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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 27 February 2014

The Fords: Poverty Pimps vs White Saviours

                 - Doug Ford, cutting off his brother the Mayor in mid-sentence

Let's go with this for a second.  

Which buildings?  Which dates and times?  There are a lot of buildings in Toronto - lots of buildings in each riding, in fact.  If the Fords are visiting social housing properties in a given Councilor's ward when that Councilor is, say, performing their duties at City Hall then yeah, there's a good chance they're not going to bump into each other.

One way to really figure out which Councillors are visiting which buildings and when is to open up every elected official's daily schedule to public scrutiny.  As Mayor, Rob Ford could lead by example and put up his itinerary a week in advance.

During the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy consultations when a dedicated, community-focused group of Toronto Public Servants went out into the city's priority neighbourhoods to inform residents about the consultation process and solicit feedback, I saw a lot of Councillors attending.  

James Pasternak took the time to sit down with a couple of tables and really get into the weeds of the conversation with his constituents and community groups.  It was clear that many of them had a direct relationship with him already.  That left an impression, but he wasn't the only Councilor to participate - you can check my tweets from the months of the consultation to see who else came out, but there were many elected officials who joined the conversation.

The Fords were not among them.

As for Councilors being in their communities, I can't speak for all of them, but I know for a fact that Ward 15 Councillor Josh Colle is not only in his community, personally - he brings his whole family with him and has instructed his staff to be full partners in community activity.  I'm sure he's not the only one, but I'm equally sure that he and the Mayor have never crossed paths in the buildings of Ward 15, either.

And I find it very interesting that in their chat, the Fords focus strictly on Toronto Community Housing.  There happen to be a lot of low-income buildings in Toronto not run by TCH that do have broken windows and elevators, mold, poor lighting, etc.  These buildings are owned and operated by slum landlords.

There are certain time commitments around building repairs that these slum landlords successfully evade by swapping buildings between themselves; thanks to regulatory loopholes, new landlords don't have to adhere to a previous one's ticking clock.

What are the Ford brothers doing to address this issue and support the poor Torontonians living in these buildings?  

I think we know the answer to this.  They're all about saving money and supporting the private sector through decreasing regulation, after all.

The Fords aren't interested in fixing structural issues - that's too much like committing sociology.  They really aren't all that interest in being Councillors, either, in the sense of being part of City Council.

Here's what the Fords do, as evidenced both by their disdain for collaboration with peers and focus on always being the champion for people of lesser means.

The Fords aren't interested in fixing problems and empowering individuals - they're all about being saviours.

When it comes to football, it was Rob Ford who saved those kids.  All by himself.  When it came to Christmas time, there was Doug Ford, handing out cash like a king throwing sheckles to the peasants.

They have no problem shouting orders down the chain of command and thumping their fists to get what they want, but when it comes to working with, they don't have the time, interest, patience, or possibly even the capacity.

Similarly, when it comes to personal accountability - for their time, behaviour or use of public resources, including staff, they're unapologetic; the simply refer back to the fact that they're saviours, as though that validates everything.

Here's the grand irony - the Fords do have something of a point about how our public institutions thrive on poverty.  Providing services to the disenfranchised is their business; if poverty was eradicated, they'd be out of business.  There's a whole saviour culture within public services at all levels that, in essence, serves to perpetuate poverty as an enterprise.

But that culture is changing.  Partially due to fiscal constraints, partially due to the increasing complexity of poverty (or at least, our awareness of that complexity) there's a shift in attitude and service delivery that's getting away from the handing-out-fish business into the teach-to-fish model.

There are some great initiatives out there in communities all across Toronto that have empowerment as their focus - advocacy training, entrepreneurship supports, crisis first-response, so on and so forth.  At a high level, the whole Open Government/Open Data Movement is about empowering strong individuals reaching and contributing their maximum potential for a stronger, more dynamic city.

Public servants and the famous "special interest groups" are now actively trying to put themselves out of business and help poorer Torontonians be equal and equitable players in the city.  

These folk want to be sure that marginalized Torontonians are actively engaged and paying attention to things like the decisions Councilors make around the Strong Neighbourhood Strategy recommendations.

Where are the Fords in this process of structural reform?

The Ford brothers are nowhere to be found.  All sizzle, no steak.  

In fact, when it comes to solutions, I'd say they're non-existent.


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