New Year Predictions

As the new year progresses, it’s probably a good time to make some local and not so local predictions for 2019 and beyond.

Where we are right now.

During the regimes of the late Rob Ford and current mayor John Tory, Toronto has suffered almost a decade of austerity. Now that we have a premier who operates on the same policies, it looks as if Toronto’s public realm will shrink at a more rapid pace. While John Tory looks and sounds like a moderate politician, he’s as radically right-wing as either of the Ford brothers.
Austerity at the provincial level will add to Toronto’s woes, particularly here in Weston / Mount Dennis, especially after Ford gerrymandered Toronto Council by halving the number of councillors and basing council seats on outdated demographics. The current council will have enough support for John Tory to continue the decline of our city. The only differences between Mayor Tory and Premier Ford involve jurisdiction and style rather than political leanings.

A feature of the Rob Ford and John Tory mayoralties has been ignoring the planners and making awful decisions based on dogma and pandering rather than actual need. (Scarborough Subway, Gardiner rebuilding, dangerous streets and the failure of Vision Zero, lousy transit planning, an ineffective and demoralized police force, uncontrolled development…). Added to that, the refusal to charge an appropriate level of property tax has resulted in a lack of funds for city initiatives along with a dilapidated and inadequate public housing inventory. The late British actor Peter Ustinov once called Toronto, “New York run by the Swiss.“. I wonder how he would have described the 2019 version of our city.

Prediction 1: Poverty is about to get real in Weston / Mount Dennis.

Ford has frozen the (already inadequate) minimum wage at $14.00 an hour. It was due to rise to $15 this January 1. This roughly translates to a $2000 annual loss for minimum wage earners, only slightly offset by a tax cut. Basically, general taxes subsidize the wages of minimum wage earners while companies keep the savings and remove them from the community. Other austerity measures include removal of funding for repairs to Toronto schools and public housing (the money would have come from Cap and Trade). Less money and fewer job opportunities will mean more poverty and crime.

What can we do to fight this? Patronize only those businesses that pay workers $15 or more hourly. Call out companies that don’t. Support organizations that fight poverty.

Prediction 2: Massive decisions based on hunches and rewarding friends.

Arbitrary decision making and cronyism has only just begun. When you have lots of friends and lots of jobs to fill, there’s no end to the possibilities. Ford is a big proponent of subways regardless of need, cost and location. He famously suggested building a casino at Exhibition Place and and a ferris wheel on the Port Lands. Now that he’s in charge, the sky will be the limit. The TTC’s subway system will soon be handed over to the hopelessly inept Metrolinx. These are the people who are bungling the Presto Card implementation  The subway takeover plan will involve selling building rights on top of subway stations. The TTC will become a bus service. Incidentally, Metrolinx seems to taking measures designed to suck up to Ford – things like removing electric vehicle charging outlets from GO stations.

Prediction 3: A fire sale of provincial assets.

In order to balance the books and pay for Ford’s re-shaping of Ontario, the private sector will be called on to provide financing. Obtaining private money will involve selling precious public assets such as the LCBO and Ontario Place.

Prediction 4: A two-tier health care system.

Our health care system eats up $53.3 billion or about 39% of the Ontario budget. Ford would dearly love to find ‘efficiencies’ here. He may want private companies and hospitals to set up shop in Ontario. He may also entertain the possibility of people jumping the queue for a fee. A big obstacle is the Canada Health Act and that is why Ford is openly campaigning against Justin Trudeau in the hopes that a Conservative federal government will repeal or amend the act to insert some private health care. The new system might look like the  U.K.’s National Health Service which runs alongside a private system. When the rich (and politicians) are able to jump the queue, you can guarantee that health care for regular folks will suffer.

Prediction 5: Less information and more secrecy.

Many decisions made by the Ford government are made to reward his cronies or appease his fringe supporters and don’t hold up well under scrutiny (1998 Health Curriculum, Ron Taverner…).  Look for Ford and his government to distance themselves even further from accountability and awkward questions from the press. They spread the word through Ontario’s taxpayer funded version of Pravda.

Prediction 6: Local lefty initiatives to end.

Now that Councillor Frances Nunziata has been re-elected, look for her pre-election moderate stance to be dropped. Lefty frivolities such as bike paths and pedestrian safety measures will be quietly shelved. Ms Nunziata will continue to be the councillor most likely to vote with Mayor Tory.

Glimmers of hope for Weston /Mount Dennis:

The Weston Hub will open in February along with many new residents in the 360+ rental units. A small colony of artists will occupy the live / work spaces. Construction on the site will end allowing the area to flourish.
The Weston Farmers Market will have an attractive new home in the centre of Weston that will attract people from outside the area. Two cultural organizations, Shakespeare in Action and UrbanArts hold anchor positions in the new Hub and will also attract visitors to our community.

More businesses are opening up as the UP Express provides a rapid and regular link to downtown.

On Weston Road, retail stores are being renovated and a payday loan company has closed.

A small number of affordable units at 22 John Street will be made available through a lottery held between eligible applicants. Use this link to apply (the link becomes live on Monday January 14; the application process will close January 28).

Interesting Possibilities:

Prime Minister Trudeau will perform a minor cabinet shuffle on Monday and unpopular York South-Weston MP, Ahmed Hussen may be moved laterally or demoted. A lateral move might be part of an effort to distance Mr. Hussen from the burdensome immigration file and boost his chances in October’s general election.

Men Wanted!

The Queensmen Male Chorus is looking for a few good men to join their group. The Queensmen were founded in 1949 and–despite a few changes (they no longer wear kilts)–they continue to sing “music people like to hear”. 

The group meets Tuesdays at the Village of Humber Heights.

Shakespeare In Action launches fundraising campaign

Shakespeare In Action is one of the two artistic pillars of the soon to be opened Weston Hub. It specializes in making the works of William Shakespeare more accessible to young people through a variety of endeavours that focus on their active involvement.

In the latest video from SIA, founder and Artistic Director Michael Kelly shows us the actual space that the theatre group will soon occupy and kicks off a $250,000 ‘Raise The Roof’ fundraising campaign. The money will be used for studio / theatre infrastructure and to support new community outreach initiatives.


The group is a registered charity and donations are being handled through the Canada Helps site here.

Masonic temple is very cool

It’s not every day you get the chance to visit a Masonic Temple, but the Weston lodge is hosting an open house this Sunday, during the Santa Claus Parade.

Behind the unprepossessing exterior, the building is gorgeous, and it is certainly worth a visit, both for its architecture, and—if you’re like me—the chance to rid yourself of misconceptions.

The Masons are a fraternal organization devoted to self improvement, Andrew Turk, a spokesperson, told me. “We take good men and make good men better”, he said, and used—not for the first time, I’m sure—the analogy of a rough stone. “Instead of cutting stones, we are cutting and carving our selves. We talk a lot about cutting off our excesses.”

In the main hall, in front of the highest ceremonial chairs, are two square rocks, called ashlars. One is rough hewn, representing men when they enter. The other is smoothed and square, representing the perfection that masonry hopes to provide.

The Masons are likely the oldest organization in Weston; “We have been in Weston since 1874, and the first [meeting] place was in Eagle House. In 1924, they bought this building”, Turk told me. The Upper Canadian heritage is still obvious; there are several Union Jacks and portraits of royalty.

In 2017, though, an arsonist nearly destroyed the building. The interior and furnishings were seriously damaged, and it was only because a member happened to be in the basement at the time of the attack that the fire was stopped.

About 120 masons are part of the Humber Lodge, and you won’t be invited by whisper, wearing a bowler and Mac, sitting on a cold bench by the banks of the Thames.

They take applications.

Remembrance day this Sunday

This Sunday will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.

The City of Toronto hosts several civic ceremonies; the nearest to us will be in the York Memorial Collegiate Auditorium. It will start at 10:45.

At sundown, bells across Toronto will be rung 100 times to mark the 100 years since the signing of the armistice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any churches or community groups in Weston have yet registered with the city to announce their participation; perhaps, dear reader, if you are a member of a church, you could ask?

And, in continuing good news

Here’s an interesting idea born in Weston—Mount Dennis: pop-up infrastructure. It’s clever: stop-gap community spaces built using pre-fab materials on unused land.

The idea came from St Albans Boys and Girls Club, a Weston-Mount Dennis group. With some community partners, they put a portable on a underused parking lot at York Humber High School to create space for their programming.

Pop-up infrastructure makes a lot of sense for the inner suburbs: we tend to be short on nearby community spaces but long on brownfield areas. There are problems, though. St. Albans found the process frustrating: it took “nearly 5 years before they received the approval to access the site and it was not until 2014 that the first portable was finally installed. From negotiations to regulatory approvals they seemed to be hitting roadblock after roadblock at every step.”

Out of their struggles grew a report and a website with some great ideas. The plans start at $1000, for a bike and trailer, and get considerably more expensive. All of the infrastructure, though, is portable and comparatively cheap.