Michael Ford, Lord Of The Ward 2 Manor

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Toronto District School Board Trustee and Nephew, Michael Ford, resigned from the board and announced he was in the running for the late mayor and Ward 2 councillor, Rob Ford’s seat, multiplicity2seemingly moments after city council declared it vacant and voted to hold a July by-election to elect a new councillor. Almost as if they were already prepared to go. Almost as if that was the plan all along, which it was, back in the 2014 municipal election, until Rob Ford stepped out of the mayoral campaign for health reasons, and settled back into the Ward 2 council race. The TDSB trustee position was something of a consolation prize for Nephew Ford.

I had initial reactions to this week’s completely expected turn of events but then, it dawned on me. Here in Ward 20, in 2010, there was a similar if not exact scenario. After long time councillor Joe Pantalone decided to run for mayor, leaving the ward open, a young Mike Layton stepped forward to replace him. You might recognize the surname, not to mention that his famous dad was partnered up with the local sitting Member of Parliament, herself something of a City Hall institution, having represented the ward just one over for 15 years or so.

Truth be told, I did not take to Mike Layton. I resented the political carpetbagging aspect of it, the dynastic sensibility, the passing of the torch. multiplicity1Besides, to my mind, there was a much more qualified candidate, someone who seemed to have spent much more of her time working in the public realm, let’s call it. I did not vote for Mike Layton in 2010.

I did in 2014. Turns outs, he’s an exceptionally good city councillor. So… you know. Michael Ford. It could happen.

People are certainly saying nice things about him. He doesn’t seem to possess the bombastic side of both his uncles. He comes across as soft-spoken, gentle even, legitimately open-minded on some social issues.

Then, there’s his campaign website. “Customer Service”. “Keeping Taxes Low”. Even his “Sustainable Community Investment” is couched in Fordian terms careful spending and within a tight budget framework.

Still.

No rabid dog Subways! Subways! Subways! Light on the Respect For Taxpayers. But not without some coat tailing. “I will continue the benchmark set by my family”.

I guess the idea that Nephew could be a better city councillor than either of his uncles is a step forward. multiplicityA pretty low threshold, for sure, almost imperceptible on the progress scale. It is, however, the way we measure things in a Mayor John Tory’s Toronto. Oh well, better than X Ford.

Electing Michael Ford as councillor for Ward 2 is not the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that could happen is some sort of uncontested coronation. Michael Ford cannot be acclaimed as the new councillor. This should never happen at any electoral level, ever, anywhere.

Look, even Rob Ford, who’d served as Ward 2 councillor for 10 years before becoming mayor, only garnered 58% of the popular vote in 2014 when he ran again for the council seat. Yes, no one else came close. Yes, by almost every measure, you could call it a laugher. And yes, the absolutely unqualified Nephew had something of a cakewalk in his trustee race, pulling in about 46% of the votes.

But this is a city council election, the only city council campaign that will be taking place in July, not one of 44, not as part of a mayoral campaign. The summertime spotlight will shine exclusively on the Ward 2 by-election, on Nephew Ford. He must be challenged. littlelordfauntelroyThe idea that Ward 2 is some sort of family fiefdom needs to be challenged.

In 2014, 42% of Ward 2 voters expressed dissatisfaction with the Ford family brand, and that was with Rob – arguably the brand – flying the colours. Is the Nephew new and improved or is this just a case of Multiplicity, a watered down, reasonable facsimile of a knockoff?

Voters in Ward 2 need to be able to kick the product tires to start to figure that out. That can’t happen if the doors to City Hall are held open for him to just walk through, proclaimed, acclaimed, unchallenged, uncontested. Nephew Ford needs to campaign for the position not simply have it handed to him as some sort of birthright or family heirloom.

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Civic Disobedience

Much of the debate during last year’s mayoral campaign revolved around the notion of a return to sanity or, at least, a small sense of normalcy. serenitynowAfter 4 years of Mr. Ford’s wild ride, Toronto needed calm, some peace and serenity. Can we please have a slice of that good ol’ bland boring that should be the centerpiece of municipal politics?

Enter John Tory, bland as bland can be, scion of the establishment, Mr. Sharp Fitting Suit himself. Who better to still our choppy civic waters? There, there, T.O. Everything’ll be alright. Uncle John’s here now. Shhh…Shhhh… Go back to sleep. Everything’s under control.

“Shower of bricks reveals TCHC’s ruined façade,” states the headline of Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star editorial from yesterday in response to a weekend Toronto Star story about “four storeys of brick facing fall from TCHC building in Scarborough”. Ooops! Mash this up with today’s latest TTC breakdown at the St. Clair subway station that stranded thousands and thousands of commuters, waiting for relief lines of buses to get them to work on time.TTChaos

Can we just admit that our troubles run deeper, a whole lot deeper, than the simple matter of who’s running the show? It’s the ideas that matter not the politician. Putting lipstick on a pig and all that.

If the mayor of Toronto isn’t prepared to stare long and hard into the abyss that is this city’s chronic underfunding of, well, pretty much everything, to look up and admit that, yes, in fact we do have a revenue rather than a spending problem, then it really doesn’t matter who’s wearing the chains of office. It’s simply degrees of failure. It could be worse really shouldn’t be a viable option.

During the campaign, John Tory assured Toronto that, as well as restoring a sense of respect and decorum to the office of mayor, he would also improve the city’s rapport with the senior levels of government. wellrespectedmanMr. Tory was well-connected, if nothing else, an acknowledged civic leader of the private sector. How could his relationship be any worse than his predecessors with Queen’s Park, our provincial overlords? The feds, as the feds do, kept a certain non-malevolent distance which could certainly be improved upon with a more delicate but still Tory touch.

It was pretty much an open secret the provincial Liberal government, with a fresh new majority restored, wanted to see John Tory as the next mayor of Toronto. That certainly boded well for improved interaction between the two. I mean, the outgoing mayor and his brother-designate long advocated for the Liberals removal from office. How could we not see an uptick in the relationship?

Now, I’m willing to cut the mayor some slack, agreeing that it takes time to build those kinds of relationships. Still… So far, Queen’s Park has said ‘no’ to any and all requests the city’s made for additional funds for transit, housing, pretty much everything. In fact, we’ve received bills in return for those asks. $95 million as part of the Union-Pearson Express, for example. Oh yeah, and the provincial funding shortfall for the Spadina subway expansion? Toronto and Vaughan need to pick that up. $86 million for the GTA social service pooling fund? eviloverlordYou want a line of credit to deal with that?

This is not something that is new, provincial off-loading of money onto municipalities. The Harris government started it and the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals have not done nearly enough to alleviate it. That’s just a straight-up fact, a thing now 20 years-old.

To continue demanding provincial and federal money as the single plank in your platform of revenue generation is not only stubborn wishful thinking, it is, as walls continue to tumble and subways catch on fire, nothing less than a dereliction of duty. It’s not a plan. It’s avoidance. Why moral persuasion is any more feasible now than it was back when David Miller was going ‘cap in hand’ to the other levels of government isn’t at all clear.

Perhaps John Tory was the farthest thing from being the right mayor at the right time. That’s not to say Doug Ford would’ve been preferable. Both he and his brother looked upon every TCHC repair that needed to be done, every TTC breakdown that occurred, as proof positive of the unsuitability of government to help with folks’ lives.

But John Tory is too conventional in his thinking, too much part of the status quo to be of much use to us right now. (Why else do you think he rails incessantly against the ‘status quo’?) He can’t even stomach the idea of a conversation about tax increases. disobeyRadical is not part of the man’s lexicon and Toronto needs a radical approach.

I don’t know how exactly an orchestrated campaign of intra-governmental civil disobedience would work but that’s where we’re at. As was pointed out last week, Toronto (along with other municipalities) doesn’t have much negotiating power when it comes to dealing with the province. But if it’s true as the mayor likes to tell us that this city is the economic engine of both the province and the country, we could probably start causing some disruptions in order to make some noise.

What form that would take is hard to say. Let’s Big Data it and see if we can’t come up with something. What I do know is that meekly handing over millions and millions of dollars whenever the province asks, and going in camera if need be in order to keep the details from the public, in some sort of self-defeating gesture of good faith or will is probably counter-productive. Hey. The province wants the UPX up and going before some of the world arrives in Toronto for the PanAm Games? Maybe that’s their problem. Queen’s Park wants the subway arriving in Vaughan? Maybe they ought not renege on the money they owe. More to the point, maybe the city shouldn’t be picking up their portion of the tab.

Since John Tory has no real vested interested in the Scarborough subway, perhaps it’s time to hold a gun to that beast’s head. fightbackYou know what Queen’s Park? Maybe we’ll just stick to the LRT after all. That Master Agreement hasn’t been reopened has it? I think that money’s better spent on our billions of dollars of state of good repair.

I’ve often mused that with one budget cycle the city should threaten not to balance its operating budget. With no additional provincial money coming in, in fact with such a regular of outflow going from the city’s coffers to Queen’s Park, we just can’t possibly invest enough in our communities while balancing the operating budget. It’s no longer tenable. If the province demands that municipalities balance their operating budget, then the province needs to come in and do it themselves, either pony up the cash they owe or make the cuts to services and programs such legislation demands of Toronto.

But it’s clear by now that John Tory isn’t the type of politician to upset the applecart. It’s just not in his established, status quo nature. Neither is the make up of the current city council up to that fight, the battle we need to wage.

On the other hand, none of us should breathe some sigh of relief and relax in the false comfort that it could be worse. Could it? And what exactly would that look like? upsettheapplecartWe are best served, I think, remembering that Rob Ford and Ford Nation was not just some anomaly, now quietly placated by the bromide assurances of John Tory. While the messenger was damaged, the message remains defiantly there with every building façade collapse and public transit failure.

This shit, it isn’t working. We need to fix it. By and with any means necessary.

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Big Money. Little Love.

Many of us, including yours truly, we’re rightly criticised for arrogantly dismissing the bloc of supporters that brought Rob Ford to power 4+ years ago. holdyournoseReactionary, low-information voters who simply didn’t understand what’s good for them, if I can sum up the sentiment pithily. Inchoate ragers, even more pithily.

Sure, Ford Nation also consisted of the fanboy social media types and members of some traditional media organizations on the far right of the political spectrum that supported Rob Ford right down to the bitter, crack and booze fueled end. What flummoxed many of us, however, was the continued allegiance to the Ford brand of a solid segment of the more marginalized communities of the city. Lower income, first and second generation residents, people of colour. Those most adversely affected by the policies Rob Ford pursued during his decade and a half at City Hall. Many held on tightly to a conviction that Rob Ford was always looking out for the little guy, them.

Even when his health forced him from seeking re-election, his brother Doug, a one-term councillor and not nearly the retail politician Rob was, rode the populist wave of dissatisfaction to a 2nd place finish last October, tying up more than a third of the popular vote, a mere 6 points behind the eventual winner, John Tory. acloseoneHoly hell. That was a close one. Imagine if Rob had been able to remain in the race, goes the thinking. He might’ve won.

Standing between that result and what we actually wound up with was John Tory money John Tory, no, money. As the deadline came last week for candidates to file their 2014 campaign financials with the city, we learned “…that John Tory ran the most expensive mayoral race in Toronto’s history, with a list of contributors that reads like a who’s who of the city’s movers and shakers,” according to Oliver Moore of the Globe and Mail. The affluent and influential dug deep into their pockets to quiet the clamour of Ford Nation.

I think it’s safe to assume that this story is far from settled.

Never mind for the moment the ironies running rife through this tale. familycompactBoth John Tory and the Ford brothers are full on rich, white privileged men. It was pretty much a race between old money versus new, the establishment versus the nouveau riche, a question of competing country clubs. (Toronto’s very own version of Caddyshack!)

Or ignore the fact many of these same ‘movers and shakers’ (including then private citizen John Tory) initially supported the Rob Ford experiment at City Hall. Only after he became an international embarrassment on the public stage did this dynamic change. And then, only grudgingly, and when it became politically expedient and/or advantageous to do so.

This scenario of big money buying the election is hardly one to placate any sense of frustrated alienation with City Hall that remains strongly lingering out there. Money’s money, right, regardless of whether it comes from union fat cats or titans of industry. unimpressedWhile it is entirely understandable why Mayor Tory declined the invitation to a fundraiser being held to pay off Doug Ford’s mayoralty practice, it only will help feed into that outsider sense of those who voted for Doug Ford. Personal is personal but this is politics, and this snub certainly isn’t going to help engender any feeling of goodwill toward the mayor from those who have very little of it to start with.

And it’s a sizeable chunk of the population. Three out of five voters didn’t cast a ballot for John Tory last October. His approval ratings have settled into a range only slightly above that. Revel as we might in the calm that has descended upon our local politics, do not mistake it for any sort of widespread contentment. The fact that the well-connected and monied helped reclaim the mayor’s office for one of their own should hardly be cheered and taken as a sign that all is well in Toronto. The restoration of civic order and propriety is not the same as facing the challenges that contributed to the unrest and anger sitting at the base of Ford Nation.closeddoormeeting

We ignored and diminished it the first time a warning flare was fired. Into the reaction space created by our unwillingness or, simply, inability to respond to the legitimate demands made by those disaffected and disenfranchised by the direction the city was headed, stepped the usual suspects. Connected civic players who view Toronto as much of a personal asset as they do a place to live and work. Don’t worry, folks. They’ve got this covered.

We’re in good hands now, warmed by an overweening sense of noblesse oblige, if we want to take a sunny view of it.  I remain unconvinced, however, hearing the quiet not as any sense of calmness but as the future of Toronto being plotted out of earshot. Like it or not, the unruliness of the last 4 years was, among many other things, a sign of heightened civic engagement. When all is said and done, I’d take that over the silence of backroom influence any day of the week.

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