Rob Ford floats

The natural buoyancy of a beleaguered mayor


Jon Blacker/Reuters

Yesterday, Rob Ford’s lawyers succeeded in extracting him from the last snafu that threatened to remove him from office. This time, his campaign finances were under scrutiny. It seems Ford’s 2010 mayoral campaign took some liberties with their accounting. For instance, an auditor testified that the campaign took a $77,722.73 loan from Doug Ford Holdings, Ford’s family company, while the law says candidates can only get loans from the bank. It had the family printing firm do up signs and buttons before the campaign started and took its sweet time paying them for it. It counted campaign events as fundraisers, which, you’ll be fascinated to learn, are very different things under Ontario election law.

In other news, a Forum poll of 806 Torontonians showed that the mayor is more popular than he’s been in months, with a 48% approval rating. I’m here to tell you that the age of miracles is not yet ended: Rob Ford’s gift of political anti-gravity has not left him yet.

Yesterday’s session was a tribute to low expectations. Ford and his team faced a three-person committee of venerable lawyers and election officials whose job was, in essence, to decide whether to press charges against him. Had the panel voted against Ford, the case would have been prosecuted before a judge.

For all the apparent contraventions, the auditor reported that Ford’s campaign finances were, on the whole, professionally run and well-documented. On the other hand, Ford’s lawyer, Tom Barlow, offered a lengthy defence that went something like this:

a) Not knowing the difference between personal funds and company funds was a definite oops, but Ford has learned his lesson;

b) The infractions didn’t make a difference in a handily-won vote;

c) It was a big $2-million campaign and mistakes happen. Whaddaya gonna do? [elaborate shrug]

Finally, Barlow looked meaningfully at the judges and summed it all up: “The perfect should not be permitted to be the enemy of the good,” he said. Then: “Nor should the Act be permitted to become an electoral weapon for those who wish to have a second chance.” For all the accounting, it was the classic Ford story: Rob Ford is a hard-working guy who makes a lot of honest mistakes and is victimized by his enemies.

The first member moved to prosecute Ford, but the other two refused. Ford, who had been sitting almost stone-still for hours, got up, shook his lawyers’ hands and hastened for the exit with his brother, pursued by a dozen reporters.

So how is Rob Ford doing in the face of all this? Just fine, by the looks of things. His enemies continue to do their part for him. This financial audit, of course, comes thanks to some of the same antagonists who brought you “Let’s Kick Rob Ford Out for Conflict of Interest.” Depending on who you ask, they’re either citizens bent on doing the hard democratic work of holding politicians to account, or partisans who will stop at nothing to bring down their enemies. (I rather sense they’re both at once.)

And here, Ford’s popularity is rising again, despite everything, or perhaps because of it. A series of legal proceedings, each one harder to explain in a soundbite than the last, has supplied him with all the persecution he needs. In Montreal, they stuff safes so full of cash they can’t be closed. In Toronto, the mayor gets investigated for renting an $840 bus just before filing his nomination papers. Public sentiment mysteriously fails to ignite.

You can take two views about the nature of Rob Ford. One is that he is doomed by his own vices. The other is this: Contrary to all laws of nature, Rob Ford floats.

When negatives refuse to stick to a politician, we typically start talking about Teflon. With Ford, I prefer to think the man has a natural buoyancy. When he is not actively weighing himself down with self-destruction, his support will rise.

The catch with Ford, of course is that the more he tries to govern, the more he self-destructs. So to achieve maximum buoyancy, all he has to do is nothing: Cut ribbons, fulminate on talk radio, lose stunt votes against community spending. The good news for him is that the vaguaries of the mayor’s job description make this entirely workable in practice, and reasonably saleable at the polls.

And if Rob Ford floats, it’s because he lives in an environment where the standards are low. And perhaps this is his greatest political talent: To lower the expectations in whatever contest he enters. Just as he’s redefining the mayor’s job downwards, he’s now managed to pull campaign finance under his spell. Are future campaigns now being told that it’s passable to blunder as the Fords did? Or that it’s okay, only as long as one can act as generally helpless in the face of details as Ford does?

“The perfect should not be permitted to be the enemy of the good,” said Ford’s lawyer. As if we’ve been at risk of approaching either.


Rob Ford floats

  1. Thanks for the chat – nice piece

  2. So I trust this committee will now give everybody a one time exemption from the rules, yes?

    Or is it just Ford who gets that?

    Incidentally, kudos to the author for carrying this tortured “floats” analogy all the way through without once bending to the temptation to talk about fat.

    I’ll see your “Don’t let perfection become the enemy of the good” and raise it with “ignorance is no excuse under the eyes of the law”

  3. “Rob Ford floats”
    enough said on that subject!!

  4. Well, did you hear
    there’s a natural order?

    Those most deserving will end up with the most?

    That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top?

    Well I say… “sh*t floats”
    –Jarvis Cocker

    • I hear that.! maybe we should just “Let it Be” and it will all go away….

  5. having good lawyers doesn’t make him a good mayor just lucky to have money and an audit committee who didn’t want to prosecute. Maybe a private citizen will do it

  6. Wow! They actually succeeded in making a martyr of sorts out of Rob Ford. Amazing really. I guess the only thing the electorate despises more than having a fool for a mayor is having a bunch of sore losers try to make Ford’s natural bent for incompetence look like unbridled corruption. They should have just kept on laughing him all the way out of office eventually. Heck he might even get in again if they keep this up.

    Way to go guys. All you’ve likely done is ensure any future liberal type candidate had better have all his ducks in a row all the freaking time, or face the same kind of weaselly badgering from the other side that Ford has.

  7. Rob Ford floats on the bloated self-importance, arrogance, viciousness and stupidity of his enemies.

    They should just let gravity get to Ford. Nominate a non-elitist candidate, preferably one who wasn’t primarily responsible for two nearly billion dollar scandals while a provincial cabinet minister, who is both progressive, fiscally responsible, and is non-condescending to the Toronto ‘burbs, and Ford will crash to the ground.

    Rob Ford could not have chosen better enemies, if they had not self-appointed themselves.

  8. Wow! At this rate, Ford will bungle his way to a record-setting landslide next time around. He just needs to keep screwing up and he can’t lose.

  9. Either he broke the law or he didn’t. On the facts presented, he did. Saying he didn’t break it enough means the committee failed to do its job.
    Was the infraction enough to warrant costing him his job? Not for me to say. I’m not sure what options a judge would have had, should Rob have been tried and found guilty, but a fine seems more in order than getting turfed.
    That Ford’s popularity continues to rise baffles me though; but between him and former mayor Lastman, it would seem Torontonians have a thing for clowns.

  10. I notice they never use terms like this for a SKINNY person. Unbelievable, regardless of what this person did or didn’t do.


  11. Blah blah blah. I just want a mayor that keeps taxes low or lowers them, and doesn’t blow money on green this and green that and bike lanes. If that’s “redefining the mayor’s job downwards” then I’m hoping we get so far “down” we can never get “up” again.

    Ford is doing a great job running the city despite council and the unions’ protestations. He even eliminated the stupid 5 cent bag fee (unfortunately though enough greenie companies now continue under the guise of being “green”).

    Still, great job, and hope he stays as long as he can. As long as he’s obstructed from doing what needs to be done, as long as he can stay in there and whittle away at the entitlements, that’s fine by me and the rest of his supporters!

  12. A confrontational bumbling incompetent. What did Toronto ever do to deserve a fat pathetic clown like this?

    • The chattering elitists favorite loudmouthed progressive left Toronto stewing in their own garbage for a month during the hot summer, and got nothing for it, when they sold out to the strikers. The chattering elitists then put up another loudmouthed progressive who was responsible for two nearly billion dollar scandals as a provincial cabinent minister.

      That is how Toronto ended up with Ford.

      Just put up a fiscally responsible progressive who doesn’t talk down to the ‘burbs, and Ford will be history.

      How hard can that possibly be to do or understand? Really hard for the Annex and Rosedale apparently.

  13. He does look like a balloon from afar.

  14. I now expect that any citizen found with only a little bit of heroin on them will let off with no charges, because they only broke the law a little. This ruling will actively encourage future mayors to break campaign finance laws, because they see that there are no consequences for running a corrupt campaign.

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