Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Rob Ford's one gift to the people of Toronto? Civic engagement

By: Metro Published on Mon Dec 01 2014

One of the questions I get asked a lot goes like this: do you think Mayor Rob Ford did anything good for the city?

There are two ways I can answer that.

The first is kind of boring. I can point to some small, positive things that happened to take place during Ford’s term, which officially comes to an end Monday, Dec. 1. Things like the creation of the StreetARToronto mural program, the city’s move to replace paper welfare cheques with debit cards or the hiring of chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat.

These things didn’t begin to make up for the general chaos and dysfunction of the Ford era — but they did, at least, represent progress.

Still, I much prefer my other answer to that question. Yes, Ford did something good for the city: he made people give a damn about city government.

It wasn’t totally intentional, but Ford brought people to city hall who had previously never thought much about politics. And they mattered.

I won’t ever forget people like 14-year-old Anika Tabovarada, who tearfully and forcefully asked the mayor not to close her local library at an all-night executive committee meeting.

I’ll always remember the sight of the city-council gallery packed with helmet-wearing cyclists, who came out in force in an attempt to save some painted lines on Jarvis Street.

And I’ll remember the work of groups like Women in Toronto Politics, who did so much to diversify the voices at city hall, or CodeRedTO, who weren’t afraid to go into Scarborough and try to sell them on the virtues of light rail transit.

And I definitely won’t forget the time a motley crew of people who love Toronto’s waterfront fought against Doug Ford’s grand lakefront Ferris wheel — and won.

And I won’t forget what all this meant for me.

Four years ago, I was a mostly apolitical kid. But the politics of the Ford era drew me in. First with my own blog and then with Metro, I wrote an estimated 378,000 words about Ford’s city hall, doing things along the way that I never thought I’d do.

The Mayor Ford era is over, but the engagement that it sparked doesn’t have to end. I’ll do my part. Starting today this column, previously called Ford For Toronto or simply Urban Compass, will become Tory’s Toronto.

In these pages I’ll be keeping tabs on new mayor John Tory as he tries to put his stamp on the city.

My hope is that the people who came to care about city politics during the Ford years will stick around, too. The last four years were a crazy time for the city, and it’s time to move forward, but let’s not abandon the one really good thing Ford did for Toronto. Let’s not forget.

This post was originally published at on 2014-12-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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