Regressive. Out of touch. Anti-Toronto.
These are only a few of the words Rob Ford’s critics use to describe the Toronto mayor.
Scarborough residents seem to disagree.
A recent popularity poll put Ford in the bottom three among Canada’s big city mayors. But the same poll found that Scarborough is one of two areas in Toronto where residents still have a soft spot for him.
Forty-two per cent of Scarborough and North York residents feel Ford is good for their city, compared to a 37 per cent average for all of Toronto.
Ward 39 councillor Mike Del Grande said Scarborough simply agrees with the mayor’s goals of stopping what he called excess spending.
“They have seen him as a champion of change in the direction of the city,” he said.
Even though accomplishing these goals required cutting services, Del Grande said Scarborough residents “are well-prepared and understand that you have to pay as you go.”
Ward 36 councillor Gary Crawford avoids the phrase “service cuts.”
“There are a number of cost-saving measures that are changing the way public services will be offered in the future,” he said.
He added that most city departments are working on tightening their budgets to “ensure the city runs balanced books rather than working deficits each year.”
Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker says he thinks the deficit issue didn’t stem from excess spending.
“Ford thinks … we spend like drunken sailors,” he said. “The actual problem is that the City of Toronto has a revenue problem.”
Provincial and federal governments have left Toronto to foot extra bills but haven’t increased the budget for the city, De Baeremaeker added.
“Ford wants fewer police, fewer fire fighters, fewer garbage collectors, fewer health inspectors, and I think that’s bad,” he said.
The city needs each and every one of these workers, he said.
Ford’s press secretary Adrienne Batra said the mayor’s promise to build the Sheppard Subway and the Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit (LRT) underground is what makes him popular in Scarborough.
“[His] strong support in Scarborough is indicative of his commitment to … ensuring that all residents receive a fair and equitable division of city resources,” she said.
Ford critic De Baeremaeker agreed that a new subway is appealing for Scarborough residents.
“Everybody in Scarborough is desperate for better transit,” he said. “Even today, people say, ‘Well, [Ford] may not be perfect but he is still going to give us a subway at no cost.’ ”
Crawford supported Ford’s new plan to dump Transit City.
“I think it was the right choice. Keeping the roads free of streetcars will keep Scarborough moving,” he said.
“The improved service on the GO [Transit] and new transit options coming to Scarborough are good for the local economy.”
De Baeremaeker disagreed.
He said Ford’s plan to scrap Transit City and replace it with the Eglinton subway line is “a disaster for Scarborough.”
Ford’s subway plan will leave out the Sheppard line for a long time, De Baeremaeker said.
Killing Transit City will also cost the city $100 million in contract penalties, he added, noting that a new subway system will come at a cost.
“The mayor lives in a fantasy land and unfortunately most people either don’t know that or don’t want to believe it,” De Baeremaeker said.
“When you suck everything underground, no one is going to shop above the ground,” he said, adding that revitalization projects on Eglinton Avenue will be missed by commuters travelling below.
For many, what might stand out most from Ford’s first year in office include service cuts, scrapping Transit City, cancelling the vehicle tax or some of his more colourful moments, like swearing during a 911 call. But to De Baeremaeker, the highlight of Ford’s mayoralty is his influence on relationships between councillors at city hall.
“He has divided council and turned it into a virtual party system,” he said. “He made it, ‘You’re with me or against me.’ ”
For Del Grande and Crawford, Ford’s consistency has distinguished him from others.
“Having a mayor who always knows his position has been beneficial and [has] helped council move an agenda forward,” Crawford said.
“He’s just driven by his campaign promises,” Del Grande agreed.