Also, it seems odd to pick a fight with Frank Underwood and Keyser Söze, because there’s no way you win this.
David Hains, ladies and gentlemen. He’s here all week. Try the veal.
Also, it seems odd to pick a fight with Frank Underwood and Keyser Söze, because there’s no way you win this.
David Hains, ladies and gentlemen. He’s here all week. Try the veal.
“I am apologizing. If I’ve offended the medical officer of health, Doug Ford apologizes to him,” Ford said.
“Who is going to apologize to the taxpayers when they go out and spend $60,000 on a transportation study?”
Help me out here, Dougie. Why should anyone, least of all David McKeown, apologize for a traffic study?
Well, Doug, thanks for asking. (Remember! There’s no such thing as a stupid question. But if there were, this would be one of them.)
Yet as these increasingly damaging episodes pile up, it is reasonable to ask why his closest political advisors – starting with chief of staff Mark Towhey – have done so little to persuade their boss to front small but politically resonant initiatives that would re-cast his mayoralty. They are, of course, in a murderously difficult situation, because their counsel is routinely thwarted by brother Doug, who only believes it’s been a good week if he’s poured more gasoline on the fire.
Colle stopped short of calling for an integrity commissioner investigation. “I’m not going to ask for one,” he said. “I think my biggest concern is that there is another distraction. We’ve got half a term left and tonne of work to do.”
Yeah, well. We’ve seen how much attention he pays to the integrity commissioner.
Juggling live-blogging, tweeting, and this, so nothing profound, but a couple of things:
1. I wouldn’t assume that "the mayor is back in charge of transit" just yet. Just because OneCity didn’t fly doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly got anything more than shouting “subways subways subways” until our ears bleed.
2. Whatever OneCity is or was, at least it contemplated tying transit expansion to public revenue. You want infrastructure? You gotta pay for it. If nothing else, that’s the beginning of an adult conversation. Beats the shit out of “I can’t support taxing the taxpayer.”
I prefer policymakers who use evidence to support their positions, govern by consensus, use positive rhetoric as much as possible, and don’t govern as if acting out a revenge fantasy.
Adorable, isn’t he?
There’s been some discussion recently about the role of charitable organizations, and by extension other NGOs, in social advocacy and the debate over public policy. In an essay for the Star this past weekend, Alan Broadbent calls for just that in arguing for more overt political activity from Canadian charities.
It’s not hard to discern the context for Mr. Broadbent’s essay. Indeed, he makes it clear in his very first paragraph in citing the recent federal budget and characterizing it as a shot across the bows of Canadian registered charities, and in noting the rhetorical strategy employed by the Harper government and its acolytes in promoting accelerated exploitation of the Alberta tar sands.
HIs essay notes that the law allows charities to devote up to 10 per cent of their activity to politic, and encourages Canadian charities to become more active participants in policy discourse. (In fairness, he also notes that many charitable organizations don’t have the organizational resources to play too prominent a role in that regard, occupied as they are with programming and fundraising.) In describing the need for their participation, he notes that
… since governments have shed much of their policy capacity in the last few decades, they need good ideas from outside, and particularly from those working close to the coal face of society’s problems.
Mr. Broadbent makes a useful argument, and it’s particularly timely in its evident defence of the fact that some of the money for Canadian charities and advocacy comes from sources outside Canada, if for no other reason than that it blunts the Harpublican strategy of demonizing opponents as foreign-funded radicals trying to hijack Canadian regulatory processes.
That’s one level, anyway. The discussion is valuable on that level, but let’s try to view it in a somewhat larger context — one which examines the role of charitable organizations not just as political actors, but as service providers and enhancers of community bonds and — one of my favourites — the public good.
It’s become fashionable, as governments embrace the “austerity” fetish and shed the capacity to act, to call for more reliance on private-sector actors and/or charities. Indeed, last December Hamutal Dotan described an incident wherein Doug Ford reached into his own pocket and wrote a personal cheque to help out a school nutrition program.
God knows, I’m not here to kick Brother Doug around for that. But, as Hamutal argues, necessary social programs shouldn’t have to rely on charity or personal generosity. And that’s the larger context for both her argument and Alan Broadbent’s.
Once again, it’s useful to unpack some of the underlying assumptions and go back to first principles. Part of that involves making my own biases explicit, but that shouldn’t take long.
Why do we have government? Why do we have a public sector? Why, for that matter, do we have communities and social structures? I’d argue that a large part of the reason is collective empowerment: we pool our efforts and our resources in pursuit of the common good. By working together, we accomplish things we can’t accomplish on our own. Regardless of whether you want to call yourself a conservative, a socialist, a liberal, or whatever, that’s the basis for community.
And that’s the organizational underpinning for whatever sector of public policy you want to cite: education, national defence, municipal infrastructure, public transit, health care, food inspection, energy, environmental protection, and so on. That’s why political priorities are set, resources allocated, timelines established, and structures established to ensure democratic oversight and administrative accountability. It’s not a simple process, but it can and does work when it’s properly resourced and managed. As with most complex undertakings, it depends on consistency, predictability and transparency, and an overarching commitment to the public good.
It’s for that reason that I find the increased emphasis on charities disquieting. I’m not questioning the value of the work they do, and I’m not saying they aren’t worthy of all the support they get and more. But I am taking issue with the idea that we should rely on them to step into the vacuum left by diminished and kneecapped public institutions.
Where is it written that we must reconcile ourselves to the enfeeblement of government, of the public sphere, of our collective capacity to act for the common good? Just because “austerity” has become the flavour of the month doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly been relieved of our obligations to ourselves, to our communities and to our fellow citizens.
Regardless of the political context or the issues of the day, those obligations are constants. They are necessary incidents of citizenship, and of membership in civil society. As such, they need to be resourced and supported consistently. They shouldn’t have to depend on charitable donations. They’re unpredictable, they’re hard to budget for, and they’re too dependent on the personal preferences of donors, commendable though those might be. Frankly, I don’t want the social fabric and essential community programs dependent on the Jim Doaks of the world.
And, as the warning shots Mr. Broadbent cites illustrate, charities are vulnerable to politically motivated attacks.
We can argue about the legalities and the definition of political activity and whether any given initiative comes close to the 10 per cent threshold, but the chilling effect of those warning shots is perfectly obvious. The Harper regime’s strategy for dealing with people and organizations it doesn’t like is a matter of record. Bracing as Mr. Broadbent’s call to action is, it’s that much riskier for any small organization to stick its head up under the circumstances.
(Do I have to point out that I’d be delighted to be wrong about this?)
Last summer I wrote a short post about Jack Layton’s legacy of generosity.
There are many elements to citizenship — respect, engagement, critical thinking — but of all those elements, it’s hard to top generosity of spirit. It’s something we can all aspire to, even if we fall short. I’m going to give props, yet again, to Hamutal Dotan’s marvellous piece in that regard on Torontoist.
Just so my own biases are clear, I’ll set out my definition once again: Generosity of spirit does not look for external validation or reward. It is extended without any expectation of a quid pro quo. And it is extended to those who do not deserve it precisely because they do not deserve it. That is what makes it what it is.
It’s a high bar to clear, and I’ll admit right now that I don’t often meet it. I wish I could. I’d be a better person if I did, but today I just can’t.
Transit City is officially back from the dead. #TOpoli— Neville Park (@neville_park) February 9, 2012
We’ve seen the results of today’s vote at City Council. Whether it means we can truly move forward with the development of public transit remains to be seen, but if it does nothing else, at least it will serve as an unambiguous repudiation of Team Ford’s approach to government and to the conduct of public affairs.
Doug Ford is being abusive with Gary Webster. Any other speaker would step in.— Jonathan Goldsbie (@goldsbie) February 8, 2012
It’s hard to pick the three stars of Team Ford from today, but perhaps we might start with Doug’s hectoring of Gary Webster. (Whatever we’re paying Mr. Webster, he more than earned it today.) Add to that his bullshit about the St. Clair ROW being a disaster, and his coarse, vulgar talk about the TTC needing an enema, and you have to wonder — just what does this guy add to public life in Toronto? What good is he accomplishing?
And then there’s Giorgio Mammoliti’s idiotic posturing about a Finch subway and unmoral (h/t Ivor Tossell) attempts to torque the downtown-suburban divide yet again. (I know, I know, I’m breaking my own rule by talking about him.)
Mammoliti sincerely believes that a private sector partner would totally jump at the chance to build a subway along Finch Ave.— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) February 8, 2012
"Have you considered a subway on Finch?" "Yes." "But have you considered a subway on Finch?"— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) February 8, 2012
And then there’s this classy bit:
Ohhh. Mammoliti says this is a Giambrone proposal. Then refers to leather couch.— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) February 8, 2012
If anyone wants to nominate a third star, I’m all ears.
In the larger picture, perhaps it’s time to start fashioning a definitive rejection of the entire Fordist philosophy. I can’t give a comprehensive list of what that will entail, but we can start, I’d submit, by affirming support for well-paying unionized public-sector jobs, both as a critical element of our community’s economic base and as an example for private-sector employers to follow. We can flesh that out in the days to come.
In sum, maybe — just maybe — we’ve finally come to see the limits of resentment as a governing philosophy. It’s what put Team Ford in control, but take it away and they’ve really got nothing else. And as we learn more about the gulf between campaigning and governing, its shortcomings become more and more apparent. It’s the easy path — it requires no critical thinking, no empathy and no engagement beyond the predictable hissy-fits of tabloid screed-writers — but it diminishes us all.
Well, what a week.
Over the past few days we’ve seen Team Ford apply its magic touch to transit, to labour relations, and in a more overarching way, to our whole sense of civic pride. I can’t sum it all up in the scope of a single blog post, but then in this context there’s no need. Anyone following the conversation through All Fired Up or Ford For Toronto or via the Tweeter already knows what’s been going on.
It’s useful, at times like this, to take a step back and try to see things in their proper historical context. Understanding how we got here from there is the first step in learning from our mistakes, and, god willing, avoiding a repetition of those mistakes.
Fortunately, in this case we don’t have to look back that far. It’s reasonably easy, I’d submit, to connect the dots between the 2010 mayoral campaign and the mess we find ourselves in today.
Let’s set out the founding assumptions so that our biases are clear: we start, as always, with the affirmation of civil discourse and civic engagement as the most basic currency of citizenship. Effective public policy and democratic governance depend — always — upon thoughtful, respectful discussion. It doesn’t mean we all have to agree with each other and start singing ‘Kumbaya.” It just means hearing each other out and applying our critical-thinking faculties.
Now, hands up all those who think that’s a fair characterization of the 2010 municipal election, never mind Team Ford’s approach to governance.
No. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that the 2010 campaign wasn’t about thoughtful conversation, mutual respect, or sober, reasoned evaluation of competing visions for the city. The overarching theme was one of lingering resentment and sourness resulting from the labour disruption of 2009. And it was that toxic sludgestream of resentment that the Ford campaign tapped and rode all the way into the mayor’s office.
Really, it’s not that complicated. There wasn’t any reasoned discussion going on there — just a handful of thoughtless, simplistic memes calculated to appeal to that resentment and trigger a visceral emotional response. War on the Car. Stop the Gravy Train. Respect for Taxpayers. Nothing we don’t already know, but if I might add one more simplistic pop-culture meme: I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Take it Any More. Rephrase that, and it might just as well read: I’m Belligerent, Stupid, and Too Lazy to Think Things Through.
The damaging effects of that campaign are still with us — not just in the seemingly endless series of shit sundaes Team Ford’s made out of public consultation, the city budget, transit planning, and labour relations, but in the very tenor of public conversation itself. The 2010 mayoral race did real and lingering damage to our ability to talk to each other like mature rational adults, and it’s a big part of the reason we’re in the mess we find ourselves in today.
Once again, it goes back to the difference between campaigning and governing. Simplistic slogans that fit on bumper stickers and lapel buttons may be good at provoking emotional responses or channelling inchoate rage, but they’re no basis for effective democratic governance. Nothing new there either, but it bears repetition: effective and responsible government is an intricate beast. It involves multiple interests, finding balances among competing and sometimes contradictory objectives, allocating resources, analyzing options in a rational and comprehensive way, looking at issues from a variety of different perspectives, building consensus wherever possible, and above all, crafting public policy in a way that advances the public good. Bottom line: it’s complicated. It can’t be reduced to sound bites, bumper stickers or lapel buttons.
Now, contrast this high-minded talk of thoughtful reflection and rational discourse with the state of public conversation in Toronto today. As Ed Keenan argued last week, Rob Ford doesn’t seem capable of discussing ideas:
No matter what the question, Ford has a bumper-sticker response that doesn’t really address it at all, and he’ll recite it aloud to you, again and again, as if the problem were your hearing rather than his failure to explain himself.
As Ed suggests, it’s the equivalent of clapping his hands over his ears and repeating “subways, taxpayers, subways, taxpayers … ” to himself until everyone else just shuts up. If he has the intellectual wherewithal for a genuine exchange of ideas, this is no way to show it. In an atmosphere like this, one fears that even the most thoroughly considered and non-partisan attempt to bring reason back to the debate over transit planning will be wasted.
(A brief nod to political realities: of course the province isn’t blameless in this either. But let’s be clear: if Rob Ford hadn’t declared Transit City dead the minute he took office, we wouldn’t be in this mess — regardless of how you feel about organized labour or Karen Stintz’s stewardship of the TTC.)
Back to the wider context. Anyone who follows the energy / environment debate or reads George Monbiot knows about Peak Oil and the state the planet is in, and understands the need to invest — at municipal, provincial and federal levels — in sustainable and energy-efficient public infrastructure, and in shaping our communities in ways that facilitate and take advantage of that. In the most prosaic terms, that means public transit. It is simply no longer possible to design cities and transportation policy around the private automobile. That’s not a matter of ideology or class warfare or right or left — it’s a matter of survival. Misrepresenting it with a stupid meme like The War on the Car is not only short-sighted — it is irresponsible, wasteful and incredibly destructive.
I can’t say for certain, but I wouldn’t bet much on Rob and Doug Ford’s ability to grasp that. To this observer, their approach to transit policy appears based on little more than “get the fuck out of my way” resentment. They’re appealing to anyone who just doesn’t like streetcars or bikes or buses or anything else getting in the way of driving their cars Wherever and Whenever The Hell They Want, Goddamnit. As John Lorinc puts it, however, it’s pointing toward
One really wants to believe that a more sensible consensus is emerging at city council, regardless of what Team Ford says or does. I’m not counting those chickens just yet, but it seems that one of their most effective operators might be thinking the same thing:
We’ll have to wait and see, of course. But this is what comes of basing campaign strategy on such wrongheaded and selfish thinking, let alone using it as the rationale for billion-dollar decisions.
Anyway, enough about transit. It’s more important, at this point, to wonder whether there’s any way to get these guys to see reason.
It’s easy, in that regard, to take shots at their simplistic and clumsy approach to government, and I’ve been just as guilty of that as the next guy. This piece from Hamutal Dotan should be required reading for everyone who’s concerned about Team Ford, not just for its insight and celebration of the public good, but for its laudable generosity of spirit. As she argues:
The problem isn’t that the Fords are heartless, in other words. It’s that they have run up against the limits of their own experiences and don’t know how to get past them. It’s that they respond to the personal, to the individual case, and can’t see that the social programs they want to cut are made necessary by a large set of individual cases, all clumped together in one place and time. Put much more bluntly: the Fords want for insight, not empathy.
Ok, so they’re not heartless or evil, just a little … uninformed about the role of the public sphere and how democracy works. So let’s cut them some slack. But dear god, can’t anyone get them to see that winning an election doesn’t mean you just get to do whatever the hell you want?
Can’t anyone talk sense to these guys?
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