Diminshed Expectations Are Contagious

March 18, 2011

I have come to terms with the fact that our 4 dailies, most of the mainstream media actually, take a dimmer view of government than I do. For I continue to believe that our elected representatives act only as badly, goodly, cravenly, bravely, miserly or magnanimously as we allow them. Their faults are our faults. Their successes ours. At the end of the (election) day, governments remain accountable to the people and to the people only.

Yeah. I do actually believe that.

So most political coverage from our newspapers that comes across my desk I read with a mixture of anger, dismay, incredulity, angrier, disbelief, confusion, angrierer. (But not you, Christopher Hume.) It’s not that I simply disagree with much of what’s written. That’s a given. I just find it discouraging to think of the influence the discourse has on our political atmosphere. A disheartened atmosphere of No Can Do-ism and diminished expectations. Ask not what your government can do for you because it can do diddly squat.

So it was as I read Chris Selley’s piece in the National Post a couple days back, Let’s get diesel trains to airport on track Mr. Selley may have a tepid point with his analysis of the diesel vs. electric debate. Let’s take whatever we can to get a rail link between downtown and Pearson. Finally. It’s long, long, very long overdue. But isn’t it this grudging acceptance, this settling for something less, this sense of diminished expectations that has got us into our current transit mess in the first place?

Had the newly minted Harris government not experienced a failure of nerve or a failure to take the long view or just been less… oh, I’m so tempted to drop the c-bomb and add an ‘ish’ here but I’ll restrain myself… back in 1995, we’d already have a subway running along Eglinton Avenue. Fast forward 13 years, Premier McGuinty wavering in the face of a recession induced deficit and scaling back plans on funding Transit City, itself something of a We-Don’t-Have-The-Density/Money-To-Build-Subways compromise. The result? More delays and opening the door wide to the new mayor’s ridiculously under-thought out Sheppard subway plan that, whatever the outcome, only means even further delays for Toronto.

What happened to the time when our politicians marshalled an uncertain public to embrace the great unknown for the greater good? Like JFK sending Americans to the moon. I’m sure a very solid dollars and cents case was made why that wouldn’t be a good idea. Or (and I hesitate to go here, fearing that I may just be invoking Godwin’s Law which I only recently learned about from @jm_mcrath) back in 1939, imagine western governments worrying about the costs, both human and financial, of going to war with the Nazis? You know, the timing’s really bad. Winter’s coming. We’re still a little behind the 8 ball with this Great Depression-y thing…

Oh, right. We now have leaders marshalling an uncertain public to embrace bad causes for the lesser good. Like say going to war in Iraq. Deregulation. The debasement of government itself.

The strange thing is, we watch as the private sector nose dives into a near death spiral through mismanagement, criminality and irrational swings in triumphant certainty to baseless fear, only to be picked up, dusted off and sent back along their way with billions of dollars of government cash, yet still we lionize these titans of industry for their daring-do, spirit of adventure and risk taking in the face of daunting odds. Our politicians? Not so much. Just deliver the services we demand, don’t take too much money from us and try and keep quiet over there.

While no transit expert, I think the case for electrifying the rail link from downtown to Pearson is a slam dunk. Yes, the upfront costs are more but the general feeling is we will recoup that money through lower operational costs down the line. Electrification would allow more flexibility in terms of the numbers of stops along the way. There’s that whole concept of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. I know some of our electricity is coal generated but it is more flexible to future energy innovations (although there’s another front where our politicians are easily swayed away from green energy by dubious arguments). Diesel is diesel and electric trains simply make public transit a joy.

Mr. Selley does his argument a great disservice by blithely pointing out that the diesel trains Metrolinx has contracted to buy are convertible to electric as if it’ll be as easy as that. Slap up some wires, attach a couple of those rod thingies to the trains and we’ll be good to go. It’ll be a little more burdensome than that and, if history can be used as an example, the cost will be much higher in the long run than if we just electrified it now. (And while we’re in critical mode with this. Please, Chris. “If I worked downtown and was flying to London, I’d much sooner change in Montreal, or even Newark, than brave Pearson.” Seriously? A connecting flight rather than making your way to Pearson for a direct one? A little over the top, wouldn’t you say?)

But that seems to be what we do these days, make questionable claims to back up our demand for less bold measures from our governments. Bold measures are inherently risky, unpredictable and oftentimes don’t immediately pay off. It takes some courage to step up and see them through. If our politicians aren’t capable of such conviction, maybe it’s because we aren’t either.

boldly submitted by Cityslikr


Compare And Contrast

October 14, 2010

As Toronto’s mayoral race is being forcibly shoehorned into an ill-fitting two man race, leaving anyone who usually sits happily left of centre with the distasteful choice between worse, worser or simply making a defiant gesture, the time has come to turn our attentions more fully to the council races. To protect the city’s progressive spirit from the nasty onslaught of a His Honour SmitherFord™®© (FordMan®™©?), a council needs to be in place that will resist the worst impulses of such a short-sighted, small thinking regime. Barring some wacky turn of events between now and October 25th, no one is going to assume the mayoralty with a sweeping mandate. So a strong, purposeful council needs to be in place.

We here in Ward 19 (Joe Pantalone’s former stronghold) have already endorsed Karen Sun as our councillor of choice. But a post in yesterday’s Torontoist caught our attention as it featured our particular council race. It interviewed the three perceived front runners and the thoughts and opinions expressed by two of them struck us as typifying the stark divisions at work in the city at the moment. Whoever prevails will go a long way to determining the direction Toronto takes over the next few years.

Karen Sun versus Sean McCormick.

A quick look at their respective backgrounds and experience reflects an important distinction between the two. Sun has worked with the city as part of its Urban Forestry Services and Water and Wastewater Division. She’s the Toronto chapter executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council and serves on the boards of several extra-governmental community organizations, including Heritage Toronto. McCormick is a media personality who founded the annual summer Queen West Musicfest.

Karen Sun has made a career of active civic engagement with the community. Sean McCormick has a single resume padder. I know throughout this campaign we’ve heard much antagonism toward “career politicians” but it’s safe to assume which one of these candidates will hit the ground running if elected.

Sun and McCormick’s responses to the questions posed by Torontoist also reveal a large gap in knowledge about the issues at work in Ward 19. Simple-minded, misguided ideology informs one while an open, informed, flexible approach is the basis of the other.

When asked about development in Liberty Village, McCormick is generally in favour of it but “…concedes that developers require a certain amount of oversight.” He then focuses on one issue, the pedestrian bridge that is in the works, as if that alone will solve the problems and concerns of increasing density in the area. Like the mayoral candidate he’s fashioning his campaign after, McCormick offers little in the form of insightful ideas that he would bring to the table as councillor.

Same question asked of Karen Sun? “I think there will be more pressure to build denser, and to build towers. And I think that’s fine,” she said. “But if we are going to be building up, I think we need to go to some of those other cities and see how they build tower communities well.”

“Because right now [Toronto is] zoning them as mixed-use, and then building twenty, thirty-storey towers with a Rabba and a Blockbuster on the first floor, and calling that mixed-use. When you’re putting another thousand residents into an area that used to be zoned as employment lands and the only employment opportunities are retail at a couple of stores, I mean, that’s not a community, right?”

On that response alone it’s clear who the more qualified candidate is but it continues for 6 more questions, all of which reveal Mr. McCormick to be as unfit for elected office as Rob Ford is. The Ossington bar/restaurant moratorium? Sun isn’t in favour of it but largely due to the lack of public consultation that was involved. She believes much of the business-resident friction could be alleviated by proper enforcement of current noise by-laws and that the city should work with the province in changing the liquor law licensing to make explicit distinctions between bars and restaurants. Moratorium bad, development good, according to McCormick. He then proceeds to paint the scene on Ossington in its pre-hip days as a hotbed of criminality that suggests he spent more time watching Law & Order at home on TV than he did in the vicinity. And really, Sean? “Ne’er-do-wells”? How old are you anyway? 90?

How about transit expansion? Sun wants to proceed with Transit City because it’s this first massive transit plan for Toronto in decades that has all 3 levels of government on board. McCormick? Subways please and then he goes on to applaud former candidate, Rocco Rossi’s largely discredited plans for selling city assets to finance them. Same theme for the idea of electrification of the Georgetown corridor and Union-Pearson airport link. Sun yes, McCormick no, as it’ll place too much burden on the tax payer, as increased expense automatically translates into increased taxes in Sean’s world. This, despite the fact that, an electrified Georgetown corridor would be highly beneficial to residents of Liberty Village not only environmentally but electric train technology would allow for a stop near the Village which diesel wouldn’t. But, no matter to likes of Sean McCormick and his empty posturing as Angry Taxpayer Man.

While the die may, may, be cast for our disagreeable choice of mayor, we can counteract that by diligently keeping the likes of Sean McCormick out of City Hall. If a healthy majority of Toronto wards elect councillors as intelligent, well-versed and hardworking as Karen Sun, the situation will not be nearly as dire. We can endure a SmitherFord/FordMan®™© as our mayor if we surround them with a council consisting of the likes Karen Sun.

positively submitted by Cityslikr