Canadians trust their politicians to do the right thing, even if they do the wrong thing. They trust them to have honour, and to respect the honour of their office.
The time for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to address allegations that he was captured on videotape smoking crack in the presence of a drug dealer was last Friday, when the allegations emerged, or Tuesday at the latest. The moment passed him by. And now those who have influence on him need to persuade him to speak the truth or go.
Mr. Ford’s near-total silence has been devastating to his own cause. His brief, perfunctory denial – “ridiculous” – did not dispel the cloud over his head, and over the city he leads. He had only to stand before the public and say that it was a lie, that any videotape that exists is a fake, that he does not smoke crack, that he does not consort with drug dealers. By not doing so, he invited the inference that it was true.
Public office-holders do not need to respond to every rumour or allegation. But these allegations cross a line. There is no room for debate; Mr. Ford’s alleged appearance on the videotape is a legitimate public concern. Crack and those who deal it bring addiction and murder to city life, especially its young people. The mayor himself has said that some of the players on the high-school football team he coaches would be dead if they weren’t playing football. The drug trade would kill them – it’s too obvious to need saying. Indeed, one of the young men he was allegedly seen on the videotape has since been murdered.
The spectacle Mr. Ford is making of himself and of his city is both incredible and outrageous. Incredible because a chief magistrate who expects serious drug-related allegations simply to fade from view seems absurd. Outrageous because Canadian democracy relies on its elected officials to do the right thing if they violate a public trust, or as in this case if the trust is called into question.
Mr. Ford is not North Korea, alone on a destructive, idiosyncratic path. He is part of a system; he professes respect for that system, and the taxpayers who voted him to lead their local council; and he has people he talks to and listens to. Those people include his Progressive Conservative allies at Queen’s Park and his Conservative friends in Ottawa, including his personal friend the Canadian Finance Minister, James Flaherty. They include the provincial government, the senior government with direct responsibility for the city; and they include Mr. Ford’s campaign backers and advisors. They need to demand that he do the right thing.