Rob Ford’s too-little, too-late campaign speech was an insult

By Edward Keenan

In a way, it’s astonishing just how by-the-numbers Rob Ford’s speech was this afternoon—his first returning to City Hall from a two-month stint in rehab. He said he was sorry, that he was dealing with his problems, that he was “ashamed” and never meant to hurt anyone, then immediately listed his patented Stop The Gravy Train™ list of accomplishments, and then pledged to “continue fighting for the taxpayer every single day.” Then he left without questions.

We have heard it all before, in slight variations. Anything else?

Sure, his tone was as genuinely apologetic as we’ve ever heard him. And he went into slightly more detail about what he was apologizing for—he named Karen Stintz in particular, said his actions were unacceptable and all his own fault, said his “associations” were leading him into trouble and he’d now end them. And he was specific in his recovery rhetoric about how he has a disease and how entering rehab saved his life. So at least he’s moved further along the admission-of-having-a-problem spectrum than he had before.

But to my mind, it was still not detail enough. We, the people of Toronto whose city he has made a mockery of through his many sins of omission and commission over the past year or more, don’t need more details about the good people at Greenstone or the ins-and-outs of recovery as a lifelong journey. (Many of us have enough experience of that already.) What we needed to hear—and still do—is for him to confront specifically the actions he took that he has never answered for, in specific detail. The Star had 75 unanswered questions for him today, the Globe had 10, and even during his speech Daniel Dale tried to ask him specifically about his racist comments caught on video and was ignored. Rob Ford took no questions. Same as always.

Instead, right there in the middle of his sober inventory of the depths to which he’d sunk (how he was “ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated. I was wrong. I have no one, but no one to blame but myself”), right in the middle of this act of contrition, he started… bragging.

“I promised to stop the gravy train and that’s what we’ve done,” he said, going on about the “hundreds of millions of dollars” he had saved the city—through contracting out garbage and declaring the TTC an essential service and so on and so forth. The standard Ford litany.

And that’s the problem, or one problem: In the midst of a speech meant to show how he was a changed man, he very visibly demonstrated that he was not changed. This was his standard speech modified to suit new circumstances.

His claims about his accomplishments range from inflated to outright false—but his record prior to this whole crack scandal business will be the subject of a column later this week. For today, what was almost worse than that was that he felt it was appropriate to make them at all. That this city, which he has humiliated so much by essentially treating it and his office at city hall—his sacred public trust—as a depraved frat party, needed to hear a bit about his personal journey to recovery and a lot about how well he’s served us and how he’s going to keep fighting for us.

Nope nope nope nope nope.

You don’t turn your speech about how sorry you are that you abused people’s trust into a stealth rationalization for why you’ve actually earned their trust.

If he had ended his speech—vague as it was in parts about specifics, and as focused as it was on his journey and embarrassment rather than our pain in dealing with him—after its first half, after the apology-recovery part, it might have made a good start. Not a start to convincing people like me he deserves a second term (because honestly, the combined rhetorical powers of Jesus and Barack Obama could not accomplish that), but a start at convincing us he’s actually a different guy than the one who abandoned us to party so often. That even if we cannot forget and resume our relationship, he might be on the road to a positive new start somewhere.

But instead he did not end it; he started gloating and stumping for reelection. And he seemed to almost suggest that, in the same way his personal recovery will require a daily fight, his mission on behalf of taxpayers requires that fight in a similar way. He seemed to tie the two together, his recovery from addictions and his reelection campaign—as if, almost, those of us out here would only be doing the right thing by an addict by letting him continue to control our city’s agenda. After all, look at all he’s done for us! (At least when he wasn’t, you know, in his words, embarrassing the city and offending his fellow councillors.)

I think it was an insult, as film critic Norm Wilner suggested, to people in recovery who see seriously that the struggle requires its own fight for its own purposes, and is not a ploy to be enacted as part of a different plan to win trust from the very people you’ve hurt. I think it was an insult to those of us who might have expected an actual apology and an accounting on his own reflections on the ways in which he has abused our trust, hurt the people of this city, and recklessly damaged it. I think it was an insult to voters who he sees with such contempt he can turn an apology to them into a case for why his actions justify reelection.

