How conservative politics and media created the Rob Ford monster
by Stephen LaRose
“You have to get these people into rehabilitation and if they don’t want to go, well, then you just enforce the law. If it’s illegal, you arrest them. That’s the bottom line and if they have to dry out in jail? Great.” —Then- councillor Rob Ford in October 2005, ridiculing a Toronto Public Health report recommending harm-reduction approaches such as safer-use crack kits.
“I say he’s going to be the greatest mayor this city has ever, ever seen, as far as I’m concerned. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it, you left-wing kooks.” —Hockey Night in Canada philosopher Don Cherry, during His Worship Rob Ford’s November 2010 inauguration.
“It seems like I’ve been playing your game way too long /And it seems the game I played has made you strong /When the game is over I won’t walk out the loser /I know I’ll walk out of here again /I know someday I’ll walk out of here again.” —Jimmy Cliff, “Trapped”
“I am a sick motherfucker.” —Rob Ford in a video of unknown date and origin, posted on the Toronto Star website Nov. 7, 2013.
If Toronto was a sovereign nation, a U.S. Navy SEAL team would have captured Rob Ford and his supporters and carried them off to trial — like what happened to Panama’s General Manuel Noriega in 1989 and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003. If Toronto was an Indian reserve, the federal government would have padlocked the band office’s doors, audited the council and put it under third-party administration. And most of the district’s non-aboriginals would use Chief Ford’s buffoonery to mock the idea that “those people” could ever govern themselves.
But Toronto is a mere municipality, so it’s now left to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, city council and the business community to formulate the correct ratio of lawyers, guns and money necessary to remove a duly elected drunken clown from the political office he apparently craves more than life itself.
The son of money and politics, Rob Ford runs amok through the corridors of power — a Frankenstein monster with the transplanted brain of a crack addict and no ‘off’ switch. He’s now a citizen in good standing of the Tyson Zone, so defined by urbandictionary.com as “the point at which a celebrity’s behaviour becomes so insane, that there is literally nothing they could do that would any longer shock or surprise you, or indeed any human being.”
In a video so far seen only by two Toronto Star reporters, a Gawker.com stringer, officials from the Toronto Police Service and the Ontario Crown Prosecutors’ office, and a few dozen cogs in suburban Toronto’s drug wheel, Ford is reportedly observed with three members of the Dixon City Bloods, a small street gang from Etobicoke’s Somali community. In the video, the mayor of North America’s fourth-largest city reportedly smokes something from a crack pipe and calls Liberal leader Justin Trudeau a “faggot”.
Of the four caught on video, Mayor Ford is the only one who is, as of press time, not dead or in jail.
On the bright side, the Rob Ford saga is proof that the written word, in the form of newspapers, still has some power in the age of spin doctors and social media. The Star, Canada’s largest circulating newspaper, made their journalistic bones by carrying this story to its inevitable conclusion that Mayor Ford — who has lied about everything from a drunk driving arrest in Florida in 1999 to an altercation during a Leafs game in 2007 to all the money he has saved Toronto taxpayers as mayor — was also lying about his associations with these drug dealers and the video evidence that proves it.
On the not-so bright side, much of Toronto’s mainstream journalistic community dismissed the Star’s coverage as a vendetta against Ford in particular and conservative political thought and practice in general. Until Toronto Police Service Chief Bill Blair announced in a Halloween press conference that his officers recovered the hard drive containing the video, The Star had the field mostly to itself*.
MEDIA SNOOZES, MEDIA LOSES
Back in the old days, newspapers had their biases, yes, but they had newsrooms filled with people busting their asses to get the truth (think of the intense and legendary media battles between the now-defunct Toronto Telegram, The Star and The Globe and Mail). There would have been intense competition to get this story.
Instead, The Toronto Sun and The National Post, and to a lesser extent The Globe and Mail, avoided the Rob Ford crack scandal because their editors, their publishers and their corporate owners didn’t want to know. Those media would rather speak power to truth than truth to power. They had built their newspapers’ view of the world around the idea that The Right Is Always Right. Since Rob Ford was right-of-centre, better him in the mayor’s chair than some granola-eating hippie, Birkenstock-wearing environmentalist, spandex-clad hipster bicyclist, supposed unreconstructed Marxist-Leninist or lesbian feminist who won’t shave her legs.
Ford may be a little off the wall, they’d say, but he’s a Our Guy. Until he’s not.
Even now, for all the ink and pixels shed on Rob Ford’s behaviour, there’s little examination on where Ford came from, politically. For all his bluster about standing up for the little guy, Ford is the product of two powerful big business-oriented political machines — the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada, both of whom backed his mayoralty bid. Ford is the part owner of Deco Labelling, a business with $100 million a year in sales. His father, Doug Ford Sr., who founded and built Deco Labelling, was Etobicoke’s Conservative Member of the Provincial Parliament during the Mike Harris government in the 1990s.
With that kind of financial and political backing, Darwin the IKEA money could’ve been elected mayor — all he’d have to do is follow the script.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE
This will not end well. In a Nov. 7 interview with Canadian Press, the most that Ford’s mother and sister would concede was that Robbie has a weight problem. The family doesn’t want him to resign as mayor (although his brother Doug finally said he should take “a week, a couple of weeks” off), nor do they consider him an addict, at least publicly. They don’t want to stop their political gravy train, in which their son and brother is the overworked engine whose boilers are about to blow. Their behaviour is reminiscent of the ‘Memphis Mafia’, who isolated Elvis from people who could have treated his drinking, his drugs and his depression, and instead worked the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll to an early grave.
Ford will not leave easily. He’s addicted to the spotlight of politics, and can’t imagine a life outside the only world where he’s had any real success and adulation. And he still has his legion of angry, dimwitted followers. They defend Ford — even now — the same way a battered wife of a rageaholic husband would assure the kids, the neighbours, the police and the emergency ward doctors that Deep Down, He’s a Real Nice Guy. Just confused, sometimes. As the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart said, that makes them “enablers, eh?”
No city with an economy the size of Sweden can function when its head of government is one step away from a mental health incarceration order. The real story is not what’s going to happen to Rob Ford. He will die an early death, from the effects of drugs or alcohol, or his obesity. The real story is the broken political culture that elected this troubled and unqualified mayor in the first place.
*Along with the Star, Toronto alternative newsweekly Now has been essential reading for anyone following the Rob Ford saga. You can read the paper online at nowtoronto.com.