The false heroes of the Rob Ford saga

The councillors, staffers and journalists who once supported Ford have some explaining to do


Chris Young/CP

While most of the world fights the good fight against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a few false heroes are emerging from the fracas.

Councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Karen Stintz, former Ford staff members Mark Towhey and Adrienne Batra, and editorialists across the country: these men and women share some of the blame for the semi-permanent circus that is Toronto City Hall. And in a way, they are more at fault than even the bumbling, stumbling mayor himself. After all, they helped Ford get to where he is today. They put him in power only to turn on the monster they created. They offer no apologies or regrets, just cheap jokes and even cheaper politics. They expect praise—perhaps even a conciliatory mayorship for their trouble—but they deserve only scorn.

This isn’t to say that people cannot have a legitimate change of heart, or a sudden lapse of sanity. But all these players in the Rob Ford soap opera—airing daily on your favourite cable news network—are not looking to repent, or offer even the slightest of mea culpas. They are playing the simple game of self-promotion, looking to score points with a sympathetic public, which they hope has a short-term memory.

Minnan-Wong is perhaps the worst offender here. The east-end councillor has been the Mayor’s most dedicated gravy-hunter, and found his way to council by spouting the same sort of shrill populism that helped Ford so many times over his stupefying career. Although he may have indeed known nothing of Ford’s vices—though surely he could not have simply ignored the rumours that have swirled around City Hall for years—Minnan-Wong still put his political weight behind the Mayor for years, all for the sake of cementing his fiscally conservative brand.

Now, Minnan-Wong—always one to sense which direction the political wind is blowing—has turned his back on the Mayor (literally), and become the city’s unofficial anti-Ford spokesman, at least when television cameras are around. Has he offered to explain his role in Ford’s rise to power? No. But surely he’ll be thrilled to talk about his mayoral ambitions if asked. (His latest solution to the Ford fiasco: Asking the province to move up the date of the mayoral election. Brilliant!)

Stintz is in the same boat as her fellow councillor, though at least her power plays are so blindingly obvious that she isn’t fooling anyone. Another member of the rotunda’s fiscally conservative club, Stintz has a history of siding with Ford (though she did not, as incorrectly stated earlier, endorse Ford for mayor). Two years into Ford’s mayoral term, though, she went rogue, resuscitating the transit plan Ford so vehemently fought against. (Don’t worry: she eventually reversed her decision on that, too.)

Now that she’s officially announced her intentions to run for mayor in 2014, it’s only understandable that she would take every opportunity to denounce Ford. “I do understand he’s apologizing, but again, these apologies are becoming fast and frequent and increasingly meaningless,” Stintz told reporters last week. Yet, no apology for her role in Ford’s career has ever surfaced.

Towhey and Batra are another matter: behind-the-scenes Ford-ites who helped craft and perfect the politician’s “fight-for-the-taxpayer” message, unconcerned that such a rickety and patronizing platform was harmful to the city in the long run and cheap political rhetoric at its worst. During their tenures with the Ford camp—Towhey as chief of staff, Batra as press secretary—they both helped spit-shine Ford’s muddy image. They were responsible for selling a politician who, even discounting his obvious personal problems, was not ready to be the leader of the city. They both sold Toronto a false bill of goods, and, as smart and capable people, they both knew it.

To be fair, Towhey and Batra were simply doing their jobs, and doing them well. They shouldn’t be punished for that, necessarily. What does deserve scorn, though, is the fact that they have now used Ford’s implosion to boost their own personal brands, at the same time refusing to acknowledge how they helped get the city to where it is today.

Batra, as the editor of the Toronto Sun‘s comment section, has garnered praise for her paper’s suddenly critical take on Ford. Again, it’s fine for people, or newspapers, to have a change of heart, to realize the error of their ways. But has the Sun or Batra ever come clean on how much they pushed Ford on the city in the first place? How much they needlessly ridiculed his competition? Nope. But hey, check out those hilarious headlines!

Towhey, meanwhile, has decided to take the opportunity that is the Ford circus to crack wise on Twitter, and position himself as a self-proclaimed whistle-blower, the one man who stood up to Ford and lived to tell the tale. But as the mayor’s one-time chief of staff, it was Towhey who helped Ford pass three budgets and generally push a distracting political agenda (gravy! respect for the taxpayers! subways subways subways!) that has sadly been overshadowed by more meme-worthy crack- and vodka-fuelled antics.

