It made me laugh the other day when my mother said that she always thinks of the man that notoriously shot and killed Jesse James whenever she hears the name "Robert Ford." None too popular near the end, a couple of attempts were made on Robert Ford's life before Edward O'Kelly succeeded in 1892. Of course, the Mayor-Elect of Toronto, also named Rob Ford, doesn't have that problem. He was elected with the biggest margin since amalgamation. The real question is: What's he going to do first and what's Toronto going to look like when he's done?
First of all, there is a comparison to be made between the rise of Rob Ford and the Tea Party movement in the United States. Not necessarily the head-stomping, anti-masturbation, media shy, Glenn Beck worshipping faction of the Party, but the one's that believe fervently in small government, low taxes, more emphasis on essential services and less on social progress issues. Primary amongst Ford's campaign pledges was the elimination of two unpopular taxes: the land transfer tax and the personal vehicle tax. Ford also campaigned on freezing and then cutting property taxes, rethinking the city's transit plan and hiring 100 new police offers. Oh, and he will, somehow, eliminate graffiti city-wide in six months.
Intrinsic in this though is a key problem with a lot of the right wing platform: let's cut taxes, but keep spending the same, and, in fact spend a bit more, but just on the stuff we like. "I will assure you services will not be cut, I will guarantee it," Ford told reporters. "Services are not being effected. Guaranteed." Ford has asserted that city departments can find $525 million in savings in 2011, or in other words, they can tighten their budgets by 2.5 per cent. While there's no doubt that any corporation has its share of waste and over-spending, I wonder if one can really save half a billion dollars through nickel and dimming alone.
Still, I give Ford credit. In his city council office he certainly "walked the walk" as they say, but watching his bottom line with staff and office expenses. And nobody ever lost an election by attacking politicians for their "lavish" expense accounts and "bloated" salaries. Certainly Ford has proved his point in the past, publicly, and to the detriment of his colleagues on council, but again, how far can you get on nickel and dimming alone?
But the faults of Ford for many people has more to do with Bushian gaffes, than it does with his policies or campaign promises. On gay marriage: “I support traditional marriage. I always have. But if people want to, to each your own."On new Canadians: “Those Oriental people work like dogs. … They’re slowly taking over." On bike safety: "What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later, you’re going to get bitten." On AIDS prevention: “If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won't get AIDS, probably.” On intercouncil civility: "She’s a waste of time. A waste of skin." Along with getting tossed out drunk from a Leaf game, a Florida DUI and a couple of other things, Ford sometimes redefines unpolished. It's the bias of today's electorate to expect perfection and ready for prime time shine from our candidates with mostly bland results. In this Ford is an anomaly. Nobody covering Toronto City Hall would ever call Ford bland, as the mayor-elect himself referenced when talking to the Toronto Sun editorial board post-victory.
But I think Toronto progressives needn't worry too much seeing as how many incumbents were re-elected back to their seats, and with fairly wide margins in many cases. Plus, city council is not like provincial and federal parliaments, where people vote in blocs according to party; Ford may want something done, but the majority of council may disagree with him and it'll be his job as mayor to try and convince the doubters. Already, we've seen Ford back down on his desire to yank out the city's street cars. After all, without them how will we know which Hollywood movies set in New York and Chicago were really filmed in Toronto.
What is worrisome are the comparisons between Ford and former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman. Case Ootes, Lastman's deputy mayor, is in charge of Ford's transition, but the comparisons don't end their. In fact, BlogTO had a very astute appraisal of the comparisons. Lastman certainly had a populist appeal stemming from 25 years as mayor of North York and being the spokesperson for his Bad Boy chain of furniture stores, but in the end he had managed to turn himself into a caricature mocked by nearly everyone, from non-Torontonian Canadians to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And while Lastman was certainly an exuberant ambassador for the City of Toronto, calling out the Canadian Forces to deal with a blizzard and going on CNN saying he didn't know what the World Health Organization was at the height of SARS, made him seem decidedly less mayoral. If Ford is well advised, then he might stay clear of anything that could conjure Lastman comparisons.
Still, let's give Ford a chance before we cast him in irons for being the rotten mayor that some people apparently think he's going to be. I won't go so far as to say that Rob Ford was in my top 10 list out of the 40 some odd candidates running for Mayor of Toronto, but he's the one that's got the job for now. And if there's one thing we can all agree on, I think, it's that unlike the Tea Party in the U.S., people can find it within themselves to work together, despite political differences, in the best interests of their city. I hope that we will be as wise in the months to come in Guelph.