Urban Defender

Urban Defender: April 2005

Friday, April 29, 2005

Friday: hope and complaint at the weekend

Now that there is more evidence that the Conservatives may be peaking (see CTV News Poll Report), oh merciful heavens, one can contemplate the weekend with some equanimity but not too much because – life being what it is – problems abound. And that is just the fun part.

Perhaps the Federal budget will arrive with more money for housing and new money for transit but in the meantime the City of Toronto still has not taken a necessary strategic leap. One that is required no matter the dispensation it may have from the Province of Ontario, in the form of the much anticipated new City of Toronto Act (coming in Fall 2005?) and the pennies from the juiced up (thank you Mr. Layton and Mr. Martin) gas taxes from the Feds, and the expected announcement today that (at long last) the Federal and Ontario governments will announce a $600 million affordable housing program, and the hoped for Child Care accord that the Toronto Star reports will be announced once the Federal Budget is passed (Stephen Harper are you really thinking of wining votes in the Greater Toronto Area??) .

All this good news and maybe good stuff coming and it’s almost the weekend and why are we cranky? Out of many reasons here a few:

Let’s see Toronto’s transit fares went up and service, despite rumours of a ridership growth strategy, continues to flatline. When will our esteemed Mayor realize that we need road tolls that are dedicated to transit? And a policy readjustment that realizes that transit is not a commuter service but a 24/7 necessity to get people in and around the City and their neighbourhoods.

The waterfront redevelopment process led by the under funded and under empowered Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) is producing marginal facts on the ground and its consultation process seems to have ground to a halt, one hears nothing but complaints about the last instance of Portlands consultation. (This last is particularly sad coming on the heels of the well thought out and well delivered West Don Lands and East Bayfront Precinct Planning consultations.) But of course the main problem is the continuing lack of attention, leadership and COORDINATION from the 3 levels (that is probably at least 1 too many) of government involved.

And while we await the reigniting of housing funding, many of Toronto’s Federally regulated (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation – CMHC) co-operative housing apartments (Co-ops) are facing the prospect of not being able to continue to support their low income members [see http://www.fixtheglitchfast.ca/]. While there has been good news on this front the issue is still verging on a crisis for some Co-ops.

And our City Council will debate a motion in May to severely restrict a basic grassroots means of freedom of expression: postering.* Yes some call it visual pollution and complain of mess, as evidenced by a recent column in the May issue of downtown paper The Bulletin which rants on about the evil that is postering. Amazingly a significant number of City Councillors seem to share this anti-democratic leaning, forgetting that democracy is inherently messy and that access to the media, even the local media, is something that many cannot easily afford.

And that strategic leap the City of Toronto needs to take, such as grasping the nettle of road tolls and making it a beautiful idea, seems to be stillborn. Why are our civic leaders not more focussed on what we can and ought to do (hello deadbeats like Giorgio Mammoliti and Rob Ford)!

For instance why are we not planning and implementing programs to ensure that we can build a kilometre of subway tunnel and three kilometres of streetcar/light rail surface track every year.

Why are we not empowering City staff to move forward on affordable housing creation even using the very small amounts of money available right now?

And what about synchronizing bureaucratic efforts on the waterfront?!

Mayor Miller is arguably still the right person for the job but more could be done with the bully pulpit he has and many more of our Councillors could profitably focus on big picture thinking rather than NIMBY-placating Ward-healing.

As it is the onset of the weekend we can stop here for now. There will soon be time enough to name more of the guilty, praise the virtuous, focus on things that work, and things that ought to be.

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* The Toronto Public Space Committee is leading the charge against the forces of darkness on the postering issue.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

65% in the Greater Toronto Area Do Not Support Conservatives

Reading Jeff Gray’s report of the recent ENVIRONICS RESEARCH GROUP poll results in The Globe and Mail today, one was struck by the headline: “Toronto-area Liberal support down 10 percentage points.”

Of course it is certainly a true observation one can draw from the results but what struck Urban Defender was that 65% of respondents indicated that they did not support the Conservatives.

Now it must be noted that this is a 7 point drop (in a poll with 3.3% margin of error) compared to the 72% in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who voted for anybody but the Conservatives in the 2004 election but given the relentlessly negative and disappointing news from Gomery and the spin put on that news by certain media outlets, such as that bastion of truth and disinterested reporting known as the National Post, this is quite a respectable result.

As Gray’s article makes clear the suburban “905” ridings are richer ground for the forces of darkness* but even then the Liberals hold up well under the circumstances. And the polling also gives some extra heft to the points made by JIM COYLE in today’s Toronto Star that the Martin-Layton deal harkens back, for Ontario voters, to the Peterson-Rae Accord of 1985-87.

But it particular the results highlight the distinct state of the City of Toronto where, after relentless media barking from the right, the flood of allegations of wrongdoing and incompetence from Gomery and the performance, supposedly stellar, of wonder boy Harper, the Conservatives still can’t get elected. Yes it may be that the odd riding in the former Scarborough and Etobicoke boroughs might, just might go Conservative but so far this amounts to nothing more than brave talk from spinners and fundraisers that has yet to be tested in an election. From this vantage point Toronto looks as RED-ORANGE as always suggesting that the Martin-Layton deal reflects the local urban political culture and the local urban agenda.

To anyone who thinks that the City of Toronto and the GTA would benefit from Conservative-Bloq cohabitation and an unnecessary Conservative-Bloq election, all Urban Defender can say is imagine a creature cloned form the body parts of MIKE HARRIS-PRESTON MANNING-BRIAN MULRONEY-LUCIEN BOUCHARD running the show. Remember too that by comparison to Harper, and the Reformistas he hides on the backbenches, Mulroney was a “progressive.”

Duceppe despite his charming Maoist past, and Harper despite his, now, embarrassing birth in the GTA, are the inheritors of the *forces of darkness: that neo-con+ethnic-nationalist horror show we so recently escaped from.

Congratulations to Mr. Layton and the Prime Minister for doing the correct thing. And take heart, for now, from the polls that show at least in this urban patch that a majority of voters do not want the forces of darkness to scuff the floor of the Prime Minister's Office with the soles of their shiny shoes.

Click on the link for detailed poll results as reported in the: THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Where is Edmonton? Can we get there by candlelight?

Urban Defender's "team" of highly trained media scouts read columnist Royson James' piece in today’s Toronto Star about the Mayor of Edmonton, Stephen Mandel's visit to Toronto. The report seemed to suggest, perhaps unitentionally, that the Mayor had a hint of the provincial proconsul making his obeisance to the noble estate of our fine metropolis, combined with a more sonorous message that we should all consider a move west to his golden city on the tundra, flush with tar sands dollars.

That is all well and good but one hopes he is going on to Ottawa to talk to our federal parliamentarians. Perhaps in particualr he can talk to the Conservatives who threaten to join an unholy alliance with the supposedly social democratic Bloq (oh there is that little problem about them being separatists too but that surely is another post) to bring down our supposedly scandal plagued Liberal governors.

If he is a mayor that cares about an Urban Agenda, then he should be pressing our esteemed leader of the Loyal Opposition, the incorruptible Mr. Harper, to lay the hell off until the current federal budget passes, or His Honour Mr. Mandel and his colleagues across the country are not going to be seeing Federal Gas Tax Dollars, Daycare Money, or Infrastructure and Housing money.

What they will get with Mr. Harper is Tax Points sent to the provinces and depending on the ideological persuasion of their provincial government they may or may not get a nickel for city building. One supposes that some in Edmonton and Calgary may feel that the petrodollars will insulate them as China buys up Alberta (sorry USA), and that more power to the provinces is a fine program for fixing the urban infrastructure gap that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has done such a good job of documenting.

And was it not the FCM, of which one believes Edmonton, is member, that has been campaigning to get our federal government back at the table in urban affairs? Well yes and just when, belatedly maybe, the Liberal administration under Paul Martin has put forward a budget that gets the federal government back into the urban game, a move that has received last-minute (at least as of this minute) support from our all-too-flamboyant social democratic standard-bearer Jack Layton, we might lose it all thanks to the unholy alliance.

So one hopes that the Mayors from the home province of Stephen (build a firewall around Alberta) Harper might get on the phone and let him know that at least one or two people in the land of the tar sands might want some federal support for their cities because god knows he won’t listen to any other urban leaders because he has not demonstrated any understanding of the urban file and he sure as hell is not looking for votes in urban centres (think gay marriage, think a complete lack of feeling for the intricate network of culture, exchange, infrastructure, and social supports required to underwrite the economic growth of a city).

And barring a conversion on the road to Ottawa we can safely assume that if Mr. Harper gets hold of the levers of power, as more esteemed writers than Urban Defender have suggested, in the short run we will have stasis (if he is in a minority) and in the longer term (if he ekes out a majority) the Federal Government will be stripped of its ability to act for the good of the country and its cities.

A nightmare: the power is out in Toronto, the roads are choked, gas is at $3 a litre, and a small band of us wander into wilderness of the "conservative" lands, candles in hand, hoping to reach the promised tar sands land, glowing in glory behind its toxic firewall. A demain.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Holy Father: My tolerance is not your your tolerance

Urban Defender imagines a citizen of Toronto, in the first rush of Spring, sitting (OUTSIDE - at last) at a patio table, Latte Machiato in hand, glancing at the headline of an article about Pope Benedict the 16th, and begining to tell UD their thoughts:

I was thinking today of that old problem: to be committed to tolerance entails being equally committed to opposing intolerance. So while I congratulate Pope Benedict XVI on his new gig I cannot help but think that it is not the scourge of moral relativism that he should be concerned about but the scourge of bigotry. Any urban and urbane citizen who seeks to love her neighbour as she would love herself could no more imagine that gay marriage whether it be in Ontario, Massachusetts or Spain could upend the moral fabric of society than she could imaging going through a day without access to fabulous coffee.

And moral relativism has got nothing to do with it. In fact "liberals" who support such things as the right to equal marriage do so, I would argue, out of a fundamental commitment to a set of values that enshrine equality (whether the values are considered made or received from a "higher power") and respect.

So like so many of the new Pope's unwilling adversaries, it is not my commitment to fashionable relativism that keeps me from any communion with him and his doctrine but it is precisely my belief in what is right and good and in keeping with the sayings of Jesus that separates me from the Pope's would be Counter-Reformation- The Sequel.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

RECEIVED FROM A FRIEND RE: Prime Minister Paul Martin's Open Letter to Liberals

Urban Defender has recevived this reply to Paul Martin's Open Letter to Liberals, from a friend and liked it enough to post it here, even though it is far too capital "L" libral for UD. UD will from time to time post material received from friends and the like minded, and of course there are the comments!

I count myself among those Canadians, small "l" liberals, capital "L" liberals, progressives, small "s" social democrats, members all of the open and inclusive group that believes this country has great things ahead of it, that the world indeed could use more Canada. We could use more Canada in Canada! But we will only succeed in achieving great things, here and abroad, if we hold to a united, independent and progressive path. Just such a path that we were headed on under the mandate of the current Parliament.

It is shameful and dispiriting that allegations of wrongdoing and corruption have been heard and sadly with echoes of some credibility. That such allegations could give sustenance to arguments that favour separation on the one hand and a return to discredited neo-conservatism on the other is even more appalling. However, I would urge all who hold to progressive values, who believe that Canada, and its national government, has a role to play in fostering a better society, to not damn the whole enterprise because of the actions of a few. Yes the guilty must pay. And there is much more to do to build on the Liberal campaign contribution reforms (something that has been forgotten in the current scandal-mania) and the openness of government to ensure that behaviours that have been alleged in the Gomery Inquiry, are unlikely to be repeated. Yet all of this is not more important than supporting Charter rights, implementing the first phase of a national child care program, turning the tide on funding for cities, maintaining a growing and healthy economy, and ensuring that Canada is a united and independent force for justice, peace and expanding prosperity in the world.

Any "Liberal" or "liberal" or "progressive" Canadian who believes that we should turn Parliament over to the Conservative Party or the Bloq Quebecois because of their anger or shame should ask themselves who else now but Paul Martin can keep this country on course? Do we trust Mr. Harper or M. Duceppe to lead a united and progressive government? Can Mr. Layton bring together an inclusive national alternative? The questions answers themselves all with a resounding no. Should the achievements of the past year be cast aside? No.

The Liberal Party of Canada has pursued the progressive centre to some purpose bringing together those who believe the private sector is a key engine of wealth creation with those who believe that a just society is something to constantly work for, and in so doing has bridged linguistic, ethno-cultural and religious solitudes.

The mandate to build a progressive, independent and united Canada has not been withdrawn. But it must be continue to be earned. I trust that the Prime Minister will work harder than ever to ensure we continue to seek the just society that those of us who are Trudeau's children have always sought.