Tag Archives: Toronto

Google Sidewalk Project is Still Too Sketchy and Undemocratic

Sidewalk Labs

New Orleans    Maybe I should shut-up about the Sidewalk development project being proposed by Google in Toronto on 800-acres.  ACORN and some of our allies went after them from the day they won the bid to submit proposals on the issue of the lack of affordable housing in a city that is caught in an affordable housing crisis.  The more than 1000-page proposal they submitted this week actually makes concessions to our demands.  Of the 35,000 housing units now proposed, they claim that 40% would be affordable.  That’s a win, but is that enough to make us stomach the role of Google, the fakery of the consultative process up to this point, and, frankly, the neoliberal corporate control and privatization of public process, regulations, and responsibilities.

I’m not going to pretend that Google isn’t a tech wonder even as it has become a world power.  It’s not as creepy as Facebook, but it’s unaccountable with a business model that pimps out all of us who use their services.  I have a google address for some personal business.  I use Google Maps to navigate my way around the world.  ACORN has a YouTube channel.  When PalmPilot went under, I had to switch to Google calendar.  I’m not a hater.

ACORN Canada even uses Google to host their email system, despite the fact that Google is crystal clear that they never destroy anything.  The depth of their data mining operation is unlimited and unfathomable.  They want to make the Sidewalk project a data motherload for Google as well.  The company’s proposal claims that they will turn everything over to an independent data trust, sanctioned by the government, so that they, and others, can access the data.  Privacy experts are not so easily assuaged.  Neither am I.  Isn’t such citizen experience with public goods something that should remain purely the responsibility of government accountable to citizens, rather than accessible to a private business like Google or other private concerns?  If the city of Toronto or any other city announced that it was collecting data on its citizens and was then going to sell it, people there and anywhere else would be up in arms.

Google, as a private company, simply doesn’t get the fact that there are boundaries.  They are part of the “apologize later, never ask for permission” crowd.  Their proposal ignores existing Toronto zoning laws for example, and I couldn’t read any piece of this without feeling they were usurping the authority of government and the people.  That’s what neoliberalism is, the transfer of public rights and authority to private concerns.  If Google was hired to be a designer and developer, why would they believe that allows them to own the show and run it forever.  A developer, for good or evil, usually sells their “castles in the sky” and then gets their money and runs.  Google seems to think they should own this project forever.  Google needs to taught about limits.

The New York Times quotes Jim Balsille, who was the co-chairmen and co-chief executive of BlackBerry, once the ubiquitous smartphone of the business set, headquartered in Ontario in the Waterloo-Kitchener area, saying,

“I am keen to see the end of this faux consultation charade, an ugly 18-month, psychological public relations game….Google has deliberately weaponized ambiguity, subverted democratic process, obfuscated key elements of concern such as data governance and revealed information to the public only when smoked out by aggressive criticism or through a media leak.”

This just doesn’t seem like it’s going to end well.

ACORN Canada will continue to hold any and all feet to the fire on affordable housing, but perhaps all of us just need to thank Google for whatever good we see in the plan, ignore their attempt to buy support with their own investment masked as infrastructure spending, but recovered through selling data, and retake control of any development and hire contractors to provide whatever services public entities can’t provide.

Public entities have to be able to trust their partners, and Google is not a trustworthy partner at this point.  Google can bid like anyone else, but should not run or own anything.  Haven’t we learned that lesson from Silicon Valley by now?


Donald Ford, Doug Trump, Whatever?

TORONTO, ONTARIO (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Toronto    When last I visited Canada and met with leaders and organizers of ACORN Canada everyone was still reeling at the horror of Doug Ford becoming premier of Ontario, the economic and political core of the country.  Ford was a well-known commodity having been a Toronto city councilor and the right-hand of his brother Rob Ford when he served as a controversial mayor of the city.  The argument then was whether there could be such a thing as a Canadian Donald Trump.  Yes, Ford would be bad, but was it even possible for him to be that bad?

Now almost six months later the answer seems to be, yes, it’s very possible.  Different of course, but horrible in its own way.  Like Trump, or maybe even better than Trump, he’s getting away with a lot of it.

For example, in a pure political power play he was successfully able to cut the number of seats in the Toronto council in half, eviscerating many of his enemies and settling scores in such an effective way that Trump would have been envious to achieve.  In the Canadian version of culture wars, one of his opening gambits was to slice the funding in public schools for sex education.  Not sure who that helps in his base, but it’s more like a dog bark than a whistle.   In another early move he pulled Ontario out of the cap-and-trade program that had been a hallmark of Canada’s climate leadership, claiming he was helping low income and working families.

There’s way more now with less pretense that it might be helping anyone other than business.  The minimum wage increase for Ontario was frozen which no one can pretend helps workers.  He abandoned the funding for retrofits that would have aided lower income families in social housing, so much for them as well.

Now among the $22 billion in cuts to provincial resources one of the most controversial has to do with cuts to health care, long a point of pride in Canada.  In this instance, Ford has proposed cutting the provincial contribution to Toronto’s public health service including to programs that are 100% mandated by the province and where they had been paying 100% of the cost.  At the confluence of math and politics, there’s no agreement of course, but the city is not stepping up to cover the province’s rollback, and the province is trying to argue that it wants to slice it’s share to 50% on programs it had been paying for previously at 100% or 75%.  As one councilor says, people in Toronto will die from this game of chicken.  Other are arguing that Ford is trying to also privatize some parts of Ontario’s public health care.

The beat goes on and on.  Legal aid providing assistance for low income families is being cut by one-third.  Indigenous affairs would be cut by half.  One-billion dollars will be cut from the Ministry of Social Services, and people are still speculating on which programs will be discontinued or crippled.

Donald Ford or Doug Trump?  You call tails, I’ll call heads.  What’s scary is that Ford, having some experience in government, may be able to get away with more of his shenanigans that Trump will.  Either way, there’s little good news coming from Queen’s Park for Canadians living in Ontario, so keep that in mind before any of you threaten to move to Canada if Trump wins again in 2020.