The Divided City: my Chinese immigrant parents will vote for Ford—as long as he doesn’t raise their taxes
Remember that time Rob Ford claimed “the Oriental people” were taking over because they worked like dogs? My parents thought that was awesome.
They immigrated to Toronto from Hong Kong in 1984. My dad, Sze-Ming, started his own import-export company, and my mom, Teresa, stayed home and took care of my two brothers and me. Along the way they learned just enough English to know that, although the word “Oriental” may be a bit old-fashioned, it’s a compliment when someone says you work hard.
Their diligence has resulted in a comfortable retirement; they meticulously tend to their Bayview Village bungalow and spoil their grandkids with Thomas the Tank Engine toys. My folks are practical, even when it comes to municipal politics. Their litmus test is simple: “Who do I trust with my money?”
They trusted David Miller in 2006, then felt betrayed by increased taxes and a garbage strike. No wonder Rob Ford was a salve for my parents when he showed up in 2010, preaching respect for taxpayers. In the halcyon days of Ford’s mayoralty, when his scandals involved fried chicken instead of crack cocaine, I could understand my parents’ rationale for supporting him, even if I didn’t agree with them.
Ford’s clarion call was that the city was poorly run, and who could argue? Never mind that Ford only vaguely alluded to solutions; my parents saw a guy willing to point out the obvious problems, in the simplest terms, and that was enough. Not charging them $120 a year to register their two cars seemed as good a place as any to start.
Last May, when reports began circulating of a video showing the mayor smoking crack, my parents found the story implausible. Ford gave his infamous press conference denying he was an addict, and my parents believed him. When he said he couldn’t comment on a video he had “never seen or does not exist,” they believed that, too. I wasn’t surprised. After all, my parents also believed the mayor when he said he would find private funding to build subways. Their unwavering support for Ford was eroding my respect for them.
“I don’t feel the same way about this city that you do,” my dad explained plainly. “I just want to live peacefully and pay less in taxes.” My parents could stand to be more informed about Rob Ford, but they don’t care. When the police announced they had the long-rumoured video in their possession, I asked my dad if he still planned to vote for Ford again. “Maybe,” he said. “Justin Trudeau smoked pot, so what’s the difference?”
“What about all the other things in that police report?” I pushed. “What about the history of lying, the allegations of drinking on the job, drugs, extortion and the pattern of reckless behaviour?”
He had no idea what I was talking about; those details weren’t in Toronto’s Chinese news. He also didn’t seem to care, even after I told him.
“He peed in a parking lot,” my wife, Cammie, chirped.
At that, my mother’s face twisted in disgust, and I had a revelation: they weren’t choosing to take Ford at face value. Face value was all they knew.
Even when provided with all the facts, what my parents lacked was the ability to parse the social subtext of that information. They didn’t understand that I and many others judged Rob Ford morally unfit for office. Cultural nuance isn’t something people learn on the news—it’s knowledge that comes with deeply integrating oneself into a society. In 30 years of living here, my parents, I realized, had never fully done that.
They might hold their noses and vote for Ford again if no alternative populist fiscal conservatives arise. Peeing in public is bad, but raising taxes is worse. Stranger still, they would also be open to voting for Olivia Chow, if she runs. They don’t like her politics, but she’s Chinese, and that may be enough.