Although Towhey would probably like everyone to think he left the Mayor’s office due to some high-minded sense of civic responsibility, he was actually fired this past May, and has since taken every opportunity to crack wise about the beast he built. His tweets get circulated across the web—his latest missive: “Jobhunt Update: Thought about naming my new business venture: Burning Bridges Group. Then again, maybe not.”—but it’s all just a semi-clever move to mask the fact that, like the others, he’s partially to blame. But man, those tweets, right?

Yes, it’s amusing to poke fun at your old job—especially if that old job is now making headlines across the world as a den of vice, sin and possibly cunnilingus—but that doesn’t mean you deserve plaudits.

Minnan-Wong and others are right to ask Ford to finally take responsibility and step down. But they should also heed their own advice, and admit they are just as much to blame.


The false heroes of the Rob Ford saga

  1. Add Don Cherry and the current conservative government in Ottawa to the list please!

  2. I get it, 350,000 Torontonians cast their vote for Rob Ford because they were spellbound by the actions of Minna-Wong and Stintz, and led down the garden path by Batra and Towhey.

    Could it be that 350,000 were just sick and tired of traditional politicians (particularly the clowns at City Hall), and Rob Ford represented the protest vote, a breath of fresh air if you will?

    Do you think this disgust for politicians has subsided? Don’t count on it.

    • There are lots of reasons to be disgusted with politics. But none of them excuse deliberate ignorance of facts and protest voting as a way to troll the whole city. How is Rob Ford a breath of fresh air? Because he was undiplomatic, pulled over for DUI and charged with possession, a rich do-nothing born with a silver spoon, thrown out of a Maple Leafs game for telling a woman to get raped in Iran? If that’s the case, it’s a breath of air alright, but certainly not fresh. He had a record of 10 yrs as Councillor where he was frequently unprepared and unknowledgeable of the matters on which he spoke. He relied on a populist mantra not backed up by facts that was exploited by those around him who have now polished their own brand on his election. I think it’s just stupidity how many Torontonians vote. Don’t forget, Minnan-Wong, Stinz, Mammoliti, et al are all voted in by many of the same people who voted Ford. Mammoliti, who is the most opportunistic of them all, and champions brothels (just not in his Ward) and visits strip clubs on work time, was repeatedly re-elected. This should indicate the voting prowess of this city’s denizens.

      Having said that, I think Rob Ford is mighty entertaining. He never had my vote. But I like that he is giving our city the notoriety it always secretly craved.

    • Read: sick and tired of not understanding the basics of civic and/or civil government, responding to the cattle call of LOW TAX NO CAR FEE END GRAVY. Or maybe you’re a low income person desperately in need of a few more dollars a month to make ends meet, and you’re unaware that – before all his council cronies turned on him – they were responsible for all but destroying numerous services for low-income Torontonians. Enjoy your $60 a year – there are no children’s librarians.

      • So take the $60 from the countless legions of socially conscious tree-huggers! Problem solved…

        • So you wear your lack of social consciousness like a badge of honour! That’s pathetic.

        • Tell us. Have you ever seen any tax that you didn’t hate?

          Your values identify you as a dim bulb indeed. Taxes provide us with civilization, you smooth-brain!

          Meanwhile, you anonymously whine about the yearly equivalent of the cost of a dozen lattes.

    • Do not have the temerity to defend the members of the so-called Ford Nation.

      These tax averse clods got exactly the mayor that they deserved.

      There is a price for blindly practising the politics of resentment as they did.

      The tragedy here is that those of us who have long recognised the magnitude of Rob Ford’s personal failings have been forced to pay that price alongside a
      gaggle of selfish dimwits, who have never seen a tax that they didn’t hate.

      As always, all of us get the government that only most of us deserve. Think of the execrable Harper, and the nefarious thugs who constitute his cabinet.

