Signing Off On Mayor David Miller

November 25, 2010

David Miller’s legacy? Rob Ford.

So conventional wisdom has it as our out going mayor gives way to our incoming one, again glaringly revealing our backward belief in the fallacy of correlation proving causation. (Simply because one thing follows another does not mean the first caused the second, people. How many times do I have to tell you that?)

Listening to Mayor Miller’s interview this morning with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, I couldn’t help thinking that those waiting for His Worship to aurally prostrate himself before them and humbly admit defeat and beg their forgiveness for a job poorly done were going to be sorely pissed off. He did nothing of the sort. And good on him, frankly. Because if you are seriously going to look back over the past 7 years and conclude that this city is in worse shape than when Miller first took the mayor’s office than you are suffering from one of a host of ailments and quite possibly a combination of a few of them. Amnesia. Mental myopia. Congenital stupidity. Blinkered ideology. Factual debasement.

And your pants may even be on fire because you are a big fat liar.

Is that to say that everything the mayor touched turned to gold? Let’s not run aground on the shoals of false dichotomy here. To expect anyone, let alone our elected officials, to perform perfectly is unreasonable and the surest cause of disappointment.

The way Miller lead the charge in sweeping police actions at the G20 meeting in June under the rug was, for me, the low point in his mayoralty. No one truly concerned with civil rights could’ve urged the city to “…put what happened over the weekend behind us…” regardless of how politically expedient. In comparing police behaviour at similar gatherings around the world “…the only conclusion you can come to is that we have a police service that respects peoples’ rights, that acts with incredible professionalism…” Miller said at a post-summit press conference. That obviously wasn’t true when the mayor said it and it’s painfully obvious 5 months later.

Yet it does not make me regret twice voting for him and certainly would not have stopped me from doing it again had he sought another term. Others were not so forgiving. For those writing the history of Mayor David Miller will invariably point to the Toronto Civic Employees Union strike in the summer of 2009 as his undoing, his Waterloo. As the garbage piles grew, his support dropped and when he didn’t crush the unions into oblivion, well, the only conclusion you could come to was that he caved and handed over the keys to the vault to them.

Complete and utter nonsense, of course. Pure bullshit in fact. But no matter. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” as Mark Twain suggested. The unions won. Miller lost. He had to go.

Never mind that in engaging with the union so aggressively, Miller went where no municipal politician dared to go before. Certainly not our previous mayor, Mel Lastman, who never made a peep about such contentious matters as banking sick days when he faced a strike by the same union in 2002. He still couldn’t come to any sort of agreement, needing provincial intervention to end that strike which, arguably, gave much more to the union than Miller did.

This is what should be the hallmark of David Miller’s time as mayor of Toronto. His resolve to wade in and deal with messy matters of governance that had to be faced for this city to progress.

Transit City. Bringing workable public transit to parts of the city that are dying on the vine without it. The mayor rightfully points out that it’s the biggest transit development the city’s had in 3 decades. Why? Forging agreement and the financial resources necessary is not very easy at the municipal level, let alone bringing the other two levels of government into the mix. So previous administrations ignored it or took half-measures to appear as if they were doing something.

Urban renewal. Especially in his 2nd term, Miller took to heart the social/economic divide within the city and endeavoured to initiate steps to address it. Thus the redevelopment of Regent Park and the proposal to do likewise with Lawrence Heights. The Tower Renewal Program to revitalize Toronto’s aging high rises. Targeting 13 priority neighbourhoods – most inherited from the pre-amalgamated inner suburbs that had created them – in order to address issues of poverty, crime and isolation.

Of course, the irony is that these same neighbourhoods and communities Miller had attempted to reach out to soundly rejected his initiatives and voted heavily for the anti-Miller, Rob Ford. As has been written at great length both here and elsewhere, there was a failure to fully sell these accomplishments to those areas most benefiting from them. Actually, it was probably more a failure to beat back all the misinformation about them.

It also suggests that politicians of David Miller’s caliber aren’t a dime a dozen. Without him on the campaign trail, trumpeting his agenda, it withered under the assault from those seeking to undermine it for their own political gains. We somehow expected another David Miller to step from the shadows, displaying similar skills and smarts. Now we should realize he may be the exception not the rule.

The simple fact of the matter is, David Miller didn’t elect Rob Ford. We did. He has nothing to apologize for. He presented us a vision of the kind of city he wanted Toronto to be and, after 7 years, we bailed in a shocking failure of nerve. We chose easy sentiment over hard work, pithy phrases over complicated solutions. David Miller is not responsible for the next 4 years. We are.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Moving On

November 12, 2010

In the lacuna between election day and official start of the new council, I wallow. Fluctuating wildly between boredom (Come on, come on, come on! Let’s get this party started!!) and still lingering disbelief and outrage at what transpired on October 25th, I’m in creative irons. I lash out. I curl up in a fetal position, sucking my thumb. Making no headway.

The funk has not gone unnoticed among my dwindling readership. Normally chastised by one ‘Jerry’ (if that indeed is his real name) for using curse words, we were taken to task a couple days ago for replacing brains with bile and, essentially, crying over spilt milk. “The dirtys [sic] been done [sic] help us clean it up so maybe next time the right decision can/will be made,” ‘Jerry’ opines.

‘Jerry’’s right, of course. What’s been done has been done. Screw it. Deal with it. Move on. The die has been cast. We have to play the hand that’s been dealt us, if you’ll excuse the mixed game metaphor.

How exactly do we proceed with an incoming mayor representing only half of a sharply divided city? Council is very much an unknown with almost a third of it made up of new faces which is a rare high turnover at the municipal level.  In many ways, this should be a very exciting time for Toronto. Old challenges met by new faces.

And yet, and yet… where we are and how we got here doesn’t really bode well for where we are going. As told by Edward Keenan in his piece for Eye magazine 10 days ago, the deep chasm that fully revealed itself on election day goes beyond income disparity or geography. Much of it seems to be based on the perception of reality itself. Those in ‘Ford Country’, mostly the pre-amalgamated non-Toronto cities making up what’s now been called the inner suburbs, think City Hall under the David Miller administration was severely out of touch, spending all its time and money on their precious downtown core while neglecting everyone else and using inner suburb money to do so, further adding to their alienation and disenfranchisement.

That this sentiment is factually incorrect on almost all counts is beyond question. Keenan points out that early on in his tenure Miller embraced the United Ways’ 2004 report, Poverty By Postal Code and set out to deal with the problems it highlighted. “Miller and his allies on council took that report to heart, and many of the city’s centrepiece policies are aimed at addressing the problems it outlines,” Keenan writes. Thus was born Transit City, the Tower Renewal Program and the designation of 13 ‘high priority’ neighbourhoods, almost all of which were located outside of the downtown core of the old city of Toronto.

Despite this, Keenan suggests that many of those who would benefit from these programs were unaware of them. While filled with righteous indignation about plant watering, retirement parties and the proverbial Gravy Train, they somehow missed the memo about all the activity down at City Hall going on to help bring them and their communities into the fold. How did that happen?

Well, here’s where Keenan’s insightful and exhaustive article falls flat on its face frankly. Apparently, all those who voted for Rob Ford were simply “…not part of the conversation about urban policy. They’re working to pay the bills, take care of their families, get ahead and enjoy their lives…” As if everyone who didn’t cast their ballot for Ford (the downtown elite, let’s call us) were doing nothing more than hanging out between attending council meetings, eating bonbons and sipping lattes, hiding the information from outsider prying eyes. One of the most shocking omissions in Keenan’s piece was any talk about the role of the mainstream media in the dissemination of misinformation. Voters could reel off the litany of Rob Ford bumper sticker chants but remained in the dark about what was really going on at City Hall? That’s somehow “our” fault rather than the likes of Sue-Ann Levy or John Oakley?

But, I put my elitist heart on my sleeve.

