First, the city mourns.
There are no political points to be scored in the wake of the Monday night shooting on Danzig Street in Scarborough—the one that left two dead and 23 injured, single-handedly boosting the city’s shooting victim stats for 2012 by a heart-wrenching 15%. In the immediate aftermath of devastating tragedy, Mayor Rob Ford again did the job he’s supposed to do. He visited the neighbourhood, expressed his condolences and reassured Toronto that they still live in a safe city.
Like he did after the Eaton Centre shooting, the mayor handled himself reasonably well. No one should doubt that Ford cares deeply about the communities affected. He is, after all, a man who has devoted so much time to sports programs in low-income neighbourhoods and one-on-one support in TCHC buildings. His record of compassion shouldn’t be challenged.
It shouldn’t need to be said that there is no one to blame for this beyond the brazen low-lifes who fired the guns.
Eventually, however, attention does need to return to the nasty business of politics and policy. After one or two high-profile shootings, it’s fair to play the “isolated incident” card and downplay the significance, but Monday night’s tragedy pushed the city beyond the brink. Governments now need to act to address what feels like a troubling trend. It’s not really about improving public safety—Toronto remains plenty safe—but rather about addressing neighbourhood-specific social issues and sending a strong and coordinated message that, hey, we don’t tolerate this kind of thing in our city. We’re a better place than that.
Ford seems to have picked up on this. After making an early morning statement yesterday that pretty well echoed the messaging he used after the Eaton Centre shooting—all is well, the city is safe, this was an isolated incident—the mayor changed tack later in the day, pushing out a fiery screed that declared a full-on war on gangs: “We must use every legal means to make life for these thugs miserable, to put them behind bars, or to run them out of town. We will not rest until being a gang member is a miserable, undesirable life.”
Funny, I thought living a miserable, undesirable life was something that perpetuated violence, not eliminated it.
Still, like a lot of what the mayor says, it’s a noble sentiment that comes from a heartfelt place. But the tenor of the statement only serves to underscore something we already know: Ford is ridiculously bad at social policy. His record on this file is marked by nothing but tough-on-crime rhetoric that’s been proven ineffective and continued opposition to strategic community investment.
Just look at his history. Last week, the mayor purposefully held several items relating to community grants just so he could be the sole member of city council to vote against them. Among the things he refused to support: about $700,000 devoted to various community safety initiatives, some of which specifically set out to work to reduce youth violence in priority neighbourhoods.
It gets worse. In June, the mayor was the sole vote against accepting $350,000 in no-strings federal funds designed to “support the development of policy and program responses to support young people, families and affected communities in addressing youth gang violence in Toronto.”
And while, sure, council wasn’t willing to play ball with Ford in those cases, the mayor did find support for several austerity-driven cuts to departments delivering social services. The full impact of these cuts, presented as part of an arbitrary 10% reduction across-the-board, has never really been studied. Partially as a result of the city’s newfound spirit of austerity-above-all-else, funding for the city’s priority neigbourhood programs is soon to run out.
There’s more, if you look back further. In 2010, when asked about Toronto’s priority neighbourhood strategy at a mayoral debate, then-candidate Ford told an audience that he hadn’t ”seen the benefits from these initiatives.” He went on: “As you know, I coach football in a priority neighbourhood and I haven’t seen the benefits.” In the same debate, Ford cited football as a potential solution for reaching disengaged youth living at Jane & Finch, prompting moderator Matt Galloway to ask how Ford planned to help people who aren’t athletes.
And the whopper: in 2008, when the previous council discussed gun violence and potential solutions, Ford’s only major contribution to the debate was to move a motion that council “request the Federal Government to bring back the death penalty for Premeditated First Degree Murder.” His motion was ruled out-of-order.
Based on his history, Ford is desperately unqualified to lead at a time when the city needs strong leadership. Quick-fixes aren’t the answer, nor is this an area where we can solve problems by getting really mad at them. What Toronto needs, amongst other things, is a coordinated, community-based approach that brings real investment to accountable programs and puts an emphasis on community policing. What Toronto needs is improved infrastructure—parks, community centres, housing that isn’t falling apart, transit—in areas that have been historically ignored and marginalized. What Toronto needs is a dedicated anti-poverty strategy real resources behind it.
In other words, to overcome this tragedy, what Toronto really needs is a plan. And without a major change in attitude, Ford isn’t the guy to give us one.