Yapping

So twice within the last 2 weeks, Scarborough Centre MPP and Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, has come forward to help bail out Mayor John Tory when bad news kept on coming about the proposed one-stop, “express” subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. “The critics, it’s time for them to take a rest,” yappinghe stated after news about woefully low projected ridership numbers broke earlier this month. Then this weekend, after the mayor took media heat over nearly a billion dollar increase in the project’s price tag, the provincial minister demanded that all the downtown elitists need to stop their yapping.

“I’m very confident the people of Scarborough will get their subway.”

And by ‘the people of Scarborough’, of course, Minister Duguid meant ‘the politicians of Scarborough’.

Ever since the Ford camp blared ‘Subways, Subways, Subways’, local politicians of all stripes and at all levels have basically co-opted the slogan rather than confront it. They have convinced themselves that campaigns have been fought and won on the subway issue as if it were the only variable that mattered to voters, city-wide, province-wide, country-wide. The Scarborough subway. The defining issue of every election since 2010.

So no matter how ridiculous the project gets the more planning that goes into it, no matter how much money the fucking thing’s going to cost, how damaging it’s going to be to the wider transit network, nothing is too good for the politicians people of Scarborough. countmeinThey deserve another subway stop. If you stand opposed, it’s for no other reason than you hate Scarborough and refuse to take your elitist head out of your downtown ass.

Like one of those comic book movies with a cast of thousands of supervillains, it’s hard to pick your favourite bad guy in this sad saga. So many too choose from! The one irony in all this is that the guy who raised the curtain on this shitshow, the late Rob Ford, may have been the least worst offender. While always politically calculating, he seemed to actually believe, owing to his solid grounding in ignorance fed by an extreme disinterest in much to do with public transit, that if you were going to build public transit, subways were the only way to go. He didn’t know any better. Everybody else most surely does. They know, and they don’t care.

For me, the real face of this mess is Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. There is no nonsense he won’t spout, no gratuitous shot he’s unwilling to take, no number too fabtabulist for him to cite in support of a Scarborough subway. He’s the go-to guy to say the questionable things that need to be said in order to push a major infrastructure project that otherwise possesses absolutely no merit. The kind of things that only someone lacking any sense of self-awareness or shame would be able to say with a straight face.

The thing is, Councillor De Baeremaeker wasn’t always a subway champion. crayondrawingHe loved LRTs. He was a big fan of Transit City that promised to deliver more higher order transit to more people in Scarborough than either variation of a subway would.

Unfortunately, when push came to shove, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker decided his political future was more important than the future of public transit in Toronto. He’s not alone. Liberal premiers, ministers, MPPs and MPs all took the easiest, most craven route, as did many of those running election campaigns against them. Mayor John Tory fell into place too.

It’s just Councillor De Baeremaeker’s conversion was so obvious, so unprincipled, so thoroughly… greasy, and he stands so smugly defiant in his posturing as Captain Scarborough that, while he’s certainly not the biggest player in this unfolding scandal, he’s most certainly its chief enabler.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2016

(h/t @JohnToryWatch)

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, 2012

 (h/t Himy Syed)

sickeningly submitted by Cityslikr

A Sad Symmetry

I pretty much had the story already written in my head as I was making my way out to the state of T.O. transit planning public meeting at the Scarborough Civic Centre last night. symmetryIt would be full of beautiful symmetry with a healthy dollop of delicious irony. The last time I had made the trek for the same purpose, back in 2012, just after then mayor Rob Ford had lost control of the transit file, the gathering descended into a verbal melee with then TTC chair Karen Stintz the brunt of much yelling and abuse. Gordon Chong, one of the evening’s panelists, asked her (very rhetorically) if she was ‘thick’. A woman near where I was sitting, outside of the council chambers, just kept yelling, “Where is your plan, Karen? Where is your plan?!”

Oh, Councillor Stintz had a plan alright. It just didn’t pan out very well. For anyone concerned.

With the news coming out a couple days ago, just ahead of last night’s meeting, of possible home and property expropriations as part of the emerging preferred staff route for the one-stop Scarborough subway along McCowan Road, I thought, this’ll be perfect. disbandedtheptaSame place, same subject, 4 years later. Only this time around, the crowd will be screaming against subways! Just like a Simpson’s episode.

Alas, reality does not always break like you hope it would. Probably a good thing, in the end. The reality in my head sometimes even scares me.

While last night’s meeting had feisty spikes from the packed crowd, it felt more discouraged and disgruntled than angry. In no way could I describe the vibe as anti-subway. There were just problems with this proposed subway alignment. Why just one stop now? Why not 2? There seemed to be significant support for keeping a Lawrence stop. Or converting the whole thing to an articulated electric bus network since projected ridership for the subway proposal seems to diminish with each iteration.

It would be easy to just throw up your hands and shake your head, writing off such mob mentality. The issue of expropriation only really flared up after the formal staff presentation and questions from the audience when a man start shouting at Councillor Paul Ainslie, demanding to know if he’s ever had his property expropriated. rageYeah, that Councillor Ainslie. The only Scarborough councillor to hold steady against the building of a subway.

The man should’ve been shouting at another Scarborough councillor, Glenn De Baeremaeker, who was holding court just a few feet away, brushing aside questions of the low projected ridership for his pet project with a glib list of subway stops with even lower ridership numbers. Should we close them too? Why do ridership numbers only matter in Scarborough? It’s only fair. North York has X number of subway stops. Scarborough deserves more to even out the score.

