Big Money. Little Love.

March 30, 2015

Many of us, including yours truly, we’re rightly criticised for arrogantly dismissing the bloc of supporters that brought Rob Ford to power 4+ years ago. holdyournoseReactionary, low-information voters who simply didn’t understand what’s good for them, if I can sum up the sentiment pithily. Inchoate ragers, even more pithily.

Sure, Ford Nation also consisted of the fanboy social media types and members of some traditional media organizations on the far right of the political spectrum that supported Rob Ford right down to the bitter, crack and booze fueled end. What flummoxed many of us, however, was the continued allegiance to the Ford brand of a solid segment of the more marginalized communities of the city. Lower income, first and second generation residents, people of colour. Those most adversely affected by the policies Rob Ford pursued during his decade and a half at City Hall. Many held on tightly to a conviction that Rob Ford was always looking out for the little guy, them.

Even when his health forced him from seeking re-election, his brother Doug, a one-term councillor and not nearly the retail politician Rob was, rode the populist wave of dissatisfaction to a 2nd place finish last October, tying up more than a third of the popular vote, a mere 6 points behind the eventual winner, John Tory. acloseoneHoly hell. That was a close one. Imagine if Rob had been able to remain in the race, goes the thinking. He might’ve won.

Standing between that result and what we actually wound up with was John Tory money John Tory, no, money. As the deadline came last week for candidates to file their 2014 campaign financials with the city, we learned “…that John Tory ran the most expensive mayoral race in Toronto’s history, with a list of contributors that reads like a who’s who of the city’s movers and shakers,” according to Oliver Moore of the Globe and Mail. The affluent and influential dug deep into their pockets to quiet the clamour of Ford Nation.

I think it’s safe to assume that this story is far from settled.

Never mind for the moment the ironies running rife through this tale. familycompactBoth John Tory and the Ford brothers are full on rich, white privileged men. It was pretty much a race between old money versus new, the establishment versus the nouveau riche, a question of competing country clubs. (Toronto’s very own version of Caddyshack!)

Or ignore the fact many of these same ‘movers and shakers’ (including then private citizen John Tory) initially supported the Rob Ford experiment at City Hall. Only after he became an international embarrassment on the public stage did this dynamic change. And then, only grudgingly, and when it became politically expedient and/or advantageous to do so.

This scenario of big money buying the election is hardly one to placate any sense of frustrated alienation with City Hall that remains strongly lingering out there. Money’s money, right, regardless of whether it comes from union fat cats or titans of industry. unimpressedWhile it is entirely understandable why Mayor Tory declined the invitation to a fundraiser being held to pay off Doug Ford’s mayoralty practice, it only will help feed into that outsider sense of those who voted for Doug Ford. Personal is personal but this is politics, and this snub certainly isn’t going to help engender any feeling of goodwill toward the mayor from those who have very little of it to start with.

And it’s a sizeable chunk of the population. Three out of five voters didn’t cast a ballot for John Tory last October. His approval ratings have settled into a range only slightly above that. Revel as we might in the calm that has descended upon our local politics, do not mistake it for any sort of widespread contentment. The fact that the well-connected and monied helped reclaim the mayor’s office for one of their own should hardly be cheered and taken as a sign that all is well in Toronto. The restoration of civic order and propriety is not the same as facing the challenges that contributed to the unrest and anger sitting at the base of Ford Nation.closeddoormeeting

We ignored and diminished it the first time a warning flare was fired. Into the reaction space created by our unwillingness or, simply, inability to respond to the legitimate demands made by those disaffected and disenfranchised by the direction the city was headed, stepped the usual suspects. Connected civic players who view Toronto as much of a personal asset as they do a place to live and work. Don’t worry, folks. They’ve got this covered.

