By DAVID MACFARLANE
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
One thing that can be said about cities is this: You can see them. They aren't obscure or subtle. Their strengths and their weaknesses, their achievements and their failures, their political leadership and their lack thereof stick out -- stick out, as a matter of fact, like a big, idling bus.
Take Queens Park, for example. The place, I mean, not the legislature. Take Queens Park, at the intersection of Hoskin Avenue and Queen's Park Circle, at about 8 o'clock on a weekday morning.
If you happen to be a Liberal or an NDP candidate who has decided, in a fit of pre-election confidence, to take a morning stroll around the acreage where you will be spending the next several years, there are some essential realities of Toronto that you can easily observe. You don't have to read policy papers or attend conferences. You can learn about Toronto by walking out the back door of the legislature and opening your eyes. Which is more than the Conservatives ever did.
The first thing you will notice is that you are surrounded by cars. At this time of day, most of them are heading south. Much like the support for Ernie Eves.
Of course, being surrounded by cars could be a good thing -- if you run a car dealership or an iron-lung factory. If you like to breathe, however, it might not be so terrific. If you like to combine breathing with living in the city, it can be a bit of a problem. And if you want to be so completely reckless that you spend your early mornings jogging or doing tai chi in the middle of Queen's Park -- and there are a good many downtowners who seem bent on exactly this form of self-destruction -- there are some pamphlets on respiratory ailments that you might want to look at.
You will also notice that almost every car that passes -- 10 every 10 seconds, by my estimate -- contains only a single occupant. Usually, this is a driver, although this is not strictly the case if a cellphone or a grande latte that needs stirring are also at the wheel.
If you like a bit of a challenge -- as opposed to running against the Ontario Conservatives in tomorrow's election -- you may want to amuse yourself by looking for a car heading downtown at 8 o'clock in the morning that actually has more than one occupant. But after a while you may want to do something easier. Looking for the Holy Grail, for example.
As you watch this steady stream of traffic, you may wonder whether there isn't a more intelligentand less environmentally injurious way to transport people to and from their downtown jobs. If that's the case, you are a member of what Mike Harris liked to call a special-interest group. Otherwise known as mammals.
You may also observe a curious characteristic of the southbound cars: the bigger the vehicle -- and some SUVs look like they have their own putting greens and lap pools -- the smaller the occupant.
You may notice that at the point on the southbound lanes of Queen's Park Circle where the Hondas and Volvos peel off from the Saabs and the Mercedes to head west along Hoskin Avenue there is a sign that reads: Pedestrians Wait for the Gap. This set of instructions has been put in place so that university students, the products of a decade of Conservative education policy, don't get confused and try to cross the street when cars are coming.
But before you get on your Liberal or NDP high horse about air pollution, and selfish stockbrokers in BMWs who don't give two hoots about the common good (although I have to admit there are a remarkably high percentage of southbound BMWs on Queen's Park Circle at this time of day), you might want to stroll to the main entrance of the legislature.
As you do, you may notice, in passing, that the expansive lawns that surround the legislature are as trim as broadloom and without sign of leaves or weeds. In fact, on the west side of the legislature it will prove to be impossible to find a single leaf -- in Ontario, in autumn -- on grounds that are abundant in their mature arboreal splendour. Perhaps the issue of leadership will cross your mind. Perhaps you might wonder why, when the province's citizens are asked to make sacrifices in their lifestyles in order to preserve the environment, the seat of government can employ an army of gas-powered leaf-blowers to make sure the landscaping remains firmly in the 1950s.
Finally, you will reach the main entrance to the legislature. And here you will find Howard Hampton's campaign bus -- idling. Not the PC bus, idling. The NDP bus, idling while staffers stand beside it having their morning coffee.
It is idling for no particular reason, but simply because that's what buses and cars do in Toronto, particularly when they are parked in front of Queens Park. Tour buses idle here constantly; police cars idle here constantly; MPs' cars idle here constantly.
In fact, when it comes to cities -- when it comes to supporting public transit, protecting the environment, to setting an example, and when it comes to caring about the reality of Toronto -- everyone at Queen's Park has been poisonously idling for years.