Ford Math and Honesty

The refrain is said often from Team Ford: Toronto needs to take a real look at its numbers. It’s said so often that this is essentially the drumbeat of the administration.

So far, the most notable numbers to emerge are the $774 million deficit and 35% potential property tax hike. What’s particularly notable about these is how disingenuous and stretched they are.

To be sure, the $774 million number was at one point true. But Team Ford steadfastly refused to update it in the light of new information. Instead, they used the original assumption because it suited their purposes rather than reflecting the real change.

Likewise, the 35% property tax canard was conjured out of thin air. Calculated by dividing $774M by the expected revenue a 1% property tax generates ($22M), a 34% number is reached. Of course, it ignores any user fees, real savings and the land transfer tax among other things as John McGrath points out in the above link. So this number is not real either.

To give the benefit of the doubt, let’s say they knew these were fictional but were just using them as props to whip departments to generate real improvements. Sure, they may be playing games now, but that’s only because they want real results.

With that idea, let’s look at the police budget, of which the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has provided the best analysis.

The police budget last year was $930.4M, around 85% of that in salaries and benefits. Legitimately, Police Chief Bill Blair had some issues with reducing the department by 10% after a sizable salary increase the Mayor brags about (11.5% over four years).

Now, that police budget process is a long one. There’s a starting point in the spring and they decide on a number and then slowly it gets slightly less after a few proposals. But keep in mind that $930.4M number, the comparison for last year.

The starting point in 2012 was $979M, and through subsequent proposals was lowered to $969.7M, then $944.5M. It’s the latter that the Mayor most recently balked it and it was correctly characterized as a 1.6% budget increase over the $930M in spite of a call to reduce the budget by $93M from the starting point. Finally, the Chief came back with his last proposal, $936.3M. Now you may think this represents a slight increase over last year (0.63%), and you’d be right. 

Here’s how the numbers look:

But that’s not Ford Math. Because in spite of the police spending more money, they claim it’s a 4.6% cut. Ford ally and Police Services Board Member France Nunziata is quoted in Dale’s piece as saying, “It’s a huge reduction.” So where do they get this 4.6% cut from? Well, they changed the assumptions because it suits them. Instead of comparing the police budget to last year’s, they compared it to the $979M starting request. Just a week ago this was not the basis for discussion. But now the police give us this work, changing the assumptions, and rather lazily so:
If $979M was the real starting point, why use $93M as the 10% reduction number?

Purely from the negotiating standpoint of reductions and leaving aside value, it would be akin to going to a car dealer and looking at a $20,000 car. You say you want 10% off, or $18,000. The dealer says they want 5% more, or $21,000. You settle for $20,120 because that’s a 4.6% cut from what he wanted, a real deal!

You can feel like you were a good negotiator and sell it to all your friends that way. But really, when you look at your bank account, the savings aren’t there.

Slightly different but related, Matt Elliott takes a good look at the bid process to outsource garbage collection west of Yonge St. The winning bid, Green For Life, sounds promising- it’s only $17M, which is more than $10M less than the previous cost. Matt has a great breakdown of all the numbers, but it begs the question: how is this possible?

GFL outbid their nearest competition by 15%, a huge number when you consider the margins of the business. Their bid also suggests they can collect waste 7.8% more efficiently per tonne than the private collector in Etobicoke, also an eyebrow-raiser. If it’s all true and it’s the same level of service, then that’s great. But are there hidden costs or liabilities? Until we see real results, there are some worthwhile questions to be asked.

Once upon a time, the core members of Team Ford derided the Miller administration for hiding numbers and costs and urged the city to have a real conversation about the budget numbers and value for services. 

You want to have an honest conversation about the budget? Great. But for that, honesty is needed. 

Ford Focus (Group)

Edward Keenan on Twitter (see his Grid post here):


The frustrating thing: most voters want more services, and they want lower taxes. They consider both top priorities. See also: California. …Which is to say they don’t actually fit on the political spectrum at all. They emphatically support directly contradictory policies.

Sol Chrom:



Cityslickr on All Fired Up in the Big Smoke:




Keenan, Chrom and Cityslickr were each responding to a blog post by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Trish Hennessy, a strategist with a sociology and communications background. Hennessy’s post relays the results of focus groups done of Ford voters in September, the results of which would likely surprise most observers. The participants- again, all Ford voters- were optimistic people who identified as Torontonians and:

expressed a hope and vision for the city that is positive, united, safe, clean, green, diverse, welcoming, vibrant and easier to get around in…. They still believe in the value of public services, and many want better public services – especially when it comes to public transit, which is becoming a symbol of a city in need of a fix.”


This plays into the angle that Ford was promoting at his Empire Club speech, that the talk of waste and mismanagement- putting aside the extent of what that is- can be perceived as opportunity. That is, an opportunity to build the city at no personal cost to voters. All it would take is a little grit to take on the system and speak up for the little guy. In fact, focus group attendees saw little to no ideological differences between Jack Layton and Rob Ford, suggesting a powerful conflation of Ford’s populist personality over their policies. Whereas Jack Layton was big on new ideas for improving the city- something Ford voters like- this is not the mayor’s focus. At the Empire Club speech, he said:

“Everyone has their own idea of what Toronto should become. Some want Toronto of the future to be a world leader in “green” practices. Others see Toronto as the world’s next financial hub. Still others want Toronto to be a global centre for arts and culture. 
Whatever your dream for our city is, it depends on one thing. Your dream depends on our ability to make our own choices, to chart our own course, to shape our own destiny. 
The sad truth is that we are losing our ability to make our own decisions. Toronto’s financial foundation is crumbling. If we don’t fix the foundation now, our dreams for the future will collapse.”
Ford is right on one thing; it is very important for the city to plan for its financial future. However this quotation shows that he is not the person his voters thought they elected. The future ideas and priorities he speaks of are others’, not his own. It was much like last week’s Metro Morning interview in which he was unable to articulate what he loves about Toronto. How can you cut expenditures if you don’t know how to value them? To what end do you secure financial stability? What’s your city?

