The Rob Ford of Hollywood Blvd.
In his Grid-exclusive behind-the-scenes report from Rob Ford’s Jimmy Kimmel Live appearance, writer Nicholas Hune-Brown spoke to Sean Armstrong, an Alberta man who was hoping to capitalize on the Ford visit by impersonating the mayor for tourist photo-ops on Hollywood Blvd. (Spoiler alert: As of Monday afternoon, business was not exactly booming.)
Here’s a photo of Armstrong in all his Fordness. What do you think—would you let this man in your vacation slideshow?
Forget it, Jake, it’s Crazy Town: The chief, the mayor, and his brother
By Edward Keenan
Where to even start with the latest round of batshit nonsense to engulf Toronto’s politics?
Well, let’s start with the obvious. The carpet-bomb rambling of Doug Ford and his little brother Mayor Rob is batshit nonsense—its familiar whiff of bizarrely self-righteous accusation now almost overtaken by the overpowering stench of desperation. But you knew that already.
Doug Ford’s completely “objective” opinion on John Tory
By Edward Keenan
Last night on my Newstalk 1010 radio show—The Edward Keenan Show airs every Sunday night at 10 p.m.—we broke the news that John Tory is running for mayor of Toronto. You’ve no doubt heard that news by now; minutes after we shared the information and news director Kym Geddes’ interview with Tory, virtually every other media outlet in the city had their own scoops on his long-gestating campaign announcement.
I was joined on the air by Ryan Doyle and Geddes for an extended conversation about the announcement. One of the people we spoke to was Doug Ford, brother and campaign manager of the incumbent mayor. He quickly made it clear that in his mind, the talk-radio station where the Ford brothers had for some time hosted their own show was out to get Rob Ford (joining the Toronto Star, the CBC, The Globe and Mail, all of the mayor’s former staff, the city’s staff, and the police department of Toronto). You can listen to him here, as he explains why Newstalk 1010 is essentially part of the Tory campaign team, leading me to wonder about the objective definition of the word “objective.”
The Ford anti-Pride strategy
By Edward Keenan
Rob Ford has never had good relations with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* community in Toronto. Historically, if he hasn’t been saying outrageous things (“If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably”; puzzling over the guys-and-dolls definitions of transgenderism), he’s been doing antagonistic things (like voting against funding for the Pride parade, grants, and local health organizations) or not doing things in an antagonistic way (refusing to attend any events during Pride week). We’ve seen all this, and known all this, and debated this for a long, long time.
But in the past, he has sometimes apologized and often tried to offer cover for the homophobia (or biphobia, or transphobia), arguing that his opposition to grants comes from penny-pinching alone, or that he can’t attend events because of conflicting family traditions. And his brother has always been there to proclaim how the Ford brothers love them some gay community and donate the stickers to prove it.
However, in the past few days, there’s been an explosion of controversial stuff from Ford about LGBTQ-related topics. And it’s starting to appear as if it’s a thought-out strategy rather than just run-of-the-mill failing to conceal bigotry.
Tear down the Gardiner? It’s about more than just traffic
By Edward Keenan
Yesterday, City of Toronto staff and Waterfront Toronto released the results of their Environmental Assessment—essentially a detailed feasibility study—on the options we have for dealing with Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis. The thing is falling apart, and will need to be either significantly rebuilt, replaced, or removed in the next decade. They are holding a public meeting to show the presentation tonight at 6:30 p.m.(You can see the slides from yesterday’s presentation here.)
Based on the “Evaluation results matrix” that shows which of four options—maintain, improve, replace, or remove—are best in a number of areas we’d consider when making a decision, you can see that removing the Gardiner appears “preferred” in most areas. For the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and safety, removal is best. From the point of view of all the planning and design criteria, removal is best. According to most of the environmental and economics categories, removal is best. And removal is the cheapest of the options—and will also free up a bunch of real-estate for development, opening up revenue possibilities of $80-$90 million.
Oddly, the headline on the front of Metro today says ‘Experts warn that gutting Gardiner will doom drivers” and carries the lede, “Tearing down the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis is not the best option for the crumbling structure, despite a new study that seems to favour demolition, experts say.” The story then quotes three experts, only one of whom actually seems to share the opinion expressed in the headline and lede. (It’s an edit of this Star story, which has a softer, more balanced presentation of the point.)
But the expert they do quote is referring to the categories in which maintaining the Gardiner is preferred and tearing it down is least preferred: movement of automobiles, goods, “constructability,” and “cultural resources”—especially the first two on that list. The expert in question, Murtaza Haider, is a “transportation engineer” and says that moving cars and goods are the highest priorities to consider in this decision, which means they trump everything. (This may not be a surprise: this post from a former traffic engineer claims the problem with the field is that it will always consider moving cars to be the absolute number one priority, trumping all else.)
