Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford must resign, as a matter of principle, as a matter of leadership, and as a matter of good governance. Even if the allegations against him are untrue, that is now beside the point. It is now too late to salvage the effectiveness, not to mention the dignity, of his term as mayor.
As surely everyone who has ever heard of Toronto now knows, allegations surfaced recently that Mr. Ford had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine. The allegations are unconfirmed, yet Mr. Ford himself has essentially refused to address the accusations, settling instead for issuing half-hearted and vague denials.
And over the past week, Mr. Ford’s City Hall team has unraveled. Last Friday, the mayor’s chief of staff was apparently fired. This past Monday, Mr. Ford’s press secretary and deputy press secretary both resigned. On Thursday, his executive assistant and a policy advisor resigned. At mid-week, at least, Mr. Ford was still shrugging it off, announcing that, in spite of it all, it was “business as usual” at his office.
Those were his words: “Business as usual.” And they are the most frightening words to come out of the mayor’s office in months. Whatever else is going on at City Hall, it cannot plausibly be thought of as “business as usual.” To think so is delusional, and suggests a disconnect from reality; such a disconnect is incompatible with continuing to govern.
To appreciate the significance of this, let’s look at Mr. Ford’s predicament, and what he needs to do in order to govern effectively. And to be fair, let us assume for the moment that Mr. Ford is entirely innocent of the drug-related accusations, and that the alleged video does not exist.
An innocent mayor, in such a situation, would presumably have a few priorities.
First and foremost, it would behoove an innocent mayor – any mayor, really, in time of crisis – to reassure voters. The people need to know that, in spite of it all, their mayor is in control and will continue to govern.
This, Ford has not done. To do this, he would need to do more than simply assert that all is well. He would need to say, and do, much more to retain or regain the confidence of voters.
Just as important, perhaps, would be for an innocent mayor to reassure and vouchsafe the loyalty of key advisors and staff. This, too, Mr. Ford has been unable to do. Two days ago, the question was who would be next to abandon ship; today, it is whether there is anyone left on the ship at all. The mayor may be just one man, but the mayor’s office is not. Such an office requires a team, and it increasingly seems as if Mr. Ford does not have one of those in any meaningful sense.
Finally, an innocent mayor under fire would need to demonstrate a firm but steady hand at Council. Allegations aside, the business of the city must go on. Meetings need to be held. Bylaws need to be passed. Decisions need to be made.
This, too, has seemingly been impossible. At this point, Mr. Ford’s fellow council members seem resigned to acknowledging that the mayor’s most recent desultory media appearance is, at least, not as bad as the previous one.
Failing all of this – failing to reassure voters, staff, or colleagues – an innocent mayor, concerned first and foremost with his duties as a public servant, would have no choice but to resign. Yes, this would in some sense be an injustice. To resign under a cloud of suspicion is an unfortunate outcome. An innocent mayor would no doubt be tempted to cling to power, to stay in office long enough to find vindication. But that would be a temptation that any mayor with a true sense of duty ought to resist.
I wrote a few months ago, in another venue, in praise of Pope Benedict on the occasion of his decision to retire. I argued that, whatever else one might think about the pontiff, he was to be commended for being willing to step down when he sensed that his effectiveness was waning. It would be good if Rob Ford showed such judgment. It is one mark of a competent leader that he or she knows when to quit the field.
Chris MacDonald is Director of the Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Program at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.