Remembering Mike Filey

mike-filey-toronto-past.jpegMike Filey was not world-famous. Witness how my father-in-law asked who he was when I mentioned his recent passing at the age of 80. However, he did not set out to be. Instead, he lived an outsized life within the city where he grew up, spent much of his life, and very clearly loved with his whole heart. This is why many Torontonians are today remembering the man and his legacy.

Mike Filey was a writer and a historian, and he loved his hometown of Toronto. Not only did he faithfully log all manner of anecdotes and information about the city's past, but he also played a part in making the city what it is, helping with the Streetcars for Toronto Committee as they convinced the TTC to abandon its streetcar abandonment policy back in 1972. The fact that Toronto is a city of trams is because of him and the people he worked with.

But he is most known for his writing. He was a columnist for the Toronto Sun and the author of numerous books about Toronto's history. He talked up all the things that he loved, particularly the Toronto Transit Commission. As fellow writer Jeremy Hopkin stated in his eulogy, "Mike Filey's articles were one of the beacons that made me feel as though the [Greater Toronto Area] was indeed a special place that has a history worth celebrating and preserving." As a result, his work was a formative experience for many a Torontonian or Toronto transit fan, myself included.

But above all else, he remained humble and approachable. I met him personally on two occasions. I convinced him to share a book launch with me as I debuted The Young City, which was set in 1884 Toronto. He contacted me again a few years later when someone had handed over a collection of slides from old Toronto. We had a lunch at his home, with his lovely wife, and very pleasant conversation. It was kind of an honour to have his respect when he handed over pieces of Toronto's history to be logged in Transit Toronto.

So, Mike Filey never set out to be world-famous, but in Toronto he was famous enough, for the work he did, and the love he put into it. And for that, he will be remembered, by a lot of people.

Rest in peace, Mike. And thanks for everything.

The Communicators (2022 Walk & Run for rare)

walk-and-run-for-rare-logo.pngI am going to mix my work life in with my home blog a moment and tell you about a fundraising effort I'm involved in for the rare Charitable Research Reserve. Every year since 2010, the organization has run this fall walkathon event to help raise funds for their Turn the Map Green campaign, which pays off the costs of the 1,200+ acres of environmentally sensitive land they currently steward in Waterloo Region and Wellington County. This year, we're changing things up, turning the walkathon into more of a Trail Party, although the fundraising element remains.

I've signed up to walk the 5 km course on Sunday, September 25. Not only is this a good cause, but it's good exercise for me as well. And I've set up a team to broaden the effort. As rare's Communications Officer, and working as a Communications Coordinator for the Canadian Water Network, I know that communications personnel are special people, and we should stick together. So, I've set up a team for the Walk & Run for rare called The Communicators. I call upon my fellow Communications coordinators, officers, clerks, managers, directors and so on to support rare and the work it does. You can donate to my efforts directly here or, if you happen to be in Cambridge on Sunday, September 25 and want to participate in the Walk & Run and Trail Party yourself, you can join The Communicators as a participant here.

You won't regret coming out to take part in this outdoors event, as there will be food and drink, family-friendly activities, live music and more, and any support you can offer will extend rare's protection of the natural lands in Waterloo Region and Wellington County for the benefit of all, now and into the future.

So, how about it, communicators (and anybody else who wants to get involved)? Are you up for the challenge?

Canadian National Broadband Lines

Canadian_National_Railways_first_logo.svg.pngIf there's one lesson we need to take from yesterday's near-complete outage of the internet for Rogers, Rogers-subsidiary customers, and network providers that relied on Rogers' network, the Internet is now as important and potentially disruptive a piece of national infrastructure as our power system. For twelve hours, stores and restaurants could only operate cash-only. More disturbingly, government services such as ArriveCAN, Service Canada, and some 9-1-1 networks stopped operating. If nothing else, Rogers highlighted the widespread impact a cyberattack on our broadband network could have. So, how do we adjust to that?

Clearly, there need to be redundancies built into the system, but redundancy is the opposite of efficiency, and the great glorious skill that capitalist businesses trumpet for their shareholders, if not their customers, is efficiency. They generate the most revenue for the least amount of expenses. They invest as little capital as possible for the biggest return on investment. By their nature, they are incentivized to cut corners, to put all their eggs in one basket, and not to consider every possible point of failure and what it could do if it failed. And you see the result.

On Twitter, yesterday, some people questioned the desirability of having private capitalist enterprises manage vital public infrastructure. Telecoms used to be a public venture, so maybe they should be so again. Maybe it was time to nationalize Rogers. I'm not sure if that's the best solution, though. While there are benefits to customers (or, to put another word on it, citizens) to operate something as a public service rather than a profitable enterprise, replacing one monopoly with another encourages the same sort of complacency that marks Rogers and Bell's management of Canada's Internet. And Canada used to have a different solution.

When a mass of railroad bankruptcies in 1916-17 turned Canadian Pacific into the single profitable transcontinental railroad in the country, the Canadian government didn't react by nationalizing the new monopoly, or even opening the door to competition from American transcontinental railways. Instead, the government of Canada acquired the failed competitors (Canadian Northern, Grand Trunk Pacific, and so on) and merged them together to create Canadian National Railways, a crown corporation that operated at cost to run in competition with the CP monopoly. This maintained the competition that encouraged innovation, better customer service, and kept prices lower. Similar principles forged Air Canada (before it was privatized) to run in competition with CP Air, or the CBC to maintain a public broadcaster alongside various private radio and television networks.

We have slipped away from this approach in the intervening decades. Crown corporations have been privatized and regulations lifted. However, capitalists usually agree that competition is good, and they like to say that monopolies are bad (although they tend not to say this when they themselves own the monopoly), so if the marketplace has spoken and created a monopoly within a sector -- especially one where there is considerable public interest involved -- then government intervention to maintain competition rather than end it is a solution that we know has worked in the past.

Today, the Internet provider Shaw is fading in the marketplace. Rogers has reached out to try and merge it into its operations. After yesterday, many agree this shouldn't happen. But rather than let Shaw limp along to obscurity or bankruptcy, maybe Shaw should be acquired by the Canadian government, its mandate expanded to offer decent Internet service at cost or at modest profit across Canada. They could become the basis for our government to build more redundancies into our critical broadband network, protecting our payment systems, our 9-1-1 networks, everyone, should something take out one of the other networks. And Bell and Rogers would also benefit from this deal. Shaw -- now Canadian National Broadband -- could lease portions of its new national broadband lines to Bell and Rogers at cost, for the benefit of the profitable companies and, more importantly, their customers. Us.

Yesterday

The horrible news of yesterday was not unexpected, thanks to the leak back in May, but it still hurt. Even sitting here in Canada, it hurt. I spent far too much time yesterday doomscrolling, seeing more evidence that our largest neighbour -- and still one of the big superpowers -- was coming apart and turning into a fascistic hellhole. And that's on top of the fact that morally-bankrupt politicians here in Canada want to take a similar approach while the centrist parties seem hard-pressed to muster up the competence to truly deal with them, and of course, the anti-immigrant, homophobic, misogynistic hatred we see on many fronts, and the advancing apocalypse of climate change.

Many days, these days, I wish I could go back in time. I wish I could return to a simpler day in my childhood when nuclear war seemed on the wane, and climate change seemed more manageable. Times when all mainstream political parties seemed able to reason with each other, even while they came down on different sides on issues. The time when the Berlin Wall and then Apartheid fell. I would have to try and find some way to take my triumphs and the people I love from my current life back with me, but wouldn't we all be safer, and happier?

