Man of the hourTo understand Toronto's current political quagmire, we must separate Rob Ford the man from what he represents in political terms. Ford's personal foibles - his fondness for junk food, episodes of public drunkenness, erratic and confrontational behaviour and verbal gaffes - were well documented during the 2010 election campaign.
A city dividedA map of the election results reveals a stark city-suburb divide. Having captured suburban voters so completely, Ford won simply because there are more votes to be had in those areas. About 71% of eligible voters live in the suburbs. A similar divide was visible in prior elections. In 1997, suburban Mel Lastman trounced downtowner Barbara Hall. In 2003, downtowner David Miller prevailed, but only by racking up large vote surpluses in core areas and making inroads in middle-ring suburbs. (The 2000 and 2006 elections were lopsided affairs in which incumbent mayors faced weak challengers.) The city-suburb electoral divide is durable and has both political and social causes. Politically, we can view it as an outcome of 1997 amalgamation of the former City of Toronto with five suburban municipalities. City and suburban residents tend to have different expectations of what local government should do. The old city, with 750,000 residents, exemplified what political scientist Clarence Stone refers to as a "middle class progressive regime" -- a cosy, neighbourhood-oriented politics in which the wealthy commercial tax base subsidised generous services to residents. The postwar suburbs exemplified a leaner mode of governance focused on providing low-cost services to individuals as householders and drivers. This fundamental difference of perspective on the role of local government remains unreconciled. The story also has a socio-economic dimension. Toronto's middle-class suburbs have suffered as low-wage service jobs have displaced the old manufacturing base. At the same time, the rapidly gentrifying core is increasingly a playground for theorist Richard Florida's "creative class". My hunch is that many less-well-off suburbanites see the downtown condo boom and other benefits of Toronto's postindustrial transformation flowing to the core at their expense. Squeezed in the jaws of rising income inequality, many suburbanites were receptive to Rob Ford's simple and coherent message: cut waste in government, hold the line on taxes, and end the "war on the car." For them, Ford was the right man at the right time. Ford may yet be sunk by his personal problems, but the underlying division on which he capitalised -- and which forms the basis of his personal appeal -- endures. In the meantime, Toronto's many policy challenges, so demanding of creative leadership, remain unanswered. Zack Taylor does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: