Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

It will take more than a Rob Ford defeat to clean up Toronto's messy politics

By: Metro Published on Thu Sep 26 2013

John Lorinc at Spacing wasn't alone this week when he wrote that the big subway news has pretty much sealed Mayor Rob Ford's path to reelection next year.

I'm not so sure. It's way too early to be making official predictions, but I'd suggest that there are only a few things that we can confidently say about Toronto's 2014 mayoral election.

We know that Ford's divisiveness means he probably won't equal his 2010 vote total, making him the first incumbent mayor in amalgamated Toronto's short history to score less than 50 per cent of the popular vote in a reelection bid. We also know he's lost almost all support in the Old City of Toronto and East York. And we know that only the world's worst gambler would put money on Ford making it from now until next October without running into another personal scandal — making all this emphasis on one alleged video kind of silly.

None of these things make a Ford victory impossible, but they do make it challenging. And while the subway may move the needle a bit in Ford's favour over the next few weeks, the bounce probably won't last — especially when council has to start talking about a pretty big property tax increase to pay for it.

But here's the other thing I'm thinking about Ford's possible reelection: does it really matter?

I've been frustrated by members of the left in this city who have seemed to elevate getting rid of Ford as some sort of grand and noble goal. By doing so, they elevate Ford far more than he deserves, making it look like ousting him is all it'll take to usher in progressive social policies and build LRT all over the place. To Ford's base, the near-constant push to beat Ford is all the evidence they need that their mayor is doing a great job.

But the reality is that, as mayor, Ford has been more ineffective than terrible. He's had a lot of questionable ideas, sure, but he's not particularly good at implementing them. He's got no real aptitude for building a consensus with his colleagues and has never really learned the art of the compromise.

Meanwhile, when councillors have worked together to oppose Ford, they've managed to avoid many service cuts, rewrite Ford's budgets, take major transit decisions out of the mayor's hands and push forward with some really progressive work on issues like electoral reform.

Yes, local politics has gotten messy over the last couple of years, but it's not always had much to do with Ford. He was barely more than an observer through much of the Scarborough subway fight, standing on the sidelines as TTC chair Karen Stintz and Transportation Minister Glen Murray ran roughshod. And on previous issues like the silly debate over the nickle charge for a plastic bag, Ford merely stood by and watched as councillors squabbled, ultimately getting his way purely by accident — stumbling into success.

Having a new mayor who is both better at getting things done and has a more coherent vision of Toronto is a worthwhile goal. But it can't be the only goal. Ford didn't create the political landscape that led to his election — he just capitalized on it. Just as a Ford reelection doesn't automatically spell doom and gloom, knocking the mayor out of office won't change nearly as much as some people might think. As a strategy for building a better Toronto goes, there's got to be more to it.

This post was originally published at on 2013-09-26T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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