Thursday, November 29, 2012

Toronto the Good?

To say the very least, Toronto has had an eventful week. On Sunday, the Toronto Argonauts defeated the Calgary Stampeders to win the 100th Grey Cup. The Argos' victory in the Canadian Football League's annual championship game was naturally the cause of great rejoicing here, but Toronto residents have still had much to grind their teeth over this week. Many of the post-Grey Cup letters to the editor that have appeared in local papers have been focused less on the game itself than on the fact that Canadian singer Justin Bieber was roundly booed by the crowds during his performance at the Grey Cup halftime show; some commentators have criticized the Grey Cup spectators for their perceived rudeness, others have opined that Bieber deserves to be booed in part because he dressed down for a ceremony in which he received an award from Canada's prime minister, and some have sensibly observed that football fans aren't exactly the core audience for a teenaged pop star like Justin Bieber.

More significant Toronto news this week concerns the city's mayor, Rob Ford, seen above proudly bearing the Grey Cup. Ford swept into office in 2010 with the strong support of homeowners in Toronto's outlying neighborhoods, who saw the gruff populist as their champion against the city's downtown elites; as mayor, Ford has delivered on promises to cut taxes and reduce municipal spending, but he has also been criticized for his personal style and for the appearance of corruption. One neuralgic issue has been Ford's practice of regularly leaving skipping meetings and leaving work early to coach a high school football team; critics have accused the mayor of neglecting his official duties, while Ford insists that his work with young athletes is a reflection of his care and concern for the community. Ultimately, Rob Ford's commitment to high school football may have been his political undoing: on Monday of this week, a superior court judge ordered Ford to leave office for violating a provincial conflict-of-interest law by taking part in a City Council vote on whether or not he should be made to repay $3,150 in donations that he had sought from lobbyists to support a private football charity that he runs. Ford has appealed the ruling and hopes to remain mayor while the appeal is considered (otherwise, he'll have to leave office by December 10th); meanwhile, the city has been thrown into political limbo as it waits to see whether - and for how long - the mayor will be allowed to stay in office.

Since my arrival in Toronto, I have been struck by the polarization in reactions to Rob Ford's plight and to his mayoralty in general. The downtown liberals who have sneered at Ford all along now express their schadenfreude at his apparent comeuppance, while stalwarts of "Ford Nation" argue that the mayor has gotten a raw deal and profess continued loyalty even as they admit that Ford has made some serious mistakes. For my part - and speaking as a foreign national who is politically neutral by necessity - I regret that the work of governing Canada's largest city has effectively been put on hold while the question of what happens next is sorted out. On the other hand, I will admit that I was pleased that the Toronto City Council voted yesterday to drop plans to ban plastic shopping bags. I suppose that I should be thanking God for small favors! AMDG.


ADDENDUM (11:15 A.M., 11/30/12): For another take on this week on Toronto, check out the above commentary from Canadian pundit Rex Murphy, aired last night on CBC's The National. This sample of Rex's typically acerbic eloquence should give you an idea of why I always look forward to his Thursday night commentaries. I'll also note this: earlier this morning, Mayor Ford was cleared to run in the hypothetical by-election that could follow his removal from office, so this ongoing saga will likely remain very interesting for political junkies like me.


At 11/30/2012 11:09 AM, Blogger Lynda said...

Toronto has changed since those years when it was labelled "Toronto the Good". There doesn't seem to be any middle ground in politics these days as people tend to be binary thinkers in many areas of life and it certainly is evident in politics everywhere.

At 11/30/2012 12:53 PM, Blogger Lynda said...

Love Rex Murphy's comments but the truth is that the rest of Canada is not at all fond of Toronto!

At 11/30/2012 4:04 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


I intend "Toronto the Good" ironically, which is how I'm used to hearing it. Similarly, I think that Rex Murphy's comments about the "universal love" for Toronto were meant to be taken ironically - even if he didn't use the same sardonic tone that he used for his "Go, Leafs, Go" line at the end.

With regard to Canadian dislike of Toronto, it strikes me that resentment of the metropolis is a global phenomenon. Growing up in Massachusetts, I felt the same way about Boston that many Canadians feel about Toronto!

At 11/30/2012 7:04 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Perhaps you have heard that, to date, three mayors and one cabinet minister have resigned in Quebec within the last few weeks. Rob Ford's misdeed(s) are small compared to what has been going on here.

At 11/30/2012 8:49 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Yes, I have heard. The mayors of Winnipeg and London are also in trouble. Ford's infractions may be minor compared to what happened with Tremblay and Vaillancourt in Quebec, but I was struck by a comment on the news a few weeks ago to the effect that one in six Canadians live in cities where the mayors are under a cloud for one reason or another - so it has become a national phenomenon of sorts, even if the particulars differ significant from city to city.


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