In case you’re thinking, oh no, there he goes, railing about past events, what’s over and done with, I think it’s very pertinent to how we go forward from here. If the new mayor and some of the council have been elected on faulty premises or outright distortion of facts, where does that leave us in opposing them and trying to defeat their worst intentions? Do we surrender to their unreality? Since we were viewed as snobs and out-of-touch downtowners during their campaign whenever we expressed contemptuous doubt for their candidates’ misguided and ill-informed ideas, how will that change now that he’s in charge?

“Maybe if a few more downtown elitists spent some time in Ford Country,” Keenan figures (but not the other way around with Ford Country residents shedding their ignorance about us elites), “we could start a conversation about bringing about the ‘united Toronto’ Ford proposed the night he was elected.” OK, Mr. Keenan. We get to know our Ford neighbours, hang out at their place for a backyard bbq. Start up a conversation over our ribs and Coors Lite.  So… we’re going to finally stop that Gravy Train, eh?

Where does the conversation go from there? I don’t ask rhetorically because I really want to know. The answer will determine how the next four years plays out.

exhortingly submitted by Cityslikr


Science and the City

November 10, 2010

Sitting, hanging out with my 1 geeky, egg-head science acquaintance who also serves as an official nerd football pool advisor with his fancy-schmancy algorithmic predictive powers (he got me on the ground floor of the Cowboys-certainly-aren’t-going-to-the-Super-Bowl-this-year), he reaches into the tattered plastic bag he uses to carry his belongings and hands me a magazine. Yeah, I know. What’s with the plastic bag? You’d think with all conferences these science folk attend and the canvas sack swag that’s tossed around at such gatherings, there’d be no shortage of non-plastic tote bags. But these scientific types, they think differently from normal people.

The magazine handed to me is Nature, one of the preeminent science publications going. Its October 21st issue is labeled: Science and the City/How cities nurture research – and how research can sustain them. Huh, I think. How does he know this is something that might interest me? I like to keep our relationship on a purely professional level. He tells me what teams to pick and I pick them. Clean. To the point. Uncomplicated. What other information about me lies, lurking, waiting to pop up from behind those thick, horn-rimmed glasses of his? Somehow, this friendly gesture on his part has now become creepy and full of suspect intentions.

But I’ll leave that to sort out away from public scrutiny. What you should know is that, according to Nature, the scientific community has decided that cities, and the studying of them, is becoming increasingly important not only for the cities themselves or the scientific community but for the sake of humanity and the fate of the planet. Why? Well, because of the numbers. More than 50% of the earth’s population now lives in cities. That’s up from only 29% just two generations ago. 40 years from now, the estimates have it somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70% urban population. Cities around the globe are growing at a rate of 1 million people per week!

Problems, of course, arise with such growth, much of it unplanned and uncontrolled, not the least of which is climate change. Cities already account for more than 70% of “the energy-related carbon dioxide emissions”. But as Jeb Brugmann writes in Welcome to the Urban Revolution people don’t come to the cities because of the problems. They come because of the opportunities. And opportunities grow along with a city’s population. Personal opportunities as well as those that can help fix the problems we face. If cities have become the largest contributors to climate change, they are also on the forefront of the solutions, darting ahead of provinces, states and countries who are hamstrung by a toxic combination of disinterest, self-interest and mistrust.

I could hardly do justice in trying to fully explain all the information that Nature’s 9 or so articles and editorials presented, suffice to say that it all got me thinking about what we as a city went and did a couple Mondays ago. While great thinkers in a multitude of studies have turned their attentions to the well-being of cities and how to plan, design and build them in a sustainable, livable and equitable way, the good people of Toronto have decided to turn their backs on all that. With a new mayor waiting in the wings, I wonder about the fate of the Tower Renewal Program. Lawrence Heights redevelopment. Transit City.

We, as a city, seemed poised to take a step back from any sort of forward thinking at a time when we can least afford it. As an urban agenda gains more traction throughout the world, Toronto now is without one unless you count filling potholes and fixing streetlights and customer service as an agenda. If you do, you suffer from a severe lack of imagination as well as nerve.

I will refrain from pointing fingers and casting aspersions at those who felt justified enough in their anger toward the outgoing administration to vote for Rob Ford. It probably felt really good. Enjoy it while it lasts. The pleasure of vindictive voting is fleeting and I’m guessing about 20% of you will be very sorry very quickly for what you did. The change you’ll see probably won’t be the change you thought you voted for.

No, my beef is with all those opinion makers and editorial writers who should’ve known better. Those whose job it is, those with the time if not inclination to see above the fray and to have a wider scope of what was at stake, what the city really needed to be focusing on, and who didn’t do it. Instead, you took the easy route and pandered to personality and campaign tactics. You went for the simplest to follow narrative and in the process, revealed your contempt and disdain for this city.

So if you ever wrote or said something out loud for other people to hear or read suggesting that Rob Ford would be a good mayor or would be what Toronto needed right now, maybe during the course of the next 4 years, you can do us all a big fat favour and just be quiet. Maybe what you need to do is take some time, look around and see what’s happening in other cities around the world, cities that are responsibly facing future challenges, cities prepared to be global players. Do some homework. Read Nature. Whatever. Just shut the fuck up and let the people who really care about Toronto go about their business of making it a better place to live and not just somewhere you report about.

pleadingly submitted by Cityslikr


Will Rob Ford Rule As He Ran?

November 8, 2010

So the Mayor Rob Ford era is off to a colourful start, let’s call it. Amidst all the news reports filled with the ‘dirty tricks’ his team employed, we’ve also learned that our mayor-elect is now deep in debt; the fiscally responsible candidate turning out not to be all that fiscally responsible when it came to campaign spending. Except perhaps when it came to paying minimum wage for some of the campaign workers. “I wanted young kids because I could pay them nothing and they would do what I told them to,” said Nick Kouvalis, Ford’s campaign manager. “I paid them $500 a week and I wanted 60 or 70 hours a week out of them.”

One could almost shrug it off as nothing more than the understandable triumphalist crowing from a guy who masterminded one of the most improbable election victories in recent memory. Basking in the publicity of last Friday’s Public Affairs Association of Canada gathering of campaign managers and city bigwigs, who could blame Mr. Kouvalis for indulging himself in a little boastful chest-beating? In political circles, he’s clearly arrived and his services would now be in high demand. Polish up that resumé and move on to the next electoral fight.

The thing is, Kouvalis is sticking around town to become Ford’s chief of staff. So were we being offered a preview of how the new administration will operate? Deceitful. Dishonest. Divisive. Possibly acceptable when it comes to running a campaign (possibly) but regrettable and destructive in terms of running a city. Especially a city that appears to be as divided between its inner suburbs and downtown core as Toronto is presently.

Little so far emanating from the Ford camp suggests that it’s a divide they’re looking to heal or mend. When Kouvalis veered off into policy between tactical discussions at PAAC, one of the things he suggested he’d like to do away with is the Tower Renewal Program. Without getting into the details, it’s an initiative that “combine[s] green technology with neighbourhood revitalization projects to make stronger, greener communities across the city.” Hoping to eventually include all the 1000+ residential apartment building in Toronto, 4 pilot sites started in September, 3 of which are located deep in Ford Country.

If his chief of staff is to be believed (a stretch based on the kind of campaign he ran), Mayor-elect Rob Ford doesn’t care for neighbourhood revitalization even in the areas of town who voted for him. Combine this with the fact that he wants to kill Transit City and replace it with subways that’ll reach far fewer riders outside the core and it’s difficult to reconcile Rob Ford as a mayor who represents the anger and dislocation felt by his suburban constituents. It seems as if the split wrought by amalgamation is one that our new mayor wants to exploit for his own political success and survival. Otherwise, he would’ve sent Nick Kouvalis on his way with a handshake and briefcase full of cash after the election and brought in someone more conciliatory to oversee the running of his administration at City Hall.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr