Thursday, February 14, 2013



Is there anyone in Toronto, or any other major Canadian city for that matter, who believes that their municipal government is efficient and economical and quick to deal with problems before they become crises?
Is there anyone in Toronto, or any other major Canadian city, who can't identify quickly some road bottleneck near their home or pothole or broken sidewalk or public property infested with garbage which could be cheaply and quickly fixed?
Is there anyone in Toronto, or any other major Canadian city, who talks over the fence or at parties about how nice it is to have a responsive and inexpensive urban administration?
Yet what we get out of Silly Hall, or from the deep thinkers in the media and universities, is laments about the lack of vision and planning for the city's future.
Why can't they just make the bloody city work now? I would settle for that and can the lofty speeches.
Instead of these constant debates about future transit lines and Gardiner demolition and who does what to whom in governance, why don't they concentrate about how to fix this city without spending additional fortunes.
What have we really got from our municipal politicians every year for a couple of decades but annual tax increases and such wonderful "improvements" as a silly ban on weed killer which had no scientific basis but environmentalists said it was the right thing to do.
Of course they would. They would ban eating and drinking if they thought they could get away with it because anything man does on earth pollutes. The only question is the degree.
Ironically, the Gardiner expressway is symbolic of the problem as well as being practically iconic. One of the most used expressways in the world is falling down because of deliberate neglect. The debate about its future ignores the reality  that the city is so wrapped around the road that removing it would not change the geography and thickets of skyscrapers around it unless incredible sums were spent.
 It would be like putting the Humber in a tunnel and then expecting that the buildings on both banks would somehow be rearranged as well as all the local traffic patterns. Do they not realize that there isn't a major city in the world that hasn't had to build around massive ancient infrastructures?
And after half a century, the Gardiner is as dominant in our geography as the Great Wall of China. So let's just keep it up and working and tell the zealots who have never seen a traffic artery that they don't want to clot to go peddle their bikes on the Island or some other place that they stole from public ownership.
Once upon a time, I was guilty on the vision thing myself. I gave a speech about putting Ryerson on the map and was elected student president by my fellow students who felt like Third World refugees compared to U of T students.
After a few months, a fellow journalism student borrowed my typewriter and my paper to write a blistering editorial about my inadequacies as SAC president which I had to publish in the Ryersonian as the editorial page editor.
I hadn't delivered on the PR dream, he wrote. My reply was that I was just trying to keep the student council working when the hostile administration was trying to expel students for Mickey Mouse crimes and generally ignoring anything the students wanted by way of change.
But then I didn't have to get re-elected. Politicians do. So instead of all that dutiful riding work, to find out why the garbage wasn't collected on this street or why the plows missed that street and why the signs at this intersection don't make sense, they hire a secretary or two to whine at city officials and they posture instead on major stuff so that they can boast come voting day that they actually really did something grand.
They try to sell us dreams when all we want is a city that works. We want them to work instead of just dreaming.
Do most Torontonians care about "muscular mayors" and stronger powers for council in general, which is the wet dream of new city gurus like Richard Florida, or do we just want to keep taxes down and services up.
Ironically, Rob Ford, the mayor that Florida and the dreamers love to hate, really looked after the ward as a councillor, returning all the calls and chasing all the notes about complaints, often in person. I can assure you that if Toronto had 45 such politicians on council, the city would be a much different place with officials who actually fixed things and just didn't give excuses.
The problem is we have fatcat politicians, many of whom could not make this money in private life. And they are at the pinnacle of an organization where "fair wage" practises mean all city contracts are too high, because no real competition for the city work is allowed. And if the work is done in-house, the obese civic unions basically reduce to those work crews you see at the side of the street that are composed of a supervisor and a deputy, two guys to hold the coffee and one guy to do the digging.
That's my dream, that we have a lean and reasonable urban government, and that when we dream about the future, we are not building pipe dreams on a rotten foundation.

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