Editor’s Letter, October 2011: The Summer of Our Discontent
Most of the people I know who voted for Rob Ford did so reluctantly. “He isn’t perfect,” they told me last year in the weeks leading up to the election, “but someone must stop the wasteful spending at city hall.” At the time, voters were aware of his colourful past: a drunk driving charge, a domestic assault charge (later dropped) and the infamous recording of Ford agreeing to score OxyContin for a stranger. Clearly, the man was a little unhinged. But to some voters, Ford’s flaws humanized him.
We all have skeletons in the closet; why shouldn’t the mayor? Others probably didn’t care. You don’t have to like the guy to endorse a war against waste. I wonder now how many Ford supporters expected things to get so crazy at city hall so fast.
The strangeness started in June, when he refused to attend Pride. The mayor of Toronto, a city known as a pioneer in the gay civil rights movement, should have shown up. But that’s the thing about Ford: he does whatever he feels like. He says kooky things. He angers easily. He cuts off people who question him. As the summer inched forward, Torontonians were subjected to one bizarre Ford spectacle after another. First the KPMG report, in which consultants, at a cost of $3 million to the city, informed us that we could save money by reducing services (thanks for the news flash). Then our mayor allegedly flipped off a mother and child who had given him a thumbs-down for talking on his cellphone behind the wheel (he admits to the phone but not the finger).
By mid-summer, I was feeling nostalgic for Mel Lastman. His mayoral gaffes were legion, and running a megacity was obviously beyond his capacity; he was an appliance salesman–turned–small-town mayor in charge of a vast political entity. But he never struck me as menacing, and he possessed the one trait required of all mayors: he was a relentless Toronto champion, goofily festooning our street corners with multicoloured moose. His idiocy was, for the most part, benign.
The academic Richard Florida, in a recent opinion piece for the Globe and Mail, speculated that Ford might be “the most anti-urban mayor ever to preside over a large global city.” That seems about right. So far, I haven’t figured out what Ford likes about Toronto, if anything. I suspect he’d rather be at his cottage than hanging out in the city.
In early August, a YouTube clip circulated showing Ford hosting Stephen Harper at a barbecue in his mother’s backyard. Harper, whom Ford introduced as his fishing buddy, said he was working to clean up the “left-wing mess” in the GTA, just like Ford. Then he spoke about the upcoming Ontario election, expressing confidence that the Conservatives will “complete the hat trick and do it provincially as well.”
So here we are. Will Harper be proven right? A lot depends on Tim Hudak, the career politician and Tory leader now angling to be premier—a man the public doesn’t know much about. In this issue, Trevor Cole, the accomplished novelist and an award-winning contributor to Toronto Life, gives us a revealing profile (“The Hudak Agenda,” page 40).
Torontonians are now asking themselves what a Hudak win would mean for the city and the region. We know what Dalton McGuinty has done for Toronto: our schools are better (many with full-day kindergarten), hospital wait times are shorter, and he’s committed to protecting the environment. He also spends lots of money the province doesn’t have, which Hudak won’t let voters forget.
Would a Hudak victory mean more back-slapping Tory barbecues and another fishing buddy for Ford? I doubt it. As Cole points out in his piece, Hudak is nothing like Ford. Hudak is a disciplined, methodical, strategic player—the exact opposite of our mayor. Their shared political leanings don’t guarantee they’ll co-operate. Harper may get his hat trick but not his Conservative utopia.