Wheeling And Dealing

February 25, 2015

Evidently, it didn’t pass the smell test.smelltest

Last Friday, Mayor John Tory raised more than a few eyebrows (and some hackles) when he announced two corporations were donating the $200,000 the city needed to keep some outdoor skating rinks open for a few more weeks. “Ummm, what?” I believe my response was upon hearing the city’s private contractor for waste collection, Green4Life, was one of those corporations. (Overcome with the case of the dizzys, I was, when news broke later that the Rogers co-owned MLSE was the other donor.)

I wrote about my concerns with this too, too cozy arrangement a couple days ago, wondering if it passed some ethical/conflict smell test. Yesterday we got the answer.

Green4Life announced that ‘After consulting with City staff about the rules around sponsorships’, they decided to ‘voluntarily withdraw’ their offer ‘so as not to affect current procurement processes.’ embarrassedIn other words, they’d really love to help keep the rinks open but they’ve got that corporate maw to feed.

Is it me or shouldn’t ‘consulting with City staff about the rules around sponsorships’ have sort of been the mayor’s job before rushing to go public with the details? Smell this. Does it smell funny to you? Maybe I shouldn’t go out wearing it in public, you think?

As Councillor Gord Perks pointed out in the wake of this, the city actually has a process in place to be followed for sponsorship deals. “Section 6.2,” the councillor tweeted. “To fit with Code of Conduct ONLY authorized City staff can solicit or negotiate a sponsorship agreement. Council members can’t.” Council members can’t. If Mayor Tory spearheaded these deals to keep the rinks open, did he contravene Code of Conduct rules in doing so? “Section 6.3 ,” the councillor continued. “Unsolicited offers are to be referred to the relevant City Staff.” More: “Section 6.9 All sponsorship agreements must be documented. If over $50K, legal services should be included in reviewing the agreement.” Still more: “6.11 In most circumstances, Council must approve the agreement.”lessons

Did the mayor’s office follow any of these rules in securing the sponsorship deals to keep the skating rinks open?

“Everyone gets a case of the hiccups”, Mayor Tory said in response to Green4Life’s about face. What are you going to do? A rookie mistake.

Maybe. Maybe. It’s just hard to fathom no one around the mayor red flagged this thing. Someone sensing there might be, at best, some bad optics with it and, at worst, actual breaking of the Code of Conduct rules. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, perhaps, who’s been around the block a time or two, more than 20 years of elected municipal service under his belt. His response? Great idea, boss! Let’s go skating!

You’d think that right at the top of Mayor Tory’s Not To Do list would be avoiding the appearance of any conflicts of interest, keeping talk of impropriety or backroom shenanigans to a minimum. What with the goings-on at City Hall during the last 4 years and the previous administration. Keep everyone’s noses clean, at least for the first little while.

You’d think.

No matter. Water under the bridge. And there’s always more fish in the sea especially for the man with a full-to-bursting rolodex.johntoryonice

Plan B (generously speaking) came at another skating rink with the mayor revealing that Tim Horton’s (Timmies, to their friends) would step into the donor void left by Green4Life, chipping in $100,000 to help keep the rinks open. Problem solved. Done, and done. The private sector gallantly to the rescue again. Everything above board, clean as a whistle and legit now.

Except that…

“If Tim Horton’s is the new outdoor rink sponsor,” Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler tweeted, “they’re active lobbyists (as recent as Feb. 10).” Jude MacDonald pointed out further information from the Tim Horton’s lobbyist registrar page, showing that some of the subject matter the company signed up to lobby on was “City Policies relating to Economic Growth, Regulatory Issues; Blue Box Program; Drive-Through policy.”

So, we have this restaurant chain of the ‘quick service’ variety, talking to city officials about city policy concerning issues directly affecting them. ‘Blue Box Program’? Where do I throw away this coffee cup anyway? Garbage? Recycling? The lid in one, the cup in the other? What? ‘Drive-Through policy’?! quagmireAll those nasty emissions from idling cars waiting in the drive-through line. Fine. But now they’re donating $100,000 to keep some city run skating rinks open?

I’m not alone in finding this deal more than a little unsettling, am I?

I tried to state my leeriness about it in a few 140 character outbursts yesterday. Let’s see if I can string the thoughts together here.

If a company wants to do business with or is already doing business with the city, or wants to have some say, influence even, in how the city conducts its business, it strikes me that company shouldn’t be in the business of donating money to help the city go about its business. How is that not somehow greasing something that ought not to be greased? There may be some out there who believe fully in the goodness of the corporate heart. keepyourdistanceI’m just a person who thinks corporations don’t really have hearts, only bottom lines.

Maybe we should work to keep things like the operation of skating rinks in house and stop being dependant on the continued goodwill of upstanding corporate citizens to help effectively run this city. Decrease the overlap of the public and private sectors. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot less ethically messy that way?

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Straining The Bromance

September 11, 2012

One of the things about politics that flummoxes me most is the need for ‘likeability’ in our politicians. That notion candidates need to be just one of us, a regular guy, a hardworking Joe (note the gender bias there, huh?) Someone we’d all like to sit down and have a beer with. Best buds. BFF.

Personally? I’ve already got plenty of people in my life I’d like to sit down and have a beer with and not nearly enough time to do so. I’m not looking to my elected representatives to grow that particular list.

No, what I’m looking to them for is, well, good governance and all that. I don’t want to elect somebody who’s just like me. My god that would turn out poorly for everyone concerned. I want my politicians to be smarter than I am. To be more thorough. Exercise better judgement. To have a firm grasp on the issues they were elected to grapple with.

Frankly, I think this likeability bar candidates have to clear is nothing more than apathy on the part of the voting public. Don’t bore me with the details, folks. Who’s got the time for all that? Just send in the monkeys to perform and let me decide based entirely on that. You got 10 minutes.

So affability not acumen becomes the key ingredient for a successful run in politics. Forget the best and brightest. We want the cuddliest Tim Hortons types who understand we aren’t really that interested in the process just the outcome. Low taxes. Safe streets… Yeah, that’s about it.

Of course, writing that makes me an out-of-touch elitist, not grounded in the realities of life. This doesn’t have to be complicated, egghead. Running a city/province/country isn’t rocket science. Anybody could do it if they really wanted. So why not elect just anybody?

This attitude is very advantageous for your run-of-the-mill anybody politician. When you’re just one of us, a regular guy, any sort of criticism directed your way is perceived as an attack on one of your friends. It’s not about policy differences or politics even. It’s personal. It not only questions a voter’s political judgement but their judge of character.

Regular guy politicians like Mayor Rob Ford continue to get a pass from his supporters despite mounting evidence that he’s not really up to the task of the job he was elected to do because admitting that’s the case is akin to bailing on a friend when he gets into a tough spot. Hey. Come on. Give the guy a break. Nobody’s perfect. He’s doing the best he can. Just like us.

Just like us, he has trouble understanding conflict of interest rules. I mean, who has time to read the fine print of the guidelines? Just like us, he mumbled and contradicted himself on the stand in court under the heavy artillery attack of Clayton Ruby. You’d be cooler? Just like us, he hosted a BBQ for thousands and thousands of people in his mom’s backyard because that’s what good friends do. It had nothing to do with amassing a substantial voter database to use in 2014. Suggesting that is just cheap politics. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Just like us, Mayor Ford takes time from his busy schedule at work to help kids avoid a life of crime. Sure, he loves football and hates the nitty gritty that comes with doing the job he’s paid to do but who doesn’t? What? You have something against keeping kids on the straight and narrow?

Politicians like Rob Ford wear their populism as a shield against legitimate, fact based opposition. You don’t agree with him, offer up criticism of his policies, you are questioning the wisdom and intelligence of those who voted for him. You’re railing against democracy itself. Nothing more than a sore loser.

Thus, his promotion of Ford Nation.

“As you saw this week,” the mayor told last Friday’s gathering at Ford Fest in a non-campaign speech for his 2014 campaign, “they’re coming after us every which way.” We’re in this together, folks. You and me against everyone who disagrees with us. Don’t listen to my critics, to the naysayers. They just want to take your vote away from you, your voices. Mi casa, su casa.

It almost dares you to criticize, to oppose. It hardens the resolve, the absolute commitment to the cause. It’s near perfect fucking strategy.

But the thing to remember is, it’s just that. A strategy. Like almost everything about Rob Ford the politician, it’s all artifice. A manufactured image created to mask the rage, inadequacies and disinterest that make up the core of his politics. That’s something easier to pick up and run with than it is to maintain. Eventually the failings will be too great for anyone but the hardest of hardcore supporters to accept as their own.

Successful friendships can’t simply continue down a one-way street.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Scarborough Unfair

January 14, 2012

(A reposting of a piece we wrote for the Torontoist this week about our field trip to the wilds of Scarborough.)

*  *  *

By any measure in the rather narrow definition of today’s common currency I am a downtown elite. That means I live downtown and I’m not onboard with Mayor Rob Ford’s agenda. Full stop.

This place I thought of as my home and the lifestyle that came with it, the ease of mobility, the array of opportunity, had come under fire by the antiest of anti-urban municipal governments this city has seen in some time. This was an administration that threatened the very things I viewed as vital to what makes my home so special to me. I was growing increasingly aggressive in my defence of it.

And then I went to Scarborough last Tuesday night. Three and a half hours later I realized I don’t know anger. I don’t know outrage. I don’t know such fiercely loyal pride of place.

The ten councillors representing the former east side municipality met at the Scarborough Civic Centre to present the proposed 2012 city budget and listen to feedback from their residents. Man oh man, did they get a collective earful. Sixty-seven folks had signed up to give a deputation although, by my count, only about forty or so made it down to the microphone. Of that number, two spoke in favour of the course the mayor and his team were currently charting.

Now, I already heard chatter about the alleged ‘usual suspects’, CUPE backed and prepared speakers, special interests, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. The same old same old whenever the deputation process so overwhelmingly speaks out against the mayor. Your basic case of shooting the messenger.

I readily accept the argument that those who come out to have their voices heard aren’t necessarily fully representative of the population as a whole. (Although I’m not sure exactly how those in favour of the Mayor Ford’s budget would even know to come out and voice their support. I could only find notification of Tuesday night’s event through what we’ll cal ‘opposition’ websites. Neither the mayor nor any of the councillors from Scarborough seemed to have given residents a heads-up about the event as far as I could tell.) People don’t tend to take time out of their schedules to cheer on issues, to express a favourable opinion of them. This, I think, is especially true with the budget proposal put in front of us. Yeah! Cut more! Pump up the user fees! Further reduce the role of government! That side is more of a Tim Horton’s nod and stay the course interaction.

But even measured against other deputations I have witnessed throughout the city, last night’s was high-pitched, angry, outraged and very, very personal. One deputant, in summing up this year’s budget said, “Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”

That’s not simply a where’s mine parochial attitude. In all the divisive downtown-suburb hubbub over whose money and how much goes where that’s been a part of the post-amalgamation discourse, it’s become pretty clear that Scarborough has consistently got the short end of the stick. Not just versus downtown but in comparison to other former municipalities like Etobicoke and North York. Their anger at City Hall is justified.

Which was one of the reasons Scarborough went so overwhelmingly pro-Rob Ford in the 2010 election. He promised to change all that. He would cut the boatloads of gravy and the sense of downtown entitlement that was so pervasive at City Hall and redirect all the savings back to where it was really needed like in Scarborough. They’d get better transit. They’d get better service. And they wouldn’t have to pay more for it.

Jump cut two budgets later to 2012.

Scarborough is looking at reduced service on 26 of its bus routes. Their subway? Still a figment of Mayor Ford’s imagination. Eleven of their libraries are threatened with reduced hours as are ten of their arenas. Shelters are being closed. Recreation programs cut and higher user fees implemented.

“Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”

More than anything, the palpable feeling at last night’s budget session was one of betrayal. Scarborough had put their faith in Rob Ford and the residents there were being repaid by, well, actually they weren’t being repaid at all. Scarborough was being gouged, bludgeoned by an austerity bat that many who spoke out saw as unnecessary and ideological. The mayor had turned on them and now they were turning on him.

Betrayal is something a politician, no matter how savvy, has a hard time getting past even two and a half years down the road. Voters may have short term memories about many things political but betrayal lingers. Candidate Rob Ford promised he’d be looking out for the little guy. Seventy-one percent of voters in Scarborough believed him, more than anywhere else in the city.

That’s a mighty big voting bloc to have turn against you. Lose even twenty percent of that, and a 2014 re-election suddenly becomes very, very iffy. Mayor Ford and the ten Scarborough councillors better hope the deputations in their backyard last night aren’t representative of the wider swath of Scarborough voters. If they are and this budget goes through next week as is? Their collective political futures should be considered very much in question.

Mike Myersly submitted by Cityslikr


Disorder In The Ranks

October 2, 2011

(On a lazy Sunday, we post our piece from this week’s Torontoist. Think of it as the director’s cut.)

*  *  *

Mayor Ford emerged from his waterfront cash grab gambit (or maybe it belonged to his renegade councillor sibling – Sorry, bro. Did I get any on you?) with his brand new consensus suit a little ill-fitting. On Monday after last week’s fiasco, he stood before council at a special Core Services Review meeting more than a little feisty. Spit and vinegarish even

Clearly over the weekend he and his advisors, with the first real debacle of his mayoralty in place and favourability numbers dropping precipitously, decided that the taxpayers of Toronto preferred candidate for mayor Rob Ford to the actual Mayor Rob Ford. So he reverted back to campaign mode, all vitriolic rhetoric and new pithy catch phrases. In introducing the Core Services Review items to kick off the proceedings, he stood and called out the ‘loonie left’ councillors who dared to defy his wishes. Stay The Course was a brand new mantra, chanted over and over again. Under questioning, he blustered, rambled, frequently contradicted himself within a single sentence. Just like the glory days out on the hustings in 2010.

The mayor even cited some new, unofficial polling data. According to people he met everywhere, 90% told him, begged him, exhorted him to Stay The Course. Suck on that, Ipsos Reid. Maybe you need to take your random samplings from the line ups at Tim Horton’s.

But for all the chest beating, name calling and bully boy posturing, the tone at council had shifted noticeably. While never exactly orderly, Team Ford had been able to deliver a rough hewn obedience, always managing to wrangle a majority of councillors into its corner on important issues. This week? A sense of disarray descended. Tried and true allies tested the waters of independence. Items and amendments came fast furious, some from very unexpected corners. I’m sorry, was that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday introducing an item on road tolls? Yes, yes. I get that it was nothing more than an attempted poke in the eye of Councillor Josh Matlow who had put forth his own motions asking for a review of a road toll idea but it put the mayor on the defensive, having to explain (idiotically, IMHO) his opposition to the concept of generating revenue through this particular type of user fee.

The biggest eye-opener, however, was Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby. A fellow Etobicokian and self-proclaimed right of centre suburban politician, she openly stood up and questioned the mayor about the entire process they were being asked to undertake. “Flying blind”, she called it, having to make consequential choices without any numbers in front of them, sounding almost Perksian at times. She didn’t wilt under the withering but ineffectual show me the money line of questioning from the budget chief. When it came time to push through the items she had introduced, Councillor Lindsay Luby gleefully flashed a thumbs up, sitting right next to Team Ford QB-clown, Giorgio Mammoliti and his downturned thumb of mayoral disapproval.

That said, Mayor Ford suffered no devastating setbacks during the two day meeting. There was no knockout blow, as the pundits like to say. Yes, the cuts he was hoping to inflict in the process fell woefully short of the intended mark. The $28 million or so he did get doesn’t even rate as a drop in the bucket. And in my darker moments, I might view the fact the Voluntary Separation Program – a “coerced” retirement offering to city staff as Councillor Gord Perks suggested in an unfriendly environment with a threatened 10% across the board reduction to all departments hanging in the air — moved on relatively unscathed gave the mayor a jump on the budget process, initiating cuts by stealth under the guise of attrition rather than layoffs or firings.

Still, as the mayor insisted somewhat disingenuously to quell fears of the slashing and burning taking place no decisions were being made at this point. It was all about reviews and studies. In other words, he remained in place, knocking down the easy to reach, low flying fruit. But now, Team Ford was bleeding support and the tough choices remain to be made.

Not only were stalwarts like Councillor Lindsay Luby drifting, so were Executive Committee members Councillors Berardinetti and Robinson. The mushy middle stopped being cowed. As Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler pointed out to me, even more worrisome for Mayor Ford, the already soft but principled conservative Chin Lee representing heavy, heavy Ford friendly Ward 41 in Scarborough quietly but decisively voted against the mayor on a surprisingly large number of items over the last couple days.

Support jumping overboard even before the ship hits really choppy waters. An already tenuous majority grown skittish. A summer of discontent turned to an autumn of disregard. All the ingredients for a disastrous budget process and a severe blow to the tattered mandate flag Mayor Ford keeps trying to hold high.

resubmitted by Cityslikr


Which Lie Do You Buy?

July 21, 2011

Politicians are all liars.

If there’s a bigger cop-out for political apathy, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. It brushes with a broad stroke and enables those pronouncing such a trite sentiment to walk away with an unearned sense of superiority. I would deign to participate in the proceedings if those involved weren’t so contemptibly untruthful.

More insidiously, it gives cover to vote for those we know are determined to act on our worst, self-interested instincts. When they do once being elected, we look shocked, throw up our hands and exclaim, what are you gonna do? Who knew they were going to cut [fill in the blank] and ban [fill in the blank]? They’re all liars.

It all comes full circle as opportunistic politicians then do only what an easily cynical electorate expects them to do: lie. Tell us what we want to hear with a wink and a nod and then unfurl an unspoken agenda, much to our satisfaction and mock dismay. What are you gonna do? They’re all liars.

So we had a recent federal election that, to hear tell it, nobody really wanted and had nothing to do with a minority government in contempt of parliament. There’s an upcoming provincial election in the fall that looks as if it’s going to be fought on the flimsiest of grounds. A tax mad incumbent who’s buried the province under a sea of red tape, making it uncompetitive and on the road to ruin. Never mind that indications point to a more upbeat outlook. A slow if unsteady climb from the biggest economic downturn in over 80 years. The Taxman Cometh! Oogly-boogly!

And of course, there was last year’s municipal election in Toronto, chock full of pithy phrases, sleights of hand and misdirection. “Stop The Gravy Train.” “Respect For Taxpayers.” “City Hall Does Not Have A Revenue Problem. It Has A Spending Problem.”

Less than a year later, turns out much of that was — how to phrase it gently? – complete and utter shit. Most of then Councillor Rob Ford’s opponents for mayor said exactly that on the campaign trail. His numbers didn’t add up. His anecdotal evidence of waste and profligacy was nothing more than that, anecdotal. There was no way possible for him to cut taxes without cutting services.

But the soon-to-be next mayor of Toronto and his self-proclaimed Nation plugged their ears and yelled la-la-la-la-la-la, unconvinced. Waste would be found. Easy. Taxes could be cut. Easy. No services would be cut. Guaranteed.

Quickly however, ‘no services’ became no major services’ and now, as we head into the budget battles in the fall Everything. Is. On. The. Table. Exactly like many of those Ford defeated last October said it would be. As Edward Keenan pointed out in his Grid article last week, the KPMG core services review report ultimately showed what the previous mayor, David Miller, and his supporters had said all along. There wasn’t a whole lot of gravy at City Hall. Toronto was being run pretty darn efficiently and the major cuts that were available to Mayor Ford weren’t going to amount to a hill of beans money wise.

In short, the entire campaign platform that propelled Rob Ford into the mayor’s office was predicated on one whoppingly big faulty premise, let’s call it. All the waste he promised to find easy, well, wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, it’d be a stretch to call most of it waste at all. No matter how much the generously paid consultants at KPMG tired to frame it otherwise, the fact of the matter is candidate Rob Ford was wrong.

A more humble or intellectually accommodating person would stand back, admit the error of his ways and proceed to re-evaluate his thinking. New information. Recalibrate. That’s generally how a species successfully adapts.

That is not our mayor’s style, choosing instead to just bull on, spouting even more nonsense and claptrap. As Mr. Keenan noted Tuesday in The Grid, the mayor’s on something of a ‘truthiness’ whistle stop tour, telling AM radio talk show listeners that labour make up 80% of the city’s costs. Ummm, actually no, Mr. Mayor. It’s more like 48%. Maybe if he’d said 84%, we might think he had a brain fart and mistakenly flipped digits.

Not to outdone on the nosestretcher scale, the mayor’s brother and apparent stunt double in mendacity, Councillor Doug Ford, blurted out that his neighbourhood had more libraries than Tim Hortons. As if that would be a bad thing. As if that was an indication that we were spending too much money on libraries. As if…

It doesn’t matter because it turns out not to be the case. Not even close. “We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world,” Councillor Ford blustered on. Wrong again, Doug. We don’t. You’re just spouting out sound bytes that have no basis in reality. Infecting discourse with a contagion of half-truths and not even close to half-truths.

What kind of politician, a public servant, would do that?

One whose arguments can’t be won on facts and reason. On equal footing, they’re dead to rights, as is often the case when you watch them at work during debates at council. Make shit up because it can’t be contested since it’s not based on anything real or actual. Like punching the wind.

Moreover, a constant misstating of facts fills the whole space with an air of deceit and dishonesty. Sure, I may be lying but so is everyone else. That’s what politicians do.

