Back in the summer, when Rob Ford carried a large lead in the polls, a lot of friends and colleagues would talk to me about the looming election with impending fear and angst. But each conversation would end with the comment, “Well, at least he is only one vote of 45,” or “Luckily, the mayor doesn’t have that much power.”
While those may be comforting thoughts to Toronto progressives, these assumptions are naive at best and deluded at worst.
It is true that the mayor’s vote is equal to all other councillors, but the chief magistrate does have much more power than many residents know. For instance, the mayor automatically has a seat on the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB). He/she is also the person that represents the City in inter-governmental affairs. And the mayor sets the tone and tactics of any labour negotiations.
It is these powers of the mayor, I believe, that should sway the swing and undecided voters of this election away from Mr. Ford. And maybe even push Joe Pantalone voters towards George Smitherman.
Consider this: As mayor and a member of the TPSB, Mr. Ford would be able to push for certain policing initiatives that suits his political point-of-view (which, of course, he has a right to do). But as we’ve seen, Ford has an extreme view of how the City should police it’s citizens: he didn’t have any problems with the policing efforts of the G20 Summit and saw no reason to investigate the actions and tactics used by the security forces. And just last night on a radio debate, Ford came out against the long-gun registry, despite the fact that police chief Bill Blair, and 66% of Torontonians, sees it as a vital tool for the police. Ford clearly stated that he would take his marching orders from Prime Minister Harper on this issue and not the professionals who deal with crime on a daily basis.
More importantly, the TPSB deals with loads of confidential information. Ford has recently demonstrated that he holds little regard for confidentiality: first he blabbed to the Toronto Sun that he believes city council is corrupt due to the discussions of an in-camera council meeting about a contract for an east-end waterfront Boardwalk restaurant; and more blatantly when he discussed the price of an on-going real estate deal on his AM640 radio show (the City’s independent integrity commissioner asked that Ford be reprimanded for his recklessness). If he can’t keep his mouth shut on these confidential issues how can we trust him to keep quiet when he is presented with, say, the list of Toronto police officers under investigation?
Now consider this: The mayor has the authority to negotiate inter-governmental affairs without the consent or support of city council. In theory, Mr. Ford could call up his family friend and federal finance minister Jim Flaherty and tell him that Toronto is just hunky-dory with the transfer money the Canadian government provides the City. For example, funding for public housing could be severely curtailed. Mr. Ford has clearly stated he doesn’t want any more immigrants moving into the city; while, as mayor, he has no power to control the flow of people, he could make sure that the services the City provides to newcomers, such as affordable housing, could be easily undermined by allowing the funds from Ottawa to be cut or eliminated.
And lastly, consider this: On March 31, 2011, the current collective bargaining agreement with TTC workers is set to expire. While many Torontonians, including a plethora of non-Ford supporters, want to see the TTC workers make many concessions in this next round of negotiations that prospect seems very unlikely, with a strike quite possible. But what would Mayor Ford vs. TTC employee negotiations look like? Well, he has proven that he has very little understanding of the value of public transit in his election platform and his history as councillor demonstrates how little regard he has for the TTC (his ward boasts the lowest transit ridership in the city, according to the 2006 census). He has also stated that he supports the TTC being deemed an essential service. This takes away a worker’s right to strike but substantially increases the settlement costs. So while Mr. Ford trumpets his “respect for taxpayers” motto, he has inadvertently advocated that second largest line item on the City’s operating budget be increased. We could end up with a double-whammy: a bitter strike that lasts for a few days before the province sends TTC employees back to work (and serious region-wide congestion) and then the possibility of a costly settlement.
I’m not about to sit here and tell any of Spacing’s readers who to vote for (though my colleague Shawn Micallef has made a compelling case to vote for number 2). But I can certainly outline why choosing the mayor is not just a simple case of who will tax me the least or who is going to privatize services or who will put a green roof on every home. It is much more complex, with some issues clearly outweighing other issues of concern.
When I examine the true powers that any mayor can exert on city council and Toronto residents, the reality of a Ford mayoralty mortifies me. As I head to the poll on Monday these issues will be top of mind, not to mention at the tip of my pencil as I fill out my ballot.
photo by Miles Storey