Fawn Parker: What We Both Know…Some Thoughts


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I couldn’t read this wonderful novel without thinking of Barney’s Version. There are real parallels. I’m not saying Parker had Richler’s modern classic novel in mind, but I felt the parallels throughout.

Parker’s protagonist Hillary Greene is writing her father’s memoir, a famous and celebrated novelist, because he is losing his memory and ability to write due to ailing health in old age. In BV, Barney Panofsky tries to make sense of his own life in hindsight. He made a lot of money over the years but, surrounded by artists in youth who became not just successful but iconic, he is finally trying to give writing, art, a shot. He himself is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Richler lets the reader judge whether Panofsky serves up his memories self-servingly or if he genuinely can’t remember. Is he misremembering old stories to paint a flattering portrait, is he actually losing his memory, or both? Panofsky was found not guilty of a murder in court, but public opinion isn’t so sure. He’s been such a shit for years, murder is not out of the question.

Hillary Greene is also an aspiring writer trying to grapple with Alzheimer’s (albeit not hers, her father’s), but it’s a woman in charge of controlling a man’s legacy. She will have the last say. Will she, though? She’s set to write Baby’s memoir in his name, not her own.

Baby looms over her, dominating her with his Big Writer energy. Family drama also weighs on her, to put it lightly. Even when she gets the power, she doesn’t totally have it because, and this is one of Parker’s themes, power needs to be claimed, not just handed. Greene might have the power to write how she pleases, but it’s not clear she will, or can. In life, there are complicated forces which interfere, and serve to prevent the full truth from coming out. These forces should be specified, since together they form a main theme of Parker’s novel.

a) Greene can’t fully trust what her father says–maybe he misremembers, or is lying, or is honest but isn’t divulging everything

b) Greene can’t fully remember her own memories, even recent ones. Memory plays tricks on her

c) The collision of a) and b) create a third anxiety about uncovering the past accurately; even when you get things right, you second-guess yourself

d) Her father’s agent and devoted fans–the world of The Writer–have a hold on Hillary, and undermine her mental independence. Charlie Rose shaped how people see him, now she will? She feels so marginal as a writer and daughter, the newfound power is daunting and she’s unsure she can answer it.

Panofsky writes his memoirs to clear his reputation, whereas Baby’s (Greene’s novelist father) public reputation is still in tact, despite threatening rumours of relationships with young women students that caused small-scale backlash in certain spheres of their lives. That’s the public darkness. In private, Hillary’s sister Pauline committed suicide, and Hillary learns about some dark family secrets while writing her father’s memoir. Modern DNA tests are a convenient plot device for drudging up old the unsavoury past.

The reader would love for Hillary to be hellbent on istina, an inner-light of truth truth-quest where only full honesty matters in the public and private reckoning. But in real life things are messy, and she needs to contend with how her family and other people will react to ugly truths becoming public. She needs to contend with herself processing it. There are levels to it.

Baby is her dad. As a Major Writer with a Calling, being in his presence in youth shaped and influenced her and her world-view (famous people growing up in her household were Jesus and Kafka). Literary readings were a natural part of her life in youth.

Despite the promise of the novel’s title, it feels like her father’s beastliness is not fully described, left unsaid. There’s abuse that feels like it occurred, but isn’t explicitly stated. At first I thought maybe I missed something. Did Parker describe Baby’s worst sin, and I didn’t pick up on it? I’d like to avoid spoilers here, but it’s interesting how a novel called “What We Both Know” leaves a fair amount, perhaps even the main thing, ambiguous.

Traumatized people seldom remember everything perfectly, in fact they often totally forget. Their memory blocks things out, as if to mercifully shield them from the traumatic experience.

WWBK posits some disturbing thoughts: In the Me Too era where we’re trying to reconcile and heal from past, what if the full truth can’t always emerge, despite the teller’s best attempts? What if knowing about the dark deed and not knowing about it are equally futile? The knowledge that doomed or at least damaged Pauline isn’t helping Hillary, either. By the time it can be known, it’s too late to prevent.

Also, the obstacles in the way of reconciliation aren’t put there solely by the guilty to conceal their guilt. Hillary has self-interested reasons not to divulge everything about her dad ranging from career, family, and deeper psychological ones.

It may seem thoughtless to begin a review about a book about a woman newly taking agency over her life and life story by comparing it to a different novel about a man describing his life, except male intrusion is very much a theme of What We Both Know. Barney’s memoir has three sections, each named for one of his ex-wives. The ghostly, haunting figure of “boogie” looms over Barney as a kind of father-figure. While Barney made a fortune distributing schlock on Canadian TV, boogie read Tolstoy in the original Russian and shocked and shrugged at the bourgeoisie rather than lowered himself by catering to their tastes.

Whatever conflict Hillary has with her father, and there’s conflict alright!, he’s still inextricably linked to her ideas about life and art. There’s no world for Hillary where a man isn’t centrally located in her life. That’s what she’s trying to build.

Ultimately, working on herself (her career, her friends, her sex life, her romantic life) and working on her writing project involves overcoming the same type of male influence. The public and private struggle is tied together.

I don’t want to generalize too much: the real Mordecai Richler by all accounts was a lovely man who raised five kids and loved Florence faithfully (the Charles Foran bio is excellent). The character Baby feels like a representative of one common and crusty species of The Male Writer, celebrated for prioritizing art above family, whose home smells like leather-bound books and the expensive scotch they drink, and whose inevitable sexual hijinks/misconduct adds to their public and professional persona and their mythological aura.

Richler wasn’t Panofsky, and it’d be wrong to reduce Parker’s novel to merely a social novel, or an essay in novel form. I hope I didn’t minimize it by discussing it largely in terms of its overarching themes. It’s a psychological novel which confronts a lot of underlying forces deftly and with considerable nuance.

If anything, the novel does a good job of showing how an apparently simmering Me Too scandal is connected on lower frequencies to various aspects of everyday life involving innocent people. Just like the genders are inverted, WWBK ends where Barney’s Version begins, with a writer’s promise to tell their own story.

Barney’s Version is Barney Panofsky recounting his own life his own way. Women are the landmarks along his journey. He was a shit, even if he only blames himself. He lived his life, and now he’s trying to find meaning in that life.

It’s no accident Hillary needs to get the first story about Baby out of the way before she can begin to tell “her own” story. She needs to work through this crap before beginning to live, even if she’s approaching middle-age.

Put another way, the focus on Me Too stories is often about their most salacious aspects–how the clearly guilty at their worst abuse the clearly innocent at their most innocent. But the daily grind of having someone like Baby rule over you for years is enough to cause lasting damage, even if the thing they’re in the public crosshairs for happened to someone else. Untangling it is messy, privately and publicly.

There are also some great philosophical discussions about how time moves, if it’s real, how relative time and perception are. Things like that. It’s a serious look at various dimensions of a social phenomena that, while it’s gone mainstream, is still not fully explored or understood. Even if you wanted to look at it fully, doing so is hard. It involves threading together several people’s stories, and zooming in and out to harmonize the macro and micro perspectives.

Such public reckonings are probably thought to be a binary choice of privately telling or hiding the truth, but aspects of Me Too stories can be so deeply personal, psychological, complicated, and multi-layered that a person may genuinely struggle to track down and understand their own story and get it out, even if they were determined to. That’s what this is about.

I’m reluctant to imagine the life fictional characters lead after their story ends. Like Nabokov says, fictional characters are just their writer’s galley slaves and have no independent existence. But Barney’s mind is gone before he learns of the exonerating evidence of what happened to Boogie’s body. He was decades older than Parker’s character Hillary Greene but never got to enjoy the public accepting his total innocence. I wish Greene finds mental peace to move forward with her life and story in healthy ways, that she can transcend the Baby-man bullshit dragging her down while she still has lots of years to enjoy it.

The novel is less about her doing this and more about the levels of struggle involved in the attempt.

TTC “Fare Enforcers” Are Absurd and Backwards


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Toronto faces multiple crises at the same time. In the immediate term, gridlock-traffic is agonizing and drivers pose lethal risks. It’s infuriating day to day, the city loses billions in productivity, and people get injured or killed. Housing is also obscenely overpriced and hard to find. In the middle distance, the pandemic continues and climate change looms.

The reasonable response to this is vastly improving public transit to reduce congestion, the parking burden, and air pollution. For every $1 the government spends on transit, it spends $9 on the infrastructure private cars require. That means that even if a TTC passenger doesn’t pay a fare, they cost the city less than private cars do.

