Monday, October 25, 2010

Toronto 2010: On the Edge

It used to be that I knew what I was going to do today. By now I would've already dropped my ballot in its box, with "BARTON, ANDREW" or however my name would have appeared checked off. Now, though... from New Westminster I can only watch and worry about the decision the rest of Toronto will make today - whether it'll all work out in the end. How unfortunate that the status quo is, apparently, so reviled as to make its standard bearer Joe Pantalone poll a distant third between George Smitherman and Rob Ford. It's amazing, in its way, how a wide-open field with dozens of worthy candidates like, say, Himy Syed has been winnowed, mostly by media attention and ignorance, to the Last Dudes Standing. Even though they're not, really.

In the end, for me it's come down to an anti-popularity contest: I manifestly do not want Rob Ford to be Toronto's next mayor. I don't believe that he has the appropriate character for that position. Call me a single-issue wonk if you will, but as far as I'm concerned, Rob Ford reflects himself in his transportation plan, most specifically his view on the streetcars.

On one side streetcars, on the other the highway - where do you think Rob Ford stands? Incidentally, I'd have liked to accompany this with a photo of a streetcar passing City Hall, but predictably enough I don't have a single one.

Rob Ford has never, in the months he's been campaigning, been able to convince me that he cares at all about the long view. His endless recourse to taxpayers and criticisms of the "gravy train" suggest that his interest is focused purely on the immediate. So it's really no surprise that part of his platform is the removal of Toronto's streetcar system, a system that has been operating continuously, in one form or another, for one hundred and forty-nine years, a system that endured when almost every other city that had them tore the rails out of their roads. Of course, plenty of them are reinstalling them - look at Los Angeles; not only is the transit agency there expanding the existing light rail network, but there is an active project intended to return actual streetcars to downtown LA - but, of course, the lessons of other cities don't seem to matter one bit to him.

It's almost as if his streetcar policy is his campaign distilled to its purest ingredients. From the policies I've seen and the statements I've heard him make, he doesn't appear to be interested in building toward the future: instead, the appearance is that he wants to take what we have and discard anything that doesn't immediately serve his goals. Streetcars, he says, slow down traffic, and no matter if there are more people on the streetcar than in the cars being delayed by it - they've got to go, says he.

Still, I congratulate the eventual winner - unless the eventual winner is Rob Ford. Narrow-minded dogmatism has no place in Toronto's city government. That's no way to build a city of the future.