Happiness Is...


…Chinese takeout brought home by my parents for a Thursday evening feast, with little Vivian in her hamper sleeping.

Vivian is six weeks old. We had our final midwife visit before the transfer of care to our family practitioner. Our daughter is thriving. Born at 6 lbs, 10.5 oz (3015 g), she is now 9 lbs, 5.5 oz (4235 g). Her initial length has grown from 51 cm to 57. Breastfeeding really works.

She has been having a few bouts of fussiness, if not outright colic, these past couple of weeks. I say it’s better to have her two-hour bout of crying in the daytime than at night, but if you say that, you haven’t sat beside a squawling infant before. It rips apart your nerves, whether or not you’re trying to sleep. The midwife and other kind parents have suggested non-alcoholic gripe water, and then Ovol drops. The Ovol drops seem to help, though I note that they still sell gripe water in its older, with-alcohol version. Hmm…

The Region of Waterloo has been kind enough to supply us with a bunch of flyers — the closest thing we have to a baby manual, I suppose — which says that babies between six to eight weeks cry, on average, three hours a day. A fact that I suppose is… not comforting at all. But forewarned is forearmed.

Someday, I hope relatively soon, I hope Erin and I will be able to say that happiness is sleeping through the night. But right now, happiness is still Vivian.

(There are more Vivian pictures on Flickr

A TTC Commissioner? Me?!


I’ve been in print before. I’ve had my picture grace the pages of The National Post, but only as the co-creator of a nifty website, and an example of a slightly weird group of people known as railfans with a possibly unhealthy interest in Toronto’s public transit network. So it’s more than weird to see the Toronto weekly magazine Eye opine that I should sit as a TTC Commissioner.

The Eye editorial was inspired by the work of Ed Drass, the Transit Guru columnist for the National Post and Metro, who wrote a column how average citizens were appointed to the TTC commission until the late 1980s when Metropolitan Toronto council decided that all the seats should be filled by municipal politicians. The Eye elaborates:

Since 1990, all of the seats on the Commission have been filled by city councillors, so this move would be a big — and, we’ll admit, unlikely — break with tradition. But as Drass pointed out, services as important as the police have non-elected citizen commissioners. Even though Drass backed off the idea on Dec. 13, we think there’s a lot to be gained by breaking the mould here. What’s more, we have some suggestions about who would best fill the two available slots.

First off is Steve Munro, who reveals himself in Drass’ Dec. 13 column to be lukewarm on the idea. “In an ideal world, there would be people like me who are genuinely working for the benefit of the riders. But what we would actually get is politicians who are out of office but biding their time…”

Not if one of the commissioners were Munro himself. A leader of the Rocket Riders activist group who helped draft the Mayor’s much-ballyhooed Ridership Growth Strategy and someone often acknowledged to know more about transit than anyone else, Munro is a citizen commissioner who would bring more to the service than any of the available councillors.

Another is James Bow, the guy behind www.transittoronto.org (check it out — it’s an internet heaven for transit geeks). If Munro knows more about the TTC than anyone else, Bow probably loves it as much, and knows a great deal, too. His essay in Coach House Books’ recent uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto about the subway system we might have had is inspiring and depressing in equal measures. Bow knows the minutiae of the TTC’s history off the top of his head while being able to consistently rhyme off ideas for what they could be doing to better serve and reach out to its riders.

Another candidate who’s demonstrated rider-savvy and creativity is Matt Blackett (Eye Weekly’s own M@B), who created those little tile-pattern subway-station lapel buttons everyone’s wearing (see page 13). He approached the TTC with the idea of marketing the buttons and, when they blew him off in a typical bureaucratic fog, he went out and did it anyway. Blackett, who also runs Spacing magazine, is tapped into a huge community of civically engaged creative artists and is, in conversation, a wellspring of ideas that the TTC could use to raise money and build its mythology at the same time.

And lastly, for sheer gall, we’d suggest cartographer Andrew Alfred-Duggan. His map in uTOpia, “Toronto the Could,” shows a transit line with routes along the lakeshore and out into the suburbs and pretty much going everywhere in between. Never mind that it’s a $100-billion fantasy, his map is a thing of such visionary beauty that he couldn’t help but shake up our blinkered TTC.

To put it mildly, I’m very flattered to be included in such company, although wouldn’t it be odd having a TTC Commissioner commuting in from Kitchener (though, I’d promise to take the train each time). Also, as I said on the Transit Toronto blog, I can’t hog the whole credit for the work that was done on the website. Aaron Adel co-created it, and it is only in the state it’s in thanks to the encouragement, corrections and additional material submitted by such folks as Mark Brader, John Bromley, Ray Corley, David Cavlovic, Daniel Garcia, Christopher Livett and many more. Transit Toronto is a group effort, and these folks deserve a share in the accolades.

A Change’ll Do You Good

I’ve seen one of the new ads the Conservatives are running in place of the wooden “interview Stephen” pieces that the blogosphere panned for the last two weeks. It represents a substantial improvement.

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way, first. There are two places where I choke on my suspension of disbelief. One where Stephen Harper is referred to as “a leader who is more like us”. Ha. Haha. Sorry, guys, but you’ll have a hard time selling that one. Harper remains very much, to coin a phrase, an “elitist” and an “out of touch Torontonian”. Harper needs more face time and to loosen up still further before average Canadians can warm up enough to him to take that comment seriously.

They also go too hard on the Liberal record. “Years of corruption” reads as hyperbole, especially when most Canadians are better off now than they were twelve years ago. This is a critical difference between the NDP and Conservative negative ads. The NDP focus on recent examples of waste and arrogance; things which are fresh in the minds of voters. The fact that the Conservatives continue to dredge up old hurts adds to their reputation as a negative party unable to move on.

But these are only minor problems, and since the ad doesn’t end on these points, the damage they do is limited. The ads are a winner because they hit home on a very positive message at the end: this is what you the voter can do. You can vote against the Liberals, and you can “Stand up for Canada”. Very affirming. Very empowering. Definitely a message that will resonate.

In other news, Midas Fine Grind speculates that Harper’s recent candid comments may have been a strategic error. It’s hyperbole to say that all of the provincial leaders “hate” Paul Martin, and it’s possible that the press may end up getting the provincial premiers to trip over themselves to say that while they disagree with Martin on certain policy, they don’t hate the man. This has the potential to be a story that keeps on giving for the next few days, if the press jumps on it.

But I am hesitant to really criticize Harper on this. For one thing, it’s a small off-the-cuff remark in a larger interview. For another, candid interviews such as this are key to getting Harper to soften his image with Canadians. Consider this joke:

Harper, who is often prickly with reporters, said he was pleased with the media coverage of the campaign. Asked if he no longer loathes reporters, he didn’t miss a beat. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” he said with a grin.

This is pure gold and he needs more of that.

In a way, it is a shame that he abandoned his interview ads, when a simple tweak could have saved them. Instead of having a Katie Couric-wannabe offer up canned questions, why oh why didn’t they bring in Peter Kent? He’s a respected newscaster, he makes questions sound interesting, and he’s a Conservative candidate. Not only could he have given the ads some much needed polish, this would have elevated Kent’s national profile within the party, which could well have helped him in his own campaign in the St. Paul riding of Toronto. Definitely a way to get the intent of the ads out to the public, and build the image of the Conservative team in one fell swoop.

One last thing: if Harper truly believes that provincial premiers go as far as “hate” in their dealings with Paul Martin the man, that’s a pretty serious character flaw he needs to address. We do not need politicians that openly hate their opponents. This country should not forget that there are more things which unite us, Albertan and Ontarian, NDPer, Liberal, Blocquiste and Conservative, than divide us, and as soon as we speak in terms of our opponents being our enemies as opposed to just ordinary Canadians who disagree with us, then we’ve lost a key perspective on who we are and what our democracy is about.

That goes for everybody. Too many people attack the Conservatives as though Harper were the anti-Christ. The moment you do that, you’re no better than the people you claim you’re criticizing. Four years of Harper government — if he gets so lucky — isn’t going to destroy this country. Only we can destroy our country, by forgetting that our fellow citizens, though they disagree with us, are as human as we are, and worthy of the same respect we expect for ourselves.

Consider that today seventy percent of Iraqis risked life and limb to cast ballots for their first democratic government in ages (if all goes well). These citizens certainly see more in common with each other than they do with the insurgents, and if they have disagreements, they at least know that they can express that disagreement with a mark on a ballot rather than the blast of a bomb. Yes, this is an extreme example to send Canada’s way, but it’s worth remembering that whatever party wins the next election in this country, we will have a government of Canadians by Canadians, for better or for worse.

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