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


It’s A Tim Hortons Thing. You Wouldn’t Understand.

September 22, 2010

Watching the 5th of 6 CP24 mayoral debates last night, Tweeting my impressions of the proceedings, I noted a certain lack of rigour, let’s call it, from the Ford supporters who were being asked to weigh in on location from a café in Scarborough. It was all bite size chunks of grievance and protest about the shenanigans going on at City Hall that might as well have come directly from the mouth of Rob Ford. In fact, I’m sure it has. Relentlessly and unwaveringly since he joined the campaign.

One person in particular drew my ire, rambling from talking point to talking point and somehow equating the cost of riding the TTC to Adam Giambrone’s taxi receipts he submitted while conducting his dirty personal business. “Enough with the illogically ill-informed,” I demanded. We get enough of that from the candidates running for office. Or words to that effect.

To which I received this response from someone going by the moniker of RegulusdeLeo: “@cityslikr Disgusted by the vulgar Tim Horton drinking voters?”

Ahh, yes. When asked to elevate the discourse with a little bit of reason and rationality, class warfare and resentment is unsheathed. Us haughty downtown elitists, looking down our noses at those who have to scrape together the pennies needed to buy themselves a medium double-double at Timmies while we fling $9 at the baristas at Starbucks for our skinny, veni, vedi, vici chai lattes. We have no idea about the problems they face, the anger they feel because we’re lapping it up on the Gravy Train.

Now you should know, @RegulusdeLeo is a rabid pro-Ford entity from Vaughan who fancies him/herself a speaker of “Truth to (Liberal) Power”. RegulusdeLeo clogs the Twitter-sphere with spam-like empty sloganeering. More like chants, really, championing the simple-minded Rob Ford doctrine of anti-government/anti-taxes. In between these bouts of cheerleading, @RegulusdeLeo tosses out the odd bit of cultural divisiveness such as, “Prefers READING the Quran to burning it. Of course I use a nice strip of crispy bacon as a bookmark!”

Yet, such a defender of the faith as @RegulusdeLeo, when asked to elaborate on and explain in more detail those political views resorts to, what I think patrons of Tim Hortons who love their hockey fights call, ‘turtling’. Covering up, hurling baseless invective, while waiting for their opponents to either tire of the confrontation or for the referee to step in and come to their rescue. You can’t engage in a discussion with those who don’t want to engage.

Which is the problem when confronting the beast that is the Rob Ford phenomenon. If you disagree it isn’t because you see flaws in their candidate’s ideas and platforms. You’re an out-of-touch elitist, unable to understand the struggles of the average Joes. Eye Weekly editor, Edward Keenan, pointed out an interesting comment to the story he wrote last week about a Rob Ford mayoralty. …You do not represent what those that work and pay tax want, he was castigated by a reader. As if those who haven’t embraced Rob Ford don’t work, don’t pay taxes.

We are all just dirty hippies, living down here in the core, sucking from the teat of big, bad government, dancing naked around the maypole and having immoral, unprotected sex with each other. Living high off the hog and mocking those who pay our way. What do we understand about working for a living, struggling to pay our bills, raising children?

It is a societal breach, manufactured at the behest of self-interested privilege and manned by those unwilling to put the effort into truly understanding the intricacies of governance. An elite that transcends geography or coffee shop chains and made up of those refusing to move beyond willful ignorance. You’re not the downtrodden, my friends. You’re the hearts and minds that make real change impossible and keep us locked into an ill-fitting assembly that benefits far fewer of us than we are capable of.

unapologetically submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate XXII

July 23, 2010

It’s Friday. Time for another Meet A—Oh, pick me! Pick me! Can I do it?! Can I?? Huh? Huh? Huh?

Oh, I’ve been waiting for this one. It has my name written all over it. (Urban Sophisticat in case you can’t read the fine print.) This is the post I was born to write.

Up today: David Vallance!

But first, a history lesson, crudely told. (No, don’t worry, mother. There won’t be any curse words. Probably.) When Quebec voters want their voices to be heard and their views known in Ottawa and throughout the country, who do they turn to? The Bloc Quebecois and their provincial counterparts, the Parti Quebecois, non? On nous entendra, oui? Otherwise, we will pull up stakes from this thing we call confederation and go it alone, buckos. (How’s that for distilling over 400 years of history in a single paragraph?)

Now, that’s not to diminish the integrity of the separatist movement in la belle province as little more than political posturing. But for all its fidelity to the cause of an independent country, it also swings some mighty effective pipe in the corridors of power.

And couldn’t we here in Toronto use a little bit of that around about now?

We’re told, not asked, that we’ll be hosting the G20 meeting in the downtown core of the city. We’re told, not asked, to fund a slew of provincially mandated programs, without receiving adequate funding from the province. We’re told to expect x-billions of dollars for expanded transit funding only to have a serious chunk of it arbitrarily pulled from the table because someone else has run their coffers dry (having stocked it in the first place with much of our money). Sorry, chums. A bit strapped right now. I’ll get you next time.

The front running candidates for mayor belt out a familiar refrain about the city needing to get its fiscal house in order, and cease going to senior levels of government with cap in hand. Candidate David Vallance has another, more intriguing idea. A province of Toronto. Try that on for size. Walk around in it for a bit. See how it fits your curvy sensibilities.

The Province of Toronto?! What the hell are you talking about? That’s just crazy talk. Who is this insane David Vallance? Maybe he should take that tinfoil hat of his off.

Actually, Mr. Vallance is a former life insurance agent who, since 1979 has been part of a wide array of resident and ratepayers associations. He formed the Bloor-Annex Business Improvement Area (BIA) in 1996 and served on the board member of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA). In 1997, Mr. Vallance chaired Taxpayers Against Megacity.

Versed as he is in business, he puts forward a business argument for why the city of Toronto should be a province. While Mr. Vallance has combed through the GTA’s FIRs (Financial Information Returns) to arrive at his conclusion, let me offer up the simplest reason: more money is extracted from Toronto by the senior levels of government then is returned in services by them. It was a point Joe Pantalone tried to make at this week’s CP24 mayoral debate but was shouted down by the other contenders who clearly didn’t want to talk about it. Why not? Well, it goes against the prevailing, anti-incumbent narrative that they’re trying to spin. Spending is out of control at City Hall. We have to rein it in. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut!!

David Vallance doesn’t buy it. “Our spending problem is beyond our control,” he says. “For municipal services we are not out of line with most other municipalities and much of the spending reflects Toronto’s demographics.” i.e. a larger influx of immigrants and the related costs of settling them. In other words, the mayoral campaign of 2010 is being fought under false premises, driven by misdirection, lies and outright bullshit. (Sorry ma.)

Mr. Vallance sees a province of Toronto taking “… the boundaries of the former Metropolitan Toronto, an area of 630 square kilometres. The province would consist of the six municipalities that made up Metropolitan Toronto prior to amalgamation: the borough of East York and the cities of Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, Toronto and York.” We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke might take it one step further, inviting any of the GTA region that wanted to join forces. While much enmity can be summoned up toward Toronto from its exburb neighbours, I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to say that, ultimately, places like Mississauga, Pickering and Vaughan (you’re welcome, btw, for that subway stop that’s coming your way) share much more in common with the central core than they do with, say, Kapuskasing. Vallance wouldn’t go down that road but, hey, we’re not going to agree on everything. Even just encompassing 416 would make a province of Toronto the fifth most populous in the country.

A province of Toronto would elect a provincial government just like we do currently in Ontario, with a similar party system. The megacity would then be broken down back into more workable pieces, not necessarily a bad thing as all those benefits of size have failed to materialize. If in place now, Mayor David Miller would probably be running for a third term while Etobicoke would have that ‘crazy’ mayor Rob Ford. Instead of negotiating with a Queen’s Park full of outsiders, there’d be a province who understands the unique needs of the city because they actually live here. On matters of federal jurisdiction, Toronto would deal directly with Ottawa without having to go through and be dictated by an entity called Ontario.

Certainly there are those like retiring PC MPP Bill Murdoch (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) who would not only hold the door open for Toronto to leave but would help pack our bags, so he and his people would be free to cull all the animals they wanted without any interference from us. If he can imagine an Ontario without Toronto, why can’t we picture a Toronto outside of Ontario? It’s easy if you try. Let’s at least have that debate. It’s time to welcome David Vallance to the table in order for his views to be heard.

patriotically civically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Germanically Speaking

March 9, 2010

Zwischenstadt. One of those malleable German word/phrases that can be both laser-like in its specificity and so hopelessly ambiguous as to be utterly meaningless when translated into English. Like gestalt. Or fahrvergnügen.

Coined by German architect and urban planner Thomas Sieverts, zwischenstadt originally referred to the newer outlying sections of European cities that were built around the old historic centres, largely after the Second World War. The places where urban and rural meet; the ‘sprawl’ on the margins of a city. Adopted and then adapted for a wider non-European meaning, zwischenstadt came to mean the Edge City to Joel Garreau and a Technoburb for Robert Fishman. Ed Soja’s zwischenstadt was Exopolis.

For our purposes here, let us think of zwischenstadt as what is called an ‘in-between city’. These are the largely residential post-war suburbs that sprung up around the inner downtown core of Toronto and once were on the edges where urban met rural but are now sandwiched between the downtown core and the newer, more prosperous suburbs that make up the 905 region. Places like Scarborough and North York that, to borrow a phrase from Julie-Anne Boudreau, Roger Keil and Douglas Young in their book Changing Toronto, operate “in the shadows of Toronto’s glamour zones…”

What’s that? Markham, Pickering and Vaughan? Glamourous?! Yes 416ers, for a good many people, you are not the only game in town as much as that may bruise your collective egos. The in-between city possesses neither the allure of downtown gentrification nor the shiny newness of big houses on big lots in the exurbs.

While both the outer ring and inner core of what is now termed the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have generally flourished overall during the era of globalization and neoliberal economic policy rule, large sections of the in-between city have fared less well. We now talk of the frayed suburbs and their high priority neighbourhoods that are underprovided with both resources and organization. These are the parts of the city hit hardest when the economy nosedives and the last to reap any benefits that trickle down when times are good. When talk turns to the in-between city, it usually involves crime (Summer of the Gun) or economic insecurity.

A school of urban thought believes that the in-between city suffers from the consequences of our adherence to “… the myth of the ideal compact city…” as Boudreau, Keil and Young refer to it in their book. The suburbs seen as mere satellites of the central core, providing space and more affordable living to those who serviced the needs of downtown. Now with the phenomenal growth of the regions even further on the periphery, the in-between city is neither here nor there. It just is. Its needs and issues, as usual, subservient to those of the core or lost in the tug of war between powerful 416 interests and those in the 905.

Certainly the inner-ring suburbs are receiving little attention so far in the municipal election campaign. The battle lines have been drawn between the wealthier enclaves of midtown Toronto, Etobicoke and North York versus those living between St. Clair and the lake. In the increasingly vigorous move to the right by the leading candidates for mayor and their calls for cuts and freezes at City Hall, the needs of the in-between city like public transit and affordable housing are, in fact, coming under threat.

Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi has touted his City Builders Fund where he would direct 50% of additional fees that the city receives whenever a development goes beyond existing zoning laws into community projects in high priority neighbourhoods through the Toronto Community Foundation. This is fine as far as it goes but it is simply more of the same approach; public financing dependant on private money and will. It’s highly discretionary and often times a one shot deal that undercuts the notion of an overall plan. There’s no vision.

Without vision, Toronto will continue to stumble along with the increasingly familiar widening gap between the haves and have-nots. There will be those living in the city and those who live in the in-between city. Such an imbalance can only adversely affect our ability to contribute to the region’s growth as a vital economic and social centre. Moreover, by giving into the fiscal pressures of naked self-interest, we are undermining the system as a whole and threaten the very, as I think the Germans might say, gestalt of our city.

Teutonically submitted by Acaphlegmic