I’ve been trying for some time now to determine what my position is on the casino issue in Toronto. My gut reaction is that its a horrible idea. My researched and considered reaction is that my gut is probably wrong. My overall reaction is to stare blankly at the wall and hope the whole thing works its self out. But then tonight was the night for public consultation at Toronto and East York Community Council and I asked myself: “Self? Do you think we should speak?” Then, I started delving deeper into it and decided that no, I should not, because I don’t know which way I’m trying to sway people, and there will be someone to say it better from both perspectives I suspect. However, I do want to put all of my arguments, points, counterpoints, criticisms, kudos, surprise revelations, musings and thoughts down for posterity, and make them public for ridicule or praise. Either way, this is how the fight breaks down from my perspective.
Jobs is always one of the most common arguments for a casino, pretty much anywhere one is proposed. Toronto naturally is no different. It is undeniable that casinos employ a lot of people, and in a day and age where unemployment numbers have everyone on edge, large-scale employers should indeed be seen as a positive. Some argue against this claim that the jobs created are not “good jobs,” and there is some merit to that claim. Certainly many aren’t high paying, and there is likely a lot of part-time work and definitely the shifts can be less than ideal, but while it is ideal to have high-paying 9 to 5 jobs, that is hardly a reason to refuse an opportunity when it is presented.
Also, its not just bad jobs. Casinos employ many people in areas often overlooked. The card dealers and servers are the ones most visitors interact with and thus think about in these cases but consider what else must go on to keep these complexes operating. There is cleaning and maintenance staff, cooks and servers, security, cashiers, reception and concierge jobs, marketing, finance, stage hands, event planning, grounds-keeping, and so on and so forth. Its a lot more than a handful of people spinning roulette wheels at minimum wage. All of these departments also need supervisors and managers.
Not all of these jobs necessarily would be provided in-house, but I don’t get the impressions that Toronto in its current political climate at least is a city that is afraid of contracted-out workers – take garbage collection and TTC cleaners as two recent examples.
Another common argument for casinos, which is equally blatant, is that they bring in big bucks as tourist destinations. According to Beth Potter, president of the Ontario Tourism Industry Association, the tourism sector in Ontario is one of the most significant economic generators in the province, but there is some fear that it is peaking. Unless an effort is made to increase the number and quality of tourist attractions, the industry will wane. The global competition for tourist dollars is ever increasing and Ontario can ill afford to fall behind.
One criticism of the tourism sector, especially in Ontario with our climate, is that much of the benefit seen from destinations is seasonal. Be it the tourist dollars brought in, or the jobs created, they’re not sustainable over a full year. This is even true of the Toronto area where our parks and beaches, amusement parks and outdoor concerts, cultural festivals and parades, disappear over the winter. A casino is open all year round, bringing people into our city, and keeping our workers employed.
The third point that comes up that surely we’ve all read before is that of the revenue generation possible from a casino. There is more than meets the eye to this one though. There is the obvious potential from gamblers feeding quarter after quarter into the slot machine for hours on end, ecstatic when they win five dollars after having spent 50. But gambling revenues are not always the big winner in the casino game.
Another important benefit to government coffers with the addition of a casino is the additional sales taxes generated. That cocktail you’re sipping on while doubling-down? Plenty of sales taxes on alcohol. That hotel room you’re going to spend the night in? You bet there’s taxes there. Your meals? Unless they’re under four bucks – and when’s the last time you ate for that kind of price? Admission to concerts and shows, souvenirs, taxis, parking lots, shopping, and nearly everything else someone does or uses when they visit Toronto in order to go to the casino incurs HST. That’s a lot of money.
Incidentally, all those employed people that I keep mentioning are also contributing to our social wealth. Payroll taxes and income taxes are only paid by those who earn a living, so the more people we have employed, the better our governments do. In addition to this, people with jobs, not surprisingly, are more likely to have disposable income, and also not surprisingly, often spend it on things upon which, also not surprisingly, a sales tax is charged.
With the added economic activity, especially in the tourism and hospitality industries, another benefit emerges: Existing businesses will need to grow and improve. This could be the result of several factors, but one of the more obvious is the increase in visitors to the city, thus an expectation of more facilities and amenities for visitors. Simply, more people means more demand for restaurants, hotel rooms, cultural events and presentations, retailers, and so on. Another added benefit, which also partly stems out of the first is the introduction of more direct competition between these institutions spurring improvements in the products and services they provide. Companies will pay more and or offer better benefits and other incentives in order to attract better workers in order to offer a higher level of service, otherwise they’ll lose the business to someone else who does.
On the other hand, probably the most common argument against a casino (in my personal experience, though there’s others that are right up there too) is that if you build a casino it will spawn a tidal wave of gambling addiction. I don’t personally have the expertise to say whether this is true or not, and in the relatively tiny bit of research I’ve done on the matter it looks like there’s evidence to suggest its true, and evidence to suggest its not, but lets for the sake of argument say that it is. Problem gamblers exist. That is not a point of contention. And it makes sense that if you give them a haven of gambling, they will congregate in the area. But in all likelihood, you are not creating new addicts, but rather concentrating them where the gambling is accepted, rather than them hiding their addiction and gambling online or other more secretive ways. Gambling in a casino can be monitored and help can be offered. The same is not true for many, if not most other venues available in Ontario.
The previous paragraph, and the above cited article notwithstanding however, there is some evidence to suggest that gambling addiction, certainly in the area of the casino, be it due to new cases, or just the concentration of people who’s problem manifested its self long ago. An all consuming addiction like this can lead to poverty, mental health issues, and other problems that strain the public health, mental health and addiction, and other social services in the area.
With the increase in addiction, comes an increase in crime. The movies would have you believe that when casinos come to town so does organized crime, but in truth it seams that some studies have found crime rates to drop (though not many) a few say it stays about the same, others still argue there’s too much conflicting data to really know what to make of it, and a bunch suggest that crime does rise, sometimes by quite a bit, but in crimes such as petty theft and embezzlement (people seeking money to feed addictions or pay off debts), or probably most concerning – at least for me – increased rates of drunk driving and fatalities from alcohol involving crashes.
Another issue I just touched on is the potential for more poverty. While some tout the economic benefits of the jobs created and the tourist dollars brought in, casinos also create their own economic problems. People can gamble away all of their earnings and wind up destitute. This most likely comes along with addiction, but one can’t discount people who just get caught up having too much of a good time, lose a little too much, borrow money to try to win it back, and before you know it you’re in a hole. A deep hole. The only way to possibly get enough money to get out of it is to win big. You’re not addicted, you just don’t know what else to do so you keep betting.
You can probably see how that could happen.
Lets not forget about issues of gentrification. While for those who are better off, this isn’t always a bad word, for those in the margins, in danger of falling off the page, it can mean the difference between a home, and no home. A casino brings development into the area. Those hotels, restaurants, shopping centres, Cirque du Soleil theatres et cetera have to go somewhere, and unfortunately it’ll go wherever its best for the development, not necessarily where its best for the community which could force people out of their homes. Even redevelopment of residential units wouldn’t be sufficient. While units would likely be in better condition and have better, more efficient utilities, that also means they’re more costly. It also likely means they’re in higher demand, which also drives prices up. Even if affordable units are included in new developments, its never enough to satisfy the need of those displaced in the first place.
Similarly, a casino, and the expected development that comes with it, can actually depress the economy in the immediate area surrounding it. The casino, as is intended should bring in plenty of tourist dollars. However by the nature of casinos, they’re destinations on their own. Many of the people coming to the city to have a good time gambling will never leave the complex. There’s food, entertainment, hotels, shopping, drinking, dancing – everything you want, all right there in that one facility. So there’s no reason to visit the neighbourhood and make a purchase from the local retailer, visit the local art gallery, eat at the local restaurant or stay in the hotel down the street. The negative reciprocal of this is that local residents of the city want to avoid the area of the casino because it becomes a tourist trap. There’s no neighbourhood atmosphere, things are too expensive, everyone’s drunk, there either is or at least is perceived to be more crime, and there’s nothing to do there except gamble in the minds of people from outside the neighbourhood. Whether or not any of this is true, as long as that’s the belief, people will stay away which can hurt the local economy.
Its also worth noting that Toronto’s transportation infrastructure is already being stressed as it is. We don’t have money for new infrastructure, be it highways, tunnels, or transit, and what we have would not be sufficient to handle the increased traffic due not only to visitors to a casino, but also the increased commuter traffic from all the new employees of the theoretically revitalized economic area, and not to mention the supply deliveries. Also, where are we going to put all these cars? Would we build a giant parking lot barricade between the casino and the city we’re theoretically bringing “tourists” into? How inviting of us. And we thought the Gardiner cut us off from the lakeshore, imagine having to cross this to get to the city:
But gambling is already incredibly prevalent in Ontario. The OLG operates 5 full fledged casinos already, and regulates another 5 throughout the province. Twenty-one years ago, off-track betting locations or “Teletheatres” were approved in Ontario. Since 1950 Ontario has sanctioned and regulated horse racing. We have access to 11 traditional lottery games, three of which offer instant draws – which in my mind means the OLG has essentially back-doored VLTs into every convenience store in the province – plus all sorts of different scratch-and-win and break-open tickets. 17 racetracks have slot machines in addition to the race related betting. Bingo is available in every community… You get the picture. We like to gamble, and its naive at best, and disingenuous at worst to claim otherwise. The whole debate over the casino seems like politicking no matter what side of the issue you’re on. $400m is estimated to be spent gambling online in Ontario, an activity which is currently illegal, and thus unregulated. It is easily accessible, and widely advertised, but it doesn’t give some of the benefits that traditionally regulated gaming offers, such as there is no way to verify the age of gamblers. Not even a credit card is actually necessary in this day and age as Paypal and other similar services can be used by anyone with a bank account and an email address. There’s also no monitoring of the players themselves as there is at casinos. Nobody will ever suggest “Hey buddy, maybe you’ve had enough.” And as the above linked article mentions, none of that $400 million goes into government coffers – it all ends up in the hands of offshore corporations. That doesn’t help Toronto in any way.
Basically what I’m saying here is that Ontario is going to get this casino, whether Toronto wants it or not. And in all likelihood it will end up located in the Greater Toronto Area. This is where the complimentary facilities and amenities are, be they roads and highways, airports and trains, theatres and restaurants, or hotels and clubs, or even if we’re talking the brand awareness (people have heard of Toronto before, but how many tourists know where Wingham or Perth are?) or the heritage and big-city culture of Toronto. So the question that remains becomes, do we want to accept the negatives that come with a casino to reap the benefits available? If we don’t take it, we could have a casino right on our borders anyway without anything in return if the Mississauga Mirage were to open. And if it’s from the point of view that you don’t want to contribute to the social ills from building a casino then keep in mind, unless you can convince the province to scrap the idea of building casinos altogether, those social ills will still occur, but realistically Toronto is one of the best equipped municipalities around to handle those issues – elsewhere the effects will be amplified by the lack or inadequacy of the social services needed. If you’re still opposed on that moral ground, then you’re full of it. You’re just hiding behind a quasi-social cause to hide your own NIMBYism.
I do understand that this isn’t really a situation where negotiation and input is really being sought by the Province, but there are a few things that we could inquire about that would make the project a little more enticing. Over the past couple of decades, as I’m sure we’re all well aware, the provincial government has downloaded a number of large portfolios onto the city – transit, and public housing to name a few. Could we not use the acceptance of a casino as a bargaining chip to have them reassume some of the liability on those files, especially public health, mental health and addiction, and poverty related services that would increase in cost for the city should the chicken-littlers be right about a casino.
Could we agree to only accept a casino on condition that its design be revolutionary: including clocks, and windows? Or would section 37 money at least be in play on this development? Could this issue be what gets us out from under the purveyance of the OMB? I don’t know if I fully understand why our councillors are digging in their heels as yes or no supporters and nobody’s using the simple word ‘IF’.
So basically, I don’t know where I sit, other than somewhere on the fence. Ultimately I’d like to see guaranteed municipal benefit promised by the province, but I don’t know if that’s really realistic in our current situation. I really don’t know which way I’d be happier. What can I say for sure? I won’t be writing a letter to my councillor asking him to vote against a casino, but I also won’t cry if he does.
I do like to gamble though, so for the sake of my personal finances, maybe its best we don’t.
Ya know, if I believed even for a fraction of a second that he actually cared about the wellbeing of the city’s seniors, it might not be as offensive when George uses them as red herrings in his political gamesmanship.
As tweeted by Toronto Sun Reporter Don Peat Tuesday evening (June 26, 2012)
But I’m also a firm believer that turnaround is fair play. So in the spirit of Mammo’s rhetoric, I’ve decided to do a little math on the wasteful spending championed by the mayor, and put their dollar values into terms even the thumb can understand. To begin with, I found the price of a can of cat food. Price Choppers, No Frills and the like don’t have prices on their websites, so I went with Wal-Mart as the discount store of record. I don’t know for sure that they’re the cheapest, but they’re certainly far from the most expensive! I did find the cheapest brand I could however, and it came in at $0.64 per can.
So the $45 a year proposed assessment growth tax increase that has Mr Mammoliti so worried, which if I understand the math correctly (and I may not) is an increase each year of $45, so the second year is $90 more than year 0, or $45 more than year 1, and the third $135 more than year 0, or $45 more than year 2 etc is a grand total of $450 spread out over 4 years. 703 cans worth of discount cat food. That’s almost a year’s worth of food for Toronto’s felines, and or seniors! (Assuming they’re fed on a twice-a-day schedule like mine. Cat that is.)
The following is a far-from-scientific-or-academic examination of some of Rob Ford’s mayoral project spending which Mammoliti would defend to the death no doubt. They will ultimately be measured in Canadian dollars, followed by a less common unit of measure: CoCF or Cans of Cat Food – in order that Mr Mammoliti can also appreciate their real world value. Lastly, I will show it in FSF, or Feline Starvation Factor. With Toronto’s senior citizens gobbling up all of the cat food in the city to stay alive, it only seems fair to assume that our furry friends will go hungry. Following each will be a link to my source for the cost.
The Chong Report on Subway Financing
This was only a very small expense in what could have been a massive financial obligation for the city. Its still not fully known whether or not some costs may be passed on to the city for the broken, but not really broken, but still sort of broken contract with Bombardier to supply the LRT vehicles for the 5 in 10 plan that was unilaterally declared dead by His Worship on his first day in office. After a year or so of feeling out the private sector and proposing other revenue sources to fund a Sheppard subway extension, and $100,000 dollars later, the end result of the report was essentially “We should plant magic beans, and sit back and watch the subways grow.” Dr. Chong of course should be noted as a cat-lover, as he did do a lot of the work pro bono when the fund from which he was being paid ran dry.
Cost of the Chong report on subway financing:
> CAD = 100,000
> CoCF = 156,250
> FSF = 213 Years, 10 Months, 23 Days
Source: NOW Magazine
KPMG Core Services Review
One of Rob Ford’s first orders of business was to contract the consulting firm KPMG to perform a Core Services Review. While the review its self was a good idea, staff is almost certainly aware of where duplications of services and inifficiencies can be found as a result of amalgamation. They’re the one’s who’ve been dealing with the headaches that resulted for the better part of a decade and a half. The intent of the review was actually to determine what services the city offered that were disposable – which it determined were almost none.
Cost of the KPMG Core Services review:
> CAD = 350,000
> CoCF = 546,875
> FSF = 748 Years, 7 Months, 18 Days
Source: The Grid Toronto
Jarvis Street Bike Lanes
Oh boy, there’ll be some hungry kitties by the time we get through this one. There’s so much being spent here. First, there was the cost to install the bike lanes in the first place ($86,000). Money the city has already spent, so while some may argue that really this is not a cost of returning Jarvis to its former state, it is wasted money spent if that in fact does happen. Then, there’s obviously the cost to scrub the bike lanes, and put the 5th lane and signals back in ($272,000).
Cost of the Jarvis Street Bike Lane Removal:
> CAD = 358,000
> CoCF = 559,375
> FSF = 765 Years, 8 Months, 29 Days
Source: National Post
10% “Reduction” to Police Budget
Remember this amazing bit of mathematical wizardry? Where with the wave of a magic wand Ford, and suddenly a $6 million increase became equivalent to $43.1 million in cuts, which somehow also magically became $93.6 million in cuts (Because the Police Services Board can apparently see into the future, and make it true of now… or something.) Yeah. That.
Cost of “reducing” the Toronto Police Services budget:
> CAD = 6,000,000
> CoCF = 9,375,000
> FSF = 12,833 Years, 8 Months, 4 Days
Source: Toronto Sun
TTC Essential Service Designation
In what appeared to be nothing more than a bid to win the support of the TTC riders who kick and scream for a few days every couple of years when the service shuts down due to a strike and or perhaps a chest thumping moment to prove his union busting bravado, the mayor pushed through council a motion to ask the province to declare the TTC an essential service, which they in turn did. Now, for the first time since this occurred, contracts have been renegotiated and they went (surprise!) to arbitration. And the arbitrator was mostly favourable (double surprise!) to labour. The mayor and his staff, and his colleagues, and the premier and his caucus etc. were all aware of the fact that this tends to happen when a collective bargaining unit is declared an essential service, removing their right to strike. Our fiscally responsible stewards went ahead with it anyway. The new contract will cost the TTC around $64 million this year alone. It is a 3 year deal that will give raises in each of those years (though, below inflation, still significantly more than the wage freeze management was aiming for.) The city will be responsible for $37 million of that bill.
Oh shit. The cat’s dead.
Cost of designating the TTC an essential service:
> CAD = 37,000,000
> CoCF = 57,812,500
> FSF = 79,140 Years, 12 Months, 1 Days
Source: The Globe & Mail
* I’m sure there’s other fun examples of wasteful spending over the last year and a half. By all means, add them! My methodology is explained below. For the record, I’m no mathematician, or statistician, or expert or anything. Some of the numbers may be off, I did my best but I make no guarantees. I did have a couple beers, and it is the middle of the night. Please let me know if you find mistakes. Also, if you are a mathematician or savant, and happen to notice that some of the FSF numbers don’t add up quite right, I can save you, or rather me, the frustration of pointing it out by explaining that I used an assumption of two cans of cat food per day. I suspect that’s way more than cats are actually supposed to be fed, but I feed my cat dry food, so I really have no idea. All I know is I feed my cat twice daily. Secondly, I made some assumptions in the math: I declared a year as 365.25 days to account for leap years. This means I could be off a little here and there, especially when you get into the 79,000 year range. I also, for the sake of simplicity, assumed that months are about 30.33 days long, to account for the fluctuation from 28 to 31 days in any given month. I also rounded down when determining how many cans of cat food could be purchased for the dollar value, so technically some of them may have gotten another half day, but you can’t buy a half can of cat food. This will surely have created some issues in the actual results, but hey, I invented the unit of measurement, so I can do what I want. So there.
That which we call a Downtown Relief Line; by any other name would provide relief.
Yesterday I was sucked into a twitter conversation about the future of Toronto’s rapid transit and potential system expansion, I assume spawned at least in part by this Toronto Star article. It is somewhat reminiscent of my last post, though I also posited a way for a defeated mayor to still achieve a legacy of subway expansion, and as a suburban saviour, and so it spurred my interest.
The conversation was mostly between myself, Richard Murray and Corey Caplan and we all floated some name ideas and then picked apart their positives and negatives. We all agreed from the outset that “Downtown Relief Line” was not the right choice. Caplan was floating the name “Toronto Relief Line” because it is specific to its purpose but inclusive of the whole city – avoiding the downtown/suburb divide which has plagued this term of council. We all agreed with the sentiment, but issues with the word “relief” were raised: It is dry and technical. Not particularly attractive to commuters, or tourists, and while it describes the function of the line perfectly, it doesnt really roll of the tongue, nor does it match the naming system we’ve traditionally used in Toronto. The use of the name Toronto also seems forced. It reminds me of Vancouver’s “Canada Line” which is a gimmicky name as well.
My early suggestions included “Commuter Subway Corridor” which unfortunately falls victim to some of the same concerns. Its too technical, and not in the tradition of Toronto’s subway nomenclature. I also suggested the “Yonge-Bloor Bypass Line” but again, it’s clunky in its technicality, and this time it also doesn’t accurately describe the line – while it does bypass Yonge-Bloor Station, and for that matter the YUS line altogether, Bypass implies some sort of express service, which the DRL isn’t explicitly intended to be, but rather an alternative route – and as Mr Caplan eventually mentioned: Bypass sounds too much like heart surgery.
After considering the names of the currently existing rapid transit lines, and the suggested names of the future LRT lines planned for the city, I realized that the city’s street and neighbourhood names play an important role in naming our transit system. I then proposed the “Keele-Union-Eglinton Loop”. It isn’t an ideal name just in the fact that its a mouthful, but it did seem to be in keeping with the tradition of how we name our lines. Then my girlfriend pointed out to me that those are the terminus points on the line, and the TTCs route names are actually for the streets they travel.
That brought Richard’s suggestion of something such as “Bayview-Gardiner Loop” depending on exactly what streets it travelled. Personally I like the sound of that one, though I’m not sure it would travel up bayview. It may be tough to sell it like that when its in the early planning stage and its uncertain exactly what route it might take. Though something Like the “Don Valley-Gardiner Loop” might be workable given that those are surface routes that are landmarks in the city and although the final subway line may not follow them exactly, they would be in that vein.
Richard also suggested a few words that would work well in a route name given Metrolinx’s intention to build a regional transit network: GTA, East-West, Connector, Express, or Commute. These also all have their pluses and detractors. Ultimately we reached no consensus other than that the name needs work, because the line needs to be built, and it needs to be supported by everyone in the city – and quite possibly the rest of the GTA if not the whole province.
The moniker currently used suggests that the line is a perk for downtowners. It’ll offer them relief. You suburbanites just have to deal with your commuting pains. But in reality, it is a very literal and utilitarian name. The line is intended to offer relief to the downtown subway system – not the downtown its self. The subway being a funnel that is largely carrying suburban and exurban passengers needing to get into the core of the city, or of course, back out again, means that in actuality the benefit will be reaped most by those outside of the old city. But that’s a tough sell when the superficial and obvious meaning seems to be the exact opposite.
So now the discussion is shifting to a name change.
A new name doesn’t change the function, but it may tell the story better. To illustrate this, I’ll combine the Shakespeare quote that I bastardized above, with the Simpson’s quote that relates directly to it and then relate that to the subway situation. Shakespeare says “That which we call a rose; by any other name would smell as sweet.” Bart Simpson’s smart-aleck response is “Not if you called ‘em stench blossoms.”
This is of course, untrue. The smell of the flower would not change. But if you call them stench blossoms you’ll have a hard time convincing people to smell them, or even to allow you to plant them in your garden. After all, why would we want stench blossoms in our city? The name rose of course is only appealing to us because we know they’re lovely smelling flowers. If we didn’t know that, calling something a rose may not make any more appealing either. But to be entirely fair, “pleasant odour efflorescence” isn’t the most attractive name for a flower either. Its accurate, telling us exactly what it is and why we want it in our lives, but there’s something harsh about being asked to stop and smell the pleasant odour efflorescence.
So that gets us here: The name needs to be honest and clear, certainly not claiming to be anything its not, but not allowing for anyone to confuse it for something its not either. It also needs to be appealing on its own merits. Furthermore, it should also keep in the vague tradition of how our subway lines have been named. Yong-University-Spadina or Bloor-Danforth are not entirely spectacular names in their own right, but they have a long history in the city. It would make sense to stick to this tradition as much as is reasonable so as to maintain a sense of continuity in the system, but it would also be wise to heed the opportunity to avoid the naming mistakes we’ve made in the past.
Ok. It sounds so simple when you suggest reframing the idea of building a Downtown Relief Line so as to appeal to everyone, but actual consideration turns it into a pretty complex task. No matter how you try to sell the idea, the ultimate point is that since its inception, the “Downtown Relief Line” subway is a bad name – there’s no way to dance around it – and one that is ultimately self-defeating in the current climate of politicking in Toronto.
The dream could still be alive. Friday morning when asked about his answer to a Councillor Doug Ford question on his personal preference of LRT or Subway on Sheppard (one that was qualified by the caveat “if funding existed” – which it doesn’t) and further qualified in his answer that he would ‘prefer subways’ (If funding was specifically restricted to use on Sheppard) Andy Byford reminded reporters that it was his own personal belief, and not meant to be political.
What does this mean? To me it says that Andy Byford, like many of us, is fully in favour of building more subway in Toronto, if it is planned and funded. If sufficient money existed, and only existed for transit expansion on Sheppard, then yes, Byford too would build a subway. However, if that money was available, and the option to use it elsewhere was also available, LRT would suffice on Sheppard and he would recommend we build subways elsewhere – where they’re justified.
I recognize that I’m putting words in his mouth. Byford did not actually say this. This is simply what I can infer from the myriad ridiculous qualifications and disclaimers that had to be added to both Councillor Ford’s question, and Mr. Byford’s response, in order to wrest out the sound-bite the subway camp wanted so badly from their newly promoted point-man at the TTC. Whether or not it was meant to be political, in this 10 second sound-bite, 140 character world, it has been used as such.
Mr Byford continued on to express interest on the part of himself and TTC staff to look into the funding tools and planning process necessary to now focus on a downtown relief line (often referred to as the DRL) to ease pressure on the already-at-capacity Yonge-University-Spadina line. This is an old idea that’s been on the back burner for years now, but the issues it proposes to solve are rapidly coming to a head.
Suddenly, the downtown elitists are in a panic. The DRL is needed. The ridership numbers on the YUS line are as previously stated, not only justify it but demand it, as they’re on the brink of requiring it. Although the new streetcars set to arrive in the next few years will add capacity to those lines, the increase is not nearly sufficient to ease the demand on the subway. Higher capacity forms of surface transit aren’t really a viable option for the comparatively narrow, already excessively congested downtown streets. Density and zoning in the downtown core already justify subways – no new development needed, and any new development would only make other modes less viable.
But there was just a heroic struggle to take the nice cushy subway away from the suburbs and give them LRT they “don’t want” and now suddenly we’re talking at high levels about looking at investing money we don’t have at all (at least a small portion of the money necessary for subways on Sheppard existed in the form of the money that was earmarked initially for LRT) to build more subways for downtowners to sip their champagne on? This has Rob Ford’s re-election written all over it!
With a little vision though, Mayor Ford could actually appease his critics – who he declares to be downtown elitists – by building transit infrastructure in a responsible, well planned, and fully funded way, simultaneously appease the suburbanites by giving them their subway after all, if only in a slightly different location, and all the while successfully come through on his campaign promise of building more subways in Toronto. He simply needs to lay down his broadsword rhetoric, and figure out how to frame this issue properly. I suggest the left leaning citizens of Toronto extend an olive branch to help in this.
The DRL isn’t really for downtowners. The benefit to it seems to be more for commuters. It’s an express line in a sense (though I’m sure in any design it’ll have its share of milk-run stops as well) for people who are going further east or further west from deep in the city’s core but don’t need to go past Yonge and Bloor on the way. It will not get people to their outer suburban door steps, but it will get them to their local surface transit option more efficiently, more comfortably, and possibly with less transfers. It will also mean less crowding during rush-hour.
As a downtowner myself, I can honestly say I rarely use the subway. I take the 506, 501, 504, 63, 511, 510 and their night-time equivalents almost exclusively. They get me from where I am, to where I want to be in the core. I would generally have to go out of my way just to get to the subway, and it would then require a transfer to a surface route to get to my destination. I pretty much only use subways to get out of the downtown and into the suburbs. It may be a case of confirmation bias, but I suspect my experience is not atypical of transit riders from downtown, and probably the reciprocal is true of most suburbanites, taking subways to get downtown, not for their local use.
That’s precisely how our transit system is set up. Downtown doesn’t have subways because we’re better, or more deserving of it – but rather because that’s where travellers are headed. We feed the subway with buses, and the subway then hauls the mass of riders downtown, where they then get off and take a surface route to their destination. It’s a funnel. Not a luxurious frill, but a blunt instrument. Subways for truly local service would be painfully inefficient – especially given that they must always stop at every station, unlike buses and streetcars which can bypass any stop where nobody needs on or off.
If the Mayor chose to do so, he could set in place the funding tools and programs which would fund future expansion and improvement of Toronto’s transit infrastructure. Even though “shovels in the ground” might not be realistic in the next 2 years, if the coffers are slowly filling up it would likely prove to reflect positively on the Mayor from all sides of the political spectrum – so long as the revenue tools used are reasonable, proportional, and related, and assuming they do not hurt other social programs in the process. This is why he needs to start asking for options from anyone and everyone, then whittle them down to what he can live with, and asking for compromise from everyone.
A word Mr Ford is not fond of, I know.
Perhaps a new mayor will take over in 2014 here in Toronto. Perhaps not. The question the current Mayor needs to ask himself is would he prefer to have his legacy be a die-hard fight for a Scarborough subway that the vast majority of transit experts agree isn’t justifiable, and will likely never be realized, or would he prefer a legacy of having established the foundation of the future of Toronto’s transit. I for one believe he has either as an option at this point, but it’s almost certainly a choice between one or the other. Not both.
Mr Ford, it’s time to talk revenue, its time to remind commuters from the suburbs that higher-order transit infrastructure in the downtown likely benefits them more than their downtown counterparts. Its time to be realistic and cooperative. Its time to build a legacy nobody can spit upon.
Its your move.
Mayor Ford has proclaimed that the 2014 mayoral campaign started with the vote for LRT. He’s done a good job positioning himself for it too. Perhaps I’m giving him too much credit, but sometimes I fear I don’t give him enough. And whether or not this was a deliberate plan on his part, doesn’t have any bearing on the effectiveness of its execution.
Its well known the Rob Ford doesn’t like to lose. As we saw in the aftermath of the election campaign that saw him reach the mayoralty in 2010, he is also not one to shy away from some more dubious techniques to secure a victory. I for one am not convinced he ever cared to be mayor of Toronto, but rather relishes the competition and simply wanted to win. City building, social welfare and leadership be damned. He’s in it to win.
I also think this whole transit file fiasco was an attempt to guarantee him a win in the next election.
The plan as I retrospectively see it:
- Day 1 the new mayor declares transit city dead
- Shortly thereafter he levers a MOU out of the Premier just before an election
- He then sits on the MOU for a little over a year before bringing it to council to have it approved
That’s it. That’s the whole plan. You see, what’s been accomplished here is that there’s nothing to lose for the mayor in this scenario. Checkmate. If subways are approved, he’s shown leadership and helped out the oft ignored and plighted suburbs. He’s done something that seemed unimaginable to his predecessors.
If council rejects the MOU as they’ve just done, this gives him more fodder for the victim-role he likes to play. Also, and more importantly, he’s delayed construction on the LRT by a year. It was scheduled to be completed in 2013. Add a year and BAM! now its completion will be right around election time.
Here is where the brilliance of the plan lies: Ford has been railing against LRT since the day it was first proposed. It follows then that it would be hard for him to turn around and take credit for the wonderful new shiny transit the city has just provided to the suburbs. He won’t. He doesn’t need to change his tone at all. He can continue to rail against it for the next 3 years while it’s being constructed and right through the actual campaign period.
For the next three years there will be no new transit. There will only be construction. People like construction less than they like LRTs, and we’ve heard all about how much they don’t like them. Even if the construction goes well and is completed on time, or even early, the LRT line will have barely opened by the time the campaign is on. People will have just experienced 3 years of constant construction headaches (and if he’s playing his cards right, constant reminders from the mayor that its not his fault, he didn’t want those streetcars in the first place) and, if they’re lucky, only a few months to have experienced the system and decide if it was worth all the trouble. In all likelihood, public opinion in and around the lines being constructed will be more with the mayor than against him at that point.
Jump down the timeline another 4 years to the next election, and either LRT is the disaster that Ford predicted, in which case he has 4 years of “I told you so” to bolster himself, or it is a huge success and he has 4 years to gently transition himself from “No more tracks down the middle of our streets!” to “well, maybe they’re not so bad.” to “Yeah, I might have been wrong, this works for the city!” to “Fuck yeah LRT! Lets build some more!”
How can he lose?
Over the holiday, Doug Ford mentioned that he wants the city to get behind his brother Mayor Rob Ford who is on a mission to trim the fat, and this time we’re talking literally. Its rare that I’m in support of the ideas these two come up with, but personal health is a non-partisan issue. I am of course, in the process of proposing my ideas, going to politicize the issue, but then, it is a partisan Mayor who we’re discussing so it almost seems silly not to. Will he take any of the ideas to heart? Probably not (lets face it, he will probably never see them!) But Mayor Ford has reached his own conclusion about his heart, so I’m behind him. I also recognize that for a man in Ford’s situation – lifestyle, weight, overall health, age, tough job, kids, car dependent etc – it isn’t necessarily fair to simply say: Diet and Exercise. All of my suggestions are at their core diet and exercise but I like to think that they’re presented in a way that appeals to the Mayor’s sense of pride. A challenge. A bet. A contest. A try-it-before-you-knock-it kind of thing. Fun, and effective, and maybe a little educational at times too. I’ve also got a mix of things that he’s shown an interest in, as well as things he’s shown a disdain for. At the end of the day, I’m throwing 12 ideas against the wall and we can see what sticks. At least Del Grande can’t say I didn’t come up with any suggestions. So here it is, maybe the Mayor can cut 20% of his weight in one or more of these 12 ways in 2012!
- Act like an actorRob Ford has shown repeatedly in his short tenure as Mayor that while he may not necessarily be a fan of public funds supporting the arts, and for the most part he isn’t interested in that sort of chi-chi downtowner elitist entertainment, he is in fact a fan of the theatre. He has participated on stage by taking cameo roles in last springs AEG ThemeSTAR and HIT Entertainment production of Thomas Saves The Day presented by the city-owned (for now) Sony Centre and the National Ballet’s most recent production of The Nutcracker as the Excited Canon Doll. I saw the video from the ballet. His excitement, energy, and genuine enthusiasm was incredible. This of course was a one-time thing. There’s no way in hell Ford could keep that up night after night – but you know it’d be good for him to try. actors take incredible care of themselves. Even heavier actors are fit. They eat well, they exercise, they meditate, etc. They have to. Their livelihood depends on it. Furthermore, for the average actor, especially stage actors, their livelihood doesn’t allow them to have lavish lifestyles. Canadian Actors Equity members are only making around $850 a week when in a reasonably sized production in Toronto. Some make more – for instance those performing in Mirvish productions – and many make less in small indie productions. What’s more notable is that they earn this amount during contracts that generally only last a month or two, then they’re back to finding another gig.
Perhaps our Mayor would benefit in his quest to lose some weight, or at the very least in a quest to be healthier if he allowed himself under the wing of one of Toronto’s thousands of actors. He could work out with them a few times a week, take notes on how they eat. He might even get a little perspective on how they live, spend their money, and the hard work that goes into their life. It could benefit him in ways he hasn’t even considered in his quest to improve himself in the new year. It would also help because he’d have a buddy-system implemented by default, and I for one can certainly say that for me, that is key to keeping motivated.
- Ride a bike to workI know, I know. There’s more than a handful of problems with this suggestion. Firstly, His Honour is as anti-bike as they come without coming out as anti-bike, so the idea that he would up and decide to ride a bike, from the suburbs to City Hall is nothing less than ridiculous. Especially considering that his issue with cycling is not the act its self but the perceived negative effect it has on the other road users. To ride himself would be to spit in the eye of many of his supporters. It is also the most immediately cliché suggestions that jumps to mind. On top of all of this, it’s a New-Years’ resolution, so it’ll be winter for the first 3-5 months of his effort, which is a time when many of the city’s more seasoned cyclists put their rides in storage and take to the TTC or some of them even to their own single occupant motor vehicles. To add insult to never-going-to-happen, the Mayor describes himself as “300 pounds of fun!” At 300 pounds, without practice, and under the previously noted circumstances, this is something that will never happen. But it doesn’t make the idea any less good.
He could start slow. Literally and figuratively. Get a well-fitted, easy to ride, as-comfortable-as-you-can-make-it-for-a-big-man bike, and take easy rides around the block, or the neighbourhood, or a nearby park or ravine, parking lot, or whatever is convenient and nearby his home and go for a slow, easy ride. As I’m sure Coach Ford tells his players, with practice, you’ll get better. Eventually he might find himself enjoying it (especially as the weather gets nicer!) And he could even start riding longer distances and facing more challenging aspects such as traffic. As anyone who cycles can attest to, it is more exercise that you realize you’re getting and the more you ride, the better you feel, and the better your jeans fit. I wouldn’t expect this to be a solution that would drop 200 pounds off the mayor in a year, but any improvement is an improvement!
- Visit a community centreThe mayor is a sports fan. He is also a proponent of raising user-fees, cutting hours, and or staff for city services such as community centres. Perhaps the Mayor would do well actually using his local centre. He is well known for his work with youth in the football program he champions, and is a fan of most sports from what I can gather. One would think there’d be a place for him to help out with a league at a local rink or gym. Maybe he could coach a basketball team, or a floor hockey team. But rather than give encouragement and instruction to his team, he could get out on the floor and lead them in their warm-ups, drills, and scrimmages. It would have all the reward he gets with the football team, as well as the benefit of an exercise regime.
I can say from personal experience that a coach who participates in his practices is the most encouraging. The only sport I participated in in high school was the wrestling team. Our coaches were always there with us on the mats doing the same workouts we were doing. Running with us. Counting off our push-ups as they did them alongside. Stepping in as the extra person for two-person drills when an odd number was at practice. Its hard not to listen to someone, and to respect them when they not only can do, but are actively doing everything they’re asking of you. Its even what the Mayor preaches at City Hall. He cut councillor’s expense accounts and eliminated snacks at council meetings under the guise that if he was asking the city as a whole to cut back, council must lead by example. Here’s another opportunity for the Mayor to set that example, while helping youth! It’s win-win!
- Volunteer to walk dogs for TASOk, no politics in this one actually. This one I came to from two fronts. First, Toronto Animal Services is a city service that is always needing more volunteers. It’s also both an important service to the city, but also invaluable to the protection of animals in our city. With the controversies that surround the Toronto Humane Society and many rescue agencies, Toronto Animal Services, while unscathed by the actual issues, has suffered in reputation by mistaken identity and inherent association of services offered. The Mayor’s help here could bring a lot of valuable good press to what I believe to be fantastic agency in Toronto.
Second, speaking as someone who has been a dog owner for the past year and a half, walking and playing with dogs is not only important for the dogs themselves, but it is also great low-impact exercise! While many dog owners will take their dogs around the block once or twice a day, a dog should be outside walking, sniffing, chasing balls, and socializing with other dogs, as well as people for significantly longer than that. From the perspective of most people an extra 45 minutes of walking every day doesn’t sound like much, but when you really stop and think about it, it’s probably a doubling of the amount of time most of us spend walking in a day. For someone who drives everywhere, as Ford is thought to be, it probably increases activity levels 10 fold. Its only walking, so it’s low impact, and certainly you won’t see pants sizes dropping overnight, but the heart and stroke foundation recommends 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity (“brisk” walking is included as a moderate activity) per week in order to remain healthy. Why not use that 150 minutes per week to make a difference in the life of a 4 legged friend, and benefit an under appreciated city service!
- Take the stairsAn oldie but a goodie. This one again, is completely apolitical, it is just a good suggestion. City Hall is an office tower, but the Mayor’s office isn’t on the top floor. Nor are council chambers. Nor the committee rooms. We’re talking 3 or 4 flights of stairs for most places the Mayor wants to get in that building. He could take it slow to start – still take the elevator up, then the stairs down for a month. Then stairs up but elevators down for a month. Then all stairs except if he’s headed higher than the 4th floor. Then if he’s going higher than the 8th… and so on. You get it.
- Try a Student Nutrition Program meal planClearly this one is political. With student nutrition programs, and their CPIP grants at risk of losing funding, I wonder if the Mayor saw the true benefit to the community of the small amount of investment that goes into these programs he might be more reluctant to ever cut them. My thought is: on a rotating basis, the mayor volunteers to serve breakfast to needy children at a school across Toronto. In doing so he could see the difference it makes, and also learn a little about nutrition and proper eating. In order for a Student Nutrition Program to qualify for Toronto Public Health funding, it must meet the following criteria:
- Nutritious Food
A cycle menu is planned based upon the Guide to the Nutrition Standard and offers a variety of healthy food choices,
suitable to the cultures of your community.
- Meal menus (breakfast, morning meal, lunch, and dinner) include at least these three of the four food groups:
Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products and Milk and Alternatives.
- Snack menus offer two to three food groups, with at least one serving from the Vegetables and Fruit food group.
- Full serving sizes, according to Canada’s Food Guide, are available.
Immersion in this type of healthy eating environment would help give the mayor the motivation and understanding of nutrition, portion size, and eating regimen that would put him squarely on the path to proper dietary habits. While I don’t have insider information on what and how Mr Ford eats, I’m fairly confident that even he would be quick to admit it isn’t to the requirements of the Canada Food Guide. Perhaps the kids he would be serving would also chip in in the form of encouragement.
I feel I should be clear at this point that I wouldn’t expect our Mayor to eat the meals provided by the programs. While that may be an option, I suspect it would not be in keeping with his views on perceived gravy. I am however suggesting that he could take lessons on meal planning, and perhaps plan his own dietary choices in the same vein as the meals served to students – providing his own groceries of course!
- Nutritious Food
- Grant interviews only while exercisingThis one is my favourite. The media is constantly trying to get a sound bite out of our mayor, an interview, a comment or a photo-op. It would go a long way to garnering support from the citizens and taxpayers alike in Toronto if he was seen working out during these sessions. Put a treadmill somewhere in City Hall and invite reporters to join him in a scrum around the machine. He could talk while he walks. He might look a little haggard and sweaty in the process, but with good reason. He might at times be short of breath, but any reporter with a sense of healthy living would respect that and be patient while the Mayor huffed-and-puffed out responses to questions.
The press would no doubt be good. What better way to lead by example than to always be seen trying to improve yourself? Who among us would be watching a TV interview with the Mayor, and agree or disagree with him, not still be somewhat proud of him for making such an effort. I guarantee this technique would lose the mayor weight, and gain him support. It would even be possible to take it that extra step: Grant interviews to the Toronto Star. Blaspheme I know, but hear me out Mayors Office! On two conditions: First, that the Star make a donation of some sort to a health related charity on a per interview basis, and further, that the reporter conducting the interview workout alongside the Mayor at the time. There’d be a benefit to the community, a few less interview requests (from reporters who don’t care to jog themselves) and it would make Mr Ford look better.
- Snack TaxRob Ford hates taxes. This is no secret. He loves snacks, which is also no secret. Despite leading the charge to remove free snacks from council chambers, he is still frequently seen noshing what he’s supplied from his own coffers. Perhaps if he pledged to pay a tax every time he wanted to snack he could cut down on the amount he consumes. He would need a lot of help with this one because it is all too easy to cheat on a system like this – I know I would – but if his staff, friends, and family were to police it it just might work. The money paid out could of course go to a health, fitness, or nutrition based charity. Though in that case, it’d almost be a shame if he succeeded!
- Donate a meal a dayNutritionists would hate me for suggesting he skip a meal. They’d probably be right. But it would cut down on his daily caloric intake, and thus likely reduce his waistline. Instead of skipping the meal altogether then, why not just switch to something healthier, like soup for lunch? Considering the money saved by eating a bowl of soup rather than fast-food, or even decent restaurant food, he could buy a second can of soup and donate it to a food bank. On the odd day that he caves and eats out, he could donate double the value of his meal to the food bank. At the very least he’d be putting some food on the tables of some folks who are more likely to be underweight than overweight.
- Cut a deal with Bill BlairHere’s another clearly political one, but I think it will appeal to the Ford sense of competition. Reluctantly, the Mayor allowed the police to present a budget this year that technically actually increased from the previous year rather than cutting the 10% that had been requested of all city departments. The condition for this was that in 2012 Chief Bill Blair would find ways to make further cuts for the next budget, that more closely resemble an actual cut in spending. I propose that the mayor make a friendly wager with the Police Chief. If Ford can lose 10% of his weight by the start of next year’s budget process, Blair must find the 10% savings. If Ford can not, he must accept any budget at or lower than this year’s number.
It would be up to Mayor Ford how to actually lose the weight. He would have to find ways to cut down, even though he might not always like what he has to do – just like he’s asking the city’s departments to do. There may be some legal or ethical issues with this idea, but conceptually I think we can all agree it is fun and in keeping with the Mayor’s personality. We know he likes a good friendly wager.
- Solicit Giorgio’s thumbOk, not his thumb, but his expertise. I don’t know much about the workout and healthy eating habits of Mammoliti, but he’s clearly in pretty good shape. I think it’s also pretty evident that despite their historic disputes, Mammo and RoFo have become pretty good buddies. Something tells me there’s a lot there for the mayor to learn, and as I’ve said before, a workout/diet buddy always helps keep the motivation up. It would also mean that he’s starting with knowledge and understanding in his back pocket, which can be of the utmost importance in success. It’s hard to know where to begin when trying to make improvements in your fitness. Its good to have a friend who can steer you along, point out mistakes, give tips and pointers to improve your effectiveness and pat you on your back when you’re successful. This is by far the most mundane recommendation I’m making, as it’s essentially “get together with a buddy and exercise” but it seems obvious to me that Mammoliti would be the go-to guy, and I’d feel ridiculous not pointing it out.
- Perhapse there’s a role for the private sector there
I see no reason why Mr Mayor couldn’t hire a nutritionist, a trainer, or a weight-loss organization to help him out. There are plenty of reputable organizations in Canada that deal with his issue, and as a fan of the private sector he should have no major qualms with paying the fees associated with the benefits he seeks. Gyms abound in Toronto, and memberships are not all that unreasonably priced for someone with steady employment. Maybe the mayor could even find a corporation willing to put some gym equipment into the Mayor’s Office?
Happy New Year Toronto. Today’s your last day to make the world better in 2011!
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford talked 1 on 1 with Global Television’s Jackson Proskow about his first year in office and his plans for the Christmas break. Most of it is the same typical rhetoric, made-up facts, lies, and misdirection typical of a Rob Ford Interview. Then he tries in vain to be endearing and comes across unusually smarmy… I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did. I hate to pick on the man on Christmas – a day of charity and good-will even toward those we typically don’t get along with – and I’m glad that he can joke around about things like his weight, as it does show an inkling of humanity, but to say such things as he does in this interview without a concept of the irony involved shows a complete disconnect from the realities of what the decisions he makes as mayor do to the people of this city who may not have been born into as fortunate circumstances as some others, or who may have made a mistake or two in their life. Frankly I am disgusted. (The entire interview can be seen on the Global site here.)
Merry Fucking Christmas Toronto, from Rob Fucking Ford.
A few weeks ago during public deputations at the budget committee’s week-long session of meetings there was a very familiar and not at all unexpected refrain that kept popping up. Commonly asked of deputants urging the city not to cut a service was: “Do you think there’s a role for the Private Sector there?”
Its no secret that Mayor Ford, his brother Councillor Ford, and several other Team members are fans of the private sector. Privatize, privatize, privatize. We hear it all the time. I’ve been bothered by this in principle since as long as I’ve been politically aware (I am after all, a leftwing socialist pinko kook…) but only sitting in Committee room 1 last week did it really sink in why.
Social welfare is a responsibility of everyone engaged in social living. Welfare is not a dirty word. It is not synonymous with hand-outs from the government. It means the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity. As a member of a society, our own personal welfare is dependent on the welfare of those around us, as we use our collective wealth and fortune to fund projects that otherwise few if any individuals could afford, but benefit us all. We all benefit from each other’s participation in this system; so because we benefit from the participation of others, we have a duty to participate ourselves for the benefit of all. This is why paying taxes is important, and why cutting services is counter productive to creating a thriving city, despite the rhetoric that lower taxes are better, and unnecessary services must be cut to lower them.
But isn’t there a role here for the private sector? Well, frankly, no. The private sector isn’t interested in social welfare. The entire reason for the existence of the private sector is to profit. A convenient side effect of this pursuit of profit is that goods and services are offered as bait for our money, so there is a benefit to us in the existence of private industry. The difference lies in the aspect of selling. The private company wants to sell you it’s product or service regardless of whether or not you need it, which also means it will try to convince you that you want or need whatever it is offering whether or not you could possibly see a genuine benefit from it, and at times even when it will be harmful. Social services and programs on the other hand are offered because they’re needed, and paid for collectively, which means that while occasionally those who don’t use them pay for them, and those who don’t pay for them will use them, we all benefit as it strengthens our community as a whole.
But if the private sector is willing to pay for something that would benefit society as a whole, isn’t that even better than paying for it via taxes? Well, it could be, but I’m sceptical. I fear a sort of debt bondage situation presenting its self. The point of the public sector is that we don’t owe to anyone except ourselves. That tax bill you receive annually isn’t a debt you owe to the government, it’s a debt you owe to the society of which you are a part, and therefore to yourself as much as everyone else. Once corporations step into the mix, and start paying for or providing our services you can assume that there is profit involved. Profit means a draining of our collective wealth into their individual wealth. This is necessarily a net loss of welfare.
Lets take student nutrition programs at schools as an example. Although the budget committee actually took this cut off the table, it was the issue being discussed when my concerns donned on me so suddenly. It was also one that Doug Ford personally chipped in to help out with while advocating for its slashing from the city’s budget (You can read about the issues surrounding that mentality in a fantastic Torontoist piece here.) It was also Councillor Ford who asked the deputant at the time “Do you think there’s a role for the Private Sector there?” The deputant seemed hesitant to say yes, but being as concerned as she was for the children at stake, she seemed to agree that if the private sector were to step up and fund the nutrition programs it would be a blessing, but until such a time public funding was necessary.
My gut sank. What will the children, our future generations, end up owing to these corporations that are feeding them? Every morning when they show up for school they’ll be another meal fuller and deeper in debt. Perhaps not the children themselves, but what will their parents owe? Or what will we as a society owe? Corporations will not do this out of the kindness of their hearts – they’re not people. They have no heart. Literally.
I’ve heard it suggested that Mayor Ford’s election a little over a year ago resulted in the regression of Toronto’s values and principles to that of the 1950s. My last entry (albeit a while ago and on a little reported issue) showed how they in fact had reverted at least in part to more of an 1850s mentality. Now what I’m seeing is a couple of inherited upper-middle-class businessmen who took control of the municipal government (the mayor on a strong mandate of less than 48 percent of the votes) pushing us back to 18th century values – essentially trying to reinstate a truck system, and by virtue of this, debt bondage. Only not related to employment, but simply related to living socially. Further supporting this, is the Team Ford bent against unions. We keep hearing that the city should be run like a business and business has never been more successful for the management than when truck systems were commonplace.
A city should not be run like a business. There’s a good reason for this: Cities are not businesses. You don’t run a book club like a business. You don’t run your Christmas dinner like a business. They’re not businesses either. Businesses exist to profit. Its as simple as that. Some would argue that they actually provide goods and services, and they do. But value-for-your-money wise you as the customer never get a 100% return on your investment. Some of the money you spend on the goods or services is not returned to you in the value of what you’ve purchased. This is the profit. While cities do squirrel away some money here and there in reserve funds, this can’t be seen as profit as it’s only there to be spent when not-specifically-budgeted-for expenses pop up (We can’t really call them unexpected, because we do expect them, that’s why we’re smart enough to have reserve funds!)
Other than those funds, every penny a city brings in should be spent. That means paying employees well. It means offering services to improve the lives of the people in the city. It means investing in capital even when that sometimes means taking on debt burdens. It means recognizing that living in a society where some people suffer in the name of superfluous benefit to the already advantaged is unsustainable. It means that social justice is just that: Just. Not necessarily fair. Sometimes you have to pay more than others, but it is the right thing to do.
After I got home from work that evening (I couldn’t be there for the whole committee meeting – it turns out some of us “usual suspects” also have jobs… Or maybe I’m a card carrying Ford Nationer and just don’t realize it – so I came late and left early) I read another amazing, or frightening Doug Ford quote from the day: “Do you not think that individual homeowners…could spend $6,000 better than putting it in the coffers of irresponsible government?” (From the Torontoist Live-Blog of the day)
Well Mr Ford, I have two issues with this reasoning. The first is one of semantics. You ask whether one option is better than another, but never give any criteria for reaching a conclusion. Since “better” is a relative term it is vague by its nature, and thus requires further qualification to remove the ambiguousness it carries. Yes I think individual homeowners could better spend six grand on lavish televisions and vacations – but no I do not think they could better spend it on ameliorating the community that we all live in. One ripe with problems that few individuals would be willing to tackle on their own, but which a municipal government, with appropriate revenue levels can handle quite effectively, and efficiently. The individual home owner certainly could spend their extra $6,000 on an effort to do so, but they lack the ability to do it as effectively as government, therefore, they certainly couldn’t do it better.
I think I could better spend the buck-fifty I tip on a beer than any bartender out there, yet I give it to them anyway because it is a part of the social contract I have agreed to by being a member of this particular society, and I do so happily knowing that I will get it back in-kind other ways.
Additionally, Councillor, I feel its appropriate to point out to you, that you sir, along with your council compatriots, are the government in question. To call the government irresponsible is to call yourself irresponsible which is its self an irresponsible act, thus proving yourself correct. If you are correct that you as the government are irresponsible, the responsible course of action would in fact be to resign and allow someone with the means to be responsible to take over. Regrettably, you continue to wield your reigns of power and steer the city in irresponsible ways continuing your vicious cycle and then using that as justification for your irresponsibility.
Although I’ve read some interesting posts on the inaptitude of a majority of analogies (Par example,) I’d like to draw one now: A driver acts irresponsibly, and changes lanes without looking, striking and killing a cyclist. Would it be an acceptable argument that since we license irresponsible people to drive and they cause cyclists to die, we should stop allowing cycling on city streets as people could get around much more effectively by walking on sidewalks on their own rather than at the mercy of car drivers who we know are irresponsible?
Actually, you might agree.
Starting this week I think I’m bringing a gun to work. It seems that in Rob Ford’s Toronto if you’re packing heat at work, you’re suddenly entitled to more job security, better wages, and better working conditions. It doesn’t matter what your other duties are; if you carry a gun as a part of your job, and seemingly only then, there’s a chance that you could be involved in dangerous situations, specifically a shootout.
Many of us have come to terms with the concept that Mayor Ford’s election meant many of the city’s policies would revert to a 1950s mentality. What we didn’t necessarily realize was that the appointment of Doug Holyday as Deputy Mayor, Toronto would be thrust into a time warp dragging us back to the 1850s. Respect is to be given to whoever has the most fire-power, else Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef stroll into town and terrorize our lady folk.
This past week the Deputy Mayor was quoted in the Sun stating that the idea of cuts to collective bargaining agreement of employees of the city’s fire department should be treated differently from those of the police service’s employees because a firefighter’s job “does not carry the same degree of hazard as a police officer.” He posits that since police carry guns, they could find themselves targets of guns, and thus we should treat them in the highest regard.
So it seems our town is at the mercy of gun-toting bandits, and if we don’t give the Sheriff whatever he demands, he and his deputies may put down their badges and ride into the sunset. Firefighters on the other hand have it easy. It’s obviously not a dangerous job because they don’t have guns. Nobody’s ever been killed passing a bucket.
Well, Mr Holyday, perhaps next time you see a high-rise fire, you’d bless us all by whipping out the old Smith & Wesson and shooting that fire out. The price of a few bullets must surely be less than a firefighters salary and since it’s such a safe and easy job, you’d have no problem taking care of it for us right?
Lets have a look at the basic requirements to be hired by the Toronto Police services according to the employment page on their website:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Be a Canadian Citizen or have permanent resident status
- Have a minimum grade 12 education or equivalent, post secondary is advantageous
- Have no criminal convictions without a pardon and be of good moral character and habits
- Have a minimum of 20/40 (uncorrected) vision, with normal colour acuity
- Must obtain an (Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police Certificate) OACP
- Have a class “G” driver’s licence (upon submission of application) with less than six demerit points, permitting you to drive an automobile in Ontario with full driving privileges
- Have a current certification in both “First Aid and CPR Level C” prior to employment
Compare that with the requirements on the Toronto Fire Services site:
- 18 years of age or older
- Legally entitled to work in Canada
- Ontario Secondary School Diploma or academic equivalent
- Ontario DZ Driver’s Licence
- English communication skills
- Ability and willingness to work 24-hr shifts, including holidays and weekends
- No criminal convictions for which a pardon has not been granted
- 20/30 uncorrected vision in each eye with colour vision, depth perception and peripheral vision that is safe for firefighting
- Normal hearing
- Meet medical standards appropriate to a firefighting career
- CPR Level HCP
- Standard First Aid
The first three are more or less a wash. They both have vision requirements of some degree, but that’s more or less a wash as well. Neither service will hire criminals either. And although it isn’t listed in that particular section of the TPS minimum requirements, their website does also state that you must be healthy and physically fit. So far, it feels like the two jobs are pretty comparable in most ways. It seems to me, that a more dangerous job should actually have a higher threshold for employment. But wait, police officers are only required to have the same drivers license I held when I was 18 years old, limiting them to driving vehicles up to 11,000kg where as the Fire departments minimum requirement is for a D-class license, allowing them to drive any size of truck. They are also required to have a Z (or air-brake) endorsement on their license, which also allows them to operate vehicles with air brakes. This definitely shows a requirement that applicants to the fire department be much more skilled in handling vehicles, which to me indicates that they are performing much more hazardous jobs while in them. The only restriction that a DZ license holder has is that a towed trailer cannot exceed 4,600Kg, the same as the standard G class.
Both professions are required to drive fast and perform dangerous manoeuvres with their vehicles, the main difference being that the fire department has to do it with much bigger, much heavier and much harder to control vehicles.
Lets ignore the basic requirements for employment though and go for a more colloquial examination of the dangers, or at least the perceived dangers of the two jobs:
Dangerous situations a cop must faces
- drive powerful vehicles in fast, unpredictable conditions and perform dangerous manoeuvres
- arrest violent criminals, sometimes armed and dangerous.
- deal with potentially dangerous substances and chemicals at crime scenes, especially drug related.
- deal with potential explosives
- risk contracting a communicable disease
Dangerous situations a firefighter faces
- drive powerful vehicles in fast, unpredictable conditions and perform dangerous manoeuvres
- perform high-angle rescues
- enter burning buildings to search for people inside
- handle explosives
- handle chemicals and dangerous substances
- risk contracting communicable disease
- search and rescue duties in collapsed buildings, dangerous territories, harsh weather
- extractions from crashed automobiles
- deal with wet and or icy conditions around fire responses
- repelling and climbing
- cherry-pickers and elevated work platforms
- high-pressure water, pneumatics, hydraulics
- frequent risk of electrical shock
- smoke inhalation
- long shifts contributing to fatigue
I’m sure there’s a few more that could be added to both lists depending on how in depth you want to get, but I think the point is made.
I also don’t want to suggest that cops have an easy or safe profession. All I’m really trying to suggest here is that for the Deputy Mayor to stand up and say that cops carry guns, therefore they perform a dangerous job – firefighters don’t therefore we should slash their salaries and benefits is outrageous.
This isn’t the Wild West. Our fire department consists of more than a volunteer bucket-brigade, and our fire-fighters are essential to a safe and prosperous city.
Someone needs to remind the Deputy Mayor that his name is Doug Holyday, not Doc Holiday.
The following is an opinion essay I worked on over a few days in October. Its now early September, the occupiers keep on keeping on, and so do the criticisms, so I felt I should edit it (it was originally composed on my iPhone, and I now have a working computer again, so I can bring it up to code so to speak.)
I keep hearing dismissive comments regarding the occupations of Wall Street and the occupations of cities around the globe, often by people who seem under-informed or misinformed. I hear criticisms that are inherently false. There is plenty to criticize for sure, and as a supporter myself I can honestly say there are aspects of the movement that I am not in full agreement with, but generally I don’t find that the whole thing can be discounted the way many would like it to be.
I also understand that many of my opinions (being just that, opinions) are open for debate and criticism themselves. I invite that, though my brain is pretty worn out from jotting down all of my thoughts while I’m supposed to be working. I don’t plan to get into much in the way of actual debate any time soon – though I’m open to invitations.
So on with the show already. Here’s my thoughts on several of the most common poor criticisms of the #occupy movement:
NO CLEAR DEMAND:
A common criticism of the #OccupyWallStreet movement as it has come to be known, and the offshoot #Occupy movements globally is that they have no clear demand. At a quick glance this absolutely seems like a legitimate criticism – How can they really expect us to satisfy them if they can’t tell us how?
Well, there is a clear message being sent by these movements, but many can’t see the forest for the trees. This is probably the most apt usage of that expression I’ve ever cone across.
Much like each individual tree does not a forest make, be it oak, or maple, spruce or pine; when taken together as a whole, no matter how unique the species, how big or how small, how strong or how flimsy the trees, the collection of trees becomes a forest. So too does the varied collection of complaints and demands by the individuals in the protests become a movement with a true demand. If one looks at a thousand trees one at a time, inevitably they see one thousand trees. If you look at a thousand trees at once you see only a dense, strong, undeniable forest. So too can you see thousands of individual gripes, or you can see a movement with one complaint for thousands of reasons.
The complaint: The system is rigged. Lets fix it.
“OK, I’ll bite. I’ll accept that there is a message from the protesters. I even agree, the system is one sided and should be fixed.” I’m sure at least one reader is thinking at this point. I’ve heard it before, and surely will again: “But these people in the park are just complaining. I might get on board if they could offer any real solutions!”
Again, superficially, it seems a valid point. Whining won’t fix it. But there is two problems with this argument:
1) We elect politicians to draft legislation and form public policy.
It is not the job of the general public to bring forth solutions. Our job as members of civic society is to bring our concerns about or nations, our communities, to the attention of those who’ve taken on the role of representing us. It is their job to figure out how best to deal with the problems.
Granted, if someone can come forward with a solution to the problems they have they’re more than welcome to, but it is not necessary, nor is it reasonable to expect.
Of course, in a democracy, the majority rules, and sometimes it is the responsibility of governors to dismiss the demands of a small portion of society if they don’t reflect the wants of the society as a whole, but who among us honestly believes that the majority of society agrees that the rich deserve to get richer, that they should privatize gains while socializing losses, at the cost of the livelihood of anyone with an even slight blue tinge to their collar. Even several of those who’ve benefitted from the system as it stands, politicians and business owners, the mega-rich if you will, have spoken out against the inequality and injustice they see.
It is also important to note that in our democracy it is the majority of public opinion that is supposed to govern, not the majority of money. This is significant in that part of the ‘rigging of the system’ being fought against is the lobbying, and donation practices in politics.
2) These are activists, not complainers.
For anyone to suggest that people publicly speaking out, camping in parks in declining weather, demonstrating, marching and confronting the state and the money that they feel controls it are merely complaining is fallaciously dismissive, ignorant, vain, and or naive.
Many, myself included, are in agreement with the movements, and even supportive, however we’re content to sit back and hope the system fixes it’s self despite mounting evidence this isn’t going to happen. We my friends are complainers. We offer nothing to the cause beyond our thoughts and opinions. Granted putting arguments and opinions into the public realm is a start, it is indirect action at best. The occupiers are taking direct action.
Personally I am of the belief that because the occupations aren’t having a direct impact on anything except perhaps a few picnics and occasionally an evening commute, it isn’t likely to force change. That doesn’t mean that the movement is weak. To me it is more parallel to a hunger strike.
A hunger striker takes no action that affects the party against which he or she is fighting. It does however show conviction in your beliefs, and is able to grind away at the conscience of the opponent. It also puts your personal welfare at risk and makes your opponent appear ruthless unless the opponent’s position can be outright justified.
Much like a hunger strike, the tactic from the opposition is often to dismiss it, attempt to ignore it, and hope your convictions aren’t strong enough to sustain your protest. Because the opponent is not suffering, the theory is they will outlast you. This is exactly what we’ve seen happening. A lack of media coverage. Dismissive coverage when it happens.
Confrontation however on the other hand, forces a response from the opponent. It does however put them in the victim role, allowing them to claim “look, I was following the rules. These guys don’t like the rules but now they’re attacking me! That’s not how we make changes in civil society.”
The passive approach also yields a second advantage in the public relations realm. It may very well at some point to take more direct actions. To occupy streets, buildings and institutions. I hope not, but eventually it could even come to armed conflict. But if it does, when it does, this slow progression beginning with complete non-violence and passive action gives a lot of credence to arguments of “You were warned. We told you how serious we were and you dismissed us. You drove us to this, and now we have your attention.”
If things go that way, will the ends justify the means? Well, we’ll have to wait until the history books are written to really know – but the way I see it, so far they’re on the right track to have a favorable chapter.
THE RICH DESERVE TO BE RICH
Another outright fallacy I hear on a quite regular basis is the theory that this movement is born of jealousy. Suggestions that the people protesting are lazy and poor who want money for nothing. The claim that the movement is anti-capitalist. The movement is anti-corporate.
First, this is not poor people angry that they have less. Certainly it is not the lazy, as evidenced by the mere fact that they are enduring hardship for their cause, actively trying to effect change in our societal structure. There is almost certainly some poor and long-term unemployed among the protesters, but there is also unemployable, newly unemployed, under employed, middle class, blue collar, white collar, celebrities and politicians among them and or directly expressing support.
Similarly this is not about jealousy. While I think it’s safe to generalize and say that most people would prefer to be wealthy, the message coming from the occupations tends to be overwhelmingly one of: The rich can be rich, as long as they aren’t rich at our expense. People who work hard, people who innovate, and yes even the few who just get lucky, are deserving of the advantages they have in society, until those advantages cause direct disadvantages for those citizens who are already in a less advantageous position.
This is to say that when the public bails out banks put into financial troubles by executives who then pay themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses – above and beyond their already proportionally generous salaries – while the banks foreclose on family home mortgages because they can’t afford the $500,000.00 debt load, the burden of the hardship is being put onto the shoulders of average people at a tripled ratio. Not only do they pay taxes which are funneled away from the social services they are intended to fund, services which many of those same people depend on for their day to day welfare, causing them to lose the services, they also lose their homes and investments due to the troubles the banks are in, and they additionally find themselves funding the padding of the bank accounts of those who’s wallets are already bursting at the seams, further expanding the gap between their economic status and that of the “rich.”
It is that gap that has driven the people to the streets. Not the unequal wealth but the disproportionality between the wealth of a few and the collective wealth of everyone else. It is the austerity measures, the cutting of vital resources, services and benefits to those who need them, while those who don’t suggest that they aren’t deserved and we should all be chipping in to help the situation. A situation mostly created by those who don’t require these benefits: The few. Many of whom profited through the whole mess. It is the loss of homes and other investments by people who were told that they could afford them, and that they in fact should make those investments for their own benefit, to the very people who misinformed them in the first place in order to save the creditors from losing anything themselves. These issues, not the want of what others have, created the movement. If these issues are remedied, the vast majority of the protesters would likely be perfectly happy to go back to living their average lives while the wealthy enjoy the spoils of their good fortune.
FREELOADERS DEMANDING A HANDOUT
What first surprised me about the criticism of the movement – who have declared themselves ‘The 99%’ – is the number of people who themselves fall into that category but believe that the whole thing is perpetrated by ‘freeloaders’ looking for ‘handouts.’ Nobody is asking for additional anything. The goal is not to get free money without having to contribute. This isn’t about welfare for people who don’t like working, it is about keeping what we’re paying for.
Freeloaders want other people to pay for themselves, as well as the freeloader. They want all of the benefits of society, but none of the responsibility. They want big cushy chairs, plenty of naps, delicious meals, fancy cars, vacations and adventures – but they don’t want to have to pay for it.
Does this sound familiar?
Remember who it was who took enormous sums of money as “bonuses” – typically a performance incentive awarded for a job well-done – after driving their businesses into the ground, and then accepted public funds to save them? It was us, the 99%, who ended up paying for the luxuries of the people who already have more than us.
Who’s freeloading? The occupiers or the billionaires?
The lower classes are asking for more jobs. Yes they’re asking for more money from the wealthy, but indirectly, and not without contribution. They’re asking to maintain service levels, or at least mitigate the amount of reduction seen in them by asking those with money, and therefore the means to pay, many of them only still in positions of privilege due to the tax money of masses of people barely able to afford to pay them, to buck up and pay some more.
A handout is also a derogatory term. It is a metaphor referencing the street-corner panhandler begging for money by simply holding his hand out, and hoping you’ll put something into it. Since this movement is demanding action on job creation, what they’re really saying is: if there was ample opportunity for us to work, contribute, pay more taxes, afford our own basic expenses, we’d love to.
It’s a twist on the old fisherman’s cliche. They don’t want a fish. While they are hungry, and a fish would keep them alive, they don’t want to need to ask for another fish again tomorrow, as a fish given only feeds for a day. They already know how to fish, perhaps not very well, but well enough to sustain themselves – you go to school, get a job, be loyal and work hard – so lectures and lessons relating to paying their own way, working hard and earning a living aren’t necessary. So teaching them to fish isn’t the solution to the problem either. They’re even mostly already in possession of the hooks (education), nets (skills), lines (ambition), and poles (need) necessary to catch themselves fish. Often these things have come at great personal expense and effort, giving them even more need to get out there and start catching. What is lacking in this analogy is simply a pond to fish in. The opportunity for employment. Granted there’s streams all around, but they’re full of minnows and sunfish. These are the low paying jobs, minimum wage type jobs that people are often criticized for not wanting. You could fish in them 24 hours a day and eat everything you catch, bones and scales included, but it isn’t enough to sustain yourself and you’re really only slowing your rate of starvation. The world needs more lakes and oceans of employment opportunities to open up full of fish, big, small and everywhere in between. It might mean a little less beluga for the wealthy, but some who are currently licking the algae off the rocks, or boiling down the bones from others’ meals could have plenty to eat as well.
THE 53% PHENOMENON
This brings forward the 53% phenomenon that is surfacing as the occupations continue and broaden. This is a movement of average people who are surviving in the world claiming that they are not a part of the 99% because they are in positions that clash on some level with the claims of the protesters.
The 53% have jobs. They have education, often with little or no debt. They are often able to save a little for rainy days and don’t use many of the social services that are being threatened. They also have homes whether owned or rented. But like it or not, they are the 99%.
Partly I feel they don’t realize their own luck. Partly I don’t think they realize the real issues at hand. Many of their arguments against the larger movement consist of non sequiturs, red herrings and the occasional ad hominem.
As my friend Barbara stated in a fit of sarcasm during a Facebook conversation on the issue just the other day: “[I am] a 25-year-old college professor because I earned it. It didn’t matter that I was white and grew up in a well-off neighbourhood that was safe, emphasized school and had lots of people to take care of me and help me when I got off track, not to mention that most adults I knew were educated and passed middle class values on to me. No. I floated freely through this world on volition, just like all those immigrants who have poorly paid jobs do, and visible minorities as well. They for some reason just “don’t want it enough.”
She sums it up nicely. Those falling victim to the 53% phenomenon are frequently either neglecting to properly apply logic, or using fallacious logic. The pseudo-logic they seem to be locked into appears to be as follows.
• I want to be successful and work hard to achieve it therefore i deserve success.
• I am making do in the world, which is my definition of success.
• Therefore I am successful because I deserve to be.
This is not necessarily flawed logic at this point. Those generally are all necessary factors in success, and in some cases my even be sufficient for it. Where the whole formula breaks down is when you try to apply it inversely:
• I am successful because I deserve success.
• You are not successful.
• Therefore you must not be deserving of success.
I don’t think when it’s put into such blatant terms that I should need to point out where the logic breaks down, and if I do, I suspect you are not the type of person I would be able to convince anyway.
The remaining concern is that, even if you do lead a happy moderate life, that doesn’t mean you, your community, nation, society or world don’t stand to benefit from the Occupy movement. You would do a lot better in life with a slightly larger share of the global wealth. There is no justifiable reason why it should be concentrated in such a small segment of society. Furthermore, you would be asked to give up less if those in worse situations then your own were a little better off. There would be less need for social programs, so funding them would be less of an issue. Your tax dollars (of which you could afford to and would pay more of if you earned more money for your job) would be able to be used more efficiently for things such as infrastructure, education, and healthcare rather than social welfare. It’s win win win.
DRINKING STARBUCKS & TWEETING ON IPHONES
This one blows my mind. If someone honestly believes that it’s hypocritical to participate in or even support the occupiers while consuming corporate products, they’re completely off base. You see, this isn’t an anti-corporate or ant-capitalist movement at all. The issue is with the power of the wealth, and the unfair additional benefits given to people and corporations simply for having wealth.
Many of the wealthiest corporations in the world are given loopholes to avoid paying any taxes on their income. These corporations have plenty of money to pay and don’t, yet those struggling to make ends meet are forking over lots of their hard earned money.
It’s not like corporations don’t use our social services. Services paid for by taxes. Electrical grids, sewer systems, highways and other similar infrastructure. They also get employees who’ve come out of the public education system, public health and safety inspections limit their liability etc. Yet for some reason it’s taboo to suggest they should be paying into the pot.
This doesn’t mean we don’t support them. They make good products. Products we want to buy. Innovative products. Helpful products. Even some products that we consume as a luxury to give us a lift when we’re feeling down. We need these companies to make money in order for our claims that they should pay us more as employees to have any merit at all. However for every dollar going in, one would expect to see some coming back out.
When profits are in the billions but mean salaries are still in the 25-30 thousand range there’s a serious disconnect.
The other issue with corporations is their ability (in many jurisdictions) to directly influence politics (and in most other jurisdictions to influence indirectly.) The financial ability of one corporation to contribute to a campaign or lobby a government and therefore their ability to have an influence on policy direction, dwarfs that of any individual citizen. This means that policies have moved and continue to move toward propping up the success of the successful at the cost of the less successful.
I can’t blame the corporations for using the loopholes and not paying taxes, or for flexing their political muscles. they’re under no obligation to do otherwise. This is another reason that while there is resentment towards corporations, the protests we’re seeing are not direct attacks on them. As the rules stand, they’ve actually done nothing wrong. The intention of the movement is to change the rules. To balance the power and the success.
Furthermore, the ability of a protester to afford things which could be seen as luxuries: expensive coffees, smart phones, Internet access – certainly none of which constitute necessities of survival – does not diminish his or her position. That harkens back to the problem of the 53%. The issue isn’t that we don’t have enough, it’s that there’s so much more everyone could have if the wealth wasn’t so exclusionarily concentrated. If the the majority of the global wealth wasn’t locked up with access only granted to those who are already wealthy.
DIDN’T VOTE? DON’T WHINE!
Having had the pleasure of experiencing elections at all three levels of government here in Toronto in just over the past year, this one bothers me a lot. I keep hearing and reading suggestions that abstinence from voting forfeits your right to participate in democracy. This is patently untrue.
Democracy is not a once-every-four-years privilege. It is a daily responsibility. By virtue of the same factors that give us the right to participate in elections, referenda and other democratic processes, we also have a right not to participate. Choosing to exercise that right at one point in no way excludes you from the right to opt back in at any point in the future.
Perhaps had the issues been clearer when the current crop of politicians where campaigning more people would have voted. Perhaps not. Perhaps had they voted the decisions being made would have been different. Perhaps not. Voting is only one way, albeit an exceptionally good and powerful way, to participate in democracy.
Protest is actually necessary in democracy. Without dissent, there isn’t democracy but rather autocracy. Things just go along because that’s how things go. People taking to the streets and speaking out and causing disturbances in the status quo is the ultimate democratic move. Voting is a much easier pill to swallow, but not when the choices presented on the ballot don’t reflect the policy you want to see. How does a vote help if you’re asked to choose between two options you disagree with?
I fully encourage people to vote. Voting does make a difference. However there are circumstances when it is actually more socially responsible not to vote than it is to exercise your democratic rights.
If one does not understand the issues on the table, does not have the necessary information to draw a proper conclusion on an issue or does not truly understand the question – should he or she cast a ballot just because it is his or her right? There is a significant amount of risk to such an action. It is an irrevocable action. Once your vote is in the box, that is your official position.
In the case of protest, one can voice an opinion at any point. If new information comes to light you can modify your position. You can speak up on either side of an issue. Issues don’t have to be boiled down to yes/no scenarios. There are times when an issue calls for a yes(if)/no(if not) which is much more difficult to clarify on a ballot.
By all means vote. If you do vote, by all means take part in other forms of democracy. But equally, feel free not to vote. You may put yourself at a disadvantage when later championing a cause (because abstaining could result in the election of leaders who come from an oppositional standpoint) but you absolutely have every right to stand up and be heard. No true believer in the democratic system should tell you otherwise.