Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Paradise City

So you won the Toronto mayoralty, Mr. Ford. Congratulations. You did it. 383,501 people and you are all very happy today. And I am not sad that your opponents lost, because let's face it, none of them really deserved to win.

What I have now is a confirmation and a validation of what ails my hometown. And why political, public debate there and all over Canada is so stifled, so limited, and so utterly devoid of substance. It is that a clear majority of people have been trained to define themselves first and above all as "taxpayers". Not citizens. Not residents. Not humans. Not people. Not stewards of the earth for future generations. Taxpayers. Your successful capitalization of this group of people has resulted in your election.

Defining yourself as a taxpayer does not of course involve you paying taxes while others do not. There already is a taxation system in place that makes everybody who needs to be paying taxes pay them. It simply involves you being arrogant and selfish enough to put yourself on a pedestal and think that you carry an ungrateful society on your shoulders by paying your taxes. This backward thinking is why bogus groups such as the "Canadian Taxpayers Federation" exist. Most people pay taxes, yet paradoxically most people don't belong to such a group. Rather than let the loudest, most belligerent people monopolize the title that rightfully belongs to most of us to complain about what matters to them, why don't we take back the "taxpayer" label and assign them a "people who complain non-stop about taxes" label. Canadian People Who Complain Non-Stop About Taxes Federation. There we go.

Rob Ford: Respect For People Who Complain Non-Stop About Taxes. There we go.

Oh, but you say, you are just an eco-communist, a liberal elite left shill. City expenditures have risen 47%, Miller spent the city into oblivion, mostly on hiring new workers.

I know the numbers. I know they are unsustainable. I know there are incredible amounts of waste. And I am a major proponent of getting tax dollars diverted to building 21st century infrastructure and away from parasitic union cartels. I am as against the outsize benefits and pensions enjoyed by city workers as Mr. Ford. These things represent a scourge on all three levels of government and our country will not remain solvent unless they are addressed. Any thinking person can see that. And the two worst cartels that drain the most money are the police and firemen, who have negotiated ballooning increases year after year and are given whatever they demand by the government with nary a peep from any politician, including self styled taxpayer champion Ford. Instead of taking them head on, he won't touch them with a ten foot pole, which the Globe astutely pointed out. If the main critique on public sector employees is that there is no value added in paying someone who can barely use a computer 70K a year with full pension and benefits to be an admin assistant, then I believe we need to have the same honest conversation with people who drive around in crown victorias drinking tims and sit around waiting for fires to happen about what value they add to society for what they're paid. Sorry, I know they put themselves in danger from time to time, but its not 150K+ a year, even after they stop working until they die danger. At least doctors and crown attorneys had to study in highly competitive environments for 7-10 years to earn their buck, not 18 months in a community college.

And therein, ladies and gentlemen, lies my first principal critique of the "taxpayers". Their position always amounts to a bunch of incoherent nickel and diming that fails to address any real problems. They will thunder on about 12,000$ on a retirement party here, 4 grand in expenses there, a couple hundred thousand back over here in pork barrel subsidies. These things are morally indefensible, sure, but they are exaggerated to create a portrait of look-at-all-this-waste-and-people-living-high-on-the-hog-that's-where-your-taxes-all-go-vote for me and I'll get rid of it and you won't have to pay anymore to attract the average citizen (or, I’m sorry, taxpayer).

But of course everyone will have to pay. Always more. A favourite campaign moment of mine, not that I had much of a stomach to really follow this campaign, was when Ford bragged to Gord Martineau on city news that former Toronto Police Chief and current conservative candidate in Vaughan Julian Fantino bragged to him that they could save upwards of $7 million on the people who clean the police stations. Upwards of $7 million. Not bad. But also especially rich coming from a guy who was police chief of London, police chief of York Region, police chief of Toronto, police chief of the O.P.P., a cop for 42 years, and now at 67 is running to be an M.P. at 155,000$ a year (all travel, bennies, and pension on top) and will probably manage to scam a senate appointment at another 165K a year with full pension before the end of it. I know, my head is spinning too, because police chiefs make at least 300K, but think hard that his pension from all those jobs has got to be in the millions by now. This will be going to go to pay a guy in his seventies, eighties, nineties, and if all goes well, hundred to sit on his ass while the provincial economy implodes. But I’m of course not to begrudge him for it because he earned it all in “public service”. And he’s also a guy gravy train de-railer Ford is proud to count among his close personal friends. When this province finds itself a couple more years of record deficit down the road and is in serious dire straits with its entire fiscal existence in question, I wonder how many of these lifetime hogs, who number in the tens of thousands and of whom Fantino is just the most egregious example, will be coming forward to renounce some of these fat perks. You know, if they have any energy left to “serve” the public some of its dollars back.

We can talk about real wastes of money all day but there are also real ways to make real money for a city outstretched far beyond its means. Road tolls, as there are in every other city of comparable size on earth would be a start. A really good start. The real backbreaker in the city these days is the traffic, congestion, smog, and especially the damn traffic. This would reduce it and give the city the money it needs to construct the transport network it needs to serve a population its size. And override the TTC unions and hire workers to build it at half the price, please. But it won’t happen, with Ford or any of the other current crop. The main problem with the city’s finances, as with most public finances, are the stupendous percentage of them that are used to pay public worker wages. All this stuff people rant and rave about is drops in the bucket. I will say this once so I never have to say it again – Until they address the unsustainable wage growth in public sector salaries and the systematically discriminatory, two-tier caste society they have created between the public and private sectors, every government at every level in Canada that talks about belt-tightening and fiscal restraint is blowing smoke.

That’s for the elected folks to deal with, and it won’t happen for awhile as long as enough people are still comfortable with the status quo. We do see growing anger with the status quo now but it is not productively being directed towards solutions, its being directed towards “angry” people like Ford. The city would be a whole lot more harmonious were it not for lack of vision and shortsightedness is the problem on the primary issue of importance: transit.

The city is a great city. It doesn’t have as many problems as the commentariat like to rag on about. But everyone can agree that getting around is a major woe whatever method you choose. Ford’s common sense solution is to add more subways (which he has no power to raise money for) and more buses. This “more buses” promise was brilliant because it allows him to pay lip service to transit and vaguely pretend that he cares with his traffic gridlock loving suburban core who don’t give a shit about transit anyways. If you look underneath it, you see the subtle message. What’s that? Well, I’ll tell you straight up, taking the bus sucks. It is no way for a dignified person to get around. I do it, and everybody inside looks to be in agony. Why? Well, let me count the ways. You’re stuck in the same bullshit traffic as cards. They’re never on time, or they skid away while you run up to catch them. They’re steamy and smelly in the winter. They’re slow, and even slower when the driver decides he has to take a dump or have a smoke or grab a tims. That’s only if you have to take one bus. More often you have to take 2 or 3 at which point all these factors take on an exponential quotient. Buses suck. Which is why everybody on them is either 1)too young to drive 2)too poor to drive 3)too old or disabled to drive 4)something went wrong and they’ll be driving as soon as they can or 5)insane like me

The hidden message is “Stop taking the bus like a bum and get a car. You only need to make fulltime minimum wage to lease one now anyway.”

In Hong Kong, Paris, and Amsterdam, people don’t take transit because they’re “eco-fascists”. They take transit because the system is superior to a car, from a cost, time, and convenience point of view. Imagine that. But you can forget about transit that you’d actually want to take now, so you could leave your car at home and save on parking and fuel and tolls and headaches. To all the taxpayers who are about to revel in gridlock for four more years because their city “can’t afford” it, I ask them to look at this thing the Chinese are building and ask “how can we afford not to have vision like this?”

A little vision would bring us closer to a paradise city. Transit needs of course grow with population growth. More on that subject in the next lacking credentials.

In the meantime, Toronto, have fun in your taxpayer paradise...its gonna be a whole lot uglier four years from now.

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