I was recently thinking about the idea that there is a level of decorum and behaviour among our elected and appointed officials that has seriously fallen by the wayside over the last few years.
Rob Ford was the first to take it to an art form. Something wild happens, then a flurry of questions about it and then the next day it’s on to the next wild thing. It’s a news cycle centred around one person, and often their non-job related behaviour is what gets them in trouble the most. The Rob Ford incident file provided by Toronto editor Peter Lynn stands as (an incomplete) testament to an era where literally anything was possible.
If you were to have heard in 2011 that a lion escaped from the Toronto Zoo because Rob Ford let him out, you would probably not think anything of it, other than “there he goes again.”
We forget the near daily level of wild behaviour that came from the office of the Toronto mayor during his tumultuous one term of office and the jaw-dropping resume of nearly as wild behaviour that preceded it.
It’s not often my place to speak ill of the dead but Rob Ford was an ill-tempered, foul-mouthed buffoon and would have been proud of most of that reputation. There wasn’t a lot of positivity in his campaigns for Toronto city council, but repeatedly telling people you’re in politics for the little guy and then promising to lower taxes? Heck, even if you don’t actually lower the taxes paid by people, who can resist?
As a councillor in 2006, he was removed from a Toronto Maple Leafs game by security for drunken belligerence.
In 2008, he commented thusly about Asians: “Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out. They are workers non-stop. They sleep beside their machines. That’s why they’re successful in life. I went to Seoul, South Korea, I went to Taipei, Taiwan. I went to Tokyo, Japan. That’s why these people are so hard workers. I’m telling you, the Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over.”
Was this during a Thanksgiving post-meal, post-drinks discussion between family members? Was this during a private conversation between old university friends? No, it was during a city council debate on holiday shopping hours. I’m not sure if this was meant as a compliment towards Asian peoples or what but it was clearly forgivable because this man was elected mayor not long after.
Not that the election campaign wasn’t fraught with its own issues. He was found to be improperly paying his campaign expenses, borrowed money from his family’s holding company, exceeded the spending limit and accepted corporate contributions.
In 2012, he stood trial for using city letterhead and official council and city resources to help raise money for the football team he coached. Ordered not to do so again, he was found to be doing the exact same thing a few months later. Ford claimed that players on that team would be dead or in jail without his coaching, and that was disputed by some of those players. He’s finally mercifully released of his coaching duties by the school.
And then there was the Gawker video incident. In May 2013, he was shown to be smoking crack cocaine while making homophobic statements and slurs against minorities.
Later in May, his staffers handed out “Rob Ford: Mayor” promotional magnets to those attending the funeral of Toronto Sun founding editor Peter Worthington. He fired his chief of staff, Mark Twohey, for suggesting Ford enter rehab after Ford says to get the equipment he donated from the school that fired him.
That same month was also the statement from Ford in a press conference that he can’t comment on a video that he has “never seen or doesn’t exist.”
Finally, in November, Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine “in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago”, and concluded the announcement with saying he’d be running for mayor again the following year.
The idea of an elected public official saying and doing these things would have been considered lunacy a decade or so before this but in a lot of ways, the late Rob Ford paved the way for what you see today. Heck, he might have won the 2014 re-election campaign before a cancer diagnosis snuffed that out.
So with Thanksgiving in our rear view mirror, we all have that person in our lives who says cringe-worthy things we know aren’t truthful or right.
But don’t worry at all if that uncle is ranting, belligerent and possibly addicted to alcohol and other substances, he might be a mayor or premier someday. As long as he promises to lower your taxes, he’s good to go.