A photo of Toronto Mayor John Tory.
Toronto Mayor John Tory. Credit: Alex Guibord / https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hitting_the_Hustings_with_John_Tory_(15355394675).jpg Credit: Alex Guibord / https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hitting_the_Hustings_with_John_Tory_(15355394675).jpg

Try toning down the superiority, Ontario. The primeval antagonism between French Canada and Anglos never quite vanishes. There’s self-congratulation outside Quebec for not being racist on issues like religious headgear. But citizenship? In Quebec’s election this month, 66 per cent voted, though the result was obvious in advance. That’s a drop of less than a half per cent from the previous vote, which was a true battle. People there seem to care about democratic process itself.

Ontario’s June election registered only 43 per cent turnout. That’s shocking, even if you don’t think elections are the ultimate in democracy (I don’t). Toronto’s 2014 election saw 60 per cent; four years later it was down to 41 per cent! A young voter — who’s proudly voted at home and abroad since turning 18 — tells me this is “the first election in which I’ve been eligible to vote and had zero interest in voting.” If issues seem to be lacking, maybe that should be one.

What’s noble about quitting politics to spend time with family? Seats are open on city council because members like Mike Layton and Joe Cressy quit to “rebalance” their lives and spend more time with their kids. Go on, dare criticize that!

But why’s it a choice? Don’t both matter? Rebalancing doesn’t mean quitting — it means rebalancing. For her latest film, director Sarah Polley insisted on being able to put her kids to bed every night. So the unions agreed to 10-hour days. It didn’t always work, but mostly it did. You’re a parent and a citizen, balance those! And I think it’s good for your kids to know that you care about them and you care about your community. Each reinforces the other. So struggle with it. Demand more staff; they do lots of your work anyway. “Vote for me, I can reconcile conflicting priorities.” What a concept.

What ever happened to Rail Deck Park? In Toronto, (lack of) ambition has always been a hallmark. We have ONE windmill to generate power down at Exhibition Place. Why not thousands? Rail Deck Park was a thrilling idea — a big, crazy downtown park built right over the jumble of tracks — even if we swiped it from New York and Chicago. Council voted yes, confident that it’d get killed by developers’ influence at the provincial level, as it did.

No one then objected. They moved on to turning parking lots into parkettes. Jeez. I may not vote myself this time. Toronto Mayor John Tory didn’t consider appealing. He’s been a scaredy-cat since at least the time he was a provincial party leader and blew certain victory by backing funding for Catholic schools. But former mayor David Miller also embraced mini-politics, and even John Sewell, way back, opposed patios being open after dark in the Annex. Too noisy. When Chicago’s mayor wanted to settle the jets-at-a-downtown-airport debate, he just sent over bulldozers in the middle of the night and razed the airport. It was illegal. Let the lawyers work it out later.

Should return to work be the big issue? Returning to the office gets treated mostly as a “cultural” matter, argued between the old guard who like going to work and hanging around the (nonexistent) water cooler and young free spirits. Or the tech-savvy who can live online and those who can’t. Or just the freedom zealots versus whoever they feel stifled by.

But what about the actual services? Why do people line up for miles outside Service Canada and Service Ontario offices? Because when you phone in, some newbie (since so many have retired during COVID) looks at a script and, if befuddled, simply makes something up. If they try to get a supervisor on the phone, they often can’t. But if you’re in an actual office, they say “just a minute” and you see them go over to an amiable veteran and get advice based on experience. This is how knowledge is transferred in the workplace: in person. Plus, it puts life on the streets and in the buildings. That can’t hurt either.

This column was originally published in the Toronto Star.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.