This past Sunday, Toronto was, as has become customary, reeling from strange revelations about the mayor. This time, those revelations came from stories in The Globe and the Star about Rob Ford’s connections to a string of men with criminal histories, men who are said to have taken suspicious action after a video Ford is said to star in became front-page news. When the stories broke on Saturday, the mayor himself was silent, as has become customary, while his brother Doug dismissed the reports as malicious fiction, as has also become customary.
And so we tuned in to the Ford brothers’ Sunday radio program to hear something—if not the truth we might feel we are owed, then at least an explanation. Broadcasting live from the CNE, the program offered a heavy dose of Doug Ford as, for half the program, Rob was stuck in traffic after a family trip to Niagara. Or so brother Doug said. There’s no reason to doubt the story except for its source, whose increasing unreliability as a narrator became immediately evident.
For instance, on the show, Doug claimed that he and Rob “aren’t politicians,” which (at least lacking a modifier such as “normal” or “effective”) is a verifiable falsehood. That’s small potatoes, of course, but part of a pattern. At another point in the show, he said, “For the first time ever, in the history of Toronto, we have balanced the books.” He said it twice. In truth, Toronto has balanced its books in every single year of its history—it is forbidden by law to run an operating deficit.
Then Rob finally appeared, and claimed that by keeping tax increases below two per cent per year for three years, he and his brother had not only achieved the lowest tax increases in North America, but that such a small increase was “unheard of.” You don’t have to scour North American history to hear of such feats, though: In the city of Markham, tax rates were frozen for three years leading up to 2011, and increased 1.5 per cent in 2012 and 2013. Even here in Toronto, Mayor Mel Lastman delivered three years of tax freezes after amalgamation in 1998.
It went on: Doug claimed the St. Clair streetcar line was an example of LRTs like those planned in Scarborough (it is not) and that 80 per cent of people polled support the expansion of the island airport (in fact, recently published polls show the actual support at 47 per cent).
Later, Rob fielded a question from a listener who asked about the tight rental market, and the bidding wars it is creating. This has been headline news in these parts for a long while now—the lowest vacancy rates in decades are leading to skyrocketing rents, which raises a real concern about the affordability of the city for many residents. But Rob doesn’t share those concerns: “With interest rates so low now, landlords are begging for tenants…they’ll give you free parking, a free month’s rent…” he said. False. He maybe got that impression by seeing some ads, but it’s very transparently not backed up by the official numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, numbers that are readily available to (and should be a key concern for) the mayor of the city.
Meanwhile, the grimmer reality suggested by the front pages of that weekend’s newspapapers went unaddressed for the length of the show.
There were more falsehoods, but who has time to list them all? Okay, one more: Rob claimed there had been no strikes during the three years he’s been mayor, ignoring the library workers’ strike in 2012. But wouldn’t it be nice for him if it were true? This appears to be the cornerstone of the Fords’ version of reality—state a wish, insist it’s fact, ignore any naysayers.
It’s not really a surprise at this point, especially after seeing the Fords wrestle with an imaginary gravy train, crow about fantastical efficiencies, and invent definitions for “conflict of interest.” And they ask us to believe that the darker stories—the crack video, the troubling associations—are the result of the imaginations of other folks. That is, if they ever address such stories at all.
Sometimes it’s harder to tell what is more disturbing: the inconvenient personal stories Rob and Doug refuse to address when we demand the truth, or the convenient political fictions they hope we’ll accept as true when they do talk. Or perhaps the truly disturbing thing is how accustomed we’ve become to both.