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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Toronto Star, Rob Ford, and the Status Quo Quartet

Yesterday, I attended a barbecue with a number of friends and family. It was a group of people from different backgrounds and of varied economic status ranging in age from their thirties to their sixties. Some of these people were multi-generational Canadians and others were the first generation children of immigrants.

It had been overcast all morning with the grey skies seeming to hold the perpetual promise of rain, which by mid-afternoon, delivered on that promise. We gathered under a canopy watching the barbecuer-in-chief deal with the cooking, and all of us imbibing beer and liquor and conversing.

Eventually, the conversation turned to the municipal election. While the things my friends said may be apocryphal, given that this gathering was a seemingly representative microcosm of Toronto's citizenry, it also seemed instructive.

Almost to a person, everyone at that barbecue said they planned to vote for Rob Ford.

A phenomenon that has set the media's head spinning lately, particularly at the Toronto Star, is how after what seems to be fatal foible after fatal foible, Rob Ford's popularity has not diminished. It has in fact increased to the point where he far-and-away the front runner in the upcoming municipal election.

Ford's growing popularity amid The Star's attempts to sink him reminds me of the line Obi Wan Kenobi said to Darth Vader during their duel in Star Wars: A New Hope.

Alec Guiness, playing Kenobi, said: "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

While columnists and writers in the Globe and Mail have launched scathing personal attacks against Ford, the Toronto Star has been unrelenting in its vicious onslaught. The Star has gone to the point of printing stories that border on slander, such as their demonstrably false report that Ford physically assaulted a high school football player he was coaching.

While the editorial boards at the Star and Globe, whose arrogant views of their self-importance and influence must be reeling at how their all-out attempts to sink Ford have failed, what must be bothering them even more is the mystery of "why?"

Some columnists have already printed their own theories about the phenomenon of Ford's resilience, and some, like The Sun's Joe Wormington's recent coulmn, reflected some of what was said to me at the barbecue. It seems the media's 'piling on' of Ford about trivial matters while ignoring more serious transgressions by his rivals reflects a panic from the status quo at the prospect that waste and influence by special interests at city hall is in jeopardy.

The quartet of Smitherman, Rossi, Thompson and Panatlone all represented, as far as my friends were concerned, the status quo. And despite the quartet's insistence that they would change things, no one I spoke with yesterday believed them, while they did believe Ford. Why? Because Ford, through his whole career, has campaigned against waste in government, whereas the 2 members of the quartet who have been in elected office are firmly associated with wasteful spending.

Another component of Ford's popularity is his personality. Ford seems like a "real guy," the sort of person you could have a beer with. None of the quartet have been able to convey that convincingly.

And most tellingly, Ford impressed the people I spoke to as someone who is sincere. Ford carries himself as someone who says what he thinks. Sure, that means he says inopportune things from time-to-time. But that makes him a real person. And Ford will say how he feels regardless of who it offends, which as potentially damaging politically as it may be, suggests a refreshing honesty in a politician. In contrast, the quartet all came across as opportunists who are more likely to say something that they think will serve their political purposes than they would be likely to tell the truth.
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No issue made this more clear than reaction to Ford's comments about immigration that were spurred by the controversial arrival of a boatload of Tamil migrants. When Ford said this city can't afford to take in more people when we can't even take care of those already here, he was saying something that most people understand to be true. Sensing an opportunity to paint Ford in the light as "anti-immigration" and even "racist" the quartet piled on like hyenas.

The quartet couldn't have made a worse move.  People who have come to Canada legally resent illegal migrants who circumvent the regulations complied with by and stringent efforts of honest immigrants more than anyone else. And nothing has made the dishonesty of Ford's opponents more clear than the accusation of "racism." There was no racial reference or implication to anything Ford said about Toronto's ability to care for its own. Toronto is the most diverse city in the world and "Toronto's own" includes people from every racial and cultural background on earth.

What may have sealed the deal for Ford is the recent revelation that 71% of Tamil "refugees" have returned to Sri Lanka on vacations since they came to Canada. What could be clearer proof that the immigration system and Canada's good graces are getting bilked? You don't go back to a country for a vacation if you are being persecuted there and your life is at risk.

The other factor that Ford stood alone against in the face of attack from the Quartet was his commitment to eliminate the city's "Fair Wage" policy which enforces union pay rates equalling municipal pay rates to outside contractors who make tenders to the City. Anyone can see through this. It costs the city tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. It eliminates much of the very reason and all of the savings the city could gain from outside tenders.

Who benefits from this policy is clear: Unions. The same unions that incumbent mayor David Miller is perceived as being beholden to. The same unions that the Quartet is trying to curry support from. What was telling was that even union people I spoke to were in favor of Ford's "Fair Wage" policy position.

Because only some people in some unions gain from the "fair wage" policy, particularly CUPE, which is fearful of competition and the pressure that getting outside sources to do the same or better jobs at cheaper rates would bring.

The union members I spoke to supported  Ford because they don't identify themselves as being unionist before they do as being Torontonians and taxpayers. They don't want the next mayor to be a wasteful spender in the pocket of CUPE any more than anyone else outside of CUPE.

So, it seems to me that, no matter how hard the Toronto Star and the Status Quo Quartet may try, as long as Rob Ford keeps being Rob Ford, his momentum to the mayor's office is probably unstoppable.

UPDATE: AUGUST 23: An Ipsos Reid poll taken over the wekend shows Ford as the clear front runner with an 11 point lead over nearest rival, George Smitherman.

h/t blazing cat fur

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