Rob Ford is the Snooki of the civic universe

Thanks to Ford, the city has morphed into a reality-TV show


Chris Young/CP

Shortly after it was announced in March that Toronto surpassed Chicago in population size—making it the fourth-largest city in North America—a Chicago columnist named Neil Steinberg wrote a piece at my city’s expense. So lame and genteel are Torontonians, he argued, that they can’t even acknowledge success when it seldom comes their way. Steinberg’s dig was in reaction to a Canadian Business article that questioned the veracity of the city’s new-found status (were we really bigger?), but his jibes were levelled mostly at Torontonians themselves—suckers who “sit crouched in slush with their hands locked around their knees, gazing poutingly over the border to the south, paralyzed with envy, disdain and longing. They just wish we cared about them enough so they could have the chance to scorn us. But we don’t and never will.”

This week, Neil Steinberg is eating his words. If the American definition of civic pride is attention paid, Toronto is the proudest city on the continent. If we are, in fact, sitting in slush, gazing longingly at the Statue of Liberty, she is gazing right back. My city has finally achieved the attention it so desperately craves. And doing so was apparently very easy. We didn’t have to become the fourth-largest metropolis in North America, or promote our diverse makeup and lack of crime to make international headlines. All we had to do was elect Rob Ford mayor, and wait.

American gossip website Gawker broke the story last week and the Toronto Star immediately corroborated it: Rob Ford (allegedly) smokes crack. The unapologetically buffoonish right-wing mayor, whose saving grace was his work with at-risk youth, may actually be feeding the drug industry that puts said youth at risk. Gawker editor John Cook, and Toronto Star reporters Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan, claim to have seen the mayor smoking crack in an iPhone video recorded by Ford’s alleged dealers. When neither news organization could, or would, come up with the cash the dealers requested in exchange for the video, Gawker started its own “Crackstarter campaign” (as opposed to Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding website), which has raised over half its goal of $200,000. Rob Ford, damnable mystery that he is, has said nothing about the allegations beyond  “ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, Toronto has morphed into a desperate reality-television-show character—the Snooki of the civic universe—the city that delights in all and any outsider attention. Sure, we were upset when Steinberg made fun of our monument to multiculturalism and our love of Tim Hortons in the Chicago Sun-Times, but Rob Ford has elevated us. We are now the butt of something bigger: We are being mocked on The Daily Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Can you imagine the smug, satisfied look on the face of every Toronto urbanite (myself included) who can go home and watch late night TV, knowing they might finally get to laugh at one of their own? Who cares, really, that to most people outside Canada, the word Toronto is at this moment synonymous with crack cocaine? We made the New York Times! And Vanity Fair! And New York Magazine! (For more information, log onto to any Canadian news site, where you can find the complete list of every American who ever thought about us, ever.)

“The collateral damage to the city’s once-vaunted reputation will sting for years to come,” Richard Florida wrote recently in the Globe and Mail. What glass-half-empty thinking. Toronto has, in many ways, never looked better. Civic engagement is at an all-time high. (I heard some teenage boys talking about Rob Ford yesterday on the bus—the first time I have ever heard anyone discuss municipal politics out of sheer pleasure.) Journalism, an industry we all know needs some good news, is thriving under Ford. The salaciousness of his mayoralty may have saved more jobs than his proposed casino would have created.

Alas, not everyone is so optimistic. Some Torontonians are embarrassed by the allegations against Ford, by the bullying in city council, the homophobia against gay pride and the fact that he is literally—let’s face it—a top hat away from being the Penguin from Batman. “We’re the biggest city in Canada,” they say. “We deserve better.”

But everyone thinks they deserve better—no one more so, I suspect, than Rob Ford himself. Given his unusual resilience, I wouldn’t put it past him to stay in power as long as humanly possible, even if the video surfaces and the allegations are impossible to deny. Crazily enough, no law would stand in his way. So, Torontonians—and all Canadians, really: You may as well milk this sideshow for all it’s worth. We don’t have real bike lanes, you can’t buy a bottle of wine at our corner stores, and our mayor is in a crack scandal. But hey, at least we made the New York Times. Congratulations, Toronto, you’re a world-class city.

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Rob Ford is the Snooki of the civic universe

  1. There should be a criminal investigation to this matter.

    • Including an investigation of Gawker and who is behind this.

      • Who exactly is going to legally investigate an American online blog? The cyber police? Rob’s big brother? If there is any investigation it should be into Ford’s sanity or lack thereof.

        • The cyber police will backtrace everything and CONSEQUENCES WILL NEVER BE THE SAME

    • Rob should be in a “home” somewhere.

  2. “Can you imagine the smug, satisfied look on the face of every Toronto urbanite (myself included) who can go home and watch late night TV, knowing they might finally get to laugh at one of their own?”

    The Americans are laughing at you, not with you, so I imagine your smug face probably looks a bit foolish.

    • Hester,you do know what satire is, don’t you?

      • She (?) won’t unless there’s convenient quotation about it.

  3. I do not think this issue is something to make light of. If Ford is guilty as charged, it is a serious problem for him and for the city. If the video is not legitimate, however, then something even more sinister may be at work. I am suspicious of the systematic harassment of Ford. There is something very weird about this initiative starting in the US — where — you are right, they pay no attention to us) and involving drug dealers who do not seem to be concerned about getting arrested themselves for drug dealing. Whether or not the allegations are true, I want to know who put them up to this? There is
    clearly a pattern of harassment here. We should also be outraged by the extortionist tactics. Anyone can destroy someone’s reputation by sowing seeds of doubt about their character, and politics is notorious for this.

    • It is not systematic….since high school this buffoon has spent half his waking hours with food in his mouth and the other half with his foot in his mouth. That makes for “self creating harassment”, people simply want to get rid of someone like that. Watching him speak publicly is like watching a grade four kid make his first public speech. He can not look the listener in the eye, cannot remember more than 4 words without looking at his brother Dougie’s notes. All his issues are issues he created and it will never stop whether he is in politics or not.

      • So eating is detrimental, in your opinion? I may not support Rob Ford but I detest it when comments revolve around his weight or appearance. That is so medieval.

    • If the video is valid, there’s nothing “systematic” about the “harassment” Ford has invited on himself. This whole tawdry affair is the entirely predictable consequence of willfully careless (self-destructive?) risktaking behaviour by hizzoner

  4. Little Robbie Ford,
    Is quite a funny fellow,
    Almost every second week,
    He gets in some more trouble.

    • It’s hard not to with the Toronto Star hanging around your leg like a ball and chain.

      • Yeah, the Star introduced Ford to drug-dealers, then paid them to supply him and video the whole encounter.

  5. ‘Given his unusual resilience, I wouldn’t put it past him to stay in power as long as humanly possible, even if the video surfaces and the allegations are impossible to deny.’

    If we find out Rob Ford was smoking crack and he steadfastly refuses to resign, I wouldn’t call that ‘resilience’. Too much of a positive connotation. How about ‘pig-headedness’? ‘Selfish stubbornness’? ‘Complete lack of respect for the office he holds or the people he represents’? Those descriptors might work.

  6. It may be called “attention” to some, I call it embarrassment, but I have felt it from the day he was elected. I knew these brothers from business and I suspected what was in store for us. Its too bad the rest of the public particularly those who call themselves “right wing” and Ford nation didn’t investigate his nasty and ludicrous background and bad habits. Only a heart attack can save us now.

    • I’m sure there are many more politicians of the Liberal stripe with just as many bad habits. The press covers for them though. Michael Bryant? Jack Layton?

      • Jack Layton, who has been dead for nearly two years? What are you talking about?

  7. Ford’s enemies have a history of making false accusations, so why should anyone give more credence to this particular instance?

    If there is indeed a video, let it be shown. However, if no one is willing to “bring the goods”, then it looks like the Toronto Star, among others, is setting itself up for a massive defamation lawsuit.

    • What false accusations have been made against Ford?

      If there is indeed a video, let it be shown.

      Hear, hear.

      “…Toronto Star, among others, is setting itself up for a massive defamation lawsuit.”

      I’m not a lawyer, but I think you (and the Toronto Sun) are wrong on this. The Star didn’t break the story, all they did was publish the testimony of their reporters. How exactly is that defamation?

      • It’s not…and they won’t be sued. The details of this story may be scandalous, but it’s certainly not slander to report them.

  8. Love the headline. Not sure who should be more embarrassed by the comparison – Rob or Snooki.

  9. he weighs more than 100 lbs so he obviously doesn’t smoke crack anyone should be able to figure that out

    • Crack addicts tend to be skinny after years of use. Recreatinal crack users not necessarily so.

    • Sherlock’s on the job. What a relief. Guess it’s not a scandal after all. Thanks for clearing it all up.

  10. Whoa, give the Penguin some credit, lady. He may be a fat, flippered monster, but he cultivates an air of sophistication that Rob Ford could never match.

  11. Reality shows are a great success on TV so maybe this is a good thing for Toronto…just think of all the tourists this could attract! Didn’t everyone love Snookie/ Maybe Ford could sell autographs or charge for pictures the way Gore does to help reduce debt.

  12. If Rob Ford remains as Mayor and the video never emerges, it’ll be a huge victory for Ford and a huge stain on the Toronto Star. The headline will read ‘Star claimed Mayor smoked crack in a video, but video never emerged’. Implication? The Toronto Star made it all up to smear the hapless Ford. Ford comes out smelling like roses.

  13. Seriously though, I cannot think of any corporation saying ‘I refuse to invest in GTA cuz of Ford’. I challenge the media to find a serious tourist who says ‘I really planned to visit TO and spend money this summer, but changed my mind cuz of Rob Ford’. Really, what exactly is this ‘damage’ Toronto will supposedly suffer? Methinks tis all the product of people like Richard Florida who think we are a major world class city…when in reality nobody in really big cities ever even heard of us.

  14. Excellent and True!!
    This is the best thing that has happened to Toronto in a long while!
    We SHOULD milk this- donate to the crackstarter now.

  15. The whole family is trailer park trash, and so are the idiots who elected this crack head pig – Ford.

  16. Toronto is having an after Miller Time circus. Nothing has changed, residents’ lives did not turn for the better, but local TV stations are having fun. If this is the best City in the world, stop the globe, want to get off !!!

  17. Rob Ford is the Rush Limbaugh of Canada. What makes it so interesting is that he is in a position of power unlike Limbaugh. So there is an opportunity to see if all the bluster can be backed up by substance. We are finding out however that the distractions are just too much for any substantial actions to be completed.
    I guess that is predictable.

  18. Thank you for this one, Teitel. One of the most important MACLEANS piece ever written.

    Finally an admission that we as Canadians weakly and uselessly obsess over the US and beg pathetically for their attention. We really do, and it’s lame.

    And it’s not just Toronto. In Vancouver where I live, residents gleefully refer the area of the province as the “Pacific Northwest” even though it couldn’t be further southwest. All whilst staring wistfully at Portland, USA and having a serious hate-on for Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, or anything that isn’t glorified in US movies.

    The only thing missing in the article is the way forward. And that is to stop the obsession. Disregard the States. Pay as little attention to it as possible. Otherwise we die. We don’t ignore it at our peril.

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