Camp Ford on election night. Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail published this morning, Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) said some fairly offensive and highly contentious things about the state of affairs at City Hall, and how his brother has been finding things as mayor. The biggest obstacle to getting things done, he implied, were his pesky colleagues on council, who didn’t always vote the Fords’ way and irritatingly needed to be persuaded of the merits of any proposal. He waxed envious about Hazel McCallion, who, he said “runs a tight ship over there…She’s got such massive support, they just don’t go against her”—going against the mayor now apparently being a cause for concern.
Funny that it didn’t seem to be a problem for Rob when he was councillor and David Miller was mayor, but no mind.
Of course, councillors should keep doing exactly what they have been doing, what they have been elected to do, and what Rob Ford prided himself on doing when he held that post: ask questions, try to learn more about proposals, hold public meetings and discussions about major initiatives, and vote based on their considered judgment on the merits of each case.
“At the end of the day, he has more skin in the game than anyone,” Doug went on to say of this brother, revealing a disturbing (or more likely disingenuous) blindness to the realities of the nature of politics itself. Nobody owes the mayor a do-whatever-you-want-for-four-years card because he will be saddest of all the politicians if he doesn’t get re-elected. Building a consensus around carefully thought-out policies for which you can advocate effectively is not an impediment to being mayor—it is being mayor. It’s part of the job description.
More distressing than the lament about the perils of voting and council debate, however, was when Doug Ford went on to object to the recent OCAP protest at City Hall—not the fact that it disrupted a meeting, but that the protesters apparently were considered a legitimate part of public debate in the first place. “Some of those folks are actually getting grants from the city to lobby against the government…I just don’t understand.”
That’s what we do in a democracy, Doug: we fund our opponents. Ensuring opponents have a voice is, roughly speaking, the whole point.
The complaints about councillors’ irritating habit of not always falling over when they see Rob Ford coming is, while egregious, also a fight among more or less equals: politicians expressing frustration and jockeying for position on a field they’ve all won the right to play on. But this is not, for all that the metaphors are helpful, a game, and the mayor is not the one with the most skin in it. What happens at City Hall has real-world consequences for people far outside its carpeted halls. Torontonians who live on Finch West and are losing their planned transit, residents who attend free programs at recreation centres in priority neighbourhoods, homeowners in every community that has had to take a fight to the OMB because the City’s planning department doesn’t have enough to staff to process developer applications on time—they are the people with skin in the “game.” It is their lives which are made better or worse in virtue of decisions taken at City Hall.
Rob Ford is going to be okay. Win or lose debates on the floor of council, re-elected or not in 2014—he is going to be just fine. Not everyone in the city is as secure in their prospects and their future. What Doug Ford said was clearly inflammatory, and the fact that it was him and not his brother—the actual mayor under discussion—giving the interview is even worse. Words matter, the tone of our conversation about politics matters, accessibility to the seat of power matters, and this was nothing but a running leap in the wrong direction.
But it is also a very curiously timed leap, coming just a day after the Fords introduced a very questionable, very vague plan for new transit funding in Toronto. (Or more accurately, a plan to make a plan.)
Yesterday they announced their intention to build a subway via public-private partnerships, though they admitted in the same breath that no funding had actually been secured. That this anger-baiting interview came out a day later may or may not have been a coincidence, a shiny new distraction to make us forget about the gaping holes and question marks with which that subway proposal is riddled—but intentional or not, we cannot allow it to distract us. That proposal is where the real action is, and that is where Torontonians biggest wins and losses will come.
Eye on the ball.