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Philip Preville: Ford Nation is not who you think it is

Crackgate revealed that the city’s crippling political divide isn’t between downtowners and suburbanites—it’s between the rich and the poor, and it’s only getting worse

Philip Preville: Champion of the Working Class

What will it take for Ford Nation to abandon their man? That’s become one of the great riddles of our time. In late May, as lurid stories swirled of crack videos, hashish trafficking, murders, firings and resignations—all coming on the heels of Ford’s lawsuits, the alleged ass grab and a reported removal from a military ball for drunken behaviour—a Forum Research poll showed that 40 per cent of Toronto voters continue to be die-hard Ford supporters. Among those who voted for the mayor in 2010, 75 per cent still approved of his job performance. The anti-Ford camp tends to explain this stubborn refusal to accept mounting evidence as a symptom of the culture war between downtown and the suburbs. On one side are the elitist downtown progressives who favour transit, walkability, cycling, densification, lattes and street festivals; on the other side are the suburbanites, who prefer private space, low-density living, commuting by car, Tim Hortons and backyard barbecues.

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Suburban real estate adventures: Brampton monster homes and Scarborough rooming houses 

A bungalow-heavy neighbourhood in Brampton is seething over a partially finished 6,600-square-foot house (which the Toronto Star has started refering to as “the Brampton monster home”). Owner Ahmed Elbasiouni says he originally planned to renovate the site’s original 1,800-square-foot home, but switched to the current two-story design when supporting walls collapsed during construction. The city has halted work on the site for now, and local councillors want the house scaled back to send a message to an increasing number of building permit flouters. Meanwhile, in another part of the GTA, a Re/Max agent is facing charges for jamming 11 bedrooms into a Scarborough home and charging tenants $500 to $700 a month for each—the latest illegal rooming house owner to capitalize on the overwhelming demand for affordable housing. The ungainly and ever-controversial quest for higher density in the suburbs continues.

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Adam Vaughan Vs: Paul Godfrey’s hypocritical stance on casino locations

Councillor Adam Vaughan is a staunch downtowner, a vocal casino opponent and a master of the well-timed zinger, all reasons why OLG chair and casino booster Paul Godfrey ought to have been expecting a smackdown after saying he wouldn’t want a casino in his own neighbourhood because it’s a residential zone. (Godfrey later reiterated to the Globe and Mail that “I said certainly I wouldn’t want one in my neighbourhood either. We’re not sticking it in a residential zone.”) As one might expect, Vaughan leapt to respond, penning an open letter to Ontario’s finance minister Dwight Duncan calling the comments “stupid” and noting that hundreds of thousands of people live downtown. Sounds like both sides are trying to stir up a little support for the first of Toronto’s public consultations on the casino, which, coincidentally, start tonight. [Globe and Mail]

(Image: BriYYZ)

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Real Estate

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House of the Week: $2 million for a revamped modernist bungalow (with before and after shots)

ADDRESS: 805 Glenleven Crescent

NEIGHBOURHOOD: Clarkson, Mississauga

AGENTS: Scott Sheehey, Right At Home Realty Inc., Brokerage

PRICE: $1,999,900 As of August 25, the price has been reduced to $1,899,000

THE PLACE: This long and low bungalow, first designed in the 1960s, underwent a massive revamp by interior designer Rob Hockley. The six-bedroom home sits on a half-acre in the quiet Clarkson neighbourhood and borders on the Rattray Marsh Conservation Area.

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Toronto’s housing forecast according to Garth Turner, the Dr. Doom of real estate

Bubble Boy

Turner outside his Caledon home, a former inn built in 1855

If the Toronto real estate market has nine lives, so, too, does its most famous prophet of doom, Garth Turner. Over a 40-year career, Turner has worked as a journalist, a broadcasting entrepreneur, a newspaper chain proprietor, a hotel and restaurant operator, twice as a federal MP (including a stint in Kim Campbell’s short-lived cabinet), a PC leadership candidate, and a financial author and speaker (or, as his critics put it, “seminar shill”). Most Canadians still know him best as the rebellious member of Stephen Harper’s government who was kicked out of caucus in the fall of 2006 for blogging about party business, then crossed the floor to join the Liberals.

