Rob Ford: Government is for the Wealthy

Two weeks ago, Rob Ford succeeded in his longtime quest to rid City Council meetings of modest, taxpayer-funded refreshments. The following week, however, he and his brother took councillors by surprise by personally purchasing food for everyone.

Anthony Schein, formerly an assistant to Councillor Joe Mihevc, sent this letter to the Toronto Star outlining the troubling implications of this shift. The paper didn’t print the letter, so we present it to you here.


Re: Free cookies, pizza for councillors — courtesy of Ford, Dec. 17

Mayor Rob Ford and brother and Councillor Doug showed their Respect for Taxpayers — and their largesse — at Thursday’s Council meeting, catering baked goods and pizza for all 45 councillors and senior City officials out of their own pockets.

While their volunteerism and hospitality are admirable traits, both are underwritten by the Ford brothers’ enormous personal wealth, and both are troubling signs of the administration’s ideological tilt.

Mayor and Councillor Ford see themselves as patrons, whether of council, of the arts, or the poor. Indeed, then–Councillor Rob Ford’s website routinely listed his thousands of dollars in personal donations to charitable (as well as political) causes.

Who needs sound public policy, when we can depend on the generosity and largesse of the elite? Who needs a social welfare system, when we have charitable giving from the wealthy? This attitude permeates virtually all elements of the Fords’ policy approach — whether then–mayoral candidate Ford’s offer to personally help buy street drugs for a sick constituent, his belief that an arts and culture plan can be replaced by selling tickets to galas, or the belief (articulated at a Latino-organized mayoral debate) that youth-oriented social programs could be replaced by football teams and cheerleading squads.

Clearly, under the Fords’ approach, the only ones of us fit to hold office are the independently wealthy: those rich enough to volunteer our time, buy pizza for everyone, and replace public policy with personal patronage. Hardly the Common Man image Ford proclaims for himself — or the democratic system of government Torontonians believe in.

Anthony Schein, Toronto

38 comments

  1. Are you guys bored or something? If you complain about EVERYTHING, nobody’s going to listen when it’s important.

    That kid in the Star who coined “Mole City” – get him writing for you. He’s got some game.

  2. Having looked at what a City Councillor makes, I would say that ALL of them, are in a position to occassionally buy pizza for 50 people. There are many reasons not to like Ford, but I think you have gone through the bottom of the barrel on this one.

  3. You’re right Mark, this isn’t at all related to the Ford’s paying for everything out their own pockets while also claiming to be penny pinchers. It’s nothing more than a silly, time-waster to point out that because they only use their own money, no one will ever know if they are in fact fiscally responsible. So what if they turn out to be liars. Who gives a shit?!?

    Silly Goldsbie and his reckless complaining. When are we going to focus on something important, like the city’s budget or the funding of important projects like Transit City and low-income housing?

    If guys like Goldsbie and this Anthony Schein fella don’t stop complaining about how the Ford’s spend their money, no one will listen when it’s time to complain about how they spend OUR money.

    Sheesh.

    Oh…wait a minute…that doesn’t make any sense at all!

  4. I guess after 30 or so of these free lunches all the councillors will have to file disclosure statements with the Integrity Commissioner since according to the CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS OF COUNCIL they are required to do this if “the total value received from any one source during the course of a calendar year exceeds $300”. I guess once we start adding home-baked cookies etc. to the mix it will become complicated to keep track….

    http://www.toronto.ca/city_council/pdf/members_code_conduct.pdf

  5. Put me down also as finding this to be relevant for comment. Look, it’s only pizza and obviously it was meant to be a friendly gesture on the Fords’ part. But when politicians who are in fact inherited millionaires claim a ‘little guy’ image, I don’t think it’s unfair for the media to make note of their wealth, again and again if necessary to get the message across.

    That’s especially true when said millionaires have based a big part of their political message on criticizing their colleagues for taking more out of the system than they supposedly deserve. Easy for them to say. It’s easy to be a paragon of virtue with your City Hall office budget when you are backstopped by the company your father built. 

