Not any more

Posted Toronto Political Panel: Can Ford carry out promise of change?

In Canada on November 1, 2010 at 20:42

On the theory that there was much to talk about in the run-up to the Oct. 25 municipal election, Posted Toronto assembled Chris Selley, Anthony Furey and Jonathan Goldsbie to regularly dissect the race. Now that Rob Ford has silenced the chattering classes with his landslide victory, they discuss just how much of a mandate Mr. Ford has for change.

Goldsbie Why does it suddenly seem radical to suggest that 47.114% of a popular vote does not constitute a “mandate”? That word keeps emerging again and again as columnists attempt to reduce the election’s outcome to a straightforward message concerning voter anger over taxes, or services, or the alienation of the suburbs, or the arrogance of the downtown. But such analysis is simply an extension of the narrative advanced by the Ford campaign itself, and accepts its premises uncritically. Couldn’t we just as easily chalk up the victory to a combination of more practical factors, such as superior organization, weak opponents and the natural advantage that comes with having no qualms about lying indiscriminately?

Furey It doesn’t seem radical at all. It’s exceedingly banal and is also lazy thinking. I can find a well-researched theory to argue against any possible form of democratic reform that you may present to me, and if that doesn’t satisfy you, I can toss Aristotle at you and we can write off democracy entirely. But I won’t do that because the truth is that some of us want to try our best with what we’ve got while we’ve got it. Socrates didn’t break out of jail even though he knew the laws weren’t the best because he felt it was hypocritical to revel in the laws that benefit you only to bludgeon the system whenever it doesn’t dish out the results you want. Yes, we can chalk up the victory to those practical factors you mention and a degree of all of them, no doubt, applied, but what do you think that would prove? That Ford should be denied the mayoralty?

Selley I’d say “radical” is suggesting the winner of an election doesn’t have at least some kind of mandate to implement the policies he espoused during the campaign. It’s not as if his campaign was a hodge-podge of disparate, hard-to-understand policy ideas. And how else is he (or any mayor) supposed to know what to do and what not to? Also radical: Left-wingers who voted for a man who insisted there was no difference between Ford and George Smitherman now claiming the sum total 83% of Torontonians who voted for the two of them doesn’t represent a clear demand for change. (Sure, there were some strategic votes in the Smitherman tally — but there were also a lot of people who voted explicitly for his fiscal platform, which was by no means left wing by Toronto standards.) The specifics and true strength of Ford’s
mandate for change are unknowable. But when it comes to cutting spending, I think Ford has all the mandate he needs.

Goldsbie I would argue that there’s a distinction between the mandate inherent in being the victor of an election and the sort of mandate that grants the moral right to effect revolutionary upheaval. Does Ford have a mandate to govern? Of course. Does he have a mandate to cut City Council in half? It ultimately depends on what Council itself says, but probably not. There’s no doubt that both Smitherman and Ford campaigned on “change,” but every competent candidate in every election necessarily does; nobody is ever content with the status quo. But what concerns me are all the pronouncements that Ford’s victory means this thing or that, when the reality is far more complex (as reality tends to be). We needn’t frame the discussion on Ford’s terms.

Selley If you’d just said “there’s no such thing as a mandate except what City Council decides, so there’s no point worrying about it,” I’d have listened. But your response suggests there’s a percentage of support at which Ford would have had a mandate to cut City Council in half — and 47% isn’t high enough. In which case, what’s the number? (Let me guess: 56.97% — David Miller’s 2006 haul?) In that case, how many things did Miller accomplish with his first, smaller plurality that he didn’t have a mandate for? Or does this discussion only matter when the right wants to effect change, as opposed to the left?

Furey Ford has a mandate to be mayor. He can do whatever that office allows him to do. If it’s under municipal jurisdiction and if it goes to vote and is passed by a majority of council, then it’s going to happen, presuming it gets properly phased in. That’s it. There are no tiered mandates. Chris, you hit upon a good point. I’m tired of hearing the so-called “progressives” try to create little clauses out of thin air that suggest politicians they don’t like can’t enact certain measures. The socialists in Toronto are becoming shockingly regressive when it comes to listening to the people. They need to learn that “respect” Ford speaks of. And Ford needs to replace the word “taxpayers” in his slogan with the word “citizens,” but that’s a whole different civics lessons that we’ll save for another day …

Anthony Furey has written for the National Post, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. Contact him at anthony@penneyenterprises.com

Chris Selley is a member of the Post’s editorial board. Follow him at twitter.com/cselley

Jonathan Goldsbie has been an advocate for public space issues since 2005. Follow him at twitter.com/goldsbie

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