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What to make of us

Our oldest daughter is about to turn 22; the younger will be 20, soon.  Time flies, certainly, but the rapidity with which my babies became girls, then women, staggers me.

When I was young, I didn’t want children.  I assumed the relationship would be strained, so bringing antagonists into my life made no sense.  However, my older brother had two children and I saw, firsthand, the delight they brought him.

I asked him how he did it.  A man of few words, he said, “Be nice.”  Parenting made simple.

Indeed, life made simple.

Susan, my wife, is a calm, patient, kind person, who wanted children.  I knew she’d be a good mother.  We’re the same age, and got married, when we were 31.  We had Erin a year later, in March, 1997.  Bang.  We were parents.

Claire came along 23 months, later.  Bang.  We were a family.  Susan was a mother.  I was a father.  Bang, indeed.

Having children changed, everything.  For the first time, I felt love; deep, profound compassion, concern, and care for something.  I loved my family, my wife, pets, friends, hockey, travelling, Beer, writing…. but the feelings stirred by my girls were unlike anything.

My only priority was, and is, their well being.  To this day, if they are happy, I am.  However, if one is sad, I’m crushed and agonize how to fix it.  A friend, rightly, said, “You are only as happy as your saddest child.”

Susan and I took delight watching them grow up.  Toddler Claire, obsessively picking the fuzz from between her toes, during “gymnastics,” remains a highlight.  I dislike phones and think distracted parents are as negligent, self-indulgent, and irresponsible as absent ones.  “Look at me, Daddy,” has had to be amended to, “Put down that idiotic rectangle, Daddy, and look at me or I’ll grow up angry and resentful, due to a terrible role model.”   EriKa Christakis writes in The Atlantic “the engagement between parent and child is increasingly low-quality, even ersatz.”

My girls have given me purpose and inspiration.  Each got a Fifty; a poem of 50 words.  Knowing how cruel the world can be, they’re shaped to the tip of a mighty pen, or the mightier sword.

—-

Dear Erin

Be the best you can be

Smell the flowers; hug a tree

Look beyond what you can see

Gaze at the sky; splash in the sea

Remember, the truth will set you free

If necessary: go for an eye, nuts, or knee

I love the girl that you call me

Dear Claire

Be nice; sit-up straight

Go outside; play until late

Don’t be afraid of love or of hate

Turn off the lights; lockup the gate

Shoot real straight and pull your weight

Celebrate, create, date, debate, fascinate, skate…

You, my girl, are amazingly great

It doesn’t take psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, scientists, experts, to know children develop into healthy, happy adults, when they are loved and nurtured, ideally, by both parents, and others.  Male role models, fathers, especially, are critical.

I taught my girlie girls to be rough and tumble, to throw and catch, to get up and hit back.  Where my wife would have indulged, I’d say, “Do it yourself.”   Then, watch, teach, help, and cheer.

I have never held back, or changed, around my girls.  I carry on, whether they are with me, or not.  Over the years, many have felt sufficiently entitled to admonish.  “You shouldn’t do that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t say that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t let your kids call you Kevin.”  (My kids call me Kevin.)

I have, and always have had, a great relationship with my girls.

You shouldn’t tell other people what to do.

Throughout evolution, it took a village to raise a child.  Villages, however, have disappeared.  The onus for raising children, then, falls, squarely, on Mom and Dad.  The number of parents, men, especially, who forsake and abdicate the opportunity and obligation to raise their children is as well documented as the tragic outcome.

Children face another, less discussed, obstacle. There are a growing number of parents, who regret having children. This is a quote from an article in Macleans, “The reality of motherhood is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”

My wife said, “She doesn’t speak for me.”  We agree, nothing could have been more rewarding, fascinating, satisfying, and life affirming, than our girls.

Take my “career,” my house, my money, my stuff… take it all and burn it to the ground.  I don’t care.  If Erin and Claire are fine, I’d still have everything I’ve ever loved.

The western world is richer than ever; abundance abounds.  I don’t know what to make of a privileged society, which neglects, regrets, and resents its own children.

I, really, don’t.

Barbados Journal Nov 2018

I now have a rooster. Our gardener brought him to us to protect our hens. But he doesn’t give the normal cock-a-doodle-doo when the sun rises, instead he crows at 3am and it sounds more like err-accck-er- errr.  Although scrawny, he is a proud and ambitious rooster. He is scared of just about everything in the yard, but chases the young hens incessantly and pecks at them if they get too close to his food. I’ve tried to tell him to be gentle with them, but he is consumed with the arrogance and vigour of his youth.

The hens are maturing nicely, no longer cute little chicks they are growing feathers and their own personalities. There is a natural leader I’ve named Delilah, she is always first out of the hen-house in the morning. For fun she chases the mourning doves around the yard, and when the rooster (I’ve named Doug) gets too aggressive with the other hens, she will come to their rescue and get a few good pecks in at him.  The others hens tolerate Delilah because they need a leader, but her exuberance for life upsets their conventionalism.

I bought my first car with a right-hand side steering wheel.  It’s a pea-green Kia Soul and there are only a handful on the island. We discovered that one belongs to the math teacher at our kids school .   We call him Captain Holt because he reminds us of the character on the t.v. show Brooklyn99. He likes things just so and always parks his car perfectly between the lines on the tarmac. For some reason my husband and I have had the same desire to park our car directly beside his whenever we come into the school parking lot. They look so cute together and I’m trying to think of ways to amp it up a bit. Thinking of getting them matching outfits, maybe a bow for one and tie for the other. I’m a bit worried I’ll run out of ideas, but the kids are a great help. 

Barbados is filled with so many stories and so much beauty. When you turn a corner you never know what you might find. To date we’ve come across: a huge pit in the middle of the road that was later filled with a mound of rocks; a goat; a breathtaking view of the Atlantic ocean, a drunken man wielding a machete getting slapped in the head by an old man who took away the large knife and sent him on his way, oh and some adorable puppies.  In the parking lot of the grocery store I stood in awe while watching  the magnificent frigate birds soar and diving into the ocean. 

 

The beauty of the morning sun on a field glistening with dew can take your breath away. And the sunsets that stretch over the sky, painting it shades of red and orange that move over the clouds has become our evening television.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to get away from Toronto politics. The pecking order there reminds me of the hens in my yard – those who challenge the status quo are natural leaders in turbulent times, and they withdraw when times are calm. But there are always predators who circle in the shadows feeding off the droppings. Going 2000 miles away has put things into perspective, from a distance Toronto is much smaller.

The tourists have started to come to the island. The main beach highway is now busy and the grocery store is filled with people wearing bathing suits and flip flops. They seem so incongruous in a country where sleeveless blouses aren’t allowed in government buildings. The radio ads that promote the tourism industry repeatedly telling people that roads, water and yes even the air we breath “is tourism” have, thankfully, stopped. I was hoping the grocery stores might get a bit more consistent in what they offer, one week you can buy lettuce but then it’s gone for the next two.  I haven’t found green beans in 2 weeks but did find some President’s Choice salsa this week. Although with Tostito’s scoops priced at $23.95 a bag, it’ll have to stay in the jar until the local nachos appear on the shelves again.   I’m hoping there might be real cranberry juice instead of the sugar filled juice blends – but I know that might be a stretch.

The art-eco centre boutique hotel project I’m working on is being met with so much support and positive feedback that I was a bit surprised. One large plantation owner offered to give his 400-acre plantation as an investment in the project – but alas it has not ocean views!   I have found that the people here are well educated and want to build their community. Like Canada there is a mix of many cultures and the local Bajans embrace them all. Although people recognize the economic importance of tourism there is a desire to push Barbados beyond being completely dependent on it. 

I’m learning what it is like to be an “expat.” You become part of a community of people all adjusting to a way of life that is quite unique and different than what many are accustomed to. Everything here is slower, and some people let that frustrate them. The rural lifestyle blends into the urban areas – so that you can drive down the main highway  and see a cow feeding in the ditch between the warehouse and the road. Or walk along a busy street among people – and chickens.  Expats choose to be here, and unlike living where you were born that choice inspires more commitment. I’ve also found that expats are in the most part friendly, positive and adventurous people.

Every Tuesday there is a party at the local rum shop just down the hill from us. We sit by the pool listening to the crickets and whistling frogs, and can hear the music wafting up to us. They play old 70s songs, Rupert Holmes – If you like Pina Colodas, and now John Denver – Take me Home Country Roads. The words make me think about all the roads I have travelled and I realize that home isn’t one place, it is the space that Greg and I create with our family and friends.

