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Here’s why I won’t vote for Ana Bailao

A few years ago, a group of concerned homeowners from the building where I live requested to speak to the Planning and Housing Committee at City Hall. This committee was chaired by Ana Bailao. We had concerns about a new development in our community and the impact it would have on our building.

We had spent some time studying the proposal and how it would affect traffic, the geology and hydrology of the area and the impact on social services and schools. Ours is a part of the city that is underserved and has many social needs. There are also underground creeks that are of concern in any construction.

About half a dozen of us were given a time slot of 9.30. We were supposed to be the first group to depute. We arrived at the committee room bright and early. Imagine our dismay when we were unceremoniously dumped from that position in favour of a group of noisy activists who certain councillors clearly wanted to be front and centre while there were TV cameras on hand.

We were then forced to sit through speaker after speaker with various demands. One of them complained because their landlord wouldn’t change a light fixture. We are all seniors who manage our own light fixtures or pay to have someone do it for us. We weren’t asking for anyone to do anything for us. We weren’t asking for anyone to spend any tax dollars on our behalf. We simply wanted to explain to the committee some of our carefully considered concerns about the development.

We were pushed back and pushed back and pushed back by Bailao. We did not get to speak until after lunch. We finally got out of there at around 3.30 p.m., having arrived to speak at 9.30. At one point, Bailao asked why it was that people from Scarborough rarely go to City Hall committees. Well, when you are treated as an inconvenience and made to wait five hours to speak, that certainly acts as a deterrent. I had a list of concerns, yet after waiting five hours to speak, I was cut off after five minutes.

So thanks, but no thanks, Ana. I won’t be voting for you. Based on my experience, I’d tell anyone living in Scarborough not to vote for you as well.

Monarchy vs. Commonwealth

A recent poll shows Canadians are unenthusiastic about the monarchy and really aren’t interested in the Coronation of King Charles III, which will happen May 6. There’s nothing new there. We all knew there would be a falling of interest when Queen Elizabeth died.

What is a mystery to me is the absolute lack of understanding many commentators have about the Commonwealth and about the monarchy. They seem to conflate the two, which is unfortunate and shows a shocking lack of understanding of just what the two institutions represent.

The monarchy is an instrument of state. Like it or not, it’s an intrinsic part of our government as the monarch is our head of state. The Prime Minister is the head of government. It’s a system that’s served this country well since its founding and provides a level of government that’s above the partisanship of politics. As an institution, it is also above petty identity politics that you often see in republics. We see it more and more in that great republic to the south of us. Do we really want to hand over all power to one person? That’s the strength of a constitutional monarchy. As a person, the monarch has no power. As one part of a government, it provides balance and continuity. Governments come and governments go. And in the UK, they’ve seen three prime ministers in the past 12 months. But the monarchy is the enduring symbol that the state is still intact and powerful. One commentary on the monarchy – and I don’t remember who said it and I don’t remember the exact quote – is that the monarchy is not important for the power it takes on for itself. It’s important for the power it denies those who would usurp the power of state. Again, at a time when people dispute the outcomes of democratic elections, that is a very key point.

While I can understand why people confuse the Commonwealth with the monarchy, they are really two very separate entities. The Commonwealth was mostly the creation of Queen Elizabeth II and she let it be known that it was her most precious legacy. It is made up of 54 independent countries, Any country can apply to be a member of the Commonwealth and many of the members are republics. The king is only head of state of about 15 countries – called the Commonwealth realm.

So Canada could remain in the Commonwealth even if Charles were no longer head of state. And it would probably be a good idea if we did. Apart from the UN and NATO, what other global organizations are we aligned with? What other organization do we belong to as a nation that has at its mission the peaceful promotion of global understanding? We could use more of that these days. The Commonwealth has used its soft power in the past to fight apartheid in South Africa. It is still a powerful force and encompasses 2.6 billion people. The larger and wealthier countries uphold and support the smaller ones. The Commonwealth Games and countless other events help showcase young people from Commonwealth countries.

So please, folk. Read up on what you’re talking about if you’re going to comment on the monarchy and the Commonwealth. Get your history straight and your facts right.

No subway for old folks

Whenever I travel on the TTC, I’m reminded of an interview I did with the late David Onley. He was a long-time advocate for accessibility, but what he pointed out was that accessibility wasn’t just for people with disabilities. When you put an elevator in to a subway station, you make travel easier for young moms with babies in strollers. You make it easier for people who are carrying groceries. You make it easier for older people who may not be disabled, but who nevertheless have mobility issues and can’t get around as easily as they once did.

Now that I’m a little older and a lot more arthritic, I appreciate what David was saying back then.

Getting on and off subways is difficult. Many exits have no escalator and elevators. How many times have I groaned when I realized either the escalator or the elevator is out of service. There are too many stairs. Too many people are in too much of a rush and they huff and puff behind you as you struggle up or down stairs.

Subways, subways, subways

I covered transit issues for 30 years, both at Queen’s Park and at Toronto’s City Hall. I also use transit frequently. Any time I wrote about the need for new subway lines, I was met with scorn from all the clever know-it-alls who told me in their very pompous way that above-ground light rail was the way to go.

In a city like Toronto, I argued, light rail will be paralyzed any time there’s a major snowstorm. Turns out, I’m right. Take a look at what’s happening in Ottawa, where its brand new light rail system is a big, fat, expensive mess. What genius decided that Ottawa, one of the coldest, snowiest capital cities in the world, should have above ground light rail and not a subway?

In my part of town, I look at the Eglinton Crosslink, which should have been finished years ago. I retired in 2016 and it was behind schedule then. It’s still not running. Out in Scarborough, the lines are there and so are the stations. They’ve turned Eglinton, once upon a time the best east-west route, into an obstacle course. And there is still no hope on the horizon for a transit vehicle to actually make the trip across town. And you just know that as soon as it snows, the line in Scarborough will freeze to a halt.

The downtown portion of the line was built underground. Oh, lucky downtowners, snug in their warm and comfortable stations. In Scarborough, we’re left with freezing, windswept stations on a line with no trains. And now they’re complaining because Scarborough is finally getting a three-stop subway line. We’re losing the Scarborough LRT, and good riddance to that. It was so unreliable, the TTC used to shut it down ahead of storms because they knew it wouldn’t withstand the wintry blasts.

And you wonder why people in Scarborough don’t take transit.

Subway tragedy

It was only a matter of time before something as horrific as what happened at High Park subway station happened. One woman was stabbed to death and another was injured in a stabbing incident. A suspect, apparently unrelated to the victim, was arrested.

I travel on the subway fairly frequently, usually when I go downtown. Over the past year or so, I have felt increasingly unsafe. On almost every train I’ve been on lately, there’s been someone who appears to be living there. They are usually sleeping across three or four seats. I’ve seen disruptive passengers and people with open cans of booze.

It’s bad enough when you’re an older person, such as myself, with mobility issues. It is disconcerting when you are travelling with small children. I picked up my young grandson from school the other day by subway, and I was worried. Not only did I have to worry about myself. I was, more importantly, looking after a small child who is unaware of what’s going on around him. You just feel so utterly vulnerable.

It’s to the point now where I will choose a route that avoids the subway to get to my destination. If there’s a bus/streetcar combo that will get me home, then that’s what I do. That way, there’s a TTC operator on board.

I think it’s time for more and better policing on the subway.

TV Royalty

It’s curious that the outcry about The Crown – Netflix’s imagined view of royalty – has subsided somewhat since the actual release of the series. Could it be that the series has actually toned down some of its representations of royalty? This series seems rather more sympathetic towards Charles and Camilla than previous ones. One episode actually describes the good works of King Charles III through his Princes Trust charity. And Diana is presented not as someone who is vaguely saintlike in her life, but as a flawed young woman. It’s true that writer Peter Morgan is harsh about the late Queen’s parenting style, which seems rather cruel. While he could hardly have foreseen the death of the monarch shortly before the release of the new series, did he really mean to be so nasty? After all, most people would prefer to be criticized for their work rather than for their failings as a mother or as a father. And like most Netflix series these days, he seems to be dragging this out in an overly long series. I realize everyone has to make a living, but this could have been wrapped up quite handily in this series. Do we really want to wait to see Netflix recreate through their jaundiced lens the events of the last 20 years, when many of us have seen the real events involving the real people unfold in real time nightly on our television sets?

Casting the Crown

I’ve watched all 10 episodes of the Netflix series, The Crown, now and a number of things become apparent. First, the casting is appalling. Yes, Imelda Staunton looked a bit like the Queen, but she just didn’t give a very convincing performance. She seemed a little too smug. It’s almost as if there’s a coterie of actors who feel it’s their turn to play Queen Elizabeth. This was hers, and she was determined to make her mark – not as the Queen, but as a better “Queen” than, say, Olivia Colman.

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip really isn’t convincing. I covered a couple of royal tours and I can say that Pryce bears precious little resemblance to the Duke of Edinburgh. Philip was tall and elegant and even well into his 80s you could see what an attractive and handsome man he was.

Marcia Warren as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother I thought bore no resemblance to the Queen Mum and it took me a while to figure out who the old lady on the couch was.

I know others have had difficulty finding Elizabeth Debicki convincing as Diana, the Princess of Wales. I thought she actually did a rather good job. She didn’t quite have Diana’s looks – then again who does? – but she seemed to have studied the late princess’s mannerisms and her speech patters and gave what I thought was a rather convincing performance. The best representation of Diana I’ve seen was Kristen Stewart in Spencer. She seemed to have captured something of Diana’s wistful air and her other-worldliness.

The Crown doesn’t sparkle

Okay, I’m only about halfway through the new season of The Crown on Netflix and I have to say I am less that impressed. It’s not so much the storylines and the writing that are not as good as the earlier series, it’s as if they’re turning the monarchy into a cartoon. And by constantly rotating actors in the various lead roles, it’s as if a group of people is looking at each other and saying, “It’s your turn now.”

I don’t think Imelda Staunton is as convincing as Olivia Colman as Queen. Colman managed to convey feelings and emotions by raising an eyebrow. Staunton just doesn’t have that same ability. Just because you are vaguely the same age as the Queen was at the time she’s portrayed, or because you vaguely look like her, doesn’t mean to say you can deliver a performance that takes people back to the times.

I found the Crown’s depiction of the “annus horribilus” speech at the Guildhall to be particularly poor. It is a legendary moment in the Queen’s history, etched in all our minds as a moment when the Queen spoke directly to her people in a heartfelt moment that defined that year. And the writers slightly rewrote the speech. The Queen did not say she thought it was her “annus horribilus,” she said it was “in the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents.” There’s a very subtle difference which wasn’t acknowledged and slightly alters the context.

Toronto the morose

As if to prove my point in my post about London, England, I found the rudest people ever on Toronto’s subway this week. Look, I don’t expect everyone to jump up and offer me a seat. But all those young men slouched over two blue seats meant for those with mobility issues really could take a lesson in manners. They like to pretend they are engrossed in some fabulously interesting article on their phone, but I know they’re not.

The subway used to be friendly. Or at least it wasn’t hostile. And that was the feeling I got this week as I stood on my arthritic legs as all those people ignored me. There was an unsettling anger. Never mind. With luck, they too will get old and will learn they just have to suck it up. No one cares.

London calling

Just back from a vacation in London. A chance to catch up with old school friends. What a blast. And how London has changed! Once upon a time, no one spoke to you on the Tube. People were not exactly unfriendly, but they tended to be reserved. We found such a change. If we looked lost, people helped us find our way. If we looked tired, young people leapt to their feet to give us their seats. People chatted quite happily. It was wonderful.