by Hassan Reyes
With the confirmation from Toronto’s Chief of Police, Bill Blair that the infamous video of Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine and blurting homophobic and racist slurs with several gang-involved youth has been seized, Rob Ford’s political career may be over.
With even the Toronto Sun and the National Post calling for his resignation, both staunchly right-wing papers that endorsed Ford for Mayor and have supported him throughout, he has few allies left. Whether he resigns or not remains to be seen, but there are a few important if uncomfortable issues that have been underemphasized if not ignored throughout this saga.
1. The violence against racialized people has been overlooked
The outrage directed at Ford centers around the moral questions regarding his drug use and his inability to own-up to it publicly. Certainly, these are important issues. This is especially true considering that Ford has been very public in attacking poor people and programs directed at people who are or may become involved in drugs or petty crimes.
What has been completely underemphasized however is the fact that one young man, Anthony Smith, is dead, one other shot and another thrown from a sixth-story balcony in another part of the country. All three of these youth were directly associated with the video.
All of these dots connect to suggest that the association of these youth to the video resulted in violence against them. What connections does the Mayor have to people able to carry out such violence?
Moreover from these youth, there is the issue of Project Traveller, which involved 42 tactical teams from 17 police agencies. The methods and sheer number of police used in the raid, have really never been called into question, even by loud Ford opponents in the media and political circles. Do the ends (bringing Ford down) justify the means of sending in a small, head-cracking army to raid poor neighbourhoods? Is the property and lives of the innocent people in the raids just collateral damage?
The violence connected with the Ford crack saga and those victimized by it should be primary concerns for people. This entire ordeal shows that beyond Ford, there are connections between those with political power and those who perpetrate social violence. Unfortunately, this appears as a footnote within the main narratives around Ford.
2. Ford compromised the interests of a section of the rich to get richer
Toronto is the centre of finance capital in Canada, and also continues to be one of the centres for infrastructure and condo development in North America.
These interest groups represent billions of dollars and as such want politicians who will lower their costs, but more importantly who will also be effective in managing public affairs so as to ensure their accumulation goes unimpeded. These interests stand to make far more money from their developments and contracts than they do from reduced fees and taxes.
As much as many Ford opponents portrayed Ford as a servant of the rich and developers, this is only partially true.
Take for example the waterfront. Ford and his brother Doug challenged the proposal to create a tourist attraction in the Port Lands that included a Ferris Wheel, football stadium and mono-rail. This went against the plan being developed by the government agency to create housing, park and employment uses on this land, including a potential $6.8-billion in sales from 12,000 new residential units. While the Ford’s plan may have made one group of capitalists happy, it certainly went against the interests of the housing developers who stand to make billions from those sales.
The same goes for other lucrative events and projects that Ford has been opposed to for some reason or another including other waterfront developments, the annual Pride events (which brings in millions of dollars), the Pan American games etc.
Put plainly, Ford has been a liability to many moneyed interests in this City. This is obviously made worse by the scandal and the instability that it presents for those who just want the City to function so that they can continue to profit. This is the real power behind government in this City, and perhaps they had enough of Ford’s antics. If Ford had been more prudent, more careful, maybe he wouldn’t be where he is right now – with all the corporate media and the police head lined up against him.
3. Ford numerous scandals reveal a huge double standard and more importantly, that the people are not in control of government
Ford literally got away with any and everything, even when he was caught and even when it was illegal.
In the first year of the cell phone driving law being passed, 46 000 tickets where given out with fines ranging from $150-500. This law is supposed to protect people from distracted drivers. Ford was caught on his phone and in one instance, reading a report, while driving. Unlike those thousands of people, Ford was not given a ticket. This was one of many clear examples of the double standards that exists between how law is applied to the powerful and how it is applied to us regular folk.
What this has also revealed, is that when it comes down to it, the people are not in control of government and have few means to hold politicians to account.
Even now that there is irrefutable evidence about his shady if not criminal connections and behaviour Ford maintains, there is little that people can do. Unlike many other places in the world where people can initiate a referendum to recall the mandate of an elected official, there is no way (other than an insurrection) for people to have Ford removed. Even if the majority of his colleagues wanted him out, City Council does not even have the ability to have him removed. So unless he decides to resign or is convicted of a criminal offense, there is no way that the people could have him swept from office until the next election.
4. Cuts didn’t start with Ford, and they won’t end him
Again, only time will tell if Ford is on his way out, but some of the basics of his political message and approach will remain.
Importantly, it has to be acknowledged that aspects of Ford’s agenda began with previous administrations, including that of David Miller. After all, it was Miller’s administration that increased the number of Police, proposed community recreation fee hikes, raised TTC fares among other things. Austerity and neoliberalism in Toronto didn’t start with Ford.
Ford carried these policies to their next logical step, combining user-fee increases with service cuts (which have included cuts to programs for youth and seniors, to TTC and much more proposed). Ford justified these by the rallying call around keeping taxes low, a call which resonated among a large number of people who are beginning to feel the crunch of the global economic recession while also seeing corruption, dysfunction and entitlement among all levels of government.
Ford’s message resonated because it tapped into a growing disenchantment among the people that politicians are not trustworthy and disconnected, that the political structure is broken and that things are getting worse and something needs to be done. His friendly, personal approach reinforced his image as the anti-politician, who didn’t want to work in the same way as the other politicians. This allowed Ford to channel the general frustration and resentment of the public, instead of trying to tell people that everything is fine. Oddly enough, many didn’t notice that he, as a rich, dishonest politician himself, was channeling that frustration against the people themselves, especially the most vulnerable.
Ford’s opponents, including NDP- and Liberal- affiliated councillors and unions, have not been able to challenge Ford’s message as of yet, partially because they do not acknowledge that people’s growing frustrations are justified. Moreover, many of them do not want to rock the boat, and would rather paint the solution as simply one of changing the person in charge.
The Toronto Sun editors, in their column calling for Ford to resign stated: “that agenda (of cutting programs and attacking workers) is exactly what Toronto needs and that we will continue to fight for at the Sun”.
Ford was not part of the working class, nor was he a friend of ours. His successor along with counterparts in other levels of government will continue to try and pass the burden of the economic crisis onto workers and our communities. They may look and sound different, but their message and plan will be the same.