Is Ford Making Mississauga Lower Our Standards?

 

It's been a tough (but also sort of fun, in some ways) few months for Canada. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford became a late-night TV sensation and the subject of a gorgeous Gawker pictorial. An ice storm wiped out power across the GTA and beyond, leaving people to celebrate Christmas in the dark (or in hotels or relative's houses, hopefully). The province tried to give grocery gift cards to people who lost fresh produce in the storm, and since no good deed goes unpunished, well-to-do cheapskates lined up for hours to get some free bananas just 'cuz.

Justin Bieber was arrested. Pearson Airport cancelled 6.1 million (an exaggeration, but you get the gist) flights because it was cold out and ground crews have never heard of heavy-duty gloves and down jackets (I understand it was cold, but crews in much colder provinces like Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta manage to load and unload luggage without freezing to death. Oh, and their planes don't just stop working when it reaches -20C either).

Mistakes were made, and some incidents -- namely the never-ending Rob Ford scandal -- helped lift the carefully cultivated veneer of polite perfection that some Canadians rest their laurels on. Some of us are known to haughtily pooh-pooh the U.S. for its rowdy politicians and occasionally uncouth politics (and with good reason). Who would have thought the country's largest city would end up with a crack-smoking, Jamaican patois-speaking (what a random skill!), drunken mayor who has "more than enough to eat at home."

Now, how does this all relate to Mississauga specifically? Well, lots of people in Sauga -- who are about to vote in a municipal election this year that will not feature Hazel McCallion as a candidate -- have defended the troubled Mr. Ford. In fact, the mayor has more than his fair share of west-end apologists who claim, much like his TO defenders, that drunken rambling and crack-smoking (with criminals) on his own time is perfectly acceptable because he hasn't made off with bags of taxpayer money in the dead of night and used it on windmills.

Some people have set the bar much, much too low.

According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, the two front-runners (who have not yet announced their candidacies) for Hazel's throne are former Liberal MP Bonnie Crombie and former city councillor, federal cabinet minister and Liberal MPP Steve Mahoney. 

To be fair, neither Crombie nor Mahoney boast a publicly acknowledged past checkered with drunken public appearances, domestic abuse allegations and arrests in Florida. At this juncture (and the year is young) there are no Rob Fords vying to take the city's reigns. But the city -- like Toronto -- has some tough years ahead.

Mississauga grew very rapidly, evolving from a quiet bedroom community to a semi-urban space that's been developed to death and is home to over 700,000 people. The infrastructure needs major (and expensive) work. The upcoming Hurontario LRT, which will no doubt be controversial, will also need to be funded and managed appropriately.

When tough times lie ahead, voters sometimes panic and choose attractive sound bites over sound (or at least sound-ish policy).

A lot of Sauga natives who defend Ford rely on the crutch that "a politician's personal life shouldn't matter if he/she is working to save money." While it's true that it's silly to take umbrage with a public figure's sexual history or mild personal failings, it's not unjust to demand a leader abstain from smoking illegal drugs and paling around with convicted and suspected criminals on the regular. Politicians who keep nefarious company are not simply behaving poorly; they're opening themselves up to blackmail, extortion and insidious influence.

Also, no one should be drunk in public regularly enough for it to be a "thing." C'mon!

Some people in Sauga point to Ford's alleged fiscal prudence (it's debatable, given the cancellation fees that come with the scrapped LRT, the new costs associated with the controversial Scarborough subway, and Ford's inability to understand that the ice storm is going to cost the city money to recover from), but why do they think he's the only person capable of tightening purse strings? Do people truly believe that a belligerent, out of control Mayor is the only person in the city capable of taking a conservative stance on finance?

Would people in Sauga vote for a Ford-esque candidate if he promised to scrap the LRT, lower property taxes and build a subway? In a city that hasn't had to choose between serious mayoral contenders in three decades, it's hard to say. But Ford's stubborn support -- both within and outside Toronto -- is worrisome.

In Canada, we're not (as most of us have always known) immune to political and administrative circuses and bungled responses to bad luck. Nor should we expect to be. Having said that, major cities don't need to employ clownish, embarrassing mayors to save a supposed buck or two. Here's hoping for good candidates -- and responsible voting -- in this year's election.

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