Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Can Rob Ford make his case for reelection, one insignificant issue at a time?

By: Metro Published on Fri Apr 19 2013

It may be too early to really take the crystal ball to Toronto's 2014 municipal election, but I know this: Mayor Rob Ford is not going to win reelection on a platform that puts the expansion of the island airport and construction of a massive waterfront casino forward as key planks. He's just not. It'd be hard to find two issues less suited to a politician who made his name knocking on doors, concerning himself with backyard piles of dirt, and — always — pledging to fight for the little guy.

A bigger airport and a new casino aren't going to galvanize the same Ford Nation that existed in 2010. “Casino: cha-ching” and “J-E-T-S” aren't slogans that will resonate like “respect for taxpayers” or “stop the gravy train.”

No, if Ford is going to mount a successful campaign in 2014, he needs to focus on the same insignificant issues he so successfully leveraged three years ago and leave the bigger issues on the periphery. He needs to talk loudly and constantly about stuff that's essentially irrelevant in the context of a complex city with complex issues.

He got a good start on that last week with headlines on the issue of whether there should be a bike station in the underground parking garage beneath the revitalized Nathan Phillips Square. On his radio show Sunday, broadcasting live from Earl Bales Park, Ford spent a number of segments expressing his frustration with the project, which was recently approved by City Hall's government management committee and will come to council in May for a deciding vote.

“These showers in the basement of City Hall… we're going to be spending approximately $1.2 million and we're going to forego $70,000 in annual revenue for the Toronto Parking Authority — to put in showers?” he roared. “This is absolutely ludicrous. I will guarantee I am voting against it.”

Playing to his populist strengths, Ford then went down the line, demanding that each of the councillors on air with him explain their feelings on the issue. “Normie,” he said, to Coun. Norm Kelly. “What do you think about this idea of putting showers down at City Hall?” He then put the same question to Coun. Gary Crawford, Coun. James Pasternak and, of course, his brother Coun. Doug Ford, who explained, more or less, why the very idea of a bike station was an affront to everything he holds dear in this world.

It's hard to believe that this deserves so much attention. The planned bike station is more than just showers. The really important part of the project is the 380 secure parking spaces for bikes, necessary both because City Hall is a notorious spot for bike theft and because anything that convinces a few more people to opt for two-wheeled transit every now and then is a good thing. City Hall is hardly the first location downtown to look at secure bike parking — in recent years, Bay Street firms have installed similar structures for their employees.

The bike station was a small part of the much larger original plan for revitalizing Nathan Phillips Square under Mayor David Miller, and only hit a snag after the Toronto Parking Authority started making noise about the hypothetical parking revenue they'd lose out on after 24 parking spaces were removed to make room for the station in their 2,000-space parking structure. The committee vote was little more than a quick political intervention, forcing TPA to waive the fee they wanted to charge the city.

But I'm not sure that kind of nuanced explanation will resonate with voters, especially if Ford continues to hold up the misleading idea of million-dollar-showers as symbolic of the government waste he needs to eliminate. Just as in the last election, where Ford railed against small-scale issues like free food at council meetings but could barely be bothered to put together a coherent position on transit, the key to this mayor's political success in 2014 and beyond will always be to sweat the small stuff — the really, really small stuff.

This post was originally published at on 2013-04-19T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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