Remember the Rochester Fast Ferry?

Via Wikipedia

About 10 years ago, the City of Rochester invested in a fast ferry service between that city and Toronto. The service ran into cost overruns, fuel fees it couldn’t afford, and maintenance issues almost immediately. Per the Wikipedia article, these problems doomed the service from day 1:

  • Slow progress by the Toronto Port Authority in constructing a permanent ferry terminal in Toronto. The delays in getting even temporary terminal facilities built in Toronto during the spring of 2004 was another reason for forcing a delay in starting the service until mid-June.

  • CATS felt that it was being charged excessive Canadian customs and immigration costs. U.S. port of entry services were being provided in Rochester at no cost to CATS whereas Canadian port of entry services had to be completely covered by the company, resulting in a hidden charge on each ticket price.

  • CATS blamed U.S. customs for not giving approval for the Spirit of Ontario I to carry freight trucks and express cargo, claiming that this altered the original business plan.

  • CATS endured criticism from both nations for a decision to have Spirit of Ontario I registered under the flag of Bahamas, a flag of convenience nation, allegedly for taxation purposes. CATS was able to do this since the vessel was operating in an international service; additionally, since the Spirit of Ontario I was a foreign-built vessel, CATS would have had to pay significant penalties were it to register the vessel in either Canada or the U.S. (particularly the U.S., given the domestic-content restrictions of the Jones Act).

  • Because of the foreign flag registry for Spirit of Ontario I, CATS was required to pay for pilotage services on every crossing (approx. $6000 per crossing). Canadian and U.S. registered vessels are exempt from requiring the services of pilots while navigating on the Great Lakes.

A last-ditch attempt to have a professional ferry company run the service didn’t work, and the ship was sold in 2006. The crossing took just over 2 hours at high speeds – significantly less than the approximately 4 hour drive around the lake. 

Now? The ferry is running between Aarhus and Kalundborg in Denmark, after a 5-year stint running service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangier, Morocco. 

Here’s the current route: 

The boat today: 

Via Wikipedia

And the Spanish route: 

It made the crossing from Europe to Africa in 35 minutes. 

Via Wikipedia

Rob Ford: Status Quo

When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford goes to an Etobicoke fast-food joint, he’s likely wasted, engaging in minstrelsy, and meeting with his accused extortionist buddy

Rob Ford, Buffalonian

Channel 2 anchor Mary Alice Demler met Toronto’s figurehead mayor Rob Ford at the Bills game yesterday and came away thinking he’s a troubled guy with a sweet punim

A man who was until recently entrusted – the city council stripped Ford of almost all of his powers by an overwhelming margin a few weeks ago – with running one of the largest and most vibrant cities in North America, has not merely descended into self-parody. He is the subject of a massive police investigation into crack-dealing Etobicoke gangs, may be implicated in some homicides, and has lied to his constituents about his crack use and otherwise embarrassed himself, his family, his political party, and his city. The guy is a mess who should have been removed from office a month ago

But because the Bills played a game in Toronto yesterday (that socialist hellhole has more people and money than WNY), everyone pretended like everything was normal. Under normal circumstances, Channel 2 would be “holding people in power accountable” and wondering how Ford got a ticket and how much he paid. 

But technically speaking, Ford is no longer “in power”, so Channel 2 can leave it to the Star, CP24, the Globe & Mail, CityTV, the CBC, CTV, and other media up there to hold him “accountable”. 


She deleted the original Tweet, so here’s Buffalo Rising’s re-Tweet of it.

The Bills are so shockingly popular in Toronto that a whopping 40,000 people showed up to watch them lose to Atlanta. The Rogers Centre has a football capacity of 54,000; the Ralph can fit almost 75,000. Let’s keep trying to make fetch happen.

But it’s good to know everyone can overlook shocking criminality and a Mayor who apparently stole someone else’s seat and tell us he’s a sweetheart who squeezed himself into a Bills jersey because he’s been effectively stripped of the powers of his real job. 

But he sort of looks like he belongs here, so maybe we should gush over him. He eats chicken wings, after all. 

The Politics of Resentment

What does the Rob Ford scandal have to do with Erie County politics? At first glance, there are no similarities. 

While Buffalo’s mayor is a mild-mannered, African-American professional who has henchmen and cronies to do his dirty work whilst he is out cutting ribbons, Toronto’s mayor is a blond-haired, 300-pound, lying, crack-smoking drunkard who is as completely in denial as he is out of control and enabled by his own henchmen and cronies

As Buffalo struggles to find its way amidst a storm of population loss, educational crisis, crime, lack of jobs, and crushing poverty, Toronto is now the 4th largest city on the continent and growing. Toronto’s boom over the last 30 years has been amazing to see, and the city has invested in the infrastructure and quality of life changes that attract residents and businesses. It’s as if the Swiss ran New York City. 

Rob Ford, however, would not be mayor of Toronto if that city hadn’t undergone a change in the mid-50s to regional government, culminating in amalgamation in the late 1990s. Rob Ford is a politician who is of, and for, the Toronto suburbs. His home and political base of operations is in the western suburb of Etobicoke (the k is silent), which was dissolved as a separate political entity in 1998 and became part of Toronto. 

Ford’s refusal to resign has to do with his loyal fan base, known as “Ford Nation”. Xenophobic, urbanophobic, and virulently anti-tax, Ford Nation will back Rob and his city councillor brother Doug without question. This constituency sees in them the only hope for reducing government waste and lowering taxes; it is, simply put, a tax revolt cult of personality. 

No longer run by the Swiss, Toronto is instead being run by a loud tea party addict. Rob Ford has the personal cult and conservative anti-tax ethos of a Carl Paladino, the in-your-face obnoxiousness of Chris Christie, and the personal problems of a Marion Barry, Chris Farley, John Belushi, and Artie Lange. 

The City of Buffalo has almost nothing in common with Toronto, except perhaps a Great Lakes locus and climate, and having “City of” preceding its name. Toronto is a world-class city with a booming economy based on knowledge and creativity, while Buffalo is a grande dame-turned -provincial backwater with a struggling economy based on government handouts and nostalgia porn. Amalgamated Toronto has 44 city councillors, each representing about 55,000 residents, and a non-partisan city council, overseeing an $11 billion budget. 

But the lessons Toronto teaches us are the perils of regionalism, and the ugliness of the politics of insular suburban resentment. Rob Ford ran on a platform whereby he attacked former mayor David Miller. Miller was a charismatic Harvard-educated lawyer who cleaned up the lobbying system, rejuvenated Toronto’s waterfront, improved public transit, attacked unaccountable public authorities, demanded that landed immigrants be enfranchised, and made huge investments in public housing, child care, and other civic services. 

But with taxes being spent on social services for inner-city poor, the Ford Nation backlash came in 2010 with Ford’s platform of, “putting people and families first, focusing on the fundamentals, reducing waste and eliminating unnecessary taxes”.  He would do all this without cutting services. 

There’s nothing magical about suburban politicians sowing resentment against inner-city poor. We know that sort of thing all too well in Buffalo.

I’m not a big fan of the suburb/urban divide, and firmly believe that it’s incumbent on everyone to realize that our shrinking, poor region sinks or swims together. Toronto is swimming. At best, Buffalo is treading water. In a storm. Without a life vest. In winter. 

But what we saw on election day this past Tuesday was primarily brought about by one thing – low turnout. For the vast majority of people who aren’t political junkies, Tuesday’s elections were hardly exciting or compelling. Races for sheriff or comptroller don’t bring out the non-prime voters. When you add to the mix the fact that Byron Brown’s conspiracy with the county Republicans to completely ignore Republican Mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez helped to depress city turnout, Republican countywide candidates could be guaranteed an anemic Democratic turnout.

This wasn’t a campaign season based on ideas as much as it was based on tactical cynicism. So, Democrats had a bad cycle and will have to endure another year’s worth of concern-trolling from nominal Democrats who actively and passively helped to sabotage Democratic candidates to gain some unknown advantage in an internecine war they could end tomorrow. 

The only mandate anyone can claim based on Tuesday’s election is that people are so unmotivated and uninspired by local politics that 70% of them stayed home. “None of the above” won in a landslide, which allowed flawed incumbents to skate without breaking much of a sweat. 

Who can blame them? Who cares? What’s Stefan Mychajliw going to do? Chase headlines for 1 or 2 more years until he finds himself a promotion. Tim Howard will sit there and wait to collect his pension. The County Legislature will fight with Poloncarz over the small fraction of the county budget over which they have discretion in spending. They will demand more money for suburban roads and less money for things that people in the city count on, like culturals and social services. Our own Ford Nation will cynically deepen further the chasm between the city and suburbs – a chasm that distracts from ways to bridge the joys and richness of city living with the good government and prosperity of the suburbs.

