The Rob Ford Complex

As I write this from London, UK, I feel as if my hometown of Toronto has never been so front and centre on the internationalmedia stage. Inevitably, media coverage is not always a positive thing, and in this case, it’s hard to imagine any positivity to it whatsoever. As most people in the Western world are currently learning, Toronto suffers from a problematic mayor, to say the least. In my opinion, he has been a thorn in the city’s side since first elected, but now it has become beyond control to the point that he is an international farce.

Photo of Rob Ford with Alexander Lisi (right) that sparked massive controversy.
Photo courtesy of L’Express:

            For those who might not know the full story, Rob Ford was first elected Mayor of Toronto in 2010, and previously served as a city councilor for the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke starting in 2000. Since his election, he has been a centre of controversy for drunken stupors and laughable errors of public image. What some may not know is that Ford began a degree at Carleton University in Ottawa to study political science and play on the football team. While he made the team, he never played, and eventually dropped out of university, and instead pursued a job at his family’s labeling and printing company. He coached high school football in Etobicoke, and continued to do so after his election.

While the international media have been primarily focused on his current drug and alcohol issues, they seem to fail to bring to the spotlight that Ford has been previously been threatened to be removed from office: in February of 2012, it was brought to the attention of the City Council that Ford has used city resources to raise money for the high school football team he coached. After voting, it was determined that Ford was to return the money to the donors, at which point Ford provided evidence that the donors did not want the money back. The City Council voted whether or not to drop the case, and they opted to do so. In September, however, a complaint was received that Ford voting in the matter created a conflict of interest. The trial appeared in front of the Ontario Superior Court, and Ford was removed from office with the right to appeal. Unsurprisingly, Ford did appeal, and it was upheld; when the plaintiff attempted to appeal, it was denied, and Ford remained in office.

Various other complaints and issues have erupted since Ford was elected mayor, including reports of verbal harassment to female council members, aggressive and irresponsible driving (texting while driving, road rage, etc), a run-in with a Canadian comedian during the filming of This Hour Has 22 Minutes – a Canadian comedy show aired on the CBC, and several public displays of belligerent intoxication at public events such as sports games and public holidays, among others. He also has a somewhat reckless history with a DUI in the state of Florida and arrest on the ground of supposed possession of marijuana.

So why is this belligerent, alcoholic buffoon so popular among Toronto residents (or at least why was he until recently)? Ford was elected with the promise of major budget cuts and a reduction of government spending. When first elected, he objected a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) hike, and pushed to cut the city’s expenditures in venues, such as the Sony Centre and the Toronto Zoo. In 2013, the city budget increased to $9.4 billion for operating expenses, but unlike previous years did not using past surplus to balance the budget. Individual departmental budgets decreased by $187 million and projected revenues increased by $251 million. Naturally with budget cuts has come labour union strikes, and in an effort to subdue this problem, Ford declared the TTC as an essential service, removing their right to strike (which reportedly costs the city $50 million per day when it occurs). In short, Ford is a Conservative’s dream, and labour party’s nightmare.

The issue at hand that has caught international attention began in May, 2013, when the American website Gawker claimed to possess a video that showed the mayor smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. The next day, the Toronto Star published an article stating that two reporters had viewed the video and confirmed the content of the video. The mayor was quick to deny the existence of the video, and deny all allegations that he had ever smoked crack cocaine. An initiative emerged to raise money to pay the owner to release the video to the public with a goal of $200,000.  Several news agencies also claimed to have been contacted with regards to purchasing the video. In late May, Gawker reported that they had lost contact with the owner of the video, and that the money raised by the city – which reached well over $200,000 – would be given to local charities. The case disappeared from the media for the following several months. Meanwhile, Ford continued his public displays of intoxication, with media being posted online of his inebriated condition at Toronto’s Taste of the Danforth Festival, to which the mayor replied that he had only had a few beers, and there was little reason for concern.

In October, 2013, the situation regarding the video surfaced when Ford’s friend and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi, was arrested with connection to a drug investigation. A picture formerly taken of Ford and Lisi also showed another man who was murdered in the previous months. Lisi was released on bail, but ceased evidence continued to be investigated by Toronto Police. Police chief Bill Blair confirmed that a recovered video that had been deleted from a laptop proved former allegations related to the mayor (from footage of the press conference, it is safe to say he was extremely careful with his wording of what exactly had been shown in the video, and released a minimal amount of information). Despite Blair’s conservative statement, Ford immediately went on the defense. With the trial of Lisi and the release of evidence to the public looming, six days after Blair’s statement, Ford finally admitted that it was a possibility that he may have smoked crack cocaine in one of his drunken stupors, and believed this to have happened. More video evidence of the mayor’s actions on several occasions continued to be purchased and released by the media. While continual jabs at Ford’s behaviour throughout his time in City Council emerged, Ford stuck to his defensive position, stating that he did not have a drinking problem and was still fit to be mayor, and repeatedly emphasizing what he has done for the taxpayer since elected on his weekly radio show – which has since been cancelled. Members of the City Council strongly disagreed however (of course with the exception of his brother, Doug Ford), and voted first to suggest that he take a leave of absence, and soon after stripped the mayor of most of his powers, making him little more than a figurehead for the city, with powers limited to those of a city councilor. Powers have now been given to the Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly, and while Ford has threatened to sue city councilors, media coverage has suggested that there is little chance he will succeed.

Now it seems Ford’s focus has turned to the next elections, which he claims he intends to run in. He is still making frequent appearances at public events, and has recently been photographed with a new personal trainer – who ironically has a criminal history of giving steroids to his clients. Despite city polls that suggest Ford has lost a majority approval rating by Toronto residents, it appears that the mayor is more popular than ever. International media are loving his ridiculous behaviour, with the likes of American late night TV hosts and SNL referencing Ford in their comedy over the past few weeks. Why am I so concerned with the state of the situation? I believe that unfortunately, the public is developing what I call the Rob Ford Complex. They are forgetting the political issues at hand and reveling in the popularity of the mockery that Toronto is being recognized for globally. I honestly believe that Ford stands a real chance of prevailing in the next election if he can capture enough media attention – either good or bad.

I would argue that the next election is going to come down to the competition; clearly there is a population in Toronto that wants a more conservative political platform. If there were to be a candidate that can deliver the same promises without the bad publicity, the city has a much better shot of ridding themselves of the problematic mayor and the Rob Ford Complex. In the last electoral election, 52% of registered voters turned out, and I think it is definitely plausible for that percentage to raise drastically next election if Rob Ford is in the running. The bottom line is that Toronto residents are actively engaging with this political saga, and only time will tell if this international media event really benefitted from being in the spotlight.

Interesting Articles and Comical Media Coverage:

Highlights from the SNL sketch:

An article on Rob Ford’s interview with Peter Mansbridge:

Article on Ford’s interview with NBC (to be read critically, no doubt):

Article on some of Ford’s quotes with video clips:

Comedic Spoof Video:


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