The downtown versus suburbs divide was electoral gold for Rob Ford, but it’s been toxic for the city. Why we need to find a leader who can speak to all Torontonians—and fast.
Our next mayor will need to speak to (and for) all of Toronto. The us-against-them mentality not only creates deep divisions where none need to exist, but it leads us to fight the same battles again and again. The Vehicle Registration Tax was passed after a long debate, then cancelled. Transit City was approved, cancelled, then un-cancelled, and Ford wants to make it an election issue again two years from now. The Jarvis bike lanes were approved and installed, then scheduled for removal, and the issue may come back to council this fall. We’re stuck in Groundhog Day politics.
The emphasis on divisions—suburbs versus downtown, cyclists versus drivers, subways versus LRT—also obscures the more significant fact that these constituencies need to find common ground. And much of it already exists. Congested roads are a problem for all of us; an inadequate transit system is inadequate for all of us. The community-building (and physical building) challenges of condominium developments are roughly the same south of Front Street as they are along Sheppard and near the Scarborough Town Centre. The strength of the city’s economy and job market will propel everyone forward or hold everyone back.
It seems clear that we all want to pay as little tax as is necessary to have a vibrant level of service. We all want less congestion on the roads. We all want lower crime, less poverty, and less pollution. We all want the government to deliver services as effectively as possible, to see as little money wasted as possible, to have interaction with the bureaucracy become less of a chore and more of a pleasure. There is material there, plenty of it, for policies that would appeal to the city’s supposedly divided constituencies.
Our next leader will need to talk realistically about costs and benefits. Miller was realistic about the costs of introducing new taxes, but the message about the benefits of those taxes didn’t reach or persuade everyone. Ford refused to acknowledge that services have costs, promising to cut taxes while improving and expanding services. We are now paying for his delusion.
Related reading: A guide to the 2014 mayoralty race
The usual suspects and wild-card contenders
Blog alert!: Introducing The Keenan Wire
Political news and musings from The Grid‘s Edward Keenan
The OneCity transit plan shows an encouraging way forward. A quick public opinion poll registered 80 per cent support for it, a positive sign that defiantly overriding the Toronto political divide can pay electoral dividends. Stintz and De Baeremaeker characterized their proposal as the beginning of a conversation, and the follow-through on that conversation will be crucially important, for both the plan and our next mayor.
The message of Ford’s election seemed to be that some people felt left out of the conversation Miller was having about the city we were building and who we were building it for. The message of Ford’s mayoralty seems to be that many other people feel their city is being dismantled and their neighbourhoods changed without their say-so, and they have shown they’ll line up for hours at a committee meeting to express that sentiment.
Miller was right that City Hall needs to treat voters as citizens—a source of solutions as much as they are consumers of them. City Hall is now operating in a leaderless vacuum by finding consensus on issues from politicians who represent various points in the city and various points on the political spectrum. The councillors building that consensus are taking their cues from their constituents. The next mayor should learn from that process.
Whoever runs will have to be viable as a representative of both sides of Toronto’s current conversational chasm, equally at home in a mall in Scarborough or in Kensington Market. A personal style somewhere between Miller’s ostentatious eloquence and Ford’s red-faced folksiness-by-slogan would seem to be in order. Someone who can not only find a creative way through the budget but also articulate why some services are worth the cost. Someone who can rise above the same old battlefields and lead us instead to completely new territory. This candidate will have to play nice with others and be able to talk to councillors and residents from all over the city.
We’re not looking for compromise, and perhaps consensus is too much to ask for, but we need someone who can see the value in differing points of view and still find a workable—or, preferably, brilliant—solution. And when the next mayor has found that solution, he or she should be able to look all of us in the eye and explain why it will work for all the people of Toronto.
Related reading: A guide to the 2014 mayoralty race—the usual suspects and wild-card contenders
Blog alert!: Introducing The Keenan Wire—political news and musings from The Grid‘s Edward Keenan