Darrin Foster talks about bridging the divide between suburbanites and downtown Torontonians.
Here’s his municipal politics blog, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke and you can find him here on the tweeters.
Paisley: You’re listening to HeartsnMinds. Creating a better city one conversation at a time. This week, we speak with CitySlikr on what happened after the flood.
CitySlikr: My name’s Darrin Foster and I write a municipal politics blog under the name CitySlikr. The blog’s called All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. The acronym: afuitbs.com.
Paisley: So what part of the city do you hail from?
CitySlikr: I’m a downtown elite. I’m in Little Italy. College and Bathurst area is where I am.
Paisley: Is that the only area of Toronto that you’ve lived in?
CitySlikr: For a good part, I’ve certainly been there in that area for 18 years now.
Paisley: You’re a lifer.
CitySlikr: I’m a lifer. I’m a lifer west-sider.
Paisley: As a community, especially a digital community, I started seeing from a bunch of people like Desmond Cole and I think Cameron McLeod, a few other people, who had tweets talking about how all of the Mayor-bashing is scoring some really easy points off the backs of some of our friends and neighbours and people who live in the suburbs who voted for Ford.
Why are we not working harder?
Why do we have to mock the hell out of them?
CitySlikr: That is problematic and I’m guilty of it some of the time. I’d like to think I was just trying to speak to a larger lack of interest in the Mayor’s part in governance.
I know this is an ongoing thing. This is not new. You’re right, there’s nothing new about that. I think it’s at moments like these when you sort of realize it. And…maybe it’s not the most crucial time for the Mayor to care about governance I guess, because there was very little he could do. I mean, this was beyond his control. But it just…I…
Paisley: And also, you know, I said earlier, which is snarky and mean but maybe it’s just better for all of us that he wasn’t there. Which, you know, and again I’m doing the exact same thing.
So..how do we make this commentary while still being constructive, while still being able to reach out to our neighbours and bridge that divide? How do we make that commentary of ‘he knocked on people’s doors, he can do the small stuff but the big governance, the big..the running of a massive city with diverse needs, he’s nowhere to be found’? How do we have that commentary without mocking?
CitySlikr: Man, if I had an answer to that. If I had an answer…I don’t know. I have a bad habit of responding to the most extreme of the pro-ford elements on social media. I’ve tried my best to ignore them but I don’t know, I’m a bit flummoxed by how if you just talk..I’m even worried about saying the word facts because in some ways that’s become a poisonous thing like my facts are my opinion. It’s not my opinion I don’t think.
We have…you can talk to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities and talk about an infrastructure deficit. We have to spend more and so how do we do that? And as we found with the subways, it’s really hard to get a constructive conversation going because it’s not a free-flow of information going back and forth and I don’t know how to bridge that. I don’t know how to say, look I don’t agree with the Mayor and here’s why I don’t agree with the Mayor. And then, I’m having trouble getting that kind of conversation going that I believe he’s ill-suited, like you said, for the governance of a city of this size and here’s why.
Paisley: I bet if he was a small-town Mayor, I bet he would be amazing.
CitySlikr: Or, the Governor of Texas. [laughter] Again, it’s something I’ve been saying since I started writing about this when he announced his candidacy. He was ill-suited. So, how you get around that? I don’t know if moments like this are something you can use and say look, he just…it wasn’t that he wasn’t there. What I’m talking about now is the city fared okay with this but there’s obviously a lot we have to do and that means spending money and how can we have a conversation about spending money when the Mayor and even some of his supporters, you don’t even need to go to mythical Ford Nation, but Denzil Minnan-Wong the Chair of Public Works, his whole thing is about reducing taxes.
How do we say that’s not working? I don’t know. I guess you try not to mock. Maybe people like me shouldn’t be spending so much time concentrating at the Mayoral level. Not that it doesn’t matter but, if you have a Mayor in place who you don’t think is doing the job then you try and figure out ways to work around that Mayor, I guess. But how you have a conversation, I am at a bit of a loss.
So it’s all about the hearts and minds of the centrists and centre-right. I guess you see a little bit of it, I’ve seen the odd tweet from somebody saying, I saw one today from someone saying I was a big supporter of the Mayor until this, until the flood.
I guess if you can talk about governance outside of the Mayor but it’s hard to do. It’s hard not to talk about the leader of the city, the elected leader of the city when you’re talking about governance. Somehow we’ve got to have discussions about the actual issues as opposed to the personality. But it’s difficult a) because it’s easy, so lazy people like me will take that route. You actually have to talk about the issues.
Paisley: I’ve started to come to this point of well, who cares about the Mayor any more anyway. What I feel will make a change is again, it’s the hearts and minds thing that we were talking about I think, last week where actually going and having conversations with individual people. Encouraging them to engage governance on that small level of here’s how to get your pothole fixed, here’s how to get a playground for your neighbourhood, here’s how to…those small things that frustrate their lives.
So Mammoliti wants to stand up in the council chamber and go off on his, you downtown people are all a bunch of whiners and you get everything and we get nothing. Ok. Maybe I won’t sit down and talk with Mammoliti but let’s sit down and have a conversation with the people in his ward.
