Published Articles, Toronto Politics

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford dead at 46

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

Rob Ford, Toronto’s controversial ex-mayor whose drug use and erratic behavior brought the world’s attention to Toronto municipal politics, has died at age 46 at Mt. Sinai Hospital after a 18-month struggle with cancer.

The Ford family released a statement Tuesday morning confirming the death of the former mayor and requesting privacy.

Mayor John Tory issued his own statement in the wake of his predecessor’s passing.

“I have known Rob Ford for many years. He was a man who spoke his mind and who ran for office because of the deeply felt convictions that he had.  As a councillor, mayor and private citizen, Rob Ford reached out directly to people across the city with a phone call, an offer of advice or support, and I know there were many that were affected by his gregarious nature and approach to public service,” Tory said.

Ford won the 2010 mayoral election as an underdog against former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister George Smitherman. His victory was the product of a strategy of pitting the oft-neglected suburbs – Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York – against hated “downtown elites.”

He was elected on a platform of fighting the “gravy train,” a populist vow to cut government spending and taxes.

He would freely give out his cell phone number to constituents and would answer calls from anyone, which earned him a group of diehard supporters dubbed “Ford Nation.”

Ford, son of former Progressive Conservative MPP Doug Ford Sr., was first elected as city councilor for an Etobicoke ward in 2000. He was re-elected in 2003 and 2006.

As mayor, Ford championed building a subway in Scarborough, as opposed to a light rail line funded by the Ontario government. Ford raised property taxes by 1.6 per cent to help pay for an extra $1.5 billion in costs.

He also privatized garbage collection in the city’s west end, a response to the unpopular garbage strike that occurred near the end of his predecessor David Miller’s term.

His victories were not without their political costs. Council was deadlocked throughout most of Ford’s tenure, with right-wing and left-wing councillors battling over taxation, transit and labour issues.

Ford’s international notoriety began on May 16, 2013, when Gawker and the Toronto Star reported on the existence of a video of Ford smoking crack and making homophobic remarks about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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“I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” said a defiant Ford in a press conference the next week. “As for a video, I cannot comment on a video I have never seen or does not exist.”

Ford continued to deny the video’s existence for nearly six months.

On Oct. 31 then-police chief Bill Blair (now a Liberal MP) said police had recovered a video that depicts images of Ford “consistent with those previously reported in the press.”

Ford himself was not charged with a crime, but his friend and occasional driver Sandro Lisi was charged with extortion in relation to his efforts to recover the tape, which he will face in court this summer.

After a week of intense media scrutiny, Ford held a news conference.

“You asked me a question back in May and now you can repeat that question,” he told reporters.

“Do you smoke crack cocaine?”

“Exactly. Yes I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford confessed. “But do I? Am I an addict? No!”

He said the event transpired in “one of my drunken stupors.”

Prior to the crack admission, Ford had been criticized for his heavy alcohol use.

He has twice been ejected from Toronto Maple Leafs games for intoxication, once in 2006 and again in 2014.

The month before the crack scandal broke, Ford was asked to leave the Toronto Garrison Ball, an event celebrating the Canadian armed force, due to his visible drunkenness.

His crack confession opened up the floodgates. Reports emerged from former staffers that Ford was often intoxicated at work and drank while driving to Don Boscoe, where he coached football throughout most of his mayoralty. He also allegedly brought a prostitute into city hall and sexually harassed a staffer.

In response to the latter allegation, that he asked to perform cunnilingus on Olivia Gondek, Ford infamously remarked that he has “more than enough to eat at home.”

He apologized later that day with his visibly unimpressed wife Renata at his side.

Council overwhelmingly voted to strip Ford of his mayoral powers on Nov. 18, which Ford compared to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

That same day Ford knocked over Councillor Pam McConnell, as he ran across the council chamber to confront protestors.

The city’s integrity commissioner has since ruled that Ford was “unnecessarily reckless” and his actions were “lacking in decorum” when he knocked McConnell over.

The crack admission and ensuing fracas brought Ford’s demons to the world’s attention, making him a global celebrity of sorts.

He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where Kimmel had Ford watch videos of himself intoxicated, including a bizarre incident where a visibly inebriated Ford spoke Jamaican patois in Etobicoke’s Steak Queen restaurant.

Through it all, Ford insisted on running for re-election in 2018, vowing “Ford More Years.”

He maintained that the crack smoking was an isolated incident, but was forced to take a break from the campaign trail to enter rehab on April 30 after the Globe and Mail uncovered then-recent photos of him smoking crack in his sister Kathy’s basement.

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Ford emerged from rehab on June 30, adamant in his desire to run for re-election, but it was not to be.

On Sept. 10, with a bit more than a month to go until the election, Ford was brought to the hospital after complaining of pain in his abdomen.

Doctors discovered a tumour infected with malignant liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer that latches onto the body’s soft tissues – muscle, fat, tendons, joints, etc.

Ford dropped out of the mayoral race on Sept. 12. Brother Doug, who represented Rob’s old Etobicoke ward on city council, ran for mayor in his place, while Rob ran again for council.

Rob won Ward 2 handily, with almost 10,000 more votes than Luke LaRocque, who finished in second.

Doug ultimately finished second place to Mayor John Tory, with former NDP MP Olivia Chow placing a distant third.

Ford is survived by his wife Renata, mother Ruth, brothers Doug and Randy, sister Kathy, children Stephanie, 11, and Doug Jr., 7, and the denizens of Ford Nation, who supported him throughout his travails.

 

 

 

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Labour, Published Articles, Toronto Politics

CUPE inside workers ink tentative deal with City of Toronto, avoid strike

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

Toronto’s city workers represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79 reached an agreement Thursday morning with the municipal government, avoiding a strike or lockout.

The union leadership agreed to a four-year contract for their 20,000 inside workers who staff community, child care and fitness centres, along with ice rinks and indoor pools operated by the city.

Local 79 President Tim Maguire was evasive regarding the deal’s contents.

“It was a tough round of negotiations. We moved forward on some issues and were able to push back on deep concessions,” Maguire said in a mid-morning news conference.

“I’m not going to get into the particulars of the deals…that will be recommended to the members,” he repeatedly told reporters.

Maguire credited the union’s work-to-rule campaign for laying the groundwork for the agreement, but again would not get into specifics.

“We’ve had some tough-slogging negotiations over the past two weeks,” he said, decrying the city’s “aggressive approach” to collective bargaining.

“While this was a very difficult round of negotiations, we believe we have secured the best possible collective agreements for our members, ensuring they will continue to be able to deliver the great services Toronto residents depend on,” Maguire said in an early morning statement.

Details publicly posted by mayor’s office

Mayor John Tory posted the city’s “final offer” online Sunday, a move characterized by Maguire as “disrespectful.”

The publicly released offer included a five per cent increase in base pay throughout the next four years and a decrease in the amount of benefits for workers on long-term disability, to 70 per cent from 75 per cent.

Another provision guarantees that no full-time employee with 15 years of seniority as of Dec. 31, 2019 can lose his or her job as a result of contracting out or privatization.

Coun. Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s West) said it’s common for details to be leaked during the collective bargaining process, whether it’s by the union or employer.

“Negotiation is a combination of dialogue, garnering public support for your position (and) applying external pressure,” Mihevc told Humber News. “It’s a mucky process.”

“Sometimes I have seen the union publish what they’ve got on the table and sometimes I’ve seen management do it,” he continued. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, especially if it’s highly contentious.”

Councillors do not get briefed on the agreement’s specific details until it’s put for a vote in city council, Mihevc added.

Precarious employment is the issue: labour leader

John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, said it’s important to look at the agreement in the context of the precarious employment situation for so many workers, including those employed by the city.

“Although people think of city work and city jobs as stable and secure, in fact nearly half of CUPE Local 79 members are working in temporary or part-time positions, many without any benefits, many with scheduling issues that make it difficult for them to have a second job,” Cartwright told Humber News.

“I’m sure there was some work done on those key issues.”

The union had been without a contract since the beginning of this year.

The city had already reached an agreement with CUPE Local 416, representing the city’s 5,400 outdoor workers, which was unanimously approved by council Monday.

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Crime, Published Articles, Toronto Politics

Carding a blight on multicultural Toronto

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in Humber Et Cetera

Tactics used by Toronto police lag far behind the city’s rich multiculturalism, according to critics, and nowhere is this more evident than with carding – a practice community advocates say amounts to racial profiling.

That was the message Jamil Jivani of the Policing Literacy Initiative brought to Humber Lakeshore campus Wednesday for the latest installment of the President’s Lecture Series.

The lecture, entitled “Bridging the Divide Between Police and the Community,” fell on the one-year anniversary of the Ferguson, Mo., grand jury’s decision not to charge Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.

“Why does a Canadian sitting in Toronto look at what’s happening in Ferguson on CNN and feel like there’s a connection to that?” Jivani asked.

It’s because of the racial biases shared by police in both the U.S. and Canada, said Jivani. Carding is a manifestation of this systemic racism, he continued.

Jivani defines carding as when one is “stopped for no criminal investigation,” but has “personal information recorded by a police officer and then entered into a database.”

After studying police data obtained through a Freedom of Information request, a 2012 Toronto Star  investigative report concluded that black Torontonians are four times more likely to get carded than their white counterparts.

Andray Domise, co-host of the Canadaland Commons political podcast, is a long-time Rexdale resident who’s seen the effects of racial profiling on his community.

“If I am stopped and carded, then the information from that interaction can find its way through some database, which then comes back to haunt me later on,” Domise said. “I’ve spoken to people who that’s actually happened to.

“It used to be that (the police) could repress you physically, but now they can repress you socially,” he said.

Domise emphasized that not all Toronto cops are racist. From his experiences in Rexdale, he noticed many officers making genuine efforts to engage with the community and its leaders.

But these efforts are undermined by TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) officers who are sent from outside to intensively police neighbourhoods perceived as crime ridden.  They have no genuine connections, social or otherwise, with the areas they police.

“They don’t care about working with people. What they care about is getting their arrests (and) their carding information,” he said.

Former Toronto mayor John Sewell also has a lot to say about carding. He founded the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition in 2000 after gaining a reputation as a passionate critic of Toronto police.

“You aren’t engaging with someone who you’re threatening. And that’s what police are doing when they’re carding,” said Sewell.

“If you’re constantly carded by police and treated as if you’re a criminal, you’re going to feel as if you don’t belong in society,” he said. “That’s not a good thing for police to be doing to people.”

The Ontario government recently announced plans to rein in carding, but under the new legislation, police are not required to provide receipts detailing their interaction, nor are they required to dismantle their database of information.

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Canadian Politics (Provincial), Published Articles, Toronto Politics

Toronto politicians upset over provincial cuts to social assistance grant

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in Humber Et Cetera

Tensions are brewing between municipal and provincial levels of government with Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to cut Toronto’s annual social assistance grant.

Toronto Mayor John Tory rejected the province’s offer to replace the $86-million grant with a $200-million loan, a statement from Finance Minister Charles Sousa said.

The province’s offer to replace the social assistance grant – which covers subsidized housing and welfare —  with a loan is a result of the Ontario government’s effort to slash the deficit by 2018, Sousa said in the release.

“The majority of people who have to use food banks in our city are on social assistance,” Humber social work instructor Linda Hill wrote in an email. “What they receive on a monthly basis is not enough to live in Toronto.”

Toronto’s lower income neighborhoods like Rexdale, where the Humber College North campus is situated, must bear the brunt of this bickering between provincial and municipal governments.

Almost half of Rexdale’s 88,000 employable residents have an annual income of less than $30,000, according to the most recent National Household Survey.

The survey says more than one-quarter of this low income bracket in that community makes less than $5,000 per year, indicating extreme poverty.

Hill said that the Daily Bread Food Bank’s Who is Hungry report shows that the average food bank recipient has to live on $6.13 a day after paying housing costs.

“My students are always shocked when they see how little people receive on social assistance,” Hill said.

Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc said he does not think balancing Ontario’s budget should come at the expense of Toronto’s most vulnerable.

He suggested the premier use corporate taxation to redress the province’s fiscal imbalance.

“(Ontario has) one of the lowest rates of corporate taxation in North America, and certainly in Canada,” Mihevc said. “We have to raise that.”

Mihevc said that the principle of social justice means that the wealthy need to pay a little more so that those less privileged can have a better quality of life.

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo is more harshly critical of the Ontario government’s approach to urban poverty in the GTA.

“The poor are worse off now under the Liberals than they were under the Mike Harris Tories,” DiNovo said, referring to the provincial government of 1995-2002.

The Liberals did nothing to restore the services axed by Harris, she said. Meanwhile, the cost of living increased, resulting in the poor becoming poorer.

“The Liberals seem to get away with conservative policies in a way that even Conservatives can’t get away with,” DiNovo said.

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