By PAT WATSON
Doug Ford, the outgoing councillor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North who took a short-distance run at becoming mayor of Toronto, made a statement bearing a good measure of reality among the many fictions he tried to foist on this city. During his concession speech he offered: “We have changed the political landscape in Toronto.”
The rise of the Ford brand has been ably assisted by the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in this city. The Fords can thank timing and circumstances.
Outgoing mayor Rob Ford sat for 10 years as a councillor for Ward 2, employing his brand of retail politicking within the ward. He was their elected maintenance man and groundskeeper. Rob Ford’s instincts for sympathizing with the underclass went a long way and on Election Day, Oct. 27, earned him almost 60 per cent of the votes in the ward, returning him to his old post as councillor.
Other Ward 2 candidates for councillor like Andray Domise and Munira Abukar could only dream of having a guest spot on American late night television, as Rob Ford did when he sat across from Jimmy Kimmel earlier this year.
Peeling back the layers of this political onion, though, has to begin with the actions of the provincial Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris that forced amalgamation onto the municipalities of York, East York, North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke and the former City of Toronto in 1998, creating our current megacity.
The question of amalgamation was put to a referendum back then and 75 per cent of voters were against it. That is, 75 per cent of the one-third of the eligible voters who cared enough about this decision to make their choice known.
Anyone who travels the broad expanse of this city knows that different parts have different flavours. Anyone who travelled this city during the election campaign period that just ended would not have been surprised at the variance in sensibilities that would attach to any of the three mayoral frontrunners, Olivia Chow, Rob/Doug Ford and John Tory, now the mayor-elect.
Anyone in Toronto who has visited the “world class” city of Paris may recognize that our city is beginning to reflect a similar residential pattern. Increasingly, wealth and location align here, as in Paris. Those who have low incomes reside on the outskirts of Scarborough and Etobicoke, where, not coincidentally, the mass of votes went to the Ford brand. Downtown Toronto is substantially wealthier and Whiter than the outskirts. Like Paris.
But how have the Fords “changed the political landscape in Toronto”? Their divisive brand of politics has heightened the divisions that have gone publicly unrecognized until now.
No accident then that Tory made a point of emphasizing his aim to unify the city. Former mayor, Mel Lastman, tried that with his street parties at major intersections along Yonge Street some time ago, perhaps aiming to pull those on the periphery into the core. They were fun, but too far from the fringes. Those street parties along with the large fiberglass moose are now a distant memory, but Lastman had the right idea.
David Miller tried it by fighting hard to get funding for public transit development, but he wasn’t seen in those outer neighbourhoods picking up garbage and watching workmen fill potholes as Ford does. Nor attend funerals when yet another youth lost his life to gun violence.
What Tory must now see as his mandate in this “changed political landscape” is to address the needs and concerns of those who feel most disenfranchised. The Fords like to talk the talk, but it is now up to Tory to walk the walk. Not just to win approval but because this city’s most disadvantaged need to have the kind of political leadership that will enable an environment for opportunity. We need more affordable housing integrated throughout the city. We need accessible transit to become a reality. We need programs that support the social and work life for all who want to participate. And not just Tory, we need all hands on deck.
A note on the first snow…
Right on time, the first snow showed up on Nov. 1, much too soon for those of us suffering post trauma from the winter of 2013-14.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose