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christie blatchford

I have the most wonderful new party trick. If you know anyone from Toronto you'd like to irritate, I recommend you give this a whirl.

Simply muse out loud that maybe Rob Ford isn't so bad, or if you actually live in the city, that you haven't entirely ruled out voting for him in the looming mayoralty. You don't have to come anywhere near endorsing the guy. You don't have to say you like him. You just have to appear to be the tiniest bit on the fence.

Then step back and watch people's heads explode. Certainly, if they live downtown and are of that gentle arty or intellectual stripe wherein they associate primarily with others of the same ilk and assume that this is indeed the norm and that all others are suburban knobs, I can virtually guarantee it will happen.

All my downtown friends have their knickers in a complete knot over Mr. Ford, who has been leading much of the polling for a while and who continues to lead despite a wonderful series of gaffes and gotchas and consistently more scrutiny by the press than any other candidate.

"Christie," one of my pals said the other day, horror in her voice, "can you imagine him actually representing the city?"

This was before Mr. Ford leaped into the immigration debate with both feet (in his mouth, as is often the case) and was then subsequently revealed to have acquired a driving-under-the-influence conviction and a withdrawn marijuana possession charge 11 years ago in Florida, about which he was not, shall we say, overly forthcoming.

Despite prompt branding by his opponents and editorialists as a likely racist/liar/drunk/liar who must immediately apologize/retreat/be killed, Mr. Ford appears to have emerged relatively unscathed from the week that was.

I suspect what my friend meant - her head was in the process of exploding, so we didn't continue the discussion - was that she doubted Mr. Ford would be a dignified representative of the centre of the world at those dreary Big City Big Mayor meetings or whatever they're called, or when he goes a-begging for funds to Queen's Park and Ottawa, or when he travels internationally.

Poor lamb, she was haunted by memories of the former Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman, who, shortly before he went to Kenya to promote one of the city's failed Olympic bids, famously wondered aloud, "Why the hell would I want to go to a place like Mombasa? … I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all those natives dancing around me."

Well, he was right about ending up in hot water. Mr. Lastman was duly pilloried as a bigot and had to apologize, as befits any good Canadian leader.

In truth, the failing that most galled downtowners about Mr. Lastman was that he was embarrassing, sometimes mildly so, sometimes a lot.

But some Torontonians (I am among them) don't give a flying fig if the next mayor never goes out of the city, so long as he or she leaves it in slightly better shape than it is. Some of us wonder why the mayor and councillors get to go anywhere when they do such a lousy job at providing basic city services. Travel should be like school field trips used to be; you don't get to go if you're failing.

A classic illustration of this City Hall at work also came this week, when, two months before the next election, the executive committee approved a glorious $88-million jewel box of a four-sheet hockey complex for the waterfront. The thing is beautiful, and I believe that Toronto's public architecture should be brilliant.

But in the name of all that is holy, the city has budgeted for less than half of what it will cost. The committee appears to have okayed it without any sort of a plan to pay for it. Virtually every major project the city touches is both wildly over-budget and wildly delayed. And if the city's parks department, which makes the proverbial one-car funeral director look like a multi-tasking model of efficiency by comparison, is going to be in charge of running this sucker, then $88-million soon will look like a pittance.

In our supposedly caste-less country, most of my pals are aghast at Mr. Ford at least in part because he seems so low-rent.

In appearance, he tends to the pink and porky. He's short and plump (as his recently published Miami mug shot revealed). He's bombastic. He's loud. He often sounds kind of coarse and dopey, to be perfectly blunt.

But he's a businessman (he runs his own printing company) and he's cheap (over his decade as a councillor, Mr. Ford has never spent any of his $53,000 office budget, which his colleagues frequently use as a self-promotion tool, and he was once rebuked for having failed to bill the taxpayer for expenses he personally paid for - oh the shame) and he's consistent.

I think, too, he has stumbled upon some hard truths that my smart friends won't like but which increasingly resonate - that Canadians are tired of being played as a fool, whether by those who queue-jump or fiddle with our immigration and refugee claim systems or by politicians who treat public funds like a personal inheritance.

The current mayor, David Miller, is much more presentable: He has fabulous hair and Kennedy-esque looks, solid New Democrat leanings (which he played down when he first ran), is Harvard-educated. He never embarrassed anyone by dropping a G, or with a malapropism. By my reckoning, he was also a complete pain in the arse.

Rob Ford, the racist/liar/drunk/liar, dropped out of college a few credits short, looks like the sort of guy who would have a couple of beers at lunch and say something stupid, or do something stupid, like get in his car and drive it. And yet, and yet: Every blue-collar, working-class, anti-intellectual bone in my body finds him oddly endearing.

(Sound of heads exploding.)

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