The “us vs. them” mentality rings about resentment and bad policy in Toronto, as it does here. Urbanist philosopher Richard Florida is promoting a governmental “rethink” as he watches Toronto’s mayor embarrass itself with no recourse to deal with the problem. Part of this has to do with the new suburbanization of Canada, 60 years after America’s. Canadian commentators call the anti-urbanist suburban political blocs as the “New Hosers” with hockey commentator Don Cherry as their lord and king. 

Florida says cities succeed when they embrace diversity and creativity. He says that “creativity is the new economy“. He has a point, and Toronto is still growing and thriving in spite of its political problems. Buffalo, by contrast, has a political and regulatory system that stifles growth and creativity. It has a horrible transit system and dumb infrastructure. But most importantly, it is busy looking for silver bullets and attracting outsiders instead of making life better for the people already there. The schools are a Ford-like embarrassment on a daily basis, crime hasn’t been meaningfully addressed, there is no opportunity for poor residents, and jobs are few, far-between, and pay too little to attract talent to town. 

A good start would be a regional vision and plan. One that lifts all boats and reduces achievement gaps and resentment. A good start would be to focus on people’s quality of life and figure how to achieve the bare minimum of what constitutes good government.  Let’s give people good schools, safe streets, and fewer barriers to prosperity and growth. 

Rob Ford Crack Video: The Police Have It

When Rob Ford has lost the Sun…

Former Washington, DC Mayor Marion Barry is no longer the last chief executive of a major North American city to be caught smoking crack cocaine. In May, the Toronto Star and reported that reporters of theirs had seen iPhone video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack, and cracking wise. The guys possessing the video – Somali-Canadian gangster drug dealers – wanted big bucks. The Star wasn’t paying, but Gawker launched a kickstarter to raise the $250,000 the guys wanted. By the time the money was in, the video had disappeared.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Police, who were already investigating drug dealing in the Etobicoke projects near where Rob Ford lives, turned their attention to the Mayor and one of his confidants, Alessandro Lisi. It’s alleged that Lisi was a drug dealer and acted as a sort of enforcer for the mayor.

Meanwhile, Ford and his city councilman brother, Doug, have spent almost every day since mid-May denying the existence of the video, “how can I comment on a tape that I haven’t seen or doesn’t exist” is the line. They’ve spent months lying to the people of Toronto and the journalists trying to get to the truth. The Toronto Star in particular, which is left-leaning and the only Toronto outlet to have seen and reported extensively on the video, was singled out for especial rage and insult. When the video story broke, Ford called Lisi. Lisi then called several people connected to the drug investigation. For some reason, the police had only recorded the call logs, but didn’t have warrants to tap the lines. 

The Toronto Star was vindicated yesterday when the Toronto Police released almost 400 pages’ worth of surveillance information which led to Lisi being charged yesterday with extortion related to the video. At some point, the police’s drug investigation morphed into “Project Brazen 2”. It’s unclear whom Lisi extorted, and how. Contained within the information are hundreds of references to Ford – Lisi and Ford meeting in odd ways, at odd times, in odd places, away from possible bugs. Countersurveillance measures taken. Weird hand-offs of things at gas stations. It’s all very cloak & dagger and downright fascinating. On the cover of today’s Toronto Star will be a police surveillance photograph of a Toronto Star reporter meeting with Mohammed Siad, one of the middlemen brokering the sale of the crack video. 

The kicker? At a late morning news conference Thursday, the chief of Toronto Police confirmed that earlier this week, police investigators had decrypted a hard drive from a computer taken in a raid of an Etobicoke drug house related to the investigations. On that computer, police found a video file that had been deleted. When they restored the file, police found the Rob Ford crack video, confirming that it was consistent with what Gawker and the Star had reported. Bombshell

Court documents on Mayor Ford’s friend Alessandro Lisi


By the end of the day Thursday, even the right-wing Toronto Sun – the tabloid that had been Ford’s biggest and most strident cheerleader – was calling for his immediate resignation. Indeed, every single one of Toronto’s four major papers had called for Ford’s resignation – the Star, the Globe & Mail, and the National Post

Today’s a good day to look at the Newseum front pages of the Star, the Globe & Mail, the National Post, and the Sun

For his part, Ford held a press avail in the afternoon. He tersely said, “I wish I could come out and defend myself. Unfortunately I can’t. It’s before the courts. That’s all I can say right now,” adding, “I have no reason to resign. I’m going to go back and return my phone calls.” 

Yesterday saw a fascinating display of journalism and truth leading to an investigation and, hopefully, accountability by someone as brazen as the name of the investigation suggested. 

Meanwhile, an Ontario Judge Kicks Rob Ford Out of Office

Although Ontario is right here in our own backyard, we think about it when it comes to sport or culture or shopping, yet most of us are blissfully ignorant of Ontario politics.  Yesterday, Ontario Superior Court Judge Charles Hackland ruled that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford be removed from office for violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.  Text of the decision is below. 

Ford wasn’t immediately dismissed; the removal is stayed for 14 days. Ford plans to appeal the ruling

For the uninitiated, Ford is a Tory from Etobicoke, a western suburb that is part of the City of Toronto. His family owns a label company there, and he entered politics as a Toronto city councilman in 2000. He was elected Mayor in 2010 as Torontonians sought to reduce fraud and waste in city government.  He positioned himself as a populist conservative, attacking perks in members’ budgets and calling for removal of long-termers in the council. He became mayor on a platform of “putting people and families first, focusing on the fundamentals, reducing waste, and eliminating unnecessary taxes.”  Think of him as a portlier, blue-collar Chris Collins. 

Like Collins, Ford has a reputation for being arrogant, ignorant, and disrespectful.

Ford’s removal from office had nothing to do with his fiscal conservatism, and everything to do with arrogance and ignorance. In early 2010, then-councilman Ford sent letters on official City of Toronto letterhead identifying him as “Etobicoke North Councillor” soliciting donations for his private “Rob Ford Football Foundation”. He collected just over $3,000 from donors, including several city lobbyists, clients of city lobbyists, and a company that did business with Toronto. His colleagues in the council sanctioned him and ordered him to pay the money back, and a taxpayer lawsuit was filed. 

“In his letter of response to the complaint, Councillor Ford wrote, ‘I do not understand why it would be inappropriate to solicit funds for an arm’s-length charitable cause using my regular employment letterhead,'” Leiper quoted him as saying.
Ford had said there was “no basis in policy or law” to stop him from fundraising this way. However, Leiper said she had advised him in December 2009 and in February 2010 that he shouldn’t fundraise in this way.

After the decision yesterday, the plaintiff’s counsel indicated that it didn’t have to be this way

“It is tragic that the elected mayor of a great city should bring himself to this,” Ruby said. “Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could have so easily been avoided. It could have been avoided if Rob Ford had used a bit of common sense and he had played by the rules.” 

As Globe and Mail columnist Marcus Gee explains

What they missed was a dangerous strain of arrogance. This was the mayor who called senior civil servants to his office to demand paving and other repairs outside his family business in Etobicoke. This is the mayor who used publicly paid workers in his office to help coach his high-school football team. This is the mayor who called the head of the Toronto Transit Commission to complain about a late bus that had been pulled out of service to pick up his football players. And this is the mayor who wanted the city’s accountability officers reformed out of existence when some of them questioned his conduct and policies.

Here was a guy who ran as a man of the people but acted as if he were above the limits that apply to ordinary mortals. For Rob Ford, the rules were always for somebody else. Nowhere was that clearer than in the case that led to Monday’s damning court judgment. While he was still a lowly member of city council, a position he held for a full decade, the city’s Integrity Commissioner found that he had used his status as councillor to solicit funds for his private football charity. Among the donors he approached were lobbyists and a company that does business with the city. The commissioner found that seven lobbyists or clients of lobbyists who had donated to the football charity had either lobbied Mr. Ford or registered an intent to lobby him.

The danger is obvious: if a lobbyist does a favour for a councillor – even if it means donating to a good cause – he might expect something in return. Mr. Ford, who rails about corruption at city hall, should have seen that.

Instead, he brushed off the complaint.

In Toronto, they remove their elected officials for perceived conflict of interest over $3,000 to a personal football charity.  Anyone get the sense that, under those rules, practically every politician in western New York would be removed?  It comes as no surprise that Canada is the 10th least corrupt nation in the world, while the United States can manage 18th

Rob Ford Conflict of Interest Decision

An Evening With Guy Delisle

Last week, I met Guy Delisle

His name may mean nothing to you, and his work is somewhat obscure and not as well-known as it should be, but I went way out of my way to attend an “Evening With” event held under the auspices of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival at a Toronto movie theater. It included a Q & A, a screening of a documentary called “The Delisle Chronicles“, and a book signing, courtesy of Toronto’s The Beguiling

Guy Delisle with UT Professor Nick Mount in Toronto May 3, 2012

My father first introduced me to Delisle’s work, when he gave me a copy of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea as a Christmas gift. I was instantly hooked. Sure, I read comic books when I was a kid, graduating through to graphic novels when Art Spiegelman’s Maus was released in the early 90s, which showed a wide audience that comics didn’t have to be all fantasy and superheroes, but I wasn’t an aficionado by any stretch. What I am is a fan of travelogues, insightful, concise, observational writing, and countries so closed off from the rest of the world that they’re all but forbidden to visit.  Delisle’s bibliography is here, and his YouTube videos are here (including a small snippet from Delisle’s visit with a Bedouin family, which is discussed in his newest book). 