As Hennessy’s research shows, Ford Voters value city services but there is a disconnect between the cost to deliver these services and the taxes they require. CCPA Research Associate Hugh Mackenzie has an excellent 2009 speech on the subject in which he concludes:


Mackenzie speaks with the same urgency as Ford, but his urgency is to speak of the values and priorities of the government and its citizens. Which leads us back to Cityslikr’s question: how do we bridge this chasm?




Below are a few points made by others with my own humble thoughts:

1 Civic Engagement

As Chrom points out, the ‘sure, tax cuts with no impact on services are feasible’ sense indicates a lack of understanding of city budget issues that could be interpreted as wishful thinking. To remedy this requires involving people in the civic process and delivering information in a manner they find meaningful. 


For instance, Hennessy’s research shows that conservatives (more likely to be Ford voters although they go across partisan boundaries) respond to more emotional explanations. They use empathy to identify with situations and connect with arguments that they can identify with personally. So rather than saying, “Rob Ford lied and his so-called solutions will worsen Toronto’s structural deficit,” what might be more effective is “Rob Ford mislead us and soulless cuts to the Christmas Bureau, Hardship Fund and Libraries hurt our friends and neighbours who need help the most. This doesn’t represent the Toronto we value.”     


2 Improve Language

Further to the previous point, terms can be improved too. For instance, taxes are abstract numbers, and thus tough to connect to the real tangible things we value. This only gets further obscured with murky terms like ‘gravy train’. 


Something like the Vehicle Registration Tax, which Shelley Carroll admitted was a failure in being sold to the public when she voted to repeal it, was framed poorly. The language of the fee- it’s more a fee than a tax- focuses on the act of paying it rather than what it does. But if it was the Road Improvement Fee? That’s something that gives drivers responsibility over their roads, knowing that there are significant costs involved in maintenance and these must be shared.


3 Speak About Costs

There’s no free lunch and it’s counter-productive to pretend there is. Instead, we need to be willing to acknowledge all the things we value about the city and acknowledge that there’s a cost to them. Love libraries? Yeah, well they cost money. Think transit is important? Well that costs a lot of money too. Paying taxes is OK so long as they’re used reasonably and invested wisely. But people have to know where those taxes go and why they’re needed.


4 Speak About Successes

We only ever hear the bad news from government and yet we still expect perfection from them. Those are high standards albeit good ones to have. The thing is, we could celebrate what we do well a bit more. Celebrate the fact that the Toronto Public Library offers some of the broadest variety of programs at a median cost and enjoys a high use per capita rate. Celebrate the TTC’s safety record, efficiency and fare box recovery. Celebrate the urban planning that is slowly bearing fruit on the waterfront.


To engage in a good, meaningful conversation about what builds Toronto people need to know that by and large it works pretty well. They need to feel a connection between the taxes they pay and the services they receive and that they have responsibilities to share in supporting the resources that Torontonians value. That may not convince all 60 of those Ford voters from the focus group, but sets up the infrastructure to cross the bridge over the ‘Ford Nation’ chasm.

Checking Out the Library Cuts

It’s really easy to lose sight of context when dealing with large budget numbers; It feels overwhelming and lends itself to information paralysis.

Luckily there are libraries and librarians and information resources to help us with that affliction. Unluckily, there may soon be fewer of those resources in Toronto if the mayor is able to usher through the proposed library cuts

Initially the Ford Team wanted to close libraries (insofar as Doug speaks for them), but in the face of an embarrassing public backlash that idea was subsequently dropped. Instead, the city faces significant service reductions, less staff and fewer acquisitions. To understand what these cuts mean and how we got here, here is some context:



Toronto libraries are popular among residents:


  • In the KPMG consultation, 86% of residents felt that maintaining the quality of library services was more important than lowering the cost. 
  • 97% of residents identified the library as being necessary for the city to be livable and prosperous.
  • 70% of residents were against reducing services and hours in a September Forum poll. 

Libraries have been pretty efficient:


  • Since 2001 library use has increased 28%
  • In spite of this increased use, staffing is down 10% since 1998. 
Doing more with less.

  • According to several studies, libraries in general show a good return on investment too. The median study concludes that libraries return $4-5 for every $1 invested. 

The library cuts:

As the map below shows, the library service cuts will impact every region of the city:


  • 100 staff were eliminated at last night’s library board meeting. Ford had promised in his platform to achieve savings through attrition and pledged not to fire anyone.     
  • The 19,444 proposed hours to be cut is the equivalent of closing down nine of the smallest libraries full time.

  • The cuts would include reducing circulation acquistions by 106,000 books (11%). If that baseline is maintained with minor increases over four years, it would be the equivalent of one less book in circulation for every Rob Ford voter.  
  • The two above library cuts could be paid for by the cost of two small coffees at Tim Horton’s from each resident.


The rhetoric:


  • Asked if he would close a library in his own ward, Doug Ford said, “Absolutely I would. In a heartbeat.” Hours will not be cut in Doug Ford’s ward.
  • Ford ally Paul Ainslie was in favour of library closings so long as they weren’t in his ward. Instead, he suggested downtown locations might be more appropriate candidates. His ward’s newly renovated Cedarbrae Library faces a 9.5 hour service reduction.
  • The newly appointed Library Board chair, Ainslie voted last night against consulting the public on the cuts. The vote passed and the public will be consulted.   


Team Ford faces many obstacles to pass this particular package of cuts. Libraries are very popular with voters, cutting them contradicts campaign promises and individual councillors know they’ll receive an earful on the issue. All of this makes it difficult to be an ally of the mayor on this issue and open to a lot of negotiation.  

The Customer Service of Governance

In addition to John Lorinc’s excellent Walrus article, there’s another piece of good city writing this week, this time from The Grid’s EdwardKeenan. Keenan’s article offers suggestions for how Team Ford can right their ship, from focusing on customer service to having meaningful dialogue with critical councillors and the general public.

The advice is really good; it plays into ways that Ford has branded himself in the past, fulfills campaign promises and appeals to individuals who want to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt. Above all, it’s just good governance.

Yesterday morning TTC chair Karen Stintz took up Keenan’s advice by coincidence. She and some of the TTC brass (Gary Webster, Chris Upfold) held a press conference at Bathurst Station to make an announcement on improving customer service, including engaging the public through town halls, a customer service liaison panel and extending service centre hours (see more details at Torontoist here). 

As much as I bristle at the term ‘customer service’ when it comes to government (as it reduces citizens to a one-sided business-style relationship), this is the good stuff. The TTC operates very efficiently from a technical standpoint but could stand improvement in how transit riders use it on a day-to-day basis. It’s also a cheap means for the agency to improve; costs (labour, infrastructure support) are rising faster than fare increases can feasibly be passed, and without changes to the operating subsidy any improvements will have to come from within.

This would have been a good platform to frame the next step for Ford to sell his ideas to the public, where he could say things like, ‘one thing that’s not gravy is treating people with respect.’ He could say that good customer service involves going beyond the minimum requirements and seeking ways to make sure everyone is involved in an open and transparent process that reasonably considers their opinions, needs and wants and he’s a man of his word out to meet his mandate.

Here’s how his campaign literature spoke of these issues in his Taxpayer Protection Plan Backgrounder:

These three promises are important as they speak to the values of Ford as a candidate and the values he heard Toronto wanted for its governance. Clearly, transparency, access and real consideration were priorities for both.

But then Giorgio Mammoliti spoke last night. In an incident later related by Kristyn Wong-Tam and Janet Davis’ Twitter streams, the two councillors tried to attend a child care task force meeting chaired by Giorgio Mammoliti. Although they are on the Community Development and Recreation committee, they were refused entry. They were not notified of the meeting (although a sign was posted outside of committee room three), and were told by Mammoliti that he didn’t want the meeting to be ‘political’.

Wong-Tam responded with an open letter on Twitter criticizing the lack of inclusion and going so far as to say that the process contravened the City of Toronto Act. It doesn’t, as Goldsbie pointed out in early morning tweets, as the task force is not bound by the rules of committees since it has less than half of its membership from councillors (there was Mammoliti and six child care operators).
Mammoliti and Wong-Tam at July Executive Meeting. Photo by friendlyfeathers.blogspot.com

So Mammoliti was technically able to restrict Davis and Wong-Tam from participating, but that doesn’t mean 1) he did it in the best, most respectful way possible 2) he should have done it at all.

Maybe he could have recognized there was a strong desire for Davis and Wong-Tam to contribute, and, as per Keenan’s suggestion, given them a meaningful role in future sessions or aspects. Or maybe he could have asked the meeting attendees if they would like to have them come in the room for some or all of the meeting. Or maybe he could have said that he would be happy to brief them afterwards.

Just like customer service has to go beyond the bare essentials to be effective and valued, openness and transparency go beyond checking the City of Toronto Act to see if any laws have been broken.

This isn’t an isolated incident either. It’s a hostile attitude that’s been represented at all night executive committee meetings and in how various motions have been passed or brought up from the Jarvis bike lanes to the Fort York Bridge to the Dundas pedestrian scramble to the port lands fiasco or the citizen advisory committees that were supposed to be brought back to council for a vote (twice!) but have been forgotten or deemed unimportant. It’s this track record that sows distrust into the discourse.

Ultimately, this marks a failure of Team Ford. Sure, they haven’t kept their promises to have openness and transparency (real transparency isn’t voting on every speaking extension) but there’s a larger implication.

Good governance involves connecting people- opposition councillors, regular citizens- to the institutions that represent them. It’s not always easy to be respectful, transparent and open, but if there’s any ‘customer service’ that government should provide, it’s that.


Thoughts On John Lorinc’s Walrus Cover Story

This month’s Walrus cover story by John Lorinc, “How Toronto Lost Its Groove”, is one of the best distillations you’ll read of the governance, policy and cultural problems that Toronto faces. The city has important long-term problems, chief among them an annual structural deficit, a culture gap between the inner suburbs and old city and limited powers for self-governance and taxation.

What makes Lorinc’s piece so good is how ably he integrates these problems in a historical context. Seeking the origins of Toronto’s problems, he goes back decades, detailing the original post-war governance structure of Old Toronto with the inner suburbs and how extending this logic to the surrounding region worked against the city:

The problems began in the early 1970s, when Bill Davis’s Progressive Conservatives decided to impose the two-tier approach [like Metro and individual councils for Toronto] on the rural townships, a ring of suburbs now known as the 905, outside Metro’s borders. Andrew Sancton, an expert on municipal government at the University of Western Ontario, describes that decision as “the original mistake.” The result, unique in North America, is that Toronto is surrounded by a ring of large, powerful municipalities — Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Richmond Hill, Markham, Vaughan, and Ajax-Pickering — that compete with the city for private and public investment…….

 

……Conservative premier Mike Harris, elected in 1995 to reduce government via his Common Sense Revolution, ignored the Golden task force [which recommended to implement Metro on a broader, more regional scale], choosing instead to amalgamate Metro and its local municipalities while leaving intact the 905 two-tier governments established in 1973. Although Harris claimed his reforms would facilitate more streamlined decision-making, the result has been anything but. Thirteen years after amalgamation, many Torontonians feel increasingly alienated from a giant municipal bureaucracy that favours one-size-fits-all solutions.

This alienation is most acutely felt by the very real and different needs for the urban core and inner suburbs. Lorinc points to this as the source of discontent at internecine council meetings. He adds that the GTA represents 20% of the country’s GDP (New York City represents 3.3%) but as a creature of the province has little power. After all, why would the province want to cede its own control?

This explanation helps explain Rob Ford’s appeal. In the absence of real authority and agency, Ford is an attractive alternative to voters. His promises were the small and controllable things, like cleaning up the city’s graffiti. He spoke with the confidence and promised to plow through bureaucracy and governance barriers like he did when he was a councillor.


