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Gary Mason (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)
Gary Mason (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)

Gary Mason

Why the rest of Canada has stopped laughing at Rob Ford Add to ...

There was a time when Canadians revelled in the Rob Ford story. Toronto is the city that many in the country love to hate, after all. And its mayor was giving those who long ago tired of the city’s perceived self-importance and pretentiousness one wonderful schadenfreude moment after another.

The mayor – and by extension the city he represents – has been the butt of jokes not just nationally but around the world. When he wasn’t admitting to smoking crack in a drunken stupor and being photographed in the company of unscrupulous gangsters he was making outrageously crude sexual remarks and conceding he drank and drove. Along the way he’s piled up lie after documented lie.

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But with each sad, pathetic scandal that has engulfed the mayor the rest of country has laughed a little less. Uncontrolled guffaws have long ago been replaced by bewildered head-shaking. Many of us living at the other end of the country can’t believe Mr. Ford is still mayor.

Our schadenfreude urges have been replaced by pangs of sympathy.

Although Mr. Ford has been stripped of much of his powers, he still possesses the title of mayor and subsequently still has the capacity to bring further shame and ridicule upon the city he professes to love. This week a new video surfaced showing an evidently inebriated Mr. Ford speaking in a Jamaican patois to a small cabal of supporters in a Toronto restaurant. His speech is so slurred it’s difficult to discern precisely what he’s talking about, although the city’s police chief is mentioned in an unflattering way.

Rob Ford. Another controversy. We are inured to it now. Unless evidence surfaces that shows Mr. Ford in the process of breaking the law it seems he is going to hang in there. That is a shame. Even though the mayor no longer possesses the authority he once did, he remains an obstacle to progress in a city that has major issues with which to deal. That seems profoundly unfair and unjust and yet there seems to be no remedy to fix the problem.

At the same time, I have enormous sympathy for Mr. Ford. It seems clear he has very real personal issues and displays all the symptoms of someone suffering from a serious drinking problem. That is a health disorder that should only be pitied.

As any addiction counsellor will tell you, those who don’t know when to put the bottle down need to be the ones who recognize their problem and decide to get help. When Rob Ford said a month ago that he was going to stop drinking he did not sound like someone who desired to do this on his own; he sounded like someone being pushed into the decision out of political realities. And that is very likely why he has resumed drinking again.

We all know someone who has wrestled with this horrible affliction and seen the devastation it can cause, not just to one human being but also those around him. Those who care for the person the most – spouses and children, brothers and sisters – are often left with permanent scars. A person’s downfall to alcohol is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world to witness.

It’s impossible to know where the Rob Ford saga leads from here. Any fair-minded person doubtlessly hopes the man seeks the help he so desperately needs. Meantime, cities like Toronto are big and tough and often seem impervious to the toughest blows. Yet, it will need time to recover from the very public meltdown of its mayor.

And the sooner that begins the better.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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