Friday, 16 September 2011

Welcome to my media nightmare - Halloween comes six weeks early for the Fords

We're gonna be a very prosperous city. Soon, all work will be videoconferenced from the insides of an eternel, never ending traffic jam. And we'll get the CRTC to only renew CFRBs licence

There's a pretty silent snarly pumpkin on the Ford's doorstep right now answering all the bait in the media calling them out for their ridiculous charade of a municipal government. Except the outlets knocking on their door ditched the "trick or treat" and went straight to the "F--- YOU!" Ford's talking about selling off the zoo, but people are only supportive because they think he's referring to city hall. Welcome to the new Toronto: cheap, dumb, arrogant, short-sighted. Where all official policies are so misguided that not even a contest-winning costume could make them look reasonable.

Look at the papers. Look at the blogs. Look at the comment boards. The emporer Ford has been stripped of his clothes, and this time by a much wider range of publications than NOW magazine. The man who mortified progressives, liberals, and what Chantal Hebert calls "the chattering classes" for mostly abstract reasons is now mortifying well, just about anybody who looks at him for some quite concrete reasons.

After deliberately depriving the city of hundreds of millions of dollars due to a reckless property tax freeze and ending of the vehicle registration tax, and spending new money on such vital expenditures as salary increases for already overpaid cops and firefighters and the removal of bike lanes, the chickens have come home to roost. Ford and his tough talkin' brother's threats to gut transit, librairies, and parks have Torontonians now going "Huh?" This was the man, after all, elected on the untenable and unrealistic premise to "stop the gravy train" while not making a single cut to services.

Alas, the electorate was made victim to an elaborate PR exercise orchestrated by a man named Nick Kouvalis, who I feel comfortable calling the "Karl Rove of Canadian Municipal Politics". Rove, of course, was the close confidant and strategist to former U.S. President George W. Bush, so tight with him that he has been referred to at times as his "brain". He was also the man who convinced U.S. voters that the Ivy League educated, Conneticut-raised son of a former President who had an unlimited supply of contacts, money, and expertise to burn through whenever he failed at something in life was actually a tough-talkin, hard-workin, truck-drivin' maverick Texas Ranch hand. It was not surprising that Bush proceeded to pile on trillions to the U.S. debt through unfunded wars and tax cuts.

Fast-forward to October 2010. Kouvalis's PR brilliance allowed the relatively obscure son of a Member of Provincial Parliament (Douglas Ford Sr.) who had toiled in a city council office for 11 years to suddenly become "the best man for the job", a "political outsider" whose support was burgeoning like wildfire. Suddenly the hand-picked employee of the printing business that Douglas Ford Sr. established and built is a "small business owner" with "private sector experience" who "understands how to make payroll and control costs". And this knowledge of a man who has never had to apply for a real job on his own merits in his life (the Fords are well established politically in Etobicoke, again thanks to the father, so getting a seat in low-turnout municipal elections was probably easy enough with the last name alone) allowed him to get elected to "take the power back for taxpayers". Its amazing how this narrative was swallowed with such little scrutiny by the electorate.

But keys to a Corvette do nothing to prevent a car wreck, and keys to the city clearly do not preclude a (gravy) train wreck. Torontonians today are shocked to learn that they are stuck with not one but two Fords, as the mayor has made his brother Doug Jr., with a whopping 11 months of city council experience, his chief policy advisor and spokesperson. Torontonians now have a banana republic governance structure similar to that of certain African nations Mel Lastman was scared to travel to because of their "boiling" practices. The media talks more to Doug now than they do to Rob. And the bros vision of the city - highways, byways, mega-malls subdivisions,and nobody on the street - is scaring the hell out of a lot of people.

Ford disappointed a lot of people when he announced that he would be seeking to spend 4 times the cost of planned above ground transit track on 4 times as little underground track. The grade three math missed in that announcement should have indicated that the mayor is a few loaves short of a baker's dozen. But him describing his own whims and those of the people calling his office as the opinions of "taxpayers" - "Getting rid of the plastic bag tax, taxpayers can't stand it. Getting rid of bike lanes, taxpayers can't stand them." - hinges on delusional. And Doug Ford's courageous vision for the Mega-Mall at Waterfront, inspired by the social issue that's keeping him up all night: Canadians not having access to the retail square footage space per capita as Americans ("I don't know about you, but I got four women at home who love to shop, nyuk nyuk nyuk"). This quote shows how, I'm sorry, pathetic and lame his thinking is. And his "business savvy" that was acquired, again, within the cozy confines of his dad's business, is also lacking, since the millions of empty retail square feet in perpetually slumping America shows just how much mega-malls "stimulate the economy", the other supposed altruistic goal of his vision.

They are free to pursue that vision within the confines of the democratic mandate that has been granted to them by the residents of the city. What we know now that we didn't (but should have) going in is how, like two spoiled children, they now refuse to listen to any dissent or compromise. Why this is scary is it will test the limits of Mayoral Power and the Executive Committee. Rob has already informed the city's largest paper that he doesn't talk to it anymore. With the 2nd largest now publishing stories of his plummeting support and feckless governing, they are no doubt next in line to join his media blacklist. This can all be dismissed as "noise". Crucial council votes and allies, that are starting to waver and break rank because they're uneasy that the disciplined accountability platform they ran on is starting to resemble the boardroom of a company going bust, cannot. Somebody should have informed these guys that politics involves making yourself likable and knowing when to stand firm and when to compromise. Their response to anything that stands in their way is threats, insults, intimidation and ignoring it. Because they are so convinced that 347,000 votes were not mostly protests of the city's infrastructure stagnation and rising cost of living, but personal devotions to him (them) and his (their) ridiculous "Ford Nation" cult. With councillors allied to the Fords speaking out and dissenting in rising numbers and the Waterfront dispute starting to look more like "Waterloo", I'd be surprised if CFRB and the Toronto Sun would even be cool with belonging to Ford Nation by Oct 2014.

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