The subtitle of the Economist's article about Toronto's ongoing issues, "A city and its government are stuck in gridlock", gives me an idea what at least one authoritative non-Canadian publication thinks of the whole Rob Ford affair. Placing Ford in the context of a generally hopeless urban political environment makes sense, sadly.
Mr Ford was largely the architect of his own downfall. Although there are no political parties at municipal level, his bombastic, polarising manner has prompted remorseless opposition. The turmoil surrounding him has added to the troubles of Canada’s business capital, a city of 2.6m that is struggling with an unwieldy political structure, financial strain and horrendous transport problems.
[. . .]
Stand on the platform at St Andrew subway station in the city centre and Toronto’s problems are evident. The walls are grimy, and sections of vinyl panelling are missing. Renovations begun in 2009 are unfinished. Chronic underfunding of an overburdened public-transport network, and the council’s lengthy wrangling over a new plan have created a shabby and truncated subway that is unfit for the world-class metropolis Toronto claims to be. Although several new light-rail lines funded by Ontario’s provincial government are being built, the lack of public transport means that more than 70% of Torontonians with jobs drive to work. They face longer journey times than commuters in car-obsessed Los Angeles.
A second problem is that, whereas Chicago and other American cities have turned their waterfronts into attractive, accessible public areas, Toronto’s is hidden by a wall of apartment towers and separated from the city by an elevated expressway. Last year Mr Ford withdrew the city’s support for a redevelopment plan endorsed by the previous council as well as the provincial and federal governments, which both own parcels of lakefront land. He wanted to replace a proposed park with a mega-mall and a giant Ferris wheel. After much debate and delay, the city has reverted to the original plan.
Toronto still ranks highly on international lists of desirable places to live. But its politicians’ inability to come to grips with its problems is alienating some admirers. Richard Florida, an American urban guru who moved to Toronto in 2007, says the city is now “a more divided and contentious place, its once enviable social cohesion at risk, a growing split pitting downtown against the suburbs”.
This is not all Mr Ford’s fault. The province paved the way for political conflict in 1998 when it merged the city of Toronto with six surrounding municipalities. The effect was to set councillors like Mr Ford from sprawling suburbs, where the car is essential, against inner-city politicians who want more public transport and bicycle lanes, according to Robert Young, a political scientist at the University of Western Ontario. The lack of parties means that the 45-member council struggles to reach agreement. Mayors have profile but little power, a source of Mr Ford’s frustration.