Something stinks at City Hall

By Herman Silochan

Forgive my vehemence, possibly my ignorance of legal hair splitting, but for one citizen plus a rambunctious egotistic lawyer and a recalcitrant judge, to be able to get an elected mayor out of office, with no public input, does not sit well with me. In fact I am damn angry. There are times when you have to agree with Charles Dickens who wrote it in Oliver Twist, “The law’s an ass!”

Let’s get it straight; I am no big fan of Rob Ford. He lost his glow a long time ago, messing up with a series of public relations fiascos, an obsession with football when, as Chief Magistrate, he should have been hunkering down with City Council to resolve some serious budget impasses.

I also don’t buy the argument being bandied about that “a left wing cabal at City Hall was out to get Ford no matter what, and they succeeded last Monday.”

This has little to do with left wing or right wing politics; instead it has to do with insiders and outsiders. Rob Ford was an “outsider” from day one; he was elected by a frustrated citizenry to challenge ruling “insiders” and their sense of entitlement. This happens in every democracy (or near democracy) in every part of the world. That’s why we change governments through the ballot box.

During the last municipal election, I would saunter down to various campaign offices to take in the scene, to get a pulse of what’s was afoot with the electorate. I recall clearly the huge BBQ over that Rob Ford’s home in Etobicoke and its massive crowd. It was more than free hamburgers and pizza, there was a buzz in the air, definitely upbeat. Even the so-so sounding rock band got rounds of applause. But there were no political big names anywhere to be seen. Just ordinary working class Joe Blos and their wives in high coiffured up dos. Lots of middle aged bottled blonds in mainly black mini-skirts. They talked politics with a purpose, it sounded good. These, my dear readers, were the outsiders.

Over at a Chinese businessmen’s banquet on Steeles, it was a truly grand affair, a long line of well jacketed entrepreneurs, each took turns hugging Rob Ford, a bit of an impossible task, given the politician’s enormous girth. But they made their donations. Ford had said, “Chinese work like dogs.” They took it as a compliment. Witness the massive economic growth in the north eastern quadrant of the GTA.

Over at George Smitherman’s various campaign stops, he, the ex-all powerful-cabinet minister, was courted and supported by really big names, lots of limos on the streets outside and the real blond girls were younger. Even the darling Justin Trudeau jumped up on stage to embrace George, and George shouted to the crowd, “We have momentum!” These were the insiders.

When the outsiders won handsomely, there was dismay at 100 Queen Street West. Here was someone, the rotund Rob Ford, who would at least attend to serious developmental problems in the suburbs, address the matter of waste of tax payers’ money. That sense of insiders’ entitlement would go dormant, at least for a while.

From the get go, Ford was proving to be his own worst enemy. He was stubborn, he was crude, the ultimate obstinate mule. He got headlines for the wrong reasons, even as he plodded ahead with his cost cutting measures. During that election campaign, a very senior City Hall executive, nominally an insider, a person whom I trust to this day, said to me, “Rob Ford always behaves like a buffoon, and this will be his undoing.” Ford’s behaviour was disappointing, even to his own loyal supporters.

Which brings us to this matter of conflict of interest — writing a solicitation for his cherished high school football team on City Hall letterhead. He never denied it, and it is an open fact that the cash received went directly to the team. Ford has not seen one penny. But think about this. Every single day, you will find various councillors handing out business cards with the City’s official logo. Do you not think that more than a few are hints for re-visits and to attend fund raisings? You’d be naïve to think otherwise. From seats of power, you have better leverage to raise funds, to better access potential donors. This is a fact in all electoral processes. Can this not be construed as conflict-of-interest?

In the broader scheme of Canadian political goings-on, there have been enormous wastes of public funds, much questionable, some criminal, billions of tax payers’ dollars lost to massage a winning electoral gamble. We still see ex-elected leaders and ex-Governors General getting public relations money to keep their images puffed up. No one has the guts to bring these outrageous privileges to an end.

To add insult to the Ontario electoral process, which we like to think of being exceedingly fair, Rob Ford is also legally ruled out [at press time] to re-run in any by-election until 2014. Now this really stinks!

So far, as I can tell, there is no gloating among the insiders at City Hall. This is a hollow victory for the establishment boys and girls but who have a lot riding to maintain their entrenched positions. A very wrong message has been sent out to young voters and would-be political hopefuls.

I think Toronto has lost out on challenges and directions, and the electing public has lost out in general. But life will cynically stumble on as it always does.