Just how desperate is Toronto the desperate city? (with a footnote on “the truth is discoverable only through the clash of different opinions”)

Jan 20th, 2023 | By | Category: In Brief
“Under the Microscope” by Michael Seward, January 2023.

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. JANUARY 20, 2023. We’re still digesting a January 7, 2023 tweet from an admittedly very progressive voice : “Toronto is a desperate city. More police funds won’t fix it … Star https etc.”

The recommended link here leads to an equally arresting (and longer) Shawn Micallef piece in the Saturday Toronto Star for January 7, 2023 : “Toronto’s problems were years in the making. Throwing more money at the police won’t solve them … After years of starving city services, Toronto’s mayor now plays on people’s fears by increasing the budget for the police.”

Our current cw editors’ group includes old and new Toronto residents (and others as well). Our meeting this morning on “Just how desperate is Toronto the desperate city?” involved firsthand reports on public transit trips from the east to the west end of the old city, and from Kew Gardens in the east end north to the Thorncliffe Park COSTCO Wholesale store.

Toronto after December 11, 1944 snowstorm — the city’s worst on record!

Some at the meeting also tabled references to seven relevant and other recent (and other) online reports :

19 JANUARY 2023 — Capitalism In Crisis @CapInCrisis, “Can we create complementary goals? … Equality under the law … No racial discrimination … Financial security for the many not just the few … A clean and healthy environment” ;

18 JANUARY 2023 — Daily Hive, “A recession is coming and Ontario could be one of the hardest hit provinces, “ blogTO … “‘This is shaping up to be another rocky year for the Canadian economy… But we’re getting rather used to calling on our resilience and acting nimbly to position ourselves to weather the economic storm — the upcoming recession is simply the latest wave.’”

16 JANUARY 2023 — “Remembering the worst snowstorm in Toronto historyOn Dec. 11, 1944, the city received a single-day record snowfall of 48.3 cm,” TORONTOVERSE STAFF … TORONTO HISTORY ;

13 JANUARY 2023 — Sabrina Gamrot, “Toronto Pedestrian Levels soared to astronomical heights and finally outpaced 2019,” blogTO — a nice piece ;

“From Top-Left Clockwise” by Michael Seward, January 2023.

31 DECEMBER 2022 — Vanessa Balintec, “The future of Toronto’s downtownwill remote workers return to the core? … Experts expect some will fight return to office amid affordability crisis, but are optimistic for recovery,” CBC News ;

1967 — “Ontario : A Place To Stand” … Somehow on YouTube in early 2023 some cw editors stumbled across this local patriotic song about Canada’s most populous province, from the now strangely idealistic centennial year of the 1867 confederation in Canada. Two comments on the tune from other YouTube users seem especially intriguing today : (1) “As a Buffalonian, I grew up with this song on CFTO, CHCH and CBLT … STILL LOVE IT! I’ve always felt as though ‘Ontari, ari, ari, o’, was as much ‘home’ as Western New York!” ; and (2) “My first year in Canada as an immigrant from the UK. Wonderful memories. Canada was staking its place in the world, and this song helped epitomise that. Still a great country, but somehow today lacking that sense of ‘self’ that existed back then.”

German political refugees in the USA, ca 1937. From left to right : Franz & Inge Neumann, Golde & Leo Löwenthal, and Herbert & Sophie Marcuse.

1957 — “Franz Neumann on truth and the clash of opinion” … Our alleged editor in chief finally urged once again the current relevance of some words from his favourite political philosopher — the unusual “Frankfurt School” analyst of the US (and “West German”) decade that followed the Second World War, Franz Neumann (1900–1954). Neumann’s particular words here celebrate the great 19th century philosopher of modern democracy J.S. Mill (1806–1873) : “What Mill says … so impressively is fundamentally the thesis that the truth can arise only from the competition of opinions … that it can thus never be a matter of tolerating other views, but that the truth is discoverable only through the clash of different opinions.” See Franz Neumann, “Intellectual and Political Freedom,” The Democratic and The Authoritarian State (New York : The Free Press, 1957, 1963), p.209.

“Crowdpleaser” by Michael Seward, January 2023.

Finally we turn to a few details from our cw editors’ recent firsthand reports on public transit trips in Canada’s current largest metropolis :

(1) On a Toronto Sunday morning east-west subway trip from the Main to Dundas West stations it was announced more than once over speakers in the subway car that as a result of a “security incident” the train would not be stopping at the Spadina station. When it arrived at the Spadina station, however, there were clearly a number of people on the platform not of any security risk and longing for a ride. Despite the prior announcements, the train stopped at Spadina, let the waiting people on, and proceeded to Dundas West (and beyond, ultimately to Kipling). Some diverse people already on the train smiled.

“Figure in a Landscape” by Michael Seward, January 2023.

(2) A Saturday morning shopping trip to the Thorncliffe Park COSTCO store on Overlea Boulevard gave no hints that just two days later an 18-year-old man would be “shot multiple times … in broad daylight” in the nearby “area of Don Mills Road and Overlea Boulevard.” The Saturday scene at the COSTCO was, as usual, very diverse and even global, “ethnically and culturally.” But there were also many families with children. And the scene could especially remind older people that children and families have encouraging amusing (and/or annoying) similarities everywhere, regardless of ethnicity or culture.

CONCLUSIONS : Even with such optimistic reports on personal experience both our old and new Toronto residents this morning unanimously agreed that if the city is not exactly “desperate” in late January 2023, it is very concerned and getting more so. Yes there are new (especially crime and related) problems as local TV is starting to document with some growing passion (and realism). And we altogether share the resulting rising concern.

“Inverted Window” by Michael Seward, January 2023.

At the same time, we’re also still somewhat impressed by just how well the remarkably diverse Toronto of the turbulent 2020s — where “51% of Residents Were Born Outside Canada” — is standing up to challenges that it is far from the only growing metropolis to face in the wider global village today! (See such places as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York, London, Paris, and far beyond including Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Halifax, etc.)

And this just applies to the current official City proper, so to speak. In the wider Greater Toronto Area, or “Census Metropolitan Area,” as Statistics Canada has reported : “In 2021, close to half (46.6%) of the population living in the Toronto CMA were immigrants. Immigrants made up more than half of the residents of four municipalities in the Toronto CMA: Markham (58.6%), Richmond Hill (58.2%), Mississauga (53.2%) and Brampton (52.9%).”

More Toronto after December 11, 1944 snowstorm.

At the same time again, in the end (and especially in the wake of 2008, 2020, 2022, and so forth) there are a few new problems that need to be dealt with in new ways. As Rahul Bhardwaj, president and CEO of the Toronto Foundation, has recently summarized the deeper truth arising from the clash of opinion : “We are one of the safest cities in the world, but it really depends on where in the city you live.” (And at least the older residents among us here agree that did not used to be the case, to at all the extent that it is now.)

In the very end we think Toronto needs a new wave of its recurrent tradition of “opposition populism” (first episode the Rebellion of 1837, led by the immigrant first Mayor of Toronto). The most recent outburst of the tradition happened back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“Ward 7 aldermen John Sewell [centre] and Karl Jaffary [beard], who easily won re-election, argue with police at City Hall who refused entry to their supporters,” December 5, 1972. Jaffary would later write a newspaper article on “opposition populism” in Toronto.

Put another way, today Toronto needs some fresh regional and local political leadership, beyond the conservative strategies of John Tory and Doug Ford (and even their more progressive precursors Barbara Hall and David Miller and Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne?). The current leadership, for all its protests and even intermittent genuine efforts otherwise, is still stuck in a few too many old-school ruts.

It nonetheless also does seem to us at least that some big questions still remain, when it comes to saying just who and what it will take to do better, in the rest of the 2020s?

(That at any rate was how it seemed this morning, around the editors’ boardroom table!)

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