Add me to the anybody-but-Ford slate

  • September 30, 2010
Toronto mayoral hopeful Rob Ford first appeared on my political radar screen late last spring, when I chaired an all-candidates meeting on the topic of architecture and urban design. Held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the session was sponsored by the Pug Awards people, who celebrate artistic achievement in our city’s built form.

Ford’s performance that evening was remarkable. While the other candidates at least took stabs at the questions I asked about urban planning and the quality of the city’s architectural environment, Ford ignored both the questions and every attempt on my part to get him to answer them. Instead, he relentlessly repeated the mantra that has characterized his whole campaign: cut costs, cut staff, cut the size of city council — cut, cut, cut.

In light of his current status as frontrunner in the mayoral race, Ford’s strategy of banging away on one note all the time seems to be a winner. Most Toronto voters are apparently in no mood for subtlety. They want to throw out what they take to be the bums now in office and hire a new mayor who will radically streamline and simplify the culture of City Hall. If Ford’s poll numbers hold, the civic electorate will get the mayor of its dreams on Oct. 25.

It will be a bad day for Toronto. I say this for several reasons. Here are some of them.

For starters, Ford has demonstrated again and again that he does not grasp the immense complexity of contemporary cities and their intricately enmeshed systems of infrastructure, transit, architecture, culture and human environment. This lack of comprehension was evident at the meeting I chaired in the spring.

One of my questions, for example, had to do with the kind of person the mayor should look for to head the city’s planning department, a crucial appointment that the next mayor and council will have to make. His refusal to address this key issue in a public forum suggests that he thinks it is a matter of no consequence. He is wrong. The smart, effective planning of Toronto’s growth and development over the next decades is very important if the city is not to descend into so much ruinous ad-hockery. We need a highly dynamic, public-spirited person in the top planning job to bring about a good result, but Ford hasn’t got a clue about how to go about finding him or her.

Another reason  for opposing Ford is that he believes the management techniques he has learned as an executive of a family owned Etobicoke label concern can be applied, simply and directly, to the government of a dense urban fabric. He is again wrong. Businesses accumulate capital; governments distribute it, in the form of resources and services. Targeting the places where such investment will enhance the public good and create a higher quality of life for the citizens is the central task of governance. Burgeoning Toronto needs finely tuned leadership that leads to sound policies, not Ford’s kind of populist reduction of the public interest to a single-minded concern for the bottom line.

Quite apart from my political reasons for disliking Ford, however, there is a personal one: I don’t want the city I love to be represented to the nation and the world by a blustering right-wing demagogue. I say this as a citizen, but also as a Catholic. We are encouraged to pray for the city, and I pray for this one: that God will give Toronto’s citizens a renewed sense of commitment to city-building, the great project of making a place on Earth where intelligence, creative work and compassion can flourish. I see Ford as a threat to this project; and that is why I oppose his bid to become Toronto’s next mayor.

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