Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Norm Kelly v Rob Ford: The Right Wing Mayor Is Dead. Long Live The Right Wing Mayor!

Happier days for the populist right

Well, it was indeed a circus at city hall yesterday. I wasn’t able to attend the performance live but did have the pleasure of watching some of it unfold via the miracle of the interwebs. Those Ford brothers sure know how to do a great imitation of The Sopranos – belligerent, bullying, pulling faces like a couple of 12-year old school yard pricks. Better writers than me have detailed the whole gory affair, including former fan club president, Christie Blatchford.

So, I won’t dwell on the specifics of their performance. Just to note that, in the end, Ford was stripped of much of his power. Of course, it came after a predictable performance that the Ford gang has realized will garner them international attention and ensure, if not a political future, it’s definitely building their media career. A lot of North Americans love UFC. The Fords played to that fan base.

What is more interesting, besides the easy to talk about spectacle, is just what we have gotten in replacement of Rob Ford: Norm Kelly. This is what the left voted for in stripping Rob Ford of his powers – they voted for Norm Kelly to take over the mayoral role. So, who is this guy? Well, certainly he will be less entertaining but will he be “better” for our city? I mean he must be, after all, even council lefty Gord Perks was tweeting that if the Ford bros. tried to remove Kelly before yesterday’s vote they’d just put him back in place so that they could make him interim mayor.

Kelly, made Deputy Mayor by Rob Ford himself, is a political veteran, having been in and out of various levels of office since Trudeau the senior was Prime Minister. He was also once the head of history at Upper Canada College – a prep school for ruling class boys in Toronto. And, most importantly, he’s just as odious as Rob Ford. As he himself said as recently as August, when he was made DM, on his role:
“There has to be a commitment to the core policies and core direction of the mayor...”

He’s not kidding there, in fact, he voted with Ford over 96% of the time. Like Denzil Minnan-Wong, Cesar Palacio and other council right-wingers, Kelly has happily played the role of Ford hatchet man whenever it was needed, removing the TTC chief General Manager Gary Webster back in February, 2012 – at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars – because he didn’t furnish Ford’s castle in the sky with the necessary furniture by endorsing his outrageously expensive and impractical subway plan. It should be noted that Kelly previously voted in favour of Miller’s transit city plan seven times. That’s the plan that Ford tore up as soon as he was elected because he wanted subways, not LRT. Of course, at the time Kelly was on Miller’s executive, which is both a demonstration of Miller’s judgment and Kelly’s opportunism.

Besides his role as chief toady, Kelly is also a climate-denier or, as he would say “we just don’t really know anything now do we?” Tell that to the families of the 10,000+ dead in the Philippines. Nor is this some recent aberration, according to this 2003 article in NOW:
[Kelly] holds the distinction of being the only TTC commissioner who doesn’t believe in increased funding for public transit. Member of the city’s powerful policy and finance committee and an unabashed supporter of the Island Airport expansion, Union Station, Front Street extension – you name it. Believes in privatizing waste, water and public housing. One of the worst voting records on council on the environment as well.

So, let’s be honest. Like Minnan-Wong and the rest of the Ford Nation minions at City Hall, the only thing that has changed for Kelly is that Ford’s incompetence has made it impossible for him to implement the austerity agenda that they support. Ford has fallen out of favour with the real powers that be in the city and with the mostly right wing, pro-austerity media. For certain this palace coup includes a fair share of careerist maneuvering by Ford’s former allies, but at its core it’s all about re-arming neo-liberalism on Toronto City Council.

And the left on council are playing the role of enablers – not of Rob Ford’s self-destructive, substance-abusing behavour – but of austerity and privatization. They are helping the right wing to re-arm by helping them remove the right’s own worst enemy. They could have exposed the tawdry nature of this whole spectacle, the dubious nature of the police surveillance operations and the opportunism of council’s right wing. Instead, what they seem to want is “business as usual”, calm and cooperation.

The city council left could have used this crisis as an opportunity to derail the austerity agenda. But they didn’t. And they aren’t alone. Andrea Horwath, provincial NDP leader raised no questions about what is going on at City Hall, endorsing the Liberal government's intention to now deal with Norm Kelly. “If Mr. Kelly is now the person who is the head action person when it comes to city of Toronto decision-making . . . then that’s the appropriate thing to do,” said Horwath. Really? All the NDP can do is big up right-winger Norm Kelly? And the union movement in the city has been no better sadly. Having failed to mobilize any sort of sustained fight against attacks on jobs and conditions by the council right wing, they did manage to make an effort to mobilize an audience in council chambers yesterday to support the right wing’s push to oust Ford. I’m sure Norm Kelly will reward Toronto’s public sector workers with better conditions…not.

Personally, I hope Rob Ford sues city council and exposes further the hypocrisy that resides here - like when Doug Ford opportunistically pointed out that the head of the Police Services Board going on a fishing trip with the Police Chief, Bill Blair, is a major conflict of interest. The more the flailing of the Ford bros tears apart the right wing, discredits these supposedly austere institutions helmed by the responsible elite, and sets them at odds with each other, the better. The left should not be aiding the right to be more effective, they should be "enabling" their self-destruction, helping them hoist themselves on their own petards and exposing their rotten politics in the process.

Seeing this debacle unfold has made me realize that the Rolling Stones had it all wrong. It’s not true that you can’t always get what you want. In this case the left got what it wanted but it most definitely isn’t what we need.

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