Yet the city is poised to send “fare enforcers” back throughout its transit system in late March 2023 to give tickets as high as $425 to people sidestepping $3.25 fares, fares which are set to increase yet again, even as service is cut. The TTC is eliminating some bus routes and there will be longer waits for existing buses, and even subways.

These TTC cuts come at the worst time possible: violence has increased, ridership is significantly down. TTC Board Chair Jon Burnside’s views are so upside down, he may as well be an executive for Uber or a car company rather than work for the TTC.

So how does the TTC have money to circulate over 100 fare enforcers to inspect its own riders when facing a $336 million-dollar shortfall? The TTC boasts that fare enforcers will wear body cameras, as if equipping these less-than-useless patrols with expensive gear is good! If fare enforcers require body cameras because they pose that level of risk, they shouldn’t exist.

The point is to end racist enforcement in public space, not videotape it. We already have 2018 footage of three TTC fare enforcers physically assaulting a Black teenager on a streetcar at St. Clair and Bathurst, just outside my old apartment while I lived there. It’s a well-established pattern that doesn’t need to be confirmed yet again. The inspectors were suspended, with pay.

The way this conversation is framed, even people sympathetic to TTC passengers think “fare evaders” deprive the public transit system of money. People on both sides see it that way, wrongly.

And OK, in an obvious and basic sense, people who don’t pay a TTC fare clearly don’t contribute that money to the TTC. But almost nobody accuses drivers of personal cars of getting a free ride, even though they also don’t pay to access public roads that cost vastly more tax dollars to maintain than public transit does.

Let me repeat this because car-brain has hopelessly warped this public conversation. Every private car on Toronto streets is a considerably larger burden on the city than TTC “fare evaders.” Private cars create financial problems, the space they take up cause bottlenecks, we breathe poisoned air that creates trickle-down health problems, which we pay for too.

A modern, sensible city would encourage people to take public transit, and nothing is less welcoming or pleasant than “fare enforcers”! They have a tendency to grill marginalized people and their entire job description is absurd. They shouldn’t exist on the TTC even if their very generous salaries cost us nothing. That we pay for this “service” is fiscal nonsense.

One reason I think the motivation behind “fare enforcement” is motivated purely by cruel and punitive punishment and not any actual philosophical or economic principle is the difference in how people perceive safety enforcement for drivers.

Enough people think speed cameras are just a “cash-grab,” even if they really do catch people breaking the law and posing danger to the public. Let’s be real, cars injure, maim, and kill people every day despite “Vision Zero,” and measures to enforce safety are widely publicly rejected, rather than embraced the way “fare enforcers” are.

Unlike speeding cars, TTC “fare evaders” pose no physical danger to anybody! Toronto drivers transcend stupid or even dangerous; drivers here regularly crash into houses, condominiums, telephone poles, fences, laundromats, bus shelters, and, of course, other cars and people on the road. This is a much bigger problem than people moving efficiently, affordably, and cleanly through the city. In fact, far from a problem, the latter is the goal! It’s what we hope to achieve and we are investing money in punishing it!

The alternative to the person not paying a TTC fare (among North America’s most expensive transit fare) is them not riding, which also doesn’t add money to TTC coffers. If someone doesn’t have the money to pay, then they can’t go to appointments, see people, get groceries.

Anyone saving money by riding the TTC isn’t the type of person this city should depend on to keep the system afloat. Anyone saving money by not paying a TTC fare is even less suitable. If someone who doesn’t pay transit fares chooses to drive their car to get somewhere instead, how is that a better result for the city?

Let’s be clear again: the TTC isn’t short of funds because riders aren’t paying enough–it’s the exact opposite. TTC riders put vastly more money into our transit system than riders from other cities, which enjoy more public subsidies. Toronto riders fund roughly 2/3rds of our transit system. No other North American city this size depends on fares to fund its system, but Toronto does. That is the wellspring of our financial difficulties, not riders cheating the city. If anything, the city is cheating TTC riders, then giving itself a moral pat on the back for harassing the people they do wrong by.

That’s the reason it’s broke, which obviously predates the pandemic. 10 years ago, a TTC token cost I believe $2.25. Now, tapping Presto costs $3.25. Prices have risen roughly 50%. Overreliance on TTC passengers, using their wallets as a crutch while austerity politicians like John Tory defied experts to pour billions he didn’t have into the crumbling Gardiner Expressway is, frankly, stupid.

To hear these officious and ignorant arguments portraying the backwards and barbaric “fare enforcement” of poor people as if it’s moral, rational, and fiscally sensible is maddening and sad.

John Tory spent millions of dollars on police to violently push homeless people out of public parks. Those people have nowhere to go, so some may try to survive the Canadian winter by riding TTC vehicles overnight. Now we’re paying another tier of patrol to harass them there, too.

Letting drivers access public streets for free while subjecting TTC passengers to rising fares, reduced service, and increased enforcement is ignorant and hypocritical, and is a flagrantly irrational response to the multiple crises we face. More than that: the crises we face exist mostly because this city asks people with less to spend more and vice versa.

It’s unsustainable, which is why things feel like they’re breaking more fundamentally, not just worsening at their usual rate. We need to look at this conversation holistically and ask what the goal of the TTC really is, and how we accomplish that goal by actively investing sorely-needed money into creating new barriers that make the riding experience a lot worse for many people.

“Fare enforcers” are a puritanical vestige of Toronto the Good who have absolutely no place in a safe, functional, modern and fiscally responsible public transit system everyone can ride.

Solve the problem by addressing root causes: redirect a lot of the billions we’re wasting on private car infrastructure (widening old highways, building new ones, paving farmland) and invest it in public transit at the rate normal North American cities do, and the problem the city created will gradually vanish. Blaming and stigmatizing innocent poor people, and investing in their increased harassment, is self-defeating, intellectually indefensible, and morally unconscionable.

What Exactly Do You Mean By “Woke” ?


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I’m probably making a huge mistake weighing on a fraught term people use and understand differently. Well, let’s make a huge mistake then!

“Woke” was originally a term some Black people used to describe the need to be vigilant about the dangers of racism they face in our deeply racist society. It still means this, but it also means so many other things that whoever once used its original definition must know it’s been obscured. Often deliberately so.

Today, depending on the person, “woke” means quite different things. Some well-meaning centrists say it to disparage those on their left they feel lay on the anti-racism a little too thick. In their minds, Western society isn’t particularly racist, it’s just as racist as any other place because (as they’ll say begrudgingly, but with a shrug) nowhere is perfect, so anybody speaking to the need to transform society instead of reform or tinker with it is by definition going too far. The self-satisfaction this person advocating for transformative change seems to feel, the pat you can feel them giving themselves on the back, is summed up in the word “woke.” This is a confused position but a relatively innocent one that makes space for one more vile and willfully-deranged.

Basically, today’s most slobbering racists use “woke” as a euphemism for the n-word. When Marjorie Taylor Greene and that ilk say “woke,” the sentence would read the same if you replaced that word with the slur. When MTG praises Chris Stapleton’s rendition of the national anthem before the Super Bowl but says, “we could have done without the rest of the wokeness,” you can feel the word she really wants to say. She all but said it.

While some confusion around the word “woke” arises naturally, organically, and innocently, the word itself is also under attack by racists using it to obscure things and advance racism. Once they start using it in many different ways, by the time you add the new context to the old one, the old one feels outdated. It’s impossible to say “woke” now without associating the term with the far-right who co-opted it.

That’s what’s tough when talking about this word: the casual political people will roll their eyes at being lumped in with the slobbering racists, while the slobbering racists are violently irrational and act in terrible faith no matter what you say or how you act. The rabid right appeals to centrists and anybody who isn’t steadfastly opposed to them by insinuating “we might be crazy fucks, I mean look at us, but the alt-left and Antifa are crazy too, and you and I have fundamental things in common.”

The liberal who means well but doesn’t grasp how intertwined racism and our social institutions are may find common cause with the rabid racist, even if it’s to their private dismay and embarrassment. The centrist will often be rightly disgusted by MAGA’s violent demented freaks, but they can’t totally disagree with them altogether, either. The far-right doesn’t threaten the centrist’s national mythology, whereas the so-called alt-left does. Centrists enjoy being reassured this country isn’t on stolen land and doesn’t owe its foundational wealth to crimes, and the far-right are more than happy to give them this reassurance, one the left is adamantly opposed to giving them.

One pernicious trick the right does is spread these comforting illusions in the name of being critical, hard-eyed realists! They get to believe the most self-serving explanations for their comforts possible for supposedly impartial intellectual reasons. It’s kind of like children claiming they read Will to Power and Nietzsche clearly states they can have all the cookies and juice they want before bed time.

Did you really do the reading? Is this just what you want to believe, or what the text actually says?

The far-right’s “Free Market” beliefs also have more in common with liberalism/centrism than with any leftist view.

So on one hand, liberals and centrists are hugely embarrassed by the far-right, but not by their underlying beliefs. It’s mostly the illiterate clown show antics of the Ford brothers and Donald Trump. John Tory was a fiscal conservative austerity mayor whose economic and cultural views line up with the Ford and Trumps of this world, but he was polished enough to conceal this similarity, or even housebroken enough. On a basic level, Tory, unlike Trump and sometimes the Fords, could talk to the media without causing apolitical people around the world to simultaneously laugh and shudder.

The far-right can’t be denounced enough.

MAGA freaks in Florida are banning Toni Morrison novels, which is akin to a modern book burning. What could be a more hostile act of war against Western Culture than banning the best Western literature? I won’t defend Toni Morrison, the author of Sula, Beloved, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, and other masterpieces, because that would suggest her status as a writer could be in doubt.

But that’s what so confusing about the “Culture War”…it’s a war against culture led by people using culture as a mask for racism. The word “woke” is wrapped up in this.

Years after police murdered George Floyd, “defund the police” might be a mainstream position with lots of support across society, but the mayor of New York is currently a cop. John Tory defunded everything in Toronto except police, and now that he has resigned, the new race for mayor has not one but two cops.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because the backlash to racism is louder than usual that it means racism is over. If this wasn’t such a deeply racist society, I’d be making fun of the do-gooders too! I think that’s why people are so eager to use the term “woke” as a casual, jocular insult: it comforts them, because they don’t want to confront the fact that racism is real and rampant. They get to be in denial while enjoying the satisfaction of feeling like they are boldly, critically looking truth eyeball to eyeball.

There’s a circular, self-perpetuating kind of logic: they don’t identify as racists (they genuinely do oppose flagrant racism!), so how can society be racist if they are joking about the racism? If racism was a real problem, they wouldn’t be joking about it, so their jokes are in a way held as proof that everything is fine.

In my experience, this conversation is way more likely to examine the intentions of the person saying “woke” than any academic or critical work about racism or society. The white person saying “woke” is more likely to focus on their innocence rather than society’s guilt. Because again, in a way, if they are innocent, so is society.

“Woke” is a very reasonable thing to be in a racist society, so it’s only used pejoratively under the assumption racism doesn’t exist or barely exists, and do-gooders say it to appear superhumanly good, by overcompensating and demanding excessive justice.

This is not what’s happening! I promise you, the harder and more carefully you look at society, the more racism you’ll find. That racism exists in Canada but not that much is the dreamy and naïve position, not the cynical and critical one!

At this point it’s much easier to just avoid saying the word altogether because either you’re preaching to the choir or people’s understandings of it are likely caught somewhere in the middle of all this. The point isn’t to go out and use “woke” correctly. I just think it’s worth reflecting on what other people really mean by it.

I don’t want to tell anyone how to live, but if you only used the word “woke” innocently enough to give liberal do-gooders a hard time, you should probably stop using it too. I’m sure the alt-right will repeat the cycle by co-opting more Black lingo. If you aren’t using the term to race-bait (and why would you be?), there are lots of other words you can use. Write around it.

One ironic, sorry thing about modern life is that it’s sometimes necessary to give this much time and thought to a single word in the context of the alt-right, people who don’t exactly have a literary love of language.

Bye Tory! Actually, Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out


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For years, Tory was known as a total political loser. Why recount all his losses? There were many. Today he is a loser again despite eking out a W against the crack mayor’s bro in 2014 and sleep walking to two more victories in quiet elections against low-profile candidates, the last of which in 2022 had the lowest voter turnout in any election since the 1996 Megacity amalgamation.

His out-of-nowhere resignation mere months after being handed “strong mayor” powers seems unthinkable. Usually, Kouvalis-led Conservatives operate an elaborate digital ratfuckery machine to brainwash and play dirty tricks, then cling to power afterwards at all costs, and even change the laws while in office to increase the likelihood of keeping it later. The idea that someone in 2023 would resign once having this power over an issue so small as “integrity” is astonishing.

Sure enough, Tory didn’t resign right away. No wonder some in his circle advised against resigning after he made the initial announcement. Ford, who privately arranged for Tory’s “strong mayor” power during the mayoral election but said nothing about it until his candidate won, took this occasion to support Tory and insult “leftists,” typical of that corrupt, illiterate and belligerent ape.

Apparently some closest to Tory insisted he step down, which is so incredible to consider that it makes me wonder if there’s more to this they didn’t want known. How can sex, even with a subordinate, be resign-worthy in 2023? People are dying in every direction, ecological collapse is gradually taking hold or worsening, and this ends a political career of a guy who had been pretty squeaky clean?

I knew Tory was a prude and repressed wasp, but is he really more prude than he is hungry for political power? Can anyone be that prude? I guess it’s possible!

The former city staffer he slept with went on to work for Rogers-owned MLSE to help get the city to host five games of the 2026 World Cup tournament, which Toronto will pay $300 million to host. MLSE insists she was hired on a merit basis, that Tory didn’t get her the job. Either way, the optics are not great, and Tory must have worried it’d look unkosher even if it wasn’t.

Tory refused to step down as a Rogers special adviser on the family trust, a position paying $100k annually. Rogers’ tentacles are so long, their involvement in the city so wide and entrenched, it was impossible for Tory to be mayor and work for Rogers without the appearance of many conflicts of interest. When questioned how he could be mayor and still collect a giant cheque for advising a telecom giant, he told a story about honouring the promise he made to old-time family friend Ted Rogers–essentially, he said loyalty to ruling class connections trumped his public obligations, in so many words.

To his supporters, he was the adult in the room who upheld the status quo in a palatable way for media and apolitical people who only follow politics distantly, if at all. Wealthy people loved him because he artificially engineered keeping their property taxes extra low, while making it seem like this sleight of hand was just the natural order of things, like the sun rising and setting every day and night. Plus, if they called 311 to complain about a pothole or anything, someone was dispatched right away to clean it up. The city did work for them, so no wonder they mostly loved him. I suspect they vastly underestimate how dysfunctional the rest of the city is.

Ford and Tory are both the elite of the elite, but Ford is comparably a coarse uncouth street brawler while Tory has always been posh and polished and groomed all along for this work. Ford is the bad cop, Tory the good cop. They may position themselves differently in their own PR, but both ultimately work for the same force and advance mutual interests, even if they have also seriously butted heads over the years. (The Ford family has serious rifts among themselves and with Tory that go beyond the scope of this article.)

Ford took federal money meant for public healthcare and used it to pay down the deficit for political purposes during a pandemic. It’s hard to say how many people in the city Tory presided over died needlessly so the provincial conservatives could torque the numbers and show economic indicators their base loves. Maybe the increased power he gave Tory helped smooth things over between them. I’m genuinely not sure. Just speculating.

Whereas Doug Ford was the Ford brother who lacked the people skills of his racist and misogynistic brother Rob, Tory seemed to be at least a normal person. He seems to embody the modern struggle between the personal and political in that one-on-one, maybe he was a nice guy. That there’s a gap, a chasm, between the goodness of his heart and the misery of his policy is not impossible to believe.

Galen Weston is reportedly a kind and chatty fellow when he encounters employees in the elevators. Maybe Tory is “nice” in this vein. Personally, I ran into John Tory of all places in New Delhi. I was supposed to interview him for TV but, like much at WION, things got botched. I wrote the questions my friend and colleague Daniele asked, and when I met Tory after and he realized he was unprepared to meet a journalist from Toronto that might ask him something, he looked instantly petrified and fled like Homer floating backwards through the bushes GIF. He could fake being normal better on camera and in person, and I think he had more capacity than Ford to be a normal human being. But what is that saying?

Tory adamantly supported police throughout their violent and super expensive crackdowns on homeless people in public parks. Tory spent millions forcing people with nowhere else to go to go elsewhere. The city falsely claimed most “evicted” people got safe shelter indoors elsewhere, but of course they didn’t. Most went to other parks or under bridges, others simply, tragically, and needlessly died. Tory was OK suing Khaleel Seivwright in 2021, a local carpenter who heroically took it upon himself to build tiny shelters for people trying to survive the Canadian winter during a global pandemic.

