Ford's win opens the gates of pro-development hell

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Spooky Halloween costume: Divided Toronto.

People living in vigorous cultures typically treasure those cultures and resist any threat to them. How and why can a people so totally discard a formerly vital culture that it becomes literally lost?

- Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead, 2004

Toronto has been divided and conquered, its downtown core sold for $60, the cost of the vehicle registration tax, for the right of those in the subdivisions to drive downtown with impunity. Good bye road tolls and bicycle lanes.

There is not a single campaign promise that Rob Ford can keep, but loyalty came cheap from those who live outside the subway system, lured by Ford's promise of extending the Sheppard line, and his campaign to end the "war on cars." His electoral promises were flimsy and repetitive, but as former Liberal premier Bob Rae noted, Ford's campaign was supported by the federal Conservative Party, and the hard-sell town hall phone technology developed by the ultra right Tea Party, and used to cull phone numbers from 7,000 would-be voters. Ford had lots of help, and he is paying off his campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis -- the real brains of his outfit -- with the position of mayoral chief of staff at City Hall (see CBC As it Happens' phone interview for Ford's first interview as mayor). 

Rob Ford is the municipal piece of the Conservative puzzle, Tom Hudak, the provincial, and a majority with Stephen Harper would secure the Conservative trifecta for unregulated, rightwing government. Although Ford's "Stop the Gravy Train" platform seemed simplistic at best, it spoke in a crystal clear voice to those who felt that they have been done a disservice by Toronto City Hall -- you will save money under Ford, and you have been wronged by the downtown lefties, who have wasted money trying to establish sustainable transit systems, such as Transit City, and planting trees.

Stephen Harper partied gleefully at Ford's victory party as the Gravy Train will be helmed by his man now -- still a Gravy Train, but run by Big Business on the tracks of unbridled commerce, without restraint, or censure. The Conservatives are using the same penny-pinching campaign strategy in the TV ads for provincial candidate Tom Hudak, citing McGuinty's EcoFee as the culprit. The provincial race could be won for even less than $60, for a tax, although badly conceived, which was revised immediately. How quick people are to form allegiances for tiny, temporary savings.

There was a less known campaign behind Ford's 47 per cent vote win.

Regional developers footed 60 per cent of the bill for Ford's campaign to ensure their future victory in contesting the Places to Grow Act in 2014. The Places to Grow Act was enacted in 2005 by the Liberal government to protect 1.8-million acres that form the Green Belt, including the Oakridge Moraine, and its freshwater aquifers feeding into Lake Ontario, from aggressive subdivision development. This act will become in jeopardy as Conservatives consolidate and contest its growth restrictions to pay back their Ford campaign supporters.

Disastrous environmental policy is not the sole domain of the Conservatives, however. The Liberal's Legislative Framework for Modernization has also undercut the Places to Grow Act. On Oct. 21, the Open for Business Act was passed by the provincial Liberal Party, which ensures exponential environmental degradation as Big Business is permitted to monitor itself, without full disclosure or recourse to the Environmental Bill of Rights on the part of watchful citizen groups, like Lake Ontario's Waterkeepers, headed by the extraordinary lawyer, Mark Mattson.

One hundred small amendments were hidden away to guarantee "competitive advantage" over our right to protect our commons, as part of this modernization act. Mattson sent the provincial government a 100-page defense of the citizens' right to contest major projects through the Environmental Bill of Rights; it was completely ignored. Both parties are culpable for the environmental race to the bottom this electoral year.

What will the new Ontario look like, if Ford and his developer supporters -- which, not coincidentally, include former commissioner for Ontario police, Julian Fantino, as the new Conservative candidate in Vaughan -- have their way?

Developers own thousands of hectares of farm, lakeside and moraine land, protected by the Places to Grow Act, and they are waiting for the full changing of the guard to Conservative so that they can resume building massive tracts of suburban mansions, circumnavigating the act. In the 1980s, my grandfather, who worked in real estate, prophetically called these "the ghettoes of the future."

As Ontario's subdivisions are given renewed license to sprawl throughout the 905 region, they will add thousands of hectares of asphalt for highways to absorb heat, and enable toxic petroleum water to run off directly into the Great Lakes.

In the last three years, massive algae blooms have been seen from satellites in middle of our Great Lakes, a by-product of nitrogen fertilizer from the increasing number of lawns edging around the lakes from exurban development. Much of this fertilizer is used by golf courses, so that a tiny white ball can be better seen against bright green backdrop.

There has been 8.5 per cent loss in the Great Lakes of water through extraction for suburban development and golf courses, which use a staggering amount of groundwater. The Open for Business Act opens possibilities for water exploitation, even as lake levels go down and our population grows.

The cost of the increased infrastructure for this 905 exurban development for water mains, electricity, and highways will be passed on to the taxpayer in the downtown core, as well as increased commuter traffic, although none of these residents are benefiting from these services.

Good bye tax cuts by Rob Ford; this exurban expansion all but guarantees a higher cost of taxation to guarantee developers' profit at civil society's expense, as Ford cuts municipal services. Our streetcars are the envy of municipalities throughout the world, and we are getting rid of them? Why?

When the green belt will no longer be able to naturally cleanse and generate water, its aquifers destroyed by containment, extraction or diversion, development will create a loop in which we are forced to use electricity or gas to do artificially what nature, such as the Great Lakes, or the Green Belt around the Oakridge Moraine, does without human intervention. We have not developed the science or technology more efficient than nature, despite the ridiculous claims of climate engineering scientists. All of these costs to purify water will be passed on to the taxpayer, an additional gift from the developers to the downtown core. And as the Boreal forest in the 905 becomes fractured by expanding highways, it will become prone to disease, just as the Asian pine needle invaded the forests in British Columbia as logging roads cut through their stands.

In 2004, in her last work, "Dark Age Ahead," Jane Jacobs predicted the newly enacted "Legislative Framework for Modernizing Environmental Approvals" with frightening accuracy describing the undermining of the "five pillars of our culture that we depend on to stand firm":

"Bad science is the elevation of economics as the main ‘science' to consider in making major political decisions;

bad governments are more interested in deep-pocket interest groups than the welfare of the population;

and bad culture prevents people from understanding the deterioration of fundamental physical resources, which the entire community depends on."

Any contestation to the Environmental Assessment Act is refuted as a conflict to competitive advantage by the government, and protected by the Freedom of Information Act, and "competitive advantage," so immune to public scrutiny. Jacobs extrapolated from observing the lobbying tactics of Big Business that we would lose our right to protect future generations from asthma, birth defects and learning deficiencies, such as autism, all of which are on the rise, and directly linked to our environment.

It takes seven generations to judge precautionary measures for major infrastructure developments as recommended by indigenous peoples, but it has only taken one generation to lose our farms, our lakes, and our health through bad policy.

On Oct. 27, C-300, a private members bill by Liberal John McKay, which made mining, oil and gas companies accountable for their abuse of human rights and environmental violations, was defeated 134-140 votes in the House of Commons, a vote which the world watched in horror.

This is the quality of federal legislation which the Conservative Party will try to bring down the rungs through their provincial and municipal candidates. By allowing companies to self regulate, we have lost our international reputation, and a place on the United Nations Security Council. Michael Ignatieff did not appear for the vote, to show support for McKay -- and he wonders why the politically engaged do not consider him as a viable candidate?

We will be faced with the same aggressive tactics as the mining lobbyists from developers pushing for urban expansion, and the selling off Ontario's green space, as the 100 amendments in the Open to Business Act whittle away our right to protect our commons -- clean water, land and air.

This is Rob Ford's true Gravy Train, directing profits to his campaign supporters, developers. The rights for self-determination in central Toronto were sold off for $60, and false election promises, to suburban voters in a campaign, which deliberately misrepresented City Hall's state of finances. As Atom Egoyan said, "This city is the envy of the world and we're acting like it's falling apart." I feel a lot less safe riding my bike in this new Toronto.

Provincially, if voters are not careful, we will sell off even more of our environmental rights to penalize the Liberals for the HST, Green Act, and EcoFees, although by supporting Conservative candidates, we will not profit a penny from the profits of businesses to support education, healthcare or community services.

This is the saddest legacy from this municipal election, an aftershock which will reveal itself slowly to those who voted for Ford and will be known as a betrayal, but predicted by those who did not vote for him.

There are dark ages ahead, and I intend to ignore Ford, and support progressive city councillors to enable the City of Toronto to plan itself, and protect the Places to Grow Act, and support the recent UNESCO vote for the international right to clean water and sanitation.

No doubt when the recent verdict on the Places to Grow Act in Pickering is eventually contested, we will see if there are any teeth left in it as it goes head to head with the Opportunities for Business Act.

Co-curator and contributing blogger for The Real G8/G20, Elizabeth Littlejohn blogs at Railroaded by Metrolinx. As a member of the Clean Train Coalition, she advocates for clean, sustainable, electric transit, to democratize transit in the Greater Toronto Area, and believes in the progressive principles of New Urbanism. 

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