Now Magazine Covers Scarborough Debate

Our allies at Public Interest and the Scarborough Civic Action Network hosted a debate on inner city issues last week, and managed to secure a major article in Now magazine.

Here’s the article.   Tell us if you think the article is an accurate depiction of Scarborough and residents’ feelings about the election.

Ford gets spanked in the burbs



The grey stone sculptures on the lawn outside the Scarborough Civic Centre add to the gloom on a rainy Monday night ….

It’s tempting to start off a story about the city-versus-suburban narrative fuelling Rob Ford’s run with words like these. Call it media over-exposure.

But at the first real duke-out between mayoral candidates in the burbs, on September 27, David Miller’s legacy is seemingly alive and well in what’s supposed to be fertile Ford territory.

The occasion is the Scarborough Civic Action Network’s Inner City Suburbs, Inner City Issues debate.

Inside the Civic Centre, the mood is bright but slightly tense as campaign workers for the five leading contenders hawk T-shirts and buttons outside the council chamber. This race for mayor, like all those since amalgamation, will be won in the burbs.

The candidates are eager to glad-hand. Rocco Rossi, an early arrival, is making the rounds. The woman sitting next to me, though, refuses to shake his hand. Too right-wing, she says. Rossi’s quick on his feet. He tells her he’s the only candidate not calling for tax cuts. True enough – but he is calling for substantial cuts in spending. Same thing. He moves on.

Visible-minority faces outnumber the older white ones two-to-one in the standing room-only crowd.

When the Civic Centre was built, in the early 70s, the space-age Raymond Moriyama beauty reflected the promise of a bright future for the former borough known lovingly as Scarberia. Almost 40 years on – and 10 years after an apocalyptic amalgamation – some of that old shine is still there, but not in huge swaths of Scarborough.

The model inner-city suburb has been heavily urbanized, and some of the same problems that confront poor neighbourhoods in the inner city now plague Scarborough. Shocking but true: 35 per cent of children under 15 are living in poverty. Six of Toronto’s most under-served priority neighbourhoods are here.

One clear sign of that stress tonight are the boxes set out for food donations.

The story is the same in other suburban outposts – Jane-Finch in North York, Rexdale in Etobicoke.

Far from the havens they used to be thought, the inner suburbs now feel marooned from the city. And that isolation, or perceived isolation, is what has given rise to Ford’s popularity – or so we’ve been led to believe by the pontificators.

Sure looks like it going into Monday’s debate.

There’s an impromptu smattering of applause from the mostly grey-haired, Rotary Club types from West Hill when Ford ambles into the council chamber. The conquering hero has arrived.

The chatter around me, though, is mostly about the importance of public transit. And Ford’s the guy, after all, who wants to kill Transit City, the plan that extends a lifeline from one side of Toronto to the other. The university student behind me wonders if Ford has ever tried to take a bus across Scarborough during rush hour. What plans does Ford have for city building and social development?

He’s credited with having a commoner’s touch. “People just want their garbage picked up and value for their buck” has been his mantra. But tonight the unthinkable, or at least the unexpected, happens. The conventional wisdom is turned on its head.

The good people of Scarborough – at least those here – are not the angry dupes we’ve been reading about in the polls. Apparently, not everyone north of the 401 is drinking the Ford Kool-Aid. A few nights earlier, in Ford’s own backyard, the guy breathing down his neck in the polls drew a few hundred to a rally.

Truth is, suburbanites share our city and have many of the same concerns about social development, city-building and livability as downtowners.

They care about the arts, about public transit connecting poorer neighbourhoods to where the jobs are, about trees lining the streets.

They’re looking for someone to articulate their dreams, maybe inspire them a little. Tonight, the candidates who talk about what connects instead of what divides our city get the loudest applause. And that’s not Ford.

People get it, as the guy who got their vote for mayor in the last two elections is fond of pointing out about the citizens of our great city.

The “woo-hoo!”s from the designated Ford cheerleader at the back become more half-hearted as the night wears on. Ford has been exposed. The polls are beginning to show that – again.

Even his old standby, i.e., “Who do you trust?” is greeted by a resounding “Not you.”

When the subject turns to the havoc wreaked by amalgamation and his late father’s role in that debacle as an MPP in the Harris government, Ford plays the sympathy card, painting his mayoral competitors as unjust attackers of dear dead Dad. Groans fill the chamber. Someone calls him a crybaby.

Ford sits stunned.