Dougie (do you mind if I call you Dougie?), we need to talk.
You’re hurting Robbie. I know you’re trying to help. Really, I do. But you’re hurting him, and you’re hurting him in ways that the rest of Team Ford can’t even approach.
Where do I begin? I guess it’s with your frequent references to the private sector in council debates. Seems like every time you stand up to talk, you’re comparing municipal governance to your notions of the private sector and how it should function, and invariably, public institutions and the people who work within them suffer by comparison.
You’re a successful business guy, Doug. We know that. But if you’re assuming that what worked for you in the family business necessarily translates into politics and public service, I think you need to reconsider.
I’m not talking about personal mannerisms. We’ll get to those in a minute. I’m talking about basic assumptions and understanding the roles played by public institutions as opposed to private-sector actors. There’s a difference between the two, and while I’m not going to suggest that you don’t understand that, it might be helpful to review it briefly.
Business operates in order to make a profit, Doug. We know. We get that. And we recognize that you and your family have been successful that way. Creating shareholder value, meeting customer expectations, finding efficiencies — we know.
But Doug, this isn’t the private sector. It’s government. And government isn’t there to make a profit. It’s there to advance the public good. It’s there to ensure that public needs are met. It’s the means whereby citizens act collectively to pursue social goals. Public health, municipal infrastructure, transit, libraries, recreation, police and fire services … all those things that make up a livable and functioning city. Shrinking government by depriving it of resources and crippling its capacity to act means it’s less able to deliver those things and care for its citizens.
Let’s linger for just a second on that word: citizens. You and Rob have made “respect for taxpayers” a central theme in your approach to things for the last year and a half. Thing is, though, that’s not an especially useful way to frame the relationship between people and their government. I’ve always preferred to think of myself as a citizen first. Citizenship carries rights, but it also comes with obligations and responsibilities — to my city, to my community, and to my fellow citizens.
Government, and the public sphere more generally, aggregates the channels whereby we address those obligations. It’s not always the most efficient mechanism, and it involves complex exercises in the balancing of competing interests and opinions, but that’s why it’s called “public.” Whatever you want to call it — left, right, conservative, socialist, up, down, whatever — you’d be doing Robbie, yourself, and the rest of the city an enormous favour if you started thinking in those terms.
I don’t know you personally, Doug, so I don’t know what you’re thinking. (And it seems I’m not the only one.) I’m not going to assume that you’re full of contempt for public institutions or municipal officials or city staff. I can only go by the things you say. But here, again, you’re hurting Rob. So, for future reference, you might want to note:
- Waterfront Toronto is not a boondoggle.
- The St. Clair right of way is not a disaster.
- Light Rail Transit is not the same thing as streetcars.
- Gary Webster is a decent, honorable public servant who did not deserve the way you treated him.
- Your colleagues on city council are not monkeys.
- Lotteries and casinos aren’t the best way to pay for public infrastructure.
And about those personal mannerisms: God knows, I’m not here to lecture you on personal comportment or people skills. It’s possible that I may have a few things to learn in those regards as well. But since politics and government involve building bridges, extending hands and working with people even when you don’t necessarily agree with them, you might want to think twice before you say things that make it that much harder. Calling people little pricks or threatening to execute them doesn’t just piss them off at you — it hurts Rob’s ability to bring them onside. And we know you’re here to help Rob.
Don’t misunderstand me, Doug. It’s not just about the personal stuff. A few weeks ago, in the midst of the transit debate, some of your allies on council were coming round to the point where they were ready to talk about tax increments or development surcharges as ways of financing subway construction. And it seemed that Rob was this close to an understanding with some of the councillors who could have helped him out on that, but as soon as you declared that all taxes are evil, well, boom. So much for any hope of compromise.
Dougie, Dougie, Dougie. You’re supposed to be there to help, remember?
One more thing. I’ve never hidden my disagreement with you and Rob. And while I’ve often fallen short in the generosity-of-spirit department, I’ve tried to extend it wherever I can, and I’ve even noted that both you and Rob are capable of it from time to time. It’s for that reason that I will not take cheap shots at either one of you for your weight.
But for Chrissakes, Doug. When you make jokes about duct-taping his mouth and cutting a hole for a straw, is that any different? Maybe it comes from a place of love, but … seriously?
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