A Treme View

July 10, 2010

“No TV reviews!” our fearless leader shouted as he headed off for the weekend.

“This is a political blog!” he continued yelling on his way down the stairs. “There’s no place for pop culture on a political blog!” His belief is you can’t do both and do both well. “Just read NOW magazine if you don’t believe me.” (Not an opinion shared by everyone around the office.)

But now he’s gone and left me in charge. It’s kind of like tossing your kid the keys to the liquor cabinet as you leave town for the weekend with the warning, And no drinking. (As if your parents never did that.) I know I shouldn’t but it’s almost like a dare. Besides he can’t ground me although there have been times he’s tried.

While away recently up in the wilderness, I seized the opportunity to watch the entire first season of David Simon’s Treme on my hosts’ extremely large HD TV. I was a huge fan of his earlier masterpiece, The Wire, and probably overstayed my welcome in my drive to watch all 10 episode of his latest effort. But it was worth the risk of not ever getting invited back again. Otherwise I was going to have to wait until the show came out on DVD and would have to impose on someone else who owned a DVD player.

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Treme follows a diverse cast of characters (a Simon show trademark), from the upper crust who view the disaster as an opportunity to “reshape” the city down through those who have lost everything but their lives. It is a city at the proverbial crossroads, much of its past washed away — some of it storied, some of it checkered — when the levees broke and facing an uncertain future, caught in a stranglehold of competing visions. The old New Orleans versus the new New Orleans.

I bring this up not to show off my skills as a reviewer, for none do I possess outside of I like it, I like it, I don’t like it (and isn’t one Rob Salem enough, frankly?) It is the politics at work in Treme that I think is interesting and more than a little relevant. Not that I’m in any way trying to equate Toronto’s recent troubles with Hurricane Katrina but there are some interesting parallels.

An outside force beyond the city’s control blows into town and inflicts great damage, both physically and psychologically. In its aftermath, there is a scramble to be the first and loudest to deny responsibility. Victims are criminally mistreated. Those charged to protect and defend, do neither. Once a sense of normalcy returns, there’s the slow realization that nothing’s going to be the same again.

There is a feeling that for those who live in a city, whether its New Orleans or Toronto, events happen in which they have no say. Key decisions that will affect their lives are made without any input asked from them. Cities deal with the consequences and results of actions taken at a distance.

That’s the reality of politics at the municipal level regardless, it seems, where that municipality is. We elect clowns, do-gooders, politicians of the noblest intentions as our local representatives and ultimately it doesn’t matter. They have no role beyond carrying out the marching orders from those who have seized the true levers of power through a historical process that has remained frozen in amber, impervious to the imperatives of change and adaptation.

You’re doin’ a heckava job, Brownie.

A statement of obliviousness and indifference that resonates far beyond the boundaries of Orleans parish.

reviewedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Pardon Our Parking

June 14, 2010

It seems that nothing gets citizens’ knickers in a twist more than a parking ticket. While death and taxes are seen as the inevitably ugly aspects of going about the business of living, the acquisition of a $30 parking fine is nothing short of an outrageous assault upon our fundamental freedoms as car drivers and pop in shoppers. They are unfair, arbitrary and never, ever anyone’s fault but that of power mad traffic control Nazis and quota crazy, money grubbing local politicians.

So imagine the outpouring of bile when it came to light last week that there’s a whole ragtag system in place outlining in black and white who gets tickets, who doesn’t, who’s targeted, who’s exempted and how exactly one can go about fighting City Hall if one is so inclined. And guess what? It is unfair, arbitrary and there really is a quota system in place although, according to the Toronto Star, municipal pencil pushers call “the performance benchmarks for ticket issuance… ‘targets’”.

Targets alright. Like bulls-eyes on the backs of John Q. Driving Public everywhere unless of course you live in the tonier parts of town or work as a courier or are in desperate need of a religious fix. Not all drivers are created equally and if you know your way around the rules and regulations or have the money to pay someone who does, you are free to park wherever and whenever you want in Toronto.

That anyone would find any of this particularly shocking comes as a bit of a shock. Power and money buys privilege. Check. There are at least as many exemptions to the rules as there are rules themselves. Check. City Hall seeks to maximize profits through its parking enforcement arm. In the business world, that’s simply called increasing the bottom line and keeping shareholders happy. With  government, it’s considered overreaching and intrusive.