Contract between Saudi Arabia and Canada ‘frustrating’

With the revelation of the killing of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in Saudi Arabia’s consulate, Turkey, there is increasing pressure for Canada to cancel its contract for sale of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while Canada has condemned the killing of the journalist and is not afraid to freeze permits on arms exports, the contracts that bind them to supply LAVs to Saudi Arabia are very difficult to break.

Speaking to Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Tuesday, Trudeau explained that the way the previous Conservative government negotiated the contract made it very frustratingly difficult to suspend and prevented disclosure of conditions.

“The contract signed by the previous government, by Stephen Harper, makes it very difficult to suspend or leave that contract,” Trudeau said. “We are looking at a number of things, but it is a difficult contract.

“I actually can’t go into it, because part of the deal on this contract is not talking about this contract, and it’s one of the binds that we are left in because of the way that the contract was negotiated.”

Germany  has already stopping its arms sales in light of the incident and other countries, and  are working to figure out what kind of diplomatic and economic pressure could be applied to Saudi Arabia to make it clear that the apparent murder of the once Saudi royal family insider within the walls of the Saudi embassy in Turkey is unacceptable.

The world has of course noticed that Canada, which has had a very serious rift with the kingdom, beginning earlier this year, when the government publicly criticized the arrests of women’s rights activities, is still sanctioning the military deal.

While Trudeau said the government was not afraid to suspend military export permits like they had in the past, he explained that this contract could have more of a back lash on Canada and they were doing their due diligence with looking into the matter.

“I do not want to leave Canadians holding a billion dollar bill because we’re trying to move forward on doing the right thing. So we are navigating this very carefully and that’s pretty much all I can say on that.” said Trudeau.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has made it very clear that Canada condemns the killing of the journalist and that the Saudis’ “explanations” of the killing of Khashoggi “lack consistency and credibility.”

She has also agreed with the federal government’s call for a thorough investigation in collaboration with Turkish officials, demanding a full and transparent investigation.

“We are gravely concerned by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” she said. “We do not find the explanations that have been offered to date to be credible or consistent. That is a serious problem for Canada.” She said.

However, while the Opposition is calling for government to invoke the new Magnitsky law  which gives the government the authority to freeze Canadian assets of foreign individuals who have violated human rights, to sanction those responsible for Khashoggi’s death, there is as yet no concrete word on whether that is the course Canada will take.

 

Barbados Journal Oct 2018

I have spent the past month learning a great deal about Barbados, and myself. This month I discovered that selecting “allow dirt roads” on your GPS is a big mistake in Barbados.

It all came about on a beautiful sunny morning. I was driving the kids to school and a house fire on the main road had traffic backed up for miles. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the island and I’d grown fond of discovering new sights around every turn.

On a small island like Barbados one would think it hard to get lost… but the island is filled with roads and cart paths that run over all kinds of terrain. And in the wet season (September to November) they fill with mud and clay. The problem is that the cart paths show up on GPS apps as dirt roads, even when they are little more than tractor paths through banana fields. Combine this with a glorious sunny morning, an open road in front of you, and the kids singing “Country Roads” in the back seat and it’s easy to feel invincible.

As I drove along the heavily pot-holed pavement, the road turned into a dirt cart path, and I didn’t listen to that small voice in my head whispering – ‘STOP!’. The view was amazing; we were driving along the edge of a mountain with a steep cliff edge to our left and the mountain rising up on our right.

It had rained the night before and I began to worry when the car started sliding. The road was narrow and the drop steep. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the wheel. The car rounded a corner and I could see that a few meters ahead the steep cliff turned into a gently sloping hill, but the car starting sliding towards the edge of the cliff just as I rounded the corner, and I nervously gunned it along the path praying we’d make it to the hill. Luckily we got there and I thought about turning around but didn’t want to face that slippery corner again. So I kept going and drove the car straight into almost 3 feet of clay that had filled a dip in the cart path.

I looked down at my silk pants, white top and high heels and realized I might not make it to my morning meeting and the kids would miss school.

My son and I put sticks and branches under the tires and after about an hour of trying we rocked the car out of the big mud pit (with half of it all over us). I found a small promontory to turn the car around and slowly headed back to the main road. Getting out of the mud was satisfying, but I was taking it too slow and became stuck again. This time we were on an upward slope and there was no way that my son and I could rock the car out. Luckily some men had arrived to work in the fields and immediately offered to help. They easily pushed the car out and around the corner to the paved road.

The whole time this fiasco was going on my daughter was sitting in the back seat, taking picture and pointing out how beautiful the view was. When finally arrived back at the main road she commented “Mum you always find a way to make a perfectly ordinary day turn into an adventure.” And that is how I hope they view every stupid thing that I do!

I have noticed that I am beginning to lose some of the terribly selfish driving habits I picked up in Toronto. Here ‘Bajans’ drive slow and easy, if they see a car wanting to cross the highway, they will stop to let them pass. They are kind. It’s unsettling if you’re from Toronto and driving far too quickly behind them, but over time you slow down and start to realize that being kind, and offering that public gesture, is important. I used to think that people are drawn to Barbados because of the slow pace, but I realize there is much more to it. The people here have grace and they cherish it. I hope a little of that grace rubs off on me.

Barbados is a beautiful country but it is the people that make it a terrific place to live.

Legal cannabis in Canada has wild reactions

On Wednesday, Canada did what it said it would and became the largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace, joining Uruguay to become the second country in the world to nationally legalise cannabis.

To the surprise of no one, sales began early Wednesday in Newfoundland with hundreds of customers lined up around the block at St. John’s by the time the clock struck midnight.

The atmosphere could only be described as ‘festive’  with some of the customers too excited to wait until they returned home, lighting up on the sidewalk and motorists honking their horns in support and they drove by the happy crowd.

Ian Power will go down in history as one of the first in line in the private store on Water Street to buy the newly legal national marijuana in Canada however, he told reporters that he has no plans on smoking it, instead he will frame it and hang it on his wall to be saved forever.

“Prohibition has ended right now. We just made history,” said the 46-year-old Power, who bought a gram. “I can’t believe we did it. All the years of activism paid off. Cannabis is legal in Canada and everyone should come to Canada and enjoy our cannabis.”

There was even more good news for cannabis aficionados, as hours before any retail outlets were opened, it was revealed that Canada would be pardoning all those with convictions for possessing small amounts of the drug up to 30 grams.

News of Canada’s firm decision to begin a national experiment that will alter their cultural, economic and social fabric in was met with calls for other countries to follow suit, expression of envy over Twitter and some backlash from other countries who are not willing to decriminalize the drug.

“Canada shows the way. When will the UK end the catastrophic prohibition of cannabis?” tweeted British MP Norman Lamb.

“Now that our neighbor to the north is opening its legal cannabis market, the longer we delay, the longer we miss out on potentially significant economic opportunities for Oregon and other states across the country,” said  Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon in a statement, urging the U.S Government to follow Canada’s lead.

However just as there were thousands of excited tweets coming in, there were those who expressed their distaste with the legislation.

One such instance came from the citizen group the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which said Canada had declared a winner in the war on drugs, tweeting,  “Congratulations Drugs. Better luck next time public health and saftey [sic]”.

The U.S has set up its own wall against the legalisaiton of the plant based drug by revealing that those who use marijuana legally in Canada could be banned from entering the country for smoking a single joint.

On the eve of Canada’s big day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection executive assistant commissioner Todd Owen told journalists, “Admission of illegal drug use are grounds to be found inadmissible into the United States.”

“It’s now legal in Canada, so a lot of it comes down to … whether the officer believes they may engage in the same activity while in the United States,” he said. “If somebody admits to smoking marijuana frequently in Canada, then that will play into the officer’s admissibility decision on whether they think on this specific trip they are also likely to engage in smoking marijuana in the United States as well.”

There are still many things that have to be resolved around the national legalization of the drug, including health and public safety as well as the threat of addiction and the effects it will all have on young people, including social pressure similar to what many already experienced with alcohol use.

 

The slug, the chicken, and the monkey

It is the rainy season in Barbados – which means an hour or so of rain until the sun comes out. And everyone watches the long-term weather forecasts to see if a hurricane might develop off the coast of Africa. We’ve had rain on and off everyday sometimes a brief shower in the afternoon and other times there is a heavy downpour during the night.  This morning there are huge snails and slugs that littler the paths around the house. The slugs are about 4 inches long and the snails are the size of tennis balls and I’m getting used to treading carefully.

Between the plantation house and the carriage house is a small courtyard, in the sunny afternoons it fills with white butterflies. There is a surreal almost magical feel to it, but the plants around it are being decimated by all the caterpillars. So I’ve been thinking of ways to get the caterpillars off the plants without killing them.

Last week I picked up a book titled “The Right way to keep Chickens.” I thought it would be a funny read. But I’m now totally getting into it. I’ve learned that there are the broiler chickens (the ones you kill to eat – which the city girl in me just can’t do) and the laying chickens (which would provide us with fresh eggs).  The free run chickens are the healthiest and happiest, but they need a safe place to sleep at night. This has me thinking about the chickens in the park in Speightstown – they sleep in the trees at night and walking along the board walk you can hear them cluck above your head. The roosters strut around acting like their protectors, but the minute there is any danger they are the first to run for the trees.

I’m thinking that if we want our eggs in tact we’ll need to build a hen house.  

I find myself doing the weirdest web searches. This morning I searched “Do chickens eat snails?” The answer is yes. And the added bonus is that they also eat slugs.

I’m thinking it’s time we buy some chickens.

I find myself doing the weirdest web searches. This morning I searched “Do chickens eat snails?” The answer is yes. And the added bonus is that they also eat slugs. 

Slugs can be predators

There are huge slugs in the garden and my web search found that some are predators and they eat other slugs, snails and worms.

I wonder what the monkeys in our yard will do about the chickens – and yet another web search begins. The first thing to pop up is an old Chinese idiom ‘Kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” Which means to make an example of someone in order to threaten others. I think of the power plays that go on in the world of politics. And the ugly type of people who would actually use this tactic. I can’t help reflecting on a man who tried to destroy my credibility last year. He reminds me of slug, he’s a slimy predator who pretends to be meek. But he goes after women wanting access to his television show. He has groomed his audience and those around him to think that he’s pure and innocent, but in fact off camera he chases after married women collecting his conquests as trophies.  He tried to destroy my credibility in order to scare other women from stepping forward. But I know that eventually the truth gets out. The world is changing and these old political strategies are beginning to fail.

The Chinese zodiac reads that I was born in the year of the monkey and that people born in this year are “lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile. In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life.” This has me hooked and reading on: “They may achieve success and earn a lot if leaving their hometown; but they may also spend a lot.” Wow this seems to have been written for me today! It also reads that those born in the year of the monkey can be selfish and arrogant.” I must watch myself and guard against this. Okay enough web surfing.

The roosters are crowing, it’s time to start the day.

Toronto’s affordable housing scandal

 

What do you get when you hold housing development back, add millions of dollars in development charges, and layers of red tape to the development process? A housing shortage.

It isn’t rocket science, and yet city planners and politicians keep blaming “greedy” developers for housing affordability issues rather than evaluate their own flawed systems. The truth is that Toronto’s urban planning department has expanded their power and authority and in doing so they have added so much complexity to the project approval process that instead of taking the regulated nine month timeframe, development projects often don’t even get looked at for at least a year, and the entire approval process from start to finish can take between 4 to 6 years.

Toronto is just seeing the beginning of the housing crisis. With such a bloated approval process and no certainty on the costs associated with development, home builders have become wary of building in Toronto.

The fact that the city has more than doubled development charges over the past few years has added huge costs to the underlying price of housing. Take for example the square foot cost of building a condo. Add the cost of the land, construction, development charges the city imposes as well as the cost to borrow money to pay for construction, and developers could reasonably estimate the square foot cost they needed to charge their customers. However, Toronto refuses to standardize development charges to the point where one building might be required to pay much more than another directly beside it.

In other cities like Ottawa the development charges are posted so that every builder knows what they need to budget for in order to develop a project. In Toronto the development charges are not advertized because the city is constantly adding new ones, with the most recent addition in May of a transit development charge that has yet to be specified. Constantly adding fees every few months to development charges doesn’t allow a developer to know what their costs are going into a project, which in turn significantly increases the risk for investors and for home buyers – with many learning the condo they put money down on a year ago is no longer being built. This uncertainty has a cost and all costs get added to the initial price of a home. Yet the city Toronto refuses to come up with published rates for development charges that developers can rely on when costing their projects.

The fact that Toronto’s development approval process has bloated from nine-months to six years is good news for current homeowners as the shortage of housing will see home values increase significantly, but over the long term property taxes will need to increase dramatically to cover the operating cost of a large city and push middle class families out of the city.

There are a few quick fixes the City of Toronto must make in order to encourage housing affordability.

First reduce the amount of red tape involved in the development approval process.

Next stop city planners from pretending to be architects. They should not be deciding the design of a building (or the colour of a wall!) those aspects of design should be handled by educated designers and architects – they belong in the private sector. The job of Toronto’s city planners must be curtailed to encompass safeguarding that buildings meet the building code and the official plan. It’s time to focus on the fact that glass is falling out of buildings because city staff were sidetracked by more prestigious ambitions and not doing their job of safeguarding the public. The less design work city staff do, the more efficient the planning and building departments will be. As things now stand, city staff have grabbed far too much power and our taxes are paying planners to play at being architects and designers. It’s a waste of time and money that is distracting them from doing their job.

The leadership at Toronto planning over the past five years was a grab for power. Now that former chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat has set her sites on bigger ambitions it is time for the city to get planning staff back to focusing on their core job of being wardens over the designs brought to them.

Icy hot: Time to end the pain of climate change

 

Living in Toronto, it can be easy to tune out climate change because it still has not affected us nearly as much as it has other parts of the world, like the islands in the Pacific, which are literally sinking because of rising sea levels. Toronto does not have a hurricane season that has proven to be coming back worse and worse each year. However, the lack of an extreme weather event does not mean that the city is not affected. The first September long weekend being the most recent example with its record-breaking high temperatures.  It is important to realize that these severe and unpredictable weather events happening elsewhere will be on the city’s doorstep eventually. Turning a blind eye to the weather events caused around the world by climate change will only serve to harm Toronto.

Torontonians can look forward to much hotter and longer summers as well as more flooding. The city is already known for its at times unbearable humidity that makes 27 degrees Celsius feel like 35. The humidity will only continue to increase according to a climate change study done by SENES Consultants Limited. Every summer will get hotter and wetter. Torontonians are already used to a couple of heat waves during the summer, but eventually this will just become one long heat wave. Climate change is not just about increasing temperatures, hence the reason the term has evolved from global warming into climate change. Toronto will be affected in a number of ways beyond increasingly hotter and longer summers.

In the beginning of August, Toronto had some very dramatic rainfall, which in turn led to really bad flooding that even caused a power outage. This will become a much more regular occurrence according to the same climate change study predicting that Toronto will be getting hotter. Not only does flooding cause massive delays, it also does extensive damage to the city’s infrastructure, which ultimately means that climate change is going to be a very expensive problem falling on the taxpayers. There needs to be viable long-term solutions to the issue that the city is facing. Fewer cars and more bikes on the road would be a great place to start.

It is not only Toronto’s summers that are going to get worse. Even though the city’s winters are getting milder, the climate change study predicts that ice storms like the one in December 2013, which left half the city without power for days, will also increase. Ice storms are extremely damaging and scary, and anyone who experienced the one in 2013 in Toronto knows that well. The weight of climate change on the city and its resources is only going to get heavier. Erratic weather events will make it harder to lead normal lives. A severe ice storm  puts everything at a standstill and the city has to pour enormous resourses into mitigating the situation.

This past summer has provided direct empirical evidence of the damaging effects of climate change. From the record-breaking high temperatures to the flooding, there can be no denial that while Toronto is not suffering as much as other nations under the weight of climate change, the city is affected. Climate change is going to be a very expensive problem for the city to solve. The more  people are aware of how it will directly affect their lives, perhaps the more willing they will be in trying to do their own part to minimize their carbon footprint. In a city of almost three million people, everyone doing just a little bit would translate into a lot. What kind of city do the citizens of Toronto want to leave to future generations, a hot, smoggy, flooded one?

Seth Rogen’s rocket: sound advice from a comedy star

I am on the platform waiting for the train home and after the ritual ding-dong sound that comes before an announcement, I hear “Hello TTC customers! Seth Rogen here, fellow Canadian and public transit user. I always hold the door for my mother because she raised me right, but holding a subway door for her would get me in trouble. I don’t need the hassle or the delay, so leave the doors alone!” This is one of the 13 messages being aired by the TTC to remind riders that there is an etiquette even when taking the bus or train.

After the successful experiment to utilize Seth Rogen’s voice in Vancouver by TransLink to give tips on transit riding etiquette and courtesy, it’s time for Torontonians to be entertained and educated while using the TTC. As Rogen himself announced on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon “Toronto got in on the action as well. They got jealous.”

Since the beginning of August, TTC riders have been entertained by Rogen’s hilarious friendly scolding announcements like, don’t clip your nails, don’t eat your dinner on the train and other gross enough bad habits. Yes, apparently people do it enough to require such reminders. So, let’s see how effective this experiment will be in helping “create decorum” as Rogen puts it.

In a public statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory’s comment on the move is an “example of how we’re moving the TTC forward in new and innovative ways.”

Although some TTC customers would had expressed a preference for someone morel local, such as Drake or Mike Myers, Rogen with his voice and the unique laugh, and more importantly as a fellow Canadian, he is a fitting choice and close enough to my backyard! And he grew up taking the public transport, he cares about better manners displayed in public and he is not getting paid for it.

On the website, the TTC “thanks Seth for his time and generosity in this fun and unique project. We also thank our customers for doing their part in making riding the TTC a more positive experience for everyone.”

Did ambition hurt Smart Track?

A group of colleagues and I set up the Transit Alliance back in 2011 to educate the public on the need for dedicated transit funding and transit development. We believed that transit development was suffering because politicians used it to garner votes, but few bothered delivering on their promises. Our goal at the Alliance was to keep transit development in the public eye, so politicians couldn’t slink away from it. By keeping the level of discussion around transit constant, the public would demand development. We started the discussion on dedicated transit funding, we worked on building support on the use of tolls, and we advocated on the need to build the Relief Subway Line.

As I look back over our work, I realize that our biggest challenges came from politicians who tried to use transit as a stepping stone to power. Politicians, who created controversy over what and where transit lines should be built, were actually delaying the development of transit across Toronto. For example the Eglinton West subway line broke ground in 1994, but was cancelled with the tunnel filled in by Premier Mike Harris in 1995, to the horror of transit development experts around the world.

Political candidates (desperate for power) continually throw out transit plans that will garner the most votes. But transit is a complex issue and planning it properly to meet with population and density growth should be left to educated experts not campaign teams. Unfortunately, in Toronto few politicians listen to the experts.

In 2014 Mayor John Tory came out with a transit plan that was put together by some of the best transit experts in North America. Their focus was to create a transit plan that would help not just Toronto, but the entire region. And knowing the political road blocks likely to happen along the way, my guess is that they created a plan that asked for much more than what is essential, as politicians and public servants would invariably widdle down the plan over time. Mayor Tory’s Smart Track plan lived up to its name and was a smart plan for the entire region. Tory pointed out that the Relief Line was the highest priority subway line, but he also knew that the connections that moved people across the region were key to a strong transit network.

What many don’t realize is that politicians rely on public servants to deliver on their plans. Mayor Tory relied on his former chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat to figure out how to deliver Smart Track efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to do it and seemed to have stalled the process. I’ve grown to admire and respect Mayor Tory. But I know him well enough to know that he would never point this out.

Today I learned that Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner, is now blaming Mayor Tory for her failure to deliver Smart Track. Her lack of willingness to take responsibility for her failures is shameful. But to blame Mayor Tory for her lack of success makes me wonder if she might have actually worked to hold it back? As chief planner, she could have added multiple layers of red tape, she could have delayed every aspect of the planning process around Smart Track and undermined the entire project.

I remember a dinner the Transit Alliance hosted with Jennifer Keesmaat as our guest of honour back in 2015 when she was Toronto’s chief planner. Keesmaat spoke about how great the Smart Track plan was and how it would help relieve gridlock in and out of the city. After dinner, I suggested that she should go into politics, that she might gain a lot of support. Her response – “Why do you think I’m here?”