History repeats itself, said that socialist fellow, first as a tragedy, then as a farce. It is not often you get both in the space of a month.
The tragedy is the sudden illness of Rob Ford, forced to pull out of the race for mayor after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The farce is the attempt to forge a Ford dynasty to carry on the mayor's mission. We now have not one, not two but three Fords running in the Oct. 27 election: Doug for mayor, Rob for his old city council seat in Etobicoke and young Michael, nephew of the other two, for school trustee.
The justification for this backwater manouevre seems to be that without some Fords to watch over city hall, Toronto will squander all the incomparable achievements of Rob Ford's term and slip back to the dark, terrible days before he took over. This weekend, in his first foray as a candidate for mayor, Doug Ford talked about keeping taxes low and building on the prosperity the Fords created over the past four years. A Ford for Mayor leaflet the campaign is handing out promises, among other things, to keep property taxes below the rate of inflation, to keep fighting waste in city government and keep building subways.
Even if voters accept the extravagant claims the Fords make about their time in office, though, there is little chance the city will revert to some imagined past of economic depression, out-of-control spending and heedless waste if they are not around.
Both of Doug Ford's main rivals promise to keep tax increases moderate. Olivia Chow says she will limit them to around the rate of inflation; John Tory says he will keep them within the rate of inflation. Mr. Tory, a former provincial Progressive Conservative leader, says he is sure he can find a lot more waste to cut at city hall. Ms. Chow claims that she is a penny pincher herself.
As for prosperity, the idea that the Fords were responsible for an economic boom and a surge in job creation is a long stretch. Mayors have little control over economic conditions. The scores of construction cranes on the city's skyline were not Rob Ford's doing, though he often tries to take credit. The downtown office and condo boom got under way before he took office.
Subways? The Ford leaflet claims the mayor "achieved consensus to build the Scarborough subway." In fact, a pair of city councillors got the ball rolling on that one and the provincial government added its support. Rob Ford simply jumped on the bandwagon and claimed the project as his own. His own subway proposal, for Sheppard Avenue, fell apart precisely because he failed to build a consensus on city council.
All three candidates – Doug Ford, Ms. Chow and Mr. Tory – say they would try to build more rapid transit, Ms. Chow by pushing ahead with light-rail lines and pressing for progress on the downtown relief subway line, Mr. Tory by starting on his SmartTrack surface subway proposal, the Ford campaign by moving ahead with Sheppard, Finch and downtown relief subways. The Fords have no monopoly on the transit-champion brand.
The notion that the Fords have some special bond with ordinary people and extraordinary sympathy for their plight is equally fanciful. While Rob Ford won lots of votes by touring crumbling public housing estates and getting potholes fixed for people who called him to complain, that is not how to make real progress for the disadvantaged. Ms. Chow has a long record, as a city councillor and NDP MP, of focusing on the plight of the less fortunate in Toronto. Mr. Tory has a long record as a civic activist dealing with issues such as youth unemployment and the islands of poverty in the inner suburbs.
Doug Ford will have his first chance to go up against his two main rivals at a debate on Tuesday. Voters will have a chance to weigh his proposals then. What they should not do is buy the pitch that without the Fords comes the deluge.