At a local café in my ward, I recently met with a bike-riding, midtown resident and supporter of Toronto’s arts and culture community who admitted that she voted for Rob Ford.
Why, I asked her, did she make such a choice?
She told me that although Mr. Ford’s politics weren’t typically her cup of tea (party), she was simply frustrated with what she perceived to be waste and mismanagement at city hall. She explained: I was prepared to throw a bomb into the cesspool in order to clean it up.
Rob Ford’s ability to connect with many residents’ angst and desire for change was reminiscent of how Howard Beale, the iconic character from the film Network, inspired the masses by screaming, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
As the election drew to a close, and it became clear Mr. Ford might win, some arts advocates began bracing themselves for funding cuts to theatres and programs they and many Torontonians hold dear. Since the election many councillors, including myself, have received calls from City-funded arts organizations worried that their budgets will be cut.
However, I believe the curtain hasn’t yet closed on our city’s publicly funded arts and culture sector. Days before being sworn in as mayor, Mr. Ford surprised many by appointing Jeff Melanson, director of the National Ballet School, to be his arts and culture advisor. According to Mr. Melanson, he accepted this unpaid position with an understanding that the mayor wouldn’t support cuts to Toronto’s arts sector.
I’ve read some blogs and social media postings by arts advocates who’ve sadly rushed to judgment. Some seem to consider Mr. Melanson a traitor for consorting with the enemy and view his opinion — that the private sector could supplement Toronto’s public arts funding — with suspicion.
Rather than relying on what I read on the Internet, I decided to meet with Mr. Melanson at City Hall and ask him about his motivation for becoming Mr. Ford’s advisor. He believes he can make a positive difference by working with the new mayor, rather than ignoring the reality of who’s in power. I admire his courage in the face of criticism, thoughtfulness and non-partisan dedication to our city’s arts sector.
To be candid, my opinion of Mr. Ford varies from day to day — he can come across as stubborn, bullying and intellectually dishonest. However, he can also be sincere, shy, caring and show an enlightened willingness to compromise.
I don’t know if this mayor will ever take time away from coaching football to visit the ballet or the opera, but I’m encouraged by Mr. Ford’s ability to seek advice from experts on topics he may be less familiar with.
Now, who might the mayor choose as his transit advisor? Any volunteers?
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s
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