A cartoon in the British Spectator magazine last spring shows a skinny mother, one hand on her hip, the other waving a bag of something in a fat teenager’s face: “This bag of white crystals I found in your room,” reads the caption, “please tell me it’s drugs, not sugar.” Here in Toronto, the mum’s dream came true and Toronto’s worthies discovered their wildest hopes had been realized: The mysterious video of Mayor Rob Ford smoking what appears to be crack and looking beyond wasted was real. Manna from heaven for the left—albeit in the form of cheap basing. Yep, our mayor is a closet baser.
I probably would have voted for Ford in the last election since I think it more important to get the garbage picked up regularly than celebrate Toronto as a nuclear-weapons-free zone. For me, a good mayor is either a great visionary or a good janitor. Great visionaries are in short supply and more often than not suffer from astigmatism. Ford was an efficient janitor who, unlike his predecessor David Miller, did not think the answer to everything was higher public-sector wages and new taxes. “What’s the story on your mayor?” friends in the U.K. email me and all I can say is, as a mayor, OK, but he’s got a few loose ends in his personal life.
I’ve known some rounders in my time. Ford worked hard and played hard and his mates were rounders. As far as I can see, he always hung out with them. Perhaps they seemed hip and in the know, easy after an uptight day in city hall. Their boozy chumminess clicked with his cultural tic. That’s deadly because, sooner or later, rounders will drag you into their sleazy little world of crooked deals, intoxication and anything that makes a buck out of someone else’s misery. They will have mates willing to sell you out to the Toronto Star for a few thousand. In a world where everything can be taped, playing with rounders is a crapshoot and Ford lost. Probably it’s my U.K. upbringing, that love of hypocrisy so dear to the British, but so long as you watch your manners in public, I’m not too fussed by what you do for your private entertainment, short of violence. However, there is a level of politesse that a public person must exhibit. Ford’s intoxicated persona is boorish and unsuitable for office, so goodbye.
The remarks about the damage he has done to the image of Toronto are tripe. The only damage done is to himself. Do you look down on Washington because mayor Barry smoked crack, went to jail and then was re-elected mayor? Do you look down on Rome because prime minister Silvio Berlusconi paid underage Ruby the Heart Stealer for sex and then survived votes of no-confidence? Well, obviously not, but you won’t get on CBC or quoted unless you say with a dead-serious face that this is a day of shame, locusts, plague and darkness for all Torontonians. This sort of idiotic sound bite has been especially loved by robotic thinkers who have been weighing in en masse on how destructive this is to Toronto’s image abroad. “The world is laughing at us, not with us,” said one, assuming sackcloth and ashes for all. More to the point was Conan O’Brien: “The mayor was charged with being way too exciting for Toronto.”
When you are considered right of centre in your politics, you have to be doubly sure to keep your nose clean. Whether on the international, national or municipal stage, the minute the status quo is threatened by talk about balanced budgets (which inevitably means cutting civil servants) or immigration policy designed to fit the national interest rather than some diversity theory, the left will start hounding, investigating and putting snitches into your staff. The great and the good of the land most often sit on the left side of politics and have strong views about the right sort of person for the governing classes. They don’t like overweight Joes from suburbia. If, on the other hand, you are “clubbable” like Dalton McGuinty (two university degrees, boyish trim looks, very keen on wind turbines), when a billion dollars goes missing in the wind together with deleted emails and files, it seems only to build your resumé into a Harvard appointment.
If you are Brian Mulroney, being groomed and well-educated won’t help when you have right-wing friends like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and anti-statist policies like cancelling the National Energy Program, privatizing Crown corporations, as well as being architect of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. False allegations of Mulroney accepting a bribe went on for years and, even after he was cleared, his most scurrilous accuser was awarded an Order of Canada. Stephen Harper avoids all personal scandal, cultivates his policy-wonk identity and politically survives by cautiously moving left if absolutely necessary. Hard to remember him from his days as president of the National Citizens Coalition.
One puzzle in the Ford matter: Toronto’s police force is by and large excellent, but I’ve never encountered a police chief—or at least one who retained his job—like Toronto’s Chief Bill Blair, who holds a press conference to say he can’t give any info about evidence because his job is only to investigate but, by the way, speaking as a citizen, he’s disappointed in Ford and yes, the Toronto Star description of the Ford video is accurate. Normally, commenting on a piece of evidence this way—even if it had been to say how relieved he was to announce press reports of the video were not accurate—would taint the investigation with partisan politics and imperil the prosecution of Alexander Lisi, Ford’s sometime driver and the apparent target of the police investigation. But I like my caffeine strong, my codeine on prescription and my police force close-mouthed and publicity-shy. Them were the days.
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