Posts Tagged ‘Toronto’

Toronto Mayoral Debate 04/09/14

September 5, 2014
Toronto Region Board of Trade and The Globe And Mail newspaper sponsored the latest Toronto mayoral candidate debate yesterday. I watched it live on-line.
A bit of context for Canadians not living  in Toronto and those outside Canada:  many of you know of our city in recent years primarily because of Mayor Rob Ford.  His misadventures are well chronicled elsewhere. For immediate purposes know this.  Ford, whose political career would have ended in disgrace months ago in many jurisdictions, remains mayor of Toronto albeit with curtailed powers. He is also a viable candidate for re-election.
As for yesterday’s debate:
John Tory, an experienced broadcaster-business person-politician, did well. It’s as if he’s suddenly on political steroids. Good to see him being energetic and (amazingly) funny.
Lamentably, Ford did well (again.) He has the corporate, right-wing populist thing down to a T-dot. He’s overtly ant-intellectual, aggressive and refers to himself in the 3rd person like a professional athlete. His approach will continue to work with significant numbers of the disaffected and angry. The good news is that he did not flat out win this debate as he had done previously (very evident to those who watched.)
Olivia Chow who gave up a seat in the Canadian parliament to seek election as mayor seems about to make herself an also ran. She thinks being nice will make her mayor. Odd because her late husband Jack Layton, NDP leader and briefly federal opposition leader before his untimely death in 2011, was, among many other things, a tough, but usually fair and rational, political street fighter of the first water. Like Layton, Chow had a previous  career in Toronto municipal politics, the milieu where the couple met and first worked together.
Entrepreneur and former city councillor David Soknacki is smart and well informed but irrelevant.  Someone should tell him acronyms are meaningless to most people.
So…unless Chow throws her support to Tory in the next few weeks, it could shape up to a tight two person race. Team Ford clearly wants and expects a duel with Tory. Who better to slander with their ‘elitist’ tag?
 A poll from earlier this week showing Tory with a substantial lead is one of a kind. If that’s a trend, good. However, most polls that I have seen show Tory leading Ford by 3-5 points – that’s almost a statistical tie.
Scariest ‘take away’ from yesterday’s debate: addiction, homophobia, serial lying and misogyny are not at issue. Only in fordlandia.
It says here Ford can still win because he can out campaign and out bully Tory from here to the finish line.
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Worth Repeating (1)

July 5, 2014

From Marcus Gee, The Globe And Mail, Toronto in regards to Rob Ford and the polity that spawned him:

“Despite everything that has happened over the past year, there have been few examples of open public outrage at the humiliation and turmoil Rob Ford has visited on the city. Where are the marches and demonstrations? Where is the outcry from leaders of the business, the universities or the arts?

A city like New York or Chicago would long ago have found a way to hustle a person such as Mr. Ford off the stage. In Toronto, we sigh and wait for someone to do something.”

Full article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/toronto-could-use-more-shirtless-jogger-brand-outrage/article19438635/

 

 

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.

-30-

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

 

Toronto: Year of the Bully

January 31, 2012

Rob Ford has been mayor of the city I live in for over a year now. It’s an odd experience.  You see I am convinced that Rob Ford doesn’t even like Toronto.

When he’s not insulting his opponents for being “left of Stalin”, Ford simply lets his brother pile on the dirt.  Can you think of another city in North America, in which the mayor’s henchman, in this case, his brother Doug, would gratuitously goad a leading cultural figure such as Margaret Atwood? Wouldn’t a writer of Atwood’s stature be part of the Toronto brand to any sensible mayor?

In recent days, Ford has insisted he’s restricting development of public transit to the building of subways. This in opposition to any credible analysis of Toronto gridlock and even, recently, to the dismay of some of his own followers on city council as well as the head of the Toronto Transit Commission. Some even believe the mayor overstepped his legal authority in signing a death warrant for a long negotiated transit plan that sat on his desk when he assumed power.

As he travels into work from the western edge of the city in Etobicoke in his now famous van, Ford must be blind to the prevailing situation. In his warped perception, the answer to too many cars is… more cars.

Ford knows his constituency: a  largely suburban based pocket of resentments about taxes and elites that’s an approximation of the American ‘Tea Party’. Yes, the city requires better management. It also requires a twenty-first century system of public transit. It also cries out for a political discourse based on more than posturing and bullying.

A lot can be learned about politicians by observing how they address their own. Ford uses The Toronto Sun newspaper and right-leaning talk radio to deliver the raw meat to his true believers. His self congratulatory year end interview to the Sun (Dec. 18, 2011) and the infamous Stalin comparison on AM640 in Toronto are classics of a kind.

Some commentators, like the Star’s Chris Hume, believe that the bully has had his day and that his powers will be circumscribed by council. I’m not so sure. His cringe worthy public weight loss campaign is a publicity master stroke.  And, above all, let’s not forget that this is the city that elected Mr. Ford in late October 2010.

