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Council’s wrangles on Uber, gambling have familiar ring

Ex-mayor Rob Ford hasn't changed his position on Woodbine Racetrack; meanwhile, cabbies face a gamble of their own.
July 8, 2015
By Royson James

Toronto cabbies are spitting mad. Uber is stealing their business and the public couldn’t care less.

Casinos are fronting as “economic development” in the forgotten corners of the city.

The downtown-suburban divide is as stark as ever, and now, a provincial review of city governance gives anti-amalgamationists a chance to grouse and whine.

And drivers are mad at everyone but themselves about traffic jams everywhere.

Ahh, Toronto the familiar; a few weeks away only underscores that nothing changes while everything is changing.

Pity the poor taxi driver. Few of our service-industry workers have been so pushed and pulled by the vagaries of government meddling and control and regulation - always despised, it seems, never embraced, forever fussed and unresolved.

Now the poor overworked serfs are up against an indiscriminate foe called technology and are naturally scared. Is this the end of government regulation? Hardly. But will the internet finally liberate the cab driver from the clutches of the greedy broker - an unexpected positive from what seems like certain disaster?

And leave us nothing to write about?

Well, there is always amalgamation.

A study from right-wing think-tank Fraser Institute gave urban traditionalists a little hope this week. The amalgamation of Toronto’s six municipalities into one Toronto on Jan. 1, 1998 was a mistake, the institute argues.

No surprise there.

Apparently, the province didn’t think carefully enough about the many cultural differences and civic sensibilities it was merging - too focused it was on phantom savings.

But before advocates of de-amalgamation could rattle off a news release to rally the troops and storm Queen’s Park, the report warns that putting the six cities back to their original place is quite difficult.

This summer the province is holding a review of governance in Toronto. This is an ideal place to ask for a return to the North York, East York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, York and Toronto as distinct governments. Expect the diehards to stoke that fire. It’s unlikely to ignite. For, despite our differences and the downtown-suburb divide, Toronto’s suburbs are demonstrably better off under one city banner.

Still, the differences are real. As I write, city council’s casino debate drones on in the background. There are few opponents in the council chamber. No Casino Toronto - so vigorous in the opposition to the planned downtown casino in 2013 - is conspicuously muted.

A few councillors fought what seemed like an obligatory good fight.

“Take away all the tinsel and all the lights, they are not happy places,” Councillor Joe Mihevc said of casinos. They exist to “remove money from the patrons as quickly as possible without spilling blood on the carpet ... you can disguise this using terms like ‘gaming’ ... but there is a high social cost.

“You think in 20 years you’ll sit around and say, ‘Y’know, I’m proud of that casino’?” Mihevc asked. The legacy of casinos is: Children abandoned at the casinos, chronic spousal abuse, bankruptcies, divorce, homelessness, poverty, suicide.”

Maybe the protest groups are tired. Maybe Rexdale, as far away as you can get from Toronto and still be in Toronto, is not as valuable a city asset - in real estate terms and in human terms - as downtown.

Yes, Rexdale is hurting. Former mayor Rob Ford boastfully said he would bring huge development to the Woodbine complex and failed miserably. Nothing happened.

Now, he argues, increased gambling is the ticket for Woodbine. There will be a few social problems, “but you have to have self-control,” said the guy notoriously incapable of the same.

And Rexdale gets “hundreds of good paying jobs,” he said.

“This is the best we can do for economic development?” Councillor Gord Perks (open Gord Perks's policard) asked, referencing the “suite of social ills.”

It’s easy money, he was told.

“Stupid money,” Perks said. “We are deliberately investing in expanding the number of social harm.”