Toronto: Year of the Bully

Rob Ford has been mayor of the city I live in for over a year now. It’s an odd experience.  You see I am convinced that Rob Ford doesn’t even like Toronto.

When he’s not insulting his opponents for being “left of Stalin”, Ford simply lets his brother pile on the dirt.  Can you think of another city in North America, in which the mayor’s henchman, in this case, his brother Doug, would gratuitously goad a leading cultural figure such as Margaret Atwood? Wouldn’t a writer of Atwood’s stature be part of the Toronto brand to any sensible mayor?

In recent days, Ford has insisted he’s restricting development of public transit to the building of subways. This in opposition to any credible analysis of Toronto gridlock and even, recently, to the dismay of some of his own followers on city council as well as the head of the Toronto Transit Commission. Some even believe the mayor overstepped his legal authority in signing a death warrant for a long negotiated transit plan that sat on his desk when he assumed power.

As he travels into work from the western edge of the city in Etobicoke in his now famous van, Ford must be blind to the prevailing situation. In his warped perception, the answer to too many cars is… more cars.

Ford knows his constituency: a  largely suburban based pocket of resentments about taxes and elites that’s an approximation of the American ‘Tea Party’. Yes, the city requires better management. It also requires a twenty-first century system of public transit. It also cries out for a political discourse based on more than posturing and bullying.

A lot can be learned about politicians by observing how they address their own. Ford uses The Toronto Sun newspaper and right-leaning talk radio to deliver the raw meat to his true believers. His self congratulatory year end interview to the Sun (Dec. 18, 2011) and the infamous Stalin comparison on AM640 in Toronto are classics of a kind.

Some commentators, like the Star’s Chris Hume, believe that the bully has had his day and that his powers will be circumscribed by council. I’m not so sure. His cringe worthy public weight loss campaign is a publicity master stroke.  And, above all, let’s not forget that this is the city that elected Mr. Ford in late October 2010.

What I do know is when Toronto’s competitors are getting in stride with a human agenda for the twenty-first century, our mayor is determined to go backwards. Ford’s election was an embarrassment to progressives in 2010. He shows no signs of changing his stripes even as he gets leaner.

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