Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Toronto politics will be worse for Rob Ford not being a part of it
Rob Ford boasted that he was the greatest mayor in the history of Toronto. In many ways, that's true. He was certainly its most famous and had people the world over talking about his city. For a town like Toronto that has had a massive inferiority complex since the dismal, seemingly interminable mayoralty of Art Eggleton in the 1980's, the fame Rob Ford brought to Toronto was a bitter irony.
Rob Ford lost his battle with cancer this week and died at the age of 46. He served as a city councilor for 10 years and mayor for one term. It might have been two, but his cancer diagnosis brought his 2014 reelection bid to an abrupt halt.
For many people, what distinguished Ford's time as a politician, particularly while mayor, was his erratic behavior, which came to a head with an admission of crack smoking while in office. But for those who knew him and followed his career, what really distinguished Ford was a relentless dedication to serving the people of Toronto and ensuring that their taxes were not squandered and were spent rationally and fairly.
That dedication threatened a lot of his colleagues, many of whom are clearly corrupt and use their positions to feather their own nests and those of their friends in various special interest organizations and in the development business.
Toronto's vacuous, biased, crooked, image-obsessed media eagerly joined in on the Ford-bashing, because the rough-around-the edges populist from Etobicoke didn't match their image of the way they wanted to be perceived. The downtown media is all about image and very little about substance. But the voters of the city, the ones whose main concern wasn't to be seen as virtue-signalling social justice warriors, saw something different in Ford. They saw someone who was like them. They saw a man who would stay up late at night to return phone calls from his constituents, and to try to make sure that City Hall treated them fairly.
There's a difference between lying and bullshitting. Rob Ford would bullshit with exaggerations of how much money he saved the city, or aspects of his personal life that had nothing to do with governing. But he never lied to the public about what he wanted to do as either a City Councilor or as mayor. He didn't make campaign promises he didn't at least try to keep.
That was the big difference between Ford and every single one of his City Council colleagues, who have no shame about campaigning with political promises they have no intention of honoring.
Rob Ford's supporters recognized that they had a champion who was different than the hacks at City Hall who professed to have a "vision," and were determined to impose their idea of what Toronto should be on the rest of us. Ford thought that listening to what people want and trying to get it for them was a more important quality in a politician than telling them what they should want. It was that quality that kept him popular, no matter how hysterically the media, like The Toronto Star, would rail against him. It's what made him popular despite his admission of crack smoking.
I interviewed Ford at length while he ran for mayor in 2010, and he was someone who was totally straightforward and without guile. When I asked him if he thought there was corruption at Toronto's City Hall, he came right out and said there was.
The media and some of his colleagues tried to condemn him for calling out that corruption. But the voters knew better.
Now we can go back to the farce of municipal politicians with a bad case of New York Envy protesting that they are representing "a world class city," oblivious to the obvious that world class cities don't have to continually bluster about their status.
We're going to see some crocodile tears and nauseating hypocrisy from City Council now that Ford has left us. But in their hearts, though they may be celebrating that Rob Ford will no longer be around to hold City Hall to accountability, deep down, they know he was better, more honest, and more of a dedicated public servant than any one of them.