Monday 31 October 2011

The Fordzone: Going too far and losing control of the issues

In the last week City Hall further descended into the Fordzone, that special spiral of increasing absurdity. It started with This Hour Has 22 Minutes’ Mary Walsh confronting Rob Ford on his driveway in the guise of Marg Delahunty and ended with a newly appointed library board director ridiculously proposing 38 libraries closed and all computers gone.

These events were the bookends to a week that included: a ban against shark fin soup (complete with a flying shark!) that Ford was one of four votes against, the Scrooge of the Jarvis bike lanes, Denzil Minnan-Wong, expensing the Bike Union membership he used as a prop in the spring, and Ford outsourcing his gold business cards to his family firm at up to four times the cost of city printing (Update: Ford has pledged to reimburse the city for this out of personal funds).

These incidents garnered indignation and an amount of attention disproportionate to their actual importance. In particular, the Marg Delahunty incident generated hilarious hashtags, one-liners and the inevitable Halloween costumes. The incident, which was presented with varying shades of truth from both the Ford camp and CBC, unnecessarily dragged on for days. Like the other incidents, this was a character study in microcosm, one that for all of its he-said, she-said drama revealed little in the way of policy.

In a way, it’s unfortunate. After all, there are real and serious issues more worthy of discussion, such as the merits of a $200 Million garbage contract awarded with little details last Monday and the potential sale of city assets worth $600 Million that will be discussed at the Executive Committee level tomorrow.

But it’s clear people connect to talking about the more character-driven, emotional issues. That makes sense; they’re more accessible issues that provoke a visceral reaction. The challenge, then, is to link the two kinds of issues in real and meaningful ways.
As Ivor Tossell points out in the Toronto Standard, the Marg Delahunty incident is an indictment of risk assessment on the part of Ford. So the questions should become:
  • ·         Is Ford and his three 911 calls the person we should trust to provide a measured response to a crisis for our city?
  • ·         Is Ford, with his varying versions of the Delahunty incident, the person we should trust to be honest with a $9 Billion budget?
  • ·         Is Ford more out to represent ideological conservatism or the public in issues like shark fin soup and selling city assets?
  • ·         Does the Ford Camp choose people to speak for them on the library board and elsewhere who are both competent and representative of Toronto’s values?

Ford enjoyed a lot of success during his campaign in part because he was able to tie small incidents like the chipmunk suit into a larger narrative of waste, entitlement and mismanagement at City Hall. Without that connection, the incidents are rightly devoid of meaning.
But there is something here, in terms of both the Ford Camp’s policies and character: it’s an administration that has gone too far.

Ford goes too far in his overreaction to Marg Delahunty and he goes too far when it comes to an attempted takeover of Waterfront Toronto.

His delegates go too far when they go out of their way to thumb their noses at cyclists and they go too far when they suggest shuttering over a third of Toronto’s libraries.

The Mayor goes too far when he misses the majority of the shark fin soup debate only to return to be one of the few to oppose it, and he goes too far when the only thing remotely liberal about his tenure is the relationship with the truth. 

As the city further moves into the depths of the budget debate, it’s important to create distance from the Fordzone spiral and see the greater issues. They’re issues that, yes, are informed by the character and emotions of the individuals at play. But moreso they’re issues that must be discussed meaningfully before that opportunity is too far gone.

1 comment: