Forget the crack. And the thuggery. And the drunken stupors.
The Mayor of Toronto, according to one poll, still has a 44 percent approval rating. Some think he could get re-elected.
How can that be? Is it his personal charm? All those return telephone calls to citizens with complaints.
Or is it, as some commentators affirm, the anger of the suburban base for what they perceive as the contempt of the “downtown elites” and a wasteful City Hall – and for whom Rod Ford is their avenging angel? Is Toronto politics really just a consequence of the amalgamation of the mega-city by a conservative provincial government which perfectly understood that an ideologically divided region would rebound to their benefit. They probably never expected a Rob Ford (Mel Lastman was more their style), but Ford’s personal antics are secondary to the value of a suburban-dominated Toronto.
Could something similar happen in Vancouver?
In particular, is the transit referendum a chance for the suburbs to express their frustration and contempt for the City of Vancouver – its greenies, its bike lanes, its grab of regional resources – while they get stuck in traffic in order to find more affordable housing from which they are priced out in the city?
Isn’t that what the ‘White Rock Friend’ was expressing in “What the ‘Yes’ side is up against …“?
If the provincial government can’t amalgamate us, they can least use the suburban voter base to limit the taxes that are seen to disproportionately benefit of the core by requiring region-wide votes. And yes, of course transit benefits the region as a whole, of course the city and suburbs are co-dependent. But isn’t that true in Toronto as well? While we may not get a Ford running the City, we’ll get the consequences of the divide.
There’s another way in which Vancouver could get Forded: in the transformation of our image. The world sees us as, well, nice. We’re a stable and fortunate and beautiful place on the planet, not very exciting, but admirable, diverse and desirable. The Vancouver region, in particular, is seen as a place that ‘mostly got it right.’ The City has, in urban circles, been credited with “Vancouverism” – the way we have accommodated to a constrained environment, how we’ve learned to live with limits and without freeways, with aspirations to be the greenest city in the world. Just as Toronto was seen as ‘New York run by the Swiss.”
Then came Rob Ford and “I smoked crack in a drunken stupor.” Toronto will never be seen the same.
Perhaps Vancouver will go through a similar, if not as extreme, re-evaluation. That green halo in our case could get not just tarnished but burned to a crisp.
We’re on the verge of the biggest expansion of carbon-transfer infrastructure in our history. Let’s say we expand those coal terminals on Burrard Inlet and, especially, on the Fraser River – taking the thermal coal from Wyoming that the Pacific Northwest states have rejected. Let’s say we approve those pipelines. Or we transfer bitumen by rail. And build one, two, three or more LNG plants on our coast, amping up the number of tankers by the dozens that flow through our dangerous waters.
Then, here in the region, we defeat transit expansion. We open up the Agricultural Land Reserve. We build a ten-lane bridge to sprawl onto our wetlands and lowlands. Even the First Nations pave over part of a continental flyway for a car-dependent shopping mall. Realtors take out options on farmlands and then erect tilt-up warehouses, as the port expands its operations on the farmland it purchases. And to top it off: no more of those damn bike lanes.
What of our image then – and our sense of our self as the world discovers that we’re not who they thought we were?
That we’ve become the environmental equivalent of Rob Ford.