Pull up a very expensive chair, it’s going to be a fun ride

City Hall chairs
Would you pay $75,000 for these chairs? If you live in Toronto, you already did.

Friday’s hot news item at Toronto City Hall was a original chairs, designed by Warren Platner in the 1960’s, were selected by City Hall’s architect as the ideal artistic compliment to the building’s unique iconic yada yada.  Toronto City Hall is, truly, an iconic building.  And, when I say iconic, I mean it literally — not in the haphazard way many politicians throw the word around these days when they’re talking about spending money on big, expensive buildings.  And, as we are constantly reminded by people who are far too accustomed to spending our money, not theirs: heritage is priceless.  But, I digress.

The political reality is that none of this matters.

What matters is that $2,500 and $75,000 represent amounts of money that everybody can understand.  Everyone who read the story in the Sun, or heard it on morning talk radio, or saw it on TV news, can relate to these sums.  We can all do the math in our head and count exactly how many months, weeks, hours we have to work to earn $2,500 or $75,000.  Most households in Canada don’t make $75,000 in a year.  Everyday people know how hard they have to work to earn $75,000.  They know how many pay cheques they have to bank to save up $2,500 for a planned purchase.  And, the vast majority of those people can’t believe anyone would spend that much money on chairs.

Toronto mayor Rob Ford understands this.  He has an innate understanding of this type of financial-political calculus.  His competitors wax apoplectic about tens, hundreds and thousands of millions of dollars while the eyes of average voters glaze over.  Ford knows better.

Ford became a folk hero by ranting on talk radio for years about expenses like $30,000 spent on fancy sandwich trays for City Councillors and an $80,000 full-time “plant waterer.”  People related to those numbers and they were outraged.  No one knows whether $1 billion is a good deal for a subway.  Everyone knows $80,000 is an egregious amount to pay someone to water plants.

During the 2010 election campaign, the biggest break Ford caught was when outgoing Councillor Kyle Rae threw himself a $12,000 retirement party at taxpayer expenses.  You could hear heads exploding right across the city, and you could watch the polling numbers rolling upwards for Ford — the standard-bearer for fiscal restraint.

So, this chair business is a huge deal for Ford.  First, because he’s built his brand on fighting exactly this kind of spending.  So, it’s right up his ally.  Expect him to beat the drums long and loudly — using this as an excellent example of why voters need to send him back into the mayor’s office in next year’s election with an even stronger mandate to “stop the gravy train.”  “My work is not done.”  “I need your support to get it through their heads at City Hall that you’re serious.”  “Lorem ipsum dolor sit etc. etc.”  You get the idea.

But, it’s also a double-edged sword.  This happened on Ford’s watch.  And, it’s exactly what he promised to stop.  In nearly the same breath on the Jerry Agar show on Newstalk1010, Ford said first that he had no idea about this purchase — that it had happened without his knowledge — and then claimed he watches every dime that goes out of the building.  It’s the kind of Fordian non sequitur that makes his opponents’ heads spin.  But the literal inconsistency is transparent to most listeners who look past Ford’s words and understand his intent and his passion.

So, I expect to hear more about these chairs (and whatever other furniture may be purchased in the next 12 months) as the 2014 election campaign starts to heat up.  It’s going to be a long, interesting ride.  Might as well be comfy,  If only, I had a cozy arm chair…