The Bubble Boys

March 8, 2012

There seems to be a correlation between a lessening grip on power with a diminishing grip on reality for Team Ford. While for most of us that would be seen as a problem, they appear to like it that way. Reality has a way of refuting most of what they say and claim.

So they move about in an operational bubble that is permeable only to views and opinions they agree with and remains unassailable to everything contrary. The Toronto Sun. Friendly AM radio. Scarborough malls and Tim Horton’s full of well-wishers and 100% stay-the-coursers.

Having assumed control of Newstalk 1010’s Sunday afternoon municipal politics radio show, The City, brothers Mayor Rob and Councillor Doug have had two weeks of pretty much uninterrupted airtime to crank up the rant to eleven. Naysayers were few and far between on their first show, entirely absent the next. It was a whole lot of high-fiving and ‘I couldn’t agree with you mores’ all round. All Ye who enter, leave your facts and figures at the door.

Last Sunday, during what appears to be a regular weekly St. Clair right of way has been a disaster segment, Councillor Ford claimed that the streetcar had been shut down a few days earlier because of two inches of snow. A quick check of TTC service notices couldn’t actually pinpoint the incident. The best guess was that some slippery driving conditions had caused an automobile accident at Yonge and St. Clair which blocked up streetcar traffic.

So, using the councillor’s logic, since cars had trouble navigating inclement weather, maybe we should take them off the roads?

No. Since the brothers believe any form of public transit running down the middle of the street is a streetcar, a trolley when they’re feeling particularly disingenuous, and streetcars are nothing more than a weapon in the war on the car, congestion and all other traffic problems are to be blamed solely on them. Case closed. Fingers in their ears. La-la-la-la-la-la-la! I can’t hear you. What are you saying? Streetcars suck? I agree. La-la-la-la-la-la-la!

After this week’s drubbing at city council where Mayor Ford was relegated to mere observer status at the TTC, his brother went on the PR offensive not so much to preserve the mayor’s transit vision as to salvage his own reputation. Fingers were pointing in his direction as the main culprit in driving a further wedge between the mayor and any sort of face-saving compromise. Councillor Ford’s ‘all taxes are evil’ tirade last week only further alienated the mayor from even normally reliable allies like Councillor Peter Milczyn who, on transit, has stepped noticeably away from Team Ford. “Councillor Ford has had a tendency to continually add fuel to the fire when others of us have been trying to douse the flames,” Councillor Milczyn said on Metro Morning.

Now, a reasonable, rational politician would step back and reassess the situation. Hell, what good businessman would suffer a setback and not listen to advice from people generally thought to be on his side? Not Councillor Doug Ford, nope.

“I guess their game plan over the last couple of days is to try to silence me until I don’t tell the public what’s really going on,” Mr. Ford said in a radio interview. “We know what the public wants. The public wants subways.”

No retreat, no surrender!

None of this is the councillor’s fault, you see.

“The print media, they’ll twist it any way you can and you can’t defend yourself.”

Poor, poor put upon rookie councillor Doug Ford. Media types and devious, backstabbing politicians criticize him and there’s no way he can defend himself. Except on his own radio show and every other talk radio station in the city. But that’s no match for the pages of say, the Toronto Sun, who, as we all know, have been absolutely savage in their treatment of Team Ford.

In the little bubble world the Fords have created, only they know what ‘the people’ want, constructive criticism is nothing but political treachery, one unfriendly newspaper chain constitutes the print media and subways reign supreme as first and world class.

Unfortunately for them, their reality has banged up hard against the other, bigger, grim reality of facts and informed opinion that the rest of us exist in. It turns out in the real world you have to actually pay for the subways you want and, even then, subways aren’t always the best use of public transit money. There’s the very real possibility of them not being first class at all but out and out money sinkholes that inhibit healthy neighbourhood development rather than enhance it.

It also turns out in the real world bullying and bluster will only get you so far. Their effectiveness is directly proportional to the power you wield. Threats suddenly become idle. Former cowed allies start to find their own independent voices. You find yourself more and more alone inside your bubble until, finally, it doesn’t so much burst as collapse into itself.

pokingly submitted by Cityslikr


Pirated Radio

February 27, 2012

Conservatives these days.

It’s almost as if they’ve given up on the traditional mechanisms of democracy. Debate, discuss, deal, decide. All that outdated crap our grandparents and great grandparents fought and died to protect back… whenever.

Look. Nobody watches black-and-white TV anymore, do they? So who says our democracy has got to be the same?

Federally, after 6 years of not being able to earn enough votes to form a majority government, it seems that the Conservative party resolved to help keep some Canadians from finding their correct voting stations last election, thereby denying them their right to vote. No voters. No problem.

Here in Toronto, conservative leaning mayor, Rob Ford, having experienced a couple important setbacks and rebuffs by city council, has deemed his fellow elected local representatives to be irrelevant, and headed to more friendly terrain: talk radio. For 2 hours every Sunday (at least until the 2012/13 NFL season), he and his councillor brother, Doug, are taking to the airwaves, talking about the issues they want to talk about, listening only to the taxpayers they want to listen to and just generally reaching out to the regular folks they’d normally have to travel to a mall or Tim Horton’s to talk to. “’You’re going to get the straight goods from Rob and I,’ Mr. [Councillor] Ford promised Newstalk 1010 listeners during an interview with host Jerry Agar. “’You aren’t going to have the media twisting it around like they’ve been twisting it around for the last year and a half.’”

In short, the mayor and his brother are looking to replace actual governing by out-and-out campaigning some two and half years before the next election.

It’s telling also how their radio gig came about. The show, The City, was already established, hosted for its first 6 months or so by Councillor Josh Matlow. Its format was essentially the centrist leaning host moderating two other councillors from either side of the political spectrum in a two hour long discussion about municipal issues. There’d be listeners calling in to ask questions or give their opinions and members of the punditry invited to chime in as well.

Neither the mayor nor his brother ever took part in the show aside from phoning in. Mayor Ford called once to give Councillor Matlow birthday wishes and the councillor a couple times when he had a bone to pick with him. Otherwise, they remained disengaged.

Until this past January when, according to the program director of Newstalk 1010, Mike Bendixen, ‘the mayor’s camp approached him’. Interesting. While never deigning to appear on the show as is, Team Ford wanted to simply take it over, rejig it for their own purposes. Replace wonky policy talk and debate with one-sided, loaded partisan bluster. Like snivelling schoolyard suckie-babies who can’t play the game very well, so they grab the ball and insist on changing the rules.

Say what you will about The City hosted by Josh Matlow but it actually explored the nuts and bolts of municipal governance here in Toronto, never allowing one side to go unchecked. The City hosted by Rob and Doug Ford?

Of the show’s 78 minutes of actual Ford Bros. airtime, 10 minutes or so was given over to Leafs’ Talk with former player, Wendel Clark, his fights, his bar, his views on how to turn the team around, 6 minutes to Oscar talk and how the city should do something to honour Norman Jewison and about 3 minutes for some community bulletins. The only council member invited to join in on the conversation was hardcore Team Ford loyalist, Giorgio Mammoliti, who talked about his dream of building a subway along Finch Avenue. In terms of callers, by my count 4 were pro-Ford, 2 against and 1 I couldn’t really tell. One caller challenging the mayor and his brother to expand on their Sheppard subway plans and questioning their claim of the St. Clair disaster was cut off for a commercial break. When they returned, Councillor Ford spouted forth some dubious numbers about financing the subway, uncontested.

In an opinion column for the Toronto Sun on Saturday rationalizing handing over The City to the mayor and his brother to do with it what they want, Mr. Bendixen made the following assertion: After all, sharing ideas and opinions is what talk radio is about. If that were true, talk radio would not be the almost exclusive domain of right wing, conservative thought because ‘sharing ideas and opinions’ is anathema to modern conservatives. It runs against their grain of tightly holding onto ideas that only confirm their worldview and ridiculing opposing opinions that don’t.

It smacks a little too much of the democratic process that conservatives seemed to have developed an aversion for.

fair-mindedly submitted by Cityslikr


Supplementary Reading

February 25, 2012

Since I’m sure the Ford Bros. are busily prepping for their co-hosting radio debut on The City, it’s probably good that we do too. Bone up on some facts and figures to counteract the less fact-y figures that’ll surely be flying fast and furious tomorrow afternoon. Write up a long check list of things that the mayor and his councillor brother don’t quite get right.

We’ll probably be hearing a lot about transit during their first show. The whole subways versus LRT (just fancy streetcars) debate. Jim, calling from an Oshawa Tim Horton’s, will regale listeners with that time he drove in downtown Toronto and was stuck for miles behind 9 streetcars that had nobody on them, his surroundings a dilapidated urban jungle.

Because you’ll probably be hearing much of the disastrous St. Clair right of way construction from the Ford Bros. tomorrow (I’m betting at least half a dozen times), take some time between now and then, if you haven’t already, to read James Bow‘s masterful blow by blow account of what actually happened. Full of intrigue and heroism, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that it didn’t turn out to be quite the mess you’ll be hearing nor were the problems that surfaced due in any way to building streetcars in the middle of the road.

It’ll serve as a nice antidote.

 Hyperbole and Axes To Grind on St. Clair Avenue.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


St. Clair’s Long, Strange Journey

April 10, 2011

(In case you missed the post in the Torontoist earlier this week. With more pictures!)

*  *  *

What journey doesn’t begin with a killer prologue? The Canterbury Tales. Caxton’s ‘The Recuyell of the Histories of Troy’. Shakespeare’s Hank Cinq: “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/The brightest heaven of invention…” The Coen Bros. Raising Arizona.

Here’s ours. Imagine it spoken by someone with a silky smooth BBC accent and wearing tights or Nicholas Cage as H.I. McDunnough (or any other role pre-Leaving Las Vegas.)

The St. Clair right of way streetcar is not Light Rail Transit (LRT) which is the technology at the heart of the Transit City plan. While the two can share many similarities, the most important being dedicated lanes that are physically separated from vehicular traffic that allow for unencumbered flow, LRT is faster with more capacity. Light Rail Transit comes touting transformative power on the neighbourhoods it serves especially the street level type which makes all the hoopla about burying more of the Eglinton LRT more than a little curious.

And before you utter the phrase “We don’t want another St. Clair on our hands” in a pejorative way in order to demean street level rail transit, you must first pass a test proving that you read Getting It Right. (Or if you’re not up to the 14 pages or so, try the quick summary over at Environmental Law and Litigation.) A report commissioned by the TTC last year assessing the problems that emerged with the construction of the St. Clair right of way. Yes, the city was not free of blame for the cost overruns and delays but they were hardly alone. Many of the most vital recommendations, if implemented on future projects, will go along way to alleviating the headaches residents, businesses and commuters experienced along St. Clair.

Just as importantly, Getting It Right questions the implied condemnation in the ‘No More St. Clairs’ chant — with its flipside, Yes To Subways — that somehow all the problems were due to it being street level transit. As if, had it all gone underground, everything would’ve been hunky dory. Subway supporters exhibit a curious view, it seems, as to how subways are built. Do they really believe that because it’s below ground, there’s going to be no discernible affect on the traffic above? How do these people think subways are built?

Such thoughts established, on to our expedition.

On a dreary Monday morning (“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote”) we ventured up to do a loop of the St. Clair ROW streetcar. Heading east toward Yonge Street from Bathurst, what first caught my attention was the utter lack of congestion. Isn’t this the specter being dangled before us by those bent on burying our public transit? Streetcars getting in the way, snarling traffic? Certainly on this particular morning commute, both streetcars and private vehicles flowed seamlessly. From Bathurst to St. Clair station at Yonge Street, a brisk 10 minutes.

The time for the entire one-way trip on the St. Clair streetcar from its eastern point at Yonge Street to its western terminus at Gunn’s Loop, just west of Keele/Weston Street, on a non-rush hour Monday, was 29 minutes. It is a fascinating tour from the northern reaches of the downtown urban core to the outskirts of the western inner suburbs. A sequence missed if traveled underground; a lost connection between people and communities.

Much has been made, justifiably, of the havoc wreaked on businesses during the ROW construction. Some 200 apparently closed because of it. It is a situation not uncommon to any area of a city that undergoes substantial redevelopment (hello, Roncesvalles) and there are no easy answers. That’s not entirely true. The easiest answer would be to never change anything, maintain the status quo. But that doesn’t seem to be a healthy option to positive future growth and development.

Now, more than a year into the new St. Clair streetcar’s run, it looks to a guy riding along observing the scenery the decimation did not take hold. While there are certainly empty storefronts and For Lease signs in windows along the way, no more so than the same trip taken along Bloor Street, say. Like everywhere else that is seen as a going concern, there’s a growing presence of chain outlets like Starbucks, Second Cup and Tim Hortons along St. Clair vying for the consumers’ dollars with the olde thyme European places. Trendy cafés and bistros are popping up beside more homespun eateries that themselves are expanding beyond the traditional Italian, Portuguese and Caribbean flavours. Within less than a 10 minute streetcar ride, one could find Brazilian, Peruvian and Colombian restaurants.

This kind of variety only promises to mushroom (funghi, hongo, seta, callampa, cogumelo) as the area sees further densification. Between and around the two subway stops on St. Clair along the Yonge-University line, condo developments have sprung up including an interesting one in the old Imperial Oil building just east of Avenue Road. Towers are even spreading west from this more traditional location, now out past Bathurst Street into what was considered purely low and medium rise territory. Yes, proximity to a subway has much to do with that but the fact that this is happening now would suggest that the St. Clair right of way has enhanced rather than diminished the desirability of the area.

Is it too much to suggest that St. Clair Avenue is undergoing a renaissance? My scant two hours spent traversing it tells me no, there is something of a rebirth going on there. Even on a rainy Monday morning, people were out, going about their business. Traffic moved — traffic moved, it is worth repeating – smoothly with very few aggressive flare ups and accompanying blaring of horns. And on the streetcar, getting from point A to point B was painless. No. Joyous? Maybe a little overkill. A very pleasant journey, shall we say.

The epilogue to this tale?

Before falling in line behind our mayor’s misguided, bull-headed, ill-advised march to rid our streets of everything but cars, trucks and buses, we all need to pay a visit to St. Clair Street. Sit our asses down on the streetcar and take in the view. Hop off, have a drink and a bite to eat. Watch some soccer or buy some shoes. Not only is such an outing now easier for transit users and car drivers alike, it is more enjoyable. The exact opposite of what Mayor Ford would have you believe.

darenly submitted by Cityslikr