LORINC: Should he stay or should he go?

I can’t quite decide whether I’m appalled that Rob Ford blew off the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Halifax or relieved that we were spared the embarrassment of watching our magical-thinking mayor share a stage with reality-based leaders like Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi and Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson.

It’s a tricky decision, admittedly, but I’m leaning towards the latter, and for reasons that go beyond the current political configuration in our fair city. Robertson, elected under the Vision Vancouver banner in 2008, has emerged as the standard bearer for the FCM’s Big City Mayors’ caucus, which is a good thing. Not that Ford had even the slimmest shot at that gig, but it’s probably important for Toronto not to monopolize the dialogue between Canada’s big cities and the federal government after years of David Miller’s brand of advocacy.

As I explain in my feature on the fate of the National Transit Strategy in the new national issue of Spacing, the municipal lobby has set its sites on 2014 or 2015, when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government climbs out of deficit, to re-commence serious discussions about expanding Ottawa’s infrastructure programs to include funds dedicated to transit projects. Until then, FCM officials and the Big City mayors will engage in a kind of soft, back-channel diplomacy, gently but persistently reminding Harper about the importance of transit investment as a means of reducing both commute times for Hard-Working Families™ as well as the considerable economic losses associated with urban congestion.

Where Ford’s fantasy subway fits into all this remains to be seen. Certainly, given that he’s decided to absent himself (i.e., Toronto) from FCM’s internal debates, his goal of winning the federal lottery will recede faster than a high-speed train. He’s making no effort to persuade his fellow chief magistrates that Toronto deserves an especially hefty chunk of any new infrastructure fund in order to give all those private investors the security they need to place their bets on a Sheppard line.

And he’s evidently not planning to be part of the dialogue between the mayors and federal officials — who, I should add, will either laugh at Giorgio Mammolitti (Ford’s designate) and/or conclude (reasonably) that Ford’s not serious about the subway because he can’t be bothered to advocate for it himself.

Sure, he’s privately telling his inner circle that Jim Flaherty is going to come galloping to the rescue, presumably by writing Ford a $2 billion cheque sometime in 2013 or 2014. Why Flaherty would do that is beyond me. Apart from the much-hyped family friendship with Ford pérè, the finance minister a few years hence will be fielding urgent requests from every corner of the country. And, no doubt, he’ll find himself asking whether a humongous hand-out to the City of Toronto (a.k.a. Gomorrah) helps or hinders his chances at succeeding Harper as leader of the Conservative movement.

In any event, Ford’s got a lot to learn about inter-governmental schmoozing if he hopes to get anywhere with the feds. Take the Throne Speech, delivered on Friday afternoon. There was virtually nothing in the text about cities, except Harper’s announcement that the Rouge Valley is going to become a national park.

It’s not money, but, hey, it’s not nothing either.

And the official response from the Mayor of Toronto? Nada.

photo by Geno Diem

9 comments

  1. You trademarked Hard-Working Families? Did Tim Hudak already have the trademark for Working Families?

  2. I think your first observation speaks to the latter… Ford has realized that he just isn’t good at finessing diplomacy with other government officials. He’s been badly burned for having Tim Horton’s sensibilities in a Starbucks world in the past. Why provoke more ire? It’s certainly not important to his key constituency that he be glad handing with other mayors… let’s face it, his people are more interested in “how much did the hotel cost” than urban policy and planning in general.

    I am a concerned if Mammoliti is the face for other governments, his brother seems much more congenial and strategic, whereas Mammoliti seems like the deputy class-clown. On the other hand, maybe giving his support to Ford early on came with this as a price/reward. Mammoliti seems the type to be keen on a cabinet post some day, and establishing his links with the federal/provincial tories would be sensible for him (and remove an ambitious conservative-populist rival from council for Ford.)

    R.

  3. I do believe that Ford’s direct line to Flaherty counts way more than schmoozing at the conference…. I think Ford has hired Flaherty’s son or nephew or something for a summer job…. that’s really tight… Ford doesnt need to go anywhere… and anyone who has had a job knows those relationships mean way more than anything else…. except getting re-elected

  4. Eric — are you serious? Hiring Flaherty’s relative is better than going to a conference to build a united front with other cities for better funding?

    I’m with John on this. Glad Ford didn’t go or he woulda embarrassed us much more than he already has. And I’d much rather have Nenshi and Robetson doing the bidding on behalf of the Big City Mayor caucus. They are intelligent people, not arm-chair mayors

  5. It’s also worth remembering that there’s no law that says Toronto has to be the biggest city, the centre of the national economy (Montreal used to be a big contender) or a leader of urbanism. Toronto fell far behind in developing infrastructure and public transit. We were just climbing out of the hole, but now we have a mayor (or is it two brothers as mayor?) who are putting us in the ‘rust-belt’ category. Meanwhile, other Canadian cities are building transit, establishing plans to create sustainable urbanism, and confronting the *reality* of their budgets. Toronto voters bought the ‘lower taxes without service cuts’ campaign and we’ll pay for it dearly.

  6. Mark, the difference in the electorate believing in ‘lower taxes without service cuts’ and ‘increased services with only minor tax increases’ is academic.
    Thomas Huxley correctly surmised the problem with politics, which is applicable to both the the left and right…..

    Anxious watching of the course of affairs for many years past has persuaded me that nothing short of some sharp and sweeping national misfortune will convince the majority of our countrymen that government by average opinion is merely a circuitous method of going to the devil; and that those who profess to lead but in fact slavishly follow this average opinion are simply the fastest runners and the loudest squeakers of the herd which is rushing blindly down to its destruction.

    It is the electorate, and especially the Liberal electorate, which is responsible for the present state of things. It has no political education. It knows well enough that 2 and 2 won’t make 5 in a ledger, and that sentimental stealing in private life is not to be tolerated; but it has not been taught the great lesson in history that there are like verities in national life, and hence it easily falls a prey to any clever and copious fallacy-monger who appeals to its great heart instead of reminding it of its weak head.

    Politicians have gone on flattering and cajoling this chaos of political incompetence until the just penalty of believing their own fictions has befallen them, and the average member of Parliament is conscientiously convinced that it is his duty, not to act for his constituents to the best of his judgment, but to do exactly what they, or rather the small minority which drives them, tells him to do.

    —–

    Doctors, Lawyers and other professionals have a duty that to do what is best for their clients. We should have the same expectation of politicians.

  7. @Moya

    Calling Ford an arm-chair mayor, or implying that he isn’t intelligent isn’t useful. Disagreeing with you, or having different priorities, does not make someone stupid. Treating Mayor Ford, his followers, and their opinions with respect and acting as if they are reasoned and reasonable fellow citizens is going to be the first step to building a coalition or larger plurality to change the city’s agenda.

    Simple truth is that his platform was popular enough to get a majority of councillors onside with it (so far), and win him a plurality of the vote at the ballot box.

    Being sniffy and mean about it will win you no friends, and cement his victory.

    R.

  8. Richard> I think an issue is that Rob Ford is stupid and has to be called out on it. I disagree with him and part of that is because he is a populist doofus.

  9. @Scott

    That may well be how you feel about our Mayor. But the reality is he speaks for an enormous plurality of voters in the city, and has a coalition that commands the majority of council. Rob Ford represents a lot of people–presumably a lot of people who like what he stands for and have put their faith in him.

    Calling him stupid, and implying that those who support him are fools is destructive to useful public debate and conversation. More over, it encourages those who you’ve insulted to ostracize you and anything you may have to offer for the discussion on public policy. This is a very silly thing to do to yourself, if you believe the way they intend to exercise power is dangerous to begin with: why intentionally shut yourself out?

    Rob Ford has ideas: you disagree with them. Explain why: don’t attack him personally just for disagreeing with you.

    Or, let me summarize this whole argument another way: Of course you disagree with me, you’re a blithering idiot, and your stunted mental capacity means you have nothing useful to say. Really, the orangutans at the zoo understand this better than you do.

    Now… you tell me, which of those two answers above provoked a more useful response from you? Which makes it more likely for you to listen to me in the future?

    R.

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