Stumbling Toward Progress

January 22, 2016

Wow!

And what a week it was.whirlwind

Under the steady, competent and business-like stewardship of John Tory, this kind of wild ride at City Hall was supposed to be a thing of the past. Granted, not your garden variety, crack-fueled, more-than-enough-to-eat-at-home sort of melodrama we’ve previously witnessed. Purely political, up and down the daily calendar. But still.

It all began with a fairly standard bit of annual budgeting that’s happened for the past few years. Ix-nay he-tay alk-tay bout-ay ew-na evenue-ray. Pilfer reserve funds. Continue to squeeze a little harder on the stone in the hopes of getting blood this time around. Circle three times, click you heels twice. Declare the budget balanced in the fairest, most reasonable, prudent manner possible.

Then it started to rain staff reports and the going got crazy.

SmartTrack. Redrawn options for the Gardiner East hybrid. The Scarborough subway extension. New numbers and projections. countNew configurations. New realities. New respect for expert staff advice, depending on the project, of course. Proposed compromises that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the original plans. Fewer subways. More LRTs. More developable waterfront land. Tighter turn radii.

Somewhere in the midst of all that doubling and tripling back mayhem, the man who should be chief of police leveled a broadside against his organization, demanding fundamental reform of the way it goes about its policing business. He then went silent or was silenced. The head of the Police Services Association responded with a public pout. The former reform-minded chair of the Police Services Board filed a complaint against the actual chief of police and the Police Services Board for not clarifying statements the police chief made during a year end interview questioning the accuracy of statements the former TPSB chair made about implementation of proposed reforms. joustingWe then learned the police were deploying some 50 combat ready assault rifles for front line officers as tools of de-escalation and in no way was militarizing policing in the city.

Mayor Tory deemed it all to be reasonable. Nothing to be alarmed at. As you were.

You could look at all this and conclude that it was simply the result of an industrious administration dealing with the inevitable array of issues that come from governing a growing and busy metropolis. Shit happens, am I right? Roll up your sleeves and get down into the goo. This city isn’t going to run itself.

But it doesn’t feel like that at all to me. At week’s end, it kind of feels like a reckoning. Bills have come due and need to be paid.

The mayor’s refusal to have a serious discussion about proper revenue streams, holding tight onto his campaign promise of keeping property tax rate hikes to at or below the rate of inflation, continues to hamstring the city for yet another year in dealing with a wall of serious fiscal matters, both on the capital and operating sides of the ledger. madscrambleIt’s even more ridiculous in light of how he’s backtracked on other hare-brained campaign promises, mostly revolving around public transit. He’s insisting on putting off a tax and spend conversation that will only get more difficult the closer we get to another election.

On the policing front, the mayor took his spot on the board rather than designate a council colleague in his place. So he was right there, hands on, to change the culture both on the board and in the services itself. A shot at serious reform, which he keeps talking about, within reach. A new, forward thinking chief waiting in the wings, reports and recommendations for implementation of change on the table in front of him.

But he blinked, retreated, embraced the status quo. More business as usual.

Where there is some brightness, some hope for more positive outcomes is on transit, a file the mayor, and as a candidate before that, made even more problematic and difficult to negotiate, layering on additional fanciful talk and plans in his bid for the job. headlesschickenBut he’s backtracked on SmartTrack. He’s rethought his once adamant support of the Scarborough subway extension. Having joined the crowd in politicizing transit planning, he’s now attempted to hand it back, tattered and somewhat worse for wear, to those who actually know a thing or two about transit planning.

The retreat comes with some potentially good results. The city could end up with an Eglinton Crosstown running from Pearson airport right through to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto. We might build fewer subways in Scarborough and more LRTs. So much new transit could be in the offing that we as a city will have no choice to not only talk about new revenue sources but to actually implement some in order to help pay for and operate it.

This comes, unsurprisingly, with a whole boatload of caveats. The new SmartTrack mock up is still so dependent on unknown variables like capacity and fare pricing as to remain highly theoretical, and yet, is something of a linchpin for the new proposed Scarborough subway alignment to work properly. chaseyourowntailIs $2 billion (or more) for one subway station too steep a price to pay to try and ensure a non-fractious majority of city council buy in? All the delays and false starts have pushed timelines further and further down the road, past upcoming elections cycles, leaving most of today’s proposed projects susceptible to future political interference, still just lines on a map.

Unlike the budget process and the policing news, however, I don’t see this week’s transit resets as steps back or no steps taken at all. At least in the light of recent transit upheavals in Toronto, what’s occurred over the past few days is something akin to progress. If not forward momentum, let’s call it forward motion.

