Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Rob Ford: The accidental progressive

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Aug 01 2012

Ten thousand years from now, when archeologists and historians use lonely robots to dig through the big pile of Tim Horton's coffee cups and paper TTC transfers that cover over the remnants of the old City of Toronto, they may conclude something surprising about the bygone political era of Mayor Rob Ford.

They might conclude that he was a left-wing mayor.

Look at the facts. Under Ford, this city has committed to the construction of one of the largest above ground light rail networks in North American history. By 2014, the Ford administration will likely preside over the implementation of a dedicated tax—maybe even tolls—directed toward more transit construction. Despite bluster that says otherwise, Ford has largely continued the same long-term fiscal strategies started under his decidedly left-wing predecessor. And, in January 2013, Toronto will join a select group of other forward-thinking cities by implementing an outright ban on plastic bags.

And then there's Toronto's new chief city planner, hired just this week. By all accounts, Jennifer Keesmaat takes a decidedly non-Fordian approach to city building. She's derided the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes as a “waste” and expressed support for TTC Chair Karen Stintz's successful bid to lock Ford out of the transit file. And she's taken the radical approach that walking, and not driving around in an oversized luxury car, is the best kind of urban mobility.

In the past, this mayor would have derided some of Keesmaat's views as war-on-car nonsense. But now she's set to draw a salary at Rob Ford's City Hall. Another seemingly progressive win for this administration.

Very little of this was achieved on purpose. Ford has walked backwards into many of these left-wing victories, often doing little more than pouting in the corner as Toronto City Council debates and votes on issues. And while the longer-term legacy view of the Ford years might start to look benignly progressively, it's important not to gloss over the negative impact Ford has had in some areas. With his zeal for austerity, he's forced compromise service reductions and stalled progress in some key areas.

Still, historians of the far-flung future shouldn't be blamed for looking at the political highlights and coming to different conclusions about Rob Ford. Only halfway through his mandate, this mayor has—by mistake—amassed an impressive list of progressive credentials. Owing to his ability to routinely achieve the exact opposite of what he intended, the third mayor of amalgamated Toronto may go down in history as an unlikely left-wing stalwart—an accidental progressive.

This post was originally published at on 2012-08-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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