Yesterday, before Justice David Brown released his 54-page ruling affirming that, yeah, there is an enforceable bylaw against sleeping in city parks, Councillor Pam McConnell — whose ward includes St. James Park and, also, my house — told the Toronto Star’s David Rider that she was “worried that there will be violence in this park. We’ve seen G20. I don’t ever think that Torontonians have a stomach for seeing it again.”
She then added: “I will not have a riot in my ward.”
That last quote — which was removed in subsequent versions of Rider’s story — struck me as important. It’s the kind of straightforward, declarative messaging we need to hear from our political leaders. It’s reassuring without being cloying. And I think it gets to the heart of what most are feeling these days, when they look at the protest in the park: please don’t let this turn into a scene where people get hurt.
The mayor, on the other hand, refrained from speaking publicly on this issue until after the judge’s ruling yesterday, when he emerged alongside City Manager Joseph Pennachetti to say basically the same thing over and over again until his press secretary declared an end to things.
The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba has a transcript:
Mayor: I’m asking the protesters to leave peacefully and I’d like them to leave as soon as possible.
Reporter: What if they don’t? Are you giving them a couple of days?
Mayor: I’m going to reiterate what I said. I’d like them to leave as soon as possible, the judge has made a ruling I’d like them to obey the rules and the bylaws the judge upheld.
Reporter: At what point do you start enforcing those bylaws though?
Mayor: Again, I’m going to reiterate: I want them to leave as soon as possible.
Reporter: Mayor Ford we’re live right now on CP24. Will you be asking police to step in or intervene?
Mayor: Again I’d like the protesters to leave peacefully and as soon as possible. I don’t know how much clearer I can make myself.
Reporter: But just by saying that it’s not going to make them magically disappear.
Mayor: I’m telling you I’m asking the protesters to leave as soon as possible.
That’s only a partial excerpt, but you get the idea.
Leadership is as hard quality to define and an even harder thing to measure, but it’s one of those things that voters value, especially in a municipal leader. When Trish Hennessy reported on an Environics Focus Group held this summer involving people who cast their vote for Ford last year, she noted that while Ford supporters still have varying degrees of support for the mayor’s policies, they were united in pointing to one thing as a red flag:
[E]very single focus group raised one common issue as being the biggest ‘knock’ against Rob Ford, the mayor: his refusal to make an appearance at the Pride Day parade. While they found his candor refreshing enough to lend him their vote, now that he’s mayor, they’re beginning to apply a higher standard – one reflective of the office.
One reflective of the office.
That office has responsibilities beyond marshalling council votes. There is a heft to the mayor’s title that is as much symbolic as it is legislative. Ford has continued to display a reluctance to seize that and be the leader Toronto needs: that guy who’s got a steady hand and who knows how to navigate the waters ahead. Instead, he skips the big cultural events, stumbles when asked to name things about the city he actually enjoys, takes several months to reassure people that he won’t close libraries en masse and now can’t even find words beyond “peacefully” and “soon” to use regarding the month-long protest taking place in a downtown park.
But, hell, maybe my standards are too high. The mayor’s brother thinks Ford deserves credit because he “didn’t go in there with a billy club as everyone thought he would.”
And yeah, I think we can all agree that we’re happy the mayor didn’t wield a billy club.