By Ivor Tossell - Saturday, March 9, 2013 - 0 Comments
Sorting through the latest imbroglio involving Toronto’s mayor
We do not know for sure whether the Mayor of Toronto grabbed one of his female opponents’ behinds at a gala function this week, nor whether he suggested that she should have been with him in Florida on account of his wife being gone. Nor do we know if the mayor is being truthful in his categorical refusals.
When allegations like these erupt, knowing things with any certainty is at a premium. The alleged placement of Rob Ford’s fingers on Sarah Thomson’s body are now the kind of thing that radio hosts are parsing through in detail, as if waiting for a Zapruder tape to emerge. It doesn’t seem that one will.
So let’s talk about what we do know.
Here is one thing I know: This kind of thing happens to women in politics. It’s not news; it’s not scandal; it’s more like background radiation, which many of the women in politics I know deal with as a deadening cost of doing business in that environment.
“When I heard what Ford said about the vacation, my very first thought was, ‘I have heard almost that exact kind of statement more times than I can remember,’” a political staffer on Parliament Hill wrote to me today.
“Ass-grabbing, suggestive glances, sexual innuendo, comments about clothing – it’s all treated pretty nonchalantly, both inside the workplace, and also at hybrid social-professional events,” she said. She described an MP who messages her in meetings they attend together, commenting on her appearance and asking to see her outside of work, to her immense discomfort.
Others tell of hands slipped into hands, hands on hips, hands on thighs, fingers in bellies, enquiries about underwear, enquiries about sex lives; and always, a decision between pushing back or letting it slide. The problem isn’t just the garden-variety lechers: It’s the assuredly “nice guys” who keep their hands to themselves but introduce themselves by asking about boyfriends, or insert themselves into women’s personal lives with solicitousness, pestering and favours.
Is harassment worse in politics than in other fields? Maybe not (another former staffer told me she’d had a worse time in finance, for instance). Does it incriminate Rob Ford by association? Not at all. But it’s the world that both he and Sarah Thomson inhabit.
Here’s the second thing we know: How Thomson’s complaint was received. Inevitably, the complainant became the target.
Let’s first say that if Ford has lied to cover his failings too many times to be given any credit, Thomson isn’t beyond skepticism either. She’s presented her share of contradictions. She lamented the media circus while appearing on nearly every radio and television outlet in town. As she herself tells it, she followed up on Ford’s alleged lewdness by acceding to a mind-boggling plan in which her assistant would pose with Ford to see if any groping could be photographed. (I find this so weird and ill-advised as to actually be credible.) She decided to try this case in the court of public opinion, and public opinion has every right to feel conflicted about this.
But this weirdness wasn’t the nub of the attacks on her. To listen to her critics, her sin was going public in the first place. On talk radio, the hosts of the John Oakley and Jim Richards shows were busy wondering why Thomson didn’t go to police and press charges if Ford laid a finger on her, as if they wouldn’t be screaming “overreaction” if she had done just that. Their callers, as always, were grimly edifying.
“How convenient is this? Sarah Thomson is leveraging the social media and mainstream media to draw attention to her women’s publication on International Women’s Day,” said Mark.
“Big girls keep their mouth shut,” said John, another caller.
“Her colloquialism she used towards her own anatomy was pretty lowbrow for a person who’s considered to be some sort of professional in this town,” said Mike, who disapproved of the word “ass.” Later: “I just wonder about some of the people that try to assume office in this city.”
“Listen, what a joke,” said Bernie. “C’mon, we’ve had a couple pops here and there and if he was feeling good and having a good time – which he should because, y’know what? He’s got a lot of responsibility taking care of the city – and he wants to undo his tie, and if he kinda got a little tipsy or whatever you may wanna call it, no problem.”
If a woman takes an assault seriously, said Christie Blatchford, she should call the police. “If you don’t take it seriously, and you’re not mortally wounded, then you shut up and you deal with it privately,” she spat at Jim Richards. “What happened to that?”
“Just to confirm,” said John Tory, when Thomson finally come round to his show, “that you’d be willing to go to any place that’s agreeable to the mayor… and take a lie detector test?”
To recap, then: Sarah Thomson should have let it go because the mayor is entitled to relax, should have reacted immediately, should not have been ambitious, should have dealt with it privately, should have pitched a fit, should have said nothing, should have called police, and above all should not have said “ass.” Clear?
So I will tell you what I know with confidence. Women in politics have to deal with an appalling amount of garbage. Regardless of what Rob Ford did or didn’t do, it’s safe to say that at this moment, another mayor, or senator, or MP, or senior staffer, or riding association president, or student leader, or blithely bellicose volunteer is busy making a young woman squirm. And if that woman does not deal with said garbage in the exact right way—a way so bizarrely proscribed I’m not sure it even exists—then her honesty, motives, ambitions, maturity and gender itself will get called into question.
I am willing to take Sarah Thomson at her word. But Rob Ford, as ever, is not the real problem.
By Ivor Tossell - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 1:01 PM - 0 Comments
The natural buoyancy of a beleaguered mayor
Yesterday, Rob Ford’s lawyers succeeded in extracting him from the last snafu that threatened to remove him from office. This time, his campaign finances were under scrutiny. It seems Ford’s 2010 mayoral campaign took some liberties with their accounting. For instance, an auditor testified that the campaign took a $77,722.73 loan from Doug Ford Holdings, Ford’s family company, while the law says candidates can only get loans from the bank. It had the family printing firm do up signs and buttons before the campaign started and took its sweet time paying them for it. It counted campaign events as fundraisers, which, you’ll be fascinated to learn, are very different things under Ontario election law.
In other news, a Forum poll of 806 Torontonians showed that the mayor is more popular than he’s been in months, with a 48% approval rating. I’m here to tell you that the age of miracles is not yet ended: Rob Ford’s gift of political anti-gravity has not left him yet.
Yesterday’s session was a tribute to low expectations. Ford and his team faced a three-person committee of venerable lawyers and election officials whose job was, in essence, to decide whether to press charges against him. Had the panel voted against Ford, the case would have been prosecuted before a judge.
For all the apparent contraventions, the auditor reported that Ford’s campaign finances were, on the whole, professionally run and well-documented. On the other hand, Ford’s lawyer, Tom Barlow, offered a lengthy defence that went something like this:
a) Not knowing the difference between personal funds and company funds was a definite oops, but Ford has learned his lesson;
b) The infractions didn’t make a difference in a handily-won vote;
c) It was a big $2-million campaign and mistakes happen. Whaddaya gonna do? [elaborate shrug]
Finally, Barlow looked meaningfully at the judges and summed it all up: “The perfect should not be permitted to be the enemy of the good,” he said. Then: “Nor should the Act be permitted to become an electoral weapon for those who wish to have a second chance.” For all the accounting, it was the classic Ford story: Rob Ford is a hard-working guy who makes a lot of honest mistakes and is victimized by his enemies.
The first member moved to prosecute Ford, but the other two refused. Ford, who had been sitting almost stone-still for hours, got up, shook his lawyers’ hands and hastened for the exit with his brother, pursued by a dozen reporters.
So how is Rob Ford doing in the face of all this? Just fine, by the looks of things. His enemies continue to do their part for him. This financial audit, of course, comes thanks to some of the same antagonists who brought you “Let’s Kick Rob Ford Out for Conflict of Interest.” Depending on who you ask, they’re either citizens bent on doing the hard democratic work of holding politicians to account, or partisans who will stop at nothing to bring down their enemies. (I rather sense they’re both at once.)
And here, Ford’s popularity is rising again, despite everything, or perhaps because of it. A series of legal proceedings, each one harder to explain in a soundbite than the last, has supplied him with all the persecution he needs. In Montreal, they stuff safes so full of cash they can’t be closed. In Toronto, the mayor gets investigated for renting an $840 bus just before filing his nomination papers. Public sentiment mysteriously fails to ignite.
You can take two views about the nature of Rob Ford. One is that he is doomed by his own vices. The other is this: Contrary to all laws of nature, Rob Ford floats.
When negatives refuse to stick to a politician, we typically start talking about Teflon. With Ford, I prefer to think the man has a natural buoyancy. When he is not actively weighing himself down with self-destruction, his support will rise.
The catch with Ford, of course is that the more he tries to govern, the more he self-destructs. So to achieve maximum buoyancy, all he has to do is nothing: Cut ribbons, fulminate on talk radio, lose stunt votes against community spending. The good news for him is that the vaguaries of the mayor’s job description make this entirely workable in practice, and reasonably saleable at the polls.
And if Rob Ford floats, it’s because he lives in an environment where the standards are low. And perhaps this is his greatest political talent: To lower the expectations in whatever contest he enters. Just as he’s redefining the mayor’s job downwards, he’s now managed to pull campaign finance under his spell. Are future campaigns now being told that it’s passable to blunder as the Fords did? Or that it’s okay, only as long as one can act as generally helpless in the face of details as Ford does?
“The perfect should not be permitted to be the enemy of the good,” said Ford’s lawyer. As if we’ve been at risk of approaching either.
By Ivor Tossell - Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 1:49 PM - 0 Comments
Start by asking how taxpayers are going to pay for it
How do you get 2.7 million people’s heads around the idea of paying for transit? Here’s a start: Nobody say “subways.”
Both the City of Toronto and its provincial overlords are on a mission for 2013: Sell the public on the idea that if they want less gridlock—which is to say, more public transit—then they’re going to have to pay for it with taxes, tolls or levies.
But what the city’s not doing this time around is even more telling. Historically, transit expansion starts with politicians drawing hopeful lines on a map and then trying to find ways to pay for those lines. This has led to decades of transit fiascos as plans got drawn, redrawn, hacked to bits and then finally half-built.
So now, the city is taking a smarter tack: It’s starting with asking how taxpayers are going to pay for transit, while deferring talk about what exactly that money would pay for. It’s counterintuitive—all stick, no carrot—but it makes a great deal of sense.
“What we’re trying to do right now is focus on principles, which is a good place to start,” Jen Keesmaat, Toronto’s new chief-planner told me, as she rolled out “Feeling Congested,” the city’s new consultation. Those principles involve some general talk about priorities, but the nut of the issue is choosing (lucky us) how we’d like to be taxed.
So, despite the protestations of Toronto’s increasingly sidelined mayor, both city and province are making a full-court press to get this through to the general public, in a blitz of live consultations, op-eds and media hits. The city has also put up a website with an online budgeting exercise that’s worth taking a poke at. It assays 14 “revenue tools,” ranging from a sales tax to development charges to parking levies. Among other things, the site hammers at the idea that no single revenue option will be enough; we’ll probably need a combination. And not all revenue tools are created equal: development tools, for instance, yield nowhere near the returns of parking levies.
(Pointedly, some would-be revenue tools the mayor’s office likes to talk up just didn’t make the list. These include vaguely defined “public-private partnerships,” which, for money-losing projects like transit expansion, are more often a method of administering public funds, than of generating them.)
It’s quite a conversation to be having with an electorate that, less than three years ago, voted in Rob Ford on the explicit premise that he’d cut taxes like the Land Transfer Tax and the now-defunct Vehicle Registration Tax. The difference now is the promise of dedicated funding.
“Before, with the LTT, the VRT, it was just another bloody tax,” says Keesmaat. “What we’re doing right now is saying, hold on a minute, what if that tax got you all these transit lines? Then are you willing to pay it? Does that seem worth it to you? That’s very different than kissing your money goodbye and not knowing where it goes.”
But before they start naming all these projects, the city’s bureaucrats want to talk money. It’s a refreshing reversal of the way transit planning has been run for decades, putting politics first and planning second. For the moment, it keeps the unfortunate “subway vs. streetcar” debate at bay. It shouldn’t be complicated: Toronto needs both, but built in the right places for each. Yet there’s no surer way to turn transit planning into a political football, then to start talking about which citizens “deserve” a subway. (“It’s an absurdity to be debating, at a city-wide level, subways versus LRTs,” said Keesmaat.)
The money-first approach is even more meaningful in the long-term. Since the municipality is so limited in the ways it can legally raise money, trying to fund big projects has long meant begging senior levels of government to cough up huge sums.
It hasn’t worked terribly well. In practice, it’s meant waiting for transit-building ambitions to line up with political fortunes. It means waiting for three governments at three levels who are willing to work together, which is like waiting for three gold bars at a slot machine. It also means waiting for the right people to take the right important roles: When the MPP for Vaughan became Ontario’s Minister of Finance, a $2.5-billion subway extension to a scrubby local field managed to become reality.
And then there’s timing. Politicians like legacy projects, but transit schemes take so long to implement that they become ideal targets for cuts when their successors take over. Even if governments survive, their willingness to spend might not. Governments start looking at megaprojects when they want stimulus spending, then lose interest when the economy recovers and the government is left in the red. The result is that we make half-hearted stabs at building transit when the economy tanks, but never keep pace when development’s booming. Toronto’s transit map is dotted with projects that were conceived for bad reasons and cancelled for worse ones.
After all this, the technocracy is fighting back. Shifting transit funding from top-down to bottom-up—cutting a deal straight with the taxpayer—helps depoliticize the process, setting up revenue streams that could survive from one government to the next. Even Ontario opposition leader Tim Hudak, speaking at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, wouldn’t rule out revenue tools, even as he launched once again into how Scarberians deserve subways in order to be “full citizens.”
The irony, of course, is that Rob Ford himself, who wouldn’t talk money, was the one who led us to talk about nothing but. His campaign for subways, subways, subways helped stoke the public appetite for transit expansion, even as he insisted that taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay extra for it. Ford’s rude encounter with reality helped foster a rare consensus that more transit is needed, but that there’s one way to get it built, and it’s not wishful thinking.
“We’re kind of calling that out,” said Keesmaat. “We’re being very clear: There’s no pot of gold. If we want to invest in public transit, we have to find the revenue tools to pay for it. It’s that simple.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 10:27 AM - 0 Comments
David Fraser offers four amendments.
There are many, many problems with the warrantless access to customer data in Bill C-30, known as the lawful access bill. The main problem pointed to by the proponents of the Bill is that it takes too long to get a warrant that requires an internet service provider to hand over customer name and address information that corresponds with an IP address. If that is really the problem they are trying to address, it would be best to address it by making the warrant-seeking process more efficient and limit warrantless requests to circumstances where there is a real emergency.
Ivor Tossell explains the dangers contained in the present bill.