Does the Curse of Ford follow us to Mississauga?

 

We all learned an important lesson yesterday: It's okay (to some people) to smoke crack with criminals as long you're in a "drunken stupor" while doing it. Smoking crack (with criminals) is apparently a private, personal matter that should be ignored if the crack smoker is sorry and promises to cut back on drinking (okay...) and confine his "stupors" to the privacy of his own home (Jesus Christ).

Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has had a tough week. Let's break this scandal down:

  • This past May, reporters from Gawker and the Toronto Star reported viewing a video that allegedly showed the Mayor smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine from a pipe.
  • Mayor Ford denied the allegations, calling them "ridiculous."
  • Toronto police conducted a series of raids and arrests related to the video and an associated photo of the Mayor with men known to police.
  • Last Thursday, the Mayor had an unhappy Halloween when a 400+ page ITO revealed the Mayor had odd and frequent meetings (and exchanged mysterious packages) with Alessandro Lisi, a suspected drug dealer who has been charged with extortion (possibly in relation to the video that the Mayor once said did not exist).
  • Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair held a press conference and told reporters the police had a copy of the video and that it contained images that were, well, consistent with what the Gawker and Star reporters said they saw.
  • Mayor Ford refused to resign. Chased reporters off his lawn.
  • On Sunday, Rob confessed...to being drunk at Taste of the Danforth. Said he'd confine his imbibing to his basement.
  • On Tuesday, Rob Ford's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, called on Chief Bill Blair to resign, citing a massive conspiracy to destroy his brother's political career. He used a long-winded poker analogy.
  • That same day, Mayor Ford called a press conference and said he did indeed smoke crack cocaine. He said he was not an addict or regular user, and that he indulged while in a "drunken stupor." He apologized and essentially told people, politely, to get over it.

Most people know this situation is preposterous, absurd, ludicrous and utterly and completely unacceptable. Everyone in Canada is talking about this. Actually, people all around the world are talking about it.

One of the most interesting things about this scandal isn't Ford's shamelessness in insisting on holding down a job he is not -- at the moment -- fit for. It's Ford Nation's blindly partisan defense of his indefensible antics.

To be fair, mayor worship isn't unfamiliar to anyone in Mississauga. Hazel McCallion has been at this city's helm since 1978. She is 92-years-old and her upcoming retirement has bred a lot of anxiety among voters who can't imagine anyone else but her in Sauga's driver's seat. We actually wrote about what a Hazel-free election might look like here.

She's wildly popular and, even when briefly sidelined by a now-resolved conflict of interest scandal, still managed to win a decisive re-election with over 70 per cent of the vote. 

Now, the scandal seems to have turned in Hazel's favour, but the fact that revelations of her alleged misconduct barely dented her support speaks volumes of the power of her personal brand. Having said that, her re-election and continued popularity make sense because the scandal was, in the grand scheme of things, rather small (and the controversial development deal fell through anyways). It also happened near the end of a long, mostly happy reign.

It simply wasn't enough to make people toss their Hazel bobbleheads.

Ford's scandal is much, much larger -- more on par with the scandal that spurred the resignation of disgraced former Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum. Ford has also been in power for much less time than other politicians who survived scandals (often less sexy ones, but still).

Ford Nation is a troubling movement because its core members refuse to be reasonable. Throughout this controversy, they've refused to see the bigger picture, often zeroing in on superficial talking points that either deflect valid criticism or completely derail the conversation. They make false equivalencies and inappropriate comparisons. Some of these people -- many of them from the tough-on-crime, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key crowd -- are granting the Mayor more leeway than they would ever, EVER grant any other public (or private) figure.

In fact, the National Post has a nice rundown of some Ford Nation talking points here.

But as with anything in the internet age, "the crazy is in the comments." If you wanted to read truly fascinating (and distressing) discourse, read the reader comments on any National Post or Toronto Sun (disclaimer: both publications have officially condemned Ford and asked him to step aside) story. There's a whole big mess of Ford Nation crazy, but the most prominent defenses are as follows:

1) What the Mayor does in his private time is his business! Justin Trudeau smoked pot and no one is calling for his resignation!

2) BUT HE'S THE BEST MAYOR! THE BEST MAYOR!

3)    The media drove him to crack

4)    We all make mistakes

5)     But Dalton McGuinty/Stephen Harper/the senate scandal/rape/murder/Syria is/are so much worse! Why is no one talking about them!

Let's address these points.

1) Whether or not you agree with current drug laws, crack is illegal. Marijuana is illegal too, but it's not in the same category as crack-cocaine and its legalization is championed by powerful and legitimate political leaders and the citizens at large. Also, Trudeau did not get caught smoking pot and lie about it. Also, Ford did not merely try crack during a youthful indiscretion. He allegedly smoked it with criminals (who it appears he may associate with often) while in office. The Mayor should not be consorting with criminals. It compromises his image and authority and leaves him open to blackmail and insidious influence. It's not a "private matter" at all. Also, Ford admitted to smoking pot and no one cared. The Trudeau comparison is a false equivalence.

2) It doesn't matter if Ford did away with an unpopular tax and cut some fat if the good (and the good is often subjective) comes nowhere near outweighing the bad. A man who has seemingly clandestine meetings with a suspected criminal (Lisi) where mysterious packages are exchanged, who drinks excessively in public (Danforth incident), who cannot cooperate with council (mass resignations) and who repeatedly lies to the public is not fit for office. Period.

3) LOL! No.

4) Backing into a car in a parking lot is a mistake. Meeting up with suspected gangsters to smoke crack is deliberate. Lying about it is deliberate. Consorting with a criminal element is deliberate.

5) This is the common "Starving children in Africa" deflection, where the discussion of a serious problem is derailed by someone arguing that an unrelated issue is as bad or worse and therefore should take precedence. The existence of one problem doesn't negate the impact of another. Also, the claim that the media is ignoring the gas plants scandal/senate scandal/other crimes/major international issues is false. A Mayor of a major city refusing to address blatant substance abuse problems (and suspected, ongoing associations with shady characters) is incredibly newsworthy and serious.

Also, Ford Nation, while seemingly confined to Etobicoke, might spread its tentacles (albeit indirectly) into our fair city. Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak appears to be romancing the Nation, Tweeting his support for Ford's controversial subway plan and telling The Globe and Mail that he would scrap Metrolinx's LRT plan and focus instead on Toronto subways -- a move that has angered Hazel. Hudak's plan is bizarre, as cancelling the Mississauga and Hamilton LRTs (controversial though they may be) would likely alienate 905 voters who would look forward to the LRTs upping their property values if nothing else. It seems like it's a crazy bid to lock down Ford Nation, which he might see as the key to victory.

A small group of diehard Ford-ists should not be influencing provincial policy and it's frightening that that might be the case.

So what's more disappointing? Ford or Ford Nation? While Ford deserves consternation for his inexplicable iron grip on Toronto's throne (he should truly be prioritizing getting professional help for his addiction issues), the Nation is -- as Jon Stewart said on the The Daily Show last night -- enabling him. They're telling politicians that, as long as you tow the partisan line, it's okay to be drunk, high, and disorderly. It's okay to chill with suspected criminals. It's okay to get trashed and wander the streets. It's okay to lie and embellish and deflect blame and criticism.

No one would tolerate this behavior in a friend, family member or employee. If these people loved Ford so much, they'd let him go.

But they won't. And that's what's so disturbing.

But it does make for great late night gags and here are some of the best:

Jimmy Kimmel Live - How to Tell if Your Mayor is Smoking Crack

Rob Ford & Toronto featured on The Daily Show

Rob Ford & Toronto featured on The Colbert Report

 

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