Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Spend while you can?

I've noticed for the past couple of days that some of the city services that are being cut by Mayor Miller are out in full force. I've seen a city truck with the required 3 people (driver, worker, guy who goes to Tim Horton's) parked beside a stop sign on Mortimer cutting small tufts of grass growing around the base of the sign with a weed whacker.

Next I passed a crew out picking up a few stray pieces of paper at the side of the DVP.

One of the city parking lots on the weekend had five city guys building a flower box off the Danforth.

What gives? Could it be that city departments are doing their best to spend their budgets in a hurry before the cuts come down, defeating any cost saving?

Just wondering.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Let's Go To The Ex

I was at the CNE this weekend. Unfortunately I seemed to be there on Half-Price Hillbilly Saturday.

If you want to spoil a white supremacist's day, just take him to the Ex. You won't find a more disappointing collection of Aryan genetic material anywhere. I felt out of place being the only man without a blue Celtic tattoo on my neck and five children at my ankles, each kid about eight and a half months older than the next.

The least popular food there was corn on the cob, because to eat it everyone would have to line up to share the family tooth.

Somehow, everyone had cell phones and someone to speak to, since a lot of the mothers entertained themselves by staying on the phone while the children tried to climb under the tilt-a-whirl and their husbands / boyfriends checked out the passing trailer park talent in the Paris Hilton Does Walmart clothes.

And there's no better place to have a public fight with your husband than on the Midway, where you have to shout extra loud to be heard over the guy calling "Doggie, doggie" into the microphone.

At least there's one thing you can say about the crowd - it helps the carnies with their self-esteem issues.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

2006 Budget Expenditures

From the City's 2006 Budget document (http://www.toronto.ca/city_budget/)

Circling the Drain

When I started this blog a few weeks ago I thought it was going to be a collection of minor annoyances about Toronto and its loopy governance. Little did I know that I chose Toronto's equivalent of the fall of Rome to begin my smarty pants observations.

The Toronto $575 million budget shortfall (which nobody saw coming apparently because we're now all in shock throwing together a Plan B of hasty program and service cuts like we're throwing together a pot luck dinner for unexpected guests) keeps spinning out of control.

On Friday Mayor Miller announced a round of cuts - $34 million this year, $83 million next year. The announcement wasn't made by our elected Mayor or councillors, nor were the cuts apparently thought through by any of them. That duty fell on Shirley Hoy, Toronto's city manager. There's democratic leadership.

And the cuts? Closing community centres on Mondays, stranding thousands of single moms and low income families and disrupting their work schedules. Closing libraries on Sundays - wouldn't want people getting smarter if you can save a couple of bucks.

We were also warned that city hall will stop answering the phone. You mean they actually have phones? I called three times last week and each time was touch-toned into the dumpster. Not even an answering machine or "please hold". Straight to hang up.

Most of the cancelled programs involved making Toronto clean and livable: garbage collection, litter, trees, parks, grass cutting. All things that will let the voters see the city in decline.

The one that got me to show how petulant and mean-spirited the mayor has become over his tax hike rejection - the City will not be picking up old Christmas trees in December. The Grinch would be so proud.

The 2006 Toronto Budget Document identifies where most of the city's money is spent:

"The 2006 Approved Operating Budget is detailed by major expenditure and revenue category. Salaries and Benefits, which total $3.517 billion or 46 per cent of the gross expenditure, represented the largest expenditure category. Emergency services (Fire, Police and EMS) and TTC alone totalled $1.932 billion which approximated 55 per cent of the total salary and benefit budget."

There you are. It is impossible to make any kind of dent in our budget without seriously looking at salaries. And I'm not someone who begrudges the mayor or city councillors their salaries. There's not enough money there to make any difference so why bother with the symbolic?

What they need is a line by line review of plans, programs and policies and see if we really need them to keep this city clean and functioning - not some clumsy, hatchet-wielding, 11th hour "that'll teach you" slash and burn to make the voters feel the pain.

City council and the Mayor have to sit in open session and put every item on the table and sharpen their pencils. No sacred cows, no vote getters, no ideological hobby horses that cost a bundle and go nowhere - just good fiscal policy. And if they can't do it they shouldn't run next time for a job they can't do.

Oh, and they should stop whining to get someone else to pay. Make your best deal with the province and the feds, and then raise the rest. Pass tax hikes, but just make sure you raise it on the backs of the people who can afford it - like the developers of the booming condo market and land transfer tax.

Jacking up property taxes blindly across the board only feeds the spending beast and doesn't encourage a culture of savings.

Find something to sell - there's a point when you have to realize you can't raise enough to get out of debt, and our city's debt of $507 million now costs about $200 million a year to service - our 2nd biggest expenditure.

(See: http://www.toronto.ca/budget2007/pdf/pres_mar7.pdf)

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that no one is interested in saving money - not the TTC, not the police, not council nor the mayor. They're only interested in finding more so they can keep spending the same way.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tasting the Danforth

This is the weekend we mark on the calendar to make sure we leave the city. This is Taste of the Danforth weekend.

The Danforth is at the end of our street, so we get the full frontal assault of people wandering around aimlessly with greasy hunks of fat and gristle on a stick trying to figure out if there is something actually going on.

With a million people from Scarborough standing in the middle of the road trying to choose from 300 booths all selling souvlaki, it doesn't take long to flee to the side streets clogged with cars all sporting handicapped parking stickers.

I can't figure out why people will stand in a line 30 people deep to buy a $3 souvlaki or spinach pie when any other day of the year you can get the same thing on the Danforth without any crowd to speak of, and no one in a booth is trying to sell you cheap long distance or a subscription to the National Post.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Paying Loblaws to Save Money?

I'm sure it makes sense somewhere, but did you know that Loblaws gets paid to save hydro?

Yep, it's true. Those lights that go off and air conditioners turned down at its 110 stores in Ontario result not only in savings to the company, but also a cash payment by the Ontario Power Authority.

As reported in the Toronto Star, something called the IESO (http://www.ieso.ca/) got the grocery giant to sign a "'demand-response' agreement with the province back in 2005 promising, in exchange for payment, to cut its electricity use by 10 megawatts when given three-hours notice by the Ontario Power Authority."

Other companies can sign up too, and the power authority hopes they do. As their spokesman says: "Unlike existing voluntary programs, participants sign a contract obliging them to reduce or shift their electricity use during a power crisis in exchange for payment."

I'm all for managing our power system. I'm without power at home at the moment myself (see below), and no one wants Toronto to get even more like the third world than it already is with regular brownouts, but do we really need to pay companies like Loblaws to save money on power?

Of course, paying people to do what is in their own and everyone else's best interests is typically Canadian, rather than simply having someone at Loblaw's switch threatening to pull it if they don't cut back.

Sitting in the dark

My home is without power at the moment. It went off yesterday afternoon and then again sometime last night.

I first turned on the portable radio to see what was happening. If it was World War III, I have a bottle of booze I've been saving. It seems like it is only a few blocks around us that is affected, so I reluctantly put the bottle away.

These things happen, but it's always kind of nice to know what's going on and if I should be eating all the frozen steaks in the freezer for breakfast before they go bad.

Being a connected kind of guy, I decided to go to Toronto Hydro's website on my handheld for an update. After all, even my Internet provider has a live "system status report" page in case of trouble. Electricity has to be more important than not being able to download the latest movie trailer from iTunes.

Apparently not. On Toronto Hydro's website there is a button for "Wind Turbine Status", but nothing to let customers know about emergencies, work in progress or power outage status.

You can send their customer care centre an email, which they will respond to "within three business days", or call their power outage service number (open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m), which I did and got the general help line that referred me back to the website.

You'd think that if Toronto Hydro wants to seriously get into the WiFi provider business, they might think about becoming their own customer and joining us in the 21st century by providing useful emergency service information in real time on their website.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The TTC - The Better (Paying) Way

The National Post recently published a chart of the average wages of city workers as part of its review of why Toronto is always in debt.

According to the various collective agreements of unionized employees for the city and TTC, garbage collectors make $24.14 an hour; litter pickers make $21.14 an hour, and TTC drivers and ticket takers make $26.58 an hour. This is base salary - overtime is extra.

So the guy in the jumpsuit who picks up trash at the side of the road or in parks (possibly with an MBA), makes about $44,000 a year, without counting overtime or seniority. Being the City, on top of that they also have some of the most extensive health and other benefits available in the civilized world.

And for those of you who have gone without raises recently, its nice to know the City of Toronto's employees have had a 3% or better raise every single year since 2001 (except for 2005 when they only got 2.75% poor darlings).

Bus drivers with the TTC make over $55,000 a year, plus an incredible array of benefits. That number goes up with seniority, of which there is a great deal since no one ever leaves the cozy confines of a TTC seat.

The TTC also just published - as required - its list of employees who made more than $100,000 a year in 2006. It now has 277 employees who make more than a hundred grand. At least 17 of them were bus drivers. Makes you wonder why Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners lived in such a shabby apartment.

But we are not to take this the wrong way, the TTC says as it contemplates service cuts to save some cash, even though salaries and benefits comprise about 75% of the TTC’s $1.1-billion budget. This is according to TTC spokeswoman Marilyn Bolton, who herself earned $101,444 in 2006.

To help us put this in perspective, Ms. Bolton was reported in the National Post to have said “$100,000 has actually depreciated in buying power”. After all, "$100,000 isn’t the $100,000 of 10 years ago, like a millionaire isn’t a millionaire anymore.”

Now I feel better. At least they have a good grasp on reality.

Aiming for Nonsense - U of T and Guns

It's hard to say I'm impartial on the subject - I was a member of the Hart House Pistol Club at the University of Toronto - but the weaseliness of the decision to close the gun range in the bowels of Hart House still puts my nose out of joint.

When I was there more than 20 years ago it was already known that it was much unloved by the politically correct. It would have been even worse if anyone could find the place. It occupies an area no more than 20 feet wide and as long as a bowling alley somewhere in the sub-basement underneath Hart House, accessible only by narrow halls and stairwells. It was specifically built as a gun range.

They floated the first trial balloon, saying the university needed the space, but then admitting it really wasn't any good for anything else, except storage.

Finally someone had the guts to admit the decision to close it was simply optics and ideology - there was no place for a gun range at a university. Of course the University of Toronto was the recruiting and training ground for thousands of young men who fought in several wars, where shooting a gun often came in handy.

Fortunately, I never had to shoot a gun in anger, or had any desire to point it at any living thing, but it is a lot of fun using one to poke holes in a piece of paper 50 feet away. I even have my name as best shot on one of the club's trophies - the turkey shoot. And for the weak-kneed, let me assure you that no turkeys were hurt in the process. The turkey was the prize. (In all honesty the "best shot" thing is a bit misleading, because half the scoring was random.

The shooters at the club were far from Rambos. In fact, they were a little bit nerdy and treated their target pistols like a concert musician treats a violin.

It's no surprise that the club hasn't had an accident or incident in its 88 years. If it was a safety issue, the University would first have to close down the football team which injures students on a daily basis; rugby, which encourages hurting people on a daily basis; and track and field with all its pulled muscles and heart attacks in waiting. I think the cafeterias hurt more people than the pistol club.

No doubt there will be a call to confiscate the javelins from the track & field shed as the weapons of choice from Spartans and other gang members from 2500 years ago.

No this is politics, where reality is completely unconnected with decision-making. Seems somehow appropriate that this kind of irrational thought takes place at a university.

Remember - when javelins are criminalized, only criminals will have javelins.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Chile 'Fesses Up

So Chile wanted to make a diplomatic incident out of the Toronto police doing riot control during the international soccer championship (see below)?

The news yesterday was that a member of the Chilean soccer team - remember them, the poor innocent victims of a brutal, unprovoked police assault? - admitted he watched a team mate punch a female Toronto police officer in the face.