In a way Ford accurately tapped into the emotional resonance of Toronto’s economic, governance and cultural structure. They’re problems that David Miller identified intellectually and crafted policies and strategies to fix during his mayoralty.

Ultimately Miller failed by only achieving half-measures. TransitCity was partially funded, some services uploaded and some more powers granted, but the totality doesn’t fully recognize the importance and needs of Toronto. While Ford fails to figure out why Toronto feels the way it does, he manages to communicate its underlying emotion. While Miller’s arguments brought the historical and structural perspective of Lorinc, he struggled to communicate that nuanced message with a mass audience.


Lorinc ends his article with the parable of the FortYorkBridge. He stresses the need to build bridges: between the suburbs and core, province and city and ideas and reality. It’s the last one that can be most substantively bridged by citizens, a way from them to regain the control the governance structure limits.

In the absence of civic leadership, it’s up to citizens to create this bridge, to synthesize what Toronto means. Like Lorinc’s wholesale look at the city, this is best done in a way that understands our past, engages with ideas and communicates messages in a way that is both intellectually and emotionally persuasive.  With a coarse and stultifying discourse it’s tough, but these things start somewhere, and understanding is a good place. 

Rob Ford on not turning that dial

Following the results of a provincial election Rob Ford spoke with Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway this morning and insisted nothing had changed (Transcript from NOW here, CBC audio here).

In a way, Ford couldn’t say much. He couldn’t say that he really wanted Tim Hudak to win and dislikes that the balance of power is held by the New Democrats or that his relationship with Dalton McGuinty might now change. Instead, he fell back on his previous rhetoric, which is really the rhetoric of every radio interview he’s given for a year (see below for a word cloud of his topics).

He stuck with his $774 million number, insisted that cutting the $70 million vehicle registration tax was a savings to the city, that taxpayers wouldn’t be burdened with financing the Sheppard subway line and that the KPMG recommendations were efficiencies, not cuts.

So while the power dynamic at Queen’s Park has changed Ford’s rhetoric really hasn’t. To be fair, he mentioned TTC operating subsidies more in this interview than he has in the past but this was something Galloway specifically asked.

Savvy politicians are ones that are able to adapt to new and unique circumstances. They can read the changing situation, frame concerns into opportunities and use these skills to both govern and seek partnerships with others (other levels of government, businesses, community groups). Ford, however, is not one of these politicians.
Matt Galloway: Awesome Interviewer

As this interview and others shows, there’s little acknowledgement of the changes around him. He goes so far as to deny existing problems and his role in them, claiming that it’s factually incorrect that David Miller left him a surplus (he did).

All of this poses a problem for Toronto. The city is in a great place to have some real leverage at Queen’s Park. Negotiation of bills will be between a centrist and left-wing party that are both more predisposed to cities than the conservatives. Not only that, they’re parties that need to look to Toronto for electoral success; the Liberals to maintain their seats and the NDP for any future growth as the north and cities like Hamilton have as much representation as they’ll get. Bear in mind that when the NDP and Liberals last shared power federally, the “New Deal for Cities” was launched (and subsequently dismissed with the conservatives). In fact, it’s a project that Toronto-Centre MPP Glen Murray advocated before then as mayor of Winnipeg .

While there’s uncertainty as to what the new provincial alignment means for Toronto, that also means there’s opportunity. Will the NDP prioritize their promise to return TTC operating subsidies to 1990 levels? Will the Liberals say no to a restriction on TTC fare increases? How will they negotiate uploading? All of these questions are great chances for the mayor to work with the province, but they require the ability to seize opportunity, promote smart investment and facilitate negotiations. This is not the mayor’s strong suit and it’s not a place where Council can effectively work around him.

Later on in the interview Galloway changed gears and asked one of his trademark soft, personal questions that can yield insightful answers, “What do you love about Toronto”?

The mayor responded:
This is a great city. We’ve cleaned it up. There’s less graffiti than there was a year ago, it’s a cleaner city than there was a year ago.
He went on to say that the city has been cleaned up and connecting this to the idea of a ‘very, very prosperous year’ for the city (despite the supposed financial disaster).

The rhetoric is consistent, as Ford has always criticized graffiti. However, it’s unfortunate that Ford didn’t do something more with the moment. It was an opportunity presented by Galloway to say something more than the usual, to connect his personal experience of the city to a larger vision of what it can be. He could sell listeners on what that vision might be, get them to buy-in to the value of it like he will have to do with McGuinty and Howarth.

But he didn’t. He went with the talking points, the ones that got him elected, the same ones that have him at alarmingly low poll numbers. Without Ford’s style changing it’s unlikely Toronto will be able to realize the full potential of its new relationship with Queen’s Park.

Consistency can be admirable in a politician, but constancy is not. Sadly for Toronto, it’s a characteristic that inhibits capitalizing on opportunity and, in this case, limits a vision for the city to mere static.   

The Macleans-Rob Ford Story: A Media Criticism

This week Macleans has an issue out and it features none other than Toronto’s mayor on the cover. Accompanied by the headline “Crushed”, the image features Ford’s face squeezed. The subtitle reads, “His enemies roused,his brother a liability, Canada’stoughest mayor comes undone.”

The Toronto Star’s City Hall reporter Daniel Dale covered a few inaccuracies in some tweets, including what he felt was a misleading cover, a misrepresentation of how Doug Ford is handled and how the Toronto Star gets its information.

With that said, it’s a fairly interesting piece and not as sensationalist as it could be based on its title.

The article, written by Nicholas Kohler, is most interesting for the rhetorical techniques it uses to frame its narrative. This isn’t to say that rhetorical techniques are necessarily a bad thing; they’re needed to tell a story of any kind. However, the techniques used can inform the reader as to the depth, accuracy and dependencies of a particular argument or narrative.

So with that in mind, let’s look at the article.

