...is that, post-rehab, he goes back to his old lying, arrogant self again.
Ladies and gentlemen, the no-singing, some-dancing Rob Ford Show has returned to City Hall for a repeat engagement to last at least four months. The star promises a new-and-improved physical appearance and 100 per cent fewer drunken stupors. On Monday afternoon, the mayor revealed his plans for the coming months at a press conference (where he took no questions and only invited select press). His scripted path to redemption began as follows: an apology, a claim that rehab changed his life, and an assurance that he was ashamed of his previous behaviour. Then he quickly resumed his campaign, insisting he was “proud of his public record,” that he’d carry on stopping the gravy train, etc.
“I’m determined to continue fighting for the taxpayer every single day,” he said, subtly suggesting that this struggle was right in line with his commitment to fighting for his newfound sobriety.
There are, of course, many unresolved questions about the sequence of events that led him into rehab. Some revolve around the ongoing police investigation into his associations with the criminal underworld. There are questions about racist and homophobic comments he made that were captured on video, and there are still more about a bizarre incident near his cottage-country rehab facility, where one of his fellow recovery patients was arrested for drunk driving while behind the wheel of his famous black SUV.
It’s hard to accept his insistence that he’s a changed man unless he gives full, honest explanations for these things, and while he hinted at these incidents on Monday, he avoided any of the details that would make his contrition remotely convincing.
But there’s another, far more serious obstacle to Ford’s redemption narrative. Even if he has put his addictions behind him (and I do hope that’s the case) and he reverts to vintage Ford mode—the man we knew in 2011 and 2012, before the crack scandal broke—that’s simply the return of an astonishingly crappy leader, a man terrifically unsuited to the job of mayor and uniquely incapable of performing it.
Let’s all take a moment to remember that long before we ever heard about his crack videos, incidents of schoolyard urination, and slur-infected rants, this mayor was almost fired from his position by a judge for his “reckless indifference” to the rules, saved only by a technicality. He had lost the support of most of city council—and a majority of voters in polls—for his my-way-or-the-highway belligerence on issues he clearly did not understand. He fired civil servants who dared to second-guess him. He impulsively voted against his own budgets, chased down and menaced a reporter in the park beside his house, called 911 on a comedian, and kept the integrity commissioner and ombudsman plenty busy writing up reports of his misdeeds.
And he lied and lied and lied—about the differences between LRT and subways, about the budgetary savings he’d achieved, about his own behaviour and that of others. Let’s also note that the recent reports about him and his brother allegedly lobbying city staff to benefit clients of their private business—which prompted a complaint to the integrity commissioner just last month—pertain to events that occurred before the crack-mayor era of his career.
But perhaps Ford’s greatest misdeed is creating a framework for political debate in this city that was, and remains, inherently corrosive. His worldview focuses on the cost of everything, while seeing value in nothing. It assumes that all taxes are bad, and it calls for counting pennies in the short term and blowing billions over the long term. Fordism at its “best” was based on exaggerating divisions between suburbanites and downtowners, cyclists and car drivers, city workers and everyone else, and pitting those groups against each other in an imagined zero-sum battle. His politics work off two emotions: resentment and anger.
And left out of the debate is any thought of the kind of city we want to live in or how we can build for the future needs of our metropolis. I’d like a mayor who thinks this is a spectacular place to live and wants to work on making it even more so. Rob Ford is not only not that mayor, but the way he whips up the emotions of this city seems to distract his opponents from cultivating that vision—they’re too busy responding to him and his claims about gravy trains and imagined downtown elitism.
Ford at his best still reflects Toronto at its worst. Whether he’s drunk or sober, we’d all do well to remember that fact as he once again becomes a central figure in an election campaign that should advance our own rehabilitation.