But Haider makes a notable point, in that as much as the colour-coded chart makes one option look best, the chart’s preamble is careful to say that the criteria are not weighted. As the deputy city manager presenting the chart said at the presentation, it is the job of politicians to make decisions about what option to pursue—our elected officials, in our name, are in charge of setting our priorities.
So here’s something: given the assumptions of those conducting the study (and there are some big ones, including the construction of the Downtown Relief subway line and the East Bayfront LRT), removal of the Gardiner would add about 10 minutes to the travel time into downtown from the northeast. (Travel times appear unaffected from the southeast and the west.) Which means a change of 20 minutes a day. We’re talking about approximately 5,600 vehicles during the peak hour every day whose trips will be affected. That’s likely about 6,640 people, given the average Toronto car carries 1.15 people during rush hour. Some of those are coming off the DVP, some from Lakeshore in the east, and a smaller number continuing east from the western section of the Gardiner.
The number of cars coming in and going out on the most dramatically affected route—those coming to and from the Don Valley Parkway, which appears to be the only travel pattern that shows a significant change in drive time—is smaller, about 3,600 cars, or perhaps 4,140 people.
So the commute time of those 4,140 people in cars during the peak of the morning rush is one criteria to consider, as is the effect on traffic on the alternate routes that people will choose if the eastern Gardiner disappears: Lakeshore, Queens Quay, Richmond, and so on.
But that is not the only one. I’ve already briefly mentioned cost, which over the past few years has been a dominant element of every discussion: removing the Gardiner is projected to cost about $240 million, while maintaining it would cost $300 million, improving it $360 million, and replacing it $700 million. So removing it saves at least $60 million (or theoretically, as much as $460 million).
And then there are the things that those conducting the study were actually instructed to consider their priorities—albeit in 2009, by a different city council:
- Revitalize the Waterfront
- Reconnect the City with the Lake
- Balance Modes of Travel
- Achieve Sustainability
- Create Value
If revitalizing the Waterfront and reconnecting the city with the lake are priorities, there is really no contest: removing the Gardiner and developing the streetscape are hands-down winners.
As a supplement to that, let us finally consider that “Revitalize the Waterfront” contains in it the huge mandate we’ve already given Waterfront Toronto: to take the massive semi-abandoned industrial portion of the port lands and turn them into a thriving downtown neighbourhood. It’s a mandate that is well underway, and one that was fiercely protected from meddling by city council when doug Ford tried to stick his hands in the pot a few years ago, leading to some revisions.
That plan calls for a neighbourhood to be built. We are likely talking about thousands or tens of thousands of residences, as well as hundreds of retail business and offices. If we leave the Gardiner up, those people living and working there will have an elevated highway running through their neighbourhood so that people who live in other parts of the city can save 10 minutes per trip on a commute downtown. If we take it down, they’ll get a broad and likely very busy boulevard on Lake Shore. And there will be an additional 10 acres of land freed up for sale along that boulevard, bringing in $80-ish million in revenue and meaning more stores, offices, and housing.
The people who live in that area are very likely to walk or bicycle to work—like those in other downtown neighbourhoods, including especially CityPlace, where people overwhelmingly travel on motor-free transportation. The neighbourhood is very likely to become a destination—featuring ample parkland—for others from around the city. What will make the experience of it better? Easier car travel to and from the area, or a better neighbourhood and good urban design in the area itself, and a smoother connection to the rest of downtown?
I realize that the way I phrase some of these questions might suggest certain answers—but I think they are legitimate questions without pre-determined answers. Even for those who favour less car travel and more walkable neighbourhoods, the movement of people and goods through the city, and into and out of it, needs to be an important consideration.
All of this means we’ve got some thinking to do about priorities, and it doesn’t strike me that it’s a decision that lends itself well to off-the-cuff knee-jerk reactions, like the ones we saw from longtime proponents of keeping the Gardiner (like Rob Ford and Denzil Minnan-Wong) and longtime opponents of it (like everyone who has long thought it was an eyesore).
We have to decide: are we building city neighbourhoods for the people who live in them and work in them? Or for the people who travel through them? Asking that question two generations ago, we stopped the Spadina Expressway. Asking it again a couple years ago, we ripped out the Jarvis bike lanes.
And we also have to think about costs: is it worth spending tens of millions extra to save a few thousand people 20 minutes a day? How about hundreds of millions? And if so, are we also willing to spend an equivalent amount extra to save commuting time for many more thousands of people taking transit?
We have to make a decision to spend at least a quarter billion dollars on that corridor within the next decade. We’re going to develop the port lands either way. So since all that’s inevitable, we shouldn’t assume there’s a default option. How do we want to invest our money? What kind of city do we want to build?
Photo: Rendering of the view looking southwest from Lake Shore and Sherbourne if the Gardiner Expressway is removed, courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.
Should we rename Union Station, as Denzil Minnan-Wong suggests?
By Edward Keenan
“Worst budget ever”? No. But Fordiest meeting of the term, maybe
BY EDWARD KEENAN
After all was said and done yesterday, and the City Council at long, long, long, long, long last passed the 2014 budget, Mayor Rob Ford stopped to talk to reporters on his way to the elevator. “This is the worst budget that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here,” he said. Which is weird, because it—and the two-day orgy of stupidity that led to its passage—was certainly the most typically Rob Ford-era budget we’ve seen.
Because of that, it was a frustrating meeting to watch, since it was like being trapped in a replay of all of this city council’s worst episodes, relentlessly forced to re-enact the established tropes. And yet it felt worse than before, because now the old favourites lack the virtue of novelty. It was like watching a sitcom that’s gone on three or four seasons too long, at the point where the aging characters—having learned nothing over the seasons, and still essentially the same characters they were when the series began—are reduced to reciting their catchphrases even though there’s nothing fresh or funny or interesting about them anymore. The actors aren’t into it, the audience no longer finds it fun, the characters aren’t growing or growing up or changing, and, no matter what happens at the end of the episode, we know next week they’ll be back spouting the same catchphrases, making the same misunderstandings, and playing out a variation on the same old tired plot. The whole thing has become rote and predictable and a form of drudgery for everyone involved. Yet they keep on, because saying those catchphrases is what they do on that show. It’s what the dwindling number of people who still tune in expect. No one can think of what else they might do after all this time. So you keep going until it gets cancelled.
The new Ford video tells us what we already knew
BY EDWARD KEENAN
For all the fuss about the video that emerged this week of Rob Ford, once again intoxicated, once again saying offensive things, once again apparently in the company of accused drug dealer and extortionist Sandro Lisi, there’s not a lot that’s new to the story. We’re living through it again, and the particulars are different, but the major themes and lessons are ones we already knew. It’s like Groundhog Day arrived early, and as in the Bill Murray movie, we get to just see if anything plays out differently while watching the same basic elements unfold.
Indeed, as I observed on Twitter earlier this week, and as Matt Elliott wrote in a blog post at Metro, we’ve got the narrative structure down to a ritual: People wonder why Rob Ford is late for work—showing up at City Hall at 2:15pm. His office makes some vague defensive noises about “constituent work.” A video emerges appearing to show the mayor under the influence of something mind-altering, doing and saying absurd and offensive things. People debate the veracity of the video, and its contents. Doug Ford comes out to issue a flat denial. More debate and scrutiny of the video ensues. Then the mayor comes out and admits it is real, it shows what it appears to show, and gets defensive about his personal life. Set up the velvet ropes near the elevator, cue the speeches about the mayor’s re-election message, commission the Forum poll, and wait for the next episode. The whole thing used to take a few weeks to play out, but now we’re so practiced at it we saw it all unfold in a few hours this time.
If anything, the news here is that there is no news of the type some people thought we might have been seeing: Rob Ford is not a new man, his guarantees that he would never drink again were as invalid as his guarantees he’d repeal the land transfer tax and that he would not try to cut any services. (Which is to say they were patently false, and no matter how much he hoped they might be true, he ought to have known they were unlikely.) Fitness regime or no, this is what you get with Rob Ford: belligerence, dishonesty, shameless indulgence of personal vices, offensive shouting, and disingenuous promises that this time will be the last time. Please baby, I can change, baby.
This clown of a mayor has managed to set the bar for himself so low that all he has to do is show up for work, stay sober, and avoid ranting like a lunatic in public. If he does those things, everyone stands around in awe remarking on how good he looks and how changed he is, and how his comeback is an unstoppable juggernaut. But he can’t do it—he cannot maintain those basic elements of adult participation in the civilized world. And when he fails—again and again—this minimal test of the competency we’d expect if we were hiring fast food counter clerk, the mayor of Toronto indignantly tells us about minor setbacks and the privacy he deserves in his personal life.
So: some of us have questions about whether the chief magistrate should be calling the police chief a “cocksucker” in the midst of bragging about evading police surveillance; about whether he drove himself to the restaurant, or home from it; about whether he should be keeping company with Sandro Lisi—and if so why he doesn’t explain his choice or defend his friend rather than keeping it secret; questions about how he appeared to get so altered very quickly after earlier public appearances and another video shot the same night. We have questions about why he’d go out of his way to emphatically tell a press group he was meeting with about his sobriety mere hours before going out to get wasted; about why a man who claims to be on the clock 24/7 is suddenly so protective of his private, personal time. Even about how distressing it seems that he keeps this stuff from his brother and closest advisor, Doug Ford, who is always ready to stand up and insist on Rob’s innocence and virtue moments before Rob himself gets up to prove Doug a liar. Doug’s his campaign manager: we now have a sense of how this campaign is likely to go.
But what is the point of asking? By now we know Rob Ford will not deal with such questions straightforwardly, that anything he would say in response would be either wishful thinking or an outright lie, that in any event he will show no shame and will not step down or seek help or admit more than cursory wrongdoing. He defined his script in the days after the crack scandal first broke last spring. “Ridiculous,” he said, at first. And then: “Everything’s fine.” And then, “Anything else?”
Well, let’s agree. It is ridiculous, all of it. Rob Ford thinks everything’s fine. And there will always be something else.
As many unanswered questions as there are about Ford’s many failings and foibles, we really have all the information we need about him. He’s reckless and often out of control. He’s either wrong or dishonest about nearly everything. And he will not change. What you’ve seen is what you’ll get.
And—another thing that doesn’t change—a dedicated minority of people in this city like what they’ve been getting just fine. The new Forum poll, like the others, show the mayor drawing as much as 37 per cent of the vote in a hypothetical election. This is a source of great frustration to many who share my assessment of his performance. The same poll, like those before it, show that well over half of people in Toronto will not even consider voting for Ford. It’s hard to imagine this latest scandal, covered wall-to-wall by those of us in the press (and the late-night comedians in the US, and so on) has changed anyone’s mind about Rob Ford. This is more of what we already knew. Those who hate him see it as more evidence of his hateful incompetence. Those who love him see it as further proof the media will never leave the man alone to his struggles. We’ve all made up our minds on whether he’s a good man, or an honest man, or a good mayor. New evidence just convinces us all the more that we were right.
So here’s a word of advice to those trying to beat him: those who can be convinced that Rob Ford is a terrible, horrible, no-good mayor have already been convinced. Those not convinced never will be.
Rob Ford seems to have recognized this. Witness how as each new scandal emerges now, he brushes it off with a perfunctory partial admission and launches straight into his policy points—such as they are in Ford’s world. The proposed tax rate. The hiring of new lawyers. The disrespecting of taxpayers, and so on.
We in the press will continue to report on and analyze and debate Ford’s nonsense, as it is news, and a matter of public interest. But those hoping to provide an alternative to him will, if they hope to be successful, need to actually present an alternative. I was on CBC’s Metro Morning today with the Etobicoke-based activist Idil Burale, who said something to the effect that “Rob Ford is good at problem-naming. We need to get on to the problem-solving.” For whatever reason—even if you find it unfathomable—some voters think Ford understands their complaints, gives them voice, and tries to give them what they want. Rather than convincing those people they are wrong about Ford, perhaps you could instead try to also understand their complaints, give them voice, and try to help them find real solutions to those problems.
For candidates, the solution is never going to be figuring out “how to convince these people to get it through their thick skulls that I’m right...” It’s going to be partly appealing to those already convinced, and then asking “how do we make the rest of the city part of our team, and make sure we’re incorporating their real concerns and solutions they believe in a key part of how we propose to govern.” Which is to say, perhaps you don’t necessarily need to convince people that Ford is a bad man—some people will never be convinced, as I say. Perhaps you could just try to convince them you would be a great mayor. I know this sounds crazy, but after all the fighting and fuss about Ford, maybe people would be ready to look at a vision that is about the city and the rest of the people who live in it, rather than about the current mayor.
There’s another option, of course, which is to write off the 35 per cent or so of voters who say they like Ford, and run a wedge-issue campaign aimed at pitting the majority of others against them. Then you just have to strategize enough to avoid splitting the vote—by begging, borrowing, and horse-trading, or by assassinating the characters of those who might otherwise agree with you to make yourself seem like a less-bad option by comparison. That could work too, even if it would be less inspiring and would not bridge some of the divides that have ruptured our political debates in the age of Ford. It might be the more conventional way to approach this.
Either way, there are no votes to be had in the Ford-scandal territory. We are not learning anything new, and barring an arrest or death, we are unlikely to learn anything new. As my friend John McGrath writes, we’ve seen this video before. We know it by heart. There are no unexplored themes for us to discovering in rewatching it again. Someone needs to start writing a whole new script.
By the numbers: Rob Ford goes to Steak Queen
Well that didn’t take long—we’re just three weeks into the new year and already another unflattering Rob Ford video has emerged! This one—reportedly filmed in the wee hours this morning at the Steak Queen in Rexdale—captures the mayor spicing up his usual on-camera routine of rambling incoherently by attempting to speak in a Jamaican accent. While much of what Ford is saying is indecipherable, these stats are undeniable: