Rob Ford had a hell of a weekend, and it kept getting better when he returned to work. Last Friday, he held his second “Ford Fest” of the year, drawing thousands to something the Star’s Daniel Dale called “a spectacle unlike anything else in local politics:” beer, burgers, kiddie rides, and a chance to shake hands with the mayor.
It turned out to be a pre-party not just for next year’s election campaign, but for the two-part announcement Sunday and Monday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that the federal government would kick in $660 million to finally realize the Scarborough subway extension Ford has been holding out for. Ford managed to get the subway by doing little more than standing around insisting he’d get it while everyone else schemed and shouted.
The Ford abides. Like The Dude, the iconic Big Lebowski character whose specialty is takin’ ’er easy even while a complex and dangerous web of intrigue is spun all around him, Ford keeps standing and maintains his political force by simply seeming to ignore what everyone else perceives as the reality of the situation.
It’s worth taking a step back for a moment to just appreciate the stunning impossibility of his political career.
This is a year in which Ford has been saved on appeal from being kicked out of office on conflict-of-interest charges, and in which his alleged drinking and drug use have been at the centre of worldwide speculation and fascination. He appears to be connected—whether incidentally or otherwise—to a series of crimes including the shooting death of a young man he was photographed with, a home-invasion assault at the house where the photograph was taken, and a police investigation into guns and drugs that led to dozens of arrests. While this was happening, virtually all of his senior office staff quit or were fired. A few of them whispered to the press about the mayor’s need to go to rehab and his alleged plots to cover up evidence on their way out the door.
At any point of this—at almost every point of this—conventional analysis might suggest his career would be over. But Ford’s whole career has been like this, more or less, and he’s never cared. So Ford did not resign, did not apologize, did not even really address any of the many allegations in any detail. Instead, he pretty much pretended nothing was happening. “Anything else?” he asked the press when they hounded him, and then he went on doing his Rob Ford things: visiting residents in their cockroach-infested buildings, promising subways in Scarborough, planning his Ford Fests, and talking about the next campaign.
I mean, here is a guy who, plagued by half a year’s headlines about possible alcohol- and substance-abuse problems, drove himself out to a massive street party on the Danforth, had a “couple pops” as his brother says, and then wobbled out into the masses to party. And amid further questions (about whether such public inebriation was appropriate), he basically shrugged and said he’d had a good time.
While all this was happening, his supposed political opponents, especially TTC chair Karen Stintz and the provincial Liberal government, tied themselves in knots trying to deliver a version of the subway Ford always insisted would be built. They seemed to think they were rolling him—that if they got the subway built, or at least approved, Scarborough would somehow give them credit and abandon the mayor.
But Ford knew better, and claimed victory with every single announcement his enemies made. And then he did them one better: His close personal family friend Jim Flaherty showed up to stand beside the mayor and throw Canada’s financial heft behind a three-stop subway extension—a federal investment in Toronto transit, which is the rarest of plays in our recent history, like batting for the cycle and pitching a no-hitter in the same game. I think that pretty much ends the debate about whether to build subways or LRTs on that line. And it ends the debate about whether Ford will get to claim political credit.
This isn’t the subway he promised (that’s the one on Sheppard), and I tend to think the city and Scarborough will be worse off because of it. But the mayor will call it a win anyway. He’s still standing, and today he’s standing a little taller than he has in a couple years—just in time for the lead-up to the official start of election season. The Ford abides.