The Ford Story; a story of Toronto

November 27, 2012

It’s done, it’s happened: Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, has been evicted from his post after being declared guilty in his recent conflict of interest trial. “I declare the seat of the respondent, Robert Ford, on Toronto city council, vacant,” said Justice Charles Hackland, the presiding Ontario Superior Court judge, in his verdict.

(Photo via West Annex News)

And so, with those few words, Torontonians bid farewell to a mayor elected just two years ago. It was a simpler time, when phrases like “stop the gravy train” appealed to the masses and was all you needed to win a mayoral election.

Just what happened these last two years Toronto? What changed?

Well, our story begins on May 28, 1969, in a part of Toronto called Etobicoke. There, on that day, Robert Bruce Ford was born, just about ten years after that same area produced Stephen Harper.

And in Etobicoke he stayed and worked, save for a brief period of studying at Carleton University. In 2000, he campaigned for and won the position of city councillor for Etobicoke North. It was to be his position for the next ten years.

In 2010, after two re-elections in his own riding, he set out for something bigger. He announced his candidacy for Mayor of Toronto. Despite, or maybe because of, his rather simple campaign tenets, he soon proved to be a serious contender for the position. He and his chief rival, George Smitherman, fought a close match and polls showed the two were quite close before the election, with Ford having a slight edge.

(Photo via Shaun Merritt)

When the results came out, it was a different story. Ford had 47 per cent of the votes, more than 10 per cent over Smitherman. The reason for this? Well, “people knew precisely nothing about what George Smitherman stood for,” said Stefan Baranski, a spokesman for the failed mayor candidate, in an interview with MacLean’s magazine.

And so the city chose its new mayor. And by the city, I mean the 52 per cent of registered voters who bothered to show up to polling stations (a new record by the way).

For the next two years, Ford busied himself as the mayor, declaring TTC an essential service, privatizing the garbage collection west of Yonge street, and, as he put it himself, “stopping the gravy train” in terms of council spending. And, it seems, he was also busy slathering some gravy onto his own personal foundation which aids high school football.

It was this that would eventually come to see him tried for conflict of interest, for among the donors to his foundation were businesses that the city has contracts with. It seems that using the letterhead of the mayor to attract donors was a political faux pas. Ford claimed innocence, and ignorance of the law. That didn’t satisfy Paul Magder, an ordinary Toronto citizen, who decided to file a lawsuit against Ford and ban him from running for seven years.

Which leads us back to today’s announcement of judge Hackland’s ruling.  And though Hackland did find Ford guilty, he wrote that he declined “to impose any further disqualification from holding office beyond the current term.”

This ruling will be effective in 14 days, giving the city time to make adjust, and Ford to make his appeal. Leaving the court, Ford spoke to reporters and said, “I’m going to fight tooth and nail to hold on to my job. If they do for some reason get me out I’ll be running again whenever the next election is, if there’s a byelection. My name will be the first one on the ballot.”

But maybe he shouldn’t, given his highly publicized trial. In a news conference on the morning of the announcement, Magder’s lawyer Clayton Ruby said that, “Rob Ford did this to Rob Ford. It could so easily have been avoided.”

But I think that Toronto has only itself to blame for Ford. After all, he didn’t put himself into the position of mayor, we did. We were the ones who thrust him into power, who forced him to read boring old laws and regulations, who wanted him to do what we should have realized was beyond his ability.

It’s like we were suckered into buying an old malfunctioning Mustang by a car salesman. When the car stops on the road, it is as much their fault as it is ours. It is easy to blame others for mistakes; harder to look inside and realize our own complicity.

It wasn’t just Rob Ford that did this to Rob Ford. We did this to Rob Ford.

And as happy as I am to see him go, I can’t help but wonder at who will take his place (unless he wins his appeal and keeps his job). Will it be someone whom Torontonians will actually bother to analyze? Or will it be another candidate who wins because almost half of the voters don’t care enough to ask questions before the election.