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Toronto Politics

Torontonians beginning to realize you get what you pay For(d)

TO Mayor Rob Ford - Image Courtesy of CBC.ca

Running through the public and media discourse during and immediately after the ‘Historic Toronto Council Sleepover,’ as it will be etched forever in city lore, were two dominant threads that reinforced each other while speaking to separate issues.

The first: elections matter.

The second: you get what you pay for.

Mayor Rob Ford’s challenge to Torontonians to put their money where their mouth was and come down to City Hall to make a deputation at 4:00 am (if need be) seems to have struck a chord with the average Torontonian. They came in waves to announce overwhelmingly that city services should not be cut, and that, in fact, those services were how a vast majority of Toronto residents define their city. That to reduce services would be diminishing Toronto.

After the historic twenty-three hour and forty-five minute-long executive committee marathon concluded, the dust settled, and City Hall watchers new and old alike emerged from the fluorescent glow of City Hall lights and sat down to a harsh morning sun to await the outcome of their efforts.

And they must, in a way, have been as confused as when they began.

Judging not only from the official outcome (that all proposed service cuts would stay on the table until a further Executive Committee meeting would be called in September, public be damned!) but the public and media reaction, citizens who voted both for and against Rob Ford seemed to have awoken to the reality of what a Ford administration looks like.

In a word, stubborn. Painfully, so. “The Ford administration will not be guided by reason, evidence, or expertise,” Hamutal Dotan argued in Torontoist. “Ford, as he has told us many times, listens to the voters. Or, at least, he listens to the voters in his head. What he has not shown, at any point in time, is any willingness to listen to careful analysis on any subject.”

Some emerged from the meeting frustrated that seemingly, very little had changed. Others stumbled out of City Hall to think through and write down what they had witnessed, the gravity of the situation only starting to come into focus. Edward Keenan at The Grid wrote an amazing piece on his love of ‘the smell of democracy in the morning’, almost thanking Ford for giving those is disparate opposition to him a chance to finally come together under a common banner. “These people,” Keenan writes,

who cared so much about whatever it is they came to speak about that they were willing to sacrifice a day’s work and a night’s sleep to say it, found at City Hall an army of fellow citizens just as concerned and perplexed and suddenly motivated as they were.

And while Keenan’s optimism was not lonely, it was not as prevalent as the criticism. Just ask David Olive at the Toronto Star. Two days before the historic sleepover, Olive opined a fantastic piece that garnered much attention for his insinuation – if not outright proclamation – that Rob and Doug Ford share one brain, which was a chicken’s brain, to boot. You can almost sense throughout the article that Olive wants to feel sympathy for the plight of Toronto under Ford, he really does – but at the end of the day (and here is where both themes converge), elections matter, and you get what you pay for. And when only 53.2% of Torontonians bother to vote, when we behave as though elections do not matter, we suffer.

On the Fords, Olive writes that

we elected these morons. Which means we deserve them. Really. A cursory look at Rob Ford’s track record on council, such as it was…would show he occupied himself mostly with accusing his fellow councillors of pretty much every venial crime under the sun.

Yet not everyone sees the shifting political climate and electoral results as a negative. Gwen Ifill, writing in The Atlantic on the impact of the Tea Party south of the border, welcomed the turmoil that the Tea Party surge has brought, but not for the reasons you might expect. On the impact of independents giving their vote to Tea Party candidates, “none of this troubles me,” Ifill writes. “I like it when we’re reminded that our actions at the polls have meaning, and that we have to pay close attention before we cast our votes—or fail to cast our votes.”

Which is Olive’s point exactly: Toronto cannot be surprised at the narrow-minded and callous actions of the Ford brothers, because we knew who we were dealing with before Rob even announced his candidacy. We had the voting record!

