Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rob Ford As Mayor ? Give Me Furious George Any Day

The hot news in Toronto this week is a poll showing mayoral candidate Rob Ford sitting at 45 per cent support among the city's decided voters. Trailing badly in second place is the provincial government's former deputy premier, George Smitherman. Smitherman has recently been making statements suggesting he is the only candidate who can stop Ford the Destroyer, as some have dubbed the Etobicoke councillor.

Ford is the subject of a feature length profile in the October issue of Toronto Life by none other than Gerald Hannon. He also profiled George Smitherman for the magazine in their March issue. Smitherman clearly wants the job so bad he can taste it. In recent weeks he's taken to cribbing Ford's speaking points. Now Smitherman's focus is 'Service First', and like his opponent, he now talks about putting, "the customer first." At least he doesn't refer to everyone and their dog as "buddy" (yet, anyway)

Smitherman clearly sees which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. He figures he can catch this wind at his back if he steals enough of his opponent's talking points and obsession with freezing this, cutting that and slashing the other thing. Because that's what Rob Ford is about. His campaign's themes circle back to the same point of waste at city hall and stopping, "the gravy train." Ford's campaign even produced a cartoon to hammer home this point in case you weren't paying attention; he only mentions it every time a reporter with a microphone is within shouting distance.

Christopher Bird, one of Torontoist's resident wits, has nicknamed Ford the 'Flounder.' The nickname is used to great comic effect in this recap of a CP24 mayoral debate. Particularly hilarious is Bird recapping the debate's closing arguments:

9:30 PM:
Final thoughts! Thomson: Flounder sucks, platitude platitude platitude. Rossi: City Hall isn't connected to people, so it's time for a newbie to connect to people! Pantalone: Most people like Toronto how it is, and I am the candidate of "how it is," and Flounder sucks. Smitherman: City Hall needs to be better and we can be better, but do you really want an asshole in charge of the city? No? Then vote me. Flounder: Tax cuts gravy train wasteful spending councillor perks. (I literally wrote that before he started speaking and it was completely accurate.)


I bolded the 'Flounder's' lines because this is Rob Ford's standard campaign rhetoric. He repeats it again and again because he knows these particular points are what's selling him to GTA voters. When I see the man give a campaign speech I can't help but picture an overweight, drooling toddler pounding the same note over and over again on his toy piano. This would be funny, except people aren't ignoring the man.

I would summarize Ford's appeal as this: he provides solutions that sound like common sense and would also (in theory) be easy to implement. How to solve the waste at city hall ? Let's cut the number of councillors in half! After all, there are only 22 Members of Parliament for Toronto and area, and another 22 MPPs sitting in Queen's Park. As the candidate's website states, "There are too many politicians and not enough accountability." Never mind that many Toronto residents already have a difficult time reaching their city councillor when they need assistance. Ford, master of customer service that he is, will return your call personally. I promise.

For Toronto residents who are normally disengaged from politics many of Ford's proposals sound like good ideas. The problem is when you actually analyze if they would make sound city policy. When that happens Ford's platform is revealed for the smoke and light show it is.

The other problem I have with Rob Ford is that his campaign is based on anger. As many astute Toronto columnists (and former mayors) have pointed out, anger is not the best emotion to build a city on. The verbs Ford is fondest of using are the proof in the pudding. Cutting, chopping, destroying, scrapping, stopping — do I need to continue ?

I agree with the idea that city council needs to show spending restraint and that councillors need to use their office budgets wisely. When the state of the economy is uncertain and people are feeling the pain in their wallets, it's not a good idea to throw "free barbecues" or any other events that city councillors host where the money being spent is the taxpayers.

That said, Toronto will not thrive as a city if our new Mayor's sole obsession is cutting costs and finding efficiencies in the operating budget. Running city hall like a business — where the bottom line is the only line that counts — is
not how you make a city succeed or make its residents feel pride and optimism about the future.

Problems with his campaign and lack of coherent policy vision aside, my vote is with Smitherman.

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