As the negative publicity around Toronto Mayor Rob Ford multiplies on a seemingly hourly basis, the business community is increasingly turning on the mayor, fearing the damage the scandal could do to the city’s ability to do business.
The Toronto Region Board of Trade was among the first out of the gate, declaring the day after Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced the existence of the "crack video" that the mayor should take a leave of absence.
“We believe the current situation must be a distraction for the Mayor and therefore it is not possible [for him] to put Toronto first,” the group said in a statement.
“It is our view that Mayor Ford cannot effectively fulfill these duties and others while this cloud hangs over him and the city.”
The board made that statement on Nov. 1, days before Ford admitted to smoking crack. Since then, other concerned voices have spoken out.
“The governance of this city has been absolutely ridiculed right around the world. Why anybody down the road would think favourably on this city as a place to invest in, I don’t know,” Andrew Laing, director of Cormex’s MediaLAB project, told the Globe and Mail.
“Could you imagine being a group of Toronto businessmen trying to get the Olympic bid with this kind of profile?”
Laing’s media analysis project found the number of negative mentions of Toronto in the global media has spiked this year, to 22 per cent of all mentions from 12 per cent in 2012, and just three per cent in 2011. And Laing expects those numbers to get worse as the most recent weeks of coverage work their way into the data.
Renato Discenza, president of Invest Toronto, told the Toronto Star the “crack video” scandal itself would not have been a problem, had the news about it not dragged on and repeatedly grabbed the attention of the global media.
“To be honest, up until a week ago, I would have said, it was more curiosity than concern,” he said. But “it’s been more than a few news cycles, so it’s a problem.”
Officials in Austin, Texas, have recently been questioning the Austin-Toronto Music City Alliance, a two-year project meant to encourage the music trade and increase tourism numbers in the two cities, the Star reported.
It took a letter from City Councillor Michael Thompson, essentially downplaying Mayor Ford’s role in the running of the city, to calm concerns in Austin, the paper said.
But others say the business community in Toronto has been surprisingly quiet overall, given the attention the scandal has been receiving.
“There is a clear reluctance on the part of Canada’s business elite to engage on political issues,” James Cowan of Canadian Business magazine wrote.
“When business folks do engage on public policy, it tends to directly involve their bottom line, like the recent feud between the big telecommunication companies and Harper over foreign ownership rules.”
Cowan suggested the small role that corporate donations have in Canadian electoral campaigns may have something to do with that, and also noted that business leaders “might worry that they’ll be accused of self-interested meddling if they speak up.”
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