Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

It's a… trap? Does Rob Ford win even when he loses?

By: Metro Published on Wed Sep 04 2013

After getting a security escort out of the mayor's office last spring — his job a victim of the crack cocaine circus — Mayor Rob Ford's former chief of staff Mark Towhey penned a missive for the enemy this week, with his name appearing on an opinion piece in the Toronto Star.

Despite his apparent falling out with the mayor, Towhey still seems to carry a small torch for the Ford administration. In his piece, he defends the mayor's desire to spend almost $250,000 on a Ward 3 byelection. He also suggests that council's decision to go against the mayor's wishes and appoint a candidate “provided evidence that council is largely motivated, not by reason or logic, but by its hatred of Rob Ford.” But, as I wrote last week, it's hard to square that narrative with the actual results of the vote, which didn't really fall along any kind of hypothetical party lines.

But Towhey doesn't stop there. He writes this: “[Ford] doesn’t like to lose, not even if a tactical loss means a strategic victory. On the other hand, many of the mayor’s political advisers are privately pleased with [the] result. That’s because the issue, like many the mayor’s office brings to council, was a trap.”

Yeah, that's right. A trap.

And not just on the byelection issue. Per Towhey, apparently many of Ford's council votes have been traps. The political equivalent of trip wires and giant nets and paint cans tied to ropes that swing down the stairs to smack burglars in the face.

Could it be true? Have other councillors been bamboozled? Hoodwinked? Are they victims of a ruse? A charade? Is Rob Ford's rather dismal record when it comes to winning votes at city council actually all part of some kind of Machiavellian scheme? Will Ford's losing record at council actually help his chances when it comes time for his reelection campaign next year?

I don't buy it. Towhey tries to sell the idea that Ford can label councillors as vindictive obstructionists standing in the way of his populist agenda, but it's just as easy for Ford's opponents to use the mayor's inability to win council votes as evidence that he hasn't delivered on many of his promises — and in a lot of cases simply can't ever deliver.

Sure, Towhey is right to point out that council as a whole doesn't have a great approval rating, but individual councillors across the city still maintain a lot of popularity in their wards. While a few incumbents may feel the wrath of voters next year, it's unlikely that the make-up of council will be substantially changed. Some of the names might be different, but there will still be a rather sharp ideological divide. Ford won't spark a revolution that sees a majority of councillors become completely loyal to his every cause — he doesn't have enough siblings for that to happen.

And so Ford's opponents can rightly point out that voters need to be especially wary of every campaign pledge Ford makes, always asking, “So, hey, do you think you can actually convince a majority of councillors to vote with you on this?”

It didn't need to be this way. Though Ford's team likes to pretend that this entire political term has been marred by those meddling leftists and downtown elitists standing in their way, it wasn't that long ago that Ford actually had a legitimate and sustainable mandate with a majority of councillors backing him on most issues. Councillors like Josh Matlow certainly came into this term intending to find common ground and work with the mayor. And the same goes for a half dozen other names who now find themselves routinely opposing Ford on major votes.

The mayor never needed the support of diehard opponents like Coun. Adam Vaughan or Coun. Shelley Carroll. All he needed to do was not alienate the support he came in with. But he failed at that. In addition to Matlow, Ford's uncompromising nature has also led to full or partial splits with Coun. Paul Ainslie, Coun. Michelle Berardinetti, Coun. Jaye Robinson, Coun. Karen Stintz and Coun. John Parker. And that's just the short version of the list.

But maybe alienating allies is part of a trap too?

Either way, you know what would be better for the mayor's political career than intentionally losing votes as part of a nefarious 'trap'? Actually winning votes. I'm just saying.

This post was originally published at on 2013-09-04T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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