Re-Imagining Toronto

March 4, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

*  *  *countrymousecitymouse2

Last week after wiggling off another over sight hook at the Compliance Audit Committee meeting, Mayor Ford took some time to talk to the media. The Globe and Mail’s Elizabeth Church reported an interesting little tidbit the mayor passed along. “The suburbs, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough,” Mayor Ford said, “these people are obviously right of centre.”

It is a wholly unsurprising view coming from a right of centre politician who doesn’t do nuance. A world that can simply be broken down into two camps, right/left, suburb/downtown. letatcestmoiThe suburbs, c’est moi.

The statement is worth further scrutiny. Certainly the federal Conservatives made inroads onto Toronto’s electoral map last election, winning 8 of the city’s 22 ridings, all of them in the inner suburbs. But their counterparts at Queen’s Park were shut out both in the suburbs and downtown in the provincial election that followed less than half a year later. Twenty-two seats. Zero representation.

So I think it’s more accurate to say that ‘these people’ in the inner suburbs of the former municipalities Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York will vote conservative but it depends entirely on the situation. In the 2010 municipal election, they embraced Rob Ford’s conservatism. In the spring 2011 federal election, they were warm to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. In the fall 2011 provincial election, they gave Tim Hudak’s PCs the cold shoulder.

At the municipal level, while the inner suburbs loved both Mel Lastman and Rob Ford, they weren’t vehemently opposed to David Miller. In the 2003 election, Miller won wards in York, Etobicoke and Scarborough. mayoral2006When he was re-elected in 2006, the only wards he didn’t win in the city were the two in Don Valley West.

Despite Mayor Ford’s hope masking as a claim, there are no hard and fast political divisions in drawn along party lines in the city. Tendencies? Sure. But by their very nature, tendencies tend to be fluid, fluctuating on a case by case basis.

The key to Ford’s election success in 2010 had less to do with uniting Toronto’s conservatives under his banner than it did corralling the former suburban municipalities back into the fold. Four years earlier they had all supported David Miller and the Ford campaign artfully convinced them they were the worse off for it. Out of control spending all directed to the downtown. $12,000 of tax payers’ hard earned money spent on a retirement party for some councillor from downtown. resentmentTime to stop that gravy train, folks.

It was an appeal to geographic tribalism. Suburbanites unite! Put an end to the profligacy the downtown elite have been showering upon themselves for the past seven years.

Look at two of the key members of the mayor’s administration, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Speaker Frances Nunziata. Fiscal conservatives for sure but also the last mayors of their respective cities before amalgamation, Etobicoke and York. These are two politicians steeped in the history of big ticket items like transit, police and emergency services being looked after by a second, city-wide tier of local government. A time also when senior levels of government were not absent on other issues like social housing.

City government for the likes of Doug Holyday and Frances Nunziata was about keeping property taxes low and programs provided on a pay-as-you go model. There was no need for all that spending they then witnessed as amalgamated councillors. What was good for their days in Etobicoke/York/North York/Scaroborough was good enough for the megacity of Toronto.

It is the gasping of the past unwilling to come to terms with the present reality. A city of 2.7 million people does not, cannot be run like cities a fraction of that size. Economies of scale give way to a critical mass. Big city. Big numbers. metropolisandmayberryAttempting to roll those back is not some act of civic heroism but simply a dereliction of duty.

Councillors Holyday and Nunziata, along with the mayor and his brother and a few remaining hardcore loyalists remain convinced the amalgamated city of Toronto can operate in the frugal manner the former inner suburban municipalities did. Notwithstanding the glaring holes in the social fabric this approach brought about – high priority needs neighbourhoods, a lack of public transit, aging, malfunctioning infrastructure – this method of governance threatens the well-being of the entire city now. Rather than moving in a direction that brings issues of mobility and liveability up to higher service levels, the Ford administration is attempting to reduce them the barest of bones.

Conservative or not, I don’t believe that’s what voters signed up for when they backed Rob Ford in 2010. While urban-suburban differences may be many, I think on fundamental questions of fairness (no, subways are not about fairness) and good government, reasonable Torontonians, regardless of political stripe, can agree on the fact the Ford administration is delivering neither. That’s something a majority of this city should be able to unite around.

texaschainsawmassacre

submitted by Cityslikr


On A Need To Know Basis

January 14, 2013

I don’t think it much hyperbole to suggest that budgeting is the most important aspect of governance, especially so at the municipal level. alookatthebudgetIt pretty much determines a city’s quality of life. The number of police and firefighters on the street. The state of good repair for important pieces of infrastructure. How many people will die on the streets in any given year.

The budgets here in Toronto are complex and complicated, no question. It just sort of comes with the territory when the annual operating budget comes in and around $10 billion and the capital at roughly $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of moolah that needs to be found and services that need to be funded adequately.

So it’s curious to me when councillors fail to reach out to their constituents in any meaningful way during the lead up to the council budget debate and vote. Hey, everyone. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s how I’m going to vote. Any questions? Concerns? Opinions as to what you think is and isn’t important?

Running down the list compiled earlier this month by Social Planning Toronto shows that less than half of our councillors organized any sort of budget forum for their constituents although that may’ve changed in the last few days. (We are happy to be corrected and updated to any omissions we make.) publicconsultationsAm I over-reacting to think there’s something wrong and neglectful about that?

By my estimation, some twenty of the councillors I’d expect to vote along the fiscal lines of Mayor Ford (yes, I’m including Councillor Karen Stintz in that group) had no public consultation on the budget process. There were six councillors on the other side of the political fence who didn’t although I’ll give Councillor Joe Mihevc a pass on his ‘maybe’ as he doesn’t seem averse to public consultations. And I’ve thrown Councillor Raymond Cho into the latter category despite having no idea where he’s going to come down on budget votes since seeking the provincial Progressive Conservative nomination in the next election.

Now, I could rush to the ideological conclusion that right wing politicians, once in office, don’t care to fraternize with the hoi polloi. Don’t bug me in between elections, folks. We’ll talk again in 2014.

But I won’t. Let’s just chalk that discrepancy up to the nature of being in power versus not. This is Mayor Ford and his supporters’ budget. They don’t need to consult the public’s opinions or fully inform them because a ‘mandate’ is why. shhhI’m sure the roles were reversed back in the day David Miller was in power.

But what I will note is the urban-suburban, geographic divide.

In Scarborough, only Councillor Chin Lee held a budget town hall. Councillor Gary Crawford was planning on attending one while also offering to meet up with groups at City Hall. Up in North York, 4 councillors either held formal sessions or met in for smaller budget get-togethers. In York, Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette was alone in holding a public meeting. None of the elected representatives in Etobicoke deigned to put together a budget town hall for their constituents.

In fact, in Ward 6, Councillor Mark Grimes declined to attend last week’s community organized budget session. Why? Your guess is as good as mine if you read through a statement he issued.

patronizing“Every year the capital and operating Budget seems to be the most contentious issue we deal with at City Hall,” he said.

“It’s difficult to comment on any one item without looking at its context as part of the whole. I’ve been gathering feedback from around the ward, meeting with city staff and I’m looking forward to the (budget) meeting. There is going to have to be a give and take from all sides of the debate, but I think at the end of the day we’ll find ourselves with a budget everyone can be proud of.”

It seems Councillor Grimes believes the budget’s too ‘contentious’ to be discussed in a public forum outside of a city council meeting. Leave the ‘give and take’ up to the councillors, folks. That’s what they’re elected to do. You can’t possibly expect a councillor to give any sort of budgetary context in just two or three hours, am I right? Next thing you know, people’ll be standing up on chairs and the like.

Meanwhile downtown, in the former cities of Toronto and East York, only the above mentioned Councillor Joe Mihevc and Councillor Paula Fletcher didn’t hold public budget sessions (again, all this is subject to updates and corrections). Setting aside the left-right politics for the moment, it shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice the wildly divergent degrees of engagement based on location. letmefinishThe broad strokes suggest politicians in the core engage with their constituents. Those in the suburbs don’t.

Which leads me to ask one very pertinent question.

When we talk of political alienation as a part of the rise of what we once referred to as Ford Nation – suburbanites being left out of the conversation, neglected, ignored – should we really be pointing the finger at out-of-touch, downtown elitists? Overwhelmingly it seems councillors from the suburbs failed to consult their own constituents on such an integral matter as the budget. Perhaps political disengagement begins much closer to home.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr


Heightened Security. Diminished Awareness.

August 15, 2012

If a politician says that what is needed to deal with a crime problem is more security, more cameras, guards with dogs on patrol 24/7, the next thing that comes out of their mouth should be: I resign. They’ve simply given up looking for actual solutions. Lock `em up and throw away the key. Problem solved.

“Most of the shootings that have happened in my ward have been at Toronto community housing buildings,” said Councillor Frances Nunziata, Ward 11, York South-Weston. “At these problem buildings we need 24-hour security, guards with dogs patrolling the area.”

According to the councillor, security cameras alone don’t help this situation. At least not in the 84% of TCHC buildings that are equipped with some 4300 cameras. So the only solution is to beef up security further.

The only simple solution, that is. Talk of alleviating poverty, providing opportunities that help keep kids out of the reach of gangs, creating less of a bunker mentality at TCHC properties, that’s a little too complicated, too hug-a-thuggish. And it all costs money. Money that could be better used further shoring up an already plenty shored up police budget.

It just makes sense. Step up an approach that hasn’t proven to be overly effective in curbing a particular behaviour in the first place. Like punching a baby in the face to stop it from crying. It’s going to work at some point of time, right?

Not surprisingly, the three councillors advocating this stepped up line of attack are three of Mayor Ford’s closest allies, Vincent Crisanti, Cesar Palacio along with Speaker Nunziata. There was hardly a program, service, tax they weren’t on board with the mayor to cut. A free public nurse to refuse. A Tenant Defence Fund to de-fund. Yet somehow there’s always money (in the banana stand) to increase security measures.

Never mind that there’s really very little evidence that shows that throwing money at a crime problem in the form of more security and policing yields much in the way of positive results. At best, it’s a knee-jerk, crowd-pleasing, stop gap, make-it-look-like-we’re-actually-doing-something display. At worst, it’s this. Something akin to a militarized zone.

What’s particularly galling about Councillor Nunziata’s role in this is that it’s as if she’s some kind of innocent bystander. Like her regular complaints about her ward and her former municipality of York always getting the short straw on things, there’s no community centre, the downtown gets everything and the suburbs get nothing, blah, blah, blah; all this helpless hand-wringing and cloaking herself in the victim hood and cape. Excuse me, councillor. But haven’t you represented the good people of York for, like, 80 years? If memory serves, weren’t you the city’s last mayor before amalgamation? Shouldn’t you be shouldering at least some of the blame for the state of things in your ward? For having nothing but the most simplistic of solutions?

Rather than just clutching at straws and offering up floppy band-aids, just admit you’re in over head and step aside. That’s what someone who was truly concerned with the residents of your ward would do. And take the likes of councillors Crisanti and Palacio with you. There are serious problems that need to be fixed and clearly your tool box is empty.

submitted by Cityslikr


Vast Wasteland Between The Ears

December 14, 2011

Councillor Adam Vaughan goofed up.

In a heated exchange with his council colleague, Doug Ford, during yesterday’s 2012 budget committee meeting, Vaughan referred to Councillor Ford’s Ward 2 as ‘an industrial park’. A little while later, Vaughan clarified that what he’d meant to say was Ward 2 was full of industrial parks and not as populated as many downtown wards. He apologized to those he offended.

But there it was on the morning news, highlighting Toronto’s brittle downtown-suburban divide. Smart alecky, champagne sipping elitist mocking the misunderstood, put upon hardworking, ordinary Joes of Etobicoke. The very broomstick Rob Ford rode into the mayor’s office on.

Now, those of us represented by the likes of Councillor Vaughan and his ilk are patiently awaiting our apology from Councillor Ford.

See, what started the Vaughan-Ford spat was the groundless diatribe Ford launched into about the seeming unfairness of wading pool allocation throughout Toronto. Some downtown wards had more than their share, according to Councillor Ford, proving his belief that suburban tax money had been flowing downtown over the course of the Miller years, building cushy wading pools, community centres, libraries etc., etc., while the suburbs got nothing in return. Zilch. Nada. Zip.

You can shout that from the rooftops as often and loud as you want, councillor, but it doesn’t make it true. As usual, the mayor’s brother was just concocting shit as he spoke, providing no evidence of this allegation and impugning downtowners’ reputations as he went. The rookie councillor may actually believe it himself and misses no opportunity to try and convince others that we more urban types want our socialist programs and nice to haves but don’t want to foot the bill from them. Suburbanites as our sugar daddies. Makes a great story and plays perfectly into the right wing love of their own victimhood.

Some have tried to actually back up this claim with facts and data including Scarborough councillor, Norm Kelly back in 2007. We’ve written about this before (here and here, for example) and yesterday John McGrath dug up the pre-election Toronto Star story about it complete with an easy to read graph. Turns out, things aren’t really that simple. It’s almost a wash, one might say. With residents in different parts of the amalgamated city receiving different amounts of city funding depending on the category. Yes, the former municipalities of Toronto and East York receive more for their libraries than Etobicoke/York, North York and Scarborough while those living in Etobicoke and North York get more money per capita on parks and recreation than elsewhere in the city.

The only conclusion one might come to reading through those stats is that Scarborough seems to be consistently on the short end of the stick of things and residents have plenty of reason to be unhappy or angry. Too bad the mayor they helped elect is doing little to right those wrongs. Any Scarborough councillor supporting Mayor Ford’s agenda should be held accountable for that fact.

What the wading pool battle represents isn’t anything to do with post-amalgamation unfairness or inequality. It’s about urban geography and competing pre-existing political philosophies toward governance. Our ongoing cramming of a round peg into a square whole that is the megacity of Toronto.

As visiting councillors pointed out to Councillor Ford during the brouhaha was that none of the wading pools in the inner core of the old city of Toronto and East York were built during the Miller years. They are a legacy of pre-amalgamation. Owing to various factors, some of which included density, income disparity and a basic consensus to use the tax base to build community infrastructure like wading pools and libraries.

It’s hardly surprising that when Councillor Vaughan lashed out at Ford, he invoked an industrial park. As John McGrath also pointed out yesterday — I really should be paying him for providing me with so much research. A Stiegl, it is. Maybe 2. — during his summer set-to with novelist Margaret Atwood, Councillor Ford noted he had a library in an industrial part of his ward that no one used. He expressed little compunction in shutting it down if it came to it. ‘In a heartbeat’, in fact.

That epitomizes the approach to governing that many in the outer suburbs bring to the table. Low taxes, the very basic of services and anything beyond that, the nice to haves, paid for by user fees. An emphasis on the individual over community, in part perhaps determined by a preponderance of single family homes and reliance on personal vehicles as the choice of transit.

It’s a political view I categorically disagree with but not one I just summarily dismiss. We’re locked in an ideological battle to be sure. I just wish Councillor Ford and his ilk would be honest and upfront about that. Come right out and say it instead of manufacturing scenarios based on conjecture, innuendo and flat out falsehoods, poisoning the possibility of having any meaningful discussion.

So, I’m here, waiting. You know how to contact me, Councillor Ford. It’s your turn to apologize.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


It Couldn’tve Worked Out Any Better

March 24, 2011

If he were alive today, think of what a proud papa Mike Harris would be of the municipal government in Toronto that he sired. Maybe he’s smiling down beatifically from Heaven upon his progeny and all the conservative goodness he helped wrought… Mike Harris is dead, right?

(Sorry. Can never passed up the opportunity to pilfer that bit from Stephen Colbert. A few years back, he joked about something that would have ‘Lou Dobbs rolling over in his grave.’ He then turned to ask his crew, ‘Dobbs is dead, right’?)

I was thinking of this as I read through an article Ben Bergen linked to from 1998. Megacity: Globalization and Governance in Toronto by Graham Todd in Studies in Political Economy. Of the many reasons the Harris Tories rammed through Bill 103 in the face of widespread opposition to it throughout the entire 6 cities facing amalgamation, one was particularly nefarious if highly speculative and largely restricted to the old city of Toronto and the borough of East York. It suggested that the neo-conservative Harris was looking to smother the more liberal downtown tendencies under a stuffed suburban pillow that was more closely aligned to his politics. Such thinking gained a degree of legitimacy when the mayor of North York, Mel Lastman, defeated Barbara Hall, Toronto’s final mayor, in the first election of the new megacity.

Now a third administration in and it’s interesting to note that the mayor and his most trusted advisor, Councillor Doug, are from Etobicoke. The Deputy Mayor is one Doug Holyday, the last mayor of pre-amalgamated Etobicoke. The Council Speaker is Frances Nunziata, the last mayor of pre-amalgamated York. The Executive Committee is made up entirely of suburban councillors save Cesar Palacio whose downtown ward butts up against suburban York. A certain pattern emerges regardless of how intentional.

Of course, if we want to dwell on the damage inflicted upon this city, both downtown and suburban, by the ill-thought out amalgamation, there would be worse examples than those currently at the helm. Not a whole lot worse, mind you. But most definitely worse.

To lay the blame for our current fiscal crisis solely on the profligacy of the Miller administration, to spuriously point to the big budgetary numbers that grew during his 7 years in office as even the moderate councillor, Josh Matlow, did on Newstalk 1010 last Sunday, as proof positive of waste and gravy at City Hall, is to suggest that only what happens in the last two years or so matter. It denies history, really, or at least, your grasp of it. Or it suggests you’re just an ideologue.

The provincial Tory view of the reduction of costs through an increase in efficiency with amalgamation was suspect to many from the very beginning of the exercise. (Enid Slack, current Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance, wrote back in the early days of amalgamation: “It is highly unlikely, however, that the amalgamation will lead to cost savings. On the contrary, it is more likely that costs will increase.”) Most studies since have backed that view up.

In fact, how the Tories went about amalgamating flew in the face of the neo-liberal world view they were espousing. “Flexible forms of governance,” Todd writes, “it is thought, are more consistent with the reality of and necessity for competitive, export-oriented, knowledge-based, whiz-bang approaches to economic development.” So the Harris government replaced 6 smaller municipalities with 1 big, lumbering behemoth and claimed that it would be somehow more efficient? More cost effective? They seemed to have mistaken having fewer local governments for flexibility.

Or maybe they were just using a different definition of the word ‘flexible’. Todd suggests in the paper that unlike previous municipal governance reforms that had intended “…to consolidate the role of local government and the public sector in regulating development…”, the 1998 amalgamation was intended to do just the opposite. It was never about dollars and cents. That was simply a red herring to make the process more palatable. There was still going to be the same number of people demanding the same level of services whether they came from 6 governments or one. At some point of time, economies of scale simply don’t work.

It was all about control of how the city functioned. One government over a wider area was politically more pliable, flexible if you will, and easier to deal with than six. There were more differences of opinions, a wider area of dissension to exploit. Imaginary savings were offered up in exchange for the keys to City Halls. By the time we realized that, what were we going to do, de-amalgamate?

Add to this loss of local control and inevitable rise in costs of running a bigger city, there was that whole downloading/offloading of services onto Ontario municipalities by the provincial government. Cities told to cough up portions “… of provincially mandated social services such as social assistance, public health care, child care, homes for the aged, social housing, disability and drug benefits”. Some, I repeat some, of which have been uploaded back to the provincial government, slowly and on their time line. A $3.3 billion gap according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario estimated back in 2007.

