Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rob Ford: His Deeper Meaning

It took me and the wife almost 45 minutes to vote on Monday, standing in line-ups and filling out forms, because my poor darling had been tossed off the voters list again--who knows why?

And 30 seconds after we got in the door back home the Toronto Mayoral race had been called. The result didn't surprise me, though Ford thumped Smitherman more thoroughly than I had predicted.

I, of course, voted for the loser. But I know a few Rob Ford supporters. You might even say I've been doing research on them over the past ten months of municipal campaigning. Or you might just say that I've been drinking beer with them. In either case, I've made note of my results, and here they are.

Firstly, the political ignorance of Rob Ford supporters has been vastly overestimated. Or at least Jim--I will call him--who is a retired inlaw of mine, knows far, far more about what goes on in the city than (for example) I do. Every time a condo is slated to go up within a mile of him, he protests: calls his councillor, phones his MPP, and attends all the meetings with the developers. And his councillor knows Jim, too, and apparently seeks to avoid him sometimes by sneaking out of his office through the back door. That's how engaged Jim is in city politics.

And his opinion is that city politics is corrupt, and Rob Ford is the guy to clean it up.

What Jim doesn't know nor care much about is the actual mechanics of city politics: about the weak mayor system, about how the mayor has only one vote and can't really do anything if he can't put together a working coalition of councillors. And so, I'd say to him, don't you want a guy like Smitherman whose been there at the provincial level, has actually handled billions of dollars and shown that he knows how to do the necessary coalition building?

Then Jim would mention the bungle at E-Health , and that line of argument would stall out.

Nope. Rob Ford is his guy, the metaphoric grease bomb Jim wants to set alight and lob over the ramparts of city hall, working under the assumption that fire will make things right and, in any case, how can they get any worse? Send in the clown, to vary the metaphor, because they're already here.

Which I find a fairly compelling argument.

Sammy is a bit of a different story. He's a big (over six foot) Sri Lanken that runs a bar I frequent. In fact, I think Sammy lives in his bar; I'm pretty sure I've never seen him under natural light. And he recognizes a bit of himself in Rob Ford: a small businessman who works hard and follows every penny, and for the money he sends to the city gets nothing but endless construction outside of the entrance to his establishment

As for Rob Ford's unfortunate ventures into political incorrectness and racial stereotyping, they don't seem to bother Sammy. His place is in what you would probably describe as a lower-middle/working class neighborhood, and gets quite an ethnic mix. I've heard Sammy tell the ranter at the end of the bar to shut the hell up because he was making people crazy; I've heard Sammy tell a mostly black softball team that they should come by on Sundays rather than Saturdays for their after-game parties, because they'd frighten the old white guys that inhabit the place on Saturday afternoons. In other words, his approach to Toronto's ethnic bouillabaisse is, like Ford's, indelicate.

How am I supposed to tell him that he should find Rob Ford offensive?

So there you have it. Two specific instances of the Rob Ford phenomenon, and both rational men too. They're the people behind his victory, not the anonymous knuckle-draggers you keep hearing about.


Terence said...

These are the same types who keep Harper at his 30% base level.

Marky Mark said...

That's no doubt true. I'd add a third gloss on it. People who live in the city feel they have no say in it at all and that a certain vision has been set by the "political elite" that they've never bought into. Life in the city seems to have become more difficult in many ways, most notably in transit-drives take longer and TTC trips take longer and, this is the part that burns: those in charge present as if they don't care. A vote for Rob Ford is very much a "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" vote and based on the themes you've already described as well-i.e., he can't really make it worse.

Scanner said...

Simple solutions to complex problems again. I voted Pants because I will be annoyed if one more transit scheme is dumped because nobody can agree. Transit City? It could be built faster than even one subway can and car traffic congestion will not be a problem for the next few years as the economy chugs along at dead slow, then will be less of a problem as peak oil starts to kick in. I too know several Ford supporters who are not knuckle dragging neanderthals. They all believe the same thing - that the City Councillors are padding their pockets on our dime. Having worked for big corporations in fairly senior positions, I saw far more corruption there than there could possibly be in civic government. Damn, anybody who has bid on a government contract knows it's hard to even comply let alone bribe somebody. Speaking of which, did anybody ever look at Decco and who their clients are? Any government contracts there?
Ford will not be able to deliver what he promises even if he starts a slash and burn regime. The money isn't there because of structural reasons, not because of waste. Miller did a reasonable job of poking around and cleaning up - the lobby registry for one (which I bet Ford will attack because of cost) and if the best Wee Bobby can do is Kyle Rae's $12,000 retirement party, then he's in big trouble. Nope, I think the Tories backed Ford to weaken the power in this city, and I suspect the Developers back Ford because as he himself said yesterday "Toronto is open for business" which means, for my old ward that the Leslieville Wal*Mart will be back on the table and if you want to put up a condo, just acquire the land. Tell your pal he backed the wrong horse on this one. 100 more cops? Ha!

Jerome Bastien said...

Actually Ford managed to get a large portion of the 'ethnic' vote - 51% according to an Ekos poll. These people just want to live in TO and not have their tax money squandered on unions - it's not that complicated. People dont like it when their money is wasted. You could waste countless hours trying to find a 'deeper meaning' to Rob Ford's victory when really, the answer is extremely simple: money.

