The Dead Calm After Ford

May 22, 2015

“The universe will unfold as it should.”

I don’t know about anybody else but I don’t find that sentiment all that reassuring coming from an elected official.

Sure. We can debate. We can try and make evidence-based decisions. We can, I don’t know, dance the watusi. But you know what? nonsense1At the end of the day, the universe will unfold as it should. Whaddayagonnado?

After nearly 30 minutes of, I wouldn’t say ‘intense’ grilling but not softballing from Steve Paikin, covering contentious issues like police carding, the Gardiner east expressway, the Scarborough subway, Mayor John Tory essentially gave us the figurative shrug. “The universe will unfold as it should.” Keep calm, folks. Daddy’s got a handle on things.

That the mayor doesn’t was clearly underlined by The Agenda host when asking some pointed questions about the decisions Mayor Tory’s been making lately. “Do you still support carding?” Paikin asked him. “I support the need to reform the policy,” the mayor responded.

Never mind that there had been an attempt to reform the policy in 2014. An attempt the police services under then chief of police Bill Blair simply ignored, essentially thumbing its collective nose at its civilian oversight body, the police services board and creating what Mayor Tory now refers to as a ‘vacuum’. Tomato, tomatoe. Insubordination, vacuum.

“Previously the police service hadn’t been able to agree with the police services board on policy,” Mayor Tory told Paikin. emptytalkJust like that. As if it’s perfectly reasonable for the police services to choose simply not ‘to agree’ with directives from the board that’s in place to oversee their actions. Whaddayagonnado? The universe unfolds as it should.

This was the first example of gaps, let’s call them, that Paikin permitted the mayor. Moments of clarification that, not pursued, allowed Mayor Tory to sound perfectly reasonable. There weren’t many of them, to Paikin’s credit. He was much more assertive than many of us thought he would be although he tended to be more deferential at times than he needed to be.

“Thanks for indulging me.”

“You know I’m just putting you through your paces here.”

“That fine,” replied Mayor Tory.

That’s fine?! Of course, it’s fucking fine. You’re the fucking mayor.

At one point of during the conversation Mayor Tory pushed back at Paikin: “You’ve put me in the position of defending my own decisions. keepcalmandblahblahblahWhich is what you do…” yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. Geez thanks for defining Steve Paikin’s job for us, Mr. Mayor.  Yeah. His job is to put you in the position of defending your decisions. Your job is to defend those decisions.

Which, when he wasn’t doing it flintily, the mayor did opaquely, with a lot of words being said, few in any meaningful way.

The Toronto Star’ Jennifer Pagliaro captured the mayor’s response to Paikin’s question that if reports came back suggesting overlapping transit demands for both the Scarborough subway and his own SmartTrack plan, would he reconsider changing his opinion on the need to still pursue both.

Well, put it this way. One of the reasons they expanded the study area of the current environmental assessment that’s going on is to take account of the fact that SmartTrack was going to be something that would hopefully proceed forward. And so obviously these studies are being done for a reason and I’d be irresponsible if I said we’re going to do them and then ignore what they have to say, but I think on the principle of building a subway, all three government made decisions on that.

Anybody want to try and parse that noise?

All three levels of government have decided to build the Scarborough subway, so, that’s pretty much a done deal. And I promised 22 stations in 7 years with my SmartTrack plan, and I’m not one to break my campaign promises except for that TTC fare increase but free transit for the kids! Look at me. Do I seem like the irresponsible sort? blahblahblah1I certainly wouldn’t ignore any report unless it didn’t jibe with my strongly held opinion like on the Gardiner east hybrid option. In other words… What was the question again, Steve?

In that space in time in which John Tory has sprung up as mayor now referred to as the ‘calm after Ford’, we squee in delight that the city has a mayor who doesn’t merely grunt and exhale heavily into a microphone. Mayor Tory says words! In sentences that form paragraphs!

