The international coverage of Rob Ford’s latest scandal is like a splash of cold water to the face after a long, depressive funk. It’s amazing how easy it is to get used to a terrible situation, until outside perspective intervenes.
Within Toronto, the story has an almost time-worn feel: Yet another bizarre allegation against the mayor has surfaced, but since there’s no absolutely indisputable video record on-hand and the mayor denies everything, who’s to say what happened? Things muddle on; stay tuned for another totally futile debate about casinos or something next week.
From the outside the view is clearer: Two news organizations say they’ve seen video of the Mayor of Toronto allegedly smoking crack and making an assortment of bigoted remarks. Holy hell!
The more outrageous the claim, the blunter Ford’s denial, which amounted to a single word this morning – “ridiculous!” – and then a swift flight from the massed media.
Once again, the city has been plunged into the Ford Zone, the truth-or-lies vortex that surrounds the mayor every time his actions come into question.
The citizens of Toronto have spent too much time floating around in this inexplicable nether world. You might remember last month’s episode, in which a loyal member of Ford’s inner circle accused him of being asked to leave an event after acting intoxicated. Ford flatly denied it. Or the episode before that, in which a former political rival publically accused him of acting intoxicated and groping her at another event. Ford denied that too, and his accuser was savaged in the media.
Or, indeed the episode before that, in which Ford was accused of having willfully broken conflict-of-interest rules over a trifling amount of money, out of sheer willfulness, and Ford’s response in court was that his understanding of “conflict of interest” was different than that of pretty much anyone else in the room, except perhaps his lawyer.
(It seems almost quaint to discuss governance at this point – something Ford has largely given up on – but keeping policy issues suspended in the Ford Zone is how the mayor found himself stripped of power over transit, and left with his budget chief quit in disgust. The facts and figures would say one thing, but Ford simply denied them and insisted his version of reality was true. In these cases, reality won out.)
Time and again, the people of Toronto have been suspended between two mutually exclusive realities: The one in which the mayor’s version is true and his accusers are outright liars and fabricators, or the one in which there is truth, even a sliver, to the case. There is no way to reconcile the realities; no explanation, no justification, no admission or accountability or opportunity for acceptance or understanding that would somehow slot them together.
Ford would have us believe that the reporters seeing the tape of him smoking crack simply never happened, and citizens are reluctant to believe their elected officials are capable of untruths of such a grand scale. So the truth ends up suspended in the Ford Zone, where, without a smoking gun, or pipe, reality and unreality must ambiguously coexist.
Only when irrefutable proof has arisen has Ford admitted to his wrongdoing, like in 2010, when then-councillor Ford flatly denied old DUI and drug charges in the middle of the election campaign, until confronted with police reports. Or, back in 2006, when Ford lied about even having been at a hockey game, which he was actually ejected from after drunkenly disabusing to patrons. Only irrefutable evidence – including a business card he’d handed out – made him apologize.
Past misdeeds don’t make current allegations true. Similarly, Ford’s flat-out denials don’t condemn him. But the incidents keep mounting, and with them, the number of public figures who’ve staked their names and reputations on them.
If spectators from afar wonder why we have been tolerant in this city of Rob Ford, it might be because we elected him with his erratic record on full view. Some of his worst offenses came in the middle of the election campaign that he won. Toronto’s voters made that choice, and even Ford’s foes were inclined to defer to that choice.
But Ford can’t keep us suspended here any longer. The stakes are too high. There is real damage being done to the city’s international reputation, upon which business, recruitment, immigration and tourism depend. And if the things reporters say they’ve seen on the tape is real, the implications would be devastating. Never mind the casual bigotry and drug use. By associating himself with crack dealers, a mayor who cast himself as a surrogate football-coach father to black youth who, he claimed, would otherwise have been involved in drugs and gangs, would turn out to be a direct benefactor of the crippling problem he said he was shielding them from. Toronto has seen some cynicism in its days. This is toxic.
This story is still unproven. But the allegations against Rob Ford are serious and credible.
The mayor lacks the credibility to keep us suspended like this. Rob Ford needs to answer immediately, and restore some reality to a city that, since his election, has been floating steadily away from it.