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LORINC: One Question for Adrienne Batra, Mayor Rob Ford’s press secretary

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Dear Adrienne,

I’m sorry to hear about the mayor’s health problems, and I hope he’s making a swift recovery.

I thought you might like to know what’s been circulating in the City Hall press gallery since last Monday, when the mayor launched  the City’s bid to outsource garbage collection. As you will surely recall, the noon-hour press conference was a highly stage-managed affair. Reporters weren’t allowed access to the member’s lounge to set up until moments before, and the city’s communications officials distributed the accompanying press materials at the last possible moment.

Not only did your office not bother supplying any kind of backgrounder to explain the rationale behind the move. We had virtually no time to absorb the sparse information that was provided before the mayor arrived.

As has been widely noted elsewhere, he had nothing of substance to say before he left. When Councillor Denzil-Minnan-Wong took over to make a somewhat more detailed statement, you sought to shut down the Q&A session after just three queries. Why Minnan-Wong, a seasoned scrummer, would be subject to the same dubious media relations approach as the mayor is anything but obvious.

In the days following, and against the backdrop of the much-hyped visit from Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, many of us in the City Hall press corps found ourselves hashing over this increasingly surreal situation.

We are told by official sources that Toronto’s mayor is, indeed, Rob Ford. But he is nowhere to be seen, and he says nothing. He will not publicly defend, much less champion, the policy positions that swept him into office, and this despite years of service as an extraordinarily outspoken city councilor who rarely shied away from a microphone or camera. We are forced to run to brother Doug to get a taste of the mayor’s positions. But he’s an unsatisfying and, frankly, unqualified surrogate.

Why is it necessary for a political leader to face the press?

This is not a self-indulgent or mischievous question, yet it needs to be posed. Yes, we will vigorously challenge your boss, as we did with his predecessors. That is our job. But we do so to better inform the city’s residents.

When Ford refuses to speak to the media, he is obviously refusing to speak to the voters, both those who supported him and those who didn’t. I haven’t got a clue whom among my Spacing or Globe and Mail readers backed Ford and who voted for George Smitherman or Joe Pantalone. But I can assure you they all pay property taxes and TTC fares and user fees, and they want to know what he plans to do with their money.

My colleague Rob Granatstein, at The Sun, noted yesterday that “Ford’s job isn’t to be a cheerleader or effervescent.” True enough. But he concluded that the mayoral mute button strategy seemed to be “working.” “It may not be traditional,” Granatstein wrote, “but in this case it’s probably smart.”

I respectfully disagree. The strong-silent-type approach may seem like a tactical advantage in the short-term. But the city’s residents, including Ford supporters, will eventually begin to wonder why the mayor will not or can not take advantage of his uniquely visible position to sell his policies to voters.

His answers needn’t be slick or witty. But his positions do need to be articulated, and not just by his minions, because the electoral buck does stop with him. If your boss succeeds with his program, he’ll want to take credit come 2014. But by the same logic, if something goes wrong on his watch, he’ll be held accountable. Kitchen…heat, etc.

Based on my read of the press gallery’s obstreperous mood after last week’s outsourcing announcement, Ford is rapidly running out of get-out-of-jail free cards.

By the way, a major test of your guy’s communications strategy is hurtling down the track like a, well, subway train. If and when you finalize the new transit plan, the mayor will have no choice but to explain himself.

Your office insisted on negotiating directly with Metrolinx while TTC chair Karen Stintz was told to watch from the sidelines. This move, the very capstone of his mayoralty campaign, will consume billions of dollars in taxpayer money and dramatically alter the way the city grows and moves in the coming decades.

Adrienne, there will be more than three questions.


photo by Shaun Merritt



  1. John,

    Perhaps phone his office it seems to be the only way he responds. Regarding his transit plan are there any bets be taken as to when this will be released…I am thinking we wont see anything till a fed election is called. He is waiting for another event to overshadow his plan and distract the media.. Just a thought.

  2. I am a freelancer and have even bigger issues with reaching Rob Ford. Along us non-main stream media the following things have been talked:

    1) Doug is more in control than rob
    2) Rob is being controlled
    3) Rob realizes how hard is going to be to keep his election promises.

  3. “Ford, Hudak and Harper: A trifecta cabal of republican-style, right wingers.”

    Our Prime Minister Stealin’ HarperCon was behind Rob Ford’s appointment.

    Mike Harris was behind Ford’s campaign. Rob Ford’s dad used to work for Mike Harris. With help from Guy Giorno, who happens to be Harper’s recently departed Chief of Staff. Guy Giorno used to be chief of staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris.

    Are you starting to notice a neocon circle jerk going on here?

    repost from Emily Dee: Hudak is a Mike Harris lapdog. He was involved in trying to privatize Ontario’s healthcare when he worked for then Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer

  4. I’ve started to refer to “Mayor Doug Ford.”

  5. John – You’re take matches up to what I heard from his campaign during the election about the plan if he made it to office. That plan was for Ford to keep doing what he does best – answering phone calls, shaking hands and dealing with the minutiae of constituent complaints. The rest, I was told, would be left to council to work out for themselves. I think the question is, who, exactly is leading council if not Ford or whether its someone else in the mayor’s office.

  6. Anti-democratic though the Fords administration’s attitude about reporters may be, I think the election may have provided a needed wake up call to those of us in the Noble Press Corps. The serious press’ almost uniformly negative assessment of Ford as Mayoral material during the election didn’t matter. Droves of people voted for him, against the intelligentsia’s better advice and in many cases probably against their own best interests. The Fords have realized that it isn’t “necessary for a political leader to face the press” because the public, for the most part, doesn’t care if s/he doesn’t, because they don’t, for the most part, care about the press. And – should they? A more interesting question to me is what the press has done lately to give people a reason. What has the news media done to prove they’re a valuable part of our lives, or make the need to pay attention to City Hall understood? The previous administration took a very open attitude toward the news media, and payed for it with a lot of lazy, gossip-centric, yellow journalism (I’m not including you in that, John). Maybe Ford’s just smarter in that regard. And maybe being shaken out of a reliance on bullshit pre-packaged quotes from politicians will be good for journalism in this city.

  7. The reason, as I see it, for our Mayor Rob not speaking nor appearing for the media, is because he does not have Nick Kouvalis around to give him the witticisms that were apparent during his campaign.

    From what I can see….he is not a communicator nor an orator; even though he was quite vocal during his tenure as Councilor for Etobicoke.

  8. When Lastman was in power, I thought that we had elected a clown to distract us from who was really running this town. In time we found out a lot thanks to the Bellamy inquiry.

    Now we have Rob. Who is he fronting for? Who is really treating Toronto as their own personal property on his watch? What is the agenda of the people who are running the Mayor while he babbles on about gravy and penny-ante savings?

    The media could do everyone a big favour by focussing on the power behind the throne, not on the often-absent man in the big chair.

  9. Rob Ford is now a figurehead. Doug Ford and others are the real power behind the throne.

  10. Hello, may I speak with Mike Harris please?

  11. @Ronny: Just calling up Rob Ford doesn’t work for journalists, according to this Toronto Life article:

  12. Here we go again, nothing but whining and Ford bashing.  Very tiresome. 🙁
    As for the press, Miller sure did spoil you lot.  Handing out weekly agendas, pretty much doing your work for you.  Maybe it’s time you looked at some of the old time movies where reporters actually had to hunt for a story!  
    How many times is Rob Ford suppose to repeat himself to satisfy your daily quota for a story?  The plans are in the works.  When they are ready, they will be made public.  What part of that don’t you understand?  Giving you a daily report is actually pretty stupid, since the plans are still being discussed & not finalized for presentation.  

    Find some other topic to fill your daily news quota.
    How about, why Dalton McGuinty practically calls Ex-Premier David Peterson on a daily bases for advise?  The very same guy (with many cronies) who is heavily invested in a wind turbine business called Ventura. Why not investigate and expose the real players behind McGuinty’s outrageously expensive green energy agenda, that is making Ontario a have not province.  

    Or how about investigating the wasteful spending of that little house located at the back end of St. Joseph’s Hospital.  The one where addicts can book themselves in for a week of fine food, massage, acupuncture, private rooms etc., without being properly screened.  Where DRUG DEALERS also book themselves into, to make more contacts and traffic on the premises.  And the attendants themselves are ex-addicts. No real iron fisted supervision there. And all on the tax payers dollar.  That is a fact and it sure does deserve exposing.  Oh, there are many more stories of that nature.  

    Or, what about the food banks or hot meals places.  How many people go there for free food, that are NOT poor. They actually boast about it, bcos there is no real enforcement of I.D. cards to prove entitlement of this service to those in real need. 

    To bad you just don’t ask your reading public to share more stories of wasteful, mismanaged spending, instead of picking on the Fords to the point of being ridiculous.  Get off your fannies and start searching for real stories.  There’s plenty of them to fill your daily quota’s. 

  13. I would like to see much more about the agenda that put Ford into office; i.e. follow the money.

    Who contributed to his campaign? For example, who paid for all those robo-calls? (we got called 5 times by his campaign; not once by anyone else.)

    Sun media, AM 640, both of whom supported him with massive “free” press, who is behind them? (i.e. Sun media wants Fox News Canada).

    Which companies, organizations, individuals, etc. put money into his campaign? 

    And why, since he ran as a straight-talking, blue-collarish “man of the people” type, did nobody know he was a multi-millionaire?

  14. Comment by Missy above: Worst. Comment. Ever.

    In order for the media to write stories elected officials have to answer questions. If they are not answering questions they how can the media write informed stories? Do you not see the point? Instead you are bashing the media for expecting a mayor to answer questions. How dare they!

    You obviously have no idea how city hall works. Miller didn’t “spoil” anyone, especially the media. His office provided information that, as citizens, we have a right to know. Many, including Spacing readers, were disappointed in how little info was coming out of his office at times. Now, when a mayor is elected to shine a light on city council, he runs away and lets his big brother answer questions (of which, he seems to know little since he has only been in office for 3 months and was living in Chicago for years).

    Mayor Ford, as our top elected official, is the one who has to answer questions. If he doesn’t want to then he is obviously not up for the job. Shying away from answering questions is not what he was elected to do.

  15. Comment by Moya above:

    Moya, with all due respect, how many times can a person answer the same questions about the same topic???  The TTC & Metrolinx are at the drawing board.  They have not presented their revised transit plans as yet, so how many more ways is there to answer this question, for crying out loud?

    Personally, I think that yes, the media should be making more of an issue about how Hydro is run and why all the lack of transparency about the retirement debt, seriously over paid staff and why with all the monies they have collected all these years their infrastructure still is archaic.  
    I feel the media’s attention and pushing on these types of matters and pressing politicians for answers will get them to finally clean up the entire public over bloated, money draining sector.  Rather than focusing on silly repetitious chatter.  Real issues that drain our wallets bear exposing until something is done about them.  

    You think my comment is the worst ever.  Really?  Well, I brought CAMH to the attention of the politicians a couple of years ago.  CAMH detox refused to accept 2 people I was trying to save from cocaine bcos their rules said people had to be cocaine free for minimum of 3 mths in order for them to enter their services!!!  Imagine that!  Millions of dollars of tax payer monies for a detox center that would NOT accept people unless they were clean.
    Media did not report on this story.  I did.  And finally something was done about it.  

    My point is, instead of media hanging around city hall looking for scopes, they should be out in the field, exposing public systems that don’t work & then going to city hall to press for answers and investigations.  But to hang out at city hall, just to twist whatever answer a politician gives them and make it into a personal attack, well, that is not my idea of good reporting.

    Seems to me, you like the media, are looking for daily soap opera gossip instead of looking for ways to help clean up the run amuck spending of public funds on programs that are being seriously mismanaged.  

    I repeat, Mayor Rob Ford did answer the questions.  It takes some time to implement the new strategies into a viable plan.  Once these plans are ready, they will be disclosed.  But to bug a person on a daily bases for answers to the same questions, just to twist the response, to make a daily read, well, to me, that is a total waste of time.  I would like to see how long you would last, when asked each an every day, by your boss, what you have done about this and that, when this and that is not due for a while and your still working on it.  Rob Ford has done more in the few mths of office than any politician in the history of our gov’t system.  And this is still not good enough proof for you that he will continue to deliver?  Cut him some slack and some space to get the job done.  If you can’t, then that only proves that YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT REAL WORK IS!

