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Toronto: walking in a corporate wonderland

North American consumerism has been rampant for decades. However, when it reaches the point of infiltrating even the most simple and innocent aspects of our lives – those that are still relatively untouched by crass materialism – then we have serious problems.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, along with a group of other rightwing city councillors, has proposed a sponsorship bill that would sell out the names of Toronto’s public, city-operated areas, including its parks, subway stations and libraries, to big business. The Bill is still at the proposal stage, but the Mayor, who seems determined to cut down on public-sector services and initiate a corporate monopolization of the city, could very well turn this absurd prospect into reality.

In a small but concerted effort to prevent this madness, a rally organized by the Toronto Public Space Initiative (TPSI) was held last Tuesday outside Toronto City Hall. Jayme Turney, executive director of TPSI and leader of the rally, believes that if the city were to become too reliant on corporate funding, it would ‘only insignificantly benefit the city financially, but could lead to significant, and even unwanted, control of our city’s policy decisions. It could reach a point where these corporations dictate the terms of how our city’s public services should be run.’

Protesters rallying outside City Hall against the proposed corporate infiltration of Toronto’s public services. Photo by Rasha Mansoor

Other than the obvious ludicrousness of having a McDonald’s Subway Station or a Burger King Park, there are more insidious implications should the deal go ahead: consumer advertising could eventually reach such a level that it becomes inescapable – both physically and psychologically. Then the stereotypical image of the overweight, coke-drinking, burger-eating North American might become justified, with the material-driven superficiality of our society exacerbated, and a media which largely dictates how we see ourselves and others. Charlie Harvey’s recent blog in which he argues that ‘consumerist dogma’ was a driving force behind August’s England riots explores similar ideas. Social dissatisfaction runs high in Canada (even if its expression has not reached the extremes it did in Britain) but if material growth is to become the modus operandi of everyday survival, then what we’re looking at is a sordid race to the bottom.

As neoliberal agendas continue to dominate the dossiers of our political leaders, the realization that more money does not equal more progress may come too late, if at all. Toronto’s socially disadvantaged communities have borne the brunt of the government’s economic revitalization policies for decades, and with a new corporatization agenda underway, their future seems bleaker than ever.

You know that things have really hit rock-bottom when, taking your children to the local park on a Sunday afternoon, you are hounded on all sides by advertising logos reminding you of the ‘must-haves’ missing from your life. Even contentment will become one of the few luxuries in life we will no longer be able to afford.

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