Shiner Light, Dimly

May 24, 2011

I like my magazines like I like my condiments. Just slightly out of date and not bland.

Reading through them a few months, half a year behind, it offers up immediate hindsight. An automatic retrospective that allows for quick judgment as to how well a writer grasped the subject at hand. Instant historical perspective.

So it was as I made my through the Spacing magazine’s Fall 2010 issue. One article in particular caught my attention, Deck the Allen by Jake Schabas. It offered an overview of the Allen Expressway and the various attempts that have been made since the early-70s to integrate what is, essentially, just a false start more fully and functionally into the neighbourhoods it so hideously slices through and divides.

A name jumped out at me as I read the article. Esther Shiner. First elected as North York alderman in 1972, and then the city’s Board of Control in 1976 which earned her a spot on Metro Council where she served until her death in 1987. During the 1980s she also served as Mel Lastman’s Deputy Mayor in North York.An early proponent of amalgamation way back in the 70s, her enduring claim to fame, however, appears to be her ardent support of the Spadina Expressway. So much so, she earned the nickname, ‘Spadiner Shiner’. When the project got bogged down after it made its initial way from the 401 to Lawrence Avenue, she fought successfully to push it further down to Eglinton where it remains today, known as the Allen Expressway. ‘Spadiner Shiner’ continued to press on with the project even after successive provincial governments and city councils had bowed to citizen pressure to halt it. According to Mr. Schabas, Shiner was also very instrumental in the ultimate auto-centric nature of the Expressway, helping to beat back plans (including one proposed by Buckminster Fuller. Buckminister Fuller, people!) that arose to make the Lawrence-Eglinton section part of a broader development that included parkland, public transit hub and residential and retail space.

Esther Shiner can also be credited with being the mother of current councillor, David. A former budget chief of Mel Lastman, Councillor Shiner was recently in the news for his spiking of the proposed Fort York Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge in late April as a member of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. ‘Too fancy’, he thought it, and his motion to deny the city giving final approval on the already approved project sent it back to the drawing board for a proper scaling down.The times have changed, it seems, but the results are about the same, laced though they may be with a lethal dose of irony. Esther Shiner was all in favour of plowing money into bulldozing and disfiguring downtown neighbourhoods to make way for a highway. Her son, David, withholds a miniscule amount of money to halt the building of a bridge that would’ve brought together neighbourhoods now divided by a highway.

Two generations of public service to Toronto, dedicated to draining life from the city one bad choice at a time.

belatedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Anti-Tax Is Anti-Citizen

January 14, 2011

Since government, or social organization, is among the wants of man, as truly as food or clothing, we must recognize it in the science of political economy, and provide for it. Government implies functionaries and expenditures. How shall these be maintained? Evidently by the contributions of all, for all are interested in its existence. It may, therefore, rightfully claim a share of all that labor and capital have created.

— “The Science Of Wealth” (1866), by Amasa Walker

When Mayor Rob Ford succeeded in having the Vehicle Registration Tax repealed last month, he crowed, “It’s a great day for the taxpayers of Toronto. We just put $64-million back in their pockets. They can do what they want. They can go out and spend it, create jobs and stimulate the economy or they can save it.”

I don’t know if the mayor really believes all that neoconservative nonsense about tax cuts stimulating the economy and, in turn, increasing government revenues. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t since it’s an empty trope that’s been all the rage for the past 30 years or so despite having little real world evidence to back it up. And I also wonder if the mayor understands that even if tax cuts were shown to increase government revenue, municipal governments in this province would not see their coffers filled much as the kind of tax revenues they have access to aren’t the sales or consumption taxes that, theoretically, increase in a stimulated economy. It’s a subtle distinction Mayor Ford hasn’t shown much of a propensity in understanding.

In cutting the VRT, city council has essentially amputated one of the hard earned revenue tools it was granted through the City of Toronto Act. As it will if the mayor eventually carries through on his pledge to do away with the land transfer tax. His proposal to freeze property taxes on this year’s budget (which is actually a cut – see Spacing’s Dylan Reid explain in his post) slices mightily into the city’s biggest generator of revenue.

Despite what politicos on the right and their media promoters insist on telling us, taxation is not a dirty word. It’s what buys us civilization and all that. Striking the right balance on which taxes to implement and at what levels in order to not stifle healthy economic growth is the key to successful governance. Any idiot can simply appeal to our basest instincts of greed and self-interest in a call for slashing taxes. It’s proven to be a winning strategy for decades now.

The loss of the VRT revenue and the mayor’s proposed property tax freeze will cost the city in excess of $100 million. How will that money be offset? Service cuts that Mayor Ford guaranteed on the campaign trail wouldn’t happen and some $23 million in user fee increases. What’s that about Torontonians tired of being nickel-and-dimed to death? His Respect For Taxpayers seems to be very, very selective.

Anti-tax politicians are never looking out for ‘the little guy’ despite their claims to the contrary. The last thing they want to do is to give a voice to the voiceless. Their primary intent, first and foremost, is to diminish the power of government to properly look after all of its citizens regardless of where they are on the economic spectrum. If they can get in a little reverse Robin Hood wealth redistribution while they’re at it, so much the better. Anti-tax politicians are not grassroots heroes.

They are abrogators of responsibility. They don’t govern. They vandalize and plunder. They never leave anything better than they found it. They only make things worse. And time and time again, we have to chase them from office and start to clean everything up.

You’d think we’dve learned all that by now.

get it through our thick skullsly submitted by Cityslikr


Until We Meet Again. In 2011.

December 12, 2010

I don’t know how y’all celebrate this particular season but around here we go unplugged. In reaction to the crazy consumerist bent that these holidays have become, awhile back we made the decision to simply take a step back, tune out, turn off, drop out. (I know, I know. That’s not the exact quote. It suits our purposes here.) Starting (roughly) 12 days before Christmas, we go downright Amish minus the barn building and plus the booze. (Do the Amish drink alcohol?)

No TV. No radio. No computer with its internets and Tweeting. Just us and our thoughts. And food. And music. We’re not animals here. And almost a year’s backlog of magazine subscriptions to catch up on. And booze. Did I mention booze?

A tradition which pains me a little this year as it means missing next Thursday’s city council meeting. It’s going to be a doozy! But what’s tradition if you just go around breaking it, willy nilly, on any old thing that catches your fancy? So, forgo the meeting I must. Can’t wait to hear all about it in the new year.

Before signing off for 2010, we’d like to give some shout outs to everyone who’s been following along with us since January.Of course, family and friends who have been very supportive and encouraging and whose names we keep confidential for fear of delivering upon them retribution from all our enemies (you know who you are.) Specifically, a very loving thank you to my wife for indulging me yet another career twist. This one’s going to stick. Really.

Then we’d like to thank the folks over at Spacing and Torontoist for their links to our pieces every now and then. Much appreciated. And Edward Keenan, senior editor at Eye Weekly for acknowledging our minor disagreement with him, pleasantly and politely. (Yes, people. That is a shameless way for us to point out that some very important people have noticed us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.)

Over on the Twittersphere, we want to give a h/t to @paisleyrae for all the regular, sometimes daily links. Thank you very much. And @orwellsbastard for all those #FFs. Much appreciated. I’m sure there are many more folks we’re missing. Our apologies ahead of time. Don’t hate us because we’re forgetful.

Two last big shout outs.

One, to Tim Falconer for his early sage advice and bumps on Twitter that got our site up and moving. Thank you very much. And everyone out there reading this, go get Tim’s books! Buy them, read them and give them as Christmas gifts.

And finally, Jonathan Goldsbie. His overwhelming enthusiasm for our work here was invaluable to bringing us a wider readership, unwarranted for sure but appreciated nonetheless. Without Jonathan’s regular queries about our true identities, Leah McLaren would never have started following us on Twitter. That alone makes us eternally grateful.

Moreover, Goldsbie’s encyclopedic knowledge of what goes on at City Hall and his easy willingness in sharing it with those like us who are woefully ignorant was, at times, incalculable. We won’t ever possibly be able to return the favour, so hopefully a heartfelt thanks will suffice.

For many of us, 2010 was an awful year, politically speaking. Terrible. Disheartening. Disillusioning. We’d like to think it couldn’t get any worse and that we’ve hit rock bottom. But we fear that’s simply rum and egg nog induced wishful thinking. Shit could get a whole lot worse.

Which is why we need to rest up, kick back and take a breather. Enjoy the holidays and prepare ourselves for the battle(s) ahead in the new year. The slog, she has just begun.

So Happy Holidays to all and we’ll see you early in 2011.

Peace out.

seasonally submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part V

March 19, 2010

It’s Friday, folks. Time to Meet A Mayoral Candidate.

This week: Mark Cidade for Mayor!

Right off the bat we like this candidate for 3 reasons, one of which isn’t totally frivolous. That being, Cidade seems to hate cars as much as we do here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. The other two, well, not as important to the health of Toronto certainly, but nothing to sneeze at either. 1) A guy running for mayor has the last name Cidade which is the Portuguese word for town or city. Mayor Cidade. Mayor City. City mayor. It’s tough to deny the appeal of that. 2) Mr. Cidade invited us out for lunch so he could explain in more detail his plans for Toronto if elected mayor in October. To maintain our journalistic integrity (such as it is), we had to decline. Still, he invited us to lunch. Props out for that.

Mr. Cidade is a candidate with a full-to-bursting campaign platform. Scrolling through his Facebook page, he expresses interest in a wide range of topics, from Suicide and Mental Health through to the City’s Economy, Real Estate, Water and even Robots. No stone is left unturned when it comes to the politics of the city.

Yet, so far at least, Mr. Cidade reveals himself to be a candidate more full of questions than answers. In many of the issues he raises, he leaves us with nothing more than musings followed by ???s. How is the transit situation now, do you think? Do we need so many expensive condos, shopping malls, and office buildings? Did you know that some of Toronto’s urban planners are also budding roboticists? I don’t want to see another garbage strike and I want to see Toronto’s streets to be clean again. What do we do? A mayor can’t do it all by themself. That’s why they need a council! Or do they? Toronto’s water is better-tested than anything you buy in a bottle. Of course, the pipes sort of ruin everything. New pipes maybe?

To be fair, Mr. Cidade does counter many of his inquiries with links to articles that talk about the particular matter in question but I’d like to know what the candidate thinks about them. I can read the National Post, Toronto Star or Spacing magazine to see what they think. They aren’t asking for my vote. Mark Cidade is and it’s his answers I want to know.

This leads to a bigger question I have about the Mark Cidade for Mayor candidacy. While his heart is in the right place – he is outraged that homeless people are still dying in the street, thinks more money should be in place to help with mental illness, believes immigration plays a vital role in the development of Toronto – it’s tough to figure out how he as mayor would deal with all these. Mr. Cidade refers to himself as an independent moderate yet he seems dubious of the role municipal government plays in our lives. Police, courts, lawyers, standards and licensing. Who needs them?, Mr. Cidade asks. Do we even NEED property taxes? I don’t want to raise taxes. In fact, I want to LOWER them until there are NO TAXES.

This sounds a lot less moderate and far more libertarian and leaves me to ask Mr. Cidade how we as a city can tend to the less fortunate and newcomers who have arrived looking for a better life without money coming in to pay for it and a human infrastructure in place to oversee it?

Still, his is not the only mayoral campaign in this year’s election to have its aspirations and plans for achieving them out of sync. Despite the uncertainty that underlines candidate Cidade at this point, he holds a very positive view of the city. When asked our empty-headed question that we’re posing to all the hopefuls for mayor, If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Cidade like to see his legacy written?, he answered: The mayor that makes Toronto “The Good” into Toronto “The Great”.

That’s one response that’s hard to argue with.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr