27 October 2010

The Anti-Torontonian Mayor

Though I have neglected this blog for three months now, the recent nightmarish end to the insufferable 2010 Toronto mayoral race has summoned in me a greater than usual sense of political duty (at least insofar as writing my thoughts to a diminutive [if existent] audience can be considered political engagement). I hope to henceforth be more active and creative in regard to my city interests, and less a passive observer.

We now (well, come December) have a mayor who seems to hate Toronto, or at least everything I love about it. Having moved here from Pickering seven years ago for university, the density, plurality, publicness, cultural activity, and sense of community or social cohesion – in short, the urbanism – of Toronto is what made me fall in love with the place. Ford has made more than clear in his scandalous (though bizarrely-inconspicuous-in-the-media) diatribes that he is concerned squarely with the interests of middle-class suburban home- and car-owners and promoting their individualistic way of life. When asked about his chosen home, he told the Star, “I need space, I like my own driveway and my own backyard.” Despite his putative popularity amongst immigrant and low-income suburban voters, he is conspicuously xenophobic, as evidenced by his remarks on immigration and insensitivity to racial and sexual minorities. A millionaire with a company inherited from his father, he is viciously callous in regard to poverty and egregiously indifferent to the welfare of cyclists and transit riders, concerned instead with mitigating their inconvenience to drivers. Essentially, Ford focusses on the privileged individual and freeing her/him from the burden of others, where progressive politicians are more collectivistic in their concern.

I continually wonder why on earth he would even want to be mayor of Toronto or live within its borders. Pre-amalgamation Toronto would presumably be Ford’s worst nightmare, as his preferred world is the geographic fringes of the current city which are, appropriately for him, more like the GTA; his favourite restaurant is even in Mississauga. His political stances are traditionally so discordant with his milieu that his participation in Toronto politics seems fuelled more by misanthropy than a passion for the city. Unlike Adam Vaughan or even David Miller, Ford’s political values and discourse would fit perfectly into any number of smaller suburban towns or cities in Ontario while they are extremely contentious here. In short, not only does he seem inappropriate for Toronto, but it is not hyperbolic to say his political sensibility is anti-Torontonian in its hostility towards what distinguishes this city from its neighbours.

Although progressives – especially of late – love to deny it, Old Toronto is more Torontonian than the outer former municipalities, in that it most embodies Toronto’s difference from its surroundings. That is, downtown epitomises the way the city as a whole is unique in its greater municipal context. Because Toronto’s urbanism – density, public transit capacity, diversity, etc. – is what saliently distinguishes it from its suburban neighbours like Mississauga and Vaughan, the most dramatically urban part of Toronto – Old Toronto – can be said to be most Torontonian. In his role as anti-urban crusader, Ford represents an effort to un-Toronto Toronto.

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