So much for the "Toronto elites." The first mayor in decades not anointed by either business or labour elites, Rob Ford's resounding victory, after a campaign that he led from the start, sends an unambiguous message to city council, and to city workers, that it is no longer business as usual at City Hall.
Mr. Ford was declared elected eight minutes after polls closed in what was supposed to be a photo finish with George Smitherman. In the end, the vote was not even close. Mr. Ford's mandate to make fundamental changes to the way Toronto conducts its affairs is convincing, and his agenda, "stopping the waste and getting spending under control," must be taken up by all of council.
Better than any other candidate, Mr. Ford captured the mood of the city. He is very much a mayor of the grassroots, a frustrated, sometimes angry grassroots, and the message attached to his victory is inescapable. The electorate's motivation extended to council races, where a large number of incumbents or incumbents' designated successors were defeated.
Mr. Ford ran a blunt campaign that fed an appetite for change. He responded to, as he put it in his victory speech last night, a popular sense that "enough is enough". But now he is the one in a position of leadership. Mr. Ford's ability, and frankly, willingness, to implement a strategy that reduces taxes, and constrains growth in spending, without jeopardizing social peace, will be put to the test. It requires an attention to detail and a desire to build the coalitions for change, traits and qualities he did not exhibit as councillor.
Many of the issues championed by Mr. Ford enjoy widespread support and will need diligent attention to make sure they survive the city's budget process. City contracts for some services need to be outsourced or rationalized; the reduction in the city work force needs to be managed carefully; the vehicle registration fee should be eliminated, and property taxes cannot be allowed to rise inexorably. Other ideas - halving the number of councillors; removing some of the flawed but iconic streetcars; even abandoning the bike lane mantra - will produce significant push-back.
So congratulations, Mr. Ford. You have the mandate to deliver change to the city. The challenge will be to run an administration as disciplined as your campaign message.