This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever publicly confessed to in my life, but I have to own up to it if I’m going to be a critic of the worst Mayor that our city has ever known (and he’s still got two more years to add to that legacy, unless Justice Hackland does the city a solid and spares us the rest of his term on the conflict-of-interest allegations). I can’t justifiably criticize his actions as mayor if I don’t own up to the fact that I, insofar as democracy allows, helped put him in that position.
I’ve been a voter for over a decade, and I’ve voted for each of the major political parties at one point or another. I don’t consider myself a single-issue voter, or a partisan for any party; I just try to evaluate the situation as best I can and cast my vote accordingly. Sometimes I’ve voted based on the party, other times I’ve voted based on the candidate, other times I’ve voted “strategically” (which always makes me feel particularly dirty, believe it or not). On a couple of occasions, I’ve even refused my ballot at the ballot box in protest; the fun thing about this manoeuvre is that you’re permitted to disclose your reasons for doing so if you so choose, and they have to record your reason in their records. In my case, it was written down as, “Equal disgust for all parties and candidates.” (Watching the Elections Canada official’s face as she wrote it down, word for word, was absolutely priceless.)
Back in 2010, during the Toronto municipal elections, I was following the candidates closely as the campaigning went along, and I watched as they dropped out, one by one, until there were only three candidates left – Joe Pantalone, George Smitherman, and Rob Ford. Pantalone was never really an option in my mind, because he didn’t seem to offer anything different from David Miller, and having watched taxes increase considerably under Miller’s watch, I wasn’t inclined to let the trend continue. So it really came down to two people – Smitherman and Ford.
I never had much respect for Smitherman when he was involved with the Ontario Liberals. He always seemed pushy, aggressive, and incredibly self-serving. He never gave me the indication that he had anyone’s interests in mind other than his own, and when he left Ontario politics to run for mayor, I couldn’t understand why he was doing it. He never gave me any indication he wanted the job to benefit the city, and it seemed like he only wanted it for his own sake. I had met him at a couple of charity functions and spoken to him during the 2007 Ontario election debates, and he never gave me any reason to like him or to trust him at all. He seemed like just another privileged white male politician, and the fact that he was gay didn’t make me like him any better, despite my strong support for LGBTQ rights and my own involvement in the community. Frankly, the only person it seemed that Smitherman wanted to serve as mayor was Smitherman himself, and I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for him.
So, I considered the alternative – Rob Ford. I had followed his career as a counsellor for quite some time, and I had met him when he was helping to bring funds to sports programs in underserved communities. He seemed blustery and obstinate even then, and his character flaws were apparent, but he actually seemed sincere more often than not. I knew he had the appearance of practicing fiscal restraint, which was something that really appealed to me. I was especially pissed off about the Personal Vehicle Tax, which angered me greatly, and I watched as privatized garbage pickup continued in Etobicoke (where I’ve lived my whole life) while downtown started to rot under the smell of all the leftover garbage. The Pride Parade (one of my favourite events of the year) was damned near ruined by the horrible stench in the air, and I detested Miller for letting the strike go on for so long, only to capitulate later and give the unions a better deal than the one that was tabled before the strike. It left a bitter taste in my mouth – literally and figuratively – and I was angry enough to cross my fingers and hope that Ford would bring about some sort of improvement. I saw him as the gadfly of City Council, pointing out their errors without worrying about how people regarded him personally, and I hoped against hope that he would rise to the occasion if he became the mayor. I thought that maybe, just maybe, he would become a leader instead of a critic, one who acted according to the principles he claimed to abide by, and would bring the rest of the city in line with his approach.
Oh, but how wrong I was! From the moment he had Don Cherry – seriously, Don F*%&ng Cherry?!?!? – come in and make that ridiculous “Pinko commie” speech while swearing Ford into office, his tenure as Mayor has been a complete disaster. One stupid act after another, without a hint of contrition or accountability when he’s been caught in a lie, or after he makes a mistake. I won’t bother to re-hash all his missteps – this blog post would go on forever if I did – but he’s quite literally failed at everything he’s tried to do since he was sworn in. But that’s not the worst part; somehow, despite everything he’s done, he still has an inexplicable amount of support from his constituents, particularly those outside the downtown core.
