By PAT WATSON
If the people who live in the outer regions of this now amalgamated city want their concerns to be heard and taken seriously then they need to come up with a better answer than Rob Ford. It is clear that one big reason Ford still has such strong supporters is because he has been seen to answer their concerns after a period of not being heard at all. What then have the councillors from those parts of the city been up to all these years?
The decision by previous mayor David Miller not to run again for a third term has been questioned. Perhaps he knew better than most downtowners that the writing was on the wall for him, not only in terms of what happened in the contract negotiations that resulted in that 35-day pile up of garbage while city workers were on strike in the summer of 2009, which left just about everyone angry, but in his seeming abandonment of the concerns of the outer sections of the city, locations that had previously been taken care of well enough when they were cities unto themselves.
One real problem those cities – North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough in particular – had at that time was that they were not properly served by public transit, which, pre-amalgamation, was the purview of the province. Once public transit became a city portfolio and with the city unable to answer the needs of those outer reaches to provide them with adequate transportation the stress ramped up.
We can now understand why it is that Ford remains popular despite all his public displays of poor judgment in matters outside of municipal politics. For one, if you live in the outer reaches and cannot get public transit, then having a car becomes a necessity. So when the Miller-led Council decided to make a tax grab in the form of the vehicle registration tax, it was the suburbs of Toronto that felt that decision most. The $60 amount was not substantial, but the immediate effect of coming into power and removing that tax was not lost on those who voted for Ford.
Ford speaks for those people who hate driving across slippery street car track (even harder to do, one imagines, when one is driving drunk) so when he told Torontonians that he would prefer tracks go underground you could hear the nod of understanding from those who voted for him.
There are people in this city who do not care about the personalities of their politicians as long as those politicians give them what they want. These are not grand vision people who care about a national identity or where we are headed as a nation; that will take care of itself apparently. What they want to know is how much less they can pay in taxes, and how much more they can keep in their pocket.
There are people in this city who have come from places that do not have any social safety net. The do not expect it to be a part of their lives here. They came here not for a handout, but prepared to work hard to build their fortune. And they do not wish to have all their hard earned money taken away from them so that kids downtown can have their swimming pool availability paid for. These are people who, if they want to swim on a regular basis, will build a pool in their backyards, because there is space on suburban lots for such things.
They care even less for bike routes as important means of commuting. By the way, downtown we have bike routes; in the outer areas we have bike trails. That alone should give a sense of the priorities those budget items hold in the suburbanite versus downtowner dynamic.
The current mayor understands all that. So maybe politics really is Ford’s métier, but we really aren’t going to know that with any certainty until he puts away whatever substances are currently his masters. What we do know for certain is that as long as he holds on to his seat as mayor in this chapter of his life he is certainly no leader. Anyone who has ever had to work day in and day out with someone who has the disordered thinking and accompanying erratic behaviour of a substance abuser would well know that. Pity the folks at City Hall.
A note on what’s good for the goose…
So, if Rob Ford can get away with suspicious behaviour that lines up with acquiring and using illegal substances under police observation and yet not be arrested, does that mean that the rest of Torontonians will be allowed the same leeway?
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose