Friday, 7 October 2011

Rob Ford on not turning that dial

Following the results of a provincial election Rob Ford spoke with Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway this morning and insisted nothing had changed (Transcript from NOW here, CBC audio here).

In a way, Ford couldn’t say much. He couldn’t say that he really wanted Tim Hudak to win and dislikes that the balance of power is held by the New Democrats or that his relationship with Dalton McGuinty might now change. Instead, he fell back on his previous rhetoric, which is really the rhetoric of every radio interview he’s given for a year (see below for a word cloud of his topics).

He stuck with his $774 million number, insisted that cutting the $70 million vehicle registration tax was a savings to the city, that taxpayers wouldn’t be burdened with financing the Sheppard subway line and that the KPMG recommendations were efficiencies, not cuts.

So while the power dynamic at Queen’s Park has changed Ford’s rhetoric really hasn’t. To be fair, he mentioned TTC operating subsidies more in this interview than he has in the past but this was something Galloway specifically asked.

Savvy politicians are ones that are able to adapt to new and unique circumstances. They can read the changing situation, frame concerns into opportunities and use these skills to both govern and seek partnerships with others (other levels of government, businesses, community groups). Ford, however, is not one of these politicians.
Matt Galloway: Awesome Interviewer

As this interview and others shows, there’s little acknowledgement of the changes around him. He goes so far as to deny existing problems and his role in them, claiming that it’s factually incorrect that David Miller left him a surplus (he did).

All of this poses a problem for Toronto. The city is in a great place to have some real leverage at Queen’s Park. Negotiation of bills will be between a centrist and left-wing party that are both more predisposed to cities than the conservatives. Not only that, they’re parties that need to look to Toronto for electoral success; the Liberals to maintain their seats and the NDP for any future growth as the north and cities like Hamilton have as much representation as they’ll get. Bear in mind that when the NDP and Liberals last shared power federally, the “New Deal for Cities” was launched (and subsequently dismissed with the conservatives). In fact, it’s a project that Toronto-Centre MPP Glen Murray advocated before then as mayor of Winnipeg .

While there’s uncertainty as to what the new provincial alignment means for Toronto, that also means there’s opportunity. Will the NDP prioritize their promise to return TTC operating subsidies to 1990 levels? Will the Liberals say no to a restriction on TTC fare increases? How will they negotiate uploading? All of these questions are great chances for the mayor to work with the province, but they require the ability to seize opportunity, promote smart investment and facilitate negotiations. This is not the mayor’s strong suit and it’s not a place where Council can effectively work around him.

Later on in the interview Galloway changed gears and asked one of his trademark soft, personal questions that can yield insightful answers, “What do you love about Toronto”?

The mayor responded:
This is a great city. We’ve cleaned it up. There’s less graffiti than there was a year ago, it’s a cleaner city than there was a year ago.
He went on to say that the city has been cleaned up and connecting this to the idea of a ‘very, very prosperous year’ for the city (despite the supposed financial disaster).

The rhetoric is consistent, as Ford has always criticized graffiti. However, it’s unfortunate that Ford didn’t do something more with the moment. It was an opportunity presented by Galloway to say something more than the usual, to connect his personal experience of the city to a larger vision of what it can be. He could sell listeners on what that vision might be, get them to buy-in to the value of it like he will have to do with McGuinty and Howarth.

But he didn’t. He went with the talking points, the ones that got him elected, the same ones that have him at alarmingly low poll numbers. Without Ford’s style changing it’s unlikely Toronto will be able to realize the full potential of its new relationship with Queen’s Park.

Consistency can be admirable in a politician, but constancy is not. Sadly for Toronto, it’s a characteristic that inhibits capitalizing on opportunity and, in this case, limits a vision for the city to mere static.   

1 comment:

  1. The only good coming out of this is that Doug Ford has been reined in and now baby brother has to answer the poignant questions. Finally, we will all see what sham this man is.