Fear of Ford strikes Toronto, sort of

October 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Local Matters

Toronto is electing a new mayor on October 25th, and a lot of people in the city are hysterical over the possibility that Rob Ford, a controversial councillor from North Etobicoke, one of the city’s more suburban wards, is going to be the next mayor. The people who like the tow-headed, bull-necked Ford are mostly suburbanites, and they want him to smash the city’s downtown-centric administration, bash the unions, and cut spending generally. Ford, whose political views are well north of right-wing, wants to do all of those things, but he has other plans, too. He wants to get rid of bicycle lanes, privatize culture, and after he’s got a few drinks in him, kick fags and pretty well anyone else who disagrees with him. His got a DUI and an assault charge on his docket, and his idea of cultural activity, and I’m not kidding about this, is playing or coaching football. If you think I’m exaggerating, there’s at least fifty videos on YouTube of him that’ll convince you I’m playing him soft.

Predictably, there’s been a Stop-Rob-Ford movement amongst the other mayoralty candidates, but political tunnel-vision amongst the ambitious being what it is, only the one serious female candidate, Sarah Thompson, dropped out, and there’s a good chance, given the constituency splits between Rocco Rossi, former Liberal cabinet minister George Smitherman, and lefty Joe Pantalone, that Ford will get elected.

Meanwhile, the issues that have made Ford a serious candidate when he isn’t even a serious human being has barely been looked at. It involves the outgoing mayor David Miller, and both his administration of the city and his vision for it. Miller is a decent person, a social democrat, and privately, I’m told, a profoundly nice man. But he acted as if Toronto north of the 401 didn’t exist, and that it barely existed north of Eglinton Avenue. His tenure was filled with “vision plans” and “festival concepts” for different aspects of the city—nearly all downtown, on the waterfront or for getting suburbanites into the downtown—but at ground level, where people actually live their daily lives, he was woefully indecisive and ineffective. Things just didn’t get done while he was mayor, the neighbourhoods haven’t been protected, and the quality of life has deteriorated.

Among his “vision plans” that particularly grated on me was his green plan for the city, which called for a 100 percent increase in the tree canopy—while a set of moronic and costly tree-planting practices along with a water bylaw structure that made it too costly to water existing boulevard trees was visibly reducing the survival rate of the existing canopy.

Then there was the garbage collection fiasco. Several years ago the city imposed a rate-based bin system of garbage collection, a smart idea stupidly and insensitively put in place. The city brochure announcing it asked us to place our bins in our driveways on collection day, correctly positioned for mechanical pickup—a fine thing if you live in Rosedale where everyone has a driveway. But if you’re in the inner city, virtually no one has either a driveway or anyplace to put the large bins. They’ve ended up on people’s porches and in their gardens, and they’re a massive eyesore and an inconvenience.

The rules attached to pickup are even more annoying. If the bin is too heavy, the princesses who operate the garbage trucks won’t pick them up, if anything falls out of them during loading it’s left in the street, and if you have more than the bin will hold, well, tough luck. There’s more garbage being dumped in the alleys than ever before, and it’s hard to find anyone in the inner city—Miller’s constituency—that isn’t pissed about all of it. Quite simply, the use of bins in the inner city was a mistake, and should have been made optional.

But it’s Miller’s inability to control his labour component that has been his biggest failure, and I’m not just talking about wage and contract demands, which he’s buckled to again and again, most damagingly after a particularly nasty midsummer strike last summer that ended with many of the inner city parks stacked high with garbage. It’s the attitude of entitlement that has emerged throughout the city’s bureaucracy and service departments, and the feeling city staff and workers too often give you that they’re doing you a favour, not providing services that you pay for, and hey, stand back while they go for coffee or adjust their tiaras.  It’s no accident that Ford’s most popular platform plank is that he promises to kick union asses, and if he does get in, nearly everyone, including a large percentage of those who voted Miller in, will happily let Ford do what he wants to.

A surprising number of wiser heads are quietly in favour of doing nothing to prevent Ford’s election, despite his thick-headed abrasiveness. Part of it is that the other candidates aren’t providing any attractive alternatives. George Smitherman is nearly as likely to head-butt people as Ford, Rocco Rossi is a Liberal party bagman who ran adds with a Mafia theme and otherwise seems to lack discretion, and Joe Pantalone is trying to run on Miller’s way of talking about things and not doing them, and otherwise seems to have nothing going for him except looking better dressed and more suave in photo-ops than he does in real life.  These people are hoping, I think, that if Ford does get in, he’ll run out of energy and support after reigning in the unions and eradicating a few bike lanes, and that with a deadlocked council, he’ll go back to coaching his football team and yelling obscenities at Leaf’s games.  He couldn’t embarrass Toronto more than Mel Lastman did, could he?

1000 words October 5, 2010

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Brian Fawcett is a Toronto-based writer.