February 06, 2017

The Left's Wake Up Call

Shortly after the last federal election, I wrote about burn out and needing to take a break from political activism (outside of cycling) to get myself in order. It does not mean being completely disengaged – attending town halls helps to stay informed and there is still a lot happening on the cycling front – but healthy political activism requires knowing when to go all out and when to lay low. After refraining from political rallies and non-cycling volunteering for all of 2016, recent events have proven to be a rude but much needed awakening for Canada’s progressives.

Tolling Toronto's highways to fund transit? That idea's left the station.
Toll Debacles

For years, Toronto struggled with the question of how to fund its capital backlog (e.g. transit, housing, bike lanes) which exceeds $30 billion. Ever since Rob Ford’s election in 2010, it was anathema to suggest increasing property taxes beyond inflation – despite Toronto having the lowest property taxes in the region – or introduce new revenue tools. Resistance remains even under Mayor John Tory, though he pushed for a $2 toll on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway, among other revenue tools.

Unfortunately, tolling Toronto’s two main highways required provincial approval, which itself defeats explanation with those highways being Toronto’s responsibility unlike the 400-series highways! Given Premier Kathleen Wynne’s low approval ratings and opposition by both Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats, she shut down Tory’s toll proposal in late January despite her previous promise to respect the will of council. While she proposed a $170 million per year hike in gas tax transfers effective 2019 – less than what the tolls would generate – it is meaningless given she could likely lose next year’s election over skyrocketing hydro costs and a desire for change after fifteen years of Liberal rule. For the sake of Toronto, I hope Mayor Tory and council can secure alternative funding sources as soon as possible.
A Trudeau sign at an anti-Trump rally which also applies to electoral reform
Federal Liberal Deceit

This past week saw another source of Liberal disappointment; this time with the federal party. A key promise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made during the last federal election was that 2015 would be the last election under the current first past the post system. Trudeau’s abandonment of electoral reform was something I saw coming, given he opposed the NDP’s electoral reform motion in December 2014, but he took things to a whole new level by lying to Canadians about there being a lack of consensus!

The Parliament of Canada’s own report on electoral reform from December 2016 clearly stated under Recommendation #12 the Committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional representation. The ill conceived MyDemocracy.ca survey – which failed to allow Canadians to clearly pick a preference for proportional representation – was another cue which questioned Trudeau’s sincerity on electoral reform; something harshly criticized by organizations such as Fair Vote Canada and the Broadbent Institute.

Let’s hold that thought on electoral reform for a moment to tie in a third wake-up call.
America under distress perfectly sums up the Trump presidency's early days
The Trump Factor

Remember how we used to view George W Bush as being difficult to top for being one of the worst presidents ever? That unthinkable has happened thanks to Donald Trump. Never in America’s history has there been a President who’s overtly racist, misogynistic, and outright disrespectful of the US constitution!
Presidential limo driving in the bike lane - via Marvin Macaraig
Some cyclists made the keen observation of the Presidential Limo driving on the bike lane during Trump’s inauguration; not surprising given his opposition to climate action. However, an outright ignorance of the facts was clear from the moment Trump took office. White House press secretary Sean Spicer attacked the media over inauguration crowd reporting when aerial photos and transit usage data suggested the Women’s March the following day and Obama’s 2009 inauguration having higher numbers. Trump’s senior advisor Kellyanne Conway even resorted to the term “alternative facts”!

When Trump resorted to unconstitutional travel ban on seven Muslim countries, Judges Ann Donnelly and James Robart swiftly fought back by respectively staying deportations and ultimately overturning the ban; resulting in childish attacks via Twitter. With moves such as this leading to Trump facing majority disapproval in record time, no wonder why there have been many anti-Trump protests over the past two weeks! I attended one on Saturday, February 4 in front of the US Consulate in Toronto right after Cycle Toronto’s Coldest Day of the Year Ride. Thousands showed up that day, though it paled to the 60,000 protesters seen in Toronto alone during the Women’s March.

Implications for Canadians

These recent events stress why progressives should never take things for granted. If Canadians can protest Trump in large numbers, they should use this momentum to hold Trudeau accountable on electoral reform and climate action, as well as encourage him to scrap the Safe Third Country Agreement which prohibits US asylum seekers from seeking refuge in Canada. As for Toronto, they need to lobby Mayor Tory and council to adopt the revenue tools needed to fix Toronto’s crumbling infrastructure.

Fight on!
Rob Z

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