Yesterday, a friend and I went to a panel discussion on the mayoral race featuring Karen Stintz, Robyn Doolittle, and Stephen LeDrew. The event was hosted and moderated by Professor Ralph Lean who, it should be said, effectively participated in the discussion as if he were a panelist (though open to the public, the talk was part of one of his courses).
Lean’s support for John Tory was barely concealed and, with the exception of Doolittle, who was there in her capacity as a journalist, the conversation had a distinctively right wing ethos.
Lean, a frequent commentator on CP24 who I had never seen in the flesh, was like a caricature of the Bay Street conservative: praising male students who asked questions for their suits, digressing into insufferable and irrelevant Old Boy banter with LeDrew and, in more than one instance, trying to delegitimize lines of questioning he wasn’t sympathetic to with flourishes of jocular mansplaining. When a female student – quite obviously sympathetic to Olivia Chow – stood to ask a question about the role of social justice in the campaign Lean (who had the questions in his hand) intervened before she even had the opportunity to speak, declaring it to be a “bad question”. [As an aside, in five years of postsecondary study I have never witnessed a professor behaving so irresponsibly and disrespectfully in a classroom setting]. Lean also announced his hatred for cyclists and said that he would “ban bicycles” if he could.
This morning I googled Lean’s name and discovered he’d planned to fundraise for Rob Ford until as recently as last February. His reasoning, quite strikingly, had nothing to do with Rob Ford’s scandals or misconduct but rather his supposed inability to defeat left wing challenger Olivia Chow.
In the current electoral climate where Lean’s right wing campaign of choice is insisting it’s the only antidote to Doug Ford (who is either surging or sinking depending on which poll you consult) it’s worth recalling how important our right wing economic and social elites were in bringing Rob Ford to power. Conservative figures of influence from Stephen Harper to Conrad Black professed outright support or sympathy for the mayor prior to his rise and during some of his most destructive moments. The National Post, the certified daily digest of Canada’s right wing intelligentsia, endorsed his first mayoral run. The Ford mayoral run may have been something of a political insurgency, but it was an insurgency both enabled and legitimized by many of Toronto’s wealthiest and most powerful brokers.
Much is made of the supposed idiocy of “Ford Nation”, that nebulous bloc of mostly poor and often non-caucasian voters scattered throughout Toronto’s hinterlands that continues to pledge fealty to all things Ford. (A video recently published by NOW Magazine that shows the most recent Fordfest in all its tragic glam and lo-fi pomp is simultaneously fascinating, pitiable, and cringeworthy). I don’t wish to efface or excuse the parochialism which seems to be a constitutive feature of Ford Nation, or its frequently racist and bigoted undertones.
But we must [continue] to ask ourselves how a reactionary civic cult of this kind could possibly have emerged in an affluent, cosmopolitan metropolis like Toronto. I’ve tried to answer this question elsewhere and won’t dwell on it in too much detail here. Suffice it to say that a city without such glaring and worsening socioeconomic divisions could not have produced the electoral constituency which helped bring Rob Ford to power.
And in playing the blame game, I believe plenty of us (especially affluent, educated, lefty downtowners) often treat the denizens of Ford Nation unfairly and with excessive disparagement. Is “Rosie”, the Jamaican-Canadian who appears in the NOW’s Fordfest video and declares “Rob Ford brought the mayorship [sic] to the people!”, responsible for Scarborough’s transit problems, TCHC’s anaemic construction and repair budget, or Rexdale’s crumbling public infrastructure? Are she, and others like her who will probably vote for Doug Ford on October 27, responsible for bringing Toronto to its current juncture?
It seems to me there’s a more obvious culprit, and it isn’t to be found amongst the citizens of Etobicoke, Scarborough, or North York who are being left behind despite living in the epicentre of Canada’s economy. No, those who brought Toronto to the brink of the civic abyss are to be found in the boardrooms of its establishment where self-satisfied elites conspire to prevent even moderate progressive leadership from taking the reigns at City Hall or attempting to address our social and economic challenges.
Their current candidate of choice – John Tory, incidentally another former Ford enthusiast – claims to champion the value of consensus, and likes to boast about his connections to people of power and influence (that’s you, Professor Lean). In light of everything that’s happened – not to mention the almost comical spectacle I witnessed at Ryerson yesterday – I submit that John Tory and his backers aren’t so much trying to establish a consensus as to protect one.
And we shouldn’t let them get away with it. At least, not again.
Fordfest photo courtesy of NOW’s Zach Ruiter