Monday, May 30, 2016

Pot Crackdown, Di Ciano, Putting the Brakes on Democracy & more -- Left Chapter Toronto City Politics Journal II

Pot Crackdown

Sadly, as predicted in this column a couple of weeks ago, a massive and heavy-handed crackdown on marijuana storefront dispensaries occurred in Toronto on May 26th.

But while I suspected it would be directed by by-law enforcement officers, instead it was a police crackdown complete with raids, unnecessary arrests of store workers and, something that has become a bit of a Toronto Police regular operating procedure, a post-crackdown press conference with a bunch of totally phony "evidence" on display!

Good to know that they are stepping up to their usual standards of transparency and honesty.

While the police are claiming they were simply enforcing the law (which everyone knows is about to be changed) it is totally obvious that these raids were conducted after pressure from City Hall given that they occurred such a short time after Mayor Tory's public histrionics about the shops.

They were ludicrously over-the-top given that by-law efforts to stem the explosive growth of the new and unregulated shops were already bearing fruit.

This was a public relations move, not a law enforcement one.

Despite the absurd Miami Vice style nature of the whole police action, Toronto City Council's alleged progressives have had little to say critical of the police.

In fact, notably milquetoast Councillor Joe Cressy displayed almost impressive verbal gymnastics on CBC Radio's Metro Morning today trying to sound all "progressive" on pot and yet to avoid saying anything actually critical of the outrageous raids.

This is rather typical of what passes for the establishment "left" in the city.

Justin Di Ciano's Interesting Take on Ethics

Ward 5 City Councillor Justin Di Ciano has an interesting take on ethics and conflicts-of-interest!

Di Ciano helped to spearhead a vote by Toronto's planning and growth committee that will allow residential development to occur on Judson Ave. in Etobicoke right next to an exceptionally busy rail corridor.  The vote passed 4-2.

The interesting part is that the vote went against the recommendations of Toronto city planners, Metrolinx planners and local community groups. The vote is also greatly to the benefit of developer Dunpar -- a company with which CBC has discovered that Di Ciano has a long history of ties that the CBC called both personal and professional.

How could anyone possibly think that this relationship could have a played a role know...overruling the findings of the actual experts because, of course,  Di Ciano apparently knows best?

Putting the Brakes on Democratic Representation

The current council has already shot down the idea of ranked ballots in Toronto, and now the Mayor has made it clear that, despite the recommendations of the city's own consultants and despite the fact the city has grown substantially in population since the present wards were set and desperately needs to reflect this in its ward boundaries and council size, he wants no more politicians!

While this pseudo-populist rallying cry is not exactly a hard-sell generally, when combined with the city's unwillingness to make ward boundaries everywhere reflect actual population instead of clinging to the boundaries of cities that no longer exist, in practice it means uneven representation and growing under-representation.

The boundaries and council size now tend to favour the centre and right politically, so this should all really come as no surprise,

So the Mayor's Executive Committee has sent the recommendations back presumably in the hope that the experts will return with new ones based not on evidence and facts, but rather based on what the Mayor wants to hear!

Best Point of the Last Two Weeks

While I often disagree with Toronto Star municipal columnist Royson James, he makes a very important point about the terrible consequences of the unwillingness of Toronto politicians to deal with developing serious and fair revenue streams and taxation methods when he writes:
Was it fair to raise more money from TTC fare hikes and ridership growth ($303 million) than from property taxes ($237 million) over the past six years, when TTC riders tend to be poorer and in greater need of support from the entire city?
It was, of course, not fair at all.

The excellent column in which this appeared is available here. 

Bike Lane Backdown

Mayor Tory "is calling the cycling proposal coming to city council "historic,"". In spite of the fact that:
The original staff report also recommended that the city look more closely at putting bike lanes on eight major arterial roads, including Yonge Street and Kingston Road — something cycling advocates have been requesting for years. That recommendation got stripped out of the plan a couple of weeks ago, when it came to the city's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.
Of course it did.

