I’m imagining an old episode of ‘Columbo’, the 70s-era detective show, starring Peter Falk as the rumbled trenchcoat wearing but razor sharp detective. He’s about to leave Rob Ford’s City Hall office after a strained but amiable chat about this and that. At the door, he turns back.
“Just one more thing, Councillor Ford. Something I can’t get straight in my head. You know, what with the getting older, my mind’s not as clear as it used to be. But, what are you going to do?”
On Tuesday, there was a double shooting, a couple hours apart, in a building in Etobicoke. A building in Etobicoke the former mayor and now councillor for the area, Rob Ford, just so happened to be at, along with an assistant, Dave, conducting what he referred to as ‘constituency calls’. OK. No biggie. The councillor does represent a ward that is home to some of the rougher areas of the city. An unlucky happenstance, let’s call it. At the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever.
Turns out, that “Just one more thing, Councillor Ford” moment, one of the shooting victims, the non-dead one, is brother to Liban Siyad who, how does the Toronto Sun’s Chris Doucette describe him? “…alleged gang member that Councillor Rob Ford’s pal Sandro Lisi is accused of extorting in relation to the Ford crack video.”
“He wouldn’t say anything,” Councillor Ford told the Sun. “He was shot once in the shoulder and twice in the lower body. It was bad…I am in TCHC buildings a lot assisting people,” the councillor continued. “With my assistant Dave we were helping when it happened. A woman was yelling and going crazy. It turns out someone was shot. Dave didn’t hear the gunshots where he was and I didn’t where I was.
I don’t know where it happened for sure but I think it was the underground because no one heard the gunshots.”
Now look. I’m all for trying to simply turn our backs on anything and everything to do with the sad, sad Ford saga, allow the family to fade back into the well-deserved obscurity from which it crawled. But this latest turn of events goes beyond just them and their sordid little psychodrama. Sandro Lisi’s extortion trial is still ongoing. Rob Ford was subpoenaed last summer to appear at the trial. Now, he just happens to be on site at the shooting of the brother of one of the men Sandro Lisi has been accused of extorting in a bid to retrieve the now infamous video of Rob Ford smoking crack?
“You’re fucking dead and everyone on your block is dead,” Lisi was recorded saying on the day the video’s existence went public.
This points to a much bigger, systemic dysfunction at work beyond just one messed up family. If Rob Ford wasn’t who he was, a high profile public figure from a well-to-do-family and, I don’t know, white, how much would anyone be shrugging off his I just happened to be here claim as mere coincidence? You think, given the news potential of such salacious possibilities, this thing would be a headline news item everywhere. Yet, here we are. Another Ford quirky twist-and-turn. Oh well.
I get Ford fatigue. Let’s just move on and stop wasting ink and byte space. Yet surely, there’s more to this story than a wayward son of an errant family. Rob Ford’s continued ability to skirt around such unlawfulness in such an obvious manner takes us into much more disturbing territory, throwing into question wholescale institutional integrity, starting with, What’s a guy gotta do to get fully implicated here? Unchecked bad behaviour, especially in a public figure, leads inevitably to public cynicism.
Columbo wouldn’t let this one slide. Unfortunately, he was just a fictional TV character. Real life doesn’t always work out the way we think it should.
After Mayor Ford’s attempted campaign press conference was commandeered by the self-proclaimed #shirtlesshorde yesterday (and the below video is just a fraction of the monumental disruption caused by protesters), there was some talk about the effectiveness of the tactic. Much of it was grounded in how it played to the mayor’s base. Would it paint a picture of this poor guy, fresh out of rehab and on the slow road to recovery, once more under attack by jobless, union-backed, trough-slurping downtown elites. Give the guy a break!
And put a shirt on.
Since his unlikely rise to the mayor’s office in 2010, we’ve been told Rob Ford is like no other politician we’ve ever seen here in Canada. He has a fiercely loyal base that believes unwaveringly that he is just one of them and is always looking out for the little guy. The rules of political engagement are, therefore, different.
What exactly those rules are, however, are not very clear. Ignore him? Attack him? Attack his policies? Mock him? Ignore him? Did I say ‘ignore him’ already?
How do we handle this guy?!
In the post-mortem after his election win, the conventional wisdom was that those of us standing in opposition to the Ford juggernaut failed to understand the anger it had managed to tap into. An anger, much of it in the inner suburbs of the city, at exclusion and disenfranchisement, a feeling of disconnect with the rest of the city especially the downtown core which was perceived as the sole beneficiary of the upside to amalgamation. It had all the good transit, the booming economy represented by all the cranes on the skyline, the perks and fancy public spaces. All mostly paid by the hardworking taxpayers struggling to get by out in the suburbs.
Understand that anger and you’d understand the Ford appeal.
If only it were that easy.
It wasn’t so much that nobody got the anger. Only the most smug, self-satisfied Torontonian could think we weren’t surrounded by high degrees of inequality and isolation, political disenchantment and deeply rooted regional antagonism. People were unhappy, and many of them rightfully so.
