Comstock: Compassion lacking as bureaucracy crushes citizens

By Michael Comstock – 

2.1002288.comstockVictims of the system young and old,” reads the headline of Letters to the Editor in the Toronto Star Oct 17. It was a group of letters stimulated by Joe Fiorito’s absolutely great writing about Al Gosling’s death. This happened at the hands of bureaucrats from our social housing services. This tragedy was paired with Ashley Smith who as a teen was left scared and untreated by the system and died while in jail.

When you are old enough, or too young, the world can be difficult. These stories scare us because we can imagine these fates are something that could happen to us. Uncaring, pervasive and persistent bureaucracy, blinded by the self-concerned control of a massive public-sector union, kills people. Ambulance strikers should be added to this lethal list that may reach out like an iceberg to be a much larger problem below the surface. Only fate, and people who truly care about others, preserve us.

This kind of bureaucratic crap undermines the real glue of the city. Compassionate volunteers and social gadflies hold our city together. I was at a fundraiser organized by Old Town’s Bob Kemp and the Salvation Army. It was to raise money to give people a “second chance.” Heart warming, worthwhile, George Smitherman spoke long and hard on basically “give a shit about your community.”

Yet, we have allowed politicians and bureaucrats to define NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) as a bad word. Our city services seem to be more interested in cost calculations and reports, than in providing the services for which they were established.

Often the bureaucrats will push their agenda of the needs and interests of the public. This is the reason we have huge ugly plastic bins in little heritage front gardens. Surely the garbage man could pick up bags in some of the neighbourhoods?

Why should it be wrong to say I do not want an Insite drug-injection centre in my neighbourhood? The bureaucrats in the Toronto Department of Health are driving the Insite issue. They of course don’t have a particular neighbourhood. I think, in the most rational of all logic, it would not help my particular neighbourhood.

Plans for Toronto’s harm-reduction shooting gallery are to locate it in a storefront, on a retail strip in somebody’s neighbourhood. But many people feel it fits best into a hospital setting. Why stick it on the local merchants? It is just an opinion; let’s vote on it. Holding a different opinion: elsewhere, but not in my back yard, is totally valid.

Another example of the great oppression by bureaucracy is happening to the volunteers of Dundas St. W. The Dundas West BIA (Business Improvement Area) has been trying to organize a Samba event, invest in some streetscape improvements and stabilize the local shopping and restaurant strip. Like many BIAs they have invested hundreds of hours at meetings and at filling in the paperwork to be able to spend their own money on local improvements. But now they have given up! With aspirations crushed by their own Councillor Adam Giambrone (an automatic member of the board of a BIA) they have decided to quit working.

These volunteers have decided to work to rule, to stop batting heads against the doors of city hall until and unless a new councillor is elected next November. They can’t fight the mayor and his party’s plans to make neighbourhood avenues into dedicated streetcar routes. They don’t care about the local merchants, who are old-style retail anyway; most people go to the big box stores. Giambrone uses the NIMBY argument and feels the commuter’s extra two minutes, trumps successful neighbour shops.

Giambrone is the TTC commissioner himself. He has the party line to uphold. The Dundas West BIA cites the following concerns about Giambrone’s disconnect with his own neighbourhood.

Change by the TTC:

• It’s drastically reducing on-street parking on Dundas;

• It’s turning no-parking zones into no-standing anytime zones;

•  It’s introducing additional left-turn prohibitions along Dundas;

• Hasn’t produced the October TTC data, despite numerous promises to do so.

Councillor Giambrone:

• Hasn’t invited the many residents on BIA board to meetings that he claims took place with other residents;

• Hasn’t provided us with information in a timely manner;

•  Hasn’t attended one regular monthly board meeting since our inception in 2006;

• Hasn’t given us any reliable timeline on when the streetscape reconstruction promised in 2006 is going to happen;

• Hasn’t followed up on the city sidewalk reconstruction plans that were shown to us and his staff, but now seem to have disappeared;

• Hasn’t managed to obtain timely results on many other requests made i.e. TTC shelter move, garbage, crime prevention;

• Hasn’t attended our major events i.e. Community Day and Samba on Dundas.

Giambrone can’t be seen as understanding or working for the neighbourhood’s interests, over the purely philosophical argument of his Transit City plan. Examples of successful local shopping strips elsewhere in the city seem unimportant. Diversity does not apply in matters of transportation. Giambrone is fiddling as his neighbourhood burns.