BY EDWARD KEENAN
If Rob Ford gave a crap about Toronto at all, he’d resign—or at least step down for the time being—and seek help for his apparent addiction problems, and face down his growing police problems and those of his friends that seem to be directly related to him. Let someone else who shares his political convictions carry the flag into the next election and, for once let the city consider the various issues at stake—housing, transit, labour relations, taxation, development—without the substantial side issue of Ford himself and his failings and demons (what his brother Doug this morning referred to on AM640 as his “bad judgement”) fouling the waters of every discussion. If Rob Ford gave a crap about this city, he’d heed the words of his former budget chief Mike Del Grande and the editorial boards of every single major daily newspaper in the city, and of his former senior staffer Adrienne Batra, and his former senior media cheerleader Sue-Ann Levy, all of whom have called for him to step down.
But Rob Ford does not give a crap about Toronto. That’s becoming increasingly clear. He cares only about himself. Which is the way it often goes with addicts.
It’s possible he could step down, of course. Doug Ford said on the radio this morning that’s something they’re going to have to “sit down and chat” about. But I don’t expect him to do so. I don’t think it’s in his constitution: He never apologizes, seldom explains, and never quits. Instead, he goes on the attack: This is all a giant smear campaign launched by people who oppose the good work he does for the city, the good work he does for the kids. A smear campaign made up of every media outlet in the city, almost all of his former staff and now, apparently, the police force. And its chief, Bill Blair, who has this morning become the focus of attacks from Ford’s lawyer and brother. There are two possibilities, as I see it: hundreds of people with no apparent motive (highly respected reporters, the police, former staff, former council allies) are lying, or one person who needs to save his own skin is lying. I think it’s the latter. I think it’s the mayor who is lying—has long been lying, with a straight face and unrepentantly. We know he’s lied in the past about personal transgressions (I wasn’t even at the hockey game, for instance, or I was never arrested for pot possession in Florida). We know he just pretty much makes things up as he goes along when discussing policy. We know he either lies or is belligerently ignorant about things like ethics. And now it appears he has been lying about this whole crack-video scandal.
When the chief of police stood up yesterday and said the video exists, that he’s seen it, and that it is consistent with what was reported in the media (and that the proof of what he is saying will come out in court), he not only called Rob Ford out on his strident “may not exist” and “the video does not exist” comments, but on the whole absurd smear campaign the Ford brothers and their allies have erected to demonize the press who reported on these things.
And these things—these things we’re talking about now—have been reported, most of them. Widely. Indeed, once the shock of yesterday’s Yet-Another-Totally-Unprecedented-Episode-of-The-Ford-Show-With-A-Plot-Twist-You’ll-Never-Believe wore off, one of the surprising things about the information we learned was how little of it was new. Both the 500 or so heavily redacted pages of the search warrant that was used in the arrest of Sandro Lisi, and the Bill Blair announcement that Lisi was being charged with extortion in connection with the now-verified video, were full of details and specifics we hadn’t heard—the mayor taking a leak in broad daylight behind a school, the empty vodka bottles he’d leave behind, the silent hand0=9off of an envelope at a gas station—but those details only served to confirm allegations that have long been reported in the press. That there is what appears to be a crack video of the mayor. That Lisi repeatedly contacted those with the video—and the owners of the house where it is thought to have been filmed—to try to obtain it (staying in frequent contact with the mayor and his staff the whole time), even as the mayor denied its existence. That his attempts to do so have allegedly crossed legal lines. That Lisi appears to have been supplying the mayor with drugs. That Lisi was with the mayor before the Garrison Ball, and before the Taste of the Danforth. That his staff were concerned about the mayor’s association with Lisi, and suspected Lisi was providing drugs to the mayor. We’ve heard all this before, from one source or another talking to the Star and the Globe and the Sun and the Post.
What’s changed is we have it from the police department now—a team led by the most seasoned homicide investigator and staffed by 20 officers. And they have details, and photos, and phone logs that they say backs up and fills in the details of what we previously suspected and heard. And so the mayor, who has either not commented on those previous reports or has outright denied them—and vilified those making them—is now even more exposed as a liar. These allegations have not been proven in court. But they are made by the police, and documented by the police, corroborating independent reporting by members of the press.
And it’s hard to see how the news gets better for Ford. In the Lisi search warrant documents, most of the information about the crack video and the murder of Anthony Smith is blacked out. Most of the information and transcripts of interviews with the mayor’s staff have been blacked out. All of this information about the investigation—of which the mayor was the primary target—is still unknown. Much of it could be released next month, after lawyers argue for its release Nov. 8. Meanwhile, the extortion charges proceeding against Lisi are bound to reveal how much or how little the mayor (and others close to him) knew or had to do with his allegedly extortionate attempts to retrieve it. And Blair says the investigation relating to the video is ongoing. More charges or revelations could come at any time.
Here’s the thing: If the mayor stays in office and runs again and (heaven forbid) gets re-elected, this story will continue unfolding, with new surprises and details and revelations, for years. And it will continue to colour every day at city hall, every debate, every vote. Even as we go into budget season, the suggestion has been floated that councillors should refuse to participate in meetings long enough that the province could dissolve the council and order a new election. The city’s business is held hostage—or is constantly under threat of being held hostage—to the Ford drama.
What of mercy? You can read these documents (and months of news reports) and see a storyline that suggests Ford is an addict. Should he not be treated with sympathy? Well, as a human being, sure—leaving aside that he has never displayed any understanding or sympathy or even reserved judgement on anyone else accused of a crime or of negligence on the job. I would like to think we hold ourselves to a higher standard than the mayor does.
As a human being, if he wants to seek personal redemption, there are rooms full of people all over the city who will offer no judgement on his past behaviour—and will admit to worse acts themselves—and will offer nothing but love and support in helping him live better and make better decisions. I’ve been in those rooms. If the mayor called me personally and asked me, I would take him to one, and would offer to support him and listen to him and and help however I could, and I’d keep entirely quiet about it. (If he asked, though, I might also suggest we’d both be more comfortable if he went with someone else—though I could and would point him to solid people who could help, too.)
But, first of all, in order to be given a shot at redemption, or a second chance, he needs to admit he has a serious problem, and that he wants to—needs to—deal with it. He has so far not admitted to any problem at all. It’s hard to solve a problem if you don’t believe you have one. And indeed, if he has no problem, as he has said, then there’s no reason to extend our sympathy. Forgiveness needn’t necessarily be extended to those who are unrepentant.
Moreover, that is for his friends and family and those who love him. They have a personal relationship with him, they can provide him with personal support as they choose. While personal redemption may always be an option—many religious and self-help traditions would insist it is never too late—that has nothing to do, right now, today, with his fitness to hold the important job he holds. We do not have a personal relationship with the mayor, we have a professional relationship with him. And he has been negligent in his professional duties, and allowed (or sometimes forced) his personal failings to interfere with the job. There was a time months ago when the city might have been patient if he had asked for understanding while he sought help. But that time, I think, has passed. Instead of seeking help when this crisis first came to public attention, he was in constant contact with what appear to be underworld figures, tangling the web of deception ever further. He’s a central figure—uncharged and possibly not acting criminally himself, but present and somehow involved—in drug trafficking and extortion investigations. He has used the staff and resources of the mayor’s office to communicate with, hold clandestine meetings with, and provide legal references for, criminals. And he’s made the city an international laughing stock, leaving a trail of empty vodka bottles and embarrassing photo opportunities in his wake.
If only we could fire him. We cannot—there is no recall mechanism available to the public, nor to council. The provincial government could remove him through an act of parliament, but that would cause a crisis of its own.
Instead, it is up to Rob Ford to determine how this term ends. He could surprise everyone by putting the city’s interests ahead of his own and stepping down to confront his personal demons. Or he can try to brazen it out again, blustering and denying and lying all the more, which is what it appears he will attempt to do, and what everything in his history tells us we should expect him to do. And if he does so, we’re in for at least another year of waves of revelations met with shocked calls for his resignation, vigils outside his office waiting for the further obligatory denials and “no comments.” More humiliations, less dignity, more lurid details.
It would be nice for the city if we could have a clean-slate election—debating the fiscal health of the city with fresh characters not weighed down by the baggage. But only Ford can deliver that, ironically, and he has never shown any inclination to put the city’s interests ahead of his own. So he’ll likely continue to serve and campaign.
And then it will be up to the voters of Toronto to decide if we’ve had enough of this. A thundering defeat at the ballot box—a convincing rejection by his beloved taxpayers—might be the end Ford deserves, after the trauma he has willfully put this city through.
And if he were to get re-elected, then the city would certainly prove it deserved him, for despite all the lies, the truth is now easy to weigh.
And though his supporters have shown surprising tenacity in their attachment to the mayor, an electoral defeat is an end that appears more likely with every revelation, as ever more people see the truth about the man they believed in. That he’s been lying to them all this time. That he doesn’t really care about them—that if he ever did, he’s long since begun putting his own impulses ahead of all other concerns. That for a long, long time, Rob Ford has refused good advice, alienated those trying to help him, bullied anyone in his way, lied consistently, and has only said and done what’s best for him. And through all that, he’s shown clearly that he doesn’t really give a crap about what’s best for Toronto.
PHOTO: RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR