At one point during Monday’s city council gong show—before Rob Ford invoked Operation Desert Storm; after he went all Dick Butkus on Coun. Pam McConnell—I began to wonder if things were unfolding exactly as the so-called “crack mayor” had planned.
Councillors spent much of the day shouting at each other, and when Speaker Frances Nunziata tried to call a recess, it looked like the room was going erupt in a full-on donnybrook. There was a chirping match between Ford’s brother Doug and a few spectators in the chamber; from my vantage point half-way up the gallery, I could see Doug jabbing his finger toward a group of catcallers.
“Yer the scumbag, ya little punk!” he yelled at one. “Yer nothin’ but a punk!”
Some jostling ensued, and that’s what brought Rob storming over from the far side the chamber, bowling over the hapless McConnell, who—foolish woman—was attempting to conduct council business. She was what Norman Schwarzkopf might have called collateral damage.
This had all begun when Ford took a leisurely stroll down the concourse below the gallery while his colleagues debated confiscating most of his office budget and stripping him of pretty much all his meaningful power. His sojourn was calculated to provoke: the mayor brought along a hulking security guard who filmed the mayor’s interactions with an overwhelmingly hostile crowd.
Ford gravitated toward the most bellicose hecklers, and had travelled less than half of the arc around the room when the crowd began chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
“Liar!” yelled one man, while another asked repeatedly: “How do you know Anthony Smith?”—a reference to the man who appeared in an infamous photo with Ford outside a reputed crack house and was later shot dead.
Through it all, Ford smiled beatifically, a kind of Prince of Chaos. Folks who had come to see the 44-year-old laid low grew ever more irate: Why wasn’t he playing his part? Why wouldn’t he grovel?
It was, in brief, a lesson in the politics of division, performed with so much relish you had to think Ford is a long way from calling it a day. I’ve never seen a room more charged, or a city more polarized. If history is any guide, those conditions will serve Ford a whole better than they will his foes. Yes, Monday’s travesty was more proof of his unfitness to govern, and critics will decry it as such. But a whole lot of the mayor’s supporters will see a 300-pound gunslinger once again battling City Hall, his faithful brother by his side. That’s how things look through Ford goggles.
And with this fable already gaining traction, council’s vote to disarm Ford is not necessarily a bad thing. For starters, it has focused his at times clouded mind on the task of revenge, as evidenced by the garbled monologue the mayor delivered before he exited the chamber. Ford summoned his memories of the watching the 1991 Gulf War with his father, adding: “You think Toronto politics is tough? Well, you guys have just attacked Kuwait. Mark my words friends, this is going to be outright war in the next election.”
Next will come the long-shot civil suits the Fords threatened Monday to file against councillors who voted to clip his wings. These cases won’t get anywhere, because courts are reluctant to meddle in the affairs of elected bodies. But they’ll keep the mayor in the public eye.
Finally, there will be council meetings, and here Ford will enjoy newfound liberties. With no control over committees or the city’s executive, he no longer bears responsibility for council’s agenda, or its dysfunctions. He’s free to snipe from front-row seat, or his TV talkshow desk, and sniping is what Rob Ford does best. He was at it even before Monday’s vote, objecting to new loading zone on King Street based on the loss of revenue from 16 parking spots.
This all supposes Ford will navigate the next few months without facing a criminal charge, or the release of some appalling new video—a considerable assumption. Yet you wonder, after all that’s gone down, exactly what it would take to nudge him into political oblivion. The most recent Ipsos Reid poll, taken before he made vulgar remarks in front of news cameras, suggests 40 per cent of Torontonians still approved of the mayor’s performance. Eighteen per cent said they strongly approved.
It’s hard to imagine Ford stirring up more trouble. But the way things are going, he might be well-advised to try.
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