The online version begins with “Rob Ford can’t fight city hall: His enemies roused, his brother a liability, Canada’s toughest mayor comes undone.” It’s unlikely this was Kohler writing the headline, but it’s worth taking a look at the assumptions it primes the reader for. 

For starters, the title implies that Ford has been unsuccessful thus far in shaping City Hall, that he can’t do so. To be fair, this is because the headline writer is playing off of the popular phrase, but it’s fitting with the shape of Kohler’s narrative. The subtitle then goes on to identify two sources of Rob Ford’s problems, his enemies and his brother Doug. With these external sources, even Canada’s toughest mayor can’t withstand the pressure. 

The headline here immediately casts Ford in a positive light by being the ‘tough’ politician, a virtue universally admired. By setting Ford up as the tough maverick outsider taking on the establishment, the headline sets up Ford’s downfall solely in opposition to external forces, thus absolving him of his role in his precipitous poll numbers.

Kohler leads his article by establishing the setting at Krista Ford’s inaugural Lingerie Football League game. It’s a place where the ethic of Doug Ford’s daughter- and by extension the family, is on display, “All I care about is: not missing a single tackle & leaving it all,” Kohler cites Krista as tweeting.  The backdrop of red-meat, hard-nosed football- lingerie football at that- is used to frame Kohler’s preferred juxtaposition of  “the intense culture war under way between the Fords and Toronto’s downtown elite.” Lingerie Football, Kohler offers, “is the most powerful symbol of the conflict.”

Putting aside what constitutes ‘the most powerful symbol,’ Kohler’s use of ‘downtown elite’ has a clear agenda. By categorizing an amorphous and undefined group of opposition into an unfavourable term, distance is created between the reader and the perspective that is critical of the Fords. The ‘downtown elite’ is particular and cast as an ‘other’, an identifier by which no person would earnestly portray themselves. 

By contrast, the article gives an intimate and detailed look at the Fords which provides the reader a source of identification and thus sympathy. This is would be more understandable if the article was solely a feature on the Ford brothers but seeing whereas it’s a look a the dynamic of council and the city to the Fords, it would be helpful to further define those elements.

Kohler does make mention of the attention paid to City Hall, but it’s only in passing. He writes that the polarizing nature of the Fords, “[has promoted] a level of civic engagement at city hall not seen in years.” This is true, as evidenced by the intense media coverage, record number of deputations and various civic groups organizing to be heard. However for Kohler’s narrative of entrenched interests v. Fords to work, he disregards that the sources of this civic engagement are new. After all, the unions have always been there and their representatives like Bob Kinnear, Maureen O’Reilly and Mark Ferguson can only give so many deputations. When he does allow for the criticism from moms and crossing guards he dismisses it as a ‘granola backlash’.

The backlash is only described in abstract ways while the Ford mission to combat ‘vested interests’ are given details. The 2600 word article gives just five words to Joe Mihevc and two sentences to Shelley Carroll describing the Fords and one paragraph on the Doug Ford call-in to centrist Josh Matlow’s radio show. The objections to the Ford agenda aren’t given a great voice by the people objecting, but Kohler provides the context:

Ford, who secured an improbable election win by promising to deliver a stripped-down Toronto—one free of graffiti, a Toronto of roads, perhaps some police, lower taxes and little else—has been stopped in his tracks by the city’s old order. His story is a morality tale that plays more like farce. It would be funny if it were not such a powerful lesson in the staying power of civic vested interests and the Sisyphean challenge of changing a city.     


Ford promised a lot of things, among them a city free of graffiti, cancelling the land transfer and vehicle registration taxes and a focus on roads. However, saying he promised a ‘stripped-down’ Toronto is a half-truth. He promised a Toronto free of ‘gravy’, unnecessary things like councillors having the city pay for their own retirement party. His platform promised to find $1.7 billion in ‘waste’ and redirect $416 million of this to improving priority services such as childcare services, services for seniors, affordable housing and other items. Importantly, he said in the weeks before his mayoral campaign that, “Services will not be cut. Guaranteed.”

The objections from the ‘granola crowd’ are largely to these inconsistencies (the governance style too). Services were promised to not be cut and others improved and yet Ford has sought to cut both. Ignoring this part of his mandate and the objections to the city’s direction that are largely fuelled by this conveniently de-complicates the issue to make an easier narrative.

In fact, this information directly undermines Kohler’s story. Rather than being the tough outsider shaking up City Hall, the Fords are like the cynical view of other politicians, tripped up on promising the world to everyone and having no real plan to deliver it.

Kohler’s article is informative on a few levels. To be fair, it’s a decent piece that adds some interesting details like the extent of Doug’s frosty relationship (although other details are exaggerated as Dale points out, so this can be called into question). He also captures the Ford personality and ethic nicely for a general audience.

However, what’s most informative is the range of rhetorical devices and framing mechanisms used to position Rob Ford as the embattled hero of this story. From the start it positions the mayor as the constant and consistent warrior at odds with uncontrollable external forces from his brother to council opposition. When it refers to his opponents, it’s almost always by a derisive and distancing term, like ‘downtown elitists’, ‘the granola backlash’ or ‘special interests’. The concerns of these groups aren’t presented, obscuring any way that Ford brought these problems on to himself.

This isn’t necessarily intentional on Kohler’s part, but it’s an important exercise to look at the shortcomings of media narratives. The mostly pro-Ford story mimics the political narrative presented by the Ford team. It’s framed as an appeal to character, a personal connection to an individual on a vague mission to overcome vaguely villainous groups and vague waste.

In the end its connection to the detailed and nuanced political circumstances at City Hall is tenuous. After all, it’s just a story. 

CodeBlueTO’s History and a Model for Activism

Paula Fletcher stood up in the council chamber as the last speaker on item EX 9.6, a ‘consensus’ motion on Toronto’s Port Lands. As the local councillor for the Port Lands, Fletcher had been particularly busy for the past three weeks. In that time, City Hall- and the city at large- had become embroiled in a debate as to the best vision for Toronto’s Port Lands.

An undeveloped former industrial site close to the size of Toronto’s downtown core, the Port Lands was the apple of Rob and Doug Ford’s eye. Located on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, they knew it could attract a substantial amount of money if sold to developers immediately, and this money could then be used to balance the operating deficit, pay down city debt or eliminate the land transfer tax.

It was Doug Ford’s job to get this done, to muscle through Waterfront Toronto, the agency with the long-term plan and the authority. At the same time he had to convince Council and Torontonians this was the right thing. With slicked back hair, playful banter and the ability to put forward a vision, the older Ford brother comes across as a consummate salesman. Yet there he sat in front of Fletcher, leaning back in his chair and subdued. In what was supposed to be his triumphant day, Ford didn’t say a word on the item.

Fletcher, on the other hand, made sure to mark the moment. Dressed in a light blue suit and sporting a sharp navy button on her lapel, she gave context, “This is a Toronto moment and this is a Jane Jacobs city”.

While stopping the Ford Port Lands vision likely won’t share the same historical importance as Jacobs and Friends defeating the Spadina Expressway, here too was a group of highly engaged, vocal and organized constituents. Sitting behind Fletcher in the audience were a group of activists calling themselves CodeBlueTO, the name scrawled across Fletcher’s button.

As much as the Port Lands was a story about the Ford Team’s governance style or the Mushy Middle finding its backbone, there was something else. It’s a story of citizens successfully voicing their message, capturing the attention of politicians, and bringing them to their feet.

Ears to the Ground, Constant Vigilance


Cindy Wilkey knew she was going to be contacted imminently. For months she had feared this day was coming, and it was right around the corner. A lawyer and long-time advocate for the LowerDonLands and PortLands area that she calls home, Wilkey had heard troubling news through the grapevine.

Back in April, she knew something was going on as soon as Doug Ford accused Waterfront Toronto of being a ‘boondoggle’. When she received advance notice on Thursday, August 25 (see timeline here) that there would be an announcement about Waterfront Toronto from City Hall, she knew it was going to be bad and had a rough outline of what it was going to be.

When the notice went up on the City Hall website at 4:15 on the Friday before a long weekend, Wilkey was stunned by the breadth of the recommendations. From the transfer of power from the arms-length Waterfront Toronto to the city-run Toronto Port Lands Corporation to the cost critique of the Don River naturalization, everything involved in the Port Lands was under siege.

Since the Ford plan wasn’t a full-fledged surprise, Wilkey had a number of people to speak with who were paying as much attention as her. For instance, there was Dennis Findlay, a retired baker had taken an interest in the waterfront in 2005 when Toronto was considering a World Expo bid which would have an impact on the Port Lands.

A talkative and energetic man, Findlay had embraced city planning, engineering and the waterfront over the six years of his involvement with consultation and development plans.

The passion continued for Findlay as Ford’s April comments came. A group of engaged waterfront activists arranged periodic meetings to ensure they shared information and stayed on top of the latest developments. The meetings with other individuals like Wilkey, Julie Beddoes and John Wilson made him ready to go when the Ford motion came, “When we became aware of the fact the Mayor had his eyes on the Port Lands, we got on our high horse,” he said over the phone. “They were going to have to take our hard work over our dead bodies”.

The hard work Findlay spoke of came from other sources too. Two months before the Ford Vision, Toronto academics Gene Desfor and Jennefer Laidley had co-edited Re-Shaping Toronto’s Waterfront, a collection of essays and articles from University of Toronto Press. Both Desfor and Laidley had been experts in the Toronto waterfront for a long time, in everything from its history and environmental impact to the socio-political responses to it.

When Desfor returned from his AlgonquinPark camping trip over the long weekend to find the Waterefront turned upside down, he saw it as a dangerous idea from a hostile administration, something he warned about on Metro Morning promoting the book in June. Laidley adds, “When the report first came out we were horrified. We had heard something like that was in the works but to see it on paper was horrifying”.

Between Wilkey, Findlay, Desfor, Laidley and others, there were a good number of Waterfront knowledge experts with important things to say. But to combat Doug Ford’s ‘horrifying’ vision and Lyle Lanley ways, they would need to amplify their voice.

Finding A Framework, Making Voices Heard
Laurence Lui

Laurence Lui knew Wilkey through the Corktown Residents Association. Seeing Lui’s  passion for urban issues such as planning and transit, Wilkey encouraged him to become involved in the Waterfront. Like the long-time activists, Lui followed the waterfront issues as they came up. Unlike them, he was also fully immersed in social media, which would prove to be an effective tool for CodeBlueTO.

The Waterfront veterans could see its impact right away. As soon as Doug Ford started speaking of monorails, megamalls and Ferris wheels, “the Internet lit up like Christmas lights,” according to Findlay.

Immediately upon the news breaking, Lui tweeted the suggestion that discussions around the Waterfront topic use the hashtag #CodeBlueTO. The prolific City Hall watchers / tweeters took up the idea and a stream of alternately concerned and mocking comments flowed around that name.

Lui wasn’t the only one whose first instinct was to organize and mobilize the online anger at the Ford Vision. Jude Macdonald, a writer and frequent user of social media, created a Facebook page to voice opposition. It quickly gained traction and she was invited to join a CodeBlueTO meeting by Laidley.

The extent of CodeBlueTO’s communication with each other online was so large that they only met twice, once before and after the Executive meeting (September 6). With that said, the mix of people and energy was appreciated. Lui was impressed when he put faces to names, “Meeting the group that first time, I knew it was going to be something great. Everyone around the table spoke passionately and it was clear we all had the same goal in mind.”

They all agreed that a website was needed, and the way Lui responded made everyone impressed with his work. Findlay says, “We all agreed a website was needed and within 24 hours, Laurence had it done. We all agreed a petition was needed and 24 hours later Laurence had it done.”

The two elements proved to be important community rallying points. In the three-week time span, the clean and appealing-looking CodeBlueTO site received 20,000 hits and the petition had 7,000 signatures.

Importantly, CodeBlue focused on messaging and tone early on. They had concerns that criticism would devolve into cheap anti-Ford rhetoric and they wanted something more, “[The message was] not about personalities but about substantive issues,” says Laidley. “The message all along was ‘we have a plan, it’s a good plan and it doesn’t make sense to switch now’.”

The group went into the executive meeting with this message in mind and the attention of Twitter and Facebook firmly looking at the Executive.

The committee meeting was a bizarro world, as unfocused and unknowledgeable as CodeBlue was the reverse. Several CodeBlue members made deputations, including Wilkey, Laidley and Desfor. For Desfor, it was a rare foray into municipal politics. After the speakers had completed, he spoke in the hallway, saying he was concerned and frustrated by the disingenuous arguments of councillors. Unlike the Jarvis Bike Lanes vote, where thousands of people called the mayor’s cell phone in futility, this campaign would have to be more focused and targeted.

Connecting the Message to Politics

From Matt Elliott’s Ford For Toronto blog

Notably, Executive member Jaye Robinson had made herself absent during the committee vote, so there was some hope yet. Outside in the hallway as Lui passed out CodeBlue buttons a number of people looked down at a chart from the popular (and awesome) FordForToronto blog. The writer, Matt Elliott, had created a chart focusing on who the potential swing votes on the issue would be and another article critiquing Doug’s plan. The latter was one of his most popular yet, a testament to the public interest in the waterfront that went beyond ‘the usual suspects’.

While the knowledge, network, social media presence and public outreach were coming together nicely, CodeBlue needed another component. Many of their members were immersed in the intricate dynamics of the waterfront, but not council. So they asked Elliott to come in to their second meeting to answer questions about who to contact and persuade. He complied and answered the group’s questions as needed. While the primary focus of the group was public outreach to raise awareness and support for the current Port Lands plan, it was also necessarily tied to the political geography.

Left-wing councillors at city hall each targeted a councillor or two to persuade and pass on information to. At the same time, some were telling the press that they were getting 4000 e-mails from constituents in response to the issue (many of which were coordinated by CodeBlue). CodeBlue was concerned that some kind of compromise deal would emerge and strongly stressed to sympathetic councillors this was not what they wanted. According to Findlay, they heard from McConnell’s and Fletcher’s office that they had to figure out how to move the motion forward with getting the most they could and constructing it so it could actually pass council. They encouraged CodeBlue to keep up the public pressure and contacting councillors to let them know this matters.

As the messaging of consulation, consideration, planning and prudence was repeated, mushy councillors fled the Ford scene. Josh Matlow was an early critic of the plan but Jaye Robinson was the one who set things in motion for it to fall apart. 


After weeks of being hammered in the media and by groups like CodeBlue, Civic Action and a group of 147 Toronto planning experts, the mayor’s poll numbers were dropping rapidly. Now with a 42% approval rating, Ford was vulnerable and Robinson spoke up against his plan. Executive member Michelle Berardinetti followed suit as well as Deputy Speaker John Parker.

The mission to connect the voices of a large group of citizens to moderate councillors through social media, petitions and waterfront knowledge had worked. It was now a virtual certainty that the Ford vision would not pass, it was just a matter of how many concessions they would have to give, if any.

The Resolution

Emboldened by their political position, CodeBlueTO released a ‘no compromise’ document the weekend before the vote, outlining areas that they could not give up (Waterfront Toronto as lead agency, Prioritization of Don naturalization and working within existing environmental assessments).

They held a rally at City Hall called “Behind Closed Doors” with supporting events and McConnell and Fletcher singing the titular song. It was an event that could have turned angry very easily but the mood was kept light and focused on a positive message with substantial criticisms.

On the other hand, Doug Ford had went off the rails over the weekend going so far as to calling in to Josh Matlow’s radio show, accusing Ken Greenberg of being married to Adam Vaughan’s EA (they’re not), stating that Janet Davis bullies him and parsing words over what constitutes ‘horse-trading’ with Matlow. It perfectly encapsulated his campaign: out-of-nowhere, alienating, bizarre and brash.

And so Doug Ford sat in council, defeated by the likes of Fletcher and McConnell, moderates like Robinson and even Ford allies. According to Fletcher, this was in no small part due to CodeBlue, “With an exceptional knowledge base and a good ‘rolodex’ they created a port in the storm and encouraged Torontonians to speak out for what they believed in…The state of civic life in Toronto is as healthy as ever.”

Long-time activist Wilkey shared the sentiment, and found it personally fulfilling, “The group was politically savvy, energetic, able to operate in traditional and social media, smart, informed and fun. And I believe we made a difference.”

Wilkey’s observation points to a model for contemporary activism. CodeBlueTO didn’t succeed by doing the opposite of Doug Ford’s single-minded bullying, but because they integrated their diverse and complementary personal skills into their group tactics.

They gathered a passionate group of knowledge experts, communicated a condensed and positive message through old and new channels like social media and used a two-pronged approach to engage in public outreach and political persuasion. In a way, it was a model example for affecting change in the community.

Their activism- often a derogatory word in politics- was appreciated. As Fletcher finished her speech and Council unanimously voted for a consensus that only gave token concessions to the Ford Vision, applause broke out.

But it wasn’t just from the City Hall watchers. Most of the politicians turned around and stood to face the audience and gave a sustained applause to them. Even the chamber camera broke tradition and panned the audience, capturing a moment when the ideals of activism helped to (briefly) change the tenor of politics.   

It was Laidley’s favourite moment of the three weeks, a validation of the impact a small group of people can have. Asked about a lesson from the experience, she offered, “A city is not just created by those who have the power to make decisions, it’s shaped by all of us. All of us have to take responsibility for how we’re governed.”

CodeBlueTO will continue to cover the waterfront. For the purpose of this article, some people who made significant contributions were not covered. 

Snapshot of a Council in Flux

Peter Power / GLOBE AND MAIL


Tuesday featured a rash of Council votes on the Core Service Review which cumulatively cut (or set the stage to cut) about $27.6 million in annual spending. The merits of these cuts have been discussed fairly extensively and will continue to be so, but yesterday’s votes provide a detailed snapshot of the political state of Council.

Looking at yesterday’s votes that state can best be described as murky. I know, not the most satisfying conclusion to draw, but let’s look at the evidence.

Matt Elliott did his thing again and tallied all of the motions yesterday in this Google Spreadsheet, which I urge you to check out. I think he’ll also have some analysis at his site later on, so just keep on punching F5 there.  

First, a quick summary. Team Ford lost 11 votes, and some in dramatic fashion (39-6 on comparing how other municipalities have responded to downloading, 37-8 on reporting on full list of revenue options at budget launch). Others were much closer- half of the opposition wins had 23-25 votes (23 are needed for a majority). Some of these votes will only have a small impact on the process but others- particularly the vote to not privatize the Toronto Parking Authority- quietly have a big impact.

More importantly, seven of the mayor’s whipped votes lost. This suggests that the mayor’s once firm grip on councillors is slowly growing weaker on individual issues. It’s very difficult to regain that strength—once councillors have a sense of independence it’s hard to bring them back in the fold. Council even overruled Speaker Frances Nunziata three times over the course of the two day session.  

Looking at which councillors broke from the mayor’s agenda can give us an idea of what’s to come. Chief among these councillors is Etobicoke’s Gloria Lindsay Luby, who is perhaps most famous for being referred to by then-councillor Rob Ford as a ‘waste of skin’. Going into this Council debate she had an 87.5% Ford rating on important Council votes. Of the 11 votes Ford lost Tuesday, she only voted with him on one. Executive committee member Jaye Robinson voted against Ford whipped votes eight times and North York conservative James Pasternak did so seven times.

There were good signs for Ford though. TTC Chair Karen Stintz, who not too long ago appeared to be on the outs with Team Ford, voted with the Mayor on whipped votes all but two times. Granted, one of those times was on the Toronto Parking Authority, but she has been a good soldier for the team lately.

Despite the ‘wins’ by the left, most items were cut. All told, $27.6 million out of $30 million or so was cut. From a Ford perspective, this is a win. Yet there were around $100 million in cuts on the table just a few weeks ago, most of which will wind up being deferred into bureaucratic black holes. Put another way, the budget cuts from Tuesday represent a $30 car registration fee or 0.3% of the overall budget, or $10 from every Toronto resident.

It’s hard to argue that cutting $27.6 million from the budget is what is going to ensure structural sustainability. Every little bit helps, but it comes at a price in terms of both livability for Torontonians and politically for Team Ford. After all, it’s a hard sell to say you’re thoughtfully looking out for the welfare of Torontonians when you’re cutting the Hardship Fund that subsidizes medicine for low-income seniors and cutting the Christmas bureau that coordinates donated gifts for needy children.

This was not the gravy you were looking for. Unfortunately for Ford, the choices only get harder from here as they’ll impact a wider variety of people.

As Council goes through an uncertain period with alignment and policies in flux the question will be who can best frame those decisions. Did the Mayor and his allies get 90% of his their cuts or 27% of them? Did Team Ford make the tough decisions to balance the budget or are they making the easy choices on the backs of the poor and marginalized? Was the Mayor’s team able to win an impressive number of votes (40 of 52) or lose an impressive amount (it’s unusual to lose 12 votes in a day)?

Granted, it will be tough for Ford to frame the debate in a positive light when he’s talking about tough cuts. Doing so would be impressive, especially considering the fact that he’s used the same rhetoric since he started to run for mayor. An updated narrative is needed as councillors and constituents demand more about how these cuts will impact their lives.  

Just like the budget, the optics and direction of council is in an indeterminate position. The challenge for both sides is to best frame those choices as new information arises so people can buy into their vision of the city. 


Tracking Rob Ford’s Arguments in Council

It’s tough to keep up with the Team Ford claims at City Hall, but it’s necessary. Smart policy can’t be made when the discourse is flooded with murky misrepresentations or poor policy, so filtering those out is a helpful task.

This morning Mayor Ford spoke at Council and thus took follow-up questions from councillors. It may have been his worst performance on the floor of Council as mayor. He was constantly defensive and there was noticeable anger bubbling. Importantly, there were no outbursts.
Photo of today’s City Council meeting by Jeremy Kai

There were, however, many misrepresentations or contradictory messages, well covered by people on Twitter (you know who you are). Among those messages:

  • Ford said he was following the wishes of people who tell him to ‘stay the course’. Challenged on this, he was asked about his poll numbers and said that the last Toronto Sun poll had his approval at 72%. This poll is hardly relevant today as it was done in April.


  • Anthony Peruzza asked about the $49 million (expected) cancellation fee from TransitCity. Ford began to talk about the right of way streetcar on St. Clair, saying that it was a failure. This project was not a part of TransitCity although the right of way is similar to various lines.

  • In the same segment where he bemoaned the financial straits of the city and the structural deficit, Ford insisted the land transfer tax (which brings in close to $300 million) is ‘one we don’t need’.

  • Gloria Lindsay Luby, who normally doesn’t speak much at council, challenged Ford on the land transfer tax, pointing out that Toronto has had the hottest real estate market in North America despite the tax. Ford said that’s irrelevant, it still hurts the market.

  • Ford claimed ‘he gave the police a raise when no one said it could be done’. No one claimed this. (If someone can correct me in the comments, please do).

  • Ford argued that the city should increasingly rely on a user fee model. Mike Layton asked him to define ‘user fees’ and then applied his definition to the vehicle registration tax. Ford insisted his definition of ‘fees paid by individuals who use the service’ didn’t apply (arguing if the money went to road repair it might).

  • Ford cited the Toronto Sun (and Denzil Minnan-Wong) when discussing ‘gravy’, pointing to overtime paid by various departments. The City Manager later said this overtime was largely because of the G20. Additionally, the other option to overtime while maintaining service levels would be more costly- to hire more employees.