Chow abandons public consultation of key renaming choices

Rob Ford Stadium stinks of backroom deal-making, Sankofa Square is a woke joke

TORONTO MAYOR Olivia Chow’s whole brand is based on public consultation, her elaborate and commendable budget process is a fine example. But she has recently been part of two horrible decisions with very public-facing consequences with little to no input from the community.

Her decision to fast-track the absurd renaming of Etobicoke’s Centennial Stadium after disgraced, misogynistic, homophobic, racist former Toronto mayor Rob Ford stinks of the kind of backroom deal-making her rule was supposed to replace.

And her support for the decision to rename Yonge-Dundas Square as Sankofa Square is the kind of dumbass act of “wokeness” that the right wing loves to mock. It also discredits well-intentioned efforts to address the historic imbalance of over-celebrating white men with public place names.

Both are significant public spaces, just the kinds on which one would assume the ostensibly input-loving Chow would have sought the community’s advice before renaming.

Renaming a public space is a great opportunity to engage the community and provide a sense of empowerment as locals are involved in celebrating their neighbourhoods. Rather, yet again, these decisions were left in the realm of backroom deals. It’s hard for citizens not to grow cynical as even Chow resorts to cutting secret deals to celebrate public spaces.

And as we literally un-name public spaces that honoured now-disgraced public figures, how can we possibly be naming anything after Ford, a man who made this city an international punchline? His mayoralty was a shameful reign filled with headline-grabbing gaffes, lies, ineptitude and scandal. Ford is exactly the kind of person we un-name things after. It’s easy to imagine a few years from now, non-beholden, non-deal-making politicians spending millions to rename the stadium after an Etobicoke citizen who didn’t bring shame but actual acclaim to the city. And, ideally, it should be named after a woman because we have enough stuff named after white guys in this city.

I had a ringside seat on Ford’s Reign of Error covering it for NOW Magazine, and there is nothing to be proud of on his incompetent, shameful watch. Yes, Ford was a bizarrely charming man. In addition to watching his antics at council, I went to Austin, TX, with Ford in 2013 as part of a Music City trade mission and saw both his incompetence and Chris-Farley-in-Tommy Boy-like oafish charm. I remember being slightly panicked as I saw just how likable this incompetent man was, his goofy charm capable of papering over serious flaws.

I also had to force his team to drag him out of his hotel room to make a mid-morning meeting with a key SXSW founder I had arranged; the meetup supposedly being one of the main reasons for the trip. When he finally showed up, Ford spent most of the meetup showing off his recently purchased University of Texas cowboy boots.

And if you’re pissed off at why the Eglinton Crosstown is taking forever, don’t forget that Ford, pandering to his base, ripped up a much simpler plan that would have seen the LRT up and running years ago. The list of Ford’s failings is endless and only a particularly grimy backroom deal would lead to his “celebration.” It’s especially disappointing to see progressive councillor Gord Perks participate in this greasy deal.

Chow “selling out” Ontario Place to get Doug Ford to take over the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway was an easy “give”; the city can’t do much to fight this absurd move anyway, so local citizens and MPPs will have to win this fight. But renaming a massive public space after the premier’s discredited brother is an unacceptable trade-off. We shudder to think what other deals were secretly made.

And as the city continues to chase funding, we can accept the rising cost of renaming Dundas Street citywide might be a tough fiscal sell right now, so the decision to rename Yonge-Dundas Square makes sense and is a good compromise – too bad the process and new name both suck. Yonge – Dundas Square board chair Mike Fenton resigned this week because he found the naming process so flawed.

May as well name it Kumbaya Square and really confirm the anti-woke Right’s delusions about progressives. Of course, we’re pleased the Square isn’t being named after yet another white dude, but let’s see what the local community can come up with before settling on a name with little connection to the city. We’d love the new name to celebrate Toronto’s Indigenous or Black history, but wouldn’t a Caribbean connection be much more reflective of the city than the use of, to many, an obscure though well-meaning ? (Sankofa is a Ghanian phrase, meaning “To go back and get it” or, more literally, “”It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”)

Let’s open up this conversation and see what Torontonians can come up with for this vital, high-profile public space. Yonge-Dundas Square has a history of operating, disconnected from the community it purports to serve. Slapping a largely meaningless name on the space without any real local input just confirms an abiding belief that Yonge-Dundas Square exists to serve interests other than the public’s.

Renaming a vital public space should be an engaging, positive community process that results in a new name we can all embrace and proudly use — something that actually reflects the city rather than feeling “stuck on” by bureaucrats.

The new name for Yonge-Dundas Square feels like the kind of well-intentioned result of design-by-committee that makes a mockery of the process. There’s no rush; let’s get this right and have a name that somehow reflects Toronto and that will be proudly used for decades.

Time for Chow to reverse both these unwise decisions and be true to the input-seeking mayor she claims to be. Names matter, and that’s why people the world over are spending millions to correct historic mistakes. Let’s not make a historic mistake by bumbling the current name-calling.