Let's All Hate Toronto (Uxbridge Cosmos Sept. 2014)

*Please note: The following piece was written before I learned of Rob Ford's cancer diagnosis. Though I disagree with the man's politics, I do not wish this terrible illness on anyone and wish him luck and good health, as well as strength and love to his long-suffering family.

Hi, I'm Whitney Ross-Barris and I'm from Toronto. Yes… (sigh) the city with the crack-smoking mayor. THAT Toronto. Yes, friends, the “Big Smoke,” the “T-dot." Well, I may not have been born in Ye Olde Towne of York, but after a number of years living in it, I think I'm finally becoming a Torontonian… and I'm not sure how I feel about it. 

I'm actually an Edmontonian by birth. My family moved to Ontario just after a terrible tornado hit the city in 1987. The only thing I brought with me was a wonderful array of tornado-themed recurring nightmares. Thanks, Edmonton! We rented in Toronto for a year and then moved into the house on Balsam Street, in Uxbridge. I confidently consider Uxbridge my hometown. It's the place where I met my first junebug (Uxbridgites may remember that as the night every window in town shattered
 from the shrill scream of a young girl), where I played my first stage role (the White Rabbit in Uxbridge Public School's “The Trial of Alice in Wonderland” - there wasn't a dry eye in the gymnasium), where I sang my first jazz standard, where I married my Irishman and it's still the place where I find my busy head quieter and my blood pressure lower. 

Despite the years I spent in the prairies and on Balsam Street, I'm pretty certain that I can now legitimately call myself a Torontonian. I own a little house in Leslieville, I pay city taxes, I complain about the weather and I'm always in a damn hurry, wherever I may be, from standing in line at the bank (to see how much money I now don't have) to driving behind a trillion-year-old streetcar on Queen Street. There are times when I'm proud to be from Toronto, times when I hold my head high, revel in my downtown hipness, snobbishness about coffee and my access to every possible kind of cuisine, music and theatre that I want, on any night of the week. Nowadays, however, I tend to keep my Toronto-ness hush-hush. Allow me to illustrate why in two words: Rob Ford.

I met him once. When he first ran for mayor, he came through the office for which I worked reception. At the time he seemed to be suffering from a cold. He was surrounded by his people, Ms. Stern Terrified, Mr. Curt Stressbutt and Mr. Serious Ignoreyface. I offered him a Kleenex, he blew his nose, I offered him the garbage bin, into which he chucked his tissue and then he handed me his card. “Thanks,” he said. “I'm Rob Ford.” “Duh,” I thought to myself. And also, ew. Snot hands. Thanks for the germs. I chucked his card and sanitized to my shoulder.

His ethics are misplaced. His lies are blatant and bountiful. His claims are exaggerated. His councilor brother is a bully. His behavior is outrageous and reprehensible. If he were your employee, you'd sack him and ban him from your property. If you wrote the Rob Ford Story into a film, scored it with John Williams, had Spielberg direct it and had Meryl Streep play him, still NOBODY WOULD BELIEVE IT. And if he refers to me as simply a “tax payer” rather than a Torontonian again, I may have to move to the moon.

But here's the thing: sure, the mayor of the biggest city in Canada is a crack-smoking, misogynist racist, but he was elected. And the worst of that thing: HE MAY WELL GET ELECTED AGAIN! It's bad enough that he's Toronto's mayor, but voters in MY city elected him and continue to support him whole-heartedly. It's like a city-wide case of Stockholm Syndrome. You know what it comes down to? Allow me to quote from a true Ford Nationite I observed on the news - “he saved me money.” Not only is that not entirely true (see above re: bountiful lies and exaggerated claims), but I also believe that in the long-run, we will pay very dearly for his time in office. Toronto has already become notorious for the indiscretions of its (let's all say it together now) crack-smoking Mayor.

I seem to recall an interview Mayor Ford did, back in 2011, with CBC Radio's Matt Galloway. When asked the simple question of what Rob Ford loves about Toronto, the Mayor of Toronto couldn't think of anything. HE COULDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING.

Well, let me tell you what I love about Toronto: my neighbours in Leslieville (our children play together, we smile when we pass on the street, we catch up at our local farmer's market every Sunday morning); the music (from Scarborough to Etobicoke, from North York to the lake, you can hear some of the world's best musicians play the killinest tunes to make your heart explode with joy); the green space and playgrounds (have you ever seen the playground at High Park?! There's also a tiny zoo with Llamas. Llamas!!); the festivals (all year round in every part of the city, celebrating everything from bacon to bebop); and last, but certainly not least, the FOOD (how could Rob Ford not mention the food? Given the chance and the budget, I would eat my way from one end of the city to the other. Whatever your craving, we've got that.)

So even though my pulse may slow way down when I visit my hometown, there's something to be said for the way it races with excitement when I walk down the street in my city. I just hope it doesn't get spoken for by the folks who seem to forget what's so good about Toronto the Good.

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