The word “enabler” keeps popping up in the Rob Ford scandal. Lots of people fit the bill.
The city council yes-men. The Ford Nation zealots who bought every empty slogan, shrugged off every mistake and told him they loved him no matter what. The mayor’s office staffers who shielded him from media questions, concealed his whereabouts and kept quiet about his misbehaviour.
The talk-show hosts who lionized him when he was still a choleric city councillor and gave him an uncritical platform when he became mayor, inviting him on air to swat softball questions. (Tell us again how great you are, Rob.)
The family members who circled the wagons, ignored reports about his drinking and blamed the press for hounding him. Even today, his family says a little time off or a little counselling is all he needs. His mother, Diane, told him: Rob, you have a problem – you’re overweight.
But the circle of enablers goes wider than this. Begin with the voters of Toronto. They elected him in 2010 – 47 per cent of them anyway. They did so with their eyes wide shut.
Anyone who paid even glancing attention knew that Rob Ford was a man with a past. There was that old pot bust in Florida that he conveniently forgot when a reporter first asked him about it. There was a reported domestic dispute at his house. Worse, there was the drunken rant he unleashed at a couple sitting near him at a hockey game. Again, he denied it until confronted with the proof – a pattern that is repeating itself today.
But the electors liked the “authenticity” of this rough-and-ready son of Etobicoke so they picked him anyway. Here was just the man to give those overfed clock watchers down down at City Hall what for.
It was like taking cyanide for a migraine or hiring Genghis Khan to renovate your kitchen.
The business community liked the cut of his jib, too. He was a little crude, yes, but he wanted low taxes, and what business likes to pay tax? If the numbers in his platform didn't add up, what of it? He wanted to “stop the gravy train.”
To be fair, no one could have predicted the full horror of the Ford experience. Who could have imagined that Toronto would be making headlines in Frankfurt for Das Burgermeister und das Crack Video. Still, the enablers have a lot to answer for.
Some of them liked the message so much that they ignored the flaws of the man. Others liked the man so much that they ignored the holes in the simplistic message. Many put their loyalty to Mr. Ford ahead of their obligation as citizens to be aware.
Whatever the reason, they allowed him – enabled him – to reach a high office that he was unqualified to occupy from the start. After his election, they supported him long after it became clear that he was out of control in his life and out of his depth on the issues facing the city.
The enabled mayoralty of Rob Ford says some unpleasant things about Toronto. It speaks of an ugly rift between the suburbs and downtown that helped bring him to power.
It speaks to Toronto’s immaturity, too.
A more confident city with a stronger civic sense never would have let such a man reach its top office. Try to imagine Chicago or New York electing someone with something like that hockey-game rant on his record? Try to imagine them putting up with the kind of antics Toronto has tolerated for three years? They would have run him out of town on a rail long ago.
The Fords like to say the elite class in this town is too powerful. In fact, it is too weak. What passes for a Toronto elite didn’t dare challenge Mr. Ford for fear of being called, well, elitists. Who wanted to be seen as looking down his nose at the big man from the burbs?
Even now, with scandal enveloping the city, leaders of the city’s great universities, banks, cultural and civic cultural institutions are silent. Only the board of trade has spoken out.
Forget city council. Why isn’t Bay Street sending a delegation up to the mayor’s office to urge him to quit? Why hasn’t there been a mass march on city hall?
Today Toronto finds itself with big problem: a rogue mayor who refuses to leave. If we let him stay on through our passivity, we are all enablers.