ve been doing…

The table is now set. It’s only a matter of what and how much to axe, what to sell off and who and how much to outsource. The last remaining vestige of liberal impulse in any of the front runners (sorry Joe, you’re not really a front runner) was tossed out by George Smitherman yesterday when he said, cryptically, “There will be less Copenhagen, more Scarborough.” As if Toronto’s problems can be traced back to being too Copenhagen-ish. Clearly, Smitherman’s now speaking code to conservative voters, assuring them once he’s mayor there’ll be no more of that smarty-pants, European, environmental, bike riding going on under his watch. Strip malls for everyone!

Enough Of The Downtown Shenanigans®©™ has become the framework of our mayoral campaign. It’s time to get back down to basics; the basics of low taxes and government spending on only the essentials. And then what?

This is where future debates have to take us. We now know what any one of Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Thomson will do if they are elected. It’s only a difference of degree between them. What we need to discover is once they’ve restored our fiscal house to order, what kind of city will Toronto look like. They are all harkening back to a former time of Toronto greatness which they vow to restore. When was that exactly? The good ol’ days of… ? Mel Lastman? Art Eggleton? David Crombie? Nathan Phillips? William Lyon Mackenzie?

Because if things are as bad as everyone’s assuring us they are, and can only be fixed by returning to a magical, mystical place in the past, just when was that exactly? That’s what I want to start hearing from our mayoral candidates. Paint us a picture of the Toronto we’ll be living in when your job as mayor is done here. A time, like that one in the past you keep referring to, when there were no problems to solve and seldom was heard a discouraging word.

inquiring mindedly submitted by Cityslikr


What’s With The Hate On For Government?

September 2, 2010

“Libertarians like to rant and rave about how everything is funded `out of my pocket’. Like it’s just them. Go live in the fucking woods.”

“govt jobs are parasitic. we need PRIVATE SECTOR jobs. govt jobs are wealth transfer from those who work and save.”Ah, yes. The private sector. Saver of all that is good and holy. Our economic engine. Without the private sector we would find ourselves in a lawless, amoral, tribal society. It’s the difference between civilization and anarchy.

The private sector sent a man to the moon. Except it didn’t. The private sector invented this thing called the ‘interwebs’. Except it didn’t. It only commodified it. The private sector discovered insulin. Except no, no it didn’t. Apparently that happened at the University of Toronto.

Oh, wait. How about this? Private sector thinking brought an end to the Cold War and triumphed over History itself!

The all-knowing, all-seeing hand of the free market, left unfettered by the grubby demands of government brings prosperity to us all until such time when it doesn’t, and implodes in spectacular fashion, cracking and breaking under the weight of greed and deceit.

We haven’t arrived at this moment of dire economic circumstance because of out-of-control government spending. Actually, yes we have. Billions of dollars in bailout money to our teetering auto industry. Internationally, billions and billions of dollars to a banking industry whose self-interest knew no bounds and unscrupulously brought us to the brink of another, near total economic meltdown. Billions more to keep people working or to just simply keep them afloat when they lost their jobs and benefits in the, yes, private sector.

Now, don’t go getting defensive out there, all you Defenders of the Free Enterprise faith. I’m not suggesting we go all French Revolutionary on your asses, although there are some… no, let’s not go down that road. I just don’t know how all of this has become exclusively a government problem. Why are they now the bad guys?

I know you don’t want to talk about it since you’ve been so deeply in thrall with Milton Friedman for the last 30 years or so but according to Keynesian thinking, during times of economic slumps (and this one’s been a big one), governments take on debt in order to keep money flowing and everything from grinding to a dangerous halt. Done and done. Once things pick up, they then rid themselves of the debt through an increased tax revenue stream and trimming away at programs that are no longer necessary as folks are back at work, paying taxes, etc.

If you think that just two years after our near collapse that we’re through the woods and out onto the other side, you just haven’t been keeping up on your news. So government debt accumulates until such a time that things manage to get better. Doing anything else, like slashing and burning and selling off assets and other bullheaded ideas that cut government revenue seems unsound. Unless of course you’re using this crisis as an opportunity to rollback wages of those types you don’t particularly care for or to eat away at the government itself in order to limit its effectiveness.

But why would you want to go and do that? It stepped up when the private sector faltered, remember? In fact, it was because governments throughout the world dropped the ball in terms of regulation and oversight that we are where we are. Now you’re all like, up in its face, screaming how it’s the problem and how our lives would be so much better if government just backed off and let the private sector do its thing?

What’s that mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi keeps repeating over and over again out there on the campaign trail? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. We let free enterprise run riot for the past few decades with little governmental interference and look what happened. Why are you demanding we do the exact same thing again? You’re not expecting another result, are you?

So to all you Dominion Pundits out there, wailing on about how awful government is, the glory and beneficence of the private sector and raising the specter of wealth transfer, in case you missed it, a massive one of those just occurred, plopping the cost of private sector speculation, risk and failure right down onto governments’ ledger sheets. You’re welcome. Calling for harsh measures that will only bring more pain and dislocation is not only mean-spirited and short-sighted. It smacks of the same dumbass ideology that got us into this mess in the first place.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


It Just Feels Right

September 1, 2010

Lets’ go back to the beginning.

No, not that far back, wherever you found yourself thinking ‘the beginning’ was. Just to this past January, the fourth of, I believe. When the official municipal campaign 2010 kicked off and we all were looking forward with trepidation at having to elect a new mayor. There was anger out there in the hinterlands but who could’ve guessed exactly how much?

Me? I wasn’t a fire breathing silly socialist. If you remember correctly, I was sitting comfortably in the centre, perhaps a little rightish of there. Don’t believe me? Check this out. (Those were much shorter posts back then too, weren’t they. When did we become so full of ourselves?) An admitted John Tory supporter back in `03 who might not have ruled out voting for him again this year if he chose to run despite having misgivings about his stumble through the provincial political arena throughout much of the past decade.

However, I did not develop a hate on for the man that beat him in 2003 and whom I voted for in 2006, Mayor David Miller. The city did not seem like the cesspool we were being told it was. Problems needed to be fixed, certainly; none more so than our aging public transit system, the once venerable TTC. Even that didn’t seem all that out of reach, what with Transit City up and ready to go. I considered myself a Miller convert and was sorry to see him go.

Leaving us with…?

A mad, maddening rush to the right. In some circumstances the surprisingly far right. Much chatter about privatization, outsourcing public services, cuts, cuts, cuts.

Why?

Simple solutions offered up for complicated situations despite what H.L. Mencken (no bleeding heart liberal himself) once said: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. In other words, if it were as easy as all that, it would’ve been done already. Unfortunately, few of us are immune to the lure of the snake oil salesman.

In place of concrete ideas, those looking for our votes pitched divisions. Left versus Right. Car versus bikes. Suburban versus urban. Everything that was wrong with Toronto could be traced back to those at City Hall, ignoring any outside factors that weighed heavily on us. Negligent and sometimes hostile senior levels of government. An economy that for the past two years nearly tanked and since has barely sputtered along. Continued pains of enforced amalgamation that did not magically disappear by executive fiat.

None beat the drum of discord louder than Etobiocoke millionaire councillor and laughably self-proclaimed ‘Man of the People’, Rob Ford. His noisy entry into the race and subsequent overtaking of perceived front runner, George Smitherman, had everyone scurrying worriedly to the right. Rocco Rossi was already there. He had to dig in deeper. Smitherman, figuring that bombastic Ford had no real constituency in downtown circles, threw caution to the wind and abandoned the centre to scrape away whatever soft right supporters he could. Ford’s extreme right views allowed both Rossi and Smitherman to adopt stances that would make someone like John Tory uncomfortable. Defying all electoral logic, the three amigos are desperately trying to divvy up the right wing pie, leaving their left flank wide open and virtually undefended.

Again, why?

Because they think they can. Reading Jeff Jedras’ post on the long arms registry tug-of-war in his BCer in Toronto, it seems there are no negative consequences in pandering to a conservative base. To not do so, in fact, is to risk an electoral fiasco. This conventional wisdom (i.e. mainstream media) has it that flipping the bird to the left has only an upside.

Leaving us here in the mushy centre with only one real alternative, Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone.

Oh Joe. You should be delighted with how this is all playing out, alone among the leading contenders, to tend to the left of centre garden without fear of having to give up so much as a speck of land to any interlopers. There are those of us out here who don’t think the city’s in such dire shape that it needs a good short, sharp shock of neoconservative home brew. (Isn’t that exactly what amalgamation was?) For every one of those who believe this election’s solely about “money, money, money”, there’s an equal contingent thinking that’s a rather myopic view of how to build a city. Embrace us, Joe. Take up the fight.

Not that he hasn’t tried. It’s just that Pantalone isn’t a strong campaigner. He’s nice. He’s quiet. He’s approachable. His strong suit seems to be behind the scenes where it is said he can be as tough as nails. A 30 year track record of working with mayors, running the wide political spectrum from Art Eggleton to Mel Lastman and David Miller, and time spent on the former Metro Council, reveal a non-divisivenes in Pantalone. He’s a uniter not a divider, as he’s stated, which may be another reason he’s the odd man right now.

Who knows. As election day closes in on us, everyone may snap to attention and realize that fighting tooth-and-nail for one side of the political spectrum may not be the best strategy. It certainly hasn’t been in the past. Otherwise, unless Pantalone can successfully scoop up a good portion of the centre/centre left citywide – or someone else breaks out big time — we will elect a mayor with a dangerously low percentage of the popular vote. And if you think Toronto’s polarized and divided now…

trepidatiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat