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Ranking the Lesser of All Evils

September 14, 2014

So we finally know exactly who will be on the ballot for mayor of our quiet little town of Toronto.
It’s not who we expected, which isn’t surprising in a strange way, but it is done.
In a sane world the municipal campaign wouldn’t start until now. Six weeks is more than enough time to hear from the main candidates and make a decision. If it’s good enough for federal elections why isn’t it good enough for city elections?

In all these months the main issues of this election have been discussed ad nauseum: Transit, Anyone But Ford, Taxes, Services, oh and Transit. So how about talking about something else? How about talking about the democratic machinery we are participating in as citizens?

Wow, boring right? Or maybe it’s too complicated? Journalists, politicians and pundits tell us that citizens don’t have time or interest for such things.

Well tough.

This entire four year slow motion train wreck was enabled by some structural failures in our democratic system. From a close two-and-a-half-way election four years ago, to the lack of impeachment powers at the municipal level, to wasted years and millions due to a lack of central decision making on long term, regional transit planning.

A few days ago, before Friday’s big news about the Ford family playing musical chairs at the last second, some current and former candidates for mayor addressed one simple way of improving our democratic system. David Soknaki and Olivia Chow pledged support for ranked ballots in city elections and for reform to make democracy more representative at all levels of government. John Tory says he’d rather wait for a report from the province on democratic reform. Prudent and cautious as usual for Tory, but unnecessary. Admitting the fact that our current system is flawed and committing to fight to fix it does not require a report from a Royal Commission. You’d think someone who has lost so many elections would be more willing to change the system. Rob Ford did not reply to that article’s request and no one knows what Doug Ford thinks of such a proposal, but I suspect the answer is ‘not much’.

The idea of ranked ballots is very simple and described well by the Ranked Ballot Initiative (RaBIT) which is trying to get this change adopted. Ranked ballots are not without controversy. One of the other major democratic reform groups active in Toronto, the national Fair Vote Canada (fantastic organization, sign their Declaration of Voter Rights!), is opposed to ranked ballots and other instant runoff systems. This is because simply ranking candidates and doing runoffs does not guarantee that election results will match the proportion of votes in the population. This is true, but they do provide less ambiguous results as the winner will always have at least half the city’s votes. Even Rob Ford’s landslide win last election only amounted to 47% of the votes. A clear win but not what many journalists lazily continue to call a ‘majority’. Meanwhile around 10% of the vote from that election went to a third candidate who, it turned out, could never win. In a ranked system at least those voters would have had a second shot to influence the real contest between Smitherman and Ford, perhaps leading to the same result. Another benefit could be to discourage candidates from burning bridges by disparaging similar candidates to themselves whose second and third choices they would like to get in the instant runoffs.

You could say that in normal years, the Toronto Mayoral election already has a flavour of ranked ballots as candidates self-select and drop out before the deadline when it becomes clear they can’t win. I’d rather the voters make that choice, but no matter. Of course, this is not a normal election year with the deadline this year seeing the incumbent drop out while his brother jumps in to the race for the final stretch. Now more than ever we need to acknowledge that an election choice is more subtle than any winner-take-all contest can ever capture. Voters are forced to choose the lesser of all evils and vote strategically about who they want as well as keep in mind who they are afraid might win. Why not let the voters rank the evils directly and stop worrying? It would be more honest.

Good for Olivia Chow for supporting democratic reform so directly.

Government and democracy are about more than just finding efficiencies, lowering taxes or even getting people moving. Informed and responsible citizens of a democracy need to work to make the system better, more representative and more responsible. Just because the media and many politicians find that too boring or pretend it is too complicated is no excuse.

So let’s get on with it.

The Judoon Summarize Today’s Toronto Election News

September 12, 2014

A Message from the Shadow Proclamation summarizing today’s events in the Toronto Mayoral election.:

RoFo no go fo mo of TO.
RoFo go fo cou of TO so,
MoFo no go fo cou of TO
MoFo go fo scho bo of TO.
DoFo go for mo of TO!
TO po so mofo cray yo!

Goodbye Robin.

August 12, 2014

Robin Williams has always been a part of my life. One of the earliest proper TV shows I remember watching was Mork and Mindy, about a strange guy with a name like mine who happened to be an alien and was just trying to figure out how this crazy world and the people in it worked. He was sincere and silly and hopeful all at once, and that was ok. I haven’t seen nearly all his movies but he made an impact in me which so many roles over the years in Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin and even Peter Pan. The roles he chose and the performances he gave provided humanity and pointed us to what is truly important in life.

I actually saw him once. It was when I was in university, sitting on the steps inside the Eaton Centre for some reason, waiting for someone I suppose. It was during the Toronto Film Festival so it wasn’t strange to see actors but there he was, Robin Williams, in a full scruffy beard, walking across the second floor by the elevators with four bags of shopping. A young couple stopped in front of him and said hello, asking for an autograph. He smiled, put down his bags and shook their hands. He chatted for a minute, signed their paper and moved on. Part of me wanted to run up and tell him how awesome he was. But, he was just a normal person trying to get through his day. Just seeing him that way made me feel I knew just a little bit better.

He was weird and funny and torn and broken and totally brilliant, like all the good ones are. He could never be anything but himself, even when it made people uncomfortable. We can all learn from that. He was a light in the darkness even though the darkness overwhelmed him in the end. The world will be quieter and less weird without him, and that’s a bad thing.

Nanu nanu Robin.

Toronto Is More Than The Core

June 28, 2014

Marcus Gee makes a nice attempt at an ode to Toronto as opposed to the idea of Ford Nation: “Toronto isn’t Rob Ford. Toronto is more than that”. Unfortunately, I think he missed the point of why there is dissatisfaction in some parts of the city. All his anecdotes refer to The Core of the city. It’s mostly south of College and all south of Bloor. Toronto is more than Ford Nation, true, but it is also so much more than the Core. Let me tell you about my Toronto.

Toronto is getting pizza and Tim Hortons at St Claire and Dufferin. Toronto is getting a Jamaican beef patty on a fresh portuguese bun at Eglinton and Oakwood. Toronto is getting congee rice porridge in North Scarborough and then going to Walmart for some shopping. Toronto is getting fresh polish sausages and halal lamb skewers in Etobicoke to BBQ on the balcony of your high-rise apartment.

Toronto is massive shopping malls outside the Core: Yorkdale, Scarborough Town, Dufferin Mall, Centrepoint, Fairview. Places where families get their shopping done. Places where teens learn to build their own community as they go to movies and roam the stores. Places where so many people work day in day out, 364 days a year. Some malls, like Fairview, provide a transit hub and essential services needed to support huge clusters of apartment buildings nearby. Other malls, like Yorkdale, become places to push the limit of consumerism without worrying about affordability. Both have their place in this town.

Toronto is also a place of small malls and strip malls that bind communities. Jane Park, West Side Mall, North Park, Agincourt Mall and dozens of others I don’t know. Places you’ve probably never heard of or visited unless you live in that community. They are part of the identity of this city of neighbourhoods outside the Core. They are the places where people shop in No Frills and Walmart; where people meet and chat doing groceries; where seniors meet in a coffee shop where everyone knows their name.

Toronto is the quiet sea of bungalows throughout midtown, full of tiny parks and where a tiny corner store is hidden far from any major road. These neighbourhoods are where the whole world lives side by side, where whole neighbourhoods will light fireworks on Canada Day in local school yards.

Toronto is a town of many colleges and three huge universities. UofT sits as an island of new and old, a universe of world class learning and research floating in the centre of the city and in growing campuses in Scarborough and Mississauga. YorkU sits on the edge of the world, crossed by power lines and bordered by oil storage and highways; a community built on melding Art, Science and Knowledge into a cohesive whole. Meanwhile Ryerson grows, relentlessly, just a bit off-centre in the old Core, charting a new way forward through technology and design.

Toronto is a morning ride on crowded buses and subways where absolutely everyone is a minority, and everyone respects the space of others and the hard commute they go through every day. Toronto is also commuter’s traveling beyond the city. It is the transit hubs at Union, Yorkdale, York University, Finch Station and others. Where people step every day off their TTC bus or subway and get onto another bus or train run by VIA, GO, YRT or others to continue the long journey home. This too is Toronto, it is the orbit of our great city, and it cannot be great without all its neighbours like Markham, Richmond Hill, Brampton, Mississauga.

Toronto is the Belt-Line trail, a running path tracing an old commuter rail that stretches from working class old York through the back yards of Forest Hill, across uptown and into the great Mount Pleasant cemetery down to the Don Valley.

Toronto is more than the Gardiner and the Don Valley. Toronto is the 401, Allen Parkway, Black Creek Drive and all the ramps and roads that feed into the highway universe that is so essential to this city. People live in the shadows and view of those highways and never see the crumbling Gardiner at all.

Finally, Toronto is not just a city of neighbourhoods, it is a city if cities. People still identify as living in Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York and even tiny York(represent!) and East York. They are also Torontonians, a duality of identity within the city. One that hurts when the very real wonders of The Core are the beginning and end of anyone’s description of the city.

Toronto is so much more than the Core or the car centric suburbs. But that is just my Toronto. What is your Toronto?


The Freedom of MPs

May 27, 2014

Andrew Coyne isn’t always great, but when he’s great, he’s great. Spot on here.

Andrew Coyne: Trudeau helps the cause of democratic reform (by not pursuing it)

MPs should be free to vote as they wish at least in theory. In practice they will often vote with their party, that’s why they’re in the party. But whipping votes and party lines merely insure that all issues are simplified down to two or three simple points of view. Life’s more complicated than that. There are only 308 people in parliament for the whole country, surely we can handle them each making their own decisions.

Marois: It’s not a priority for me to break up the country…right now.

March 22, 2014

Image from the Canadian PressSo Pauline Marois wants to focus on issues other than a referendum on breaking up Canada.

“It’s not a priority for Quebecers at the moment and it’s not my priority either. Our priority is to reinforce Quebec, reinforce it in all areas, reinforce the economy and adopt a charter.” -Pauline Marois

“At the moment” … so it’s on the table then.

Therefore, it’s a valid thing for people to be obsessed with. It’s not a small thing. It’s not something you can just try out when you feel the time is right. It’s about the fundamental nature of our country, all 10 provinces and 3 territories of it.

You are essentially saying :

‘It’s not a priority for me right now to break up the country. But maybe later if I think enough people want it. Just don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine. I’ll only try to break up the country if I think people want to.’  – What Pauline Marois means to say

But. What. If. People. Don’t. Want. That. At. All?

The safest, logical, course is to simply not elect you in the first place.

If you can’t get elected proudly proclaiming that you want to have a referendum, then don’t try to hold that possibility in reserve for later. It’s called a mandate. If you think you can get a mandate for your handling of the economy and instituting a mildly racist charter that targets minority religious groups in your province in favour of the white Judeo-Christian majority…ahem…then focus on that and promise there will be no referendum before another election. Or could you not get elected if you said that either? Tricky.


Mayor Rob Ford The Time Traveller

November 5, 2013

Rob Ford spoke to the media twice today, twice!

The first time he admitted that yes, he had in fact smoked crack in the past but he doesn’t really remember it (which is why he wants to see that video).

The second appearance seemed on the surface to be innocuous, it was just a statement with no questions where he said “sorry” a lot, and I mean a lot. He didn’t specify for what exactly he was apologizing but from his past statements we can only assume it is for (a) drinking too much, or as he calls it “getting hammered” (b) smoking crack (c) getting caught doing (a) and (b). Of course lots of people are also pretty angry about his (d) habitual lying about (a-c) and other things (e) his absolutely viscous attacks on journalists who correctly reported many of these things and thus were doing their job very well and (f) other stuff, just google it.

However, in this second speech he made one particularly impassioned comment which I think people will overlook but which has truly cosmic importance. It began by him saying:

“I’d do anything, anything…”

Now perfect completions of this sentence include:

  • “…to make up for what I’ve done to those who put their trust in me. And that’s why I’m going to resign.”
  • “…to make this city a better place. And that’s why I’m resigning as Mayor and I will let the people of Toronto decide if I should be Mayor in the next election.”
  • “…to heal the damage I’ve done to the city. And that’s why I’m resigning from politics forever and moving to Iqaluit.”

As you might have heard, he didn’t go with any of those. Here’s how he chose to finish that sentence:

“…to change the past.”

Really? You’re expending all that sincerity on how much you’d like to change the past? Is that something you’re close to being able to do? If so then this is much worse a claim than even he probably realizes. You see, his smoking crack that fateful day is now a fixed point in time. So many people know about it and have seen evidence of it that there is no way it could have failed to happen. Even if the mayor had the ability to change the past in principle he wouldn’t be able to change that event. River Song tried doing just that and look what happened (careful, spoilers!)….




…she almost destroyed the entire universe and Time itself. But the mayor says he would be willing to anything to change the past. So we must assume that includes destroying the universe.

Rob Ford, you arrogance truly knows no bounds. Or maybe you just don’t watch Doctor Who, I don’t know, either way it’s a horrible character flaw.


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