An open letter to Councillor Doug Ford | #TOpoli #TeamFord
Dougie (do you mind if I call you Dougie?), we need to talk.
You’re hurting Robbie. I know you’re trying to help. Really, I do. But you’re hurting him, and you’re hurting him in ways that the rest of Team Ford can’t even approach.
Where do I begin? I guess it’s with your frequent references to the private sector in council debates. Seems like every time you stand up to talk, you’re comparing municipal governance to your notions of the private sector and how it should function, and invariably, public institutions and the people who work within them suffer by comparison.
You’re a successful business guy, Doug. We know that. But if you’re assuming that what worked for you in the family business necessarily translates into politics and public service, I think you need to reconsider.
I’m not talking about personal mannerisms. We’ll get to those in a minute. I’m talking about basic assumptions and understanding the roles played by public institutions as opposed to private-sector actors. There’s a difference between the two, and while I’m not going to suggest that you don’t understand that, it might be helpful to review it briefly.
Business operates in order to make a profit, Doug. We know. We get that. And we recognize that you and your family have been successful that way. Creating shareholder value, meeting customer expectations, finding efficiencies — we know.
But Doug, this isn’t the private sector. It’s government. And government isn’t there to make a profit. It’s there to advance the public good. It’s there to ensure that public needs are met. It’s the means whereby citizens act collectively to pursue social goals. Public health, municipal infrastructure, transit, libraries, recreation, police and fire services … all those things that make up a livable and functioning city. Shrinking government by depriving it of resources and crippling its capacity to act means it’s less able to deliver those things and care for its citizens.
Let’s linger for just a second on that word: citizens. You and Rob have made “respect for taxpayers” a central theme in your approach to things for the last year and a half. Thing is, though, that’s not an especially useful way to frame the relationship between people and their government. I’ve always preferred to think of myself as a citizen first. Citizenship carries rights, but it also comes with obligations and responsibilities — to my city, to my community, and to my fellow citizens.
Government, and the public sphere more generally, aggregates the channels whereby we address those obligations. It’s not always the most efficient mechanism, and it involves complex exercises in the balancing of competing interests and opinions, but that’s why it’s called “public.” Whatever you want to call it — left, right, conservative, socialist, up, down, whatever — you’d be doing Robbie, yourself, and the rest of the city an enormous favour if you started thinking in those terms.
I don’t know you personally, Doug, so I don’t know what you’re thinking. (And it seems I’m not the only one.) I’m not going to assume that you’re full of contempt for public institutions or municipal officials or city staff. I can only go by the things you say. But here, again, you’re hurting Rob. So, for future reference, you might want to note:
- Waterfront Toronto is not a boondoggle.
- The St. Clair right of way is not a disaster.
- Light Rail Transit is not the same thing as streetcars.
- Gary Webster is a decent, honorable public servant who did not deserve the way you treated him.
- Your colleagues on city council are not monkeys.
- Lotteries and casinos aren’t the best way to pay for public infrastructure.
And about those personal mannerisms: God knows, I’m not here to lecture you on personal comportment or people skills. It’s possible that I may have a few things to learn in those regards as well. But since politics and government involve building bridges, extending hands and working with people even when you don’t necessarily agree with them, you might want to think twice before you say things that make it that much harder. Calling people little pricks or threatening to execute them doesn’t just piss them off at you — it hurts Rob’s ability to bring them onside. And we know you’re here to help Rob.
Don’t misunderstand me, Doug. It’s not just about the personal stuff. A few weeks ago, in the midst of the transit debate, some of your allies on council were coming round to the point where they were ready to talk about tax increments or development surcharges as ways of financing subway construction. And it seemed that Rob was this close to an understanding with some of the councillors who could have helped him out on that, but as soon as you declared that all taxes are evil, well, boom. So much for any hope of compromise.
Dougie, Dougie, Dougie. You’re supposed to be there to help, remember?
One more thing. I’ve never hidden my disagreement with you and Rob. And while I’ve often fallen short in the generosity-of-spirit department, I’ve tried to extend it wherever I can, and I’ve even noted that both you and Rob are capable of it from time to time. It’s for that reason that I will not take cheap shots at either one of you for your weight.
But for Chrissakes, Doug. When you make jokes about duct-taping his mouth and cutting a hole for a straw, is that any different? Maybe it comes from a place of love, but … seriously?
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Sometimes you find joy in the strangest places
If Team Ford’s Port Lands plans are truly dead, would someone mind driving a stake through them?
The plans, that is.
“This is a triumph for the public… This is a Toronto moment, a Jane Jacobs moment.”
Can’t argue with the sentiments, but I’m inclined to agree with a comment left on the Torontoist site by one dsmithhfx:
Don’t celebrate quite yet… I don’t trust this cabal of scumbag opportunists as far as I could throw them.
It’s a setback, to be sure. And much as we’d like to think of it as a turning point, the point where the wave of ignorance, resentment, stupidity, and short-term greed that the Ford approach taps into finally broke, let’s not start the happy dance just yet.
The Port Lands / Waterfront fiasco has captivated our attention for several weeks, to be sure, and we can’t underestimate its symbolic importance. But it’s also possible to think of it as this week’s Shiny ObjectTM — something thing that attracts our attention and keeps us all occupied while other things are going on.
A thoughtful essay by Dylan Reid in Spacing last week discussed the slow decline of a community through a process of dozens of little cuts. Cancel a minor program here, put less resources into something else there, cut back on the scope of something else over there. The examples Reid cites include things like litter pickup, tree planting, neighbourhood improvement programs, snow clearing, and making bylaw enforcement reactive rather than proactive.
As Reid writes:
Individually, the impact of each of these is small. And it’s quite possible some of them could be reasonable proposals for a city with a screwed-up budgetary process if they were thought through properly (e.g. all parks could have citizen committees that take care of flower planting and care, if the city provides the flowers and eases up on regulation). But done all in a rush, and all together, the overall impact will be a gradual degradation in the walking environment. It will get dirtier and trickier, and many programs that make it more attractive will be abandoned. People will still be able to walk, of course. They just won’t want to walk as much, unless they have to. And since walking is how people experience their city most directly, Toronto will feel a little bit more like a city in decline — which, given the amount of building going on and people moving in, it really shouldn’t.
By themselves, these measures may not amount to much. They don’t have the impact or the visibility of the Port Lands clusterfuck, because they don’t carry the same scale or price tag. That’s why they’re mostly off the radar. Cumulatively, however, their effect on our quality of life could be just as serious. The places we love and live in, whether they’re downtown or in the suburbs, would become dirtier, more threadbare, and less welcoming.
But this is what happens when the function of government is entrusted to people with no commitment to the public sphere. I’ve already written that the current administration seems colonized by people with no interest in using the power of government to advance the common good, and the events of the past few weeks have done nothing to suggest otherwise. When you start pulling at the threads that hold a community together, you never know when the whole thing’s going to unravel.
This is not to take anything away from the the people whose efforts forced a retreat on the waterfront, of course. And the folks involved in CodeBlueTO deserve a special shout-out. Let’s just remember, though, that this is a long war that has to be fought on many fronts. These guys aren’t done yet. There’s still a long slog ahead.
More condescending downtown elitists trying to stop #TeamFord from creating jobs in the #PortLands | #TOpolii
Goddamnit, he has a mandate!
Beyond the Port Lands: Dragging Swamp Ford for the remnants of civic engagement
As the facts trickle out of the waterfront kerfuffle, it’s becoming pretty clear where Team Ford wants to take us – not only the waterfront, but Toronto as a community. The end run they’re doing around the rules and conventions is there for anyone who cares to look, and the potential consequences aren’t pretty.
As Jonathan Robson puts it:
Acting more-or-less unilaterally, the Fords appear to have authorized this corporation to retain CivicArts, a private-sector developer with a reputation for planning fantastical mega-projects in Kuwait (a one-kilometre high tower with a mosque, synagogue and a cathedral on top of three separate spires, anybody?) and Abu Dhabi, to run up an alternative development proposal which, in theory, will bring the Port Lands into play much more quickly then the 25 year build-out set out in the existing Waterfront Toronto plan. Did TPLC comply with the City’s rules and regulations regarding sole-sourced contracts when it awarded this gig to CivicArts? Is CivicArts taking the project on on spec? Where does Westfield, the Australia-based international mall developer fit in? What do local businesses think of these new plans? Has anyone asked the nearby BIAs? You see how quickly things get confusing when you don’t follow the rules?
Again, nothing new about any of this, really. By now we ought to know – this is how these guys operate. Anyone who’s purporting to be surprised by this is either being disingenuous (more on that in just a second) or just hasn’t been paying attention. The questions this raises have been pointed out by several folks already.
So, once again, let’s step back and take a big-picture view. Team Ford’s disdain for facts, for the truth, for the whole notion of transparency in government is a matter of public record by now. The implications for the shape Toronto’s urban form takes in the next decade or two are obvious.
But there’s a more immediate effect, one that’s already showing up in our daily lives and in the way we relate to one another. The most immediate example, of course, is that of Denzil Minnan-Wong going on the CBC this morning and accusing Kristyn Wong-Tam of being “disingenuous.”
I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself. When someone uses that word, I think of this:
But when Denzil Minnan-Wong uses it, it’s in a different context. I’m reminded of the old cliché about the pot and the kettle.
I’ve written previously about the debasement and vulgarization of contemporary discourse and the attendant coarsening of our political culture. I’ve also written about the strategy of stripping words of their meanings so that they can be repurposed in the service of various agendas. In Denzil’s case this morning, we’ve got it all in one nice little package; it’s just one more example of language being used not for reasoned and civil communication, but for emotional manipulation and tribal division.
In sum, it’s not just about the disregard for the rules, for transparency, and for the notion of responsible government. It’s about the obvious contempt for voters and other councillors, and the continuing insults to our intelligence. How in God’s name are we supposed to have an intelligent reasoned discussion in an atmosphere like this?
It’s a nasty dilemma. One wants to elevate public discourse from the sewer of stupidity and misdirection into which Team Ford has dragged it. One wants to be civil and thoughtful, and engage with people in a spirit of respectful collaboration. That’s the whole basis of healthy civic engagement, and of the lofty notion of citizenship. But what is one to do when the other side clearly doesn’t give a fuck?
(In fairness, it’s not just Team Ford. We’ve seen this nauseating strategy at work for years now, in more contexts than I can count. I’m focusing on Toronto for now simply because of the obvious and immediate impact this is having on the quality of our civic life.)
Some months ago, a U.S. blogger writing at Down With Tyranny came up with this gem. Different context, but the principle is the same. And I haven’t found anything that puts it better:
But it goes deeper than that. I’m citing this guy at some length because I just can’t put it any better than he did, so I’ll paraphrase: the lies are barely even the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage these guys are doing. The effect, if not the intent, of this sustained campaign of misrepresentation and mendacity isn’t just about doing an end run around Waterfront Toronto, or union-busting, or whatever; it is to Destroy Civic Debate. It creates a climate where what matters is not truth or facts or reasoned discussion, but name-calling and brute force, enabled by accumulations of money and power. It is the very antithesis of civil society.
Again, I’ll paraphrase KeninNY (who is, in his marvellous post, referring to an earlier piece by Jeffrey Feldman): this continuing campaign of smear, fabrication and misdirection is not only antithetical to functioning democratic governance. It destroys the very possibility of civil discussion by debasing the language and shifting the discourse into emotionally volatile terrain where the meanings of words count for nothing. It is not just about the lies any more. It is, as Feldman argues, wildly immoral. (Can I borrow a rhetorical device from Ivor Tossell and call it UNmoral?) Whether or not the Fords and their handmaidens are lying isn’t even half the discussion we should be having.
To hell with trying to be better or nicer or more noble. These guys are lying bastards with no regard for the truth, the voters, councillors, the rules, or the future of the city. They are betraying the trust of the people who put them there. And they are slowly destroying the very fabric of community itself by undermining our ability to reason with one another and resolve our differences. There’s nothing to be gained by taking the high road here if it means they get away with it.