Tag Archives: Toronto

Mayor Ford…Sigh


This is what it has come to. Toronto citizens are in the throes of what amounts to the 5 Stages of Grief, where Mayor Rob Ford is concerned.

Stage one: Denial.

Yes, in the beginning, although the signs of trouble appeared early, many supporters continued to, well, support their vote for the Gravy Train conductor—not unlike the handful of Americans who believed invading Iraq was the right thing to do, until it became evident there were no WMD’s, that the whole thing was a ruse perpetrated by the highest level of government. It didn’t take long for Mr. Ford and his henchmen to find out there is little or no gravy flooding the corridors of City Hall. Remember his campaign mantra: “There will be no cuts to services!”

Stage two: Anger.

Now we have thousands of workers under the chopping block; TTC fares are rising while services are reduced; Car Revenue Tax (a source of income) eliminated and bicycle lanes removed (at taxpayers’ expense); library services reduced; arts funding reduced; the city’s poorest citizens evicted from public housing so it can be sold; waterfront development torpedoed (remember the giant Ferris Wheel?). Property tax increase imminent. You get the idea. But at last, the masses are mobilizing, showing up for City Hall meetings to voice their concerns. Open warfare between the Brothers Ford and Toronto’s most priceless asset, Dame Margaret Atwood. A handful of sensible council members finally popping their heads out of the trench and daring to openly challenge the mayor and his cronies on some of their more outrageous maneuvers.  The police department, which was promised an increase in ranks, openly defies the mayor’s demand for a ten-percent reduction in budget (i.e.: layoffs).

Stage three: Bargaining.

The unions are sending up flares. Toronto can expect disruptions in many areas in the coming year, thanks to Mr. Ford’s bully tactics. Waterfront Toronto is attempting to save its marriage with the city, because it has already invested so much time and money in the project, and because it remains the best option for the lakefront development (sorry, Robbie, no Ferris Wheel for you and your little brother). Library management is taking control of how cuts will be made in its own department, despite the Ford plan, which was to simply shut most of them down altogether. Just to name a few.

Welcome to stage four: Depression.

No longer shocked or outraged by the mayor’s imbecilic words and actions, all we can do is sigh. We feel powerless. An election is still several years away, unless some plucky lawyer steps forward with a strategy to impeach the Mayor. Come on, Bay Street, if a few of you can come out in support of some rag-tag “Occupy” protesters who didn’t even have an issue to fight for, the least you can do is save your own city from this bloated Nero, before he burns the place to the ground. I know most of you live on Mississauga Road, but you work downtown, and you will soon be paying road tolls to get your Jag into the underground lot, unless you do something soon.

Stage five: Acceptance.

We haven’t got there, yet, but we will. Like the battered wife, we will eventually be beaten into submission. And make no mistake, the appearance of Acceptance will be entirely superficial, a defense mechanism, the only way to cope, to keep the rod from once again coming down on our heads.

Stage six: vote.

Please.

 

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The Long Haul


Today is the day opposition MP Olivia Chow introduces to parliament the issue of side guards for trucks on Canadian streets. Most sensible citizens, whether a part of pro-bicycle lobbies or not, will agree that such guards will improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and may in fact save lives. The side guards cannot prevent a truck from colliding with anyone or anything, but they can prevent those people or things from falling beneath the truck’s wheels. This can only be seen as a positive thing.

The current government has already pooh-poohed the proposal, a decision supported by Transport Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, citing lack of significant evidence the side guards will save lives. They propose instead to increase the number of bike lanes, and develop education campaigns—presumably for cyclists, not motorists.

Both sides, to some degree, have a point. Yes, side guards can improve safety. But at an average installation cost of $800 per truck, there is virtually no chance this legislation will pass. Ever. During the second Great Depression, the last thing the government is going to do is force truck drivers and trucking companies to shell out that sort of cash for what they perceive as a “specialty” problem that has not been proven “empirically.” It’s a contentious topic at the moment because a pregnant mother was recently cut down on the streets of Toronto by a truck that didn’t see her until it was too late. There is little doubt a side guard could have saved the woman’s life. The issue becomes all the more sensitive in the face of such a tragic loss.

In the midst of our grief, let’s not forget the current mayor of Toronto is actively removing bicycle lanes from city streets, because he is a “car guy” who resents the presence of bicycles on his roads. If the mayor were a different sort of man, perhaps a new bike lane might have saved that woman’s life. Perhaps, just perhaps, even a bicycle safety campaign might have made a difference, even though, by all accounts, this woman was a safe and experienced city-street cyclist. What if Toronto took a page from Montreal and banned righthand turns on red lights? There are any number of ways the streets could be made safer.

My point is this: some things are good for the “show,” will get you some press, if that’s what you’re after. Pursuing legislation to force trucks to install side guards is a showy waste of time and energy, because it is doomed from start to finish. Politicos and lobbyists need to pick battles that they have a chance of winning. Why not introduce a bill forcing manufacturers to install side guards in all new trucks coming off the assembly line? It worked for seat belts and daytime running lights. The onus of safety goes to the manufacturer, who can hardly afford to deny the safety benefit—at least not publicly. It may take years, but it could happen.

In the end, we have to realize there is no way to make roads one hundred percent safe for everyone. Accidents will happen, some due to human error, others to engineering or infrastructure shortcomings. All we can do is be as careful as possible (I’m talking to you, too, taxi drivers and bicycle couriers!), and seek plausible, realistic changes. It serves nobody to expel a lot of steamy rhetoric, when it’s simply going to disperse harmlessly into the ozone. As I said earlier: pick battles you can win.

And remember to get out and vote at election time. Toronto is learning the hard way what it means to elect an angry buffoon to office. The next cyclist to get creamed on Jarvis Street might have grounds to sue the current mayor for spending tax dollars to remove brand new bike lanes from that busy road, thus endangering life and limb. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Drive safe, people.


Mayor(s) Ford: Prodigal Son(s) ?


The original parable describes a younger of two sons who demands his inheritance early, then goes to Vegas and blows the lot on hookers and booze. Broke and desperate, he returns home, head hung low, having practiced his “speech of contrition” along the way. But Dad doesn’t give him the chance to perform his apology, and instead kisses his neck and slaughters the fattest calf in celebration of his son’s return. The lesson to be learned from this parable is not for the younger but the older son, who is upset by his brother’s guile and avarice. The moral of the story is about forgiveness and compassion.

Hmm…maybe it’s not quite the right fit for the Fords. Let’s abandon parable for proverb: Spare the rod, spoil the child. A paraphrase from the biblical source. It seems clear, by the Brothers Ford’s actions in city hall, that they are accustomed to getting their own way, without penalty or price. To some degree, he (I’ll switch to the singular, since there is, in theory, only one mayor) has taken a page or two from Stephen Harper’s book: Ruling for Dummies, Federal Edition—another leader who is happy to flout rules, laws and procedure when they don’t suit his purpose. Don’t like something? Get rid of it. Never mind that there is meant to be debate, discussion, persuasion…and then a vote. Sure, transparency is all nice and well when you are campaigning, but it sure gets in the way when you are trying to actually get something done. Democracy is a charming little idea, but it only really works when the other voters agree with you. The only recourse is the secret back-room meeting and the surprise announcement.

Of course Ford doesn’t like the current waterfront plan. It wasn’t his idea. And besides, who doesn’t like ferris wheels? Sure, it’s been done before, but think of the thrill! Forget parks, they just take up space and don’t generate a single tax dollar. Who the hell doesn’t like malls? Jiminy! Doug and me practically grew up in the mall! And the Seven-Eleven. If only we can get The Brass Rail to relocate, by golly we’d really have a world class destination. Pass the mustard, bro.

Once upon a time, the spoiled boy had a tantrum because he got angel food cake for his birthday instead of chocolate. Flat on his back, legs kicking the air above, eye squinted shut until the offense has been removed and replaced. Don’t make me hold my breath, Mother! Brand new Mustang for his sixteenth birthday. Surely, Mother, you don’t expect me to drive a blue car?

Okay, okay. It doesn’t entirely ring true. Rob Ford would never use the word “surely” unless he was addressing the housekeeper. Still, all the signs are there. No rod has touched Rob Ford. Not as a child, not ever. His bubble of privilege has left him entirely unscathed. He is no doubt baffled by all the current hullabaloo over his performance. Geez, Mom, why are the plebs picking on me? And he will continue to be baffled until he has become unelected, after which he will be available for the annual family reunion at the cottage, far far away from Pride Week and “the gays.” And it will be a different sort of pride he will feel, as he speeds up and down Jarvis St., sans bike lanes, in his Hummer, chatting on the phone with his beloved Mère, giving innocent families the finger with impunity, since he will no longer be a public figure. (There’s never a cop when you need one.)

Frankly, I’d slaughter the fattest calf to see that day come sooner.

 


Bus-ted!


In a city already reeling from the Bush-esque buffoonery of its mayor(s), Toronto cannot be surprised by the latest headline from the TTC, in which it proposes a fare hike, job cuts and longer wait times. Oh, and they also propose to leave behind 1,800 dialysis patients, who currently rely on Wheel-Trans to get them around. The reason: these users do not have mobility devices. I guess the bus doesn’t count as a mobility device, and in any case, they will no longer have the bus, because the TTC wants to take it away from them, ostensibly because they use it too much—presumably to get to and from the hospital, so they can receive their dialysis treatment.

Ah, TTC…the better way. Unless you are a cripple. Or poor. Or TTC management. Yes, it’s the managers who will take the brunt of the proposed layoffs. This might seem like a good idea on the surface, since most large organizations are top-heavy. But, while axing a few managers will save some money in salaries, it’s the unionized worker who costs the transit the most in the long run, due to a very long list of expensive benefits, paid out over the years—benefits the managers do not receive. And with a collective agreement under their belts (aka: gravy), it’s nearly impossible to get rid of unionized workers, so it’s just easier to show the managers the door. One can assume that once the front offices are vacated, there will be no one to take your complaint about your bus driver, whom you photographed as he was texting, whilst speeding down Steeles Avenue. Oh well. That’s another story, down the road.

As for a fare hike, that subject has been covered sufficiently, both here and elsewhere, that it need not consume any more of our energy. But it harkens back to a broader subject that bears repeating: public transit should be subsidized by local and provincial governments. Yes, it should be lean and efficient. If the TTC feels it can eject nearly 300 managers and not suffer too much, there is indeed room for improvement. But when its number-one priority is to make a profit (or at least break even, or not carry a deficit), costs will always go up and service will always slide. That’s just the balance of nature. A subsidized transit will earn those governments back money in other related areas, such as road maintenance and healthcare, to name two.

Yes, of course the TTC should try to be financially responsible, but not at the expense of the service it is meant to provide. In order to satisfy Mr. Ford’s mandate, it feels it is okay to screw passengers for more cash, edging out even more of the marginal riders, reduce services by making riders wait longer for the bus, and specifically exclude a desperate and handicapped segment of the population. Perhaps those dialysis patients can get a ride to the hospital in Rob Ford’s Hummer. Apparently he is accessible by phone, even while behind the wheel.


Ford Abomi-Nation


Something odd is happening at The Globe and Mail.

Toronto’s “Ford Nation” has been a hot topic in the media outlets, lately, as the new chrome trim begins to fall off mayor Rob Ford’s landslide election victory. Rust is already frizzing up the edges, there’s a slow leak in a tire, and the Check Engine light now refuses to extinguish.

As many GTA voters wake up to their monumental mistake of voting for Mr. Ford, the papers have been quick to detail the problems: The hard-won Jarvis St. bike lanes, which cost the city tens of thousands of dollars to install, will now be removed, at similar cost, simply because Mayor Ford hates bicycles. How’s that for gravy train? Mr. Ford gave a mother and child the finger after they caught him breaking the law, driving whilst talking on his cell phone. How’s that for respect for Toronto’s citizens? He and his web-footed brother Doug are keen to close all or most of the “ly-baries” because neither man can read; and they’ve committed the mortal sin of insulting one of Canada’s brightest stars on the global stage, Margaret Atwood, in the process—not because she is a writer, and therefore an alien, to their way of thinking, but because she undertook her civil right and spoke out publicly about a municipal issue she felt strongly about. How’s that for democracy? And now, Mr. Ford is thickening his own gravy pot, hobnobbing with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, paving the way for a federal Minister-ship portfolio (presumably not Culture), once his term in local office ends. How’s that for insider trading?

And in the midst of this maelstrom appears an article, written by Siri Agrell, a 2100 word tome featuring headings such as, “Service above Self” and “Trailblazing customer service.”

What the…?

Is Siri Agrell a real person, or is the name an anagram for one of the myriad lackeys who populate the mayor’s office (no gravy there, baby!), a front-office ghostwriter putting a little spin on all the negative press the boss had gotten lately? It’s the only explanation.

What is the gist of the article? You get a clue from the two headings above. It’s a feel-good piece, approximately three times too long, describing in tedious detail how the mayor’s office door, and telephone line, is always open. Yes, Mr. Ford will call you back, although he won’t listen to you, but will instead repeat his rehearsed answer several times, until you hang up in frustration. Or, one of his lackeys will forward your call to another department. Fair enough, but who cares? The article assures us that Rob Ford bases many of his decisions on this sort of contact with honest, simple Toronto folks—re: “taxpayers.” Not true. His hillbilly prejudices were born and bred in the Etobicoke backwater. He runs ideas past his brother, before making the wrong decision. All in the family.

And all these telephone monkeys are not “gravy” because, as one of them explains, “Other offices might not want to hear their problems. Or you can’t actually get a real person on the phone.” In other words, the mayor has to increase his staff because he can’t get city departments to answer their phones, and those departments don’t answer their phones because they don’t like to get complaints.

Um…Is it too late to buy a Chevy?

So, thank you, G&M, for breaking the tedium of municipal scandals and outrages with this heartwarming tale of kindness and honesty. All we need is an orphan and a lost dog, and we’ll have Disney on line two.

After this, I’ll never see Mayor Ford the same way again. Excuse me while I go wash my hands…

 


“I Did Not Have Sexual Relations with that Hoagie”


Now that Toronto voters have awoken from their dream and realized the horror of their well-meaning if misguided actions, there is only one solution:

Impeach Rob Ford.

There must be a way. If there is a legal process to do so, it should be enacted without delay, before the “swirl” turns into “glug, glug, glug,” before the Ford administration takes Toronto to lows not enjoyed since 1970’s Detroit. I’m pretty sure there are more lawyers in Toronto than libraries, so perhaps two or three of them can take up the challenge and save this city before it’s too late.

If there is no legal precedent to impeach a mayor, make one. There has to be a first time for everything. If enough voices shout, they will be heard.

Never mind “Margaret Atwood for Mayor.” She’s busy showing the world that art means something to many people, current mayor & family notwithstanding. She’d be wasted on local politics. But perhaps we could introduce a standardized test for future mayoral candidates, something akin to provincial EQAO tests. (Here is a link; as you read, simply change the phrase “education quality” to “leadership quality.” http://www.eqao.com/AboutEQAO/AboutEQAO.aspx?Lang=E) Any potential mayor should at least know who Ms. Atwood is, and be able to pick her out of a police line-up.

And just a quick note to Mr. Ford: It should have occurred to you by now that the reason you are finding it so hard to balance the budget is because it is simply not possible to do it in one fell swoop. 800 mill is a lot. And it just might take two, or even three years to balance the budget. It serves no purpose to amputate the leg to save the little toe. Better you do nothing, like David Miller, than perform this unnecessary and dangerous surgery.

Mayor Ford does not care about Torontonians. How do I know? A little “birdie” told me so.

 


Pass the Gravy


I know where Toronto Mayor Ford is coming from. I, too, was a fairly poor student, back in the day. “Has potential,” said my teachers, unanimously, “but he doesn’t pay attention in class.” Like me, little Robbie Ford spent his school years at the back of the class, scraping gum off the bottom of his Adidas while the girls and the nerds were solving for x.

Listening is a skill that requires practice. And it’s a difficult skill to pick up forty years on, once you’ve been elected to office.

For example, a while back, the new mayor couldn’t decide—or perhaps couldn’t remember—if he preferred streetcars to subway cars. No doubt, at the time, he was thinking about lunch when some pest with a press card stuck a mic under his chin and waited for an answer. He merely said the first thing that came to mind, without really hearing the question, and without taking the time to formulate a proper answer. “Streetcars,” he replied. After munching his Italian Assorted, he reconsidered. “No, wait. Subway! Actually, I’ve never tried either, so it’s hard to say.”

Last week, he dismissed out of hand a generous offer from the province to supply his city with two free nurses.

“Too expensive,” said he.

“But they’re free,” offered one of those pesky journalists, one with proper command of the facts.

“Sure, sure,” said Mayor Ford. “I understand they’re free, but how much will it cost the city? That’s what I’m trying to say. We just can’t afford free.”

And then there’s Pride Week, the largest such event in the world. Plenty of free…yes, free…publicity for the host city, not to mention millions in tourism dollars. Mayor’s executive assistant pencils the parade into his Filofax. Just routine, she says. All the mayors attend.

“No can do,” says Ford. “Don’t like the gays.”

Sir, you can’t say that aloud.

“Did I say something?”

Attendance is required, sir. With respect.

“My mom wants me to go to the cottage.” He’s on a roll, now. “It’s a tradition.”

The mayor’s participation in the parade is a tradition, too, sir. If you don’t attend, there will be a scandal.

“Of course there will be a scandal. Every time I turn around there’s another bloody scandal.”

Perhaps there’s a reason for that, with respect, sir.

“What?”

What shall I tell the people, regarding your attendance?

“Are you going to finish that brownie?”

…But it’s more than a simple failure to listen. Once his attention has been got, and after the facts have been thoroughly explained, the mayor still cannot bring himself to change his mind. He cannot, with humility, say, “Sorry, I goofed on that one. Both streetcars and subways are important. Yes, I’ll accept your kind offer of those gratis nurses. Oh, and of course I’ll attend the Gay Pride parade. What are leaders for?”

Speaking of pride, methinks he’s letting his get the best of him.