Friday, December 23, 2011

Rob Ford: My New Year Wish List

I like Rob Ford, as a person, quite apart from his performance as mayor. I did not vote for him, and in fact I worked fairly hard for his principal competitor. But on a personal level, I like him, and I respect his philosophy of government as a servant, a philosophy expressed in his constituency work, work that even some of his harshest detractors grudgingly admire. That bears remembering as we look back on the past year, with its mixed record of some success for Rob and his brother, some failure, and a touch of outright farce.

A little less than three years from now, the voters will have an opportunity to pass judgment on Rob Ford's work as mayor. I expect we will pass a fair judgment, and I also suspect that if things do not change, we will decide that someone else would do a better job as mayor. Whatever we choose in the end, I want Toronto to have the best mayor we can have, not just a suitable butt for the sneers of the Toronto Star.

So here we have the top four requests from me to Rob Ford:

  1. Celebrate the diversity and inventiveness of small business in this city. The year after David Miller first got elected, I went on a training course in Toronto's East end, near Woodbine. I stopped in at a store on Bloor Street to buy some cough drops, and the young woman at the till told me, with a combination of shyness, trepidation, and pride, that they had just opened the store. I remember thinking her courage in starting a new venture symbolized so much about Toronto that I would never expect David Miller to celebrate, and indeed I never heard Mayor Miller speak of the wonderful inventive exuberance that distinguishes small business in this city. On shopping streets from Roncesvalles to Bayview, I can walk for blocks and see only a handful of nationally advertised brands on storefronts.  When you got elected, Rob, I hoped you would celebrate this aspect of our civic life. But in the past year, I have heard a great deal about what this city cannot do, and little celebration of the inventiveness, diversity and enormous potential of its businesses. You have almost three more years in office, Rob. Please consider taking some of that time and speaking out about this advantage of our city. 
  2. Come down to the city and ride in the Pride parade this coming year. You've let everyone know it's not your cup of tea, but having you there pays the appropriate respect to this city's history and to the tourist season it kicks off.
  3. Rob, when you say the city cannot afford to pay for everything we would like, I get that. I don't always agree with the choices you make when it comes to funding, but I get the importance of budgeting. But please make an effort to devolve the responsibilities to local communities. Maybe the taxpayers of Malvern and Rexdale shouldn't have pay for Riverdale farm, but that doesn't mean you have to tell the people of Cabbagetown they can't have it. Please allow the neighbourhoods of Toronto the tools we need to put together the cash and the sweat equity that will let us keep the amenities we want. Communities as diverse as Thorncliffe and Dufferin Grove have shown they can manage their own parks. Please encourage people in the rest of the city to follow their examples. As a bonus, handing control of parks and other amenities to local communities may mean you can cut some management positions at City Hall.
  4. Look for ways to grow the city. We need more opportunity, not less. We need more educated people, and more effective ways to make use of the knowledge we have. Government cannot make this happen for us, although it can help. You can play a part, if only by cheering on the people who want to build a twenty-first century world city. Understand the difference between saying we as a city cannot afford something and saying we need to find a way to make something good affordable.

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