With 13 months to go before the next municipal elections in B.C., it’s certainly not too early to speculate. That’s precisely what I did with my column this week, comparing Whistler’s anger at its government to the vitriol that Torontonians hold for their City Hall.
That anger has spawned an unexpected front-runner in Rob Ford. I speculate in my column this week who the next mayor of Whistler might be.
I don’t name him. But anyone who’s paid any attention to public life here can easily discern who it is.
Pique’n yer interest
By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine
October 14, 2010
The clock is ticking on B.C.’s local governments.
We have but 13 months before we vote on a new mayor and council, so it’s not too early to speculate. And what a term it has been for our local lawmakers.
The Olympics have passed, and with them a cavalcade of unpopular decisions. We’ve had the Celebration Plaza debacle; the Arcteryx jackets for municipal staff; pay parking; rising taxes; rising salaries; cost overruns on our “green” buildings; the ongoing saga of the asphalt plant.
Need I go on?
Before I do, let’s look at another jurisdiction, one comparable to Whistler but not quite on the same scale. I’ll turn your attention now to the City of Toronto, Canada’s megacity, now mired in the nastiest election it has seen in over a decade.
At the top of the polls is Rob Ford, a crass, snarling, anti-elitist former Etobicoke councillor who looks to be on the edge of a heart attack. He’s out to reduce the number of councillors on Toronto City Council, pull marathons off the streets and end pork-barrel spending at city hall. And he is decimating his competition to a degree that no one in Old Toronto can believe.
Ford, hardly the model politician with his hot temper and hulking countenance, is the manifestation of a populace that’s fed up with the way their city hall is run.
They resent that their money was put towards a $12,000 party for Kyle Rae, a retiring councillor who held it at a posh supper club. They hate that they need to pay $133 to install a medium-sized garbage bin. They abhor plans to build an $88 million, multi-level hockey arena on the waterfront.
Ford is as grassroots as they come. As a councillor he valued personal interactions with constituents, even if they didn’t reside in his ward. Joe Genest, owner of a punk record store, once told Maclean’s that he had only lived in Toronto for three and a half years, and Ford had helped him twice.
His own councillor, Joe Pantalone, spent over a month sitting on a query from Genest about a $555 license fee he needed to pay in order to sell second hand goods. He called Ford’s office and, even though he didn’t live in his ward, got a response a day after calling him, putting him in touch with a useful contact.
This is how Ford has built his machine – he claims to have returned 200,000 phone calls in his years as a councillor, writing down their queries on envelopes and cocktail napkins. He called these same people up when he decided to take a run at the mayor’s seat. He got 1,600 supporters to show up at the launch of his campaign.
With days to go before Torontonians vote, Ford leads the pack by orders of magnitude. The most recent poll has him leading with 28 per cent of the popular vote, six per cent above his closest competitor, former Liberal Party of Canada President Rocco Rossi, and 10 per cent above George Smitherman, a former Ontario health and energy minister.
These polling numbers come after revelations that he was once arrested in Florida for driving while stoned; after he said at a city council meeting you could avoid getting AIDS if you were gay and if you didn’t inject yourself with needles. These numbers also came out on the day it was announced he was being sued for $6 million.
Why does this matter to Whistler? Because locals are as angry as Torontonians and it’s inconceivable that they’ll accept the status quo in the next election.
Why are they so angry? Let’s start with pay parking. Council instituted it in Lots 1, 2 and 3, pitching it as a way to encourage more sustainable travel choices. Whistlerites revolted, signing more names to a petition than actually voted for Ken Melamed in the last election.
The Olympics, too, brought rancor to locals’ minds. They resented that municipal employees would get commemorative Games jackets at taxpayer expense; that they’d be buying Olympic tickets for RMOW staff and friends of municipal hall; and finally, that they’d be ponying up for an “Olympic yearbook” so that staffers could record their memories of the Games. That project was hastily, and smartly, scrapped.
And finally, what is there left to say about the asphalt plant? The RMOW has steadfastly refused to be forthcoming on why it cannot be moved. They ask taxpayers to take a leap of faith that is inconceivable given the decisions that preceded the saga.
So who is Whistler’s Rob Ford? There’s only one on council I can think of. Like Ford, he can be crass – he likens harm reduction to “giving alcohol to alcoholics.” Like Ford, he can have a temper – he slammed his laptop in a hissy fit when council delayed a decision on a daycare.
He’s placed himself on the more popular side of some controversial decisions: he’s opposed spending on carbon credits and every step of the way; he has opposed any motion to give the asphalt plant permanent zoning; and he was rebuffed when he brought a motion to council to review the spending on green initiatives at municipal buildings.
He is, in many ways, an odd man out on council. And in next year’s elections, perhaps the odd man is the only one that Whistlerites will feel they can turn to.