Moving Forward(?)

 

In the past week, much of the world’s press (and most of America’s comedians) has been, in some way, focused on the movements and machinations of the Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford. And who can blame them? Taking your eyes off Ford, even for a second, risks missing something huge. But keeping a constant vigil can be a tricky proposition, especially with a loose cannon like Ford; when you’re paying attention, he disappoints, when you’re caught off guard, he drops bombshells. So it was this week when Ford strolled off a public elevator, not through his customary, protected back-door office entrance and, after playing the world’s strangest version of Jeopardy, finally owned up to smoking crack cocaine.

However, later that same day, Ford did a rope-a-dope and called a hotly anticipated press conference wherein he gave the most selfish speech in political history, simultaneously disappointing everyone and surprising no one. On the odd occasion when Ford bothered to mention the city he’s been chaotically destroying for 3 years, it was only in the context of his personal ambitions and desires. He hoped no one would have to go through what he’s gone through; he professed his love for his job; he expressed relief that this embarrassing chapter of his life was coming to an end. As baffling as it was galling, Ford once again proclaimed that he would go on doing the job he’d been elected to do (that he hasn’t really been doing for almost 2 years) and rejected calls for his resignation. Rob Ford, come hell or high water, would stay on as Mayor of Toronto.

I detailed my visceral reaction to the self-serving campaign launch scam that Ford pulled on the people and press of Toronto here.

Key to Ford’s ongoing messaging, revealed on his CFRB radio show this past Sunday, has been an entreaty to the people of Toronto to “move forward”. Obviously in this context, “move forward” is analogous to “forget immediately”, as Ford realizes, quite rightly, that a plague of amnesia is his only hope for survival in the short term. Even in the wake of a second video, showing the Mayor either doing an impression of a WWE wrestler, or threatening to kill and dismember someone, he admitted fault, made his customary ruminations on the nature of time, and promised to press ahead.

While chaos continues to swirl around Mayor Ford, both his traditional allies and stalwart opponents are taking his advice and deciding how to move forward. But which of them is worthy of showing us the way? In the spirit of wrestling, let’s look at some of the top contenders for the belt…I mean, the chain.

John Tory

Few things irritate me as much as the fetishization of “Mayor John Tory”. John Tory is an awful politician. That he is simultaneously fit for nothing better than talk radio, and often held up as golden-boy candidate makes you wonder if anyone actually wants him to be Mayor, or if he’s just the go-to answer for people who haven’t thought the question through.

I think it’s safe to assume his support isn’t coming from the current incarnation of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario who I suspect will be giving this upcoming election a pass. And even if they did back a candidate, it’s not going to be a former leader who led the party to disaster, failing to even win his own seat, let alone taking the party to power at Queen’s Park. Ditto for Harper’s federal Conservatives. They’ve been burned enough by pictures of the Prime Minister cooking burgers with Rob Ford to forgo an active, or at least public, presences in this election cycle.

You can also count out the Liberal Party’s of Ontario and Canada, who are divvying up their fixers between conservative Karen Stintz and NDP MP Olivia Chow.

Oddly, it seems like the only person who really wants John Tory to be mayor is John Tory.

Maybe it doesn’t matter who is or isn’t backing him; because no matter who’s signing his cheques, you still have to reconcile John Tory, the candidate, a guy who went on Breakfast Television this week and told the suspender-wearing host that if he were advising Ford, he’d have told the mayor to keep his mouth shut. In Tory’s learned opinion, the best thing for the city would be for Ford to keep on lyin’ and denyin’. He also thinks if Ford can just duck this controversy a little longer that he might have a good chance at reelection. I’d get on my high horse about Tory’s moral bankruptcy, if he weren’t a life-long also-ran and a dullard whose most likely contribution to the 2014 election will be vote-splitting. Our so-called saviour, indeed.

Karen Stintz

Karen Stintz is just as ethically, and, it turns out, morally, bankrupt as Tory; a calculating opportunist who’s had her eye on the big chair since her first day in council. I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest she only became a councillor in the first place because she thought it would help her become mayor.

But that isn’t the worst thing about everyone’s favourite student of elocution. Rather, Cllr. Stintz’s biggest crime is making the Ford Brothers right about something. Doug Ford said on the brothers’ weekly paid campaign stop that appointing Stintz as TTC chair was perhaps Team Ford’s mistake, and it’s hard to argue with him.

We only have to go back to March of 2013 when, for the briefest moment, it looked like Karen Stintz might be one to replace Ford’s transit lunacy with fact-based development. Things were going so well for her that Josh Matlow started suggesting she’d make a great mayor. Alas, we were being hoodwinked. The bright glow of evidence-based policy was violently extinguished by the gonzo stupidity of the OneCity plan, and the bald-faced betrayal of the Stintz-led charge to kill the Scarborough LRT.

I wouldn’t elect Karen Stintz as dogcatcher, if we, y’know, lived in a place that elected dogcatchers. But no matter, other people think she’s great, she definitely thinks she’s great, and she’s got a cabal of Liberal fixers behind her, so you can’t count her out.

Being one of the first declared mayoral candidates, her thoughts on the Rob Ford saga carry a bit more weight than those of her council colleagues. So, when it came time to make her statement, she took a page from the Handbook of the Tragically Unimaginative, and said, “Let’s just get on with it.”

Yeah, not only would Stintz, like her “opponent” John Tory, prefer we gloss over Ford’s lying, drug use, and refusal to act in the city’s best interests, she’d supports the impossibility of carrying on as if nothing was happening.

Surprisingly, I understand why she and Tory have taken this approach. They think applying the famous, Harperian “steady hand on the wheel” style of leadership is what’s going to get them elected. Unfortunately, for us and them, Toronto needs something a bit bolder than “steady and she goes” and neither of these candidates care enough about the city to see that. So long as Rob Ford is in office, the City will not function properly. He’s too big a personality to work around. And whether that means having him removed or waiting him out, suggestions that we just hunker down and try to carry on are horribly naïve.

For reasons that escape me, people cut Karen Stintz a lot of slack, and I fear that’s something that will continue all the way through the 2014 campaign. Sure, she flip-flops on policy so violently she has to wear a neck brace, but hey…NO CRACK!! As with John Tory, the notion that Karen Stintz has any chance at the mayor’s office is the manifestation of hugely diminished expectations.

Councillors

Council has been broken up into roughly three groups. Those who came out immediately after Ford’s crack admission and called for him to leave office (either termporarilty or permanently), those who thought about it for a while, then called for Ford to leave, and those who haven’t said much of anything yet.

Leading the charge of the eager beavers is John Filion, a man with almost nothing to lose by being the figurehead for Team Get Lost. He carried his ward in 2010 with 66% of the vote, and even though Ford’s got 49% of the vote in Willowdale, it’s clear Filion isn’t worried about the wrath of Ford Nation. Nor is it likely he wants to go anywhere but back to his council office. He’s the perfect person to put out front.

The same goes for good ol’ “DMW”, Denzil Minnan-Wong, a man who distanced himself from the mayor so quickly he made Flintstones sounds with his feet as he ran away. Minnan-Wong didn’t win his ward as easily as Filion, but he did put 14 points on his nearest opponent and he hasn’t really done anything this term that will be remembered in the wake of Crackgate, so he has a pretty good chance of getting back into the council chambers next year. I know he’s a cretin who’s mangled bike infrastructure in this city, but you didn’t expect any better from him and neither did I. Make no mistake, I’d be very happy to see him lose next year. He’s no shortage of crime requiring recompense; but I also feel no guilt cheering him on as leader of Team Get The Province to Exile Ford.

Leaving the leaders of what Mammoliti has called “a left wing coup” aside, what’s really interesting are the two progressive councillors who are, thus far, largely staying out of this mess, namely Adam Vaughan and Gord Perks.

Perks’ absence isn’t much of a surprise. He represents a ward with real problems, none of which will be solved by getting in the middle of the Ford-show. He’s also well liked in his ward. He may have had a rough ride getting to council in 2006, but he obliterated his nearest opponent by 30+ points in 2010. Coupled with Ford poor showing in Parkdale in 2010 (I’d be stunned if Ford got 2 votes in my beloved old ‘hood in 2014), staying above the fray is probably a smart move from a smart man.

Vaughan, on the other hand, has a few more layers. While everything I just said could also apply to Vaughan — he beat his opponents by a huge margin (50+ points) in 2010, and Ford Nation has no sway in his ward — he’s often rumoured to have mayoral ambitions. Unlike Stintz, he also has a clean record and, by staying out of the mayoral race (so far), doesn’t have to prove himself by taking a stand for or against Ford. Throughout this week, he’s mostly brushed aside questions about the mayor. If Filion’s motion comes to a vote, I’d expect Vaughan to support it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him abstain. That said; keep an eye on Toronto’s surliest councillor. He might, like Perks, be playing Switzerland for the moment, but he might also be hedging against a future mayoral bid.

Rounding out the council field are grumpy old councillors like Mike Del Grande, who obviously can’t be seen by their constituents to be soft on drugs, so they’re fleeing like roaches when the light comes on, while kooks like Mammoliti keep on being kooky. As an aside, I actually think Mammoliti makes a fair point about granting powers without thinking about how they might be misused, and then trying desperately to snatch those powers back; too bad Mammoliti didn’t take that into consideration when he voted for the new City of Toronto Act back in December of 2005.

Now what?

The election of 2010 was an ungodly nightmare of bad politics, horrible candidates, awful reporting, and diminished expectations. The resulting 3 years haven’t exactly been a cakewalk, but they’re gonna look like an open-bar Christmas party compared to maelstrom of stupidity we’re facing in 2014. We badly need a great candidate to declare themselves, their plan, and inspire us to hold Toronto’s highest office to a much higher standard. Toronto needs a leader. Not a mayor, but a leader. Only then, in the hands of a leader, can we ever hope to move forward.

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