Old political culture needs to change

By PAT WATSON

At Yonge and St. Clair these days there is no sight of Bridgette Pinder’s Jamaican menu food cart, one of the eight in Toronto’s A La Cart pilot project that was launched last year to put a broader choice of cuisine on the streets of multicultural Toronto. Pity the hardworking, imaginative, enthusiastic entrepreneurs who decided to take up the invitation of the City of Toronto in this pilot project to sell world cuisine from food carts on the streets of Toronto.

Pinder’s cart hasn’t been there for most of the winter, but the hotdog stand is there. Pinder is a very personable lady, who says she sees this proposition as more than just being about selling great Jamaican cuisine. She has said she sees it as a visual message to young people about the possibilities for them to become entrepreneurs, take control of their lives and create employment.

All very noble, but that message may not have been on the priority list when the City decided to go ahead with this pilot project. In a typical, plodding, let’s-not-get-too-carried-away Canadian fashion, what could have been a more amenable start was bogged down by the what-ifs and packaged in so much red tape that absolute credit has to be given to the strength of character of the eight who carried through with the initial year of the three-year pilot program, which, along with Jamaican food, included the choice of Ethiopian, Korean, Persian, Thai and Greek cuisine.

The City insisted that the eight people, who passed its strict evaluation process, purchase, at a cost of $30,000, a food cart that officials now admit was poorly designed for the intended purpose. A commercial food cart could otherwise be purchased for anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000.

Moreover, for reasons that few but the City officials who were involved in the design understand, the cart was not built in consideration of the outdoor elements. Remember all the rain last summer? This, they now admit, was poor planning, while firmly rejecting responsibility regarding any other weaknesses in the implementation of the project. For example, ill-timed or awkward location assignment of some carts, or requiring that the owner-operator remain working at the cart 70 per cent of the operating time during the course of a day.

Multicultural cuisine on the streets of Toronto is such a great prospect, a clear recognition of the current reality of our city. But some of the old nonsensical ways of thinking about difference is holding steadfastly. For that reason, many immigrants who have come here with high hopes have eventually taken their skills and enthusiasm either back to their countries of origin or to other more welcoming cities beyond Canada’s borders.

Even when it is not the case where people are not looking for jobs but are instead interested in creating them, the laws and bylaws just seem to stymie those efforts. Is it any wonder then that so many look to the United States as the high example of a ready and vibrant marketplace? For that reason, many who come here only see Canada as a stepping stone on their way to the U.S.

Then, we lose their initiative and also the advantages for our future here. What is it about the political culture here that too often dampens the spirits of those who have that go-getting enthusiasm?

A couple of weeks ago we were astonished by our own exuberance at the outcome of the top placement of so many Canadian athletes at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Being astonished by Canadian exuberance is the Canadian way, apparently. Being second best is acceptable and comfortable, apparently.

But, will the Canada that is emerging settle for that ethos? Let us hope not. People who travel to a new country to begin a new life rarely do so because they want to settle for less. Yet, we have seen so far a real reticence on the part of the establishment to accommodate energetic newcomers.

A note on Tiger being out of the woods…

Tiger Woods has been photographed recently with his wife, the two looking for all the world like a happily married couple. Not surprisingly, the photo-op was followed some days later by the news that the billionaire superstar golfer would be back on the circuit beginning with the Masters Tournament in early April. Can we hear the sponsors breathing a sigh of relief that with Woods’ return, television viewership of the big golfing events will go up and the money can start rolling again? Perhaps we could all do with a two-month respite in rehab.

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