Rob Ford: The Mayor We Deserve?
I recently moved into a new apartment. The harmoniousness of its affordability to niceness ratio and its proximity to work and essential services (i.e. The Beer Store) make it an ideal home for me at this phase in my life. So all is well with my current living situation, with one nagging exception....
I share a building with Rob Ford’s biggest fan.
Now it’s not just the omnipresence of the ‘Rob Ford For Mayor’ hat and button she always sports and her insistence on slapping ‘Rob Ford For Mayor’ stickers all over the building that are the problem. They are ugly sights to be sure, but this alone would only constitute a minor irritation. The problem is the woman is a rather extreme example of an ‘energy vampire.’ You may have never heard the term but it is an intuitive one, so I’m sure you are instantly having unpleasant flashbacks of encounters with one or many of the regrettably numerous people who fit the bill. If you work in or have worked in retail, you know this type of person very, very well.
The energy vampire is a person who displays relentless negativity and boorish self-absorption. What they engage in cannot be accurately described as conversations; but as unsolicited, unilateral verbal onslaughts that leave the recipient nodding in inattention as they focus only on finding a space where they can interject what they hope will be the perfect sentence to politely extricate themselves from the maddening predicament. Now there are varying degrees of energy vampire but my neighbour, ‘Rob Ford’s Biggest Fan (Forever? BFF?)’ is one of the most wretchedly high order.
The above touchstones of the energy vampire are all there in her displayed in abundance, but she also ups the ante by throwing in some good old fashioned racism - talking about the ‘black guys smoking drugs’ and the guy in the building who lets a black man housesit ‘because there’s nothing to steal there.’
This woman of all encompassing ugliness is the perfect embodiment of the current mood of the Toronto electorate because ugly is the best adjective to describe the mood of a city where, according to the latest poll, most people have decided that Rob Ford is the best man to be its leader. Now, it is still very early in the election and Ford is in the lead at only about 18% in a statistical tie with George Smitherman with 40% of those polled still undecided, but the fact he is getting this much support casts a pall over the voters of Toronto.
In place of anything even remotely resembling the vision of a true leader, Ford offers only the penny pinching hands of a Scrooge and ideas as nuanced, and about as intelligent, as a wrecking ball. His resonance with voters can only be attributed to a cynical loathing of municipal government stemming from petty selfishness and a total ignorance of the real issues facing this city.
It is an ignorance Ford both shares and champions. Coming from any of the other candidates for mayor (with the exception of Giorgio Mammolitti, a fellow jester of a city councillor who unlike Ford is deservingly low in the polls), Ford’s ideas for fixing the city would be written off as deceitful promises they know they can’t keep. With Ford, though, after 10 years of consistently displaying herculean feats of stupidity as city councillor, it is totally believable that he is fool enough to think that his logic defying ideas can actually remedy what ails Toronto.
He claims that, as he cuts taxes and user fees, he can at the same time hire more police officers and build more subways by cutting the number of city councillors in half to 22 and by reigning in city spending. Well, first off, it is plain idiocy to halve the number of people who are democratically elected to represent and respond to the concerns of the citizens of Toronto and replace them with police officers. The crime rate is down, so why on earth do we need more cops driving around the city looking for something to do? People are getting harassed by bored police officers plenty enough already, thank you very much. More to the point, however, Ford thinks this would make our streets safer, but more police on the streets do nothing to reduce crime. As study upon study shows, the crime rate goes down when there is a reduction in poverty and an increase in social engagement. Strong governments can accomplish these goals, a larger police force cannot.
What is most remarkable, though, about Ford’s ‘more cops/less councillors’ plan is the sheer ignorance on display from a city councillor of a city council he has been a member of for 10 years. The Mayor does make the executive decisions and wields influence over every nook and cranny of city council, but he/she still only represents one vote on council for any major policy change, like say...CUTTING CITY COUNCIL IN HALF! Is he really so ignorant to think these people are going to vote themselves out of a job they have worked their asses off to get and are (in most cases) deeply committed to? Or, more cynically speaking, are they gonna vote themselves out of a near six figure gig with lots of perks? Or, does he think that being Mayor comes with a shiny magical rubber stamp where he just has to write down his desires on a piece of paper, stamp it, and then it’s the law. With Ford, it is conceivable that he could be that stupid.
As for raising funds for new subways that cost $300,000 a kilometre by LOWERING taxes and trimming the supposed fat in city spending, Ford really earns the title of champion of Toronto’s ignorance with this one. Obviously, it would be naive to think there is no waste in any budget of such a great size. I run a business that grosses less than the cost of a kilometre of subway and even I find waste inescapable. Human fallibility being what it is there surely will be waste at City Hall, but to think that there are the multiple billions of dollars necessary for subway expansion to be found by cutting waste in a budget of $9 Billion – a budget that mostly goes to core city services like police, transit and waste management - is an insult to logic.
The sad truth is there is no great mismanagement at Toronto City Hall. Our city’s financial woes are primarily the result of an imbalance in funding to Canadian cities under an antiquated system rooted in the days when most of the country lived in rural areas. Those days are long gone, but the Federal and Provincial finance ministries have not properly evolved to address the reality that most Canadians now live in urban areas.
For every dollar in taxes Torontonians pay to the Federal and Provincial government, the city gets well under 10 cents back to provide essential services to Toronto taxpayers. And, with the exception of health care, it is the most crucial public services that our municipal government is responsible for funding with only property taxes and modest user fees at its disposal – services such as police, transit, fire services, waste management and road maintenance. Greatly exacerbating this imbalance, as well, is the downloading of provincial responsibilities of social welfare programs onto the city that began with the Mike Harris government of the 1990’s and mostly continues to this day. To be blunt, Toronto gets the shaft big time and, if the people of Toronto truly understood this, Rob Ford wouldn’t be first in the polls, but neck and neck with Mammoliti in the single digits.
This is something that Mayor David Miller understood and it is an arena where he has displayed courageous leadership. He tried to address these inequities with his undeservingly failed bid to have the Federal government transfer one cent of the GST to Toronto. It was a bold and innovative initiative, but was met with crickets by a Federal government that views our city primarily as a cash cow for the rest of the country.
In this culture of chronic underfunding, Miller nonetheless still managed to win funding from the Provincial government (and, to a lesser extent, the Feds) for the ‘Transit City’ plan, the first meaningful transit expansion in Toronto in decades. While it does not go nearly far enough to address the transit needs of this every growing city that has neglected those needs for far too long, it was a major victory for Toronto to get this kind of transit expansion in the face of such miserly upper levels of government.
Has Miller been perfect? Not at all - Mayor of Toronto has to be one of the most thankless jobs imaginable, so even approaching the ballpark of perfection would be an unreasonable expectation. However, the accomplishments in his two terms as mayor are impressive – Transit City, the ‘New Deal For Cities’ that added modest revenue streams, cleaning up City Hall of the Lastman-era cronyism typified by the MFP computer leasing scandal, increased waste diversion, the Waterfront development, Nuit Blanche, and his always impeccable performance representing Toronto on the international stage.
Even his alleged great failures resulted in more benefit than detriment to the city. The St Clair Streetcar Right Of Way did run behind schedule and over-budget, but the positive effect on the St Claire West community and the city at large from this rapid transit initiative will far outweigh the negative. As for the garbage strike of 2009 that could be called the fatal political blow to Miller’s reign as mayor, a man so often accused of being in the pockets of the unions won for the city what no right-leaning mayor of the past ever did – an eventual elimination of the costly and ridiculous banking of worker’s sick days.
David Miller has been a fine leader of this city, moving us forward under the very trying circumstances of chronic underfunding coupled with the worst global recession since the Depression, and how have we repaid him for his efforts on our behalf? With a 30% approval rating and the slap in the face of throwing support behind Rob Ford, a man who would love nothing more than to dismantle all that he has accomplished.
Ford has been a city councillor for 10 years and in that time he has given us a good idea as to what his vision for our city is with his buffoonish words and his shameful record. Rob Ford’s Toronto is a city where ‘roads are for cars’ and it is cyclists ‘own fault if they get killed...where ‘if you don’t do drugs and you aren’t gay, you won’t get AIDS’... where musing about ‘the orientals taking over’ and calling a colleague ‘gino boy’ is appropriate for a leader of a world class city. It is a city where we say fuck the poor, they’re all just lazy bastards waiting for a handout...and fuck transit and bike lanes, just keep my property taxes low so I got plenty of gas and insurance money...and fuck building a city that I want to explore and be a participant in because I just want to drive home after work and watch American shows on my big screen TV.
More likely than not, people will come to their senses and he won’t make it anywhere near the office of mayor. However, if this is really what is resonating right now with the people of Toronto, maybe Rob Ford is the mayor we deserve. Perhaps Toronto needs to endure 4 years of Mayor Rob Ford to learn the hard way that we already had a perfectly fine Mayor who we chased away for doing exactly what we needed him to do.
Or maybe people are just curious what it would be like to have a mayor that makes Mel Lastman come across as Barack Obama....