When it comes to the chains of office, Toronto’s got it good

Martin Patriquin explains why a city could do worse than Rob Ford for mayor


Chris Young/CP

You’re lucky, Toronto.

You’re lucky to have every last square inch of Rob Ford, period, and not only because he is an entertaining sideshow capable of drunk-walking us through the long, boring days of summer. You’re lucky because he alone is responsible for the things he allegedly did—including smoking crack  with known drug dealers. If Rob Ford is an abscess on the city he represents, as many of you seem to think, he can be lanced out of existence by way of the municipal election a little more than a year from now. That’s why you’re lucky, Toronto. Because as much space as he takes up, Rob Ford is still just one man.

In Montreal, we don’t have a mayor so much as a caretaker, brought into office by way of council decree after the last interim mayor, Michael Applebaum, resigned after police charged him with 14 counts of fraud, conspiracy and corruption. Applebaum, you’ll recall, was also brought into office by way of council decree following the resignation of Gérald Tremblay, who served as mayor for 10 years—a period, we are now finding out, of near-unchecked corruption throughout Montreal’s municipal government. If you think your mayor is bad, Toronto, let’s have a peek at Tremblay.

Your mayor is a sweat-stained, mouth-breathing populist who lives in the suburbs, drives an SUV, and whose shirt is perpetually caught, sail-like, in the massive gust of his belly. Our former mayor is a nebbish technocrat, a one-time cabinet minister and perfumist, who lives in Outremont and drives a Volvo. By appearances alone, Tremblay would be Trinity-Spadina bait.

Yet Tremblay proved how appearances are overrated. With the help of Montreal’s electorate, which twice re-elected him, Tremblay was in power as his party, Union Montréal, became a veritable illicit cash-harvesting machine. He oversaw the appointment of Frank Zampino to the city’s powerful executive committee. Under Tremblay, the contract-fixing scheme perpetuated by the city’s many mobbed-up contractors only grew and became more sophisticated, to the point where the city was spending upward of 30 per cent more on its contracted work.

Out of either ignorance or inertia, Tremblay remained in the dark and the consequences were costly. One example: he nearly sold Montreal on a $38- million water contract, awarded without council debate, and defended it tooth and nail for nearly two years, only to cancel it when an auditor’s report noted “58 findings related to overspending, administrative laxity and poor communication in the awarding of the contract,” as The Gazette reported in 2009. Zampino, meanwhile, was frog-marched out of bed and into a police cruiser in May 2012, having allegedly orchestrated an illegal swap of city land with a well-connected Montreal contractor. Personally, I’d prefer a mayor who is on some kind of Winehouseian rampage, as the Ottawa Citizen’s Andrew Potter suggested recently, than one who would casually part with a third of a billion in taxpayer dollars.

But, you say, Montreal is having an election in three months. Surely the city will be cleansed of all that ails it?

Perhaps, but consider this. The current mayoral frontrunner is former Liberal MP Denis Coderre, the first declared candidate and the first to wave the banner of being a “outsider” to municipal politics. Yet for all his talk of change, Coderre has spent a lot of time recruiting old political hands. The most recent, Michel Bissonnet, is a lifelong politician whose name surfaced in the Charbonneau commission for allegedly having taken $2,000 to guarantee contracts to Génius Conseil, an engineering firm. If this is a breath of fresh air, I shudder for the inevitable bout of halitosis.

The very structure of Montreal, meanwhile, makes it a challenge to govern, even if we get the right governing types. It has 105 elected officials (more than double the number in Toronto) shoehorned into a “Swiss Cheese mess” of amalgamated boroughs and de-amalgamated cities, as Concordia professor of public policy Harold Chorney once told me. It has gotten so the mayor doesn’t have control over island-wide snow removal, garbage collection or any other proto-municipal activity.

Certain Torontonians, perpetually aghast at the stumbling disaster of Rob Ford, have apparently ascribed him supernatural powers. He has “ruined Toronto’s reputation for good,” The Star’s Heather Mallick wept recently. Richard Florida suggested Ford helped “break” Toronto. The even more excitable among us blame him for the flooding of the Don Valley Parkway.

He’s one guy, folks. Count yourself lucky. Or at the very least, remember you have the luxury of getting rid of him in less than 18 months. They aren’t nearly as much fun to watch on YouTube, but over here on the St. Lawrence the problems are much bigger.


When it comes to the chains of office, Toronto’s got it good

  1. It was a joke, idiot.

    • Hi Warren!

      • Hahaha

    • And so are you, excitable one.

  2. Yes, the captain is a complete inept moron, but the good ship Toronto is still in good shape unlike our poor sister ship Montreal, imitating the Titanic!

  3. I am always amazed that our media regards this time of year as the ‘the long, boring days of summer’ or that really old clunker… ‘dog days of summer’.

    Just as much news happens in the summer as in the winter. News also happens at Easter and on Xmas day…24/7/365 in fact. It is not connected to when reporters take holidays.

    24 hour news cycle, new world order….all that.

  4. primus inter pares

  5. Good article, Martin. I always thought we in Alberta were better off with Ralph Klein than we were with the corrupt people who followed. He might have embarrassed us at times but he wasn’t blatantly ripping us off. Today government lawyers announced that there is no way they will ever be able to recoup monies that were improperly claimed as expenses by executives in Alberta Health Services, the massive health agency Ed Stelmach set up so he could have complete control over every health region in the province. These executives claimed things like getting their own mercedes serviced. One went to the US to a cancer clinic to ease her mind that she was clear of cancer….on the public dime. Meanwhile, they are busy laying of medical staff and of course, they will have to close beds or overwork other staff due to “budget shortages”.
    I wish you lived in Alberta, Martin. I would be pleased to have you digging into our corruption and laying it bare.

    • Never ripped us off? Albertans continue to get ripped off by Ralph Klein’s deregulation of utilities.

      • Ralph wasn’t padding his own pockets…taking kickbacks or funding his personal expenses on the taxpayer’s dime. He didn’t use public companies like the lab services to give donations to the Alberta Conservative Party like those who followed him did. You may not appreciate his choices to privatize services but he wasn’t taking the money for himself.

  6. The debunking here is premised on the idea that Ford will lose.
    They’re going to reelect him. They’re going to reelect the animal.
    Ponder thereon.

    • arghhhhhh -if there is a god ……

    • Regrettably, I think your right. This ford gang is very good at getting out to vote.

  7. I dunno. Before the crack stuff took centre stage there was the matter of the reason he almost lost office – illegal fundraising. Maybe not as bad as what has gone on in Montreal, but still pretty sobering.

    • Also, his simultaneous court cases, one for defamation and another for conflict of interest. In each case, his primary defense was ignorance of the definition of both.

      • pity the voters don’t seem to care .. yesterday’s news. Like Harper – don’t respond and carry on (with the exception ‘I had a few beers” – try a few gallons!)

  8. It’s not all fun and games. Ford has done real damage to long term transportation and waterfront planning. And polarized the city as right vs left in a way it never was before.

    • Polarization requires two sides. From afar, it appears that the louder the ‘left’ becomes in its indignation, the more entrenched Ford becomes. I believe the best course of action is to become a little more thoughtful and quiet in opposition and let Ford self-destruct. Don’t give Ford Nation a target (I’m looking at you Toronto Star.)

  9. You underestimate the developer’s lobbying at Toronto’s City Hall for contracts for the Pan Am Games and terrible development for the City of Toronto. Casinos? Expanding downtown airports? Walmarts in historic markets? Don’t underestimate the lasting damage of the Ford Brothers for destructive downtown development. And oh yeah, they removed bike paths. Who does that?

  10. Do we not elect a politician merely for Entertainment value?

    • Go Weiner, go. Please, go.

  11. This is not a race for the bottom????

  12. If you are getting rid of Ford, I’ll take him for Winnipeg. We have a re-elected mayor who is a self serving (and his buddies too) snake oil salesman who’s favourite saying is along the lines of “I didn’t know there was anything wrong with that”.

    He is alleged to have: (I have to put this in as he might try to sue me)

    1- Takes his staff out for Christmas dinner on the taxpayers dime. To a restaurant he owns.

    2- Rents himself a parking lot (Prime real estate location in downtown Winnipeg) for $1/ year right beside a ball stadium where he owns the Winnipeg Goldeyes ball team. He charges fans $10 per game to park there.

    3- Rents a bill board for $90,000 to advertise (under a misleading name) to his city counselors to vote for a bill he supports. The public has no vote or say in this matter – it is a city council vote only.

    4- Swaps land and businesses with friends and council members to their advantage.

    etc. etc. SLIMEY – a very successful business man saying he didn’t realize these things and others were wrong? Sneaky- slimey shows intent to defraud. I’ll take Ford please.

  13. So there are only two options for a mayor? Either a crack-smoking populist that is the laughing stock of the city, or a corrupt slime bag? No other options? How about a Naheed Nenshi or a Raum Emanuel? Mayor Ford may be the lesser of two evils in a simple comparison, but that doesn’t mean we are lucky to have him.

  14. And you you think that we would preferred to elect another of the NDP (Chow). Ford has done what he said he would do, and cleaned up a bunch of other things left by Miller. he is the first mayor in this city that has done what he said he would do, The fact that the RedStar and others have subjected his personnel life to unbelieveable coverage is proof that he has it right and has the left one the run, they do not know how to handle it and do not believe that those of us that think the government works for us can maintain the courage to re-elect.

  15. Martin, I am a 61 year old blues guitar virtuoso. I travel across this country and play in front of thousands of people who are all ages but chiefly older than 50. They hate the pot laws. If Harper showed up at one of these events all that would be left of him would be a couple of blood stains and a pant leg. You are wrong on your demographic points.
    But more disturbing to me is your apparent lack of understanding of the deadly nature of the war on drugs. Every year there are 1,000 preventable accidental heroin overdose deaths in Canada. 30,000 individuals have been allowed to die in the last 30 years in the name of morality. This is the same as a plane crash killing 168 people every two months……FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS. Your casual approach to the war on drugs and your misunderstanding of the demographics and your willful blindness when it comes to the amount of PREVENTABLE deaths means you are on my list of people who will be called out in the future for willful blindness and culpability in these deaths caused by the war on drugs. Or…..you could begin to understand you are one of the few Canadians with a voice that could share this information…..and start to educate and change our society for the better.

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