The Rob Ford saga is the political equivalent of a Cher farewell tour: it’s impossibly sensational and never-ending. We hear the same old songs again and again—classics such as: “I’m only human” and “I can’t change the past.” (Ford’s rendition of If I Could Turn Back Time). The mayor was stripped of most of his powers at Monday’s epic city council meeting, rendering him nothing more than a rubicund figurehead. I have a strong feeling though, that come a year or two—or 20—Ford’s hulking figure will still be strolling the aisles of Toronto’s city council, heckling the public, and steamrolling the elderly. (In case you missed it, the mayor bowled over city councillor Pam McConnell on Monday in a mad dash to defend his brother Doug in an altercation on the floor.) Ford’s true calling, it seems, isn’t answering a gazillion constituent phone calls, as he so proudly claims. It’s putting time-honoured clichés to shame. Here are a few for the dustbin of history: “This too shall pass,” “Something’s gotta give,” “Good things come to those who wait,” and “The end is nigh.”
Rob Ford remains adamant that he will not resign. He won’t even step aside to seek help for his drunken stupor-induced crack smoking; something Torontonians are supposed to be content with because the mayor has started frequenting a gym. (Apparently Goodlife is the new Dr. Drew.)
So what will Ford do in the absence of power, professional help and shame? He’ll bask in his new-found celebrity. This past week may have been rich in Ford family gaffes, but it was far richer in Ford family media appearances. In what could only be an attempt to take control of this train wreck of a story, brothers Doug and Rob brought their distinct brand of truthiness to major American TV networks and both major and minor Canadian ones. (On Monday night, the ratings-famished Sun News Network aired the first and last episode of Ford Nation—the mayor’s new talk show—which was cancelled because it was “too expensive to make.”) The result? Rob Ford’s story as told by Rob Ford is infinitely crazier, more ugly and morally depraved than Rob Ford’s story as told by his mortal enemy: the Toronto Star.
Doug and Rob, looking tawnier than usual under the Sun News lights, presented an hour-long infomercial about the uncontested virtues of Ford Nation. As a loyal and patriotic citizen of said nation, conservative TV personality Ezra Levant pledged his allegiance with a sycophantic monologue about Ford’s unfair treatment at the hands of left-wing media. He even compared the embattled mayor to Princess Di. Rob Ford grinned stupidly, nodding with approval.
He was less cordial, however, when taking questions from U.S. media. Whenever a journalist asked the mayor about his connection to Toronto’s underworld of gangs and drugs, and his dishonesty about smoking crack cocaine, he deflected the questions with a litany of familiar lies and truisms. Among them: “Actions speak louder than words” (which he repeated, ironically, more times than I could count), “I’m not perfect,” “Talk is cheap,” “They didn’t ask the right questions,” and “I’m the best father around.” The most bizarre and disgusting element in the brothers’ media blitz, however, wasn’t Rob’s squeaky dismissive tone or his arsenal of lies, but Doug’s attempt to portray the mayor as a bleeding-heart social liberal—in his own words, “the white Obama.” In the same CNN interview outside a suburban housing project, Rob Ford played up his everyman image. “I don’t look at myself as the mayor. I look at myself as just a normal regular person.”
Normal regular people get fired when they fall asleep on the job, smoke crack on tape, and find themselves embroiled in a massive gangs-and-drug investigation. Normal regular people do not get their own television shows on which to pontificate about their unjustly tarnished reputations. Normal people don’t compare city council politics to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. But Rob Ford is not a normal regular person. As the Toronto Sun aptly declared, he is a “stuporstar.”
In the end what irks most isn’t that Toronto lacks a responsible, civilized, sober mayor. What irks most is that Torontonians lack a happy medium. Those rushing to label Toronto the spitting image of its lushy leader should consider the following: Despite all the shame Rob Ford has brought, the city remains as staid, boring and puritan as ever. In the midst of this month’s Rob Ford madness, city council passed a bylaw prohibiting smoking in public parks and on sports fields. In Toronto you can’t drink a beer on the beach or stay out all night (bars close at 2 a.m.). Rob Ford is no match for Toronto the Good, an impenetrable fortress of Victorian purity in which the mayor can go on being the mayor who smoked crack and lied about it, and its citizens can’t even light a cigarette in a park.