Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is saying a lot of insane things. The entire month of November, which began with Ford’s admission that he had indeed smoked crack-cocaine during his tenure, while in a drunken stupor no less, has essentially turned Toronto into a city-wide version of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room for a global audience, an absolute gong-show fiasco that people will turn their attention to again and again simply to revel in its awfulness.
Torontonians know that our city is more than this bumbling idiot of a mayor, but there is no denying that the man’s mouth is out of control. For someone who was known throughout most of his reign as hostile to the media and constantly refusing to address matters head on, the valve seems to have suddenly opened, spewing forth copious verbal versions of a ten car pile-up.
Toronto Life has helpfully compiled a list of the most outrageous things said by the Mayor. No doubt that the list has grown since its initial publication.
Most of the items on that list concern persona rather than politics, reflective of Ford’s volatility and outrageous behaviour rather than his actual beliefs or worldview as a politician. That, it seems to me, potentially gives way to what might be the greatest tragedy for Toronto in the midst of this grand farce, that Rob Ford might be treated simply as a trivialized cartoon and gaffe-machine and not as a perpetrator of a cynical and divisive brand of politics that is ultimately good for politicians, but devastating to those they govern.
Buried down on that list of Ford’s greatest hits is a moment in City Council during which the Mayor began retaliating against members of the public in the gallery by shouting “NDP! NDP! NDP! NDP! NDP!” and referring to them as “special interests,” a term invoked in politics to push a group to the margins and deny any legitimacy to their viewpoint. Doug Ford, the Mayor’s brother, claimed that those in the gallery were not “real taxpayers.”
Even among admissions of purchasing illegal drugs and cringe inducing comments about his “eating habits,” this dismissal of members of the public struck me as especially repulsive. Implicit in this claim is the idea that not all citizens are created equal and that not everyone has the right to be heard. It reflects an extreme arrogance that this city belongs only to those who Ford says it does.
It’s been well documented now that Rob Ford rode into office on a wave of anger among “Ford Nation,” a segment of largely suburban voters who felt that too much was being taken away from them in terms of taxes with too little return. The message from Ford was that he would stop the gravy train and stick it to the special interests who were taking advantage of the taxpayers by shaking them down for their hard earned dollars to support frivolities like public housing and social services.
Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, in his debunking of Ford’s claim that he has saved taxpayers over a billion dollars, which probably deserves top spot among Ford’s greatest hits of absurd claims, notes that despite the cancellation of the Vehicle Registration Fee, the City compensated for this loss in revenue by increasing user fees for recreational services to the tune of $24 million dollars annually. While drivers may have saved some pocket change, those who depend on recreational services, which includes many in “Ford Nation,” are penalized.
In other efforts to “stop the gravy train,” Ford proposed cuts to transit, libraries, homeless shelters and public pools, though a revolt by councillors largely prevented these cuts. Toronto doesn’t belong to those who need these services and to whom these amenities serve as upward mobilizers and routes to independence, education, and well-being. A city is not where we learn, grow, and live for Rob Ford.
In the middle of crumbling infrastructure, a significant crisis in transit, growing inequality, and declining quality in services, what matters most is that money stay in the pockets of certain taxpayers at all costs, no matter the broader impact to a surrounding community.
Toronto is a city that prides itself on diversity, and it is indeed. It is made up of those who struggle to find work and housing. It includes children, who may not pay taxes, but grow up healthy and educated in cities that take their growth seriously. It includes those who are unable to afford a personal vehicle and rely on transit in accessing employment. Many of these transit riders certainly pay taxes, but for their troubles in choosing “the better way,” they’ll receive service cuts and a fare hike. For Rob Ford, however, this is not their city.
I don’t deny that the grievances of many of those who voted for Rob Ford are legitimate. Many have indeed felt the pinch and also felt a lack of reciprocation from the funds they sacrifice for the city. This does not, however, validate Ford’s philosophy that the mayor’s responsibility is to only tend to the pocketbooks of residents, and only a select few residents at that.
The value of community services and spaces cannot be denied. The green spaces that give us a place to play and exercise are made public to all, regardless of social or economic status, by our city. The transit that is so vital in the face of a climate crisis and an epidemic of vehicular congestion is provided by our city. Running a city as large and complex as Toronto is not just a matter of taking phone calls from individual residents and showing up at somebody’s house to help them have a tree removed.
Inequality, integration, transit, homelessness, and environment will affect every resident of this city without leadership from above that considers the city’s future and well-being beyond saving a few people a few dollars and treats the needs of those affected as legitimate.
Sadly, it’s by ignoring any of these realities that Rob Ford has achieved his greatest successes. Rob Ford has adopted the “everyman” persona to devastating success, pushing Toronto’s poor and middle-class, the supposed base of “Ford Nation” to vote against their interests and those of the next generation. It’s those statements that deny that some are not “real taxpayers” that are reflective of a politics that has no real vision for a Toronto that is livable, safe, and able to meet the challenges that the future will bring. Sadly, those who accept Ford’s credo are hurt most by his actions.
If our focus is only on the idiotic things that come out of Rob Ford’s mouth, and not the actual philosophy, if it can really be called that, which informs how he governs this city, then it will be Toronto and not it’s mayor that is the true tragic figure in all of this. Ford’s absurd agenda, that all taxes and governance beyond cutting costs are evil, is, in a contest with many contenders, the most absurd thing about this mayor.
As he plans to run for re-election, I hope Toronto sees that. While the man himself may be dismissed, I hope those who would run against him do not dismiss those who comprise “Ford Nation.” They and the rest of the city deserve better than to be lied to and manipulated as they have.