By now, it’s obvious that Rob Ford should resign. His actions have brought chaos to City Hall and indignity to the mayor’s office. He’s made Toronto the laughingstock of late-night talk shows. And he doesn’t have the moral authority to lead council. So, if he is capable of considering the city’s interests, or his own political interests, or his family’s interests, or even his own personal-health interests, he should resign.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Rob Ford, it’s that he never chooses to do the things he should do. “Let’s get it on,” he said defiantly on Monday about council’s attempt to censure him. A year ago, in different circumstances, a judge said he displayed a “stubborn sense of entitlement.” It remains a defining characteristic. It’s possible the mayor will see a counsellor for his personal issues. But he will never voluntarily vacate the high office he has always treated like a spring-break keg party.
And city council has no way to make him go. Neither do the voters of Toronto—at least not before the next election. The only faint possibility for the mayor’s removal is specific legislation from the provincial government.
Many people are hopeful Premier Kathleen Wynne will pass a “Rob Ford Act” to kick his butt out. She certainly has the authority to do so—theoretically, her legislature could put Don Cherry in control of the city or eliminate Toronto’s government altogether. Sure, Wynne could remove the mayor. But that would be a mistake.
There’s a big difference between saying someone should choose to do something and saying they should be forced to do something—especially when the latter involves some politicians stripping other politicians of an office given to them by the electorate. It creates a precedent that could lead every political disagreement into some kind of removal-from-office campaign, and undermines the legitimacy of our whole democratic process. The bar needs to be very high for crisis-level intervention—and indeed it is. There are circumstances that would disqualify the mayor from office. But as absurd and disturbing as this story has become, we haven’t passed the threshold for removal yet.
What we have right now is an admission to using an illegal drug, drinking too heavily sometimes, and acting in undignified ways. There’s also consorting with convicted and suspected criminals, which is unwise but not illegal. (The police investigation continues, but he’s not charged with anything. Judgments on criminal matters will be rendered by courts, not politicians.) And there’s a strong suggestion of a substance-abuse problem. But that’s it. And I’d suggest that even collectively, these misdeeds are not sufficient criteria for impeachment, and would only open the process to broad, moralizing interpretation. If those things make him an unsavory person to have for office, they shouldn’t disqualify him. It should be up to voters to make that call.
So we’re left with this: If Mayor Ford will not do the right thing for the city, voters will have to do it in the next election. It’s a messy prospect, and one that will no doubt lead to another year of this same circus dominating our city’s affairs. Obviously, some people find that forecast hard to accept, but democracy is like that. As Churchill famously said, it’s the worst system, except for all the others.
Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s bad, but democratic systems seldom offer quick fixes. People have been desperate for one in this situation, calling for the de-amalgamation of Toronto, or the institution of a recall mechanism, or the removal of the mayor by other politicians. They’re looking for a silver bullet we can fire once to make everything right. But good democratic government is actually long, hard work.
It was the desire for a quick-and-easy fix that installed this buffoon in the mayor’s chair in the first place—the conviction among many that simple slogans and angry, anti-tax, anti-union shouting could resolve complex problems, even if (or especially if) that shouting was done by a man whose mugshot appeared on front pages during the campaign. People voted for that quick fix and the fumbling, outrageous candidate who offered it, and that put us in the predicament we now find ourselves in.
We can’t force a solution to this particular problem—or to our other problems—by overruling the electorate. To end this damaging madness, the people of Toronto are going to have to vote for something else.