Monday, 26 September 2011

The Unfortunate Four Year Campaign

Over at Ford For Toronto, Matt Elliott has a typically good blog post in which he explores the limited effectiveness of the mayor’s office in messaging, strategy and governance. He writes:

But the people he needs to craft that message appear not to have the capacity to do so….If the mayor needs an example of why cutting staff or resources from a department might be a bad thing, he’s got one viewable from his own desk.
Elliott argues that the difficulty his office has had in governance is largely self-inflicted from a lack of staffing, and I’d agree. To that I’d add something else, and that’s the modality of campaigning versus governing.
For starters, I think it’s safe to say that Ford is better at campaigning than governing. Ford was particularly effective at getting people to buy into abstract ideas like “the gravy train”, “the size and cost of government” and “respect for taxpayers”. However, when in governance those abstract concepts must become specific. When you ask someone ‘do you support reducing the size and cost of government’ you’ll get a different answer than asking ‘do you support eliminating 2000 daycare spaces, reducing affordable housing and library hours’. When in a campaign format, you can stick to the larger ideas and themes to create a narrative. When governing, the questions become re-framed.
Ford’s Core Service Review has retained the trappings of a campaign out of necessity. Simply put, as the CUPE 79 poll showed, the proposed cuts aren’t popular and to pass them they need to be kept in abstract terms.
On the floor of council and in media addresses Ford still uses the same stump speech he used on the campaign, invoking the ‘mess of the previous regime’, ‘the out of control spending problem’ and ‘unfair Toronto land transfer tax’. While this is enough to satisfy the demands of campaigning, it is not enough for governing. The most damning thing is Team Ford boxed themselves into this corner through their conduct of the Core Service Review.
The gambit for the Core Service Review was to not commit to anything until necessary. This leaves all options on the table to see what could viably be cut from a political perspective.
The problem is that this engages all constituencies. Whereas previous issues (the TCHC board, outsourcing garbage collection, Jarvis bike lanes) only engaged small, individual constituencies, the Core Service Review impacts everyone. Naturally, these groups and the media demanded more specifics and the results weren’t good.
If you’re going to insist on waging a campaign on cutting city services, you have to convince people you’re doing it in a mindful, thorough and prudent manner. This was not the case. Sticking to the abstraction of ideology, Team Ford pursued cuts without understanding the impact of revenue or how citizen’s value those services.
Moreover, they reveled in this process. This was seen most clearly in Doug Ford’s initial assault on the Toronto Public Library system. A well used and respected resource, the TPL is often referred to as the ‘crown jewel’ of the city. Yet Ford went about criticizing the number of libraries (and falsely bemoaning the number of Tim Horton’s) and engaging in a ridiculous war of words with Margaret Atwood. He even suggested a library in his own ward was unneeded.
If the libraries could be attacked then any service, no matter how well respected or run, was under threat. The mayor, his council allies and staff failed to sell the public on the idea they conducted their due process with an open mind, understood the concerns of critics and articulated their message through an acknowledgment that these are difficult decisions that must be made.
Everyone is still on high alert. It’s seen in children being brought to council last Thursday to highlight the need for affordable childcare to the various organizing groups coordinating people at City Hall today. The proposals are still vague- when the motion to eliminate the lowest performing museums comes up, no one knows which museums those are. No one knows what the ‘where possible’ in the motion to reduce paid duty police officers means. No one knows how much money each recommendation would save, although taken altogether it might be $30 million (or 0.3% of the budget).
The failure of the Core Service Review- which Mayor Ford referred to today as an ‘excellent exercise’- is an indictment of governance.
By not changing the mode of operation through an understanding of changing context and needs Team Ford has guaranteed itself and Toronto self-inflicted wounds. Governance is more than rhetoric, it’s the real stuff of getting things done. It’s hard work through relationship management, smart policy and leadership.
Today we see the consequences of an administration that governs with the forethought, policy abstraction and combativeness of a campaign. These consequences are severe: a city at odds with itself, distrustful of its institutions and anxiously lurching from crisis to crisis.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent observations and mapping of what Council needs to do to ensure little damage will be done over the next 3 years.