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