BY EDWARD KEENAN
Just a few blocks from City Hall in Toronto, there’s a great little bar called the Cameron House. For almost two decades until late last year, every Sunday night you could go there and watch Kevin Quain and the Mad Bastards play cabaret-flavoured songs in the key of Tom Waits—original compositions by Quain about drunkenness, heartbreak, life on the skids and—sometimes—vampires, angels, and dead men who refuse to stop drinking. It’s been a few years since I saw him perform, but one of Quain’s magical songs has been running through my head this week, again and again. It could be Rob Ford’s anthem:
I can’t fight worth a damn,
but I can take punches like a champ.
And I never give up,
and I never take advice—
You can’t keep a good man down,
many have tried before you,
I’m too dumb to quit,
so don’t count me out just yet—
you can’t keep a good man down.
As each new revelation comes forward and this story gets darker and darker, people hold their breath with each media scrum, waiting for a resignation, or something, from the mayor. These are people who do not know Rob Ford. The story of this mayor seems to have been building towards a climax of some sort for years—since before he became mayor, actually. Each chapter seems like it must be the last, each cliffhanger ending suggesting the next episode is surely the one where the plotlines will finally converge and be resolved.
And yet there was Rob Ford again today, telling the assembled reporters to “move” and physically pushing past them (and pushing the Sun‘s Don Peat into the mayor’s office in the process). There was Doug Ford on the radio, telling Jerry Agar that the response from the mayor’s office to the news that the mayor himself had been implicated as a source of information about the video’s whereabouts was to say they “broke out laughing.” This is, he said, a case of a disgruntled former employee making stuff up.
That’s Rob and Doug Ford.
And there was another staffer, Brian Johnston, the mayor’s policy advisor and council relations guy, walking out of the office escorted by security after resigning. And then reports that the mayor’s executive assistant, Kia Nejatian, was out too. Recently disgruntled, I suppose.
The big, well-written Maclean’s cover story on Ford by Nicholas Köhler that hit newsstands today
(but is not online, yet) doesn’t contain a lot of new revelations for those who’ve been following the story closely, but it does contain some more context and confirmation of the disturbing family dynamic I wrote about yesterday, and it has refreshingly frank quotes from a former Ford staffer:
“We don’t want to wake up in a week and find him dead in a ditch knowing we could have done something to stop this…. He resigns as mayor or he’s dead in a ditch—I don’t know what’s first, honestly.”
The staffer doesn’t know, but has suspicions, telling Köhler in the next breath Ford is unlikely to resign. That’s what I’ve been hearing—sometimes very plainly, more often with a finger on the nose or a nod or a wink—from people who have worked for him over the years. Rob Ford is not for quittin’. And in his piece, Köhler does some good analysis selecting key anecdotes that illustrate how Rob and Doug are likely to approach this, as they have approached everything in the past. It’s worth a read if you’re near a newsstand to buy a copy.
But, but, but—surely, surely this is different, right? I mean, crack? The video? Well, looky here, a poll shows his numbers among the electorate—unlike his numbers inside his own office—are not plummeting. A Forum Poll on the video itself shows that in the inner suburbs where the Fords have always been strongest, almost half of people believe the video is a fake and another big chunk say they “don’t know.” Even among those who say they think the video is real, 20 per cent continue to approve of the mayor.
But, but, but, this is dark. There’s a police investigation, and another arrest today. This is all being connected, in grim ways, to a murder. Surely, this must change the Ford math?
Maybe, maybe not. There’s been no indication from the Fords that it does. And I invite you to consider some history: there’s the allegations about Rob’s brothers’ business interests in the 1980s, there’s Randy’s arrest for assault and forcible confinement. There are Kathy’s own acknowledged drug problems. There’s the time when Kathy was shot in the face by her boyfriend and his friend at the Ford family house (and used her mother’s car to flee the scene), or the time her ex-husband murdered her boyfriend—the father of her child. Or the time just last year that her ex-boyfriend was arrested for making death threats against the mayor after apparently breaking into his house. Rob, of course, has been charged as a teenager with assault, as a budding politician with drunk driving and possession of pot, and there was the time while he was a city councillor that he saw his own arrest for assault and threatening death in a domestic dispute splashed on the front page—only to see the charges dropped later.
That’s some pretty dark stuff, too. And throughout it all Rob Ford’s career has only ever been ascendant, despite sometimes temporarily appearing to be heading in the other direction.
So this is a man, and a family, used to operating “business as usual” in some very dramatic circumstances. And it’s always worked out for them before. Rob Ford can take punches like a champ. And he never gives up. And never takes advice.
He could surprise us—perhaps this time the exodus of staffers, or pressure from family friends in the federal and provincial Conservative parties, or some other factor, will convince Rob and Doug it’s time to throw in the towel. But it’s hard to see how, now, after all the events of the past two weeks, they live to fight again if they back down now. And fight is what they do—if they can’t fight again, I pretty much expect them to continue, as Ivor Tossell put it recently, “staging a two-man Alamo, fighting on against their colleagues and the media.” The bullets in their back just keep them warm, as Quain sang.
If I was betting money, there’s only two scenarios I’d think were worth backing: Rob Ford will leave office in handcuffs, or he’ll leave after losing an election. I sincerely hope he proves me wrong.