Tory spent money to ensure homeless people didn’t have somewhere to stay. If Tory was so concerned the “Tiny Shelters” were dangerous, as the city claimed, why was he so supportive of the city’s dangerous and over-crowded shelters?

Tory wasted millions to worsen desperate people’s crises at a time he was also crying poor. He arbitrarily set the property tax rate too low first, then worked backwards to set the budget, an old Rob Ford trick that makes defunding society seem fiscally inevitable, or at least prudent and wise, rather than what it really is, opting to be cruel and withholding.

Ultimately, John Tory governed badly by 1960s standards, but in 2023. If anything good happened in Toronto during his tenure, he resisted it, and it happened largely against his will. CafeTO and ActiveTO would never have been approved without the pandemic occurring, and even with it, the patio application is expensive and lengthy while many “bike lanes” are either car lanes with a bike painted in them, or they have plastic “bollards” designed to prevent cars from getting damaged by the bollards rather than cyclists from getting killed by the cars and their drivers.

Was he really the milquetoast, middle-of-the-road, sensible man he presented himself as? Only if we accept what he said about himself at face value. I don’t. Tory was more ferociously right-wing than people here claimed, but he was more media polished and better able to hide it.

Torontonians watching him resign wondered about his legacy. In 2014, “Smart Track” was the central plank of Tory’s mayoral campaign. Today, it doesn’t exist. No mega, or even minor, projects bear his signature. He paid for artificially low property taxes for homeowners by actively neglecting basic services non-wealthy parts of Toronto rely on, from Scarborough to Etobicoke to throughout the downtown core.

Last election, Tory critics made the incumbent mayor synonymous with uncollected garbage spilling out of city garbage cans. I took a picture of a TTC bus stop duct taped to a pole and countless people found similar forms of urban decay. The crumbling under Tory was that palpable. It’d be funny if it wasn’t depressing and sad. Sure enough, after years of austerity, the TTC is overcrowded and people understandably fear violence. Fares are rising, service is worsening. The city is broke and there’s no plan for improvement apart from asking higher levels of government for money and concealing the extent of the decay with gimmicky but elaborate and expensive PR.

Tory’s final act, to defy his own promise to resign to push through one more austerity budget, is the symbol and substance of everything wrong with him and his politics.

I’m thrilled he’s gone! It happens that after months of not writing here, I happened to write an anti-Tory post only the night before he resigned. The night he initially shocked everyone by announcing his intention to resign, the Leafs had a 3-0 shutout and the vibes in Toronto were, as they say, immaculate. Nights later when he listed the date of his formal resignation, Auston Matthews had an extremely sexy goal and assist in his first game back after three weeks of injury.

There are questions about the circumstances of Tory’s departure, but there’s no doubt he torched his reputation on the way out and I’m glad about that too. He never deserved a good reputation. We could have avoided all this by electing Soknacki in 2014! I love Toronto and hope the city turns around, but I hope Tory is associated with its current demise, and hope that Tory’s few late-era victories don’t obscure the reputation he developed over years as a total loser.

Homelessness: John Tory’s Humanitarian Crisis


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Toronto’s City Council voted yesterday, February 8, against funding 24-hour warming centres to help people experiencing homelessness survive the winter. Buildings like the Scarborough Civic Centre or Metro Hall only open when the weather drops to -15.

They voted to “study” the issue, which is what they say to avoid sounding cheap when they don’t want to fund something straightforward. In voting against funding the warming centres, council rejected recommendations from the city’s own Board of Health.

What should homeless people do if it’s -14? Wait to see if temperatures drop another degree? There are no spots in shelters. City officials dispute that, but of course they do. The reality is people get denied entry at shelters every single night because there’s no space.

People slip through the cracks in lots of ways, but here is one. Let’s say a nearby shelter has a space for you, but you have a partner, and it’s not co-ed, or a pet they refuse to allow in. What do you? Even if there is a spot at a shelter across town that would fit all your needs, what good is it if you don’t know it’s there? And say you do know there might be such a spot, would you pay the rising TTC fare to trek across the city to check?

That many people feel safer not in a shelter, in their own tent, is a scathing indictment of our shelter system, which after all isn’t supposed to exist! It’s only meant as a last resort. Ideally, shelters should be phased out as people move from the streets into homes. Instead, we’re phasing shelters and even warming centres out while homelessness is rapidly increasing.

I covered Toronto City Hall for a pretty bleh/low-quality online outlet in 2013, Toronto Standard. I didn’t really know fuck-all about politics, but I’ll never forget attending my first city council meeting, when OPAC protesters unfurled a banner accusing city council of having blood on its hands for failing to provide ample shelters. They weren’t just being hyperbolic; they had recently returned from funerals of friends who died.

When people make charged claims like “this council has blood on its hands” or “people are dying,” it’s liable to sound like exaggeration, or like a heavy-handed rhetorical device designed to illicit response in an argument or debate. But it’s a neutral, accurate description of what’s going on. This was in 2013, well before John Tory or the pandemic.

When this city would like money to fund, for example, hosting five World Cup soccer games in 2026, $300 million suddenly appears out of thin air from local, provincial, and federal governments. Magic! Modern, sensible cities everywhere are freeing up real estate, beautifying prominent spaces, improving street safety, reducing pollution, and improving public health and joy by removing obsolete urban highways; instead, John Tory has chosen to pour over $1 billion to repair the crumbling Gardiner Highway. The city had money, but he wasted it.

We’ve seen huge increases in the costs of housing and food, while austerity budgets phase out or severely reduce public services. TTC fares are rising yet again, while bus routes are axed and passengers wait longer for subways. Yes, the pandemic hasn’t improved anybody’s mental health, but the conditions John Tory opted for are not exactly boosting public morale. Unsurprisingly, there’s been a rise in violence. How did Tory respond? By finding $8 million dollars so 80 cops can circulate the TTC system. This comes after giving Toronto cops an additional $50 million.

The self-proclaimed fiscally-responsible Strong Mayor looked astonished when asked point blank by a representative from the organization TTC Riders to justify the increased spending, given the $50 million price tag and the disconnect between the crisis Torontonians face and the police’s total inability to address the problems’ root causes. The squirming, terrified, what-do-I-do-now? look on his face is that of a person unaccustomed to actual questions, who often speaks in public but never without a script, a script they know is total horseshit.

In what felt like mere minutes after the 2022 mayoral election, Doug Ford, the belligerent ex-city councilor, who in vengeance in 2018 cut council in half mid-election, suddenly gave John Tory “strong mayor” powers. In 2018, Toronto city council had 45 members. Now it has 25. A few months ago, a two-thirds majority was required to pass bylaws. Now, it’s 1/3rd. In other words, instead of needing the support of 30 councillors, now it’s merely eight. (Fewer people for Vaughan condo developers to bribe?)

The argument that this would help Tory bypass “red tape” or other hurdles interfering with Getting Things Done doesn’t really make sense, since nobody could point to a major vote he lost in his two prior tenures as mayor. He was never held back, he just wanted more power. The current conservative party leader gave the former conservative party leader more power. Favours. (These two politicians also hate each other considerably, as Ford lost the 2018 mayoral race to Tory, before winning the provincial election Tory lost when he led the party.)

Homelessness predates Tory. In 2019, Nicholas Hune-Brown’s devastating account of Toronto homelessness serves as a reminder that the crisis we’re facing isn’t caused by the pandemic, even if things have worsened enormously since. In 2018, I received a visitor from India stunned by the homelessness she saw in downtown Toronto. As gut-wrenching as homelessness is, when your country has the complicated colonial history of India, and a host of problems we don’t have in Toronto, perhaps people living on the street feels tragic but inevitably. But in a wealthy city like Toronto? What’s the excuse? There was no excuse then and there still isn’t one.

John Tory himself said his “strong mayor” powers would make him more accountable to voters. Let that be the case, then. City council is gradually shrinking to do his bidding, so this is John Tory’s humanitarian crisis.

“But Why Do You Hate Cars So Much, Jeff?”


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A buddy who reads some things I tweet asked me to explain my loathing of cars when I saw him this weekend. We were drinking and someone asking me to rant was highly appealing, but I figured I may as well set the basics down soberly in print, too.