We’re in good hands now, warmed by an overweening sense of noblesse oblige, if we want to take a sunny view of it.  I remain unconvinced, however, hearing the quiet not as any sense of calmness but as the future of Toronto being plotted out of earshot. Like it or not, the unruliness of the last 4 years was, among many other things, a sign of heightened civic engagement. When all is said and done, I’d take that over the silence of backroom influence any day of the week.

dancingly submitted by Cityslikr


Just One More Thing

March 20, 2015

I’m imagining an old episode of ‘Columbo’, the 70s-era detective show, starring Peter Falk as the rumbled trenchcoat wearing but razor sharp detective. columboHe’s about to leave Rob Ford’s City Hall office after a strained but amiable chat about this and that. At the door, he turns back.

“Just one more thing, Councillor Ford. Something I can’t get straight in my head. You know, what with the getting older, my mind’s not as clear as it used to be. But, what are you going to do?”

On Tuesday, there was a double shooting, a couple hours apart, in a building in Etobicoke. A building in Etobicoke the former mayor and now councillor for the area, Rob Ford, just so happened to be at, along with an assistant, Dave, conducting what he referred to as ‘constituency calls’. OK. No biggie. The councillor does represent a ward that is home to some of the rougher areas of the city. An unlucky happenstance, let’s call it. At the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever.

Turns out, that “Just one more thing, Councillor Ford” moment, one of the shooting victims, the non-dead one, is brother to Liban Siyad who, how does the Toronto Sun’s Chris Doucette describe him? “…alleged gang member that Councillor Rob Ford’s pal Sandro Lisi is accused of extorting in relation to the Ford crack video.”robfordcracktie

“He wouldn’t say anything,” Councillor Ford told the Sun. “He was shot once in the shoulder and twice in the lower body. It was bad…I am in TCHC buildings a lot assisting people,” the councillor continued. “With my assistant Dave we were helping when it happened. A woman was yelling and going crazy. It turns out someone was shot. Dave didn’t hear the gunshots where he was and I didn’t where I was.

I don’t know where it happened for sure but I think it was the underground because no one heard the gunshots.”

Now look. I’m all for trying to simply turn our backs on anything and everything to do with the sad, sad Ford saga, allow the family to fade back into the well-deserved obscurity from which it crawled. But this latest turn of events goes beyond just them and their sordid little psychodrama. Sandro Lisi’s extortion trial is still ongoing. Rob Ford was subpoenaed last summer to appear at the trial. Now, he just happens to be on site at the shooting of the brother of one of the men Sandro Lisi has been accused of extorting in a bid to retrieve the now infamous video of Rob Ford smoking crack?

“You’re fucking dead and everyone on your block is dead,” Lisi was recorded saying on the day the video’s existence went public.whome

This points to a much bigger, systemic dysfunction at work beyond just one messed up family. If Rob Ford wasn’t who he was, a high profile public figure from a well-to-do-family and, I don’t know, white, how much would anyone be shrugging off his I just happened to be here claim as mere coincidence? You think, given the news potential of such salacious possibilities, this thing would be a headline news item everywhere. Yet, here we are. Another Ford quirky twist-and-turn. Oh well.

I get Ford fatigue. Let’s just move on and stop wasting ink and byte space. Yet surely, there’s more to this story than a wayward son of an errant family. Rob Ford’s continued ability to skirt around such unlawfulness in such an obvious manner takes us into much more disturbing territory, throwing into question wholescale institutional integrity, starting with, What’s a guy gotta do to get fully implicated here? Unchecked bad behaviour, especially in a public figure, leads inevitably to public cynicism.

Columbo wouldn’t let this one slide. Unfortunately, he was just a fictional TV character. Real life doesn’t always work out the way we think it should.

exasperatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Everything’s Fine. Ignore All Evidence To The Contrary.

March 3, 2015

I know the drill.nothingtoseehere

Take a deep breath. Rob Ford is no longer the mayor of Toronto. We are in capable hands now. We are in responsible, prudent, capable hands. Inhale, exhale.

Sitting through the morning session of yesterday’s special Executive Committee meeting to discuss, debate and amend the 2015 budget before passing it along to city council next week for a final vote, and I’m not feeling particularly reassured, however.

City staff’s message was clear. Holes have been plugged. Band aids and duct tape liberally applied as stop gap measures to balance the operating budget. But the recent approach to financing the city is not sustainable. A fiscal bullet was dodged again this year. Next year…?