  3. I think you have to give someone the benefit of the doubt, ie Rob Ford, after they are elected to office and hope that they will rise to the occasion despite any doubts you may have, and I’m sure there were many, and I’m sure that’s what these “false heroes” you are now disparaging did. But I think that when these doubts have manifested themselves over a period of time ( at least since May ) in documented accounts ( police reports, videos, etc) of his behaviour that it is just common sense to change your mind. If you can’t or don’t change your views when the facts change you are suffering from delusion, hero worship, and dogma. To NOT speak up about this embarrassing, dysfunctional, self serving mayor, as most Conservatives seem reluctant to do (Jason Kinney, today, notwithstanding), is irresponsible and sycophantic and embarrassing. And to disparage those (arguably) conservative councilors who once supported an elected mayor and who now have the courage to stand up to this bully-boy ( knocking down elderly councilors?) set of man-child brothers, is pretty disappointing. I would not have supported Rob Ford for mayor but for those who did and who can now admit their mistake and want to fix their terrible error is called being an adult. Maybe you, and certainly Rob Ford and his brother, can learn from them and admit mistakes, and mitigate the damage not exasperate it.

  4. http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/11/19/rob-fords-chief-of-staff-director-of-policy-move-to-deputy-mayors-office-as-transfer-of-power-begins/

    [In an interview with CP24 Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Ford suggested the deputy mayor betrayed him. “He didn’t support me, so we’ll leave it at that,” Ford said.

    Mayor Ford says he only has 25% of the office budget now of previous mayor David Miller. “I’ll still function, if I have to bring in volunteers, I’ll still function,” he said.

    Mayor Ford also repeated his call for a snap election, which the province has ruled out. The interview came just as Sun News announced it has cancelled the Ford brothers’ show Ford Nation, after a single episode. The pre-recorded one-hour show show took about a dozen hours to record and edit, according to reports.

    Additionally, a senior Conservative cabinet minister called for Ford to step down.

    “I will say as an elected official that I think Mr. Ford has brought dishonour to public office and the office of mayor and his city,” Jason Kenney, the employment and social justice minister, said Tuesday as he left the House of Commons.] excerpt from the article.

    He should have admitted that he is an alcoholic and drug addict, and commit to 6 months or a year of rehabilitation in a leave of absence. He would have some credibility left and council might have never had cause to sever his budget and reduce his responsibilities. He is an addict that is not ready to admit the truth to himself, never mind the rest of us.

    He hasn’t hit bottom. And because he is independently wealthy, bottom is a very long way down.

    Those who know the mayor and support him can do little to help him. Reject him, without sympathy, at every opportunity. He needs to feel your rejection, the full force of it, without hesitation or sorrow. You need to be cruel to be kind.

    A word to brother Doug: stop propping him up by echoing his rationalisations as if they are valid reasons. Are you an addict too? Addiction runs in families, so it wouldn’t surprise me. If you care about your brother, stop enabling him; let him stand or fall alone. Your brother isn’t a leader; he’s a follower. Help him find bottom, if you can. You need to be ruthless. Drag him to rehabilitation, and lead the way by going yourself. You possess the key influence that may have started his path to addiction, but you can help him find his way back too.

  5. The word I think you’re looking for Mr. Hertz is “enablers”. Minnam-Wong, Stintz, Towhey and Batra were all enablers of Rob Ford’s behaviour. However, so were the 350,000 Torontonians who voted for him. A few, perhaps, may have been lead astray by the people above. But not enough to matter in the context of the huge margins he won the 2010 election by. As a Torontonian myself, I think it falls on us to acknowledge that “We Have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

  6. What a terrible article. These folks were politically aligned with Ford, a diamond in the rough, a rough-around-the-edges-advocate-of-the-little-guy. When Ford’s awkward but loveable personality took a turn towards erratic-out-of-control-self-destructive-addict, they continued to be loyal to him. But they were worried about him. I believe Twohey was loyal and caring 6 months ago when he implored Ford to get help. His reward was the boot. Nice, huh? If Ford had recognized his own downward spiral, had admitted his life was out of hand and sought help, he would still have this same loyal inner circle. By now, he’d be out of rehab, a man reborn and reformed, a happy ending. Those who voted him into the mayor’s office would love him even more.

