A Vital Civics Lesson

June 8, 2015

Let’s set aside the cynicism for a moment. Ignore the urge to tabulate political calculations. Don’t discuss whose voices get heard in this city, whose opinions matter. cuphalffullNot yet, at any rate.

We need to revel in the fact that fierce citizen engagement can directly affect change. Take a moment. Take that in. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

Mayor John Tory came out yesterday in full support of ending the practice of police carding in this city. It’s a huge shift from the mayor who, less than a week ago, was full of — How’d John Barber put it in the Torontoist? – “marshmallow circumlocutions” in defense of reforming rather than ending the system.

The personal stories I’ve heard in recent months and even before, the words, laden with deeply-felt emotion, have been building up in my conscience and they have stuck with me.

And so after great personal reflection, and many discussions — highlighted by a very candid, thoughtful discussion with a number of people including Desmond Cole and others — I’ve concluded that time has gone on too long and that it was time for me to say, enough.

It was time to acknowledge that there is no real way to fix a practice which has come to be regarded as illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful. It was better to start over with a clean slate.

On Metro Morning today [no link yet], that very same Desmond Cole whose article in Toronto Life on his personal experiences with police carding served, I think, as the tipping point in the conversation, humbly deferred any sort of hero designation, rightly pointing the community and members of it who worked to bring about the change. No one person can ever successfully challenge a status quo system. desmondcoleThey can lend a voice, serve as a catalyst, contribute mightily, doggedly, relentlessly as part of the cause. Lone white knights are just fairytale characters.

The few times I talked with Desmond Cole about the issue, it was obvious the kind of personal and professional toll it was taking on him. I’ve been caught up in far less significant issues (yes, the Gardiner East pales in importance next to carding) and found everything else can fall by the wayside. Doctor appointments. Social engagements. Personal hygiene. Civic engagement, especially something as fundamental as our civil rights, comes at a cost. There are only so many hours in a day, so many fucks to give.

Which is why the more people who slice out even a few hours of their lives to contribute collectively to issues that matter to them, their family, their community, the less onus we place on individual efforts. Yeah, everything needs an instigator, an organizer, somebody to do a website. But it takes an army to knock on doors, to stand up and speak at public events, to testify on that one thing that serves as a barrier, that squeezes opportunity, that impedes the possibility of living fulfilled and meaningful lives.

So, let’s acknowledge this moment. That time when a bunch of people, almost exclusively from communities throughout the city normally without such a powerful voice to force the powers that be to take notice and actually change course. firststepIt’s something we need to relish. Change can happen.

Tomorrow’s the time to worry about the fuller picture. I am always wary of an on the road to Damascus conversion like Mayor Tory has seemingly experienced. He foisted himself immediately into the middle of the carding issue, putting himself on the Police Services Board after becoming mayor and mucking about with carding reforms that were already underway. But his words, if bloviatingly verbose at times, came across yesterday as genuine and heartfelt.

There’s no reason to expect the police services and its new chief will roll over passively on the issue just because the mayor said so. The service (with its former chief of police) resisted earlier calls for carding reform, ignoring directives from the board to do just that, creating the impasse Mayor Tory coddled up to just a few days ago. Systemic racism isn’t magically wished away by some mayoral fiat.

This issue ain’t over, is what I’m trying to say but, holy shit, did it receive a decisive body blow with Mayor Tory’s change of heart. Grab hold of that. Hug it close to you for a moment. Realize, as a matter of fact, you can make a difference. We just have to stop waiting for someone else to do it.

lilliput

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A Diminishing Debate

June 5, 2015

“This is really a transportation issue, not a planning issue,” said Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, Jaye Robinson, after a particularly prickly press conference she called to announce her support of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option for the Gardiner east section of the expressway.

stiflingdebate

It’s difficult to know what to make of that quote. Champions of the “hybrid” option, like the mayor and Councillor Robinson, regularly trot out the claim that their choice opens up the Unilver site for massive redevelopment (hinting by omission that the other option, the boulevard option doesn’t which it does). How exactly then is this not a “planning issue”?

Well apparently, it isn’t when it’s pointed out that the “hybrid” option also locks out possible other development potential, some 12 acres of it, worth in the neighbourhood of a cool $2 billion. The boulevard option keeps that development open but also may slightly increase commute times for a small fraction of car driving commuters. Thus, for our mayor and chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, “This is really a transportation issue”.

If the councillor truly believed that, you’d think then, she’d be more open to understanding the transportation issue of this debate. dontbelieveitfaceThat doesn’t appear to be the case. During the press conference, Councillor Robinson played up the traffic havoc that would result if the 1.7 kilometre stretch of elevated expressway came down, replaced by an 8 lane at-grade road. A 5 minute increase in driver commute time. Each way. Negating that would be a “windfall”, the councillor claimed.

Never mind that the numbers in relation to the drive times are contentious. No one knows for certain what they’ll be. What we do know, as rigorously studied and researched examples of other cities that removed expressways have shown, traffic tends to disappear with diminished road capacity. People find other ways to get around the city.

When asked about that fact at the press conference, Councillor Robinson simply replied, “I don’t believe it.”

Just like that. I don’t believe it. I know what I know.

When you refuse to grasp what may be counter-intuitive, you wind up spinning the counterfactual.

While some may be in their element doing that – our current mayor has grown comfortable, trolling in that territory – others wind up diminishing not only the bogus case they’re trying to make but their reputation also. elephantCouncillor Robinson brightened her rather tepid presence at city council last term by stepping up to defend waterfront plans from the incursion made on them by Doug Ford. Now she seems prepared to return to the pod of obedient soldier, stumping for Mayor Tory’s ill-advised assault.

Highly respected urban planner and architect, John van Nostrand, did similar disservice to his reputation with an aggressive performance at the press conference yesterday. A well-regarded name with years of experience, working with the city on waterfront plans and the Gardiner expressway specifically, van Nostrand is the lone ace up the administration’s sleeve in terms of the planning side of the debate. Rather than try to pitch his vision of waterfront development with the Gardiner east remaining elevated, he played pitbull instead, gracelessly attacking the opposing side as simply wrong.

What he tried to do was sell the idea that a better urban form could be developed under and around an elevated expressway than could be with an 8 (or possibly 10) lane, at-grade roadway. granvilleislad“Specious”, he waved off any comparison between the boulevard option and University Avenue while straight-facedly suggesting we could have something similar with the Gardiner east as they have in Vancouver with Granville Island. Counter-intuitive? No. Just counterfactual.

John Lorinc showed John van Nostrand to be an innovative and bold thinker in an article from more than 10 years ago. He was all about enhancing the public realm that had been denigrated by the presence of elevated expressways. A worthy endeavour, for sure, as van Nostrand touted examples of such projects around the world.

As he did at yesterday’s press conference. London, New York, Madrid. But I wanted to know if these places had the choice Toronto faces with the Gardiner east. Did these cities have the option to remove the expressways and bridges or were they simply making do with what was in place? Adapting and adjusting to the results of an earlier age’s choice.

With the Gardiner east, we have another option. Get rid of it, create an entirely new environment. Build and develop essentially from scratch. If that choice was available to London, New York and Madrid, would they have passed it up and simply worked around what was already there?

Of course, we’re long past that kind of nuance in this debate. Arguably, nuance was never part of it. beatenMayor Tory dug in early, set up the ramparts as a bulwark against a rational and robust debate, for reasons still either unclear or absurdly simplistic and calculating.

In falling in line behind him and resorting to mouthing the mayor’s vacuous talking points, not only did “hybrid” supporters like the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair and respected professionals like John van Nostrand do the city a disservice, they sullied their own reputation and work in the process. A victory at city council won’t change that.

belittlingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Repugnant Blight

April 24, 2015

So there I am, minding my own business this week, catching up on my magazine subscriptions, making my way through the June 2014 issue of Harper’s. Second article in, The Civil Rights Act’s Unsung Victory by Randall Kennedy [subscription required unless you’re much better with the internets than I am which is a very real possibility]. The following day Desmond Cole drops this searing piece for Toronto Life, The Skin I’m In [no subscription required].

Mr. Kennedy writes about how his family used to pack food picnic-style for their trips back to South Carolina from Washington D.C. to avoid having to find meals on the road in the few places that served African-Americans. Even the car ride itself was fraught with danger. “My father was particularly burdened by the drive,” Kennedy writes.

He became noticeably nervous at the sight of police officers. Over the years several of them pulled him over. They did not charge him with any infraction. Rather, they stopped him seemingly out of curiosity and a desire to test his willingness to accept the etiquette of white supremacy. Their colloquies went something like this”

“That’s a nice car you’re driving, boy.”

“Thank you, officer. Have I done something wrong?”

“Not from what I can see just yet. I notice you’ve got out-of-town plates. You know, we do things different down here. You do know that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Boy, you do know that, right?”

“Yassuh.”

“Okay. You’re free to go.”

In one of the most dispiriting and gut-punching passages in Desmond Cole’s article, he too describes an encounter with the police, our police, on a highway from Oshawa to Niagra Falls. His cousin throws a Kleenex out the window and police pull the car over immediately. Almost as if they’d been following, waiting for a reason.

A hush came over the car as the stocky officer strode up to the window and asked my dad if he knew why we’d been stopped. “Yes,” my father answered, his voice shaky, like a child in the principal’s office. My dad isn’t a big man, but he always cut an imposing figure in our household. This was the first time I realized he could be afraid of something. “He’s going to pick it up right now,” he assured the officer nervously, as Sana exited the car to retrieve the garbage. The cop seemed casually uninterested, but everyone in the car thrummed with tension, as if they were bracing for something catastrophic. After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. “You realize everyone in this car is black, right?” he thundered at Sana.

We here up in Canada use the ugly, overt, Bull Connor racism of the American south (or apartheid in South Africa) as a smokescreen to hide our own inherent racism. Come on. We’re not that bad, as if a kinder, gentler racism is possible. We have no history of slavery in Canada. Therefore, no racism exists.

Events in the past couple weeks here in Toronto should disabuse us of that notion. Not only is racism a clear and present danger, it has been justified under the banner of effective policing. At its heart, the current practice of ‘carding’ is the assumption that people of colour, young men of colour especially, are more prone to criminal activity, therefore they forfeit their charter rights to lawful engagement with the police.

If Desmond Cole and I were walking down the street together, any street it seems, he would more likely be stopped by the police and asked for his personal information than I would be. Why? For no other reason than the fact Desmond Cole is black and I am white.

That’s racism, pure and simple. Hum and haw all you like, rationalize it, spin it and massage it. But if we condone the current practice of police carding, we are condoning racism.

By doing so, what kind of democracy does it say we live in when people are forced to go about their lives, negotiating how they move around their shared city differently? Take equality and fairness off the table. They don’t exist unless the words mean something other than I thought they did.

Show me your papers! That’s the essence of police carding, isn’t it?

If an appeal to a sense of decency or basic human rights doesn’t move you, what about the fundamental attack on civilian oversight by our police services we’ve been subject to? Recognizing there were some questions of legality with carding as it was being done, the police services board last term demanded that in a non-investigative interaction with the public, the police had to first inform a citizen that the exchange was entirely voluntary, they could walk away if they so desired. Also, the police were required to provide a receipt of the interaction giving, among other things, reasons for the interaction.

Turns out the police didn’t want to do that. So they ignored the request from their civilian oversight board, rendering their demands non-‘operationalized’, to use the term of our mayor who also doesn’t believe such a thing as white privilege exists, thus there’s no such thing as racism. Police dictate the policy they follow. It isn’t dictated to them.

Raising the equally dire specter of who’s exactly running the show here?

Not only does a strong democracy require an unwavering commitment to equality in all its forms, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, law enforcement must be subservient to its political masters. Anything else bends toward authoritarianism. We tried in good faith to negotiate a workable, acceptable form of carding. That failed. Nothing short of a complete abolition of the practice will now do.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Profile In Courage

April 20, 2015

God bless the politician who stands up for the downtrodden, gives voice to the voiceless, goes to bat for the tiny, puny, infinitesimal, often overlooked 3%. godoggoYou are a testament to daring and guts. A folks hero.

“Minnan-Wong vows to save the Gardiner Expressway” states the headline of Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article from last week.

“I did not get elected to increase congestion, I did not,” the deputy mayor speechified. (He also doesn’t like your hat.) “I was elected to solve congestion problems.”

“Cars are a fundamental reality.”

Finally.

Somebody representing the beleaguered car drivers of this city and beyond.

The proposed downing of a 2.4 kilometre stretch of the easternmost portion of the Gardiner Expressway must not stand. No attempted buying off with a 6 to 8 lane replacement boulevard will suffice. A boulevard?! What is that exactly? Sounds like something the French promenade down.

And as everyone knows, our deputy mayor isn’t really a Renault man. dmw1He’s more a Porsche guy, a Beemer type although, owing to family obligations, he’s now quite content in his Subaru Forester. Driving in from North York, watching the sun glint off those downtown towers, more of which there’d be if the eastern bit of the Gardiner Expressway came down and opened up acres and acres and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in new development opportunities.

Ahhh, irony.

Car enthusiasts are clearly too distracted by shiny objects to appreciate stuff like irony.

What’s getting lost in all these high-minded (and high-handed) plans for the future of Toronto is the convenience of drivers to get around this city. If this part of the Gardiner is brought down, the unlucky 3% of commuters who currently use it during the morning rush hour can expect as much as a 5 minute increase in their commute times. 5 minutes!? Do these politician not realize just how important a car drivers’ time is? You’ve read the numbers. Billions and billions of dollars of productivity lost annually in the GTA due to congestion. Only by continuing to do what we’ve been doing for 50 years now – making room and time for private automobiles – can we start to turn things around.

And if this part of the Gardiner is brought down, where will it end? What happens if the traffic chaos and heavy congestion doesn’t materialize? What if everything works out just fine or, heaven forbid, gets even better? The rest of the Gardiner will not be safe. The radical anti-car types will start agitating for more of its destruction. dmw2A city cannot survive such a grievous assault on its urban expressways.

This is a slippery slope, folks, and all that stands between us and such an unimaginable future are politicians like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

And please, don’t talk to him about the higher cost of building his beloved hybrid replacement option. Can you really put a price on freedom… to drive? Even if you can, even if you say, sure, in this particular case it’s that number between $919 million and $461 million, should you? In the end, it’s only money.

“Our (total) capital budget over 100 years is somewhere around $300 billion,” the deputy mayor said. What’s a half billion or so within that sort of time frame? Chump change.

Unlike those $12,000 umbrellas at Sugar Beach, located not far from the shadows cast by the Gardiner. That’s a spending outrage. $12,000. For an umbrella. Take a moment and let that sink in.

For car loving warriors like Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the only public space we should throw insane and unconscionable amounts of cash at are those that allow cars to drive on or over or park on. dmwAs it’s always been (since the 1950s anyway), so it must always be. Everything else is just gravy, to use the parlance of the time.

This issue is of such vital importance to the deputy mayor that back a few years ago, in his then role as chair of the Public Work and Infrastructure Committee, serving under fellow automobile zealot, Rob Ford, he felt the need to sit on the city council requested environmental assessment looking at future options for the Gardiner Expressway, delaying its release until finally this past week, to the tune of some $20 million. Money that would have probably gone to other useless public realm projects. (Denzil Minnan-Wong Googles: How many $12,000 pink umbrellas would $20 million buy?) Now that the EA has been released, there is only one viable option. Build that hybrid! Build that hybrid!

Sure, building the hybrid option of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway will lock out hundreds of millions of dollars in potential development and future property tax income for the city but should the well-being for an overwhelming majority of Torontonians bulldoze the right to drive for the vulnerable 3%? dmw3Somebody’s got to stand up for the minority. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong has a long and established track record of public service doing just that.

Remember that time he… ummm…. did that thing where he definitely defended the… uhhh… boldly fighting for their right to, you know… ummm…

Well anyway, resistance to change and pandering to car drivers has to start somewhere. It’s a thankless task, far from the spotlight and reactionary applause a civic leader like Minnan-Wong normally prefers to operate in. Agree with him or not, you can’t ignore the fact that he is a principled politician representing the best interests of the entire city with every decision he makes.

totally admiringly submitted by Cityslikr


Who’s Your Dada?

April 5, 2015

whosaskingIn this year’s Easter edition of Answering Questions No Reader Asked, we respond to the non-query, What Is Dada and What the Hell Were You Talking About Earlier This Week? Making Up Stories. What the hell was that? Some kind of April’s Fool thing?

Yeah so, about that.

As the week wore on, it struck me that the post felt like an incomplete thought or, at least, there’s was more to say on the subject. Let’s sum it up as right wing faux populism as a form of Dada expression. None of it has to make any sense exactly because that’s the point, to not make any sense.

We need to stop looking for explanations in their actions, in the things they say, the positions they pronounce. Logical consistency is absent not through any inability to reason logically but because there’s no need for it. Reductio ad absurdum. See? This whole government thing is ridiculous because, well, look at me. Look at what I do, what I say, the shenanigans I wind up performing.

If there really was anything to this idea of the usefulness of City Hall, surely politicians like we are wouldn’t be elected, time and time again, time after time. How could it not be a circus and clown show when clowns and carnies perform key roles? absurdDon’t take what they do seriously because they sure don’t.

And I’m not just talking the Ford Brothers Travelling Shit Show, their little fiefdom of folly. Or Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and His Flickering House of Mirrors. Add to that extremity of lunacy, new councillor and long time Member of Parliament, Jim Karygiannis, defining defiling the Liberal brand for a generation now.

Consider the more ‘serious’ acts. Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, at perpetual war with anything and everything he deems to be excessive public spending, and most public spending is excessive in the Deputy Mayor’s eyes except when it comes to clearing the way for his much beloved Subaru. How about the chair of Planning and Growth Management and self-proclaimed pro-Spadina Expressway protester back in the day, Councillor David Shiner? Planning and growth? In somebody else’s backyard please with a helping of subway, if you don’t mind.

Councillor Ron Moeser, some 30 years a city councillor and still operating in a state of constant confusion. nonsenseDitto Councillor Frank Di Giorgio who, in addition, isn’t a big fan of the City of Toronto Act and all its proposed responsibilities for municipal politicians. Who needs that, am I right?

Elected public servants with a dim view of the efficacy of public service, dedicating much of their respective adult lives to actively diminishing it. You don’t actually take this stuff seriously, do you? Nobody really thinks we can make much of a difference, do they? If they did, they might pay a little more attention to the people they send to City Hall to represent their interests.

It’s a political negative feedback loop.

“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” Groucho Marx said.

City Hall’s a joke, right? Let’s not waste any time doing anything productive. We’ll just play down to the non-expectations everyone has of the place. dadafairPoint of order, Madam Speaker! Or maybe it’s a point of privilege. I never did understand the difference between those two. Whatever. Blah, blah, blah, blah…

And then an earnest do-gooder arrives at the place, one sharing a similarly askance view of it. After all, he once thought Rob Ford would be a suitable mayor of the city. Taking in the spectacle for a few months, he shakes his head. It only confirms his bias. “I thought (Wednesday) was an example where there were probably four or five hours just wasted on stuff that was sort of interesting maybe to a few people but it really wasn’t advancing the public interest,” Mayor John Tory said. Democracy, eh? Just a bunch of people wasting hours and hours, talking about stuff that was sort of interesting to them but to what end? We need to streamline this. Less chatter, less grandstanding, more doing.

Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right. Mayor Tory’s stuck in the middle with democracy. shirtlessSurely there must be a more productive way to get things done around here. I mean, what the hell does Giorgio Mammoliti have to offer anyway?

Exactly.

Councillor Mammoliti and his ilk have been striving to prove that point for years now, decades even. This whole thing’s a joke and he’s a clown prince. You’d be an idiot to think otherwise. If you just stopped caring (like he has), then maybe the place would just shrivel up and disappear. I mean, what the hell does City Hall have to offer for us anyhow?

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Day 101

March 10, 2015

So sometime this week (I’m predicting Wednesday but not ruling out Thursday), city council will approve the 2015 operating, capital and rate support budgets. It is at that point when the 2014 municipal campaign will officially close.keystothecar John Tory actually takes over, full on, as mayor of Toronto.

What?! you say. But John Tory’s been mayor since December 1st of last year when he was sworn in. He’s got the chain of office to prove it.

True. But since the 2015 budget process kicked into gear in December, we’ve been told that this was an election year budget, cobbled together by city staff and assembled in a short time frame with the minimal of input from city council. Normally a year long process scrunched down into 4 months or so.

I don’t reject the notion out of hand. New mayor, new council (sort of), with lots of things to do post-election. To hit the ground running, from a budget perspective may be a little too much to expect without much guidance and input from staff. Continuity favours the bureaucracy once every 4 budget cycles. This one’s it.

To a point, of course.

That below the rate of inflation property tax increase was a major campaign plank for John Tory. Ditto SmarTrack dough. And I find it a bit hard to believe that staff thought it a great idea to add $443 million to the capital budget to expedite the Gardiner repairs. whispersI’m not saying the mayor had anything to do with it but his Deputy Mayor of choice, Denzil Minnan-Wong, sure does love him his car.

Still, tradition has it we cut the mayor some slack on the very first budget after being elected to office. A mayoral mulligan, if you will. Sort of a, he did what he could but his hands were tied by previous decisions, kind of thing. Next year, though. Next year.

Starting on the first day after the 2015 budget is passed, Mayor Tory has stated work begins on the 2016 budget. That one will be his baby, the one that will start to shape his legacy. 2015 was tying up loose ends left behind by the previous administration or two. (In theory, at any rate.) 2016, well, that’s Tory time. While he’s offered up hints of the direction he wants to take the city in, when budget 2015 wraps up, the buck starts stopping on his desk. There will be no one else to blame, no more before his time talk. John Tory will be master of his own fate.

Within the confines of being a mayor, that is, a position we all know to be limited in the powers of both the purse and jurisdiction. trainingwheelsActually, now that I think about it, there are plenty of receptacles for mayoral excuse-making when it comes right down to it. An uncooperative and unruly city council. Neglectful senior levels of government. Overzealous accountability officers! A culture of non-accountability rife in the ranks of city staff.

So scratch that. There’s no end to blame gaming at a mayor’s disposal. It’s just, going forward, we no longer have to indulge John Tory that opportunity.

blamelessly submitted by Cityslikr


We Have Enough

March 12, 2014

“We have enough.”

And with that, Mayor Rob Ford solved the city’s inequality and social disparity. werefinethankyouJust like that. Just three words. We have enough.

The mayor was speaking about the city staff’s report on expanding what used to be referred to as Priority Neighbourhoods and now re-dubbed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. If OK’d by city council, they’d also grow in number from the current 13 to 31. In short, it means increased investment directed at neighbourhoods, targeting various social, economic and infrastructure factors that contribute (or don’t, as the case may be) to inequities throughout the city.

Of course, the mayor was having none of it. Priorities neighbourhoods are where you go to campaign and show that you’re always looking out for the little guy. As an elected official you don’t actually try and solve any of the problems. That’s what the private sector’s for. Government is just there, to sit back, stay out of the way and keep taxes low.

While Mayor Ford is the poster child on city council for this way of thinking, he’s far from alone. offendedMore than a few of his low tax, no spend colleagues represent wards in which these priority neighbourhoods are located and they resent the designation, believing it discourages investment because, I guess, business types don’t care for the poors. Way back in the early days of the Ford administration Matt Elliott summarized the move by the likes of councillors Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziati to try and rid their wards of the stigma of neediness designated by such a distasteful moniker.

End inequality by renaming it.

Even doing that, however, hasn’t placated Mayor Ford. Despite staff’s best intention to make their findings more thorough and robust, more inclusive to the hurdles people face living and working in this city, he shrugs it off in three easy-to-remember words. For him, calling it something else only expanded the numbers, made the problems seem worse.

What he refuses to accept, what every adherent to his low tax, spending not a revenue problem political philosophy refuses to accept is that it is this very approach that has exacerbated the problems. everythingsgreatChronic underfunding in both hard and soft services that go toward enhancing everyone’s ability to make the most of the opportunities available to them living in this city – from transit to housing, parks to daycare – have created the unhealthy and insecure situations giving rise to our ballooning priority neighbourhoods. There is no other alternative.

We’ve gone through the pretty much useless exercise of finding efficiencies that helped sweep Ford into power. Take whatever number he wants to throw at you as the number he’s saved while mayor, $400 million, a billion, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to tap. It’s done. No more juice to squeeze.

Don’t believe me? Ask the fiscal hawk of a city manager who’s obediently followed the mayor’s instruction to stop the gravy train. “I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services,” Joe Pennachetti said in December. While some of us would argue services and programs have already been more than impacted, the statement still stands. We’ve gone as far as we can down this ruinous route of penny-pinching and cheapening of our civic life.

The complaint often heard during Rob Ford’s mayoral run in 2010 was that with all the spending going on under then mayor David Miller (who, it should be noted from the above article, Mr. Pennachetti applauded for beginning the fiscal reforms at City Hall) there was little to show for it. everythingsfineUntrue on a number of points especially with substantial increases in transit services to name one, it was entirely ridiculous to think that 7 years of increased spending was going to immediately reverse decades of under-spending. The first 3 years of property tax freezes under Mel Lastman. The actual costs of amalgamation and provincial downloading. Transformation was not going to happen overnight.

Not to mention the history of low tax and pay-as-you-go services and programs pursued by many of the former municipalities making up Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Now, I know there are multiple factors at play here. The concentration of wealth and businesses in the downtown core. A certain continued disregard emanating from there outward to the city’s perceived hinterlands.

newpriorityneighbourhoods

But look at the map. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the former priority neighbourhoods and many of the new additional Neighbourhood Improvement Areas sit in those former municipalities. Etobicoke, Scarborough, York. Traditional home to many of the city’s most anti-tax, small government zealots. Such zealotry continues to be represented on city council today.

The mayor, his brother, the afore-mentioned trio of Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziata. Throw in the budget chief, Frank Di Giorgio. The former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Budget Committee members, councillors Gary Crawford and Ron Moeser.goodtothelastdrop

Councillor James Pasternak, also a member of the Budget Committee and fiscal hawk, bemoaned the loss of a priority neighbourhood, Westminster-Branson, in his ward in the new configuration. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

Yeah well, Councillor Pasternak. Maybe you should’ve thought about that when you fought to keep our property taxes low, tossed out the vehicle registration tax, put money toward a totally unnecessary subway. Didn’t you ask for a report exploring the possibility of reducing the Land Transfer Tax, another source of city revenue, next year?

So here we are, with the lowest property tax rate in the GTA, under-utilized and always under threat sources of possible revenue, staring at huge infrastructure needs and growing segments of the city woefully under-serviced, isolated and alienated. miserlyWe’ve tried scaling back our efforts and investment in the hopes of somehow, miraculously, turning things around. We haven’t and we won’t until we accept the fact and responsibility that improvement in our city’s physical environment and quality of life doesn’t just happen, doesn’t come for free or even on the cheap.

We have enough? How about, We’ve had enough? Respect for Taxpayers was a real nice, catchy slogan but it’s done fuck all for an increasing number of residents of this city. It’s time to stop pretending and accepting responsibility to make things better for all of us, not just some of us.

finally submitted by Cityslikr