|Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on October 30, 2014 at 1:20 AM|
On October 21, I was a guest of a Parliamentary Committee within the precincts of the Canadian Federal Parliament in Ottawa. I testified on Bill C-18 (Agriculture Growth Act). The next day, hell was let loose on Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa, no thanks to a gun man that kept University of Ottawa, the entire federal bureaucracy and historic symbols of Canadian democracy on the edge for well over 10 hours after killing a young soldier on duty. The 24-year unarmed soldier was at the National War Memorial keeping a ceremonial guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The events of October 22 placed Canada on a spotlight in the new wave of terrorism across the globe. For Ottawans and Ottawa, those events depict a people and a town not accustomed to fear embracing the reality of it while the city’s putative innocence was violated.
As Canada grapples with the reality of its vulnerability, I switch over to today’s municipal elections in Toronto (Canada’s largest city), and elsewhere in Canada, including Ottawa (the federal capital). Toronto is a global city, one of the world’s most culturally diverse. Many mistake Toronto as the capital of Canada because of its status as that country’s foremost melting pot. But Toronto has been in the news recently, not because of its status as a foremost North American commercial hub, but because of its infamous mayor, Rob Ford. Ford has been on the limelight for many wrong reasons, serving as a butt of joke for global fraternity of comedians on how not to be a mayor. A friend once joked about how he introduced himself at a conference to a couple of peers. The latter accused him of feigning to be from Ottawa instead of Toronto because of Mayor Ford’s ignominy. Over 2013, many mentioned how discussions involving Canadians within and without Canada are easily short-changed by a more exciting topic: Mayor Rob Ford and his indiscretions.
Rob Ford was elected Toronto mayor in 2010, with 47 per cent of total mayoral votes. His closest rival polled 36 per cent. The son of a populist conservative Ontario provincial parliamentarian, the late Doug Ford Sr., Rob served for 10 years as the councillor for Etobicoke North (Ward 2) in Toronto before he was elected Mayor in Toronto Municipal Council where his elder brother Doug Ford Jr. also serves. The Fords are members of a political family with strong passionate supporters unofficially known as the Ford Nation. The imposing mayor embraced the turbulent world of political infamy and international notoriety through his scandal-plagued tenure. From admitting to smoking crack cocaine (after lying about it) and involvement with suspect illicit drugs and dealers, Ford was alleged to have driven under the influence (DUI), of speaking race and gender sensitive profanities among others. Save for a civil action over conflict of interest involving money collected for his private football foundation (for which he was absolved on appeal) and a 1999 no contest DUI charge in Florida, Ford was neither charged nor convicted on the basis of several allegations that dogged his mayoral stewardship.
Mayor Ford’s crises climaxed a year ago when council voted to strip him of his powers and to prune his staff. The major has through the entire saga buckled under pressure, breaking out in tears, offering public apologies now and again. Yet, he had remained defiant. Despite checking himself to rehab for his alcohol addiction problem, the mayor refused to resign his position. Instead, he determined to serve out his term and seek a new mandate. Ford was on the ballot for a second mandate until fate played him a rude card – he was diagnosed with cancer! The warrior was forced to reluctantly choose one battle as he dropped another. The mayor fully took on the cancer in ongoing battle for his physical and biological life. Now undergoing chemotherapy, a physically weakened Rob Ford did not fully drop politics. He abridged his political battle. While passing onto his elder brother the torch for the mayoral contest, he shunted his nephew off his former seat in council. Mayor Ford is still on the ballot as a councillor while his elder brother takes a shot at Toronto mayoralty contest.
The Rob Ford saga reflects hypocrisy in society’s preference for secularity of politics while fiercely intolerant of the moral fallibility of political actors. We insist upon the sanctity of political secularity, and still look up to politicians from a judgmental moral lens. But politicians are secular and not moral leaders. Even then, only a few statesmen are able to match strong moral profile with leadership integrity. The truth is that there are few statesmen among politicians. As a secular enterprise, politics is for secular actors. Politicians are like most of us – ordinary folk, and vulnerable to fair bits of indiscretion. For some, like Rob Ford, those indiscretions come in undue excesses. Only the electorate determines the price of such indiscretions, not the press.
Despite Ford’s notoriety, his Ford Nation following remains unwavering. His consistent commitment to lower taxes, fight against office perks, reduction of fiscal waste and outsourcing of city services for efficient results are his trademark of popular endearment. Perhaps, more importantly, Mayor Ford’s strongest appeal is his personal, repeat personal, attention and willingness to attend to his constituents’ needs as a hallmark of his commitment to public service. As the Toronto mayoral race draws close to the finishing line, polls show Doug Ford Jr. in the second position, trailing veteran contestant, John Tory, while Olivier Chow remains third. This is despite the dramatic turn in the Ford Nation camp and sudden but late drafting of Doug Ford Jr. into the mayoral race.
As Torontonians finally bid Rob Ford an official farewell from the City Hall as their mayor, there are some lessons to learn from the Ford foibles. First, the Fords reflect commitment to family unity through hell and high water. Second, there is something to be said about constituency’s hunger for politicians with commitment to service despite their foibles. Third, Rob Ford’s fall from grace is a factor perhaps of his excesses taken too far than of his failings on the political front. Third, for a guy who has publicly wept times over for his failings, we know that politicians are humans not aliens. Fourth, Mayor Ford’s battle with cancer invokes our deepest sympathies. Torontonians, Canadians and the rest of the world in whose theatre Ford performed lately certainly wish him a victory on that battle front even as he loses out as the mayor.
In carriage, polish and sagacity, Rob Ford hardly matches the profile of a politician in the age of political correctness. His legacy includes public rage, stupor, drunkenness, and public outbursts against marginalized segments of Toronto community. The end of Fords’ drama provides the city an opportunity for democratic renewal and some break from the Ford Nation, even if only from the mayoralty.
This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Monday October 27 under the title: Mayor Ford: Good Bye from Toronto Mayoralty.