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Jonathan Naymark

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Rob Ford's Gravy Train Hits Huntsville

Posted: 06/23/11 01:06 PM ET

I'll admit that it does feel a bit odd chastising Mayor Rob Ford for his decision to spend the Canada Day long weekend dockside in Huntsville rather then doffing a rainbow-coloured Hawaiian shirt so he can march down Yonge Street getting sprayed by water guns and pelted with Trojan condoms at Toronto's annual Pride Parade.

After all I threatened to 'Naycott' pride just a few short years ago... and while FordCott isn't as catchy a phrase I can understand his sentiment -- Pride can be overwhelming to the neophyte.

That being said -- I am not, nor have I ever been the Mayor of Toronto. My distaste with Pride has more to do with my own personal fear of the Saturday night line-up at Buddies, which I've spent neurotically wondering: "OMG am I going to have to come here when I'm 40?" Ford, of course, has no such personal conflict of interest (that we know if). In fact, much like the Queen (pun sort of intended) who happily shows up at events and showers the people with her regal wave, these types of appearances are part of the job Ford applied for; he is after all -- his Worship.

The queer community (perhaps rightfully so) fears that Ford's Pride snub is simply yet another phalanx of his presumed homophobia (Ford has rarely engendered sympathy from Toronto's queer community, he infamously said about HIV: "If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn't get AIDS probably, that's the bottom line."); however, it is not only Toronto's gays who should raise their eyebrows as our mayor hightails it up Highway 400 next weekend.

All Torontonians, both gay, straight, black, brown, white and everyone in between should be concerned that our mayor seems to have very little interest in attending one of our city's marquee tourism festivals.

For a man who declared upon his election that "Toronto is now open for business" -- Pride, with its plethora of corporate donors, is one of the few events that does just that -- opens our city's doors for businesses and tourists alike. Perhaps most importantly it does so with little government money.

Of last year's $3 million Pride budget, more then one-third was covered by sponsorship dollars (sponsors include blue-chippers as TD Bank). A small amount ($125,000) came from the City of Toronto. While the parade has received federal funding before Pride Toronto infamously received NOTHING in the way of federal money in 2010.

Truthfully Pride Toronto, which continues to be a celebration of gay and lesbian equality, has become a juggernaut of an event. Hundreds of thousands of tourists travel to Toronto for Pride. These tourists spend hundreds of millions of dollars in our city, and in turn kick back thousands of dollars into our depleted tax coffers. The ROI on the City's relatively small investment in Pride is huge: A 2009 study concluded that Pride contributed $136 million in spending; $94 million of that came from visiting tourists.

But while councilor Karen Wong-Tam, declared about Rob Ford: "It sends the wrong message to the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community," I would argue that it sends the wrong message to ALL Torontonians. Torontonians deserve and need a mayor who can recognize the importance of such events to the city, its residents, its businesses AND its bottom-line.

After all -- did we not elect Ford because of his supposed knowledge of fiscal responsibility?

I had dinner on Monday night with a conservative political strategist. We ended up chatting about Mayor Ford and I admitted that I found it bizarre that Mayor Rob had practically dropped off the face of the Earth since being elected. It was as if he was trotted out at opportune times for a quick sound bite before retreating into the ether; as has become rather indicative of the Ford administration we are more likely to hear from Doug Ford, the Mayor's brother, then the mayor himself.

"What happens if there's a major disaster in Toronto?" My dinner companion joked "Where's our Rudy Guiliani?." And while he was being somewhat fatalistic his joke was driven home 48 hours later when Ford admitted that he would not be attending Pride. Now obviously Pride is the opposite of a natural disaster but still... it does signal a lack of real leadership. I mean did we elect a leader or a tape recorder?

Truthfully I don't know if Rob Ford is boycotting Pride because he'd rather do anything else then hang out with the gays or simply because he has very little interest in representing our city when he doesn't feel up to it. I know I'd rather sit dockside in Muskoka then go to Pride.

But while the former is problematic from a socially conscious perspective the latter is problematic because of the job that Ford has chosen and was elected to do.

Torontonians both gay and straight are right to wonder if our mayor actually wants to be an active participant in the very city he has chosen to represent.

Seems to me that it is pretty hard to stop that gravy train when you're not even at the station...

More on the story: Rob Ford Snubs Gay Pride Parade

 

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