Tof KW said...

Jerome just nailed it.

Ford's campaign ideas to reduce operating costs in the TTC are dubious, (killing LRT lines and expanding subways & buses may very likely be more expensive) but he won on the overall message that Toronto businesses and residents are being gouged, (and they are) and ran a simple campaign positioning himself as a regular Joe Doe taxpayer fed up with city hall.

I don't think it is much different that Mike Harris' big win in 1995. Neither was a signal that Ontario/Toronto was moving hard right, but rather that taxpayers were fed up with government mismanagement and excesses.

Also, anyone else notice there seems to be an NDP link in both these cases just before the 'big right turn'?

Peter said...

That was a terrific post, BCL.

I don't entirely agree with Jerome that it was just about money, although that is a big part. In this war of dicey stereotypes (i.e. always lots of exceptions) between the city and the suburbs, one factor those who like to see suburbanites as souless people leading souless, greedy lives tend to miss is that suburbanites first moved to the suburbs to nest, and both their lifestyles and their politics are chosen and formed in their capacity as parents, not as conservatives. They don't go to DisneyWorld because they personally prefer it to a Costa Rican eco-tour, they do it to thrill their kids. Chris Selley had a good article several weeks back on how Ford surprisingly connected well with the voters of Jane/Finch by talking about jobs and sports as a way to get kids off the streets, and I think that may go a long way to explaining why his support proved to be multi-ethnic. A white parent and a black parent may differ on affirmative action and human rights initiatives, but they will happily join hands to fight for the priority of safe streets and good schools. And they may both give a chance to a politician who will at least try to make them his/her priority too, even if fuzzy or even unrealisitic about the details.

thwap said...

This is all so much crap.

I honestly don't give a damn what these ignoramuses think about their taxes.

Ford is simply clueless about how much things cost and where the money is coming from. Simplistic bromides and incoherent ranting might be satisfying, but at the end of the day, the destruction wrought by imbeciles like Ford, Harris, harper, bush, etc., etc., are very, very real.

And they wouldn't be able to cause that destruction if so many people didn't vote for them.

Somebody upstairs in the comments mentioned voter anger bring harris's "commonsense revolution." yes, and we all know how well that went, especially for municipal finances, right? Give me a break.

I'm sick of all these sources saying that I shouldn't criticize the poor baby darlings who vote with their heads up their asses.

If you want my respect, pull your head out of your ass first. Then we can talk.

Marky Mark said...


You critique the "elites" who got us into the economic mess we're in. But here you have the democratic process resulting in people booting out those they think have caused or are unable to fix the mess we're in. The vote is an anti-elitist vote.

The argument that people are stupid whenever they vote for the more conservative choice is anti-democratic and sounds like "cling to guns and religion" type elitism. In fact, I'd argue that the attitude you've articulated is actually part of the reason that Ford won-i.e., people who "know better" deciding on a "bike lane to nowhere" on Jarvis when there's already bike lanes one block east on Sherbourne, which actually goes somewhere and is a quieter street to ride on. That bike lane inconvenienced dramatically more people than it convenienced, and whoever made that deicison does not care. But voters do care and don't like to be dictated to.

The academic, political and media elites sneer at the common folk and brand them as ignorant, which is clearly an independent reason that many people voted for Ford.

A far more effective answer to Ford would have been that his numbers don't add up, that his heart is the right place but he is destined to disappoint, etc. But those who run the show politically speaking could not contain their contempt, a fact which itself is contemptible.

thwap said...

Marky Mark,

All you have to do is take 1/2 an hour to educate yourself. That's all.

Ford's platform was so idiotic that even Marcus Gee said it was an insult.

You want to talk about a problematic bike-lane on Jarvis, when the hero of the "little guy" is simply taking out of his ass and the result will be disasters that make the inconveniences of that bike-lane fade into insignificance.

Re-read what I said about the disaster brought about by the voter anger that produced Mike Harris, reflect upon the damage that that cretin inflicted upon us all, and then maybe you'll understand why i just don't give a damn about people with two cars, cottages, huge homes, home-theatre systems, and landscaped front lawns bawling about their taxes and clutching their pearls when people call them on the results of their stupidity and/or ignorance.

Gerrard787 said...

Good post BCL.

Marky Mark said...


A passioante belief in the rightness of one's cause is important. But a belief that one's opponents are bascially stupid is unsupportable. As BCL's post shows, that's not the case. And politically speaking, it smacks of elitism, thereby almost guaranteeing that those who espouse it in a democratic system will lose. Platforms aren't graded by policy wonks-they are voted on by voters who weigh all sorts of factors.

The real problem here is that Toronto has no money, something which is outrageous given the wealth of the city. But almost all tax dollars paid by Toronto residents that go to Queens Park and Ottawa do not return, and we have no political representation to speak of in Ottawa. Accordingly a "Big Dig" type of project for Toronto is never going to happen.

People who have lived here a long time can see and feel a decline in services-that applies whether people are rich or poor. That has happened under various mayors and councils but the most recent lot has to wear it for now.

You should be able to make the case for a different type of Mayor without branding those that disagree as ignorant. The millions of people who lived through the last two terms clearly don't think they're giving up Paradise for Armageddon.

Yes, to some extent, this is an expression of rage ("I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore") and people may regret it, as Heather Mallick predicted in her column a couple of weeks ago.

But you may be wrong. To look at the US, for all that was said about Reagan as Bozo the Clown before 1980 (which may be before your time....), does anyone really think that a second Carter Administration would have been that much better than Reagan?

If you're right about Ford, in a way you should be rejoicing, as you can be sure the pendulum will swing back the next election, just as Obama could not have been elected without Bush. And since the Mayor has only so much power in our system, he has very little ability to do what Harris did with his majoity governments.

thwap said...

Marky Mark,

I can't celebrate the swing of the pendulum back from destructive cretins to slicker corporate scum like the US Dems or Canada's Liberal Party.

The whole thing makes me sick.

I've read BCL's whole post by the way. I read every word. I read that article where the reporters went to the Ford barbecue and said that his supporters weren't in-bred, hood-wearing klan members.

And I choose to stand by my position: which is that their vote was based on either stupidity, ignorance and delusion. As a leftist, I'm used to all sorts of abuse being hurled my way by the same sort of people who believe all sorts of ridiculous things about Saddam Hussein, ACORN, unions, and etc., and I don't feel all that constrained from returning the favour to these nitwits.

Marky Mark said...


But the alternative wasn't an anti-capitalist, anti-globalization, activist leftist, so given what you just said it's actually not clear to me why you're that upset. Smitherman was very much in the mold of the LPC or the US Democrats and I'm not sure Pants wows the activist crowd much more either. So by your terms of reference, is Ford a difference in kind or just a difference in degree from the other candidates?

If you believe in fundamental and sytemic transformational change, you almost need Harper/Harris/Ford at all levels of government to make your case and convince the "masses," no?

thwap said...

I actually worked for Pantalone because he was sane.

You see, I don't expect the Canadian electorate to snap to attention and convert to my brand of radicalism as soon as i "edjucate them" about it.

I just want people to not vote for complete morons out of ignorance or prejudice. That's all.

Peter said...

"Mr. of one...your table is ready."

thwap said...


Wow. You know, when you put it THAT way, ... I'm entirely convinced. I never saw it like that before.

Actually, empty-headed, meaningless snark doesn't cut any ice with me.

You could address my argument, but something tells me you've already done all you're capable of.

bigcitylib said...

Hey Thwap, my wife (a city of TO employee)got a call from CUPE on Monday saying she should still support Pants. One theory I've heard is that, given that any of the mayoral candidates that might have won would be forced into an austerity agenda, CUPE figured the easiest to beat at Council would be Ford because he would be the least able to gather a coalition.

So, in other words, CUPE wanted Pants in there to tip it to Ford.

Peter said...

Hell no, thwap, I have not even begun to fight. For example, there is the question of whether your argument is so hopelessly reactionary as to deny history itself, or whether it just doesn't make any sense at all.

thwap said...


I don't follow you. CUPE wanted her to vote for Pants, to give the victory to Smitherman, who would have been harder to defeat than Ford?


Let me try with your latest post, ... you're unable to construct coherent arguments so you persist with a further round of meaningless insults?


bigcitylib said...

Thwap. No: CUPE says vote for Pants and give the victory to Ford on the assumption that he can't get as tough a deal through council as Smitherman.

tdwebste said...

Marky Mark, thwap:
What are you guys defining as elitism?

Marky Mark,
When you say the ""elites" who got us into the economic mess"
Are you referring to short sight politician who correctly read the public. A short term gain will keep a politician in power. Because everyone who spoke of the downside caused by the short term gain is pessimist and should be ignored?

To quote Jim Flanagan, "economists go ... but none of them - I mean not one of them - predicted the recession coming"

The economic fundamental problems of the housing subprime market were know for a LONG TIME.

Alan Greenspan, “The financial crisis that erupted on August 9 was an accident waiting to happen,”

If you look a little deeper you will see Alan Greenspan was concerned about the excessive housing prices for quite sometime. He did say he did not see the subprime crises coming until to late, but that does not mean he did not see it coming.

The believe that the consumer confidence alone can get us through this economic restructuring is simply WRONG!

I can only assume Marky Mark the "elites" you are referring to are Jim Flanagan. Or have you forgotten what he did to the Ontario budget.

Lets look at little further, perhaps we can see what is the deeper problem, "Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan made the kind of ... Chairman Alan Greenspan blames the subprime crisis on foreign investors"

Why is it that foreign investors buy so many US dollars? TRADE DEFICIT!!

The trade deficit is because the cost of production. The cost production is also the cost of working and lack of competition in production. The problem now is critical because the industrial supply chain has moved overseas. Recapturing the supply chain will not happen the instant the dollar value is reduced. The supply chain must be reconstructed to meet the real consumer demands.

If you want to know what to expect next, take a look at what happened in Japan as result of their aging population.

I have found few people who want to first accept the real problems. We are going through a major economic restructuring.