[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]
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In yesterday’s post, we pointed to David Miller’s 2006 re-election where he won 42 of Toronto’s 44 wards with nearly 57% of the popular vote. Four years later, Rob Ford swept into power, largely erasing all traces of a Miller mandate outside of Toronto’s downtown core. It was a dramatic turn of events that reflected a tumultuous discontent with the outgoing administration especially in the inner suburbs.
How did such a turnaround occur? What had David Miller done that so alienated voters in Etobicoke, York, North York and Scarborough? In terms of the political landscape, there was no suburban-urban divide in 2006 (or in 2000 for that matter in Mel Lastman’s second term). Suddenly in 2010, we had our very own version of the Iron Curtain.
The city as a whole was feeling somewhat unsettled. Toronto had weathered the global economic crisis fairly well although unemployment was up and the region’s manufacturing base shrinking. Voters were feeling particularly antsy.
Of course, the 2009 outside workers’ strike loomed large over local politics. Garbage piled up in our parks and when it was all over, the perception was the Miller administration had caved into the unions and handed over the key to the vault. The facts didn’t really back that up but since the mayor didn’t crush the unions into oblivion, he’d failed epically.
If it wasn’t about being over-taxed, it was about being under-served. Whatever prosperity and new-fangled artscape or shiny development sprung up did so downtown. Suburbanites were left on the outside looking in and, to kick more sand in their collective faces, the tab was theirs to pay.
Troublingly, when perception doesn’t meet reality, it’s the perception that often times wins out.
There’s never been any convincing evidence that the city’s suburbs subsidize downtown spending. In fact, during David Miller’s time in office, there was much attention and capital spent on the inner suburbs. A new subway was being constructed that would extend the Yonge-University-Spadina line into the city’s northwest corner on its way up to Vaughan. Transit City was a plan to bring more rapid transit to areas that had none. The 13 Priority Areas Neighbourhood Action Plan was established to combat poverty in almost exclusively places in the inner suburbs. The Tower Renewal Program.
None of it overly glamorous unless you were a policy wonk or directly affected. But it’s simply untrue to say that the suburbs weren’t an important part of the Miller Administration agenda. So how did that view gain such traction?
Here’s my working theory.
The toxic pool of political discourse created by a growing anti-Miller sentiment in the media and splashed about in by early mayoral candidates George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi was expertly marshalled by the Rob Ford campaign into a potent divisive force. Wedge politics at its finest. Candidate Ford convinced adopted and amplified voter alienation in the inner suburbs to mirror a personal alienation during his decade long term as councillor at City Hall.
Rob Ford, lone wolf, outside councillor as champion of the forgotten and abandoned tax payers of suburban Toronto.
After four years as mayor, it’s obvious nothing could be further from the truth.
As a politician Rob Ford and those closest to him have little interest in public sector investment in the public realm. They stand firmly opposed to almost all of the legacy items of the Miller Administration’s attempts at suburban renewal and engagement. It’s not about spending and engaging more in the suburbs. It’s about not spending more anywhere.
The government should not be in the business of governing.
This urban-suburban divide we find ourselves facing is a political one more than geographical or cultural. While we can blame David Miller for not being more explicit about his goals or somehow not making his intentions clearer to voters in Etobicoke, York, North York or Scarborough, the real culprits are those claiming to be looking out for the little guy when every policy they pursue proves the exact opposite.
— submitted by Cityslikr