I want to apologize to everyone in line at the Gladstone Hotel last night for, what Kate (who arrived too late) dubbed, "the PWYC Cultural Event of the Season". Jane Jacobs, pioneer of progressive urban planning theory and David Miller, the most un-nauseating of the mayoral candidates, were both present, as were some notable local celeb panelists, including Daniel MacIvor and Nino Ricci. (Michael Ondaatje was at the bar. He is devilishly handsome).
But back to the apology: there was simply no one managing the lineup, and when the rows merged, I went with the flow. I think that people who arrived before me did not get in, and I am sorry. Welcome to civic politics.
For you non-Torontonians (of whom the pony audience seems to comprise), our city is a bit fragile these days, after SARS and West Nile. We are also feeling a bit defeated and stunned after being amalgamated into a megacity and then having funding stripped away and costs simultaneously downloaded. We also watched our twice-elected mayor spiral into insanity to the point where the press seemed to be reporting more on sketch comedy troupe than City Hall.
We have the largest city in Canada with the highest influx of immigrants and the oft mentioned title of "most multicultural city in the world". We have green parks and theatre festivals, and bike paths and low crime.
We are perched on a glorious great lake that is unswimmable, we have garbage we ship to Michigan (and outdated recycling programs), we have a waterfront flanked by an expressway and dominated by cheaply-built condos, and a swelling population of homeless. We have air quality that forces asthmatic children indoors on summer days. I could go on...
We are also the commerce capital of Canada, which means that you can guess at the direction the political wind blows: In the past few years, we have seen a steady erosion of public services and an increase in cronyinsm that came to a head with a notorious computer leasing scandal.
We, who live in Toronto, have a reputation as being kind of obsessed with work and money. The first question you get asked upon meeting someone is: "What do you do?" Which is why the majority of candidates get away with calling us "taxpayers" instead of citizens. Sorry about the soapbox here, but while fiscal issues are paramount, we've gotta keep in mind that we are not looking for Toronto's CEO. We are looking for a mayor. You can't "lay off" citizens for not having good ROI.
The "media" was present last night for Trampoline Hall, a lecture series that usually features lectures on topics on which the orator has little or no knowledge. Last night, however, the series embraced expertise, in the name of mayoral politics. It was a Miller and Jacobs love-in. In the audience, I saw local journalists, playwrights, actors, anchormen and filmmakers - you name it. It was a "who's who" of arts and media, and it was a bit nauseating.
But Jacobs was like Yoda, with her ancient, beaming face, her measured, wise utterances and hilarious, anachronistic ear horn.
"Enough with the culture of of helplessness," she said. "Now that we are no longer worried about being a world class city, we can think about who we want to be."
In answer to a young activist who asked the requisite question about "engaging youth", Jacobs twinkled and said: "I don't think it is the place of one generation to tell another how they should conduct themselves....Pick an cause that is important to you. Something that makes you angry. And work on that cause to effect change." (I am paraphrasing slightly, as I had no recording device. Anyone want to buy me a minidisc recorder?)
David Miller, holding his pint of beer, standing tall and swaying, and channelling the persona of the enraged populist, was compelling. For some reason, he brought to mind a Kennedy. He was surrounded with a room of adoring fans. He spoke "our language". For moments at a time, I was struck with the feeling that he was a true visionary who could lead the march to a more liveable city, free of the "backroom deals" and corporate doublespeak. But am not one to tolerate such bombastic sentiments, and privately diffused them, trying to maintain critical poise.
I will vote for David Miller. I know we hear what we want to hear, he says what we want him to say. It is his job to embody the desires of his voters he is addressing, and, finally, there was certainly a patina of "sticking to the message" to him (and he could have leaned over more to hard-of-hearing Jacobs to reiterate what had been said). But he is the only candidate who is not afraid to diverge a bit from message and to engage the public in the discussion of ideas.
Were you there last night?