Sunday, October 3, 2010

1 Angry Man

Toronto is in the middle of a mayoral race to succeed the fairly popular, successful, and strongly left wing outgoing mayor David Miller.  Miller left behind a legacy of general improvement and lack of corruption that I find quite pleasing and the real complaint people have about his time in office is a really long garbage strike that took place in the summer last year, which I find hard to blame him significantly for.  The frontrunner of the current campaign, Rob Ford, has a platform that primarily seems to consist of anger and disgust.  He projects the aura of a man very angry and bitter at the excesses of a left wing city hall that has wasted money over the past 8 years or so and vows to 'end the gravy train'.

The trick to Ford's campaign is a emotional appeal to drivers who feel that public transit and bicycles have no place on their roads and an attempt to make everyone believe that Ford can somehow save them all a bundle on fees and taxes by chopping the fat from the city budget.  The strange thing is that every single time Ford is asked to give specifics about the changes he intends to make he either says something that makes absolutely no sense from a fiscal *or* service standpoint or simply refuses to say anything at all.  All of the newspapers in the city seem to have a ball mocking him, talking about how he makes up ridiculous numbers on the spot, has no idea how much money is spent on various things and laughing at his impractical ideas for transit.  This notwithstanding he is the leader in the race at the moment and so seems to have somehow caught the ears of Torontonians despite his total lack of understanding of the process of running a city.  Usually I try to present the idea that things are complicated and that we don't necessarily know the whole picture but in this particular case there is simply no crack in the evidence; Ford is a fool with no idea what he is doing and he looks like he will be running the show in another few weeks.

So obviously the people of this city have been taken in by anger and disgust at the wastefulness of the Toronto government.  Given that Canada has weathered the global recession drastically better than nearly every other country on earth it is hard to accept that people would be desperate for some kind of radical solution but apparently times are hard enough that there are a lot of folks around here hoping that a revolutionary can show up and save them from the evil bureaucracy.  I suppose when people are feeling the pinch monetarily they want to make sure nobody else is doing too well either and they are willing to follow whoever seems interested in enacting revenge on the fat cats draining their wallets through taxes.  It might also be explained a little by having a left wing mayor for two terms straight; maybe people tend to become bitter at whoever is in power and try to get something as unlike the old government as possible.  I do find it sad though that drivers would so wholeheartedly get behind idiotic schemes like removing public transit to improve the roads for drivers - how exactly is removing 1 streetcar and adding 20 cars to the road going to make anything better?

On election day if you live in Toronto I strongly suggest figuring out who is currently polling as the best competition to Ford and vote for them.  Normally elections are about who you want to win but this one is shaping up to just be 'please, anyone but that guy!'


  1. I'm sure that Miller is popular among you and people you talk to. However, he set records for lowest approval rating ever for a Toronto mayor before he decided not to run (and polls stopped asking about him).

    For this reason I would not describe him as "fairly popular".

  2. Miller had a remarkably low approval rating immediately after the quite disastrous garbage strike. There was really no bright side to it. After a long strike that had parks turned into garbage dumps they signed a contract that they could have signed in the first place to prevent the strike.

    But anger of that has largely subsided. Recent polls asking whether people would vote for him if he was running show he would be winning. Sure, that's fueled by nostalgia and by the fact that he isn't actually running and it would look different if he were running, but I think that's enough to describe him as "fairly popular."

  3. My interest in politics is very, very, very low. Even I knew about the garbage strike. I did not appreciate having to walk by an incredibly smelly dump every day at work and am really bitter that we didn't get anything out of it as a result.

    I'm not very likely to vote in general, but I would probably go out of my way to vote to try to keep Miller out if he was running.

  4. I would easily support Miller over Ford. I am probably going to go vote for Smitherman who I really dislike and think will do a terrible job of being mayor just to cast a vote against Ford. If the only two options on the ballot were Ford or "Person selected at random after the vote" I would be volunteering for the random person campaign. Toronto would likely be better off with a vacant mayor seat.

    Ford is an unrepentant drunk driver (I'd only had one or two bottles of wine, I was fine to drive) who doesn't even know city expenses within two orders of magnitude despite being a councilor for ten years (he repeatedly refers to the Jarvis bike lane as a $6M bike lane when it cost around $60K - after being corrected numerous times by media and opponents). I genuinely think he will do significant damage to the city. Ford's only saving grace is that he will likely find himself powerless to do the things he says he is going to do.

  5. Generally speaking I think people overestimate how much a mayor can do to prevent a strike. He isn't exactly the only person involved. Being bitter that things went so badly is reasonable, throwing all the blame at Miller's doorstep isn't.

  6. Well, to some extent when you are mayor and things go wrong in a major way you have to wear the blame. Whether you are technically involved in the process or not you are in a position to get on the phone with people, talk things out, make recommendations, etc. I think the garbage strike was to a large extent Miller's fault. He wanted to show that he wasn't just going to roll over to every union demand and he botched it pretty badly.

    Miller was elected shortly after the last Toronto garbage strike. Mel Lastman's health wasn't great, I believe, so he *may* not have run again anyway, but that's pretty speculative. You live by the garbage strike, you die by the garbage strike. I wouldn't be surprised at all if our next mayor lasted until the next garbage strike, and if that pattern continued basically forever.

    Incumbency is the most powerful force in municipal politics, so aside from disasters and outright corruption, it's pretty hard to unseat someone.

  7. He could have caved earlier or not caved at all and I would have been happy. Holding out for so long and then giving in is a terrible, terrible thing to do.