Maybe we should have let Ford win

As the 2014 Toronto municipal election campaign wound down to a close, opponents of the mayor wondered what went wrong. Once again they had underestimated Rob Ford, the big guy from Etobicoke, and failed to grasp the appeal of his message. The simplistic sloganeering strategy of 2010—“Respect for taxpayers! Stop the gravy train!”—had been iterated upon but not fundamentally changed. In 2014 it was all “Stay the course! Don’t change your horse!

A campaign based on incumbency was both predictable and predicted. What Ford’s opponents also should have predicted, but didn’t, was the degree to which he would use his record to his favour rather than run from it like the embarrassment they assumed it was. Beginning in late 2011 and escalating in 2012 and 2013, the mayor had lost many key council votes and failed to follow through on his election commitments. It seemed at the time that this was the momentum progressives needed to take the city back.

But throughout the 2014 campaign Ford and his supporters repeated the mantra that they needed to “finish the job” they’d been blocked from doing by a “left-wing, NDP, union-friendly council.” If not for an elitist, out-of-touch council, Toronto would be full of subways by now. Our taxes would be lower. Our debt would be wiped out. The Weapons of Mass Gravy would have been found and eliminated.

Instead, Ford’s team had persuasively argued, Toronto was held back because City Hall was still too full of Millerites. Now, Torontonians were looking set not just to reelect the mayor, but also—tired of the embarrassing and paralyzing in-fighting of the past four years—to send a new slate of like-minded councillors to the clamshell with him.

The most dangerous thing about Rob Ford has never been his political ideology or his vision for Toronto. The most dangerous thing about him is his extraordinary incompetence. If Ford could blanket Toronto with a comprehensive network of funded subways, if he could find efficiencies and reduce spending without harming Toronto’s most vulnerable, if he could personally return every phone call and be a champion for every resident, who would stand in his way? The biggest problem with Ford’s first term was not his choice of objectives, it was that he was completely incapable of achieving them.

If council hadn’t worked against him—or, more definitively, if they’d done what they could to try to support him and achieve his vision—he’d be exposed. There would be no Sheppard subway in the works for 2015 as promised, or maybe at all. Toronto would be spending an extra $2 billion to bury an LRT where it doesn’t need to be buried, serving as a big flashing “hey isn’t this the kind of gravy we thought we were voting against” sign. Above all, Toronto would be a meaner, poorer place, with less child care, social services, community programs, recreational activities, environmental protection and potential for economic development. And he’d have no one to blame but himself.

It’s a horrible thing to contemplate, though. Once implemented, Ford’s plans not only become exposed as wrongheaded or completely unworkable, they also become exposed as genuinely harmful to real people. How could any reasonable councillor of good conscience knowingly vote in a way that would negativity affect so many of their constituents and the city itself, just to make a political point in aid of positioning for a future campaign?

No, fighting back was the only thing they could have done. Still, as October 27th, 2014 drew ever more near and the prospect of another four years of Ford became more and more likely, this time with a more supportive council, it was an inescapable thought. Maybe we’d be better off if we had allowed him to win. And, by doing so, allowed him to fail.

One thought on “Maybe we should have let Ford win

  1. I kind of agree, Chris, but I have two point to add here:
    First, the election was won by Adrianne Batra, who took a guy no one knew much about (yes, if you had any notion at ALL about the workings of city hall, you’d have heard of him: oppositional, loud, unvisioned, used to using his own money to make himself look good and belittle colleagues and opponents alike), put an attractive slogan around his face and kept his talking points really REALLY simple. She’s long gone (unsurprisingly), and one could hope that opponents in the next election would have someone who could actually treat Simple Simon (for that’s how it came off) as the tangible threat you describe above.
    (knowing Bruce Davis as I do–sort of, from a community perspective–he blew Smitherman’s run Early, and thoroughly underestimated Batra)
    2. The engagement in the workings at city hall has been so great. Yes, there’s been long nights, and snipy exchanges and outrageous claims (this decision of council is ‘technically irrelevant’?! you’re fn KIDDING me). There’s also been a lot more input from constituents who are actually alarmed enough to make the extra effort to write, or petition, or comment to keep the services that are clearly only gravy for a family who doesn’t take much advantage of them (like the Ford’s, I guess).
    That’s my 2cents, fwiw.

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