Last night in Scarborough, many who are decidedly not part of the downtown elite spoke out against the mayor, too.
By any measure in the rather narrow definition of today’s common currency, I am a member of the downtown elite—by which I mean I live downtown and I’m not on board with Mayor Rob Ford’s agenda. Full stop.
This place I thought of as my home and the lifestyle that came with it, the ease of mobility and the array of opportunity, had come under fire by the antiest of anti-urban municipal governments this city has seen in some time. This was an administration that threatened the very things I viewed as vital to what makes my home so special to me. I was growing increasingly aggressive in my defence of it. And then I went to Scarborough last night. Three and a half hours later, I realized I don’t know anger. I don’t know outrage. I don’t know such fiercely loyal pride of place.
The 10 councillors representing the former east side municipality met at the Scarborough Civic Centre to present the proposed 2012 City budget and listen to feedback from their residents. Did they ever get a collective earful.
Sixty-seven residents had signed up to give deputations, although by my count only about 40 or so made it down to the microphone. Of that number, two spoke in favour of the course the mayor and his team were currently charting.
Like many, I’ve heard chatter about the alleged “usual suspects” who comes to speak at these things: CUPE-backed and -prepared speakers, special interests, et cetera—the same refrain that gets repeated whenever deputants so overwhelmingly speak out against the mayor. Your basic case of shooting the messenger.
I readily accept that those who come out to have their voices heard aren’t necessarily fully representative of the population as a whole. (Although it isn’t exactly clear how those who support Mayor Ford’s budget would even know to come out and voice their support. I could only find notification of last night’s event through, for lack of a better term, opposition websites. Neither the mayor nor any of the councillors from Scarborough seemed to have given residents a heads-up about the event, at least not online.) People don’t tend to take time out of their schedules to cheer on issues, to express a favourable opinion of them. This, I think, is especially true with the budget proposal put in front of us. (“Yeah! Cut more! Pump up the user fees! Further reduce the role of government!”) That side is more of a Tim Horton’s nod-and-stay-the-course interaction.
But even measured against other budget meetings I have witnessed throughout the city, last night’s was high-pitched, angry, outraged and very, very personal. One deputant, in summing up this year’s budget said, “Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”
That’s not simply a where’s mine? parochial attitude. In all the divisive downtown-suburb rhetoric over whose money and how much of it goes where that has been a part of the post-amalgamation discourse, it’s become pretty clear that Scarborough has consistently gotten the short end of the stick—not just versus downtown but in comparison to other former municipalities like Etobicoke and North York. Scarborough residents’ anger at City Hall is justified.
Which was one of the reasons Scarborough went so overwhelmingly pro–Rob Ford in the 2010 election. He promised to change all that. He would cut the boatloads of gravy and the sense of downtown entitlement that was so pervasive at City Hall, and redirect all the savings back to where it was really needed, like in Scarborough. They’d get better transit. They’d get better service. And they wouldn’t have to pay more for it.
Jump two budgets later to 2012.
Scarborough is looking at reduced service on 26 of its bus routes. Their subway? Still a figment of Ford’s imagination. Eleven of their libraries are threatened with reduced hours, as are 10 of their arenas. Shelters are being closed. Recreation programs were cut and higher user fees implemented.
“Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”
More than anything, the palpable feeling at last night’s budget session was one of betrayal. Scarborough had put their faith in Ford and the residents there were being repaid by… well, actually they weren’t being repaid at all. Scarborough is being gouged, bludgeoned by an austerity bat that many who spoke out saw as unnecessary and ideological. The mayor had turned on them, and then they showed up to turn on him.
Betrayal is something a politician, no matter how savvy, has a hard time getting past, even in the two and a half years we have before our next election. Voters may have short-term memories about many things political, but betrayal lingers. Candidate Rob Ford promised he’d be looking out for the little guy. Seventy-one percent of voters in Scarborough believed him, more than anywhere else in the city.
That’s a mighty big voting bloc to have turn against you. Lose even 20 percent of that, and a 2014 re-election suddenly becomes very, very iffy. Mayor Ford and the 10 Scarborough councillors had better hope the deputations given in their backyard last night aren’t representative of the wider swath of Scarborough voters. If they are, and this budget goes through next week as is? Their collective political futures may be very much in question.