Release the hounds

One of the many fun things about living on the Danforth is wondering what sacrificial lamb the Conservatives will be tossing to the electorate this time around. Tory candidates in Toronto-Danforth have been drawing around 10–15% of the vote in recent federal and provincial elections, making the continued municipal success of Case Ootes in the northern half of this riding a curious aberration.

This time around, John Tory‘s team drops Robert Bisbicis, a 26-year-old wiz kid fresh out of 8 years at the University of Windsor, among the Liberal and New Democratic wolves of Toronto-Danforth. His bio and position statement is pretty standard Conservative material, but contains this awkward declaration:

Robert is engaged to Amanda Moscar, an actor, singer, dancer who is currently operating her own music studio in the beaches, which she and Robert built together. Robert and his family know the value of the arts.

Combined with assurances that, “he knows that local residents need to keep more of their earned income,” and that “he believes the system needs to change, not the people,” I suppose the statement is meant to allay any fears that a Conservative government may be petty, mean-spirited, or vindictive. I remain stubbornly unconvinced, despite the fact that he’s engaged to an actual artist. Even if they did build the beaches together.

I’m reminded of the 2004 federal election, when I lived in neighbouring Beaches-East York. I posted to a mailing list about my encounter with the Conservative candidate the day before nominations closed halfway through the campaign:

I met the Conservative candidate in my riding (Beaches East-York) today. I’m not sure that “met” is exactly the right word here. He actually chased us half a block down Woodbine Ave. this afternoon, shouting that he just wanted to shake our hands. So we stopped and chatted for a minute. I don’t know about other ridings around the city, but here and next door (Toronto-Danforth), the Conservatives will be hard-pressed to beat the Greens for a very distant third. How distant? Well, at 3 p.m. this afternoon, poor Nick Nikopoulos was still trying to find 100 electors willing to sign his nomination papers. With nominations closing tomorrow afternoon, he’s got his work cut out for him.

Nick did get his nomination papers signed and garnered about 15% of the vote despite running what one prognosticator on the Election Prediction Project called “one of the worst campaigns I had ever seen anywhere at any time.” Robert, you should be so lucky. For Conservatives, these east-end ridings must be like the September roster call-ups in baseball: you know the poor shmucks are going to get the living tar beaten out of them, but you want to give them the experience and judge whether they’re ready for The Show. Some never make it back.

No future in petroleum, 1857 edition

I’m a little behind on my reading, but I couldn’t resist sharing this nugget of prognostication from the May 1857 issue of Scientific American:

We believe that no particular use is made of the fluid petroleum, from the ‘tar springs’ of California, except as a lotion for bruises and rheumatic affections. It has a pungent odor, and although it can be made to burn with a pretty good light, its smell is offensive. This, perhaps, may be obviated by distilling it with some acid; we believe that this is not impossible in this age of advanced chemistry. If the offensive odor could be removed, a valuable and profitable business might be carried on in manufacturing burning fluid from it.

This quote was published earlier this year in Scientific American‘s monthly “50, 100 & 150 Years Ago” feature, where they reprint snippets of interesting stories from back issues of “the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S.” Pungent, offensive, and the basis of the modern world. Seems about right.

Toronto's Best MPP

Toronto’s finest?

Some of Peter Tabuns’s election signs have a curious sticker on them declaring him to be “Toronto’s Best MPP.” I thought at first that someone in his campaign was merely being boastful until Risa pointed out the tiny type that attributes the quote to NOW Magazine last October, barely six months into his first term:

The former Greenpeace director is one of the only voices in the legislature pressing for a provincial climate change plan. He’s also waged war against the Portlands Energy Centre and nukes, while fighting for screen time for Canadian flicks, early childhood learning centres in his ‘hood, same-sex parental rights and the Chinese head tax redress. Can’t wait to see what he does in the next nine months.

Who knew? I’m glad that thanks to the hard work of Toronto’s Best MPP, we don’t have to look at that big ugly Portlands Energy Centre and won’t be getting any more nuclear plants. The air smells cleaner already.

Free rip-off!

Incredible product innovation

The helpful people at CashMoney are offering an innovative new product: pre-paid debit cards. Yes, for just $1.99 to activate the card, $1.99 to reload it, $0.50 per debit transaction, $1.99 per ATM transaction, and $2.50 per month, you can have the convenience of a debit card just like all your friends and “start spending life your way.”

But wait just a minute; “pre-paid debit card?” Isn’t this wonderful and innovative product just like a bank account? When you open a bank account, aren’t you also activating your new debit card? When you withdraw money at an ATM, aren’t you depleting the pre-paid balance on your debit card? When you make a deposit to your new account, aren’t you essentially reloading your debit card?

An average month of 2 deposits, 4 ATM withdrawals, and 4 debits would cost $16.44 with a CashMoney debit card, versus $4 at Royal Bank, $3.90 at CIBC, or $0 at PC Financial. Even if you find yourself in the vicious cycle of payday loans, you’re far better off taking the money and walking across the street to the bank to use their services rather than loading up your CashMoney debit card. Surely it’s not so hard to get a bank account these days that a CashMoney “pre-paid debit card” is filling a legitimate need.

I assume that the “free” offer mentioned on the sign above waives the activation fee, but preserves all of the other fees. MoneyMart also offers a debit card which is just as big a money pit as CashMoney’s.

It’s amazing (not in a good way) that these things are still available in Ontario.

You've got to be Kidding

I know it’s called the Family Coalition Party, but they seem to be taking the name a little too literally. According to the candidate list at Elections Ontario, the Carvalho family will be holding down the FCP fort almost single-handedly with an impressive slate of six candidates:

  • Ajax-Pickering: Andrew Carvalho
  • Scarborough-Rouge River: Joseph Carvalho
  • Toronto Centre: Nicholas Carvalho
  • York Centre: Marilyn Carvalho
  • York-Simcoe: Victor Carvalho
  • York West: Julia Carvalho

Not to be outdone, the Kidd family is running a staggering eight candidates for the same party:

  • Beaches East York: Joel Kidd
  • Don Valley East: Ryan Kidd
  • Don Valley West: Daniel Kidd
  • Parkdale-High Park: Marilee Kidd
  • Richmond Hill: Lisa Kidd
  • Thornhill: Nathan Kidd
  • Timmins-James Bay: Steve Kidd
  • Toronto-Danforth: Michael Kidd

Of the 63 registered FCP candidates  as of September 11,  an unbelievable 22% belong to these two families. A candidate pool that shallow seems kind of creepy to me. It’s a good thing these families aren’t any bigger.

Inspiration in a soft solid

Take the Risk

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I opened up my first package of Degree anti-perspirant, but I sure wasn’t expecting a motivational message. It’s been four days since I let my underarms take the risk and the only thing they’re doing so far is sweating a bit more than usual.

Risa, who’s a long-time Degree user, assures me that there are no such messages on the women’s product. Does Unilever think that men need more motivation than women, or just that we’ll buy any crazy thing that talks to us in the morning? Thanks, I think I will take the risk and buy a different brand next month. Something that doesn’t bring Successories to mind.

Is the Taste of the Danforth in decline?

I wrote an article on Monday for Torontoist about this past weekend’s Taste of the Danforth street festival. The main thrust of the story was that the Taste seems to have lost its focus, becoming just another corporate branding orgy like every other. Some of the comments following my post (and also after BlogTO‘s Taste wrap-up) are illuminating, with the vast majority expressing disappointment with the event. While hardly a scientific poll, it’s the kind of thing that should worry the organizers.

Even the people who half-heartedly defended the festival couldn’t come up with much more than that the event was “pretty meh” and probably “less corpo than the Beer Festival.” These ringing endorsements would look wonderful on next year’s promotional posters. “Taste of the Danforth: We’re slightly less corpo than the other branding orgy in town this weekend.” Or “Taste of the Danforth: Toronto’s meh-est street festival.”

So how does a festival which lives primarily by word of mouth deal with such near-universal bad reviews? If the people moved to comment online at Torontoist, BlogTO, and Chowhound are any indication, returning visitors will be fewer and farther between in future years.

I walked the festival twice this weekend and noticed two things: the crowds, while still huge, were noticeably thinner than last year and the year before; and many more people were expressing their disappointment at the supposed bargain prices ($5 for lemonade?), the crowds, and the general atmosphere. The task of navigating the huge event has become an ordeal to be endured, rather than an experience to be relished.

I was especially taken aback by the fact that the best gyros restaurant on the strip was serving up noticeably inferior product at their booth, presumably because it was outsourced for the event. Their normal delicious gyros was available in the virtually empty restaurant a few steps away. Even the merchants seem to be turning their back on the Taste.

All of the anecdotal evidence above suggests that the Taste of the Danforth is already in decline. There are basically two options for the future: the festival can continue down the current path for a few more years, milking its reputation for every last dollar until the whole thing inevitably implodes (can it be long before they start asking for financial support from the City?); or they can attempt to re-invent the Taste as something that people will actually enjoy once again.

My first suggestion would be to dump some of the high-priced corporate tents and beer gardens in the middle of the street and put in some chairs. People need to sit.

Chernobylesque Part 2

A baseball player is dwarfed by the remnants of Lakeview

Last month’s foray into a Chernobylesque landscape came courtesy of the Portlands Energy Centre near the Leslie Street Spit. Today’s comes from a visit on Saturday to the demolished Lakeview Generating Station in Mississauga, where baseball games in the nearby Lakeview Park are conducted in front of a rather surreal backdrop. Business as usual on one side of the chainlink fence, chaos and destruction on the other.

The piles of rubble from the demolition still loom over everything else within sight, completely dominating the landscape every bit as much as the station did when it was still standing. I guess the cleanup is going to take a while yet.

I look forward to the day when the PEC looks like this. Mississaugans, many of whom waited years to see Lakeview look like this, may soon be looking forward to the day when Lakeview’s rumoured replacement is demolished too.

Mooseter Science

Time Moose Scape goes dumpster diving

You remember the Moose in the City, don’t you? For six glorious months in 2000 more than three hundred moose statues stood watch over Toronto, succesfully saving us from the shame of having flying pigs instead. Although some locals didn’t fully appreciate the fibreglass wildlife, I’d rather have the moose than any of the subsequent visitors to our fair city, including aphids, SARS, and Chilean soccer players.

Rudolph the red-nosed mooseMost of the moose had disappeared by the end of the year, but a few can still be found on display around the city. I recently stumbled upon this poor fellow behind the Ontario Science Centre, covered in dust and jammed up against a wall behind piles of discarded shipping pallets and recycling bins, begging for some dignity in retirement.

Time Moose Scape began life sponsored by none other than the very organization that callously threw him outside like so much trash. Oh, he tried to stay on their good side by getting a new paint job, donning a new suit and bow tie, trimming off his gangly antlers, and even going so far as to have a giant red clown nose surgically attached to his snout. It was all for naught. More enamoured by the latest plastination and big boat toys, Time’s masters cruelly cast the gritty seven-year-old out into the world to fend for himself.

Like any abandoned child, Time has remained close to the only home he’s ever known, scrounging for food and affection in the nearby recycling bins, eventually settling among the empty water bottles and flattened cardboard boxes. But despite the hard turns his life has taken, he keeps a smile on his face. That big red nose could have become a mark of his failure, but Time has chosen to wear it as a badge of courage. It proudly proclaims that one day he will be back among the adoring children inside.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.