The Conversation We Did Not Have


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I wish Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a speedy recovery as he checks into hospital to deal with a possible tumour on his appendix. Given that Rob Ford’s father died of colon cancer, I can imagine that this is the most alarming news possible for the family, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I’ve only ever wished the best for him, personally. When he was dealing with his demons of alcoholism, I only ever wanted him to have a long healthy life in the company of the people he loves. I’ve only once broken my own rules and sworn a blue streak over something Ford did, and I had to be pushed very hard by circumstance. I think he’s been a disaster as the mayor of Toronto, but who am I to say what he deserves as a human being?

I will say that the last four years have been frustrating for me as I watch City Hall’s shenanigans in my old home town. For the first two years of Ford’s term, things were going along the trajectory I predicted in 2010, when Rob Ford positioned himself as Toronto’s version of Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien, elected in 2006. Like O’Brien, Ford was elected in a ‘throw-the-bums-out’ wave, and tried to bully his agenda through city council. And like O’Brien, two years into his mandate, Rob Ford discovered that city council can’t be bullied into submission forever. When council finally rose up, and killed his ill-advised subway plan, it was a good day for democracy, and everything that I expected at the time.

But, of course, history did not stop there. History may rhyme rather than repeat itself, but nobody could have predicted the extreme trajectory Rob Ford’s mayoralty would take, with crack video revelations, being removed from office (and restored on appeal) for breaking municipal conflict-of-interest laws, admissions of alcoholism and drug use, and making the city into the punch line of many late night television talk shows.

This was frustrating for me because Ford was getting bad press for the wrong reasons. His personal demons took centre stage, and while it may be worth asking if any politician can do his or her job with such a circus going on, what got left behind was questions over Ford’s ill-advised policies. If Ford was to be defeated in 2014, or pushed from office before that, the sideshow should not have been the reason why.

Ford’s policies on their own have set back Toronto’s public transportation infrastructure another decade, and it’s been under a decades-long drought to begin with. Ford cut services and raised user fees after promising not to. The Toronto Community Housing Corporation is mired in as much controversy as it was when Ford took office, if not more, and public housing waiting lists are longer than ever. Toronto’s fiscal position is sound, but that’s as much the result of the efforts of the previous administration as it is the current one, and Ford made things less stable by canning the vehicle registration tax.

Then there is the fact that he continues to say things which simply aren’t true, such as his $9 billion subway proposal that in reality costs billions more, and can’t be paid for without significant property tax increases. I’m not calling Rob Ford a liar, since you have to know that what you’re saying is a lie to be a liar. However, he continues to cling to inaccurate claims and information even when the proof is on the table. And that hits me worse than somebody lying.

Have you seen the video of councillor Josh Matlow questioning Mayor Ford regarding his opposition to the Scarborough LRT plan? Ford’s major complaint with LRTs is that they rip up roads and cause congestion, and points again and again to the “St. Clair Disaster” (which is no longer a disaster), but on the Scarborough LRT question he takes his opposition to totally ludicrous levels. The Scarborough LRT would not operate on roads: it would have operated on the same grade-separated right-of-way as the Scarborough RT! There’s no disruption to competing automobile traffic! Could he at least admit he was wrong? No. Talking to Ford on this issue is like talking to a wall. He doesn’t want to change his mind, and he won’t change his mind, even when the facts fundamentally disagree with him. He will fight you, even if you have right on your side.

I’ve called Rob Ford a bully before, and I’m not the first to do so. When I do it, though, I’m not suggesting that Ford is vindictive and malicious, or anything like that. Rather, his response to opposition is what feeds into this characterization. At the February 2012 council meeting when he stared defeat of his subway plans in the face, with council uniting to back the fiscally far more responsible plan to restore some of the Transit City LRT network, he went on a lengthy rant at the other councillors and some of the audience in attendance, lambasting them for standing up for streetcars. He hated streetcars and it was personal; he hated having them in the way of his car. More than that, he fundamentally could not understand how any Torontonian could oppose him on this, why anyone would question his desire to eliminate streetcars from Toronto city streets altogether.

His desire to eliminate streetcars from the streets of Toronto makes this issue personal to me, I admit, but his response to people who think differently than him is what’s most telling, here. Polls show that most Torontonians like the fact that we have streetcars in our streets. The newly debuted models have proven to be wildly popular with Torontonians. Not everybody in this city drives a personal automobile. Many don’t want one. Ford claims that he is a common man, in touch with the desires of all Torontonians. How does he respond to the fact that many Torontonians want to keep the streetcars? He refuses to admit that he’s out of touch. Indeed, he refuses to believe that the people who disagree with him on this issue even exist. What happens when these people show that they exist, and stand ready to oppose his ill-advised policies? He gets angry and shouts at them, because he believes he is always right, and that anybody who disagrees with him is just wrong.

And that is a fundamentally bad quality to have as the mayor of a diverse metropolis such as Toronto. This, not Ford’s personal issues, nor his health, is why Ford has been bad for the city of Toronto. This is the reason why he should be leaving office, everything else is just a distraction.

But this is not the conversation we’re having. And I cannot help but feel that Toronto is worse off because of it.

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