The Great Divide

August 22, 2010

If campaign 2010 continues on its present trajectory, come around Oct. 23rd, 24th, we’ll be preparing to head to the polls believing we live somewhere like Londonerry or Belfast. Beirut or Jerusalem. Kirkuk. (Plug in the divided city of your choice).

Thirteen years into amalgamation and this election has finally blown the lid off the pressure cooker of simmering hostilities between the old downtown core and its inner suburban brethren. Us coristas have milked the `burbs dry with our bike lanes, waterfront developments and faggy artistic pursuits. In turn, the proverbial Wayne and Garths have pinched off a couple political turds named Mel Lastman and Rob Ford smack dap into our skinny café lattes.

Or so the story goes.

Last week, the Toronto Star’s Urban Affairs reporter, Robyn Doolitte, delved into the city’s schism. A dirty job but someone had to do it. What did she discover? The divisions separating us are as much imaginary as they are real. All those questions of who has and gets what is – surprise, surpise – a lot more complicated than we’re hearing in the media and on the campaign trail.

Former mayoral candidate and former York city councillor and now Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti insists the city’s inner suburbs have been getting short shrift since amalgamation. His staff analyzed the “numbers” and left him with “no doubt that the majority of spending goes downtown”. Just look at the money being splurged on Union Station, the waterfront, Bloor Street, G20 security. Imagine what the suburbs could’ve done with that billion dollars or so.

However, other “numbers” suggest that residents of the old city of Toronto receive less funding from the city on a per person basis than those dwelling in the former burgs of North York, Etobicoke and York. After the last election, Scarborough councillor Norm Kelly commissioned a study to examine allocation of city resources which came back with the not entirely rock solid conclusion that, in fact, Scarberians were not being hosed on half the services that were assessed while on the other half, it was hard to tell.

From all this, we’re now in the midst of a ‘culture war’ as Ms. Doolittle suggests?

It wouldn’t be the first time that misinformation and the power of perceived persecutional exclusion drives a debate especially during a political campaign. A wedge is a much easier tool to use when digging for support. Even more so when you lack an uplifting, unifying theme. I know candidate Rob Ford immediately springs to mind but Rocco Rossi was the first to employ the method this time around with his war on cars schtick. Ford simply sniffed which way the wind was blowing and realized he could do it so much better than Rossi. And he has.

That is not to say gaps and inequalities don’t exist throughout the city. They most certainly do. But to try and suggest that they are the result of an uneven financial flow since amalgamation is playing fast and loose with the facts for the purpose of pure divisiveness. All 6 of the cities that were forced against their choice into one by the Harris government each brought their own respective pros and baggage to the table. As many of the now 13 high priority neighbourhoods were located outside the old city of Toronto as were within its boundaries. Now money is being spent by all of us trying to deal with the disparities in those parts of the new, bigger city of Toronto.

Of course, that’s awfully murky grey and nuanced. Easier to point fingers and wax nostalgic about the good ol’ days before we had to deal with those leftist downtowners or dumbfuck suburbanites. Remember when those nice people from the city used to come and de-weed the boulevard, Betsy? I got an idea, pops. Why don’t you weed your own boulevard and we’ll spend that money building a community centre next door in the old city of York. Hey, North York. How be you try shoveling snow off your sidewalks like we do down here in the core and we’ll toss a little money your way to fix all those pipes you neglected to deal with?

Like it or not everyone, we’re all one big, happy family now here in the megacity, and that spending spree all of you are talking about, that gravy train, may just be the price we’re paying for trying to make one size fit all. Only the willfully ignorant or blindly ideological truly believed the cost of amalgamation would be otherwise. Economies of scale don’t always apply if that was, in fact, ever actually the intention of all this at the provincial level. So, here we are, 13 years later, in an unproductive pissing match with each other.

There’s nothing territorial about this. I’d be very happy voting for a suburban candidate running for mayor. Isn’t Shelley Carroll from North York? Why won’t she run? It’s just that, instead, what keeps rising up from the inner ring are monstrosities of dumbness, intolerance and irrationality. If you truly believe that Mayor David Miller has made a bigger mess of this city than did his predecessor, Mel Lastman, than you are simply unwilling to engage in constructive dialogue and are determined to see that this project called amalgamation fails.

And if that’s the very definition of a ‘culture war’, I guess we are in the middle of one.

miffedly submitted by Cityslikr

Tough On The TPS Budget? Crime Lover.

August 17, 2010

Politics these days seem to operate counter to our ingrained, chivalric notion of how to behave during an emergency: women and children first. Maybe it was always thus, nothing more than a lofty ideal, entirely untested under real world situations. As a relatively able-bodied male, I’m all for jettisoning such quaintness when the tornadoes’ are coming and the ships are sinking. Every man for himself! (The gender specificity of the noun was entirely deliberate.)

With our political house on fire — at least that’s what’s being yelled in the municipal campaign theatre of operations by our front running mayoral candidates – it’s all about trampling the slow footed and weak on our way to the exits. Everybody’s vowing to get tough with the easy to get tough with targets. Faceless city bureaucrats who make our existence miserable each and every day. Outside workers bringing hell down upon this city with each strike they subject us to. Snoozing, break taking, booze-sodden TTC workers and their can’t-do attitude. Oh, we’re so going to declare you an essential service! Economics of it be damned!!

In typical bully fashion, however, nary a peep has been heard about what to do about the out-of-control spending the city’s lavished upon the Toronto Police Service. Shhhhh! Don’t mention the Police Service. They might hear us.

According to some numbers being bandied about over the weekend, during King David’s profligate reign at City Hall, the TPS’s budget has grown nearly a quarter billion dollars, from just over $700 million in 2004 to just under a billion dollars in 2010. That’s over a 35% increase in 6 years. In fact, just this past year when budget chief Shelley Carroll was asking all departments for 5% cuts in their budget, the TPS received nearly a 4% increase. That’s the kind of bird flipping candidate George Smitherman vowed to crush if elected mayor yet, so far, it’s been all quiet from him in terms of going to war with the Police Service.

Ditto tough guy Rob Ford. Nothing on the matter from Rockin’ Rocco Rossi’s camp. Sarah Thomson’s been similarly mum on the matter.

Why ever would that be, we wonder?

Now, I’m not here to say that the Police Service is being coddled and mollified, shown far more respect than all other city services. For all I know, they deserve every single penny the city hands over to them. It’s just the glaring double standard that our leading candidates for mayor are employing that has caught our attention.

Hey, hey, hey, you’ll yell at me, and point out the dropping crime statistics over the last decade or so. Shouldn’t we be rewarding a job well done? If we cut police spending, crime will climb. Probably.

Probably although I am no social scientist, so don’t know the ins-and-outs of that line of argument. But if we equate success with increased expenditure, why don’t we start throwing money at other problem areas? Increased spending on social housing could mean decreased homelessness. More money on infrastructure might translate into better roads and fewer water main breaks.

Imagine if we unleashed countless billions on the TTC! We could have a transit system that would be the envy of the—No, wait. We do spend billions on the TTC and everyone’s displeasure with it is near unanimous.

So a money-equaling-effectiveness argument is a tenuous one, as many of the mayoral candidates have stated themselves. We can’t just throw money at our problems, we are told. And yet no one is complaining about all the money being thrown at the TPS. Why the deference?

Much of the discussion about this that I encountered over the last few days began with variations of the familiar disclaimer, I’m as pro-police as anybody, It’s not that I’m anti-police, as if a pledge of fidelity is needed before anyone can offer up a critique of our men and women in blue. Where’s the similar sentiment – I’m as pro-TTC as anybody – when criticizing our transit system? It’s not that I’m anti-garbage collection, it’s just that I think we should open bidding up to the private sector.

You’re either with us or you’re against us is the established parameter when offering up any sort of police-related opinion. We saw that with the G20 fallout earlier this summer. Members of City Council fell over themselves to prove to our besieged police service that they were in no way siding with the criminal element on the issue. The doubters, the panderers to terrorists, simply ducked for cover. In this environment, it doesn’t pay politically to be seen as anything other than the law & order type. It is an easy exploitable sign of weakness.

So our cadre of tough talking front running mayoral candidates tip-toe past the TPS budget numbers without raising so much as a collective eyebrow. Should they? I’m as pro-police as the next guy but it just seems to me that if they’re all going to run around like Chicken Littles telling us that the fiscal sky is falling, there should be some discussion about one of the biggest ticket items in the city’s budget. Otherwise, it reveals either a glaring lack of attention to detail or a knee-jerk cravenness in the face of a powerful interest group. Neither quality is one we really should be looking for in our next mayor.

law and orderly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part VIII

April 9, 2010

Don’t know about you people but here it’s Friday, and here Friday means: Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

Up this week, Keith Cole for Mayor. So just Get Over It!

If ever a mayoralty campaign in Toronto needed the panache and zazz that Keith Cole brings to the table, it is this one in 2K10™®©. To date it has been a largely dreary affair, damp and musty with pessimism and hostility. Everything, it seems, is negative and out of control at City Hall and without severe measures, our future will be bleak.

With most of the frontrunners adhering to this narrative and vying to prove themselves the meanest, toughest, cuttiest and slashiest som’bitch out there, Cole is all about the positive. He is the can-do to the others’ can’t. We can’t think big in terms of public transit, they say. We can’t provide secure, well-paying jobs to our public employees. We can’t stand up to the egregious neglect shown us from the provincial and federal governments.

Well, colour candidate Keith Cole unconvinced and unimpressed to such unconstructive sentiments.

A performance artist, Cole is naturally passionate about the arts and what they contribute to the well-being of the city. “Toronto is more than TIFF, LUMINATO and Harbourfront Centre,” Cole told us. “Our city has more events (often free) in one week than anyone could ever attend. We have to foster, care and support the arts in our city. We are so lucky to have this vibrant artistic culture in this city but we have to care for it or it could disappear.” A timely thought, what with the battle now waging over how to use the revenue from the new billboard tax. Lead by the organization , there is a call for all the money to be directed towards the arts, a notion championed at City Hall by Budget Chief Shelley Carroll and mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone. That’s not going to happen this year but we have a pretty good sense which way a Mayor Keith Cole would vote on the matter.

But it’s not all about the arts for Cole. The overlying theme of his candidacy is civic engagement. Imagine JFK in a wig, dress and pumps, invoking his fellow citizens to ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country, and then tap dancing to Michael Sembello’s Maniac. That’s candidate Cole.

“Think of what Toronto could be if more people just got involved,” he said. “Educate yourself. Figure it out for yourself. Get involved with politics and your politicians, your community and your city.”

And pick up your own fucking garbage, we might add, agreeing whole-heartedly with Cole’s assessment of the city looking dirty, inundated as it seems to be with litter. True civic engagement means not thinking others are going to clean up after you. Or assuming someone else has called about that burnt out streetlight in the back lane or the huge pothole in the middle of the road. Engaging means participating and Keith Cole sees that as the first step toward living in a healthy, exciting and fair society.

Like many of the candidates running for the mayor’s office, Cole’s campaign is full of ideas and short on matters of implementation. How does one demand and get increased civic engagement from the population? In a city allegedly strapped for cash, how would a Mayor Keith Cole ensure that funding for the arts is maintained, even increased, in the face of competing demands from other sectors and the philistinism of a council filled with Rob Fords, Giorgio Mammolitis and Doug Holydays?

Granted, the task of building and strengthening is much more complex than the simple wielding of an axe to hack and diminish as many of Cole’s mayoral rivals advocate. Even though the theory goes that it requires more energy to frown than smile, the opposite is true when it comes to governing. Keith Cole stands for optimism, engagement and a heaping help of civic pride in Toronto. That’s an uphill, rockier road to travel compared to the easy and smooth sailing of political destruction and reactionary malevolence that has been the main theme of the campaign so far. This race needs to hear more from Keith Cole and the little ray of sunshine he would bring to the proceedings.

When asked to answer our feeble question, If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Cole like to see his legacy written?, Cole initially expressed surprise. “Is that what David Miller wants?” Thus, he became the first profiled candidate to call us out on the issue. We… think so, would be our response. Pretty sure we read that somewhere. Let us get back to you.

Having not had that cleared up for him, Cole gamely proceeded. Keith Cole Art Mayor, he told us but also wouldn’t rule out being The Bicycle Mayor before finally settling on a legacy. Art. Bikes. Green.

Now if we can only get the other candidates espousing such positive, constructive and proactive ideas.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Laschinger Gets His Man. Finally.

March 22, 2010

As news broke last week that John Laschinger would be assuming the chair of Joe Pantalone’s campaign team, the reality started to sink in for left wing and progressive voters that the Deputy Mayor was going to be their standard bearer in the upcoming election this October. Laschinger had guided David Miller to consecutive mayoral victories and was on board the Adam Giambrone Express that spectacularly derailed in lurid technicolour in almost record time. He then mused publicly about a possible run by budget chief Shelley Carroll.

But now he is in Pantalone’s corner and Laschinger’s status is such that it’s hard to imagine a credible candidate stepping in from the left-of-centre to mount a challenge. So it’s all Joe for Mayor in 2K10 and the excitement is, if not palpable, well… let’s just say it’s not palpable. Yet. Remember though, Laschinger took a much more obscure politician in David Miller in 2003 and helped elect him mayor of the city.

Joe Pantalone isn’t a bad candidate. He’s been a very effective councillor for almost 30 years, ably working with both sides of the political spectrum. For the last 6+ years, he’s been the deputy mayor, overseeing a massive reformation of the city as it has stumbled and lurched out of the darkness of the Harris and Lastman years towards a new, more forward looking post-amalgamation identity.

So far, however, Pantalone has been shockingly quiet on the campaign trail. Perhaps he was caught flat-footed by the virulent anti-incumbency atmosphere stirred up by rivals Smitherman and Rossi. Rather than standing up to the invective and insults hurled at the current administration – the administration he’s been an integral part of – Pantalone’s shrugged and bobbed a little, even mumbling thoughts of hiring freezes that only served to feed into his opponents narrative of a fiscally out-of-control City Hall.

It wasn’t until Mayor Miller stepped into the fray a couple weeks back, essentially calling Smitherman and Rossi liars for their deeply disingenuous representations of the city they sought to lead, that there was any perceivable pushback coming from the left. Maybe now, with Laschinger behind him, Pantalone will start being more aggressive in his own defense. He needs to re-invigorate the base who have been doubly sideswiped by Miller’s decision not to seek a third term and then the Giambrone debacle.

Nothing to do with post. Just been in the news lately.

What Pantalone can’t do, especially since it looks like he won’t have to seriously defend the centre-left terrain from another progressive candidate, is to take that vote for granted. It is a constituency that Pantalone must make sure comes out to vote on election day. Complacency is not an option especially with second tier outside candidates like Sarah Thomson lobbing grenades into the arena like she did last week with her proposals to bring in road tolls, replace LRTs with subways and a very elaborate plan for a dedicated bike lane system throughout the downtown core.

Workable or not, what Thomson’s gambit did was to reveal just how superficial and hollow the debate amongst the mayoral candidates has been so far. Sir Bitch-A-Lot and Dudley Do-Nothing have dictated the tone up until now and the razed ground they’ve created has made it difficult for capital I ideas to sprout up. Thomson has endeavoured to alter that. Joe Pantalone must follow suit or else be relegated to the category of Just Another Politician Without A Vision. Teaming up with John Laschinger may be a move in the right direction.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

It’s Miller Time! Again!

March 10, 2010


*** sigh. ***

Yes, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke will admit to getting caught up in the hype and conjecture surrounding Mayor Miller’s Big Announcement this morning. Hopes were raised. Dreams dared to dream once more. The big dog was getting back in the race.

All for nought.

On the surface, what we were given amounted to nothing more than a budget update. Since last week, it seems, revised numbers uncovered an additional $100 million in the city coffers, some of which would be used to lower proposed property tax increases for the upcoming year. Another chunk of it would be set aside as a ‘property tax stabilization’ fund for use in future years to keep increases reasonable.

Most importantly for the mayor, what this meant was that not only did his administration deliver a balanced budget for Toronto this year but the opportunity was now in place for a balanced budget again next year as well. The contingency for that to happen is the province reassuming the obligation to pay its portion of the TTC operating cost which, to hear Premier McGuinty aka Dalton Empty Pockets, is not a done deal. But that’s a fight for the next mayor and council to engage in.

The response to Mayor Miller’s Big Announcement split into two camps. One: he told us to bring our satellite truck out for this? Two: another surplus after the first surplus they ‘discovered’ during the initial budgeting process? Clearly, an indication of massive financial mismanagement. (Prediction? Read all about it in Sue-Ann Levy’s next Toronto Sun column. And maybe Royson James in the Star as well.) How can you just ‘discover’ $100 million dollars?!

Let’s put that number into a little perspective. If my Google assisted math is correct, $100 million in terms of an overall $9.2 billion operating budget works out to about 1.1%. To put that in more tangible terms, that would be like you budgeting to make a $9 purchase and ‘discovering’ an extra dime in your pocket. As the mayor said in the press conference, every level of government revises their numbers regularly. Hell, businesses do it too. I was still receiving financial statements from companies last June, a full two months after my taxes were due.

Which takes us back to the first camp. What’s the big deal? Why all the fuss? So what?

Well, I think Mayor Miller hyped the proceedings in the hopes of going wide with this shot across the bow of the campaigns of the two men vying to succeed him. Combined with his pugnacious column in last week’s NOW magazine, Miller stepped into the void on the progressive side of electoral ledger, defending his legacy from the slings and arrows of the Smitherman and Rossi camps.

He defiantly challenged their numbers, claims and promises of solutions. During the press conference he trumpeted this as the start of a multi-year budget planning process (a demand of candidate Rocco Rossi, see Amanda Belzowski). The mayor stated simply that the city’s fiscal condition was in robust enough condition that there would be absolutely no reason to sell off any of Toronto’s assets. For the next mayor to do that would be a choice rather than a necessity.

While it’s great that finally somebody is standing up to the right wing, reactionary bluster of Smitherman and Rossi, it’s unfortunate that it’s the outgoing mayor who’s doing it. Clearly the left wing hasn’t recovered from the Adam Giambrone flameout. He appears to have been the anointed one and no one was prepared to step in and take his place. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, who has spent much of his campaign so far trying to distance himself for the current administration, has been meek in his response to the Chicken Little antics coming from the front runners. Perhaps now Mayor Miller has paved the way for Pantalone to be more aggressive. Or maybe, he’s cleared the deck for another candidate to step up to the plate and proudly bear the flag. Budget Chief Shelley Carroll wasn’t too far from the podium at this morning’s press conference…

Either way, hopefully the Big Annoucement has altered the playing field of the campaign and made it that much more difficult for Smitherman and Rossi and all the other neo-conservative hysterics to tell us the place is going to hell in a handbasket. The bad news is, it won’t be Mayor David Miller capitalizing on that shift. For some of us, that was the news we were really hoping to hear.

somewhat dejectedly submitted by Cityslikr