By PAT WATSON
Toronto’s City Council has become a place of left and right political parties opposing each other, despite the fact that municipal government is not structured in the way that provincial and federal governments are.
Since the elections of Rob Ford as Toronto’s mayor and his brother Doug Ford as councillor for Etobicoke North Ward 3, there has been a much stronger division along the lines of political ideology rather than any serious attention to real politick.
Coincidentally, you can line up the politics of the various councillors along geographical lines as well, so that pretty much all the Etobicoke councillors are considered “right-wing” conservatives. Downtown politicians, Councillor Adam Vaughan of Trinity-Spadina Ward 20 being a prime example, are leftists and the mid-town councillors are then the “mushy middle”, again, geographically and politically.
Democracy, it has often been said, is a messy business. The notion is that out of disparate views will come a synthesis that will be a compromise answering, at least in part, the needs or interests of all the citizens. So disagreements are a given.
But the tone of discussion is the cause for concern. It now appears that too many politicians do not have enough respect for the office, that there is very little listening and a lot more waiting for others to stop talking so that the particular political opinion can then be voiced, or as is often the case now, shouted. Passion is one thing, but there should be no place for crudeness and rudeness at Council Chambers.
It started the day Ford was sworn in as mayor when, during the ceremony, hockey commentator and Mississauga resident Don Cherry, with characteristic crudeness, laced his speech with references to “all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything” and ended his diatribe with the directive “put that in your pipe you left-wing kooks”.
How was that for setting the tone? The Fords have made it a point to continue this one-dimensional approach to politics.
This political immaturity, or maybe it’s really more emotional immaturity, gets in the way of doing what is right for the people of Toronto.
Take for example the problem of public transportation inadequacy in the north and east of the city. Anyone who has to travel by public transit in Scarborough daily knows that subways would better serve the region. Personally, I don’t like subways – all that noise and darkness underground – but it is patently clear that a system of subways would be entirely reasonable for Scarborough and the rest of northern Toronto. This should not be a left-right issue. It is a matter of practicality. Public transportation development is an investment into the economic well-being of this city and indeed the entire region. If downtown politicians spent a week trying to get to their jobs by public transit from Malvern or West Humber they might have some sense of the urgency for subways that daily commuters have.
But when money is already in place for one kind of project – light rapid transit – then it is time to sit down and have a meaningful discussion about how to use that money to best serve the transportation needs of the commuters who most need it.
When Rob Ford blindly set out to kill Transit City, he did harm to those people who voted for his promise of subways. How? He wanted subways built on an ideology which held that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for the construction of public transportation. However, his hidebound ideology allowed the province to take transportation money off the table.
But what if he had done something radical, like accept the money but fought for subways anyway? Or even more radical: went to the province with a plan to use low-wage foreign workers to build the subway. The unions would make a lot of noise but that is where arguments and compromise would have its part.
It’s time to stop the game of political rhetoric and get on with the business of pragmatic forward movement for the benefit of the city. We all like our symbols, our fetishes, but at the end of the day, only real action clears the snow.
A note on the Jamaica-Nova Scotia historical connection…
Let’s remember that it was Maroons removed by the British from Jamaica at the end of the 18th Century and transported to Halifax, N.S., who were hired to build fortifications of the landmark Citadel Hill.