  6. Wow. This is news? This is something worth putting fingers to keyboard to complain about? This is something taxpayers should worry about? So if he didn’t buy pizza, that would be ok? No issue then? He had personal wealth before buying pizza, but that wasn’t an issue. But now, after having the absolute temerity to buy pizza for councillors, it’s a problem. Anything you say critisizing Ford, going forward, should be seen for what it is. Partizan sour grapes. Pathetic.

  7. So you believe it is better for us to pay for council’s free pizza, and not Rob Ford?

    Personally, I’d rather not pay for it. They can buy it themselves.

  8. I wrote a letter to The Star too:  

    “Since I was in the neighbourhood, I dropped by City Council yesterday. There wasn’t any more tax-payer-paid food or coffee available in the chambers for the councilors;  instead, millionaire Mayor Ford provided free cookies and pizza for all.  
    I’m surprised that no councilors expressed concerned about the appearance of impropriety created by Mayor Rob Ford’s largesse.  Somehow, I was happier when the city’s councilors owed me the debt of gratitude for their grub.

    Granted, at an annual cost of less than 2 cents per city resident, it wasn’t that big a debt.” 

  9. You know what guys – we know that during the last election that Harper brought his kid to school as a photo-op. We know because the media, instead of turning their backs on it and saying “we won’t be used” showed the pictures anyway. Similarly, if Ford is playing stunts and the MSM is reporting it, that doesn’t make it newsworthy it makes the MSM idiots who got played again.

    How many times do I have to say this – YOU AREN’T PERSUADING ANYONE. Nobody who voted Ford cares, nobody who voted Ford regrets his/her vote because the Fords bought pizza. You might think they should, but they won’t. They say “it didn’t come out of taxes” and they might even like it but the reason they know is because the media made it a story. Look past the smokescreens. The media failed during the election and fell for the stunts. Do better now.

  10. Ford was elected by suburban toronto, poorer and less white than Miller-supporting toronto. It’s a bit rich to accuse him of thinking government is for the wealthy.

    There will be plenty of things to complain about over the next four years. A Councillor’s right to free pizza isn’t one of them. Pick your fights.

  11. If Ford & Co. want to make an issue out of supporting local events (ie the rabbit suits for Eater parades, or muffins at council) then it is entirely appropriate to look at then meaning behind their motives. 

    I don’t hold the wealth of the Fords against them — good for them and their family to have obtained such financial security. What I take issue with is that their outlook extends to how the city operates. I hope they make every single one of their employees (at their printing and label company) have to pay for the Christmas party or office supplies out of their own pocket. If they do not, they are lying hypocrites. Their hollow slogan of “Respect for Taxpayers” would surely extend to “respect for customers” too, no? I hope someone asks them that question. 

  12. Wow… you can’t even give away free pizza without getting harped on.

    I hear a lot of complaints how Ford isn’t into building bridges. Well, he buys some pizza’s for the councilors to build some bridges after taking away their lunch money and he gets slammed for it. Jesus.. if that’s the worst you can get on Ford, then that’s awesome.

    As for Ford’s little guy image.. He’s stated on many occasions that he’s got money, but his reputation is for looking out for the little guys money (not his money) when he was a councilor; to make sure that it’s being spent efficiently at city hall. He knows that not everyone is in the same financial position he’s in, that some people rely on every dollar they make. So, I applaud him for making sure that tax dollars (which come from the pockets of everyday people) are being spent wisely and efficiently.

    This website should at least be praising Ford for keeping his election promises, instead of what most politicians do, which is ignore them.

  13. “But when politicians who are in fact inherited millionaires claim a ‘little guy’ image, I don’t think it’s unfair for the media to make note of their wealth”

    First – I don’t think Rob Ford has any claim to be a little guy. (rim shot)

    Second – some critics seem to take the wealth of their enemies for granted. It’s always the wealth that explain all phenemena and never, by contrast, personal character that might explain the wealth. They never look at it the other way; that is, maybe they got to be wealthy by living their lives a certain way, or, in the case of Mr. Ford – following in the footsteps of a parent who lived a certain way – a way that led to wealth.

    I don’t believe in politicians as patrons, but the knee-jerk classism on display here will not be productive for you folks.

  14. @Petra

    The difference between governments and corporations is this… government is funded by public tax dollars, corporations are funded by profits.

    Your hypocrite analogy makes no sense. If the Ford’s wishes to use their corporate funds to lavish their employees with expensive gifts and parties, then that’s their right, because it’s being funded by private dollars, not by public tax dollars.

    When councilors do the same thing with public tax dollars (money from my pocket and yours), then they are disrespecting my money by giving it away to someone else and using it for non essential services. My money should be used to make roads, pay firefighters, etc. etc., not to pay for office parties.

  15. I love the coaching going on in here. It’s hilarious.

    “Don’t talk about that…Ford’s supporters don’t care…”
    “Don’t talk about this…it’s no big deal…”
    “Pick your fights, folks. It’s gonna be a long 4 years…”

    I’m seeing everything short of “I wanna see some hustle out there.” It’s almost like everyone wants to be a political football coach. That’d warm ol’ Rob Ford right down to the cockles. 

    Here’s my take. We’re private citizens, not politicians. We don’t have to try and think as one unit with a clear political agenda. In fact, we really shouldn’t think that way nor try to think that way.

  16. Reminds of ancient Rome where the aristocrats would pay for bread and circuses, buildings, etc. to keep the general population happy. However, you had better do as they say or you may end up as part of the entertainment.

  17. Eliminating the free dinner for coucillors and then the next day donating pizza to make up for it may display some hypocrisy on Ford’s part. It is a pretty big leap of logic to proclaim that it and his charitable giving proves the Ford brothers think that “only ones of us fit to hold office are the independently wealthy.”
    It is hard to take people seriosly when they come up with hyperbolic stuff like this. Rather than just the Mihevc blurb, you might want to mention that Anthony Schein was the campaign manager for his brother Jonah who lost to Palacio in Ward 17.

  18. Jonathan you should be reporting that Rob Ford saved the councillors and senior staff from starving. If they weer unable to supply themselves with food and were, as you suggested, dependant, then the Fords are heroes.

  19. What’s the big deal, doesn’t everyone throw a party for 50 co-workers every now and then? It can’t be only the elites…

  20. Anyone want to guess how much money the dozens of bureaucrats billed city hall for their meals that night? Bet it works out to more than a try of crappy sandwiches. Penny wise, pound foolish.

  21. Boy, I’m glad we saved 2 cents every year so councilors get to waste their or their aides’ time to order in food.

    This isn’t about the pizza. It’s about Ford never charging office expenses, waiving his mayoral salary, since he’s got a family fortune to pay for it all.

    And he claims this as some sort of virtue, and uses it to slander working councillors.

    If you want government by the rich, or government by the easily corrupted, then by all means pay peanuts.

    If you want competent, working people to want to devote their time to working for you, then you have to support them!

  22. Josh Hind’s comment…”Here’s my take. We’re private citizens, not politicians. We don’t have to try and think as one unit with a clear political agenda. In fact, we really shouldn’t think that way nor try to think that way.”

    My take on the criticism that has been leveled at raising this issue is that those putting it forward come off sounding like whiners preoccupied about free refreshments when people in this city are going hungry (see stories in today’s paper). Talk about playing into someone’s hand! For those who think even raising this issue makes for good advocacy, try bringing it up with a few people that don’t necessarily share your viewpoint 100% and see if they don’t laugh in your face. For those who think this issue is a hill worth dying on, by all means, flail away. (And just to re-iterate, I would say that most people in this city would say that all City Councillors, ven there salary, should be able to spring for pizza for 50 people once a year or so.)

  23. “The difference between governments and corporations is this… government is funded by public tax dollars, corporations are funded by profits.

