Only weeks in power, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is learning a vital lesson; Torontonians live on an island of their own invention, and it has taken years to get all the pieces in order. The Trump playbook won’t work here.
I arrived the summer of 1963 as a scholarship student to study with pianist Oscar Peterson, a seventeen-year-old kid who grew up near a city of equal size; Louisville, Kentucky. Although I enjoyed the long strolls and sedate nightlife of Toronto, it couldn’t match Louisville for entertainment.
Louisville had a stretch of what we called “sailor bars,” even though army bases were close by and carousing was a nightly adventure. Fourth Street popped with excitement. There was laughter, punch-ups, women galore, and more bands per square foot than Toronto could have ever dreamed. It was the wild west near the murky Ohio River.
I started gigging at age fifteen.
The bandstand was a free-for-all. Guys in their fifties next to kids in their late teens. There’s a combustible mix. We had fire in our bellies, and foot-long music charts stretching beyond music stands down to the floor.
After the gig pops would pick brother Wayne and me up and drive us safely home as we watched the other players pair off with the women they’d met courtesy the engagement. Oh man, did that hurt.
The Louisville of today is a city given over to the medical industry. At one time churches dominated the landscape, but now in the time of much-needed care and rehabilitation, Louisville leads the way in medical facilities. Gone are the bands and the trampling feet of party-hearty soldiers. How do you spell dull?
Toronto, on the other hand, has shed its skin and combated those who called this place ‘Hog Town.’ Toronto is now one of the world’s great cultural centres, and we are in a fighting mood. Long gone are the abattoirs that spilt the noxious scent of baking flesh across the west end and in with boutique restaurants, tattooed young women and guys with Lincolnesque beards. We are fearsome!
When the newly elected Doug Ford picked a fight with Toronto City Council to cut down to size his long-running opposition, we smelled a rotting fish that had been flopping near the west end waterfront.
Toronto survived the bullying tactics of the Ford clan when brothers Rob and Doug roughed up city council until the least loved Ford brother chose to run for mayor again by running for premier of Ontario and succeeded.
We are much wiser through experience.
Ford is pissed at us locals. By contrast, Ford’s nemesis, Mayor John Tory is eloquent and cultured and can’t be bought for a can of tinned hot dogs and a slogan. No match for a guy who missed over fifty per cent of council votes. Which brings me to this thought.
I ask one a simple question. When has anyone heard Mr. Ford express his love for Toronto?
I have heard the negative bullshit, but where is that clip or recording of our new leader expressing genuine passion and commitment to this city. Most of the wailing I hear comes from beyond our city border and from the suburbs. “Wasteful projects, it’s the traffic, I hate driving there. Fuck the bikers; bikes are for eight-year old’s.” The same for downsizing city council. It’s a faction living on the fringe of our city who scream the loudest and are Ford’s mouthpiece. I have this recurring nightmare we will awaken in a year or so; exhausted, bitter and still in a fight to retain our newly found soul and the vindictive train will still be purring at a bone-chilling speed.
Let’s pause and look at ourselves.
Kristine and I don’t own a car and live by public transit. We brush shoulders with people young and old and love it. Lately, there have been killings and race-baiting encounters digging at the heart of our city. It’s tales of the crypt. Something has unearthed the privileged racist and winked approval. They are now roaming above ground. It’s that Trump thing coming north, and we aren’t going to allow this to infect.
I’ve just finished walking a hundred miles during the month-long Beaches Jazz Festival and witnessed up close the faces of this community. They inspire and are full of life and great expectations. Kristine said to me recently, “I love the young people. Look at them; they are everyone, the planet at our doorstep.”
A clip ran the other day of some ill-informed outsider screaming something like ‘go back to China’ to some residents. Last night I was watching the actions of two young Chinese girls in a joyous conversation on the subway interacting and switching between two languages, and I get emotional and think to myself, I want you to call this your city long after we are gone, not that of some hateful, bigoted meathead.
I have this uneasy feeling that arts and culture are in for a rough ride and the Ford bulldozer is just getting in gear. I also feel our multicultural fabric and faces of nations from afar are going to need protection.
We are resilient, resourceful and have the talent to rise against the machine and the good citizens of Toronto will find the will and energy to push back. If that doesn’t work, we will just throw another dozen or so festivals at the opposition. That would rattle a team of navy seals.