Say what you will about Rob Ford, Toronto’s 64th mayor has over the two years of his tenure reined in spending, the reason he was elected in the first place. One result is the City of Toronto has a surplus of $188 million for the first half of 2012. This follows a 2011 year-end surplus of $292 million at the end of a very contentious budget process.
Ford promised during his mayoral campaign to ‘stop the gravy train’ and while it came to light that there was in fact no wasteful spending to speak of, the momentum behind his cost-cutting mantra has brought results. Especially so during the honeymoon days after he was elected and had the cooperation and goodwill of a majority of councillors in tackling a number of issues that had most Torontonians on board as well.
Also on the plus side of the ledger we can thank Ford’s focus on the bottom line for an absence of labour unrest as the City concluded wage agreements with municipal workers that includes a pay freeze this year.
Public transit users can also thank Ford for moving early in his tenure to remove the right to strike from public transit workers after going to the provincial government to have public transit declared an essential service.
And, thanks to Ford’s initiative and Council’s support, residents west of Yonge Street will not have to anticipate weeks of garbage piling up while unionized workers go on strike. Garbage collection there has been contracted out.
His clumsy handling of the transit expansion file has generated real conversation about the fact that Torontonians will have to pay for infrastructure expansion if they want it, even if Ford is against using taxes for that purpose.
If we had only these examples to look at as an account of Ford’s tenure so far, he would easily on be his way to a second term as mayor despite his unpopularity among a good segment of both council and the city. But, alas, that is not to be.
Ford has endured severe criticism for his non-conformist personality coming into his tenure especially because it was well known that for his 10 years as councillor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North (now held by his brother Doug) he had been an outlier who played by his own rules.
In fact, his still is, and that is what has now tipped the scales against him. That is why he is now awaiting a judge’s decision on conflict of interest charges brought against his by a local citizen.
Ford has to answer for voting in Council on an issue in which he repeatedly refused the instructions of the city’s integrity commissioner to repay some $3000-plus in donations he solicited from lobbyists using City Council letterhead that went to his football charity.
This larger controversy is characteristic of how Ford goes about managing his position as mayor, sending the message that he is somehow exempt from the rules that govern other elected officials, or everyday citizens for whom he expresses such concern.
His behavior has become a sideshow. Caught reading while driving, Ford shrugged off media questions about the incident and showed no understanding that he was putting not only himself but also other motorists at risk. His response that he’s a busy man is not good enough especially because he self-righteously demands that others maintain a higher standard.
He risks being labeled a hypocrite for not practicing what he preaches: respect for the public, or as he would no doubt put it, the taxpayer.
Ford is contributing to the dysfunctional environment at City Hall by being an absent mayor who two years into his tenure provides no direction. Instead of growing into the role of mayor, he has become a city councillor-at-large, responding to phone calls from residents to paint over graffiti or fill potholes. He is frequently absent from council meetings where policy on such pressing issues as waterfront development, infrastructure renewal or tax increases have to be decided.
That’s how he got in trouble right after testifying on the conflict of interest issue. Councillors complain that half the time they don’t know where Ford is. Although many would suggest that he could easily be found at Don Bosco Catholic School coaching his football team or somewhere else coaching another of the two other football teams he has started.
For all that he has been able to accomplish, Ford’s thumbing his nose at the rules that other city politicians have to follow and his tendency to become a sideshow could become his undoing.