What does it mean to be sorry? Usually, it means admitting you are wrong and taking some responsibility for your actions. By those standards, Rob Ford’s apology to Toronto this week was unconvincing.
Oh, the mayor looked contrite enough when he took the podium at City Hall to make his first prepared statement about a judge’s order ejecting him from office for conflict of interest. His tone was solemn. He spoke slowly and looked genuinely upset.
But consider the words he actually uttered. “Looking back, maybe I could have expressed myself in a different way,” he said. “To everyone who believes I should have done this differently, I sincerely apologize.”
People in relationships will recognize this as a standard marital apology, designed to buy peace without actually admitting to being in the wrong. “If you were so misguided as to be offended by the thing I said/did, then of course I apologize.”
Nobody is objecting to how he expressed himself, in any case. The offence was speaking and voting in his own favour at a city council meeting last February. City councillors were debating whether to make him pay back $3,150 in improperly solicited donations to his football foundation. It was his intervention at that meeting that led a superior court judge to order his removal from office.
If this had been a real apology, he would have admitted that he made a mistake, even if an honest one and perhaps a minor one in the scheme of things. But he didn’t. “I never believed there was a conflict of interest because I had nothing to gain,” Mr. Ford said, explaining his decision to speak and vote. The judge’s ruling briskly dismissed that argument. The vote at council was to excuse him from paying back the money, so in fact he stood to gain $3,150.
Mr. Ford has not admitted any fault in the original fundraising either. The city’s Integrity Commissioner told him it was against the rules to use his status as a city councillor (as he was then) to solicit donations from lobbyists and from a company that did business with the city government. He refused to accept it. He refuses to this day. The judge found that Mr. Ford “has never acknowledged” that it was inappropriate to use his position to raise money for a personal charity.
If he were really sorry, Mr. Ford would have paid back the $3,150 in improperly raised donations, as the Integrity Commissioner advised him over and over to do. He would have conceded that he understands why it is problematic to solicit donations from lobbyists.
Instead, he said in his statement that he approached the donors only because “I love to help kids play football … I was focused on raising money to help underprivileged youth.” But no one ever objected to that. Even his rivals praise him for his charity work. What got him in trouble was using his status to get donations from lobbyists who might potentially expect a favour in return.
If being sorry means admitting you did something wrong, then, Rob Ford is clearly not sorry at all. In fact, he and his cheering section have spent the days since the ruling placing the blame on others.
On the day of the court ruling that ousted him, he said that “The left wing wants me out of here and they’ll do anything in their power to.”
His brother, Doug, blames the mayor’s troubles on “social elites that can’t stand him.” He told Stephen LeDrew of CP24 that “right from the day he was elected, the left came out and said, ‘We aren’t going to listen to him, he is not our mayor, we don’t believe in the democratic process.’
“Make no mistake about it, this is politically motivated,” Doug Ford said. “He challenged the labour leadership, he challenged the special interest groups, the environmental groups … and they’re coming at us constantly, coming after our family, our business.”
Not by coincidence, the mayor’s former chief of staff and campaign adviser, Nick Kouvalis, struck an almost identical note in an interview with Arlene Bynon of AM640 radio. “They’re coming after him, Arlene. They haven’t stopped. They said the first day [Rob and Doug Ford] were elected, ‘We will not accept this decision. We will go after him.’
“Why? Because he’s stopping the gravy train.” When Ms. Bynon asked who “they” were, Mr. Kouvalis said: “They. The elites. The guys who make money in this town.”
A mix of half-hearted contrition and wild-eyed conspiracy theory – that is the Ford plan of counterattack.