Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Madness of King Ford

Mayor Mussolini Ford feels the heat
Once upon a time the wealthy and powerful would gather their male children together and pass judgement on them. The best and brightest would be put in line to take over the family business or launched into careers in Law. The boys who had trouble with maths or had taken too many headfirst tumbles from ponies were bundled off to the Army. Finally, the strange boy, the one no one liked making eye contact with, the one who liked to conduct physics experiments on kittens, the one with an obsessive interest in playing doctor or dress-up games past the age of puberty, that one was sent into the Church. The Church isn't what it used to be, so nowadays these boys are, apparently, directed towards municipal politics. This is one possible explanation for the high percentage of nutjobs in local politics, and I think it might explain why Rob Ford is, for the moment, the mayor of Toronto.

For those reading this outside of Canada some background information is in order. Ford was elected mayor in 2010 on an anti-tax, anti-union, I'm-for-the-little-guy platform. The fact that Ford has never been, financially speaking, a "little guy" didn't seem to bother the voters, and neither did the fact that during his career as a city councillor he'd been arrested twice, once for DUI and once for domestic violence, in addition to going on a drunken verbal rampage at a public event. He's also a serial liar, given to racist remarks, would rather set fire to his head than acknowledge Toronto's large gay community, and is notorious for having little grasp of civic issues that are more complex than dog licensing. In sum, he's Homer Simpson made flesh...lots of flesh. Since becoming mayor he's stumbled, nay, sprinted from one PR disaster to another. The latest scandal (there could be another within the hour; you never know with Rob) is that it seems he's spent most of his working hours over the past few months coaching his beloved high school football team rather than directing the affairs of North America's fifth-largest city. This past week a judge ordered him from office for violating conflict of interest guidelines. Ford is, of course, appealing the decision, but in the short-term it looks like he'll go back to being one of the idle rich.

So then why am I writing this post if Ford is on his way out? Because a mayoral election is in the offing and it will be interesting to see if the politicians of the left and centre in Toronto are able to screw up this election like they did the last one. In 2010 Rob Ford seemed unelectable. In addition to his crimes and misdemeanors, Rob is plain old dumb. Famously so. There's a reason he wasn't left in charge of his late father's $100m company. So how did he win? There are three reasons. First, his opponent, George Smitherman, was a bland centrist who took the high road and didn't stoop to pointing out that Ford is a doltish criminal with anger management issues. Second, Smitherman is openly gay, and the Ford camp, according to rumour, worked overtime to point this out in a whisper campaign aimed at conservative ethnic voters. Three, voter turnout is so low in municipal elections it becomes easier for fringe/loony candidates to scrape together sufficient votes from the mouth-breathing section of electorate. Add in some voter anger over a strike by garbage workers during the previous administration, and what we got was the reign of Rob Ford, king of the dunces who elected him.

There's a real risk history is going to repeat itself. This past week has seen a variety of left-wing politicians and commentators getting all magnanimous and civic-minded about Ford's ouster. There's been a lot of discussion about the law that got him bounced being too harsh, too inflexible, and that, after all, Ford wasn't profiting from his indiscretion. His crime? He solicited donations in his official capacity as mayor for his beloved football "charity". The donations, totalling just over $3,000, came from lobbyists, among others. Is the amount small? Yes, but the thinking behind the law is that public officials are held to a higher standard because of the tremendous influence they have over the disbursement of vast amounts of public funds. The fact that the money was going to a charity is irrelevant. It's no exaggeration to say that Ford is besotted with football, and so it's clear that any lobbyist who contributed to the charity was, in effect, giving money to support Ford's personal hobby. If I'm a lobbyist, I'm thinking that's worth a favour or two.

Speaking as an anxious lefty, what worries me about the next mayoral election is that this golden opportunity for a left-wing candidate like Olivia Chow or Adam Vaughan to step into the mayor's office will be wasted by the left's tedious insistence on playing"nice." No matter if the public office is dogcatcher or prime minister, leftist politicians have an infuriating habit of being unwilling to give their opponents the boots when they're down. During the Reagan/Thatcher era the right learned that fighting without scruples, waving your enemy's dirty laundry from a flagpole, worked wonders at the polls. The left has never quite grasped that the ground rules for politics have changed: it's not Marquess of Queensbury rules anymore, it's Marquis de Sade. The US right (and to a lesser extent the Canadian right) has spent the last decade hysterically smearing the left as everything from Nazis to Marxists, and the venom directed towards Obama qualifies as hate literature. And does the left respond in kind? Rarely. Satirists and comedians take some shots at easy targets on the right, but left-wing politicians just keep smiling gamely as rhetorical rocks are bounced off their heads. God forbid they should pick one up and heave it back. And so we return to Ford, who has said he will be running in the next election whether he's in or out of office. It would not surprise me at all if Chow or Vaughan waged a clean campaign and went down to polite, tasteful defeat.

I'm fairly confident that Ford will sooner or later be turfed from office (even his most ardent supporters are beginning to hold their noses near him), but until Toronto's left-wing politicos learn to get down and dirty they'll be waging election campaigns with one arm tied behind their backs. And the chattering classes would do well to realize that the gibbering classes have learned that they can elect one of their own; it's entirely possible another hooligan will swing down from the trees to replace Ford. I'll finish with an aside: is it just me or does anyone else find it intriguing that Ford, apparently homophobic to the core, likes to spend a lot of his free time in the company of very fit teenage boys? Just saying.

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