Not any more

Rivals confront Rob Ford over migrant remarks

In Canada on August 19, 2010 at 08:55

Peter J. Thompson / National Post

“You’re running from the issue, Rob,” Rocco Rossi, left, shouts at his mayoral rival Rob Ford outside City Hall yesterday.

Smelling blood, rival candidates yesterday seized on remarks front-running mayoral hopeful Rob Ford made about newcomers to Toronto during a televised debate on Tuesday, with one accusing the candidate of being a “serial divider” and another bringing his mother, a first generation immigrant, to a downtown rally.

Calling it a “turning point” and an affront to the values of a city built by immigrants, Rocco Rossi, George Smitherman, Joe Pantalone and Sarah Thomson lined up to criticize their opponent outside City Hall yesterday.

Mr. Rossi, the son of Italian immigrants, confronted Mr. Ford in front of news cameras, but Mr. Ford waved him off and walked away, accusing his rival of playing a “political game.”

“You’re running from the issue, Rob,” Mr. Rossi shouted at his back.

Mr. Ford is under fire for comments he made during a mayoral debate after candidates were asked how Toronto should welcome Tamil migrants.

“Right now we can’t even deal with the 2.5 million people in this city. I think it is more important to take care of people now before we start bringing in more people,” Mr. Ford responded. “There’s going to be a million more people, according to the official plan, which I did not support, over the next 10 years coming into the city.

“We can’t even deal with the 2.5 million people. How are we going to welcome another million people in? It is going to be chaotic…. I think we have to say enough’s enough.”

Half of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada. The only population figure in the city’s official plan, which outlines how to prepare for urban growth, states that the Greater Toronto Area will increase by 2.7-million people by 2031. Toronto is expected to take in about 20% of that, or 537,000 people, in the period 2001 to 2031. The provincial government projects Toronto will grow by 170,000 in the next 10 years.

Mr. Rossi led the charge against Mr. Ford, organizing a rally at the base of Nathan Phillips Square of about 30 people, including his mother, Domenica.

“The real Rob Ford believes that more immigration means more taxes, as opposed to more economic growth for the city,” Mr. Rossi said.

George Smitherman called Mr. Ford a “serial divider,” while Joe Pantalone asked if Mr. Ford is suggesting he should “get back on the boat” and go back to Italy.

“We all get the point that people in Toronto have been nickelled and dimed and that this is a source of anger. But if people are looking to choose a mayor simply on the basis of one person’s willingness to buy his own paper clips, and discard the responsibilities that a mayor has to actually bring us together, then I think that will be a problem for Toronto,” Mr. Smitherman said.

Mr. Ford stood by his comments yesterday, insisting he supports immigration. But he says Toronto doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate more residents, even if he can’t stop anyone from coming here.

“You try to get home at night, the traffic congestion is worse and worse, there’s homeless people laying on the streets, we can’t help them. This city is congested as is, where are we going to fit another million people?” he told reporters.
“I’m going to play the cards that I’m dealt and you know what? More people will come. But in a perfect world, what I’m saying is that I would like to deal with the 2.5 million first,” he said.

Mr. Ford has courted the media glare before, most recently raising the ire of opponents for alleging corruption at City Hall without disclosing proof. Two polls in June had him battling for the lead with Mr. Smitherman. A poll done last week (with a small sample size, and by a little-known firm that refused to disclose who commissioned it) had Mr. Ford well in front.

“He’s finally dealing with an issue that affects so many people and candidates can say it’s a turning point because everyone thinks it’s absurd,” said  Ipsos Reid pollster John Wright. “It may be a fact that we can’t support another million people but that speaks to infrastructure as opposed to keeping them out, so what’s your solution?” he said.


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