Parsing @TOMayorFord’s robo-mail | #TOpoli #saveJarvis

There’s a lot of action on the Tweeter about the Jarvis Street bike lanes. Just do a search on the #saveJarvis hashtag. And there’s been a lot of valuable grassroots work from the likes of Dave Meslin, Justin Beach, Matt Elliott, the Toronto Cyclists Union, and other activists.

But even automatic form-letter responses can be instructive. This is from Rob Ford’s office, in response to a letter about the Jarvis bike lanes:

Thank you for your email.

As I promised during the mayoralty election, I am dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city.

I will continue to work on behalf of the taxpayers to make sure you get the respect you deserve.

This note is to confirm that we have received your email and that we are looking into your matter.

Please feel free to follow up to check the status of your email.

Thanks again and have a great day.

Yours truly,

Mayor Rob Ford
City of Toronto

We’re all in this together.

OK, well, where to begin?

Customer service excellence?

Deep sigh. I’m not a “customer,” Rob / staff / mailbot. I’m a citizen. There’s a rather substantial difference. I suspect there might be two or three people in this city who feel the same way.

Citizenship is about more than delivering service, and it’s about more than soundbites like “gravy trains” or “respect for taxpayers” or “the war on the car.” It involves a conception of the public good far beyond simplistic memes like those, and if there’s any recognition of that from Team Ford, I have yet to see it.

Transparent and accountable government?

According to the Toronto Cyclists Union,

City Hall wants to remove the Jarvis Street bike lanes by side-stepping the democratic process. Councillors in Mayor Ford’s inner circle tabled a motion to remove the bike lanes at the eleventh hour at the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee. This issue was not on the agenda, so cyclists did not have the opportunity to voice support for Jarvis before the decision was made. The local Councillor wasn’t even consulted until 5 minutes prior to the decision’s announcement. Local Councillors deserve to have a say in their own ward. Cyclists deserve public consultation on a major infrastructure change such as this.

Doesn’t seem especially transparent, accountable or respectful to me, but then I’m not part of Ford Nation. Tip of the iceberg, one suspects.

Working on behalf of taxpayers?

See remarks re citizenship, above.

Space doesn’t allow for a full exploration, but in short, we are citizens, Rob, not taxpayers. The whole “taxpayers” discourse reduces our relationships to our government, our community and one another to very narrow and antagonistic terms. It turns civic life into a reductionist, zero-sum, us-versus-them game. When you think of yourself solely as a taxpayer, then the only way you’re going to see government is as an intrusive force that takes away your hard-earned money.

Yes, I ride a bike. Not that that should make any difference. Bad policy and bad governance are what they are regardless of how I choose to get around. If nothing else, I’d like to see the end of the idiotic “war on the car” meme. Any sane and workable transportation policy needs to recognize that different people have different ways of getting around, and to plan accordingly in a way that balances the different interests in way that accomplishes the greatest good for the greatest number. That’s responsible government in one sentence. It’s not a lot to ask, but apparently it’s beyond Team Ford.

One isn’t under any illusions that phone calls, blog posts, tweets, petitions or even personal appearances at city council or committee meetings are going to have much impact on this particular administration, but there are enough independent-minded councillors to make the effort worthwhile. Or so one wants to think, anyway. I can be pretty naive sometimes.

Update: Matt Elliott’s FAQ over at OpenFile.

Related posts:

Sign up for regular updates

* indicates required