Not any more

Chris Selley: Scandal won’t stop Ford, nor should it

In Canada on August 20, 2010 at 09:55

If drinking and driving couldn’t bring down Gordon Campbell, and an addiction to "party drugs" couldn’t bring down George Smitherman, drinking and driving with a joint in his pocket seems very unlikely to bring down Rob Ford.

His two previous criminal charges were already common knowledge, one for a hockey-related fight when he was 18 and one for assaulting his wife. Also on the record were his Ralph Klein-esque berating of homeless people, his Bobby Knightesque coaching strategies, his drunken buffoonery at a Maple Leafs game, his impossibly juvenile squabbles with other councillors, his politically incorrect utterances about Asian-Canadians and people with AIDS…. The list goes on.

The fact he claimed not to have remembered being charged with marijuana possession because he was more concerned about being charged with failing to provide a breath sample — he was actually charged with, and pleaded guilty to, driving under the influence — might indeed turn out to be problematic.

Cumulatively, eventually, these foibles, and especially his talent for not owning up to them until absolutely necessary, are quite likely to keep him out of the mayor’s office. But there’s no reason to believe this will immediately impact his front-runner position in the mayoral race. While Mr. Campbell’s good name was severely damaged, clearly the quality of Mr. Ford’s name is largely beside the point—or he wouldn’t be where he is in the polls in the first place.

It’s obvious that much of Mr. Ford’s popular support thus far exists as a protest against David Miller, his would-be successors and the political class in general. The city’s Executive Committee opened a window into Mr. Ford’s appeal this week when it expressed unanimous support for building the continent’s tallest flagpole, which would fly the world’s largest flag, at Finch Avenue and Highway 400.

This will be a tourist attraction — a tourist attraction … at Finch Avenue and Highway 400. (For the record, the world’s tallest flagpole is currently in Jordan, soon to be usurped by flagpoles in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. That’s our competition. It’s like the Pan Am Games of roadside attractions.)

Thiswon’t cost us any money, ostensibly. It’s to be funded by private business (though who knows how much it’s already cost in staff and councillors’ time?). But, arguably anyway, it’s a fundamentally silly idea for politicians presiding over a city in financial crisis to even be talking about. One can just picture Mr. Ford railing against it — if only because it’s the brainchild of Giorgio Mammoliti, his arch-nemesis on council—and one can picture people nodding in cynical agreement.

But Mr. Ford is tapping into something far less cynical, too — the aforementioned fiscal crisis. Also this week, the Executive Committee reinstated funding for Toronto’s two piddling ski hills. (The city had put their operation out to private tender but, shockingly, there wasn’t a single bid.) "Should we only allow skiing and snowboarding for rich kids?" Councillor Janet Davis asked rhetorically. "Absolutely not."

Replace "skiing and snowboarding" in that sentence with, say, "polo," or "hot-air ballooning," and she’d never have said it. But she’s out to protect the status quo, even if it’s going to cost the city $600,000 over two years that it just plain doesn’t have. The municipal cupboard is bare, except for mountains of debt. Blame whomever you want. Mr. Ford is the one shouting it while his fellow candidates debate bike lanes and funding models for new subway construction that most Torontonians are quite sure will come to naught.

There’s certainly an appeal to spite in Mr. Ford’s promises to halt the gravy train, end the party, wrestle the pigs away from the trough. But there’s also a burning need. The city’s broke, and every $600,000 it spends makes it $600,000 broker. Someone has to wave his arms frantically about that situation, and for now that’s Mr. Ford. Until Torontonians start asking themselves if a man who’s been arrested so often he’s forgotten some of them is capable of making the situation any better, his frontrunner status doesn’t seem to be much in peril.

National Post


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