Sitting in the auditorium of Silverthorn Collegiate in Etobicoke last night, taking in Mayor Rob Ford’s community meeting called to discuss the Ward 3 vacancy created by long time councillor Doug Holyday’s election as MPP earlier this month, I caught a glimpse of the mayor’s fabled populist appeal. It was ever so fleeting but had long eluded me. This is what people, the folks, see in him!
He was explaining the process that had to be adhered to by council and city staff in filling a vacancy mid-term. It’s not overly complicated but it is an either/or scenario involving many if this-es, then that-es. Details, more or less, outlining the different procedures to be followed if choosing between a city council appointment of a new Ward 3 councillor or a by-election for the voters to select one.
It’s territory the mayor isn’t overly interested in, the small picture stuff. Nevertheless, he’d called the meeting so he soldiered through the small print, explaining how both situations would work. He mumbled, hummed and hawed, checked his notes frequently, circled back to repeat something he’d already covered. The whole thing was as torturous for him, evidently, as it was for the audience to sit through.
But here’s the thing. He didn’t try and pretend it was anything other than that. A boring bunch of bureaucratic business he had to go through to set the stage for the rest of the meeting. This was no smooth operator with any glib condescension to the audience. The mayor made no attempt to hide the fact that he didn’t understand things any better than most of the audience.
My a-ha! moment.
He has a complete and utter lack of guile. How else to explain that one minute he assured everybody that he was going to be neutral at the meeting about hearing everyone’s opinion and 7 minutes later state that “You can’t put a price on democracy” in responding to concerns over the cost of a by-election? “I am trying to be as unbiased as I can be here, folks but…”, hey, that’s just not the mayor’s style.
And the thing is, I think he actually believed it. Just like he actually believed that if the room came out in favour of appointing someone to replace Doug Holyday, he’d go to City Hall on Monday and vote for an appointment. He’s not there to represent his views, he assured the crowd. He’s there to represent their views, the taxpayers’ views.
Never mind that by the meeting’s end he’d somehow come to the conclusion that 70% of the people in Ward 3 wanted a by-election by judging the applause, I guess. Even before counting the pink straw ballots that had been handed out for the audience to mark down their preference, he had already concluded that a by-election was the way to go. But I think he truly believed it was the audience’s decision that sealed the deal for him.
There was no question in my mind as well that a majority of those in attendance at the meeting wanted a by-election. 70%? I’d actually want to count hands at least before offering up any firm number. But certainly more than half of the 100 people or so who came out last night were vocal in stating that preference. Give the mayor his number, 70 people in a ward of over 50,000 people wanted a by-election as the means of getting a new councillor. So, a by-election the mayor will vote for next week.
He will do so, not because that’s his opinion, but the opinion of the people of ward 3.
I don’t think there’ll be one moment during Monday’s debate on the issue that the mayor will think otherwise. He wants a by-election because the people of ward 3 in Etobicoke want a by-election. Because you can’t put a price on democracy. Because if a new councillor is chosen by council appointment, somebody from Scarborough, of all places, (there was a surprising anti-Scarborough sentiment running through the discussion last night), might be picked to represent ward 3 Etobians. Democracy denied.
None of the push for a by-election on Mayor Ford’s part has anything to do with ensuring his administration gets another rock solid loyalist in the mold of Doug Holyday. Having lost enough allies to already seriously undermine his ability to steer the agenda, he can’t afford to allow any further erosion. One more undependable vote at council won’t help his cause going into an election year.
His preference for a by-election has absolutely nothing to do with his love of campaigning. That’s not what this is about at all. It’s about representing the wishes of the people of Etobicoke down at City Hall. It’s not about the mayor’s political survival. It’s about democracy.
I’m convinced Mayor Ford really and truly believes that. It’s what makes him come across as genuine, as a straight shooter, down to earth and not just some slick professional politician. Only cynics would see him as calculating, delusional even.
Those still supporting the mayor support him because they still believe he’s looking out for their best interests. They believe it because the mayor still believes it.
That’ll be a real tough nut to crack.
— penny-droppingly submitted by Cityslikr