It’s inconsequential that often times all that verbiage makes little sense, doesn’t directly answer direct questions, simply fills the silence with resounding nothingness. Compared to “I’ve got plenty to eat at home”, our Mayor Tory is simply Churchillian. We shall fight with obfuscation! We shall fight with bafflegab! We shall fight with mumbo jumbo! We will never surrender to forthrightness and candour!whatareyoutalkingabout

I applaud Steve Paikin and The Agenda for politely pushing the mayor out of his obvious comfort zone of unchallenged press releasing and revealing a surprising degree of thin-skinned petulance. Words, well spoken but ultimately meaningless, are no better than farting noises. Bullshit is bullshit, am I right?

“The universe will unfold as it should.”

We need to realize now that John Tory’s version of ‘should’ is much different than the one too many of us bought into during last year’s campaign. While he comes across as more articulate than his predecessor (again, a low bar), it’s obvious this mayor is no less bound and determined to pursue equally detrimental goals, flying in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence and expert advice, if necessary to do so. Should? No soothing words should convince any of us otherwise.

desiderataly submitted by Cityslikr


Let’s Make Local Democracy Actually Democratic

February 4, 2013

We’ve all heard the defense of ‘traditional marriage’ – that between a man and a woman –made during an argument against same sex marriage. hughhefnerThe one about how the latter will ‘undermine’, ‘diminish’, ‘make mockery of’ the former. As if up until recently, traditional marriage had been some rock solid institution, a sacred bond that those who entered into it never undermined or diminished. Only serious practitioners of the heterosexual persuasion like Hugh Hefner could uphold its honour.

A similar line of reasoning seems to be at work in the debate over extending the right to vote in municipal elections to permanent residents. (Steve Paikin runs it up the flagpole in an excellent 2010 session with Desmond Cole on the subject.) Somehow allowing non-citizens to vote at the local level will cheapen the act for the slim majority who exercise their franchise at the best of times during a municipal campaign. castaballotChoosing not to vote should be the privileged right of citizens and citizens only.

While no one would argue that the right to vote is the bedrock of any democracy, to maintain that it should be the sole entitlement for those holding citizenship suggests that it is the only determinant to a democracy. As if democracy is synonymous with voting. If someone wants to be a part of our democracy, they only can do so upon getting their citizenship.

But democracy is so much more than that or, at least, it should be. Voting is a small albeit vital component of the process, something that happens, more or less, every four years. Democracy is a larger, daily commitment.

And the flipside of that would be citizenship is more than simply the ability to vote in elections. So to argue that somehow conferring the right to vote on permanent residents diminishes citizenship rings hollow for me. Citizenship, like marriage, is an institutional designation and what you do under its banner will determine the quality of it, won’t it? If voting is contingent on being a citizen, does deciding not to vote when that right has been bestowed upon you call into question your citizenship?

I’ll grudgingly accept the assertion that only citizens should be allowed to vote at the federal level although I’m not entirely convinced as to why. But at both other levels of government, I can’t think of a reason why that should be the case. engageenableenpowerIf someone has chosen to live in a particular locality that is, ultimately, overseen by a provincial government, the argument escapes me that they should be allowed to vote for their representation only after they’ve become citizens.

Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a group of people who’ve already indicated their keenness to be part of the community by becoming permanent residents. So pick a standard. A six month residency requirement? A year? During which time, a permanent resident is paying taxes, using amenities supported by those tax dollars, sending their children to schools or going to school themselves. Once they meet the time line, why not allow them to have a say in who’s making the decisions that affect their lives? How does allowing them to do so in any way diminish the notion of a wider citizenship?

I’d like to think of voting as something of a citizenship starter kit. An introduction to how shit works here. Your opinions and views matter as much as your tax dollars to the proper running of this place. kinggeorgeOne stake, a very important stake, in a functioning democracy.

It’s also possible that extending the vote to permanent residents might make politicians more aware, let’s call it, of the pressing issues newcomers face. If there are areas of a city, say, with high concentrations of permanent residents unable to cast a ballot, just how much attention will their local representatives pay to them. Taxation without representation and all that.

Back in 2006, then mayor David Miller attempted to put this debate on the front burner. The Community Development and Recreation Committee revived it again last week with a request for a staff report on the idea. Perhaps if it were as simple as a council vote on the matter, we wouldn’t be still talking and doing nothing about it. Unfortunately, it’s just another example of how we as a city don’t control our destiny. It’s a matter that Queen’s Park must decided and they will only do so if we show that’s there’s enough support for the idea.