  16. Can anyone picture Mayor Ford cowered in one corner of his office, shivering and sucking his thumb?

  17. ahh. chicago. hometown of the neo-cons. got it now.

    also rove/bush strategy was to ignore/undercut the press. same tactic going on here, it seems.

  18. I once had a philosophy prof tell me that life in general is absurd. Based on the bulk of comments in this thread I would tend to agree with him. Can you not put more thought into your reflections especially Mr. Lorinc. Ford is in office what 3 months? Miller was given 7 years whithout the degree of invective that I am currently observing in the popular press . Come on guys, give it a break.

  19. I find Missy’s post refreshing. What would be the purpose of feeding the media with gotchas? A large portion of the media is looking for such opportunities. Spacing itself feeds off such tidbits while offering poor analysis and its own spin, Here are some recent gems………

    LORINC: Even the right will raid the reserves
    That time Rob Ford voted to create Transit City.

    Finally, could you please post one example of when Spacing vigorously challenged his predecessor?

  20. Missy, care to elaborate on “Rob Ford has done more in the few mths of office than any politician in the history of our gov’t system. “? Like what?

    If you want to be taken seriously, don’t start spouting ridiculous, exaggerated claims.

    If you know so much about problems and waste in the city, why don’t you start researching and writing stories yourself? Citizen journalism, the internet, and all that.

  21. Anyone who follows city politics on Twitter can see thru the handle of “Missy”. It is no other than Sue Ann Levy! She dissed this column on her Twitter looks like she has revealed herself when, in her second comment as “Missy”, she says she broke some kind of CAMH story.

  22. John, those are more advice columns for a friend than a vigorous accounting.

  23. Hey Glen —

    This ain’t the Guardian or NYTimes. It is a magazine that has a clearly stated point of view: human scale neighbourhoods, efficient public transit, an attractive public realm. It is primarily an opinion-based blog.

    But if you took the time to read the magazine you’d realize that the editors and writers cover much more than city hall, though there is tonnes of that too. Spacing is by far the most thoughtful publication in the city. John has written critically about Miller in the magazine as well.

    Miler et al took positions that were rather aligned with Spacing and their ideals. The fact that the magazine stands up for Toronto when it comes to the public realm and the building of this city is exactly what is needed when we now have a mayor that is as smart as a marble when it comes to anything other than looking at line items on a budget sheet. The purpose of this blog, as I see it, is about advancing intelligent ideas about city building. I expect Spacing to be more vigorous in opposition to the ideas of Ford than with Miller simply because Miller’s policies were, for the most part, smart city building. Nothing near perfect, or even great, but he had advanced the city in a much better direction than Lastman and certainly much better than Ford ever will.

    I know all you care about is tax issues — or at least that’s all you write about — so maybe you need to write your own blog. Oh wait, you do with no one commenting and no updates in 9 months.

  24. Liisa, not *everyone* is on Twitter (or gives a crap) but it’s great that you’ve outed her 🙂

    I’ve seen that “Missy” troll on other related blogs … if she is Sue Ann Levy, it’s pretty lame that she’s pretending she’s not a journalist. Must be her, the rage seems about right.

  25. Cheech, who doesn’t support human scale neighbourhoods, efficient public transit, an attractive public realm? I must have overlooked the fact that there is a demographic that support Godzilla sized neighbourhoods, inefficient public transit and an ugly public realm. Thankfully, your post has alerted me to their existence.

    Seriously, I like Spacing. That is why I frequent the site. I do feel that when it comes to some issues that they are willing overlook the shortcomings of policy decisions of those they support. Spacing is not alone in the regard. Most media does this. That does not change the fact then when bias gets in the way of rational or pragmatic debate it should be called out.

  26. Cheech,

    Actually it was the detailed, lengthy, technocratic articles in Toronto Life that Lorinc used to write that made his reputation for many of us.  And which to some extent still underwrite his credibility.  The fact that many of his articles on this website exhibit a thinner brand of gruel is, I think, a shame.

    And if Glen or whoever else is disappointed by this mush, they have every right to be.  Pointing out some of the short-comings in the accounting of Rob Ford’s campaign platform is your job.  It did not require Carl Woodward or Julian Assange. Just a reporter prepared to apply a pencil to the back of an envelope and to point out that the candidate wears now clothes….!….No wait, I take that back.  Momentarily, I had a vision of Burgermeister Ford with no clothes….One journalist in Toronto who was prepared to point out when stupid is indeed quite stupid.

    We read this website for facts — that is, new facts, a little context, and perhaps even some anecdotal observations — as well as for “human-scale neighbourhoods”.  “News”, in other words.

    As for this article, I don’t understand why John is so surprised.  Rob Ford is just as dumb as he appears to be.  Maybe dumber.  Which is why we have to talk about “Rob Ford” in quotations marks.  (I’m paraphrasing one of the commentators on McNeil-Lehrer in referring to Ronald Reagan’s administration.)  His team is protecting him.  And like Mike Harris and other right-wingers before him, he believes his mandate does not simply entitle him to hold a political office, but to ram his personal agenda down the throats of the rest of us.

    Get used to it.

  27. There’s an old adage in military history that says, “You always start the next war with the tools from the last war.” It’s why soldiers in WWI spent the first few years of the war with silly, decorative helmets that while attractive, did nothing to protect them from shell fragments or head shots. Before WWI, no one had ever had to weather a 12 hour artillery barrage. Equally, they hadn’t faced snipers on a regular basis. Who knew a pointy gold and silver helmet would be a really bad idea?

    Or look to Vietnam, where the US thought the air power and overwhelming technology that won WWII and Korea could win the day again. Unfortunately for the US, it’s hard to bomb an enemy that doesn’t have airfields, or bunkers, or who refuses to stay in the same place for any length of time. 

    The same could be said about the left, we of the oft-maligned “downtown elite”. We have no idea how to fight a guy like Rob Ford who refuses to engage us on the established terms. The same could be said for Stephen Harper, who’s been baffling the left for 5 years now, simply because he doesn’t fight in the same way as his predecessors. We still want to use something like the Press Corps. But Ford, Harper and their ilk moved on from that type of interaction years ago.

    In a recent Esquire piece on Roger Ailes of Fox News, the author remarked that one of the secrets to the success of the network is that they are entirely proactive, thus difficult to engage because they’re always sticking and moving. Quoting Columbia University Professor Dick Wald, the author adds: “You can’t fight Roger Ailes on territory he’s left behind.” When Fox News get aggressive, the other networks get aggressive reactively, because they have too much respect for the idea of news and for the truth to do it proactively. Fox News and Harper and Ford are unencumbered by ideological speed bumps, thus they can take broad leaps away from the norm without breaking a sweat. 

    So here’s the pressing question…how do you react to post-ideological people like Rob Ford and his administration? Do you get down in the muck with him, abandoning the traditional tools of communication? If you do, you risk doubly. One, by the time you get there he may be gone. In which case you’ve sacrificed your credibility for nothing. And two, you’ll sacrifice your credibility and your ideologies. So even if you win, you’ll be forced to play in that muck forever.

    The other option is to wait it out. If the current process of gathering and communicating the news are so good, is it worth standing by? Even if it potentially means getting left out of the game for several years? It might be worth it. In that time, perhaps the news media could take the time to figure out how to fight (or simply report on) people like Ford in a more effective way.

    Keep in mind that dumb or not, Rob Ford is very much the product of a new style of political thinking. Media aside, we lefties are going to have to figure this one out or it won’t just be the news media that’s left out in the cold, it’ll be anyone whose still trying to fight on territory the Fords of the world long left behind. 

    Pickelhaube, folks. Pickelhaube. Look it up. 

  28. Rob Ford will have to come up with something more catchy then stop the gravy train to calm the taxpayers when he introduces a huge tax increas in 2012.

    A city of this size costs a lot to operate and you can thank the Mike Harris regime for downloading public housing and the TTC subsidy on Toronto taxpayers.
    The Cops suck a lot out of the city budget with quite well payed individuals and they demand more and more all the time.

    Naturally he starts with the bottom rather than the top to cut waste, but is it not always the working stiffs that get the shaft ?