A Question Really Worth Asking

July 26, 2011

For some masochistic fun and long overdue penance, I put on my figurative hair shirt and subjected myself to re-watching Mayor Ford’s CP24 interview with Stephen LeDrew from last Friday. Its staggering shortcomings have been analyzed to death so I won’t bother with anything further along those lines except to say that it came across as less a piece of television journalism and more of an infomercial pitch. Not an in-depth interview; a Johnny Carson-Ed McMahon routine. (Yes, I am that old.)

Aside from his self-satisfied certainty and shocking inability to articulate anything that isn’t printed out in front of him or committed to memory, what jumped out at me most about the mayor’s performance was his constant rhetorical refrain of, ‘Should the city be in the business of… ?’ Rhetorical because we all know what the mayor’s answer to that question is unless you fill in the blanks with ‘policing’ or ‘keeping streets clean’. No. No, no, no, no. Absolutely not!

We need to change that question ever so slightly, so he’s unable to provide an easy Yes or No answer. So instead, we frame the question as Why Shouldn’t The City Be In The Business Of… ? The one word answer, Because, will not be accepted nor will its slightly extended version of Because It Costs Too Much And The Private Sector Can Do It Cheaper unless accompanied by actual evidence proving the claim that doesn’t just make use of numbers entirely pulled from your ass/hat.

Now I know the idea might get the likes of Stephen LeDrew’s bow tie a-spinning as he’d actually have to occasionally challenge the mayor but I think it might be an adult conversation worth having as we move toward this fall’s budget discussions. Take any service the city now provides and ask not, should the city be in the business of… ? but, why shouldn’t the city be in the business of… ?

Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of maintaining parks? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of providing affordable daycare to low income families? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of handing out cultural funds that both enhance city life as well as provide economic spin-offs that usually dwarf the initial cash outlay? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of… ?

If the mayor is choosing to opt out of established programs, then the onus is on him to explain why. And saying we simply can’t afford it doesn’t cut it. At least not without facts and figures to back it up. The moment he resorts to his standard mantra of receiving 100s of calls a day, 70% of whom approve of what he’s doing, you know the actual answer is we can afford to fund these programs but we are simply choosing not to.

At least let’s force Mayor Ford to be honest about the choices he’s making. (Why now? Why not 12 months ago?) During last week’s infomercial with Stephen LeDrew, the mayor claimed that the people want just three things in return for the taxes they pay. Safe streets. Smooth, freshly paved streets. Clean streets.

According to the mayor’s self-selected numbers, the citizens taxpayers of Toronto have no or little interest in libraries, public spaces, public transit, visual arts, street festivals, smart planning and development or anything else that doesn’t make the drive time from home to work and back again easier. If they are, the private sector can provide them more efficiently and cheaply. Unless of course, you actually use them. Then hey, you’re on your own.

We often joke here how the mayor and his cadre of regressives possess a 1950s, Mayberry urban view. No traffic except the easy purr of car engines. Aunt Bea knowing her place at home, taking care of all the domestic chores. Happy town drunks. Creepy barbers.

But we’re off. Way off. In truth, Mayor Ford and his ilk maintain a medieval village mentality. A gathering of huts, together solely for commercial exchange, each paying a tithe to the local strong man who offers them protection from the scary notions roaming the nearby woods and builds a smooth(ish) road for them to conduct their business. Ties only extend as far as family. Everything else is just transactional interaction. Should the city be in the business of being a city? For Mayor Ford, the answer is resoundingly to the negative.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr