In 3 years I am going to bake a huge cake and decorate it with a perfectly executed fondant and rice crispy square LRT Car. Then I am going to push it into the City Council chamber on a cart decorated to look like a subway car. Covered in candles. Why? Because it will be the 30th anniversary of the great 1986 Transit debate that was supposed to transform Toronto. We’ve been arguing ever since and I do not doubt for one single second that we will still be arguing in 3 years. As a matter of fact I am hopeful that I will live to see the 50th anniversary and I do not doubt for one second more that we will still be arguing. I see no indication of change any time soon.
Am I the only person in Toronto completely gobsmacked by Nunziata’s actions regarding this debate? She allowed the item to be opened without taking it to council for a vote. Even though she was advised by the city clerk that it contravened protocol. For my money this isn’t even a legal debate. I cannot believe that councillors are not up in arms. I’m afraid I can only surmise that this is political position jockeying at its absolute worst. Toronto is now being held hostage to a bunch of people more concerned with their own political careers than the good of this city.
Is this why we elected these people? I am appalled. They are now all hiding behind the convenient smoke screen produced by our joke of a mayor and his even bigger joke of a brother. In my mind if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, drinks like a duck, it IS a duck. I’m afraid I am beginning to resign myself to another Ford victory. It will be our faults. We elected these self-serving fools who are all mired in personal agendas. To be sure I’m being a little unfair. There are at least a dozen good councillors. Thirty percent is not enough.
We don’t need to reconfigure wards, we don’t need to change our style of government, we don’t need to do anything more than find and elect a group of people who give a damn about this WHOLE city and its citizens. We have to stop staggering under the perceived weight of amalgamation and figure out how to make it work for us. It’s not going to go away. It is here to stay. This could be a good thing if we had politicians who could see past their own little communities. I once heard a councillor (a very good one) say to her constituents at a community meeting. “You elected me to represent your interests but when you elected me you made me responsible to the whole City of Toronto.” WOW! Now there’s a concept. her constits got it that night and there was a very reasonable debate following that comment. Where do we find a few more of those?
In the face of this insane transit debate I am coming to believe that the election of 2014 will be, possibly, the most important city election Toronto has ever seen. The very quality of our lives is at stake as it never has been before. We need the transit bull shit settled once and for all. We need to address how we deal with the poor and disenfranchised. We need to control the way we are expanding both up and out. We need to decide and act on the Portlands. There are so many really important things to deal with it becomes overwhelming.
I wonder how many people in Toronto even know what the job of City Councillor really entails. To hear our dear mayor tell it, all they have to do is sit in council for a couple of days squabbling like embarrassing children and then answer the phone a lot and talk to constituents. I happen to know from personal experience that the good councillors are putting in, bare minimum, 60 hours a week. That’s a minimum and they put in some time every single day of the week. The day there is nothing they feel they must do is a rare Sunday.
The mayor came into council and debated his first budget having NOT EVEN READ IT. He debated the Chong report having NOT EVEN READ IT. In fact he does not read any of these reports and it is often screamingly obvious in his debating skills. Now to be fair I cannot criticize him all by himself. I have heard it said that at least half of the councillors will not have read the reports they are debating. When you consider the amount of money these reports cost the city this becomes completely outrageous. The Chong report cost the city literally millions of dollars. I read it from cover to cover. I attended the debate. I can tell you with certainty who read it and who didn’t. Looking for gravy your honour? I think I just found some!
There are some simple facts to consider. The biggest one is Transit. Nobody denies we need to address our current crumbling system and expand and bolster it. Our problem is and continues to be, no one will sign off on a plan and commit to it once and for all. No more allowing successive governments to come in and undo what has been done. Does anyone remember that Transit City was already underway when Ford cancelled it. Costing the city 140 MILLION dollars in cancelled contracts and unfinished work. If he hadn’t done that we would have had 3 years of work on a new system already done. I don’t give a damn what we build anymore. JUST BUILD SOMETHING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!
As I have said many times before. This is the 4th largest city in North America. A major financial market with a world-class reputation. Our federal government is quite happy to take our money and give us absolutely nothing in return. Our provincial government has its head in the sand in an effort to not see what is literally right in front of its nose. More and more we become a city of haves and have nots. I travel the TTC and chat people up. I hear about 90 minute rides to work EACH WAY. I hear people praise this mayor who lies to them at every turn. Who does not care one wit for their welfare. They read the headlines or listen to his radio show cause that’s all they have time for. He knows that and he’s the absolute King of the message.
This messaging stuff is beyond powerful and though the mayor is the reigning champion we have plenty of councillors on the same train. The secret to a better city government is educating the population to what is really going on. I don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote. But I insist that you know what the
candidates stand for behind the message. Do your research, attend the debates, ask questions, and when I ask you why you want to vote for whomever, have a real answer. That’s all. These people’s decisions have a far greater effect on our daily lives than any other level of government. Transit, hydro, roads, bike paths, parks, garbage pickup, rent control, building permits, and so on and so on and so on. Why in the name of God are we so careless with who we put in charge of deciding how these things happen?
It is a beautiful Sunday morning in July. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. I’m drinking a cup of tea and I’m using duct tape to mend the garbage bags I used to move my clothes to this minuscule little apartment I moved into a couple of months ago. Mend garbage bags? WTF! I am not the reuse queen of the world. What I am is poor and these GD bags are expensive.
How did I come to this place? I was born of a middle class family. We were never poor, at least if we ever were, my sisters and I weren’t aware of it. We weren’t rich either but we never wanted for much. We generally got what we wanted for birthdays and Christmases. We were always dressed well, even if our Mom was not one to allow for label worship. I bless her for that. As we grew, so did the family income. Our Father was very good at what he did.
I grew up to be a chef. Never was a brilliant Susur Lee sort of chef. I was a good administrator and a damn good cook but never one to make tall food and be spread across TV and Magazines. I found my niche in Product Development. I was very good at that. Am very good at that. However, pride goeth before a fall, or so they say. In the years when I was making a very good salary I was also succumbing to a series of debilitating illnesses. I gradually lost my ability to be sharp and snappy to neurological pain and chronic arthritis. A year ago after losing my third contract in a row to what can only be called poor execution due to drug induced brain fuzz and physical disability. I gave in to the suggestions, oft made, that I surrender to my infirmity and go on the fabled ODSP.
Now if you, like the former me, know nothing factual about our social welfare system, you might think this was a good thing. Aren’t I lucky these systems exist to catch me? I could be a U.S. citizen living in a cardboard box. You might be one of those who would go so far as to suggest I was now living off the public teat. Lounging around on the HUGE cheque I get every month for doing absolutely nothing! Well that giant cheque has yet to appear. Allow me to disabuse you of these notions.
While you are sitting reading this over brunch, I am drinking my tea without the cream I prefer in it because I don’t have enough money to go buy some. I am taping holes in plastic garbage bags with duct tape because I cannot afford to waste anything at all. My next giant cheque doesn’t come for 2 weeks and I am down to pasta, a few cans of soup, 2 cans of salmon, and lots of spices.
Oh and some frozen chicken a kind chef friend gave me. I’ll survive the lack of food in the cupboard. It won’t hurt me to lose a few pounds but how the hell am I gonna pay the Bell and Hydro bills?
When you apply for ODSP they tell you it will take 6 to 8 months to process the claim.They mean it! They very kindly put you on Ontario Works right away. That means that you are now the proud receiver of the lordly sum of 606.00 a month. Divided as Basic needs 230.00, Shelter 376.00.Period, full stop. And you are told you will pretty much go to jail for life if you so much a think about getting funds from anywhere else and not reporting them. Of course should you earn any other funds and report them you will be penalized by having the 606.00 reduced accordingly. Good Luck surviving. If any aspect of your life, whatsoever, should change and you do not report it, you will be summarily kicked off the program without so much as a by your leave.
Meanwhile our country is being raped and pillaged by a government that cares not one wit about our survival from one day to the other. Our duly elected officials in any one of the 3 levels of government only hear our voices when they need us to get elected. They will quite happily promise us the moon for that particular purpose. Once they are elected, we become, WHO? In the Provincial legislature no one makes less than 100 grand. Ministers make 165, the premier makes 200. Upon retirement, defeat, resignation or death a member will receive severance. If the member has served just 8 years he/she will receive 18 months of salary which for a minister would be somewhere in the 250 K area. On the face of this it might not seem like a lot of money. If you are only getting 606.00 a month, period. It might as well be a billion dollars.
What I find utterly reprehensible is what federal members get. The federal government has become nothing short of a singular joke. They do not govern us any more. They sit on high and dream up ways to strip us of our birthright. Spend our money on follies that have not one benefit to us. Lie and lie and lie and lie to us. In return, after a mere 6 years of service they can retire with pensions of 100K, at a minimum, per year for life. Ditto Senators. If Ralph Goodale retires in 2015 and lives to 90 we will pay him in excess of 5 MILLION dollars of OUR money. For what?? WTF!! Our federal government is sucking us dry with pension plans and benefits far exceeding what is remotely realistic for the average Canadian.
