Monday, 3 December 2012

Fighting with Facts: the Arrogant Legacy of Rob Ford

On November 26, 2012, in a judgment that is being highly debated, Justice Hackland removed Ford as mayor for participating in a vote in which he had a conflict of interest. Ford was aware he may have had a conflict, but his personal arrogance spilled over into his professional life and he voted anyway.[1] Justice Hackland noted that Ford had a “stubborn sense of entitlement” and was willfully blind to the conflict of interest rules. Apparently Ford didn’t believe the rules should apply to him. While he blames “left-wing politics” for his ouster, it was Ford’s arrogance that ended his mayoralty.[2] Ford has often approached organized labour with the same arrogance that ended his mayoralty. He may run again in a by-election, but for the moment Ford’s removal gives unions some respite.

A Dark Legacy

Ford leaves in his wake a legacy only the staunchest union-busters could admire. The focus of his mayoral campaign was to save the City money by stopping the “gravy train.” Two promises dominated his platform: eliminate the City’s fair-wage policy and privatize garbage collection[3]. With this platform Ford established unions as a scapegoat for the City’s financial woes from the start. He has approached organized labour with hostility and arrogance ever since.

Ford has a history of distortion and intimidation that would have made Richard Nixon blush[4].  He used opposition to unions as a way to bolster support among constituents still reeling from the 2009 garbage strike. In doing so, he politicized future negotiation processes with unions.

Last year, for instance, Ford brought his trademark hostility to negotiations with unions who had collective agreements expiring on December 31st, 2011. The Ford administration went into the negotiations with little respect for the collective agreement, with Deputy Mayor Holyday noting the agreement provided “unbelievable job security.”[5] Though union members disagreed with Holyday’s characterization of their job security as “unbelievable”, Ford’s smears had already persuaded the public. He’d stacked the deck in his favour. The unions knew this. Ford knew this too, and he leveraged it to gain political capital. On February 5th, 2012 Ford managed to get one of the largest Toronto unions to sign a new collective agreement on the city’s terms.[6]

Unfortunately, this is not an outlier in Ford’s legacy and his hostility to the public service has often seeped into other aspects of his professional life. Take the case of Gary Webster, formerly the chief General Manager of the TTC. Two weeks after voicing opposition to Ford’s proposed subway plan, Webster was terminated. He had been at the service for 35 years and was set to retire in a year. Supporters of Gary Webster describe him as highly competent.[7] In other municipal administrations Webster’s input might have been respected. In Ford’s administration, however, a divergent opinion was apparently too much handle. The administration’s disdain for labour representatives was once more on display.

The bases for Ford’s disdain of organized labour have never held up well against reality. He once said that 80% of Toronto’s budget goes to labour costs. In a city that elected Ford largely on the basis of cutting costs, this comment seems calculated to turn public perception against organized labour. This figure is fiction. The real figure is 48%.[8] Not exactly the “gravy” he claimed.

But Ford’s definition of “gravy” has rarely been accurate. Early on in his mayoralty, he boasted of saving $70 million. Again, this was fiction.  Most of the $70 million came from the cancellation of the vehicle registration tax, which amounted to $64-million.  Ford’s “savings” actually represented a $64 million reduction in revenues that could have gone to the treasury and the provision of services.[9]

Though Ford tends to blame unions for the City’s financial woes, the reality is workplace grievances have recently been down 13% and workplace injury claims have been down by about 15%. In monetary terms this means unions have saved the City around $800,000.[10]

When Ford views union workers, it’s clear he doesn’t see hard-working men and women that help to make Toronto great. Just as he was judged to be wilfully blind to his conflict of interest, so too has Ford been blind to the good organized labour does for the City. In the face of Ford’s unrelenting efforts to tarnish their image, unions have done what they do best: they stood together. The result is that the unions are still standing. The same can’t be said of Ford.

 

 



[1] Christie Blatchford, “Controversy Grows over why Judge took ‘Nuclear’ Option in Rob Ford Ruling” (Globe & Mail, November 28, 2012). Online: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/28/christie-blatchford-controversy-grows-over-why-judge-took-nuclear-option-in-rob-ford-ruling/.
[2] Marcus Gee, “Rob Ford’s Self-Inflicted Downfall” (Globe & Mail, November 26, 2012). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/marcus-gee-rob-fords-self-inflicted-downfall/article5670796/
[3] Jason Mraz, “Who is more Deluded: Rob Ford or the Labour Unions?” (Toronto Life, December 22, 2010). Online: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/from-print-edition-informer/2010/12/22/who-is-more-deluded-rob-ford-or-the-labour-unions/
[4] Royson James, “Mayor Rob Ford Allies Sink to a New Low” (Toronto Star, October 5, 2012). Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1267459--mayor-rob-ford-s-allies-sink-to-a-new-low
[5] Supra 3.
[6] Patrick White, “The Peaks and Troughs of Rob Ford’s Career” (Globe & Mail, November 26, 2012). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/the-peaks-and-troughs-of-rob-fords-career/article5714165/
[7] “TTC chief Gary Webster Fired” (CBC News, February 21, 2012). Online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/02/21/toronto-ttc-meeting-gary-webster.html
[8] Marcus Gee, “Ford’s Financial Numbers Don’t Add Up” (Globe & Mail, July 15, 2011). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/fords-financial-numbers-dont-add-up/article625903/
[9] Supra 7.
[10] Enzo di Matteo, “Rob Ford’s High Stakes Union Gamble” (Now – Toronto, January 12-19, 2012) Vol. 31 No 20. Online: http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=184705
 

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