Early last Thursday morning, day 2 of the public deputations to discuss the proposed 2012 city budget, a small groan of despair or disgust – desgust? dispair? – plopped out from a woman sitting beside me in the audience. A deputant, I’d seen her reworking her speech as she waited her turn.
Having taken it on the chin the previous day, Team Ford obviously had decided not to sit back quietly. They wheeled out the big guns, non-Budget Committee members, Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Frances Nunziata, to badger, hector and bully deputants who were opposed to the direction the budget was headed with its cuts and reductions and bare minimum of tax increases complimented by a host of user fees hikes. So, pretty much everyone.
Budget Committee member, Councillor Doug Ford joined in on the action, setting aside his my-heart-bleeds-for-you self for a more aggressive approach. He demanded solutions to the money crunch the city was facing and would not accept anything that veered from his very narrow opinion. Budget Chief Del Grande doubled down on the grim.
It didn’t really last long. Heavy Mammo and St. Frances the Screecher were gone well before lunch. Councillor Ford kept the outbursts largely in check except for, maybe, two or three or four times. The budget chief remained grim.
What they’d hoped to achieve with this tactical strike is anybody’s guess. Maybe a little play on the evening news? A sound bite or two in order to discredit an opposing point of view in the eyes of a sympathetic journalist? Just some straight up venting? Toss around some invective to scare off a few of the more uneasy deputants who’d stuck it out to this point of time?
Whatever their reasoning, the thing that came across loud and clear was the budget committee (and by extension, the mayor) heard what the public were saying and didn’t like it one little bit. Not the purest definition of the openness and transparency but, hey, Team Ford simply wasn’t going through the motions either. The very fact they felt the need to pushback so strongly suggests they thought the deputations were making a dent, either with the public or (more likely) wavering, uncommitted councillors.
The ink was barely dry on the very last deputant’s signature when news filtered out that any cuts to children’s food and nutritional programs had been taken off the table. Yeah, the mayor and his budget committee had definitely been listening and knew those stood no chance of getting passed council. At least, not this time around. While definitely good news, this only increased the risk to other programs and departments who’d be expected to bear the brunt of the money not saved keeping kids fed. Ideology would only be so compliant to political expediency. There was still a city to bring to heel, people!
More than one deputant over the course of the two days pointed out that the mayor’s hidebound, anti-urban politics were the reason for their increased interest in municipal politics so much so that here they were, active, deputing. Not without a trace of facetiousness, they thanked him and all those on the budget committee and council who stood with the mayor. By attacking the city with such determined vigour, Mayor Rob Ford had politicized a previously disengaged portion of the public.
While the likes of Councillor Mammoliti attempted to smear every deputant with the same ‘usual suspects’ brush, he was missing the bigger picture. (Surprise!) What is happening at the local level here in Toronto is not an amassing of special interests. While I’d like to think we’re witnessing a reawakening of progressive politics, I’m not sure that’s it either. It’s both bigger and smaller than that.
By threatening to lay waste to much of what he is legally able to and/or get away with not only is Mayor Ford compelling concerned Torontonians to step forward and make their voices heard, he’s inadvertently exposing just how important the municipal level of government is in our lives. Wait. He can’t do that, can he? He’s just the mayor. Isn’t that up to somebody… actually important?
Campaigning last year to be mayor, Rob Ford made it all sound so easy. A spending problem not a revenue problem. Stop the Gravy Train. Streetcars not subways. How hard could it possibly be? Any clown could do it.
Ooops. Who knew?
Municipal politics matters. Municipal politicians matter. It’s no place for clowns. Let’s stop sending them in.
– crustily submitted by Cityslikr