Doug Holyday and the role of council

So the big story is Doug Holyday’s belief that downtown is no place to raise children. Others have already shredded his nonsense, none more succinctly than when Josh Matlow voiced the exasperation on everyone’s minds: “Are you serious?” Surely this is how Buzz Aldrin feels when asked about moon landing hoax theories; when confronted with such ludicrous statements, how can you begin to formulate a reasonable response? Why even try?

But I think the media is missing the real story expressed in Holyday’s statements. Quoth the Star:

Holyday responded: “Well, I certainly think it’s really not the ideal place that people might want to raise their families. But on the other hand, if they do, I’m willing to leave the choice up to them, councillor. I’m not going to dictate to a developer that they must provide 10 per cent of their units in the three-bedroom form when there may or may not be a market for it.” [Emphasis mine.]

The important part isn’t the first or second sentence, it’s the third. Doug Holyday, city councillor, deputy mayor, and former mayor of Etobicoke, doesn’t think it’s his (and by extension, city council’s) role to tell developers what they can or can’t build. So I’d ask him, if developers know what’s best for the city and you’re not willing to “dictate” anything to them, why do you stand for election and why should we elect you when your place on council could just as easily be taken by an ink pad and rubber stamp?

You see councillor, city council’s entire raison d’etre is to dictate things to people and organizations that don’t necessarily want to do those things. If everyone was completely willing and able to do everything required to make Toronto a great city, we wouldn’t need taxes, by-laws, and regulations, would we? But in the real world, any reasonable person would have to admit that there is necessarily a big difference between a developer’s bottom line and the public interest. That’s why we have things like building codes and zoning regulations. If you don’t force developers to build three-bedroom units, how exactly do you expect people to choose whether to live in them? If they don’t exist, there’s no choice to be made.

Besides, you’re not forcing anyone to build anything. Last I checked, each developer chooses whether, where, and what to build; we simply set the rules that they must follow in order to do so. And if you don’t think that’s your job, then what exactly is your job?

Meet Cliff

Meet Cliff. Licence plate ANFA 097

This is Cliff. He doesn't like me.

Hi everyone. I’d like you to meet Cliff. He was a passenger in this Mazda 5, licence plate ANFA 097. I don’t know if people ever Google their own licence plates, but I sure hope Cliff does. I also don’t know if Cliff is his real name, but that’s what I’m calling him. He looks kind of like a Cliff, doesn’t he? Much moreso than, say, a Norm, Sam, or Carla. He gave me a name too: “Asshole.” He calls me an asshole because he and his wife/daughter/mistress/something needed to park in the Cosburn bike lane on Wednesday evening for “just a second.” I’m an asshole because I straddled my bike behind their car, waiting for them to leave. I’m an asshole because I “could have just gone around.” I’m an asshole because it’s Cliff’s inalienable right to park for “just a second” in a bike lane directly in front of a No Stopping sign and maybe 6 feet away from an apartment driveway that had several empty visitor parking spots. Coincidentally, the No Stopping roadsign and adjacent off-street parking flank Cliff’s head in the picture above. Of course, I’m an even bigger asshole for pointing that out.

Cliff says I’m an asshole because his mother/secretary/masseuse/whathaveyou has her flashers on, and all that flashing lets you do anything you want. Cliff says I’m an asshole because his caregiver/trustee/court-mandated escort/whatever is breaking the law which, he assures me, doesn’t apply if you are stopping for “just a second.” Apparently, 4-way flashers temporarily suspend all nearby laws. Except the law of gravity, which cannot be repealed by mere light bulbs, no matter how many of them are flashing in unison. But even time itself is warped inside the event horizon of flashers: I was waiting behind them and dinging my bell for a full two minutes, while Cliff insisted repeatedly that they were parked in the bike lane for “just a second.” I’m lucky my atoms weren’t torn apart by the tidal forces, being, as I was, both so close and such a sizeable asshole.

Cliff says I should “just fuck off.” I’ve got some nerve, trying to ride my bike in the bike lane when it is clearly intended to be used for cars to park in. I mean, why else would they put it at the side of the road like that? I really ought to be ashamed, dinging my bell and so flustering Cliff that he was reduced to spewing a virtually incoherent string of obscenities at me. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s normally a fairly lucid fellow, though I have no direct evidence of it. I do have direct evidence of that pulsing vein in his forehead. He really ought to have that looked at. Perhaps I should pity the poor persecuted motorist, unable to park in the bike lane for “just a second” without some uppity cyclist coming along and ruining his day by pointing out that he’s endangering others. But it’s really hard to pity someone who screams at you when you gently call him out on his anti-social behaviour. Hey Cliff, you think I’m the asshole? I’ve got news for you, buddy.

Anyway Cliff, I accept your apology for parking in the bike lane and endangering cyclists for no reason beyond your own perceived entitlement. I didn’t quite hear the actual words through all of your bluster and spittle, but I think I got the gist of it.

A Canada Day parade in Toronto?

People call me all the time and tell me that they want parades with Shriners. Shriners, Shriners, Shriners. It's all about Shriners. They don't want those damn Rotarians clogging up the street.

So according to the Star, Mayors Ford said on their radio show yesterday that they’d like to have a Canada Day parade in Toronto. I think that’s a great idea. In fact, it’s such a great idea that not only has someone else already thought of it, but they’ve been running the parade every year for more than fifty years. And sure enough, the East York Canada Day parade will be winding its way through the streets once again on Sunday. Not only does the event already exist, but Ford should know about it: he was there two years ago, despite his claim to have spent every Canada Day since 1867 at the cottage.

But just for laughs, I’d love to see a parade organized by Ford’s office. I imagine that the procession would be made up of developers, high school football players, and police in riot gear. All floats would be subway cars. Organization would consist of slapping up a crappy website and putting up a sign at Deco Labels inviting everyone to the celebration. The parade would be held in a park because streets are for cars. Giorgio Mammoliti would take video of all attendees to ensure that no one is misbehaving and/or naked. Of course, the parade wouldn’t cost taxpayers a penny because private sector partners are lining up around the block to pay for it. Ford couldn’t tell us who, but trust him, there are dozens of sponsors all frothing at the mouth to spend the money. After hearing that community groups were planning to show up and celebrate, Ford would take to Facebook and his radio show to beg Ford Nation to show up and drown out all the pinko fascist commies. And, of course, Ford himself would miss the entire spectacle: he’d be at the cottage.

The Star changes its mind again

Back in January, I wrote about a story appearing on the Star‘s website that was silently updated after it was originally posted so that the new article said exactly the opposite of the original article. The Star‘s public editor responded to my complaint in her column, stating that allowing such silent story changes is “not the view of reputable news organizations that understand the vital importance of credibility.”

I’ve since noticed a number of similar silent changes on the Star‘s website, but none as egregious as yesterday afternoon’s story about Jason Kenney apologizing (or not) for calling a provincial minister an “asshole” in an email. Here was the headline as posted in the afternoon:

The original story said that Kenney had no intention of apologizing and included a quote from a Kenney spokesperson who dismissed the insult, saying that it wasn’t important to comment on every email that Kenney sends (presumably because apologizing to everyone Kenney calls an asshole would be a full-time job).

Shortly afterward, the story and headline were both updated while still posted under the original link:

The new story indicated that Kenney had indeed apologized and the dismissive quote from the spokesperson was nowhere to be seen. This isn’t a mere revision, it’s revisionism.

So here’s my problem: if a story changes after you post it to your website, you should either clearly state in the article that the story has progressed from what was earlier published, or (better) post a separate article with a note in the first article pointing to the new one. Sure, go ahead and fix minor spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in-line. But simply updating a story to this extent without acknowledging it is, well, not the sign of a “reputable news organization.” Another complaint to the public editor is on the way.


This is my new Presto card:

Presto card

It’s much more convenient than the old 10-trip tickets I used to get for my occasional travels on GO Transit: it fits in my wallet, it can be purchased in advance and used for any random trip rather than a fixed route between two specific end points, won’t expire when fares change, and uses card readers that are far less finicky than the old ticket readers. I bought and first used it for the Toronto-Newcastle portion of my trip to the cottage a couple of weekends ago and think it’s great.[1] I look forward to being able to use my Presto card on the TTC. I love tokens and all, but seriously, it’s the 21st century already.

This, on the other hand, is the agreement I apparently entered into when I first used the card:

Presto card terms and conditions

It’s a full page of impenetrable legalese written in virtually unreadable 5-point text. Some say that government should operate more like a business[2], but I don’t think that foisting indecipherable and unenforceable standard form contracts onto people is quite what they have in mind. I’m not really sure why they need all of this just to let me hop on a train. Still, I’ll take Presto over a 10-trip ticket any time.

[1] As an IT guy, I could poke holes in some of the customer-facing issues that betray back-end limitations, but that’s a post for another day.

[2] People who think that government should be run like a business understand neither government nor business.

Tankful for QR codes

Kohler toilet with a QR code

The inside of the tank on my new toilet has a QR code! How geeky is that? I had to stop the installation to wash up and grab my phone to see what this important message could possibly be. I felt like Ralphie with his new Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. It turns out to be a link to, which redirects to a PDF with steps for troubleshooting flush problems. I’ll fully admit that I thought it was the stupidest location in the world for a QR code, but now I think it borders on brilliant: can you imagine a world full of parts labelled with QR codes that take you directly to the appropriate service manual? It ought to be mandatory. Of course, the real test will be whether the link remains active for the entire 20+ year lifetime of this toilet.

Barely a year ago, I wrote about my surprise at seeing QR codes on a politician’s campaign signs; now they’re so ubiquitous that they’re inside my toilet. Which, some would argue, is where politicians have always been anyway.

Where do the wires go?


Hydro wires to nowhere

Ever wonder what’s at the other end of the hydro lines that come into your house? Well, I traced this set from my house back to their origin—behind a fence guarded by a No Trespassing sign, at the end of a gated gravel road at the edge of a secluded ravine—only to discover that they aren’t wires at all, but are just ropes that are tied around a pole and pooled haphazardly at the base. So if this is where the hydro lines go, where does the power come from? No wonder they put the ropes up on such tall poles: it’s so that you can’t tell what they really are. This investigation seems like a job for Geraldo Rivera.

Hydro wires are a hoax!

Josh Matlow jumps the shark

According to the Star, Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St Paul’s-Busybody) has come to the rescue of hockey-playing kids in the city. It’s currently against a city by-law to play hockey on the street. Scofflaw kids, however, flaunt the law and play willy-nilly on city streets everywhere. Matlow just wants to allow kids to play legally, so he proposes that their parents be able to apply for exceptions to the by-law. They’ll have to get the support of 80% of homeowners on the street. The city would send out staff and equipment to do a traffic study to ensure that the street is below the acceptable traffic threshold of 1,000 vehicles a day and has an average of at least one minute between cars. Staff will evaluate sightlines to ensure that there are no obstructions like trees, hedges, or blind corners that would prevent drivers from seeing children at play. The staff recommendation and full report taking into account all of the above factors would then go to community council and then on to the full city council for final approval.

This proposal, which Matlow seems proud of, is the worst kind of micro-managing. It would be out of place in Singapore, yet seems a strangely fitting policy in the Toronto that often conflates good public policy with slavish adherence to rules. Can you imagine an entire bureaucracy dedicated to deciding whether and where children can set up their nets or shoot a ball against the curb? Apparently, Josh Matlow can.

Okay, I understand the urge to fix a by-law that no one either enforces or obeys. To that end, I’d like to suggest a few more projects for Councillor Matlow to tackle over the balance of his term:

  • Establish jaywalking zones where pedestrians can apply for permits to cross the street mid-block. They’ll need support of 80% of residents and business owners on the street, and city staff will conduct studies on each street to evaluate sightlines and traffic volumes to ensure that jaywalking is safe in any given location. Each approved jaywalking location will be equipped with traffic lights to stop traffic for jaywalkers. Any pedestrians continuing along the sidewalk will also have to stop and wait for the jaywalker signal to cycle.
  • Grant “garbage picking” permits to get around the by-law that prevents people from taking items put out at the curb for collection. Homeowners would apply for permits to allow their garbage to be picked over by passers-by. City staff would do random inspections on at least three different garbage days to ensure that each homeowner’s garbage is indeed worth picking over. Homeowner will need separate permits to allow their garbage to be picked by neighbours, semi-professional scavengers with loaded bikes or carts (who will also be subject to yet another of Councillor Matlow’s special projects), and professionals (i.e., anyone with a pickup truck).
  • Give cyclists licences to lock up their bikes to any handy fixed object on the sidewalk including hydro poles, guy wires, and railings. In any area that lacks enough official bike parking posts, cyclists could apply for an exemption from the by-law that prohibits locking up to anything but an official bike rack or post. Staff would do counts of both bikes and official parking spots on each block and determine by an ISO-approved standard whether bike parking supply is adequate to meet demand. Two different classes of permit will be available: one which grants a blanket exception to all cyclists locking up on one block, and one for individual cyclists that allows them to lock up to any object anywhere in the city.
  • Fix highway traffic jams by establishing a minimum speed limit of 80 km/h on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. Anyone not driving at least the minimum speed will be fined $50. Fines double during rush hour. Enforce through photo radar. Problem solved.
  • Institute a “mandatory shirts” policy in public parks. Enforce with inspections at each entrance.
  • Create a special traffic enforcement unit that targets only city vehicles that are parked illegally: police cars in bike lanes, works trucks on sidewalks, parking enforcement cars in front of fire hydrants, fire trucks double-parked in front of grocery stores, and so on. Fines will be levied against each offending vehicle’s owner, the City of Toronto. The program will be self-financing.
  • Create the Common Sense Department, reporting to council, with a mandate to head off any councillor’s harebrained schemes before they reach the public. In the last year alone, the CSD would have shielded City Council and the public from wasting valuable taxpayer brain cells on waterfront ferris wheels, pixie dust subways, library closures, and plans to regulate children playing.

If Matlow is able to deliver even half of these proposals, he’ll have a record truly worth running on for his 2014 re-election campaign. Or, dare I say, mayoral campaign?

An “integrated resort” at Exhibition Place

So some councillors and lobbyists are talking casino again, with Exhibition Place as the preferred site. Except that they’ve adopted the grand euphemism of “integrated resort“:

Alan Feldman, senior vice-president of public affairs with MGM, said it could potentially invest $3- to $5-billion on an “integrated resort” in Toronto, which could include about 200,000-square-feet of casino space, 1,000 to 2,000 hotel rooms, 100,000-square-feet of restaurant space, plus entertainment venues.

[emphasis mine]

Sounds grand, but you can scratch Exhibition Place off the list of possible sites; politicians should check on their existing obligations before they go around trying to make new ones. Did you know that there’s already a hotel starting construction soon at Exhibition Place? It was approved in 2009. You may remember the mini-scandal about the contract.

According to my reading of the Letter Agreement between the City and HKHotels back in 2009, HKHotels gets a 49-year lease (plus two 25-year extensions) that gives them:

[…]the exclusive right to operate a hotel:
during the period commencing from the execution of the Lease and ending on the date which is fifteen (15) years after the Rent Commencement Date, within the whole of Exhibition Place; and
during the remainder of the Initial Term, within the portion of Exhibition Place which is located to the east of Ontario Drive.

[“Exclusivity,” page 9 of the PDF]

So no additional hotels (AKA “integrated resorts”) anywhere at Exhibition Place for 15 years, and no additional hotels east of Ontario Drive (between the Better Living Centre and BMO Field) for 34 years after that. An “integrated resort” built 15 years from now would have to destroy buildings or greenspace on the western half of Exhibition Place, and that would probably be even less popular than just tearing up a parking lot.