Pique'n yer interest 

Could Whistler use a Rob Ford?

The clock is ticking on B.C.'s local governments.

We have but 13 months before we vote on a new mayor and council, so it's not too early to speculate. And what a term it has been for our local lawmakers.

The Olympics have passed, and with them a cavalcade of unpopular decisions. We've had the Celebration Plaza debacle; the Arcteryx jackets for municipal staff; pay parking; rising taxes; rising salaries; cost overruns on our "green" buildings; the ongoing saga of the asphalt plant.

Need I go on?

Before I do, let's look at another jurisdiction, one comparable to Whistler but not quite on the same scale. I'll turn your attention now to the City of Toronto, Canada's megacity, now mired in the nastiest election it has seen in over a decade.

At the top of the polls is Rob Ford, a crass, snarling, anti-elitist former Etobicoke councillor who looks to be on the edge of a heart attack. He's out to reduce the number of councillors on Toronto City Council, pull marathons off the streets and end pork-barrel spending at city hall. And he is decimating his competition to a degree that no one in Old Toronto can believe.

Ford, hardly the model politician with his hot temper and hulking countenance, is the manifestation of a populace that's fed up with the way their city hall is run.

They resent that their money was put towards a $12,000 party for Kyle Rae, a retiring councillor who held it at a posh supper club. They hate that they need to pay $133 to install a medium-sized garbage bin. They abhor plans to build an $88 million, multi-level hockey arena on the waterfront.

Ford is as grassroots as they come. As a councillor he valued personal interactions with constituents, even if they didn't reside in his ward. Joe Genest, owner of a punk record store, once told Maclean's that he had only lived in Toronto for three and a half years, and Ford had helped him twice.

His own councillor, Joe Pantalone, spent over a month sitting on a query from Genest about a $555 license fee he needed to pay in order to sell second hand goods. He called Ford's office and, even though he didn't live in his ward, got a response a day after calling him, putting him in touch with a useful contact.

This is how Ford has built his machine - he claims to have returned 200,000 phone calls in his years as a councillor, writing down their queries on envelopes and cocktail napkins. He called these same people up when he decided to take a run at the mayor's seat. He got 1,600 supporters to show up at the launch of his campaign.


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