Forgetting Rob Ford – a classless misstep

Toronto's Jack Layton Ferry Terminal was named in honour of the late city councillor in 2012.

It’s been just over nine months since former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford died of cancer.  I wondered what the city was planning as a permanent memorial for him. So, I asked. Turns out, not only does Toronto have no plans to recognize Rob Ford, it has no plans to have any plans to do so.

Jack Layton, PC was elected to Toronto City Council in 1982. He became Leader of the NDP in 2003 and Leader of the Opposition in Canada’s Parliament in June 2004. He died August 22, 2011.

Remembering Jack Layton

Former Toronto city councillor Jack Layton died of cancer on August 22, 2011. Layton and Rob Ford had been seat mates on City Council when Ford was first elected as a councillor in November 2000. Politically, they were polar opposites: Ford a hard-right conservative and Layton a serious left-winger who would later become leader of Canada’s socialist New Democratic Party. They agreed on absolutely nothing. But, they got along as human beings and Ford appreciated Layton’s advice and guidance on how to get around at City Hall.

When Layton died, he was Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa and then Prime Minister Stephen Harper graciously directed that he receive an official state funeral. Rob Ford was mayor of Toronto and he was shocked by the death. He instructed his staff to reach out to the Layton family and ensure they were well taken care of by the city. He also directed that a committee be formed right after the funeral to explore options to permanently recognize Layton and the contribution he’d made to Toronto.

That committee included a member of Layton’s immediate family, a number of city councillors from across the political spectrum, a deputy city manager and the mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff. The mayor wanted to be proactive about a memorial, despite the city’s policy of waiting two years after death before anything could be named after someone. Despite their political differences, Ford recognized the impact Layton had had on the city, the fact he was beloved by thousands of residents – mostly downtowners and those who shared Layton’s left-wing views. He also felt it was the decent thing to do.

It was respectful of Layton – and his family. They should not need to come to the city on bended knee and ask for a memorial – nor, should they be exposed to great public bickering about what was or was not appropriate. The situation called for leadership and Rob Ford led.

The committee decided the most appropriate form of recognition, at that time, would be to rename the city’s ferry terminal in Layton’s honour. The Toronto Islands were a place of special importance to the Layton family and they’d shared many trips with Jack to and from the ferry terminal. On May 31, 2012, Rob Ford announced the committee’s decision and his intention to move a motion to rename the terminal at the next City Council meeting. On June 6, 2012, Rob Ford table the motion as his Key Item and Council unanimously approved it.  Nine months after Layton’s death, the City officially named the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in his honour.

“John Tory should do what Ford did: strike a committee, invite the family to participate, and find a suitable way to recognize Rob Ford so those who loved him can celebrate what they loved about him – and those who hated him don’t have too much to complain about.”

Rob Ford was Toronto’s 64th Mayor from 2010 to 2014. He died March 22, 2016.

Forgetting Rob Ford

Rob Ford died on March 22, 2016. He was a former Mayor of Toronto and a sitting City Councillor for Ward 2 at the time of his death. The new mayor, John Tory, was also gracious in instructing the city to organize a very impressive official funeral, complete with a procession and honour guard, for Ford – a man who had been a bitter political opponent during the 2014 election campaign and on council afterwards. It was a classy thing to do.

On March 31, 2016, Tory was asked if the city would name something after Ford. His answer was diplomatic and non-committal. An “period of reflection” would be appropriate before deciding on that, he said. A reasonable answer – and a prudent one, considering the extremely controversial final half of Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor. He was an admitted drug user and addict whose public behaviour had made him notorious world-wide.

But, now it’s now 9½ months since Ford died.  The same amount of time it took Ford to determine a fitting recognition for Layton – and get it done.  So, what’s happening about Ford?  Has enough reflection occurred?  I asked Mayor Tory’s spokesperson.  Apparently, not.

No committee has been struck. No action has been taken. No consideration has been given. The Ford family has not been contacted by the Mayor’s Office and the Mayor’s Office has no intention of reaching out to the Fords, or of initiating any action of any kind.

There has, however, been a request from a private citizen (not the Ford family) to rename a park after the late mayor.

“We’re aware an application has been submitted by a resident to rename a park after former Mayor Ford. Staff advise that they will soon start the public consultation process,” said Don Peat, Director of Communication for Mayor Tory.

“Mayor Tory thinks it is important for any such process to be considered and objective and this includes an opportunity for the public to be consulted. That process is well underway with public consultation expected to take place in the near future. The mayor believes this process, led by public servants, is the appropriate way to deal with this regardless of what may have been done in any past individual instance and he looks forward to the report.”

Fair enough. Ford was controversial. He was loved by thousands and hated by thousands. He was a staunch political foe of Tory’s and his brother, former Councillor Doug Ford, is a popular contender to take Tory’s job. No point going out on a limb for the Ford family.

I don’t begrudge John Tory his decision.  He’s sticking by his principles that the bureaucracy should rule on this one.  It’s also not a priority of his administration – and, it shouldn’t be. He has actual policy work and a city-building agenda to get through in the last two years of his term as mayor. Taking ownership of a controversial naming process could distract somewhat from that. And, it could provide a spotlight for a potential mayoral rival.

In fairness, however, it must be pointed out that Jack Layton, too, was controversial. He was loved by thousands and hated by thousands. He was a staunch political foe of Rob Ford and his wife, former MP and Councillor Olivia Chow, was a popular contender to take Ford’s job. Still, Rob Ford extended the courtesy to Layton’s family – despite the fact it made many of his supporters unhappy and provided a spotlight for Olivia Chow.

“If renaming Jack Layton Ferry Terminal had been left to the bureaucratic process, endless excitable right-wingers would have shown up to accuse Layton of hanging out in body-rub parlours and living in public housing. It would have been outrageous. Rob Ford made sure that didn’t happen.”

The city’s approach is classless

The city has a bureaucratic process to manage requests for memorials, naming of public parks, buildings, streets, etc. Mayor Tory has decided not to make an exception for Rob Ford.

A private citizen – without the family’s prior knowledge or blessing – has submitted a request for a park to be named after Ford. City staff are now planning to hold public consultations. As is the case with all public consultations, these will be a circus. The family may have to speak – to defend the reputation of Rob Ford. Something, no family should have to do. Meanwhile, hundreds of people who despised Rob Ford will line up to speak against it.

The same would have happened, with different people in the starring roles, if the renaming of the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal had been left to the bureaucratic process. Endless excitable right-wingers would have shown up and accused Layton of hanging out in body-rub parlours and living in public housing. It would have been outrageous.

Whether or not you liked Rob Ford or Jack Layton – their families should not have to go through the embarrassment of a public debate over the character flaws of their lost loved ones. That’s just wrong and it’s classless.

The mayor should do what Ford did: strike a committee, invite the family to participate, and find a suitable way to recognize Rob Ford so those who loved him can celebrate what they loved about him – and those who hated him don’t have too much to complain about.

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