Mayor Tory shrugged. Every year we hear the same doom and gloom tune. Every year things work out. Relax. alfredeTake a deep breath. The city is in capable hands now. Responsible, prudent, capable hands.

No matter the state of good repair backlog, manifested by the creaky condition of our public transit, the long, long repair list in our TCHC housing, the flood of broken watermains under duress from the extremely cold weather last month. What, me worry?

Everything’s fine. There’s no need to panic and start talking about new sources of revenue. An above the rate of inflation property tax increase? “An admission of failure,” according to the mayor.

Toronto does not have a revenue problem.

Sound familiar? It should. Because, no matter how much the appearance of responsible, prudent, capable leadership this administration wants to project, no matter how many times key members of the mayor’s team tell us that’s what they stand for (there’s some inverse proportionality to the number of times they say it to the actual reality of the claim), agenda-wise, Mayor Tory and his executive are little more than extensions of the previous holder of the office.

Think I’m exaggerating?failureisnotanoption

Of the 10 members on Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee who spent at least some of last term serving in the same role under former mayor Rob Ford, they collectively voted with Ford nearly 73% of the time (according to Matt Elliott’s council scorecard). Throw in Councillor Ana Bailão, as she worked with the Fords on the affordable housing file, and that brings this mayor’s Executive Committee overlap with Ford’s numbers down to 69%. Even factoring in the 12th member, the least Ford friendly of Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (she aligned herself with Rob Ford less than 1 in 5 times) and you still have nearly a two-thirds consensus between the two administrations.

Of course, the mayor, his budget chief and other team spokes people point to very obvious differences. Increases in services to the TTC, for example, eventually restored to 2010 levels before Rob Ford took an axe to them. Commendable, for sure, laudatory even if it were still 2010. In the interim, there’s 4 years of ridership growth, now packed onto and into 2010 service standards.

Clawing our way back to running to catch up from behind.

Mayor Tory brushes aside demands to even discuss an above the rate of inflation property tax increase or new revenue tools wolfinsheepsclothing(aside from hikes to user fees, the mayor loves user fees except for car drivers, leave the poor drivers alone, would you) because he believes that the big ticket items Toronto has to deal with must involve getting senior levels of government to the proverbial table. Until such a time, we can trim away here and there at city operations, gently nudge revenue in a way not to piss off too many people. Make the pretense of responsible, prudent, capable governance.

He’s not wrong, at least not in the first part of that equation. Toronto (and every other city in this country) doesn’t have the revenue or governance tools at its disposal to deal with what is essentially a gaping infrastructure deficit. Without those, both the province and federal governments have to step up and chip in.

But just how realistic is that scenario?

Ottawa hasn’t really been involved in municipal matters for a generation now. And how many times already during Mayor Tory’s 3 months in office has the province basically told him to get stuffed when he’s asked for financial help? Why, just yesterday we learned that Toronto got a double-dose of fuck you from Queen’s Park and Ottawa when the city was denied any funding help for cost overruns at Union Station, only one of the major transit hubs for the country’s biggest city and region that generates a fifth of the national GDP.loosechange

Sorry, pal. We’d really like to help but we’re a little strapped right now. In fact, maybe you could spot us a buck or two…

Yeah. Adding insult to snubbery, it also came to light yesterday after a two-hour in camera session that the city is expected to chip in on Metrolinx’s building of the Union-Pearson Express-Georgetown rail link. We’re facing a bill of nearly $100 million from the province for various improvements to their regional rail plans along the lines running through Toronto.

This is the environment Mayor Tory expects to make nice and extract money for the city?

Maybe if he’d have stepped up from the start and stated that there was no way he was going to raise taxes or introduce new revenue tools in order to pad provincial coffers, I’d be right there with him. neroThose demands from the government at Queen’s Park that the city needs to start using the revenue streams it was given back in 2006 sort of ring hollow now. Raise taxes, so we don’t have to.

But Mayor Tory isn’t doing that. He’s pretending like there’s nothing wrong, like this is just a little blip, a rough patch that can be managed with a capable, prudent, responsible approach. We just need to tighten our belts, be more efficient.

