You may be familiar with the old Scottish proverb, “Open confession is good for the soul.” Well, here goes nothing:
“Hi. My name is Michael, and I used to be a Rob Ford supporter.”
All kidding aside, who is Ford? He’s the self-proclaimed “300 pounds of fun” currently serving as the 64th mayor of Toronto. A fiscal conservative with populist leanings, he was a penny-pinching city councilor for a decade who defended taxpayers and small businesses at every turn. Ford often put a smile on the faces of right-thinking Torontonians like me — and many others to boot.
He was elected mayor in the 2010 municipal election on a four-point plan of “putting people and families first, focusing on the fundamentals, reducing waste, and eliminating unnecessary taxes.” He championed fiscal prudence, greater transparency at city hall, reforms such as privatizing garbage collection and building more subways, and bringing an end to “the gravy train.”
In a city that has stubbornly promoted liberal platitudes throughout living memory, Toronto’s conservative mayor represented a fresh, exciting, and rather unexpected change of pace. Although he suffered some embarrassing ordeals, including a public attempt to lose weight that failed and a career-threatening conflict-of-interest case, he kept soldiering on to protect the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Alas, Ford’s important political and economic cleanup of Toronto has been completely derailed in recent weeks.
The mayor has received intense media coverage on Fox News, CNN, the BBC, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as well as in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, and many other outlets after acknowledging that he smoked crack cocaine once about a year ago in a “drunken stupor.” This stunning admission came six months after the gossip website Gawker and the Toronto Star, a left-leaning newspaper (and no friend of the mayor’s), reported that Ford had appeared in a video smoking the illegal substance.
At first, Ford denied this charge with great bravado. He told reporters at a May 24 news conference, “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine. As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist.”
This narrative dramatically changed as Ford’s links to — and, in some cases, friendships with — shady characters with criminal records became regular fodder for the mainstream media. Some city councilors publicly questioned his integrity and ability to lead. The reaction led Ford and his elder brother (and closest confidant) Doug, himself a city councilor, to claim that this so-called crack video was nothing more than a vast left-wing conspiracy.
Then came the real bombshell. On October 31, Toronto police chief Bill Blair revealed at a press conference that a computer hard drive seized during Project Traveller, a huge citywide police investigation centered on illegal guns and drugs, contained “video images which appear to be those images which were previously reported in the press with respect to events that took place.” The police chief said, “I think it’s fair to say that the mayor does appear in that video,” and further proclaimed, in a surprisingly honest and heartfelt assessment, “I’m disappointed.”
The scandal has continued to snowball since Ford’s admission. For example, the 400-page police-surveillance report included worrisome paragraphs and photographs about the mayor’s relationship with Alexander Lisi — a friend, occasional driver, and supposed drug dealer. Meanwhile, a second video surfaced showing Ford in yet another drunken stupor, doing a number of strange and (to date) unexplained things that resemble professional wrestling holds and UFC moves.
From my standpoint, it’s a sad state of affairs.
I voted for Ford in 2010. To be honest, I almost didn’t. My original choice was Rocco Rossi, a right-leaning Liberal who made similar commitments with respect to small government, fiscal prudence, and protecting taxpayers’ money. Why? I was concerned about Ford’s outlandish behavior in the past: calling fellow city councilor Giorgio Mammoliti a “Gino boy,” musing that women may be getting the AIDS virus by “sleeping with bisexual men,” and claiming that “Oriental people work like dogs. . . . They’re slowly taking over, because there’s no excuses for them.” When Rossi dropped out before election day, I immediately shifted my support to Ford, who had always been my second choice.
Unfortunately, my original concerns about Ford have been proven correct. Had he acknowledged his sins when the crack video first surfaced, and dealt with them, the matter could have been quickly resolved and his reelection plans would be in full swing. Instead, his serial lying about the video, combined with his refusal to temporarily step aside and seek help for his addiction problems, speaks volumes about the man. (Contrary to popular belief, there is no political or legal recourse to remove Ford from office. Unless he is convicted and jailed, he can serve out the remainder of his term.)
Ford’s antics have also turned Toronto, the fourth-largest city in North America, into a laughingstock, which could put the city’s economic viability at risk if this gong show continues for much longer.
While I continue to support Ford’s political and economic agenda, I can no longer support him as a standard-bearer for fiscal conservatism. Toronto-area conservatives need to find a new champion for these causes and ensure that the city stays on the right track. If not, another left-wing mayor could be riding a new version of the gravy train after next year’s municipal election.
That’s not a confession, by the way. It’s the cold, hard truth.
— Michael Taube is a Washington Times columnist, a political pundit on radio and TV, and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.