The increasingly obscene spectacle of Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s self-immolation raises unavoidable questions about democratic governance. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi – Prime Minister and not merely mayor – faced criminal charges, which is how he was ousted. But why can’t a morally corrupt politician be removed outright?
It has taken just three years for Rob Ford to bring down disrepute and scorn on the city of Toronto. As an outsider Ford was elected mayor at the end of 2010 with strong backing from his suburban neighbourhood. Before becoming mayor, Ford was city councillor for a ward in the Toronto district of Etobicoke. First elected in the 2000 Toronto municipal election, he was re-elected to his council seat in 2003 and again in 2006. His brother Doug Ford, Jr. is currently a Toronto city councillor. Ford’s father was also a politician and served as Member of the Provincial Parliament of Ontario. The Ford family owns Deco Labels, a multi-national labelling and printing company, the source of Ford’s personal wealth.
Ford has been the subject of numerous personal and work-related controversies and legal proceedings, including a conflict of interest trial that nearly removed him from office, accusations of sexual assault, accusations of campaign fund irregularities, and repeated allegations of substance abuse. All of this was widely reported in the national and international media. The allegations were eventually admitted by Ford, who said he did use crack cocaine, “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” Ford has persistently refused to resign, leaving Toronto City Council to vote (after much delay) to remove certain powers from Ford and grant them to the Deputy Mayor for the remainder of Ford’s term.
The Canadian press has been highly critical of these shenanigans. An editorial in the Toronto Star said: “If you can’t get rid of an ogre, at least weaken him and lessen the damage he does,” referring to the measures then being considered by the Council to curb his powers. The editorial added, “The proposed actions aren’t enough, of course. Anything that leaves this abusive, drunken, drug-using, out-of-control con man at the helm of Canada’s largest city necessarily falls short.”
The Globe and Mail supported Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s suggestion that Toronto ask the provincial government to intervene: “City council alone can’t save Toronto from its disgrace of a mayor. But together with [the Council], it can.”
A report in the National Post pointed to flaws in the Toronto police probe into allegations surrounding Rob Ford’s life-style: “The police did by the back door what for some reason they were unwilling to do by the front, that is, with an arrest and charge.”
In November 2013 Toronto Life Magazine offered an in depth profile of this extraordinarily unpleasant and disastrous mayor. It is a portrait of rags-to-riches empire-building and skewed politics. Clearly – at least for all sane Torontonians – Rob Ford will be out of politics big time. Ford Nation? Give us a break!
Yet the problem remains: how to prevent the same thing recurring in future. The whole sorry saga is a salutary lesson for other cities – and perhaps even other nations, where public accountability, corruption, and impunity are high on their to do list.