April 2010 – Goldenrod Part 3 – The City needs some strong medicine…

It can’t get any stranger in Toronto in 2010, and not because it’s an election year. The Scoop has some predictions if the City of Toronto keeps sliding down the slippery slope of status quo and smothering citizens’ rights as they swing the scythe of bylaws at their discretion.
SCOOP PRESCRIPTION
An open letter to those who control the City of Toronto, because as Professor R.S. Jenkins stated: government is too vital to be left to politicians and citizenship is not a spectator sport.
City of Toronto, we are already the laughing stock of the country for other things; don’t make us the laughing stalk of the entire gardening world. The Scoop has a prescription to avoid any further embarrassment. Yes, the Scoop could be accused of operating without a medical licence. Heck, we don’t have any legal training either, but we’ll give anything a go. As with the legal system, it won’t always work on all of the people, all of the time. It may need tweaking to get it right. But here’s our stab at helping you out of the predicament.
1. Recognize the problem and that it won’t go away without intervention.
In your big manifesto, the City of Toronto Act, 2006 (S.O. 2006, c. 11, Sched. A, s.11(1), (2), you do state that if a bylaw conflicts with or frustrates the purpose of a provincial or federal Act, that the municipal bylaw has no effect. So, Toronto does recognize the authority of the provincial and federal laws and that it supersedes its own law. That’s a start. We just might have to remind you…constantly. Perhaps Toronto can’t handle it all and is out of its league. There’s no shame in admitting it – look at all the celebrity confessions.
But we have reason to be concerned that you may be slipping. Yes, bad habits die hard and it seems you never really stopped acting up. Why just the other day (Jan. 25, 2010), you proclaimed an amendment to the Act, City of Toronto Act, 2006 [c. 11, Sched. A, s. 385 (1)], under City Orders and Remedial Actions, Work order, which meant that you dropped your authority to force restitution through work orders that contravene City bylaws on any Act other than your own. In other words, since the Weed Act is not yours, you don’t want to have anything to do with enforcing it. It’s not that you don’t want to send your local list to OMAFRA to get it approved. It’s because if the City enacts a bylaw that declares a plant a local weed under the Weed Control Act, which is not your Act, you don’t have the authority to enforce it. So, is that your reason for not bothering with the Weed Control Act and a local weed list in the first place, and for sticking with Chapter 489 to go after anything tall as your default plan? Now was this pre-emptive action on your part for all these years?
Uh-oh – now we know what you’re up to – you’re changing it so that the City of Toronto Act is the Act and you are not going to acknowledge any others, as a precursor to seceding from the province. Obviously, it is more serious than we thought.
You seem to perceive that vegetation is a real threat to the safety of residents, so perhaps vegetation should not be prescribed under municipal law. The Weed Control Act is sufficient in protecting the citizens of Ontario without the input of municipalities. We know the Province of Ontario should update their noxious weed list and not burden municipalities with the onerous task of identifying harmful weeds. But please don’t subject your citizens to undue persecution because of foot dragging by the province, or your misinterpretations or omissions. Your jewelweed in the crown, Parks, Forestry & Recreation, should not be an enforcer for ML&S and should be encouraged to redirect their energies back solely to the public realm. Recognize that many municipal employees, and not just the elected representation, are satisfied with the status quo and that strong leadership is needed to effect real change.
By the way, you also might want to acknowledge and find treatment for your quirky psychopathic tendencies; pyschopathy being a personality disorder characterized by chronic antisocial behaviour, i.e., violating the rights of others and an absence of feelings of guilt about the behaviour.
2. Consult with the Community – we have a vested interest to make this city better, too. But *common sense should prevail.
Government agencies should not enact bylaws without input from stakeholders (citizens).
The first order of business is to inform residents. There are 44 turfdoms in Toronto. The best way to reach citizens would be through the local councillors and neighbourhood associations. There are over 170 neighbourhoods in Toronto and 318 Local Residents and Ratepayers Associations. Get to know us! We will try to help you by making the issues known to citizens. For example, a local Residents and Ratepayers’ Association with the help of a councillor was able to persuade ML&S to revise a bylaw: Right to enter adjoining land to make repairs. Let’s work along those lines. Note: Bylaw No. 1154-2008 may be overkill; it is here for illustrative purposes, only.
Please don’t foist endless safety precautions on us when individuals and companies should take personal responsibility for their actions. It smacks of paternalism taken to the nth degree. Recognize that you can’t protect some people from their own stupidity. You can’t protect us from everything – that’s obvious. You allow Hydro to keep metal plates on sidewalks that conduct errant electricity to taser kids and dogs (electrocuting one) and let Hydro off the hook by making them advertise an alert in the local paper, rather than doing the right thing by forcing them to fix the problem or to replace the plates (note: the red paint is wearing thin – how about adding a bright yellow lightning bolt as an accent for next winter? Better yet – a rendering of a goldenrod). Yet, you go ballistic when a citizen wants to grow a few innocuous plants on their property. So, in the meanwhile, work with the media and at least give us heads up on issues that directly impact us and our property.
*Yes, we realize common sense is very rare and may have been extirpated from Toronto.
3. Research other communities’ solutions. Admit that you don’t have all the answers and perhaps a community out there might have a better handle on it. You might actually make a few friends.
There is some hope. ML&S actually looked at other jurisdictions and municipalities (Ottawa, Windsor, Mississauga, London, and Oshawa) for direction to amend changes in the bylaw mentioned above. There is no reason to think that lightning can’t strike twice and result in positive changes in other legislation like Chapters 447 & 489. Ottawa and Whitby are heading in the right direction. Besides, we can also work on harnessing that excess energy that your Enforcement Officers seem to possess and redirect it to more pressing matters (and no, not to pressing botanical specimens, unless for recognized educational purposes).
4. Identify the real culprit and do due diligence before persecuting others. It’s never too late to fix things and make amends.
Face it! The real culprit is the bylaws, as written. Blame it all you want on nasty neighbours for inflicting their perverse pleasure on unfortunate neighbours. But it wouldn’t happen if you would just shut them down with well-worded bylaws that could take the power away from chronic complainers, especially those with sociopathic tendencies. Nobody should be subjected to the level of harassment that passes as daily living for some people in this city.
It’s going to take longer to change attitudes, so you have to listen to more than a select few (ML&S, among others) and provide leadership. We’ll do our part. City of Vaughan concedes that “the elimination of pesticides in parks can be successfully achieved through public education to achieve a high tolerance level for weeds and additional cultural practices to minimize the weeds.” Direct your energies to education! Don’t make the Province of Ontario come over and deliver the ultimatum – The Final Remedy – the Province rescinds the control of more bylaws, e.g., weed control. They were successful with repealing cosmetic pesticides and the clothesline bylaws (low rise properties, high-rise pending). Even the OSPCA got in on the act and took over the Toronto Humane Society. Anything with ‘Toronto’ in the title is fair game. It’s a wonder that the OSPCP (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants) hasn’t taken over Toronto City Hall! Act responsibly and remove vegetation from the fences bylaw and state that vegetation cannot be considered a fence. The onus should be on you to find a way to identify derelict properties without harassing gardeners who are environmentally-conscious. Consult with gardening groups and let them guide you.
Really, why should citizens be held to a higher level of standards than you? We’re talking all manner of standards, including property standards. We aren’t supposed to have defects in our properties, but you can? We’re not supposed to have cracks in our driveways…but have you checked the state of your roads lately? What’s good for the goose tongue (Plantago maritima) is good for the gander’s ragwort (Packera ganeri). We aren’t awash in spendulas, either (remember…you’ve taken it). You think our properties look bad, but the state of the public realm reflects badly on the private realm, too. It works both ways.
Perhaps to steer the City back on course, we should go back to basics…as in school. Some principles are timeless. Here’s an old school primer on governance to start:
“Democracy, with all its good and evil, must be accepted as the basis of modern government. Though here and there a philosopher may scoff at the ‘suffrage of the plow’, yet social order and stability must henceforth depend on either the tolerance or the good will of the masses of the people. The time when a small educated class could safeguard the glories of civilized life and the arts by the use of physical or moral force, is rapidly disappearing.1 Therefore, it is a self-evident fact that the state ought to teach its future citizens the worth of our civilization and the ways of preserving it from impairment, and assisting in its progress. We must no longer, as those in an earlier age, walk calmly over the surface underneath which slumbers the volcano of popular passion. The fruits of centuries of toil are too precious to be exposed to any possibility of injury. There must be a means sought for training our people in social and civic responsibility.” (R.S. Jenkins)
As citizens we will try to uphold our part with civic duties (these could work for you too):
1) We will try and understand as well as we can our system of government and to keep ourselves informed as to all the important acts of those who are in authority.
2) We will put our knowledge of the nation and its government to practical use by taking an active part in politics.
3) We will be ready to assist so far as we are able all good causes.
4) We will endeavour to lessen the cruelty of our civilization.
(Canadian Civics, Robert Smith Jenkins, 1912)
1Scoop clarification: present-day Toronto excepted.
If you will not acknowledge the problem and be willing to change; then let us proceed to the next section…