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


The Mayor’s Business

November 3, 2011

Please bear with me if my initial points are a little blurry and all the thoughts not strung together in any sort of coherent fashion. No, Sue-Ann Levy is not ghost writing this post. It’s just that I’ve been banging my head repeatedly against the wall, trying to figure out the general m’eh attitude toward Mayor Ford using his own family printing business, Deco Labels and Tags, to whip up he and his staff a batch of gold embossed business cards.

What part of ‘The Mayor Using His Family Business To Print Business Cards’ doesn’t immediately scream ‘Wrong!’ to everyone? I don’t care if he’s been judicious in not sole sourcing the job out or if he paid fair market value for the order or..or..or.. whatever other flimsy justification he, his brother and staff come up with. There’s a point at every council meeting I’ve ever attended where councillors have to stand and declare ‘an interest’ in a particular item that’s coming up for debate. It’s short hand for ‘conflict of interest’, usually entailing some family member working for the department in question or ownership of a property that may benefit (or not) in a decision council is about to make. Declaring a conflict of interest.

So how can the mayor of Toronto using his family run business to print his business cards be anything other than a conflict of interest? How? How?? Oh. Councillor Minnan-Wong? You had something to say about the matter on The Agenda Monday night?

“But I can also tell you that if the mayor had his druthers about this that he would’ve just had Deco Labels do it for free and had it just delivered to City Hall. But the problem is there are other individuals at City Hall that don’t want him to have these free contributions made to save the taxpayers money for some reason beyond me that was made a few years ago. He would’ve just gone to Deco Labels, had them printed and had the city not be expensed at all. But city council won’t let him do it.”

Hmmm. ‘… other individuals at City that don’t want him to have these free contributions to the taxpayers money…’? Could one of those ‘other individuals’ be the city’s Auditor General, Jeffrey Griffiths? Or then Integrity Commissioner, David Mullan? Seems this practice of using his family business to outfit his office with supplies has been an ongoing concern since back in the early days of Mayor Ford’s time as a councillor. (h/t Edward Keenan whose dynamite article I’m just riffing on here). Turns out, it’s a force of habit that’s been frowned upon but Rob Ford just keeps plugging away at it. Somehow.

And yet the mayor’s council colleagues like Denzil Minnan-Wong, presumably without benefit of a similar family business to help him out around the office, can’t see what the problem is. It’s beyond him why anyone could object to Mayor Ford conducting his official business on his own or Deco Labels and Tags’ dime. (Can you say, `corporate donation`, Councillor Minnan-Wong?) Pish-posh. All’s fair as long as it saves the taxpayers money.

Well councillor, if that’s the case, I say why stop at just measly business cards and letterhead? If it’s all about saving the taxpayers money, let’s try and hand the whole shooting’ match over to anyone who can afford it? Surely there’s got to be someone out there with $9 billion/year they’d be happy to part with in order to run the city. Be great if they could match that again to cover off some of our capital costs too. Then it wouldn’t cost us li’l taxpayers a thing to live in the city.

Never mind the darker implications of public service becoming only the domain of those who can afford it. What about oversight and accountability? Personally, I want to know what our elected officials spent and where the money came from. And frankly, I don’t care if the mayor wants some fancy business cards although I do have to agree with Mr. Keenan that coming from Rob Ford, it is a bit, errr, rich with a noxious whiff of hypocrisy to boot. We’re going with the cheapest bid in contracting out waste collection but not for our business cards? And trying to placate the situation with an ‘I’m paying for it out of my own pocket’ doesn’t cut it either. That money may have come out of your pocket but how exactly did it get in there in the first place? That’s the kind of thing I want kept above board and on the table for everyone to see.

Openness and transparency. That’s a concept Councillor Ford promised to usher in to City Hall if elected mayor. Yet, here he is, still playing fast and loose with his office expenses, maintaining ongoing business with his family firm, fighting off a Compliance Audit Committee request to look through his campaign financing books. It’s all so unseemly and smacks more of disrespect for the taxpayers.

by the numbersly 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


Chris Hedges’ Bleak House

November 9, 2010

A commenter to a post from last week accused me of being “optimistic”. Downright Pollyannish compared to the likes of one Chris Hedges. Well, I never. Of all the nerve. I dwell in the darkness. No glass is full enough that I can’t see as half empty. Optimistic? How dare you, madam commenter!

Now, I am secure enough in my ignorance to admit that I wasn’t sure who this Chris Hedges was or anything about the book Death of the Liberal Class. A Google search followed and, well oh well, I have to admit that the commenter was absolutely correct in her assessment. I am a veritable Santa Claus, bringing joy and happiness to the wider world when put up against Chris Hedges. Where he’s seen fire and rain, I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

In my defense, I have not spent any time whatsoever in the world’s war torn hotspots like El Salvador back in the day, the former Yugoslavia back in the day, northern Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s violent suppression of Shia and Kurdish rebels in 1991. I did not leave a high profile post at the New York Times after receiving a formal reprimand from the paper for my denunciation of the Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq. So the opportunity to truly blacken my soul and shrivel my heart has not been offered up to me as it has Mr. Hedges. To such a consummate professional as he, years and 1st person experience combine to provide a dark view. Me? A mere dilettante, an armchair cynic.

So I bought me a copy of Mr. Hedges Death of the Liberal Class from a locally owned, independent bookstore and set down to reading it. Since I’m only a couple chapters in, this isn’t any sort of review but the premise of the book goes something like this: the liberal class, consisting of the media, academia, labour movement and moderate religious institutions, historically acted as the “safety valve” that fought for, at least, “incremental reform” in the face of the vested interests of the “power elite”. But with the rise of the “corporate state”, Mr. Hedges claims that “the liberal class has distorted its basic belief systems to support unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization, and staggering income inequalities.” In so doing, it has “relinquished its moral authority” and ceased speaking for the working and middles classes, helping feed the anger that’s given rise to such movements as the Tea Party (and, dare I say it? Rob Ford here in Toronto.)

A dust jacket synopsis to be sure and I bring it up because, despite Chris Hedges’ pedigree including a Pulitzer prize, such a position as he takes in this book will surely relegate him to the fringe bin. That place we put people who spout uncomfortable ideas and question the conventional wisdoms we as a society operate under. It already occurred when Hedges appeared on The Agenda a couple weeks back. During the debate segment of the show, fellow media liberal class member Tony (“The World’s Not Perfect But…”) Keller politely dismissed Hedges’ book treatise as too conspiratorial. Implicit in that argument is the sentiment, and where’s your tinfoil hat, Chrissie?

Why I find all this interesting enough to write about is that at the same time I was discovering Chris Hedges, in an unrelated matter I coincidentally encountered what is now referred to as the Powell Memo. Written in 1971 by Lewis Powell just a couple months before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, it was sent to Eugene Sydnor, a Chamber of Commerce mucky-muck, and outlined a battle plan for beating back the opponents of America and its free enterprise system. “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility. There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy. But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

The irony of this memo is rich and the disengenuousness of it deep. Before assuming his position on the bench, Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer whose firm represented various tobacco companies. Powell himself sat on the board of Phillip Morris. So yeah, the 60s were a bad time for businesses like tobacco (Damn you, 1963 Surgeon General’s Report!), as government slowly interceded in tying their hands in peddling their poisonous products and marketing them as ‘healthy alternatives’. Powell expresses special disdain for the likes of consumer advocate Ralph Nader and thought it high time for right thinking American business leaders to stand tall against the creeping insidiousness of anti-consumerism and environmentalism.

More interesting about the Powell memo (or at least, more relevant to this discussion) are the pages and pages written, targeting the culprits (**cough** Communists! **cough**) of said attack on the American way of life and the remedies to combat it. Campus, media and the pulpit. That there would be a huge overlap with Chris Hedges’ pillars of the liberal class. Academia, media and moderate religious institutions. So three decades ago influential business leaders targeted what they saw as opponents of free enterprise (“The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom”) and set out to reverse their influence.

Whether or not they succeeded in doing so is not the point of this post. Clearly writers like Chris Hedges think they did. But to dismiss his arguments purely on the grounds of being ‘conspiratorial’ as Tony Keller did is lazy and suspect. Mr. Hedges has earned his dim world view by engaging it on the ground. Those disagreeing with him based solely on the notion of his ideas being too fantastical really only serve to prove the point of his book. We purporting to be of the liberal class are our own worst enemies.

liberally 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