    This article reflects such chitty journalism, to pounce on those who supported Ford until it was blind and selfish to do so, who had the guts to call him on his foibles, even if it meant he would inevitably cut them loose. They didn’t move their political affiliation. They just reached a point when they had to withdraw their support from HIM. That wasn’t calculated unbridled ambition. That was the crappy luck of having bet on a weak horse. Now they have to rebuild their careers, and I wish them all the best, cuz none of them asked for this Ford fiasco. Place the blame for it on the man himself. He’s prepared to bask in the glory when he’s flying high, he needs to own his own fall from grace.

    • Ford was a councillor for 10 years & anyone who sat on the same council as him knew he was a loose cannon at best. Hell, I knew that from reading the local Etobicoke wkly newspaper. These people aligned themselves with Ford right up until they figured this alignment was likely to damage them & then they cut him loose. Not suggesting they should have continued to support him, in fact, they should have cut him loose a long time ago. They knew what he was, but they figured they could get their own agenda passed, so they hung onto his coattails ’til they couldn’t anymore. Towhey is a bit of a different story. Yes, he was a paid staffer & was obligated to support him, but dammit the man KNEW Ford was driving drunk, he took action to protect other staffers, but what about the public? Why in hell didn’t he or someone else drop a dime to the police when they knew Ford was impaired? They are lucky Ford never injured anyone w/his drunk driving escapades!
      There are more than a few journalists/commentators who have a lot to answer for as well – Joe Warmington, Mike Stroebel, Sue Ann Levy & Christie Blatchford to name a few.

  7. Back when the worst thing that had happened to him was being briefly subject to being removed from office, several colleagues and I expressed our displeasure with the councillors that voted in favour of him not having to pay the fine for the illegal fundraising (a considerable number since the motion passed). All of them should be ashamed from way back then.

  8. You claim that Stintz helped create this beast, but you don’t provide any examples, other than that she supported Ford. The Ford that Stintz supported is not the Ford that she now mocks. She’s a fiscal conservative and supported the fiscally conservative candidate–the nerve! Why would she need to give an apology?

    The link to Towhey’s “self-proclaimed whistleblower” attitude (note: never actually proclaimed) is nothing like you seem to want to portray it as. Towhey’s tweets are much more like “it’s good to not be in the middle of that firestorm right now.” He doesn’t act like he is morally above Ford and mostly just pokes fun at his time in the interesting position.

    Batra and the Sun have no reason to apologize either. They supported and helped Ford because he was in line with their values and goals. They liked his transit plans, they like the idea of cutting spending, they see no use in library funding, and they want a casino in Toronto. They turned on him when he started representing values they don’t agree with: supporting organized crime and drug dealing. Would it have been better if their headline was “Crack is cool, Ford is cooler”?

    Minnan-wong is a shameless politician, so at least you got 1/4. This whole article sounds more like a diary entry by Rob Ford or some bitter councillor.

  9. Minnan-Wong, agreed. Stintz, agreed. Batra, not really familiar with him, so abstain from comment. Towhey is a strange pic though. I was unaware of his tweeting. I just know that after he was fired, he didn’t comment to anyone, no matter how much they bothered him. At least, that’s the impression I got.

  10. Good article Barry, couldn’t have said it better myself. Politicians are not the most loved people in the world(especially after crap like this Ford show) but we the public need to be educated to learn how to ‘Think outside the Box’. That’s what I see Barry doing here. As long as we continue to think inside the box, the longer the politician will be able to pull our strings and blind us to the truths. It’s time that ‘We, the Voters’ step up to the plate and demand accountability, transparency, honesty, integrity, etc., etc.

  11. Anyone who paid attention while Ford was a councillor would have known that he was totally unsuitable for the job. I never expected this mess but all the other stuff he won’t do that he should do that is in line with the limited-vision person on display back in the day. Minnan-Wong helped Moscoe bring about the ambassador taxi program which deprived hundreds of taxi drivers of their duly-earned standard plates. For that alone he doesn’t deserve to be mayor!

  12. Thank you Barry for this very appropriate article. All the heroes are false. It has been amusing to think that the folks that politically and quite possibly personally enabled him are now masquerading as knights and holier than thous. the crusade to end the circus is needed but the champions are frauds too and as much to blame as the ring master. the hope that these same false heroes have of becoming the next mayor considering their close alliance to ford over the last few years is difficult to describe… surreal, hilarious, insulting??? I hope the voters who were never on the gravy train journey remember the role played by these enablers next election day if not it will all be in vain. I have no expectations of sanity and objectivity from Ford Nation in the next election. All newspapers should now focus on profiling true and comprehensive details of all candidates for the next election, no matter what party affiliation the candidates hold. Objective news commentary and investigations are CRITICAL to ensure the voters have an opportunity to vote on available candidates with good knowledge of their character and their record.

