Sep 11

Ford cuts his own staff, then suffers the consequences

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

By his own frugal doing, Ford’s office is short-staffed. Since his victory last October, they’ve struggled to establish an overarching communications strategy and a post-campaign narrative. The Ford brand is murky at the exact moment it’s needed most: selling unpopular cuts to a public that doesn’t want to take its medicine.

The mayor’s spokesperson, Adrienne Batra, spends most of her time managing the brother’s screw-ups.

via Toronto News: Has Rob Ford lost his grip? – thestar.com.

John Lorinc got people talking on Friday with a story on a potential rift between the mayor and his brother Doug , stemming from discontent over the way this administration lost control of the waterfront story. The Star’s David Rider, in a blog post, went so far as to report a rumour that the elder Ford ditched His Worship after a Lingerie Football game, forcing the mayor to take the subway home. (Yeah, that’s a sentence you just read on a political blog.)

But I don’t think a Doug/Rob split is the real story. I’m not even sure such a rift is conceivable. Instead, I think Doolittle nails the underlying issue facing the Ford administration with her quote above: this mayor simply does not have the staff complement in his office to implement the kind of communication and political strategies necessary to effectively navigate the storms he’s been facing.

And the storms are only going to get worse over the next few months.

If you listen to Ford’s (rare) public speeches, they’ve been relentlessly repetitive for months now. He essentially just lists a bunch of mostly-token accomplishments, nearly all of which were achieved in his first couple of months in office (eliminating the vehicle registration tax, cutting council expense budgets) or, in actuality, have not yet been achieved at all (privatizing garbage collection west of Yonge Street; building more subways). He’s a mayor in desperate need of a new message: one that resonates in the current political climate. One that doesn’t seem so stale.

But the people he needs to craft that message appear not to have the capacity to do so. And that capacity isn’t there because the mayor chose to cut it, taking $700,000 out of the mayoral office budget this year.

In other words: the mayor cut a government program — his own office budget — and there were immediate, far-reaching consequences that impacted said government’s ability to effectively do its job. If the mayor needs an example of why cutting staff or resources from a department might be a bad thing, he’s got one viewable from his own desk.

It’s almost poetic.

Apr 11

City Hall Secrecy

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat reports on a funny exchange between Gord Perks and city staff after he and Shelley Carroll were ejected from a media briefing relating to today’s garbage announcement. Apparently councillors were allowed to send a staffer, but were not permitted to attend themselves:

[City spokesperson Jackie] DeSouza and [general manger of Solid Waste Services Geoff] Rathbone then went to talk privately. When they came back, DeSouza said if Perks stayed, they would have to call off the briefing.

“It’s not fair that we told other councillors that they can’t come,” she said.

Perks agreed, partly.

“No, you’re right, it’s not fair you told councillors that they can’t come,” he said.

via Councillors booted from garbage briefing | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

It’s a weird situation — shouldn’t councillors be briefed before the media?

Mar 11

Ford’s media relations strategy mirrors Stephen Harper’s

Royson James in his Toronto Star column today writes about GM2.12, an item the Government Management committee will consider shortly. The item recommends “Enhanced Security Measures” (but doesn’t list them specifically) to provide councillor security.

From what James and others have written, the move essentially seems to be about restricting the media’s access to City Hall:

So, it is with no little concern that television and newspaper reporters and columnists received news that the city’s government management committee Tuesday could severely restrict the media’s coming and going — in the name of enhanced city hall security.

You should be concerned as well.

One idea, apparently being tossed around, is to have the media sign in, like the general public, and be escorted to councillors’ offices. Over our dead bodies — and court challenges.

via James: Is the press a security threat at City Hall? – thestar.com.

I’m written before that there is, unfortunately, very little downside to an elected official cutting off the media’s access. The public seemingly doesn’t care.

In 2006, a newly elected Stephen Harper did essentially the same thing, as reported by Global News:

Harper has come under fire from the media in recent months for limiting the parliamentary press gallery from having access to certain events and federal personalities.

Shortly after coming into power, the Harper government ceased publicizing Tory cabinet meeting times and also barred the media from the corridor outside of the cabinet room, effectively preventing reporters from staking out cabinet ministers and throwing questions at them as they emerged from the room.

via Stephen Harper vs. The Press. (Emphasis added.)

Feels a bit like déjà vu.