Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I suddenly understand why going to Detroit was so fascinating and why many small towns like Espinola, Ontario are so fascinating. Places, be they cities or towns, that are completely stagnant remind me of home. Technically I grew up in Mississauga, a city the size of Baltimore, Memphis or San Francisco. However, in reality I grew up in Malton, a village in the northeast corner that has been going nowhere fast for as long as I can remember. If anything, it is dying a slow death.

There are 40,000 people living in Malton. A large portion of them don't speak English, don't have a job and have nothing to do. Life for their children is even worse, who "grow in the ghetto living second-rate", to quote Grandmaster Flash. They receive a shoddy education from shoddy schools and make friends who loiter outside the library, looking tough. There is nowhere to go in Malton in terms of restaurants, shops, theatres, coffee shops, bars. You can buy groceries, fast food, coffee or do some fourth-rate shopping. As soon as they have some money, families move out to a better suburb with mine being a rare exception.

When I was in Detroit, I heard (saw, actually, on a television) West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys and I understood why I was so fascinated by Detroit. I certainly knew of a "west end town" that was a "dead end world". It was like Malton had been transposed onto a major city. White flight has wrecked Malton. You can now count the number of white people left in Malton, most of them old and Italian. With the whites, no doubt, went a good chunk of the money: the Zellers closed down in grade 6 (1997-8) and Westwood Mall simply can not support a department store. Since there are very few jobs in Malton, most people travel elsewhere anyway, and eventually just end up moving there.

The significance of all this is that today is Election Day. Malton, on top of everything else, has been cursed with incompetent leadership. The Member of Parliament is, believe it or not, in his fifth term and has been around since 1993. I can not tell you one thing that he has done. Politicians here are elected based on how closely they connect with the "immigrant" (Punjabi) community. That's all. They don't even have to have a single idea, be it good or bad.

The local councillor is Eve Adams, now mired in a corruption scandal just like her predecessor Cliff Gyles, who I believe is now in jail. I would love to vote for someone else, but other candidates do not have websites and I don't live here and missed any possible debates. I liked Adams, to be honest, because she was white and I assumed that she had been elected on merit rather than immigrant connections. I also hoped that, having been elected, her racial disadvantage would force her to work hard. It seems, clearly, that it wasn't the case. Adams has no coherent proposals on her website save a few bridges. Her major accomplishments include the city's credit rating and financial management, the city's absurdly low crime rate and that 56 Fortune 500 companies "have chosen to bring their jobs to Mississauga".

If nothing else, this demonstrates why Adams has done nothing, not to mention the immense gap between Malton and the rest of Mississauga (at least my family refers to Mississauga as a separate entity). With or without her, the city's financial management would remain excellent. It is the work of mayor Hazel McCallion, whose first act upon being elected mayor was to press for the cessation of the War of 1812. Low crime rates in Misissauga are artificial given the low-density of the city and her use of that statistic is laughable. Though Malton is relatively safe, very few people, myself included, feel safe being out at night. Adams has done nothing to change that, even though all it really takes is a few streetlights on major streets. Touting jobs and opportunity is a joke that rubs salt in the wounds of Malton; the only jobs in Fortune 500 companies anywhere near here would be manual labour in a FedEx plant. Those jobs, again, would be here independent of Adams because of the proximity of the airport. Much of what she has managed to do is for the affluent west end of the ward.

I will vote for Karam Singh Punian, if only because the only reports I've seen tout him as Adams' strongest challenger. Who Adams caters to is made clear when she wrote elsewhere that "improving your drive to and from work has been a priority for me". Punian and Sydney Weir, to name another solid choice for councillor, happen also to care about those who neither have a car nor a job.

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