If you want to laugh, laugh. If you want to weep, weep. But it’s now done. Rob Ford, the right-wing Etobicoke councillor from Ward 2 who many of us rightly regard as a potential disaster, is now mayor of the city of Toronto. With his simple promise of “stopping the gravy train” he won the hearts and minds of thousands of Torontonians. His victory was of such a wide margin that even if Smitherman and Pantalone had put all their votes together, Ford would still be the new mayor. He got more than 383,501 votes, which equals 47.098% of the vote compared to 289,832 for Smitherman and 95,482 for Pantalone.
When Ford first entered the race in April, nobody took him seriously. Smitherman, one of the top Liberal provincial politicians, had thrown his hat in the race and was thought to be unbeatable. Pundits said that if there was a right-wing politician who could beat Smitherman it would have been John Tory, the former leader of PC Ontario who had lost to David Miller (and to a few other people in almost every election he ever took part in). Toronto was thought to be too “progressive” for somebody like Ford to win.
Right from the outset I repeatedly warned people about the chances of his victory. In September I wrote: “In absence of such a candidate (a labour candidate with socialist solution to people’s problems), they (the people) will flock to a right-wing populist candidate who nevertheless is angry with ‘status quo’ and ready to take on ‘elitist politicians’, a crew generally hated by the general populace.”
This is how Rob Ford won, and the blame for this victory rests directly on the shoulders of Joe Pantalone and the lacklustre campaign he ran.
Ford won by appealing to people’s hatred for the “elites” during this economic crisis. Pantalone could have appealed to people’s anger by promising a fight against the Harris legacy of downloading services. He could have offered real socialist solutions to people’s problems. This would have distinguished him clearly from the rest of the candidates. But all he offered was more of the same. People saw him as an insider bureaucrat who would just continue the Miller regime without any change in people’s lives (he would build a cricket stadium, though!). Ford, superbly, if demagogically, used people’s anger with wasteful politicians to come to power.
Shallow, superficial pundits might say so but Ford’s election actually doesn’t signify a general shift to the right in Toronto. During the election, some polls that showed Ford as the definite winner, also showed that if David Miller had run again, he would have been elected. It is true that a lot of Millerite leftie councillors were also ousted in what is clearly a rage against incumbents. However, some new left-wing councillors were elected. In my own riding, leftie Kristyn Wong-Tam was elected against the Liberal ex-cop Ken Chan. It was a general fight against the status quo and not an ideological shift to the right.
But what will Fordland look like now? What kind of Toronto will we have with Ford as mayor and a new council that, despite what some say, will probably end up voting with him on most of the matters?
Cutting waste and answering everybody’s phone calls might have been the loudest and most regular thing that came out of his mouth but his real plan is simply a wide-ranging attack on the working class in Toronto. It is not incidental that he started his victory speech by saying “Toronto is now open for business.” Ford might have presented himself like a member of the “common folk” to a lot of people with his football coach experience and modest mini-van. But his agenda, backed by his multi-millionaire brother, Doug Ford, who now replaces him as the Councillor in Ward 2, will be decided by the big corporations and Toronto’s Board of Trade.
Just take one of Ford promises that was also repeated in his victory speech: abolishing the Fair Wage Policy, which obligates the City to pay union wages to contract workers. Or his promise not to replace retiring workers and, perhaps most importantly, to outsource garbage collection, as was previously done in Etobicoke.
Each of these policies on their own are enough to justify months of strikes. It has been said that “four years of turbulence” is what’s upon us now. I say “four years of class war” is probably a more accurate designation.
I’ll end this article with an anecdote, in case you think this might be just one of my left-wing fantasies and unions will not stand up to Ford.
Stumbling on John Cartwright, from the Toronto & York Region Labour Council this past Wednesday I asked him what labour’s response to Ford would be. He said: “We’ll do to him what the Republicans are doing to Obama.”
Arash Azizi is the co-chair of U of T’s Marxist Discussion Group and a member of the
New Democratic Party.