Thursday, June 7, 2012
The Ford Chronicles Continue
On June 1, 2009, the city of Toronto passed a bylaw stating that retailers had to charge a minimum of 5 cents for every plastic bag they gave to a customer. I have always thought this was a good idea; Sarah and I have smoothly switched to the mindset of bringing reusable bags with us wherever we plan to purchase large quantities of goods - or just large goods. Shoppers Drug Mart, grocery shopping, clothes shopping, what have you, we bring bags with us to ensure we are not bringing home unnecessary plastic bags to clog up the landfills. Sarah and I each have a couple of "Randy Bags" with us most of the time and in the back of our car there are several cloth bags of varying sizes; we bring a few with us on all major shopping excursions. We don't do this to save the five cents; rather, we do this because it's the right thing to do. What the five cent fee accomplished is it made retailers ask if we needed a plastic bag (or several) which prompted us to say "no, thank you". There is no conceivable way this is a bad thing.
That is, unless you are a certain lame duck mayor of a certain giant metropolis in Canada who has absolutely no other "cause" that he is capable of "winning". Then it becomes the Biggest. Issue. Ever.
For weeks now, Rob Ford has had the five cent bag fee squarely in his sights. Somehow it has annoyed him so much that he has actually changed where he buys groceries rather than actually stop using plastic bags altogether. His math-challenged brother, Doug, opined on their hilarious radio show a few weeks back that retailers were raking in "hundreds of millions of dollars" each year on these bag fees. (Quick calculation: if you bought groceries every single week and used 20 bags to bring them home every time you shopped that would amount to 1,040 bags per year. At a nickle each you would be out of pocket a whopping $52 per year. It would require nearly 20,000 people to shop in exactly this way for that store to even pocket $1 million in a single year. 2 million people would have to shop in this manner for it to reach $100 million. I don't know a single person who shops this way, at least not any more. Likely this is because of the bag fee.)
In any event, nothing else was working for Ford the mayor so he decided to make abolishing the five cent bag fee a cause he would champion full tilt. He talked about it every week on his radio show. He spoke of it any time there was a microphone near him, although that became considerably more rare after his "I'm giving up on my diet...no, you misquoted me...ok, I'm just doing one more weigh-in in June" dance of a week or so ago. So on May 14, Ford got his hand-picked executive committee to agree to send the issue of abolishing the fee to council. On Wednesday of this week, Toronto City Council discussed this motion for nearly four hours, which to my mind is an absolutely egregious waste of time. They even watched a video on the subject. They debated whether to keep the fees and change who collected the money. They wasted a ridiculous amount of time on this, time that most certainly could be considered "gravy" by Ford's own standards.
And then they did an absolutely amazing thing. They voted to go along with Ford's plan to scrap the bag fee by July 1, but also they voted to ban plastic bags outright by January of next year. Right out of the blue. Cllr. David Shiner basically just said, "Let's make a real difference and just get rid of the damn things altogether." And they did.
Now this is probably the right thing to do. It is by no means a precedence-setting move; many larger and smaller municipalities have arrived at this conclusion before Toronto. And we'll have to see how much backbone the council truly has when it comes time to work out the nitty-gritty of how to enforce this new by-law before the end of the year. But make no mistake: this was not done out of some grandiose notion of how best to protect the environment. This was done specifically because the council knew it would piss off Rob Ford. It's gotten to the point where Toronto City Council would rather take extreme measures such as banning plastic bags outright than sit and participate in any more ridiculous debates over meaningless motions that Ford desperately brings to the table just to make it look like he's doing something. As I mentioned on Facebook earlier today, one can only hope he doesn't champion the "cause" of free Wi-Fi in every retail business because within a week access to the internet would be banned within the GTA.
And piss him off it surely did, to the extent that he went on talk radio in Toronto today and said, "it's the people's fault". Those are shocking words indeed from this particular mayor; to now turn on "taxpayers" live on the air tells me that he is surely very near the end of his rope. When a lame-duck, irrelevant mayor like RoFo starts to blame "the people" for him not being able to do his job, isn't he eroding the last bastion of hope he has for any sort of re-election campaign? Doesn't he claim to be a mayor "for the people"? Is insulting "the people" a good move, do you think?
In that interview, Ford also said that "the people....don't go down to City Hall." So I ask you: is that an indication that he is suffering from memory loss (perhaps due to his apparently heavy alcohol consumption)? Haven't "the people" beaten a rather consistent path down to City Hall for past big-ticket motions? Or does he mean "the people who think like I do"? Are those people even capable of finding City Hall on a map?
After Ford was elected but before he actually took office I read a calming article (I think it was written by Edward Keenan) that explained how little damage Ford could actually do as mayor because there were so many checks and balances in our municipal system of government (unlike, say, what's been happening in Ottawa). For most of the past year this has proven to be true as council has more and more often just ignored Ford's lunacy and worked around him to keep the city running. In fact, ironically, this council has worked together better than many of its predecessors precisely because it was the only way to get any work done.
But now I am worried that we may be coming out the other side of this. Now Ford may be even more dangerous than ever, because council has started to make knee-jerk decisions just to keep him suppressed. This has some bad implications for the future, in my opinion. I hope that most of the municipal policies of the next three years are not formed on the fly as a giant "screw you" to Rob Ford, who has plainly given up on this term and has said many times in the past couple of months that his 2014 campaign is already under way.
Rob Ford may yet prove to be extremely dangerous to Toronto, but not for any reason we may previously have guessed.