The Mayor is also heralding the addition of $16 million in annual funding. Exciting. Real dedication to environmentalism and cycling from a city that is going to spend close to $800 million to maintain the eastern part of the Gardiner Expressway for a relatively tiny number of drivers!

Other News

"Toronto ban on hookah lounges challenged in court."  -- I suspect the city is going to have a hard time winning this one.

"Justin Trudeau open to exploring ‘next steps’ in Toronto’s potential Expo 2025 bid" -- Why? Please no.

"‘Waterfront reset’ examines way to extend transit to new neighbourhoods along the lakeshore" -- This is something the city needs to fast track, especially given the explosive growth of high-rise condos along the proposed route.

Ward 2 Update

Since our last installment there have been some developments in the Ward 2 coronation -- sorry, I meant by-election.

Most of the declared candidates have websites up.

The heir-apparent Michael Ford is, unsurprisingly, running on "Keeping Taxes Low" and "Customer Service" in addition to running on the fact that he is, you know, a Ford. Which means he is about 99.99% likely to win this race.

Jeff Canning has a nice enough website and seems to be running on a number of vague generalities about "engagement", "education" and "employment" without saying much of anything.

New Democrat Christopher Strain has a NationBuilder site that has, to date, literally no policies on it at all. Given his rather tenuous connection to Etobicoke, let alone Ward 2, I suppose he is trying to get up to speed.

Pot heads of the world can unite behind Glen Smith. 

Three other candidates do not, as yet, have websites up. All candidates are listed on the City of Toronto website. 

Dumb Ass Political Stunt 

John Tory pretended to get all down and dirty in an attempt to show-up those darn city bureaucrats who were being all bureaucratic and telling the Toronto Star that doing something or another was not their function in the bureaucracy.

And now to our rant! It is not "bureaucrats" that are the problem...they are all directed, in the end, by politicians!

All this "can-do" horseshit that Tory waxes poetic about requires proper FUNDING for infrastructure and the reason departments try to "pass the buck" is that for quite some time they have been forced to attempt to make do with fewer bucks.

Frankly, if Tory wants to spend his time landscaping that is probably a better use of it than what he generally does as Mayor, but this is the kind of rubbish you see from a right-winger who actually is implementing an austerity agenda and throwing money at the police, but who wants to pretend that the city's myriad of issues could all be dealt with with "a little hard work".

Then pay, and pay well, for the workers.

See you in two weeks!

Please post any thoughts or ideas in the comments here or on the Facebook group. 

See also: Reefer Madness, Transit Lanes, Ward 2 & more -- Left Chapter Toronto City Politics Journal I

Saturday, May 28, 2016

On the 5th anniversary of the founding of the Socialist Party of Ontario the need for a new party has never been greater

Five years ago today in Toronto, the Socialist Party of Ontario was formed.

Based around putting the supposed egalitarianism of socialism into action, it was created as a leaderless party whose intent was to allow for the flowering of a real collective and democratic approach to party policy and governance.

It also adopted an unashamedly and avowedly democratic socialist platform.

Sadly, for reasons that would take an epic second article to relate (one which I may yet write, as the lessons of experiments are always important) the SPO is now dormant. It had its opportunities and moments, but something would always derail them.

I remain tremendously proud, however, of what the activists who came together that day tried to do.

If for no other reason that we tried to do something. 

The NDP is a shallow, undemocratic neo-liberal farce. The entryist attempts to change it, as well as broader efforts, have and will almost certainly continue to lead nowhere.

With the revival of socialism as an idea in the United States even, there is a clear and present opportunity for a new Left Front style party and movement to unite Left Social Democrats. Socialists, Anarcho-Syndicalists and Communists together in the common cause of attacking head on and tearing down the rotten edifice of the bankrupt capitalist politics of today, including those of the NDP.

The sick and grotesque politics of inequality, systemic oppression and environmental degradation.

Yet, sisters and brothers, that new movement is NOT another Marxism conference or lamenting article away! If we are to build something worthwhile and new to escape the swamp of what is the emptiness of the liberalism of the NDP and Liberal Party and to fight for a real working-class agenda, we have to go beyond sharing internet memes celebrating victories in other countries.

We have to make these victories happen here as well.

Today, I share links to the SPO platform and constitution as well as to our two Spokesperson videos from 2011 and 2014.

The socialist idea will never die. Let us try to build a new party around it together again.

No more talk. The time for action is now.

SPO Constitution

SPO Platform

The SPO website

Found Art: The Cardinal

The Cardinal - Watercolour on paper - Artist Unknown

Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lemon Baked Basa Fillets

Previously on the blog we took a look at how to pan-fry the delightfully mild yet flavorful and versatile Asian catfish Basa. Basa has seen increasing popularity and availability of late thanks in part to the fact that it is remarkably affordable.

Today we are going to revisit basa, only this time we will be baking it.

Basa lends itself to a number of different seasoning blends or baking methods, but today ours will be tart and lemony, as well as slightly spicy. This recipe is for fresh boneless and skinless fillets.

The first step is to lay out your basa fillets on a aluminum foil lined shallow baking pan. Brush each evenly with around a teaspoon of olive oil.

Then sprinkle over the fish paprika, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Finally season with salt. I like to season rather liberally with all of these seasonings, but you can adjust each according to your whims and tastes.

After you have seasoned them, squirt over each fillet the juice of one half lemon. If you have smaller pieces than those pictured, you may want to use slightly less.

Place the fish in an oven preheated to 425 and cook for 12-15 minutes depending on thickness and taste. As with all fish, avoid overcooking to avoid a dry plate of fish!

I like to serve these with extra lemon wedges, rice and a chilled white wine.

Watch for a future return to basa with both an Asian inspired sauce and a breaded option soon to be on the menu!


See also: Basa Fish Seasoned, Pan-Fried and in a White Wine Shallot Sauce

See also: Montreal Steak Spice Salmon Fillets

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Modest Proposal: Nationalize The Telecoms!

By A.M.

“Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.”

As a longtime Rogers customer, I’m accustomed to corporate platitudes like the one above. We’ve all been in a situation where, despite our best efforts, we simply cannot avoid calling customer service. It happens with all sorts of companies, but is particularly frustrating when you’re asking a telecommunications company for help. Maybe you were in the middle of uploading a term paper, and Rogers decided to do some “unscheduled remote maintenance” on your modem (this actually happened to me). Having tried everything, and sitting on the verge of tears, you call Rogers/Bell/Telus, and hear a robot on the other end. Canadians from coast to coast to coast have similar stories of non-functional hardware, unreliable connections, and price gouging. We’ve heard many possible solutions, such as “increasing competition” and “market stabilization” – ideas that seem to be diametrically opposed, but in fact have the same (predictably negative) consequences for customers. I’d like to propose a radically different solution – a public takeover of all telecommunications companies operating in Canada.

Thought it may seem a far-fetched idea, we don’t have to look far for proof of a publicly-owned telecom that not only turns a profit, but is actually an active innovator. SaskTel, a Crown corporation owned by the people of Saskatchewan, takes in $1.2 billion in revenue every year – not bad for a province of just over one million people. These figures are interesting, because SaskTel only has a net profit of $76 million per year. Where does the rest of the revenue go? According to its 2015 fiscal report, SaskTel has spent the past several years upgrading its entire infrastructure (moving away from landlines, for instance). I can think of nothing similar undertaken by Canada’s privately-held telecoms. By placing quality of life over the slavish pursuit of profit, SaskTel is ensuring that Saskatchewan remains a technological innovator. More importantly, it’s providing a service (telecommunications) that essentially is a need in an increasingly technological society.

