As of late, Ford Nation has been having a more challenging time rallying to defend Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, in the wake of increasing scandal. But there is a mantra that they feel safe in falling back on when they wish to deflect from the controversy at hand: he’s done good things for the city. He’s cleaned up the financial mess the city was in.
Has he? Was the city in such a mess? The millions that it cost Toronto taxpayers to look for Ford’s famed “gravy”, ended up not really finding any. But it did leave us with a very large bill paid to KPMG.
In fact, in his first year in office, the Ford administration CREATED a deficit. Between the cancellation of the vehicle registration tax (a tax that brought in roughly $64 million per year ), Ford’s other tax cuts, the removal of newly implemented bike lanes and the penalties incurred by Ford’s cancellation of Transit City (to say nothing of how far back that set Toronto in its transit problems), Ford managed to create a $320 million deficit in that first year alone.
The Ford administration then said “look at this deficit! Cuts must be made!” and proceeded to pay for this newly created deficit by cutting programs that largely benefited the city’s poor — in particular, the city’s poor children. The cuts included: food programs for children living below the poverty line; city programs where someone who is destitute could get money for a funeral; public pools and wading pools; libraries; city run daycares; and the Christmas Bureau that helped children in need at Christmas time.
No longer did the owners of luxury vehicles, for example, have to pay a vehicle registration tax; no, that was ‘unfair,’ said Rob Ford. So along with the cuts, Ford implemented such things as more user fees, like those on children using public pools. A reverse Robin Hood of sorts.
None of this makes him a fiscally responsible mayor. Because disenfranchised, stressed, poor children — with fewer and fewer equalizers to help them along in their formative years — run the very high risk of becoming part of dramatically higher costs later in life, including from welfare, health and psychiatric problems. And prison. All of this costs the beloved taxpayer far more in the long run than the lesser upfront cost of helping children and families in need.
That Ford managed to pay for the deficit he created should not be used as evidence of what a good mayor he has been financially for the City of Toronto.
But Ford supporters believe this as though it were gospel.
To understand this better we need to go back to Ford’s arrival on the broader Toronto scene. To create and solidify their base, Ford and his backers used a strategy that has proven successful elsewhere. It is a strategy that worked well, at least for a time, for George W Bush, for instance: playing up a persona that people make a personal connection with.
Let’s call it the blue-collar-lunch pail-millionaire phenomenon — a persona ironically co-opted by men who never worked a blue collar job in their lives. But it conveniently divided and conquered to send Ford to the Mayor’s seat. It pitted the so-called “elite” — the intellectuals, the artists, the environmentalists, even the unionists — against the other supposed “ordinary” citizens of the Greater Toronto Area. Downtown versus the ‘burbs.
They (those mythical elites) just waste money and don’t know the value of a dollar. Not like Ford. Who, again, never had to want for anything financially. But by making the suburban voter feel like Ford was one of them, Ford successfully brought them on side. A C- student Johnny lunch pail everyman that would take care of your hard earned tax dollars, since he would treat that money like his own. Again, ironically, his money originated from family wealth.
But the Fords are not the working-class everyman. Brother Doug is more akin to Dick Cheney getting the man he shot in the face to issue a public apology to Cheney. They are the wealthy bullies who put their fist in your face then blamed you for it and demanded that you apologize to them. Then they went a step further and claimed to be poor victims of baseless smears.
As more threads start to unravel in the Ford saga, we can have sympathy for the brothers, and especially for their families, certainly. Because we are all human beings and worthy of compassion. But let’s not rewrite reality in this heated process.
The office of Mayor has been sidetracked by scandal after scandal regarding how the Fords run their personal lives. But let’s not also lose sight that this mayor’s administration, while not a complete financial disaster (partially due to the nature of how City Council operates), has most certainly been no saviour for the city’s finances either.
To say nothing of its social health.
Heather Morgan is a freelance writer and musician living in Toronto.
Photo: West Annex News / flickr