What I do know is when Toronto’s competitors are getting in stride with a human agenda for the twenty-first century, our mayor is determined to go backwards. Ford’s election was an embarrassment to progressives in 2010. He shows no signs of changing his stripes even as he gets leaner.

Rob Ford: The War on Cars?!?!?!?!?!

December 4, 2010

So Toronto’s new Mayor reported to work on December 1, 2010. It was and will remain  a sad day indeed for a wannabe ‘world class’, wannabe NYC North, backward-looking city.

Disturbingly, Ford ran against public transportation; and for cars. He bellowed throughout the campaign that ‘The war on the car is over!’ He repeated that mantra when he assumed office.

Mayor Ford vows that ‘Transit City’, a plan that took close to a decade to negotiate and fund, is also “over”, He claims that under his administration Toronto will build subways, rather than the ‘Light Rail Transit’ (LRT) streetcars favoured by the plan he says he’ll put an ice-pick into. Subways would cost two to three times as much as LRT. It is highly unlikely that there will be the kind of massive subway construction that could substitute for the planned LRT lines. Subways are too expensive.

What a Rob Ford administration probably foretells is more cars and more freeways in Toronto.  To suggest that Toronto ever experienced a “War on cars”, is laughable. Toronto is the hub of southern Ontario which suffers from car addiction economically, aesthetically, environmentally and in terms of public health.

Ford was also elected by campaigning openly against immigration. In Toronto, one of the world’s most multicultural cities, you say? Yes, that’s right.

It gets worse. In victory, a member of his staff slyly all-but-admitted that team Ford had staged calls to a radio phone-in program in hopes of scaring off one potential opponent; and investigative journalists seemed to show how the campaign team had created a false Twitter account to locate and fend off a citizen who had experienced a potentially highly embarrassing encounter with Ford.

In political terms, his victory means that suburban voters and their municipal councilors, largely right-leaning Ford supporters, will significantly determine political life for the minority of voters who live in what most of the rest of the world considers Toronto – its downtown. Downtown areas voted overwhelmingly for Ford’s opponents, but thanks to urban amalgamation, the suburban majority rules. That’s democracy Ontario style. Ford’s victory might foreshadow an American-like economic and cultural hollowing out of downtown Toronto.

Ford ran a sophisticated campaign built on resentment of elites, real and imagined. Good luck to him if he’s serious about rooting out waste and ending the “gravy train” for entrenched interests at City Hall. However, his victory appears to represent nostalgia for a Toronto that ceased to exist 30-40 years ago. His mastery of his opponents in what passed for an electoral contest was astonishing and instructive.  Toronto’s pretense of sophistication has been laid bare by a political campaign that made mockery of environmental concerns, insulted the city’s immigrant tradition and displayed contempt for those who rely on public transportation. World class, eh?

Deer along the Don

July 5, 2010

An update for readers of my Don River musings: I just spotted two deer at a distance of 10 metres along the Don ravine about 20 minutes on foot from the centre of downtown Toronto. Thanks to the Don River reclamation activists for years of tree planting and pushing back rapacious developers and car addicts!

Giambrone – The Real Losers

February 14, 2010

So Adam Giambrone decided to blow himself up before the Toronto mayoralty race even got truly underway. Of course in some jurisdictions (Brazil and France come to mind), Giambrone’s sexual indiscretions would not have been considered the purview of politics. In settler, retro-puritan Toronto, the revelations were killing.

One hopes that Mr. Giambrone, his family and friends can move forward with their lives. What’s left for the voters of Toronto?  That’s actually the bad news.  Giambrone as TTC Commissioner and former New Democratic Party official had a social democratic agenda. Significantly, he believed in public transit, an underfunded service in Toronto which is deteriorating in front of the citizenry’s eyes.

Front runner George Smitherman, last seen as a ministerial acolyte of ‘The Premier Who Most Resembles Norman Bates’, seems determined to show that he can be a tough guy by fancying himself a budget slasher.  With that mindset, the concern here is that Toronto can kiss much needed rapid transit and subway expansion goodbye.  Smitherman was an integral part of a McGuinty government that fell over itself giving taxpayers’ money to automobile manufacturers.  There’s slim chance Ferocious George will change those stripes now. Rocco Rossi, the erstwhile Liberal whiz kid once deemed capable of saving federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff from himself, argues that bike lanes and public transit just get in the way of cars.  That’s just what Toronto needs – more cars on its roads! How’s that for a visionary twenty-first century campaign in a ‘world class city’?  PUH-LEEEZ!!! Of the remaining viable candidates for mayor, only Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone demonstrates an interest in public transportation. Pantalone has served Toronto well. He will never be elected mayor.

I don’t care what Adam Giambrone has in his pants or what he does with it when it’s removed. He’s not a priest, an elementary school teacher or a psychiatrist…he’s just an idiotic politician who self-immolated. And with him burns his agenda.  Sadly, it is a banner that no one with a chance to win next autumn wishes to embrace.

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)