Even if Rob Ford gets his act together and turns his mayoral campaign into a comeback tour, it’s time for the city to deal him some tough love and end this destructive relationship.
In the days since Rob Ford announced that he was heading off to rehab—which followed a new wave of revelations of his alcohol- and drug-fuelled recklessness—there’s been speculation about what it means for Toronto’s future. Much of the talk on radio and in newspaper columns is centred on the question of whether Ford can actually get sober and stay that way. Presumably, such actions could pave the way for a comeback, which would make perfect sense as the next chapter in Mayor Ford’s biography.
But if we’re thinking about this situation in terms of what it means for the city—specifically, how we’re governed—rather than as a story about Ford himself, then I think that the mayor’s recovery is beside the point. Like anyone who’s had an addict in their life, and who’s been hurt by one, this city needs to focus on its own recovery. And after all that’s happened, our healing process can only really proceed without Ford in the picture.
Addicts are, by definition, self-destructive, but they’re also destructive, period. The pain and complication they inflict on those around them becomes a relentless central fact of life. Everything in a household—or a family, a group of friends, or a workplace—comes to revolve around managing an addict’s abuse: anticipating the next episode, living through relapses, processing the apologies and promises, and then starting all over again.
The people of Toronto might recognize this pattern in their relationship with the mayor. During the past year, virtually all subjects on the civic agenda have taken a back seat to the story of Ford’s struggle with his personal demons, or they’ve been viewed through the lens of his dramas. Even transit and public housing, two high-profile issues, have been debated on an almost personal level regarding Ford’s credibility and character. Recently, the entire election campaign has threatened to be a referendum on his personal conduct and whether it reflects on his management.
To ease his own pain, an addict needs to stop using the substances that have come to dominate his life. But for those close by, the only solution is often (though, of course, not always) to wish the person well in his sobriety and move on with their own lives. Sometimes the wounds are too deep, the bonds of trust too thoroughly shredded, the habits of suspicion and resentment and fear that have arisen in self-defence too ingrained for the slate to ever be clean.
It’s one of the puzzling patterns you see in addiction-recovery programs: Someone winds up getting divorced after they become clean and sober. It could be that in the clear light of sobriety the former addict is still abusive and dishonest, and now there’s no alcohol or other substance to blame for the behaviour. Or sometimes it seems that recovery itself has changed a person, and their old relationships no longer make sense. But often it’s simply that, in order for those who have been close to the addict to get the same kind of fresh start, they need to let the painful past recede into memory rather than living and struggling with its constant reminders.
I think that’s the case with Toronto and Rob Ford. Our political agenda has come to be so dominated by him and his problems that even if he suddenly claims, as he has before, to be a changed man—even if, in fact, he turns out to actually be a changed man—we will be unable to see him that way. As long as he’s around, we’ll continue to reflexively think about ourselves as characters in his ongoing story of relapse and recovery. Like those in relationships with addicts everywhere, we’ve become too used to viewing all of our issues as they relate to managing our troubled relationship with him.
It’s entirely possible that Ford can get his affairs in order and go on to have a healthy and productive life. It’s also possible for Toronto to get its own affairs in order and get a fresh start. But I don’t think the two things can happen together. I hope that Ford is able to turn the page and start a new chapter in his personal history. But I also hope that even if he does, the electorate will realize we need to turn the page on him and begin work on the next chapter of our own.
HE SAID HE’D CHANGED
“Guaranteed. 100 per cent.”—Ford on being done with drinking, Nov. 18, 2013.
“A little bit, yeah.”—Ford on drinking, with regards to the Steak Queen video, Jan. 21, 2014.
“If you don’t get a shot in two seconds, I’m going to knock your f–king teeth out.”—Alleged recording of Ford on April 26, 2014.