“He was a stuntman disguised as an officeholder,” Olive writes – “his hijinks stopping just short of the McCarthyesque gimmick of pulling a list of names of malefactors from his pocket but not letting us see it. A contributor he was not. An “energy drainer,” as consultants say of noisome brats passing themselves off as adults who need to be excised from the office or classroom, the Fords were and continue to be.”

Which brings me to the second theme of the discussion: Olive is right. We voted for them, which means we, collectively, can be as narrow-minded and ignorant as the Ford’s. We deserve them, because they are a reflection of what we were looking for in a political leader in late 2010.

And after all, you get what you pay for.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


6 thoughts on “Torontonians beginning to realize you get what you pay For(d)

  1. Here’s the problem: Torontonians were left with some shitty choices for mayoral candidates. Yes, Rob Ford is an asshole. However, George Smitherman just assumed that he could automatically become mayor. He took voters for granted. Liberal Rocco Rossi was just crazy with his Spadina tunnel proposal. Now, he is running as a crazy Progressive Conservative in the next election. Joe Pantalone ran on David Miller’s record. He could not run on his own record. There were other dismal choices that dropped out such as Giorgio Mammoliti and Adam Giambrone. Torontonians picked the best from a poor lot of mayoral candidates. That’s not saying much.

    Posted by Skinny Dipper | August 2, 2011, 10:19 pm
    • Thanks for your comment! I completely understand where you’re coming from, and I agree to a point: we did have a crummy crop of mayoral candidates this time around. They can’t all be Boris Johnson or Michael Bloomberg, but I do wish we had of had something better than what was on offer. To that end, that was the first election I considered intentionally spoiling the ballot just to show I cared enough about showing up and weighing the options, but found all options lacking. I didn’t in the end because of fear that Rob Ford would win. Not the best reason to vote, I know.

      But – here is the problem I have with your take on things. Saying that Torontonians picked the best from a poor lot of mayoral candidates doesn’t fly because each candidate was best at something, but none of them were best overall for the city. Pantalone would have been best for the left and the environment; Ford would be best for the spendthrift and cost-cutting; Smitherman for the mushy-middle, etc, etc. But the mere fact that it was a lousy group who ran does not explain away voting in the narrow-minded, ignorant, and bigoted who run; yet we would have been as culpable in our own demise voting in Mammoliti or Giambrone when they inevitably proved wrong/inexperienced for the job.

      I know it was a shallow pool, but Ford was only one of many dozens of candidates; and what’s worse, at least we knew what he stood for…

      Posted by awreeves | August 2, 2011, 10:38 pm
  2. Sorry, but Ford was not the best of a poor pool of candidates. I held my nose and voted Smitherman and I still feel I did the right thing.

    Ford, his equally boorish brother, Mammoliti (the slithering syncophant) and their merry band of henchmen will do their best to destroy Toronto. I am terrified. BTW, I was one of the people who presented a deputation in the middle of the night.

    Posted by OWH | August 3, 2011, 3:35 pm
  3. OWH, I completely understand. When I didn’t stick to my guns and spoil my ballot intentionally it was to do as you did – hold my nose, and vote for Smitherman. I have few regrets, but was still not overly thrilled by the crop of candidates we had on offer.

    And I’m glad you were able to keep your deputation time slot and make your presentation – I was sad to learn we had such a high drop out rate on account of the awful logistics of the situation.

    Posted by awreeves | August 3, 2011, 4:00 pm
  4. I blame a weak field of participants. I couldn’t get excited about any of them. Could explain a low voter turnout.

    Posted by JReeves | August 4, 2011, 1:36 pm
  5. Not to condone voting for Ford (which I can assure you I DID NOT), but you have to admit that the choices we were offered besides Ford were weak or unsavoury. Once John Tory took himself out of the race (although I don’t think he was ever actually in it), the dropoff in level of interest in any of the participants was signifigant. I couldn’t get excited about any of them. It could be a factor in the low voter turnout, but what do I know.

    Posted by JReeves | August 4, 2011, 1:39 pm

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