If only those who had the most to gain actually had a vote in the matter.

invitingly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Provincial Endorsement

October 5, 2011

With the importance provincial governments play in municipal life, I’m somewhat bewildered by my lack of engagement with the 2011 election. I should be on top of this, combing through party platforms, tracking down candidate debates or otherwise just staying on top of things. But no. I dithered. I procrastinated. I couldn’t beat back this feeling of caring less.

In trying to avoid the burden of responsibility, I lay the blame squarely on the respective campaigns’ shoulders. It all seemed to be about what we don’t need. We don’t need another 4 years of Dalton McGuinty. We don’t need another neo-conservative at the levers of power, desperately trying to steer the ship of state away from the future. No time for change. Exactly the time for change.

Well, if that’s the case, do I really need to be paying attention?

Snap out of it. Of course you do. Must muster interest. Do your duty as a citizen. Engage! Engage!

So I sat through Rogers’ Trinity-Spadina candidates’ debate minus the incumbent MPP. I went through campaign literature. I scoured party websites. And here’s what I came up with.

Surprise! I won’t be voting Conservative. The last thing we need is another anti-urban leader ignoring the interests of municipalities. Ignoring would be generous to Tim Hudak. It’s more like looking at cities as dumping grounds for the disastrous results of their backward policies. Remember Mike Harris?

As for the government of Dalton McGuinty? Ambivalence is mostly what wells up within me. For every strong initiative it’s made in areas like education or the environment, there’s been two steps back in the face of strong, largely misguided opposition. You don’t like wind turbines in toss-up ridings? They’re gone. Catholic school boards got problems with progressive approaches to sex education in the classrooms? Ignore it and carry on with your discriminatory, pre-Second Vatican Council ways.

Oh yeah. And let’s not forget the trampling of our civil rights, police state approving fiasco that was the G20.

The Liberal Government’s dealing with cities has been wishy-washy. Yes, it’s redone a lot of the damage inflicted by the Harris gang. Uploading many of the services dropped into our laps in the late-90s. They passed the City of Toronto Act which gave more powers and flexibility to the city to deal with its particular issues. There’s been the more than half-hearted Big Move and nod to the importance of public transit in the GTA. We got some of the gas tax. Promises have been made since 2003 of restarting provincial contribution to the annual operating budget of the TTC. Transit City was a signature piece of the transit puzzle here in Toronto. Until it wasn’t.

One might hope that, if given a 3rd majority, McGuinty would become more resolute and less afraid of his own shadow. He has stood firm in the formidable face of opposition to the HST. If Ford Nation fails to dislodge him, the premier might start standing up to the more ridiculous whims of our mayor. Moreover, Premier McGuinty might gracefully approach retirement and the Liberal party could entertain the notion of reclaiming its more liberal leanings.

But what about the Liberal candidate in our riding? One Sarah Thomson. We got a healthy dose of her when she ran for mayor of the city last year before she ran out of gas late in the proceedings. Underwhelming initially, she never really caught fire but she did evolve over the course of the race, the first of the candidates to begin backing away from the city’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket narrative and did seem to be listening to the actual problems we were facing. She adapted an extensive bike lane plan and was the first one to float the idea of road tolls, getting laughed out of the place by her opponents.

Yet, she still has a tendency to talk in sound bites. There’s the air of the high school valedictorian about her. I get the feeling she’s running here because there was no riding closer to home. She may be an ideal McGuinty Liberal which I hold against her. On the other hand, she’s not Rocco Rossi.

Normally, I don’t have to go through such a process of elimination about where I’ll be placing my X on the ballot. Trinity-Spadina is an NDP stronghold. I tend to lean that way most of the time. It should be a no-brainer.

However, maybe it’s the fallout of the lacklustre campaign but I’m just not feeling Andrea Horwath’s vibe. Rather than pick up where the federal NDP left off and run unabashedly with a left of centre platform, I’m feeling nickel and dimed by all the talk of capping gas prices, removing the HST from home heating fuels. On the other hand, they have promised to restart contributing to the TTC operating budget and other transit initiatives. But that feels almost ad hoc, not part of a bigger plan for cities.

