Not any more

A look back at the Rob Ford victory

In Canada on October 26, 2010 at 09:08

Rob Ford and his “Respect for Taxpayers” campaign swept into the mayor’s office Monday night, leading a dramatic overhaul of Toronto’s civic government that will see 14 new faces on council, including new fiscal conservatives to help push through his agenda.

With 1,864 of 1,870 polls reporting, Mr. Ford had earned more than 47.098% of the ballots cast in the municipal election, compared with 35.6% for former deputy premier George Smitherman’s and 11.7% to deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. Mr. Ford earned more votes than David Miller did in either of his victories. “This victory is a clear call from the taxpayers: ‘Enough is enough and I want respect.’ And that’s exactly what we’re going to give them,” Mr. Ford told a raucous crowd at the Toronto Congress Centre last night, surrounded by a crush of family and supporters.

Having withstood the “Stop Rob Ford” movement, the mayor-elect said “the people of Toronto are united by a burning desire for positive change. They want value for their dollar.” He promised to abolish the vehicle registration tax and the land transfer tax, two of the hated legacies of the Miller regime, and will have the help of his older brother, Doug Ford, who won in Rob’s old ward.

He kissed the sky and dedicated the victory to his late father, former Conservative MPP Douglas Ford.

“The people are always right, and they have spoken,” Mr. Smitherman said in an emotional conciliation speech, joined by his husband Christopher Peloso and young son Michael. “It will be written that I lost an election that was mine to win, and I accept that.”

Well after polls closed, voters were still queued outside stations across the city and, although Mr. Ford is the clear winner, their vote was cast and counted. Voter turnout for the fierce electoral battle was a whopping 50% — smashing the 39% turnout for 2006.

Council was always in store for a shakeup, with nine open seats, but there were several incumbent upsets, including Sandra Bussin and Adrian Heaps, two Miller loyalists.

Among the fresh faces is newcomer Josh Colle, who won a strong victory over long-time trustee Rob Davis in vacant Ward 15 and Josh Matlow, an outspoken school-board trustee, who won in Ward 22. In Ward 1, Vincent Crisanti defeated incumbent Suzan Hall; in Ward 5, Justin Di Ciano surprised Peter Milczyn and took his seat; in Ward 10, James Pasternak took Mike Feldman’s old seat; incumbent Bill Saundercook was defeated by Sarah Doucette in Ward 13; Mary Fragedakis nabbed Case Ootes’s old seat handily, ahead of Jane Pitfield and Jennifer Wood, in Ward 29. The race in Ward 9 is still up in the air, with left-leaning incumbent Maria Augimeri holding a very tight 30-vote lead with one poll left to report at press time.

The Ford win was a stunning victory for a penny-pinching councillor who has been tending to seeds of discontent in the suburbs for 10 years, but was often dismissed as a nuisance by his peers.

Polls leading up to the vote put Mr. Ford and Mr. Smitherman, the de facto favourite at the outset, in a virtual tie, swapping the one-two spot depending on the survey.

As mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi put it on the night he dropped out of the race, the campaign had become a battle between “those who want to stop what Mr. Ford describes as ‘the gravy train’, and those that want to stop Mr. Ford.”

In ways that no one could have predicted, Mr. Ford set the tone and the rhetoric of a race that focused on “wasteful spending” at City Hall, highlighting a councillor retirement party on the taxpayer’s dime and sole-sourced contracts at every turn.

Kicking off his unlikely bid to be mayor seven months ago under the same roof where he yesterday savoured victory, Mr. Ford would come to sum up his candidacy in a brilliantly simple refrain: “stop the gravy train.”

He targeted simmering disquiet on the suburban front  his home base  and mined it relentlessly.

Mr. Smitherman, meanwhile, presented a wide-reaching platform that addressed everything from bed bugs, to a park renaissance, to youth employment. He announced a “war on waste” in early September and promised to freeze property taxes and hiring next year; weeks later, he touted his “progressive” credentials to would-be Pantalone supporters and positioned himself as the only candidate capable of beating Mr. Ford.

The Ford team ran a disciplined campaign that rarely veered off message. It looked like that strategy might backfire as voters and advocacy groups publicly demanded more from the candidate, while an “anybody but Ford” gathered steam.

But despite Mr. Smitherman’s upward momentum, one political observer’s gut told him it would not be enough.

“I have little doubt that Ford will win,” predicted Nelson Wiseman, political scientist at the University of Toronto, hours before the polls closed. He said Mr. Smitherman had “miscalculated” while Mr. Ford seemed unscathed by a string of controversies — from comments he made about Toronto being ill-equipped to accept more immigrants, to revelations of a past DUI offence — that earned him the nickname in one media outlet of “Teflon Ford”.

“Whoever is managing Ford, they’re very sharp. They’ve got one message, they’ve got good organization,” said Mr. Wiseman. “I don’t think it’s magic, it’s the message. He defined the narrative.”

Mr. Ford has pledged to cut $535-million in city spending next year by shrinking the workforce through attrition, scrapping the fair wage policy that requires the city to pay private sector contract workers the same as union employees, and finding $230-million in “efficiencies” that he described as “belt tightening” but did not specifically itemize.

He insists that services will not suffer as a result, and forecast a $1.67-billion surplus, which would go to paying down the city’s debt. His transportation plan assumes that the provincial government will halt construction on a light rail transit network, and use the money (plus $500-million that is earmarked for York Region) to extend the Sheppard subway from Downsview station to Scarborough Town Centre.

During his victory speech, Mr. Ford tried to mend any fences that may have been erected by the anti-Ford movement.
“To the people who didn’t vote for me, I will work hard to earn your trust and I will deliver change that you can be proud of,” he said. “Four years from tonight you will look back and say Rob Ford did exactly what he said he was going to do.”

National Post


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