I’ve read and re-read Pyongyang many times, and have also read his other travelogues, the Burma Chronicles and Shenzhen . I enjoy tracking how Delisle’s maturation took him from doing animation gigs in eastern Asia as a single man, to accompanying his wife (with kid) to Burma for a year as part of her job with Doctors Without Borders. 

A few years ago, his wife’s work took them to Jerusalem for a year. They lived in Arab East Jerusalem, and his wife’s work took her to Gaza during a particularly tense period. Jerusalem is Delisle’s most ambitious travelogue work to date, and is broken up into chapters featuring particular observations he had during each month of their stay.

During his talk, Delisle explained how the character he uses for himself isn’t fully fleshed out, and represents only a portion of his personality. But he also noted that, except for North Korea, he went into each country as neutrally as he could. He had no preconceived notions of the situation on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but in his own inimitable way, he explains what a horrible place it is, filled with both earnest and terrible people who all essentially practice some religious variant based on the same foundation, yet can’t figure out a reasonable way to co-exist. 

He is torn when confronted with the shopping options at a nearby settlement, but relents when he sees Arabs shopping there, as well. He’s astonished by the separation of Jews and Arabs in Hebron, where each population – unable or unwilling simply to coexist – clings to its particular victimization through past massacres by the other. 

Delisle left Canada about 25 years ago, and lives now with his wife and two children in the South of France. His wife has left her job with Doctors Without Borders, and they have no plans to live in any other third world or strife-ridden countries in the near future. To some degree, then, Jerusalem isn’t just something of an epic, but a coda. Delisle has taken to fatherhood and in his own self-deprecating, insightful way, has begun using that as a theme in his newer works.  During the Q and A I had asked him, now that they weren’t going on any extended third world stays, whether he might do a memoir of his pre-Shenzhen life.  He’s got an interesting story – kid from Quebec City goes to Toronto to learn animation, drops out to work for a Montreal studio and becomes an accomplished animator and accidental cartoonist. He said he did not, and that he was focusing instead on his life as a dad. 

Delisle signs my copy of "Jerusalem"

As for new books, there’s Louis à la plage, and Louis au ski, and I’m sure his younger daughter, Alice, will become the subject of a book or two, as well. He’s also started a series called “Bad Dad” with several entries at his website (in French, click on the images to see the full strip: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6).  

Delisle’s work isn’t as well-known in the US as it is in Canada, but he just concluded a month-long book tour of North America.  Through following his blog of his time in Jerusalem, I knew a book was in the works, and that I would buy it, but it never occurred to me that I might actually get to meet him, much less do so in a small audience and get there early enough to get a second-row seat. To say I geeked out over the whole thing would be an understatement. 

As I stood in line to have my books signed, a woman came by to tell us that Delisle would sign them all, but he’d draw a picture only in one. A picture. As the line moved along, I watched him look at which book people presented to him for drawings, and he would commence to draw characters from that particular book – a Burmese general for Burma Chronicles, Captain Sin from Pyongyang, or perhaps a rabbi or his daughter, Alice, for Jerusalem. 

When my turn came, I presented a new copy of Jerusalem for him, and he drew his own character: 

I didn’t get some supporting character – I got the protagonist himself. We chatted briefly, and when I mentioned I came up from Buffalo especially for this event, he joked, “but I was just in Buffalo last week!”  I mentioned the story about my dad buying Pyongyang for me, and he remarked, “oh, your father is a comics fan”, and I replied, “not really, but he’s a fan of books about communist countries, since he emigrated from one in the 60s”.  We then talked about certain parts of the book that were typical for any communist economy – like the Yangkaggdo Hotel‘s “Restaurant No. 1” and “No. 2” which were essentially identical to each other, and to the “No. 3” which was undergoing renovations until the last few days of his stay, and when it opened it was just like the other two. We both laughed. He was done signing the other books I had, and like that, the event was over, and I walked out into a monsoon.