Where’s the tapping into the Occupy Wall Street movement? It’s a shitstorm out there, people! Governments should not be retreating in the face scary economic news. We need to be talking Keynesian not deficit reduction. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

And then there’s our incumbent, Rosario Marchese. He may be a very nice man and a crackerjack constituent MPP. But how would I know? I never hear much from or about him until election time. Maybe it’s living in the shadow of MP Olivia Chow who keeps me apprised of everything she’s doing.  (What’s that you say, Olivia? A private member’s bill calling for a national transit strategy?) Marchese pales in comparion. But when he missed most of the Rogers’ candidates’ debate, it just struck me that he’s merely doing time.

Leaving me with the Green Party. Now, truth be told, I’ve never really known what to make of the Green Party. I get the environmental thrust but there’s also been the fiscal conservatism they’ve often touted. Some of the pledges in their platform come with the ‘when the budget’s balanced’ caveat. I’m sorry but with all the grim predictions making the rounds out there about an almost certain double-dip recession, budget balancing should be the last thing we’re talking about now.

That said, the Green Party candidate in Trinity-Spadina, Tim Grant, has caught my fancy. A former teacher who has been involved in the environmental movement since the days when most of us were asking, what’s that? He was a member of the Harbord Village Residents Association. His platform stresses biking and walking as much as public transit. Mr. Grant advocates a Junk Food Tax and a carbon tax. During both the Rogers’ candidates debate and on The Agenda’s Confronting Poverty, he came across as not only knowledgeable but collegial with his opponents.

On top of all that, he’s pictured riding a bicycle on his campaign signs!

I realize that in voting for Tim Grant, I’m doing little more than lodging a protest. There’s no hope in hell he’ll be elected. But I’m alright with that. Let it be known that I’m protesting the Liberal government and it’s too tentative embrace of a green economy in general and a strong, unapologetic public transit strategy. I’m sending out a protest to the provincial NDP. Don’t take my vote for granted. Out with the deadwood and in with new blood.

For all those reasons, tomorrow I will be voting for Tim Grant in the riding of Trinity-Spadina and The Green Party of Ontario.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Trash Talk

May 12, 2011

Let’s talk some trash. Trash collection, that is. And that’ll be the last recycled pun (except for that one) we’ll use on the issue.As we hurdle toward the westward-ho garbage privatization debate set for city council next week, wouldn’t it be nice to have some solid facts and figures on the table in order for those who will ultimately make the decision to do so logically and with well grounded reasons for proceeding. Councillor Josh Matlow attempted to accomplish such a task on Tuesday night hosting a town hall meeting moderated by the ever moderate Steve Paikin of TVO fame. On one side was pro-privatization advocate and Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong. Hugh MacKenzie, economist and research associate at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, represented the anti-side of the equation.

Reading through accounts of the evening, it’s clear that no real consensus emerged. “Last night’s trash talk offered no clear answer on the garbage privatization debate, but one very popular moderator,” Carly Conway of the Torontoist tweeted yesterday. Hey. Maybe if we contract out trash collection to Steve Paikin, everyone might be happy! “It answered some questions for me and, frankly, left me with more questions than I came in here with,” Councillor Matlow told the Torontoist after the town hall.

It seems inconceivable to me that such an important issue that deals with not only a lot of money but peoples’ livelihoods couldn’t be a little more clear cut. Evidence must exist out there from towns and cities that have unloaded trash collection onto the private sector. Case studies, analysis, comparisons of before (privatization) and after, of places that have maintained public service. Metaviews, I guess, is what I’m thinking.

If I were an actual journalist or one of those people who aggregate and research such things, perhaps it might all become obvious which way to go. I’m not but I’m perfectly willing to read the work of someone who has done it. So far, however, such documents are few and far between, lost in a sea of studies all that can be easily shrugged off by opponents as tainted by self-interest or ideology. Unions will weigh in against privatization but they’re just looking after their own jobs, right? Try reading this instead from the National Solid Wastes Management Association, a ‘trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling industry.’ Yeah, so they have no dog in this particular hunt, do they.

