An Onion-style parody site takes aim at news and politics in York Region.
Aside from our brief flirtation with the likes of RebelMayor, the 416 just hasn’t had any ongoing political satire of note (arguably it hasn’t needed it lately, but let’s put that aside for now). And yet, quietly, upon our northern border, the 905 seems to have spawned its own, Onion-style blog.
The anonymous “Heironymous Bouche” launched YolkRegion.ca less than two years ago. Since then, what once seemed like a niche venture has managed to establish its foothold. The site is the result of “mostly one person’s mania,” says its editor, who describes himself merely as an “ordinary male, newshound ratepayer.”
Bouche may not be willing to disclose his real identity, but he clearly has a finger on the pulse of the local polity—no mean feat in a 1,776-square-kilometre community with nine local governments. Some of the jokes are generically suburban enough for anyone to get (e.g. “Region Celebrates 30,000th ‘Drive Your Car to Work’ Day” or “Area Militias Working Hard to Keep Poor Out of York Region”). Others, meanwhile, require at least some local knowledge to get, such as a mock editorial supporting a Richmond Hill councillor who used his expense account to purchase some nice golf clubs.
Humour is surely in the eye of the beholder, but you don’t have to know who Tony Van Bynen is to at least chuckle at the notion of Marg Delahunty taking shots at suburban mayors after her ambushing of Rob Ford didn’t quite go as planned. You don’t have to know Pefferlaw from Purpleville to get all the gags, is what we’re saying here. (And, come on, Tony is the mayor of Newmarket, folks! Know your suburban leaders!)
As with most satire, there’s a real point underlying most of the humour on Yolk Region, though Bouche acknowledges there are souls more courageous than he fighting the good fight in small-town council meetings and bland OMB hearings, where big decisions are going down. For all the jokes about it, he’s clearly not especially amused by York Region having ammassed a debt so large it needed provincial approval to exceed the legally prescribed limit.
“With local councils back-stopped by a developer-friendly OMB, developers generally get everything they want,” he says. “The region has been growing too fast and could be in real trouble if a major housing crash disrupts its ability to pay for infrastructure. Essentially the region has been divided and conquered and the developers love it.”
Many local residents don’t even know how their two-tier municipality is governed (or how many local officials made the Sunshine List), so if a little humour helps the medicine go down, so much the better.
Asked about the site’s raison d’etre—why does a boring ol’ suburban community even need its own parody news source?—Bouche offers that, “People seem to be hungry for stories that give them a sense of place and belonging, even when it’s a fiction. So, probably the region does not ‘need’ a satirical blog, but apparently [I feel] compelled to write one.”
Remember how we chuckled in Argo when Ben Affleck explained that people from Canada don’t say the second “T” in Toronto? That’s because we’re from Toronto and we need Americans to validate our existence (just look at this past week’s late-night TV show coverage of Rob Ford’s latest scandal). Well, suburbanites feel the same way when Toronto deigns to acknowledge them, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Yolk Region occasionally widens its horizons.
“In the beginning, I was aiming for a local York Region audience, but the connections between the 905 and 416 regions make it hard not to cross the border now and then,” Bouche says. “You could say that the money and political will to grow the 905 came from downtown.”
Hence, the site has attracted wider notice with some of its stories lately. Whether talking about transit taxes or casinos, Yolk Region‘s articles provide a reminder that Toronto isn’t actually the centre of the universe. With prospects for a casino in the city now extinguished, for example, Markham and Vaughan are among the municipalities considering just how awesome it would be to pick that dirty apple off the ground. So when Bouche suggests that running riverboat-style casino subways might be a way to kill several birds with one stone, he’s reminding us that the burbs and the city have plenty of real issues and foibles to share.
York Region, for those who fear looking beyond the confines of downtown, stretches from Steeles Avenue clear up to Lake Simcoe and includes everything from populous urban inner suburbs like Markham and Vaughan, to more rural communities like Georgina and East Gwillimbury. Its population is at more than one million now, and it has one subway en route and another planned. In short, the burbs ain’t what they used to be. Heck, if you ignored Richmond Hill, you’d be ignoring one of the best figure skaters this country has ever produced, the school that trains our Olympic trampoline medal winners, and, oh yeah, the current premier.
Yolk Region advertises itself as “an attack-ad free zone,” and while the humour is often political, it tends to be more politely Canadian than biting and edgy. (That said, Bouche acknowledges that he espouses a commitment to Colbertian truthiness.) “I’m torn between writing about more important issues and off-the-wall bits, but it’s all good,” he says. He hopes to push the humour envelope a bit further (albeit without going negative), the longer he keeps at it.
In the meantime, Bouche seems to have the market cornered on humour related to urban sprawl and infrastructure spending. When there’s something to laugh about in Toronto, maybe someone else can open a southern franchise.