Of course let’s not forget the de-funding of their half of the TTC annual operating budget that the Harris Government undertook and that has never been reassumed by Dalton McGuinty. Call it $200 million/year that Toronto property taxes must come up with. Add to that the hundreds of millions of dollars foregone by Mel Lastman during his property tax freeze during his first term. A brilliant fiscal move copied by our new mayor on his first budget cycle, along with eliminating the vehicle registration tax and any other form of revenue generation the province had given the city with the City of Toronto Act. No, no. We don’t want that on our hands. We didn’t ask for that responsibility.

Instead, we’ll blame the last administration for our financial woes. We’ll blame the lazy unions and other special interest groups that are looking for handouts. The Gravy Train has stopped, haven’t you heard. The time has come to privatize anything that isn’t nailed down. Sell off lucrative assets too if we have to. Maybe even if we don’t. Everything is on the table.

Yeah, it’s hard not to view our new mayor as the inevitable outcome of decisions made nearly 15 years ago. The offspring, the love child of our former premier. Too bad Mr. Harris didn’t live long enough to see the success his political son had become.

condolencely submitted by Cityslikr


One Councillor And One Mayor Are Not Enough

September 28, 2010

Early on at last night’s Ward 19 council debate, it became clear to me that Toronto’s post-amalgamated governance structure is woefully lacking in delivering us the representation we need and deserve. As the questions piled up (both prepared from business and residents association as well as the audience’s more free form stylings), most expressed concerns about purely local issues. The moratorium on restaurants and bars on Ossington Street. Park upkeep and organization at Trinity-Bellwoods. Traffic congestion in Liberty Village and parking at the CNE.

Undoubtedly, some of these have city wide implications concerning matters like density and park management, but it still felt awfully parochial, if I can use that term non-derogatorily. The debate was held in a parish, after all. So why not `parochial’?

Local matters should be the main duty of those seeking a council seat. To look out for the interests of their constituents. Councillors represent the peoples’ voice at City Hall.

But this leaves the city wide view in the hands of the mayor and the mayor only. Councillors sit on various committees that oversee municipal aspects for the entire city like transit, police, planning but they remain councillors first and committee members second. Leaving us with one voice in the face of 44 who must straddle the line between city building and ward defending. Sometimes these two roles not only don’t jibe but are in direct opposition to one another.

Which may explain some of the palpable anger and discontent at the debate last night toward outgoing councillor for ward 19 and mayoral candidate, Joe Pantalone. He was accused by many of non-responsiveness and unilateral decision making. Perhaps this was always the case but I can’t help thinking that as a high ranking official in the Miller administration, Pantalone stopped looking out for the concerns of those who had elected him while he was concentrating on the bigger picture of Toronto as a whole.

A city of this size and diversity cannot be properly represented by one official and a handful of councillors who are secure enough in their ward positions that they can attend to wider city matters. We need another municipal level of government (yes, I said another level of government) whose sole purpose is for the greater good of the city and to coordinate its place within the entire GTA region. A Board of Control, say, elected from the ashes of the former cities of Toronto, York, East York, North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke. Call it, oh I don’t know, Metro Council. But this thing with a mayor and 44 fiefdoms doesn’t really seem to be fully functioning.

It’s a dilemma I’ll be facing when it comes to deciding where to cast my vote for ward 19 councillor. On one hand, there’s Karen Sun. From her, I get a sense of someone looking to contribute to the building of a better city. That’s not to say she won’t stand tall for the people of this ward. She just seems to have a bigger vision. One that goes beyond the Trinity Spadina border.

On the other hand, there’s David Footman. Having just encountered him last night, it would be presumptuous of me to make sweeping generalizations about his campaign but what I saw at the debate (and read from his campaign literature) is a bull terrier in defense of ward 19 and the people living here. Mr. Footman very likely possesses thoughts about the city in its entirety. Upon first impression however, his strengths seemed to be very much local, on the ground.

Toronto voters should not have to make such a choice. Or rather, there should be a second option. To vote for someone like David Footman whose primary job is to look after our neighbourhood needs. And to vote for Karen Sun as our representative for matters encompassing the entire city. Such a system was in place back before we were all one city. Nothing about amalgamation has ameliorated the situation to the point where we don’t require a similar set up again.

undecidedly submitted by Cityslikr


How’d We Become The Enemy?

September 7, 2010

Lying in bed on Labour Day morning, with the CBC’s The Current on the radio — welcome back from your summer vacation, Anna Maria Tremonti! Looking forward to ignoring you once again for most of the 2010/11 season. – listening to former Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP, Janet Ecker, talk about the new wave of Canadian conservative populism. When she referred to the typical adherent of this movement as ‘Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch’, I thought to myself, “Wow! Could she be any more patronizing?” How exactly is it that we’ve become the enemy?

We, of course, being the so-called downtown, intellectual, liberal elite. Or, to put it in Ms. Ecker’s vernacular, ‘Mr. & Dr. 3rd Floor-Deckers’. So far in this municipal election campaign, we have become the target for the ire coming from Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch due to the unflagging support we show to “our” mayor down at “our” City Hall. Apparently, “our” taxes haven’t risen while “our” services have. “Our” free spending councillors have lavished all their attention and money on “our” downtown wards especially for things like “our” bike lanes which squeeze out the cars coming in from the city’s inner suburban ring when everyone there steps off their front porches to drive downtown to work.

None of which is true, of course. It is only pronounced loudly and often. Downtown taxes have increased along with everyone else’s and, from my own, very anecdotal evidence, while services might not have declined over the past few years, I’m certainly paying more for many of them than I did in the pre-amalgamated Toronto.

But here’s the thing. I’m not blaming those who live in the former cities of Etobicoke, York, North York, East York and Scarborough for this turn of events. We’re all in the same boat here on this one, now paying the unexpected costs we were not told about by those who enforced amalgamation on us. Despite some urban experts saying that the economies of scale not always applying to bigger cities, we were sold a bill of goods about lower costs, lower spending, lower taxes in the megacity by the Harris government, consisting of members like Janet Ecker and Rob Ford’s father, Doug Sr., who defied the wishes of his own Etobicoke constituents to not be absorbed into a bigger Toronto and sat on his hands except to vote ‘yes’ on amalgamation.

And now Ecker’s invited onto the radio to explain grassroots anger, using a clearly test marketed term like ‘Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch’?! Or Rob Ford is championed as looking out for these little guys as he campaigns vigorously to be the hatchet man who will carry out the cuts that were inevitable in light of amalgamation and the downloading that accompanied it? (Or, to put it more poetically, doing the dirty work of his beloved late father.) If there’s any resentment I bear towards Mr. & Mrs. Front Porch, it’s the misdirected rage and anger. Do they have reasons to be angry about the way the city’s working? Sure. Just rage against the ones that actually were really responsible for bringing about this turn of events and not the easiest scapegoats being handed over to you on a platter.

I’m not one to ascribe much to conspiracy theories especially on the part of our elected officials. While a proponent of the power of government to do good, I just don’t think they are capable of pulling off grand schemes to hoodwink the population at large. So there was no alien crash landing near Roswell, N.M. or a 2nd gunman on the grassy knoll. Both are too big a secrets to go unsolved for decades.

But I am beginning to think that maybe the Mike Harris government did come close with the amalgamation of Toronto. It was said at the time (and many times since) that along with helping the provincial ledger sheets with a non-neutral revenue neutral swap of services with the city, the biggest boon for the province with their amalgamation sleight of hand was to water down the progressive core with the more Tory friendly inner suburbs. At worst, the city would become ungovernable due to the constant squabbling between the two factions.

Well, kudos to you, Mr. Harris and Ms. Ecker and Mr. Ford Sr.’s son. We have swung from the right to the left and are now threatening to lurch heavily right once more with fingers being pointed in every direction and accusations of mismanagement and corrupt governance thrown around for good measure. Dysfunctional is the label Toronto’s getting and no one benefits more from it than our overlords smiling smugly at Queen’s Park. Yes, it is no longer the Conservatives but as Dalton McGuinty can most definitely attest to, amalgamation is the gift that just keeps giving. At least, to him and all those who rule from that particular roost if not the citizens of the city.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr