Having mostly given up on his bizarre idea that Toronto should simply exile all its criminals, Mayor Rob Ford changed strategies this week. In response to concerns about escalating gun violence in the city, the mayor held sit-down meetings with both Premier Dalton McGuinty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Both meetings were successful in that they were, in fact, meetings. There were politicians in suits and boardroom tables and, I assume, discussion about things. But when it comes to actually getting anything accomplished, these chit-chats seem to have amounted to nothing.
We don’t know a whole lot about the mayor’s meeting with Harper. Both politicians are notoriously secretive, and left without taking questions. Their tête-à-tête seemed to be more a symbolic nicety than anything else—a reminder to voters that these guys are both tough-talking conservatives who think the best approach to crime is to get tough on it. Maybe we’ll find out later that they agreed to do something significant. I doubt it.
The McGuinty meeting, on the other hand, has to stand as an abject failure for Ford. Prior to going to Queen’s Park, the mayor got himself all fired up describing his intentions via an interview on talk radio. As he put it—and, again, I promise this is a real quote: “I’m taking a very simplistic approach — money talks and b.s. walks and I’m not going to sit there and listen to some b.s. and some reports, and yada yada.” He said he would ask the premier for an extra $5 to $10 million in funding to put toward additional on-street officers.
But Ford walked out of the meeting with zero extra dollars for zero new officers. Instead, the premier used the opportunity to commit to continued provincial funding for Toronto’s TAVIS program. Ford heralded this as a victory, even though there had been no indication that the province wouldn’t renew their commitment. In other words: Ford got something that was probably going to happen anyway.
McGuinty also announced that he was redirecting some money toward social programs, something Ford had previously opposed. More importantly, he told Ford that he hoped to see Toronto bring some municipal money to the table as part of a coordinated strategy against violence.
According to the premier, Ford said he’d think about it. Don’t hold your breath.
With both meetings out of the way, Ford’s next steps are unclear. He remains way out of his depth on this issue and his office has struggled to find effective messaging. They’ve even struggled to find messaging that adheres to the bounds of logic and reason.
Aside from that, these meetings make it obvious just how badly the mayor has screwed himself over with his divisive, burn-all-the-bridges approach to governing. Ford is now destined to appear incredibly weak when dealing with the other levels of government, particularly at the provincial level. The premier knows that Ford doesn’t speak for Toronto City Council and can’t win most votes on the floor. The real authority at the municipal level lies with a disparate group of councillors who aren’t scheduled to meet again until October.
Still, if there’s a silver lining to the mayor’s ineffective bumbling, it’s this: knee-jerk political reactions to high-profile violent incidences are rarely a good idea. Doing nothing—which Ford excels at—may give the city time to build perspective on the realities of gun violence in Toronto. From there, council can have a more reasoned debate about funding for both the police and social programs as part of the next round of budget talks.
But that’s not an easy perspective to cling to, especially as shooting statistics continue to add up this summer. You know what would be even better? A leader who could actually lead.