The crux of the problem is this; I didn’t vote for Ford because he was the best candidate, but more because he appeared to be the least-bad candidate. The alternatives didn’t provide me with any reason to support them, other than the fact that they weren’t Rob Ford. This will be a major challenge in 2014; no matter how badly he continues to screw up, Ford still has a loyal base of supporters who will vote for him no matter what, and if the other candidates don’t present a reasonable alternative that isn’t a complete polar opposite to him, then he still has a chance of winning a second term, incredible as that sounds. If Rob Ford and Adam Vaughn squared off in an election tomorrow, mark my words: Ford would still win, even in spite of all of his nonsense. There’s simply nobody on the left who can beat him just by being his opposite; Ford won because Toronto saw its politics swinging way too far to the left, so they went with a far-right candidate to compensate. The same thing happened after Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government ended; the result was not just one, but two terms of Mike Harris, who tapped into the same reactionary suburban anger that Ford has managed to harness.
The ONLY WAY Ford will be beaten is if there’s a moderate, centrist candidate to run against him, perhaps Karen Stintz or John Tory or Doug Holiday or Michelle Bernadetti. That’s the only candidate that will make people comfortable about voting with both their brains and their wallets. If the only alternative is perceived to be another Miller clone, like Vaughn or Pantalone, then people will convince themselves that Ford’s screw-ups and corruption are tolerable, as long as their taxes don’t go through the roof. That’s exactly what happened to me, and even though I personally wouldn’t vote for him again, I’d have a hard time swallowing a large tax increase just to avoid never seeing Ford again. A lot of people wouldn’t even bother to vote – except the Ford hardliners who desperately want to convince themselves that they didn’t make a mistake the first time, so they’ll double-down on their first bet in hopes that it comes up a winner the second time around. They’ll convince themselves that they’re ok with his corruption because he’s still not as bad as his opponents, and even if he’s an embarrassment, at least they won’t have to pay a $60 Personal Vehicle Tax.
There’s a joke about Ford Motors, which claims that Ford stands for “Fix Or Repair Daily”. Too bad Rob Ford can’t do the same – he’s unable to fix his ignorant behaviours, and he’s unwilling to repair his badly-tarnished image by owning up to his mistakes. He’s far too obstinate for a leadership position of any kind, and it seems he’s more eager to act as a divisive figure than a consensus-builder. The whole “You’re with us or against us” mentality runs strong in the Ford family, and his mayoralty has been a train wreck from the very beginning – tragic, sad, and impossible to tear your eyes away from.
Here are a couple of tweets I’ve sent out that illustrate my perspective on the matter:
I wish that once – just once – I’d see “Rob Ford” trending for a good reason, rather than another screwup. What an embarrassment.
— Nikki Thomas (@MsNikkiThomas) September 19, 2012
I’m starting to think that Rob and Doug Ford share a brain… And that their brain used to belong to a chicken. #TOpoli
— Nikki Thomas (@MsNikkiThomas) September 14, 2012
I’ve since been informed that the latter quote is actually insulting to chickens, but the sentiment is still the same. I really love Toronto, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and I genuinely wish that Ford would do something that we could actually be proud about. Perhaps it’s true that all power corrupts, and in Ford’s case, this might be the case; or perhaps he’s always been a hypocrite, and it’s just that he’s under a more powerful microscope now that he’s the Mayor. Regardless, his tenure as Mayor has been marked by one ridiculous screw-up after another, and he’s truly become an embarrassment beyond all expectations. As much as I dislike him for his incompetence, I’m not keen to let my city suffer for two more years just to make it easier to get rid of him – maybe I want to have my cake and eat it too, by having him function as a somewhat-decent and occasionally-contrite Mayor who at least does some good before he gets voted out in 2014.
I think I’ve exhausted all hope, and I’ll have to resign myself to waiting for the day when someone else takes the job. I don’t care who – Karen Stintz, Joe Tory, Doug Holiday, even the inanimate carbon rod from The Simpsons – at this point, anyone would be better than Ford. I just wish I knew that before I voted for him two years ago.