I feel like success is addictive. And if we can give people small successes in engaging governance with either the councillor or the councillor’s staff or even just hey, call 311 here’s how to work that system and get the things that you need.
CitySlikr: We heard a theory last week from a colleague that I can’t really do justice to. Somehow what’s happened is that the Mayor has focused these legitimate complaints that people have with how the City’s run and how it affects their lives into a problem with City Hall. It’s a problem with City Hall. And we’ve seen it Councillor Mammoliti’s one, Councillor Nunziata’s another one who loses no opportunity to talk about how their ward has nothing and somehow this is City Hall’s fault as opposed to the representatives of the wards who have been there for thirty years.
And somehow maybe that’s the thing is that you engage them, you engage people at their local levels. What’s their beef? And it’s a conversation that has to happen now. The Mayor’s already in campaign mode. It’s not just the Mayor. It’s the ideology, right? It’s trying to get around these ideological divides that have been set up. Again, I’m not very successful at it but we have to start doing it. Otherwise it just gets cluttered in campaign rhetoric. Nothing really gets solved on a campaign. You settle on who your vote for but the city’s business doesn’t really get solved during a campaign. If anything, the worst instincts, the divisions start to flare up.
Stop talking in campaign mode. Stop worrying about, and this is the other thing too, we stop worrying about who’s running next year for Mayor and the horse race. It’s already started. We spend a lot of time and energy talking about a race that nobody has any idea how it’s going to fall out.
Paisley: On an individual level, start talking about people in neighbourhoods and what their experiences are.
CitySlikr: This is all kind of foreign terrain for me because it’s easier to just sort of sit at my desk and write about the Mayor or just write in the abstract. But you realize and I’ve realized I spend a lot of time preaching to the choir and that’s as bad in many ways as FordFest.
If we engage people constructively they might take an interest and they might vote. I think a lot of people might get turned off by campaign styles that can happen. Given what I’ve seen to be an increase in public interest in the goings on in Toronto, there’s an opportunity.
Could well mean that they don’t vote the way you hope they vote but at least they’re engaged.
Paisley: So what if Ford gets re-elected? If we have people who are engaged at the micro level who vote for Rob Ford as Mayor but what they’re doing in their neighbourhoods is getting their neighbourhoods to work for them and getting their councillors to make good decisions for them as a neighbourhood. Then maybe we win anyway?
CitySlikr: If we’ve learned nothing else from this, from these past three years is that the office of the mayor is, the power of the office of the mayor is limited. He hasn’t controlled the agenda but he hasn’t for a while. It’s laziness on everybody’s part, on the media’s part and I’ll include myself in that, is that it’s the easy race to watch right? It’s the high-profile race and it’s the easy one to follow.
Can’t reach people and talk to people and discuss with people at your desk. I mean, you can if you’re in an office and there’s a bunch of people but I mean by social media. You can’t. I have hoped against hope that it was the case that you could but you can’t.
You have to go out.
We had that experience going to the community centre in Etobicoke a few months ago.
Paisley: Oh man. that was an amazing night.
CitySlikr: Anyway, it wasn’t a big group, maybe 15 people?
So many smart people, while there were some expressions of feeling excluded. And I mean, they were in the far reaches of the city, right? They’re up in Rexdale and they’re the…I gotta get this right.. in the northwest corner of the city.
While there was clearly some dissatisfaction with not having input, not just with this administration but in general the city policies. And this was around youth programs.
Paisley: Yeah, the proposed youth leadership program for kids across the city.
CitySlikr: I’ll just speak for myself, but what struck me was that – it wasn’t just a complaint of being left out and getting nothing in the suburbs, they wanted to be part of the process.
They wanted to figure out and to be part of the solutions of the things that affected their lives.
I don’t think that’s an anomaly. We saw it when went to the thing up in York. They’re building the Metro..part of the Eglinton line I think, the LRT, they’re building the garage out on the old Kodak lands..a garage or storage facility. And again, you saw it, you saw it there. There again, local councillor who never gets anything in her ward showed up briefly but then left but the community was there and they wanted to be a part of the process. And it was a big community. They had a big dinner.
So, I think people want to be engaged but they’re out there and we’re not listening. It’s out there happening.
And we’ve talked about this for a while. We have certain knowledge about how city hall works but it’s from a downtown perspective. But we are afforded the time to go and watch how the circus works. I guess that’s one of the things you go out to the communities and say, we think we can help. Not in a condescending way but we know 98% of the population doesn’t have the time or inclination. And not everybody should feel like they should have to follow this as obsessively as I do. But to make that connection but to say here’s how you can make a difference.
Again, it goes back to your micro-level politics and we’ve been…I’ve been, I’m just gonna say it for myself. I’ve been just caught up in the macro of it because it’s easy, it’s a grand spectacle but I don’t think that’s influencing the people that you want to influence and you want the people you want to engage in the process.
Paisley: Thanks for listening to Hearts and Minds. We’ll be back next week talking transit with Lucas Costello.
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