It’s not that I hate cars, exactly. I hate our over-dependence on them. That a person who doesn’t own a car is all but isolated from society is barbaric. Car culture has normalized enormous sacrifices for cars that don’t even strike us as sacrifices because we’re all accustomed to them.

When you look at a house or a property, look how much of it is taken up by the driveway or parking. It’s not uncommon for around half a new home’s façade to be a garage, or at least a very large chunk. Almost one quarter of the city of Toronto is taken up by roads! Not parking lots, roads. Basically, any outdoor space that isn’t a commercially or privately owned, or a park, is consumed by cars.

Homeowners spend thousands to accommodate their vehicles and the city devotes its budget to cars, too. The city of Toronto charges much less for housing for cars (ie parking), than housing for human beings. One parking spot is worth tens of thousands of dollars. The city subsidizes street parking but refuses to do the same for people, and Free Market boosters don’t even notice the former, while the latter enrages them. If you asked motorists to spend on street parking what the actual rate should be, they’d be livid. They think they’re getting squeezed now, when really they’re getting subsidized.

Parents are quick to point out that it’s easy for a guy like me, no kids and works from home, to be opposed to cars, but just try schlepping your kids to hockey on a bike or bus! I get that and I’m not here to scold exhausted parents dealing with shit as best they can. I have a car too! I hate that it’s necessary, but we’re living in a world designed for cars and not having one is indeed difficult (so is having one).

Between the environmental, health, financial, and just lifestyle, a sensible, modern city would follow the data and do its utmost to remove private cars from the road, not by banning them, but by making alternatives more appealing. Busses, streetcars and subways should be clean, frequent, and reliable, then people would take them. Instead, under John Tory, the TTC continues its death spiral of critical under-funding (no North American city of comparable size funds its public transit system with fares to the degree Toronto does, not even close).

The cycle moves in both directions: everyone would love to take transit! But transit here is shit. That’s not because transit doesn’t or can’t work, it’s because we defunded transit for decades and pour our money into private car infrastructure. And why do we do that? Because nobody takes transit and everyone drives.

Instead of retrofit outdoor space to encourages safe and active forms of transit that get people around for less money in a way that’s fun and promotes good health, Tory and Ford are making unjustifiable and unconscionable decisions auto executives drool over because they lock-in car usage for years.

Cars are excellent when nobody else around you is driving them because they let you get around quickly. Decades ago, this was the case. But the more people do this, the less useful and more expensive cars become. They’re not a perk anymore, they become the baseline form of getting anywhere, which makes them essential, and therefore a burden. If you need to go to a far-flung location far away, by all means, drive. That’s what they’re best for. For short trips in the city or daily commutes thousands of people do at the same time…it’s stupid.

Because everyone is expected to own a car, developers buy cheap parcels of land in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t matter that there’s farmland around you instead of a baker or grocer you can walk to, because you can drive to these things. Land in the city that could be used for building high-rises are instead devoted to parking cars. Cars enable our worst decisions.

We should be fixing this by turning car housing into people housing. There’s acres of under-used or unused land in the heart of the city and across the GTA, but instead of focusing on that, Ford is re-writing/undoing the law to let donors develop environmentally protected greenspace they purchased weeks before he changed the law. The OPP is investigating corruption allegations.

Conservatives paint any critic of this obviously corrupt scheme as an opponent of affordable housing, as if Doug Ford is letting Gasperis develop environmentally protected land to house homeless people and immigrant laborers. It’s an absurd joke, but issues surrounding cars is very much related to the price and nature of housing. If you don’t believe me, ask anybody whose community was razed to build an urban highway (guess which communities get selected).

The above is far from the only reason I hate cars! There’s also the spiritual or marketing aspect. It seems incredible to me that anybody, let alone millions of people, identify themselves with their cars. Such and such a person should drive such and such a car. Macho right-wing guys with a penile complex drive monster trucks, even if it’s to get McDonald’s drive thru instead of hauling work-related loads in the rig or building an off-grid cabin. Meanwhile, flaccid-dicked little liberal cucks drive a Prius.

It’s the underlying premise I reject, that a person’s vehicle reflects who they are in some meaningful way. The extent to which marketing has rotted our brains is tragic and, frankly, embarrassing. It’s nonsense! Commute in a way that makes practical sense and stake your identity on higher things that actually matter.

Most of the trips people do in the city are walkable. Not all trips, and not everybody’s trips. But most people don’t need to drive to get groceries, they can just bring a nap sack and some bags and walk. But because we live in a marketing hellscape that promotes the automobile as the symbol of a person’s worth, many people view the idea of walking instead of driving anywhere as a form of giving up, or turning you back on society.

There are urban myths of CEOs who want to drive modest vehicles, but the company wants the BMW in the best reserved spot because otherwise it looks like a freak is running the company! Whether companies coerce executives into buying luxury vehicles or executives coerce themselves into thinking it’s necessary is mostly a distinction without a difference, but that they’re both entirely plausible is messed up.

To be fair, if people have an attachment to their car, perhaps it’s half due to marketing, and half due to the fact that our car-centric planning makes people attached to their car in understandable ways. For many working parents, their commute is a rare and important solo time where they can listen to podcasts or music and think their thoughts. They’re between work demands and family demands, and the idea of losing this private time to be on a crowded bus in bad weather and multiple transfers…it sucks.

The auto industry lobby is why we have such pitiful busses and trains–50% of Canadians live on a straight-shot route from Windsor through Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, yet there’s no train service. Over-reliance on private cars ruins public transportation. Uber competes against the TTC, and the TTC is losing big time.

Again, I get that taking the neglected form of transit sucks! The point is, though, we should stop neglecting it!

I had a sad thought recently that’s related to this. It could be that most people’s main form of public interaction with strangers is, if not internet comment sections, driving. Cars let people navigate public spaces privately. We don’t talk with neighbours as much because, in a very literal sense, you can’t bump into someone when you’re driving and have a little chat. Instead of conversing, our interactions are all driving-based. This usually consists of things like, “Can you believe how this fuckin idiot is all over the road and in my lane?” We don’t talk to people; we try not to collide into each other on the way to everywhere.

Cycling and walking have no equivalent term for “road rage.”

This sad form of “interaction” shapes how we think of the people around us. The same thing that makes it convenient to get into your hermetically sealed and portable living room, with its infotainment centre, temperature controls, and whatever other indulgences, and cross a city without encountering another person is also extremely sad and isolating. And that’s sad for the person who has the car.

If you don’t have a car? The TTC is raising fares yet again, even while cutting services and investing in more Fare Enforcers. Tory spends billions to shave seconds off a suburbanite’s work commute, but wants you to spend more for less public transit. It’s known that fare enforcers treat non-white riders differently than white passengers, just like cops use car-related reasons to disproportionately pull over Black drivers, sometimes with violent and even lethal results.

On another basic level, Toronto drivers have never been more dangerous. Anecdotally, I’ve read stories in the last year about drivers crashing into poles, fences, businesses (a car drove through a bike lane, into a bike store, Sweet Pete’s), homes, even second-storey condos. And of course, people. Out on a walk a couple weeks ago, I saw the recent aftermath of a car that had driven through a bike lane, onto the sidewalk, and into a bus shelter. The previous night, blocks east, a driver crashed into a cyclist. A few days afterwards, a few blocks west, a car drove into a laundromat.

The hype over electric cars and self-driving cars is wrongheaded. As they say, if electric cars are the future of cars, car-free cities are the future of cities. Most “safety” feature only make it safer for the people in the vehicle. Cars, SUVs, and trucks are dangerously large now in North America.

The term “world-class city” is so embarrassing and I don’t mean to invoke anything like it. But right now cities worldwide like London and Paris are currently undoing car-centric planning to save money, improve health, and help people get around faster and safer. Instead, Doug Ford is proposing a bougie-ass waterfront spa costing taxpayers probably half a billion to pay for a private company’s underground parking lot. He campaigned on new highways and widening existing ones. In 2021, the private company that bought highway 407 owed taxpayers about $1 billion, and Doug Ford wouldn’t take the free money even while underspending on healthcare during a pandemic.

If something helps the auto industry, austerity governments that don’t have a penny for public services eagerly spare no expense.

Ultimately, cars kill cities in so many ways that it’s hard to even notice or convey. Indeed, there are sensational stories of violence in the TTC system lately, which are tragic. But there are deadly car “accidents” on the streets every day and those don’t put people off driving, and the media frames road violence stories as, essentially, a tragic whoopsie.

The idea that someone spends thousands to buy a car, thousands on insurance annually, then more for parking (from their wallet and city coffers), yet more for maintenance and fuel, all visit stores that could be located closer to them if planners didn’t assume everyone would own a car…it’s stupid! In a sense, the more refined and improved the individual cars get, the stupider the whole thing is. Just walk! Bike!

That the car industry promotes the idea that driving makes luxury car and truck owners somehow rugged individuals, not the cyclists braving the weather and lethal risks drivers present, is absurd and somehow funny and depressing.

The auto industry famously created the term “jay walker” in the 1920s because before then, people assumed public space was entirely for walking or tram, and private vehicles were the outsider. The classic “hey, I’m walkin’ here!” in the thick New York accent doesn’t register anymore today, because people identify with the driver. The car is now thought to be the city’s natural inhabitant, not the person.

In the same sense, shifting the safety burden away from city planners and drivers onto vulnerable roads users is illogical and dangerous. “Share the road” is bullshit! The whole point of physically separated bike lanes is cyclists shouldn’t share the road with drivers! Nobody wants that! Pedestrians are never told “share the road” because we’re used to them having “sidewalks,” a euphemism for the narrow lanes at the margins of public space (ie roads) reserved for people to walk.

It took me a while to grasp that all infrastructure is car infrastructure. Sidewalks aren’t for pedestrians; they only exist so drivers don’t crash into people walking. “Bike lanes” let motorists drive without the risk of killing a cyclist, which will raise their insurance premium and, also noteworthy, end a cyclist’s life. Cyclists and pedestrians would have unlimited freedom if it weren’t for cars! They don’t need paved lanes. Drivers need everyone else to be in reserved sections of public space so they, the motorists, can do their thing freely. Same with traffic lights, police enforcement (everything from cops at construction sites to highway speeding tickets issued from a Cessna flying overhead), R.I.D.E., “pedestrian bridges,” parking enforcement, crossing guards, street signs, and everything else we pour money into. It’s all for cars.

Injured, mained, and dead cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers are collateral damage.

City budgets and residents are being held hostage by the auto industry. Maybe it’s worse, and that they took control of policy decades ago and aren’t giving up control now. Worse still, people want laws written by the auto lobby because they’re convinced they can’t live without private cars. We’re getting bamboozled into pouring money into the blackhole that is auto-dependency because auto-dependency has made the alternatives to driving suck, and we can’t get out of that cycle. Plus, the voice on the commercial during the hockey game saying trucks are bad ass is gravelly.

It’s not too late to undo Toronto’s car-centric planning and design public space that people want to be in, instead of drive through.

(I was on the verge of drunkenly shrieking all this and lots more to my buddy Friday night but stopped myself last second because somehow this long complaint isn’t everybody’s idea of fun. I could have written more, too, because you can’t imagine just how insufferable I can be on this topic.)

Problems with Cars: Space

It’s hard to describe just how much space cars take up because we’re so accustomed to them. Mammoth parking lots in a housing crisis don’t make sense, but they’re everywhere. It should strike people as wrong that property is valued by the square foot, but the city hands out countless sports for free parking.

In a very basic sense, let’s just talk about the figures. Toronto is 630 kilometres squared. Stats Can only has stats on how many vehicles are in Ontario, not Toronto. Estimates peg the total at 0.9-1.5 per household—needless to say, there are well over one million cars on Toronto roads. The average car is, say, 15 feet long, 6 feet wide. But you can’t just park cars tip to tip, so they essentially require more space they actually take up.

When driving, cars require an even buffer around them. Take the physical space on either side of a car that needs to be void for the driver to feel comfortable passing through—that’s a car’s real width. In other words, a 6-foot wide car is in effect 8-feet wide, or wider.

Imagine how much accustomed we are to sacrificing space on our lawns (driveways, parking pads), or even building structures specifically to house cars (garages). Cars take up so much room at both ends of their drive. They go from one designated spot to another, which means every every trip requires a special accommodation at each end, which usually results in a huge oversupply or undersupply of parking.

No place can always supply just the right amount of parking! If stadiums have sufficient spots for the game, they have way too much parking 98% of the time. Malls have enough parking for Boxing Day, which happens once a year, if ecommerce hasn’t made parking unnecessary. Downtown only has so many parking spots available because that’s where most of the stuff in the city is, so when there’s a big night on the town, there likely are way too few spots. There should be a parking shortage, in other words.

Stable harmony is hard to come by because cars come in spurts of waves, not constant waves. There’s morning and afternoon rush hour and, say, a Jay’s game bringing thousands of commuters some days but not others.

The physicality of cars themselves are the reason cars clog cities. There’s no way for cars to at once be in the world and yet not take up space in it. There’s no way for over a million cars to be in the city without sacrificing the space over a million cars take up. Remember, a car’s footprint is magnitudes larger than the car’s size!

I just read an article saying the average Canadian spends 3 days in traffic a year. A year is 365 days, so this is approaching 1% of life. Billions get drained in lost productivity because we are scrunched between cars and cannot get away from the other cars on the road to our destination.

Every driver imagines a rout with no cars on it, then they’re shocked, shocked, when the roads are filled with cars. They act like bad traffic is a surprise even though gridlock is expected to the point reporters specifically report on traffic! That there is such thing as a “traffic reporter” is an indictment of car culture we’ve come to accept. It’s proof cars as a mode of transportation are an utter failure.

No amount of tinkering with traffic lights will solve gridlock because the problem is the number of cars, not how they move.

Induced demand is the idea that widening roads encourages more people to drive, which offsets any gains the additional space from the widened road once provided. Therefore, widening the roads is doomed to fail. You can’t widen roads forever not only because it doesn’t work, but because the city is only so big.

Something like 20% of Toronto is roads. A fifth of the city! At some point, a city needs stuff for the roads to lead to. It shouldn’t all be converted to roads. Which neighbourhoods get selected to be the site of new highways? Phrased this way, I suspect the answer is clear. That marginalized people are the first victim of car culture is true across America, Toronto, New Delhi, and beyond.

Low caste people get pushed aside to build a “flyover” in New Delhi just like Black neighbourhoods were razed to build highways post WWII. So it’s not just a question of how much space cars take up, but whose space it is.

If you look at the stark wealth divide on either side of the Allen in Toronto…I mean, it’s hard not to notice roads are pretty much a literal class barrier, or at least a demarcation of class. Even if you try to just talk about the space cars take up, eventually you need to talk about whose space it is, and it’s an unsettling conversation. It’s no coincidence that the first communities displaced for highways are also the least served by public transit.

Today, Toronto celebrates the public backlash that stopped developers from extending the Allen through Cedarvale and the Annex to connect with the lakefront highway, led by Jane Jacobs. This was of course a victory, but the shame is most neighbourhoods can’t similarly defend themselves.

Add up all the space taken up by roads, parking lots, driveways, parking pads, highways…no electric vehicle fixes the problem of how much space cars consume. As it’s said, if the future of cars is electric cars, the future of cities is car-free. We need to stop relying on cars and build infrastructure that assumes people won’t be driving.

Most drivers are in a car alone, while busses and streetcars take dozens of people. Sure, busses are fuller at some time than others, just like roads are full of cars at rush hour but are totally empty at other times.

But we need to move people, not cars. That’s what efficiency means. There’s nothing less efficient than making everyone effectively 4000 pounds, 6 feet wide and 15 feet long.

People are so attached to their car today because our brutally underfunded public transportation system isn’t reliable or pleasant. The cycle moves in both directions at the same time: because public transportation sucks, people all but need their own private vehicle to get around, and because so many people own a car, they’re happy we widen roads and neglect the TTC, even though a vastly improved and properly funded public transit, as well as safe active infrastructure, offers the freedom promised in car ads.

It’s understandable but sad how many people enjoy their alone time in their car, and see it as a calm period to listen to music, podcast or an audio book. I don’t mean to scold people who really like their car and enjoy this time! But they love their car the way a person in a storm loves their safe haven. Highways are the storm, not the haven, and this endless cycle of governments spending billions to make the storm worse, then people personally spending tens of thousands to find shelter from the storm, only perpetuates the problem.

So I get that in this obscenely car-dependent world you like your car, of course you do!

But if we can’t agree that cars with just a driver in them effectively make that single person 15 feet long and 6 feet wide and weigh about 4,000 pounds, and that it’s impossible to expect free-flowing roads when you do this to millions of people in the city simultaneously, we won’t be able to agree on anything.

As the popular adage goes, “cars aren’t in traffic; they are traffic.” Toronto doesn’t have space for this many cars and this many people and we need to choose. The choice should be an automatic slam dunk, but doug ford’s decision to enrich donors by increasing sprawl and paving over the Greenbelt is corrupt (that’s another article!), dangerous, braindead, and proves we’re going down the wrong road.

Book Review: In the City of Pigs, by André Forget


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Cover of In the City of Pigs, Dundurn Press, June 2022

Finally, we get Forget’s debut novel. It was no disappointment! Forget knows a thing or two about Canadian literature—the former editor in chief of The Puritan also has a Master’s of English with a focus on CanLit. I only mention this to say he knows what traditional pitfalls to avoid.

In April 2022, Forget released a collection of short stories he edited and compiled called After Realism, “24 short stories for the 21st century.” Whatever you expect upon hearing the dreaded phrase “CanLit,” you will get something different when you read In the City of Pigs.

Cover of After Realism, Vehicule Press, April 2022

Forget’s protagonist Alexander Otzakov navigates the semi-secret world of Toronto Money, which uses art as a mask in various ways, most notably to make itself seem noble and high-minded while committing shady deals. In the City of Pigs explores this literally and figuratively. ICP is refreshingly frank about sex and money in a way Toronto is not known for. What is really behind the large art grants? What is the nature of the grease that makes property deals work? Most profoundly and practically: does anybody who lives in the city even care?

The literal strain is the plot, which is straightforward, but I won’t reveal here to avoid spoilers. But the novel’s heart explores the relationship between art and money by asking what art really is. Forget is hardly the first author to ask, but his answers avoid debut-novel cliches, and are smart enough to make the novel essential reading, if for no other reason.

I suspect what people are liable to call “digressions” in my view is the novel’s meat and potatoes. No useful answer about the relationship between money and art can come from someone who doesn’t understand art, and Forget leaves his reader with no doubt about his grasp of the subject.

There are lengthy discussions about, for example, an underwater organ that makes the reader consider not only what hearing music really is but what seeing music is like, ie, pipes playing Bach underwater releasing air bubbles in certain patterns that render music visible. I happen to have read Pynchon’s Against the Day before reading this novel, and was reminded of Pynchon’s wonderful “digressions” about transmitting radio waves and other signals through the aether.

“God is the throbbing hum of an inhumanly low frequency, a bass note that sustains the universe,” is a sentence I’ll quote here for two reasons. I love it. Also, it describes Bootsy Collins’ role in Parliament Funkadelic so well. There’s no mention of funk in this novel, but great novels make you think of other unrelated things and tie them together. The novel’s in-depth discussions of classical music were joyful, even or especially when they were over my head.

The novel’s title comes from Plato by way of a fictional art group that launches guerilla events in abandoned buildings in the city. Without getting into the particulars, this is a novel that juxtaposes Plato, Toronto arts societies, Faust, Mozart, Toronto gentry, and gentrification. Local staples like The Communist’s Daughter abound.

For one thing, it references Dundas West and Norm MacDonald. It’s set in Toronto and Halifax, two cities I lived in. The protagonist is a former-musician, so dialogue brims with strong opinions and scathing judgements, two things always fun.

Perhaps the novel may be described as an apolitical look at political power via art. It’s also about love, sex, and money. It’s a broad novel I don’t mean to reduce narrowly. It’s about thinking and living.

The wealthy power brokers are treated fairly, which is to say the state of inner-life and creativity in their soul is not ignored while their deeds and machinations are described accurately. The loathing is earned, not pre-determined. The moral and artistic world of this novel may have exacting standards, but it gives everyone a chance!

Perhaps the best observation is that what seems like flagrantly corrupt business deals and cynical co-opting of art is something the general public will simply not give a shit about. When it comes to how business is really conducted, the public is as apathetic towards it as it is about serious art.

The novel’s highbrow strains are high, but Forget’s head is refreshingly not up his ass. Joyce responded to critics’ accusations Ulysses was inaccessible by pointing out that his characters were mostly poor. Bloom tabulates his day’s expenses at the novel’s end, and Otzakov looks for an affordable place to live. It is a very grounded novel.

There are tender, truthful moments where people discuss the full dimensions of their relationships in ways that echo Mordecai Richler in Barney’s Version. It’s funny and frank about unsavoury instincts and impulses that balance the highbrow chatter.

Forget takes on Toronto’s tendency to praise itself for being polite enough to avoid discussing how real power and money really work, while talking about much else along the way in novel ways, from booze to drugs and more. There are parties and pities aplenty.

It refreshingly explores whether the very idea of art is rarified, indulgent, useless shit in today’s age of ascending maga fascism just as intensely as it looks at the connection between art and commerce. In other words, the perspective comes from a deep desire for knowledge, honesty, and concern for people.

Without reducing an artistic, imaginative work to a didactic social novel, Forget recalls Michael Brooks’ edict to be ruthless to systems and kind to people. The “power” he explores here is not about a particular political party or easy satire of a specific corporation or industry. But about the interlocking systems we all operate within, albeit from very different positions and heights.

The moth just wants to move towards the light because that is the moth’s nature. “I’m the moth, you’re the moth…”

Forget understands that human nature may be constant in regards to this system, but not everybody needs to find somewhere to live. Moths may all be drawn to light, but some are flying in a podiatrist’s office while others are in Rosedale.

Long-Term Don’t Care: a Doug Ford Crisis



Photo Credit: Vlada Karpovich via Pexels

Canada had a relatively low COVID mortality rate compared to other OECD countries, but residents in Long-Term Care (LTC) died in disproportionately high numbers. To be clear, it’s not that COVID killed LTC residents in greater numbers here than it did young people because older people were more susceptible. It’s that LTC residents in Canada died in vastly higher percentages than LTC residents in other OECD countries.

Canada’s long-term care problems extend beyond Ontario, but our country was uniquely dangerous for seniors in LTC compared to other similar nations, and Ontario was and is a particularly dangerous province. In Ontario, seniors in for-profit LTCs were substantially more lethal.

Doug Ford’s ministers didn’t do much for LTCs when the virus hit in 2020. The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Long-Term Care submitted their reports, memos, and briefing notes concerning COVID-19 and long-term care to the CBC, which determined it sat back and was ill-prepared.

By May of 2021, 70% of all COVID deaths in Ontario were in LTC settings. This number has only gone up.

Doug Ford promised an “iron ring” around LTCs on March 30, 2020. He did not create one. A 2021 report by the Canadian Armed Forces led to widespread outcry as a picture emerged of seniors dying preventable deaths in “horrifying” conditions. Think cockroaches, dehydration, patients with ulcers neglected in beds, staff wearing contaminated gear. The backlash was so intense even Doug Ford promised an investigation and accountability. He had said the investigation was already underway, when in reality it had never begun and would never begin.

Instead, Doug Ford rushed to create a law protecting privately-owned LTCs from lawsuits. He claimed the law would protect all businesses from unnecessary lawsuits that could bankrupt them. That explanation seems a little convenient given the conservative connections to privately-owned LTCs.

For example, the former Conservative Party leader Mike Harris has sat on Chartwell’s board since 2004, and has made great piles of cash by reducing regulations and oversight. IE, cuts made prior to COVID resulted in LTCs being so deadly when the pandemic struck.

For-profit LTCs hire lobbyists with conservative ties. Current MPP Melissa Lantsman was a registered lobbyists for Extendicare. The list goes on. The revolving door between the conservative party and for-profit LTCs is such that the LTC’s failures are Ford’s failures, too.

The Liberals also deserve blame for overseeing the privatization of LTC for 15 years. This isn’t all on Doug Ford, but this is a story about governments deliberately sacrificing elderly Canadians’ quality of life for shareholder profits, a pattern that Doug Ford repeats so often, it’s about the only approach he knows.

Abandoning seniors was just the first stroke.

The federal government donated COVID tests to Ontario that somehow people never received unless they were students in private schools, and instead, for months, people paid Shoppers Drug Mart and other pharmacies $30 or $40 for a rapid test countries like the UK, US, and Germany made free or inexpensive (say, $4). (Ontario Pharmacies only began handing out boxes of free rapid tests weeks before the provincial election.)

By approaching the pandemic as a money-making opportunity for government insiders instead of treating it primarily as a public health crisis to solve, the Doug Ford government ended up relaying COVID tests to the very communities least likely to get COVID, and neglected communities that needed support the most.

This is a mutually reinforcing cycle: COVID initially spread in poorer, non-white communities because people there were more likely to work in-person jobs that couldn’t be done remotely. Existing systemic injustices made “frontlines heroes” more susceptible to getting the disease. But because Doug Ford governs primarily for the wealthy, poor people had to fend for themselves, which inevitably resulted in them getting COVID in higher rates while getting no to little government support.

Doug Ford refused to give working people paid-time-off, which experts said was required so workers with COVID symptoms could stay home rather than risk spreading the disease because they couldn’t afford to not work for a day. Ontario workers had more paid-time-off before the pandemic than during it.

Vaccination rates were initially lowest in communities where spread was highest. This pattern repeats itself and has done so throughout the pandemic.

It may sound like a cliché or oversimplification to say Doug Ford repeatedly put profits above people’s lives. I am confident that the more you read about his failings, the truer it will seem. This, despite his platitudes about representing ordinary people.

The idea that “frontlines heroes” were so actively neglected by this government, left to fend for themselves while the premier essentially handed over control to lobbyists and tycoons…it’s heartbreaking and unconscionable.

I half-joke that the media backlash was fiercer when a few young people tweeted “OK, boomer” in 2019 than when seniors died in appalling conditions under Doug Ford, who reacted by changing nothing except to further cement the dangerous conditions. We need to reckon with the underlying lethal economics behind our lethal long-term care centres. Indeed, conservative ministers were buying stocks in for-profit long-term care centres during the pandemic, while Doug Ford handed out millions of tax dollars to upgrade for-profit LTCs and changed laws to let LTCs increase their rates for rooms and charge extra for private ones.

The profiteers are already inside the government; they must be voted out in June.

War, Convoys, and the Point of it All


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I’m sure everyone thought a lot about life during the pandemic, the point of it all. If we were going to make it to the other side, what would we do once we got there? What is the point of life, society?

Being privileged as fuck, I was situated about as nicely as somebody can possibly be in a pandemic, and it was a fucking misery on all sides. The choice was doom-scroll or feel guilt and powerlessness at being unable to prevent what felt like society’s collapse.

I thought I was a cynical bastard, but it never occurred to me that people would oppose public health measures during a pandemic by invoking “Freedom.” The so-called “truck convoy,” which never represented the majority of Canadian truckers let alone Canadians, was fake-ass right-wing theatre from top to bottom.

Like all elements of cheap partisan political theatre, it needed some very real people to get swept up in it to give the appearance of legitimacy, and there were, but it was organized and coordinated by political extremists and violent crooks, including ex-military and ex-police. You can tell from the support it got from the alt-right shitbag pundit community that this was not a grassroots movement.

If it was actually a working-class protest, conservatives would have opposed it with every fibre of their being. The province’s conservatives have gouged workers and fought to undermine labour rights for the last 24 months of a pandemic, refusing not just what union reps said would be decent compensation but what doctors said was necessary to combat the pandemic–ie, paid sick days. Not even a global pandemic could shake the conscience of doug ford. The conservative support for the convoy was all the proof a person could want that the convoy was in no way working-class. Elon Musk, perhaps the world’s richest person, vocally supported it too.

The alt-right were deliberately conflating the right to protest with the right to park enormous trucks in very tight public places. Just like “50,000 truckers” became maybe hundreds at the pinnacle of that fake-ass protest, the presence of trucks made the size of the protest seem a lot bigger than it was. The physicality of the trucks compensated for the relatively low number of people.

All of this felt foreboding at the time. I saw a picture of a maga militia member (three-percenter) in camo fatigues and patches standing at University and College. The flags with swastikas, confederate flags, and other hate symbols in Ottawa have been well-documented.

But it feels small now that war has broken out in a major European city. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is horrifying for reasons too obvious to state. Seeing trucker carlson of faux news go from promoting the convoy to defending vladimir putin after the invasion…

Alt-right ratfuckery is all connected. I’ve seen rabid social media support from the same accounts for the so-called truck convoy, putin’s invasion, modi’s hindutva pogroms, the January 6 insurrection on the US capital…they’re all inter-linked.

Condemning the war is inevitable, but what else is there to say?

Despite everything, the crushing hopelessness gives way sometimes to optimism based on my belief that normal people are doing amazing things behind closed doors, in their private lives, things which will never be reported. Little things to cheer up those around them, support people. From community solidarity, people helping strangers and kin.

I’m not saying that these good and great private deeds will be enough to overcome war, the inherent violence of alt-right politics, end the pandemic, or fix the climate crisis. It’s just that people genuinely give me a good feeling. Being cynical about politics is reasonable right now, too utterly reasonably, but that’s not the same thing as misanthropy. I love people and always will.

I’ve had spiritual musical-revelations lately involving Parliament Funkadelic and somehow, not to be flippant, but this to me feels like the kind of thing that can fill in society’s hollowness. I’m not sure what the point of North American society is. It feels wasteful and dangerous in a stupid, vulgar sense.

The things people commonly point to as the crown achievements of civilization feel to me not just bad but anti-civilized. A legal code is an achievement compared to what you find in the jungle, but ours enshrine and protect racism as basically its central premise. Our technology is advanced, but it only exists for advertising, which in turn only exists to sell things probably unsustainably-produced things made by horrifically exploited people, if not outright slaves. Phones make people miserable, they’re expensive, and wasteful. Cars are sophisticated machines that can be beautiful and convenient, but they waste resources to a shocking degree, are the sole source of murder-inducing traffic jams, and they injure or kill people every day. Gas is rising in costs and our corrupt premier does everything possible to lock-in cars for the future in a way that disfigures the natural world, solves 0 problems, causes new many problems and exacerbates old ones, wastes billions of dollars, and benefits nobody except his oligarch donors and pandemic profiteers like galen weston (ford nixed public charging stations and is now putting them at en routes which galen weston owns; ford received COVID tests from the federal government, which mysteriously never got distributed, while galen weston sold COVID tests for $40).

During the pandemic my apartment got broken into while my girlfriend and I were asleep and her car was stolen and totalled, I developed shingles from stress, our place had roaches and neighbours who made my gf uncomfortable, we had to finally move apartments and after a year of not seeing anyone got COVID from the movers pre-vaccination Dec 2020, my GF broke her collar bone in a bike accident…still, I feel fortunate, humbled, grateful to be alive.

I can’t be the only one who has wondered, am I depressed, or is this merely a reasonable reaction to this moment?

We are governed by culturally impoverished aristocrats who don’t give a fuck. John tory, ford, and trudeau are all spoiled sheltered nepotism hires. If a private equity firm could take human form, it would take basically these human forms.

I’m from Forest Hill, I grew up anything but a radical leftist. Indeed, if anything, my upbringing only helps me to recognize a tycoon politician on sight. Toronto is lopsided as hell, and deliberately so. The mayor of a city where housing costs rose 28% in one year claims to be fighting for affordability? Our leaders aren’t failing to do what’s right, they’re successfully doing wrong.

So long as we continue to elect slum landlords as our representatives, who cancel public service under the guise of “savings,” homelessness will only grow and increase in severity and life will get harder and more brutal. I also feel like upper class people are miserable here, too. Depression is everywhere. What is the point of this city?

Either you need to rent a home to people to gouge them (ie, be a landlord) or be gouged yourself. Fuck or be fucked. Housing should be a human right, not a retirement strategy. If this is a wealthy society, what is the point of being wealthy if people need to either live on the street or stress about a mortgage their entire life?

Is it better to be a hammer than a nail? Maybe, but that’s a false choice, and the hammer is stressing over failing to live up to inflated, vulgar, unrealistic class expectations and feeling like shit because at heart it knows to “make it” in this society may involve causing harm to oneself or others or both.

I’m glad organized religion has lost its central position in society, but this is a society that doesn’t value human life or culture properly or at all. A spiritual crisis underlies our political ones. I encourage everyone to be outrageously nice to each other, read novelists like Roberto Bolano or Tolstoy or actual political writers and academics not the disgraceful postmedia blowhard class, and listen to deep funk and spiritual jazz very loudly on the best speakers you can access. Pamper your own soul, because we’re all going to die some day and you owe it to yourself. The point of life has to involve loving other people, friends and family and neighbours, but love for the species means spreading the work of our best artists and contributing to the life of the soul.

People need to come together now, at whatever stage of the pandemic this is, and that means privileged people with power need to condemn the racist violent barbaric tycoon politics being conducted in our name and exchange it for something genuinely peaceful, civilized, and cultured.