As he turned his focus over the last year toward fighting the cancer that would ultimately end his life, former mayor Rob Ford’s appearances at Toronto City Hall became less and less frequent.
But even when he wasn’t in the room, Toronto’s most infamous ex-mayor maintained a presence – a political influence that refused to quit. Ford’s death on Tuesday at the age of 46 is unlikely to change that.
Despite a mayoralty that will be remembered most for all the things that happened away from his office, Ford’s legacy within city hall has already shown itself to be strong.
That legacy was felt most recently when his successor John Tory and Toronto City Council debated the city’s 2016 budget and refused to even seriously ponder the notion of raising property taxes beyond the rate of inflation, despite a stern warning from the city manager.
It was felt when Tory and council capitulated to the car lobby and supported the so-called “hybrid plan” for the eastern part of the Gardiner Expressway, setting aside a stack of evidence against it.
And it continues to be felt in plans for transit in Scarborough, where a subway remains on the books in large part because because Ford really, really wanted one.
That’s just the short list. There are dozens of other examples, most of them related to the issues that defined Ford’s brand of political populism: the sanctity of cars and subways, the inherent evils of taxation, the supposed existence of oodles of government waste.
With all such issues, too much decision making continues to be shaped by a fear shared by several of his former council colleagues – especially those in the city’s suburbs.
They worry that taking a position too contrary to those held by the former mayor will attract the rage of a group of voters: the “Ford Nation.”
It’s a tricky legacy. On one hand, it’s enormously frustrating. So many of Ford’s positions were based on feelings instead of facts. They made for disastrously bad policy decisions.
But on the other hand, the fear of Ford works as a check on those who would assume the entire amalgamated city has bought into the virtue of transit, bikes, urbanism and public services.
In the best case, Ford’s legacy can stand as a reminder to future candidates. Want to pursue progressive policies? First you better try to convince people from all parts of Toronto that progressive policies are worth pursuing.
I would have liked to see someone who understands that go up against Ford in an election. I would have liked to see voters get to decide definitively and democratically whether to reject or again embrace Ford’s politics.
But, instead, city hall is left to grapple with a complicated and resilient legacy.
Cancer took Rob Ford, but something remains.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/torys-toronto-matt-elliott/2016/03/22/toronto-rob-ford-dies-cancer-matt-elliott.html on 2016-03-22T00:00:00.000Z