In mid-November, after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack, getting behind the wheel of a car intoxicated, and—long pause—purchasing drugs in the past two years, municipal leaders voted to strip him of nearly all his powers.
The 37-5 vote slashed the mayor’s staff and budget and shifted the majority of his duties to Norm Kelly. Despite the Ford brothers’ many warnings about Kuwaiti invasions and dark days for democracy, the mood in Toronto morphed from wonder to collective relief. For once we thought we had the best of both worlds. Ford was a figurehead. He was dethroned but on display—a glorified jester under a newly appointed king who had everything the mayor didn’t. Kelly was strong jawed, stoic, reliably boring (read, Canadian) and most importantly: in the event of an official state of emergency–an alien invasion say, or an ice storm that threatened to ruin Christmas—Kelly would hold the reigns.
Today that emergency is here and we were wrong. Approximately 115,000 Torontonians remain without hydro and will likely spend Christmas in the dark. On Monday night, 11 people were rushed to T.O. hospitals with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and two died, just outside the city. Meanwhile, Rob Ford, Toronto’s seemingly powerless figurehead, has far more power than we thought. Kelly may be required under the law to take power in an official state of emergency but Ford—limited role notwithstanding—is the only city official capable of declaring one; something he has yet to do and likely won’t at his own peril.
In a press conference this morning the mayor made clear that declaring an emergency would be fruitless as outsider crews—from Windsor and Michigan– were already assisting our own. Cynics suspect Ford won’t act because to do so would mean ceding power to Kelly. Others think his reticence is perfectly logical and that he is wary of pulling a Mel Lastman circa 1999.
Whatever his reasoning, one thing remains certain. In failing to declare an emergency Ford has squandered a perfect opportunity to redeem himself. Handing emergency powers to Kelly would be seen as an enormous and uncharacteristic gesture in humility on Ford’s part. It doesn’t hurt either that the catastrophe in question is an icy one.
After all, an ice storm is exactly the kind of stereotypically Canadian everyman situation in which Ford should excel. He and his kin have always prided themselves in their tireless fieldwork, be it solving constituents’ garbage collection issues, handing out 20-dollar bills, or returning thousands upon thousands of phone calls. Ford would, you’d think, throw himself into this storm Chris Christie style. He’d take to the streets while Kelly sat cozy in his cloistered office making frantic phone calls to the army, and make it known that while he isn’t crazy about gays, bike, and taxes, he is completely crazy about getting Toronto back to “business as usual.”
Yet, Ford’s storm presence has so far been utterly lackluster. According to the Toronto Star, he was unreachable Sunday morning when roughly 300,000 people lost power. (CP24’s Katie Simpson tweeted that the mayor “can’t remember” what he was doing the morning of Dec. 22). The only communication Ford had with Torontonians Sunday morning was via Twitter: a tweet from his account, probably operated by an exasperated staffer, encouraged residents to call 911 if their power lines were down. This advice was not only erroneous (residents are supposed to call the police’s main line if power lines are down); it’s exceedingly annoying for 911 dispatchers who have to waste time fielding non-emergency calls. Ford’s social media incompetence has inspired whomever runs the mayor’s usually hilarious Twitter parody account, “T.O. Mayor Rob Frod,” to tweet serious and up-to-date storm safety advice because in his or her own words, “the mayor isn’t”.
When Calgary was nearly swamped this spring, Twitter users of that city publicly urged exhausted mayor Naheed Nenshi to “take a nap,” with the hashtag #Nap4Nenshi. Here in Toronto, Ford needs no encouragement. On the Globe and Mail’s website you can watch the mayor tour one of Toronto’s “warming centres” and literally test the cots. The verdict? “Pretty comfortable considering,” he says.
The mayor’s last presser was this morning. He read off some useful information about health and safety, but left many Torontonians angry and panicked with the news that his next update would come 27 hours later, at 11 a.m. on Christmas morning.
The irony in all of this is that Ford is usually very good at appealing to peoples’ practical sides, even people who sometimes loath him for his obvious personal foibles. The story goes, among Ford Nation—the mayor’s uber-faithful fanbase—that the man has personal issues but unlike other politicians in elitist city hall, he is there for you when it counts. It will be interesting then, to see how the mayor’s supporters respond to his spotty ice storm presence in the long run. They may not care that he can’t recall exactly when or where he smoked crack cocaine, but here’s hoping they care that on the morning of December 22, when Toronto’s trees keeled over, its power lines froze, and its refrigerators died, mayor Rob Ford was Missing In Action.