It shouldn’t have to be this fucking hard, and I will not absolve Mayor Tory of any blame for contributing to the ongoing difficulty. fingerscrossed1If he had’ve met the parochial chest-beating of the Ford’s head on, and not derided and sneered at his opponents who did so, none of this would’ve been necessary. We wouldn’t have lost so much time and money while he and his team pretended SmartTrack was actually a thing, that the Scarborough subway had any legitimacy whatsoever.

But, there it is, and here we are.

Try as I might to wrap this up on an optimistic note, I can’t bring myself to do it unless you consider It’s Not All Bad News upbeat. In the flurry that was this week, there may be some cause to be hopeful. Maybe. When it could be worse is not good enough, it will have to do.

Open ended. That’s all I’ve got.

unfinishedly submitted by Cityslikr


Keeping Up With The Joneses

January 18, 2016

It’s odd to wake up on a Monday morning, read through your local news and information and realize there’s a lot of change in the air. goodnewseveryoneDeputy Chief Peter Sloly suggests a complete overhaul of our approach to policing. Former city council candidate and Better Budget TO co-founder Alex Mazer raises the possibility of some ‘fiscal honesty’. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has plans on completely re-imagining King Street from Dufferin all the way east to River.

Oh my. I think I just gave myself a case of the dizzies. So much… possibilities!

This comes after a weekend of occasional contemplation on what seems to be the inevitable strategic retreat by Mayor Tory on his heavily touted (by he and his team, at least) SmartTrack transit plan. On Friday stories began to emerge about scaling back and spending less on it. The always dubious ‘western spur’ dropped and replaced (Fingers Crossed!) by the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport. The eastern branch north of the Kennedy subway station quietly binned. stepbackLeaving some sort of expanded GO train-like service tracing the much more desirable Relief Line route, the slightest impression acknowledging SmartTrack even once existed as a concept.

I wondered what the campaign architects of SmartTrack were thinking now. Was this pretty much how the saw things happening? They knew, along with a solid majority of everybody else, that the plan was wholly unworkable. Just get their guy elected, go through the motions, not to mention millions, pretending he was serious about building SmartTrack. When it hit smack dab into the wall of reality, revealed to be the sham it was, stitching together a couple good ideas into an ill-fitting and grotesquely expensive cloth, walk it back, on the advice of the experts that weren’t, apparently, available during the 10 month long campaign.lipstickonapig

SmartTrack was an election scheme in no way meant to refute the heavy-rail, off-road transit vision of John Tory’s main rival for the job, Rob-then-Doug Ford. That’s why it was referred to as ‘Surface Subway’. That’s why John Tory backed the Scarborough subway. John Tory refused to confront the political pandering that sat deep in the heart of the Ford approach to transit planning. Instead, he chose to wrestle it into his own image.

So, I look at today’s news, the transformative opportunities, and temper my immediate enthusiasm. Just how willing is John Tory, essentially, to buck the status quo, to grapple with the ghost of the Ford administration? Little so far would indicate his willingness to do so. Every restoration of TTC service he announces is more than equaled by expedited expressway repairs, Gardiner hybrids and traffic flow announcements. Do we really expect him to stand strong in the face of the inevitable outrage at the chief planner’s plans to de-emphasis car travel along King Street and in the downtown core?

Fiscal honesty? I write this as I’m following along with the budget chief’s lunchtime presser. “We did not have to use revenue tools on this budget,” Councillor Crawford told reporters. putalidonit1All the while keeping property tax rate increases impossibly low, raiding reserve funds and insisting on line-by-lines cuts to office supplies and travel costs in order to try and plug the inevitable holes in the operating budget. Sound familiar? It should. That’s what’s been passing as ‘fiscal honesty’ at City Hall for the past 5 years or so.

And as mayor, John Tory sits on the Police Services Board that passed over the opportunity to appoint reformer Peter Sloly as Chief of Police, all the while holding the door open for the similarly reform-minded chair, Alok Mukherjee, to make an early exit. He’s already had the chance to help affect much needed change and dropped the ball. Well into his second year in office, it’s difficult not to see Mayor Tory as anything but an obstacle, no less than his predecessor.

Of course, it’s hard to look forward when you’re constantly checking back over your shoulder to see what your competition’s up to. Ultimately, it’s of cold comfort that John Tory defeated Doug Ford to become mayor if, in the end, there’s little to differentiate between the two in matters of policy. kipMaintaining the status quo is maintaining the status quo even if you can’t see the gold chain around somebody’s neck.

If John Tory really wants to establish an enduring legacy during his time in office, he could do so by challenging the Ford city building and governance mystique head on, bury it six feet under the ground where it belongs. The possibilities in doing so are in evidence in today’s news. But, for me, the mayor’s motivations remain opaque. Like with SmartTrack, he seems more intent on a simple redesign, keeping a uninterrupted message, only delivered by a different messenger.

not anticipatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Muddling Through Or Is He?

July 10, 2015

Just 4 days after yet another black man, Andrew Loku, a father of five, a former Sudanese child soldier, living in an apartment building “leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association to provide affordable housing and services for people suffering from mental illness” was shot to death by Toronto police —“Andrew died right in front of me. There was no reason for it.” – just 4 days after the incident, Mayor John Tory, delivering one of his “angrier speeches”, fought to have his friend, not that that was relevant in any way, his friend and 2014 campaign fundraiser and chief of staff when Tory was the provincial leader of the P.C. party, Andy Pringle, re-appointed to the Toronto Police Services Board despite the fact that according to the former vice-chair of the TPSB, Councillor Michael Thompson, the lone black member of city council who the mayor dumped from the TPSB upon assuming office, according to Councillor Thompson, Mr. Pringle provided “a deafening silence on major police issues” and “consistently rubber-stamped police actions…not in the best interest of the community”, “policing was not his finest hour”, waving such criticism off as just politics, Mayor Tory pushed the pro-police carding Mr. Pringle’s appointment through council on what proved to be an easy, lopsided (and possibly whipped) vote, further highlighting that the mayor has no idea what the hell he’s doing on the police file or he knows exactly what he’s up to.

unbelievably submitted by Cityslikr


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

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


You Don’t Mind If We Keep These, Do You?

February 8, 2011

Maybe I was a little preoccupied last week, what with decorating the place for our Super Bowl party, ushering in the year of the rabbit and getting all hot and bothered about that revolution over there in Egypt, but it seems to me that the police services’ matter-of-fact announcement that they had decided to keep those sound cannon thingies they got for the G20 confab last summer went kind of unnoticed. Catherine Porter took an impassioned stance against the decision over at the Star on Friday. But that seems to have been about it from the mainstream press.

Maybe it’s not that big a deal, the police still a little on the hot seat for their (man)handling of protesters at the G20 meeting, deciding to keep 4 Long Range Acoustic Devices for the bargain basement price of $30, 000. Two of them will be used for ‘hailing’ practices only, one by the marine unit and the other lent out to the fire department. The other two will be tucked away just in case.

In case of what, you ask? If the police didn’t feel the need to use the LRADs during the G20, under what circumstance exactly do they forsee needing them in the future? I think one of the takeaway lessons from the G20 was not that the police required more crowd control weaponry at their disposal. Restraint seemed to be more in order and it’s hard to imagine how giving them access to an apparatus “originally conceived to support the protection and exclusion zones around U.S. Navy warships” is going to encourage any semblance of moderation or self-control. How will they know it works if they don’t try it out every now and then?

It immediately brings to mind the late, great Bill Hicks’ bit about the turkey shoot that was the Gulf War. U.S. soldiers reading from the manual as they try out the latest kill machines at their disposal. Take a moment and watch it here. And then watch this one which has nothing to do with this but it always makes me laugh. Watch it and think about the Black Eyed Peas or Christina Aguilera.

Give boys toys and they will play with them. (Sorry about the commercial before the video. Ain’t that Betty White funny?)

It seems to me the police and their chief Bill Blair could’ve used this opportunity to make a gesture of goodwill to the people they ostensibly serve and protect. To show everyone that, in fact, the police aren’t all about bully boy, military tactics and repressive measures chalk full of constitutional dubiousness. A friendly overture. A peace offering. I know, I know. It doesn’t make up for what happened last summer but at least you can rest assured that if we meet up again under similar circumstance, we’re not going to try and make your ears bleed.

Instead Chief Blair informed the Police Services Board that, along with the security cameras they received for the G20, they’d be keeping the sound cannons too. Done deal. Let’s move on to the next order of business, shall we? This elicited responses ranging from ‘shocked’ (Judi Cohen) to confusion (Councillor Nunziata… get used to that) to yet another excuse for bloviation (Councillor Thompson) on his way to handing off responsibility for making a decision.  Once more, the concept of civilian oversight mocked and slapped around a little.

Now I don’t want to go making spurious and possibly trite comparisons between what’s going on in Egypt currently and our police deciding to keep LRADs as part of their arsenal. But a security state starts somewhere. In that early mix comes an unquestioning deference toward those in positions of authority and power. If we can’t make a fuss and decide what instruments of coercion and surveillance our police are allowed to use, I’d say we’ve already handed over an uncomfortable degree of our personal sovereignty.

timidly submitted by Cityslikr


Mr. Fantino Goes To Ottawa

November 30, 2010

On the plus side, Toronto, at least we won’t have to worry about incoming mayor Rob Ford bringing back Julian Fantino as police chief.

Besides, by-elections are meaningless, right? We shouldn’t use them to take an accurate political pulse of the nation especially with less than 1 in 3 eligible voters bothering to cast a ballot. Let’s just view this as an entertaining, engaging and diversionary blip on the radar until the real deal comes around.

Otherwise, Julian Fantino’s election victory as Conservative M.P. for the federal riding of Vaughan is grim, grim electoral news. Like we need anymore of that in these parts right now.

Because if we were to read too much into it, it would suggest that the scaly, life-draining tentacles of the Stephen Harper led Conservative government are slowly gaining traction in areas of this country that’ve been, up to now, unyielding to their oily clutches. By running a successful peek-a-boo campaign that has largely kept their candidate from a wider public view shielding both him and the party itself from any significant scrutiny, they’ve set the stage for a policy-free, personality first general election. Issues? What issues? “Give me an issue, I’ll give you a tissue, you can wipe my ass with it.”  (h/t Lou Reed, Take No Prisoners.)

How could the voters of Vaughan, or at least the 16% or so of them that voted for Julian Fantino… and boy, if that number doesn’t send shivers down your spine, 16% of voters sending an M.P. to Ottawa, even in a by-election, then the notion of democracy is truly dead to you… not have been offended by the treatment they received during in this campaign? Fantino sat out almost every candidates’ debate. His campaign videos were shockingly hackneyed, devoid of substance and lifelessly delivered as if the man had never been in front of a camera before. He was a “star” candidate who seemed almost put out that he actually had to publicly campaign for the position. Shouldn’t I just be appointed? That’s how things are usually done in the circles I run.

The fact that someone like Julian Fantino could actually be considered a “star” candidate is the other bitter morning after pill to swallow. Being a “star” should involve something other than name recognition. Possessing political views and opinions that rise above bumper sticker sloganeering is too much to ask? ‘Law And Order’ and ‘Tough On Crime’ make great TV series titles but spouted mindlessly by a “star” candidate suggests a thin veneer painted over a warm body that masks a total lack of understanding about what’s going on out there in the wider world. But, I guess, in this day and reality age that may be expecting a bit much from our politicians and says more about my complete and utter incomprehension of how the world actually works.

A quick look at Fantino’s resumé shows a man who has gracelessly bulldozed his way up the food chain and into being a “star” political candidate. For almost 20 years now, the man has been dogged by controversy as he trampled over civil rights and fuzzy lines of legality at almost every post he served throughout his career. There was the illegal wiretapping of Susan Eng, then chair of the TPSB in 1991. As police chief in London in the mid-90s, he arrested and charged a couple dozen gay men as part of a child pornography ring that turned out to be non-existent. His tenure as Toronto’s chief of police was pockmarked by more ill-advised confrontations with the gay community and corruption scandals within the force itself that Fantino was accused of not rooting out vigorously enough. Then, as OPP commissioner there came further accusations of unauthorized wiretapping, more dubious child pornography rings busted, along with a charge of ‘attempting to influence an elected official’ thrown in that was subsequently dismissed by the Crown due to the always reassuring ‘no reasonable prospect of conviction’ grounds. His involvement in this past summer’s G20 fiasco, both on the ground and the money spent has yet to be fully disclosed but early signs suggest another less than stellar performance review.

All it takes, it seems, to be a “star” candidate is a high profile regardless of how that came to be. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” Brendan Behan said, “except your own obituary.”

Essentially Julian Fantino is an admirable, “star” candidate only to those who pine for the days of hard-nosed cops in B-movies (take a bow, Don Cherry), many of whom apparently occupy senior positions in our political establishment. Rumour has it, Fantino was hotly pursued by both federal and provincial Liberals before he anointed the Conservatives in Ottawa as his party of choice, revealing the paucity of ideas and absence of democratic ideals in our two leading parties. What was promised him in exchange for his fidelity – Fantino does know that’s there’s no King position in a parliamentary system, I hope — time will tell but in the cold, dark morning reality, just a few hours after his win, I do feel a certain bit of relief mixed in with the disbelief, bewilderment and dollop of despair. At least, off in Ottawa and as an M.P. in the 905 region, he will be that much more removed from us here, ever so slightly out of our hair, buried deep in the smothering anonymity of the Conservative caucus, never to be heard from again. (Fingers crossed!) I mean, the man couldn’t possibly bluster and blunder his way into any further, more influential positions of power, could he?

curiously submitted by Cityslikr