Sometimes we get leaders whose ascent to power is hard to understand: i.e. how did we end up with this jerk? And other times, we get leaders who make us question whether or not they ever wanted to be leaders in the first place. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, ever absent, and always cranky, is one of those people.
His life looks a lot like a bad movie, the kind in which a salt-of-the-earth football coach wakes up one morning and realizes that, by some magic, he is the mayor of a metropolis that doesn’t take kindly to salt-of-the-earth football coaches. Suddenly he’s snubbing gay people, tackling reporters, flipping off constituents and before he knows it, he’s embroiled in a series of scandals involving tax payer money and his own high school football team — two things that don’t belong in the same sentence, but so often are these days.
The Toronto mayor missed roughly two and a half hours of an important council meeting last week (the order of business being an $8.4-billion light-rail transit deal) to coach his team, the Don Bosco Eagles, in a high school football playoff game. “I’ve said this from day one. I’ve made a commitment. I’ve done it for 20 years and I’m not changing,” Ford said in his defense. Apparently, though, that commitment included disrupting two Toronto transit routes, abandoning two bus loads of passengers on the side of the road on a rainy day and redirecting buses to pick up the Don Bosco Eagles from their football game and shuttle them back to their high school.
And why would he?
The most annoying and entertaining thing about Rob Ford isn’t the fact that he is prone to scandal, it’s that he doesn’t really care. Any other politician accused and found guilty of abusing his power for personal gain would give a stock apology in the passive voice, or in the very least, an apology, but that’s not Ford’s style. For Rob Ford, it appears that any ethical misstep on his part is just another validation of his folksy wisdom and old-school valour.
But Toronto isn’t a Disney movie about a mayor who takes his high school football team to the city finals. It’s a real place, not to mention one where football isn’t all that popular. (If we were talking about Rob Ford’s hockey team, who knows, I might not even be writing this.) There is nothing redeeming or virtuous about a mayor who delays transit riders, when he can’t even find the time to get to work himself (and he drives an Escalade.) It’s also ironic that Ford’s excuse for skipping his job to coach football — and by extension rerouting a public bus route — is that his disenfranchised, low-income players need him. Who knows: maybe if those single mothers on the rerouted 36 Finch West bus signed up for lingerie football, they’d get some Rob Ford charity too.
For now, they’ll have to take the transit commission’s apology as a consolation prize.
Not that ethics violations are its primary concern: According to Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford, “The most unfortunate thing about this episode is the damage done to our reputation after more than a year of careful, painstaking steps to improve it.”
The most unfortunate thing about this episode is that Byford thinks it’s possible that transit riders hate the Toronto Transit Commission more now than they already did.
But that’s another story.