Every Good Friday there is a community parade in the Grace and College neighbourhood of Toronto. Starting at the Church of St Francis of Assisi, it draws large crowds. As a result it also draws politicians.
I first saw Rob Ford there a couple of years ago. He was alone, with no staff or handlers. He didn’t socialize or joke much with his political colleagues, preferring to walk alone, giving him the chance to shake hands with people in the crowd. He got a strong and positive reaction wherever he went.
Watching him last night saying “I love this city, I love my job,” I thought of that moment on College Street. His support transcends class, race, religion. His simple message of cutting waste and keeping taxes down, of getting rid of the gravy train, struck a chord with the voters that still has echoes, and should never be under-estimated.
But this, as we certainly know now, is not the whole story. The mayor was never really alone. His brother Doug seems to act as a dominant handler and manager, and to speak for the mayor when Rob can’t find the words. For reasons that are hard to understand, the media seemed to accept it as normal that Doug would hold press conferences, phone reporters, and let people know what the line was.
And then came the bullying and the berating – all part of the Ford style – driving himself with abandon through the city, shouting at reporters, screaming at his staff. And then the endless stories about drinking, partying, and appearing drunk and disorderly.
Then came the story about smoking crack cocaine. This took things to another level. Two reporters followed up a tip and were allowed to watch the video in a parking lot. They described it in detail, and it was sensational news, immediately denied by the mayor.
At this point the story descended into chaos, as rumours and reality competed for being the most fantastic. Ford Nation was there to support the mayor, whose political support stayed remarkably strong. The mayor lied about what happened, with Doug’s strong support, and the weekly radio propaganda show continued unabated. The media were described as liars and worse, and the city descended into a maelstrom of manic scrums and wild accusations.
The mayor’s office is now engaged in a pitched battle with the police chief. His possible connections with criminals are the continuing subject of an active investigation. His statement that “I have nothing left to hide” will only invite further scrutiny.
Now, finally, the mayor has admitted that he did, indeed, smoke crack. A thousand pound weight has been lifted off his shoulders. He teared up and let it be known that he’s really, really, really sorry, and that “all I can do is apologize and move on with the business of the city.”
No doubt this is what the mayor thinks. But at this point this is delusional. It is no longer about him. It is about us, the standards we have as citizens of Toronto. The rest of us have to free ourselves from the tyranny of this saga. It is Rob Ford’s personal tragedy. He needs to deal with it. But he doesn’t need to drag the rest of us down with him. The mayor has challenged the executive of the City to either support him or resign. They should resign. Otherwise they are simply enabling the mayor. There is more in this story to come. The mayor has refused to resign so far, but eventually his position becomes untenable.
We need to take back Toronto from this self-indulgent soap opera. Rob Ford needs help, and he should find it. He seeks forgiveness, and this none of us should deny. But that does not mean he gets to run the show.
St Francis once said “No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.”
It is clear Rob Ford is his own worst enemy. But he doesn’t need to be ours.
Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.
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