As the endless summer stretches out before me like a million patients etherized upon a million tables — in those private clinics that Doug Ford swears are not the beginning of the end of public health care in Ontario — I realize with horror that I don’t have enough entertainment to keep me going until September. Not by a long shot.
All I have is a Kobo e-reader loaded with books, a gaming laptop groaning with pirated Adobe apps, a bookshelf crammed with actual printed books, subscriptions to Amazon Prime, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Toronto Star, The New York Times, Medium (where I am also an author on rainy Tuesdays) and Daily Beast, a pipeline to every movie ever made in the form of a torrenting app and a VPN, sixty-five channels that I follow on YouTube, classes in visual arts purchased from Skill Share and Domestika, a forty megapixel Nikon DSLR and two expensive lenses.
And an iPhone, of course. Not the latest model, but then again, I’m not homeless, what would be the point? My life lacks glamour.
I only have twenty-two cookbooks, a digital kitchen scale and a hand mixer with a dough hook; a digital thermometer so whatever dead animal I decide to eat doesn’t take post-mortem revenge on me in the form of E coli; a microwave that doubles as an air fryer and a regular oven; and a slow cooker with more settings than my mother had on her end-of-life respirator in palliative care, which makes sense, because she couldn’t be bothered making yogurt or steamed rice or twelve-hour pot roast. She was tired.
My mind is a shopping mall, a gleaming, litter-free, air-brushed, privatized version of Downtown, Anywhere, and I wander its pristine avenues with nothing in my pockets but some weird fluff and a bus transfer. The mall shoppers are very determined; they elbow me out of the way as they rush from Williams-Sonoma to GAP to Indigo Books and Music with the focus of dogs who’ve scented a dead pigeon. How do they look so polished? What do they know that I don’t? Even the security guard looks like he got personalized recommendations from Frank and Oak.
I’m at a loss for ideas. I only have a book that I’m pulling together that’s three-quarters done and a month behind schedule, two online stores that haven’t been updated because I’ve been working-not-working on the book, and two laundry hampers full of laundry which might be clean or might be ready for the laundry, so I alternately fold them then just break down and wear them.
And because all I have is this — stuff I’ve had forever, which obviously sucks, I’m fucking bored at levels not experienced since childhood post-Christmas let-down, when I would sit in a trash heap of torn wrapping paper and ribbon, and cards saying, love, Mom and Dad, sick to my soul with guilt because I’d gotten everything I’d asked for.
What is there to do, I whine, and my mother’s unhappy shade mutters, Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about, which, though circular in its reasoning, somehow made sense at the time.
I think I’ll make myself a cup of instant coffee with water from the kettle that’s clear glass and changes color when it reaches the optimum temperature for Nescafe, then chain smoke while staring into space.
Drinking instant coffee and chain-smoking while staring into space and ruminating on my sucky life has been my chosen strategy since the dawn of the millennium, yet I must admit that this has not marvelously morphed into the exciting career trajectory I had envisioned.
That would have required actual application, original ideas brought to fruition through sustained effort, and confidence, but whither confidence in a life filled with yesterday’s sucky toys? Random!
And I know what you’re thinking: Girl you got couch lock baaaaaad.
Thank god today is my Hello Fresh delivery, and I have my two best friends holding me accountable that this week I will open the boxes.
If I read their texts. I mean, I am the CEO of me, right? King of this — wasteland of boredom where I’m forced to cook, then maybe eat, vegan food, all because Shell Oil and Monsanto and Nestle and Meta and Google said,
Who, me? Act responsibly? Clean up my mess? Hmmm… I know, why don’t you little guys do it — I mean, I’d like to help but I’m such a silly klutz I’d probably just get it wrong! Bye-EEE!
then went back to being legal entities who always leave the bathroom light on and run the air conditioner 24/7 and forget to recycle no matter how many times you remind them. What more proof do you need that corporations are actual persons?
Well. Let’s be more precise: Corporations are actual teenagers. They put on a good show when they want the car keys, but don’t be fooled.
Toronto was ready for change. Once described as New York run by the Swiss, Toronto the Good, City of Churches — something for every taste as long as you’re Irish Protestant — Toronto, aka The Big Smoke aka Hogtown, has been looking like it had a rough night, and not because it was partying. A rough night getting beaten up by its greedy pimp, more like.
(Once, in a 12-step meeting, I heard a young woman, a rosy-cheeked recovering alcoholic sporting a tidy print frock that she’d obviously run up herself, and a grandmotherly crocheted shawl, explain how she’d finally realized she was in trouble, which was: One long, white, drunken night around four AM, a crack whore came up to her on Parliament Street and said, Are you OK, Honey? You don’t look so good.)
A peculiar feature of Canadian cities is that they have, constitutionally, no separate existence; they are creatures of the province and by extension the federal government. Though it defies belief, this means that Toronto, Canada’s largest city and its financial engine, has no real sovereignty over its budget; we have few mechanisms for generating our own revenue, the most significant being property taxes. Since there’s only so much you can raise property taxes before the million-dollar home owners start squealing, City Council and the Mayor must then hold out their beggars’ hands to the province and to Ottawa, and pray that they get a sympathetic hearing.
Toronto has had no sympathetic hearing since 1995, and it shows. The nineties marked the beginning of Toronto’s slow decline as one provincial conservative government after another imposed austerity economics, slashing social programs, cutting school budgets, selling off income-generating initiatives like Highway 407 (a toll highway whose revenue could have completely funded Ontario’s public health plan, but which was sold off to a private consortium for a fraction of its value); starving Toronto of resources and at the same time devolving more expenses onto the city that used to be provincial responsibilities.
Now Toronto had to build affordable housing, and support the unhoused with shelters; maintain highways that Torontonians mostly don’t use, find revenue for public transport which we mostly do use; then, as a final punishment, the City of Toronto was amalgamated with its suburbs, skewing every election result to the right as gas-swilling suburbanites who’d never seen a homeless person scoffed at the idea that governments should interfere with the justice of the free market to, you know. Help those poor people who didn’t pull up their socks, or pay for subways and streetcars and the workers to run them. Let them buy monster homes on an acre of prime land!
Hard on the calloused heels of amalgamation came the conservative mayors: Rob Ford, our pathetic, crack-smoking, grifting intro to arguably the most corrupt family in Canadian politics, who vowed to kill the gravy train at City Hall — Americans like draining swamps, we prefer to get all neoliberal by eating our chicken dry — who, after his much-anticipated death, was replaced by John Tory, a pale, Diary of a Nobody, milquetoast kind of guy whose three terms in office yielded their only interesting or useful result when he had to resign last February because of fucking the staff.
Sorry, engaging in inappropriate relations with a female subordinate.
This triggered a by-election for mayor, which took place June 26th. You know how Joe Biden needed a supermajority to be elected? So it came to pass that Torontonians pulled out all the stops with a forty percent voter turnout and opted for a fresh, new direction for Toronto — by electing a politician who’s been around for decades…
This looks like it would be pretty normal, right?
It was heartening to see how consistently the one hundred and two candidates for mayor — yes, you read correctly — grasped the causes of Toronto’s decline and offered progressive platforms to turn this shit around.
Because we are so grown-up we’re practically wearing pull-up pants, we also had our token right-wing churl, just to add the tang of sour to make us grateful for the sweet, the hundred percent pure corn syrup to upend the umami.
Enter Anthony Furey, erstwhile SUN newspaper columnist (the low-brow rag voted Best Medium for Cleaning Your Windows If You Can’t Find A Microfibre Cloth) and even more erstwhile failed actor, in his latest, self-cast role: Aghast Defender of Decent Family Values and All That’s Just Plain Old Common Sense if You Ignore the Data, Also What About the Children?
You can probably write the platform yourself, but for the record:
On his home page, Furey declares, Enough with the status quo. It’s time for a fresh perspective. Well, one certainly couldn’t argue with that sentiment, except possibly that, on examination, his perspective is about as fresh as last week’s Y-fronts.
My focus as the next Mayor will be to enhance public safety, respect taxpayers, and foster economic growth to make Toronto a better place for everyone to live, work, and thrive.
Smell the freshness? Nah, me neither. It’s the tried-and-tested-and-found-to-be-wanting universal conservative platform, the little black dress of right-wing neoliberal policy that gets trotted out and accessorized on every occasion : Lower taxes, tough on crime.
(And unlike all the other top-tier candidates, Furey fails to state even approximate costs for implementing his plan; however it doesn’t take a Nobel prize in economics to figure out that, if he’s cutting taxes, then he’ll also be gutting programs. This is no new direction, just the old one with a zealous new tour guide.)
Feeling unsafe? Don’t waste money tackling the roots of crime (poverty and racism, the war on drug users, defunded school programs, lack of youth programs and support for those with mental illness). Put your budget to work buying bandaids in the form of a visible police presence — armed with tasers —on the subways and streets, five hundred more to be exact.
Turning Toronto into a war zone and treating the marginalized and mentally ill as criminals is apparently “the only way we can have safe streets again.” This includes punishing councillors who have called to “defund the police” by excluding them from the Executive Committee, in a clear bone-throw to the “get the Libs” demographic (disgruntled white ).
Nice collegial way to kick off your imaginary first term, Anthony.
Shaming and criminalizing drug dependent people and ignoring scientific solutions
Hilarity reigns as Furey discovers the existence of harm reduction kits, clutching several strands of Dollarama pearls when “brave whistleblowers” alert him to “City of Toronto” branded “crack pipes and crystal meth kits.”
(Actually they’re branded Toronto Public Health, but as we’re fear-mongering, accuracy is the last thing we need.)
Well, for cryin’ out loud. Is Furey so out of touch that he’s never seen a harm reduction kit?
Yes, friends, your tax dollars are being spent to ensure people who are going to use anyway don’t get nasty infections through sharing gear. The City also provides free Naloxone kits, which can save lives if someone has overdosed on opioids.
(Toronto Public Health is committed to harm reduction, which includes providing free gear and advertising the fact. It’s not a scandalous secret and no “brave whistleblowers” were necessary.
Jeezus Murphy, as I like to shout to a rapidly emptying room. What next, I wonder? “Brave whistleblower reveals— convenience stores sell cigarettes!”)
Even worse, city shelters are “ forced to” give these kits out, and one can only feel a flutter of sympathy for the traumatised shelter staff who were dismayed to find that addictions are rife among those struggling with poverty, hunger and housing insecurity.
Personally, if I had to enter Toronto’s antiquated, punitive, overcrowded shelter system I’d be mainlining smack before the weekend was out.
Of course the fact that there are supervised injection sites at all is to Furey and his fans simply beyond the pale. His plan? Pivot to the mandatory treatment model, which is bound up in the “drug use as a crime issue” track, even though peer-reviewed studies comparing mandatory treatment with voluntary treatment and other options show that outcomes from mandatory treatment show no difference in relapse / criminal recidivism rates. In fact, in many cases, the effects are worse than no treatment at all.
The purpose of safe injection sites is to prevent overdose, educate users and gently nudge them towards voluntary treatment. Toronto Public Health does not encourage drug use; harm reduction models always include the option not to use!
But if you live in de facto gated communities (white suburbs and rural areas) and have never experienced anything more challenging than Uncle Walt putting spinach in his ears at Sunday dinner, the idea of people using drugs is shocking. That’s because we’ve spent decades criminalizing a health and social justice issue, and dehumanizing people by calling them “drug addicts”, thus making them easy targets for white people’s angst and tut-tutting disapproval.
Mandatory drug treatment is dubious from a human rights perspective, and this might be a good moment to remind everyone that, just like free speech applies also to speech you disagree with, human rights are not a special reward given to those whose behavior we judge as exemplary.
Human rights most importantly also apply to those who have fallen outside the system, those we would instinctively revile and shun if we didn’t have human rights codes to remind us that these people are human and their rights are inalienable.
“[t]here is no evidence that these [drug detention] centres represent a favorable or effective environment for the treatment of drug dependence … United Nations entities call on States to close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres and implement voluntary, evidence-informed and rights-based health and social services in the community.”
Joint statement on compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres ILO, OHCHR, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNODC, UN Women, WFP, WHO and UNAIDS. Geneva: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; 2012.
Of course, Furey has to address the fact that he can’t even bring his daughter to the park because of presence of needles (I have yet to see a syringe even in Allan Gardens, possibly the biggest tent encampment in the inner city).
That’s why Furey definitely is going to raze the tent cities and clear out the homeless, because poor people should not be seen or heard. Got that? He’s not appalled about poverty and homelessness, he just hates that he can see how the poor have to live. (Where will they go when he “clears them out”?)
While you ponder that issue for yourself, let’s move on to another issue that’s top of mind for zero people: Bike lanes!
Bikes lanes, Furey would like you to know, are responsible for “longer ambulance response times,” are “ruining businesses”, and even caused the cancellation of Taste of the Danforth. (!) Scratch plans for more bike lanes throughout the city; he will also remove existing ones.
What is this guy smoking and will he agree to mandatory treatment?
The idea that bike lanes are responsible in any way for any of those issues is risible, but read a bit further and you’ll find his real argument is with “fringe activists” that Council just can’t say no to. Bike lanes are a pet project of the looney left, therefore they must go.
I don’t even have the stomach to continue except to say Furey hits all the right-wing talking points, from your tax dollars to woke teachers pushing their agendas.
Be wary of failed actors bearing grifts. They’re so desperate to be liked, they’ll pander to your worst instincts, and I do mean instinct, not reason.
As a final face-palm inducing feature, Furey was endorsed by everyone’s favorite closet-case misogynist ghoul, Jordan Peterson (who significantly calls himself here not a psychologist but an “Author and Lecturer”).
Furey, channeling his submissive inner incel, was, I guess, so besotted by the attention, he included Jorpson’s photo on his publicity.
So here you go, man-children: Tweedle Glum and Tweedle Dumb, Anthony and his faux-butch man-date, glaring at us with their best performative paternal glare, a whole bunch of sound and Furey, signifying nothing but their own wounded egos and dearth of anything approaching intelligence, empathy or imagination.
Let’s Fix This
Olivia Chow was just one of many candidates with a progressive agenda, but she has the name recognition and the charisma and most of all, the track record of getting concessions from municipal and provincial leaders that we needed. Did I mention charisma?
It didn’t hurt that her late husband, Jack Layton, was also a beloved Canadian icon, the leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), and that the two of them had been the closest Canadian politicians get to being a power couple. (Think Bill and Hillary, but without the swampiness. Actually, think Jack and Jackie.)
Olivia Chow, born in Hong Kong, grew up in Toronto just one city block away from where I’m writing: in St James Town, an enclave of 60’s luxury high rises that gradually became a destination for new Canadians (read: immigrants seeking a better life).
Her victory speech included a message of hope: “We live in a city where an immigrant child from St James Town can stand before you tonight as your Mayor.”
The first Asian-Canadian woman to head Canada’s biggest city.
A city with a billion-dollar budget deficit, crowded, deliberately underfunded transit, tent cities of homeless people in the parks; a crisis of addictions; food bank use up sixty percent due to social benefits cuts and stagnant wages, and a ten-year austerity culture of cuts cuts cuts and no new spending at City Hall.
Doug Ford (yes, the brother of Rob) who has continued, as provincial leader, the slash and burn austerity budgets — essentially the state-sanctioned execution of the poor and marginalized — and the rampant selling off of the Green Belt to his developer friends under the guise of “creating affordable housing” was asked which mayoral candidate he was endorsing.
I’m not going to endorse anyone, I’m staying out of that he replied as he stuck a sign in his front lawn endorsing Mark Saunders, a former Police Chief running on the law-and-order balance the budget no new taxes ticket.
And what did he think about Olivia Chow, who from the moment she announced she was in the running had a commanding lead over everyone else?
“She would be an unmitigated disaster!” he replied.
Ford, you see, and his base, referred to as Fordnation, hate Toronto. They hate our “elitism,” that we believe in a common good for the people over profits, that we want progressive policies in our schools, well-paid teachers and strong unions and arts funding and safe injection sites and affordable housing.
We don’t want a city whose social policies are delimited by the blinkered vision and zero-sum, winners and losers ethic of the market.
Cities are by their nature progressive, because cities are where we rub elbows with people who aren’t like ourselves, where we learn how badly we need well-funded transit and a social safety net.
Doug Ford will never understand Toronto. Olivia may be an unmitigated disaster or she may not be. But I’m pretty sure her unmitigated disaster wouldn’t include my local park filled with people living in tents in Canada’s wealthiest city.
That unmitigated disaster is Doug Ford’s to own.