a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why would Ford allow himself to be upstaged?

Normally, municipal politics barely attracts local interest. And the swearing in ceremony for a new mayor would warrant as much national attention as a Rotary Club picnic.

But last week’s swearing in of Rob Ford as the new Toronto mayor was a national story.

First, His Worship had the chain of office placed around his neck by someone who looked like a cartoon character – Don Cherry. Then Cherry, dressed in pink, launched into a diatribe against bicycle-riding, elitist pinkos.

We really don’t know much about what Ford said at the ceremony, except that he declared the war against the car to be over.

As for Mr. Ford’s vision for Toronto, we know that the mayor wants to halt the gravy train. He doesn’t much like streetcars or anything resembling them. Beyond that, there have been a few hints about outsourcing city services to private contractors and little else.

This peek-a-boo approach in which you let others upstage you seems to be part of a pattern with Ford.

Normally, a mayor’s chief of staff is next to invisible to the public. But Ford’s chief of staff, Nick Kouvalis, has become a celebrity after bragging publicly last month how his campaign team tricked John Tory into staying out of the Toronto mayor’s race.

We can expect Kouvalis to remain the target of intense media scrutiny for as long as he is chief of staff.

Perhaps, the strategy is to allow those around you to develop a notoriety to distract the voters from measuring your own performance.

There also appears to be a deliberate attempt by the Ford administration to start a class war in which someone not using a car in Toronto is being cast as elitist.

Toronto is not the only city where the class warfare card is being played. There is an excellent article in The Tyee this week by Yves Engler that documents how the pro-car interests are claiming to be standing up for the little guy in several cities.

Practitioners of right-wing populism usually have a designated public bad guy to keep the voters interested and motivated about their political brand.

The former Harris government of Ontario did this many times by targeting welfare cheats, union bosses and teachers. The Harper government has done this with Russian aircraft to justify the expensive stealth fighters it wants to buy.

Ford wants the suburbs, where his support lies, to be blaming the downtown crowd for their high taxes.

It will be interesting to see if Ford can make this type of politics work at the municipal level. Expect Toronto city council to be getting a lot of national attention while Ford is mayor.


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