There is No Leadership at City Hall

Saturday, May 10, 2014

We have all seen, in the past few months, that sideshow shenanigans are a distraction at best and destructive at worst. Canadians in general and Torontonians in particular have seen their reputation sink all around the world. Where we were once envied as a clean, safe, enjoyable city with vibrant sports, entertainment and tourist events, we are now associated, by people the world over – up to, and including U.S. Presidents past and present, as a limping second-stringer, consumed by confusion, inaction, and embarrassment.

Here’s the craziest thing that confuses the global audience: it’s not that our current mayor has a substance and behaviour problem – it’s that we are not doing anything about it! “Why is this guy still in power?” people ask incredulously. Other mayors in other cities have been brought down by scandal – substance abuse, corruption, bribery, adultery – but the Toronto mayor seems to thrive on it. He slips past every disgrace, smiling, glowing, and growing ever-more infamous.

This is our main problem. It’s not him. It’s the system that supports him. There is no leadership at City Hall. No spine. No true ethics. Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly summed it up quite neatly just this past week when he publicly said he would welcome Mayor Ford back to office upon his return from supposed rehab.

After the crimes, the drug use, the alcoholic binges, the misogynistic slurs, the racial slurs, the homophobic slurs, the physical assaults, the drunk-driving offences, the cronyism, the lies, the deflections, the arrogance, the broken promises, the mindless negativism, the gang ties, the rejection of our Olympic athletes, the rejection of our Pride and World Pride achievements, the snubbing of innovators such as Cisco, the simultaneous abuse and overuse of the media, the manipulation of city resources for campaigning, the clubbing with 905 teens, the abandonment of his family, the vomiting, the swearing, the after-hours partying, the speeding tickets, the Cadillacs, the private jets, the blaming of cyclists for their own injuries, the exploitation of TCHC tenants for photo-ops, the use of city offices after hours for shady purposes, the refusal to account for absences and travels, the vague descriptions of his workday, the unsubstantiated claims of savings, the self-aggrandizing “best-whatever-in-the-world” hyperbole, and the public mockery of anyone who has ever lost a loved one to DUI…the world asks, “why is no-one doing anything about this?”

That’s our problem.

This election is not about Rob Ford alone. It is about the fact that we have lost sight of real civic leadership. Despair has led us to accept many impotent city councillors at the expense of the hard working and diligent ones, councillors more interested in dancing to music and keeping the peace than rooting out and curing a serious civic infection. It is behaviour such as this that drives voters to take shelter in “brands,” since words and promises hold no water.

Politicians have a terrible habit of saying what they think voters want to hear. In fact, they are so committed to this habit that they will often say something completely different the next day to their next audience. They believe that the seat they seek, whether it be on the municipal, provincial or federal level, can be purchased using throw-away phrases which are to be discarded like so many paper cups, after the common “folks” have gone back home.

Voters have grudgingly learned to accept this. They do not trust career politicians. Older voters have seen it all before, and younger voters question the value of voting at all. ”What’s the point?” they all say. So when it comes to Election Day, the few who choose to actually go and vote seldom rely on any specific promise or idea that they heard from a candidate; instead, they go for the brand. Like picking numbers at the lottery booth, they ask themselves, “what do I have inside me already that I can run on to make this choice? Am I a minority? And so should I vote for the minority? Am I red inside, or blue or green? Conservative or progressive? What brand and colour represents stability and comfort to me? Do I want to feel like a loser by voting for a longshot, or should I feel a little better by just latching onto the one that the polls say has the best chance? I might not know what they truly stand for but at least I am part of the winning team.” Who can blame them for thinking this way?

This is not how change happens in a democracy. Siding with your team or your nation or a brand will leave you on the benches once the draft is over. At that point, after the election is done, these civil representatives all return – all of them – to a comfortable, consequence-free, insulated existence. Mayor Ford may have said, many times over, that he has stopped the gravy train. But he neglects to mention that he stopped it so that he and his brother could get on.

This is why I believe it is time for a real change. Yes we have all heard that phrase before, but usually it points to changing between politicians, which has all the impact of changing brands of dishwashing soap. Perhaps it is time instead to change the type of professional at the helm; to move from those for whom a paycheque, bonuses and expenses all seem to arrive regardless of any actual achievements or mistakes, and in spite of transgressions of law, principles and common decency, to someone who actually works for a living, whose principles are tested daily, and who uses actual skills to take on difficult situations; to advocate on behalf of the public and to be held accountable – by the courts of law, the bar association, the media and the public – for actions done correctly, ethically, transparently and in the name of society.

This is why I am running for Mayor. The attributes I bring to the table are the attributes that I would personally seek in a leader, whether it be for a city, a company or an organization. Someone who is honest; a natural leader. Someone who is brave enough to take on controversial issues, rather than run from them or be the source of them; A person of action, who has worked to make his own living since the age of eleven. No inheritances. No directorships. No executive-level golden-parachute-lined compensation packages. No political coat-tails to ride on. No existing civil-service contract.  A working Torontonian, doing a difficult job and doing it well.

None of the big three candidates have shown any commitment to tough change. Their platforms seek to appease. Their many public appearances and gladhandings demonstrate just how desperate they are to please the voters. Not challenge them, mind you. Not make them think, or force them to decide. Just make them happy, make them smile. Make them feel good.

Well, I can tell you that “feel good” does not work in a court of law. Nor does it work in any business designed to prosper and compete in a still difficult economy (which of course excludes those companies like Mr. Tory’s Rogers Communications, which are protected by an essential duopoly). These candidates have shown that they are well-suited for tenure in the type of City Hall that currently exists: no competition, no accountability, no problem.

I, quite frankly, have the backbone and the intelligence to change all of that. The citizens of Toronto deserve to feel better about themselves once again. Not through slogans, sunflowers or vacuous catchphrases, but by being tough. Courtroom tough. Fearless and focused.

We need someone who has his feet on the ground and who is not seduced by the intoxicating haze of protected power. We need to make the entire management of this city accountable, honest, and able to make the tough choices that will pave the way for a more successful, intelligent and responsible future, starting now. I can drive these principles and plans forward because I am afraid of no-one, but respectful of everyone. I seek not to appease or pander, but to listen, to plan, to serve and to achieve.

Only then will the world, and more importantly our own city’s hard-working people, be able to shout, “Yes! Toronto!”

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