Turner, you may be surprised to learn, is also a self-professed real estate junkie who over the years has bought and sold—very profitably—about 50 commercial and residential properties; he moved four in 2011 alone. But as he has watched prices and consumer debt levels soar, especially in Toronto and Vancouver, he has come to see the housing market as a grossly distended balloon that will—any day now—explode, raining debt and misery on the Canadian populace. Each delay to the inevitable reckoning, he argues, more deeply entrenches our delusion that the real estate boom—“the biggest bubble economy in history,” as he puts it—can continue forever, and leads a few thousand more naive young couples to sign five-per-cent-down mortgages on wildly overpriced fixer-uppers in Leaside or Riverdale. “The real estate correction will hurt,” he warns, “and the longer this thing goes before it tips, the more pain there will be.”

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TREB accuses the land transfer tax of pushing buyers to the ’burbs 

According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, Torontonians are so horrified by the land transfer tax that they’re running for the suburbs. The context: home sales and values are way, way up in the suburbs, while sales and values in the city are, well, also up, but less so. The TREB believes the land transfer tax is to blame (although Richard Silver, president of the board, admitted cheaper homes might also have something to do with it) and cites a recent poll that said 75 per cent of would-be buyers in Toronto and the 905 regions say they’re more likely to buy outside the city because of the tax as proof that it is pushing homebuyers away. However, that 75 per cent includes people who already live in the ‘burbs or wanted to move there anyway—we’d say the numbers suggest there’s some opposition to the tax, but don’t quite confirm a mass exodus of disgruntled house-hunters. [Financial Post]

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The weirdest mayoralty ever—the inside story of Rob Ford’s city hall

Loyal councillors have defied him. His approval ratings have plummeted. And his powerful Conservative backers are nervous. How did it all go so wrong? The strange story of Rob Ford’s city hall

The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

On Newstalk 1010, the sly strains of the Hollies hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” offered the first clue. Then morning host Jerry Agar burst on the air with a surprise announcement: Rob Ford and his councillor sibling Doug were taking over the station’s Sunday afternoon talk-fest, The City. For the once-staid CFRB, landing the boisterous brother act that Margaret Atwood had puckishly dubbed the “twin Ford mayors” was clearly a coup, but that didn’t answer the more obvious question: why on earth would the Fords want to spend two more hours a week in front of an open microphone when they were hardly suffering from a lack of media exposure?

Rob Ford, after all, ranks as one of the most compelling and exhaustively chronicled figures in Canadian politics, adored and despised with equal gusto. His every pronouncement seems to turn into front-page fodder, his every grimace and belly scratch catalogued by rapt photographers. And who could forget the YouTube footage of comedian Mary Walsh arriving in his driveway, decked out with a velvet breastplate and a plastic sword?

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Sports

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Markham will build a massive arena (which, of course, has nothing to do with getting an NHL team)

(Image: Marlon E)

Late last night, Markham council decided to move ahead with plans for a colossal arena in a meeting with several digs aimed squarely at Toronto (one councillor: “I’m looking forward to seeing the Markham Chargers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs”). The town will borrow $162.5 million to pay half the cost of the 20,00-seat complex, while private partnership GTA Sports and Entertainment, chaired by Bauer Performance Sports chairman W. Graeme Roustan, will pony up the other half of the cash. Though the arena will be bigger than nearly every NHL arena, Roustan denied that it’s NHL bait, saying the venue can stay afloat with concerts and the like if no big teams come calling. We’re not fully buying that story, since most arenas of that size have an anchor team, and a confidential report suggests Markham is concerned non-hockey events won’t be enough of a draw to pay all its rent—there’s even been talk of negotiating a termination clause if Roustan doesn’t deliver a big-league team within a reasonable time frame. Still, the ambitious plan has us reflecting on Markham’s ongoing campaign to rival Toronto: just imagine the bruised egos if Markham gets both a casino and a better hockey team. [Toronto Star]

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Politics

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Downtown relief line could make everything better for everyone (except Rob Ford)

A blissful and uncrowded transit future? (Image: Jay Woodworth)

One of the byproducts of the recent transit debates at city hall (aside from the planned light rail lines) is a discussion of a downtown relief line to ease crowding on the “close to bursting” Yonge subway. Despite the name, the line wouldn’t just be for elitist, latte-sipping downtowners—the Toronto Star reports that hordes of experts believe a DRL could better serve suburbanites than Rob Fords now-dead Sheppard subway, especially if it extends to Scarborough and Etobicoke. After all, many downtown residents live and work in their own neighbourhoods, while commuters from the suburbs have to cram themselves onto the Yonge subway every day. Still, experts acknowledge the line could be a hard sell given the downtown-versus-suburbs rift that the Ford brothers’ rhetoric has only fuelled. The University of Toronto’s Eric Miller thinks a new name could help—may we suggest the “Downtown-Suburban Harmony Line”? Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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Here’s what the Sun, the Star, the suburbs and downtown think about Rob Ford

(Image: Brian Cartwright)

It’s probably safe to say those “What people think I do” memes are nearing their expiration date (so say the folks on Reddit, which has a whole section devoted to them). Still, that couldn’t stop us from LOL’ing just a bit at this Rob Ford–inspired foray into the genre. Thanks, Internet.

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Politics

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A report says something everybody already knew: there’s no rationale for building the Sheppard subway

Toronto Star columnist Royson James got his hands on an unreleased report that pretty much dismantles any rationale for building a subway linking Scarborough and North York. The paper is calling it the “TTC subway report Mayor Rob Ford doesn’t want you to read,” and it’s probably an appropriate title. While Ford clings to his Sheppard subway fantasy, the report notes that with job growth in the inner suburbs dramatically lower than expected, office development sluggish and the existing ridership on Sheppard below capacity (despite the influx of new condos along the strip), there simply isn’t a case for building a subway between the two centres. We already knew the city couldn’t fund the Sheppard extension; now it appears there isn’t even a good reason to build it in the first place. Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

(Images: Rob Ford, Christopher Drost; Yonge-Sheppard subway, gloom)

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Scarborough MPPs politely decline trip on the Ford brothers train 

While Rob and Doug Ford ramp up their campaign to save subways that don’t yet exist, some Scarborough Liberals aren’t having any of it. The Toronto Sun spoke to a pair of provincial Liberal cabinet ministers who each acknowledge the importance of getting shovels in the ground for public transit in Toronto, while politely declining to get on board the mayor’s gravy train campaign. Sure, the views of a couple of cabinet ministers might not make much difference, given that the premier has already said he’ll respect the wishes of council, which formally endorsed an LRT-based transit plan earlier this month. But it’s nice to know that MPPs aren’t playing along with that well-worn strategy of using transit as a wedge between downtown and the burbs. Well, most of them aren’t, at least. Read the entire story [Toronto Sun] »

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Almost Rich: an examination of the true cost of city living and why rich is never rich enough

An income of $196,000 places you in the country’s top one per cent of earners. But does it make you wealthy?

Almost Rich

The Western world has become chastened and frugal. The reasons are many: corporations crouched in fear of another, much worse recession; penniless governments a-toppling; and Europe, for the foreseeable future, mired in a debt debacle. But you wouldn’t know it from life in Toronto, where a luxury condo opens its doors every week and we queue for hunks of exotic chocolate at the new Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws. We’re bouncing along in a prosperity bubble.

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Read profiles of five Toronto households and how they spend their money »

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Where to Buy Now: L’Amoreaux, because the suburban ideal is alive in Scarborough

Where to Buy Now | L’Amoreaux

Upsizers are hearing the siren call of the city’s eastern suburbs. While lakeside communities, like Birch Cliff, have always had steady interest and competitive bidding, northern neighbourhoods are beginning to get more attention. Houses in L’Amoreaux, particularly in the Huntingwood area, fetch multiple offers. The area’s bungalows and split-levels were mostly built between the ’50s and ’70s. Lot sizes are generous, and four-bedroom homes are fairly common. Part of the district’s appeal lies in the public schools, which run a number of specialty programs. For example, Timberbank Junior Public School focuses on art education, with guest artists running workshops, such as vocal training, drumming and pottery. The area is full of green space, from the expansive L’Amoreaux Park, which has a tennis centre, to a series of smaller spots, such as Fairglen Park and Highland Heights. The Tam O’Shanter Golf Course is just a short drive south.

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Random Stuff

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Apparently, Markham and other Toronto suburbs are stealing downtown’s “mojo” 

The Grid has some upsetting news for all the latte-sipping, bicycle-riding, downtown pinkos who are pining for more “urbanist” policies: Markham is looking better and better. The weekly reports that Toronto suburbs are adopting policies and tackling projects that would make Jane Jacobs proudlike networks of bike lanes and improved rapid transit. Even more interesting, though, is that while these sorts of civic initiatives may seem sacrilegious to Rob Ford, they’re being undertaken by a Markham mayor who’s simultaneously slashing spending and cutting staff. Which makes us wish the politicians in the clamshell would focus more on the possibility of progress and less on service cuts and regressive policies (even with a fiscal conservative at the helm)—because, seriously, it’s kind of embarrassing when Markham is kicking your ass. Read the entire story [The Grid] »

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