We are currently experiencing a catastrophic failure of political leadership with the transit failure. It didn’t start with Rob Ford, or did it end with him. Glenn De Baeremaeker has become an abhorrent local representative with his subway mania. Karen Stintz gambled a mayoral run on championing a Scarborough subway instead of a sensible transit plan. The current mayor, John Tory, tossed in his own little bit of nonsense, SmartTrack, which, as staff admitted last night, shadowpuppetsis pushing the proposed subway alignment further east than it probably should be, possibly contributing to deflated ridership numbers and bringing up the spectre of expropriations.

And the provincial Liberal government, supposedly the adults in the room, have only helped fan the flames of divisiveness, resentment and bad transit planning. Many of their Scarborough MPPs were former city councillors, and they have drawn a line in the sand. Give them a subway or give them death! Mitzi Hunter was elected to Queen’s Park, touting her credentials as the Subway Champion.

The problem is, the numbers don’t support a subway. They never have. The Scarborough subway is purely political. It’s proven to be great policy for getting elected but a terrible one for getting people around.

None of this is news or any sort of revelation. The public hunger for a subway and their anger directed at any public official who seemed to be standing in the way of it was understandable when the debate was still theoretical. notthisagainSubway versus LRT. But as the studies progress and the numbers continue to roll in showing just how bad an idea building the Scarborough subway extension really is, anger turns to frustration and dismay. Why is this taking so long? Just build something already. Wait, not there. That doesn’t make any sense.

That’s a different kind of symmetry than I originally envisioned. It does, however, follow its own logical arc. Hope becoming cynicism with the eventual realization that politicians are pursuing policies that benefit their own self-interests not those of the wider public.

similarly submitted by Cityslikr

Rob Ford

I am sorry for your loss. 46 years of age is far too young to die. Cancer sucks. My condolences to the Ford family. Like all of them, I am sure, this is not how I wanted to see it end.

But I am thankful that, at least for the moment, it is over. The Rob Ford political/personal/family melodrama that has held the city of Toronto, a city of over 2.5 million residents, not some provincial backwoods, hillside, Hatfield-McCoy hamlet, in its dense, thick thrall for more than half a decade now has concluded. With the passing, perhaps, we can get on with having an honest debate about local governance and decision-making in the 21st-century.

As someone who only observed Rob Ford from the outside, never meeting him in person except to shake his hand once in the greeting line at one of his Ford Fest gatherings, my relationship with him is not at all complicated or complex. He was a terrible mayor, an awful local politician. His approach to representation functioned in the bleak zone of willful ignorance and stubborn self-certainty. If something conformed to his stunted, myopic world view, it must be right. Anything else was brushed aside as gravy.

That streetcar blocking the lane in front of him on his way to work must be the source of all congestion, everywhere in the city.

He leaves behind a legacy of belligerence, divisiveness, and a disdain for politicians, the bureaucracy and the political process itself. His 15+ years of public service was of the easiest kind. Push peoples’ buttons, get them angry, howl for simple solutions and lie about everything that could not be squared with reality. Millions became billions. Facts observed and acknowledged only when convenient.

The customer is always right, retail politics that Rob Ford mastered boiled down to nothing more than What can I do for you? The idea of What can I do for us? was an anathema to his political calculations. He was looking out for the little guy, gave voice to those left out of the civic discourse, as long as they saw things the way he did, said the same things he said.

Rob Ford is credited with alerting the otherwise unaware, largely downtown elite crowd to the alienated, angry, outsider voices of the inner suburbs. This is true although it hardly tells the whole truth. People were, and continue, to be angry. People weren’t being listened to or, more exactly, people weren’t being consulted, engaged with. There was indeed a certain smugness, let’s call it, at City Hall, a belief that people knew their best interests were being looked after. Bigger picture thinking was at work. The small details don’t matter.

Which turned out to be a near-fatal political mindset.

Speaking for myself, back in 2010, it wasn’t surprising many people were angry. I miscalculated the degree of anger. But mostly, I was caught off-guard that that anger so identified itself with Rob Ford and attached itself so strongly to him.

He appropriated the anger, giving it voice but no solutions. He had no interest in channeling it constructively, only in amplifying it incoherently and destructively. His Ford Nation wasn’t so much a cohesive ideology as it was pure demagoguery of blind resentment.

I don’t doubt anyone’s account of the human side of Rob Ford, his warmth, playfulness and generosity. While not at all getting the political charm of Rob Ford, others clearly did. You could watch him amiably chatting with kids in the council chambers. His enthusiasm bubbled over when he talked about things he loved, like football. That’s where the Everyman label got affixed to him.

That only proves anything if you adhere to a totality of behaviour of personality. Somebody is one thing or the other, and being one negates the other. But no one’s all saint, just as sure as nobody’s a complete shit bird.

Read through Karen Geier’s Remember these Rob Ford Gems?, compiled shortly after Ford re-emerged from what would not uncharitably be called a politically motivated rehab stint. None of it refuted. Christopher Bird’s Torontoist obituary similarly dismantles any notion of a well-intentioned but flawed character. Rob Ford seemed especially adept at one thing. Wreaking havoc. He left others to try and pick up the pieces of everything he broke.

Any notion of Rob Ford as a one-of-a-kind politician, there’ll never be another one like him again is a form of civic self-flattery. A singular political phenomenon we could never fall for again.

There will always be political opportunists. There’ll always be the possibility of another Ford. Pretending he was something he wasn’t only makes the possibility even more likely.

As we’ve seen, that would be disastrous for Toronto.

All of this in no way means I am happy he died. I am sorry for his death. I am sorry for those most affected by it. A death like he suffered will invariably leave a huge hole, a void in the lives of those closest to him.

What I am not sorry about, when all is said and done, is that I will never have to write about Rob Ford again.

submitted by Cityslikr