After everything that came before, it would be strange if one crude remark were to sink Rob Ford, but those profane words were devastating to his already crippled mayoralty. You could feel the storm rising almost the moment he uttered them.
CP24 reporter Katie Simpson, who got it all on tape, turned around to face her cameraman, her mouth wide in amazement, almost at loss for words. "I know we're up live right now," she told her newsroom, "but … I … I …"
Mr. Ford, she said, had used "language that I don't think we can broadcast on TV – but we just broadcast that on TV... I think everyone here is in shock."
The shock soon spread to city councillors, who put aside all their previous caution and started using words like "vile," "disgusting" and "pig-headed." The reaction was universal: enough is enough.
Denzil Minnan-Wong said that Mr. Ford had "crossed another line" and that "this mayor has to resign." Karen Stintz, speaking as an outraged mother, said that she had to tell her nine-year-old daughter about crack cocaine the other day. Now she faced explaining this. Councillor Janet Davis said the mayor seemed to have "no core … no moral character … it's stunning."
Upstairs in the city council chamber, 20 councillors turned their back on Mr. Ford as he stood to speak in his Toronto Argonauts jersey. The Argos organization, like the Santa Claus parade, is distancing itself from him, too. Now council is moving to tear off his stripes and knock him down from general to ordinary private. At Queen's Park, Premier Kathleen Wynne has opened the door to helping oust him.
Amid all this, the mayor's latest apology – how many did that make it? – had about as much impact as a pebble in the sea. It didn't help that he had the bad judgment to bring out his wife to stand by his side just hours after making a comment that must have humiliated her.
Mr. Ford explained the "graphic" remark by claiming that the pressure of the scandal had pushed him "over the line" – just not far enough over the line to do anything real, like step down or even go on a leave. Mr. Minnan-Wong said that "The mayor of this city embarrassed us today."
That was putting it mildly. "Crack mayor Rob Ford denies oral sex with staffer in vulgar rant," blared the New York Post. Anyone who gives the tabloids the chance to put "crack" and "oral sex" in the same headline is a liability indeed. The late-night comics can't believe their luck.
But it has gone far past the time when Mr. Ford could be laughed off as a gag line. The Ford show has moved from ridiculous to deplorable to repulsive. Each new low is followed by another.
Thursday's remark may be his undoing – a few words that unthroned the king. Fed up, Councillor John Parker turned to history and quoted Leo Amery, the British MP whose blunt speech helped bring down prime minister Neville Chamberlain and sweep Winston Churchill to office in the dark days of 1940. Amery repeated the words of Oliver Cromwell when he sent legislators packing in 1653.
"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"