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Rob Ford Has Divided Toronto -- Let's Make It Permanent

11/05/2013 08:47 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Before my four-year-old son and I celebrated The Day of the Dead at Toronto's Evergreen Brickworks on Sunday, I made him wait with me in the car to listen to Rob Ford on the radio, declaring his mayoralty undead.

Ford insisted he would lurch on like a zombie in the face of the police turning up the infamous alleged crack video, the long-missing piece of an unprecedented scandal puzzle. One can only assume his decision is at least partly based on the fact that following police chief Bill Blair's bombshell revelations, his poll numbers went up from 39 to 44 per cent.

Initially, I thought I should write a plea to my fellow parents who support Ford -- after all, Ford's first response to the scandal's latest and greatest eruption was to trot his kids out as props on Halloween. This allowed him to garner sympathy about the media firestorm even though, as with so many of his problems, he caused it. If he cared more about his kids than himself, then perhaps he would have stayed home and doled out candy while their mom took them trick-or-treating. (Of course, if he cared more about Toronto than himself, he would have just resigned.)

And what about our kids? Rob Ford is our top elected official, which makes him a role model, and he's sending the message that it's OK to lie and then non-apologize. One of the major rules of parenting is that you make your children explain exactly what they're apologizing for, not allowing them to just say sorry and move on.

He's also teaching our kids that there should be no repercussions for bad behaviour (not to mention setting a terrible example with the bad behaviour itself). After Ford's own radio show Sunday, he upped his game in subsequent interviews by reinforcing the dangerous no-snitching ethos ("I'm not a rat, and I don't squeal on people") then followed with a playground dare to the police chief to "arrest me."

But no matter how much you try to talk rationally to the citizens of Ford Nation, it won't work. That rising approval poll proves it. And so here's another parenting lesson we need to pay attention to: If two kids can't get along, no matter how hard you try to make them, at some point you need to separate them. If you don't, you risk harming both.

That's why it's time to dismantle the Toronto megacity.

While I'm tempted to call it a failed experiment, in reality amalgamation was just a power grab. Former premier Mike Harris, a hardline conservative, wanted to do something to lessen Toronto's left-wing tendencies. In 1998, he decided to try to dilute the city's progressive influence by adding conservative suburban voters to the mix. He added five suburban municipalities to Toronto, creating the megacity.

The problem was, nobody wanted it -- not the city and not the suburbs. Nobody. The referendum had 76 percent of voters opposed to amalgamation. But Harris pushed it through anyway (despite an attempted fillbuster that saw 13,000 proposed amendments). As the Christian-Science Monitor reported, "Although residents, the Toronto mayor, and leaders of four of the five suburbs protested loudly, the 'amalgamation' passed, granting conservatives a larger percentage of parliament seats -- and the likelihood that the new gerrymandered version of Toronto would elect conservative suburban mayors."

The stated claim was that amalgamation would save money. The reality is that that hasn't happened either. According to the Toronto Star, rather than the predicted $300 million in annual savings, the megacity's "operating budget has instead ballooned from $5.6 billion in 1998 to $10.8 billion in 2013 - an increase of 93 per cent." It didn't even reduce the city payroll as promised, which by the 10th anniversary had already added 4000 employees.

"Amalgamations forced on municipalities by provincial governments are the product of flawed nineteenth-century thinking and a bureaucratic urge for centralized control," revealed a 2001 study by the CD Howe Institute. "Smaller and more flexible jurisdictions can often deliver services to residents at lower cost, throwing in doubt the financial assumptions typically used to defend amalgamations."

So the only actual result of "uniting" Toronto has been to further divide it.

The first megacity mayor was Mel Lastman. Previously mayor of North York and mostly famous for his absurd TV commercials ("Nooooooobody!"), he beat then-mayor of then-Toronto Barbara Hall in the 1998 election. Lastman won the suburbs, while Hall won the city, but the suburbs decided the election.

While Lastman's reign felt nearly as absurd to downtowners as Ford's -- minus the alleged criminality and admitted carousing, of course -- he was clearly who the suburbs wanted considering he'd been mayor of North York since 1972.

But elections always inevitably swing the other way and so David Miller was the next mayor, winning the 2003 urban vote while John Tory took most (but not all) of the suburban wards. Miller's 2006 victory against Jane Pitfield was more resounding, with Miller winning 56 per cent of the vote and taking all but two suburban wards -- but that apparently came at a cost of rising suburban resentment which brought us to 2010.

Rob Ford trounced Miller's heir apparent George Smitherman, but the electoral map shows how divided the megacity had become with the the inner city surrounded on all sides by Ford Nation. Amusingly, the map looks like downtown is giving the suburbs the middle finger which, in hindsight, seems fair since they gave us Ford.

Besides, what is Ford's poll increase but a middle finger to the "downtown elites" allegedly persecuting the mayor? (The elites argument works better, by the way, if you ignore the fact that Ford was born a millionaire.) And it's not the first finger by any means.

What else would you call the contempt so many non-downtown councilors seem to have for us who choose to live, not just work, here? Consider Ford's former deputy mayor Doug Holyday, also of Etobicoke, who last year said in council: "As far as raising your children downtown, maybe some people wish to do that. I think most people wouldn't. I mean, I could just see now: 'Where's little Ginny?'' 'Well, she's downstairs playing in the traffic on her way to the park!'"

Well, I am proud to raise my son downtown. Not to mention that based on Rob Ford's friends, and massive police busts like Project Traveller, it doesn't seem like Etobicoke is quite as pristine as they'd like us to think.

The suburbs certainly need better transit into the city but I would like bicycle lanes because that's how plenty of us downtowners get around. (Ford is actually on record saying if a bicyclist is killed in traffic it's "their own fault.") I also think the whole city should have more daycare spots and affordable housing. Maybe funding could've come from the $50 million in annual revenues from the vehicle registration "user fee" that Ford killed because he put commuters ahead of kids. (It's not a tax if it only applies to people using a particular service like, say, roads and besides, it cost drivers $5 a month, a fraction of a tank of gas.)

I'm also none too happy about the dirty diesel trains that will soon be rolling past my house and my son's elementary school, and the suburbs have similar backyard concerns that deserve to be addressed by a municipal government that puts them first.

Ultimately, I see no other solution here. After 15 years of amalgamation, the city and suburbs are now more divided than ever. The downtowners may even get a mayor they like next time -- perhaps Olivia Chow -- but then that will just be us imposing our values and priorities on them.

Yes, it's sadly become an us and them situation, but as much as I don't want their mayor lording over me and my family, I also don't want my mayor lording over them. It's not fair either way. I don't really get out to the suburbs and therefore don't fully understand the issues that are important to voters there -- and based on Rob Ford and his executive committee (which has zero downtown representation), they clearly don't get what's important to me. Just because they commute here for work, doesn't mean they understand what those of us who live here want and need.

So enough already. Break up the megacity. Send us to our respective rooms and let us once again rule ourselves. I bet we'd get along much better.

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