Mayor Rob Ford has said sorry so much lately that you'd think he'd be good at it by now. Apparently not. Not, at least, on the evidence of the latest grudging, qualified apologies.
In the first of two efforts that came on Tuesday morning, Mr. Ford was being asked by Speaker Frances Nunziata to say sorry for a remark he had made the night before. Ms. Nunziata had ordered city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a sometime Ford ally, to leave the chamber for unruly behaviour. Mr. Ford jumped in. "The most corrupt ones can stay, but he has to go?" he complained.
It was a nasty remark, even in the heat of the moment, but the most he could bring himself to say the next morning in council was, "I'll withdraw my comments." Deputy Speaker John Parker, one of council's true gentlemen, rose to suggest gently that the mayor might go a little further. That prompted a Fordian tirade. "How about 'I am so sorry'?" Mr. Ford said, his voice thick with sarcasm. "Super, super, super, super, super, super, super, sorry? So sorry?" It was a juvenile performance, more fitting for a schoolyard than a council chamber.
And like a scolded schoolboy, he had a good laugh about the whole thing with Mr. Mammoliti, who had issued his own half-hearted apology minutes before. Mr. Ford even indulged in a little pantomime. He put his hands behind his back like a handcuffed prisoner and trudged theatrically toward the exit, then turned around and went back to his desk, grinning.
His second effort was much longer and more lawyerly. Mr. Ford faces a potential libel suit from Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale after appearing to suggest in an interview with Conrad Black that he thought Mr. Dale was a pedophile. That was certainly what many viewers of the interview thought he was insinuating when he said that "when a guy's taking pictures of little kids, I don't want to say that word but you start thinking, 'What's this guy all about?' "
Not so, the mayor now insists. He says that he never used the word pedophile, does not believe Mr. Dale is a pedophile "nor did I intend to suggest that in my comments."
What, then, did he mean to suggest? If he didn't have pedophile in mind, what was the word "I don't want to say"?
Why, for that matter, did he leave the apparent slur hanging for a full week before deciding to "clarify" his comments? Why did he not retract when given the chance the day after, instead telling reporters that "I stand by my words"?
As usual, Mr. Ford is shifting the blame to some other party – in this case, as in so many others, the media. He says his comments to Mr. Black were in the context of the "incredible assault" by the media on him and his family.
Rather than apologize for a smear, he apologized "for the way in which the media has interpreted my statements" and found it unfortunate "that the word I did not say has been ascribed to me by the media." It is the kind of dodge often used by feuding couples: I'm sorry if you were so misguided as to misinterpret that remark, but if you took offence, I'm sorry.
He also managed to slip in another shot at the Star, saying that Mr. Dale "is an employee in the very competitive news business and must do as his superiors instruct him." This repeats a claim that Mr. Ford and his brother Doug have made ever since the May, 2012, incident involving Mr. Dale: that the Star sent the reporter to snoop on them. Mr. Dale insists he faced no such pressure. He was simply exploring a parcel of public land next to the mayor's house that Mr. Ford was attempting to buy.
Mr. Ford now says that when he made the remark about Mr. Dale and little kids, he was just explaining what went through his mind at the time of the incident, when a neighbour told him someone was "peering over the fence." That neighbour's report is what made him charge out of his house to accost Mr. Dale, he says.
Fair enough. Most people would be alarmed if they heard something like that. But it should have been obvious the moment he saw Mr. Dale, a well-known member of the City Hall media gallery, that this person was not "a threat to my family."
Mr. Dale soon explained what he was doing near the mayor's house. Yet the mayor and his brother have claimed ever since that he was peering over the fence, lurking in the bushes or even skulking in the mayor's backyard.
If you expect an apology to be accepted as truly sincere, you have to do more that say the words "I apologize." You have to admit you did something wrong. Neither of Mr. Ford's efforts on Tuesday came close to meeting that test.