The police's report out the other day showed that the Chilean team tore the arms off their bus seats to throw at the crowd and the cops, and then punched, kicked and threw things like little girls having a tantrum. The cops were trying to keep them under control while at the same time keep a couple hundred fans on both sides from breaking out in a testosterone-fueled, intelligence-deprived riot.

Somehow I don't think I'll hold my breath waiting for an apology from them.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Brutally Honest

So the Chileans are lodging an official diplomatic protest about the fight between their soccer team and Toronto police.

They claim they were just standing there signing autographs when the police attacked. Oh yeah, that sounds like something our cops would do. Nothing makes them break out the pepper spray faster than autograph-signing South Americans.

Actually, the Chileans, hot off the field from a game marked by their belligerence and threats (not to mention pretending to be injured) in fact got into a shoving match with some big-mouthed Argentinian fans and streamed out of the team bus to deliver some Chilean goodwill on their skulls. When the police got in the middle to protect the fans, the Chilean team turned on them and got the treatment reserved for all hooligans.

The Chilean government cries these are just children - mere teenagers. Teenagers at their physical and testosterone peaks who are treated like rock stars in other countries in a sport where riots are common.

A friend of mine at the scene told me the Chilean team was aggressive, abusive, violent and out of control, and the Toronto police showed remarkable restraint in dealing with them. The pepper spray and tasers only came out when the police had to defend themselves.

"Police brutality," they sob. Wasn't Chile the country where a few decades ago their police dropped people out of helicopters into the ocean with car batteries tied to their feet?

"Racism," they yell. Isn't this the same team whose supporters throw bananas on the soccer field when playing their rival Ecuador because they consider them monkeys?

And as for the Toronto police, you won't find a police department that is more culturally sensitive, harder to provoke and slow to use force. The paperwork alone hardly makes it worth hitting someone even if they deserve it. Would they wade in and start clubbing and tasering a high profile soccer team for the fun of it? Sorry - I'm not buying it.

That's the kind of thing that happens in South America.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Feeling Lucky?

Toronto's cash shortfall - which apparently no one saw coming even though it has been headed for us like a transport truck on a deserted highway - apparently has no contingency plan in case the proposed tax hikes didn't go through, which it didn't.

Nothing like having a Plan A and no thought of a Plan B, C, or D. All I can say is if you put all your eggs in one basket, you better make sure you have all the votes you need to get it passed.

So now various people are floating the idea of a downtown Toronto casino - the last refuge of the desperate, in more ways than one.

Casinos are essentially a tax on the stupid. I've been to Vegas and gambled pocket change, but you look around and know that the big shiny buildings and free drinks are being paid for by a whole bunch of suckers losing pretty reliably. Fun to watch - not so much fun to lose.

Canadian casinos are even worse - being sad, joyless affairs that suck money out of busloads of seniors. Like Vegas run by Canada Post.

Being Canada, casinos are guaranteed to not be fun, because we only believe that people should enjoy one vice at a time. You can gamble, but not drink. If you want to smoke, you can go outside. At least in Vegas you can indulge all your vices simultaneously, and even discover a few new ones.

Of course, studies show that casinos bring little economic benefit to the area. People show up, lose money and leave. They don't shop, eat or pump any money into the local economy. The only people who get rich is the provincial government, which takes 95% of the profit. That's why the mafia liked it so much.

And aside from low-paying dealer jobs, casinos don't create wealth. They don't produce anything. They are "entertainment". They just take money from some people and give it to the government.

For Toronto to agree to a casino the Province would have to agree to split the take with it. Not going to happen. For the record, the mayor has said he doesn't like casinos, at least not any more than he liked "support out troops" stickers on public vehicles, but we know that too is subject to change.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

And I quote...

I saw Red Skelton when he came to Toronto to do his show years ago. He opened with an old joke I'm sure told in many cities, but seemed particularly appropriate here:

"Toronto will be a nice city when you get it finished."

It encourgaed me to look for other quotes about Toronto. Oddly, a Google search only turned up car insurance quotes. Somehow it seemed appropriate on so many levels.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Invisible Jack

One of the good things about living in Jack Layton's riding is it's the one place you can be guaranteed you won't run into him.

The NDP leader keeps his moustache wax next to his bed across the Don Valley in the riding of Trinity Spadina where he lives with wife and fellow MP Olivia. I can't recall hearing about him setting foot across the border into Toronto-Danforth except to accept the nomination. He probably has, but it was likely under the cover of darkness.

Before Invisible Jack, you couldn't walk down the Danforth without being accosted by Dennis Mills, former MP. Dennis seemingly lived in his constituency office on the north side of Danforth between Broadview and Chester, and was wont to hang around the sidewalk outside and drag in unsuspecting constituents to discuss government policy.

What a nice change Jack is. Not only don't you see him between elections, as NDP leader at election time he's off criss-crossing the country in his bio-diesel powered 747 mostly kept aloft by righteous indignation. Much too important to meet any of the people he represents. Busy thinking lofty thoughts about carbon credits and feeling the oppressed's pain.

In fact, Jack doesn't even mention the riding he represents (it's Toronto-Danforth, Jack) in his biography on his webpage. Ooops! In fact you have to put in a local postal code to find out he's your MP. Oddly, he does mention that he vaguely "lives in Toronto with his wife Olivia Chow, NDP Member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina, and her mother Ho Sze." I guess home is where the heart is, not to mention the mother-in-law.

He confidently counts on the proudly unfashionable denizens of Red Riverdale and the Carrot Common with their cohorts of crystal-wearing canvassers to bring out the vote without having to bruise his alabaster knuckles on any of the half million dollar plus doors to the bastions of socialism in the riding.

The guy sitting on the sidewalk out front of Postables selling the homeless newspaper at least shows up for work every day. He doesn't take anything for granted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Won't Someone Think of The Children?

If something is working for you, why change it?

Take for example the City's favourite head-fake - closing swimming pools. Whenever the mayor or city doesn't get its way when it wants to raise takes (like a new sidewalk tax, or a tax on using a Toronto postal code on your letters), it always does the same thing. It says that there won't be enough money to keep the city's swimming pools open in the summer. Then it backs off when there is the predictable outcry. Money is found, pools stay open, life goes on.

There is a tear in the mayor or budget chief's eye when they say this - usually on a hot day - but it must sadly be done because council / the province / the feds / Santa Claus has failed to come up with the dough a hefty tax increase would create.

The pools will be drained, lifeguards laid off, and children will have to cool themselves in a bucket of warm spit, or turn to crime...

Every year that I can remember, this has been the bugle cry of the city looking for money.

Yesterday Mayor Miller lost a vote to implement new taxes on cars and land transfer taxes. What does he say today? Drum roll please...

From The Toronto Star:

"And Miller warned councillors that programs are likely to suffer as a result – such as swimming lessons for a boy he knows who lives in public housing."

If only everything in life were this predictable.

Where Are The Dinosaurs?

I had a call last night from the Royal Ontario Museum selling memberships.

I loved the ROM as a kid. I was part of their "Saturday Morning Club" summer camp, and spent many happy hours looking at the rocks, bones and swords.

But I haven't been back since they crazy glued the crystal monstrosity to the side of it. Maybe it's because the ticket price for me, my wife and 5 year old is now $54 (or $25 Friday nights, or free for a quick run around after 8 pm if you don't mind feeling like a moocher).

Unfortunately, the ROM has gone out of the museum business and is now a "venue". It's for holding your socialite cocktail reception or corporate kick-off, not for marvelling at the wonders of the earth.

Critics have said the crystalline entity that is sucking the life out of the beautiful old Edwardian building also makes it difficult to display the extensive and wonderful collections gathering dust on shelves in the back rooms. The light is wonky, the walls are wonky, and the current management really wants you to look at the aluminum and glass architecture and not so much at the artifacts. I don't think there is a single photo of the front door of the old building on the website anymore. Everything looks like a set from "Space 1999".

Here's a list from their website about that they've closed:

"During our period of growth the following areas of interest will be closed:

Dinosaurs/Vertebrate Palaeontology
Earth Sciences Gem and Gold Room
Insects and Their Relatives
Roman World
South Asia"

So no rocks, dinosaurs, mammals, insects, Canada...

On the bright side, until November you can see "Over 250 miniature worlds of brilliant colour and style are featured in this exhibition of spectacular 19th- and 20th-century glass paperweights". That's worth my $54.

And the cafeteria now serves "earth friendly" food, whatever that is.

For me, the killer is they haven't had a dinosaur display for the past 2 years. What's a museum without dinosaurs? Just a bunch of Japanese plates and native clay pots. They promise they'll be back this winter. Maybe I will be too.

Maybe, unless I feel a real need for paperweights in the meantime.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Something to fill your toilet

Don't you hate it when people forget to flush? Our Uber-mayor did that at a Michigan news conference testerday while launching his campaign to persuade other mayors to bring in water conservation programs.

Miller told the crowd that Toronto hadn't yet reached its 2011 target of a 15 per cent cut to water use, and that low-flush toilets would be the key.


To quote the Toronto Start article (July 14, 2007): "The city set out in 2003 to reduce average water use to 1.18 billion litres a day by 2011. Turns out the rate was down to 1.17 billion litres by the end of 2006. "We're doing awesome," said Georgopoulos."

The day before the Star reported Pamela Georgopoulos, a manager of the city’s water program, as saying Toronto is "on course to hit the 1.18 billion litre target", despite a population growth the size of Peterborough.

Of course we were on target - we had already passed it.

They went on to project the $74.3 million plan is expected to save the city around $250 million by 2011, and $4.5 million every year after that. It will also have saved the atmosphere 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases within the next four years, as less electricity is needed to pump water through treatment plants and then throughout the city.

So, had no one noticed we had already saved all that cash?

Makes you wonder what other decisons are made based on made-up information easily available down the hall.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Poor People Not Recycling Is All Your Fault

There was an article in the Toronto Star a month or so ago about a city summit on recycling. One of the presentations was about how the recycling rate and generally eco-friendly activities of Toronto's poor was far, far below that of people in good neighbourhoods with jobs and educations.

Stupid me - I thought poor people didn't recycle because they are not as informed, educated or have the luxury of being environmentally conscious as rich people.

It turns out, according to some presenter representing I'm sure thousands of disenfranchised members of the underclass (if she only had the time to meet them), that Toronto's poor do not participate in recycling programs because the rich people purposefully exclude them. That's right - we deliberately prevent them from recycling and participating in recycling initiatives.

She even had a name for it: the "class eco-divide".

I have seen the enemy, and it is me.

Now Magazine

A fixture of the black-clad, young urban hipsters in Toronto is a folded copy of Now Magazine under their skinny Vegan arms.

The publication has plenty of attitude and moral indignation over poverty, immigration, racism, housing issues, carbon credits and celebrating the gay lifestyle as superior to the rest of us breeders. From ersatz-Zen to Wiccan festivals, it promotes hyper-progressive views that its readers can smugly pretend to identify with when sipping their $7 Latte Grandes while their BMW SUVs sit double parked and idling.

So how then do they sleep at night considering their last ten pages are devoted entirely to prostitution? After all, the colour ads selling every type of sex service are the real reason people pick up Now.

As Now's website says:

"Find listings for agency and independent escorts, adult entertainers and specialists: men, women, duos and couples. Massage experts & spas, shemales, and fetish & fantasy including pro dommes and dungeons, and so much more"

I bet these sex service ads create a fair chunk of the cash that comes in so they can pay their salaries and continue to publish their high-minded, eco-indignant denunciations.

I'm no prude. At least I didn't think so until I read some of the more exotic ads. And I'm sure all the services offered are by adults with full consent and economic freedom to make healthy decisions about how they earn a living, and not some 15 year old runaway hooked on drugs or a prisoner of a snakehead or other pimping thug.

So the next time they get all high and mighty about some social issue (which they may or may not be right about), all I'll be able to think about is how they are living off the avails of the avails of prostitution.

Planning to do nothing

I've often thought that city hall wants to turn Toronto in Beijing - a megacity where the roads are full of bicycles and people hanging onto the backs of buses. War has been declared on the car by the City of Toronto, even though our transit stinks (literally and figuratively), distances are great and it is fricking freezing half of the year.

Here is a statement buried deep in a City of Toronto report called "REDUCING CAR DEPENDENCE - Transportation Options for the City of Toronto" by the Transportation Planning Urban Development Services, City of Toronto (2001):

"Consistent with the overall objective of reducing auto dependency, there should only be limited plans for expanding the capacity of the City’s road system, particularly for peak period commuters."


There you have it folks - the people in charge of transportation don't believe in it, as if it was any surprise.

Transportation planning is only to benefit the bike-riding Sandalistas of Riverdale and College Street West, and not anyone who has to drag children, groceries or aged parents around the city. Toronto is only for the young and strong, who leave their loft-based consulting businesses to pedal from Starbucks to Starbucks.

I'm reminded of a quote by the Duke of Wellington when asked about the first street cars: "I don't approve of it. It encourages the lower classes to travel."

Treed Off

In one of the last wind storms a large branch fell off a tree the next street over.

Instead of putting it out front of their house where the city work crews were collecting all the fallen branches, for some reason they dragged it through the alley out back and left it in front of our house.

We live in a cul de sac (dead end to the rest of you), and are usually overlooked by most city services as if we don't exist. Our street's branch removal ended a few houses down where the street turns back onto a major road. So the 10-foot branch sat there.

Finally my wife called the city to come pick it up.

In the week it took to send a truck around, some neighbour decided to saw it up for us. Great, except when the city crew came by they found a convenient excuse to not do their job.

"We only take whole branches," he said. "You'll have to saw it up more and tie it with string for yard waste day."

Didn't matter it wasn't my branch, my tree, or that I didn't saw it up to begin with. Off the truck went without the branch.

I thought of dragging it into the middle of the Danforth where they couldn't refuse to take it, or back to the yard where the tree it came from grew. Or just setting fire to it right there.

But you can't fight city hall where it comes to their grudging provison of basic services, so I hacked away until the parts fit in a yard waste bag (which I had to buy as well).

It gave new meaning to the expression "stick it to them".

High Occupancy - Low Intelligence

This is only the first of what will be many rants about driving in, around and out of the city.

You wonder if the people who design our highways actually ever drive on them. Take for example the DVP / 401 clusterfork. There is hardly a time of day or night when traffic doesn't bunch up in this ill-conceived monstrosity of transportation planning.

Most of the congestion started with the creation of the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane. on the southbound 404. The basic idea is that people wanted to leave Newmarket in such a hurry that they packed every available car.

The goal of dedicated high occupanct lanes was to mutate human DNA into making us all car-poolers. Of course it will never work. We hate to car pool. Car pooling adds even more time to an already long commute, because you have to drive around the neighbourhood picking other people up, and then taxi them all to their offices.

Oh, and when you drop everyone off at their work in Markham, Newmarket or East Gwillembury, they're prisoners at their office because you have to drive everywhere once you're there. Or you can have lunch every single day at the Timmy's in the next building which is only half a mile away. This is the same reason people don't take transit - that and the fact there really isn't any.

Then if you are carpooling, you have to pick everyone back up at their various offices (providing no one is working late, sick, or on the roof with a sniper rifle) and drive them home.

The reward for all this is you get to use the HOV lane on your ride home. Yes, you zip along at the top end, but as you get closer to the 401 overpass, six lanes turn to three, and then two, and the HOV lane brings everyone - including the car-poolers - to a dead halt since they have to jamb into the stopped two regular lanes, and no one wants to let them in.

Then as soon as you crawl through that bottleneck, the road planners funnel three more lanes of high volume traffic into the southbound DVP.

I drive this route most days, because I live in the city and work in Markham. I'm pretty sure that no one in the car beside me on a daily basis is the guy who responsible for the road design. If it was, it would get fixed pretty darned fast.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

TTC Announcements

I swear the TTC's loudspeaker system only works in the subway is when the TTC is advertising.

I can hear announcements as clear as a bell about why I should use a Metropass, but they never work when explaining a rush hour slowdown.

Instead you get: “Attention subway patrons, we have a buzz… crackle… lizard… flowerpot... at Pape station… run for your… crackle… major loss of... God help us all...”


Toronto's Bloor Viaduct (actually a bridge, and actually called the Prince Edward Viaduct) has long been known as the occasional jumping off spot for people dedicated to leaving Toronto - and everywhere on earth - permanently.

Far above the Don Valley and the Parkway, and with conveniently low railings, falling bodies inconvenienced the slow-moving drivers and slightly faster-moving joggers far below since 1919. According to one group, someone used to jump off the Bloor Viaduct every 22 days (not the same someone, of course). Toronto is proud of being "world class" about everything, but didn't like the fact that the bridge was the 2nd most popular diving spot for suicide jumpers in North America (darn you, Golden Gate Bridge!).

Then in 2003 the City of Toronto spent $6 million on a system of wires around the bridge's sides to foil would-be jumpers, known to the depression-prone artistic community as a "luminous veil". Conveniently, they also put a sign up at one end over a payphone with the suicide prevention number (quarter not included). God forbid they should spend $6 million on improving mental health services in the city. Then all you have to show for it is mentally healthy people and not a landmark "luminous veil" for tourists to wonder what the heck it is. This way there's a permanent momument to remind the voters how much the good councillors of the fair city care for the suicidal.

I suppose that's all well and good, even if there is another bridge a short hike to the north with no barriers and a definitely life-shortening drop. I suppose the theory is someone intent on killing themselves won't walk a few blocks. Saying you're going to jump off the Leaside bridge apparently doesn't have the same cachet - sounds so working class.

All of this is prologue to a little item that caught my eye a few months back. It was a news story that said that due to an electrical short, the wires of the "luminous veil" were charged for a while with enough electricity to give you a jolt. That left me with the image of some poor guy throwing himself off the bridge to be saved by the web of cables, only to find they were electrified. Sort of like a big bug zapper.

There's a lesson there somewhere, but I have no idea what it is.

In The Beginning...

I live in the City of Toronto - have for the past 30+ years. I love the city and living in it, which is not to say it doesn't drive me nuts most of the time.

For the past 10 years I've written a weekly comment column for the Calgary Sun (http://calsun.canoe.ca/Columnists/home.html). Over the years it has also appeared in the Winnipeg Sun, London Free Press, Toronto Sun, and I even had a 8-month stint as a columnist at the National Post.

I was "downsized" from the National Post when they decided to once again try to save themselves into prosperity by firing the freelance writers and pay pennies for US and British syndicated columns. I was at the National Post just long enough to get my own hand-carved column header art (which actually is hand-carved in a block, and not computer generated - welcome to the 16th century; next thing they'll be using moveable type). I think I was canned a week later.

Anyway, the one thing the National Post gave me was the ability to write about Toronto for a Toronto audience. I love Calgary and the people there, but I always had ideas for columns that no one in Calgary would care about because they were - well, from Calgary. Toronto is pretty much the twin city of Sodom to most Calgarians (actually, that would be Gomorrah, but I hear they have an exchange program with Toronto).

Writing for a Toronto audience gave me a chance to get a few things off my chest about some of the absurdities of the city and they way it is run - writing as therapy, and at $200 a column to boot. When that column ended, I found I still spent a lot of time fulminating about what an insane city this can be - its politicians, inhabitants, attitudes and generally just the way things work (or don't) here.

And so this Blog.

Hating Toronto is a national pastime in Canada. This Blog isn't about hating the city - I love it, but it's like the crazy girlfriend you just can't leave. You keep coming back even though she rants, raves and sets your garbage can on fire.

I know there are others out there who live in the city but wonder just what the hell is going on and who keeps thinking things up that keep this city from achieving greatness.
To those people, I dedicate this Blog.