What I like about Rob Ford
I've been pretty hard on Rob Ford throughout this mayoral campaign, but as we enter the last two weeks of the race, I must admit that there are things I like about him and that I think he deserves credit for.
Toronto's finances are a mess. According to the Toronto Board of Trade, our city will face a yearly deficit of $1.194 billion by 2019 if nothing is done to get our budget under control. Provincial downloading is one cause, but the fact that city council has been approving big spending projects for years, which are being financed with money we don't have -- like the Port Lands' $88 million stacked ice arena -- has done much to make the problem worse.
Ford is one of the few people who understands this, even if his solutions aren't always confidence inspiring. And perhaps his zeal in communicating this message will ultimately reward him with a win on October 25.
At the beginning of David Miller's term in 2004, our city's operating budget was $6.6 billion. Over his two terms that number shot up to $9.2 billion (or over $11 billion if the capital budget is included). The revenues directly available to Toronto haven't been enough to cover this increase, so we've needed to regularly rely on provincial and federal bailouts.
Ford's emphasis on cutting waste and overspending is desperately needed. If we are to fix our city's finances we'll have to find ways to save money. And limiting sole-sourced contracts as much as possible, as Ford wants to do, is a good place to start.
Admittedly, Rocco Rossi has of late shown an equal desire to correct our finances, but his proposal to build a tunnel connecting the Allen and Gardiner expressways and his poor numbers in advance polls (less than 10 per cent at last check), it's hard to consider him a real factor in the race.
Ford also deserves some credit for being straightforward. He doesn't pander to people simply because they happen to be his audience. At the recent arts debate he told the crowd bluntly that not everyone supports funding the arts, and at last month's diversity debate he boldly said "diversity is not my priority."
George Smitherman is a perfect example of the opposite. He's a fiscal conservative, a progressive, and a centrist depending on who he's talking to. At most debates he'll present himself as the champion of whatever issue is up for discussion. Ford, on the other hand, doesn't play this game -- what you see is what you get with Ford.
I also get the sense that Ford understands the electorate -- or at least a hefty portion of it -- better than our other candidates. He's been focused on his grassroots support rather appeasing the media since day one, and he thus has a pulse of the day-to-day issues that many voters care about.
Smitherman, unlike Ford, expected throughout much of this election that his name alone would do the work. Between January and May, Smitherman was conspicuously absent from the race, apparently believing that no one could challenge him.
I give Ford due credit for these things, even if I disagree with much of his platform. The other candidates have proven out of touch and unable to relate to voters in the same way, and, try as they might, they've failed to demonstrate that they understand how important our city's budget problems are to regular people.
The problem is, of course, that it's dubious whether Ford can deliver on what he promises. Throughout his ten years representing Ward 2, he hasn't passed any significant by-laws of his own, and has made more enemies than friends on council (not a quality I look for in a mayor). Finally, it's disputable that cutting the land-transfer and vehicle registration taxes are the best idea when we're so short on revenues.
But Ford has good qualities, and, considering the merits of our other choices, he deserves credit for the place he's gained so far in this election.
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