In late May, approximately 150 people crowded into The Duke of York Pub to listen to a mayor speak. And no, it was not Rob Ford. Senator Art Eggleton, who was mayor from 1980-1991, spoke to a full house about where he thinks Mayor Rob Ford is going wrong in leading the city and how he can improve in the future.
The event was organized by Why Should I Care (WSIC), a non-partisan, community-oriented initiative that holds discussions about political issues.
Eggleton was clear from the beginning that his goal was not to insult Mayor Ford. “There’s enough Mayor bashing, Ford bashing,” he said. “I don’t think that’s useful or productive.”
While he kept the conversation civil, Eggleton had no problem calling out the Mayor on actions he felt were wrong. He spoke at length about Ford’s comment that council was irrelevant after he lost a key transit vote. (Senator Eggleton wrote an op-ed for The Globe and Mail in February denouncing Ford’s statement.) “He [Ford] has to understand that City Council is supreme,” Eggleton said.
He explained that the Mayor has only one vote, but has the power to influence councillors and be strategic in pushing for his mandate. “If he really wanted to have subways, subways, subways, he could have put a plan together. A comprehensive plan of what subway system, what transit system would help move this city forward,” Eggleton said. However, he said that the Mayor did no such thing, as there was no solid plan and no real funding strategy.
Eggleton warned that ignoring council will make Ford’s remaining years in office more difficult, saying that the Mayor must reach out to all councilors, even ones that he disagrees with. “If the Mayor continues on the path that he’s on, it is he that will become irrelevant,” he warned.
But Mayor Ford was able to get a word in, even though he did not attend the event. In the middle of question period, the organizers said that they received a question via text message from the Mayor’s communication staff. They said that the message was “Do you think it’s appropriate to comment when the city is so much different than when you were mayor?” which drew a reaction from the crowd. “I care about this city,” was Eggleton’s reply. “I feel passionate about this city, and I know you do too. I want it to succeed. I want it to be the best possible city that it can be… I’m speaking as a citizen of this city.” His words were met with a round of applause.
Another point of contention for Eggleton was the Mayor’s treatment of civil servants, namely the firing of TTC general manager Gary Webster. “I know from my days as mayor, I always wanted to have the best and the brightest public servants,” he told the crowd.
However, Eggleton believes that the current climate at City Hall may be pushing the most qualified away rather than drawing them in. “What person with some professional integrity is going to want to join a pubic service where you either agree with the mayor or you might be shown the door?” he asked.
In responding to a question from the audience, Eggleton explained that civil servants must be free to speak their mind. “The point I’m making here is that a public official should be able to make these kind of comments [disagreeing with the mayor] … without feeling the chill of maybe your job is on the line.”
In going forward, Eggleton offered this advice: “The mayor, I believe, is spending a lot of time campaigning for the next election … well I think it’s time for the mayor to stop campaigning and to start governing.” And coming from Toronto’s longest serving mayor, Rob Ford would be wise to listen.