He’s certainly entitled to ask for another chance. But while he did say his “top priority” is “rebuilding trust with the public,” he didn’t actually ask for that chance. Instead he said he realizes that “in my position I am held to a higher standard,” thanked his family for giving him another chance and the people of Toronto for their “support and understanding during this difficult time,” and expressed gratitude that we live in a civilization in which people who make mistakes “can be given another chance.”

Indeed, we do live in such a civilization. But Rob Ford has already been given a lot of chances. And rather than a full sincere admission of guilt as he began assuming he should get another one, he spent his big apology speech bragging about what a great mayor he’d been. It was an insult.

And then, rather than let those he’d thus addressed talk to him and question him about what he’d just said, he left. He’d said what he wanted to, and cared not at all what anyone else wanted to hear from him. That was no new man. That’s the same Rob Ford we’ve always known.




The cost of not housing the homeless

People sleeping at Bay and Front this spring. Photo: David Cooper/Toronto Star.


By Edward Keenan

In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell, who was then becoming one of the most famous journalists in the world thanks to the success of his 2000 book The Tipping Point, published a great piece of public-policy reporting in the New Yorker that examined how it may be easier to “solve” homelessness than to manage it. He kicked off the story by looking at the case of a specific homeless man in Las Vegas, who had lived and died on the streets, frequently picked up for whatever vagrancy offences he managed to violate, hospitalized periodically as a result of his exposure to the elements and his alcoholism, and so on. A couple of the police officers who’d dealt with him started to realize that it wasn’t cheap for the city to deal with a homeless man like him:

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Mammo’s perverse politics

By Edward Keenan

Welcome to City Council Club.

The first rule of City Council Club is you do not talk about Giorgio Mammoliti press releases.

The second rule of City Council Club is you do not talk about Giorgio Mammoliti press releases.

The third rule is GUY, KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON.

And the fourth and final rule: If this is your first day at City Council Club, you have to share a video of the mayor in a drunken stupor.

Now, I look around, I see a lot of stories and tweets and talk about Giorgio Mammoliti’s latest press release. Which means a lot of you are breaking the first two rules of City Council Club. So let’s talk about why we do not talk about anything Mammo says or does.

Giorgio Mammoliti does not care about what’s right and wrong, about what’s good or bad for the city, about what makes sense and what is complete gibberish. He. Just. Likes. Causing. A. Fuss.

He likes it. He wants to get you mad. And he’d like nothing more than to have you shouting about pedophiles and sexual perversion than the actual matter at hand. Let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane:

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Wynne wins: the good news and the bad news

By Edward Keenan

So after all that, Ontario voters sent the Liberal government now headed by Kathleen Wynne back to Queen’s Park with an enlarged mandate–a majority, a chance for this premier to write her own ticket for roughly the next four years.

Here’s something worth observing: Ontario voters have elected a woman premier for the first time in our history, and a gay woman premier at that. And the particularly inspiring thing about that is that her gender and sexuality were entirely non-issues during the campaign and at the ballot box. We’ve come far enough that a lesbian embracing her partner onstage while accepting a governing mandate from the people is almost unremarkable, and that in itself is remarkable.

Beyond that, it’s worth observing how remarkable a leader Wynne has proven to be this far: she inherited a scandal-plagued government that she had been fully a part of, that had been in power for more than a decade. Voters told pollsters they wanted change (and for good reasons). She somehow, through her energy and connection with voters, and with some help from her opponents, convinced them she was the best option for change on offer. It was a very difficult job, against what appeared to be long odds, and she managed to do it.

But the more difficult job begins today. Because what she told voters–what I think they clearly voted for–is that you can run the province responsibly while “building it up,” as she says. Facing lagging job numbers and a stalled economy and a persistent deficit that has credit agencies looking hard at the books, she promised an option that still invested in social programs (even entirely new ones) and infrastructure, and still tried to maintain labour peace and might even grow the civil service. The problems with the province’s finances are not imaginary ones dreamed up by Tim Hudak, they’ll need to be dealt with. Voters decided that Wynne’s plan to deal with them by stimulating the economy and tweaking in the years ahead made more sense than Hudak’s slash-happy approach. It’s not going to be easy to deliver the kind of spending she promised while also dealing with the reality of the resources available. That’s the job she asked for. Now she has it. There’s a chance she’ll wind up like Bob Rae (the Beta Rae version that governed Ontario)–who found himself ultimately villainized by those who’d voted for him, because they thought he’d betrayed his promises by trying to be responsible, and those who’d voted against him, who still thought he was a spendthrift. If Wynne can somehow please her voters and the creditors, she could build a Liberal legacy that will endure.

Which seems to be what a lot of voters want–not the legacy, but the way of achieving it. Rather than Buckley’s (it tastes awful and it works), we’ve decided we think that laughter is the best medicine.

While doing that, Wynne is going to have to prove, every day, that she runs things differently than her old boss. The mismanagement and waste and blatant dishonesty that wound up characterizing some of McGuinty’s actions didn’t stick to Wynne’s reputation, but the proof that those are behind us will be demonstrated in the next four years.

There’s a reckoning on the way for the Conservative Party and the NDP. Both parties face identity crises, I think.

The Conservatives in particular ran on a platform many of them will be proud of–one they think is in the proud tradition of Mike Harris–the kind that Paul Wells at Maclean’s calls “Ayn Rand Home Game.” Ontarians kicked that nonsense (rightly) to the curb. So now, out in the gutter, they have to figure out how to start again, or face the possibility of being the kind of ideologically pure unelectable rump people used to accuse the NDP of being.

The big question facing the NDP is harder to bring into focus: they tried in this election, with a very popular leader, to bring forward middle-of-the-road policies that appealed to Main Street. And they got smoked and shredded like sandwich meat in former Toronto strongholds, and stalled out elsewhere in the province. After a decade or more in the wilderness being true to their social democrat principles, they’ve found being more populist has still left them on the wrong side of the castle moat.

The dubious good news for the NDP and the Conservatives is they have a few years to figure those questions out.

For the rest of us, there’s at least a relief from the anxiety and gamesmanship that accompanies minority government. Starting today, Wynne no longer has the opposition to blame, she no longer has the “unelected premier” mantle to struggle under, she no longer has her absent predecessor’s misdeeds to point to as an excuse. Ontario put her in charge. It’s her show. Now we get to watch and see if she deserved it.

PHOTO: Steve Russell / Toronto Star


A ballot full of rejects

By Edward Keenan

I reject any demand that I should endorse or support crappiness.

That demand is the underlying message of so many election pleas rooted in fear or anger—or worse, rooted in resigned shrugs meant to pass for world-weary pragmatism—that say we should “hold our noses” as we rummage through the electoral septic tank and elevate the turd we find least foul above the others. To do otherwise, I’m sometimes told, is a rejection of democracy, a violation of the precious principles our ancestors fought and died for, a slap in the face to those living in countries without our precious freedoms and so on and so forth. To express disgust and alienation is thought by some to be anti-democratic, unless it is followed immediately by a “That said, vote for Turd A—GO TEAM!”

That, I take it, is the thinking that says a spoiled ballot or vote for a fringe party (or any party perceived to be less likely to win than some other nominally similar option) is an affront to the right to vote. And there’s sometimes similar thinking driving the urge of journalists to offer endorsements, even when there is nothing on offer they like. Do we have a responsibility to lend our vocal support, hedged in reluctance and “notwithstanding” clauses, to the lesser evil? I reject the notion that we do. We should oppose the greater evil with greater force and energy, certainly, but we should oppose all evils when we see them, call out mediocrity for what it is, and demand that those who want to lead us do better. As a voter, it’s often difficult to see how to do that. But as a writer, I have a way: By writing about my thinking and not rewarding anyone with my lukewarm support.

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The Ford brothers told us this day would never come


Remember back to that time long ago, in the olden days of early 2013, when Rob Ford was embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal that almost saw him removed from office? What did he say about his understanding of a conflict of interest back then? It’s tricky to remember through the fog of crack smoke and crowd of criminals and the mist of drunken stupor that’s enveloped Ford since then. But his ideas about conflicts of interest seemed really important back then. Oh, here it is:

“I always thought, for 12 years, and I still believe, that a conflict is when the city has a benefit and when I have a benefit. This is a personal issue and had nothing to do with the city.”

He repeated it again and again. It was a wrong definition of conflict in the circumstances, too limited, but he certainly underlined that it was his clear understanding. If the city has a financial interest in a matter and he personally has a financial interest, he’s in a conflict of interest. Right.

And now what is it he and his brother have always said about the mayor’s many-many-many-many-many10 scandals and ethics breaches? Oh right, that they aren’t important, because:


“You’re never ever going to see a financial scandal with Rob Ford.”

Hmmm. What are we to make, then, of the front page of today’s Globe and Mail, that outlines a set of actions by the mayor and his brother:

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Police shouldn’t be making political endorsements

By Edward Keenan

The Ontario Provincial Police Association—the union representing provincial cops—has issued a press release and two ads attacking Tim Hudak and the provincial Progressive Conservative party. The ads—the first political campaign endorsements in the organization’s history, they say—do not explicitly support the Liberals or the NDP, and “this also does not mean that we don’t respect and work well with many in the Conservative caucus. We just don’t want this Conservative as Premier.”

This involvement of police—identifying themselves as police officers and making a statement in their role as police officers—is a bad idea. Very bad.

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City manager on housing: “The bottom line is we are now into health and safety issues”

By Edward Keenan

My column in The Grid this week is about an issue Toronto’s city manager, Joe Pennachetti, has been raising more and more vocally: the need for new revenue in Toronto, and particularly the need for new revenue to pay for social housing. During a talk he gave last week to the Munk School’s Institute of Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG), he made the shocking claim that Toronto Community Housing (TCH) may have to close units due to disrepair if we don’t address the situation in the next three to four years. A webcast of his talk has now been posted.

I didn’t attend the talk, and I didn’t have access to the webcast when I was writing my column. His comments had been drawn to my attention by several people I follow on Twitter (including Paisley Rae and city council candidate Idil Burale) and I discussed it in person the next day with David Hains, who covered the talk for Torontoist. I went out to read the slideshow presentation that accompanied his talk (PDF), and I called Pennachetti and Toronto Community Housing to clarify the issue.

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This week in What Not to Say When You’re Trying to Prove You’re Not Racist


No one’s saying communications crisis management is easy—if it were easy, the word “crisis” wouldn’t be in there, with all its attendant associations with beheaded chickens and houses on fire and whatnot. But we can learn from real-world examples to see which strategies work and which don’t, and try to develop better strategies as we go along.

So let’s say you’ve said or done something that makes people think you’re a raving unrepentant racist. That’s a bad thing. And it can be hard to think of a good response, unless you’re proud of being a racist and want people to know you are—and even then, this is likely to be very damaging to your prospects.

The best strategy for dealing with a People Have Good Reason To Think You Are A Racist crisis is preventative.

Step one: Don’t be a racist.

Step two: Don’t say things or do things that are racist.

Step three: If you find yourself about to say something and you’re tempted to preface it by saying, “I’m not racist, but…” or anything of that nature, you’ve likely failed at the first two steps. Immediately shut your mouth—employ duct tape if you have to—and go back to step one.*

But let’s say that you have failed at prevention. What then? It’s hard to know. Let’s look at three cases where that situation arose recently and see what strategies were employed, and see how those involved might have done better.

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What’s up with garbage-collection complaints?

By Edward Keenan

As Neville Park notes in her always handy City Council cheat sheet, Councillor Mike Layton has a motion at the upcoming meeting asking for answers about a certain aspect of Toronto’s contracted-out garbage collection. He’s requesting an administrative inquiry into why the City has, after all the hoopla about private collector Green For Life’s success in District 2, decided not to renew its contract with that company for District 1 and instead put it out to tender. Layton tells me he was told at the March Works committee meeting that the decision was related to the number of complaints coming in from District 1. And the staff letter that was posted in response to Layton’s inquiry as I was writing this confirms that was one of the reasons:

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