    “Your hypocrite analogy makes no sense. If the Ford’s wishes to use their corporate funds to lavish their employees with expensive gifts and parties, then that’s their right, because it’s being funded by private dollars…”

    Well, not really. Corporations are funded by consumer spending, not “corporate profits”. And if a business just lavishly expensed everything willy-nilly it would catch up with them in the form of competition (hmm, sort of like in politics). Instead, an effective business, throws parties for some purpose (to land a client, keep up morale, etc.) and when a corporate meeting requires long hours, a meal is often provided.

    So I’m wondering why should city council be run differently from an effecient business? If the answer is “becuase it’s my money,” the think about that the next time you pay an overpriced phone bill I hope you get a chance to ask someone in accounting to tell you exactly how much of *your money* went to pay for lunch or dinner at the last corporate board meeting.

    Ford’s status as a wealthy populist little guy certainly seems worthy of my attention, as his consumerist view of civic life and governance. Exploring these parts of Ford’s character could prove to be quite useful in understanding his approach to the Mayoralty and what that means for our city.

  24. “If the Ford’s wishes to use their corporate funds to lavish their employees with expensive gifts and parties” – but that’s the problem. Councillors *aren’t* their employees. They’re *our* (the voters) employees. I’m happy, as a voter and taxpayer, to buy them sandwiches so they can work harder (as, I might point out, many employers who get their employees to work nights do). I’m not so happy to have the person they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on buy them the food as if they were the Mayor’s employees.

  25. “Ford was elected by suburban toronto, poorer and less white than Miller-supporting toronto. It’s a bit rich to accuse him of thinking government is for the wealthy.”

    It is typical for politicians who govern for the wealthy to be elected by the poor. Just look at the US, where Republicans are more popular in the poorer states, despite the fact that their policies primarily benefit wealthy.

  26. @Antony

    Last time I checked, Ford didn’t waive he Mayoral salary… he did opt out of taking the raise.

    I believe Ford’s message regarding councilor spending is to spend wisely. Don’t squander their budgets. Don’t pay for a retirement party for yourself. Don’t buy Bocce trophies.. Don’t use it for donations and you don’t need to use all of it by the end of the year.

    The money the councilors get come from my pocket and yours. It is supposed to be used to run their offices (photocopies, supplies, staff, meeting meals, etc.)not on these personal expenses and items. Their office budget is not another slush fund for their use as an extension of their salary. It should be respected.

    The People (you and I) grant them their position and their budget. We entrust to them that they will spend their budgets wise, for their needs to run their office, so that they can serve use better. If they wish to buy personal items and squander their budgets on items that aren’t related to running their office, perhaps it’s time to take some of our money back from them, because obviously they have too much if the are willing to waste it or spend it on personal things.

  27. “So I’m wondering why should city council be run differently from an effecient business?”

    The unfortunate problem is that city council doesn’t run efficiently. If they did, then they wouldn’t be spending long hours in council.

    Like the other day, where they spent 5 hours debating on sandwiches. I applaud Councilor McMahon for standing up in council and letting the other councilors know that the debate was ridiculous.

    If I had a job where I had corporate board meetings, I can guarantee that a 5 hour debate would not take place over the food we were ordering.

    This is an example of *our money* being wasted.

    If council ran more efficiently, then they wouldn’t need dinner breaks; all of the work would be done before then.

    As for government vs corporate monetary resources… corporate profits are the result of consumer spending. If a corporation is not efficient, not providing customers with a product worth buying, not providing customer service, then a competitor will step in with an alternative to meet those needs. If that happens, then the original company will go bankrupt because they do not have the monetary resource to carry on.

    Unfortunately with governments, there is no competitive environment to solve these issues. When governments become inefficient, lack customer service and/or are unproductive, there is no other place to turn to to get these services. What usually happens is that taxes are raised to deal with the issues.

  28. Dear Advice Columnist:

    I have this weird and slavish devotion to the idea of private sector efficiency but also complain endlessly about giant companies like Rogers, the big banks and Wal-Mart.

    Am I just a confused hypocrite or is there a reasonable explanation for this apparent dichotomy?

    Yours Truly,
    An Average Voter

  29. I agree with Schein’s letter. There’s a larger issue here – that people who go into public service will have to be independently wealthy, which means that only rich people will be in government. The ‘pizza’ thing is more symbolic than the cutting of staff budgets and framing Ford, who spends none of it and only uses his own money, as some kind of hero. Sure, it’s great that his staff and office don’t cost us anything but surely we might want someone in office who isn’t so wealthy they can just ‘eat’ (har har) the cost.

  30. @Tom Roberts:

    My mistake, it’s Doug Ford who’s “deputy mayor”-ing without pay.

  31. @Mark Jull

    This scenario has already happened. Most of our politicians are independently wealthy (Lawyers, business owners, etc.)

    To become an elected official requires a lot of money (signs, advertisements, etc.) that the candidate hopes will get funded by campaign donations. But, when those donations don’t match what is spent during the campaign, the cost comes out of pocket of the candidate.

    This actually happened to Ford. He spent more on his campaign then he brought in with donations. So, he’s got to cover the cost out of his own pocket.

    So, who would take such a financial risk to become a politician if they:
    a) couldn’t afford it if they lost and didn’t make enough money in donations?
    b) didn’t have a lucrative job to fall back on to pay the cost of the campaign?

    It’s people who are independently wealthy, that can cover the cost of the campaign, whether they are successful in winning or not.

  32. +1 Thomas Roberts. Campaigns are too long now and favour the deep pocketed. As for the pinkos (as declared by their wardrobe), I hope they didn’t get tainted by actually eating any of this pizza.

  33. Candidates are restricted to how much money the can contribute to their own campaign by the same limited as everyone else. I believe the maximum Rob Ford can contribute to his own campaign would be $2500. His wife and family can choose to contribute, as well.

    That is one of the problems with Rob Ford. When he was a councillor he seemed to mix his office, campaign and personal expenses freely when they must be carefully separated.

  34. All politicians should have to sell off their businesses and stocks before taking public office.

  35. @Thomas I think you’re saying pretty much what I already did… or are you disagreeing? I assumed that many are aware that “most” politicians have to be wealthy and well-connected with businesses or unions to even run a campaign. That it’s “most” politicians is essential – it keeps alive the possibility that it doesn’t have to or isn’t so. I was hoping to address the all-too-common argument that “we” shouldn’t be paying public servants or for their expenses. This sentiment is probably a result of “most” politicians already being wealthy, but I think it ultimately harms us: it puts public office out of reach for anyone who isn’t wealthy enough. This would mean that only the wealthy would be in government and would most likely govern in the interests of the upper-class, which doesn’t preclude governing middle- or lower-classes from an upper-class ideology (e.g. if you work hard, you’ll get rich). I’m well-aware that we’re already on this road, but these things that Ford has done put us further down this road – and that it counts as *populism* is very troubling… unless you’re a Marxist or Gramscian, then it just gives contemporary evidence to some very old theories! 
    Gramsci coined the phrase “hegemony” which very generally refers to when the ideas of the ruling class become the common sense (beliefs) of the lower classes even though these ideas are not in their best interest (and/or true) – e.g. if you work hard, you’ll get rich. Here, though, we have your “regular guys and gals” that support Ford, happy to see him cut wages and expense accounts for their governing representatives, even though it means it leads to only the rich governing. 

    @thedecider I disagree. For the same reason that you shouldn’t be excluded from public office because you’re not wealthy enough, you shouldn’t be excluded from public office just because you’re wealthy. 

  36. If Ford Pizza is to be served again, I hope brown-bagging councillors are told in advance, to avert their wasted effort and wasted food. Come to think of it, why is it councillors are the only ones getting free Ford Pizza? What about us taxpayers?

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