Then I remember that, while these times seemed safer and happier for me, a cis-gen white male (even if he is of mixed-race descent), that safety and happiness was harder to come by for so many people back in the day. LGTBQ individuals couldn't marry, were persecuted by religious fanatics and the casual homophobia that just seemed baked into society. Many were only just coming out of the closet because it was just marginally safer (and less criminal) to do so. Blacks and other racial minorities were locked out of our economic systems and didn't have nearly the voice we hear now. Residential schools were still being imposed upon Indigenous Peoples. Go back further and you have the Asian Exclusion Act, Jim Crow, segregation, and much more. And let's not forget how close we came to nuclear war, and ending our future decades before it happened.

So, while yesterday may seem a peaceful time of innocence (aside from some school bullying), it was only so for me and people like me: white heterosexual males who were the undisputed top class of Western society. For racial minorities, for LGTBQ+ people, for our First Nations, and for women, this time was very uncomfortable, even deadly due to direct and casual racism, sexism and homophobia, not to mention laws that criminalized their activities and existence or banned their medical needs.

And that's when I realize, this is what Republican leaders want, and what many forces within the Conservative Party of Canada are calling for. This is what the incels dream of. To regain any sort of prominence, however unearned, they seek to impose so much pain and discomfort on others, again, even though that pain and discomfort hasn't truly left.

It is, in a word, evil.

So, time travel is not the solution. Like it or not, where we are now may still not be comfortable for most of us, but it's still progress from where we've been. It's the fact that progress has been made that some forces are reacting with fear, hatred and violence to desperately turn back the clock.

As David Suzuki said, decades ago, there are no "good old days". There is just today. And today is better than yesterday because, unlike yesterday, today still gives us some control over tomorrow.

"Time Loop?" "Time Loop." "Groundhog Day."

I have to confess that I haven't been able to motivate myself to watch Doctor Who: Flux beyond The Halloween Apocalypse. No, I don't think the show is too "woke" (what does that even mean, for God's sake?), and no, I do very much think that Jodie Whitaker has done a wonderful job as the thirteenth Doctor. I do, however, feel that she has been let down by the quality of the storytelling. That and the unfortunate propensity to film things dark and to muffle the dialogue with the crash! bang! of frenzied action makes some of the episodes hard to watch, and it looked to be the case with Flux.

But I'm still a fan. I know this because I watched Eve of the Daleks, earlier this week, and I loved it. Indeed, the show won me over entirely with the exchange in the title, spoken between the principals, their third time into the time loop. All credit to John Bishop here: his delivery of that one line made me an instant fan of his character, and I'd only seen him in The Halloween Apocalypse.

I doubt the episode is going to survive an application of fridge logic. I strongly suspect that the characters were in each time loop for far longer than the eight, seven, six, and so on minutes of each loop, and a lot of stuff gets handwaved, but the whole episode felt right, primarily keeping the stakes easy to understand and manage, and allowing the actors (shout out to guests Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon for their fully-fleshed-out portrayals of Sarah and Nick) and I was hooked. If all of the stories of Chibnall's era could have been like this, I'd be feeling a lot better about this program. As it was, Eve of the Daleks shows that there's still quite a bit of life in the old girl after all.

Video Essays

Sometimes I feel that I'm not writing as much as I'd like, beyond what I'm already doing for work. However, I have to remind myself that I am putting at least some of those creative energies into video production. In addition to digitizing and presenting the priceless 50-year-old film material from Richard Glaze (see here), I've been creating transit videos of my own. So, while your appreciation of the material may vary, here's some of the stuff I've recently published, starting with a timelapse video of a streetcar line filmed behind the front window of one such streetcar:

Here's a video of shots I took during an interesting TTC subway shuttle operation last weekend that my friend Damian Baranowski edited and put together:

And here's the latest video I produced from Richard Glaze's material, featuring voice work on my part. I'd like to thank Steve Munro for his help in nailing down the date of these film prints:

And another Richard Glaze production I'm particularly proud of, though maybe not as appropriate for the season:

If you want more, click to Transit Toronto's YouTube Channel. Hopefully I'll be back into some creative writing tomorrow and into this week.

We Need to Raise Taxes

glencairn-station-stained-glass-from-south.jpeg

The photo above is apropos of nothing. It's a shot I took because I thought it looked nice. I snapped it on March 20, 2022, from the Viewmount entrance to Glencairn Station on the Toronto subway. Anyway, on with the post...

From 2011 to 2019, I was privileged to have a weekly column with the community newspaper, the Kitchener Post. It allowed me to say what I was saying on this blog to my neighbours and surrounding community as well as to the old blogosphere. And judging from the e-mails I received (most of them polite) my words were reaching people.

Sadly, the paper folded and, soon after, their website went down, and my online record of columns disappeared with it. I still keep copies on my hard drive, though, and may occasionally place them here. I think a lot of what I said then is still relevant today.

Case in point is this column, which I wrote on July 25, 2019, and likely appeared the week following. I received a number of responses to it, and overall, it was far more positive than I'd expected. I think it bears saying here too.

I don't remember what the headline was. That wasn't my job. I supplied the words of the column below my byline, but the headline above it was my editor's job (or their designate) alone. If I'd been allowed to write that headline, perhaps this is what I would have come up with:

To Build the Province We Deserve, It's Time to Raise Our Taxes

Occasionally, readers write, and while I have been down on the Ford government for reneging on its promise that "not one front line worker will lose their job", they ask a reasonable question: where are we going to get the money to pay for the services that are being cut?

We'll leave aside that Ford is somehow spending more money than the Liberals did before they were defeated. We will leave aside that Ford has invested money in horse breeding while cutting funds for education.

There are a lot of things that need doing in this province. Ford himself hopes to spend $11.2 billion on four Toronto-area rapid transit lines. Where's he going to get the money?

We have to be honest. If we want better schools, if we want better roads and transit, if we want hospitals that serve our communities well, we have to pay for them. That means we have to raise taxes.

But James! Taxes are ever so high! Taxes are slavery! Why would you want to raise them?

Except that tax cuts have been a mantra of most governments since the mid-1980s. In general, taxes have gone in one direction, and it's not up. Brian Mulroney cut taxes. Stephen Harper cut taxes. Even Justin Trudeau cut the Federal business tax rate from 15% to 13%.

As a percentage of our income, we're paying less taxes now than we were doing in the mid-1980s. So, why do we think that our taxes are still too high?

Perhaps because we haven't seen the bulk of the tax cuts governments have made. When Harper cut the HST from 7% to 5%, for most people that amounted to four cents off a Tim Horton's coffee. The real benefits went to home buyers - particularly rich home buyers -- who saved thousands on their purchase price.

Anti-tax interests like to point to the Fraser Institute's "Tax Freedom Day". Supposedly, this is the day when average Canadians "stop working for the government" and start working for themselves. Although its methodology has been questioned, Tax Freedom Day has been placed at some point in June.

Those interests never point out that Corporate Tax Freedom Day is January 30. And Ford has promised to cut Ontario's corporate tax rate from 11.5% to 10.5%, even though Ontario's corporate tax rate is already among the lowest in Canada.

So, even though corporations pay significantly lower taxes than average Canadians, that's been the priority of the Ford government. If you're wondering why it doesn't feel as though your taxes have diminished, here is a place to look.

But I object to the whole concept of Tax "Freedom" Day. It implies that we receive no benefit from the money that's been spent.

I am seeing, however, an increasing understanding of what these tax dollars represent as my neighbours get increasingly angry over the loss of teaching jobs and the increase in class sizes, or their frustration about needed infrastructure projects that aren't getting done.

The money I've spent on taxes comes back to me, in the police, firefighters and emergency workers who keep our cities safe. It comes back to me in my children's education.

My taxes ensured that when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she received hospital visits, palliative care, and the ability to die with dignity at home, without forcing my father to mortgage his house.

That's not slavery. That's freedom from it.

And if we want more, we have to pay for it.

James Bow is a writer and a father of two in Kitchener, Ontario. You can follow him online at bowjamesbow.ca or on Twitter at @jamesbowkwto.

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