Remembering Rob Ford

There were moments during Rob Ford’s time as mayor of Toronto when I hated him. I mean real, deep, I’m-not-proud-of-it actual hatred. And whenever I sank into one of those moments, I would remember the time I met him, and how it continued to challenge and complicate my impression of the person.

In early 2010 I was a candidate for city council in downtown Toronto, and like many other politicians and wannabes I attended an annual party hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Action Committee. My wife and I were mingling and had just finished a conversation, and there was one of those moments that happens at parties, when suddenly you’re not talking to anyone, and you make eye contact with someone else who also isn’t talking to anyone, and you realize that the two of you now have to talk to each other.

The person I made eye contact with was Ford, standing alone and looking bored a few feet away. He walked over to me. And he said, “you’re Chris Tindal.”

I wasn’t wearing a nametag, and he did not have any handler whispering in his ear. The conversation that followed is still so unbelievable to me — so inconsistent with how I otherwise perceived him — that if my wife had not been there and repeatedly confirmed my memory of events I would be sure I’d made it all up.

“You’re Chris Tindal,” he said.

“Uh, yes, and you’re Rob Ford,” I said.

“You’re running for city council in Ward 27, Kyle Rae’s Ward.”

“That’s right.”

“And you ran for the Green party before.”

“Uh, I did, yes…”

“If I recall,” he said, smiling, friendly, warmly, “when you ran for the Green party, you increased their vote by a significant percentage.”

“Rob Ford,” I said, “you are blowing my mind.”

“Well,” he said, as if this was a biographical fact I might not be privy to, ”I’m pretty involved in local politics.”

We chatted for a few more minutes. He kept turning slightly away and smiling sheepishly as he talked, like a self-conscious 12-year-old boy.

He was charming. And flattering, obviously. And he was showcasing his often underestimated competence for politics. Afterwards I realized the reason he knew my name and a few baseball card stats was because he had researched city council candidates. He’d put in the work. And he’d recalled that information so fluidly on demand that he made me feel like he understood me a little, that he cared about me, that I mattered.

That’s what thousands of voters saw in him, and continued to see in him, even after his competence at campaigning was overtaken by his incompetence at governing. Even after the drama and the lies and the scandals and that thing with the cellphone video and the pipe. Over the rest of the year I heard the same story recounted again and again while knocking on doors in downtown Toronto, far from Ford’s jurisdiction as an Etobicoke city councillor, far from his region of strongest support: “Rob Ford called me back when no one else would. He made me feel like my concerns were real. He listened when no one else cared.”

I still hate what he did to Toronto, what he continues to do through a legacy of disastrous long-lasting mistakes and a damaging redefinition of what constitutes sane political discourse and good governance. I won’t forget that his political actions as well as his routine racism, homophobia, misogyny, and violence had real victims. And if I hadn’t had the experience I did have, it would be very easy for me to fall into the trap of hating the man himself, too.

But he was more than the villain I was tempted to reduce him to, and plagued by far more than his own fair share of demons. I’m sorry for his children. I’m sad because mortality and death are sad. I’m glad his suffering is over. I’m glad I met him.

Some quick thoughts on Toronto Centre by-election results

Overall, Wells’s first rule — that “for any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome” — held up. This is the result you might have predicted, and that most of us did predict. Folks in Toronto Centre are used to voting Liberal, and changing habits is hard.

Notwithstanding, each of the other three main parties had notable results, good and bad. At 36%, the NDP with Linda McQuaig achieved its highest percentage of the vote ever in this riding. The Greens, on the other hand, had their worst result since 1997 (2.95%) and the Conservatives, who used to hold the riding, hit an all-time low of 8.7%.

It’s impossible to say and risky to speculate specifically why the votes went that way, but I will speculate anyway, based almost entirely on my only-slightly-informed gut.

First, I think the Toronto Centre NDP has taken a positive national trend and backed it up with organizing on the ground. For the past five years, as the party has been increasingly seen as a viable, mainstream choice, the local organization has built momentum and capacity. For the last two elections the NDP haven’t just finished second in Toronto Centre, they have finished first in the south half of the riding. That wouldn’t matter, except that in 2015 the south half of the riding will be cleaved from the north to form a new “Toronto Centre” that will be the NDP’s to lose.

Expect a highly competitive NDP nomination race in the new Toronto Centre for 2015. Also expect McQuaig, if she runs again, to no longer run a campaign focused primarily on residency since, somewhat awkwardly, she lives in the wealthier, north half of the riding (to become part of “University-Rosedale”).

By all accounts Conservative Geoff Pollock was a good candidate who earned the support of prominent conservatives and the respect of his opponents. But this campaign was perfectly timed to coincide with the government’s most damaging scandal yet, and even Pollock has admitted that hurt him. The Pollock campaign has to take some of the blame for their disappointing results — perhaps their ground game wasn’t strong — but it isn’t hard to imagine the Conservative collapse here was mostly a message being sent to the national party. Either way, this does not look like a party poised to take University-Rosedale anytime soon.

