The Incurious Case of Mayor Rob Ford

June 8, 2011

We have developed a complicated relationship with our elected leaders. On one hand, we want them to be firm, resolute, strong in their convictions. On the other hand, we don’t like when they get all uppity and know-it-allish. Mr. Smarty Pants thinks he’s smarter and better than the rest of us. Imagine being forced to sit down and have a beer with him. Bo-r-r-r-r-r-r-ing!

Thus, we have creatures lurching up at us from the reactionary lagoon like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Rob Ford — faux-populists – capturing a wave of support with their simplistic world views and down home mutterings that convince us that they’re just one of us. They’re looking out for us. They have our best interests at heart.

We want our leaders to have answers. They just don’t have to be the right answers. Hell, they don’t even need to make a lick of sense. Just blurt them out forcefully with no sign of wavering or hesitation.

Having all the answers means never posing questions or contemplating issues. Why bother? It’s just a big waste of time. I know what I know and everything else is pretty much m’eh. Eggheads need not apply. Stay up in your ivory towers where you can’t inflict your voodoo rational discourse and logic based reason on the hard working taxpayers of this city, province, nation.

So it should hardly come as a surprise that our mayor, His Honour Rob Ford, couldn’t be arsed to attend last weeks Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Halifax. What is anyone there going to tell him that he doesn’t already know? Did he really need to spend 4 days or so in some tiny city without an NFL franchise to find out that the answer is nothing more than Stop The Gravy Train? Send QB Mammoliti instead. He’s better at pretending to listen to other peoples’ opinions.

While it might be unrealistic to think that the official mayor would learn anything of value from a long weekend conference as he notoriously has trouble sitting through a day long meeting without developing a severe case of ants in his pants, why not send the actual mayor, Brother Doug, the so-called smart one, to take his spot? I mean, they kind of look a like. He could’ve said he was Mayor Ford and many of the non-Torontonians in attendance would be none the wiser.

A rookie on the municipal politics scene, it might’ve offered an opportunity for Councillor Ford to familiarize himself with the terrain, get the lay of the land, reach out and touch other urban leaders. Even as a token gesture to show that Toronto, the country’s biggest city, is taking municipal issues seriously. You know, lie. Keeping up appearances and all that.

But maybe Councillor Ford was too busy, fielding all those calls from outraged taxpayers, indignant that some charity thingie had blocked their god-given right to drive on the Gardiner and DVP for a few hours on the weekend. Maintaining a constant vigil to ensure motorists’ freedoms aren’t being trampled on is a full time job. Leaves little time to go off hob-knobbing with all those per-fesser, conference attending types who’ve never held a real job in their lives.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow” – William Pollard.

Arrogance is debilitating especially when mixed with an unhealthy dose of incuriosity. Leaving your own assumptions unchallenged gives you the answers you’re looking for but invariably limits your options. In individuals, it’s tiresome. In our elected representatives, it’s deliberate sabotage of the public discourse.Those sort of politicians aren’t looking out for our best interests. How could they be? They’d have to know what our best interests might be in the first place and to do that they’d have to start asking questions they don’t already know the answers to.

posingly posted by Urban Sophisticat


Assessing Our New Mayor’s Movement

November 23, 2010

As we breathlessly await firm news of Mayor-elect Rob Ford’s committee appointments, I am trying to convince myself to look upon this not as a horrible, disfiguring moment in the city’s history but as…an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity. It isn’t a matter of perspective. No, it’s what kind of conservative our incoming mayor turns out to be.

Kinds of conservatives, you ask? How many kinds of conservatives are there? You’ve got your run-of-the-mill, always irate, incoherent kind, flailing about in the choppy, churning waters of cognitive dissonance and then there’s…? Help me out here. Other kinds of conservatives?

Well yes, at least in theory. There once were conservatives roaming about in the wild who were of Burkean stock. Wary of excess of any stripe including rabid anti-governmentalism, your daddies’ conservatives did not seek to dismantle the New Deal/Just Society welfare state in its entirety. They simply wanted to reshape it in their own vision. Red Tories, let’s call them. These guys were the elitists of their time. Democracy was all well and good as long as there wasn’t too much of it.

Movement Conservatives, on the other hand, the spawn of William F. Buckley-Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher, are a lot less amiable. Theirs is “a revolutionary doctrine hostile to any public enterprise except the military” and, I will add, national security except for that whole no junk touching stream of unconsciousness that has recently emerged. They have manifested themselves in the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and, to some extent, our current federal Conservative government. There is no form of government that doesn’t drive them batty with inchoate anger. To their minds, democracy is merely a vehicle to smash up democratic institutions.

Much was made during this past municipal campaign about Rob Ford being our very own Tea Bagger, a bigger, louder, less foxy Sarah Palin. It’s a comparison that goes only so far. Yes, he was angry and adeptly tapped into, exploited and manufactured a wide swath of anger in the electorate. He made claims of reclaiming City Hall for the little guy. A deep streak of xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny runs through his core.

Yet, like the earlier strain of conservatism, Rob Ford seems more driven to eradicate government excesses rather than government itself. In fact, he may be prone to more democratic impulses than is normal in conservatives of any stripe. When he says he wants to take back City Hall, it is largely free of the racist, faux-grassroots chant we heard during the U.S. midterm election campaign. Ford actually sounds like an honest to god populist in wanting to give the reins of power to the people instead of his hated bureaucracy. (The irony of this is that the last thing his most fervent devotees would want or know what to do with is to actually exercise that power.)

Therein lies the opportunity at hand. On Metro Morning last week to promote the book Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto, Dave Meslin told host Matt Galloway how, back in 2006, when Meslin was involved with the City Idol project that sought to shine a spotlight on a diverse set of council candidates, then councillor Rob Ford was very helpful in giving his time and advice to the proceedings. Ford’s face now adorns the endorsement page of Meslin’s latest adventure in advancing democracy, RaBIT, Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. By all accounts, our next mayor is fully on board for helping further the cause of democratic renewal.

So, fighting our way past the recoil phase of October 25th’s fallout, we can prepare to seize what may be a truly golden moment for positive change on the democratic front. A politician elected to office who truly wants to invest more powers in the populace. It is a gift we should be ready to receive and not allow him to renege on or get horribly wrong (i.e. simply cutting council numbers in half). This may be the only common ground we find with this administration. Let’s not waste the opportunity to take full advantage of it.

exhortingly submitted by Cityslikr


Political Genius Genus Evil

November 1, 2010

In the afterglow of Rob Ford’s surprisingly convincing mayoral victory last week came the inevitable outpouring of ink and bytes about the whys and hows of his win, complete with a revelation of a “dirty tricks” controversy. Actually, let’s call it more of a contretemps or set-to, to lessen it slightly from such a harsh moniker but mostly to cement my downtowner elitist status. Kelly Grant’s exhaustive piece in the Globe and Mail revealed a campaign team that was highly disciplined, relentless in ferreting out where its support was, tireless in punching the divisive hot-button issues that set the agenda from Ford’s entry into the race.

While I hesitate to use the word ‘genius’, as its constant misapplication drains all meaning from it, for my purposes here, let’s do so. Political genius. Eliciting the question, why does so much political genius manifest itself as the evil variety? Squandered as it is, attempting to make silk purses from sows’ ears, foisting upon the voting public candidates clearly unfit for office and out of their depth. George W. Bush. Sarah Palin. And now, Rob Ford.

Imagine if the likes of Lee Atwater (may he be roaming swelteringly the halls of Hell still), Karl Rove and now the boys of the Rob Ford brain trust applied their significant skills to the betterment of society rather than to the detriment of it. But, of course, that instantly answers the above question. They have no interest in contributing positively to society. Their political genius comes from having to mask that simple fact. On a mission to drive back the gains made for the greater good by FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s War on Poverty and PET’s Just Society (or any other government intent on making life a little fairer and more equitable), they dance and sing populist songs, with generically uplifting titles like Respect For Taxpayers while exemplifying none of it.

They are the political ‘Hidden Persuaders’, Vance Packard’s 1950s term for the marketers and ad men who convinced the public that cereals were the only breakfast food, cigarettes were the epitome of cool with health benefits to boot, and that consuming more of everything than we needed put us on the path of enlightened happiness. We applaud them for doing their jobs well, for convincing us to go against our best interests and better instincts and buy into a truly toxic, detrimental world view. Yep. They got us to put the shotgun barrel in our mouths but, damn, were they smooth!

I have little doubt that Rob Ford, like George W. before him on Ronald Reagan before him, truly believes that government in all its forms is the source of much that is wrong in society today. Raised on the teat of neo-conservatism with his beloved late father a small part of the Common Sense Revolution, Ford may be many things but disingenuous about his politics does not seem to be one of them. He is the perfect spokesman and front man for the movement of the privileged class to be embraced by a big chunk of the population that shares absolutely nothing in common with it.

What’s even more remarkable about this political sleight of hand is the timing of the current version of the trick. Economic calamity brought on by overly zealous free marketeering combined with governmental lapse of judgment and negligence of duty. Crushing private sector debt piled into the public purse, followed by immediate calls of out-of-control government spending and demands for cutbacks and rollbacks. A mere two years after a deep lingering recession brought on by neo-liberal/conservative politics, we’ve already internalized the counterintuitive belief that only neo-liberal/conservative policies and politicians can dig us out of the hole they helped us dig. It is truly a bravura performance, delivered by masters of their profession who should be richly rewarded for their outstanding efforts in pulling such a feat off.

Except that, they are amply enriched by the narrow interests they serve and protect. Except that, inevitably they’re much better at campaigning than they are governing and tend to leave big, heaping piles of steaming crap in their wake. Except that, society is that much worse off because of what it is they do, the dark arts they practice.

You can admire, even applaud, those whose brilliance is obvious even though their purpose is contemptible. The great villains are always our favourite characters. But what we really have to stop doing is handing them the keys to power. They aren’t in it to make the world, the city, the neighbourhood a better place for anyone else beside themselves, and those sharing their perspective, regardless of how much they try telling us otherwise.

People who use their talents for evil should not be expected to do good. It’s not in their nature. We need to stop expecting anything else from them. Experience should’ve told us that a long time ago.

full of goodnessly submitted by Cityslikr


Politics 101

July 19, 2010

I like to think of myself as a man not oblivious to political machinations. There is no subterfuge buried deep enough that my nose cannot uproot, truffle style. Long gone are the days when I read anywhere but between the lines.

But I am the proverbial babe in the woods in these matters compared to my acquaintance, one Jose Cuervo Manchego (not his real name, I suspect). Sitting drinking in our favourite west end watering hole, he coolly and quickly dispels any notion I might have of possessing an ‘operative’ mindset. It is both disturbing and thrilling to watch one’s self-assured perspectives so systematically dismantled.

“To think Harper staged the G20 where he did simply to kick sand in the face of Toronto is infantile in its level of petulance,” Jose sneered at me. “It attaches human emotion to someone who possesses none.”

“Yes, yes, everyone’s trying to convince us the man’s actually a warm, huggable guy in person,” Jose continues. “All kittens and lollipops but in the political realm, he’s a machine, a robot, Vulcan. Spite is something completely foreign to him.”

So if not spite, what?

I make the mistake of wondering the thought out loud and am met with nothing but an icy stare of heart-stopping derision. It cost me another round of drinks plus one of the establishment’s marvelous pulled pork sandwiches to get Manchego to stay, let alone fully explain his diabolical theory. An investment well worth it in order to travel down the river to such a heart of darkness. But it would have to wait until the sandwich arrived. Our table was overcome with a stony silence.

“Everybody knew there was going to be a riot,” Manchego restarted in between bites. “As soon as the thing got moved downtown. Expected and desired.”

Sitting listening to Jose Cuervo Manchego brought to mind that scene in Oliver Stone’s JFK where Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison is schooled in duplicity by Donald Sutherland’s X on the park bench. Yes, the man is that mad!

“They knew there’d be a riot. They knew there’d be police overreaction. Hell, they assured it with the number of cops they put on the street and the toys they gave them to play with. They knew there’d be a huge outcry of protest afterwards. Laws manipulated. Rights stepped on. And they knew… there… would…be…pushback.”

Manchego delivered the last line pretty much as written. Like he was talking to a child. To someone who would never fully comprehend what he was pointing at. But he underestimated my growing grasp of the situation.

