Ten years ago this month I quit my job. There was a small element of principle about it, although there’s no point exaggerating that. I had gone to work for a newspaper owned by Conrad Black and edited by Ken Whyte. Then Black sold the paper and the new owners fired Whyte. The editor they put in Ken’s place seemed, to me, incapable of running a newspaper properly. So I left the newspaper. It’s how I wound up here. I was unemployed for all of two weeks; it wasn’t a martyrdom.
I’m wondering what’s going through the minds of the people who work for Rob Ford today. The Toronto mayor stands accused by two news organizations of appearing in a cellphone video smoking crack cocaine. He has denied the allegation, or rather, called it “ridiculous,” which I am not sure is the same. The story comes weeks after another asserting that he appeared intoxicated at a military ball. There are previous stories about reckless behaviour on the Toronto mayor’s part.
Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America, with fine schools, good sports teams, vigorous business and thriving arts. But today it’s a global laughing stock because three reporters from two organizations say they’ve seen video of the mayor with a pipe. The longer this situation continues, the worse the damage to Toronto. If the mayor is in serious personal trouble, he is hurt by each day the people around him enable his refusal to admit it.
There is, finally, a moral question. I know it makes people squeamish to use that sort of language, but I’m writing from Ottawa, where we’ve seen altogether too much lately of a refusal to think in terms of morality instead of expediency. Each of us has to ask what we’re comfortable endorsing with our continued presence and industry. It’s scary to leave a job. It can be scary to stay, too. One might almost say it can put your soul at peril, if you believe that sort of thing.
So, Toronto City Hall staff: If you believe the Star is conspiring with a U.S. gossip website to ruin Rob Ford, stay and fight with him. If you believe he has brought shame on the city and that more shame is on the way, trust yourself; strike a blow for something more important than the fight reflex; and get out now.