Like a lot of people who watch municipal politics, I have been unable to tear myself away from the slow-motion train wreck that has played out in Toronto this week.
Let me amend that. It’s more than a train wreck. It’s a train full of nuclear warheads slamming into a petroleum refinery and toxic waste storage facility just as the International Space Station falls from the sky on top of it all in a massive thermonuclear blast that is, seconds later, snuffed out by a killer comet.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating.
Maybe it’s performance art conceived and executed by the most perverted and funniest nihilists ever.
Simultaneously I have been watching the senate scandal unfold in Ottawa with the RCMP now poring over documents to see whether Mike Duffy’s almost unbelievable version of events is in fact true.
Both of these debacles have forced me to recalibrate what constitutes a scandal in municipal politics at all levels and frankly leaves me pretty embarrassed about the breathless incredulity with which I reported some stories during my days as a city hall reporter.
In Toronto, the bar was already pretty high; Rob Ford was a source of controversy long before the rumours of a crack video emerged. That he denied the video existed and called reporters “maggots” is hardly worth mentioning.
The fact that the video does exist, and that he finally admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine and that his excuse is that he did so “in a drunken stupor,” well, that raises the scandal bar to new heights. His brother demanding the chief of police resign? Let’s raise the bar again.
Then, that a new video emerged showing the mayor in an apparent homicidal rage unleashing a stream of profanity and acting out how he would disembowel the unnamed victim of some yet-to-be-determined smackdown – well, needless to say, any metaphor involving a bar no longer applies.
The real worry here though is that it’s hard enough to get the public to pay attention to city politics at the best of times. Now that Canada’s largest city has played host to a full-on cracksplosion, capturing the interest and attention of citizens elsewhere is going to be harder than ever.
Even in a city like Montreal, where mayor Michael Applebaum, who promised to “erase the stain” on his city, was arrested by police and charged with conspiracy, fraud and breach of trust after replacing Gérald Tremblay who was also forced to resign in the midst of an entirely separate corruption scandal, residents appear to have lost interest.
In Vancouver, where we are one year away from a civic election, I have to wonder what it’s going to take to get people interested in civic issues at all any more.
I mean, what constitutes controversy here?
The mayor rolling through a red light on his bicycle?
The mayor being caught on transit with insufficient fare?
Or maybe it’s a city councillor tweeting a picture after eating lobster at a Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in Halifax, where they eat lobster.
Please Vancouver, we’re going to need to step up our game.
Yes, Larry Campbell openly and often without embarrassment smoked cigarettes.
Jim Green drank beer while shooting pool at The Yale – not on city time.
Sandy McCormick appeared to have a thing for hairspray, though never as an inhalant.
Sam Sullivan liked it when people underestimated him; when people “patted him on the head,” so he could later “rip their throats out.” He admitted that sometimes he gave money to drug addicts who ended up buying crack. Hardly career ending, but the threat of physical violence and the mention of crack at least puts him in the wheelhouse.
It appears that anything short of the mayor abducting a live porpoise from the Vancouver Aquarium in the dead of night and dining on it on the front steps of City Hall wearing only his underwear is going to be met by stifled yawns, or at best polite applause.
So buckle in. If civic politicians want to be noticed in the year leading up to the election, this could get bumpy.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 88.1 FM and 690 AM in Vancouver. @cbcstephenquinn
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