What’s most striking to me about the Secret Handbook On How To Beat Parking Tickets is the hodgepodge nature of it. Like much of our municipal jurisdictional structure, parking enforcement is still waiting to be streamlined into one unified code out of the 5 or so that were mashed up with amalgamation a dozen years ago. North York, for example, has a couple rules in place that don’t apply elsewhere in the city. So while we’re one big metropolis in name, we remain a place of neighbourhood specific parking regulations. It’s easy to see where that might get under an oblivious driver’s skin who’s just received a ticket for parking in a manner that wouldn’t be an infraction elsewhere in town.

And parking policies are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of defacto unamalgamation in Toronto. One city, many regulations.

Still, the empathetic bone I have for errant, ill-parking drivers is very brittle and far from set. There’s nothing more annoying than the plaintive noise coming from an aggrieved driver who’s just been issued a ticket.“What right do they have to give me a ticket for parking on a public road?! I pay my taxes. It’s my road too. I should be able to park wherever I want.” Yeah well, the flipside of that is who gave you the right to park your monstrosity on my public street? I pay taxes too. I’d much rather see that space being taken up for bikes or wider pedestrian walkways.

In case anyone’s still unclear of the concept, driving is not a right but a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility. One of which is acquainting yourself with the parking rules in place when and where you decide to throw out the anchors. Most are pretty straightforward and when they’re not, well, you puts your money in and takes your chances. As the Secret Handbook shows, there are plenty of opportunities available to the enterprising, scheming freeloader who thinks just because they own a vehicle and some place is paved, it is their right and sacred duty to park there regardless of what any stinkin’ sign says.

idly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Do Not Forsake Us, John Tory

June 3, 2010

Draft John Tory for Mayor?

So asks Royson James in Tuesday’s Toronto Star.

Draft John Tory for Mayor??

Apparently the tongues have been wagging about it for months now in the mouths of “unnamed armchair quarterbacks, radio talk show hosts” (of which John Tory is one) and “political pundits” (of which Royson James is one). “Average citizens and king-makers regularly fill Tory’s ears and stroke his ego by pleading that he run,” so James claims. I’m assuming that the “average citizens” are regular listeners of Tory’s radio show who, once vetted, are allowed on air to plead for Tory to reconsider his decision not to run for mayor. The “king-makers”? Step out from behind that curtain, Royson James. You’re just referring to yourself in the third person again, aren’t you.

In the impolite circles I run in, there’s been very little begging, pleading or praying for John Tory to get into the race and claim his rightful crown. And, as has been stated in the early pages of this site, I was a John Tory supporter back in `03. So there’s no overt hostility toward the man. It’s just that, nothing he did in the political arena subsequent to that instilled in me any fervor to see the man as mayor of Toronto. What have others seen that I’ve missed?

Have the candidates who are running proven to be so underwhelming that we are left to merely clutch at straws in the hope of becoming more excited and energized about the race? Even Mayor Miller who, by the time last summer’s garbage strike finally wound up was thought to be so unelectable that even someone like George Smitherman would defeat him, is now thought of having a good chance of keeping the mayor’s chair if he had another election fight in him. It’s an appealing prospect if for no other reason than to watch both Royson James and Sue Ann Levy’s heads explode, Scanners style, if that were to occur.

Instead of hitching our hopes to ultimately disappointing ain’t-gonna-happen wagons, however, maybe we need to reconsider why voters aren’t rushing en masse to embrace any of the mayoral candidates. Much has been made about the lack of a unifying, invigorating figure from the left of centre since David Miller’s announcement last fall that he would not be running for re-election, and again after Councillor Adam Giambrone’s implosion earlier this year. There’s been a stampede of candidates to the right. Yet, voters remain under-wowed.

Could it be that the problem isn’t so much the messengers as it is with the message itself? After nearly 6 months of campaigning and listening to an unrelenting stream of anti-incumbent, anti-government rhetoric from 5 of the 6 front running candidates, maybe the song just isn’t resonating with a majority of voters. If conservatives are really honest with themselves, they would have to admit that the dilemma they’re facing right now is that Councillor Rob Ford is the one candidate that is saying out loud what they’d all like to be saying: too much taxing, too much spending, too much government. That’s their message coming from the wrong messenger and, to paraphrase Barack Obama, no amount of lipstick on the pig, either with Rossi, Thomson, Mammoliti or Smitherman, can mask it. It seems that regardless of how fed-up everyone insists that the electorate is with the present state of things, not enough of them are willing to chant the conservative mantra.

So how exactly is bringing in another centre-right candidate with a dearth of new ideas going to change that fact? As opposition to the exiting Miller regime begins to soften and his Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone’s campaign begins to find its sea legs, maybe right wing candidates need to realize that the political ground isn’t as fertile for them as they had originally hoped, no matter how hard they plough or the number of farmers there are willing to pitch in and help toil in the field.

hopefully helpfully submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Crazy, Crazy, Crazy

May 31, 2010

Crazy Hazel McCallion, McHellion I’ll call her, as I’m sure no one ever has before, she’s at it again, spouting off nonsensical blatherings. Won’t this woman ever retire? Talk about your career politicians.

At a pre-meeting of big city mayors before this weekend’s gathering at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Mississauga mayor McCallion pooh-poohed a call for a new, more equal partnership between all three levels of governments. According to last Thursday’s Toronto Sun, “…McCallion said a new partnership is not enough — it’s time to open the “can of worms” that is the constitution to give recognition to the important role of cities, enshrining powers and revenue sources needed to keep municipalities viable.” Has grandma finally lost her marbles? Surely she can’t mean opening up the always divisive constitutional process just for the sake of such a trifling matter like municipal powers?

“It really means a look at the constitution, there’s no question about it,” McCallion said.

Now I know there are some who would say that perhaps we should cede a little ground on this issue to someone of McCallion’s… errr… experience. I mean, the woman just might be old enough to actually know the intention of the makers’ of our constitution, going all the way back to the original British North American Act of 1867? Maybe old Hazel has some insider information.

But if there really is “no question” about looking at the constitution why hasn’t anyone else suggested it?

Where's Hazel?

In order to give cities the powers they need to sustain and upgrade infrastructure and build stronger communities, wouldn’t our elected officials in Ottawa and Queen’s Park utilize every means at their disposal to make sure that happens, including looking at the constitution? Surely to god our Prime Minister and Premier, M.P.s and M.P.P.s aren’t so petty and rigid that they would blindly adhere to some document written back during the middle years of Queen Victoria’s reign simply in order to keep power (and revenue) in their grubby little hands while municipalities heave and convulse under the weight of increasing fiscal and human responsibility. That can’t be what McCallion’s suggesting.

And if there really was “no question” about looking at the constitution wouldn’t this be a major topic of debate during our current municipal election campaign? With all the tough talking hombres we’ve got running for mayor in 2010, you’d think at least one of them would be pushing the idea of increasing Toronto’s share of power and revenue through constitutional reform instead of nattering ineffectually at each other and casting highly dubious aspersions upon the present council and the mayor. If Hazel McCallion — who has been mayor of the 6th largest city in Canada for longer than most of Toronto’s mayoral candidates have been old enough to vote — has decided that the only way for cities in this country to continue to grow sustainably and prosper is for a constitutional rejigging, and none of our candidates seem to agree on that or even deign to bring the subject up on the campaign trail, well obviously, Hazel McCallion is talking through her hat on the issue.

Perhaps McCallion needs to take a little time out (nap maybe? Don’t old people need naps in order to keep themselves functioning properly?) and then read Carol Goar’s take on the matter in the Toronto Star. “…local taxpayers have lost their appetite for mayors and councillors who see Canada as a dynamic urban nation,” Goar informs us. “… the debate about building strong, sustainable city-regions has almost petered out,” she continues. You see, Hazel? If the Toronto Star has decided that we should just shut up, sit back and let senior levels of government ignore the needs of the some 80% of Canadians who live in cities, that’s the end of the discussion. We don’t want to hear talk of provincial status for Toronto or the GTA. Or pie-in-the-sky, pipedream calls for constitutional reform in order to put power and actual decision making in the hands of, you know, citizens.

It’s off the table, old lady. Municipalities are the playthings and pawns of our higher ups, regardless of how negligent and detrimental the policies of senior levels of government may be to our lives. You’d think after more than 30 years of being mayor, you’dve cottoned on to that fact.

insanely submitted by Cityslikr


Bald Man Out

May 26, 2010

According to the Toronto Star this past Saturday, the city’s mayoral race has become a 3-way, conveniently split along clear, easy-to-follow ideological lines. Rob Ford on the right, Joe Pantalone on the left and George Smitherman smack dab in the middle. So perfect is the alignment that one might think it was hand made to fit an orderly narrative. Unlike the real world, no nuances here, folks, at the Toronto Star.

How did such clean lines come about? Well, according to the Star, the wheels have come off the Rocco Rossi campaign bus. His whole schtick to date had been the crusading outsider riding into town to clean up the mess created by profligate taxing and spending. Rossi was the right of centre, anti-incumbent populist and he carried some momentum early on.