    • Rogers community TV presents all-candidates meetings and info during active campaign times. A very good source for voters who want to know about who’s running. Most newspapers today have a bias (liberal, right wing, etc) and I don’t expect that to change. Perhaps we should have mandatory voting like they do in Australia. The number of people who actually vote versus eligible voters is quite low.

  13. So true and worth thinking about. I’m old enough to remember when Minnon-Wong was one of the most outspoken homophobes on council. I don’t hear about any change of heart in that direction either. Yeah, he mentioned the Pride flag and diversity in one of his bring Rob down speeches, but who cares?. The queer community is big enough to demand more respect than just mentioning some flag-raising ceremony you go to once a year. I trust none of them. Careerists and evil.

  14. I would add Doug Holyday to this this list a major enabler of Ford, remember he came on board the Ford campaign once Doug Ford was involved because thought DoFo could control the ‘wild’ side of Rob.

    Holyday was trotted out as the ‘reasonable’ face of the Ford admin whenever scandal erupted, tried to downplay the craziness, took the lead on labour negotiations, & fled to provincial politics without ever taking responsibility for all that he enabled at city hall.

  15. A good article, but a couple of distinctions should be made. Firstly, how much did Ford’s staff help cover up his behaviour and actions while working on the taxpayers dime? Where is the forensic audit of his office’s finances? Helping him get elected is one thing (although it’s clear he was elected because people believed what have clearly proven to be lies), but when that crosses over to assisting with a cover-up that flushes tax money down the drain and points to corruption, that’s when some of these people need to be held to account. Also, how much did they encourage Ford’s many lies earlier?
    Similarly, a line can be drawn in May for city councillors – being politically conservative and aligning oneself with Ford after he was elected is one thing. But when the story of the crack video landed in May, there was ample evidence that it was true – that’s when choosing to ignore the problem becomes deserving of being dumped by voters by someone with a minimal understanding of truth and ethics.

  16. ‘Cunningulus’? Is that yet another substance Ford is abusing?

  17. Cunnilingus. Not Cunningulus. The latter sounds like a class I dropped in high school.

  18. What people are guilty of here is not paying attention when they vote. They vote the same party every time. Rob promised to stop the Gravy Train, and we ended up with the Crazy Train.

    Perhaps a little homework on the part of the folks who voted for him would have made them stop and think twice. He voted FOR Transit City, but was absent for subsequent discussion and votes on the matter. He NEVER put forth a motion while a City Councilor. He CAN’T string together a sentence, and he lied about about a DUI in Florida and being caught with marijuana. He lied about being drunk at a Leafs game, and he continues to lie to the public. The man needs serious help.

    So while Rob claims he has saved the taxpayers money and he hasn’t. Instead, we are the laughing stock of North America.

    • Unfortunately “Ford Nation” is a cult and once the message “saving the taxpayers money” is received, it cannot be erased because their brains are no longer functioning (can’t think for themselves)!

  19. laughable we look around Our city and you have to be blind not to see were those tax dollars were saved, yes in communities that need programs, as another reader pointed out closures to libraries, so all of you who can afford the luxury of paying for programs there are many that can not, many that are living on the streets. That’s ok though save your tax dollar and hope that one day it isn’t you or one of your family who need that bed or community based program

  20. How can the names of John Oakley and Bill Carroll of Toronto Talk Radio 640 been
    omitted from this piece?
    No one was more shameless in promoting the Rob Ford bull in a china shop adventure
    than were these two despicable, right-wing extremist loud-mouths.
    Vying for the title of the poor man’s Rush Limbaugh, they relentlessly sponsored the
    political career of a grossly obese, pugnacious, mendacious rummy, knowing how
    unsuited he was to assume any position which required probity and responsibility.

  21. The citizens of ‘Ford Nation’ are very easy to fool. All you have to do is decide on cheap slogans and distract people. That’s it.

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