Meanwhile back in my life. I continue to tape my garbage bags and wonder if I can con my Dad into buying me dinner tonight. After 7 months a panel of people I was never ever allowed to see or speak to decided to, one assumes after reading the documents they paid my doctor 150.00 to fill out, refuse me ODSP. I am then informed by my case worker, who I hasten to say, is a lovely hard-working woman in a really crappy job. They turn down 70% on the FIRST go round. I suspect if you aren’t missing a limb you are never getting past that step. Then you ask your doc for a reaffirming letter and you ask for an internal review that goes to a second group of people you don’t get to see or speak to. After all this time they have 10 working days to give you an answer. Should they turn you down again, you petition to go in front of some tribunal. There you are finally in front of real live people. A THIRD group of people.
Speaking of government waste………
I am, I’m told, lucky. They awarded me ODSP benefits last week after the internal review. I know you want to know. I am now going to receive 1068.00 a month. OH MY GOD! What will I buy first? How did this happen? I get this lordly sum til I am 65 which is 3 and 1/2 years. Then I get kicked to Old Age which is less kids, not more. After a life full of promise I am destined to an old age of disability and poverty. My rent, in a not necessarily high end by anyone’s description, 1 bedroom apartment, is 840.00/month plus hydro. This is considered a low rent in Toronto. For those of you keeping score. Once I pay rent and hydro I have about 200.00 left, for groceries, phone, TV, Transit (did I mention I had to get rid of my car?), tooth paste, garbage bags, etc.
I have everything I need really. I have furniture and blankets and a wee dog I love ridiculously much. I have a Dad I adore and though she left us a month ago, I had a Mom who was totally amazing. My sisters were both completely awe inspiring. One was an artist and though she left us to soon she left us with so much. The other is a bright star in the sky. She is my youngest sister and I am amazed by her every single day. My life is rich in everything but money. Is it so wrong to want the disenfranchised to feel just as good as the rest? My life is winding down in a don’t get excited I’m not going anywhere just yet, sort of way. But what if you were the lovely family who lives next door to me. There is a Mom a Dad and FOUR kids living in a space that is exactly one tiny bedroom larger than my tiny space.
Here’s what stands out about my new neighbourhood. The cops and/or the fire department are gonna be here at least once every Friday or Saturday night. Dad’s are often the primary caregivers of their kids cause it’s Mom who has the decent job. The parking lot has very few actual cars in it cause no one can afford one. The kids all play out side. You remember outside? No nanny escorts. When they want back in they holler at the building til someone’s Mom lets them in. People say hello and smile when they see you. Every time. If someone needs something, someone else has, and helps. I’m happy to announce the Canadian human spirit is alive and well in the projects. Oh there’s some bad shit going down too. It’s not all spice and roses but so what. The bad dudes aren’t hiding inside their expensive condos down here in the real world. Makes it way easier to watch out for them.
This is still Toronto the good but Toronto the good is kinda fucked up and I really would like to figure out how we fix it. Some time soon would be good!
I haven’t written for a long time. My life has been in free fall as things around me change. Lost one of my sweet pups to bloody Cancer, likely caused by exposure to pesticides, so don’t tell me there’s anything wrong with Dandelions! It took him so damn fast I hardly had time to react. Leaving Harry Potter and I to wonder where our little love went. Harry is still searching for his brother 8 months later. I was forced into involuntary retirement by my damn arthritis and back issues. That is to say I was forced into involuntary poverty by going on ODSP. That’s a trip. Then I lost my Mother. That sucks large. You just don’t quite believe your parents can die. Then they do. Now what?
So is it any wonder I haven’t really felt much like taking part in the world? Then a friend talked me into going to FordFest on Friday and suddenly I’m awake.
I have never claimed to be anything more than a citizen with opinions. There are plenty of folk smarter than me doing the intellectual opinionating. Mine is the visceral reaction of a citizen impassioned by the actions of a completely unbelievable situation. At times on Friday I felt like I was in a Fellini film. Giant grinning fat man bouncing jolly as he shakes hands. Other big blond man shouting unintelligible nonsense into any microphone he could find. Very young boys and girls wandering around seemingly aimlessly, in Ford nation T-shirts. The line for not particularly tasty food was easily 3 blocks long at times. The line to shake the fat man’s hand was about half the length of the food line. Regular park using folk wandered through this bizarre spectacle walking their dogs and staring in amazement, or trying to ride their bikes through the crowd.
Anyone who thinks there is no Ford nation needed to see that spectacle. It has traumatized me. I knew they were out there but I kept telling myself it was a shrinking thing. That event made my blood run cold. Especially because the majority seemed to be from immigrant and low income population. These are people who work way to hard to spend time really reading and watching. They read headlines. They only see the message the Fat Man wants them to see. They do not get that he cares not one wit about them. It is them that have had the biggest impact from his bumbling attempts to govern. How do we make them see that if it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, sticks it’s head under its wing to hide from the truth like a duck……IT’S A GOD DAMN DUCK!!
As long as council remains enmeshed in it’s clique mentality. As long as so many are chasing their own personal agendas. We are doomed. There will be 4 more years of this bull shit. This city has been paralyzed since before amalgamation. I cannot live through 4 more years of this. I am quite literally considering moving. But what wold that prove? Governments are screwed up everywhere. Our systems were created when the population was about one sixteenth of what it is now. We are crushed under the weight of an enormous bureaucracy that makes no sense at all, in so many places. If the Fat Man really wants to find some gravy why doesn’t he have a long hard look at the ODSP system. Or OW. Why are our development fees the lowest in the country in a city with the biggest building boom in North America? Why, in the name of the God of your choice, do we need another expensive study to decide if downtown is congested. Down town IS congested. Look out the window Councillor!!
I just went through the most insane process ever. Made an application to ODSP at my doctor’s insistence. I’m a chef. We don’t generally find ourselves with health benefits or pension plans. My bad health wiped out any small savings I might have had over the last 10 years as I struggled not to give in. OK I surrendered. I filled out the forms, got my doctor to do the same, interestingly they pay the doc 150 bucks to fill those forms out. Now I get informed it takes 6 to 8 months for this to process. Huh? Six months and this tribunal I’m not allowed to see or speak to turns me down. WTF??? Case worker informs me 70 % get turned down on the FIRST go round. HUH!! Now I have to file a review. A second group I am not allowed to see or speak to will review. My doc writes a strongly worded message to add to the file. I got my approval on this round so 7 months in I am finally getting a whopping 1158.00 a month to live on in Toronto. Well hell, OW was only 606.00 a month so I feel like I won the lottery. How sad is that?
Oh and I forgot to tell you. Had the review refused me I would then go to a tribunal with a THIRD set of people, where I could finally argue my case. How much does that process cost us every year? Why wouldn’t you submit the paperwork, Let them review it and then have you come in front of them? One step. One group of, I’m quite certain, well paid people. How can you make such life saving decisions based on nothing more than paper work? How did we end up with all these hugely unwieldy systems in place? If there’s gravy it’s not in council. It’s in the systems successive councils have created over years and years. It’s still happening because we are electing people who do not understand that they are each and everyone of them responsible for ALL the city. Not just their little pocket. The decisions they are making affect us all. The ripple effects they cause seem to be unseen by so many of them.
I don’t claim to have answers but I say it over and over. We MUST find the way to get citizens engaged. I don’t ask you to support whomever I support. I ask you to support, period. Read beyond the message. Find the meat in the item. Be informed before you vote. The Fat Man is like the Wizard of Oz. Look behind the curtain for heaven’s sake. But look behind every curtain. In fact, council has wrestled the Fat Man into irrelevance. Unfortunately we are so fascinated by his hijincks we aren’t noticing that the Nunziata woman wilfully violated council rules last week in allowing the transit issue back on the floor, or Karen Stintz pulling a fast one re: the SRT, or I can go on and on and on. Do yourself a favour. Take a day off when council is in session. If you can’t go down there, at least watch it on TV. It’s pretty damn scary some times. You may well find yourself watching your councillor making an ass of his or herself. You may find that someone you didn’t like, thanks to the Fat Man or perhaps some newspaper columnist, turns out to sound like a rational voice in the wilderness.
Toronto, my beloved city, is strangling in this insanity. It’s rather easy for councillors to stay concerned for only their own wards. Did you know, for instance, that my research indicates that Ms. Stintz has never ridden the SRT? WTF! I worked in an industry where federal safety standards come in to play. The decibel level when the SRT grinds around that insanely tight curve is so much higher than what would be allowed in a factory.
By law we should be issuing ear plugs with the tickets. A factory would be shut down for that offence. How long before the class action suit ?
I could go on and on. I’ll stop now but my juices are flowing so stay tuned. I shall shout it to the sky. PLEASE, talk to your neighbours. You tell two friends then they tell two friends then……. We can do this. We can have our own quiet Arab Spring. Remember Jack Layton’s final words to us
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”