Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Ontario Provincial Election 2014

June 13, 2014

This election provides further proof that campaigns matter. It was lost by the New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservatives more than it was won by Premier Kathleen Wynne. Wynne’s Liberals had been been in power for 11 years. The government she inherited from former premier Dalton McGuinty was tainted by serial scandals.

Andrea Horwath of the NDP and humiliated, now outgoing PC Tim Hudak join the likes of British Columbia’s Adrian Dix and Québec’s Pauline Marois in the annals of Canadian PoliSci101 under the rubric ‘how not to wage a provincial election campaign.’

Says here that Ms. Horwath was correct to defeat the Liberals in the legislature. She then proceeded to conduct a thick-headed campaign. For example, her NDP once had some environmental credibility. Promising to reduce car insurance rates for urban drivers in the era of climate change? Good social democratic and environmental policy, Ms. Horwath!

Further, like the governing Grits and the diminished Tories, Horwath’s NDP stands for a separate, publicly funded, Catholic school system in Ontario. For the NDP, a self-described social democratic movement aimed at equitable use of taxpayers’ money, this is an aching policy contradiction. In Ontario politics, the silence around this issue, resolved long ago in some Canadian jurisdictions, is deafening. Former provincial PC leader John Tory (now a Toronto mayoral candidate) once proposed an ill-conceived, but much fairer arrangement. It cost him an election. No ‘major party’ leader has gone near the matter since. In this election, among significant parties only the Greens stood for a secular school system.

Other ‘takeaways’:

1. slightly more than 50% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. That’s grim news. As an educator, I observed scant awareness and interest in the election among the college and university students I teach. Troubling.

2. I agree with those who are suggesting that Ontarians deserves a pat on the back for not making Premier Wynne’s sexual orientation an issue. Kudos.

3. As a bilingual Ontarian, I suggest that the lack of French in the campaign, in a province with a sizeable Francophone population, was lamentable. Neither Horwath nor Hudak bothered to say a word en français as they bowed out last night. Wynne’s efforts to use French, even though she speaks it poorly, are commendable. Keep it up, Ms. Wynne. One day you might speak it as well as Stephen Harper!

4. Speaking of Prime Minister Harper. Last night’s result could be good news for him. Like neighbouring Québécois, Ontarians often choose balance in provincial – federal power. As Ontario’s debt and de-industrializing realities continue to take hold in the next year or so, Wynne’s government could well make some unpopular choices. That might just provide an opportunity for Harper’s Tories in the 2015 federal election.

Thinking of Rob Ford

November 28, 2013

As Rob Ford careers along his disastrous course, people the world over ask themselves, ‘What the heck is going on in Toronto?’ How could a city touted as a global model of good sense, safe streets and multiculturalism elect an unsavory buffoon like Ford as mayor? As a citizen of Toronto for most of my life, I shall attempt to respond.

First an etymological note: a few days after the events of November 18th, by which time Ford’s powers and budget had been seriously contained by city council, I dare say the coast is clearing somewhat. BRAVO, city council! Consequently, I have personally chosen to restore to the city its proper name , Toronto. ‘otnorot’ – which I’ve employed for the last year or so as the Ford catastrophe gathered momentum was chosen to suggest the backward state of our politics. I hereby set it aside. Hopefully, for good.

A wee summary of events for international readers. Ford, a long-serving city councilperson, was elected mayor in 2010. He replaced the outgoing mayor by campaigning on a tax cutting, pro-automobile campaign. His rule has been controversial all the while due to his strong views and belligerence. He withstood a conflict of interest civil suit. In May 2013, a video was shown to some members of the media that seemed to show Ford smoking crack cocaine. He denied the allegation. In recent weeks, Toronto police acknowledged the video’s existence and revealed they had been investigating Ford’s ties to criminals. Within days, Ford admitted to smoking the crack and drunk driving. He instantly became an international news phenomenon. He refuses to resign, but Toronto city council has severely limited his authority.

The gong show that provided fodder to comics and, found its way to international newscasts and late night American talk shows has abated for now. However, the positive developments of the past week do not mean that Ford is gone. I’m somewhat disturbed that the mayor’s antics provided comic relief. There’s nothing funny about Ford’s record on public transportation and affordable housing. The fact appears to be that his core supporters are sticking with him even though city council, including the majority of his principal allies, have deserted him. He adamantly refuses to step aside, even temporarily. It would appear that unless he is charged with a criminal offence or his health fails, he will be running for re-election in October 2014. More disturbingly, polls released in recent days suggest that he retains significant popular approval. Huh? Yes, you read correctly. Rob Ford, now exposed as a serial liar, having admitted to smoking crack cocaine and driving a car under the influence of alcohol while in office, retains an approval rating of just over 40 per cent.