The most common fairy tale that neo-liberalism likes to tell is that the invisible hand of the free market is all-knowing and wise. SaskTel (along with many other Crown corporations) puts the lie to that notion. Through thoughtful planning – considering how they will deliver a high-quality public service – SaskTel has managed to be a major innovator in the telecommunications industry. Most of us take video-on-demand (on a cable box or website) for granted, and this is a service that SaskTel pioneered in 1988. First large-scale commercial fibre optics network? First offering of HD Internet streaming? Both of these ubiquities are SaskTel innovations. I have no doubt that the private sector would have gotten around to these things at some point, but the upfront costs (particularly in a large and sparsely-populated nation like ours) would never be approved by any corporate Board of Directors. Better to let the allegedly incompetent public sector spend all the money on developing services, prove they can be profitable, and then replicate it. Titans of industry, indeed.

In an increasingly (some might say worryingly) technological society, telecoms have become more and more crucial to living a healthy life. Social media connects us to family and friends, at home and across the planet. We nearly always apply for jobs and schools online. We even use social media to find romantic partners. They may have once been frivolous expenses, but a working cell phone and Internet connection are essentially needs in this economy. Distressingly, Rogers and other telecoms are pricing their devices and services out of reach of those who need them most. My basic phone plan, which allows me unlimited text, thirty call minutes a month, and no data, costs $25. Throw in caller ID (an absolute necessity for those who need to reply quickly to possible job/school admissions offers), and you’re already paying $37/month. Little by little, these prices seem to be rising. SaskTel can do many things, but with its sharply limited marketing possibilities (Saskatchewan only has about one million people,) it will never achieve any sort of economy of scale. A telecommunications monopoly, reaching all thirty-six million Canadians, could drastically reduce or eliminate the need for marginalized people to go without services that allow them to access jobs, education, and, most importantly, a place in the world.

There are, of course, many ways that a total monopoly could go wrong. Aside from government lethargy (which, as we have seen, is actually a grossly over-reported phenomenon), what would stop a future corporatist government from selling off CanTel? Assuming that we managed to elect a leftist government with guts – no mean feat in this country – how would we protect ourselves from a future private monopoly, like the absurdity that is Ontario’s Beer Store?

The Canadian government (meaning the Liberal Party) has a history of creating Crown corporations for purely political reasons, and then quickly selling them off – think Air Canada and Petro-Canada. The only real response that we citizens would have would be to protest and demand that the government hold on to what would be a very valuable asset.

The case for a fully public telecommunications industry is strong, but to ensure real accountability, it would have to look quite different from the Crown corporations we have today. At the LCBO, for instance, the chain-of-command is perfectly straightforward, just like at a fast food restaurant or electronics store. As socialists, our goal with this and other “modern” Crown corporations would be to foster the development of a co-operative commonwealth. So - CanTel ought to be democratically run! Who better to make major decisions about public services than the workers who provide them? While there would be public ownership and oversight of this co-operative, it would be run on the basis of workplace democracy. Certain services could be reinforced in different areas, with changes made in direct response to community needs.

Though it seems far-fetched, entire countries have nationalized their energy resources (a far more contentious battleground) and lived to tell the tale. All we need is a little hard work and foresight.

A.M. is a writer in Toronto

See also: Stop trashing the LCBO!

See also: Why not make Ontario's Beer Store public?

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Toronto High Park Journeys I

Today we do the first in what will be a series of journeys through Toronto's beautiful and iconic High Park this summer.

Each journey will include a map of the route taken and will include copious photographs!

Our first begins at Grenadier Pond, makes it way up through the waterfall gardens to the north of it, reaches the Grenadier Restaurant and then descends down through the zoo to the new children's play castle and finally past the smaller ponds to its south.

High Park, of course, can be accessed on the north end via Runnymeade, High Park and Keele subway stations or, as we did for the southern journey, via the 501 Streetcar and the Queensway.

(Click on images to enlarge)

On Grenadier Pond

Up Towards the Restaurant

Through the Zoo

The Adventure Playground and South