Toronto Is Forgetting its Other Problems

If you live in Toronto, I hope you’re almost done laughing about our crack smoking mayor. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but shit ain’t so hot in our city right now. Robbie’s never-ending sideshow antics have eclipsed that little tiny thing he’s here...

May 20 2013, 11:36pm

Protesting the forthcoming diesel train overload in Toronto last month. via.

If you live in Toronto, I hope you’re almost done laughing about our crack smoking mayor. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed—and all bets are on you probably haven’t—but shit ain’t so hot in our city right now. Robbie’s never-ending sideshow antics have eclipsed that little tiny thing he’s here to do, his job, running the city, BEING THE MAYOR.

It’s one thing to laugh at him after he walks face-first into a broadcast camera, or hysterically calls foul on The Star or CBC, this type of shit only causes him harm, but when his grip on the very real job of running Canada’s largest city begins to slip the fallout is tangible. It starts to hurt people.

Let’s start with his ravenous, damning attacks on basically all harm reduction initiatives in the city since he’s taken office. The saddest and most alarming bout of hypocrisy, in light of last Thursday’s drug allegations, would have to be his hateful treatment of drug users and attempts to regulate drug usage in Toronto. Robbie has voted against safe injection operatives, street outreach, drug prevention, and community interest programs. Calling Ford a hypocrite is not new, nor is it news. That said, when our mayor is smoking crack in a basement from a shared pipe, he shouldn’t also be out in public taking it upon himself to wrongly inform the public about who is and isn’t at risk for blood-borne infections. But that’s exactly what he did, along with cutting all programs in place for harm reduction and drug education.

Rob Ford is not a mastermind; he’s a man who is very bad at his job. And yet we are the ones (blame the beautiful weather for our short attention span?) who easily forget his attempts to sell off and privatize public housing. Look at the numbers: 164,000 women, men, and children in 58,500 households across the GTA rely on Toronto Community Housing (TCHC), with an additional 159,965 on a wait list that has, without fail, set a record every month in terms of demand since 2008’s recession. The need for overnight and longer-term shelter beds is clearly only getting more severe, and yet Robbie’s plan to decrease the amount of beds in the city was based off of one night’s occupancy numbers.

Even Sun sports journalists don’t base ratios off a single game. The overall occupancy rate of shelter beds in Toronto is 96%. Toronto has a total of 4,000 permanent beds divided over 57 locations, all across the city. These beds range from all-women accommodations, to coed lodging, to reserved space for women and their kids. What Ford refused to acknowledge is that if you’re a single woman in Etobicoke, say, in need of a safe space to sleep for the night—but the one women’s-only shelter in that part of the city is full—you are left with no other options.

The answer to this crisis is obvious: more beds. Toronto is huge, and our shelter and crisis centres have long been underfunded, understaffed, and under-equipped to meet the demands made upon them. Scrapping a few beds to put some extra dollars in your pocket is cheap, especially when our social workers already have to work extremely hard with marginal funding, while Ford’s blatant attacks against their profession keep on coming. Time and time again, Ford shows his complete ineptitude at running a multidimensional city. The man is in a bubble, and we’re the ones reinforcing it.

Unfortunately Toronto’s marginalized population is not the only casualty of bad government decisions. Metrolinx, an organization created by the Government of Ontario, owns GO Transit, Presto, and the soon-to-be Union-Pearson airport express trains. They’ve taken it upon themselves to construct an Air Rail Link between Union Station in downtown Toronto and Pearson International Airport. A project jumpstarted by the upcoming Pan Am games, it’s set to be completed in 2015.

Currently around 50 trains a day run along the corridor, Metrolinx is planning to up this number to over 450 diesel trains per day, running seven days a week. Diesel is pretty fucking foul, and has been classified by the World Health Organization as a Group 1 carcinogen, sharing that classification with old steady’s such as mustard gas, arsenic, and asbestos. This rail corridor runs through the very densely populated west end of the city—we’re talking 30,000 kids in local schools, 96 daycare centers, and four long-term care facilities just within one kilometer of the tracks. Residents have been scrambling to advocate for immediate electrification of the rail so that they won’t have to suck down diesel fumes for the rest of their lives in Toronto, but their concerns have mostly been ignored.

The longstanding disconnect between municipal and provincial government, especially in Ontario, has always been an issue. That said, Ford has Grand Canyon’d this rift. The dissolution of the OLG board, for one, happened last Thursday night and was all but eclipsed in Friday morning’s news cycle. Ontario’s new Liberal premier, Kathleen Wynne, firing the now-former head of OLG Paul Godfrey might not be electrifying news at first glance—Godfrey even seemed happy about the prospect of more free time to focus on bringing an NFL team to Toronto—but the long-term effects could be quite serious. Privatizing the OLG will affect everyone. For one, the reins (no pun intended re: our devastated horse racing industry) could be handed over to American gambling companies like MGM or Caesar’s, giving away full-time jobs and one of the biggest income sources the province currently has. MGM has already hired two Metrolinx board members as lobbyists. Even if they scrapped Ford’s precious casino, the trickle-down of all this could become somewhat of a torrent.

Rob Ford has shaken up Toronto’s focus on municipal politics. But basically it’s a lot simpler, and more fun, to make jokes about our hilariously unequipped mayor—but it has led us to ignore some very serious issues. We should stop rubbernecking the figurative car crash that is his mayoral run, long enough to focus on other, critical conversations. Torontonians have largely stopped demanding the simple thing we should require from all of our politicians: accountability. Toronto is damaged. It’s not irreversible, but it’s also directly impacting the most disenfranchised members of our civil society as well as our environment. So maybe we should ease up on tweeting Rob Ford jokes and start talking about all this, at least until he outdoes his performance on that illusive crack tape.

Follow Katie on Twitter: @wtevs


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