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2007 09 18
The Biggest Realtor of them All
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Some count beans. Others count marbles. Making sure they’re all there. There’s a bunch tracking cracks in sidewalks. Perfectly understandable. Takes all kinds. But what’s with the crazed municipal politics lately? The way municipal politicians been carrying on -– do they expect us to believe it’s some novel sort of public service? That they carry on that way for our own good?

While icecaps melt. With ever more species forever gone extinct. While, rather than work together salvaging some future, humanity clashes cultures like there’s no tomorrow. Which, so long as we don’t emerge from our bloody past, there isn’t. And meanwhile, here in our great city, in Toronto the good, it isn’t even business as usual. Not even that. It’s about inconceivably absurd municipal politics.

And there’s no ignoring Toronto council squabbling over Miller’s taxes. They keep demanding our attention. Like when threatening to ditch the Sheppard subway. As if we’d get fooled that easy. Threats, tantrums and antics –- invariably nothing but tactics. Right? The Sheppard line will be safe. David Miller will bully his taxes through opposing council. Miller’s broom will sweep opposing councillors off their feet, six feet under the rug. And then Miller’s bold new taxes will solve all Toronto fiscal crises. The Sheppard line will be safe. Right?

Not likely. Never mind the Sheppard subway. If Toronto gives Miller enough time, nothing Toronto will be safe from Miller.

But I hadn’t realized any of this prior the weekend. Which is why I was so confused watching that press conference a couple weeks back. When councillors got near screaming at each other. When the Miller stalwarts kept repeating how it’s all Mike Harris’ fault.

Mike Harris? No way they believe that, I said to myself.

“Self,” I said, “there’s no way. No conceivable way they mean that. It’s only tactics.”

And I was perfectly justified saying so. For how could anyone go digging up Mike Harris -– while spontaneously burying how and why Ontarians voted for him? Like, by majorities -– twice in a row? Digging up Mike Harris for blame means digging up what he stood for -– and what he stood against. Why Ontarians elected him not once -- but twice. Bringing up Mike Harris means bringing up Bob Rae. The reason we elected Harris in the first place.

What reason was that? Simple. Ontario viscerally and reflexively turned away from hard left ideology. Much the way a hand will turn from the stove burning it. Because Rae got so ideologically entrenched, he forgot the meaning of productivity and responsibility. With recession looming, Rae went kiting Ontario’s credit on a nine billion dollar spree. Then, when reality hit Ontarians with that frivolous deficit compounded recession, Rae introduced us to his social contract. Not yet forced collectivization -– but quite the leaping first step toward it. That’s what got Mike Harris elected -– what got Ontario so revolutionary for Mike Harris’ brand of common sense.

And that’s why I used to get confused watching and hearing Miller’s stalwarts bleating how it’s all Mike Harris’ fault. As if Ontario had flocked to Harris on some whim. As if Ontarians hadn’t been forced so hard right by Rae driving us off the road to the ideological left.

But it started coming clear last Friday. September 14th. When I noticed the front-page article in the Toronto Star: Miller renews tax pitch – Approve levies quickly to avert cuts, council told. Not the article itself, though -– nothing in it seemed the least substantial. But the picture of Miller and stalwarts, where the article continues on page A6, caught my eye. Totally immobilized my eye. Stopped my eye in its tracks like a scrapped Sheppard subway. Because I’d seen that picture before. Just couldn’t remember where. Utter déjà vu.

Saturday, I kept Friday’s Star open to page A6. Gave that picture every chance to haunt down my memory of it. Nothing. Not until Sunday when, sheerly out of boredom, my eye drifted to the following passage at top left of the picture:
We heard from realtors,” Miller said in a jab at the Toronto Real Estate Board, which opposes imposing the land transfer tax. “Now we’re going to hear from real Torontonians.
The passage was from Royson James’ column –- Mayor’s game plan full of holes. But it ought to officially have captioned that A6 picture. Since it clicked that picture into place like finding the lost piece of a puzzle.

Miller’s scapegoating realtors and the way his stalwarts so look like sheep in that picture -– that’s what clicked it. Goats. Sheep. Farm animals. George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Been decades since I’d read the novel or seen the film. But now, whenever I see that Friday Toronto Star page A6 picture, it might as well have been yesterday. Most of all because in it Miller so totally is Napoleon.

Scary, how well the puzzle fits. What it reveals. Miller’s stalwart figurative sheep? When they get bleating how it’s all Mike Harris’ fault? Just like in the film. It’s meant ideologically –- as a conversation, deliberation and debate stopper. “Four legs good, two legs bad!”

Miller’s scapegoating realtors? Hell. I’m no fan of realtors. I’ve never much understood why real estate vendors and purchasers don’t delay some months until listing agreements expire. Then they can negotiate privately. And subsequent to transfer of title, they can each send real estate agents who introduced them a couple hundred bucks -– the proper amount such introductions are reasonably worth. But Miller scapegoating realtors? When he seeks to encumber all Toronto real estate transactions precisely as realtors do -- but absent even pretext of specific service or voluntary character? When, in event of recession, such uniquely additional disadvantage to real estate transacting will devastate Toronto? Too hypocritical for words. If Toronto realtors aren’t real Torontonians -– how unreal does that make David Miller?

Regardless, it seems David Miller must continually scapegoat those questioning his policies. Which leads us to questioning who the real Torontonians are. Fortunately, in this Twilight Zone remake of Animal Farm, the answer’s obvious. Chickens welcoming sacrificing as David Miller decrees are the real Torontonians. Precisely as George Orwell had Napoleon expressing:
The needs of the windmill must override everything else, he said… [I]f more money were needed, it would have to be made up by the sale of eggs… The hens, said Napoleon, should welcome this sacrifice as their own special contribution towards the building of the windmill.
Such déjà vu. How similarly the Star quoted David Miller expressing, “You cannot build a great city of the size and stature of Toronto on the backs of a property tax alone.”

Perhaps not. But so what? The issue is responsible taxation and, when needed, responsible service cutting. The issue is not getting carried away by ideology and not forgetting the meaning of responsibility and productivity. And the problem is that Torontonians, however real or unreal Miller may deem us, have seen and heard only the most astounding irresponsibility lately. Bullying, threats, tantrums and scapegoating antics. The most thoroughly irresponsible scare tactics. How are we to not conclude that Miller and stalwarts have gotten ideologically carried away –- and seek to sweep us all down the same river?

Used to be Miller stood for a mighty decent ideal. When he stood with his broom. Stood to sweep Toronto clean. To maintaining, perhaps improving this great city Torontonians have built. No longer. Now, no pronouncement or photographic opportunity lapses absent emphasis that Miller and stalwarts are building a great city. In Friday’s Toronto Star page A6 picture? That’s the larger than life and decency slogan overhead: “building a great city”. And this great city Miller and stalwarts are building -– that’s what isn’t real. Precisely unreal as the windmill in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Just like the windmill which, when threatening actualization, was destroyed most likely by Napoleon. Just the same -- the great city Miller and stalwarts are building is an ideology.

It isn't Toronto Miller and stalwarts are building. Not in reality. Since the city of Toronto has long since been and continues to be built by the enterprise of Torontonians. Since the city of Toronto is already great. Ranked anywhere between number five and number one in the world. Building a great city? Sorry -- not Toronto. Toronto's already great just the way it's already been built. Municipal workers, public servants and politicians can and indeed must assist orderly maintaining and responsible building. But there never has nor never will be any city built by municipal workers. They must never, under any circumstances, give in to the hubris of insinuating it is they building our city. Such hubris is consistent with trampling the actuality of Toronto -– not with public service of any conceivable variety. Yet, as he now stands, David Miller will not likely abandon the ideology of building a great city. For David Miller, building our great city has come to mean we Torontonians had better not get in his way. That we’d better welcome sacrificing as David Miller decrees. Or else he’ll shut us down and derail us right along with the Sheppard subway.

On the other hand, it is insinuated that if we do welcome sacrificing as Miller decrees, then his bold new taxes will solve all Toronto fiscal crises. Yeah. Sure. Not too likely. Not in this Twilight Zone remake of Animal Farm. For when the meaning of responsibility and productivity get forgotten, shortfalls and deficits expand in perpetuity regardless amounts transferred from elsewhere. Ever greater sacrificing gets invoked. And scapegoating progresses from ugly to dangerous.

There are some, of course, who benefit. Not all those Miller praises as real Torontonians. Hens eventually get trampled along with everyone else. Just the elite stalwart few. Those animals which, in Animal Farm terminology, are more equal than others. Quite in keeping with Royson James’ reporting,
No cuts to councillors’ perks or 9 per cent salary hike… The mayor was asked whether curbing councillor frills such as municipal golf course and zoo passes, and generous office expenses -– an issue that infuriates the very citizens who the mayor hopes will lobby their councillors to vote in support of his higher taxes – wasn’t one way to find the $700,000 needed to halt Monday closings at the community centres. Miller replied: “The best way is to vote for the taxes."
Of course. However. Here’s hoping Torontonians give Miller plenty of time building that great city of his. Why? Because ideals are better than good. Because ideology is worse than bad. Because opportunities to learn the difference between ideals and ideology firsthand as from Miller and stalwarts are too few. And because Miller is so spectacular at production of meaning, it's difficult anticipating all the meanings he'll produce next.

[David Miller image by Spacing Magazine and used here via Creative Commons.]
[email this story] Posted by Peter Fruchter on 09/18 at 11:14 AM

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