Much as we could use a boost in tourism, being morally straight now requires us to dissuade would-be visitors to Toronto. At least for now, until our double-headed mayoralty, the Twin Freaks of Doug and Rob Ford, slide or stumble into the dustbin of history.
It has been the misfortune of Toronto the Good to have had just one terrific mayor in modern times, one sure not to embarrass us by giving public expression to his fear of being cooked and eaten by natives if he set out on an African summit to which Toronto's mayor had been elected; one who wouldn't ban the Barenaked Ladies from a Nathan Phillips Square event, taking the popular band's name literally during one of her few moments of not being AWOL; who wouldn't put us to sleep by transference of his own deeply embedded ennui.
We didn't so much vote for Doug and Rob Ford as vote against the aforementioned rare good mayor, David Miller. The retiring Miller was not on the ballot, but we voted against him anyway. He had scooped up for Toronto, on repeated trips to Ottawa, a goodly chunk of the federal stimulus funds, which is why the GTA this summer has been humming with work crews repairing the streets. He tried to shame both Grit and Tory feds to commit a tiny portion of the federal gas tax to Canada's spectacular - and spectacularly disastrous - infrastructure deficit of $123 billion just to replace ageing bridges, hospitals, water and power systems alone, never mind getting a leap on the 21st century.
Miller, it was casually said, was in the pocket of the municipal unions, with whom he negotiated, in truth, no differently than previous administrations. He tried to ram bicycle lanes down our throats - the kind they've had in Amsterdam and Beijing for most of the previous century - thus launching a "war on cars." His city imposed all manner of user fees - including a 5 cent charge on grocery bags - to push us toward a truly green city. Actually, Miller was a non-radical common-sensical and hard-working leader, finally one for Canada's principal city to be proud of. So of course we could not wait to see the last of him, and get back to the mediocrity that is the norm in the mayor's chair of our burgh.
In George Smitherman, we had a mayoralty candidate who was a bit of a hot-head but was a demonstrable success in getting things done as provincial health minister - that ministry being one of the biggest enterprises, public or private, in the nation. But Smitherman ran a lousy, complacent campaign. Worse, he seemed to many voters to be a progressive, an extension of the dreaded Miller who'd come before - someone who made us eat our oatmeal, forsaking Doritos for breakfast.
So we opted for the Ford brothers, not realizing we were electing two mayors sharing one brain, and that transplanted from a chicken. No one elected Doug Ford mayor, yet he now de facto shares that post with sibling Rob. Having done no homework on these thugs, we didn't realize, for starters, that they are thugs. Their operating style, if one must dignify it in those words, is to label as stupid and worse anyone who dares disagree with them. A comparison to schoolyard bullies is to insult schoolyard bullies.
One cringes in looking at each day's front page. What pre-adolescent thing have the Twin Freaks done in the past 24 hours?
On the weekend, Rob apparently gave the finger to a mom and her six-year-old daughter who signalled to him he shouldn't be using his cellphone while driving. (Never a cop around when you need one.) Sigh. Yesterday, Doug did the same, metaphorically speaking, to some local notable, Margaret Atwood by name, who has dared speak out over Doug's hopeless ignorance about Toronto's supposed over-abundance of libraries. For Doug, our beloved library system should go on the chopping block along with everything else as the city struggles to close a $4-billion budget gap.
Doug Ford says he's never heard of this Atwood woman. Which, again, makes you wonder why we don't screen candidates for public office for basic knowledge and life skills. ("Does water run up- or down-hill?" "On which Great Lake is Toronto located?" And, of course, "How many fingers?") You've met the Doug Ford type, wearing his "I'm with stupid" T-shirt. His winning argument is that he has never heard of the source of contrary opinion cited, be it Copernicus, Tennyson, Mandela or Atwood, whose novels have been on the curriculum of European universities for three decades now. You've met Doug Ford's ilk, proud of their imbecility, possibly while making your way past a bar fight outside a sports bar from which you are attempting to retreive your daughter. At this point, I'd take losing contestants from "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?" as passable replacements for the Fords.
But we elected these morons. Which means we deserve them. Really. A cursory look at Rob Ford's track record on council, such as it was, prior to the latest municipal election would show he occupied himself mostly with accusing his fellow councillors of pretty much every venial crime under the sun. He was a stuntman disguised as an officeholder, his hijinks stopping just short of the McCarthyesque gimmick of pulling a list of names of malefactors from his pocket but not letting us see it. A contributor he was not. An "energy drainer," as consultants say of noisome brats passing themselves off as adults who need to be excised from the office or classroom, the Fords were and continue to be.
As it happens, TPL, the Toronto Public Library system, is one of Hogtown's crown jewels, the largest library system on the continent as measured by books in circulation. The three libraries located in Doug Ford's Etobicoke riding - which do not outnumber Tim Horton outlets in his ward, as he claims (don't expect the Twin Freaks ever to do homework before making a bizarre assertion) - include a branch in an industrial area which Doug Ford regards as superfluous. Why, within a two mile drive either way, another library is to be found, he brays.
If you have a car, that is. In the Twin Freaks' worldview, everyone has a car, or should. (Or a gas-guzzling van, in Rob's case.) Which, alas, leaves out maybe half of us who can't afford one, or for a dozen different reasons choose not to own or use one.
This, sad to say, will be the norm until these deep-sea creatures are flushed from office. They will mock, vilify and reveal oceanic ignorance of one easy target for cutting after another - children's wading pools, walk-in medical clinics, and anything and everything to do with the arts, which as Richard Florida reminds us, tend to be the spark of urban renewal in distressed neighborhoods.
Gawd, to find myself missing Mel Lastman so soon...