Tuesday, November 12, 2013



 It was J.P. Morgan who got a stock tip from his cabby when he arrived at Wall St. in 1929.
He went to his office and sold everything, thus not only preserving his fortune but increasing it during the Great Depression.
After all, he said, when even the shoeshine boys are giving tips, along with the barbers and the cleaning ladies, there is a mass hysteria  that means common sense takes the first suicidal plunge out the window.
That is the way I feel about this great depression, all this yammering about Mayor Rob Ford. Now I can understand the Star. It has always been prone to ranting, and Ford, his brother and his athletic supporters, would never be acceptable to the Star even if they found a way to increase the value of the Star stock by 400% back to the levels where suckers bought it.
Everyone had an opinion but too few know very much about what really happened and what the mayoral powers really are.
I have been asked at recent meetings just why I have not written about the debacle, and I mean the incessant coverage of the Star and the whining of councillors who think they would be a better mayor. Actually they wouldn't even be suitable as defeated candidates.
And a number of friends have pointed out that I told them several years ago that members of the Toronto police force (I find the use of the term "service" to be smarmy) thought that Ford was a crack cocaine addict. One source was a senior and retired City Hall official who knew something about the police because he had once worked for me as a clever police reporter.
There is no need to recite all the sordid details of the Ford dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight. The Star and the rest of the media are overdosing us on that because, after all, covering one scandal is a lot easier than reporting all the news that happens daily in the GTA without the baited breath of watching journalist. (And yes that is a pun.)
At  the rotting foundation of all this outrage rests one great gravestone of information that should dominate the debate instead of being largely ignored.
We do not have a "strong mayor" system. The mayor is vested with some special real and perceived powers, both by bylaw and provincial legislation, a few of which have been removed, perhaps illegally, by council, but in the end, he is just one of 45  votes on the council.
Ford could decamp to some Polynesian island and drink fermented coconut juice until he passes out daily on some secluded beach and the business of the City of Toronto would and should continue to be done.
The second gravestone below the controversy is that Ford is not a crook. There is no evidence that he has stolen vast sums like former mayors from too many large American citiesm like Detroit, to Canadian municipalities like Montreal and much of Quebec. Actually Toronto has been remarkably free of corrupt leaders.
His crimes are personal and moral mixed with stupidity, mad dog temper,  and a crude mouth. He associates with crooks and jerks and low lifes (and no I'm not talking about some councillors) and it is disgusting that even a man with maybe normal IQ (and Ford has never dazzled me with his intellect) would not see that so many of the people he has been seen consorting with are like dregs from a bad jail.
Once upon a time, I was president of the CNE and Ford was one of the directors who made inane motions. I would argue publicly and privately with Ford, but I never doubted that his motivation was sincere and driven by a desire to keep public spending to a minimum.
Over the years, I have often been around Ford and argued with him about everything from football to the free passes that councillors got to the city golf courses (he was opposed) and found him agreeable and persistent in ward duties although as stubborn as a mule with a headache.
Lately I have discussed him with his confidants, former mayors and many observers, and we all agreed that despite all the drunk sightings and rumours, we had never seen him with a drink in his hand, redolent with marijuana, fierce with anger or impaired in any way except with his words. However, he has often looked like a sweaty drunk with a three-day hangover.
The worst tailoring of any mayor ever.
Awkward when not bumptious!
But back to this idea that the city is paralyzed by Ford dancing like a clumsy bear while the media shoot   questions like bullets at his innards. I notice this is floated by the usual suspects, the Star reinforced by some pols and profs anxious to get their names in the paper so that their colleagues will think they actually know wotinhell they are talking about in reality politics.
And also back to the idea that this city or province or country is embarrassed by anything its leaders and politicians do. Good heavens, folks, we have had too much practise in trying to keep our composure and not lynch a few senators or MPs or MPPs or councillors when they waste another billion or two on inept administration while screwing up OHIP or even generating plants. Some aren't even convincing liars.
Lock Ford in a room with cases of vodka and tonnes of whatever paraphernalia you need for crack cocaine and give him ten years of absolute power and he wouldn't be able to waste as much money as Queen's Park or Ottawa does in one day. No, make that one hour.
Back in 1971 when we started the Toronto Sun, I was pressed into service by Doug Creighton and Peter Worthing to write daily on Page 4 about politics. They meant largely municipal politics because I had a background in such coverage, even writing the memoirs of Nathan Phillips before he was the name on the square.
I snuck up University Ave. to the Leg or to budget speeches in Ottawa as much as possible because so many Toronto municipal issues are the same year after year. And when it comes to subways, decade after decade. I fled the country as much as possible, and when I returned to a council meeting, some times the same speaker would be on their feet talking about the same issue.
In an effort to make Toronto urban government more relevant, maybe even dynamic, provincial governments went for amalgamation (a good idea done the wrong way) and longer municipal terms (just plainly dumb.)
I had done some writing for the Board of Trade which once tried to hire me as their communications director, so they pressed me into service on a task force studying urban governance. I was the only media member. Task force members ranged from Michael Wilson, the former federal treasurer and ambassador to the U.S., to Al Leach,  the provincial minister who had imposed amalgamation, to a wonderful group of former key City Hall officials.
I have great respect for Wilson but told him he was wrong when he wanted a "strong mayor" system in Toronto like there was in New York and Chicago where the mayors basically run everything.
And a former City Clerk and retired commissioners agreed with me.
Our argument was you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. What happens if you get stuck with a bad mayor, if he was terrible with his ideas and his appointments and his general approach to "ruling." It's great if they're dynamic and visionary and persuasive, but what happens if we get a real dud...say like Rob Ford.
Wilson in simple but firm speeches managed to win some support for a powerful mayor who would be allowed to implement the platform promised during the election. Later, in 2008, David Miller tried to increase even those powers, but, thank heavens, that trendy flop of a mayor didn't win, or else the city would be flooded with New Democrats. The final compromise, unfortunately also including a four year term, is a system where mayors have more power than they used to - in appointing an executive, committee chairs etc. - but still need 22 other votes to change anything.
I have written about this often, the last time on Jan. 23 in a blog/column titled SCREWED BY STRONG MAYOR ZEALOTS.
 I have also written, with disgust, about all this handwringing about how it is embarrassing to have Ford as a butt of jokes on Letterman, Leno, Stewart. Colbert, etc.
No wonder American TV want to poke fun at us over Ford because they need every diversion they can get. Jay Leno has admitted that. Their crippled government has turned into a stinking mess where the debt has reached such an incredible height that a recession next year is looming and their great great great grandchildren will still be struggling to get out from under the wasted trillions in debt..
They are now deadlocked over a weak form of medicare which Canadians have had, happily, for decades. Deep  down, as Ford has become the most recognized scandal in the world, foreigners know that he is the exception.
Of course we should be unhappy with this whining mess at our City Hall. Of course we should want it to end. But let's not pretend that Ford is a ripe boil and that conservatives/ Conservatives, should be embarrassed to have had such a flawed angry man as their champion.
Downtown councillors, and the lefties and gLiberals from the suburbs, are to blame partially for this.  For decades, the inner city has demanded higher quality of services and obeisance to the downtown issues like affordable housing, street beggars and screwing commuter traffic,
 As a result, the suburbs elected Rob Ford despite all his warts and simplistic talk. At least he was in favour of lower taxes and getting rid of waste. Anyone who had ever spent an hour with this rusty Ford before his mayoral election knew he would be a lousy leader, EXCEPT for those tight-fisted policies on taxes.
Most suburban voter didn't much care what happened at City Hall as long as it wasn't sillier or more expensive that what had been inflicted on us.  Let's have someone, even clownish, to thwart the nuttier ideas from Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks and the councillors who think a bicycle is a heavenly creation to be worshipped while the automobile should be diverted to labyrinths filled with mines and speed traps.
So Ford Nation won. He took the downtown on when better candidates like John Tory chickened out. George Smitherman was vaguely controversial on homosexual issues and flamboyantly a Grit who had wasted hundreds of millions. So Ford overdosed on his chutzpah and charged into the valley of the socialists.
To every action in politics, eventually there is an equal and opposite  reaction, especially when it comes to wasting taxes. So Ford was a victory for the suburban middle class, not the downtown activists who have never seen a program they haven't wanted others to pay for. And now, horrors, the mayor's support took a long time to collapse, despite the Star and these sordid videos and revelations where he is more a drunk than a reasonable man.
 When council's frustrated anti-Ford members wonder why all this has happened, why those blind and bland suburbanites would have united behind such a flawed one-trick inarticulate mayor  of all the wrong people, they should look in the mirror.
 As the legendary Pogo comic strip put it in 1970:  "We have met the enemy and he is us."
We will havc to explain that to the Star while pointing out as gently as we can for drooling commentators that it really is all right in Canada in 2013 to be a conservative, even for some when it turned out he gets as hammered and belligerent and horny as too many of the drunks in the Entertainment District on a Saturday night.
He just didn't know how to conceal the demons that are in too many of the egotists who run in politics.

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