“Over 70% of Torontonians approved of how the police dealt with the protesters!” I yelled out, startling everyone in the bar except for Jose Cuervo Manchego. He sat back, smiling a Yoda smile and gestured to the bartender for another round.

Locate and mobilize. Showing support for police actions over the G20 weekend (and beyond) revealed a law and order sensibility that was the Conservatives’ bread and butter. Where these people are and getting them out to vote might be the key to future electoral success.

“The Conservatives are this close,” (gesturing but, in fact, I take some editorial license here because what Manchego actually said about the miniscule proximity included an Andrew Brett degree of vulgarity which I’m not sure readers of this blog are ready for), “to securing a majority government. But they’re tapped out everywhere else in the country. The major breakthrough in Quebec fizzled because they have a fundamental cluelessness about the population. So, where … are … they … going … to … find … the … extra … seats?”

Now, I was just being patronized. The Conservatives had no presence in the country’s 3 biggest cities. A surge in any of them would provide the numbers needed to finally go over the top. So Manchego seemed to be suggesting that the PM deliberately set Toronto on fire in order to find out where his supporters were and to get them excited. That was too Machiavellian even for my tastes.

“Look at that debate at City Hall afterwards,” Manchego countered. “All those councillors who stood up to applaud the police. They proudly claimed to have had no part in the protests and watched it all go down on TV. Why? Because they don’t live anywhere near the downtown core. They go there to work and that’s the extent of it.”

“They live in Rob Ford country, friend.”

Maybe it was the number of drinks we’d downed on this sunny weekend afternoon but my head was a-swirl with the implications Manchego put forward. So the summer of 2010 was to be one of recruitment for the Conservative Party of Canada in the 416 area code. Identify, locate and mobilize. All they needed was a handful of seats and discontent was indeed running high throughout the city. Discontent generated and intensified by many of the candidates running for mayor, none more so than Rob Ford.

“His campaign is nothing more than a trial run,” Jose Cuervo Manchego suggested. “Trotted out to see what sticks and what slides. And exactly where his support is most intense.”

“And if he wins even better!”

Once again, the depths of my ignorance and obliviousness were revealed by Manchego’s reaction to my statement. He dropped his head back and his jaw down, staring in astonishment up at the ceiling. Before I could be relieved over the gentleness of his scorn, he grabbed a crust from his pulled pork sandwich and flung it at me, scoring a direct hit right into my slightly open mouth and forcing me to spit it out onto the floor in full view of the bartender. We apologized after getting a rebuke from him and remained quiet for a few moments but Manchego could not contain himself.

“Nobody in official Conservative circles wants Rob Ford to be mayor, you idiot!” Manchego hissed at me nowhere near as far under his breath as he might’ve imagined. “That would be a disaster. It would set back their agenda years if not decades.”

“The man’s a moron, a buffoon. One year in office as mayor would reveal the entire neo-Conservative, anti-government ideology to be the destructive, brutal, ruinous movement that it truly is. He’d get nothing accomplished except for sinking Conservative chances of ever electing anyone to office in this city ever again.”

I began to suspect the sanity of my drinking partner, Jose Cuervo Manchego. If what he’s saying were true then Toronto progressives should consider voting for Rob Ford as mayor. Take the long view and embrace a one term Ford mayoralty as a giant step toward damaging the neo-conservative brand. Our own little George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. Take one for the team for a brighter future. Fall on the grenade to save the platoon.

But alas, that was too far through the looking glass for me. A worldview I was unprepared to embrace lest I lose my very soul. I would admire the mind of someone like Jose Cuervo Manchego but would not seek to emulate it.

A conclusion I kept to myself, not wanting to be pelted by any more sandwich detritus although, judging from the smoldering, even hateful, look I was subject to, Manchego very likely knew what I was thinking. We continued drinking in silence. The heat outside was too stifling for us to do anything else.

shakenly submitted by Acaphlegmic


The Unsoundness Of The Furey

June 21, 2010

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have sat pondering this post for the past couple days now, taking in a World Cup game or two and a handful of NXNE performances as we mulled over its composition. You see, we have rarely disagreed with much that comes across our desk from Jonathan Goldsbie. In fact, he as been anointed patron saint of this blog for his overwhelming support and constant promotion of it, to say nothing of his effusive praise for the work of my colleague, Cityslikr. But we’re writing today to take exception to Mr. Goldsbie’s description of Anthony Furey’s National Post piece from last week on Rob Ford as ‘insightful’.

To us, the only insight on offer is into the mind of Anthony Furey. His column reads like it emanated from the Ford camp itself. It is a pure piece of PR puffery, seeking to assuage the roiled nerves of the Fordians after their candidate hit the first speed bump on the campaign trail since he’d started polling as a serious contender in the mayoral race.

Rob Ford does not have his ear to the ground, as Mr. Furey suggests. What he has is his spleen dipped into the oozing wound of resentment that opens up during times of great economic uncertainty. My derision of the man as a candidate has nothing to do with him being a ‘dim-witted populist’ because Mr. Ford is mostly certainly not that. Rather, he is an exploitive demagogue (in the modern sense) who is attempting to channel the justifiable anger that is in the air and direct it away from where it ought to be aimed and toward more self-serving targets.

Rob Ford wants us to believe that the city is in such dire, apocalyptic straits (a scenario itself greatly exaggerated by all the candidates running on an anti-incumbent platform and the media looking for some juicy oomph to their coverage of local politics) due to the current administration’s out of control taxing and spending, unions and the fact that fellow councillor Kyle Rae spent $12K on a retirement party. All convenient objects of vilification for a politician bent on delivering up easy explanations to complex problems. Why the likes of Anthony Furey want to applaud Ford for that rather than castigate him is indeed, to borrow Mr. Goldsbie’s word, ‘insightful’ if somewhat perplexing.

Because an honest look at many of the problems Toronto faces right now reveals them to be, in large part, due to the result of policies and decisions made by short-sighted and parochial politicians. Funding shortfalls emerging from Mel Lastman’s campaign pledge not to raise residential property taxes during his first term. This, despite having no idea what the full costs of amalgamation would be to the city which turned out to be much larger than we were promised. A failure of nerve at both the provincial and municipal levels dating back to the Eggleton regime to pull the trigger on subway expansion that has left us with an underfunded and inadequate transit system. Traffic status quoists unwilling to imagine our city streets filled with anything other than cars.

These are the Knights who say Nay, rarely lifting a gaze past their ward boundaries. They appeal only to our worst instincts in the hopes of stunting any forward-thinking, inclusive vision. And Rob Ford is their 2010 campaign standard bearer.

Mr. Furey takes tepid exception to the Toronto Star’s comparison of Ford to Sarah Palin. On this we agree with Furey. The politician Ford should actually be compared to is George W. Bush. Both men are the products of inherited money and privilege who, adopting very different public personas, attempt to project a common folk sensibility. They also share a frightening lack of curiosity about the wider world around them. Combined with a rigid and narrow ideology, this makes for potentially destructive politics as we witnessed with W.’s reign. Our only consolation should Ford pull off an upset victory in October is that his power would be limited compared to that of the President of the United States.

Toward the end of his column, Mr. Furey brushes aside Rob Ford’s ‘slights to the gay community’, one of which, I imagine, is at the source of Ford’s current imbroglio. As we wrote in our post on Saturday, in arguing against a proposed $1.5 million funding of AIDS prevention, Ford said: If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line. Now, if someone got up and said that back in, say, 1982, it might’ve been factually correct if grotesquely lacking in empathy and compassion. Ford bellowed it in 2006, showing himself to be not only callous, uncaring and unsympathetic but misinformed and a stranger to the truth.

He was wrong. Not just morally or from a politically correct standpoint. He got up in front of council and spread a lie about a life-and-death issue. That is not merely a ‘slight’, Mr. Furey. It is irresponsible. It is harmful. It is divisive. All trademarks of a demagogue.

And in our humble opinion, your column simply enables and encourages those reactionary traits that this city hardly needs in its next mayor. So yeah, in that way it was insightful. Into the mind of a member of the media who seems intent on cheering malignancy, obstreperousness and intolerance all the way into the mayor’s chair.

Sorry, Jonathan. We could not allow Anthony Furey’s column to go unremarked upon. Hopefully you won’t hold it against us.

supplicantly submitted by Urban Sophisticat