How do we make sense of this? Jerôme Lussier with l’actualité, a French language Canadian magazine, has argued that Ford presents a particular sort of political attraction. (http://bit.ly/1e95Doo) Rather than offering voters a vision of something bigger and better than themselves, Ford’s very appeal is based in his loutish, inarticulate, ill-disciplined, taunting, uncivil manner. His political essence perhaps encourages voters to subconsciously feel that their own weaknesses and their own anger at shadowy elites are OK. His banality appeals.

Ford taps a resentment of elites even though he personally is privileged. People don’t want to believe that strong man politics works, but obviously it can. In his bumptious way, Ford exhibits some of the bullying, resilient characteristics of right-wing populism that produces a Berlusconi or even Mussolini during his rise to power. Such politicians can muster enormous support and devotion among their followers. Ford is a Toronto mutation of the theme. In his 2010 campaign, Ford made false claims about the level of immigration in Toronto. He was caught in lies about previous problems with alcohol and marijuana and about a public confrontation at a professional hockey game. He won the election.

The mystery of his appeal may also lie in some other unpleasant truths about Toronto. Ford reflects powerful sentiments of anti-environmentalism. While teaching at the University of Toronto, the great cultural theorist and scholar Northrop Frye wrote about ‘a garrison mentality’ at work in the collective Canadian psyche. I suspect that the impulse remains operational in Toronto and can provide for political success. In that 2010 election, Ford campaigned overtly against the expansion of effective public transportation and improving conditions for bicyclists.

In fact, Ford’s overt campaign against above-ground public transportation is one reason for the support he continues to enjoy. Toronto is a city of car addicts. The use of public transportation is a marker of class distinction in a way it no longer is in London, Paris or New York. Even avowed environmentalists routinely use cars in the downtown area. Ford and his ilk stoke the perception that public transportation is for the poor. The message is simple: if you’re a winner, you drive a fossil fuel burning car. In this respect, Ford’s signature shiny black Cadillac Escalade sports utility vehicle means he’s not so much an exception as an exemplar of deeply held civic mores and economic ambitions.

Unlike Copenhagen or Montréal, Toronto is distinctly unfriendly to the bicyclist despite enjoying favourable weather for about eight months of the year. There is precisely one street in the downtown core with a safe dedicated bike lane. Like the solitary wind turbine just west of downtown, that lonely bike lane bears testimony to a city where environmentalism is often more marketing tool and political rhetoric than a lived experience. In that light, it’s not surprising that Rob Ford found fertile ground for his mayoral ambitions.

In addition to dismissing bicyclists as losers, Ford also made political hay in opposing a fully funded proposal for light rail transit (LRT) to Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto, in favour of a subway. The plan that Ford quashed would have seen that LRT already under construction with a proposed completion date of 2015. The new subway plan that he championed will not be completed until at least 2023, at a much greater cost and requiring a municipal tax hike. Yet, Ford is lauded by himself and his supporters a champion of the taxpayer’s best interest. Tellingly, Ford did not act alone in this subway fiasco. Council helped him reverse earlier plans. The same Liberal provincial government that now has taken its distance from Ford over his personal misbehaviour cynically supported his subway plan in order to win a by-election in the area. In 2013 in Toronto politics, that kind of thinking that says that  ‘roads are for cars and trucks’ is a winning strategy – with or without Ford.

First time visitors to the city who are  flying in from abroad are often surprised to learn there is no rail link between the airport and the city. As they enter the downtown area via limousine or taxi along a crumbling elevated expressway, they will pass by, to these eyes,  a rapidly expanding, hideous array of steel and glass condos and office towers that crowd the shore of Lake Ontario cutting the lake from sight of average Toronto citizens. Such developments are precisely the visible signs of supposed economic progress that fuel the politics of a Rob Ford. Garrison mentality indeed.

There is much to like about Toronto. We enjoy relative multicultural harmony. The arts scene is exciting. Our streets are extraordinarily safe and peaceful by global standards. Unlike some American cities, Toronto has many fine, diverse neighbourhoods in the downtown area. This was true before Ford’s 2010 election and remains so. What has been lost due to Ford? Meaningful progress on public transportation has been severely curtailed. A tone of civility and intelligence has been tarnished as a bullying, antagonistic style of leadership found a path to political success.

There’s no question that Ford is weakened…at least for now. Even the governing federal Canadian Tories have cut bait. Employment Minister Jason Kenney, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most trusted colleagues and an architect of the Conservatives’ successful wooing of voters in immigrant communities in the Toronto suburbs, asked Ford to resign. In his remarks en français, Kenney called the Ford situation “bordélique” which means extremely slovenly and inappropriate, but translates literally as ‘like a bordello’. A few days earlier, Harper had released a statement that called the Ford matter “troubling”.

Ford recently told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that he had experienced a ‘Jesus moment’ and that voters would be presented with a new man in time for his 2014 campaign for re-election. The potential redemption of Rob Ford will focus the challenge of the true meaning and real appeal of his politics. From my vantage point, the outcome is very uncertain.

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This article was originally published in The Journal of Wild Culture http://www.wildculture.com/article/understanding-rob-ford-political-animal/1332

 

Canadian election: The Igster & Steve Take Over

April 3, 2011

One week down and just over four to go in Canada’s federal election.  Some quick thoughts: while the ‘mainstream media’ expresses universal surprise and admiration at The Igster’s start out of the blocks, nothing has really changed in the polls.  Steve’s Conservatives are still perched at a near majority with a small increase in their 144 seats predicted. Monsieur Layton, leader of Canada’s kinda democratic socialists, on the other hand, may have reason to worry.  One must concede that The Igster and his team have made some inroads in framing the election, in ‘English Canada’, as a choice between the Grits and Steve’s hellcats.

Meanwhile, le suave Gilles is on cruise control in Quebec.  Barring a Grit breakthrough, the BQ will win 50+ seats on May 2. The Quebec independence movement is dead you say?  Just couple that result with a likely PQ victory over the decaying Jean Charest in Quebec’s next provincial election. Then, we’ll talk.

If you ever wondered just how dead environmentalism actually is in Canada witness the lack of collective moral outrage over the exclusion of Elizabeth May from the planned leaders’ debate. The Greens are officially a political non-entity on the federal scene. If they ever win a seat, we’ll talk.

Finally, regarding the debate: that will be The Igster’s one real chance.  Basically, all he needs to do is stand there and not drool in order to belie the Tories’ devastatingly brilliant caricature. If, in addition, the Harvard prof turns Pierre Trudeau for 90 minutes or so in both English and French – that is, an intellectual Canadians can stomach and admire, he could catch lightning in a bottle.  Very slim odds, but a possibility.

Failing the above, Canadian political junkies will spend the night of May 2 counting to 155.

Toronto’s public transportation fare hike

January 16, 2010

All you really need to know about our society’s actual commitment to the environment is contained in two recent measures:

1. It now costs $3.00 for a single fare on the Toronto Transit Commission. That would be $121 a month for a pass.  Such prices make public transportation almost an elite service. In Mexico City, it costs about $0.25CDN to ride a subway that is vastly superior and much cleaner than Toronto’s.

2. The “Liberal” government of the premier who looks like Norman Bates recommends fiddling car insurance rates to lower some premiums.  As ever, dear Dalton is privileging the car industry and automobile drivers over others.

Public transportation is prohibitively expensive, but you might get a break if you buy a car. As the world learned in Copenhagen, Ontario and Canada are not environmentally responsible jurisdictions.

Walking the Don: April-September 2009

September 13, 2009

When in Toronto, I’ve been out walking along the Don River before 8am 3-4 times a week since May. I’ll keep doing so until the snow flies. When conditions permit in winter I’ll return on cross country skis. Here are some photos which I’ll continue to update. Enjoy!

North of Gerrard - May

North of Gerrard - May

Beaver at work!

Beaver at work!

Under Bloor-Danforth ramp

Under Bloor-Danforth ramp

More wildlife.

More wildlife.

North of Gerrard - August

North of Gerrard - August

Free the Don River

September 7, 2009

Toronto has a river through it: the Don. Today it ends ingloriously in concrete via an underground channel below an expressway just north of its natural destination at Lake Ontario. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century boaters, fishers and families on picnics would stroll by a river that was flowing and full of fish, including salmon which would travel the Don seasonally. In the 1950s, Torontonians decided the Don’s path would be the site for a 6 lane freeway, the Don Valley Parkway. To the south near the edge of Lake Ontario the hideous Gardiner Expressway bars the Don and effectively blocks the citizens of Toronto from Lake Ontario.

Don River at its end.

Don River at its end.

As in many North American cities in the age of automobile tyranny, the construction of these freeways was truly the darkness before the dawn. The Don River was almost killed in the process.

In the past twenty years or so, citizens and governments have planted thousands of trees and pollution into the Don has been abated. There is still a great deal of work to do. The proliferation of grotesque condominiums near the Toronto shoreline in the name of ‘harbourfront renewal’ means it will be difficult to clear the Don’s path to Lake Ontario. All the same. it should be done.

Don @Gerrard

Don River at Gerrard Street, Toronto

Toronto likes to think of itself as a ‘world class city. That’s a pathetic conceit. No city of such stature can afford to wall itself off from its primary natural asset as Toronto has done with Lake Ontario, one of North America’s Great Lakes. Rivers like the Don that flow into Lake Ontario must be part of the equation as living centres of greenery and recreation. Anyone from Toronto who has traveled to Chicago in recent years and seen its waterfront might be shocked to see a city that actually embraces its location on Lake Michigan. The continuing recovery of the Don River and the arresting of further plans to devastate Lake Ontario’s Toronto shoreline might suggest a change of heart in what the Canadian cultural theorist Northrop Frye called the “garrison mentality” that Canadians, even the wannabe sophisticates of Toronto, often demonstrate.

(photos by James Cullingham)