The Emptiness of Empty Protests

April 26, 2013

Those must have been heady political days in the late-60s, early-70s, here in Toronto. stopthespadinaA citizens group forms to stop the move to pave neighbourhoods and put up an expressway. It coalesces into a bunch of reform-minded politicians who take control of City Hall and run it for the next decade or so.

The dream of grassroots activists everywhere!

Faint echoes of such a movement occurred in 2003, with David Miller’s broom representative of sweeping out the cronyism and incompetence that had consumed the Mel Lastman administration. But truthfully, that really only resonated at the mayoral level. The make up of council did not change that much. Thirty incumbents were re-elected. Only four defeated. And of the two new faces entering City Hall, Mike Del Grande and Karen Stintz, would hardly be considered Millerites.

No. The real descendant of the David Crombie-John Sewell municipal populist movement would have to be – gulp! – fordnationRob Ford. Yes, Rob Ford, dammit. In 2010, not only did he handily win the office of mayor, thumping the outgoing Deputy Mayor in the process, but five incumbents are tossed including the speaker, Sandra Bussin, a couple more are scared into submission with squeaker victories in their respective wards and a majority of the nine other rookie councillors initially falling in line to support the new mayor’s mandate.

Ford Nation, folks. Brimming full of respect for the taxpayers and come to stop the gravy train at City Hall. It’s what a grassroots insurgency looks like in the 21st-century.

But it seems in the intervening 40 years or so between the Crombie-Ford eras the protest portion of populism’s DNA has subsumed the reformist urge. noWhile David Crombie’s CivicAction Party began as a protest against the proposal to bring the Spadina Expressway downtown, it grew into something that actually governed the city.

Now into its third year in power, the Ford Administration shows no similar ability or inclination even. Governing is what professional politicians do. One-note outraged howls of protest are for the self-proclaimed amateurs.

Take a gander at Councillor Doug (Imma Businessman Not A Politician Folks) Ford’s op-ed on proposed transit funding today here and here and here. Or just read one. It’s the same thing spread over three of the city’s four dailies. Go figure.

Or let me summarize for you if you’re pressed for time.

No. No, no, no. No, no, no, no. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo. No. Uh-uh. Nope. No, no, no. Not on my watch. Over my dead body. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo.

Not a word about alternatives. No other options offered up. johnnystrablerYou’d think with all that free press at his disposal, the councillor might use the opportunity to lay out a transit plan that has been lacking for the three years since his brother announced his intentions to run for mayor. A plan?! We don’t need no stinkin’ plan!!

We just say no.

Name an initiative Team Ford has put forth that hasn’t been about cutting or dismantling.

It’s never about building. Theirs is a protest of destruction not construction. The anti-tax foundation on which Ford Nation is built extends to anti-everything. They took the ‘pro’ out of protest. Let’s call it the antitest.

I thought about labelling this movement the Johnny Strablers after Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One. “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” Mildred asks. “Whaddya got?” Johnny answers.

But there’s too much retro-cool in that. stubbornThe Ford brothers might take it as a compliment.

So I’ll go further back, into the 19th-century, and the nativist Know-Nothing political party. Ford Nation shares quite a bit in common with them but it’s not a perfect fit. So let’s dub them the No-Nothing party. You want new transit? No. Need to open additional shelter beds? No. Hey, Mayor Ford. You going to march in this year’s Pride Parade? No.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re all for brand new shiny stuff if you convince them it won’t cost the city a dime. A casino? You betcha. Jets flying into the island airport? Okey-dokey. But any talk of reaching into our pockets and contributing to the broader public commons? No.

This is the inevitable outcome of protest built on pure negativity. We voted for someone with a long list of what’s wrong but an empty column of how to fix it. Opposition with no solutions is just opposition. Nothing gets done. Everything grinds to a halt.

strutsandfretsIt’s a situation any parent will immediately recognize. We are living through a two year old’s temper tantrum.

feet stampingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Road To Irrelevancy

March 14, 2013

It’s very easy with our 21st-century hindsight (such as it is) to look back through the history books and scream in frustration at the mistakes made by our predecessors. blackdeath“It’s the fleas, you dimwits!” you yell at the poor bastards suffering through the plague. In the sixth century. And again in the fourteenth century. And the seventeenth.

Clear out the rats! Stop living in such squalor! It’s a bacteria! No, flowers in your nose won’t help! Invent antibiotics, already!

Progress is a slow march, sometimes imperceptible. The scientific method was a long time in coming and still hasn’t fully taken hold. Iterative trial-and-error, plugging in acquired knowledge as it becomes available to us. We proceed humbly with the best information we have at the time, knowing it’s not always going to be perfect or even correct.

Educated guesses. Informed assumptions.

Or there’s this.

A Transportation Town Hall for the residents of Councillor Mike Del Grande’s Scarborough Agincourt ward. scientificmethod“Transit And You. Subways. Public Transit. (TTC/GO Transit) Hwy 401. Road.”

The evening’s guest speaker? Put your hands together for Mr. Frank Klees, MPP and the Progressive Conservative Transportation Critic. Yes, folks. That Frank Klees. Member of the Mike Harris government that buried the hole where an Eglinton subway would’ve run and cut the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating subsidy. Mr. Frank Klees, everyone.

(Full disclosure: I did not attend the event and am only relaying the sense I got via social media. Grain of salt not included.)

Mr. Klees pleaded for transit planning to move “beyond politics.” Too many times in the past we have seen incoming administrations simply trash can the work of their outgoing counterparts for little more than partisan reasons. Marking the territory. Male lions, taking over a new pride, killing the offspring of its defeated rival.

Hard to argue with that. I mean, Mayor Rob Ford unilaterally killing Transit City. The aforementioned dispatch by the Harris government of Eglinton subway. filltheholeSuch crass politics should be called out, detrimental as they are to healthy city building.

But strangely if not unsurprisingly, Klees ignored those examples and hopped into his way back machine in order to trot out… wait for it, wait for it… the Spadina Expressway! Yep, folks. The Opposition’s Transportation Critic at Queen’s Park sees everything that’s wrong with transit planning in this city traced back to the ignominious end of the Spadina Expressway at Eglinton Avenue.

Again, I was not in attendance, so can’t be entirely sure of Mr. Klees’ exact point. Was it just the reversal that he believed wrong or the fact that the Expressway would’ve been a boon for transportation? Whatever, but it seemed to establish a tone for the evening where the car needed to reclaim its exalted position atop the transportation hierarchy, all public transit must run underground and, why not more bridges?

Bridges? Yes, bridges. Where there are more bridges, there  is less gridlock.

“Resident says for 50 years roads have been considered dirty words. Same with cars. And trucks. And bridges.”

Look.

Sixty-five years ago or so, there was a different prevailing view. After a Great Depression and World War, after nearly 20 years of selfless sacrifice, there was a little breath of freedom in the air. Land was plentiful. suburbandreamThe energy to get people to those far flung places was cheap. So the approach to designing cities reflected those sensibilities.

Why wouldn’t they? It was based on the best information at hand. Thus, places like Scarborough Agincourt were planned into existence.

More than half a century on, we’ve realized a couple of those key suppositions turned out not to be quite right. Land is plentiful but the sprawl that followed was not really sustainable or economically viable. Energy, or at least a cheap version of it, turned out not be in infinite supply and it also happened to be hazardous to our collective health.

Again, life is not an exact fucking science. Best laid plans and all that. Mistakes happen. You learn from them and seek to correct them with the knowledge you’ve gained from experience.

What you don’t do is insist on repeating them in the hopes of a different outcome. We all know what the definition of that is.

Frank Klees, Mayor Ford and Councillor Del Grande are all conducting a flat out assault on reason when it comes to transit planning. stubborn(It’s especially galling from the councillor who leaves no opportunity wasted to tout how he as the former budget chief removed the “emotion” from the budget process.) They either don’t know or don’t care about any evidence that’s emerged that runs contrary to their strongly held opinions, apparently forged in steel in the 1950s and 60s.

It’s reactionism at its worst and a complete abdication of leadership and responsibility. Leveraging parochial resentment for political opportunism, they insist on spreading mistruths and false hope. No, guys. More roads don’t lead to less congestion. They are deniers of reality and need to be dispatched to the trash heap of irrelevancy.

Just like the experts who blamed the plague on the humid air. Only, let’s not wait as long to see that it happens.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Shiner Family Values

November 9, 2012

[While we’re away living La SoBe Vida Loca, a post from guest commentator, Loose CanonTO.]

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Somehow it wasn’t surprising that David Shiner’s argument for a downtown casino in Toronto boils down to one thing: it would be further away from his constituents than one in Markham. See, Shiner isn’t above wrecking this city for his ward’s gain. He just wants to keep his cossetted Willowdale burghers as untroubled as possible. It’s not surprising because this is the second time in two weeks we’ve seen this behaviour from Shiner.

When council eventually, finally got to a vote on the Metrolinx Master Agreement last week the first thing they wanted to do was try to kick out all the taxpayers in the room (sorry, citizens and reporters) so that David Shiner could launch… something. Nobody’s fessing up about what he wanted to do, exactly, but he wanted it done in secret. One councillor would just say “this is about things happening next year.”

Gee, what’s happening next year? Probably, the end of the Liberal run at Queen’s Park and a different Premier. The Mayor’s people are drooling more than usual because of the prospect of a Hudak government and the chance to reverse the will of council on the transit file.

It didn’t work, of course. Because this is Rob Ford’s council, and Rob Ford is to transit votes what Sideshow Bob is to rakes.

The first thing that happened was that council shot down Shiner’s attempt to force council into a secret meeting. But Shiner wasn’t done there! For his second act, Shiner wanted to insert a poison pill into the agreement with Metrolinx. Instead of saying that Metrolinx would consult with the city when it finally starts building its LRT lines, Shiner stamped his feet and demanded that Metrolinx get the City’s consent, which is a hell of a big ask when the city is contributing nothing but headaches to these lines.

Shiner was overheard hissing at another councillor later in the votes, “stop calling it a poison pill!” But to help clear things up, we got Mayor Rob Ford who explained precisely why it was so important to support Shiner’s motion:

I couldn’t agree more with Councillor Shiner’s motion [to try to impose a city council veto clause]. This goes back to day one, streetcars against subways. You want to support this contract, you’re supporting streetcars. LRTs, whatever you want to call ‘em. That’s the bottom line. People do not want these, they want subways.

So it’s not a poison pill, but if you agree with Shiner it’s because you want to kill the deal. Thanks, Mayor! Nice of you to show up!

But the weirdest part of the day was when Shiner, talking about how many great ideas the city’s seen come and go thanks to the province just up and changing its mind name-dropped the Eglinton West subway… and the Spadina Expressway.

Shiner, of course, is the son of the late North York councillor Esther Shiner, who was as obsessed in her day about the Spadina Expressway as Rob Ford is about subways. Shiner told council he marched to support the Spadina Expressway, but it’s weird in 2012 for a sitting councillor to get up and say “you know what we really should’ve done? Turn Chinatown into a six-lane freeway ditch.”

A funny thing happened when the Shiners lost the fight over the Spadina Expressway. Premier Bill Davis (whose picture sits in the dictionary behind the words “Red Tory”) got up and said

Cities were built for people and not cars. If we were building a transportation system for the automobile, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to start, but if we are going to build a transportation system for people, the Spadina Expressway is a good place to stop.

But no, the “we must burn the city to save my commute” mentality of the old Metro suburbs isn’t dead, it’s not even resting. It’s still there, trying to break the only transit plan we’ve got in the hopes that Big Daddy Hudak will throw us a subway lolly. And if that doesn’t work, hey, that casino downtown will build us all the subways and freeze property taxes and fund the Doug Ford Memorial Monorail.

Just keep it away from Willowdale, is all.

debutly submitted by Loose CanonTO


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


Vision Quest IV

October 8, 2010

The Thanksgiving edition.

Up this week: Rocco Rossi For Mayor!

Honestly, I thought this post was going to be more of an obituary than an actual write up of a candidate who had any bearing left on the campaign. As recently as earlier this week, rumours were swirling about major Rossi staffers jumping ship and swimming over to the Rob Ford compound. Polling in the double digits was a distant memory. A sense of inevitable disappointment hung over the whole enterprise, manifesting itself by the forced buoyancy of Rossi supporters throughout the various levels of social media.

But he gathered positive notices upon the release of his policy platform book, Together We Can. (No, Barack Obama’s stump line, Yes We Can, did not immediately spring to mind.) Then, he turned in a solid performance at the CBC mayoral debate on Tuesday night. By Wednesday, there seemed to be a little bounce back in the Rossi campaign step.

If it turns into anything resembling even a modicum of momentum, it might change the dynamics of the race. For the past couple weeks or so, we’ve been told that it’s basically down to two candidates and we better start thinking strategically in terms of voting. A Rossi uptick, however, would probably come at the expense mostly of Rob Ford which would open things up a little wider, possibly making it a very unpredictable, four man campaign for the final three-and-a-half weeks.

Here’s hoping!

Otherwise frankly, I could give a shit about Rocco Rossi. No candidate shoulders more of the blame for the negative tone of this campaign than he does. Lacking a track record since he wasn’t a “career politician” (the openly elected kind at any rate), Rossi came out of the gate determined to smear everyone and anyone who was. How? Start screaming about the mess the city found itself in. Fiscal insolvency! Beholden to unions! Constant road construction! (Every announcement/pronouncement emanating from Rossi camp needs to exclamatized©™®!!! owing to the shrillness of tone.)

And, oh yes, the War on Cars! Thank you very much for that divisive addition to the campaign, Mr. Rossi. Create a rift where none existed, all to give a shine to your uptown appeal.

I guess it made sense in the early days of the campaign, to stake out the right of centre spot on the spectrum, and box George Smitherman in toward the… centre.. ? I guess. Really? Actually no. It makes no sense. Which is why I’ve never been able to fully grasp what the Rocco Rossi campaign’s been all about.

Neither had it, evidently. Having trail blazed the anti-City Hall/anti-incumbent path, Rossi got caught off guard when Rob Ford tore out ahead of him (and who amongst wasn’t), rightfully claiming the issue as his own. Why wouldn’t he? It’s been Ford’s schtick for the past 10 years.

But instead of righting the ship that had been swamped by the Rob Ford rogue wave, and ceding the far right, libertarian ground to it with a sensible move slightly toward the centre, Rossi tried keeping pace in the reactionary race. Who advising him thought he could win that one? Why not take the opportunity to point out what everyone except his most ardent supporters knew – that Ford was little more than a blustery blowhole and most everything he stood for was based on faulty premises, logic and out right lies – and gain some traction as the reasonable right wing candidate?

Nope. What we got was Spadina Expressway II: The Tunnel. (Remember, there’s a War on Cars going on, people.) The Goodfellas ads. The Rocco Rossi-Sue-Ann Levy danse macabre pas de deux.By all rights, the Rocco Rossi campaign deserves to be dead and buried. His performance has been erratic enough that it should scare off Liberal Party organizers sizing him up for a federal run, if that’s what this whole sad farce has been about. And it must’ve been about something other than actually winning the mayoralty of Toronto, right? Because if that was the intent, well, Rocco Rossi certainly had us fooled.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr