By Kinton Cheung
No matter what transgression Rob Ford makes, no matter what “drunken stupor” he engages in, and no matter what bombshell revelations are revealed (another one, this time about his alleged drunk driving, buying “illegal drugs” during his mayoralty, and even dealing with prostitutes at City Hall), there seems to be a group of Ford Nation supporters who stand by their mayor. An Ipsos Reid poll published Thursday showed that if there was an election today, Ford would still get 33% of the vote.
The question naturally arises: why does Ford Nation continue to support an otherwise embattled mayor? Where does his “Kevlar-ness” come from?
To Ford Nation, there lies a clear distinction between Rob Ford the person and Rob Ford the politician. Rob Ford the person is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. No one with an iota of morality would condone his behavior, for as the police documents released have shown, Ford not only does crack cocaine, receiving suspicious packages in gas stations and school parking lots late at night, but has also written unsavory character references on city letterhead for Alexander “Sandro” Lisi, a suspected drug dealer with a violent past, and urinated in public.
Even Ford doesn’t dispute that himself. Reading from a prepared statement on his radio show The City two Sundays ago, Ford said that “I’m the first one to admit I am not perfect. I have made mistakes and all I can do right now is apologize for the mistakes.” And during Wednesday’s heated council meeting, Ford came clean, saying “Yes, I have bought (illegal) drugs (in the past two years)”.
And while those who claim that Torontonians have the right to not expect borderline criminal behavior from the mayor have a point, his supporters quickly point out the tremendous strides forward the city has taken under the leadership of Rob Ford, the politician. For all of Rob Ford the person’s transgressions over the past three years, from distracted driving to being “publicly inebriated” on the Danforth and more, he has done the one job that he was elected to do well: do what’s right for hard-working taxpayers, wage a war against unions, and stop the gravy train at City Hall.
Sure, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Ford to take a brief leave of absence to deal with his personal issues, but Ford Nation scoffs at the idea of him resigning, for he is helping Toronto climb out of the mess that once-NDP-member David Miller has left behind. In fact, they claim that the mayor has been the unfortunate victim of an overzealous, biased media – particularly the Toronto Star who, by engaging in yellow journalism, has abandoned the most basic tenets of journalistic integrity.
Ford Nation much prefers a mayor who aggressively fights for taxpayers, cuts costs, and stops the reckless spending that happened under the Miller administration and may occasionally go on “drunken stupors” than a mayor who treats taxpayers as some puppet to be exploited from. The most hardcore of the bunch would go as far as to argue that Rob Ford the politician has been the best mayor Toronto has had the pleasure of having.
Ford opponents may jeer and be ashamed by Ford’s crack habits, but his supporters view these as misdemeanors compared to the numerous “shameful fiscal crimes” that David Miller’s administration unleashed on Toronto’s coffers. Under the seven years of David Miller’s administration, Toronto’s operating budget increased 43%. The city debt skyrocketed 176% under Miller’s watch. In the first three years of his mayoralty, Toronto’s budget climbed from $6.6 billion in 2004 to $7.6 billion, money that many Torontonians believe went to appease CUPE members with higher wages and more perks while working less. The union workers, so accustomed to Miller handing out yearly wage increases that were wildly out of sync with inflation, grew so accustomed that they would go on strike every time their demands weren’t met. Is it a mere coincidence that the TTC had only one strike between 1991 and 2003, the year Miller took office, but then two strikes in three years (2006 and 2008), including a wildcat strike that left over 1.3 million commuters looking for an alternative means of transport during one morning rush, effectively paralyzing Toronto? And would Rob Ford ever allow these strikes to happen?
Where does the increased salary come from? The hard-working taxpayers, of course! Miller raised the property tax every single year he was in office by 3%, a far cry from the property tax freeze that Ford has championed. True, Ford is planning to raise taxes by 1.6% next year, but at least the money is going towards a tangible, badly needed capital project that is the Scarborough subway and not towards propping up CUPE members. Miller has also used the City of Toronto Act passed in 2004 and the new taxation powers that came with it to establish new, unprecedented taxes and fees (the vehicle registration and land transfer taxes, along with taking off garbage from the property tax and implementing a new garbage pickup fee) to, as columnist Sue-Ann Levy put it, “trick residents into thinking they weren’t paying for more”. A major Ford Nation Facebook page is littered with jabs at the Liberal Party for not one, but two billion-dollar-wasting scandals: the eHealth scandal in 2009, and the recent gas plant cancellation and the subsequent potentially criminal cover-up. The page proudly proclaims: “Detectives from the Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets division are scheduled to visit the office of Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s unelected premier, as part of a criminal investigation into deleted gas plant emails.”
Ford supporters are also bitter at the 39-day garbage strike that left public garbage bins uncollected and turned parks into ad-hoc garbage dumps. Things became so unsanitary that Toronto was listed on a travel advisory. In fact, Dr. Alliston McGeer, head of infection control at Mount Sinai hospital, stated that more Torontonians will die from the swine flu pandemic that was going on at the time due to this strike. So in reality, Miller seems to have put his misguided notion of “worker rights” ahead of the health of Torontonians. They would argue that this in itself is a far greater “crime” per se than Rob Ford’s crack smoking for Miller’s actions affected millions, whereas Ford is only affecting himself.
What has Rob Ford the politician brought to Torontonians instead? A more business-minded approach to running the city. Unlike other politicians, namely the Liberals, in their eyes Ford has actually delivered on his campaign promise – “respect for taxpayers”. Though his claim of saving Toronto $1 billion is somewhat exaggerated, Ford still has a long list of noteworthy fiscal accomplishments to his name: steadfastly refusing to raise property taxes until when absolutely necessary, scrapping the vehicle registration tax, putting a stop to the white elephant that would have been Miller’s signature transit policy Transit City and its 7 LRT lines (which offer marginal benefits over bus rapid transit for many times the price) and saving tens of billions, fighting to build a subway – a real, time-tested transit solution – for Scarborough instead of an LRT riddled with compromises, privatizing garbage collection west of Yonge Street (saving at least $49 million annually), making paramedics and the TTC an essential service, negotiating tough contracts with unions, buying out the contracts of 1,000 unneeded city workers; the list goes on and on.
Rob Ford the politician’s accomplishments speak for themselves for their boldness and pragmatism. Ford Nation, however, subscribes to the belief that most citizens aren’t aware about them because the media obfuscates and spins the objective truth to not only fit their own agenda but also to boost readership numbers. Torontonians need to acknowledge that a mayor deserves to be accorded with the same level of respect that ordinary politicians have, if not more. Ordinary politicians will not have their home raided by the overzealous host and camera crew of CBC’s show This Hour Has 22 Minutes clamoring for an interview in the dead of night. But somehow, it’s socially accepted to, as Ford put it, “attack (me) in my driveway”. Ordinary politicians would not have a (fake) largely nude photo of themselves put on the cover of a magazine; why are the rules different for Ford?
These infractions, however, are pale compared to the Toronto Star and CBC. Canadians frequently mock Fox News for their unrelenting slamming of Obama and the Democrats; to Torontonians who value a fair media, however, the Toronto Star and the CBC, an outlet that supposedly values “ethical journalism, accuracy and fairness (!)”, has filled in this void, chastising Ford at every turn. The Toronto Star fabricated the seemingly libelous story that Ford assaulted a football player on his team, a claim that was immediately rebuked by not only the Globe and Mail and Rob Ford, but the football player himself. Instead of publicly owning up to their misrepresentation of facts, the Star has chosen not to back off of their story. The CBC published an article claiming that Rob Ford insulted a 911 operator; Bill Blair called the story untrue. Respected journalist Rob Granastein ran an article in July on Canada.com lambasting Toronto Star for claiming their misleading headline “City of Toronto deeper in debt under Mayor Rob Ford” when in fact this new debt was brought on by a long-term purchase made by Miller. A National Post headline reads: “After defending its fair journalism, the Star calls Rob Ford fat”.
Ford Nation believes that their icon is portrayed not as the cost-cutting crusader that he is, but as some enemy of the people thanks to the biased lens of a few particular outlets.
Some radio talk show hosts brought up an interesting preposition: let’s replace Rob Ford with John Tory or Karen Stintz, two potential mayoral candidates who bring Rob Ford’s conservative ideology to the table without Ford’s personal troubles. Of course, Ford Nation has something to say about this. To them, the folly with this plan is that Toronto has long voted left. In a city where unions wield disproportionately large power over politics and the public arena, where fiscal conservatism is highly, highly opposed, Toronto needs an “iron lady” mayor who is daring enough to anger and pick a war against the establishment in order to have any hope for right-leaning policies to succeed.
That’s what every other right-leaning politician lacks, and to Ford darlings, that’s what Rob Ford, the person and the politician, brings to the table – his fiery, fearless attitude. That’s where his appeal, his “Kevlar-ness” comes from. Granted, Rob Ford’s clouded moral compass opens him to attack, but this is a tradeoff that Ford Nation, suburban Torontonians who work hard and just wants some respect for their money, is clearly willing to make if it means pushing Toronto back onto the right track.
The public has had enough. If there’s a lesson politicians can take around from the Ford saga, it’s that constituents are so tired of hearing their hard-earned money being wasted – from Paul Martin’s sponsorship scandal in 2006 to the Liberals’ power plant cancellation scandal today; from the current situation involving Mike Duffy’s shady $90,000 travel claims to the billions wasted and potentially criminal cover-up of the power plant scandal – that a third of them would rather put up with a raucous politician than a scandalous politician.
Hopefully, Ford’s saga will spur real change amongst political circles.