If Rob Ford set the city on fire or, at least, tossed gasoline onto the hot spots, Mayor John Tory is just fiddling while we burn, hoping, I guess, for the restorative powers of fire.

consumedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Toryfication of Fordism

February 23, 2015

corporateloveI guess if you’re born and bred in the lap of corporate exegesis, your family, almost the very definition of Bay Street lawyerliness and a career spent near the helm of a private sector titan, it would be impossible for you to imagine any downside to a philanthropic hand-out to help out the city in a time of need. You want to keep some skating rinks open for the rest of the winter? Show me the money.

It’s just what good corporate citizens do. Strings attached? Come on. Stop being so cynical. Quid pro quo? I don’t even know what that means. Buyer beware?

So when it became known again this year that some city run skating rinks would be closing for the season yesterday (skating rinks, closing on February 23rd, February 23rd), noveltychequeMayor John Tory quickly flipped through his batphone rolodex and found two willing corporations happy to do their part. Green 4 Life and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment both cut the mayor a cheque for $100,000, thereby keeping the doors to an additional 12 rinks open until spring officially arrives in town. 3 cheers for the good guys! Hip-hip-hooray, etc., etc.

The mayor didn’t seem to so much as pause to consider the, I don’t know, optics, let alone implications of such a financial arrangement. Both companies have fairly substantial dealings with the city. murkyGreen 4 Life is the private contractor that collects nearly half of Toronto’s trash and recycling. It’s not exactly been a smooth relationship, and with the possibility of opening up the rest of the city to private bidding in the near future, the company may well factor into that as well. MLSE just secured a $10 million loan from the city to renovate BMO stadium, home to the TFC soccer team, owned by, you guessed it, MSLE which itself is substantially owned by telecom behemoth, Rogers, a company the mayor was recently some sort of director mucky-muck of and remains as part of the Rogers family trust. In fact, Mayor Tory had to step outside council chambers during December’s meeting due to a vote on an MLSE owned restaurant.

So you start to get a sense of the murkiness of all this. But wait. There’s more.

Over at Spacing today, John Lorinc writes of a one-on-one meeting between the mayor and the CEO smelltest(and Tory campaign donor) and head of government relations of Bell Inc. just this past January to discuss the ‘unhelpful boilerplate’ of the city’s lobbyist registry. Bell, another telecom giant, is also a co-owner of MLSE, owner of TFC, blah, blah, blah, see two paragraphs above. According to Lorinc, no one has said whether these rink donations were run by any of the city’s oversight and accountability officers to see if they, at the very least, passed some sort of smell test. It’s all been very much, these are friends of Mayor Tory, and any friend of the mayor’s is a friend of the city.

Lorinc writes:

It’s also possible that Tory, who has spent his entire adult/professional life functioning in that rarefied world where corporate, social and philanthropic circles intersect, is simply doing what comes naturally, so to speak – making big money asks of prominent donors and networks of well-connected executives.

“Doing what comes naturally”. Rather than figure out a way to deal with the city’s structural fiscal deficit that leads annually to these sort of funding shortfalls, Mayor Tory makes a couple phone calls to those dwelling in the “corporate, social and philanthropic circles” he’s been running in all his life. Leadership means knowing how to make that big corporate ask and having the connections to be able to do it.

Why bother asking hardworking taxpayers to pay to run their city properly wgladhandinghen the private sector will chip in around the edges?

I think we’ve already reached that point in John Tory’s mayoralty when we get to start asking, What would be the reaction if Rob Ford did this? If, while serving as mayor, Rob Ford cuddled up to a major private provider of a city’s service and asked for some money to help keep rinks open? What if Rob Ford tapped a company he had more than a passing interest in, and that also had a financial relationship with the city, for a little spending cash to help the city out?

What if Rob Ford tried to pull off an unorthodox financial manoeuvre, like the current mayor is attempting to do, in order to balance the operating budget and avoid a serious discussion about revenue tools? A move even the city’s CFO admitted last week was going to cost more in the long run than if we simply adjusted the property tax rate to cover the $86 million budget hole now.

My guess is there’d be a little more vocal pushback. It’s not so much that Mayor Tory is operating with a bit of a honeymoon halo, given the benefit of doubt and a little more time on the job. twofacesHe convinced us throughout the campaign that he was a sound businessman with a sound understanding of numbers. Prudent, he’d be. Fiscally mindful and wise.

Except that, what we’ve seen so far is little more than an attempted institutionalisation of the Ford low tax, more efficiencies, anti-government mantra. The city has a spending not a revenue problem with a nicer haircut. An uncomfortable cozying up to the private sector and special interests who make money from the city and give money to the elected officials who help facilitate that transaction.

It’s simply Rob Ford with better pedigree and a more extensive rolodex. You can try and mask it with a nice cologne but the stink doesn’t really go away.

disapprovingly submitted by Cityslikr


DesulTORY

January 29, 2015

I detest hypotheticals. (Also, I defy you to say that out loud and not almost say ‘testicles’.) But indulge me this, and hypothetical away with me for a moment.

rodserling

Imagine, if you will, a campaign stop during last year’s municipal election. Candidate Olivia Chow is asked how she’s going to pay for some expensive promise she’s just made, what she’s going to cut or how much she’s going to increase taxes in order to balance the city’s operating budget. Ms. Chow responds, Easy. Imma take a line of credit out from the province, use it to plug the gap. Won’t that just cost us more, an incredulous media asks? With interest charges and all that? Putting off dealing with the shortfall for later? Not to worry, the candidate shrugs.hypocrit What’s a couple of dollars for people in the long run?

Imagine, if you will, her opponent, John Tory, his team’s response to that. Just imagine. The shrieks of outraged joy. TAX-AND-SPENDER!! PROFLIGATE NDP CANDIDATE!!

Just like we heard back last year when Chow proposed increasing buses and bus service. How much will that cost, Olivia? Where you going to get the money, Olivia? If only she had come up with the bright idea of borrowing money from Queen’s Park. Like Mayor John Tory is now to help paper over his increases in spending on things like – I know, right? – increased bus service.

The depths of hypocrisy to which his administration has dug itself into in just 60 days in office is spectacularly audacious. I can’t come close to summoning up the appropriate broadside Christopher Byrd did a couple days ago at the Torontoist. It boils the blood.

John Tory was supposed to be a sober fiscal steward. The municipal budget represented his first real opportunity to make a tough decision, take a tough fiscal stand. He could have decided that City services aren’t worth paying money for; we might sharply disagree with that, but cutting services is at least an honest choice. He could have decided that we all need to pony up for the services we want the City to have. Both of these options would have been unpopular with part of the electorate, but they would have been fiscally responsible.

But Tory didn’t do either of those things; instead, he’s creating additional debt that the City simply did not need to take on—and doing so only to avoid making a difficult call. It’s a cowardly, weak decision, and bodes poorly for his mayoralty.

Yesterday, Matt Elliott laid out 6 ways the mayor could balance the operating budget without resorting to a provincial interest bearing bail out line of credit. reallyWhile time travelling would be lots of fun (and so many problems we could fix without, hopefully, changing the future), I’d say a combination of 1) raising property taxes a little more than the rate of inflation, with a smidge of 2) using some of the 2014 operating surplus might get us over the hump for this year at least. It also might contribute indirectly to 4) convincing the provincial government to reverse the funding cut. Maybe not this time around but in future negotiations. Show the province we’re willing to reasonably tap our revenue sources. In return, maybe they might start looking seriously at other ways they’re putting undue financial pressure on the city. Their half of the TTC operating budget perhaps?

Instead, Mayor Tory took the easy (for now) way out. He goes to the province, cap in hand, and comes back not with chump change, but with an even bigger debt load the city now has to bear. Prudent. I do not think that word means what our mayor thinks it means.

As terrible a mayor as Rob Ford was, even he didn’t try to take out a loan to balance our operating budget. dealwiththedevilHe got up to a lot of tricks, made certifiably outrageous claims, called things by different names to make it seem as if they weren’t what they were, like ‘service adjustments’ instead of ‘service cuts’. But he never took out a loan.

He couldn’t even if he’d thought of it. Can you imagine, with the toxic relationship he had with the provincial government, Rob Ford broaching them for a line of credit to balance the city’s operating budget? They’d laughed in his face. They wouldn’t even have to make up an excuse why not because, as was pointed out this week, the province’s very own law makes it illegal for municipalities to borrow money to balance their operating budgets. Municipal Act, Section 17, subsection C, I believe it is.

Unless… I’m now guessing… you borrow that money from the province?

No, cities can’t go to a financial institution for a loan in order to fund their ongoing expenses. Neither can cities sell of any assets to do that. This restriction does not apply, it seems, if the province is doing the lending or fire sale purchasing.masteroftheuniverse

Leading me to wonder if the Liberal government has come up with a novel approach to assist them in their own current fiscal struggles. Bankrolling municipalities. It’s an effective if ethically dubious strategy. Keep us financially dependent and then cash in loaning us money when we find ourselves strapped. Deliciously IMF-ish.

This presents nothing but upside for the province. The question is, what’s in the deal for cities? Why would Mayor Tory want Toronto more beholden to the province, the senior partner in this relationship, already pulling so many of our governance and fiscal strings?

Three theories spring immediately to mind.

The mayor’s in over his head. While it’s great political rhetoric to demand government operates like a business, the reality is much more complicated. suspicious“Shareholder value” means entirely different things in the two realms. Even balancing public sector books is counterintuitive to self-proclaimed businessmen like our mayor. If Rogers needs more revenue, it just bumps up the price of delivering in their services. The city? More revenue requires tax increases. But tax increases are bad. Square peg meets round hole.

Another possibility is that Mayor Tory is as ideologically hell bent on downsizing the city as his predecessor was. Shrink it into shape and size. Speak of efficiencies and doing more with less. Don’t say as much but all your actions suggest you believe the city has a spending not a revenue problem. Taking on more debt is as good a way to apply downward pressures as any.

The third option might be even more unsettling. Given the mayor’s insistence on deeply entangling the city’s transit plans with the province’s using SmartTrack (Steve Munro provides some examples of that in his interview with Matt Galloway this morning), maybe there’s an even wider convergence, let’s call it, at work here. Further reduce what little independence the city of Toronto currently has in an attempt to wrestle Toronto into a more manageable package as part of an integrated regional form of governance. emptyhandedRather than use the enhanced powers the province granted Toronto back in 2006 to sort out some fiscal sustainability, Mayor Tory chooses to further indebt us to Queen’s Park. Beggars can’t be choosers. Fall into line or we’ll tighten the purse strings.

That one may be too, I don’t know, House of Cards. Sometimes the best explanation is the simplest one which, in this case, would be the mayor’s flying by the seat of his pants, making it up as he goes along. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t bode well for Toronto.

uncertainly submitted by Cityslikr


Subway Ground Down

January 28, 2015

I really don’t want to be writing this. Like the Toronto Star’s Ed Keenan, I’m tired of it, of the Scarborough subway debate. Just as likely, you’re sick of it too. notthisshitagainThere’s gathered a great storm of ennui, a wave of yawn. Just Get On With It has now become the default position. Build Something!

But…but…There’s always the but.

In Keenan’s article today he points to a recent Forum Research poll that shows, given the full options of what Scarborough would get if we spent $3+ billion on transit there, 61% of Torontonians would pick the Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. A healthy majority of those living in Scarborough too favoured the LRT option given to them.

Just yesterday, as I was railing about the $75-85 million the city is in the midst of handing over to the province via Metrolinx for the work already underway on the Scarborough LRT that council cancelled, I cited a Leger poll from back in February 2014 that showed similar numbers. 61% of respondents preferred the Scarborough LRT option over the subway. 56% of those living in Scarborough leaned that way also.

So why the fuck are we here, spending billions of dollars building something the majority of Torontonians don’t want?

Public enemy number 1, of course, is Rob Ford. Subways, subways, subways, am I right? scarboroughsubwaybellowThe people want subways.

Not to diminish his role in the mess but let me say this. At the very least, Rob Ford and to a lesser extent, his brother Doug, truly believed that subways were the way to go. As committed car drivers, public transit was something of a puzzle to them. They hated streetcars that blocked up the middle of the roads. Buses they tolerated because they were easier to get around. But underground transit? Out of sight, out mind, out of the way.

Because the folks voted for him, giving him a mandate, they too wanted subways. Subways, subways, subways! Like the classic bullshitter that he is, Rob Ford (and again, to a lesser extent his brother) actually believed the bullshit he spouted. He didn’t need no stinkin’ polls to tell him what he knew in his heart, heard every day from the folks he met in line at Tim Horton’s.

This is not to excuse him. He served as the bullhorn for the subway cause. The self-appointed guardian of the taxpayers’ nickels and dimes stubbornly contributed to throwing away of billions of dollars of their money to further a cause he willfully knew nothing about.notthisshitagain1

The larger question though is, how, with these numbers, 4+ years after the debate started, 4+ years after the People Want Subways campaign slogan metastasized into a corrupted conventional wisdom, we’re determined to plunge ahead into this madness? The villainous list is long. Rob Ford becomes little more than the inciting incident in this story, a preening, comic foil Malvolio.

The true monsters in this sorry-assed tale sit up at Queen’s Park. First in the form of the skittish Dalton McGuinty Liberal government, seemingly dead in the polls and facing an election in 2011. In the face of the first (and only true surge) of Ford Nation, they quickly buckled when the newly elected mayor unilaterally declared Transit City dead. Hey. If you say so. Whatever. They would survive the initial assault, holding on to power but reduced to a minority government.

But imagine if instead they had stood their ground, stood up in the face of what was little more than a noise-making machine. Was subway support really ever as strong as the mayor and other Scarborough politicians came to claim it was? Certainly Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker didn’t think so in 2012 when city council wrestled the transit file from the mayor and re-instated Transit City.

At this point of time, it seemed cooler heads had prevailed. Subways, subways, subways had been revealed to be little more than the dying bluster of a mayor who’d soon be sidelined to little more than a cranky observer. Pheee-ew, right? We narrowly dodged that bullet.

But then…

What the hell happened?

Well, here’s where the story gets nothing short of clusterfuckery.

New leader of the provincial Liberals, new premier, new beginning, we’re told. They start to get their sea legs, win a by-election or two including one in Scarborough-Guildwood with Mitzie “The Subway Champion” Hunter. A by-election where, curiously, her NDP opponent, former TTC chair Adam Giambrone, an early Transit City advocate, docilely nods in a similar subway support direction.

Suddenly everybody loves subways! notthisshitagain2Egged on by Scarborough MPPs, city council lurches once more, agreeing to scrap the Scarborough LRT in favour of a subway. A subway the city will now have to contribute to building and maintaining. Scarborough deserves nothing less than a subway, we are told.

Except, still, with the options laid out for them, residents would opt for the LRT.

Despite that, here we are. The Liberals are back as a majority government. They now have both the city and federal government pitching in to build a Scarborough subway. They have a new mayor who, despite his claim to prudent fiscal management, campaigned on a pledge not to reopen the subway debate and is perfectly content to just piss away 10s of millions of dollars in order for that not to happen. In addition to which, his signature transit plan, SmartTrack, is offering even more city money to help the provincial government build their regional transit system.

And all the Scarborough pro-subway city councillors who ran for re-election last year are back. (Interestingly, so is the one very vocal pro-LRT Scarborough councillor, Paul Ainslie, easily re-elected.) notthisshitagain4The debate is over. The people have spoken. They want subways.

Except, apparently, they don’t. Or more precisely, if given an option, they’d take LRTs. It’s the politicians who want subways.

If there’s a more salient example of why we’ve become so cynical and disengaged, I can’t immediately think of one. It’s little wonder we’re bored of this debate. Our elected representatives aren’t listening to us. What’s the use of continued talking?

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Post Mortem Mea Culpa

October 28, 2014

John Tory will be the next mayor of Toronto. It says something about the rest of the results from yesterday’s municipal election that, this morning, on the day after, I’m largely ambivalent about our new mayor-elect.rosecolouredglasses

Throughout the campaign people I respect told me John Tory would be just fine. Give him a chance, they said. Let him find his sea legs and see what he can do before passing judgement.

So be it.

This morning I’ll choose to believe the John Tory we’ll see emerge as mayor of Toronto will be the John Tory his supporters told us he’d be. Sensible and a consensus builder. Moderate. A healer of our self-inflicted civic wounds.

I say that without a hint of sarcasm or mockery. If John Tory proves to be any of those things, Toronto will be better for it.

I am far less sanguine about the new shape of city council. And by ‘new shape’ I mean the exact opposite, of course. whitelayercakeIf anything, city council got whiter and maler, suggesting that the racist and sexist outbursts we witnessed throughout the campaign and summed up perfectly this week in one cartoon of Olivia Chow by the Toronto Sun’s Andy Donato, weren’t really outliers so much as a reflection of systemic attitudes that belie our municipal motto of Diversity, blah, blah, blah. Electing a white guy mayor was merely the strawberry slice on top of our white bread, penis shaped, white layer cake council we settled on, answering in the affirmative (at least on the political level) Colin Marshall asked in The Guardian yesterday, Has Toronto’s great multicultural project failed?

A resounding number of terrible, terrible, terrible incumbents were re-elected last night with no refreshing or inspiring newcomers figuring into the mix. changeplacesIt’s as if the voters of this city believed that all the trouble and turmoil we went through over the past 4 years could be exorcised simply by switching out mayors. Nobody else was held responsible for the bad decisions that were made. The circus, it was deemed, only had one ringleader, one two-headed ringleader. Remove one of those heads and order would be restored.

Wishful thinking, I think. Pitched battles, I imagine, are already being dreamed up over the fate of rapid transit throughout Scarborough, the island airport expansion, the 2015 budget. Ohhh, the 2015 budget. While the discourse should become more civil around the council chambers, expect little elevation in content, judgment or common sense. I fear we’ve entrenched parochialism not diminished it.meaculpa1

In case you think I’m sitting here, pointing fingers at others, assigning blame in that direction, that is not my intention. Perhaps the most egregious bit of wishful thinking over the past 4 years was perpetrated by people like me. People who thought that simply by highlighting and talking and writing about the bad behaviour and decisions being done by our local representatives, a wave of change would be fomented. The need for it would simply be self-evident. I mistakenly assumed the clamour for change at the mayoral level would permeate down through the council ranks and sweep out a few of the worst offenders.

You’d think by now I’d be aware enough to know that change doesn’t happen easily. When it comes, if it comes, it comes reluctantly, grudgingly, obstinately. Change is an active not passive verb.

So to imagine that voters would simply be in the mood to throw the bums out with very little prodding was beyond hopeful. It was beyond magical subways for free thinking. duginWe had a record turnout at the polls this time out and, aside from at the mayoral level, the status quo was overwhelmingly endorsed. We want to change that? There’s no waiting until 2018. It’s a conversation that happens today, tomorrow. (OK. Maybe in a couple weeks after everybody catches their collective breath.)

How many times have we heard the complaint around these parts, Where is our Nenshi? To use the parlance of our transit debates, Nenshis don’t sprout up out of nowhere from magic beans. The ground has to be fertile from many hands working the soil. If we learn no other lesson from this municipal election of ours, it should be the change we want will never be delivered from the top down with only some urging by us from the sidelines. It’s only going to happen bottom up.

Actually, there’s one more thing.changeishard

Probably the most striking visual for me from last night’s post-election coverage was Rob Ford’s speech in which he warned us that the Ford’s ‘never, ever, ever give up’. I think that may be the most truthful thing I’ve ever heard the man say. The status quo is relentless. The forces of white privilege, racism and exclusion are relentless. The apple cart is heavier than it looks and isn’t flipped with a simple gesture. We have to push back, and push back hard.

2018 doesn’t start in 2018. It starts now. Rob Ford has warned us. This time we better be ready.

unsagely submitted by Cityslikr


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