The poor Green result, on the other hand, is likely more attributable to the local campaign than the national party. In by-elections just one year ago Chris Turner earned 25.65% in Calgary Centre and Donald Galloway got 34.30% in Victoria, and I don’t see any reason to believe they couldn’t do so again today. This time around in Toronto Centre, John Deverell was a disappointing candidate. During the campaign’s first televised debate he was widely mocked by pundits for answering every question on every topic with a non-sequitur about proportional representation (an issue important to me too, but not to this obsessive extreme). At the next televised debate, he claimed we don’t live in a democracy (like, at all) and referred to Stephen Harper multiple times as a literal “dictator.” In yet another debate at Jarvis Collegiate he lost votes when he said, Rob Ford-like, that people who can’t afford to live downtown should just move somewhere else, and that Toronto has too many people anyway.

Recent general and by-election results suggest that Green votes may therefore be disproportionately influenced by local candidates, compared to other parties where the rule of thumb is that the local candidate can only influence the party’s vote by 5% or so in either direction. That’s a challenge for Greens, since it’s hard to convince strong candidates to run in elections they’re likely to lose.

Finally, I’m a bit sad that this was the last Toronto Centre election with these boundaries. Many people believe that it doesn’t make sense for a region with such extreme disparity of wealth and housing type to be represented by one MP, and voters in all parts of the riding sometimes resented those in other parts for their perceived influence on election outcomes. But I really wanted it to work. I wanted Toronto Centre to be a microcosm for all of urban Canada, where we could prove that we have more in common than we realized, and where politicians fought to unite us rather than divide us. Now it will likely settle into being two comfortable seats for the NDP and the Liberals, with no electoral incentive for politicians to appeal to the city — or even just the downtown — as a whole.

After 2015, New Democrats in the new Toronto Centre will be relieved to finally have a voice in Ottawa, and Liberals in University-Rosedale won’t have to worry about encroaching socialism from the south (though maybe from the west, since they’ll be combined with some of the current Trinity-Spadina riding). Anyway, I don’t begrudge anyone having the representation they want, but I hope that when they celebrate what they’ve gained, they don’t also celebrate what they’ve lost.

George Tindal, in his 95th year

George Tindal dedicates a garden — near the 6th green of the Brockville Country Club golf course — to the memory of his wife Ruth in July 2012.

George W. Tindal, in his 95th year, after a short illness and with family at his side.

Born at Morrisburg on July 10, 1918, he was the eldest of nine children of Howard and Fannie (Gamble) Tindal. He started work during the depression, including a stint in Montreal with the Fur Trade department of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

During World War II he served with the Canadian Army in England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.

George was married to the former Ruth Arleen Mattice of Morrisburg, who passed away October 29, 2009, a few months after their 67th anniversary.

In a career devoted to public administration he served as Clerk-Treasurer of Morrisburg during planning for the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, then became Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario St. Lawrence Parks Commission as it developed a series of parks from Quebec to Adolphustown.

George and Ruth came to Brockville in 1969 when he took up duties as Superintendent of Business for the newly-created Leeds & Grenville County Board of Education. They were both avid golfers and enjoyed entertaining a wide network of family and friends.

In his final years George continued to embrace life and seek new experiences. He deepened a lifelong interest in music and became a frequent patron of the Brockville arts scene. He enjoyed dining out and remained very active until suffering a stroke in early February. Thanks to the staff at the Wedgewood for their years of caring support.

Without George’s keen interest in social and political affairs, newspaper Letters to the Editor columns will be diminished, and many worthy endeavours will have to struggle along without his generous (if not always solicited) advice.

He leaves two sons, Richard (Susan) of Kingston and Douglas (Mardi) of Toronto, six grandchildren, Sue, Scott (Michelle), Cindy (Ronda), Kate (Tim), Chris (Claire), and Alex; and four great-grandchildren; Michael, Julie, Emma, and Abby. He is also survived by one brother, Tom, and two sisters, Frances and Ruth, and fondly remembered by Chris Sleeth.

A climate negotiator’s tearful plea

The world’s most poor and vulnerable nations experience climate change as a present reality, while we tend to talk about it as a future abstraction. They’re already suffering, but can’t do much about it. We could do something about it, but we’re not yet suffering.

I became aware of that distinction in Copenhagen during the COP15 climate talks three years ago. At the time, I wrote:

The context of the conversation that’s taking place in Copenhagen is entirely different from that in North America. Instead of arguing about if climate change is a real and serious concern or predicting future consequences if we don’t act, the narrative here is that dangerous climate change is already a reality

Today I listened to a man from the island nation of Tuvalu, which is emerging at this meeting as a symbol of why we must act. The highest point in Tuvalu is 4.5 meters above sea level. In other words, unless we aggressively reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this nation will slip beneath the waves. Negotiators from Tuvalu have been strongly pushing for tough, binding targets in plenary, and the tiny state has captured the imagination of many of the NGO delegates, particularly the youth.

Through this lens, the Canadian government’s pathetic non-participation in the negotiations is seen as not just embarrassing, but cruel. The world’s poorer countries believe they are already suffering, and that people are already dying, because of the actions of the world’s richer countries. For them it is as if the United States, Canada, and Europe are turning a giant tap that slowly drowns them while they cry out in vain. The immorality becomes blatant and blaring. And yet they continue to chose hope over anger; it’s remarkable.

I was reminded of that today when I saw this article and video of the lead negotiator from the Philippines issuing a tearful plea to the COP18 plenary in Doha. Three years later, and all that’s changed is Canada’s climate plan is more pathetic and lacking than ever. In 2009 there was lots of criticism that the government’s targets were way too low, today we’re not even on track to meet those targets.

We didn’t talk about this much in the last federal election. Let’s do better next time. Talk is the least we can do.