Growing up, budgeting, and other stuff

After I got out of my holiday depressive slump I managed to get off my ass and accomplish a few things. I resolved to be more conciliatory and politic, and even made it a few days before ranting about white-centric feminism or something. I cancelled my Rogers internet so I can switch to the cheaper ISP TekSavvy. I cleared my inbox. I made a doctor’s appointment. And—biggest of all—I applied for a credit card!

The thing about being broke, you see, is that you make terrible financial decisions. I could barely afford to buy things with my debit card, so why would I take on debt I certainly couldn’t pay off?

But a credit card opens the door to so many other things. I can buy stuff cheaper online. I could get a drawing tablet, for instance, that would let me do illustrations on commission and earn money on the side. I can buy cheap glasses. I can replace my ailing netbook. I can get a smartphone!—The smartphone was really what convinced me. Because right now I’m on a prepaid plan, and you can only get a good deal on a smartphone if you are on pay-after, which requires a credit check. And you can’t have credit, good or bad, if you don’t have a credit card.

I won’t be able to pay off the entire balance at once, but I can definitely do minimum monthly payments. And that’s an acceptable cost to take on, because I need to maintain a level of healthy debt in order to live like a Real Adult.

And yes, this is a metaphor for the budget and why we shouldn’t be afraid to borrow money, because this city could be so much more awesome if we were willing to invest in big things, rather than tightening our belts and scrimping and saving and settling for the cheap bread at No Frills. Have you ever had that bread? It’s dry and flavourless and unsatisfying and only $1.97. You can only go so many years on that bread before you put your foot down and say I want more. I deserve more. I’m going to get out of this miserable pit, somehow.—wait, where was I? Oh yeah. So I was talking about the budget, but also about my current situation. Increasingly I feel disconnected from the #TOpoli crowd. It’s hard to express how viscerally worried I am. I wish I could talk intellectually about debt ceilings and GTA property tax rates, but I’m afraid…

No, of course it’s not the end of the world. That’s the problem. These things aren’t often drastic or dramatic. We’ll just accept a little more anxiety, a few more aggravations. “The people want change“—for those at the bottom, the currents pass us by, there’s no change at all. When things are precarious you can’t afford to take chances. There’s less margin for error. Every resource you have—a spot on the waitlist, med samples from the doctor, someone who can stay home to watch your kid, an all-night bus route—you’re counting on, and if one doesn’t come through, it throws everything into disarray. And it occupies your thoughts constantly and you just want to explain to people what it’s like and we can’t wait another moment for housing/daycare/transit…

But, in reality, you need to be able to do both at once. You still have to talk politics the way the men, the journalists, talk politics. Be smart the way they want you to be smart, and witty, but not at their expense, and they’ll listen to you, and take your advice on those things you know about. It’s cynical, but you can’t afford to insist on having the conversation on your own terms. You can’t pour your heart out so you let it drip a little all the time into everything you do. That’s the idea, anyway.

Edward Said on political knowledge

What I am interested in doing now is suggesting how the general liberal consensus that “true” knowledge is fundamentally non-political (and conversely, that overtly political knowledge is not “true” knowledge”) obscures the highly if obscurely organized political circumstances obtaining when knowledge is produced. No one is helped in understanding this today when the adjective “political” is used as a label to discredit any work for daring to violate the protocol of pretended suprapolitical objectivity.

—Edward Said, the introduction to Orientalism

If it’s not anti-racist, is it still responsible journalism?

Note: In my experience, you often need a period where people are encouraged to rant, share frustrations, assure each other they’re not imagining things, etc., before you can get down to working productively among each other. This is a polemic to that purpose.

Since I got involved with municipal politics I’ve met and befriended a lot of people in journalism—a profession that I didn’t really know much about before. I’m consistently impressed by their hard work, tenacity, and commitment to journalistic ethics: fact-checking, research, protecting people’s privacy, respecting “off the record” information, speaking truth to power.

But (of course there’s a “but”) journalists and editors and columnists themselves have power. They play an important role in determining what’s newsworthy and what’s boring. They can change not only the media landscape, but the way we go about making media. They can change how we see the people and events they’re covering.

I only rarely see people in Toronto political media talking about this.

Continue reading If it’s not anti-racist, is it still responsible journalism?

Diary of a councilspotter: Plastic bags

Wednesday, June 6, City Council meeting 24

Recap of this morning:

A bunch of councillors throwing hissy fits over the injustice of paying 5¢ for a plastic bag in a perfect microcosm of how conservative governments dismantle themselves by becoming so inefficient they’re not worth having around.

How this got started:

Berardinetti proposed having businesses donate the proceeds from the plastic bag fee to suitable groups, like environmental organizations.

This wasn’t a total dick move, so other people on the Executive Committee added a bit about rescinding the fee altogether.

(So wait, you may say. Are they proposing to get rid of the fee and donating the profits from the fee, in the same motion? Isn’t that kind of confusing? Yes, yes it is.)

And then Perruzza floated the idea of going in the other direction and banning plastic bags (as some cities have done), which made everyone freak the fuck out.

Ridonkulous arguments floated so far:

  • Scrapping the bag fee kills jobs at plastic recycling plants (Del Grande)
  • Dog poop!!1!!11 (Lindsay Luby)
  • If fee proceeds are donated to charity, people will buy EVEN MORE bags (Shiner)
  • Grocery stores aren’t giving out paper bags, so… (Di Giorgio?)
  • The bag fee is bankrupting corner stores and enriching big chains like Loblaws

As I type, the debate is still going on. FUCK EVERYTHING I’M GOING OUTSIDE.

#WiTOpoli: it’s a thing now

Yeah, so that post I did is totally a thing now. It magically became a thing thanks to Steph Guthrie and her fearsome organizational skillz. There’s going to be two panel discussions on women in Toronto politics (because there were too many awesome people for just one) — here’s the description:

  • On May 23, The Comment Section panelists will discuss how women’s voices figure into conversations about Toronto politics and municipal affairs. This panel will identify Twitter as a key medium through which these conversations take place, but also address the many other spaces in which political conversations occur.
  • On May 30, The Front Page panelists will examine how female players in the political sphere are discussed on Twitter, in the media, and elsewhere. This panel will analyze the nature of political conversations about women, and the influence that these conversations exert on women’s political action and expression.

Oh, and also I’m on the May 23 one (just typing it makes me nervous already). You can now register for tickets; it’s free. Yeah.

The Matlow Jar

A plastic jar with a photo of councillor Josh Matlow taped on it.

Because people periodically ask:

One evening I was having post-council drinks when Josh Matlow’s EA came up and introduced himself. When he learned who I was, he chided me for being so hard on Matlow that day on Twitter (I believe I had called him “beige”) and gave an eloquent defence of his boss.

In embarrassment, I resolved to cut Matlow (and the rest of Council) some slack, and to that end I set aside a jar, kind of like a swear jar. Every time I say something unnecessarily mean about a municipal politician, I put 25 cents in the jar.

There are several bucks in there now. I haven’t decided what to do with the money yet, but it will probably go towards buying drinks for the councillors who receive the brunt of my wrath.

The More You Know

Too many dicks on the dancefloor

This is actually footage from a #TOpoli pub night

#TOpoli, we need to talk. This has been bothering me for a while now, and since it’s International Women’s Day I figure I may as well take this occasion to point out that our burgeoning scene is one big white dudefest. And white dudefests suck. But luckily there are small, practical things we can do to fix this, which is good, because I would hate to totally fucking snap and destroy you all with the burning rage of a thousand Nunziatas.

Continue reading Too many dicks on the dancefloor

Diary of a councilspotter: In which the politicians take over City Hall

Monday, March 5, City Council meeting 19

The Story So Far:

  • January 17, 2012: In an unprecedented victory, left-wing and centrist councillors get together and vote to reverse most of Ford’s proposed budget cuts. Getting cocky, they think about bringing back Transit City, the previous mayor’s transit plan that Ford strongly opposes.

  • February 8, 2012: At a special council meeting, TTC chair and (up till now) Ford loyalist Karen Stintz spearheads a motion to basically reinstate Transit City, which passes with a decent majority. Team Ford would fire Stintz if they could, but the rules say they can’t.

  • February 21, 2012: Five Ford-friendly members of the TTC board call a special meeting and fire the TTC general manager Gary Webster instead. This is a bad move, and the other four councillors on the board are pissed.

  • March 5, 2012: Council votes to dissolve the TTC board and put together a new one, which happens to include the minority of TTC board members who voted not to fire Webster (this includes Stintz), plus some centrist and left-wing councillors. Council then votes Stintz back in as TTC chair.

For those keeping track at home, this is the third failed attempt by Team Ford to get back at Stintz for Transit City. But there’s more: there’s another special council meeting on the 21st where they’ll be making decisions about transit on Sheppard. (The mayor and others want subways; the plan calls for light rail.)

The title of the post refers to what Cllr Giorgio Mammoliti actually said at some point yesterday. Yes, that apparently came out of his mouth with no irony. It’s only a slightly more fucking ridiculous version of what Cllr Denzil Minnan-Wong and Cllr Michael Thompson have said at various points in the past few months: they believe transit should be depoliticized. Which, I mean, I live and die by “the personal is political”, so you can guess how I feel about that. It’s horrible because everything is fucking political, and “depoliticize” basically just means “pretend it’s not political” or “our politics don’t count as politics”, which is bullshit—

—and if it’s not that, it’s some kind of libertarian shit, like, the government shouldn’t be in this business, which is also bullshit. Doug Ford said as much during last Sunday’s radio show when he was spouting off about how “taxes are evil” (yes, another thing that actually crawled out of someone’s mouth)—he said the government should be providing services, not creating jobs (damn the economy!). But apparently those services don’t even include transit. These people’s ideal government is basically a glorified utility company. No wonder they lack long-term vision.

And I realize the entire point of this enterprise is to get inside government and tear it down but I can’t help remembering another feminist soundbite: “Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one.”

Don’t like politics?

DON’T. FUCKING. BECOME. A. POLITICIAN.

Re: Gary Webster

Dear Councillors:

I’m writing to encourage you not to fire Gary Webster. It would mean paying out an enormous severance package (about $500,000) just to intimidate City workers and to further politicize the civil service. Webster is bound by professional honesty to serve the Mayor by advising him on the facts as they are and not how we would like them to be. Further, his duty is not only to the Mayor, but to all of us—so he must act in the public interest whether or not that aligns with Ford’s mandate.

Firing people because they can’t honestly agree with you is irresponsible from both a financial and an ethical perspective. Please do the right thing.

Yours,

Neville Park

Diary of a councilspotter: The roof over our heads

Friday, February 17, Executive Committee Meeting 17

Had to miss the first half of the special Executive Committee meeting on TCHC for a meeting with an Ontario Works caseworker so she could verify I’m broke and gainfully unemployed enough. This one’s new. She asked what I did my degree in; I told her “Philosophy” and she laughed in my face. Hey, I’d be laughing if I were her, too.

When I got there they were a few dozen deputations in. The crowd was the usual housing activists and scattering of cranks, plus a good contingent of regular folks who rarely go to these things, many clearly here out of desperation—unpracticed in public speaking, with choked-up voices and often halting speech. It takes a lot of bravery to go down to City Hall and beg a bunch of callous old guys not to sell your house out from under you.

—Sorry. It’s hard for me not to go all Joe Fiorito on this. But I think that if you were serious about eradicating poverty here in Toronto, a solid affordable housing strategy would be the place to start, and it’s absolutely fucking infuriating that a gang of small-government ideologues with six-figure salaries who don’t give a shit about poverty are the ones managing the crisis.

Crisis, eh?

As of December 2011, there’s a record-breaking 82, 138 households on the affordable housing waitlist (PDF). The list is growing by about 7.5% each year, but they house only 4–4.5%. We’re in this situation because—stay with me here—market rent housing is unaffordable (especially for the working poor and people on social assistance), which drives up demand for affordable housing; but more people want to move in than are moving out, because market rent is unaffordable.

What we really need is to drastically increase the amount of affordable housing available. Selling off property as a stopgap measure—in effect, cannibalizing TCHC’s own assets for one-time funds—would be moving backwards. So what are some things we can do? I thought of a few:

  1. Enter into partnerships with other organizations, like co-ops, which would take on some of the cost (and potentially develop into affordable housing independent of TCHC).

  2. Provide rent subsidies to people currently living in market rent housing, which Team Ford seems to favour. I’m not sure whether this would be more or less cost-effective.

  3. Use Section 37 funds, which developers pay in exchange for getting to put more units in their buildings, to subsidize a percentage of units in new developments. Right now the money goes towards neighbourhood improvements, but (I think) there’s no reason why it can’t be repurposed. Recently Habitat for Humanity has proposed acting as a go-between.

I favour door #3, because it a) actually creates more housing stock, b) takes advantage of the current condo building boom, and c) uses money we’re already getting, rather than some hypothetical amount the province or the feds should really cough up and totally won’t. But I’m sure TCHC will need to rely on multiple strategies to get out of the hole.

The political option

So rookie councillor Ana Bailão, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, offered the mayor a compromise: sell only some of the properties, the ones which are vacant and unliveable, and establish a working group to report back this fall on better solutions. Given that the majority of Council would be behind her, Ford had no other reasonable choice. At the meeting, this pissed off deputy mayor Doug Holyday, who loosed one of his spittle-flecked old man rants on how Bailão’s compromise was “the political option”, as opposed to selling all 675 properties right away, that being “the business option”.

Protip, Holyday: that option’s “political” too. It’s all fucking political! The whole principle of “running the city like a business” is a political ideology. In practice it means whatever the fuck you want it to mean—as we saw during the budget process where Team Ford argued strenuously for businesslike practices like selling off assets without consideration for the revenue they brought in, and during the transit debate when they rejected the most efficient and economical option in favour of a prohibitively expensive subway dream.

No one else on Executive Committee bought Holyday’s argument either, voting for Bailão’s plan in the end. Unfortunately it probably just bought us some time. So I’m thinking about one of the deputants I saw—a mother flanked by her two kids, sitting on the bench outside the library nervously practicing her deputation—and worrying. What can you do? Where can you go when nobody gives a fuck?

You can now get back to fussing about Gary Webster. Good night, and good fucking luck.