Feb 12

Here I go again on my own: three stories about Rob Ford

Rob Ford: Here I Go Again On My Own

Original photo by Craig Robinson / Toronto Sun.

To end the week, three stories about Rob Ford.

December 15: In the midst of major budget meetings, Rob Ford finds himself standing in a backyard in Councillor Frank Di Giorgio’s ward, looking at a pile of sand. After examining the sand — a neighbour had complained about the pile — the mayor decrees that the sand must be moved.

Rob Ford is the CEO of a corporation with $10 billion in annual revenues and a workforce of 50,000 employees. He runs the sixth biggest government in Canada. His decision to involve himself in a civil dispute over a pile of sand goes beyond micromanagement. It’d be like if Apple CEO Tim Cook volunteered to take a look at your broken MacBook.

The neighbour with the sand pile told the Toronto Star’s David Rider that he couldn’t understand why the mayor had taken an interest. “I don’t think he should be involved in such a petty issue,” he said. “He has staff, councillors, labour negotiations. When did the mayor get involved in such small matters?”

In the same Star article, Doug Holyday defended the mayor’s decision. “He does care about the little guy,” said the deputy mayor. “I guess it’s hard to stop.”

Yeah, hard to stop. The mayor comes out on the losing end of the city budget debate, but the sand is moved from the backyard a month later.

January 26: With local councillor Frances Nunziata, a handful of staff and — always — a crew from the Toronto Sun, Rob Ford visits a TCHC building in Mount Dennis. This is the kind of thing he’s best at. Never is the mayor more likeable than when he’s visiting with people, listening to their concerns and promising action.

While admirable, the mayor’s passion for this kind of politicking and governance — one-to-one, personal, on-demand — hints at one of his big weaknesses. As the mayor of the city, Ford can effect more large-scale change sitting at a board room table with staff than he can wandering the halls of a TCHC building, pointing out needed repairs.

Even Rob Ford doesn’t have the energy to personally monitor the condition of every TCHC property in the city. If he really wants to improve conditions, he has to start with policy. With funding. With leadership.

But, still, the mayor visits. People smile and give him hugs. The Sun’s Don Peat hears from a resident that she really appreciates the mayor’s visit. “It’s good,” she says. “He’s showing he cares.”

Meanwhile, Ford is rightly put off by the number of holes he’s seeing in the walls of TCHC units. “Holy, there’s three of them,” the Sun reports him saying. “These holes are driving me nuts.”

February 8: A few hours after losing a major vote on transit at a council meeting he didn’t even want to hold, Rob Ford decides to get on the subway. He begins riding at Royal York station in Etobicoke, going east toward the Scarborough RT and then on to Scarborough Town Centre.

There are a lot of different things a mayor might be expected to do after losing a major vote. Riding trains and buses for four hours in the middle of night wouldn’t generally make the list. But Rob Ford isn’t conventional.

The Sun’s Joe Warmington,  invited along for the ride, tracked the mayor’s conversations with riders. The idea, I guess, was to collect feedback in favour of Ford’s subway plans.

“This is where it’s all about it. I don’t call it retail politics. I call it the ground game. This is where the people are,” the mayor says, according to Warmington.

In addition to talking transit, the mayor also talks to riders about other topics. His weight loss comes up. So does the old stand-by: city hall expense accounts. “I think it’s ridiculous all of the money that we have available to us at city hall,” the mayor says, maybe forgetting for a second that he’s no longer the perpetual outsider, no longer a rogue councillor from Etobicoke. He’s the mayor.

Somewhere along the route, Warmington reports, a rider asks the mayor if he has a lighter. The mayor doesn’t, so he gives the woman five dollars.

On the way back — it’s well past midnight — the mayor’s trip gets interrupted as the subway closes for the night. Rob Ford has missed the last train. He soon finds himself on the bus, but at Eglinton he and his staff realize they forgot to get transfers. The ride is over.

The mayor takes a cab home. Again on his own.

Aug 11

Budgeting and the art of distraction

Those opposed to service cuts as part the City of Toronto’s 2012 operating budget were reasonably happy when they heard that Councillor James Pasternak, a fairly consistent ally of the Fords, had come out publicly in general opposition to library branch closures. They were even happier when, soon after, heretofore stalwart Ford supporter & TTC Chair Karen Stintz voiced the same opinion. But when Councillor Frances Nunziata jumped on the I-oppose-library-cuts bandwagon yesterday, things started to feel a little contrived. With all these Friends-of-Ford making headlines with their valiant support for Toronto’s libraries, the question has to be asked: were library branch closures ever really on the table at all?

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan thinks all these “Save Our Libraries” shenanigans may add up to little more than a big distraction:

So where does this leave us? The library system is just one item in the giant inventory of City services (a.k.a. “savings opportunities”) that the municipal government might cut in anticipation of the 2012 budget. And the public’s strong defence of the library system, heartwarming and essential though it has been, has had one unfortunate side-effect: distracting attention from other services that have less vocal or less organized supporters, are less politically favoured, and are much more likely to actually be cut, even though they too are much beloved and much relied-upon by a broad community of users.

via “Look Over Here, Guys!” (Or, How Libraries May Be Safe but Other Services Aren’t) | Torontoist.

This isn’t really a conspiracy theory, despite appearances. The Ford administration’s only strategic move throughout this whole budget consultation has been to hold all cards to the chest and offer little comment on what might get cut. This enables them to wave off passionate defence of services as premature and paranoid, while at the same time continuing to advance the idea that all programs and services are on the table for potential cuts. The consequence of this vague and inexact approach is that engaged citizens have to play their politics like a game of Twister, attempting to cover all the spots on the board they care about.

At linebreaks.com, Mike Smith explores this notion further:

The Fords likely never had any realistic intention of closing libraries. I have little doubt they would if they could. But by trundling it out as a possibility, they make more generalized cuts — staff, hours, community programming, circulation — feel less severe, like a concession. They may even potentially neutralize a certain amount of activism by making people see victory in “reducing” cuts to the ones that had been planned all along.

Well, alright. To be honest, I don’t know if they actually plan it that way. For all I know, blinkered prejudice and bumbling contempt just happen to have the same effect in the end as keenly enacted right-wing strategy. But it’s the effect that matters, and the effect is twofold: expand the boundaries of the possible for yourself, while limiting the same for your opponents.

via So, Rob Ford and Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci walk in to a library… | linebreaks.com.

If I had to speculate, I’d bet that the vaunted 2012 budget shortfall is made up for with some combination of the following: Some 250+ million in unused surpluses from prior years combined with other revenues; a property tax hike at two or three percent; further cuts to TTC bus routes (this may be accompanied by a fare freeze as a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down); steep hike to user fees for city-run recreational programs; the elimination of some or all of the Community Partnership & Investment Program (CPIP) grants; a reduction in hiring for Police and Fire Services; reduction in hours at community centres and libraries; and probably some asset sales, including city-owned old age homes. They’ll also knock a few million off the top through continued administrative efficiencies, continuing a trend started several budgets ago.

CPIP is the one sure-thing in the list. It’s the mayor’s go-to example for waste at City Hall and the cover provided by this year’s convenient budget crisis makes for the perfect opportunity to take a knife to it.