The problem was, there were no quick and easy solutions, and none that the city could address all on its own. The Miller administration was pushing better transit further into the inner suburbs with Transit City and a ridership growth plan. Business property taxes were being adjusted in an effort to attract employers into the city and create more jobs. There were programs like the Tower Renewal introduced.
Systemic change takes time, and in 2010 it got crushed under a steamroller of retail politics. Rob Ford wrangled all the disaffection by offering simple solutions and slick slogans. There was no problem that couldn’t be solved by simply Respecting the Taxpayer. Or Stopping the Gravy Train.
He took the anger, made it angrier and rode it all the way into the mayor’s office.
Now, four years later, we tremble in fear of in any way poking the angry bear we call Ford Nation.
Don’t attack the mayor. It’ll get the base angry. Don’t make fun of the mayor. It’ll make the base angry. Don’t talk about the mayor’s bad behaviour. It’ll make the base angry. And, for godsakes, put on your shirt or you’ll make the base angry.
An angry Ford Nation is a motivated Ford Nation. A motivated Ford Nation means a re-elected Rob Ford.
So, shhhh! Don’t wake the angry bear.
I don’t know. Maybe there’s some wisdom in all that. Anger is tough to sustain, and all recent indications suggest there’s no upward mobility for the Ford campaign. Keep your composure, stand back, let him crash and burn, move on.
But you know, there’s a bigger matter at work here. Our local democracy is more than Rob Ford and these last four extraordinary, at times, demoralizing years. Politics here will continue when Ford leaves the stage, one way or the other. I’m not sure we start to repair things in any significant manner by silently holding the door for him on his way out. Here’s your hat and crack. What’s your hurry?
Four years ago – and I say this through gritted teeth – Rob Ford was something of a blank slate. His possible mayoralty, theoretical. When he won, there was something of a reluctant hope against hope. Maybe the office would moderate his immoderate views? He’d have to reach out beyond his supporters to secure a workable mandate at City Hall, wouldn’t he? His brother (and this hope turned out to be the most fantastical), newly elected to council, would be a temperate influence. He’d be the smart one.
Well now, that all turned out to be unfounded dreaming. Rob Ford has a deplorable track record as mayor based on a mountain of lies and gross misconduct. Nothing he says is true. He has ripped up more than he has built. By any measure, he is a spectacularly failed mayor.
And he wants to be re-elected.
Meanwhile, we’re advised to keep calm, our eyes averted, fingers crossed and hope this whole tempest blows over.
What exactly does that kind of negligent compliance signal for the future?
Rob Ford’s reckless governance and personal behaviour, his disregard for common decency has degraded the office of the mayor of Toronto and smeared City Hall. Allowing him a free pass, quietly waiting for the end, is tantamount to a dereliction of our civic duty as residents of this city.
That’s what the Joe Killoran incident was all about. Unfiltered anger at an unrepentant, untrustworthy, entitled politician who somehow is still able to hold onto public office and be out asking for 4 more years. What does it say about us that we stand back, questioning the motives and tactics of those speaking out in order to ensure that all the ugliness just quietly goes away?
So I say, rage on John Furr and the shirtless horde! Remain angry. Vigil on, Rob Ford Must Go! Keep reminding us that our mayor remains unfit for office. That he remains a lying disgrace of a human being. Time and time again, he’s betrayed our trust and pissed on everything the city touts to represent.
I was sitting in the office, staring at the computer monitor, the live stream muted. It seemed to be stuck in some kind of loop. The same news reports delivered over and over.
And who should that be walking through the door, without a knock, I might add. Our old friend and one time All Fired Up in the Big Smoke contributor, Urban Sophisticat. I seemed to have caught him by surprise, like he wasn’t expecting to find me there.
“What? Did you come to steal the electronics?
“No. No, I just thought… it’d be more of a party atmosphere in here.”
As Urban Sophisticat sat down in front of me, I slid the bottle across the desk to him. He picked it up, checked out the label. I believe he turned up his nose just a little. It might not even been consciously.
“You got anything lighter,” he asked. “Not so good with the sulphites these days.”
Sending a glass his way, I did my best to summon up a look of disdain before turning back to see if anything changed on the news need. It hadn’t. Evidently Urban Sophisticat was going to risk a sulphite encounter as he poured himself a glass.
“I’m fucking sick of politics, dude.”
Urban Sophisticat raised his glass in agreement to my sentiment. What he thought was my sentiment.
“Welcome to the club,” he said. “Chin, chin.” He took a sip, and a little bit of time deciding if he approved of my choice of wines. “I was struck down by that very same illness October 27th, 2010. A day that will go down in infamy.”
My friend hadn’t lost his grasp of hyperbole, I saw.
“I wasn’t talking about me, dude,” I informed him. “That’s what the mayor said in his drunken stupor on Monday night. ‘I’m fucking sick of politics.’”
“He’s sick of politics? P-lease! He’s sickened politics, that’s what he’s done. Sickened politics.”
Urban Sophisticat seemed quite delighted with his little witty self and had another slug of wine he obviously still hadn’t come to terms with. He wasn’t wrong but that wasn’t the point I had tried to make.
“No. He’s sick of politics and then goes on to say, ‘Look at my record.’ Look at his record. The fucking guy actually believes everything he says. $1.1 billion saved? He believes it. Doesn’t matter what anybody tells him, what numbers or facts and figures they throw around, he’s saved taxpayers $1.1 billion. He’s cut our taxes. Reduced spending. He’s looking out for the little guy. That’s not a catchphrase for him. The mayor really and truly believes he is. That’s why he’s fucking sick of politics. He’s trying and trying and trying, respecting the taxpayers, and for what? Nobody gives him credit for looking out for the little guy.”
Urban Sophisticat seemed surprised by my surprise. He shrugged. Tell him something he doesn’t already know. And pop the cork on another bottle of wine while I’m at it. Maybe a Merlot. Or a Pinot Noir if I had it.
But I wasn’t done playing amateur psychologist just yet.
“Look at his attack on Karen Stintz. Violent, predatory. I’d like to fucking jam her. Nothing sexual about that. Why? Because she represents everything he hates. Ivy League, north Toronto, la-di-da, white, white teeth. The establishment. Yeah. Fucking jam that, right?”
“On the other hand,” I continued, taking the bottle from Urban Sophisticat and pouring out some more dark, peppery, sulphite-ridden wine, “if the mayor was going to lose this election who did he want to lose it to? This self-proclaimed conservative, left wing hating, loather of government. Who’d he want to succeed him as mayor? Olivia Chow. What’s up with that, right?”
I paused to let all this sink in. The two of us drank our wine. One of us enjoying it more than the other.
“It could be as simple as him thinking that she’ll cock it all up like David Miller did,” Urban Sophisticat suggested. “The city will rise up in righteous anger in 4 years hence and call, no plead, for the return of Rob Ford once more to rid the city of the leftist, unionist pestilence.”
That certainly could be a possibility, although I’m always loathe to give Rob Ford credit for such long term strategizing. But I could see the idea popping up in a conversation with his brother or drug buddies when his electoral future wasn’t looking particularly bright. Elect another dipper. Go ahead. See what happens. Then they’ll be begging me to come back.
“Or how about this,” I countered, not yet prepared to let go of my line of reasoning. “Rob Ford sees a lot of himself in Olivia Chow?” I immediately caught the look on Urban Sophisticat’s face and nipped it right in the bud. “No. No. Just no.”
“He might detest her politics, her way with going about things—“
“All that tax and spending,” Urban Sophisticat said.
“All that tax and spending, yes. But her politics are about the exact same thing as his. Looking out for the little guy. Just like Jack. We know Rob liked Jack. He felt a kindred spirit with him. disagreed with his methods, sure. But they wanted the same thing in Rob Ford’s mind. Olivia’s like Jack. She’s like Rob Ford.”
Urban Sophisticat was having none of it. Either that or he just couldn’t handle any more of the wine.
“That’s nuts. Crazy. Always go for the easier explanation first.”
“But that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? Delusion. The man’s clearly deluded.”
Turns out Urban Sophisticat wasn’t done with the wine. He poured another drink. Sulphites be damned!
“Fine. But it doesn’t matter anymore, does it. The man’s done. Finished. He’s not coming back from this avalanche of shit.”
I wasn’t so sure. With this guy, all bets were off. Normal rules don’t apply. Never forget that.
“Oh, come on!” Urban Sophisticat yelled, sensing my scepticism and doubt. “Just… Just… Come on.” He was not going to dignify my uncertainty with any further discussion.
The problem now, as I saw it, was for many, they took the mayor’s ardent if deluded belief in the rightness of his cause as factually as the mayor did. He didn’t sell them a lie. He convinced them it was the truth. Absolutely, he saved taxpayers $1.1 billion. Absolutely, the city’s fiscal foundations were crumbling before he took office. Absolutely, he was looking out for the little guy.
Rob Ford came across as authentic because he believed in what he was saying. People believed he believed in what he was saying. People believed in what he was saying.
“Look,” I said to Urban Sophisticat. “I’m not saying there’s enough support out there to re-elect him.”
“I should hope not.”
“I’m not saying there isn’t either. What I am worried about, though, is that his core belief remains strong with a surprising number of voters. The message was right. The messenger, unfortunately, had issues. That’s essentially John Tory and Karen Stintz’s campaigns. I’m pretty sure that weasel Minnan-Wong has said those exact words.”
Urban Sophisticat seemed less concerned about that then with the idea there could possibly be a comeback in Rob Ford’s future.
“Nothing could be as bad as the past 3 years.”
I wasn’t so sure. The Rob Ford message needed to be confronted. As deplorable as all his personal problems are, his political views are equally so. If they aren’t chased down and clubbed to death, Rob Ford will still be with us, in spirit if not body.
We sat in silence, Urban Sophisticat and I, he thinking the job was nearly done and me thinking it had only started. I looked at my monitor to see if there was any new news. There wasn’t. I had another slug of my wine.