When Rob Ford was suddenly struck down last week by a serious illness and replaced by brother Doug in Toronto's mayoralty race, conspiracy theories ran rampant. Was he really sick? Was this a sneaky ploy to dodge a humiliating defeat at the polls? Maybe Rob was trying to avoid arrest, or to weasel out of testifying at the extortion trial of Sandro Lisi, a former associate and driver and an alleged drug pusher. Had the Fords been planning this all along?
Crazy stuff? Well, sure. But everything about the Fords is crazy. Just when you think there's nothing they can do to top the last incredible episode of their family reality TV show, they top it.
Please don't misunderstand me. Cancer, the worst-case scenario, is not something you would wish on anybody, and I wish Rob all the best. But you can understand why folks were gobsmacked. The great switcheroo was accomplished mere minutes before the official deadline for mayoral candidates to enter or withdraw from the race. Then we found out (as reported in The Globe) that there really was a pre-existing plan to swap Doug for Rob, presumably because there was a greater-than-negligible chance that Rob could be sidelined by any number of unfortunate events, including but not limited to new drug revelations, relapse or arrest.
An obvious feature of this bizarre tale is the fact that Doug and Rob resemble each other like Tweedledum resembles Tweedledee. They're both built like linebackers gone to seed. Together, they are overwhelming. Doug is slightly taller, slightly less corpulent, notably less red of face and less likely to make you worry that he might topple over from a coronary aneurysm at any moment. He says he's a vegetarian, which may account for the difference.
For months, I've been telling anxious friends not to worry about the election. I thought there was zero chance Rob would be re-elected, because there was only one issue and it was him. This was going to be an Anybody But Ford election, just as the last one was an Anybody But Those Left-Wing Morons Who Disrespect the Taxpayers election. Voters would coalesce around the strongest other horse.
At first that horse was Olivia Chow, widow of St. Jack, who tried to reposition herself as a moderate, fiscally responsible, pro-business type. No one bought that for a second. Still, my friends all planned to vote for her because they thought she had the best shot at beating Rob. Then, to everyone's surprise, John Tory surpassed expectations. He used to be the kind of guy who, when he asked someone a question, would answer it himself. He's older and wiser now. Also, he really is a moderate, and we could use some of that. City Hall has been like a battle zone between the Germans and the Russians, with the helpless civilian population caught between. Enough already.
If there was zero chance for Rob, there's less than zero chance for Doug, who's much less pleasant than his brother. At bottom, Rob is a sort of guileless fellow without too many smarts, but without much meanness either. Doug, on the other hand, is downright vindictive. They are mutual enablers, which explains why they think their plan might have a hope in hell. Nobody else does.
Which means that in the absence of any more acts of God, this election is effectively over. What a relief. City Hall will return to some semblance of normality. Toronto and its mayor will disappear from the global headlines and lapse back into obscurity. It was fun to be famous, in a way. But it's better to be boring.