The field is awash in solid anecdotal evidence, frankly. For every Etobicoke that loves its privatized trash collection, there’s an Ottawa that has brought at least some of it back in-house after a brief private dalliance. (Interestingly, if I understand correctly, Ottawa re-publicked collection in the older downtown area of the city which is more analogous to the core of Toronto than Etobicoke is.) Like Tuesday’s townhall, neither side is able to deliver the knock-out blow that will sway a crowd to fully embracing its position.

Running with that boxing analogy, shouldn’t the advocates for garbage privatization have to win decisively like any challenger seeking to dislodge the established champion? If we’re going to take a leap of change purely for the possibility of saving money and improved service, the case for it needs to be nearly irrefutable. Yes, we’re going to save this much money. Yes, you’re going to be happier with the service. Guaranteed, to use the mayor’s TV pitchmen promise.

As the privatization pointman, Councillor Minnan-Wong has done nothing of the sort. His constant referencing to Etobicoke as an example for why the rest of the city should privatize is both unconvincing and, possibly, inapplicable. He assured the audience at Tuesday’s town hall that Etobicoke receives no more complaints about trash collection than the unprivatized parts of Toronto. No more complaints, Councillor? Shouldn’t we be aiming for fewer? He was unable to answer some important questions from the audience including gender equity hiring by private firms. When all else failed, the councillor claimed his job was not about social engineering.

Moreover, the savings he (and the rest of the pro-privatization crowd) talks about Etobicoke receiving may not work out in the rest of the city that is laid out in a far less orderly pattern. As we’ve discovered over and over again here in post-amalgamated Toronto, what’s good for Etobicoke may not be good for East York. Money saved in one former city may not be possible in another.

And the ever changing amount of savings should also serve as a yellow flag of caution. All throughout last year’s municipal campaign, pro-privatization candidates trumpeted the $49 million Toronto would save going private with their garbage collection as reported by the C.D. Howe Institute. Under closer scrutiny, that report’s methodology was called into question. Now we’re hearing $8 million/year west of Yonge. Or maybe $6 million. $2 million isn’t being ruled out. What’s next? Well actually, we’re not going to save any money doing this…

And frankly, if the likes of Councillor Doug Ford can blow off $7.8 million or the city pays to police officers for paid duty overseeing construction sites and the like (“Keep in mind [paid-duty costs represent] one-half of 1 per cent of the construction projects that we have to pay for,” the councillor said), where’s the reasoning for undertaking such a massive change of operation in collecting our garbage? What will his response be at next week’s council meeting when a fellow councillor points out that an $8 million saved privatizing garbage collection amounts to about 1% of the near $800 million shortfall the city’s facing? Blustery dismissiveness, I’m guessing.

With no firm or substantive savings to tout and the only improved customer service to point to is the assurance that privatization will mean no more garbage strikes like we saw in the summer of 2009, it’s hard to see this as anything but ideological. According to the Toronto Star’s David Rider, at Tuesday’s town hall meeting “Minnan-Wong said the contract would have ‘continuation of service’ provisions to ensure that, even if the contractors’ workers went on strike, the trash would get picked up in the privatized district.” In other words, in contracting out garbage collection, the city would insist that the winning bid include a provision that would bring in scabs to cross a picket line in the case of a strike, thereby rendering the power of collective bargaining null and void.

Huzzah! Questions linger about what if any savings taxpayers will see. We can’t say for sure if they’ll notice any difference in how their trash is collected. As continued innovation in recycling? Like Councillor Minnan-Wong has said, social engineering isn’t really our job. But we do know one thing. Privatization is going to stick it to the union. Guaranteed.Spite based policy making. In tough times, is there anything more satisfying?

stinkily submitted by Cityslikr


The Real Agenda Debate

September 8, 2010

The boys of summer are gone replaced by men of fall (no offense, Ms. Thomson), all in their resplendent autumnal colours and nary a pair of white slacks between them. From the starter’s tower, the white flag has been waved signaling the commencement of the final lap. (If you thought it meant surrender, you’re not a Rob Ford supporter.) Months and months of mindless posturing and can kicking now gives way to grave seriousness and weighty deliberation.

And nothing says ‘weighty deliberation’ more than a mayoral debate on TVO hosted by respected journo, Steve Paikin. He’ll civilize the proceedings, quiet the roar to a more pleasing, easy to follow decibel. There’ll be no grandstanding under Steve Paikin’s watch. The candidates won’t be able to slime their way out of the tight corners Steve Paikin will put them in. This one’s going to be different. Steve Paikin will finally shed the light of truth and reason on the race and we’ll all be the better for it.

Did he?

Well, yes and no. The sound level on yesterday’s debate was noticeably lower than previous televised debates but, then again, isn’t everything more quiet on TVO? They don’t have the money to buy one of them kick-ass volume goes to 11 amps. It certainly felt more dignified, less shouty and aggressively confrontational. Steve Paikin held much tighter onto the reigns, never letting things veer too out of control. Steve Paikin was insistent without being obnoxious. A one hour debate moderated by Steve Paikin brought much more clarity than any two hour debate we’ve witnessed so far.

And just what was that clarity, you ask?

Well, it become glaringly apparent that, barring some minor miracle, some Hail Mary pass being tossed up and caught, Toronto will be led by someone intent on cutting it down to size. Our next mayor is going to want to see blood on the floor and guts exposed. The terms of the debate are now set in stone. It’s no longer if the city has a spending problem but what to do about the spending problem.

Rob Ford is already the winner of this election even if he doesn’t become mayor on October 25th. His endless braying chant of Toronto not having a revenue problem but a spending problem has been whole-heartedly picked up by Mssrs. Smitherman and Rossi and Ms. Thomson and embraced, leaving any other opinion or view on the matter simply peep, peep, peeping quietly and ineffectively out of the mouth of Joe Pantalone. I know conventional wisdom has it that Councillor Pantalone is simply not a good campaigner but the malaise goes deeper than that. His refusal to embrace the last 7 years, both the good and bad, has put him purely on the defensive, reactive not proactive.

So he’s ceded the battleground to the interloping tax-and-spend choppers, the self-proclaimed white knights with a thirst for government blood. Major surgery will be needed, folks, to cure the ailing patient. But don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit. At least not for you, what with that protective coating of tax cuts. You’ll be fine. You’ll barely even notice the freezing/cutting spending at City Hall because, seriously, what have they been doing for you over the past 7 years? What with all that retirement partying and sole sourcing and gravy train gulping they’ve been doing…

The table is now set. It’s only a matter of what and how much to axe, what to sell off and who and how much to outsource. The last remaining vestige of liberal impulse in any of the front runners (sorry Joe, you’re not really a front runner) was tossed out by George Smitherman yesterday when he said, cryptically, “There will be less Copenhagen, more Scarborough.” As if Toronto’s problems can be traced back to being too Copenhagen-ish. Clearly, Smitherman’s now speaking code to conservative voters, assuring them once he’s mayor there’ll be no more of that smarty-pants, European, environmental, bike riding going on under his watch. Strip malls for everyone!

Enough Of The Downtown Shenanigans®©™ has become the framework of our mayoral campaign. It’s time to get back down to basics; the basics of low taxes and government spending on only the essentials. And then what?

This is where future debates have to take us. We now know what any one of Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Thomson will do if they are elected. It’s only a difference of degree between them. What we need to discover is once they’ve restored our fiscal house to order, what kind of city will Toronto look like. They are all harkening back to a former time of Toronto greatness which they vow to restore. When was that exactly? The good ol’ days of… ? Mel Lastman? Art Eggleton? David Crombie? Nathan Phillips? William Lyon Mackenzie?

Because if things are as bad as everyone’s assuring us they are, and can only be fixed by returning to a magical, mystical place in the past, just when was that exactly? That’s what I want to start hearing from our mayoral candidates. Paint us a picture of the Toronto we’ll be living in when your job as mayor is done here. A time, like that one in the past you keep referring to, when there were no problems to solve and seldom was heard a discouraging word.

inquiring mindedly submitted by Cityslikr