Nightmare Rectangle Round-up: Municipal Finance, Black Widows, Migrants, and More

Header: This image from Lisa Jackson’s Biidaaban depicts a decaying Toronto City Hall surrounded by forest, on the edge of a flooded Nathan Phillips Square.

Trying a bit of a new thing. I occasionally do linkdumps via Twitter threads, but I felt like doing something more permanent. Title inspired by this ever-relevant @TechnicallyRon tweet:

Continue reading Nightmare Rectangle Round-up: Municipal Finance, Black Widows, Migrants, and More

The Cheat Sheet: Committee Meetings, Feb. 23-27

Wall-to-wall committee meetings this week! Following committee meetings is a great way to “preview” items before they go to City Council — and, if you want, voice your opinions. Also, petty drama is 100% guaranteed. Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: Committee Meetings, Feb. 23-27

Councilwatching: Apr. 15 Executive Committee casino meeting

Executive Committee, Meeting 30, April 15, 2013

I set my alarm for 7 but woke up at 8:45. With no time to eat before I dash out the door, the bike ride to City Hall feels more arduous than it should. Or maybe it’s just the tires, flabby after a winter of neglect.

But whatever, it’s still a marathon committee meeting, and those are always fun, right? In the masochistic way that councilwatching can be described as fun, anyway. I’m too late to get into Committee Room 1, but everyone knows that the real fun to be had is in the overflow room, Committee Room 2, where you can applaud, heckle, and cheer with impunity from cushy chairs. You can also bring in food — a must for surviving several hours of deputations.

There’s several other Scoobies there as well. Paisley and I take turns liveblogging at Astrid’s new site while Jude and Cityslikr snark on Twitter. Many more people are following from afar. It would have been just like old times, but this meeting has kind of a different feel from the budget ones, or even transit. The hefty speakers’ list has surprisingly few of the “usual suspects” that I’ve come to know and love since that memorable July night, the people various councillors have insinuated are lefty union plants paid to be there. There are, however, quite a few union members, singing the praises of union jobs and expressing their hopes that a casino will bring more. (And, as far as I know, that’s all it is — hope, not a guarantee.)

There are also many people paid to be there because they are casino lobbyists. Lobbyists wouldn’t be lobbyists if they weren’t slick and smarmy, but casino lobbyists, especially the Americans, are something else. Though for them it’s not a casino, it’s an “integrated resort” that will provide everything visitors want yet not suck money away from local businesses, that will “give back to the community” and provide “empowerment”. They put buildings in cities; that’s “city-building”, right? Ughghghghhhhh kill me.

The pro-casino side is not a monolith. There’s the Vegas people, MGM people, who want it downtown, somewhere like Exhibition Place. Our homegrown Woodbine folks want it in Etobicoke and harp on the jobs talk and rally outside with slogans about horse racing. Some local businesspeople expect “bleed-out” from a downtown facility (that is the word they used I am not being facetious) or maybe, if they’re celeb chef Mark McEwan, hope for their own place inside. There’s even sort of cranky academics in the Norm Kelly mold to debunk statistics about gambling addiction.

As I get progressively grumpier, kept awake with a steady stream of sugar and caffeine, I can’t help but wonder how we got this far, how councillors have really ended up extolling the virtues of tacky casinos when the only thing that ever drew them to the idea in the first place was the lure of a mountain of FREE MONEY! that was only ever hypothetical. We might get $150 million and solid union jobs and glittery ponies to fly us to work! Well, I’d like a glitter pony too, but I’d sure as hell look it in the mouth first.

If only the councillors on Executive Committee, who have demonstrated the ironclad political will to cut public services and sell off affordable housing, had the gumption to consider an alternative revenue tool — one that has zero risk of enabling addiction, increasing gridlock, starving local businesses, going massively over budget, etc. And rather than profiting off the most vulnerable, it could be made proportionate to people’s wealth or ability to pay! It’s called a tax and I do wish they would consider it.

And with that rant delivered to Twitter, I have to hurry back to my co-op, where our little finance committee is meeting to go over the draft budget. Things have been moving along quickly and I would have gotten to depute that day, but it doesn’t really matter that much when you get the feeling they’re not listening to you anyway. They’re listening to the people who wined and dined them.

The largest parts of our budget we can’t really do anything about, because it’s mortgage payments and necessary capital projects and such. But for one section I did have an idea about something we could do differently, something that would cost us this year but might help solve a problem in the long run and that maybe the membership would go for. And the other committee members thought it was a good idea! And we asked the accountant to look into it! It’s a thing! It came out of my head and now it is an actual thing! Something I said made a difference!

And afterwards, even though it is sort of out of the scope of the budget, we discussed Whatever Is To Become of Us (after we pay off our mortgage and our operating agreement with CMHC ends). We have an unusually high proportion of units that are subsidized by CMHC, more, one of our expert guys tells us, than we will be able to maintain after the agreement ends. So we might have to start phasing out subsidies. But that’s easier said than done, because, well, these are our neighbours. It’s one thing to say, that is a sensible financial policy, and vote for something that will never affect you. But when you’ve watched kids grow up, and you say hi to someone every morning, and if they get sick or lose their job and can’t afford rent and might face eviction and you yourself have been on ODSP or OW and know how impossible it is to live on that, when a subsidy is available that might save them — that’s a different matter, isn’t it? Then you have a motivation to come up with different ways of doing things, and we did talk about some.

We also talked about the mind-melting ridiculousness of RGI (rent geared to income) housing and social assistance, which I’ve ranted about before — how you have to report your rent to OW/ODSP, who calculate your payment from that, but how you have to report your OW/ODSP income to housing, who calculate your rent from that, and — aaargh! It’s a silly thing but it’s immensely cathartic to talk to people who just get it, who know exactly what you’re talking about, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye or know how to solve the problem (yet). It’s been a lousy day for a lot of reasons, but I came away feeling much better.

So I guess those are my priorities. At the end of the day, I would much rather sit around the table with a few people who get it, and get things done in my tiny corner of the world, than waste my skills spilling my heart out to more powerful people who have no interest in having me around and will only consider listening to me if I jerk them off exactly the way they like it. Yeah, I’m bitter, and no, I’m not just talking about politicians. Time to go to bed and do it all over again tomorrow.

A day in the life

The glassy buildings being built across the Don from Riverdale Farm reflect the setting sun.
A view of the Don Valley from Riverdale Farm

7:30 a. m.: I haul myself out of bed (after having stayed up late the night before doing work and giving myself a haircut), get dressed, feed the cat, throw things into my backpack, and head out to City Hall.

9:00 a. m.: Breakfast is tea and a muffin at the Café on the Square. And meds. I also remember to phone the co-op office for the time of tonight’s Board meeting (my first!).

10:00 a. m.: I sit with a bunch of other political junkies and live-tweet the Budget Committee meeting, while getting actual web work done during slow bits. Just as they get to the exciting bit (the operating budget), the committee breaks for lunch and it’s time for me to run.

1:00 p. m.: Buy tickets for trip to Detroit next weekend — it’s a meetup for Allied Media Conference track coordinators. Should’ve bought them earlier. Ouch.

1:30 p. m.: On my way to Riverdale Farm, make a pit stop at Allan Gardens to ogle cacti.

2:30 p. m.: Meet up with X. and S. at Riverdale Farm, do the tour, take lots of photos of farm animals. The sheep are particularly vocal.

5:00 p. m.: We head back west to check out Toronto’s newest attraction, the Loblaws that just opened in Maple Leaf Gardens. Sure, it’s just a grocery store, but it’s a really nice grocery store. G. arrives just as I have to run off again.

7:00 p. m.: Back to Parkdale for co-op board meeting. I was nervous because I’m relatively new to the co-op, but it helps because I know most of the other directors. All women!

9:00 p. m.: Arrive back home to an affection-craving cat. Almost too exhausted to eat and do dishes. Spend the rest of the evening catching up on the day’s news, procrastinating on the Internet, doing a bit of work, and fine-tuning the AMC track description.

2:00 a. m.: Finish work, email, etc. Finish blog post. Take a well-deserved bath and go to bed, trying not to dwell on all the things I have to do tomorrow…

What I’m Reading, #5-6

5. Lauren Beukes, Moxyland (2008)

6. Walter Mosley, Futureland (2001)

A pair of grim post-cyberpunk dystopias, impressively fleshed out and featuring multiple narrators representative of near-future Cape Town and near-future black America, respectively. (Futureland, published in 2001, actually opens in 2004, but never feels dated. Moxyland, on the other hand, with its faintly twee fictional brandnames and references to BoingBoing, may not age as well.)

Best, for varying values of “best”, idea from Futureland: White Noise, the underclass of permanently unemployed Americans who live in a dismal honeycomb of cells called Common Ground, cut off from the economy. From Moxyland: crowd control that involves exposing the crowd to a highly degenerative but non-contagious virus, thus requiring everyone to turn themselves in for a vaccine.

Come for the interesting, if dense, political and technological extrapolation; stay for the characters. In Futureland we meet, among others, an indomitable woman boxer competing with men, a prisoner who hatches an escape plan under the tightest surveillance imaginable, an assembly-line grunt promoted to a life too good to be true. The standouts in Moxyland are a young photographer turned corporate guinea pig and a scrappy rich kid dabbling in political subversion. But be warned—nobody gets off easy. The future, as it turns out, is very unfriendly.