Are Rob and Doug Ford only the beginning of a long story of change in Toronto the not so good?

Oct 20th, 2014 | By | Category: In Brief

Royson James speaks on “The Mayor We Want; The Mayor We Need” to a meeting of the Leaside Property Owners’ Association last fall.

A valued Nova Scotia correspondent who also knows Canada’s largest big city urged me to look at Royson James’s column in this past Friday’s Toronto Star : “Politics exposes Toronto’s troubled past and future … The election campaign elicits despair as it reveals the city’s so-easily manipulated divisions.”

I’m glad I did finally read Mr. James’s column carefully, from beginning to end.  One thing it brought to mind is a related big disappointment about Olivia Chow (who I’m voting for anyway). I’m talking about her near-abject failure to seriously challenge the all-too-real Ford Nation in the multicultural old suburbs (Etobicoke, York, North York, Scarborough).

See, eg, the regional numbers for the latest Forum poll. The only part of the present megacity where Ms Chow is doing at all credibly is “the old city of Toronto and East York.” Here the latest Forum numbers show John Tory at 44%, Olivia Chow 36%, and Doug Ford 16%.

As the near-infallible counterweights editors also explained on this site a few days ago : “But Doug Ford does better in all the more suburban regions, in one degree or another, and even leads or comes close to leading in North York and Scarborough. Ms Chow’s campaign has apparently got lost throughout this old suburban terrain. And this is where the new majority of the new megacity population lives (and in many cases works and worships too).”

Football great Pinball Clemons hugs Toronto mayoralty candidate John Tory at Tory's final fundraising dinner in North York, Sunday October 19, 2014. Michael Peake/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency. Pinball has also officially endorsed Mr. Tory.

The editors further explained : “the old suburban regions of Etobicoke, York, North York, and Scarborough are at least as or even more multicultural and born-outside-Canada as/than the old city of Toronto and East York … One of the big early hopes for Olivia Chow …  was that … she would be able to make inroads on the Ford Nation’s somewhat strange hold on strategic segments of today’s multicultural and non-white Toronto. (And remember : just over half the official City of Toronto population at the moment has been born outside Canada.) …”

The counterweights editors concluded (with some slight editorial emendations this second time around) : “Why the Chow campaign has not gained … much ground among multicultural Toronto … is an interesting question … And remember, again : there are many mysteries of the global village abroad in what just used to be called “the city” these days. And it is not always easy to know what they mean!”

* * * *

“Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Michael Thompson drink to Jamaica on Apr. 12, 2011.” Brett Gundlock/National Post.

Royson James’s column from this past Friday raised some harsher perspectives on similar issues. Perhaps the harshest was : “Viresh Fernando, a lawyer and busy political operative in the riding of Don Valley West, the Premier’s riding, says a more aggressive, hands-on, effort is needed if people of colour are to register on the political radar … ‘Power is never given; it is always taken, (so) go about grabbing it however difficult and unpopular that may be. We need to get an otherwise qualified candidate and start demanding concessions from white folk with credible threats as to how we will respond if we don’t get what we want.’”

This especially reminds me of how at one point over the past four years the Scarborough City Councillor Michael Thompson brought greetings from Mayor Rob Ford to one of the events honouring the late great Charles Roach — Canadian civil rights lawyer, co- founder of Caribana and the Black Action Defence Committee, painter, poet, and pioneering Canadian republican, etc, etc.

Charles Roach and Michael Thompson with proclamation from the City of Toronto honouring Mr. Roach’s “outstanding and extraordinary contributions to the city.” University of Toronto Medical Science Building, July 2012.

Councillor Thompson got into a few hostile but civil-enough exchanges with some forthright Charles Roach supporters in the audience, nicely demonstrating how even the black community in Toronto is far from united ideologically or almost any other way — let alone the larger multicultural community (and especially what Royson James calls “people of colour” generally) in the old suburbs and everywhere else.

Anyway, I do think Mr. James raised some things well worth thinking and even eventually doing something about in his column this past Friday. Once someone has figured out just what it is that needs to be done?

What his column finally made me think was, regardless of what happens in one of many Ontario municipal elections on October 27, maybe Rob Ford and his brother are just the start of a longer and more complicated story of change in Toronto, that will hopefully unfold over the next few decades without too many (more?) people getting killed. Under the new Mayor Tory or anyone else …  (Or on the hopefully not too likely most drastic scenario, things just may have to get worse before they start getting better ???? What if Doug Ford is actually right about John Tory?)

Mayor Ford befriends a voter on the Danforth last summer.

And, for all we practical progressives from whatever background, there are probably things to be learned from the disappointments of Olivia Chow’s noble campaign? (And our own parts in it, or lack thereof … which also seemed to be one of Michael Thompson’s criticisms at the Charles Roach event. Too many proclaimed progressive people just want to disturb the water and complain! And of course I am certainly guilty of that too … Time for some more wealthy person to buy me a drink …  And then I’m going to go vote for Olivia Chow.)

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