That is until councillor Rob Ford entered the fray. He wasn’t just simply right of centre. He was a true blue right wing conservative with no Liberal stain on his resumé. Ford was well-known for lavishing attention on his (and other councillors) constituents, promptly returning their phone calls. So, he had the populist angle covered. For disgruntled right wing voters, Rob Ford was the real deal.

This left Rossi with only the anti-incumbent banner to fly. While a potent element in a race where the electorate is restive and believe that things are going to hell in a hand basket, it may not be enough to sustain a nearly 10 month campaign especially if the frontrunner with more name recognition is attempting to sail an identical tack. See: George Smitherman as crusading outsider riding into town to clean up the mess created by profligate taxing and spending.

It hasn’t helped Rossi that his platform so far has been underwhelming. Selling off publicly owned assets isn’t an easy pitch to anyone who remembers or drives the 407 not to mention that it makes absolutely no economic sense to anyone other than ideologues and those on the investment side of the equation. His subway plan doesn’t add up even to those who would like more subways built. The latest 6 point economic initiative to create a quarter million jobs in Toronto that he floated last week seems, as the Star stated, vague.

If elected, Rossi vows to “Work at creating growth across the entire 416-905 region.” Then he’d “Tout Toronto-based bank performance during the recession, building on the city’s reputation as an emerging world financial centre.” Etc., etc., broad generalizations and the use of other very active verbs to give the impression of doing something.

All stance and very little substance. Once you cede the stance to a more qualified or well known poseur, there wasn’t much left for any voter to get behind. Even before the dog days of summer, or at least the official dog days of summer roll around, Rossi finds himself in irons, floundering with no direction and little wind behind him.

At least, that’s how the Toronto Star sees it at the moment. The Rossi campaign is dead in the water, torpedoing not only his own chances but apparently those of the other 22 candidates as well, winnowing it down to a 3 man race. That way, I guess, the Star won’t have to do too much multitasking when it comes to their election coverage. Now if only there was a way for them to figure out how to eliminate Joe Pantalone and get it down to just two contenders. It would make everything that much simpler.

not unhappily but warily submitted by Cityslikr


Smitherman Stumbles

April 12, 2010

There are worse things that can happen to candidates running for office than having their campaign manager quit their post part way through the race. An inability to keep it in their pants and commit tawdry details of the proceedings in a text train with a publicity seeking, vindictive mistress might be one way. Especially if it puts you in the sanctimonious crosshairs of a gotcha journalist like the Toronto Star’s Royson James.

Still, the seriousness of a prematurely departing campaign manager cannot be denied. If it weren’t significant, the exit announcement would not be made at 10 pm on a Friday night when thoughts have already turned to the weekend. A weekend chock full of other attention grabbing items. The end of the NHL regular season. Tiger Woods’s return to the golf circuit. David Simon’s newest contribution to the betterment of television.

Despite the best efforts of the George Smitherman For Mayor team’s attempt to bury the lede, rumours and speculation have been making the rounds regarding Jeff Bangs taking a powder. Talk bubbled up around some animosity existing between Bangs and strategist, Jamie Watt, quickly denied, off course. There’s also been some banter about just too many cooks in the kitchen creating a disjointed, hodgepodge campaign. Or how about this one? As partner at The Pathway Group, a government relations and public affairs firm, Bangs wasn’t prepared for a fulltime commitment this early on in what is a nearly 11 month slog to election day.

Certainly few people are buying the official explanation of Bangs wanting to spend more time with his family. It didn’t seem credible to many ears when Mayor Miller cited it last fall as the reason he would not be seeking a third term and he’d been on the job for 6 years already and was facing another 5 if he won re-election. Bangs was just 3 months or so into a gig that’d be wrapped up well before the end of the year.

Whatever. It appears something ain’t working within the Smitherman team. So much so that it’s thrown the first spanner into the works of what has been, until this point, the anointed front running mayoral campaign. Distant rivals are heartened. Points being scored suggesting that this only proves that Smitherman doesn’t work well with others which is very problematic when it comes to the position of mayor who must forge coalitions to push through their agendas.

That only points out the real crux of the matter from our view. What exactly is the George Smitherman agenda? Three months into the race and we still haven’t the faintest idea why Smitherman wants to be mayor of this city. Now, this is a failing shared by every one of the six leading candidates for the job. That whole vision thing. Nobody’s articulated a clear vision of how they see Toronto growing, prospering and developing under their leadership mantle. To date, it’s been a race from the negative side of the ledger. What they’re going to cut or sell off. Whose asses they’re going to kick. Which David Miller led initiative they’ll scale back on.

More than any of the other candidates (until Rob Ford’s entry into the race), George Smitherman has been all about the bully in the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office, stirring up anti-incumbent fervor. As a campaign strategy, that may work at the provincial or federal levels where races last little than a month. It’s a discordant tune, however, that begins to grate over the course of three seasons. Eventually, even your most diehard supporters want to plug their ears to block out the unpleasant sound.

Maybe this is one of the reasons reactionary, anti-government platforms haven’t been a wholly successful strategy at the municipal level, weighted down as they are by the unbearable mass of negative energy. Whispers have emerged around Jeff Bangs departure about a possible ideological divide within the Smitherman team. It is a group tilted heavy to the right with Mike Harris/provincial Tory flaks including bag man supreme, fundraiser Ralph Lean Q.C. Perhaps whatever centrist-left wing instincts candidate Smitherman still possesses have awoken and are attempting to flex their atrophied muscles, creating some internal strain within the group.

From an actual progressive P.O.V., however, the differences between a Dalton McGuinty Liberal and the neo-con Conservatives are significantly less than the Liberals would like us to think.

No George, if you want to be mayor, you’re going to have to start telling us why. You can bluster and intimidate until the cows come home, re-arrange the deck chairs on the S.S. Smitherman all you want but, ultimately, you have to inspire us. Give us a reason to vote for you and not just against your opponents. Orchestrate an inspiring score and then maybe you’ll have everyone singing from the same songbook.

musically submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part V

March 19, 2010

It’s Friday, folks. Time to Meet A Mayoral Candidate.

This week: Mark Cidade for Mayor!

Right off the bat we like this candidate for 3 reasons, one of which isn’t totally frivolous. That being, Cidade seems to hate cars as much as we do here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. The other two, well, not as important to the health of Toronto certainly, but nothing to sneeze at either. 1) A guy running for mayor has the last name Cidade which is the Portuguese word for town or city. Mayor Cidade. Mayor City. City mayor. It’s tough to deny the appeal of that. 2) Mr. Cidade invited us out for lunch so he could explain in more detail his plans for Toronto if elected mayor in October. To maintain our journalistic integrity (such as it is), we had to decline. Still, he invited us to lunch. Props out for that.

Mr. Cidade is a candidate with a full-to-bursting campaign platform. Scrolling through his Facebook page, he expresses interest in a wide range of topics, from Suicide and Mental Health through to the City’s Economy, Real Estate, Water and even Robots. No stone is left unturned when it comes to the politics of the city.

Yet, so far at least, Mr. Cidade reveals himself to be a candidate more full of questions than answers. In many of the issues he raises, he leaves us with nothing more than musings followed by ???s. How is the transit situation now, do you think? Do we need so many expensive condos, shopping malls, and office buildings? Did you know that some of Toronto’s urban planners are also budding roboticists? I don’t want to see another garbage strike and I want to see Toronto’s streets to be clean again. What do we do? A mayor can’t do it all by themself. That’s why they need a council! Or do they? Toronto’s water is better-tested than anything you buy in a bottle. Of course, the pipes sort of ruin everything. New pipes maybe?

To be fair, Mr. Cidade does counter many of his inquiries with links to articles that talk about the particular matter in question but I’d like to know what the candidate thinks about them. I can read the National Post, Toronto Star or Spacing magazine to see what they think. They aren’t asking for my vote. Mark Cidade is and it’s his answers I want to know.

This leads to a bigger question I have about the Mark Cidade for Mayor candidacy. While his heart is in the right place – he is outraged that homeless people are still dying in the street, thinks more money should be in place to help with mental illness, believes immigration plays a vital role in the development of Toronto – it’s tough to figure out how he as mayor would deal with all these. Mr. Cidade refers to himself as an independent moderate yet he seems dubious of the role municipal government plays in our lives. Police, courts, lawyers, standards and licensing. Who needs them?, Mr. Cidade asks. Do we even NEED property taxes? I don’t want to raise taxes. In fact, I want to LOWER them until there are NO TAXES.

This sounds a lot less moderate and far more libertarian and leaves me to ask Mr. Cidade how we as a city can tend to the less fortunate and newcomers who have arrived looking for a better life without money coming in to pay for it and a human infrastructure in place to oversee it?

Still, his is not the only mayoral campaign in this year’s election to have its aspirations and plans for achieving them out of sync. Despite the uncertainty that underlines candidate Cidade at this point, he holds a very positive view of the city. When asked our empty-headed question that we’re posing to all the hopefuls for mayor, If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Cidade like to see his legacy written?, he answered: The mayor that makes Toronto “The Good” into Toronto “The Great”.

That’s one response that’s hard to argue with.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr