For Rob Ford, A Zero's Welcome At Nathan Phillips Square Protest
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For Rob Ford, A Zero’s Welcome At Nathan Phillips Square Protest

Photo by Paul Baker.

This afternoon, at City Hall, while Rob Ford delivered the first press conference of his term as mayor—a title he assumed, officially, today—the scene in Nathan Phillips Square was unruly: an anti-Ford protest competed for attention with a twenty-foot-tall menorah and an all-tuba Christmas-carol ensemble. Merry Fordmas, Toronto.

The menorah was for tonight’s Chanukah celebration in the Square, today being the first night of the holiday. The all-tuba band, consisting of area high-school students, had assembled for the nineteenth-annual Christmas Festival of Tubas, organized by the Coalition for Music Education in Canada for the purpose of giving bass players the chance to carry a melody for once in their lives. “This is the first time we’ve had a demonstration in the square to accentuate us,” said Russ Stachiw, a retired music teacher who now works with the CMEC. “Or maybe we accentuate them.”
It was probably the latter.
The protest was a joint production between several activist groups, including the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly, who came to advocate not only for the continuance of Transit City, but for the abolition of transit fares—a solution the group says has worked in other cities. A GTWA spokeswoman took the microphone and raised a chant: “SAVE TRANSIT CITY. SAVE TRANSIT CITY. SAVE TRANSIT CITY.”
Meanwhile, inside City Hall, at the press conference, Rob Ford was in the process of telling media that Transit City is “a project we do not need anymore.”
“I was elected with quite a large mandate to deliver subways, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” he said. Since Transit City is being funded almost entirely by the province, Ford would need to bring Queen’s Park on board before performing such a dramatic rerouting of the gravy train.
The pundits that opine on these matters professionally aren’t yet sure whether or not Ford has it in his authority to halt work on Transit City, particularly construction on the Sheppard East LRT (the one Transit City light rail line that is already under construction), but what is clear is that Ford will do so if he can. Brad Ross, spokesman for the TTC, gave this oblique quotation on the matter yesterday to the Post‘s Peter Kuitenbrouwer: “Direction could be given by the commission to change direction. That would have to happen with Metrolinx at the table.” This suggests that the TTC would need to agree to cooperate with Ford for cessation of construction to occur. Ford met with TTC chief general manager Gary Webster this morning, and they reportedly discussed this very topic.
Other protesters brought different messages to the fore, dealing with issues of social justice and poverty, to which they see Ford as being insensitive. As all this was going on, DuSpa Collective members hoisted a banner with a stenciled image of the musician Sting on it next to words adapted from the lyrics in a song by The Police, directed at Mayor Ford: “We’ll be watching you.”
But the protesters weren’t the only ones with signs. Newly instated councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), brother of Rob, has posted two poster-sized placards in his office windows, which face out onto Nathan Phillips Square. The first one reads: “TTC IS ESSENTIAL.” The second says: “Make the TTC an essential service.” This is another of Rob Ford’s stated priorities for the early days of his mayoralty. Declaring the TTC an essential service would limit the ability of its employees to strike. (It would also almost certainly drive up labour costs.) Making the essential-service declaration would require provincial approval.
Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), stepping out for lunch today on his first day in the office vacated by Joe Pantalone, stopped by the protest to mingle with activists, briefly. He said he was planning on hoisting a sign of his own: a “Save Transit City” banner to hang in his own office windows, where passers-by can see it.
“I figure if the Mayor’s brother can put up signs of a policy nature, then so can we,” he said.
It was the first day of the next four years of our lives.