All politicians lie.

A lie built on lies.

And we let them get away with it because it lets us off the hook. Why bother if nobody’s telling the truth? A pox on all your houses.

If we’re lied to by our elected officials, it’s because we let them lie to us. We encourage them to lie so that we don’t have to do the heavy lifting of governing. We’re lying to ourselves if we think otherwise.

honest as the day is longingly submitted by Cityslikr


Conservatives To Cities: We’re Just Not That Into You

February 3, 2011

Trying to shake free of the grip events in Egypt have had on me for the past couple days and get on with life… even writing that makes me squirm in embarrassment. Sorry about all that repression and killing of unarmed civilians, Egyptians, but I’ve got a post to write. Hold tight. I’ll be back in a jif.

I was struck while watching the situation unfold in Cairo’s Tahrir Square by the thought that governments, especially authoritarian ones, must hate cities. All those millions of people, gathering together, plotting, resisting, café latteing. While it may make for some easy turkey shoots, exerting control in cities of millions can ultimately prove impossible. Thus, unlawful assembly edicts tend to be urban oriented. Country rabble rousers are easily rounded up with a quick visit to the closet highway exit Tim Hortons location.

In between paroxysms of outrage and despair, I came across a series of articles yesterday that suggested even non-dictatorial states aren’t really that crazy about cities. It either began here or here or, quite possibly, here (which is why I love the internet. Stories nested within stories, allowing you to read about a subject for hours on end without so much as a bathroom break. Just strap on your Depends and wallow in the informational overload.)

Now, much of this has a very American slant and is not entirely relevant to us in Canada especially the views on the U.S. Senate being, at heart, an anti-urban institution due, in part, to the power wielded by the many smaller populated states. Although we have had a variation on that argued here recently about the under-representation of the more populous regions in both our federal and provincial legislatures. This discrepancy has allowed our current Prime Minister to piece together a workable minority government over the last 5 years without any representation in the country’s 3 largest cities. And all his machinations to build a winning majority have not included attempts to garner increased urban support.

Which brings me to the pertinent point of all these articles: the politics at the centre of this anti-urbanism. Conservatives seem to take a dim view of cities. Or at least, the higher density, public transit depending, non-car loving, artsy-fartsy, (you know where I’m going with this), downtown, pinko elitist parts of cities. On the surface you could argue, why wouldn’t they? Downtowners are not their kind of people and don’t tend to vote Conservative. So, fuck `em. Conversely however, it could be pointed out that Conservatives don’t stand for anything much that downtowners might get behind.

It’s a thought we touched upon a little last August when we reviewed Tim Falconer’s book, Drive.  After talking to the Sierra Club’s Transportation Committee chair, John Holtzclaw, who believes that higher density living creates a more open-minded, tolerant society, Mr. Falconer concludes that, “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.” A different attitude from one that prizes individualism over the collective as the surest vehicle toward achieving well-being.

Conservative antipathy toward urbanism is nothing new nor is it something they possessed exclusively. E. Barbara Phillips noted in City Lights the early 20th-century perception of city life was largely negative. “Alienation. Rootlessness. Superficial relationships. The loss of human connections. Materialsim. Money instead of personal relations as the bond of association among people.” One moved to the city out of necessity while pining for the simplicity of small town life.

Understandable as we still saw ourselves as a largely agrarian country. A century later, however, and that is no longer the case. Despite our wide open spaces and iconic national images of the Rocky Mountains, prairie wheat fields and (formerly) frozen tundra, we are now an urban nation, like it or not. As of 2006, nearly 14 million Canadians lived in cities with populations of 500,000 or more. That’s almost half of us and the percentage over the last 5 years certainly won’t have declined.

It’s all part of a global urban trend which makes our anti-urbanism somewhat archaic and more than a little self-destructive. As cities go, so goes their countries, and if we insist on knee-capping them with outdated approaches to planning, transit, sustainability and infrastructure, we will make ourselves less competitive and less economically viable. Aren’t those the core of conservative values?

He asks, living in a city that just elected a mayor who needs space, his own driveway and backyard. A mayor that thought it necessary to build parking for a new proposed waterfront aquarium site that the developer’s chose “… because of the (pedestrian and transit) options…” and that “… parking made the project not financially viable…” A mayor whose administration is eyeing with suspicion sustainable and green initiatives as something outside of a city’s “core services”.

Yeah, some points of view die hard and when they rise up to take control of the levers of power, all we can do is resist mightily and try to mitigate the damage until we regain our civic senses. We can also take solace in the fact that at least so far here in Canada, anti-urbanism hasn’t achieved conspiracy level status where light rail transit, sustainable development and smart growth are seen as some U.N. plot to pry right thinking Americans out of their “personal mobility machines” and into tiny, cramped “human habitation zones”. It’s a sci-fi, dystopian view of cities that conservatives seem bound and determined to make a reality.

city mousedly submitted by Cityslikr


A Letter Home

January 22, 2011

As many of our regular readers may remember, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke used to be three. While I, Cityslikr was the point man, I was ably assisted on occasion by two contributors, Urban Sophisticat and Acaphlegmic. Not a perfect union by any stretch, sometimes more 3 Mouseketeers than Musketeers, but not unworkable.

Then came the election of Rob Ford as Toronto’s mayor. My compatriots got spooked. (See the post-election analysis here.) Urban Sophisticat threw up his hands and left town. Over the holidays a postcard arrived from him. He’s on a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean, burnishing his elitist cred.

In truth, Acaphlegmic wasn’t spooked so much as… spookily ebullient. He’d met some Ford supporters shortly before the election and after their man won, he decided to infiltrate their ranks, he called it. To live amongst them. Get to know what made them tick. He went off to live in Larry’s Garage and since then we’ve heard hide nor hair from him.

That is, until the wee hours of this morning.

Under the cover of darkness, an email appeared in the inbox, purporting to be from Acaphlegmic but we could hardly recognize it as something he’d written. Gone was the usual bombastic flamboyance, the tone of condescension, the obscure wordplay. It was a note racked with doubt and a certain degree of fear. This was not from the Acaphlegmic of old.

Despite some concern I have of posting a fraudulent letter on this site, I do so reluctantly as many of you (OK, two) have asked about the whereabouts of Acaphlegmic. Part of me hopes it isn’t him. That it is just some cruel hoax. But if it is Acaphlegmic and you’re reading this out there, buddy, come home. All is forgiven. There’s always a spot on the couch for you here at the office.

I write this quickly. They are suspicious if anyone spends too much time on the computer that’s not some sort of pornography. Big breasted women pornography, it seems. Anything else and they start asking questions.

(Which is why it’s been so difficult to be in contact.)

My field work has been compromised, I fear. Not long after settling into these comfortable digs in Larry’s garage, his middle daughter, Darlene, returned to the nest, her third marriage in tatters. She came to me, inconsolable, poor thing, because her family simply didn’t understand. Truth be told, neither did I. Three marriages and not yet 34? Come, come. How be we try and put in a little effort.

Thoughts I kept to myself as you know I try not to be judgmental about such matters. The lack of criticism on my part was taken as, well, affection, I guess, leading to one thing leading to another and before you could say, maybe you should take a little relationship timeout, Darlene was spending more time in the garage than in the house, if you get my meaning.

So, full disclosure. My thoughts and views of life out here in Ford Country may be clouded through the distorted lens of romantic entanglement.

First thing to note is that, despite the huge upswing in turnout for the election last October which helped propel Rob Ford into the mayoralty, politics is not on the minds of many out here. Most of the time, it’s the last thing they want to talk about and sometimes an open hostility is exhibited at the very mention of it. For example, one night at dinner I brought up Transit City and the whole subway versus LRT imbroglio. Immediately I was set upon by Artie, Larry’s brother (Darlene’s uncle) who was in town, visiting from… somewhere north of here… starts with a B, I believe.

“What’s with the politics?” he bellowed at me. “You know who talks about politics? The Shah of Iran talks about politics. That’s who talks about politics.”

The Shah of Iran?

Of course, there was a slight uptick in the acceptability of political discourse when Don Cherry delivered his boffo performance at the mayor’s inaugural meeting. “Atta boy, Grapes! Sweater the bunch of whiners.” Sweater as a verb? What does that even mean? I was afraid to ask lest it make me even more conspicuous in their presence.

They love their Don Cherry, just like they love their mayor because they sense the two are just ‘one of them’. Aside from a similar vocabulary and a propensity toward constant sweating, I don’t see the comparison, frankly. But maybe I don’t have the right kind of eyes, as Hunter S. Thompson once framed it. “That’s right, you don’t,” Darlene informs me when I use such a turn of phrase. “You nerdy bookworm. Come here and give your honey a kiss.”

They also love their sports. Any sports, really. Hockey, the NFL, something utterly barbaric called Ultimate Fighting. Do you have any idea what that is? Men in a cage, kicking and punching each other into bloodied pulps until one renders the other unconscious! It so riles the boys up around here that they inevitably wind up trying out some of there ‘killer’ moves on each other (and me, unfortunately) until somebody, again inevitably, winds up pulling, bashing or splitting something. I’ve lost a tooth after being forcibly thrown into one of their impromptu matches and consider myself lucky at that.

Strangely, they also watch curling.

Much was made during the course of the campaign of how those supporting Rob Ford weren’t much into the ins-and-outs of policy and such. They didn’t have the time, what with them leading busy lives, holding down jobs (sometimes 2), raising kids, etc., etc. While I wouldn’t deny any of that. Everybody in this house works diligently at their respective vocations. But what I will say is that if they spent even a fraction of their spare time, reading a newspaper that wasn’t the Sun or just staying even moderately informed about the world around them as they do following sports… well… The information they have at their fingertips about penalty minutes, batting averages, 3rd down conversions. Heads full of stats! Just none of it relevant to the decisions that are made which affect their lives, down at City Hall, Queen’s Par–

… I’m back. Darlene surprised me with an unexpected appearance. I think I switched over to the girlie site before she realized what I was actually doing. Is it me or do you too find it strange that a woman you’re intimate with would be less put out by you looking at other scantily clad females than writing about politics?

Anyway…

Out here in Ford Country, they also love their cars. I guess it’s not surprising as they spend so much time with them. Driving to and from work. Driving to get groceries. Driving back to get the groceries they forgot because they didn’t make a list. I don’t understand it. What have they got against making a list? It would just save much time and effort, pain and anguish.

They drive a lot, is the long and short of it and their cars are important to them. In some cases (and I’m not naming names here but Roger is Darlene’s younger brother), their cars are like another member of the family. They name their cars. Dora. As in Dora the Explorer. Apparently some cartoon character. They wash their cars whenever an opportunity arises. They stand around with the hood open, just staring in at the engine, and poking at it every now and then.

They while away hours, sitting in their cars at the drive-through… no, excuse me… the drive-thru at Tim Hortons. Even if the place is empty inside! “Why don’t we just park and grab coffees inside?” I’ll ask only to be met with blank stares and stony silence.

Now, you should be sitting down for when you read this next part, I know about these people’s love of Tim Hortons first hand as, are you ready, I have a job at one. Yes, yes. Believe me. I’m as surprised as the next person but Larry and everybody started wondering where I was getting my money from [we’ve often wondered that ourselves here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke – ed.] so I asked Darlene if she could get me a job at the branch she works. You know, as a cover. It has been a very eye-opening experience, let me tell you, holding down what everyone around here calls a ‘real’ job.

People love their Timmies as they call it. Again, very familiar just like with their cars. A friend. A family member. “Let’s grab a nosh at Timmies,” they’ll chatter like they’re skipping through some sort of storybook tale. “I’m beat. Let’s grab a double-double at Timmies.” Such reverence and adoration you’d expect from people talking about church or an exotic location with great historical significance. It’s just coffee, I have to resist from yelling at them, the hair net scratching my scalp. A donut. You know what that is? Deep fried dough. Not the body of Christ.

Whenever I lose my patience like that, though, I try to remember that it’s me who is out of step with the majority. My ‘downtown’ views and kooky ‘elitist’ attitudes are not the mainstream. I am a stranger here. Still trying to learn their ways, their rituals, their manner of seeing the world.

It’s much harder than I initially expected, I will admit. They look so much like us but there are times when I think they might as well be a different species. I fear it’s going to be a long, hard winter out here. It already has been. At least, I have something to keep me warm through the dark night out here in Larry’s garage. The space heater works like a charm!

I must go now. There’s rumblings from the others drawing nearer. Meaning only one thing. Some sort of televised sporting conflict and they’re coming out to watch one or the other. Damn. I’d hoped for a quiet CSI night. Fingers crossed, it’s not the ultimate fighting crowd. I just don’t think I’m up for any sort of rambunctious tussle later. I have to work in the morning.

Take care. I will attempt to write more often with further observations.

Yours undercover,

 

Acaphlegmic

PS

Thumbs down on the new design. It looks like you’re writing about gardening or a love of cats.