Toronto in Trouble I: Onward to the Past!

Toronto city skyline with councillors

Ontario has a new government that is clearly focussed on the past, and on trying to take the province there as fast as possible—no matter what the cost. When Doug Ford squeaked into the leadership of the ironically named Progressive Conservatives (PC), I heard echoes of the Common Sense Revolution of 1995. It was especially evident during the PC election campaign when Ford constantly referred to the electorate as taxpayers, never as citizens. I was not surprised; there don’t seem to be any Red Tories1 around anymore. After 15 years of a Liberal government, there was such a strong desire for change in Ontario, that the PCs won a majority. On Friday, the day that nominations closed for the October 22 election of Toronto City Council, Ford suddenly announced he was cutting the number of councillors from 47 to 25. He had said nothing about it to his former political rival, Mayor John Tory, during two recent meetings. He had conducted no consultations with the citizens of Toronto about their needs or wishes. As Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail pointed out, Ford’s declaration was rash, autocratic, wasteful, vindictive and undemocratic. Toronto is in trouble. As John Ibbitson also wrote in the same newspaper, “If you live in Ontario, hang onto your hat.” Onward to the past! It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

One of the first acts of this four-month-old government was to cancel the new sexual education curriculum that had taken two years of consultation with representatives of all walks of life, including parents, to create. The curriculum had not been updated in 20 years, and it was time to teach children and young adults sex ed with age-appropriate information about such things as the proper names of body parts, gender identity, same-sex marriage, and the dangers of cyber sex bullying, pedophilia, and pornography. Ford didn’t like that. He said that parents had not been consulted on the changes. With the stroke of a pen, he negated all the work that had been done and re-instated the old curriculum. Onward to the past of 1998!

Ford is using the same heavy hammer of the architects of the Common Sense Revolution. Make as many major changes as fast and as hard as you can, as early in your mandate as you can, because you can. Claim that you have a mandate to do this because you have a majority government and mentioned during the campaign that you were going to be fiscally responsible and do things “for the people.” That should cover it. It worked for then-premier Mike Harris from 1995 to 2002. He slashed and burned Ontario until it was almost unrecognizable. Without any public consultation, Harris forced the amalgamation of 850 municipalities into 443, claiming it would save the taxpayers money. It didn’t. In fact, there was a steady rise in employment costs and no increase in efficiency of services. My poor father, a loyal PC supporter for all his adult life, was so angry at the undemocratic nature of this action, and the loss of his beloved town of Dundas, which amalgamated with Hamilton, that he tore up his membership card and picketed at Queen’s Park2. It was an honourable but ultimately useless gesture.

Ford is imitating Harris. He cancelled the government’s energy contracts, threw out the CEO and board of directors of the province’s hydro-electric corporation, and cancelled the cap-and-trade carbon tax (the environment be damned!). Now he is cutting the number of Toronto councillors almost in half, and cancelling the election of regional chair for Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka—something he can do because the province has authority over municipalities. And he’s doing this all without a word of consultation with Ontario citizens. Onward to the past of 1995!

Isn’t it interesting that:

  • when Doug’s brother Rob was mayor of Toronto, and he was a city councillor (2010-2014), they tried to cut the number of councillors down to 25, and failed?
  • Doug ran against John Tory for mayor in 2014, and lost?
  • the previous PC leader, Patrick Brown, who was ousted by the party several months before the election on allegations of sexual misconduct, was a candidate for regional chair of Peel Region, a position Doug just cancelled?
  • a former Liberal cabinet minister, Steven Del Duca, was a candidate for regional chair of York Region, a position Doug just cancelled?
  • Doug claims a $25 million savings will occur with the reduction of Toronto city councillors, but fails to mention that is a savings over four years, and is an actual savings of 0.05% of the annual $11 billion budget?
  • for every 1 councillor in Waterloo there are 15,000 citizens; in Ottawa 38,000; in Vancouver 54,000; but there will be 110,000 in Toronto?

Councillor Joe Cressy of the Trinity-Spadina Ward said on CBC’s Metro Morning, city services affect the daily lives of Toronto residents. “This decision is not about improving effectiveness.” Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star agrees. He called Ford’s “revenge on Toronto . . . a pure display of belligerent power.” I say, beware of men who are carried away by their power and, with the stroke a pen and without citizens’ consent, irrevocably change their lives, usually for the worse.

Why do they do it? Because they can.

Let’s learn nothing from history! Onward to the past!

 


1. Red Tory: a Canadian term for a member of the federal or provincial Conservative party who is a fiscal conservative but liberal about social policies.

2. Queen’s Park is the seat of government of Ontario, located in Toronto

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